Author Archives: angelina

Making Mustard with My Sister

peppercorn dijan

Above: Dijon style mustard with black pepper

At its most basic making mustard involves nothing more than mixing ground mustard seeds with water.  Everything I’ve ever read about making mustard desperately wants me to believe that there is nothing to it, that the possibilities are endless, that there’s no trickery or special skills involved.  And that might be true if you aren’t a discerning mustard consumer who wants a very specific style of mustard and if you don’t care if the mustard you end up with burns your mouth to pulp.

macro brown mustardMy sister loves most mustards but I love just one kind.  The mustard I want to be able to make is what’s commercially referred to as “Spicy Brown” which is peculiar since it is definitely not spicy.  I don’t like spicy mustard.  I like my mustard to be tangy.

There is a lot of confusing information out there about mustard making.  For one thing, I read in an issue of Kitchen Gardener that there are three kinds of mustard seeds: yellow, brown, and black.  But other sources have suggested that brown and black are the same.  Then there are recipes that call for white mustard seeds which, it turns out, is another name for yellow mustard seeds.

all the mustardSo many mustard seeds and not a one of them looks exactly the same.

two brownsTo further complicate matters, some brown mustard seeds look nothing alike which makes me wonder how on earth mustard producers make sure they’re getting the same seeds every time.  Are there named cultivars that no one is allowed to reveal to the public?  Is there a giant conspiracy to prevent ordinary people from discovering how to make their own Spicy Brown mustard?  Why is there not one single recipe out there for the one kind of mustard I want to make?

making mustardAnother thing to be confused about when it comes to making mustard.  The heat factor.  If you take mustard powder and mix it with cold water and take a taste you may lose your tongue from the burning heat of it.  Cold water, I’ve read, makes a hotter mustard.  Hot water reduces the heat.  I’ve done it both ways and both ways have resulted in 4 alarm hell-fire spicy mustard.  Most sources say that letting your mustard age for 2-8 weeks at room temperature will mellow it out.  So the longer you let it sit, the milder it becomes.  When it hits the spice level you like you put it in the fridge to stop the mellowing process.

My sister and I followed a recipe in the only mustard making book I’ve been able to find “Gourmet Mustards“* by Helene Sawyer.  We made her basic recipe for Dijon style mustard which she had us cook.  That mustard turned out insanely hot.  I also suspect it didn’t need to be cooked in order to thicken it.  We also made her Dijon style mustard with peppercorns and her Bavarian Style mustard.

dijon mustardDijon style mustard thickening in the pan.  Heat did not, er, kill the heat.  Someone is definitely spreading some questionable mustard intel out there!

bavarian mustardFor the Bavarian Style mustard we were supposed to soak the brown mustard seeds in sherry but since that’s something I never have in my house we used some vermouth.  Which actually smelled pretty good.  Then we were supposed to put the seeds in a food processor and process until the brown seeds were “almost smooth” but “grainy”.  This did not happen as the seeds were much too small for my blades to deal with.  It’s pretty though.

three mustard jarsThe next day we opened the jars and took a whiff.  The Dijon style mustard smells exactly as you expect Dijon to smell but the Bavarian style mustard has a distinctly earthy odor that isn’t my favorite.  Now we wait for several weeks before tasting again.

Meanwhile – I still can’t find any recipes or instructions for making “Spicy Brown” mustard.  I know it has brown mustard seeds (though it could have some yellow too and I suspect, from the tangy aspect, that it is a blend of the two), vinegar, turmeric, and “spices”.  That’s all.  No sugar.

Which reminds me – all of Sawyer’s mustard recipes involve some amount of sugar.  This makes me suspicious that her palate and mine are very different.  I do NOT want sugar in my mustard.  I am not a fan of honey mustard either.  Also – never put candied fruit in a condiment.  Not if you want me to trust you when it comes to – well – anything.

I have a bunch of mustard seeds.  I plan to experiment with mustard until I get it how I want it.  And the next person who tells me that making mustard is the easiest thing in the world had better have a recipe for spicy brown or I’m going to make them eat a whole jar of my freshly made Dijon.

*Maybe the new expanded version is better than the version I have.

Preserving Garlic: what happens when you freeze whole bulbs

whole garlic cloves in oilWay back in the late spring of ’13 I got my hands on a ton of locally grown garlic.  Remember that?  I pureed a lot of it and mixed it with olive oil and froze it.  Then I decided to try something new.  I put whole peeled garlic bulbs in olive oil and froze them.  The idea is that I could defrost them and add them to pans of vegetables for roasting.  I love roasting garlic with sweet potatoes and tofu.  My concern was that freezing whole bulbs might result in a mushy bulb that doesn’t roast well.  I figured that if it didn’t work I could remove the bulbs from the oil and I’d have a great garlic flavored olive oil to use for sauteing and for dressings.  So a month or two ago I removed the first jar of whole bulbs out of the freezer like a scientist meeting his first test-tube baby – full of hopes and dreams for a life of laboratory purpose and circus exhibi-

Letting it defrost in the fridge was my first mistake.  Things don’t defrost in my fridge very quickly because I think I keep it too cold.  So after a week of waiting for the oil to liquify I set it on the counter.  Ah!  Hopes and dreams revived, I practically lived in the kitchen watching the oil turn slick and – and – then I saw the bulbs.  They were weirdly translucent.  Weird enough that I didn’t feel like trying to eat them.  If they were translucent then they were probably mushy as well.  Stands to reason.  A good scientist always goes through to the end of the experiment but I lost my nerve.  This may be why I’m a writer instead of a scientist.

defrosted garlic bulbsI couldn’t bear to throw the jar away but I couldn’t quite convince myself I wouldn’t seriously regret eating them either.  They were slightly discolored as well as  translucent.  Sitting on the counter for over a month did not increase their allure.  In the image above you can see how darkened the bulbs became.  They look like agates in a pool of viscous piss.  (Everyone’s gourmet dream!)  I continued to not throw them away because I knew I must photograph them first and share them here.

I finally did it.  By now I can’t at all be certain the garlic wasn’t teeming with botulism but there’s no reason I couldn’t satiate my curiosity to see what would happen if I pan roasted these guys.  First thing I discovered on taking these bulbs out and handling them is that they didn’t lose textural integrity.  Freezing them didn’t turn them mushy.  Here’s what happened:

what happens to garlicThey became opaque again and pretty.  If I didn’t feel so uneasy about the possibility of botulism I would want to eat those!

garlic in panSo here’s what I’m going to do: pull out another jar of bulbs to defrost on the counter but as soon as they’re defrosted I will add them to a pan of vegetables and roast them and eat them and report my findings because I refuse to let fear of weirdness prevent you from knowing if freezing garlic bulbs is worth doing.  Who knows, this information could prove to be vital in an apocalyptic situation.

Lili’s Quilt

Lili quilt 12This is the front of Lili’s quilt.  This is one of the main things I’ve been working on this month.  I got it done in about one week from start to finish.  A record for me.  I did almost nothing else during that time.

Lili quilt 6This is the first quilt I’ve ever done machine quilting on.  I’ve been wanting to learn to do this for years.  Lili’s quilt is the biggest of the four quilts I’ve made.  The first three were baby quilts and this one is roughly twin sized.

Lili quilt 10I watched almost all of Alias and the first season of Arrow while making it.Lili quilt 1I had no real plan ahead of time.  I only knew that Lili (a four year old girl) likes pink, red, and purple.  Having found no good purple prints I decided to break up the red and pink with black.  It’s much bolder than I originally imagined, color-wise.  Kind of punches you in the face, but that’s okay because Lili is a girl with major moxie and some day she will have no problem punching people in the face who get in her way.

Lili quilt 3Ad-libbing a quilt allows for all kinds of weird stuff to happen as you go along.  Like stripes that don’t quite match up, not enough of one fabric or another, and good surprises like unexpected cool piecing.

Lili quilt 2This is the back side of the quilt.  It’s asymmetrical.  On purpose by surprise.  The irregularities in this quilt would shame my mom’s sister who is one of those precise quilters who follows patterns and makes every seam match up PERFECTLY because otherwise – THESHAMETHESHAMETHESHAME.

Having been a costumer and a professional seamstress I know how important it is to make things perfect if you’re selling them.  I will rip seams out until they’re just right when making things professionally.  But quilting, for me, is the one sewing project where I let myself just have fun and let things develop organically.  I start with an idea and then let it just unfold.  I do try to do a good job sewing it but I’m not taking seams out when points don’t match perfectly or my lines aren’t ruler straight (though they usually are anyway).  Quilting is my free-range sewing time.  I get to do whatever the hell I want with it.  There are no rules.

I’m really pleased with the way Lili’s quilt turned out.

Now I’m working on the quilt I started 6 years ago in McMinnville.  I broke my machine while machine quilting it.  I’m about half done.  So tonight I’m going to finish the quilting and tomorrow I go to my friend Chelsea’s house to get a lesson in binding.  Because I suck at binding quilts and while I could continue to suck at it I think I would get more satisfaction if I could learn to do it better.

If you don’t have many (or any) spare blankets in your house you should start making quilts.  I have only two spare blankets and only one of them is full sized and it’s shredded to the point of almost being useless.  I am appalled at this whole situation because what if there’s an emergency or an apocalypse and we need extra blankets?

One quilt down and many more to come!

Adventures in Vintage Stove Cleanup

knob filthRemember that free vintage O’Keefe and Merritt stove Philip found for us that has been living in our driveway for over a year?  (Slummy is the new cool, didn’t you know?)  Now that the horrid summer of 2013 is far behind us, the stressful fall where the house situation finally resolved is done and done, and the distracting holiday season is almost a distant memory (except for the dead Christmas tree in the front yard that keeps reminding us), it’s time to settle into this house like we mean it.  I wanted and planned to get back into cooking with new energy and excitement which was quickly dulled by the current stove in my kitchen.

Current stove stats: btu output is paltry and barely enough to boil pots of water in under an hour on three of the four burners, the oven door falls apart at least once a month (I have pictures for proof but it depresses me so I won’t share), the knobs had a habit of falling off (a minor problem which has since been fixed  by the awesome Stove Man), and the oven temp is uneven.

It was finally time to see if our free stove is worth fixing and installing into our kitchen.

stove gutsSo I got one of the few people who works on vintage stoves in my area to come out and have a look.  The Stove Man!  (His actual name is Mark Cownie of Grift’s Appliance in Sebastopol)  My brother in law helped Philip bring the stove into the kitchen so Stove Man could hook it up to the gas line and check it out.  I never thought I’d geek out about a stove so much but Cownie’s love of these stoves and his knowledge is infectious.  He taught me how to remove the pilot housing (so I can clean them and also dry all the water that collected in them) and he put in a gas shut off (yellow knob in the image above) and showed me how to clean off the connection between the stove knobs and the pilots.

removing partsRemoving these parts is really simple.  I used to be scared of blowing things up or killing my family with stealthy gas emissions and consequently avoided anything more sketchy than lighting a pilot which, honestly, I used to make Philip do for me whenever possible.  Mark Cownie has taught me not to be scared of my own stove.  This is empowerment for the kitchen set!

Please observe that griddle in the above image.  Notice anything wrong with it?  I’ll pretend to give you fifty buckaroos if you can tell me what’s wrong with it.

testing oven pilotsThe Stove Man fixed one of the oven pilots and both of them are now working beautifully.  I only realized last week what it could mean to have a double oven.  I mean, I knew instinctively that where one oven is good, two are better, but in practical terms what does that actually mean?

It means having the magical power to bake a batch of cookies at 350° while simultaneously roasting a chicken at 450°!!  (Excuse me while I go shriek and holler with unbridled excitement…)

dirty knobsI have a ton of cleaning to do of this stove but it isn’t going to take much money to get it functional.  I cleaned the knobs last Friday.

clean knobsNext up – everything else!

The biggest challenge with getting this stove in use is that it is much bigger than our current piece of crap (both wider, deeper, and taller) so we’ll have to remove some cupboards to install it and I believe we’ll need to get an actual stove hood installed.  Our current set-up is the usual microwave doubling as stove hood – which is fine when  your stove’s btu output is barely enough to make pasta, but on the vintage stove that has four full-sized burners I think we need a real hood for safety.

Before we can go hacking away at cabinets I need to submit our plan to one of our landlords (a good friend of ours) so in the next week I’ll be cleaning this big magic stove and coming up with a solid plan for installing it.

The Tudor Rose Tea Room: a review

top hat misterFor my friend Sharon’s birthday she invited a few of her oldest friends to join her for a full tea at The Tudor Rose Tea Room.  We had a great time all hanging out together and the staff at the tea room went some way to accommodating some special diet restrictions which was nice.

tea room 7If what you want in a tea room is super-fey decor, the kind little girls are supposed to adore, this is the place for you.  It’s stuffed to the gills with weird statuary of fairies and bunnies with carrots and the odd menacing Chinese guy.  It has a fountain and twinkling lights and and, I have to mention this again, bunnies with carrots.  The decorating style is not for grown-ups.

weak teaAbout their tea.  They have plenty of varieties available but if you are a PG Tips drinker you must ask for their strongest black tea and request that they leave the tea in the pot to steep extra long.  If you do this – you will have a great cup.  The house teas they presented us with were really weak and full of flowers which, if you like that sort of thing, is fine.  I don’t like flowery tea.  Plenty of people do so this is a question of personal taste and if you go forewarned you can get what you like.  So there’s something for everyone in the tea department.

tea room 2Our waitress was really nice but I feel that she has been schooled to be extra genteel – to say “lovely” as many times as possible in conversation, and to modulate her voice to be extra gentle as though the customers are very delicate people.  But really, I thought our server was doing a great job.  It’s not her fault that I’m such a curmudgeonly person.

tea room 5These are their sugar cubes.  I do not pollute my tea with glossy colored sugar.  I ripped the roses off the cubes.  A little barbaric of me perhaps, but this is no way to treat honest sugar cubes or a good cup of tea.

tea room 3I liked the mismatched china quite a bit.

tea room 1The pots of tea keep on coming and that was really nice too.  Especially when we finally asked for their strongest tea.  About the food.  The first thing they brought out was a tomato soup with tiny ravioli in it and I really enjoyed it.  I liked it so much I went home and re-created it.  The small salad was also really nice.  Very fresh and good.

sconesThe scones were also very good.  I have to say that they were nowhere near as good as the fresh baked scones I had at an inn in the Highlands, but really, nothing will ever compare to those so there’s no point in trying.  These are very good.

sammiesI could not eat the sandwiches.  I took one bite of the top level ones which were goat cheese with fig and some nuts on the outside.  I didn’t know it was goat until I took the bite and had a mouth full of barnyard.  This is not the tea house’s shortcoming, this is just my personal tastes butting in.  I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat goat cheese but I think for those who do like these things, these sandwiches would not disappoint.

curry pastiesBut here’s where I have got to come down hard.  These pasties.  I was really excited to eat one.  They are filled with vegetables in a curry sauce.  This is one of those things you expect the English to do exceptionally well since it really is one of their specialties.  I was deeply disappointed by this.  The pastry was not nice.  Dry and a little hard – crunchy-ish.  Crunchy-ish cardboard.  There’s no excuse for this.  Then there’s the curry gravy and vegetables.  The English are supposed to be very good at curries.  This one seemed like it maybe came from a mix or, I don’t really know.  The vegetables must have been frozen and though that is not necessarily a crime, if you use frozen you absolutely have to use the best quality frozen you can buy.  I could not finish my pastie and it made me mad to have been so let down.  I can, and will, make my own curry pasties and they will be exponentially better than these ones.

little sweetsAnd then there’s the finish.  The little deserts were very pretty but I think they must have used the same pastry for these that they did for the curry pasties.  When you bite into a morsel like this the pastry shell should be a bit delicate and melt in your mouth with the filling.  It should not be toothy and dry.  The lemon curd was also a bit bitter for my taste.  But the pastry shells are the main problem.

Can I recommend The Tudor Rose to others?  If you want to throw your little girl a real tea party this is the place to go.  Little girls, big girls who wish they didn’t have to grow up, princesses, fairies, all will enjoy the atmosphere.  If you are like me and prefer a more grown-up tea room, the bunnies and fairies will make you really uncomfortable.

Decor aside, I think if The Tudor Rose would change their pastry dough they will have made a substantial improvement to their fare.

Tudor Rose Tea Room

733 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa



Plum Moonshine and Asia Mart

sharon with plum liqueurOne of my greatest preserving successes this year was my Elephant Heart Plum Moonshine.  This stuff is incredible.  I will give instructions for making this in a separate post.  It is a gorgeous color and has the most potent plum taste.  Using moonshine and a little less sugar than is generally called for prevented this from being too thick and sweat like cough syrup.  Sharon approves!  Speaking of Sharon, she just had her birthday a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to write about the tea room she celebrated it in – so – another post to catch up on!

anime packagingChelsea and I just visited a Thai market and an Asian market here in Santa Rosa.  We’d never been to the Thai one before and this is the coolest thing I found there – anime packaging for noodle soup!  Oh – and I came home with 6 tinned curries to try that have no fish or shrimp in them.

turmericAt the Asia Mart we discovered that if we want it, we can buy a lifetime supply of turmeric for only $22.

sandwich spreadI have never before encountered a spread that made me feel like a dirty old man.  This brand name suggests that this spread may not be appropriate for men.  But is “sandwich” a euphemism here?  I’m so scared of this spread.  I need to go back and read what ingredients are in it cause I can’t quite read them in this picture.

happy weiner eaterAnd here’s a happy weiner-eating lady!  She’s so festive!  It’s right next to the Lady’s Choice “sandwich spread” (may as well just put the whole suspicious thing in quotation marks) so I’m wondering if this is all lady food in this isle?

palm oilThis red palm oil doesn’t tempt me.  I’m sure it looks appetizing when not solidified.

what the hell are theseLastly – we found these.  What are they?  I thought they looked like horns  but Chelsea thinks they look like ovaries.  If you know what they are – will you please tell us?

P1000385Here’s a closer look at them.  Seed pods?  Roots?  The dried ovaries of fairies?

There has been a lot of noise this year getting in the way of my food adventures.  There were the months I spent looking for work and spending time at the hospital and there were the months I was mostly dealing with Max’s school and medical issues.  I did a lot less cooking, very little gardening, and a lot less blogging.  What I want for this year is to get back to my favorite things: writing, gardening, and cooking.

So here’s to great food adventures with friends in 2014!

A New Monastery Garden

garden book biasOne of the worst things that happened in 2013 was my mom’s sister deciding she had to sell this house which would have meant we’d have to move.  One of the best things that happened this year was that our good friend bought her out and now owns half of it with my mom.  I can finally plan a garden here.  So on New Year’s Eve I pulled out all of my garden books for inspiration and took pictures of the front yard.  Then I measured the dimensions and graphed it out.

My garden bias is totally obvious.  It’s all about the herbs, the vegetables, and the – oh – I didn’t pull my rose books out but it’s also all about the roses.

useless shrubThis is what our front yard looked like on the last day of the year.  Remember when I took out the other spider condo?  There has been some major spider trafficking going on in the remaining one.  Check it out:

P1000435This is just a small sample of the vast collection of spider egg sacks in the undergrowth of this most useless bush.  But back to the before pictures.  There was still one more agapanthus clump on this side of the front garden.  It fell to Philip to destroy it.

view from drivewayLook at it just sitting there mocking us.  It knows, and we know, that that appearance of winter weakness is a sham.  Just a little rain and this thing will get BIGGER.  So yesterday, on the first day of the year, we set to work.

cleaned upAnd cleared that damn space!  I even swept the sidewalk.  Now we have to figure out what to do with all the stuff we pulled out.  Yard waste filled up very fast and there’s still such a big pile that Philip can’t get the car out of the driveway.  I feel so relieved to see those awful institutional plants eradicated.  Once they were gone I made a wonderful realization.  Remember the monastery garden I built at my last house?  Here, have a look:

monastery garden blue chairAnd from my office:

view from officeIt turns out that I can recreate this garden in my new one on a slightly smaller scale.  I can only allow 2′ for pathways which means no wheelbarrows.  But once these beds are filled up there won’t be any need for that.  Some of the beds will have to be smaller but I can totally do it.

graphed planThat weeping cherry tree will be getting removed once we can find someone to give it to who will dig it up.  I am so excited I’ve been spazzing out all day about it.  So, it’s time I get off the computer and do some other yard work.  Philip is going to go tackle the agapanthus on the other side of the walkway.


The One Where Max Helps Cook Thanksgiving Dinner

butter magicThis Thanksgiving was the best one I’ve ever had.  And I’ve had a lot of great ones.  The only thing missing was my sister, Tara, who rarely misses spending the day with us.  I truly wish she could have been here with us.  My brother came which was fantastic.  Better yet – he wasn’t antsy to leave the minute he arrived which he’s been known to do in the past.  He actually seemed mellow and stayed with us for all the fun.  My close friend Chelsea came to eat with us too – a special treat since we haven’t spent Thanksgiving with her in several years.

So here’s what we had on the menu:

Salt-roasted chicken

Stuffed baby butternut squash

Grapefruit and avocado salad

Fondant potatoes

Pecan Pie

stuffed squashMy pictures are crap because it was late afternoon when I took them.  This is my squash with mushroom stuffing using wheat bread and homemade stock.  They were so good!

extra stuffingI had enough to cook a dish of stuffing on its own.  (By the way, this is before it was cooked, it’s much prettier when it comes out of the oven)

Philip and Max  cookingBut this is the thing that made my Thanksgiving the best one ever.  Max has discovered (through a youtube video gamer) the youtube food channel  called “Food Wishes” which is where he found a recipe for salt-roasted chicken that he thought sounded good.  He requested we make it for Thanksgiving.

That’s the first food request Max has made for Thanksgiving in his entire life!

I obviously said yes and then informed him that he would have to make it with his dad, since I still haven’t recovered fully from the horror of cutting the tip of a chicken wing off and almost hurling because it disturbed me so much.  He agreed, so I bought them an organic chicken from Whole Foods and these two made the recipe from the video together.

This post is pretty much about Max from here on out.  I think you can excuse the single focus this time.  It’s pretty epic.

Max making chickenThis is Max, my extreme picky eating and non-cooking son, salting a chicken.

Max cookingI’m sure you’re as excited as I am and need to see another picture of him SALTING A CHICKEN.

salt roasted chickenHere it is, fresh out of the oven.  Chelsea, an incredible cook, advised that the chicken be covered with foil and a cloth and be allowed to rest.

another view of chickenIn case you didn’t see enough of this chicken already – I offer you this slightly different view of it.  You are totally amazed and proud of Max for helping to make this roasty bird, right?

The verdict on this recipe is that it is amazing!  The meat was juicy and tender and everyone loved it.  Except for me, obviously, because I was the only vegetarian in the house.  Every last scrap of the meat was eaten up – most of it that night.  Max declared it wonderful.  Even the thyme and butter sauce made from the chicken crusty stuff.  He loved the sauce.  Even with the green bits of thyme in it.


winter saladChelsea made this wonderful grapefruit and avocado salad with a grapefruit vinaigrette and feta.  It was refreshing and delicious.  Max didn’t eat any of it, of course.

The fondant potatoes were finished last and everyone was too full to eat them except for Max and I.  I tested the recipe earlier in the week and it was already Max approved (that’s two winning recipes tried from Max’s fave food channel)

I also gave myself a very painful oil burn making the potatoes.  But, whatever.


There was also a pecan pie adventure but I don’t care about that right now.

kid pouring rumMax has also developed an interest in mixing drinks, which I think I’ve mentioned before.  Usually he plays around with mixing different sodas or juices together but we let him make Chelsea and his Grandma a rum and pineapple cocktail.

rum and pineappleThat cocktail shaker is his own.  Philip found it at a thrift store for him.

Max the mixerThis is the first Thanksgiving for which Max had any interest at all in what was being served, sat with his family to eat, helped cook part of the meal, and hung out with us all.  We did do some things his way too – we watched a couple episodes of South Park with him.

As if all that wasn’t enough – two days later he tried my rosemary potatoes and likes them.  Fondant potatoes were the first non-fried potato dish he’s liked since he was 2 years old, and the rosemary potatoes are the second.  Rosemary potatoes are arguably the healthiest way to eat potatoes.

Max’s relationship with food is changing slowly and these moments are, for me, like big miracles.  Max was the kid who, when he was five, went a week eating only goldfish crackers (and was angry that no other food tasted good to him).  He is the child who once told me that he wished he could take pills for food instead of eating it, because then he wouldn’t have to taste bad tastes or experience horrible textures, or look at gross food.

The other thing is that he’s eating tangerines again now that they’re in season again and several days last week he ate tangerines and carrots IN THE SAME DAY.  Do you know how often he eats two kinds of produce in one day?  Never.

I don’t imagine that everything is going to change over night.  He still only eats produce at all because I make him.  He still eats very little variety.  But ever since late spring he has been exploring new foods and very slowly adding things to the roster of foods he likes.  What I’ve always believed about him is beginning to prove true: that this kid will someday be a gourmand.

Excuse me while I tell a lot of people “I fucking told you fucking so!”

Something I know in my bones and have known for many years now through all the frustration of raising a kid who would rather starve than eat something repugnant to him is that forcing food on him, fighting about food, making him feel bad because he’s so hard to feed would not have resulted in him arriving at this point at the age of 13.  If I had done as so many other well-meaning-but-totally-WRONG people have advised, his relationship with food would have deteriorated even more and become dangerously problematic.

Yeah, not done yet…

Accepting and working with his extreme limitations and understanding that his violent food aversions are real and very unpleasant for him has given him the room he needs to explore food on his own terms.  The most important thing is that I’ve never had expectations that he would one day be a regular (and maybe even healthy) eater, I only hoped for it.  And even now, after such an incredible breakthrough, I need to accept that this may be as far as he goes. But it will always be my job to encourage him to go farther.

I am expectation-free but I am full of hopes about where this kid is going.

I’m almost done.  Just have to gesticulate rudely at the stupids for a second:
I’m thumbing my nose at all those judgmental parents and relatives and doctors who have lectured me and made both Max and me feel like losers through all these years because he won’t eat like a normal kid and I am, apparently, to blame.  If any of those people had raised Max they would have broken him.

But for the rest of you – you blessed bunch of people who have not judged us and have been encouraging and accepting and awesome – you all ROCK. 

See?  This Thanksgiving was EPIC.  So, how was yours?

Let me remind you that you can give Kindle  books to people as gifts so if someone on your holiday gift list loves post-apocalyptic fiction and strong female main characters – Winter (Cricket and Grey) would make a great gift fo them!  Go buy a copy by clicking on the image which will take you to Amazon:

Homemade Ginger Beer

beautiful gingerale

The first recipe I tried from my friend Emma’s book True Brews was her ginger ale.

You don’t have to buy her book to try this recipe because she’s posted it on The Kitchn for you: Soda Recipe: Homemade Ginger Ale

But I totally recommend you buy her book because it’s worth the shelf space it takes.  I promise!

ginger beerI followed her recipe roughly but was really lazy and sort of ad-libbed a number of things.  It still turned out fantastic!  First of all, I doubled (maybe even tripled) the amount of ginger.  I used less sugar and a lot less lemon.  Normally I take notes when I’m making things like this and I wish I had since the result was so amazing.  However, my friend Sharon made ginger ale using Emma’s recipe too and hers, though different, was also really good.  I love a recipe that works well with all kinds of variations.

I used a dry champagne yeast for my batch.  A number of things almost went wrong.  I peeled my ginger and then let it sit in the fridge for a week.  I didn’t do on purpose.  I just kept not making the soda.  Just before I lost my window of opportunity I pulverized it in my food processor and cooked it.  You know, to kill any mold that might be setting up secret house in my ginger.  But then I left it on the stove for two days.

yeast in actionSo I had to boil it again.  It hadn’t gone bad and had the sugar already added to it which is a preservative, but I’m sure some of my friends would be scared of it at this point.  Not me.  Ultimately, if I’d left it out long enough it would have started fermenting rather than molding.  I mean, fermenting IS a form of controlled rot.  I finally realized that I was being a very bad urban homesteader and finally filled my bottles with my ginger/sugar/lemon/water mix.  And added the yeast.  Fermentation should be complete between 24 and 48 hours depending on amount of sugar and warmth of the space it’s fermenting in.  Guess how long I left it out to do it’s thing?

gingerale frothingYeah, at least 3 days.  Maybe 4.  I opened the bottles and heard a satisfying HISS of pressure being released and smelled the slightest bit of alcoholic fermentation going on.  For soda the ideal is ferment only just until the carbonation is complete, not so that the soda starts turning into alcohol.  Which it will do.  I figured I’d failed.  I put it in the fridge anyway.  I didn’t have the guts to try it for several days because I didn’t want to confirm that I’d messed it up.  So what a lovely surprise when I finally poured myself a taste.  Damn!  So refreshing!  It was super spicy, as I’d intended, and not too sweet, with just the smallest hint of lemon.  Everyone who’s had a taste of my first batch absolutely loved it.  LOVED IT.  It’s total magic.  So easy.  Accommodating to lazy-asses like myself.  If you really do it right you can have tons of ginger ale in two days.  I call mine ginger beer because of the big spicy bite in every sip and the lower sugar amount.  I want to try this with lime next.

Oh yeah, and please buy my book if you haven’t already!

Making Tamales with Chelsea

preparing husksChelsea made the first tamale I’ve ever eaten.  Trader Joe’s made the second one I ever ate which, while good, wasn’t even in the same ball park as the ones Chelsea made.  The third time I ate a tamale I made them myself and couldn’t figure out why I thought they were so complicated that I waited years to do it.  In October I got the hankering for tamales and knew that Chelsea would love to do that with me.

We used the cookbook “Tamales 101” by Alice Guadalupe Tapp for reference but didn’t follow any of her recipes.  It’s an awesome little book and if you want to learn to make tamales and are scared to try it – this book will take all the fear out of it.  Plus, cool pictures, great husk folding instructions, and lots of inspiration for coming up with your own recipes.

I love that the book includes meat, vegetarian, AND vegan recipes.

corn husk tiesYou can use either kitchen string or make ties out of the husks by stripping them to tie the tamales closed.

four tamale fillingsChelsea made a cilantro pesto using pepitas, no cheese, garlic, cilantro, oil, and salt and pepper.  The winter squash ended up having no discernible flavor in the tamales but nutritionally I think it was a good ingredient to include.  We used pink banana squash but there are other varieties with a more robust flavor.  Black beans were the protein we used and we added three pickled jalapenos in each one.  These are the jalapenos I made this year.  Chelsea doesn’t eat dairy and I don’t eat meat, so we made these completely vegan.

filling the tamalesWe included a generous teaspoon of each ingredient in each tamale.

string tied tamaleChelsea chose to tie hers with kitchen string.  The advantage of using string is that it doesn’t break while tying it.

tamale productionI chose to use corn husk ties, the advantage being that you don’t need to buy string, something I don’t happen to keep in my kitchen.  This advantage is especially valuable during an apocalypse.

tamale arrangementChelsea arranged the tamales in a steamer lined with husks (not necessary but kind of cool) and steamed them for over an hour.

finished tamaleThey were very good.  When I steamed mine at home I steamed them too long and dried out the tamale dough.  For the dough we used vegetable stock, chilled (hardened) olive oil, and some squash.  I have to admit that I liked my dough made with butter a little better.  The cilantro pest was amazing in these – gave them a really nice herby flavor and the jalapenos added both heat and a tangy finish.

I don’t intend to wait another two years to make these again.  I want to make more in the next couple of weeks.  I just have to figure out what filling I want to try next.  If I come up with something really good that’s my own creation I’ll be sure to share it with you here.  It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a recipe.

I’m going to end every post with a link to my novel because I need people to buy it so I can become a full time paid novelist.  If you haven’t bought a copy yet – go buy it!  It’s a great book about a small town apothecary who gets herself in a lot of trouble when her father dies.  It includes an old inarticulate distiller who makes amazing pickles and cured meats.  The book is available in e-book format only but will soon be available in trade paper and hard back versions.