Category Archives: Around the Farmhouse

Tomato Fever

IMG_20140913_162610Canning season is in full flush. I have 12 quarts and 33 pints of peaches in the cupboard. I have 12 pints of salsa (14 total including the two that we’re just eating) and 7 quarts of plain tomato sauce done. (Plus about 4 quarts in the freezer)

IMG_20140919_141920I still have 2.5 boxes of tomatoes left and there are so many things I want to do with them it’s a little bit paralyzing. Having so much choice is a lucky situation to be in. After a week of being so broke I woke up in a money panic every morning I find myself mentally knocking on wood every few hours that payday came and I was able to pay my phone bill, buy 150lbs of tomatoes, and beer. Those two boxes of tomatoes are only 50lbs of the total. I had to make three trips to the farm to get my tomatoes home.

IMG_20140915_174253Side note: please don’t buy meat in big disrespectful bags like this. It looks like trash and that was once an animal, a living breathing being. I understand eating meat is the norm for many people including my own son and husband – but do it respectfully or don’t do it at all.  It’s much better to eat no meat than to buy it like this.

IMG_20140920_205501I dislike most salsa recipes in the canning books so I’m working on my own recipe now. It’s going to take a couple of years to perfect, I’m sure, but this first batch is pretty damn good. No bell peppers or cucumbers or carrots in my salsa, please! This batch is made with: tomatoes, onions, pickled jalapenos (because I need to use mine up, otherwise it would just be fresh ones), Mexican oregano, garlic, a ton of fresh cilantro, and some lime juice and salt.

IMG_20140920_213924Night canning results in me staying up several hours afterwards to wind back down. Last night I was up way too late and ended up falling asleep at my desk. I need to knock this off. I feel like a wreck today as a result. I have two and a half boxes of tomatoes left and here are the things I’m thinking of doing with them:

Summer vegetable soup to freeze (with corn, green beans, new potatoes, zucchini, and basil)

Ratatouille to freeze – I only have a few jars of it and it’s such a great thing to pull out of the freezer in cold(ish)* weather and serve over polenta.

Bruschetta topping – I’ve never canned this but I’m definitely going to try a recipe I have for this.

Black bean soup to freeze – with corn, lots of tomato, summer squash, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, and lime juice.

I think I better get my ass dressed if I hope to get anything at all done with those toms today. Which should I do first? Bruschetta topping, probably. Followed by the ratatouille.

I miss writing and I need to get more things listed in my Etsy shop but tomato canning season is something I look forward to all year and I don’t feel right if I haven’t put a lot of good stuff in the pantry and freezer. I’m such a damn squirrel.

16 Batches of Pesto is Squirrel Behavior

pesto productionIt has begun.

The point in the summer when my squirrel instincts kick in and I start stuffing and storing food in my cheeks and no one notices because I’m really fat.

Wait – no – I mean, the point in the season where I become a squirrel but no one notices because I’m already impressively hirsute.

Gah! What I really mean is —

CANNING SEASON HAS BEGUN!

I can feel it in my bones. The need to sock food away in the pantry and freezer. I look at all produce and wonder what I can do with it to save it. I don’t do it in a small way, either. Food preserving in a small way is great and I encourage everyone to do it on any scale that suits them.

I only do it on a large scale. I’m an inherently lazy person. I really am. I think in some way my spazzy excitement about the things I love has to be balanced out by my dark chronic depression and a damning inertia in order to prevent the world and people around me from being irradiated by my overwhelming excitement over the little things, like when I find basil for $1.25 per bunch from my local farm.

I can’t muster up the energy to make one or two batches of pesto. That would require that I drag out my food processor and all the ingredients for food that will be gone by tomorrow. WASTED USE OF ENERGY. But it’s totally worth getting it out to make 16 batches of pesto.

That’s what I made yesterday. One batch to eat last night and 15 to put in the freezer.

Need a pesto recipe? I have a great one my friend Chelsea and I developed together:

Pesto Recipe

Philip wants me to make at least 10 more batches. It’s hard to refuse when I can get locally grown basil for such a great price. I can’t afford to buy pine nuts so this pesto is made with walnuts.

Walnuts I foraged from the neighborhood for free last fall. I have plenty to use up. Tons. That cost me nothing but the labor of gathering and then cracking them and then freezing them. This makes this pesto the cheapest I’ve ever made. In Oregon one summer I froze 21 batches of pesto but each basil bunch was $2.40 and I used pine nuts which cost $16 per pound (I think we got ours from Trader Joe’s which might have been less but some pine nuts cost up to $32 per pound and eventually I just couldn’t pay it). Anyway, it was much more expensive to make that pesto but it was worth it for how much better home made pesto is than store bought.

This year the pesto is costing about $2 per batch which is just for the oil and Parmesan and garlic. A bargain.

There’s something about food preserving that makes me so excited and energized and deeply satisfied. I look forward to canning season all year just as much as I look forward to eating tomatoes and cucumbers all year. I hope I’ll get a ton of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce in the freezer this year too. Last year I didn’t process many tomatoes in the canner because I have a lot of space to use up in my freezer and if I don’t fill it then it’s wasted energy.

Today is a pickling day. Yesterday was going to be for pickling but then that basil happened and I had to go with it. Today I’m pickling (ripe) cherry tomatoes (new to me – not sure if I’ll like the results) and dilled beans which I love and haven’t made for several years. I’ll do one or two jars with a hot pepper in them for my sister and others who like a spicy pickle.

It’s already almost 1pm and I’m still in my pyjamas so it’s time to get dressed and bicycle to the farm for some dill heads and I may have to go get more vinegar. I’ll be using the burner on the BBQ for the canning today as I’ll be making batches too big for the kitchen stove.

LET’S GET THIS PICKLE PARTY GOING!

A Great Year for Tomatoes!

tomatoes and VespaThe tomatoes this year are phenomenal! The winner for most prolific is tied between my Sungold cherry tomato plant and the Ananas Noire plant which produces these small green tomatoes. They’re pretty good but not nearly as good as Aunt Ruby’s German Green which I couldn’t find in the nursery. I have a seed packet of them to start next year.

tomato soup and croutons 2This tomato soup with garlic croutons is the best tomato soup I’ve ever made – but I added too much salt so next batch I will be more cautious with the salt.  I made this just as the tomatoes were starting to ripen so it’s half homegrown tomatoes and half canned store bought tomato sauce. I will be making this again and probably actually put the recipe on the blog.

makings for ugly tomato sauceI took color theory at FIDM so I knew this sauce was going to be brownish but it is less pretty than I predicted. In future I will not combine my green tomatoes with my red ones for sauce. Also note how full the pot it. This batch of sauce cooked down to just 2 quarts of sauce.

ugly sauceOrangey brownish sauce.

fancyass chickenPhilip, Max, and Max’s friend Sam made chicken Kiev this past weekend though Sam had to leave before tasting it because it takes FOREVER to make this. Huge success with the kid. He liked the parsley garlic butter sauce. Even ate the big chunks of garlic though it was supposed to be smooth. The kid likes garlic! As it’s turning out, Max is a gourmand. He likes really fancy food. Only freshly made. He loves sushi but only from the restaurant they go to, not from the supermarket. He is still intensely picky about texture so if the salt roasted chicken he usually likes is a tiny bit rubbery or different – he won’t eat it. No leftovers.

I’m having a lot of trouble feeding him from day to day still. Back to Nature seems to have changed their cracker recipes and now they’re all sub-par and Max won’t eat them. So peanut butter and round crackers is suddenly not happening. It’s super frustrating. So everyday eating is still hugely frustrating but meanwhile he’s trying lots of things. Like, I say “hey, try this out, kid” and if what I hand him doesn’t offend him visually he’ll try it. This was not how things used to be. He used to be so suspicious of trying anything new that huge negotiations would have to be undertaken, probably with plenty of warning days in advance, in order to convince him to try things.

So for those people with extreme picky eaters like mine – even once they start trying things – this food thing can be a major uphill climb. Hang in there, (I tell you and remind myself), your kid might actually be a gourmand instead of just a problem eater but it will take a lot of patience and experimentation and time to uncover the food lover.

Today I’m going to make a big pot of experimental salsa to can. The one thing I have to figure out is how much acidity to add to it to make it safe for canning. I’m using a Ball recipe for guidance but changing some flavoring things. For one thing, I will be using my pickled jalapenos in it (which obviously means my salsa will already have higher acidity than if using fresh peppers). Also – way more cilantro. Their recipes always call for a couple of tablespoons but cilantro loses a lot of its flavor when cooked and that small amount adds almost nothing to salsa. I have found a couple of other recipes that use a lot more of it. Anyway, I’m using my green tomatoes for this and I’m pretty excited. I haven’t canned salsa for many years. It will be good to have some jars stashed away.

I spent a couple of hours looking through my extensive collection of preserving books and it got me so excited to do some new preserving projects. The one author I’m missing from my collection is Marisa McClellans two books. I can’t afford to buy them right now but I really want both of her titles: Food in Jars and Preserving by the Pint and when I have money for a couple more books I’m getting them. But my collection is pretty fantastic and it’s just about time to rev up for the canning season.

Canning projects I want to try this year:

pickled red onions

pickled cocktail onions

develop new salsa recipe (today!)

bruschetta topping

pickled ripe cherry tomatoes

Old favorites I plan to make:

tomato sauce

dilly beans

marinated summer vegetables

garlic dill pickles

canned peaches

canned vanilla pears

and more pickled jalapenos*

*Those black little dots I’ve seen in the batches this year and last year are weird but apparently not dangerous (Philip and I have been eating the jalapenos anyway with no ill effects) . Needless to say, I can’t give them to friends just to be safe. I’m going to be using a bunch of last year’s in my salsa so they will be cooked again and 100% safe at that point. But I will hold back a jar and take it to the extension office for answers. I meant to do that last year but will do it this time. I need that mystery solved.

 

Organized House for a Clear Head

porch cornerI have been very busy recalibrating my body and mind but I have come to a roadblock.  There are a lot of tools I have for dealing with my mental illness which is the thing that must be managed above all else or nothing else happens.  Among the tools for managing my mental health (aside from the life-saving psyche meds) are gardening, cooking, making things, making POTIONS, taking photographs, arranging flowers cut from the garden.  Canning.  Writing about it all.  I have an exhaustive list of projects I want to be working on in addition to writing book 2 of Cricket and Grey.  But until my house is organized and cleaned up I can’t work on these other projects because I can’t GET AT STUFF.  I can’t FIND STUFF.  I can’t CLEAN STUFF when it’s all such a mess around here I don’t even know where to begin.

The theme of this year seems to be recalibration.  Changing habits.  Cleaning up.  Cleaning out.  Rebuilding.  Rewriting.

I have a great house.  Plenty of room for things.  It’s got a lot of awkward spaces and so my living room closet is actually my kitchen pantry.  It’s okay though.  If I work at organizing my rooms better I can make it all work better for me.  I need to make it so that it’s easier to put stuff away.  I need to clean out more stuff – just because I like getting rid of stuff.  Feels good the way rejecting infinite loops of negative thought feels good.  Maybe you have room for old records in your head but why keep them in there if you can make more room for fresh air if not fresh thoughts?

As I work on losing another 20lbs in the next 3 months I need to be getting my house organized and cleaned out so that I can write better and more and also do more fun things in my kitchen and learn more apothecary skills.  To get my household polished up and running more smoothly I need to do the following things:

Clean out all bookshelves – pare down books and DVD’s and anything else that lives on my bookshelves.

Organize bookshelves – in particular my reference books.  Cooking, preserving, and gardening books need to be grouped together for easy locating.

Clean out and organize the living room closet – it’s gotten hairy in there with empty jars.  I may need to store some empty jar boxes in my office.

Clean out canned goods from laundry room – I don’t use canned goods when they’re difficult to access.  That cabinet in the laundry room could hold empties and canning supplies like screw lids.  (The things living on top of the freezer?)

Clear off everything living on top of the big freezer – cause it just hurts looking at that pile of crap.

Organize the kitchen cabinets better – tough job, this.  Too bad.  Find a way to make it work better.

Plan rearrangement of kitchen to fit the old stove – make an actual plan on paper of how I will fit the vintage stove into the kitchen and how I will fit a dish washer near the sink – will I find a cabinet on craigslist to put next to the one we have or find one to replace whole sink cabinet and everything or build something myself?

Clean off all the things I never clean off – fridge, big freezer, washer and dryer, doors, mouldings, window sills, stair railing, and cabinet fronts.

Make bathroom curtain – because that sitch is kind of depressing.  It’s a small window and I already have the fabric and trim to do it.

Make curtains for office – because the blinds SUCK.  Admittedly this is a huge job because I’ve got a ton of windows in here.

Hang my weird crap up in the office – because I like looking at my weird crap.

All of these things will make it easier to clean my house efficiently and access all my stuff for projects when I want to instead of avoiding projects because it exhausts me thinking about all I have to do before I can even start.  My head will feel better because my space will feel better.  I’m going to give myself a deadline to finish ALL of these things.

That deadline is July 9th.  The same deadline I gave myself to lose my next 20lbs.  These goals are not unrelated.

What kind of household projects are hanging over your head that you need to finish so other things run more smoothly?  Want to join me in getting shit done?!  Let’s do it!

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

707-535-2045

 

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!