August 2010 Archives

Big Kitchen Fail: around the farmhouse 8/31/10

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corn stack 2.jpgThe corn is good this year!  The corn is very very good and plentiful and not too expensive but I still choke at the thought of seven ears wasted!  However, the cobs, after giving up much of their flavor to a stock, made the chickens very happy.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been working on a corn chowder recipe.  One version had too much heat and too much cilantro in it but was otherwise PERFECT.  (I know this because right before adding one too many jalapenos and the entire bunch of cilantro I tasted it and it was so incredible I almost stopped right there.)

roux 2.jpgMy basic roux always has a little dash of cayenne in it- but for this project, the corn chowder, it made it too hot! 

So yesterday was my remake day and I was really excited.  Not just to make a new better batch which I suspected would then be ready to share with you, but because I was simultaneously experimenting with an olive oil roux in hopes of making a superb vegan version for my vegan friends.  I had already made some corn stock (more about that when I write the recipe) and the roux worked beautifully, the sauteed vegetables were added and then, then was the moment of truth: adding the corn.

This is the moment where everything went wrong.

I had cut all my corn off the husks and had it ready in a bowl.  7 ears' worth of it.  The only problem is that I'd had it prepped and ready to go for a day and a half.  All that time it was sitting on the counter.  I can't tell you now why I didn't put it into the fridge.  I have no explanation for my actions at all.  I smelled the corn (I have an excellent sense of smell) and it was sort of sour.  Not deeply sour.  But sour.  It wasn't moldy, it hadn't been hot (thank god!) and I had the most misguided thought in my entire cooking career: maybe it would be fine to use in the soup.  The cooking would kill anything dangerous and maybe the slight sourness would add a good flavor, the way soured cream does...people do intentionally rot fish in holes and call it a delicacy.  What's a little fermented corn?

What's a little fermented corn?!

Pretty unappetizing, as it turns out.  I followed through anyway.  Cooked it for about half an hour and in that time all the soured corn kernels turned brown in the soup and it didn't smell delicious.  I gave up.  It makes me so angry when I achieve such incredible waste in my own kitchen.  What's worse is that I didn't even compost it which would have saved it from being complete waste.  I have a very active compost going on in my yard and I don't throw much food in the garbage or down the garbage disposal. 

But sometimes I get overwhelmed by giant pots of soup that fail and I do weird things like panic about what to do with it and the thought of huge wet pots of soup getting slimy on the compost pile gives me palpitations.  So I tossed it in the rarely used garbage disposal. 

Today I'm feeling properly subdued about so much waste: 7 ears of corn, 4 home grown potatoes, two stalks of celery, some flour, a quart of home made stock, an onion, two jalapenos, and a can of evaporated milk (I was proceeding with the non-vegan version).

knock knock 2.jpgKnock knock?  Anyone home?  Can I come in?  Surely there's a grub or two you need cleaned up?

When these kind of things happen you just have to let it go.  Now that I've shared my calamity with you and come clean about not composting, I am letting it go.

In other farmhouse news: the hens are LOVING their free-ranging in the early evenings.  The big girls have become much mellower and follow us around in the garden and up to the porch where they hope to be included in all family activities such as family movie night.  Sadly, they must be put to bed before the movies start. 

The adolescents have no problem finding their way back to the coop when the sun sinks but our big girls gather up on the porch railing instead and we have to put them away each night by carrying them to the coop.  They are already in their middle age and this is the first time in their lives they've been allowed to roam around outside their run a couple of hours a day so they don't really know what to do.

They've been eating all the blackberries that I haven't wanted from the garden (the too sour ones and the overripe ones).  It's made for colorful messes on the patio.  While I am not loving all the messes, the benefit to my hens is obvious and I can tell that they are feeling much more fulfilled and happy.  Yes, you really can tell.  Birds may not be as smart as pigs but they are sentient beings and they do have some thoughts and emotions.  

Dot arrives inside 2.jpgHey Dot, whatcha peckin' at?  Thanks for dropping in the kitchen for a chat!

Dot even made it inside the kitchen once!  She didn't care for the slick texture of the floor but was much interested in joining me in the cooking... lest you think I am a completely dirty scary person who lets her farm animals make a manger of the farmhouse... I audiosed the bossy gorgeous Dot almost at once.

Though I secretly really do wish my chickens could follow me everywhere. 

For all you germaphobes out there, I promise you this floor has since been mopped well.

saffron from Sharon 2.jpg
My long time close friend Mrs. E brought me this amazing gift when she visited me a couple of weeks ago: Spanish saffron!  Look how many packets!  It's like gold!  I've never experimented with saffron because it's always been just a little too precious for me.  This gift is so treasured- thank you Mrs. E!  I can't wait to play with it!

Enjoying my hens running around has deepened my enjoyment of my old farmhouse and garden both of which have experienced serious neglect as we've  been struggling so hard to hold everything together.  As many of you know, we are going through a process with our bank that may take many months in order to try not to lose our house.  Not knowing if I'll get to stay here is stressful and could easily overwhelm me and prevent me from enjoying it while I am still in it.

The truth is, there is a curious little circle going on where the more I emotionally let go of my farmhouse and accept that at any time in the next year we may end up having to rent an apartment and give up our birds and our garden and the peach trees which have just begun giving us fruit, the more I find myself enjoying it in the moment, the more I enjoy it in the moment the more I realize I don't want to let it go.

I'm amazed at how I've managed not to let that drag me into a horrible pit of anxiousness.  I just keep coming back around to letting it go and deciding to enjoy it while I have it.  As long as I keep coming back to that I can't lose because even if I have to walk away in a few months, I'll know that I didn't waste all my time worrying about it and dreading it.

In an effort not to live in the past or the future I'm going to finally make winter curtains for this house and share the instructions for doing the same in your own if you need to make some for yourself.  In the past I wouldn't have done it knowing that I might not even be in this house by winter time.  But what if I am?  This will be our third winter here in the farmhouse and if we don't have to move it will be COLD because we don't turn the heat up past 58 and may go a little lower this year.  Keeping an old house warm is a challenge and one of the very best ways to keep heat in is to have lined winter curtains on all of your windows. 

I'm also planning to do a tutorial on making coasters.  They don't seem important until you can't find any around the house and the few pieces of good furniture you have are getting damaged by drink rings.  I haven't done sewing tutorials in a long time and that's one that almost anyone can do.

So, though there have been some epic failures around here, there is a lot of good going on and I'm really taking the time to enjoy those good things.  Every day we go outside for a little while to walk around with the birds and feed them blackberries and kitchen scraps and talk to them, which they like.  I've been cooking really good food and have been enjoying the process of recipe development which sometimes ends in a mess but nearly always evolves into something really delicious worth sharing with you.

I hope all of you are taking the time to enjoy what's good in your life right now too and with so many of my friends in such tough circumstances right now I just want to say that all of you are in my thoughts and when you navigate your own tough moments with grace I keep that with me as inspiration.

Eating Seasonally: summer 2010

stuffed round zuchs 2.jpgThis is a recipe in the works.  The ricotta stuffing was excellent but the squash skin was kind of tough which was disappointing.  Hopefully I'll be able to present this in the next week or so. 

We've been committed to eating mostly local produce for the last three years.  What "mostly" really means is that I buy almost all local produce all year but each week I allow myself to buy one or two produce items that aren't grown locally.  Avocados are one of them.  I don't believe I can live without avocados and I'm okay with that.  Because of buying avocados frequently I don't buy oranges or tangerines (this winter I got three boxes full of them grown by a family friend which was an incredible treat) or bananas or pineapples or most other things that never grow in my climate.  If I decide I want any of those things then I make sure that I don't buy avocados that week or I give up buying lemons or limes which I buy periodically for cooking.  It's all about maintaining a high proportion of locally grown produce all year round. 

Nearly always if you're eating locally you're eating seasonally.  Eating seasonally has changed the way I think about produce for the better.  When you eat tomatoes all year long you not only support an unsustainable system of shipping produce worldwide but you commit to eating sub-standard quality food.  Wait, but that wasn't what I was going to say- the best thing about not eating tomatoes until they're in season is that they become infinitely more treasured.  I cheated this early summer and bought some locally grown organic tomatoes grown in a greenhouse, which, it turns out, weren't that great anyway.  What can I say?  After ten months of buying NO "fresh"* tomatoes I was dying for my first taste and was disappointed.

This week the tomatoes are truly in season!  Here in my area they are beginning to show up at the farmer's markets and they have flavor and I'm making a ridiculously poor sentence just because I'm so excited about it I can't decide what to make with them first and I'm buying as many as I can at each market.  (That's a lot of excitement.)

Right now the summer produce is at its peak and I'm finding that there are so many things I can only cook during the summer because this is the only time I can get the real deal: the ripe local flavorful food that epitomizes warm weather and prevents me from relocating to the North Pole during the heat.  Seasonal eating makes me savor food so much more than I did before.  I'm experiencing a little bit of sensory overload right now.

Here are some of the things I want to make with what's available right now: 

Tomatoes: fresh salsa, pico de gallo, tomatoes on salad, stuffed tomatoes, slow oven roasted tomatoes, tomatoes in eggs, tomatoes in sandwiches, tomato gratin, pasta with tomatoes, a strange but unbelievably delicious casserole my mom makes with tofu feta and fresh tomatoes and cauliflower, tomato soup, Mexican rice, enchilada sauce, and Caprese salad.

Corn: corn chowder, corn on the cob, black bean chili with fresh corn, fresh in salad, corn in enchiladas, corn relish, creamed corn, and corn fritters.

Summer squash: squash gratin, stuffed squash, grilled on sandwiches, sauteed with fresh herbs and garlic, squash in summer soup, grilled as a side, zucchini bread, ratatouille, and in zucchini and feta fritters.

Eggplant:  grilled for sandwiches, grilled and cubed on pasta, baked, stuffed and baked, ratatouille, made into sauce for pasta with tomatoes and basil, baked with garlic and put on sandwiches, eggplant lasagna, and pickled!

Cucumbers: added to an assembled salad, sliced and dressed in mustard vinaigrette, in a raita sauce, tzatziki sauce to go over falafel, eaten plain, and dipped into ranch dressing.

 Those are just the main players.  Now I'm seeing beets- I love a salad with beets dressed in lemon and olive oil with kalamata olives and feta over a bed of lettuce.  Or roasted beets in couscous.  Or just roasted and eaten.  I love them pickled too.  Soon I'll be seeing a little celery which is exciting because I gave it up for most of the year when I went seasonal.  I used to put it in almost everything I cooked.  I sometimes blanch and freeze it but if I don't get around to it then I don't eat celery for 11 months out of the year. 

What to make?  How to make everything I want to in such a short time?  The hardest part is that a lot of the time I'm truly happy just eating a cheese sandwich with fresh tomato, mayonnaise, spicy mustard, on wheat bread.  Just like that.  So simple.  It's what I had for lunch today and it's so good!  I'm one of those people who doesn't think a sandwich is complete without tomato on it so I don't eat sandwiches during most of the year either.  Except for grilled cheese with home made dill pickles

I stand in my kitchen the moment I have time to cook something and am paralyzed with choice.  Winter and spring cooking is about finding 100 great ways to use celery root and chard and carrots but summer cooking is about becoming drunk with the limitless possibilities for meals. 

Before I ate seasonally I didn't appreciate what I was eating half so much or was nearly so conscious of the changes in my diet or of the seasons themselves in a broader sense; how when the air is hot and redolent of ripe blackberries it is also a time when I am most profoundly physically uncomfortable, my hens coo happily every late afternoon when the sun sinks and the heat eases and I toss them such succulent scraps as watermelon rinds or whole pieces of watermelon that Max has rejected, young squash trimmings, corn cobs full of corn scraps, and the low hanging blackberries in the garden.

Then there's the way the air feels just as we turn the corner from the first two weeks of ripe tomatoes, when the nights start biting ever so slightly and underneath the lingering heat of summer is that queer smell we all recognize that tells us fall is coming; it's time to preserve food madly, pick apples, clean up the summer garden if you're normal and not lazy like me, and when the local giant cauliflowers start showing up downtown it means it's time to pickle and it means that the last of the eggplants has drifted into the farm compost pile. 

Seasons still drive humans on a truly primal level but so many of us have allowed ourselves to operate outside them, to ignore the natural drives that tell us when to eat every rich vitamin-laden piece of produce we can get our hands on against the coming bleaker months, when to store things away for the cold months, when to pull out the blankets, hibernate, go inward, and when to come back outside to watch the first green fronds ignite the icy cold with bright hope...and it matters.  I feel more connected to myself and the earth when I eat seasonally. 

This makes sense since eating is such a basic need we are constantly trying to fulfill and without it, like light, we will die. 

So while I find it overwhelming to have so much lush produce at my disposal at a time when I am most inclined to eat salads and simple sandwiches, I also love this feeling of possibilities.  I just ate a salad with all organic locally grown (affordable) produce: lettuce, tomatoes (ripe!), raw corn, and cucmber, and it was soul satisfying. 

Tomorrow I hope to experiment with corn chowder.  I'm chasing a memory of a bowl of corn chowder I ate in San Francisco in a cafe that has been gone for over 15 years and who's name I can't even remember: a bowl of corn chowder that was so sublime I completely forgot who I was sitting with while I ate it and ever since then there has been no corn chowder to match it.  I keep trying.

Perhaps I'll get it right this week and if I do I'll share it with you.

Happy summer eating!!  


*I do buy canned tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes and when I can I try to can my own.  The year before last I canned enough tomatoes myself that I didn't even buy canned tomatoes for a year!  They tasted better and were actually cheaper than the factory canned tins.  If you don't believe me you must read my article on the cost analysis between home canned and store bought canned tomatoes:

Is it cost effective to can your own tomatoes?

First Week of August Around the Farmhouse

first artichokes 2.jpgThe first two artichokes!  They are so gorgeous.  I haven't eaten them yet.  I plan to cook them today because I'm leaving for New York tonight. I'm so not freaking out.

mo or curly sue 2.jpgIs this Curly-Sue or Mo?  They grew up to be the same size so I can't tell!  The flock integration has worked out well.  There are enough of the young ones to huddle together for safety when Dot charges them.  Yes, Dot wants dominion.  Actually all of the older hens rush at the young ones but there has been no substantial bullying, no eyes have been pecked out, and the little ones are getting bigger every day so that soon I think there will be less rushing at them and a true pecking order will be established.

I love the way the Speckled Sussex hens look!  So pretty!

the pullet gang 2.jpgIt has been such a pleasure to see all the hens running around in the garden.  They've been plucking at the low growing blackberries.  That's fine with me.  It will make their eggs richer and better.  But they probably won't taste like blackberries.

most beautiful fruit 2.jpg
Here they are.  The fruit of my laziness.  I have been letting some brambles get out of control in the past two years and my reward are these plump, finely perfumed, sweet (though I like them with just a hint of sour still in them), summer berries.  I believe that blackberries are my all time favorite fruit.  They remind me of everything wild and scrappy.  They have been, for many years, the only thing I love about summer.*  In Oregon there are so many of them growing wild by the roadsides that when the heat rises the air smells like ripe blackberries.  It's a heady experience to go whizzing down a country (or town, or city, or freeway...) road on my scooter and pass through a great cloud of warm rich blackberry scent.  It is the essence of summer.

It's true that they are the scourge of the cultivated garden.  There are a few varieties that are fairly tame but I tend to doubt those ones taste as good as the ones that misbehave and sprawl all over the place like a bad boyfriend.  I can't say if this is true elsewhere but here in Oregon if you have a blackberry popping up in your yard, or you see them by the roadside, they are most likely not truly wild blackberries but a variety first created by Luther Burbank called "Himalaya" which was so successful that it has taken over this whole state. 

I learned that fact from the Master Gardening program I took a few years ago.  I haven't done any research to verify if it's true but I like to think I have a little piece of Burbank in my garden that just arrived randomly to bring me these amazing free fruits.  I also happen to have a Santa Rosa plum tree, another of his finer works.

My house is in a state of mad chaos.  I've been working hard at my job, and doing my Kung Fu, and shopping the farmer's market, cooking, and generally ignoring everything else.  I had meant to get the house really cleaned up before my departure but we've all been down with gastroenteritis this week so not much got done but what absolutely had to.  So I'm packing up and printing some Stitch and Boots business cards because I'm heading off the the Blogher convention.

When I return home I hope to get my house in better shape and to share several posts here that I've been sitting on while finishing the details (cooking times, photographing, etc.).  In the meantime I hope you are all stopping to smell the brambles in the air and taking the time to enjoy the amazing produce of summer!

*This is patently untrue as I have been known to say the same thing about home grown tomatoes.

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