Friday, July 25, 2008

Squashed Finger and Squash Cake


Friday, Friday, Friday! Been a pretty crazy week here, what with both of my old jobs piling on the “Oh, wait, before you go can you…?” requests and general “Oh shit, this new job is no joke” feelings and my husband (gulp, woah, ohmigawd, it still sends me over the moon to type that) smooshing the bejeezus out of one of his fingers at work on Monday. We are talking major smooshage; trip to Urgent Care and the whole nine, but fortunately no broken bones just general blood and gore. Luckily it was the very best finger to bash the hell out of if you are a musician, I will never stop being grateful for small gifts such as this.


Anyway, he’s been knocking around the house this week trying to keep from going absolutely mad, and yesterday I came home to find some half dozen jars of delicious plum jam, made from plums picked from a tree up the street. We have been stopping to check on these plums for a few weeks now, but after reading that plums are best picked just shy of perfectly ripe and after seeing someone else looking suspiciously laden walking away from the tree, B walked up the street and knocked out some major one-handed picking and some even more impressive one-handed jam making. It didn’t set completely, so it’s perfect for putting in yogurt or spreading on waffles or… And the peels did this crazy thing where the pieces of it almost feel candied in texture. Yum, just plums and sugar.

What else? I made my annual Chocolate Zucchini Cake. I think I posted this last year but it was one of the recipes that didn’t make the move over here so I am going to post it again. We didn’t (and probably won’t ever) plant any summer squash and yet still, our countertop has a huge pile of zucchini and crookneck and sunray squash. Just about when I get tired of all the different savory ways to knock out a squash, I remember this cake. Simple, rich, and super moist. We played our first post-injury tunes last night while it almost cooled and then ate slices topped with melting scoops of our favorite mint chip ice cream. Ice cream on still warm desserts is the bomb. The crooknecks and sunrays are going to go in here tonight or tomorrow.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee or just fine ground coffee/espresso
3 eggs, room temperature
2 cups zucchini, unpeeled, grated
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375°F). Grease a 3 quart bunt pan or something close in terms of shape and size.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Beat or mix sugar and butter until fluffy, then add vanilla and coffee. Add an egg, then another egg, then the third egg.

Add grated zucchini and chocolate chips, mix until incorporated. Then add dry ingredients a cup at a time. This is a thick batter.

Pour (or wrestle) batter into your pan, bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. This cake has some serious moisture insurance, what with all that zucchini, so don’t worry about drying it out. Let cool and the whack the pan onto a plate or a rack or something – do it like you mean it!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dry and Dusty


Hello heat wave. Relaxing in chilly Nova Scotia did little to ease us into the dead of summer, although certain signs in the garden are confirming my suspicion that it got hot here early and it got hot here fast. Damn dry too, which has made me very thankful for our rain barrels. I have to say though, they have proven to be their own psychological quagmire, if I do say so myself. My first piece of advice to anyone thinking of doing this (and yes Mister Shark, you told me so) is to get the biggest damn container you can stand. Because when it really rains, a 60-gallon barrel is full in a hot second. Maybe even a hot half a second. And that's if it's empty, which sometimes it's not because I am kind of a water hoarder. B will tell you that I am an insane lady out there when it rains, running around with wet clothes plastered to my skin trying to get as much water as possible from the overflowing rain barrels onto things like cherry trees and blueberry bushes. It pains me to see that water hitting the dang grass, much like it pains me when I know there are ripe blueberries up on the Blue Ridge Parkway going unpicked. Anyway, we have already hatched plans to put a Very Large Container in the back of the house, like something that looks similar to a large space crate. We will put the displaced 60-gallon barrel up in the front with its green friend, just slightly lower so they will daisy chain together. Will keep you posted.


Speaking of psychological quagmires, this is something I have been thinking about for a while now, even before the shock of coming home to a garden bursting at the seams: the stress of taking responsibility for your own food. Because honestly people, I never used to stress out about my eggs. But between our chicken death and our chicken injury and finding organic feed for them and making sure that the girls are not totally conking out in this super hot weather, I have definitely experienced some chicken related stress. And the garden: new pests (damn Mexican Bean Beetles), watering cycles, soil quality, mulching, planting the seeds at the right time, choosing the right cultivars for our area, eating everything or putting it up for later: I can stress about all of that too. While I know that not everyone would get as stressed as I do, I think that anyone taking on these kinds of things after years of just getting food at a grocery store will get what I’m talking about pretty soon (and maybe stress isn't even the right word here). The weird thing is that up to a certain point, I truly enjoy puzzling on it all. I love figuring out why the blossoms dropped off of a few arms of the Black Krim, I really enjoy talking to smart people around here about how to best care for our chickens, and I can eat green beans every night for quite some time before I call uncle. But being aware of crossing over from enjoyable work into mental overload is something I have to keep an eye on because I will grind myself to a powder without flinching. And sometimes I have to work at letting the agricultural failures roll off me (damn seeded basil is still only an inch high – it is my new special dwarf basil). Anyway, suffice to say that I am just much more aware of what it is that we buy when we hand over money for food; we are paying for someone else to stress about this stuff for us. Maybe this is really obvious to some of you; I guess for myself I always thought that we were paying mostly for physical work – the emotional end of it, well, suffice to say that I have a seriously increased appreciation for that.

Anyway. Listen to me ramble. For those of you still awake: guess what? I got a new job. A really fantastic super job. I didn’t even tell most of you that I was after it, because wouldn’t you know that the whole application and interview (entire day, 500 different Deans of Something to meet with, a public presentation, the whole nine) went down right between Buying a House and Getting Married. I put every available brain cell into getting ready for the interview and then I promptly tried to forget it entirely, which, what with having our totally amazing wedding and wedding trip in there, I did pretty well at. But man, upon getting home, I was staring at my cell phone and literally willing it to ring. And Friday, at 5:08 pm, ring it did. Woo-f-ing-hoo.

Be well out there.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Berrys and Beans

Oh my goodness. Friday already. Busy week around here, lots of working for B and me. We are slowly getting grounded over here; a few good mornings in the garden, some fine time with our chickens (umm, having a cocktail while sitting out with the girls is pretty much the best), playing some great tunes until one of us finally makes us Go To Bed. Summertime. I have started riding my bike to work again, which is so great. I end up with more energy when I need it and more tired when I need it, if that makes any sense. Well, that's not totally true - I have to get up earlier to ride my bike and I still hate that part. It's weird; I almost never sleep in past 9, so it's not like I am someone who loves to sleep in, but getting up earlier than 8 is always a chore.


ANYWAY. So. A lot of the ladies out there who write the cooking blogs that I love have at different points gotten really excited about Rancho Gordo beans. Which is easy to do, so don't click that link unless you're ready to be seduced by an array of gorgeous heirloom beans of all colors and shapes. In Asheville even the big fancy healthy stores really do not have a lot of options outside of the kidney-black-pinto bean world. Booooooooring. So. Although I know that shipping beans around the country is not awesome, I could not help myself any longer and I ordered a whole heck of a bunch of beans. They are so lovely. These beans are not the cheapest beans you will ever meet, but honestly beans go so far that I still consider them a pretty frugal alternative to meat and fish and such. Word on the street is that because these beans are fresher they are much easier to cook. We have some Vallarta beans soaking for dinner right now and I will report back. Yum.


In other exciting news: berry picking. A friend from work kicked down a picking spot, which is when you really know you are friends imo, and yesterday we picked our little fingers sore. The invitation was for raspberry picking, but it turned out that these are wineberries. Which is still a berry but not nearly the berry that a raspberry is so I was a tiny bit disappointed. I think they will end up as a colorful addition to crisps and cobblers this fall and winter. They sure are lovely to look at though, and I love nothing more than tucking things into the freezer for later.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Things That Are Making Me Happy

1) It's Saturday morning, and we just finally made the perfect cup of coffee with our new french press.

2) This wedding present, given to us by an old friend of B's, who sewed it up himself. How cute are these two? Seriously. I have watched the handmade stuffed animal movement from afar with great appreciation, but this the first one that got to come home with us. Last night B was making them dance around and I very nearly fell off the bed laughing. Thanks Ian, we love them!


3) Watching one of our chickens (Gonzo, of course) eat a mosquito off of B's leg last night. How awesome is that? She just whisked it right off the very second it landed in for a bite of my man. She is still our little bug eating machine.

4) This wedding gift. The couple who drove 900 hours to our wedding and then played twin fiddles for our ceremony left us this card in our little cabin. Here's the kicker: it's just a painting of the gift. They are woodworkers and are going to make us a cabinet for our house. I think the painting is so lovely and such a gift itself.


5) This, written by my BFF, Rachel. You must all click on the link to see a picture of my Granny in her previously mentioned Wedding Hat. For folks new to here, Rachel and I used to do The Bees Knees together, but now she is a solo bee and everyone should buy the cute things she finds. She is also the source of my amazing wedding dress that I keep getting comments and emails about. I love her for a zillion reasons, but not having to shop for a wedding dress (gah, itch, noooooo, scratch) will always be one of them.

6) This wedding vase, made by the lovely Diana Fayt. Regular readers around here will know that I have a major thing for her pottery. Her work is an incredible intersection of art and function, clay and illustration. Plus her fascination with things that grow is right up my alley. B's mom suggested that we point people in her direction for wedding gifts and now we have an incredible collection of her bowls and this lovely vase. I am still turning each of the bowls over and over to discover all the details, and this vase, well, just makes my morning over breakfast and my evening over dinner.

Three Down, Many to Go!


Ok, I hate to think of you all out there seeing me be a big baby about my lousy day on Wednesday, so I am back to let you know that I have returned to my sunny self. We got great mail yesterday, work at the library has been awesome, we are getting fabulous rain here mixed with beautiful sun so you can practically see things growing in the garden. And...we knocked out three huge cucumbers last night! I can't really say that we ate them all though, because, er, well, we drank two of them! Yup, when life gets you down and the cukes on your counter are giving you a heart attack in the morning: cocktails! We had our fabulous house sitter over for dinner last night (more about her later) and as I was warning her that we would probably be feeding her a six course meal of different dishes featuring the mighty Japanese Long Cucumber I joked about serving her a cucumber cocktail, at which point I remembered really having a very fine cucumber, gin, and mint cocktail at a bar in San Francisco. So. Off to the gin store, mint from the backyard, a few limes and some Reed's Ginger Beer and then I pretty much turned the whole show over to B, who suddenly turned into Cocktail Man and kicked down some totally amazing drinks. There's no real recipe here, but it's good to know what to do with the cucumbers: peel them (feed scraps to chickens if you have them), chunk them up in the food processor or blender, and then strain the whole mess through a sieve so that you end up with bright green cucumber water. One very long cucumber (ours are well over a foot) made just over a cup of juice. Muddle or otherwise smash together your mint and your limes and lime juice, strain. Add enough ginger beer to give it some fizz and a touch of sweet. Simple syrup and seltzer would do fine here if you are not a ginger lover. It was so yum and summery.

So, the house sitter. Right before we left for the wedding, one of our Rhode Island Reds developed a limp. We are talking just days before we were set to leave Asheville. And her limp just kept getting worse. She was so pathetic, standing around on just one foot and practically tumbling down the ramp when she wanted to go downstairs. I had no idea what to do. I picked her up and examined her foot and her leg and saw nothing external. I read our Chicken Health Handbook, and oh lord, it seemed like she could have any one of 900 diseases and the book pretty much said "Cull chicken and dispose of in sterile conditions" or something very dire that basically meant strangle your chicken and burn the remains. Needless to say, I was not prepared to kill one of our chickens just for limping. I really suspected that she had just fallen off the perch and sprained or broken a toe or something, but what the hell do I know about chicken injuries? Anyway, what you are supposed to do with an injured chicken is separate them from the flock and put them in small comfortable quarters so that they don't move around too much and just let them heal. What I wanted to do was to put her in our bathtub and spoil her rotten. What I had to do was get our shit packed and go get married. So after sitting in front of the coop for hours totally panicking about her, I had to hit what I fondly refer to as The Fuck it Switch. Where you run the worst case scenario ("She has a communicable fatal disease and we come home and all the chickens are dead.") and make your peace with it and then move on to what you can deal with, like getting your ass to Maine and getting the houseplants watered. So, you know, I asked the house sitter to keep an eye on her and lined up a distant friend who has chickens to come over if she worsened. Anyway. I will not say that I worried about our chicken through the wedding, but I will say that I definitely thought about her. I figured that every day that I didn't get an email or phone call from the house sitter was good. I didn't call to check, because I did not want bad news if there was any. But after the wedding, while we were just knocking around Portland in a daze and glow, I emailed her to see how things were going. And long story made only slightly less long: she was nursing our chicken back to health by keeping her in her own little box by the window, feeding her special foods, and taking her out twice a day for fresh air. I cried, because, well, before, during, and after our wedding I cried about everything (in a good way), but mostly just because I am so lucky to have such great smart friends. By the weekend before we returned, our girl was no longer limping so our house sitter snuck her back into the coop late at night so that our other girls wouldn't pick on what they would perceive as a new intruder, but rather just wake up in the morning and think she had always been there. She is still our shyest chicken, but she was already our shyest chickens before she hurt herself. And now she is totally a human loving chicken; she comes right over and lets you pet her and feed her and at times I get the sense that she is a little nonplussed to have to spend her days in the chicken coop instead of in the house, like, "Mom, these chickens are so dramatic! They never talk about anything intellectual! Can't we just go for a walk or have a salad together?"

So. That is the story of our amazing house sitter and our limping chicken. The end.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What a Day


Oh man people. What a day. I am having some Real World Reality Reentry issues. Yesterday: insane. I walked into my non-library job and my desk reared back and swallowed my head for about 9 hours. Not so much as a how-do-you-do. Then this morning our washing machine bit the dust. Then we realized that someone broke into our house and stole my laptop, which at first I was totally sunny and fine with ("They didn't steal our guitar! Or my favorite mug! Or my secret stash of fine dark chocolate or the bottle of spendy bourbon a professor at the college gave me for being a cheery librarian!") but then I started to remember all the music and writing and pictures on it and now I really am very sad, not to mention slightly creeped out.

And then. The garden. I hate to admit this, but I am kind of overwhelmed out there. I feel like I kind of lost my garden vision due to our long absence, and now we've got lettuce measuring in at just over four feet high, bolted spinach, and cucumbers coming out of our ears. Everything is growing differently than it did this winter; greens growing big and tough, beets bursting out of the ground, parsley screaming to be allowed to throw seed pods up to the sun. I will say that the insect community appears to be very well balanced out there, the tomato plants look amazing, the leeks grow strong, and those f-ing cucumbers taking up all the real estate on our counter are really, really amazing cucumbers. And, because I really am a lucky girl, the husband of a friend came over and fixed our washer. For free ("Happy Wedding," he hollered behind him as I chased him out waving my wallet). I know I will find my pace with the garden again as soon as I have a quiet morning to really spend out there. I just have not really thought about what to plant now, and there will actually be some space out there once I throw the Empire Buildings of Lettuce to the chickens. Feel free to help me out here folks - what do you plant in high summer? Also, has anyone tried making freezer pickles? I am not sure it is a good idea for me to can anything right now, as I am forgetful and spacey and I think this is how people accidentally poison their husbands and neighbors. But freezer pickles sound about like what I could handle right now. Please report in, all you canners lurking out there.


Anyway. Life is not all insane; I taught at the library today and it was one of the best classes I've had in a while. B made me pancakes for breakfast and our house sitter was the kind of rockstar house sitter who leaves you homemade raspberry jam in the fridge, which she will apologize for because it didn't set and you will smooch her for because it slides onto pancakes like bright fuschia gold. People will send you links to pictures from your wedding and you will see all your favorite faces again but they will be doing new things or talking to someone you didn't know they talked to and my, don't they look happy and doesn't my Gran look like a gem in her wedding hat and isn't my mother so beautiful and god, my friends are so gorgeous I can barely stand it, and look, look, look... All to say, enjoy that laptop out there thief, it's slow as molasses and I still have sand in my sandals from skipping down the beach.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Sweet Home


I barely know where or how to begin. We’re home. Home after having a wedding that was more special and beautiful and incredible and unforgettable than I can ever put into words. After planning and planning and planning, we still had no idea what to expect, if that makes any sense, and let me tell you: it blew our minds and practically broke our hearts out of our chests with the amount of love in the air. I always used to say that lucky was my favorite feeling, and damn, I am one lucky lady. One lucky married lady, thank you very much.


For now we are unpacking, exclaiming over how the garden grew, falling in love all over again with our chickens, sorting through the enormous pile of mail in our living room, and just loving that we get to come home to our life as we have grown it. I’ll be back when we dig out…

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer Galettes

Hey out there! I am still not home, I think I am somewhere in Nova Scotia right now. Sorry for the lack of photos with all of these recipes! I'll be back with pictures soon...

As much as I love a pie, I really have a soft spot for the galette. They just have these easy peasy slightly unassuming if not downright sloppy look to them that belies how fantastic they are. Plus, if you are totally ungifted at rolling things out into anything resembling a circle it really doesn’t matter one bit ‘cause you just fold it all together and call it a day. The crust recipe I used came from a cookbook written the mother of an old acquaintance and you can peek at the book here. I should state here for the record that I am a recent convert to the food processor crust, and like many other kinds of new converts I am ridiculously enthusiastic about my newfound religion. My Granny (Hi Gran! Love you!) took great pains to teach me to make a proper pie crust in a good old regular bowl with a fork and a butter knife, but honestly I have always just sucked at it. In the face of such failures I turned to “cheater” pie crusts – gingersnap pie crusts, polenta pie crusts, zucchini pie crusts, etc. But finally last year I threw it all the ingredients for a regular pie crust into the food processor and promptly rolled out a crust that knocked my own socks off. Suffice to say that if you’ve ever sobbed or sniffled or cursed over a pile of butter bits and flour give your old food processor a whirl. Anyway, here’s the recipe for the savory galette, the crust again from Annie and Margrit and the filling an adaptation from the same.

Dough:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup cold water

Combine flour and salt. Cut butter into 1 inch pieces, add to flour, pulse (or whatever you talented fork wielding folks do) until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water, pulse to mix. Gather dough, wrap in plastic, press into disk, refrigerate for no less than 1 hour and no more than 3 days. After rolling dough out, refrigerate again for 30 minutes before assembling galettes and baking. Note that this is a “hearty” crust; not overly rich and not intended for a sweet galette.

Insides

2 tablespoons butter
3 medium leeks, slivered (use as much as you can, including the pale green insides up top)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup grated gruyere
3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. For topping, melt butter in a pan over high heat. Add leeks, salt, pepper, mix. Add water, turn heat to medium and simmer until leeks are soft and liquid evaporated. Spread leeks over chilled dough, sprinkle cheese, arrange tomato slices in an artistic fashion. Fold edges over helter-skelter or into a perfect circle, whatever floats your boat. Brush crust lightly with egg mixture. Bake for 35 minutes or until the crust is golden and flaky. Eat it just as soon as it won’t burn your tongue.