Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cheese Genius

In the deli department of one of our favorite markets, Market of Choice, there lies a huge wheel of cheese. Huge. The lady behind the counter, after pointing out all the delicious cheeses on sale during their Harvest Sale, told us that if we could guess the weight of the cheese wheel we'd win a small prize.

Tom asked if he could pick it up.


He did. And as he was setting it down he said, "That weighs 85 lbs."

The lady's mouth dropped open. She reached under the counter for his gift, a small jar of jam.

She asked, "How'd you know? I mean, that's exactly what it weighs."

"Felt like a tire and tires are 85 pounds."

My husband the mechanic - and now enjoyer of a fine jar of rhubard jam, with almonds.

And he shares.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hidden Meals

I'm ever surprised - stupid me - that there are so many meals hidden in my food storage areas, in pieces here and there waiting for someone to put them together. It took me getting irritated at food prices - okay, outraged - before I rediscovered my stubborn streak, the one that fights back.

Tom's been after me for some time to dig out the old, frozen chicken parts, the pork chunks, and the nuts and berries, etc. from the back of the freezer. And to reacquaint myself with the mason jars of various dried beans, peas, and lentils in the pantry. He mentioned as he walked out the door for work yesterday, "Is there something that can be done with these bananas before we have to throw them out?" While his helpful little comments normally have a negative effect on me - down-side of the stubborn streak - I've taken his pleadings to heart in an attempt to strike-back at rising grocery prices.

I've had the ability to cook and bake for a long long time, yeah sure. But after twenty-eight years of husband and children, well, it sort of loses its appeal now and then. Especially when my chore list remains long, responsibilities demand, and contemplation is taken seriously.

But occasionally - especially when the seasons change - the mood strikes!

And this time it struck a double-whammy! Seasonal cravings coupled with high grocery costs.

I really had no choice. I, being who I am, took up the sword and sliced the grocery bill down by using what I already have to feed my family. Swoosh! And I cleaned out the freezer making room for more good harvest delights. Swoosh again!

The mood will pass. It always does. But this time I have pictures to remind me of the satisfaction. Maybe I'll be motivated again sooner. And this time I have a freezer full of things I normally would have been too preoccupied - lazy - to make up ahead or save from the garden.

I think I'm changing.


Crisp Weather/Chicken Soup

It rained yesterday. Nice! I pulled a bunch of chicken pieces from the freezer and made stock.

The girls and I rolled out a batch of rustic pasta last evening, spreading it out to dry overnight.

This morning as I skimmed the fat off the refrigerated stock I remembered that our last CSA box included purple potatoes. Why not make chicken soup with purple spuds for fun? Over the weekend Cassie picked the last of the green beans. As I didn't have any peas, I added a few of the late bloomers instead.

The soup foamed and dripped a little onto the stove as it simmered away. Oh well, it still smelled divine.

This afternoon, right before the girls left for French class, and before Tom headed for work, we sat down at the table over steaming bowls of chicken soup, and watched the gray fogginess of a chill October day creep over the butte and into our world.

Hot soup and a drippy day.

Perfect timing!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gathering Pieces

What do you do with these too soft to peel and snarf bananas?

And what about these remnants of walnuts crammed to the back of the freezer? Have they outlived their usefulness?

They can still contribute. Yes, they can. They may look used up and worthless, old and spotted, too soft, but together they create a whole new food!

A gentle touch finds good fruit inside...

..a new banana form. Smashed! Pile up the nuts and chop chop chop.

Introduce the duo to a few fresh friends.

Send them on a cruise to a warmer climate.

Sun tanned, bananas and nuts, a whole new offering.


Never underestimate the value deep inside each and every one of us.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Apres Summer

I know I'm the most boring blogger ever. My posts are about desserts and soups, harvesting and preserving, and the joy that these simple things bring to me. Complete, peaceful joy.

I'm in a very relaxed, content place right now. Embracing the new season, letting the chill wind brrrr me, letting the warm house toast me, and letting the satisfaction of a summer well-spent console me. l rode fearlessly on the crest of summer this year, rode her from spring to fall, noticing her nuances, making time to stop and making time to participate, squeezing out all that I could of her loveliness, her offerings, her opportunity and poetry. It has left me very mellow.

It's boring to read about, I know. But these simple posts reflect my experience, my feeling.

I hope it's not the calm before the storm.

I hope it's just me...learning to listen, to absorb, and to be grateful.

We'll see.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hazelnuts Revisited

Food tastes better when cooked or baked from scratch, yourself. Even better when some effort and sweat have been expended gathering ingredients. Whether foods are grown from seeds in backyard gardens, foraged from the wilderness, squeezed from a goat or cow, or cracked in a family circle around the kitchen table, patience is necessary and satisfaction guaranteed.

Uncertain economic times turn my mind to solutions. How to feed my family real food while staying within an affordable budget. How to get the most out of what is available to us. Local berries, nuts, CSA boxes of produce, local grass-fed beef, local dairy products, and stores that stock their shelves with fresh ingredients grown kindly are a few wonderful solutions.

It's not hard to eat close-to-the-earth foods. But one must be dedicated - and patient.

My latest dessert creation began with an idea and recipe from a friend. The rest was up to us. To make this maple-hazelnut pie we gleaned nuts from a local farm, dried, cracked, and roasted them, then chopped them with a sharp knife. I could have purchased nuts from a bulk food bin, but I wouldn't know where they'd been grown, they'd be stale, and well, I would have to pay for them. A little effort and family time spent harvesting and processing filberts produced more than a bowl of nuts. It produced bonding, joy, laughter, exercise - and satisfaction.

While I was putting the ingredients together according to the instructions I thought of my Canadian friend, WC, who shared this recipe on her blog. It looked so good I had to give it a whirl. To spend time in the kitchen thinking about her and all the wonderful foods she prepares and shares, the art expressed in every dish and photo, well, it made me feel pretty good. Sharing with someone I've never met but who has a common interest in healthy edibles prepared with joy gave me a very pleasant afternoon.

My pie just came out of the oven. We'll let it cool and sit overnight, to be sampled tomorrow. For now it is a solid reminder sitting on the counter offering its sweet, nutty aroma not only to our household but the neighborhood as well, an enjoyable reminder to me that preparing food can be art, it can be responsible, it can be affordable, it can be proudly shared across nations - and it can be fun.

It's just a pie, sure. But it means friendship to me. It means time spent with Tom and the girls on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. It means pampering my family with whole tasty treats. It means there is an aspect of life - eating - that is too often unappreciated, hurried, even toxic when it can be so... so much more.

While I can't cook treasures for every meal I can present them often. It's a choice and it makes a difference to family and friends - and to me.

(Bowlful of hot, roasted filberts, exploding with flavor!)

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Craving hazelnut biscotti but unable to find any fresh enough for me in stores, I decided to make my own. Finding my freezer void of the chosen nuts, I schlumped into the house, defeated.

"Let's go glean some from the farm!" suggested an energetic Tom. Dog and kids loaded into the car, we headed for the nuts.

After drying them in the oven we began our cracking party.

Once we'd cracked enough for my cookie recipe I began stirring up the dough and forming the logs.

Nuts that weren't added to cookie dough were roasted in the oven, cooled, and frozen for later use. It was hard to not grab handfuls and eat them all!

After baking and cooling the logs, I sliced 'em up and baked them again.

Craving satisfied!

(Thanks, WC, for spurring my creativity with your Hazelnut Pie!)