“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for.” (Joseph Addison)
I am not sure that I have had time for hobbies in my life. Gardening was always for food, not much of a hobby. Cooking gourmet meals is just a way of life. Camping? It is getting very difficult to locate places to stay when I have time available. Reading? Probably.
What is a hobby? The dictionary says it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation, not as a main occupation. Well cooking and gardening? Too much work and not enough relaxation or pleasure. Gourmet cooking can take a lot of time and the pleasure of it is consumed in moments. Gardening, real work with a nice outcome, but not much pleasure in the process and it is back breaking as well.
Camping used to be a pleasure for us. Now, with so many snowbirds, the parks are crowded and you must plan six months to a year in advance to camp in your favorite place, which also happens to be everyone else’s favorite too. I don’t buy green bananas, how can I plan THAT far ahead?
Reading. I guess I would say that by the strictest definition of the word, my hobby would be reading. I spend a goodly amount of time doing it and I enjoy it and it isn’t part of my work, therefore it qualifies as a hobby. I read about one hundred fifty books a year, sometimes more, reading most evenings for a couple of hours. Since it interferes with work I should be doing, it really seems more like an addiction than a hobby.
Writing. Writing is probably a hobby for me too. My original goal in starting to write was publishing books about my life, memoir. I have written and rewritten and belabored the subjects ad infinitum. Am I any closer to my goals….NO! I have enjoyed doing it and it does give me satisfaction. It does take some of my time though not as much as reading.
Overall, I guess I am such a busy person that hobbies have not really had much place in my life. A sad thing. One should have “an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.” as the definition required. I still prepare gourmet meals, garden, read and write, but that is about the extent of non-work activities in which I participate. I guess I need to find a good hobby.
We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays. I was to bring dessert. What kind of holiday dessert could I make? I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.
I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake. It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts. I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake. I did have yams and applesauce. Off on a new recipe experiment. I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create. How would the yams cook? Would they be tough or chewy? Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?
The only way to know was to try. I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots. They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor. The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce. I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency. Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.
I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.
When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them. My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting. I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying. Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.
When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.
The resulting taste? Fantastic. Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients. I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive. Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.
The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great. Try it sometime.
Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest. One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat. Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem. There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.
Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy. You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous. Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.
Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots. I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.
My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size. You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.
Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner. A turkey fryer set up works well. You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time. Then the cleaning when they are cooked. Plunge them into cool water to cool them. Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside. Rinse well.
Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab. Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked. We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).
We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab. Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot. This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese. Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato. We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!
After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound. Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.
Crab season is upon us. It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.
I am an omnivore. I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc. You get my point. I try almost anything. I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy. If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.
When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask. In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again. If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.
One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil. I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them. The problem with this dish was the mustard oil. I understand now how mustard gas can kill. The oil was truly nasty stuff.
The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served. I eat these, but they are not a favorite. They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.
Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood. This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily. Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood. I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table. No one noticed as there was so much food. Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh. My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.
There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner. I quote it from my manuscript below.
“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before. He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer. As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood. The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling. The duck blood was spoiled. When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic. I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad. Bob didn’t even get sick.”
Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat. When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.
There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never. There are only two. One I don’t run across but occasionally. Parsnips are on my HATE list. I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here. I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose. When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries. These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone. Parsnips taste like that smell. Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.
The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs. I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked. I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood. It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict. Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified? Never. I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold. Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft. I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?
Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs. I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones. It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.
I am an omnivore. I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once. Try it, you might like it.
It has been a while since I wrote, but winter can be a busy time. The wind blows and the branches fall and cleanup has to happen. The critters in the woods come out and attack the chickens and measures need to be taken to make the chickens more secure. I lost two of my hens to a Cooper’s hawk.
It snowed twice this past week here in the maritime Northwest, an almost unheard of event for late March. It wasn’t traffic-stopping snow, but snow none the less.
The woodshed was almost empty as the weather has been colder than usual with more fuel needed for the woodstove, so I have been working on a new batch of wood, splitting and hauling. But we ARE keeping warm.
It is also time to do all the tax stuff since the two of us have businesses that require complicated tax forms.
Gee isn’t winter fun? Well it is, and I am just giving excuses for not writing. We do have a new customer for our card business and we have been preparing a new line of cards as well. I had three dog portrait commissions in recent weeks too. That is always exciting.
Right now the wind is blowing like mad outside (22 mph) and the temp is in the low 40s. I just started the stove and will put on breakfast shortly. Winter is also the time for comfort food and last night I made one of our favorites, ravioli.
We have always made our own pasta and, in more recent times, even have a hand-crank machine to roll and cut the dough. I made large sheets and cut out round ravioli with the device I mentioned an earlier blog.
Last night, however, the ravioli was a real surprise, even for me who can usually anticipate how it will taste. I took a bite and was truly amazed at the wonderful flavor. I made homemade ricotta to which I added homemade marinated sundried tomatoes, pesto, toasted almond meal and porcini mushroom powder plus a whole egg. Wrapped this up in the pasta. For the sauce, I opened a can of homemade marinara that I made last fall and added homemade cubed lonzino (a Portuguese version of prosciutto). Sprinkled it all with parm. Served it with a Whidbey Island Winery Sangiovese. The first bite’s flavor just burst in my mouth. I was totally surprised. I made this last time without the almonds and porcini, but they made all the difference. Luckily I made enough so we will have leftovers for lunch tomorrow. What luxury.
I know it sounds like a long complicated process, but having made the lonzino, marinara, pesto, marinated sundried tomatoes last summer at different times, I had all these items on hand. The ricotta only takes about ten minutes to make and is half the price of the store bought (I use the whey for bread making or soup stock). There are benefits to planning ahead.
I took a couple of photos, one of the ravioli airing before boiling and one of them finished in the bowl, but, oops, I had eaten a lot before I remembered to take the photo. It was soooooo good!
The year sure went fast and now we are in the year of the dog. Being a dog lover, this is a good year. Ours is getting old, but it is his year.
Anyway, we have been eating Chinese food now for a week and loving it. We hadn’t had a big dinner, with many dishes, for a while so we decided to invite friends and serve a bunch of dishes.
Recently on KNKX in Seattle there was a discussion on their “Food for Thought” page that was debunking the fact that you can’t make decent Chinese dishes at home. I agree, you can make wonderful dishes at home. I find the only drawback with making them at home in the US of A is getting the raw materials. There is a wonderful grocery on the mainland where I can occasionally shop, but I am seldom likely to get on the ferry at $14 to go there just for groceries. Still, they don’t have everything that I used to get down the street when I lived in Beijing.
But it IS possible to make good Chinese dishes at home. Here is the menu from our 4715 year of the dog new year’s eve celebration. Typically you should serve at least two dishes for each of the number of people attending.
Snow peas fried until crispy
BBQ pork with hot mustard (red pork)
Pork Jiaozi (dumpling with sweet and spicy sauce)
Char Sui Baozi (steam buns)
ShuMai ( two kinds: crab and also shrimp)
Steamed pork bones with hot peppers and fermented black bean
Eggplant with peppers and potatoes
Lacquered chicken with ginger/scallion oil
Cucumber salad with black vinegar and cilantro
Coconut gelee with red almond happiness character
It was a lot and we did have leftovers. It was a great meal and very reminiscent of our meals in China, maybe not the banquets, but adequate enough for us to feel very good about it.
If you are hesitant to try making Chinese food at home, I would suggest you start with one dish plus rice. This way you won’t be overcome trying to do quick, stir-fried cooking all at the last minute. When we chose our menu, we only had a couple of items that had to be made just before serving. Many of the items were in the steamer cooking so didn’t require a “dance” to bring it all off. The eggplant dish could sit for a few moments without harm. We were not rushed.
One website I like to refer to is The Woks of Life for recipes. They show step by step photos of the processes for each dish with clear instructions. Sometimes they have ingredients that are unavailable to me, but I can generally find something to substitute. That is the beauty of this type of cooking. Another site that I have just found, due to the information on KNKX, is Chinese Cooking Demystified at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC54SLBnD5k5U3Q6N__UjbAw. Check those out and take on the challenge of Cooking Chinese dishes.
When I was in eighth grade, I took my first home ec. class. I had been cooking and baking since I was six years old, but I had never made a pie crust. Our unit’s job was to make a chocolate cream pie. The four girls in my unit worked on the crust and made the filling. We whipped the cream and we were ready to make our presentation. Unfortunately, you could lift the entire pie out of the pan by the crust. It was like cement. Tough. It was more like the dish for a chocolate pudding, rather like stoneware.
The instructor commended our filling and gave us an A on that. Unfortunately, the crust got a failure. For years after that incident, I would not make pies because I was afraid of tough crusts. If I did need to make one I would purchase premade pie crust at the grocery. It was easy that way and there were no failures. Betty Crocker to the rescue. You could purchase sticks that could be rolled out and no one was the wiser. If you purchase the already rolled crusts in the pie pan, the crimping around the edge was the dead give-away. They looked too perfect.
When I was about thirty-five, a friend gave me a recipe for a crust that has been my stand-by for forty years. It uses an egg and vinegar to keep it from getting tough. I was the pie lady at the farmer’s market for years and this was my crust for all my pies. Everyone loved them. The current pie lady at the market got this recipe from me and she has used it since.
Now we are in a New Year, 2018, and our neighbors invited us for New Year’s Eve celebrations. They made empanadas as part of the snacks we had before the bewitching hour. The crust was extraordinary. Boiling water crust. Boiling water!!! I thought everything had to be freezing cold. I have even found recipes where they freeze the butter or shortening and grate it into the mix to try to keep it really cold. Boiling water?
On the second of January, I was inspired to make pasties (pronounced past-ees), a Cornish pastry filled with meat, potatoes, onions, apples. The crust was magnificent. On the sixth of January, I made a crust again and blind baked it (for a cream pie, blind baking is baking without filling). We had the most fabulous banana cream pie with the flakiest crust I think I have ever made.
Next I will try a pie that has the filling baked in the crust to see if this boiling water crust can withstand that process, maybe pecan pie.
Boiling water? Breaking all the rules. Maybe breaking rules is what it is all about. Maybe experimenting in ways that are very different we come up with new and wonderful things. Boiling water crust is now my favorite. I may never make my old stand-by with the egg and vinegar again.
Here is the recipe.
Boiling water crust
1/4 cup boiling water
Poured over 1/2 cup of shortening
And beaten until they coalesce.
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour with
1/2 teaspoon salt and
1/2 teaspoon baking powder.
Pour the dry ingredients into the liquid. Do not overmix.
Roll between two sheets of plastic wrap and use for pie, pastry, pasties, etc.
Bake as you would any pie crust.
Note when eating, see how flaky it is. It is wonderful.