Easter

easter 2017

Easter use to be a religious holiday.  When I was growing up, we went to church every Sunday morning and evening.  Easter was a time of special significance.  Now we can no long call them Easter Egg Hunts.  They are now just Egg Hunts that happen prior to the day of the lunar month that holds Passover.  Passover is on the full moon and Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon.  Easter egg hunts now happen on the Saturday before Easter.

With the secularization of religious Christian holidays, society has brought about many changes.  Santa is now the symbol of Christmas as are the bunny and eggs of Easter.

When I was growing up everyone would dress in their finest for Easter Sunday.  Some folks only attended church for this day.  I guess they felt this was the most important Christian holiday.  It is the only one that falls consistently on a Sunday, thus it is easy to attend church on the holiday.

In the town where I grew up, Spring break coincided with the week before Easter.  Because some students needed time off for Passover and some for Good Friday, it was just easier to make the break the week before Easter.

Having learned to sew at a young age, Spring break always included making some new clothes, back then, dresses, as we seldom wore pants in public.  I always took the opportunity to make a new Easter dress for Sunday.  This ensemble almost always included a hat, the Easter Bonnet.  No one wears hats as a decorative accessory these days.  Hats are functional, the keep the head warm or hide the loss of hair, not decorative.

I loved hats and made a few of those as well.  When I was in college, it was still common for women to wear hats to church and special events.  I made one which was especially my favorite.  It consisted of a pheasant feather skullcap-like hat with three long tail feathers raked to the right side and back.  It featured a black tight-fitting veil that came down to my nose with black dots woven into the quarter inch holes in the netting.  It was gorgeous and I wore it until the feathers were too tattered to continue.  The long, tail feathers were replaced several times before the hat’s demise.

Easter morning always included an elaborate breakfast.  My mother liked to make eggs goldenrod.  This consisted of a base of toast on which was poured a white sauce made with the addition of chopped hardboiled egg whites.  Over this you would place egg yolk which had been forced through a sieve creating a fine powder of egg yolk over the entire dish.  It was good and we had it with fruit.  I almost made it this morning (Easter morning) just for old time’s sake, but the idea of the white sauce with boiled egg whites just seemed to blah.  I opted for a Pecan/Coconut Coffeecake, which is my husband’s favorite, and scrambled eggs with green onion.

Easter now is a turning point in the seasons here in Western Washington State.  It is about the time to clear out the greenhouse and start the seeds for plants which will be set out in the middle of May.  I plant late.  The plants do better than ones started early which languish in the cold soil and produce produce* the same time as mine. This Easter is intermittent sunshine and clouds and it is fifty-one degrees.  If we still had bees, they would take their purging flight today.

I sent my husband to the grocery to purchase lettuce for dinner and discovered that the price was $5 a head.  Horrible and probably caused by the fact that California has had so much rain.  It beats the lettuce into the mud and makes it inedible.  We will start the hydroponic lettuce bed today in the greenhouse and in a few weeks have $500 worth of lettuce.  I WISH! We will have the lettuce, but the price will have probably fallen at the grocery by that time.

This morning on my way to the woodshed to get wood for the stove, the cacophony of birds really told me of the joy of Spring and Easter.  It is hard for me to take the religion out of this holiday. Though I did not attend church this morning, the woods behind my house are a sanctuary for me and for the birds that sang so wonderfully this morning.  Though I didn’t make a new dress for the holiday, I do try to make life new with the renewal of spring chores.  Soon I won’t need the firewood to warm the house; soon the birds will have lots of little ones; soon the plum and apple and pear trees will burst into full blossom.

Ah Easter, a wonderful time of renewal.

 

 

*Chinese students of mine, here is a good one.  Notice the difference in pronunciation but not spelling.  Also a difference in meaning.

 

 

An Inspired Breakfast?

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An Inspired Breakfast?

Sometimes you get inspired to do something silly like make an extravagant breakfast.  This happened this morning.  I had purchased a bag of nice, sweet red peppers.  I had a can of homemade marinara in the refrigerator.  The pullets have started laying eggs, so I could be generous with eggs.  Why not make something special, although it was the middle of the week and not Sunday brunch.

I started by chopping the top off of the red pepper and microwaving it until it started to get soft.  I had supported this in a custard cup as I was afraid the whole thing would fall apart before it reached the table.  I think, when it was all completed, that it probably would have supported itself.

Next I put some sharp cheese in the bottom of the pepper.  I partially cooked some of our homemade pork sausage, about a tablespoon per pepper.  Next crack in a fresh egg.  This was topped with more cheese and homemade marinara.  Just a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and popped did continue to cook while it sat.

I put it into the 400 degree oven.  My husband likes his eggs medium and I like mine will done, so I put them in for differing lengths of time.  I was unsure, but his took about fifteen minutes and mine a few minutes more. Let it sit (rest) for a minute or two before serving as the container was so hot.

I served them in the custard cup, but he eventually lifted his out so it was easier to eat.  He suggested that next time I make a boat out of the pepper by cutting it lengthwise and then preparing as above, placing it in a gratin dish instead of the custard cup.  I will try that next time.

I did It was a yummy breakfast served with homemade onion rye bread and fresh oranges.  Elegant!

 

What do you eat?

What do you eat?

What kinds of food do you eat?  I was thinking about making dinner tonight and what I should make.  When I was thinking about that, I realized that the scenarios I went through were all “foreign” foods.  But really, what is American food?  Isn’t most of the foods we eat these days an amalgamation of many countries?

When I was in junior high, I was tutored for a whole summer in Hong Kong Chinese cooking.  When I lived in China in 2001 and 2002, I learned northern Chinese cooking and Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.  Hong Kong is more Cantonese or Southern and the dishes are sweeter.  Most of the early Chinese restaurants in the U.S. served southern style.  I also learned to make Dim Sum.

When I was in Mexico, I prepared Mexican dishes almost exclusively.  I have taught myself many other cuisines as well, French, German, Swedish and more.

I used to teach Greek cooking classes and prepared such things as domas (stuffed grape leaves), baklava (phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey), spanakopita (phyllo filled with spinach and feta cheese).  Later I taught Mexican, Italian, and foods from India.

When I think about what to eat, I usually think of something from another country.  Maybe it is because I am getting old and I crave strong, flavorful food.  Somehow a plain hamburger just doesn’t meet that need.  Cajun food does with its hot and spicy flavors, but it is really a combination of many cultures including French, African and American.  Their cornbread is not original to the U.S.  I ate corncakes for breakfast in China and they have been serving it since long before America existed as we know it today.  Cornbread (corncakes) is a staple in many countries around the world.

So what’s for dinner?  Chili Verde (pork in green chili sauce) with rice and black beans with fresh tortillas.  It is really cold, so this dish should warm our hearts and our taste buds. Since it takes a little while to cook, it will help warm the house too.  Sounds perfect for a twenty-five degree day.  Even better with eggs for breakfast burritos tomorrow morning.

Homemade Biscuit Mix

When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard.  We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly.  My general mix is for the buttermilk variety.  If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.

For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs.  If you want to make scones, add a little sugar.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.

 

The mix:

6 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.

If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda.  Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.

When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil).  Variations:  You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires.  If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!

For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency.  We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits.  Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy).  Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.

For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan.  Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg.  I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything.  I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.  Any of the additions make for great muffins.  Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier.  You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added.  If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated.  I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.

Happy baking.

Blackberry Season

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Yeah! It is blackberry season.  Two weeks earlier than usual and at sunset a couple of nights ago, my husband and I went for a walk and picked enough for breakfast.

I probably should explain, for those of you who don’t live in Western Washington, that we have an abundance of terrible bramble patches that produce blackberries.  We have three kinds and for the most part we consider them a blight.  The state considers them invasive species.

The smallest come in June and early July.  These creep along the ground and have VERY small berries which are a delight to eat and virtually seedless.  However, it will take hours to pick enough for a pie as they are so tiny.  I snack on these while working on the garden.  Beware though, these little ankle-biters can do major damage to your ankles.  Knee high rubber boots are best for wondering where this species grows.  They tend to invade the flower beds and grab at your sleeves and wrists while weeding.  The tiny briars are just about impossible to see for removal.

Generally, in August we are blessed with a larger, seedier berry that is truly the blackberry season.  These giant briar patches can totally encompass a house or outbuilding, automobiles, small children, if they stand still for any period of time.  They can scratch the paint off your car. They are real tigers but worth the effort.  They make great seedless jam and blintzes.

Though these are seedy, they are juicy and fragrant and this is what my husband and I were picking.  Blintzes for breakfast! What a treat. We were in heaven.  I used montrechevre goat cheese (any soft cheese will work like chevre or even cream cheese) with a little sugar, vanilla and orange bitters for the innards.  Wrapped this in a crepe.  Heated until just warm.

I took about a cup and a half of fresh blackberries and added water, cornstarch and sugar.  Simmered until hot and thickened, but not until the berries fell apart. Poured it over the warmed blintzes and we had a superb breakfast.

If you are half asleep in the morning, you can make crepes and keep them at ready in the freezer separated by waxed paper.  Thaw and prepare.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work for a meal most of you don’t eat, but this took fifteen minutes including making the crepes, but not counting the berry picking time.  You may substitute blueberries, strawberries, even rhubarb compote for the blackberries at other times of the year. Enjoy.

Raspberry Season

rasp 1This week has been the peak of the raspberry crop at our farm.  Raspberries coming out our ears, raspberry stains on our clothes, stains on the counters in the kitchen and around our mouths.  The house smells strongly of raspberry jam and syrup, hot and thick and pungent in the air.  Yum! It makes my mouth water just to think about it.

Yesterday we had fresh raspberry syrup on our waffles for breakfast.  Wow, what a flavor burst.  It is truly summer,  if only in taste and aroma.  It is very grey outside, but amazingly the berries are still ripening.  I even saw a black, but not ripe, blackberry when I was walking the dog. Two months early.

Needless to say the birds are getting their share of berries as well.  One landed just on the other side of the row from me when I was picking, and just blinked at me about eight times before flying away.  He seemed to think it was his patch, not mine.  There are still enough berries for us and for some of our friends.

Last week, when they were first coming on, I made fresh raspberry/yogurt popsicles and we ate those for desserts for several meals.  The berries in the popsicles are fresh, not cooked and have a very lively flavor.  The yogurt is from the recipe in a previous issue of my wordpress.  You can read how to make it and combine it with any fruit for popsicles.

We planted these berries about ten years ago.  For a long time there was no fence around them and the deer would eat the leaves.  This made the berries easier to see and pick, but didn’t increase the vigor of the plants.  The coyotes love berries, cherries, plums and more.  Because of these two varmints eating our produce, we have since fenced them.

Raspberries aren’t difficult to grow, but you do have to prune every year.  The plants produce canes which do not produce berries the first year.  This means that you are picking off second year canes while fighting around the new ones.  In the winter, all the fruit bearing canes from the previous summer must be cut out and the newer canes tied up to trellising.  This is a bit of work.  If you don’t stay on top of removing old canes, the patch will diminish over time.

There is a kind of raspberry that is call everbearing, and I have a ten foot row of these.  If you cut these back to the ground in the winter, the new shoots will produce berries in September.  This is an iffy thing in our climate because we do not always have Indian Summers here.  But….if we do, we get a second crop of berries in the fall.  These are larger and firmer than the other varieties.  If the weather turns cold, however, the berries will not be as sweet.  Still we try for it every year.  If you do not cut them back completely in winter then they will produce a large June crop on the old canes and a much smaller crop on the new canes in September.

Raspberries are one of the products of summer and one that makes me feel that summer is really here.  It may not be sunny and this 4th of July, we expect rain, but it is summer when the berries start.  We have had red huckleberries and salmon berries already, but now the raspberry season is in full swing and we are loving it.

 

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Sausage making

saausages

Boy, do we love sausages and sausage.  I used to purchase sausage in the grocery, but began to notice that it was either too salty or too fatty.  Since living in China, where ground pork is used a lot I find that I am seeking more, unseasoned product, which is not readily available where I live.  The sausage in China does not have additives, just pork.  It is sold with little fat and then you can purchase fat separately to add to your liking, no salt.

Often I wanted to make dishes that didn’t have the usual sausages spices of sage, rosemary and thyme.  I wanted to use the Chinese spices, or Greek spices, or Italian.  Chinese five spice does little to mask the western spices added to store-bought sausage.

Now I go to a meat wholesaler and purchase various cuts of pork, in bulk, and make my own sausage.  Sometimes I purchase Boston butts, or fresh leg of pork, or picnic cuts.  These I bring home and grind in my commercial grinder.

The nice thing about the grinder that I purchased is it has a number of attachments including sausage stuffing equipment, coarse blade, fine blade for bockworst and such.  I can make links, chubs and more.

Recently, my husband and I made apple sausage to eat for breakfast.  It has fresh apple added to sage, mace, allspice, a small portion of salt and white pepper.  I freeze this in small batches which is just enough for us to each have a patty for breakfast.  I also use this to make cornbread and sausage stuffing for the turkey for the holidays.

One delightful recipe we found was for an Italian Cheese sausage which we made into links and use for pasta with tomatoes, garlic, onions and green olives.  A great quick meal.

At Christmas last year we made traditional potato sausage, stuffed in casings and rolled into coils to eat with lefse for a Swedish holiday dinner. I guess that is my Swedish half coming out.  I love it.  We made lots so it isn’t just a holiday meal.

Chinese dishes we make include dan dan mian and ma po dofu, two of our favorites and easy to make after I get home from work. These both require sausage that has been coarsely chopped which one of the discs makes beautifully.  In China they chop the pork with two cleavers to get the same effect.  I can do it in the grinder.

The coarse ground pork makes the most delicious chili, but it isn’t as good as the coarse ground elk for chili.  Of course, the elk is harder to come by.  Almost all the sausage we make is coarse, apple, chorizo, italian (both hot and mild), salami (both wine cured and Genoa), and the Chinese dishes.

I feel that the money we spent getting the grinder and the money we save buying the pork in bulk far outweighs the store bought sausage.  We bought the grinder at Grizzly Tool.  I get pork from our local wholesaler, Cash and Carry (Western Washington).  If you have a grinder, for your Kitchen Aid mixer or another brand, try a small batch and if you love it, invest in something more substantial.  I also recommend the book, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas.  The copy I have is the fourth edition.  Good reference material.

Get adventuresome and try making some of your own sausage, like Apple Cinnamon Sausage or Chorizo or Sulzworst Einfach.  These you will find in the above mentioned book.  Very tasty.

If nothing else try something new when you cook.  You never know where it may lead.