“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.
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.
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.
I am Swedish by birth, only partly, but some. The Christmas holidays, these days, is Pickled Herring season. We didn’t eat it when I was a kid, and I don’t know when I developed at taste for it. Probably this happened during the years when I lived in the neighborhood of Ballard in Seattle in my young adult life, eons ago. Since then, the Christmas holidays always included pickled herring. There was a wonderful bakery/deli name Johnson’s and later Olson’s, I believe, where it was readily available. I used to go there and buy almond paste and air smoked and hardened lamb and pickled herring that they made in fifty gallon drums. Theirs was the best. They also carried about twenty-five brands of cod liver oil. I asked who bought this stuff. It seems that folks who grew up with it needed to be supplied consistently in their adulthood. Can you imagine drinking this stuff voluntarily?
Now that place is gone and we travel to Ballard to the Scandinavian Specialties shop on 15th Northwest. Theirs isn’t the best, but it is the best substitute we can find. My husband went two days ago and bought a couple of quart tubs of herring, a pint of lingonberries and some currant spread. We now make our own potato sausage so we don’t purchase that any longer. They do not have the air dried lamb. Times change and folks no longer eat these specialties. I guess I am old fashioned even though they are not from my youth.
I can remember as a kid trying to talk my mom into buying gjetost from the grocery during the holidays. Every year I would think I loved this. You can read about this brown, caramelized cheese that is considered Scandinavian Fudge on the internet at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brunost. Each year I would take a few bites and it would languish until tossed to the chickens about April. My mom would give me a scowl and put the small package in the cart, but she knew it would not get eaten. My dad would eat a few bites too, but it was so cloying that it clenched the muscles in your jaws to rigor mortis.
Anyway, I found myself with pickled herring, the kind in sugared vinegar, not sour cream, my favorite. I also had on hand several other ingredients and wanted to make a Latvian salad I had had a few years ago that had really impressed me. It is also eaten in Finland, Estonia and Norway to name a few places. I made it last night for dinner with warm rolls and felt like the holidays had truly arrived. The recipe is below.
When I brought my love of pickled herring into the relationship with my husband, he turned up his nose and pooh hood the dastardly stuff. Said he wouldn’t get caught eating such weird ethnic stuff. Was this a slur on my heritage? Of course not, he loved me and yes he would try a piece, but only one piece.
I went off to work the next day and when I returned, he was making dinner. I decided to have a couple of pieces of herring as an appetizer before he served dinner. I rummaged through the refer to find the quart container I had purchased at Johnson’s. I couldn’t find it. We had eaten about a half cup the night before, but the remaining three quarters or so of the quart eluded my search. He had eaten it all for lunch. Boy, was he taken with pickled herring. I am glad, as I love it, but I was sorely disappointed to not have more than a few bites of that quart.
So for the Latvian version of Herring and Potato Salad, here it is. I noticed that my husband ate half of the salad today while I was it work. Luckily there was enough for a photo. Enjoy.
Estonia: Herring and Potato Salad
Estonian Herring and Potato Salad
For the salad:
Pickled herring to taste, we use lots
2 red-skinned potatoes, boiled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 canned beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice ( I cooked fresh from the garden)
1/3 cup minced onions
1 large tart apple, cored and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup diced dill pickles
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
For the dressing and garnish:
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard (I used brown mustard seeds)
1 teaspoon dry mustard plus I used some sweet and hot prepared too
1/2 cup prepared mayonaise
1 1/3 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained
1/2 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 hard-boiled egg, for garnish
Cut the herring into half inch square pieces. Place in a large bowl and combine with the potatoes, onion, beets, apple, chopped eggs, pickles.
In a small bowl, whisk the mustards with the mayo until smooth. Stir in the remaining dressing ingredients (through the salt and pepper) and blend well.
Add the dressing to the salad: toss. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve garnished with sliced egg.
Today we will go to a potluck sponsored by the local historical society here on Whidbey Island. The potluck is at a hundred year old community hall. This gathering happens once a quarter and the discussion is about back roads of Whidbey. This time we are discussing Quade Road and Goodell Road. I assume that this is the current Goodell Road as there use to be a couple of roads named Goodell Road.
The photo above is a back road, albeit, more rustic in nature than the ones under discussion. It is an old road to my farm where I grow my vegetables and fruit. I have talked about growing there in former blogs. The interesting thing about this road is it is six hundred and sixty feet down this road to the edge of my farm. I travel another four hundred feet beyond to the garden. The farm is ten acres of very secluded land. About two acres is cleared and my garden and fruit trees are in this clearing. We have farmed here for about seventeen years. It is not where we live, but eighteen miles from our home.
We use to garden at our home, but the land to the south of us, which was fields when we moved here, have grown up into tall conifers and shaded out our garden and orchard. Now we garden in this remote site. I love the peace and solitude this remote location affords. About the only sounds I hear when I am gardening are the resident raven making his croaky sound to talk with its mate, an occasional airplane and the scream of an eagle who has his eye on my dachshund. I have to keep a careful eye on both the dog and the eagle. If the eagle gets too aggressive the dog has to be in the truck. He would much rather be looking for mice in the garden. He likes to dig in the garden with me.
The interesting thing about this back road to my garden is that once this road was frequented by trucks that hauled strawberries to the local steamboats that took the goods to larger city centers. Until 1945 this was a strawberry farm, as were many of the farms in adjacent area. They had their own grange in the community as well.
In 1945, for some reason, the farm was left to decay. The folks who lived here moved out, leaving a very small house, two rooms, no plumbing, electricity, with wood heat, and never returned. We bought it in 1988. The house was partially collapsed and had to be taken down. A neighbor down the street gave us a photo of what it looked like when a family lived here. He didn’t know what happened to them. When we bought the property, strawberries still grew here, wild, but not flourishing.
There were also two other buildings on the property and an old root cellar. The two other buildings were at opposite ends of the property and were workers shacks. They were about ten by fifteen feet with just studs on the inside walls. The outsides had shiplap siding. Where there were knot holes in the siding and the knots had fallen out, the residents (strawberry pickers and weeders) had nailed up cornflakes box tops over the holes to keep the elements and mice out. Tin can lids were nailed over some of these as well. The same was true of the boards on the floor. The roofs were hand split cedar shakes from the property.
It was always fun to travel down this long road through two gates and arrive at this little part of history that we owned. We had hoped to build here someday, but life passed us by and it never happened. We garden and enjoy the solitude and hope that the folks who had tended there garden here so long ago watch over us and feel that we are good husbanders of their land. It is never easy work. Even with my modest garden, it is still a lot of work. I can’t imagine tending acres of strawberries. They also had goats, so maybe they provided milk and cheese and weeding for the strawberry farmers.
Now we are to an age where we have to think about the end of our lives and the farm will provide our retirement when we sell it. The time has come and I only hope that the new owners, when they materialize, are as reverent of the land as those who have gone before.
Hundred Year Old Apple Trees
The dish I am making for the potluck, if you are interested, is Italian Strata
Here is the recipe.
Layer the following in a large casserole (I am using my lidded cast iron kettle)
Large cubed bread (day old, stale, tough) soaked in a little butter, cream and milk until soft
Finely chopped onion
Goat cheese (chevre)
Homemade ricotta (see previous blog) with a little lemon zest stirred in
Red and yellow peppers chopped
Diced and browned lonzino (you could use bacon or ham)
I mixed five eggs with milk and poured over
Topped with shredded romano cheese
And bake until set. Because mine is large, I am baking part of the time with the lid on and then taking off to brown for the last few minutes.
I know, I didn’t give any measurements. It is just great to do it by feel and sight. You can add lots of goodies or a few. Bread is the main constituent, but it doesn’t have to be. Just have fun.