Sunday Morning–Another Day of Isolation

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Today my favorite radio program comes on at three and I can listen to old jazz for three hours.  I will probably spend those three hours finishing my painting of a very scary rooster, much larger than lifesize while my pot roast fills the house with its scent. At one I will start the pot roast we are fixing for dinner.  Food and painting seem to be our primary focus along with reading these days.  We are spending more time communicating via email with friends to be sure that they are all still healthy. As of Friday we have 92 cases  on the island with 42 of them in the long term care facility where my friend lives.

I don’t mind the isolation at all.  I am actually enjoying my time at home with my husband and my dachshund. We are doing more cooking together ( including the dog who is always underfoot when we are in the kitchen) and working on creating interesting menus from the freezer and the larder (it’s not called a larder because you lose weight). The house is cleaner these days too.

My husband has started seeds yesterday in the greenhouse and cleaned out all the hydroponic beds in preparation for planting.  We pulled out all the groceries that have wintered over, so have a bushel of kale, chard, and green onions to use up before they go bad.  I am making ribollita (a Tuscany soup) later in the week which will use a chunk of the kale. I didn’t have the canned cannellini beans for it so cooked up some to be ready. We have canned tomatoes in the root cellar and lots of garlic.  I will use lonzino instead of proscuitto which I don’t have on hand.  Should be ready for that.

This morning for Sunday breakfast, I made aebleskivers (apelskivers), a Swedish pastry/sweet bread ball. My favorite recipe is with buttermilk.  You must have an aebleskiver pan to make them. We eat these with jam, berry syrup or maple syrup.  Some folks sprinkle them with powdered sugar, but we do not.  Too messy that way. I recently saw a recipe where someone fried meatballs in their aebleskiver pan.  WHAT A DESECRATION! You would never be able to use it for its intended purpose again.

While I was waiting for my husband to beat the egg whites for the recipe, I was looking though the cookbook I was using, Notes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, but Morry and Florence Ekstrand (1980)which is still available through Amazon. I AM 3/8th  Swedish, 1/8th Danish. When I was growing up we had occasional Scandinavian meals, Svenska kottbollur (Swedish meatballs), rullepolse (a rolled meat stuffed), Swedish rye bread, Nana’s cardamom buns (similar to hot cross buns) and, when Nana visited, Swedish coffee.  There were a few other things as well, but these were the memorable ones. I make the hardtack recipe from this book and we are just about out, so that will be a project for next week.

While I was reading this lovely little cookbook, I was gaining some inspiration for later in this incarceration, oops, isolation.  Morry and Florence included many interesting thoughts and vignettes from their earlier lives.  Some of it a history of living in Scandinavian communities in America, most of which are very entertaining and great reading while the aebleskivers are cooking in their special pan.

I am always amazed at the diverse ingredients that were available in Scandinavia.  I have to remember that the Vikings traveled and pillaged far and wide and many of the spices and herbs from the eastern Mediterranean were available to them, cinnamon, allspice, clove, ginger and much more, many of which are seen in a vast number of recipes, both sweet and savory.

The more common ingredients are prepared in very diverse ways to make them less boring and more palatable. The potato is used mashed, boiled, fried in pancakes, leftovers in dumplings, lefse, some hardtack, and a number of desserts.  Soured milk or buttermilk is a standard household item and one that I purchase in half gallons or make my own from the last jug, like making yogurt. Dairy products were readily available as almost every rural homestead had a milkcow.  Cream and butter figure heavily in the diet as does sugar.  I could never understand the use of sugar in meat dishes like meatballs.  I guess in a cold climate you are starved for calories.

The gathering meal that was popular in America when I was growing up was the smorgasbord.  Seattle had the famous King Oskars on old Highway 99.  We ate there occasionally.  I can remember all the wonderful dishes to choose from.  I still seek out good pickled herring.  I even taught my husband to love it, to my chagrin.  I went to Ballard (the Scandinavian enclave in Seattle) and purchased a two quart container of wonderful pickled herring.  My husband turned up his nose and thought about gagging.  I said, “How do you know you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it.  Try it, you’ll like it.”  He tried it and conceded it was pretty good.  When I came home from work the next day and he was fixing dinner, I decided I would like a few pieces as an appetizer.  The container was half empty.  Boy, did he have a Swedish lunch, herring and hardtack. Now we can hardly keep it in stock.  We eat it too fast.  I which I could make it, but alas, I would have to catch my own herring!

Morry and Florence discuss the smorgasbord in their book.  It would be similar to the modern potluck, but with a lot more small dishes of pickles and salads, meatballs, smoked, pickled, and cream herring, jellied eel, poached, smoked, and graavlox salmon, potato sausages, lefsa, hardtack, limpa (rye bread with anise and orange peel) and much more. One restaurant in Stockholm was noted for having over sixty dishes excluding the dessert table. If you find a copy of their book, these are just a sample of the cold dishes; there are hot dishes and more.

Of course, if it is a celebration and winter, glog or if warmer weather, aquavit kept very cold.  Swedish coffee has several manifestations, some use the white of the egg in the mix, while others just throw the shells in with the grounds.  My nana’s generation held a large sugar cube between the lower lip and the teeth and sucked the black coffee, very strong, through the cube. Later in life many had cavities in the bottom front teeth or they were missing altogether.

If this didn’t make you hungry, then perhaps you can go to a restaurant that is doing deliveries from their door to their parking lot or home deliveries, but I wouldn’t take a chance at that.  My nurse friends tell me, “Assume everyone you meet has the virus.” If that is the case, I wouldn’t want them to prepare my meal.  Besides, I am a better cook than they are.

The Idiosyncrasies of Isolation

When can you remember (as an adult, not a child) having a time where you no longer had any commitments? No obligations? No appointments? Not working? Well, in Washington State, as of midnight last night, this is the status quo. Our governor declared that we not leave our homes for any non-essential reason.  We have a governing body that has decided what is essential and we are supposed to conform to that.  Medical issues, groceries, pharmacies, liquor stores (wow?) are open for our essential needs.  Almost all others, including the Boeing Company, employing almost a quarter of a million people and the largest employer in Washington state, are closed.

It is amazing what a virus can do.  We have a large number of confirmed cases here on the island where I live and the mainland across the sea from me has many more (65confirmed {March 25, 2020, the fifth largest number for a county in the state).  Western Washington was the first site of the outbreak and it is growing daily.  This virus is much stronger than the ones we have had in past years, though in the 2018-2019 winter season over 34,000 people died of flu in the US.  This one poses an even great threat, so mass isolation has been issued here in our state.

I live on a five acre farm and I can go out and work in the gardens, take a walk, and be outdoors as long as I maintain a distance of six feet from my neighbors.  I seldom see my neighbors.  I am an artist and I have been painting, painting, painting.  I have all the time I want to paint.

Idiosyncrasies? Well, my husband and I have been getting along better than ever.  We never have had so much time together.  I was worried that the constant contact would bring about bickering, but quite the contrary. We are having a great time.  Maybe having more time to interact has brought us closer.  We sit at breakfast and have discussions about all sorts of things, sometime for hours.  (I don’t have to get out of my jammies until I want.) We may see more divorces and we may see a boom in the babies born nine months hense.

Idiosyncrasies? We will probably get fat, but we are making all kinds of wonderful meals.  Tonight was Beef Stroganoff, last night was Swedish meatballs.  We fixed Chinese dumplings a biaozi (steam buns) with hot and sour soup and onion pancakes, pecan pie, peanut butter/chocolate cookies—FROM SCRATCH.  You get the idea.  I think that we will get fat during our incarceration!

Idiosyncrasies? Well the downside is we drink more alcohol.  Not a good thing.  Makes you fat and is addictive.  Enough said about that.

Idiosyncrasies?  The house is cleaner than it normally is.  This is a good time for spring cleaning and preparing to get rid of the “non-essential” stuff that has been a burden for who knows how long.  Clean out the closet of anything you haven’t worn in a year or that doesn’t fit, but you are hoping to fit into soon. Not likely since we are eating so much better and drinking more and probably gaining weight, but don’t have the nerve to get on scale to find out.

Idiosyncrasies? Communicating more than we normally would.  We are sending email and phoning relatives and friends a lot more often than we would normally would.  We don’t usually use the telephone this much, but people call to see how we are and we have a number of folks we check on as well, some because we cannot go out or because they cannot go out, but just to be sure that all is well with everyone we know.

Has this isolation caused us to do things much differently? Well, my husband and I are not particularly social people, so we do not miss the parties, dinners and social engagements too much because for us they are few and far between. We do have friends that have contracted the virus and who were in compromised positions even before that, so we are keeping them close to our hearts and trying to stay in touch every day.  We are trying to see to any needs they may have without compromising our own situation. (Ordering deliveries from Amazon for their needs or for gifts.)

I must say there is a new freedom I feel as a result of this isolation.  When I was very young and asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied, “I want to be a hermit.” In all honesty I guess I still enjoy a life free of the encumbrances of society. If nothing else it would give me time to do whatever I wanted, be it mend the broiler on my oven (which went out last and I am waiting for parts) or painting and creating to my heart’s content.

This coronavirus is a bad thing and we should all treat it with respect.  We are staying isolated even to the dismay of some our friends, but my spouse has compromised lung issues and it would be devastating to our household if it enters our lives. Better to be safe than sorry.  To parrot the governor, “Stay home, stay healthy.”

Remember, life is fragile, protect it.

If you are doing something wonderful in your time off, freedom from commitment, let us know.

Happy Lunar New Year

This time the date really crept up on me and I didn’t even have a chance to send my friends in China an appropriate greeting.  I am sending this in hopes that they will know that I have not forgotten them.

I WISH YOU ALL A PROSPEROUS AND PEACEFUL YEAR OF THE RAT!

Now, since I didn’t have time to go shopping for materials for an extravagant New Year dinner, I searched through the freezer and, low and behold, a six pack of small quail.  This week I had received an email from The Woks of Life and they had numerous (25) recipes suitable for the New Year celebration and there was a squab recipe among them.

Now the squab shown in the recipe is a lot larger than the quail, but they will work just fine. As I write this, they have been simmered and are now sitting in the front of a fast fan to dry off for the maltose vinegar sauce to start drying on them.

This year we decided to keep the dinner simple.  For a start, we will have a homemade Chinese noodles (wheat, no egg) in noodle soup. I made a large batch of noodles, again from Woks, and froze half of them. After the soup, which also was the broth for simmering the quail, we will move on to the quail, rice, bok choy, shredded daikon salad, sliced tomatoes, cucumber salad and for dessert a sweet rice balls and tapioca in a coconut cream (soup).

I feel like my Chinese friends will think me a poor housewife with such a simple meal for the holiday, but there are just the two of us and we don’t eat as much as we use to, plus six quail will probably be overkill.

Fortunately, as there is little in the island groceries for this type of meal, I had most of the ingredients in the cupboards and freezer.  The bok choy we grow in our own greenhouse along with Chinese cabbages.  We have it covered.

The coconut soup included sweet rice balls (mochico flour).  I had never made them.  When we lived in Beijing, we could just purchase them already made and ready to steam, boil or whatever. It is just the flour and water, being careful to have them the right consistency before putting them in the hot water or soup.  They turned out great.

I had purchased the blueberries, which will be used in the coconut soup, earlier in the week to have for blueberry pancakes, so I had that covered too.  It is going to be an international meal as the blueberries came from Chile!

Well, there you have it.  It is not the twenty dish meals we had with our Chinese friends, but it will be wonderful, modest and wonderful.  I wish that I could share mine with them, and they theirs with us, but alas, they are far away and the New Year was already yesterday for them.

If you would like to prepare the dishes for yourself, I would suggest going to The Woks of Life  https://thewoksoflife.com/ and looking at their suggestions for the New Year.  The squab (pigeon) is https://thewoksoflife.com/chinese-fried-pigeon-squab/ and the dessert soup is https://thewoksoflife.com/coconut-tapioca-dessert/.  None of the recipes are difficult, and they have different levels of difficulty with lots and lots of instruction and pictures.

Again,

I wish you all HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR OF THE RAT!

 

Well, it was great.  We had a big pile of bones but not much else left over.  Check out the recipes and enjoy.IMG_5402

sorry about the out of focus bone pile.

Green Tomato Time of Year

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I live in maritime Washington State.  We are noted for having temperate summers.  This one was especially so.  It was rather cool.  Gardening of green goods went well with lots of peas, beans, yellow squash, carrots and beets.  In the greenhouse we had great success.

My husband always grows tomatoes via the Dutch bucket hydroponic system.  We usually have bumper crops.  This year’s is modest.  I raised peppers in the Dutch buckets, in a trough system too, and some just in pots.  I had great success in all with the Dutch bucket system performing extremely well.  Not only do I have lots of peppers, they are HOT.  They don’t always get HOT if the weather is cool, but they did this year.  Maybe it was a different variety.  Some I planted were just from a package of “mixed hot peppers.” The only one I recognized was a pepperocini.

Well the outcome of a minimal ripe tomato crop is that there was a bucket of green tomatoes to be had.  Not being a fried green tomato fan, I fell back on my usual recipe for green tomatoes, green tomato salsa. Green salsa usually has tomatillos.  I substitute green tomatoes and it turns out fine and the chickens don’t end up eating all the green ones.  No waste.

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The pressure cooker is in the process of processing them this very moment.  I chop yellow onions, peppers, hot or sweet, according to your taste, garlic and brown that in a little canola oil.  When most of the liquid has dissipated, I add the chopped green tomatoes, some cumin and ground coriander.  Simmer until the consistency you like.  If you prefer it smooth, put it in the blender and blend until smooth.  We like it chunky. Pack in clean jars and process in the pressure cooker.  You could probably hot water bath them, but I am more partial to the pressure cooker for canning.

I have a little left, intentionally, and will make chicken enchiladas for dinner and use the remaining amount.  I can hardly wait.

So, if you are wondering what to do with all those green globes sitting on the plants you are about to compost, try some green tomato salsa, or…. some years I make hot dog relish with them, but that is for another session.

Crabbing Season is Here!

crab omleteWow! Crabbing season just started and we were gifted wild Dungeness crab yesterday.  My husband, sweet soul that he is, picked it all while I was at work yesterday.  So this morning we are in for a great treat, Dungeness Crab Omelets with garlic herbed chevre cheese.  I even got busy and made quick bread cinnamon rolls to go with it.  Living in the lap of luxury!

Crabbing season generally starts with the first of July or thereabouts.  My sister and her husband go out, and this early in the season, generally limit, which is five crab each.  That is a lot to cook and a lot to pick, so they get out their big turkey fryer kettle and the propane burner and do it in the yard, many crab at a time.  The cooking doesn’t take too long that way, but the cleanup of the boiling process takes some energy and time.

Picking is the time consuming.  Dungeness crab is probably one of the easier kinds of crab to pick, but I can only manage to clean one about every fifteen minutes. If there are several to do, you usually end up with some cuts and abrasions as a result.  The reward is you get to snack on the crab while cleaning.  We usually keep a little dish of mayo handy to dip in.

Once finished, you have this unctuous, sweet, mildly fragrant (with slight umami taste), white meat and legs that are beyond compare to any other crab I have ever tasted. Yes, it is better than king crab, snow crab or any kind we have access to.  Close in taste is the northwest red rock crab which is almost impossible to extract its meat.

Breakfast was all we had hoped it would be.  Needless to say, we ate decadently and are thoroughly sated.  Envious? You can do it too.  All you need is a boat, crab pots, a strong back to pull the pots, a large kettle to cook the crab, lots of time for picking and moments of pure joy eating.  Prep time: very long.  Eating time: minutes of pleasure. The alternative is to pay $35 a pound and worry about freshness.

We are luck to live where this is all possible.

Hobbies

“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.

Crabbing Season is Here!

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Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

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.