A Milestone

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I heard on the radio the other day that the U. S. has accomplished a new milestone.  We have now caught up with England.  Americans spend more money eating out than they do on groceries.  I guess that is a milestone.  I am not sure what it says about us, but maybe we are more affluent?  Not as many people cook?  Too many bad cooks?  More people work full time so they have an excuse not to cook? More offerings out there that tempt us away from our own meal preparation.

I know families that haven’t eaten together in years.  I was surprised to find that a neighborhood family hadn’t sat down to a meal as a family in over eight years.  Kids off to soccer, dates, studies, etc. Mom down at Zumba and dad getting home late from work.  Often times none of them eat the same meal.

Now there is so much fast food that meal preparation is considered a bother.  Then there’s cleaning up as well.  Most folks have a dishwasher so that isn’t as bad as it use to be.  I still don’t own a dishwasher, but my husband and I pitch in together to get the clean up licked lickity-split.

Grocery stores now have full service food isles that have complete meal selections heated and ready to serve.  They also have ones that you can heat.  Restaurants now have take away meals (usually at the same price or higher) for eating at home or office.  So many things are offered at a quality that far exceeds the capabilities of the normal home cook.  Throw out the containers when done and all you have expended is money.  No wonder our dining out costs exceed our grocery bill.

For all my life I have avoided fast food.  I have also avoided prepared foods at the grocery.  My shopping trip at the grocery involves going around the outside isles of the store, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and cash register. I have shop at grocery wholesalers.  I still (2017) purchase a month’s groceries for about $120 for two people.  These are staples like cheese, meat, seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables we don’t grow ourselves, flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc.  This month about the only prepared item I bought was granola.  We cook from scratch.

I am an excellent cook and former restaurant chef.  This makes it difficult for us to eat out and enjoy excellent food.  Few restaurants can provide us with a meal that surpasses what I prepare at home.  Even still we manage to spend more on eating out than we spend on groceries.  This has been the case for most of my adult life, but it is easy to spend more than $120 at restaurants.  We spend that much on one dinner in a truly excellent establishment.

When I was growing up we were all in the kitchen from a very young age, helping in some way to prepare the meal, even if it was just setting the table.  I started cooking full meals when I was six years old.  It was a tough chore for someone who couldn’t even reach the counter.  I had to stand on a chair to do most of the prep and cooking, but it was a joy for us all to be together for the celebration of those meals.

I am not saying that it is right or wrong to spend more on outside dining than on what we prepare ourselves.  I am bemoaning the fact that we do not spend time, with our family, preparing and eating a meal that gives us time to commune with one another.  We do not have the bonding that preparing and eating a meal together gives. Many of those meals prepared by family were truly memorable even years later.

Cold poached salmon
Cold poached salmon with chipotle aioli, & salsa

 

Making your own

Yogurt that is.  I have given this lesson before, but this time I am including some additional photos in hopes that you will try it.  Making yogurt is very easy, but it does take a few hours setting time.  Often I make it after breakfast, but I also make it sometimes in the evening and let it set overnight so it is ready for breakfast.

yogurtFirstly, find a large clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  I use an old peanut butter jar.  Make sure it is clean and has some kind of rubber seal in the lid.

IMG_4015 I use a fresh unopened carton of milk for the milk.  I want to be sure it is free of unwanted bacteria.  It isn’t good to use a carton that the kids left open on the counter when you weren’t paying attention.

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Clean Jar–Whole milk

I use whole milk, but you may also use low fat or non-fat milk, whatever your preference. If you like cream top yogurt, you may add fresh (previously unopened) whipping cream.  Yum!

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Teaspoon of sugar

We like to add a teaspoon of sugar to the mix just to give the milk a little sweetness.

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warming in the microwave

Now you need to warm the milk.  There are several options for this.  You may warm the milk in the jar with the lid on in a pan of warm water on the stove, but be sure that you don’t break the jar.  I use the microwave and for a quart of milk, it takes one minute to bring up the temp to lukewarm (no higher than 90 degrees).  It should feel warm to your finger.

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If this is the first time for you to make yogurt, or you have exhausted your old batches, then purchase a small plain carton of yogurt with live cultures from the grocery.  We like the Greek Yogurt because of its wonderful taste which is transmitted to the new batch you are making.  If you have made a batch, be sure to save some, at least a quarter cup, for the new batch of yogurt.

Stir the new package of yogurt or the quarter cup you saved from the last batch, into the milk thoroughly.  Screw the lid onto the container tightly.

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This photo shows the cooler/thermos that I use to culture the mixture.  It is an Igloo drinks cooler.  You need one that will hold the jar plus at least a quart of hot water.  If you do not have enough water, it will take a long time to culture the yogurt as it will cool too fast.  Refrain from adding boiling water.  It is sufficient to use the hottest tap water you have in your kitchen.

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I have placed a spacer in the bottom of the cooler so the lid will sit up a little higher in the container.  I then fill with the hottest tap water I have up to the edge of the lid of my yogurt container.  Screw on the top of the cooler.  The lid of my cooler is uninsulated, so I put a kitchen towel over the top to insulate it.

IMG_4023Now comes the waiting.  Usually this will take about six hours.  Longer is OK.  What you want to see is yogurt that is thick and creamy.  Remember it will be a little thicker after chilling.  If you want to make quark, you can pour the entire contents,  into a colander lined with cheese cloth and let drain. Remember to save 1/4 cup of yogurt for your next batch.

This yogurt is smooth and creamy with no pectin or gelatin.  It is not real thick, but you can allow it to drain through cheesecloth if you prefer the Icelandic variety of yogurt which is almost spreadable.  If you are making quark, let it drain for several hours, covered to avoid mold spores getting into it.  Then add basil, thyme, oregano or other herbs to make a nice dip or spread or if you want you can use cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of brown sugar and granola.

We eat it soft with granola, bananas and apple chunks for breakfast or in smoothies.  It also makes great tzatziki.  Enjoy!

The New Polar North

img_3553I have an idea about global warming.  We are not seeing it so much here in the Puget Sound Basin.  We are having snow this morning, for the third time in a week.  It doesn’t stay long, but it is pretty, but it is also pretty cold.

This winter has been much colder than ones in recent times with temperatures in November/December in the 20s and the remaining since in the 30s with a high in the low 40s.  Usually it is around the mid 40s most of the winter, with rain.  We will have an occasional false spring where it might get up to 60 in January for a day.  We did have one day this January with a Chinook wind that was 58 degrees, but generally, this has been a cold winter.

I have decided that global warming isn’t really global warming, just warming in unusual areas, leaving those of us here in a general cooling spell.  My philosophy is that the poles have shifted and the Arctic and Antarctic are moving toward the area we would consider the equator and the Puget Sound Basin will become the new North Pole! Yes, I know that axis of the earth does shift and very gradually.  But it is beginning to feel like the polar north around here.

This winter we have had more days when it snowed than I can remember since I was a child, back in the dark ages.  But we also had snow for Halloween and Thanksgiving then.  We even had snow on April Fool’s day once.  The lowest temperature we have recorded here at our house was in 1978 at minus 10 degrees.  The pipes froze.  Luckily (?) this winter the lowest was 19 above.  Needless to say the fuchsias in the greenhouse won’t make it this year.

We live in a cabin in the woods, so the temperatures are tempered somewhat around us, cooler in summer and warmer in winter.  This morning it is three degrees warmer here in the woods than out in the open spaces.  We have natural air conditioning, keeping the house at least ten degrees cooler than the open spaces in the summer time.  It is great.

With a cooler winter this year, we are burning a lot more firewood to keep warm.  The woodstove is the primary heat in our house and I have to split and stack it every year.  Fortunately, this year we ordered extra and we still have reserves as we often need to heat until June.

When we had that Chinook day in January, a friend of mine was thinking of going out to plant her potatoes.  Washington’s Birthday is the traditional day to plant pod peas here.  If either of these activities happened, they are not going to make it.  Frozen potato sets do not produce potatoes. I am still looking at the seed catalogues, not having ordered at my usual time in January.  I need to get on my horse and get it done or they won’t be here if we have an early spring (please!).  I usually plant everything in May.  The plants are healthier and the peas come on the same time as those planted in February.

Well, so much for the morning snow gripe.  I am looking forward to a day indoors, painting a painting of an old truck that is in progress.  Hopefully I will have it finished by the end of the day.  Hope your day is one in which you can do something that you love too.

Enjoying the Harvest

img_3498Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation.  It looks like it was a great success.  Go to  https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.

We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables.  We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill.  We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves.  The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat.  The leeks are wonderful too.  We will have those fresh all winter.

The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter.  They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them.  Gave quite a few away too.  We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people.  Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big.  I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget.  They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies.  I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.

Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up.  Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m.  Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day.  All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.

I am on my way out to chop firewood again.  With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm.  Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it.  It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.

Happy Holidays and keep warm!

 

A Frosty Morn

ringneck-doves

Just came in from feeding the animals.  It is cold again this morning.  It was colder yesterday morning at 22 degrees, which for Western Washington, is cold.  Since we have rather high humidity, the cold is more penetrating.  For those who live in the mid-west, they probably would consider these temps a heat wave. Ha!

Everything is frozen outside, so the first thing I had to do when getting suited up to meet the weather challenges was to fill a large bucket with very hot water.  The doves, the baby chicks and the molting old hens all need to have their waterers unfrozen.  I also filled the birdbaths with warm water as the poor wild birds have no place to drink.

We have one baby dove who is just now fending for himself and I was worried that he might not make it through this cold.  This morning he is huddled in a corner trying to keep warm as his mother has now abandoned him since he can feed himself.  He was fine and jumped right in when the feed was provided.

The ten chicks, which are now two months old, are very hardy, but today I gave them their first cracked corn, which helps warm the chickens from the inside out.  The also got fresh bread, which they chased all over their pen.  The cold doesn’t seem to faze them.

The old hens, however, felt the cold.  Why do they choose to molt just when the weather turns cold.  Molting, as I have mentioned in earlier pieces, is the process of losing all their feathers and growing a new set, which means they are not laying any eggs.  So we are between eggs with old ones molting and new ones too young yet.  I hate buying store eggs.

The plantings in the yard look sad, especially the rhododendrons that lower their leaves as though dead or dying.  This is the way they look in the heat of summer when they are in dire need of water.  I always hate the look of them in this cold.

I know when things thaw that there will be lots of mud because the frost has pushed up around the stones in all the pathways making crunching noises as I walk out to do the chores.

The advantage to all the trouble above is THE SUN IS SHINING. It is a trade off.  If we have sunshine, we have cold weather.  If it is in the 40s then it will rain and be grey.  Yesterday and this morning, we can bask in its warmth and enjoy the vitamins it gives to us, though begrudgingly in winter.  Makes me feel perkier already.  Amazing what a little sunshine can do for your mental health.

Guess I will go for a walk and enjoy it.  Never know how long it will last.

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.

Twice warmed

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Firewood warms you twice, once when you split it and once when you burn it.

It is that time of year.  Time to get the last minute wood in before the “snow flies.”  It doesn’t really do that here, but it is getting cooler with 47 degrees this morning.  A little sunshine today.  So out to the woodpile to split and stack firewood.  We had it delivered about two months ago, so it has “aged” well and most is fairly dry.  Once the weather got wetter, we covered it so it wouldn’t get soaked.

We have been having fires in the wood cookstove for about three weeks now.  If we don’t fire up one of the fireplaces, it begins to get very damp in the house.  Fall and spring, the in-between-times, we have a problem with damp, especially the fall when I am running the pressure cooker canning day in and day out.

The old Wenkle Wood Cookstove is our main source of heat in the winter.  It has three large stockpots filled with water simmering away on top, which provide heat through the night.  They are still quite warm in the morning, long after the fire has died, and the house is still toasty.

It is the soup time of year too.  With the stove going, we can slow cook almost anything, even a fifteen pound turkey in the oven.  Day before yesterday I made navy bean soup and it was delicious. Soups and slow cooked dishes like ribs, chicken, chili and more, are wonderful on the stove.

It has a warming oven which makes great yogurt and crème fraische.  The end farthest from the flame is good for raising bread and keeping the sourdough starter happy.

Needless to say we use about three cords of wood.  This entails cutting down trees or cutting up blow downs.  Fortunately the last several years no trees have blown down.  I ordered wood from the local woodlot and purchased the necessary three cords.  A cord is thirty-two cubic feet.  It is easy to get cheated, as has happened to us in the past.  Don’t let the woodman deliver at night after dark, you’ll be cheated.

I used to split all the wood with a maul or a wedge.  When I became the old person I am, I purchased a wood splitter that runs off the hydraulics on my Kubota tractor.  Best $175 investment I have ever made.  Now I can split half a cord in the morning, and this was a perfect morning for doing it, sunny, chilly, a great combination so as to not get soaking wet and not to overheat doing the work.  I didn’t split half a cord because I also stacked all I split.  For me stacking is more labor intensive than splitting.  I counted the pieces I have split and we have enough for fifteen very cold days.  Not much in relationship to the three cord pile sitting there, but there is tomorrow with a forecast of no rain.