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.

Camping in November?

Bouchon Roast Turkey

Who in western Washington State goes camping in November? I am sitting in the John Wayne Waterfront Resort in Sequim (pronounced squim for the uninformed). The park is mostly full with only a couple of spots open for this evening.

Winter in western Washington is noted for its dreary, wet, gray weather.  Sequim, however, touts that it has 200 days of sunshine a year and today is one of them.  On my last camping trip in September, when driving through Sequim, it was not one of the two hundred and it was coming down in buckets!

Finding camping locations any time of year is becoming more difficult as there are more and more full time RV’ers, as they are termed.  They move from campground to campground extending their stays to the full limit of days allowed by each location. Some locations can let them stay as many as one hundred and eighty days while state parks limit your stay to eleven.  One private campground company will allow only a certain number of days in a row and you must locate to a non-membership campground before you can return to the membership ones.

Consequently it takes a lot of finessing to be a full time camper.  You need an enormous of patience to be an occasional camper.  We camp about once a month, sometimes for a few days and sometimes for a week and half. It has now become necessary to think nine months in advance.  That is as far ahead as you can reserve a state park site in Washington State.  No last minute camping trips anymore.

So here we are sitting under blue skies in November on the Olympic Peninsula.  It is the second year in a row that we have decided to spend Thanksgiving camping in our trailer in Sequim. Gorgeous sunrise this morning.  Cold but no frost yet.

In years past, and when we were younger, we always went someplace for Thanksgiving.  One time we cooked a turkey over a fire on San Juan Island in the Straights of Juan de Fuca.  The wind blew so hard we couldn’t get any heat on the turkey.  Finally upended a couple of picnic tables to create a windbreak so the turkey would cook.

One year we slept in the back of our Volvo station wagon and just about froze as the frost outside was white and an inch deep.  Luckily it was a two dog night and we happened to have two which we invited to share our space to keep us warm.

We have had many horrific storms in the Pacific Northwest on various holidays, The Valentines Storm, The Columbus Day Storm and, yes, The Thanksgiving Day Storm.  We were barbequing a turkey on Orcas Island that year. Before the storm started, we went for a walk and when we returned, the barbeque had blown away and we never found the turkey. We ate beef stroganoff for Thanksgiving. When we returned to Whidbey the power was out for eight days.  We hadn’t lost power on Orcas, however.

Another Thanksgiving on Orcas, the metal sign outside our cabin blew in the wind all night long making a screeching sound that did not permit sleep.  We didn’t know what it was until we could see it in the morning daylight when it was swinging in the wind.

Thanksgiving is the last camping trip for the year.  We usually do not go out again until about April which means camping in the rain.  Then we try to go monthly throughout the spring, summer and fall, even if just for a couple of days. We don’t sleep on the ground or in the back of a car, or on a picnic table in our older age.  We have a fifth wheel trailer with most of the comforts of home.

Because of the potential for heavy frost, we winterized our rig in September when we returned from two weeks camping.  So we have most of the comforts of home except water.  Winterizing entails removing the water from all the waterlines, the hot water heater and the water pump.  It’s a little more like real camping to haul a bucket water in to heat and wash dishes or to take a “spit” bath.  This campground has the luxury of a HEATED bathroom with a shower that has real hot water, so I braved the cold morning sunrise to walk the block or so to the shower and indulge in a nice hot one.

Camping isn’t sleeping on the ground and cooking over a campfire for us anymore.  I think the clincher was when I awoke to the feeling that a vampire was sucking on my neck in the middle of the night.  It turned out to only be a Western Washington banana slug. Yuk!  No more sleeping on the ground.

Chinese Halloween

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern
Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

I taught English at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the largest language university in China some years ago. We, of course, discussed all the holidays in America as they approached. Though Halloween is not typically celebrated in China, my students were fascinated by the idea of it. After much scurrying around, they finally found something that actually looked like a pumpkin, weighed about ten pounds, but was some type of large, yellow winter squash and wanted to carve it as we had discussed in class.  An outing was in order as I didn’t want the mess in the classroom. Off to the Purple Bamboo Park we walked with a picnic lunch and the essentials to carve the “pumpkin” into a Jack-o-Lantern.  They had a great time and a couple of students even brought along Beijing Opera Masks to wear.  It was one of the few sunny days in late autumn, and we sat on blankets and enjoyed carving and being in the sun and practicing our English.  Several strangers came by to see what we were doing and ask questions about this American custom. My students explained all they had learned in class to the casual passers by.

In the evening we put the carved pumpkin with a candle inside in the lobby window of our apartment building and all my other classes came by to trick-or-treat and have cookies, beer and whiskey in our apartment.  While the students were there, several children of the other language teachers in the building came by to trick-or-treat as well.  One didn’t speak English, so my Chinese students taught her how to say “trick or treat” in English.  There were lots of giggles and smiles and excitement when they got goodies at our door. They had improvised costumes as they had heard we were celebrating this  American holiday in our apartment. Luckily I had baked LOTS of cookies.  The chocolate chunk ones were a real favorite with gingersnaps running a close second.

In China, Tomb Cleaning Day would be the closest in intent to Halloween, similar to All Saints Day in Mexico.  The family will come to clean the tomb, offer burned paper money and food, and eat a picnic.  So in a way, the students could relate to the Halloween tradition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beijing Opera Mask & Jack-O-Lantern

Experimental Baking for the Holidays

IMG_4845

Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

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.

Christmas Magic

“Boy and Dog” public art sculpture by local artist Georgia Gerber

Just this past week, I have had the following piece published in 2018 Whidbey Island Christmas by the Sea, published the Langley Chamber of Commerce. Four local writers have their work featured in this magazine, each featuring either some topic about Langley or about Christmas.  Enjoy

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture, “Boy and Dog,” located in a small park on First Street in Langley, Washington. His extended family had decided to take a trip there to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle. The time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this comfortable resting place, sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her calf to this vista, but, alas it is winter.  Because they were traveling by boat, he had bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear the heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy.” She had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on Grandpa has worn him down and he is happy to have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  You see, Langley is on Whidbey Island, a popular destination.

Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and there is an annual competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating one of the merchant’s doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  Last year the Braeburn Restaurant’s façade was decorated like a large della robbia wreath, complete with Braeburn Apples. This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While Grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the “Boy and Dog” Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots, and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand. Still he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear, and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man….GOOD BYE, SANTA!

 

New Year, New Things

Crust

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.

Enjoy.

 

 

The Season of Pickled Herring

The Season of Pickled HerringIMG_4416

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.

Serves 6.