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.

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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.

 

 

Camping in November

An out of focus photo of Ft. Warden Light near Pt. Townsend Washington.img_3466I probably should say that we went glamping as we stayed in our travel trailer and out of the cold, inclement weather.  Since I didn’t have to work on Veteran’s Day, I had a space of five days free and we decided at the last minute to travel to the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State.  For us this entails a ferry ride since we live on Whidbey Island.

Early on Thursday, my first day off, we headed to the Keystone Ferry in the middle of Whidbey.  This ferry takes us to Pt. Townsend, one of my favorite towns in Washington.  It has an 19th century charm that is going though restoration off and on, but still in keeping with the National Historic District status.  Beautiful three and four story brick buildings with Victorian flair.

We stayed at Pt. Hudson our last night and visited the town, but the first day we headed for Sequim (pronounced SQUIM).  John Wayne owned a substantial piece of waterfront on Sequim Bay many years ago where he moored his yacht, The Grey Goose, when he was in the area.  The land was donated to the county and is now a beautiful marina, campground, boat launching area and more, well protected by the long spit that juts across the mouth of the bay.  Calmer seas prevail here as the spit almost encloses the bay with a small passage out to the Straits of Juan de Fuca outside the passage.

Kingfishers, herons, seagulls and crows love the beach by the RV park.  I love watching the kingfishers dive into the water, coming up with small fish. Their turquoise and green iridescence makes them spectacular.  They look a little crazy with such big heads and small bodies.

Next we went to Joyce, Washington to stay at Salt Creek State Park.  This park has a very rocky precipice overlooking the Straits.  Waves crash on the rocks below the cliffs.  The park is a fairly steep hill which has been terraced for the RVs.  We backed into a space in the highest tear, thus having an unobstructed view of the straits and the shipping lanes there.  I love to watch the ships go by and I can do it from my dinette table inside.  We saw oil tankers, car carriers, and container ships interspersed with the minuscule fishing boats. The two lighthouses on Vancouver Island were visible flashing their lights after dark.  They were hardly visible through the fog and moisture in the air during the day.

We took a day trip to Forks and LaPush and had lunch one day.  Hiked around the campground another as it is an old fort from WWI.  The neighboring bay, Crescent Beach, was packed with surfers, though there wasn’t much for surf the day we watched. Cougars had been sighted in the region and they suggested you keep you children and pets on a short leash.

We did see some seals out in a large bull kelp bed.  Picked up some shells and beach glass while wondering beaches.

It was warmish, with the temperatures in the mid 50s.  Sunday, however there was a gale that made it hard to push open the door of the travel trailer to get out.  We were glad to be in Pt. Townsend and not at home that night.  (Our home is situated in a treed area and often we need to leave home if storms are to dangerous.) We were only staying one night, but we unhitched as it was difficult to walk against the wind to downtown, many blocks away.  Had a great dinner, once again, at The Fountain Cafe.  They never fail to please us and we are very hard to please.

Mostly, this was a relaxing trip.  We took our time, did a lot of reading in the evenings, slept late, and were generally lazy.  We didn’t have to be anyplace and any particular time and we just wandered, a great way to spend a little time off.

 

 

 

 

Trains in China

(The writing group I belong to assigned the topic “trains” and I decided to share it with you. The photo is a nicer train than the one we slept in where the shelves were wood and it was very dark.)

Hard Sleeper Carriage

When I lived in China, I had the opportunity to travel almost the full length of the country by various forms of transportation, plane, train, bus, rickshaw, but never on a boat.  In January, February, and March of that year’s spring break, we would travel by train for the first time in China.

I had a foreign affairs officer who became good friend, and whose primary job was to answer questions and make our transition of living in China an easier one.  So who did I turn to for lessons on how to travel? Zhou Wei.  Help, how do we make a train reservation?  What are the options?  How can I tell them the destination? And a hundred others.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to keep to a schedule on the trip, so if we missed a conveyance or took one to the wrong place, we could just continue on anywhere we wanted.  We did, however, have a bit of a plan.

I had tried to think of all the things I might need to ask someone while we travelled, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat, where is a hotel and more. I wrote all the questions on flash cards and had one of my students write the phrase in Chinese characters on the other side, that way I could ask and hopefully understand and get the right answer.

Zhou Wei took us to the train ticket office near the university where we taught and showed us how to purchase a ticket, something that cannot happen more than three days ahead of your travel date. Spring break, millions and millions travel in China.  Students have more time off, but business people and workers only have a short window of a week for vacation, thus transportation would be packed and overloaded during that time.  We would try to stay in one place when this was the most difficult.

When it came time to leave for Xi’an, our fist stop, Zhou Wei went with us to the train station to show us how to find our train.  All the schedules have the names of the destinations in Chinese characters.  This meant I would have to memorize all the city names on our route in Chinese.  Fortunately the times were written in western numbers.

When we were getting on the train, we had to surrender our ticket.  I was a little worried that I didn’t have proof of the stop where I was supposed to exit and might be asked to leave earlier, but I was given a metal, dog tag type device to keep until my time to get off.

We had reserved a soft sleeper for the first leg of our journey.  This was even more comfortable than the bed in our apartment with four bunks.  Our roommates were two men who did not speak any English.  They immediately stripped to their long johns so as to not wrinkle their suits.  Luckily there was no smoking in the room so they needed to go between cars to do that.  Toilets were at each end of the car, one western and one Chinese. There was a washroom adjacent to the conductor’s cubbyhole.

Everyone was wandering around the train partially dressed.  They would sleep in their long johns.

A large thermos of boiling water was provided and the conductor kept it full for us. I had brought teabags and our dinner.  We sat at a small pop-up table below the window and watched the world go by through lace curtains until dark.  This train was the most luxurious of all in our travels.

People were polite and tried to engage us in conversation.  On another leg of the journey, they watched us play canasta and tried to figure out the game as they are big card players who always want to gamble on them.

On one leg of the journey, I made a serious mistake while reserving our accommodations. I chose beds #3 and 4, wrongly making the assumption that they would be above and below each other in the same compartment. Wrong.  They were in two different compartments.  I went to mine and with charades, asked the man above my bunk would trade with my husband who had a lower bunk.  He agreed in a minute as the lower are the more desirable.

On one leg of the journey we could only get hard sleeper.  Hard sleeper is a little fancier than a cattle car.  Wooden bunks are stacked four high.  I didn’t see any chickens, but some livestock are allowed to be carried in this compartment.  We slept on a board with the ¼” thick pad like we originally had for a mattress in Beijing.  We didn’t sleep much due to discomfort and the general hubbub in the car.  The people were very kind and gracious to us but someone was up the whole night talking or eating or calming crying infants.  I could have throttled the two young me in the two top bunks playing video games with companion sounds (read noise), the whole night long. One man wanted to talk with us, but he didn’t speak English.  He left for about two hours and came back with someone he found in soft seat who spoke English and could act as a translator.  We spent quite a while answering his questions.  It was fun and he was sooooo happy.

When you are nearing a town and it seems like about the time that you should arrive at your destination, start watching for the signs for the name of the station, only a few had their names in pinyin (western characters).  Here is where I really had to read fast and had needed memorize the name in characters.  I wouldn’t have much of a glimpse and I needed to see if it was our stop.  We travelled for two and a half months and we didn’t get off wrong anywhere.  We carried our baggage with us so there was no need to locate it when we arrived at our destination. I suspect that there was no baggage check as everyone carried their piles of bags, luggage, animals and more and dumped them in aisles, under seats on the foot of beds.

Now China has high speed trains that can travel from one end of the country to the other in just a couple of days.  It used to take five.  The trains from Beijing to Xi’an, Shanghai, TianJin are more luxurious than the ones that deal with other Provinces.  A professor friend of mine said he slept on a board stretched between two seats for his bed on the train. He kept falling off.  We traveled in comfort, even in the hard sleeper section.

Though some were crowded, it was very festive and the people were kind and helpful.  The conductors/conductresses were attentive, maybe more so to us as we were foreigners.  All in all, trains in China are the way to go and my preferred means of travel.

Typical Washington Weather

email bobs green tomatoes_edited-1

Last summer was unusual for our area of Western Washington.  In June we had warm sunny days which brought the garden on early and with vigor.  This year is a more typical year.  As I have mentioned in past wordpress blogs, we can have grey weather three out of four 4th of Julys.  This year seems to be holding up this percentage.

We had glorious sunny weather in May and hopes that the garden would be the verdant, abundant scene it was last year.  We have collected 4000 gallons of water from the shed roof this past winter to water it as this is our only water source at the farm. I started all my little plants early, expecting that it would be a hot summer due to the warm spring. I held them over longer in the greenhouse so as to not shock them with the cold outside.

When I was a kid and a Brownie and Girl Scout, I went to camp the first week after school was out.  IT ALWAYS RAINED. For me camping is about cool, damp weather.  It always seemed that we would have glorious, sunny, warm days for the last few weeks of school making us all itchy to get out to vacation.  The last day of school, an early release day, it would rain and continue to rain until after the Fourth of July.

This year is no exception, being right on that schedule and reminding me of my youthful days at “summer” camp.  They felt more like winter, but I was away from home on an adventure and it didn’t matter that it drizzled the whole time.

Now it matters that it drizzles the whole time.  We fight slugs, leaf rot, slow and retarded growth due to the weather in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Tomatoes are not fond of this scenario.  I planted thirty plants with great expectations.  My husband, being the more practical, planted his dozen in the greenhouse and they have lots of tomatoes set, some the size of large lemons.  Beautiful.  We will have tomatoes this year, but probably from the greenhouse, not the garden.

The cabbages, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts are doing fine.  They will grow in the winter here in our temperate climate, Western Washington being the largest cabbage seed producer in the U. S. Even my squash plants are trying to bloom, but often when the weather is cool, the flowers fail to be fertile. The leeks are getting tall and thick-waisted which is good.

I have planted the corn three times and still have terrible germination.  Next year my husband says we should switch to another variety as this one is so poor, but I just love the sweetness, flavor and keeping ability of this variety.  We finally started some in the greenhouse and it was only 50% viable.  Not going to be much corn this year. I usually put up 200 ears, cut off the cobs and packaged three ears of cut corn per package for dinners, which is just right for the two of us.

Beets I have planted twice, but now they seem to be coming up.  I learned a secret for our area some years ago.  Before tilling, we always put seaweed, which we collected at the local boat ramp, on the soil in the beet row. Now you have to have a permit to collect it.  It is an endorsement on the state fishing licenses.  I have another remedy.  What the beets need is boron which is in the kelp and seaweed.  I use Borax powder from the laundry section of the grocery.  Just a little tiny bit, not too much or they won’t be happy.  It makes for an abundance of beets.  We like to eat them just boiled with a little lemon juice and butter, pickled with some cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, or my new favorite, with credits to Rustica Café and Wine Bar in Oak Harbor, roasted beet hummus. If you have just finished a jar of pickled beets, don’t throw out the juice.  Hard boil eggs, peel, and put them in the pickled beet juice for about three days.  Then proceed as you usually do to make deviled eggs.  As an artist, these bright magenta eggs are a visual delight.

Well, I guess I have strayed far enough afield from the weather, but I hope that you have a glorious 4th of July, rain or shine.  Lots of deviled eggs, potato salad, fried or BBQ’s chicken and watermelon and apple pie.  Of course the apples were preserved last year and the eggs are from my chickens, the potatoes are from a neighbor’s garden.  The rest I had to fill in from the grocery. Too bad.

email Bobs green tomatoes dutch bucket_edited-1

Dutch bucket tomatoes grown hydroponically in our greenhouse.