Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye, 2009!

Don't let the door hitya where the good Lord splitya.

Okay, so this year hasn't been all bad. The first half of it was great, and of course we are finally closing the year in our own home, which is something. But all things considered, I'll be glad to see the back of this year and I'm looking forward to some pretty big plans for 2010. If three-fourths of them come to fruition, then 2010 will be a good year.

Our lovely friend Elizabeth is joining us for a few days, but we don't have plans for tonight just yet. Tomorrow Keith wants to make banana waffles for breakfast, and of course we'll have blackeye peas, greens, and cornbread for dinner! (Probably a nice roasted-veg medley of potatoes, rutabaga, turnips, and sunchokes, too.) We need luck and money in the New Year so we're going to chow down on those peas and greens!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

First Snow!

It's our first snow in our new house! And it came up out of nowhere.

This morning we got up to a beautiful sunrise and a bright, sunny morning. It wasn't very cold, so I slipped into a skirt and light top and went out to do some errands. I had just finished having my hair trimmed at about 2 pm when one of the stylists remarked, "Oh look, a snowflake!" As she spoke, we saw another snowflake, then another, and then it was snowing. By the time I got home, it was snowing hard! The streets were slushy with icy patches, and footprints were filled in within minutes.

Now I'm curled up in my pajamas, hot roaring fire in the pellet stove, sipping Black Butte Porter (my favorite Oregon brew) and watching the snowfall bury my ugly lawn.

It's going to be great for my little cherry tree!

Fry doesn't know what to make of it. She's been in the window looking amazed, chittering to the snowflakes.

This was the view from our bedroom window just before it got dark out. Doesn't that chicken coop just look snug enough to curl up in?

This isn't supposed to last; it's supposed to switch to rain later, and the rain will wash the snow away. But for now we're both so pleased to be in our very own house together, watching the first snow pile up on our very own yard!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hurricane Dog in our house.

Here we only just got our first dog, and we've had his Uncle Harley (Keith's father's dog) visiting us over the holidays. Man. If one high-energy dog is demanding, two will killya! Father-in-law left Harley with us for a few days while he went up to Seattle to see Keith's brother, and yesterday I took both dogs to the park by myself. That was a humbling experience.

Our dog has been renamed Patch - it suits him much better than Milton, we think - and he's settling in a bit. He's had a wonderful time this week playing with Harley. They'll be sad when they're separated.

For those of you who said my dog didn't look like he's half Corgi: Get a load of those sawed-off Corgi legs!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Chicken Pot Pie

It's a slow week, this downtime between Christmas and New Year's. A lot of people are off work, and while the bustle of the holidays is mostly over, it's still cold outside. This is a good time to fill up the freezer with quick, easy dinners that can go directly from the freezer to the oven for a home-cooked meal requiring zero effort or cleanup. And they make great gifts for busy people; everyone likes a hot meal, and what's more comforting than pie?

This is a chicken pot pie that I came up with a couple years ago. The filling is loaded with veggies and a dose of flaxmeal, making it considerably healthier than a packaged pot pie from the grocery store (ever look at the calorie count on those things? Yikes!!) and it tastes better too. The recipe makes enough for two pies, so it's easy to make one for dinner right away and another to put in the freezer for later. You can put it in a traditional double crust, or dump the filling into a casserole dish and top with puff pastry, pie crust (latticed or whole), mashed potatoes, colcannon, or biscuit dough.

In the picture above, it's a double-crust pie with a homemade cheesy-butter crust that has savory herbs mixed into it. I took the picture just before adding the top crust and trimming the edges.


2 small chicken breasts
Lemon Juice

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Squeeze lemon juice over the chicken and sprinkle with rosemary (or oregano or equivalent herb). Bake 20-30 minutes or until chicken is done. While it cooks, prepare:

3 leeks, sliced and washed
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 turnip, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, sliced
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
Half a head of garlic, chopped

Saute onion in olive oil until it just starts to turn translucent. Add remaining veggies and garlic, and cook (you will need a huge skillet or a wok) until mostly done. While it cooks, mix up:

1 cup white wine
1 cup veg or chicken broth
Paprika to taste
Salt & Pepper
1 Tbsp flaxmeal
3 heaping Tbsp cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot, or flour
2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce

Pour over the veggies and cook, stirring often, until gravy thickens and veggies are cooked. By now the chicken should be done, so shred it and stir that into the filling, and you're done. Now it goes into a bag or into the pie/casserole presentation of your choice, and then baked at 400 F for 30-45 minutes (depending on the topping) or 60-75 minutes if frozen.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kitchen Holiday

Whoo! One thing I've learned in blogging is that the longer you go without a post, the harder posting becomes. I vow to post more often, and am considering different directions to take this blog (or a new one) in the new year. I'm open to suggestions...

Anyway, we've had a lovely Chanukah around here; see the picture of our delicious latkes, made with red potato, sweet potato, fresh rosemary, and our backyard eggs. All our hens are laying regularly and we've been getting the dog and the cats settled - they still aren't fully comfortable around him but things have gotten better.

In the meantime, I've been baking like a mad fool for holiday gifts. I'll post more about that once the gifts have gone out, but it's keeping me really busy! I still have a bit more to do but I'm nearing the end... today's agenda involves painting on pottery with my friend, then grocery shopping, then baking up Noble Pig's Guinness Stout Ginger Cake and sharing that with other friends. At some point this weekend we have to finish cleaning the house and I have - no joke - fifteen pies to make. At least they're small pies... but eep!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

...And Doggie Makes Ten.

So now, after two people, three cats, and four chickens, another soul has moved into this house: our new dog, Milton!

He's about a year old, so intelligent and obedient. He's been very well-trained already (though of course we still have work to do) and I just can't get over how smart he is. And isn't he beautiful? He's an Australian shepherd - Corgi mix, with that long Corgi body and short little Corgi legs but that beautiful silky Aussie coat.

He has a boundless source of energy but he's just so lovable. We really lucked out in finding him!

I'd really like to get him into agility classes next month - he's so smart and energetic, with that herding mentality that really enjoys work. He'd have a great time doing agility training. I'm hoping he'll be a good exercise motivator for both of us, at any rate - he already got us up and out on a freezing cold morning for a nice long walk.

The cats aren't too thrilled about him but I'm hoping they settle down and get used to him. Davey is already warming up to him (he's our friendliest cat, easily)... Roxy is still growling at him when he gets too close to her, and Fry is still hiding. They'll have to get used to him eventually though, right? Poor guy, he just wants to be everyone's friend!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


We got a hard frost last night! The temperature got down in the mid-twenties and we woke up at dawn today, to a world thick with milky fog and sparkling crystal covering our yard. We put up holiday lights last night so the timing was perfect - they look so pretty in the fog.

Keith fixed our broken furnace a couple days ago (what a rock star!) so we woke up in our warm bed, in our warm house, and watched the dawn come in through the fog. Then we got up and he made delicious multigrain waffles, drizzled with real maple syrup. It was a fabulous way to start the morning and now we're about to bundle up for a nice long winter walk.

In other news, Lana finally gave us an egg yesterday so we officially have four laying hens. At the rate they lay, we're looking at almost two dozen tasty, healthy eggs per week! Quiche, anyone?

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Night of the Whole Fish

We got home from L.A. on Monday afternoon. The new Portland Monthly magazine was waiting for us here, and in it a great writeup of the ABC Seafood Market. The name is pretty unappetizing - reminiscent of such childhood grossout games as "Already Been Chewed" Gum and offering a view of one's masticated mouth contents as "see-food" - but this is a really impressive fish market. As it's very near our place, we made a field trip to check it out on Tuesday, and decided to return on Wednesday to try the freshest fish for dinner.

So on Wednesday evening, we stopped by. Tanks crowded the little market, each one crammed with live fish frantically swimming to nowhere. Large pools overflowed with live crabs, underneath signs in Chinese and English: "Please ask for help in catching crabs, we not responsible if you bitten by the crabs." The prices were incredible - blue crabs for 99 cents a pound, Dungeness and King crabs for $2 or $3 per pound. For once I deeply regretted being Jewish and not having shellfish, but we decided on tilapia, at $4/pound that day. Keith selected a small one-pounder near the bottom of the tank, and a tiny young woman quickly and expertly caught that same one in a net. She tossed it into a bucket; it flapped wildly, and then she transferred it to the counter and killed it with a sharp loud blow. In less than two minutes she had scaled it and gutted it, and we were the proud owners of this small, bleeding, newly eviscerated fish.

We got it home and debated what to do with it. Grilling would've been nice, except the temperatures are dipping down into the twenties at night now and firing up the grill in such cold dark wasn't a pleasant thought. So I decided to broil it. I don't think my old worn-out oven got hot enough; I think I actually baked it. But anyway the plan we settled on was to stuff it with lemon slices, garlic, and fresh rosemary, and then sprinkle it with olive oil, lemon juice, and sel gris. All good in theory, until I oiled up a dish, opened the bag, and found myself confronted with this:

Um. Yeah.

Sidenote: When Keith and I first met, we worked together on a film set. At the end of the shoot, Keith and his boss took all the production assistants (including me) to a nice dinner at Automatic Slim's in downtown Memphis. I ordered a fish dish and found myself presented with the whole animal, eyes and all, and was unable to eat it until Keith covered its face with a lettuce leaf. I mean, I like meat and all, but I was a vegetarian for 12 years. I still can't deal with my food while it's looking at me like that.

So I covered this fish's face with a folded paper towel, and tried to proceed. But I couldn't get it open, and I wasn't sure if all its guts were out or not; it was REALLY bloody in there. So Keith gamely came in to take over. He got out a heavy wooden chopping block and a big knife, and began by moving the fish's mouth and voicing songs and pleas for mercy.

So once he was done playing with the food, Keith went ahead and stuffed it. He didn't need a paper towel to cover its eyes, big tough guy he. My contribution wound up being the olive oil, lemon, and sel gris drizzle. I couldn't bring myself to stick my fingers in there. I've stuffed turkeys and chickens before, which is greusome enough if you think about it too hard, but at least they aren't looking at me.

So we baked it up. We had to take it out a couple of times to check it and drizzle it with more lemon. Meanwhile Fry watched the proceedings with a very great deal of interest.

At last it was done. It looked appetizing enough...

...until Keith opened it up to get the meat out and then it looked like a gory murder victim. Aiighhh!!

We served it up with mustard greens and mashed delicata squash, looking forward to this rustic, authentic meal of the freshest fish we'd ever had. Oh boy. We dug in, and... it tasted like pond water. Exactly like dirty pond water. A few bites near the stuffing tasted pretty good, but most of it had the kind of dirty-water flavor I normally associate with wild catfish. I couldn't eat it. Keith ate a little more than I did but eventually he gave up too.

It wasn't a total waste though. We had fun with the experiment, and the fish ultimately did not go to waste; the rest of our household enjoyed it tremendously.

Happy Early Chanukah to Roxy, Davey, and Fry.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Big Pharm - Working Hard to Keep You Sick

I just had to share this excellent article:

The Pharmaceutical Industry Toasts Your Ill Health
By Ed Steene

Please read it carefully and think hard about that flu shot, that hand sanitizer, that pasteurized milk!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

The first thing I am thankful for today is the fact that it looks like the bleu cheesecake turned out well, though I still need to come up with a topping for it. It really wants a port reduction but I don't want to go buy port. So it'll either be a balsamic reduction or some lemon-macerated strawberries.

On a less foodie note, I'm feeling reflective this morning. A few weeks ago I didn't think I'd have anything to be thankful for this year at all. I'm happy to say I was dead wrong. I don't have a baby (yet), but I have my health and the ability to try again; I have a body that can recognize when something isn't proceeding as it should and deal with that. I have a loving husband - the most perfect match that could ever be made - and I have a large, loving family who I'm grateful for every day even when they're far away. I have a beautiful house to call my own, I have three beautiful sweet cats, I have four healthy chickens (three of whom are laying regularly now!), I have terrific friends who are supportive and funny and were right there with me when I needed them recently. Really, I've got more than I have a right to ask for. I'm proud to be so blessed.

This is why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; it simply can't be commercialized. I guess that's why corporate America starts Christmas earlier and earlier every year. You can't turn too much profit encouraging people to appreciate what they already have. Celebrating Thanksgiving might actually be our strongest tool in fighting the commercialist abuse of our culture.

So take a day, everyone. Tell people you love them and give thanks for what you have, whether or not you have a deity to thank. And then chow down and enjoy the carb loading. And don't forget to participate tomorrow in Buy Nothing Day.

I'm off to make breakfast and have a nice walk on the beach before I start cooking, but I want to share a blessing for the day. My brother reminded me of it this morning and I've always loved it. When I was little, my uncle used to say this grace before holiday meals: "Good bread, good meat, good G-d, let's eat." Some people frowned but it always seemed like the perfect (if succinct) expression of everything this holiday is about. I think I'll start my meal with it this year to celebrate the truth that, whatever else has happened, G-d and the food are still good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prep day...

Thanksgiving is my all-time favorite holiday - I absolutely love it! I'd looked forward to doing a huge Thanksgiving dinner in our new house to celebrate this year, but here we are in L.A. instead. Oh well. So father-in-law is brining an organic turkey breast today, and I just made a big batch of cornbread to sit out and dry all night. Tomorrow I'll mix it up with portobello mushrooms and butter and everything else, including some fresh sage from the garden, and get my dressing on! (Or stuffing, as these West Coast types prefer to call it.)

I had a moment of panic when I realized I hadn't brought my cornbread recipe with me and I thought I was going to have to settle for an inferior recipe or make another one up. But then I remembered I posted my recipe on this very same blog not too long ago, so I found it and saved the day.

I'm also making a bleu cheesecake out of Rogue Creamery bleu cheese. I'm very excited about that. I wanted to put hazelnuts in it but we have a nut allergy among us so that'll have to wait for next time. And of course, I'll be making the rummy sweet potatoes in the morning. It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without them!

Unfortunately we have a lot of packaged foods coming up on our table tomorrow, which is not by my design but it isn't my house. I'll make up for it this year with a good Luddite feast for Xmas/Chanukah/Solstice.

I have to say it feels WEIRD to be back in this climate, in my short sleeves and skirt, with the windows and screen door open and the sunny warm flowers breezing in. I'm sure Portland is freezing, dark, and very wet right now. I'll still be glad to get back.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Water, Tea, and Closure.

Finally, the day I've been waiting for, the one thing that puts a sparkle in my eye when I hear the name "Los Angeles"... it's spa day, baby.

That's right, I'm stepping out for a nice lunch of tom yum and then heading to Olympic Spa for cleansing, purification, and loads of barley tea. This closes the door on the whole miscarriage thing, and mother-in-law's funeral was yesterday, so today is all about closure and new beginnings. Lord knows I need it.

I can't wait to go start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jewish Penicillin!

With all the stress and the change in weather, Keith was getting a bit sniffly and had a sore throat. We loaded up on orange juice and vitamin C tabs, and yesterday I raided my in-laws' fridge and freezer for chicken soup fixings. There was a bag of slightly freezerburnt chicken - two legs and four wings - and assorted vegetables, so I did it the old-school way from scratch. It was heavenly, if I may say so!

Apparently the trick to good chicken stock is browning and sauteeing. Normally I just put the chicken, veggies, and water in there and boil it for several hours, but this one went faster and tasted better. First I browned the chicken in the stockpot in a little olive oil, then I threw in half an onion (chopped), then several cloves of garlic (halved), then half a sliced leek, then mushrooms, carrots, and celery. As that all came together I threw in some fresh herbs from their garden - which just so happened to be parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. So maybe I'll call this my Simon & Garfunkle soup stock. I also threw in a couple slices of fresh lemon, just because they were there, some salt and pepper, and a bit of rice vinegar, and then - finally - water to cover.

It only needed to simmer for about an hour and a half, which really surprised me. It was so rich and chickeny that I wound up diluting it almost 1:1 for the soup! I will definitely make this stock again.

For the soup itself, I wanted it to be one of those good immune-boosting soups, the kind that practically have medical value. So I fished out the chicken and Keith strained the stock for me, and then I started over in a new pot. Alliums are good for the immune system, so I sauteed onions, garlic, and the other half of the leek in olive oil until they were golden, then threw in tiny carrot sticks and celery. While that cooked I went out to the patio again for more rosemary, thyme, and parsley, and a fresh-picked lemon from the tree. All that went into the soup too (well, only the juice of the lemon, and a bit of pulp), along with salt and pepper, and a little dried oregano. Topped that off with the good fresh stock and let it simmer while I picked all the chicken meat off the bone and stirred that in, and just before dinner I stirred in a couple handfuls of small thick tube pasta. When the pasta was ready, so was dinner.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it wasn't. Most of the time it just sat on the stove and simmered on its own while I read a book and hung out with family. It was delicious though, and so healthy as an immune-booster, even full of vitamin C from the lemon. Keith is well again, and I feel healthier again already.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Los Angeles

So here we are in Redondo Beach for Keith's mother's funeral. This is the first time I've left Oregon in more than a year - which is amazing, given my notorious roaming urges and my roadtrip history. I have a complicated relationship with Los Angeles that is mostly based on mutual dislike, but it'll be good to see friends after the funeral.

The roadtrip down was a hell of a drive. We left Portland and stopped in Ashland, which is a breathtakingly beautiful town near the state line. On the way we sampled fine cheeses at the Rogue River Creamery, tasted Oregon wines at a tasting room next door, then stopped at Lillie Belle Farms for creative, mind-blowing truffles. In Ashland we went to a lovely dinner at Larks, then retired to our B&B room to soak with bubbles in the jacuzzi while sipping wine and nibbling truffles. We fell asleep by a flickering fire. We had sorely needed a recharge like that and I'm very glad we got it.

The next day we drove through heavy snow, gusty winds, and white-outs in the mountain passes on the Oregon-California border. It rained most of the way through California, but of course southern California has been nothing but sunny. It's quite odd, now that I've gotten accustomed to seasons, to be sitting here in short sleeves on a sunny day in November. There's a certain lethargic disconnect that comes with the weather around here; I wonder if that's why southern Californians exist in that little bubble that they do, blissfully unaware that there is a world outside L.A.

We'll be here through Thanksgiving and then we'll truck on home to Portland. And when we get there, after eating the grocery-store eggs we had for breakfast yesterday, I'm going to give my hens a big treat. You really can taste the difference! It's part of the general pattern I've noticed since we got here Friday night, how different my life now is from the life I had down here. It feels like visiting another planet.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm okay.

It's been a hard week, with a miscarriage coinciding with wrapping up the totalled-car situation. We bought another car, a Kia that is very much like my late and lamented Hyundai. The miscarriage is a disappointment and I'm not up for talking on the phone or blogging much at the moment but I'm overall okay and getting better with time and distraction. I will get back to blogging soon but wanted to say I'm all right. I do appreciate emails and text messages - even if I don't respond right away, I appreciate the support. And I am sorry for getting everyone excited too soon when I did know better; we just let excitement get the better of our judgement.

Good news is that Doris and Lucy finished their molt finally and yesterday we had our first three-egg day! Jane is still laying like a champ, Lucy's eggs are HUGE now, and Lana looks like she'll be ready sometime in the next couple of months. There's a big celebratory quiche in our near future.

I've taken a break from cooking for a little bit but tonight I'm going to be making this pumpkin pasta sauce and serving it over the pumpkin gnocchi that Keith and I made for the freezer a month or two ago. I plan on topping it with toasted hazelnuts. I might add turkey bacon if I feel like it. I'm really looking forward to it!

Today's plan also includes trying out a synagogue I've been meaning to visit, and a wrap party for the horror-movie trailer we worked on last month, so we've got a full day ahead of us. Tomorrow we're taking our new car for a drive out to the coast and a tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. We're keeping busy and bearing up.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hectic, but good.

Blogfail, I know. I'm going to get better about it.

My brother is visiting for a month, so we've been running around Portland and the general surrounds. The house has a leak in the ceiling - happy rainy season! - so we're getting the roofers back out. The car is officially totalled and we need to get another one but haven't gotten the check back from the total loss yet. I'm searching hard for a job. Meanwhile I'm gestating a Little Luddite so I have a tendency to fall asleep much earlier than usual.

Still cooking though! We finally finished the 60 pounds of apples. It's become several jars of applesauce, apple butter, cranberry-apple chutney, dried apples (some with cinnamon), rosemary-apple jelly, clove-apple syrup (aka jelly that failed to set, but I'm going to re-can it with more pectin)... probably a few other things I'm forgetting. The applesauce is a fantastic addition to oatmeal with hazelnuts, see above.

More good news: Lucy has resumed laying eggs! Her molt is over and it's great to see those pretty green eggs again. So now two of our four hens are back to laying, and Doris is showing signs of readiness soon. Lana's still freeloading but I'll give her a bit longer. We're going to celebrate with a frittata this morning.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn in Multnomah County

The last little trip my car gave us took place almost two weeks ago, when we drove out to the Columbia River Gorge, less than an hour from Portland. It's a great place to view fall foliage and we wanted to do some hiking around the rainforest and picnic by one of the waterfalls. Here's some pictures!

This is a blueberry farm by the highway. I love the color that blueberry bushes turn in the autumn! My own little blueberries (while much, much smaller) are the same color. Gorgeous!

This is Latourell Falls, viewed from a slight distance up the trail.

We had our lunch at this little picnic table...

...smoked turkey legs baked in homemade cherry-chipotle BBQ sauce, homemade pickles, homemade seed-nut bread, and dried cinnamon apples, enjoyed with a view of Horsetail Falls.

On the way home we had hot chai lattes here at Multnomah Falls.

And then we dropped by Rooster Rock State Park to watch windsurfers in the Columbia River and see more pretty fall colors.

I get so happy in the autumn! It is hands-down my favorite season.

Didja miss me?

I'm back from my two-week hiatus! Sorry for the absence. It's been quite an eventful two weeks; a lot has gone on, most notably the totalling of my beloved little car. That issue hasn't been resolved yet but I tore a couple of ligaments in my neck and am currently undergoing massage therapy twice a week to heal the damage while I try to negotiate a nice settlement to get a new car with.

The bright event in the last two weeks was our one-year anniversary. We celebrated with a pleasant drive out to the Columbia River Gorge (more to follow), picking 37 pounds of Asian pears for free, and a fantastic dinner at Ned Ludd - can you think of a better place for the Urban Luddite to dine?

In the meantime, I'm still cooking and canning. I'm almost done processing the 60 pounds of apples and hoping to finish that today; I have jars upon jars of applesauce (with and without maple syrup), apple butter, and apple pie filling. I've also got a big bag of dried cinnamon apples and more apples to go in the dehydrator today. I think this afternoon I'll put up some more apple butter and then we'll carve up a jack o'lantern tonight for the Halloween festivities!

Halloween should be a fun day; my brother's coming up for a month-long visit, and we're opening the house up to all and sundry for trick-or-treating or a drop-by on the way to wilder parties. I'm making up a big vat of steak chili, another of vegan chili, a pan of honey cornbread, and some homemade pumpkin fritter-donuts. I got a huge harvest of fried green tomatoes so I might fry some of those up as well. It won't be the healthiest evening but we eat healthy most of the time, so one night of celebration can't hurt.

The rest of the green tomatoes, by the way, are going to be pickled this afternoon. I just heard about pickled green tomatoes (to be used in place of regular pickles on sandwiches, burgers, etc.) and I'm super-excited. Our late heat snap this summer made my tomatoes go crazy with another round of production; I actually harvested some delicious ripe tomatoes in late October (imagine!) but most of the tomatoes are still green and unlikely to ripen. So I'm pretty stoked to pickle them!

I also harvested the sunchokes and hooooooboy. Back in the spring I bought a pint of sunchokes at the farmer's market, and instead of eating them all, I planted about half of them. They grew into massive six-foot sunflowers, and when we pulled them up, I'd say we found about 30-40 pounds of sunchokes buried like treasure in the dirt. Eating them all before they go bad... well, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to munch tasty homegrown veggies! I think I'm up to the task. (And some of you should be on the lookout for a care package.)

As far as the chickens... Lucy and Doris are almost finished with their molt, and hopefully will start to lay again but they may take the winter off (argh). Lana still hasn't laid anything beyond that first little fart-egg, which may not have even been hers. Jane is laying faithfully almost every day so has taken Lucy's place as my favorite hen. I'm sorry I threatened so often to eat her.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cranberry-Apple Chutney

Everybody cancel your plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Y'all have to come to my house and have some of this chutney I came up with last night. I started with this recipe for plain apple chutney, but then I got inspired... I almost wish I ate pork because it seems like it would go so well with bacon or ham; since I don't, I can't wait to put it with some turkey. I made four pints of it and already I think I'll have to make some more for gifts.


8 cups peeled, chopped apples (about 3 pounds)
1/2 c lemon juice
3 c apple cider vinegar
1 c white vinegar
4 c sugar
20-25 garlic cloves (depending on size), peeled
Big chunk fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
3 tsp salt
2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 c dried cherries
1 c fresh cranberries
1/2 c honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp mustard seeds

Chop up the apples and toss with the lemon juice. Set aside.

Combine vinegars and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer about 10-15 minutes. While that simmers, combine garlic, ginger, salt, and crushed red pepper in a small food processor and whiz it up until it's all finely chopped together. Once the brine is simmered up, stir in the lemony apples and the garlic-ginger mix, then stir in everything else. Bring it back to a boil, then simmer uncovered, stirring often, until it all thickens into a chutney (about an hour, maybe a bit longer). Use a splatter screen! This makes an unholy mess, but it won't thicken if you put a lid on and keep the steam in.

Once it's all thick and ready, transfer into four sterilized pint jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, or put it all in the fridge and give some away to people you really like.

A friend suggested that this would be excellent on a Monte Cristo sandwich, if that's your thing. It's not so much my thing, but I can already think of a zillion uses for this, starting with a nice gorgonzola.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yes, I'm still canning.

Well, we didn't get to the apples yesterday, though Keith did painstakingly wash all 60 pounds of them. He also did most of the work in peeling five pounds of garlic, which took quite awhile and left our fingers sore but fragrant.

Meanwhile, I put up 13 jars of maple pumpkin butter, some with hazelnuts and some without...

...and then I pickled all the garlic with my popular recipe.

This morning we have to run some errands on a tummyful of berries, quinoa, and hazelnuts. Got to pick up more canning jars for all these apples and salsa, and some cat food and pine shavings for the chicken coop, so we'll head to the Urban Farm Store first. Then the co-op for onions and Freddy's for office supplies so we can finally get our office organized. And then home to get to work on these apples!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So very many apples!

Sunday was a perfect autumn day. The trees are all scarlet and gold, the weather was sunny with a blustery chilly wind, and we went to the farmer's market for greens and winter squashes. After that we made a little trip up to the north end of town; I'd had word through my sources (ahem) that a man was selling apples for pocket change. He scored a good deal on "juice-grade" apples - the ones they won't sell at the store because they've been scratched or bruised, or they're shaped funny - and decided to share some of the wealth. We picked out 60 pounds of apples and paid $15. Yes, I said 60 pounds! So we set aside today for preserving all this appley goodness.

I woke up this morning, warm in my soft bed with the room all cold, snuggled up against Keith with Fry purring on my shoulder, Roxy on Keith's back, and Davey between our feet. A steady autumn rain was drumming against the skylights over the bed, and the fir tree swayed its branches in the wind. We got up and Keith lit the fireplace before he fried up some turkey bacon while I made from-scratch biscuits and gravy. We sliced an apple on the side. Now we're looking forward to a nice long day in the kitchen together.

First I'm going to get a steak chili going in the crockpot for dinner; I know I'll be weary of cooking by then. After that, here's our agenda for the day...

Maple Pumpkin Butter
Hazelnut Pumpkin Butter
Apple Butter
Apple Chutney
Caramel Apple Pie Filling
Apple Jelly
Dried Apples
Pickled Garlic (5 lbs!)
Salsa Verde (if we get to it)

Looks like I better get this purring kitten off my lap and get to work.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Great Dinner and a Yummy Tart!

Our dinner last night went really well! I made a Moroccan shepherd's pie loaded down with tofu, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, fresh tomatoes, dried cherries, and pumpkin seeds, spiced with cumin and coriander, topped with orangey mashed sweet potatoes and mashed white potatoes marbled together in a pretty way. To go with it, I also made a fresh-picked tomato salad in a gingery dressing and some homemade refrigerator rolls, and my friend brought a delicious raw kale salad and an excellent pinot noir. And then we had dessert.

I'm still playing with my new tart pans, so I had to try a tart. After some brainstorming and one failed crust, here's what I came up with. It was delicious and perfect for an autumn evening with friends!

Tart Shell:
3/4 c hazelnuts
3/4 c rolled oats
3/4 c whole wheat flour
Cinnamon to taste
Pinch of salt
1/4 c canola oil
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup

6 apples
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c apple cider
1 c cranberries
Allspice and cinnamon to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a food processor, whiz up the hazelnuts, rolled oats, flour, cinnamon, and salt until it looks like a coarse meal. Whisk the oil and maple syrup together in a medium bowl, then stir in the dry mixture. Pat the mixture into four tartlet pans, then bake for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool and transfer the shells from the pans to small plates once they're at room temperature.

Peel, core, and slice the apples, then toss in a big bowl with the lemon juice. Set aside until you're ready to make dessert.

For the filling, melt the butter in a heavy skillet, then stir in the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar begins to caramelize. Mix in the cider and continue cooking until it starts to thicken up. Add the apples and stir them up so they're coated with the caramel, and keep cooking until the apples are softening and the caramel gets thicker (about 10 minutes). Stir in the spices and cranberries, and keep cooking until the cranberries have popped and there's no more liquid. Spoon into the tart shells, let cool about 10 minutes, and serve.

Goes nicely with a little port, too!

Friday, October 9, 2009


I think I forgot to mention that I planted an asparagus and strawberry patch in the front yard this week. I'm really excited about the asparagus! It's a big project; I won't be able to harvest any until 2011. Takes time for it to establish a good root system. But once it's established, we'll get loads of delicious asparagus all spring, right in the yard! The rest of the summer and fall it just looks pretty - lots of frilly little trees. I planted strawberries all around it because they grow nicely together (the strawberries spread out and cover the ground so weeds don't come up). I may wind up moving the strawberries to a shadier spot later though.

I saw some sunchokes at the co-op yesterday, which means they're coming into season, which means I can go harvest mine finally! I paid $1 for a bunch of them back in the spring, and decided that instead of eating them, I'd plant them and see what happened. They are now huge sunflower-type plants about six feet tall. Pity to dig them up, but it's time for that sweet tuberous flavor!

Today I'm getting ready to clean the house and start cooking. We're having another couple and their baby over for dinner and I'm really excited! I'll post again what I'm making when I have pictures of it.

In other news... really, Nobel Committee? Barack Obama? Sigh. Another legendary award from the people who admired the peace-keeping example set by Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger. Does that prize even mean anything at all anymore? I think if I were nominated for it, I'd actually be offended.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seasons Change

It's chilly. It's been raining at night - which is lovely on the skylights over our bed. Our blueberry bushes are turning a warm crimson shade, and several streets around town are covered with golden leaves so that they look like the yellow brick road.

We worked all weekend on a movie trailer, and it was a perfectly crisp sunny autumn weekend. We filmed in the woods, and at a large hazelnut orchard, taking care not to crush millions of the lucious little nuts underfoot. On Sunday morning, we got up early to make it to the farmer's market, then sipped hot tea in the backyard and let the chickens roam for awhile before we went to work.

Of all the things we bought at the market, I only got one winter squash, a butternut. I consider that a victory over this instinct that I have: Every autumn, I get an insane desire to start stockpiling squashes. It's not that I love winter squash (though I do, and I'm not a huge fan of the summer varieties); they just look so appealing with their many colors and shapes and sizes, and their long shelf life, and... well, I don't know, I just want them! So I limit myself to one or two per week until I have a cellar to store them properly. In the meantime I get to figure out how to enjoy this butternut - roasted? Soup? Bread? Braised?

Today Keith fired up the furnace to get it working, and then got our pellet stove online. I'm sipping a pumpkin ale by the flame in our pellet stove, enjoying the warmth and beauty of autumn, one of my kittens curled up on my lap. Dinner tonight was chicken and spinach served over quinoa and drizzled with this most amazing peanut sauce. Another good thing about autumn - the greens are back!

But I'm saying goodbye to summer tonight as well, one last dance with Mary Jane. At the farmer's market yesterday I took a bit of the very last blackberry harvest, four pints of sweet, mushy, too-ripe blackberries. One more day and they'd be useless, so tonight I made one last batch of jam. I'll do a little more canning this year, sure (salsa verde, pumpkin butter, and some herb jellies are on the agenda for Thursday), but I'm pretty sure this is it for the jam.

Goodbye, summer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Yea Jane!

Well, I guess we won't eat her after all.

This is Jane's first egg, laid Wednesday, September 30. We now have three laying hens! I expected Jane's eggs to be brown but this one is a really pretty peachy flesh color. Congratulations, Jane, on avoiding the stockpot. May this one be the first of many!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hazelnuts A Go-Go!

I subscribe to Freecycle, an excellent service designed to keep things out of landfills and circulate items within the community. If you have something to get rid of, you post to the list and everyone gets an email about it; whoever wants it can come pick it up. If there's something you want, you post to the list and often someone else will have it and give it to you. There are drawbacks, namely my email getting bombed with zillions of messages a day, but every once in awhile something like this comes up...

Free hazelnuts. Yes, really.

A lady had a small orchard of hazelnut trees and decided she'd rather the extra nuts went to people than squirrels. All we had to do was drive out and gather them. So on Saturday morning we woke up early and took a lovely drive out to the country, about 30 minutes from our house. It was a gorgeous early fall day, cool but sunny, except in the shade of the little apple/hazelnut orchard.

Hazelnuts look like this when they grow on the tree:

And then when they're ready for harvest, they fall to the ground, and whoever wants them just gathers them up.

So that's what we did!

We got two five-gallon buckets full. Ten gallons of hazelnuts! For free! We estimate that's at least $150 worth of hazelnuts. Score!

Once we got them home, we had to dry them out a bit before we could eat and store them. We still don't have any furniture in the spare bedroom, so we spread out a sheet on the floor and put two little space heaters in there to get the temperature up around 100 degrees.

They're hanging out in there for a few days; we're told it should take about a week. So this weekend they should be ready.

I'm making hazelnut pumpkin butter first!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pimp My Coop

(With apologies to MTV's "Pimp My Ride.")

Back in August when we took in Lucy, Doris, and Bette, we also took in their coop. We were going to build one, but the girls' original owners offered us the coop as well, and it was cheaper to rent a U-Haul and take that one than to build a new one from scratch. Took less time, too. The catch is that it was meant only as a place to sleep and lay eggs; the hens would spend the day just free-ranging. We learned the hard way when we lost Bette that a bit more protection is necessary.

So every morning we'd get up first thing and move the girls from the coop into an enclosed run that we'd already fixed up. Then every evening, we'd have to move them from the run back into the coop again. Once Lana and Jane joined our flock this became an odious chore. They didn't like to leave the run, but we couldn't let them sleep in there because of nighttime predators, so we'd have to catch them. All the many ways of catching them involved wings flapping in our faces and chicken doody on our jeans, so we were eager to leave it all behind. We decided to go ahead and build an attached run onto the coop, and renovate the coop itself while we were at it.

Here's the coop as it started out:

And here's what we ended up with:

It had to be painted anyway, since the original owners just painted the bare plywood without priming it first and the wood was already starting to warp. We also hooked it up with electricity! It now has a 40-watt light bulb on a timer in there, to keep them laying through the winter. Apparently the shorter days signal hens to slow down their egg laying (or in some cases, stop altogether); when the light comes on early in the morning, they don't realize the days are getting shorter so they keep on laying. Right now we have the timer set so that the light is on automatically from 5:30-7:30 am.

Note the little wooden eggs in the nest boxes (along with one of Lucy's own). Lucy and Doris were digging holes and laying eggs all over everywhere until we put those eggs in the boxes. Immediately they cottoned on to what the boxes were for, and they haven't laid anywhere else since. Supposedly the fake eggs may also stimulate Jane and Lana to start laying; they're still freeloading for now, though Jane is starting to look like she might give us an egg soon.

Keith also designed the run with a large door so that we can get in there if necessary. This is also how we let the chickens out to free-range when we're in the backyard to watch them. The top part of the door gets pretty dirty, so I painted it black; I did this on the ridges around the front doors too, for the same reason. The ladder inside might look homely, but it's how we get our sleep now! The hens go up to the coop in the early evening by themselves, and let themselves out in the morning.

By the way, I know it looks really filthy in there. It isn't what you think. Before moving the coop and run into position, Keith dug a large hole and lined it with chicken wire, which he topped with loose dirt and then we put the coop and run on top. The underground chicken wire keeps predators from burrowing in. We topped the whole shebang with rice hulls, but the hens have turned up all the loose dirt underneath so it looks like we don't clean their space. Soon we're going to replace the rice hulls with hazelnut hulls or some other litter that isn't so messy. It's a pity we can't just lay sod in there - it would look so much nicer, but the girls would tear it up.

Anyway, here's what it looks like with the door closed.

A back door lets us access the area underneath the coop where the feeder and waterer are. The feeder hangs from the underside, keeping it elevated so they don't kick (as much) litter into it; the waterer was too heavy for that, so it sits on a cement block. Also note in this picture how the electrical wire comes up from the ground; it actually runs from the back of the house, but you can't see it because Keith buried it. It winds from the house, along the deck, along the shed, and around the back of the coop, only to emerge neatly and discreetly where needed. Clever work!

The roof opens up too, so that we can easily reach in for eggs, change the timer, etc. Originally this roof leaked like crazy in the rain, because there wasn't anything to cover the seam between the stationary and the moving part. We had a tarp over it for the summer, but that made it difficult to open the roof. So Keith got the idea to fit a piece of flexible vinyl over it and caulk that down. He also put a nice sturdy lip on the front of the roof so that rain would drip straight down and not run down the roof into the coop.

So that's our new pimped-out chicken coop. I did some of the work and it definitely took a little time, but I think big props need to go out to Keith for his hard work and ingenuity here. He pulled this off with scrap lumber and no construction experience, and saw solutions where I never would have. So kudos! The hens are already showing their appreciation.

And now that it's all done (just in time for the rainy season!) and we can sleep in, relax in the morning, or go to dinner without having to be home at dusk, keeping chickens is even more fun. Now all we have to do is toss them our kitchen scraps and check their water every couple of days, and collect those tasty eggs!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fast, Cheap and Easy (I Like My Cornbread Like I Like My...)


I keep hearing insinuations that Keith and I put massive effort into our food all the time, that we eat huge fancy meals every day. I thought I'd set the record straight here! We do eat good, home-cooked food for the most part (though I have to confess a weakness for Annie's Mac & Cheese and Pizza Roma). But it's usually not fancy. You just hear about it when it is, because I'm proud of a special occasion.

Tonight was a far more typical night. We had blackeye peas and cornbread for dinner. Sounds homely, but it was delicious, healthy, and hearty. The trick to a simple frugal meal is to do it right from scratch; it takes maybe an hour of mostly passive time to cook, which admittedly is longer than microwaving something, but it's worth it. These blackeye peas were pretty simple, just simmered in broth with balsamic vinegar and pepper flakes and then topped with a little bit of grated cheddar cheese. The cornbread... well, I'm feeling generous, so I'll share a cornbread recipe that took me years to perfect. Enjoy this cornbread - it's never once let me down.


1 Tbsp canola oil (see note)
1 c cornmeal
1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 c honey
1 c buttermilk (or 1 Tbsp cider vinegar + milk to equal 1 c)
1 egg

Note: If you have a cast-iron skillet, put the oil in it and stick it in the oven to preheat right along with the oven. If you're making this in a regular pan, then omit the oil and understand that the cornbread won't have that nice crispy crust on the bottom.

Preheat the oven (and oiled skillet) to 425 F.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a fork or whisk. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (I usually just mix them all right there in the measuring cup), beating the egg into the honey and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and give it all a quick stir just to moisten it. Don't overmix! Some lumps are okay. Pour it all into the preheated skillet and bake it for half an hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

See? Not fancy, not hard, just quick and delicious and dirt-cheap. You can't get better than that.

UPDATE 3/18/11: Some friends of mine have gone gluten-free and I tried making this recipe with brown rice flour instead of wheat. Since the cornmeal dominates, the wheat isn't necessary, and I've repeatedly found that it's actually better with rice flour. So if you're not into the gluten thing, no worries, and if you normally eat wheat, try something different and enjoy the surprise!

"I'm from the government..."

Here in Portland, we have the most delicious tap water in the country (and yes, I know Memphis makes a similar claim but when I go home to visit, that stuff tastes like pool water from all the chlorine). It's been proven in study after study to be the cleanest metropolitan water in the USA. This delicious, clean water comes from an open reservoir (see pic) located in a wilderness area with no humans, no cattle, and hence no threat of harmful contamination. The sun's natural UV radiation kills dangerous bacteria, and good minerals flourish in this environment. This system has worked since the reservoir was built in the mid-1800's and continues to work well today.

Enter the government, and its corporate backers.

Now the EPA, at the urging of a multinational corporation called Montgomery Watson Harza Global, Inc., has decreed that our water be buried, filtered, and chemically processed, at a cost of several hundred million dollars. You can read all the background here, but the long and short of it is that we stand to pay three or four times the price for inferior, potentially dangerous water. This isn't a sexy issue like abortion or health insurance so it's not making the news, which means it has quietly built up a momentum that is going to be difficult to stop now. Moreover, the proposed water changes seriously threaten Portland's world-famous independent brewing industry, as you can't make good beer without good water (excellent explanation here).

Coincidentally, when this came to my attention I was in the middle of reading an excellent book with the beautiful title Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal. Written by Joel Salatin, a true prophet of the modern age, this book is not only about farming; it's an indictment of big-government interference and the way it destroys innovation. Call me a conspiracy nut if you will, but we live in a day and age where the rules of commerce have been arranged to favor the large multinationals at the expense of smaller independents. Newcomers can't even get started in many industries, and smaller businesses are pushed out of existence by complex regulations.

In no area is this as problematic as it is with food and water. Our most basic needs are now threatened by an Orwellian "food safety" system that poses an unprecedented risk to actual food safety. Why take the cleanest water in the country and destroy it in the name of safety? Why prosecute Amish farmers under a system supposedly meant to protect consumers from diseases that proliferate in the corporate system, not on independent family farms? Meat and produce from independent farms has been demonstrated time and time again to be cleaner, more nutritious, and safer than anything from the corporate system (to say nothing of its superior flavor). Grass-fed beef has ZERO E. coli in its system; in fact, you can even destroy E. coli in a corn-fed cow by switching her to a grass diet for a mere two weeks before slaughter. But changes like this aren't required or even mentioned by government agencies, because they would cost Con-Agra too much money.

So children die, and innocent vegetables like green onions and spinach wind up contaminated by animal diseases somewhere in their journey through the factory food system. Why does the FDA/USDA respond to what is clearly a corporate-food threat by working harder to make us more dependent on corporate food? And why does the EPA respond to a clean, healthy water system with a mandate to destroy it?

Ronald Reagan (himself a questionable friend to the little guy) once said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" We're hearing those words all too often now, and all of us should indeed be terrified.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

So much for autumn.

So here it is on the first day of autumn and we're breaking yet another temperature record here in Portland with a high of 97. Sigh.

At least that means it's warm sunny weather for all our outdoorsyness today. We had a trillion errands and now I've got to do some gardening this afternoon, and finish painting our chicken coop. (Shyeah. Like I'll ever be done with this chicken coop project. Doubtful!)

The day started with a trip to the vet for my mamakitty, Roxy, who has gained an astonishing amount of weight. For those who are new, back in March we adopted a homeless pregnant kitty who still looked like a kitten herself. On April 4 she birthed six kittens, including a tiny runt who couldn't push past her brothers and sisters to nurse and had to be bottle-fed by us. We kept Roxy, the runt (Fry), and a boy kitten named Davey. Roxy lost all her babyweight quickly and reverted to a very small, svelte 7.5 pounds. Since weaning her kittens, being spayed, and moving to the house, she has ballooned to almost 10 pounds and has a rather alarming matronly look about her. So as of today, she's on a diet, poor gal. And Davey has to be on probiotics, and Fry still needs extra food, so it looks like we're going to have to start feeding all three of our cats separately. You know, just because life isn't complex or demanding enough around here.

And speaking of feeding animals, our hens have outgrown their little chick feeders and they keep knocking them over. We now need to install large hanging feeders on the underside of the coop, so we went to the Urban Farm Store (my favorite store!) and bought them. I can't figure out how to get the lid on the feeder, because I'm an idiot, and the water regulator isn't working so it just overflows gallons of water all over the chicken run. Our afternoon agenda now demands that we resolve this problem.

We also bought some asparagus starts at the UFS so I can start our asparagus patch in the front yard. Yay! We won't be able to harvest any asparagus until 2011 but it should be worth the wait. And in the meantime, next year, it'll look pretty... and the important thing is that it's another patch of grass GONE in our Quest To Eliminate the Lawn.

Further continuing the quest today, we dropped by the Portland Nursery to spend some of a gift card we got as a housewarming present. We got a handy-dandy little weeding tool and some completely frivolous iris and crocus bulbs - no, we can't eat them, but dammit I want pretty flowers in the spring. And anyway they attract bees. Bees are important, right? *innocent look*

We also got an obscene quantity of garlic to plant, which knowing us is still not going to be enough garlic. We were going for more vegetable starts but we decided to come back later and spend the rest of the gift card once the first raised bed is built. And that's going to have to wait until the next job comes through for both of us as funds are getting tight.

So it's a day of drama and melodrama and hard work. Tonight I really need to put up some pumpkin seed pesto sauce, pumpkin butter, and pumpkin gnocchi. My list of "preserves to can" on the fridge is getting ridiculously long but I haven't gotten around to it for awhile. Maybe when winter comes I'll be able to sleep in once or twice and lounge about reading... but there's no sign of winter today.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Happy New Year 5770!

L'Shana Tova to all the Jews! May we all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

We celebrated Rosh Ha'Shanah at our house with, what else, dinner. Apples and honey are traditional, as are any sweet foods for a sweet new year. We had roast chicken, cheesy hazelnut-stuffed apples, collard/kohlrabi greens, delicata squash in an herbed glaze, and a homegrown tomato salad. For dessert, we dressed up the apples-dipped-in-honey standby with a lovely little apple tart. I made the pastry, Keith made the filling, and we had a great time making a dessert that was surprisingly low in sugar and flour; as baked desserts go, this one was pretty good for you! Spiced apples in a potato pastry, topped with light sour cream and honey. Mm-mm-mm.

I'm off to get ready for services today... quite late, but oh well. There's a synagogue in town I've been meaning to check out since we moved here. In a new house at the dawn of a new year - what better time?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flexibility, Serendipity...

A couple days ago, my father sent me a box of goodies from his garden, which is almost entirely hot peppers and experimental sugars. I got some sugar beets, stevia, and a hilarious variety of sugar cane which looks exactly like marijuana and will get me arrested if I try to mail it again. I also got an assortment of hot peppers, including a lovely bright orange habanero and a couple other varieties I didn't know before. I promised to make chile chutney and send some back; Jamie Oliver's got a great recipe for chile chutney and I wanted to try it.

I collected a few ancho chiles from my own garden, which has been prolific in other departments but disappointing in the chile department due to our cool wet weather here. And then I began a day which felt like an "I Love Lucy" episode, but which turned out to create one of those delightful little kitchen accidents that result in something better than what I was going for in the first place.

Step one was light the grill to roast the peppers. Cook's Confession: I totally fail at charcoal grills. I love the flavor, but I was just never taught the fine art of charcoal grilling; I think it's a guy thing. Keith wasn't home so I gave it my best shot, but half a bottle of lighter fluid, one singed eyebrow, and a pile of dead coals from a gust of wind later, I gave up and retreated inside. I roasted my hot peppers in my cast-iron skillet on the stovetop.

I still intended chile chutney, but I can never follow a recipe exactly; I have to mess with everything. On this occasion I remembered some tomatoes from my garden that were peaking. I skinned them, threw them in the food processor with the chiles, and got... liquid. Right. Because tomatoes are juicy, especially when they've just been blanched and skinned. Derrr.

By this point I was already caramelizing onions with rosemary, cinnamon, smoked salt, and pepper. I poured in the tomato-chile liquid, along with the balsamic vinegar called for in the chile chutney recipe, and some honey. As it came to a boil I looked at it and realized it would never be chutney. It might, however, be a decent ketchup.

I tasted it. Yes, a pleasantly spicy, slightly sweet balsamic ketchup! I simmered it for awhile, occasionally adding things - too spicy, so a bit of cider vinegar; too bland, so a sprinkling of garlic and paprika and some more cinnamon; not as spicy as it was, so a squirt of sriracha. Finally I got it all balanced, then realized if I made ketchup out of this thin liquid, I might have four ounces of it by the time it cooked down. I wanted enough for me and dad to each have a jar, at least. So then I had another idea - what about jam? After all, the tomato-chile jam was good. So I stirred in a half a packet of pectin and yanked up the heat, boiled the hell out of it for a minute, and canned it.

I got two 8-oz jelly jars full. Once they were cool I checked it out. Basically, I have BBQ sauce, at least in the flavor. It's a very nice BBQ sauce if I may say so! Spicy, sweet, and a bit zingy. It had me reaching for my water glass. I think it'll be great on a grilled cheese but it could also work as a spread on any kind of sandwich.

It's a bit too thick to be called BBQ sauce though. It has a jam consistency. It could be thinned with a little water or apple juice, and then brushed on grilling meat. Or it could be stirred into gravy or another sauce for flavor. It could even be spread onto a steak after cooking. I'm not really sure what to call this odd little product, even though I can think of uses for it. It's a quirky animal that doesn't quite fit in.

Got to say, though. It tastes mighty fine.

Hurray for life's fortuitous accidents. Viva la experimentation!

Grape Jelly: A Photo Essay

As you know, I've been canning like Ma Ingalls this summer. I did a bit last year and I've done a little canning before, but this summer I've been especially busy (considering we're eating it all just as fast as I can can it, which kind of misses the point of canning but whatever). It only started to feel like real old-fashioned canning, though, when we began The Concord Grape Jelly Project. Click on any picture here for a larger version.

There's a house down the street from us, for sale, and as far as we can tell no one's living there. On a recent walk, we noticed a long fence on the property that was completely covered with perfectly ripe Concord grapes. These little grapes are famous for the jelly and juice you get at the store; people tend not to purchase these grapes whole, as they have tough little skins and large, crunchy, acidic seeds. I like to eat them myself, but not many people do. Their flavor is excellent for processing though.

So Keith devoted a couple of days to harvesting and came up with several baskets full of lovely little grapes.

We put on "Firefly" and kicked back to pick and sort all those grapes. The little shrivelly ones, the overripe and underripe, went into one bowl for the chickens (who love them), the vines went into a bag for the compost heap, and the good grapes went into many large bowls (and my tummy).

Next I had to take a potato masher and squish all the grapes up. Would've been fun to pile them up in a tub and stomp them like Italian wine grapes, but I didn't want to mess up my pedicure. About halfway through mashing them, I added about half a cup of water.

The mashed grapes then need to come to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. This looks kind of nasty, but it makes the most delicious smell - I can't even describe it. It's a sweet, earthy, kind of childish smell. I think it comes from the yeast bloom on the grape skins.

After this I had to strain the hot squished grapes thoroughly through clean pantyhose. I didn't get any pictures of this part, but let me tell you it is damned messy. I did some, Keith did some, and for a couple of days we both had purple hands. The countertops were stained and had to be bleached, and thank goodness I had on a black shirt. The dried solids went into the compost heap, and the strained juice went into many jars. It didn't come out looking like grape juice at all; it was a bright pink color. And it didn't taste like the grape juice you want to drink. It was very acidic, tart in the way that's unappealing to a gal like me who eats limes by themselves, and not at all sweet. The juice had to sit out on the counter overnight.

At this point more solids sank to the bottom, so the juice had to be strained again. Then I poured it all into a pan and turned on the heat. This has to be made one batch at a time or it won't set right. I used four cups of juice per batch and stirred in four cups of sugar (yeah, it needs to be that much to jelly and also to keep it from spoiling; most people use even more) and 2 Tbsp lemon juice just to be safe. I brought it all to a boil...

And here's the cool part, which I couldn't get a good picture of. At the moment that it starts to boil, the bright fuschia color instantaneously turns to dark purple. I have no idea how or why this works but this is what happens. It's amazing, it's incredible, it's alchemy! This is why I love canning.

I have several jars put away already and still more to do; I'm going to try and finish up the rest of it today. The grapes have all been harvested, so there's no more to do once I finish this. It's been a fun project, though I'm now drowning in more grape jelly than I can ever use. But here's the reason I love Portland - there will be a preserve swap at the end of the month, where I can trade my extra jelly jars for lots of other interesting things that other people have made! This way I can fill out our larder without eating too much of one thing or spending any money. I can't wait to see what I can trade for.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that this jelly tastes excellent with peanut butter. Welch's really just can't compare.