Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New Pet?

Whew. I took some time off blogging while I did several weeks of movie work, which is now winding down. And a good thing, because clearly my little farm needs more attention...

Roommate Anne went to collect eggs today and instead she found a bizarre little hatchling. This poor guy showed up yesterday, apparently motherless and alone. Keith and the hens chased him away together.

Last night I took extra care to make sure I didn't lock him in with the hens - an opossum will kill a chicken, though I think the opossum needs to be a bit bigger to do that. He wasn't in the henhouse then and he wasn't there when Keith let the hens out this morning. But I guess our henhouse was an irresistible spot to hide out for the day... at least, until our hens beat him up and chased him away.

Poor little orphaned opossum. He just wants a safe place to sleep. And maybe a fresh egg to eat.

I hope he doesn't come back. I might have to adopt him. Wonder what the cats would think?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Live Here!

Well hot diggity, I'm famous.

Today I'm featured on I Live Here: PDX, a neat website that draws a portrait of Portland by featuring different residents in their neighborhoods. Click that link and go check it out!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sick Day Hot Toddy

I haven't been sick enough to miss work since coming down with norovirus in 2006. Since easing myself onto a natural, organic diet some years ago, I've not been sick at all, and I have to admit I've taken a smug pride in the fact that I never get sick.

Pride goeth before the fall.

I write this near 7 pm on a Wednesday, after spending the entire day in bed - and a shame too, it looked like such a pretty day out. When I realized I was in no shape to go to work, due to this debilitating chest cold I picked up (after, mind you, eating processed foods at work again), I thought I'd get some writing done and maybe straighten up the house. HA. I haven't been able to stay vertical for more than five minutes at a time, and I've spent the vast majority of the day sleeping.

It's working though. I'm still not feeling great, but I feel a bit better than I did this morning. So I thought I'd share the best chest-cold remedy I know: the spiced brandy toddy. It'll help you get better in a hurry, and without a lot of scary drugs with all their side effects. Take one before you go to bed and you'll feel a little better, so you can go to sleep and let your body do the work of healing.


½ a fresh lemon
1 oz brandy, bourbon, or rum
1 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp raw honey
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Simmering water

Squeeze all the juice out of the lemon half into a large mug. Drop a chunk of the rind in, if you like. Add the liquor, ACV, honey, cinnamon, and pepper. Top off with simmering water and stir until honey is melted and contents are evenly blended. Sip immediately while it's still quite hot.

Here's why it works:

The hot water soothes your throat, and also helps to raise your body temperature so your immune system doesn't have to work as hard to kill the infection. (Remember that we get fevers because heat kills off certain infections.) It's also psychologically soothing.

Honey coats your throat a bit, easing the pain and raspy feeling. It's also a powerful antimicrobial - you can treat minor eye infections with raw honey - which also helps to fight the infection. And it sweetens the taste of the other flavors, which might not be so enjoyable together otherwise.

Lemon is loaded with vitamin C, which we all know is a powerful immune-booster. The acid in the lemon juice and ACV also works to break up phlegm and clear your throat.

You can skip the raw apple cider vinegar if you really want, but its health benefits are many and it really does work. If you don't want to drink it, you can put some on a cotton ball and rub it on your chest, under your nose, and on your forehead. It works a bit like Vick's, but in my opinion it smells better and it's better for you. It doesn't taste bad in the toddy, either - it blends right in with the lemon.

Cinnamon tastes nice too, and it also has antimicrobial properties. The cayenne can also be skipped, but its flavor is unobtrusive and it helps if you're having sinus problems; we all know how spice can clear your head. I also find that a bit of cayenne helps to numb a sore throat.

And that brandy/bourbon/rum? It's soothing and helps you go to sleep, so that your body can work harder on fighting off the infection. If you don't buy it, remember that alcohol is also a key ingredient in NyQuil - but a nice hot toddy tastes a lot better.

And now I'm going back to bed. Wish someone was here to bring me some chicken soup.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blackeyed Peas, Demystified

The back page of each issue of Organic Gardening magazine is given to an article by the magazine's editor, Maria Rodale. Her grandfather J. I. Rodale is widely considered to be the founder of the modern organic gardening movement; gardening and produce are still, after publishing, the family business. Presumably, Maria grew up around a wide variety of vegetables. So I was stunned to read this article, in which she described a vacation to a B&B near Nashville, where she was treated to "something they called peas." These weird little beans didn't resemble any peas she'd ever heard of, so she inquired and got an education on field peas - including the most famous of field peas, the symbol of the South, the blackeyed pea.

The article reminded me of a time two years ago when a friend from New York was visiting us and checked out the pantry as I made dinner. "What's this?" she asked, picking up a jar. "These funny little beans with the spot that looks like an A?"

Until then, I'd assumed that blackeyed peas were on a level with cornbread and ham. Sure, they're Southern, but everyone knows about them, right? Wrong, it turns out! I mentioned them on Twitter not too long ago when someone asked about a healthy standard weeknight supper, and I was asked repeatedly to explain blackeyed peas and how to cook them.

So here it is. Blackeyed peas are pretty hard to screw up, but with a rich, smoky molasses they can be so much more delicious than their humble nature implies. They're packed with protein, calcium, folate, and vitamin A, among other benefits. They're dirt-cheap and store for a very long time, so you can stock up and always have plenty on hand. They bring you luck when eaten on New Year's Day. They don't even need to be pre-soaked. And don't be fooled by Southern stereotypes - blackeyed peas do NOT need pork, or even any meat at all.

And the best part: They're at their best when left alone in a crockpot all day while you go to work. For an easy and nutritious weeknight supper, throw blackeyed peas in the crockpot before you leave in the morning, and then whip up a quick honey cornbread (here's my recipe) when you get home. Collard greens and copper pennies, as in the pic above, are nice but optional!


1 cup dried blackeye peas
4 cups chicken/vegetable broth, water, or a combo
2 cloves minced garlic
¼ cup molasses
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar or cider vinegar
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (see note)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce
½ tsp crushed red pepper
½ tsp dried savory or parsley (optional)
¼ tsp ground black pepper

Chopped green onion, to taste

Note: You can use olive oil, but if you have toasted sesame oil, definitely use it here.

Rinse off the blackeyed peas in a strainer. If you see any shriveled-looking or darkened peas (or little pebbles, sometimes it happens), toss them.

Combine everything but the green onion in the crockpot and switch it on. The measurements don't need to be exact. Forget about it for 8-10 hours. Come home and give it a stir, and when the cornbread is ready, dish up those peas and sprinkle green onion on top.

If you're not making any other dishes and this is just a simple blackeyed-peas-and-cornbread dinner, try a pickle and/or some sliced radishes on the side. Raw veggies really sing with this, or sometimes I go the other way and have a few cubes of cheese. Just keep it simple!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Upsetting the Applecart

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

There aren't a lot of pictures of Tarek el-Tayyib Mohamed Ben Bouazizi. In most of the pictures that do exist, he's not recognizeable. Hell, he's not recognizeable to most Americans even in the picture above. But his short life, and the way he left it, has completely changed the face of global politics.

Different versions of Mohamed's story conflict with each other; some say he had a computer science degree, others that he never made it through high school. What is known is that he was 26 years old and living in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, with his widowed mother and six sisters. Unable to find employment, he worked for most of his life (from age 10 onward) as a street vendor, selling fruits and vegetables from a cart. Despite police harassment, theft, and a tendency to give away free food to those even poorer than himself, Mohamed was able to provide for his family and send his sisters to school; he was even putting one sister through university, and was saving up for a truck to expand his business.

Enter the police, stage left.

Stories conflict here too. We do know that a police officer named Faida Hamdi stopped him on the morning of December 17, 2010. Some say she demanded a bribe, others say she demanded a permit (which authorities in Sidi Bouzid agree that he didn't actually need), many say she overturned his cart and confiscated his property. Mohamed's family claims that she insulted his deceased father, spit at him, and slapped him in the face. For a young man victimized by corrupt officials throughout most of his life, it was the last straw. He appealed to his government officials, who ignored him until he doused himself with either gasoline or paint thinner and set himself on fire. Eighteen days later, he died of his burns.

This is why the Arab world is under revolution now. It began in Tunisia, where thousands of Mohamed's peers took to the streets in his name to fight for change. Corrupt government, high inflation, high unemployment, widespread poverty - it all came to a head when Mohamed couldn't take anymore, and his peers decided they didn't have to, either. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled his office a short time later.

This inspired similar revolt in Egypt, but also in Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Mauritania, Syria, Morocco, and now Libya. Even Saudi Arabia is getting into the act. Civil unrest appears to be spreading into Europe too, after a Moroccan street vendor with a story remarkably like Mohamed Bouazizi's torched himself in Sicily, sparking protests across Italy as well as Greece and Albania.

Bizarrely, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been getting a lot of credit for his network's part in the revolution; a man in Egypt even named his newborn daughter "Facebook". Though the mayor of Paris plans to name a park after Mohamed Bouazizi, his memory seems to be fading in favor of the rich and powerful, as tends to happen.

Me, I'm sitting here wondering when we're going to follow suit. Corrupt government, high inflation, high unemployment, and widespread poverty all sounds pretty familiar to me. Sure, there's the protests in Wisconsin - but come on, y'all, union benefits? Seriously? We have Morningland Dairy and Estrella Family Creamery playing the part of our own Mohamed Bouazizi, with the FDA in Faida Hamdi's role; Wisconsin even had an Amish farmer, Emanuel Miller, tormented by the USDA in violation of his First Amendment rights exactly two years to the day before Mohamed lost his business. Why weren't we marching then?

And why aren't we marching against our own federal government, who spends almost 700 BILLION of our dollars against our will to maintain unwanted occupation of about 160 foreign nations after our elected president promised - and failed to deliver - "change"? Or our USDA, which once served farmers but now works to subjugate them to oppressive corporations like Monsanto? Or our own Congress, which takes a pimp's approach to demanding an ever-increasing share of the little we have while slapping us with more and more restrictions on our Constitutional rights?

All across North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, people are fed up and working for change, all because one guy pushing a fruit cart decided enough was enough. I hope an American fruit farmer doesn't have to set himself on fire before we decide we've had enough, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Can't Help Falling in Love

Wise men say
Only fools rush in,
But I can't help...

...licking every last crumb off the plate after sampling this Elvis Pie.

No kidding, y'all, this is hands down the best pie I've ever made in my life. And I completely made it up as I went along (thankfully I wrote it down as I went, so I can duplicate it later). Charcutepalooza is changing my entire outlook on food here; I've never been a huge meat eater (I was a strict vegetarian for 12 years, from age 11-23) and I've never liked pork, but I cannot get enough of this homemade bacon.

I have a friend here in Portland who is also not too big on meat, but she and I have been experimenting with old-school meat production the way some people (ahem, certainly not us) have experimented with recreational drugs. Last summer we slaughtered five unfortunate chickens who'd been hatched in my garage and raised in my backyard, where they also met their end. At Christmas she hesitantly volunteered to try my maple bacon cream pie (look up to your right at the Kickstarter link, there's a picture); she loved it.

So when I was making my own bacon for Charcutepalooza, she was interested, and her husband owned a little meat smoker. So I borrowed their smoker with the promise of sharing the bacon once it was finished. I did bring them some bacon tonight, but they let me keep the smoker awhile longer, so to thank them I took the opportunity to try out an idea I'd been kicking around for awhile: Elvis Pie.

The only thing it needs is a bit more bacon. Otherwise, it's perfect. I was inspired by the sandwiches that famously killed the King - peanut butter, banana, and bacon, sandwiched between slices of white bread and fried crisp in butter and bacon fat. According to legend, Elvis ate two of these every night. Sure explains how this...

...becomes this.

So just don't eat two of these a day. You still gotta splurge sometimes!

For this pie, I made a graham cracker crust with vanilla sugar, butter, and bacon fat (of course using the fat from cooking my homemade bacon, cured in maple and brown sugar with a touch of cloves). Then I layered in a peanut butter cream filling sweetened with brown sugar and honey. I topped that with a layer of fresh sliced bananas - here's where I'll also add more bacon when I make this again - and then I poured a lovely vanilla custard over it all and let it chill until firm.

Just before serving, I whipped cream with confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and a little more bacon fat. I spread that over the top, then sprinkled it with graham cracker crumbs, chopped chocolate, and finally... that beautiful thick-cut home-cured sweet bacon.

A pie fit for the King! But, except for the one slice I sampled here, I gave it to my friends. Because they're awesome, and because one thing I've learned about meat production and preservation is that it tends to be a community endeavor. And that's why it goes so well with pie.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Bacon, Homegrown Eggs: Carbonara as it was meant to be.

We ate this spaghetti squash alla carbonara two nights in a row, and would've had it again if we'd had more spaghetti squash. I'd call Charcutepalooza #2 a rousing success.

After curing sweet and savory bacon in the fridge for over a week, I borrowed a friend's smoker and some applewood chips, and fired the whole thing up in my garage since the day was drizzly (I left the garage door open, but it still smells like bacon in there). The cured pork belly sat in the smoker for four hours, at which point I moved it to a 200° F oven to finish off.

I noticed that before I smoked it, when I first removed the pork belly from the cure, it was kind of greyish and not that beautiful bacony pink. I was disappointed at first, but hoped that smoking would pink it up. Sure enough, when it came out of the smoker, I had this:

Michael Ruhlman, in his excellent book Charcuterie (which is the official textbook for Charcutepalooza), says to let the bacon cool to room temperature but adds, "Try a piece now though, straight out of the oven - it's irresistible." He's absolutely right. It was incredible. I shared a piece with Anne, my new roommate and half the genius of Fab Frugal Food, and we both had to stop ourselves from devouring the whole thing. While she ran out to buy a spaghetti squash, I found myself trimming the fatty skin off the bacon slabs while still hot, and chewing on that skin to suck out the warm, fresh bacon fat. So much for that Jewish Guilt.

That very night, we had to try using the bacon. So I put the maple-brown sugar bacon away for another use, and cut some of the savory bacon into lardons. Anne is currently on a grain-free diet, but I wanted to try a carbonara, so we went with a spaghetti squash recipe that Anne calls "low-carb-onara."

I can't find the recipe on Fab Frugal Food anymore to link to it, but I took some liberties with it anyway. I fried the lardons with a handful of garlic and some chopped fresh rosemary and thyme from the yard. Anne roasted the spaghetti squash and then raked it up with a fork until it perfectly resembled its namesake; it went into the pan with the bacon and garlic, while I whipped up three egg whites with one yolk, reserving the other two yolks on a plate. (We used one egg from each of my hens, now that all three are finally laying again.) I beat a ton of parmesan into the egg mixture, then tossed the squash and bacon with it, gave it plenty of pepper...

...and then we dished it up with pine nuts, fresh parsley, and a single yolk on top of each serving, mixing the raw yolk into the spaghetti squash to make a creamy sauce. Obviously I wouldn't recommend doing this with storebought eggs, but real carbonara is definitely a perk of raising my own chickens. I love this stuff. And with my homemade, flavorful, extra-tasty bacon cut thick into lardons... ohhhh my. Any word I could use in any tongue would be painfully inadequate.

So Teenage Jewish Vegetarian Kimberly can huff off to her room and slam the door all she wants. I plan to start another batch of bacon this week. I'm moving on to the next phase of Charcutepalooza too - look for homemade corned beef next month, mmm! - but I think homemade bacon is going to be a regular thing around our house. I've never put anything this delicious in my mouth before and I want it all the time.

As for the spaghetti squash, I liked it better than the usual pasta. It had more texture, and its mild flavor complemented the carbonara really well. It wasn't as slippery as pasta, so it held the sauce better, and its nutritional content was way higher than noodles would've been. Score another point for gluten-free!

And what about the maple-brown sugar bacon I made? I fried up a little last night just to taste it, and it's a sticky-sweet-salty concoction that just begs to be used in a pie. Maple Bacon Cream Pie, my specialty, seems obvious, but I feel like a taste of home. So tonight, it's Elvis Pie. A graham cracker crust with butter and bacon fat, with a creamy peanut butter layer on the bottom, topped with a lucious banana cream filling, then garnished with vanilla sweetened whipped cream and chunks of this sweet-salty bacon. I can't wait.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pie on a stick, yo.

I spent today giving out free pie on a stick in Pioneer Square, also known as "Portland's Living Room." I was up late last night and early this morning baking up about 100 of those babies. Some of them broke on the way - oh darn, we had to eat them - and I still have a few left, but I gave out quite a lot, and it was gratifying to hear all the bright "Mmm!"s as people walked away.

Amusing, too, how many people get suspicious when you offer them something for free. Heh. Sad that we live in that kind of world, but I understand! The suspicious ones seemed relieved when all I wanted out of the deal was the chance to give them my card and tell them about my food cart project, Butterpat.

Hopefully some of them enjoyed the pie enough to make a pledge toward the project. I'm exactly a week into my fundraising now and have only 49 days to go. Eep!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Urban Homesteading." So sue me.

UPDATE: I had to share this amazing post at The Noodle Book: An Open Letter to the Dervaes'. I looked for an excerpt to quote here, but really none of it stands alone; this entire letter is important to share. I hope the Dervaes family reads it and takes it to heart.

So my urban homestead - in lowercase, natch - is a work in progress. We haven't converted the front lawn into edible landscaping yet, we're still in the middle of fencing and building more raised beds in the back yard, the chicken coop leaks in the rain, and the only crop we harvest in any massive quantity is grapes. But our blueberry bushes are growing, the cherry tree we planted on the day we closed on the house is forming new branches, I'm still canning like a mo'fo' when the season's on, and our chickens have begun to resume egg production after their winter vacation. So I have no problem standing up and acknowledging that I am, again in lower case, an urban homesteader.

So what's all this about? Well, a controversy broke yesterday when it was revealed that the Dervaes family of Pasadena has trademarked the term "urban homesteading" (along with six other related terms). The family patriarch, Jules Dervaes, is apparently under the impression that he coined the term in 2001, despite its appearance in news media as early as 1981. There's a decent overview of the furor here at the LA Weekly's website if you haven't heard about it yet.

I had a measure of respect for the Dervaes family before this. They have several websites and blogs dedicated to the urban homesteading movement, and their own little urban farm in Pasadena is truly a model worth emulating. They're off the grid and completely self-sustaining, and while I find their writing to be more self-aggrandizing than educational, they do have a right to be proud. But trademarking a term that they did not invent - a term which has come to represent a global movement - and going after bloggers and educators with cease-and-desist letters... well, that's a tactic more worthy of Monsanto than anyone else.

Urban homesteaders are understandably pissed, though most of us are handling it with good humor. A Facebook group called Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) popped up less than 48 hours ago and has 1,756 followers as I write this, with more fans joining by the hour. Petitions and email lists have already spread to thousands of homesteaders around the world, mostly in response to Facebook responding to the Dervaes' cease-and-desist by deleting nearly every group relating to the subject.

What makes it even worse is the Dervaes response to this outcry. Rather than apologize and retreat, as anyone would if their true goal was increased participation in sustainable urban farming, the Dervaes family has instead watered the Drama Llama with a whining, comment-disabled blog post attempting to justify their actions. Apparently they believe they are rescuing urban homesteaders from corporate co-opting of the term. But, as several have wondered, what exactly are they rescuing us from if they're acting just like a corporate lawyer would?

One thing I do find interesting is that this controversy seems to have stirred up a lot of interest in an excellent book, The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutsen (funnily enough, not by Jules Dervaes). Coyne and Knutzen are also in Los Angeles - actually in Los Angeles, not Pasadena - and their blog Root Simple is a hugely informative and educational look at homesteading as young urbanites tend to practice it.

I've owned the book for a couple of years now and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the subject; it's seriously got everything, from chicken-keeping and composting to greywater recycling and lasagna-gardening. I've seen more references to this book in the past 24 hours than in all the years I've owned it. So if any good is to come of this tsimmes, it'll raise awareness of the urban homesteading movement and the excellent literature out there that has promoted it since long before Jules Dervaes became our self-appointed priest and publicist.

Here's hoping this blows over soon and we can all go back to prepping our raised beds for spring.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Homemade Bacon

See that there? That is a Big Darn Slab of Pork Belly. In my kitchen.

I've previously alluded to my Jewish baggage when it comes to pork, shellfish, and the like. Round one of Charcutepalooza, with its duck prosciutto, was a fun experiment in food preservation without any of the conflict that I knew would be coming eventually. I was secretly pleased, though, when bacon came up so soon. If I'm going to eat pork, it might as well be bacon, that darling of all the current culinary fads, that mascot of Portland cuisine.

I've made a few tentative forays into bacon over the past few months (including the recently mentioned maple bacon cream pie) and found the good-quality stuff to be a pleasure worth indulgence. So it was with a naughty excitement akin to a date at the swingers' club that I headed out into Portland last week and purchased that thick slab of piggy sin that you see above.

I also needed curing salt, and was fortunate enough to find a carrier here in town so I didn't need to mail order it. This salt has nitrates and nitrites added to facilitate proper curing; in small doses this is safe to eat, but it's dyed a frightening cotton-candy pink so no one accidentally cooks with too much of it. I only needed a couple ounces, but as it was so cheap ($1.50/lb), I went ahead and bought a pound of it in anticipation of future Charcutepalooza endeavors.

I had to go to a warehouse near the waterfront, in the Southeast Industrial District, to get it. As I stood at the counter waiting for the heavily-tattooed man to return with it, another employee came to the front to ring me up. "That's it?" he asked with perfunctory professionalism. "Just the pound of cure?"

With a Brysonesque smile I volunteered, "It's worth an ounce of prevention!"

He blinked, faltered for a second, and shrugged. "Uh, okay. That's a dollar fifty."

My cheeks remarkably similar in color to the curing salt now in my hand, I paid the man in quarters and dignity, and fled for my Kia and NPR. They'd get my jokes on NPR, I thought wistfully.

So I got my illicit pleasures home, consulted Michael Ruhlman's recipe in Charcuterie, and decided to try two kinds of bacon. After whipping up the "basic cure," a combination of kosher salt, curing salt, and sugar, I divided the pork belly into two chunks, one about twice the size of the other. About two thirds of the total went into a sweet cure with brown sugar, maple syrup, and a bit of nutmeg; the remainder went savory, with peppercorns, thyme, oregano, and rosemary, and I'm thinking of cubing that one into lardons when it's finished. Both are now curing in my fridge.

I've been turning them over once a day since Wednesday, and this Saturday they should be ready to smoke. They can be finished in the oven at low heat, but what's the point of bacon without smoke? I have a friend who owns a smoker and is keen to let me use it in exchange for some of the meat.

I think we'll smoke it this Saturday. After all, my friend works during the week, so that's when he's available. And if I'm going to be a bad Jew, I might as well go all the way; no point being half-assed about it. Bring on the Sabbath and let me light that fire.

This bacon better be worth it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I know, I know, I haven't posted in awhile. I've vaguely alluded to my being busy, but now I can finally tell you what I've been so busy with - trying to go into business!

I sold several pies over the holidays (including my most popular offering, the maple bacon cream pie shown above) and since then I've been busy building my Kickstarter page. If you're unfamiliar with Kickstarter, it's a pretty great concept. I've built a page with text and video to explain my concept - click here to see it! - and I'm offering fun rewards to people who back my project.

If I collect enough pledges to fund my project by April 4, then I'll be able to purchase and outfit my own food cart, a Northwest-influenced Southern one called Butterpat. I'll specialize in pie, but I'll also be offering my famous biscuits with gravy and my homemade herbal jelly, as well as plate lunches and other treats. If I don't get enough pledges by April 4, then nobody gets charged and I'll just keep saving up bit by bit. But I've gotten a lot of great feedback from the Portland food cart devotees (we call ourselves "cartivores"), so I'm optimistic!

Spread the word, tell your friends, point everyone toward the page! If nothing else, you can chuckle at the video while I look like a goober to the tune of B. B. King.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Duck Prosciutto

I promise, I have had a lot going on besides Charcutepalooza. But dangit, Charcutepalooza is the fun one of all my current projects! And finally today we got to enjoy its benefits.

The duck prosciutto was ready last week, but we were busy and only had time to try a little nibble. Our duck breasts had quite a bit of fat on them, which wasn't so good to eat straight, but I learned I could trim it off and use it to give an amazing richness to a pot of beans. Beyond that, we wrapped up the duck prosciutto and stashed it in the freezer for a better day.

Today was that day, and I decided that if you can't have a fancy appetizer for breakfast sometimes, then you aren't really living. I've always seen pork prosciutto served in thin slices wrapped around chunks of melon... and I got to thinking that the sweeter acidity of a mango would go nicely with our juniper-cured duck prosciutto.

The great thing about having frozen the prosciutto: It was easier to slice it very thin. And by the time I had the mango peeled and cubed, those thin slivers of duck had thawed out. So I just wrapped them up and plonked them on a pretty dish, and we nibbled our mango-prosciutto bites with our fingers over the newspaper. I had coffee because I'm a junkie, but Keith had his with peppermint tea, and in retrospect I bet that was really lovely with the fruit and duck.

So that's project one of Charcutepalooza, and I still have plenty of home-cured duck prosciutto in the freezer. (I'm thinking I need to chunk some of it up in the spring and make a pasta dish with duck prosciutto and the first little green peas from my garden.) Next up is homemade bacon, and I was out pricing pork belly for that today.

It's funny how cooking expands your horizons. Five years ago, I was in Hollywood experimenting with new produce from the Sunday farmers' market at Sunset and Vine. Three years ago, I was new in Portland and beginning to try my Grandmother's old freezing rituals and planning my garden. Two years ago, my dabbling interest in canning took off into an ever-growing epic that now consumes my summers and allows me to go Christmas shopping in my own pantry. One year ago, I started making cheese. And now that I've nailed down the science and craft of freezing and canning, my preservation inclinations are coming to include charcuterie. Not bad for a former-vegetarian urbanite.

And I find the more I learn, the less I know, and I like it that way. This way I always get to keep on learning! Now, on to that pork belly...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Duck Prosciutto!

Pressed for time at the moment, but I had to share a pic. My home-cured duck breast prosciutto is ready to eat! We tried a little bite - it's delicious. Later in the week I have several recipes I'd like to try, but I'm sure at some point we'll just have it with a little cheese and fruit for a light supper.

On to the next charcuterie project soon, which will be homemade BACON. Eep!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Husband Rules.

So I have this small, ugly kitchen that we're slowly working on. I have a decent-sized cookbook collection and they were all piled on a small table at the end of the kitchen, until we got a new huge dining table to put there. The cookbooks have been shuffled around to various spaces in other rooms and were resting on a bar table in the parlor when Keith, listless with cabin fever, decided he could build a shelf for them.

Without any prompting whatsoever by me - I was dealing with the pile of cookbooks in the parlor without any problems, though I knew it wasn't a permanent place - the other night Keith set up shop in the garage and began to tinker. Before I knew what he was doing, he had fashioned a shelf that would fit under the cabinets of my open walk-in pantry, and would mount to the walls and bottoms of the cabinets so that I'd still have plenty of room on the counter beneath.

In the time it takes me to make dinner, he'd installed it, fastened molding to hold it in place, sanded and spackled where necessary, and begun to paint it.

The next morning it got another couple coats of paint, and we let it dry for the rest of the day.

Keith did all of this by himself for about $5 in scrap wood and assorted supplies he found in the garage. The paint was the same paint we'd used on the kitchen walls. I had nothing to do with this project whatsoever, and I'm amazed at Keith's skills here. Just for purposes of comparison, here's what the kitchen looked like when we moved in.

Here's what it looks like now. Still not great, but better!

And here's my new shelf, which we loaded with my cookbook collection this morning. Keith had thought I'd have loads of extra space after the cookbooks were in. He underestimated my years of cookbook lust.

I love this guy even more than cookbooks.

You know it's fresh and organic when...

Farmers' markets are mostly closed this time of year, so we get our produce from a nonprofit cooperative grocery, People's Co-Op. Besides free yoga, excellent prices on bulk goods, and other benefits, we love this place because everything in the store is all-natural and organic.

One of the quirks to eating the way we do is that sometimes a funny thing happens. You go to the store and get your groceries - in January, that includes a lot of kale, an incredibly nutritious green that is sweetest and most delicious during the coldest weather - and stick it in the fridge when you get home. A couple days later, you're starting to cook and you pull out some kale, only to discover that somebody else got a head start on your dinner.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar went right on eating kale in the bowl we keep for vegetable scraps, and then once the bowl was full, he went out with those veggie scraps to the chickens. Snack and be snacked!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Crustless Quiche

I cleaned out the fridge the other day and had some leftovers to use up - a bunch of wilting chard, two little strips of salted duck meat that I had to trim off when making prosciutto, heels of cheeses, etc. My first thought was quiche (it usually is), but with health, weight loss, and time concerns, I didn't want to make a crust for it. Thank heaven for crustless quiche.

It's good for you, it's delicious, and it's one of the easiest things you can make (especially in the field of pie). You can clean out your fridge and throw in whatever you have; even leftover broccoli would work. If you don't have time to caramelize the onions and your meat is already cooked (or you aren't using meat), just throw in some green onions or shallots. Quiche is so flexible!

serves 4

2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
½ cup meat of your choice, cut into small cubes (optional)
1 ¼ cup grated medium cheese (cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, etc.), divided
1 bunch spinach, chard, or kale (washed, dried, and chopped)
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp flour (wheat or gluten-free)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
½ tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tsp paprika

Coat the inside of a pie plate or 9-10" casserole dish with 1 Tbsp butter, then spread ¼ cup cheese over the bottom. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 F.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter with olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion and saute until it starts to soften. Add the meat and continue cooking about 5 minutes or until onions are light golden and beginning to caramelize, and meat is cooked. (If the meat's already cooked, wait until the onions are done and then just stir it in.)

Meanwhile, dump the greens into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the remaining 1 cup cheese, eggs, milk, flour, herbs, mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few more times until everything is blended. Pour in the caramelized onions and meat, along with the butter and olive oil they cooked in, and give it a quick pulse or two just to stir. Pour into the prepared pie plate or casserole and spread out evenly. (It won't look very pretty. That's okay.)

Sprinkle the Parmesan and paprika over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes or so (while you whip up a salad to go with it, perhaps) and cut into wedges for serving.

Charcutepalooza Kickoff: Duck Prosciutto!

This year I'm joining somewhere between 50-100 (depending on who I see on Twitter) in a project called Charcutepalooza: A Year of Charcuterie.

Charcuterie, for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is a French term for the art of meat preservation. It covers such time-honored processes as smoking, salting, and curing, resulting in everything from bacon to terrine to confit. Typically it involves pork (there goes that Jewish guilt again), but it doesn't always.

We're taking on a different meat preservation project every month to, as blogger Mrs. Wheelbarrow puts it, "celebrate the appropriate, thoughtful consumption of meat with a year long exploration of the age old craft of charcuterie."

This month our first project was duck breast prosciutto (an Italian term for ham). The recipe comes, as all our recipes will, from Mark Ruhlman's gorgeous book Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing.

Today's the day for everyone's prosciutto posts, but unfortunately mine isn't quite ready yet. The butcher was out of duck breasts (partially my fault, as we had duck breast for our Christmas dinner) and I had to wait while he ordered me one. Once I got it though, I was surprised by how easy the recipe was. I split the duck breast and buried the two halves in salt overnight...

...then I seasoned them with white pepper and spices. One of the breasts has been sprinkled with black smoked sea salt for a hint of smokey flavor, while the other I seasoned with juniper for an Oregonian twist. Keith helped me tie them up in cheesecloth, where they're now hanging in the garage.

It's been fun so far to follow everyone else participating. Twitter has been bursting with off-color jokes about hanging breasts, husbands protecting our breasts, etc.; a few gung-ho kitchen goddesses are finished already and have been sharing delicious stories of snacks and dinners based on their duck breast prosciutto.

Mine still has a few more days to hang, but so far the temperatures and humidity have been just right for it in the garage. I'm surprised meat preservation isn't more popular, if it's always this easy. Salt and time do all the work! And when I'm done, I'll have two pounds of lucious home-cured prosciutto to use in a thousand different ways.

I just checked out prices for good duck prosciutto and found it going for four times the price of my duck breasts and salt. Somehow, frugality and a renewed contact with thoughtful, time-honored preservation methods make the thought of this prosciutto even more delicious.

I can't wait to try it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

We Got Crabs.

That joke never gets old, does it?

I don't usually do shellfish as a general rule. I like it - well, some of it - but I've got this combination of Jewish obligation and Catholic guilt that makes me feel like I'm doing something perverted whenever I eat shrimp. So I steer clear and give in only when I know it's going to be worth it.

I knew it would be worth it at the farmers' market a few weeks ago. It was the week before Christmas, the last market of the season before they close up for three whole months, and the vendors were doing their best to unload whatever they had left. Keith and I had done our shopping and were trudging back to the car when we passed a couple of fishmongers who were advertising local Dungeness crabs for $3 a pound. We bought two huge fresh crabs for under $5.

When we got home, we were busy with a lot of Christmas preparations, so we stuck the crabs in the freezer. A couple days ago, Keith was itching to cook them up, so he did. I was way too intimidated to do it myself - but no longer. It was quite easy, just a little messy but worth it. Last night we were at the grocery store and Keith found a tub of Dungeness crab meat for $25; he figures it contained about the same amount of meat as we got from these two crabs. We only had to work a little for it - but then, that was fun too, sitting down at the table to crack the legs and dig out the meat while nibbling little bites of risotto.

I made the risotto while Keith cooked the crabs. It's a pretty simple one, but I added the minced peel and some juice from my salt-preserved Meyer lemons, and I also stirred in some fresh parsley and a three-year aged parmesan Keith picked up in southern Oregon. I didn't have any good chicken stock to work with, and I complained that the risotto was bland before I added the lemon and parsley... but once they were in, wow! What a difference. It went great with the crab.

So well, in fact, that the next morning I combined the leftover risotto, leftover crab meat, and an egg, and then I melted the leftover clarified butter and fried up little crab-risotto patties for breakfast.

Sometimes guilty pleasures can be the very best kind.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Before I start laying out my plans for 2011, I have to share the last day of 2010. The morning of New Year's Eve found me selling pie again, as I whipped up some salted lavender caramel tarts for a friend who stopped by to pick them up for her family's New Year's dinner. It was a gorgeous day, if a frighteningly cold one - I don't think it got above freezing that day at all - and I wanted to get out, so Keith and I bundled our coats and scarves into the car and headed for Mt. Hood.

We didn't go all the way to the top of the mountain, since we had to chain up pretty early on. Three feet of fresh snow had recently fallen, and the sun was shining on a perfect New Year's Eve, so we parked as soon as we could to frolic in the thigh-deep snow.

I'm still Southern enough that snow REALLY excites me. I've traveled a lot and lived in a variety of places, but I've never lived in a snowy area, and even in Portland snow is a rarity. So the chance to get up to the mountain and see all the lovely firs in the glittering snow, well, that always makes for a pretty awesome day. We spent most of the afternoon snow tubing and had a fabulous time while getting in some exercise.

Once off the mountain, we made a spontaneous decision to drop by Lauro, our favorite special-occasion restaurant, for a fabulous dinner, and then we crossed the street to Pix Patisserie for dessert. We had a bottle of champagne someone had given us for Xmas, and the plan was to take it to the top of Mt. Tabor to toast the New Year under the trees while overlooking the Portland skyline, but it was about 20° F with a sharp biting wind, so we went on home to a warm crackling fire instead.

So now I'm finally getting a chance to sit down and have my New Year's assessment of the year before and year to come - well, I'm still in the middle of it, but it took me a couple days into the year to find the time to start! This year is already off to a busy beginning, and it's loaded with new projects.

I'm figuring out my sewing machine, for one thing; I've made some curtains and tote bags, and am currently working on a more complex project that was supposed to be a Christmas present for a friend but may wind up being a "friendship present" in another week or two. (Oops.) Once I finish this one, I'm going to make myself a couple of girly aprons and then ease myself into clothing (my ultimate goal) with a simple wrap skirt or two. So far sewing is a lot like cooking; my early blundering attempts are kind of cute in their incompetence, and I can tell this will be easy once I get in a lot more practice.

In other news, just to see how crazy I can make myself with project-juggling, I decided to go ahead with an idea I entertained over the summer. Over at my newest blog, Dinner With the World, I'll be documenting my attempt to learn more about my global neighbors and the unique variations of global cuisine as I cook a meal from every country in the world in one year. This should be a pretty interesting read, since I'll be juggling unfamiliar ingredients, a nominal commitment to kosher restrictions, and an effort to stick to seasonal Oregonian produce.

Oh yeah, and I'll also be juggling a business startup. After cultivating a dream of entrepreneurship for most of my life, it's finally time to make it happen. I'm currently saving up for a unique twist on Portland's food cart phenomenon, and have already begun selling my butter-flaky pies to friends and coworkers. By spring, I hope to be out there in the world, slinging pie to the masses. Learn more over at (website operable, but still under construction).

Meanwhile, I'll be participating in Charcutepalooza 2011, a multiblog project wherein we'll all revive the lost arts of meat preservation. It's a logical next step after slaughtering chickens last year (and we're actually raising meat birds for real this summer!), and an especially hilarious development for this former PETA member and 12-year vegetarian. We're tackling one meat project per month, with the first up being duck proscuitto. I checked out Michael Ruhlman's book on Charcuterie from the library and can't wait to get started!

I'm also hoping to revamp this blog a bit, improve my photography and rework the design, but that's going to have to wait a few more weeks at least. It also looks as though I may be cowriting a cookbook later in the year - stay tuned for more on that project.

And of course, novels and screenplays await completion, along with the mountain of books I still need to read.

With a to-do list like this one, who needs resolutions?