• Apricot ears

    Our apricots are done; my sister-in-law’s are not.

    I dried apricots; my sister-in-law is borrowing our food dehydrator so she can dry her apricots.

    I am posting about dried apricots so that my sister-in-law will know what to do; I am posting about dried apricots so I will remember how to do it next year because it is my custom to forget everything I ever learned. And then some.

    I hope I remember, come next apricot season, to check the blog.

    Dried apricots are good. Chewy, sour, sweet. My uncle calls them “ears.” They’re kind of ugly, but so is a bunch of other food, though I can’t think of any examples at present. Besides, aesthetics are overrated. It all goes to mush in the belly anyway.

    Drying Apricots

    Tear washed apricots in half and remove the pit.

    Flatten the apricot, pushing up on the curved part with your thumb and pushing down on the cut part with your fingers. Come, I’ll show you.

    Get in position…


    Thanks, hon, for taking the pictures. It tested your patience mightily, I know, but you hung in there and clicked the camera five whole times, only two of which weren’t fuzzy. You’re the best.

    And speaking of “hon.” Last night Mr. Handsome and I were in the kitchen when in ran The Baby Nickel. He started rummaging in one of the drawers in search of a cup. I asked, “What are you guys doing?”

    “Playing Honey.”

    “Huh?” Mr. Handsome and I asked in unison.

    He stopped digging long enough to turn his head toward us and then, speaking slowly and clearly, he rephrased his answer: “We’re playing Mother and Father.”

    Back to the apricots. Lay the apricots peel-side down on the trays.

    Dry till pliable but no longer juicy-wet, about 10-12 hours in my dehydrator.

    Pack the wrinkly ears into jars and freeze.

    One of my dehydrator loads yields three-plus quarts, stuffed.

    And since I’m on the subject of apricots, let me tell you what else we did with them.

    *Sweet and sour jam.

    *Cook jam.

    *Freezer jam FAIL.

    *Canned apricots: firm-ripe ‘cots torn in half and put in a jar (not even all pretty like you’re supposed to) and then smacked down tight by banging the jar on a wadded up towel, plus 1/4 cup sugar and some water, and then processed for five minutes (bring canner’s water to a slow boil and then boil very gently for five minutes cause you don’t want the apricots to turn to mush).

    *Canned apricot puree: all the apricots that are no longer firm (but not rotted), torn in half and pitted and then smooooooshed into jars with a fork and canned for ten minutes at a medium boil. No need to add sugar or water. Upon opening the jars, I’ll blender them up real good and then thicken the sauce with sugar and Therm Flo. The resulting apricot puree is super rich. We’ll eat it over ice cream, in smoothies, or I’ll use it as the filling for these bars.

    About one year ago: Red Beet Greens. I have next to no red beets in the garden this year. I’m sad.
    About two years ago: What my kids look like when they drink soda.

  • Clues, cold baths, cream, etc.

    About that new endeavor I mentioned last month. Not a one of you guessed it, but I’m not surprised. I’ll generously give you some clues:

    1. Bent knees.
    2. A basement room.
    3. Tick-tock. Pop.
    4. Women only.
    5. Middle Eastern.
    6. Huge mirror.
    7. Jangly, shimmery.
    8. Achy sore.

    NOW do you get it?

    In other news, last night it was so hot that I ate an ice cream cone while soaking in a cold bath.

    Aaaaand, there is no rain in the forecast and I am depressed. And feeling crispy around the edges. The garden is full of impossible-to-pull, tree-sized weeds. It all may just shrivel up and die and I don’t care.

    Aaaaand, I finished canning the apricots.

    Aaaaand, Goat Cheese Whipped Cream, yes indeed.
    From Epicurious

    I mentioned I was going to try it, and then I did. The goat cheese stabilizes the cream and gives it a depth of flavor without overwhelming. The whole family loves it. Excellent served with fruity desserts.

    3 ounces soft goat cheese (not feta)
    1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
    1/4 cup powdered sugar
    ½ teaspoon vanilla

    Whip together till soft peaks form.

    Aaaaand, several weeks ago my dad showed the kids this video. Today the kids disappeared into the barn and erected their own physics experiment.

    1. Push a bike tire down a makeshift wooden track.
    2. Watch as the tire crashes into a piece of plywood.
    3. The plywood falls over and lands on a rake handle, pushing it down and launching a ball that is balanced on the other end of the rake.
    4. The rake also takes to the air, flies back towards the audience, and crashes to the floor.
    5. Much cheering ensues.

    The kids realized they were in danger of damaging their tender noggins, so they donned helmets and pillows and even went so far as to build a roofed and walled observation fort.

    One year ago: The Miss Beccaboo Reading Situation. No tidy conclusion just yet.
    Two years ago: A Fallacy.

  • For the sexy June fruit

    It was Saturday morning and I was up to my eyeballs in apricots. That I was canning and jamming to beat the band wasn’t enough, oh-HO-no. I also had to try my hand at an apricot sorbet and a honey-roasted apricot ice cream, and then, just to put myself over the top, throw in an apricot cake, too. (Plus, I threw together a full-blown lunch of sweet and sour beef—using an apricot jam I made earlier—with cabbage, rice, and a zucchini skillet.)

    This, after a week of baking a passel of apricot goodies: apricot crostata, apricot crisp, apricot crumble, apricot upside down cake, and that apricot sweet and sour jam. (And lest you be confused, the jam didn’t involve baking, but it was apricot.) There was also a dehydrator load of apricots and a failed recipe of apricot freezer jam. (Don’t ever try the apricot freezer jam that comes in the pectin box. It will make you pull out all your hair and call your aunt, the apricot canning queen, three times in one day. Consider yourself warned.)

    The reason there’s been so much apricot tomfoolery going on in my kitchen is because I don’t really know what to do with the little plump critters when they come rolling in my door. I deal with fresh apricots only once a year and then I’m so busy preserving them that, before I know it, the apricots are all packed into jars without me ever learning how to cook with the sexy fresh ones. This year I determined not to miss my chances. I’d make as many apricot recipes as I could, and I would, by hook or by apricot crook, find something splendid.

    And I have: this cake, the one I made on Saturday morning, a Honeyed Apricot Almond Cake.

    It’s like this: a thick batter comprised of ground-up almonds, some whole wheat flour, and a healthy flurry of nutmeg.

    Then, a large handful of apricots cut in half and nestled cut-side up atop the batter, their little hollows drizzle-filled with honey.

    Finally, after a turn in the oven in which the apricots settle to the bottom (or perhaps only halfway down), a cake that, to all appearances is as plain as plain can be.

    It’s anything but.

    Bespeckled with almond flecks, rich with nutmeg and butter, and tangy-sweet from the occasional apricot, this cake is what I will make every single June when apricots are in season, forever and ever, amen.

    Honeyed Apricot Almond Cake
    Adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

    ½ cup butter, at room temperature
    1 cup sugar
    3 eggs
    1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 cup milk
    1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    2/3 cup all-purpose flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    3/4 cup whole almonds, ground to a fine meal in a blender
    5 large, or 7 small, fresh apricots, torn in half, pits removed
    1-2 tablespoons honey

    In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the almond meal, flours, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg.

    In a small bowl, combine the milk and vanilla.

    In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry.

    Grease a 9 or 10-inch cake, or springform, pan (you can see that mine, a 9-inch tart pan, got filled to the brim and nearly overflowed) and pour in the batter, smoothing it out with a spatula. Arrange the apricot halves on top and drizzle a little honey into their hollows.

    Bake the cake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the cake’s center no longer wobbles and a wooden skewer pierced in the middle comes out clean.

    Cool for ten minutes, run a knife around the rim of the pan, and then cool the rest of the way. Serve as is, or gussy it up with a flurry of powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream.

    Yield: one 9 (or 10)-inch cake. Stores well for a couple days, covered with plastic, at room temperature, but if leftovers linger longer, it should be transferred to the fridge to prevent the apricots from souring.

    Updated on June 30, 2010: use more apricots, perhaps four to six whole ones. Make sure to use a bigger pan, a ten-inch springform would probably be perfect.

    About one year ago: Oregano, Garlic, and Lemon Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Asparagus and A Sketchy Character
    About two years ago: Brown Bread, Simple Granola (it’s central to our existence, and it’s what my kids will think of when they remember home), and the spit rag. Aaaaand, Fancy Granola and French Chocolate Granola. Beware of the French chocolate granola. Be very aware.

  • All revved up

    Somehow, in the midst of this oppressive heat wave, I have developed the irrational impulse to cook.

    Big time.

    Up a storm.

    To the thweaty death.

    (Sorry. It’s what happens when you watch The Princess Bride three times in two months.)

    Coleslaws, potato salads, crostatas, jams, blueberry cakes, cookie tarts, tacos, empanadas, more slaws, crumbles, cocktails, granola, fruit rolls, and more, have been created and eaten in my sultry kitchen. Plus, there’s the peas and apricots, and now the zucchinis are starting to roll—wheeee!

    Mornings, I cook, oversee kids’ chores, and take them to swimming lessons. (Miss Beccaboo made the newspaper! A photographer took an underwater shot of her—Miss Beccaboo reported “she had a fish tank in her camera,” and I said “Don’t you mean ‘her camera in a fish tank?’”) Early afternoon, I rest, write, and drink coffee. And late afternoon, when the sun is at its hottest but the promise of cool is just around the corner (though still a good five hours away), I pull down the shades to ward off the killer sun, pour a glass of iced tea, crank up the fan, and cook till the sun goes down. And after that, I head out the garden to yank ugly weeds, then read books to the kids, take a brrrr-cold shower, do some recipe research and photo sorting, visit with my honey, and then off to bed I trot. The end.

    I wonder how long it will be before I crash.

    I get like this—exceedingly excited about life and all its endless possibilities, energetic and giddy and productive, and then, quite suddenly, I’m not. I do normal things at normal speeds with normal bursts of energy and normal draggy spells. All fine and good, yes, but without the lusty, ho-ho-ho, whee-this-is fun feeling. And I really enjoy that feeling. Whenever it comes, I rev up my engines and GO.

    I know it sounds bipolar-y, and bipolar disorder does run in my family, but I’m not. I’m just an up and down person, gleeful and grumpy, and sometimes grumpily gleeful (or gleefully grumpy). That my family hasn’t sent me to the looney bin is a testament to their upstanding character more than anything.

    And don’t worry. I don’t do anything rash when I’m zippy. Unless you count making two (or three) cakes in one day “rash.”

    Or baking empanadas when it’s 96 degrees outside, 86 in the kitchen, and muggy as a wet sock.

    But man-oh-man, did I have fun with these empanadas. They were a delight the whole way through, from boiling the eggs and chopping the raisins and green olives (and eating about a dozen straight up in a sodium-deprived craze) to biting into the flaky-tender pastry. The dough was a dream, mysterious and supple and beautifully roll-able.

    Why mysterious, you ask? Well, because there was tequila in it! Ole!

    Maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but I just now, as in three days ago, learned about the marvels of vodka (or tequila) in pastry dough. It’s simple, really: the alcohol moistens the dough without forming gluten strands. Then, as the pastry bakes, the alcohol evaporates without a trace of flavor (shucks), leaving a shattery crust in its wake. It’s brilliant, I tell you. Absolutely brilliant.

    I did research on the topic and apparently lots of people are already doing this. I suppose I could feel dejected about my slow-learning abilities, but I’m too thrilled to feel anything but giddy-gleeful with my discovery.

    I did a bunch of reading, post-empanada-making, and learned that the filling recipe—with the cumin, green olives, and boiled eggs—is fairly authentic.

    Of course, you could fill these with anything you like—cheeses, curried vegetables, chicken and spinach—but for me and my household, we will eat these beefy things till the cows come home. Or the heat wave breaks, whichever comes first.

    Beef Empanadas
    Adapted from the May and June 2010 issue of Cooks Illustrated

    While not quite as flaky-crispy as they are straight out of the oven, frozen empanadas, thawed at room temperature and then reheated in the microwave, are totally delicious. Mr. Handsome takes them in his lunch and devours them, un-reheated. He says he looks around at what the other guys are eating and feels sorry for them.

    *Ground chuck is leaner (and a little more expensive) than hamburger. If you use regular hamburger, omit the olive oil for frying and drain off any extra fat.
    *Masa harina is not cornmeal. If you can’t find it (but do try!), just use another cup of all-purpose flour.
    *I crimped some of my empanadas by twisting the dough, but I prefer the fork crimps. They make a thinner and lighter edge which balances better with the meat.

    For the dough:
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 cup masa harina
    1 tablespoon sugar
    2 teaspoons salt
    12 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and chilled
    ½ cup cold tequila or vodka
    ½ cup cold water

    In a food processor, blend together 1 cup of flour, the masa harina, sugar, and salt. Add the butter and process till the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the remaining flour and pulse to combine.

    Dump the mixture into a large bowl and sprinkle the alcohol and water over top. Stir to combine, and then, using your hands, knead lightly to pull the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces, set them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and transfer them to the fridge to chill for about an hour (or up to two days).

    For the filling:
    1 piece white bread, torn into pieces
    ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons broth, either chicken or beef
    1 pound ground chuck (see head note)
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    ½ teaspoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for baking
    2 onions, about 2 cups, chopped fine
    4 garlic cloves, minced
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon chipotle or cayenne powder
    1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    ½ cup packed cilantro leaves, chopped
    2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
    1/3 cup raisins, chopped
    1/4 cup green olives, chopped
    4 teaspoons cider vinegar

    In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread with 2 tablespoons broth until paste-y. Add beef, salt, and pepper and pulse till well combined.

    Heat the oil in a heavy skillet, add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, or until they start to brown. Add the garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves and cook for one minute. Add the beef and cook for about 7 more minutes, or until it begins to brown. Add the remaining broth and simmer for about five minutes (you want the mixture to be moist but not wet). Remove the skillet from the heat and let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (cilantro through vinegar) and, if needed, more salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator to chill completely. (You can also make it weeks ahead of time and then freeze it till you need it.)

    To assemble:
    Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

    Roll each ball of dough into a 6-inch circle about 1/8th-inch thick. Place 1/3 cup of the filling in the bottom center of each circle. Brush some water around the edges of the dough (it helps the dough stick together). Using a metal spatula, carefully fold the dough over the filling, Crimp the edges together using a fork.

    Once you have filled and crimped six empanadas, generously coat the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil and place it in the oven for five minutes to heat up. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully set the empanadas in the hot oil. Liberally coat the empanadas with more olive oil. Bake the empanadas for 20-30 minutes, turning the pan (and/or individual empanadas) if one side is browning faster than the other. (I also slid another cookie sheet under the baking pan half-way through because the empanadas were browning too quickly on the bottom.)

    While the first tray of empanadas is baking, finish rolling and stuffing the remaining balls of dough.

    When the empanadas have finished baking, transfer them to a wire rack and cool for ten minutes before serving.

    Yield: 12 large empanadas

    About one year ago: One whole year. Well look at that! It’s been two whole years that I’ve been blogging. Look at me go!
    About two years ago: Reasons and Lemon Donut Muffins and Painter on the roof and Weird. Back in the beginning I was a crazy-happy blogger. Geesh.

  • Lushy slushy

    I buy limes every time I go to the grocery store whether I need them or not. I think I had about four bags of limes knocking around in my crispers yesterday afternoon, but now there are only two.

    Because I made this.

    I’m not really a cocktail girl. I like them plenty, but I don’t usually go out of my way to make them because they entail doing one more thing in the midst of the pre-supper crunch. Plus, they imply that you might be relaxing prior to supper and I don’t relax prior to supper—I crunch. So therefore, I have no cocktail glasses and these lovelies had to make do with wine glasses. Not that it made them any less delicious.

    This drink has inspired me in a big way. Not only do I want to go thrift shopping for cocktail glasses but I also want to throw a party so I can share the slushy goodness with the world.

    But throwing a party would mean I would have to vacuum the floors and wash the kitchen windows and pick up the bazillion socks, shoe liners and plastic cups that litter our yard. So I think I’ll skip the party and just drink them all myself. Sorry.

    I fixed up the drinks last night (it was hot as the dickens so it was salad night which meant I wasn’t crunching) before Mr. Handsome made it back from taking the van to the garage to get it “listened to.” (Not good news, and have I told you that our washing machine on spin cycle sounds like a freight train and that it pees water all over the bathroom floor? We’re going to have to get that machine a diaper if this behavior continues.)

    Anyway, before he even got home I had drunk half of mine, and when he walked in the door I yelled, “HEY!” which made him jump, and then I sprinted to the freezer where I had stashed his drink, thrust it into his hands, and demanded, “Now tell me what you think!” Then I scrutinized him while he tentatively licked the rim and took a sip.

    “Well?” I said, ever impatient. “What do you think, huh? Do you like it?”

    “It’s good,” he said. (Lick, sip.) “It’s really good.”

    “Shoot,” I said. “I was hoping you wouldn’t like it so I could drink yours.”

    (Lick. Sip.)

    (Scrutinize, scrutinize.)

    (Lick. Sip.)

    “Aren’t you even going to ask me about the van?” he prompted.

    “Oh yeah. So how’s the van?” And then he proceeded to tell me something about shafts and belts, but I was so focused on watching him sip that beautiful drink and brush sugar crystals off his lips (I went a little overboard on the sugar rim) that I heard nary a word.

    Slushy Mojitos
    Adapted from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appetit

    I halved the rum since I’m a modest drinker (and wanted to save room for a rum and coke [with lime!] later, shhh), but if you’re feeling frisky, go ahead and increase the amount to a half cup.

    1/4 cup fresh lime juice
    1/4 cup Gold rum
    3 tablespoons sugar
    2-3 cups ice
    6 mint leaves, plus extra for garnish

    To prepare the glasses, rub a wedge of lime around the rims, wetting about 1/4 inch down on the glass, and then dip the glasses into your sugar canister.

    Combine the lime juice, rum, and sugar in the blender and blend till the sugar is dissolved. Add two cups of ice and blend till creamy smooth. Add the mint leaves and some more ice (up to a whole cup) and blend till smooth.

    Divide the drinks between two glasses, garnish with sprigs of mint, and serve.

    Note: These can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer for 20 minutes, longer if you’ve doubled or quadrupled the recipe. Stir and serve.

  • A number of things

    1. I love my bowls. I have lots of them, a whole stack of metal ones, and some plastic and glass ones as well.

    I use them every day, but they get extra heavy usage in the summer. I grab two or three before heading out to the garden and fill them up with whatever it was I was going out to the garden for: asparagus, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, peas, chard, red raspberries, you name it.

    I don’t have any real point to my tale except to say that the value of a good stack of bowls can not be underestimated.

    2. What do you see when you look at this picture?

    Peas, you say?

    Ha! If only! You want to know what I see? I see long rows and little yield. I see marital strife (Grrrr). I see a burned back and sore leg muscles. I see an insane amount of weeding.

    Peas, my foot.

    (They do taste delicious, though.)

    3. Recently, Yo-Yo read Holes to Miss Beccaboo.

    Every chance they got, they’d disappear for loooong stretches of time. I didn’t blame them; it’s such a fabulous read aloud. If you haven’t read it yet, do so. Please.

    4. Miss Beccaboo still isn’t reading. I have lots of things to say about this state of affairs, but I’m not sure what they are or how to say them so you’ll have to wait.

    5. Our new book-club read is Interpreter of Maladies. I’ve heard such good things about it that I bypassed the library entirely and ordered it straight from Amazon. The group just finished reading The Lacuna, except that I didn’t finish reading it because I didn’t like it. But then I listened to the women discuss the book, realized that I had already (back in my MCC days, perhaps?) read a book about Frida, and decided that I’ll finish it after all, maybe even starting over from the very beginning.

    See? Book clubs are good things! They push you to finish what you started (at least this time around).

    6. Lemon Ice Cream with Red Raspberries, oh yes.

    I got this recipe from a friend from church. She recommends serving it with gingerbread and red raspberries, but I just went with the berries and it was superb.

    The lemon stands out in a big way, and since it’s made with half-and-half instead of cream, it’s lighter, like how lemon feels.

    Because of the lemon zest, pulverized though it is, the ice cream is not creamy smooth. This bothers me when I eat the ice cream plain (and could be solved by straining the mix after letting the cream steep with the zest for a day in the fridge), but when mixed with red raspberries, the problem disappears completely, thanks to the berry seedy (ha!) distraction.

    Lemon Ice Cream with Red Raspberries
    Adapted from my friend Jodi’s recipe, and before her (according to her) from the China Moon cookbook, whatever that is.

    ½ cup, slightly overflowing (in other words, 9 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice (2-3 large lemons)
    the zest from those lemons
    2 cups half-and-half
    1 cup sugar
    pinch of salt
    1-2 cups red raspberries

    Wash the lemons, pat dry, and zest them.

    Put the zest and sugar into a food processor and process for several minutes (set the timer for three minutes and go from there) till the juice starts to liquify. Add the lemon juice and pulse to blend.

    Pour the mix into a glass bowl and add the half-and-half and the salt. Stir to combine. Let the mix rest at room temperature for about twenty minutes. It will thicken and curdle a little. Don’t worry about it—it’s all good.

    At this point you can refrigerate (or even freeze) the mix until you’re ready to churn it. (If you choose to strain it to remove the zest, first refrigerate it for 6-24 hours in order to obtain optimal lemony-ness.)

    Pour the mixture into your ice cream freezer and churn for 25-30 minutes.

    This is good right off the bat, but it freezes well (cover the ice cream with a piece of plastic wrap) and scoops great even when frozen solid.

    Scoop into dainty glasses and top with fresh red raspberries.

    Yield: about a quart

    About one year ago: Nothing, so go read this post: Groundhog Quiche. It pretty much sums up my little brother.

  • Driving lesson

    The girls were gone this past weekend, drastically reducing the amount of hullabaloo that goes on around these parts and allowing for the boys to get more of our attention and/or get away with a bunch of stuff they don’t normally get away with, like using the machete and driving the truck.

    Yep, Yo-Yo got his very first driving lesson! He did a pretty darn good job, too.

    Though he could hardly see over the steering wheel.

    He always likes to tell me about how he’s going to drive 120 miles per hour as soon as he can drive, how he’s going to race cars, how he’s going to take corners on two wheels. In one attempt to give him a lesson in reality, Mr. Handsome has wibble-wobbled the car all over the road, demonstrating how new drivers typically drive. But the questions and bragging don’t stop. I pretty much ignore him, figuring he’s all bluster (though his papa has some hair-raising driving stories to tell about back in the day when he was a bloomin’ 17-year-old fool so I suspect Yo-Yo will rack up some of his own tales someday, but I don’t like to think about it so I don’t).

    The driving lesson came about like this:

    Mr. Handsome and I were sitting at the kitchen table shelling peas when Yo-Yo approached us and asked, “Can I have a driving lesson?” Mr. Handsome, without missing a beat, said Sure, and Yo-Yo’s eyes about popped. Then he quickly ducked his head and attempted to suppress the grin that was threatening to split his face in half. He finally gave up, threw back his head, and half-yelled, half-crowed to the heavens, “I CAN’T STOP SMILING!”

    We just sat there, shelling away, placidly watching as he valiantly struggled to regain composure.“You have to clean the bathtubs and do some other jobs first,” I said, in an effort to help him out. It worked for a minute. He steadied himself, took a slow, deep breath … and then resumed smiling.

    Later that afternoon after he did his jobs (and he did them well, too!), the boys all piled into the truck. Mr. Handsome and The Baby Nickel sat in the passenger seat and Yo-Yo manned the controls. He drove down through the field, behind the chicken coop, and back up to the barn. Twice.

    When the kid got out of the truck he was two inches taller and had a deep voice.

    Pretty impressive driving lesson, that.

    Actually, he walked around with his hands in his pockets, kicking at some rocks with the toe of his sneaker, trying to pretend it was no big deal and failing miserably.

    About one year ago: A public service announcement that was then quickly followed with There’s a red beet where my head used to be. I have no excuse.

  • Enchantingly rustic

    Back in May (or was it April?), I phoned our local orchard and signed up for eight gallons of pick-your-own sour cherries. The call came last Wednesday: “We like to let the cherries ripen a little longer, but people are taking them so you better come get yours now.”

    Okaaaay. Um, “Thanks! I’ll be out in the next day or two.”

    “Well, don’t wait too long or else there won’t be any left.”

    Huh? I hung up the phone and then shook my head several times, hard. The people who run this orchard, dear folks that they are (and kinder towards the fruit and more honest in their dealings than another local orchard), strike me as rather odd. They say things sideways, appear surprisingly clueless, and are all-around unhelpful. All except for the informed, accommodating man who runs the show, bless his heart; the rest of them, well—I just shake my head a lot and move on.

    So the next evening, we loaded about eight 5-gallon buckets into the back of the car (not that we were planning to fill them—we just didn’t want to pack the cherries too high and risk smashing them) and drove to the orchard. The woman weighed our buckets and then said, almost reproachfully, as though she were scolding us, “I hope you get your eight gallons.”

    Once in the orchard, we pulled up alongside the thickly-laden trees and commenced to picking. In an hour and a half, we had eight gallons, and we had only made a small dent in the trees we were picking from.

    Whatever, lady.

    Back home that night, I called up my friend and asked to borrow her cherry pitter. I had never before in my life used a cherry pitter, but I figured that 49 pounds of cherries deserved something higher-tech than my thumb. Let me tell you, was it ever worth it! Mr. Handsome started pitting at 9 pm and worked straight through for an hour and a half and did them all. I bustled around, washing cherries, cutting them up to dry (½ a dryer load yielded two pints), packing them into quart boxes to freeze (8), and canning 9 quarts. We had a big bowl left over that I, over the course of the next couple days, turned into jam and assorted pastries and cakes. By 11 pm we were washing up, the cherries done, done, done. Never before have cherries jumped into jars so quickly.

    (Now, to be completely honest, the cherry pitter left behind more pits than I’m used to, but it was perhaps Mr. Handsome’s fault more than the pitter’s—he was moving like greased lightening. But I’ve learned that a couple pits here and there is not all that terrible. A hawk’s eye catches the odd pit fairly easily enough, and as long as you don’t chew too lustily, your teeth probably won’t get too bunged up.)

    Some of the sour cherries got turned into these crostatas, mini free-form tarts.

    I learned about crostatas from Joy the Baker—she recently did a little tutorial on how to make apricot crostatas. I thought the crostatas enchanting, dainty yet rustic, and a blessedly unadulterated way to showcase seasonal fruits.

    For the sour cherry version, I thickened the cherries with some Therm Flo and sugar and a bit of almond extract. And for a variation, I mashed up some creamy goat cheese with lemon zest and spread it directly on the pastries before piling the cherries on top. While the crostatas were still warm, the goat cheese appeared curdled (and yucky-looking), but once they cooled completely, it was simply a nice layer of cheesiness. Mr. Handsome surprised me by preferring the goat cheese version (and he says he doesn’t like goat cheese).

    These can be eaten out of hand (and then you can de-fancify them, calling them hand pies instead of crostatas), or served on a plate with a blop of whipped cream. (I plan to try a goat cheese cream variation in place of regular whipped cream: 1 ½ cups whipping cream, 3 ounces goat cheese, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, ½ teaspoon vanilla, whipped together till soft peaks form.)

    Sour Cherry Crostatas
    With thanks to Joy the Baker for the inspiration

    Keep in mind that the crostatas will need to be refrigerated for an hour before baking, so make sure you have sufficient room in your fridge before starting.

    This calls for only half of a butter pastry recipe, but I recommend you make the full amount and then freeze (or refrigerate) the remaining disk for later; fruit comes into season thick and fast now, and I’m sure you’ll find a way to use it up in no time at all.

    ½ recipe rich butter pastry
    3 cups pitted sour cherries and their juice
    ½ cup white sugar
    1 tablespoon Therm Flo or cornstarch
    1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
    ½ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract, optional
    1 egg, beaten
    2 teaspoons milk or cream
    1-2 tablespoon demerara sugar

    Stir together the Therm Flo and white sugar and add it to the cherries. Cook the mixture over medium high heat till it just begins to bubble and has thickened a bit. Remove from the heat and add the extracts, if desired. Cool completely.

    Mix together the egg and cream and set aside.

    Lightly dust a work surface with flour, divide the butter pastry into eight pieces, and roll the pieces into circles, about four inches in diameter. Brush the circles with some of the egg mixture, spoon some of the cherries into the center, and fold the pastry up and over the filling. Brush more egg mixture over the sides and tops of the pastry, and sprinkle liberally with Demerara sugar. Repeat till you’ve filled all eight circles of pastry (you will probably have some cherry filling leftover).

    Slip the tray of crostatas (it might be a good idea to use a rimmed tray as the crostatas do ooze juices) into the fridge to chill for an hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. (Mine could’ve used another five minutes in the cooker; yours should be a little darker than the ones in the photos.)

    Yield: eight beauties that disappear in no time flat.

  • Ecclesiastes and slaw

    I don’t usually fly apart, running hither and yon like a chicken with its head cut off. I get very busy, yes, and I run around doing multiple things at one time, but usually I pace myself. I’m loathe to give up my routines for anything, least of all work, and I will fight to the death for my breaks.

    I have a philosophy which goes something like this: there is a time for every season under heaven, a time to do dishes and a time to do email, a time to boss the kids and a time to let them play, a time to hoe the beans and a time to veg on the sofa…and all that jazz. I just know I’m going to be one of those ploddy old ladies who gets up at 5:30, brushes her teeth at 5:32, gets dressed at 5:34, goes for a walk at 5:40, showers at 6:25, eats her bowl of oatmeal at 6:52, washes her bowl and spoon at 7:06, and so on.

    Seriously though, I love routine. Deciding to brush my teeth in the upstairs bathroom instead of the downstairs bathroom involves forethought and deliberation, and then I get a giddy feeling when I do the unusual.

    I kid you not. It doesn’t take much to rock my world.

    My sacred morning routine, pre-old lady stodgy behavior, is thus: I make my coffee, check emails and blogs while my eyeballs de-fuzz, and then—BOOM!—it’s up and at ‘em (with plenty of little breaks sprinkled through out my day).

    Truth be told, my Ecclesiastical seasons go more like this: there is a time to rest on the green sofa and a time to rest on the brown, a time to sit at the desk and a time to sit on my bed, a time to write at home and a time to write at Panera, etc. I’m a freakin’ connoisseur of breaks.

    This morning, my normal routines got tossed to the wind and I plowed through my day in quite uncharacteristic fashion:

    *Up at 6:15, I dressed and walked to my brother’s to take care of their garden/cat since they’re on vacation. On my way up their drive, a ring-nosed bull roared repeatedly and then stared at me in a most menacing fashion, which caused me to panic and make a mad dash for the gate. (I ascend the stairs at night in a similar fashion, petrified some hairy arm is going to reach up through the banister railings and grab my ankle—eek!) The whole time I picked raspberries and blueberries, I plotted my escape plan. It ended up being a lot easier than I expected, considering that the roaring bull was off over the hill chasing some bovine damsel, but even so, I had to force myself to walk calmly and sloooowly down the drive. Cows creep me out.

    *Back home, I headed straight for the pea patch, and then, pea-picking still unfinished, I went into the house to wash my hair and dress, help Mr. Handsome restock the newly defrosted freezer, and make my coffee and toast.

    *9:15—off to town with the boys, to help out a friend of mine and to stock up on library books.

    *Once back home (now noon), I went back out to the garden to finish picking peas (and have a rousing fight with Mr. Handsome since peas and fighting go hand-in-hand in this house), then lunch, pea hulling/blanching/freezing, dessert making (times two), dish washing, email checking, list making, and coffee concentrate straining and iced tea brewing. Whew!

    *Now it’s 5:30 and the sofa feels oh-so fine.

    I had a point to all this when I started writing, but now I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I think I done did wear myself out all over again just writing about my day.

    [Insert pause while I think, check my photos in hopes of jogging my memory, check facebook just for anyhow, give up and come back here.]

    So since I have no point (perhaps there is no point to be had), let’s talk about … cabbage!

    I have six bulbous ones out in the garden, and they keep swelling at a most alarming rate. That’s not even the half of it, though—I already have two partially used cabbages rolling around in my fridge, cabbages that I bought back when I was hungry for cabbage and mine were still too little. So now I’m already tired of cabbage and I have yet to cut one of my own.

    Serves me right for jumping the gun.

    I did, however, discover a marvelous new slaw recipe.

    Slaw is such a finicky thing, or perhaps it’s that the people who eat it are finicky. (Or maybe it’s just me, finicky, ol’, stodgy, routine-ridden me.) I’ve done a fair bit o’ experimentin’ and the vast majority of recipes fall short. It gets rather discouraging after awhile.

    In any case, I finished assembling this slaw while on the phone with my mother. I took a bite and then screeched in her ear with my mouth stuffed full of crunchy, lemony, butter, nutty goodness: “Wow this is GOOD, Mom! You gotta make it! Just cabbage and green apple, lemon juice, salt and pepper and then some toasted, buttered and sugared pecans. Wow, Mom, wow! Oh my lands WOW!” Crunch, crunch, crunch.

    Cabbage Apple Slaw with Buttered Pecans
    Adapted from Epicurious, the December 1998 issue of Gourmet

    The original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon chopped chives. I, however, did not use them (either forgot or didn’t know to), but I think they would probably taste great. Next time…

    It’s the pecans that make this slaw, so don’t you dare leave them out. The granny smith apple is pretty important, too. As is the fresh lemon juice. Come to think of it, don’t mess with this slaw at all, understand?

    There. I’m glad we got that straight. You may proceed.

    2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
    ½ granny smith apple, cored and chopped into matchsticks
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    salt and pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup chopped pecans
    1 tablespoon butter
    2 teaspoons sugar

    Melt the butter in a small skillet, add the pecans and stir for one minute. Add the sugar and stir around for a few more minutes, until the pecans start to brown. Transfer the nuts from the skillet to a plate and set aside to cool. They will harden and clump together, but no worries—just break them apart before adding them to the slaw.

    Toss the cabbage and apple with the lemon and some salt and pepper. Add the nuts.

    Yield: two servings

    Still, no matter how good the recipe, I don’t think I can eat six heads of cabbage worth of this slaw. Plus, it’d be mighty expensive what with all those pecans. Other suggestions? What’s your favorite slaw recipe? I’m thinking I might chop up a couple heads of cabbage and simmer it in beef/chicken broth before freezing it for winter soups. Do you think that would work? Do you employ other cabbage preservation techniques? Do tell, please.

    About one year ago: Nothing, so how about cabbage previously? There’s braised cabbage (more a cold-weather recipe, but ever so delicious) and Chinese cabbage and apple salad (it appears I have a thing for cabbage and apples).

  • Two super-cool avoidance techniques

    I haven’t yet embraced the summertime heat.

    By “embraced” I mean: boldly ignore the 90 degree Managua-esque weather and go outside to work in the garden anyhow.

    By “embraced” I mean: be accepting and submissive about my skin sliming up with sweat and stink and stick.

    Nope, I’m not there yet. I’m still rebelling against the extra early, hot, hot, HOT summer, trying to stay as cool as I can for as long as possible. This involves parking my rear in front of fans, gardening at dusk or dawn, and swigging iced beverages.

    Normally, the people living in my happy, un-airconditioned household drink water and that’s about it. Smoothies happen, but they are a food, not a beverage (in my book), and the kids sometimes get little teeny-tiny glasses of milk at breakfast (which is crazy considering that they are eating milk-drenched granola at the same time). In fact, the kids are fond of telling me how at Grandmommy’s house, they can drink all the milk they want. Wow, I say flatly. But guess what. I’M not Grandmommy. So get over it. (My kids live such repressed lives.)

    (My twice-daily coffee is A Saving Grace and counts as neither food nor drink.)

    I don’t usually think twice about our water-only beverage lifestyle—it is what it is—but it get’s brought to my attention each time a foster child came/fresh air child comes into our home. The kids may not say that much, but I can tell (by their body language and the odd comments) that drinking just water is kind of weird. I like being weird though (not that I have any other option), so I take it as a compliment.

    (Weird is good and here’s the proof. One of our foster daughters was on the heavy side, so I was required to take her to see a nutritionist where we learned that she had super high blood sugar levels. No surprise there, seeing as she reportedly drank large quantities of soda in her previous life. At our next appointment a month [or two?] later, her bad blood sugar scores had dropped dramatically and the nutritionist was gratifyingly shocked. Soda is evil, I tell you! Water is good!)

    Lest you think I’m a saint (I humor myself to think that the thought might possibly ever cross your mind):

    1. My son acquired some bottles of (sick-looking) blue and red Gatorade at a baseball game the other night, so yesterday morning after breakfast (I did insist on waiting till after breakfast), the kids indulged in Gatorade chugging contests. Then I banished them from the house. They ran shrieking down through the field and back and forth across the property as though possessed. (However, they do that even when they don’t drink neon beverages, so I guess I can’t really blame it on the drink).

    2. I’ve been craving a rum and coke. I get this craving about once every three years. From past experience, I know it’s not going to go away till I go out and buy myself a coke and that then I won’t even like the drink enough to finish it. But buy the coke I will.

    Anyway, as part of my beat-the-heat plan (you thought I’d never find my way back to the main topic, didn’t you!), I’ve been stocking the fridge with iced coffee and tea.

    Oops. What’s this? I say I only drink water and then I go on to rave about iced tea (and coffee, but that’s A Saving Grace, remember)? I’m making no sense whatsoever. I could try to remedy the situation, I suppose, but I think it would be a futile endeavor. Onward ho!

    I’ve made iced drinks before, but never before have I made them without the use of heat. Aimee of Simplebites is the one responsible for my new cold drink enthusiasm. She’s the one that taught me about cold-brewed coffee and tea, all in one neat, tidy post, and it was so wonderful, every little bit of it, that now I’m going to do the same for you!

    It’s so simple, really. For the coffee, just mix grounds with cold water, set the mixture in the fridge for the night, strain it in the morning, and voila!, you’ve got iced coffee concentrate!

    It’s cleaner-tasting than coffees made with heat, and less bitter (and reportedly with more caffeine, though I haven’t noticed).

    The same method is used for the iced tea: cover some tea bags with cold water, set in the fridge overnight, strain, add fixings, and serve. The iced tea tastes lighter; it’s very, very delicious.

    Tea, after a night of chilling

    (As I was proofing that last paragraph, I knocked over my thermal mug of [this time] hot coffee, spilling it all over the green sofa. Whoops.)

    So now, finally, I introduce to you real iced tea/coffee, cold from start to finish, authentic through and through. Serve it up and chill out, dudes!

    Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee
    From Aimee of Simplebites

    1 cup coffee grounds
    3 cups cold water

    Put the grounds in a quart jar and top it off with cold water. Give the slurry a stir, screw on a lid, and slip the jar into the fridge for the night (at least twelve hours). In the morning, strain the coffee (I pour it through a cheesecloth), and return the strained coffee concentrate to the fridge where it will await, ready to gracefully save you from whatever it is you need saving from.

    To serve: Mix equal parts coffee concentrate with milk, water, or cream. Add sugar (sweetened condensed milk, liquor), if desired, and serve over ice. Or, use it to make a coffee shake by blending with vanilla ice cream. (I haven’t tried that yet, but I plan to.)

    Yield: Enough concentrate for four to six coffees, depending on the size and strength of the drinks. At first I thought that was a small yield for a full cup of grounds, but then I measured how many grounds I use for my regular cup of coffee (more than a quarter cup of grounds!) and decided it was a pretty good yield after all.

    Cold-Brewed Iced Tea
    From Aimee of Simplebites

    I use four extra-large Lipton tea bags, but this last time I used just three and added two regular-sized bags of Red Rasperry Zinger which added a delightful dimension.

    6 tea bags
    1 gallon cold water
    ½ cup sugar
    1 lemon, juiced

    Put the tea bags in the water and put in the fridge to steep for the next twelve hours. Remove the tea bags, squeezing them to release all of the flavor, and add sugar (or honey) and lemon. Serve over ice.

    About one year ago: In honor of Father’s Day: the giant green slug