• 2019 garden stats and notes

    It was a fairly low-key and humdrum gardening year. As is our custom, we exerted minimal energy and scraped by with just the necessities. Good-enough gardening, I call it.

    Stats:
    Strawberries: 51½ quarts sliced with sugar and frozen; 16 quarts whole, frozen; 20 pints of assorted recipes of freezer jam; 4 quarts crushed, with lemon and sugar
    Sour cherries, frozen: 4 quarts; 5½ pints
    Rhubarb, frozen: about 2 gallons
    Basil: 16 half pints assorted pesto recipes, frozen
    Zucchini: 13½ pints of relish, canned; 3 9×9 pans sausage and zucchini parm, frozen; 8 one-cup bags grated, frozen
    Blueberries, frozen: 22 pints
    Green beans, Roma, frozen: 25 (very large) quarts
    Tomatoes: 86 quarts and 5½ pints, chopped and canned; 32½ pints roasted tomato and garlic pizza sauce, canned; 60 pints and 5 half pints roasted tomato sauce, canned
    Cucumbers: 24 quarts and 3½ pints sweet pickles, canned
    Nectarines: 2 quarts sugared, frozen; 2 gallons of chunks, frozen; 7 pints dried, frozen
    Peaches: 9 quarts canned; 2 quarts frozen; lots of peach leather
    Corn, frozen: 23 quarts
    Red raspberries, frozen: roughly 16 quarts
    Grapes: 16 quarts of puree, frozen; 22 quarts juice
    Peppers: 3 pints cooked and frozen; several quarts fresh chopped and frozen
    Apples: 36 quarts applesauce, canned

    Notes:
    *Much to my children’s consternation, I decided to forgo salsa since we still had some leftover from previous years. However, we are quickly running out, oops. Next year, make bunches.
    *I wasn’t going to make applesauce, either — again, we had some leftover, and my family doesn’t eat tons of it anymore — but now we’re nearly out and I’m reconsidering. It is awfully nice to have applesauce on hand, and I’ve yet to find a good store sauce… (Update: we made applesauce over Thanksgiving weekend!)
    *What a bumper crop of strawberries! We filled an entire small chest freezer, which makes me feel crazy rich. Here’s a good dessert: thawed lightly-sugared strawberries over vanilla ice cream (Costco’s is best) with fat, crunchy pretzels from Pennsylvania.
    *Also from the garden for fresh eating: asparagus, Swiss chard, beets, jalapenos, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, radishes.
    *Gazpacho was a new, fantastic discovery.
    *I almost didn’t bother picking the red raspberries. We hadn’t taken care of the bushes and they looked pretty scraggly. But then I decided I should pick at least a few and, like so — picking every other day — look how many I got!
    *Zucchini parm freezes and reheats beautifully. Too bad most of the progeny aren’t fans.
    *We really could use more blueberries.
    *We are cruising through the canned nectarines (leftover from previous years) — my younger daughter loves them in green smoothies — so next year I need to can a bunch more.
    *We had so many grapes! A month after I stopped picking (and after a couple light frosts), there were still bunches of (super sweet) grapes on the vine.
    *I didn’t make any pesto torte and I miss it.

    This same time, years previous: the day before, the quotidian (11.25.13), Thanksgiving 2012, Thanksgiving of 2011, apple rum cake, Thanksgiving of 2010, chocolate pots de creme.

  • the quotidian (11.25.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    What in the world is wrong with people?

    The organized baker.

    Homemade frosted cornflakes: a first (and maybe last) draft. 

    Habaneros, cleaned and frozen: a wonderful addition to chili. Also, cocoa powder.

    And then all the fire alarms went off. Repeatedly. 
    It was pretty bad.

    Loyalty: I will wait while you pee. 

    TMJ: the pain is real. (She’s seeing a chiropractor this week.)

    It’s so strange, the things that soothe us: her beloved childhood spit rag.

    Plank your sister.

    The neighbors got a husky and we stole/borrowed it.

    Horizontal for a week.

    Exquisite. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.26.18), curried Jamaican butternut soup, in my kitchen: 7:35 a.m., candid crazy, how to use up Thanksgiving leftovers in 10 easy steps, a big day at church, a Thanksgiving walk, right now, cranberry pie with cornmeal streusel topping.

  • a fun kitchen hack

    My latest kitchen hack is as follows….

    Sometimes when I’m working in the kitchen and have some time to kill, I mince an onion or two and saute it in a bit of butter over medium heat until it has cooked through. Then I scoop the soft onion into a half-pint jar and stick it in the fridge.

    I do the same with green and red peppers, sometimes with a couple jalapenos mixed in (and, when I have them, sliced mushrooms, too).

    Now, the hard work done, here’s the fun part.

    I smack a skillet on the stove, fling in a pat of butter (or bacon grease), and set it over medium heat. While the skillet warms, I gather my various jars of pre-sauteed veggies from the fridge, and then, once the fat has melted, I plop in whatever veggies I want. Once they’re sizzling, I toss in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach, if I have it, and, when the greens are just barely wilted, the scrambled egg. Lots of salt and pepper, of course. Occasionally, I crumble in some bacon, or chopped ham. When the eggs are done, I add cheese.

    I’ve been doing this ever since the soiree when, in order to minimize the last-minute tasks, I prepared all the breakfast elements ahead of time. That weekend, I finished the eggs with goat cheese and fresh chives.

    I’m not a huge egg eater, at least not on a regular basis, but eggs thisaway are immensely satisfying and delicious, and, therefore, I’ve been making them more often. Serving them to the rest of the family at the start of an ordinary workday, I feel almost goddess-like.

    Of course, the cooked veggies can be used for more than just eggs. Think: adding them to leftover rice, a pot of beans, a bowl of ramen, grilled cheese, pasta, etc. The important thing is, it’s good food, real food, transformed [waves magic wand] into fast food.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.19.18), the quotidian (11.20.17), apple raisin bran muffins, sock curls, new clothes, a new ritual, pasta with creamy pumpkin sauce, swiss chard and sweet potato gratin.

  • the quotidian (11.18.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace 
    Slurp.

    Maple roasted butternut.

    A new way to seed a butternut.

    A well-ROUNDED breakfast, ha.

    All systems go!

    Procrastination.
    “It works just like a helmet!”

    Smooshy luscious.
    Oh snap! 

    Well worth a poke in the eye. 

    Reader’s theater for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and my mother, the conductor.

    This same time, years previous: spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, the quotidian (11.17.14), in my kitchen: noon, the quotidian (11.18.13), the quotidian (11.19.12), red lentil soup with lemon and spinach, orange cranberry bread.

  • sourdough english muffins

    I realize I posted about English muffins only a year ago, and that post after countless subpar experiments, but now I’m back, this time with one heck of a winner.

    ignore the grape pie

    The other recipe is still quite good (it goes without saying that I try to make it a point not to share bad recipes, yes?), but this one is better than quite good. This one is nothing short of a revelation.

    I found the recipe in that recipe book I told you about (and then someone — was it one of you?! — went and put it on hold at the library so I’m now accruing a fine, thank you very much), and have made the English muffins several times, most recently just this morning — a double batch.

    The main things to know:

    *It takes a sourdough starter. The book’s author includes a recipe for a starter, but since I use my own and have no firsthand experience with his method, I’m not including it here, sorry. I’m more than happy, though, to share my starter with anyone (local) who asks, and, if you’re into any baking whatsoever, you really, reallyreallyreally ought to look into getting a starter. They make all the difference.

    *The dough is soft and supple (or “thoft and thupple” as we like to say). It’s easy to manage, and the making of it is punctuated with little breaks while the dough rests, which makes it the perfect baking project for a cozy winter morning.

    *It’s fun! You get to fry yeasted dough like pancakes, which is super thrills, and then bake them, and all the little steps work together in the most logical and reliable fashion.

    *The end result is soooo good. Buttery toasted tops and bottoms — the cornmeal adds texture and flavor — and an impossibly tender middle.

     I like to make bunches (thus the double recipe) and freeze them. Gently defrosted and heated just enough to take the chill off, I like to tear them open, spread them with butter, and then tuck a piece of ham inside.

    And that, in my book, is a perfect breakfast.

    Sourdough English Muffins
    Adapted from Big Bad Breakfast: The Most Important Book of the Day by John Currence.

    I’ve doubled the recipe. They’re so good that it doesn’t make sense to make just a single batch. Also, a doubled recipes uses the exact amount of starter that I have leftover after making bread, so there’s that.

    1 cup each warm water and warm milk
    1 tablespoon yeast
    3 tablespoons sugar
    3 cups each all-purpose flour and bread flour
    1½ cups sourdough starter
    6 tablespoons melted butter
    4 teaspoons salt

    Put the water, milk, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer (or regular mixing bowl). Stir briefly and let sit until bubbly, about 10 minutes. Add the all-purpose flour, mix to combine, and let sit for another 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix for five minutes. If the dough is quite sticky (and mine always is), add more flour, a couple spoonfuls at a time, making sure it is completely absorbed before adding more. The dough should be quite sticky, but not too sticky, and definitely not dry. Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.

    Scrape the dough onto a well-floured surface and fold a couple times until the blob of dough is smooth. Gently roll it out to about ½ inch thickness, or at least no more than that. Cut the muffins with a biscuit cutter, or a smooth-mouthed drinking glass. Place the cut muffins on pieces of parchment paper that you’ve sprinkled with cornmeal. Once all the muffins have been cut (and you’ve re-rolled and cut the scraps), sprinkle the tops with more cornmeal. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 45 minutes.

    Place a couple cast-iron skillets, or whatever you use to make pancakes, on the stovetop and turn the heat to medium, or medium-low. Once the skillets are hot, coat the bottoms with a tablespoon or two of butter. Carefully, with minimal handling, arrange the muffins in the pan so they’re close, but not touching, and fry them for 3-4 minutes on each side, adding more butter (optional) when you flip them. (Depending on how many muffins you’ve made, and how many skillets you have going, you may have to do this in shifts.)

    Transfer the grilled muffins to a parchment-lined baking sheet and, when the pan is full, bake them at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

    Serve warm, with lots of butter and jam. Freeze the leftovers.

    This same time, years previous: guayaba bars, official, the quotidian (11.16.11), peanut butter cream pie.

  • my new kitchen: the refrigerator

    A few months back, my fridge developed an alarming and persistent rattle. It might last another five years, or another five days, but after seventeen years of reliable service, the end was clearly drawing nigh. My husband bought a replacement part to forstall the inevitable, and we began to research fridges. We had a few ideas, but still, we couldn’t bring ourselves to act. The fridge was working, after all.

    And then the island happened. Standing on the far side of my now expansive workspace, I realized that, in order for the island to be fully useable and for the kitchen to feel balanced, I needed to turn the entire kitchen into, well, a kitchen. The desk needed to go, and —

    Hey, wait! Would it work to put the fridge in that spot? In the old fridge’s space, we could put a small desk of some sort, and — be still my beating heart, o! — a coffee station.

    Once I had a plan, things happened. First, lots more research. Second, a trip to a couple big box stores to see the actual fridge I’d chosen.

    The one at Home Depot was on sale for $1,300, but the sales rep said that another sale was coming up in several days and it’d probably drop more. So we poked around in a second-hand appliance store and then, on a whim, popped into Ollie’s — my husband said they had a scratch-and-dent section. Lo and behold, they had the exact fridge we were looking for, brand new but with a few small dents, for just $900. We decided to think it over — the Home Depot sale was coming — and drove off. But we only got a couple miles down the road before turning around. There was no way Home Depot was going to shave 400 dollars off that fridge (and we were right — it only dropped a hundred). 

    Despite my push for this fridge, I was rather ambivalent about it at first. Perhaps it was the hefty pricetag? Or maybe the niggling worry that we hadn’t made the best possible choice? Or just, the seismic shifts in my kitchen caused me to feel out of sorts?

    Whatever the reason, I felt discombobulated and unsure. Was it too big? Too dark? Too out of the way? (We briefly — very briefly — considered recessing it into the side of the house). Also, for all it’s hugeness, I didn’t feel like it had a ton ton of room. Would it provide adequate storage for all my gallon jars and bulky pans and trays? And the freezer felt clunky. I could pile the drawers full when they were open, but if I went overboard, they wouldn’t close. (As opposed to my former top freezer which I could stuff and jam with impunity.)

    But I persevered and, within a couple days, I was head over heels again.

    Now whenever anyone walks in the house I drag them over to the fridge and make them stand there while I pull out the deep crispers (that I can see into!) and the huge cheese-meat drawer (that I stuff with eggs and cream cheese and butter, along with meats and cheeses) and the water dispenser (that we don’t use) and my leftovers shelf and pint jar shelf and quart jar shelf and the couple shelves I keep mostly empty so they’re always at the ready for a casserole dish or a few loaves of bread dough that need to proof.

    I even yank open the freezer to proudly flaunt my ice maker — an ice maker! — and collection of quart jars, newly labeled on the lid for easy identification.

    Oh, it’s glorious!

    Bonus: now there’s a huge, empty, clean fridge in the basement, just waiting to back me up. (Except now it’s half full since just this morning I made a run to the orchard for lots of apples and cider because cold storage!!!)

    Temporarily, we’ve set up the office corner and coffee station.

    I stole the little round table from my older daughter’s room (it is my table, after all!) and for now that’s my desk.

    Then I crept into my father’s shop and, with my mother’s blessing, stole his rolly table.

    Tucked next to the fridge, it makes a perfect station for everything coffee and tea. I even got an electric water pot so I don’t have to run across town (ha!) to the stove.

    test run  schnazzy!

    And then I stocked one of the island drawers with teas (and cereal bowls and spoons since, for easy breakfastry, the cereal drawer is right below the tea drawer, and directly opposite the fridge).

    Finding a place for the coffee pot has always been a bit of a scramble, especially whenever we’ve had company. Even for everyday, I stored the coffee pot in the back hall, just to get it off my counter. To have a spot specifically for coffee (and hot beverages and other drinks) feels utterly luxurious, like I’ve finally arrived

    A basket on the rolly table’s middle shelf holds all my mugs (which means I now have a freed-up kitchen counter above which the mugs used to dangle  Hm, how to best utilize that corner?), and the bottom shelf hold the tins for oats and bread flour.

    People keep saying I should clean up the rolly table — paint it, maybe — but I kind of like the artsy paint splotches and stains.

    Besides, my dad’s probably going to steal it back sooner or later….

    This same time, years previous: smoking food, Thai chicken curry, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I’m glad we don’t have guns in our house, chicken salad, Chinese cabbage and apple salad.

  • my new kitchen: the island

    Ever since we bought this house fourteen years ago, the plan was to put a large island in the kitchen. Just, we never got around to it. There were other, more pressing things to tend to, and I wasn’t in any rush, really. My kitchen was fully functional. We had a makeshift island (the table that my husband had built for our previous house’s kitchen), plus I had the back hall pantry for all my extra kitchen appliances and groceries, and the hutch for dishes and canned food. If I never got the island, so what.

    Then three years ago, my husband started to build the island. It was supposed to be a surprise for my birthday (I learned later), but when I wandered into the barn one day and asked him what he was working on, instead of stalling or lying, he told me the truth, and, once I knew what he was doing, it took all the fun out of the making (or so he claimed) and he stopped working on it. For the next three years, the frame of the island sat in his barn, taking up space.

    And then late summer, he started to work on it again. I pretended it wasn’t happening but, out of the corner of my skeptical eye, I watched as he made drawers, painted, and then began to build the island top. I’d decided on a butcher block top, so he painstakingly stripped the wooden planks (cherry boards he’d gotten years ago from a science professor at the university where he’d been working at the time, plus a few boards that he had to buy) and then stood them on their sides and glued them together in sections — a ridiculously time-consuming, laborious process.

    A week ago Saturday, my husband finally installed the island and countertop AND WE WERE SO HAPPY.

    But then the next morning we discovered — o horrors! — that the sealer didn’t work properly: when the surface got wet, it became rough. My husband suffered an immediate existential crisis so severe that the rest of us promptly split for church, leaving him to wallow in lakes of self pity and misery alone. (He later told me that, in a fit of frustration, he hauled the entire top back out to the barn by himself, never mind his recent hernia surgery, because he couldn’t stand to have it in his kitchen for one more second.)

    temp top

    He temporarily installed one of the tops of the tables we use for making doughnuts so I’d have a place to work, and all last week was spent re-sanding and re-sealing the top (thank goodness for wood-working friends who know about miracle products).

    Then this past Saturday, he re-installed the finished countertop. This time, for real.

    It is absolutely stunning, silky smooth, richly colored, and, what with all the different wood grains and colors, interesting to look at.

    For now, I’m not chopping on it directly, but maybe, over time, as the shiny newness fades, I will. 

    We’ll see.

    The island itself is utterly massive, a true workhorse. It’s not completely done yet — the electricity isn’t hooked up and it’s missing two doors and a couple hooks (for towels, my cooling rack, etc), and outlet covers — but it’s getting there!

    All week long, I slowly, slowly, slooooowly worked at filling my island drawers. Mostly, this involves lots of thinking. I ask myself, What are the things that I most often leave the kitchen for? and then I rack my brain, trying to dredge up every situation in which I step off the tiled floor for something — the little white dishes in the hutch, the bags of rice and jugs of oil in the back hall, the popcorn maker and food processor, etc — and where, in my new kitchen, they logically belong. 

    pie and cake baking
    starch drawer: bread, crackers, pasta, beans
    water bottles
    all thing for chopping, blending, mixing, ricing

    Now that I have space, I’m trying to spread out the work stations so we’re not always jammed into the same corner. Mostly, this means moving the cereal, bread, and lunch fixings closer to the fridge area and clearing out the drawers by the stove for all baking and cooking.

    A couple other island highlights:

    A cabinet for my kitchen aid, with a pull-out shelf!

    The soft-close mechanism allows me to just pull two levers and the whole thing glides gently back into the cupboard, suh-wheet!





    A bottle opener! It’s totally unnecessary but it does add a delightful touch of whimsy.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.12.18), unleashing the curls!, George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, maple roasted squash, pumpkin cranberry cream cheese muffins, mashed sweet potatoes.

  • what we ate

    Here’s a glimpse, once again, at what we’ve been eating over the last week or two…

    After watching this You Suck At Cooking video, I developed a major hankering for ramen. I made my husband stop by the store to pick some up, plus some green onions and broccoli. I like the hot sauce and peanut butter version, and I added a spoonful of thai curry to the latest batch. (I have no idea what version’s in the photo, but it’s packed full of veggies: collards, peas, and the like. So, so yummy.)

    In a similar vein: what are your thoughts on MSG? I’ve always avoided MSG (and thus the reason that I rarely bought ramen), but I recently read that MSG is not bad for us like we were led to believe and that it’s perfectly fine to use it on occasion and now I’m considering buying some. Should I?

    One day for lunch — perhaps this was a post-church, empty-out-the-fridge affair? — this is what I served up for a couple of the kids: potato salad, leftover peas, hotdogs. It looks more planned than it was. 

    Leftover apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. We eat soooooo many leftovers. I’ve read about people who don’t eat leftovers — like ever — and I simply don’t get it. Often leftovers taste as good, or better, than they do the first time around, and it’s lovely to not have to cook and clean out the fridge at the same time. Two bird, one stone, bam.

    Speaking of leftovers, this was the plate I fixed for my older son when he arrived home after a day of classes: leftover butter chicken (that was mostly sauce) with some leftover cooked ground beef thrown in to bulk it up, with leftover brown rice.

    I learned how to make real burritos! Turns out, it’s all about the tortilla, and I’ve been buying the wrong kind all along. You want the large, thin ones that are full of fat, not the Mission kind — I found some at a local Latin grocery. (Also, the cheese tip — sprinkle cheese over the entire tortilla and let it melt before stuffing and wrapping — is brilliant.)

    Friday night, our friends came out and cooked us supper: chicken and beef empanadillas, rice and beans, and mayo-ketchup sauce — the stuff is dangerously addictive — and, my contribution, a Costco salad. (We’d dropped off the raw meat at their house a couple days before so they could cook the meat and assemble the empanadillas, and then, since I avoid frying food in the house at all costs, I made them fry them outside in the cold. Poor things thought they were dying.)

    I picked up this book at the library and have been dreaming, scheming, and eating all things breakfast ever since. Case in point, this meal: black pepper biscuits (they spread too much), saucy black beans, and garlicky cheesy grits. Also, since I was also processing a big bowl of peppers from the garden, I rough-chopped a bunch and threw them on a baking pan, along with a couple onions and some sausages, and roasted the whole mess in the oven.

    And then here was my lunch a day or two later: the leftover grits (made from yellow popcorn that I little-red-hen milled myself) and sausage and veggies, plus some sauteed mushrooms, a bit of cheese, and a fried egg. I did not grow up with grits, but even so, they strike me as comfort food.

    This same time, years previous: of mice and men and other matters, the quotidian (11.6.17), cinnamon pretzels, musings from the coffee shop, awkward, bierocks: meat and cabbage rolls, crispy cinnamon cookies.

  • the quotidian (11.4.19)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace
    For a minute there, I lost my head and made my own sprinkles.

    They were pretty, though.

    Sweet rolls for the chickens, sigh. 
    (My kid told me they were underbaked but I didn’t listen.)
    Gardening: a job she’s enjoying.

    Digger.

    Sorted.

    Tick extraction (and then, not shown, the preventative antibiotics to go with).

    She wanted to go to Chincoteague so she reserved a hotel room and went.

    The neighbor kid takes up wrestling.

    I bet my kitchen screen is dirtier than your kitchen screen!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.5.18), old-fashioned apple roll-ups, meatloaf, the quotidian (11.4.13), cheesy broccoli potato soup, sweet and sour lentils.