• the dairy and cheese report

    I have yet to successfully make cream cheese. There’s always a thin layer of milk that settles to the bottom and then sets up into cheese, and then the milk cheese nubbies mix in with the cream cheese and wreck the texture. However, I have figured out a workaround, at least for making cheesecake: mix 1 part quark to 1 part mascarpone and voila! Creamy, luscious cheesecake.  

    ***

    Twice now, I’ve tried to make cup cheese and twice now I’ve failed. Want to know the worst part? It’s my own recipe I can’t follow, gah! Talk about pull-your-hair-out frustrating. Everything goes swimmingly until I get to the part where I heat the curds in the double boiler. They’re supposed to go all melty-soft, like marshmallows, but mine just seize up. Maybe it’s an acid level thing? 

    quark on the left, failed cup cheese number one on the right

    Anyway, the cheese turns out not as it should, but edible. Kinda like a not-entirely-smooth cream cheese. The last time I blended it up and it got pretty darn creamy.

    It still wasn’t the right texture for cup cheese, but I dipped potato chips in it for breakfast and called it good.

    And then I dolloped it on pizza.

    And tonight I threw the last of it into a white sauce for tomorrow’s baked mac and cheese.

    ***

    The one good thing about the failed cup cheese is that I get sour cream from it. When making cup cheese, the milk is mixed with buttermilk and then sits at room temp for a good day or so and then, before proceeding with the cup cheese recipe, I skim off all the cream that’s risen to the top.

    The cultured cream is thick and — I know this sounds gross — kinda stringy. But hear me out! The flavor is delicate and sweet, and the texture isn’t that far off from the Central America’s beloved “crema”. 

    We eat it with beans and rice — kinda pour it over — and I’ve used it to sauce up pasta dishes. It’d go great in potato soup, I think. It’s still not the thick, spoonable sour cream that we’re all used to, but for now it’ll do. 

    ***

    The other day I cut into a Gouda Divino that was so divino it gave me goosebumps.

    Repeatedly! Seriously, it was so good it was like I really did die and go to heaven. 

    Two things about Gouda:
    1) I just learned that it can be aged for years and years and years and will get sweeter and harder over time.
    2) I think I need to try smoking it. 

    (I also cut into a Gruyere which was kinda disappointing because it didn’t taste like Gruyere but then I realized it was more like a cheddar and then I was like, Hang on a minute. I just made a Cheddar Gruyere! and got all strutty proud for creating my own unique cheese, toot-toot!) 

    ***

    Believe it or not, I didn’t make whipped cream with our own raw milk cream until this last week. I wasn’t sure it’d whip properly but it did great.

    We ate it spooned over wedges of fresh nectarine galettes.

    ***

    And speaking of galettes (this is turning into quite the “if you give a mouse a cookie” post), for the first time ever, I’ve been making pie pastry with 100 percent homemade butter. 

    brown sugar and bourbon peach pies

    The resulting pastry is softer and more pliable, almost like an oil-based crust. It’s delicious but also entirely different from pie pastry made with store-bought butter.

    The deeper I get into making things from scratch (in this case, dairy), the more I notice how wildly my homemade creations vary from the store-bought versions. These variations, I think, underscore just how industrialized our food has become, just how far afield we are from real food in all its nuanced glory.

    ***

    And finally, here’s a video that’s all about the cheese.

    It thrilled me to the tips of my tippy-toes, it did. Viva el queso!

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week 76, the quotidian (8.19.19), passion fruit juice, starfruit smoothie, garlicky spaghetti sauce, an August day, how to get your refrigerator clean in two hours.

  • summer evenings

    After a full month of raging heat and crushing humidity, the sudden drop in temperature is giving me whiplash. I’d been lusting after fall, but now that I’m shuffling around in wool socks and drinking hot cocoa before bed, I’m feeling a little melancholy. Maybe I wasn’t quite as ready for summer to be over as I thought?

    We still have some summery things to wrap up. I haven’t done any sweet corn yet, and I want to do another couple batches of salsa. Also, I didn’t quite get my fill of ice cream experiments, or summer evening visits with friends.

    There’s something so relaxing about sitting on the porch with friends while the sun disappears behind the ridge and the dark closes in. When the cool air tickles bare arms, I fetch candles and a few throw blankets. The twinkle lights click on and conversation meanders. The shadows obscure the dirty dishes cluttering the picnic table. It grows later, and then later still.

    Once again friends are coming over tonight, so today I’m making groundnut stew and nectarine galettes, and thinking about how many more friend-filled, porch-sitting evenings I can wring out of summer.

    Want to come over?

    This same time, years previous: physical therapy, the quotidian (8.17.20), a bloody tale, a little house tour, the Peru post, a new room, miracle cat, kale tabbouleh with tomatoes and cucumbers.

  • the quotidian (8.15.22)

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

    August takes the kitchen.

    Salsa.

    Nectarines: thick rounds are faster and tastier than thin wedges.

    Breakfast.

    Prepping to drink me some garden goodness.

    And I was even standing right there!

    For packed lunches: my secret weapon.

    So. Much. Rain.

    A halter for Butterscotch.

    Vaccinated.

    Three duplicates, all starting with M: can you name them?

    My husband is trying to train me out of leaving water stains on the table.

    It’s a plan.

    This same time, years previous: almond apricot pound cake with amaretto, breaking horses, knowing my questions, a piece of heaven, peach cornmeal cobbler.

  • eight fun things

    On our camping trip when I mentioned that no deodorant seems to do it for me anymore (I’ve read that extra stink is yet one more symptom of peri), my son and daughter-in-law were like, “Oh, you need salt stick deodorant. It’s great.” 

    I was skeptical but they declared up one side and down the other that yes, it totally works, so I ordered it.

    Day one, I was careful to follow the instructions exactly. (You know, in the name of scientific experimentation.) I wet the tip with tap water, twirled it all around my pits (the stick feels like plastic so this seems as pointless as rubbing a wet spoon in your pits) and then waited a few minutes before getting dressed so it’d have time to thoroughly dry. 

    After a long hot day, the verdict … [drumroll]

    NO STINK.

    I sniffed and sniffed and sniffed.

    NOTHING.

    The next morning, I wore it to go running, and again, nothing. WHAT THE HECK.

    One of my husband’s friends said he puts it on at night after showering and then is good to go the next day (and his work involves hard physical labor), and my husband has started wearing it now, too. At the end of each (hot! humid! August!) day we check in with each other. “How do you smell?” I’ll ask.

    “Fine,” he says. “You?”

    “Like roses!” And we both shake our heads, happily bewildered.

    Note: If I apply it sloppily, or if I wear it all day and then go play Ultimate for a couple hours, I’ll notice a mild funk, but it’s not even close to the level of stank I’d get wearing regular deoderant.

    Other notes: It doesn’t leave a residue film on the skin, nor does it stain the clothes. There is zero scent. It’s not an antiperspirant. Don’t apply immediately after shaving — any small knicks, even invisible ones, will burn. It lasts for an eternity (or thereabouts). But most important: it works.

    ***

    Have you seen The Rescue (Disney Plus), the documentary about the soccer team that got trapped in that cave? My cousin and his wife suggested we watch it, but I hesitated, worried I’d feel like I was drowning the whole time. But then a couple weeks ago we finally took the plunge (ha) and watched it for our family movie night. WOW. What an amazing story.

    That was incredible, my husband kept saying. I had no idea that’s what happened! 

    Me neither. (And I did not feel like I was drowning.) Highly recommend.

    ***

    Check out this beautiful photo series by Canadian photographers Aimee and Jenna.

    Photos of real women and real bodies always give me a jolt.

    Not until I see them do I realize how starved I’ve been for honest images.

    A feast for the eyes. I love it.
    photo credits: Hobbs Photography. (Click here and then scroll down for the BEST partner photo ever — cracks me UP.)

    ***

    Did you get to hear the Fresh Air interview in which Cory Silverberg talked about their book, Sex Is a Funny Word, about how to talk to kids about sex? Silverberg’s perspective was refreshing and insightful. I kept finding myself nodding along and then thinking, Oh, now that’s a good way to approach it!

    A few of my takeaways…
    *Make conversations about sex less about reproduction (this is the default way we usually teach it) and more about gender and relationships.

    *Refrain from spinning the tale that sex is a wonderful thing because for many people it’s a mix — bad, disappointing, mediocre, acceptable, good — and not everyone learns to enjoy it, and that’s okay.

    *One of the main (and often untalked about) reasons that adults have such a hard time talking about sex is because of their own unprocessed trauma.

    *When it comes to sex, power is at the core. Because children don’t have much power, and because they’re used to this (which makes them easy targets for sexual abuse), power/consent/relationships cut to the heart of sex education. Anatomy is important, but these issues go much deeper.

    I was so taken with Silverberg’s ideas that I ordered the book. I’ll keep you posted!

    ***

    Sunday morning, my parents sent me this song with the subject line: Your Sunday Morning Song.

    And it was perfect.

    *** 

    I hate shopping for makeup — there are too many options and everything costs way too much money — but I wanted a good lipstick so a couple years ago I forced myself to stop at the Belk makeup counter in the mall. After much testing and deliberating, I finally selected a plum lipstick for almost fifty dollars (gulp). 

    Fast forward to now, my beloved lipstick has worn down to a nub. Thankfully, the label hadn’t worn off, though, so I could still identify all the necessary information for getting a replacement. This time, I checked Amazon before trucking all the way across town. Wouldn’t you know, they had the same lipstick but for a fraction of the cost, whoop-whoop. 

    And now my lips are red again. 

    ***

    Our friends are visiting from New York and the other night, over plates of pulled pork and stoplight salad, they told us about one of their friends, Laura, who has won The Moth Story slam — twice. A couple days later, they sent us an email with the links to the winning stories. 

    The second one (it’s just the audio) was so well-woven I actually got goosebumps. Her story-telling reminds me of good stand-up — not the sloppy trails to nowhere littered with cheap jokes, but the smart ones that take you on a meandering journey with lots of surprise vistas and a final destination (like this one and this one).

    Now if Netflix would only sign Laura

    ***

    Someone (maybe one of you?) recommended that I watch High on the Hog: How African American Food Transformed America (Netflix). I started it last week, and then I roped my husband into watching it.

    It is soooo well done, slow-paced, thoughtful, beautiful, informative. There is a ton of history (which my husband appreciates) and a whole heck of a lot of good food. The host, Stephen Satterfield, is a marvel to behold with his probing questions and slow smile. He digs into hard issues with grace and an unflinching honesty. And he listens. I mean, seriously. How often do you see a TV host practice quiet, prolonged listening? Just watching him is an education in itself.

    ***

    Have a good weekend, friends! xo

    This same time, previous: chocolate milk, a few good things, the quotidian (8.12.19), riding paso fino, fresh peach pie, tomato bread pudding with caramelized onions and sausage, the Murch collision of 2015, spaghetti with vodka cream tomato sauce, the quotidian (8.12.13).

  • tiramisu

    It all started when a friend posted a photo of his wife’s tiramisu on Facebook. I inquired after the recipe (as one does) and when I saw that the filling was just eggs, a little sugar, and mascarpone (no whipping cream?!), I was intrigued. It sounded simple, like actual food — eggs, cheese, coffee, and booze. So naturally I had to make it.

    Which meant I needed to make the mascarpone.

    I had some expired crème fraîche culture packets stashed in the freezer from whoknowswhen — and mascarpone is just drained crème fraîche — so I whipped up a batch (see yesterday’s YouTube video) and then turned right around and made the tiramisu. 

    I thought it was delicious but no one else seemed too keen. The alcohol is too strong, they fussed. 

    Two tablespoons of rum and it was too strong? Geez. 

    But then I mentioned the tiramisu at work and one of the bakers got all excited. I make tiramisu, she said, and then in once forehead-slap second I recalled a small but mighty fact: she’s Italian. (While pounding butter blocks and glazing pastries, she’s regaled me with the most marvelous tales of her family basement stuffed to the gills with gallons of homemade wine, ropes of garlic and onions, and the huge Parmesans her uncles buy from a wholesaler.) We promptly launched a recipe comparison and, much to my delight, my recipe was almost identical to hers.

    Except!
    *her proportions were scaled up, since she made a bigger pan
    *her recipe called for mixing the alcohol into the pudding and dipping the ladyfingers in just the espresso (I dipped the ladyfingers in a rum-espresso mix, no alcohol in the pudding)
    *she used 1 cup — one CUP — of alcohol
    *she used brandy instead of rum

    So I made another batch of mascarpone and then another tiramisu, this time with brandy mixed into the filling (but just a half cup, since I’m modest like that). It was better. The alcohol was stronger, yes, but it felt less bracing and more cohesive. Perhaps the fat from the eggs and cheese had tempered it somewhat? 

    Still, no one in my family much cared for it because: Alcohol. And my mom was like, Raw eggs, Jennifer? Which made me laugh because she basically raised me on ice cream made with raw eggs (and then later it occurred to me that tiramisu is pretty much just a cheesecake version of eggnog but minus the nutmeg).

    I made a bowl of tiramisu with the excess

    So after I ate my fill, I passed the bulk of it off to a friend. She texted later, “That tiramisu was the bomb!!!!” and when I followed up to see what she thought about the alcohol (more? less?), she said, “I liked it, but a little less booze would be ok.”

    So there you go: if you like booze and coffee, then I expect you’ll like tiramisu. If you don’t, then you won’t. End of story.

    P.S. I didn’t take any cross-section photos of the second tiramisu but here’s a photo of the first one:

    Note that a bunch of the espresso settled to the bottom. This was, perhaps, because my layers of pudding were too thin and didn’t create a sufficient barrier. With the second tiramisu, I made more substantial pudding layers, which omitted the soggy bottom.

    Tiramisu
    Adapted from a mash-up of recipes from Grace and Maria.

    *I never measured my mascarpone: I just made 1 quart of cream into cheese and then used that.
    *Three double-shots of espresso were sufficient. If you don’t have an espresso maker, just use really strong coffee.
    *I used Balocco Savoiardi Ladyfingers — Amazon sells a big bag which makes enough for a double batch of tiramisu.
    *Make sure the espresso is cool — otherwise the ladyfingers will disintegrate.)
    *I used a small rectangular pan (maybe 7×11 inches?) and it overflowed, so go with a 9×13 pan, or a large springform pan.

    1 pound mascarpone, approximately
    4 eggs, divided
    ½ cup sugar, divided
    ½ cup brandy
    1 ¼ cups espresso, chilled 
    about 30 ladyfingers (approx 300 grams)
    unsweetened cocoa, for dusting

    Beat the egg whites, gradually adding ¼ cup of sugar, until stiff peaks form. Transfer to another bowl and set aside. 

    In the same mixing bowl (no need to wash it), beat the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup of the sugar for 3-5 minutes, until fluffy and light in color. Beat in the mascarpone. Fold in the eggs whites. Stir in the brandy. 

    Quickly dip the ladyfingers, one at a time, in the espresso and arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the pan. Dollop in half the pudding and spread it smooth. Repeat with a second layer of espresso-dipped ladyfingers and the remaining pudding. Dust the surface liberally with cocoa powder and transfer to the fridge. Allow the tiramisu to chill for at least 12 hours before serving. (You can eat it right away but the ladyfingers may still have a bit of a crunch to them; after 12 hours they should be completely soft.)

    Tiramisu lasts in the fridge for dayssssssssss.

    One more thing: I sent some of the tiramisu (from the second batch) in to my Italian co-worker.

    Here are some clips from her texts: There’s something about the cream that’s pretty different from mine but that may be because it’s homemade mascarpone. And, The cream is a bit more sweet and rich than what mine turns out to be. And, I also use significantly more alcohol. She thought the coffee should be stronger, but when I told her how much I used, she said maybe I just needed to dunk the ladyfingers in the coffee a tad bit longer. Also! I really like it and I’m quite picky with my tiramisu.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.10.20), my beef obsession, the quotidian (8.10.15), goodbye, getting my halo on, how to can peaches.

  • mascarpone cheese

    I can’t make cream cheese from raw milk. Or maybe I should say: I’ve made cream cheese a couple different times, both the Swiss and the French methods, and it didn’t work. Since raw milk is non homogenized, the residual milk separates from the cream while it’s rennetizing and then the cream cheese ends up with little flecks of white milk cheese in it. It’s not bad, but it’s not as creamy and smooth as I want it to be. 

    But then I learned to make mascarpone which is just drained crème fraîche (YouTube video out today!), and the results were similar to cream cheese, but softer and richer, more like a cultured creamy butter.

    The first time I made it, I cultured it for about fourteen hours and then strained it for about five, and the cheese more tangy and dry, almost like a crumbly cheese. The second time I made it, I cultured it for no more than twelve hours and drained it for about three. At room temp, the cheese was softer and creamier, though in the fridge it still set up fairly solid. (Of the two versions, this is the one I prefer. All the photos in this post are of the creamier version. If you want to see the drier version, check out the YouTube video.)

    I made tiramisu with the mascarpone (recipe coming!), and then I got to thinking about cheesecake. Using mascarpone all by itself as the base for a cheesecake felt a little excessive (though I haven’t actually tried it, so I could be wrong), and most recipes that called for mascarpone always used it in conjunction with cream cheese. 

    And that’s when it occured to me: what if I mixed quark — that soft German cheese made from skimmed milk — with mascarpone? Would that work as a cream cheese substitute for a cheesecake? So I made a cheesecake, half quark and half mascarpone, and….

    It works!

    It’s still not as rich and velvety as a cheesecake made from store-bought cream cheese, but it’s much lighter and creamier than a cheesecake made from straight quark (which, to be sure, is lovely in its own right) and the closest I’ve gotten to a cream cheese equivalent to date. I just can’t settle on what to call the cheesecake. Quarkapone Cake? Mascaquark Cake? Mascaquarkapone Cake?

    Mascarpone Cheese
    Adapted from the instructions from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company

    1 quart heavy cream
    1 pack crème fraîche starter culture
    1/2 – 1 teaspoon non iodized salt

    Right before bed: Heat the cream to 86 degrees. Sprinkle the starter culture over the surface and let rest for 2 minutes to rehydrate. Whisk in the culture, cover with a lid, and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

    In the morning: pour the crème fraîche (because that’s what the cream is now) into a cheesecloth, gather the edges into a bundle, and hang it for 3 hours to drain. (If you want a drier, crumblier cheese, drain for 5-6 hours.)

    Transfer the cheese — it will seem more like a thin pudding at this point — into a jar, stir in some salt to taste, optional (though the addition of salt will give the cheese a longer shelf life), and store in the fridge for 1-3 weeks.

    To make a Mascaquarkapone Cake: follow this recipe, but in place of the cream cheese use 1 pound of mascarpone and 1 pound of quark.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.9.21), black pepper tofu and eggplant, gazpacho, Mondays, a week of outfits, Murch mania 2017, best banana bread, elf biscuits.

  • help! my blender broke!

    That new blender I bought?

    It broke! The other day when my daughter was trying to pry it up to put it away — it has some pretty intense suction-cup thingies on the bottom that make the blender really adhere to the work surface — the base broke.

    The blender still works but it’s no longer secure. (When my husband looked into the issue, he discovered that other people have had this same problem.)

    I told myself that if this blender breaks, then we’re getting a Vitamix, but now I’m hesitating. I really, really liked that Foodi Ninja, and Vitamix’s high price point (about the cost of a stove, practically) seems a little outrageous. Plus, the Vitamix has just a single blade so it’s basically just an ordinary blender, right? Would it really be as effective as the Foodi Ninja’s ferocious 3-blade blending?  

    Since I’ve never used a Vitamix, I emailed some friends who have Vitamixes. What about making butter? I asked. (I’ve heard that the Vitamix heats up ingredients — you can make soup in it — which would be disastrous for butter.) Do you have to use the tamper while blending? Did it have a dough blade? How effective is it at processing tough stuff like nuts?

    Here’s what they said:

    *No idea about a dough blade. (Maybe Vitamix sells one for, like, $975.00.) 
    *We have a separate container (with blade) for dry ingredients which I use to make whole wheat flour. But I think we bought that separately.
    *The dry container works for nuts and other stuff. 
    *It makes beautiful butter from cold cream straight from the fridge.
    *I used to make smoothies all the time and I rarely even needed to tamp them down. 
    *We have made pesto in it. 
    *Ours bit the dust a couple times and they fixed/replaced it for free.

    Hmmm, not exactly convincing, but not exactly negative, either. Just, not the rave review I was hoping for to justify a splurgy purchase. 

    For years, we used a simple Oslo. (According to Amazon, we bought a replacement blender in 2019.)

    While I liked the one-switch simplicity (flip up to go fast, down to go slow), and appreciated that it was durable and easy to find replacement parts, it required a lot of hands-on coddling. Plus, it needed lots of liquid to blend properly (stiff smoothies were A Real Project), had a small canister, was super loud, and the motor always smelled hot. 

    Switching to the Foodi Ninja, I was blown away by its efficiency and practicality. I loved the way the 3-tiered blade chewed up the food in mere seconds. I loved how I could lift out the blade and then pour directly from the canister. I loved how the lock-on lid, the solid base, and the different settings allowed me to walk away. I even liked all the little extras (which I thought I would hate): the dough blade that I used for making butter and the second, smaller blade base and the two other canisters for smoothies, nut butters, etc. 

    Yet even with all that wonderfulness, it only lasted for two months.

    So now what? Do we spring for a Vitamix? Do we dig deep into the Internets in hopes of finding another, lesser known and more economical, blending beast and then take our chances? And if we do get the Vitamix, which package should we choose? There are so many options! (The benefit of buying from Costco is that we can always return something if it goes wrong….)

    So I’m turning to you, friends. What kind of blender do you have? Why do you love it (or not)? Do you have a Vitamix, and is it worth the cost?

    My dream is a workhorse blender than I don’t have to even think about (except to swoon over its wonderous powers) for at least a good 10 years. It might be unrealistic, but I’m still hoping.

    This same time, years previous: cuajada, in the kitchen, the quotidian (8.6.18), pile it on.

  • crunchy oven-canned dill pickles

    I long ago gave up on ever making a crispy canned dill pickle. All canned dills, no matter what, always, always, always ended up softish. Not even the addition of a fresh grape leaf to each jar (which my mom did faithfully) much helped. The only way to get a crispy dill, I finally concluded, was via refrigerator dills. So that’s what I did — and I have a very good recipe, if I do say so myself — but I usually only make a half gallon or so at a time. Because who has space for clunky gallon jars of dills in their fridge, am I right? (I’m right.)

    And then one of my friends let slip that she’d discovered The Trick to making canned crispy dills. All you do, she said, is in the evening fill your jars with cucumbers, garlic, and dill, top them off with a boiling salt-vinegar-sugar brine, screw on the lids, and pop the jars in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes, at which point you turn off the oven and let the jars sit in there until morning. 

    For real? I said, jaw on the floor.

    For real, she said.

    So this spring I planted 12 (or was it 18?) cucumber plants. Not just for the dills — I’m the only one who really eats them — but also for sweets. We’d been totally out of sweet pickles for months, much to everyone’s tremendous annoyance, and I’d been compensating with assorted, (far too) expensive jars of pickles, none of which the kids liked as much as our homemade sweets. (I have a very good recipe for sweets, if I do say so myself….)

    So anyway. I made a batch of these oven dills and then had to sit on my hands for a couple weeks, waiting for the flavors to develop. At long last, I finally popped open a jar and bit into the first dill and — CRUNCH. It worked!!!

    These pickles actually have that wonderful, much longed-for snap and crunch! They’re not quite as crunchy as the refrigerator dills, but they are leagues crunchier than any other home-canned dill pickle I’ve ever had. 

    gazpacho and dill pickles for breakfast, mmmm

    Whoop-whoop!!

    Crunchy Oven-Canned Dill Pickles
    Adapted from my friend Amber’s recipe.

    The second time I made these, a few of the jars didn’t seal, probably because:

    1) I didn’t bring the brine to a full boil, and
    2) I put the jars in the oven before I turned it on to preheat, which meant the temp in the jars maybe dropped a bit. 

    According to my friend’s notes, if the jars don’t seal, just let them go for another 12 hours and they will most likely do their thing. I didn’t quite trust that, though (never mind that there’s plenty of vinegar, we’ve been known to eat jars of pickles that have unsealed, and you can see/smell problem jars), so I popped those jars into the door of the barn fridge. We’ll use them up first, lickety-split. 

    per pint jar:
    cucumbers, washed and cut into spears
    1 small head of fresh dill
    ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
    a pinch of red pepper flakes

    Put the garlic and red pepper in the bottom of the jars. Tuck in the fresh dill. Arrange the cucumber spears, packing them in firmly.

    for the brine:
    1 quart water
    1 cup apple cider vinegar
    ¼ cup uniodized salt
    3 teaspoons white sugar

    Combine all four ingredients, and bring to a full rolling boil. Pour the brine over the cucumbers. Wipe the rims of the jars and screw on the lids and rings. 

    Place the jars in an oven that’s been preheated to 250 degrees. Do not over-crowd; leave a couple inches of space around each jar. “Bake” the cucumbers for 15 minutes. Once the time is up, turn off the oven, leaving the jars, undisturbed, in the oven overnight. If any of the jars haven’t sealed by the morning, let them sit a little longer (they may still seal) or simply  transfer them to the fridge. 

    The pickles are ready to eat after two weeks.

    This same time, years previous: fun times, the quotidian (8.3.20), the quotidian (8.5.19), glazed lemon zucchini cake, kiss the moon, kiss the sun, horses, hair, and eveything else under the sun, gingerbread.

  • with the cool kids

    Friday morning, my daughter-in-law texted: Random ask, would you and John like to go camping with us this weekend?

    The last time I went camping was at church retreat, probably around 2008 or 2009, but that wasn’t really camping since all our meals were prepared — we were just sleeping in a tent at retreat. And before that, my family went camping at Dolly Sods.

    When I was a teenager. 

    Once.

    In other words, camping isn’t in my comfort zone. It’s not even really comfort-zone adjacent, either.

    But I said yes almost immediately because here’s the thing(s): 

    1) When young adult children ask you out, you go (in the middle years, a big part of parenting involves making the switch from leader to follower). 
    2) All the cool kids camp and I wanna be cool. 
    3) Doing uncomfortable things makes me feel good.
    4) It sounded like fun!

    The kids borrowed a 2-person tent from a friend of theirs and loaned us one of their sleeping mats. We split meal responsibilities — they took supper and we took breakfast — and I baked a batch of granola bars and filled baggies with green peppers, dried mangos, almonds, coffee, and granola. My husband printed out a camping list and checked off all the (relevant) things.

    I had no idea how it would go. I wasn’t sure where we were headed or how far we’d have to walk, but it turned out to be a low-key, easy sort of camping trip. The walk to the campsite was super short, and the creek we had to ford several times was low. 

    We set up camp, went on a short hike to the middle of some stinging nettles (oops), took a dip in the creek, played Rook, roasted hot dogs, visited, and went to bed when the sun went down. (Almost as soon as we got there, I became weirdly nauseated. After I napped, belched a bunch of times, and started to feel better, we figured out that my nausea was probably due to blowing up the mattress pad.)

    My husband and I slept only moderately terribly, and the next morning I labored far too long over a few cups of disappointingly weak coffee, though no one pitched a fit. Probably because we were too tired to much care.

    And then it started raining, so we packed up our stuff and moseyed back to the van.

    photo credit: my daughter-in-law

    The rain let up as we neared town, and when we passed the pickleball courts, they were empty!

    They’re almost never empty, so we decided to jump on it: we quick swung by their house to pick up rackets and use the bathroom before heading back to the courts for several games, the last of which my husband and I (finally!) won.

    Back home, my husband and I unpacked, showered, rehydrated, ate big plates of groundnut stew (vegetables!) and chicken, and then curled up on the sofa with our laptops to research camping supplies.

    You know, for when we go on our next venture….

    This same time, years previous: a fantastic week, fried, the end, damn good blackberry pie.

  • the quotidian (8.1.22)

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

    The working kitchen.

    When the croissants aren’t up to snuff, we suffer sooooo much. (JK!)

    Seasonal Meal Rec #1: Bruschetta (tomatoes, basil, garlic).

    Seasonal Meal Rec #2: Vegetarian Groundnut Stew (zucchini, carrots, onions, tomatoes).

    Seasonal Meal Rec #3: Chef Salad (whatever you’ve got),
    with Croutons (stale baguettes, olive oil, everything bagel seasoning).

    Caraway Swiss: I am VERY excited.

    My latest attempt to beat the heat: premixing granola
    and taking it to work to bake in the empty, still-hot ovens.

    Resuscitations.

    And now their arms are sore.

    Soaking up the cuddles: puppy sitting.

    This same time, years previous: iced café con leche, the quotidian (8.1.16), a pie story, babies, boobs, boo-boos, and bye-byes, a birthday present for my brother, shrimp, mango, and avocado salad.