Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Pumpkin Day!

For some people, this time of year is exciting because of halloween. For me, it is exciting because of all of the pumpkin related things there are to eat. This past week I went on a bit of a pumpkin bender. I started by cleaning and baking 2 pumpkins.

Then I scooped out the innards and mashed them all up.

At this point I had a ton of fresh pumpkin that could be used in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin. I used it throughout the week and made the following:

This cake was phenomenal. I highly recommend it. In the process of making the frosting, I learned how flavorful browned butter is. So, if you make this recipe, don't skip the frosting!

Pumpkin Hummus (modified from this recipe)
this recipe yields a lot of hummus (around 6 cups)

This pumpkin hummus was my contribution to a work potluck party. It won the Best Side Dish award! The proportions in the recipe below don't yield a blatantly pumpkin-y flavor, so I bet you could tweak the recipe to make it more obviously pumpkin, if you wanted to.

  • Ingredients:
  • 2 cans (15 oz) of chickpeas
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • a handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt to taste

  1. Drain chickpeas, reserving liquid
  2. Place chickpeas and half of reserve liquid in a large capacity food processor
  3. Puree until mostly smooth
  4. Add in pumpkin, lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, garlic and spices
  5. Puree until smooth, adding more reserve liquid if necessary
  6. Add in parsley and salt
  7. Puree to blend
  8. Adjust spices to taste

Of course, when you cook a pumpkin, you can't let those seeds go to waste. I was in the mood to try something a little funkier than the usual salt and pepper variety and the link above definitely had some unique options.

And, after all of that, I still have some pumpkin left! I froze some in quantities appropriate for pumpkin tea bread and/or pumpkin pancakes (a.k.a pumpcakes). I also reserved a 1/2 cup in the fridge for making Pumpkin Biscuits with Orange Honey Butter. Oh, goodness! When going to grab the link for that recipe, I came across her next post that references recipes for Pumpkin Muffins and Pumpkin Pie Pudding. So much pumpkin goodness! I guess this means the pumpkins in my root cellar will be finding a delicious fate this winter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Northfield, MN

About a month ago, downtown Northfield experienced record-high flood waters when the Cannon River overflowed its banks. Missy and I had wanted to take a day trip there before the flood happened, but the flood pushed our plans back a little. When we found out the stores were back open, we made a date to visit the town.

We went yesterday and spent the whole day there looking at all of the inspiring and beautiful stores held within the small downtown area. We also happened to be there while the farmers'/art market was being held. There were only a few vendors left this late in the season, but they were really friendly and Missy and I both found a few things we liked. I got to talk canning and preserving with Luigi and Missy got to talk embroidery with Nick.

One of the main draws for us to go to Northfield was a store called Digs. It is a combo store with carefully selected fabric, a smattering of yarn, new and vintage notions and inspiring selection of books, gifts and crafty items. I enjoyed being in the store and especially loved the fun displays.

We ended up catching a bite to eat from Hogan Brothers because their fresh-baked bread could be sniffed all up and down the main street area and we couldn't resist the allure.

One of the best things about the selection of shops was that they were a good mix of ready to buy art and crafts and options for buying supplies for creating your own. I was especially impressed with the bead store. They had a great selection and an amazing class list. While we browsed the shop, they were holding a class on Kumihimo braiding that I would have loved to be taking. I will surely be going back there to take a class in the future.

And, towards the end of our time there, I found a "one of a kind" reclaimed wood bench that had to come home with me. I'm planning on doing a little work to it and cleaning it up, but will keep the basic rough, worn wood look of it.

I may not have been able to make it to Rhinebeck this year, but I am finding other fun ways to get my fill of creative input. Thanks for the great company, Missy!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Commence Fermentation

On Sunday, I sought to make my German ancestors proud. I spent the afternoon slicing and slicing and slicing until I had enough cabbage to fill a dozen quart jars. All of this slicing was necessary because I am attempting to make homemade sauerkraut. It is truly amazing how dense a head of cabbage is! It only took 2.5 heads of cabbage to pack the jars full.

I followed a recipe from a book that was passed down to me from my mom, cabbage from my dad's garden, my love of sauerkraut from Grandma and inspiration from my Uncle Bill's foray into kraut making. The book has multiple recipes and methods for making sauerkraut. Since we weren't in possession of a suitable large vessel, I opted to try the version in canning jars. Another bonus to this method is that it'll be easier to hot water bath process them after they finish fermenting.

The recipe calls for a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of honey in each crammed full quart jar of cabbage. (The raspberries are just for snacking.)

Then, boiling water is poured over the cabbage until the jar is full.

After you make sure you have enough water in the jar, you seal them up and put them somewhere to age. I opted to put mine in a plastic storage box because I was warned that they might "spit" liquid out during the fermentation process. In order to guarantee the right temperature, we decided to age the kraut in the root cellar.

It'll be at least 6 weeks before I know if it is edible. I'll let you know how it turns out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that our house doesn't end up smelling like a rancid dumpster.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brittany's Baby Booties

These little baby booties were finished just in time to give them to the expectant mother before she left for her maternity leave. I bound off at 10:30 the night before and took these pictures outside of my work in the morning!

The pattern is Christine's Stay-On Baby Booties (ravelry link here). I knit them out of a partial skein of Martha's Vineyard/Hudson Valley Fiber Farm (now called Juniper Moon Farm) sock yarn and crocheted the ties out of a bit of ultra alpaca. Link to my project on Ravelry here.

From what I can tell, they will definitely stay-on as advertised and will hopefully stretch enough to keep their little one's feet warm all through the coming winter.

The pattern was fun to knit with a little bit of knitting flat, in the round, picking up stitches, knitting, purling, short rows, k2togs, yarnovers...these little booties were action packed!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Veggies from Across the State Line

This weekend I went to retrieve a portion of the harvest from my dad's rural Wisconsin garden. He has a reserve stock including 2 chest freezers full of food, a pantry full of canned goods and jars of dehydrated wild mushrooms, herbs and peppers. I wonder where my drive to squirrel away food comes from?! He can't help himself from growing way more than he can eat, so we collaborated in the spring and planned for a bunch of his harvest to be stored in my root cellar. His home doesn't have a cold storage option, so we loaded my car full with the excess carrots, beets, potatoes, butternut squash, buttercup squash and cabbage.

I also spent a few hours picking berries in his raspberry patch. I came away with about a gallon of raspberries and a bunch of scratches. He enjoyed watching me from his perch in the middle of the nearly finished garden. I think he was happy to have me come and pick the patch. It was a good year for raspberries and he had already picked many gallons of berries. He sent me home with some frozen berries, too, so I can make a few batches of preserves as time allows.

We just have to hit up the local farmer's market for a big sack of onions and our root cellar will be stocked full for the winter. It is strange to be doing all of these activities because the weather here has been very summer-like over the past 2 weeks.

I didn't take any pictures, but I also enjoyed an afternoon with my Grandma Shirley. We made a trip to a nearby yarn store where we browsed patterns and talked about yarns. Then we went out for a slice of pecan pie. It was great to get away for the weekend, unplug from computers and cell phones, spend time with family, be outside, make good food and knit. It was a pretty time of year to travel through the forest, as well. And, if that wasn't already enjoyable enough, while I was out of town Paul was hard at work painting the dining room!

Upon my return, I added a few things to my to-do list, including making sauerkraut and canning raspberry preserves. If you have any advice for making either of those things, particularly container suggestions for sauerkraut and/or low-sugar recipes for raspberry preserves, please let me know. I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Our Visit to the Midwestern Chateau

A few weekends ago Paul and I cashed in our Groupon for a tour and wine tasting at Chateau St. Croix Winery and Vineyard. It was a great weekend for a drive up north. We caught the beginning of the leaf peeping season so the scenery was pretty and the roads weren't too crowded.

The winery is located about an hour or so north of the cities, just over the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. The property is used for multiple purposes, including weddings, special events and polo matches. When we arrived, a polo match was just concluding and the wedding party was cleaning up the morning-after mess from their Saturday ceremony. The winery owners have designed their space to be "reminiscent" of European vineyards. It was an odd combo of city and suburban Groupon people and locals in a faux European setting. I wasn't too interested in the part of the tour where our guide explained in great detail why they chose the flooring they did, where they bought their chairs from and how the faux support beams were supposed to make you feel like you were in a German lodge.

The part of the tour that I did find interesting was the winemaking information. Our tour went into the wine production area and the wine cellar. They seem to be able to make a pretty large quantity of wine in a very small production space.

Despite having a small grape orchard, this vineyard is not growing any usable grapes at present time. They make their wine with grapes and juice that they buy from other vineyards. There were a few tubs of grapes being stored in the wine cellar. We also learned a bit about the use of the barrels in winemaking. Those barrels are really expensive! I now know why the resale market prices for oak rain barrels are so expensive. Some of the oak barrels in the cellar cost $1000 each and are custom-made and shipped from France.

After the tour, we were each given 5 wooden tokens to turn in for tasting pours of their wine. Between the two of us, we were able to taste nearly all of the wines they were offering. Unfortunately, we only liked one of them. We agreed that the Syrah was their best. Although, the Groupon meant we went home with 2 bottles of Thoroughbred Red.

Despite not loving the wine and half of the tour, we enjoyed ourselves. It was a gorgeous fall day and we were free to stroll around the property after the tour. As much as I like to buy local goods, it seems hard to find local wine that compares to Malbec from Argentina.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Home Improvement is Back on the Agenda

We've owned our home for a little bit over a year, 6 months of which Paul was unemployed. (He was laid off from his job 7 months after we bought the house.) While Paul was unemployed we had to put our home improvement/settling in plans on hold. Now that he is employed again, we've begun moving forward with some of the many things on our list.

We recently came upon a great store for finding vintage furniture. I almost don't want to tell you where it is, because I don't want the competition! I will, though, because they deserve the business. Here is a link to Flamingos. Their prices are really fair and they were really friendly and nice to us. We happened to be driving past while out running errands. It was pretty remarkable that we stumbled upon it because they are only open one weekend a month. They were kind enough to hold the furniture for us while we went home and measured some spaces to make sure it would fit.

We ended up purchasing 2 tables and a grape crate drawer thingie. The two tables have some branding labels in the drawers. I did a little poking around on the internet and found that they were made from American Mahogany in Maryland.

We also got this grape crate cabinet/drawer/cart. I am not sure of any of the history of the crates, but the furniture part of it seems handmade. The piece makes for a great place to store some of the miscellaneous stuff that had not found a home in our kitchen/pantry area. I now have a whole drawer for my kitchen aprons!

I also finally got around to sewing covers for 2 pillows that I purchased at least 5 or 6 years ago. Once again I was reminded that sewing is an enjoyable thing in my mind, but in reality, I don't think it is fun. Working with the machine, cutting and piecing things together, pinning and me it all feels like a means to an end. It is so odd for me, because it seems that based on other things I enjoy, this would be a process that I would like. Maybe if I gained more skill, I would find it more enjoyable. Maybe.

I sewed this with a simple overlapping flap on the back so as to minimize the chance that I would screw it up. The fabric was a hand-me-down from Jamie and goes really well with the couch and wall colors. The other pillows on the couch came with the couch. I am not a big fan of them so hopefully I can build a small collection of pillows that I like better to replace the pre-packaged set.
Another thing I have been wanting to change since we moved in is the paint color on the dining room wall. The floor plan is pretty open, so we had a challenging time finding something that went well with the paint colors on either side (bright turquoise in the living room and deep red in the wet bar). Paul and I have different ideas about paint colors, so we have had to work hard to find a color we both like that goes well with the existing colors. We have literally been discussing this room color on and off since we finished painting the living room 7 months ago.

We have been to the paint store every Saturday for the last month. I am not exaggerating. We would look at paint chips, buy a test quart or print, prime and paint a swatch, not be pleased with it and repeat it all the next week. This past weekend, we finally found a winner. We are going with a mellow, silvery gray color. Nevermind that this was a color I suggested and Paul rejected months ago! I am just happy to have reached a consensus.

One of my favorite things about weekends lately are the breakfasts that Paul cooks for us. Here is an example of a typical weekend morning breakfast at our house. On that plate is a veggie and egg scramble with goat cheese, homefries made with roasted tomato olive oil, veggie bacon, toast and fresh figs. Mmm, mmm, good. These big breakfasts have been powering us through the home owner tasks and errand running.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Big Stone Mini Golf/Sculpture Park

windmill sculpture

A new favorite Minnesota destination was added to my list this weekend. Yesterday Paul, Meg, Cyrus and I drove out to Mound/Minnetrista to visit Big Stone Mini Golf and Sculpture Park. The park/farm is owned by sculpture artist Bruce Stillman.

Paul and Cyrus checking out the lay of the land on hole 1

There isn't a whole lot of information about this place available on the internet, but a friend had told me about it after her book club went there for a meeting. I think it is safe to say that we were all impressed with Big Stone. The main attraction is the mini-golf, but there are many others delights to be had, as well.

Meg taking the shot

Before we went, I had explained to Paul that I was expecting it to be a hippie/artsy version of mini-golf and that turned out to be pretty true. The course is set on a big piece of land and is surrounded by farms. The holes were well thought out, creatively designed and pretty darn challenging for mini golf. Each hole incorporated sculptures, some had water elements, and all of them were set amongst mildly manicured plants, trees and shrubs.

I got excited as we went to each new hole because they each had something unusual to offer. This hole was inside of a giant overturned boat.

While we were playing mini-golf, we had noticed a guy riding through the course on a horse. (I think he might have been the owner/sculptor.) Just as were starting the 13th and final hole, the horse clomped on up and started drinking from the water feature on the hole. The person who had been riding the horse was nowhere to be found. I think he had left the horse free to drink and graze and say hi to the other animals as he pleased. It took Cyrus longer than the rest of us to notice that there was a giant horse a few feet away. You can see Cyrus' plaid shirt in the left background of this shot.

After we finished golfing, we headed over to feed the goats and pig. They were some intense goats that nearly climbed over the fencing to get to us! The pig was chilled out, but also appreciated the food. It felt a little weird to be feeding the animals white bread buns from the supermarket, but that is what they gave us when we paid our 50 cents to feed the animals.

In addition to feeding the animals, there were other sculptures to see, other horses in pasture, and a fire pit where we roasted marshmallows.

If you are anywhere nearby, I would definitely recommend a trip to Big Stone. The experience was so much fun and quite a deal for $6 per person. If you want to, you can even bring your own food and drink to the park and have a picnic. Here are a few more links with more information:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy World Vegetarian Day

Today is World Vegetarian Day and October is Vegetarian Awareness Month. I haven't written much about this on my blog, but I've been a vegetarian for nearly 20 years. I started at 12 years old. Some day, when I have more time, I will post the story about how I became a vegetarian. For today, I'll share some veggie and fruit related photos, recipe tidbits and a few thoughts on being a vegetarian.

The brussels sprouts are ready in our garden! I've eaten a few meals of them in the past week and have treasured them. My favorite way to prepare brussels sprouts is the quick, simple and delicious recipe: Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts. The only beef I have with them is that awkward "s".

If you have been reading my blog through the past month or two, you know that I was gifted a ton of tomatoes and have been preserving them in various ways. My favorite way to deal with large tomatoes was roasting them. I became more casual with the recipe with each batch. The best combination I found was a tray full of tomato wedges, a generous drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, a few handfuls of chopped herbs and some peeled garlic cloves. I set the oven at 250 degrees F and put the tray in to roast. I knew they were done when they had collapsed and started to taste really rich. The last tray of these has gone through the oven and now I move on to finding ways to use them until the tomato plants are ready to yield fruit again next year.

Fall also puts me in the mood for apple crisp. I've become pretty casual with that recipe, too. I peel, chop and cook up some apples with a bit of sugar and water in a sauce pan until they get softened up. Then, I spread the fruit out in a pan. If I feel like it, I add some frozen blueberries or raspberries. My crumble mixture usually consists of a stick of softened butter and 3/4 cup of each flour, brown sugar and oats. My secret ingredient is to chop up a few cubes of crystallized ginger and incorporate that into the crumble. You have to mix the crumble with your hands to get it nicely mixed up and then you spread it out over the fruit. That all bakes in a 350 degree F oven until the top starts to brown. For me, the baking time is usually around 45 minutes. I give you permission to eat this for breakfast, if you wish. My friend Jamie would also tell you that you should eat it with vanilla ice cream.

People sometimes feel bad for me when I tell them that I am a vegetarian. They think that I am missing out and that my diet limits me. I completely disagree! I don't feel like I am missing a thing. In fact, I think my diet is probably more adventurous and varied because I am a vegetarian. For the past 2o years I have had to think beyond hamburgers and hot dogs. I try new grains and new protein options. I make sure I get iron by eating countless variations of leafy greens. I find new recipes inspired by vegetables I'd like to try. Never once have I thought that I might start to eat meat again or that my life would be better if I did. I don't mean to say that I think everyone must become a vegetarian (although there is the argument that vegetarianism is a kinder diet for your health, animals and the environment), but it makes sense for me.

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