Monday, May 30, 2011

Blueberries and Lime

Ever since Susan of Juniper Moon Farm posted her recipe for Blueberry Jam with lime, I knew I was eventually going to make it. Last year, I picked my own blueberries and when I recently came across a bag of forgotten blueberries in our chest freezer, I thought now is the time. Then I remembered how much effort went into picking those berries and I got a little gun shy. The recipe calls for 8 pints of berries which would have meant completely depleting my blueberry stash and then still having to buy more to have enough berries. So, when I saw blueberries on sale as part of the Memorial Day BBQ sale, I grabbed 8 pints and set to work, leaving my hand picked berries for another use.

This recipe was attractive to me because it uses relatively low sugar and is flavored with lime juice and zest. As an aside, I would like to give a shout out to this super old Sunkist Lemonade juicer that I love to death! This vice like tool squishes and strains the seeds out all at once and it keeps me from having to get the acidic juices on my sensitive skin.

Anyway, the recipe sounded great, but I struggled with it. The first step was to macerate the berries in sugar overnight, which went fine. The problem came with the next step, which is reducing the liquids over high heat. The liquid got so hot that it started to turn into taffy before it had finished reducing! At that point, I freaked out a bit and added water and the berries to bring the temp back down and soften it up quickly. When I realized that the added water was going to result in a loose texture, I added liquid pectin in attempts to firm it back up. It didn't work. The resulting texture was firmer than syrup but looser than jam. The flavor is delicious, so in the end, I came to terms with having made Blueberry Lime Sauce instead of Blueberry Jam.

When life gives you runny yogurt and saucy jam, I find it is best to let go of your original expectations and find uses for what you have.

We poured them both over buckwheat pancakes and greatly enjoyed the flavor combo.

I hope the swappers are up for some Blueberry Lime Sauce, because I will be bringing some jars to the next swap.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rhubarb Vanilla Soda

After making the rhubarb jam, I had extra rhubarb leftover. I had the Put 'em Up book checked out from the library and the rhubarb soda recipe caught my eye. I had enough to double the batch, so I chopped and boiled and mixed and ended up with these pretty pink containers of syrup.

After the mixture reduces, the solids are strained out.

A goopy green mess is left behind.

It was easy enough to make and since I am smitten with ginger syrup and love rhubarb, I figured this would be a tasty, refreshing treat. Turns out that I think it is a bit off putting. We tried it mixed with seltzer water and it tasted sour without much else coming through. I tried it by itself to see if I just didn't like the seltzer combo. It baffles me that rhubarb, sugar and vanilla can yield such a questionable flavor. I think the best way to drink this is to just mix it with water and ice, but I am still not sure I like it.

However, I do want to say that Put 'em Up is a fun book. After I checked it out from the library, I paged through it to see what recipes I would be interested in making. By the time I got to the end of the book, I had a ridiculous amount of post-it notes sticking out of the sides. I like that this book is organized by ingredient so if you have extra rhubarb, you can go the rhubarb section for ideas. I plan to add it to my collection someday, I'll just skip over the Rhubarb Soda recipe in the future.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tis the season for rhubarb.

Spring in Minnesota means rhubarb! Since I just transplanted some into my own yard this year, I do not have my own yet. Rhubarb is sort of like zucchini here. If you have it, you normally have more than you can use and you don't mind sharing the wealth. I have not yet been offered rhubarb for free and I was growing antsy for that tart, rhubarb flavor, so I ended up buying a few bundles from the farmers' market.

After making and loving the Pear Vanilla Jam from Food in Jars, I knew I wanted more of that true vanilla bean flavor. Which meant I needed to find more affordable vanilla beans. My friend Jamie and I split a 1/2 pound, so now I have a glorious bounty of beans to use. I swooned when the package arrived.

First stop, Vanilla Rhubarb Jam. I followed the suggestion to use Earl Grey Tea instead of water. This turned out soft, as the recipe warned, but I don't mind the loose consistency, especially for when I want to mix it into yogurt, drizzle it over ice cream or have it on top of buckwheat pancakes. Yum.

One thing to note about the recipe, I had almost exactly 2.5 pounds of rhubarb stalks and I was quite a bit short for a full batch. I ended up having to make a dash out to the co-op to buy more. And, of course, I overbought. Stay tuned for what became of the extra rhubarb.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Goat Milk Yogurt

A few months back my acupuncturist suggested that I lay off of dairy. I have no trouble being a vegetarian and never feel like I am missing out on food that I want to eat. However, I would struggle being a vegan. I love yogurt and cheese. When I told her how hard it would be for me to totally give up dairy, she suggested that, if I must have dairy, I should choose dairy products made from goat's milk.

I already knew that I loved goat cheeses and I soon learned that I like plain goat yogurt more than other yogurts. The only problem: goat yogurt costs nearly $8 per tub. I've been buying it each week, but every time I do, I look at the cow's milk yogurt versus goat's milk yogurt and bemoan the price difference.

Then, I realized that the equivalent amount of goat's milk is about $4. I did a bit of research online, consulted The Home Creamery and decided to give homemade yogurt a go.

And, it worked! I was surprised that it turned into yogurt because I do not have a yogurt maker and the incubation period is key to getting yogurt to turn out. I worked with what I had on hand. My heat source was an electric heating pad wrapped in a tea towel. I arranged the pad in a flour tin. Then, I put my candy thermometer and the jars of prepared milk in the center. After everything was set in place, I covered up the whole thing with a few kitchen towels and left it undisturbed for 9 hours. My test run without milk helped me to determine the proper setting on the pad, but I was still doubtful that I would get the range right. If you let it get too hot, the live cultures will die. When I checked it after 9 hours, the thermometer read the correct temperature and the milk had thickened into yogurt!

I felt quite proud when I made Paul and I breakfast out of my homemade granola, homemade yogurt and homemade blood orange marmalade.

I hope that I can fit making yogurt into my regular weekly routine. I also have a lot to learn about yogurt making as this first batch of yogurt started out firm and then got thinner as it sat in the fridge. Any experienced yogurt makers know why that is?

If you are interested in trying this yourself, you can make it with goat's milk or cow's milk as long as it isn't ultra-pasteurized. I followed general instructions from a bunch of websites and got good background information from The Home Creamery book I mentioned earlier. Here is what I did:
  1. heat milk in pot over medium heat until it reaches 185 degrees F
  2. remove from heat and let it cool to 110 degrees F
  3. gently stir in "starter" (existing yogurt)
  4. pour into sanitized jars and screw lids on
  5. place in incubator for a long time (4-24 hours is the range I have seen)
  6. take out of incubator and refrigerate
I plan to experiment with different starters and different incubation times to see how it impacts the results. The plain, tart, goaty flavor is so versatile. It pairs with any flavor of granola really well, highlights preserves and Paul has even used it drizzled over his omelet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

MPLS Swappers Does it Again

After the first MPLS Swappers food swap, I went a little food crazy. I left the event inspired to come up with all sorts of eats to swap next time. With 2 months between swaps and plenty of amazing food bloggers constantly publishing new recipes (see the links on the sidebar for a few of my current favorites), I developed quite a list of options. By the time the May swap came around, Paul and I had:

6 bottles of ginger syrup, inspired by this post
(good for adding to seltzer water for ginger ale and mixing into cocktails or tea)

2 loaves of peasant bread
(This recipe is a pretty constant one in our house. It is from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.)

6 jars of infused EVOO
(3 kinds: Peace Coffee, Dried Lime Peel and Thai Pepper, Rosemary Garlic)

3 jars of pear vanilla jam, recipe from Food in Jars
(wish I would have brought more of this as it was the item that got the most offers)

2 bundles of garlic chives and scallions picked from our yard
(I packaged it with a copy of this Creamy Goat's Milk Spaghetti with Wild Garlic Chives recipe. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like a superb spring dinner to me.)

The lot took up a good amount of real estate on one of the swap tables!

So many other people brought so many great things to the swap. This time around there were more people and it seemed like each person brought more variety with them. The two tables you see pictured here are only about a 1/4 of what was there. There were two other rooms with similar tables! I was a bit overwhelmed this time. I was so focused on sampling and making offers that I missed out on the chatting. I think that the next time I go I will bring less stuff so I can spend more time getting to know all of these creative cooks, canners, bakers, brewers and urban farmers.

For our offerings, Paul and I got an impressive array of goods. The photo is unimpressive, but believe me, there is plenty here to make you drool.

As with last time, I swapped everything I brought. The rule is that you don't have to swap if you'd rather keep your own stuff. There were so many enticing options that I had no problem trading all of my stuff away. Paul and I swapped as a team this time, so some of the things we got were entirely for him, some were just for me, a good amount of them we will both enjoy and we even got something for the dogs.

Here is the full list of what we came away with:
  • lacto fermented carrots
  • rhubarb sauce
  • raspberry jam
  • curried apple chutney
  • roasted garlic and caramelized onion jam (Jamie made this!)
  • seville orange marmalade
  • fig, olive and cracked pepper cashew "cheese"
  • maple almond butter
  • tomato chili jam
  • blood orange, rhubarb, vanilla jam
  • fig and olive tapenade
  • caraway kraut
  • red irish ale (paul was really stoked about this one!)
  • pizza sauce
  • tomato catsup
  • thin mints
  • almond biscotti
  • dog treats
  • dried fruit bars
  • vegan, gluten free chocolate zucchini bread (this is almost gone already!)
  • french vinaigrette dressing (Jamie made this, too!)

Since the first swap, our hostess Kim has teamed up with Mandy and A-K to organize the event. Again, the swap was help at Madame, a great art/community space in the Powderhorn neighborhood. Thank you to Kim, Mandy and A-K!

Oh! And, we had a special guest. Kate Payne of the Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking and founder of BK Swappers, was in town for a book signing on Sunday, so we got to spend Saturday with her.

Can you see why I was so overwhelmed with the awesomeness of it all?

If you would like to join the next swap, you are in luck! They are going to be held monthly over the summer. Stay tuned to the MPLS Swappers website of Facebook page for more info.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shepherd's Harvest

After such a cold, rainy, grey spring, we finally got a good weather day on a weekend! It was great timing for good weather because yesterday was the Shepherd's Harvest Sheep and Wool Festival. The past two years that I have gone to the festival have been cold and/or snowy/rainy so the sun and warmth was such a glorious change.

Jill joined me for her first fiber fair experience. I think she liked it and was even tempted by all of the beautiful fiber even though she doesn't spin.

There were a lot of great vendors at the fair including Briar Rose Fibers.

We got to watch Dirty Harry be shorn and get his hooves clipped. He wasn't so pleased about getting naked in front of an audience.

In each of the buildings, there was live music to be heard while you browsed the vendors' offerings.

The most educational part of the day for me was the booth that had silkworms for sale. They had the entire life cycle available for viewing and the woman minding the booth was super generous with her knowledge. I have never seen silkworms in person, so it was fascinating. The photo above shows the eggs, the worms at various stages and the worms about to spin cocoons (shown in reverse clockwise order).

There were also cocoons with the worms/moths inside them. This vendor lets the moths hatch out of the cocoons, so she showed us how the cocoons can be used after they have the hatching hole in them. I was pleased about that, because the alternative is to kill them while they are inside the cocoon. Killing the moth before it leaves the cocoon preserves the continuous silk strand but I think continuous strands are overrated :)

The moths can't fly so they were just flapping away in this tupperware. If I was a spinner I just might have invested in some silkworms.

Another fun part of the festival is running into fellow knitting friends. At lunchtime, we ran into Pam and Sarah, so we got to picnic with them. We also saw a few other knitting friends along the way and even chatted up some new people. For those of you who haven't experienced a knitting festival, people are quite friendly and it is even acceptable to fondle a stranger's knitwear.

I didn't enhance my stash much this year, since I only purchased one skein of yarn, a handcarved wooden spoon, some kettle corn and a woven silk scarf. Still, it was energizing to be amongst creative people on a beautiful spring day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Things My Cat Broke

This is my cat.
She startles easy. Either that or she has an overactive imagination. She is prone to reacting swiftly to any disturbance in the force. Like, in this photo below. Paul cleared his throat in the other room...and BAM!...she becomes a blur. Most of the time her reaction includes a pretty dramatic skedaddle.

Unfortunately for us, oftentimes her imagination is most active when she is sitting in or next to a window. A few of those windows happen to have glass items nearby. Here are a few things my cat has broken recently.

A vintage candle holder that was part of a set. My sister gave them to us as a housewarming gift.

A lamp that was also part of a set and also vintage.

Lesson for us: Stop putting breakable things near windows.
Lesson for Fanny: Nobody is after you. Stop jumping out of windows like your life depends on it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The rest of the early Easter celebration

In addition to the birthday celebration I posted about yesterday, we were also in Wisconsin to have an early Easter gathering. Michelle and Bill and their kids hosted us for a delicious (and very German) meal with homemade dumplings, sauerkraut, gravy, beans, bread and pork chops with some fruit and veggies on the side. Getting the food out and everyone situated yields a flurry of activity.
Taylor and Mikaela got their very own table beside the big table. These girls knew just what to do when they saw the camera pointed their way!

After we ate, we opened cards and took some photos.

Cousin Hannah took this one so my grandma, mom, sister and I could be in a photo together.

Grandma and Mom

Mom, Hannah, Jessy

Playing Memory

Hannah and Jessy

Despite the chilly weather, the sun was shining so my mom, Uncle Bill, Bill's dog Jack and I went for an afternoon walk.

We saw a pheasant, which does not photograph well in its camouflaged surroundings, and these British Soldier lichen. They are named that because of their little red caps.

The timing also worked out just right so that I could transplant some of my Uncle Bill's rhubarb. My sources tell me that new rhubarb beds take 3 years to settle in before you can harvest. I've transplanted them and have now begun the waiting period. I hope my patience pays off and the neighborhood critters leave it alone.

Thanks to Bill, Michelle, Nicole, Hannah and Spencer for hosting us. It was a delicious meal and a great day.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Grandma gets rich.

Two weeks ago, we went to Wisconsin to spend the day celebrating my Grandma Rose's 93rd birthday with my mom's side of the family. I'll tell you more about the day tomorrow, but for today I'd like to focus on the fun we had with my Grandma on her special day.

At 93, it is not surprising that the lady of honor is pretty hard of hearing and not completely sure who we are. She is, however, still fun to be around. She is in good spirits, is adept at rolling with whatever is happening around her and has kept her sense of humor. We are finding that what thrills her these day are not too far off from what thrills a small child...glitter barrettes, hugs, smiles, back scratches, feather boas, balloons. It is rare for her to be the center of attention these days, so we enjoyed having her be the focus for part of the day.

My grandma is also at that point in her life where presents she gets are likely offered up as "junk" she doesn't need the next time you visit her. And, she will most likely urge you to take it with you. She isn't much for things to begin with and over the years, she has been trying to whittle down her possessions. These factors make it mighty hard to give her a gift she will appreciate. When my Uncle Bill gave her cash in her birthday card last year, she was pretty happy about it. So, my mom decided to run with that idea and encouraged everyone who came to the party to bring her a card with anywhere from $5 to $20 in it.

She was pretty happy when she sat down with her stack of cards and the first one she opened had money in it.

And, then the second card had money in it, too! "Oh my goodness!", she said.

"Oh, youse guys! You didn't have to give me anything.", said with her German accent.

"Well, for goodness sake!"

She opened each card, not assuming that the pattern would continue and each time, upon finding more money, she was as delighted as with the first card. "Well, I'll be darned!"

My Aunt Marion helped her identify the person who gave her the card if she needed help.

It is fun to take her picture because she doesn't care much at all about the camera being there and just continues being herself. I had planned to whittle the photos down to just a few, but she made so many fun expressions, I couldn't narrow it down.

She took time to read each card.

And, after all of her cards were opened, she leaned back and soaked it all in for a minute.

Then, she sat back up and declared, "I didn't know I was going to get rich today!"

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