Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

On cookies

Our kitchen was very busy yesterday.   In addition to Jim’s beer bottling and racking, I was deeply involved in my usual holiday activity of baking cookies.  Lots and lots of cookies.  We split the kitchen down the middle and went about our merry ways.   A great deal was accomplished!


A long time ago, an in-law gave me a wonderful Christmas gift.


Now, this is quite the cook book.   It is ALL about cookies of all sorts European, with a smattering of breads thrown in.   I have not actually made any of the breads, although they sound delightful.   I have made many of the cookies.  That this is a well loved and very much used book is quite evident the second you open it.


Upon my first perusal, I was intrigued by the many recipes that included notations like “These store well for 3-4 weeks”  and “Improves with age”.   At the time, Jim was on active duty in the Navy, and this included many sojourns that were long and far away.   From bitter experience I had learned how poorly some favorite baked goods fared on their extended travels to foreign ports, where they sometimes languished for weeks before the ship arrived to collect the mail that had accumulated during its sea passage.   The idea that there were cookies that could travel and arrive even better than they were when they left home intrigued me.

Of course, I didn’t quite trust the long keeping storage claims until I had tried them out for myself.   As difficult as it was, I managed to put aside a tin of the Honey lebkuchen squares for a month or so and discovered that the author was not putting me on.   Jim was delighted to receive the baked goods that I started making.   I received reviews from shipmates that were positive as well.

One of the things I discovered right away was that there were ingredients that were challenging to acquire.   One of those ingredients was candied orange and lemon peels.  At the time I lived in San Francisco, and the only place I was able to discover these items was an obscure shop in Oakland.  In addition to the inconvenience of going all the way over there to acquire this item, they were VERY dear indeed.   I searched my library of cookbooks (this was before the internet and Recipesource.com, if you can believe I am so old!) and was able to find a recipe for candying citrus peels. I tried it out and it worked like a charm.

I have never tried to buy candied peels again.   It was too easy to do.  I was delighted to receive organic lemons from the home place in California so that I could make truly chemical free candied lemon peels.   Well, I could do this when I was able to beg some from the limoncello maker…  quite a lot of competition for lemon peels exists in this house!  They are also necessary for freshly grated lemon peel, which is also an ingredient often called for in the Festive Baking cookbook.

Over the years, I have ruminated about the thrifty character of the Germanic housewife.   I put myself back into the 18th and 19th centuries when many of these recipes were developed.   Imagine…..   It is the holiday season and you want to make delectable delights for the seasonal celebrations.  Normally you would be looking for large quantities of eggs and butter for this sort of thing, but it is icy cold and dark outside.   Your hens are sulking and the cow’s production of milk has dropped, plus the butterfat content of said milk is barely detectable.   What to do?

Many of these recipes call for honey and sugar and flour as major ingredients, all things that store well.  The only fats used are those found in the ground nuts.  Perhaps one egg is used in the recipe, perhaps another one for the glaze.   Or there is a shortbread type of cookie, requiring lots of butter, but not a single egg.  Then there are the whisked egg/sugar method cookies, which ask for no butter.   Additionally, if you are the sort of gal who thinks ahead, you can make your wonderful confections and cookies months in advance, store them on the top shelf of your pantry and bring them out when the parties begin.

No waste is produced.   If there is a recipe that calls for an egg yolk, down the way there is a recipe that calls only for egg white.   Or you save all those whites and make meringue cookies, which have an amazingly long shelf life.   Do you need freshly grated lemon peel?   No doubt the same recipe that calls for that ingredient requires the juice of one lemon for the icing recipe.   I have an image of the household management requiring all oranges and lemons used on the place to be carefully peeled, and the peels set aside until enough have accumulated for a batch of candied peel to be produced.  This is stored away for future reference; it is called for in large quantities all over this book.   Some cookie recipes require over a cup of candied mixed orange and lemon peel.

I have also wondered if there are a lot of almond trees in central Europe.   Almonds and hazelnuts are used in impressively large quantities, as compared to the very conservative amounts of eggs and butter asked for.

Whatever, all musings aside, I have now made seven different kinds of cookies, all of which keep for weeks.   The varieties that do not have such a sterling shelf life are due to be made in a couple of weeks.


From the top, clockwise:  Vanilla crescents, Basle leckerli, honey lebkuchen squares, molasses spice cookies, ginger cookies, almond sticks, and in the center, pfefferneuse.

Jim got all excited when I made up that plate for the photo op.   He thought maybe I was putting some cookies out that didn’t fit in the tins and needed to be eaten.   I believe I need to make that good man up his own plate based on how his face fell when he learned that the plate had been emptied back into the tins!

Read Full Post »

This morning my dear husband regaled me with a reading of a short article in The Week, a magazine we subscribe to.   It involved the travails of the Clintons, who apparently find it necessary to rent a place for the summer in the Hamptons each year.   They got into a dispute with their landlord of last year over their security deposit, which was $20,000, and apparently they weren’t getting it back because it was eaten up by landscaping and utility bills.   So, according to the article, the dispute was settled amicably, but this year the Clintons did not rent that place again.  Instead they rented a six bedroom place in the area for a measly $200,00 per month.

TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS?   For a security deposit?   TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS?   A MONTH????    Let’s see.   Around here, a family of four can live on $20,000 a year.   Not high on the hog, but it is doable.   I’m not even going to talk about how out of touch with an ordinary American life people who can afford to blow $200,000 per month on a summer rental must be.   Are we ready for Hillary?   Maybe.   But does she have a clue as to what challenges most Americans face?   I really don’t know.   Does ANY politician?

Okey dokey.  I’ll get off my political angst-wagon for now.

I have been visiting slide shows on the SF Chronicle’s website this morning:   a Victorian for less than a million dollars, worst kitchen ever, celebrities who dated.  That last one was a real eye-opener for me.   Probably 80% of the people pictured and named in that little exposé were pretty much unknown to me.  I did not recognize names or faces.   I’m so out of touch.  Kinda like the politicians, I suppose, but in a different way.

Probably the reason I’m so out of touch is that I actually have a life that involves producing a large portion of what we eat.

This was my kitchen counter a few days ago.   I was proudly displaying the apples after they had been peeled, cored and sliced; ready for the freezer.


See the tomatoes in the basket next to the apples?   They have been roasted and are now in the freezer alongside the apples.   That reminds me.  I really need to defrost that freezer and rearrange it.   There are seven gallons of strawberries, six gallons of blueberries, one lug of peaches, plum pieces and plum puree, and God knows how many freezer bags of greens, green beans, asparagus, roasted winter squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, roasted tomatoes, and other stuff I have probably forgotten in there.   Inventory needs to be done.   The other freezer, which is even bigger, has the remains of a whole beef, sundry pork, lamb, poultry and fish, as well as the lard supply and again, God Knows What.

A job for another day.

I’m pretty sure the Clintons don’t have a pantry like this.


That’s the view from the door.   Actually, this room is around the corner from the kitchen.   Originally, this house was built with the idea that sometime in the future a second story could be added.  This area was designed to become the stairwell up to the second floor.   The hatch that gives access to the attic is directly above your head when you stand just inside the accordion door that hides this collection from the view from the living room.

Well, that picture simply does not do the room justice, so I stepped inside and did a few close ups.  Below you find the left side of the room.


The olives are purchased in bulk, and Jim processes them.   There are several flavors there, my favorite is the lemon/tarragon brined sevillanos.   Below the olives is the tomato puree collection, and below that is the apple sauce.   There is some pear sauce in there too.   The red box of milkbones is Ruby’s favorite thing in the whole house.

All those silver bags you see on the right contain the bulk spices.   We purchase them from Frontier Natural Foods cooperative.   Everything on that shelf is organic, and’ if appropriate, Fair Trade certified too.   There is allspice, cinnamon, cloves, caraway, mustard seed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, coriander, cumin on that shelf.   No, we aren’t going to run out of spices any time soon.    It may seem like a lot, but whole seeds don’t get stale like ground spices; and I can buy a pound of organic cinnamon sticks for less than you will spend for a 2/3 oz bottle of ground cinnamon at your local grocery.  The rest of the prices have a similar ratio.

What you are not seeing because I didn’t photograph it is the giant container of 100 pounds of wheat, which I grind about 5 pounds at a time into whole wheat flour.  Also, down on the floor is an anonymous box that contains the un-roasted organic fair trade coffee in 5 pound bags that we acquire from Sweet Maria’s.

Now let’s turn our attention to the right side of the room.




The second picture shows the jelly and pickle collection.   I honestly don’t think I need to make any jam or jelly for three or four years.   That is why I have been freezing most of the figs coming off the tree out by the barn.   I still have plenty of fig preserves up there on that shelf.   That reminds me, I need to pick figs today.

It is actually a little scary how many different kinds of vinegar we seem to require in this house.   Sort of in the middle of the lower picture is a half gallon jar full of some sort of red amorphous substance.   That is the raspberry vinegar I am making from the raspberries I managed to get to ahead of the birds.   It is about time to filter the raspberries out of the vinegar they are steeping in.

Below that is a bunch of containers that are used to ship olives from Greece to the United States.   We found them at a recycler up in Santa Rosa over two decades ago.  They are equipped with giant o-rings under the lids, and when screwed down those lids keep the bugs out of the contents.   We have unbleached white flour, corn meal, polenta, black beans, garbanzo beans, polenta, pinto beans, rolled oats, sugar, rice, barley, vital wheat gluten in 20-30 pound quantities.   Our favorite container:  the bright yellow one in the foreground.  That has the chocolate chips in it.   Right now there are barely ten pounds of them in there.   Need to get more.   Wouldn’t want to run out of those!

You will notice that not all of our supplies are organic, or totally environmentally conscious.  For some reason, we find it necessary to have pineapple on hand.   I imagine I could find it from some other source than Dole, but sometimes I just get tired of being so darned perfect.

A long time ago I found a link to a website that would calculate how long you could survive in your home without buying food based on the number of people who live there and the quantity of food you had stored.   It told me Jim and I could get along for 3 and a half years on what we have accumulated here.   That was before we bought the beef….

I guess we are good for a short apocalypse.   This assumes, of course, that we are not immediately struck down by a bolt of lightning for our liberal, tolerant of gay lifestyle, heretical pagan ways.

I’d really better get my pagan ass out there, I need to pick basil for pesto, harvest the chard and get it blanched, and pick the aforementioned figs.

Read Full Post »

That old saying “Time flies when you’re having fun”  also applies to working hard.

I did indeed go to Alaska.  We cruised for three days up the Inside Passage to Juneau and Skagway.   It was beautiful.



We went whale watching and did see whales, both humpbacks and orcas.  All those amazing photos you see of whales?   Taken by professionals who got 5000 shots just like mine:


Out of focus and not very interesting.   But the experience was fantastic.

We also saw the Mendenhall Glacier.


There was a glacially carved pond along the walk way to the view point.   I loved this.


I was entranced by the moss/lichen forests.


The area right below the view point for the glacier was roped off from visitors.   The arctic terns were nesting there.   I watched a pair in their mating dance; the male flew down to the glacial lake and brought his intended a little tiny salmon.   She accepted it.   Farther down the beach there was a female who was deep in the process of incubation.


We went on a bus tour of the inland part of the state, starting in Canada and crossing into Alaska near Tok.   On to Fairbanks, where I did the tourist things I never did while I lived there:   sailing on the Riverboat Discovery on the Chena to the Tanana River, visiting a gold dredge and learning to pan for gold.   It was fun.

Then we took the Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park.   There were more mountains than it seems possible.   And wildlife.   Mostly moose.  This was taken on our wildlife tour in the park.   This mama had twin babies.   They were less than 24 hours old.


When I got back home, there was a 60th birthday to celebrate, which was done appropriately.   Apparently I am not quite done with my birthday.   Yesterday in the mail I received a beautiful ammonite fossil that someone anonymously ordered off Etsy and had shipped to me.   I feel special and loved.

While we were aboard the ship, we sat for professional portraits.   I believe this is a good way to demonstrate how 60 looks.


Back at home, I had plenty of work waiting for me.   I got my day lily bed north of the stroll garden cleaned out, much to the day lilies’ relief.  They were being swamped by goldenrod, violets, wild iris and sundry other volunteers.   That took a few days.

I also had to catch everyone up on their massages, and I have been very busy with that ever since we got home.

Last night Jim mentioned that he thought we ought to rake the algae out of the pond that has been forming.  I went out there to do some of that this afternoon.  I decided to be circumspect about it, rather than just wholesale rake in clumps of algae.   I am very glad I did.   It is being used by literally dozens of tiny salamander newts.   They were not too happy to be fondled and photographed by the local paparazzi.


You can see his gills and tiny legs.   I believe we may  be leaving the algae alone.

Of course the robins have been very busy too.  This fellow was outside my massage room window the other day, chirping loudly to his parents to induce them to feed him.   They were just as loudly exhorting him to move his butt off the juniper and learn to hunt for himself.   He won the day that afternoon, but I saw him out on the lawn a couple of days later, following his papa around and learning to find bugs for himself.   This is so gosh darned cute.


When I left in mid May, the vegetable garden only had the cool weather crops in, and so since the beginning of June I got the squash, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and I don’t know what all else planted.   It is doing just fine.

We’ve been feasting on beautiful salads.


This is how the garden looks today.   Notice the wooden boxes rather in the middle.   Those are the potato towers.   I’ll let you know how the crop is.


Just in case I thought that all this belonged to me, the wren was there to set me straight.


Well, that catches you all up a bit, I hope.   It is a long summer still.   Now I believe I shall hang out ANOTHER load of laundry and then take Ruby for a walk.

It won’t be a moment too soon for Mallory, who is trying to take a nap on the chair behind me and wishing I would move my derriere off Her Chair so she can get comfortable.  Cats.   Always willing to put your importance into perspective.


Read Full Post »

Feeding romance

There are so many things one can do to keep romance alive for 30 years plus.   Of course, it is important to count your blessings on a daily basis.   I recently read an article in the AARP magazine that suggests that public displays of affection are good for your romance, as are frequent kisses and saying “I love you.”

These all seem pretty obvious to me.  I think it is important to make special efforts once in a while too, and as we hang out with a bunch of like minded individuals, we have established a tradition that every year around Valentine’s day the gentlemen get together, plan a sumptuous repast for the group, and then prepare it for us.

This year, it was suggested that we ought to dress up in our best, most sophisticated togs.   Jim immediately decided that he was going to wear his tuxedo, since it was going to have to be cleaned before our next cruise (in August) anyway.   Then he said, “I’m going to need an apron.”

I looked around, and did not find an apron I approved of, so I made him one.   Here are a couple of pictures taken on the day of the event (last Sunday) of Jim in the kitchen in his tuxedo and apron.   I think he looks rather fine.

Jim at the Stove (2)

Jim at the counter (2)

Jim was not the only one cooking, of course.   Dick and Cliff were busy too.

Dick using hand blender (2)

This was a rather amusing moment, as Cliff had never seen a stick blender in action before, and was quite taken with the tool.    What they are doing right that moment is blending the sherried roasted squash bisque prior to serving it.   It was accompanied by a cheesy grits with shrimp, which was our second course.

The first course was a Salade Niçoise, pictured below.

Nancy-Cliff-Jim-Ellie (2)

What we are drinking are French 75s, a cocktail that involves both gin and champagne.   I admit it sounds rather awful but I can tell you that  while I really detest gin I find this drink delightful.  (Recipe note:  when Jim makes this he uses our home made limoncello rather than the cointreau listed in the recipe.   It makes the drink look much paler and is quite delicious.)

Back to the kitchen the gentlemen went to prepare the third course, Twice baked goat cheese souffles.

Guys in the kitchen (2)-1

When they were done, Jim put them on the table, which was adorned with a quilted table topper I made a few weeks ago as a hostess gift.

Jim in tux setting table (2)

This is a recipe we acquired from Seabourn on our first cruise.   Positively wonderful and well worth the effort to make.  (For the record, the recipe as printed in that blog I linked to is NOT correct.   If you make it the way they tell you you will discover that the quantity of milk is incorrect.   You need about 75ml of milk for the souffle portion.   Also, the version we were given uses a garlic cream for the topping.)

We were having a quite wonderful time, enjoying the companionship of friends and some rather tasty wine. Following the goat cheese course, there was a lemon sorbet course to cleanse our palates for the last course:  Pad thai with scallops, tofu, and shrimp.   Excellent!

Ellie-Nancy-Liz (2)

Do we look like we feel special?   Because we certainly did!   Especially when the dessert course appeared.  (Yes I realize I have just written a series of sentence fragments.   Deal with it.)

Frozen nougat terrine with chocolate and raspberry sauces, in a special presentation.

Valentine terrines (2)

As if that wasn’t enough, Liz made a wonderful almond torte to top off the experience.   The chocolates on top were made by Dick.

Valentine Cake (2)

Now, after a wonderful afternoon enjoying food like that, how can your romance not be enlivened?

Read Full Post »

So, life has its surreal moments.    I was not equipped with my camera when I took Ruby for her walk the other afternoon following the mini ice storm.  It was too darn cold; by the time I saw anything worth photographing, the batteries in the camera would have been so cold that it would have refused to function.

Consequently, the amazing beauty I saw as the sun was slanting down that afternoon will have to remain in my mind.   It was a mini ice storm, just enough freezing rain to glaze everything, to make little drops on all the branches that looked like tiny christmas ornaments adorning every tree and shrub.   After the freezing rain, there was supposed to be sleet but it didn’t hit our area.   In the meadows, the grasses were glazed with a thin coating of ice, enough to give them sheen but such a light dose that they did not fall down flat to the ground under the weight.

Off in the corner of the field I was walking around was a stand of sorgastrum, its tall heads were bending in gentle arcs, all glazed with ice.   As I walked past, the sun angle reached the magical spot and every arch of grass turned into a rainbow of color right before my eyes as the ice refracted the light to me.



I really have the best husband in the world.   He tolerates without grumbling the fact that my quilting exercises have pretty much taken over half the dining room:




What you are seeing here are the beginnings of fabrication of the baby quilt.   I got my numbers cut out last night, now I have to applique them to the color blocks.   In the first picture, you are seeing our dining room table.  Uppermost in the stack of squares you see is “A is for ant.”   I have all the letters except V and X, and they are coming.

Meanwhile, I am not committed to some of my letters.   “J is for jungle” is pretty good, but there might be something better.   So I Googled “J is for” this morning, and found lots of examples:   Jet, jam, jelly, jellyfish, journey, jump, joy, etc.   The last three might be concepts a bit difficult to portray.   But the surreal one was far down the image set on Google:  “J is for junkie” accompanying a bedraggled soul actually shooting up.   Disturbing.

The quilt has been quite the topic of conversation around here.   My niece went with me to the fabric stores and observed that when I get surrounded by lots of fabric and imagery I get what she calls “fabric brain” and what I would call “fabric induced attention deficit disorder”.   She really was a lot of help to me in finding some of the very cute fabrics that are going to be featured in my alphabet.   My older sister is contributing too, so it is really a family effort.

Jim is actually quite a good resource in this endeavor, giving me some very good ideas.   So last night, as we were settling down in bed on our way to sleep I was talking about the quilt a little bit (not doing that thing with my mouth… but the Other Thing: talking…)  Anyway, we got a tad silly and he suggested that Y could be for Yttrium.  When I pointed out that it might be hard to find an image that screamed “Yttrium” to the poor parents who are going to be playing the Naming Game with their baby, he then said “Well, you could just put on the whole periodic table of elements.”   I declined to do that, and then he went on and said that later on in the child’s life I could do a needlework project of the periodic table.

Do you think he was being sarcastic?    I don’t.

Anyway, I pointed out that it might be more to the point for the CHILD to do the needlework project as that would give it the opportunity to really learn her (his?) periodic chart.

But the upshot of the whole discussion was that we realized that the list of Atomic Symbols of the elements could be used somehow in that quilt, a subtle thing.    And it is going to be used, too.   When I quilt the first border, which is going to be a plain fabric, I intend to do the list of elements in order of atomic number.   It is exactly the right size to give each element about an inch and a half of space for its symbol.   I think this is very cool.

And this is the sort of pillow talk we engage in.   Then I did that thing with my mouth and stopped talking.


As I work on this quilt, I realize that there are plenty of images that could be multiples.   Like the image of the horses.   That could also be P is for pony or C is for colt or F is for foal.

While we were discussing J today, Jim came up with J is for jonquil.   Now this is just a dandy idea, but I can see the poor people looking at my quilt and wondering why J is for daffodil.   You could put the same image under N is for Narcissus and create the same confusion.

I’m really trying not to be TOO subtle here.   Maybe later.


This year on Jim’s birthday one of our friends presented him with the butternut squash to end all butternut squashes.   Today he cut it open and it is roasting as we speak.   I believe it is going to be featured prominently in our dinner tonight.



For your information, that is a french chef’s knife with an 8 inch blade.   We are saving some seeds to see what comes up next year.

And so, life goes on its merry way.    Hope your surreal things are beautiful and tasty too.

Read Full Post »

Solstice greetings

Here, a few days late, are my solstice greetings to you all.

As I expected, the world did not end on December 22, despite the fact that the gal at the bank told me that she always tries to be ready for the end times.   I try to be ready for breakfast.

Anyway, a few of our friends stopped by last night to help with the festivities.   It made getting up for the 3:15 work call a little difficult, but we managed.

Liz gave me a drama of dragons, rather nifty napkin rings, actually.   Since we use cloth napkins here, they will come in handy.  They seem to enjoy gathering about the bowl of seasonal cheer I arranged.


Another friend, Karen, visited her sister right before the holidays.  There was an artsy craftsy project arranged, and Karen brought the results home and put them in the gift exchange.   I was the lucky recipient.   I have needed a light source for my bedisde night stand.



Jocelyn added to the tree ornament collection.   This time, a very cute felt owl.


Mallory is not dead, just sleeping.  She has a habit of looking dead when asleep.


Impy usually does not look dead.  Au contraire…


This very debonair chap has settled in quite nicely.   He no longer really thinks about his previous life as an indoor/outdoor cat, but has found that it is very unstressful to live inside.   From a hermitage cat, very shy, he has evolved into one of my official reception team, and has discovered that social gatherings are quite nice.   You get lots of attention and people scratch under your chin just so.  It is all very gratifying.  Especially when everyone agrees that you are quite the handsomest cat they have seen recently.

We received a gift in the mail before the busy season, fuyu persimmons from my sister-in-law’s tree.


In addition to smoothies and eating them like apples, they make a very tasty contribution to fruit salad.  The other fruits in this selection came out of my freezer where I stashed them earlier this year.


So, if I don’t catch you around before the actual day, have a very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Read Full Post »

We really have a nice crop of sweet potatoes, and Jim happened across a recipe for sweet potato slaw.   It sounded good, so he tried it out on us.

It looks a lot like a grated carrot salad, very pretty and orange.  Think of all that beta carotene, potassium and vitamin A.  The raw sweet potatoes have a surprisingly delicate flavor.

 Not only was it good, it was VERY good.   Of course, we agreed that it didn’t really need the shallots, that some of our sweet red onions sliced thin would be a great substitute, and also it could use more fennel and more cumin, and probably wouldn’t be harmed by the addition of some hot peppers.  We also thought one could change it by making it with jicama and cilantro for a more southwest flavor.

This is how the recipe reads from the source:


2 T ex virgin olive oil

1 large shallot, sliced thin and separated into rings

1/2 C thinly sliced fennel bulb, rings separated (or 1/4 t fennel seed)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

4 C peeled and grated raw sweet potato

3 T freshly squeezed lime juice.

Ground sea salt and ground pepper to taste


Heat the olive oil in a small skillet.   Add the shallot, fennel and cumin; stir, cooking until lightly wilted.  Cool.  Toss with the greated sweet potato, then add the lime juice and toss again.   Season to taste with the salt and pepper.   Refrigerate until serving time.   Serves 4-6.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers