Tag Archives: knitting

Joy To The World, And A Great Bowl of Soup

I was happily ensconced with my family over the holidays and we celebrated a wonderful Christmas with way too much food and dare I say too much football?

To help offset the three pounds of butter we used for our dinners, a new historical *low* I might add, I made a healthy lunch of butternut squash soup for Christmas eve.

We have been visiting the local grocery store up here in the country daily, and on Christmas eve, two times. The store was established in 1852 as a stagecoach stop and owned by the family continuously. They have the nicest staff. Since my stepdad shops every day he, and by extension, we are well known. It is expected that you chat with the grocer, the butcher and everyone else. It is the country after all! I was joking with the clerk about the massive butternut squashes they have in the product department, they easily weigh 7 pounds.

“My stepdad called it Junior.” I laughed as I cradled it in my arms, “Junior is going in the soup pot today!”

The clerk told me she had always wanted to cook one but was afraid of trying. I told her how easy it was and that I would write about it for her. So, Carol, this is for you!

I make this soup a lot during squash season and never thought it worth writing about until talking with Carol. I can now see by looking at this giant squash how intimidating it could be to someone. But in reality, once you get the beast cut into half, it is no work at all. The soup is quite basic, albeit delicious, and can be quite versatile flavorwise by adding a few different spices or aromatics.

First off, tackling the large squash: give it a good wash and dry, then lay it down on the cutting board and with your biggest knife cut off the stem. Off with Junior’s head! Then, split it down the middle and use an ice cream scoop to eviscerate the seeds. The oven was already hot at 400 F and I had put some foil on a cookie sheet and spread some oil around. The squash halves got plunked onto the foil cut side down, and into the oven for 45 – 60 minutes.

Meanwhile I did my manicure and watched some (more) football with my stepdad.

An hour later, I took the tray out of the oven and stuck the squash with a fork. The tines slid right through with no resistance. The skin was browned a little here and there and was puckery in places. I returned to watch another quarter of the game while the squash cooled. Piece of cake!

At this juncture you can scrape out the squash into a bowl, add butter and salt and pepper and stir well with a fork and eat. Or, you can use the meat in a variety of other preparations, such as a casserole with pasta and breadcrumbs (and bacon), as a filling with ricotta for ravioli, in the dough for gnocci, or my embarrassingly simple soup. As you can see this squash preparation takes little skill or cooking talent, you just need a bit if courage to cut the huge thing open, then the rest is easy. You can use this method with any kind of squash, including pumpkin. I prefer cooking it cut side down as it ensures the meat stays tender and moist. If you want to have a glazed squash, you can turn it over after 30 minutes, add some butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper and bake for the remaining 15 minutes or so until it is tender.

But back to the soup, in a large pot I put a pat of butter, a chopped onion and some chopped fresh ginger and let that saute until the onion was tender, about 10 minutes. I used a big spoon and scooped the squash out of its skin and added it to the pot.

I went out the garden and cut a sprig of rosemary, and back in the kitchen tossed it in with a bay leaf and a sprinkle of sweet curry powder onto the squash. Everything was topped off with 8 cups of chicken stock, I gave it a vigorous stir and resumed keeping my stepdad company while knitting a sweater in the family room.

Thirty minutes later the soup looked like this:

I used the immersion blender to smooth it out, this time finally remembering to remove the bay leaf first, and lunch was ready. I dished it out into warm soup bowls and topped each one with a hefty dollop of sour cream as a sprinkle of chives. We were still eating the Funions so I added some along side the soup bowl as well.

We tucked into our hearty soup and listened to the rain ping on the roof. Chatting about this and that, mostly about that, we whiled away the afternoon decorating the house and the tree for Christmas, satiated with good company and good soup.

I hope you give take home a “Junior” of your own this winter for the soup pot.

(recipe here)

Rainy Day Waffles

There’s nothing finer than waking up on a Saturday morning hearing the rain pitter-patter on the roof, the faint tinkling of wind chimes from the front porch and the smell of coffee. Burrowing under the covers I savor the quiet moment then remember mOm is making waffles. Out of bed I leap!

It’s so dark out from the rain that the Christmas lights are still on. After some reviving coffee mOm starts the waffles.

“It’s a new recipe, and it has weird things in them, like seltzer water and dried buttermilk. They get crispy outside but stay nice inside.”

Okay, Mom, I am sold!

Our family waffle iron is a treasure. You may recall that I’ve mentioned we are inordinately fond of our kitchen appliances? This old waffle iron with real Bakelite handles was at a friend’s cabin in Brooktrails. A visit there always meant bucolic views, lazing on the deck in summer or in front of the Benjamin Franklin stove in winter and waffles for breakfast. When our friends sold the cabin we asked if we could have the waffle iron. I also received a sprig from the giant Christmas cactus, which had the most gorgeous blooms. It is still thriving in my kitchen but has never bloomed, despite all the many moves I have had. I think it needs higher elevations. My Mom’s cuttings have also thrived but they bloom for her, but we are at 1,300 feet here.

Behold, the waffle iron:

It’s the Cadillac of waffle irons, or perhaps a Lamborghini…. Covet, covet…

On Thanksgiving eve I roasted quince that I picked up from the McEvoy Ranch booth at the Ferry Building along with a gigantic Lisbon lemon. I sliced the quince with cranberries and grapes, which we used for our T-Day salad, and the leftovers were transformed into a warm compote for our waffles this morning.

Prepare yourself, waffle porn…

Melty with butter…

Boysenberry syrup, mmm.

I slathered mine with butter and then spooned the rosy quince on top and added extra buttery syrup on top, and promptly ate it. Fortunately my stepdad’s waffle was ready for her closeup.

They sure don’t last long though… Sadness…

We slowly consumed the local paper and dozed in front of the college football games playing in the snow. I am about to get going on finishing a pretty sweater in kid mohair yarn in the palest lavender hue, only 2/3 left to go for the last piece! And more potato butter buns are rising in the kitchen. What else can a gal do on a rainy day?

Roasted Quince

1# quince, I had 2 huge ones, peeled, cored and sliced into wedges
1 c whole grapes, or 1/2 c raisins
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c sugar – or I used 1 c ginger syrup left over from making candied ginger
1 tsp minced ginger (omit if using ginger syrup)
Pinch salt
1 lemon, zested and juiced
A pat of butter
Water

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place fruit in a casserole large enough to hold everything in one layer. Sprinkle over sugar, lemon zest and juice, syrup (if using) and water to come up halfway up the sides of the fruit. Top with the butter. Bake for an hour and watch the magic happen. The quince will turn from apple-colored to a rosy, light salmon color. Bake until the quince is tender when forked and the syrup is thickened.

When I took my fruit out, the syrup wasn’t as thick as I like so I used a slotted spoon to pull out the fruit and I cooked down the syrup in a small pan until it was reduced until a thicker syrup.

For the salad, I used the whole slices.

For the compote, I chopped the quince, added a 1/4 tsp of Ceylon cinnamon and a few squirts of agave (or honey). I heated it up in the micro for three minutes (or in a 300 F oven for 20 minutes – just for you Laura S).

I will ask mOm if I can post her waffle recipe, fingers crossed!

A Very Thankful Thanksgiving

My ancestor came to this land 390 years ago. Half the colony died that first winter. Can you imagine how sad that must have been, after that long journey with all of the hardships, to finally arrive only to lose so many. The first Thanksgiving, so it is said, was celebrated after surviving a year with a harvest. Our family in this century like to celebrate our being together after much time apart and cook a killer meal. Most of the fun is being together in the kitchen with gentle jostling and teasing, collaborating and handing off tasks seamlessly, and many tastings. A common refrain is, “Are you sure that has enough salt, let me try that again!”

As a special treat this year I purchased a Happy Thanksgiving produce box from Happy Girl Farms, my first experience with them, and hauled all the produce up on the train in a duffle roller bag, also filled with wine. Of course one wheel on the bag broke as I was leaving my apartment and I had to drag that beast around like a mobster hauling a dead body, woof, what a long trip!

It was quite the adventure in what one would consider a relatively simple task of picking up the produce box. I was given an address saying there would be prominent signage near a gate in a fence of a lovely home in Castro Heights. I took a taxi after work; it was 5:30 pm and already inky dark outside. In a dimly lit street, the taxi driver said that he thought a long dark fence was the right one. Thankfully I had a tiny flashlight on my house keys and turned it on and headed towards the fence. On the fence near eye level was a quarter-sized sticker that said Happy Girl Farms, visible only after illuminating it with my tiny light. I saw a door in the fence and pushed it open, saw below me a foot-plus drop down to a dirt slope, and three boxes lying on the dirt. I carefully stepped down and promptly slid on the mud (it had rained heavily that day) and slid to a tall shrub straight below me. I grabbed at it, wrenching my shoulder injured previously from the tragic high-fiving incident at the World Series celebrations. I badly scratched and punctured my hand from the 1″ spines from the shrub which turned out to be a bougainvillea bush! But I prevented myself running into it by a fraction of an inch with my face or falling in the mud. Swearing loudly, I retrieved my keys and baby flashlight from the ground and looked around for the clipboard as instructed in the email but didn’t see anything. There was one large produce box, opened to the elements, so I peeked inside and saw some of the veggies listed on my receipt. I heaved the box off the dirt and transversed the slippery hill up to the gate and sidewalk in the pitch black dark. I managed to lift the box up to the sidewalk level. As I hauled myself out some pedestrians walked by almost knocking me back inside the gate down the slope but one man grabbed my arm to steady me. Whew. Thoroughly shaken, muddy and bleeding, I stood there for a moment, and the cab driver came over and said, “Are you okay??” He helped me into the cab and loaded the muddy box in the back, and drove me home. I called Dirty Girl and got voicemail, then rang up my mommy and whined about the things I do for fresh produce! The cab driver handed me a paper towel to staunch the bleeding and wipe up some of the mud; either it was a kindness on his part or a defensive measure to keep his hack clean. Once home, cleaned up and disinfected, ice pack on my shoulder and a glass of wine consumed (for medicinal purposes), I received a call back from a rep at Happy Girl Farms. The guy informed me that I actually came on the wrong night, despite their email confirmation that clearly said the pick up day was Tuesday. He said something about their having computer problems and asked me to check the box. I did and found that many items listed on their receipt were not in the box. He again mentioned it wasn’t my box, and so I offered to forward him their email to me. He said I could keep the box (how generous!!) and I felt rather exasperated at this point and retorted, “Look, I’m leaving tomorrow at 5 am. If you want to come by tonight and pick up this box and give me *my* box, I would be really happy with that.” After hemming and hawing a bit he said he’d refund me a portion of the price and next time they would put some flashlights in that yard. I think I will pass on using this pick up place on the premise of preserving my health from a broken ankle or bougainvillea-related flesh shredding, and spare the homeowner any litigious opportunities. Ah, the adventures of supporting local farms.

On a positive note, all of the product was fantastic. We have apples, pears, garlic and onions, carrots and parsnips, bunches of herbs, a variety of potatoes, celery and some squash. Once safely at the parents, we stashed it all in the garage and got ready for our Thanksgiving Eve dinner.

We talked about the Big Day menu while feasting on our usual Dungeness crab, sourdough bread schlepped from the city, mOm’s Louis dressing and iceberg lettuce wedges, augmented by crisp-tender asparagus spears. Truly though, any excuse to eat crab is a welcome one. Or Louis sauce. That sauce rocks!

Thanksgiving morning dawned with the fiery blaze of the liquid amber tree and frost everywhere, a brisk 32 degrees.

Just WOW. What a tree!

After lots of coffee and toasted Acme sourdough bread and butter, we hopped to work in the kitchen and I posted the menu and to-dos for each menu item on the fridge.

Our Menu:
o Dry brined turkey roasted with bacon and sage
o Granny’s “Aunt Emma’s” dressing
o Giblet gravy
o Mashed potatoes
o Potato butter buns
o Roasted whole onions
o Carrot and parsnip coins in a beef-butter reduction
o Green salad with roasted quince, pomegranate, pecans and goat cheese, with a quince syrup white wine vinaigrette
o Pumpkin chiffon pie

Mom started with the pie crust. I loved mOm’s comment, “If this pie pan could talk… It is older than you and has seen many pies.”

I started the brown sauce, part two of the three-part gravy process, and prepped the veggies and fruits for the dressing. My sis made the dressing while Mom made the filling for the pumpkin pie elbow-to-elbow with me as I prepared the dough for the potato buns. I love these buns, we all love these buns, in fact, I plan to make more tomorrow. Can you see why?

Everything was going so smoothly, we had time to take a break, take a nap and knit (just me). Around 3:30 pm we put in the turkey, and three and a half hours later the turkey was done!

Mmmm, bacon..

I decorated da boid with strips of bacon and fresh sage leaves. The little onions roasted happily under the roasting rack. Everyone was liberally slathered with butter.

My sis gently tossed and arranged the salad, I dolloped spoonfuls of butter and sour cream onto the mashed potatoes, and mom made the gravy. There was liberal sampling going on. Bliss.

This gravy is so good, you could eat it like soup.

The carrots and parsnips were perfectly done, not mushy but toothsome, cooked with beef stock and butter and reduced to a syrupy glaze.

The potatoes were creamy and showered with parsley and a lake of butter. Mmmm, butter….

The table looked so festive. My sis put a cinammon-spiced cranberry sauce in her pretty Spode turkey dish, with the spoon in a compromising position. Squawk!!!

I tried carving the turkey this year, and overfilled a platter to the point of ridiculousness with the juicy meat. And bacon.

Every single dish was outstanding. I poured an ’09 Serenade from Casa Rondeña in New Mexico (a Gewürztraminer/Reisling blend) and an ’06 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap (a lovely gift from the winery, thank you!!). We filled out plates to match our hearts filled with love, and were too full for pie! Desultory conversation followed and then bed, with blissful turkey dreams.

Today was the culmination of a year-long dream, pumpkin pie and coffee for breakfast (and a few leftover buns slathered with butter) and the leftover turkey sandwich. And a nap. We traded stories all afternoon, about family history, and country and city living oddities. It is so delightful to relax with my family and get to know them better, year after year.

What a great holiday we had, and tonight we get to do it all over again, the only work involved will be gentle reheating!

I’m off to go hang up the outdoor Christmas lights now with my sis, with my stepdad’s supervision, another post-turkey day tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pop Tart Prowl

Sometimes an event comes along that you just can’t say no to, I mean, how can you turn down a pop tart?

Eating pop tarts has been a pleasure reserved for my adult life only. Growing up my mUm never allowed such things in the house, not that I felt deprived mind you, considering her baked goods and my own creations were far superior to a dubious box of fat, sugar and preservatives from the store.

Last year while languishing on my dearest friend L’s couch in front of a crackling fire in the wilds of Santa Fe (and I mean it when I say wild. The coyotes were circling the house that night and the Great Horned Owls were crunching away on the gravel on the roof, it was mind-blowing.) my dear pal asked me if I wanted a pop tart. It was 10:00 pm, we were watching silly movies and had consumed ridiculous portions of posole not all that long ago. Naturally I said yes and a few minutes later she delivered into my grasping hands a serviette with a steaming hot toasted apple cinnamon pop tart. It was flaky, with a well seasoned fresh tasting apple filling with plenty of cinnamon. We promptly had one more each and some tea and then just as promptly zonked out on our respective perches like a pair of tired toddlers.

Later, I was delighted to learn that the pastries came from Natures Path and that they were organic and pretty clean otherwise. My guilt felt assuaged somewhat but in my heart of hearts I missed my Mom’s jam turnovers, my childhood pop tart equivalent. I have never attempted them because of my dread fear of rolled dough but this is something I plan to rectify soon.

So fast-forward to the present day and to my meeting the tres charmant Rachel Saunders and her incredibly lush book on jam. Rachel created the Blue Chair Fruit in the East Bay and has been making and selling her incredible jams at various farmer’s markets in the Bay Area and online. I lucked into a copy of her newly released book and it is well littered with post its and slips of notes of the recipes I plan to try and photos I just cannot stop gazing upon. Her book has taken up permanent residence on my lap and I cannot wait to tell you more about it (soon!).

A local eatery in Berkeley announced they were having a pop tart party using Rachel’s jams and that she would be there in person to sign her incredible book so naturally I inked that invitation into my calendar and was delighted when my pal Luna of Luna’s Kitchen Magic said she could join me. Who better than my sister-friend, a trained pastry chef, to accompany me on a quest for pop tarts.

This Saturday, a bus trip, a BART train, another bus and a long walk later, we arrived at Summer Kitchen Bake Shop‘s door. It was most definitely worth the effort to get there to see the darling Rachel again, and to eat pop tarts! We received a warm greeting but Rachel had a line of eager fans waiting to chat and over her shoulder I spied trays of pop tarts so we sidled by and headed to the cashier.

We ordered one of each of Summer Kitchen’s pop tart creations to munch along with a cup of Blue Bottle coffee for me and an omlette sandwich for the both of us.

The eatery is adorable, high ceilinged and a long counter in front of the grill with a few tables in front on a charming stretch of College Street. We snagged a few stools at the counter and began watching the show, our sides warmed by the pizza oven that anchored the end of the space. It was really challenging to perch like vultures and watch the grill cook make plate after plate of gorgeous sandwiches knowing we couldn’t order everything.

But first we gazed upon the gorgeous pop tarts. Look. Drool. Don’t you wish you were there?

The sweet pop tart had slices of the first of fall’s new crop of Fuji apples topped with Blue Chair Fruit strawberry jam, drizzled with royal icing and dashes of sugar sprinkles. The savory pop tart was filled with Blue Chair’s spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and goat cheese, and topped with shreds of Parmesan. Holy cow! They were simply fantastic. Flaky, thin, buttery pastry, still warm from the oven, pleasantly plump with the fillings and so tender. My toes were wriggling with delight as I nibbled slowly, trying to make them last, washed down by the mother’s-milk of Bella Donovan blend from Blue Bottle. I was beginning to regret only ordering two to share.

Meanwhile, our deft grill cook had crisped thick slabs of my personal local favorite bacon from Golden Gate Meats, slivered an avocado and turned out a perfectly blonde curling shell of a four egg omlette awash with fresh herbs and butter into a soft torpedo roll. Why have I never thought of an omlette sandwich before? It was ridiculous, as Luna is fond of saying.

Nirvana.

I was distracted by the sight of the pastry chef making more pop tarts. Scrutinizing her technique and taking notes we watched her roll out sheets of pastry, top with the juicy apples and dollops of ruby red jam. How I coveted that huge bottle of jam! Behold, the birth of a pop tart.

While they were baking the grill cook made tiny sliders of beef patties topped with blue cheese, piled them into a torpedo roll slathered with tarragon aioli and heaped with mounds of steaming mahogany caramelized onions, slices of pink heirloom tomatoes and handfuls of wild arugula. I am smitten.

Sadly, most of pictures did not come out. The cook was grinning at me shyly as I tried to capture the action, occasionally pausing to let me snap a shot. Now more than ever I wish I had a camera!

Then, to my right, the pastry chef pulled out a huge tray of naked chocolate cupcakes and scooped huge spatulas full of cream cheese frosting into her KitchenAid to fluff up before piping it into graceful spirals on the cakes. Our seatmate, a precocious 5 year old, scored a spoonful of frosting, lagniappe from the chef, lucky thing. The chef scattered chocolate pearls on top of the cupcakes and popped them onto pretty cake stands. If only I could have eaten more!

Then the grill chef began making crispy chicken sandwiches and grinned when I piped up that bacon and avocado would go well with that sandwich, and more of that custard yellow aioli. I realized I wasn’t the only one watching the action. Intently peering through the counter and offering play-by-play was a young man, perhaps 10 years old. Young Jerry is a foodie in the making, he was commenting on the aioli and I explained what that was. He smacked his lips. We watched another burger torpedo being prepared. He hadn’t tried that one, he explained, and sidled over one stool closer to me. I remarked that I hoped the grill chef would make a chicken sandwich again, and then he did! Amazed, Jerry asked how did I know the cook was going to do that? “Magic”, I said, and grinned, then Jerry asked me if I played cards, like Pokemon… His dad laughed and asked Jerry to return to his seat and they finished their pop tarts. Little Romeo!!

Luna and I watched as another batch of fruit pop tarts got their slathering of icing and sprinkles and sadly bid the cooks adieu.

We were delighted to meet in person Charlene Reis, the owner of Summer Kitchen, with whom we had been chatting incessantly on Twitter, and made plans to have a craft night soon. Rachel introduced me to her charming husband and helped me select jars of her jams to take home. I was thrilled to score the last jar of the spiced tomato-bourbon conserve and we agreed bourbon was a magical ingredient, like vanilla, but better. I exclaimed over my last purchase of Rachel’s blood orange marmalade and told her how that jar, which I bought at her book signing at Omnivore, disappeared in two days with the help of an Acme herb slab, Manchego cheese and some prosciutto, quite possibly the best sandwich I have ever invented. Another jar of Rachel’s three fruit marmalade got stowed away in my bag and Luna and I made our farewells.

We strolled down the street and stopped into a sweet shop, several card shops and then to our next stop, Ici.

Ici is an ice cream shop that has an impressive pedigree, its owner worked at Chez Panisse no less, and they usually have a line several store fronts long. Somehow we chanced to be there at just the right time with no line and popped in for a scoop. I chose the lemon ice cream with pinenut praline and an ocean of hot fudge. The combination of creamy lemon and rich fudgy chocolate is truly magical. Luna hit one out of the park with her choice of pear huckleberry sorbet with burnt caramel sauce (picture here). We plopped on a bench in front, another minor miracle, and thoroughly enjoyed our little treat.

As we were leaving I noticed their decorations of crocheted ice cream cones and vowed to knit some soon.

We planned next to visit Amanda’s on Shattuck and decided to work off our breakfast by walking there.

Just like Calvin Trillin we decided to have a snack before lunch and stopped into Crixa’sCakes for tea and pastries.

Fall has arrived in Berkeley and I was regretting my sandals but was grateful for my new leaf-green velour fleece jacket. We sat outside at an iron table as leaves scuttled by on the cobblestones, sipping our steaming Moroccan mint tea and stunning Hungarian pastries. The Hungarian version of pirogue was very good, how can you go wrong with buttery pastry filled with potato, cheese and dill?

We fought a fork-dual over the last bite. Divine! But then we split a pastry amusingly called Fatima’s thighs. More of the buttery, flaky pastry was curled around a rich filling of walnuts, julienned apples, currants and scented with orange flower water, then heaped with powdered sugar. I dusted off my pants which were liberally dotted with sugar and was transported to a memory of eating beignets with a dear beau in steamy sticky New Orleans. We used to laugh that I should never wear black around powdered sugar, something that would have come in handy at Crixa’s!

Another reason to visit Crixa is a street sign pole outside that has been yarnbombed, it is just so adorable.

Awash in tea and feeling all buttery we continued our stroll through Berkeley, marveling at the odd fall clouds in the sky, a building decorated with sculptures of sea life, pots of tomato plants tucked away into doorways, and the unusual people who populate the area. It is so pleasant to stroll with a friend, to be able to walk without rushing. Luna slipped a small sack into my bag, a Springerlie cookie from Crixa, what a treat! We exchanged thoughts about soul mates, shared stories of our siblings and tales about ravens and crows as Brother Crow cawed above our heads.

Our next stop was Stonemountain & Daughter Fabric shop, a place awash with the cutest, kitchy fabric. An entire row of bolts was devoted to food designs and we danced down the aisle singing the Coconut Song, imagining an apron made with a coconut pattern and lime fabric for pockets. I could not resist a few yards of an adorable mushroom fabric. We are taking a sewing class there in a few weeks, and I will make myself an apron to cheer up my kitchen during our drab SF winter. Suddenly we imagined ourselves buying most of the store’s stock and sewing up creation after creation!

The imaginary budget depleted we headed out to Amanda‘s for their house-made spicy ginger aid and a crunchy garden salad. I was tempted by their array of spiced nuts, burgers, sweet potato fries and sodas but couldn’t manage another bite. Luna crunched her salad and shared her ginger ale, which was exceptional.

To my surprise it was nearing 4:00 pm! We visited the pretty library for a small break and then meandered to Trader Joe’s for dinner fixings. I treated myself to a rib eye and ingredients for a pizza dinner another night. How does pizza made of naan with smoked Gouda, Asian pear and prosciutto sound? I thought I needed to make a pot of caramelized onions next week too, and buy bags of sweet onions.

Lugging our goodies to BART, we luck out and the next train was in two minutes, and I was home in a half an hour. I quickly stowed my groceries before sinking gratefully down into a chair to slip on thick wooly socks and settle on the settee for a nap. Five hours later I woke up! Completely missing dinner means I can indulge in steak and eggs for Sunday breakfast!

It was great to explore a new area and have home-made pop tarts and all the other treats that day. I plan to borrow a friend’s kitchen soon to make jam from Rachel’s adorable book, and to make pop tarts perhaps on my next Girl’s Night In. Stay tuned!

…………………………..

Resources:

Blue Chair Fruit
Jam, jam classes and the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook here:
http://bluechairfruit.com/
Also at the Temescal and Grand Lake Farmers’ Markets

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop
2944 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705-2204
Open Daily 9am-9pm
(510) 981-0538

Ici
2948 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705
Open Daily
(510) 665-6054

Crixa Cakes
2748 Adeline Street, Berkeley, CA 94703-1205
Open Tue-Sat 9am-6:30pm
(510) 548-0421

Stonemountain & Daughter Fashion & Quilting Fabric
2518 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704-2722
Hours: 11am – 5:30pm
(510) 845-6106

Amanda’s Restaurant (Feel Good Fresh Food)
2122 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
Hours: 11am – 9pm
(510) 548-2122
http://www.Amandas.com

Requiring Much Patience: Baked Beans

(Update: see recipe for revisions and commentary…)

There are a few things in life that test our patience.  Traffic jams.  3:00 pm on Friday at work.  Doing taxes.  Waiting for the ‘puter to load.  Filing.

People have said to me in an admiring fashion that I must have a lot of patience to knit.  Well, I don’t.  I am actually quite an impatient person.  This is why I always, without fail, burn my tongue with hot soup.  I feel that actually it is the other way around; knitting has taught me patience.  The act of knowing that in order to finish knitting a sock it takes a certain amount of inevitable time has taught me patience and to enjoy the process of what I am doing.  It is the zen of being in the now.

This, however, all went out the window today because mOm and I decided to bake beans.  Not just any beans, but the original Boston beans in a darling authentic Boston bean pot.

The Beans are A'Bakin'

(See, it’s even helpfully labelled in case you forget)

We put the bag of Boston pea beans to soak last night in a vast quantity of water and a good palmful of salt.

This morning, we drained them and put them in fresh water to cook with a nicely bundled bouquet garni (celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaf).  Brining them overnight really helps the beans to cook quickly.  Once they were done, 45 minutes later, tender but perfectly intact, we layered them in the bean pot for its maiden voyage.  They were snuggled together with thinly sliced salt pork and nice cubes of Easter ham, and topped with a soup of bean broth, black strap molasses, brown sugar, chopped onions, ketchup, dry mustard, salt and ground pepper.  Topped with its little cute lid, they went into bake.  For 5-8 hours.

So, we got started a little late this morning.  The fog hadn’t lifted in the corpuscles or brain pan and needed frequent applications of hot coffee.  A little breakfast was in order, as was the prerequisite period remaining absolutely frozen still in order to watch quail bob along the terrace.  Eventually, around 11:00 am, we felt compos mentis enough to handle a knife and in we went to the kitchen to assemble the beans.  Then we retired to the living room with another cuppa and various amusing volumes, the collected short stories of Lord Peter Wimsey for me and Dorothy L. Sayers Society monthly bulletins for March and January for mOm.  We wait for the beans. The house began to fill with an incredible savory scent after an hour, and after three hours we gave a peek within the pot.  Alas, no miracle had occurred, the beans were a long way away from being done.  At five hours we checked again, and again, the beans were just achieving a medium beige color and the onions were threatening to dissolve into a succulent mush.

Meanwhile, the aroma drove me outdoors.  I really just couldn’t stand the tease of the scent of onion and molasses and pork products emanating from the kitchen.  Fortunately the rain has stopped today and the porch was a pleasant place to sit and knit, accompanied by multitudes of birdsong.  It was deemed warm enough to open the front door to air out the house, meaning my tranquil perch was invaded by the ever alluring scent of baked beans.  I gave up trying to concentrate on knitting my sock, and wandered the terrace.  The weeds were mocking me so I began yanking them out by their roots like errant gray hairs, such a pleasant feeling of revenge.  And still I was tormented by the scent of baking beans.  The neighbor kids from the bottom of the cul-de-sac meandered by, walking their bikes up the formidable hill, and they paused near my parents’ mailbox.  I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I assiduously weeded, and noted they were sniffing the air, like a hungry pack of dogs that only preteen little boys can emulate.

Finally, at 5:00 pm, I checked the beans again.  Alas, still not done.  We changed the linens, folded laundry, uploaded pictures from the Flip, watched the news, checked email, pacing the house like lions before mealtime.  It’s after 6:00 pm and the beans are still not done.  I think I may never survive this process.

If you would like to similarly torture yourself, here is the recipe.  If I survive this torment and long wait, I will post a picture tomorrow of the finished beans.  In the meantime, be very glad that we have not yet developed the capability of smell-o-blogs.

Baked Beans

1 # dry pea beans or navy beans
1 Bay leaf
1 celery rib, halved
3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig thyme
1/2 # salt pork
1 large slice baked ham
1 cup c molasses, black strap preferred
1 T dry mustard
1 c ketchup
1 c dark brown sugar
1 T salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 c dry sherry

Soak the beans overnight in a very large pot with copious amounts of water and 3 T of Kosher salt.  Drain the next morning.  Replace into the pot, and cover generously with cold water (at least 2″ above the surface of the beans).  Make a bundle of the celery, parsley, thyme and Bay leaf and secure with string, leaving a 6″ tail.  Place in pot and tie the tail to the handle of a wooden spoon, which rests at an angle at the top of the pot.  Simmer the beans gently for 30-60 minutes until tender but intact, and the skins blow off when blown upon lightly.

Drain beans, reserving the broth.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, and divide the salt pork into 2 pieces.  Thinly slice one piece and deeply score the skin side of the second piece.

Preheat the oven to 300 F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet heavily with foil.

In the bean pot or a large covered casserole, layer half of the beans and half of the diced ham and all of the sliced salt pork.  Gently pour the remaining half of the beans and add the remaining half of the diced ham and the scored chunk of salt pork.

Mix together 8 c of the bean broth (we had 5 c and this was plenty) with the molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper and chopped onions.  Mix well and pour this gently over the beans.

Cover the beans and bake 7-8 hours.  An hour before they are done, meaning the beans have achieved a dark brown hue like good polished walnut, add the sherry.  Cover the pot again and bake one more hour.

******

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that one should make these beans the day or two before the target service date.  And one should be outdoors during this baking process, else sanity may be lost.

************

Update:  After baking for 6 1/2 hours, the beans finally achieved that dark brown hue we associate with properly baked beans.  The flavoring was a bit bland to our taste though, so we updated the recipe above with additional quantities of ingredients, which helped achieve the desired taste we wanted.  They could have baked another 2 hours though, to deepen the flavors, so we changed the baking time to 7-8 hours minimum.

For dinner last night we each had a nice bowl of baked beans, a slice of ham and some fresh pineapple.  It was heavenly.  I even considered having hot beans on toast this morning, in the English fashion.

The Boston Bean pot was incredible.  Mom bought it because it was so cute and our family loves baked beans.  After the 6 1/2 hours in the oven, the pot was crusted with thick, dark, burned-on bean juice and I thought it would have to soak all night in order to wash up.  Mom took a gentle scrub brush to it and all the baked on crusts and stains just wiped away! It must be the heavy glaze on the pot or something.  It was well worth the minor investment and the cupboard space!  Check them out!

10 in ’10: Week 8

It’s the eighth week of the 10 in ’10 Healthy Challenge, and I have rather been off reservation lately. I have a good reason though, not suitable for the public, but nonetheless despite not meeting the goals of the challenge during this period I have been meeting the challenge facing my personal life with great aplomb and courage and feel quite good about that.

Facing challenges are a part of life that no one likes to talk about. We all have our challenges and we all face them in different ways. A fun challenge like the 10 in ’10 Healthy Challenge is a welcome respite from the grim realities of the “real life”. I don’t mean to say that the 10 in ’10 Challenge isn’t a real challenge, it is a wonderful challenge and a worthy one. Given this, I look forward to regaining lost progress.

Instead of a recap of last week or the period of time where this challenge wasn’t in the forefront of my mind, I am instead going to look forward and set some goals for this week.

Fruit

I am excited to say that I have a gorgeous pineapple on my counter and it shall soon meet its destiny under my sharpest chef’s knife. Mwah hah hahhhh… I plan to snack on it, use some for my favorite BBQ chicken pizza and may blend some with a tub of skyr for an Iceland-meets-Hawaii smoothie.

Tomorrow is the farmer’s market and I plan to pick up some more fruit there. I love shopping at the farmer’s market and buying direct from the grower. Not only is it cheaper but the produce was just picked either that morning or the day before and therefore stays much fresher at home. I also put my fruits and vegetables in those green produce bags and find that they really help keep the quality of the produce better for much longer than regular plastic or paper bags. I was delighted to read that NASA sends produce to the International Space Station (ISS) inside these same green bags, how cool is that?

Sleep

Today I took a great nap, which really has been helping me deal with my sleep deficit. I have found a wonderful app through iTunes called Pzizz Relax. This little application has really helped me get the most out of a nap, even when I don’t feel sleepy. It’s more like a guided meditation with soothing sounds and music and when I’m done with a nap/session I really feel more refreshed and spunky. We like spunky!

Interestingly enough, having a nap does not make it harder for me to fall asleep at night. I am still tackling issue of insomnia but am not expecting a miracle or instant cure and appreciate every extra half-hour or hour that I can rack up each day.

Hydration

Thanks to my mOm for giving me several packages of wonderful green tea, I have been enjoying a few cups of green tea each day and brewed some for iced tea.

There is a popular Japanese brand of bottled iced green tea that is extremely delicious. It is also not cheap. One of the packets of tea I have is the same kind used in the commercial bottled preparation. I have the perfect sized square pitcher for my tiny rental-apartment refrigerator and it is a truly refreshing beverage. And, being Scottish, I like it that I’m saving $2.75 per glass. I even have a drink bottle that I use just for flavored beverages, which was a kind gift from the BlogHer’09 conference, so I can have my iced tea to go.

By the way, if you don’t already have one of these great metal drink bottles then I highly encourage you to buy two or more. Keep one for your filtered water, and one for your flavored drinks. I like to have a spare of each so that one can be in the dishwasher and I always have a clean fresh one on hand. The $12.00 or so you spend on the bottle will quickly be regained within a week or two of not purchasing bottled water. Further, many bottled waters that are for sale are also just filtered water (Dasani and Arrowhead for example) and if you have have a filter pitcher at home or have good tap water like we do here, then why pay up to $2.50 for a glass of water? There are many brands but please be sure to buy one that is not made in China as they have reportedly used BPA in the liner.

Exercise

My wonky ankle has finally healed up so that long rambles are now possible! Unfortunately I still can’t wear anything with a heel yet but I adore my hiking boots from Santa Fe and it is still winter so I can pretty much get away with wearing them all the time. There is nothing finer than wearing boots with handmade socks, they are so cushy and soft and outright gorgeous and these are my favorites:

Socks of Solstice
(my Socks of Solstice, made with cashmere and Merino yarn. I was so excited to finish them that I didn’t take a final photograph, but trust me, the toe on the second sock is likewise gorgeous and so comfortable.)

So that’s my plan and I am sticking to it. I feel good about having a nice plan like this, and for my gumption in facing difficult things in life, and for having the conviction to stick to the healthy challenge when many in my place would probably bail out. “They” say that having force of will or discipline or whatever you want to call it during difficult times shows the measure of the person. I may not have improved my physical health over the last month but I have improved my mental health by remaining strong and positive, and that is the greater accomplishment.

I hope you have a healthy week!

Happiness is….

…knowing my family still loves me when I…

Overbaked the Christmas shortbreads:
Hard as a rock shortbread

(but they were great dunked in a cup of hot coffee)

Knitted the Christmas gift socks too long:
Christmas socks are too large. The markers show where the toe should be

(but they can be disassembled and made shorter; the pink markers show where the toe *should* be.)

Overcooked the roast:
Over cooked prime rib. CRAP!

(but it was seasoned perfectly and still very tender and juicy)

Spilled gravy all over the tablecloth:
Gravy on the tablecloth

(hoping the stains will wash out)

The Charlotte à la Framboise turned an odd shade of puce on the outside:
...but it is strangely puce from this side

The charlotte looks good from this angle

(but the inside was the perfect pink and it tasted fantastic)

The orange cornmeal cake overflowed from the pan, burned and filled the house with smoke:
Somewhere in there is a cake

(yes, there is a cake in there somewhere!  But what was left baked well and the orange flavor was fantastic)

Sigh….

Despite all of these boo boos, gaffs and errors, my family still loves me and thinks I am great.

My self-confidence has been dinged somewhat, though. Humbled and feeling rather inadequate, I retreated to the chair next to the Christmas tree, hoisted my strained ankle onto the ottoman and commenced licking my wounds by knitting a sock:

At least I can still do this…
Pretty sock

(pattern: Pyroclastic by Marlowe Crawford from Knitty Winter ’09; yarn: Dream in Color, Starry sock weight with silver in Fairy Berry)

As I’m plodding along, my dad comes into the room, gives me a once over and recites:

“Twinkle, twinkle little star,
I went for a ride in his car.
What happened then, I’m not admittin’
but what I’m knitting ain’t for Britian!”

Peals of laughter and a sodden tissue later, I settle back to my knitting and he to his puzzles. I love my family! This was the best Christmas ever…

Countdown to Christmas

Christmas is so close but every year it’s the same frisson of surprise right about now: Christmas is just around the corner!

My family all moved away from the City so Christmas has a dimension that’s new to me but familiar to many. Travel. Not only do I have to make all the usual preparations but I have to do them early so that I can get up to the country a few days before Christmas. Aaack! Where does the time go?

This year is a little different, however. Being on a strict budget with little room for necessities, let alone generous gifts, I have been dipping into my well of creativity to help make this a special Christmas for my loved ones.

This summer I started a variety of knitting projects to go under the tree. Fortunately for said budget the necessary yarn for these projects were already reposing in my stash. Each family member is receiving a knitted item lovingly made by me. The fun thing about knitting for someone else is that with each stitch I create I am thinking about the recipient. I think about how much fun I am having making the gift for them, how pretty or handsome the item is, how soft and plushy, the lovely yarn texture and its color, and how much they will enjoy wearing it.

The same holds true for the food items I make every year. It wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t make shortbread. The recipe was kindly given to me by Margaret Golbransen, my dear sister-in-law’s delightful mom. The recipe is from Margaret’s great-great-Aunt Violet in Scotland, and not only is it a symbol of the true delights of certain aspects of Scottish cuisine, but a most delicious, addictive cookie. Una makes it too every Christmas for our dad, and of course hers is so much better than mine, but nonetheless I don’t believe I would be allowed in the door without bringing some carefully wrapped containers of these cookies.

For years my repertoire of Christmas goodies has shifted like the sands of time. One year I baked enormous braids of cinnamon bread, homemade chocolate truffles with various fruity ganache centers, candied or spiced nuts, peanut brittle, English toffee, miniature loaves of cranberry lemon bread, candied ginger and pear breads, cheddar-beer-bacon loafs, or my favorite, the syrup soaked Meyer lemon breads.

This time last year I did not make any of the food gifts I usually do. mUm was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes right before Thanksgiving, which came as quite a shock to us all. She was not supposed to have any sugars or carbohydrates of any kind and that is a challenge any day, let alone during the holidays. Naturally, I didn’t want to seem unfeeling and dole out food gifts to everyone and leave her out, nor give something she couldn’t or shouldn’t have while she was struggling with complying with a new stringent food plan. Then, the unthinkable happened. Shortly after Thanksgiving her 2nd ever mammogram had an area of concern, and on Christmas Eve the doctor met with her to say she had breast cancer. Please note the tense of that verb, *had*. It took a *lot* of persuading on our part and of her friends to convince her to accept the treatment plan. We are all so grateful she did have the surgery and all subsequent tests (knock on wood) show she is cancer free. Santa gave us the greatest gift last year, and that is the future of many more Christmases with her. But until her surgery and followup exams and tests and this and that it was mid-March and no one felt very festive last Christmas. It was a sombering few months, sadly shared by far too many families. I feel like we were the lucky ones, and feel the joy and yet a touch of guilt for so many have lost loved ones in just the same way. Is it selfish to feel so happy? I hope not.

So this year, we are feeling terrifically joyous to be together. mUm says that if she has us all under one roof we could walk in with nothing but lint in our pockets and she would be delirious with the joy of the season. But I want to arrive with a few goodies in tow, not necessarily the sugar/carb fest of years past but fun nonetheless. This year we celebrate!

But what to bring? The element of travel makes these gifts more complex. there is the issue of freshness, breakage and mostly the grocery budget. I have been squirelling away pantry items in anticipation of this budget shortfall. I found a source for inexpensive yet organic sweet cream butter. I found 2-for-1 sales on my favorite brand of flour and sugar. My new contacts from blogging have gifted me with a lovely stash of chocolate and a variety of kitchen swag that I will regift. I am delighted to say that I will be making shortbread this year and perhaps some truffles too. I know this will please my family, and I will feel like I have contributed to the spirit of Christmas by having a few packages to place under the Christmas tree.

It isn’t the Christmas I wanted to give them but this holiday isn’t about the gifts. It’s about that we are all together, healthy, and it’s about the love. I have plenty of that in abundance to share.