Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Sunday

This morning Jenn, Jenny and I drove out to Sauvie Island and bought 2 flats of beautiful strawberries for $12 each. I didn't plan on buying that many berries, but it was a crazy good deal. Last year I paid $24 for 1 flat of strawberries that weren't nearly as good.

Then we made tons of jam, as is our summer custom. Jenn and Jenny made strawberry jam and strawberry & raspberry jam (they picked some of the raspberries in my back yard, thank god.) I just made strawberry jam with honey, because that's my favorite:

It turned out really well. I used the remainder of a quart of honey that I bought at a farmer's market last year, so my jam is all-local! I've had problems with jam made with honey not setting up properly before, but this time I tried using a calcium activated pectin and it worked so much better. And because calcium activated pectins aren't dependent on sugar to jell, this jam isn't sickeningly sweet. I only used 2 cups of honey total, and it made about 14 jars.

I also made pesto with basil from my CSA bin.
I know, pesto is kind of boring, but this batch was exceptionally good. All the produce I'm getting from my CSA is amazing. I grilled some bread, then mixed up some pesto with cherry tomatoes and served it as build-your-own bruscetta. I think I ate about 95% of it all on my own, but everybody seemed to like it.

While the jam was cooling, and the lids were popping (which is such a satisfying sound) we talked about all the other things we want to can this summer: pickles, tomatoes and salsa are at the top of our list. Canning is addictive.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Vegan Meal Challenge

Anyone who knows me will attest that I have a deep distrust of most things labeled "vegan." Why? Well, without going into too much detail about my personal (and biased) opinions on other people's dietary regimes, I suppose that the least complicated answer is that I think that the majority of vegan foods don't taste nearly as good as the foods they're attempting to mimic. And because I don't subscribe to a vegan/vegetarian set of beliefs, I have the option to eat whatever version of a food that I think tastes the best - and frankly, the best is usually the omnivore one.

That said, I love plenty of foods that fall into the vegan category. Especially the foods that aren't trying to be vegan. Like guacamole, or hummus, or tofu. Well, I suppose you could argue that tofu (well, soy) is often used as a meat or cheese or milk substitute, but in my opinion, these food fake-outs are really soy at it's worst. Sure, Edamame is a tasty snack, but in no way is it similar to the ground, powdered soybeans that are mixed with cane syrup and stabilizers to make that modern day junk food called soymilk - which, in my opinion, usually tastes like a mix of beans and sawdust.

Still I'm always afraid that there's some tasty delight out in Veganville that I'm missing out on, because I've prematurely dismissed it as "not good" based solely on it's vegan-ness. For example, once I actually tasted a Vegan Supreme marshmallow, I realized how much better they were than regular marshmallows (until I discovered that Vegan Supreme actually contained fish gelatin. But that's another story.) I think that tempeh reubens are great, and a well-made tofu scramble will kick an egg's ass any day of the week. But had you told me beforehand that I would be impressed by any of these foods, I wouldn't have believed it.

This fear of missing out on potential deliciousness is what drove me to the Vegan Meal Challenge. Well, I've never actually called it that, but it has a nice ring to it - despite the fact that there is no actual "challenge." The basic idea is that I make a meal that is 100% vegan, trying new recipes and/or foods that I haven't tried before. Then I ponder the results and determine whether or not I would make the meal again.

Tuesday night, I decided that I would try making mac & cheeze. And since I was already going to the effort, I declared it a challenge and made the whole meal animal-free. The mac & cheeze recipe was basically the same as the regular version – you make a roux, stir in the liquid and then add cheese (in the vegan version, the dairy is substituted with nutritional yeast and Earth Balance margarine.) Then you mix the sauce in with cooked noodles, top the whole thing with seasoned breadcrumbs and bake until browned and bubbly.

I rounded off my dinner with some saut̩ed chard, and some bbq "ribz" Рand it really did make a very attractive meal. But what about the taste? Well, my taste buds told my brain that the taste was merely ok. The pasta had a taste reminiscent of cheese powder, but really it was more like a weird super thick gravy. To be fair, I may have liked it better had I not been comparing it to the cheesy version. So the official result of this challenge was: I wouldn't make it again, but I would eat it again if it was offered to me. When Kevin got back from band practice, he ate the leftover "ribz" on top of a bowl of the mac, then told me: "it's good - for vegan food."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Scripture Cake and other important news

First of all: I know everyone has been hanging on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what I did with my dandelion greens, so I'll fill you in. I did absolutely nothing with them. That's right, I threw the wilted, slimy remains in my compost pile this morning. Yeah, I'm a lazy jerk.

But, on a more positive note, I've been eating my favorite breakfast of ALL TIME this entire week (sorry for the terrible pictures, my camera sucks almost as much as my photo-taking ability):

If you can't tell from the crappy photo, that's raspberries, a spoonful of creme frache and toasted hazelnuts. The only way this could be better is if I had some blueberries to throw in the mix. Yum.

And yesterday, I went rummage sale-ing with a couple of friends and I bought 4 cookbooks for $1 each:

My favorite has to be "Wyoming Cookin" because it's full of recipes with names like "Cowpunchers Rice and Beef" and "Son of a Gun Stew" (and oddly enough - a large percentage of the recipes call for peanut butter. ?) There are poorly drawn sketches of cowboy boots and tepees on every page. Pretty awesome.

My second favorite cookbook from the bunch is "RECIPES from the WOMEN of First Baptist Church Des Moines, Iowa" because 1) it has at least 5 different recipes for Oatmeal Cookies, each exactly the same except submitted by a different parishioner and 2) I found this recipe for "Old Scripture Cake":

I tried whipping up a batch, but I was fresh out of Leviticus 2:13, so foolishly I tried adding extra Judges 5:25 instead. The bowl immediately burst into flames, then Satan appeared right before my eyes and ate all the uncooked batter right out of the bowl. Sick!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Ok, not everything is food.

Back in 2004, I celebrated my 30th birthday in a yurt on the coast. It was great, despite the fact that pretty much the entire trip, it was POURING rain (it was raining so hard that we saw hundreds of frogs hopping merrily down the middle of the street.) Kevin and I spent most of our time working on crossword puzzles in the yurt. But at one point, the rain did stop, and I ventured outside, only to be greeted by this fellow:

Pretty freaky, right? At the time all I could have said for certain was that this cartoony-looking thing was some sort of fungi, but other than that it was a total mystery. A few months later I bought the book "All That The Rain Promises And More" by David Aurora. The picture of the crazy guy on the front cover is what sold me, but it turned out to be a really informative book. I learned that the mushroom I had seen near my yurt was Amanita muscaria, also know as Fly Agaric, a psychotropic mushroom. I haven't been a big fan of hallucinogens since my high school days, but I'm still happy that I can now call this red warty creature by his rightful name, if I ever come across him again.

Anyway. I'm getting around to the point of the story, I swear.

Last week Kevin and I took a couple days off work and rented a cabin at a nearby state park. It was mellow - we cooked bratwurst over the campfire, Kevin worked on crossword puzzles, and I wandered around attempting to identify birds, plants and hopefully find a mushroom or two. But it wasn't until we were in the middle of packing up the car to go home that I almost stepped on these:

I grabbed my trusty mushroom guide, and after checking the stem, gills and cap, came to the conclusion that these were Lactarius fragilis - or "Candy Caps" which the book stated were not only edible, they were choice edible. The book had a recipe for Candy Cap cookies - because once these mushrooms are dried, they smell sweet, like maple syrup. I realized right then and there that, as God was my witness, I wouldn't be able to say I had lived a full and meaningful life until I had eaten candy cap cookie, fresh from the oven. So, I picked a handful and wrapped them up for the trip home.

But when I got back, I realized that perhaps my earlier decision to try these mushrooms was perhaps a little too hasty... was I absolutely certain that these were really Lactarius fragilis? Or could they be poisonous impostors, full of toxins that would cause irreparable damage to my kidneys and liver? I decided it would be a good idea to consult yet another mushroom book, and the internet. Everything checked out. These were the real deal. I set up a makeshift dehydrator and thought about my candy cap cookies for the rest of the day.

Now every piece of information I had read stated that candy caps smell very sweet when dry. Hence the name. And once my mushrooms were dessicated, they did have an odor that seemed reminiscent of brown sugar. Proud of my harvest, I pulled Kevin into the room and told him to inhale the delicious aroma of my choice wild mushrooms. But the moment he took one sniff, he wrinkled his nose and announced "Those things smell like FEET!"

Dubious, I smelled them again. And Kevin was right - they did smell like feet. Not brown sugar, not maple syrup - just stinky, sweaty feet. How had I thought that stench was sweet? Wishful thinking? I don't really know. But of course after that, I couldn't bring myself to cook them, partly because they might not be candy caps at all, and could possibly kill me, but mostly because they were completely unappetizing now that I realized they smelled like wet socks.

As David Aurora would say "when in doubt, throw it out."

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Summer has arrived

Ok, add another food to my list of favorites: raspberries.

When we were housing-hunting a few years back, the fact that this house had an established raspberry patch was a MAJOR selling point. Sure, the house needed a new roof and had few dead mice rotting away inconspicuous corners, but raspberries negated all those minor, unimportant details. I took it as a sign and made an offer. Once the deal was done, I cleaned up the mice carcasses, lugged in my furniture and waited impatiently through the winter and spring for my first batch of raspberries to arrive.

Raspberries are sneaky. Early on in the spring, before the canes have filled out, you can't imagine that you'll ever have more than a handful of berries. Then they flower, and you feel a little more optimistic as you watch the bumblebees humming around and the green berries forming.

When I saw my very first ripe berry, I ate it with gusto. And then I saw another, and I ate that one too. And after a few days, I had a whole handful of berries, which were also eaten out-of-hand. Life was GLORIOUS.

I can't pinpoint when it happened that first summer, but I do know that one day I walked out to the backyard and there were so many ripe berries that I couldn't eat them all. And now, inevitably, ever single year there comes a point which once seemed impossible: I just can't eat any more raspberries. The thought of going into the backyard becomes downright depressing. My precious berries start falling to the ground. I've made tarts, coulis, put berries in salads, mixed them in with my yogurt. Every June my friends and I make multiple batches of jam. These attempts to trick my taste buds into thinking I'm eating something new doesn't quite get to the root of the problem: there are just too many damn berries. Eventually, I wave my white flag and admit defeat. Nature always wins. Berries rot. The hot summer days get gradually cooler, the vines die back. And then at some point, I find looking longingly out the window, wondering if next summer I'll have enough raspberries.

So, you can imagine that when I looked outside last night and saw the first red berry of the season, I had mixed feelings. And then I ran outside and ate it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

SPAM spam SPAM spam

There is a relatively short list of foods I never get sick of: beef jerky from a butchers shop, Zip’s tartar sauce, fresh blueberries and homemade marshmallows all come to mind. Ok, actually it's quite a long list, when I start thinking about it. But - at the very top of the list is sushi. Sure, when sushi is poorly made it’s insipid. But when sushi is good, it’s very VERY good.

So last Saturday, I bought a crab at the Hollywood Farmers Market from the Linda Brand Crab booth. They always have fresh seafood, and I have a hard time not spending a fortune whenever I see one of their booths at a market. I like to buy a whole crab and clean it myself right when I get it home. There is nothing more humbling in life than spending a Saturday evening scooping out crab guts. At least this crab was cold – hot crab guts are much worse.

After that task was over, I sat down in front of the tv with a nutcracker and a stiff drink and carefully picked out all the crab meat. Good times were had.

Whenever I spend a sizeable amount of my money and time on a crab, I’m going to make sure I make something good with it. Which is why I took advantage of an uneventful Sunday afternoon and made sushi: California rolls, tuna rolls and Spam musubi.

It was all extremely good, but the Spam musubi ended up being the Sunday night main event. First, I marinated slices of Spam (I actually used Spam Lite – because hey, I’m healthy like that) in Soy Vey teriyaki sauce. Then I put a fried slice of spam on top of some spam-shaped sushi rice with a thin layer of egg. I discovered that the empty Spam can makes a great mold for the rice! Then I wrapped up each piece with a strip of nori. Hello! Porky, eggy goodness.

Kevin was recording The Curious in our basement most of Sunday afternoon, so when they were all finished recording, the band came upstairs and sampled my sushi offerings. The Spam Musubi was a hit! And I was happy to share the wonders of Spam and rice with an appreciative crowd.