Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vision = Reality

Finally.

I've been trying for a while now to get a particular look for my apple pies. I want them to look autumny. Like piles of fallen leaves. I want them to evoke that nip in the air that screams snow is coming and still look tasty enough to eat. It's Thanksgiving, and I want my pie to be perfect.

Here is a list of the things I tweaked for today's pie:

1. I used my smaller (new) pie plate so only 6 apples.
2. Therefore, I dropped the sugar to 3/4 cup.
3. I added 2 T. of cornstarch to the sugar because I'm tired of my pies being runny.
4. No top crust - I covered the apples with cut outs of leaves and acorns, all scored with a knife, and tossed randomly but strategically onto the pie.
5. I used an egg-milk wash rather than milk and sugar.
6. The pie was baked uncovered first, and then covered for the second half of the baking process.

Not very scientific of me, but I can probably trace each alteration to a specific result and therefore I should be able to figure out which of these I should do again.

Regardless. I am happy.

Monday, November 20, 2017

That Time of Year

This is the time of the year where I do a lot of cooking but not a lot of noteworthy things and very few canning projects. I've been making bread, and granola, and cooking pretty basic meals. It's a busy time with school and work and travel. However, Thanksgiving will be upon us shortly and I need to get ready.

First of all, no turkey this year. There will only be six of us, so I'm splurging on a goose (they are surprisingly expensive compared to turkeys). We're also cutting back on the sides: no squash and no beets. Mom will make the sweet potatoes and some new brussels sprouts and grape dish (I'm intrigued) in the place of the broccoli. I will make gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and the pies. Those I'll start tomorrow, although yesterday I roasted the sugar pumpkin and got 6 cups of purée. I froze 3 cups for a later batch of pies and have 3 cups waiting for tomorrow. This morning I made the stuffing; since I won't be stuffing the goose it's just in a dish to be heated up at the last minute. I used leeks and duck stock instead of the usual onions and turkey stock, so it'll fit with the flavors of the goose a little better. I have pumpkin bread in the freezer which I'll thaw.

One other thing I plan to do - on Wednesday I'll make brioche dough and refrigerate it overnight. Then on Thursday morning I can make brioche dinner rolls. Whatever doesn't get eaten can become bread pudding later on.

This morning I'm tapping into my cranberry reserve and making cranberry sauce. Just 8 cups of cranberries, 2-2/3 cups water and 2-2/3 cups sugar. I'll be canning whatever I don't need for Thursday as I've been out of cranberry sauce for a while. Never fear, I still have at least 4 bags of cranberries in the freezer!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn Baking Problems

These hazelnut shortbread cookies do not look like acorns.
They are supposed to. I followed the recipe exactly. I'm not even going to link to it because it didn't work properly. I was able to salvage them by sandwiching the smaller ones with ganache, dipping them all in dark chocolate, and sprinkling them with fleur de sel. Like so:
They are crispy and light, but they aren't what I was going for. And they aren't acorns.

Today I tried again, using a linzer cookie recipe and adding in some hazelnut flour instead of almond flour. They're not dipped in chocolate yet but...do they look like acorns?
Yes. And they taste fabulous.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Labor of Love

For the elderchild's birthday I wanted to make a cake out of my new book, Marbled, Swirled, and Layered which I had received from my sister. I gave the elderchild a choice of two recipes and the orange flavored Smith Island Cake was chosen. I've never made one before and, aside from it taking all morning, it wasn't too difficult.

First one has to make all the thin little layers. This would have gone faster if I had four 9-inch cake pans. Instead, I have two 9-inch cake pans and...two 8.5-inch cake pans. That would not do! So instead of baking four of the eight layers at once I had to bake two at a time and each baking and cooling cycle takes about 20 minutes. Also, the cake is a separated sponge so I used up basically every bowl and utensil I have, including the stand mixer.

The fudge frosting is basically ganache, and chills for an hour before frosting the cake. No crises occurred with the frosting part, thankfully.

Here's the finished cake, after we dug into it. It was perfect - not overly sweet, and the orange really stood out.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cleaning Up

Yesterday I picked up the farm share; next week is the last week of the season. It was due to frost last night and out where they are it probably did. Consequently, they said we could take unlimited tomatillos and tomatoes. I brought home 1.5 gallons of plum tomatoes which are currently in the freezer waiting to become sauce. I also picked almost two pounds of tomatillos and a few more serrano peppers in order to make a last batch of salsa verde (4.5 cups). There was also a nice selection of winter squashes, rutabagas, radishes, fall greens, onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. Out in the fields, in addition to the tomatoes and tomatillos there were raspberries, other hot peppers, parsley, cilantro, kale, and flowers. Some of the fields have already been plowed over. The other week I was pleased to see the Boston Area Gleaners were by to help harvest the fields before the produce became unusable. Really, this farm has something for everyone and I'm so glad to have been a participant in the CSA for nine seasons! I miss the fresh produce and the trips to the fields every winter and I look forward to the new season every spring. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The End of the Fair

So, I did enter my apple pie in the fair, and it didn't win, or even place. I suppose when the pack of entrants numbers 21 one's own chances are rather diminished. I still had fun while I waited. My friend picked me up and we went for sushi and came back in time for her to wander around and then for me to get the results and the rest of my pie.

Yesterday I went up and picked up all my jars and my ribbons. This is the most ribbons I've won, it seems, since I started entering the fair in 2013. What I've noticed is that when I win something I haven't tried before, like the cupcakes, it's the most satisfying experience. I should branch out and enter more things like that in the future. However, I don't think I'll do the pie competitions again - trying to get up there on a weekday afternoon is almost impossible with the traffic. That's more stressful than the competition!

Anyway, fall is finally here with cool mornings, warm to almost-too-warm days, and chillier nights. It'll be time to get the fireplace ready soon, and there are only two more weeks to the farm share. In a short while it'll be cold enough to break out the flannel sheets and use all the shawls and throws we have around the house. While it wasn't a particularly hot summer I'm glad for the change in seasons. Time to think about cozy things, like soups, and sweaters, and getting ready for winter.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Apple Pie Season

After deliberating for a while I decided to enter the apple pie bake-off at the Fair. It's tomorrow and, since I do have to work, I needed to get it baked tonight. I made the crust last night and chilled it so it'd be the right texture today.

Once I had all the apples prepared I arranged them by hand onto the bottom crust. Then I made a lattice and a whole bunch of maple leaves and arranged them over the top. I had a lot of pie crust dough left over. Normally I'd make a tart, but this seemed like more than usual, so I pulled out my new pie plate and made a second pie. This one used canned pie filling that I'd made a week ago and then I made a quick crisp topping with butter, brown sugar, oats and flour.

We got to enjoy the second pie for dessert tonight and we'll see what the judges say about my pie tomorrow night!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Another Use for Roasted Beets

After making the beet and goat cheese tart, which was really tasty, by the way, I had a bunch of roasted golden beets left over. I knew there were chocolate cake recipes with red beets in them so I reasoned that there must be a cake recipe out there which uses golden beets. My reasoning was correct and I found this recipe for a Golden Beet Orange Cake.

So I made it. But since I didn't have any oranges, I used lemon juice and lemon extract instead. And it was very good. I brought the cake to work today, as I thought we were having a staff meeting. The meeting had been canceled so we just dove into it. When I first cut it, I took a couple of pieces, less than 1/4 of the cake, so some of my coworkers. I came back 10 minutes later to find only 1/4 of the entire cake was left! Everyone loved it and the beets made it moist. Will definitely have to do this again the next time I have golden beets from the farm.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Beet Tart

Tonight we had friends over for dinner and I made use of all the golden beets I'd gotten from our farm share. First I roasted the beets until soft, slipped off the skins, and sliced them. For this I used a little less than a pound of beets. Two onions were sliced and caramelized. Then I made a pie crust with leaf lard and flour.

To assemble, I rolled out the crust and placed it on parchment. Next came the onions, and then the sliced beets. Lastly, I crumbled honeyed goat cheese over the vegetables and seasoned with pepper and tarragon. Then I folded the crust over to make a rustic tart, brushed the crust with milk, and baked at 375˚F for about 35 minutes until golden brown.

It was delicious!

Prizewinners!

We went up this morning in the rain to spend the day at the fair. In addition to all the canned goods I entered, I decided to make cupcakes to enter in the baking competition. I am on a carrot cake kick so I made carrot cake cupcakes. I had to enter a plate of 6 of them.
When we got to the fair we immediately went to drop them off and check out the canned goods section. I did quite well, with first place for: soup, sauerkraut, and sweet relish. Second place for: the collection of three jellies (the ones with the wine that I banged out in a few hours the night before I had to take everything up), other pickled vegetable, Concord grape jelly and apple jelly. Third place for the strawberry jalapeño jam. Honorable mentions for: wild blueberry jam and ginger peach jam. Only three entries did not place: salsa, mulberry jelly, and apricot ginger jam.

We wandered around the fair for a few hours while we waited for the cupcake judging. We checked out the rabbits, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. I got nose-booped by a calf named Bella. We watched a little bit of the junior cattle show and visited the beekeepers exhibits. I held a 1-2 day old chick. Ate a bunch of fair food, ran into a few people we knew and shared a table with a few we didn't (but know now!). And we got back in time to watch them judge the cupcakes. We felt it was a very good sign that one of the two judges didn't want to give up the plate with my cupcake on it! And, at then end, I'd won first place!

Now I'm home, working on a beet and goat cheese tart for dinner with friends. And there are more of those prizewinning carrot cake cupcakes for dessert!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Getting Ready for PIES

After putting this particular project off long enough, this morning I made apple pie filling. It's not hard, really, just requires a lot of peeling and slicing of apples. The apples get blanched briefly and then folded into the gelled liquids: apple juice, water, lemon juice, sugar, clear jel and spices. I now have seven pints of apple pie filling.

The other projects for today were a batch of salsa verde and a batch of garden salsa. I didn't have enough tomatillos (one went bad) so I substituted a few husk cherries which didn't really affect the taste at all. I figured they were in the same family and fairly similar; it was a good guess.

The farm ends for the season in three weeks, hard to believe. I still don't know what I'm doing with all the hot peppers in each week's share. I might try to make cherry bomb poppers but I'll have to find an occasion for them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Little Embarrassing

A bright yellow grasshopper
Today I went to pick raspberries. It hasn't been a great season for them and the local organic raspberry farm has only been able to open their fields every other day because they get picked out in one day and need a day of rest. They hadn't been picked for two days and so the were relatively plentiful. They were also infested with ants. That part wasn't as much fun.

What was lovely was that it was foggy when I got there, and not very hot. Gradually over the time I was there the sun burned off the fog and it was just starting to get humid and warm when I left.

At one point, I looked down and there was a very large bee on my pant leg. And even though I know it won't sting me just because, it wasn't a honey bee and it was very, very large. I shrieked. Everyone else in the field stopped to look at me. I managed to explain myself, "There was a bee," and they all made sympathetic noises and went back to their own raspberries. But it was a little embarrassing. After all, I'm a beekeeper. Did I mention it was a very large bee?

After a little over an hour, which was all the time I had, I probably had about 3.5 quarts. Enough to make jam. First I brought everything home and washed all the ants off. I sealed up the bowl they were in so if any ants were still in there, they wouldn't get all over my kitchen.

This afternoon, when I got home from picking up the farm share, I rewashed the berries and got them all crushed. I had hoped to get some of the seeds out, but I was worried I wouldn't have enough berries if I did remove some of the volume in the form of seeds. I shouldn't have worried, as I ended up with 11 cups of jam instead of 9. But it's rather seedy.

My goals for tomorrow include the apple pie filling I've been planning on making and also some salsa verde. Maybe even some regular salsa as well. Neither takes a long time so that will help get through the farm share from the last two weeks.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Guess the Decorator

Autumn baking is in full swing. We did go apple picking the other day and got a peck of Cortlands. I've used six apples so far to make two batches of apple cake and, since I have plenty of applesauce, will likely make apple pie filling in the next day or so. Today, however, was for carrot cake!

After work I got all the ingredients together to make this recipe for carrot cake. Even with splitting my farm share I have an overabundance of carrots and this recipe used about eight of them to make the three cups of shredded carrots. I mixed up the batter without any nuts and dished out three of the small loaves before adding 1/2 cup of chopped black walnuts and dishing out the other three loaves. This also uses up all my black walnuts and I probably missed the season this year to forage more, but that's OK. I'll get more next year for sure! And, for the record, they required 35 minutes at 350˚F.

When it came time to decorate the loaves, the youngerchild and I had some differing visions. First the loaves were frosted with the cream cheese frosting from the recipe for the cake. Then I made a quick buttercream with 1/2 cup shortening, 1+1/3 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and a few tablespoons of heavy cream to get the texture right and then tinted the buttercream in orange and green. I decorated the cakes containing the walnuts and the youngerchild worked on the other three.

For dessert we dug into the one with the largest glob of orange frosting, the one in the top middle of the picture. And it truly is a moist, delicious cake!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Free Apples

When I got home from work today, my neighbors across the street stopped by with an offer of apples. These are the Granny Smith apples I mentioned before, and their tree had produced over 40 pounds! They gave me 14 pounds of apples and those that hadn't spoiled (I only lost about 2 pounds) got cooked down into five quarts of applesauce. Since they didn't have a lot of inherent water content, I added about a pint of apple juice along with both brown and white sugar and some cinnamon. I just kept adding sugar and cinnamon until it tasted right. I'll be giving a quart back to them, and then I think I might have enough applesauce for the season. Which is too bad, because we're going apple picking on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Half Awake

Last night I worked an overnight shift and I haven't really slept yet. Instead, I'm cleaning up some of my farm share veggies by making salsa again. I had almost a pound of tomatillos which were converted, along with five serrano peppers, into a pint of salsa verde. I also had eight large plum tomatoes and those, plus a red bell pepper, some onion, and more jalapeños and serranos, became almost three pints of regular salsa. I also discovered that the overabundance of hot peppers from the farm share is a problem - they're starting to go bad faster than I can use them! I'll be giving away the habaneros tomorrow to someone who plans to make habanero infused maple syrup with them. I haven't been keeping the hot wax peppers because I have so much hot pepper sauce from last year, but I do have a lot of cherry bombs. I'd been planning on making toorshi with them but that never materialized and I don't really know what else to make. I could just pickle them, I suppose.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Last Minute Fix

Yesterday I was getting my entries ready for the fair, printing out the recipes and entry forms, and then I realized I'd made a mistake. You see, I entered a class that consists of three different kinds of jelly entered together. My mistake was, I had jams picked out, not jellies. I had two options: not enter the class (fine, but where's the fun in that?) or quickly make a few more batches of jelly. Today. When I have to enter everything tomorrow.

Yeah, you guessed it. I made jelly.

Lavender White Wine Jelly

3 ¼ cups white wine
2 T. dried lavender buds
¼ cup lemon juice
1 package Sure-Jell Pectin
4 ½ cups sugar

and

Rosemary Red Wine Jelly

3 ¼ cups red wine
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, about ¼ cup
½ cup lemon juice
1 package Sure-Jell Pectin
4 ½ cups sugar

Each of these were made with the same method: simmer the herbs in the wine for about 20 minutes then strain out the herbs. Boil the wine, pectin and lemon juice and then add the sugar. Boil hard for 2 minutes and then process in the boiling water canner for 10 minutes. They only make about 4-5 cups of jelly but that was enough to get some things for the fair and add to the gift stash. 

The third entry for this category will be elderberry jelly, which I made last month. Good thing I caught my error before tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sweet and Sauer

This morning it was finally time to can the sauerkraut I'd been fermenting. Every once in a while I still heard a "bloop" when air escaped from the crock (there's a water seal) but it'd been a few weeks and I needed to get it into jars so I could enter it in the fair. The sauerkraut was packed into three pint and two half-pint jars and processed for 20 minutes, once I brought the water to a boil. Because you pack the sauerkraut cold, it's important to not heat it too quickly or the jars will break. When I first opened the canner I was afraid a jar had broken but I guess I got lucky.

The next thing I did was make cookies. I'd been wanting to make some for the kids and the original plan was stymied by the lack of powdered sugar and my disinterest in going back outside. So I took the recipe I have for lemon sablées and altered it.

Pistachio-Lemon Cookies

12 ounces butter at room temperature
10-1/4 ounces sugar
2 eggs
3-1/2 ounces milk
1 tsp lemon extract
1-3/4 tsp baking powder
1-1/2 ounces finely ground pistachios (be careful not to turn them into paste)
19-3/4 ounces flour

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and beat until smooth. Add milk and extract and beat until smooth again. Add the dry ingredients and mix until dough is combined. Pipe onto a parchment-lined baking sheet in rosettes, and top each cookie with a pistachio and a piece of candied lemon peel. Bake at 350˚F for 12-13 minutes, turning the baking sheet once during baking. 

I tried playing around with the shape when I piped the dough - I was trying to make seashells but ended up with what looked like winking hedgehogs (1 pistachio, 1 piece of lemon peel). And who has ever heard of a lemony winking hedgehog?

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Did I Mention?

It's been a week and I never got to post about my fabulous birthday cake. My husband made it, with guidance from me. Here it is:

He took the sour cream chocolate cake that we all like so much and baked it in a bundt pan with a cream cheese and condensed milk filling. As the cake baked, the filling sunk in and the cake enveloped it. It was frosted with fudge frosting. And it was awesome.

We had a few friends join us for dinner and we had chicken kebabs, veggie kebabs, and also for dessert, fruit kebabs which the youngerchild made. Many things on skewers. For the chicken, I'd used the yogurt and honey marinade I like so much but added cardi and ground lime to make it even more Persian. It was a good addition.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Grape Goodness

Today I finally had time to make grape jelly from all that grape juice I extracted the other day. First I made two back-to-back batches of grape jelly (per batch: 5 cups juice, 7 cups sugar, 1 box Sure-Jell) which came to 18 cups or 11 jars. I used some half-pint jars and some pint jars and will enter two of the half-pints in the fair.

I had just over three quarts of juice left so I added four cups of sugar and heated the juice. I'm currently canning three quart jars of juice in the canner and saved the rest for the youngerchild to drink with dinner.

It's my weekend (and holiday) to work, so that may be all I have time for until Tuesday!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Spicy Salsa!

When I made the salsa to enter in the fair, I felt it was missing something. Pizazz, maybe. Certainly cilantro. Today I made another batch in which I used five jalapeños instead of three, and added 2T of cilantro. This made five cups of salsa and I gave one pint to my friend with whom I split the share. It has a nice kick this time. This will be the batch that goes to the fair.

Next I made salsa verde, using all the accumulated tomatillos and five serrano peppers. Also with a very nice kick! My friend got a 12-oz jar and I got the 8-oz jar.

Tomorrow I plan to make grape jelly. I have one other thing I want to make for the fair, a variation of toorshi, but to do that I have to get some other vegetables first. And I have to have time. That always helps...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wee Little Beasties

It has been a very long day (note the time of this post...it's currently 1:00 am on Wednesday). My day technically started on Monday, when I worked an overnight shift. I did sleep a little, in between pages, and yesterday a little after 7:00 am I headed home. After I had some coffee I started a batch of bread dough using Legion (beastie #1: saccharomyces cerevesiae, aka yeast) and took another short nap. I got up to go riding but my lesson was canceled so instead I took the youngerchild to lunch. While we were out I got a text from a friend saying he had Concord grapes to share. When I got back, after a while I was able to muster up enough energy to make a batch of yogurt (beastie #2: lactobacillus) and a batch of granola while I waited for the grapes.

After dinner, my friend arrived with a half-bushel of grapes (plus beastie #3: drosophila, aka fruit flies). Apparently they are from his mother's backyard and she gave him about three times as much so he was sharing. As they had been picked a few days ago I needed to get them juiced right away But I didn't get started on washing until after 10:00 pm. I've just finished sorting through them, extracting over a gallon of juice from most of them (I still have another small pot full to make into juice tomorrow).

As soon as I got the grapes on the stove I punched down my bread dough and shaped the loaves. It's cooler this week so the bread took longer to ferment. I'm wondering if it'll be proofed by the time I get up tomorrow.

The yogurt is still hanging out on the heating pad. I thought about dealing with it now, but I'm just too tired and I don't think a few more hours of incubating will hurt it. At least, I hope not!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Project Completion

Today I finished a batch of sweet relish I started yesterday. First you have to salt the vegetables and let them sit overnight or, in this case, about a full day before you rinse them and boil them with the syrup. This is a variation of "Grandma's Golden Relish" from The Ball Complete Book of Canning. The changes were that I used half cucumbers (3 cups) and half zucchini (3 cups) and that all the peppers were green. This made 7.5 cups of relish.

I added the white wine to the sauerkraut and also added a little brine since there wasn't enough liquid to cover the cabbage. Now it can ferment for a few weeks in its crock and I shouldn't have to worry about it.

Lastly, I used up three eggplants making "Pickled Eggplant with Mint" from Preserving by the Pint. I didn't have red wine vinegar so I used up my tarragon and champagne vinegars and then made up the difference with cider vinegar. I hope that works - it might be a little harsh. For the mint, I harvested a bunch of stems from my pot of mint in the backyard. Supposedly this is good with some feta cheese and olive oil so I'll have to try that this winter.

After all this work, I can now see the back of the fridge again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Another Big Day

Yesterday I picked up the farm share and I didn't have a lot of time to do anything with it. However, I have this entire afternoon to work through a few projects. I have one problem, though. Our computer died after a power failure (probably a power surge fried it) and I'm not sure how I'm going to print labels. So this quick post is just about the salsa that I made (4 cups, or half a recipe) and the canned beets I'm in the process of making (likely 3 quarts, but maybe 4, depending on how many beets fit in each jar). Then I'm going to test out the printer. For the record, this salsa is going to the fair, so here's the recipe:

1 quart tomatoes, cored and seeded
1 bell pepper
1 medium onion
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 T. Kosher salt
2 t. sugar
2 T. vinegar

Broil the vegetables for about 10 minutes, turning once during the cooking time. When soft, add the salt, sugar and vinegar and process with an immersion blender to desired texture. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

The other thing I did this morning was start up a batch of sauerkraut using three heads of cabbage I have accumulated from the farm. I am considering entering sauerkraut in the fair, too, if it finishes its fermentation in time.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More Gifts

This afternoon I stopped by a friend's house as she had offered me some pears from her tree. Like everything else around here, the fruit has been prolific. I brought her a jar of peach jam and took home a bagful of pears which I promptly turned into five quarts of pears in light syrup. This time I left the pears in halves so they took up more space. That being said, I could have had maybe two more pears total, a couple of the quarts have fewer pears than the others.

The other thing I did today was pressure can tomatoes and celery which my mason had dropped by. This was pretty simple - peel, core and chop the tomatoes and cook them down with sliced celery, then put them in quart jars with a little salt and pressure can them. That gave me two quarts to be used for cooking at some point.

Nothing Wasted

This morning I got up and made apple jelly with the juice I extracted yesterday. Seven cups of juice plus nine cups of sugar and a box of powdered pectin made eleven jars of clear, pink apple jelly. I'm pleased with the color; when I entered this in the fair two years ago the judges specifically mentioned they liked that it was pink. I have managed to get a similar color this year.

Since there were two cups of juice left, I diluted that with some water and added a half a cup of sugar and the next thing into the canner will be two pints of apple juice.

All that was left of that huge pile of apples was about a pint of skins, seeds, and pulp. That's pretty efficient.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Being Neighborly

Two of my neighbors have apple trees and they both have given me apples in past years. This year, one of them got a bag full of peaches and they plan to give me some of their apples in return; theirs are like Granny Smith apples and they're great for cooking. My other neighbor contacted me last week and suggested I come and pick some of their apples, which are more like Macintoshes. Two years ago my apple jelly made from their tree's fruit won first place in its class at the Fair. I'm hoping that works in my favor again this year!

In return for a large amount of apples (I should have weighed them out of curiosity, but I didn't) I brought them a pint jar of peach jam. They were pleased. So was I, except for standing on a shaky stepladder on a slanted driveway to pick apples. But we managed! Here are all the apples:
I quartered them all and cooked them with some water in two large pots and then let them drain over cheesecloth to get the juice. I ended up with a little more than two quarts of juice. The solids were then passed through the food mill to make applesauce. For three quarts of applesauce I used 1.5 cups of sugar. I did contemplate adding my honey instead, to make this super-uber-local applesauce, but I couldn't bear to part with what little honey I have for something that would mask the taste.

Tomorrow I will take the juice and make jelly. I need 7 cups, and I have about 9 cups. Not sure what to do with the rest, except maybe add some sugar and can it just as juice. We'll see.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dill Pickles of Various Kinds

This afternoon I picked up the farm share and, as my friend with whom I split it is away for a few days, I needed to deal with a larger portion of it. I also received some tomatoes, eggplant and celery from my mason. I do have a plan to can the tomatoes and celery and in the pressure canner but I didn't have enough time today. Instead, I made dilled carrots and beans and, when I ran out of those, one pint of dill cucumber pickles. All the vegetables were from today's share.

Since I made two jars of the carrots and beans very pretty, I will enter them in the fair. For later: 3 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup kosher salt. Each pint jar had one head of dill, one dried chili pepper, and 1/2 of a clove of garlic. The carrots and beans were packed in so they alternated along the outside, like so:
These, plus the cucumbers, were processed for 10 minutes and then they rested for 5 before I took them out of the canner.

Also in the share: peppers, zucchini, eggplant, lettuce, beets, broccoli rabe, tomatillos, hot peppers, parsley, cilantro, dill, blackberries, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. I'm going to have to eat all the fruit before she comes back, but there is a lot for her to enjoy.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Elderberry Jelly

A month or so ago, I noticed a lot of elderberry flowers on a road nearby. They were on the edge of a marsh, a perfect place for elderberries to grow and grow well. I made a mental note to check them again toward the end of the summer. Usually around here they ripen in late August or early September. Not this year! I happened to be driving by yesterday morning after taking the youngerchild to camp and noticed lots of dark purple berries. Yesterday afternoon I went back and picked a whole bunch.

After I got home, I washed them, got them off the stems, and juiced them. I got a little over 5 cups of juice so I let that sit in the fridge overnight for the solids to settle. This morning, after a run to the hardware store for more jars, I made a batch of jelly. I used all the juice I had and, since it was more than the standard recipe (4 cups) I tweaked:

5+ cups elderberry juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
6 1/2 cups sugar

The yield here is 9 cups plus a little bit. As soon as they come out of the canner, I'm going to pick some more peaches.

And, since this jelly won in it's class last year in the fair, I think I won't enter it this year.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sigh

Today I had to make another quart of peaches in syrup because the elderchild opened up one of the jars for a friend who then didn't even eat them!

Yeah.

Also, I picked another 2.5 pounds off the tree making the running tally just about 41 pounds. There are still a few more out there.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Another Post About Peaches

Last night was my first overnight shift in over two years and, thankfully, it went well enough that I had energy this morning to do things. Like go to my riding lesson. And pick peaches. I pulled another 4 pounds off the tree (up to 38.3 pounds and there are probably another 6 or more pounds on the tree, at least that I can see) and brought a few to my riding instructor. The rest went into a peach-wild blueberry cobbler which we just had for dessert with peach ice cream.  I used the last cup of wild blueberries that we picked on Saturday.

I did spend a few minutes after my riding lesson to go hiking up the hill behind the stables for berries. Last year I started a long term project of foraging whatever berries grew at the stables and, when I get enough, I plan to make some sort of jam or jelly with them. Last year I filled a quart sized ziploc with blackberries, black raspberries, wild blueberries, and grapes. Mostly grapes. They're in the freezer. This year so far I've found both red and black raspberries, wild blueberries, and some blackberries which are just getting started. Most likely the bulk of the project will be grape based, but there will at least be a variety of berries in there to add some interesting flavor. Generally each week I get about 1/4 cup of berries. (This project is neither quick nor easy. Yes. I am patient.)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Winding Down a Little

Today we trimmed back the top branches of the peach tree, the ones that were hanging over the sidewalk because the tree is, well, horizontal. I've harvested all the peaches from those upper branches and now it's time to allow the sun to ripen the peaches closer to the trunk and the lower part of the tree in general.

Funny story, this morning the elderchild went out for a run and saw a squirrel, with a whole peach in its mouth, try to climb a telephone pole. Somehow it made it, periodically adjusting the peach. When it got to the wires at the top it tried but couldn't go on, clearly unbalanced. Instead, it made an incredible leap onto a nearby tree and made it. Still with the peach.

Actually, I'm somewhat surprised it took it away with it. Most often I find them gnawed upon and still attached to the tree, or half eaten on my front steps. Cheeky little monsters.

The harvest for today was 3.3 pounds (tally now up to 34.3 pounds) and I made another 6 cups of peach jam. I should not be running out of peach jam anytime soon!

Farmed, Foraged, Homegrown and Homemade (Redux)

This morning I got up early to make scones. The elderchild wanted something to take on an outing with friends and I wanted to do something with the last cup or so of wild blueberries. So I made peach-blueberry scones.

Farmed: nothing really, unless you count the peaches, which were also Homegrown.
Foraged: the blueberries
Homegrown: the peaches
Homemade: the yogurt in the batter, and the scones themselves.

I used a standard scone recipe that used buttermilk or yogurt and was lighter than some other recipes I've tried. For the fruit, I chopped up one small peach and then added about half a cup of blueberries. Instead of nutmeg in the batter I used ginger. I could have used crystallized ginger instead, then you might have actually tasted the ginger. Regardless, because this was a lighter batter, after turning it out on the countertop for a quick knead, I ended up using a scoop to make the scones rather than patting it all into a disk and then slicing. They baked for 15 minutes at 400˚F and smelled heavenly!

Now I've just finished up setting a batch of bread to proof. I'm going to try to pour a little melted butter into the loaves after I score them, just like those old commercials. It'll be interesting to see how that changes the bread.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Switching Gears

Today's blog post is not about peaches.

It's blueberry season, and this is the first weekend day we've had to go pick them in a while. So I dragged the family out of bed with the promise of muffins and we went to "our spot." Sometimes when we are there we see an older Ukrainian gentleman who is picking as well but we didn't see him today. We did see lots of people walking through there, more than previous years. They knew exactly what we were doing but no one seemed to care. In a little over 2 hours many busy hands gathered 20 cups of wild berries and got out of there before the rain came.

At home, I sorted and washed the berries and pulled off all the little stems that stayed behind. Then I made two batches of blueberry jam back to back so for the purposes of making labels I'm lumping them all together. Twelve jars in total, each batch was six cups of berries, four cups of sugar and a package of powdered pectin.

Six more cups of berries were set aside in the freezer for pancakes or other baking projects. The rest are being saved for tomorrow when I can make blueberry scones.

Maybe I'll toss a peach in them for good measure. 

Friday, August 4, 2017

Still Going Strong

Yesterday I picked another 6 pounds of peaches off the tree (running tally now at 31 pounds!) and set them in a bag to ripen. I also started up a batch of peach ice cream by making a creme anglaise base but instead of 16 oz milk I used about 8-9 ounces of puréed peaches and then the rest was milk. This cured overnight to develop the flavor and then today when I got home I ran it through the ice cream maker. I added about 1 cup of chopped peaches at the end and it's now freezing solid so it'll be ready for dessert tonight.

Also this afternoon, I put up another 2 quarts of peaches in syrup. That makes 6 quarts, which is about what I wanted, so the next project might be another batch of jam or another crisp. Or maybe a pie. There are still so many more on the tree! I've even started giving some to the neighbors.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Thunderstorms

Today I was working at another nearby hospital, about 12 or so miles from my house. While I was at work the craziest thunderstorm occurred, with blinding rain, probably hail in some places, strong winds, and flash flooding. I was really worried it would destroy the rest of the peaches on the tree but here's the weird part - it missed our house entirely!

I didn't get home in time to pick more peaches today but yesterday I picked 7.5 pounds and, the day before, just about 2. That brings the tally to 25 pounds of peaches so far! This evening after dinner and a movie I processed another 2 quarts of peaches in syrup. I suspect I get more peaches per jar because they're smaller and they pack tighter. But I still would like to get at least another 2 quarts canned before they're all gone. There's been a request for another crisp and I plan to try to make peach ice cream tomorrow as well.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Continuing on the Peach Theme

Today's quick after-work project was peaches in syrup. I picked another 4 pounds off the tree (current tally: 15.5 pounds total) and peeled, pitted and sliced as many as were ripe enough. The peach slices sat in warm light syrup until I was done, and then I packed them into two quart jars and processed them. (25 minutes, rest for 5 minutes.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

This is Much Easier

When I buy peaches at the farm, I buy them by the half-bushel. And then I have about 24 hours to process them all before they go bad. It's stressful. With my tree, I'll probably end up with about the same amount of peaches but I am getting them a few at a time. This way, I can do a project each day and nothing is in danger of spoiling.

Today I pulled another 2.5 pounds off the tree, making a total of 11.5 pounds so far. And after some other yard work, I made another batch of peach jam, this time with crystallized ginger. So: 4 cups chopped peaches, 2 T. lemon juice, 1/4 cup crystallized ginger pieces, 1 box powdered pectin, and 5.5 cups sugar. You know, for the fair.

As I was chopping up the peaches I started thinking about peach ice cream. That might be my next project!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Another 5 Pounds

Today I pulled out a stepladder and picked another 5 pounds of peaches off the tree. Most are good sized peaches, some are quite small, and they all need a little time on the counter to ripen. Fortunately, I had some already ripening in the house, so those got put to use today to make a batch of jam.

Four cups of diced peaches, 5.5 cups sugar, 2 T. lemon juice and 1 package of powdered pectin. Since I didn't have a lot of half-pint jars, I filled 2 pint jars, 2 half-pint jars and one half-cup jar. Each jar got one or two maraschino cherries in it, depending upon the size of the jar. If I get enough for another batch (I should) I'll add some crystallized ginger. Once I get all the batches of jam done, I plan to start canning the peaches in syrup. One of these two batches will end up going to the fair, we'll just have to see which one is better.

The rest of the peaches that were reasonably ripe are going into a crisp for dessert tonight. Yum!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Peaches, From My Very Own Tree

This is my peach tree.
Yes, that's right. The thing hanging over the wall.
Astute observers will notice that it has a problem. It's growing horizontally instead of vertically. Clearly it doesn't have long for this world, but I'm hanging on to it to get my one and only peach harvest from it. I planted it 2 years ago. Last year there was a late frost that killed all the buds. This year it came back with a vengeance, so much so that the weight of the peaches pulled the tree over, breaking the root base and basically endangering passers-by. But there are peaches on it! About a half-bushel's worth and, today, I made my first batch of jam with them.

There is netting over the tree to keep out the birds, but it doesn't keep out the chipmunks, who eat half a peach and then run away. I pick what I can that are just starting to yield a bit to pressure and let them ripen in a bag on the counter. So far, I've gotten about 4 pounds.

Today's jam was inspired by the beautiful blackberries in yesterday's farm share. I decided to make a Blackberry Peach Jam:  1 pint of blackberries, 3 cups chopped peaches, 2 T. lemon juice, 1 box powdered pectin, and 6.5 cups of sugar. The blackberries were crushed as they cooked a bit. This made 8.5 pints of jam. I might enter some in the fair. Or not. One pint will go to my friend with whom I'm splitting the share, since she didn't get any blackberries this week because she was out of town.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Starting to Pick Up

Obviously, since we were away last week, we missed the farm share. This week, there were more squashes and carrots and fewer greens. And the volume increased dramatically. Here's what I'm keeping as my half:

1 pound cucumbers, already fermenting into half-sours
1 head of lettuce
1 head of green cabbage
1 qt. blackberries (half for eating, half for making peach-blackberry jam, using the peaches from my tree which are just starting to get ripe)
.75 lbs carrots
1 eggplant
2 pounds beets, which I will pickle and give some to my friend
1 bunch parsley

The cucumbers were washed, shoved in a jar with crushed coriander seeds, crushed mixed peppercorns, garlic, bay, and dill seeds and then a brine (1/2 T. Kosher salt per cup of water) poured over top. They're now sitting with a bag of brine on top, and will take about a week to ferment. 

Back From Vacation

Last week, we went canoeing in the wilds of Maine. It was not as remote as some trips, but it was remote enough for us, I think! Four days without cell phone coverage, and our only connection to the world was one-way - we carried a Spot GPS device and had it programmed to send a "We're OK" email at the push of a button. So every day went sent out a ping to our families and enjoyed unplugging for a while.

From a food perspective, because we were in canoes, we brought a Coleman grill and actual meat products in addition to dehydrated meals. We ended up eating the dehydrated meals as side dishes although there were a few desserts and breakfast items as well which we saved for when our cooler was no longer cool and we'd used up all our eggs and things. Before we left, I baked 3 loaves of bread. One got eaten while it was still warm and the other two I sliced and brought with us, so we could have sandwiches every day. The first day we pulled to the side of the river and made sandwiches on our laps, and the current gradually floated us to the other side of the river while we ate. It was pretty fun. For the other days, I made the sandwiches ahead of time and had them in the cooler for when it was time to eat.

The wildlife we saw was amazing! We came across a family of moose, several deer, and some of us saw a moose swimming across the river early in the morning. We also saw a mother otter with two babies, many loons, a few bald eagles and a golden eagle, and lots of kingfishers. Also ducks and common mergansers. One night I woke up to a moose splashing around in the river, when I tried to see it and wake up the rest of the family it heard me and bugled a few times and took off. There were moose prints at one of our campsites. We even saw a shrew or star nosed mole swimming across one of the streams we paddled.

When I got back, the first thing I needed to do was bake more bread. Since I didn't have any eggs in the house, I used cream for the wash on top before baking. It's fine, but egg is better! Here is some of the bread, with my new oven mitt:

Oh, and the stars were just gorgeous.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fish Week

While the youngerchild, who despises fish, is away at camp, the rest of us are having a fish-only week.

Sunday we were in Rhode Island and had clam cakes while enjoying the Crescent Park Carousel. I grew up about 3 miles away from there and used to ride that carousel with my friends all the time. We got skilled enough to catch 4 rings with each pass, by leaning really far out and catching one ring with each finger. As you might imagine, that increased our odds of catching the brass ring. But enough reminiscing! Rhode Island clam cakes are a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine. I love 'em. One summer as teenagers, empowered with cars, my friends and I hit every little dinky clam shack on the East Bay side of the state, looking for the best ones. There was a tiny little broken down looking place on Route 6 near a tidal stream, in my opinion those were the best. I don't even remember if the place had a name. Anyhow. Sunday. Clam cakes.

Monday was some of the walleye we'd caught and frozen. I had two bags left, with three filets each. Now we're down to one. Baked with some butter and Ritz cracker crumbs and some herbs. Topped with a shallot cream sauce and served with roasted garlic scapes and a salad with just lettuce, Hakurei turnips, and pickled fiddleheads.

Last night, after I worked for 14 hours, we had sushi from our favorite Japanese restaurant in town. Too tired to cook.

Tonight, I just steamed 3 pounds of mussels and they were amazing!  Briefly: dice and sauté one shallot and one clove of garlic. Add and sauté one link of chorizo, sliced. Add 1 pint Persian spiced tomato sauce (coriander, cumin and lime) and about a cup of water and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover and steam for 5 minutes. Voilá. Served with french bread to soak up the liquid. And a nice white wine.

Tomorrow night we will grill some salmon which is currently marinating. Then the youngerchild comes back and there will be, sadly, less fish on the menu.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Chocolatey Treats

We had a BBQ today, with many tasty foods, including lots of my canned goods. Oh, and this:

Chocolate covered brownie bites. Need I say more?

Cherries On Sale

Anytime I see cherries on sale, I think about making maraschino cherries. I was down to two jars and since they are only ever that plentiful this time of year, it was my only opportunity to make a batch. Over the past few days, about 5 pounds of cherries have been pitted, brined, and soaked in syrup. This morning, a day later than I should have done this, I drained them and reboiled the syrup, adding the almond extract as the last step. Out of this I got 5 pints of maraschino cherries which are currently in the canner.

The main reason I delayed a day in getting these processed completely was that I was working this past weekend and it was so amazingly busy. I spent almost 12 hours at work on Saturday and about 11 on Sunday. Usually, with this job, my weekend shifts can be completed in 8-9 hours, so this was very atypical! Anyway, I was just so tired I couldn't bring myself to get up 90 minutes earlier to get these done yesterday morning. And yesterday evening was spent working in the yard while it was a little cooler and before it got dark. It's starting to look like a yard again!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Strawberry Overload

We started this day bright and early by going strawberry picking. Halfway to the farm (a good 30 miles away) I realized I was supposed to ping a friend to see if she wanted to go with us. Sorry, Sue, if you're reading this! I totally spaced!

Anyway, we were brought via hayride to a field that had not yet been picked this year. How awesome. We hardly moved, and yet we picked 17 pounds of strawberries. They were beautiful and large and tasty! After returning from the fields, we had strawberry doughnuts and headed home. I had to stop at the store to get sugar, and a few other essentials, and when we got home I got to work.

Strawberries to eat - the ones on the top of the heap, the least crushed.
Strawberries mixed with sugar for the shortcake. (The shortcake itself is currently in the oven.)
Strawberry jam - 9 cups.
Strawberry rhubarb jam - 1 pound of rhubarb and 2.5 cups of strawberry purée - 8.5 cups.
Swans on the pond
Strawberry soup - 1 quart of berries, 8 ounces of cream cheese, some mango juice drink and some honey. That was lunch.

At this point, we went out for an hour long canoe trip in the local pond. They only started renting canoes and kayaks on the weekends last week, and since we have an ambitious canoe trip ahead of us, I wanted everyone to get some practice.

Another stop at the store, to get a few more things, so I could make:

Strawberry Maple Smooch - kind of a strawberry maple syrup thing for cakes or ice cream or pancakes.
Strawberry Jalapeño jam - 4 cups strawberry purée and 1 cup diced jalapeño peppers - 7.5 cups.
Strawberry Lemon Marmalade - 7 cups.

I still have about 1.5 quarts of berries left for something. I plan to make strawberry pancakes for breakfast. I am setting aside 2 jars each of the plain strawberry, the strawberry rhubarb and the strawberry jalapeño jams for the fair. I may change my mind, but at least I've got some things to enter.

And, I have to make burgers for dinner. But I'm taking a break. It's only 5:30 pm.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Better Year

It's shaping up to be a better year for fruit. We've had a lot of rain, and now the sun and heat are making things sweet. While I don't get a lot of strawberries from the front yard, after 5 trips to the mulberry tree in the back I extracted enough juice to make a batch of mulberry jelly. Just like before, I used 4 cups of juice, 3 T. lime juice, 5 cups of sugar and 1 package of powdered pectin. I think I may set aside jars of this for the fair. Now I can let the birds have the rest of the berries; whenever I went to pick they'd sit in the higher branches and squawk at me.

We're hoping to go strawberry picking tomorrow, bright and early. Well, I am hoping to go picking. I am bribing the family with gigantic muffins so they'll get up and come with me.

Also today, I'm making bread so by later tonight I should have three fresh loaves. I'm still managing to make that commitment; I truly haven't bought a loaf of sandwich bread since February of 2016. That makes me very happy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Getting Back into a Groove

After a slow winter and spring, mainly due to my general overwhelmedness, I'm finally starting up with some projects again. The farm share yesterday came with a large Napa cabbage and, after consulting with my friend, we decided it would be better if I made it into kimchi and then split that up. So this morning I started the brining process for the cabbage and tonight I'll get it set up to ferment.

Also today, I started a batch of yogurt. I was going to do that the other day and then discovered that the milk I'd purchased for it went bad because I'd waited too long. So now that's going until this evening as well, hopefully the yogurt I picked for a starter (Green Mountain Creamery Greek Yogurt) is a good choice.

The mulberry tree in the backyard is covered in berries this year and for the past two nights I've managed to pick enough berries to extract a cup of juice each time. Two more harvests like that and I'll have enough mulberry juice to make a batch of jelly. My strawberries in the front yard are few and far between, I am still competing with the chipmunks to get them first. And I still have to find some sort of netting to put over my peach tree to keep the birds and squirrels out. I'm hoping the chipmunks can't or won't climb that high...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Farm Season

The farm share started up last week and since it's been a cooler and rainy spring it's off to a slow start. Not that I mind. Last year was so hot and dry I'm grateful for all the rain. We were all worried when it was so hot this past February!

This year I'm splitting the share with a friend. It'll be good for both of us, I think. A full share can be so much food! So I'll likely do a little less canning from my share but it'll be less overwhelming.

Yesterday's share contained radishes, Hakurei turnips, spinach, arugula, herbs, snap peas, komatsuna greens, mustard greens and kale. My half of the share, except for the greens I'm giving to Mocha, basically made one terrific salad. I was able to snag a few ripe strawberries from my front garden, the ones the chipmunks hadn't found, and add those as well. Strawberry season should start in earnest next week!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fiddly

The other day we were going to a party and I wanted to make pretty cookies. I'd seen a picture somewhere of cookies where the dough was woven and then the cookies were cut out and they were adorable. I tried to recreate that.

I will never do it again.

The dough was too flexible and broke a lot, and I had a hard time making even strips. Some of the cookies came out looking like those woven buttons that were popular in the '60's and '70's. I finally gave up and made rounds scored with the tines of a fork. Some of those got sugar crystals and some didn't. It was a long afternoon.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Accomplishments

After making all that apricot jam, I left the canner out for a few days, hoping it would inspire me to work on those fiddleheads I'd bought. It did; today I pickled them and got three 8-ounce jars of garlic fiddlehead pickles. I followed this recipe but changed one thing, mainly that I used champagne vinegar rather than white wine vinegar. The champagne vinegar is from the batch I made a while back. Also, I'm not sure why it says not to submerge the jars when canning; I did submerge and can them the usual way and they sealed up perfectly.

A little blurry but you get the idea...
The other things I managed to get done today were to get the "yurt" ready for summer and wrap up the soaps I made last month with my friend. Several years ago I bought one of those backyard tent things that you can put a table and chairs in and then enjoy your dinner without all the mosquitos. Ours happens to be hexagonal so looks more like a yurt than anything, although I think it's officially a gazebo. Every year we have to hang up the curtains; I made the mistake one year of hanging them up too soon and the stormy spring weather tore off all the velcro straps so I wait now until the weather finally calms down and the pollen surges have passed.

My honey-beeswax-lavender-rosemary soaps finally finished curing and I wrapped them in parchment paper with little labels so we can either use them here or give as gifts. Two were already gifted so I only have six left. However, each bar lasts a fairly long time; and I still have other bars of soap from my friend to use here if I decide to give them all away.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just Too Much

Have you ever had so much to do you didn't know where to begin?

Yes, of course you have. Well, it's been happening to me lately, which is part of why I haven't done a whole lot of cooking or canning projects. Sometimes, being busy is a good thing. It gets you going in the morning, out the door, and then it's easier to run your errands and get things done because you're already past that inertia. Sometimes, you either have more than that or just slightly less, at which point the path of least resistance is to sit on the couch and play video games and justify that you'll do that thing tomorrow. Over and over again.

So much so that I let an entire bag of Meyer lemons go bad because I kept putting off making curd. That I haven't even planned our summer vacation. That I have to be reminded to do the things I said I do. This is not like me.

Therefore, when I saw that apricots were on sale today I took that as an opportunity and bought a whole bunch. Enough to make a batch of apricot jam and a batch of apricot ginger jam. (I had fresh ginger in the house because I planned to make something with it and, you guessed it, never got around to it.) I'm hoping the apricot ginger jam is fair-worthy and I'll set two jars aside.

Maybe this is the kick I need to get moving. I certainly hope so.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Latest Projects, Frozen and Fresh

Yesterday, partly because it was Saturday and partly because my husband had just returned on a red-eye flight, no one really felt motivated to do anything. Sure, we went for a walk in the park, and did some chores, and I mowed the lawn, but no one had the energy for the grocery store. So I raided the freezer for dinner...

I took some garlic scape pesto and bittercress pesto and mixed them together with a little heavy cream, to make a sauce. There were portobello ravioli and butternut squash ravioli; I thought the pesto would go better with the portobellos. The youngerchild, not being a fan of mushrooms (or squash, for that matter) got steamed pork buns instead. It was a successful meal, and I even used the pesto sauce to dress up the plate for the buns. Just because it came from the freezer doesn't mean it can't look pretty!
Part of the reason I was tired yesterday was I spent a fair amount of time making brioche dough and pastry cream in anticipation of making cinnamon rolls this morning. The brioche dough, after it's fermentation, is refrigerated overnight to develop flavor. This morning I rolled it out, spread the pastry cream on it, added cinnamon, rolled them up and voilá:

Friday, May 5, 2017

Out of Practice

Preparing the Violet Infusion
Today I made the first batch of jelly for the season - violets. I'm really out of practice. I don't think I've canned anything for quite a while. The violets came from my yard, they finally bounced back from the landscaping work we did in the front of the house. It still took 4 separate gatherings to get enough violet infusion to make jelly.

Four cups of infusion, 1/2 cup of strained lemon juice, a box of powdered pectin and five cups of sugar. Yield: 12 4-oz jars of violet jelly plus some in the fridge for now. The youngerchild will be pleased.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Belated Birthday Cake Post

The youngerchild turned 12 the other day and we had a little party with the extended family. I hadn't made a cheesecake in a while, and that is what the youngerchild chose when given the option, so I made a NY style cheesecake with a chocolate graham cracker crust. However, that wasn't enough chocolate, so I made a little ganache and topped the cheesecake with the ganache and then sliced strawberries. While the cheesecake didn't crack as much as the one I made in school last year, it did crack a little, so the ganache did a nice job of hiding that.

Another New Skill

Two days ago I learned how to make soap. I have a couple of friends who make soap, one of whom sells her products. I had saved up some beeswax and honey for her and brought it over so we could make soap together.

First of all, apparently beeswax isn't the best ingredient for soap, at least not in large quantities. A quick web search suggested only 1-2% of the total oil weight should be beeswax so we used... 10g. And it was a challenge to melt it and incorporate it into the mix.

My friend showed me how to calculate the lye content, make the lye water, and measure out the oils. What we decided to do was to hold some of the water back, boil it, and use it to melt the beeswax. It sort of worked, but the minute we added it back in the wax would solidify so there were tiny little flecks of beeswax in the soap. I still think it worked reasonably well.

She wanted to make a soap with layers, so first we made the basic soap, which is white. She used palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil and that little bit of beeswax. When you mix in the lye and whisk and whisk, it turns white (begins the process of saponification). After we added the scents (lavender with a little rosemary) she divided it into three portions. To the second portion we added about a tablespoon of honey and the tiniest bit of turmeric. To the third, about a teaspoon of turmeric.

We poured the soaps one at a time into the molds, trying to keep the layers level in between. Then they sat, wrapped in towels, in an insulated bag, for two days. Today I picked up my oblong of soap, which looks beautiful, and cut it into eight bars. These will now sit for a month to finish the process of saponification and become lovely little bars of soap. They smell divine.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Treats

In the few days leading up to today, I was busy with work but also with baking. First, as a lunch box treat, I made Easter-themed Linzer cookies. In order to do this, I needed to get tiny little cookie cutters. Even with them being so small, the cookies needed to be a fairly large size to accommodate the challenges of asymmetric cut outs. Many of the rabbits broke, but here are some of the ones that made it:
The fillings were blueberry jam and strawberry lavender jam.

Today, in between Easter baskets, video games, an egg hunt and a walk to the grocery store, I made Puits D'amour (wells of love) out of quick puff pastry (butter, flour, salt and water, folded and rolled many times), lemon curd and meringue. Since they ended up being more oval than round, I took that as serendipity. They are egg shaped, after all.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Now I'm REALLY Confused

Today is a gorgeous, warm day, and I headed out to clean the hive up and get it tucked away. After all, the bees were dead, right?

Wrong.

I found the queen, still alive and kicking, with maybe 200 bees. Not enough to start a colony, I don't think. There was no evidence of any new brood. There was a LOT of honey. I decided to organize the hive a bit and removed all the burr comb, cross comb, and otherwise shaggy looking comb. I took some but not all of the honey. The bees even fanned a bit to let the rest know where the queen was. I tucked them all back in.

And then I contacted my mentor, who told me that was the right thing to do. Either they'll make it or they won't. He suggested I could get a new package and install them but I don't think I have the energy right now to make that happen. I'm going to let nature take its course.

Meanwhile, I'm busy extracting honey and rendering beeswax. And scratching my head at the tenacity of my hive. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Guess It Did

A month ago I reported that the bees were flying in the unseasonably warm weather, bringing in pollen and looking healthy. Sadly, we subsequently had a cold snap that maybe triggered the demise of the colony.

It's hard to know for sure. Were they weakened by the previous summer's drought? Probably. Maybe Queen Beatrix died for real this time. Anyway, after that cold weather, when it warmed up just a bit, I peeked through the window and saw one live bee carrying a dead one toward the entrance. I didn't see any more live bees; usually when light comes in the window they rush to it and that didn't happen. So I worried and I wondered if they were going to make it; maybe they just needed time to deal with that event and there were more in there that I couldn't see.

Nope. Yesterday I went again - it was 55 degrees and sunny, and they should have been flying around. I saw one live bee, sitting on the roof, and the hive floor had many dead bees. Even under the roof there were more dead bees, who all appeared normal to the eye, just dead.

On the advice of one of the beekeeping class instructors I have closed off the entrance to the hive to protect the honey that is still in there (they didn't run out, I can see some) and next week I'll open it all up and clean it out. I have a friend or two who make soap, and I can render the beeswax for them and save the honey for me.

This isn't the year for me to take on more projects so I won't get a new starter colony this year. I'll plan on the following year, if circumstances allow. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Birthday Boston Cream Pie

It's been a bit more hectic than usual in our household and I haven't had a lot of time for baking or any cooking, really. In fact, the elderchild commented on the amount of take-out we were eating! However, it was my husband's birthday and I needed to throw him a little party. So I made one of his favorite cakes: Boston Cream Pie.

For this, I used the go-to white cake recipe. Since we were not having cake on his actual birthday, I scooped out enough batter to make four cupcakes and frosted them with 1/4 of the recipe of fudge frosting. It was actually enough for only 3 cupcakes (apparently that day I was not good at math, I needed to make 1/3 of the recipe for 4 cupcakes) so I used the last of the saffron-white chocolate ganache from the profiteroles on mine. It was fine. Anyway, I made the cake in the tall ring from my culinary classes and stored the cake in the fridge until yesterday.

The next thing was to make the custard. I think that, after 30 years, my pots are finally starting to get thin on the bottom as things seem to burn more than they used to. Anyway, the custard had a very slight tinge of "toasted marshmallow" that maybe only I noticed. No one else seemed to care, anyway.

Last came the ganache: 54% chocolate with cream, butter and vanilla.

Then I trimmed the cake into two layers and tried to use my ring to make the cake look pretty. First I tried to put a layer of ganache on the chilled ring, but I'd trimmed the cake a little too small so there was a gap. I filled the gap and the middle of the two layers with the custard and then topped the whole thing with a layer of ganache and chilled it.

After I removed the ring, it looked way better than I had anticipated! I took the little bit of leftover ganache and piped some decorations then kept it chilled until almost time for dessert. After a dinner of cheese fondue, of course.

Not bad for my first attempt at Boston Cream Pie!