Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Getting Ready

The fair deadline is next week and I'm trying to see how many things I can enter this year. This morning I made another half-batch of salsa verde and will enter those two 8-ounce jars in the "Salsa" category. I think it fits better in that category rather than the "Fruit Salsa" class. Here's a full tally of the (so far) 9 classes I'm entering:

A-3: 3 different jams, 1 jar each - for this I'm doing 3 variations on strawberry jam: thyme, lavender, and margarita.
B-24: Salsa (salsa verde)
C-3: Dill Pickles
C-7: Bread and Butter Pickles
C-10: Other pickled vegetables (carrots)
D-1: Sweet relish (zucchini)
H-1: Strawberry Jam
H-2: Raspberry Jam
H-8: Other Jam (apricot)

If I can swing it I might get rose hips this weekend and make rose hip jelly; I'd enter that, too. Maximum number of classes a person can enter is 15, I don't think I'm going to get that many!

Meanwhile, I am inundated with tomatoes so have to get some onions, garlic, celery and olives and will make more salsa and caponata this evening.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spicy Things

In today's farm share we could get 20 hot peppers of any kind they had. I chose Hungarian Hot Wax peppers which are close enough to banana peppers to make that hot pepper sauce we like. From previous weeks' distributions I added a few cherry bombs and the rest of the stockpiled Hot Wax peppers. This made about nine cups of sauce, distributed in jars ranging from 4-oz to 12-oz.

We also got a quart of green beans and 1.5 pounds of carrots. Together, with some garlic scapes and dill heads, these made five pints of dilled beans and carrots. Two of the pints have chili peppers in them and the other three do not.

The share distribution included eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, Swiss chard, parsley, cilantro, cucumber, spaghetti squash, and tomatillos. I have enough tomatillos to make another batch of salsa verde and enough tomatoes to consider making more caponata and/or salsa. I just need to get more olives for the caponata.

Not What it Used to Be

Today I'd set aside the morning to pick raspberries with the youngerchild and make a batch of jam. I suspected the drought might have caused some problems with the raspberry farm, and it did, but they also have decreased the size of their raspberry patch this year. Instead, they have a wider variety of produce and a separate section for blueberries. Which is nice, but not what I wanted. Also, the experience wasn't as serene and zen as I'd hoped. That's OK, I have berries.

Sadly, the youngerchild is still too anti-insect to pick a whole lot of berries so I did most of the picking. It took a while but I got about 3.5 quarts of berries. Plus a goat milk yogurt drink, some fromage blanc,  and a couple of muffins. As soon as I got home I set to work making jam.

To keep the seed content to a minimum, I used 2 cups of crushed berries with seeds and 3 cups of puree without seeds. This made 9 cups of jam, two of which will be set aside for the fair. This year I can test out my theory about the presence of seeds in the jam. Provided it tastes reasonably raspberry enough, which is always iffy early on in the season and especially this year because of the drought.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Farewell, Queen Beeulah

This morning around 5 am that other beekeeper came to get the nuc colony. We were going to do this last night but it was still too warm so we both reasoned that it would be cooler and easier before the sun came up. I think that was definitely the case but the bees weren't as inactive as we'd hoped.

We went out with mesh, duct tape, a smoker and a lantern and gradually shooed the bees who had gathered at the entrance back into the nuc box. Then we quickly covered the opening with the mesh and taped it down. Some of the bees that got out were not very happy with us! We were well protected and they just made a lot of noise but didn't sting us.

Once we got the hive closed up he put it in the trunk of his car and drove them to his bee yard. He lives near a very large conservation area so hopefully the bees will be more than happy in their new home. Queen Beeulah and her family will have more space and, hopefully, more food!

Now I can focus on Queen Beatrix again and get that hive in as good shape as possible for the winter.

Sting count (today): 0
Total sting count: 30.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

At Least Something Grew This Year

We were walking on our street the other day and discovered that a neighbor had hops, in flower, growing in front of his house. That got me thinking about the hops on the bike path and so today I went down to take a look. Usually I miss the season by a week or two and the hops I find are wilted but not this time! They were perfectly ready. I picked a bagful and brought them home to oast. Which took about an hour at 275-300˚F. We have a beer kit we've been meaning to brew, an Irish red this time, so I can add these at the second rack. When we finally make the beer.

Also today I made three batches of chocolate zucchini bread - two batches to make four loaves of bread and one batch to make two round cakes (for these I left off the topping) and those cakes will be the basis for a birthday cake for Saturday. No reason it can't be remotely healthy, right?

The Saga of the Bees

When we got back from our trip and I inspected the hive, the bees were rather aggressive. This was unusual and worrisome. I reached out to the beekeeping community for help, got some advice, and tried to follow it. Then I made a mistake.

What happened was two weeks ago I went to change the feeder. In my horseback riding clothes. Apparently one should not smell like a large animal when visiting a beehive. Well, as soon as I opened the hive they went straight for me. I was wearing my gloves and veil but not the full suit and they stung me through my clothes. A lot. It was terrible. I managed to get the hive closed and run away. That night my husband asked me to get rid of the hive and I agreed. The next day I spoke with a professional beekeeper who suggested that it was likely that their aggression was due to several mistakes of mine that were compounding. She agreed to come to the house and inspect them with me and help me decide what to do with them. That was today. In the interim, she advised, stay away and let them cool down.

That was something I was more than willing to do. Being stung over twenty times is not something I was looking forward to repeating! In the interim, we decided that if they could be salvaged I would at least host them for a while longer until I decided whether I wanted to keep them long term.

This morning she came out and we were joined by another beekeeper who has a few empty top bar hives and was looking for more bees. He's been part of the conversation ever since I split the colony back in June. The three of us, using a smoker and taking our time, inspected both the hive and the nuc colony. And it was the most pleasant experience I've had with them, ever!

First of all, they both have queens. Who were super easy to spot. If you are an experienced professional, that is! So Beatrix and Beeulah are both alive. Secondly, the hive is badly cross-combed but it is too late in the season to fix that. It might be doable to fix them in the spring. Both colonies have some honey and both need to be fed. Those are the main issues. I'm to do exactly what I did last fall in order to overwinter them: feed a lot, make fondant boards, and hope for the best.

The other beekeeper will be back tomorrow evening and he will take the nuc colony to his yard. He will bring back the nuc box when he figures out how to transfer them to his hive.

Sting count (today): 0
Total sting count: 30.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Kicked into Higher Gear

This week the farm was bountiful and I came back with more tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and hot peppers than previous weeks. In addition, there was even more zucchini! I have way, way too much zucchini. There will be chocolate zucchini bread again in our future. And maybe even a birthday cake made with the same recipe. But not today; today was for pickles, caponata and salsa!

First I made three 8-ounce jars of dill pickles - two of them are for the fair, with the cucumbers cut into spears. The other jar consisted of slices from the pieces that were cut off to make the spears fit in the jars. That one is for us! This batch used the same "Favorite Dill Pickles" recipe from the Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.

Next I made a double batch of eggplant caponata from Roxanne's recipe printed in Blue Ribbon Canning. (This is the book for which she and her sister and I contributed recipes and even have photos and bios of us.) This made a total of five and a half pints.

This evening I used up the rest of the tomatoes, three cippolini onions, two green peppers, and three jalapeños to make salsa. The vegetables were roasted first and then puréed with a immersion blender and mixed with vinegar, salt and sugar. This made exactly two pints.

Now I do have more room in the fridge. Except for the zucchini. They are still taking up a lot of space. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Revisiting a Recipe

When I first started culinary school we made lovely bread in class that had cheese baked inside it and also sprinkled on top. I tried making it at home and overproofed the rolls; they came out too big and the wrong texture. Since I got Legion, though, I've only been making the same basic bread recipe every week with just minor modifications. In an effort to experiment a little, I decided to try to make that cheese bread again, but using Legion instead of packaged yeast.

What I did was start with 8 ounces of starter and subtracted 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of liquid from the recipe. This dough was very soft and sticky and so different from the bread I've been making. I've forgotten what it was like! I probably added a little too much liquid as I did add another ounce of milk while mixing. (Hey, note to self, don't do that!) Regardless, the dough fermented and proofed appropriately and the rolls came out really well. I think that was a reasonable approach to adjusting the formula and, for an experiment, I'm pleased with the results.

Also today I made a half batch of salsa verde. The link to the recipe doesn't work anymore so I had to find it again. Here's the new link. This made two cups of salsa. I'm hoping the farm share has more tomatoes and tomatillos so I can make more salsa in the next few weeks!

Last night for dinner I made up a recipe for ramen: for the broth I combined 1 pint each of duck and chicken stock, 1 pint water, 2 T. red miso paste, one egg, some ginger and garlic scapes, plus 1 T. sesame oil. Separately I cooked some Vietnamese noodles which were similar to ramen noodles (and all I had in the house). When the noodles were done they were served in a bowl with the broth and topped with a hard boiled egg, thinly sliced garlic scape (no scallions handy), blanched carrot slices and zucchini chunks. It was wonderful.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


This weekend has thus far been spent making the things we've run out of. Yesterday morning I made a batch of yogurt, half a gallon this time rather than a full gallon, and it was ready when I got home from work. Last night I started a batch of bread. This morning I proofed it and baked it. This afternoon I made eggplant caponata and canned it (three pints plus one 4-oz jar). Later today I'll make granola.

For the bread, I thought I'd try to make a Pullman type loaf using my regular loaf pans and a baking sheet to serve as a cover. They worked okay, but could have been proofed longer so they would have been more square. I think if I'm going to do this on a regular basis I would need a Pullman pan with a lid and use a less dense bread dough.

Also, two days ago the youngerchild and I made a batch of cookies. For the first half, it was just regular chocolate chip cookies with both milk and white chocolate chips. For the second half of the batch, the youngerchild requested to add mini-marshmallows. They don't exactly work as desired; the marshmallow melts and leaves holes in the cookies. I suspected that might happen which is why I didn't add them to the whole batch. I did, however, solve the too-flat problem; my oven hasn't been hot enough so they would spread too much and get very flat.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Weeds You Can Eat

The weather continues to be bad. There will be no peaches at the farm which usually has the best peaches around. Apparently they have no crop because the winter was so crazy and the buds froze. I will check the one other peach orchard I usually frequent but I don't have a lot of hope about that. There are no blackberries either.

What is doing well? The weeds. Purslane in particular is going crazy this year. I'd come across a recipe for pickled purslane a few years ago but this year I actually had enough purslane in my yard (topped off with a little from the farm where I get my share) to make this recipe for pickled purslane. It's a refrigerator pickle, so no processing. Just clean the purslane, boil the vinegar, water and spices, and combine in a one-quart wide mouth jar. Voilá.

On my agenda this weekend: bread, cheese bread, yogurt, granola, maybe some chocolate zucchini bread. Maybe more pickles. I have a lot of zucchini, cucumbers and carrots from the farm share. I might make a batch of eggplant caponata if I have time. The fridge is quite full!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Carrots and Cukes

Today's farm share pick up included 2 pounds of carrots and 2 pounds of cucumbers. The pickling cukes are basically gone but there were small regular cukes instead. I also got some cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onions, tomatillos, hot peppers, swiss chard, parsley, cilantro, and dill heads. The volume of the share is a whole lot less than previous years and the drought is surely to blame. By this time (halfway through the season) I usually would have at least two tote bags full but this week it was just one.

Anyway, I got home and made three pints of dilled carrots and 3 pints of Favorite Dill Pickles. For the carrots, I made one of the pints in two half-pint jars and have set them aside for the fair. The cucumbers were cut to the right length and then cut into spears. I will set aside the tomatillos and eggplant for when I have enough ingredients for salsa and caponata.

Bad News and Then More

So this drought is really making a mess of things around here. Yesterday we went to check on the blueberries at our usual spot. I'd wanted to go picking but we needed to check first to see if there were any to pick.

Nope. All the bushes and the berries we could see were shriveled and dead.  Maybe next year they'll come back. I had suspected this because we had such a good year last year, so we had gone picking twice and still have plenty of jam. I didn't count on the drought but overall, with everything doing so poorly this year anyway, it's not making too much of a difference. It might impact next year's crop so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

However, the drought is affecting the food sources for the bees. In response to my queries with the beekeeping community it seems that my hive is more aggressive because of food pressure. The bees were also quite rude and bothered our neighbors on Friday and I'm hoping (as are they) that is a one-time thing. I am working on getting the hive stronger so I went to feed them yesterday. When I did that I noticed there were bees that looked very different getting into the hive. They were much larger and while they looked like honeybees they weren't part of the colony. The concerning part is that the hive wasn't being very good about fighting them off. So I narrowed the entrance.

Maybe some good news now: when I went today to see how they were, they were nicer (I didn't try to get in yet, that's for later today when I change the feeder. I think they finished a quart of syrup already) and I didn't see any of those larger bees.

The plan is to get some help and in a few weeks recombine the nuc colony and the hive. That will give me an opportunity to reorganize the main hive, clear out some of the abnormal combs, and hopefully strengthen the overall population.

Update: (5:15 pm) I went to go change the feeder and noted they only finished half of it, so I can give them another day. However, I saw those big bees again. I did see one get deflected by one of my bees. Progress?

Monday, August 8, 2016


Heh, heh. Last night we had friends over for dinner and I made creme brulée for dessert. Which gave me an opportunity to play with our new torch. It was awesome.

Given the size of the ramekins, I think I used too much sugar (1 T. sanding sugar for each). I also only have 4 ramekins and there were 6 servings so I used another little ceramic dish and a tiny individual bean pot. For the bean pot, it was so deep that the torch kept going out; my husband had to blow into it to provide enough oxygen for the torch to stay lit. He ate that one.

The recipe said to cook them for 20-25 minutes, I think I had to cook mine for almost 45 minutes and they still were a little too runny. I'll either have to cook them longer or make sure the water bath is hotter to begin with.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Still Aggressive

This afternoon I checked in the hives. And got more confused than before.

Clearly both of them have larvae, and workers, and it's been about three weeks since I checked last. So there are queens. Beatrix and Beeulah.

However, the nuc colony is organized and not very aggressive. The original hive has gotten very aggressive. It's harder and harder to get in there. And the cross combs made a mess. Also, the original hive doesn't look as robust. I don't see as many worker brood cells and, maybe that's not an issue given how hot it has been, but maybe I think I want to keep the nuc colony and not keep the original colony. Now I have to figure out how to to that, or to blend them back together somehow.  It'll be a lot of work, I think, to make this happen but it might be worth it. I have an email out to my beekeeper contact and might get on the forum again.

Sting count: 2
Total sting count: 6

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Chocolate + Zucchini

How could I ever NOT make this? It's so tasty, and it has zucchini in it. And the kids love it.

Today I took the larger of the two zucchinis from the farm share and made Chocolate Zucchini Bread, but I put it into muffin form instead of a loaf. The single batch recipe makes 24 muffins. I accidentally forgot to put the topping on before baking them, so pulled them out about halfway through, when I remembered, and sprinkled it on. Seemed to work okay. We had them as a side dish for dinner. They are, after all, a vegetable.

Note to self: 18 minutes at 350. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Root Veggies

There is a drought going on here in Massachusetts and it's affected the farm. They're actually doing fairly OK, due to a drip irrigation system, but the produce is not at its usual crazy level. Gone, entirely, are the greens (except herbs). In their place, root veggies have started to appear.

Apparently they've suffered an infestation of a potato beetle and so the potatoes are being dug up early and distributed. "Enjoy them while you can," is the general sentiment. Today's share included two pounds of tiny little potatoes. Also beets, carrots, and onions. Above ground, there were zucchini, fennel, cucumbers, and a few hot and sweet peppers. Tonight's dinner used up all of the potatoes and one of the onions.

I took all the carrots and made two pints of dilled carrots. It's unusual that I get carrots and dill heads in the same week so I took advantage of the situation and made the recipe correctly, for once! I also took the cucumbers, one of my two onions in the share, and two Hungarian Hot Wax peppers and made a spicy bread and butter pickle batch. Three pints.

Tomorrow evening, hopefully, I'll make chocolate zucchini bread.

Back Into the Usual Groove

While we were gone, I wondered how Legion was doing. I wasn't feeding it twice a week. What I did to try to keep it going was build up the volume gradually over time and then, just before we left, I fed it and put it straight into the fridge. I reasoned that the cold temperature would allow for slower growth. It seems to have worked. When I got home I poured out the excess liquid, scraped off the surface which seemed a little grey, and then fed it. It bubbled.

The next step was to make a batch of bread. I started it Sunday night and let it ferment overnight. I got up early on Monday morning with the intention to get it proofing but, in the interim, I'd gotten sign out for my patients and knew it was going to be a long day. Instead, I covered it and put it in the fridge, retarding the dough. Before I got home (and yes, it was a really long day, too long to have the bread proofing) I had one of the kids pull it out of the fridge and then I shaped and set the loaves to proof. Because the dough was now cold, proofing could take longer. This morning I got up around 5:30 and baked the bread.

They didn't have the oven spring they were supposed to have, but they did work, and the bread is delicious, as usual. We've already finished one of the loaves. Now that I can get back in my routine, I should be able to get the bread behaving itself with the next batch.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Culinary Review of Japan

We just returned from a trip to Japan. The land of beautiful food. Food that is as much for the sense of sight as it is for the senses of smell, taste and touch. (And sometimes hearing! Let's not forget that.) Done poorly, it's sensory overload. Done correctly, it's pure heaven.

Here are some of the best examples of food in the past few weeks:

Ramen. The broth is thick and filling and the noodles are chewy. The perfect way to deal with jet lag. Incredibly economical. The place at which we ate, Rokurinsha, located in the basement level of the Tokyo Train Station, had a line with a 45 minute wait and is considered one of the best in the area. You buy a ticket from the machine at the entrance for what you want and hand the ticket to the waitress when you sit down. The food comes within five minutes and as soon as you eat, you leave. Making room for the next people in line. The noodles were separate and dipped into the broth (a form of ramen called tsukumen). We had ramen a few other times but this was definitely the best.
Cute pies. We found a place in the Shibuya district of Tokyo called "Pie Face Happy Pie Home." The pies were sweet or savory and yes, every single one of them had a face stamped on the top. Except the apple pies, which had a lattice crust. They were delicious. Another night in Kyoto I found fish shaped pies stuffed with either sweet potato or red bean filling. Terrific.

Sweets of various kinds. Mochi, particularly with red bean filling, is a favorite in our house, but we also came across an incredible assortment of mochi-like things. This one is a Kyoto specialty: chestnut paste, surrounded by red bean paste, entirely encased in rice and then wrapped in a leaf. Also in Kyoto were little sugary sweets that tasted a lot like bubble gum but formed into swirls, spirals and fruit shapes. We discovered them while attending a tea ceremony and learning about matcha (green tea powder) and how to prepare it. It is traditional to serve a small sweet before the tea.
Not to mention, the sheer variety of KitKats is astounding. These are sake flavored, which were quite good. We also tried matcha, wasabi, strawberry, melon, and strawberry cheesecake KitKats. Plus grape and melon Pocky.
Sushi, of course. We went to the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo and waited in line for 3 hours to have breakfast at Sushi Dai. It was worth it. I have never had mackerel or sea urchin that didn't taste fishy before. The sushi chef never made us feel rushed even though we knew there were over 50 people waiting hours to get in to this little 14-seat stall at the market. He even got the 11-year-old to eat egg, the first time that's happened in 10 years. After this we generally stopped eating sushi because we were worried that it all would pale in comparison.
Fatty Tuna that melts in your mouth
Sea urchins

Sea urchin nigiri

Horse Mackerel
"Fast" food. It was easy to get food at the train stations and it tended to be reliably better than a lot of the on street restaurants. Particularly before a long train ride, it made sense to grab a bento box. This was the most beautiful one I had, on the way to Kyoto. Added kudos for the aloe and white grape juice drink.
Okonomiyaki. This is more from the Hiroshima/Osaka/Kyoto region of Japan. It's a crepe, and noodles, and meat, and an egg, and cabbage, and pretty much anything else you can think of thrown onto it. Oh, and sauce. Cooked on a flat grill. You leave it on the grill and cut off a bit at a time. We used a side plate, another customer was eating it straight off the grill.
Shabu-shabu. This was dinner on our last night. High grade beef brought to your table by waitresses in kimono with tea, rice, appetizers, and a plate of vegetables, glass noodles and tofu. You cook the meat, tofu, noodles and vegetables in a hot pot of broth. There were two sauces for dipping: ponzu and miso. The 11-year-old declared this the best meal of the trip. Despite the tofu.

Crazy themed places. Osaka and Tokyo apparently compete in this arena. In Osaka we found an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant. The staff all wore Alice dresses except the host was the Red Queen and there was a Mad Hatter somewhere. We wore bunny ears throughout dinner and everything had a face made out of food on it. Case in point, the Cheshire Cat pasta. It was probably the most entertaining of dinners.

Other categories: we also ate Yakitori one night. This tends to be bar food and, in Japan, one can still smoke in a bar. It's amazing how much we've gotten away from that and how much it affects the experience. The kids were rather unhappy with the smoke but loved the yakitori, including skewers of rice dumplings with various sauces. We did eat at a conveyor-belt sushi place (before Sushi Dai) which sent special orders to your table via a little Shinkansen (bullet train) on a track above the conveyor belt. It was pretty good for what it was.

Ice Cream. In crazy flavors. Matcha. Red bean. Chocolate-banana-charcoal. Black Sesame. Milk Salt. Grape. Peach. It was over 90 degrees and incredibly humid every day we were there so cold treats were most welcome. Shave ice was also abundant, sometimes just with flavored syrup and sometimes with actual fruit purée.

Finally, a word about drinks. Approximately every 30 feet there is a drink machine on a corner. Or in a temple. Or a parking lot. Or the train platforms. Everywhere, really. For about $1.25 you can get water, flavored water, energy drinks, juices, iced coffee. Almost every drink machine had a trash can next to it or built into it for recycling the bottle. People generally don't walk and eat or drink at the same time. They buy the drink, consume it, and ditch the bottle and then move on. Considering there were four of us, and we were constantly hot and thirsty, we were always buying drinks. The peach flavored water was the most popular in this family.

Now we're back, dealing with jet lag, and wishing we had some of that ramen.