Sous Vide

After all the chaos of this weekend, we’re cleaning house … trying to unearth ourselves from the newspapers (and to read the backlog), and to just generally get ready for winter by moving the air-conditioner down to storage, pulling in the rugs from the deck, etc. In the process, I figured I’d do some tidying of the computer as well, so I’ve been uninstalling all the silly little things which, like barnacles, have encrusted this machine, and also tossing any pictures which haven’t proven to be worth keeping.

In the course of going through the pictures, I happened upon a gem, and realized that I hadn’t even blogged about it! The fish arrived, and that was all I said about it. Well, here’s to enlighten you: Sous Vide is absolutely fabulous, and I won’t be going back to the charred slab o’ meat method any time soon!

Instead of buying anything uber-useless like a vacuum bagging thing just for doing Sous Vide, I went ahead and just bought some chicken roasting bags. Good, cheap, hold up to just-boiling water, certainly, and worked quite marvellously. I threw in just enough wine to cover the fish, a handful of thyme, some onion powder, a good half-cube of vegetable bullion, and that was about it. I’m sure that I overcooked it even in doing the sous vide method … primarily because, even though I used my electric skillet, the temperature control on it isn’t really all that fabulous at low temperatures. So, next time it’s going to be the stovetop method, but either way, I’m quite pleased.

Back to recycle-mania.

End of the Garden

This weekend we tore out the garden. With the nights dropping below 50°F, there was no chance of the tomatoes ripening any further, so before the rain starts we decided to get everything out. One more weekend for those pesky things like shallots & onions and we’ll have everything ready to turn under for the winter, and we can start worrying with planting things like Cabbages and Kale. It’s looking like rain in the next few days, but we’re hoping it’ll stay away through next weekend, so that everything can be fully harvested and for the first time in many years we can get it turned BEFORE the wicked weather comes.

We ended up chucking the green tomatoes into the deep freeze, so as not to have to deal with them until we’re ready to make chutneys & mincemeats. The ripe tomatoes will be dried or frozen as well, the peppers strung up, and we’ll be all snugged in for the winter.

The only transplant to overwinter is the little Chiltepín, with its pea-sized fruit of doom (aka “hotness distilled”). They’re not so mean as the habañeros, as they don’t linger, but they do pack just about as much of a bite. They’re supposed to turn red … but I’m doubting it, as the seeds were fully formed & the plant hasn’t turned out anything BUT the little round green fruit. I’m almost afraid to see what happens if they DO turn red … but I’m really hoping that it’ll survive the winter inside. They grow wild all over the southwest and Mexico, and are supposedly the precursor to the modern pepper. So, I’m thinking that maybe ours is just going to stay green

With the end of the garden comes free weekends, and more baking. And figuring out what to do with about 15 pounds of hot peppers. The joys of gardening.

Still More Yarn

So, for my birthday, I went down to the little yarn shop (of horrors) and bought some yarn. I did this because they’re where I purchased things for my Save Me From Teleconferences piece, and I realied that I should probably buy some more … as, at the rate I’m going, at about 40 inches wide, on size 6 needles, I’m doing about 6 inches with a single 190 yard skein. So, since I only bought 3 skeins to start with, I need to at least make sure that I get to something roughly square … and I need to pick up the yarn before they stop carrying it (I justify my purchase).

I realized that my argument for buying more of this yarn is pretty flimsy, if not downright nonexistent, as I was waiting for the yarn lady to turn the skeins into balls: the place is absolutely packed with yarn, overflowing from baskets, tupperware bins, all manner of hidey-holes up the stairway, and probably upstairs, where I’ve never been – it’s apparently for the serious devotee of yarn learning, and, well, I’m frightened.

My argument was made even more flimsy when the yarn lady was shocked to find that she actually had oodles of my particular dye lot, and hadn’t even known they were in the shop (she’s relatively short, I’m tall, it’s on a top shelf, etc.). I, of course, got to visit the various colors of Cool Wool they carry there, and to really wonder whether I should invest in bulk quantities. These visits are oddly theraputic, as I both get to visit the source of my desire (the YARN, not the yarn LADY), while noting what will happen if I actually keep on buying yarn without finishing projects: the bins, the stashes of yarn creeping out from every available storage space, the sitting around a table talking about yarn while saying to a friend, “No, you don’t have to go home, I’ve got half a chicken in the fridge….” (Actual quote from the yarn ladies from this trip).

And then, there’s the phrase “knit wit.” Be afraid. Be oh so very afraid…

The Last Knit

(Knit one…purl one… knit one…purl one… Knit two… purl one, knit four, purl… Oh, crud.)

Happy Birthday to the obsessive knitter in the house!

May the shoulders on your sweaters always fit, may the heels on your stockings be properly turned; may your many knitting projects someday be finished, and may you get rid of all of your nasty acrylic yarn on unsuspecting strangers (Heh heh!).

Many happy returns of the day, auld Scot!

Identify Your Berries…

The fabulously colored Chocolate Habañero, shown to our left (or in a full shot here), is a berry. Identifying it as a berry isn’t all that special. Identifying it as a Habañero? That’d be the part which I failed to do so well. How could I fail to identify such a lovely fruit? Well … I made up for it with a fair degree of haste, spitting the partially-chewed pepper into the trash-can, gesturing wildly that I was unable to speak, and enduring. For quite a few minutes. The endorphins weren’t enough for me to make me want to do it again, but there was definitely the pleasure of relief.

Thus, I must say that I will NOT make the same mistake with the lovely little Chiltepin (Scoville Scale of approximately 100,000, which ranks up there with the milder Habañeros). I don’t know what I’m going to do with either of these little lovelies … but I’d imagine that they’ll be diluted quite a bit, perhaps in a large crock-pot of beans or something. I DO know that I won’t be biting one of them any time again soon.

Bolivian Rainbow Peppers, on the other hand, are only about half as hot….

Dry Puttana

Oh, YUM!

After all of my whining about slicing and juice everywhere, I’ve discovered that dehydrating vegetables is paying off in a serious fashion. I made the best pasta sauce I’ve ever made last
night, and I mostly wasn’t paying attention while I did it… So I’m going to root around in my brain to find the list of ingredients for my newly named Puttanesca Asciutto.

  • 1 c. dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1. 5 c. boiling hot water
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 1 cup chopped kalamata olives (mine were stuffed with jalapenos, which is why I didn’t use any pepper. You might add a 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper to your sauce.)
  • 1 whole chopped onion
  • 2 cloves smashed garlic, OR 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 2 basil leaves, julienned
  • some capers, if you like them. I don’t.

And from there, it was simply a matter of feeling my way into a recipe: I stuffed the tomatoes into a pot, poured on the water, and waited twenty minutes. Then I dumped them into the blender, and added the other ingredients. I whizzed them up, and cooked them down for ten minutes, until some of the water cooked out. It’s a chunky, fragrant, flavor-intense sauce that would work well on short pasta with a dry asiago cheese, or on a pizza; with some meat, probably, or as a breadstick dip — endless possibilities.

And, best of all, I will whine no more about the endless tomatoes in the garden.

Until next year.

Le Grand Tour

It’s about time I let you in on what all the fuss is about. It’s just this garden thing. See, it takes over your life.

First, you plant a few seeds. And then you get a few seedlings. We ONLY planted six tomato plants. Only six. And then… well, they kept growing. And growing. And it was repellently hot this summer, but apparently nobody told plants that they don’t just lurve global warming. So they got bigger. And bigger. The drip system even broke, once. And still they grew. (Thanks, Watersorb!) Please note the height of the tomato plants vs. the height of the luckless farmerette to the right of the photograph. It was JUST. SIX. PLANTS. Really. Six little ones, even.

And then, the Auld Scot decides he wants to plant peppers. Peppers. And then to pull them up. To overwinter. In the house. Where it’s cozy, what with the books and the knitting and the canisters of random grain. (Bad joke from EarthMother, by the way: “If the man doesn’t know his rye from his oats, how does he know which ones to sow?!” Hnur, hnur, Mom. And people wonder why I’m so weird.) All I know is, if ONE teensy tiny aphid gets on my Saintpaulia, there’s going to be a dismemberment. The peppers of death are no match for me and my hacksaw. Although I really will be the first to admit that the purple ones are quite pretty. I can imagine them on the front walk, or perhaps lending their glory to the back deck. We’re going to have to discuss this overwintering thing. Ahem!

I cheerfully borrow this site to whinge about all of the gardening chores and the dirt and the occasional worm, and the ever-present weeds amongst the seeds, but I really like gardening because it makes me feel victorious and accomplished at something. (Especially when I’m waiting, a year later, to hear a proper word from an editor. A year. We’re coming up on November here, do you think she’s noticed!?) When nothing else in the whole world is going along properly, pulling up a dandelion by its taproot can give you quite a little glow. And, I am easily amused by planting random seeds given to me or filched from plants going to seed that I see on walks, to see what comes up. This year the biggest kick I’ve gotten has come from what I thought were left over sweet potato vines. I carefully watered and endured one popping up in the middle of my green onions, thinking that one had gotten sliced in the tiller and had relocated and somehow miraculously survived. And since I love yams, and we worked so hard on those evil things last season, I coddled it along. And then I realized… not a yam, despite those similarly lovely heart-shaped leaves. No, these some other opportunistic bastards, my old friends from last summer, the morning glories. They were gorgeous despite themselves, as they pulled over and dismantled my trellises. I suffer them proudly. They, along with my gone-to-seed cosmos, dill and cilantro have brought on the butterflies. We have had fewer whiteflies, etc. this year, and the lady bugs are eating well.

Probably the biggest, scariest occurrence in the garden this season are the gourds. When the little seeds I put in the ground finally sprouted, I was so proud. When their little vines were overshadowed by the big, mean zucchini, I worried. They had beautiful white flowers, and strong vines… and somewhere between the first week and the second month of the heat spell, they have managed to take over the entire yard. It’s ridiculous — You can’t step anywhere, because  height=there’s a gourd you’re about to trip over. They grew out of their bed, over two beds to the north and four beds to the east. They trellised up the tomato supports, and made themselves right at home. There are at least sixty of them, I’m serious. And they’re the size of your head. And their vines have a NOXIOUS stink, so as to punish you if you make so bold as to slash the little suckers down and away from your melons, of which we’ve had now, oh, two, thanks to the gourds’ plans for world domination. I have plans for these little suckers, though. Gourd art, to make up for having to endure them all over my space. I figure our little condo hasn’t decided we’re quite weird enough. Being one of the few without the requisite kettle grill on the deck (but the slow cooker really does do well out there) and with a cage full of finches hung to air, we will now embroider our complete bizarre-ness by also hanging up randomly decorated birdhouses.

Oh well. Least we don’t have cats… (I mean, ’cause then we’d be really weird.)

And there you have it: our little borrowed piece of paradise. We took a weedy vacant lot behind the home of land-rich but creativity-and-general-natural-impulse -poor friends, and we grow tomatoes, beans, zucchini, yellow squash, green onions, shallots, cucumbers, beets, peppers, basil, dill, melons, edamame and more I’m forgetting. We eat them… they still buy their tomatoes from Costco. They smile at us, politely, as we offer them our broad-shouldered carrots and then leave them on the counter… to wither. Someday, maybe we’ll afford our own little plot of land outside of our own little piece of house. Someday, we’re going to get to that autumn garden, and plant kale, beets maybe, or lettuce. Or more onions. Someday, someday. We get worms and weird beetles in the tomatoes; we get strangely dormant collard greens that defy all explanation, but every year we try something new, and ever year we struggle, and every year we prevail. Sometimes the feeling that we prevailed only comes because it’s finally over, be we did it – we wrestled the land and won. Sorta. Yeah, anybody can go to Farmer’s Market, but we still struggle to grow our own, and people wonder why. Honestly? I don’t know why we trek a half hour across a bridge and several towns to get dirty, sweaty and sore and to bring back pounds more work to slice, season and dehydrate or stew or can. I really don’t know why. But it’s become a little addictive.

In A Post-Produce Frame of Mind

Words cannot express just how much I HATE tomatoes right now. They smell funny. They leave a rash on my arms. Their …pollen-y leafy green junk gets everywhere. And they have slick little seeds. And I don’t want to eat them anymore. No. Not no mo!

Yes, okay, this is my annual plaint. Locked in winter, we all long for the freshness of tomatoes on our tongues. By March, I am planting tiny seeds thinking that there could be nothing finer than the rich flavor of a pear tomato, bursting sour-ripe on my tongue. And then the season turns, and I get my wish. And I get my wish. And I wish, wish, wish. And then I wish them gone.

The closer it gets to October, the more loosely does this land seem to be gripped in eternal summer, and the more foreign tomato production seems. I want to already have done with all of this fruiting and producing. I want to have put it all up and put it away, and for it to be all a misty, fond memory. I do not want rock-hard pears staring me in the face. I do not want overripened melons, disturbingly large zucchini, and out of control cucumbers inviting bizarre shape comparisons. And I want NO. MORE. TOMATOES. It’s not like all of my whinging is going to do me any good. I was told rather succinctly that if I could come up with something to take the place of the dreaded and derided fruits, I should speak right up and suggest it. But actually: you can’t grow bread. And really? That’s all I want.

Maybe next year we should grow wheat. Hmmmm.

A sad little PS to my story of the scary corn? Silly Sibling (this as opposed to Sullen Sibling and the Littles — does sound like a hair band, doesn’t it?) will now no longer take anything from the garden because she, too, found a worm in the corn. Our Earthmother has managed to produce two complete wusses. But the real irony is that I shucked the last corn, and it was flawless and perfect — no worms, no must, not even any undeveloped kernels. And I promptly chucked it into the freezer. Speaking of which, it’s time to price some of those things. Between the dried veggies and the abundance of salmon, we suddenly have four inches of freezer space. And if we keep making lovely loaves of cinnamon raisin bread… we’ll have none. I hate the idea of the American Obsession With Having Enough For the Apocalypse, but we do need a little more storage for the food we put up. This weekend, all the canning jars go into the garage, and do all the dried stuff, so we may as well shift the salmon into below-storage, too.

The aubergine onslaught has been slowing… finally… We’re to the point where we’re past the one MASSIVE fruit per plant, and have been getting quite a few medium sized bits. I hate eggplant, of course, but I found out my niece made and ate an entire pan of eggplant parmesan — made with Japanese eggplant, mind you, not Italian — and I decided I wanted to give it a shot. Eggplant parmesan sans eggs is very possible; frankly, the eggs never have added to the flavor, to my mind. The cheese issue has been solved nicely with a mozzarella substitute that everyone will eat, however, I haven’t found a parmesan substitute. So, as a recipe in progress, this is just

Aubergine d’Mozzarella:

  • 2 large aubergines
  • salt
  • 1-2 cups unflavored soymilk
  • 2-3 cups yellow cornmeal
  • Olive oil
  • 5 oz. mozzarella – real or imagined
  • 4 cups puttanesca sauce (you do realize puttanesca is a derivation of ‘puttana,’ which means ‘the way a whore would make it?’ my kind of Italian cooking!!)
  • 2 tsp. freshly crushed garlic – or more or less
  • sprig chopped rosemary, basil, to taste
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 c. chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 400°

Slice eggplants crosswise into 1/4″ rounds. Salt both sides and set aside for 1-2 hours. This leaches away the bitterness. (Some people say this is unnecessary nowadays, as all eggplants are bioengineered to be less bitter. Try telling that to an organic, non-genetically-modified eggplant, okay?)

Rinse salted eggplant slices and set aside to dry on paper towels. They’ll have lost their firmness, and hopefully, their bitterness. Rinse them and wring them a bit, then lay them on a pan. Fill a shallow bowl with milk (or I’ve known people to use creamy salad dressing), and another with yellow cornmeal. Dip eggplant slices into milk and then cornmeal. (Do it again if you want your breading thicker.) Most recipes suggest you deepfry the breaded slices about 1-2 minutes on both sides and set aside on a nest of paper towels. You could do that, or you can bake them on a heavily oiled pan for ten minutes on each side.

Remove the crisped veg from the pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with sauce, and replace a layer of the breaded slices. Sprinkle lightly with chopped herbs, onion, garlic and olives, and cover with shredded cheese. Cover the mozzarella with sauce and repeat the layers ad infinitum, until you run out. At the last layer, anoint with the chopped herbs, sauce, mozzarella and place it in the oven for 30 minutes. *Note: Let it set for at least 5 minutes before serving. As with all aubergine dishes, the longer it sits, the more the flavors mingle. It’ll be even better the next day.

Be aware that with salting the eggplant, you will still have residual salt… so resist the urge to salt a bite before you’ve tasted it.

This re-orientation of one of my old recipes gave me a great urge to make this tonight, but as the mercury currently stands at 87° F… well, this is the weather when we set the slow-cooker outside, all I’m saying!

Miskellany (pronounce the K sound – you know you want to)

Just some links … which reflect my mood today:

Yes, I’d much rather be baking. I’d rather be actually working or something, too, instead of sitting here, babysitting the foolish people through their troubles & trials & needs for data. But, I’m not baking, and I’m here. At least, until I go home.

HOWEVER, I do get to go cash a nice, fat check from a client who FINALLY decided that, oh, their 30 days were up, so they’d drop it in the mail on day 30, from when they received the invoice, of course. Sigh. All for a wee bit of interest….

Maybe I’ll have to take Donal’s advice & buy a FlaBEgone® camera, and take TadMack out for dinner? We could, perhaps, take pictures? Of ourselves eating? Or, perhaps instead, as Natalie Dee depicts below, would she enjoy cleaning the pantries, as she suggested this morning?

Think Before you Consume

So, this morning I was asked if I’m a vegan. The person doing the asking was our spin teacher – born in 1979, a dance major, adopts puppies on her vacation to save them from having to live in the wilds on whatever desert isle she’s visiting at the moment. You know her – somewhere in your life, she lurks, driving her jeep with all manner of “meat is murder” stickers plastered on every available surface.

And you also know that she’s about as thoughtful as a stoat, as she goes out and buys a Prius to replace that Jeep with, because she wants to do her part and all that. Never mind that replacing a 3-year-old jeep with a new vehicle means that she’s essentially contributing to the problem (hello, new aluminum needed for your hybrid), rather than helping to fix it.

Let me just say this now: if you’re not going to keep your car for a decade, it’s not going to save you any money to buy a hybrid. I’ve owned a cute little Honda Insight since December, 1999. I’ve spent around $1000 on gas for that car during that time, and figure I’ve saved around $2000 compared to what her Jeep would have needed. Now, the cost of buying a new vehicle? NOT going to be worth it, financially.

So, let’s recap: not financially beneficial to replace a perfectly good car with a new Hybrid; not environmentally beneficial to do so, either. If your car is totalled out and you have no choice but to buy a new vehicle? Hybrid all the way (well – one of the two fuel-efficient ones on the market, that is, ’cause they’re not all of them about saving fuel).

Am I a vegan? Mostly*. But do I advertise the fact? No. Why not? Well, if you have to ask, you just won’t get it.

*I eat honey (try making a nice oat-bread without it – I’ve been, and it’s no picnic) and drink milk (coffee). I also enjoy Salmon around a dozen times a year (sustainably fished, as all Pacific Salmon is, of course).