Monday, May 31, 2010

Fresh Ginger, All the Time

Ginger root is one of those irreplaceable ingredients, but I use ginger root infrequently enough that it used to go bad inbetween recipes. I finally started hacking it into pieces and freezing it. If I remember, I set out a chunk an hour or so before I want to use it; otherwise I nuke it in the microwave for a few seconds. Fellow blogger Jennifer Jo pointed out recently that she stores hers chopped up in sherry to cover, refrigerated.

Speaking of sherry, I buy a bottle of the cheapest regular sherry for about $5 (not cream sherry) and keep it indefinitely in the fridge. I must have it to make hot and sour soup, most notably, but I also add it to other soups or rice or beef dishes.

I'm in lazy picnic mode today, so I'll post on Sunday dinner tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Gearing Up for 2010 Preserving

Maybe it was when I worked in the professional world that I realized the value of keeping records. I keep a supper notebook. I keep a children's clothing notebook. I also keep a preserving notebook.

A sample entry:

25 August 2009
1 gallon organic beets from Earl - $6
yield: 12 pints pickled beets (SinS)
plus some leftover (I think Earl gave me more than a gallon)

I reference this preserving notebook a lot, especially for prices, suppliers, and quantities. Prior to this notebook, I had to figure out every summer how many freezer boxes I would get from how many dozen of corn (8 dozen ears yields approximately 40 cups cut off corn). I would search through the phone book trying to remember which farmers I went to. I would wonder if $8 for a half bushel of apples was a good price or I should keep looking? (for non-organic, yes, that's a good price around here).

Before I launch into preserving for the year, I take inventory of my freezer and canning shelves. I was very surprised this year by some of the items remaining:
23 c. frozen blueberries
7 boxes freezer strawberry jam
20 quarts whole tomatoes
10 quarts applesauce

Was I subconsciously hoarding? I do recall that I did not make tomato soup often because I didn't want to use up my tomatoes, but Margo, using up the food is the WHOLE POINT. To be fair, I did do several tomato products last year that I used: salsa, tomato chutney, and pizza sauce.

As I counted stuff in my freezer, I noticed with dread that I needed to clean it. I loathe cleaning out freezers, so I do it as little as possible (only the second time for this chest freezer in the eight years we've owned it). It's such a pain to figure out what to do with the stuff and wait for the frost to melt. This year my dear husband schlepped our stuff over to my parents' nearly empty freezer:

Margo: I'm just calling to see if we can use your freezer today - didn't know if you went to Costco and got a bunch of chicken breasts or something.
Mom (laughing merrily): no, no, I wouldn't do that.
Margo: drat.

The frost dropped onto the freezer floor; I scooped it out, broke it up, and set it in my flowerbeds to melt. Using our wet-dry shop vac, I vaccumed up the flour/ice glop left and wiped down the whole thing with dish detergent in hot water.

When it was finally done, I rewarded myself with lots of Ghirardelli.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Keeping Berries Nice

Berries have a short span of perfection after they're picked, but I came across a tip in the newspaper a few years back that really lengthens their keeping power. I use cloth rags in my kitchen most of the time, but I keep a roll of paper towels tucked away for just this season. Although it wonders me if cloth could serve this purpose too. . . .?

For any fresh berries:
Do not wash them.
Layer them in an airtight container with paper towels, removing any soft or spoiled ones as you go.

The goal is to keep the berries very cold and very dry. I've kept berries for over a week with this method!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Refashioned Dressing Gown

Since I became a mother almost five years ago, I've gradually realized I needed a dressing gown. In the morning, I needed a garment to put on out of the shower that would allow me to make breakfast, fetch the paper, change diapers, clean up breakfast, and stay calm and cool because I wasn't dirtying the Real Outfit for the Day.

For some Evening Events I needed to ready the children and house for a babysitter, scrambling together a supper for them, all while mincing around in my party dress; I have actually had to change outfits because of that, swearing under my breath.

Dear reader, NO MORE. I have a dressing gown now!

I found this linen dress (brand name "Possibility"!) for $6.50 at a thrift store in March. It was too tight for me at the hips, but I thought if I took out the generous plackets and resewed the buttons on, it could work. In the event that my remake failed, the fabric was my consolation prize. But the remake worked! I did end up letting out the side seams a smidge too (those hips!) and removing the collar. I finished the raw edge where the collar was with bias binding, something I wouldn't do on a public garment, but which seemed nice and dressy-gowny to me.

I met all my requirements in this gown:
1. breathable and breezy linen
2. buttons down the front (I can do my hair while wearing this and just slip it off when I'm ready for the Real Outfit)
3. inexpensive!
4. Pretty enough, modest enough, that I don't feel embarrassed about answering the door or running out on the porch for the paper

This is my warm weather dressing gown. I started sewing a winter dressing gown, but got distracted by all my spring projects. I'll pick it up again in the fall and show you the completed gown.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Unsuccessful Mustard Eggs

After good memories of eating mustard eggs on a spinach salad at a local restaurant, I used a recent glut of eggs to make some.

The children helped me peel the eggs, a first for Ben. He's peeling, not kissing, the egg.

My husband stirred up the mustard glop, using this recipe.

Then we had to wait three days.

We ate them for lunch, but they were too vinegary! I wanted them to be mustardy, so I was really disappointed.

Another day, I used the remaining two eggs to make egg salad sandwiches with watercress. I've found that actually mixing the minced greens - spinach, watercress, lettuce, what have you - into a sandwich spread makes it easier for children to manage and eat; we try to avoid The Terrible Drama When the Sandwich Falls Apart at our house.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Napkin Rings

To minimize laundry, we use our cloth napkins until they are actually dirty, not just for one meal (well, Ben is the exception: sometimes he even has 2-napkin meals). We needed napkin rings to keep the napkins identified, but I also wanted them to be monogrammed somehow. I was sure that I could use some kind of mnemonic to connect the napkin rings to their owners, but I wasn't sure I wanted to explain that to each table-setter before every meal, in the pre-meal flurry.

The monogrammed napkin rings I saw were totally out of my price range, so I cut toilet paper tubes in half and let the children decorate them. Then I wrote our initials on with a sharpie.

Those napkin rings were free, but they couldn't really be cleaned, weren't terribly attractive, and the children starting peeling off the layers of cardboard. One night when he was clearing the table, my husband threw them away. Men.

The next day, I was at my sewing machine, with the goal of attractive, washable, cheap napkin rings.

I hand embroidered the initials - my skills are very basic, so a little practice is a good thing.

While the outside of the rings is uniform and supposed to look nice with our usual plates and napkins, the inside is personalized: Ben has cars, Genevieve has pink flowers, I have a sprightly red calico. Inside my husband's are duplicate stripes because he likes plain, simple things; I had to point out my thoughtful design to him, however. I wonder if he wants the sterling silver napkin rings with engraved initials?

The children have taken to wearing their napkin rings like wristbands, which led to a dinnertable discussion about the function of wristbands (decoration, in my opinion). When I have a minute, I'm going to indulge in playing with my scraps to make wristbands for my children.

Actual construction of napkin rings: rectangle quilting cotton embroidered with initial, stitched to rectangle flannel, stitched to rectangle cotton lining; sewn close to edge and down the middle using walking foot, but edges otherwise unfinished, hoping for a fuzzy edge after a few washings; ends lapped over and stitched together to make ring

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Dinner: BBQ Beans

Cooked a quart of beans - put in the back of the fridge

Used some leftover steak marinade to make BBQ sauce
Put 4 chicken tenders in fridge to thaw

Made cornbread muffins to use the already-on oven

Sunday morning:
Assembled the chicken and beans and put on timed-bake

Sunday noon:
Threw a few more vegetables in leftover green salad
Set table
Put muffins in warm oven to freshen

The chicken and beans is a nifty quick dish my mother taught me. I'll tell you the amounts I used, but surely you can see it's easy to double or add other goodies.

In 9x9 baking dish, put 4 chicken tenders (equivalent to 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts). Next, a few slices of onion. Then a quart of cooked beans, mostly drained. Some more onion slices. On top, pour over at least two cups BBQ sauce - it should totally cover the stuff underneath because you're going to bake it for an hour at 350 and you don't want it to dry out.

This is great served with coleslaw and maybe a bread to complement the beans and mop up sauce.

In the afternoon, lazing on the sofa with this new library book, I was tickled to come across the following quote in the section on New England, written by James Francis Davis sometime in the 1930s:

"In many New England homes, to this day, baked beans - usually with brown bread - are a Saturday night ritual. The custom once was, and still is in some Yankee households, to serve them for both Saturday night supper and Sunday morning breakfast, and the reason for it was primarily religious. . . What food was eaten on Sunday must have been wholly prepared on a weekday. . .Sunday dinner was more of yesterday's roast or corned beef, cold, with the remaining vegetables heated up. Supper was cold meat, bread and butter, cake, cookies, and preserves. For these fully adequate and appetizing meals no cooking whatever had to be done on Sunday. The only domestic labor was heating up food, making coffee and tea, and washing dishes."

Our Sunday supper is invariably popcorn, cheese, fruit, and any random leftovers; yesterday I actually made a simple sponge cake (Carla's Hot Milk Sponge Cake from More with Less) to eat with strawberries and whipped cream. I make exceptions to Sabbath rest for strawberries!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

New Sheets

I keep four sets of 100% cotton sheets for each bed: two flannel, two regular cotton. I was reminded that I used a worn-out set for a comforter when I switched flannel for cotton this spring and discovered only one set of sheets for our bed.

I saw a sale advertised at JCPenney, but their cheapest 100% cotton queen set was $49. With an eye to the end of that afternoon's babysitting, I flew over to TJMaxx to see if they could beat that price. Oh yes, they could: $29.99. Over the years, I realize, I have found ebay and TJMaxx consistently have the best prices for sheets.

Friday, May 21, 2010

First Strawberries!

I consider strawberries the first bliss of the summer produce. We are going to eat ourselves tired of them in the next few weeks, but for that first precious (expensive!) box, what to do?

We ate them on top of Lemon Chiffon Pudding (a cake layer on top of pudding). Glorious.

After Beth gave me that amazing hot fudge sundae cake recipe, I went on a mad search for more like it. I turned up this one in The Christian Home Cookbook; I've written the recipe below to be very efficient and if you are not distracted, you can probably whip it up in the time it takes your oven to preheat.

Lemon Chiffon Pudding

Set a 9x13 pan with an inch-ish of water in it in the oven. Turn on to 375.

Zest and juice one large lemon - set aside.

Put one cup of milk in a liquid measuring cup with some room left over.

Separate 2 eggs, dumping the yolks in on top of the milk. Set aside.

Beat the 2 whites, with a pinch of cream of tartar, until stiff. Set aside.

In a bowl, cream together:
5 Tbs. flour (I use up to 4 Tbs. whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 c. sugar
3 Tbs. soft butter

Add and mix:
2 egg yolks
zest and juice of one large lemon
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt

Fold in the egg whites until uniformly combined (true confession: I usually end up stirring). Pour in 8x8 glass baking dish or casserole - set that in the now-warm water in the 9x13 pan in the oven. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes. Serve warm or cold, garnished with fresh berries or not.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Breaking out the Yellow Linen Skirt

When I was learning how to sew in high school, I made lots of shapeless, one-hour skirts and tops. It showed. I was baffled because I believed the charming, windblown pictures on the pattern envelopes. Now I understand my skills and my style much better, and this yellow skirt is my favorite self-made clothing item so far. I made it last summer before going to my annual beach-girls weekend(For the Record). It's just a yolk-yellow A-line linen skirt with grey topstitching and a black vintage metal zipper.

In February, I dreamed up this outfit, and finally, I got to wear it.

We went to a graduation party for my cousin; she is one of Genevieve's favorites, so I easily cajoled her into making the card.

I was surprised, and not pleased, to see how exactly the yellow slides match the skirt. I'm usually not matchy-matchy.

I love yellow, but I do not wear it next to my face or I look ill. I'm astonished at how many things the yellow skirt goes with in my wardrobe: besides the obvious black and white, I also wear it with blues, pale green and when I'm feeling nervy, fuschia.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Homemade Mayonnaise

I make mayo because
1. it's not that hard and I like messing in the kitchen
2. I don't have to wait for a coupon or a store sale,
3. there are no strange additives,
4. and it can be local-ish due to the eggs.

I use the blender mayonnaise recipe from More with Less, but after I significantly reduced the lifespan of my blender motor, I started using my food processor.

I can't get along without my handy jigger.

I put the finished batch in a quart jar and it keeps indefinitely in the fridge. Did you notice that my list above did not include taste? Homemade mayo is good, but it doesn't have a noticeable edge over quality commercial mayo. . .

but put some mayo on homemade bread with a fat slice of fresh homegrown tomato and lots of salt. Oh man. OH MAN. I still remember my first tomato sandwich when Crystal came in August heat to help me clean my first apartment as a married woman, on East James Street. It tasted like everything important in summertime.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Using a Pattern for More Than One Size; The Story of Mrs. R.

Have a sewing pattern (especially children's patterns) with oh, about ten sizes? Well, instead of cutting it out to one size and losing the other nine, here's a trick my friend Rebecca and I discovered recently:

After making these cuts every few inches, you can just fold to the correct size line that you want. Does that make sense?

This pattern, with its clever cuts, came to me by way of a golden serendipitous moment: one day when Ben was a baby, I was shopping at the fabric store and an older woman who was shopping too ventured to ask me if I like to sew. Oh yes! But I'm not very experienced and, as you can see, I don't have much time (indicating the yammering, dancing children). Well, Mrs. R had an enormous stash of sewing things from her years as a home ec teacher and sewing for grandkids who were getting into school uniforms now, and would I be interested in having some of her stash?

I think my jaw dropped. I gave Mrs. R my phone number, she called me up, and I have been her guest twice now, each time going away with boxes of sewing goodies and feeling warm and blessed from her kindness. We even discovered that we have a mutual friend - her former coworker, and a current member of my church.

This nightie was made entirely from Mrs. R's supplies. Striped fabric here. I got some beautiful plaid, some of which went into Kim's journey bag, and some here. I've passed along a few junior patterns for Rebecca's daughter (as illustrated above - Clara needs a new Sunday dress!).

Meeting Mrs. R feels like something out of a book to me, a wonderful opportunity that drops into your lap. . . a blessing from God to recount when the days are dreary.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rhubarb Muffins for Breakfast

I love the tart bits of rhubarb in the sweet muffin. We ate them split with strawberry jam and a slice of cheese on the side . . . a great way to start the day.

The recipe is from Simply in Season, but like a friend did recently, I skipped the topping and just sprinkled the tops with cinnamon sugar before baking.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

In Which We Hang a Picture

It's not easy to hang pictures at our house - my husband and I rarely agree on placement and density, much less the picture.

But after some rearranging of space, the corner by our front door was looking terribly bare.

We hung a picture!

Picture bought in India by my husband's grandparents.

Inlaid desk made by my husband's great grandfather.

Braided rug on the beat-it-up-we-have-kids Ikea chair made by my great great grandfather.

Lamp, wedding gift.

Ignore the phone.

Now that I see the photo, I think the picture should be hung a bit lower. . .but nevermind, I'm scheming about other bare walls.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Managing Children's Clothing Through Seasons and Sizes

Pre-children, I had never thought about how much time and money it takes to outfit a growing child each season.

Now that I have limited closets, a small budget, and a penchant for shopping at thrift stores and collecting hand-me-downs, it was a recipe for a huge mess
. . .no winter coat, but three spring jackets. . .no socks, but five pairs of sneakers. . . .

To stop the chaos, I created a notebook. I labeled the pages with the age, size, and season of each of my children (Ben, summer 2010, size 2T). I divided each page into six categories: tops, bottoms, Sunday, outerwear, pajamas, and shoes. I started two years ago and didn't bother with the stuff already in storage. Then I gradually started cataloguing what I had and as new batches of hand-me-downs came in, I jotted them down and passed on duplicates.

I try to remember to cross off the items that I hand to friends, but don't always remember. Nor do I always remember to add the things I acquire, so it's not a totally reliable record.

However, I carry my notebook when I go thrifting, so that at least I have a chance of knowing if I should invest in a winter coat two sizes up for Genevieve or if she already has one waiting in storage (my dad generously insisted we use some of his garage for storage - I really don't have much closet space in my house).

This whole process is a blessing to me, although I'm sure it sounds ridiculous to some of you. I am deeply grateful for all the hand-me-downs. I feel thrifty when I pass by a nice item at the thrift store because I know I've got it covered according to my notebook. I don't enjoy the changing of the clothing seasons, but at least it's not complicated by major shopping trips and expenditures.

In short, I feel like the housekeeper of yore, with her keys jingling at her waist, knowledgeable of all the supplies in the vast house, watching with pride as life flows smoothly because her closets and pantry and larder are ready.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You Don't Need a Pasta Maker! A Tutorial

Finally, here's the requested tutorial for making pasta - actually, to be technical, they are egg noodles. I like them best in lasagne, but I do use them in soup and sometimes (like in this tutorial) for regular sauces where I would use commercial semolina pasta.

Fresh Pasta (from Alice Waters in The Art of Simple Food)

First, separate two eggs, keeping the yolks. Mix the 2 yolks with 2 more whole eggs and set aside.

Put 2 cups flour in the bowl. I used 1 cup whole wheat, but I have also used 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (to make it local). Make a well and dump the mixed eggs in there.

Using a fork, start to coax the flour into the eggs in a scrambling fashion. Keep "scrambling" until there's no liquid left and then get your hands in there and knead gently until it comes together. It reminds me of playdough - a stiff dough. If needed, you can add a smidge of water to get it to a cohesive, smoothish mass.

Now, shape it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap (or a very close-fitting tight container could work) and set on the counter for at least an hour to allow the gluten to relax.

Now you can roll it out!

I divide my disc into 4-5 hunks to make noodles. Generously sprinkle the counter with flour.

Roll the dough thinly into a big sheet (I usually roll until I can barely see my black countertop through the dough). Fold the sheet in half, flouring between and on top and stack all the sheets on a cutting board.

Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut into noodles - you can make them short or long, skinny or fat. Then gently pick them up and run them through your fingers, shaking them apart (this is so fun!) and adding a bit of flour if they are sticking to each other.

Try to shake excess flour off before putting them in the pot. Cook the noodles in more water than you normally use because they can boil over - I'm sure you can guess how I know this; cook for 3 minutes. Other tips and notes about my pasta here.

We ate ours with a simple sauce of homecanned tomatoes and chard with roasted carrots and turnips on the side.

Beware, pasta can give energy for craziness!

The Condensed Pasta Recipe (you know, so you can fit in your recipe box!)
Mix together:
2 egg yolks
2 eggs

Put 2 c. flour in a bowl, make a well in center. Dump eggs in center. Scramble flour into eggs with fork. Then knead gently, adding a bit of water only if necessary, until a stiff dough is formed.

Wrap dough in plastic and allow to set for at least an hour. Roll out in sheets, using lots of flour. Fold and stack sheets and cut into thin ribbons. Cook noodles in lots of salted water for 3-5 minutes.

One more piece of pasta business: Meghan asked about my marinara when I made lasagne. For the lasagne, I used a batch from the freezer using the Simply in Season recipe. But otherwise, here's what I do to make about 4 cups spaghetti sauce:
Fry an onion or two.
Add lots of herbs: at least a teaspoon each of basil and oregano, then less of thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and fennel.
Dump in 1 quart canned whole tomatoes with their juice.
Break up the tomatoes as the sauce simmers on low, uncovered. It will be thick in probably 30-45 minutes. About 5 minutes before you think it's ready, add several garlic cloves, minced fine (not pressed). Taste and add salt and pepper.
Sometimes, to taste, I add hot peppers, Worcestershire sauce, some red wine. Some people might add a bit of brown sugar. Sometimes I also saute mushrooms with the onions. If you've got fresh herbs, by all means use those, but add towards the end.
If the sauce is too chunky, puree some or all or it. If it's too watery, turn up the heat and let it reduce, keeping a close eye on it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"This Pileup of Gorgeousness"

The rest of Sunday, I was finishing up Aunt Linda's Potato Salad and a Boston Cream Pie from this cookbook for the party. We had hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill with all the necessary stuff (which included potato salad, potato chips, and potato rolls - seriously).

The Boston Cream Pie was a big undertaking for me; I had intended to make it on two other occasions this spring, and both times chickened out. I even had the heavy cream, measured, in my freezer. I am still learning how to make traditional fancy cakes. Other cakes that I call family desserts with fruit, hot water, or whatnot, I can handle with ease.

So on Saturday I baked the cakes using the food processor method Nigella recommends -it was easy and I felt confident.

On Sunday I made the creme patisserie following her directions, but here I got irritated: she says to cook the custardy stuff until "thickened." I always wonder: is that thickened as in it's not the consistency of water anymore OR thickened like pudding and in danger of curdling from overcooking? I did the former but apparently should have done the latter because when I poured it on the bottom cake layer, it kept going. I poured on the ganache anyway. . .

grabbed one of my meat platters and plunked the cake plate on it. I felt a bit deflated, but hoped that if looks would not wow the crowd, the flavors would.

Well, it was good, but not great. I thought the cakes were too dry and of course the creme wasn't where it was meant to be or could have slicked up the dry cake a bit. The cakes used only butter for fat - could that make a dry cake just like it does in cookies?

I'm going to keep working at fancy cakes. I feel confident with pastry and cookies and (usually!) custards, so I'm determined to add cakes to the list.

Sunday was also my sister's 30th birthday and the cake was partly for her too, although her blow-out party was earlier. I made her a scarf using silk from my old shirt and some lightweight poly. It was my first foray into sewing with such sheer, drapey stuff and thanks to my Bernina, it went smoothly. In hindsight, the fancy stitch I used for topstitching was a bit puckery and a straight stitch would have been better. I hope there's a camera in my future that can take close ups so I could show you better!

I am blessed to have such a wonderful sis and mother. . . and too, my mother in law and sisters in law. All wonderful.