Wednesday, December 29

Warmth in the coldness

Winter air can be so gosh darn cold! But, in (so far successful!) efforts to appreciate winter this year, I am finding comfort in the many things that make me warm. For instance, as I type this, I am pausing (only temporarily) from my new knitting project. I just put a tea kettle on the stovetop and am lounging in my cozy long-johns and thick wool socks, as I listen to a winter-time favorite, Bon Iver. Suddenly, things seem a little warmer, and there is a resinating warmth in my soul. I will try to focus this energy to maintain this inner warmth throughout the winter months.

Today my soul is warmed by the anticipation of visiting several dear friends, in Omaha tomorrow. And what a better way to continue to spread the warmth, then to bake a batch of winter cookies. I don't know a single soul that does not love warm cookies in the wintertime! 
One of my favorite cookies is molasses. Recently, when planning to bake molasses cookies for the arrival of Omaha friends in Milwaukee, I went in search of a good recipe. I personally did not have a recipe for molasses cookies, but I did recall, that my dear friend Mara's mother had made me some delicious molasses cookies a while back. So I gave Mrs. Brandli a call in hopes that she would so graciously share her recipe. Much to my delight, she did, and she shared the story as well. In fact, the recipe that she had shared with me was a recipe that was shared with her from her mother-in-law, Grandma Brandli. 

Now let me temporarily diverge for just a moment to tell you about Grandma Brandli! She is a wonderful, wonderful woman, who is so full of joy and love. In fact, a while back, she welcomed myself and our friends into her home as we ventured west to visit Monroe, Wisconsin for Cheese Days (Mara's grandpa was a cheese master and owned his very own cheese company). It seems that the entire time we spent at her home, our bellies were as full as they could be, as she continuously presented us with treat after treat, all which she had made. When Mrs. Brandli told me that the recipe for her molasses cookies were of Grandma Brandli's, I knew the recipe was extra special. 

I am so thankful that Mrs. Brandli has shared this recipe, and with her permission, I am happy to share it further. I only hope that this recipe will bring you as much warmth as it has to me, and hopefully will bring to those whom I share my cookies with. 
Grandma Brandli's Molasses Crinkles
3/4 cup of shortening (You need to use either vegetable shortening or lard; not butter... It just simply won't work, trust me!)
1 cup of brown sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons of molasses (or sorghum syrup)
2 1/2 cups of sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground ginger

1. Cream shortening, sugar and egg. Beat well! Add molasses and mix well.

2. Sift together the dry ingredients and then gradually combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients.

3. Shape into the size of a walnut and flatten. Cover each cookie with sugar before placing on a well greased cookie pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes*.

*Note: they may not look done, but they probably are! After trying this recipe a few times, I have learned what a "finished" cookie looks like. They are still tasty if they bake too long, just a bit crunchier!

Happy eating (with wishes of warmth!) 

Food for the season

One of the best parts of wintertime, is the warmth that is shared by sharing a meal. I have had fun this wintertime experimenting with classic winter recipes and modifying them to my fancy. One of my favorite modified recipes is a spiced cranberry sauce.

Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries in the U.S., so there are plenty of local sources for the tart little berries. Also, they store like a dream, so it is simple to buy them in bulk and store them for the winter, through. There are so many things you can use cranberries for, as we have tried scones, stuffing and other treats. Perhaps you too, will enjoy this spiced version of the classic cranberry sauce!
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
12 ounces of whole cranberries
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1 orange, juiced
1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon (more or less, its up to you!)
1 teaspoon of nutmeg (more or less, depending on your preferences)

1. Rinse the cranberries and then place them in a small sauce pan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Using a potato masher, crush the berries. This is not an art, so don't be afraid to get messy! Also, they don't have to be perfectly smashed.

2. Add the sugar and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Towards the end of this time, add your orange juice and spices, and stir. Taste test your mix, and add spices accordingly. Pour into a dish, and allow to cool slightly. Enjoy!

I haven't tried this with a lot of other spices, since you can only eat cranberry sauce so often. However, I intend to try it with several others as well, including cardamom and cloves. I will let you know how it turns out!

I hope your holidays have been delightful.
Happy eating!

Monday, December 20

Tis the season

Tis the season to be merry... and to make winter treats! This winter, I have been trying my hand at homemade candies. I don't know many who dislike candies, especially during the holidays, and candies are especially delightful when they are made with love. Today is my dad's birthday, so for a special gift, I decided to make him a batch of cashew bark. So simple and so tasty.

Perhaps you would like to share this with someone you love, too!
Cashew Bark
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of water
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup of water
1 cup of light corn syrup
3 tablespoons of margarine or butter (which ever you prefer!)
1 1/2 cup of chopped cashews

1. Butter two cookie sheets, and set aside. Then, mix together the baking soda, 1 teaspoon of water and the vanilla, and set aside (somewhere near your cooking surface, so it will be within reach when you need it later!).

2. In a large sauce pan, mix together sugar, remaining water, and corn syrup. Over medium heat, bring this mixture to 240 degrees, stirring occasionally. Stir in cashews and butter. Then, stirring constantly, bring this mixture to 300 degrees. Keep a close eye on the temperature, so as not to let your tasty candies burn!

3. When the mix reaches 300 degrees, remove from heat immediately, and add the reserved mixture of baking soda, water and vanilla. Pour the candy quickly and evenly onto your greased cookie pans, and spread until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Allow to cool, and then crack into pieces, by slamming the pan onto your countertop (you don't have to slam it extremely hard, but it is kind of fun to give it a good crack!)

Note: you can really use any nut you want. Also, it is kind of nice to spread some chocolate on top, before you crack it but after its cooled. A tasty treat, indeed!

Happy holidays and happy eating!

Wednesday, December 8

knitting

There are several things that I feel are quintessential to creating a winter-y atmosphere. Those things include (but are surely not limited to):
hot chocolate
reading
warmth
cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
knitting
I have been knitting since about the third grade. I first learned how to knit from my grandma (Mema) and then continued knitting in the 4-H group in my neighborhood. I have a vivid memory of knitting my first scarf:

It was days before the state fair, and I was to enter three items: A crocheted pillow, crocheted drink coasters and a knitted scarf. The first two were completed months in advance, but for some reason, the scarf was taking much more time. As the fair quickly approached, I had come to terms with the fact that this silly little scarf was not going to be finished in time. However, my mom had a different idea-- as my mom often did (and thank goodness she did!), she made sure I completed what I had started. So, all day for two painful days, I knit that scarf. A majority of the time I was knitting, I was sitting outside in our hammock. I just recall sitting there and being so anxious to finish! So although I sat in a hammock, one of the most relaxing places to be, I was anxious. So silly, really. None-the-less, I finished the scarf, with just enough time. In fact, if I do recall, I received a second place blue ribbon for my scarf despite the fact that my scarf changed sizes from start to finish, had several holes and was made out of the most awful rainbow-colored yarn on the planet! I have been knitting ever since.

Luckily for me, I now enjoy knitting; dear mom, you don't have to force me to knit anymore!
This time, I am knitting a sweater from a sweater. Mind you, this is my first large knitting project. I have previously knit many a hats and scarves, but never something so substantial. It will truly be an adventure. What I mean by "a sweater from a sweater" is just that: I got the idea from a friend Annie's blog. Literally, I spent an afternoon unraveling a sweater I had found at the local thrift store. Now, let me just say, I have never enjoyed unraveling so much. Perhaps, this is because the previous times I have been unraveling something, I am unraveling rows and rows of my hard work. In this case, I have no emotional connection to each stitch. And, the entire process has been so rewarding so far. The yarn I got from the sweater is just beautiful.
I have already completed my first sleeve and am in the process of knitting the second! So far, in my journey, I have had to take out 60-some rows; however, I was mostly at peace with unraveling my own work. It seems silly to be upset, when you are knitting; there is simply no need.

Well, I will surely keep you updated on the progress of this little sweater of mine! Until then, happy winter and stay as warm as you can! 

Monday, December 6

Good morning, pancakes!

Mornings can either be delightful or dreadful, it seems. Luckily for me, my past few mornings have been beyond delightful. Partially this has been because of the beautiful people I am surrounded by in the morning time, and partially this is because I have been blessed to be greeted with a wholesome, nourishing meal each morning. This morning, as I write this, I am feeling completely filled and nourished from the left-over quiche I just enjoyed and I am reflecting on my delicious breakfast I enjoyed so much yesterday, with Jill. Sunday mornings are probably my most favorite of mornings, as they are a time to reflect on the week that has passed and then to think of what is to come. Yesterday, we did this while enjoying a Clark family favorite recipe for pancakes. I hope that by sharing it with you, your morning times can be a little bit brighter.

This recipe is what my Poppa uses every time we visit; and it is highly anticipated every time! We adjusted it slightly, to accommodate what we had in our refrigerator, but the outcome was still filled with Clark family love. Here's to delightful mornings, nearly every morning!
Clark family pancakes (with love) 
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, beaten up
1 cup of plain yogurt (we used sour cream, and it was just perfect!)
1 cup milk
1 cup of your favorite berries (we used mulberries which we had stored in the freezer!)

1. Stir together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix egg, yogurt (or sour cream), and milk until smooth. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture until it is just mixed.

2. Heat a skillet with a tiny bit of butter. Pour in batter and top with your berries. Makes just about 12 pancakes, so share some with your friends!

Also, I should share my latest recipe for "maple-ish" syrup. It is a twist on Lauren's recipe for syrup, and we use it everytime we make pancakes!

Maple-ish Syrup
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of brown sugar
3/4 cup of honey
1 splash of spiced rum
Water to cover

1. Combine all sugars, and honey. Pour over rum, and add water until all the sugar is covered in liquid. Then, zap in the microwave for about 1 minute, stirring twice, or until completely liquified. You can store any leftovers in the refrigerator!

Monday, November 29

how is it,
that one person
can have such a tremendous effect on you?

Thursday, November 25

Blue Eye

It seems that a trip to my Mema and Poppa's house is unlike any other trip. When traveling some places, I can anticipate a certain way things will look. However, when traveling here, to Blue Eye, MO, it seems that my memories are much clearer; I can remember the way things will look and smell. I even anticipate the way the temperature is a bit cooler than I am used to, in their house, but there is always a cozy twin-sized bed warmly awaiting my arrival. This time, we arrived at 4 o'clock in the morning, but this did not prevent my Mema and Poppa from greeting us upon our arrival. 

Traveling here also seems to have this delightful sense of nostalgia. Every time we come, I feel transported to an age where responsibility doesn't matter and the most important thing is to make caramels with my Poppa while my Mema makes jokes and we all laugh in the kitchen. Where midnight ice cream treats are only normal and you can sleep in until you can't sleep anymore, but you don't because you can't wait to see Poppa who is surely already awake and lounging in the office, watching the morning news with his coffee.
My family, I am thankful for: Mema, Mom, Dad, Poppa, Ben
Today, Thanksgiving, Poppa and I are making his specialty caramels. Let me just tell you about these caramels. When I was a kid, we would sneak as many as we could until our mouths were so full of caramel that we could hardly talk. Now, our family pretends that if you cut them into smaller pieces, that maybe they aren't so bad for you after all. But it doesn't really matter how bad they are, because whatever negative health effects they have, they make up for it in positive spirit effects: the holidays are just not quite complete without my Poppa's caramels. Hopefully you will appreciate them as much as we do!
My Poppa
Poppa Clark's Caramels
4 cups of white sugar
1 quart of white corn syrup
1 pound of butter
1 quart of half and half cream; split into 1 cup and 3 cups
1 teaspoon of vanilla

1. Place the sugar, corn syrup, butter and 1 cup of the cream in a large, heavy bottom saucepan. The pan should be at least 8 quarts or larger. Heat over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Then, gradually pour the remaining cream into the boiling mixture, in a fine stream, stirring constantly.

2. Continue boiling while stirring until the mixture comes 247 degrees (medium-hard ball stage), approximately 1 hour.

3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into a well buttered 9x13 inch cake pan. When thoroughly cooled (a few hours; be patient!) invert the pan and remove the caramel onto a cutting surface. Cut the caramels into long 1 inch strips with a buttered pizza roller. Then cut the strips into 1 inch squares. Wrap them in waxed paper and share with your friends.
Note: If you accidentally heat the caramels too hot, not to fear! Just allow them to cool. Then, reheat the caramel mixture with an additional 3-4 tablespoons of water and bring to 247 degrees. Add the vanilla again, and allow to reset. If the caramels aren't heated high enough, then not to worry, just reheat them again to 247 degrees and add the vanilla again and allow to reset.

Want to get on your friend's good side before the holidays? Slip them a few of these and they will surely appreciate you even more than before!

Happy eating (and Thanksgiving!)

I am thankful for my family and friends, love and laughter, and traditions!

Wednesday, November 24

Potlucks galore

Here is a short list of some of my most favorite things:
friends
food
community
laughter

I am constantly thankful for these things, and it seems that potlucks magically incorporate the very best of these in a wholesome way! How lucky for me then, that Sunday, both of my meals were in potluck form. A delightful brunch potluck at our dear friend Alicia's home, followed by a warm and cozy Thanksgiving dinner potluck at the garden unit: I couldn't be happier. And one of the very best things about potlucks, is that when everyone is gathered, even those people most important to you who could not attend are ever present in there glowing spirits.

Jill, Kelsey and I, often host potlucks at our apartment and just about every aspect of hosting them is wonderful. Even cleaning seems fun, when it is in anticipation of a potluck. However, I must say, that the preparation of food is my most favorite pre-potluck preparation. As our potluck was focused on Thanksgiving, Jill, Kelsey and I chose to prepare classic Thanksgiving favorites with a homemade spin. While Kelsey made homemade cornbread and Jill's and my family's recipe for "party potatoes", Jill prepared stuffing. I (have lately been loving to make pies) made an apple pie. Of course, we also sipped on mulled wine, our fall and winter favorite... Here are our recipes:

Party potatoes (a Patrick family-Clark family Hybrid recipe)
4 pounds of potatoes
1 cup of sour cream
8 ounces of cream cheese
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
2 tablespoons of butter

1. Cut the potatoes into large chunks (don't peel em, you can do that in a minute!) and place them in a pot of boiling water. Boil them until a fork is easily poked through the center of the largest potato. Then, strain the water off and allow the potatoes to cool for a minute. After they are cooled, you can easily peel the potatoes.

2. Then, mash the potatoes and add remaining ingredients. Place them in a casserole, and bake them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If you'd like, you can sprinkle some cheese on top before the last 5 minutes of baking for an extra tasty topping!

These potatoes can be refrigerated for about 5 days after made, and let me say they are even better with age! This is surely one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.

Apple Pie
For the crust:
2 cups of flour
1/3 cup of butter
4 tablespoons of ice cold water

1. Blend the flour and butter with your hands until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces of dough.

2. Gradually add the water and gently work into a ball. Don't over blend the dough at this time, or it might be too tough.

3. Roll out the dough into a large circular sheet. Then, to easily place the dough into a pie dish, gently fold it into quarters, place in the pie pan and unfold.

For the filling:
4-5 large apples
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of butter, plus 1/4 cup of butter
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of flour, plus 1/2 cup of flour

1. Slice apples into thin slices and lay into the unbaked pie crust.

2. In a small dish, mix honey, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of flour. Pour over the apples.

3. In another small dish, blend the remaining butter, cinnamon and remaining flour into small crumbles. Sprinkle over the apples.

4. Bake at 425 degrees for about one hour or until the apples are sufficiently cooked and the topping is crispy. Enjoy!

Holidays are such a special time, and they are even better with delicious recipes. Hopefully your holidays are filled with good food and great friends and family!
Mara and I, with our pie!
Happy eating

Monday, November 22

Creative environment

It seems that I am the luckiest girl around town: my roommates are constantly creating an environment in our apartment that fosters creativity and positive energy. Last night, after quite a long week of school-related things, I was so fortunate and revitalized to spend the evening in the garden unit, creating with my roommates. While Kelsey worked on a painting, Jill reupholstered a chair for our dear friend Neal (as a part of a time exchange!). Meanwhile, I worked on (and completed) a book I was working on. I will share more on this book at another time, but I must say, that I needed a night like last night to be able to add the final words to complete the message.

And for dinner? It was quite delightful as well. While Kelsey and Jill gathered upholstery materials, I created a homemade cheese pizza! I think you could safely say that cheese pizza is the pinnacle of comfort food, and homemade cheese pizza is even better. Here was the recipe I concocted:
Pizza
For the crust:
2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pinch of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of salt
Water
Corn meal

1. Mix the flour, olive oil, garlic powder and salt together, save the water. Then, gradually add water until the dough sticks together.

2. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to your desired consistency. Then, place on a cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal.

Toppings:
I topped mine with thick tomato paste and homemade mozzarella! Then, I baked it at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes (until the cheese was bubbly and brown and delicious). Spruce it up a bit, with your favorite pizza toppings. This is sure to be a favorite.

Sunday, November 14

Cheese-making adventure

Oh goodness, I must say that Jill and I (and Pat and Catherine) started a great food adventure this morning. Recently, the four of us (and more of our friends too) have been looking into home cheese-making. Jill initially brought up the idea for making homemade cheese, after reading about it in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Over a cup of coffee a few years back, I had found out that a good friend of mine, Trevor, was a cheesemaker. When Jill brought up the idea of cheese-making, I started first by chatting with Trevor and asking him to share his knowledge in the artisan craft. Trevor not only shared with me his cheese-making equiptment, but he also referred me to a fellow cheese maker, Steve Shapson. Though I had been meaning to get in touch with Steve, classes and such prevented me from doing so.

Then, about two weeks ago, Pat, Jill, Catherine and myself (again, with several other dear friends) attended the Milwaukee Mushroom Growers meeting, in Bay View. At the meeting, Catherine happened to be sitting next to none other than Steve the cheesemaker. Steve shared his contact information with Catherine, who then later mentioned that she had met a cheesemaker. An uncanny encounter, to say the least, has led us to our current adventure: 

This morning, the four of us along with two of Catherine's friends, ventured north to Steve's home. He then brought us to his friend's dairy farm. This was the most delightful surprise, as we were able to buy our milk directly from the farmers (Harold and his son). It was so fresh, that it was still warm! The group of us enjoyed raw, fresh milk: like nothing I had ever tasted before. It was something similar to melted ice cream with a different kind of sweet. 
Harold and his cows

There is something so wholesome about making your own cheese, but even more so when you are making it with farm-fresh milk, and with the guidance of a cheese enthusiast. How blessed am I to have been able to have both of these elements in my premier cheese-making experience. Steve shared with us many tips on how to make our cheeses, and also generously shared the appropriate supplies necessary to prepare mozzarella and ricotta. Needless to say, the afternoon has been filled with plenty of cheese-making. Also, with the remainder of our raw milk, we pasteurized it in order to be able to safely enjoy our farm fresh milk for longer. 
Catherine and Jill collecting fresh milk for cheese making
Here are our recipes:
Mozzarella 
3 teaspoons of citric acid
1 cup plus 1/2 cup of cool water
2 gallons of raw, farm-fresh milk
1/4 teaspoon of sharp lipase powder
1/2 teaspoon of rennet (we used vegetable rennet)

1. Dissolve the citric acid in the 1 cup of cool water. Also, dissolve the lipase With the milk at 55 degrees, add the citric acid solution and mix well. 

2. Heat the milk to 90 degrees over medium to low heat. At this temperature, the milk will begin to curdle. 

3. Gently add the rennet solution. Using a large spoon, stir with an up-and-down motion. Continue to heat the milk until it is between 100 degrees and 105 degrees. Then, remove from heat. At this point, the curds should be able to be easily separated from the whey. 

4. If the whey is clear, you are ready to remove the curds from the whey. However, if the whey is still creamy, allow the curds to set for a few more minutes. When ready, scoop out the curds with a strainer, and place into a microwaveable bowl. Using your hands, press out any excess whey from the curds. Reserve the whey! This is what is used to make ricotta. 

5. Microwave the curds on high for 30 seconds. Then, again use your hands to press out excess whey. Repeat this two or three more times. Sprinkle with salt and gently knead the curds, as you would with bread dough. 

6. Begin to pull the cheese. If the cheese is not pulling well, reheat it again in the microwave. Repeat this until the cheese pulls like taffy. When the cheese is at your desired consistency, you are all set! You can either enjoy your mozzarella warm and fresh, or you can store it in the refrigerator. To store them, place the curds in a bowl of ice water for about a half hour. Then, after a half hour or so, replace the water with a salt water solution (brine). Enjoy! 
Pat pulling the mozzarella (enthusiastically!)
Ricotta
Whey (left over from mozzarella; use within 3 hours after making mozzarella)
1/2 teaspoon of citric acid or 1/4 cup of white vinegar per gallon of whey

1. Warm whey until it is foamy on top, right before boiling (about 190 degrees). DO NOT BOIL. Add citric acid or white vinegar. Remove from heat and allow to set for 15 minutes. 

2. Pour through a cheese cloth and reserve excess whey. Allow to strain for 15 minutes. 

Note: if you are using whey left over from mozzarella, you will not yield a whole ton of ricotta. But what you do yield, surely is a treat! 

Ta-da! Ricotta! "Ricotta" translates literally from Italian to mean "cooked twice". Since the whey is reserved from the mozzarella process, it is re-cooked for you. So simple, and so logical. The excess whey from this process can also be used: simply use in a soup base, or to cook your rice in. There is plenty of healthy proteins left in the whey and it would be silly for that to go to waste. I used my excess whey from the ricotta to make a delicious little "rice pudding". I just covered the bottom of an oven proof dish with uncooked rice. Then, I covered this with about twice as much whey-liquid, and added raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. I then baked it at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes. Add extra liquid if necessary. So tasty and so nutritious (for you and the planet). 
Pasteurized Milk
Raw Milk
A digital thermometer
A double boiler
Plenty of ice

1. Place a smaller pan inside of a larger pan and fill the larger pan with water so the water level is equal to the liquid level in the inner pan. The inner pan will hold the raw milk. 

2. Over medium-high heat, bring the milk to 145 degrees and maintain this temperature for 30 minutes. Stir regularly to ensure the milk is being heated evenly. 

3. After 30 minutes, remove from heat and place the inner pan in a sink full of ice and cold water. Bring the temperature down to 40 degrees. At this time, place the pasteurized milk into containers and keep refrigerated. 
Pasteurization helps to eliminate potentially harmful bacteria that may be present in the milk. Though raw milk is a delightful treat and likely not to cause problems, it needs to be consumed within 48 hours of being milked from the cows. In our attempt to reduce our food waste, pasteurization seemed to be the best option (as the three of us won't be drinking a gallon of milk in the next 48 hours...). http://www.flickr.com/photos/eskimoali/5178436367/

Friday, November 12

Disconnection

It seems that I haven't posted any recipes for a while. I have been reflecting on this lately, and have concluded that this is because I have been a bit disconnected from my food lately (amongst other things). It is something that I am very conscious of, and am working to recalibrate myself by eating more deliberately. 

With further reflection, I really thought about why I was off balance to begin with. It seems that it was a combination of many factors, but there are several key elements that I have identified. First, it seems that I have allowed myself to get caught up in the hustle bustle that is school. There are so many important things that I gain from being in school, but it can be so easy to get caught up in it. By that I simply mean that it is so simple to forget other important things in your life and only focus on school and assignments and grades. Don't get me wrong, I really value my education, but I recognize that in order to take as much from my in-school education, I need to allow myself to learn from my surroundings. In order to do this, I must further allow myself to be fully present in the here and now. Lately, I feel that I have not been so fully present. In refocusing myself and my food, I hope to be able to be fully present at all times. 

Second, it seems that again, the transition between fall and winter is taking its seasonal toll on me. Every year (as so many Wisconsinites, I'm sure can relate) my body responds to the fallen leaves and the cooler air by slowing down. In the past I have really struggled with this. That is, it seems that my body shuts down. Recently, Jill and I were talking about this and Jill shared with me a new insight on the fall-to-winter transition (and thank goodness!). Jill recently read a book which described this transition in terms of trees. Jill was reading a book entitled Horticultural Therapy Methods (2006). Here is a short snippet:

"A nature ceremony is one that aligns us with the season ... We might consider if there is something to be gained by the dark moods we experience during the winter months. After all, if we look at a deciduous tree in the middle of December, it would be easy to diagnosis it with depression. It has no fruits or leaves, and looks close to death. However, we know that the tree's response to the season is to draw its life force to its roots deep within the earth. Here it conserves energy and prepares for renewal in the spring." (17)
This fall I am faced with another challenge; that is, Jill and I are still working to eat non-packaged, local foods. It has been going so well, though we have been thinking a lot about how we will remain healthy through the winter time, without a bountiful of fresh produce. We have quite a bit of canned foods, but it seems that this winter will not be quite as colorful as past winters. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as there are many delightful winter treats. For instance, we have loads of local potatoes, canned tomatoes and canned fruits. We have plenty of dried beans and grains and are planning to do some home-cheese making. Also, we are in the process of raising some oysters mushrooms! This has been quite the adventure. This coming weekend we are going to try our hands at cheese making and hopefully soon we will start sprouting some grains.

I hope to be rebalanced and reconnected with my food soon. I feel confident that my reflections and recognition of my in-balance will be help enough to recalibrate myself. Look for more recipes soon!

Happy eating

Friday, October 29

Exciting new adventures

So many new food things to write about!

On Monday night, Jill and I, along with our wonderful friends Pat, Alicia, Neal, Chris, Carlo and about 60 others, met in Bay View for the Milwaukee Mushroom Growers meeting. There was so much excitement in the room, as we all had a chance to inoculate our own coffee ground "logs" with oyster mushroom spawn. I am very new to mushroom growing, but over the semester have been learning about mushrooms, both on my own as well as in my Plants, Pathogens and Peoples class. They really are fascinating organisms and Jill and I are patiently (sometimes not so patiently) awaiting the first signs of life in our little mushroom logs. You can bet your bottom dollar, that there will be many a blog post about these friends.

Also, last night we had a lovely little fall potluck. And let me just say, that my friends sure know how to cook! At the end of the night, I had one happy little belly. Our menu consisted of many fall treats including homemade pizza, lasagna, cheesy pasta bake, fried rice and pumpkin pie. We enjoyed cold fall beers and warmed mulled apple cider, which was a real treat as the apple cider was from my grandpa's farm! My contribution was the pumpkin pie and the mulled cider; both of which I was pleased with. I always have loved pumpkin pie, but it is a bit of a challenge sometimes to make it, since I don't always have the necessary ingredients on hand. For instance... sweetened, condensed milk? Well, luckily for me, I found a recipe with no silly ingredients! And here it is:

Pumpkin pie
For the crust:
1 cup of flour
1 pinch of salt
1/4 cup of room temperature butter
3 tablespoons of ice cold water

1. Sift together the flour and the salt. Then, using a pastry cutter or the prongs of a fork, cut the butter into the flour and salt until the mixture is in small, pea-shaped bits. Gradually add water, and using your hands, blend until all of the dough forms a ball.

2. Flatten the ball into a patty and then roll out as even as possible. To make the pie crust-to-pan transfer, gently fold the flattened crust. Then, lay the crust into the pie pan and unfold. If it breaks, not to worry! Just use some of the extra outer crust and press it into place.

This recipe makes one 9 inch crust

For the filling:
1 cup of cooked pumpkin*
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of brown sugar
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg to taste
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites

1. Blend the pumpkin, milk, sugar, spices and yolks until smooth. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they are stiff enough to form a peak. Then fold the egg whites into the other mix.

2. Pour into your uncooked pie crust, and bake at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until a knife can be cut into the center and removed with no excess batter remaining on the knife.

*To cook your own pumpkin (which is not hard at all and so rewarding, since your whole home will smell of fall!), cut your pumpkin in half. Then scoop out the seeds, and save them for roasting. Place the cleaned pumpkin halves into an oven proof dish, cut sides down. Put about 1/4 inch of water in the bottom of the pan. This helps to cook the pumpkin thoroughly, by steaming its insides! Allow this to roast in the oven at about 450 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin is cooked fully. It should scoop easily out of the pumpkin shell. Any extra, unused pumpkin can be used for a multitude of other recipes (like pumpkin pancakes!) or frozen, and the shell can be composted. Isn't it wonderful that just about nothing is wasted?
Also, it would be selfish to keep the recipe for mulled cider from you, since it is so delicious. It is quite similar to our mulled wine, but has a nice earthy flavor to it as opposed to the sweetness of the wine.

Mulled Apple Cider
1/2 gallon of freshly made cider (even better if its made from your grandpa's apples!)
2 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
Nutmeg
Brandy

1. Heat the cider with the spices over medium heat until the desired flavor is reached.

2. Then, add brandy to tasty, and keep warm. Serve warmed in a mug, and share with your friends! Sure to warm you up, instantly!

So many fall treats, constantly. I just love to share them all with you!
Happy fall and happy eating and happy sipping

Sunday, October 24

Fall celebrations

The lake at Fort Wilderness
Well, goodness. Where to begin. Jill and I had a fantastic fall break from school! We just returned this afternoon from a weekend of camping in the north woods, and visiting with our dear friend Lauren. We had quite the adventure, and you can bet your bottom dollar, food was a large part of the adventure!
Our afternoon, at Lauren's coffeeshop
Jill and I set off on Thursday morning, with no directions but north, our handy map, a car full of food and cassette tapes (a perfect combination of items, if you ask me!). We were headed with the end destination of Fort Wilderness; where Lauren is working lately. When we arrived, we were greeted with Lauren's radiant smile and the beauty of the north woods. The colors were so vibrant here, and there was so much fresh water, everywhere. Really, a revitalizing setting indeed.
Several food adventures were had throughout the weekend. For our first morning, which greeted us with a warm sunrise over the lake, we had planned to make oatmeal. However, we realized that we hadn't packed any sweeteners (which really isn't the end of the world, especially when you are camping with two clever friends!). Our solution? Brew some tasty tea, and then cook the oatmeal in the tea! We used a chai tea and it resulted in a tasty spiced oatmeal. For an even tastier treat, toss in some apple slices and some raisins. We enjoyed this breakfast treat twice, with no complaints. We also enjoyed some fresh popped popcorn in the evenings, which we prepared over our handy little camp stove. It was such a treat, and so simple to make!
On our way south, we also stumbled upon a farmer's stand. Of course, we pulled over to check out the fresh produce and much to our delight, we met the most friendly farmer of all. With him, we shared friendly conversation and purchased some squash, freshly dug potatoes (with remnants of the soil they were grown in, still lingering!) and some lovely dried flowers. Even though the day was gray and drizzly, his bright smile warmed the mood.

Tonight, as we reflect on the weekend, we decided that there was nothing left to prepare on a fall day, but mulled wine. Mulled wine is a fall favorite of Jill and mine. In fact, I was surprised that I hadn't written about it yet! But, this is the first batch of mulled wine we have prepared this season (though it will certainly not be the last...) and so I am happy to share the recipe with you!
A warm mug of mulled wine! 
For a warm fall treat, that will warm your heart and soul, I urge you to make a batch for yourself:
Mulled Wine
1 jug of your favorite red wine
3 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves
10 all-spice berries
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1cup of brandy

1. Combine all the ingredients and heat over low heat. Allow to simmer and share flavors.

2. Pour into your favorite mug and share with your favorite friends!

Now, this recipe is all approximations. We change it a bit every time, but this serves as a great base! Tonight, we will share this with some dear friends, as we work on a fall puzzle: it is bound to be a good week, indeed!
Happy eating (and sipping!)

Wednesday, October 20

Friends with the squirrels

Until recently, I was under the impression that acorns were just for squirrels. Well, let me just say that I was quite wrong, indeed! My foraging adventures have led me to eat some pretty unexpected things (like dandelions and day lilies). And while summer blooms were quite the treat, I have been delighted to find that fall has treats of its own: wild nuts, including acorns!

Acorns are the fruiting bodies found on oak trees. However, not all acorns are tasty treats; this is because acorns contain tannins, some varieties more than others. Tannins are bitter-tasting compounds which, fortunately for us foragers, are removable. Acorns from White Oaks are lower in tannins, and require less processing for the removal of tannins. I harvested my acorns from several European White Oaks, right on my school's campus, and let me just say, there were enough acorns for me and all the squirrels in Milwaukee! 

To harvest acorns, pick only the fruits that are fresh and firm, with no visible signs of bugs or other wounds. Harvest as many as you are able to carry, but be sure to leave some for the squirrels (no need to be greedy...). I harvested enough to fill one medium sized bowl (though if I were to do this again next year, I might gather some more!). 

With my acorns, I decided to make acorn flour. If you are unable to process the acorns right away, just make sure they are dry, and place them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. When you are ready to process the little nuts into flour, just follow these simple steps:

1. Peel all of your acorns. This is easiest with a pair of sharp scissors. Just cut the acorn length and pop the inner flesh of the nut out. You can compost the shells and caps of the nuts. Also, discard any acorns if they are wounded or blackened on the inside. 

2. Once you have shelled all of the acorns, place them in a blender and cover the acorns with warm water. Blend until the acorns are the size of rice grains. Then, drain the water off of the acorns pieces.

3. Place the strained acorns in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring this to a boil, and then strain the acorn pieces again. Do this several more times, until the acorns are not bitter. If they are bitter, continue the process until they are sweeter and nuttier. I refreshed my water 3 times to achieve the desired taste! 

4. Once the acorn pieces are no longer bitter, strain the final pieces and distribute in a single layer onto a cookie sheet. Place in the oven on the lowest heat setting and leave the oven door open just a crack, to allow the steam to escape the oven. Heat until the acorns are thoroughly dried. 

5. Once the bits are dried, place them into a cleaned coffee grinder. Grind until relatively fine. Using a sifter, separate the fine powdered acorns from the larger pieces. Re-grind the larger pieces until all of the acorns are ground into a fine powder. And just like that, you have acorn flour.

Sure, it takes a little bit of time, but there is nothing too complicated about the process, and the acorns were as free as could be! The acorn flour can be used in just about any recipe. I plan to make some acorn biscuits some time soon! I will surely let you know how they turn out. 
Happy foraging and happy eating :)

Thursday, October 14

Pantry: an update

So perhaps two blog posts in one night are a bit much, but I just can't contain my excitement about food (and life) tonight! Today, Jill and I cleaned our pantry and reorganized our foods. We are still only eating "non-packaged foods", and have been going strong since August 22nd. Currently our pantry is lined with home-canned tomatoes, green beans, salsa, jelly (of every flavor), and juices. On the other shelves, are jars and containers of dried, bulk grains and legumes, fruits and cooking supplies.
A glimpse into our pantry

When I looked at Jill's hard work of pantry re-organization, I had a bit of a realization; one that made me as happy as can be. After making the commitment to stop eating packaged foods, we were pushed to preserve our own foods. Suddenly, our foods were packaged in glass jars rather than colorized boxes, shouting at me to eat their contents. How lucky am I! To be able to look into our pantry and decide what I want to eat based on the true color of the foods, rather than a box covered in ads and nutrition facts. I can look at the foods on my shelves and decide what I want to eat, not what someone else is telling me to eat.

Thank goodness, for roommates who support crazy ideas and for eating real foods.

Happy eating :)

Good food and great friends

Alright, there is just something about fall that severely reduces my ability to study. Perhaps it is the lovely colors during the daytime, or the warm smells in the kitchen, when I am home at night, but whatever it is, it surely captures me daily (which is great for my soul, but not for my classes...). It just feeds my soul and energizes me, completely.
Right now, I should be working on a multitude of papers and projects. Instead, I am listening to the perfect music and sipping on hot apple cider, while Jill prepares homemade acorn-squash butter and biscuits for our potluck tomorrow.

I don't have much to say beyond this, but I think it is worth recognizing, that fall is so wonderful.

Tuesday, October 12

Farmers are my friends

Well, at least the ones I have met thus far in my life! Today, there was a farmer's market on campus, with several of the farmers, who supply a portion of our on-campus dining foods. This is wonderful, because in order to achieve a sustainable food system, it seems critical to engage in conversation with the very farmers that are supplying our foods. On campus, I would assert that sometimes this conversation is limited. Perhaps this is because as students we are removed from our food in the context of its source; that is, we eat as we are served and rarely have the opportunity to prepare our own meals (at least while we are in the dormitories...). Obviously living off campus, we are subject to different food sources, but at least at my school on-campus living is required for at least the first two years.

Though there are many places in which our on-campus food system could be improved (i.e. reducing food waste, providing healthier meal options, using more local sources for foods, etc.), I am happy to say that there are also good things happening. This was made clear by the conversations that I engaged in today, with two farmers in particular.
The first farmer that I met was Paula from Red Barn Family Farms (Appleton, WI). She was a member of the Red Barn cooperative that is now supplying a portion of our milk and cheese on campus. We had a lengthy conversation, in which we talked about the importance of the family farm, and small scale agriculture. Just about everything she said to me, registered with me completely, and reassured my confidence that there are good farmers out there who are seeking a sustainable and just agricultural system. Her philosophy behind Red Barn was that through a cooperative business model, small family farms would have more competitive access to the market. Furthermore, she continuously emphasized the importance of small scale agriculture (which I could not agree with more). Through small family dairy farms, she stated that the animals have the potential to live a more humane and healthy life. The farmers are responsible for the milking of the cows, versus a machine, and thus build a relationship with the animals. The cows even have names! Through this relationship, the farmers are better able to address health problems that may occur with the cows, which is better for the farmer, the cow and the consumer. For instance, if a cow is sick but the farmer has not been monitoring the daily life of the cow (say, because the cow is raised on a large scale farm), it may seem most appropriate to use medicines or antibiotics to treat the cow. However, this may not be the best decision for the cow. Furthermore, these antibiotics are transferred to the milk (and thus the consumer). Though this may not seem to be a problem, such antibiotics may cause antibiotic resistance in the human consumer (I could elaborate, but for now, I will spare you the details... but my biology teacher might be proud to know that I am blogging about this!). In contrast, if the farmer has a relationship with his or her cows, there is a good chance that the farmer will notice any problems sooner than later, and might also know the source of the problem. In this case, the farmer can better address the issue in a manner that doesn't necessitate antibiotics. Not only is the cow better off, but again, the farmer and consumer are too. Let me just emphasize that I am reassured that there are good farmers out there with important values which they are applying to the system!
my grandpa's farm

The second, Rink from Shooting Star farms (Mineral Point, WI), was an enthusiast for organic produce. He was eager to share his produce with everyone, offering each passer-by with a sample of something, be it a beet or some lettuce, an apple or a carrot. Though our conversation was brief, I appreciated his enthusiasm, and his passionate approach to sharing his produce. He left me with one lasting idea: "I can put a price on these vegetables, but I cannot put a price or a value on the importance of education." That is, the education that comes from conversation with our farmers is priceless (I realize this sounds completely corny, but it couldn't me any more true!). By continuing to support these farmers, I can only hope that one day all farmers will see the value in these farmer's assertions: conversation, education and relationships.

It seems to me, that I am continuously encountering the importance of these three values in every aspect of my life; be it through conversations with perfect strangers or friends new and old, the education and relationships that comes from these conversations give richness to my life. I feel continuously blessed to be able to engage in these conversations. I can only encourage you to seek out such relationships and conversations in every aspect of your life, as I can only imagine that it too, will bring light to your life!

Wednesday, October 6

Baba Ganoush and Chapati

Well, this adventure began a while ago, but I will start with today. Today I made chapati and baba ganoush for a potluck. I love both, and since eggplants are in season, it was just perfect. However, chapati has been a recent staple in our diets, here in the garden unit. That is, like Jill's pita bread, chapati has been a great way to make quick and easy meals, and its so simple!

I learned to make chapati, when I was cooking with Val, back in September. Amongst the other things we made, chapati was one of them. (We actually made paratha, but I was not confident enough in my paratha-making skills, to post that recipe. Chapati is made with the same dough used for paratha.) Then, just last week, Jill was hosting a Kenyan dinner, for her student group Watumishi (which means "people of service" in Swahili). On the menu, was chapati! I was so excited when I realized this common bread, and was excited to be able to contribute to her meal. With some research, I learned that many Indian foods are similar to Kenyan foods. Since that dinner, we have made many, many batches of chapati. I am finally confident in sharing the recipe with you and I hope that you too, can enjoy the warmth and delight that comes from a good homemade chapati!

Chapati
About 2 cups of flour (chapati flour is great, and is available at your local Indian grocer, but if you don't have it on hand, whole wheat flour works wonders!)
About 8 ounces of water
About 2 tablespoons of olive oil
About 1 teaspoon of salt

(In case you can't tell, this is a recipe that doesn't require too much thought. In fact, measurements are unimportant!)
1. In a bowl, place flour in the center, and make a crater in the middle. Then, sprinkle salt in the middle and add the olive oil. Then, add some water and using your finger tips, swivel your fingers to incorporate the water into the flour. Continue to add water until you have incorporated all of the flour and the dough is not too sticky. Knead until it is smooth.

2. Let the dough sit for about a half hour. Then, separate into tennis ball sized portions. Roll until each portion is about one eighth of an inch thick. Place in a heated skillet, ungreased. Heat over low heat, turning about four times, until the chapati is cooked through. When the dough is done cooking, the chapati will be lighter in color, and browned on some spots. Also, a really good chapati will fill with air like a balloon on the stove! (When this happens, you will know and probably get really excited, like we did!)

This recipe is so simple, but definitely takes some getting used to. Try it a few times, and I am confident that you will figure it out for yourself. I hope you love it! And try pairing it with this little delight:
Baba Ganoush
1 eggplant
Olive oil
2 tablespoons of tahini
1 clove of garlic
Salt to taste
(Parsley, if you have it! If not, don't sweat it, it's still great!)

1. Cut the egg plant length-wise into fourths. Then arrange so the flesh is facing down in an oven proof dish and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven on broil for about 20 minutes to 30 minutes. Cook until the eggplant is cooked evenly, and mushy.

2. Scoop the insides out of the eggplant, and place in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Puree until smooth.

ENJOY! Two simple recipes that are so tasty and quick. Sure to be a hit at your next potluck.

Happy cooking!

Sunday, September 26

Pita Bread


Our challenge to bypass packaged foods has led to some great cooking adventures in the garden unit. We no longer run to the store for a can of tomatoes or a package of bread or a bag of pretzels, only open up our cook books and get creative. In the spirit of homemade goods, I ventured to make pita bread for our welcome-back potluck back in August. I must say at first I was a bit apprehensive, but pita bread is a definite hit and so simple to prepare. The other day, I was at the store and noticed the pita bread selling for three dollars. As easy as it would be to purchase a pack of pitas, it is so much more satisfying to put in a bit of time and effort to make a beautiful creation.
Introducing my newest favorite recipe:


Pita Bread


1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups of white flour
2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons of yeast (the instant kind)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of water (luke warm)

Mix all the ingredients together.
Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky. Then knead the bread for about 5 to 10 minutes. After kneading, place dough in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. The dough should refrigerate for around 3 hours. It can also be left in the fridge up to 3 days. It is a great dough to prepare and then make when you have some spare time.
Out of the fridge, divide the dough into 8 to 12 sections depending on what size of pita you would like. Roll each section into a ball and then flatten out into a disc with your palm. Cover, and let these rest for 20 minutes. Next, stretch out each disc into a pita, aim for 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the thickness just right (either way, the end product is tasty!). Let the dough rest for another 5 to 10 minutes. The final step is to cook the pita. Heat the skillet (no need to use oil), and once the pan is hot, cook the pita on one side until it gets puffy, then flip. Cook until brown spots appear. Then repeat!

Pita bread is so simple and the end product is not only delicious, but so beautiful! It is a great recipe to make and then freeze. Happy cooking!

Spices

When you really begin cooking, you realize that a dish is not the same without  spices. In fact, I would argue that often times, the spices make the dish. Spices, I think, are especially critical in the fall, when the flavors of summer are passing and you are faced with a new spread of produce to prepare. Just for a minute, think of fall without spices: imagine pumpkin pie without cinnamon and cloves; or consider your favorite chili without chili powder and cumin. Recently, I have been exploring this element of cooking and I am currently in a state of: overwhelmed, but in only the best sense of the word. 
Over the last year or two, I have frequented our local spice shop, The Spice House. From this, I have gained so much more than a simple spice collection. Every time I visit the Spice House, I feel as though I have stepped into my grandmother's kitchen, and am learning the wisdom of cooking that she learned in her grandmother's kitchen.
Today I visited the Spice House, with the intention of finding some vanilla beans for vanilla extract and a simple recipe for chili powder. When I began talking with one of the Spice House employees, we connected almost instantaneously. First we talked about chili powder. She directed me towards the chili powder section of the store, but when I expressed that I was interested in making my own chili powder, it was as if she understood me and I her. The exciting thing about making your own chili powder, is that you can really achieve the flavors that you want. I like my chili powder to have a little heat, but not extremely hot. She has experimented with homemade chili powder and was excited to share her wisdom of this, with me. I ended up with dried ancho chile powder. This will be my base for my chili powder; ancho chiles are a mild and sweet pepper which exude the aroma of tangy raisins. To this, I will add dried, red chili peppers from my dad's garden, eventually reaching the flavor and heat that is perfect for my tastes.
Then, was vanilla extract. She, a woman about the same age as my mother, had been making her own vanilla extract for years. She shared stories of her vanilla extract, and how it has changed her cooking and how simple it is to make! We were sharing ideas, and recipes and suddenly the spices I had were more than spices, but flavors of wisdom that had been shared with me. When I use my vanilla extract or chili powder, I too will begin to have food memories and hopefully one day, I will share my wisdom with someone.
This got me to really thinking about our current food situation. I have been reflecting a lot lately, about our food culture. Much of this reflection has been in part, because of the garden unit's commitment to non-packaged foods. In eating this way, we are forced to be creative with our foods and practically reject the food mecca of the grocery store. Let us look closer at the grocery store. Think of the spice isle at the grocery store. Every time I would try to buy spices from the spice isle at the grocery store, I would have to clear my afternoon of any other obligations. Talk about overwhelming! I never know where to start in that isle, and your chances are, that no-one in the store can help you too much. A specialty spice shop, however, encourages conversation. Suddenly, your spice shopping is a conversation with someone else who uses spices like an art medium.

Then I began thinking about the internet and cookbooks. Technology is so helpful in sharing knowledge and wisdom with others, but I feel as though our culture has lost the beauty of the human relationship in cooking. It seems that our meal times are often spent rushing from place to place, eating our meals from a box, and though our stomachs are filled, we still feel hungry. Perhaps we are yearning for the community that once was a part of food. Surely, it is a wonderful thing to be able to hop on the web, and search for what spices to use or what recipe to use. But, let me just say, the internet would not have suggested ancho chiles to me, like the woman from the Spice House. I cannot have a conversation with the internet. And, suddenly, cooking and learning becomes a solitary act, rather than a communal experience. And what fun is that, to cook alone?

When I left the Spice House today, I was so excited to start exploring the many levels of flavor that are a part of chili powder, and I was excited to have had a conversation about it. And when I left the Spice House, the woman I had been talking with said to me, "keep fighting the good fight".

Spices are critical to completing a dish. Similarly, food is not complete without conversation and human relationships. Really, I have come to believe that these are fundamental elements to the food experience. It seems that these elements are as nourishing, if not more, than the food it self.

On that note, happy eating!

Monday, September 20

Love to El Salvador

My dearest friend Bridget (who you may have heard about, if you have been reading this blog... she is an important part of my food world!) is studying in El Salvador for the semester, and has been so greatly missed (though a recent letter and a few emails suggest that she is having the most beautiful time there!). She lived in the garden unit this summer and as a housewarming gift before her departure to Central America, she left us "Singapore Seasoning" from Penzey Spices. We have so greatly enjoyed using the spice mix that resembles a tangy curry to season our veggies and spice up our grains. However, to this point, there have been no recipes to be inspired by the spice mix. This had to change! The solution? Hearty with fall vegetables and some love, resulting in a warm soup with a hint of Bridget's warm spirit! Perfect.
Fall Soup (with Bridget on our minds) 
A couple handfuls of carrots (from the farmers market and my family's garden!)
A bunch of tomatoes (from my garden!)
A small onion (from my garden!)
A couple cloves of garlic (from the farmer's market!)
A couple of eggplants (one from my family's garden and one from the community garden!)
Salt and Pepper
Singapore Seasoning (from my best friend Bridget!)
2 cups of water plus some
A splash of olive oil
A splash of milk

1. Chop up the vegetables and place them in an oven proof, deep pan. Drizzle with olive oil and add a splash of water. Then add Singapore Seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste and toss the veggies so that they are all coated. Roast in the oven on broil, for about 50 minutes or until the veggies are tender, tossing the veggies once.

2. Keep all of the juices from the veggies and place in a large pot. Using an immersion blender (or just a regular blender), puree all the produce until it is relatively smooth. Add 2 cups of water and some more Singapore Seasoning and boil for a while, until it reaches the desired consistency. Puree again, and serve hot, in a nice bowl.

3. Curl up in a cozy chair, with a great book, some friends, a beer and your soup, and stay warm in this beautiful fall season!

Bridget, you may be hundreds and hundreds of miles away, but this fall soup makes it seem as though you are right here with us. Love from the garden unit!
Happy eating!

Tuesday, September 14

The weekend journal

Two weekends ago was so jam packed with food (my Indian cooking bonanza with Val!), I could not even consider posting it all in one post; hence, the second post for the weekend. The second part of that weekend, was dominated by grapes: First, a wedding at a fine vineyard in Illinois (Jill's sister was married!) and then foraging for wild grapes with my mom on Monday (still the weekend, since it was Labor Day).
Jill's sister's wedding was hosted at the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard in Illinois. The main gazebo was on a dock, surrounded by a glass-like lake and a dome of black sky filled with crystal stars. It was really a beautiful place and Kelsey and I were so pleased to be there with Jill for the evening. Following suit, Monday was filled with grape picking and later, grape juicing! My mom and I foraged along the roadside near our house, harvesting over a gallon of grapes, which I later juiced into about 40 ounces of sun-kissed, wild grape juice. Delicious! Their season is just about over, so if you have time, head out to your local bike trail or the curb along a country road and search out the wild grape! They are free and plentiful and with two grocery bags full, I was able to juice about 3/4 of a gallon of juice. It is pretty tart so I will probably use it to make jelly or sherbet later.
To juice the grapes, I used my moms steam-juicer and steamed the grapes for about an hour. Another method you might choose, would be to boil the stemmed grapes and simmer until the desired concentration is met. Then strain and compost the juiced berries! As with any foraging adventures, be sure that you are properly identifying the wild grapes. There are many wild berries in season right now, and if you accidentally pick the wrong one... it would be not so good!

Then this past weekend, Jill, Kelsey and I plus Lauren and Lou, ventured to the great Kettle Moraine for some camping and outdoor time. Along with some day hikes and nights by the fire, we made sure to eat like queens! When you are car camping, there is just no reason to eat poorly. Our menu spread included Jill's specialty pumpkin pancakes and pita (both of which recipes will hopefully soon be making an appearance on the blog!), red beans and rice, and my contribution of homemade marshmallows.

To make your next camping trip extra special, pack some homemade marshmallows. They are so simple and just delicious.
Homemade Marshmallows
3 packages of unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar
1 cup of light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla
Powdered sugar for coating

1. Combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of water, in a bowl and set aside.

2. Next, combine the sugar, syrup, salt and an additional 1/2 cup of water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Then, raise the heat to high and cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Remove from heat.

3. With an electric mixer on low, slowly pour syrup into the gelatin. Then, put mixer on high speed and whip until very thick, or for about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix.

4. Powder coat a 9 inch by 9 inch pan with the powdered sugar (using a small sifter works wonders for this step!). Pour in the mixture and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Let stand until stiff, about an hour (but sometimes more, depending on the weather! This sounds silly, but I'm completely serious... It just might take a bit longer if its humid)

5. When cutting into pieces, use the knife to separate the marshmallow, while simultaneously coating with powdered sugar. You can be generous with the sugar, as any excess can be scooped up and re-sprinkled elsewhere.

* If you are taking these camping, I would cut them up before hand... its a bit messy and takes a little patience, but it is completely worth it!
Trust me, our camping experience was just lovely, and making more than plain 'ol pb&j (which don't get me wrong, I love a good pb&j) made the trip even more of a delight!

Happy eating (and camping), from the girls in the garden unit!

Wednesday, September 8

The weekend with Val

This past weekend has been highly anticipated for about the last year and a half. There has been much build up, and let me just say, I was not disappointed. Why was this past weekend so highly anticipated, you might be wondering? Well, because my close family friend Val opened her kitchen to me and taught me some of her traditional Indian cooking methods and recipes, or course! And a wonderful time it was, indeed.
Now, let me preface my cooking experience with Val, with a brief history of my personal connection to India. One of my first Indian experiences was in the second grade, when I attended my uncle Brad's Indian wedding ceremony, in which he married my aunt Sujata. I remember vividly, the colors and smells and excitement in the air on that day, as the beautiful women prepared themselves for the ceremony and others prepared the food for the reception. It was from that point on, that I was in love with Indian culture. At such a young age, I was completely fascinated by the unknown culture of my new aunt.
Then, one year later my brother Ben, a kindergardener at the time, met Bryan. Bryan's parents, Val and Lax are both from India but have raised both of their sons here in Wisconsin. It was Ben and Bryan's friendship, that brought our families together. Since then, our families have remained close and shared many special times with them. It seems that almost every holiday since I can remember, has been shared with them, and my holiday dinner plate has hosted a variety of foods, of both American and Indian decent.
The culmination of my connection with India occurred this past January, at which time I was fortunate enough to be able to travel overseas, to the beautiful country itself. Traveling with my dad and several others from my school for a school business trip, I was transported into the place I dreamed of as a child; there were colors of every hue on almost every surface in the country, the food was flavored in such a beautiful way and with such deliberateness, and the people were so loving and kind and breathtaking. It was this time in India that confirmed my love for India as well as deepened my personal and emotional connection.

In one week, Bryan is heading off to school at Princeton (yahoo!), so this past weekend, Val and Lax hosted a lovely farewell party for him, with a beautiful spread of traditional Indian dishes. On Saturday, I was so fortunate enough to share in the excitement of the celebration, by sharing in the food preparation. Together, Val and I prepared three dishes: Chutney (which I suppose isn't considered a dish, though I could definitely eat it with a spoon), Roti and Paratha. Today, I will share with you the recipe for chutney. I will save the other two for another time, after I have practiced them so that I can give you the best directions possible (I hope you understand!)

Here are the basics of what I learned. However, so much of this cooking experience was benefited by the personal connection and experience with Val in her kitchen, that these recipes can do it no justice:
Chutney
3 cups of fresh mint
3 cups of cilantro
The juice of 2 limes
15 small green chili peppers
2 inches of fresh ginger
12 ounces of shredded coconut
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of sugar
Cumin to taste
1. Remove the mint leaves from the stems (save the stems and any less desirable leaves... these can be dried and added to tea, later). Peel the ginger and grate into a thick paste, using a cheese grater. Remove the stems of the peppers.

2. In a food processor, puree the ginger, peppers, coconut, salt, sugar, cumin, lime juice, 1/2 of the mint, 1/2 of the cilantro, and just enough water to allow the ingredients to liquify. Gradually add more mint and cilantro until desired flavor and consistency is reached. The final chutney should be thick but not dry. You can store extra chutney in an air tight container for several days or even a week.
Chutney is used as a condiment, similar to how some people use ketchup. Pretty much, it can be used on anything (this is probably an exaggeration, but I wouldn't mind using it on anything...) as a flavor booster. Val grows her own mint in her garden. I am not sure how well mint does indoors, but I have to imagine, based on the dense growth of mint in her outdoor garden that this hardy plant would have no problem flourishing indoors as well.

Happy eating! (stay tuned for more of my weekend of food adventures, soon!)