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

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!

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!