Saturday, April 2, 2011

Plant Now or Forever Hold Your Seeds

TOMATOES!! Hi, Gillian here with an update on current homestead projects. Our greenhouse has a new roof, not made of glass this time, and although it is still lacking a door it is toasty warm and full of baby plants. The tomatoes are still in the kitchen getting coddled, but they are already much bigger than in this picture. I sure hope the weather outside warms up fast so we can plant them out. As an experiment, I planted two "Cold Set" tomato seeds in an in-ground bed in the greenhouse in March. They haven't come up yet. But if they do, we may get some seriously early tomatoes. Alyssa's dad sent us the seeds from Minnesota and they have been known to survive temperatures down to 18 degrees Farenheit!

Although Alyssa and Dan are the true quilters--they've knocked out three quilt tops in the past week, and nice ones, too--I have been diligently working on my log cabin chain piecing skills to make some blocks for Quilts for Quake Survivors. Anyone can make blocks and go to quilting bees at sewing shops around town to make them into quilts. On May 11th, come to a live auction and buy one of the quilts--all the proceeds will be donated to support Japan disaster victims.

And enjoy this beautiful chicken drawn by my good friend and one of my favorite artists, Claire Michie. We Gocco printed it last week, and isn't it lovely? I wish I could say it's a portrait of one of our girls, but this chicken is no one I know personally...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weeknight Pickling

Long time no post! January is hardly the best time for canning and preserving...and February isn't exactly a cornucopia either. Or is it? This week I'm making sunchoke pickles from the seemingly endless supply in the backyard. (It may only seem endless because a year's supply of sunchokes to me is...about three pounds.)

In homestead news, I've opened the last jar of pears in light syrup. I definitely should have made more, because I can happily eat cottage cheese with canned pears three or four times a week for breakfast or a snack. I LOVE it. And my canned pears are the best I've ever had, if I do say so myself.

The carrot pickles I made last fall were also delectable--with what I think of as my "Portland blend" of pickling spices: coriander seed, fennel seed, and celery (really, lovage) seed, plus a few peppercorns, garlic, and a dried chili pepper. Everything but the peppercorns came from within five blocks of my house. And this year's green tomato chutney is getting high ratings. Good, because we still have, like, 14 jars. Apple butter is also tasty and getting used.

But the winner of last summer's preserving, by far, is Dan's Blackberry Freezer Jam. Next summer I want to fill our entire freezer with it. Because it doesn't have a lot of sugar, it tastes good in yogurt, on ice cream, from a spoon, and piled in excessive mounds on toast. And each time I eat it, I think about Dan showing up on his bike with scratches up and down his arms and a gallon jug full of blackberries, pretty much every afternoon in August.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


My mom's favorite candy is English toffee, with nuts, without chocolate. Many years ago, when I was still in college and Theresa still made zines, we got a Christmas gift of incredible toffee and the recipe that went with it from a zine friend of Theresa's. I have made it at least 20 times, and only once did it fail me...and the best part is, you don't need a candy thermometer! I'm going to share this recipe with you all. Which makes me kind of sad, because now I can never again impress you with a gift of the best toffee you ever had. Once you know how easy it is, you won't be impressed anymore. Oh well...

To make one small batch of toffee (you can double it successfully):

1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sliced raw almonds (sliced is very important, because their thinness lets you spread the toffee super-thin, and if you don't do this, my mom will complain.)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 bar dark chocolate (any size will work)

Grease a large cookie sheet, or better, line it with parchment.

In a wide, flat-bottomed pan at least 2 inches deep, cook the water, butter, and sugar over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon (which will turn into a toffee lollipop for you to enjoy at the end). From this point, it will be 15-45 minutes until the toffee is done cooking--I don't know why it's so variable, but it is! I usually set a timer for 45 minutes so I don't freak out about the time, and then pay careful attention to the visual clues that are part of this recipe.

If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in water. Don't worry too much about this. After a while, the sugar will start to turn brown, then turn coarse and chunky. This means you are almost done. Add the vanilla and almonds. After a few minutes, the chunky sugar will liquefy again. (If it doesn't, sprinkle in a very little bit of water, maybe one tablespoon.) You can judge when the toffee is ready by the color, which at this point is darkening rapidly. As soon as the toffee is a deep golden brown, immediately take it off the heat and pour it onto your prepared cookie sheet. You will probably want a brave and careful friend to help you with this. Make sure it's someone you trust because that sugar is extremely hot and will burn you terribly if it gets on you! Don't try to taste it--I mean it. Do not put the spoon in your mouth until it's completely cool!

Tilt the sheet and use the spoon to spread the toffee as thinly as possible. Then, quickly, take the chocolate bar and rub it over the top of the hot toffee. The heat will melt the chocolate in a very thin layer, which gives you the perfect ratio of thin, crisp toffee to thin, rich chocolate!

Put the toffee in the fridge or freezer for a little while, until it hardens, then break it into irregular pieces. I wish I had a picture to share, but I don't.
So instead, I will share a picture of a recent house dinner, made by Jenn. She invented Brussels Sprout Sushi--or really, onigiri. Apparently, according to the internet, no one has ever blogged about that particular dish before, Each of those rice balls contained a whole, spicy Brussels sprout, cooked to delicious Korean-flavored tenderness. Aren't they pretty? Also, tasty. I would eat them again for sure.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Miracle of Hanukkah

"Hmm, it looks like we only have nine Hanukkah candles. So if we light one the first night, we won't have enough left for the rest of the 8 days. What should we do?"

Although I saved all the candles on display instead of lighting them, today (day after the last day of Hanukkah) I discovered three more boxes of Hanukkah candles in my candle drawer! It's the miracle of the candles that burned for eight days when there were only enough for year, I will actually light them.

And why was I looking in my candle drawer? Because I was making my yearly batch of recycled candles! They always end up being red and green, because my favorite store-bought candles are a red one that has a vanilla-cinnamon-flowers sort of holiday scent and Pacifica Fig, which is green. My friend Colette wanted to make candles, so I busted out the votive molds, wicks, and a ton of burnt-out candle ends and empty candle jars, and, like magic, one 28-ounce-can of warm wax scraped off the kitchen floor later, a bunch of new candles to use and give away.

I was going to write out directions, but there are plenty out there, so I'll just add my personal tips:

*Use a big steel can, like from 28 ounces of tomatoes, inside of a small saucepan, as a double boiler. Make sure the wax in the can is at a higher level than the water in the pot, so the can is heavy enough to not tip over.

*Unsplit disposable wooden chopsticks are excellent for holding the wicks up while you pour the candles. You can see one in the photo--just slip the wick in between the two sides of the chopsticks without splitting them all the way apart.

But hey, how is our homestead project going? Well, some good news: Dan's blackberry freezer jam is so amazing that it transports us back to summer every time we eat it, to those bright, neverending afternoons when Dan would show up on his bike with scratches up and down his arms and a gallon jug of fresh blackberries, still warm from the sun. Also, pears picked in October and persimmons and kiwis picked in November are still ripening. We stuck some in the fridge and have been taking them out gradually so we have an ongoing supply. It's working perfectly. You can see them here alongside one of Dan's famous Dutch Babies, which happened to be served with five kinds of homemade jam.

OK news: most of the Long Keeper tomatoes ripened, and we ate them. They were mediocre. Some of them turned all the way red and got somewhat sweet and flavorful, but several spoiled before ripening and some were still sour and a little bitter after they turned red.

Not-so-good news: the greenhouse isn't doing a great job of keeping things alive all winter. That hard freeze at Thanksgiving was really unfortunate, because it's been warm enough since then, but only a few lettuces, a pot of arugula, and my friend Rob's lemon tree are still hanging in there, and those mainly because I brought them in the house when it froze. However, it's still warmer than outside and nicely wind- and rain-proof, so I think it will be great for starting plants in the early, early spring...which is almost here!

Friday, November 26, 2010


Hi from Gillian. My housemates have been worried about what they consider "a persimmon problem" for several weeks now. Let me assure you: there is no persimmon problem. Never has been. Sure, Alyssa and Dan had to install a large new persimmon-storage shelf in our kitchen--but that is just an indication of how little of a persimmon problem we have. We've got tons of them! I was lucky enough to be invited to pick a whole small tree's worth of persimmons this year (about 200 small ones), and have been happily eating them ever since. I usually just peel them, cut out the pithy part in the middle (it's astringent and doesn't taste good), and eat the rest, like a peach. I think they taste like pumpkin and dried apricot. They're good a little crisp, and also when they're a little soft, with that slippery, juicy succulence. Also great in a salad, maybe with a few nuts and pomegranate seeds--this is my standard Thanksgiving salad. Totally soft and I usually give them to my friend Kimber, who makes a mean persimmon bread around holiday time.

OK, I lied. We did have a slight persimmon problem. The problem was, Jenn made several persimmon-mobiles 9visible in this Thanksgiving photo), and hung some of them outside, and then it froze, and so did the persimmons. So I had to use a lot of them right away, and I'd already given Kimber all he wanted...and then Theresa said she needed a treat to give to someone...and I finally tried my hand at cooking with persimmons.

The bread I made came out better than expected. The crunchy pecans on top are delicious, and there are lots of sweet surprises in the batter--chocolate, candied ginger, pecans, raisins, and cubes of persimmon. It's like a fruitcake in all the good ways. Here's my recipe! I started here but made so many changes that I think my recipe is now original.

Persimmon Bread (makes 2 standard sized loaves)

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom

4 eggs
2 1/4 cups pureed persimmon pulp
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
2 cups sugar

1 large handful raisins
1 large handful chocolate chips
1 large handful chopped pecans, plus another 1/2 cup or so for the tops
1 small handful chopped candied ginger
1 more firm-ripe persimmon, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. Whisk together dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Whisk together eggs, persimmon pulp, oil, and sugar. Add dry ingredients to this mixture. Stir just enough to combine wet and dry ingredients, then fold in the raisins, chocolate chips, 1 handful pecans, candied ginger, and diced persimmon.

Oil and flour two loaf pans (I used metal). Divide batter between the two pans and sprinkle the top of each pan of batter with about 1/4 cup chopped pecans. Put the pans in the oven for about 1 hour at 350 degrees (start checking for doneness after 45-50 minutes). When a knife comes out clean, take the loaves out of the oven and cool them completely (I did this on a wire rack). Your house will smell like holidays and this bread tastes at least as good as banana bread...I hope you like it!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

you want a piece of me?

Two pies -- chocolate bourbon pecan and pear frangipane tart -- will grace our table this Thanksgiving.   That photo taken by Alyssa -- pies made by me.  I'm trying to look a little intimidating in it because we originally took the photo to send to her dad -- who is a big pie chef himself.  He had sent her a photo of him holding his pies with a 'don't mess with me' face. 

Not just those pies, actually.  In addition Crabapple Cottage will have:

* Another pecan pie (one is not enough, and Gillian always likes to have leftover ramekins of pie to eat for breakfast the next morning)
* Pumpkin-cardamom custard (made by Jenn)
* Maple-mustard glazed sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips (made by me -- a staple of our Thanksgiving table over the last few years)
* Green salad with persimmons (Gillian)
* Mashed potatoes with homemade veggie gravy (Alyssa)

Plus, lots of guests and their dishes.  And tons of homemade whipped cream, of course.

Maybe we'll post recipes for some of these later.  The chocolate bourbon pecan pie really should be immortalized... I was first introduced to it at my friend Megan's 'good-pie' party when she moved away to Massachusetts several years ago.   I've been using her exact recipe ever since.  I've made some improvements to it over the years though, the most important maybe being that I stopped using corn syrup and went for the agave nectar route (still a high fructose syrup, albeit less highly processed), which changed the texture of the pie for the better -- more fudgy, less liquidy -- and gave it a more balanced, less sickeningly-sweet flavor.

Oh, what the hell -- here's the recipe...

Megan's Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie (with edits by Theresa)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

1 cup sugar
1 cup agave nectar (I like to use half light/half dark, you can do either or both)
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup bourbon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
(plus a generous handful of whole pecans to decorate the top)
 Your favorite pie crust recipe (I recommend Mark Bittman's flaky pie crust from How to Cook Everything, a cookbook every American should really own).

In a saucepan, combine butter, sugar, agave.  Stir over medium heat until melted.  Turn off heat and add chocolate chips -- stir until chips melt.  Cool slightly. 

In large bowl, combine eggs, bourbon, vanilla and salt; mix well.  Slowly pour sugar mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Stir in toasted chopped pecans.  Pour into prebaked pie shell. 

Bake for 50-55 minutes, until center is set and pie crust is golden.  If you prebake, you might want to cover the edges of your pie crust with foil about halfway through the baking so they don't burn.

You will not be sorry you made this pie.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Salsa Verde

If you are lucky, you now have ripe tomatoes and tomatillos rolling in at a rapid rate. You probably also still have some green tomatoes on the plants, unless you have been hardhearted and practical enough to pull your tomatoes out and make room for your winter garden. Here in Portland, our warm fall days have been the only warm days we've had all summer, and tomatoes only just started to get ripe, so I have not had the heart to pull the plants out!

I would like to share with you my general recipe for tomatillo salsa. It is very general because the measurements depend entirely on what I have on hand. It works out every time for me and I believe that it will do the same for you.

You will need a grill (we have a little gas grill) and a blender for this recipe.

1-2 pounds of fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed
A few green tomatoes, if desired
1-2 ripe yellow tomatoes
Several mild green or red peppers, such as bell peppers, gypsy peppers, pasilla peppers, or Italian peppers
A few hotter chilies, such as jalapeno, serrano, or whatever you happen to have--or use a pinch of powdered hot chili
1 large or 2 small onions
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
1 small bunch of cilantro, including tender stems
Lime to taste (usually I feel that it's not necessary so go easy)
Salt and pepper

Heat up the grill. Core the tomatoes and if they are large, cut them in half. Cut stems off of peppers, and take out the seeds. With the hot peppers, cut off the stems with a little bit of flesh attached and touch this little bit of stem-end pepper flesh to your tongue. You must check the hotness of each pepper to decide how many to put in. If they are milder, put in plenty, but if you get a really hot pepper, be careful! Even one little super-hot pepper can make the whole batch too spicy for some people (like me). Peel and thickly slice the onion. If desired, push some toothpicks through the side of the onion slices to keep the rings together on the grill.

Throw the whole tomatillos, halved tomatoes, peppers, and onion slices on the grill. Turn them every couple of minutes until they have grill marks and are getting soft--it is usually really fast, maybe 8 minutes total. As individual pieces of vegetable get done, throw them directly into the blender, until all the vegetables are in there. Turn off the grill. Toss the garlic into the blender too, and some salt. If the blender is more than half full, dump some of the vegetables into a bowl. Turn on the half-full blender (you should do the hot-stuff-in-the-blender protocol which is to take out the middle of the blender top to let hot air our and put a folded dishtowel on top of that to prevent a hot blender explosion) and whiz until smooth (salsa verde usually doesn't have chunks). Add more vegetables and blend. If the blender gets too full, pour some salsa into a bowl. Add the cilantro, including a few inches of tender stems, to the salsa in the blender and whiz again. Add the cilantro salsa to the salsa in the bowl and stir. Taste and add more salt and some lime to balance flavors to your liking.

This salsa is great with chips, in a quesadilla or burrito, or used as enchilada sauce. You can add a bunch to the broth for tortilla soup. It freezes well if you make more than you can use in a week!