separate two eggs: weight loss and mise en place

Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.
Detail, Market Scene with Christ and the Adulteress, Pieter Aertsen, 1559, Staedel Museum, Frankfurt.

I’m prepping to receive about 100 lbs. of the tastiest, juiciest, pasture-fed, local beef, so I’m desperately trying to eat down my standing freezer.  This is a bit harder as one person than two, especially one who has been battling appetite slumps and anxiety cooking jags and antisocial moods and dining out hopes and growing terror about a headlong dive into poverty.

I’m finding little gems squirreled away in corners, now that I’ve freed the chicken carcasses, the oxtail bones, and the half pig head, trotter, and jowl from their frozen prisons to make stock.  I bring you the cornucopia of my life, most of it put up in the last year:

  • two fine pieces of lasagna;
  • 4 cups of sour cherries;
  • a quart bag of home-cured posole;
  • 4 cups of ajvar;
  • 3 gallon bags stuffed full of, respectively, boysenberries, haskapberries, and cranberries;
  • 1 gallon or so of tomato paste, portioned into 2 tablespoon-sized cubes;
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini;
  • 4 cups of sauerkraut golabki, pink; consumed;
  • bag o’ pancakes (pancakes?);
  • 2 cups b’steeya filling;
  • bolete pierogi (yum);
  • 2 half-pints duck rillettes;
  • 8 or 10 pieces of injera;
  • local polenta;
  • 2 quarts corn;
  • 1 cup wild mushroom duxelles;
  • 1 quart raisins (to go with the two more gallons raisins on my shelf and other freezer);
  • 2 gallons grapes to make more damn raisins;
  • 8 cups roasted sweetmeat squash;
  • a big package of forgotten homemade sausages (yay!);
  • pancetta;
  • 1 pint pork/raisin/almond tamale filling;
  • pork skin;
  • a bag of chicken feet;
  • and the meats and stocks one might expect.

I’m not even down into the bowels of the freezer yet. Or addressing the daily-use freezer full of readymades in the house.  If I were a civilization, what would this archaeological dig say about me, other than I’ve an embarrassment of riches?

Wait, don’t answer that.

Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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that’s the way the red shiso crumbles: akajiso furikake

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Shiso grows quite well in Western Oregon gardens, even from seed, which is a blessing if you can’t find the starts.  My red shiso (akajiso) didn’t do quite as well as the green this year, but I still had enough to make furikake, the dried crumbled herb rice topping so popular in Japan.

That is, if I hadn’t managed to trip going down the stairs with the plate of drying red shiso, spraining my foot and smashing the lovely vintage Franciscan Eclipse plate and leaves into a thousand smithereens.

Ah well, ya win some, ya lose some.

I love the flavor of shiso, and make various pickles out of the largest fresh green leaves, but I never managed to get enough of the red to do much with it.  But if you’re lucky with shiso, try brining and drying it in the Japanese manner.

Last year, I dried red shiso leaves without brining them in rice vinegar first, and they tasted like dried leaves.  In other words, don’t omit the brining.  The vinegar that one uses to brine the leaves for akajiso furikake is delicious; I used it to make a bright pink turnip pickle after my welcome to fall.

IMG_9102Once you have the dried crumbly leaves, you can add sesame seeds, salt, and/or other bits and crumbles to make the topping even better.  Here’s an interesting idea, a furikake with akajiso, turnip greens, and katsuobushi fish flakes.  Turnip greens? Why not turnip greens?

Perhaps I will pretend I have some akajiso left and go eat some turnip greens, me and my immobilization boot.

Akajiso Furikake

  • Several big handfuls of red shiso (akajiso) leaves
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 100 ml rice vinegar (alternately, if you have ume vinegar, use that instead of the rice vinegar/tablespoon of salt)

Rinse the leaves and place in mixing bowl.  Massaging and squeezing with your hand, knead one teaspoon of sea salt into the leaves, allowing the salt to draw a sometimes bitter purple liquid from the leaves for about a minute or two.  Pour off this liquid and squeeze out leaves as best as you can.

Add the remaining one tablespoon of sea salt to the vinegar and mix well.  Add leaves.  Let sit for two days in the vinegar in the refrigerator.  Dry in sun until crumbly. Grind in mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Enjoy as a topping on rice, fish, or vegetables.

i say plum and paste tomatoes

IMG_8629 Visual only! Don’t even dream of canning these wonderful ‘Ananas Noire’ tomatoes on view at the farmers market last Saturday at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis.

IMG_8624 These guys?  Probably not.  Very much slicers, too, in my book.

Paste tomatoes are the bane of the gardener/canner’s existence, I’m feeling more and more.  They taste bad, they’re prone to blossom-end rot, and they take forever to ripen.  I’ve tried a number of varieties, always seeking that nirvana of good flavor and robust health, but every one seems to have its significant downside.  Every year I end up supplementing my significant acreage (ok, one super long row) with purchased plum tomatoes.

IMG_8620Plums are gorgeous and long-lived when they’re grown properly, especially the new striped and black hybrids, but the taste doesn’t advance beyond mediocre.  Although I strongly disapprove of adding bottled lemon juice when processing tomatoes, I kind of think it doesn’t matter when you’re using plums, since there’s no flavor to begin with.  Regular ‘Roma’ tomatoes are useless, and ‘San Marzanos’ are particularly awful here in the Willamette Valley.  People insist on buying them, since they are the Italian variety everyone knows as quality, but they just taste like cardboard in and out of the jar.

IMG_8619So what’s a local girl to do?  Keep searching for better varieties for our region.  I grew ‘Saucey’ for several years.  In 2014 my biggest success is a grafted plant of ‘Jersey Devil,’ which may be a new offering from Log House this year. They have a very pleasant little tail at the end and turn bright red, just like Satan.  They didn’t crap out like my highly anticipated ‘Orange’ and ‘Black Icicles’.

But paste tomatoes, in my opinion, are better than plums, but still prone to diva behavior.  They’re the ones that are not necessarily elongated and hollow/seedy in the middle, but may be more heart-shaped and solid flesh with very few seeds.  They will be a bit more liquidy at first than plums, but cook down nicely and produce a much more flavorful sauce.  I’ve posted many times about ‘Amish Paste,’ so I won’t go into it here, but the 1-pound tomatoes I get from the good strain of this plant (i.e., not the small tomato strain), are excellent.  Farmer Anthony Boutard recommended it to me several years ago, and he’s since moved on to his own ‘Astiana’ line plucked from a market in the Piedmont region of Italy.  I’ve yet to haul my preoccupied behind up to Hillsdale to get in on some of that ‘Astiana’ action.

IMG_8623Heart-shaped, solid tomatoes are also good for sauce.  One possibility for me this year might be these ‘Reif Red Hearts’, spotted last weekend next to the ‘Ananas Noires’. They look quite promising indeed as a sauce tomato, from what I’ve read on the internets.

IMG_8618As for local plums, and there are better varieties than ‘San Marzano,’ like ‘Scipio’, which was good last year from Sweetwater Farm, and these fat and gorgeous ‘Opalka’ plums from Mountain View Farm in Junction City.

Another possibility to consider are the good ol’ round canning tomatoes, like the all-purpose Moskovich, again from Ruby and Amber’s stand at the market.

IMG_8625What varieties are you picking, buying, and canning this year?

grapest show on earth

IMG_8636Whoa, looks like my green table grapes (of indeterminate variety) really liked having more airflow and a less severe prune!  For a change, my laziness resulted in happy times: a bumper crop of the little, seedless, acidic things. So. Many. Grapes. Expecting yours did as well as mine, I won’t try to pawn mine off on you as a hopeful gentleman did the zucchini bat below:

IMG_0188Thus, I present to you the recipes I’m experimenting with this year. I’m afraid my grapes are less juicy and more tart than the average grape, so I’ll probably have to adjust the recipes. 

I’m looking forward to:

You might be tempted to try some of these 51 grape recipes.  I dunno.  Some of them look awful.  And that goes for most grape recipes on the internet.  Anything remotely indicating a grape pie, for example — a weepy, mushy grape pie with some offensive topping where the recipe writer warns the reader ahead of time — is not going to be something I sample.  If you do, and you like it, let me know!

One recipe link that’s broken is an interesting one for “burnt grapes,” which seems to be just a raspberries Romanoff adaption, in which one tops the fruit with sour cream then brûlées it.  Eh.  Not my fave, and grapes would be slipperier.  But here’s another link for that.

Pickled grapes?  Hmmm, maybe.  You tell me.

Or this grape almond olive oil cake that won the contest that produced the Collins and chutney recipes?  Sure thing.

You could also try fresh grape juice, which is made by processing a ton of grapes in a blender, then straining. Or grape juice for canning, recipe here.  I had some wonderful grape juice this winter sold at the Cottage Grove farmstand made of blends of table and wine grapes, both red and white, so I know it can be good, and not a trip down Welch’s memory lane.

IMG_8631Aaaand upon seeing the price of table grapes at the market…anyone want to buy about 50 lbs. of grapes? I’m trying to fund a freelancing career, here. ;)

but first, the tomato news

IMG_8416Tomato time.  I take advantage of cooler nights and melt down chunks of paste tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in a 225 degree oven overnight to make tomato paste.  After I mill out the skins and cook the rest of the water out, I freeze the paste in ice cube trays.  I’ll do this several times during tomato season to keep up with the harvest.  Not everything needs to be canned/preserved in big batches!

For a change of pace, try my green and red pizza sauce, cooked similarly to tomato paste but with more seasoning and green tomatoes.  You don’t need any special equipment for this one!

And later in the season, you can bet I’ll use up all the rest of the paste tomatoes in my ketchup recipe, one of the best recipes I’ve ever developed.

This year my always huge tomatoes got away from me in the dry heat, and I’m battling an even more severe blossom end rot issue than usual.  It’s clearly a calcium/fertilizer deficiency, since they grew so fast and I thought I had covered my bases with my usual treatment of dried milk and eggshells, plus even watering.  Even a calcium infusion late in the game didn’t help much.  Kind of mad at myself, since I’ve now lost about 75% of the plum tom crop, but I still have huge numbers of tomatoes, so I can’t complain about anything other than my own lack of vigilance.

What’s growing extremely well is the next generation Indigo tomatoes developed first at OSU.  I planted a grafted variety from Log House Gardens called ‘Indigo Cherry Drop’ that has proven to be blossom-end-rot (BER) bullet-proof (the only plant that emerged unscathed).  The others, not so much:

Tomatoes 2014

  • Orange Icicle and Black Icicle (both very prolific but wiped out nearly clean with BER, orange variety tastes terrific)
  • Black Ethiopian (a solid salad tom, pretty good BER resistance)
  • Indigo Cherry Drop – terrific, perfect golf ball size; actually tastes good, unlike the first gen Indigos (not great but good), and very pretty
  • Sungold
  • Amish Paste (got the big strain this year, thank goodness, and it’s stronger against the BER than expected)
  • San Marzano (grafted) – still tastes bad and full of BER
  • Jersey Devil (grafted) – another plum but same problems
  • Sunset’s Red Horizon
  • Henderson’s Winsall
  • Anna Russian – another big paste (or rather heart-shaped) that resembles Amish but seems heartier
  • Rose di Berne
  • Black Mt. Pink

And while I’m at it, just thought I should mention the peppers are doing very well.  I had to pinch off blossoms early in the season to encourage the plants to grow large enough to support the crop, so I’m just now getting some full, beautiful pepper development.

Peppers 2014

  • Corbaci (a long skinny sweet pepper, really cool and prolific, grew in pot)
  • Sweet banana
  • Carmen (x 2, not sure why i grew two of these)
  • Paradisium Alatu Sarza Szentes (yellow ribbed flat guys)
  • Jaloro (yellow jalapeno, in pot, hot)
  • Atris (F1 hybrid, huge)
  • Mulato
  • Mulato Islena
  • Padron
  • Aji Amarillo  (no flowers yet!!)
  • Negro de Valle
  • Pasilla Baijo (chilaca when fresh)

pricing albacore for canning

IMG_0443If you’re planning to can tuna this year, and you just so happen to at or near the Oregon coast, be sure to use my handy, research-based, certified Master Food Preserver vetted, proofread (etc., etc.) guide to canning tuna.  (Or check out more tips if you want to can salmon.)  I’m going to amend it with more info about buying tuna, with thanks again to fellow MFP and tuna canning expert Dale Dow, who clarifies:

To order fish, a rough rule of thumb is to order one pound of fish (whole fish, not fillets) per half-pint jar.  This is the whole fish and about 50% wastage is expected.  But the size of the fish, the skill of the fishmonger, and the skill of filling the jars all determine how many jars can be filled.  In other words, I’d say,”I want 24 pounds of tuna for canning, filleted” if I planned to do a canner full.  It is cheaper to filet your own if you have the skill and time.

Thanks, Dale!

lane county fair 2014

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I’m a big fan of the county fair.  You can see the entire set of my photos here.  This was the first year I’ve been able to go and wander at my leisure, neither being in a wheelchair nor overscheduled, as I have been in past fairs.  And it wasn’t 90 degrees yesterday, another big plus.

If you do go, be sure to see the animals the 4-H kids have raised and all the exhibits indoors.  That’s really what the fair’s about, not the Zipper and deep-fried candy.  We’re struggling to keep the Lane County Extension 4-H programming alive due to budget cuts, so awareness and appreciation of all the good things that come from agriculture and animal husbandry education are essential.  All the baking, preservation, art, and gardening exhibits include kids’ divisions.

IMG_8197 IMG_5879 IMG_5988I noticed this year’s fair has a slightly — slightly — more conservationist quality to it.  Didn’t see the religious trailer “ARE YOU GOING TO HEAVEN?!” and there were only a few Confederate flags flying next to the gay pride and legalize pot ones.  And there was a family farm booth.  Plus, of course, the Master Food Preservers, Master Gardeners, book vendors, and MECCA’s reuse booth.  And education about the environment and animals via the parrot pirate and the sea lion show…well, there’s that.

PS.  Note to roasted corn boss: let the servers roast the corn properly.  It was only roasted on the outside, and corn, like life, is improved with a little char. Love, CE.