The season of small batches.

There is no denying that I feel unproductive in my homelife lately.  It just can't be helped.  But I suppose, there is still quite a lot coming out of the kitchen despite my deficit in time.  It helped that it barely rained this summer, rendering yard work nearly extinct.  It helped that I realized I should listen to all the radio I miss out on while cleaning up the kitchen post-kiddo-bedtime, rendering my precious evening hour or so to myself more productive and blessedly multi-tasked.  And then there is vinegar, which transforms fruit that just can't make it into jars, extending the seasons in my glass with the addition of seltzer water - a truly healthful alternative to the hard drinking that I could probably justify if I were that type of girl.

cherry vinegar

The Wisconsin tart cherry season ended at least 3 weeks ago, when I dumped the 2 lbs. I intended for jam into this half gallon jar succumbing to the realization that I was not going to pit them and jar them and enjoy them on toast.  Ever since, they've been steadily turning the vinegar deeper and deeper red - vibrant fuchsia really - a truly almost intoxicating smell rising to meet me as I take off the lid every few days and procrastinate a bit longer for straining out the pits and fruit and maybe adding some sugar and decanting it into some jars. 

I've done drinking vinegars for the past handful of years, doing them all pretty much the same.  A cup of Bragg's vinegar (or enough to cover) to 1 lb. of fruit or berry, soaking for a week (or 3 as I procrastinate).  As my rule of thumb, I add up to a cup of sugar for every cup of strained fruit vinegar.  Usually, I am happy with a half cup sugar per cup vinegar which was the case with the peach puree vinegar I made more than a month ago with perfectly ripe Georgia peaches.  That season has passed, but now the Washington peaches are upon us, and I may have to make more to hold me through the winter.

peach vinegar

Last weekend, I canned 2 pints of dilly beans (Food in Jars' recipe) and 4 pints of giardiniera. My canning episodes took place 24 hours apart and I tried not to be hard on myself that I was wasting energy (both environmental and my own physical energy) heating water on separate occasions to bathe jars.  I'm taking my triumphs where I can get them, and am happy that when I get a taste for my favorite sandwich, the few pickles I was able to make will have my back. I got a surprising amount of jam on the shelves too. 

dilly beans

I was particularly thrilled with the Foolproof Preserving book that America's Test Kitchen put out; the most perfect peach jam I ever made was their recipe.  It used a shredded Granny Smith apple in lieu of pectin, and there was no peeling of fruit. I have 4 half pints in my basement, where I'm trying not to open them until at least October.  The run over made the best peanut butter and jelly ever.

peach jam

I feel devoid of words lately, instead posting Instagrams with brief glimpses into my changing world, which still manages to include quite a bit of homemade stuff. So many people have reminded me this is a season, and not necessarily will it last forever. Logic confirms this, but I also know that I tend to stick things out for the long haul... and that in the back of my mind, I can see me pulling 20 years at my new job in the blink of an eye while all the seasons of impossibly small batches get easier and more approachable as I adapt to work outside my kingdom.  But maybe the best is yet to come.  One reminder of midwestern living is that there is always another season as much as you love or hate the one that is currently upon you, that as surely as it is 85 and humid, it will be 10 degrees and snowing.  At least during those 10 degree work mornings, I will have some peach jam.

In the Night Kitchen.

Where do I start?  With more than 2 months of silence here in my food world, it's kind of tough to know where to pick up.  I think the best place to go is back to 1988. I was a 5th grader in a new school.  Newly moved from a rural, northern Wisconsin woods home, my 5th grade year was the only one of my life at home with my parents that I spent in a city setting.  There wasn't a school bus that picked me up a full hour before classes began, there was my Dad behind the wheel and my brother and I in the back seat.  And every day, as far as my memory serves, we listened to Los Lobos' La Bamba soundtrack on cassette.  Each morning, we would start at the beginning of side A, and most mornings we'd arrive at school somewhere around the time Charlena began. Every single day, my Dad put that in for us at our request; I don't recall that he ever just got plain sick of it.  It was just that year, 1988 - and after that I was sold on Los Lobos for life.  By the start of my 6th grade year, I sat in the back right hand side of a big, yellow school bus at 7:10 each morning. In the years that followed, I had a Walkman and could listen for that hour before school started to La Bamba or whatever else I had on tape as we wound along through the country roads, catching sight of foxes and cows, rolling hills.  But for the minutes between our city house and school in 1988, my father let us listen to the same dozen songs over and over and over.

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This hit home as so much change in my world has me taking my boys to spend their days away from me.  Late in the school year, in my oldest boy's new school, his music teacher introduced him to Bob Marley.  He came home one afternoon singing Three Little Birds, and by the first day of summer camp at the new center where both of my boys are fortunate to go together, we put Bob Marley into my CD player - I've spent so many years behind a wheel of a car with a broken CD player that I forgot I could use it once again.  "Mom, can we listen to Three Little Birds?"  After a couple weeks of that request every single morning as we hopped into the car, I started to question why I even had a Bob Marley CD anyway.  Again?  There are hardly any words in that song.  Maybe in the third week in I actually thought about those few words - my littlest baby singing in the back seat: " 'Cause Every Little Thing's Gonna be All Right".  And it's true, it is.  The days go by, I feel like I'm marking time in a world I don't belong in any more, but every little thing continues to be all right.

I have had to drastically change my approach to a homemade life.  What I make is still homemade, I just make a whole lot less, eat a whole lot less, and cook much less frequently.  But often, when my world looks dim in the evening, when the weight of things seems overwhelming... Friday nights especially when that crown jewel of the work nights comes to a head and the weekend looms over like this 48 hours of workweek armistice or something...  I stand around my kitchen perplexed and overwhelmed and when I throw onions in a pan and start heating them up, something happens to my sorry state.  Something marvelous.  Because that is all cooking really is for me, even more than the means to eating well and enjoying the company - it is certain truths I know to be true. My memory of my old self comes back, and things become orderly on my plate once again.  My boys ask to put Three Little Birds on in the dining room, and I say that it's fine and we all sing along. Because it's good to remember that every little thing is going to be all right.

Giveaway Winner!

The winner of the Strawberry Ancho Preserves is Ellen H.!  I know you'll love this jar of jam, Ellen, and I can't wait to hear how you enjoy it! 

pasta

It's Mother's Day, and (appropriately maybe) it's my last day off before outside employment begins!  I'm having a quiet day as the littlest boy naps, and the other is outdoors riding his bike with the neighborhood kids.  I can't seem to shake how absolutely ordinary everything is. I tidied up the house, washed the bathroom sink.  After these few words I'll turn that pasta above into an Asian inspired asparagus salad with the addition of some radishes and maybe some sunflower microgreens - I've been eating those on everything lately.  I have a dear friend coming for dinner tonight, and we supposed that it was actually spring here in the Midwest and decided to throw sausages on the grill.  While sunny, it's still chilly and I broke down and put a sweater on because I refuse to close the windows...

My other big plans today include prepping galette dough for a dinner later this week and going to forage for a few ramps, after that sleepy little one wakes up.  Maybe we'll grill some ramps along with walking onions, which are proliferating down my backyard hill and out into the field, walking the way they do.  I'm trying to organize my thoughts in a way that don't revolve around meals and Monday being wash day.  It's all too easy to be sad, and yet, the sun comes pouring in and I am overwhelmed with the divine providence of it all and just how thankful for each moving piece that has perfectly slid into place.  Off to the next adventure!

(PRiMO Strawberry Ancho Preserves + Giveaway)

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I took a deep breath while standing at my kitchen sink this morning after doing the breakfast dishes. One boy ate leftover blue cornmeal pancakes from yesterday morning, and the other several leftover rolled up crêpes spread with an iteration of Megan Gordon's chocolate-hazelnut spread. My timing was on. It was 7:15 and everything was cleaned up.  I had my pre-measured coffee beans in the grinder and ready to brew, 2 hours before I usually even think of making my coffee.  Not taking into account the time needed to dress myself appropriately, I feel like I'm getting this.  My new life is about to start and I have one last week of daily homelife to myself before embarking on this new adventure, new chapter in my life.  Before it all begins for real.

As this space where I collect my kitchen life felt slowly more and more neglected, I have found all the words pouring around in my head.  A food blog is no place to recount the details of broken hearts, and lives forever and irrevocably changed.  Or maybe it is.  The truth of it all is that the broken bits of my life that have suddenly arranged themselves into a brand new pattern, one I probably would have never put together myself, but also intricate enough that I know the Almighty power behind it all: the One pushing me out and into a place that might feel foreign and uncomfortable.  A brand new normal with all of the knowledge of the past decade to back me up.

I hesitate to go into detail. Every relationship that comes to an end has moving pieces and two sides to the story. But my conscious is clean. It's the only path through that I could see. For the immediate time being, I'll move through life once again a single person - albeit one with two boys in tow. The inner workings of a girl who has spent 10 years cultivating a home, growing boys and plants, becoming a preserver, a baker, a writer are tough to separate and sift out. I continue to struggle with the feeling that my life, the essence of my personhood, is changing. I'll no longer measure my days with sourdough feeding and line dried clothes. But the slow timing in so much change has convinced me that it is, after all, only change. I'm going to stand at the helm of my kitchen with less time, but never without homemade bread.  I will still be me, just with a little less time.

Meanwhile, I have been wordless at the outpouring of support from the people in life that have graced me with their friendship. There have been quick notes from those in my tribe, the Internet friends that are real and living and aren't at all hollow and dismissive, and there have been too many coffee beans dropped at my doorstep to count. I am bolstered by support of people who get what it is to be forced into so much change, those who have been through something similar themselves, those whose voices echo that yeah it is hard, but you are able and that trials in life are not purposeless. Those that remind that something good will come again and that it really is an adventure to find out just what that will include.

image from PRiMO

image from PRiMO

I wondered if this was the right post to include my review of PRiMO's new Strawberry Ancho Preserves, and offer up a jar to give away.  I mean really.  Life changing, deep sorrowful stuff, written with total ambiguity?  But it can't be any other way.  Somehow all the little pieces of this gigantic puzzle also include this small company, and their truly homemade jams.  Somehow them sending me a jar in the mail (and they have IMPECCABLE packaging which always makes me smile even wider) for me to give my honest opinion of made me feel validated as a small time food writer and recipe developer. 

This jar was bright and warm, not spicy really - but like the blend of chiles only added to the "strawberryness" of the strawberry.  I originally thought that I'd come up with something complicated to showcase it, a mole maybe or a marinade for meat.  But then I realized that complicated is just not what I do anymore.  I make scones instead of croissants and other laminated doughs. I make a big pot of dal and we eat it for days in a row instead of cooking every night. And this special jar of jam fit right in with the timing of my life which I am ever so mindful of right now. It is perfectly enjoyable on a spoon, in plain yogurt, on toast. It complements all the most comforting things, because after all it is strawberry jam and strawberry jam is king of the jams. And royal jam is meant to be eaten so that you can really taste it.

strawberry-ancho ricotta

Crêpes might seem like a luxury, but they don't actually take too much time - especially if you mix the blender batter in the evening and let it laze about in your refrigerator for a couple of days.  They actually only improve with time. When you get to making the actual crêpes, layer them on a large dinner plate with a square of waxed paper between each and let them cool completely before stashing them in the fridge. Covered well with plastic wrap, you can get another 2-3 days storage out of them.  Don't worry if you need a bit of practice to get nice, round crêpes, all of your practice is edible.

Crêpes with Strawberry-Ancho Ricotta

for the crêpe batter (Alton Brown's is best in my book):

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 c. ap flour
  • 3 T. melted butter
  • 1 T. granulated sugar
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend well.  Transfer to a wide mouth canning jar and let rest at least 1 hour and up to 48 hours.  (Stir gently to recombine if resting for a long time.) Cook the crêpes using a scant 1/4 cup batter in a nonstick skillet, using a brush of butter after each one. (If you want to use them for savory purposes, omit the granulated sugar and vanilla.)

Strawberry-Ancho Ricotta

Mix 2 parts premium ricotta cheese (homemade ricotta would also be stellar) to 1 part PRiMO Strawberry Ancho Preserves in a bowl. (6 T. ricotta and 3 T. preserves makes enough to fill at least 6 crêpes.)

Spread the preserves/ricotta mixture evenly on a crêpe and fold in half and in half again. Melt a little butter in a skillet and gently fry them on both sides until browned and crispy around the edges. Dust with powdered sugar and do eat with mint leaves if you have some growing as I did.

crêpes with PRiMO

The generous folks at PRiMO have offered up a jar of this new release Strawberry Ancho to one lucky reader! Please comment on this post with a simple but favorite food that brings you comfort and inspiration before midnight next Friday (May 6th, 2016) and you might find a jar in your mailbox shortly thereafter. You may also decide, and rightly so, that you can't wait for all of that and find your new favorite strawberry jam at PRiMO's website.  I'll number the comments and select the winner at random.  (Please be sure to shoot me an email from the contact tab at left if your comment isn't attached to an email/blog/way to get in touch with you.)

I've spent the past month gearing up for my new job, outside of the home, out in the big world that lies past the threshold of my own kingdom. It's been a good run. I'll look back on my 30's at home with general good thought and pride in my independent work. I'll remember all of the lessons learned and remember there are still more to come. When I prepare for the workdays ahead, I page through some of my most favorite simple food books, Peter Miller talking about collaborative lunches at his bookshop, Cal Peternell's chapter on toast, and Tamar Adler's making the most of boiling pot of water and I know life doesn't end with work outside the home no matter how scared I am of that. It's just another chapter in my own running story, one that's still developing and "fast breaking". And that chapter includes a ton of simple food and the pleasures found therein.

Is there room for preserves?  Most definitely. Certainly, there is ample room to purchase a few jars this year as well, and from a small producer like PRiMO, I'll almost consider them my own.

 

 

Disclosure: PRiMO did send me a jar of their preserves for review, but as always my thoughts and opinions are fully my own.
 

 

Beyond Canning Winner! (Bonus: GF Peanut Butter Granola Recipe)

Congratulations to the winner of Autumn Giles' Beyond Canning book: #14 Sheila!  Sheila, please email me your particulars and I'll be in touch.  I hope you'll give canning a go after you read this book, and it has plenty of information for new canners as well!

One thing that I don't think Autumn even made a mention of in Beyond Canning is that she is unable to have gluten.  Gluten intolerance and sensitivity has definitely hit the mainstream, but for those with celiac disease like Autumn, gluten is not even a consideration. Whatever your feelings about those who choose not to eat gluten on a regular basis, in my opinion it's more of a flavor choice to consider other options.  So many alternatives to wheat are just more interesting and flavorful, like these crackers for instance which I'm going to make later today...

Some things, like granola, are inherently gluten-free.  Oats are naturally free of gluten, but are sometimes processed in facilities that handle other grains. If you are not able to have any gluten, it's best to purchase certified gluten-free oats processed in a gluten-free environment. 

My house has been box cereal free for going on 5 years (except for the occasional "treat" for my boys), so granola is a very good thing for me to have on hand in the cupboard. My oldest son used to eat a steady diet of granola, but as my resident picky eater, he grew out of it - or maybe just grew tired of it - and hasn't been convinced of eating it in a long time. He also used to eat more peanut butter than is probably recommended for a kid, every day, for what seems like (and probably was) years.  Then, without warning, he was over peanut butter as well.  Until I brought these two things together, I was convinced he would never eat either again.

peanut butter granola

This has become our staple granola; it's one I've been making weekly for several months. Sweetened with a bit of maple syrup and even without using exact measurements (sometimes I can't be bothered with that), it always bakes up extra crunchy with a few clumpy bits that always get picked out and eaten first. It's a granola that can continue to adapt with you too. 

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Granola

(yields about 1 1/2 quarts)

  • 1 quart (4 cups) rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. cashews, chopped
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened flake coconut
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • heavy pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. peanut butter
  • 2 T. (or a bit more) of coconut oil

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Mix dry ingredients, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a small saucepan, combine the maple syrup, peanut butter, and coconut oil.  Heat over medium heat until it's well combined and runny enough to coat the dry ingredients, then pour it over the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour the mixture on the prepared sheet pan and gently tamp it down into a single layer.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Cool completely on the baking sheet before storing in glass jars.  You can stash it in the freezer to store extra long and to keep it extra crunchy, but it stores well at room temperature for 3 weeks or so.  If you can make it last that long.

peanut butter granola