Updates: Pre-Thanksgiving

Given the state of my "unemployment", I sometimes feel the need to justify what I do with my time. I shouldn't feel this way, I know. Almost 6 years into my homemaking career, I haven't forgotten what it's like to put in a full 40-65 hours a week outside my home, and I also know what challenges that brings to the dinner table. I have been so tired getting home from odd-hour jobs that I've made the choice to sleep instead of eat. Now any bleary-eyed mornings are due to reading too late into the night, knitting, or getting up to attend to doughs, and I can't say that I'd like it better any other way. I continue my projects, though many of them secretive, since the cookbook recipe testing is still underway - and that actually generates quite a lot of food that must remain discreet. This post will give you a peek at what is going on around here pre-Thanksgiving, the things that I am thankful for and excited about.

alcoholized apple cider and innoculated cider for vinegar.

It appears that I have finally attained relative ease in the vinegar-making department. Using almost all of the beautiful cider I pressed with my Parents, I left it open to open fermentation under written affirmation from Peter's post on how good, non-treated apples will naturally do their best to become vinegar. After the open ferment appeared complete (and I tasted it, and it tasted beery), I inoculated it with vinegar mother that I had stored. The pictures here are from two weeks ago, but you can see the mat on the top of the jar on the right: it's now a full 1/4 inch thick. The photo below is the active fermenting cider. After the success of the first jar, I started another half gallon. I am happy to announce that I'll get my gallon of homemade cider vinegar, which was seriously one of my goals for the cider press. Mission (almost) accomplished!

alcoholized cider

This week, I have also bottled my Bachelor's Jam. I started it back in July when I got my strawberries, and I added throughout the Summer a number of fruits, a pound at a time. Bachelor's Jam, also called Rumtopf, piqued my interested when I first read about it last year. I made mine using the methods outlined in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook, a pound of fruit and a cup of sugar at a time until it was full.

Since I am in Wisconsin, the brandy consumption capital of the world, I opted to use a brandy base for my liqueur. I'm actually not all that fond of brandy, cognac yes, but that would be my famous "Champagne Taste" talking. I thought using brandy would help me to appreciate it a little more, and I may just be right about that. When I stirred up the pot, strained out the bleached and boozy fruit and tasted a little, it completely reminded me of Christmas: Wintery and warm, fruity and sweet - just the thing to drizzle over some ice cream, since we Wisconsin folk eat just as much ice cream in the Winter as we do the rest of the year...

bachelor's jam fruitbachelor's jam, liqueur
it's such a pretty color, too.

With the success of my vinegar, and having a number of flavored "cheat" vinegars that I made this Summer on hand, I wanted to purchase some bottles for packing some up as gifts. I found some nice ones, inexpensive and perfect for my needs (both vinegar and hot sauce bottles), but after I had them in my online cart to check out, the shipping was as much as the bottles, and I couldn't take that leap. Instead, I'm revisiting my collections of jars and bottles in the basement that I've obsessively collected for some time now.

I am using far less purchased bottles of *whatever* lately, but when I do buy something, I pay special attention to the jar or bottle it comes in. I wash them out thoroughly (even taking several days of repeated washing recentely to try and get an olive oil bottle with a nice cork stopper perfectly clean...), glean every last smidgen of label adhesive from the exteriors. If I've been to your house and you have an interesting jar, I've probably asked you to save it for me too. It's a habit, and one day, someone will probably clean out my basement and wonder what in the world I saved all the glass jars and bottles for.

I don't usually fuss too much over cool labels, but an ancient Cointreau bottle with only a teaspoon (really, that was it) left was just about falling out of my cabinet the other day and I decided that I had to clean it up and repurpose it for my Bachelor's Jam. I'll bring this out when my "Christmas Company" comes, so I did fuss a little - trying to do my artistic best to match the font and content of a Cointreau label. I used to do a lot of pen and ink drawings, and sitting for 20 minutes to concoct this makes me want to illustrate all kinds of little bottles taking up space in my house. Maybe one will make its way to you.

reusing a bottle...
believe it or not, I even Google Translator-ed the French on the front of the bottle...

On Monday, I finally went to the new Glorioso's location on Brady Street, just across the street from their charming old location. Part of the reason I took so long to check it out is that I feel bad when tiny hole-in-the-wall groceries are replaced by bigger, more luxurous digs. The souls of the ancient tiny establishments whisper to me in thunderous voices, and usually bigger never means better to me. The new Glorioso's is beautiful, you definitely won't turn around and hit someone like you could in the old place. I won't forget the wood floors and miniature space it came from, but wandering around was just as inspiring. A whole aisle of panettone, reminding me that I need to try my hand at that this year. I went there specifically for these bright green Castelventrano olives, some that I'd never tried before, for testing a recipe. I am smitten. They are soft and almost herby, not too salty and the most beautiful shade of green:

castelventrano olives.

I also came home with Italian "00" flour, some cheese, a pound of lupini beans, and advice from an old man in the deli on how to prepare them. "Oh, just try it honey, you'll do just fine", he encouraged as he concluded, his arm resting on the gleaming case of prepared Italian deli foods. I am so glad I asked about them, since the process is time-intensive, and completely different then I would have thought. The beans need to soak, with a daily water changing, for at least 5 days, maybe longer if they still remain bitter. When I looked them up online, every source confirmed that, and also that they are worth the amount of time you spend since they are some of the highest protein beans other than the soybean.

When the man told me the lupini beans are bitter, I couldn't have been prepared for just HOW bitter they were. One bite of an undone lupini bean leaves a bitterness that extends all the way down your throat, and it stays there for 10 minutes; they are the very definition of bitter. When that bitterness is gone and the beans taste sweet, the beans are complete - and I'm on day 4 now, so I hope that will be soon. After the first 48 hours of soaking, I brought them up to a gentle boil for an hour or so and then let them cool back to room temperature. I continue to replace their water daily, tending to these chubby beings, these blonde Chicklets of supreme health, and I dream about eating them one after another, fully addicted. I should listen to an old Italian guy when he said to just eat them plain, but I may have to marinate them in oil and vinegar, since that is the way I've eaten them on occasion at overpriced deli-per-pound sections of other nameless luxury grocery stores. For under 3$ a pound, it's been cheap entertainment around here.

lupini beans

Cold wind has been blowing, along with a fair amount of rain lately. It makes me add layers, consider upping the thermostat and then deciding against it, and take up my knitting once again since working with warm fiber seems to warm you like nothing else. I finished up 3 small felting projects that were on the needles since last Spring, some potholders and an oven mitt for myself that I've already been putting to good use. My old oven mitt was burning me as I shoveled bread pots in and out, and I was ignoring the fact that I could really be seriously burned. I doubled the strands of wool so there is plenty of insulation, and wool is naturally fire retardant as well - not that I'm planning on being careless. The patterns I like best for kitchen felts are in this book by Beverly Galeskas.

good weather for felt.

So, never a dull minute really. Odds and ends come into place, my craftiness starts to run rampant now that I feel I have more time and Christmas to prepare for. The cookie list is beginning to form in my brain, and so are the details of things to make for others, bready experiments that will hopefully hold up well, and lots of things that I'll likely be excited to share. You can be sure that if those lupini beans turn out as well as I hope I'll be telling you all about it soon. My days are full, I fall asleep quickly, often mid-page, and I remember all the while that my Mom told me once her 30's came in "clumps". The days do fly by, but yet I appreciate each one and what it brings. I try to hold them still a little longer by making good use of my time.