Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Plums, beautifully complex plums!

I'd never really had a plum before a few years ago, when I took some from a stranger. Literally. Scot and I were out in the side yard doing some landscaping, when a man pulled up to the sidewalk in his pickup. He said, "Hey. You like plums?" and swung a plastic grocery sack of fruit out his open window.

Scot and I looked at each other like, "Whuuuuuaaa?" We walked up to the pickup, and started talking to the guy. Turns out, he used to live in our house in the 70's! He used to mow lawns in the neighborhood for extra money. Even after moving away he continued to do this, and one older lady that lives down the side street remained a customer. She likes plums, and he had brought some along that day. She wasn't home, however, and he didn't want to leave them in case she didn't return soon.

I took those plums and made my first batch of plum jam. Turns out, I LOVE PLUMS. The next year, we found ourselves at Camp Adair during mid-summer, and picked plums from a grove of trees there. Soon after, we put in our little dwarf orchard in the side yard, including two plum trees. Yesterday we picked six pounds off the small tree.

The fruit are the most beautiful color. The taste is an amazing sweet, juicy flesh with a sharp snap to the tart skin. Nature's Sweet Tart! So good!

These were halved, pitted, and tossed into the crock pot. They are well underway to making Slow Cooker Plum Butter. OMGCAN'TWAITTOEATIT.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Oregon Summer

Raspberries. My favorite color and flavor of summer. Some individually frozen, like a stoppage of time, to thaw in the clench of winter for a teasing taste. Others preserved as jelly, which glitters like a jewel when opened and spread. One batch is a pleasingly tart almost-no-sugar recipe. Another is a half sugar recipe that is sweet as candy. 
R
Also made this pork carnitas recipe this weekend. The house smelled so delicious. The result is flavorful, with a perfect texture. The spices were much more mellow than anticipated. This just means the pork can be used in a myriad of ways. Tacos with fixin's. Add some bbq sauce for bbq pork on a bun. Enchiladas with green chili. My favorite recipe for this now. Craaaazzy Good Carnitas.
But I wasn't done. Peach cake made with amazing fresh peaches. One of my favorite recipes from Americas Test Kitchen. Thankfully, I took this to a party and had plenty of help polishing it off.  
I cook as a form of therapy. 
 
I've been cooking a lot lately. 
 
 
 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Oh, San Diego.

After just a few days relaxing in Ocean Beach, one can see the allure. The area we've called home this week is SO Southern California -- laid back, easygoing, ocean loving. Certainly other areas of So Cal have different vibes, but our travels have taken us to places full of diversity and welcoming warmth. From both people, and the sun. Good god, the rays here are of a much higher power than those in the PNW. (We've been in the Gaslight district downtown, La Jolla, Escondido, and mostly Ocean Beach.)

Many different shapes, ages, ethnicities (well, at least compared to Salem, OR) and types of people doing their own thing, and not giving a damn about what you're doing. I haven't seen a hipster douchebag in days.

And everyone has a dog. Everyone. We thought Oregon was the dog state. Nope. Not even close. We wondered if it was a municipal requirement that everyone have a dog!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spring is on my mind: Sunday cardmaking.

With a few 60+ and sunny degree days behind us already, spring is here. Cherry trees are in full bloom (again, quite early this year), and the world is beginning to look lush and verdant again.

This certainly fueled my decisions today as I created a whole patch of sunflowers for a few cards. Making more elements at one time, and doing cards in sets is the key to actually getting some done! 

No real fancy techniques to speak of. Just pulled out some odd elements (such as wood veneer samples that served as a "table top" for the jar when cut into strips) and played with my usual favorites: Lawn Fawn stamps and Copic markers. 



Products used:
Lawn Fawn Products:
- Stamps and Lawn Cut Dies: summertime charm |  our friendship grows | scripty thanks
- Cards: walnut notecards
Copic markers (assorted Sketch and Classic)


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fluffy Cardigan Corgi Grooming

My beautiful Solo (formally Indium's Element of Surprise) has a thick undercoat that gets wooly quickly, with a soft and shiny topcoat that gleams in the sun. He's such a handsome dog. We anticipated that grooming would be a handful.

But honestly, with the right tools, it hasn't been bad at all. He enjoys being groomed, and cooperates fairly well. It took me a while to get the right tools, but with them, it's a breeze.

The key is a greyhound comb. Isabel has groomed our dogs ever since we moved to Salem. While no one's a show dog, there's a deeply satisfying magic to taking three dirty dogs to the groomer, coming home and doing a super clean on the house, and then picking them up and upon return, living like civilized people. For at least a few days.

She helped me chose the right tools. When she first showed me a greyhound comb, I thought she was joking. "That'll never go through his fur!" I explained.

"It should," she said, with just the right amount of gentle shaming. I had been brushing him with a slicker style brush. She told me it doesn't get deep enough, and just glides over the wooly stuff underneath, resulting in... well, a really wooly undercoat.

This scary looking thing is a Greyhound comb.
His baby fine fur on his head behind the ears can start to tangle after just a few days. I added Show Shine Argan Oil Gel to the toolkit. Put a few drops on any tangle and it's out in seconds. Afterwards I spread a little bit in my hands and just run my hands over his coat (laughing, as I do the same with another argan oil product on my own hair in the morning).

Start with a slicker to get things going in the right direction. Next go over with the greyhound comb. Treat treat treat along the way.

Then, of course, I just must groom Jackson in a similar fashion. Problem is, the boy has almost no  coat at all, so it's really just a play of passing the tools over his back a few times with lavish praise and compliments, a few treats, and then we're done and everyone is happy.

One of my goals for 2016 was to do better with battling the never ending challenge of dog hair. So far , doing better.

Oregon, my Oregon.

Saturday, Scot led me through a wonderful of our favorite places and things in Oregon. He's done this the last few times I've traveled away from home for a week alone. He knows I miss him, and I miss Oregon, and whatever better way to get as much of both as possible at once?

Up leisurely, we hit Turnaround Cafe for one of the best breakfast's around. The small diner was packed, and after a short weight we were seated right next to the pie case. So tempting. Ordering the chicken fried steak platter, we noted we were going to split that. Usually this results in an eyeroll, and when the food comes, a bare plate dropped onto the table. Here, not a problem! Upon delivery, the platter was indeed split, perfectly down the middle, and pleasingly arranged on two plates. At first I thought they made a mistake and brought us two -- each plate was still overflowing with food. It was perfect.

We headed down to Eugene, hitting Cabela's looking for winter season closeouts on outdoor goodies.

The next stop was Territorial Seed in Cottage Grove. Just a little glimpse of the spring to come, we were talking and working out garden plans and what to focus on this year. So exciting... but about time to start planting seedlings soon! (Another favorite resource that's local is Victory Seeds -- who say the last frost date is 5/22. So back that up 8 weeks for when to plant your tomato starts... so...  March 27th. That's still a long ways off. *sigh*)

We love the valley, so driving and talking while we look at fields, sheep, mountains, etc. And Oregon gave us an intense demo of her favorites this time of year, such as driving rain, wicked winds, spitting drizzle, sunshine, and of course rainbows.

Turning back up to Eugene (dirty, dirty Eugene), we hit Fisherman's Market. The photo most easily found online makes me laugh, because they must've been taken about five years go. They show a bright, clean, well organized shop.  What we found was not quite the same thing.

Parking across the street (in front of the old Hollywood video) is easy. Upon entering, you're hit with a stench -- I'm always wary of a fish market that smells. A well kept fish market shouldn't smell. I mean there's that natural, from the ocean, fish smell... and then there's all that gone wrong -- and that's the smell you don't want. It's true that keeping a live-well setup for crab, mussels and the like makes that tougher. But still... I've been in many a place that didn't smell like this. Half fish market, half seafood diner, you can pick your live crab, or order from a small menu. We opted for the clam strips and chips, and the "house specialty" of Cajun Crawfish Pie.

The former was some food service skinny dinky clam strips on top of waffle fries. Lame. They do have unique and flavorful slaw (two flavor combo options). They also have a variety of flavored tartar sauces. We bought some of their cocktail (tastes very bright, fresh with a great horseradish kick), and the Bombay Bomber, which frankly is a creamy majesty which will be a great dipper for fries, samosas, shrimp, anything I can think of dragging through it).

Most disappointing was the "house specialty." It was an overcooked, dry pot pie with a mushy mass of dried filling. It was NASTY. And you get the pleasure of enjoying it, again and again, until it exists the building of your digestive system. (And we like spicy food, that doesn't bother us.) It's like it is fighting to claw its way back up your esophagus, escaping your stomach because it knows it wasn't good enough to be eaten.

Anymore, if Diners, Drive Ins and Dives recommends someplace, I stay away. Because most have performed poorly. I think the reason may be that sure, they may be able to produce something good when they focus all their resources and abilities in something that they cook fresh for the tv show host. But, you simply aren't buying the same thing. I would be surprised if these things were frozen, cooked yesterday, and just reheated (and thus overcooked) before being served today.

The tables were dirty and sticky. The chairs were sticky. The floors were worn and... sticky. The silverware caddy was empty. The fish case was about half empty, and prices were a bit high. We saw a number of people come in and grab live crab and sides of salmon, cut right then and there. So yes, you can get fresh fish there, and apparently people choose to do so. But we won't bother visiting again.

Scot and I both consume a lot of media around cooking, food sources, local business, etc. We keep lists in our phones about interesting places we want to check out someday. He suggested the next few stops.

Taking some back roads home, we hit Camus Country Mill. A third generation farmer of traditional and ancient grains, they mill their own locally grown, organic grains into flours and mixes. They have a cute little store out in the middle of the wide and flat meadows where sheep graze outside of Junction City. We had a great chat with the lady manning the store. We were lucky we got there before they closed at 3pm. We picked up some flour, an apple coffee cake mix, and some organic, locally grown grain based wheat pasta. YUM.

We said our next stop was the Country Bakery. "Oh, I hope she hasn't sold out already -- she usually does!" said the woman helping us out.

We wisked away to this little piece of heaven. The shelves were ALMOST bare. But as you step inside, you smell the most wonderful, warm cinnamon scent. Yeow. We walked out with our arms full.

Snickerdoodles - let me tell you, I'm always complaining that there's no snickerdoodle worth consuming other than my own. But... I'm now wrong. Hers are BETTER. A nice little pack of a dozen reasonable sized cookies. Er, I mean about half a dozen by the time we got home.

Honey wheat bread - a little more dense than commercial breads, this is flavorful and stands up to your pb&j, turkey, whatever you're going with it.

Hand made egg noodles. Delish.

Cinnamon rolls - Oh my gosh. Amazingly delicious. Again, as good as my own. They don't skimp on the gooey filing, and the icing on top is just the right amount.

We're making sure to swing by again next time we're in the area. And early!

It was a nice, meandering day that just sort of unfolded in front of us. We were home at the end of the day, with enough time to chill and then head out to round out our grocery shopping. I found that being away for a week, and eating out left me with the raging need to cook light, flavorful recipes. The fussier the better, I was dying to carefully prep and present. So there are some good yummies planned for this week.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Crab Report

Yesterday, Scot and I chose to rearrange our weekly schedule so we could play in the great weather, and then work today. We headed to the coast. After a quick stop in at Petwerks, we had breakfast at The Turnaround Cafe in Turner. (Best chicken fried steak. Ever. Anywhere. Period.) Then we headed for the coast.

First stop was Munson Creek State Park. A mile and a half off of 101 south of Tillamook, the drive back to the small parking area is nearly an off-road experience in and of itself. A sign pointing right to the park sites in the center of a fork in the path. Parking under the tall old growth trees in a tiny lot, there's a quick quarter mile walk on a clear path back to a 300 foot tall falls. It's beautiful, but shows the violence of the weather in past years, with clogs of fallen trees all about.

After admiring the falls and poking around in the ice cold creek in a few spots, we hopped back in the Jeep and asked, "Wonder where that road goes?" as we approached the fork again. Thankfully, we have a Jeep! We can now answer some of those questions for ourselves. :)

Scot had some off-road experience. Our Jeep is currently a stock Wrangler Unlimited Altitude, and we were by ourselves, and without a full self recovery toolkit. So our goal was just to get back a little further than we usually would feel comfortable doing.

Up, up, over and around the roads took us. Without a map, we turned left, consistently, when presented with options, so we could easily backtrack if needed. The path was always well maintained -- even if it had shrunk down to just wheel paths. There was one slide area that had been dug down into -- the Jeep passed with no problems, but the cut through was just about the width of the Jeep and no more.

We approached one low point with some mud and standing water, so we got out and tested it with a stick to make sure we knew what we'd be going through. The path ended just up over the next hill. Or, rather, it degraded to a point that we didn't feel it was wise to continue alone without a winch or second vehicle in our party.

Over, around, up and back -- we found a number of great high spots to kick back and hang out, and a few roads we had to say, "Nope" to until next time when we are better prepared.

After we'd had enough of that, we headed to Bay City, Oregon, to The Fish Peddler at Pacific Oyster. We had a fantastic lunch on the bay, blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the water. You can even sit at a table that looks out into their processing line, if you're into that sort of thing. When we were there, work was done for the day and it was all about cleanup, so we sat so we could admire the seafood counter.

Crab there was pricey. Cleaned crab was $14.99 for 6 ounces, or $42.99 for a pound. Do the math on that... the SMALLER container is actually cheaper per ounce. You're better off buying multiple small containers. *Eyeroll* We thought that was pretty high. But, wanting to compare, we bought a small container (along with their house cocktail and tartar sauce which is relish, and a load of french bread made by a bakery in Girabaldi) and then headed to Barnacle Bill's in Lincoln City. (Of course, first we had to stop at Tillamook Creamery for cheese samples, ice cream, and a photo op in the Mini Loaf Mobile.)

Barnacle Bill's still closes at 4:30 during the week, and still takes cash only. They do have a new sign, and some swanky packaging for some packed products like seasoning mixes, tuna, and smoked salmon.

Their picked crab was $38.00/lb. Their fresh crab were on a huge sale -- $4.99. WHUT!? We bought 3/4 lb of picked crab there, along with a ginormous ling cod fillet. They did a brisk business, as always.

Before the layer of cheese is applied. CRABARAIFIC.
Our goal was CRAB MELTS. What's a crab melt? Cut a soft french loaf in half. Spread an herbed cream cheese or spread like Alouetta, top with about 1/2" of picked crab, then layer on a mix of cheddar and jack cheese. Warm in the oven at 350 for ten minutes, then turn on the broiler to get the cheese bubbly and lightly browned. Cut and eat.

YUM.

Had one last night with some red wine while chatting with a friend, and then did it again today for lunch.

With crab from two sources, we compared:

The Fish Peddler at Pacific Oyster has good crab. It was tasty and fresh, but was more expensive, and tastes as if the crabs are boiled in straight water.

Barnacle Bill's crab was better all around. It was cheaper, but price aside, it was much more flavorful. They clearly use a perfectly balanced crab boil that brings out the best in the crab. Also, the crab from Barnacle Bill's was much "lumpier," with amazing tasty fresh pieces of claw meat. We didn't see much claw meat in the crab from The Fish Peddler.

So there you go. We do these arduous tests so you don't have to. Life is tough out here in Oregon, I gotta tell ya.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Creamy green chili chicken enchiladas.

There are no photos, but the results of last night's cooking deserve to be marked in history, nonetheless. I made chicken enchiladas based on this recipe by Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman) with a few slight changes.

  • MOAR PAPRIKA (hot and smoked)
  • Medium green chilis from New Mexico (in the chicken, and also in the cream sauce)
  • Cheese used was a mix of medium cheddar and Monterey jack, cuz that's what was on hand
  • Used Don Pancho's tortillas that are a cross between a flour and corn tortilla
  • Added mushrooms to the filling
So. Damn. Good. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Quilts are stories told in fabric.

Let me tell you about Marissa. (RIP you little monster.)

Marisa loved. Fiercely. Often, her love consumed what she adored. Or at least, took little bites out of it.

This included endless articles of clothing, a $400 comforter, a rug, and items even more priceless: quilts my Mom made for us.

In 2000, Mom gave me a quilt that we used for years as our bedspread. This quilt is well loved, and often washed. 15 years later it's in good shape, faded and soft, just perfect for snuggling with. But, it has a 4"x2" hole (thanks, Marissa), some other areas of lose fabric, and a few wear spots.

That wasn't the only casualty. Something piqued her interest along the edge of the log cabin quilt Mom had given me in 2005 right after we moved into our home here in Oregon. The result was a break in the binding, and a 3"x2" hole up to the edge.

In our living room in September of 2005!
When Mom saw it a few years ago, she was aghast. I could feel her upset, and could also understand it. But I explained that in our house, to honor something was to use it. So, that quilt had spent much of its life on our bed, wrapped around us on the couch, or covering our friends as they slept while visiting.

To me, it was a little endearing. To her, not so much. The time and attention put into a quilt like those she makes is incredible. This is something I can appreciate first hand, although I've only done much smaller, simpler projects.

I assured her the damage would be repaired, and in my eyes the result would be all the better. For instance, the oak hope chest we still have prominently in our home has a chewed corner, as one day Winston thought it looked like a good thing to snack on. While it is a physical mar, every time I see it, a smile breaks out as memories of the little stinker flood back. The hope chest is all the better for it. It has a history. It holds memories.

That was... like over a year ago that I set my mind on patching the quilts.

Since then, the act of patching the quilt loomed large. The solution had to be something that didn't look like a hack, and that added to the quilt's story. Quite some time ago, the paw print fabric was chosen, and I researched how best to do it, even querying on Reddit for ideas. Clearly well prepared, action was still stalled out of worry of doing it wrong.


Finally, this weekend I tackled it. As things often are, the reality wasn't as difficult as anticipated. First, I made a paper template to cover the spot. The binding remained in tact, just severed, so that was first connected with a zig zag stitch, knowing it would be hidden. I then applied the patch as a "wrap" over the binding, inserting some batting to fill the hole, and then hand stitching it on.

The results look great -- just don't look TOO closely at the hand stitching, I am really bad at that. But it's DONE. And the quilt's story has another chapter.

The very first quilt Mom gave me was also customized -- again by Marissa -- this time smack dab on the middle of the quilt. That one will actually be easier to patch, given the location, and my experience with this one.

The older quilt has some loose fabric and other things that I've fixed, and my hand stitching is getting much better.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Summer, condensed.

After returning home from Santa Fe, I hit the tomatoes with gusto. Ten pounds of San Marzanos out of our garden have become tomato paste. Of course, ten pounds of tomatoes yields only 4 cups of paste, but the process is very easy. And the result... is simply amazing. I'll never cook with canned tomato paste again if I can help it!

A few years ago I did a "taste test" in my own kitchen a la America's Test Kitchen. I had made a sauce with some paste, and it tasted very metallic -- and sure enough, tasting the paste from the can and it tasted... awful. Like metal. I set out to see if that could be solved. I found that MOST did, actually -- even pricier canned pastes. The exception was expensive import pastes in a tube. While I use this a lot now, if you need 4-6oz of it for a soup or sauce, that's not really practical.

In my canning adventures, tomato products are my favorite WIN. In most areas, a tomato in the winter is as rare as a unicorn. Canning tomatoes is the best way to preserve the wonders of summer for enjoyment all year 'round. 

This year I decided to make tomato paste. Here's the process I used -- simple! 

Oh. My. God. 

Essentially, I did two batches. 5 lbs of San Marzanos (with a stray Roma or two thrown in San Marzanos were halved, and thrown in a pot with a small amount of olive oil. Cook until they start to break down, with all tomatoes soft and skins starting to peel off.

Run this through a foley mill or food strainer (I use the former) over a large bowl. Stir in one teaspoon sea salt, and a quarter teaspoon citric acid (you can find this in the spices section; I had it as a result of cheese making. It's mainly to keep it acidic enough for a hot water bath canning; you can skip the citric acid if you are going to freeze the product).

Here's the magic: pour the thick "tomato juice" into a rimmed baking sheet. Pop into a 350 oven, and set a timer for an hour. (TIP: sit your pan in the oven, and pour the juice into it from there so you don't have to move a sloshing pan of liquid.) Basically you are creating a large surface area evaporator.

Stir the pan after an hour, then set the timer for another hour. Stir again. At this point, I had paste with a small bit of moisture still left -- but I feared if I left it at temp for much longer, I'd get burned edges. So, I just closed the oven, gave it a few minutes to return to temp, then turned if off and left it to cool down. The result was a nicely reduced paste without any burn.


The paste is a deep and vibrant red, with a pure tomato flavor unlike anything I've ever experienced.


Yes, 5 lbs of tomatoes resulted in two cups of paste. But it's well worth it, IMO. I did two batches, and it was quick and easy. These little freezer containers are the perfect size for a 4 ounce block of paste, to pop into a recipe. 

And this weekend -- our own little Leith style La Tomatina! Tomorrow morning starts off with getting about 30 lbs of tomatoes from a you-pick, and setting about canning some stewed tomatoes, tomato soup, and some tomato sauce. The sisters-in-law are going to join in! We'll cap the day off with some pizza on the grill. I just made two batches of Alton Brown's pizza dough and stashed them in the fridge to rise overnight. YUM.