Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Our Scandinavian Traditions

In our family, the holiday season kicks off with lefse making at Grandma's house shortly after Thanksgiving.  Closer to Christmas, we make the more perishable things: potato sausage and krumkake. Both are served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning. I don't eat the sausage, but take part in making it--gotta preserve family traditions!

1. Wash and peel the potatoes.

2. Chop and cook one onion.
4. Slice and then grind the salt pork. Only a little bit goes in.

5. Grind the potatoes.

6. Rinse casings and check for knots or other flaws.

7. Cut casings to desired sausage length.

8. Rinse casings.

9. Mix ground potatoes with ground pork. Then add salt, pepper, and allspice. There isn't a set recipe for this--this year the basic plan was 10 pounds of potatoes to 4 pounds of meat, and spiced to taste. Mom throws a little bit of meat into a skillet, Grandma cooks it up, and everyone tastes to determine what else is needed. There is a lot of allspice!
10. Stuff the casings! This is when we were just starting, so all you see is air coming out of the machine, but I did make some pretty good sausages!
11. Smile awkwardly as mom wipes spashed meat off of your t-shirt.
Voila! The finished product!

Yesterday evening we also made krumkake, but almond flavored, not lemon.
It was quite an operation, now that technology has provided us with an electric grill that makes two at a time! Grandma knew exactly how to set up the table; one roller on each side and the cooker in the middle, so things went very smoothly.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Graduation + Hardly Cookies

Well, graduation weekend has come and gone. While it took me a day to recover from everything, it was a very nice weekend.  My dad flew into Pullman on Thursday, and he helped me with various Hort Club tasks on Thursday and Friday, before attending the Holiday Party with me. 

On Saturday morning Michael showed up outside my apartment at 4 am after driving all the way up from Northern California. I donned my cap, gown, stole, medal, and Dean's List cord, and walked through the ceremony to get my WSU red diploma cover. Sitting there in my voluminous black gown it became a bit more real that I'm graduating and leaving this place. Today, however, I still can't believe that on Friday I'll have to turn in my keys, say goodbye to everyone, pack my little car and head for home.

To celebrate we had dinner at The Black Cypress, one of Pullman's newest restaurants, which I'd never been to before. I enjoyed my pasta while everyone else enjoyed steak, pork chops, or seafood.

Mom, Mel, Grandma, Michael and I had breakfast at Old European on Sunday before they got into their respective vehicles and headed for home. Michael didn't make it back until 6:00 on Monday morning, with a final at 8:00!  Luckily, he's rather brilliant and still did well enough on the exam!

After entertaining family all weekend, it was quiet and calm when they all left my apartment. I decided to whip up a batch of cookies to further relax myself, but to me one can hardly call them cookies.
Each time I make these I add a little more of my favorite ingredients. This time the recipe (based on one from ohsheglows) was as follows:
Hardly Cookies (no added sugar, no butter, is it really a cookie!?)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbl olive oil

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup coconut
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbl hemp seeds
1 tbl chia seeds
1/3 cup chocolate chips (I really should use mini ones)

First combine wet ingredients, then mix dry ingredients well, and combine the two.
Form into small balls, about a tablespoon of dough each, and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 14 minutes. The bottoms will get golden brown, or just plain brown if you leave them too long, but the rest of the cookie remains moist and chewy.
This has become my go-to snack when getting home from campus in the evenings, and one that I easily take with me to class.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Missing San Diego

Last night there was someone sitting near me on the bus who smelled like, through some act of magic, orchids. And by orchids I mean the Sharry Baby 'Sweet Fragrance' cultivar that Anton displays in the botanical building in Balboa Park. They're usually located just inside the entrance, just begging visitors to lean in for a whiff of their intoxicating fragrance.

One whiff of that scent and I'm taken back to sunny days in San Diego and quiet mornings sitting next to the Lily Pond, watching the fish and turtles swim. My Saturday morning routine was to stop at the Starbucks off of University, then head over to Balboa Park to enjoy the morning. And when I say morning, I was usually up by 6. Waking up at 4:30 during the work week sets you up for a pretty early weekend schedule, too.

One must time arrival at the park between when the homeless people are packing up and moving to their daytime haunts and the tourists arrive. At that time of morning the only other people around are joggers and dog walkers. It's quiet--sometimes you can hear the macaws squawking from inside the zoo.

I usually sat along the pond to write letters to friends back home before unwrapping my camera to document my favorite parts of the park. It was one such morning that I found the monarch bushes. Near the door into the botanical building I noticed a plant that was looking a bit worse for wear, all sorts of leaf area having been chewed. Upon closer inspection, there were caterpillars on those leaves! While I'd never seen a monarch caterpillar in person before, some part of my mind reached back to a science lesson from long ago, and I didn't doubt at all what I had found.  When I started to see the jeweled chrysalises tucked under the leaves, I was certain these bushes were full of monarchs preparing for the final stage of metamorphosis.

I must have watched those caterpillars and taken pictures of them for nearly an hour. Time just wandered by, and it was early enough that there was no one around to bother me.  Two weeks later I made another visit to the bushes to check how my caterpillars had progressed. I was rewarded with a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis! All in all, it was one of my best discoveries inside the park.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving, and then some.

Here it is, nearly a week since Thanksgiving, and I'm finally getting around to write of my triumphs. They weren't at the Thanksgiving table though, but in the days leading up, when I made a yummy broccoli pasta for dinner one night, and stuffed portobello mushrooms the next.

To me, the pasta didn't seem too heavy on broccoli. We put it through the food processor so it was very well chopped, and stuck to the noodles very well.  This broccoli "sauce" was pretty basic: olive oil, a couple of pressed cloves of garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, about 10 ounces of broccoli, and a bit of parmesan cheese. Cook all that together, toss it with a pound of pasta, add a huge amount of additional parmesan cheese (at least if you're my family), and chow down! As it turns out, my sister really enjoyed this meal and kept asking for it days later.

The stuffed mushrooms were another success--strategically planned, mind you, for a night when little sis wasn't around for dinner, because she was adamant it was something she would not eat. The stuffing consisted of garlic, onion, white button mushrooms, unseasoned breadcrumbs, and fresh goat cheese. The portobellos were marinated for 3-4 hours in a soy sauce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar mixture before baking and stuffing, and baking some more.
I'm a fan of mushrooms--if I'm making pizza for myself, they're the only topping I add to the traditional cheese and tomato sauce--so I was pretty sure things couldn't turn out badly.  And I was definitely right. I laugh to think about how my eyes must have popped open when I took the first bite. So meaty, and flavorful, and rich!

This meal, however, illustrates where I need to improve as a cook: making more than one thing for dinner! I'll often make burritos, or veggies, or the above mentioned mushrooms, and just when it's time to sit down and eat, realize that some rice or other accompanyment would have been nice. That's just something I'll have to work on...

The Thanksgiving festivities were held at our house, which meant we made the turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and pies. While I may admit to eating meat occasionally (Mom's Thanksgiving bird was locally-sourced), I definitely don't help with prepping and cooking it. I did slice and arrange the sweet potatoes, as well as give them a dab of butter and brown sugar, which was not generous enough to meet with my sister's approval.  Our crowing accomplishment, as far as I'm concerned, was probably the pies.  Here's the breakdown of work: Mom mixes the dough, while my sister mixed the filling. Leaving me to stand and watch, basically. I did get in on rolling out one of the crusts, and pouring the blackberries into the pan, but that's about it. And you know what, that's ok. Because it isn't about doing all the work, it's about being together for the holidays!
But here are some shots of our pies, in process. I spaced out and didn't take any of the finished product. oops.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another day of snow

The weather outside is a bit less frightful today -- it stopped snowing last night, and now things are just frozen in place. It's only 25 degrees outside, so things are pretty solid. Precious has continued her winter power napping.

My dad and I stopped at Jamba Juice on Sunday, and he ordered an orange dark chocolate chip scone. It turned out to be fabulous, and I started wondering how to recreate it myself. This morning I finally had a light bulb moment -- look for a basic recipe and add what you want! A quick Google search revealed a recipe from King Arthur Flour that was just what I was looking for.

Here's my version of the basic scone:
2 3/4 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup cold butter
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons of juice from a mandarin orange
the rind of that orange
2/3 cup half and half

Mix together all dry ingredients, and cut in the butter. I cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes before adding, but still had trouble cutting it in so that the butter bits were very fine. Then the chocolate chips can be added, along with any dried fruits or nuts.

In a separate bowl, the eggs, orange juice and rind, and half and half are mixed together. I used a mandarin, because that's what we had on hand, but next time I'll opt for more rind, and probably the stronger flavor of an orange.
Add wet to dry, and mix until the dough is completely moistened. Then turn out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, and divide into two balls. Flatten each ball into a circle 5 to 6 inches in diameter, about 3/4 inch thick. Then cut the circles into 6 equal wedges, and try to separate them a bit. I had trouble with this step, and I think the next time I make scones I'll try to form them individually rather than slice the circle.

The recipe then calls for the scones to be put in the freezer for half an hour so that the gluten can relax, creating more tender scones. I turned on the oven to preheat at this point (bake at 425), which took about 15 minutes, so that's all the freezer time they got. I was getting hungry! They then bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Best served with a glass of milk in the morning sun!

After my successful breakfast I did a bit of decorating for Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Snow has come to the Puget Sound. I sped out of Pullman on Friday afternoon, trying to beat any bad weather -- and here it is at home! My drive home was about 60% clear and sunny, but starting just a little west of Ellensburg, it started snowing. The snow continued over the pass and most of the way down, before turning to rain near North Bend. As much as I disliked that weather, I think I made it over before things got worse.
The snow's been falling here all morning. My dad and I had plans to see a movie in Seattle, but those were quickly scrapped because the roads are an absolute mess. We've turned up the heat, and everyone's curled up in the living room for the day, dogs included.
This weather's given me some good chances to take pictures of our local hummingbirds, as they're sticking pretty close to the feeders. There's on that's taken up residence in the front yard, hanging out in the dogwood tree that is right outside of our livingroom window, and in a nearby rhodedendron. I also found one hiding out in the back yard when I went out to photograph the snowy rose. He was perched in another rhodie, guarding his feeder from anyone who might try to use it.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Port Townsend was spectactularly foggy the entire weekend, which really cut into any exploration I wanted to make of the Fort, and made for really crummy photos. But the weather didn't dampen our Tilth experience!

We arrived in Port Townsend on Friday afternoon, where we milled around at the opening reception before heading to dinner. The great thing about the whole weekend was the prevalence of locally-grown food. Friday evening was our first workshop session, and I attended a film showing about connecting farms with schools. 

The Commons, where all of our meals were served. More recent construction than the rest of the fort, but designed to match it on the exterior.
Saturday had three more workshop sessions. In the morning I went to one about apple cultivars for the Puget Sound. While it wasn't as informative as I was hoping it would be, the speaker did provide us with a list of cultivars that do well in the PNW. That will be handy to have, as I expect to be living somewhere cold and wet for a good long while. I absolutely love fruit trees, so it would be nice to grow some great ones! Apparently the easiest apples to grow on the west side of the mountains are Akane, Freedom, Liberty, Spartan, and William's Pride. Interestingly enough, none of those varieties appear on the lists for Best Eaters, Cook's Choice, or Best Keepers. So easy growing may not necessarily mean it's something you want to eat... 

Another session I attended was about how to make a CSA pay. Two of the women speaking run a 900-member CSA near Rochester, WA. The sheer size of their customer base is impressive to me. From what I was able to glean they have about 30 acres in production, which means they feed about 30 families per acre. That's about equal to what we do at WSU, with 100 families on 3-4 acres. 

I then attended a very strange session about nature-scaping and beneficial insect management. I say it was strange, because half of the session was from a presenter who titled her slides "Working With Weeds". She is literally overtaken by weeds every season because of the location of her farm in a floodplain, where weed seeds are introduced every time it floods. The photos she showed were astounding -- row crops barely visible among the weeds and grasses that were growing. And she often remarked about hedges established on the site as "something that got out of control, so I just let it go." We've always been taught that weed competition is terrible for good production, but this woman apparently grows beautiful produce. I think it must be the floods that bring in the weeds also bringing in important fertility, and the fact that her water table is very high, that limits the detrimental effects of such high weed populations.

Saturday night we had a fantastic closing banquet. I think something like 99% or more of the food was sourced from within 50 miles of Port Townsend.

All weekend I ate too quickly to remember to take photos, except for dessert on Saturday night.

On Sunday the first session I attended was about raising sheep and finding a market for their wool. What was made very clear is that there are not many options for places to send fleeces for processing, and that the few options available are very expensive. It got me to thinking that it could be a very cool area to join and improve the infrastructure. I wonder how much capital would be required to start a wool mill...

After the final workshop session (something about farm to retail & restaurant) we quickly loaded into our van and drove for the ferry. It was a bit stressful, trying to make sure we made it to the boat on time, but we did eventually get across the water to Seattle, and after many more hours of driving, back to Pullman. The fog was terribly thick for a lot of the drive after we got past Vantage, which made things slow, and very eerie.
A short bit about where we stayed... Fort Worden State Park and Conference Center. It was originally constructed as a guard station for the entrance to Puget Sound, closed in 1953, and purchased for park land in 1955. We stayed in a dorm building that was once used as barracks for the soldiers. It was creaky and old, and I expected there to be a ghost in my room every time I opened the door. The little that I did see of the park, as I didn't adventure much in the wet weather, was lovely. I would really like to visit it again in the future, hopefully when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. 
Dorm Building 225.

Also, I seem to have developed a taste for coffee. Always decaf to keep my circulation happy, but with a little added cream and sugar I can now stand the taste!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Travel Snacks

First off, I think I'm doing this too much... two entries in one day!?

In preparation for my long journey from Pullman to Port Townsend tomorrow for the Tilth Producers conference, I spent hours in the kitchen today. This involved: popcorn, two more batches of dried apples, cookies, breads, and crunchy chickpeas.

I made these Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, which turned out quite yummy. My only flaw was baking them a bit too long, so the bottoms on the first batch are a bit dark. But still tasty.

Before I left for work this morning I mixed up a batch of dough from my Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book, which I broke into two recipes.

The first was Onion Dinner Rolls (or something like that). I had a lot of trouble getting the carmelized onions on/in the top of the roll like the recipe said, so I ended up just folding the dough over them, creating a nice little onion pocket inside. Not sure if they'll be good cold on the road, but the one I tried sure was delicious warm!

The second bread from that batch was a Sundried Tomato and Parmesan loaf. I realized I'm not the biggest fan of sundried tomatoes (or really any tomatoes), so limited the amount that went in. After half an hour of baking it turned out quite lovely. Not sure when I'll actually slice it open and see how everything turned out.

My final effort for the afternoon was to make crunchy chickpeas. They kind of remind me of corn nuts, because the basic idea is to season some chickpeas, then bake them until they're nice and crunchy. I find them to be a satisfying snack, and the protein certianly doesn't hurt.

There's my whole stash for the weekend. Don't worry, I won't eat all the cookies.

Green Beans

Today's favorite easy dinner: Green beans with garlic, crushed red pepper, and mozzarella
It's super simple. I start by slicing up a clove or two of garlic, and simmering it in olive oil on the stove. A few minutes later add the crushed red pepper, and then frozen green beans. By the time the beans are thawed and warmed all the way through, the garlic is nice and tender and has sweetened up a bit. Both the garlic and the crushed red infuse the oil with their flavors, and it's all around good. To top things off I pile on the mozzarella cheese, which balances out any over-spiciness from the crushed red. And really, who doesn't love cheese?