Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Solstice to all.... a little late!

I had high hopes of staying up to see the lunar eclipse up here in (almost) the North Country... snow on the ground... red moon in the sky. However, sheer exhaustion won out and instead I settled for dreaming of the eclipse. In my dream the moon was covered in mini-marshmallows and spinning around very quickly. Cool dreams, happy solstice.

It was a good day, though, since I was able to visit my Aunt Ellen's house... she is undoubtedly the queen of all things cozy. Her little 1920s era bungalow was a lovely place to be for a visit for a little while. I have always loved her house and visiting. Recently, I found a little note I had written to my Mom. It seemed like I was apologizing for something I had said or done, and the "P.S." read: "Pleeeeese let me sleep over at Aunt Ellen's this Friday night." I was probably about ten.

What attracted me then is the same as now: lots and lots of books, lovely plants, interesting prints on the walls, knitting projects in various stages, old photos, warm afghans, and soft couches. Ahhhhh..... the perfect place to spend an afternoon. It was a lovely thing to do to welcome back the light!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gingerbread cookies

Last week I made gingerbread cookies. This week one of my favorite bloggers asked her readers to write about cookies, and so I do. Julia wrote that her 2 year old wanted to eat all the dough.... so did my nearly 2 year old (and his mom, I must admit). The good thing about this gingerbread is that it doesn't have raw egg in it, so if you are the kind who would worry about that usually, you can relax with this batch of cookie dough. And your two year old will be able to sneak dough with impunity.

Before I give the recipie, let me tell you what I thought of the result. In general, the cookies were very tasty. Spicy enough to check my cookie craving at 2 cookies, but mild enough for my toddler and his buddies. They are chewy. Not a word I usually like associated with gingerbread cookies. My mom's gingerbread boys were used for eating and decorating & my father used the power drill to put a hole in each little cookie's head for a ribbon so it could go on the tree. Suffice it to say, these cookies would not hold up to such treatment. I love a very crisp gingerbread boy, so if you have a recipe, please do share!

Here's what good old Betty Crocker told me to do:

Mix the following, by hand with a spoon, or with a mixer on medium:
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. shortening
1 & 1/2 c. dark molasses
2/3 c. cold water

This makes for an odd mix, I thought I had done something wrong. I used an electric mixer, and I think that made it much easier, since you are trying to mix shortening and water (unhappy bedfellows).

Next, stir in these ingredients by hand:
7 c. flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350. Grease or spray cookie sheet lightly.

Roll dough 1/4 in. thick on floured surface. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place 2" apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 10-12 min. or until no indentation remains when touched. Immediately remove to wire cooking rack.

This makes about 2 & 1/2 dozen cookies for you and your favorite people. (Thanks to some of my favorite people, Lee and Margaret, for asking for the recipe, too!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter drying

I've developed a small aversion to using our clothes dryer. After having a glorious fall for clothes drying and almost never using the machine it was hard for me to start again. I'm not exactly sure what pained me so much. I don't like running machines that do the work I can do? Probably not. I love my stand mixer, for example, even though I have arms. Maybe I don't like the way clothes feel after being in the dryer? True at times, but I love soft bath towels, and line-dried towels feel like crusty bread. The greenhouse gases? Maybe, although I've tried to mitigate my guilt by paying to get our power from wind turbines (more on my suspicion about that in another post). The money? If I calculated how much money I saved by avoiding the dryer I'm not entirely sure I'd be impressed, and it's an experiment that would take a month of drying to carry out, which would annoy me too much to try. It's better for the clothes? Everyone knows that, but geesh, I couldn't do bring myself to do it for wardrobe considerations.

Maybe I like the work. Just like I like cooking, even though getting frozen meals would clearly save me a lot of time, I do believe I like hanging up laundry, even though it's "menial" labor. It comes as a surprise that I find pleasure in it even when it's done in my basement. I do have a spacious place to hang in the basement. And it's not a nasty basement, other than the clutter. I would love to hang the clothes in the living space on our main floor, but my toddler would not be able to keep his hands off of them. [N.B.- Clean wet clothes are a great air freshener on a main floor, I've found, but if you are cooking onions or salmon on the same floor, you better not expect your clothes to smell like lavender.] I like shaking out the clothes to make them straight for hanging. I have a little system: tops and pajamas on the big rack, baby clothes on the little rack, and pants and boxers on the line. I like the smell of fresh, wet clothes and how different fabrics feel when wet. Which reminds me that I need to have a long post about my love affair with linen, which is by FAR my favorite item to hang dry. Yes, I like the work. I like it.

I even play favorites with the clothespins. I have 3 sets. The "set" that came on the line downstairs when we bought the house is made up of 5 or 7 rogue clothespins that had been in the house for years I imagine. These are nice, sturdy pins. There is one (I imagine it to be a 1960 original, from the days when clothespins were made for daily use) that is a real workhorse. I can string up heavy jeans on either side of this pin and it doesn't even strain. The other set is a set I bought at Mansfield Supply when Theo was born and I put up a tiny clothesline for his diapers on the deck of our apartment (much to the horror of the landlord). They are okay, but no great pins to be sure-- most are broken by now. And the sad last set that I bought at H*me Dep*t (awful store) this summer, which could only ever be useful for hanging up brassieres and undies. They peter out under the weight of a diaper sometimes. Truly pathetic.

Even in my indoor line-drying days I do use the dryer for some things, especially things that I usually relish hanging out in the sun: white sheets, napkins and dishtowels, and diapers. I don't have the room to hang out a good load of diapers in the basement, nor do I have the diaper supply to hold out while they dry inside. And there is something about the high heat of the dryer that, while not as good a "bleaching" agent as the sun, does give the smackdown to any lingering stink. Maybe that's why the dishtowels and sheets are dried in the machine now, too.

Despite my laundry fetish (and I do like it even when machine drying-- I like emptying the lint trap). I detest putting the clothes away. Our guest bed has been the holding tank for the "clean" clothes lately. It's always a revolving melange of partially folded clothes and lonely socks...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Beet Challenge

Mmmm...... beets were never love at first bite for me. I grew up knowing that my Dad would eat just about anything but beets. As a result I saw very few in my childhood. The much-maligned beet seemed both repulsive and alluring. Repulsive, of course, because if my Dad, a scoffer at expiration dates, eater of mixed up leftovers, a regular 'tip-the-table-my-way-gristle-chewer' guy wouldn't eat it, well then something must be dreadfully wrong. Alluring, though, in an exotic, eastern-block kind of way. Alluring, mostly because the vegetable was never served in my house.

Alluring enough to eat, yes, but not really to enjoy. I dutifully ate my beets as an adult, and tried various salads and roasting methods to increase their appeal, but alas my palate was formed by my parents' tastes, and I admit that occasionally the beet made me nearly gag.

Until I discovered that for me, beets belong in soup. It started about 5 summers ago, when I was on a homemade yogurt kick, and I made a cold beet and yogurt soup. Fresh dill, cumin, salt, pepper, yogurt and beets. Heaven. It looked like a bowl of paint, but tasted like a creamy delight. I was sold, and I bought fresh beets whenever they were available.

But one can only eat so much of said soup. It's strong in flavor and packs a large dairy punch. This fall I re-discovered an old cooking favorite of mine: The Moosewood Cookbook. In it is the most spectacular beet recipe I've ever encountered. Beet Cabbage Borscht. It's sweet. It's subtle. It's lovely. And unlike the Beet Yogurt Soup, it's not very beety or strong. It's actually a sweet and mild soup. Add a dollop of yogurt and it's sweet, mild, and creamy. The beets lend the soup a touch of earthiness and an incredible color. But the carrots, potato, and celery keep this soup well within the range of familiar. The cabbage adds lightness, texture, and heartiness (not to mention vitamin C). But what really makes this soup addictive is the combination of a wee bit of cider vinegar and a wee bit of honey. My toddler begs for it. Literally.

He didn't seem to inherit one bit of my family's aversion. Not only does he gobble up the soup (with the exception of the cabbages whose texture he does not appreciate), he also requests raw beet slices as I am making it. The beet juice looks rather gruesome, true, but I think that the messier babies have more fun.

So, if you are beet-averse and want to be coaxed out of this darkness, leave me a comment and I will send you the recipe for Beet Cabbage Borscht. Or, if you are in the neighborhood, stop in (I just made a quadruple batch). If after eating it you are still unmoved, I will hound you no longer.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mildew problem checked

A while back I wrote about how I couldn't keep mildew at bay in my bathroom, especially without the use of toxic bleachy stuff. I did make the problem a little better, but we'll see how long the fix lasts. I had to re-caulk the area of the shower where the tub met the tile wall, since no amount of post-shower drying would get all the water out of the pitted and skimpy caulk that used to be there.

It DID, however, require a day of nastiness in the bathroom. Caulk is not non-toxic at all. It's harsh and has scary warnings all over it. But Ken and I cut out all the old stuff, cleaned it well, and re-caulked.

This, in combination with RELIGIOUS drying of the walls and joints, has all but eliminated the mildew issue. Even though Martha Stewart is gross in her own way, I just LOVE her Homekeeping Handbook. She tutored me through re-caulking, and her mini-lecture about wiping the shower down worked. She says something to the effect of this: "if you don't want to use toxic cleaning stuff, you have to keep your filth in check with maintenance." That makes sense. I am much more inclined to spend a minute wiping the shower walls if it will prevent me from "needing" to used something harsh to cut the mildew/scum/grime later. Wiping the walls was always sold to me as a time saver, and I never really could make myself do it. When sold as a toxin-reducer, you bet I will.

It hasn't eliminated my shower problems. Next task: finding a shower liner that is "green." Our current one is badly in need of replacement (it's beyond elbow-grease dirty, and 2 gussets are ripped). I loathe the idea of buying another sheet of PVC, just to throw it away later.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pictures of the process

I like to cook the sass out of my onions.

Slice my potatoes thinly and keep the skin on.

And as for the fennel, I'm too lazy to mince, so chopping will have to do.

Potato Fennel Soup tonight

I actually just sliced nearly 8 cups of onions without having a teary meltdown. I kept telling Theo--"Mama's going to start crying!" But it never happened. So, maybe I'm getting accustomed to onion cooking finally. Maybe it doesn't work that way. Anyway, I'm making soups this fall like a madwoman, and I cannot WAIT to get our chest freezer so I can quadruple recipes and have plenty of room in the freezer.

I'm trying to figure out what makes a really hearty vegetarian meal. A nice loaf of bread helps. A side of green stuff, whatever is available is always good. I know that beans always round out a meal, and last night we had root veggie/brussels sprouts melange with Jacob's Cattle beans. Our rice looked and smelled funny, so we didn't eat that. I don't think rice spoils per se, but something was amiss with this particular bag. Insects? That's one thing to watch out for with bulk stuff. Ick. Moth infestations are the pits. Costly, too. Let's hope that this house will never know one.

Alas, I was supposed to be waxing poetic about my Potato Fennel soup, how did I get on moths? While cutting the fennel, Theo kept saying "baby too!" and reaching for the fennel. He loved to chew on it.

So tonight our soup will be a rich and creamy delight, if it comes out as well as it did last time. But, there's no diary, and very little fat. The potatoes seem to really get soft and lovely. Even nicer after freezing and reheating. I do find that most soups improve with a freezing. The flavors mingle a bit more and veggies start to become indistinguishable from one another. Maybe it takes a funny palate to call that an advantage, but my toddler agrees.