Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The trouble with Turkey

This year I did things right. I actually, for the first time, chose a turkey that meant a fabulous Christmas dinner, one lovely second night dinner and a few leftovers. In the past, I had turkey still hanging around until well into the New Year, both too good to throw out and too turkey to keep eating.

It seems to be the trouble with turkey. It is a bird that definitely has its place. But too much at a time and lookout. People will rebel. Children will disappear when they hear about leftovers "Again?!?" Husbands will suddenly take up making dinner (hmmmm, I may be on to something here.....)

So with my little bundle of turkey leftovers, I have decided to store it away much earlier than in past years.

There are many things that you can do with turkey. It is good curried, stirfried, and of course soup. (There is a nice pot of that sitting in the cold on our deck as we speak). But my favourite thing is turkey shepherd's pie. Simple, hearty, and above all, freezable.

Easy peasey. Take some leftover turkey and cut into bite size pieces. Make sure you don't include any turkey skin in this (while it is divine on the day all hot and crunchy from the oven, it becomes a gelatinous mess once reheated).

Put the turkey cubes into an ovenproof pan. This pan is especially important as this pie's likely use will be on a rushed night when we are just wanting something substantial before we race from the house for some evening event or other.And you definitely want something you can just pop in the oven while getting things organized for your evening.

On top of the turkey cubes, ladle what is leftover from your gravy...hopefully you made enough on the day. Then I combine the mashed potatoes and the veg--any veg at this point but we typically have some brussel sprouts, which I chop, and some mashed carrots/turnips that add a nice bite--and pack that mix on top of the gravy.

Voila. Cheap, easy, hearty and ready in a hurry. And if you time it right, the kids won't stick up their noses and retreat to their rooms in a snit because you are having turkey......AGAIN!?!?! Likely sometime around February......

Happy eating!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Not another New Year's Resolution

Here's the story. We all live busy, busy lives. In fact, likely too busy. We are constantly stressed by the "doing" of our lives. And that stress  is causing us "dis"stress. Because we are so busy, we tend not to think about how we are living, eating, or relating. We are busier than ever and more disconnected than ever from the things that are really important. And companies all over the globe are tapping in to that disconnection.

One food company here in North America is trying to convince us that making mashed potatoes is too time consuming so they are offering their help in the form of pre-peeled, pre-chopped, and pre-packaged potatoes just ready for boiling water. I mean really, mashed potoatoes! In fact, the sales of heat and serve meals, what the BBC called "lazy foods" (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8572009.stm) are growing despite economic recessions.

While I don't do the pre-packaged food bit, I do have to admit, however, to taking the quick way out. I buy bread because I didn't get a loaf on the rise before leaving to work (a sum total of a 5 minute job). We pay for an extra garbage bin instead of sorting out the recycling and sending it in for free. And I admit to the buying of things that I really could have done without because I am filling some emotional need instead of some concrete need. It's just easier to consume than deal with things sometimes.

But I feel the need to change this behaviour and now seems as good a time as any. Being almost New Year's I am going to join the throngs of people making resolutions for a better life in 2011. Over 1/3 of that crowd won't see their resolve last until February. Good to know the odds going in.

So my plan is this. I'm taking the next 52 weeks to make us more self-reliant. This means more creation less consumerism. It also means getting the rest of the clan involved. Number 1 daughter has moved home to a suite in our house. She is heading to nursing school in January so will have at least two years of starving student status. Should be easy to convince her to dive right in if it preserves that miniscule budget that she will be living with. Number 2 son both works and studies at the moment. He's just recently gotten his rifle permit and a rifle so am thinking hunting season next fall will be a big bonus! Both of them will have to embrace a more self-reliant lifestyle for this to work.

The husband is another story. He works from home and is proud of the greenest commute around even though he is about as green as diesel. Being a gadget geek and firmware developer, he likes the technological edge of culture so the hook with him will be how can that technology help our little endeavor. Still, he likes  the idea of more self-reliance. He cooks, bakes, loves to see what we can grow for ourselves (though he isn't a gardener in anyone's imagination). The saving money aspect will also appeal to him.

The next 52 weeks won't be tough, they will be thoughtful. And I am going to blog about our journey. I will also include links to other blogs of like intent so that anyone interested can see the range of efforts being made by people worldwide to decrease their reliance on the consumer machine.

Will we make it to February, I hope so. Will we make it through the entire year, no idea. But is should be fun trying. And its the most positive I've felt about things in a long while. Here's to New Year's Resolutions, long may they reign.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays Everyone

This post finds me at the end of my Christmas baking marathon. Shortbread cookies, light fruit cake, Christmas puddings, butter tarts, butterscotch confetti all hide in various locations around the house waiting to be doled out over the holidays. The weather is awful mostly, blowing wind, sideways rain but for a few brief moments on the 20th/21st this month, the skies opened up so that I could see an eclipsed moon on my birthday. It is a good end to a difficult year.

Gerry has made a batch of hot buttered rum mix, and in the evening there is nothing so restorative than sitting in the half-light of the living room with the Christmas tree glowing and one of those rummy-elixirs in hand.

Friends this year have been so very important, even while they are plodding through their own life-altering changes and for this I am so very grateful. We can all only hope that 2011 will be kinder to our frayed nerves but at least we know that whatever happens, we are not alone.

To me, Christmas isn't just about a big dinner. It is about the preparation and delight in the process. This year, I found myself really engaged in the process and it was healing. Remembering the years when I merely watched these delights appear, it became clear that the stirring, cooking, baking and cooling were metaphors for our lives together. It is the work it takes to make things happen that is important. The treat is at the end but that isn't where life lies.

Making the most of what can only be called a crappy year is all that is open to us. We plod ahead, hopeful.

I know, I know. Pollyanna. But really what is left to us? We can decide to avoid life when it is awful, not learning the hard lessons. That is a half-life. Or we can gather our strength and decide to live. Christmas baking says "I am living"

I wish you all the best. I wish you the strength to bake, the strength to garden, the strength to have tea with friends, the strength to affirm life is worth the effort. And thank you for being there when I didn't have the strength.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The year without her....

I had a stunning revelation on Friday evening as I sat sipping a cup of tea and staring at the Christmas tree. I wanted a shortbread cookie.

Now this might not seem like a revelation of major proportions but it startled me. Those lovely little cookies would not appear this year like they had for the past 8 years...the time when Mom and I shared a house and all our holidays.

Before we shared this house, I had been the one tasked with preparing those things that Christmas tradition dictated. And I loved it. But I had definitely gotten out of the habit once Mom lived downstairs and she took great pride in sharing her Christmas delights with us.

When Gerry moved in and Mom discovered his love of bits and bites, those were added to our tradition and she made buckets of them. He sat contentedly eating whatever was available and I know how good his obvious enjoyment of them made her.

And now, in the beginning of the year without her, I realize that it is up to me to continue what she started.

This morning I made Christmas pudding (recipe from a long ago friend), that fantastic concoction of potatoes, carrots, candied fruits and peels, suet, spices that make your head reel, and of course those Christmas staples, butter, molasses and eggs.

I cried a bit as the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves invaded the house and I mixed my biggest bowlful with my hands. Mom had always made Christmas cakes (two of which I have taken from the freezer and drenched in amaretto awaiting their debut) and my kitchen smelled just like she was there with me.n

I can see her hands, with their hereditary age spots and strong fingers, digging through the mixture making sure it all combined. In the middle of mixing the pudding, my hands are sticky and sweet, with the beginnings of those same age spots on them.

Once the bowls of fragrant pudding are in their steamers and the shortbreads are cooling on the kitchen table, I sit down and listen to Loreena McKennitt's winter album, "To Drive the Cold Winter Away". I feel my Mom next to me and am comforted by her.

I miss her terribly but know that by keeping her traditions alive, I am not without her. And I am grateful that I had the kind of mother who kept these traditions and passed them along to me. I only hope I can do the same for my children.


Marion Bates' Christmas Pudding:

4c flour
9tsp baking powder
3tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
9 eggs
6 tbsp molasses
3 3/4 c brown sugar
3 c shredded potato
3 c shredded carrot
3 c seedless raisins
3 c currants
1 1/2 c almonds (I used sliced)
3/4 lb red cherries (the glacee kind)
3/4 lb green cherries
3 c pineapple rings
3 c suet
2 c candied peel
3 c breadcrumbs

Sift and measure flour, add spices, sift again. Add salt,baking powder, sift again, Add brown sugar. Measure raisins, currants, cherries, pineapple, nuts, suet, breadcrumbs, raw potatoes and carrots and place in a separate bowl.

Beat eggs and molasses. Mix fruit mix and egg mix alternatively into flour (use a REALLY big bowl). Fill mold (I use nice heavy ceramic bowls so when the pudding is turned out it is a nice rounded hump on the plate) 3/4 full. I line the bowls with cheesecloth but you can simply just cover each with parchment paper (tied down) or aluminum foil.

Steam 4 hours. I use my big canning pot, invert a smaller stainless steel bowl inside it and fill half way up bowl with water. Then I set the mold on top of the bowl.

Uncover to cool. Wrap to store.

When serving, put the pudding out topside down and drench with brandy, or rum, or whatever you like. Light it on fire and serve. Spectacular dessert!

When serving, I include a hard sauce or caramel sauce just to push it over the top.!

Great with a glass of homemade Port while sitting in front of the fire.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quiet Mornings

Today's post doesn't have anything to do with food, well not much really. It has been a difficult summer as my mom struggled through her end days with cancer and so much of our typical routine had been altered. Our days and nights revolved around meeting her needs for sustenance and I learned that the human body can live for six weeks on a diet of canned peaches and jello. I have a new found respect for the strength of the human will.

And now that her struggle is over, Gerry and I work to find our new normal in a house now missing one important member. It starts slow. We now have to re-figure our portion control for the dinners she used to share with us. We go for dinner just the two of us (final son living in the house has a complete life of his own). I have started thinking about future things again; a course I am taking that starts in a month; a possible weekend getaway to help heal our still sensitive hearts; and really spending time together. It all seems very odd.

As I look around, flowers sent by friends who supported us through this are still lovely and remind me of the life of my mother. It was she who taught me the importance of providing for my family; how to can, smoke, jam, or otherwise preserve summer's bounty for the darker, colder months. It was an ultimate gratification that it was my canned peaches that really sustained her during the last weeks of her life. It was a gift she shared with me that I in turn shared back.

Life has changed irrevocably here but not all in bad ways. And there is still the imprint of her life, her beliefs, and her energy in everything in the house....the pickles we eat on our cheeseplate, her angels tucked in around the flowers and plants of the house, and the cookbooks that sit in my bookshelf all remind me of her.

So here in the quietness of a Saturday morning, I find that I am more grateful than sad. And I look forward to life.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Remebrances of a Friend

So it has been nine months already since my lovely friend Janet passed away. She was full of life, bubbly, warm and accepting of so many people. Two weeks ago we visited her mom, Joyce, and came away with three boxes of pinot blanc grapes. These little lovelies went into a grape press we rented from a local u-brew wine shop in Duncan.

Pressing hard overnight we got about 15l of grape juice and put it into a primary fermenter, with any skins that escaped the press, added a packet of champagne yeast and let sit for two week (oops, should have been a week but the health care we have been doing around here meant that we just didn't get to it). Yesterday evening, we siphoned it out of the primary into a 5us gal. carboy (secondary fermenter with a fermentation lock).

We tasted the juice as it siphoned into the secondary and found it quite tart. Forgot all about testing its specific gravity and hope it will be a forgiving little wine and ferment nicely without us adding any sugar.

It is now sitting quietly next to the fireplace now, starting to clear and bubble slowly. It reminds me of a lovely Victorian novel and think Janet would think so too. As the nights grow darker and we are sitting in front of the fire more, it will be lovely to have something that reminds me of her bubbly laughter.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

it's all about the pickles

I think in every stage of a person's life, there are lessons that you must learn. I am becoming aware that for me my stage lesson is patience. Patience in the rythmn of life is paramount as I sit with my mother through her end stage of life. It is a hard but fruitful lesson.

Now, I don't really think of myself as patient but I am more than willing to nurture a carboy of wine through its natural fermentation stage, not using chemicals to hurry things along. I love the nine-day pickle currently slowly ripening in crocks along my kitchen counter....there is nothing, and I mean nothing, commercially available that rivels these succulent pieces of cucumber, silverskin onion, and cauliflower.

The pickle begins like most. Wash and cut cukes, peel silverskins till you can't look another in the eye,and add just enough chunks of cauliflower to make a happy little family. Pile as many of them in a crock as you can (leaving room for weight to sit atop and the lid).

Boil up a pickle brine of water and salt (at a 2:1 ratio of water to salt) and pour over the unsuspecting raw veg and let the magic begin. Now this isn't overnight magic. This magic waits three days, then strain out the veg into a big bowl and pour the brine into a large pot. Bring it to the boil to kill off any wayward bacteria (straining any foam off the top). Once the crock is free of brine, put the wanna-be pickles back in, then after your brine has come to a full rollickingt boil, pour it overtop. Drape a cotton cloth over the top to let the steam out and the mixture to cool. Repeat this in three more days, then another three. On the tenth day drain the pickles into the sink, put them into a huge bowl and pour 1 gallon of water with 1 tbsp alum over the pickles. Let this sit for an hour then drain again. The alum water helps the pickles retain their crispness.

While you are waiting for the alum water to take effect (and have made a nice cup of tea), make up a pickle concotion of 6c vinegar, 8 c sugar, a spice bag with 1oz celery seed, 1 oz allspice, and one cinnamon stick, boiling these ingredients together and then pouring them over the pickles which have been put into quart sealer jars. No need to process in a water bath because the boiling pickle liquid will seal the jar as it cools. Your house will smell like an amazing delicatessan (when little, my sister and I referred to these as "stinky pickles" and would run around the house with teatowels around our faces to block the smell....)

Now I know this seems to be a lot of work for some pickles. In our immediate gratification world, it just might be. But the pleasure of opening a crisp jar of these mixed pickles and enjoying them with some cheese and crackers makes up for any length of time in creating them. But they just might make me a patient person after all, and able to withstand the difficult days ahead.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

...life goes on

It has been two weeks since my mom took to her bed for the final struggle with cancer. While she is still with us mentally, her body is increasingly saying "no" to the basics of life. The waiting, as the song says, is the hardest part....waiting for her to wake up, to see if she in at all interested in food, juice, water anything...trying not to think about the inevitable but realizing that it is the only thing we have now. It is hard on everyone and we try to find things, positive things, to do with our time.

Today I lucked out and found someone who was picking and selling blackberries. Normally I would love to go and pick them myself (we have purposely not pruned the ones in our yard into oblivion this year). The dusky smell of the summer forest, the heat of the sun, and the pricking of fingers while foraging are like old friends. But this year, with mom, it just doesn't seem possible so I bought some. Mashing them quickly and thoroughly, they now sit oozing their deep purple juice through a jelly bag into my big stock pot. I have another bucket to mash once this once has compressed itself enough to let more bulk into the bag.

Jelly, in its glorious jewel colours, is one of the most satisfying things I make every year. Looking at the tiny pots in the cellar swells the pride and tweaks the tastebuds. Jelly requirea patience. Squeeze the bag with the pulpy mess in it and your reward is a cloudy end product. So you have to let it sit...just sit there oozing. It can be agonizing this wait, but it is purposeful.

Jelly has the added advantage of being able to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their dental status, while jam hides little granules that wedge themselves perfectly and almost permanently underneath partials and dentures causing untold grief. So jelly amply rewards the patience of its creator.

On the way home from the blackberry transaction, I notice that a boy down the street is once again selling apples. Industrious lad, he has picked boxes of transparents and is selling them on the side of the street. I can't resist and now 10lbs of transparents are waiting their final assignment in either pies or sauce lodged safely in the freezer. Soon to come, he assures me, are Macs, spartans, gravensteins, and some yet to be identified variants.

I can wait for those apples. Dream about what they might become in our little kitchen. Apple chips, sauce, a snack, apple cake, the list is only as long as my imagination. This waiting might not make the waiting at the end of life easier on any of us. But it is a way to look forward, to remember that life inevitably goes on and that we can make that a bit easier, and definitely a bit sweeter.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Of lemons, limes and figs

Well, one of my favourite sayings in times of distress is that when life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade. Sometime I have even asked the universe, in a moment of sheer overwhelmed fatigue, if it could possibly stop sending lemons. Well yesterday I took the lemons by the horns. Gerry and I finally went to purchase the lemon and lime trees that I had ordered from Fruit Trees and More in Deep Cove (just south of the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal on Vancouver Island). Bob and Verna Duncan have made a tropical paradise of their relatively small plot, growing lemons, limes, oranges (in a greenhouse) and even a banana tree! Theirs is a effort of passion that shows just how much dedication and understanding can pay off. In the spring, I will pick up a bare root Cortland apple and a bare root Cox Orange Pippen to plant somewhere on this rocky lot. The Cortland is ultimately destined for cider but the orange pippen is an eater....and a gorgeous one at that.

We bought one 2 gallon Meyers lemon and a Bearss Lime (in the picture the lime is on the left, the lemon on the right and the fig up above). A confusion with my name (there was another Chris Martin who had ordered) and Verna thought I had also ordered a fig. Well after walking around their property and looking at the massive quantities of figs on their trees a little 1 gallon Desert King fig trees, complete with some small figs, also came home with us. Nice thing about the lemon and lime is that they will do just fine in large pots. The fig on the other hand will have to be planted then fenced to fend off the ravenous deer.

I learned from Bob that lemons flower constantly and that the tree sustains fruit in a variety of ripeness stages. The huge ripe lemons on one of his little (it was only about 4 feet high but abot 3 feet wide) trees were over a year old. I also learned that you can leave lemons on the tree until you need them and the tree will accomodate them quite nicely. Fantastic! Being that the tree is constantly flowering, it will be quite easy to supply our house, and probably a couple of others, with enough lemons each year. I have posted before about middle eastern preserved lemons, so those will definitely become a staple.

I don't know yet about the prolifieration of the limes, but that will be part of our journey in this self-sufficient lifestyle we have chosen.

As I sit here writing, the lids on the raspberry jelly are popping, the clouds have rolled in again (remind me what month this is) and two large liverwursts are boiling away. The chorizo from yesterday hangs in the kitchen perfuming (haha) the air with garlic and paprika. I think my grandmothers would be proud.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

On berries and sausages

It has certainly been a while since my last blog entry. A brutal work schedule for both Gerry and I has meant not as much time to pursue one of our passions, self sufficient living. With the start of decent weather and the official entry of summer we are back at it. This weekend has been one of berries, jams, and chorizo! The Cowichan Valley is a localvore paradise providing all we could ever want in the way of food, drink, and ideas.

Local strawberries and raspberries have been successfully made into jam....but today's experiment is our chorizo sausage. Gerry got the sausage stuffer attachment from his mom for Christmas and it has taken us this long to try it out.

Chorizo is an Argentinian dried sausage full of garlic, paprika and pepper. Drying the sausage concentrates the flavours and I have to thank Jocasta Innes for the recipe for this in her book "Notes from a Country Kitchen." I inherited this book from my dad and it is my favourite cookbook--in the depths of winter when nothing is growing and all is grey.

We purchased 4 lbs of cheap pork (nice and fatty) and 2 lbs of beef, ground them up through the Kitchenaid, made a marinade of red wine, garlic, salt, paprika, peppercorns, nutmeg and cloves. Mixing all this together it sits overnight in the fridge. Next day, soak some beef casings in water, changing twice to get rid of the salt and make the casing pliable.

Filling the casings is easy with the Kitchenaid. Once filled, tie them off in approximately 2 ft sections and hang in a warm place for a week to begin drying. After the first week, move to a cool dark place and use as necessary. The longer it hangs, the more potent the spices, and the drier the sausage. Might need some liquid when cooking if it gets really dry.

This is a fabulous tasting sausage.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Starter Anyone?

If you are living in the Cowichan Valley region of Vancouver Island, or even Victoria or Nanaimo, and are interested in some lovely sourdough starter, please post me a note. I have whole wheat, ground from wheat grown in Metchosin, and white for a lighter bread.

Drop me a line if you are interested and we can make some arrangements. Anyone with kefir seeds out there, I have been looking for starter for a while.

I am also looking for very large glass jars, the kind small stores used to sell pickled sausage or eggs from. These jars are about 3l in capacity.


New Year, New Wine and Sourdough Bread

Finally got out yesterday to Duncan McBarley's (our local wine making shop) and got another orange muscat kit. The one we made two years ago turned out extraordinarily well. As dessert wine it is thick, sweet and tastes like a white port. Since we never use the chemicals in the kits, this wine took two years to get to bottling. We had to make sure that it was fully fermented. At one point, we thought we may have lost it when the temperatures in the cool room rose during our particularly hot summer, but we lucked out!

Process is everything.

Cleaned up the primary today and got it going. Interesting process with this one. You cut out 250ml of juice add the two packages of Lalvin EC-1118 champagne yeast top with 250ml of warm water and let yeast begin its work. Then after 20 minutes for the yeast to soften, you add this mix to the muscat juice in the primary. No added water.

This mix will sit in the primary for a week, then transfer to a 5 US gal carboy for its initial 6 month ferment in the cool room. About that time we will check it to see how it going and probably rack it into another 5 US gal carboy to get it off the majority of its lees. Lees are the dying yeasts and can flavour your wine. Some like this, others not. The wine we made last year was so good we aren't going to experiment with process this time. It will sit in this second carboy for at least another six months when we will add 250ml of orange muscat grape concentrate to the carboy. This will reinvigorate the fermentation process and we will now let the complete mixture sit for another year. It is WELL worth the time and effort. Ultimately, we will get 24 small bottles of this elixir to share with family and friends.

Update on the Sourdough Starter

For now the primary sits bubbling away at the end of the counter. Kitchen is warm with the smells of bread baking and a roast in the slow cooker. I have cut out a couple of sourdough sponges today for bagel making this week and the sponges I started last night, Gerry has transformed into a half an half loaf (whole wheat starter and white flour) and a full white (white starter and white flour). These sit rising happily on the counter beside the oven where it is warmest.

The one in the oven is a full white, no sourdough, with potato flakes to make it extraordinarily light. Mom can't eat the whole wheat ones so this airy creation is for her. Might not be optimal in terms of health benefits (at least not as much as the whole grain flour which we grind ourselves) but the B vitamins alone will be worth it.