September 30, 2015

Of Autumn and Apples

The sky is the brightest blue, the grass is dry and prickly, the leaves are beginning to take on many hues. The mornings are cool but I shed layers as the day grows warm, retrieving them when evening arrives. Late September is a burst of glory before everything falls, the ground is covered in frost, and cold overtakes warm for good. We're remembering the rhythms of autumn and making the most of this season before cold weather settles in.

Ray and I have often thought of how fun it would be to have a cider press, but not having so much as an apple tree, it seemed like a silly investment. Luckily, you don't need an apple tree or a cider press when you have friends who can supply both in exchange for apple picking and cider pressing labor. My friend Michelle has three big apple trees in her yard and she borrowed a cider press from our local tool library. Thanks to her, we got to experience the fun of turning apples into cider.

Luckily, Ray got obsessed with picking as many apples as he could reach. The trees are tall, nothing like the carefully groomed orchard trees, and there were always more apples hanging from branches way out of reach. Amos loved picking up the apples, filling the wheelbarrow, and helping to put the apples in the grinder. He took some breaks to play on the swing set but was very focused on picking up fallen apples and, later, branches that came down it the process of shaking the tree.

Cider pressing can be a practical approach to food preservation but it is more so about the sweetness of autumn and apples and many hands gathering together. Seasonal, communal activities like this aren't as common as they once were. Working together with friends and neighbors to accomplish a fun and enjoyable task creates connections and interactions that might not happen otherwise.

September 21, 2015

Knitting Season

Summer has lingered, but certainly not overstayed its welcome. The mornings are cool, though, the golden light in the late afternoon doesn't last long, and some nights need extra blankets. It is nice to have this gentle transition, to take trips to the beach and eat popsicles on the the porch while noticing the fading green of the maple leaves, the darker mornings and earlier evenings, and the cool rainy days that seem to say, who are you kidding, fall is here.

For me, it is knitting season again. I rarely knit year round and often don't start projects for fall and winter until most of the leaves are gone. The shift in seasons encourages me to draw inward, to settle more comfortably inside our home, to feel content with rows of stitches and soft wool.

I am attempting to make a barn sweater. My approach to knitting is: I might as well try. I don't consider myself a serious knitter, although this will be the fourth sweater (hopefully) that I've made. I have never done a button hole or pockets and usually I don't know what the abbreviations or some of the instructions mean. But fortunately there are plenty of resources to figure these things out. I can't be sure if I'll finish the sweater before spring comes, but I am happy to have this meditative process to warm my hands as the season changes. 

September 3, 2015

Tiny Project #5: Felt Balls

We have an assortment of blocks, puzzles, cars, musical instruments and other toys for Amos, but most often he plays with household items. A spray bottle filled with water for squirting and misting outside, a potato masher and kitchen tongs for carrying random things around the living room, and a bicycle pump which he uses to "pump" wheels, tires, and pillows. He raids our kitchen drawers and cupboards for his favorite pots, bowls, and utensils and it is fun to see the creative ways he turns things into toys.

I've made Amos a few things to play with over the last couple of years, mostly soft and throw-able. Stuffed cloth blocks, bean bags, and now felt balls. Soft things that can be rolled, tossed, gathered, and occasionally thrown are nice to have available for all kinds of play, but especially when you can say if you want to throw something, you can throw this.

Instead of seeking out wool roving, I realized that I could make balls from the scrap wool that had been hibernating in my knitting basket for years. Most of the yarn wasn't a color or weight that I really liked so I gave it new life with this project. I love being able to transform unwanted materials into something that is actually enjoyable. As long as it is wool, you can use scraps, tangles, or any kind of yarn.

These felt balls don't take a long time or any excess water and soap. Wrap or scrunch your yarn into balls and use an old stocking or pair of tights to hold them in balls shapes. Toss them in with your load of laundry and you will soon have a new, soft, throw-able toy. Soft, colorful and cozy, they can also be used for cat toys, dryer balls, juggling, or playing catch indoors making them completely not essential, but still quite fun.

Felted Balls
100% wool yarn
A jingle bell if you want your ball to rattle
A pair of stockings or nylon tights

Cut the legs off the tights so you two have long tubes.

Roll the yarn into a tight ball using a single color or many colors together (if you are using a bell, start rolling the yarn around it so it is hidden in the middle of the ball). If you have a very tangled ball of yarn, like I did, you can scrunch it into a ball shape and wrap some more yarn around it to keep it that way. Once your ball has reached the desired size (it will shrink a bit when felted) stuff it into one of the legs of the tights. Tie both ends to keep the yarn in a tight ball. 

Continue making yarn balls until you have as many balls as you wish or you have filled both stocking legs. The next time you do a load of laundry with HOT water, put the yarn filled stockings in with your dirty clothes. Transfer them, along with your clothes, into the dryer to dry. 

Once they have been washed and dried, remove them from the stockings. Depending on the type of yarn you use it may just look like a very tightly rolled ball of yarn or it make be hard to tell that it started out as a long strand. Some yarn doesn't felt together easily so you may need to repeat the process to get all of the strands to stick together in a ball.

August 19, 2015

Tiny Precious Berries


Even if we didn't have the bears, the hillside, and the plink! plank! plunk! of the metal bucket, Blueberries for Sal is a very accurate manual for picking blueberries with a two year old. Amos picked five, ate four. Wandered around looking for Blue berries, not green ones, ate one, two, three. Picked four. Dumped them in my container. Picked and ate. Meanwhile, I was just a little less obsessive than Little Sal's Mother about picking blueberries to save for winter. I will freeze mine, not can them, but I think I will have to go picking again by myself so we can keep a supply of berries in the freezer.

We eat blueberries by the quart full around here but I managed to save some to make the most amazing blueberry cake. The recipe caught my eye in the beautiful new Seven Spoons cookbook by Tara O'Brady. I couldn't resist the idea of making a blueberry snacking cake, but I also wondered if that was the best use of these tiny precious berries. What if it was bland or dry or the sweet juicy blueberries got lost in a spongy cake? These are important questions when summer produce is ripe and fleeting. Fortunately, the cake exceeded all of my expectations. The sturdy cake was lemony with hints of vanilla which perfectly highlighted the blueberries, turning each one into a burst of flavor. It is an absolutely worthwhile use of freshly picked summer fruit.

Blueberry Snacking Cake
Adapted from Seven Spoons by Tara O'Brady
The original cake calls for two tablespoons of poppy seeds but I didn't have any and I was happy without them. This recipe is not fussy, but it takes a bit of time, especially for baking. It is worth every minute.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling
4 eggs, at room temperature
Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or two teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
juice and grates zest of one lemon
1 cup blueberries 

Preheat the oven to 300' Butter an 8 inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Butter the paper as well. Whisk together the flour and salt.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 8 minutes on medium high, scraping down the sides of the bowl regularly. It will turn into a light thick mixture, almost like icing. Decrease to medium speed and add the eggs one at a time, scraping the beater and the bowl and mixing well after each addition. The batter may look curdled at this point, but it will still come together just fine. Add the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add half of the flour. Then add the creme fraiche and lemon juice and finish with the remaining flour until everything is incorporated but not over-mixed. Stir in the blueberries by hand and pour into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with sugar. 

Bake for 80-90 minutes until a skewer in the middle comes out clean. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before removing it from the pan. It will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for four days, if it lasts that long!

August 18, 2015

I'll be at the Farmers' Market at Deering Oaks park hoping to say hello to anyone who stops by and hoping to clear out some inventory. Mark your calendar for September 5!

August 14, 2015


Summer is never going to end, right?

The reason I ask is that I finally bought a popsicle mold. At the end of July.

After I made my first batch, I was entertaining ideas of starting a popsicle stand -- not the kind you find yourself leaving from time to time, but one that sells popsicles with interesting and refreshing flavors. But I've given up on making popsicles full time and settled, enthusiastically, for making as many kinds of popsicles as I can for as long as summer lasts.

Any kind of smoothie can be turned into a good popsicle -- green, berry-full, banana peanut butter. Adding yogurt or coconut milk makes them nice and creamy. Amos calls them poxibles and eats them sitting on our porch dripping here and there. 

Fudgecicles are fun. Experimental blueberry, beet, coconut milk pops not bad. My favorites so far started with a banana coconut milk ice cream base that, instead of churning, I poured into the molds. They needed no embellishment, but I couldn't resist coating some of them in chocolate for an extra special treat.

There are so many popsicle possibilities so I am sharing this as inspiration. Whether or not you enjoy frozen treats, I hope you are savoring whatever makes your summer sweet.

July 28, 2015

Thai Vegetable Salad with Peanut Coconut Sauce

The big adventures of our summer are over. We've visited our old neighborhood in Saint Paul, spent days at the lake, and just got back from a quick trip to New Jersey for a perfect summer wedding. Happily there are few events or obligations marked on our calendar for the rest of the summer. While our travels and activities are so worthwhile, I get a little anxious when we don't have unscheduled time.

We still have one full glorious month of summer left. Enough for lots more days at the beach, bike rides or hikes, ice cream cones, sweet salty air, and so much good local produce. I am trying to shut out thoughts that summer is dwindling and to remember all that we've already experienced and all the beautiful days that lie ahead. Now that we will be in one place for more than a few weeks I realize that I have barely begun to make use of the summer foods which, for most of the year, are only memories. I've munched pounds of snap peas and cucumbers and thrown together piles of vegetables that need little more than some cheese or olive oil to make a meal but now that we're settling back in I feel pulled to spend more time in the kitchen.

Beyond making yogurt almost weekly and figuring out something for dinner I have spent most of my hours in the kitchen sweeping or putting away dishes. I am taking a master food preserver class but I have not yet canned anything on my own stove. Summer is not always the ideal time to cook or bake but I miss feeling engaged with the hearth of our home.

One of my favorite salads this summer provides a break from my typical dinner dishes but it requires no hot slaving and it is served cold. It starts with a pile of sliced fresh vegetables which you tangle among the thinnest of rice noodles. The sauce, which I discovered when my brother made a similar salad, is lightly peanutty and savory with a hint of sweet. It keeps well in the fridge and seems like a good thing to have on hand. Together they make an unfussy and satisfying meal.

Thai Vegetable Salad
This recipe works best as a rough outline. Slice your vegetables so that you have about as many vegetables as noodles, or more. If you prefer more noodles, you can cook more or use fewer vegetables. A mandoline slicer (this one is the best) is ideal for quickly slicing the into the thinnest strips. 
The recipe for the sauce is adapted from this one, make sure you adjust everything to your taste.
I like to serve this salad with pan fried tofu for a more complete meal.

4 ounces of very thin rice noodles (I like these)
1 small cabbage
2 carrots
2 small or one large cucumber
1 red pepper
1 small bunch of cilantro
A handful of snap peas, mung bean sprouts, or scallions

Peanut Coconut Sauce
13.5 ounce can of coconut milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon red curry paste

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the noodles. Turn off the heat and let them sit for two minutes. Drain the noodles and run them under cold water to stop them from cooking further and to chill them. Once the noodles are cold, set them aside. 

Slice all of the vegetables into thin, bite sized pieces or strips. Toss the vegetables with the cold noodles in a serving bowl. 

To make the sauce, pour the coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, soy sauce and curry paste into a blender or food processor. Blend or process until smooth. Adjust ingredients to your taste.

Toss the salad with the sauce before serving or leave them separate and let each person sauce their own portion.

Serves 2-3 for a meal, 4-6 for a side.