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

Popsicles!




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.


July 22, 2015

Be In It

I did and didn't mean to take so much time away from here. With ever growing lists of projects and ever dwindling amounts of time, I can rarely fit in everything I want to do. I'm sure you can relate. It's constant back and forth, and I'm always standing ankle deep in the sloshing water as the tides come and go. I keep telling myself that it would make sense to focus on just one or two things. So, for a few weeks I did.

And then we went on vacation.



We filled our time with almost everything summer and vacation-y that we could have hoped for. S'mores with home made marshmallows and home made graham crackers. Dropping everything to go watch the sun set. Swimming and hiking, jumping into water so cold it was hard to breathe, and eating as many wild blueberries as we could find. Reveling in  the company of friends from nearby and far away. Playing, eating, and catching up with family we see only once a year as well as family we see often. Watching the mountains and sky and lake change from day to day. Kayaking with a two year old and with a pair of loons, but not at the same time. Trying, often unsuccessfully, to get Amos to take naps. Blowing motor boat bubbles and making sand cakes. Disconnecting from work, email, phones. Reading as many books as we could.




And now I'm back to trying to prioritize one project or another or none at all because naps are still hard and time is short and full, as always. I'm figuring out how to work at my desk while Amos colors or fills his toy truck with playing cards, or runs around picking up cloth napkins and wooden balls with kitchen tongs. I am wondering how to find fulfillment and whether what I am doing matters at all. I worry about this blog and if I am writing anything worthwhile and how I can make it better.

My plan, for now, it to keep going. To feel the shifting sands, the pull of the water one way and another, to let the seaweed swirl around my ankles and just be in it.

June 16, 2015

Birthday Backpack



I had been thinking for a while that I would make Amos a backpack for his second birthday. It's one thing to envision something but often quite another to sew it together. I found just the right fabric but first I cut and sewed a quick mock up out of scrap fabric. It is a very simple design that came together quite easily. I knew I wanted to applique something on the exterior pocket but I really couldn't think of what it would be. Once I decided to use the alligator fabric on the inside I realized I should put an "Ah-Gee-Go" on the outside, too.

We traveled to Minnesota last week so Amos packed some toys and books in his backpack for the plane ride. He didn't actually wear it very much, but I hope he will be able to use it a lot more in the future.




I had so much fun making this, I'd really like to make some more if time permits. Who wants one?

June 4, 2015

Pedaling


I love traveling by bicycle. Whether it is pedaling across the bridge into Portland or touring the greenways of the Twin Cities, I love being able to use my own strength and energy to propel my bike forward. You arrive perhaps more tired than when you left but you travel at a human pace, knowing exactly how you got there. When pedaling along, you can observe your surroundings in detail and stop whenever you want, wherever you want at a moment's notice. You feel the air, the sun, the rain, you smell the sweetness of late spring. Sometimes, of course, you are fighting against the wind, and you can't avoid the occasional smell of festering roadkill. But whether gliding easily down a hill or working your tired legs to get back up, you feel alive and connected to the world as you pass through it. The bumps in the road, the sounds of birds and trucks, the deer crashing through the wooded roadside, you get to hear and feel and see so much more than if you are just passing through in a car.


Last weekend we embarked on our first bike tour with Amos. It may have been our first bike tour since we rode across the United States seven years ago! I have been wanting to explore the Eastern Trail and this section crosses the street less than a quarter mile from our house. In Southern Maine, the route goes from South Portland to the border of New Hampshire. It is part of the East Coast Greenway that goes all the way from Key West, Florida to Calais, Maine along roads and trails.



We had near perfect weather on our two day trip. The sun was warm but the route was shaded with sweet smelling piney woods. From South Portland to Kennebunk, most of the route is on trails which used to be part of a railroad and is now occupied by a natural gas pipeline and shared with bicyclists, walkers, and runners. Most of the trails are packed dirt, which, except for a few soft spots, was fine for the tires of my touring bike. Bridges take you over many of the major roads, though there is some navigating through the streets of Saco and Biddeford and few other areas. Signs for the east coast greenway marked almost every turn which made it easy to follow the route. We brought a trail map but barely used it, so, of course we missed the one turn that wasn't marked. After going a little off the route we were able to find the trail again without too much trouble.



Amos seems to enjoy traveling in our bike trailer, pulled behind Ray's bicycle, much more than sitting in a car seat on a long drive. We stopped a few times each day for snacks, lunch, and to stretch, rest and play. It was easy to stop along the trails but on the roads it was trickier to find places to stop since most people probably don't want strangers picnicking on their lawn. For several miles, while we searched for a place we could take a break, I imagined that more people should build benches on the edge of their lawns or put up signs, "Feel free to take a break here." But most people don't travel for miles without a car looking for a source of water and a flat shady spot to rest.



Our bike touring doesn't take us to very remote areas, but when you are a few hours or more from home with most everything you need in your panniers and trailer, you feel lighter, your only responsibility is to pedal, take care of your body, and enjoy your surroundings. When traveling by bicycle I feel a greater sense of trust that everything will work out because sometimes you have no other choice. Our relatively smooth travel was derailed, literally, when Ray's chain got stuck in his crank. We weren't sure if we would be able to go on so Amos and I had ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches next to someone's mail box while Ray tried to pull the chain unstuck. On this short tour close to home Ray didn't pack tools or a repair kit. We could have called someone to come pick us up but luckily our trip didn't have to end there. Our unexpected rescuer pulled into his driveway, next to our picnic spot. He had a set of allen wrenches in his trunk, as if he helped stranded cyclists all the time, and Ray was able to fix his chain.

Other than the trouble Amos had falling asleep in the tent (10 pm, toddler running around, pulling hair, climbing over sleeping bags) the rest of the trip went very smoothly. We biked from South Portland to Berwick and back, about 50 miles each way. I hope that we have many more family bike tours ahead of us. There are so many places to pedal and roads to see.