December 30, 2012

Going Crunchy: Remineralizing Tooth Powder & Bentonite Clay

 The second in the series Going Crunchy.

Remineralizing Tooth Powder

Does it actually remineralize teeth?  I don't know.  We've only used it for a few weeks, but when I went to the dentist recently I was told I had a small cavity that the dentist wanted to wait to fill until after the pregnancy, so this is an interesting experiment.

I made remineralizing tooth powder using the recipe from Wellness Mama.  I gave each person in the family their own jar. Even though I mixed the powder in my spice grinder, it is a little gritty*, but that encourages good rinsing, right?  The taste is mildly minty with a little clove.  Surprisingly, all three of us girls like the taste.  I like the complexity that the clove adds and the girls appreciate that it is not too minty.  With the next batch, I'll add some spearmint essential oil in Jason's jar, because he'll appreciate a bolder flavor.

I've also started brushing my teeth with activated charcoal for its whitening properties.  It's messy, but Abby, our three year old wants to get in on the game every time I open the jar of activated charcoal, so most nights all three of us girls gather around the bathroom sink, brush with the activated charcoal, laugh about how creepy our black teeth look, then brush with the tooth powder.  (Abby says the tooth powder turns her teeth green, but it really doesn't.  We play along, so she'll keep brushing.)  Then we rinse well, wipe up the mess we've made and the girls get tucked in bed (theoretically).

All ingredients can be found at both S&S Produce and Chico Natural Foods.  Bentonite clay**, activated charcoal, cinnamon and clove are available in the bulk bins.  Xylitol can also be purchased at both stores, though not in bulk.  To make powdered mint leaf, I used dried spearmint leaf which I purchased in the bulk bins (but maybe you dried some from your garden this summer) and ground it in my spice grinder.  I made cal-mag powder by grinding caplets of a Cal-Mag supplement in my spice grinder.  Essential oils, which I did not use this time, are available at both stores, but you may be able to get a better deal from a reputable online company such as Mountain Rose Herbs.  Make sure that any essential oils you purchase are organic and therapeutic grade.

*Some dentists/hygienists/people on the web express concern that baking soda is too abrasive for teeth and/or gums.  I started brushing (mostly) with a paste of coconut oil and baking soda about a year ago, and at both of my dental cleanings since then my hygienist commented that my gums looked better than they had in the past.

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**Bentonite Clay is one of those things I knew nothing about until this year, but it's readily available at natural foods stores and has multiple uses; I'm glad to have it on hand now.  The clay I get is powdered. 

I mix it with a little hot water (and sometimes coconut oil) to make a paste and spread it on itchy skin for our eight-year-old and me.  Some sites recommend wrapping the itchy area in plastic to keep the clay from drying out.  So far, we haven't tried this; we either apply it at night and leave it, or apply it about 20 minutes before a warm bath.

I've administered it to my three-year-old when she woke up complaining that her tummy hurt.  I gave her a 1/8 teaspoon mixed with juice.  She drank it, napped for an hour, vomited and felt much better immediately.  (She's more prone to tummy aches/vomiting than the rest of us, and generally, they are what my mom called "an 8-hour bug."  As far as I can tell the clay absorbed whatever was bothering her tummy and helped her to expel it, recovering much more quickly than usual.)

My husband has used bentonite clay to effectively relieve heartburn: just a 1/2 teaspoon dissolved in water, followed by a full glass of water.  

For myself, I use a Bentonite clay paste as a soothing facial mask. Make a paste with a little water, rub it on, let dry 5 minutes or so, remove with a warm wash cloth and follow with a moisturizer.

December 28, 2012

Going Crunchy: Invigorating Rosemary Mint Foot Scrub

This post begins the series Going Crunchy: Herbal Remedies and Homemade Body Care Items That I Have Made Recently.

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This week in Chico certainly seems dark and cold. "Wintery" one might say.   Winter fruits and vegetables currently available at the market include mandarins, clementines, oranges (don't you just love a good piece of citrus in the winter?!), apples, root vegetables (carrots, beets and turnips mainly, but also limited quantities of sunchokes, potatoes, parsnips) winter greens (all sorts of kale, lettuces, collards, chard, broccoli) and green onions. Doesn't that list make you want to get in kitchen and saute some greens or at least peel an orange?

I haven't been cooking or blogging much, because this pregnancy has really sapped my energy and skewed my priorities.  Don't worry, we're still eating well.  We recently purchased a quarter beef from Alston Farms (gotta have plenty of that grass-fed, good-source-of-iron-and-healthy-fats beef) and Jason's been cooking lost of steak and organic potatoes.

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Some of you may remember that one of my New Years Resolutions for 2012 was to make more homemade body care products and herbal remedies.  This pregnancy has motivated me to make more of these homemade necessities and nice-ities. (Any pregnant ladies ever feel like there are no truly effective drugs on that short list of "Medications that are Safe during Pregnancy?")  In the absence of food recipes, I thought I'd do a little series on some of the body care items and herbal remedies I've made recently.

Invigorating Rosemary Mint Foot Scrub

This is one of my favorites.  I don't have a source for the recipe.  I just used a common epsom-salt to-oil ratio and infused the oil with things I found invigorating.

In a small saucepan over low heat combine 1/3 cup oil (I use a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil) with a sprig of rosemary and a couple tablespoons dried mint.  When oil is warm, cover the pan, remove from heat and let the herbs steep an hour or more.  Strain the infused oil into a bowl and stir in 1 cup Epsom salt.  Mix with a spatula and transfer scrub to three 4-ounce jars for storage (or gift-giving).

I use about a teaspoon per foot in the shower most days.  Sometimes I also use this scrub as a body scrub.  I find the smell truly uplifting and invigorating.  The Epsom salt exfoliates and gives me a little dose of magnesium.  The olive/coconut oil moisturizes.  It's a pleasant way to treat your feet to a little pampering without requiring any extra time.

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Stay tuned for Hard Lotion Bars (my other favorite!), Remineralizing Tooth Powder and Elderberry Syrup.

November 29, 2012

10 Tips for Giving Gifts to People Who Avoid Consumerism

With Christmas around the corner, maybe you feel a familiar stress: the pressure to get people the 'right' gift. Some people on your list are probably easier to buy for than others, but there's a growing trend in our society: avoiding "consumerism."  (The majority of people on my Christmas list this year are anti-consumerism.)  It seems a bit oxymoronic to buy for them, doesn't it?  They shun big box retailers.  They slept in on Black Friday and may have quietly rolled their eyes at their friends' "Look at the deal I got at 5:00am!!" posts on Facebook.  And if they happen to be your grown children, you may have heard them threaten to donate all toys given to their children--your poor deprived grandchildren--to the Salvation Army.  They are generally good-hearted people, but because their shopping decisions take into account multiple ethical conundrums--and especially if they've come off as overzealous in previous discussions--it can be a bit intimidating to buy for them.  Sound like anyone you know?

If possible, consider the reason(s) that your loved one has gone anti-consumerism.  Be assured, their reason is NOT that it's the latest hipster trend or that they want to amp up the stress in your Christmas shopping experience.

  • Anti-clutterists are anti-consumerism because they've found that clutter in their homes leads to clutter in their emotional lives.  They've found that having less stuff means experiencing less stress.     

  • Going Green anti-consumerists have embraced a simple desire to significantly reduce waste generated in their home.  These are the people who compost religiously.  Remember: No non-recyclable packaging for these folks!

  • Local shoppers aren't necessarily "anti-stuff" at all, but they strongly value supporting local businesses over big corporations, because they believe by doing so they are doing their part to save the local and national economy.  They tend to buy American-made products to support American businesses who pay American workers a fair wage.  You may notice that these are the people willing to drive 50 miles to shop at the nearest independent bookseller.  They also might be the die-hard farmers market shoppers.

  • Creative Individualists are anti-consumerism because they value a sense of individualism and creativity.  They may believe that Americans' tendency to buy from big box retailers has attributed to some kind of cultural "dumbing down."  They feed society's need for intelligence and creativity by buying from local artists and artisans and/or by engaging in their own DIY projects.  These are the people most likely to appreciate handicrafts, home decor or clothing from that unique shop downtown or an Etsy shop online.  They also may or may not have at one time pursued a career in the arts.

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Ten Tips for Giving Gifts to People Who Avoid Consumerism

1.  Ask.  Your loved one may seem standoffish about "stuff," but as we enter the holiday season, all but the most devoted anti-consumerists have recently caught themselves thinking "Oh, I'd like one of those!"  Maybe it's a new book by a favorite author, a seemingly minor kitchen gadget, an electronic device, a specific supply for a hobby, or maybe they are craving their very own tin of peppermint bark.  Ask their spouse, parent, child or a mutual friend, and if that fails, ask the person themselves.  If you fear that asking the person directly seems tacky, don't.  Wouldn't you rather be remembered as the thoughtful friend who gave them the sturdy red spatula that they use all the time than feared as the eccentric friend who gives clothes that no one wants to wear?

2.  Give an experience.  Going Green types and Anti-Clutterists are most likely to appreciate the gift of an experience.  I know you're drawn to that shiny plastic toy in the big box at the toy store, and yes, the kids would probably love to open it, but don't do it.  Instead, create a memory by giving an experience.  Make a certificate for your grandchildren/nieces/nephews promising a fishing trip or a day at a ballgame.  For a friend, how about a shared outing to see a movie? For the parents of young children and Local Shoppers how about a date night?  Include a gift certificate to a local restaurant and the promise that you'll babysit while they go out to dinner. 

3.  Give something intrinsically temporary: something edible or something to pamper themselves with.  If you've grown up thinking edible gifts and bath products were only appropriate for impersonal relations, such as business associates and your child's teacher, think again.  In this day and age, most people consider themselves--to some degree-- a foodie.  Most woman appreciate a good pampering.  When a good quality food item or pampering kit is nicely presented it can be a very heartfelt and appreciated gift.  For Anti-Clutterists especially, temporary gifts are a good choice, because they can be enjoyed and finished.  There's no pressure to show up wearing an edible gift to prove to the giver that you truly liked it.  You enjoy it and you're finished (and if you're old-school, you follow up with a handwritten thank you note).

A nice bottle of wine or liquor fits into this category, as does a specialty coffee or tea.  If you know that your loved one likes to imbibe occasionally, this is a wonderful choice that encourages celebration and enjoyment.  Try to choose something a notch above what they normally stock in their home bar or kitchen, and your gift is sure to be appreciated.

One caveat pertaining to edible gifts:  Many people have very real concerns and preferences about foods.  Do the best you can to be aware of concerns that you're loved one might have: there may be allergies in the household, or they may be avoiding sugar or gluten, processed foods or caffeine.  When in doubt, a gift basket featuring a variety of local food products would be most welcome.

Also see #6 below which discusses intrinsically temporary gifts for children. 

4.  Give a blanket or comfy throw.  When my kids were little I remember thinking that surely we had enough baby blankets and didn't need anymore.  But, ladies, when you're at work and it's cold and dreary out, don't you find yourself pining for a comfy blanket, a good book and a warm beverage?  And despite having "plenty" of blankets, my kids certainly seem to use the blankets they have.  In the colder months, my three year old routinely sleeps with four blankets at once: one happens to be her grandmother's own baby blanket, another is a small quilt made by another grandmother, the third is an inexpensive, super-soft fleece throw and the fourth is a quilt made by the mother of one of my bridesmaids.  Especially if you're giving to a Going Green who keeps the heater a few degrees lower than you would prefer, wouldn't it be nice to know they have plenty of blankets in case you come visit?

I know, a blanket doesn't seem like the 'fun' splash a grandparent or aunt wants to make on Christmas morning with a 5-year-old, so Ideas #5-7 are kid-specific.  The concept when buying toys for kids in anti-consumerism families is simple: buy toys that foster creativity, toys that are simple and made of environmentally-sustainable materials (wood, cardboard, etc), and--sorry--don't be offended if a toy you purchased ends up missing.  Chances are it went to a good home via Goodwill, not to a landfill.

5.  Stick to simple toys.  Anti-consumerist parents generally prefer toys made of wood to toys made of plastic, and they generally prefer toys that don't require batteries.  Blocks are a good choice, stacking cups are good for younger children, and stuffed animals (made of organic cotton or hemp, of course, for Going Green parents) are good choices, all of which are generally stocked in locally-owned kids' stores.  One almost universal exception to the "we prefer wood" rule is Legos (or Duplo blocks for kids under five years old).  Every family can use an ever-expanding collection of Legos.  Similarly, if the kids have a train set or doll house or other toy collection that they play with frequently, they may appreciate additional pieces, and since you are just expanding an existing collection, storage will be less of an issue for Anti-Clutterist parents than buying an entirely unique gift would be.

6.  For kids, how about arts and crafts supplies?  Most children I know tend to go through them very quickly, so new inventory is always appreciated.  And, being that arts and crafts supplies are intrinsically temporary, Anti-Clutterist parents will appreciate them.  A new set of paints, a large set of crayons or pens with a big pad of paper, (though avoid things like marking pens that produce a fair amount of plastic waste for Going Green types), Playdough or modeling clay, or--and this is something that Creative Individualists will especially appreciate--a unique craft kit such as a Flower & Leaf Press, a Make-Your-Own Terrarium Kit or a Build a Birdhouse Kit.

7.  Give the real thing.  If an older child shows a genuine interest in something, check with Mom & Dad first, then get them the real thing.  If a kid has been fiddling with auntie's old violin or asking for a toy guitar, don't buy the cheap one at the toy store, find a real musical instrument--and if you're so inclined, pay for six months of lessons.

Similarly, if a child shows a real interest in baking, skip the Easy Bake Oven and go for a set of their own mixing bowls and spoons or a kid-friendly cookbook.  They'll last far longer than a cheaply-made toy oven.  Has your grandkid/niece/nephew been eying a $40 snow-cone machine or other frozen dessert maker?  Ask Mom & Dad first, but then spend the extra $10 or $20 to get a real ice cream maker.  The Local Shopper on your list will appreciate that you bought from a small business; the Creative Individualist will appreciate that you've given their child an avenue for real creativity.  The appliance will function better with less frustration, last a lot longer and produce a variety of frozen desserts the whole family can enjoy.

8.  Buy used.  It's okay; it's even a high value of Going Green types.  They appreciate the notion of keeping things out of landfills.  So go ahead, shop at a vintage store, an antique store or a secondhand children's boutique.  Some of those stores may feel like a bit of a treasure hunt, but you may find a great deal on perfectly usable kitchen items, home decor, clothing, toys and books.

9.  Give something with family significance.  Have you cleaned out your attic lately and found grandpa's old hunting knife or some recipes written in grandma's own handwriting?  Adult grandchildren may appreciate those things.  And not just grandchildren, friends of the older relative.  Especially if someone has passed away in the last few years, giving a simple usable object or keepsake to a loved one who will appreciate it is a wonderful way to honor the memory of the deceased and the relationship they had with the recipient.

If you consider yourself crafty or if you have some extra time on your hands, make something personal for your extended family members.  (If you truly consider yourself crafty, check out that link.) You could create a simple keepsake book or video that celebrates moments your extended family has shared together, things your family values, or stories that have been told over and over. 

10.  Give something utterly practical.  Some people find themselves in the anti-consumerism camp because they've had trouble making ends meet.  They've innocently leafed through a catalogue from one of many high-end retailers at just the wrong time and it's painfully shocking to them that people in our society would pay THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY for a frivolous fill-in-the-blank, while they are having trouble scraping together a fraction of that amount of money for a medical bill or a necessary car repair.  Maybe you want to pamper your loved one with something special, but to a parent without the means to buy their young children a sufficient amount of clothing or someone who hasn't had a functional dishwasher in months, an expensive candle, a bottle of designer cologne, even a fancy holiday outfit for a child can seem like a slap in the face.  If your loved ones are in a tough spot financially, and you're in a position to help ungrudgingly, Christmas is a great time to do that.  Just do it sensitively and quietly before the actual holiday.

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One final note:  If your Anti-Consumerist loved ones have expressed a genuine desire to forgo the traditional gift-giving experience, especially if they have proposed an alternative idea (giving to a charitable organization in lieu of gifts, celebrating the holiday with a shared experience such as packing Operation Christmas Child boxes together or sharing a holiday meal) at least consider honoring that request.  Maybe the Christmas gift they want more than anything is a restful and joyous celebration.

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Do your loved ones consider you Anti-Consumerism?  What would you add or remove from this list?

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Upstate California Kitchen Adventure's Previous Holiday Gift Lists 

November 20, 2012

Two Ideas for Thanksgiving Leftovers

Turkey-Mushroom Shepherd's Pie

Chop up a couple carrots and steam or microwave them to soften. Meanwhile in a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Add one small onion, chopped.  Saute a few minutes, then stir in 6 ounces mushrooms, sliced. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Saute a few minutes.  Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour. Stir while cooking another minutes.  Then slowly pour in 2-3 cups warm water (or turkey or chicken stock).  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until gravy comes to a gentle simmer and thickens a bit.  Remove from heat.  Stir in leftover shredded or cubed cooked turkey and steamed carrots.  Pour into casserole dish or 9" square pan.  Top with mashed potatoes. Cook at 400 for 20 minutes, until bubbly and hot. Let sit 10 minutes before garnishing with chopped chives and serving.

Turkey-Salad Sandwiches 

Butter and toast 8 slices of your favorite sandwich bread.  While the bread toasts, cut cooked turkey slices into less-than-bite-size pieces.  In a bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons mayo, 2 tablespoons plain yogurt and salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in 2 cups turkey meat, about 1/2 a cup sliced celery, and 3 tablespoons chopped, toasted pecans. Spread cranberry sauce generously on 4 slices of toast. Top with turkey salad and finish with the remaining slices of bread.

October 25, 2012

Fall in Upstate California: Homemade Masala Chai

I tasted my first pomegranate of the season this morning.  A few weeks ago I tasted my first fuji apple of the season (from Howard's Organic Produce), and most evenings this week the girls and I have shared slices of Asian pears.  This is why I love eating local.  The pleasure of those first tastes of the season are inexplicably pure and intense.

And fall, of course, is all about plump, leathery-skinned pomegranates, the spicy notes of a crisp persimmon, the home-creating smell of pumpkin bread in the oven, and hand-warming drinks to fight off the chill of the morning.

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I went to S&S Produce yesterday.  I like that store.  When I was a kid and my family wasn't much into 'natural foods,' and the building was old and drafty with the feeling that it might fall into Lindo Channel on a windy day, I liked going there and getting coconut popsicles.  Nowadays, I like that they are are locally-owned and sell a good selection of local produce.  I like that they have a real meat and seafood counter (where my cousin works!), and that they have grass-fed beef and organic pork in their freezer. I appreciate that their bulk foods section is neat and tidy and well-stocked with local Lundberg rice, all kinds of local nuts, beans and treats, such as those addictive dried mangoes.  But perhaps the thing I like most is that little nook in the back where they sell the bulk herbs and spices.  They seem to stock every herb or spice blend that I have ever needed (hello, whole cardamom pods, ground cardamom and cardamom seed) and it's very practical to be able to buy just the amount that you need.  They even stock multiple sizes of baggies and multiple measuring units so that you don't have to eyeball proportions.  If I've got a new Indian recipe that calls for 2 tablespoons of garam masala, I can easily measure out just the two 2 tablespoons, and not be left with a bag of powdery what-was-that-stuff? taking up space in my already-crowded spice drawer. 

Yesterday I went to S&S specifically to restock my spices for Masala Chai making.  I was craving the camaraderie of standing at that counter measuring spices into little baggies with another similarly-minded person: someone who's excited to try a new recipe, or who is stocking up on all their favorite spices, someone who cares about where their food comes from and has a real reverence for quality and an enjoyment in the process of creating something delicious.  I'm not the kind of person who makes friends in grocery stores or easily starts up a conversation with someone, well, about anything.  But there's something special about that spice counter and all the wonderful aromas that fill the air when multiple jars are being opened and sniffed and measured.  Engaging in pleasant conversation with a stranger flows naturally---"Ooh, what are you going to use that for?" "Do you know which one of these chile powders would spicier?" and "That's an amazing smell!"---when passing back and forth the containers of ground cumin, fennel seeds, coriander, and ancho chile powder.

I've been making my own homemade chai for 15 years.  My favorite recipe is essentially this one, without the star anise and rose petals.  The fennel seed, which is an ingredient I wasn't familiar with until I found this recipe, adds a certain licorice-y depth to the blend without overpowering it.  I tend to use equal parts water and whole milk and sweeten the brew with two tablespoons sugar in the beginning (with the water, tea and spices) and one tablespoon honey stirred in right before straining.

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Looking for a fun weekend morning breakfast that says "I love you" to someone special?

I know I've mentioned this combination before, but it is certainly worthy of a second mention:  David Lebovitz's Sugar-Crusted Popovers served with Masala Chai.

September 5, 2012

Caprese Salad

Not a unique summer meal, but one you definitely need to get into your dinner rotation before tomato season ends and/or it gets too chilly to dine on the patio:

Caprese Salad

Baguette slices. (I used a homemade sourdough baguette that I had rolled in sesame seeds before baking.  The sesame seeds add such a nice nuttiness.) 

Anyhow, thin baguette slices rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, drizzled with good local olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and broiled a couple minutes until almost crisp.  (They'll continue to crisp as they cool.)  Served along side a swirl of sliced heirloom tomatoes (I had a large yellow/orange striped tomato and a small green speckled tomato) with sliced fresh mozzarella*, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and good olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper and fresh basil.

To eat, top a baguette slice with a slice of cheese and slice of tomato. And please don't be shy about sopping up oil and vinegar with the baguette.



So simple.  So quick.  Yet so summery and satisfying.  

*I've made mozzarella before, but lately I'm happier buying it at Trader Joe's.  I figure buying cheese at Trader Joe's (and my elementary tomato descriptions) balance out the arrogance of my locavorism and homemade bread baking.  Right?

August 21, 2012

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Last weekend the girls and I spent an hour or so at Johnson Farm in Gridley picking produce.  We brought home three flats of strawberries, one and a half flats of red grapes, two melons, a box of assorted tomatoes, two bags of assorted peppers and three eggplants.

All day Saturday I rinsed strawberries, sliced off the tops, and froze them on wax paper-lined baking sheets.  I ended up with about four gallons of frozen strawberries for winter smoothies.

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Grace and Jason love spaghetti, but I'm not a big fan.  This weekend, though, I relented and made a big batch of roasted tomato sauce, then simmered it with browned ground beef and served it over penne with plenty of grated parmesan cheese. It was quite good; even I liked it.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Roasted tomato sauce is very simple to make.  Simply slice tomatoes in half and arrange cut side up on a baking sheet.  Use a good paste tomato such as a roma or San Marzano.  About half of the tomatoes I used had that oblong paste tomato shape and the other half were a large round variety called Shady Lady. Cut the top off of a head of garlic and add it to the baking sheet.  This time I also added an eggplant--cut it in half just like the tomatoes--and a whole hot pepper for a little zest, and a white onion, sliced in thirds.  Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and ground black pepper.  Roast in a 350F oven until vegetables have softened and collapsed some and much of the liquid has evaporated, about 60-90 minutes. Remove garlic after 50-60 minutes.  Remove pans from oven and, when cool enough to handle, transfer roasted tomatoes--skin, seeds and all--to blender or food processor. Squeeze in the roasted garlic cloves.  Add the eggplant, if using, removing the stem, the roasted red pepper, peeling off the charred skin and removing the stem and seeds and the onion.  Pulse to puree the vegetables, then taste for seasoning.  If desired, throw in a handful of fresh basil or other herbs and puree again.

At this point tomato sauce can be frozen for later use or poured over cooked ground beef and simmered briefly to create a classic Meat Sauce for spaghetti.

Two half sheet pans held about seven pounds of vegetables and yielded slightly more than seven cups of sauce. I froze half in a quart-size zip-top bag and used half in a meat sauce to serve four people.

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Johnson Farm is located off of Hwy 99 on the south end of Gridley, California.  Their U-Pick produce and Farmstand is open through October on Saturdays and Wednesdays from 8am-3pm.  The prices are reasonable and there is a swing set for the kids to play on if they get tired of picking. 

August 9, 2012

Volunteers & Other Plants in my Garden

 Oh tomatoes, the glory of the summer garden!  

I haven't had much success with tomatoes in my garden in the past few years, but last spring we had our huge tulip tree removed, which means the garden gets more sun.  Discouraged by my past failure, I did not attempt to grow any tomatoes this year. Apparently some of the compost I used this year was immature, because my garden is full of 'volunteers.'   While I would have liked to get a harvest from the seeds I actually planted (melons, okra, gherkins, luffa), figuring out what all these volunteers are is entertaining in its own right.

This plant has clusters of heart-shaped tomatoes, about two inches in diameter. I'm still waiting for them to turn red.  This article gives me hope that they will turn red, after the smoke clears and the temperature drops a bit (how many days of 100-degree weather have we had so far in August?!).


Oh, look!  This little cherry tomato is ripening!

We have one cherry tomato plant with lots of tomatoes on it, two plants with what I would call medium-sized tomatoes, and a couple stunted plants that sprouted in an area that is not getting enough water or sun.

 I planted three kinds of melon: a baby watermelon, a Bidwell casaba, and a cantaloupe, but that area of the garden seems to be overrun with the 'volunteer' plants: a couple varieties of zucchini, a cucumber vine, and the stunted tomato plants.  This is the only melon I've found under all the leaves, and I don't know what it is, do you? I'm eager to cut into it, but I'm waiting, because, being the only melon in the garden, I want it to be ripe.
 When this little volunteer sprouted up underneath my quinoa, I thought it was a cucumber vine due to the leaf size and the dime-sized yellow blossoms, but the fruit (at last count there were four on the vine) appear to be a variety of pumpkin.  What do you think it is?  Do you think it is edible?  

Chives, sweet alyssum and garlic chives. (Not volunteers.)

I first planted these chives two years ago.  I planted the garlic chives last year and they've faithfully produced since then.  What a great cut-and-come-again herb!












A friend of mine gave me some quinoa seeds.  Due to limited space, I have 2-3 good-sized plants (about six feet tall). My understanding is that we wait while those green grains mature and dry a bit, then we harvest some quinoa!



Huh?  What's this?  Back in the volunteer section of the garden, at the far end that doesn't seem to get enough water or sun, tucked in amongst the dried remnants of spring's pea plants? A tomato that's actually turning red?!  It appears to be a paste variety.










This morning's harvest:

  • 9 slicing cucumbers of various sizes
  • 1 handful of purple podded beans
  • 1 West Indian Burr Gherkin -I planted at least six of these seeds, but, being in the area overrun with volunteers, I only got one plant.  It's producing well, but probably not enough for a batch of pickles.  The girls and I like them straight off the vine.  They are crisp, spiky and just a little lemony.
  • 3 green podded peas that I found hiding under the zucchini foliage.
  • 3 zucchini picked while still small and sweet
  • 3 pickling cucumbers, all of which managed to get bigger than I would like for pickling.

July 13, 2012

July Garden Inventory

I find June in the garden a bit frustrating.  It's just that the days are long, so I have more time to work in garden in the mornings, but it's not a time of year when there is a lot of produce.  A half an hour or more each day of weed pulling, planting, watering and checking plants for blossoms, and only a glut of onions and a cup and a half of poppy seeds to show for it.

Don't get me wrong.  I do get really excited about poppy seed harvest, but there just wasn't anything in the garden (besides chives) to inspire a meal after a long day in the office.

But now it's July and with the first zucchini, there's hope for all the summer vegetables to come.





Bed #1:  two tomato plants (no harvest yet), a couple radishes, quite a few basil plants and two cucumber plants.  We've been using the basil in a Thai dish similar to this one.



Bed #2:  The chives, garlic chives and white onions that have been there through winter.
Newly planted, not ready for harvest: quinoa and a vigorous volunteer cucumber vine.


Bed #3: 
Newly planted, not ready for harvest, but growing like crazy: one tomato plant, six bean plants and three or four cucumber plants.  I've been checking these plants daily and there are two small cucumbers hidden among the leaves.






The mounds:

You may recall that I planted cantaloupe, casaba melon, baby watermelon, okra, a golf ball-sized variety of cucumber called a West Indian Burr gherkin, luffa squash and two varieties of peas.

Yes, well... Possibly due to my own immature compost, so far the harvest has been different than one would expect:  a handful of peas, at least half a dozen round zucchini, at least a dozen pale green zucchini of various sizes, two cucumbers (one of which was bitter) and three of the little gherkins.  Also the tomato plants that are now in Beds 1 and 3 were 'volunteers' that sprouted up in this section, which I transplanted into the beds.  As far as can tell there is no sign of an okra plant or a cantaloupe or casaba melon plant, and the watermelon vines are so much smaller than the volunteer cucumber vines and squash plants, that I am not holding out hope for them to produce anything. 

I was disappointed that the squash plant that quickly enveloped the area where I had planted the luffa was not the luffa.  And I suppose I am a bit disappointed that we apparently are not growing our own melons this year (which would have been a first).  But something about a zucchini plant's confident takeover of the garden, with it's broad, jungle-like leaves and showy blossoms, is kind of heart-warming. And it's persistent production is admirable.  It's nice to know when there's "nothing in the house to eat," we can surely walk out to the garden, pull back those big leaves and find a tender zucchini or two or three...


Zucchini Recipes that we've enjoyed

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps -crunchy and covered in parmesan.  Totally crave-able, and yet you still get credit for eating a vegetable!

Zucchini "Cakes" or "Patties" -This is good basic recipe.  I've made these with and without the egg.  I like to substitute some shredded leftover baked potato for the breadcrumbs, add a little basil for flavor and serve a zucchini patty topped with a sunny-side-up egg as a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Israeli Salad -I've read a couple posts about Israeli salad recently.  I think it will be a recurring dish in my summer cooking.  In the version I made most recently, I combined vegetables cut into a very small dice: two tomatoes, a small tender zucchini, a peeled cucumber and some white onion.  Being out of olive oil (how does that even happen?!), I dressed it with plenty of minced flat leaf parsley, a splash of toasted sesame oil, a splash of seasoned rice vinegar, salt, pepper and a generous sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds.  Very refreshing!

June 26, 2012

Cherry Turnovers

Danish Pastry Dough, mentioned in this post from last November, is truly great stuff.  Producing a pastry with multiple crisp, buttery layers, anything you make from it--an tart, croissants, danishes or turnovers, for instance--is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. 

Someone please remind me next January or February to make a few extra batches of this dough and store it in the freezer.  Please. 

Why?  Because when cherry season hits (late May through June) it's just too darn hot to spend hours in the kitchen folding dough and waiting for it to rise and chill.  (And on the weekends when it isn't too hot, it's too nice outside to be stuck in the house babysitting a batch of dough.)  But when cherry season hits, I definitely want a couple batches on Danish Pastry dough at the ready so that I can make Cherry Turnovers or Blueberry Turnovers or Chocolate Croissants or...

I pulled my last batch of Danish Pastry Dough out of the freezer after picking some cherries at my mom's house recently, because Jason wanted cherry turnovers.  Cherry pitting is hard work, but you'll be glad to know that this recipe requires less than one basket of cherries, so it's not too bad.  If fact, once you've pitted those cherries and made the dough, you're almost finished.  And as I mentioned before, people tend to go nuts over fresh-from-the-oven buttery pastries with pockets of freshly picked, sweet, summery fruit.

Cherry Turnovers
Makes 8 turnovers.

one recipe Danish Pastry Dough
one heaping cup pitted cherries, quartered (This is approximately equal to one pint cherries, minus the stems and pits and minus the handful of cherries that one must use as "tastes" while pitting the rest.)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch of kosher salt
all-purpose flour for rolling

 Preheat oven to 400F.  Line two rimmed sheet pans with parchment paper.

Gently combine quartered cherries, sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Let sit a few minutes.

Roll chilled pastry dough into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Get the rectangle as big as you can get it without it tearing.  I usually end up with something about eight or ten inches by 16 or 18 inches.  Using a pizza cutter or a sharp knife cut the rectangle into eight 5" squares.  If need be, roll each square gently after cutting to maximize surface area.  If butter seeps through while rolling, sprinkle the exposed butter with flour just enough flour to cover. 

Picture each square divided in half diagonally.  One by one, place one heaping tablespoon of cherry filling on one half of each square.  Use your finger to wet the edge of the square with just a little water, then fold the other side of the square over the filling, forming a triangle.  Seal the edges by pressing down with the times of a fork.

Set filled turnovers on parchment-lined baking sheets and let rest at room temperature 15 minutes.

Bake turnovers 15-20 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until golden brown.  Let sit at least 10 minutes before serving.

June 21, 2012

Quick-and-Easy Finger Foods for Early Summer

A friend of ours was coming to dinner.  It was early June and suddenly WAY too hot to cook.  He asked what I'd like him to bring, and I asked him to bring "some sort of appetizer.".  I thought I would somehow get motivated to make a few appetizers and we'd have a good selection of tapas and call it dinner.  Our generous friend went to Trader Joe's and brought a delicious spread including mascarpone, apricot stilton, goat cheese, prosciutto, salami, roasted peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, a baguette and two bottles of wine.  We arranged the food on serving dishes and gathered around the table for a really enjoyable and easy meal (and a few we plan to enjoy soon).

Somewhere in the course of the meal, I decided that I'd like to eat like that at least a few times a week through the summer.  And so we have.  Here's a quick list of the things we've enjoyed in our quick-and-easy June finger food meals (with a few alternatives throw in).  To me, an ideal meal includes one meat, two cheeses and four vegetables.  A starch and a plate of fruit are entirely optional.

From the Farmers Market 
  • Llano Seco Rancho Ham: a 3 pound organic applewood smoked ham sells for about $25 at the Saturday Farmers Market.  Slice it up and serve cold or at room temperature. 
  • Pedrozo Dairy's cheeses -We love the Northern Gold and miss the Coriander  
  • Pickled Okra from Adams Olive Ranch. Of course, this is a great source for olives, as well, but the pickled okra is Grace's favorite. 
  • Fresh fruits: apricots, nectarines, peaches and apriums
  • Berries
  • A loaf of bread from one of the bakehouse vendors

From the Grocery Store
  • Salami cut into slices
  • Canned sardines or smoked trout
  • Tillamook Cheddar Cheese
  • Asiago Cheese with Olive Oil & Rosemary sold at Trader Joe's 
  • Olives  good salty ones or kid-friendly black ones, many of which are grown"next-door" in Corning, California 
  • A crusty baguette or a loaf of jalepeno-cheese bread or a box of crackers
  • Marinated Artichoke hearts sold in jars
  • Roasted Red Peppers sold in jars

From the Kitchen
  • Carrots & Cucumbers cut into sticks and spears
  • Dill Pickles -a fermented version from Cheeseslave 
  • Pickled baby onions: -A refrigerator pickle: Bring to a boil one cup water, one cup white vinegar, a tablespoon each sugar and salt, 10 peppercorns, a bay leaf, a couple allspice.  Pour over cleaned, peeled baby onions packed into into a quart-size jar.  Let sit in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before serving.
  • Lemon-Pickled Turnips  from Eating from the Ground Up.  I haven't made these yet, but don't they look good?
  • Radishes with some good salted butter
  • a loaf of sourdough or a couple rounds of  flat bread




June 19, 2012

Grilled Cheese with Curtido

I bring my lunch to work almost every single day.  Usually I bring some form of leftover something-or-other and usually I'm pretty content with it.  But some days, there just isn't anything left over (or what is leftover isn't very appealing).  On those days I have to figure out something I can put together in less than 15 minutes (while also making breakfast for the kids, pouring my coffee, packing a snack for myself and--on school days--demanding that my eight-year-old put her clothes on) Thankfully, we have microwave at work.  Though in theory I definitely lean toward the "the microwave is evil and probably making our food toxic" camp, in practice, I find a warm lunch much more satisfying than a cold lunch, so I do use a microwave almost daily.


Did you you know that grilled cheese sandwiches reheat fairly well?  They do.  So some days I throw together a quick grilled cheese in my cast iron skillet, wrap it in wax paper and, when lunch time comes, I reheat it for 30 seconds, maybe tuck in something crunchy or pickled to make it feel more adult, and viola: a quick, simple, comforting lunch.

Today I made a grilled cheese sandwich on sliced sourdough bread with mozzarella cheese.  (Monterey Jack would have been perfect though.) After reheating, I tucked in a couple wedges of creamy sliced avocado and a few tablespoons of curtido for a spicy, healthful crunch.  That was a good sandwich.


Grilled Cheese, Previously

How to make a Perfect Grilled Cheese.  Okay, I might not make a "perfect"grilled cheese in the morning rush, but still, this is the theory.

Eggplant Panini   Another adult grilled cheese.

Regarding the Microwave

Microwave Corn For The Win An Entertaining Post by my good friend Jenny

June 8, 2012

Ice Cream & Waffles

It's okay to eat ice cream for dinner, right?  I don't mean grocery store ice cream this time.  I mean, It's okay to scoop homemade ice cream onto a nice, golden brown homemade waffle and tell the kids it is dinner, right?  Because as much as I want to feed my kids a balanced, healthful dinner every night, sometimes that doesn't happen.  Sometimes I resort to a frozen something-or-other or a leftovers-free-for-all.

And sometimes I just have a hankering for some specific thing or an emotional need for some kitchen therapy.  One evening last week I found that we were low on bread and that we had cream that needed to be used before it's expiration date.  So I had to make ice cream to use the cream.  And I had to start a loaf of sourdough bread, but since I hadn't used my starter in more than a couple days, it needed to be fed first.

Feeding a starter is a process in which one removes most of the starter and adds to the remaining starter equal parts (by weight) flour and water.  The good bacteria in the starter then feast on the new food (flour and water), resulting in a nice, bubbling, active ("fed") starter within 4-12 hours.  But discarding that cup of unfed starter can seem wasteful.  Before I started baking with sourdough, I kind of chuckled at the blogger-bakers who felt they had to use their unfed starter somehow to avoid wasting it.  I reasoned that I'd rather throw away--compost--a cup of starter, which might "waste" a few nickels worth of flour, than use a bunch of other ingredients with more monetary value to avoiding "wasting" the starter.  But the thing is that unfed sourdough starter adds a lot of good flavor to baked goods.  There are so many fun unfed starter recipes out there.  Generally these recipes rely on a little yeast or baking powder as the leavening agent, because the starter, being less active than a fed starter doesn't have much leavening power.

So I fed my starter in preparation for making a loaf of sourdough bread, and with the unfed starter I made waffles.  I used a mixture of yogurt and sour cream in place of the buttermilk, because I didn't have any buttermilk on hand.  (I've been meaning to order some buttermilk cultures so that I can make my own buttermilk, because after reading all the propaganda put out by raw milk activists, I'm a little leery of grocery store milk (but I still buy pasteurized cream, go figure).  I don't know why I don't just chill and buy some buttermilk.  I don't use buttermilk that often anyway.  It's just one of those weird moral dilemmas.)  I used melted butter, not vegetable oil.  And these waffles were pretty good.  But, really, I don't think it was the waffles we were thinking about when we ate them topped with fresh sliced strawberries and fresh vanilla ice cream.

oOo

If you have an ice cream maker collecting dust somewhere, pull it out.  And make this simple vanilla ice cream.  This recipe is super-easy.  It doesn't require cooking and cooling a custard.  It only takes a few minutes of work with a whisk (or an electric mixer) and soon you'll have delicious homemade ice cream to top the late spring berries that are available at the market now.  Once you've made Vanilla Ice Cream, you might find yourself motivated to set aside the time to make Caramel (or Salted Caramel) Ice Cream, which does require heating and chilling, but it is oh-so worth it.  (With our waffles and strawberries we ate Vanilla Ice Cream, but Caramel Ice Cream would also be a great waffle and/or berry topping.)


Vanilla Ice Cream
Only slightly adapted from Ben & Jerry's Sweet Cream Base #1
Makes 1 quart, plus a few tastes

2 farm fresh eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk eggs on medium-high speed one minute.  Gradually add sugar while continuing to whisk. Whisk until sugar is completely dissolved, scraping bowl once or twice.  There should be no grit if a drop of the mixture is rubbed between thumb and finger.  Reduce speed to low and stir in milk, cream and vanilla. Mix well.  Transfer mixture to ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's directions.

June 7, 2012

Creamed Onions

A pound and a half of small white onions* (all less than 2" in diameter), sliced into rings and sauteed in 1 tablespoon of butter, with a little salt and pepper. A minced clove of garlic and two tablespoons butter added when they have softened and browned a little. Then a tablespoon of flour, and a minute later, a splash of good whole milk or cream, maybe a 1/4 cup.  Let simmer a minute, top with a handful of good breadcrumbs** and broil a minute or two in the oven.

Not at all light, but creamy, sweet and deeply satisfying. Like onion rings, but with more onion and less crunch.

* Something about the freshness of spring onions makes them worth showcasing in their own dish.  One could certainly make creamed onions with bigger onions; they would make a wonderful side dish in the fall and winter, but I used baby onions that I harvested from my garden.  You can find similar onions in the farmers market throughout spring:  small red or white bulb onions with the greens still attached.  For this dish I removed the greens and will saved those that are tender enough to eat for another use (fried rice). 

**A few years ago I laughed at my grandma when I caught her saving bread crumbs from bread she was slicing.  Oops.  Now, when I make sourdough bread, I slice it before freezing it, which leaves me with a smattering of surprisingly flavorful bread crumbs.  I've taken to saving these in a mason jar in the pantry.  As long as all the crumbs added to the jar are thoroughly dry, they'll keep at least until I find a use for them. 

June 1, 2012

(Salted) Caramel Ice Cream

This is good, really good.  Smooth. Rich.  Creamy.  Caramel that won't put your teeth out.  I like this ice cream served on a sugar cone (that helps with portion control).  (If someone has an ice cream cone maker sitting around, I'd be willing to trade you a quart of homemade ice cream for it; I'd love to try making my own cones.)  This ice cream would also be wonderful on a waffle and/or topped with early summer berries.

Caramel Ice Cream / Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Adapted from Ben & Jerry's Sweet Cream Base #1 
Makes 1 quart.


3/4 cup sugar
2 T unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups cream
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
2 farm fresh eggs 

1.  Melt sugar over medium or medium-low heat in 2 quart saucepan. Don't stir, just use a heat-proof spatula to move un-melted sugar to the center of the pan.  Let sugar melt and caramelize.  When it is a deep amber color--before it starts to smoke--add butter and gradually stir in cream. Caramel may seize (harden) and that's okay. Just lower the heat a bit and busy yourself with something else in the kitchen, so that you can keep an eye on it and stir it occasionally while the caramel melts into a sauce.  This may take 20 minutes. When the caramel has melted into a rich sauce without clumps, stir in milk and vanilla extract (and sea salt, if you want Salted Caramel Ice Cream).  Transfer mixture to a storage vessel and chill thoroughly in refrigerator.*

2.  Whisk eggs in bowl of electric mixer on medium speed one minute until fluffy.  Scrape sides of bowl. Whisk a few seconds more, then continue to whisk while slowly pouring in chilled caramel mixture.

3.  Churn mixture in ice cream maker according to manufacturers directions.  This ice cream tends to be a little softer than most.  Plan to transfer the churned ice cream to the freezer and store at least a few hours prior to serving if you prefer a scoop-able texture.

NOTE:  If you have concerns about consuming raw eggs, you could certainly cook them:  In step one, after adding milk, but before adding vanilla, temper the eggs by whisking some of the hot caramel mixture into them, then add the the egg-caramel back to the remaining caramel in the saucepan.  Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until custard thickens some.  Remove from heat, add vanilla (and salt), strain to remove any "scrambled egg" bits, chill and proceed with Step 3.

oOo

For proof of my ice cream making obsession a running list of the ice creams I have made and more of my thoughts about them, please see my note, Homemade Ice Cream Notes.  Flavors recently added include Cherry-Chocolate Chip, Simple Vanilla, Oatmeal Cookie and this Caramel. 

May 30, 2012

Gardening Doesn't Produce Free Food.

I showed some friends a picture I took last Saturday of Grace holding a long braid of garlic that we had recently harvested from our garden.

"That'll be all the garlic you'll need all winter!" commented one friend, "And it's free!"

Maybe I was just having a rough day, but boy, did that get under my skin!  No, food from a home garden is nowhere near "free!" 

The braid in question contained somewhere between three and four dozen bulbs, and it accounted for about two-thirds of our garlic harvest.  If you can buy two or three bulbs at the farmers market for a $1, that long braid is about $15 to $20 worth of garlic, for "free."  Except that I paid for the garlic that was planted.  I think we planted about 80 cloves.  Figuring an average of 10 cloves per head and a cost of 50 cents per head, that was a $4 initial expense.  My friend might say that the initial cost is insignificant compared to the outcome.  And I'd agree.  In the case of garlic, I'll even say that the money spent on water and on maintaining the soil is insignificant (but that certainly isn't insignificant for my summer crops).  What is not factored in is the time and the physical energy that goes into gardening.

Garlic, planted in late fall and harvested in late spring, is a relatively low-maintenance crop.  No watering is necessary for most of it's growing period, but as the weather got warmer and the winter storms were fewer, I found myself watering the garlic bed at least once a week.  And then there was the watching, checking and waiting for the greens to fall over and brown, showing signs that the bulbs below the ground had fully formed and were ready for harvest.  (Some of our garlic matured before the rest of it, so I was checking and waiting a few times a week for almost a month.)  Then there was the harvesting. (This took about half an hour.)  And the trouble of finding a "cool, dark, dry" spot to dry the garlic.  (Impossible in my house, so it sat on a patio table out of direct sunlight for a few days and then on the kitchen counter for another few days, waiting for me to find time to braid it for storage.)  Finally there was the cleaning, trimming of the roots and braiding.  (Another half an hour or so.)

Maybe I feel like I am saving money when I harvest fresh vegetables and herbs from my garden, but I certainly don't feel like I am saving money when I prepare and plant the beds. 

This weekend, in clearing space in the beds for summer crops, I harvested about about 10 pounds of red onions (20 nice-sized specimens), a couple dozen smaller white onions with the green tops still attached, about a pound of walnut-sized or smaller garlic and onions that were missed in my first onion and garlic harvesting, two handfuls of baby carrots, 6 small beets, a bunch of parsley, a couple handfuls of baby mustard greens, the greens from a cauliflower plant that never managed to form a head, some dill seeds, a teaspoon of poppy seeds and a half-pint of baby yukon gold potatoes.  My rough estimate of the retail value of my harvest: $16.  (I have a variety of white onion that is still maturing and will be harvested in a few weeks.  The seeds from the rest of the poppies should also be ready to harvest in a few weeks.)
Poppies drying, onions, zucchini, melons

This weekend I spent $35 on fresh compost to replant those beds--we compost religiously, but still didn't produce enough finished compost to refresh the three raised beds--and $69 on materials to build better trellises for this summer's cucumbers and green beans.  I spent a good six or seven hours in garden.  Half of this time was hauling compost from my pickup to the garden and digging the compost into the beds.  The rest of the work was less back-breaking:  Harvesting the vegetables, weeding the melon patch, transplanting volunteer tomato plants that had sprouted up in the melon patch to their new home in Bed #3 (sadly, it does not appear that they survived the move), transplanting thyme to a flower border near the melon patch (it appears to be doing well), re-potting the herbs that I grow in pots and cleaning and braiding garlic and onions.  Jason spent more than one afternoon building trellises.  I also spent an hour picking cherries with Grace and Abby at my mom's house.  That's a significant investment of time.

So why do I garden if it costs me so much time, physical energy and--yes--money?

  • Because I love the convenience of having fresh herbs so close to my kitchen.  
  • Because I prefer this type of exercise to something more competitive or aerobic.  
  • Because I like to cook, and gardening is interconnected with cooking.  Sometimes, when I'm having difficulty finding the motivation to cook dinner, a fresh head of lettuce from the garden or some chard that needs to harvested before it gets too big is just the inspiration I need.  
  • Because producing my own food gives me a deeper appreciation for food in general and for the workers who produce my food.  Four dollars for a basket of cherries at the farmer's market doesn't seem so expensive when you've experienced the time and energy involved in picking your own.  
  • Because sometimes gardening is the "alone time" that I need and sometimes gardening means quality time with my kids.  
  • Because gardening teaches us patience and gives us a sense of place in the world.  
  • Because there is genuine hope and faith to be found in the simple act of planting a seed.

May 24, 2012

White Sourdough Bread

My experience with sourdough is admittedly limited, but my family likes this particular sourdough bread so much, that I wanted to share it with you.  It is from the cookbook Jason brought me from Ireland, The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen.

Do you like Amazon?  I do.  As much as I believe in supporting the local guy, I really appreciate Amazon's "Look Inside" Feature.  I can spend hours flipping through all sorts of books to see if I like the author's writing style.  And if I'm considering buying a cookbook, I certainly try a recipe from the Look Inside portion that's available on Amazon before I actually buy the book.  A few months ago, I'd heard about a particular "make staples from scratch" cookbook.  I fell in love when I read the author's introduction to the book.  I really enjoyed her writing style and I was disappointed when I got to the end of the preview available online.  I considered ordering it, or calling our local bookstore to see if they had it in stock (or were able to order it for me).  But then I tried the recipe the author wrote for an Everyday Bread.  And it was a flop.  I wholeheartedly acknowledge that I may have made a mistake, but I do bake yeast breads quite a bit, so to foul up a recipe for a basic white bread didn't seem very likely.  I decided not to get the book.  Am I "cutting my nose off to spite my face?"  Is it possible that there are dozens of wonderful recipes in that book that I am missing out on?  Absolutely, but that's my personal policy about buying cookbooks.  I'll keep an eye out for the book at the library.

I was so pleased when I found a book with a similar theme this week on Amazon, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods you Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernilla.  Look Inside here or check out Alana's blog here. I was so sucked in by the excerpt I read--and so in need of a trusty lunch box treat--that I made her Car Snack #2 (granola bars) as soon as I read the recipe.  I've made granola bars before.  I've made a good version and a version so dull that it ended up getting really frost-bitten in the back of the freezer.  But these were so simple and quick to throw together (Seriously--five minutes of work plus half an hour in the oven), and they taste to me like what the color golden would taste like if it had a flavor.  And how could it not? Butter and honey (I substituted honey for the Lyle's syrup) with oats and slivered almonds?  This cookbook is on my wish list!

Sadly, an excerpt of The Ballymaloe Bread Book is not available on Amazon.  But another way I like to whittle away time on Amazon is by reading the reviews of books I already own.  I am intrigued by what other people eat and how they cook (and what grows in their vegetable garden).  I like to read what other people say about the book, recipes they wholeheartedly recommend, recipes that didn't work out, features they feel are so important that they want to encourage total strangers to buy the book, things that people didn't like about the book.  I feel a bit defensive when someone writes a negative review about a book that I thoroughly enjoy.

One reviewer complained that the ingredients in Tim's recipes are measured by weight, and that she had to convert them to volume to be able to bake from the book.  I scoffed at that a bit.  C'mon, lady.  This book was written for a European audience.  *Most* bakers know that in other parts of the world, bakers measure with weights, not volumes.  Most serious bakers in the States are switching to weights too.  Honestly I was still using measuring cups for most recipes, until I started baking with this book.  I pulled out my cheap little scale (it's plastic, not-digital, and only weighs up to a pound at a time) and I am a convert. You see, when you measure flour using a weight, you know you've measured the same amount that the recipe-writer measured.  Sure, you may need to add a dash more here or there, but experience will tell you when to add flour or liquid, and you don't have the awkward variable that a measurement of  "6-7 cups of flour" can be.  That said, I agree with the reviewer, if you have no interest in baking using weights, then I wouldn't recommend this cookbook.

I've baked four or five recipes from this cookbook.  The one oddity I've noticed is that the ingredients aren't always listed in the order in which they are used. This can a bit confusing.  Normally (maybe this is an American thing?) recipes list the ingredients in the order in which they are used.  Another thing that's a bit frustrating-slash-confusing are instructions such as these, "Preheat the oven to..." followed by, "Combine water, flour and sourdough starter... Let rest 12-24 hours."  Again, not something a cook can't work around, but the kind of thing that causes me to reread the recipe a more times than I normally would during the procedure.

So, though I haven't altered any of the ingredients, I've rewritten Tim's wonderful sourdough bread recipe here.

White Sour Dough
This is not a crusty, chewy, ultra-sour bread akin to what one would find served alongside a bowl of fish chowder.  No, this is what I call an Everyday Bread, a crisp crust with a soft interior, and a mild, but pleasing sour flavor.  It is suitable for a variety of uses: sandwiches, french toast, toasted and served with butter or jam, dried and made into croutons. 
Makes 2 loaves.

Sponge:
(5 minutes, 12-24 hour rest)


250grams / 9 oz sourdough starter
6 fl oz warm water
250 grams / 9 oz all purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar

Stir together the warm water and starter in a large mixing bowl or other vessel.  Stir in flour and sugar.  The mixture doesn't have to be smooth; the fermentation will work out the lumps.  Cover with a tea towel and let rest 12-24 hours.  (All three times that I have made this I have let the sponge sit close to 24 hours, making the sponge one evening, and continuing with the recipe the following evening.)

Dough:
(10-15 minutes mixing and shaping, 3-8 hours rising, 35-40  minutes baking)

all of the sponge
5 fl oz warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
500 grams /1 lb 2 oz all purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
50g / 2 oz / 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Transfer the dough into the bowl of an electric mixer (if it isn't there already).  Add warm water and olive oil and blend on low speed one minute.  Add flour, sugar, salt and butter.  Beat on low, then medium speed to until a shaggy dough is formed.

Switch to a dough hook (or turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and work by hand) and knead for a few minutes until light and pliable.  This is a moist dough and it comes together fairly quickly.  Don't succumb to the temptation to add more flour.  The oil and butter should keep it from being too sticky to work with.

Split the ball of dough into two portions.  Shape each portion into a free-form loaf.  I use my hands to flatten the ball on the counter top, then roll it up, tucking the seam underneath.  Place both loaves on a large oiled baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel and let rise.  The original recipe calls for a rising time of 5-6 hours in a warm location or overnight in a cool spot.  When it is 90 degrees outside, my kitchen is very warm, resulting in a shorter rise time, closer to three hours.  The dough will puff up, but not necessarily double in size.  If your loaf seems a little squat, don't be nervous, this loaf tends to have a good "oven spring," much more pronounced than any of the other sourdough recipes I've tried.

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat your over to 450F (230C).  Slash the tops of the loaves in three places with a sharp knife and bake 35-40 minutes, until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  (I throw a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven when I put the bread in.  The steam created by the melting ice is said to help with oven spring and browning.)

Cool loaves on a wire rack.  I generally slice and freeze my breads after they have cooled completely, but this bread should keep just fine at room temperature for 3-5 days.

May 20, 2012

I Want to Bake Cakes in Mason Jars

We celebrated my father's birthday this weekend with an overnight stay at a quaint Bed and Breakfast in El Dorado County.  Me, being me, I offered to bake the birthday cake. My dad, being my dad, wanted Boston Cream Pie. I assumed the rest of the group wanted Boston Cream Pie as well, because a celebration honoring my father wouldn't be complete without Boston Cream Pie. Boston Cream Pie, a yellow cake with a custard filling and a chocolate frosting, requires refrigeration. So I planned to make a triple layer cake, store it all day in styrofoam with dry ice in a big cardboard box that I happened to have, and serve it after dinner.

I made the cake layers last weekend using Smitten Kitchen's recipe for a 1-2-3-4 Cake, wrapping them in plastic and freezing until Friday's late night cake assembly.  This cake recipe, by the way, is as close to a "perfect yellow cake" as I have ever come.  Buttery and sweet, without being devoid of real flavor, moist and springy to the touch, it was tremendously difficult to stop carving off "tasting scraps."

Friday night Jason went to the store to pick up dry ice while I made the custard filling and the ganache frosting. For some reason I chose the Vanilla Custard Filling for Cakes recipe in Joy of Cooking. I recall using the recipe years ago as a filling for Cream Puffs. Next time I would choose a different custard, one that is thickened with cornstarch, not all-purpose flour. The custard cooked on the top of a double boiler for the better part of an hour, but still had an uncooked flour taste to it. I was grateful that that flavor didn't come through too much in the finished cake, but still, I'll find a different recipe next time.

For the ganache I used another Smitten Kitchen recipe. A winner. (Incidentally, I've made the cake pictured in that post before: rich chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting and ganache filling; it's a big hit.  It's also the chocolate cake recipe that I prefer for another big hit, Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting.)

Something about the physics of stacking two layers of cake on a custard didn't work; as soon as I finished spreading the ganache the darn thing split in half. I yelled for Jason to grab me some drinking straws and I stuck them through the cake to try to preserve its shape and prevent further sliding, but it was no use. We were scheduled to leave for the party in 12 hours and the cake was fairly ruined.

"You could make a new cake tomorrow morning." Jason suggested.

I agreed I could make cupcakes in the morning, but that seemed like a lot of work. And a lot of wasted cake.

I went off the my room to mope about it. But then a thought came to me. All those hours spent perusing random food blogs pay off in emergencies such as this. Mason jars! Individual trifles served in half-pint mason jars. I could cube up to cake--really just hack it into bite-size pieces--divide the pieces into mason jars, put the lids on for storage, and then at service time spray the tops with whipped cream, garnish with raspberries and call it trendy. Awesome!

And that's just what we did. Farmers Market fresh raspberries and whipped cream from a spray bottle cover a multitude of sins. The trifles were well-received, but next time why not just bake individual cakes in mason jars, then fill with custard sauce and top with chocolate? It's certainly not an original idea. Google "cakes in mason jars." There are a great deal of blog posts and recipes. And I think they just might be my next kitchen adventure.

May 16, 2012

My Latest Adventure: Sourdough Bread

I've been wanting to tell you about my Sourdough Bread Adventure for a couple weeks, but life is busy and I haven't had a chance to work on my sourdough much, let alone perfect any recipes or type them up.  Since I made my sourdough starter a few weeks ago, I've baked bread four times.  That's a start, right? All the loaves have had different characteristics and they have all been pleasing in their own way.

First, the Starter

I've been reading about sourdough starter for, well, years.  I've read  various blogs and websites and one of my current favorite cookbooks, DIY Delicious by Vanessa Barrington, has a nice chapter on sourdough bread making.  Most recently I turned to the blog of the good bakers at King Arthur Flour.  They've got to know their stuff, right?  Plus, I appreciate that in a blogosphere saturated with both stylized food photography and photography so horrible that the bloggers should be ashamed to post it, King Arthur Flour's blog is full of utilitarian, well-lit, genuinely useful photos.  Did I count right? Sixteen photos of a sourdough starter at various stages in this post alone?

I made my sourdough starter using just flour and water, four ounces of each at room temperature.  I mixed them up in a 1 quart plastic yogurt container, covered it with a cloth napkin and let it sit outside in the shade for a couple days, bringing it in at night.  Within three days it was bubbly and had a pleasant alcoholic smell.  Its difficult to describe, but it's the kind of smell that fills your nostrils and begs you to bake... or relax and have a glass of wine.  Hence, I found myself baking four different breads in the span of a couple weeks.
  
 Second, the Breads
My First Attempt: Good flavor, but a little flat

I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour for Extra Tangy Sourdough Bread.  It wasn't the "Extra Tangy" that drew me in; I've never been a fan of sour sourdough breads.  It was the fact that the recipe did not call for additional yeast, which I am almost completely out of, which is what finally motivated me to make a sourdough starter after a couple years of reading about it.

I made the recipe just as written, except that I did not add "sour salt" (citric acid), which I really should have on hand for cheese making, but...  And that my rise times were a little longer than the recipe suggests, simply so that I could fit the rising and baking into my schedule. I fed my starter Friday evening, mixed the dough some time on Saturday, shaped the loaves Sunday morning and baked them after church. 

My first batch (2 loaves) turned out flatter than the loaf pictured on their website.  It was delicious bread, with a pleasing, but not overwhelming, sour taste.  We liked it a lot, but we agreed that my next batch needed to be more than two inches high in order to be a suitable shape for sandwiches.

 My Second Attempt:  A stronger sour flavor, a moist interior, a chewy crust

So I used the same recipe again, just starter, flour, water, sugar and salt, but this time instead of dividing the dough into two loaves and baking on a sheet, I preheated my dutch oven in the oven, and when it was time to bake, I 'carefully' transferred the whole ball of dough, which took it's second rise on a piece of parchment, into the dutch oven.  I baked it with the lid on for 25 minutes, then I took the lid off and baked it another 15 minutes.  The sides of the dutch oven kept the bread a reasonable size for sandwiches and having the whole thing enclosed resulted in a really chewy, crisp crust.  The interior of the bread was moist, almost as if it could have baked another five minutes or so.  (Some kind of kitchen thermometer would be handy, wouldn't it?) Again we liked it.  I sliced it and froze it, and we're still using it for garlic toast and that type of thing.

My Third Attempt: Something with the texture of a Classic Sandwich Loaf

Next I wanted to try a different recipe, maybe something less chewy, more tender.  Jason brought me The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen, when he returned from his recent trip to Ireland.  There's an excellent recipe for a thin, almost cracker-like pizza dough in that book.  I think I've made the recipe (which makes 8 rounds of dough) three times since Jason gave me the book a month and a half ago.  Yes, we like it that much! So I naturally turned to the sourdough chapter in that book next. I made the White Sourdough Bread.  (I'll post the recipe soon, but I want to make it a couple more times first,so that I'llhave more to say about it.)  Like the pizza recipe that we've enjoyed so much, it contains a few tablespoons of butter, which yields a more tender crumb than my previous two virtually fat-free loaves.  This bread is the closest I've come to a classic white sandwich bread.  It's tender, soft enough that it doesn't clog the works when you try to swallow bites of a sandwich, but strong enough to hold up against the filling in a sandwich.  This is probably our favorite of the sourdough breads.

My Fourth Attempt: Sourdough meets whole grain

I wanted to make a loaf with some whole grain goodness.  I'm one of those moms who sneaks whole grains into most of my baking, much to the chagrin of my husband, so it seemed out of character to be baking with so much all-purpose flour in the last few loaves. Luckily, Tim has a recipe for Brown Bread just opposite his perfect recipe for White Sourdough Bread.  This one lacks butter and olive oil.  It's just starter, a mixture of white flour and whole wheat flour, a little sugar and salt.  The recipe refers to the flours as "strong white flour" and "strong brown flour."  I assume the American equivalents might be bread flour and whole wheat flour, or maybe a high-gluten whole wheat flour, but I used all purpose flour and a mix I ground myself: about 4 parts Massa Organics wheat berries with two parts millet and 1/4 part flax seed.  This bread is baked in two loaf pans, making it the perfect size and shape for toast.  I like the flavor of whole grains and I like the virtuous feeling of serving them to my children, so we went through these loaves quickly.  They are a little too dense for sandwiches though; it is more of a toasting bread.

Next time I bake whole grain bread, I'd like to use Tim's recipe for White Sourdough--the tender one with the butter--and just substitute in some whole wheat flour and some high-gluten flour for part of the "strong white flour."  Don't worry though, Jason, the dough for my next batch of the White Sourdough Bread is already rising on the counter, so the freezer will be stocked with both "your" bread and "mine" soon.

May 4, 2012

May Garden Inventory

We've gotten a good harvest of cilantro, parsley and dill from Bed #1.  All of which are starting to bolt.  It's probably time to pull them out and plant some summer crops.  But I see so many insects enjoying the blossoms on the broccoli and cilantro plants, that I'm leaving them in until the poppies at the other end of the bed bloom (any day now). There are still some beets, carrots and green onions ready for harvest in this bed.  Not a lot, but some.

From Bed #2 we've been harvesting garlic chives, regular chives and spring onions.

From Bed #3 we've harvested thyme.  The rest of the bed is planted with garlic, which should be ready for harvest in the next month.  

We recently had some trees removed from our backyard, which should mean more sun for summer gardening.  Next to Bed #3, Abby and I created three long mounds for planting.  A week or so ago we planted some seeds:

Mound #1: Cantaloupe, Luffa Sponges*, Sugar Snap Peas

Mound #2: Bidwell Casaba Melon* (similar to cantaloupe) and West Indian Burr Gherkins* (a small cucumber that should make good pickles), and more Sugar Snap Peas

Mound #3: Crimson Sweet Watermelon* (a small variety), Okra and Purple Peas*

I still have more seeds to plant, but they must wait until the poppies bloom and the onions and garlic are harvested from the beds.

*Seeds were purchased from Redwood Organic Farm.  Check them out online, at the farmers market or at local retailers. Other seeds were purchased at the hardware store.

What's growing in your garden?

May 1, 2012

Shaved Carrot Salad with Indian Spices

Three 'super sweet' carrots, cleaned and peeled, then shaved with a vegetable peeler into pasta-like strips. One green onion cut into one-inch segments.

Dressing: Olive oil, about two ounces, warmed over low heat with a pinch each fennel seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and one crushed cardamom pod.  After five minutes or so strain out the seeds and whisk in the juice of one lemon or lime and a generous pinch of sea salt. 

Toss carrots and onions with dressing.  Top salad with crumbled cojita cheese and a few leaves of chopped cilantro, parsley and lemon balm.

 Different.  Colorful.  Light.

April 26, 2012

Banana Cream Pie

I made a banana cream pie last night.

I say that not so much to make you crave banana cream pie or make you jealous of my mad culinary skills, or to make you feel like you should take the time to lovingly handcraft a pie for your family on a busy weeknight, but to illustrate that I don't want to be over-zealous about this whole locavore thing.

I mean I love eating local.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that, but I get really sick of reading blogs and articles that seem moralistic about eating locally or eating "real" food.  I enjoy reading food writing that is personal.  I like to read about what a person cooks or how intensley they enjoyed a restaurant meal, or why they choose grass-fed over grain-fed beef and how they buy it.  But I particularly don't enjoy it when bloggers start given nutritional advice to readers. Actually, I take that back.  I like that too, when the blogger is backing up the statement with real research.  Personal experience only counts as research sometimes.  I know that's not fair.  But such is life: a series or opinions and beliefs all rooted in personal experience, some of which have more factual substance than others. 

So last night, on a whim I made a pie.  I had a store-bought graham cracker crust in the pantry and my mom brought over some bananas "because they were on sale."  I think my mother thinks it is cruel and unusual punishment to not have bananas in the house for the girls.  They are such an all-American fruit, after all. Oh, wait, they are grown in Ecuador... So she smuggles in a bunch every now and then. And don't bother asking me why I act offended by store-bought bananas, when a store-bought pie crust (with all those "icky unpronouncable ingredients") doesn't bother me at all.  It's a delicious treat, not a vote for evil corporations, corrupt politicians and the current system of grossly underpaying farm workers everywhere.  Oh, those poor banana pickers!  But I digress. 

So I had a pie crust in the pantry and a banana on the counter and a vague memory of a recipe I read online: banana cream pie.

The black bean enchiladas I had assembled for dinner were already in the oven (nothing worth writing about, a couple of cans, some Tillamook cheese and a dozen storebought tortillas involved), and I was out of salad greens, so there was nothing for me to do while the enchiladas baked.  I thought maybe I'd make vanilla pudding and pour it into the pie crust over a layer of thinly sliced banana, but Jason reminded me that he hates the texture of banana, but he likes the flavor.  So I had to figure out how to make a banana pudding without banana chunks.

Using the recipe for Vanilla Pudding in my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook, I added 1/2 a banana, diced, and I caramelized the sugar and banana, because, why not?

The pudding called for two egg yolks, which left me with two egg whites, which made me think, "Isn't a meringue just egg whites and sugar whipped up?"  I flipped back a page in the cookbook to the recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie and found that yes, a meringue is simply egg whites, cream of tartar, sugar and vanilla extract. It seemed more logical to whip up a meringue than to freeze those two egg whites, so while the pudding waited in the pie shell, I preheated the oven (which had been turned off twenty minutes before when the enchiladas came out) and made a meringue.

It was only after the meringue was whipped, that I realized that spooning it onto the still-a-little-runny pudding would make a mess, and that I needed to be more gentle in my approach.  Finally, an opportunity to use the psuedo-pastry-bag kitchen gadget that Grace got me for my birthday! Or was it Christmas?  So I opened the box, felt rather valiant when I actually pre-washed the parts even though by this time I was pushing the kids' bedtime back, and figured out how to assemble the thing.  I used the star tip, loaded it up with meringue and piped the meringue semi-neatly onto the pudding. Into the oven for four minutes to toast that meringue and then an abbreviated (way too short) chill in the freezer before cutting into it. Well, okay--and maybe if you didn't think I was just a little obsessive before, maybe you'll think so now--I "plated" it:  one slice of banana on each slice of pie (except Jason's) and a sprinkling of chopped almonds which I toasted with a little brown sugar (except on Jason's, because he doesn't like nuts).

The meringue was pretty in that nice pattern with a good golden brown finish.  The pudding tasted just as I would expect a banana pudding to taste, but it didn't set up as well as I would have liked.  Maybe I should have increased the cornstarch, or maybe it just needed a longer chill time. It pooled around the crust on our plates, rather unattractively, but oh well. It tasted great, like a s'more, but with banana filling instead of semi-melted chocolate.  Definitely something I'd be willing to make again with a little more lead time.

Banana Cream Pie
Adapted from Betty Crocker.
One 9" piece serves eight.  Notes are incorporated into the recipe. 

Crust
One 9" graham cracker pie crust of your choice. 

Banana Pudding

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 banana, diced
2 - 3 tablespoons cornstarch (I used 2, but next time I would use 3)
2 cups milk (Having converted to local raw milk, I used whole unpasteurized milk, but you could presumably use whatever milk you prefer.)
big pinch of kosher salt (1/8 teaspoon)
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Meringue

2 egg whites (Betty Crocker's recipe calls for three, but that would mean I'd have an extra yolk, and I felt that two egg whites yielded the right amount of meringue for the pie, about an inch.  A larger mountain of meringue would have overwhelmed the layer of pudding.
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
4-6 tablespoons sugar (if you prefer less sweet desserts use the lesser amount, but if, like Jason and Grace, you want a sweet dessert, use it all)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (In my haste I forgot this, but I did add a pinch (1/16 teaspoon) of ground cardamom.  The flavor did not seem to come through, but I do think banana and cardamom is a worthwhile flavor combination.)

Optional garnishes:
Banana, sliced on the diagonal
Nuts (walnuts or almonds) chopped coarsely, toasted briefly in a skillet with a pat of butter and a spoonful of brown sugar

1.  Prepare pudding:  In medium saucepan, over medium heat, combine sugar and bananas.  Let the sugar melt, stirring gently once or twice, as it turns a caramel color and the smell of cooking bananas fills your kitchen.  Meanwhile, in 2-cup measuring cup, whisk cornstarch into 1/2 cup milk.  Pour in the remaining milk.  When sugar has caramelized, and before it begins to smoke, add salt and slowly stir in milk.  The caramel will probably seize (harden into clumps) and that's okay.  Just leave it on medium heat and stir occasionally as the milk heats and melts the caramel.  Place two egg yolks in your 2-cup measuring cup or a small mixing bowl.  Reserve the whites for the meringue.

When the caramel has melted into the milk, stir more frequently as the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Mixture should thicken some.  Pour at least half of the hot mixture into the egg yolks.  Pour slowly and stir constantly to temper the eggs.  Pour the tempered eggs back into the saucepan and stir frequently while heating to a boil.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Remove from heat.  Stir in butter, rum and vanilla extract.  Pour hot pudding through a sieve (to catch any bits of banana fiber and any 'scrambled' eggs) and into the pie shell.  Set aside.

2.  Prepare meringue:  Preheat oven to 400F.  Have ready a pastry bag or cookie decorator or a big ziplock bag for piping the meringue onto the pie.  In bowl of electric mixer combine egg whites and cream of tartar.  Whip on high speed until soft peaks form.  Add sugar.  (If you want to add any ground spices such as cardamom, do it now.)  Continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and whip a couple seconds, just to incorporate it. Fill pastry bag and carefully pipe meringue over pudding in pie shell.

3. Bake, chill and serve:  Bake pie until meringue is pleasantly golden brown.  Betty Crocker said this would take 8-10 minutes, but I am glad I checked my pie at 4 minutes, because it was perfect just then.  Chill pie thoroughly in the refrigerator at least an hour or two.  (Right.  That's if you plan ahead and it's not already the kids' bedtime.)  Slice pie into servings and garnish each serving as desired.