Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ellen's visiting!

Ellen and Jim are coming up from Sacramento and I want to make them a real Pacific Northwest lunch. This is what I'm thinking: It's fall and the chanterelles are just about at the end of their season (it's been raining), I bought a handful of soggy ones yesterday. I have kale and leeks in my garden, the fall salmon is running (I'm hoping to take them out to Kennedy Creek to see the salmon running), I'm watching a little brown bird eating huckleberries in my front yard, and it's the weekend before Thanksgiving. I am starting to form a menu in my mind: mushroom-kale soup, locally caught and smoked salmon, squash stuffed with savory Thanksgiving style dressing, and a dessert with huckleberries or apples and pears.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tea Habits

It's October and it's time to publish the blog entries that I've written and saved and thought about but haven't posted. I still need to take a picture for this one.

We had a family reunion this past week (this was mid-August in Minnesota) and each day we stopped for at least one tea break. It brought up memories and discussions of the role of tea in our family and I've decided to try to put as much as I can remember down here in this post.

My mother grew up in England so tea drinking was a natural part of our growing up in Minnesota, much more so then coffee which was probably the preferred drink of many of our Scandinavian neighbors. We made tea at least three times a day: first thing in the morning to have with breakfast, around the kitchen table after school at about 4:00, and a final pot while we watched the 10:00 p.m. news. We often had Sunday afternoon tea together during the winter. For these family gatherings, we drank tea and ate warm scones while sitting in the living room around the fireplace.

First of all, the brands of tea that are preferred and currently drunk in the various family households include PG Tips, Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Red, Tetley's British Blend, and Earl Grey from Twinings or Trader Joe's. Those are the more recent brands, we grew up with Lipton's which was easily found in midwestern grocery stores.

There are certain rules to making tea well. These are our family's rules for our type of tea, our own tea ceremony. Boiling water must always be used. Hot water provided in pots in restaurants just doesn't do it, instead makes weak 'dishwater' tea. Then, especially in winter, the pot should be preheated by pouring a few inches of the boiling water into the pot, letting it sit for a few minutes and then, just before making the actual tea, pouring it off. This keeps the pot from cooling down too quickly. The other thing that helps keep tea hot in a cold climate is to use a tea cozy to insulate the pot. (Our tea cozies were crocheted out of bright colored yarns for our pots by my mother.) The best tea is made by putting loose tea leaves into the pot or a tea ball. If loose tea is used, a strainer is used to keep the tea leaves out of the cups as it is poured. I don't know what the proportion of tea to water is that makes the best tea (remember, I don't ever use absolute recipes) and think that the strength of the tea is a personal preference. I prefer strong and I use a couple tablespoons tea in a 3-cup pot. The tea is allowed to brew for at least a few minutes (again, I don't know for how long and I don't time it). After brewing it's poured into the individual cups or mugs, my mother likes porcelain teacups, I like substantial mugs. We drink our tea with milk and sugar. My mother says that the best way to pour a cup of tea is to pour the milk into the cup, then pour the tea in, and finally add the sugar and stir.

As I've said, we had scones on Sundays. We, my mother being from northwestern England, grew up pronouncing the word as rhyming with fawns. Apparently in southern England and in the U.S. it's pronounced as rhyming with phones. From what I understand, it's a regional thing and neither is wrong. The Sunday afternoon scones of my memories were plain, almost like baking powder biscuits but with raisins or currents. We buttered them but I can't remember if we used jam. Now we add other other ingredients including lemon peel, craisins, pieces of apples, a little cream in the scone batter, a bit more sugar (but only a bit) sprinkled on the scones before baking.

While I was riding in the car with my oldest sister and her husband, leaving my mother's home last August, I was talking to another sister on the phone, getting her recipe for scones. This is approximate, she was recalling it from the top of her head, I was taking notes on a scrap of paper. I wish I was a poet like her, I would write recipe poems.

Mary's Scone Recipe

1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk (or cream?)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup flour

Mix flour, baking powder and sugar together. Add raisins. Cut in butter. Work in milk. Roll out and cut into shapes (I think we used the edges of glass drinking glasses to make round ones (that gives you a clue as to the approximate size.) Put on a;n ungreased cookie sheet or flat oven pan. Brush with a little milk or egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 400-425 degree preheated oven. They probably take 10 or 15 minutes so watch them closely, burnt scones are not tasty.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Quinoa Planted Again

I planted quinoa last year (2008) with not particularly good luck (it was a total failure). The chickens relished the leaves and therefore, stripped the plants. Deborah Kean also planted it at the Oregon State University Vegetable Research Farm last year and had problems with top heavy plants lodging after fall rains. This year I'm trying again with fencing to keep birds out and a little more knowledge about growing the plant here in the Pacific Northwest (water sparingly!).

Five varieties were planted on June 7, 2009. These were planted a single time, no replication of planting, in short (two foot) rows in a raised garden bed. The bed is surrounded by a plastic chicken fence which probably shades the bed slightly. I'll remove the fencing over the top eventually but am being especially careful about keeping chickens out as they could decimate the whole planting in a very short time.

Four of the varieties were the same ones planted last year with the addition of one new variety from Nichols Garden Nursery.

1. Cherry Vanilla (Nichols): "100 days, 5' tall. Open pollinated ... Hot pink and white seed heads are striking in the late summer and fall garden."

2. Dave (Four-O-Seven, Seeds of Change): 90-100 days, 5-6' tall . "Medium sized seed is yellow brown on yellow gold seed heads.

3. Brightest Brilliant (Seeds of Change): 100-110 days, 3-4' tall. The seed packet has no variety description but the website says: "This ornamental and highly edible, nutritious grain blooms in late summer to produce gorgeously rich brugundy [burgundy], orange, yellow, white and pink flower head spikes. The most unusual and striking quinoa we've grown." Unfortunately, there was only a single seed left in packet, but fortunately, that single seed germinated.

4. Faro Traditional (Seeds of Change): 100-130 days, 4' tall. "Most adaptable, southern Chile sea level variety. Green and red topped plants with white/yellow seeds. Mid to long season, adaptable to much of the US. High Yielding."

5. Temuco Traditional (Seeds of Change): 100-110 days, 5-6' tall. "Delicious white-seeded variety. Tall plant produces yellow-green or brilliant red seed heads. One of the best choices for maritime areas, but also grows well in a variety of climates."

This year I had excellent germination (it was a dry June). Plants were thinned to about 6 inches apart (each variety has 1 to 4 plants) as of July 8. I've added the clearest photo I have, taken when plants were 3 weeks old. At this point they all look pretty much the same, they resemble lambs-quarters (another Chenopodium) for those of you who wonder.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mom's Birthday Memories

It's my mother's 85th birthday tomorrow and this is the email she sent to us:

Dear Childen, As I was remembering birthdays of my childhood and youth, I thought you might like to share some of my recollections. Because June's birthday, and mine, are so close together, we always shared a birthday celebration. We had very few birthday parties in those days, but we did always have strawberries and cream as our special treat. I know we always received a birthday present, but usually it was not anything very big. When Stella and Betty were in their teens, they would buy each of us a small gift, a paper doll cut out book, or such like. We must have been very allergic to strawberries, because we both broke out in huge hives. They itched badly, so we were told to "spit" on them. We were occasionally invited to a birthday party for some other child. It was quite formal, we had "party" frocks, usually taffeta, full skirts with rosettes sewn on. We wore white socks and black patent shoes, never with ankle bands, our Mother considered them to be "common". The games were very organised, and the "tea" usually consisted of molded jelly (jello) and molded blamange, strawberry flavoured, little sandwiches, and fairy cakes. I never liked going to these parties. I was quite glad all that stopped when I got to be about 10. I hope this isn't boring. Next time I will tell you about my 21st birthday. Love to all of you. Your Mother

Friday, May 22, 2009

Birthday Food

It's my birthday in two days so I'm planning what I want to cook and bake for my birthday meal and thinking back to other birthdays and what foods were associated with those memories.

I think the oldest memory I have of birthday meals goes back to when I was living at my parents' house and my mother made me shrimp curry for my birthday. Considering that I grew up in the Midwest and I was still pretty young, that was quite brave of me to request something like that. I always liked trying things that were different, considered unpalatable by some (think of that terrible stinky cheese that Dad used to bring home from somewhere). I also remember that we used to have strawberries on angel food cake for our birthday cakes. It might have been one of Mom's favorites. I know that now she makes chocolate cake with chocolate whipped cream but I don't think she did that until more recently. 

Mary's birthday is two weeks before mine so we sometimes shared birthday celebrations, that's where 'we' comes from. The one and only birthday party I had with children other than family was a shared one with her. 

Two years ago my sister came out to visit around my birthday. Ariel and I made paella. It was gorgeous! And we served it in the beautiful ceramic pot that Chris E. gave me as a birthday present a few years earlier. Unfortunately, Mary was sick and couldn't eat any of it so a lot was wasted. Last year I had a potluck with friends and neighbors so the food was random. Usually I make my Mayan chocolate cake for all birthdays but this year I am planning something different.

This year I'm planning and cooking the whole meal myself because I realized that 'though I love to cook (occasionally) there's usually no one around to eat it when I'm struck by the desire. So since Arie and Oscar will be here, I'm going to cook for pleasure, my birthday present to myself. This is what I'm thinking about: I brought mole rojo paste back from Mexico last fall and haven't used any of it yet so I'm going to make pollo con mole rojo. Then to go with it, I have been wanting to try making tamales so here is my opportunity, I'll make tamales with black bean filling. Then to make it colorful, I'll make sweet potato fries and a salad with greens from the garden. Sounds pretty good! And to top it off, instead of the cake, I'm going to try making a rhubarb pie with meringue top, a recipe from The Washington local and seasonal cookbook. 

Here is my Mayan chocolate cake recipe. It's a revision of a recipe that someone gave me years ago:

Mayan Chocolate Cake

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice berries
1/4 tsp dried cayenne powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350 degrees, grease and flour 2 round cake pans or 1 9x13 rectangular one.

In large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Beat until well blended, about 2 minutes, add chocolate chips, then stir in boiling water.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until it's done in the middle. Let cool and frost or don't, your choice. 

This is a very deep dark cake, tastes very rich without being full of butter or cream. The cayenne warms it without making it too hot. There's enough vanilla to give it a fragrance. The smell of allspice reminds me of being where allspice trees grow.

Here is a not-so-great picture of an allspice tree (the multi-limbed one in the center) growing in Tikal (Guatemala). I bought allspice berries there, in the market at Coban, and brought them back with me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My methods

I just got home from an author talk at our local public library. The author, Molly Wizenberg, has a well-known food blog, Orangette, and has recently published the book "A Homemade Life : Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table". While having my copy of the book signed, I talked to the author about how she cooks and bakes, her methods, and realized that I cook and bake in a way that is so linked to my personality. (That IS to be expected.) I know that I am not a measurer, I'm inexact and somewhat impatient, even disdainful of cooks who read recipes as though they must be followed right down to the perfect measuring of the last ingredient. I don't think I ever cook or bake anything exactly by recipe, nothing! But then I also realized that I am a process oriented person and the end product is not as important to me as the feeling I have as I am making something. Before I start a food project I imagine the flavors, sometimes not just imagining but also sniffing different ingredients separately and together to see if they seem 'right'. In that way, I do not think I am particularly imaginative, fusion of very unlike flavors is not my forte. While I'm creating in the kitchen, I turn the music up loud, sometimes dressing up for the occasion, look around my kitchen at the things I appreciate and begin. And I am not a great cook, I don't even cook often but when I do it's a creative process that sometimes turns out exactly how I imagined it and just as often flops.

We were talking, as Molly signed my book, about writing recipes, and I told her that I wanted to write my family's cookbook and had started by giving my children a booklet of recipes that I had written. I seemed to add my own commentary to the recipes. See the recipe I sent to my son for Valentine's Day last year, full of not just recipe, but me:

Sam's Valentine Cookies

1 stick butter (basic)

½ cup organic cane sugar (basic)

½ cup brown sugar (basic)

1 egg (basic)

a splash of vanilla (basic but oh so good)

1 ¼ cups flour (basic)

1 tsp of baking powder (basic)

1 cup rolled oats (for health)

½ cup coconut (for dreams)

gratings of fresh ginger (for love)

Mix the first three, then add egg, ginger and vanilla. The dry stuff gets thrown in and mixed with the less dry stuff. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.

Love you, Sam! Happy Valentines Day. They're in the oven right now. I will be mailing them today, expect them Saturday.

Tu mama

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hierba Santa

While I was in Oaxaca in 2005, I took a cooking class at the language school I attended, the Instituto Cultura Oaxaca. We used an herb that I knew nothing about before the class. The common names include hierba santa and hoja santa, the Latin name is Piper auritum. Hierba santa is an herbaceous plant, approximately 4 feet tall, with large (about 3 inch by 5 inch) heartshaped leaves. The plant pictured here was growing in the garden where we stayed but I saw it growing everywhere, a native plant or weed?

The leaves have a pleasant anise flavor. We used it in a black bean paste for memelitas, small handmade corn tortillas covered with the beans and freshly made salsa.

This is the recipe from Berta, mi maestra, for the black bean paste for the memelitas:

Preparacion de la pasta de frijol:
Se asan 5 hojas de hierba santa junto con 3 chiles

En una licuadora:
Se mezclan la hierba santa y los chiles con medio kilo de frijo, previamente cocido.
Se licua con el agua necesaria.
Se vierte en una cacerola puesta previament al fuego por 5 minutos con cucharadas soperas de aceite.

El frijol se frie por 20 minutos.

I have not yet been able to find a source of seed or plants of hierba santa but would like to find one and try growing it in my garden.

I think this blog is more food than books. I should rename it!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Someone gave me the Koreana magazine issue for Winter 2008 (Vol. 22, no. 4) which has articles on kimchi. The articles cover the history and geographic variations of this food closely associated with Korean cuisine and culture. The Korean regional types probably developed because of climatic differences and ingredient availability, and vary by degree of spice, salt, amount of liquid, and of course, by mix of major ingredients. The color photos of kimchi in the magazine are gorgeous and show the diversity of color and form. The information I missed from this issue were instructions and recipes for making it at home. It's a food I have tasted very tentatively years ago and would like to explore more extensively.

Kimchi is basically a fermented food, mostly cabbage and very spicy, with a number of additional ingredients. A lot of the types are all-vegetable but a number of them include fish. It is available in most grocery stores but I would like to investigate where there might be unusual types available locally, either in Asian groceries or from stores in the Seattle International District.

Because kimchi is made from a number of vegetables that grow very well in the Pacific Northwest it seems like an ideal food to look into for this region.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quinoa in the PNW?

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm interested in Western Hemisphere food plants. I've worked in horticulture for a significant part of my adult life before going back to school to become a librarian. My interest in food plants has never left me and I approach part of my garden space as a place to test new plant ideas out.

Last summer I planted 4 quinoa varieties in my garden, all from Seeds of Change. The varieties included Dave (Four-O-Seven), Brightest Brilliant, Temuco Traditional, and Faro Traditional. I planted twice, first planting at the end of May, the second 2 weeks later. Quinoa seeds are small and the packets had few seeds. I didn't count how many I planted each time to see what kind of germination I got but it seemed as though it was not very high. Although the second planting seemed to be more successful than the first. I wasn't sure how to plant them so they were planted shallowly in rows and thinned (where that was necessary) to about 2 inches apart, the rows about a foot apart in raised beds. I will try planting a little differently based on what I've learned. I have no data to report because it seems that quinoa is a favorite food of chickens, liked even more than amaranth or kale. They left stalks only in my garden by mid-summer. I plan to try growing quinoa again next summer and will attempt to contain the birds or protect the garden.

My friend, Deborah, works at the Oregon State University Vegetable Research Farm and we often talk about trying new crops. She also planted quinoa this past year at the farm and sent me an informal report of her observations:

"So here is what we know about quinoa from this summer. We grew 2 varieties: Cherry Vanilla from Nichols, and Brightest Brilliant from Seeds of Change, plus a relative, Red Aztec Spinach (Huanzontle) from Nichols (usually used as a vegetable--leaves are eaten--rather than a grain). They all grew very tall (6 ft or more) and all lodged to some extent, with lower branches breaking off from the weight of the seed. Brightest Brilliant was the worst for lodging--it was all on the ground after the first fall rain. We did get ripe seed, but it would have been hard to harvest good grain from the plants in the mud. We planted late (June 23), though, so I think if you planted in spring you might get a good crop before the fall rains. We did not harvest any... "

I'm rethinking the whole concept of trying to grow quinoa the way that a vegetable crop in the PNW might be grown. Our wet climate and high-nutrient soils may contribute to the lodging problem, and it is, perhaps, not a good idea to plant them in rows. I've looked at pictures of fields of quinoa and it looks like a wheat field (only much taller) and that the climate may be drier. The seed tops look heavy (high yield) and the plants may do better holding each other upright if planted closer, without wide rows between them. I may even try staking them just to see what I am able to harvest. I also think that finding varieties that mature before the rains start will be important for production of seed for eating or planting.

I plan to try again, hopefully this summer. I'll replant the same varieties as last year, will try to find some others, and will also be trying the Nichols' variety, Cherry Vanilla.

So why bother? I think about the types of food plants that we grow in our gardens and they tend to be low-protein and non-storage types. I think about local food security and it motivates me to try to grow plants that are higher in protein or more grain-like, with storage potential.

I did find a website, Quinoa Corporation, with pictures of quinoa growing in South America. They sell the grain and prepared foods made from it and have some recipes for using it. There are at least 2 recipes for 'tabouli' which is how I use quinoa, to make tabouli-like salads.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I have received an email announcing the Organic Seed Alliance's 2009 conference, Organicology, in Portland, February 26-28. Guest speakers include Vendana Shiva, Paul Roberts, and Claire Hope Cummings. Here's the url (sorry, haven't figured out how to make it a hotlink) :