Archive for the ‘eating & drinking’ Category

mystery jelly…and other treats

Friday, September 21st, 2012

clear, pink jelly

Can you guess the source material for this delicate, clear pink jelly? All will be revealed at the end of this post, but I’ll talk about some other things first, so you can have a chance to ponder. Here’s a hint: nature offers up bounteous supplies of it in late summer, with no help from humans.

harvest time

Finally, the tomatoes are beginning to produce. The new pressure canner got a real workout yesterday: plum jam, pear/apricot conserve, dilled beans and tomato sauce are beginning to pile up in the pantry.

‘Great White’ tomatoes

R always has to try at least one new variety of tomato to go along with the ‘Pineapple’ and the ‘Black Prince’. This year it’s ‘Great White’, which ripens to a mellow yellow and is meaty and delicious. Each mature fruit fills up one’s whole hand.

beans & basil

Note to self: plant more beans! I grew up not liking green beans, because my mom’s cooking method involved large pods spending a long time on the stove with the addition of pork belly. The first time I experienced tiny, tender beans barely blanched and tossed with fresh basil, it was a revelation. One tepee of pole beans is hardly enough to sate my newfound passion.

dilled green beans

Not all recipes handed down from the ‘Betty Crocker School of Homemaking’ have the same connotations. Case in point: a layered salad made up of a layer of drained, pickled beets, a layer of drained pickled green beans, a layer of Best Foods mayonnaise, a layer of chopped green onions and a topping of crumbled hard-cooked eggs. In a glass bowl, it looks quite festive. For several years, It was impossible to find dilled green beans commercially, so last year I decided to make my own. When family members spotted it on the holiday table, a cry of “The Salad!” let me know that I was not the only one who had been missing it. I used some of the leftover brine from earlier pickle making and got the extra beans from the Farmers’ Market.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Time to fess up and reveal the source of the pretty jelly…Queen Anne’s Lace! The recipe showed up in The Oregonian a couple of years ago, and it seemed so strange that I simply had to try it. Start by picking a huge bouquet and settling down at an outdoor table where you can shake each stem vigorously to dislodge the little green spiders living in there. Snip the blossoms close to their stems until you have 2 firmly packed cups. Put them in a bowl and cover with 5 C boiling water. Cover and steep for 15 min. How anyone came up with this recipe is beyond me, because at this point what you will have is a smelly, murky green brew. Strain off the liquid. In a large pot, combine 4 1/2 C of the liquid. Mix 1/4C sugar with 1 pkg SureJell “no sugar needed” and stir in. Bring to a full roiling boil, stir in 3C sugar and boil for another minute. The mixture will magically turn that lovely color. The flavor is as mysterious and delicate as you can imagine…great on homemade bisquits.

outdoor dining: catch it while you can

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Meriwether sign

I was meeting a friend for lunch. Our first choice was Tara Thai, where a magnificent heritage tree shades the large deck. As it turned out, they were closed Mondays. No problem…nearby is Meriwether’s, where you can tell from the outside somebody in charge cares about plants.

back gate

sidewalk borders

outdoor urns

tree sheltering deck

While no where near as dramatic as the heritage tree, there is no lack of leafy shelter for the large outdoor dining deck.

front entry

So in we went, asking for an outdoor table.

busy outdoor space

This is a popular fair weather destination, so I was glad we had planned on an early lunch. Best to get reservations if you plan to eat here.

upper level

There are varying levels of exposure to the sun, and the whole space is enclosed and shielded from the street.

inside urn

With plantings all around the perimeter and special touches like a pair of these giant urns flanking the entry and a gurgling fountain centrally located, it feels like a garden party (with a sound level to match, making quiet conversation a challenge). Meriwether’s maintains its own farm, so the salad greens are a wonder of crisp freshness (a little underdressed for my taste). This was a favorite haunt back when it was L’Auberge and then The Woodstove. This latest incarnation is less a culinary experience and more a place to revel in one of Portland’s rare perfect days.

The St Johns McMineman’s dome

Each McMenamins Theater Pub has its own character, while the signature funky/artsy approach is a constant. Their domed building in St Johns was moved here after doing duty at a Worlds’ Fair. The inside of that dome is paneled in wood and is where movies are shown.

unusual oak tree

The grounds are not as meticulously kept as at, say, the Kennedy School property, but this unusual oak lording it over the parking lot lets us know there is a plantsman afoot.

yucca

grasses

xeric plants

fire pit

The vibe here is casual/friendly. You can see that it makes Richard happy. The pub-grub is unremarkable and the spinach salad was swimming in dressing…best to ask for it on the side (am I hard to please, or what?)

mature specimens

Mature trees and shrubs create a nice sense of enclosure.

lots of texture

A variety of textures keeps it interesting.

unknown specimen

A few outstanding specimens were unknown to me. I loved this one.

tamarack(?)

I think that is a tamarack tree in the center of the above shot: something we don’t see every day. All of the foliage keeps this space cool and pleasant. No AC in the theater, but by nightfall it was time to take what was left of our beers inside to watch Snow White and the Huntsman (pure escapism).

Portlanders flock to outdoor tables the minute the sun comes out. I don’t really see the attraction of sitting on the sidewalk with cars rushing by. We needn’t settle for that with these two oases (and many others) offering leafy alternatives. Of course, a streetside seat on any corner of 23rd Avenue is prime real estate for people watching.

buried in cucumbers

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

a day’s cucumber harvest

I’ve been in computer hell all day, trying to set things right after a hack attack. Grrr. A quick post linked to Wendy’s Garden to Table Challenge should calm me down. See that pile of cucumbers? That’s one day’s harvest from the four little plants I raised from seed. Last year during canning season I steamed up the whole house day after day. My mission this year was to find a better way. On line I learned that a pressure “cooker” would not suffice. A pressure “canner” is now the only approved method to arrive at a pantry full of safe food. Well, that’s just silly: homemakers have been putting up goodies since time immemorial using a hot water bath, as have I. Still, since mold can be a problem around here, I went on a quest for a pressure canner. They ranged in price from $160 to $250. Back to my old steamy system…but then…TADA!
pressure canner from Fred Meyer

THIS beckoned to me from the shelves of trusty old Fred Meyer, Scappoose, where the homelier arts prevail. 100 bucks was beginning to look downright cheap, and after applying a couple of coupons to an already reduced price (don’t they know that canning season is in full swing?) I could justify going for it. Much as I hate an accumulation of different tools for every conceivable purpose, I must admit that this one nearly earned its keep with just one batch of pickles. My other system: a stock pot with a cake rack on the bottom, would only hold three pints at a time. This thing takes on seven. See what four little cucumber plants can drive you to?

season of plenty

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

garden and market

I hadn’t been able to find my favorite basil, African Blue, at any of the farmers’ markets, but a quick trip to Garden Fever solved that. I picked up the two plants on the left, plus the French tarragon next to them, plus a few other things ( you know how that goes). The other three pots, on the right, are pepper plants that were 99 cents each at the Linnton Feed & Seed. Sooo…lots of future goodness there. The sugar snap peas are the only thing direct from my garden, the first of a couple of weeks of daily harvest. They will go in stir fries, be dipped in various concoctions, added to salads and chomped on straight from the vine. Everything else is from the market, and it’s the fava beans I want to talk about. They take some preparation, but shelling beans during the cocktail hour is a pleasant task to share. Then they go into boiling water for about 3 minutes, a cold water bath, and then there’s still another step. Slit the outer jacket with a fingernail and pop out the tender bean inside. Thinly slice some shallot and brown it in oil, then prepare Israeli couscous (I use Bob’s Red Mill) according to the directions on the package. Meanwhile, make long, thin strips of lemon zest and juice the lemon. At the end, throw in the beans, the shallots and lemon juice to taste, salt & pepper & garnish with the zest and some fresh mint. I know so many people that are trending vegetarian lately that I was happy to find this meatless main dish.

deer-ravaged strawberry patch

We had a handful of strawberries from our own patch, and they were better even than the local berries direct from the farmers market. The next morning I went out thinking that a few more would have ripened. The deer had beat me to it. I guess unless we dedicate a covered bed to strawberries, we will have to be satisfied with the next best thing.

Visit Wendy for more food talk, and join in if you like. It’s a great place to find inspiration.

garlic scapes

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

garlic scapes

The flower buds of the garlic plant can be treated much like asparagus: steamed, roasted, fried. I like to split it into quarters, tip to stem end, then finely chop. It can then be added to all sorts of things. The taste of garlic is there, but somehow fresher, greener, more spring-like. The first thing I did was add it to a browned butter sauce for filet of sole with some lemon zest and juice.

pasta salad with garlic scapes

But this was the dish that got rave reviews. I had some spaghetti left over from the night before (open a jar of tomato sauce from last year’s crop, boil some pasta and Voila! Dinner!). Some dark sesame oil, a few red chili flakes, soy sauce, rice vinegar, the garlic scapes, fresh peas in their pods (cut on the diagonal) and some red bell pepper. A sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

One of the things I love about Wendy’s Garden to Table Challenge is the way it challenges us to be more attentive to the little inventions in the kitchen when using fresh ingredients from the garden (or market). Then, of course, we can visit others who have taken up her challenge and find inventions we never would have thought up on our own.

the accidental forager

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Claytonia

I once went to quite a bit of trouble to track down Claytonia seeds to plant in the garden. I finally found them from Nichols Garden Nursery, based in Salem, Oregon. They have just about anything you could want in the way of seeds. They grew quite satisfactorily, but the life cycle was very short, and in the end, I concluded, not really worth the effort involved. How much more fun, anyhow, to find it growing in the wild.

Miner’s lettuce

Also known as miner’s lettuce, it is…well…”cute” is the only word for it. Each longish stem supports a couple of levels of round, slightly cupped leaves with a topknot of little white flowers. I found it growing in profusion along the verge of the road I walk nearly every day. The few handfuls brought home had begun to go to seed, but that just added a tiny bit of crunch to what is otherwise a tender, delicate salad. I threw everything into a strainer to rinse, then tore the whole plant: stems, leaves flowers and seeds into bite-sized pieces (I hate that chi chi custom of leaving salad makings whole so that they whip you in the nose and drizzle dressing down your chin). This salad was all about freshness and delicacy, so I just used a light dressing of oil and champagne vinegar. It would be easy to overpower these greens. Over at Greenish Thumb, Wendy has a recipe for the perfect drink to accompany this salad…or most anything, come to think of it. Hint: it involves gin.

arugula

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Eruca sativa

It goes by many names: Arugula, Rocket Salad, Roquette, Eruca sativa, but whatever you want to call it, it perks up salads no end and can even be strewn atop a pizza. We had devoted our half-barrels to chard and kale with great success, but the last couple of years velvety green worms got to them before we could. I thought maybe arugula would be too spicy for them, and I guess I was right. Nothing has interfered with this crop and now it is time to begin harvesting. My latest favorite dressing for these greens and a cubed avocado goes something like this: 6T mayo (Best Foods is best), 3 T rice vinegar, 2T orange juice, crushed garlic to taste. It can be a meal with some freshly toasted cashews strewn on top and some biscuits or cornbread on the side.

Don’t miss Wendy’s recipes that appear each Monday. I have found all sorts of imaginative ways to use the garden’s bounty by following her and the links I find there. Happy Grazing!

Urtica dioica • painfully delicious

Monday, April 30th, 2012

stinging nettle

Restaurants feature them (part of the “eat local”, better yet “eat wild” movement), nutritionists tout them (a true super-food), our back woods is full of them. Yes, I speak of stinging nettles: the darlings of the spring culinary elite.

the nettle harvest

Ever one to dabble in the latest food craze (and never opposed to free food) I covered up, grabbed a basket and shears and headed into the woods. The abundance of plants in peak condition led me to cram my market basket with the pernicious delicacy.

fiddleheads unfurling

While still in the woods, I spotted fiddleheads emerging from the many sword ferns and made a mental note to return for the makings of another esoteric kitchen experiment. Sadly, when I went back a couple of days later, the deer had nipped off each and every one.

leeks

On the way back to the house, I stopped by the vegetable plot, where a row of leeks was in need of thinning. I figured these would be good companions for the nettles.

Tongs had been recommended for handling, but I knew that, in addition to the tongs, this would be a hands-on experience. I broke out the surgical gloves. The stems and undersides of the leaves are covered with spiny hairs that release a devilish mix of histamine, serotonin and formic acid. By plunging the stems into boiling water for about a minute, that toxic brew is deactivated without undermining the health benefits of intense concentrations of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But how do they taste? Something like spinach with a little more of a mineral tang. The real difference is in the texture. There is an almost dangerous roughness on the tongue (I will admit: that may have something to do with the power of suggestion).

I had expected the raw material to cook down much more than it did. I wound up with plenty for experimentation. Dish 1: sauteed leeks and nettles layered with non-cook lasagna, bechamel sauce and three cheeses; grade ****. Dish 2: another lasagna using tomato sauce instead of the bechamel and adding sunflower seeds; grade **. Dish 3: simple scrambled eggs with the nettles stirred in and a light sprinkle of finishing salt; grade ****. My conclusion was that the simpler the dish, the more the subtle flavor of the nettles came through. And heavier gloves are needed for handling. I swished them around in cold water before using tongs to transfer them to the boiling water bath and could feel them stinging right through the surgical gloves. Not unbearable (anyone who cooks and/or gardens is used to minor injuries) but my fingers were still numb and tingly the next day.

Wendy, at Greenish Thumb has challenged us to cook up our gardens’ bounty and share. Go there to find good goodies.

jam today • a book review

Monday, November 21st, 2011

jam today

“…melt some butter in a skillet and cook the carrots, with a little salt, until they’re not raw anymore…” That’s about as exact as things get in Jam Today, a Diary of Cooking With What You’ve Got. Author Tod Davies invites us into her world. It’s a cozy world in the mountains of Oregon, where she writes…and, as chronicled here, cooks: for friends, for her dogs, and most especially for her “Beloved Vegetarian Husband.” This she does without a hint of rancor (she is an omnivore) and without depriving herself of any of the joys of the table.

One is apt to come away thinking that cooking delicious meals is more attitude than recipe and that it extends into every crevice of one’s life and world view. I was especially taken with a section involving the purchase of one marble-sized Oregon truffle: the care and attention lavished upon its ripening; the sensitivity to its developing attributes; and finally, the three meals evolving from this one small nugget of flavor. Yes, she admits to one misstep by adding too much parsley to a pasta dish and overpowering the shaved quarter-truffle’s subtlety (I was reassured to find her judgment fallible).

Davies clearly loves everything about food and has absorbed quantities of cookbooks and recipes to arrive at the easy-going, seat-of-the-pants approach you will find in these pages. My great-grandmother was a sublime cook. Her “oh, a handful of flour and a pinch of salt” responses to those seeking to emulate her results were highly frustrating. Ms Davies is more forthcoming than that, but even if you fail to be converted to her way of doing things, I think you will enjoy her company.

The book is available on Amazon, and if you would like to sample some of her food and food writing, you can do so on her blog.

Bon Apetit!

foliage follow-up…and a confession

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

foggy scene

The season may be winding down, but that last act is a doozy. My crape myrtle has never bloomed, but who cares. The foggy mornings set it off to nice effect, don’t you think?

spider web

The spiders are in cahoots, spinning webs that catch the raindrops to bespangle the spaces between shrubs. A faceful of silken strands awaits the incautious rambler.

Euphorbia wulfenii

Sporting raindrops as jewelry is a specialty of Euphorbia wulfenii. Mine looked so ratty last spring than I was tempted to dig them out. Fortunately, I took the lazy way and cut them back hard. They rebounded marvelously.

Macleaya cordata plumes

Spent plumes of Macleaya cordata do a good job with the raindrop thing too…one way I rationalize postponing garden cleanup until spring.

tree peony and dogwood

Many of the showy trees and shrubs have flamed out already, but various Cornus species, like the one on the right are still working up to it, as is the tree peony in the center distance.

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’

Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is at its very best when the twisted, thorny branches are completely bare, but this stage, with the luminous, inedible fruit, is not bad either.

Ficus carica ‘Negronne’

I look forward to one day enjoying an abundance of figs. That little one you see clinging to the branch is one of only three, and it is far from maturing before frost. Last year we had one…my half was delicious. To compensate, the design of the leaves is exquisite, and they turn this buttery yellow before they fall.

Lysimachia clethroides

This one is a mystery. In that whole patch of green gooseneck loosestrife only the one stem turned orange and scarlet. What’s up with that?

Heuchera ‘Sashay’

Heuachera ‘Sashay’ maintains its perky personality through it all. I love the way the pink undersides of the leaves peek out around the frilly edges.

unmown grass

And finally, this patch of grass out back has escaped mowing because it has been too wet. It is ankle deep and swirls in undulating patterns. I do love the rain. If, like me, you just can’t get enough of fall foliage, let Pam show you hers and guide you to more.

I said I had a confession to make, and I do. Everyone was so complimentary about my mushroom bravery, and supportive, too. Well, I had no ill effects from the bits I did eat, but R nixed the meal. Lest you think he was being overbearing, let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, he discovered a swath of mushrooms in a part of our yard. There followed a quest that included poring through the illustrated mushroom guide (inconclusive)
and visiting several farmers’ markets. The mushroom stand guy called his dad (the expert) and described these fungi in detail. The verdict: Black Trumpet, one of the most delectable varieties. When we checked this info aqainst photos, these were definitely not the same. At another farmers’ market, a Croation woman said that she knew mushrooms, and these were definitely edible, though she could not name them. We had a small amount as a side dish. They were good, but not exceptional…certainly nothing to risk one’s health for the privilege of eating.
R is nothing if not persistent, so back he went to the People’s market in SE Portland, where the mushroom vendor seemed to know his stuff. He had a story about a guy who had liked this particular mushroom so much that he ate quantities of it (our field was awash in them). His outcome was not digestive problems, or death, but liver failure. Sooo…much as I longed to cook up my cache, and much as I doubted that anything so subtly delectable could harbor a dark side, I yielded to the more prudent approach. Just this morning I was doing a little more research and discovered that last Sunday there was a free event to hike the trails at Tryon Creek State Park to search for mushrooms, with an expert on hand for identification. I will be on the lookout for more such events. Here is a web site with some good information…and hey, guys, I’m sorry to disappoint you with my less swashbuckling ways…but, well, I’m sure you understand.