• cooking

    Pickled Pink

    picklesA soft metallic pop fills the air of the kitchen every few minutes.  It is a gentle sound against the roar of the fan above the stove and it is calming.  It is the sound of a job accomplished.  It is also the sound of unnecessary work.

    We have reached high summer here in New York, which for us means that our farm share is now burying us in high summer produce.  Usually it is zucchinis, but there was a lot of rain in the beginning of the year, so we didn’t have our usual week of ten zucchinis to disperse with.  Instead, the cucumbers are making up for it.

    I realized, a few years into our farm share, that I was never going to be able to keep up with the amount of produce that we receive.  My household is filled with precisely one enthusiastic vegetable eater and there’s only so much salad I can eat in a month.  I bought a pressure cooker with the idea of turning some of the produce into something we could continue to eat during the winter.  There’s a whole world of canning out there that I began to discover.  I cannot yet say that I am a very confident canner, but each project teaches me a little bit more.

    For the Preserve The Cukes! project, I tried my hand at water bath canning.  They apparently sell separate water bath canners, but if you have a pressure cooker, you already have everything you need  The point of water bath canning is to boil your closed jars until the lid seals, which keeps air and germs and mold from getting in. (One wonders what a water bath canner is exactly, besides a large pot.)  Most of the vegetable kingdom can be canned this way, though not everything, but I hadn’t tried it before.  It was about a zillion times easier than pressure canning.

    Pickling was a simple process.  I ended up using a premade mix of pickling spice, and adding water and white vinegar as per the instructions.  This was because I sent my Beloved to the store with the canning supplies with a list and he called me in a mild outrage that I wanted to spend $15 on pickling supplies when the grocery store already sells perfectly good pickles.

    I pointed out that he frequently buys $10 steaks for his dinner.  We struck a compromise and he bought the $3 pickle spice mix and some vinegar.

    Now we have turned $5 and our farm share produce into $30 worth of pickles that we can eat all year round.  If I’d had more cucumbers, I could easily have made double the quantity, turning my $5 investment into $60 of pickles.

    What a deal.

    But he brings up a valid point if it were really about the money.  After all, the five grocery stores within a mile of my house all carry perfectly good pickles for a reasonable price.  We are not in danger of any pickle shortages. This is about learning how to get closer to my food and about not throwing out perfectly good produce just because I can’t eat it fast enough to keep it from rotting.  It’s about reconnecting with a historic task, because that gives my life some authenticity.  Sure, I can go to the store and buy a jar of pickles, but pickling has taught me how to preserve food.  I’m learning practical skills.

    And when the zombie apocalypse comes, you’ll be glad to know me.

    As a spinner and a knitter, I can’t help but reflect on these values and these choices.  On one hand, it often feels disrespectful to turn towards these hobbies when I live in a world in which it is so easy to go and buy a finished product that is close to what I am making.  (Mass-produced and hand-produced just have different qualities, but let’s ignore that for now.)  Not all of the world has that luxury.  And the fact that it is completely optional for me makes me think a lot about justifying it.  Is it selfish to spend so much of my time “playing” at skills that are absolutely vital for survival elsewhere?  Or does it honor the tradition?

    I am not sure.  But whenever I go to open my jars of weirdly shaped pickles, I know that I will have a pride that can only be earned through achievement.  I will think to myself, “I did this and it was worthwhile.”  And maybe that’s enough.

  • cooking,  family

    Happy St. Paddy’s

    Now that I’m married to an Irishman, people keep asking me what I’m doing for St. Patrick’s Day.  I admit that my plans are modest, since I tend to spend most of this part of the year hiding from all the Americans that take one look at my green winter coat and feel the need to explain their ancestry to me and inquire after mine.

    I am not Irish.  I have some Scots-Irish heritage, which is a bizarrely named ethnic group which managed very little Irish influx before emigrating to America, and quite a bit of Cornish, so I look like a Celt, despite my generations of German forebears and that splash of native ancestry that all good American mutts have.  So I get mistaken for Irish all the time, particularly with the mister with the brogue on my arm.  So sometime around the 14th of March each year, I concede defeat and change my favorite coat out for a different one that is not green.

    Clearly I need to move to the tropics, where I don’t need a coat at all and can neatly side-step this problem.

    All the same, I felt a need to properly take care of my Irishman on International Irish Day, so last night I made my first attempt at soda bread.  The soda bread we buy here is quite different than the soda bread my mother-in-law makes, so The Man has been asking me to learn how to make it for years.  Given the high risk of failing expectations, I keep insisting that he’s of a better ethnic heritage to attempt such a thing, but today I gave in.  The important distinction is that it is pan-fried in a cast iron griddle, not baked.  I followed this recipe to make the farls and let them sit overnight.  This morning I fried them up and ended up with one very happy husband.  It’s a quick recipe, if you’ve got buttermilk to hand.

  • cooking

    Stocking Up

    Two months ago, during our last snow storm, I went out and bought a pressure cooker so that I could start making and storing my own stock. As a bit of a health nut, commercial stock drives me nuts because it’s so salty that after I eat anything with it, I’m immediately tempted to go and drink a gallon of water. So being able to make my own is cool, but it’s far too much effort to make some every time I want to use some.

    Yesterday it snowed again, so apparently it was time to make stock:

    My Beloved moved in with two very, very large pots that are perfect for this. They are so large that they do not actually fit into any of our cabinets.

    Recipe (Golden Veggie Stock):

    – Take lots of old veg (onions, mushrooms, carrots, parsnips and the like) and a sweet potato or two. Boil with some nice spices, like oregano and rosemary. (Think Italian). I like to make sure I have an actual fennel in there, as it’s a nice strong flavor. After the veggies have boiled the flavor out of them (about an hour), strain out the veggie parts.
    – This leaves a very pale golden stock, but it’ll darken during the canning process.
    – Can according to the pressure cooker’s instructions. In my case, this means 11 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for the big jars and 25 minutes for the small. (I obviously need to invest in more big jars. Who ever needs a quart of stock?)

    The last time I did this, I did about half the amount, with twice the amount of veg. From initial taste tests, I completely overdid it last time – and then I ran out of stock within a month because I actually had good stock to use, so I used it in everything.

    The whole canning process does take a while, since I can only do so many jars at a time, but it makes you feel so incredibly cool and independent. Take that, commercial food corporations.

  • cooking,  knitting,  new york,  politics


    It’s September 11th, ten years after the event. There’s so much that’s been written about this that I couldn’t dare, even if I wanted to. But I find that I don’t want to – that day was horrible enough to live through the first time. Perhaps it’s cowardly of me, but I can’t stand to watch any of the coverage. I hate being reminded that we live in a world where people exist that spend all their productivity on hurting other people. The September 11th attacks are a demonstration of the worst part of humanity. I don’t want to give people like that any more attention than they already get. And I don’t just mean Al-Qaeda – every country and every group has its murderers in the population. We must understand ourselves and each other as humans first. We are all responsible for and to each other.

    I’m a Washingtonian and a New Yorker. My two homes were attacked. But I want to live a life filled with gratitude and light. It is so easy to drown in the badness in the world. Spending a day reliving the emotions of that day, as I tried to track down the safety of people in both of my cities, is just too much.

    I spent this morning watching kids play soccer at the community center. Kids who don’t remember the attacks, or a world unchanged by them, but are out and joyful and worried about nothing more than keeping the ball out of the goal. I was surrounded by family, knitting in my hands. I was filled with gratitude. The day was crisp and beautiful, like it was ten years ago. We talked about it. Looking back, we all seemed so young. It’s one of those pivotal moments in a culture that people just don’t forget. Major hurricanes, volcanoes, terrorist attacks. You remember where you were.

    We were so young ten years ago. And yet, time has gone on. I decided to celebrate life.

    I ran some errands. One of them was to fix my car, which someone tried to break into during the hurricane. They fortunately did this rather ineptly, so I have a car to fix, but they did knock out my turning indicator, which means I can’t drive it. But this is a minor problem, compared to the “evacuate because a hurricane is coming” problem of two weeks ago. It’s hard to be too upset, although it was done while we were evacuated, which means it was probably someone I see every day. But it’s just stuff. The car is just a thing.

    We ran to get groceries and then I spent the afternoon doing the cooking for the week. (And pie!) While I was chopping vegetables, listening to Norah Jones on Pandora and filled with peace, I looked out the back door into the yard. There, my fourteen year old cat and my thirteen year old cat were pouncing on dried leaves like they were newborn kittens. Even today, when we’re all thinking of death and murder, life goes on, unstoppable and, in some places still, innocent.

    In the darkness, light.

  • cooking,  family,  film

    Waiting for the rain

    We are due, within minutes, another epic flash-flood rainstorm here on Long Island, which will be the second in as many weeks. Last week’s rainstorm rained ten inches in one day, which is an awful lot of rain, but particularly when you live four feet above sea level, as it has absolutely nowhere to go. Also much of what is dropping down on your head just came from the ocean. Some of it straight into my dining room, which was unfortunate.

    But fortunately I live with someone who knows what to do about that. In fact, at this point, *I* know what to do about it. The house has been filled with drips and leaks that we’ve been slowly plugging up as we go, which is probably what I get for buying a 90 year old house.

    So I’ve taken measures to keep the rain on the outside of the house and we’ll see how it goes.

    It’s otherwise been a very quiet weekend, which was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve watched three entire movies while not actually doing something with my hands, which is a serious indication of how exhausted I’ve been lately. We went on Friday and saw One Day (likable, not challenging, lame ending). Then, as our hippy rightfully is fed up with movies that always have to end with a romantic ending, he picked out a couple to watch that were not uplifting, but were very, very good. We started with Boys Don’t Cry, which….just has to be seen, but not with children. Then we followed up with Skin, which at least ended with some happy music. Also very good. Go see it. In fact, skip right past basically anything in the movie theaters to see it.

    I mean, it was One Day or Conan the Barbarian.

    I did pick up the kid from the airport today, so my little family is almost nearly reunited. Himself is still in Ireland for another week, but the house is slowly filling up. On Tuesday, I’ll be picking up a cousin from the airport (I really should have priority parking at JFK by now, as this will be my fifth visit in a month), which I’m really looking forward to. This is the last visit for the summer, which must mean that things are winding down. The season change is upon us, so I grabbed up all the tomatoes I could handle and made sauce to freeze. That’s what August is, isn’t it? Frozen tomato sauce?

    The rain has finally hit us, which is a great relief for the humidity and my sinuses, which have been awaiting this storm via giant headache. It is now the absolute best kind of summer day, as I never feel as fantastic as I do the day *after* a killer sinus headache. Nothing but blue skies tomorrow.

  • cocktails,  house,  music

    Brooklyn Community Orchestra….and Paint

    We went last night to see a concert put on by a local community orchestra, which was held in a giant Episcopalian church, complete with flying buttresses and peeling paint. We haven’t gone out much lately, so it was nice to be out on the town (that’s twice this week for me – write it down!).

    The concert was absolutely beautiful – definitely a professional level, which we weren’t expecting when we heard the word community. Apparently standards are high for violinists in Brooklyn. One of my coworkers was in it and he performed beautifully, so that was added fun. Also, there was banana bread.

    I’m afraid that was the highlight of the weekend, as the rest was spent painting (and procrastinating painting) the basement. My only job in finishing off the basement has been occasional labor in helping with sheet rock and painting, so I was in high demand this weekend to bring in my skills. I admit that there is some skill there, as I no longer bother with painter’s tape at all, having found that I draw a better line by hand. This is accomplished by having done far, far too much painting.

    I haven’t had a cocktail update in a while now because in all the fuss with using power tools in the basement, we’ve been forgetting to drink, which is probably a good thing, as I hear power tools and alcohol don’t go so well together. But now, looking at the gleaming white walls and ceiling of the basement, I feel a sense of accomplishment and celebration coming on, which means we’ll probably have these lovely coffees that my fiancé makes.

    Fiancé being annoyed at me and demonstrating the height of our (beautifully painted) basement ceiling:

    Sorry folks, he’s taken. Irate looks and all.

    Macker Coffee

    Fra Angelica
    heavy cream

    Make coffee, add liberal shot of Fra Angelica (hazelnut liqueur), cover in slightly whipped cream. Hand out to others, become instantly beloved.

    Now I think I’m going to investigate my household’s potential supplies for removing ceiling paint from fingernails. I’d wear it with pride, but primer is so not my color.

  • cocktails,  cooking

    Liqueurs: A History

    In the great strawberry liqueur adventure, I realized that I had no idea what actually comprised a liqueur, even though they’re something I’ve enjoyed for years. Being a food nerd, naturally this Will Not Do.

    I find alcohol fascinating. Perhaps this is natural, given that I’m the daughter of a (recovered) alcoholic. I can’t remember a time in my life where it didn’t have a special significance. But family history aside, it’s tied in so closely with so much human history; our rituals, our societal progression and regression, our bonding, our celebrations, our mourning. Entire countries have prohibited it, religions have alternately celebrated and shunned it and it’s even provided a significant nutritional benefit when food has been scarce.

    In other words, it’s a whammy, which we sometimes deal with better than other times.

    Back to liqueurs. A little research. Liqueurs, like soda, began as a medicinal. We can blame the monks, who were trying to make better medicines. A liqueur begins life as an infusion of alcohol and some flavor producing item; sometimes bark, sometimes fruit, sometimes flowers or nuts. Let’s look at the life of my forty-dollar bottle of strawberry liqueur. Somewhere, in Italy, someone picked a whole bunch of strawberries, then added some alcohol and sugar. Then it was reduced. And reduced. And reduced. Eventually, it got down to a point where it could fit in a bottle and was worth shipping across half the world, because someone desperate for strawberry flavor in her cocktail was going to buy it.

    The first known liqueurs were being produced in the thirteenth century, strictly as medicinals, but like soda, a good thing caught on and now we drink far too much of it. Says you. I drink precisely enough.

    Liqueurs are not liquor, even when they’re flavored. They are, however, cordials, which finally answers my confusion that I’ve been carrying around for years about Anne of Green Gables and her escapade with the elderberry cordial. At last, I understand what all the fuss was about (if not what an elderberry is, other than a reference from Monty Python)…and wonder where to get mine. They’re the food dye in the easter egg – they give the flavor that straight liquor often lacks.

  • cocktails


    Yes, it’s Monday, but it’s a holiday, so it’s *like* a Sunday.  You see.  It’s also snowing, which made me want to make a tropical drink.  My favorite liquor is, by far, Appleton rum.  Aside from the fact that it’s irreversably twined up with the Caribbean and good times in my mind, which means summer, which means happiness, it’s sweet and nommy.

    We had some cranberry juice in the house, so I went for a Loco, which is not really all that crazy, despite the name.  You take a highball and fill it with ice and line up all the ingredients for their class picture:

    And then you drink that pretty baby down:

    Well, it might be cold and snowy outside, but it’s a tropical storm in my tummy. Nom nom. The prevalent tastes are the cranberry juice and the peach schnapps, which mingle for a very sweet and sour sort of taste. Bring on the summer; I’m ready.

  • cocktails

    Meet Kir

    This week, I made two drinks; one a giant punch that I took absolutely no photos of before the hordes that it was made for destroyed it and the other being a drink called a Kir. The punch is called Strawberry Cup and is made with fresh strawberries marinated in a strawberry liqueur. After about half an hour, you add two bottles of dry white wine and two bottles of sparkling wine, like champagne. Mostly it tasted like champagne, which I’m not a huge fan of, but as the punch lasted about twenty minutes, it clearly was a hit. I would have liked more strawberry flavor, particularly since the strawberry liquor is one of the more expensive liquors I’ve added to the collection ($40 for a 750 ml bottle). We still have most of the bottle left, so just an initial investment.

    Kirs, on the other hand, came to mind because I had a third of a bottle of white wine in the fridge that will spoil soon if I don’t drink it. So here’s a drink after my own heart – a leftover. Kirs are named after a man named Canon Felix Kir, who was the mayor of Dijon, France in the 1850s. He served a drink made of crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur) and dry white wine in order to promote the wine, which was called Bourgogne Aligoté and from the region. Of course, following recipes is boring and I didn’t have any crème de cassis, so I made it with Chambord instead, a raspberry liquor in the same spirit.

    Soon, I had friends.

    The drink is, after all, quite light and easy to make. It’s fruit flavored wine – as a dedicated merlot drinker, it’s hard to go wrong. My friends thought so too.

  • cocktails,  house

    Warning: Blueberries Improperly Muddled

    It’s Cocktail Sunday (others may be watching some game in which a bunch of padded dudes run around outside in February, which is an insanity that *should* be watched by millions, because that’s crazy town). Today we did Blueberry Martinis. I’m not much a fan of martinis because they’re too much alcohol in far too little liquid, so they always taste like barely disguised burning. It’s also difficult to nurse them all night (or more than about 90 seconds, from the way my fiancé drank his tonight).

    But…we had blueberries and brand spankin’ new martini glasses. And they are pretty.

    The ingredients are very simple; blue caraçao, vodka, lemon juice and the ingredient of honor, the blueberry. I’m not sure I knew what the inside of a blueberry looked like before this. (But thanks to my CSA, my first thought was…”that looks like the inside of a gooseberry!”)

    The first step is to take the blueberries, cut them in half, then put them in your shaker and “muddle” them. Of course, I don’t have a muddler, although it’s now high on my shopping list, as it’s instrumental for mojitos and I do love me a mojito. So I used a fork and did my best, but I must warn you that the next picture displays Blueberries Improperly Muddled:

    Shield the eyes of your children. And, well, perhaps any friends that you may have that are also bartenders. I promise I’ll learn to do it properly soon.

    At the end, you get a drink that’s more lemony than anything (though perhaps this is due to Improper Muddling), but is very pretty and very alcoholic. Those Poles do know their vodka.

    While I might be an improper muddler, I did learn how to remove and install a new bathroom faucet this weekend, which was extremely exciting. So while many of you will be watching the foot ball (go Packers!…yes, that’s for you, my Wisconsin family), I will be delighting in turning on and off the faucet and stopping the sink, because I made that go and it feels damn good to be handy. Look at that beauty!

    We’re having an impromptu dinner tonight for some local friends, so I must now go invent something…and perhaps make a few Tom Collins’s and Blueberry Martinis….