Saturday, July 24, 2010

this is where we live

it's pretty hard to beat the transitory, brief beauty that is summer in the northwest

are you tired of seeing these fruit desserts yet?

I had a conversation with my mother about fruit desserts the other day; she thinks that part of the reason I'd rather have a fruit dessert than anything else (really!) is because they're her favorites, too - and consequently, account for the vast majority of desserts we were served growing up (excepting the ubiquitous ice cream, of course!).

Cass had the idea to make plum dumplings; imagine my surprise when, after suggesting for months that I make them, I came to him for a recipe and he said he'd never had them before! What was the root of all that insistence, I wonder? Well, wherever that inspiration came from, it was genius. These things are so VERY good that I know I'll be making tons of them from now on - and as far as desserts go, they're really not terrible for you. And they make a perfect breakfast - that is, if you can manage to keep from eating them all in one go!

I used a Polish recipe I found, that didn't make a potato dough. It speeds the process considerably. Also, I used perfectly ripe red plums (my favorite!) cut into quarters rather than the traditional little Italian prune-plums, which I'm less excited to eat - and it worked just fine.

Plum Dumplings:

4 ripe red plums, pitted and cut into quarters, or 16 small black prune-plums, pitted

2 c. flour
2 egg yolks
1 Tbl. salted butter, melted
1 c. lukewarm milk (I used non-fat) thanks Cheryl!

Place flour in a bowl. In a separate cup or bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Pour wet into dry and stir into a sticky dough. Set aside, let rise 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn dough out on a floured board and knead just to make a smooth, elastic noodle dough. Roll out dough into a rectangle (at least 9 X12). Cut dough into quarters.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time, cut that quarter of the dough into quarters again (or sixteenths of the original dough). Roll each out until you have a square or rectangle to wrap around your plum.

To wrap my plum quarters, I placed a plum, skin-side down, on the diagonal of a square of dough in my palm (this way, the thinnest part of the dough would be exposed to the least amount of plum juice, thus helping to prevent the noodle dough from tearing). I would wrap first one corner and then another across the middle of the cut side of the plum wedge, lightly wetting the edges where I needed to seal dough onto dough. Then I would wrap the other corners over the points of the plum wedge. I'd then squeeze and press the dough-wrapped plum a bit, just to make sure all of the edges were sealed, and placed it on a baking sheet.

Repeat process, cutting, rolling and wrapping, for all 16 plum quarters.

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Slip your dumplings into the pan; you'll want to do this in 2-3 batches so that the dumplings don't get stuck together. Boil dumplings for 10 minutes, then drain and, if not serving immediately, toss with a little bit of oil (olive oil, melted butter, etc.) to keep dumplings from becoming one gluey mass.

To serve, top with little bit of melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.


party preparation begins

we leave Thursday for Stockholm; last night I made filling for phyllo puffs. Tomorrow I want to assemble, taste-test, and (if successful), freeze them for the party. I am making and freezing lemon-lavender sugar cookie logs today and hopefully also parbaking and freezing a tart shell for a lemon-curd tart.

Our dinner is united by a lemon-and-lavender flavour theme (I was also originally going to decorate the table with potted lavender plants, before my MIL offered her summer dahlia garden for the tables), and so I made some fresh bunting to hang from the trees from vintage sari cloth my aunt Diane gave to me. This is stunningly beautiful cloth worked in lavendar and gold, but I could never decide what to do with it because I knew that once I cut it, it would start to fray. So, in order to reinforce these, I fused the back of three yards of the sari cloth with lightweight fusible interfacing. There are still some threads that are fraying, but most of them have been captured and I think these will hold up considerably better for having a fused backing. I was only able to make three 12' strings of these, but as the colour palette is so similar, I think we will just have to mix these with our Swedish Midsommar buntings (in blue and yellow).

Monday, July 19, 2010

more forest goodness

wow. Summer is on (finally) around here. We went foraging for berries in the mountains on Sunday with Cass' parents, an aunt and uncle, and a friend of ours. We were out on the trail about 4 hours, all seven of us hunting and picking (this family can forage!). We picked wild mountain blackberries (tiny and far more floral than the ones that grow by the highways); red huckleberries, salmonberries, and thimbleberries (my personal favorite).

What to do with all of them?

I made one small pie just of wild mountain blackberries. They are Cass' favorite and he just LOVES wild mountain blackberry pie. I couldn't not do it.
The rest (mostly red huckleberries because I'd rather stay safely in the forest than scramble down hillsides for the tiny blackberries) I put in a pot...

and yes, made another dozen small jars of jam. Won't this be nice, at yuletide? Tangy delicious, truly wild berry jam for the holidays. Presents from the summer forest.

I swear, I do other things than make jam and fruit desserts all summer! Hopefully I'll have another sewing project to show you soon!

another sweet summer idea

from a few weeks ago: instead of making my usual strawberry & lemon curd tart, I made a strawberry & rhubarb tart. I sliced 3 or 4 stalks of rhubarb into 1/2"-thick slices and tossed them in a pan with a couple tablespoons of water and a couple tablespoons of sugar (just 2 or 3). Cook and stir over medium heat and the rhubarb basically melts down into a thick slurry. I kept cooking mine until it was quite thick (I think I also added 2 tablespoons of mochi rice flour at one point), then spread it into a tart shell I'd made and pre-baked. I allowed it to cool a bit, then topped with sliced strawberries - it was absolutely delicious.

(and because I made too much crust for my tart shell, I used a cookie cutter to cut a fleur-de-lys from the leftover dough, which I baked on foil in the oven along with the crust. Both crust and this decoration were later glazed with a bit of melted quince jam which my friend Louisa makes from quince she grows in her garden.)

a sweet deal

I had this idea earlier in the summer, as I contemplated buying yet another watermelon whose flesh we would not eat, and wasting all that money for rind: I called a local grocery store that sells prepared fruit plates in the summer, fruit plates that I (correctly) suspected were prepared in-house. I arranged to meet their food manager who covers the morning shift (when such things are prepared) and the produce folks kept an apple box of rinds for me - normally such things are composted by this particular chain.

I won't lie to you: getting that home on my bicycle was hard. I couldn't remember what size an applebox was, and at only 2/3 full, the box was still incredibly heavy. I had a hard time stopping and starting pedaling without tumbling over to one side or another, and I had to make all lane-changes and turns very gently (which is a taller order when one is riding in traffic on city streets on a Saturday morning). It took me 5 hours to peel all those rinds, and my wrist was jangling with weird nerve-pain by the time I was done (I iced and spent the evening in a compression-bandage and had no repercussions the following day), but it was amazing to make SO MANY watermelon rind pickles all at once! I made 22 jars, of varying sizes ( 8-12 oz) this time, in three varieties: normal, not-so-sweet, and spicy.

The best part? Because those rinds were headed for the compost bin, anyway, I got them for free!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

forest bounty: rosehip jelly

Cass and I spent last Thanksgiving with his parents and one of his sister's friends/former roommates up in Index. While we were up there, I insisted upon going out (in an icy drizzle) and picking the wild rosehips glowing like rubies in the November mountains. I cleaned mine and popped them in the freezer and haven't had time to prepare them until now. I figure that's probably okay, because from what I read, a good freeze actually converts the starches in the rosehip into sugars, so this is one fruit that probably tastes better after freezing, not worse.

For years, I've wanted to try making a traditional Swedish classic, rosehip soup, from scratch. I still haven't made the soup, but I did make some jelly yesterday and I want to show you the process. Start with at least a pound of rosehips. Discard any discoloured or spotted ones, and trim off stems and blossom ends as much as possible.

Now, because the rosehip is the fruit of the rose plant (and related to apples, by the way), it contains seeds. And, as even a little bit of googling will inform you, those seeds have little hairs attached to them which are an irritant -apparently, they are VERY itchy. So, you want to either cut open each rosehip and remove all seeds and hairs (at which point, you can chop the fruit and make jam) or you want to cook the hips, smash them open, and then strain them very carefully to remove hairs and seeds from the rosehip "juice," which can then be used to make jelly. After my 5 hour stint peeling watermelon (more on that later) a few weeks ago, I wasn't too keen to sit and pick through all of these rosehips, particularly as wild rosehips are very small. (If you are planning to make this yourself, I recommend getting hips from the rosa rugosa variety, a kind of shrubby rose which grow wild along beaches and here in Seattle are planted along trails in many urban parks! Rugosa grows very large hips, so you will get more fruit for the trouble of de-seeding and de-hairing them).

But I digress. I wasn't interested in removing all those hairs, so I made jelly. First, I put the roses in a pot with enough water to just give them room to move around. I brought the pot to a boil, then covered and reduced the heat to low and simmered them for an hour or more, until the hips were soft.

Then you want to create a puree or mash. If you have a potato masher, get mashing. I had to use a wooden spoon, which also works but is a bit harder on the wrists. As I got to mashing, I added some more water because my pulp became as thick as mashed potatoes and I knew there wasn't enough water in the mix. So I added some more water and let it cook for another 10 min or so. The consistency you want is kind of like thick cream - any thicker and it's going to take a while to get all the juice out when you strain the mass. However, if you make it thinner, you can always cook the juice back down after you've strained it, so I say err on the side of too much rather than too little water.

Straining the mass (love that steam!): some folks say to use 4 layers of cheesecloth or a fine sieve. I had a fairly fine sieve and only two layers of cheesecloth and I was just fine. I propped my sieve up on a glass (to hold it out of the strained juices) and left for a few hours to have dinner and drinks with friends.

Waste not, want not: though I had more than enough juice (3 or 4 cups, depending on whose recipe you use), I pressed all the extra juice out of the mass that I could, wringing gently with my hands. Note: only two layers of cheesecloth and no hairs to be seen, though the mixture did coat my hands with an oddly plastic-feeling residue that was kind of itchy for an hour or two (may have been psychosomatic, though).

Cooking: most recipes I found combined 3 or 4 c. juice with 3.5-5 c. sugar and .5 c fresh-squeezed lemon juice, brought the mixture to a boil and then lowered heat and reduced the mix until it thickened to one's liking (the way to test? keep a plate in the freezer. Every so often, place a few drops of the jam on the frozen plate. Allow 30 seconds to cool, and then check the consistency. When it reaches the stage you like, it's done), and then canned it.

I did things just a little differently. I probably had about 6 c. juice (according to Cass, who is a much better estimator of volume than I am), and I only used about 2.5 c. sugar, and the zest and juice of one lemon. The result is a very tannic jelly with a flavour almost like rich black tea, but I like it; it's very different. I'll tell you how I plan to use it below. For now, here's my process:

I used Pomona's Natural Pectin as a thickener. I put 4 teaspoons of prepared calcium water in the pan with my lemon zest, lemon juice, and rosehip juice. I stirred well. While I brought the juice to a bowl, I mixed 4 teaspoons of the pectin into 1.5 c. sugar (adding about another cup later when I first tasted it - wowee it was tannic!!). When the juice came to a boil, I added the pectin/sugar. You have to whisk very rapidly when you add Pomona's pectin to a fruit juice mixture, as I've found it has a tendency to clump into little white balls of pectin. So expect to get an aerobic workout whisking your jelly up. Bring the mixture to a boil again and then reduce heat (I cook it at a low boil, whisking almost constantly) and cook until it reaches a consistency that you want (again, use the frozen plate to check). Beware of cooking too long; the sugars can caramelize and I read that this produces an undesirable flavour.

When your jelly reaches a consistency that you like, can and process using the boiling water method for 10 minutes (or more, depending on your altitude, of course).
voila! Now, as I said, it's terribly tannic. I have a bit leftover in the fridge to experiment with for the next week or two. I think this will be very good atop buttered toast, particularly for those who like tea, as it tastes like nothing so much as a fruit-infused black tea. I also plan to try mine as a part of a cheese plate, alongside creamy goat cheeses like bucheron. Finally, I'm going to try making pasties or tarts (though it might not be until autumn or winter) with this jelly and marzipan, as I think it would pair marvellously with that smooth almond sweetness.

Any other rosehip fans out there? How do you like your rosehip jelly? Any flavour combinations you can recommend?

Friday, July 16, 2010

getting over that hurdle

sometimes I convince myself that something is going to be difficult to do, and then I procrastinate. The longer I procrastinate, the more time I have to convince myself that this is gonna be so hard and sometimes things never get done!

I waited far, far too long to start Colette's Ceylon dress - and then when I finally knocked it out, I was surprised how easy it was. I like to take my time cutting, so that everything is smooth and pinned and darts are all clearly and perfectly marked, etc. - it's kind of like setting up the mise-en-place in cooking: it takes me a long while, but everything goes so much more smoothly if one is properly prepared. To wit: I put this together in two evenings, lickety-split!

The top picture gives a better sense of the rich plummy eggplant colour of this lambswool flannel dress (so pretty, so warm!!), but I had to include a detail of the buttons because all hope of an affordable project went out the window when the button-buying process began. Cass found these lovelies quickly, and though we went through many other buttons, putting them all against the dress in the back of the fabric store, his first instinct definitely won the day. Aren't they cute? I usually would do something art-nouveau-floral-y and in a darkened brass or bronze against this dress; I like it when Cass helps me pick, because his eye is so different. It's very refreshing to change things up!

Yet again, Colette wins my heart with perfectly graded and beautiful patterns - Sarai, you are amazing, thank you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

we love you, Seattle!

yep. we're official. The big celebration is in August; Tuesday we said our vows on the roof of the Judicial building and had drinks and small plates on a perfect summer evening with five dear friends. I haven't seen all the pictures our friends snapped yet, but this pretty much says it all, don't you think?


for a little bouquet, I tied together yellow-orange ranunculus, deep orange butterfly milkweed (aka butterfly weed, asclepias tuberosa), fluffy clove-scented pink spikes of stock (how did I not know they smelled like cloves? amazing!), some trailing vines of a highly scented jasmine, and dusty miller leaves. I think I might try growing a little garden of these together in the future, for sentiment.