Wednesday, August 24, 2011

back in the saddle

it's been something like 10 years since I've done any weaving. It's nice to get back in the habit, and something about the jingle of the heddles as I raise and lower the sleys makes it the perfect soundtrack to a September evening (not getting ahead of myself, not really - this will take a while).

I've started my first tapestry weaving, on a small-ish 8-sley loom. This scarf will be about 24" wide and approximately 80" long with fringes. The warp is commercially-spun silk; the weft is two-ply camel and silk made by my awesome and super-talented mother-in-law (and given to me to use under the strict condition that I weave only for myself - I am NOT allowed to give this away, ha!). She also lent me the loom:

Love that pattern (it's called "undulating twill"). My mother in law actually made herself a scarf in white-on-white in this same pattern and it was just too gorgeous for words. I'd already admired this one, but when I saw her scarf I asked if I could weave one like it for myself. I cannot wait to don this soft beautiful thing this winter!

harvest: well, harvest.

I pulled up my young onions - and braided them, for fun! Also, I've been priming the cabinets; they're going to be painted that pale green there, on the left. I think it's going to be a big improvement on the circa-1980s shabby-chic blue cabinets with dry-brushing in white and "distressing" that was here when we moved in. Kitchen makeover will be posted later, when I'm finally done.

yellow finn potatoes, apples (stolen from an overhanging branch of a neighbour's tree - ssshh!) and the tomatoes are finally coming on: cherries, yellow pear, early girl, mr. stripey. Love those gorgeous rich ruby reds. I want to drink in all these colours for as long as I can; I don't plan to put anything in to overwinter - we're supposed to have another La Nina winter this year, and the odds are too slim that I would be able to bring anything through it. I just don't have the time or the proper equipment (cold frames) to pull it off. So, I'm enjoying the heck out of this harvest-time. It'll be awhile before there's another.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

harvest: oregon grape jam

continuing to sample wild local berries this year with this oregon grape jam. Oregon grape needs a lot of sugar to make a tasty jam as it's rather sour - and even sweetened, it retains a tannic/bitter edge. Langdon Cook writes that the resulting jam is as at home on pb&j as it is on a cheese plate, and here I couldn't agree more. I think this would be excellent paired with gorgonzola (or even rogue creamery's smokey blue), as the bold sharpness of the cheese would balance the tannins.

But mine is probably more tannic than most because it contains - drumroll please - the seeds. Here's the deal. Oregon grape has big, hard seeds in the middle of the fruit. But after getting only 4 small jars from about 4-5 cups of salal berry picking, I sure wasn't about to strain this batch of the seeds. Instead, I tried something new: after boiling the berries with a bit of water to get them to start releasing their juices, I popped the hot fruit in the food processor and blended, seeds and skins and all, for about 3-5 minutes straight. The result? A thick smooth paste, which I thinned with water (no harm to the flavour, which is still quite strong) and then sweetened a bit. I added pectin with the sugar and ended up with 14 small jars this time. I still probably will continue to strain my salal berries, if only because of their sticky, hairy skins, which seem to pick up a lot of dirt and debris from the environment that I'm happy to leave out of the jam, but I think this blending process is a winner for oregon grape.

Now, the only thing is, this jam should NOT be enjoyed by pregnant women or nursing mothers, as the naturally occurring berberine can cause or worsen jaundice in nursing infants, and cause contractions in pregnant women, sometimes leading to miscarriage. Otherwise, it's supposed to boost your immune system, which makes this a great peppy jam to enjoy during winter's cold and flu season!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

harvest: watermelon rind pickles

Not much of a harvest, more of a reuse of materials otherwise destined for the compost bin: ran by the store and picked up another box of rinds, my second this summer, and packaged up another batch of watermelon rind pickles.

If you're new to this blog, you might not know that I've been making these for the past two or three summers, not sure now. This post not only gives you a visual breakdown, but it links to other posts with recipes, if you'd like to give them a go yourself. They're becoming a standard in yuletide care packages - especially for my dad, who kicked off this whole process by waxing reminiscent all the days of my childhood about one of his childhood favorites - his mother's watermelon rind pickles.

I love that I'm able to pair with a local grocery store and take these rinds off their hands (they are from organic watermelons cut up in-house to create fruit platters), as it helps keep my costs down (especially as the jars haven't been coming back, so I have to re-invest every year in those). I also bring the produce folks a jar from every batch as a "thank you," which they seem to enjoy. Yesterday, one guy brought me back to introduce me to everyone as they cracked open the jar and began digging the pickles out with their fingers. I have to say, I really am so in awe of the power of food to bond people together with ties of mutual goodwill; it continues to inspire and move me. I also got my first pickling commission. Part of me wonders - will I look back one day and say, "and the rest is history..." ?Link

harvest: pea shoot pesto

you know it's been a cold/wet year when the pea plants are still growing in August. They finally started to fade, though, and I picked the overblown pods and laid them out to dry (I'll use those peas to grow next year's crop), picked the still-edible pods, and cut all the younger shoots from the plant.

The shoots went into the food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic, some olive oil, pine nuts, graded end of a bit of parmesan, salt and pepper. We ground it up to make a pea pesto, since even the young shoots are too fibrous at this point to really saute and eat on their own (which is how we eat them in the spring).

We dug up a couple of our onions (still young "spring onions") and sauteed them with the edible snap pea pods, and tossed it all together with some fresh pasta for a cheap dinner that used up leftover garden produce:

We have extra pesto which I am freezing in an ice cube tray, so that we can pop a cube or two of pesto out of the freezer whenever we need or want it in the next few months.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

harvest: salal jam

I'd read that native americans in the pac nw harvested salal berries and dried them in massive cakes (like 10-15lbs. per cake) for a winter foodstuff. Why, I wondered, did no one seem to eat them today, if they are so abundant? (And believe me, they are EVERYWHERE, with plump berries unpicked!).

Well, I learned that part of the reason may be the sticky experience of picking them. They are covered in a kind of gummy coating that stays on your hands after picking, even through scrubbing with soap and water. I finally resorted to my pumice stone in order to get that crud off my hands!!

Next, the rinsing is difficult, for the same reason - that stuff is STUCK. ON. So I washed them, but decided to go ahead and make a strained jelly rather than a jam, as I figured I'd be hours getting all those berries perfectly clean - why not just boil and strain?
so I did just that. Put the moderately-cleaned salal berries in with a bit of water and boiled them awhile. Strained through cheesecloth. Isn't this shot great? Just another Saturday night at home, squeezing what looks like an organ through a sieve. =)

my, I'm getting brown - my own plains indian heritage showing through... a little sun this summer, as we're headed to the deserts of utah for some biking in september and I'll need the extra protection (plus spf 50+) on the trails there...

I ended up adding pectin because despite all these so-called high-pectin berries, I never seem to get them to gel properly without a bit of the boxed stuff. Ah, well. Added a bit of sugar, a bit of pectin, a bit of lemon juice, cooked until thickened (maybe? Still seems kinda thin to me). About 3-4 cups of berries yielded these tiny 4-oz jars. That's it.

We'll just have to go pick more, sticky fingers and all!

harvest: lavender wand

seriously? I'd always wanted one of these as a preteen/teen. I pined for these at the farmer's market, but never had the money to buy one. This year? I bought a length of amber-coloured silk ribbon and made my own, courtesy of a sweet neighbour who gave me some of her grosso lavender (the preferred lavender for sachets and perfume oil). I only used 11 strands for this slim wand, and isn't it pretty? Dharma Trading has the directions here - in fact, it's probably not too late: if your lavender hasn't faded yet, go ahead and cut a few strands and weave one for yourself! The blossoms are tucked inside the bulbous end of the "wand," with the stems pulled down over them as you weave the ribbon over and under, so they are trapped and won't shed little lavender buds everywhere - so while it's probably preferable to use lavender that is just beginning to bloom, you could definitely use lavender that is already in full bloom; those blossoms are still going to be trapped. However, remember that the sun is going to evaporate some of those essential oils off during the day, so cutting and weaving early in the morning will give you the best result!

I'm using mine as a sachet, but being careful that the sharp stalk ends don't snag my lingerie. It smells absolutely divine. Somewhere, a younger me is thrilled (what can I say? I had simple dreams).

harvest: nasturtium capers

whoa! sorry - it's that thing that happens in summer: my parents came for a week-long visit (which, for me, is an opportunity to thank them for being such great parents and selfless people by giving back with a week of treats: special meals, touring grounds at Bloedel reserve, a weekend in a cabin at the magical Lochaerie Resort on Lake Quinault - check it out, it's not what you'd expect from the word "resort" AND owners Kris and Tom are seriously delightful human beings!), I owe my first chapter of my dissertation in a couple weeks ... etc., etc.

Things are going on, I have some back-posting to do (expect a barrage - now!). To sum up, it seems to all be about "harvest" right now, which brings me to the first item: nasturtium capers.

I started my nasturtiums early, I guess. Though my next-door-neighbour's are still going strong, mine were overflowing from pots (that they shared with some pretty pink-flowered scented geraniums, which I'll have to bring in for winter) by mid-June, a tumble of blossoms all over the deck. We ate some in salad, but mostly I couldn't keep up with them - and that's okay, because I got a lot of pleasure out of watching the local hummingbirds (who are getting quite tame! One came and sat by this morning while I watered, not three feet away - note to self: we need a birdbath in this bird sanctuary) feed at every single blossom every summer night. One of them would spend about 30 minutes feeding, it was great to just sit and watch him dart from bloom to bloom.

But, as all things must, the blossoms faded and seedpods surfaced. Having seen a recipe for nasturtium capers in my library-lent copy of The Herbfarm Cookbook (long since recalled, sigh), I went online, and sure enough, The Splendid Table had adapted the recipe (not sure how, since for some reason I didn't write down the Herbfarm recipe) and posted it online. Bless you, NPR! I made the recipe exactly as written.

The results? SO delicious, really. For the longest time, I wasn't really wild about capers. I have recently, with my sudden newfound appreciation of other salty brined foods (aka olives! yum!) started to work on getting more capers into my diet, if only because I feel a truly well-rounded palette can find room to love most - if not all - flavours. I aspire to be open and able to enjoy all flavours I encounter, really, even though I was consciously working to acquire a palette for beets, mushrooms, and raw tomatoes in my 20s. Anyways, chatter aside, the material point is: we substituted these for "capers" in a salad recipe the other night and they were AMAZING. I am SO glad we have three small jars (and I have a basket of more seedpods on the table about to be turn into another half-jar or so) of these "capers" in the fridge to be used up by January of 2012.

I want to wait a little while, if I can; I love being able to enjoy a taste of summer as autumn deepens; in this land of fog and rain, it's such a nice reminder of these gorgeous days of sun, don't you think? So, if you are growing nasturtiums and the blossoms are fading, try this recipe. It's super easy and delicious. And if you didn't plant nasturtiums this year, I would totally recommend buying a 6-pack of nasturtium seedlings (usually about $1-$2 is all) next spring, tucking them into a pot or at the edge of a rock wall or over your driveway - nasturtiums will tumble and they are happiest when they have warm rocks or a warm deck to luxuriate on - and give them a go next year! For a cheap little annual plant, they really give a lot back in terms of beautiful bright colour, nectar for birds, and edible flowers and seeds for you!