Friday, June 21, 2013

Happy Litha! Happy Solstice! Glad Midsommar!

Hello! Happy Solstice! It really is something to celebrate up here in the northern states; these long summer days, the sunlight that lasts almost until 10pm - it's glorious. Of course, it absolutely POURED all day yesterday here in Seattle - but it was a good day for a lot of cooking!
Cooking and cleaning are all I've been doing since submitting my dissertation and final paperwork. I graduated! I'm all done - really done - now; I even received my confirmation that my dissertation was accepted (read: the lady with the ruler approved the spacing of my title page, the format of my pagination and margins, etc.). And so, with that under my belt, the entire week had been devoted to party preparations - and let me tell you, I'm glad we still have two days because I'm POOPED. Making a smorgasbord for 40+  people is a LOT. OF. WORK. We won't make the meatballs or the turnip-and-potato mash until the day of the party, and I won't make one of the desserts (a salmonberry panna cotta) until tomorrow, so we have a few things left to do, but right now we are in pretty good shape. Most of the food has been prepared and is ready to go!

It begins with a shopping trip at the Scanselect import shop for cheeses, licorice, lingonberry preserves and wasa, and the fisherman's terminal for a beautiful fillet of salmon fresh from Alaska

We picked alpine strawberries (tiny, elusive, and super sweet) in the mountains with Cass' parents, and I turned them into compote. I plan to use some leftover salmonberry jam to make a big panna cotta; we'll pour this bright, sweet strawberry compote over it - that's just one of our desserts!
Here's the other: gooseberry cakes, that I am infusing with elderflower and cloudberry liqueurs for the party.
We'll also have a big bowl of fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Oh! And Anna's ginger cookies. And licorice candy. We always have all of those. Yum, yum!

After three days coated in salt, sugar, spices and buried under dill, the salmon had cured into gravlax. I washed it off, patted it dry and wrapped it up for the party. Look at that pretty red colour! Can't wait to slice it up and serve it with bright green dill-mustard sauce on slices of rye.

We'll also serve smorrebrod - open faced sandwiches - of herring and beets on slices of rye. Here's the herring in mustard sauce (there's even a little bowl of it made without dill, for my friend who is allergic to the herb), and this year I pickled tiny little cubes of rosy chiogga beets for a pretty colour.

We always have too many pickled beets left over, so this year we are serving most of the beets boiled and sliced, in that beet salad I made this spring (I even made a big jar of pickled rose petals just for the occasion). It's not traditional, but it's lovely, and I'm hoping it's going to be a big hit. It's so pretty and tasty, I think it's just the thing for a party.

Here's a half-gallon mason jar with quick pickled cukes, a favorite Swedish condiment. I think there might be room in there for one more cuke ... maybe? Or maybe half a cuke? We bought FIVE. The rest will just be sliced up and served fresh with cheeses and nibbles early in the party.

I baked two batches of rye this year, because we have a larger-than-normal list of attendees. This is always the challenge with the Midsommar party; either you have to be really strict and not invite some of the people you want to invite, or things just rapidly expand beyond what our little house can hold. FINGERS CROSSED THAT IT DOESN'T RAIN because this is shaping up to be a pretty big one this year.

And last but not least: the salmiakki! (Salt-licorice liqueur, made by grinding Faber's Turkisk Peber candy and dissolving it into vodka.) Skal!

Tonight we have to get some housecleaning done, and start buying all the flowers for the flower crowns. I have THREE women helping me make the crowns this year (awesome; maybe we won't be rushed?), but I still have to make all the wire bases for the crowns before Sunday.

Tomorrow is Herb's memorial. Kathy asked a friend and I to come early and serve as ushers/greeters and hand out programs, so I think the day is mostly going to be spent building the perfect updo to support the perfectly chic little hat I found in Spain last year. Only the best for Herb. Honestly, I'm looking forward to when the memorial is over. I don't know how I feel about it, if I even want to be there, if I want to weep in public with hundreds of others ... I don't know.  I started dreaming about Herb again this week. I miss him so much. It's still hard to believe that he is not in this world anymore, that I will never see him again, never hear his laugh again. Okay. Best not think about this too much now. It's going to be hard enough to get through tomorrow; I don't need to start the memorial tonight. I just wish he could be here. God, wouldn't he love it? I bet he really would have. All that food, all that gaiety, plenty of his students here to talk to. I've imagined how we'd toast to all of us who graduated this year. I like to think he would have been so proud of us.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

homegrown: candied angelica stems

When I first read about angelica three years ago, I was intrigued. A plant named for an archangel, harvested near May Day, and candied? Then I saw candied angelica stems mentioned in a favorite children's book that I reread two years ago. I had to try it.

Angelica cannot be candied in the first year; stalks have to be harvested from a two-year-old plant (or older). Angelica also likes a good deal of water, and I had planted my first plant in a sunny spot and failed to water it sufficiently during our unexpectedly warm summer last year. So! This is the first year I've been able to try it! The stems are still drying, so I can't say yet whether it was a success, but they do look translucent, and they are tasty when I bit into one of the wet strips.

How did I make it? First I cut my stems and soaked them in cool water for eight hours. Then I drained them and blanched them in boiling water (with 1/2 tsp of baking soda added per 2 pints of water - the baking soda is supposed to preserve the colour) for 5 minutes. I shocked them in ice water, drained them, and set about the arduous task of peeling the skins and stringy bits from the outside. (Talk about time-consuming!!) Then I made a  simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water), and added the stems and cooked them at a low boil for 3-5 minutes. I turned off the heat, and let the pan cool. I covered it after it was cool (since the angelica is cooked in gradually increasing sugar concentrations, you don't want to cover the pan too early and build up condensation - let all the water evaporate before covering the pan) and put it in the fridge. Two days later, I pulled it out and strained out the angelica stems. I brought the sugar mixture back to a boil for a few minutes (maybe about 3?). I turned off the heat, put the stems back into the syrup (increasing sugar concentration without overcooking the angelica) and let it cool. I covered the pan, and back into the fridge for another 2 days. Two days later, I took it out again, fished out the stems, letting the syrup drain out of them, and brought the reserved syrup back to a full rolling boil. This time, I added the angelica to the syrup and boiled it for 5 minutes. Then I strained out the angelica stems and place them on the rack (as you see above) to dry. Some recipes instruct you to place the stems in a low oven to help them dry, but I am going to try just leaving them out for four days and see if that will accomplish the same effect, as putting them in the oven can lead to overdrying and making the angelica brittle.

How do they taste? They smell like gin - like gin and floral perfume. It's very nice! I bought two new plants this spring and placed them in the back garden, in a shadier spot that is damper. I'm hoping next year they will rise up nice and tall and graceful and I'll have even more stems with which to experiment!

I'll report back on these in a few days, and let you know if they were a success. In the meantime, my Midsommar cooking preparation has begun in earnest: I baked two cakes today, made a strawberry compote, and am pickling beets just now. I'll make the herring tonight before bed and, since I'm debating baking two batches of rye this year, I'll bake one tomorrow.

Monday, June 17, 2013

foraged, found 2013: salmonberry pie

Two weeks ago we were up in the mountains, visiting my in-laws and digging in for the first berry-picking of the season: salmonberries! I was going to make a beautiful salmonberry tart, but then I had too much of two of the foods I am allergic to (eggs and dairy) early in the week and spent three days bedridden, the pains in my stomach so bad I couldn't stand. I missed my friend's art show opening (sigh) and other friends' dissertation defenses. Kind of sad - but, such is life. Sometimes it's hard to tell people "I'm sorry, but I cannot eat the nice thing you made for me because it will make me very sick."

So, those salmonberries were a little limp by the time I got back to them; and they need to be nice and firm for a salmonberry tart. Plus, I usually make a little infused custard/cream base for them to sit on - I only use one egg in the whole thing, and add mochi flour to help thicken instead - but I was no longer in any kind of shape to digest any fraction of an egg. So instead, I made a pie!

Salmonberries are really wet; it took me four tries to get this fruit thick enough that it would hold up when cut, but it was a success!

How does it taste? A bit like cherries and cinnamon, I've always thought. I took it in to Cassidy's work to thank them for their hospitality - and they left me one piece, which I ate the morning before my own dissertation defense last week.

Oh - did I mention? I passed! I submitted on time and I am officially a PhD now. Everyone keeps asking me how I feel, and what I want to do now ... and I don't know what the answer is to either question. I have a little loan money to get me through the summer, so I plan to take some time and get back to doing more of the things I used to enjoy (sewing, painting, making of all kinds) and see if I can get a little clarity about what I want to do with my life after reconnecting with it.

Our annual Midsommar party is this weekend. Ready for pictures of gravlax and beets? =)

Thursday, June 6, 2013


well! My dissertation has been sent to my committee and I defend it next week. That's kind of crazy, isn't it? In the meantime, I have a backlog of little fun food projects that the start of foraging/garden season has made possible.

When I started harvesting my first doug fir tips, I was reading up on new uses for them; I infused some in olive oil, and I read about infusing one's own doug fir cordial or elixir. The recipe was simple: infuse clean, dry tips in vodka in a cool dark place for at least 2-3 weeks (though I believe long steeping gives a better result when infusing cordials and such, so I'm planning to infuse for a few months), then remove the plant matter and add a bit of simple syrup or honey. Swirl to combine and continue to steep for a few more weeks.

Well. This seems like a thing one could do with a lot of different plant matter, doesn't it? So I'm giving the process a go (above) with elderflowers from the sambucus nigra I have planted on this property (I've planted three, all are different: black lace, thundercloud, and another the name of which I've forgotten!).
I'm also trying it with chamomile blossoms; if this turns out, I'll give the liqueur away to my friend Kris, who asked (offhand) this spring if Cass could come up with a chamomile-based cocktail for her. And below the chamomile (the vodka's such a pretty sunny yellow colour already!), I'm infusing those doug fir tips.

The gorgeous rose-hued liquid on the left isn't a liqueur at all; it's chive blossom vinegar. Last year, I used distilled white vinegar - and while it was pretty, it was a bit harsh for salad dressings. It was marvelous as part of a pickling brine for my garlic dill pickles, however.  This year, I got wise: I used champagne vinegar. This will be nicely oniony in a vinaigrette for a summer salad!