Tuesday, January 28, 2014

project 52:18

woodburning tool on birch

two weekends ago we had an overnight guest on Friday night, an Oregonian stopping over for food and conversation and rest on her way further north. She's a runner these days and I thought she might want to go to the park in the morning and clock some miles. I went with her and brought the camera, hunting for inspiration for the week's postcard. There was a large murder of crows hanging out in the center of the park and I kept walking into their midst and photographing them as they took off. Later I made sketches based on my photographs, then turned those sketches into paper stencils. I scribbled across the stencils  to make these graphic crows and used the woodburning tool to finish. I like it; to me, they kind of look like crow-forms wrapped in string (especially the one in the middle with his wings down).

Now, just 10 days later, there are more signs of avian life: this weekend was the first time I heard the woodpeckers starting to chuckle and trill through the neighbourhoods (and drill on people's metal roofs! In February and March it sounds like someone's stripping metal screws with a power drill all over this hill). There are a few robins and some other songbirds starting up, too; they made a lovely soundtrack this weekend when I went out and weeded and turned the soil in a couple of my vegetable beds, installed a trellis, and sowed my first peas and radishes. It's a bit early for the latter (but the Farmer's Almanac gave the thumbs-up for starting peas), but my seed is old, anyway, so if they don't come up and I have to resow, it's not really a big loss. It's good to have some signs of life returning. I think about the gardening season ramping up and wonder if I'll have work before I have tomatoes this year?

Monday, January 27, 2014

roast broccolini with preserved lemon and yogurt sauce

Today I want to share one of our favorite winter side dishes with you (though we often eat it as an entree), something we came up with after eating a similar dish at a favorite local restaurant. It's simple, requires few ingredients and little prep, and the results are flavorful and healthy - just the ticket for January! If you're interested in making your own preserved lemons, I have posted my recipe here. I think the homemade ones are a lot better than the kind you can get in the store, though - so if you try this dish and you like it, you might want to consider making your own preserved lemons. It doesn't take long to make them and they can be processed in a hot water bath and then put up for months (during which time, their flavor only further develops).

Alright, enough ado: on to the broccolini! Here's the recipe as we make it most nights, as a main dish for two people. You can easily halve, double or otherwise shift the proportions for this dish; it's very forgiving.

2 bunches baby broccoli/broccolini (regular broccoli can be substituted; just cut the broccoli into florets, and cut the stalk into long sticks)
1 Moroccan-style (also known as American-style) preserved lemon
olive oil
dried red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

8 oz nonfat plain greek yogurt (we liked to use Fage for this)
2-3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil (this is the time to use the really good stuff, if you have some on hand)
1-2 Tbs chopped fresh mint
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Place broccolini (or broccoli florets and sliced stalk) onto a heavy baking sheet or roasting pan. Chop preserved lemon. Drizzle broccolini with olive oil (1-2 Tbs is fine), sprinkle lemon bits over the broccolini, and top with a few pinches of dried red pepper flakes (to taste). Season with salt and pepper, using a light hand with the salt - remember, the preserved lemon is very salty! Toss broccolini until it is evenly coated with oil and seasonings.

Roast broccolini in oven until florets are starting to darken and develop a slight char, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make yogurt sauce:

Stir together nonfat plain yogurt, chopped mint, and olive oil with salt and pepper to taste. A note on how much olive oil to add: make sure that the flavor of the olive oil comes through; this sauce should not simply taste like yogurt; you should be able to detect some of the fruity flavor of the oil. Add a bit of salt to balance the sour tang of the yogurt.

To serve:

When broccolini is done, pile on a platter and served with yogurt sauce on the side (or drizzle yogurt sauce over if you like).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

project 52:17

(ink and acrylic on paper)

the snowdrops are already up in my yard and have been for more than a week; but things are still muddy and dark and muted and very foggy around here; I actually intended to paint these snowdrops, but found I liked the contrast so much that I left them white after painting the ground in deep blue, black, brown and gold.

Monday, January 20, 2014

bergamot marmalade to brighten your winter mornings

Somehow it never occurred to me that bergamot is a citrus fruit. Sure, bergamot flavour, in addition to being rather spicy and perfume-y, also has nice light citrus notes ... but I think I always assumed it was a bark or stem of a plant - not a fruit. And certainly not a bright yellow citrus fruit.

So when I first saw these "bergamot sour oranges" at my local whole foods market, I thought maybe that this was just a special name for a particular type of sour oranges (like "seville bitter oranges" or "lavender tangelos" - the latter taste nothing like lavendar, by the way). So I picked up three and brought them home and did some research. Lo and behold, I was surprised to learn that they're rather hard to come by in markets and that, yes, I could make a bergamot marmalade with them. In fact, I found this recipe from David Leibovitz.

I hurried back to the store and bought five more, so I'd have the eight fruits that Leibovitz calls for in his recipe. Of course, only after I looked at my receipt, which listed the weight of the bergamots I'd ordered, did I realize my bergamots must be a lot larger than the ones Leibovitz bought; though I'd bought the same number of fruits, they weighed more than twice as much!

I ended up making my own recipe. Leibovitz' decision to blanch his fruits first resulted in a brighter yellow-color, but I worried that without their acidic juices, the resulting marmalade wouldn't have a low enough ph. (it wouldn't be acidic enough) to be safe for canning. Also, some of Leibovitz's readers tried his recipe and reported back that their marmalade wouldn't gel properly, so I decided to use a different process to make my marmalade. It's a bit more time-consuming, but I find it results in a better set. I also used less sugar than Leibovitz; perhaps my fruits were sweeter, or perhaps I simply prefer a tangier marmalade. Alright, enough ado: on to the recipe!

Bergamot Marmalade

8 bergamots (approx 3.5 lbs)
4 c. sugar
6 c. water
1-2 Tbs. low/no-sugar pectin (just in case)

To begin, cut 8 bergamots into halves, and cut each half into quarters. Thinly slice each quarter across its width, removing any seeds that you encounter. For an even better gel-set, don't toss the seeds; instead, gather them all together in a bit of cheesecloth or a paper tea bag and save them.

Place all of the slices in a big heavy-bottomed pot and add 6 c. of water. If you have saved your seeds, add the seeds somewhere near the bottom of the pot. Over medium-high heat, bring the citrus-and-water to a boil. Cook for five minutes then cover and turn off the heat. Let stand until cool and transfer to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

This is the process Martha Stewart uses for making her marmalade, and I later learned (when researching apple butter) that there's a good reason for it. Cooking the citrus for five minutes in water begins to break them down, releasing the natural pectins which are found in the peels and the seeds (hence, if you save your seeds, your little seed-bag will help add pectins to the mix as it sits overnight). For the pectin to develop strands, it needs time, and the presence of an acid (which is naturally provided by the sour citrus fruit).  When I make apple butter, I cook the whole apples (skins, cores, seeds and all - I only remove the stems) with some lemon juice in water for five minutes, and then let it sit overnight in the fridge to develop these pectin strands. It generally works like a charm.

The next day, get your pan out of the fridge. Gradually reheat to a gentle boil. Remove the seed packet (if using) and discard, and add 4 c. of sugar. Cook, stirring frequently (to keep those sugars from sticking and burning) until the volume is somewhat reduced and the mixture becomes thick and sticky.

Meanwhile, put a small saucer in the freezer to chill. You can test your gel-set of your marmalade on the saucer: when you think the marmalade is ready, dribble a bit on the plate and let it sit for 30 seconds. Push on the blob with your finger - if a thick skin has formed on the top that wrinkles when you push the blob, it is ready. If not, clean your plate and return it to the freezer and keep cooking.

Now, if you have trouble and it absolutely won't set, mix 3-4 Tbs. of sugar with 1-2 Tbs. of low/no-sugar pectin together and add it to the mix. In order to keep the pectin from clumping into a hard pectin ball you must whisk quickly as you add the sugar/pectin mix, and keep whisking for another minute to incorporate it. In the end, I added 1 Tbs. to my pot to set it a bit more firmly (I think if I'd remembered to save my seeds and used them in the first boiling step, I wouldn't have needed this!).

And voila! Done! This recipe produced 3 quarts of marmalade for me. If you are canning, remember to warm your lids for 10 minutes in barely-simmering water to soften the rubber seals, and to get your canner hot, and to sterilize your jars and keep them warm as you cook your marmalade. You want to pack your jars with the marmalade while it's still hot, then clean the rims, add lids and screw on the bands, then process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for pints  (if you are 0-1000 ft above sea level), 15 minutes for quarts. I like to pack this in small jars because then I can give it to more people.

The end result? Oh, it's heavenly. If you like bergamot, you'll love this. The taste is rather strongly of bergamot and delicately of lemon. I made up a batch of cream scones from the River Cottage Bread handbook (recipe on epicurious - why isn't their search function working lately?) and slathered on butter and marmalade. Just the ticket for winter mornings, when you want something a bit bright, a bit cheery, to remind you that spring is just around the corner!

Monday, January 13, 2014

project 52:16

(woodburning tool and acrylic wash on birch)

Okay, so I'm falling into a rut here (or is it a pattern?) that I don't want to be in. While project 52 means that I'll be posting weekly all year, without fail, I don't want project 52 to become the sole topic of my blog. It might comprise a majority of posts this year, but when I realize that I've posted nothing in the last three weeks except for project 52 posts, I feel a little bummed. Of course, the holidays were a little busier than normal this year, and I was sick for two weeks with a bad headcold and had to really rest and do NOTHING (ugh, I'm so terrible at sitting still and resting!), so when I take stock of the last three weeks I realize that what I'm really feeling anxious and uncomfortable about is being sick and having to rest. I think the fact that the winter clouds and rain have settled in are also making it difficult to be productive; the days are getting longer, but it's been very dark the past week and Cass and I really have been like hibernating bears ourselves! But now that I'm feeling better, I have this strong urge to make more things and get back to posting more than just project 52 every week. It's also supposed to be sunny later this week and I think I might try and get out and start sprucing up the garden for early-season/cool-season planting, as a little outdoor time would probably do me a whole world of good after weeks of being cooped up indoors.

The good news is that I found some exciting and new-to-me citrus yesterday and I have a recipe to share with you tomorrow.

But that's tomorrow. For now, let's talk about this postcard. I love the way that the grain of the birch card makes it look like it's raining, even though I snapped the photo that I as a model on a dry (albeit dark) New Year's Day. Cass and I were headed down to the art museum to see a gorgeous exhibit of Peruvian art and artifacts, and the car started shaking and shuddering just as we arrived at the museum. I convinced Cass to take it to the dealership (where we just had the brakes fixed a couple months ago). We were able to drop it there and then we decided, what the heck? Let's go to the Museum anyway! So we walked back to the Museum to see the exhibit; afterward, I snapped this photo as we walked up into Belltown to find a Car2Go to take us home. That service has been such a lifesaver every time the car breaks down (which has been twice in the last three months)! I have always loved these Public Market signs; maybe it's a little touristy, but I find their red neon so cheery in the dark. It always makes me smile.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

project 52:15

(acrylic on watercolour paper)

In 2009, I was working on an article about Brigid, the goddess who was co-opted into sainthood by the Catholic Church (and not just in Ireland; the Brigid cult existed on mainland Europe, too).  I was reading the three vitae of Brigid which have come down to us; and a very interesting Master's thesis on the variations between the three (the oldest is written half in Latin, and half in Gaelic and there is some very interesting coding in terms of which language is used when), and somehow I stumbled upon a very cool book about northern European religious cults associated with late winter and the arrival of spring (as Brigid - both Christian saint and pagan goddess - is/was/were/are). I need to track that book down again and buy it, I think; it discussed the bear cult and the way the bear as a totem or fetish overlapped with Brigid, and how and why bees became incoporated as attributes of the goddess, referencing old rhymes and snatches of ancient poems and prayers that had come down to us, building a web of associations and inferences among particular birds, mammals, and insects and the return of the growing season. It was a small book, but incredibly dense (I remember struggling to get through it), but truly fascinating stuff!

So here we are, in January. I heard on NPR today that more than half of the US is currently in deep freeze, while Seattle has been enjoying a handful of sunny days that always seem to come around the beginning of the year, before we return to clouds and mist and rain for the next few months. This time of year always gets me thinking about the Brigid cult; her feast day is February 1. It coincides with a pagan holiday of Imbolc (the name means "in milk," referring to the beginning of the lambing season, the first signs of rebirth and new life - however tenuous among the remains of winter) and the Christian celebration of Candlemas (on February 2nd), a celebration of hope and new life as well. As I read that book on the various animal cults of northern Europe, I realized that the American holiday of Groundhog Day (also February 2nd) was more contemporary adaptation of the old Northern European bear cult (bears became associated with Brigid because they would emerge from hibernation in late winter, another signal of the start of spring).

So all this has me thinking about bears. And winter. And winter's end. Part of me is still hoping for snow (it usually comes late in this corner of the world, if we get it at all). Another part of me is starting to do some calculations: those Lauren's Grape purple poppy seeds I saved last September need to be raked over the garden soon; and if I want stocks in early spring (I love stocks), those need to be planted soon, too. It's just about time for winter dreams of the summer garden to start translating into action, to emerge from the den!