Canning, take two.

Canning, take two.

In addition to the siren call of the season, the time constraints of my upcoming bike tour has gently persuaded me to more thoroughly plan out my food preservation for the year. The result: nearly twenty jars of various produce, now fashioned into delectable pickles, sauces and jams.

The first canning session focused on early summer treats – bean and cucumber pickles and a spontaneous batch of raspberry rhubarb ginger jam.

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Yesterday’s preservation was all about tomatoes. Around 25 lbs of in season, perfectly ripe ruby orbs to boil into submission as salsa and sauce.

First the blanching, to remove the skins and squeeze out the seeds.

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Then blending, to hasten the sauce creation. My relief at having my housemate’s Ninja blender to aid this process was boundless.

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Then, after additions of onions, garlic, jalepenos and basil for the salsa and Italian sauce respectively, the mixtures were jarred, preserved in a hot water bath, and finally set to cool and admire on the dining room table.

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It may not feed a community house of six for a whole winter, but it will certainly feel like summer’s latent Christmas when we crack one of these jars on a dark and snowy January evening.

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Internal Audit: Home

Soup
Blending soup by hand.

I’m keeping up Namaste House, which involves cooking and gardening and cleaning and arranging and making space that is pleasant.  I’m also coordinating our online bill pay for electric and gas, and will be making a house calendar to keep track of what’s going on with everyone.  I enjoy organizing these things, and creative problem solving, but get stressed when things seem unnecessarily complicated, especially when they involve money, which is something I wish I didn’t have to care about at all.  Maintaining the garden and planting new vegetables for this year is one of my very favorite things to do around the house, as is cooking.  I like both providing for myself and the rest of my housemates, as well as the challenge of DIY.  I feel compelled to do as much locally, sustainably, and without buying new things as I possibly can. 

primroses
I believe them to be primroses.

I’m also finding that I love having people over and cooking for them, to share conversation and good food and not have a particular agenda.  Our monthly potlucks are fun and worthwhile but sometimes exhausting by the end of the night, whereas having a couple of friends over for dinner is a fabulous and energizing experience.

So what do we do?

It is entirely possible to spend an inordinate amount of time completely in the abstract, preaching to the choir about one’s perspective without ever really coming down to find some answer, any answer, to the ultimate question that plagues every social, cultural, and environmental issue:
So what do we do?

This past weekend began with a marvelous gathering of friends around tea and the ideas of Wendell Berry, one of my all time favorite authors, largely due to his unique blend of utter practicality and deeply rooted philosophy.  The group managed to stay somewhere near the topic nearly all of the evening, only minorly distracted by the lavender shortbread and homebrew brought by attendees.  We shared favorite Wendell quotes (“Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.”), passionately articulated our frustrations with innumerable systems and cultural norms (ie. garage culture, financial viability as an end all be all), and felt pleasantly challenged yet validated all around.  But the question continually surfaced:
So what do we do?

It’s all well and good to philosophize and commiserate, and I would argue the latter in particular is entirely necessary to both blow off steam and continually flesh out what it is one is truly passionate about and concerned with.  But until practical solutions for building a world different and dare I say greatly improved upon the one we so readily criticize, we are merely venting to one another.

So now what do we do?

I in no way claim to have any all inclusive answer to this all important query.  But here’s what I did with the remainder of my weekend that I think at least begins to create a world that is more holistic, more community-minded, more sustainable, and filled with more of the things that my circles and I are craving.

Ben and I spent all of Saturday riding around to various social gatherings on our tandem.  We built wheels while enjoying homebrew, stopped by our favorite local microbrewery, visited his previous community house to take part in their potluck, and then spent a couple of hours at a folk sing along before heading home, chilly and sleepy with full hearts and heads.

Today I read several more chapters of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle while cooking up homemade wheat tortillas for vegan enchiladas (above), the ingredients of which were nearly all local, aside from salt, spices, olive oil, and kale.  I walked down to our nearby park in the slowly fading sun, stopping en route to jot down a poem of noticings.

So what do we do?

Move more.  Consume less.  Sing.  Cook.  Bike and walk.  Pay attention.

There are days and moments when I feel as though I succeed at this almost extravagantly, and the ensuing connection to my friends, my food, my world is gorgeous.  And there are many more moments and days when I lose sight, get stressed, grasp so tightly to a desire for control that I cannot for the life of me remember that my soul wants simplicity, wants connection, needs the now and here and not the constructions that I fabricate.  So what do we do?  Question, live, and love.

A day of simple summer food.

My morning started as such:


honey-wheat homemade bread slathered with Hope Butter, honey and strawberries from Earth Dance Farm, and a steaming mug of coffee.

I took off for the co-op after leisurely enjoying this breakfast whilst reading an issue of Mary Jane’s Farm, a magazine loaned to me from a friend.  While shopping I not only purchased a week’s worth of groceries, I ran into my friend Jake, an entreprenurial soul who started not only Growing Lots Urban Farm, but the Black Paws CSB as well.  So many tasty local delights!

Riding home with panniers stuffed with delicious, I passed by Greg Reynolds of Riverbend Farm delivering veggies near Birchwood Cafe; I hadn’t seen him in months and we chatted a bit about how I missed having my hands whenever summer rolled around (his was one of the farms I worked on during the summer of 2009).

Upon returning home I commenced creating my dish for the monthly First Friday Potluck Ben and I are hosting tonight: cucumber sandwiches.


Atop more homemade bread (this time sunflower seed wheat) I scooped either dill or chive cream cheese/yogurt spread (seen above, covered by squares cut from plastic bags), followed by a few slices of sweet local cucumber, garnished with a leaf of lettuce.


Now off to yoga before the potluck begins!  May everyone enjoy tasty simple summer food on this sultry day.

Week of Joy, Day 3: Cooking

There’s just something about the creative yet often methodical process of making good food that calms my heart and gives me joy.

First, creativity.  I am emphatically NOT a recipe follower.  With the exception of baked goods and bread (though I’m even starting to stray from the Holden Village and 5 Minutes a Day bread recipes on occasion, now that I have a feel for both) I rarely if ever even consult a recipe.  Sometimes I’ll look at a blog post from Not Eating Out in New York or The Heavy Table for inspiration, or to figure out what to do with a random left over ingredient I have lying around.  Generally though I’ll hem and haw for a moment, pick some kind of carbohydrate to start from, and go where the wind and spices take me.  It also helps that I grocery shop every week and try to have some idea of a couple of meals I want to create for the following week.  Which brings me to the joy that comes from being methodical in cooking.

Whether it is shopping or chopping, cooking has a rhythm, a pace, and a heartbeat.  Various elements combine in my cart or in my pan to make something [usually] delicious.  I know this will happen, and I often surrender to my intuition, both in purchasing where other than trying to get as many P6 items and as few packaged items as possible, and to always have enough coffee I just go with whatever looks good, and in cooking where I taste and add, smell and sprinkle.  At least for me, cooking often takes care of itself and releases often previously unnoticed tension in the bargain.

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Unfortunately I’m running astoundingly short on time today, but fortunately I have several posts about past joyful cooking adventures.  So rather than put together a new story, I direct you, joy-seeking blog readers, to:
My Tastebuds are Loving Winter
and
Scrumptious Simple Salad
(I should note with the above story that I have since heartily enjoyed asparagus, often with balsamic reduction)

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More joy in cooking is in more doing, and summer is certainly the season for it.  I hope to experiment with new spices, and particularly learn how to make spicy Asian food of various varieties that has the right balance of flavor.  And maybe some new kinds of greens as well?

I also eagerly await the cooking class at The Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater that was promised via homemade gift certificate as a wedding present from Ben’s brother and his fiance.

Lastly, I am enormously excited for the next Thursday and the first pickup of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that I am splitting with my dear Benjamin and my housemates.  If you don’t know about CSAs or have considered joining one but haven’t yet taken the plunge, I have two bits of advice:
1. Learn more and find an extremely extensive list of CSA’s at the Local Harvest website
2. Find a friend or two and DO IT!  You will absolutely not regret the super fresh vegetables, new friends, and [more likely than not] great volunteer opportunities.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne

Scrumptious Simple Salad

Scrumptious Simple Salad

Food shouldn’t be complicated, unless you want it to be, a la red pepper foam or microgreens or any number of things from French cuisine.  I very much enjoy patronizing the abundant restaurants of the Twin Cities that feature beautiful, delicious, complicated food; Heartland is the latest possible destination for gastronomic joy while my mother is town.

However, when I’m cooking at home, especially a midday meal for myself alone, I very much want simple yet tasty food.  What often results is a surprising, unplanned combination of ingredients I have stashed away in the fridge and pantry that somehow resolve themselves into a sandwich, soup, or, as they did yesterday, a hearty salad.

I began by cubing a slightly overripe pear, which you cannot see under the other ingredients, but it’s there, I promise.  This was topped with ripped up local hydroponic leaf lettuce from LaBore Farms, an indulgence of mine throughout this past winter winter that has proven a culinary ray of sunshine in the midst of heaps of snow.  Scattered on top were a cubed, relatively mild local gouda, goji berries (which added a lovely chewiness and a punch of antioxidants that I’d highly recommend), a smattering of cilantro and chopped green onion, flax seeds, sliced almonds, freshly ground pepper, apple cider vinegar (another health powerhouse), olive oil, and the smallest sprinkle of salt.

I was a bit skeptical about the cilantro, but wanted to use it because I hate wasting anything and have over half a bunch left over from pad thai toppings this past weekend.  It proved to be the perfect foil to the sweetness of the pear and nutty richness of the gouda, almonds, and flax seeds.  All in all an incredibly tasty and satisfying salad.  And to think, if I’m this excited about a late winter/early spring salad, I may just explode when asparagus is finally available 🙂

New Scandinavian Cooking: One of the few television shows worth watching

In general I abhor television.  It’s a time suck that normally provides little to no intellectual stimulation and it’s programming frequently imparts the worst of our cultural values.  I’m also a long time vegetarian.  So you wouldn’t expect that my favorite 8:30pm Monday and Wednesday pastime is watching New Scandinavian Cooking on public television.  But you would be wrong.

New Scandinavian Cooking is what television should be.  It’s funny, educational, and most importantly, a truly useful show.  Though I haven’t tried many of the recipes (at least three quarters feature meat, so it’s unlikely I ever will attempt them), New Scan Cook does more than showcase Scandinavian cuisine- it highlights a different quirky cultural locale in every show, including historical customs, vocations, geographical features, anything and everything interesting about various cities and tiny towns across Scandinavia.

In addition to intriguing cultural tidbits that fan my desire to visit Scandinavia someday soon (the fjords of Norway in particular have called to me for years now), I’ve found myself wanting to test out new or rarely used ingredients in my cooking.  In the middle of winter finding fresh local herbs and many local vegetables is difficult- though Scandinavian cooking does frequently feature root veggies, a winter staple- so most of my experimentation has been waiting for spring to arrive.  Fresh dill, creme fraiche, and aquavit, here I come!

I find most cooking shows to be 1.)Slow 2.)Excessively complicated or 3.)Filled with ingredients I never see myself using.  But New Scandinavian Cooking, with its fascination with simple, local dishes and the food of the proletariat (my words, not theirs) is relaxing, refreshing, and altogether approachable.

It also doesn’t hurt that Andreas Viestad (my favorite host) is extremely adorable and the epitome of an attractive, active, enthusiastic Scandinavian man.  Le sigh.

Have fun cooking, friends, and if you live in Minnesota, be sure to check out New Scandinavian Cooking at 8:30pm on Channel 2.