Moving slow

It started, I think, with the Slow Food movement. It then moved on to lots of others things in the craft world. I’m not sure where else it is found specifically, but I generally find that the concept is around just in the general culture in the US right now.

Occasionally, I find it annoying, because I think some people misunderstand the point. On some of the quilt podcasts I enjoy, for example, Pam of Hip to be a Square keeps joking that she doesn’t really get into it, because she produces quilts and other projects regularly, at a fairly fast pace. Now, to me – and I have no idea if the general understanding of the slow movement is in agreement with this or its my own idea – but the actual speed of production has nothing to do with whether or not you are participating in the Slow movement. Because actual production speed is not the point, whether fast or slow. The difference is in the attitude.

No matter what speed you are producing at, I want to know:

  1. are you enjoying yourself?
  2. do you feel pressured to produce without much creativity?
  3. are you doing this because you want to or because you are “required” to?
  4. do you have sufficient time – I don’t care how MUCH time – to make the things you want to make and still immerse yourself in the process? To be creative?
  5. do you like the end product?

There are other questions you could ask and other ways you could phrase these. They are just a sampling of the questions that go along with it. But the fundamental point is the same: your attitude towards what you produce is what makes it a reflection of the slow movement or not. You and I could both be quilting for the same amount of time, you could make five quilts while I just made one, but if we both enjoyed the process thoroughly, then we did it plenty slow.

Let’s be random

  1. Why aren’t there more cooking tv shows that actually mention working with whole wheat flour? I mean, it’s becoming a big thing in the grocery store – a lot more people actually eat whole wheat bread. Yet I’ve not yet seen a single show that mentions baking of any sort with whole wheat flour or other flours. Why not?
  2. Once again, advertising ignores the deeper reality in a way that I find annoying, because it emphasizes the shortcut over the actual investment of time and effort. Advertising Miracle Gro planting dirt, they show a normal soil in a suburban yard, which is less than desirable. And do they suggest that it might take a while to correct this problem? Do they even hint at the idea that it would be good to feed the soil compost, mulch, or any other kind of nutrient to feed the soil? Of course not! they only suggest that the answer is to mix in the Miracle Gro “soil” that will allow your plants to grow. It makes perfect sense!
  3. I am so tired of this chilly weather. No longer are we getting really cold weather. Just chilly. But still…I am tired of it. I want some warmth. (whine, whine, whine, yes, I know)
  4. I had an idea of a bag using the wrapped cord technique that I learned at guild. But, a really big tote bag, not a small little stiff bowl. I wonder if it would work?
  5. Last night and tonight, and probably the next few nights, I am madly scanning in photos, etc. in order to create a slideshow for my parent’s 50th anniversary party. I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while, so it is a good opportunity to get moving on the job.

Exploring new vegetables

For the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to add vegetables into my diet in tasty ways. It’s been a process of exploration, as I figure out ways to cook that I had never tried before and to flavor items that I had no experience with. For example, roasting vegetables of all kinds was a revelation. Suddenly I liked things cooked that I had never liked before.

But there are still challenges.

One thing I’ve definitely learned is that there are still things that I simply do not like. Example: cooked spinach of almost any kind. If I have something with cooked spinach in it, and I can taste the cooked spinach flavor, I really don’t like it. I’ve tried. More than once. The only cooked spinach form I have found acceptable is lightly wilted with flavorings, and even that is just acceptable, not a favorite. If the spinach flavor is buried, though, it’s okay, such as in spinach quiche, where I mainly taste egg and cheese.

But there are other items where it’s just a matter of finding the right way to cook it. Example: beets. Roasting definitely seems like a good choice, though I still need to try steamed. That way I can put flavoring on it that makes the beet flavor palatable. And perhaps even better, eating it with things. Beets don’t seem to work all that well as a standalone dish for me. The beet flavor is too strong, and I’m not wildly enthusiastic. But this past week I roasted some with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper, and ate them mixed together with hamburger and stir-fried squash/zucchini and onions. The beets seemed to work better in the mix, whereas alone they seemed rather unbalanced.

So, tomorrow I head to the farmer’s market, and I may pick up some beets, if they are there. Maybe a roasted vegetable salad? Cauliflower, beets, potatoes, onions… hmm, that is sounding rather good. I just hope they are all in season right now — I think it may be too early or late for some of those. But something else will appear. To me, that is part of the challenge and appeal of buying at the farmer’s market, finding a way to make something with what is there all together.

Cooking is simpler than you think

You know, it’s funny what you discover as you wander the internet for recipes.

I was looking for a good cold salad recipes that included both wheatberries and lentils. It’s all part of an effort to eat more high fiber foods, and lentils are way up there. I’ve been doing various grains like the wheatberries with various beans, but when I checked list or two for amounts of dietary fiber, I discovered that lentils are way up there. So I thought to figure out a good one. Looks like it won’t be hard. There’s quite a few recipes out there that combine them.

As I was looking at those recipes, the main thing I’m looking at is the dressing: what works best with the berry and lentil combination? (Lemon juice is clearly the way to go. The fresher the better.) But what kept surprising me as I looked at these recipes was the lengthy preparation and cooking time for the wheatberries. Most of these recipes require you to 1) soak them overnight and 2) cook them for an hour or two. I, on the other hand, cook them in the same way I do my steel-cut oats. I toast them in the pot, pour in boiling water, and cook them for approximately thirty minutes. This produces a completely cooked but nicely chewy seed. The one time I soaked them longer — I let them sit in the water before finally draining them — they were too soft for my taste. I like the chewy texture. I would think that cooking them longer would have the same effect.

Well, presumably cooking them longer leaves them still edible, just softer. So you could do them either way. Just now what you are getting, really soft seeds or chewy ones. Which works better for the recipe you are cooking?

Maybe one day I will try them with the longer cooking time, but I’m in no rush. I like the way I’m cooking them now.

So let’s consider the possible recipe…

1 cup wheatberries

1 cup lentils

onion, either freshly chopped or caramelized

any other vegetable that strikes your fancy, or nothing at all

blend of red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper

maybe another spice to go in there? What would go good? Cumin maybe, or, No! let’s try ginger.

Any suggestions?

White to wheat

I’ve been part of a trend that I didn’t quite realize I was following until considerably later in the process. The trend? the move to whole grains.

When I moved nine years ago, I grabbed the opportunity to create a new habit. I tend to find the time of a large change the perfect atmosphere to make small changes that I stick to, so I decided that I would begin regularly making my own bread. I had already been baking some, just not consistently. But at the time of the move, I was comfortable enough with it that I decided to try the change to consistently making my own. One step at a time, you now. So I did. I think one loaf of bread was bought while my parents were visiting to help me with the move, but then I was on my own, learning a new job, living (ironically) right behind a grocery store, and buying only flour, never bread.

It pretty much worked. I simply stuck to my guns by telling myself — if you don’t want it badly enough to make it, then you don’t want it badly enough. I think that in the nine years since I’ve moved, I may have bought one loaf of sandwich bread since that first one my Mom bought, but I’m not even sure of that. I do know that the only time store-bought sandwich bread has been in this house has been when she was here. (She brings her own, sometimes. But she likes my bread; after all, she gave me a Kitchen Aid for my birthday after a few years of this. Before that, I was kneading it all by hand.)

Now, this didn’t mean that I never bought any bread at all; for example, I still haven’t learned to make bagels, so if I want them, I buy them. But eventually…

Anyway, as I grew more and more comfortable with this process, to the point that I memorized the recipe, I began to contemplate whole wheat bread. Now, it wasn’t that I hadn’t had the idea of whole wheat from the beginning — one of the bread books I read at the time of my move, and in a way it inspired me to make the change — was Bread Alone. But those recipes were almost too difficult in a way; or at least, that’s how I thought of them. I hadn’t yet made the transition to the proper ingredients or the proper mindset. The mindset that said, I can do it, I just have to find them. And really, the practice of making bread for a while was a good thing before I started to tackle the differences in wheat. Whole wheat flour acts a little differently than white flour.

So, I started slowly. First, I found good flour (King Arthur is my favorite still, although I mostly don’t buy flour from them any more, explain why in a minute). And I started making my rolls and sandwich bread recipes with a blend of wheat and white. Eventually I reached a point where I had about a 50:50 ratio. And it was good.

But then came a bit of a sea change in my thinking. I had been intending all along to move toward more whole grains in my diet for reasons of health, but I hadn’t really intended to do a complete change to whole grains. But somewhere around that time, I discovered a trend through the internet; many people were teaching, for reasons both religious and secular, that, as a society, we really needed to move away from white flour to whole wheat, from processed foods to fresh, local foods, from a convenience culture to one that gathered, preserved, and cooked one’s own food directly and mindfully, as much as possible. So I was suddenly contemplating not just a move toward cooking with whole wheat flour, but an entirely different mindset in my approach to food.

It didn’t happen all at once. In fact, I’d say this has happened over the course of the entire nine years I’ve lived here, and I’m not finished yet. It was more of a step by step process: incorporating more and different vegetables into my diet, eventually getting into the habit of going to the farmer’s market regularly, trying out a CSA farm subscription for vegetables and eggs, disciplining myself not to buy out-of-season fruits and vegetables at the grocery store on a regular basis but more as a treat, getting local meat sources, and dairy sources, too (I’m still working on that one, though I have found local sources), figuring out what I wanted locally and what was a lost cause (I’m not giving up my coffee and spices), and finally, buying a grain mill so I can grind my own extremely fresh flour. (I had to think about that one for a while; it is a commitment, you know.)

Interestingly, one of  my biggest difficulties was finding recipe books. In some ways, it still is. I want good recipes that work toward good taste with regular ingredients, but are committed to using only whole wheat flour. Even the King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat Bread recipe book, which I have and have used enthusiastically, did not make that commitment. They used blends of white and wheat when what I wanted was whole wheat only. Or those wonderful vegetarian cookbooks — required me to buy foods that weren’t available locally, unless I was willing to buy something that was trucked across the continent. Or the preservation cookbooks — required me to use ingredients that I was trying to use less of, like sugar (for example, jam recipes — I just recently discovered one that didn’t require me to use pectin!). But I’m stubborn, and so I keep looking, and experimenting, and eventually finding what I need.

Just last summer, I actually had a weird moment as a result of all these slow changes. I do have some white flour still sitting in my pantry, waiting for me to use it up, and last summer I had a time shortage and a need for some bread. So I made myself a white flour sandwich loaf because I didn’t have time to grind my grain.  Never again! It was, well, it didn’t taste bad, it just didn’t taste. I felt like I was eating air more than food, and I missed the flavor of the whole wheat. (It made me weirdly uncomfortable.) Once the little bit of white flour is gone from my pantry, I don’t think I’ll be buying anymore again.

Now what changes remain? Well, I need to learn more about food preservation. There are plenty more things to can so I don’t have to buy as much in the winter. I’d like to figure out a way to buy a lot of local onions, for example, and preserve them in my storage room so I can have some all winter long, when the farmer’s market doesn’t have them any more. Same with garlic. A root cellar would be nice, but not really a functional solution yet. And I really need to tackle a vegetable garden, so it can fill in some of the gaps of what I buy elsewhere.

But, you know, one step at a time…

Excuse me, I need to go pay my CSA farm bill for the year…

local is best

This week I’ve been having an interesting experience with the clear proof that local food is best.
Monday I fixed a dish for my work lunches that week, as is my habit, and so I tossed together a quick hamburger tomato sauce, rather like spaghetti sauce except without the spaghetti, that had ground beef, canned tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and lovely spices and herbs. And it has been good! I’ve been trying to figure out what makes it so lovely, and I finally decided it’s a combination of two things.

  1. I used cinnamon for the first time, and
  2. the canned tomatoes were canned by me last summer.

Why did these make a difference? Well, the cinnamon is something I had read about before, and finally decided to try it, and it is definitely good. Upon reflection, I may have used a bit too much for the pound of hamburger — I used about one teaspoon — but I’m not really complaining too much. I will definitely be experimenting with cinnamon again in a meat dish. But the big difference is the tomatoes. When I fixed them for canning, I cooked them down a bit with some generic Italian spices, which added considerable to their richness and sweetness. That depth of flavor was greatly enhanced by the spices in this meat sauce this time around, but it would not have been as good if the canned local tomatoes hadn’t been there in the first place.

At least I don’t think so. Clearly I will have to experiment a bit with the rest of my canning to confirm this conclusion — such a hardship!

slicing the tomatoes for canning

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Remembering an idea

See, I have all these thoughts that occur to me and I need to get them down before I forget them. Sometimes it feels like an entire party inside my head.

Okay, so I have a friend who may be suffering from celiac — and she has requested a gluten-free bread, since I regularly make my own bread. So I start doing a little research, read some of a blog I enjoy who regularly has gluten-free recipes, and out of nowhere get the urge to re-read the book Bread alone that I’ve had in my recipe collection for eight years, because it occurred to me that it might be something I can do a better job with now that I mill my own grain. (I need to do some more looking in the KA recipe book as well.) But what does that have to do with the creation of a gluten-free bread? I dunno, but turns out that it triggered an idea. Pain au levain is akin to sourdough in that you go through this long process of creating a chef to create flavor and texture in the bread.  Not precisely applicable to gluten-free bread, or is it? What’s to stop me from creating that same kind of taste with an alternative grain like amaranth or teff or … I need to go look at the list of gluten-free grains. And it might improve the texture, too??? It won’t replace the gluten, but it might improve the things that a new celiac misses about wheat bread.

This is going to take some experimentation.

Canning the apple butter

This turned out to be so easy! All I had to use was the crockpot. I made two batches, but I think the first one was too tart. Anyway, just so I can remember, here are the two varieties of recipe I used; we’ll see which one Mom likes better.

Mix of tart apples like Granny Smith, Jonathons, etc.

Peel and slice apples to fill the crockpot (5 qt. variety)
Put in 2 c. apple cider, 1/2 c. vinegar, 1 1/2 c. sugar, 2 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg; cook until apples are soft. Puree with blender (handheld or regular type). Continue to cook until deep brown and most liquid is evaporated, so that a spoonful of the apple butter does not fall out of the spoon.

Like I said, this batch was too tart, plus I had problems getting rid of enough liquid.

Second batch: I filled up the crockpot even more densely, did 1 c. apple cider, 1/2 c. vinegar, 1 1/2 c. sugar, 2 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg. It was definitely a bit sweeter, but I think I could still cut back on the apple cider and vinegar — maybe even half that? and possibly less sugar as well as a result — since I still had some problems getting rid of enough liquid. But the proportion of sour to sweet was better in this batch.

I will await a verdict after Christmas, since this is part of Mom’s present. But early information is good, since Sister and BIL tried and liked it. I’ll have to check and see what Nephew1 thought, since he is as much of an apple butter addict as Mom is.

Other things to remember:
1) definitely borrow the combined peeler/slicer from neighbor again.
2) for better use of peeler/slicer, only get medium-sized apples and but them up quickly, before they soften.
3) a whole half-bushel was just about right for doing two batches, with some left over. Next year make some apple pie filling with the rest and can it, once you’ve got the whole right size of apple thing down as well as right kind of canner.