Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Garden to Kitchen Experiments

Last spring (2016), I planted some lovely corn. Some of it was a purplish large corn like and Inca corn. Some was very tiny little red Strawberry Corn. And some was a kind of multi-color small corn. It was supposed to be some kind of popping corn, but none of it was suitable for eating fresh. After harvesting, drying and popping, I found that the corn was not consistent enough to get a good popping going. This left me with about a quart of kernels and no real idea of what to do with them.
Today I decided to grind them with my grain grinder to make polenta. This turned out to be a pretty good plan. The corn ground up nicely. I mixed it all together so that the big fat corn was in with the tiny red corn. All seemed fine and happy.
I started using some of this ground corn to make a polenta to see how it did. What I found was the home grown corn did not have as much starch as commercial ground corn. And the skin, which had all the color, was pretty tough. It took about 1/2 cup of my corn, 2 cups of water, some salt and about a tablespoon of regular ground corn to make a decent polenta texture.
After cooking and letting it set, the mass was kind of soft but you could cut it with a knife into portions. I was mostly disappointed in the flavor. No corn taste. Very bland. Lots of fiber from the skin, though. This made it kind of chewy.
I boosted the flavor with a little bit of duck fat from our Thanksgiving dinner and a bit more salt. Not as healthy, but made it worthy of eating it.
So in the final analysis, I have to say that growing the little Strawberry corn was fun and pretty but kind of useless. We are back to the MaryAnn and Ginger comparisons. The really pretty stuff is not very useful. There are breeds of corn that are specific for popping, there are hulless varieties and corn that is good for eating right off the plant. There are some that are best for grinding into flour or meal. I definitely had fun, but will not plant these again.
Now I have to figure out what to do with a quart of ground corn. Birdseed? I don't have chickens right now, but I think they would have loved it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Post Election Math

As the Voters of our country once again rediscover the Electoral College system in our Presidential election process, we find there is a great disparity between how much Your vote counts toward getting your candidate into office.
Let us look at some historical information. The Electoral College system came to be because the STATES didn't want one state where there were lots of people to dominate over the smaller states. As STATES they wanted to also have some input into the end of the election process. This means that every state gets a certain number of Electoral College votes regardless of the number of people in the state or the number of people who voted in that State. There are only so many Electoral College Votes and some states get many more than other states based on population. This does not mean that each vote is counted equally toward an Electoral College vote.
States Rights. There are 50 states as of this writing.
The largest state in the Union- people wise- is California with 55 electoral college votes. But the number of people voting way exceeds that of any other state. California had about 9 million voters. The next largest state- electoral college wise is Texas (38). Texas had about 8.5 million voters, but many fewer electoral college votes. New York and Florida are tied for third (29 ea). Florida had about 8.5million voters and even fewer electoral votes than Texas, and New York had only about 7 million voters with the same electoral votes as Florida. This, on its face, seems really unfair. Yet, historically, when one giant population center dominates over the lesser populated areas, there is great social disparity and civil unrest. Refer to your history of China and the Soviet Union, and you will see that the large industrial areas can inflict great damage on the people of the farm lands when they control all of the political structure.
The Electoral College system requires that the winner have 270 Electoral College votes. Currently  Trump has 290 and Clinton 232 . But in popular votes, the individual voter's actual votes, Trump has 60,367,273 and Clinton has 61, 035, 189. (These numbers are changing as mailed votes, provisional votes, and possibly damaged votes are counted). Clinton is leading by about 700,000 votes.
Why don't those votes matter? The extra 2 million California votes for Clinton  don't increase the number of electoral college votes. They are essentially wasted votes. Without any California votes, Trump would have 57,161,600 votes and Clinton would have 55,045,348. In 49 states total, Trump won by more than 2 million votes.
How to get more bang for your vote. You need to leave California and head for a state that needs Democrat shoring up. There were several states that could have turned BLUE if there had been more Democrat votes. The high concentration of Democrats in one state actually dilutes the voting power. California had about 2 million too many Democrat votes in this election.
There is time to figure out what state you want to live in before the next election. Make your vote count more. Make the move.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Coffee Liquor

For a person who doesn't drink much, I have been spending a lot of time recently downing many bottles of rum. I am downing them into a coffee concoction for my sweetie. You may ask, "Why do you do this?" and I can say, "Because he wanted it."

So this is the history. My dear Sweet Eduard started roasting his own coffee several years ago. It is really delicious and I am totally addicted. We were sitting one night talking and he was sipping his favorite drink- Kahlua. I asked him if he had thought about maybe making his own coffee liquor with his home roasted coffee, just to get a product with more coffee flavor. I have never been fond of Kahlua and never thought it tasted at all like coffee. So the idea was introduced and it percolated for awhile.

Then after a bit of research, I bought a bottle of rum and started experimenting on coffee, vanilla, sugar, etc, trying to get a workable system to produce a tasty product. Right from the start, the product tasted better than Kahlua- more coffee, less sugary syrup. We started refining the method and writing notes on the recipe attempts.

Finally, we settled on a practical use of materials, tools and time. My kitchen is a gadget wonderland because I make so much stuff. I didn't really want to buy anything new for this project, so I searched high and low until I found enough stuff to do what I wanted to do. I amazed even myself. There are things in my upper cabinets that I haven't seen for years. Some I had forgotten I even owned. That just means that downsizing will be easiest if I start from the top and work down. I will remember that for the future.

After I had made several quarts of really tasty coffee liquor, Eduard took some to work to share with his friends. This turned into a list of 36 people who wanted a little bottle for the holidays. I also had a list of about 6 people who are friends who might be interested. All of a sudden, I am now making 4 gallons of coffee liquor before Thanksgiving. You may ask, "Why do you do this?" and I would say, "because he wanted it?"

Eduard went on-line and found a place that sells 8 oz bottles. He bought 48. There are 4 cups in a quart. 4 quarts in a gallon. That means 16 bottles per gallon. 48 cups= 3 gallons so I will have 1 gallon left for my sweetie for the whole year. Or for some extra in case we need a bit more.

Today, I brewed the last 3 jars of rum/coffee extract. I had strained the previous 3 and made the sugar syrup. Now I have to wait and stir for 5 days until the rum has sucked all the coffee flavor out of the grounds. I will finally get to put my equipment away around the middle of the month. Whew! just in time to clean house for Thanksgiving.

Since I am not really a drinker, I have been thinking that maybe some other type of extraction might be nice for me- strawberries, peaches, blackberries. But then, what would I do with the alcohol part.  I will probably stick to fruit smoothies, with no kick.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Count Down to China

It is August 1, and our trip is for August 25 - 30. I am slowly finishing the items on my to do list. Tomorrow I will go to Los Angeles, again, for the visas. Then finish the quilt. Then shop for gifts. This is becoming a very tiring trip and I haven't even left yet.
There are other things on my agenda as well. Like the plan to work through some cook books and get rid of the useless ones. I have had no time to experiment. No time to read and sort.
And what about that plan to downsize the fiber stash by making stuff? Well, I bought 3 fleeces and sent them to the processor. I have washed some, spun it and knitted up about 4 ounces of the yarn. And though I did knit 4 items earlier this year, I have only managed to move about 1/2 pound of yarn out of the stash. I would say that my stash increased by about 7 pounds of fiber and about 5 pounds of yarn. I am moving in the wrong direction.
And what about that quilting thing? Jeri, did you just by about $50 of thread? really! What were you thinking? Now I have a color for every opportunity. It was on sale. And already, the selection came in handy for my daughter's quilt.
It seems that when I try to let something go, more stuff fills the space. So I have decided that when I get back from China, I am not going shopping, or even looking, for about 6 months. It is groceries and nothing else.
This brings us to the prompt for this blog- time - space and the relationship to getting things done. When there is too much stuff, there are too many choices and I spend too much time thinking and planning. This stuff also takes up space which causes clutter and inefficient use of time trying to maneuver around all the stuff or find things. It has taken me an entire week to get the courage to take the folding chairs to the garage and put them away. I was afraid that stuff will come into the house (which it did) and caused me more confusion about what to do first.
It is wonderful to live in a world with so much choice, yet it is also a burden. I look at the fleeces I have washed but not processed, fleeces processed and not spun, yarn spun and not woven, project on the loom not finished. Knitting projects lined up for years. Quilting projects to last a lifetime. or Two.
And I am not the only one with this problem. E and I are still trying to move parts of his parents stuff out of the garage after 4 years.  My mom's stuff is still in the trunk of the car.
I am grateful to live in a place that has so much, so many opportunities, such variety and the time to explore it. But I also want to go to the beach and just relax sometimes.
I have promised myself that I will not shop in China. No tea. No silk. No Jade. No trinkets. No, no and just NO!
Now to get myself organized for the next project- finishing the quilt, washing more fleece, and cleaning a bathroom.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cook Books and Recipes

I was having breakfast with some friends when we started to discuss recipes and cookbooks. It seems to be a universal issue that you have a whole cookbook and only ever make one recipe from it twice a year. Not only does the book take up space, but you also need to remember which one had the recipe you are wanting and where in the book it would be.
So one of my goals for next year is to find all of my favorite recipes from my favorite cookbooks- and try to compile them into one good recipe source.
Now I know there are reference cookbooks that will not be affected by this. They have way too many recipes and information to let them go. But sometimes I find myself needing one recipe from some obscure book and having to look all day to find it, like Greene on Greens, as an example. I love the idea of a cook book devoted to many different kinds of vegetables. I have used in one time in the last 5 years. I can find the two recipes I like, type them out, and let the book go.  And am I, a diabetic, ever going to really make any of the Victorian candies and confections? I just love the pictures, though. It, too, can go. I have never made anything from the book, although I have looked through it often.
As I look through some of my books, I find an AMISH cooking book from Indiana. Almost everything in it is made from canned items or pre-made products or high carbohydrate foods.  This is not what I think of when I hear the word Amish. But someone thought I would like it. It is going to go. I have never made anything from the book, and it doesn't have pictures so I have never really even looked at it much.
So how do you decide which books will stay and which will go? I think it may be a gut feel thing, to some extent, but other factors can effect the result. Certain books, like THE JOY OF COOKING and MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, and ITALIAN COOKING, and EVERY GRAIN OF RICE (Chinese)- these have so much information that I can't let them go. The ASIAN COOKBOOK is problematic. It has many countries represented and lots of information. It has pretty pictures, but I seldom make anything from this book. I love the Burmese curry and make it often, but not much else. And it is a really big book.
So I have decided to try several recipes from some of the books on the problematic list. Today I am working on some things from a cookbook from MAINE, USA. This was a gift from my daughter and until today, I have never used it. It is mostly about pastries and breads, but it has some good ideas for quick desserts. It uses commercial products and fresh products and tries to keep things simple.
My first attempt from this book is FONDANT. I have 4 other recipes for FONDANT in my other books. They are all pretty much the same. This one is very simplified for making a sugar syrup glaze for pastries. After comparing the recipes, I decided that this book could have true merit if the product is respectable.  It is much simpler than the other recipes, so I started. First problem, no temperature for the syrup only time. But I am wise and experienced so I can figure this out. 2) Too much cream of tartar? This recipe is about 2 times as much as other recipes. 3) Cooling not really given much thought. "Set in a bowl of ice and stir until opaque." Vague.
I divided the beaten syrup into two bowls. One was left as per the book and the other was KNEADED on a cool surface until stiff. PITA. I will compare results when it has CURED in two days.
In the meantime, I will try some other recipe from the book to see if there are other redeeming values. Like the Turnovers that use up the extra puff paste I have from that great breakfast.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Year of Hemming

My Dear Husband (DH) and I seldom shop. We are just not very interested in fashion or crowds or nicknacks. We go to the grocery store weekly and buy clothing as needed, but we just don't go out very often to shop. When we do find things we like, we tend to buy enough to last for a long time. Maybe it will be a year or two before we shop again for that item.
Needless to say, our clothing is worn repeatedly until it is almost falling apart. I had noticed the DH was looking a bit ragged at the hems of his pants and realized that I had never hemmed those pants. After looking at several of his pants, I discovered that most of his pants were in good shape, except the part that drags on the ground under his shoes. So I decided to Hem them. I cut off the old stuff and made new hems.
This activity was inspired by the purchase of several new sewing devices. One was a spiffy new sewing machine with computerized parts. And the second was a top of the line Serger machine. All of these were meant to take up space and make sewing more enjoyable. AND they did.
But while I was busy sewing new hems for the old pants, I realized that about 1/2 of the old pants were worn beyond repair. I was able to save about 4 pair of pants but 6 pair had to go. These I replaced with new pants. All of the new pants needed to be hemmed. The Skinny jeans were hemmed on the wonderful new, outrageously expensive Serger machine. It was fast and powerful and the job was done in a flash (2 days). The other pants required a slightly different approach. First cut off the excess, serger the edge, and perform the blind hem on the leg.
Now the wonderful computerized sewing machine had all the stuff I needed, but gray thread. So I finished the skinny jeans, and the cutting and finishing of the edges in black. But the need for Gray Thread slowed down the rest of the work. I managed to get that on a visit to the sewing store. Then I ran away for a four day vacation. I came home and needed to prepare for Christmas eve. And of course, I was not going to work on Christmas Day. That meant that this project was going to get done before New Year, but after Christmas.
Why does it take me so long to get these tasks done? Because there are so many competing activities and only so much time and energy. I have now managed to make one quilt on the new computerized sewing machine and hem 14 pairs of pants on the wildly expensive serger.  I have made one or two other things on the serger, but hemming seems to be the most important thing it can do.
And you might think that I am done, but no. I have two pair of pants for myself to serger hem. I have already serger hemmed 4 pair for myself this year. In all, I will have 16 pair of pants hemmed using the serger as at least part of the hem process.
In my little mind, this tool was way worth the outrageous price. It got me excited about taking classes and learning new techniques. I have spent hours (and dollars) getting materials and parts so that I can stay in my room and play all day every day.
Now I can grow my own cotton, spin it into yarn, weave it into cloth, sew it into clothing and adorn it with various stitch options. Aside from going to the grocery store, I may never need to shop again, except for thread. Now if I get solar power and go off the grid, I can be .... no, that is just too much out of the loop. I can still pay for electricity and gas. I am not ready to go live in a cave with a goat.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Eduard's Father's Mother's cookies

I have a recipe for a spice cookie that is downright Middle Eastern. The types of spices used are almost all imported from the Asian area, yet it claims to be European in origin. So let me show you this marvelous cookie.
In the USA it is called a cookie. In Europe it might be a biscuit. The German name is Mandelschnitzel- or Almond shingles/slices. This cookie contains cardamom from India, Cinnamon from Ceylon, Mace which is the out husk of nutmeg (I am not sure of the origin) and Allspice which is curiously from North America. I suspect the original recipe used clove but I am not sure. There is a lot of sugar, some eggs and wheat flour- fine white wheat flour.
These cookies have no extra oil in them except what is in the egg yolk. They have almonds and walnuts which supply nut oils. In Europe, almost all the ingredients would be imported.
This recipe came to us from Eduard's side of the family. His grandparents traveled in Saudi Arabia extensively and other parts of the middle east. They were exposed to all types of cooking, baking and the smells of the markets. This recipe alone has survived. I am not certain if this recipe was gathered from the travels or handed down from generations that are even farther back in time.
Eduard's family originated somewhere near France. There is a bit of Ethnic middle Europe look to the family photos. As some point the family ancestors left the France area and migrated into Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. Then they ended up in the United States. Since I can only determine a little of the past migratory route, I know that for a period of time, the grandparents were in Montana, then Colorado. And eventually, Eduard's father came to Southern California.
This recipe became a favorite of Eduard's mother and she made it for the holiday season. It became a favorite of Eduard, and now I make it for the holiday season.
Here is the recipe:

2 cups of sugar
2 cups of flour (all purpose or cake flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 pound ground walnuts
1/4 pound ground almonds
2 tablespoons freshly ground cardamom
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Mace
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
4 eggs separated

Set oven for 350f (usa not metric).  Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and beat until light peaks form. Add egg yolk, spices, flour, and baking powder. Stir to incorporate. Then add nuts all at once and stir to incorporate. Don't beat much as you don't want to develop the gluten in the flour.
The original recipe required you to form the cookies and rest them overnight on the cookie sheet. Dust with flour, turn them over, and bake. I found this to be too much work. So I use a scoop or spoon and make 1 inch balls (12 to a cookie sheet) which I place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Then flatten the balls with a damp finger or spoon. Bake them immediately at 350f for 12 minutes or until just starting to turn golden brown on the edges. I cannot tell any taste or texture difference between the long rest method and the spoon scoop method. I suspect there were other reasons for this baking method which were not explained along the way.
This recipe will make 4 dozen (48) good size cookies, but you can make them smaller and bake them 1 minute less.
In our house, I make this recipe several times because Eduard likes to give them away to friends and family. And I have to admit they are kind of addictive. The spices go well with hot tea late at night. He likes his with coffee. The cardamom flavor and smell lingers in your nose and mouth for a long time. These cookies would store well for a long time in an air tight container, except that Eduard usually finishes them before they have much time in the jar.

The History of Food is our current topic of study during our evening hours. We have lectures and books to help us understand where spices originated, how past generations ate and prepared foods, and how time influenced eating habits. These cookies are definitely indulgences at any time in history except now, however, they may have originated before Victorian times. This is because the early use of sugar was in preparation of meats and sauces. The push to use sugar only for sweet dessert foods came at a later time in history (around 1600) when the discovery of the new world led to more sugar cane production. The use of Allspice, a new world spice, is also an indication that this particular recipe has been adapted to more recent times.

So it is December and I am baking cookies. The house smell exotic and fragrant with spices. I am searching for my tea stash. Happy Holidays.