Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Seed Order

 It's always a bright moment in my Maine winter, the day I place the order for the seeds from Fedco that will become next year's garden. Usually I prefer to wait until mid-January, when winter is deepest and seems like it will never end, to give me that pinpoint of hope, but I'm told waiting might result in not getting the seeds I want this year, and I do want the varieties I've chosen for good reasons. 

I only have so much space, so every year I am torn between my favorites & trying something new. Here are this year's choices:

Sun Golds - These will always be on my list. They are just The Best: best flavor, most fruit, both earliest & latest tomatoes, and utterly reliable. They are a cherry variety; otherwise I'd be tempted to just fill the garden with them. 

Garden Peaches - Also an early tomato; in Maine the growing season is fairly short, so I've learned not to waste it on 90-day germinators, no matter how amazing they sound. These are yellow, 2-inch tomatoes, very flavorful & pretty in salsa. 

Oregon Spring - New to me this year, and said to be a hedge against a cool summer. 

Pruden's Purple - I think I had these in the garden several years ago, so not entirely new. They are a full size tomato - a whole pound per fruit - with a mere 72-day germination. We shall see whether that rings true. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The House Smells Amazing: How to Roast Garlic


Roast garlic is milder and sweeter than raw garlic, with a nutty flavor and none of the burn. It's ever so easy to do! You don't need a garlic roaster, but if you have one you can cook & serve in the same dish. 

Roast Garlic

You'll need:
A head of garlic
A teaspoon of water
A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
A tiny pinch salt

Aluminum foil or a garlic roaster

If using foil, lay flat a square large enough to completely wrap around the garlic head. Bend up the sides to make a bowl shape.

Remove as much of the paper skin as you can without taking apart the head

Cut off the tips - not the root end! - of the cloves

Put a teaspoon of water in the roaster (or foil bowl.)

Place the head root end down in the water.

Drizzle oil over head. Sprinkle the tiny bit of salt. 

Place in cold oven; turn up to 400°. Roast for 45 minutes

Remove from oven. Scoop soft cloves out with tip of knife to spread on bread, or use in dressings or sauces. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sugar Cookies for Christmas

I'm not much a baker. I do love sweets but honestly the world conspires to put cakes and brownies in my path; I don't need to go to all the effort of baking them. Anyway who has time for stuff like that? But I'm a potter, and the pandemic has fucked with my livelihood most truly - all my holiday events have been cancelled. The lemonade from those lemons? This year I have the time.
I have fond memories of making sugar cookies with my sister, as a child. Here's the thing about most sugar cookies: they exist to be beautiful. For the fun of decorating them, for the pleasure in admiring their icing. As a general rule they taste...fine. 

If you are using buttercream frosting, they are a vehicle for getting that to your mouth in the prettiest way possible. If you are using royal icing, well, that hasn't got an amazing flavor usually, either. 

In my usual fashion, I am leaping right in with alterations before I have even tried the standard way, because I want to make cookies that taste great and look amazing. I really want the experience of decorating them - that's the fun of it - but that's not a satisfying experience if the cookies are only ok. 

2 things are wrong with sugar cookies: too dry, and insipid flavor. I added a little more butter, and some almond extract which also serves to add some moisture. They taste like those almond horseshoes that fancy-schmancy bakeries sometimes have. 

Almond Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups flour (plus a little for the rolling board)
1 teaspoon baking powder

You'll need a rolling pin, a smooth surface to roll on, some parchment paper, some cooking spray, and a cookie sheet.

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch slices & put in a bowl with sugar. Mash together with a mixing spoon or potato masher until well combined. Add egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend together well. A stand mixer is super helpful at this point. Add the baking powder to the flour & stir it in. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and mix thoroughly. 

Divide the dough in half.
Spread a very little flour on your rolling surface, and roll out one of the halves of your dough to a quarter inch thick. Flip it frequently while rolling. Place the rolled sheet of dough on a piece of parchment paper. 
Do the same for the other half. 
With a sheet of parchment paper between them, put your rolled sheets of dough in the refrigerator to chill for 1/2 an hour. Preheat the oven to 375° f. 

After the dough has chilled, bring it out and cut your cookie shapes from it. Spray some cooking spray onto the cookie sheet & place the cut shapes onto the cookie sheet. 
Bake for about 12-14 minutes. Cool on rack. Tops will be pale, bottoms will be lightly browned. Makes about 20 3-inch cookies. 

The cookies are only half the battle! Here is the recipe for Better Royal Icing. 

Better Royal Icing
6 tablespoon pasteurized egg whites (The eggs you get at the grocery store are already pasteurized, or you can get a carton of just egg white.)
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Paste food coloring. 

This will make a lot, so you can make several colors, and have some of each at the runnier flood consistency & some at piping consistency. Once it's mixed, separate into smaller bowls & make your colors. The ones you plan to "flood" just need to be thin enough that they will smooth out, so you will add egg white to those a tiny bit - like a 1/4 teaspoon - at a time, until it flows off the mixing spoon. 

I'm not gonna try to teach you how to flood cookies or pipe decoration; I am an absolute amateur at this & you'd be better off to watch videos from My Little Bakery or Sweet Amb's.  

Here are some of my steps in the process: 

The piping was actually the hard part! The trees came out pretty much
as I envisioned; the little churches, not so much. 

Last step: cake paint. Might skip this step next time. Also, gotta work on those little churches. 
Those are kinda janky. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

My First Pie!

2020: a year like none other. If this were a normal year I would be preparing to host my family right now: cleaning, moving furniture around, chopping vegetables. It's not a normal year, and we decided to atomize our Thanksgiving this year: each household celebrating separately. Normally I make the hearty foods, my sister & brother-in-law bring the salad, and my sister-in-law makes pies. 

Well, I'm skipping salad; I love it but Doug has no interest, and it's really only good the first day, so there would be a ton of waste. It's not like I could freeze it! We're having a turkey (it's 12.5 lbs, and it actually a bit comical to look at; it's like a miniature), stuffing, potatoes, brussels sprouts...and pumpkin pie. 

I've never made a pie of any kind before. People keep telling me it's easy, but then there are all these confusing things like, you have to bake it 3 different ways? But it just didn't seem like Thanksgiving without it, so I decided to give pie a chance. 

I decided store-bought crust would have to do, because pastry is notoriously tricky to get right. I bought a box of pre-rolled rounds. That actually turned out to be the troublesome part - I didn't know it would shrink! So after I had partially baked the crust I noticed it was now too small for the pan & tried to slap on some patches. Good thing this pie will not be entering any beauty contests! 

Here'd the filling recipe, from my sister-in-law, the reigning queen of pies in our family: 

Aces High Farm Pumpkin Pie Filling
1 can (1 lb.) pumpkin (One Pie is best, from just up the road in Fairfield, Maine)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger 
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. evaporated milk or light cream

Preheat oven to 425F. Prepare pastry. Beat eggs slightly, then beat in  remaining ingredients. Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes. *Then, reduce heat to 350F and bake 45 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted into the filling comes out clean. Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream on top if desired.

Important notes:

*It's a good idea after the first 15 minutes of baking to cover the
 pie crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent burning.

So, it's out! Boy is this an ugly pie. Smells good, though! I'll report back tomorrow on the important bit: how it tastes. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Oven's Mouth, Boothbay, Maine, October 2020

We are blessed to live in Maine during these Covid times, where there are lots of things to do outdoors, and for free. The Oven's Mouth Preserve in Boothbay is one such thing. I wish this video could be scratch & sniff! The piney woods, the briny rivers; you can just feel the tension leaving your body at the scent. 

My favorite thing about Oven's Mouth, though, is the incredible teal color of the water of the Back & Cross rivers. 


Sunday, September 27, 2020

An Embarrassment of Spuds

 When you think fall in Maine, you might think of apple picking. (And you wouldn't be wrong! It is a fun fall activity and fresh-fresh-fresh apples are just incredible.) Another fall harvest is just as plentiful, though. The French name translates to "apples of the earth:" potatoes.

There are no pick-your-own potato farms that I know of, it being a messier and less picturesque activity, but farm stands are full of native potatoes, and in the grocery store the prices can't be beat. 

How to take advantage of all this bounty, when the two of us can only eat so many potatoes? (Especially when the apples are beckoning, as well!) In the past when I have tried to freeze stews or soups that contain potatoes, the results have been...not great. The potato chunks have a weird spongy texture. Trying to freeze raw potatoes has not gone any better - those were somehow both grainy and mushy. 

I knew I must be doing something wrong, because frozen french fries and hash browns are a thing. I can't flash-freeze, but I can blanche, which, it turns out, is the secret to home freezing potatoes. Here's how:

Cut the potatoes into wedges. It doesn't have to be exactly this size and shape, but you don't want your chunks too small, because you don't want them to get too thoroughly cooked before freezing. 

Put a big pot of water on the stove on high. Set a timer for 2 minutes. 

While waiting for the water to boil, fill a bigger pot with cold water & ice cubes. This is the ice bath to stop the potatoes from continuing to cook after you drain them. 

Once the water on the stove boils, put in the potatoes and start the timer. 

When the timer goes off, drain hte potatoes in a colander and put them immediately into the ice bath. Leave them in the ice bath for a few minutes, them scoop them back into the colander with a slotted spoon. Let them drain completely, then divide them into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. 

Frozen potatoes will stay good for about a year - not that I need to worry about that, I expect we will eat these sometime in the bleak midwinter. That's the point of buying lots while they are cheap - then you save on shopping when you have less money. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

This Much I Can Do


There's so much awful in the world that we are powerless to help, it feels good to do one thing - even a tiny thing - to make things better. Or, more accurately, to help mitigate how bad they can get. 

In the past I've been spotty about my annual flu vaccination. For most of my adult life I haven't had health insurance, so this is a relatively new habit for me; I think I am *finally* associating the turning of the leaves with "get a flu shot," in addition to "bring in the hose," "get sandbags for the truck," and "put away the hammock." 

This year, of course, it's doubly important: the overlap of the coronavirus pandemic with the normal flu season is likely to be a bitch. The symptoms are very similar, and the last thing our healthcare system needs is twice as many coughing people running out to get tested, and the last thing anybody needs is to get both viruses at once. 

More than 200,000 Americans are dead. There is nothing we can do for them, and honestly there is very little we as individuals can do to prevent the next 200,000 deaths. (The government could do a LOT, but they probably won't, not before January, anyway.) But this is one thing - one tiny thing - that could save lives.