Get Real! Dinner Edition

I was invited by my friend Adrie to join a little blog party series called “Get Real!” A handful of bloggers are going to write about a variety of different topics related to homemaking, and how that really looks in our lives. I thought I’d come out of semi-retirement to join in because if there is one thing I like, it’s being real. 

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Today we’re to talk about dinner. Here’s what I have to say: I like it simple, I like it planned, and I like it by 5pm. My great dream in life is to actually sit down at 5 for a meal that is perfectly cooked by a relaxed chef (could that be me?) and with a family that is scrubbed and smiling. But the sun has been shining kind of late in the day, and that’s such a fine time to take a walk and let the family freely unwind, that well, we eat before 7 and that does just fine.

I meal plan once a week, and archive those plans, just in case next time the week of March 24th rolls around I want to just repeat the genius. I often tell folks that meal planning is my secret to eating well on a little. I flatter myself that I am a little famous amongst my flock for being the most frugal shopper. Meal planning is one secret. The other is not buying much food. My husband likes to ask once the groceries are unloaded, “Did you get anything to eat?”

While on the subject of dinner, and speaking of getting real, I’d like to confess that my name is Kyce and I am on a Special Diet. There, I said the words I never thought I’d have to utter! It wasn’t so bad. Nor is the diet. It’s been a week since we began eating what you might call Hard Core Nourishing Traditions. You know, GAPS. No grains or potatoes or pinto beans. Gallons of bone broth. 4 dozen eggs a week. Yogurt cultured almost past recognition. Fish oil for breakfast.

There is something radical happening in my kitchen right now. The amount of attention and care going into preparing our food is not tiresome or restrictive, but enlivening. Our food deserves this level of commitment, and I feel blessed to find myself giving it. It is very reminiscent of my last special diet, aka the plastic fast. Remember that, old friends? During that time I felt this amazing feeling of “Wow, I didn’t even know it was possible to live like this!” and I’m feeling the same way now: If I always thought I had to eat grains with my meals, and it turns out I feel great without them, what else do I believe that isn’t really true? 

Also, it’s kind of fun to try on this super-bad-ass and a little most-high kitchen persona. I’m, like, one of those people that can go through a bottle of apple cider vinegar in a week, now. Whoa.

What else? Pretty much a crockpot of bone broth is going round the clock. All our nuts are getting soaked and slowly dehydrated in the pilot light warmed oven. I’m fermenting vegetables–and I’ve always wanted to be not just a person who fermented veggies, but also ate them, and here we go, it’s happened. Every mason jar in my house is being used not for jam but for tallow and chicken livers. Kefir is around the corner, though I swear I’m not doing kombucha. But I will trade chicken stock for it.

I’m far from perfect. Let’s just say it’s good luck that the invitation to write this post didn’t come in the midst of one of our special mac and cheese diets. I have many dear friends that have been on the journey of eating as well as possible for a long time, and they have inspired me along the way, even as I’ve resisted–for a whole host of reasons–major changes. I’ve always done my best while staying within my comfort zone, and felt it good enough, so this is a radical new direction for me and my family. And yes, it is stretching my frugal ways, and asking for certain compromises. For instance, half our milk is raw goat milk, but not organic. The other half is organic but not raw or grassfed. What a problem, right? I try not to feel too sorry for myself.

Who knows how long this will last or where it will take us, but for now, it has been healing on many levels. Like Sandor Katz says in Wild Fermentation about fermenting, it’s kind of like “a health regimen, gourmet art, multicultural adventure, form of activism, and spiritual path all rolled into one.”

There’s so much more to say–about the commitment we make through our food, and about extending that commitment not just to our own health, but the planet’s. Perhaps another day, but just know that is on my mind right now.

In the meantime, I need a home for my sourdough starter if anybody in the hood is interested. It makes very, very good bread, if memory serves.

Any revolutions brewing or fermenting in your kitchens? Share the good word, please, without fear of being real, and then stop by the other blogs in this series to see what they’ve got going on:

Plain and Joyful Living ~ Hullabaloo Homestead ~ Our Ash Grove ~ This Blessed Life~Fields and Fire~ Shivaya Naturals

 

Harvest Swap

Come and get some plums!

Dear Fellow Preservers of the Harvest,

You are cordially invited to a Delectable Harvest Swap in which the bounty of our gardens, barnyards, orchards, and wild lands will be celebrated and shared.

Consider this your advance notice to put up extra of whatever putting up you do. Bring that extra bit you know you can’t use, and let it be your currency to barter your way to a dream pantry while spending a morning amidst fabulous folk. 
  

Wondering what to bring? 

Whatever you’ve canned (according to Dept. of Ag regulation specs, please!)—chutneys, jams, fruit butters, sauces, salsas, whole fruits, pickles, but also vinegars, condiments, fermented fare, dried fruits, cider, chiles, and garlic. Not a big canner? How about baked goods, salves, tinctures, honey, soap, seeds, dried culinary or medicinal herbs…or whatever your homemade, homegrown, or wild harvested specialty is. Oh, and don’t forget pumpkins, cabbages, and other fresh fall crops.

Register here: Santa Fe Harvest Swap

Learn more about food swaps here: Food Swap Network

Happy High Summer days, and see you on the flip side!

Kyce and Erin

 

Archiving the Apricots

The glorious days of fruit season are upon us again. It’s been a few years since we had a really good one, with all the trees bending low with the weight of  heavy fruits. Across Santa Fe, grocery store shelves are sold out of jars and lids within hours, and the sound of ball jars pinging sealed can be heard ringing out.

It’s been a couple few years since we had apricots to speak of, some say a decade has gone by since the sight of fallen apricot covered streets and gardens graced our fair villa. So much happens in a decade! I can’t help but reflect on how we grow between each cycle of harvest and preservation, gleaning our fruit, learning new ways to preserve it, and ripening into our ability to put everything else on hold because the apricots must be put up today.

From the fledgling days where we nervously try to get every last air bubble out of our jars, to the experiments with fermented chutney or hard cider, we are always in some state of beginners mind when it comes to putting up the harvest. And we are also rewarded for our efforts, becoming more and more skilled with each go round. The fruit teaches us, and brings us gently into the fold of radical homemaking. How can we say no to this gift from the trees, the bees, and the magical year that it all bears fruit?

Because I know I’ll forget between now and the next apricot year, here’s a little log of what’s gone down in my kitchen so far.

First, the canning. Here’s a blurry, satisfied, late night shot of some of it. I wasn’t super creative with my jams this year–next time I’ll make spiced ginger or rosehip-clementine-apricot jam like my friends did. Me, I’d just cook down the fruit as it fell (I call it “splat-ripened”) or was picked, then either make a simple pomonas pectin jam (my attempts at homemade pectin have flopped–advice?) or apricot butter (fruit and sugar in the crockpot till cooked down and darkened) depending on how much time I needed to buy myself.

I stopped myself after 45 jars, because really there is too much of a good thing and how much can we truly eat when so much fruit is still ripening on the tree?

Next I got to work freezing the choicest fruit–Just ripe enough to be heavenly but not even close to mushy. I dumped the fruit into a big bowl filled with water and a few teaspoons of citric acid (ascorbic acid from Vitamin C capsules would also be great) to keep them from discoloring. Then split, pitted, and frozen on cookie sheets and then stored in bags or containers.

Not pictured is my apricot brandy–a gallon jar filled with ripe, whole fruit, covered in three cups of sugar and cheap vodka. Already the smell of this brew is positively ambrosial, but I think I’ll give it a few more weeks for kicks. Strain as well as humanly possible. This is another place to get more creative–anise stars? Cinnamon sticks? Since we don’t really drink much brandy, however homemade-ish, I’ll be giving pretty little bottles at Christmas time. Also, next time I’ll be sure to use an organic, quality vodka.
Totally new for me this year is drying fruit. We don’t have a dehydrator, so it always seemed sort of off limits. Funny how the simplest things that you know are as ancient as mankind can seem like the most impossible. In my ’80s edition of Putting Food By there was a little note about how Ferminia Chavez of Las Trampas, New Mexico sun-dried her apricots thusly: Add two table spoons of kosher salt to a gallon of water. Dip the ripe fruit in, then split with your fingers, take out the pit, and turn the fruit slightly inside out. Then put in the sun till dry. I thought to myself, if this worked for Ferminia Chavez just up the road in Las Trampas, why shouldn’t it work for me?

Well, it did.
It happens that Mr. Old Recipe has all sorts of magical things in his collection, including an old screen door and matching glass door. He raised the screen onto bricks over a concrete “collector,” I spread the fruit out like so, and we set the glass door on bricks over top. Even with cool days and plenty of clouds and occasional showers, the fruit dried within three days.

The pros will say it’s best to not have the fruit directly in the sun where they lose some vitamins. But I thought of Ferminia and didn’t fret too much about it. Perhaps a bit of cheesecloth over the top? Or a window/door with frosted panes? On a warm, dry day, I’d say this would have worked fine in the shade, too.

Look at this gold! My friends, it tastes even better.

I thought at first that the salt bath was some old-timey way of keeping the color pure, but our friend Alberto who knows everything said it was to draw the moisture out for better drying. Those old timers weren’t born yesterday, I guess.

::

What are you doing for the first time this year in the food preservation department? What works for you every time? What should I know about storing my dried fruit? What’s your favorite way to make apricot jam?

Traditional Foods Blues

It’s a song, people.

dum dum dum deedum

I woke up this morning

my earl grey tastes like a goat.

Set the sourdough rising,

and cooked those soaked oats.

Dee dum dum deedum

The yogurt milk boiled over,

but it’s gonna taste okay.

Got to keep at it,

it’s just that kind of day.

Dum dum dum deedum

My bone broth stopped gelling

after two days a cooking,

I don’t know what happened

but at least the smell is gone.

deedly dum deedee dum

My fermented carrots turned nasty

guess something went wrong

it don’t really matter

cuz I got me this song

dee dum dum deedum

These beans I’ve been soaking

for 48 hours

So get yourself supper

and feel the food power.

Yeah!

::

Won’t you sing along? What’s happening in your kitchen, right or wrong?

Mealtime Grace

 

Is there some unspoken rule that every blogger (with children under age ten) must write at least one post about meal planning? Let’s just pretend that there is, and that I’m meeting my requirement. My apologies to readers of the non-housewife, restaurant-preferred variety.

I’ve never been much for meal planning–while I loved the idea, doing it regularly never happened, so I opted to just have a general idea what kinds of meals I’d make in a week: something with chicken, something with beans, etc. It worked, more or less. But lately,  I’d go to the store and buy milk and eggs and chocolate and then come home and wonder what to cook.

With a baby coming, oh any day now, I’ve spent the last few months trying to find every way I can to get my kingdom running itself, as a friend of mine says. For me, that means not having to think about what’s for dinner. Fortunately for our family, I had a huge burst of I’m getting my act together. And I did, and it’s working.

I started by planning meals for a full four weeks instead of just one. I  could have kept going but was starting to feel compulsive (at one point my enthusiasm for the project was so great I almost made a super complex house cleaning chart, with each day of the week a slightly different chore. It was totally OCD, though I still fantasize about it.) Anyways, I came up with general themes for  weeknights according to our schedule: oven fare on my baking day, crock pot day for the day I’m out in the late afternoon, beans and rice on Friday, because that’s what we’ve done for years and years (and called it a feast, too.)

Then I got out my cookbooks and left them on the table for a solid week. I tend to only turn to cookbooks when I’m feeling kind of desperate, and it seldom works out because I don’t have the right ingredients on hand at the last minute. But I love these books and want to be guided by them more, both to expand my kitchen skills and to have a wider variety of flavors on our table. For instance, if I knew we’d be having a stirfry one night, I wanted a different sauce each week. I took notes on what recipes caught my eye, and made a rough outline.

I found that the menus were like a puzzle, and I had to move the pieces around a bit to find the right balance between rich meals and healthier ones, to make sure we didn’t have rice every single night one week, and to vary the amount of cooking required each day. Some days are full-on cooking affairs where the oven runs for hours straight, other days we have leftovers, still others it’s twenty minutes to fry some fish and steam the veggies. While some days are very detailed, others are open: We’ll have vegetables, surely, but I won’t know what they are until I pick up our CSA for the week (but a safe bet these days would be turnips).

By organizing what we are having each day, I’m able to use our food much more efficiently. I know that if I roast a chicken on Monday, we’ll be having soup on Wednesday. I know when to soak beans, and when to defrost meat. And most importantly, for my budget and dwindling brain power, I know what to buy at the store each week. Yep, once I had the menu ready, I made up grocery lists for each week listing all the major components of the meals. If I already have an ingredient I can simply cross it off the list, which I find easier than putting it on the list by pulling it from some imaginative, dreamy part of my kitchen brain.

And yes, at first I rebelled like a willful child: What? I don’t want chicken tonight! I’d cry. But you know what, there is something so comforting about just having that dang chicken since it’s chicken night, and not having to think about it for another minute. Though of course, one could always change the sauce. I’m now on round two of my month long menus, and this time it’s even simpler: much less meat (as I won’t be pregnant too much longer, I hope!), and more straightforward meals that involve less use of cookbooks.

What’s cooking at your place? Please share tips about cooking, budgeting, babies, and other kitchen related epiphanies.

Love,

Kyce

 

Sour Cream

First things first: I’ve sworn off strawberries except as a very occasional indulgence–until, of course, they come into season here and I do whatever it takes to (non-violently) fill my freezer. Certainly if we have trouble waiting for their season to come, there are plenty of other “exotic” California fruits that don’t involve a package that will sit in the landfill forever.

Now, sour cream. When we started reducing the amount of plastic we bring into our home, the steep drop-off in trash was more of a bonus than the outright goal. Our intention was really to learn to live in a new way: to make what we needed ourselves, from scratch, and to learn to go without the things we couldn’t make ourselves or obtain in a plastic free way. Sour cream perfectly embodies both of these things.

While I’ve had sour cream starter in my freezer since New Years, I didn’t start making it until, oh, a few weeks ago. I don’t know why, but we went without it for months. This was not easy for us. We talked about it over our bowls of beans and chile, tried to remember the taste of it, the texture, the tang. Perhaps on some level I didn’t think it would work, that it was going to prove beyond my ability to make it. And I hate failure. But what else could you call a life without sour cream?

Finally I bought the cream, a whole quart of it–which amounts to a small fortune in glass bottled milk. When time came to add the culture I saw I was supposed to use light cream or half and half. Even skim milk. Skim milk! So I made pies and quiches and used up the heavy cream, bought half and half, and finally, finally, around The Man of the Place’s birthday, made the dang sour cream.

And my life is forever changed. I am a new woman. Maybe even a real woman. To think, if a few more weeks had gone by, I might never have discovered the simplest, most delicious home-cultured milk product known to housewife’s across Russia and the Ukraine.

So: Obtain milk product as described above. I started with culture from this company, but have since been using the cream itself to make subsequent batches. It’s alive, like yogurt. I wonder if any commercially available sour creams have a live, active culture. If so, try using a tablespoon or two of those per pint of milky cream. The best part is it’s totally fuss free (unlike yogurt, which has a slightly more tedious but still very simple requirement of heating, cooling, incubating). Warm the milk/cream/whatever to 80 degrees. In case you don’t have a cheese thermometer, this is to where it’s not cold anymore, but well before it gets even luke warm. Mix in your starter. Leave undisturbed at room temperature for 12 hours.

Then eat with a spoon, straight out of the jar.

ps, we’re going to dollop sour cream on our (ahem) rhubarb-apple cobbler this very minute.

The Best Thing Since…

I’m thinking that whoever decided sliced bread was so great must have sold plastic bags. After all, why else praise an innovation that requires something as basic as bread to be kept in one? A much better thing to celebrate the greatness of, I’ve decided, is the tortilla press.

No, you don’t really need one. My friend makes corn tortillas by pressing them with a pyrex pie pan. But oh, are they heavenly. I’m quite taken with this one that my folks brought me from Mexico. I could have bought one down the road at the Mexican grocery, but am a bit wrapped up in my buy nothing new philosophy, which happily doesn’t exclude gifts.

It’s like magic, this amazing little maquina. Mix dough easy peasy, press the handle, put on the skillet, eat a bit of heaven. I used to think making corn tortillas was a chore. We eat a lot of bean and rice feasts around here, and the taco portion has been conspicuously absent for a while. No longer. Now I’ll make a few tortillas at lunchtime (without complaining!) and even in the morning when making E’s lunch. I will say that when I tried to make wheat tortillas with the press it didn’t work too well, and that I was a bit relieved that I still have good reason to wield my rolling pin regularly. Also, I should mention that tortilla presses come with a piece of plastic sheeting to press the dough between, so that it doesn’t stick to the press. At first I was opposed to using it, and used parchment paper instead. That worked fine, but isn’t as reusable or durable as the plastic, so I’m surrendering to the wisdom of countless Grandmother’s south of the border and just loving it instead of fighting it.

So I ask you, what’s your favorite device that brings a bit of ease and perfection to an otherwise handmade endeavor? This week, see if you can’t slip into casual conversation something like, “Oh wow, that’s the best thing since____(the food mill, apple slicer, etc) was invented.”