Sunday, October 31, 2010
Saturday, October 30, 2010
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands around me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
No Halloween is complete without cupcakes. I'm not talking about those cupcakes from the store either. I'm talking about homemade, melt-in-your-mouth, gooey cupcakes. I think some mom brought them in for a class Halloween party one year, and I forever associated them with the holiday. I've been making this Halloween cupcake recipe for pumpkin cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting, and devils food cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting since my kids were toddlers, and they are a much anticipated treat every year. I think the recipe came from Sunset magazine, but I end up modifying it a little every year.
And since it is Halloween, and we need something a little tricky and spooky to go with our treats, here is my recipe for Devilled Spiders Eggs:
Put them all together and slice up some black olives to look like little spiders and place them on top. It's an easy recipe that is always a hit at Halloween parties and potlucks.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
When you have a family to feed, you find yourself making a lot of soups. They're easy, versatile, healthy, and can be eaten for many days in a row. They warm your bones on a cold, foggy day. However, it is easy to get stuck in a soup rut. I think I made the exact same vegetable lentil soup for three years, and rarely made another kind. I didn't even want to eat it anymore. Some friends came over for a potluck dinner the other evening, and gave me a burst of soup inspiration. Here is a secret tip for really good soups: ADD A CAN OF COCONUT MILK!
Whatever the type of soup, whatever the ingredients, it will be delicious! Take your vegetable soup, beef stew, bone broth, chicken broth, tomato soup or whatever you've got, and turn it into a creamy, exotic meal.
The last few weeks, we've had so many tomatoes, that I just chop them, put them in a pot with onions and other veggies, and add the coconut milk with a little yellow curry paste. It's amazing!
We had a head of cauliflower sitting forlornly in the back of the fridge, and I decided to make some of our favorite Greek cauliflower fritters go with our curry soup the other night. Apparently they are eaten cold as a common picnic food in Greece. I think they're just as good piping hot. Here's the recipe from "From a Traditional Greek Kitchen" by Aphrodite Polemis:
1 large cauliflower
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. wine vinegar
1 cup flour (or gluten-free baking mix)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk, buttermilk, or coconut milk
1 egg beaten
2 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
Cut off thick stem from cauliflower and boil head in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and chop into small florettes. Sprinkle with parsley and vinegar and let stand for 20 minutes.
Combine flour, baking powder, salt, egg and butter in a bowl. Fold in florettes. Heat olive oil in pan and cook little pancakes of the fritter mixture until golden brown. Serve hot or cold.
If I Could Be Any Tree
If I could be any tree,
If I could be any tree,
If I could be any tree,
An oak is what I'd be.
An oak is what I'd be.
I'd grow so tall and my roots would grow so deep,
And every fall I'd have the brightest leaves.
And if you were a little squirrel,
If you were a little squirrel,
If you were a little squirrel,
You could eat for free.
You could eat for free.
I would give you everything you need,
A place to make your nest and rest your feet.
There's just one thing I'd ask of you,
One simple thing that you could do.
Dig some holes in the ground,
Plant my acorns all around.
Then when I am dead and gone,
They will grow up tall and strong.
And my spirit will live on,
You will hear it sing my song.
An oak is what I'll be.
An oak is what I'll be.
Monday, October 25, 2010
One thing I love about this time of year is that food just falls from the sky...so much, in fact, that you have to be careful it doesn't hit you on the head! All around in parks, along neighborhood streets, and at schools and college campuses, the acorns are ripe and ready for harvesting. Although people have been eating acorns for centuries, somehow they now seem to be an un-used food resource. Maybe it has to do with all the work involved. I won't lie to you, processing acorns is a lot of work. Since I'm not one to shy away from hard work, I have to say that all those free nuts are pretty hard to pass up. They taste sweet and nutty like maple syrup, and they make an excellent alternative flour. If you've never tried acorn pancakes or muffins before, you're missing out.
I look for acorns in October when the leaves are starting to litter the ground. We are fortunate here to have abundant native oaks, Quercus garryana, so forests are pretty rich in acorn resources. Having grown up in an area where we didn't have oaks, I didn't really see acorns until I was a young adult. They're fascinating! When I'm walking along a sidewalk in town beneath a row of oaks, I can't help picking up the little caps and collecting them. I often wonder how I made it through childhood with no acorn caps to play with.
The very best places I have found to gather acorns are college and university campuses. They're so on top of coming through and cleaning up the leaves, that the acorns are left just laying out in the open for you to find. Since these oaks stay pretty well watered throughout the summers and aren't competing with other forest plants and trees, they produce some nice, fat acorns. Plus, it's a great conversation piece with the students walking by. They will want to know all about what you're doing.
After you go out and fill your baskets full of acorns, the wonderful thing about them is they will just sit tight in your baskets for a while until you get some nice rainy days to process them. It's a very low-pressure wild food. Basically, you will want to crack them with a nut cracker or a mortar and pestle, and then boil the nuts several times for about 10 minutes at a time, draining off the water to leach out the tannins. Tannins won't kill you, but they're very bitter and hard on your liver. Then you can either bake them into stuffing, put them in a rice pilaf, or anything else you would do with nuts. To make flour, simply dehydrate them and then put them through a grain grinder. Use the flour as you would corn or buckwheat flour in recipes, cut with lighter flours. I will go more into depth on this in a future post on processing acorns as I start my own work on it for the year.
So, my friends, now is the time to grab your baskets and go out on an acorn walk. Bring your kids along and tell them you're pretending to be squirrels. They'll love filling up those baskets so quickly, and watching the other squirrels scampering around with their own finds. Then you can go home and drink a cup of cocoa by the woodstove and put your feet up to worry about processing those acorns another day. That's my kind of wildcrafting!
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Mountain Hearth Pumpkin Butter
3 cups cooked mashed pumpkin
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and stir, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes until thickened. Put in a jar and refrigerate or freeze.
(I've heard canning it is not a good idea. It's not acidic enough and too thick to get air bubbles out. It's easy enough to make fresh in the fall.)
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Pumpkin patch field trips are some of the best memories I have from elementary school. I loved going out to farms on the Dungeness River delta and running with my classmates into fields full of bright orange pumpkins in the crisp autumn air, looking for just the right one. Now, I enjoy going along with my children on their class pumpkin patch field trips. This year, our class at the Waldorf School went out to Wintergreen Farm to pick the pumpkins they planted in the spring. I was more than happy to come along!
Wisps of morning mist still hung low over the valley where happy cows grazed on green pastures.
Farmer Wally came out to meet us and tell us about their Biodynamic agricultural practices. He took us first to the cow pat pit to see where some wonderful, rich compost is made. They fill the brick-lined hole with cow manure and nettles among other things. He got out a big jar of the finished product to pass around.
We walked over to see the water system he uses to dilute and mix the compost to spread it on the fields. He talked a lot about the spirals in nature, in the swirling water, in a teasel seed head, in a lettuce plant, in the galaxy, and in the hair pattern on top of our heads. We saw how a whirlpool of water mixes the Biodynamic preparation before it is ready to apply. It only takes a couple of handfuls to cover several large fields!
We also went to visit the strawberry field where the strawberries were still ripe in the middle of October! We're having such a warm fall, there were ripe red berries all over for the children to wander about and pick. What an unexpected fall treat! They were truly delicious.
After lunch, we went and picked our pumpkins. I loved seeing what that special one was for each child, and how different they all were. Some picked small pumpkins, some lumpy, and some large. One girl tucked hers into her coat to keep it warm and said she was working on naming it. Pumpkins are a thing of joy.
Everyone came away with pumpkins, bellies full of berries, and a good feeling of connection to this earth that provides so much for us. There was much to be grateful for. Speaking for myself, I am overflowing with gratitude for pumpkins, organic farms, local food, and my children's school.
For those of you who found yourselves reading my "Adventures and Misadventures at Three Forks Warm Springs" post, holding your breath in suspense, wondering about the adventures of our friends who didn't make it through the muddy roads out in the middle of the lonely high desert...never fear! Here is a link to my friend Min Yi's blog about their adventures in the mud Obstacles and Opportunities. Look for Part 2 to follow. I'm always all ears for an adventure story!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
(Photo from http://www.montanacanvas.com/ )
I have loved canvas wall tents since I was a child, camping out with my little brother all summer long in our field in a big old green tent. It was the size of a room and required alder poles to be cut for the supports. We would plan our camp set-up for weeks as soon as it started to warm up in the spring. When I came home from school, I would head out to a nearby alder stand with a hatchet, and start cutting the perfect poles. On those hot summer nights, we built our own campfires, cooked hot dogs over it, grilled sandwiches in pie irons, and sat up telling ghost stories. The smell of old musty canvas would fill our noses as we went to sleep.
Every October, my dad would head off to Idaho to hunt for elk with my grandpa and some friends. I knew it was an important trip because my grandma sent them with all kinds of homemade cookies, huckleberry pies, and Halloween candy. If we were lucky, he'd bring home some extra! They set up hunting camp in a white canvas wall tent with a wood stove, keeping them warm and dry on the cold mountain mornings, in rain storms and in snow flurries. When I was in college, I went to hunting camp with my dad a few times. We'd get up early every morning in the dark and scout around all over the mountain to see where the elk were. As the sunrise came up over the hills, we'd head back to camp for a hot breakfast around the woodstove. I would hunt grouse during the day, sit around the campfire and eat delicious hearty meals. Then I had kids and life got really busy. My husband and I haven't really made time for hunting since, though we've missed it.
On our trip to Eastern Oregon last week, we happened to be out there on opening day for bird season and a week into deer season. Seeing all the hunting camps set up with their cozy canvas wall tents and woodsmoke curling out of the chimneys sent a pang of longing through my heart. I wanted a hunting camp of my own! So, we decided that it is long past time for us to take up this family tradition. Starting next year, we are going to do a week of family hunting camp. It will be our fall adventure and vacation. Since we eat meat, the origins of that meat is very important to us, and you can't get much more natural and grass-fed than an animal you hunted yourself out in the wild. If you're going to wildcraft, forage and grow your own food, the same ought to go for your meat. And when it comes down to it, all I really want is a canvas wall tent to call my own. Every outdoorswoman needs one!
We wondered how we were going to make this plan a reality. Those tents aren't cheap! Even on Craigslist. When my dad got back from his hunting trip to tell us the good news that elk was coming our way, I asked him if there were any old tents in the family lying around somewhere. He said he would give us my grandpa's tent to use, complete with the woodstove and floor covering! Eureka! My hunting camp dreams are on their way to becoming a reality. Next October, I'll be sitting around the woodstove in my cozy wall tent, drinking a cup of coffee and stirring a pot of stew. And maybe, just maybe, we'll be bringing home some venison, or elk, or ducks to fill our freezer for the winter.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
No fall is complete without a good old-fashioned cider pressing. This tradition started for me in college, when the Horticulture Club gathered up boxes and boxes of apples from the school orchard to press in our huge, industrial sized cider press. I think the gallons of cider we produced ended up in the hundreds, and I always had some in my fridge this time of year. Hot mulled cider became an integral part of my winter experience. Over the years since, we found orchards that had cider presses, and last year borrowed one from a friend for a pressing party. Recently, I noticed a sign on a nearby road that read "Cider Press Lane." I kept wondering what that was all about, and my husband came home one day telling me that a man on the bus told him that the famous Correll cider presses are made in our very neighborhood, and the craftsman rents them out for the day at a very reasonable price. This was some very exciting news. Our two old apple trees , in spite of our pruning, produce some mighty buggy apples that seem to be good for nothing other than cider, and getting a press from right down the road sounded like a great idea.
We gathered up all our apples and picked more from two of our neighbor's unused trees. Even with the winter pruning this year, there were still a lot of apples to pick. My husband and son went to pick up the press the night before, and they got to meet the old man who makes them and see his workshop. We drove the press into town in the morning to press cider with our children's class, and then I took it home to keep on pressing. A friend came over with her kids and the apples she had gleaned around town, and we pressed all afternoon.
We each ended up with about 9 gallons. With the help of our wonderful Valley Vintner and Brewer store, I got everything I needed to get my very first batch of hard cider going! With that bubbling away in the bathroom in a 5-gallon carboy, I also canned 6 two-quart jars to save for mulling this winter. We still had over two gallons left to drink fresh, and I plan to savor every last drop!
With all that mashed apple left over, even the chickens got to join in on the treats!