Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review: Infuse

Time for another Blogging For Books review.  This time its for a very attractive cookbook called Infuse.  Infusing is something I've been interested in for a number of years.  I've dabbled here or there, but thought this book might offer some ideas for new directions to take my dabbling.

Infuse consists of three sections: water, oil, and spirits.  It is a full-color book where each recipe has an accompanying photo with the ingredients laid out in a very aesthetically pleasing fashion.  I thought it was a really, really pretty book.  I think all cookbooks should be loaded with photos.  It was really artistic and yet simple.  I was quite attracted by the layout.  A very inviting, pretty book.
The first recipe we tried was an odd one--something we'd have never come up with in a million years on our own.  It was a water infusion called the Salted Lime Soda made with fresh limes, agave, and salt.  With the addition of some rum it becomes Spiked Salted Lime Soda.  We called around town looking for the variety of rum recommended by the book, but we're not New Yorkers so it was a bust.  The lady at the Thai restaurant I called told me they really consider it a whisky, which was interesting, but that in any case she didn't know where it could be located in town.  We had to settle for a less authentic rum variety.

Our culinarily adventurous friends, Alli and J.D., just happened to be visiting at the time and were happy to try strange cocktails with us.  We ordered in Thai take-out from our favorite restaurant to build on the Thai motif.

I believe everyone's first reaction was:  "That's weird."  Or "That is strange."  I am not sure that is a great response, really.  We all agreed it was nicer when paired with the spicy Thai food.  It was sweet and tangy at the same time in a way that seemed to balance the heat of the food.  Still, I don't know that I'd make it again.  I'm told that sour sodas are "a thing" in Thailand and other parts of Asia, but it was a little lost on our (overly sweetened) American palates, I guess.
Thai night--with cocktails!
The water infusions were much more diverse than my idea of them had been previously.  Though there was a typical--and tasty--cucumber mint water.    There is a recipe for a berry-infused cold brewed tea that I am keen to try, but it was past season for our berry patch.  Next year.  Its so pretty that I cannot imagine it doesn't just taste phenomenal, too.
The recipe that seems most applicable to my daily life is a garlic and herb infused olive oil called Garlic Confit Oil.  It was super easy and super yummy.  I've used it any time I had a recipe that called for olive oil and it added a scrumptious roast garlic element that was quite lovely.   It is totally something to use in every day cooking.
Herbed garlic confit oil.
I also made a modified version of their Olio Santo that I'm quite pleased with.  If I had one bone of contention with Infuse is that it must be targeting a more urban demographic.  As was the case with the Thai rum mentioned above there were ingredients scattered throughout the book that were difficult or impossible to find where I live.  They might be super easy to locate at your friendly neighborhood Asian market....but we don't really have one of those here.  But, I love to improvise when cooking and am hard pressed to follow a recipe in any case.  So, all is well.  My cayenne infused olive oil is magnificent either way.    I added a dollop to our stir-fry a couple nights ago and oh my!   I quite liked it.
The oil chapter also taught me something really useful--flash-infusing.  This is the practice of muddling herbs in coarse salt until the herbs are all well crushed, adding oil, and then shaking the heck out of it for a minute.  I'd never heard of this technique before and was pleased to find another way to incorporate fresh herbs from the garden into our cooking.

I made a modified version of their sriracha infused butter for popcorn--subbing in my homemade hot sauce for the sriracha and Earth Balance spread for the butter.  It was pretty great, I thought.  I mean, I am a huge popcorn fan.  I am a huge spicy fan.  As such, I found this marriage of salt, honey, and heat to be tremendously good.  Very, very yummy and reminiscent of kettle corn, albeit a spicier version.  I would note though that if made according to the directions in the book the result would be a pretty darn decadent popcorn treat.  I made a half-batch of the infused butter while simultaneously doubling the amount of popcorn called for in the recipe.  Don't get me wrong, I bet its absolutely incredible with the butter-to-popcorn ration as high as suggested in the book, but it seemed excessive to me.  I didn't think our version was lacking in flavor or buttery-ness for being half as rich.  I will put in more hot sauce in the future though as I don't think my hot sauce is as concentrated in heat as the sriracha.
We didn't try any of the recipes for infused spirits.  Some sound quite good to me--fruit infused rum and vodka, an overnight lemoncello--but frankly, we just don't drink much hard alcohol.  We did infuse some liquor last Christmas for Matt's brothers--and they were dang good--and we've made a batch of Adam's homemade Kahlua, but, in general, drinking liquor just not something we really do.  We're beer people.  That said, a berry vodka is a million times better than a plain one, if you ask me.  Apparently the infused spirits is what really got the authors interested in infusions, but for me the oils are where its at.
In addition to the recipes, Infuse also offers suggestions for themed gatherings centering around the infused end products.  There is a Rooftop Italian, Sunday Brunch, and Weeknight Delivery.  They have food parings and recipes to accompany the infusions.  I like theme parties and we basically had our own version of the Weeknight Delivery--though I think it was on the weekend in our case.  Sharing food with people is such a good bonding experience.  I appreciated that ways to do so were built right into the book.

I don't know that I'll end up trying half of the recipes, but the infused oils are definitely going to become part of my repertoire.   That makes the book worthwhile in and of itself.  That oil chapter is great.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for my review.

Bicycle Poetry

The other day I was riding my bicycle home from work.  Crows were streaming overhead, gathering in preparation for their nightly communal roost.  They were coming from all directions, converging on a couple nearly nude trees.  The light was shining through the few leaves, the crows were calling to each other, the air was crisp.  Watching them, this poem came into my mind.  It was still ringing in my head as I pulled into the drive so I parked my bicycle--and before opening the garage to put it away--pulled out my journal and jotted the words down while sitting on the porch steps.
An Autumn Evening
Obsidian crows are gathering,
In the spindly tree holding,
The lonely golden leaf that's gliding,
Joining the night in falling,
Down, down, down.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"What Are You Going to Eat?"

Since I posted the link about No Food Shop November on my Facebook page at the start of the month we've gotten quite a few questions from people about it.
Wedding homebrews--one of which (The overly carbonated I Do Double IPA) we still have a few bottles of.
"What are you gonna eat?!"  (Pretty much all the stuff we normally do.)

"Do you just have a bunch of meat in your freezer?" (No, we don't eat meat, but we do have a lot of dried beans and lentils in our cupboard.)

"How big is your garden?! (We have a little over 1,000 square feet in cultivation between our home and the community garden.)

"What if you run out of something?" (Then we'll do without until December.  Its already happened, in fact, with my beloved nooch.)

"How much food do you preserve every year?" (It varies from year to year, but as much as we possibly can.)
Mushroom stroganoff with homemade noodles and marinated tofu.
No Food Shop November seems very easy and straight forward to us, but that is because we can see our shelves and cold storage packed with yummy goodness, both from the garden and the store.  Still, all the questions seemed reason enough to take an inventory of sorts which might help clarify how we planned to feed ourselves--and with what--for a month (or more) without food shopping.  Plus, we figured it was a prime opportunity to tidy up the freezer and pantry--it looks SO much better.  This inventory was taken on November 14th, just about halfway through No Food Shop November.
Homegrown tomatoes, pepper, onions, and garlic in the pan for sauce roasting.
From the garden we have the following fresh foodstuffs:
potatoes - 87 pounds
onions - 20-30ish pounds
shallots - 3/4 pound
eggplant - 2 1/4 pounds
celeriac root - 1 1/2 pounds
zucchini - 1 1/4 pounds
leeks -1 1/2 pounds (plus about 4 more pounds still in the ground)
carrots - 3 1/2 pounds (plus about 50 more pounds still in the ground)
winter squash - 13, mixed varieties 
cabbage - 17 pounds
garlic - 37 heads
tomatoes - 12-15ish pounds

Eggplant curry using up the very last of the eggplants.
We have preserved, either from homegrown, foraged, or the farmer's market produce, the following:
tomato sauce - 66 pints
Whole tomatoes, frozen - 4
"sun" dried tomatoes - 2 1/4 quarts
tomatillo salsa - 11 pints
dill pickles - 12 quarts
pickled hot peppers - 6 pints
hot sauce - 8 bottles, mixed sizes
chive vinegar - 2 gallons
vegetable stock - 7 quarts

mushroom stock - 1 1/2 quarts
shredded zucchini, frozen - 1 quart
mixed greens, frozen - 6 bags, mixed sizes
sweet peppers, frozen - 3 bags, mixed sizes
peas, frozen - 4 bags, mixed sizes
corn, frozen - 8 pints
green beans, frozen - 8 bags, mixed sizes
pumpkin puree, frozen - 4 pucks
carrot juice, frozen - 2 pucks
hot peppers, dried - 4 strings
pears, sliced - 1 pint
garden berries, frozen - 1 pint
sour cherries, frozen - 2 jars, mixed sizes
applesauce - 47 pints
apple pie filling - 6 quarts
apple juice - 8 quarts
grape juice - 5 jars, mixed sizes
grape syrup - 6 jars, mixed sizes
pear butter - 1/2 pint
raspberry jelly - 2 1/2 pints
garlic-pepper jelly - 2 1/4 pints
persimmon jelly - 1 pint
peach jam - 3 pints
gooseberry jam - 1/2 pint
sour cherry jelly - 1 1/2 pints
"Lisa Jelly" - 1 pint
Eggplant lasagna with homemade noodles.
From the store we have the following:
lentils (red and brown) - two jars, mixed sizes
tempeh - 2 packages
refried beans - 1 can
sunflower seeds - 1/2 jar
flax seeds - 1/2 jar
macadamia nuts - 1 small bag
hemp seed - 1 small bag
nutbutters - 4 jars
shortening - 4 tubs
margarine - 4 tubs
honey - 1/4 gallon
baking chocolate - 2 bars
egg replacement powder - 1 box
olive oil - 1 bottle
tamari - 1 bottle
balsamic vinegar - 3 bottles
various other vinegars - 7 bottles
coconut milk - 4 cans
soy/almond/coconut/cashew milk - 6 cartons
soy/almond/hemp/coconut yogurt - 5 tubs
silken tofu - 5 packages
miso - 2 packages
vital wheat gluten - 2 packages
udon noodles - 1 package
brown rice tortillas - 4
waffle fries, frozen - 1/2 bag
veg salmon - 1 package
veg shrimp - 1 package
veg celebration roasts - 6 
pita breads - 5
veg pepperoni, frozen - 20 slices
veg sour cream - 1 tub
veg cream cheese - 4 tubs
popcicles - 10
cup-o-soups - 4
ginger, frozen - 1/2 knob
pineapple salsa, frozen - 1/2 tub
kiwi berries, frozen - 10
grapes, frozen - 1 jar
bananas, frozen - 7
black berries, frozen - 6 oz
tequila-infused fruit, frozen - 2 bags
pineapple juice - 2 tiny cans
Plus the following staples which I didn't take the time to weigh or measure:
dried beans (pintos, black beans, chickpeas, Hutterite soup, yellow Indian, kidney beans, etc.) 
rice (brown, sushi, and jasmine) 
flour (whole wheat, white, semolina, and various gluten free)
various herbs
various spices
Breakfast potatoes with sliced leeks.
From the freezer we have the following ready-to-eat homecooked meals:
potato-cabbage samosas - 4
cabbage spring rolls - 8
banana bread - 4 loaves
pesto - 30 pucks
Rhubarb wine in the works.
And then, of course, there are the homebrews--beer and wine--plenty enough to get us through the month and beyond!  Making the food inventory really illustrated to me how well we've been eating.  What a blessing to have so much goodness on my table!

Monday, November 16, 2015


Matt and I love potatoes.  We eat them on an almost daily basis.  This year we had a lovely potato crop which will keep us happily munching away for months--scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, breakfast potatoes, hashed browns, baked potatoes, roasted potatoes and so on.   We harvested some for new potatoes early on in the season, but the bulk of them we dug the last week of October--87 pounds worth in that last go.  They're all washed and bagged up in our cold storage now.  We grew several specimens that were pushing two pounds each!  I was impressed.  That is a big spud.  Huzzah for potatoes!  Potatoes, onions, and peppers.  If I could eat nothing else I would still be very happy.  Fortunately, we have plenty of all three for months ahead yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thoughts on Movies and Books (And Books Made into Movies)

Matt and I went out to the movies this week.  I can name the last four movies I saw in the theater--The Martian (2015), How To Train A Dragon 2 (2014), The Lego Movie (2014), and Avatar (2009).  Heck, they may have been the last four movies I watched period (I'll have to think on this).  I'm just not a movie person.  When I watch screens I tend towards cartoon television shows since I am willing to use 25 minutes of my life that way.  Committing to a couple hours though...I usually have something else I'd rather do.   When we do watch movies we tend, as you can tell from the list above, to lean toward cartoon movies, too.
Perhaps this is why my recent viewing of The Martian was a bit of shock on my system.  It was intense in a way I don't think I was prepared for.  The initial scene where Mark is swept away by a martian dust storm was way more distressing than my mind had made it as I read the book.  My brain failed to factor in the noise, blackness,and terror to that level.   I am sure the cinematic depiction would be fairly accurate, but my brain wasn't that extreme in its visualization as I imagined it while reading.  My brain also minimized the impalement he suffered.  The movie did not.  Definitely did not.  So much so that Matt and I both closed our eyes and only opened them again when Mark stopped making that terrible noise.  Who wants to see that?!  Yikes....  Even thinking about it days later it still makes my face wrinkle up in revulsion.
Its interesting though and got me thinking.  Its like my brain has a safety mechanism to protect me from such graphic horrors when I'm reading.  (Except that one time with the hatchet to the head scene in Battle Royale which literally made me sick to my stomach so I  had to put the book down for a while.)  With film, because the images are created by someone else , the horrors just get thrown at me, ready or not.  Blood, pain, violence, devastation, sorrow, loss, suffering.  I think that is one of the reasons I'm willing to read books about subjects I'd never stomach in movie form.  I'll read a murder mystery, but watching CSI and SVU with all those close ups of bullet wounds and thanks.  I guess I am not cut out for such dramatic video anymore.  I don't need or want those images in my mind and the ones I create are always more mild.  I can imagine pain and loss and violence as I read, but I never make it as bad as hollywood does.  As a result, I can still enjoy the occasional comedy flick, but yeah, this The Martian thing has me thinking maybe I should just skip the live-action dramas from now matter how compelling the book was.
Plus, The Martian as a book was much, much better than the movie.  Go figure.  I think they did a fine job of it, really, but without having read the book I think it would have seemed much less impressive.  I knew a lot of background stuff that was skipped over in the movie.  All those little details add up to a significantly greater richness of story.  So, the movie was fine, but the book was vastly superior.  I should have just stuck to my I-don't-watch-movies-based-on-books adage.
When I finally read Harry Potter last year I deliberately avoided watching the movies afterward with Matt.  Same with The Reader, The Clan of the Cave Bear, or The Secret Life of Bees, etc.  That is my thing.  I don't watch movies that were based on books.  One of the things I love about reading is creating the picture of events in my head--my mental imagery of the setting, time, and characters.  I don't want to risk that the film version should supplant that internal portrait.  For example, I read The Shining long before I watched the movie.  Even still when I've reread the book since then all of the sudden Jack Torrance is pictured as Jack Nicholson.  Boom.  Just like that.  Jack Nicholson has wiped out my version of the character from when I originally read the book.  I don't like that.   I elected to watch The Martian because, while the book was very enjoyable, I don't see myself reading it again.  That eliminated the concern that I'd be picturing Matt Damon instead of Mark the next time I read the book.  I don't regret watching the movie--it was still a nice night out with my hubby--but I am not sure I enjoyed the movie as much as I thought I would.  I must say that the movie did a dang good job of showing what an insane job being an astronaut is though.
All photos from Yellowstone National Park.
At least I got the movie tickets for free since I'd earned a bunch of "Hero Reward Points" for donating blood.  I had no idea I'd get more from donating blood than feeling good about helping people.  Its a double win.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pretty, Pink Chive Vinegar

I've played around with chive vinegar infusions for a couple years now.  This year the word must have gotten out that I actually use those pretty purple blossoms for something because I ended up with a boatload--even though our chives at home were just pitiful.  At one point my community gardeners gave me a full grocery bag of chive blooms.  That, my friends, makes for a whole lot of chive infused vinegar.  Fortunately, its cheap and easy to make and is a wonderful culinary addition to sauces, dressings, and marinades.  I made gallons of the stuff this year.  Literally.  Gallons.  I guess we know what everyone will be getting a little sampler of for Christmas this year!  I won't be giving all od it away though because I especially like having it in the spring when our homegrown onions are all used up.  It adds a nice, tangy oniony flavor to our cooking.
This pink color is after just one day of infusing.
I am no longer at all exact when it comes to my chive infusions.  When I first started experimenting I counted and measured the chive blossoms and the vinegar.  These days I just pack some flowers in a jar and pour some vinegar over the top until the blossoms are submerged.  When more blossoms are ready in the garden I add them and some more vinegar and call it a day.  I am sure there is greater variability from jar to jar that way, but that is no bother to me.  It tastes good and that is all I am going for.  If you have chive plants in your garden I highly recommend you try this next time they bloom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Grateful Dead Lounge Pants

I had this idea for Matt's birthday back in September.  Then I procrastinated too long.  Suddenly, I didn't have enough time to pull it off in time for his birthday.  I was trying to figure out what to do as an alternative when Matt mentioned, for the second time in recent months, that his sleep/lounging-around-the-house pants were on their last legs.  With holes in both knees he had to be careful putting them on lest he catch a foot in one of the holes and tear the whole pant leg off.  It was entirely likely.  They were paper thin most places.
Aha!  Now that is something I could do for his birthday--make him a new pair of lounge pants.
I used his old pair of pants, a wide piece of cardstock, and the pattern for the boxers I make him and made a very acceptable knock-off.  But, that didn't seem special enough for a birthday present.  So, I added a red lightning bolt (part of the Grateful Dead's frequently used imagery) to the left thigh.  Bam!  They're even cooler than the original pair.  The pants are blue and the stitching entirely red.  The Grateful Dead use a lot of red and blue, too.   It was a little tricky to go around all the points on that bolt, but I'd traced a copy of it on the pants with peach-colored oil pastels (I really should get some chalk) so that gave me a good outline to follow.
Ginger supervised my project as it progressed.
I gave them to him on his birthday-eve when we were out in Minnesota.  He was pleased and wears them regularly.  He still hasn't thrown out the old holey pair though...  Apparently I need to make him another pair so he has something for when this pair is in the wash.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Our First Trumpeter Swans (Plus, Bears, Baby Bison, Boiling Mud, and Other Beautiful Birds.

This is a post I meant to finish a long time ago....what can I say?  I got distracted by summer.
Matt and I went to Yellowstone for a couple day during the first week of May.  May is our favorite time in Yellowstone.   There are so very few visitors to contend with, the first spring babies are out, new slips of green are poking up.  The weather can be volatile though since it is Springtime in the mountains after all.  This trip was no exception there.  We did have one very springy day hiking to Monument Geyser.  So nice, in fact, that Matt had to take his sweaty shirt off to let it dry a while--since we had the place to ourselves and all.  Afterwards we headed south to the Old Faithful geyser basin--something I could enjoy endlessly.  I love geysers.   And then it started to rain again.  We returned to camp, had dinner, tried to have a fire until the rain was too heavy, and called it a night.  And then it snowed.  And snowed a little more.
Our plans for the weekend had been to get to a couple mountaintops.  As we drove past Bunsen Peak though it was completely shrouded in snow and thick, white clouds.  It looked colder than we were prepared for and like the view would be pretty dang white.  No matter.  There is always something to get up to in Yellowstone and we knew we'd enjoy whatever it was that we chose to do.
We opted for a little longer auto tour in the interest of going to Le Hardy Rapids, about five miles north of Lake Village, to see my beloved Harlequin Ducks who come there each spring to breed.  We spend most of our time in the park between Mammoth and Old Faithful so Le Hardy is a bit out of our usual way, but with the weather being what it was we thought it would be worth it to make the trip.  They are the most gorgeous birds I've ever seen with my own two eyes.  Just magnificently pretty.  And then they're cool to watch, too, as they hang and navigate the rapids with total ease.  I've been in love with them since our first chance encounter back in 2012.
Along the way to Le Hardy we enjoyed the wintery landscape and wildlife.  The trees were all powdered with snow, which continued to drift down from the solidly grey sky, sometimes lazily and sometimes with intensity.  We saw a foraging grizzly bear--easy to spot since the dark fur contrasted so strikingly from the snow.  There was also a little bison traffic jam to be waited out.  They had their delightful red-headed babies with them already.  Who wouldn't be willing to wait for that?!  One mama bison kept gently nudging her little baby off to the side of the road, away from the cars.  It was sweet.
It was thanks to the unplanned jaunt over to Le Hardy that we also spotted our first ever Trumpeter Swans.  They are such large birds they were readily visible as we cruised by--so we stopped, of course.  What majestic, graceful creatures they are.  We watched them feed and swim with fascination--the arching, slender necks, the dark paddling feet, the black and white facial contrasts.  It was so neat.  We adore all birds, but there is something quite remarkable about one so large.  The spotting scope was a way to enhance the viewing, but it was enjoyable with just the naked eye.
One of the things I enjoy so much about Yellowstone--or really most trips in nature to any ol' place--is the fact that the journey is totally part of the wondrous experience.  There are so many cool things we've seen by chance just driving or walking from one destination to another.  Like the wolves hunting that elk.  Or the beavers eating grass with their adorable little hands.  Or when we were hiking to Riverside Geyser and just happened to catch Beehive Geyser erupting (Beehive, unlike Riverside, is irregular and unpredictable, so its all a matter of chance timing)  Then, when we finally get to the actual destination, that is bound to be incredible, too.  Nature.  Its so cool.  And the Harelquin Ducks certainly didn't disappoint when we arrived at their white watery summer home.  They are spectacular.  The perfect white circles and bands....its just about unbelievable how stunning they are--even more so in the sunshine.  One pair kept shooting over a section of rapids over and over again.  It was like a little waterslide.  They maneuver those rapids like its no big deal.
Harlequin Duck pair at Le Hardy Rapids
After getting our fill of duck watching we headed back north and hadn't made it but a handful of miles before getting sidetracked with geothermal features.  We stopped by Mud Volcano and Sulphur Cauldron, both of which we'd experienced before.  While we both love all the geothermal action Matt, in particular, has a infatuation with boiling mud.  He could watch it for hours.  And it is totally crazy to watch.  Boiling mud!  What a world!
On all our previous visits to the Mud Volcano area there had been a damaged section of boardwalk which prevented our encounter with a feature called the Dragon's Mouth Geyser.  The geothermal areas are constantly changing and that frequently forces the Park Service to reroute trails and boardwalks.  That had been the case here.  With the new boardwalk in place though we were finally able to walk up and stand staring into the mouth of the Dragon.  It was a cool feature.  First off, the opening is tall and cavernous, almost twenty feet high.  It was easy to see why it got its name with an opening like a gaping mouth in the side of the hill billowing out hissing steam.  The power of the surging heat, pressure made the dragon roar rhythmically with each surge of water.  Listening to it was almost hypnotic.
Dragon's Mouth Geyser
When we got back and broke camp the only patch of dry ground was the one right under our tent.  It made me laugh.  We have a good tent.  It does a good job in even very wet conditions.
Then we drove home through a landscape that seemed more March than May both somehow still agreeing that it had been a wonderful weekend.  There had been snow and cold, but there had been so much beauty and wonder.  The full spectrum of nature's power and majesty.