Saturday, October 29, 2016

Glacier's Wildflowers

I am so pleased when I learn something new and it sticks, you know?  Especially when it is not a skill I use every day, such as identifying flowers in the mountains.  When we visited Glacier National Park in 2013 I took along a guidebook and set myself to identifying the flowers I saw.  This summer we went back to Glacier again for a short visit.  I was tickled with how the names of the flowers just came rushing back to me--Pearly Everlasting, Glacier Lily, Fringed Parnasis, and so on.   It was like bumping into old friends I hadn't seen in a while.
 Yay.  Go, Brain.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Peppers 2016 and The Hot Sauce That Matt Likes

We really should come up with a catchier name, but sometimes you just have to call it what it is.
In general, Matt and I have a disagreement about spiciness levels in our meals.  I think almost everything is better with a little splash or sprinkle of cayenne or jalapeno.  Nothing crazy.  Not ten cayennes.  Not ghost peppers or anything super hot.  I don't want to melt my face.  I don't want heat to be the only flavor.    Just a little hint of heat.   I think that makes just about every other flavor sing--pizza, pasta, soup, potatoes, tofu, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, American...pretty much everything savory under the sun.  I think it is all lovely as is, but even better with the heat cranked up just a notch.
Matt, on the other hand, has a more narrow window for such things.  Tacos are supposed to be spicy.  Pesto is not.  Curry or Thai peanut sauce can be spicy.  Tomato soup or hashbrowns shouldn't be.   And so on.
He also has long objected to my preference for vinegar-heavy hot sauces.  My first hot sauce love was Frank's Red Hot.   When I started making my own that was my muse, my inspiration--a cayenne sauce with almost as much vinegar tang as heat.  Matt does not share my affinity for this style of sauce.  He finds the vinegar to be a bit much.
One day I set to make some hot sauce, but was dabbling and playing around a bit.  We'd had a tremendous harvest of hot peppers and I was experimenting with different ways I could make use of them.
I pickled some (not my favorite, as it turns out).  I made my regular hot sauce (yum!).  And then I thought I'd try to knock-off sambal oelek, a sauce I love, but pretty much never buy since most commercially available versions have artificial preservatives and junk in it.
In the course of my dabbling I made a sauce with milder, sweeter vinegars and a higher pepper-to-vinegar ratio.  I added some oil for mouthfeel.  I added a good bit of garlic.
And I came up with a recipe that has become known around the house as, "The Hot Sauce That Matt Likes."
I resisted it for a long time, sticking with my trusty ol' Frank's knock-off.  But you know what?  When I finally started using it I realized that I actually like it better, too.
Matt still only uses it for the "appropriate" foods, but hey, that's okay.  At least we've got a hot sauce he actually likes when the right dish comes along.
The Hot Sauce That Matt Likes

1 lb cayenne, jalapeno, or a mixture of the two.

3 C mild vinegar, such as apple cider, red wine, rice wine, etc.
1 T brown sugar

1 t salt
5-7 cloves garlic
1 T olive oil

Process until well blended and smooth.  Makes about 30 oz (ish).

We had a swell pepper crop this year, sweet peppers more so than hot peppers.  I, an avowed pepper fanatic, was so pleased.  So.  Many.  Delicious.  Peppers.  There are cups and cups and cups of them chopped and frozen, ready to go.  I also dried some more cayennes, even though I still have a string from last year.
We grew a sweet pepper called Corno di Toro (Bull's Horn) that was a real winner.  The fruits were prolific, ripened quickly, and while not as thick-walled as a standard bell pepper was never the less quite substantial to bite into.  That is pretty much everything I want in a pepper, especially how quickly they matured to a beautiful red.  Bell peppers got nothing on them there!   
*Sigh*  I love peppers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Practicing My Listening

When I tell people about how much I like audiobooks the most common response I get is some variation on the same theme: "I could never do that.  My mind wanders.  I have trouble paying attention.  I get too distracted.  They don't work for me."
It is an incredibly common response.  And it got me thinking--about oral traditions, storytelling, and the enumerable distractions in our modern lives--because I just love being read to and reading aloud.  I always have.  I guess a lot of people must outgrow it.  More specifically, I suspect most folks simply do not foster/practice this activity beyond the years of childhood.  Habits come, habits go...
Before the invention and widespread use of the printing press everyone was doing audiobooks--just the live, in-person, told by your elders type, rather than the digital.  Pretty much everything (from family history to cultural origin stories and mythologies) was passed down from mouth to ear to mouth again.  I've always thought that was impressive and interesting, since I am not well known for my sharp memory.  I can remember the idea dazzling me in my youth.  No books!  Just people with libraries of tales stored away in their brains!  How remarkable!
As I was pondering I came to the realization that maybe we all, as a generalization, suffer from an increasing inability to focus, to concentrate.  I know I certainly do, from time to time.  There are multitudes of distractions all about us, many of them quite flashy, dramatic, and appealing.  Television programs, apps, magazines, traffic, radio broadcasts, online games, office mates, housemates, phone calls, pets, family visits, texts, Facebook posts, newspapers, Instagram photos, car alarms, chores, Twitter updates, *gasp* blog entries!
There is so much going on around us almost all of the time.  I can easily see why people get distracted from their audiobooks.
And it happens to me.  Not daily, but a couple times per book, I'd say.  Sometimes I have to rewind my audiobooks.  There will be a passage which makes my brain start to wander down a different track--connecting dots in the plot lines, relating to characters, remembering other similar stories I've read, and other similar contemplations--and I realize I am no longer listening.  Or I realize that I am watching birds eat berries or planning a dinner party I am hosting soon and not really listening.  So, I just rewind and listen again.  No biggie.  Sometimes I have to rewind it a couple of times to get myself back on track if the competing train of thought is particularly strong.  Sometimes I pause the story and let my thought process run its course to the end and then I resume.  That works for me.
I didn't realize it until somewhat recently, but I feel that my interest in audiobooks is helping me cultivate a better ability to listen, in general.  I rewind less than I used to a couple years ago.  Plus, I can see benefits in my listening outside of the realm of books, in less-than-thrilling meetings, say, and in situations with lots of background noise or commotion.
I can tell when people are good listeners.  I can tell when people are just waiting for their chance to speak.  I know that I desire being more like the former than the latter.  To me, the ability to focus on something to the exclusion of just about all else, to really listen, is a very handy skill.  And not just for audiobooks.
(And in case anyone is curious:  The second most reason people give for not enjoying audiobooks to is that is makes them sleepy.  I suspect this is related to how many people are read to sleep as children.  I figure this is especially true when people are out of practice with reading, as this naptime/bedtime reading would be the muscle memory, for lack of a better term, which they'd fall back on.  Plus, reading is usually a relaxing, sedentary activity.  I still love to read in bed, to read myself to sleep.  Occasionally--if I am in the grip of an excellent tale--I even listen to an audiobook in bed and drift off to sleep on the wing of a story filtering into my ears, like when I was a girl, but with a modern twist.  Oh, how I wish Matt like to read out loud....)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Local is Better, Homemade is Best - The Salsa Version

At Matt's birthday party last month we had three kinds of salsa.  One (Field Day) is mass produced.  The second (Kenny's) is locally produced.  The third was Matt's homemade tomatillo salsa.
It was pretty swell how universal the reviews were.  Matt's was the best.  Hands down.  Everyone agreed.  Kenny's was the second best.  Field Day took up the rear.  I wasn't surprised, really, but it was gratifying to know it wasn't just me and my opinion on the matter.  The smaller the batches and the more local the ingredients the better the end product, almost always.
At the end of the night the only one that was all gone was Matt's--though to be fair his jar was only 8 oz whereas Field Day and Kenny's are both pints.  We really should preserve some of that salsa in larger containers, for sharing occasions.
We only had two tomatillo plants this year, but they managed to put out more than 20 pounds of fruit.  Most of it we made into salsa, but Matt saved some to try an experimental tomatillo enchilada sauce that was bright and citrusy and rather amazing.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Women (including me) Brewing Beer

I brewed my third batch of beer last week.

I realized that brewing was totally something I could do and since Matt is the primary gardener and tie-dye artist I figured it was a way I could lend him a hand over the busy summer months.
It seemed appropriate, too, given that I have read and heard more and more lately about the role of women brewers--both historically and to the present day. I've read a few articles about female brewers (here, here, and here, if you are interested in reading a few yourself).  While brewing is certainly a male-dominated industry/hobby today that dominance is a fairly recent cultural shift.  Beer brewing used to be just one of the many household and culinary tasks preformed by women.  So, I started brewing.  I like beer, period, plus I am pleased to join this long lineage of women making beer.

Of course, my first beer--a kolsch--was rather unpleasant.  Some bottles were passable.  Others would be so funky I didn't even want to drink it.  My second beer--a honey brown--was better.  Not as yummy as I'd like it to be, but a significant improvement over the preceding brew.  Fingers crossed on this third one--a tangerine pale ale.  The brewing process went really well and I am rather optimistic about the end result--though I am still a couple weeks out from sampling.
And, while I am on the topic of homemade boozy things--we recently polished off the last glass of 2015 apple wine.  Matt has seven gallons bubbling away for the 2016 batch.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Things I'd Have Never Tried on My Own, Like Lentil Loaf

Back when I ate meat I never really liked meatloaf.  I know a lot of people think it is a wonderful dinner option, but I did not.  Not at all.  I didn't like it when my mom made it.  I didn't like it when my step-mom made it.  I didn't like it when the cafeteria made it.  I could eat it, because as a kid one sort of has to, right?  But, it just wasn't my bag.  I never ate it again once I moved out on my own.  Naturally it follows that I never considered trying to recreate this classic American comfort food once I stopped eating meat.  It wasn't something I was missing whatsoever.  I wanted to figure out a way to make "meat"balls for my spaghetti, but I doubt that making "meat"loaf ever once crossed my mind.
However, I may have changed my tune, thanks to a dinner date with one of Matt's old friends this summer.  When Jill and Alex had us over Jill made us a scrumptious, veggie-packed lentil loaf from The Simple Veganista, a blog I'd never heard of previously.
In full disclosure I must admit that I've never really made it as the veganista does.  (Shocking, I know.)  Unless I am baking I pretty much find following recipes to the T impossible (and unnecessary).  So, I've never made the loaf with gluten-free flour for instance.  I don't own garlic or onion powder, so I always skip that.   I have found it to be a rather forgiving base recipe from which to work though.  It is highly adaptable.  I've mixed and matched veggies to suit what was on hand.  Last time I had a boatload of cabbage, for example, and no carrots or celery--so I just went with that, sauteing the cabbage well before mixing it with the lentil mixture.  Turned out just as yummy as usual.  I've tried different spices, taking the loaf in new directions that way.  My favorite variations though have been with the glaze on top--we have a bottle of pomegranate infused balsamic that makes an absolutely heavenly glaze.  I'm making it like that from here on out--until that bottle is gone.  I've also used tomato sauce instead of ketchup...since I don't love ketchup and Matt hasn't gotten around to making any yet this fall.  I've also skipped the glaze entirely and substituted gravy.  The loaf topped with Zippy Corn Gravy was a very happy pairing.

It goes perfectly with herb roasted potatoes--freshly dug from the garden.  And lots of other things, too, of course.

I do recommend making it up the day before you intend to eat it.  That seems to help with a firmer consistency--plus then you know you've got a great dinner in the fridge, ready and waiting!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

PINK Applesauce and Botched Pie Filling

We were late in picking apples this year with the result that our usual go-to apple trees were already done for the year.  I'd noticed a handful of trees still laden with fruit while riding my bicycle across town though and so all was well.  The trees ended up being McIntosh (or some very similar variety) with brilliant red skin. I guess we should have seen it coming--there was the year of green skinned apples and rather green applesauce, after all--but we were still quite surprised when the applesauce turned out pink.  Like PINK pink.  We think it is rather pretty.  Tasty, too.
We reserved a bushel of the McIntoshes for pie/crisp filling, but that didn't play out quite as well as we might have hoped.  We had one quart jar break in the water bath and inadvertently overfilled the first half dozen jars resulting in their not processing properly.  Oops.  Fortunately for us, we live in the era of the freezer so we're going to pop the questionable jars in the freezer and see how that works out.  From what I've read online it should work fine, though the apples may be slightly overcooked since they were bath canned and will be reheated in pie or crisp form.  Still.  It's worth a shot.  Otherwise we're going to have to eat six pies this weekend.  ;)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

This Seasonal Life

"Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen;
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time, not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes."
                     - Marge Piercy
The robins and waxwings have arrived to denude the Mountain Ash of berries.  The apples have been pressed and processed.  Jars of preserves have filled the shelves downstairs.  Bags of onions and garlic are put away.  It is remarkable to me how these simple facts are harbingers of winter coming, of change, of the seasonal nature of things.  Of life.
The spring flowers came and went with showy fanfare.  We dropped in at Le Hardy for our annual harlequin duck encounter.  We had our tie-dye gigs--SpringFest, Summer Fair, Harvest Fest, and so on.  There was the garden bursting with weeds, as well as produce, and us struggling to keep up with it's vigor.  Yellowstone and hiking adventures abounded.  We were able to revive the annual late summer megavaction, following a one year hiatus.  We both celebrated birthdays.
One thing after another--new and different each time--they follow each other on and on.
And now.  The first snow.  What a beautiful life.