Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sunday Update

Loyal Readers, though your BloomingtonGirl is blue today --oh so blue with parenting woes and guilt-- she has, of course, had time to do a little pickling. A very little. In the late morning, I prepared two quarts of half-sour dills, which are fermented at room temperature for three days and then refrigerated for another three. Then, they are ready to eat. EASY PEEZY! They are called half-sours because the salt content is such that the cucumbers never get entirely sour as they would in a higher salt brine. I am just parroting these words from the book. I don't yet have a deeper understanding at my command. But, stay tuned. I imagine that if this all goes on much longer, I will.

If you are interested in making some Half-Sours -- and of course you are -- you just run out to your garden and pluck off a quart size harvest of little pickling cucumbers (the ones that have not yet succumbed to the dreaded cucumber beetle.) Rinse them gently and prick some holes in each one. Place them (stuff them is more like it) into a quart size mason jar (wide mouth probably works best) into which you have already placed a generous 1/4 tsp crushed black pepper corns, 1/4 tsp crushed coriander seeds, a dry bay leaf and a roughly chopped clove of garlic. Add in a large stalk of dill & a chile pepper. I put a lengthwise slice in the pepper so that it would submerge and ooze its flavor better. I didn't have two peppers so I just used a generous shake of hot red pepper flakes in my second quart.
Here are the cucumbers in the jar.

Next, mix up a brine of three cups of water and 1.5 tablespoon PICKLING salt. Use pickling salt rather than regular table salt because it is pure sodium chloride with no additives that can cause cloudiness. Pour the brine over the stuff in the jar, leaving an inch or so head space at the top. Make sure the brine covers everything. Stuff a quart size freezer bag into the mouth of the jar (the open top remains out) and pour the remaining brine into the bag and seal the bag. The brine bag is to keep the cucumbers submerged and make a seal so that air doesn't get in. (This is an anaerobic fermentation.) You'll have to finesse the bag so that it balances and check it from time to time, but this isn't a hard thing to do.

The entire process (excluding the actual harvest of the cucumbers) took about ten minutes. I was surprised when my kitchen began to smell a bit like my Polish "Baba's" kitchen soon after I started the pickles. It is a delicious smell and I cannot wait to try the finished product. It is amazing how easy the process was. If possible, use the freshest cucumbers you can get in order to take advantage of the bacteria on the skin for the fermentation process.

Yesterday, I started a batch of sauerkraut. I didn't photograph the process for some reason. As I write, the ten pounds of shredded cabbage in a salt brine is fermenting away in our basement. I was unable to locate a crock in town, so I call the good folks at the Marsh bakery and picked up three of their used frosting pails. So far, so good. The kraut should be done in three to four weeks if all goes well.

Thanks to anonymous for the ebay link to a crock. I think that I am going to try to make a trip to Clay City Pottery and pick up a couple this week. They are very reasonably priced and locally made.

Last but not least, I picked a couple of gorgeous Hydrangea from our bushes just behind our house. They might be my favorite flower.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Plea from Your BloomingtonGirl

Is anyone in possession of a stoneware crock (1-5 gal capacity) with no cracks inside of it? I have been looking ALL over this town for one to no avail and I would like to make sauerkraut and pickles and need a crock.

If you have one for loan or sale, post a comment for me.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

BloomingtonGirl Picks a Cucumber as Big as Her Head

(please keep any off color jokes to yourself and refrain from comments about my lack of eye make-up)

Loyal Readers, this huge thing almost went undetected. It was hiding behind a big leaf and had driven itself into the ground.

I did my first solo garden harvest today. Usually Chris does it and I have been - honestly - intimidated by the process. My black thumb is well known in this family.

But, just now, I picked some peas, some zucchini and two enormous cucumbers. I feel so mighty! I am off to shell the peas and make some delicious Zucchini Soup. (Make some right away, Loyal Ones. It is Delicious!)

BloomingtonGirl Finishes her Pickles

Loyal Readers, I'm not going to lie. Yesterday, I was so low, I couldn't even think of getting my cucumbers out of their brine in order to finish pickling them. I had started the brine on Sunday night and intended to make Bread & Butter Pickles on Monday. Let's just say that Jack has no camp this week and had no play date yesterday and was overtired. I'll leave it at that because if I write more, you might call the asylum and arrange for a straight-jacketed variety of a pick up of your BloomingtonGirl. Rest easy, Loyal Ones. Things are infinitely better today.

I finally released my cucumbers from their salty sea and finished the pickling process. It is pretty easy and consists of mixing some vinegar and sugar together and then adding spices, onions and the drained cucumbers to the pot. After bringing the mix to a boil, you ladle it into sterilized jars, seal and boil them some more. I made six pints of pickles.

I had some left over, so I added some white pepper and some red pepper flakes as an experiment. I happen to like what resulted quite a bit. However, my husband, who is missing the gene that allows for one to think before one speaks to one's wife about cooking, weight and clothing choices, weighed in a bit differently after he tasted the pickles.

"Honey, did you add artificial sweetener to these?"

Loyal Readers, in the way of background I tell you that to my husband, the taste of artificial sweetener is just about the worst flavor note around. With that, I translate his comment:

"Boy, are these pickles lousy."

Here are some photos of my lousy pickle making for your enjoyment.

Cucumbers in a Salty Sea

The Pickling Brew

Sealed and Ready to Store

The Whole Set-Up

Monday, June 23, 2008

In Memoriam

George Carlin died yesterday of heart failure at the young age of 71. Your BloomingtonGirl thinks that the world will be a smidge less sane without this seemingly (but not at all) insane comedian and social commentator.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bread & Butters

Here a couple of new garden photos. I won't write much because I am tired from all this farm-handing.

The first two photos are of freshly picked cabbages (there are ten more waiting to come into my kitchen!) and of the vegetables we had at dinner tonight. All were grown by Chris except for the tomatoes.

The next two photos show the first two steps to making Your BloomingtonGirl's Delicious Bread and Butter Pickles. First, you taste last year's batch to remind yourself it is worth the effort. Then, you slice 5 1/2 pounds of cucumbers on a Mandoline (one of the best wedding shower presents I got, by the way) to a consistent 1/8 inch thickness. After the slicing is complete, you put the cukes into a salt brine over night. Tomorrow I shall resume the process and photograph it for all my Loyal Ones.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Some Links for My Loyal Ones

Loyal Readers, I know that you are keen to see as many photos as you can possibly see of my husband's ridiculously huge garden. Wait, did I say ridiculously? I meant to say abundant, out of this world, over the know, and all that.

Anyway, for those of you interested in horticulture, click on the links below.

Garden 1

Garden 2

Off to practice piano, kiss Jack goodnight and watch a comedy special with my hubby.

What nice Saturday night, eh?

Let Us Now Praise Farm Bloomington (Again)

Loyal Readers, I felt compelled to post about our fabulous dining experience last evening. Chris and I had dinner at Farm and it was SO SO SO good.

The man pictured at left, Daniel Orr, is the gifted chef and owner of Farm. His food is creative and fresh and his seasonings are always light handed. The dishes are interesting but never overly fussy. Just about everything I have ever had - well, now that I think about it - EVERYTHING I've ever had at Farm has been superb.

Last night, to start, I enjoyed fresh (FRESH!!) spring rolls with a Thai peanut sauce that had complexity and zip. Chris opted for the soup special, a broth based kale and kielbasa combination that was really hearty and tasty without being heavy. For my entree, I got the seared Ahi Tuna with gingered bok choy and jasmine coconut rice. All I can say is YUM. YUM. YUM. There were two sauces on the plate and I have no idea what they were but every time I took a bite, I moaned in pleasure. Racy, I know, but what's a BloomingtonGirl to do? I really could not help myself. Chris ordered the Walleye special and it, too, was perfect. We split a dessert that was everything a dessert should be. I think that they make the best desserts in town. Hands Down No Contest. And we all know I am a tough judge when it comes to dessert.

As always, the atmosphere was light and comfortable. The music in the background was at just the right volume and the noise level from the diners around us was perfect as well. The acoustics in Farm are an excellent blend of lively and quiet. You can have a conversation with your dinner partner without raising your voice even a smidge and you don't feel as if anyone can overhear you like you might at some stuffy overly fancy place.

The tables decor is whimsical, fun and casual, but still creates the feeling that you are in a really nice restaurant. The service is good - our waitress last night was particularly good. Each time I go there, I feel well taken care of, well fed, relaxed and festive.

Yes, this post reads a bit like an amateur restaurant review, but I couldn't help myself. I cannot wait to go back. It had been too long since I had been there last and I'm not letting that happen again.

Go to Farm, Loyal Readers and make sure you make room for dessert!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dahling I Love You, But Give Me Park Avenue

Okay, so I am not Zsa Zsa Gabor (Thank Goodness!), but, these days, I am starting to feel a bit like her character on Green Acres.

My Loyal Readers know how proud I am of my husband's garden and how happy I am for him that his new hobby is bringing him great satisfaction. Look at him! He is so happy and proud !

When the first little harvests of spinach came in, I was as enthusiastic as he was. Then, came our beautiful lettuces and some radishes. Some rinsing and bagging was all that was required.

But now, between us free-range chickens, the novelty is starting to wear off. Reality, that pesky little character, is on the scene. As more vegetables become ready to pick, we have more than we can eat, of course. The plan was, and still is, to preserve what we could not eat right away for post season enjoyment. Most produce is best frozen, so I have been reading up on the correct methods for it. In my imagination - my stupid imagination - I could do this freezing at my leisure, say on a weekend afternoon when I have nothing better to do besides avoid playing Pokemon with my Pokemon Obsessed Child.

Hah! The reality is that I'll be here minding my own business, deep into a project of my own and my farming husband will just come into the kitchen with a bucket of peas or five heads of cauliflower, or broccoli that should be frozen sometime very (VERY) soon. Because I am a good wife (and a former food scientist who knows the value of freezing the food immediately after harvesting), I spring into action. More accurately, I first curse a couple of times under my breath and huff and puff a bit just to passively aggressively inform my husband what a burden it is to stop whatever I am doing. Then, I spring into action, getting out pots and pans and strainers and ice baths and freezer bags and drinking straws. Yes, drinking straws. I am not convinced that we need to spend over a hundred bucks on a vacuum packer, so I do my own little vacuum packaging. It isn't pretty to watch - I imagine I look like someone on a crack pipe - but I figure getting at least some of the air out of the freezer bag ought to help.

The basic freezing method is that you peel, shell or trim whatever you are going to freeze. After washing the vegetables in question, you drop them - by sort of smallish batches - into a pot of boiling water. You leave your batch in for as long as specified for that particular vegetable - ninety seconds to three minutes for most - and then plunge the vegetables into an ice water batch. I don't know why one must plunge, but that is what the instructions always say. Plunge. So, plunge I do.

After drying out the veggies a bit, they are ready to be bagged and frozen. And, there you have it.

Here are some photos for those produce lovers among you:

Just to ensure that I spend as much time in the kitchen as possible these days, I decided to buy eight pounds of sour cherries at the Farmer's Market last weekend. My intention was to make some sour cherry jam. I did indeed make the jam, in two batches because after hand pitting four of the pounds, I had had it. I estimate that there are about 100 cherries per pound. I did purchase a handy pitter, but still, it was a drag, or in more pleasant parlance, a labor of love. Here are some photos of the process, complete with the picture of the truly special and amazing finished product. The cherries were so fragrant with a floral aroma that my hands smelled like a flower shop for the rest of the day. That fragrant note was carried through to the jam, making it well worth the effort. Unfortunately, four pounds of cherries (or four hundred pitting motions) yields only four half pints of jam. But, as long as I keep a bit for tasting just before next year's cherry season, I know I will be motivated to do it all over again. In fact, that is how I got motivated to make the second batch this year. I opened up a jar and reminded myself how good it is.

Monday, June 09, 2008

(Written on Monday Night) BloomingtonGirl Makes Cherry Cobbler and Pickled Watermelon Rind & Jack Makes his Friend Cry

Loyal Readers, Good Evening.  It is almost nine PM and I really shouldn't be on the computer because there is, an usual these days, an electrical storm brewing. Before our home got struck by lightning, I never paid any attention to storms, except to enjoy them from inside my cozy house.  Since we got struck, though, I pay attention.  I am even a bit afraid to go to the bathroom during an intense storm.  Irrational, perhaps.  But, who is to say that electric current couldn't come into the toilet and arc upward.  Need we say more?

Anyway,  I write, a pretty little Cherry Cobbler is in the oven, baking away.   A photo of the pre-biscuited cobbler is at left.  The color in the picture appears a bit off to me.  The actual cobbler is a pretty pink rather than the orange-ish color that is on my screen.  (The pan, by the way, was my mother-in-law's grandmother's !!) 

My husband brought home some sour cherries from the market on Saturday and this evening was the first opportunity I had to make something with them. The woman who grew them promised that this coming weekend there would be more and I am planning to buy several quarts and put up some jars of cherry preserves or jam. The canning season has begun, Loyal Ones. I already made some pickled watermelon rind as an experiment. They turned out really well. Very sweet, but delicious.

Jack went to Cooking Camp today. It's a two week, all day camp at his school. I was thrilled to have him enrolled and almost giddy when I dropped him off at 8AM today. It isn't that I don't love my child so much it hurts. It's just that if I have to play a Pokemon game with him one more time, I might blow my brains out.   How could that be a good thing?

So, today at camp, Jack got put into a group with one of his best friends (let's call her Anne) and his "arch enemy", (let's call her Cici). Both, as is obvious, are girls. Anne and Cici are friends, much to Jack's distress. Cici, according to Jack, is a bully who founded a  club called "Ex-Jack" the  purpose of which is to pick on Jack and make his life a living H-E-double hockey sticks. Jack cannot understand how Anne can be friends with Cici and it makes him "crazy mad". The bottom line is that Cici and Jack spent most of the day fighting over Anne, each pushing her to dump the other.  The result was that Anne was made miserable and went home crying. Jack was mean to Anne in the process and her mother, a good friend of mine, had to call me tonight to give me the news that Anne was cancelling her play date with Jack tomorrow, so distraught was the poor Anne. I, of course, heard nothing of this except that Cici was mean to Jack today. Ah, selective reporting.

I make it a policy to not get involved in the drama of the seven-year-old social scene but I made an exception tonight by encouraging Jack to phone Anne to make things right. The poor kid felt so bad for what he had done, he blurted out "I'm Sorry" and had to hand the phone to me because he started to bawl.  

It reinforced what I believe to be true.  I can talk to Jack until I am blue in the face about controlling his temper and thinking of the impact of his words.  But, until he feels the impact of it from his friends, he won't learn it.  I'll keep trying, but I think that the "playground" is the best teacher.  

The cherry cobbler is done and looks luscious.  Too bad that I am on the Abs Diet and nowhere in that plan is there a cobbler option.  Still, I will have a taste.  Just a taste, mind you.  I am three weeks (I think) into the plan and can fit in some of my last summer's clothes.  I am encouraged enough to stick with it.  Besides, the smoothies are delish.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dining Room & Garden Photos

Good Evening, Loyal Ones. I am posting a brief blog tonight just to show you the pictures of my newly wallpapered (but not yet completely accessorized) dining room. The wall paper is just gorgeous and I love it. LOVE IT. Chris said, "Hmm. It's, uh, sort of busy." He is such a good sport.

Also included in this post is a photo of today's lettuce harvest (we will be eating salads all week) and a link to the latest garden photos. (click here)

Off to watch The Wire. Jack goes to day camp tomorrow after two weeks in my hair, oops, I mean, at home, and I hope to have time to write posts that are more interesting.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Norah and Betsy are Beautiful Girls

And, here is the proof to back that statement up, Loyal Ones.  Yes, I see that Norah does have a bit of unsightly drool around her mouth.   Beauty pageant officials assure me that this will clear up as she heads toward the one year mark and that I should not worry too much about it.    

These pictures were taken a couple of weeks back when our daughter Meg and her husband Abe were visiting with their little angels.  Don't they just make you smile?   

It is Saturday night at 9:10 PM.  Chris is putting Jack to bed - late.  Chris and I had gone out to dinner at Tallent (YUM) this evening and we had our "Manny" babysitting our little guy.  For some reason, our hot little Manny completely spaced on Jack's bedtime.  When Chris and I got home from our little dinner date, instead of Jack being in bed as he should have been, he was in the driveway riding his little scooter while said Manny supervised.  I'd fire him, but let's face it.  He is way too cute and Jack adores him.  

Back to our dinner date...

We went out to Tallent and had a great meal.  Their spring/summer menu is creative and fresh and wonderful and it was just plain relaxing to be served such lovely food and wine and chat with my delightful husband for an hour or so without Sponge Bob in the background or Jack asking me to help him find an obscure Pokemon card in the pile of hundreds of cards he owns.  Unfortunately, when he got into this craze,  a couple of his older friends bestowed their sizable collections of cards upon Jack.   We now have enough to cover the entire floor of our not so  modestly sized family/living room.  And, indeed, the floor is covered.  

Well, Loyal Readers,  I am off to wash my face and brush my fangs and settle in for another episode of "The Wire".  We are about a third of the way into Season Four.  It is a great series and rather addictive.  I think that we will be a bit bereft when we finish it.  Season Five doesn't come out until later this summer.

In other news, there isn't much.  More tomorrow.  If something worth writing about happens, that is. 

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Back to the Garden

Oh, Loyal Ones! What a bounty we are having at the McGary Plantation! Here are some pictures of our early harvests.

As you can see, we have had lettuces ( I love the word "lettuces" reminds me of Beatrix Potter), radishes, and sugar snap peas so far. Not pictured is the abundance of spinach we have had. I was too busy preparing dishes made with spinach to photograph it. Trust me. There was a lot.

I must draw my Loyal Readers' attention to the picture of the lettuces. Note how there is not one little insect bite. Not one. That, you see, is the purpose of the white gauzy material stretched across the hoops in the garden.

Jack and I went out and photographed the garden this evening. If you want to see some additional shots, click here.

In other news, there isn't much. Stay tuned, though.