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I always know it’s really summer in Oregon when I can go blueberry picking.

blueberries

 

(Okay, so this picture is from 2007, but do blueberries really change? No.)

I went on Friday – I had the day off for working the weekend – and there’s nothing like a not-too-hot hour spent wandering between overgrown bushes, picking and eating and picking.

Now, to turn them into a blueberry tart! I’m thinking one of those ones with a sweet crust, pastry cream filling, and blueberries mounded on top. With leftovers for munching or freezing or turning into muffins.

Can I just say that cooking for two has led to much better meals? It makes dinner into more of an occasion, it gives me motivation to try new recipes (even though he’s just as happy eating the same thing every day), and (very important!) there is someone to help clean up. In fact, our division of labor is usually that I make dinner and he does the dishes. This makes me much more willing to make multiple courses or just actual meals instead of sandwiches.

Here are a few things I’ve made and loved recently. I haven’t been getting my camera out lately, so you’ll have to go to the original recipes to get visuals. Or, you can take a peek at my Pinterest recipe board, where I’ve pinned a bunch of these, plus more recipes I intend to try.

Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe. Super easy, this feels like a garlicky marriage of comfort food and vegetables. I’ve made this at least three or four times – it’s a new favorite. The first time I made it as directed, with broccoli rabe, but the store was out the second time around and it turns out that regular broccoli works just as well (although it doesn’t have that slightly bitter greens taste).

Tomato Sauce. Simple and buttery and delicious – this has to simmer for 45 minutes but otherwise involves so little effort that it’s perfect for nights when you’re lazy but not starving yet.

Granola Bars from both Smitten Kitchen and Orangette. I made SK’s fruitier version in the fall, but Orangette’s chocolately version made me love them in a new way. Great thing to have on hand for snacks.

Potato Salad. It’s kind of blasphemous to say in my family, but I don’t love my mom’s potato salad. There’s no crunch, it’s a little too mushed together, and it’s yellow. I dunno, other people love it. I liked this one much more – I didn’t use the red onion and my pickles weren’t as crunchy as I would’ve liked, but I love eggs in potato salad and the celery crunch.

Buttermilk Roast Chicken. This involves a bit of planning ahead, but then it’s easy the night of, giving you time to make your potato salad to go with it. Or, you know, maybe a vegetable.

Minestrone from How to Cook Everything. I first tried this when visiting Bronwen years ago and it’s become a staple – I like that he gives you proportions of hard and soft vegetables and then leaves it up to you. I almost always make it with potatoes, kidney beans and kale in addition to the carrots, celery, onions and tomato that he calls for. This last time I finally made my own stock with the remains of a roast chicken. I’d like to get into that habit, but the majority of the time I make this recipe, it’s Lent and chicken stock gets thrown aside in favor of vegetable (I use Rapunzel brand bouillon in those situations).

Glazed Fudge Cake from Bronwen’s mom, who probably knows where it came from originally. This was a Long Distance Kitchen recipe from almost two years ago – you can see Bronwen’s post for photos. The instructions have you use a food processor, and I only recently became the proud owner of one, so I gave it a try for my sister’s birthday this month. I think we have a new family favorite, folks – for once we argued over who got to take the leftovers home, and even my cake-disdaining brother ate a slice.

(Just FYI, when I typed “tradition” into the post title, I heard it in the voice of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, followed by a musical interlude.)

I got up early this morning to start the dough for a batch of Santa Lucia buns, or Lussekatter as I recently learned they’re called.  My church does a Santa Lucia procession after vespers on the Saturday closest to her feast day (the 13th) – they’ve done it since I was a tiny thing, too young to participate, then the right age to carry a candle, very solemnly, then the right age to play the part of St. Lucy herself. I’m trying to remember if my sister, who is actually a Lucy and has St. Lucy as her patron saint, ever got a turn.

At any rate, I have a soft spot for the tradition but haven’t made it to that vespers in many years.  This year I couldn’t resist the requests for people to bake buns, since I figure that if anything, I should volunteer to help in baking-related duties at church (see: hot cross buns for Palm Sunday). They’re still on their first rise, so I don’t know how they’ll turn out, but hopefully they’ll be delicious and ready before it’s time to go to The Nutcracker this afternoon (speaking of traditions!)

Here’s the recipe I was given to use – no idea where it originally came from.  And yes, apparently Santa Lucia buns count as a valid way to break the fast!

St. Lucia Buns (Lussekatter)

2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/2 warm water (105-115°)
2/3 cup lukewarm milk (scalded, then cooled)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 margarine or butter softened
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. powdered saffron
5-5 1/2 cups flour, divided (I used about 5 cups and suspect this was a tad too much)
1/2 cup raisins
margarine or butter, softened
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp.sugar

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter or margarine,
2 eggs, cardamom, salt, saffron and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough of
remaining flour to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface;
knead until smooth. Place in greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down dough;
divide into 24 parts. Shape each piece into an S-shaped rope; curve both ends into a coil.
Place raisin in the center of each coil. Place rolls on greased cookie sheet.
Brush tops lightly with butter; let rise until doubled. Mix 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water; brush buns lightly.
Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes. Makes 24 buns.

A quick word on this year’s Thanksgiving baking: as usual, I brought desserts.  I wasn’t sure how many of the other 20-ish guests were bringing dessert, so I went a little crazy.

  • Banana Ice Cream with Caramelized White Chocolate Freckles, from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  I’d never had banana ice cream before, but for some reason this recipe jumped out at me.  It was a HUGE hit.  Plus, I was a big fan of how she does her recipes – clear instructions that are ordered well – she tells you what to have prepped in advance and that made it all come together smoothly.  I have the book out of the library, where it (of course) has holds, so it will go back this week – but I might have to get myself a copy before too long, to keep David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop company on my shelf.  Oh, and I have half of the white chocolate bombe shell leftover, and the only question is which recipe to use it in/on?  Dark chocolate for contrast?  Something tart for a different kind of contrast?
  • Caramel Pumpkin Pie, from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking.  This was like darker, slightly more intense pumpkin pie.  I made it the morning of, with limited time, and the sugar took forever to caramelize, so I may not have gotten it quite as dark as would be ideal.  The flavor of the pie ended up being a nice balance between pumpkin and caramel.  I’d make it again, but not prebake the crust as long as she calls for (I used her Good for Almost Everything Pie Dough, in my brand-spanking-new food processor, and it was marvelously flaky but a bit too browned).
  • My Favorite Pecan Pie, also from Baking.  It earned the title.  Mark and I fought out who would have the last piece.  The espresso powder adds just the right hint of coffee flavor, and the dark chocolate chunks are perfect against the gooey filling.  Plus pecans are awesome.  I ended up keeping this one at home, which was a good call since there were tons of desserts to go around at dinner.
  • Double Apple Bundt Cake, again from Baking.  Big and moist and tasty, and a nice option for non-traditional-dessert people.  I didn’t ice it, but I kind of wish I had (I think the lemon icing would make a nice contrast to the sweet apple flavors).  I used Granny Smiths.

It’s a little bit of torture to write this all up now, in the midst of the Advent fast (no meat or dairy, fish generally allowed on the weekends).  It’s never my best fast – the rest of the world is firmly into holiday treat mode – but I’m doing pretty well with Lenten dinners.  Let’s not talk about the cream in my coffee, and just focus on the mujadara and vegetarian chili.  And now it’s time to decide which Christmas cookies to bake this year (I’ve been wishing I had a nice big expanse of counter to roll out sugar cookies and gingerbread).

Somehow I got it into my head that I should go berry picking today.  It was the perfect opportunity – I have the day off since I worked the weekend, the weather is warm but not too hot, and here in Oregon it’s the tail end of the strawberry season and the beginning of raspberry and blueberry season.  I almost went for the strawberries, but couldn’t resist the allure of raspberries – my parents have a few bushes, and raspberries have always been one of those fruits that I eat in small quantities straight from the bush.  I almost never buy them, but I adore them.  Blueberries I can get from the church property, and those might be getting close – they were still green last weekend when we went to check on them.

So, I went to Sauvie Island and picked 6 pounds of raspberries.  It’s definitely the beginning of the season – there were hordes of red berries that weren’t quite ripe, which makes me want to go back in a week or two and load up again – as long as my freezer can take it.  I was single-minded, and trying not to carry extra stuff through the fields, so no photos from the farm.  Although, while I was waiting in line to pay for my loot, a girl from a group of arriving u-pickers snapped a picture of my box of berries, which kind of cracked me up.  They were all wearing cute sundresses, and I would’ve liked to see what they looked like after an hour or two in the sun, crawling halfway into bushes to get at the ripe ones.


So then I came home with my haul and went into a recipe-hunting frenzy.  I threw a bunch in the freezer on a cookie sheet, shifting them into ziploc bags once they hardened up, and right now I’ve got another sheet-full in the freezer – about 10 cups so far.  Some I’ll leave for eating by the handful.  But I also wanted to find a few recipes – those recipes that I always bypass because they call for fresh raspberries and are thusly prohibitively expensive when you haven’t just paid $10.50 for six pounds of raspberries.


I started with a batch of the super-simple raspberry jam from How to Be a Domestic Goddess – you just heat raspberries and sugar separately in the oven, then mix them together and let cool.  Still cooling, so the verdict is out on consistency.  I don’t have canning equipment, and I’ve never really made jam before, so this was a gentle start.


Then I made a chocolate cake.  Yeah, I know, chocolate cake does not feature fresh raspberries.  But I had two goals: I’ve been wanting to try this recipe from Orangette with the perhaps insane thought of maybe baking (and freezing, then defrosting) several for our wedding reception.  I wanted to see how easy it was to execute and how it tasted.  Plus, I love chocolate cake, especially dense fudgy ones.  The second goal was to serve the cake with whipped cream and raspberries – either fresh or in the form of the aforementioned raspberry jam, especially if it ends up slightly runny.  The cake is no thing of beauty, but that’s not the point.


Finally, I made a batch of raspberry sherbet from A Perfect Scoop – raspberries, milk, sugar, and lemon juice.  Sweet, a little tart, and a little creamy.  It’s also super easy (once you’ve picked the raspberries, of course) – you throw everything in the blender and puree it, then strain out the seeds and throw the rest in your ice cream maker (it’s a space-hog, but I do love mine).

And there you have it!  A day completely taken up with raspberries.  Now I just have to clean out the sink and remember what I was going to make for dinner…

September is always a good time for starting new things – the seasons are changing, school starts (or, now that I’m out of school myself, I get to see lots and lots of kids at the library starting the school year, and boy does that change the rhythm at work), the church calendar restarts.  I’m a fan of fall in general (hello, sweaters!) and this year I got my own little kick-start by moving at the end of August.  So September has been all about settling in and developing new (hopefully good) habits.

While I can’t say I’ve done anything impressive with my reading this month (pretty ho-hum-average with 12 books read so far – the day isn’t over), I’ve made a few other small steps.  I’m back in a super-walkable neighborhood, so I’m trying to develop two habits here.  One is walking to stuff I can, like the cluster of restaurants that’s 15 minutes away.  So far we’ve walked to eat out once a weekend.  Sometimes I’m super hungry and have to fight the urge to jump in the car because it’s faster, but I’m always glad walking back to have a chance to let dinner settle (plus, if I wanted to I could have more than one beer and still make it home!)

The other walkable-neighborhood habit is to just walk.  The neighborhood is pretty flat, there are sidewalks, and there are lots of great houses to drool over.  My old neighborhood only had the houses, and not even as many of those.  Over the summer, I got into the habit of driving to a nearby park where I could do my loop without fear of getting run over.  Here, I can even walk after dark, which is especially handy in the winter.  Or I can do what I did today and go for a nice long walk up soak up the sunshine while it lasts.

Another step is to get more organized about food and cooking.  This involves planning, which I’m still figuring out, and finding a balance between frugality and deliciousness.  I’ll feel super-frugal one day and daydream about big pots of beans from scratch, and then I’ll go buy $20 worth of nuts at Trader Joe’s.  So far I’ve been planning two meals per week, we’re eating out once, and the other nights are a combination of leftovers and sandwiches.  I might work up to planning 3 meals and leaving more leftovers for my lunches.

The nuts remind me of another new food habit – homemade granola.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve made that recipe, each time ever-so-slightly different.  The last batch has oats, a double-helping of pecans, a heap of coconut, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, butter, maple syrup, a big scoop of peanut butter, and vanilla.  I’m also going through tubs of yogurt with it, so I’ve been slacking on my raw milk drinking, but this is so much more satisfying than cheerios with banana (and raw milk) for breakfast.  I’ve been going through enough oats that I think it’s time to invest in more canisters so I can buy oats (and maybe coconut) in bulk from Bob’s Red Mill, instead of buying it by the bag.

Next up on the to-do list: start having people over for meals!  The apartment is cozy, but I can fit 6 people around the table.

Now I just need to figure out how it came to be the last day of September…

All I seem to write these days are book reviews, written a month after the fact and with already hazy memory.  It’s more like an exercise in what I remember about a book than in really digging into things and writing a proper review.  Oh well – better late than never.  It’s interesting to see what sticks, and which books I have trouble finding something to say about, and which reviews just roll off the tongue (or my fingers).  It definitely, definitely comes in handy that I keep track of what I read – I use that list all the time at work to jog my memory for recommendations and book-lists.

At any rate, here’s a change of pace with a recipe that I assigned to Bronwen for the weekend of Palm Sunday – yes, two months ago.  Since that was the last weekend of the Lenten fast, I made them vegan, and ever since I’ve been meaning to make them again to see how they turn out with the correct ingredients.  And then once I made them again, I was going to report back.  But that second batch still hasn’t managed to materialize – maybe I’ll be inspired on Monday and turn them into Memorial Day buns – somehow that seems appropriate.

Being a yeast dough, this recipe requires a little patience, but not too much actual work.  I used this Hot Cross Bun recipe, which I believe I also used last year.  I replaced the milk, butter and eggs with almond milk, coconut oil, and egg replacer, which probably made for denser buns.  However, the flavor was great and the denseness satisfying.  Also, I was kind of enamored with the zests, as you can see, so I added some extra (pretty much one lemon’s worth and one orange’s worth).  I also cut out the dried fruit, since I don’t really care about it either way.

Instead of the recommended egg glaze and dough crosses, I made icing with powdered sugar and a little almond milk.  I made it too thin so my icing crossing were a little dribbly and malformed, but a touch of frosting adding a nice sweet note.

At my church, we traditionally make these for Palm Sunday and serve them after liturgy.  I left a few at home, just in case I didn’t manage to grab one of my own, and ate them for breakfast the next day.  Gosh, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.  I’m a sucker for a hot cross bun – why limit them to one holiday?  (We do this in my family – take foods strongly associated with one holiday and eat them at other points in the year – like our annual Turkey Dinner in May, which is coming up this Sunday).

I feel so neglectful of my books (let’s blame the second season of Mad Men) since I’ve been rereading The Knife of Never Letting Go at a practically decorous pace.  I read a single chapter yesterday – oh what have I become?  Thank goodness for audiobooks – The Serpent’s Tale in particular – which lend a greater sense of accomplishment to my day, thanks to lots of driving around.

I would share photos from the wedding, except being a bridesmaid hampered my photo-taking, and by the time the reception rolled around, I was having too much fun to get out the camera.  I do have a nice one of the bride knitting beforehand, waiting in a Sunday School room for the ceremony to start.

blueberry festival 159

Our shawls are simply gorgeous, although I’ve yet to take my own photos.  Sunday was fortunately cool, so a lace shawl was perfect during the ceremony, and I kept it on until we started dancing.

Bronwen and I have known each other practically our whole lives, and it was a joy and an honor to be involved in the wedding and to see her married to someone as sweet as Caleb.

blueberry festival 154

Although I haven’t been doing much knitting of my own recently, I did have great fun with a quilt for Katy’s baby – so satisfying to pick out the fabrics, then lay out all the squares in patterns, then see it all come together so quickly on a sewing machine. Then give it away – which is both sad, because I want to keep keep keep, but also happy to know it will be put to good use.

blueberry festival 124

The green leaf pattern is the backing fabric, and I loved it more and more as I handled it.

blueberry festival 143

Now I need to get my own sewing machine, so I can do this kind of thing more often.

It’s Holy Week.  You might think I’d be eager to finally reach Pascha and go back to eating “real food” and all that, but I feel like I need more time.  Fr. M suggested yesterday that we try to exceed our usual Holy Week attendance, but I’m going to do the opposite (what is the opposite of exceed?)  Going to school took up all of my vacation days this year (and that little trip to California in the fall!) AND I’ve managed to use up all my sick days (thanks, stomach flu) so my only option is to ask for unpaid time off.  And more than a third of my workgroup was recently fired or took a medical leave.  So.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get one night off this week.  Oh, the old “it’s a religious holiday” card.  I’ve often wondered what would happen if I tried to use that card for every feast of the year.  I’d miss an awful lot of work, for sure.  One year we ought to have all the services in the middle of the day, the benefit of those that work odd hours.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to come and rant.  I meant to come and talk about better things, like how Holy Week immediately throws you into a different mindset.  Each year it feels like you’re slipping into a groove, overlapping all of the previous years and adding on to them.  Which is appropriate since the feasts are supposed to be timeless – we sing everything in the present tense, as though we are present at the original feast.  As though we are living through the events, not commemorating them.  Which I love.  Last night at the Bridegroom matins, it turned into almost a feeling of deja-vu.

I mean this in a spiritual sense as well as in the way I crack up over the same things every year.  There’s one line that goes “O prosper Thou our handiwork,” and I think I had the same reaction last year – that would make a great name for a handicraft business.  A yarn store.  An etsy shop.  Wouldn’t it?  It’s like the benediction for knitters everywhere.  It has now replaced snippets of the music from Sweeney Tood as the thing stuck in my head.

On to books: I finally finished Elijah of Buxton (the end had me in tears, after not really getting into the book for a while) and I need to write up a little review.  I’m listening to The Subtle Knife in the car and was WAY too entertained by the reference to Plato and shadows on the wall of the cave.  It’s moments like that when I truly realize what a dork I am.  Also, I started Children of God, after holding off for several weeks.  I’m afraid of getting sucked back in – we’ll see how I do this time.

August has been decreed Rice Month.  While the thought of rice doesn’t cause me to swoon in quite the way of pastry, I’m still a fan.  Plus, hey, it’s cheap.  This week’s recipe, Lentil and Rice Salad, cost me a total expenditure (as I had most items in my pantry, we’re not counting previous costs) of $1.29 for a bunch of parsley, of which I used a small fraction.  Let’s not talk about the cost of making pesto, shall we?

Yesterday was a bit of a food extravaganza, in more ways than just cooking and eating.  Let’s start with the cooking and eating part.

I have to confess that I’ve become an inveterate alterer of recipes.  I used to make fun of those commenters on recipes, and while I haven’t gone so far as to actually comment with my alterations, this blog is coming dangerously close.

As the recipe didn’t mention a particular kind of lentils, I decided this would be a good opportunity to try those cute red lentils I bought long ago and never used.  So, while the rice cooked, the lentils simmered until soft.  They got a bit mushy, those little red guys, and turned exactly the color of my wall.  But once drained, cooled, and tossed with the rice, the mushiness wasn’t a problem.

I couldn’t find scallions at the store, but I knew I had a leftover red onion that was languishing, so I chopped that up finely and used it instead.  I accidentally bought Italian rather than flat-leaf parsley, as I didn’t notice until I got home that the recipe specified.

I also seem to have mislaid the dill I thought I had, either that or it got lost in the wilted vegetables in the crisper.  Hey, that’s what the compost bin is for.  So I added a bit of dried (my dill has long since gone to flower, or seed, or whatever it is dill does).

While the rice and lentils were doing their cooking and cooling things, I made pesto.  This multitasking made the whole process feel much more complicated than it really was.  The recipe is fairly simple and adaptable and really only takes as long as it takes rice to cook and cool.  But my counters were covered in pots and heaps of things to take to the compost and piles of basil leaves and shreds of parmesan and the cutting board was festooned with parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon pips.

I took Di’s advice (it was her pesto recipe, after all) and am trying freezing the pesto in an ice cube tray.  I should take those out today and throw them in a freezer bag.  Perfect for individual thawing.

Then I threw the salad together and took the pie crust out of the fridge to soften a bit.  (Oh, did I mention I made pie, too?  I made the crust on Sunday, to save time Monday, and so it was quite refrigerated by the time I was ready.)  The final change I made with the salad was to leave out the cherry tomatoes.  Several reasons: 1) I completely forgot – I was going to grab a couple from the garden.  2) I didn’t really feel like eating cherry tomatoes – I’m not the hugest fan.  Which you wouldn’t know based on the number of cherry tomatoes plants in the garden.  3) There weren’t really enough ripe for a whole salad, and it feels unethical to buy tomatoes when I have SO MANY plants.

Speaking of, did I ever show you my first tomato?

I literally gasped with delight the day I found him.  He deigned to be eaten over the course of several delicious grilled cheese and fresh tomato sandwiches.

Now, finally, here’s the salad.

Then, it was on to the pie.  A comedy of errors in which I remembered why pie crusts strike fear into my heart.  None of the July Pastries that we did were two-crusters, so I thought I’d conquered pies.  First, the pie crust always seems to be a hair too small, no matter how much elbow grease I put into rolling (I must admit, I love the rolling part).  Then, I made the mistake of pre-baking the bottom crust so it would crisp up a bit and not sog under all the blueberries.  This was good in that it worked (no sog) but bad in that it made it difficult to do the whole tuck and pinch routine with the top crust.  So I just shoved the edges down as best as I could without burning my fingers.

Then, of course, it was nearly impossible to get foil to stay around the edges.  There were several tense minutes there.  But the end result was mighty tasty, so I suppose it was all worth it.  I used the Betty Crocker recipe, with butter in the crust instead of shortening, and with nutmeg added to the filling.  It’s calling my name.  Pie for breakfast sounds very Farmer Boy, doesn’t it?

July 2014
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Dinner success - the rare occasion when we eat exactly the same thing (except no hot salsa on his rice & beans).

Trucks, always trucks (and the water tables).

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