Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Today's been more tricksy than treatsy for me, but we all have those days, don't we?!

So far, the hive-cozy we built for the bee box fell completely apart and was rescued by the liberal application of duct tape.

My bee hive has wasps, and no evidence of a queen. There's little hope that the colony will survive the winter.

I can't take a decent shot of the last batch of soap I made, not even to save my life. Luckily, Mr. Boom stepped in so you can get a feel for the real-life gorgeous color of the hemp-oil soap. There are two batches on the drying board, one ivory one grass green. I hope this is visible on your monitor, since the difference is imperceptible on mine.

I think I might try building a light box to get some nice photos. But not today.

Definitely not today!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sshhhh: Christmas soap


Don't tell a soul. I'm making Christmas presents! But you don't think I'm actually planning ahead, do you? I think you all know me a lot better than that by now!

Since soap, at least cold process soap, needs 4-6 weeks to cure, I'm actually a little bit behind on this project.

Some months ago, a kind soul posted to the local Freecycle group that she had purchased a bottle of hemp oil as a healthy additive to her diet, but couldn't stand the stuff. It was too expensive to just toss, she said, so she wondered if anyone had a use for it. Bingo!

Who cares if she spit in the open bottle, if it was left uncapped on the counter for a week, or if she had put a razor blade in it....I would put it in soap and nobody would have to worry about germs or blades!

Hemp oil is a gorgeous green color, and smells a bit nutty. I guess the nutty smell is apropos considering the source! I keed! I keed! It's also very expensive and prone to the bane of all soapmakers, dreaded orange spot.

That's a real term, people. Look it up!

Anywho, I used the handy-dandy soap calc website, and came up with the following recipe:

185 grams each of hemp and castor oil
740 grams each of coconut (76 deg) and olive oil
703 grams water
271 grams lye

I knew I wanted to make a five pound batch, and I knew I had 185 grams of hemp oil. So, while I kind of used the back door to create the recipe and ended up with odd numbers for measurements, I was able to use up the exact amount of oil I was given.

I hope the pretty green color (which shows up a lot better in person than in these photos) stays in the soap. I expect the color will fade some, however.

Green soap for Christmas. How cool will that be?!!

the oils

after the addition of lye

in the fancy shoebox molds

Friday, October 29, 2010

FFwD: Marie Helene's Apple Cake

This week's French Fridays with Dorie challenge was Marie Helen's Apple Cake.

I can't tell you how wonderful my house smells right now....

Three features set this cake apart from any I've tried before.

First, there are no spices in this cake. At. All. How can you have an apple *anything* without cinnamon and cloves? Seriously, what gives?!

Second, the recipe call for rum. Due to a night in college taking care of a friend who had drunk too much rum, and therefore had rum coming out of every orifice with great velocity, I just can't get anywhere near the stuff. I substituted cognac, with sublime results.

Third, the ratio of batter to apple was disproportionate minute compared to other apple cake recipes I've used. In fact, due to having a plethora of teensy leetle apples, and my inherent laziness when it comes to peeling and coring apples, I think I used a smaller amount of apples overall than the recipe called for. Still, it was a lot of apple to a little batter.

As the cake cooked, my kitchen was filled with a deep, flavorful, soul-stirring aroma. Sans spices, so go figure!

I ate my piece outside, enjoying a little bit of late-autumn sun.

I love autumn. And this cake.

Yeah, okay. Especially this cake!

For the recipe, please buy Dorie's Book, Around My French Table. Per her request, members of the challenge decline from posting the recipe online.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Practice makes poofect...

Doughnuts I've known...

My past (passed) doughnuts...

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge (real post is here) was doughnuts. Inwardly, I groaned. I tried to make doughnuts once before--back in 2004. It didn't go very well.

The attempt was documented by Mr. Boom and has been immortalized by Chirp-chirp in the retelling.

I thought I'd share the horror with you.

You're welcome.

Here. Have another!

Okay, who wants lunch!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October Daring Bakers: Doughnuts!

The October Daring Bakers Challenge was doughnuts.  I think the pictures speak for themselves...

Blog-checking lines: The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

Recipes are here

A specific and heartfelt shout out to Audax Artifex for his amazing help with the challenge.

You must make these.  My words can't do any justice to the doughnuts, so all I can do is encourage you to go make these right now.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Baby blanket

Well, here it is. My first full-size crochet project.

I had actually finished this project a couple of months ago, but never posted the photo. I figure that since my little niece has arrived, it's about time I show you her wrap.

The baby shower was huge, with everyone bestowing all kinds of color-coordinated gifts on my sister-in-law. Everything was pink and brown. Everything, but this.

Oh well.

Valentine's Day isn't *that* far off. I'm sure it will be all the style by then!

In other news, we have snow on the hills around our valley. Brrrrrrr. So why do we still have mosquitoes? I try not to hate on them too much, since they do pollinate the huckleberries I so dearly love. But still. I can't love them all year long now, can I?

Monday, October 25, 2010


What a whirlwind weekend!

A new little niece was born, and is wrapped up in a blanket I crocheted. I can't believe it. Either part of it. The fact that A) this little miracle baby was born, and B) the fact that I managed to crochet a whole little blanket. I'll try to post a picture soon....

My city cousin and her boyfriend showed up on Saturday, so we had a big family dinner that night. Salmon, Chirp-chirp's awesome biscuits with some of the last herbs from the garden, a salad with some of the last tomatoes from the garden, and chocolate silk pie for dessert--a feast!

My cousin brought some very fancy milk over from a natural foods market, and we made two batches of mozzarella cheese. It's odd that they can get whole unpasteurized milk in the middle of the largest city in the northwest, but here on the rural side of the state I can't get it. Of course, I'd never pay $10 dollars for a gallon of milk, plus a bottle deposit, even if I could get it here, which is why I can't, I suppose. If there were enough consumers for milk at that price, it would be available. As it is, I'll just have to look back fondly on the weekend I made the BEST cheese ever, and made it twice in a row. The curds were firm, the cheese glossy and elastic, and we were in heaven. City boyfriend ventured out into the yard and picked the very last of the tomatoes, a few pea shoots, and minute bits of arugula and put together a caprese salad of sorts for dinner on Sunday. He also had me show him how to make homemade tortillas.
Oh, and soap.

He'd been dying to learn how to make soap ever since he heard that it was something I'd been trying my hand at (or, for the grammarians, at which I'd been trying my hand).

So, we made soap as well! I showed him the soapcalc website and gave him a list of oils I had on hand. Three hours later (0bsessed much, city boyfriend?) the recipe he put together consisted of castor, olive, and coconut oils. I'll post the whole recipe later if it turns out to be a keeper.

The boyfriend is definitely a keeper. If he doesn't propose to my cousin soon, I'm going to do it for him.

Friday, October 22, 2010

FFwD: Hachis Parmentier

Wow, I can't believe I let a whole week slip by without a single post. It's not that I haven't been doing anything, just that most of it is sooooo mundane, and the rest of it is embarrassing. Essentially, this past week has really spotlighted how out of shape I am, and how boring my life really is. I was so happy that this week's challenge for the French Fridays with Dorie consisted of what I'd call a comfort food. Even though I've never tasted, nor even heard of this dish, I knew it would be warm and delicious and a wonderful final meal to this week.

Of course, this recipe is totally bastardized from the one so carefully written out by Dorie in her book, but it was still wonderful. Step A was picking a few last mutant onions from the garden, salvaging a carrot, and delighting in the the hardiness of our parsley. Back in from the garden, I just had to toss those into a pot with some cube steak from the freezer. Our meat selection is really low in that big white chest freezer, but I did find one last package of cube steak at the very bottom.

The meat and broth are eventually topped with potatoes, cheese, and little dabs of butter. Mine might look a little funny because I used purple and red potatoes from the garden, and didn't bother to peel them. The recipe wanted russets, but I just didn't feel like going to the store. So there.

This method will definitely be used over and over, if not the exact ingredients. Maybe next time I'll take a nicer photo, but I doubt it. Hachis parmentier smells far too good to sit on the counter for long...

Happy Friday, everyone!

Friday, October 15, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

French Fridays with Dorie: Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

Remember last week's FFwD challenge, the mustard tart, that was such a stretch for my family? Well this week's challenge, as you can imagine, was just plain over the top. We grimaced and groaned in (lack of) anticipation and decided to just get it over with toward the beginning of the week. So, on Sunday, we gave it a shot.

Background info: we've all been suffering a nasty early autumn cold that Chirp Chirp caught from a friend who caught it at the state fair somewhere between the bunny barn and the elephant ear stand. So it was Mr. Boom who bravely went to the store with the terrifying challenge of finding fish sauce and whole coriander, along with a chicken, a lime, and a can coconut milk.

He prevailed in all respects except the whole coriander. He did find ground coriander, so I used that instead. In fact, I modified the heck out of this recipe, to the point where I think it would be okay to post my recipe as it doesn't really follow the recipe in the book at all, except for in spirit. But you know what? This was the best soup any of us ever had. Seriously. Go to the store and by these wacky ingredients. You won't be sad at all.

First, throw a small to medium chicken in a pot and cover with water. Add a few carrots and whatever leftover leek greens you have on hand. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil, then let that simmer for an hour or two until the meat is cooked and starting to fall off the bone.

Lift out the meat and vegetables, then pour the liquid through a strainer to remove the final solid bits from the broth. I had a little more than 8 cups of broth to work with. To the broth, add one can of coconut milk, two points from one star anise, about a tablespoon or two of minced fresh ginger, a few pinches of brown sugar, two tablespoons of fish sauce, two dashes of ground coriander, and a couple dashes of paprika.

Return the mixture to a boil and start soaking some rice noodles. remove the breast meat from the chicken and tear it into little pieces, then add that back into the pot. Add the noodles when they're soft, and taste the soup to see if it needs any flavor adjustments.

Sigh and realize you've gone to heaven.

I had a lime in mine, but Mr. Boom ate his plain. Chirp Chirp thought the noodles were too much like worms, and being a vegetarian she eschewed the chicken. The broth passed her muster, however, so we'll say she liked it too. That's about as mus=ch as she ever likes anything that isn't chocolate!

We ate this soup two night in a row, and were actually sad when the leftovers were gone. This was perfect soup for a cold, and even gave Mr. Boom the energy to start a batch of wine from the grapes hanging off the trellis and blocking the back door.

Bonus! The rest of the chicken, including the leeks and carrots, were made into chicken divan and served for two more nights. One chicken, four meals.... and some left over lime wedges for fun!

Here's a terrible picture of the soup. I was hungry and miserable and the soup smelled so good, I just couldn't stand the wait and dug in before I could get a photo that looked very nice.

To see some really gorgeous photos, and get a better idea of how the recipe should have been made, visit here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Meet Steeeve

Some years ago, about eight or so I guess, I scored some really cheap tickets to fly south to visit my side of the family in Southern California in February.  Heaven, I thought.  Totally heaven.  The round trip tickets from Seattle to San Diego were under a hundred dollars total.  Not each way, mind you, but total.  The tickets were the right price, and leaving our below zero degrees for weeks and fogged in for months home wasn't a bit hard to do....or so I thought!

My first inkling of a problem showed up in my inbox.  The message was something along the lines of Danger Will Robinson, Danger. Please call now.  Turned out, the flight was cancelled, but they could put us on another one.  This flight left from the airport at 5 am.  Not a big deal, unless that airport is about three hours away...

Oh, and now there's a layover in San Francisco. Okay...

Still, for a hundred bucks round trip, not a big deal. 

The helpful man on the phone in the call center told me his name was Steeeve.  I asked him, because I was curious, which part of India he was from.  "The call center." he replied.  Oh.  "What's your real name?" I asked.  "Steeeve," he said. "My name is St-eeeve."

So, when this pretty little lady showed up at our house the other day, I asked Chirp Chirp what we should call the new houseguest.  The immediate answer was Steeeve.  Okay then.

Meet Steeeve, the gravid praying mantis.

"Thank you for calling. My name is Steeeve.  How may I help you today?"

Any day now, she'll lay her eggs.  Now we just need to come up with 10-400 names for all the little Steeeves.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Easter is finally over

The amazing Lisa Clarke, found over at Polka Dot Cottage, shared her pretty autumn-themed cloth napkins, oh, about a year ago.

Procrastination? Yeah. I has it.

I commented--rather, I lamented-- in a comment on her post that this was the inspiration I needed to finally move on to some other napkins on our table. You see, when I made that comment one year ago, we had Easter themed napkins in daily use from about two years before that, at least.

Honestly, thinking about it, I think we used those napkins for even longer...maybe four or five years?!

Yes folks, Christmas morning at our house meant the Easter bunny (on the lavender napkin) smiling up at you in all in his pastel glory. Thanksgiving, well at least the carrot-embroidered napkin had a yellow napkin. And really, there was something quite comforting about my favorite, the sky blue napkin with the pretty yellow and red tulips.

Anyway, after seeing her gorgeous fall napkins about a year ago, I decided it was time to move away from the Easter theme and on to something a little more, well, anything else at all dear god would be great!

So, I finally did it. I bought the fabric a few weeks ago, sat down at my sewing machine, and had a total fit. I just couldn't get the darn things to work. I came back to it about a week later, and everything went so easily that I can't imagine anyone ever having a problem with it in the first place--even me!

First I took the fabric and ripped it down the center, which yielded strips about 18" wide. I made little snips in the fabric to mark 18" in the other direction and tore each of those snips to yield four 18" square pieces of fabric. Because I still had the selvage on one edge of each napkin, I used the width of the selvage to determine my first fold for the hem. I folded the fabric over one more time and ironed it flat to within an inch of its life.

I then sewed a straight stitch all the way around, with the bottom side up. The first time I tried to do these, I sewed with the right side up, very neatly, thinking I could catch my hem all the way around. Hah! Haha ah haa haaaaaa. WAh. Okay. Then, moving on.

I didn't really like the way the "looseness" of the fabric in the hem. I'm sure that actual seamstresses have an actual word to use for what I'm talking about. Heck, I bet Bet knows the word. She was a much more astute Home-ec 4-H'er than I was, especially in sewing. I did better at the cooking part. I even went to State for cooking. Not for sewing. Otherwise, I might know the word for looseness of the fabric in a hem.
I solved the loosesness problem, whatever it's called, by sewing another round around the cloth, this time from the top.

And, here they are, top and bottom.

Yep, they work!

Okay, I know the napkin belongs in your lap while you're eating, but you really don't need a picture of my lap. Really.

These were so easy, I might just make some more for other seasons. Check back in a year for that...

UPDATED 10-14-10 to add: Here's a link to Tanya's tutorial on making corners the way they're supposed to be made, aka mitered corners. This would be better than what I did, although my way did get it done.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Party with a goat

So, how much fun would this be?!?!

Michael Pollan (love him!) writes about a 36 hour dinner party based on an outdoor oven, a goat, olive oil, mushrooms, wine (lots), and friends, held in a suburban backyard.

I'm so in love with this idea...

For the party, they built and used a cob oven. Cob ovens have always intrigued me, but they do take a fair amount of space, which is the one thing we don't have one tiny bit extra of here at our place. I've had this link pertaining to cob buildings and ovens bookmarked for a while now, thinking to myself "someday, someday."

I'd like to try my hand at baking my weekly loaves at the super high temps and controlled humidity it's possible to create with one of these big dome cookers. How cool to be able to cook an army's ration of meat at once, with friends gathered round, and to enjoy the radiant heat from the mound?

I see a cob oven as one of the follies that would be possible at the horrid house on the great land we looked at a few weeks ago. Although the price they're asking for that shamble would preclude me ever being able to afford even the tiniest and dampest of matchsticks to light the fire in the oven. It would be the most expensive mud oven ever built. And yet, I dream...

I do.

In the meantime, I'm contemplating how to pull this off on a smaller scale. Any thoughts?

Friday, October 8, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Gerard's Mustard Tart

The second French Friday's with Dorie challenge was Gerard's Mustard Tart. Hailing from the Dijon region of France, this tart is a comfort food to those who know it, although those who know it, even in France, seem to be a small and lucky few. 

Now mustard just isn't something we use in our household at all.  We have the requisite bottle of yellow squirty stuff we bring out at barbecues, which I'm thinking is a few years old now.  I really should check the date on that before I set the same bottle out again, I suppose.  We tend to throw mustard out before it ever gets used up.  We also have the requisite bottle of dijon, and an occasional schmear of that will go on a sandwich, but only once in a blue moon.  One little bottle of the poupon will last about a year here, but at least it gets used up before going bad. 

So, to undertake a tart with mustard as the main flavoring seemed a little bit...risky.  Yes, this is basically a quiche, but there's no cheese in here to fall back on.  I mean, with quiche, you throw in a handful of cheese, or better yet a combo of two or three cheeses, and you know that no matter what else happens, the end result will be good because *anything* with cheese is good, right?

But this has no cheese.  It has mustard, leeks, and carrots.  Really, I found this to be very scary territory!

When Mr. Boom came home from work, he asked what we were having for dinner.  When I told him, all me doubts were reflected in his eyes.  I just knew this was too weird and would never work!

I tried to snap a few photos before we sat down to eat.  Mr. Boom told me to take my time and get it right "so we wouldn't have to make or eat this again."

But holy heck, people.  This was good!  Really. Really. Good.

We WILL be making this again.  And again. And Mr. Boom's will be served up with a side of his own words to eat!

As with all of Dorie Greenspan's recipes, I won't be giving out the recipe on here per her request to all participants not to do so.  However, participants in the French Friday's group were able to download the first few recipes to get started.  Just sayin'.

My book's on order and I just can't wait to poor over all the recipes, page by page.  I hope the paper is waterproof?!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

At peace

A campfire, a chair, a lake.
That sounded more like a wolf than a coyote.
Lovely little bats.
Lasagne from home.
Car camping at its best...
Oh! An owl in the tree!
Noisy as our town but far far better.

Friday, October 1, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie: Gougeres

This week is the first French Fridays with Dorie challenge, and boy am I glad to be a part of this!  I've been practicing my poor neglected french skills for the past couple of weeks.  Mr. Boom and Chirp-chirp are just about at wits end listening to my conversations with myself, the cats, the fish, the bees, and any other creature caught in my evil french aura.

The look on Mr. Boom's face as I was leaning over the bridge the other night, counting spawning sockeye salmon in a sort of frenchy Count from Sesame Street voice...well it was just something.  That's all I'll say about that.

This is not sockeye salmon, rather it's wild Coho.  And that's the last of the broccoli from this year's garden.  The gougeres really stole the show, though.  And my friends, I'm not kidding when I say it's a real feat to top fresh Coho salmon.

The recipe called for any type of sharp cheese.  I used an applewood smoked natural cheddar.  The smokiness went really well with the salmon and held it's own against the almost peppery taste of the late season broccoli.  The recipe also called for five large eggs.  One of my young hens is laying cute little eggs now, so I used up seven of her eggs to equal the five the recipe required.  One large egg, without its shell, weighs 50 grams.  So, I just kept cracking the eggs into the bowl until I hit 250 grams.  The yolks are just a bit bigger than my thumbnail, to give you a sense of perspective that the photo is sorely lacking!

So, first challenge was a total success.  I can't wait for next week!