Category Archives: Kitchen

Stress Antidote Tea!

As this year comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on the time I spend on the computer, following blogs, Instagram and Facebook. I think there are certainly positives to these activities but it seems they have completely displaced blog writing for me and I miss it. I have been pondering the balance between producing and consuming in general lately. I would like to be the kind of person who produces more than I consume, a steep uphill struggle in these times when I can have my hearts desire in a mere 2 days from Amazon and get delicious little pings of dopamine from notifications on Facebook whenever the mood strikes me. Writing the blog feels less like a cheap thrill and more like actually making something. It’s still time sitting in front of a screen instead of having actual interactions with people or crossing things off the endless, endless, endless to do list but it consistently brings me happiness and gives me a bit more motivation to get things done around the tiny farm. One of my favorite parts of having dinner parties is the pre-party hustle, tossing the piles of yesterdays clothes (likely discarded during the bedtime routine wrestling match) behind closed bedroom doors and turning forts back into furniture a person might actually want to sit on. Having a blog is like having mini dinner parties all around the property. Little bits of cleaning up here and there so you don’t look like a crazy slob all over the internet lead to actually being less of a crazy slob! Delightful.

I’m also giving myself a pass if all I have is crappy pictures from my phone. See below. The perfect is too often the enemy of the good around this town.

All that was merely the preamble to the good stuff: Stress Antidote Tea!

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As I was sipping some delicious tea today it occurred to me that sharing this tea recipe might be appropriate this time of year. Perhaps I am not the only person for whom the holidays conjure mixed feelings? For this, my friends, there is Stress Antidote Tea. It is a sweet, minty, incredibly soothing elixir of goodness. So many herbal teas will let you down- they smell amazing and taste only so so. Not this one! If anything it tastes better than it smells. Super sweet! I learned about it from my chiropractor, Armene Lamson.  She recommended Five Flavors Herbs for buying the herbs and I can say from experience that the quality of the herbs makes a big difference. Grow your own or make a special trip and get the good stuff. It’s a simple recipe: equal parts peppermint, oat tops (oat straw would also do), nettles and licorice. You can play with the tea/water ratio to suit yourself. I go for a hefty amount and brew it twice. The first steep is almost syrupy, the second round is more refreshing.  The longer you steep it each time, the sweeter it gets.

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The sweeter it gets, the more likely it will be snatched and emptied by one of your children, beginning a delightful positive feedback loop in which you are simultaneously soothing yourself and a potential source of stress! Brilliant!

How to Can Applesauce With Your 5 Year Old Boy

1. DO NOT ask your 5 year old boy if he wants to do some canning with Mama. That would be foolish.

2. Pull out your Apple Machine as your five year old is busily trussing up the kitchen with Daddy’s climbing ropes like a spider on crack. Resist freaking out about yet another room in the house becoming impassable, move quickly to distraction mode. Loudly comment about how you have really missed your Apple Machine but feel worried about using it, what with all those dangerous blades and that fast spinning handle. Pine for an Apple Machinist to do the job for you. Proceed to pass the first apple through the machine. Betcha 10 bucks that’s the last apple you have to do yourself… for at least 10 minutes.

The Apple Machinist in action.

The Apple Machinist in action.

3. Pacify the future Machinist with apple scraps.

This is the expression your baby will make during exactly 0.1% of the canning process.

This is the expression your baby will make during approximately 5 seconds of the canning process. If you’re lucky.

4. Once the allure of blades and speed has worn off, move on to packing the apples in your Vitamix for some very LOUD blending. It must be on HIGH power and you must jump each time your 5 year old hits the start button to show how terrifyingly powerful the Vitamix truly is. Have your 5 year old vigorously plunge the apples with the Vitamix plunger doodad until all is smooth. Include the peels! This is a Vitamix, after all.

Yikes?

Yikes?

5. Cook up the sauce and can as per usual. Pat self on back for engaging child in such a wholesome activity. Realize half the apple you gave the baby is somehow covering that portion of your back. Wistfully wish you could shower the mush from your hair. Settle for wiping self down with the sock that is so conveniently lying on the kitchen floor.

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6. No more steps! Collapse in a heap next to the dog on the floor and hope someone else makes dinner.

A Rainbow Cake! Not Sure What I Was Thinking.

The big brother around here recently turned 5. He is a fan of all things rainbow, so I decided to make a cake based on a Leprechaun Trap Cake I saw at the Not Martha blog. It is terribly dangerous to be on maternity leave- too many blogs with amazing party ideas out there. I had never made a cake from scratch before, so of course I thought it would be perfect to try this crazy cake first. Took me most of the day! Yikes.

I made a Golden Layer Cake from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the best cookbook ever. It was a bit thicker than I was imagining, which made pouring the rainbow layers a bit tricky. I did some vaguely mathematical calculations and weighed different portions to get the amounts for each layer before adding gel coloring to each. The colors were intense!

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Of course I didn’t butter the pan well enough and had to pry the thing out. Apparently this is what frosting is for! Turns out I loooooove frosting cakes. I can’t believe I have never done it before now. It’s oddly satisfying.

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There had to be sprinkles. The Big Bro would have it no other way.

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And now for the moment of truth:

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Alas, not the classic rainbow shape I had been shooting for.

Still tasted delish.

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Making Greek Yogurt at Home- It’s Magic!

I like the idea of useful critters. Chickens come immediately to mind. They turn the scrappy bits from the kitchen into delicious eggs, they do entertaining things around the yard, then they themselves are edible! Such a fantastic pet. Lately, however, we’ve been cultivating much tinier organisms to make good things happen here on the farm. Specifically the beneficial varieties of bacteria that turn plain old milk into creamy, delightful yogurt. As a family we were feeling overwhelmed by the cost and waste associated with buying tons of yogurt in plastic containers and decided to try our hand at home made yogurt. We like Greek yogurt best, and were also disappointed that some of the yummiest varieties were made by adding thickeners and protein rather than the traditional method of just straining off the liquid whey portion of the yogurt. Turns out the real process is easy, forgiving, and intensely satisfying. Really and truly like magic. Bacterial magic!

Here’s how you do it:

1. Buy a plain yogurt you enjoy to use as a starter. Or the plain yogurt cousin of the flavored yogurt you like best. After your first round you can use your own yogurt as starter, just pay some attention to not contaminating your yogurt too much along the way (e.g. don’t taste and reuse the spoon to taste again, cover the milk/yogurt when practical, etc.). Also make sure you have milk (some percentage of fat is better than none), a thermometer, something in which to keep your incubating yogurt warm, and a strainer if you like Greek yogurt.

2. Heat milk to 180 degrees. I use about a half gallon of 1% milk in a large Pyrex measuring bowl that I pop in my microwave. It takes exactly 23 minutes in my micro and there is no chance I will scald the milk or have it boil over. This step denatures the proteins in the milk and makes the yogurt magic possible.

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3. Let your milk cool to 120 degrees or a little less. With the usual temperature in my house this takes about 50 minutes to an hour, so I set a timer and leave it out on the counter.

4. Wisk in a dollop of yogurt so it is completely incorporated. I find this step drops the temp of my milk a bit, often down to the perfect 113 degrees that yogurt bacteria like best. Apparently more starter is not better, btw, so don’t go overboard. We use around a tablespoon.

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5. Your milk/yogurt will now need a cozy spot in which to spend the next 5 to 8 hours. I have a warming zone on my stovetop that works nicely. I put the heat as low as it will go and place the Pyrex bowl on a metal cooling rack so it is not directly on the warm stovetop. Then I wrap the whole thing in a couple of hand towels for insulation. I have also heard of heating an oven and then turning it off and letting it coast, or using a warm water bath inside a cooler.

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After about 5 hours under my conditions I find that the yogurt has usually set and is very mild in flavor. If making vanilla yogurt for O this works well because it takes just a little sugar to sweeten it. The longer incubation times make for more sourness and taste better to B and me, so we usually wait at least 6 hours but sometimes go as long as 8. If you want regular yogurt, voila! Bacterial miracle! You’re done!

6. For Greek yogurt just strain the yogurt you’ve made to remove the desired amount of whey and leave a thicker, more concentrated product. You can use a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, but with the volume of yogurt we make I decided to splurge for an ultra fine strainer (a.k.a. chinoise or bouillon strainer) to make clean up easier and less wasteful. Scoop the first few spoon fulls into the bottom of the strainer so you don’t lose any solids when you pour in the bulk of the yogurt. Apparently some folks reserve the whey and use it, but we just let it drain off. I set the strainer back into the Pyrex bowl and let the whole thing sit for about an hour and 15 minutes to reach the thickness we like.

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7. Once the straining is done I dump the yogurt back into the Pyrex and wisk it smooth. If I’m making vanilla I add sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste to taste- the needed amounts vary some from batch to batch. Finally I pour individual servings into Mason jars and feel terribly satisfied as I line up the jars in the fridge. The paste adds little bean flecks to the vanilla yogurt, making it easy to tell the jars of plain from the vanilla even without labels.

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And yes, having a handsome man in plaid do all the actual work in the process makes the yogurt taste better. Thank you, B.

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The process takes the better part of a day, but is almost entirely unattended. Don’t panic if things don’t go exactly as planned. We have messed up the timing, let things cool too much and reheated, etc. and have yet to lose a batch. We estimate it costs about half of what we would pay for store bought and ours has the strong advantage of being organic.

Snippets of 2012

O with footie pajamas, Sebastian with starry buns. Communing in the fog.

O (footie pajamas) and Sebastian (starry buns) communed in the fog.

 

 

O keeps B hustling along on the trails.

O kept B hustling along on the trails.

 

Bonny: swamp beast.

Bonny, swamp beast.

 

O: dirt angel.

O, dirt angel.

 

I expanded my gardening empire to my parent's house.

I expanded my gardening empire to my parent’s house…

 

...and one of the medians on the walk between our house and the parks. All summer dormant bulbs and reseeding annuals. We shall see if they return.

…and one of the medians on the walk between our house and the parks. All summer dormant bulbs and reseeding annuals. We shall see if they return this Spring.

 

Idaho got built!

Idaho got built!

 

The garden soldiered on, undaunted by lack of attention.

The garden soldiered on, mostly undaunted by lack of attention.

 

There was even a modest surplus for canning.

There was even a modest surplus for canning.

 

We enjoyed the kindness of friends. Especially the ones with strong backs.

We enjoyed the kindness of friends. Especially the ones with strong backs who swear they enjoy stacking hay.

 

O grew up. I grew out!

O grew up. I grew out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Fancy Latte Art

For many years I was content with whatever coffee happened to come my way. More than content, really. I love coffee. Puts my mood on the elevator going UP! So perhaps the recent descent B and I have made into coffee snobbery is not all that surprising. It started innocently, really, with a gift of a stainless steel coffee mug from my parents to B. He was delighted by this mug and, not one to waste nice gear, he began drinking coffee with me in the mornings just to use it. With a partner for my caffeinated endeavors things rapidly evolved. First it was the stovetop espresso maker. Then it was the milk frother. The next step was the biggest- after much research we invested in the 20 lb, stainless steel Gaggia Classic espresso machine. Oh my. After a steep initial learning curve and much internet mediated support, this thing makes some real nice espresso. Soon the Trader Joe’s coffee was out and Blue Bottle was in. We started referring to sub-par milk froth as “dishwater.” The grinders at the store were far too inexact. We had to have our own Rancillio Doserless Rocky grinder to better control the variables. We watched longingly as baristas on YouTube made perfectly textured milk foam and poured exquisite latte art. Hearts! Trees! Dragons!

I practiced this hobby vigorously enough to start getting intense caffeine withdrawal headaches. So I cut back. And back. Until I found that drinking any coffee at all seemed to give me a headache. Such tragedy! I am still in mourning and rehashing this breaks my heart all over again, but I write this post as an excuse to publish something of which I am very proud. The pinnacle of the all too brief latte art attempting stage in my life, a tribute and a farewell to coffee:

The soon to be coveted and rarely seen Bichon Frise Latte!