Apple Cider and More

Once again, we were too busy making apple cider to take any pictures and document the process. The end result is delicious. In fact, even though it’s almost November, I might keep my eye on the orchards that advertise windfalls and “not quite perfect” apples. They would still make delicious cider.

Coming up soon: Amigo and his barbershop chorus are warming up for their next level of competition. Take it from me, folks, these guys are sounding good. I’ve helped out a little here and there by assisting with sectionals (when the guys split up to learn their own parts), donating my homemade goods as raffle prizes, and mainly by getting Amigo to rehearsals. I’m looking forward to hearing the chorus sing next weekend!

It’s All School Field Trip Day on Tuesday. I was ready to go to a planetarium and earth science museum. I chickened out. Seriously, sort of, in a way, because I feared settling into the planetarium and having the world start spinning around me again. It might be a meaningless fear, but I just didn’t feel up to chancing it. Since there were plenty of teachers signed up to go, I passed on the Person-In-Charge paperwork to another teacher and put myself on a different trip. I’ll be going on a hayride, picking up a pumpkin and maybe some apples (woot! more cider!) and having a relaxing and fun lunch afterwards with a few teacher friends.

To summarize, it’s been a busy weekend and it’ll be a busy week, too. And if anyone asks me “How d’you like them apples?” I’ll say “As cider, of course.”

To-do List and Climate Change

In a typical year, putting the garden to bed for the winter has been a pretty straightforward task. Harvest the last of the vegetables, dump any containers into the garden to enhance the soil, spread compost, sit back and enjoy the late autumn rains. Oh, I forgot leaves. Rake leaves into the garden or compost bins.

The past few years have been different. Snow has come later – December, even after Christmas two years ago. The last frost, the one that finally kills off the annuals and freezes the allergens, has been later each year, too. Sometimes I’ve looked outside and wondered if I might still have fresh tomatoes if I hadn’t put the garden to bed already.

This year, I’m still cleaning up the tomato plants. It wasn’t a good year for tomatoes, anyway. But I put in a second planting of lettuces and another batch of peas. I’ve been able to cut several batches of lettuce in September, and the peas are growing well – now, in October. Green beans have been prolific, too. Every time I pick beans, I notice more blossoms that will be more beans if temperatures stay warm.

Herbs are doing well in their containers on the deck. I plan to bring them inside as the frost nears and see if they can adjust to growing indoors. My grow lights might help.

I have a few volunteer tomato plants, too. They turned up in a random part of the garden where I have never grown tomatoes. I tossed the smallest of those into the compost and transplanted the bigger ones into containers. I have no idea how they’ll do, but I might bring them inside, too.

I have no idea when the final killing frost will happen this autumn. I don’t know if this is the new normal of climate change, this late fall and delayed winter. Whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.

Zucchini Bread with add-ins – edited

Edited? Indeed. The first time I posted this recipe, I left out two pieces: the amount of baking powder and the baking temperature. Luckily, I acknowledged my source, so I was able to go back to that source and fill in the blanks. Somehow, I still messed up. The breads turned out very dry. Zucchini bread? Dry? Yes, indeed. Rather embarrassing. But here’s the actual complete recipe. Follow it properly, and you’ll like the results. I recommend cherries or chocolate chips as add-ins.

 

Zucchini Bread with add-ins (cherries this time)

2 cups grated zucchini

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Optional add-ins:

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and chopped

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine sugar and butter in large mixing bowl. Beat together, adding eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add this mixture gradually to the liquid mixture, alternating with grated zucchini. Fold in walnuts and cherries or other add-ins.

Bake in loaf pan or three small loaf pans at 350 for 50-60 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack before slicing.

The Trouble with Pickles

Not Tribbles, but Pickles. The trouble with dill pickles, specifically: the pickles have to rest and, well, pickle in their jars for at least two weeks before they’re ready to eat. At that time, if the pickle recipe didn’t work or if I messed it up somehow, it’ll be too late to go to the farm markets and buy pickling cucumbers. They’ll be out of season. Meanwhile, I’ll just hope the new-to-me-recipe for dill pickles is successful.

The trouble with canned tomatoes (diced or chopped, in my kitchen) is that the preparation takes a long time and a lot of effort. Dig out the stem, blanch and peel, chop, and then pack tightly into a jar. All of that happens before I can even consider putting the liquid in the jars, checking the head space, and then actually processing in the hot water bath canner. On top of all this, I have to hope that I packed the tomatoes tightly enough to avoid the perfectly functional but perfectly ugly Fruit Float.

The trouble with bread and butter sweet pickles; my food processor cuts the pickles too thin, so I have to cut them by hand. The food processor just died, so I’m glad cutting the pickles by hand is my usual routine. This one is really no trouble at all.

The trouble with salsa is similar to the trouble with canned tomatoes. Last weekend I convinced Chuck to join in the preparation of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Since he is the main consumer of salsa in the house, it was only fair. Thoughtlessly rubbing his eye after dicing a jalapeno pepper? Well, that was only careless. Ouch.

The trouble with troubles in general? Not much, really. All of these problems are easily solved. All, that is, except the dill pickles. Two weeks from now, people, I will know if the new recipe is my go-to for dill pickles. Waiting…waiting…

Scraps or Pantry Raid – Tomato Soup

The end result was tomato vegetable soup, served with grilled cheese sandwiches and applesauce. Here’s how it came about.

I’d been canning tomatoes a few days earlier. The process of peeling tomatoes, while not like herding cats, is time consuming and yields an interesting leftover. To peel tomatoes, I drop several into hot water for a few minutes and then into ice water. The peels slide off (almost) effortlessly. Almost. The results: a lot of tomatoes without skins, and a big bowl of water laced with tomato remains.

On the theme of the TV show “Scraps,” I decided this tomato water was too good to throw away. On the theme of a Pantry Raid, I used only ingredients that were readily available in my freezer, refrigerator, or pantry. Nothing fancy!

Step one: we skimmed off some of the water floating on top. The tomato content kept sinking to the bottom, so why not?
Step two: poured the tomato water into a large slow cooker and let it simmer on high overnight.
Step three: add herbs. A few green onions, a clove of garlic, some minced basil – all simmered in the soupy mix for several hours.
Step four: Store boiled down mixture in refrigerator overnight.

To make soup for supper, I added a few simple ingredients along with salt and pepper, thickened with arrowroot starch (Penzey’s is the best), and served with crackers.

Simple ingredients added (but not measured precisely): a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, a small can of commercial tomato paste, salt and pepper, frozen peas & corn & shredded fresh zucchini.

This tomato soup, whether you call it a Scraps menu or a Pantry Raid, is a winner. Next time I can tomatoes, I might do the same!

In Season: Zucchini Bread with Cherries!

This may become my go-to recipe for zucchini bread. I made a few minor changes (I hear you laughing, you who know me well), but the basic recipe is from the Essential New York Times Cookbook. I do have a beef with the way it’s indexed. This wasn’t listed under zucchini; I found it in the Q section for Quick Breads, and then under S for the name of the pastry chef who created the recipe itself. That’s a little bit like the way I saved so many recipes under E for Easy-to-make or D for Delicious.

But anyway, here’s my version. When cherries are no longer available at the farm markets, but zucchini is still prolific, I’ll probably make this with chocolate chips. Mmm.

Zucchini Bread with add-ins (cherries this time)

2 cups grated zucchini

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and chopped

Combine sugar and butter in large mixing bowl. Beat together, adding eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add this mixture gradually to the liquid mixture, alternating with grated zucchini. Fold in walnuts and cherries or other add-ins.

Bake in loaf pan or three small loaf pans for 50-60 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack before slicing.

Skillet Green Beans

It’s transition time at the Farm Markets in my region – the transition between pea season and green bean season. I suppose I should include yellow beans and purple beans, too, but mainly I buy the green. This recipe turned up in my employer’s wellness newsletter. I wonder if it would work for the purple, without losing the color?

Simple Skillet Green Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake, or to taste

1.5 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and stir to coat the pepper in the oil. Add green beans and cook, stirring often until the beans are blistering and browning in areas, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and salt and cook, stirring constantly until the garlic is fragrant and browning, about 30 seconds. Add water and immediately cover. Cook covered until the beans are right green and crisp tender, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

With fresh green beans from the market, this sounds awesome. Readers, how about those yellow and purple beans? Any opinions?

Spelunking in the Refrigerator

It’s just an extension of the Pantry Raid, really. The Pantry Raid means just what it sounds like: gathering enough ingredients already available in the house in order to avoid a run to the store.

Chuck ended up searching a filled-to-overload kitchen and created his own version: spelunking in the refrigerator.

The kitchen counters were piled high and the refrigerator was packed tightly, Tetris style, after we hosted extended family for Father-In-Law’s funeral. Leftovers from dinner, extra beverages as we emptied the coolers; you name it, we had it. Searching for an evening snack became a challenge.

Challenge, I said, but not insurmountable. I’d made a simple white cake to go with strawberries the day before, and Chuck spotted a half full carton of chocolate frosting. Success! And unique success, too! Somehow, successfully spelunking into the refrigerator ended with a unique result that didn’t feel like a leftover.

Give me a few days, a rope, and a headlamp, and I just might dig up the ultimate Pantry Raid.

Good Intentions & Container Gardening

I had good intentions of sharing indoor and outdoor (mostly outdoor) progress day by day. Those good intentions evaporated with the puddles on a windy day. One accomplishment was filling the crocks with plants. So far, none have been over watered – intentionally or from the rain. I must have given them enough drainage before I filled them with soil.

The Crock Garden

Just a few feet away sits the Rock Garden. In the rock garden is a large bucket filled with mint.

Mint – confined to a container

The irony here comes in the fact that I established a rock garden in the first place to take the place of the out-of-control mint. Using cardboard barriers, a lot of 20 mule team borax, and patience, I managed to get rid of the wild mint and build up a decorative and fun rock garden. That’s Amigo’s alter ego on the left: the frog playing cello.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Slab Pie

Taste of Home called it raspberry, not strawberry. In my part of this world, the rhubarb is usually in season with strawberries, less so with raspberries. I pulled both strawberries and raspberries out of the freezer to make this. Rhubarb? I had plenty. In fact, I had enough rhubarb leftover to freeze for later.

The pie was big, too. We took some to Petunia, some to Chuck’s mom, and I gave three pieces to the next door neighbors.

Berry-Rhubarb Slab Pie

based on a recipe from Taste of Home

Ingredients:

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (or my favorite, whole wheat pastry flour)

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

1 egg

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup cornstarch

8 cups fruit: rhubarb, strawberries or raspberries

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt; cut in butter until crumbly. Whisk milk and egg; gradually add to flour mixture. Mix with fork until dough forms a ball. Divide dough into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out larger portion of dough in a rectangle about 18 by 13 inches. Press dough into a 15x10x1 inch baking pan. In a large bowl, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add berries and rhubarb; toss to coat. Spread on pastry.

Roll out remaining dough; place over filling. Pull up edges of lower crust and press them together. Poke top crust with a fork in several places.

Bake 45 – 55 minutes until crust is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

If you have a large enough family, you won’t have to give any away.