Monthly Archives: July 2009
Just in the realm of “Okay, this is bizarre and cool enough that I have to try this”…
After all, this is the same attitude with which I approached making yogurt, and now that’s one of my kitchen staples…
Will update once I actually try it.
On Saturday my family took a trip to our “local” (southern Wisconsin) Renaissance Faire, and it got me to thinking a lot about conservation and consumerism…(of course, these days most things get me thinking about conservation and consumerism!)
I was watching the Faire workers–the street characters, the performers, the shop workers, and so on…and at least in public where people could see them, they generated no garbage. Each had their own cup, many had a bowl and spoon dangling from their belt or hidden away in a pouch, and foreheads and hands got wiped clean on a lot of kerchiefs. (Or sleeves, I guess, depending on how expensive your garb was.) The queen even had a lady in waiting who followed her around with a tray and a cup (the cup had a square of linen over the top to keep debris and bugs out), and periodically she would say imperiously, “I will have my cup,” and the lady would remove the linen and hand the chalice to Her Majesty. Never (and I discovered later that this is actually part of the rules, which makes sense) did one see a Faire professional sipping from a paper cup or eating from a disposable plate, or cleaning with paper napkins. (Okay, Ladies Room being the exception. But the flushable privies were busted that day, unfortunately, and so we didn’t even see much of it there. (That also gave rise to all kinds of other traumas with my hates-public-restrooms-anyway daughter who took one look at the smelly poo-and-paper-filled holes in the portapotties and immediately went completely hysterical.)
The public–not so much with the conservation. Potato wedges with processed cheese drizzled over them, chicken tenders pressed into the shape of stars, everything served in something that needed to be thrown away. But the Faire workers were walking living proof that it absolutely doesn’t need to be that way. At all.
Along similar lines, I have gotten interested lately in historical costuming (I made all the family’s costumes this year–my husband already had a shirt, and my daughter’s chemise still fit from last summer, but other than that we were all dressed in my own work. I’m not a great seamstress by any stretch, but this still makes me very proud), and one of the things I’m learning about clothing construction from the time is that people, especially the poor, figured out how to make ther clothing with practically no scraps. If you sew and have ever made anything from a commercial pattern, you’ll know that vast amounts of fabric are left over when it’s all done. But these patterns, many of which can be found online (check here, and here, and here for just a sampling), use primarily rectangular construction, with a lot of right-angled pieces that can be laid out with very little waste. A skirt can be as big or as small as you have fabric for; a shift’s length can be whatever will let you get the most out of the cloth you have. And even the “scraps,” such as they are, are usually squares and rectangles themselves and can be re-purposes fairly easily (as an apron or just a portable napkin to wipe your hands on…and where do you think the idea of patchwork quilting came from,anyway?) (Okay, just to be clear, I’m not aware of a patchwork quilt tradition in Elizabethan England, I’m talking about women who made their family’s clothes and found a way to turn the scraps into blankets to keep everyone warm during the winter. I mean, come, on, it’s not like they headed into town and bought bunch of fat quarters of fabric at the local Quilters Mart.)
Again, it’s the whole principle of there not being tons of anything available, so make the best use of what we have and don’t waste it. Food, cloth, utensils, everything. Use it, and when it’s not useful for its current purpose, repurpose it into something else useful.
This is an interesting article…
(text below the cut)
One of the downsides of buying all this lovely fresh fruit is when we forget about it until it’s just on the side of not being any good any more. (Unfortunately, we have this weird habit where, if it’s not really good to eat but not really gross yet, we tend to wait a few days until it is really gross, and then throw it out. Dopey. Wasteful. Eew.)
Anyway, the above was on the verge of happening with a lovely container of tart cherries I got at the market last week. I honestly didn’t so much care for them, I like the sweet ones better, but once these got very ripe they were actually pretty good. But there were still some left, and they weren’t going to last…
So, when in doubt, pickle it in alcohol! This is an untested recipe and will remain unverified for at least 2 weeks as a sample run and more like 2 months for a real assessment, but here goes:
Tart Cherry Liqueur
- pit by squooshing a bunch of ripe tart cherries. (Or you can be neat and pit them nicely and then chop them up. Or you can be like me and just leave the pits in the jar with the fruit.)
- Don’t wear a white shirt while doing this.
- Put them into a clean dry jar; ideally, the fruit should fill it about 2/3-3/4 of the way with juicy, squished up fruit.
- Pour clear vodka (80-100 proof) or a half and half mixture of grain alcohol and distilled water (90-ish proof) over cherries to fill the jar. (Jar should be full.)
- Label your jar and let it sit, turning and shaking it every few days, for 2-4 weeks.
- Drain cherries through cheesecloth, muslin, or a coffee filter, reserving (doh) liquid in a Pyrex or other measuring cup Try to squeeze every bit of juice out. (If you dare, nibble on the pickled fruit. But not before you have to drive anywhere.)
- Make a simple sugar syrup: heat equal amounts of sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar is completely dissolved; let cool.
- Mix equal amounts sugar syrup and cherry-infused alcohol. Mix well.
- Bottle and label; store in cool dry place for at least 2 months to mellow
- After mellowing time is completed, if desired, rebottle into smaller or nicer bottles; if there is sediment, if you like, let it stay on the bottom of the original. (We usually keep our sediment, actually.)
- Enjoy responsibly. Remember that at this point you have a beverage that is somewhere between 20% and 25% alcohol, or 40-50 proof.
I’ll update this one as the stuff keeps working!
I love cucumbers. That’s why I planted all 4 of the little plants in my plug pack in our garden, rather than giving some away–in the past, I’ve usually lost one or to to bugs or rot or too much sun or something.
However, you may remember that, at spring planting time, I looked up what kinds of plants naturally repel insects, and I put a marigold border and several fennel plants in my vegetable garden. Either I was lucky or it really worked, because without any chemical insect repellents I haven’t seen a single nasty thing in my squash, cukes, or canteloupe plants. (I also haven’t seen any canteloupes on my canteloupe plants, but that’s another story.)
Which is a long-winded way to explain why I have way more cucumbers this year than I know what to do with.
I did find one fabulous recipes link, where there are tons of great cucumber recipes. I would be all over these, and I hope the link will be useful to some people, but I am operating with a handicap. No, it’s nothing as dramatic or valid as a food intolerance, it’s a spousal thing. My husband likes cucumbers, but he doesn’t like a) creamy things (so much for tzatziki), vinegary things (so no pickles), or cold soup (too bad, gazpacho). Sigh. I mean, of course there’s nothing stopping me from making these things for myself, but there’s no way I’d be able to eat enough of any of it to compensate for our cucumber plenitude.
So I’m looking for other things. There are only so many nights when we can have peeled cucumber sticks for dinner, you know?
(By the way…we had a problem early on with this yucky bitter edge to our sliced cucumbers. I looked it up–God bless the internet–and it turns out the bitterness is the result of a compound called cucurbitacin which is located closer to the stems of the plant. It’s suggested that if you cut off an inch or so at the stem end and peel the cuke under running water or even just rinse it after peeling a lot of this bitterness can be alleviated. So far it’s worked for us.)
This cucumber salsa recipe (found here) looks very promising:
My computer is old.
Now, I’m really honestly not a bells and whistles kind of person, nor do I need the shiniest newest version of what everyone else has. (Ask my husband; we’re in negotiations about what kind of car to get when we retire the old minivan, currently at 130k and beginning to decline, and he wants New and Shiny Optiony while I want Used and Basic…this should be interesting…and no doubt there will be a post about it at some point.) (For more on our Difference Of Paradigm where gadgets are concerned, see my post about buying a new lawnmower) But this thing is between 5 and 7 years old, and it’s been in use literally every day of those years. Now, I may not be a true computer geek, so I may not know what I’m talking about, but even for someone anti-disposable-keep-it-till-it-keels-over-in-a-puddle like me it does seem reasonable to assume that when a piece of delicate designed-for-obsolescence-in-2-years hardware is around and working literally every day for 5+ years, some of the innards are going to begin to wear out, or get dust particles in them, or not make connections the way they used to. (Hey, it happens to all of us.)
Anyway, to make a long story whinier, I really would love a new computer. My monitor is fine, my speakers are fine, it’s just the tower itself that desperately needs replacement. So, me being me, I went to work with the research. This is not exactly a time when we’re prepared to sink dollars into this. But my computer stinks. So I’m researching anyway. Just to be prepared. Just in case. You never know, right?
And–who knew?–there is now a green direction to look for new computers as well. The Energy Star website has a place where you can actively look for computers with the Energy Star power rating. Greenpeace–good old crunchy Greenpeace–has a “greener electronics guide.” And Dell…Dell has the (sigh) Studio Hybrid . Just check out this inexpensive, small sized, Energy Star Gold rated little cutie…I ran through all the options I’d want/need (considering I don’t need monitor, speakers, etc. and our office has its own security stuff) and it’s still well under a thousand bucks (and I could probably do with even less than that). And it’s just gone on sale, too.
This is a seriously reasonable little machine–and I wouldn’t even know how to calculate how little power it actually uses and what that gold energy rating would mean to a whole office of people with these things and the building’s power bill when all’s said and done.
I can dream, can’t I?
If I could harness the boundless and unfocussed energy of my children in the mornings, I believe the nation’s energy problems would be solved.
Like I said–Thursday is my day off, ergo, Thursday I blog like a madwoman.
In between odd-ending-up attempts at a faux-Clif-bar, I also tried the same author’s version of a Larabar.
Anyone who hasn’t tried Larabars yet–just, wow. They have about 3 or 4 ingredients, mostly just fruit and nuts and some spices, and they are yummy. They are also expensive. Partially, I’m guessing, because they are entirely fruit and nuts and don’t have any kind of cheap filler-y ingredients.
So again, here’s the original recipe I worked from:
Very Cherry Bars (use as a template for almost any combination)
LARA BARS use a multi-layer package that keeps out UV light and oxygen, which, in turn, maintains freshness without the use of preservatives. I use plain old plastic wrap and my refrigerator, then pop one in my bag when I’m ready to go.
1/4 cup chopped dates (roughly chopped whole dates, not pre-chopped)
1/4 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
1/3 cup whole pecans, almonds or walnuts
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Set out two pieces of plastic wrap for shaping and wrapping the bars. Do this first; you’ll have sticky fingers when you need it.
Place the dates and cherries in a food processor. Pulse until processed to a paste (photo 1). Transfer paste to a medium bowl (don’t clean processor).
Add the nuts to the processor and pulse until finely chopped (photo 2). Add the nuts, along with the cinnamon, to the bowl with the fruit paste (photo 3). Use your fingers to knead the nuts into the paste (just keep squishing, it’s fun; brings back memories of play-dough; see photo 4).
Divide mixture in half. Place each half on each of one of the sheets of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic around each bar and start squishing into a bar shape form, 3 and 1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4-inch thick); press against countertop to flatten bottom side, flattening top side and ends with flat of hand (photo 5) Tightly wrap the plastic around each bar and store in the refrigerator. Makes 2 bars.
Okay, this time I did not follow as diligently…but the results were good anyway! I tripled the recipe right off the bat, since I figured this kind of recipe probably couldn’t go too wrong, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to try anything like this again for a while. Also, I wasn’t paying enough attention to the directions when I assembled my ingredients, and I ended up pulsing the fruit and the nuts together in the food processor. It honestly didn’t seem to hurt the end result. (One less step is always an improvement in my book!) (EDIT: Today I learned, I think, why she wants us to do the nuts separately; I must have over-processed the nuts on one batch, because the bars came out VERY oily. So beware. The second batch, with almonds and less processing, were much more pleasant in that regard…)
The original author mentions that most recipes she sees people have way too many nuts and not enough fruit. I honestly think that even hers could use more fruit if it’s to be really like a Lara. But on the other hand, I’m fairly sure the real Larabars use raw nuts, and she suggests toasted ones (which I used), which I suspect gives a more “nutty” flavor in the end. (They really are good!)
The only unpleasant thing I discovered about these is that when you shape them into bars yourself, especially before wrapping them and squaring them off, they bear a close and unfortunate resemblance to dog poop. But only in appearance.
I also chose to roll each bar in oat bran before wrapping them, which makes the outside a little less sticky.
So all in all, I’d say this recipe was a success. And by the way, the author also suggests that you don’t really need to make bars out of them per se, you can make little balls or truffle-things or rounds or whatever you want. These make good food-on-the-go…
p.s. this recipe also resembles one from the old Moosewood cookbook–the dessert one, I think–that had a recipe for “Nutty Fruit Nuggets”–I never made that recipe the way I was supposed to either, since I made it to take to a school function and we were required to be nut-free. I suspect my tactic–substituting a combination of oat bran and wheat germ for the nuts–would work equally well with these bars and actually cut some of the fat too.
I love Thursdays. As of September Friday will be my new day off, but for the moment Thursday is the day I don’t go to the office, I don’t stop in to do that one more little thing, I don’t obsess over my office email, I just Have The Day Off. Plus this is the last of 3 weeks when the kids are in summer camp all day on a Thursday, so I decided I wanted to make this one count. Spent the morning shopping and farmers-market-ing and the afternoon trying out recipes. You know, the kind of stuff that we can pretend is productive and useful and for the good of our families, but which we really just do because it’s FUN.
Yesterday posted that I’d found a very promising-looking recipe for homemade better-than-clif-type energy bars. Today, since it was my day off and I had the time, I tried making them. Below is the original recipe, which I actually (for a change!) followed diligently:
Homemade Cliff Bars (no bake!)
1 and 1/4 cups crisp rice cereal (e.g., Rice Krispies)
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed (flaxseed meal)
1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (e.g., raisins, dried cranberries, dried cherries, etc.)
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts (preferably roasted or toasted) (I used pecans)
1/4 cup brown rice syrup (or honey, maple syrup, or light molasses) (I used maple/agave)
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/3 cup nut butter (e.g., peanut, almond, cashew, soynut) (I used almond)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine the rice cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl.
Bring the syrup and brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat. Stir in nut butter and vanilla until blended.
Pour nut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until coated (mixture will be stiff). Press mixture firmly into an 8-inch square pan (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray) using a large square of wax paper. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 12 bars. (Wrap bars tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator).
As fabulous as I think the author is, I did have some problems with the recipe. That it was too sweet was probably my fault; I got the organic brown rice cereal without realizing it was “lightly sweetened” (more so than I would have expected, too.) And I think because of the whole it-has-to-set thing, you can’t leave the brown sugar out, so that is sort of that.
But since I did follow it diligently, I was disappointed when the stuff wouldn’t set. There was just too much cereal and not enough goo, and what I got instead was a very nice sort of snack-granola-rice-krispie-treat thing that bore absolutely zero resemblance to a clif bar. (Which I don’t mind so much; I think they are vile. Which is why I was trying to come up with an alternative…)
The thing is, Clif bars as I remember them are basically sort of pasty mooshy goo, without many recognizable bits like rice cereal or rolled oats. So I tried a second batch, but this time I whirred the oats and rice cereal in the food processor before mixing them with the nut butter mixture. These were more successful, but they still didn’t set well enough to actually turn into slice-able bars when all was said and done. (I like the taste more, though!)
So…back to the drawing board, Iguess. Anyone who has any ideas or who has tried a recipe like this in the past, I’d welcome any advice! Energy bars are so crazy-expensive, I’d love a better way to get good results!