Monday, March 30, 2009

Weekend project runs amok!

Re-doing the south bedroom was supposed to be a 3-day weekend thing. Install a ceiling fan, replace all the switches & outlets, shampoo the carpet, paint & make new drapes.
It took most of Friday just to get everything out of the room. Gemini was doing yardwork, when he wasn't busy chasing chickens, cats & dogs all over.

Here's a look at the entire bedroom, spewed out all over the living room. Chaos!
The minty-celery green was just too pale for that room. It gets full sunlight, even in winter, and needed something dramatic.
Same corner with partial paint & new ceiling fan. The trim, including the tiny bit around the ceiling edge, will be a dark bronzy-brown.

Another view, partially done. The room is so small that it's hard to get a picture showing perspective. The closet will stay the light green color, as a memento, and because it's a pain to paint it. There was a spiffy beaded curtain with a bright yellow sunflower painted on, but we'll replace that with a plain dark wood beaded one.

Painting done but for the trim. We just got the bottom trim done so we could shampoo the carpet and start putting furniture back in. We ran out of weekend, so we'll finish the trim painting and get the drapes done hopefully this coming weekend.

The kitties enjoyed a slumber party during the mess.

We also secondaried our first-ever batch of grape wine. A neighbor gifted us with buckets & buckets of grapes last fall, and we made jam with some and wine with the rest. Wines made from North American wild & hybrid grapes are often said to have a "foxy" quality. Whatever they call it, it's pretty darn tasty! We'll try more in about 6 months.
Our batch of chicks should arrive this week, and the bees not too long after. The garden is underway as well. Busy times, but we're planning to check out opening day at the Bellingham Farmer's market April 4th, and seeing Dan Savage at WWU later that evening.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Meatloaf a la Spring

Couldn't resist sharing a picture of our tasty Sunday dinner. Equal parts ground beef & pork, chopped green olives, onion, egg, cracker crumbs, salt, pepper & A-1 sauce. The mashed potatoes are from last year's Island Sunshine potatoes (so far the best variety we've ever grown) with plenty of sour cream mashed in. Leftovers are just as tasty as the original dinner!
The picture above is of Copra onions, a popular storage variety that we're trying out this year. Last year's onions finally ran out in mid-March, and these should be even more prolific with an early start and heavily compsted soil. We started seeds under a lamp in the house, then moved them to the greenhouse, and finally out to the garden last weekend. Hopefully they will settle in enough to weather late frosts, but we can always start more if need be.

Territorial Seeds says this about them:

"When all your other stored onions have turned to powder, you'll still be enjoying Copra. Our best storage onion and the unequaled leader in hard storage types. Adapted to long-day areas, it is a medium-sized, round, dark-yellow-skinned onion with ivory flesh. The thin necks dry quickly. In storage trials, Copra was as sound and flavorful in the spring as when freshly harvested in the fall. High in sugar and moderately pungent, Copra makes excellent French onion soup. "

Those pretty spuds above are a brand new variety developed by Wood Prairie Farms called Prairie Blush. It has won a Green Thumb Award from the Mailorder Gardening Association as one of the top six introductions for 2009. It is a mutation of Yukon Gold with a little denser, moister texture, aside from the lovely pink blush. If you want to read just how this tattie was discovered and developed, check out this fascinating article, One potato, two potato, three potato ... SCORE , from the Portland Press Herald.

We've pretty much decided on our favorite spinach variety after a few trials - Baby Leaf Catalina, from Renee's Garden seeds. The flavor stays sweet, they don't bolt as fast as the other varieties we tried (Bloomsdale), and so far they aren't bothered by any pests. We've got some starting under the lamp indoors, along with the first chard & lettuce seeds of the season. As they sprout, we'll move them to the greenhouse to grow more before planting them out. Then we'll keep starting more veggies as the weather warms up. Next on the list after greens are white and purple kohlrabis, broccoli & beets.

And as usual, the cats of Seven Trees are incredibly excited by the whole gardening experience...I don't know how Magnus gets into those pretzel positions!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NOW it's spring!

The hummingbirds are back! We've had the feeder up for a few weeks, anticipating their return, and today the Rufous hummingbirds showed up.
Bird Web says this about them:
Rufous Hummingbirds are highly territorial, defending feeding territories not only while breeding but also during migration. Rufous Hummingbirds do not sing but make warning chips in response to perceived threats. Their wings make a whine much like the sound of a cicada.
If you live in Washington State, be sure to check out Bird Web for wonderful pictures, info & sound clips of all kind of local birds.

Gemini is learning how to use the pony drive-thru to get treats. Smart guy!

The hens are enjoying some yard time. The garden is off-limits again, since we'll be planting onions & potatoes out soon. Kohlrabi, broccoli, chard, spinach & lettuce next.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Waste not, want not - beef tongue

This unnattractive chunk of cow muscle is a raw tongue. When we gave instructions to the butcher for our chunk of Highland beef a few months ago, we requested any of the so-called offal. This time we got heart, liver & tongue.

After much research, we decided to go with pickling it before cooking, but I didn't take any pictures of it bobbing in a purply-brown vat of brine. Just a bit too odd-looking. The pic above is the tongue slow-cooking in broth with assorted veggies, taste buds & all.

Here it is fished out of the broth and partially peeled. It's not as gross as you'd think once it was cooked, but still kind of strange. The dogs got the skin bits with their kibble, and I used the leftover broth as a base for a giant pot of heart & liver stew. I pressure-canned the stew to use as gravy on the dogs' food. They love it!

Cooled tongue, roughly sliced. It was so tender and flavorful, we kept eating slices of it, dragged in mustard, right off the cutting board. It also went great on leftover biscuits we happened to have around. The next day, we chopped the tongue into dices, gave them a quick sautee to crisp the edges, and made tacos lengue to die for! The pic below is a reenactment (courtesy of the internet) of our tacos, since we ate them too fast for documetation.

The recipe for the pickle and the slow-cooking is via the blog WasabiBratwurst
Pickled Tongue Recipe
adapted from the River Cottage Meat Book
The brine:
5 quarts of water (Stay away from using tap water!)
1 pound light brown sugar
1 pound kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon juniper berries
5 cloves
4 bay leaves
A sprig of thyme
2 tablespoon of saltpeter **optional: Sole purpose is to prevent the meat from turning gray. Helps to preserve the meat’s bright pink-red color.

Add all brine ingredients in a large pot over low heat, stir well until the sugar and the salt has dissolved completely. Take off heat and let the liquid cool down.

Place the beef tongue in a plastic container (with a lid), or an over-sized zip bag and pour in brine liquid being sure to submerge completely. If using a zip-top bag be sure to extract as much air as possible, seal and lay flat in the refrigerator for about a week flipping the tongue daily. If the tongue weighs in over 6 lbs, you can go up to 10 days.

After patiently waiting for 7 whole days, it is time for you to remove the tongue from the brine. Rinse well under cold running water.
Place the tongue back in the container/zip bag and soak it in fresh cold water, submerging again completely for 24~48 hours, changing the water every 12 hours. (The recipe calls for a 24-hour soak, I left mine for 48 hours and it was perfect seasoning - not too salty).

Cooking Pickled Tongue
1 whole beef tongue (pickled)
1 bouquet garni (sprigs of thyme, small bunch of parsley, bay leaf)
1 small carrot, chopped
1 onion, peeled and halved
1 leek, halved lengthwise
½ garlic bulb, outer skin removed

Move the tongue to a dutch oven with all ingredients, cover with fresh water and bring to a simmer. Poach gently on the stovetop over low heat or in the oven at 275 degrees for 2½ to 3 hours. Tongue will become very tender and yield when pierced.

Remove the tongue from the poaching liquid, place on a cutting board and peel away the outer ’skin’. It should come away from the meat fairly easily, just make sure to get rid of all of it. Carve the tongue into fairly thick slices and serve over lentils with quality grainy mustard or creamed horseradish.

Monday, March 09, 2009

It's all about the oysters, baby!

This is what happens when we let the fire go out overnight. I think it got down to about 53, which won't kill anyone, but the dogs get a bit whiny.
We drove down to visit our friends in Endor (in a geodesic dome, in the rainforest, on the banks of the Skagit River) this weekend. We took the scenic route, down Chuckanut Drive, so we could pick up fresh oysters on the way.

This sign was so odd, we actually turned the car around so we could take a picture. There is a giant arrow pinning the sign to the phone pole. I have no idea who did or why, but apparently this part of Skagit County is patrolled by Robin Hood. Better mind your P's & Q's!

Here's the gateway to delicious shellfish at Taylor's. We got some mussels, a crab, some Totten Inlet oysters, and a dozen extra-special super-delicious Kumamoto oysters, pictured below.

Right before we hit the oyster store, located right on the water of Samish Bay, we passed this crumbling old house. Not sure the history of it, but on closer inspection we noticed some neat tribal artwork.

One last look at the entrance to Taylor Shellfish. We let Stewart & Fergus out where it was safe, down by the beach, and they chased us up hill to burn off a little cooped-in-the-car steam. We bought our own oyster knife too, so we can properly process the little packages of delight. I can't wait to get more, right out of the water!
We're getting another little snowstorm, and some below-freezing weather. Looks like the garden will wait a bit longer. Good thing there are always more indoor projects. Later this week we'll share the pickled beef tongue recipe, complete with yucky pictures. It turned out delicious though, and made great tacos. We'll do it again next time we have a steer butchered.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beer - It's not just for breakfast anymore!

While looking for some pictures of life in "ancient" Whatcom county, we stumbled across a fine collection of beer and brewery advertising from the pre-prohibition era. What was surprising was that beer was marketed as a health drink. Our brewing and historical farming research has turned up mention of certain beers (mainly porters and stouts) being intended for nursing mothers and invalids.

The ca. 1880-1889 trade card above uses Hygeia to advertise "The "Best" Tonic" which was a "Concentrated Liquid Extract of Malt and Hops" which claimed (on the reverse side of the card) that it "Aids Digestion, Cures Dyspepsia, Strengthens the System, Restores Sound Refreshing Sleep, Priceless to Nursing Mothers."

We also have some vintage cookbooks from various English counties with recipes for ale gruel, touted as the perfect dinner for an exhausted worker, home from the mines, with no energy to sit down for a formal meal at table. But somehow, seeing familiar brand names, combined with the smarmy Victorian-era art, exhorting mothers to use beer as a nutritional aid for their children and old folks just seemed hilarious.
So we did a little more poking around on the topic of beer as medicine and meal-replacer.

The advertisment below, c.1907, for Seattle icon Rainier Beer, is one of my favorites. Not only are the children happily doing a Maypole dance around a giant bottle of beer, but in the scenic outdoor background, a mother is setting the picnic table with yet more beer, presumably for those rosy-cheeked little tipplers.

The notion of specialising in strong brews dates from the time when these beers were regarded as "liquid bread" to sustain the body during Lent.
Even in the rest of the year, beer was once "absolutely necessary to balance the diet", a brother at one of the Trappist monasteries told me recently. "Trappists would have died without it."

Traditionally, Trappists did not eat cheese or fish. Those rules have now been relaxed and several of the monasteries make their own cheese, usually in the style of Port Salut, but the Trappists still, in mock derision, dub their Cistercian cousins "meat-eaters."
For their daily consumption, with meals, some of the Trappist monasteries make a beer of relatively low strength, perhaps 3.5 per cent by volume. For liturgical holidays and commercial sale, they may produce a stronger "double" and a "triple," with strengths ranging from around 6 per cent to more than 11 per cent.

Another hilarious ad from Rainier Brewery, c.1906. Somehow seeing a little girl drinking to Grandpa's good health just seems wrong, but history shows our current, relatively tee-totaling ways are a but an anomaly.

During Prohibition, the government often went out of it's way to make medicinal beer (malt tonic) unpalatable.

From a Time Magazine article c.1926:
Stacked in cases in what is left of the Pabst brewery (Milwaukee) have been thousands of bottles of medicinal malt tonic. Last week permits to make and sell the tonic were issued by the prohibition section of the Treasury Department to Pabst of Milwaukee and AnheuserBusch of St. Louis. Professional Anti-Saloon League furor ensued, and thus the names of two firms, once household words, flickered in U. S. minds which had almost buried them in subconscious limbo. Except for the two classic names. there was nothing to warrant excitement. In the first place, the malt tonic is unpotable. While it contains 3.5% alcohol, it also contains 25% solid. One slimy gulp of it is unpleasant, two are unspeakable, three unthinkable. In the second place, the permits granted were only temporary, and if U. S. ingenuity finds ways of using the tonic as a base for soul-satisfying beer, the permits will be, according to General Lincoln C. Andrews, speedily withdrawn.

Above is a page from a hospital dietary guide, Medical Lexicon: a Dictionary of Medical Science 1854, click on it to see how much beer and ale gruel was considered part of a patient's recovery diet.

A Victorian-era regimen for a new mother:
Women remained in hospital for three weeks on average after delivery. For the first ten days they were fed on brown caudle [thin, warm gruel mixed with wine or ale, sweetened and spiced], sago or panado [bread boiled to a pulp and flavored with sugar and spices], with a little wine. For the remainder of their stay they received meat, bread and beer, and as much brown caudle as they chose. - Walking London's Medical History pg. 22


In An Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy's chapter on Cooking for the Invalid, c.1855, we find yet more ale being offered in a heartier form as well. You can hear a hint of the budding temerance movement in hoping this remedy might keep the sick person from stronger medicine:
Ale Caudle.—To a quart of thick groat gruel add a pint of home-brewed ale, some allspice, and sugar. Boil all together for the space of five or six minutes, then strain it, and put it in a cool place till wanted. This caudle is frequently made for poor country neighbours in their confinement. It is useful as a nourishment for them at that period, and sometimes prevents them from resorting to stronger and more stimulating liquors.

And beer wasn't only good medicine for people. The 1903 edition of Horses and Stables has this home remedy for an exhausted horse:

Good gruel is made by putting about a double handful of oatmeal into a pail and pouring on it a little cold water. After being well stirred, a gallon and a half of hot, but not boiling, water must be added, and the whole stirred again. Boiling water should not be used, because it produces a more starchy compound than is suitable for the stomach of the horse in an exhausted condition. The temperature should be reduced to that of new milk before it is given. If the horse is very much overtasked, it may be advisable to add to it a wine-glassful of spirits or a pint of ale.

Moving from the strictly medicinal uses, and into the culinary, we have a little history from Cakes & Ale , c.1900 (a fun online book to rummage through):

"A free breakfast-table of Elizabeth's time," says an old authority, "or even during the more recent reign of Charles II., would contrast oddly with our modern morning meal. There were meats, hot and cold ; beef and brawn, and boar's head, the venison pasty, and the Wardon Pie of west country pears. There was hot bread, too, and sundry ' cates' which would now be strange to our eyes. But to wash down these substantial viands there was little save ale.

The most delicate lady could procure no more suitable beverage than the blood of John Barleycorn. The most fretful invalid had to be content with a mug of small beer, stirred up with a sprig of rosemary.
Wine, hippocras, and metheglin were potations for supper-time, not for breakfast, and beer reigned supreme. None but home productions figured on the board of our ancestors. Not for them were seas traversed, or tropical shores visited, as for us. Yemen and Ceylon, Assam and Cathay, Cuba and Peru, did not send daily tribute to their tables, and the very names of tea and coffee, of cocoa and chocolate, were to them unknown.
The dethronement of ale, subsequent on the introduction of these eastern products, is one of the most marked events which have severed the social life of the present day from that of the past."

There were other ale-based drinks. Aleberry was ale boiled with spices and sugar and sops of bread. One writer praises aleberry “made with groats and saffron and good ale” and recommended it for men who were sick or afflicted with weak digestions (groats here is hulled and crushed grains of wheat, barley or oats; the word derives from the same root as grits and means “a particle; a fragment”); in Scotland it was common to make aleberry with oatmeal. There is some dispute about the origin of the term, though the “berry” part is certainly just mistaken etymology and has nothing to do with fruits or seeds.

Another word for the same drink was alebrue and Brewer says firmly that it derives from the older form ale-bree, where bree is Old English for “broth”, but the OED does not confirm this. A Scots variant was ale crowdie — uncooked meal and ale, fortified with treacle and whisky and consumed at harvest homes.
Another celebratory ale-based drink was lamb’s-wool, mulled ale with added spices, sugar and the pulp of roasted apples, which was a traditional beverage for Halloween, Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night, and no doubt for those pleasant moments back in the warm after wassailing was over (the name presumably derives from the smooth softness of the liquor).
From the World Wide Words entry on possets (lots more interesting info here).

Here's a recipe for a posset (similar to ale gruel, but with milk added) -

1/2 pt milk (8 fl oz)
1 tbsp oatmeal
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp sugar or honey
nutmeg or mixed spice
whisky, ale or white wine

1. Heat the milk in a pan with the oatmeal and a pinch of salt. Stir well and bring to the boil, then simmer until it starts to thicken.
2. Stir in the eggs, sugar and spices (added according to taste), and keep simmering for at least five minutes - stir well to make sure the mixture doesn't burn or stick to the pan.
3. Remove from the pan and add in as much whisky, ale or white wine as you prefer.
4. Serve immediately, either on its own or poured over bannocks or a dessert.

Cookery Reformed: Or The Lady's Assistant c.1755 has more caudle and posset recipes.

I saved another favorite ad for last. Looks like Whatcom county's interest in good health, good beer and buying local goes way back.

The beer ads are part of a collection hosted by the University of Washington. This link will take you to a search page for "Rainier Beer", but you can check out the collection home page to find old pictures of farming, logging, houses, advertising, etc. involving Washington State and more.