Sunday, February 07, 2016

Eating Around the World - Australia

It's been a while since I posted, but we're still working our way around the world, eating a meal from the country we've been studying each week. Last week we finished up Asia, and this week we moved on to Australia!

Our entire dinner consisted of Aussie burgers, or "Burgers With The Lot." And, boy, did they have a lot on them! 

Besides the burger and bun they had grilled pineapple, beets, fried egg, Swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, and sriracha mayonnaise. Now, you may wonder, looking at that photograph, how one proceeds to eat such a tall burger.

Well, the first time I tried to take a bite everything slipped...

And landed right back on my plate. Amature.

Eventually, I got it! These burgers were delicious, although more up my alley than Collin's. He found them too rich and sweet, since he prefers his burgers with pungency: mustard, pickles, blue cheese, and raw onions. I like sweet and spicy. The pineapple and beets were the bit that was especially Australian, but while I loved the grilled pineapple I could take or leave the beets. They weren't bad, but they weren't that good and the burger was ridiculously tall.

For dessert we made Lamingtons! After a couple months in Asia I think the girls were glad to get back to a country with more familiar desserts. Lamingtons are a sponge cake cut in cubes, dipped in chocolate frosting, and rolled in coconut. I'd never made a sponge cake before (I know!) so that was fun for me. The dipping and rolling was a bit challenging, but fairly similar to breading chicken or vegetables for frying, which is a skill I'm slowly improving at. Just remember: One hand wet, one hand dry - and you'll save yourself a big mess.

Next week we're moving on to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands. Some summery island food sounds pretty good round about this time of year!

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Glass Gem Corn

Last winter, as I was in the depths of my seed-catalog survival reading, I was browsing my Pinterest feed when I saw this link to Sow & Dipity's post on Glass Gem Corn. I was transfixed. I'd seen Indian corn before, of course, but nothing like this. I desperately wanted to grow some, but the price from the original seller, Native Seeds, was pretty steep, with high demand and limited quantities. A bit more searching brought me to an E-bay seller who had good prices and good feedback, so I placed my order.

Between being very pregnant, a very wet (like, 200-year historic flood levels wet) spring, and a big garden construction project, I got my corn planted late. By the 4th of July, it had grown up to Annie's knees, but that was all you could say for it. I was worried it wouldn't have time to mature before fall came.

Three weeks later, things looked very different!

And after three more weeks, the corn plants towered above Annie, obscured the whole row of sunflowers planted behind it (oops, bad planning on my part there), and was starting to tassel.

We let the corn mature and dry on the stalks until the first frost in mid-October. Then we picked the ears, and had a big shucking party on the back deck. Everyone who grows the corn says that opening each ear is like opening another present, and it's true! It's so exciting to peel back the dried corn husks and reveal the bright colors underneath.

I planted 30 seeds and harvested 40 ears of corn from them. And look at the colors! A whole rainbow from just a tiny patch of corn.

Forget a whole rainbow from the corn patch - each individual ear of corn had so much variety that it was stunning to look at. The depth of color, the many different hues, so intensely bright and translucent - looking at it, you just have to sit back and marvel at God's creativity and wonderful gifts to us.

I brought the ears of corn inside and let them dry in a single layer for a month, and then shelled it. Final yield: 5.5 pints of popcorn for eating, another pint of damaged corn for bird seed, and a nice fat envelope of the best seed for planting next year.

Then the girls and I sorted a couple pints of seed into little jars by color. Because it was too pretty not to enjoy a little longer, especially since winter is coming on fast and the bright colors of fall are long gone.

Aaaahh! A rainbow of Glass Gem corn seed! So much fun, even if I did freeze my fingers setting it up outside to get the natural sunlight

And, finally - a rainbow in a jar. This beauty is going to be the last jar we eat, so we can enjoy the full range of color all winter long.

When I took my harvest pictures, I shared them with the Glass Gem Corn page on Facebook. They generated a fairly large response, and the comments generally fell into four groups:
  1. "Beautiful!" "I want to grow some!" and "God is amazing!"
  2. "Those are GMO. GMOs are not cool." (Or, my favorite, which has since been deleted, "GMO! GMO! God will punish you!")
  3. "It's not even GMO, thank heavens!"
  4. "Sure, it looks cool, but is it edible?"
Well, it's easy to respond to these. Yes, it is beautiful, you should grow some, and God is amazing! No, it's not genetically modified, it's been selected and bred the old fashioned way. But either way, it was still a man using the tools God has given him to grow the best corn he could, so let's stop freaking out about how that colorful corn was developed. And, yes, it is edible! 

So, pretty colors aside, how does it taste? Well, let's throw some in the popcorn pot and see!

OK, full disclosure - it didn't actually pop that well. It had a really high ratio of halfway popped kernels to fully popped ones. I think that's probably because the corn isn't quite dry enough, but it's really hard to know when it's at the perfect dryness for popping. More bad news - the kernels lose most of their color when popping, so you have to loo closely to notice it isn't just regular yellow popcorn.

The good news is that it tastes amazing. I popped it alongside standard grocery store popcorn several times, and you could always taste the difference. The freshly popped grocery popcorn tastes stale next to the crisp nutty flavor of the Glass Gem popcorn. I could always tell the difference, even when I mixed the two popcorns together in the same bowl. And the half-popped kernels still taste good - and even the girls agree. They're a lot like soynuts, and very edible as a snack.

I'll leave you with one last shot of my rainbow in a jar. Until next year, Glass Gem corn!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gradient Spinning Striped Combed Wool Top

Gradient spinning striped combed wool top. How's that for a boring, technical title? I'm writing this mostly because it's a post I searched for elsewhere while working on this yarn, but couldn't find already online. I'm sure other people have used this technique before, but I couldn't find another explanation. If you aren't a spinner, there are lots of pretty pictures for you to enjoy.

For me, spinning is pure color therapy, and the yarn at the end is the bonus. It's not cheaper and certainly not more practical than buying yarn from the store, but it is so delightful to look at the end result and be able to say, "I made that!"

Back in September we took a fun Labor Day trip down to one of my favorite places, Spring Mill State Park. Spring Mill is a historic pioneer village set around a huge (and still working!) grist mill. They sell cornmeal ground in the mill as souvenirs, and it is hands down the best cornmeal I've ever had.

This particular weekend they were having a small fiber arts festival, and historic reenactors were busy giving weaving and spinning demonstrations. This picture is of the beautiful herb garden, but if you look past the garden and next to the large house you can see a number of antique spinning wheels on display.

Well, I couldn't be around so much spinning without an itch to spin on my own wheel again, so I bought this beautiful Ashland Bay Merino fleece for spinning from the gift shop. The colors (!) and the price ($8!) won me over, although I didn't have any plan for how I would use it in the end.

I mean look at those colors! Purple and white and green and red and yellow, all combed together in beautiful stripes. But the problem, which I knew when I picked it out, is that when you spin fiber that has all the colors combed together like this, with vertical stripes, is that the colors mix when you're spinning the yarn. It's very different than working with handpainted fiber, which is the usual way spinners achieve variations of self-striping and gradient yarn. All the examples I could find of other spinners spinning this same fleece ended up as kind of a muddy purple. When done well, it came off as a nicely heathered mauve yarn. When mixed a little too thoroughly, it just looked brown.

Just like a good pancake batter, I didn't want to over-mix the ingredients. Instead, I took the whole fleece apart. I gently peeled off colors one large stripe at a time, and then laid them out on my kitchen island. In the end I probably separated the top into about 12-15 pencil-thin pieces. Then I sorted them by color, going from red to yellow to green to purple, as you can see in the picture. This step actually only took about 20 minutes, and took care of all the pre-drafting I'd need to do for spinning anyway.

You might ask, as did my husband, "Why would you take all the trouble to separate it by color when the colors were just combed together?" And I will tell you, "Because you still get that nice heathered effect with the other bits of color, but a great overall progression throughout the yarn." I've often seen similar things done with handpainted yarn, taking a fleece with short stripes apart to re-arrange the colors to make an over all gradient. This is just taking a similar idea to a fleece where the colors were combed together to make vertical rather than horizontal stripes.

After arranging the colors, all that's left is to spin it all up fast enough to keep those long strands of fleece out of the hands of curious children. This was the most difficult step, but helped by the fact that I did most of this spinning on a night when my husband was working exceptionally late. We're getting too old for all-nighters, but it is kind of fun to see how much you can accomplish with a little extra time. The bit I didn't spin the first night I finished the next day, so there wasn't much time for little fingers to get into my prepared fleece.

I just barely managed to squeeze all 4 oz of fiber onto one bobbin, and then turned right around and Navajo-plyed the yarn onto another. Do you like my tissue box Lazy Kate? Someday I'll get a real wooden one, but this works in a pinch.

Then I wound the yarn onto my swift, and it was the first time to see the big picture of how the stripes had turned out. Result: success!

Look at those beautiful long stripes twisted up in a yarn skein. After giving it a gentle wash in warm water to finish the yarn, I hung it to dry for a day, and then it was ready to wind into a ball. Back on the swift again, and time to measure the yardage and spin it onto my ball winder.

The same weekend I bought the fleece, my brother gave me this yarn caddy he made for my birthday. Isn't it beautiful? It has a spindle to hold a ball or cone of yarn, and a Lazy Susan with ball bearings inside to allow it to spin freely. I needed it mainly for weaving, to keep the spools of yarn from rolling wildly around on the floor, dragging against the carpet, spinning around chair legs, and collecting dust and hair as I wind hundreds (sometimes thousands) of yards of yarn onto my warping board. But it's also a gorgeous stand for a yarn cake, and I'm looking forward to knitting this pretty yarn off its pretty holder.

And finally, the yarn is all wound up! Look at those stripes! Now to decide what to do with it. I was hoping it would be enough to make the main section of a Baby Surprise Jacket for Eliza, but 230 yards won't be enough on its own. I might need to spend some time with the yarn, letting ideas percolate for a while longer before finding the perfect pattern or coordinating yarn to pair it with.

If you have any ideas of what I should make with the yarn, let me know! I'd love some new ideas. And if you've spun any yarn in a similar way, I'd be very interested to see your pictures too!

Monday, November 09, 2015

Eating Around the World - Russia

Russia. Land of snow, vodka, and depressing literature. At least, that's what I was thinking going into this week's study. After a bit of reading, I remembered there's actually a lot to like about the country and culture. So many fun stories, like The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship (more on that in another post), wonderful music (as I write this, Annie is in bed singing themes from Peter and the Wolf to her sisters), and matryoshkas! Also, the food isn't all meat, potatoes, and cabbage. Granted, a lot of it is. In fact, one of the common Russian dishes I found is Golubtsi, which is the same as the sarmale we had last week. Seeking a lighter meal, I came across this picture and knew exactly what we'd have for our weekly meal: a Russian tea!

My sister was visiting this weekend, which made our Russian tea party that much more fun. She brought our grandma's old teapot, which we used with our samovar (Russian tea urn - literally "self boiler") to serve.

I have an antique coffee urn which is very similar to a Russian samovar, so we had fun drinking tea Russian style. We used this recipe for tea, decaf, and with a fresh orange. We brewed the tea in a concentrated form in the teapot, and then diluted in our teacups with hot water from the samovar. The teapot sits on top of the samovar to stay warm, although we took ours down soon after taking the pictures so the kids wouldn't knock it off and break our grandma's teapot. That would be a tragic end to the story. The tea was delicious, and I'm not a big black tea drinker. It was almost fruity and sweet enough that the girls liked it, but they weren't entirely sold.

I'll tell you what they were sold on, was these tea sandwiches. Jenny probably ate five of them, one right after the next.

This beet salad was the centerpiece of the table: beautiful, and very interesting with the crispy fried potatoes combined with the dramatic color of the beets. It's definitely going to make a repeat appearance at our dinner table, although next time I'm only going to mix together as much as we can eat in one meal. The fried potatoes get completely lost in the salad when you're eating the leftovers.

The real star of the show was the tea in the samovar, and the tea cakes. I made Collin's favorite Russian tea cakes (the kind with powdered sugar and walnuts), and a huge string of sushki. The sushki are kind of a cross between a cracker and a cookie - very slightly sweet, and crunchy like Italian breadsticks (grissini). Both tea cakes are very dry, and not amazing on their own, but the perfect accompaniment for a hot cup of tea.

Learning about Russian tea and samovars was one of my favorite parts of geography this week. I bought our samovar a couple years ago because we needed a way to serve hot water to large groups of people for evening parties. Our tea kettle was running out of water too quickly, and an air pot was kind of boring. We bought this samovar off Ebay to have something more festive, but I didn't learn much about the way Russians use them until this week. This video on brewing tea Russian-style was especially enlightening. Apparently, before electric samovars became common, the water was boiled by a lighting a fire in a pipe inside the samovar. The fire was often fueled with pine cones, and infused the tea with a delicious outdoorsy flavor unique to old-style samovars. Mine is electric, so missing that unique smoky flavor, but it was still fun to drink cup after cup of tea Russian style, and imagine we were fortifying ourselves for the long, cold winter ahead.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Eating Around the World - Romania

After a dip into the Middle East, this week we journeyed back up north to eastern Europe, and specifically Romania. The southern detour was largely due to the abundance of tomatoes coming in at the end of the harvest, but as the weather is now turning colder, heartier northern foods feel more natural. Next week we're continuing on to Russia, and then on through northern Asia.

Our main dish was sarmale - Romanian cabbage rolls stuffed with a meat and rice filling. They actually are very similar to Greek dolmas, but flavored so differently that they become an entirely new dish. I've never made anything like them before, so that part was a fun experience for me. You blanch a whole head of cabbage in a pot of boiling water, peel off the outer softened leaves, place a raw meatball in each, and roll it up, poking in the ends. Then you tuck all those cabbage dumplings in a Dutch oven, add some tomato sauce and dill, cover it with cabbage leaves and sauerkraut, and bake low and slow all afternoon.

On the side we had mamaliga, which is indistinguishable from polenta. Have you noticed how many names this basic cornmeal mush goes by? And how much more sophisticated "mamaliga" or "polenta" sounds, compared to "hasty pudding" or "mush"? Anyway, our mamaliga was made with popcorn that I ground coarsely in our mini blender, which worked very well. I flavored it with a single piece of bacon, as I saw in some other recipes, and topped it with very thick strained yogurt, since we didn't have any sour cream.

For dessert was cozonac - Romanian sweet bread with chocolate. Usually it has walnuts too, but I didn't have any and our grocery budget was empty at the end of the month. So I found this recipe that just uses cocoa and sugar, a lot like a cinnamon swirl bread. It was good, and very beautiful, but I do hope to try it again someday with the walnuts.

If you use the linked recipe, you might have trouble following it between it being written in Romanian and with metric measurements. Here are the conversions I used to make a single large loaf:

1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
2.5 t. yeast
1/2 t. salt
2 T. butter
3 1/2 - 4 c. flour
3 T. each sugar and cocoa for the swirl

Inside it is completely threaded with chocolate! Next time I make it I'll use more chocolate and sugar - maybe even twice as much. And I'd love to try it with walnuts sometime as well.

In the end, Eastern European food still isn't my favorite, but it was still very fun to try something completely new. I'm not sure I'll be making this dinner again anytime soon (though Collin votes for a repeat appearance), but I'm glad we were able to try it and have a little taste of Romania.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Eating Around the World - Saudi Arabia

A few weeks ago my sister, who works as a nurse in a large children's hospital, sent me a text. She was caring for a Saudi Arabian family, and they shared a chicken and rice dish with her which she loved. But when she asked for the recipe (and she noted their English was good), they said: "Recipe? What does this word mean?"

Well, sister, I think I finally have the recipe for you here! Kabsa (or kapsa) is the national dish of Saudi Arabia, and this recipe feels pretty authentic since it's written first in Arabic and then translated for English readers. And it is yellow, yummy, and flavorful just like you described!

Although the recipe said it served 2-3 people, my pan made enough food for two meals for our family. And I'm totally fine with that, because it's delicious! I doubled the spices in the kabsa spice mix, and upped the rice to 2 cups. Instead of pulling the chicken out onto a separate pan to broil, I baked the rice and chicken together in the oven for 45 minutes. Next time I'll probably make it with boneless chicken thighs for convenience, because my whole chicken chopping skills leave a bit to be desired.

We can't seem to get away from the ubiquitous cucumber salad! The traditional accompaniments to kebsa, according to this blog post, are fresh yogurt, a spicy tomato sauce called daqous, and cucumber tomato salad. And even though we're ready for a new side dish, it was the perfect complement.

In traditional Saudi style we ate dinner on a cloth on the floor. We joked that we should really go traditional and serve Daddy first before any of us women got to eat, but how fun would that be? This meal was fun, especially after a week of reading stories from One Thousand and One Nights, and having Aladdin's Arabian Nights firmly stuck in my head.

When the wind's from the east 
And the sun's from the west
And the sand in the glass is right
Come on down stop on by
Hop a carpet and fly
To another Arabian night!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eating Around the World - Israel

After over-extending myself last week on our Turkish dinner, I spent a bit of time re-evaluating my approach to our geographical dinners. I want to have a tangible way for all of us to understand a bit of the culture of peoples from all around the world. Last week there was a story on NPR that paralleled our geographical culinary project, about how in Budapest a group of chefs are using food as a way to help Hungarians understand and reach out to the refugees in their midst. Many of my goals with the girls are similar, except that instead of merely trying to "heal prejudice," I want these meals to be an opportunity to for our daughters to learn to love people around the world, and to pray for them to come to know the love of Christ. And also as a time to make learning fun! The girls really do enjoy these meals. Almost the first thing they ask me each Monday is what country we'll be learning about, and what we get to eat.

With all that in mind, and trying to simplify things a bit, this week as part of our study of Israel we had falafel sandwiches. That's all. It still took a bit of time and more planning ahead than I give to regular weeknight meals, but it turned out well, and it was fun. We followed this falafel recipe/tutorial almost exactly, except I used a bit more chickpeas and a bit less fresh herbs.

So much of Israeli food involves fresh produce. And look at those colors! These are the vegetables for the fresh relish. Just dice a cucumber, a red onion, and a handful of grape tomatoes...

...Mix them together, and you're good to go. This component is finished!

The sauce is made from tahini, a freshly squeezed lemon, yogurt, salt, and water. Also super easy.

The pitas were from the same recipe we used with the Greek gyros. And the falafel were a lot simpler than I imagined. Just throw thoroughly soaked (not cooked) chickpeas in the food processor with lots of fresh parsley, cilantro, and an onion, stir in some spices, let it rest for a bit, and it's ready to fry. Even the frying went better than I expected. I'm a terrible fryer, and I usually fill the kitchen up with smoke and cover the stove with grease splatters. Today neither of those happened. I still don't know why not, but I am thankful!

I was hoping we'd have time to make some Hamantaschen for dessert, but between one thing and another (involving several changes of clothes for baby and me) we ran out of time. I'm still hoping we might be able to make some this weekend. Incidentally, we watched this video of an Israeli baker making Hamantaschen, and it's the best thing I've seen all week. Watch it! But since there weren't any cookies for us tonight, we had oranges and dates for dessert instead. No one was complaining.