Jar of Sunshine (aka: Preserved Lemons)

At the top of my DIY food list for the longest time has been to make a jar of salt preserved lemons.  The ingredient list couldn’t be simpler–kosher salt, lemons, a jar with a lid, and time.  However, it has taken me months to get around and do this.  I’ve been seeing references to them everywhere lately, too.  The very first winter extension service class this year featured a Moroccan tagine that included them and several food blogs I follow have mentioned them or recipes that include them.  So when I was out grocery shopping and saw a bag of lemons I finally grabbed them with the sole purpose of preserving them.  Lemons are so appealing right now because it’s that frustrating part of the year where it’s not quite spring and they provide a ray of hope for the growing season that lay ahead.  They are like little pieces of sunshine that brighten the kitchen and just plain make me happy when I look at them.  Yellow is my favorite color, so I’m sure that helps, too!

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Back to the lemons…I had 7 of them.
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Wash well (since you’ll be eating the peel) and cut into quarters, but not all the way through the bottom. Kind of like you have a lemon flower.
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Fill the cut lemon centers with kosher salt and cram into a jar and I do mean cram! I fit 6 into this jar, but it took some force and squashing of lemons.  The final lemon I juiced and topped off the jar with the juice.
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Into the fridge (with a lid and ring, of course) and Part 2 of this saga will continue in 6-8 weeks…

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Spring Fever

I have been silent lately as I have been suffering a case of spring fever this weekend and have spent as much time outdoors as I can prepping the garden beds and starting seeds.  So far, I have planted snap peas , beets, radishes, and potatoes from seed (or tubers).  I also planted 6 garlic plants (as I never got around to planting them from cloves last fall) in the herb bed, and an orange mint start in a container (so it doesn’t take over the world).  I’ve been watching the rhubarb grow by leaps and bounds and I even saw my first strawberry blossom today.  Winter is not over quite yet, but I can see spring on the horizon.  There will be more canning and food preservation posts as the weather improves!

Our 4-Legged Boys

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This is actually a group shot of the two boys-that lump under the pink fleece blankie is Karl and that tuxedo chap making sure he doesn’t get too close is Spike.  In the battle of wills Spike won the spot on the heating pad so Karl when underground.  But after Spike left Karl made himself comfortable…

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The Garden 2013: Before

I’m starting to believe that groundhog knew what he was talking when he predicted an early spring.  After gaining an hour of daylight this weekend, spring fever is building.  Sunday  I planted daffodil and tulip starts (I meant to plant bulbs a long time ago, but that didn’t happen as planned).  The next thing on my garden to-do list is to prep the raised beds.  I have 3 total—1 big one (10’x15’) for veggies,

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1 small one (10’x4’) for strawberries and raspberries,

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and a medium one (6’x8’) for perennial veggies (currently asparagus, artichoke, and rhubarb). 

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Only the small one was present when we moved in and over the course of 3 years I (and the hubby) put in the other two. 

I’ve been neurotically checking the perennial bed to check on the rhubarb and asparagus and although there is no activity on the asparagus front, the rhubarb is starting to peek out through the leaf layer.

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 I can’t wait to taste it!  I’m already envisioning strawberry/rhubarb jam and pie.  Also, witch’s hair, which is what my mom called a brew she made us when we were kids.  It is just rhubarb and sugar simmered on the stovetop in a saucepan.  The rhubarb breaks down into almost an applesauce consistency (but a bit stringy-hence the hair name), and is sweet and tart from the rhubarb and sugar.  Mom would serve us warm bowls of the stuff after Grandma harvested some rhubarb.  

I need to get started on the cool weather crops like peas.  Karl, my dachshund, loves peas and has already started to poke around the garden looking to harvest.  So far he has contented himself with grazing on the new grass and rolling in the worms and other slimy creatures he finds in the sunny lawn.  Do your 4-legged friends “help” in the garden?

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Turtles and Duck Butts

Recently I purchased a new camera—a Nikon CoolPix P510.  It’s a fancy point and shoot, not a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera.  The DSLR cameras are probably better for food photography, but they are also more complicated and much more expensive.  I knew that I didn’t want to spend upwards of $1,000 on something that was going to make me feel stupid.  I’m still not entirely sure how to use all the functions on this “simpler” model, but it sure beats the other camera I was using.  I did do some research and knew that I wanted a camera with a decent optical zoom and fairly broad ISO range (although I’m still a little fuzzy on what that means).  So far I have been very pleased with the images I’m able to capture.

One of the best things about a new fancier camera is that I’m more eager to go outside and explore nature now that I can document it in a way I couldn’t before.  I am lucky enough to live near a beautiful waterway that is a mix of ponds, channels, and other riparian areas that surround the Willamette River.  The wetlands are a habitat for both permanent wildlife and a pit stop along the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds.  Here are some of the ponds current inhabitants.

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Food Swap Success

My first food swap is in the bag!  I’m now the proud owner of 2 dozen fresh eggs, watermelon syrup, spiced apples, grape jelly, marionberry jelly, and fig/apple butter!  I’m not sure how this is how all food swaps work, but I’ll tell you how this one worked.  Everyone showed up at about 4 and set up there wares.  For each type of item we filled out a piece of paper that had our name, item name, ingredients, and notes on how to use it if needed.  Below that was a blank list where people who were interested could put their names and suggestions for swapping.  Everyone milled about eyeballing everyone else’s goods for about 45 mintues and then the swapping began!  I was pleased that a couple people with fresh eggs wanted my jam so I have plenty of eggs now.  I’m seeing fresh pasta in my future!  I was also pleased to find the watermelon syrup.  I wanted to make some myself last summer, but just keep eating all the watermenlons I bought!  The woman with the fig/apple butter had a jar open and poured over goat cheese to taste and it was divine.  I traded her a jar of red onion jelly for a jar of that spread. 

Overall, it was a pleasant and fun experience that I will do again when they have the next one in the summer.  There should be a lot of goodies then when tons of produce is available.  It’s always interesting to see what others make with the bounty out there.  There were two different types of body balm, artisan bread, potpouri, granola, and even a few tinctures of oregon grape, and st. john’s wort (although I’m not sure what you’d do with those).  The only thing I wish were different is that although over 40 people had committed to attending only 14 showed up.  Maybe not a lot of people had leftover canned goods at this time of year and the attendance will improve for the summer swap.  I’ll definitely be there to find out!

Wheat Berry Ricotta Pudding

Today was the Master Food Preservers grains class.  It was the third in a series of winter classes.  The first was soups & stews, and the second was beans.  I was very curious about this grains class especially.  Except for rice (and cous cous, which I recently found out is a pasta not a grain), I don’t regularly cook with grains.  Mostly it’s because I’m just not that familiar with them-how to cook them and which dishes to use or make with grains.  Even rice and cous cous I use mostly as a plain side to a flashier main dish.

I do like trying new foods, but grains were a bit of a mystery to me, although they have been gaining popularity lately.  Everyone seems to be talking about quinoa, farro, or wheat berries-making salads and elaborate main courses from these humble grains.  I admit, until today, I couldn’t even tell you what quinoa looked like.  Never mind how to prepare it and make a meal out of it. 

Happily, now I can!  Not only that but I have a whole packet of recipes, most of which I tasted earlier today.  We even got to make our own recipes (which will be compiled and emailed to us later) out of a grain in addition to watching the knowledgeable volunteers demonstrate how to make a bunch of dishes.  The best part, as always is the food!  I ate more grains in one sitting than I think I have in my entire life so far.  Almost every grain was sampled from bulgur, wheat berries (in a pudding!), two kinds of quinoa, hulled barley (not pearl), buckwheat, and of course rice.  They had 16 cooked grains to sample plain to get a taste of their flavor and texture.  One of the biggest surprises was the Wheat Berry Ricotta Pudding—a luscious pudding dessert studded with wheat berries.  It’s a unique way to “sneak” grains in your diet and who can say no to a healthy dessert?

 Wheat Berry Ricotta Pudding

Serves 8-10

1 pound ricotta cheese

¼ cup sour cream

3 eggs

½ cup sugar

¼ tsp vanilla

¼ tsp nutmeg

Zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ cups cooked wheat berries

  • Cook the wheat berries. In a medium-size saucepan bring 1 ¾ cups water to a boil.  Add ½ cup wheat berries.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the berries are tender but not mushy.  Allow to cool to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Transfer to a 2-quart casserole dish.
  • Place the casserole in a larger dish or baking pan deep enough for water to come half-way up the sides of the casserole.
  • Place in the oven.  Pour hot water into the baking pan or larger dish.
  • Bake 1 hour or until pudding is set.  It will be slightly jiggly in the center.
  • Allow to cool for 30 minutes to set up.  Sever warm or refrigerate.  Top with berry compote, if desired.