Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reading the Bible--In a Day! (Almost)

We had been forewarned: Today at work, the editorial department would be gathering en masse to proofread the newest edition of The Daily Bible, which is due out later this year. Our goal: Get as much of the Bible read in one day (with 12 of us on task) as humanly possible--reading carefully, not skimming--taking care with God's Word. A huge responsibility.

Every so often we will have a special project like this, that takes all of the editorial staff working together to accomplish. This day's work was massive, but every one of us looked forward to it. Think about it: we got paid today to sit quietly and--for an entire day!--read the Bible. It was lovely.

And it was fun...

The managing editor of the department is a creative genius when it comes to making big projects enjoyable. In our department, food often plays a big part in our communal times, and today was no exception. Food choices today were direct reflections of what Jesus would have eaten in His day. You see? Fun!

When we got to work, we had an early morning snack waiting for us that consisted of two types of honeycomb (dark and light), almond butter, and whole wheat bread. I'll freely admit that the electric toaster wasn't authentic, but it tasted so good to slather the goodies on perfectly toasted, warm bread.

We had already decimated the dark honeycomb and almond butter before it occured to me to start taking pictures:

What's left of the honeycomb. Not very exciting, but oh, so good!

We worked solid for two hours and then were treated to more food. This is where it got fun:

We had so much to choose from that I quickly wrote everything down because I knew I wouldn't remember it all otherwise, and here it is:

goat cheese
flat bread
pistachios (already shelled!)
pomegranate seeds (ready to eat!)
dried apricots
dried figs (two kinds, Mission and a Middle Eastern variety that was out of this world)

What a feast! As we ate, we talked about what each of us had been reading this morning. How nice is that? Remember: This is my job.

We worked until lunch and were on our own for that meal. Frankly, I was still full from morning break. But I met my twin sister in town (prearranged) and we had a bit of tapas, which was just right for me today.

Then, back to work for the remainder of the day and one more treat:

Scripture Cake!

You can do a Google search to find out more about Scripture Cake. Along with a cup of hot tea, I sailed through the afternoon, alert, happy, satiated, and reading, reading, reading.

Such a blessing!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homemade Bread--As You Like It!

This week, one of my sons put together my new Country Living grain mill. It's a manual grinder...not a bit of electricity is used to get the nicest flour anyone could possibly want. I've used an electric grinder for years, but always wanted to get away from "machinery" and just use good old-fashioned arm power instead. The Country Living grain mill with the power bar attachment makes grinding grain really quite easy.

I also purchased the corn and bean auger because I love fresh ground cornmeal, and can't wait to use that next. And if you've read my previous posts (see "A Handy Woman -- Sort Of" on 2/12/12) you know I'm not mechanical. So, if I can use this mill--and change out the augers--I figure anyone can. It's that easy!

Okay, so here are some picture of my new mill:

A Close-up view

Shown bolted onto a butcher block cabinet

Of course, I immediately set about grinding grain. I made some cracked wheat for hot cereal, and then set it to fine and ground flour for bread. The flour was beautiful stuff--perfect bread flour.

I want to share with you my go-to recipe for a plain load of bread (although you can add anything you want to it. Or do like I do and make several loaves at a time and turn one of them into cinnamon sugar bread. Yum!). The recipe comes from an Amish cookbook published in 1980 and "Compiled by a Committee of Amish Women."

What I love about this recipe is that it's easy and you make as many or as few loaves as you want. Here are some pictures of today's whole wheat bread:

Loaf At a Time Basic Bread Recipe

For each loaf use:

1 cup very warm water
1 teaspoon melted lard or butter, or cooking oil
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast (if you make 8 loaves, just use 2 rounded tablespoons yeast)
3 cups flour

Combine everything but the flour in the order given in a large bowl. Let the mixture stand until the yeast dissolves and gets bubbly. Stir in about half of the flour and beat it until smooth. (You can use an electric hand mixer, but I just use a wooden spoon or a whisk and go to it.) Then add the remaining flour. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Place the dough into a clean bowl that has been greased (Crisco or butter). Turn the ball of dough all around so the entire surface gets greased. Then, put a clean towel on top of the bowl and set it in a draft-free, warmish place (I just set mine on the counter) and let it rise until double.

Punch down and knead it a bit. Then shape it into a ball again and place it back in the bowl, making sure to grease the entire surface again. Cover with the towel and let rise to double again. Do this punching down/rising step one more time and then:

Shape into a loaf or loaves, depending on how many you're making, and place the loaves in greased bread pans. Cover with the towel and let rise again until nearly doubled. (The bread will continue to rise a bit when it's first placed in the oven.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When you place the bread into the oven, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for 30-35 minutes.

When you remove the finished bread from the oven, you can lightly grease or butter the top crust. This helps the crust to remain soft...but I hardly ever do this and I don't have a problem with hard crust. After about 5 minutes, turn the finished loaves out of the loaf pans and set the bread on racks to cool.

It's really hard to let the bread rest for a bit before you dig in...but resist the urge to cut into it until the bread has had a chance to cool slightly. You'll be happy you waited because the bread will cut better and hold it's shape.

Also, you can skip the last rising before you loaf it up if you feel pressed for time. However, the bread will have a better texture and will be softer and lighter if you do all the risings because the air bubbles that get trapped are smaller; therefore, the bread is finer textured.

That's it! It's really quite easy. This bread makes great toast and works super well for sandwiches.

Happy eating!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cream--or, If You're on a Diet, Walk Away from This Post!

I try valiently to eat well...and by that, I mean lots of fairly naked veggies and lean cuts of meat and fish. But the truth is that I love sauces and butter and rice and potatoes, and some weeks I just have to satisfy my epicurian lusts.

This weekend I did.

I bought a container of organic whipping cream when I did my weekly shopping yesterday and immediately set about using it. I made "Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken" and "Savory Scones"...and they are such good eating that I realized I had to share the recipes. Both of these recipes were "unvented" by me, so that's probably why I love them so much, as they appeal to my personal taste buds.

The fact that an entire pint of cream is already gone underscores just how calorie-laden and rich these recipes are. But please don't let that stop you from trying them--I think they could become favorites in your kitchen as well!

Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken

(Serves 2 to 4)

Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breast tenderloins (good sized ones if you're feeding four people)
flour for dredging chicken
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sliced fresh button mushrooms
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon French tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
cooked white rice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (At this point I set the rice to cooking and things come out in good order at the end.)
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a saute pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour and cook them in the butter/oil until browned on both sides. I make sure my heat isn't too high so the butter doesn't burn. When the chicken is sufficiently browned, I lightly salt and pepper them and then put them in a baking dish (anything that fits will do) and throw them into the oven to finish cooking while I make the sauce.

Into the remains of the butter/oil, I place the onions and mushrooms and saute those until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have cooked some. Then I turn up the heat slightly and add the lemon juice, stirring well so I can deglaze the pan and get all those good bits of floury-chickeny goodness. I cook down the lemon juice a bit and then turn the heat way down. Next, I add the cream, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Heat until the cream is very hot but don't let it boil. I stir and let things simmer for a few minutes so the flavors meld and then I serve the chicken and tarragon cream sauce over rice.

One thing to keep in mind: These measurements are really just suggestions. Taste as you go and add more if you want.

Okay, that was last night's dinner. This morning I made:

Savory Potato Rosemary Scones

(Serves 8)
 (You will notice there are only 7 scones pictured. That's because I ate one before I took the photo. I have my limits for self-discipline!)

2 1/2 - 3 cups flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded or fine diced cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1/4 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/4 cup finely diced bell peppers (use orange, green, and red for a pretty display of color)
1/2 large potatoe, peeled and diced (I usually use a small one and call it good)
1 egg
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon rosemary, bruised so the aromatic oils come out
1/4 teaspoon sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a cookie sheet in a 12-inch circle. (This is where the dough will go later. If you only butter the area where the dough will go, it's easier to clean afterward.)

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until a bit softened. (I usually throw them into vigorously boiling water and let them boil for a minute or two. Then I turn off the heat and let them sit on the hot burner until I need to drain them.)

Saute in 1 tablespoon butter the onion, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking power and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the cheeses and egg. Add the cream and mix well. Add the sauted veggies and the drained potatoes and mix well again.
Fold in the flour mixture, a bit at a time, by hand. You may need to add more flour--what you want is a soft dough. Mix just until the flour is thoroughly incorporated in the mixture.

Pat out into a round about 1 inch thick on the buttered cookie sheet. Take a knife and score by cutting down as best as you can into eight equal pie-shaped "slices." When they bake, they'll still stick together but the scores will be there and help to define individual pieces.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the scones are cooked through and golden brown on top.

Set on a wire rack to cool.


 I plan on eating mostly naked vegatables and lean cuts of meat for the remainder of this week as my pennance...but it's hard to feel bad about eating such good food!

Blessings to you and yours,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rainbow Chard--Friends At Last!

I love growing rainbow chard because it's so pretty. The stalks come in neon bright colors--red, orange, yellow, and cream. Against the deep green broad leaves intersected by colorful ribs, rainbow chard just looks like it would be wonderful to eat.

But I've never been fond of it, which fusses me no end because I can't stop growing it. Up until this evening that was a problem...

This morning I woke up to snow. Snow! In March. In the Willamette Valley. Not usual. I girded my loins, hopped in my car, and drove to work without mishap. (In these parts, we aren't very skilled at driving in snow or ice and I always get nervous.) I realized pretty early in the morning that I was suffering from a case of spring fever. I think the snow had something to do with that. I promised myself that I'll mud in my peas this weekend no matter what the weather, and that helped somewhat, but I still yearned for the taste of the growing season. I really wanted something fresh. So I decided I'd do a quick spot of grocery shopping at lunch.

When I got to the store, I saw gorgeous organic strawberries and raspberries for sale at a good price and I quickly scooped up a couple of clamshells of each. As I was turning to leave, my eye caught sight of...yep. You guessed it. Organic rainbow chard. It was fresh and crisp and oh so colorful and pretty. Now I never actually buy chard. I only grow it. I've always felt that to spend my hard-earned cash on a veggie that I'm not likely to eat isn't being a good steward. But today...

Today I couldn't resist, and a perfect bunch of chard made its way into my basket. When I got back to work, I had a chance to contemplate what I had just done. I had just bought chard. I DON'T LIKE CHARD. Oh, dear.

All afternoon as I worked I thought and thought about that chard. I really wanted to like chard. So I thought and thought some more and this is what I did:

This is a picture of my sauted chard. I wish it was a larger picture so you could really get an idea of how pretty it is. But still, I think you can see the different colors.

Sauted Chard

4-6 stalks chard (use Rainbow and your meal will be beautiful plus tasty!), more or less
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp. butter
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup white wine (I used cheap cooking wine. It would probably taste better with good quality wine.)
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (or to taste)

I cleaned and separated the chard stalks from the leaves. I put the olive oil and butter into a saute pan and turned the heat to about medium. While it was heating I chopped the stalks and when the butter was melted I threw in the onion and chard stalks and stirred occasionally for about 4 minutes. Next I added the wine and the chopped leaves, lowered the heat a bit, and stirred every so often while the whole shebang cooked for maybe another 3 minutes. I turned the heat off, salted and peppered the chard, added the Parmesan cheese over the top (I didn't stir), put a lid on it, and let it set, covered, for a few more minutes so the Parmesan would melt.

Now here's the amazing part: I liked it! I really liked it! I'm thrilled with this development. Because I already knew I'd be growing chard this summer. But now? Now I'll be able to enjoy eating it too!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Easy Homemade Washcloths

Something I'm rather fond of doing is to knit up my own washcloths. I use them in the kitchen, to wipe up spills and clean off the grandkids' faces and hands; and in the shower they can't be beat because they gently exfoliate my skin while leaving it feeling soft and smooth. Plus, I love the notion that I made them myself. It really appeals to the old-fashioned spirit that's me.

I use various yarns--here are several inexpensive suggestions:
  • Pisgah's Peaches and Creme
  • Lily's Sugar'n Cream
  • KnitPicks' Cotlin or Dishie
These are washable worsted-weight cotton yarns (Cotlin is a washable cotton/linen blend and the linen makes this yarn wear like iron) and they can last through many machine launderings. If you choose to bleach them, however, the colors won't last, and in fact, even regular washings tend to make them look "well used" pretty quickly. But I make these cloths to be used, so that doesn't bother me in the least. Further, these washcloths take such a small amount of yarn and they knit up so quickly that I've found it's not a problem to simply knit up yet another one when I have a few spare hours. We are talking mindless knitting here, so these make excellent take-along projects to have on the go at all times. Or, say, after a long and hectic day when your brain won't function but you're still too wired to go directly to bed...this knitting will calm and relax you, and it's pretty hard to make a mistake.

So here's how I start:

With a #4 needle, I cast on 40 stitches. You can cast on any number you would like, but 40 seems to work for me size-wise. Then, I knit every row back and forth (garter stitch) until the washcloth is square. At this point my washcloth measures around 8 inches, but again, exact measurements aren't crucial. When I have a square fabric, I cast off.

Next, I fish out a crochet hook and some contrasting yarn. I use a size I or J hook, but you can use whatever seems to work well for you and whatever reasonably sized hook you have in your stash. You'll need the hook to be big enough to easily catch the yarn, but not so big that it's difficult to push through the fabric when you're making stitches.

I like to crochet a scalloped edge all the way around the border of the cloth and here's how I do that:

Starting a bit away from one of the corners I work around the entire perimeter of the washcloth in single crochet. When that's completed, I start a scalloped border by chaining into the first stitch on my new row. Then I skip one stitch and double crochet three times in the next stitch. *Skip a stitch, slip stitch in next stitch, skip a stitch, double crochet three times in next stitch*, etc. (Just keep doing what's between the *s above and that's all there is to it. Easy as pie!) When I get around to the beginning, I will often have to fudge things in order for the stitches to come out more or less even, but that's easy to do and the scallops are forgiving. And, let's face it, this is just a washcloth--to be used and washed and used again. It's not heirloom quality--it's a workhorse. In my book, that means I don't sweat it if things turn out less than perfect.

With not too much effort, my washcloth is ready to use:

Love it! And I hope you make one and find you love them too. Maybe before you know it, you'll have an entire drawer full of homemade washcloths..and then you'll have to turn your attention to knitting kitchen towels next. They're no harder; simply bigger.

Happy washing!

My Sister's Purple Potatoes

One of my out-of-state sisters came for a quick, unexpected visit this past weekend, and my twin sister and I pretty much dropped everything we had planned for the weekend so the three of us could enjoy the special time together.

The sister who visited owns and operates an organic CSA--Community Supported Agriculture--that serves cutomers in the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington area. She has a three-season operation, which pretty much means that we rarely see her anywhere but in her "dirt," amending, digging, planting, tending, harvesting. So this visit was a treat for all of us.

For those of you who don't know what a CSA is, I'll give you the Reader's Digest explanation: A farmer (my sister, in this instance) plants a market garden and sells "shares" to individuals prior to harvest. Then, every week during the harvest season, the farmer picks what's ripe and divides that week's produce into however many shares have been sold. Each shareholder then gets whatever is available that week according to their share amount. It's a win win situation, because the farmer earns an honest (although hardworking) living, and shareholders get the benefit of eating the very tastiest, freshest, close-to-home-grown fruits, veggies, greens, and sprouts. And in the case of my sister's operation, the food is sustainably grown with absolutely nothing in the way of herbicides or pesticides used. And because the food is locally grown, the costs for transporting long distances, packaging, and using up store shelf space are virtually nonextent. Considering that where I live, gas has gone up to over $4 per gallon, that could really add up in savings.

Another neat aspect of my sister's CSA is that she grows some things that are "new" to most Americans' taste buds. She's known locally for being a whiz at Asian greens, and she grows many, many different varieties. And to sweeten the deal, my sister often includes recipes for whatever is in the week's box of goodies so her customers will feel confident in using the food. In the winter, she grows alot of microgreens and sprouts.

But of course, the summer CSA is the mainstay of her operation, and the chance for her to grow the largest variety of veggies. Another specialty of hers is the unique potato varieties that she grows. Russets and reds don't figure in her customers' boxes because people can buy those just about everywhere. So she's always hunting for new and unusal varieties. And this visit was no different.

My sister has located a new purple potato that isn't on the market yet and doesn't have a name that I'm aware of. But she knows the developer so she got a line on several hundred pounds of seed potatoes. She tells us that these potatoes are deep purple with a creamy Yukon-gold-like swirl; very pretty. They are also high in antioxidents, which is one of the selling points of purple versus regular potatoes. (Studies has shown that purple potatoes can actually help lower your blood pressure, among other benefits.)

My twin sister and I were very much interested in these, so our CSA sister is shipping us a few pounds each to try them out this summer. I usually have good success with growing potatoes at the Lilliputian cottage, so I'm hoping that these few pounds will result in several months at least worth of winter eating bliss.

I'll keep you posted!