Thursday, April 22, 2010

Snail Patrol!

Generally speaking, the blogs out there where someone simply rants on about something that is bugging them are not my cup of tea. So before I do exactly that, I issue a small apology…

Now that it is spring and there is still a bit of rain, or at least some lovely moisture in the air, the nights are cool and the plants have beautiful, tender, succulent, baby leaves, in march the SNAILS! Gastropod: n. the class comprising the snails, whelks, slugs, etc. – Random House. Okay, I’m obsessed about snails. Those glutinous, slithering, globs of guck are too much for me. I love my garden and take great joy in seeing things sprouting anew as we move from winter to spring, only to have all that joy dashed by some little jerk in a shell eating that new basil plant, for example, down to the stems while I am inside minding my own business…

Now some of this obsession could have come to me by way of genetics. When I was growing up our house had a Dichondra lawn which is really lovely, however it is like snail caviar and back in the day, I’m sure my parents would have gladly used some sort of poison to get rid of them but that was just not practical on your whole lawn, considering kids and pets etc., so I have a vivid image of my mother, out in the dark, with a flashlight, smashing snails…hence the beginning of…Snail Patrol! I myself keep a mostly organic garden and ‘snail bait’ is not part of the program. I have tried copper tape, but it seems the snails pole vault over it. I have tried pie tins filled with beer and sunk into the soil, with some success; finding pans of pickled snails in the morning is gratifying. And then there is salt, but of course any dampness causes that to dissipate and become useless. Sunset Garden Book advises that you will never get rid of snails for good, they will always return. (Thanks) So I have adopted the Snail Patrol technique.

Last night I was taking some trash out to the bin when I noticed them…snail tracks! I rushed into the house, nothing could have stood in my way, grabbed my flashlight and hurried back outside – like they were moving so fast they’d get away! There they were, oodles of them, I could hear them munching, that did it, my snail commando genes just took over, I was on the hunt, under pots, on leaves, cruising down the sidewalk, they were everywhere! I couldn’t move fast enough to eradicate them. And the creepy part is I started counting - like a Grimm’s fairytale – ‘killed seven in one blow’! I’m sure some snail loving group would find this horrific, but I’m convinced they live somewhere with a concrete yard – probably painted green and just have no clue. To say the least, the mission was a success…hence no photos – it was just mayhem…but I’ll probably be out there again tonight, protecting my plants with everything I’ve got…

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Buttermilk Oh My!

So, I baked a coconut cake for a friend who was coming to dinner… a rather lovely cake, white with this remarkable cooked frosting that ended up being sort of like marshmallow cream, then I covered the whole thing with coconut. It was quite delicious. However, (insert scary music)it had one cup of buttermilk in it and as one of life’s little mysteries, buttermilk seems to only come in quart containers, would pints be so unreasonable? You see in my world buttermilk’s only use is as a recipe ingredient. Kicking back a big cold glass of buttermilk is just preposterous! The way I usually deal with this by putting the leftover buttermilk back in the refrigerator, wait until it turns green and then, not a moment before, I throw it away. Well this time I decided I was not going to be so wasteful and I would find another recipe that called for buttermilk.

Now I have been jones’n for some scones for a while and I thought this could be the perfect vehicle for my buttermilk. And yes-sir-ee there was a cherry buttermilk scone recipe just waiting to be tried. It was a very straightforward recipe and could easily be completed before breakfast. And since I had some dried cherries in the cupboard and plenty of buttermilk, I was set...
Dried Cherry Buttermilk Scones
Gourmet Magazine – March 1990
Makes 8 scones
½ C buttermilk plus ¼ C for brushing the scones

1 large egg

3 TBS light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

2 ¼ C cake flour (not self rising)

1 TBS double-acting baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

¾ stick (6 TBS) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

½ C dried sour cherries (chopped)

Granulated sugar for sprinkling
In a bowl whisk together ½ C of the buttermilk, the eggs, the brown sugar, and the vanilla until the mixture is combined well. In another bowl stir together the flour, the baking powder, the bakin soda, and the salt and blend in the butter resembles coarse meal. (I use my hands for this part and rub the mixture together to break down the butter and combine it with the flour – this works better for me than a fork)Stir in the cherries and the buttermilk mixture with a fork until the mixture just forms a sticky but manageable dough. Knead the dough gently for 30 seconds on a lightly floured surface, pat it into a ¾ inch thick round, and cut it into 8 wedges. On an ungreased baking sheet brush the wedges with the remaining ¼ C buttermilk and sprinkle them with the granulated sugar. Bake the scones in the middle of a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes, or until they are golden.

The scones were very light with just the right amount of moistness. I served them with some of my lemon curd and I have to say it was all we could do to not overindulge! It was the perfect way to start a busy day and a nice diversion from our usual breakfast fare…and now I only have 2 cups of buttermilk to waste!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

To Bee or Not To Bee...

The bees are here! The bees are here! We were notified that our bees arrived at the ‘bee store’. When we got there to pick them up the place was buzzing (sorry I couldn’t resist) with activity. They had received multiple swarms as well as queens that morning and people were there getting supplies as well as their bees. We were told not to put our bees into their hive for 24 hours, as they had just been introduced to their queen and until they realized that this was their gal they might just leave the hive…The following day we donned our bee keeper gear and set about putting the bees into the hive. First we removed the syrup can from the box. This had been their food source in transit. Then we remove the queen in her little box, removed the cork that kept her there and replaced it with a marshmallow – seems that the bees eat away the marshmallow and release the queen – we then placed the queen box into the hive. Now came the exciting part putting all the bees into the hive. It was sort of like pouring thick bee syrup into the box. There are so many of them that they all clung together and looked almost viscous. Some flew around a bit but mostly they just went into the box. It was fascinating to see the different types of bees, the little workers and the great big drones all entering their new home. For the next couple days it was very quiet around the hive. I could hardly stand it, wanting to look into the hive to see what they were doing in there, but I resisted. Then out they came taking little test flights and establishing their flight path. So it looks like we did it! We actually have a functioning hive of bees! Next step, grow the size of the hive so they will make enough honey to share…

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Greek Yogurt Experiment...

The other day my sister and I were talking about making yogurt and I remembered my grandmother giving me a Salton yogurt maker when I was in college. It had little individual cups that looked like a glass version of the plastic cups store bought yogurt comes in. The yogurt I made back then wasn’t particularly good…sort of runny, a little too bitter and I had no clue how to add any flavor without further goofing up the consistency, so after lots of years and lots of moves and the little cups being mostly gone, the remains were given to the thrift store.
Well by now my sister and I have become fairly reasonable cooks and I enjoy the brainstorming sessions we have about how to concoct things that we really don’t know how to make. And between the two of us we’ve done pretty well…like the time we tried to dissect the ingredients for the Millet Muffins from CafĂ© Fanny in Berkley. They were clearly our own version, but they were darn close and really yummy! So that’s how it went with the yogurt discussion…vanilla sugar to get a little vanilla sweetness – rather than adding liquid vanilla and risk making the whole thing runny? cooking down some fruit puree so that it was quite thick and adding it at the end?…again that consistency thing… then once my little wheels were turning, I did some internet research and of course found a plethora of information! So I decided to make Greek yogurt, in the oven, no machine, unflavored, to be served with honey.
I began with two quarts of nonfat, local, organic milk and heated it to the recommended 175-180 degrees. I made a make-shift double boiler so that the milk wouldn’t burn if I didn’t stir it constantly and I also have a wonderful Tru-temp thermometer that can be set to sound an alarm when the desired temp is reached. Step 1 – success…I then removed the pot of hot milk to the counter and let it cool to 110-120 degrees, at which point I whisked in ½ cup non fat dry milk and 2 teaspoons plain nonfat, local, organic yogurt. Step 2 – check…Then I poured the whole thing into a glass jar that I set in my oven with just the pilot light on – about 100 degrees – for eight hours. Step 3 – complete… At this point it was definitely yogurt, but I wanted that extra thick variety, so I dumped the contents of the jar into a large strainer lined with cheese cloth and let it drain for 2 more hours. This gets all the whey out of the yogurt and leaves it very creamy. Step 4…this now required a taste to see how I did…voila! It’s totally Greek yogurt and very yummy! I know it sounds like a very time consuming task for something you could pick up at the market, but most of the time is not hands on and it is actually lots less expensive than the store bought, if that is a motivation. So now I am on the yogurt making band wagon and will be trying flavors, different amounts of yogurt ‘starter’ vs. powdered milk and eventually perfect my craft!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Information Sponge...

I don’t know about you, but some weeks I can go along and really feel like I know something and other weeks are definite learning weeks where I just feel like an information sponge. Well last week was a definite learning week. I guess I should have been tipped off that it might go that way when I started the week spending half the day working with Apple technical services setting up a new wireless router…but that’s a whole other story…

First I learned about The Window Farms Project. This is an urban agriculture project started by two women who wanted to grow their own food in the confines of an urban apartment. It is completely inspiring; I encourage you to check out some of their videos at their website! The next thing I learned is that if we grow our vegetables from seeds we need to know where those seeds come from. There are lots of seed patents owned by the giant chemical companies that are being modified to be resistant to chemicals, as well as seeds designed to grow crops that can’t reproduce, hence no more seed saving. This makes me a little crazy! I learned that bees keep themselves warm in the winter by clumping together in the hive and vibrating (not flapping) their wings and this allows them to maintain a temperature of about 90 degrees! I learned that Swiss Chard is a perennial, is a close relative of the beet and that if you just whack it off at the ground for the hot summer months, when it cools down again the chard will begin to grow. No need to ever purchase more chard. I learned things about baking, gardening, beekeeping, the list goes on. I’ve got to say it was a great week.