Full-On Summer

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My daughter, freshly home from summer camp, and my wife and I picked some blueberries today. My son is at a running camp for mornings this week so it was just the three of us. We went late in the morning. The sun was up. It was hot under that sun. It was, as I mentioned to my family, a full-on summer day.

We each picked two quarts, to get your standard flat of berries. It takes some effort but it is worth the time and effort to pick one’s own berries. A quart costs less than a quart from the market and one has control over the quality of the berries in the basket, if you know what I’m saying. We got fat ripe berries and only fat ripe berries.

We did do some sweating at Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm, where we spent only an hour, but not only did we get blueberries but the place has a stellar view. It was one classic summer hour. We ate plenty of berries and my wife tossed a couple of quarts into the freezer later in the day. Hopefully we can pick more before the month is out and add to that freezer stash. They are great to have on a winter morning. Pancakes, anyone? Muffins?

A couple of times this summer, including this week, I have made granola. It is easy to make and, again, worth the effort. If you are going to eat granola, making it means you can make it just how you like it. It is not that difficult, even if it does take some time. The granola I made a couple of days ago includes these ingredients: oats, salt, oil, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ. Simple.

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Tomorrow morning I plan to have more blueberries for breakfast, with some yogurt, and some granola tossed on top. Sweet, tangy, crunchy. If you can beat that for a perfect summer breakfast, you let me know.

Good Day for Pie

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I’m not talking a sweet pie. I’m talking a savory pie. It was cold today, not freeze your hindquarters cold mind you, but seasonally cold. That means below freezing. It had been in the single digits, a couple of nights ago, and I think the cold I soaked in then has been seeping out of me since. It was a good night for a pot pie for dinner.

I had been building up to this pie, a tofu pot pie. I have wanted to make one for several days now. I even bought some tofu, a different variety than I usually use, you know, to mix things up a bit, and that has been waiting in the fridge for this very pie. Yesterday morning, after the aforementioned cold snap, I ran in the morning. I think it got up to twelve degrees by the time I got home. I was warm enough but a bit chilled. If you run, or do anything outside in the cold, you know what I’m talking about. So tonight, since I could be home early enough, I made the dang pie.

I have written about this pie before, so if you want the recipe (don’t be lazy just bake it already) you can find it here.  It involves a big mess in the kitchen, several bowls, a small kitchen appliance and plenty of dishes to wash. And it takes a while to prep. But, I can tell you, this bad boy is a savory winter night delight. Tickles the tongue with tastiness and fills you right up.

Tomorrow morning I will run again. Maybe there will be some light snow. Temperatures will be in the twenties. Typical winter morning (finally! It has been way too warm this winter) for a typical frozen dirt road run. There is the possibility that I will think about dinner again on that run. I may think about what other comfort food will do me right a couple chilly evenings hence. I may hatch a plan to acquire ingredients and hammer out some more yumminess.

My son was pretty keen on having some ice cream at some point after dinner (my wife bought four pints, unable to resist an admittedly great sale). I made a face at that idea. I was too full. That was quite a while ago now. Even now, ice cream seems like a bad idea. Too much pie. Although, I really do like ice cream. Maybe we can just have ice cream for dinner tomorrow night.

(If you have some ideas for dinner, let me know. It is easy to get stuck in the same cycle of meals. I am looking for hearty no-meat dinners with quality ingredients and some gustatory pow).

Home for Dinner

Most of the time my wife mows the lawn. And most of the time I cook dinner. It doesn’t always work that way, of course, but we have settled into some roles after many years of marriage. These two tasks happen to run upstream of the typical gender roles. That is something I can get behind.

I like to make dinner. I like to have a tasty, hot meal ready for all of us to sit down together to enjoy. I like the process of creating something that is worth eating, that makes my family say “This is good!” Yes, occasionally we have a frozen pizza or two and sometimes we revert to pasta with jarred sauce. But mostly I try to be home in time to make dinner so we have time to eat together and to talk about our day and the days to come.

Some days I think about dinner as I get ready for the day, or as I eat breakfast. What to make tonight? What ingredients do we have that we need to use soon? What have we not had in a while? How much time will I have when I get home? When will I get home? My schedule is so varied that I might get home at 3:00 one day and not until 5:30 the next day. I work some evenings. There is no routine so I need to think ahead.

What I like to do is to plan a menu for the week and then to purchase the ingredients by Sunday. That way I can come home and just cook up one of the meals that is already planned. But. honestly, that almost never happens. I just don’t get it together to plan and purchase ahead of time. When I do get it together it makes things way easier. Often, however, I stop on the way home for ingredients, or I just go with what we have.

Typically we have staples on hand to get started. This includes:

  • Base grains like pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa
  • Cheese–we always have sharp cheddar and typically Parmesan and one other variety
  • Milk and butter and cream
  • Frozen vegetables like peas or broccoli
  • Fresh produce–whatever is in season or ripe from the garden or that just looked good at the market

I almost never cook meat in our house. When my wife and I met we did not eat meat at all. We raised our children on a vegetarian diet but my daughter has come to enjoy meat now and again, so once in a while I will cook a chicken dinner, usually when my wife is not home. If it is local and raised well I will eat it as well. That is just a rare event.

For dinner tonight? I’m not sure yet. The sun has just risen on a Saturday. I have time to make a plan. Maybe this is a week I will get ingredients for a week of meals ahead of time. I should make something new, something to mix things up a little, a new recipe. Although, we haven’t had that spinach lasagna in a while; it takes a couple hours to assemble but dang is it worth it. I might just have to do both.

Chocolate Stash

imageFor Christmas I asked for chocolate. I like really good chocolate. Not your Hershey’s sour milk chocolate (although I will not turn that down mind you) but well-crafted dark chocolate. My stocking was full of the stuff and I got some other bars and treats aside from that. I have a stash that will last me a while. If I am careful.

A bunch of years ago I had surgery and I had to lie on the couch for a couple weeks. I watched a lot of movies during that time. My beautiful spouse, always one to make my life better, got me a couple of dark chocolate bars. Maybe it was because I was in slow mode, maybe it was because I was in a mood to appreciate things more than usual, or maybe it was the drugs I was on, but those chocolate bars satisfied in a big way. And I wanted more.

These days I try to have a bit of chocolate on hand at all times. When I want a sweet treat I can break off a bit and find some satisfaction. It keeps me from eating too much ice cream, if you know what I’m saying. At the moment I have a supply to last me well into the winter. I hope. That hazelnut bar went down, let me tell you. And those Lake Champlain Chocolates are pretty much to die for, if you’ll allow me the expression. If I have to get surgery any time soon, I will be set for a few days, but pacing myself could be a challenge.

I hear global warming might mean chocolate shortages. Plus other factors such as witch’s broom fungus mean less cocoa production. And then there’s the new strain of cocoa that tastes like crap. So the days of accessible and affordable delicious chocolate could be waning. I hope that is not the case. And demand often means problems get solved because prices go up. Worst case scenario would be too much to bear. At the moment, however, I am going to enjoy what I’ve got. The stuff is just so damn good.

Morning Bagels

When I mentioned to my wife late in the day yesterday that I was thinking about making bagels for the morning, but that we were out of bread flour, she volunteered to go out right that minute to get said flour. Once that happened I couldn’t very well not make bagels. So I made some bagels.

As I have said before here, making bagels is a piece of cake. OK I didn’t say it was a piece of cake but I did say it was easy. It is actually easier than making cake. Last night I churned up some yeasted dough in the mixer, cut it into pieces, and made some rings out of it to rise overnight.

Here is what it looked like pulled from the fridge in the morning:

IMG_3138After it warmed up a bit, and a big pot of water came to a boil, I dropped them into the bath for half a minute or so. Then I let them dry a bit on a rack:

IMG_3139I lined a baking pan with parchment paper and laid them out:

IMG_3140About 15 minutes of baking later, BAM! Bagels ready to eat.

IMG_3141A little cream cheese or, as my wife likes them, hot and naked, and breakfast is on. So easy. A piece of cake you might say. Total time, including clean up: hour and a half. Get someone else to clean up and it is a lot faster. I am thinking we need to make this a regular thing this winter. Fresh bagels when the snow howls? That’s what I’m talking about.

Jam at Least

I did not do a lot this growing season. I planted garlic last fall and recently pulled that from the ground. But I planted no garden. I never picked strawberries of blueberries. We had no farm share this year. Granted, we were away much of the summer, but still, I put up little. I was no gardener or gatherer.

We did manage to get out to pick apples at least. We picked lots of them, many varieties, from Shelburne Orchards, our favorite orchard. The view alone from that place makes a visit worth it. I have made apple crisp a couple of times, and have enough apples left to make one more. And last weekend I made apple jam.

Blueberry and strawberry and other berry jams get all the publicity. They are good no doubt. Huckleberry or marionberry jam can fill the mouth with deliciousness that is hard to beat. But these past few years my favorite jam has been made with apples.

We have an apple tree at our house but it has been unhealthy and bears little fruit now. When it did offer up fruit I made the best jam ever. Those apples are Red Delicious, your classic apple. I have not liked those kinds of apples typically. They are usually mealy, lacking flavor, with tough skins. They hold up well and can be transported without too much damage but that shelf life takes its toll on tastiness. Red Delicious certainly are red–they usually look great in a pile at the supermarket–but they are anything but delicious. The ones from our tree, however, are some of the best apples I have ever had. When I first tasted a ripe one I understood why the variety became so popular. Unfortunately, that popularity has been costly.

My jam is pretty simple–apples, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, some nutmeg. With good apples it is a sweet treat that makes a mean PB and J, if you know what I’m saying. I took a couple of hours to rustle up eight jars. They are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be stored. That growing season lethargy continues, I guess. I have a jar left from last season and will polish that off soon. Then I will taste this season’s batch. I have no doubt it will be good, and it will last into the winter. I have no potatoes or onions or frozen pumpkin this year, but I do at least have some apple jam. It won’t make a meal but it will remind me of the days when blossoms filled the air with their almost supernatural scent, and of bees, and of fruit heavy on branches.

Maybe next year I will be better at taking advantage of the short growing season, of the wonder of fresh food grown myself, or grown by my neighbors. For now, however, I’ll have to settle for some toast.

Tofu Pot Pie

IMG_0686For over ten years now one of the favorite dishes in our house has been tofu pot pie. We got the recipe from a good friend on a visit to Idaho. The recipe (or an approximation of a recipe) was hastily written on the back of a page of a transcript of an interview about a timber sale. It has rudimentary directions but enough for me to understand it and to make the pie scores of times. I made it again last night.

The original recipe is a little different. It calls for mushrooms and not potatoes, but I love potatoes in a pot pie and mushrooms are not always appreciated by some members of our household. It has a few other modifications as well, which were added after many attempts to try something new. This takes some time to prepare, no question, but it is worth it. Here is the recipe:

TOFU POT PIE

Crust

2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup butter

1 teaspoon salt

5 Tablespoons water

Mix salt and flour in a food processor. Cut butter into chunks and add to food processor; mix until it forms loose crumbs. Add water in stages until dough starts to cohere. Pack into two flat discs, one slightly larger than the other, and wrap in wax paper. Chill for at least an hour.

Vegetables

1 onion

2 celery stalks

2 large carrots

3-4 potatoes

1 cup peas

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon pepper

salt to taste

1 ½ Tablespoons tamari

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Chop onion, celery, carrots and potatoes into ¼ inch pieces. Cook in large sauté pan in olive oil on medium high heat until potatoes start to get soft. Add spices, salt, peas and tamari. Set aside.

Tofu

14 oz. extra-firm tofu

1/3 cup flour

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Cut tofu into ¾-inch cubes. Mix flour, nutritional yeast, salt and garlic powder in large bowl. Coat tofu well in this mixture. Brown coated tofu in hot oil in large sauté pan and set aside.

Gravy

½ cup nutritional yeast

¼ cup flour

1/3 cup olive oil

1½ cup cold water

2 Tablespoons tamari

In dry hot large sauté pan, toast flour and nutritional yeast for a few minutes. Add olive oil and whisk into a paste. Add water and tamari and whisk well until blended. Remove from heat.

Assembly

Heat oven to 400°.

Roll out bottom crust and insert into 10-inch pie pan. Add half each of the vegetables, tofu and gravy, then add the rest in additional layers. Cover with top of crust and seal.

Bake at 400° for 30 minutes. Crust should be slightly browned. Cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8. Total time to prepare and bake: 1½- 2 hours.