Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing for Greens

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It’s here! Spring is really and truly here, and it’s put a bounce in my step. Most exciting is the little ramp shoots coming out of the ground down by the barn–I planted these last year, and they are already rewarding me with their presence. Ramps are known to be fussy, so my slightly cool and damp spot was a good choice. It probably didn’t hurt that when I had chickens, that’s where their manure would go. The rhubarb is finally poking out, the strawberries are getting green, and the jostaberry bushes are leafing out. My heart is full!

I don’t mean to rush things–this spring weather could last a really long time, and I’d be happy–but I am thinking ahead to summer, and it’s requisite small bits of clothing. Or maybe I’m just all too aware of the extra pounds winter has encouraged on my frame, and how it’s harder each year to shed them! What I’ve been doing is just eating better and moving more. That essential equation to losing weight, right? I make sure to have flavorful things ready in the fridge so I don’t end up frying eggs or making grilled cheese or doing any number of quick and indulgent things that seem to come to mind so easily when I’m hungry. When I look into the fridge I have cooked wheat berries, plump and chewy. On the counter is some cooked jasmine rice, which I leave out because it doesn’t really refrigerate well (unless you want to make fried rice). Other things I like to have on hand are tangy, salty, sour and crunchy fermented goodies, like kimuchi, (Japanese kimchi which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately), or sauerkraut. Rich components I rely on are hard-boiled eggs or avocado or a drizzle of sesame oil.

What else? Hearty greens like kale, collards and chard are my favorite. I wanted to have some greens that were easy to pluck from the fridge. I based this dressing on the Japanese seaweed salad that you find in sushi joints all over. That combination of salty-sweet-gingery-garlicky is my favorite thing! Roughly chop three bunches of greens, blanch them for a few minutes, drain and toss with this dressing. It’s great both cold in a rice bowl or hot in a bowl of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for at least a week.

Tamari-Ginger-Sesame Dressing

1/4 cup vegetable oil, like sunflower or safflower

3 tablespoons of tamari

2 tablespoons of rice vinegar

1 tablespoon of sesame oil

1 teaspoon to tablespoon of sambal oelek, depending on how much heat you want

2 garlic cloves, chopped fine or grated with a microplane

1 knob of ginger, grated

1 tablespoon of honey

Sesame seeds

Mix up all the ingredients. Pour over hot blanched greens and toss with sesame seeds. Keeps in the fridge up to a week.

Roasted Tomato Spread

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Spring has truly started to sprung here in the Hudson Valley, and no one is really believing it. Everyone is rubbing their eyes and wondering, is it really true?? Maple sugaring time is come and gone, and I hear tell of wild leeks, other wise known as ramps, poking up out of the ground. I tell you, I missed the dirt. The smell of defrosting dirt is a lovely thing.

I just got back from a rejuvenating trip to southern Florida. I went with my son to visit my family for spring break. We swam in the ocean! We saw alligators! We walked, and we talked. It was just what I needed to make it through the tail end of winter. Coming home to temperatures above fifty degrees, the swelling buds of daffodils, and a garden with no snow in it has soothed my spirit.  Now it is time to appraise the pantry, filled more with empty jars than full, and the freezer, which is getting lower every day. There is still bounty though, and some things need to be eaten. Like tomatoes. So many tomatoes!

One of my standbys of preserving the summer bounty is oven-roasted tomatoes. It very well may be yours, too, it’s so simple and so good and so versatile. I like the slow method that Food In Jars’ uses, but I tend to be impatient and roast them at 350 degrees for an hour or two. They end up being a little caramelized around the edges, but I like that. Remember how many tomatoes I had at the end of the season in the fall? A lot of them became oven-roasted tomatoes, bags and bags of them are in the freezer. The other day I saw a glimpse of a bottle of sun-dried tomato ketchup on my Instagram feed. And I thought: aha! I immediately defrosted a bag of these tomatoes, whizzed them up with some more olive oil and a few other goodies. I have been slathering it on my sourdough pan-fried toast for days now. I see this being a new constant companion–on pizza, pasta, burgers, turned into a salad dressing, etc. I knew roasting all those tomatoes was a good idea!

Roasted Tomato Spread

Oven-roasted tomatoes, however you do them, about a cup or two

Roughly 1/4 cup of olive oil

About a tablespoon of good red wine vinegar, I used my home brew

some salt and pepper

I kept mine plain, but any kind of dressing up with herbs and garlic would be great. Just put the roasted tomatoes (about a cup or two) into a food processor or Vitamix, add the olive oil and vinegar and pulse until you reach  your desired consistency. For me, this was slightly chunky. This is all about your taste, so there are no set measurements. Add more olive oil if you want it thinner. I would keep the vinegar at a tablespoon, but by all means, taste, adjust and enjoy!

Spring Equinox!

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What happened this week that stopped me from writing here? Who knows? I mean, sure I was working, but I could have carved some space out. Could it be the business end of March bringing me to a creative standstill that only waiting out will fix?

Sometimes my problem is that I’m a daydreamer. I think that’s why I like to cook and garden in the relaxed (read: imperfect) style that I do. It keeps my hands busy while I space out and think about things. Not that I’m formulating anything great, mind you. I find that a good portion of my daydreaming is useless filler. I do have a few good thoughts but I’m always too far from a computer to log it down–for example, when I’m just about to fall asleep in bed. I’m sure you know this feeling. Or, while I’m out walking. To be fair, I’ve tried to making short recordings on walks to write down later on. I’ve noticed though, that when you revisit said brilliant thoughts they suddenly seem less than scintillating.

I know daydreaming is good for you–it’s where so many inventive ideas come from! But you know, you have to balance that daydreaming with some actual work, right? It’s not unlike people who point to photos of Einstein’s messy desk and proclaim their genius because they too are messy. Hmmm. Not really.

The garden, still frozen, is a far way off–though I have gotten a chance to do some pruning. And cooking starts to get so uninspired! Will it be soup tonight? Or stew? Comfort foods now feel heavy and suffocating, and crisp new green things have not yet brought about that feeling of lightness. I am watching the freezer thin and the pantry shelves become populated with empty jars.

But we are getting close, friends, close! As I stepped outside this morning on the back porch, everything covered with the few inches of snow that fell on the first day of spring, I still could hear the loud gathering taking place at the pond down the hill. Redwing blackbirds, their buzz and trill unmistakable, are gathering already. They know what time it is, despite the snow.

On Doing Without

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Quite a long while ago, back in January, our little toaster oven died. Rest in peace, dear one! It was a Black and Decker that we bought at a yard sale for two dollars. Man, did that toaster oven pay for itself many times over. Let’s just say there was a lot of burnt cheese in its crumb tray. I started looking for a new one pretty quickly. No toast! Whatever shall we do!? I was looking at this Panasonic Flash Express, which sounds crazy, like something I played my Haircut 100 tape on in eighth grade. It actually has a lot of good reviews for a toaster that’s sort of a step up from the run-of-the-mill models but not some Breville craziness. I’m not going to spend $200 on a toaster, for goodness sakes.

As it happens, I ended up sort of letting the toaster oven thing go to the back of my mind. I have commitment issues and buying new products always makes me freeze up. I’d rather not deal with it. So I didn’t. And you know what? It was OK. In fact I still don’t have a toaster oven. I’m not sure if I will. A friend of mine hasn’t had a toaster for as long as I’ve known her, and I always thought: whatever!  But she was on to something.

I started toasting my bread in my cast iron pans, which are always on the stove or hanging nearby anyway, perfectly seasoned with a light sheen of oil. I use an old ceramic lid as a weight. And you know what? Best toast ever. Of course. What was I thinking? Sometimes I’m naughty and pour a guzzle of olive oil in the pan before I cook some nice sourdough toast up. You don’t even need an egg with this toast. It doesn’t even take that long, but just beware of walking away and forgetting you started some toast…

So, I’ve been going with this “doing without” thing. How far can one push it? When we moved into our house ten years ago, there was an old dryer left that worked. We used it for years, until it died. Secretly, I was thrilled: we get to buy a new dryer! When the delivery people came to remove the old one, we looked for a date on it. It was from the late ’70s. The guys laughed, “You’ll never see another dryer this old!” Har, har, but so true, mon frére! The dryer has been pretty much out for a few weeks now. We’ve been drying our clothes on a rack in the basement. (We try to dry outside in the summer as much as we can, but the winter is another story.)

You know what? It’s not that bad! My clothes are wrinkly, so if you have to look acceptable this might not be a good idea. But for my grubby lifestyle, it suits just fine. We will probably get a new dryer, but it’s nice to know that even in the winter we can get by without it. But I’m not sure I’ll be getting a toaster oven too soon! Maybe if I see one at a yard sale…

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Sourdough Sandwich Bread

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I think the reason I don’t make perfect sourdough boules is because I’m always too concerned about the amount of starter discard I have created. I’m so worried about using up this “waste” that I focus on recipes that use it up, instead of recipes for the bread itself. I’ve made pancakes, waffles, crackers, rolls and bread with the aging discard that lives in my fridge. It’s an opportunity for me to be creative and to use something up at the same time, which is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not sure what that says about me, but whatever.

Over the years, I’ve really honed my sourdough starter skills. I have a nice vibrant starter that, when fed, bubbles up so nicely that I myself puff up with pride. I knew it when it was just a weak little pup, I beam (and no, I haven’t named it). I feed it regularly, unlike the way I used to treat it in the past, neglectfully leaving it in the fridge for weeks. I store the discard from the sourdough process (that’s the part of the starter that you remove each time you feed it) in a separate container in the fridge. Soon it is so full that I have a quart of floury goo.

I don’t prefer making pancakes or waffles with the leftover starter. I’m just not a sourdough pancake person, and neither is my six-year old son (who is also the reason I make pancakes regularly). Crackers are a good way to use up sourdough starter, and this recipe from King Arthur in particular is a nice one. One of my favorite uses for these leftovers is this recipe for sourdough dinner rolls, which is both amazingly delicious and really easy. I have tweaked it a bit and will post about it at a later date.

My very favorite use of the weeks of starter that have been languishing in the fridge is actually for bread! Who knew? With a little bit of yeast you can turn all of that very flavorful fermented flour into two nice loaves of sandwich bread. The starter imparts the flavor of sourdough, but not the lift of a fed starter, of course, so you want to give it a bit of a boost with the yeast.

Sourdough Sandwich Bread (using your sourdough discard)

Yield: two standard loaves

Start with 3 to  4 cups of unfed starter you have stored in the fridge, if liquid has separated and formed on the top (known as hooch; oh, bakers are such a funny lot) you can pour it off

Add it to a large bowl with 1.5 cups of warm water in it

Sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of dry active yeast

Whisk a little and let sit for about five minutes for the yeast to activate. Mix in enough flour to make a very sticky dough, about 3 cups of all purpose flour. [Note: You will not think this bread will work. It’s so wet and sticky. Never mind. Soldier ahead.] Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge over night, for at least 12 hours, up to 18 hours. It should double in size.

Take it out and let it sit, covered, for about two hours. Add 1 cup of flour and stir with a scraper or spatula (so sticky!!) You will probably have to add another cup of flour. And two teaspoons of salt. When it’s somewhat manageable, cut it in half (I do this in the bowl) and quickly, deftly transfer it to a very well-oiled bread loaf pan. Shake it around a little so it settles. It’s very sticky, but still–don’t fret! Let it sit in a warm place, covered with more plastic wrap (which you may want to oil because it will stick when it rises). It will rise to just above the pan rim. When it’s almost there, turn on your oven to 450 degrees, and once the temperature has been reached, bake the two loaves for 30 minutes. They should reach an internal temperature of 205 degrees, or sound hollow with a nice crunchy golden exterior.

Those sesame seeds you see look very pretty, but they actually all fell off when I went to cut the bread. Seed at your own risk!

Tidbits:

I’ve been seeing this making the rounds: Efficiency in the Kitchen to Reduce Food Waster from the NY Times. Right up my alley.

PSA: Local folks experiencing S.A.D. (and if you are not, I can’t understand you at all) go to Adam’s in Kingston before March 8th and check out their garden show. You can smell dirt! And see flowers!! And it’s cozy and humid in there. Ahhh.

It’s hard but I’m focusing on the garden right now. Hudson Valley Seed Library, anyone?

Winter Update

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February has been unusually cruel this winter. I wonder how it is by you? We have two feet of snow, piles of ice and sub-zero temperatures. This morning I woke to see the thermometer read -12. That’s just silly. We don’t usually have temperatures like that in the Hudson Valley, so when I see that I feel very alarmed. Did you see this map from the Washington Post? About how the eastern U.S. is the coldest place in the world? So, yeah, it’s cold.

Oddly, I really don’t have any desire to cook right about now, so that’s why I haven’t posted anything lately. I’m just not that kind of blogger. I’ve tried, but when I’m not motivated by something that excites me, I just feel like: why bother? Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of detox tea (so exciting!! …not), fresh citrus juice (those piles of citrus don’t motivate anymore, but a big glass of grapefruit-clementine juice hits. the. spot.) and chocolate pudding (you have to live a little, right?). Also lots of rice bowls, see above. I keep my pressure-cooked short-grain brown rice in the fridge for when lunch time comes a calling. I put various things on top: scrambled eggs cut in strips, avocado, cucumber, scallion, grated carrot, pickled ginger, sesame seeds, togarashi, hot sauces, sesame oil, tamari, etc. It always makes me feel satiated in such a good way.

I’ve also been reading a lot–going back to cookbooks, organizing my canning shelves, making notes on what worked and what didn’t, planning for next year’s garden, dreaming about my little green wrought-iron bench that’s buried in snow. And I’m getting ready for a preserving class I’m holding on May 2nd. I’m trying to remind myself to take advantage of this down time.

Here’s some other things inspiring me lately:

This book, Dawns and Dusks, that features taped interviews with sculptor Louise Nevelson. It can be a little rambling, but it’s intimate tone is fascinating.

I love Brain Pickings, don’t you? I’ve been holding onto this one, Anton Chekhov on the 8 Qualities of Cultured People. Also, I wasn’t aware of how handsome Mr. Chekhov was.

Spring cleaning is already bubbling up in me. I sort of want to get rid of everything. Or is that mid-winter crazy-pants disorder (MWCP)? I don’t know, but I like this article titled Abundance Without Attachment.

Let’s think warm thoughts, and look forward to March 20th, shall we? That’s the first day of spring or vernal equinox, which also boasts a full solar eclipse. Truly, we have much to look forward to!

Roasted Grape and Hazelnut Conserve

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I know that title sounds luxe, but I will admit this recipe was born of something quite the opposite. Things have been a little rough for the past week in these parts, truth be told. My son has been sick, out of school for over a week, and as these things go, I soon had my own illness as well. All we do is cough and color and watch TV. In addition, there have been blizzard warnings, winter storm watches, and a foot of snow fell just yesterday. All this means I have been in the house for what feels like a verrrry looooong time.

Because of all of this, I haven’t had much of an appetite or the ability to go out and shop for food. However, last Thursday we made a very exciting trip to the local grocery store. It was like we were at the county fair. We held hands and walked down the aisles in our clompy winter boots like zombies, reading labels with glee and in general, being amazed at the bounty before us. There were flashing lights, strange noises, and people were milling about everywhere!

We decided on a few things to get us through the next few days, and as a special treat my son requested red grapes, which I don’t normally buy. I even let him pick out the bunch, though I thought to myself: he’s not going to eat that. Poor thing had been so sick, his stomach in such pain, I let him pick anything that would tempt him. Of course, over the next few days he would eat a handful of those grapes and lose interest. Not because his appetite was gone, but because they really weren’t very good grapes.

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Yesterday, I decided I was really going to toss them in the compost. Sometimes I get so weary of using everything and never letting anything go to waste. Sometimes I too just want to throw things out. We all have our days. But I’m glad I gained the strength to make this, because it’s a noble destination for those sad table grapes. The grapes retain a soft pop, and have a barely sweetened, slightly caramelized taste. I’ve been eating this on yogurt, and I bet they would be welcome on a slice of baguette with cheese or paté or both. As a savory option I would leave the vanilla out, and add some dried thyme instead. Also, I didn’t have the foresight to roast the hazelnuts first, but I bet that would be nice.

Here’s to your health, I hope it’s better than mine at the moment!

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Roasted Grape and Hazelnut Conserve

Yield: one pint

One bunch of red grapes, stems removed

A handful of hazelnuts, no shell bits please! Toast in a cast iron pan if you like.

A dash of vanilla extract (bean is all the better, if you are so lucky to not be snowed in)

One clementine (it only needs a little bit of life left in it)

One teaspoon to one tablespoon of honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking tray with neutral oil. Put the grapes in a single layer on the pan and roast for 20 to  30 minutes, until soft and slightly shriveled, and a tad caramelized. Remove them gently to a pot and squeeze in the juice of the clementine. Stir in the honey and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and mix, making sure the flavors blends. Cook about ten minutes. Remove mixture to a glass jar. Keep refrigerated.

Staying Hungry

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