Thursday, August 29, 2013

You will find an odd and small collection....

...of recipes, if you visit my Recipes Page on this blog, by clicking the link in this post or the one on the sidebar. I just updated it for the first time in many months, adding links to all the recipes (and vague instructions) that I've posted since last October. For an example of what you will find there, here is one section:

Creamy Green Soup
Egg Lemon Soup
Indian Chickpea and Spinach Stew
Moroccan Lamb and Sweet Potato Pie
Curried Orange Squash Bisque 
Roasted Fennel Soup

What'd life be without 'em?

My title is a line from Guy Clark's "Homegrown Tomatoes," a song that's running through my mind these days when our tomato harvest is nearing its peak. I've never weighed one day's pickings before yesterday's harvest, pictured below, which came it at about 13 pounds. I'm sure everyone has had quite enough of my tomato reports, so I'm including a little music to reward your patience.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Rim Fire

A couple of people have asked if the Rim Fire in California is threatening us. We are north of San Francisco Bay, and the city of San Francisco is mentioned frequently in news reports because much of its water comes from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and the fire has burned right up to the reservoir. But all of this is hundreds of miles away.The governor has declared a state of emergency for San Francisco because of its water supply being threatened. Also it is served by hydroelectric plants at Hetch Hetchy, and they have been closed at present.

map of Rim Fire
This map shows yesterday's updates. I pasted a copy of it here but you really can't see it unless you click on the link, and if you zoom in on it there you can see the name Hetch Hetchy toward the upper right. I don't know if it will still be available when more new reports come in today and later, but it was definitely helpful to me to have the visual aid. Dear Lord, protect the firefighters and give them success.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cookies now aromatize my home kitchen.

I admit I have cookies on the brain. So when I started thinking about what to take along when I was planning a visit to friends in a nearby town, cookies were right there front and center calling "Choose me!" Coconut was also on my mind, and shortbread, so instead of making the stellar shortbread recipe we have recently enjoyed, I dug through ancient recipes in my cupboard to find one from decades ago called Coconut Shortbread.

Of course I had to change it a bit, by using half coconut oil and half butter, and using spelt and rice flours. I created a new cookie! But while the dough was chilling, it occurred to me that the shortbread might be a bit bland, lacking the full butter flavor that is traditional. That wouldn't be a nice present.

So I gathered some more ingredients I had on hand and made up another recipe. The truth is, it had been a toss-up, whether oatmeal or coconut was what I personally was hankering for. And it was part of my plan all along to keep some cookies for Mr. Glad and me.

Here is what I came up with to improve on a simple oatmeal cookie:

Oatmeal Chocolate Walnut Cookies

1 cup salted butter
2 cups sugar
1 extra-large egg
1 teaspoon Frontier walnut flavoring
1/4 cup Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
3 cups regular rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts

After mixing as per usual for drop cookies, drop spoonfuls of the dough measuring about 2 tablespoons on to a greased baking sheet. Mine are insulated, and I baked the cookies at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. 
The dough that remained after my liberal sampling made exactly four dozen cookies. They have what I consider the perfect texture, slightly crispy going in, but mostly chewy. And the flavor is wonderfully walnutty.

The shortbread dough did not cooperate with my plans, and I ended up hand-forming each cookie individually. I won't be trying that new recipe again, in spite of their endearing tender crispness that quickly melts away into coconuttiness.

In case they were too boring, I used the Trader Joe's sprinkles-grinder I had in the cupboard to add coarse granules of coffee, chocolate, and sugar to the tops of some of them.

And all-in-all, those little cookies were cuter than the oatmeal, so they will be memorialized in pictures, even if they will never be seen again in these parts.

I covered the scratched lid of a half-gallon jar and then packed the chunky cookies in that. And I took along some of the cute cookies, too.

The oatmeal-chocolate-walnut ones are going fast, because of our new neighbors. The house next door has been rented to college students for the last many years. One time it was a bunch of baseball players, and often it has been four or five girls. For the most part these people will not acknowledge us neighbors or look in our direction.

Recently four young men have moved in, who are all jazz students. Now we have more drummers (Did I tell you that Mr. Glad is a drummer?) and more jazz jamming sessions in the neighborhood. But the more fun thing is that these boys are friendly! They even came to our door to introduce themselves. I am in awe.

As soon as I baked cookies I wanted to give them some, so I went to their door with a plate of the oatmeal cookies, because...well, they are guys, and tender tea cookies would probably not make an impression. "Cookies!" they exclaimed, "Why would you do this??" and then they couldn't say much else because they were chewing and dropping crumbs on the threshold.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Greek cookies and California tomatoes

At church we're still busy on Monday nights baking cookies for the upcoming food festival. The fair features foods from the Balkans, Eritrea, Russia, and even Italy. Last Monday we made another Greek cookie and a Bulgarian pastry. I hear that biscotti are on the schedule for next week.

Kourabiedes are reminiscent of Russian Tea Cakes or Louisiana Pecan Balls, only softer. Our recipe uses ground almonds, and we stick a clove in the top of each rolled ball of dough before baking. I see variations in recipes online that use walnuts, roll the dough into different shapes, and leave out cloves altogether. I tasted a cookie and found that the clove does indeed become crumbly during the long baking and is easy to chew. It spices up the cookie very nicely.

The dough itself is not very sweet, so the heavy dusting of powdered sugar while the cookies are warm and again later before serving round out the flavor of the butter and nuts. I found the result to be softer than a Russian Tea Cake, and really yummy.

Pumpkin Banitsa were the second type of dessert made that night. According to Wikipedia this pastry is commonly filled with eggs and cheese, or savory vegetables, but we use a spicy dessert version.

They went into the freezer uncooked, and will be baked the morning of the event. A pumpkin filling gets rolled up in sheets of filo dough - I'll give you the recipe for that pastry down below.

As is often the case with filo dough, butter is brushed on the thin sheets at intervals. I'm sure that vegan versions of these goodies have been invented, but we like to go with tradition - and lots of butter!

Ready for the freezer.

Pumpkin Banitsa
Pumpkin Filo Pastries - A Bulgarian specialty that is traditionally made at Christmas.

2-3 pounds pie pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1" dice

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 1/2 cups walnuts -- chopped finely

1 pound filo dough

1 cup butter, melted or clarified (see baklava recipe) powdered sugar and cinnamon for dusting

Makes about 20 pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pumpkin on a large baking tray and add 1/4" of water. Bake until tender, about 30 minutes. Leave oven on to stay preheated for baking finished pastries.

2. Place pumpkin in a large saucepan with sugar and cinnamon. Mash pumpkin and stir to combine. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and you have a smooth mixture. Turn off heat, add walnuts and set aside.

3. To make banitsa: Fold a sheet of filo in half. Brush with melted butter. Place 1/4 cup of pumpkin mixture at the bottom center and fold in sides. Roll up, and place on buttered baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat until all filo is used up, placing rolls about 1" apart. Brush tops with remaining melted butter.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and dust with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

I was back at the church kitchen Tuesday morning on the most important and eternally valuable baking job: making the Bread of Offering that becomes the Eucharistic bread. What a blessing to be part of that team!

In the afternoon I picked tomatoes and basil in my garden. And there was so much of both, I needed to use the produce right away.

The tomatoes at right are Rainbows in back, red Early Girls, and little stripey Michael Pollans.

But it was cherry tomatoes I put in the oven to be transformed into Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. This recipe was my inspiration four years ago, and this is how I made them the first time.

While they were drying out for hours I made several masses of basil pesto in the food processor, totaling 40 oz. This time I used walnuts instead of pine nuts because even at Costco the pine nuts had increased too much in price for me to bear.

Now I can give the basil a deep watering and forget about it for a time. The flowers that had been forming are not there anymore with their warning of the demise of my whole basil patch.

When the tomatoes came out of the oven - they were mostly Juliets and SunGolds - I packed them into the freezer to use for appetizers or garnishes. All that work was yesterday; after crashing and sleeping I woke with enough energy to tell all about it.

In our area we can look forward to harvesting tomatoes and basil through September and up until a frost. Those of you who say your tomatoes are "done" -- is that because they are determinate varieties? I wish I could give you some of my now bountiful harvest. I can now look forward to BLT's and tomato-basil salad and salsa. Cookies we can do anytime, but Summer is for tomatoes.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I manage my forest.

Manzanita in foreground
Several trees overshadow one half of our back yard and make it feel forest-y. Only two of the trees are actually on our property, and the taller is a pine tree we are ashamed to say we haven't identified. I spend a lot of time picking up its needles that fall all year, blowing and drifting over sweet woodruff, rhododendron, rosemary, campanula ground cover, and on to my dear manzanita.


If I were a good forester would go out each morning and groom my park, but it's painstaking work, as the long needles get tangled in the various convoluted branches and sift down underneath the lower canopies.

When I was stretching my back to this task yesterday it turned into a general tidying-up of the "woods." I pruned the manzanita some more, trying to maintain head clearance above the path it wants to span. We've already widened the path as much as possible to accommodate our favorite little tree.

My other goal in trimming it is to keep the natural curves of the shrub, so I try to envision the direction of future growth. Ideally it wouldn't need pruning at all, but when we planted it we didn't anticipate its leaning so sharply northward. I removed dead twigs and every needle I could see.

Then it was all ready for a photo session. 


That pine tree looks amazingly healthy in the photo at top, but in this one you can see some of the clumps of brown needles just waiting to fall.


If we just focus in on one or two needles in a small space, they actually look artistically placed and ornamental.

I brought the manzanita prunings indoors to decorate my table. 
They make me so happy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Our mother has fallen asleep.

 Today is the Feast of the Dormition, dormition meaning falling asleep.
It's the day we have a funeral, so to speak, for the Mother of our Lord, 
the Theotokos.

Our rector in his homily mentioned a couple of things that made an impression on me. Mary is not "the great exception" as some might teach. But she is our Great Example. She loved God and said "Yes" to Him, she bore Him in her heart and soul as well as in her body, and because of this love she suffered painfully with him as she stood by the cross.

Loving God was everything to her.

This love was expressed at the Incarnation and in its icon where we see her holding Christ in her arms. But in the icon of the Dormition, the detail shows Christ holding her in His arms. And of course that is where we also want to be when we fall asleep, with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

 A blessed feast to all!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Would she give away her green doll?

My sewing room is also my prayer room and ironing room, and where I keep a big tub of knitting supplies, and my secret packages before they are wrapped as presents. And my big gym bag for when I swim. Of course it has to accommodate all the piles of fabric I've saved, and old clothes that I'm saving to use for the fabric when I make doll clothes or quilts. Ha! I so seldom sew anymore, much of this is largely theoretical.

Sometimes I have the thought that I should give away everything having to do with needle arts and fabric. But that doesn't feel right, and I keep saving patterns I find online, and pictures of the sort of quilt I would like to make, and tutorials for making Waldorf dolls.

My most recent investment in the sewingly creative side of me was some gorgeous fabric from Weir Crafts. They have all kinds of things one could want for dollmaking, and as soon as I picked out my favorite colors and received my order of cotton velour, I wanted to take its picture. At first I restrained myself, thinking I should actually sew something with the fabric and take a picture of that, but all it took was Frances posting a photo of pretty fabric to weaken my resolve.

In addition to these colors I have some green that I didn't wash yet. It's the most delicious stuff to handle, and will make a nice First Doll for Ivy. Ah, but which color shall I start with? I picked out a pattern for the doll, something appropriate for a first-birthday girl, and then in the chapter on "Soft Dolls" I read,
A young child just emerging from babyhood needs gentle colours: white, cream, pink, lilac or pale blue....
A doll made for an older toddler can be sewn from fabric with a colour which appeals to the child's temperament and general mood....
An outgoing or strong willed child will respond to a red doll because red energises, stimulates and gives confidence.
Blue is relaxing and peaceful; it will be appreciated by a thoughtful boy or girl.
Green is a harmonious colour and can encourage giving and sharing, while pink or lilac is restful and calming.
Yellow often excites and animates children, which is not too good for a quiet bedtime.
My most favoritest colors
Thank the Lord I didn't read this before ordering my fabric, or I'd still be deliberating over whether I should be choosing for a young or old toddler, or over which moods and behaviors I want to encourage in my grandchild. If I give her a green doll she might give it away, and then I would need to sew her another!

Mostly what I think about is that if Ivy likes the doll she ends up with -- and I'm quite content knowing that she may not -- it could get dragged around a lot, and I really can't see sewing it in white or cream, which would soon be just dirty.

Lilac sounds safe, and I plan to use it for this first doll, called Baggy Doll in the book. Baggy Doll has a hat, which I hope to make from some recycled wool sweater material in a different color.

It's a lot of creative effort I'm putting just making these plans. There was no place in my super-cluttered sewing room to lay out all the possibilities with enough space for me to think, so I have temporarily taken over two other currently unused bedrooms, one for the doll decisions and materials, and one for the ironing and laundry. Just getting that sewing room in order is a project in itself, which may have to wait. But at least I will be able to uncover the sewing machine.

Susan at Sun Pours Down Like Honey posted a good thought today,  oh-so applicable to me and my stuff:
It's not a group activity. It's what you do or don't do, what you do with your days, your time, 
to move towards your goals.
Choose hourly, daily. It's entirely your deal.
Discipline is remembering what you really want.

Wish me luck!

Monday, August 12, 2013

koulourakia and colors

first twist
At church again, this time for baking cookies for that upcoming festival. We made koulourakia, which most of us bakers can't pronounce, so we call them "the twisty Greek cookies."

The dough, made with seven pounds of butter, had been prepared last night and stored in the fridge. We scooped it out with melon-ballers and rolled the balls into ropes.

Japanese anemone

And outside I caught this graceful and lovely flower in bud and bloom. I haven't looked it up yet to find out what it is....though I might have known in the past. Do you recognize it? (update: Jo tells me in the comments it is a Japanese anemone.)

GJ twisting

After their twisting, the cookies get an egg wash and then a sprinkling of sesame seeds. They are basically a butter cookie, and though some recipes include orange juice and/or zest, our current version is "plain." But I came home with my hands smelling anything but plain.

In our back yard now we have three cherry-sort of tomatoes: Juliet (red); Sun Gold and Sunsugar (orange); and Michael Pollan (pointy green striped). So I can put them all in a salad to colorize it! Not to mention, this year I have three colors of nasturtiums, red, orange and yellow -- so I put all those petals in my salad as well. That's a visual feast as well as a feast for the palate, as last night's guest said.

In case you can't see all three tomatoes, here is a close-up:

Today the thermometer reached 75° - woo-hoo - so we hope we are 
in a warming trend.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

cool summer doings

The weather is cool, I mean. And this week it's been cloudy as well, which is nice for taking pictures of flowers. When Kim posted a picture of an unusual coneflower on her blog I was so taken with it, if I were more the sort of person who acts quickly I'd have run over to Lowe's in hopes of getting one of my own.

But I'm not. My style of impulsiveness sent me out back with my camera to study my own basic purple coneflower.

I began to think how fun it would be to have a collection 
of different sorts of coneflowers.

August is full of special feast days in my parish, and we are also getting ready for our big food fair that happens in September. On one overcast day I took a picture of the rose mallow and manzanita at church.

And another day I snapped this one, of a crew of us making 40+ pans of spanakopita to put in the freezer. Those are tins of butter, stacks of filo dough, and a spinach-cheese filling on our table. We will defrost the pastries the weekend of the festival and bake them to sell hot in the Greek booth.

My loving man stopped on the way home from the dentist at a dahlia farm, and brought me this custom collection of big ones. Nice warm colors to make me remember it's summertime.

And at home my one red zinnia is climbing past three feet tall, twice as high as its neighbor. I bought two plants that were supposed to be the same, but they obviously are not.

I'm glad I haven't had only the garden variety of pretties this summer. I'll close this random photo report with one of the sweetest flowers in my life when she was at our house, dear little Ivy.

The sun came out this afternoon, and I expect to see more of it next month, and feel heat. Then I'll be posting some tomato pictures, too! But I hope I won't have to wait quite that long.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Honey is what it is, thank God!

from Fr. Ted's blog

My parish is lucky enough to have our own vineyard right behind the church. This is very handy on the Feast of Transfiguration; at the end of the liturgy we can process out the doors and around the vineyard, to bless the grapes. It's traditional to bless grapes or apples or any fruit, really, on this day.

Earlier on the feast day morning people brought into the church baskets of fruit and herbs and flowers. I carried a wooden bowl of blueberries and peaches. While we sang and communed and focused on the main event being commemorated, the fruit waited. The incense was particularly sweet that day, and I didn't notice the smell of the beeswax candles as much as I usually do. Though I could see basil in a couple of the baskets, I didn't catch its aroma either.

At the end of the service, with the prescribed prayers for the event, Father L. (and all of us) thanked God for all His bounty, and then he sprinkled holy water over the representative sampling.

He explained to us that this is not a superstitious rite we perform, using holy water to do magic on the fruit. When we bless anything in this way we do not make it into something other than what it is, but ask God to reveal it to be what it has always been.

Whatever created things we are talking about, they have always been meant by God to bring us into communion with Him. The service of blessing of fruit brings our thoughts back to Paradise, and the right and good use of the fruits of the earth that God has given us. We are reminded of how in the beginning God made Adam and Eve to be stewards over the Garden of Eden; human beings were called to exercise a loving and thankful dominion over the earth.

But we by our sin have instead caused destruction on the earth. Mankind more often than not has overused, abused and consumed in perverse ways the gifts of the Creator. Personally, I often gobble my food and eat without attentiveness to Him.

We have prayers for the blessing of bees and beehives and honey, too, usually in a separate service. Around here it’s August 1st, but I found pictures of honey blessings in Bulgaria where they do it dramatically on February 10 (see the bright cross picture down the page).

People like to take pictures of little girls and honey, I was happy to discover, and I am posting some of them here. The Russian ones are from Optina Monastery, and the Oregon photos from the Facebook page of New Martyrs of Russia Orthodox Church. These honey and bee pictures are so enjoyable that I ended up with way more of them than of fruit.

Fr. L blessing beehives
I hope you will hop over to the blog of Father Ted Bobosh where he posted a large and glorious photo collection of bees and other pollinators, such as the one I put at the very top, along with quotes about bees and Orthodox prayers for them. Just looking at the pictures will likely make you burst into prayer, too. Here is one of the prayers he posted:

O God, who knows how to work benefits through human labor and irrational living things, You instructed us in your loving-kindness to employ the fruits and works of the bees for our needs. Now humbly we beseech Your majesty: Be pleased to bless the bees and increase them for the profit of the human race, preserving them and making them abundant. Let everyone hoping in Your majesty and Your boundless compassions, and laboring in the care of these living things, be counted worthy to receive abundant fruits of their labors and to be filled with heavenly blessings in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom is due glory, honor and worship unto ages of ages. Amen.

The photo at right is from my church on Transfiguration, baskets of all kinds of fruits of the earth waiting for the prayers of blessing. Some of them were inspiring in the variety and arrangement of items, but one of my favorite baskets is the big one in front, full of apples picked just that morning.

Blessing honey in Bulgaria
Honey blessing in Oregon

I don't eat much honey these days, but I get a whiff of it in the candles every Sunday in church, and I can imagine the heady scent emanating from these tables laden with jars and bowls and plates of honey.

Doesn't it just tell you something about our God, how sweet He is, and how extravagantly generous, that He would give us something as intense and rich as honey?

The bees, of course, are mostly in the business of pollinating the fruit. The whole Creation and its interconnectedness is reflected in the Church and in our salvation history, all of a piece and orchestrated in love by our dear Father God.

Oregon honeycomb