Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Midday Break

The gang at the water cooler.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In My Trusty Iron Skillet

In my fantasy cooking life I am the kind of hardscrabble Southern cook who makes pie crust without checking the recipe, confidently bakes biscuits lighter than air, and handily serves pans of cornbread as a staple at nearly every meal. Neighbors rave about my pies. I store bacon grease in a jar (okay that I actually do). The kitchen shelves are stocked with jars of jelly and pickles and fruits that I home can and my hungry family devours around our ever expanding farm table. James comes in hungry every night after a hard day's work and dips wedges of our fluffy house specialty cornbread into creamy gravy.
I love cornbread -- slathered with butter, pan fried with eggs or doused in milk for the quintessential Southern midnight snack. James tolerates the occasional slice but he doesn't crave it or look wantonly at barbecue or beans when there isn't a skillet of bright yellow bread nearby.
And so, I curb my baser, cornier tendencies and these days I only make cornbread when the feeling is so Americana the day can't progress without a crispy crusted wedge of yellow goodness.
Memorial Day while I was serving sticky pork ribs, is one of those kind of days. Though I find it romantic I don't soak my cornmeal overnight in buttermilk the way old time cooks might. I never add sugar. As they say below the Mason Dixon line that clearly was some sort of Yankee invention. And, I never use flour -- just rough, crumbly cornmeal.

Preheat the oven to 450º
Cook 3-4 slices of bacon in a 9" iron frying pan until crisp. Set the bacon on a paper towel to drain and reserve 4 TB of the bacon fat, leaving the rest (at least 1 TB) in the pan).
Put iron frying pan withe the remaining bacon grease in eh oven to heat.
In a medium bowl combine 2 cups yellow cornmeal (I like coarse or medium grind), 1 tsp salt,  1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and the cooled bacon chopped.
In a separate bowl beat together 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, 4 TB bacon fat reserved from the skillet, and one egg.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined.
Pour the batter into the heated iron frying pan and bake fro 20 minutes.
Serve piping hot from the skillet.

A taste of America for an American holiday.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pineapple Guava

Not a lot of flowers.  Back behind a couple beds I've tucked away Feijoa sellowiana (officially called Acca sellowiana now but none uses it), pineapple guava, a tropical tasting fruit for colder winters.
Native to Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay where it is common in the mountains Feijoa is a slow growing evergreen that can be trained to a massive hedge or wind break in sun or partial shade. Mine are small and though I imagined mixing up guava jellies and pastries when I planted them, so far just two lonely flowers.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Visitor In The Garden

The garden was overgrown. Embarassingly overgrown.
I finally got after it. I have to get tomatoes in or there will be no sauce in jars this summer.
Pulling down a giant mustard green plant -- more than a foot over my head -- I found this sweet little nest built from the dried stalks of last summer's beans )there's a reason not to clean up) and little bits of garden twine.
At least someone enjoyed the garden while I was away.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Quick Trip To Portland

On my way home, strolling through the airport looking for coffee and maybe breakfast, I came across a row of folding tables and a sign: Capers Farm to Table. A local food airport market. I had to at least look.
Walking the length of the offerings was a lot of what you'd expect: popcorn, nuts, trail mix, honey, Oregon wines. But in the middle, nearly hidden was a small area of fresh, locally foraged produce. Fiddlehead ferns and fragrant, earthy morels. I couldn't resist. Sure I already had a beautiful Pendleton wool shirt in my bag for James but this would be a real treat, Besides, although I'd tasted ferns in restaurants I had never cooked them myself. A chef's treat like that I immediately began to picture creamy parmesan risotto topped with sautéed fiddleheads and morels -- the very picture of spring in wetter climes. Very soon I was carrying Pacific Northwest home to California for dinner.
The fiddleheads, I learned, need a quick blanch before using in sautés or salads so I popped them in boiling water and then right into a hot frying pan where the morels were already plumping up in butter, olive oil and fresh thyme. After just a few minutes I piled my precious cargo over oven-baked risotto (onions, sautéed in 2 TB olive oil until soft, garlic and thyme added in for good measure, 1 1/2 cup arborio rice toasted in the oil, 1/2 cup of wine cooked until evaporated, 3 cups of warm chicken broth stirred in then covered and baked for 25 minutes at 400º.  Just before serving I stirred in another cup of warm broth, 2 TB of butter and a handful of parmesan cheese).
I was a little nervous. These were luxury ingredients with a luxurious price tag. I wanted to do them justice and make the effort (and expense) worth it.
I needn't have worried. James sat down intrigued and excited by something totally new. The bright green little curls taste almost like the freshest asparagus ever but better. Sweeter, more vibrant, more special. A fresh bite of wild spring.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Don't Turn On The Porch Light

This little family moved in. We have to protect them. Spring birds and a dark porch.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

And So It Begins

Since the day we moved in I've been day dreaming about what to do with this kitchen -- all 8'x11' of it. Though outwardly I've been patient, every time James is out of town I think about just taking a sledge hammer to it all. Instead I plotted and planned and waited.
My old kitchen was perfect. Efficient and stylish with double ovens and a restaurant sink so deep friends confessed to being intimidated by it. I've missed it. When the oven in our current kitchen stopped working it was just another insult. We didn't replace it. We plodded on. I plotted.
The day has finally come. With drawings in hand and cabinets waiting in a nearby shop the demo is well under way.

The wall has been opened up to create a pass through. Cabinets are gone. Floors torn up. Electrical is being wired.
I'm nervous and excited and ready.

Monday, May 4, 2015

An American Classic

Dinner for a working man.
James has been out putting up insulation and walls in the new little barn/ farm office (I call it the Man Palace) so I figured the least I could do was a hearty dinner to replace some of those calories spent. Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes covered in cream pan gravy.
It's the kind of dish I love to make but honestly I can't make it too often. Pity. It goes together quickly. Never fails to please. Is Affordable. And, let's face it -- is delicious. But Oh, the damage it can do to an innocent waistline.
Using sides of cube steak (cube steak is machine tenderized beef) about 1/4" thick I first dipped them in seasoned flour and then in beaten eggs (with a  little milk whisked in). After the eggs, the steaks took one more dip in the flour and went right onto a pan holding a shallow cover of hot oil. As one side turns golden brown I turned the steaks until the other side browned deliciously and set the steaks aside while I made the gravy.
I wish I could tell you how much of what I used. Some how a dinner like this just cries out to be brought together by feel not measurements. I poured out most of the remaining fat from the skillet and sprinkled in a dash of flour and let it cook for a couple minutes. Then I poured in enough milk to get a creamy consistency, seasoned the gravy with salt and pepper and served it up piping hot.
Crispy. Crunchy. Salty. Creamy. Classic.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Raking Hay

Getting ready to bale and move the cows over to the West pasture. A nice cool Sunday for working outside.