Friday, July 24, 2020

I'm Looking for Corny

The year I turned three, my father died, some months before my actual birthday. That Christmas, there's a photo of the Christmas tree, surrounded with a lavish array of gifts that my mother probably couldn't afford.

One of the unwrapped gifts, the Important Gift, was an Easy-Bake Oven. It was Tiffany blue, or turquoise, and it figured largely in my life for the next several years. I used it to bake my first apple pie (I moved on from the provided mixes soon enough), when I was five. That's when I found out that pastry requires fat, and apples for a pie need sugar, even sweet apples.

I've been cooking and baking for as long as I can remember. It's an urge I inherited from my father, whom I don't remember. Mom would tell us that Daddy was a gourmet cook, but that he would make a wreck of her kitchen. She was a good plain cook, but she didn't really enjoy it, and she grew up in the 40s and 50s; she liked pre-packaged things; scalloped potatoes from a box, Bisquick, and so on. I didn't cook with fresh garlic until I was in college and decided to buy some for the lasagne I was making. I don't think I've used dried garlic since.

Food--especially if someone you know prepares it--is so much more than fuel. It's love, and yes, I know that's a bit corny, but I don't particularly care; as Kate Winslet's character, Iris, says in the film The Holiday, "I like corny. I'm looking for corny in my life."

We could all use a bit of that in these mad times. COVID-19, personal difficulties brought on by the pandemic, or those made so much worse...loneliness, or being driven half-mad because the people with whom you live who are never not there these days--everyday life is more difficult than usual...we all need something comforting.

So we cook, and bake, and make jellies, and jams and chutneys and bread, and cakes and ice cream and cookies, and pickles and pies, even if we have no one else with whom to share them. We'd still like to share them, and while standing in the kitchen, we daydream about putting these things in front of friends and family, and imagine their responses...we plan a picnic, though all the usual events which encompass picnics are off for the present.

Food and cooking and baking are love. Long-live corny!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Violets That Bloom in the Spring

The squirrels are extra destructive this year. They have already destroyed the seed potatoes I just set out. And today we had snow.

But a couple of days ago I made violet syrup. I've meant to make it for years, it's supposed to be very good for coughs. And I like violets. And the taste of violets.

Here's one of the uses I put it to...a violet daiquiri. In fact, you could certainly use it for any cocktail that requires simple syrup, so long as the violet taste wouldn't clash with other ingredients.

Unfortunately, the violets I have are the American variety; just as beautiful as English violets, but they have no scent and little taste. Luckily, I have violet essence (extract); I ordered some from England several years ago.

So I have finally made violet syrup, and now it's available for cocktails and for use as a medicine. I also hope to pick more violets and leaves in order to make violet tea; again, very good for coughs. And violets contain a great deal of Vitamin C. The leaves, especially when young and tender, are excellent for salads, and they can be eaten in quantity. All through the warmer months I treat them like cut-and-come-again salad greens.

Violet Syrup

violet leaves
boiling water
lemon juice
violet essence
vodka or gin

Pick several cups of violets and violet leaves. If necessary, rinse them gently.

Pack into a quart canning jar, and cover with boiling water; cover, and leave for 24 hours.

The next day, strain out the liquid. For every cup of liquid, measure out two cups of granulated sugar.

Put the strained liquid into the top of a double boiler. (If you do not have one, a mixing bowl over a pot large enough to hold it will do nicely. Don't let the water in the bottom pot touch the surface of the bowl).

When the water in the pot begins to simmer, begin to slowly add the sugar, stirring as you go. If it looks very cloudy, slow down. When it clears again, add more sugar. Do this until all of the sugar has been dissolved in the liquid, which will probably a celadon green.

If you would prefer a violet color, add a few drops of lemon juice; this will change the Ph of the solution, and so, the color.

Strain through a fine strainer lined with cheesecloth. Add about 1 teaspoon of spirits to every two cups of the solution, and a drop or two of violet essence. Taste as you go; the essence can be overwhelming if over-used.

I put some into a bottle for the fridge, to have easy access for cocktails and such. I canned the remainder, so as to have it for coughs or to replenish the cocktail supply.

I used jelly jars, and processed the jars for 25 minutes, as the solution is not acidic.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

1931 in 2020...Pullovers and Plans and Possibilities

It's 2020--and I'm still knitting for the 20th Century. Which, I imagine, I will be doing for the rest of my life.

This time, it's a May 1931 pullover, found in Madame Weigel's Journal of Fashion. Some years ago, I had a pen pal (pen friend) on Ravelry, a woman from New Zealand. She very kindly sent me the most wonderful old pattern booklets--things that had belonged to an aunt of hers, I believe. They originated in Australia.

I  still have all of them, and my favorites, of course, are the ones from the 1920s and 1930s. This pullover is utterly classic, and even the most modern of 2020 eyes (pun intended) wouldn't see it as odd. It's going to look wonderful, I hope, with a good number of my skirts. The yarn is a 3-ply, rescued from a thrift (charity, op-shop) sweater; two plies of hunter green, one of navy blue. Shetland yarn, my favorite. It's even likely to coordinate with my treasured green jodphurs. Unfortunately, I cannot get the color to show up properly.

It will, I hope, have at least a few outings, tweed outings...rambles and such, as well as being worn more for the city, as in the original photo. That's the plan. I miss my friends greatly.

From start to finish, not including sewing up, it took about 2.5 weeks. It's a hip-length pullover, with pockets and long sleeves...on #4 (American) needles. Staying up till all hours has a silver lining, I suppose.

I hope to do the sewing-up this week.

It was a lot of "mindless knitting", the kind I love. Perfect for keeping the needles clicking along while listening to a radio play (thanks, Auntie Beeb!) or music, or even while reading a book on Kindle or watching a show or film.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I just ordered enough new Shetland yarn from WEBS to make another sweater...maybe even the same one again. This time, the yarn is a heathered lilac, very light in color.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Sourdough Chronicles: Sourdough Crumpets

The sourdough starter is finally getting to where it ought to be, in part due to the "sourdough yeast" that was the only yeast option at the grocery store this week. It contains rye, which attracts more wild yeast than all-purpose (plain) flour. It also contains dead sourdough and live commercial yeast.

I've found another wonderful means for using up the discards, and this is also a keeper; again, I find the sourdough version superior to the ordinary variety.

Yesterday I made sourdough crumpets. They have great flavor, smaller holes, and a more pleasant texture (I find that commercial crumpets are on the rubbery side).

This sourdough crumpet recipe from King Arthur Flour (again) is the one I used. It's simple and quick, and I ate three of the four yesterday! The last one was devoured today.

This is the dough at work; it doesn't take any time at all to become bubbly and ready to cook.

It's best to fill the rings with a heaping 1/4 cup of batter, as noted in the recipe, so that they will be thick enough to be split and toasted.

Four to a batch. The last two turned out best, as I under-filled the rings on the first go-round.

Split, toasted, and topped with sweet butter, kosher salt, and homemade crab apple jelly, these are a welcome treat for teatime or any other time, as far as I'm concerned. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Making the most of what you can get: roast chicken

"Oh, wasn't WWII romantic?! Make do and mend, everyone pulling together, bomb shelters..."

Think about it, folks; this was during a WORLD WAR--though people working together to make the best of things is pretty wonderful.

We're not the East End during the Blitz, and there's not a blackout. But we must keep our distance, literally, in order to stay safe. And there's a world-wide epidemic, and life as we know it has ground to a halt.

We can't, however, have a sing song (sing-along) in an air raid shelter, or get together for a party using whatever bits of luxury items we can scrape up (read Berlin Diaries, by Marie (Missie) Vassiltchikov for a very good look at life in wartime).

There is a real similarity, however, and that's making do with what you can find at the markets. Not so much that supplies aren't there--we're not in the midst, of real rationing--but the supply chain has quite a few over-strained or missing links at the moment.

A friend has gone to make a grocery run today, and she texted me, "I got you a chicken!" (I didn't add the exclamation mark...that was hers.)

Now, I've been musing for about a week on what I would do if I did get a chicken. I had decided on a whole one, if possible, because it's more useful--bones for stock, and all that.

I'm partial to a roast chicken, but a stock made with raw bones is superior to one made with a carcass from a bird that's already been cooked, so I decided on a compromise. I'm going to spatchcock it (cut out the backbone and smash it flat). This way it will cook more quickly and evenly, and I'll have some raw bone for the stock. I am also planning on removing the wings before it's roasted, and reserving those for the stock.

So: roast chicken. Probably with gravy, mashed potatoes, and mixed veg. I might even make myself some Yorkshire pudding to go along with it.

That leaves me cold chicken and leftover mashed potatoes. I could make a chicken pot pie, or a chicken pie topped with mash(ed potatoes). If I go with the first, leftover mashed potatoes could become soup, potato pancakes, or potato candy (not very likely!).

I could have cold chicken sandwiches (I've got sourdough starter going, and I can always make another loaf of soda bread); I like them with plenty of mayonnaise, a thin slice of raw onion, and kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

There's chicken hash...I could use raw cubed potato, plenty of onion, and a bit of bell pepper (must remember to save the seeds for planting).

Chicken salad would be great, too.

Part of the fun of cooking is being creative. Instead of considering leftovers a hassle, I prefer to look at them as building blocks for my next creation.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Cooking in Quarantine

Now, if you're feeling the way most people seem to be feeling these days, you'll think Tommy there has the right idea. (I can't deny that I've joined him a time or two.)

But if there's one thing the appreciation for a vintage lifestyle can do for you, it's knowledge of how to make the most of what you've got: from reading the history to making the vintage things you own live long past their projected lifetimes.

I collect cookbooks. When I say collect...well. I have 12 shelves of cookbooks. This doesn't take into consideration the ones piled on top of already full shelves, or the ones piled on my bedside table. Or the ones in the living room, or the Christmas cookbooks tucked under the armoire, get the picture. 

Make do, make do and mend. Whether it's about just being thrifty because it's "moral" or you don't want to drive to town more than once a month, or you're in the midst of a depression, or--again, lots of reasons and prompts.

What it boils down to is this: you can do it. With, surprisingly, the things you might otherwise have thrown out or dismissed. 

Take this for an example. I've been working on making sourdough starter*, absolutely from scratch; I haven't used the stuff for decades, since I baked bread when living in Virginia (because, in the late 1980s, there was very little Italian, French, or artisanal bread available for sale in any part of the South). Yeast breads are not high on my list of Stuff That's Fun To Bake...but needs must, and all that. I got pretty good at it, some 25 years ago or so.

Well, my starter is coming along, but not as quickly as it might. I don't have any commercial yeast around to give it a kick in the pants, and I don't have any wholewheat (wholemeal) flour (which attracts wild yeast more readily), so it's going slowly. I'm on day 5, and it's not much of a sponge when I check on it. 

The best way to get things going, in the absence of what I've mentioned above is discarding some starter, and "feeding" it with another dose of flour and water (50-50 proportions by weight). I don't like to waste things, especially food, at any time, so I looked up recipes for using discarded starter. King Arthur Flour's website to the rescue--I found a smallish recipe for a savory sourdough pancake recipe. I cut it in half and went my merry way. Didn't add the recommended corn and green onion, because I didn't have the onion, and my garlic chives aren't up yet. 

That being the case, I thought about maple syrup (I still have plenty) or jelly and lemon. I looked in the fridge and found the remains of a jar of heavenly jam** (peaches, rind and juice of an orange, Maraschino cherries) that had set too hard. I'm a Yankee (or cheap, if you prefer!) and just couldn't toss the batch. I also didn't feel like adding water and re-making it, so I've been using it for jam cake, once it's suitably diluted to the correct consistency.

I combined the jam--about 3 tablespoons--with about the same amount of water and simmered it until it looked right. When it was slightly cooled, I added a splash of quince-lemon brandy. 

We have a winner! I like pancakes, but I don't love them; I've never been one to choose them over something really bad for me, like corned beef hash and rye toast dripping with butter (and homemade jelly), but they're okay. My usual complaint is that they're just too heavy. I've made good pancakes for years--they're quick and thrifty, and you can ring all kinds of changes on them, but this time, I'm enthusiastic. These things are delicious; light, not exactly tangy, but without the overwhelming sweetness even unsweetened pancakes sometimes have (to my taste buds). 

Besides--they're even more thrifty than bog-standard pancakes. Ding!

I'll be making these again.

*There's a lot of information about sourdough starters available online. Check the King Arthur site for a beginning, and just keep asking Dr. Google. You'll get there.

**If anyone wants the recipe, speak up in the comments. I'll write a post about it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Using the Larder

The 1930s were a time of thrift--the Depression hit hard, and people learned to make do, and do away with the wasteful habits of the Edwardians and the time of the Roaring 20s. The apple peels became apple jelly, orange and other citrus peels were turned into candy (if you had enough sugar on hand), and scraps and leftover bones from a roast ended up as soup or stock--those are just a few examples. (And yes, I've done all of those things. Very useful).

I've got a pantry (pretty well crammed with pickles, relishes, chutneys, jellies, jams, marmalades, salsa, and a few other homemade things, as well as some canned and dried goods). I also have a small chest freezer--but not a larder. The house is 1929, not 1829. Still, the freezer stands in nicely for a larder. My fridge is tiny--a 1933 GE Monitor Top. It keeps foods fresh for a very long time, more successfully than any modern one I've owned. But the freezer can only be used if the fridge temperature as a whole is turned way up, so enter the chest freezer in the cellar.

The freezer is so useful, though...for freezing leftovers so that they can be eaten when the original meal is only a faint memory, for saving garden produce, sugared flowers, meat I bought on sale, and more.

It can also get away from you. Just before Christmas, I found myself throwing out my prized Friendly's Celebration [ice cream] Roll, the first I've had in 20 years at least, because there simply wasn't room for Christmas cookies, and I bake those in quantity.

In the last month or so I have been steadily beginning to work at using up the contents of the freezer. And that's freed up space for the lamb chili (made with the frozen ground lamb I bought a couple of weeks ago) and more useful frozen veg (peas, mixed corn/peas/carrots) and similar things. 

The lamb chili was great; I had it for dinner the day I made it, and the following day, for lunch. The rest is frozen. I had some homemade chicken pot pie that had been there for a while but was still excellent. Today I've made duck leg ragu (or ragout, if you prefer). Homemade duck stock, a duck leg and fresh veg: carrots, parsnips, and onion. I'll add frozen peas at the very end.

I've noticed some beach plums...which provide me with several options: beach plum gin, beach plum jam,  or beach plum chutney.

There's some lamb sausage still waiting for inspiration...possibly I'll make potato moussaka. There might even be a small chicken in there somewhere, in which case a real Sunday lunch (English style) might be coming my way soon, including Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy.