Hello, my dears. Are you feeling fearfully neglected?
Well, you have been. My leisure of late has been spent largely in my kitchen.
I spent much of Sunday poring over a newly discovered food blog, Cookie & Kate. Isn’t that the best name? Cookie is a dog. (Kate is a person.) It’s a vegetarian blog, which means new and interesting dishes. Since meat isn’t expected to be the star, a lot of effort goes into making veggie dishes really interesting and appetizing. Even if I sometimes serve them with a side of steak.
Sunday’s dinner: butternut squash tabbouleh with a side of steak. So good. The only change I made was to use currants instead of cranberries, since I had them on hand, and add a bit of coriander and pepper. But not too much. The point of tabbouleh is to let the fresh herbs speak for themselves.
Inspired by Kate’s list of make-ahead breakfast foods, I set my mind to puffed amaranth and date bars. (I wanted to make granola, but it turned out that I didn’t have anywhere near 4 cups of oats.)
Popping amaranth is fun. Once you get the hang of it. You have to heat up the pan really hot–always hotter than you think you need–then put in a spoonful of grains. If they start popping immediately, you’re good to go: put the lid on, and in ten seconds they’re fluffy and done. Pour them into your “keep” bowl, heat the pan a little and make another spoonful. If they don’t start popping immediately, the pan isn’t hot enough, and that batch is never going to pop right; pour the scorched grains into a bowl to throw away later, heat the pan hotter and try again. Learn from my experience and don’t dump the ruined grains in the bin until they’ve cooled, unless you have a metal or glass bin. You’ll melt the plastic.
Having popped the amaranth, I turned my mind to the dates. It turns out that tiny food processor really can’t handle dates. They just kept whirring around and around in the bowl. Wop, wop. Amaranth date bars were a no-go.
What to do with a quantity of popped amaranth? I almost ate it then and there with a spoon, but that wouldn’t lead to delicious breakfast food. I persisted and finally substituted the popped amaranth for half the oatmeal needed for granola. The granola recipe I had intended to make in the first place. I made a lot of substitutions for half the ingredients in that recipe, but it came out delicious. I will be making more this weekend. (In my defense, I only had enough amaranth and oatmeal for half a batch the first time.)
To keep the granola company, I made chia berry jam from frozen berries, with a frozen banana for sweetness. It simmers for half an hour on the stovetop, so I kept an eye on it while I made dinner. Smelling the granola in the over while I stirred jam on the stove gave me the strangest sense of cognitive dissonance.
I enjoyed the granola and jam with greek yoghurt for breakfast all week. The turbulent and truncated affair of the amaranth date bars turned out deliciously in the end.
As promised, the recipe I use for DIY chai concentrate. This is an amalgam of recipes found in various places on the internet, plus things I had in my kitchen and minus ingredients I don’t go for (fake sugar, anyone?). The result has no calories and no dairy (or dairy substitutes) and can be mixed up with a number of different bases. Notably, as lattes.
4 cups water
10 whole cloves
12 whole cardamom pods, crushed slightly to expose seeds
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise (optional)
1-1.5 inches fresh ginger, thinly sliced
6 tsp black tea, or 8 tea bags
- Bring water to a boil. Add spices, simmer covered 15 minutes.
- Add tea bags or tea (in strainer), let sit 5 minutes.
- Remove tea and star anise. Let sit 30-120 minutes.
- Strain (or pick spices off the top) and pour into a jar. The straight concentrate looks like rich apple cider and packs quite a punch. It will keep in the fridge for at least a month.
1/3 c chai concentrate
1 c milk
Heat milk and concentrate in saucepan over medium heat, swirling pot occcasionally, until thick steam rises from the top. Pour into cup from about 8 inches up to create foam.
Coconut chai latte
I hear it’s also very tasty with coconut milk. Haven’t tried it yet, though. For a less rich beverage, try one part each coconut milk, water and concentrate.
Add dash of concentrate to club soda or ginger ale.
1. Valentine’s orchid.
Just as my tulips were wilting in the window, my delightful husband arrived home with two bottles of wine (for a dinner party, see 2), a bottle of Scotch and an orchid. A good V-Day haul. Now I’ll have fresh flowers every day for as long as I can keep it alive.
2. Friday night, we joined some friends for challah, a Jewish tradition involving the eponymous braided challah bread, wine, candles and lots of food. It was a delightful evening of good food and good friends. We all commiserated about the inability to get our hands on Jewish food in Edinburgh–plans for matzo soup were scrapped owing to the lack of flour, and none of us has had a bagel in ages. (As usual, the one Brit in the room couldn’t see what was wrong with the Edinburgh bagel scene, but we knew. I’m from Maine and I won’t eat the bagels here.
I didn’t consider myself cosmopolitan or cultured when I got here. Until I went to college, I could count the number of non-white people I knew on my fingers and toes. But living in a land where no-one has a passing acquaintance with an edible bagel or burrito–even a chipotle burrito or a blueberry special from Mainely Bagel–makes me feel downright worldly.
On the other hand, I don’t think I’d ever had challah before this weekend. Live and learn.
3. Chai soda. I don’t mix my chai with milk until I go to make a latte, so it’s just concentrated spices and tea (no sugar, either). A splash of it is really good in club soda. They should sell this stuff. Recipe tomorrow.
4. Remember the plantain calendula infusion I was brewing? Yeah, neither did I for a while. Consequently, this is really well steeped infusion. And now that I’ve finally strained it and mixed with beeswax, it’s a well-steeped salve.
Both plants are known for their healing properties when applied to skin, so the salve acts as a natural neosporin for bug bites and small cuts and abrasions.
I now have quite a lot of it.
5. Tartan sling bag. There’s a kilt shop on the Royal Mile that sells wool remnants (my mother thinks it’s hilarious that I get wool there). I had the luck to find a larger than usual piece this week. After much fiddling, I’m now the proud owner of a one-shoulder sling bag that I think will do very nicely for re-enactment type events.
It turns out it’s quite hard to get model pictures of bags when you’re alone in the house.
The basic idea is from very like the tutorial on sew mama sew. I added internal instead of external pockets and an adjustable strap (still made from a belt). The fabric on mine had to be pleated at the top so many times that I had to backstitch it by hand; it wouldn’t fit in the machine. The pleats make it look a bit like a shoulder plaid, though, and I like the effect.
The internal pockets and long metal zipper came from an old sundress. I hesitated about using a zipper, but it was the only way to achieve the shape I wanted. So I made sure to use a generous zipper flap. You can’t see it at all. You can’t see the pockets, either, which is for the best…
Low-carb and full of vegetables. More importantly, full of fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. Usually I would just make caprese, but the tomatoes you get in January are just depressing.
I’ve been writing my first-ever paper for submission to a peer review panel, so life has been busy lately. At least, there was was much sitting at the computer, if not always a lot getting done.
But at least there was tasty food today. And tea.
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ball (125g) fresh mozzarella, drained and rinsed, cut into 1/4″ cubes*
15 black olives, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 stalk fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dry)
fresh-ground pepper, lots
* Lowfat or full fat, your choice
Combine everything; season to taste. I happened to pick up some fresh rosemary last week, so it’s been finding its way into everything. I regret nothing. Except not having an enormous rosemary plant of my own.
Also, I found a very simple riser for a pound, so my desk setup has become much more streamlined. And now NTS can have the lap desk back.
1. Tuscan white bean soup. Extremely rich; if you’re mixing bouillon from a paste, I recommend using about half the amount it says on the pot.
2. Home-made exotic teas. I’ve cut back on sugar and alcohol lately. Most of the time I don’t eat sweets or drink tasty, tasty mead because I want sugar or alcohol, especially; I just want something that tastes special. (Or I’m somewhere where the only food is junk food.) These teas taste special.
From left to right: Chamomile peppermint; red Christmas tea (red tea, vanilla, peppermint, cocoa nibs; recipe here); black vanilla rose. The ingredients mostly come from the local co-op, where I measure them out myself.
3. Showering by candlelight. Our tiny bathroom features a super-bright white light and a super-loud fan, plus the drone of the hot water machine. (Brits only sort of understand plumbing. Frankly, they’ve been resisting it ever since the Romans showed up with their baths.) Putting a candle on the one horizontal surface–the sink–removes the sensory overload and gets me ready for sleep.
4. Homemade chai concentrate. No sugar, and very tasty for homemade chai lattes.
5. One student’s offhand comment after a tutorial: “Oh good, I actually understand it now.”
No thanks to: writing first drafts of conference papers.
You know how I said I had a lot of birthday wood that needed not to be in the kitchen?
Enter the 24″ bow saw.
It arrived on Sunday (did you know amazon prime for students has a 6-month free trial period in the UK?) in a ludicrously large box. I have to assume they don’t often ship products that measure 24 x 8 x 1.
Slowly my muscles remembered how to use a bow saw. This one is as close to the one I used to use to cut down Christmas trees as I could get. The handle is a bit narrow even for my hand, though–hence the handkerchief around it.
The wood, neatly out of sight in my living room.
The only thing left in the kitchen is my chopping stump. I can’t believe fate managed to to leave a chopping stump just about in my back yard right as I was taking up woodworking.
A little taste of the wood in action:
Thank you to everyone for the sweet birthday wishes. It’s a great balm to know that I’m only gone for a bit, not forgotten.
1. The award for best paper title this week goes to: Northern Iroquoian dating strategies. Context indicates that it has to do with the ages of North American languages, but that didn’t stop me from entertaining a brief vision of a pick-up guide for 18th-century Native Americans, written in the manner of an academic paper. All paper titles should be so interesting.
2. My axe came! I had been holding off on my hobby of wood carving until I figured out where to get wood. Lo! and behold, right around my birthday, the winds that have been plaguing us brought down a lovely hardwood, right over the path. Someone took a chainsaw to it to get it out of the way, but all the large branches were just lying there, waiting for me.
I’m now working out a plan of storage that doesn’t involve the kitchen. The hatchet should help.
3. Moose hanger. Moose are inherently funny and dignified. And they make me smile whenever I put on or take off a necklace, which is worth a lot more than I paid.
4. Woolen mittens. Aren’t they beautiful?
5. Clementine applesauce. I tossed two clementines in the crock pot with my last batch, with the skins sliced into thin strips. It’s a little bitter when eaten straight out of the fridge, but it makes an unbelievably rich dessert if you heat it up. (My original applesauce instructions can be found here.)
6. Qwirkle. Like scrabble, but without all the inconvenient words. My husband knows me so well.
We miscalculated slightly this year and ended up with a 6-foot Christmas tree in our tiny, tiny living room. For scale, I finally calculated the square footage in our flat: 341. This includes tiny entry and hallway, tiny bathroom (I sidle past the sink sideways, and that isn’t even unusual in this city), and tiny shower room (don’t mistake the “bathroom” for a room with a bath).
Or to put it briefly: The tree looked a lot smaller outside.
During Christmas proper, anticipation covered our hastily re-arranged living room in a rosy haze of anticipation. By the time Hogmanay rolled around, though, excitement had given way to resentment. Twelfth night or no twelfth night, the tree had to go.
Now that I have my living room back, things feel a lot more peaceful around here. I have a much greater appreciation for the spaciousness of my living room, now that the furniture is where it belongs. I can settle down to my grading with a serene heart.
I’m certain it will last until at least the third exam paper.
And now, a page from Captain Brid’s galley book, where the rule of thumb is “cook at 350F”.
Quick Sweet Potato and Black Bean Bake
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
1 package mushrooms
2-3 spring onions
1 can black beans
1/2 shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Heat oven to 350F / 180C.
2. Peel sweet potato and cut into 1/2 inch cubes. Place cubes in a steamer insert (I like and use this one) or small non-metal colander inside a larger bowl. Add 1/2 inch water to larger bowl. Cover and microwave on high for 13 minutes. Use an oven mitt when uncovering to avoid steam burns.
3. Meanwhile, chop mushrooms. Fry in olive oil on medium-low heat for about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Drain and rinse black beans and add to frying pan once mushrooms are done, just for a few minutes to give the beans a little heat. Chop spring onions.
5. Mix all vegetables in a baking dish and season with garlic powder, onion powder, basil, and salt. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Bake 8 minutes.
Total time 25 minutes. Serves 4 as sole side dish, or 2 as a whole dinner.
Chopping and microwaving is the fastest way I know to cook sweet potatoes. You can also “bake” them in the microwave by piercing them, putting them in 1/4″ water, covering and microwaving on high for about 20 minutes.
Consider covering things with a plate or a silicone baking pan instead of plastic wrap when microwaving. It’s better for the environment and doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl or deflate weirdly afterward.
I like clementines at Christmas. Really, I like clementines any time, but I usually have to bide my time all year until November, when they appear in the shops once more. Clementines spell “holidays” for me. There was always a big bowl waiting for the moment you realized that a thirteenth red or green-wrapped chocolate kiss really wasn’t going to cut it.
Other things I like at Christmas: hand-made tree ornaments, making Christmas cookies, delicious smells.
When I got a craving for a clementine or two right after seeing this post, everything clicked into place. (For more of the pictures that have sparked my imagination this Christmas, check out my Christmas pinterest board.)
NTS carefully avoids noticing most of the strange things I do around the house. When he went for tea and found these lying on top of the scrap bowl, though, he couldn’t help laughing.
This project is so easy your child(ren) could do it with limited adult input.
1. Carefully peel your clementines, ending up with as large pieces as you can. I got mine off in two big pieces. The smaller your cookie cutter, the less it matters how big your pieces are.
2. Use your cookie cutter on a cutting board to cut out shapes. It’s just like cutting out Christmas cookies, but without the trouble of rolling!
Or, if you’re like me and don’t have any small cookie cutters, use a decorating tip from an icing bag as a small circle cutter. Or whatever sharp object you have lying around. You could easily cut triangles or squares with a knife or scissors.
3. Thread your embroidery needle with a string of your choice–I like the crochet cotton I happened to have, but I suspect anything thicker than thread will work. I used a sharp embroidery needle, since it was the first one that came to hand, but if you threaded a large plastic needle for your child, they could probably manage from there.
I left the string attached to the ball while stringing because it was faster than figuring out how long a piece to cut.
4. Thread the pieces onto the string, either through the center or near the top. I threaded them in large groups, then spaced them out once they were all on there.
5. If you have any whole cloves, push a few into pieces of orange peel, right into the same hole used for stringing.
6. If you live in a damp climate, dry your string out over the wood stove or radiator for a couple of hours before hanging, to prevent any chance of mold. You could also put it on a tray in the oven on warm until it feels reasonably dry. I’m pretty sure this isn’t necessary in New England, where the air tends to get cold and dry in winter, but in Scotland, where I run the dehumidifier 24 hours a day, it seemed like a good idea.
7. Decorate something. Be merry! If your kids are anything like me, they’ll be clamoring to eat clementines for at least an hour afterward.Or maybe it’s just me.