(I took the header picture of a Common Loon resting on a pond in Utah on its way north in June of 2015. It was in transition from winter to summer plumage.)

Translate - I dare you. Then make a comment on the funny errors the translator made.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Preserved lemons

I haven't got apricots this summer, and I might have missed my chance, which is too bad.  I wanted to eat some fresh, dry some, and pickle some like I did last year.  I still have some of the ersatz umeboshi that I blogged about, and they're still good and salty and potent.  I've used them to flavor beans, grits and sauces, only rarely eating them straight because they're so salty.  It looks like I'll run out of them and not have any to replenish, unless I can quickly get some apricots.  The harvest has been meager around here this year, so I might have to settle for store-bought trucked-in - bleah.  But for the sake of the brine, it might be worth it.

I wanted to report on another food project I did this spring: preserved lemons.  These are a tradition in Morocco and other places (my Lebanese cookbook has a recipe).  I've been wanting to try them and when we visited Mesa, AZ this April I had my chance: the last of the citrus was on and some neighbors of in-laws had a tree that was burgeoning with more fruit than they could use.  So my older daughter and I went and picked huge lemons and grapefruits.  I'm really getting spoiled for fruit: I don't want to buy lemons or grapefruits from stores any more either.

Anyway, I took some pictures.  Here are some of the lemons:

Some of the smallest ones - barely fit four in this jar
 I did two jars: the smaller one you see here, and a larger one.  The smaller jar had more salt - I thought it might be too much - but it kept fine at room temperature after the first month curing.  The larger jar developed a skin of mold on top but I scraped it off and the lemons are fine.  I keep the larger jar in the fridge, and the smaller jar has been used up by now, from sharing with others and using in recipes.

The juice - lovely salty sourness - is excellent for hummus and guacamole.  The peel gets really soft and is easy to mince, crush and grind, and I like to put it in dressings and sauces, though I'm still getting used to the flavor.

Also in Arizona I picked a bunch of little ornamental oranges from my in-laws' tree.  They're sour and not very juicy, but while we were staying there I found that their juice made a wonderful pasta sauce with olive oil and garlic.  So I decided to preserve some of them in salt too.

The mini oranges - on the table you can see bits of cloves from some pomander balls I also made that day (I must not have done them right because they went bad - the pomander balls I mean).

Packing them in salt

Trying to squish them down so they'd be covered in juice

The two fruits in their jars ready to cure, with more lemons in the background

The preserved mini-oranges combine the tangy complexity of orange peel flavor with intense saltiness, bringing a surprising bright taste to savory dishes.  It's not something I'm used to but it''s delicious.  I particularly like to use them in peanut sauces.

I don't know if we'll go to AZ again next spring, so in case we don't I might have to pay for family to pick and send more fruit.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My hiking sling

In 2002 I went on several hikes in the mountains of Utah, including a four-day backpacking trip to the Uintas with an ascent to the summit of King's Peak.  On that hike I came up with an idea: what if I used one of my Mexican blankets for a sling to carry my stuff, instead of a backpack?  On that particular excursion I had carried my tent and other gear to our camp site in a large framed pack, and I didn't want to have to haul that to the peak, so something stripped down and minimal like a blanket sling made sense.

It must have been in one of my custodial jobs that I worked in college that I acquired a very large safety pin, which I had used at times to fasten a wool blanket around me like a cloak.  If you're interested in doing this yourself, I recommend doing a search on ebay for "laundry horse blanket safety pin," and you should be able to find one.  (I could have put a link here, could even have made it a commission link, but I've stopped doing that stuff.)  I'm going to share with you the basic method for rigging one of these up:

First, take your blanket and fold it lengthwise into thirds.
Photos by my sweetie.

 I might have tried folding in half twice, but thirds seems to work the best, giving a close-able pocket effect.

Next, drape the ends of the blanket over your shoulder (whichever you choose: during a hike I switch from one to the other every so often).  Holding one end on the front, bring the other up from behind . . . 

. . . and pin it.

 Here I want to point out that it has worked better to leave it as seen here: on a recent hike I tried gathering the ends into more of a taper.  It didn't work very well: the bunched cloth actually cut into my shoulder more than the simple pinning did, and somehow it messed up the neat pocket effect I had enjoyed on my previous hikes.

Although I got my inspiration for this from old depictions of people carrying bedrolls to camp with, I've never attempted to carry camping gear in this, always keeping it strictly to day hike use.  I carry food, water, extra clothes and first aid supplies, and it does pretty well I'd say up to maybe 15 pounds - I'm not very good at guessing weight.  On my most recent hike up to Timpanogos Basin I included a small stainless steel cook kit (1 lb) with an alcohol stove and fuel bottle.  If memory serves aright, I've used this rig to get to the summits of King's Peak, Squaw Peak and Mount Timpanogos, as well as several shorter hikes.  Here are some views of it in action:

King's Peak, July 2002, in the clouds.  Man, I was in such good shape back then.  Photo by one of my hiking buddies.
Organ Mountains, New Mexico, 2007.  The blanket can get hot in hot weather, but I've never found it unbearable.  Photo by my brother.

Timp, 2007 - the last time I made it to the top.  Photo by my other brother.

I like the advantage this device affords of having my trail snacks and sundries within easy reach.  By shifting sides regularly I avoid getting my shoulders sore.  Besides, it has that anachronistic simplicity that I love.

Recently I read about Emma Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail alone - and carrying her gear in a sling bag held over one shoulder.  Not exactly the same thing, but even so I feel like I'm in good company.  I've long felt that people set too much store by fancy modern hiking and camping equipment, and I feel vindicated by examples like hers - or the Timp hikers of the early 20th century.

Here's to many years of hiking yet to come!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Type/brass cast: rocket relaunch and other things

Parching red corn over the rocket stove, photo by my eldest daughter

Monday, November 21, 2016

Quill/brasscast: Thoughts about roots, cut short

I wrote this with a quill and with two metal nibs, trying out some "new" old paper, while keeping track of a two-year-old.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fictional foods: apricot experiment update

So last month I posted about salting a bunch of apricots.  I've done some more work on them.  A few days after I started, I saw that the brine was slowly leaking out from the bags, and so I combined both batches into one and put them in a pickle jar.  So much for trying out different kinds of salt.

This is what they looked like after sitting for a month.
 The umeboshi recipe I was working with said to sterilize the vessel with vodka before putting them in it, but we don't keep vodka in the house, and besides, I kind of thought the whole point of people discovering how to preserve food in salt was so that you could, you know, put it in things like jars and barrels without it spoiling?  I've made sauerkraut before in glass jars after just washing them in hot water, and my dad grew up making sauerkraut by packing the cabbage and salt into the barrel with the end of a baseball bat.  So I took a risk: as long as my jar, cup and rocks (to weigh the fruit down and keep it in the brine) were clean, I'd see what happened.  As you can see, they looked fine, and as you can't smell, they smelled just like vegetable matter fermenting in brine should smell.

The next step was to dry them in the sun.  Since I currently have Wednesdays off from work, I decided to let them sit out that day last week and see how dry they'd get.  After all, strictly speaking I'm not making umeboshi, just something very close.
Just out of the jar, drying on a cut-up old undershirt (washed, of course) and paper bag.
At first I kept moving them to stay in the sun while keeping them close to the house, and then when my sweetie had finished running errands, I put them on top of the car.  I thought they might dry out more at the end of the day, but after bringing them in, I decided to pack them into a clean dry glass jar and see what happened.

After a day in the sun.

After a few days in the jar, after drying.  You can see the thicker brine that's seeping out in the bottom.

So they've been sitting in their jar for a week, and so far they're doing fine.  I used one in a bowl of beans I took to work, and I have to say they work very nicely with pinto beans.  Their flavor is not quite like umeboshi: its almost metallic, and is taking some getting used to, but I'll keep experimenting to see what they go well with.

 I'm looking forward to tasting them in a few months and finding out how the flavor develops.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quest cooking: calabacitas

About a year ago I started a Wordpress blog called Quest for the Flame, wherein I started writing about my experiments with efficient wood stoves, among other things.  It's been months since I posted there, and lately on reflection I've found it redundant and too much effort to keep up so many blogs with so much else demanding my time.  So I've more or less abandoned that blog.  Today I'm going to post here about my most recent experience cooking with one of my homemade stoves.

This stove is a rocket stove, made with a #10 can and some smaller food cans.  You can read instructions on making your own here, if you're a cheapskate like me and don't want to pay for one of the really nice ones from SilverFire or Ecozoom; and/or you like to make things yourself.  I've experimented with woodgas stoves too, which I love the idea of, but I've found this rocket stove the easiest to use for cooking.  (BTW, those instructions show a dremel and fiberglass insulation; I used tin snips and perlite.)

After having cooked several pots of rice over this, I scored a big stainless steel wok at the local DI, and since a traditional wok stove is very much like a rocket stove, I thought that using the wok for stir-frying would be a perfect way to use mine.  Yesterday I did my second stir-fry using this, and it turned out beautifully.  The setting was Nunn's Park, close to the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls in Provo Canyon, a favorite picnic and walking spot.  It was crowded, but we were lucky enough to find a table with a grill, where I set up.

The stove is so efficient that I cooked the dish with only these three sticks - and didn't even burn them all up!
This was a simple dish, more or less a version of calabacitas, using some of the plentiful summer produce we're swimming in.  First, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, with some garlic:

- next, tomatoes with salt and Turkish Seasoning from Penzeys:

- and after that had simmered a bit, scallions and cilantro:

When it was all done, I doused the stove quickly (park regulations forbid open fires during this dry summer) and we enjoyed a nice compliment to our other picnic fare.

Almost no smoke, a good consistent hot flame making for a quick cooking time, and a tasty result.  I hope this gives some useful ideas, and thanks to my beautiful and talented sweetie for taking pictures!

If you want to see more food you can cook on a rocket stove, watch the youtube channel Solid Fuel Cooking, from the Netherlands.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

More heart's blood

I mentioned in a previous post a regrettable decline in pioneer values that I perceive in the developing towns along the Wasatch Front.  Where I live you can see a curious mix of old houses in reasonably good shape, decrepit buildings where closed businesses once stood, and newer stores, office buildings and roads built to accommodate and encourage the post-industrialist consumer lifestyle of today.  It is always sad to me to see how often the older buildings with a cozier, more human, more convivial spirit to them get left to decay and then swept aside, or re-purposed: along one length of a principal street are several lovely old houses that now hold retail businesses (existing perhaps tenuously) or professional offices.

To me this is all a betrayal and defeat of the vision that settled this area, and to my view an honest assessment of the current social and economic order of the Mormon heartland must confess that we have a sad state of affairs.  Land that could be productive, used to house people in modesty, industry and communal self-reliance is regularly parceled out to build luxurious dwellings at obscene prices.  Small businesses feel they must curry favor with the trendy whims of indifferent consumers in order to survive: it is harder and harder to count on a robust spirit of 2 Nephi 26:30 to keep any enterprise afloat (and you can just forget about verse 31).

An unreflective enthusiasm for a gospel of growth and prosperity gives carte blanche to expressions of arrogance and greed that are embarrassing and insulting to an idealistic viewer.  I think it no coincidence that Hugh Nibley wasn't allowed to fulfill a career of scholarly inquiry and social criticism in peace without his persona and legacy being yanked into extremes of adulatory folklore and allegations of the most sordid private sins: our culture has little tolerance and less use for principled and consistent critiques.  And attempted critiques regularly veer into reactionary political stances, which I also find very sad and self-defeating.

But I realize too that self-reliance is hard, and not exciting or sexy.  I think a great deal of the consumer mindset that produces such callous effects worldwide in fact is rooted in the desire for miraculous deliverance: how wonderful it is, after all, to see something like a new restaurant arise from the ground, and to spread its large printed advertisements across the land for miles, with no effort from me!  Is it not something like an experience of grace, to be able to simply walk into a clean, climate-controlled, brightly-lit and fragrant space, with nothing required of me other than to be served, to make my selection, and then have the freedom to leave in search of another similar environment?  Granted, we have to pay for the things we get here, but beyond the money we part with for specific goods and services, the larger message is of this abundance from above and afar: these brands, these buildings, this infrastructure comes to us, lifts us up, and asks nothing more of the worthy among us other than an attentive duty to the specialized abstracted tasks laid out before us in yet another climate-controlled and brightly-lit space.

I think that all this truly fees like heaven to many, many people, in an unconscious or at least little-examined way.  My conscience, in exercise with my intellect, is still set against it, but I have a clearer understanding of it now.