(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.

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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Chocolate Project, episode 4: Enjoy Life chips (dark, 69%)

Ha!  Thought I'd forgotten about this?  Or dropped it?  I've been doing more tastings, have several notes to type up and share.  Here's one.

Chocolate chips, as I've written before, are good for making into a beverage because they melt so quickly.  Recently I discovered the chocolate made by Enjoy Life: pure, vegan, hypo-allergenic, "paleo-friendly" (as if stone-age hunters would have eaten this!) chocolate that tastes quite good.




And they make chips that are 69% cacao, which is practically perfect.

Here's what we did:

75 g (5 Tb) of these baking morsels
~1 tsp vanilla (I always eyeball it)
4 oz boiling water

It reminded me somewhat of the Baker's, but darker.  It seemed heavy on low-medium notes, with a flavor that reminded me of chocolate ice cream, or chocolate Silk.  It had a good balance of sweet and bitter.  Not quite as deep or complex as others, but a nice solid comfy taste - I can definitely imagine this as a perfect camp drink!  The aftertaste was more roasty than orchid-y, with a bit of lingering fuzz.

My sweetie gave it a thumbs up: a "normal" taste, she said, "straight up chocolate."  Our seven-year-old called it "a little bitter but otherwise good."

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A writing milestone

A few weeks ago I received my first rejection notice as a fiction writer.  I had submitted a short story to a local contest back in March, a story I had drafted last year and spent a great deal of time working into what I thought was a nicely polished state.  I sent it in, and then I went back to creeping ahead on my novel.

Every once in a while I'd wonder when I might hear something; it seemed like it was taking a long time.  And then the message arrived in my inbox.  At first I was quite hopeful - I thought I'd written a pretty interesting story, or at least a well-told one.  So I'm ashamed to admit it, but admit it I will: I was crushed.

And then I went and had another look at that story I was so proud of, and you know what?  It's crap.  It's hastily written, it's vague, it's boring, it's irrelevant . . . what ever possessed me to enter it into a contest?

So, there's just one thing to do, isn't there: go back and revise it, and this time take my time to do it right.  I might just be old enough by now to accept this as a necessary part of the process of getting published - after all, I've been through it before, from the academic side.  It's been a few years, and I had forgotten what it was like.

Writers who get published often amass large collections of rejection notices from their early attempts.  I like to think that getting this first one was a breaking of some kind of ice, and now that I've started on this stage I'm that much closer to my goal.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fictional foods: experiments with apricots

I've spent a lot of time building my world, and part of the process of making it as rich and realistic as I can is thinking about what people eat there.  Over the years I've done quite a bit of experiments in the kitchen as I've concocted and invented recipes that I imagine might be on the tables of various lands and peoples.  Something that I'd like to do some day for LTUE would be to help organize a potluck meal with participants bringing dishes from stories they liked - or wrote, or are writing.  M.K. Hutchins, whom I met at the 2014 meeting, had that idea, and I need to talk to her about it again.

You should read her blog: she puts recipes up there, for fictional foods as well as for authentic Aztec chocolate.  And you should read her stories.

So it's apricot season here in Utah, and a nice neighbor let us go and pick from her tree.  This was last week, and the fruits were only just starting to ripen - everywhere I drive I see trees loaded with fruit and it makes me sad.  There's more than I can ever pick or use, and apparently more than most people want to pick or use - one more lamentable loss of pioneer values.  I'll make a quick plug here, to any readers in the Wasatch Front area, for the Glean Utah and Glean Provo Facebook groups.  They need a lot more attention, as do the fruit trees around here.

So, in my tiny attempt to do my part, and enlisting the help of a zealous seven-year-old, I ended up with a lot of apricots that are not quite ripe.  I ate as many as I could, and I still had all these others sitting here, and outside there are still more and more ripening.  I thought about what I could do with these, and I decided that with the ripest ones I would make freezer jam.

And with the unripe ones, I got this crazy idea: what would happen if I packed them with salt and let them sit?  My Japanese cousins had introduced me to umeboshi years before, and I remembered that those aren't really plums but a certain variety of apricot.  Would plain old apricots work?  I did a search and found exactly what I was looking for: yes!

I thought to myself: this is Japanese, but the ingredients - apricots and salt - are plentiful in Utah, and of course also in the environment where much of my work in progress takes place (one of the states there owes its wealth to the salt trade).  So why wouldn't the people in my world preserve some of their apricots in this way?  How they might use these pickled fruits in their cuisine?

So I got started: washed the fruits and picked out the unblemished ones,



packed them in bags with salt (and a bit of vinegar)

I used sea salt for the one on the left, and Himalayan pink salt on the right.  I didn't have enough Real Salt (from Redmond, UT) left to use on this.

and put the bags in a dark cupboard where they'll sit for the next month.

Meanwhile, I also found out that Mexico has a similar food tradition: saladitos and chamoy.  After all, why not?  If you have certain ingredients available, people are going to figure out different ways to combine them.  It just goes to show that while we might identify certain foods or ingredients with a certain culture or place, the world is wide and varied, and the human imagination even more so.

Happy Pioneer Day!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A very short Sunday post

It's late, I'm tired, I go to work very early in the morning, so I should be going to bed soon, but I don't want to go to bed soon because I just got my children down and I have some quiet time to myself.  That is an extremely rare commodity these days - no, not a commodity, a luxury.  Two weeks or so ago I wrote about doing a post every Sunday, so naturally Sundays have made themselves very difficult to post here.  But I'm crawling along, and so here are these words.

This evening we all went for a walk in a local park which we like very much.  It has trails among tall trees (mostly elm, I think, with some maple and scrub oak) and on summer evenings when the golden light of the lowering sun hits those trees it creates a magical effect.  But depending on where you go in there it can also be kind of eerie: there are bits of old rusted discarded things in odd places, and there are also bits of old concrete constructions that look almost like long-abandoned war fortifications.  We explored some of the narrower trails going up the dirt slopes under the elms, and at times I was strongly reminded of the Tarkovsky film Stalker, which I haven't seen for years.

It's the sort of place I can imagine being afraid of when I was younger, or that some older people might be afraid of, the sort of place you can well imagine people gathering for all kinds of sinister purposes.  But in fact, it's a disc golf course, so the greatest dangers are: 1. falling down and 2. getting in the way of people throwing their discs and annoying them.

I like the town where we live.