(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.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Quest cooking: Rice pilaf

Yesterday I decided that too much time had passed since I'd used my rocket stove, so I cooked a simple meatless pilaf on it.  It had been a while since I'd done rice on this stove.

Here's what I put in:
About a tablespoon of ghee
Half a yellow onion, sliced
A carrot, sort of julienned
Cumin (about a half teaspoon?)
Two cardamom pods, shelled and ground
Red chile (a teaspoon or two, my hand slipped) - in honor of a departed sister of mine who used to live in New Mexico, may she rest in peace
1 cup basmati rice
1 2/3 cups water

Here are some pictures, taken by my sweetie.

Tending the flame while sauteeing the onions.  For the initial hotter flame I used twigs cut from our quince bush earlier this year.

Carrots and spices waiting to go in

After frying the dry rice with the vegetables and spices for a bit, add water . . .

. . . stir, and simmer over a lower flame for about 15 minutes.  For the lower flame I used dead branches cut from our plum tree, about half an inch thick, two at a time.
By moving the pot around the stove every so often I hoped to avoid getting a burned spot in the middle.  I still got a darkened spot, but despite what it looks like here it wasn't really burned, and didn't adversely affect the flavor of the dish.
At church we've been attending a meeting dedicated to emergency preparedness (something that Mormon culture can sometimes take to extremes).  With recent events reminding us both of the necessity to be prepared for disruptions of all kinds and the appropriateness and limitations of different strategies for this, I want to keep my skills up in strategies not only for preparedness where we live, but also self-reliance and voluntary simplicity.  I'm glad we have neighbors on our street who are also interested in this kind of thing.

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.