(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."