Monday, December 29, 2008

Remembering Grandma Mik at Christmas

My mom's mother, Lillian Mikolasek, aka Grandma Mik, was quite the artist and craftsperson. When we spent summers with her and Grandpa in Menominee (Michigan), she was always working on something. She sewed, painted and otherwise created all manner of useful or decorative pieces. She and a group of women in the hospital guild met regularly at the hospital and made little decorative items that were then put on the patient's food trays at holidays. She has left us a wonderful legacy of her work - particularly painted objects. These include wooden bowls, cutting boards, platters, tablecloths, glassware and even clothing. Mom, in her wisdom, has been distributing them to my six siblings and I over the years. Most of those which I have inherited are Christmas holiday pieces. So, I always enjoy some fond memories of Grandma when I get them out this time of year. This Christmas/New Years plate is beautiful.

This little wood tree, made with two pieces of flat wood, suffered quite a bit at the hands (or rather teeth) of Archimedes. He was the golden retriever we had prior to Molly. After he did his handiwork on the tree, Grady took the pieces down to the basement so that he could work on restoring them. Well, quite a few years have passed and we had both forgotten about the little tree. During the recent enforced time at home due to snow, Grady began clearing out the basement, came across the tree pieces and took the first steps of fixing them. More work is to be done, but I was so happy to see even this much repair and to have it out again.

I think we have about a dozen of these glasses. But, a few of them are worn out. No blame to the dog this time, just paint that has rubbed off. I am in the process of looking for an artist/craftsperson who could restore the worn ones and help us preserve the whole set.

And, here is another wooden plate that she painted. So, here's a toast to Grandma Mik! I wish I had a fraction of her talent and creativity.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Chriastmas Morning Frittata - Dark Days Week 6

Start with Oregon-grown chard, scallions, small red potatoes, sweet red pepper and garlic.

Saute all of these in a small amount of olive oil; mix into beaten eggs (we used six); add a little bit of feta cheese (in this case not very local).
Cook on the stove top about 4 minutes until it starts to set on the bottom. Put under the broiler for a few minutes.

And have a fairly festive looking Christmas morning breakfast.

I had stalled on posting this because I had talked Kris into taking some photos for me - hoping to include them as my celebrity guest photographer. But, due to some difference in the format, he can't download them while he's here. So, maybe I'll get to add them later on.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recap - Week 5

After getting sidetracked with the snowy weather reports and photos, I am remembering that it is time for the weekly check in on our local eating challenge. This pretty well sums up our week: lentil soup and chili, both made with mostly local ingredients, leftovers of each of those, and then eating elsewhere, plus foraging through what is on hand when we can't get to the grocery store.

I described the lentil soup earlier this week.

This week's chili:
New Seasons' housemade sausage from Pacific Village pork
Muir Glen canned tomatoes from Cedro Wolley, Wa (not terribly local from here, but not too far)
the last of our cherry tomatoes that have slowly been turning red and yellow inside the house
pinto and small red beans from Draper Girls farm
chili peppers - hot ones from our yard (frozen), and sweet ones from the last farmer's market
onion - farmer's market

And now it's time to start thinking about Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinners. For some reason, even with all this extra time at home, I've been postponing that planning. We may need to have plan A and plan B, depending on when we can get out to a grocery store and what is there when we get there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Did I Wake Up in the Wrong Place?

Backyard Deck

This is really beginning to look a lot more like winter in Rochester, and even a little like early winter in Escanaba. Not at all like Portland. After 3-5 days of schools closed (varies in different parts of the city), we're NOW getting the really serious weather. How crazy is that?! Upwards of 8 or more inches of snow in some parts of the city - and, again unusual for us, very dry light powdery stuff. And looking forward to some freezing rain on top of this for tonight. So, we're in for the evening, not going to a Christmas party in the southwest hills. Chili and some doctored eggnog to celebrate on our own here and then on to some movies.

But, you've got to love Portland. A little earlier this evening, we watched a guy riding his bike down the street along the snow-covered street. The cross-country skiers was not a surprising sight, but riding a bike?!

Looking towards neighbor's house

Update on Sunday morning - basically, just take the 7-8 inches of dry snow and add a layer of ice. I don't think we'll see any more bicycles - mainly just people walking or skiing down the middle of the street. Walking through the snow now requires punching through the ice layer with your boots with each step. Even measuring the snow on the deck involved jabbing the ruler several times to get through the ice. Some more photos for our out of town friends and family.

Looking out to Ladd Avenue

I hope the raspberry vines forgive us next summer

On the deck - after the freezing rain and ice compacted what was there last night

And, finally, when you can't really go anywhere, you might as well enjoy it:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Getting Carried Away

In my last post, I mentioned that I am largely a recipe-follower rather than a recipe-creator. This is a story of why I should probably stick with being the former. I decided to branch off on my own for a lentil soup and maybe it would have been better to rein it in a little. The result wasn't bad, but it may have been a little over the top.

It started with the fact that we had about a cup of cubed pumpkin left over from the risotto. I didn't want to waste it and, in thinking of ideas of what to do, I decided they might be good in a soup - and it has definitely been soup weather here. So, examining what all we had on hand (since snowy roads were not enticing for a trip to the store), lentil soup seemed to be the best option.

We had these beautiful lentils in the cupboard - from Draper Girls Farm. The red ones are called "red chief", the others didn't have a special name.

Here they are all mixed together in the pan for the first step of cooking the 3 cups of lentils.

Next is where I got into trouble. I started out reading the Moosewood recipe which suggested carrots, onions, and celery, all of which we had in the fridge. But, when I started looking in the fridge, I also found a bunch of sweet red and yellow peppers. We also had potatoes. So, here are the one onion, 2 ribs of celery, 2 big carrots, one potato and about a cup of chopped peppers - as they are sauteed briefly before going into the soup. All of these, by the way, except the celery, were locally grown and purchased at the farmer's market. At this point, I should have been suspicious about the quantity in this pan compared to the quantity of the lentils and their cooking water.

But, no, it all was so beautiful and looked delicious. For seasoning, I added salt, pepper, and cumin plus a little bit of fresh thyme that was left from some other meal. I need to mention that I had also browned some chicken basil sausages that we had on hand. By the time, I added all these "extras" to the lentils, it became more of a stew than a soup. I tried adding more liquid, but the soup pot was pretty close to full. And I had almost forgotten to add the cubed pumpkin which was the original reason for making this soup in the first place!

So, we had this soup on Monday evening and it was OK, but not great. Tonight, we'll have a second round and this time I can use a small amount of the "stew", add some broth and make it a little more soupy. Plus, the second time out is usually better anyway. Maybe next time, I'll try to confine myself to one version of a recipe and try not to get so carried away with emptying the refrigerator into one meal. But, on the other hand, I think it will end up to be an interesting and tasty meal and we'll probably have some left to freeze for future use.

Meanwhile, we're on day 3 of cold and snowy weather here in Portland. Having a snow day no longer has the thrill for me that it did while I was teaching. At this point, if I don't go to work, I don't get paid, so it's not actually such a great thing to be home these day. But, since I have no choice, I'm taking advantage of the time to make some more Christmas cookies, do some more knitting, and an assortment of odd jobs around the house. It's hard to complain.

Update after eating a second round of the soup:
It was much better on its second outing - after adding some broth, cooking longer and generally having time to do whatever it is that makes soup better the second time around.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recap - Week 4

Woo-eee! We're having us a little winter here in the Northwest. Snow coming down for most of the morning. And, unusually for us, it seems more like the Michigan- type snow that Grady and I remember, very dry and light. Lucky me, I got to drive in it because I had several things going on at church this morning and I wanted to give it a try. Getting there was no issue, but coming home was a long slow affair. My knitting studio is going to offer a make up session, so I'm glad not to feel a need to get to that this afternoon. But, Portland Center Stage does not cancel. So, this evening, we'll probably put on the traction devices and head out just like people who are used to living in winter climates. Looks like we'll be watching "A Christmas Carol" and heading out to something looking more Christmas-y than usual.

Meanwhile, it's time for the weekly update on a mostly local meal from the week.
My From Farm to Table Cookbook was the inspiration for dinner last night and the night before. Last night's meal was closer to the 90% goal because we had pork loin chops from a local farm as the main entree, in place of the Alaskan salmon that we had on Friday night.

The remaining parts of the dinner were made from Chef Ivy Manning's recipes:
Cinderella Pumpkin Risotto with Fried Sage - pumpkin from our CSA, Farmer's market onions, northwest white wine, vegetable stock I made when the garden was about done producing, the arborio rice came from California (but that was at least closer than the last batch I bought which had originated in Texas)

Braised Lacinato Kale - see the last post for a description of getting this from an Oregon farm, rather than one in California

Fresh Cranberry Chutney - cranberries grown in Bandon, farmer's market cilantro and onion, chile out of our garden, pear that we got out near Hood River, plus a lot of seasonings that were not really local at all

I thought the combination of the pumpkin risotto, the kale and the chutney were wonderful with both the salmon and the pork chops. I was quite pleased with my planning. :) And all three were delicious. I'm not so great at creating recipes out of my head, but my skill in choosing other people's recipes has been increasing!

After the first night, Grady combined the leftover kale with the risotto. So, this picture from the second night has both mixed together. The other dark green that you see in there is some of the fried sage.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Making Choices

Grocery shopping used to be so straight-forward. Go to the store, look for what you need, also buy some stuff you don't need, but want. Pay and go home. But, now that I am trying to train myself to put a priority on local foods, it has become a more complicated task. While it is true that I'm getting somewhat used to it and there are certainly items I know and can find fairly easily, there are plenty of occasions that I end up spending extra time and making different kinds of choices that I used to.

Thursday evening and Friday I shopped for some items for a birthday dinner for our friend, Jeff. I had decided to cook a fish, preferably salmon, but was open to other possibilities. To go with it, I planned to make a pumpkin risotto and some braised kale. At the grocery store (New Seasons) there were two dilemmas. First, the fish. New Seasons uses the Seafood Watch color coding system rating each one on sustainability and health oceans criteria. Since the salmon was from Alaska, I looked for what they had that had been caught in Oregon. But, the locally caught sole and cod were on yellow markers. So, I asked the helper behind the counter why they were yellow (less desirable in terms of being healthy for the ocean environment) and he explained that they were trawler-caught. So, I opted not to buy any fish there at that point since I still had time the next day to look elsewhere. In the end, I did end up getting wild caught-Alaskan salmon the next day since I didn't find anything that looked to be a better choice, but did buy it at a place that had it on sale.

So, having not bought the main entree, I moved to the produce section to look for lacinato kale. Here again I had to do a little research. The marker signs indicated that there was some Oregon-grown kale and some from California. But, in looking through what was there, I couldn't find the local version. After getting the produce helper over, we found that there was one bunch left of the lacinato kale that was from Oregon. All the rest of that type came from California. On the other hand, they did have a lot of curly kale that was local. The recipe called for two bunches of the lacinato variety. But, I made the choice to go with one of each type so that I could stick with kale grown in our area.

Of course, all these shopping decisions get more complicated since we now also have to pay a lot more attention to the cost of what we are buying since our family consists of one retired person and one person who makes a living (or used to make) selling real estate. So, shopping for food these days is just a bigger project than it used to be. But, since I am the one in the retired category, at least I usually have more time to spend asking questions and pondering choices at the market.

Meanwhile, this food was for an occasion - Jeff's birthday - after all. So, here are a few pictures of the birthday dinner. More on the risotto and kale later for my Dark Days Report.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Recap - Week 3

It's time for the weekly write up for the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. I'm finding it difficult to decide what to describe this week. There were new three meals plus a lot of leftovers. The turkey soup was really delicious, probably my favorite meal of the week. But, that started with turkey bones and meat that originated in California, so a good percentage was not local. Last night we had Beef Stew. The stew used Oregon grown beef, and all local vegetables from yesterday's visit to the Portland Farmer's Market. But, it was boring - not nearly as wonderful as the last time I made this recipe, so I was disappointed.

The remaining new meal this week was our dinner Monday night. This one actually was close to 90% local and also quite good. Very plain and simple - a classic meat and potatoes kind of meal, but Laura reminds us this week that fancy meals are not what this challenge is about. It is a challenge, not a competition. So, we had T-bone steaks (from our Kookolan Farms beef share), mashed potatoes left from Thanksgiving (farm market Yellow Fin potatoes), and braised kale (also from the last Eastbank farmer's market) with bacon (Pacific Village pork), and onions (farmer's market). The red wine vinegar (Spain) and salt and pepper were the only items that travelled farther.

Braised Kale with Bacon and Onions

(from Epicurious)

2 bunches kale (about 20 ounces total), thick stems and ribs trimmed and chopped, leaves chopped
6 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups chopped onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Cook kale stems and ribs in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Set aside.

Cook bacon pieces in heavy large pot over medium heat until brown and crisp, about 4 minutes. Add chopped onions and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add kale leaves, ribs and stems and sauté until leaves are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Cover and cook until kale is very tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar. Cook mixture 2 minutes to blend flavors. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve.

Here's a picture of the aforementioned not very exciting beef stew from last night. I need to figure out why this one was not as good as the last time. Maybe a cheaper wine? using vegetable broth instead of beef or chicken broth? not enough of the orange peel? maybe not cooking as long? Hmmmm.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Turkey Soup - Our Best Ever

Well, I don't ordinarily get all rapturous about turkey soup. I routinely make a soup after Thanksgiving because that's what you're supposed to do with that carcass and all the odd bits leftover, right? But, I have to honestly say that mostly what I made was boring, bland soup - eaten because one doesn't want to waste food, of course, but not because it was something to look forward to. I am happy to report that we managed to put together something much better this year.

Maybe the key difference is the"we", since this soup was ultimately a three-person effort. While we were still at the beach, Jeff did all the work of cleaning the meat off the bones, getting the stock going and adding a variety of vegetables that were on hand. It cooked quite a while there, then we brought it home with us. Grady took the next steps, adding carrots, a few mushrooms and some rice to part and had it for dinner one evening when the rest of us were all doing something else. Finally, on another evening, I took the remaining of the original stock, put a few more things into it and finally had a really good tasting, not boring, turkey soup. Here is the final version:

Turkey Soup
stock from Thanksgiving turkey bones cooked for a really good long time (free range, fresh, hormone-free turkey from not-so-local California)
carrots (CSA)
onions, garlic, shitakes, kale (Farmer's Market)
chanterelles (Oregon grown, New Seasons)
a good helping of leftover mashed potatoes (yellow fins - Farmer's Market)
the last of the leftover turkey white meat
a cup of rice
white wine (a sauvignon blanc, but I can't remember where it was from)

Of course, being a good Irish Catholic girl, my guess would be that the mashed potatoes were the magic ingredient to make this one so much better. What can't be improved with a little helping of mashed potatoes?!