Tuesday, November 12, 2013

There's More than One Way to Peel a Persimmon...

...but there really is only one EFFECTIVE way.  

This is a SUPER text-heavy post. Sorry. I had better things to do yesterday than obsessively document my jam-making adventures.

I bought about 4lbs of persimmons the other day, with the vague notion of making jam over Armistice Day.  I forgot pectin, though, so on my trip back to the local granola-food store to pick up a couple boxes, I wandered over to the “used fruit” section and noticed that there were WHOLE BAGS of persimmons for like $0.80 apiece!  I couldn’t resist.  And then, of course, if you give Claire WHOLE BAGS of persimmons, she needs more sugar to mix with it, and then she needs more pectin to make it all set, and then she needs more jars to put it all in… So moral of the story, I went into the granola-food store to pick up one box of pectin.  I left with a 12-pack of half-pint canning jars, 2 boxes of pectin, and 6 more pounds of persimmons.  I didn’t bring a bag, because again, I just went to the store for one lousy box of pectin, so I ended up strapping everything onto my bike and pedalling back home.

Persimmons aren’t a fruit that grows in Kansas, so I had no idea how to make them into jam.  All of the recipes were like “Ermm… 3 pounds of fruit…2 cups of fruit..” but didn’t say if those were PREPARED cups of fruit, or just straight-up persimmons like what you’d find laying on the ground.  Not helpful.  And you can’t just cobble together a jam recipe, because if you don’t put in enough sugar, or have an unequal pectin-to-pulp ratio, it just falls apart and won’t set.  It’s real picky.  A real pain.  So in the end… I cobbled together the jam recipe.  

I also had no idea how to prepare persimmons.  You may not have ever seen one, but they look like tomatoes, but they’re orange and really firm. Like a little rock.  Or the brownies in the Bethel Caf.  Not very peel-friendly.  I looked up a couple of tutorials online, and they were like “Um duh, just peel it!”  Not helpful.  So I started cutting them into quarters and then took a paring knife and cut little shavings of peel off until I had a fully peeled persimmon.  It took like 10 minutes.  For one fruit.  I had 10 pounds of fruit.  Not realistic at all.  

I eventually settled on cutting the fruit into quarters, cutting out the core, then taking a small spoon and sliding it between the flesh and the peel.  And that worked fairly well.  Almost TOO well, in fact, because about every tenth fruit, I would get a little overzealous with the spoon, forget to hold onto the fruit, and the darn thing would ricochet off the counter and go sliding slipperily onto the floor!  And then, of course, I had to throw it away, because nothing in my house is more disgusting than our kitchen floor.  It’s like this really weird sort of hard rubber tile… I’m not really sure.  Anyway, it’s perpetually grimy, even though I spend a lot of time trying to clean it.  It. is. disgusting.  So there was some wasted effort, anyway.

After I had peeled all of those stupid persimmons (A day later, I still have a dent on my index finger from the handle of the spoon), then it was time to actually make the jam!  Ben bought me a food processor for Christmas because he wants me to make him pesto and hummus (insert “Father of the Bride” quote here - “HE BOUGHT ME A BLENDER!!!!!”).  So I decided that it’s inaugural usage would be for chopping up persimmons, and it did really well.  Unfortunately, my roommate was sleeping on the living room couch, and that thing is REALLY loud, so I was trying to be considerate and not run the roaring monster too much, so that Danny could catch some z’s.  As a result, I had to spoon out a few large chunks.  

Once I had all the persimmons chopped into a pulpy mass, I added the pectin, some lemon juice and a bit of water as per my made-up recipe, and set it on the stove to boil.  I didn’t pay enough attention, though, because it started boiling when I wasn’t paying attention, and a piece of boiling-hot persimmon hit me right under the eye!  Better than in the eye, I guess… Once it was at a rolling boil, and spewing boiling-hot persimmon chunks everywhere, I added an ENTIRE BAG of sugar (as per my made-up recipe), and let it boil again.  

Finally I was ready to spoon it into jars!  I didn’t have a canning funnel (fail), so I just sort of made due.  I didn’t spill very much jam though, just a tablespoon or two here and there.  I ended up filling two 12-packs of half-pint jars (that’s 24 half-pints or 12 pints) and I still had some left over!  So I dug out this tiny little jar that I had, and then this other pint jar… and it STILL wasn’t enough!  So I dug around in the morass of leftover containers and “Mennonite Tupperware” and managed to scrounge an old jam jar from the store.  

All in all, I had 27 half-pints of persimmon jam, give or take.  

Here is a picture of my jam wall.  

I had a little bit of the jam foam on a cracker.  Oddly, tasted pretty good!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Ditch Weed is Blooming!

Ha. Wrong Ditch Weed. The "weed" I'm referring to is the Maximilian Sunflower and it's taking over in the ditches south of Lawrence on US-59. And I love it. My drive to work is 95% more wonderful.

The father of one of my high school friends always referred to wild sunflowers as weeds and as they drove by our house on the way to church every Sunday, he'd look at our garden where my mom planted a row of sunflowers along the west end and wonder why we planted WEEEDS in our garden.

When we were little we checked a book out of the library called "Sunflower House." Here's a video of questionable quality that reads the book to you. We never could understand why Mom and Dad wouldn't let us dig up the yard like that.... Unsurprisingly, our sunflower houses were in the garden. We planted morning glories among the sunflowers and they'd twine up the stalks to add purple and blue pops of color to the vibrant yellow.  I rarely remember actually playing in the houses though... the floors were plain dirt and we didn't want to soil our clothes - not to mention, it was HOT in the middle of the summer when the houses were in full bloom.

What better way to honor this kind of beauty than to recklessly attack it with a knife? Let it be known that so-called "steak knives" can cut other things. Like tomatoes, plums, nectarines and Maximilian Sunflowers. Even if your knife specifically states "STEAK" on it, as mine does.

See. Right there, it says "STEAK" ^^

I had vaguely planned ahead for my foraging mission. I chose a lunch that would require mild preparation and thus, a knife. As I was driving to work in the morning, I scouted out sizable and accessible patches of sunflowers. I carefully rationed my water throughout the day so I would have enough in my water bottle to quench the thirst of my possibly illegally acquired flowers. Just kidding. I refilled my water bottle throughout the day.

After work I relocated a promising patch and waded in, nice flats, work clothes and all.  Every flower received a precautionary flick to ensure I would be gathering primarily flora with minimal fauna.  I emerged victorious, a water bottle full of sunflowers clutched in my grasp, flats full of plant detritus, and pants covered in beggartick seeds.  Fortunately, my pants are 110% non-natural fibers and my various hangers-on were speedily dispersed.  (Which is, I suppose, the point.)

The last few miles home were interesting. I kept a tight hold on the water bottle to keep it from obeying the laws of gravity and turning its unwieldy top end over end. I also kept one eye on the, er, romantically entangled insects I'd missed in my preliminary flick to ensure that they were still on a flower and not loose in my car.

Upon my arrival home, I dislodged the lovers but then a fit of laziness hit and after discovering that the garbage disposal drain was the perfect size to hold my bottle of flowers and keep them from upending themselves, I left them "to soak overnight."

I carefully arranged them in a quart mason jar (read: tore off lower leaves and shoved rather unceremoniously into a jar) and set them on the coffee table. After my sister got after me, I switched them to a half-gallon blue mason jar (really pops against the yellow and shows my dedication to all the things that were better in the old days - not to mention it's more stable) and set them on my handy swatch of burlap.  All the things look better on burlap or barnwood or both. (For example, if you'd just looked at my steak knife, you'd have been bored, but since my steak knife was on burlap, you probably assumed it was vintage with a long and storied history of delicious steaks.  In reality, my sister got it at a thrift store (!) and I swiped it when she left for a far-off state. And I've never cut a steak with it. Mostly tomatoes. And chicken once.)

Here's some pictures of my ditch weeds.
Blue Mason jar! Burlap! Sunflowers! And a handquilted double wedding ring backdrop!

My slightly tacky coffee table has a mirror in the top. Makes for an
interesting picture I guess.

Now I should go clean the seed remnants from my flats.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Ode to Disappearing Days

School hasn't started yet, but I'm working every day between now and then, excepting Sunday.  So as today was a day off and my last real day of summer, I took advantage of it.

At work the other evening, somehow picnics came up and one of my co-workers mentioned an excellent picnicking place called Well's Point, south of Lawrence. As it was on my way home from work, I decided to go looking for it on the drive home as another co-worker said it had a neat view of the town at night. Turns out, it's marked by a non-reflective sign set back from the road and I totally missed it in the dark. Had a nice country road drive though.

A couple hours later at approximately midnight, the idea of having a picnic there popped into my head. I didn't actively pursue the idea until slightly later while in the Thinking Stall within the Reading Room. I figured I'd just as well make good use of a free day and inexplicably decided that a breakfast picnic would really be just the thing. Never mind that by now it was at least 12:45 or 1:00am.  I gathered up all the cute things (mason jars, clementine crate, avocado-green-flowered teacup) and plotted a tasty breakfast I could make with what I had on hand.  Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to dress completely inappropriately for a situation, I also ironed a teal-to-mint ombre dress I'd finished a couple weeks ago. Somehow, all of this took until 2:15.  I checked weather.com and the sunrise was set to be at 6:39. So I set my alarm for 5:45. And, ehm, a second and third for a few minutes later.

I dredged myself out of bed at 6:00 and considered giving up the idea.  I knew I'd regret it though, so I brewed some tea, made myself presentable, packed breakfast, and tootled off.

I hit every light at red on my way out of town. Sigh. I found the park easily and was delighted to find that I could indulge my lazy early morning self and drive to the overlook (as opposed to walking as I thought I may have to) since the park opened at 6:00.

I got to the top of the tower by 6:35 and enjoyed a cup of tea while continual-shooting every second of the sunrise a la my mother.

Loose-leaf Mango tea from Clay Gourmet in Clay Center. Perfect for just
slightly chilly mornings on an overlook tower.  (Still pretty good even
without the tower.)
Lion King Sun. Looked far better in real life.

There was some serious Lion King sun going on. Bright red and moments when it was behind thin bits of cloud.... It was gorgeous. Despite a bit of foggy haziness, the overlook had a real dece ("really decent" for the uninitiated) view all around and it was worth the trip.

After the sun was full up, I settled down for a breakfast of whole wheat pita I'd made a couple days ago with butter, some DIY almond butter, and homemade strawberry jam I swiped from my parents' house, mixed fruit salad, and tea.

The spread. Mix of super-amazing deal on blueberries + homegrown
blackberries in the half-pint canning jar.  DIYed almond butter and
strawberry jam are in the other two jars.
Pita! I can't cut thirds, ok? Odd given that I grew up as one of three kids.

Color wheel fruit
Bonus Recipe!
Berry - Stone Fruit Salad
1 peach
1 plum
1/4 c. blueberries
1/4 c. blackberries

Halve peach and plum. Reserve half of each for another meal. Slice each half into 6-8 slices and dice.  Gently mix with berries. Consume.  Serves 1.
*The beauty of this recipe is its flexibility.  If you don't have cheap or foraged berries, then leave them out and have a Stone Fruit Salad. If you don't have those either, leave them out and make something else because clearly this recipe isn't going to work out for you today.

Well anyway, whoever constructed the overlook tower didn't take into account the views of anyone under 3 feet. The wall is solid wood below that height, so you may imagine my view of the area was slightly impeded.

My feet are here. Proof that I was. To the left is that ill-considered solid
wall of wood. 

 Fortunately I had brought a book along to compensate.

This book is the work of Knight Wagner, a friend of my Grandpa's who grew up not far from him in Iowa.  He lives in California now but happened to be in the area the same weekend as the family gathering in July so he showed up one day.  He and Grandpa settled in to jaw awhile and try to outdo or add to each other's stories.  You'd better believe I made a beeline for their table. Knight told my grandpa later that he was surprised I stuck around as long as I did.  Well, I've learned that if you have a couple old farmers together who are at least half with-it (and these men are all there) and willing to talk (my grandpa could and will talk to anyone and his friend appeared to be cut from the same cloth) you'd just as well settle in to be entertained. Chances are, their childhood was far more interesting than yours. They'll even give you some life lessons ou' the deal. Well, the book is a compilation of the many entertaining stories of Knight Wagner's youth and reads almost exactly like a these men talk in real life. Timelines are ignored and the book bounces through the years at random, but gracious if it isn't entertaining.

The whole spread

After finishing breakfast I decided to tromp around the park. Sadly my camera batteries decided to take that time to die.  Turns out my camera has approximately a 5 minute "low battery" warning. So no pictures. Shucks.  There was a well wood-chipped path wandering along the hill and in some areas it almost felt like being back in the timber in Iowa. Except, of course, that there was a path and the branches were trimmed.  As I was on my way to the far side of the park, I just happened to look down and there it was - MY VERY FIRST FOUR-LEAF CLOVER!  Slightly battered, yes, but oh! the excitement. It's pressing in my avocado green cookbook now.

Taken after I got home and charged my batteries.

I relaxed and read more of Knight's book for most of the day and decided to make polenta (pretty much the same as cornmeal mush) and sautéed mushrooms for supper. I thought I'd try this recipe for "fresh polenta" made from sweet corn (fresh from the freezer!) and once I'd finished, I realized I'd essentially pureed sweet corn and dumped mushrooms on it. Tasted fine, but probably not worth the work again.

Gardening update:
All the rain has helped these really take off.

I have the oddest looking cucumbers.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Backyard Blackberry Cobbler

    It's no secret that we here at “Oddly” are proud of our domesticity. The whole blog is devoted to our sewing and cooking and food-fixing abilities, for Pete's sake! That said, what is more domestic than making food for an after-church snack? Not a lot, unless it would be “making food for an after-church snack while wearing heels and an apron in the kitchen whilst simultaneously breastfeeding.” But even I'm not that much of a fanatic.
    It's also no secret that we love foraging and saving money. In that vein, here is a post about how I made blackberry cobbler from the blackberry bramble in my backyard.
I've been picking berries from the bramble for awhile now (read: fighting the resident backyard rat and winning), but didn't have time to deal with them, so I just washed them and threw them in quart bags in the freezer. The fiance was signed up to bring snacks for church, so I figured as a good, thrifty, domestic fiancee, I would do the good, thrifty, domestic fiancee thing and help him out. Enter: blackberries.
   The recipe I used, from “The Pioneer Woman,” (who, by the way, has all the recipes for all the things, and the hipsters love her), called for self-rising flour. I was like “There is no way I am buying self-rising flour for this one cobbler, that's not thrifty at all!” So I got on the Internets and looked it up and lo and behold, all you have to do is mix up some flour, baking soda and salt, and voila! So I mixed up all the things and accidentally exploded a bit of butter in the microwave because I forgot to cut it into chunks first. Oops. Apparently butter melts from the inside out when you microwave it?  I poured the batter into my pan, which I forgot to grease (hope that's not a problem...) and then loaded it up with lots and lots of blackberries, until the pan almost overflowed.
Blackberries - the more the merrier!
Then I just popped it into the oven for an hour, and it turned out great!

So now I have the fiance out buying another quart of milk because I need to make another cobbler here in a little bit. I want to have a balanced snack table.  Not nutritionally balanced, mind. There are two snack tables, so I need two cobblers, duh.    

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Birdie Dress

     Once upon a time, I found some super cute little birdie fabric in the remnant bin at the MOST AMAZING FABRIC STORE ON THE PLANET. I wanted to make a skirt with a contrasting border, so I bought some solid magenta fabric as well. Later on, I decided that I have enough skirts (enough to fill 3 5-tier skirt hangers), so I thought “Hm... I could make a dress out of this!”
Birdie print.  Atop my free Craigslisted wicker dresser!
     The dress pattern I used called for like 3 yards of fabric, but that's for noobs. It also said “simple to make!” but I didn't let that slow me down either. I was raised to never follow the directions when it came to sewing, so if it said “simple to make,” you can be darned sure we'd find a way to make it way more difficult than necessary.
"Simple to make!" screams the pattern.  Oh, just you wait.
     Keeping that in mind (and the fact that I only had a 1.5yards of birdie fabric and about half a yard of magenta), I decided to make a dress with contrasting inserts on the sides and fashion fabric down the center front and back. I just folded the pattern pieces and made sure it cut an extra 5/8” around them, for the seam allowance. Many sewing projects have been ruined because I forgot a seam allowance (not really, but it sure makes it more difficult). The pattern also called for some pretty hefty bust darts. If you know me at all, you'll know I don't have a very hefty bustline. So those had to be altered. But it's better to alter the darts than to have no darts at all – as some dame or another said - “Your clothes should be tight enough to show that you're a woman, and loose enough to show that you're a lady.” Or something to that effect.
     So after watching the extended version of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” two episodes of “Arrow,” and one episode each of “The Bachelorette” and “The Daily Show,” the dress was finished! And it doesn't look too bad! Next time I use this pattern, I think I'll take a little more in on the center front bodice (it's a little blousier than I'd prefer), but on the whole, it was a pretty successful venture, especially considering that I only had to buy an extra ¼ yard of fabric to finish off the skirt!

Also pictured - my $20 Craigslisted desk, my 3/4 size
Singer sewing machine, and my kaffiyeh bulletin board.
Also my wood floors, which make cleanup a breeze!
Oddly, looks kinda good.

Foraging and Mini Pies

(I was this close to titling the page "Phoraging on the Phamily Pharm = Phree Phood" in homage to my  pharmaceutical background where "Ph" is used as much as possible and pronunciations are made up, but then I knew I'd hate myself. Lucky you.)

Mini Pie filled with foraged berries! It all comes together! And my second-ever
lattice crust. I feel incredibly accomplished.

Free is good.  Foraging for your own free berries that cost ridiculous amounts in supermarkets or simply aren't available is way better.

Black raspberries make pretty stains.

There was a family reunion recently and my parents and I took some time to tromp around my grandparents' and late great-grandparents' farms.

The barn on my late great-grandparents' farm. It's huge.

Inside the barn. Isn't it wonderful?

The granary. It has slatted bins on each side for ear corn and a space above
for loose grain.

While in the largely defunct orchard at my great-grandparents' farm, we saw a bush loaded with gooseberries. Mom and I each picked a handful, joking that I could make a tart.

And then we saw more bushes. And some mulberry trees.  We stepped into full-on Foraging Mode. In the absence of aprons, we had to make do.  

Mulberries are very delicate and if your hands aren't purple by the time
you're done, you're not doing it right.

The barn at my grandparents'. Excellent for various pirate adventures when
we were children due to the  two separate piles of moldering hay bales with
a rope swing conveniently situated to swing between the "ship" and "land."

The granary. It has four solid-sided bins that are filled from above. An elevator
runs grain through the upper window into the upper level and the grain then
falls through 12x4" openings in the floor to the bins below.

Then we headed over to my grandparents' farm and availed ourselves of the black raspberry bushes taking over a ditch and foraged the edges of the timber surrounding the yard for more raspberries and mulberries.  When I got home, I weighed it, and we ended up with just over two pounds of fruit.

I promise they didn't come in the clamshell! That's just what we found that
we could dump our haul into.

The whole delightful haul. Post washing. Gooseberries in the foreground,
 mulberries in the left corner, white mulberries in the middle and black
raspberries in the back.

So I had to make some sort of pie. I didn't really want to make a pie that involved cooking the fruit into a mush before pouring it into the pie shell so I looked for a pie made with fresh berries. The only one I found was from an old "Farm Journal's Country Cookbook" from back when avocado green cookbooks sounded like a good idea.

I also didn't wan't to cramp my style by limiting myself to a single pie. So I made some mini pies in muffin tins! This allowed me to make various pies such as gooseberry, gooseberry-mulberry, and mulberry-black raspberry, and black raspberry. (Mulberries need something else with them, whether another berry or rhubarb is up to you. Mulberry-only pies are gross.)  I'll give the recipe verbatim, then note my changes afterward.

Empty shells, berries heaped pre-sugar-flour addition, post addition, and
butter patted, awaiting lattice or whole-crust tops.

Mulberry-Gooseberry. Gorgeous color.

I used Mom's Never-Fail Pie Crust. Except I did my best to make it fail by tweaking it just for fun.  The changes I made were to use a spice grinder to grind one cup of oatmeal into flour (to add some whole grains and maybe a different taste) and used half shortening and half butter (butter tastes better, but shortening is less expensive). And it still worked! Easy to roll out and a flaky result after baking. This is a solid recipe.

Never Fail Pie Crust
3 c. flour (I used 1/3 oat flour)
1 T sugar
1 c. shortening (I used 1/2 butter and half shortening)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vinegar
1 egg

Cut shortening (and butter, if using) into flour and sugar with pastry cutter until crumbly. Mix together salt, vinegar, and egg in liquid measure and fill to ¾ cup mark with water. Add to flour mixture. Knead slightly and divide into 3 parts. Roll and fold into quarters for transfer to pie pan. Bake at 410°F for the first 10-15 minutes, then turn down to 375°F for the remainder of the cook time (as prescribed by filling recipe).

*I rolled 1 1/2 inch balls for each muffin tin.  Makes at least 12 double-crust muffin-tin pies.
**Makes enough for 3 full-size single-crust pies and enough for at least 2 double-crust pies. Remember to cut decorative vents in the upper crust with a knife or cookie cutters, as desired.
***Dough may be refrigerated for a week or so or frozen for... awhile... if you have excess.

Gooseberry Pie
Pastry for two-crust pie
1 1/2 cups sugar (I only used 1 cup and that was sufficient)
1/2 cup flour
4 cups fresh gooseberries
2 Tablespoons butter or regular margarine

Stir sugar and flour together.
Distribute half the gooseberries in pastry-lined 9-inch pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar-flour mixture.  Top with remaining gooseberries and then with remaining sugar-flour mixture.  Dot with small pats of butter.  
Add top crust with vents cut in it; seal and flute edge. Cover edge of pie with foil to prevent over-browning. 
For a sparkly, pretty crust, lightly brush the tops with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar. This will cook into a crispy topping.
Bake in 410°F oven for 10-15 minutes, then turn down to 375°F for 25-30 minutes, until juices start to bubble through vents; remove foil last 15 minutes of baking. Cool.

*I put a half filled each pastry-lined muffin tin with berries, put a tablespoon or two of the flour-sugar mixture on the berries, filled the tins to heaping with berries, put a couple more spoonfuls of the flour-sugar mixture on and then topped it all with a few thin pats of butter.  Use a couple extra scoops of the flour-sugar mixture if your pie only has gooseberries in it. Those are more tart and could used a little help. To bake, bake at 410°F for 8 minutes, then turn down to 375°F for 12-15 minutes or until juices are bubbling and tops are golden brown. I did not need foil protectors for the mini-pies.
**This recipe also works for finely chopped peaches.  I sprinkled a few pinches of cinnamon on top of the fruit before adding the sugar.

Baked goods only count if they're displayed on parchment paper or burlap.
Or barnwood.  Well, two out of three isn't bad, and anyway, my grandpa
might have objected if I started ripping siding off his barn.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What We Wore...

....around town.

My younger sister came to visit me for the weekend recently so we fancy-pantsed ourselves up and went trekking around town.

I made this wonderful planet dress about a month ago and felt it was time to break it out again.  I bought my shoes somewhere. Not a thrift store. What a disappointment. My stylin' purse was bought three years ago on a "Tropical Biology Field Trip" to Costa Rica. My best friend hates it and would consign it to a fire if she got the chance.

.....oh crud. So turns out, the sister was behind the camera and so we didn't get any pictures of her. She wore black cut-off shorts (DIYed!!), thrifted(!) Reebok high tops and a blousy v-neck patterned top that she probably bought at the mall and paid full price for, silly girl.

So we traipsed up and down Mass Street and then went home and picked three cherry tomatoes. Maybe it was four.  Huge crop.

Sorry I forgot to strain my sternocleidomastoid for these pictures. The sister did and that's why she deleted the only picture of herself. Silly girl didn't know that's the best way to present yourself.

Photo cred to the sister.