Not Knitting

I like my dining room table.  And I absolutely adore my teapot.  But alas, the two of them don’t quite get along.  When I set the hot teapot on the table (something that happens about once a day if all is right with the world), it has a tendency to leave white marks on the table.  Now I’ve discovered that these marks come right out if I rub them with a walnut (no idea why, but seems to be true).  But that’s a bit tedious if you do it too often.  And of course I could just set a potholder or a folded up paper towel down first.  But that’s also unreasonably irritating.

So I’ve decided to devise a more suitable solution.  I have a closet full of woolly things, and woolly things are good at managing heat.  This should be fun.

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More Provisions

And, lest you think yesterday’s herb salts were the only things we made ahead and packed along with us, allow me to remind you of the hot chocolate paste.

DSC_2358As with the herb salts, this was all explained last year.  This hot chocolate paste has become such a staple part of our pantry that I didn’t want to be without it, even on a trip (why yes, I did also pack a teapot and several kinds of loose tea, why do you ask).  If you missed it last year, you really should give it a shot, it’s awfully good stuff to have on hand.  This time I put a layer of nutmeg and another of ancho on top (because packing along a nutmeg grater would just be one step too far, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere).

 

Provisions

Yes, we are off on our annual fall excursion.  And yes, I will doubtless be detailing it all at alarming length over the next few weeks.  But before we left, we had the traditional herb massacre and making of herb salts.

saltI wrote all about making herb salts last year (here and here).  We followed much the same procedure this year.  Just for my own records, we used three bowls full of herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and marjoram), 4.5 pounds of coarse salt, and four full heads of garlic, and the results look to be just as delicious of last time.  If you’ve got a few herb plants that won’t make it through the winter, this is a perfect way to enjoy them all year round.  Oh, and on the off chance herb salts don’t use up all of your herbs (or if your mint plant went as bonkers as ours did), you can also make herb syrups for use in all manner of delicious drinks.

Basil Brown Sugar Iced Tea

Our yard got off to a slow start this year.  Normally by this point, I’d have giant handfuls of herbs to throw in anything I felt like cooking.  This year, we’re still a few weeks away from that.  But just to be contrary, my basil plants are starting to flower.  Now, you don’t want to let them do that.  You need to pick those flowers off (so the plant will keep making the tasty leaves).  But I can’t bring myself to throw them away.  And so, Basil Brown Sugar Iced Tea was born. Three ingredients (I suppose four if you count water), five minutes, damn tasty.  You should have some too.

Step 1) Put the kettle on.

basil brown sugar iced tea 1Step 2) Gather your supplies.  I use about a half a cup of sugar, about a quarter cup of loose tea (I like this one, but you should use your favorite…and yes you can use several tea bags as long as you promise not to tell me about it), and whatever basil flowers (other herbs work too) you need to find a use for.  This is about a tablespoon of herb flowers, the product of three small plants.  Later in the season I’ll get this much off one plant in one day, but we’re early yet.   All these amounts can be adjusted to taste.

basil brown sugar iced tea 2Step 3) Put all your herbs and a big pinch of the brown sugar in the mortar and pestle and grind it up for about 30 seconds.  Really mash it up hard, you want to break the basil down as much as you can.  It will smell divine, try not to eat it all.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a bowl and the back of a spoon, but it’s harder.

basil brown sugar iced tea 3Step 4) Dump it in a pitcher, pour boiling water over it, and wait (this is where I caution you to be reasonable about pouring hot water on glass…use a pitcher you trust).  Let it sit (sunshine optional but preferred) till it’s cool.  I put cheese cloth over it to discourage visitors (seeds…bugs…either is distasteful).  Now to be honest, normally that cheese cloth is held on with a rubber band stolen off a bunch of celery.  But I couldn’t find a rubber band and I had ribbon sitting by the back door, so I used it for this.

You can pour right through the cheese cloth (to catch the tea leaves and flower bits).  This makes strong tea, so I pour it over a giant glass of ice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to retire to my back patio and read while I wait for this to be ready.  It’s been a rather busy (if exciting) week, and I think I deserve a little break!

Ginger, three ways

Continuing in my ongoing series of things to put in jars, let’s talk about ginger.  I adore ginger and put it in lots of things.  Breakfast, dinner, dessert, all can benefit from a bit of delicious ginger.  The only thing I don’t tend to care for is store-bought ginger ale.  It’s insipid.  I prefer to make my own.

It’s ridiculously easy, and in the process, I get crystallized ginger and ginger sugar as a bonus.  I did it last week, and I figured I should show you how it’s done. ginger 11) Get some ginger.  The fresher the better (my grocery store seems to get theirs delivered every other Tuesday, it’s worth asking when yours does).  How much is up to you, this is the three biggest pieces the store had. ginger 22) Peel it.  Don’t be super precise (I’m not, clearly).  And if your ginger is super fresh and young (mine wasn’t) and has nice soft skin, you can just leave it on.  Save the peels, you’ll use them here shortly.

ginger 33) Chop it.  How small is up to you, I do it pretty roughly because I like my chunks of crystallized ginger about this size.  While you’re at it, wrap the peel up in some cheesecloth and tie it up tight.  If you’re feeling experimental toss a few cloves, or some peppercorns, or some allspice berries, or a cinnamon stick in that cheese cloth too.  Totally optional, but yummy if you’ve got them handy.

4) Boil it.  Use a measuring cup to scoop your chopped ginger into a nice big pan.  Get a rough idea of how much ginger you’ve got (not counting the peels).  Again, you don’t have to be super precise.  This is about 3 cups here.  Add that same amount of sugar and the same amount of water to the pan (so in this case 3 cups of each).  Toss in the peels (the cheesecloth makes them easy to get back out later). Bring it all to boil.  You’ve cleverly used a large pan because it may foam up a bit.  Let it boil for about 10 minutes, put on a lid, and turn off the heat.  Let it sit for a nice long time.  An hour at least, overnight is cool if you’re not in a hurry.

ginger 45) Strain it.  Fish out the peels and toss them, they’ve given their all and are done.  Strain the syrup into mason jars (if you let it sit overnight, and are feeling paranoid, you could re-heat it to be super safe, just be careful dealing with the hot liquid).  Pop it in the fridge

6) Crystallize it. Dump the chopped ginger into an equal amount of sugar (so 3 cups again) and stir it around to coat all the ginger in sugar.  Let it sit for a day or on a tray so the ginger dries out and gets all crunchy (if it’s humid, consider using a tray that can go in the oven on low for 30 minutes at the end to make the next bit easier).  Then sift the mix out (I use a colander) to separate the sugar and the ginger chunks.  Keep those in the pantry.

6) Use it.  An ounce or so of the syrup in club soda makes the best ginger ale ever.  The crystallized ginger, well, that’s more or less candy.  Or you can cook with it if you insist.  These scones are awfully good.  And the sugar works marvelously well any place you’d use sugar.  Put it in your tea.  Use it in that scone recipe.  Use it for molasses cookies.  Put it on cinnamon toast.  You get the idea.

Supplied

What was that? You’re concerned I don’t have enough tea?

tea cabinetI understand.  I share your concern.  That’s why we have the back up tea storage in the drawer, and the bulk tea storage (for refilling these jars) in the pantry.

I dearly dearly want to paint the inside of this cabinet bright yellow and paint the inside of the cabinet door with chalkboard paint for making grocery lists on (I actually really want to hire someone to come repaint the whole kitchen this summer, but I’m not sure if that will be feasible).  I’m just concerned that the raw wood will eat all the paint and make it a huge hassle (I think the answer is primer, but I’m not sure, and it’s making me hesitate…that and my deep laziness).  Somebody wanna come do it for me?

 

Yearly

The time has come (a bit late this year, I confess) for The Annual Preserving of the Lemons.  I won’t recap the directions (I did that last year, should you want to make your own).  I’ll just flaunt the results.

salt preserved lemonsThat’s all the meyer lemons I was able to scrounge at the store (I’ve switched to quart jars instead of pint jars this year, so that’s actually about 9 lemons per jar).  I’d like to lay down another jar or two, but that will require another trip to the other grocery store to see if they’ve got the right sort of lemons in stock, and so will have to wait a day or two.

Anybody else break down and make these?  You know you want to.  It’s about the easiest sort of preserving you could possibly imagine, and wow are they tasty.  I think I’ll be trying a few of these recipes when this batch is ready (just in case you’re wondering what the heck to do with them).

Small Things

Potatoes can be cruel.  They tempt you with their tremendous potential for creamy, roasty, buttery goodness, but far too  often they fall short of perfection.  There are so many places they can go astray – overcooked, undercooked, under seasoned, mushy, mealy – it’s heartbreak waiting to happen.  But because I love potatoes you, and want them you to be tasty happy, I’ve experimented and found an absolutely idiot-proof way to roast potatoes.

No really, this is how it should be done.  Always.  Without exception.  And, yes, I know roast potatoes sounds like the simplest thing ever (and really, they are), but I swear these come out better than any other way I’ve ever tried.  Trust me, just do it, I won’t lead you astray.

1) Gather your supplies.  You will need a small bag of potatoes, some butter (or olive oil if you prefer) and some salt (I use the herb salt I made earlier in the year).  Picking your potatoes is the only tricky part of this.  You want smallish ones (about 1-2 inches across the middle) that have the word ‘gold’ or ‘golden’ in the title.  They may say yukon gold, or honey gold, or butter gold or something similar.  All the grocery stores in my area have these in 12-18 ounce bags near the other potatoes (I get these or these, but there are lots of other kinds).  They’ve all got yellow flesh and thin skin.  It’s worth the trouble to find the right sort.  The rest of this is so easy it’s shameful, so don’t stray on this step.  This is the only place you can go wrong.

2) Set your oven to 400F.  Dump the potatoes in a microwave and oven safe dish (rinse them first if they’re dirty, but the brand I get are always super duper clean…use your good sense here).  Dab somewhere around a tablespoon to a tablespoon and a half of butter (in 3 or 4 chunks) or olive oil on top of the potatoes.  Sprinkle some salt on top.  If you’re using a coarse salt, you want just shy of a tablespoon.  If you’re using a finer salt, use less, as little as a teaspoon if you’re using table salt.  It should look rather like this.

_DSC90853) Stick them in your microwave.  On my microwave, I hit the ‘potato’ button 2 times.  If yours has a potato button, try that.  If not, aim for about 8 minutes and hang out and see what happens.  You want the potatoes to more or less completely cook.  In fact, the moment you hear the first potato pop, they’re done.  The skins will get shiny and a bit wrinkly.  Take them out (you may need a potholder) and give them a good shake.  Make sure the (now melted) butter or olive oil and salt is coating all the potatoes.  This is what you’re going for (this is after I shook them to coat).

_DSC90904) Now stick them in the oven.  I have to leave them there 35-45 minutes (it depends on the size of the potatoes), but I have an elderly and slightly anemic oven.  If yours is more robust, I suggest checking after 35 minutes (if you’re feeling ambitious, give them a shake at this point, just to keep everyone coated in the melted fat).  Be sure to leave them in until they develop some serious color.  If in doubt, go longer.  This pan looks just perfect, but I could have left them in 10 more minutes with no harm done.

_DSC9092They’re amazing, I promise.  Easiest thing ever.  The only hard part is not burning your mouth on them as you accidentally eat the whole pan while cooking whatever else you’re making that day.  The pan in these pics?  The Boy and I ate it all within minutes of these pictures.

Do the Shuffle

Yesterday afternoon, for no apparent reason, I got a total bug up my butt.  I decided that I had…simply had to rearrange all the books in my office.  I’ve got five tall bookshelves in there.  Until yesterday, four of them had history books, and the knitting stuff was smushed into only one.  This was a hold over from when I was a history grad student and thought this knitting thing was a side gig, something I did to keep me from roaming the streets in my spare time.  Well, that’s not quite how my life is working out, and it was bugging me that my office didn’t reflect the new reality.

I’ve been going through my books over the last few months and getting rid of the ones that I only read under duress in the first place and would rather never pick up again.  This mean I had a bit of extra space on the shelves.  Yesterday it occurred to me that I might (juuuust might) be able to cram the remaining history books onto three bookcases, leaving me two bookcases to hold knitting stuff.  This would be an improvement, because it would mean I could have more bins (bins being absolutely central to how I keep various projects organized.  It would also be a giant project, because it basically meant moving every single book in the room from one wall of shelves to the other.  But once the idea was planted, it needed to be done.

_DSC8947I’m happy with the result.  I’ve got a full shelf of research reading for the next major project (hidden here by a jaunty secret sticker for the time being because I don’t want you recognizing the books and divining my nefarious plans too soon), props and tools (and a lamp, because it’s awfully dark in therewith those red red walls), piles of bins to sort out various projects in various stages of progress, books (more or less divided into pattern books, knitting reference books, stitch dictionaries, and non-knitting reference books), speakers (plus a little space beside them to pile things that need to be put away…uncharacteristically empty at the moment but soon to be filled), and some drawers (because despite my best efforts, this running a business somehow seems to generate some paperwork.  The history books (just barely) fit on the three other shelves, the non-active yarn is tucked away in the closet.

The whole room is now unnaturally tidy.  The Kitten Overlords (and my natural tendency toward sloth) will take care of that soon, but for now, I’m basking in the glow (and popping advil…moving furniture and books around is tiring).

A House Divided

The Boy and I are lucky enough to agree about all the important things in life.  We differ only on the small matters.  Small matters such as how hot chocolate ought to be prepared.  He feels it should be so dark as to be nearly bitter and so thick as to be flirting with the title of pudding.  I feel it should be delicately sweet and deliciously creamy.  He is, clearly, terribly misguided.  But I, being the clever and accommodating (and apparently terribly modest) soul that I am, have devised a perfect solution.

It’s such a perfect solution to a variety of hot chocolate problems that I feel the need to share it with you.  For you see, in addition to solving the difficulty of favoring different strengths of hot chocolate, it also solves the vexing issue of effort versus laziness.  Traditionally you can either have the slow but delicious version of cocoa (the kind that takes 2 trips to the pantry and 15 minutes of standing at the stove stirring a pot of milk so it doesn’t boil over and still usually results in a scorched pan) or the fast version of cocoa (the kind that results from dumping some sort of suspect powder into a glass of hot liquid and hoping most of the clumps of powder get dissolved).  But no longer must you suffer with this quandary.  Now you can make one batch of hot chocolate essence and then use it to quickly satisfy all your cocoa needs (at least until you run out and need to make more).  Behold, the solution.

11) Gather your materials.  I’m using 2 cups of white sugar and 2 cups of cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (plus some half and half and vanilla, not shown here).  The 1 to 1 ratio of cocoa to sugar comes out not-too-sweet, which is good for those who like it dark.  If you and everyone you drink cocoa with like it sweeter, you can try closer to 1 part cocoa, 1.5 parts sugar.  If you’re in a mixed household like ours, the sweet tooth can just add more sugar in the glass if needed.  You can also swap in brown sugar for some or all of the white sugar.  The chipotle powder is optional, but I find it to be delicious (and not at all spicy).

2 2) Dump all that in a pan with about a third of a cup of water.  Stir it up.  It will look like a grainy, nasty, unappetizing mess.  You will think you’ve done something horribly wrong.  I’m only showing you this so you know it’s normal at this point.  Don’t worry, you haven’t made a mistake.

33) Add in about a third of a cup of half and half (or cream if you’ve got it sitting around).  Turn the heat on medium, and start stirring.  You’re going to be stirring for a good five minutes to get everything to come together.  You want it to turn nice and smooth.  Let it get hot and just start to bubble (keep stirring), but don’t let it boil hard.  Stir in a teaspoon of vanilla just as you turn off the heat.  It should be about the consistency of pudding.  Be sure you’re scraping the sides and bottom of the pot to get everything incorporated and keep it from scorching.

44) Turn off the heat, let it cool enough to handle safely, and pour it into a jar.  This makes enough to fill a pint jar with enough left over to make a glass or two now (such a hardship).  Store it in the fridge.  It will get very very solid (almost like butter) when it gets cold.  It keeps for quite a while (I’ve never had a jar last more than a week or two though…good things do not linger around these parts).

55) When it’s time to have a cup of hot chocolate, heat up a glass of milk (I just cheat and do it in the microwave), scoop up a nice big spoonful of your magical concoction, and stir it into the hot milk until it dissolves.  You can adjust the ratio of milk to chocolate to suit your taste.  We’ve found we both like about a tablespoon of chocolate paste, but I like it in a big cup of milk and The Boy likes it in a tiny one.  You can taste and see if you want it sweeter, and if so add extra sugar.

If you want to experiment a bit, it’s easy to change the flavor profile by swapping out different spices (or using coffee instead of water in step two).  And if you’re not feeling the hot chocolate urge, I have it on good authority that this makes an awfully fine topping for ice cream or cookies (heat it up, drizzle it on).  If you’re feeling even more ambitious and happened to have a plate of cupcakes sitting around, you could dip them in the pot in step three and let them cool for a nice easy frosting.  Write out some instructions on a little card (do be sure to mention it should live in the fridge), tie it on the jar with a ribbon, and foist it off on anyone you feel might need more chocolate in their lives.