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Archive for the ‘Fruits’ Category

The other night Robert asked me to imagine a scenario where we would be stranded at our house, like in a snow storm or some other kind of natural disaster. We wouldn’t be able to get out even to walk to the store or anything, but we would still have power. His question was, how long could we last? How much food do we have around here? How well could we eat? I have to admit that I really like thinking about this. I like to think of how I could best use the food I have, what I would run out of first, and how I could still make tasty and interesting meals without going to the store. Here is what would happen at my house.

If we had power to keep the refrigerator and freezer working we would be in good shape for quite a while. We have meat enough to support us for many weeks thanks to buying part of a grass fed cow last winter and the fact that I can’t pass up a sale on pork roast or whole chickens. So we are good there.

Vegetables would get to be a problem pretty quick. I don’t tend to keep many frozen vegetables on hand, maybe a couple packages of frozen peas or corn. I have all those artichokes that I roasted and froze, they would be a treat. I would run out of onions and garlic pretty quick and that would make it hard to cook a good meal. At the moment I have a lot of canned tomatoes, but after a week or so that would be the only vegetable matter we would have.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of starches and grains on hand, but after looking a little bit I discovered that I have more than I thought. I have full jars of rice and polenta, at least five packages of pasta, and lots of flour, though most of it is white and not whole wheat. I’ve also got a little of this and that, quinoa, cornmeal, farro, oatmeal, etc. I could make that work.

When Robert posed this question on Sunday night I was in desperate need of a trip to Costco, mainly because our fat supply was low. I always buy my olive oil and butter there. I went a couple of days ago though and I am up to my normal levels (thank God we didn’t get stranded here before that, it would have been awful!) I now have a gallon of olive oil and two and a half pounds of butter in the house. I worry a little about the butter. It would be one of the first things I run out of. I used to keep way more butter around, I would buy it four pounds at a time and always had at least that much socked away. But I have been trying to do less baking (actually I have been trying to do less eating and it helps if I do less baking) so I haven’t been going through butter at the same rate. I also try to only buy organic butter now and it gets pricey to buy that much all at once. So if we are stranded there will be butter rationing.

Great news! Even though we don’t have a lot of vegetables, we won’t get scurvy! You know that I’m a berry glutton, right? I have 17 gallon bags of frozen berries that I picked or bought over the summer. That stockpile is my pride and joy. That and the jam I made. Wow, do we ever have jam! I’m going to digress for a moment here to tell you about it. On my pantry shelf I have over 70 jars that I made this year. Most of those are little half cup jars, but still I have over three gallons all together. I made seven kinds this year, peach, strawberry, bing cherry, rainier cherry, golden raspberry, gooseberry, and dewberry. I also made pear butter and two kinds of conserves (apricot and Italian plum). I don’t even eat that much jam, but I love to make it and give it away at Christmas. Robert has learned that even though we have 70 jars he had better think long and hard before opening one.  I like to save the special jam, and what jam is special depends on a number of things, how many jars we have, how long it took me to pick or deal with the fruit, how much I like the jam, how many scratches or other injuries I sustained in the jam making process… It is a big decision for him, one not to be made without major consideration. OK, now back to surviving the disaster.

Sugar. I wouldn’t have bought the ten pound bag at Costco the other day if I hadn’t been thinking about this. But I realized that I only had a couple of pounds and if we are going to be stranded here we are going to need sugar! The brown sugar is a little low too, but we can get by with white.

If we could make it to the chicken house then we could get eggs, but if this disaster is so bad that we are stuck here for weeks the chickens might not be laying very well. I better not count on having many eggs.

Hmmm. I just started to think about things like salt, baking powder and spices. Interesting. The baking powder wouldn’t last all that long, but neither would the butter, so I might not need it. I have sour dough starter that I could use to leaven bread. I should buy salt before it gets too low. I’m good on spices.

I don’t have the most exciting selection of cheese on hand right now, but it could be worse. I have a bunch of shredded mozzarella in the freezer, a big log of cheddar, some Parmesan, and a little hunk of Point Reyes blue cheese. Also quite a bit of ricotta. I can work with that.

As far as drinks go, we have quite a bit of tea. Since we would run out of milk in a few days we wouldn’t be drinking nearly as much black tea, and we have lots of herb tea. Lola could drink Emergen-C, we have some of that. We would have to ration the wine, along with the butter. We have maybe fifteen bottles or so, but if we are going to be stuck here wine will be important. Maybe I should stock up.

So, in conclusion, here at our house the disaster would look like this: Lots of tomatoey beef dishes. Pot roast. Lasagna. Chicken and rice. Pasta with roasted artichokes. Pork roast with cheesey polenta. White bread with jam but no butter. Frozen berries. Tea with no milk. Berry crisps and cobblers. Homemade ravioli. Not enough wine. My guess is that we could go for a month or so before things got really dismal. Maybe longer.

If you made it all the way through this post you deserve an award. I am realizing that probably not many people out there are very interested in what food stores I have at my house. My fascination with surviving without help from the outside world probably comes partly from the connection to Little House on the Prairie that I wrote about a while ago. And a fear of being hungry. If you were able to stay interested through this long post (without even any pictures) then you must be as food obsessed as I am. So what about you?

What will you be eating when disaster (but not power outage) strikes?

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Our local green figs are ripening on trees around the island. I don’t know what kind they are, but they are big and bright green with red flesh. Robert has been bringing me the occasional handful of figs when he comes home from work, ones that he has picked off this tree or that during the course of his day. Getting figs for a gift is so much better than getting flowers. I mean, flowers are great, and sometimes the most appropriate thing, but really, wouldn’t you rather have a fig? I would. Robert is no dummy, and he has realized that figs he can find to pick are not only a free gift, but one that I might cook up and share with him. Pretty slick. Luckily he has a good eye for fig trees that aren’t being fully appreciated so I think I will be well stocked for the next couple of weeks.

Green figs

Green figs

This afternoon my grandma brought me some figs, and I had a few on my counter that needed to get used up so we had our first real fig feast of the season. I hadn’t planned on having figs for dinner so my meal wasn’t very well thought out, but we enjoyed it anyway. I had the grill going to cook some salmon so I halved the figs and threw them on too. I didn’t even put anything on them and they cooked beautifully. All that natural sugar makes for really nice browning.

Grilled figs

Grilled figs

The juice that came out of the figs after they were cooked was so syrupy. I couldn’t believe how much sticky, tasty, pink goo came out of them. I put them on a salad of mixed greens with some goat cheese and toasted pecans. I tossed the greens with lemon juice, hazelnut oil and salt and pepper before putting all the goodies on top but if I had not been in a rush to get dinner on the table I think a balsamic vinaigrette made with really good balsamic and a little bit of shallot would’ve been nice.

Anyway, this is my salad:

Grilled fig salad with goat cheese and toasted pecans

Grilled fig salad with goat cheese and toasted pecans

I read a recipe in the ‘Chez Panisse Fruit‘ cookbook for a salad topped with seared quail and roasted fig dressing. I need to try something like that before the fig season is over – I LOVE quail, and figs, and I’m sure it’s a divine combination. I’ll keep you posted.

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One of the great crimes against humanity, along with slavery, genocide and religious persecution is the proliferation of bad pie crust. A warning to sensitive readers: what I am about to say may be upsetting to some. There are people in this world who have never had a good pie crust. There are people who think that one of the main ingredients in pie crust is Crisco! Worse yet, there are some who buy pie crust in the refrigerated section of the grocery store! Think of what this does to their friends and family. Think of the children! It makes me want to cry.

I haven’t been doing very much inspiring cooking in the last week. We have been super busy, and the weather has been hot, hot, hot so I haven’t felt like hanging out in the kitchen. But in the last few days I have found time to make two blueberry pies. In an attempt to end the suffering caused by Pillsbury pie crust I am going to post my recipe here. I will also post the recipe I used for the blueberry filling – it turned out quite tasty.

I use almost the same recipe for pie crust that I got from my mom when I was a little girl. It is the very first recipe I ever wrote down. Judging from my handwriting I must have been about nine or ten.

My first recipe

My first recipe

Pie Crust

this “recipe” makes 1 top or bottom crust and it is easily doubled

1 1/3 c. all purpose flour

1 stick of butter (I use salted butter for my crust)

pinch of salt

1/3 c. of cold water (or more. or less.)

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut your butter into little tiny cubes, about the size of peas and toss them gently with the flour. Your butter needs to be firm at this point. If for some reason it is not, refrigerate the whole bowl until it is. Start mushing the butter between your fingers to break it up. The whole idea is to incorporate the butter into the flour while still leaving little tiny hard pieces of butter. I tend to break the butter up a bit, then go through and smash the remaining lumps between my fingers to make what I think of as “butter flakes”. When you are satisfied that your butter is mixed in, but not too well, you can add the water. Now, this is the part where people can really screw up. You don’t want to mix the dough any more than necessary after you add the water. If your dough is too dry you will have to mix it more to get it to stick together, so you want to add enough. I sometimes add too much water though, and you don’t want to do that either because you end up with a sticky mess. You have to watch what you are doing. I cannot stress this enough. If you just follow the recipe without paying attention to your dough it will not behave the way you want it to. Some flour is dryer than others, sometimes your butter is more mixed in than other times, sometimes you didn’t measure that accurately. Whatever. All those things can be overcome if you pay attention while adding the water. Make sure the water is cold, I never use ice water, but if you want to it won’t hurt anything. Pour in about half the water you think you will need, then fluff everything up very gently with a fork. Pour more water onto spots that look dry and fluff again. When things look uniformly dampened, gently press the dough together into a ball. I like to flatten mine out into a disc, wrap it up and refrigerate it for an hour or so, but I don’t when I am in a hurry and you don’t need to either. When you roll it out, especially if it was in the fridge, give it a few firm squeezes to soften it up and show it who is boss. It is important that your dough always knows that you are the boss of it, and not the other way around. Move your dough with purpose and don’t be timid! Don’t be shy with the flour either when you are rolling, you can always brush some off at the end if you need to.

Those are all my pie crust secrets. Use butter, pay attention to your dough, tell it who is boss. Now go make pie! Make pie for the whole world!

Pie crust

Pie crust

P.S. Don’t ever bake pie in an aluminum pan if you can help it. Aluminum doesn’t conduct heat well and the bottom crust never gets brown. I like glass pie pans. I also have a copper one that works well.

The blueberry pie filling that I made was adapted from a recipe in the July/August 2008 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It uses a combination of tapioca and apple pectin to thicken it and I really like the final texture. I played around with the recipe a little bit, I just can’t help myself, but the basic technique came from the magazine.

Blueberry Pie

2 pie crusts, one for the top and one for the bottom

6 c. blueberries

1 large apple, peeled and grated

juice and zest from 1 lemon

3/4 c. sugar

2 T. tapioca, ground in a food processor or mortar and pestle (you don’t need to grind it, but it helps avoid lumps in your filling)

pinch of salt

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups of berries in a saucepan and smash them with a potato masher. Cook them over medium heat until they are broken down and reduced to about 1 1/2 cups, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the grated apple in a kitchen towel and wring it dry (wring it into a glass and drink it while you cook!) Put the apple into a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients. Add the cooked berries when they are done and stir to combine.

Pie filling

Pie filling

Roll out one of your pie crusts and place it in a 9 inch pie pan. Roll out your top crust before filling so that things don’t get soggy. You can cut little wholes in your top crust like this:

Pie crust with holes

Pie crust with holes

Or do any kind of top you feel like. Lattice is nice on a pie like this too.

Pie with lattice crust

Pie with lattice crust

Fill your bottom crust, moisten the edge with water, and carefully put your top crust over the whole thing. Trim off the edges of the dough leaving about an inch. Roll up the edges and crimp them. I like to sprinkle the top of the pie with cinnamon sugar before it goes in the oven but that is optional.

Polka dot pie

Polka dot pie

Bake the pie on the bottom rack of your oven. This is very important, the bottom rack. I baked mine for about 45 minutes in the 400 degree oven, but if you find that your pie is browning too much you can turn the heat down to 350. It may take a little longer. the pie is done when it bubbles in the center. Cool on a rack for at least four hours if you want it to slice neatly. Otherwise, just dive right in.

Blueberry Pie

Blueberry Pie


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So, Saturday morning I raced out of the house with my hair a mess and wearing clothes I pulled out the dirty laundry. I was on my way to the strawberry stand, and nothing was going to stop me. I had been told that there would be ten half flats for sale at 9:00 am, the last of the season. I took Lola with me so I would remember that I had to behave myself and not cut in line, start fights, or cry if I didn’t get my berries. We arrived 15 minutes early, and we were the fourth people in line. Things were looking good. Everyone else was waiting in their cars, reading the paper or drinking coffee, but Lola and I got out and paced in front of the gate (they have to have a gate or things would get ugly). By the time they opened there were at least 12 people there wanting to buy berries. Everyone was friendly and joking around, except one woman who declared that she had been there since 8:30 and she WAS going to get berries…or else (okay, she didn’t actually say “or else” but it was implied). I knew how she felt. I might have said the same thing if I didn’t have to set a good example for my daughter.

You have to understand. These are not strawberries. They are Bainbridge Island strawberries. The best berries in the world. I would never consider going away between mid June and early July because I would miss them. I think they might be my very favorite thing to eat, and that is really saying something. The first time Lola and I went to the stand this year I was practically shaking with excitement. Lola asked, “If we get berries are you going to scream when you taste one like you did last year?” The answer, of course, was “Yes Lola, that is what I do when I eat these berries.” The one small farm that still grows strawberries on the island is Bainbridge Island Farms. They grow two varieties, Rainiers and Shucksons (sp?). The Rainiers are good, but the Shucksons are the ones that I fantasize about. They are tender, so tender that they fall apart on your tongue. They are so fragile that they really should be eaten within 12 hours of being picked. This is not usually a problem. One tiny berry has all the flavor of a whole carton of those California strawberry wannabes. But even more. And the flavor is so different. So sweet, so tart, so floral. I really do think that they posses some kind of magic qualities. At least for me they have the power to change my whole perspective. The power to take me to another time and place. The power to make me scream. We always start eating them before we even get into the car. They are dusty and gritty, but it makes no difference. In fact it kind of enhances them in a way. They taste like the farm, like the sun, like the earth.

About 9:03 I had in hand two of the last boxes of strawberries of 2009, one for me and one for my neighbor. I’m not proud to say it, but I ate some of her berries on the way home. Then I felt guilty and put some of mine into her box. Then I ate some of hers on the walk to her house. That is the kind of berry glutton I am. I cannot control myself. I came home and ate three pints that morning. My tongue is sore from all the strawberry eating I’ve done over the last two weeks, and I have had an ongoing stomach ache that may possibly be related. But I am proud of the fact that this year I ate enough strawberries to make me sick. I was stocking up until next year. This is the Power of the Strawberry.

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