Thursday, October 3, 2013

On the Cusp

Temperatures are teetering on the edge of winter, and will take the plunge tonight. The promise/threat of a hard freeze and snow meant a quick garden harvest. With a looming deadline I haven't had time to can or pickle this fall, but the freezer is groaning with beans, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, chard, ratatouille, roasted poblanos, and corn on the cob. Of course, I always have a deadline "looming" but this was moved up two months from my original schedule so ... life's busy.


Carrots, parsnips, and leeks will sweeten and crisp with the cold, so I left them in the ground. In came all the tomatoes -- red, green and in between. They are stacked in bowls, on plates, and piled on the window seat to ripen.


Rosemary, thyme, flat-leaf parsley and sage hang in bundles to dry in the kitchen. The last of the basil -- both green and purple -- went into the food processor for a quick chop before freezing into cubes.


Same with the curly parsley. It's nice to add the fresh taste of garden herbs to a soup or sauce in the middle of winter. Right now a chicken is slow-roasting in the oven on a bed of onions, garlic, sprigs of thyme and a splash of juniper mead. Smells kind of amazing...


A single plant gave me twenty-two(!) spaghetti squash and another ten butternut squash. Crazy. I gave some away, and the others are piled in the cool basement pantry, with a few slightly green ones still ripening on the kitchen counter. I don't know how successful that will be, but I read somewhere that you can use green squash in pie. Supposed to taste kind of like apple pie, so I might try it.


The coleus in the shade garden by the back porch is gorgeous but huge. Rather than try and transplant them I took a few cuttings and called it good.


Back to the business of writing a book now...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Travel Food: Pressed Sammie


Lots of coming and going this time of year, and I thought I'd share one of my favorite travel foods. I just made this one to take camping (well, yurting, really) with some of my extended family who live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We'll be largely cooking and eating outside, which somehow makes food taste better no matter what.

For the first lunch I made a pressed picnic sandwich. I love these things because they have what I think is the proper bread to filling ratio (meaning at least as much filling as bread, if not more). Plus they are extremely portable, taste even better if made ahead of time, and the combinations are endless.


This one is made on ciabatta bread, sliced lengthwise and then part of the interior scooped out of the top. It's a thin bread to start with. If I were using Italian bread I'd scoop out more of the crumb. 

Then you have to slather on something gooey. Today I used chive and onion cream cheese, but I've used basil mayonnaise, guacamole, pesto, mustard -- you get the idea. Just as long as it's not wet, just gooey. Butter would be classic. 

Next come the fillings. I started with a layer of chopped (and drained) sundried tomatoes, then a layer of overlapped salami slices, followed by colby jack cheese (between the meat layers so the veg wouldn't make it soggy overnight) then peppered turkey, a bit of leftover pepperoni from pizza makings and finally the veg: marinated roasted red peppers, black olives, and a bit of cucumber from the garden. I only used the outside of the cucumber because the seedy inside was quite wet. An alternative would have been to wilt the slices with salt for a while, but I didn't have time or inclination. You can see how I began piling more filling in the center to fill the slightly scooped out top of the ciabatta loaf.

Pop on the top, press firmly, trim anything sticking out the sides, slice into two or three inch pieces for serving, then wrap the whole shebang quite tightly in plastic wrap to sit in the fridge overnight. 


Tomorrow I'll toss this in the cooler and we'll unpack it for lunch with slices of watermelon and who knows what else. Believe me, we three will not starve over the next few days.

And after that? K and I might go boating next week -- which this sandwich would be perfect for. And then a day long road trip -- another sandwich opportunity.

Of course you can put any classic flavor combination in here. Mayonnaise based salads like tuna or chicken don't work that well. Lettuce tends to wilt so I don't use it, and fresh tomatoes make the bread soggy. Imagine a vegetarian version with layers of grilled eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, peppers and onions with goat cheese between bread slathered with thick greek yogurt mixed with cumin, black pepper, a little salt, and fresh herbs. A vegan version might incorporate sliced baked tofu instead of meat or cheese. 

Good heavens. After writing this I'm ready to go make another one. But instead I'll pack the rest of my gear for an early start and get back to working on the fourth Bailey Cates Magical Bakery Mystery. No work, no play!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Last Farmers Market – Sort of

This morning I went to the last summer farmers market to stock up on winter goodies. There was a feeling of finality – fewer booths and fewer vegetables on offer. However, this is always the best time to pick up winter squash and pumpkins at a discount, and I had to make two trips back to the car.

My haul included a loaf of red onion-dill bread, a pound of crimini mushrooms, two white onions and two red ones, a big bunch of carrots, half a dozen crisp Granny Smith apples, two spaghetti squash, two butternut squash, a couple heads of garlic, a pound of fingerling potatoes, and seven assorted pumpkin-type squash.

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These last were not of the Jack-o-lantern variety – those are a particular kind of squash that grow large and are great for carving, but not so great for eating. So don’t even try cooking those homogenous big guys found in the bins outside your local megamart – the resulting puree will be dull and watery at best.

For eating you want sugar pumpkins, also known as pie pumpkins. They are smaller and sweeter, with a denser flesh. I bought three of those and three reddish “Rough vif D’Entampes”, also known as Cinderella pumpkin (because the resemble the pumpkin her fairy godmother turned into coach). This is also the variety that the pilgrims are said to have served at the first Thanksgiving, and they’re suitable for pies or any other winter squash recipe. Often you see them much larger than the ones above, which are only about ten inches in diameter. Of course I only paid 50 cents apiece.

Lastly, I got a small Kakai pumpkin. Isn’t it pretty, all orange with those dark green ribs? The man who grew these varieties (and more) told me the flesh of the Kakai isn’t great, and they are hard to peel since the shell is so hard. But get this: the seeds are hull-less! So once we’re done appreciating its beauty, I’ll crack it open, take out the seeds, soak them in brine and then roast them to salty, crunchy goodness.

Yum.

Tonight we’ll have butternut squash soup made with leeks from the garden, bacon from our pork side, cream that was delivered to the front door, and homemade chicken stock. With that I’ll serve slabs of red onion-dill bread slathered with homemade butter and a simple salad of lettuce from the aquaponics place down the road along with arugula, tomatoes and carrots from the garden.

Yep, still managing to eat a few fresh things from the garden, despite snow yesterday. But soon that will be a thing of the past.

However, today was only the final summer farmers market, and in two weeks the winter market begins with many of the same vendors and a slew of new ones. Last year’s winter markets were so packed and so popular that they’ve added several more to the calendar. Yet another way to feel lucky and rich.

If you’re interested in more information about all those funky looking squash on offer this time of year, check out this site.

Now back to writing for me. The deadline for the third in the Magical Bakery Mysteries I write as Bailey Cates approaches, and beyond that another deadline for a book I’ll tell you more about in another post.

Hint: It’s not for either of my existing series…

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Invisible Women by Kathleen Ernst

Lightkeepers cover reduced

Please welcome Kathleen Ernst to Hearth Cricket! Kathleen is a fellow Midnight Ink author who writes the Historic Sites Mystery Series (as well as several American Girl books). Like me, she has a fascination with history and colonial skills. Unlike me, she has actually worked at an outdoor living history museum. The third mystery in her series, The Light Keeper’s Legacy,  just released this month in both trade paperback and ebook formats. I’ve already downloaded my Kindle copy and can’t wait to start it. And now:

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Invisible Women
by Kathleen Ernst

Anonymous was a woman, they say.  Anyone who loves history—or who has waded into the murky waters of genealogical research—knows that it can be much more difficult to learn about historical women than men.  Men are noted by full name on legal papers and in local histories.   The string of male surnames on a family tree are easier to track than the women of different birth names grafted onto the records by marriage.

During the decade I spent working as a curator at a large historic site, I worked hard to keep women’s stories an equal part of the research and interpretation.  It’s important that our children understand that all women, not just a prominent few, led interesting lives.

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my Historic Sites mystery series, is also drawn to stories of unrecognized, even unknown women from the past.  In the third installment,  The Light Keeper’s Legacy, Chloe is charged with researching and writing a furnishings plan for Pottawatomie Lighthouse.  This magnificent (and real) structure dates back to 1858, and sits within Wisconsin’s Rock Island State Park in Lake Michigan.

When Chloe arrives, she meets Herb Whitby, a volunteer who had taken a lead role in restoring the lighthouse.  It’s immediately apparent that the two are approaching the project quite differently:

“With any luck we’ll find primary source material from some of the women and children who lived here,” Chloe added. “Sometimes the best clues about furnishings turn up in diaries and letters written by the people who had to clean the pieces.”

Herb straightened his shoulders.  “I assure you, the light keepers themselves did a great deal of upkeep on a regular basis.”  He sounded peeved.

And later:

“I know this structure was built in 1858,” Chloe said, as they climbed the stairs to the second story.  “There were some fishing families on the island at that time, right?  I wonder if we could find some written description of the lighthouse from someone in the fishing village.  A letter, maybe.”

“Observations from some barely-literate fisherman would hardly be relevant to this project,” Herb said.  He pointed to a narrow room, facing north.  “This was the assistant keeper’s bedroom.”
OK, Herb, I get it, Chloe thought.  No more references to women, children, or fisherfolk.  The Native Americans who fished these waters were presumably off-limit in his mind, too.

KAE SCM lighthouse

Chloe, of course, continues to delve into the lives of the women who’d once lived on Rock Island.  She becomes particularly fascinated with Emily Betts, who once served as Assistant Keeper at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, and Ragna Anderson, a Danish immigrant who had lived in the fishing village.  She soon discovers that an old tragedy involving the two women might have ramifications in a contemporary murder investigation.

Emily Betts was a real woman who served as Assistant Keeper and was much admired in the community.  I have not yet found any written records, photographs, or artifacts from women who lived in the fishing village, so I created the fictional Ragna Anderson to represent them.

I sometimes miss my old curator days.  But as an author, I now have the fun of featuring real historic sites and museums in the Chloe Ellefson books.  Each mystery reflects and celebrates the contributions of women both real and imagined.  And each, I hope, shines a little candlelight on everyday, invisible women who paved the way for their daughters and granddaughters. 

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I’m grateful to Cricket for allowing me to be a guest on her blog.  And I’m grateful to readers!  I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you.  Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a drawing; the winner may choose any of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries:  Old World Murder, The Heirloom Murders, or The Light Keeper’s Legacy.  For more information see my website, http://kathleenernst.com, or my blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com

KAE in tower CU The Light Keeper’s Legacy is Kathleen Ernst’s twenty-fourth published book.  In addition to the Chloe Ellefson series, she has written many books for American Girl, including the six-book series about the newest historical character, Caroline Abbott.  Several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards.  Kathleen and her husband Scott volunteer as live-in docents for a week each summer at Pottawatomie Lighthouse.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Harvest Moon

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Last Saturday hosted the harvest moon, or the full moon closest to the autumn equinox. Since farmers traditionally harvested the last of their crops by the light of the harvest moon it seemed like a good idea to emulate them by bringing in all I could yesterday afternoon.

This year spring came early and winter doesn’t seem to be in any hurry. Sometimes by now I’m cleaning up the blackened dregs of all but the hardiest vegetable plants. Yet there’s been no frost in the forecast, and while the nights get chilly enough for a fire on the grate, we still sleep with the windows wide open.

But the vegetable gardens are weary. I can tell. Yellowing tomato leaves, drooping bush beans, a smattering of powdery mildew on the single zucchini plant all broadcast an air of approaching senescence that mirrors the fruit-heavy serviceberries and cottonwood leaves fading from green to amber above.

There were two red cabbages severely threatened by aphids so I grabbed them and ditched the plants – along with one of the broccoli plants also affected. The other broccoli stalks are happy with the cool and continue to offer ancillary florets, so I let them be. The big bean pole is decorated with lots of fat purple and rattlesnake pods lumpy with ripening seeds. They’re heirlooms, so I’m set for bean seeds for next year. I pulled up the spent yellow wax bean bushes, though, along with the edamame and now-tough, three-foot basil.

Though there were plenty of tomatoes on the six plants in the kitchen potager, none had turned red since we got back from the river trip two weeks ago. (Ah – the river trip. Have been gathering my thoughts about how to blog about that.) So I picked all the fruit and dug up the plants.

There were a lot of green tomatoes.

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A lot. I bet we’ll still be eating them in December.

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Red tomatoes there in the big white bowl below – more green ones beneath them – two fresh quarts of honey from our friends Sherri and Tim’s hives, two tiers of peppers, eggplants, cabbage, garlic, spaghetti squash, and a few rogue apples from the neighbor’s tree, a puppy-pile of zucchini (the largest is two feet long, I kid you not) and jars of dried sage, rosemary and parsley. More parsley hangs, drying, above.

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Remaining in the gardens are beets, chard, parsnips, a sprinkling of carrots, broccoli, arugula, and a small plot of underdeveloped bunching onions and leeks. Though I haven’t canned much this year, the big freezer is chock full of garden produce, chicken and pork.

The larder is stocked, and I feel rich.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Signs of Autumn

A rumpled gray sky shadows me on my morning walk, and clear rain-washed air fills my lungs. Each day the changes become more apparent: Winter is coming.

For now, however, I’ll revel in fall. A slight breeze wraps around my moving limbs. The thermometer on the back porch reads 58 F and a couple light layers along with a brisk walk keeps me warm but not too warm. The smell of black coffee drifts up from my blue insulated cup.

almost turning

This is how I’ve come to start my day. Mind blank, rote routine of feeding cats, brewing coffee, brushing teeth, washing face, getting dressed – then out to soak up some world. Sometimes it’s my neighborhood, sometimes a wander on the nearby bike path through open field or along the running river.

As I go, words begin to swirl in my head. They gather into rough structures – character thoughts, scene ideas, general notions of what I want to address on the page later – notions I left the page with the day before. But for the first couple miles of the walk I keep pulling my attention back to here. To now.

grapes concord To pumpkins and scarecrows inhabiting front porches though it’s still September. To the echinacea and rudbeckia fading away to become “winter interest” in another couple months. To the leaves turning on locust trees, Virginia creeper, the grass called Northern Lights, burning bushes, and the occasion grape leaf. Most other trees only hint at the blizzard of yellow soon to blanket lawns and gather along curbs. Shiny crabapples above are echoed by orange rose hips below. Mums hunch in tidy domes rich with jewel-toned color, happy with the snap in the air, and the stubborn Russian sage and sunset hyssop are still going strong.

apples A hint of smoke from an overnight fire reaches my nose. Piles of cut firewood grow daily beside houses. Vs of Canada geese honk overhead. A dozen fat squirrels congregate beneath a horse chestnut tree, busily munching. A young boy walks a leashed Nubian goat on the other side of the street, and we wave to each other. A familiar gray cat runs out, purring, to twine in my feet, begging me to stop and scritch under its chin.

Laughing, I do. I am well trained in this regard.

The second half of the walk either covers territory I’ve already been over or takes me through a kind of Stepford neighborhood with seemingly identical houses, precisely cut lawns, and predictable landscaping. Other than the vista of the foothills nudging the clouds on the western horizon, my interest fades from my surroundings and begins to tend to all those words that have been gathering beneath my conscious notice.

I arrive back home with a clear focus on how to start the day’s writing and where to go from there. It’s a very good way to start the morning.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Welcome Terri Austin! (And Her Recipe for Peach Butter)

Terri lives in Missouri with her funny, handsome husband and a high maintenance peekapoo. She’s also the author of the Rose Strickland Mystery series. Kirkus Reviews has some very nice things to say about the first in the series, Diners, Dives and Dead Ends.

“Austin’s debut kicks off her planned series by introducing a quirky, feisty heroine and a great supporting cast of characters and putting them through a number of interesting twists.”

Sounds like a fun read! Read on for more details about the book…and that promised recipe. You could win a copy of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends, too.

Welcome Terri!

DINERS cover only

As a struggling waitress and part-time college student, Rose Strickland’s life is stalled in the slow lane. But when her close friend, Axton, disappears, Rose suddenly finds herself serving up more than hot coffee and flapjacks. Now she’s hashing it out with sexy bad guys and scrambling to find clues in a race to save Axton before his time runs out.

With her anime-loving bestie, her septuagenarian boss, and pair of IT wise men along for the ride, Rose discovers political corruption, illegal gambling, and shady corporations. She’s gone from zero to sixty and quickly learns when you’re speeding down the fast lane, it’s easy to crash and burn.

Warning: This traditional mystery contains quirky humor, off-the-wall characters, and a dash of spicy language. Be prepared for a fun read.
You can buy a copy of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends at Amazon or Barnes&Noble. And you can find me at TerriLAustin.com, Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Want to win a copy of Diners, Dives and Dead Ends? Sure you do! Leave a comment on this post with your email address and at the end of my blog tour on August 30th, I’ll enter you to win one of three copies. Continental US only.

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It’s peach season here in Missouri, so I thought I’d share one of my family’s favorite recipes—

Peach Butter

Ingredients:

3 lbs. of ripe peaches (I use frozen when peaches are out of season.  If you do use frozen, thaw them out first)
2 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
½ t. salt
2 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. cinnamon
¼ t. nutmeg
2 T. butter

Peaches1Place sliced peaches in a heavy bottom pan with about a cup of water.  Cook slowly, letting the peaches soften.  Once tender, let cool and puree in blender or food processor.  Return peach puree to the pan and add the rest of the ingredients, except for the butter.  Simmer gently for 30 minutes.  Stir often so the peach butter won’t scorch on the bottom of the pan.  Turn off the heat and stir in butter.

See?  Easy!  Should last in the fridge for up to a week—around my family, it never lasts that long.  Spread on baked chicken, biscuits, or add ½ cup to your pancake batter.  Also good in oatmeal. 

*****

Thanks, Terri! So glad you stopped by the Hearth . The peach butter looks delish. Guess what I’ll be doing with the next batch of peaches from the farmers market? And what book I’ll be adding to my next book order?