Friday, May 28, 2010

Bettejane's Spaghetti Sauce

Today I've also posted over at Inkspot about banging the keys on my laptop until the letters wear off.

Two 3 x 5 inch recipe boxes are stacked on the shelf by my cookbooks. One belonged to my great-grandmother, Essie, and the other belonged to K's mother, Bettejane. Both have some classic recipes which I turn to on a regular basis. This is the recipe for Bettejane's spaghetti sauce, which we use for all sorts of pasta and also as pizza sauce.

Since it cooks on the stove for quite a while, I usually triple this and freeze it in meal-sized containers for quick meals later.

Bettejane's Spaghetti Sauce

  • 1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree
  • 1 (12 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1/2 puree can of water
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 2 Tablespoons fresh, chopped fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil (or 2 Tablespoons fresh, chopped fine)
  • A dash of crushed red pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 small celery ribs, sliced thin
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup powdered Romano cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons bacon drippings (see why I love this woman I've never met?)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer in a covered pan for about 2 hours. Stir frequently. All seasonings can be adjusted to taste. Dilute with water or tomato juice of desired. At the end you can add a pound of browned ground beef and 2 Tablespoons minced onion if desired.

Or, of course, you can add anything else -- meatballs, sliced olives, capers, mushrooms, more onion, etc.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to everyone!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Clothes on the Line

The summer (okay, technically still spring) sun is egging on the vegetable garden, coaxing blooms from poppies and irises and lilacs, moving dinner back to after eight-thirty, and drying clothes on the line in record time.

Yes, I'm blogging about laundry. Lovely, clean solar-dried laundry.

My protagonist, Sophie Mae and her housemate, Meghan Bly, are highly domestic. Like me, they cook, garden, bake, make soap, spin, knit, make cheese, and keep chickens. But today I realized that they always use the dryer when they do laundry. No, that fact doesn't show up very often -- only in Lye in Wait, I believe -- but as their author, I know it's true.

Might have to fix that.

Of course, it's harder to use a clothesline in the Pacific Northwest. According to google weather, it's raining all this week up where Sophie Mae and Meghan live. Even when it isn't raining, the humidity can be high enough that towels don't really dry on the line. Like, ever. In fact, you could put perfectly dry clothes out on the line and they'd become damp. Still, I made good use of a clothesline for three or four months out of the year. And a drying rack often sat in front of the banked woodstove overnight in the winter.

Not the same as sun-dried clothes, though.

Last year I invested in a five-line retractable job. It's on the back porch, and when we want to spend time out there it whips into the housing on the wall like an old-fashioned roller blind. Okay, maybe "whips" is a bit strong. But it does work, and that's worth the four months it took me to track it down.

The porch is mostly covered, which is perfect for drying laundry because it doesn't fade from the direct sunlight. The dryer is still solar powered, but the clothes last longer.

However, I'm pretty sure our home owners association frowns upon clotheslines. They have all sorts of arcane rules, most of which I'm studiously ignorant of. You can't see my clothesline from the street, though, so no one has ever complained. And I'm perfectly content not to show my "small clothes" to the neighbors. Win win all around.

Hints for using a clothesline

  • Locate line in a shady or partially shady place.
  • Hang shirts upside down to avoid funny peaks on the shoulders. Slightly folding them over and pinning on the shoulder seams also works.
  • Hang jeans upside down so the airflow will dry the waist more rapidly.
  • Smooth clothes as you hang them to avoid wrinkles.
  • Buy good quality clothespins. Check the wire for strength and, if you choose wooden ones (I do) then make sure the wood is smooth. American-made clothespins are much higher quality than those made in China. Most of the big box stores carry the latter.
  • Tumble clothes for a few minutes in the dryer after taking them off the line to avoid that rough, scratchy feeling (actually I only do this for towels).
  • Know that it takes more time. Enjoy the process of hanging up the clothes and taking them down. Think of it as a meditative workout.
  • Store your clothespins in a bag. Inspect them regularly for rust and/or mold. Both will transfer to your laundry.
  • If you are in an area where the pollen is flying at a particular time of year, avoid drying outside during that time. You'll just have to wash your clothes all over again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Contest Winner and a Book Recommendation

First off, congratulations to Clarissa Draper! She won last week's drawing for the ARC of Home Crafting Mystery #4, Something Borrowed, Something Bleu.

Thank you to everyone who entered, and look for more giveaways in the near future.

I read cookbooks for fun. My own collection is not particularly extensive, though I mull through the ones on the shelf fairly often. But I frequently check them out of the library or pick an old one up for a dollar at the flea market for kicks.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery is like a cookbook on steroids. Fun to peruse, sparking dreams of a life in the country, and inciting me to try new experiments, it's one of my favorite references ever.

This is the 10th edition; I have the 9th. The cover on mine reads:

"Practical advice, invaluable information and collected wisdom for folks and farmers in the country, city, and anywhere in between. Includes how to cultivate a garden, buy land, bake bread, raise farm animals, make sausage, can peaches, milk a goat, grow herbs, churn butter, build a chicken coop, catch a pig, cook on a wood stove, and much, much more."

So far I have yet to milk a goat or catch a pig, but I've ventured into the other activities listed. They're only the tip of the iceberg, though. This book contains information regarding everything from storing root vegetables to keeping chickens, from constructing an oil lamp to making soap, from hunting mushrooms to making cheese.

This is a pretty well known and popular book. I'd be interested to know if any of you own a copy or have used a friend's or the library's when researching a project.

If you haven't heard of it, however, and are thinking "I wonder how to make jam out of those plums," or "Is it really worth it to grow my own asparagus?" then take a look. There are copies in libraries all over the place, and the 10th edition is still in print and available at most bookstores.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad

In college I was asked to bring pasta salad to a potluck, and immediately began scouring my cookbooks for the perfect recipe. In the end, I picked some ingredients from here, other ingredients from there, until the result was a hodgepodge of tastiness. It's been my go-to pasta salad ever since, and is still popular at gatherings.

Because I usually make this for large groups and also want to save some for us, the recipe below makes A LOT. Feel free to halve or third the amounts. As it is, however, there aren't a bunch of leftover half-cans of olives or corn that you have to figure out something to do with later.

Pasta Salad
  • 3 (12 ounce) packages tri-color rotini
  • 2 (6 ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black olives, sliced
  • 1 (8 ounce) jar pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
  • 1 (15 ounce) baby corn, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced thin
  • 1 cup broccoli, diced
  • 1 cup cherry or pear tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 pound firm white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup (or more) sliced salami cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 package feta cheese, crumbled (low fat versions are milder)
  • 1 - 1/3 cup powdered Parmesan cheese
  • One bottle Italian dressing of your choice
Cook the pasta until very al dente. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and cool the pasta. Mix with the remaining ingredients and toss with the dressing. Allow to marinate, stirring a few times, for at least 4 hours or overnight.

All the ingredients are very adjustable, and you can pretty much toss in whatever you have. Other good additions/substitutions are red pepper strips, palm hearts, asparagus tips, baby spinach, cucumbers, red onion, and garbanzo beans. This will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days, and freezes well. A quick heating in the microwave melts the cheeses, intensifies the flavors and makes a great one-dish meal for lunch or dinner.

The contest to win an Advance Readers Copy of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu will continue until noon Saturday (May 22). Leave a post on any Hearth Cricket post to enter. I'll announce the winner on Monday.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Negative Space

Negative space is a basic concept for visual artists. It's the place where there is nothing. The missing. A drawing can show the subject -- as well as mood and atmosphere -- with a few key strokes of the pencil. Sometimes photographic composition depends on what isn't in the picture. Or, as above, how you define the negative space defines what you actually see.

In writing there's also a need for negative space. What the author leaves out may define the rest of the story. Or it makes it far larger than the words, hinting at meaning, inviting us to fill in the blanks with our imaginations.

In fact, in order for writing to be universal, there has to be plenty of space for readers to plug in what they know from their individual lives. Room to read between the lines and layer in their own interpretations.

That synthesis between writing and reading creates an experience that's a little different for every single person. The story we writers have in our head and then put down on the page or screen is always going to be altered by the reader reading it. Always.

How humbling. And how very, very cool.

Remember, the contest is still running for the Advance Readers Copy of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu. Just leave a comment on any Hearth Cricket post to enter the drawing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Short Update and a Contest

First off, I want to thank Patricia Stoltey for giving me the Sweet Blog Award last week. I will be passing it on in the future -- when I have a bit more time. She also tagged me to answer five questions, and that will be coming soon as well.

Over here at Hearth Cricket life is full of writing projects and deadlines, with guests slated to arrive in the near future. Timing is everything, and the confluence of events right now is slightly mind boggling.

Much of the garden is just now going in, quite late, since it snowed last week. Almost eight inches, in fact. So we're scrambling on that front while cleaning up the broken branches, sad peonies, and general mess that a heavy, spring snow like that causes.

To make up for this short communication, I have a contest for you. Leave a comment on this post -- or any other Hearth Cricket post -- this week, and you'll be entered in a drawing for an Advanced Readers Copy of Something Borrowed, Something Bleu, the fourth in my Home Crafting Mystery Series. It won't be available in book stores until July 1. If you're commenting as Anonymous, please include your contact information this one time if you want to be included in the contest.

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Torte

There are people who need chocolate every day. I'm not one of them. I don't even want it every day. And we only eat dessert once or twice a week. Yet, I've posted a recipe for cherry chocolate cake, yammered on about making chocolate brownies, and now am inspired to share this recipe because of the flourless chocolate torte K brought home for my birthday last week. Go figure. I'll try for lighter fare in the future.

Just not today.

Decadent and delicious this low-carb, gluten-free torte is always a win with guests. Silky, rich, melt-in-your mouth goodness with only three ingredients. Don't blanch when I tell you they're butter, eggs and dark chocolate; a small slice will satisfy. A dusting of confectioner's sugar or a dollop of raspberry jam (maybe with a bit of rum or Grand Marnier stirred in) is a nice addition, but hardly necessary.

Flourless Chocolate Torte
  • 4 large eggs, chilled
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate -- quality counts
  • 4 ounces butter
Cut the butter into pieces. Coarsely chop the chocolate. Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Using the bottom of a nonstick cake pan, trace a circle on parchment paper and cut it out. Butter the cake pan, place the parchment circle on the bottom, and butter that. Start a kettle of water heating for the bain marie.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler (which in my house is a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), stirring once in a while until smooth. Add the butter, and stir it into the chocolate as it melts. Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs at high speed for about 5 minutes until doubled in volume. Seems like a long time, but you want them really fluffy. Gently fold a third of the egg foam into the chocolate mixture until only a few streaks remain. Fold in the next third the same way. Fold in the last of the eggs just until there are no more streaks.

Spoon the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Place the pan in a large roasting pan or onto a high-sided baking sheet/jelly roll pan. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and pour boiling water in the roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. When done, the edges of the cake will pull slightly away from the pan, but the center will looked glazed and a bit underdone. Remove from the bain marie and allow to cool to room temperature. Then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or up to 4 days, still in the pan.

Once the cake has chilled, invert the cake onto parchment paper, peel off the parchment on the bottom, and invert again onto a plate. It's fairly easy to handle when it's cold. Dust with cocoa powder or confectioner's sugar. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Bat House

We finally finished the bat house! It's BIG. Now the bats just have to find it, move in, and invite their friends.

I picked up the booklet on the left about twelve years ago when attending a Washington Outdoor Women workshop. That's how long I've wanted to build one of these.

Of course, the one we built looks nothing like the illustrations on the front. There are several designs and detailed plans for them inside. My research indicated that the shape most likely to attract bats was vertical, with a place for the little darlings to crawl up under as if they were roosting under the bark of a tree.

So we took that design and went wild. A four-by-four, you say? How about a six-by-six instead. Twelve feet long? Let's try sixteen! Three foot exterior housing? More like five foot.

The sixteen-foot cedar post

The post, notched with a chainsaw to create places to hang out inside

Because, you see, we want a lot of bats. They can eat half their weight in insects every day. Things like mosquitoes, moths, and beetles. That in turn controls garden pests like cutworms, corn earworm, and cabbage moths. Plus, many insects avoid areas where there are bats, so having them right around our backyard and garden is ideal.

On the left is the exterior superstructure. It slides down over the notched post, providing a mere 3/4 inch gap for the bats to climb up under. It has ventilation holes you can't really see in this picture. And yes, the roof is longer on one side that the other. If anything were symmetrical around here, it would be completely out of place.

On the right is the complete box, in the ground. I'm around five foot tall, which accounts for the up, up, up angle of the photo.

They like water. The bat house is right by a stream that runs behind our back fence. They like warmth and a southern exposure. Done and done. [Ignoring the snow that is falling outside as I'm writing this -- yes, it's the second week of MAY.] They like a combination of cleared and wooded land. Got that covered. In short, we have the perfect place for bats to live.

We know there are some little brown bats around here already (though not in their new condo yet). They swoop and flutter through the gloaming, artfully dodging the cottonwood branches and scooping up snacks from the air. One day, perhaps, we'll be able to see them exit the house for their nightly rounds, predictable as the hordes at Carlsbad Caverns.

Here batty, batty, batty...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pork Carnitas

Cooking is simple and laid back at Hearth Cricket these days, and one of the easiest dishes is pork carnitas, or slow roasted pork that is then shredded, or pulled. K is inordinately fond of shredded meat.

"Can you shred the chicken for the soup instead of chopping it?" he asks.

"Um, sure," I say.

"Can you shred the ham for the quiche?" he asks.

"What? No. Go play golf."

Last week spring turned chilly on us again, the perfect time to fill the house with the heady aroma of something braising in the oven all day.

Yep. Eight hours.

First, there's the spice rub. It's easy to make a bunch of this at once and keep it in a jar in the freezer. It's good for pork chops on the grill, baby back ribs braised in orange juice, or even mixed into a hamburger.

Spice Rub
  • 3 parts chili powder
  • 2 parts ground cumin
  • 2 parts brown sugar
  • 1 part garlic powder
  • 1/2 part ground thyme
  • 1/4 part cayenne
  • 1/4 part allspice
Pork Carnitas
  • 1 - 3 to 5 pound pork shoulder roast (also known as pork butt or pork shoulder butt-- I know, it doesn't make any sense, but there you go)
  • Spice rub
  • 1 or 2 limes

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Thoroughly cover the roast with the spice rub. Place meat, fat side up, directly on the bottom (no rack) in a roasting pan not much larger than the pork. Squeeze the juice from half of a lime over it so that it soaks into the spice rub. Make sure the pan has high enough sides to contain the drippings -- there will be a lot, and the lower part of the roast will braise in them during the later part of cooking. I line the pan with heavy duty aluminum.

Roast at 450 degrees for half an hour, uncovered. Then cover tightly with aluminum foil and reduce heat to 250 degrees for 8 hours. Every two hours or so, remove the meat from the oven and squeeze a little lime juice over it, recover, rotate the pan, and return to the oven.

When it's done, it'll be falling apart, and most of the considerable amount of fat will have cooked out. Remove from the drippings and allow to cool enough to handle, then slice or shred.

The pork is good as is, makes a great addition to chili, goes great with beans and rice, and it's a hit with kids of all ages mixed with barbecue sauce and served on a bun. Our favorite way to eat carnitas, though, is as a filling for tacos. And for that, I go one step further.

After the pork is shredded, mix some of the drippings back in. Then some more, so that it's nice and moist. Then spread on a cookie sheet (I just used the heavy duty foil I originally used to cover the roast) and put back into a 350 degree oven. If you have a convection feature, this is a good time to use it, but it's not necessary. Check after fifteen minutes, stir, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. The shredded pork browns in the spicy drippings, and the edges get just a bit crispy.

So good wrapped in a corn or flour tortilla with a little shredded cabbage or lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Future of the Past

Recently I attended the Sophomore IB Open House at a local high school to check out all the kids' projects, especially the one completed by Key Lime. She wrote a novel as her project, which I posted about a few weeks ago.

Here she is with her display. It can't even hint at how much work she put in on her book. I'm so proud of her.

There were so many cool projects there. On the writing side, there was a children's story, formatted and made into a saddle-stitched book, a mainstream YA novella and a science fiction novella. There were visual artists galore, with amazing talent. One girl put together a musical dressage routine and then filmed herself (and her horse) performing it. Another filmed herself training a police dog.

Green energy -- from creating a solar panel to converting a car engine to burn cooking oil -- was very popular. A boy made a wooden surfboard for the ski slopes, quite different from your typical snowboard. A group of kids formed a band, wrote some songs and rocked out in the corner as we all wandered around taking everything in. Another girl made this mechanical heart.

I would have taken more pictures, but my camera battery tanked. I especially would have liked to document those projects near and dear to my home crafting heart.

A girl learned how to make sourdough levain using the yeasts in the air, and then spent months learning how to create beautiful artisan bread. Another wanted to design knitting patterns for publication -- she created a portfolio of patterns and knitted several hats in different designs. A boy learned how to cook and wrote a cookbook. There were projects involving baking, cake decorating, catering and several sewing projects. Last, but not least, outside there was a chicken "tractor," a movable pen for pastured chickens, complete with hens clucking inside.

How great is that? Here were teenagers interested in doing things from scratch, in keeping the skills that used to be necessary to survival alive in this increasingly technological age. The considerable and varied skills on display impressed the heck out of me. The future of the past is encouraging.

Oh, and that sourdough bread was really yummy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Garden Update

Two inches of snow on the ground last Thursday morning, but the yard is about to burst into bloom. The lilac buds swell every day. The apple trees shrugged off the white stuff and promise a good crop this year. Above, the crab apple is ready to go.

The asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb are in. Or half the strawberries are. I need more. The ones I planted, just roots really, haven't done anything. I'm really wondering whether they will ever poke their little noses through the soil.

Seeds planted: carrots, beets, chard, arugula, cilantro, and spinach. Also in are 150 onion sets, a dozen shallots, and three three kinds of potatoes (all seed potatoes from the nursery -- I discovered a bit of scab on the ones I'd saved, and don't want to perpetuate it).

Seedlings in: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and three kinds of lettuce. The spinach I planted last fall is ready for harvest, and a few onions I missed have come back with fervor.

Still, everything looks pretty barren.

I've dug the trellises, newly placed, into the kitchen garden. The half walls used to hold potatoes last year have been converted to round planters -- K calls them the wishing wells. Since I'm moving all the herbs from their former space by the back porch to the vegetable garden, they'll go in these planters. Thyme, tarragon, chives, rosemary and two kinds of parsley wait on the windowsill. Oregano, sage, borage, and more thyme and chives have come back up and will be transferred within the next two weeks. There's still plenty of mint out front, but I'll need to buy basil and chervil.

The peas, sweet peas, and leeks still have to go in. It's late and I should have planted them sooner. The water wells are filled and warming in the sun, ready for the tomatoes and peppers to go in. The weeds are already making me crazy. And I'm going to have to find something to do about all those California poppies that reseeded last year.

The daffodils are dying off, and tulips paint most yards -- either with dabs of color or huge, indulgent swathes.

Good gardening to all!