Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Night Suppers-- December


Delicata Squash, baked beans, salad, cider
Latkes, Salad, applesauce
Bean and corn tortilla casserole, canned garden beans, peaches

Squash Mash, rice

Pizza with onions and olives, Salad


Squash Mash-- version two, with red peppers and corn

This started out as a casserole with cheese and eggs, more hearty and main course-- but the chickens are not laying right now, so...



One red pepper diced
One medium onion, diced

Saute in oil. Add cumin, chili powder, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft and sweet. 

One bag of frozen corn.
Two cups of baked squash, mashed.

Add and heat until bubbly, like lava. Plop, plop, plop.






Friday, December 27, 2013

Eggs!

           
 Who designed the chicken molting process? Really, who thought it was a good idea for the flock to lose feathers in November and December, just when the temperature drops? Henny began molting in late November and the yard was strewn with bright white feathers. As soon as she was done, just when the temperature dropped to ten degrees, Gladys started. Black smoke everywhere and she exposed her scrawny legs and neck to the cold. Why?
            But Henny is glorious in her fresh coating, tail proud and clean against the green grass. On the day after the solstice, she dropped down into egg crouch when I walked by. I gave her a pat and shook my head. No eggs yet, I thought. Not until the light comes back around Candlemas. It’s too dark and she’s no spring chicken. I bought a dozen pale eggs for breakfast and baking.
Then, on Christmas, I wandered out to free the Ladies for the afternoon. They ran out, discussing the dust under the rabbit hutch. I peered into the nest box to see if they needed new straw yet and there—two pure white eggs.

Squash Mash, version one with leeks


It has been a very good year for squash, but several butternuts were bitten by the frost in the larder and needed to be baked. I cut them open, scooped out seeds, and popped them in the oven until soft and squishy. Once cool, I peeled off the skins and pushed them into a quart jar.


Sautee a sliced leek and some garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent. Add two cups of mashed squash, season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of cinnamon. Stir until heated through.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holding in the Light

         
              The Quakers have a phrase for difficult times-- We are holding you in The Light—that I really like. As a confirmed catholic atheist, the idea of a bunch of people I do not know praying for me has always struck me as intrusive and nosy, somehow, but being held in the light sounds supportive and positive. And, in this dark time, as the sun slides away from us for another week, we all need the Light and to remember the sun will return.
                        It has been a bad month or so at school. Late fall and early winter, the extended holiday season, is often difficult for many students. There are more fights and arguments, more bad behavior as tensions at home escalate with the season. That’s normal. There has also been a great deal of tension and angst, exhaustion and frustration amongst the staff this year. We are trying to articulate the problems and work for change, but it is difficult. And then, there have been three suicides within ten miles of CHS – two graduates and one student in a neighboring town. And, although it is not as bad a current student death—that is a bomb dropped in the middle of the community that sends shock waves out for months—there are ripples and undercurrents, small explosions and deep sighs from the ones that come too close for comfort as well. It is a dark time, even without looking beyond my own doorframe.
                        In an attempt to find some of The Light, I went to the staff party this year. Despite the rough day, people were glad to come together and eat and laugh, although serious conversations swirled around us. I had to leave early to finish making Lucia Day buns. “Lucia Day?” one woman asked, puzzled. “The holiday where the young girl wears candles in her hair and brings food to her family and farm animals,”  I reminded her and she nodded. Feed my family, I thought, that is what I am doing. The people who gather with Mark and I every Lucia Day are not our blood relatives—as an only child, I have very few and Mark’s are all in Tennessee—but they are family. Who else would climb out of bed before dawn in the middle of December, put on layers of clothes, and head over to the Bald Hill Barn to drink cocoa, eat Lucia buns, and climb to the top of Bald Hill, every year?

                   
     As always, we met in the parking lot and walked out, Juniper the dog leading the way proudly. I lined up the oranges, like miniature suns, on one of the barn’s beams, dug the buns out of the bag, and lit the candle. The morning was quiet and foggy as other celebrants came out of the mist and were joyfully greeted by Juniper. Despite my scattered brain, the buns were excellent. We drank hot sweet cocoa, ate buns, and walked to the top of the hill.  Someone had tied red cranes in the branches of the tree that leans over the viewing bench at the summit and they swayed lightly in the breeze. We stood, waiting for the weak winter sunlight to burn through the clouds, waiting for The Light to return.


Bean and Tortilla Casserole bulked up from Still Life with Menu

This is a substantive layered creation with lots of room for adaption. I'm going to put some squash in tonight.

Tear a dozen corn tortillas and lay half of them in a large casserole pan.

Saute onions, green chilies, garlic, corn, carrots, perhaps some zucchini if you have it, until cooked. Season with cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Pour over the tortillas. Add two to three cups of cooked pinto beans.

Cover with the rest of the tortillas and one and a half or so cups of grated jack cheese.

Make a custard of four eggs and three cups of buttermilk, beaten together. Pour this over all and give the pan a shake or two to settle everything in. Add a little more buttermilk if needed. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven until set. Eat with homemade salsa. Heat up leftovers for the rest of the week.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fruitcake Weather

       
    It was Fruitcake Weather last week—dark and cloudy, cool and damp—just right for baking something dark and mysterious, with ancient scents of  spices and brandy. I always remember Truman Capote’s story of baking fruitcakes with his slightly odd aunt when I begin ours, for the process is still complicated and takes at least four days.

 Day One: Procurement.
The first step requires a visit to the liquor store for soaking brandy and orange liquors, which feels a little weird. We’re not big drinkers here—very different childhood issues with alcohol still ripple through our lives—and the store is cold and drafty, and still smells lightly of cigarettes. After I have procured the spirits, I have to buy the fruits. I trek to the co-op with the long list and my trusty tin two-cup measure. No glowing, falsely colored mystery fruits here. Four cups of walnuts, two cups of dates and figs….I measure and Mark writes down the bulk bin numbers. Four cups of brown sugar and a pound of butter later, we leave. All of the ingredients hang in a bag in the back hall, waiting for step two…

Day Two: Chopping

I used to chop everything by hand, but then I experimented with the Cuisinart. If you chop equal proportions of nuts and fruit, with a little flour tossed in (take it away from the recipe), most fruits will chop loudly, but neatly, in the machine. I have to hold it down as it attempts to walk across the counter, but that’s faster than hand chopping. Mark and the cats hide from the noise. Dates and raisins can go into the batter whole. Once the chopping is done, we zest the lemons and oranges with our handy dandy zester, add all of the spices and brandy, and soak the mass overnight in a huge yellow bowl. The marvelous scent has begun. Real Fruitcake smells Medieval, or like Charles Dickens and the Christmas Carol.

Day Three: Baking

The next night, after dinner, I bake the cakes. First I mix the butter and sugar, eggs and vanilla, in the KitchenAide mixer, adding flour after everything is well creamed. Then, I dump the soaked fruit into my biggest container—a commercial sized stockpot that was once used to cook pasta at Anthony’s Restaurant in Portsmouth New Hampshire—and mix the batter in by hand. It’s the only way to do it. I am over wrist, almost to elbow in batter, folding the mixture together, breathing in allspice and lemon, brany and plums, butter and sugar. Heaven. Once mixed, I plop the batter into the nine small loaf pans lined with waxed paper waiting on the table. Batter is everywhere. We taste. The pans rest in the oven and bake.  When they come out, I pour more brandy over them.

Day Four: Wrapping

            On the last day, I knock the loaves out of pans and wrap them up, firmly, in waxed paper and tinfoil. I want them to breathe, but not too much. We nibble on the crumbs. Then, I stack the loaves in the larder to mellow and wait for Christmas time and distribution.



Dark Fruitcake—from Fannie Farmer

3 cups of raisins
1 cup of currants
2 cups of apricots
2 cups of figs
1 cup of prunes
1 cup of dates
4 cups of walnuts
2 cups of pecans
the zest of three oranges and three lemons
.5 cup of candied ginger
2 t cinnamon
1 t allspice
1 t mace
.5 t cloves
1 cup of molasses
1 cup of brandy
.5 cup of orange liqueur

Chop all of the fruits and nuts. Mix everything together in a huge bowl. Rest overnight

1 pound of butter
3 cups of brown sugar
8 eggs
1 T vanilla

Cream together until fluffy.

4 cups of flour
1 T BP
1 t BS
1.5 t salt

Mix together and add to butter and sugar. Mix everything. Place in pans. Bake 275 degree oven until just done.  Soak with brandy and store.

Eat with cream cheese until Twelfth Night.









Friday, December 6, 2013

Sunday Night Suppers-- November


Potato soup, pickled beets, cider
Baked potatoes, broccoli, cider in front of the fire
Roast Delicata squash, baked beans, salad with longkeeper tomatoes, cider



Bold indicates locally sourced food. Local equals within one hundred miles of home.


Roasted Delicata Squash

Turn oven on to 375 degrees.
Slice the squash about a quarter of an inch thick, leaving the skins on.
Spread on a baking sheet.
Cover with two-three tablespoons of olive oil.
Sprinkle with sage, salt, and pepper.
Roast until done. They will be soft and sweet. It takes about 40 minutes.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Corvallis Moments

       
    On Wednesday, I was walking towards downtown. The light on Third Street turned and Kim, on her SoupCycle bike, rode past. SoupCycle is a small local business that delivers handmade organic soup by bike cart. It’s been going for about five years; the soup is tasty and the delivery service is fine. I smiled. Then, another bike and cart rode past. This one was piloted by a homeless man with two huge—six feet in the air and three feet wide-- bags of cans balanced on an old Burley bike cart. I caught up with him on the sidewalk and noticed that he also had a small radio tucked into his belongings and was listening, I swear, to NPR. Only in Corvallis.
            We had another classic Corvallis moment—or hour—on Saturday night. We went for a walk after the Pie Social to settle our stomachs and ran into the Christmas Parade. Corvallis Parades are surreal experiences; I have never seen any others like them and this one was no exception. In the first five minutes we watched: Boy and Girl Scouts, an old fire truck decked in lights, the mayor, the CPD doing figure eights in the street around the police cars, and a belly dance troop. Then I started taking notes. The parade had:
  •  Three rounds of Vintage cars
  • Corgis in leis
  • Veterans for Peace, joined by the Methodist church
  • Blue Sky Power
  • Four evangelical churches waving from the backs of Big Trucks
  • A bad Elvis Impersonator
  • The Healthcare for All group, chanting rally calls and dressed in boxes, like presents
  • Not one, but two kazoo bands, one of which had altered the kazoos with small traffic cones to increase sound
  • Dogs in Hula skirts
  • The Nutcracker dancers
  • The CHS Dance team (well, half) and Mr Spartan contestants
  • Pregnancy Options
  • Log Trucks decked in lights and wearing grass skirts. One also had a hand-made sign on the extra gas tank reading “Americanism.”
  • Bikes of all sorts, including the Soup Cycle riders and some kinetic sculptures, decked out in lights
  • The Rodeo Queen for the Philomath Frolic on horseback
  • Benton County Commissioners and our state rep who is running for the Senate seat
  • Guide Dogs with Reindeer antlers
  • Every police car in town, sirens blaring, followed by Santa riding on a fire truck

The parade runs for over an hour. Everyone tosses candy into the crowd and kids scramble to find it, often running into the street while huge trucks head their way. In the end, the families at the beginning of the route have been known to join in and walk through downtown. It feels like you have moved back in time to the 1950s, when everyone got along and was happy, despite the tensions roiling below the surface.



Winter Fruit and Walnut Pie—slightly altered from the November Sunset Magazine

1 c of craisins
1 c of raisins
2 c of chopped apples
2 T of cornstarch
2 T of butter
Juice of one orange
.5 t cinnamon
.25 t of nutmeg and allspice
.5 c of sugar
1 c of toasted walnut pieces

Put fruit and .75 c of water in a pan and bring to a boil. Turn off and add .25 c of water with the cornstarch mixed in and stir. It will thicken. Add sugar, spices, butter, juice and stir.

Place toasted walnuts in the bottom of the pie and then pour the fruit mix over it. Attach the top crust. Maybe sprinkle some cinnamon sugar on top. Bake. 425 degrees for the first ten minutes, then drop down to 350 degrees to finish it off.

This is also fine for breakfast….