Saturday, August 30, 2008

School's in session HELP!

...and unlike most moms, I am always sad when school starts, because it means free time is over for me. We have weeknight activities slated for every night of the week, and on the worst days on the schedule, this means that I have exactly 1 hour from when I get home from work and when we need to be in the car driving somewhere. Being the carpool advocate that I am, this year I resolve to get more carpools started for each one. My biggest challenge is meals. I need help! What are some meals that I can make that can be made and eaten in my precious hour that I have? I resolve to make a meal calendar like my good friend and carpool partner Alison does. I need to populate it! Please send me your ideas....

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Michigan State Park Campgrounds....

...that have electrical service and showers that are close enough to Ann Arbor that we could get to on a Friday night after work and have enough time to set up the popup.

Algonac Riverfront-Modern
Algonac Wagon Wheel-Modern
Bay City-Modern
Brighton Bishop Lake-Modern
Fort Custer-Modern
Grand Haven-Modern
Holland-Beach Modern
Holly-McGinnis Lake-Modern Campground
Muskegon-Lake Michigan
Muskegon-South Channel
Orchard Beach-Modern
Pinckney-Bruin Lake Modern
Pontiac Lake-Modern
Port Crescent-Modern
Proud Lake Recreation Area
Rifle River Grousehaven-Modern
Seven Lakes-Modern
Silver Lake-Modern
Sleepy Hollow-Modern
Tawas Point-Modern
Van Buren-Modern
Warren Dunes-Modern
Waterloo Portage Lake-Modern
Waterloo Sugarloaf-Modern
Yankee Springs Gun Lake-Modern

The Omnivore's 100

I found this list on a neat Michigan based food blog called Dog Hill Kitchen, and thought it would be fun to pass along. It originally started in Britain, so that explains why there's some things on there like PB and J sandwich or root beer float that we Americans wouldn't think was all that exotic.

Here's what to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment to this blog post on my blog, linking to your results. I'm looking forward to seeing them!

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred - my result is only 56, and I consider myself an adventurous eater. My guess is that it is lack of opportunity, but my new goal I am going to try all of these before 2010. There were some things on this list that I didn't know what they were, but if you go to VGT's original page, there are links to Wikipedia. For example, I didn't know what kaolin was, I always thought he was O.J.'s sidekick.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51.Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bruschetta in a Jar

I wanted to share this boiling water bath canning recipe for tomatoes that is spectacular. This is from (the web site of the company that makes Ball canning jars). To it, I added 1/4 cup distilled vinegar, because I wanted it to taste more tangy. I hate peeling and coring tomatoes, but it is worth it for this recipe, trust me.

Bruschetta in a Jar
Makes about 7 (8 oz) half pints

You will need:
 5 cloves garlic, minced
 1 cup dry white wine
 1 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
 1/2 cup water
 2 Tbsp sugar
 2 Tbsp dried basil
 2 Tbsp dried oregano
 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
 9 cups chopped cored peeled plum tomatoes (about 4 lb or 12 medium)
 7 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands. If you get the wide mouth ones, they are great to use to dip your bread right into to eat it.

1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
2.) COMBINE garlic, wine, wine vinegar, water, sugar, basil, oregano and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes or until garlic is heated through. Remove from heat.
3.) PACK tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot vinegar mixture over tomatoes leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
4.) PROCESS filled jars in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Spectacular on Zingerman's baguette sliced thin! I can't wait to bring this as a dish to pass when I am invited over to friends for dinner.

Looking for more canning recipes featuring tomatoes?  Check out my  Salsa #5

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Safety of Home Canning

In my quest to get help you get less worried about getting botulism from home canned goods, I did a little research on botulism and home canning, and here's what I found, courtesy of this paper written by the Centers for Disease Control. Here's a summary:
  • Botulism is extremely rare: only 263 cases in the US between 1990 and 2000
  • The majority of them were in Alaska (39%) because of improper canning of Alaskan native foods.
  • Botulism fatalities were only 4% in out of these 263
  • From botulism caused by home canning products, the most common cause was improperly canned asparagus
  • All cases of botulism were caused by improperly canned vegetables and meats (and, interestingly, there was one case of botulism from peyote tea), not jams, jellies or fruits
  • Your chances of dying from salmonella poisoning are 0.08 deaths/100,000>population, but your chances of even getting botulism are .01/100,000 and if the fatality rate is only 4%, the fatality rate is only .0004/100,000
In conclusion, home canning is much safer than eating dinner out, where you might get salmonella.  Here's a great resource that explains botulism.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Interesting posters from WW II

Home canning became political.....

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kosher Dill Pickles

At last, my pickles are done! Frequent readers of this blog will remember my foibles of a few weeks ago, when I attempted to do too much canning in one day. Pickles aren't difficult to make, but it is a slow process. You have to start thinking about pickles a month before you want to eat them. Pickles are a wonderful value for the money, and well worth the effort of making them - this whole batch cost me less than $10, not counting the jars. That's $1.66 a quart.

Here's how I made them - based off a recipe in the Ball Blue Book

10 pounds pickling cucumbers, 4 to 6 inches long
3/4 cup whole mixed pickling spice
2 to 3 bunches fresh dill - big stalks with flowers on them, and roots, not the "frou frou" dill sprigs in a plastic container you find at the fancy grocery store produce section.
2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups canning salt
2 gallons water - make sure to use filtered or distilled water. Hard water will make your pickles cloudy
6 cloves garlic

Wash cukes and remove blossoms. If you leave the blossoms on, you might end up with mushy pickles. Cut the roots off the dill stalks. Place half the pickling spice and a layer of dill that you've rolled into a ring like a wreath in a 5-gallon crock or glass container. Fill the crock with cucumbers to within no more than 4 inches of the top. Mix the vinegar, salt and water and pour it over the top. Place a layer of dill and the remaining pickling spice and garlic over the top of the cucumbers.

Cover the cucumbers with a gallon plastic ziplock bag filled with water - double bag it. Fill a quart size canning jar with water and put a lid on it, and put that on top of the bag to keep the cucumbers submerged and completely covered with brine. Keep the pickles at room temperature, ideally at 75 degrees F or cooler. The basement is a good place. In about 3 to 5 days scum will tart to form on the brine. Remove it daily with a metal spoon. Do not stir pickles. Always keep them completely submerged in brine.

I am showing you what the scum looks like in this picture, so you don't panic. It looks gray and moldy. Also, you can see I've got some reddish brown looking stuff growing on the outside of the crock - don't worry about that, either.

After 3 weeks of fermentation, the dills will be ready to be put up in jars. You can tell when they are done fermenting when they are evenly and consistently colored all the way through when you bite into one. There should be no ring or white spots, they should be a khaki green color. You can also tap the side of the crock with your hand and see if it bubbles. When it stops bubbling, it's done.

At this point, the brine will be cloudy due to the development of yeast during the fermentation period. Strain the brine, and bring the a boil. Meanwhile, rinse off the pickles and pack them in clean hot quart jars. To each jar, add a clove of garlic, 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, a bay leaf and a piece of hot pepper. Do not pack too tightly. Cover the pickles with hot brine, leaving 1/4 inch headspace; seal. Process in boiling water bath 15 minutes. Yields 6 quarts.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I love my "Mother" - make your own wine vinegar

This summer, I've been busy making vinegar. Thanks to Christine, I've got some mère de vinaigre, or mother of vinegar, or just "Mom"" as we call it at La Maisson du MothersKitchen. According to that bastion of truth, Wikipedia, mother of vinegar is is a substance composed of a form of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria that develops on fermenting alcoholic liquids.

In actuality, it is a blob of something that looks like a piece of pale liver. When I met Christine at Sweetwaters in Kerrytown a couple months ago, she handed me a small baggie full of something that looked like it belonged in the butcher shop. She told me to just add any leftover wine I might have to it and in a couple weeks, I'd have wine vinegar!

I was perplexed. What would I grow this thing in? I wasn't sure what vessel should be used. Furthermore, I wasn't clear on what "leftover wine" our house, there is never any wine left over. But I was intrigued - I love vinegar and use it often. Wouldn't it be great to make my own vinegar? I headed over to Downtown Home and Garden to find an appropriate home for "Mom".

Like considering having your own mom move in with you, the living arrangements are important. I wanted some place where "Mom" could feel comfortable, but yet stay out of my way. I thought she'd like it cool, like my own mother, who was prone to hot flashes but yet hates air conditioning. Maybe she'd like it dark so she could take a nap when I wasn't home? A small 1/2 gallon size crock was the answer. I headed up to Downtown Home and Garden and they hooked me up with just what I needed.

I put the piece of what looked like afterbirth in the crock, and then opened a bottle of wine. It felt a little bit odd (but not unheard of) to start drinking at 10:30 am on a Saturday, but I had to do it for "Mom". I poured her some in her crock, and poured myself a glass. Why not? Cheers! Now, whenever I open a bottle, I always make sure to pour "Mom" a glass, too.

Christine said the soon-to-be vinegar needed to be covered in a dish towel. Like my own mom, evidently she was modest. I was looking for something to hold the dishtowel down and keep the fruit flies out (they like "Mom") and one of my very own mother's elastic headbands worked perfectly! I put her up in a cupboard and left her to do her work. When it is ready, it will really smell vinegary. Pour some out and taste it, and if it is sour enough, pour it off and put it in a jar in the fridge. Keep adding wine or apple cider, and you can keep harvesting.

A couple weeks later, voila! I had red wine vinegar. Since that time, I've added a splash of rose wine, some white wine, and more red. Like my very own self when I became a mother, "Mom" has gotten HUGE. It is time for her to get back to her prepregnancy weight, so it's time to divide her. If there are several *layers* that make up the mother, you should keep the top layer and get rid of the rest or you'll eventually end up with all mother and no vinegar. If you don't see any layers, remove it from the crock, cut it in half and put one piece back and give away the rest. Tomorrow, I will be back at the Ann Arbor Farmer's market, sharing my mother with some food blogging friends: Farmer's Marketer, The Hungry Masses and Teacher Patti.

You can use this vinegar just like you use all other wine or cider vinegar, except for canning. Canning requires a consistent acidification, this homegrown will likely vary so it’s not safe for canning. I'm a real stickler for food safety when it comes to canning.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Going Green = Spending Green Round 2

Interesting! My last blog entry tagged "Thifty Environmentalism" was about buying less stuff to go green and mostly about carpooling. I was surprised that it inspired many passionate comments justifying the purchase of a Prius. That's the stuff marketing people dream about. They've got you convinced that you needed to buy their product to save the earth and/or reduce our dependence on foreign oil. That's pure marketing genius! Too bad carpooling doesn't have a marketing staff.

I am really getting weary of green marketing. No, I don't want to buy a bamboo fiber T shirt because it's "sustainable" (Note to self: whenever the word "sustainable" is used, watch your wallet) What's wrong with just wearing the T shirt I already have, or buying a gently used one at a garage sale? Here's a list of other things I won't rush out to buy in order to save the earth:

Compact fluorescent bulbs - They do pay for themselves in energy savings and allegedly last for 10 years and I hate changing light bulbs. However, only replace incandescent bulbs when they burn out. By the way, I have had compact fluorescents burn out way before the promised 10 years. What's up with that?

Organic food - Eat seasonally instead. Buy organic when the food you're interested in buying isn't available locally. Local food tastes better, and it's better for the local economy.

Organic clothes - Buy used clothes instead. It's much easier on the wallet and less wasteful, too.

Hybrid vehicles - Carpool instead, or if you need to get a car with better fuel economy, buy a small gas engine car. They're much less expensive.

Recycled paper - Instead of buying more paper, use your paper twice. Set your printer to print out double sided and reduce margins on all printed documents to .75 inch all around. Make stacks of one sided scrap instead of post it notes and clip it to a clip board for notes. But please buy toilet paper that's made from recycled paper! I can't figure out how t

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Going Green = Spending Green?

Lately, I've been on a quest to convince people if they really care about the environment, it might be better to quit buying so much stuff. If you really do have to buy something, watch out for the environmentalist hype surrounding what you are buying. And please think about what you are going to do with it when you are done.

I can't get over how many people are buying the Toyota Prius. Once a niche vehicle for environmentalists, now it seems everybody feels a need to get one. There's nothing like skyrocketing gas prices to make a person want to "save the environment". Or, if saving the environment doesn't suit your political agenda, you can always call it "reducing our dependence on foreign oil". Besides, there are lots of celebrities driving the Prius. Who wouldn't want to be as funny as Will Farrell or Bill Maher? I know that I have personally wanted to be more like Cameron Diaz many times in my life - here's my chance! According to Ariana Huffington, even Jesus would drive one.

One fact that's not too well known about the Prius is that you don't get that promised 48 mpg on the highway - that's just for city driving. Real life Prius drivers get less than 48 mpg, on average. However, I regularly beat every Prius owner on the planet with my fuel economy. I'll let you in on a little secret....I get 70 mpg, on average, every day. My carbon footprint is nearly half of any Prius driver's, including Brad Pitt. How do I do it?

It's not very glamorous. Here's how I make it happen. I carpool to work in a 2008 Ford Focus. It gets 35 mpg, per the EPA, but my carpool partner and I get 38 mpg on average. By the way, we know this as a fact because we take data. We're engineers, we can't help ourselves - we live to take data. "Trust, then verify" is our mantra. I can't tell you how many Prius drivers tell me they think that they "regularly get over 50 mpg" because they look at their vehicle's in dash monitor on occasion and see a number that they like to see and they pat themselves on the back. I challenge you to write down that number every day for 2 weeks and see what you "regularly get". I won't even make you calculate the standard deviation....but I promise you that if you look at your MPG every day, you might be surprised at what your personal average is. Try it and tell me about it, even if you don't drive a Prius.

Even if you are driving alone, a Focus makes more financial sense than a Prius. Per the EPA, the typical annual fuel cost for a 2008 Ford Focus is $2196 and a 2008 Prius is $1335. The cost of a base 2008 Ford Focus is about $15K and the 2008 Prius about $23K, so it take 10 years to break even in fuel savings. So, if you still want to buy the Prius, have you considered what you're going to do with it's batteries when you are done? Don't tell Ariana, but I don't think Jesus would drive a Prius unless he had a plan for the batteries. I'm thinking that instead, he's driving a secondhand van and using that extra cash to feed the hungry and he is carpooling with Will Farrell, Bill Maher and some of the apostles and I sure hope there's still a seat for me. I definitely think Jesus would carpool. Is the seat next to Brad Pitt still available?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Smitten by the Amish

Each week, at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market, there's always several Amish teens selling their wares. I'm totally charmed by them - their conservative dress, the boy's rough hewn haircuts, the girl's bonnets, etc. I'll always buy what they're selling. The jaded part of me sometimes thinks that they are really a group of Community High drama students that are just dressing the part - while on break, they go off behind the school and take off their straw hats and light up cigarettes and remark "Fooled them again! I can't believe that woman paid $6 a quart for those ugly tomatoes! Let's do a Jaeger Bomb before our next shift".

I've always been enthused with the Amish - I can remember begging my parents to take me to Pennsylvania Dutch Country for a family vacation. My mother, being an expatriate of the coal mining region of West Virginia, could not understand why her kid would want to do such a thing. "When I was 18, I boarded a bus for Detroit and I never want to go back there", she replied. But I begged her, "It's not West Virginia, it's Pennsylvania." "Same thing!", she snapped. Her beloved Uncle Walter died of black lung after years of coal mining in Pennsylvania. So I never made it to Pennsylvania Dutch country - I never got to taste the horehound candy, eat the homemade chicken and noodles, look for hex signs, etc. Instead, I resigned myself to reading a tattered Harlequin romance book I had that featured the Amish and talked a great deal about bundling, and watching the movie Harrison Ford/Kelly McGillis flick "Witness".

I'm not sure where these Amish farmers at the market come from. According to a post I read on the internet, there are 24 communities of Amish in Michigan. (of course, the Amish themselves didn't post it, that would be verboten). I married a man from Montcalm County, where there is a large community of Amish. My in laws don't understand my infatuation with the Amish - there's so many of the Amish around there that they have special parking spots to tie up their horses in town. There's always collection cans around trying to raise money for Amish kids who got their arms cut off in a combine accident, or injured in a tractor rollover, etc. Evidently the Amish don't have insurance, and while they can't drive cars, they can operate gas powered equipment they don't own. It's complicated....anyway, having the Amish around is nothing special to them.

Yesterday at the market, an Amish young woman was selling all sorts of heirloom tomatoes. I asked her which one was the best, and she said "I have my opinions, of course, but they might not be the same as yours." What a refreshing attitude - someone that thinks their opinion isn't the right answer for once! I had to press her to tell me which one was her favorite....and she told me it was the brandywine. She called them "the brandies". I bought some brandies for $6 a quart, and I had them sliced for dinner last night. Delicious!

So, no post about the Amish would be complete without a hex sign. This design is "Sun, Rain and Fertility" and according to the Amish News, it features a large, eight-pointed star with a stylized "sun" center. The sun warms mother earth and lights our lives. Rain drops, shown in an endless circle, provide the unending moisture critical to life on earth. Together they provide all God’s people with a bountiful harvest and renewed life. Overall, this design offers abundance in field, barn and home. Here's to that!