No This Is Not Food But He’s Just So Handsome!

My Handsome Cat!

My Oatmeal Rye Bread turned out well last Sunday – really moist with a good crusty crust. The recipe was from the Tasahara Bread Book – a book I highly recommend. It does a great job of teaching the basics of bread making. I’ve made this recipe multiple times, and it never lets me down. It’s a bit molasses-y, which gives it a mild Pumpernickel flavor. I froze one of the loaves since I can’t imaging the two of us eating them before they get stale.

Here it is going into the oven…

and here it is coming out…

Last weekend we made apple butter with 2 big grocery bags full of apples from our tree. It cooked on low for almost 3 full days – Sunday morning through Tuesday night. We even left it on while we slept, which we haven’t done before. Previously, we’ve cooked it at a higher temperature for a shorter time. It’s the best batch we’ve ever made – incredibly thick and flavorful. The apples were pretty ripe and sweet, so I didn’t add any sugar. Cinnamon and Nutmeg are the only additives

Mmmmmm….

We yielded about 2.5 quarts. Johnny eats it every morning for breakfast, so I know it’ll pay to have that much around.

We had a few too many apples, so I made a pie. I made the crust from scratch – something I’m not really too confidant at. I did a decent job though. It could have been a bit flakier, but we had no trouble eating it all up! I used the Joy of Cooking Apple Pie recipe, except I didn’t add any sugar. Instead I used just a bit of honey. It was noticeably not sweet, but like I said, we had no trouble eating it! I tried it with some of my sour cream and a drizzle of honey – very rich, but very good!

I had the chance this week to buy a case of Long Island Cheese Winter Squash from one of the co-op’s distributors in San Francisco. I’ve been trying to get my hands on this particular variety for a few years now, so I was pretty excited. I bought two of them: one for a pie, and one for dinner tonight. They’re an heirloom from Long Island; they’re called Cheese because they look like a cheese wheel. I’ve heard they’re excellent for pies….They joined my Marina di Chioggia and Turban on the table. I’m definitely nearing my winter squash limit – I’ve got to start cooking these suckers!

I spent part of this week in Austin Texas at a co-op marketing conference. I stayed at the downtown Hilton, and got to explore the city a bit. The original flagship Whole Foods Market was within walking distance of the hotel, so I had to check it out. I was completely overwhelmed! It was way too visually busy, confusing, and insincere for my merchandising and political tastes, but they did have some crazy gourmet stuff that I couldn’t resist buying.

These are $6.50 chocolate bars that I just had to try since the flavors are so out there. Bacon and salt in milk chocolate? It sounds like a joke I know. We ate it yesterday when I got home, and I have to admit, it was awesome. Apparently the flavor was conceived when the creator was a kid and had chocolate chip pancakes with bacon on the side. Sweet/Salty is a rare combination, but I think I like it. The Bacon added an almost carmel-y rich flavor. The other bar we haven’t tried yet. It’s dark chocolate with black sesame seeds, ginger, and wasabi. Sweet/Salty is one of my favorite taste combinations. I just hope it’s not too wimpy on the wasabi.

I also picked up this weird produce item at Whole Foods: a Horned Melon. It’s actually grown in California, so it’s more local to home than to Austin….I looked up the grower online – it turns out its from the Central Coast. I’m not quite sure what to do with it – I’ll probably just put it on the table and admire it for the time being.

13.5 Pound Marina di Chioggia

This is a 13.5 pound ‘Marina di Chioggia’ squash from Willow Creek that I bought at the co-op this last Friday. I was going to cut it up and cook it tonight, but I’ve become too attached to it. I think I’ll let it live on my table for a week or so so I can contemplate it for a while.

The ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is an Italian heirloom squash from the Seaside town of Chioggia, near Venice. Chioggia is also the ancestral home of the striped pink and white Chioggia Beet – perhaps I should try to combine them in one dish! The ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is mentioned in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but beyond that I can’t find a whole lot of information on it. While touring Italy, she found one at a roadside vegetable stand. The man assured her that is was the best tasting squash in existence. In Europe, squashes this big would probably be sold by the slice. I’ll have to either give some away, or maybe freeze some of the puree……

This is the small garden that I recently dug and planted in the back yard. I am a renter, so it was hard to make the decision to plant a garden – but I feel like growing food is something everyone should know how to do, and how are you going to know how if you never practice? Certainly this is a humble beginning, but one has to start somewhere, right?

The center circle is a pretty densely planted bed of salad greens: heirloom lettuces, arugula, etc. Around the outside I planted garlic, and some carrots. Today I put in a few tiny Red Russian Kale plants, and one little curly parsley.

One of the great things about Humboldt’s mild coastal climate is that gardening is feasible all year long. If all goes well, I’ll have fresh salad in January! For a Wisconsin girl, this seems like a miracle indeed.

Last night I made my first ever batch of roasted tomatillo salsa. We eat a lot of store bought green salsa, and I wanted to see how hard it would be to make some myself.

I bought a bunch of tomatillos at the farmers market, peeled them and put them on a cookie sheet with a local Sweet Italian Red Pepper, garlic, and a Cayenne pepper (all of which happened to be in the fridge.) I turned the oven on broil and roasted the veggies on a rack very close to the heat. When they started to char a little, I took them out and put everything in the food processor (minus the top of the pepper, and the garlic skins.) I added fresh lime juice, salt, vinegar, and pureed it. Delicious!

Eat Local Challenge 2010

I am taking part in Willy Street Co-op’s Eat Local Challenge 2010! August 15 through September 15, 2010.
Learn more about the challenge in my recent article for the Willy Street Reader, and check out the Wisconsin State Journal story I’m quoted in here.
I’m in the hardcore level, one of the elite few who have decided to eat nothing buy locally grown foods for the month. This is the second time, I’ve done such a challenge – I blogged the first one, here.
Why am I doing this?
First, because it’s fun! I find that nothing spurs creativity like a limited palate. I’ve got a lot to work with: all sorts of veggies, meats, dairy products, apples, berries, peaches (yay!), hickory nuts, honey, sunflower oil, maple syrups, wheat berries and flax from Door County…. but I don’t have vinegar, white flour, sugar, spices, tropical fruits, or processed foods of any kind.
I don’t pretend that everyone should eat like this all the time. It’s about appreciating what I have, discovering the tasty things that are all around me, and becoming more a part of my place, my foodscape.

About the Good Food Muse

The Good Food Muse was born out of a month long locavore experiment I did in September, ’07. I blogged about that experience, documenting everything I ate for the entire month – which consisted only of foods that were grown or raised in the county I lived in (Humboldt County, CA.) After the month was over, I missed photographing and writing about the things I was cooking, so I started a new food blog: The Good Food Muse. In January ’09 I moved back to my home state of Wisconsin. I currently live in Madison, WI – the setting changed, the Good Food Muse kept going!

This is a food blog that’s not interested as much in recipes as how to cook and create recipes of your own. Recipes are useful (and it’s easy to find one for practically anything on the web), but the real art of cooking is knowing when to follow the recipe and when to just make stuff up. Equally important to me are things like creativity and recovering well from mistakes, making the most of leftovers, and knowing the seasonality and origin of all my ingredients. I try to document my mistakes as well as my triumphs, ’cause I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about cooking, and I doubt anyone reading my blog does either. It sounds cliche, but I believe cooking is a life-long learning experience (or better yet, adventure!) and I plan on making mistakes and learning new things in the kitchen as long as I have the strength to saute garlic and onions!

I’m passionate about organics and sustainable farming, but I’m not a vegan or vegetarian. My attitude toward nutrition is heavily influenced by the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. I believe traditional and nutrient dense fats such as butter, lard, and olive oil are good for me, but only if they come from animals who have been allowed to eat their natural pasture based diets and live in humane, healthy conditions. I’d rather be a vegan than eat the meat, milk, or eggs of animals who have lived the short tragic lives that factory farmed animals are allowed. But when I can get these products from farms that allow their animals to live in humane and healthy conditions, I eat them as often as I can!

I’m also all about local. I believe supporting the local food economy is one of the biggest contributions a person can make to their own health, the health of their community, and the health of the planet – plus local food just tastes so much better than food that’s put in a box and shipped thousands of miles! I love exploring all the ways to eat seasonal foods – they are my inspiration!