Tag Archives: food and culture

Book Review with Feelings – To Speak for the Trees

So I picked up a book from the library (one of many, many books that will now be hanging out at my place for the duration), because it was unexpectedly available. It’s one I have on reserve, but was not expecting to be able to get it early.
The book is To Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
The author is local to my area, and she’s suggesting that everybody plant one native tree per year, per member of their household, for the next six years, in order to help slow climate change.
Which is a good idea, if you’ve got the space and/or know how to sneak new trees into public parks. Recommended.
However, that’s not what this book is about.
It’s, um…
It’s mostly a memoir?
There are bits of it that are good. I like the last four chapters of Part 1 (so slightly less than a third of Part 1) and Part 2, which is about the Ogham tree alphabet, and is interesting even if it’s… oddly ordered.
But I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, and I’m…
 
Okay. I’m just going to say it.
The story-line of how the lonely child of minor English nobility – half Oppressed Minority on her mother’s side, no less – was Tragically Orphaned in her tweens, then taken in by her rural, Irish maternal line only to become The Chosen One who would be given all the Ancient Celtic Wisdom (and she specifically says “Celtic”[1]) of her ancestors by the aging – think octogenarians circa 1950 – population of a village that had somehow, due to isolation, managed to avoid the worst of the Penal Times practices… and is now, only NOW, passing that Wisdom on to the rest of the world (when those octogenarians, and all of their immediate offspring who ostensibly didn’t wanna hear it, are reliably dead and unable to contest any of this) in the hopes of changing how (white) people relate to the non-human world…
Let’s just say that I find this a little too convenient combined with a little too… Hero’s Journey?
 
Like… I find it more than a little unbelievable.
The same way I find Dorothy Clutterbuck (who, granted, would have been about the same age as, or a tiny bit older than, those Wise Celtic Ancestors of Diana’s) a little unbelievable. I’m aware that Romanticism was at its peak between 1800 and 1850, well before Dorothy OR the Irish Ancestors were born, and I can imagine some of this stuff being just… leftover romantic stuff. But I also can’t help wondering how much of this is just… straight up fiction. Or at least someone drastically stretching the truth of her 60-years-gone memories into something that sounds like “White Folks Were Wild Once Too”.
 
I’m kind of conflicted about that.
 
Like, on the one hand, I’m over here trying to naturalize myself, develop relationships with The Neighbours, not be an asshole to the plants I cultivate and wild-harvest, and be aware that I’m not the only person who calls my back yard home. And I’m doing it explicitly as a PAGAN-identified religious white lady.
I want this stuff to be true.
I want there to have been vestiges of pre-Christian religion hanging on and still being practiced as part of folk-Christianity by people who were being exploited by capitalist extraction rather than benefiting from, or driving, it.
I want to have examples to draw on of “How To Be” from cultures considerably, vastly closer to the one I spring from, if only so that I’m not strolling around quoting Braiding Sweetgrass like I’m not part of the problem.
 
And, on the other hand, this book reads so much like it’s trying to be “Braiding Sweetgrass for White People”, with a heaping helping of memoir and a side order of “No Really, This Is Ancient Wisdom, For Real For For Real”. And I don’t know what to do with that.
 
Look… What do I want? I want to know how my very distant ancestors – my pre-Roman ancestors, who were later called the Selgovae by Rome – interacted with the rest of the world. I want to know how those late stone-age farmers (neolithic) and hunters (mesolithic, but later, too, apparently) interacted with, and understood their place in, the forests-and-shorelines where they lived.
I want to know how to grow a… a “savana garden” that’s more raspberries and pavement roses, rhubarb, sorrel, lovage and other perennial herbs & flowers, with only a few (mostly fruit) trees clustered here and there under-which the real shade-lovers – Bayberry, witch hazel, spice bush, wild ginger, ramps, fiddleheads, sweet woofroffe, and lungwort – can comfortably grow.
I want to get familiar with the tiny ecosystem of my (next) back yard, and to help it thrive. To be a good neighbour.
I want to flavour my food BOTH with the flavours of the place where I live – cranberries & partridge berries, raspberry and thimble berry, spice bush, bayberry leaf (NOT the berries), maple, anise hyssop, crab apple, choke cherry, ramps and crow garlic (I know there are others, but I’m not familiar with them) – AND of the place where my ancestors came from (red currants, gooseberries & josta berries, rosehips, rhubarb, every mustard under the sun and every cheese that Scotland ever boasted, juniper berries, thyme, savoury, onion, garlic, leeks, lovage, sorrel, culinary sage, a million different mints, apples, pears, pie cherries, the bitter wild greens we brought with us (dandelion, mallow, plantane, yarrow, rampion), rose petals, begamot, lavender, elder flower, sweet woodroffe, honey, wine, mead, beer, and cider).
AND I also want to know the magico-medicinal plants of my own ancestors. I want to burn mugwort and summer savoury twigs in a Beltane fire. I want to steep juniper berries and rosehips and (cooked!) elder berries together in vodka, gin, or wine to make a tincture full of vitamin C, and to fill a bowl with hot water and pine needles, juniper berries, birch leaves, creeping charlie, and peppermint when I need to open up my lungs. I want to flick salt water off a pine or juniper broom to consecrate a space. I want hawthorn for good boundaries and roses for romance and apples for fortune telling.
By that token, Part Two of To Speak for the Trees is interesting and something to chew on, even if she’s – apparently – writing out the tree alphabet in entirely the wrong order.
I like Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s Bioplan that encourages people to plant native trees on the regular. I like the IDEA of sustained ancient knowledge. But I don’t really think that I can recommend her book as a resource for pagans.
 
Here, have some (distraction) videos about trees and suchlike:
Suzanne Simard on How Trees Talk to Each Other
Diana Beresford-Kroeger discusses climate change
How to Grow a Forest in Your Back Yard
A documentary on Rewilding Scotland
Have fun, kids.
&nbbsp;
 
Cheers,
Meliad the Birch Maiden
 
 
[1] Look, I thought that was something only people like me did, people who are actually really removed from Irish culture, Scottish cultures, Manx and Cornish and British and Angolish cultures, Breton and Iberian cultures, heck Newfoundland and Cape Breton cultures, so it seems odd to me than an Irish woman is using that term. Maybe I’m wrong? But it seems… strange to me.

Persephone Shortbread + Thumbprint Honey Cakes

Hey, all!
It’s time for a food post!
Today I made:
 
Persephone Shortbread
2½ C flour (all purpose wheat)
1C vegan margarine
¼ C maple syrup
¼ C pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
 
Blend into a dough
Form into balls and flatten (if you want to decorate them later) or press with a fork
Place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 10 minutes at 350F
Allow to cool
 
You can decorate these pretty-much however. But a chocolate ganache (melt chocolate chips & coconut cream together – there are a million recipes on the internet) or a glaze like the one below, would be ideal.
 
Pomogranate Glaze
½ C granulated sugar
3 tbsp coconut cream OR hemp milk (in the latter case, at 1 tsp oil)
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
 
Blend over low heat until the sugar liquefies. Spoon (use a tiny spoon) over cookies and allow to cool in the fridge.
 
~*~
 
Thumbprint Honey Cakes
6C flour (all purpose wheat)
3C butter (salted)
1C honey
 
Bring the butter to room temperature (so that it’s reasonably soft)
Blend honey and butter together using beaters, unless the butter is VERY soft, in which case you can use a fork
Add in flour
Blend with a fork (it will snarl the beaters pretty quickly, so better to use a hand tool that’s easy to clear), and then with your hands, until you have a soft dough
Form into 1” balls and drop onto a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350F
Allow to cool
Try not to eat them all at once. 😉
 
~*~
 
As you may have guessed, I’m not much of a one for fancy shapes when it comes to baked goods. >.> I may or may not do a frosting for the Persephone shortbread (though, if I’ve got red sugar sprinkles, I probably will).
 
The honey cakes recipe is very much my family’s shortbread recipe with honey instead of the more (recently-speaking) traditional icing sugar, in the case of my paternal line and castor/granulated sugar in the case of my mom’s family.
I wanted to give it a try and see what honey would do for the flavor – partly because (even if I can stand by the rest of it just fine) a specific sentence in this utterly ancient post from Rune Soup has bugged me for literally eight years. Are honey cakes actually that bad? Really? – and partly because I’m… weird about food. See below.
 
Flavour-wise, the end result is (surprise) not as hit-you-in-the-face sweet as the shortbread I’m used to, but – maybe because I whipped the butter and honey together first – it’s airy and (maybe not that surprisingly) even a little floral. The honey gives some depth and complexity to the sweetness, too, which I’m enjoying.
 
TBH, I can’t help laughing at myself a little bit. On the one hand, wanting to use frou-frou organic (uh… how do they control for that?) local honey instead of the kind of sugar that my thousand-years-gone pre-Christian ancestors just wouldn’t have had access to. (Yes, yes, I get that the Rich Person’s mediaeval spice chest could have included raw chunks of frighteningly expensive sugar in the 1400s, but you get my drift).
On the other hand… Cocoa, cloves, AND pomegranate molasses? All in one cookie?? (And, yes, maple syrup because (a) it’s vegan, and I wanted a vegan shortbread-type cookie that didn’t taste like margarine, but also because (b) winter contains the seeds of spring, and I’ll be darned if I pass up a food-based metaphor like that).
 
So, like I said, I’m “weird” about food.
On the one hand, I want to cook the way my pre-industrial Scottish ancestors did (uh… except on an electric range, and with central heating and running water…) – because I like fish and game and dairy and lots of greens, and because those things are Good For Me in a food-guide kind of way, and because Ancestor Connection is something that matters to me.
On another hand, I want to have a relationship with the land I’m actually living on – squatter that I am, even if the local folks are nice enough to euphemistically call me a “guest” – which, along with composting and picking up garbage and saying thank you, means eating what grows and thrives here (particularly the naturalized stuff my ancestors brought over that’s – surprise – turned out to be very invasive).
And both of these places produce a lot of berries and bitter greens (yay!), have Actual Winter to contend with, and don’t tend towards fruits loaded with capsaicin (nasturtium leaves, on the other hand…).
BUT
On yet another hand: I drink coffee every damn day, or close to it. Sugar, chocolate & cocoa, earl grey tea, and the various spices found in chai (which… I’m pretty sure the only ingredients in that particular blend that could grow in my neighbourhood are the shredded dandelion and chicory roots) and also pumpkin pie? I use those plenty of those. Salt comes from Windsor, Ontario, and coriander (and bird chilies – entirely thanks to my neighbour) grows in the back yard. But black pepper, tumeric, cumin, and vanilla beans, just for example, really, really don’t.
 
So, on the one hand, I want to get good at making delicious, flavourful food both by using what grows here and by drawing on the foodways of my own ancestors.
Rather like when I started learning how to cook (and enjoy) cabbage, and other long-keeping Product Of Ontario/Quebec produce that was available, raw, in February, I’m now learning how to cook (and, more to the point, BAKE) with more local flavours.
That doesn’t mean I want to give up my fancy imports. I think my wife would go into open revolt if I put a ban on coffee and, frankly, my desk drawer is full of chocolate. I like this stuff. But it’s basically colonization x2 when I’m a white lady in North America buying, say, chocolate, sugar, and tea at prices that are only that cheap/accessible because of colonization and the related sins of poor working conditions, low/no wages, and undervalued currencies.
 
So.
Some of what I do to… reconcile this entirely-self-made dilemma?
I use those not-grown-around-here flavours less often. I sweeten coffee and tea with honey and maple syrup (sometimes) instead of sugar. I use those pomegranate molasses roughly once a year rather than as a routine flavour I reach for. I try not to rely on vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, to say “warm and sweet” or on chilies, ginger, and tumeric to say “flavourful” – even when I have backyard bird chilies & jalapenos available and lots of imported spices,too (I still use them, but they’re not something I rely on).
 
When it comes to savouries, this is pretty easy.
Juniper berries[1] taste like black pepper and xmas trees. Onions, garlic, and mustard seed provide heat or something like it. Cranberries and rhubarb and wine (and beer, and kombucha, and yoghurt, and apples/cider/cider-vinegar, and sorrel, and dill, and sour ruben/kraut, and even dried tomatoes) provide the bright acidity that might otherwise be provided by lemons or limes.
But what I have a hard time with is baking. Fennel seed and anise hyssop can provide a “warm” licorice-y flavour. Maple syrup and maple sugar have some of the same flavour compounds as vanilla, so using it as an alternative sweetener comes with a bit of a flavour bonus. Spicebush – if I can find one in fruit (hahaha…) – allegedly tastes like a mix of black pepper and nutmeg. Fruit – whether that’s pear butter made at Mabon and baked into coffee cake at Imbolg, rhubarb fresh from the garden at Beltane, or Midsummer shortcake heaped with cream and just-off-the-tree service berries – offers all sorts of complexity right along with sweetness and tartness.
 
So it’s not that there aren’t options.
 
But I’m still at the beginning of this particular learning curve, still reaching automatically for the cinnamon and vanilla and black pepper, and it hasn’t become easy yet.
Which, then, brings me to the other thing I do, which is to buy the organic stuff, the fair trade stuff, the “rain forest alliance certified” stuff, when buying the coffee, chocolate, cocoa, and (increasingly, it’s definitely not consistent yet) sugar (I don’t actually know if these folks ship to Canada though, if yes, this is one way to get fair trade sugar at low prices/kg) that I use, particularly when it’s stuff I use every day.
 
So, yes. The cocoa in the Persephone Shortbread is organic & fair trade, and most of the sweet stuff (and the flour, and the fat – butter and margerine respectively – and the salt) comes from Canada. The cloves and the pomegranate molasses aren’t. But this is a better “score” than last year, so I’m going with it.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 
 
[1] Get them off a tree, not a creeping-type bush, because Savin Juniper – which is one of the low-growing kinds – is poisonous, whereas Common Juniper is just fine.

Wild Rice Pilaf + Sage Pesto Recipes

So, for the pervy-queer Thanksgiving Potluck, I roasted a turkey (also: my gravy brings all the pervs to the yard, I’m just saying) and made the following vegan dish that is (a) delicious, and (b) does not contain gluten or soy or nuts (though adding walnuts or pecans or even toasted Himalayan Balsam seeds would be an excellent addition) but DOES (c) contain white beans, so it’s definitely not Paleo, but can be made so very, very easily (drop the beans and add a bunch of nuts and/or extra seeds, basically).
 
Wild Rice Pilaf
 
INGREDIENTS:
1 C raw wild rice
4 C water
Pinch salt
+
2 C cooked white kidney beans or other white beans such as Great Northern (I just used 1 tin of same, drained & very well rinsed, but feel free to cook your own)
1/2 C cider vinegar
+
3 C diced butternut squash (I used pre-diced stuff from the store, but you do you)
2-3 sprigs fresh sage, shredded (or used the dried stuff, as you will)
+
2 apples (Cortland recommended, but I used McIntosh and it was just dandy)
1/4 C dried cranberries (sweetened)
1/4 C pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp prepared grainy mustard
1 tsp ground nutmeg (note: if you are going for Super Local, and have these available, you can use dried, ground spice berries in place of the nutmeg. The flavour (in theory – I haven’t tried this yet) is a combination of nutmeg and black pepper and should work well in this dish).
 
 
DIRECTIONS:
 
1) In the bottom of a double boiler combine the wild rice, water, and salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Allow to cook for upwards of an hour.
 
2) In the top of the double boiler, while the wild rice is cooking, combine the diced squash and the sage. Allow to steam for 20-30 minutes. Squash should be easily pierced with a fork, but not straight-up falling apart.
 
3) While the squash is steaming and the wild rice is cooking, in a large (1 gallon would make this very easy) bowl or casserole dish combine the cooked white beans and the cider vinegar.
 
4) Core and dice the apples and add to the bean mixture
 
5) Add the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds and toss it all together like a salad
 
6) Add the cooked squash and sage, as well as the mustard and nutmeg. Toss again then cover with a plate or the lid of the casserole dish.
 
7) When the wild rice is done, add it to the mixture in the large bowl and toss until well-combined. The whole thing should smell gloriously of nutmeg and mustard and apples and all the other good things that are in it.
 
8) Serve hot (ideally) OR chilled.
 
This dish works as both a main and a side.
It goes well with chokecherry chutney and sage pesto (below), too. 😉
 
NOTE: If you want to fancy it up a little:
Leave the squash out (I do still recommend cooking the fresh sage, though) and, instead, bake delecata, sweet-baby, or other miniature squash halves in the oven for an hour while the wild rice is cooking. (When I do this, I splosh a quarter-cup of apple juice into each of the squash cavities so that the flesh is tender and easy to scoop when they’re done). Stuff the squash halves with the wild rice mixture and serve garnished with sprigs of fresh sage. If you wanted to do this as a fancy center-piece dish, I would suggest using something like a cupcake tower to display the stuffed squash halves before plating them at the table.
 
 
Sage Pesto
 
INGREDIENTS:
4C fresh sage
1 C pumpkin seeds
4 cloves garlic
¼ C nutritional yeast
½ C cooked white kidney beans OR cooked green lentils
¼ C apple cider vinegar
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch salt
Grind black pepper
¼ C oil
 
 
DIRECTIONS:
 
1) Pulse the pumpkin seeds in a food processor until they are grainy but well-smashed (this takes waaaaaay less time than making pumpkinseed butter, fyi)
 
2) Add the sage, cooked lentils, garlic, vinegar, salt, and pepper
 
3) Blend until well-combined
 
4) With the motor running, drizzle in the oil
 
5) Spoon into ice-cube trays for freezing (works great) and/or pop some into a half-cup jar for fridge storage (I don’t know how long this will stay fresh, as I keep mine in the freezer to use as-needed, but if you want to serve it with stuffed squash, for example, within a day or two, this is an easy way to do it).
 
This stuff is lovely-and-delicious as the “sauce” for a pasta dish, mixed into scrambled eggs, spread (lightly) onto a chicken/turkey/roast-pork sandwich, blended into a bean dip/spread, stirred into root-veggies blender soups (rutabaga-cauliflower or carrot-apple would both be amazing with this), or, y’know, used as a condiment/topping/garnish for baked miniature winter squash stuffed with wild rice pilaf.

Tarag? Skyr? – Adventures in Cheese-Making Part Four!

So I usually buy milk, by the gallon jug, at the local convenience store. It’s close by, I can return the jugs for a deposite (way better than throwing them out, in my books, plus that $0.25 is not to be sneezed at, especially when I go through this stuff like I do), and – provided that trans-pacific trade agreement doesn’t come into effect as-written (uh… not holding my breath, but I reeeeeeeeeeally don’t like what it would do to Canadian farmers) – the milk in said jugs is super-local, even if it’s not organic by any stretch of the imagination.
 
Usually this does me just fine, because I drink enough heavily-adulterated tea and coffee, plus make enough alfredo sauce, pancakes, and other milk-friendly foods, that I can go through a gallon of the stuff in about 10 days. But the minute I get a cold/cough/sore-throat, work a few full-days at a temp job (or a slew of modeling gigs with early starts), or get a visit from my cows-milk-alergic sweetie, the giant jug of dairy gets shoved to the back of the fridge to make way for herbal berry teas, goat’s milk (and/or almond milk), and juice that fill the “lots of fluids” niche… and the chances of my milk going off? They go through the roof.
 
Consequently, due to a perfect storm of all of the above, I had two half-finished jugs of milk go off on me, one after the other, in December. That’s four litres (in 2L batches) of milk, with a lot of overlap, that needed to be used up during a period when my fridge and freezer are both super-stuffed with frozen veggies (having only just stopped harvesting kale and chard from the yard), raw root veggies, and numerous not-usually-in-stock goodies (like half a dozen fancy cheeses, at least one open bottle of wine, sweet cider, various kinds of paté, and chocolate bark)… meaning I couldn’t just make a quadrupal batch of waffles plus a couple of cherry-chocolate-chip quick breads, and then freeze them (not even in a bag hanging off the back doorknob, which could have worked just fine, given enough zip-locks and tupperware, if we hadn’t spent most of December with well-above-freezing temperatures on hand).
 
The first half-gallon did end up in quick breads and coffee cakes. but the second one happened right between Winter Solstice and New Years, and honestly? I just let it go. I let it sit in my fridge and curdle/clabbor/etc to its heart’s content.
 
And, today, I drained off the whey, and called it Cheese.
 
Wait, what?
I know. But bear with me.
 
I trust my food.
I trust that, in a kitchen where wine, home-made bread, and live-culture yoghurt feature heavily in the cuisine, and where kefir, kombucha, blue cheese, and chevre make their appearances, most of the bacteria in my fridge? Are bacteria my species has been cultivating relationships with for thousands of years (sans fridges,even).
I trust my food knowledge, too. I’m a home-canner. I know that anything well into the sour (NOT bitter) spectrum is not going to harbour deadly stuff like botulism, and that vinegar, hot peppers, and garlic will kill off most of the nasty stuff that causes food (particularly meat) to spoil.
I also have a pretty good idea of where most of my food came from, how it was grown/raised and (in the case of the wine and some of the diary products) how it was processed, so… I’m not too fretful about the kind of nasty stuff you get when “pink slime” is involved… because it generally isn’t.
 
Which means that when the milk in my fridge goes off? I’m willing to see where it wanders.
 
Where it wandered, this time (having been left, for over close to three weeks, to swell it’s jug all out of shape, and having had the cap taken off and screwed back on a few times over the course of its wandering), turned out to be:
Fairly solid
With lots of whey below it, and
Smelling both super-sour and faintly of something like kefir.
 
So I tasted it.
 
NOTE: The fact that my weirdo milk product both (a) was clearly fermenting, and (b) smelled more or less like something else I’d already eaten safely is WHY I was willing to taste it.
 
I tasted a curd, about half the size of my smallest fingernail.
Nothing weird happened to my tongue or lips or gums.
I swallowed it.
Still nothing.
Tried a (slightly) larger bit, then another.
Still fine.
The stuff is sour as hell, and tastes both a little bit like beer and a little bit like yoghurt, so I decided “Screw it,”, drained off the whey, and strained the curds in my mash bag (which I got from a wine-making store for the purposes of making cheese… on purpose).
 
At this point, I have a cup-and-a-half or so of home made Accidental Cheese that I’m pretty sure is the product of a little bit of free-range bread-yeast (that I use to super-slowly fridge-ferment berry iced tea into something that sparkles about a year later) and a little bit of free-range yoghurt bacteria, and that will probably work best when cooked into a quiche or a pot-pie that would benefit from some cottage cheese thrown in.
 
Whee! Experimenting!
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

Lesbian Pot Luck Pumpkin Brownies (Recipe)

So, as-you-know-bob, I’m a dyke. A bi-chick. A queer femme resident of Lesbonia (offical flower = Kale). We are people of pot-lucks and we are also people who, as a population, have a LOT of dietary restrictions, some-of-which conflict with each other in horrible/hilarious ways.
As such, it behooves us to have a couple of handy, easy-to-throw-together recipes for one-pot-meals and finger foods that can, somehow, manage to cover the basic bases of:
Vegan (also coveres vegetarian & lactose intollerant)
Gluten Free
Nut Free
and, around here at least,
Paleo (which, I gather, frequently makes things easier for the Fibro folks as well)
 
Good luck with that.
 
Yeah. So. The other day, I threw the following brownie recipe together. It’s not Strictly Paleo – it contains chocolate chips, for example, which contain refined sugar, and it contains tapioca “flour” which… might or might not qualify. None the less, I think it works and doesn’t manage to hit any major allergins in the process, so:
 
~*~
 
 
Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies
 
INGREDIENTS
 
½ C chocolate chips
2 tsp grape seed oil
2 C pumpkin butter[1]
1 tsp vanilla
1 C cocoa powder
¼ C tapioca starch
¼ C maple sugar
¼ C tahini[2]
¼ C raw (or roasted), hulled pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Pinch each: nutmeg, cloves
 
 
DIRECTIONS
 
Put the chocoalte chips and the grape seed oil into a small pot on the stove and cover with a lid.
Melt the chocolate chips over LOW heat for about 2-3 minutes[3]
While the chocolate chips are melting: Mix everything else together in a bowl
Add the melted chocolate to the bowl and stir until well incorporated
Scrape mixture into a well-greased 9×9 cake pan
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes
Allow to cool COMPLETELY[4] before serving
 
 
~*~
 
These brownies are tasty when the chocolate is still soft, and you can serve them with a little chocolate sauce and ice cream and call it lava cake if you want to, but as a brownie, it needs to be fully cooled. As such, make them a day in advance (if you can wait that long) and let them sit out (possibly covered with a tea towel or something else that breathese) overnight before serving them. They are quite rich – in the way of flourless chocolate cakes – so be aware of that when you’re cutting them. Smaller servings are a good place to start.
 
NOTE 1: I made mine with nutmeg and cloves (far more than indicated above – I used, like, half a tsp each), and found it a little overpowering in the spice department. But a pinch each should be lovely.
 
NOTE 2: If you want them to be a little more on the solid side, you can throw in a quarter cup of arrowroot flour as well, to help sop up any moisture in there.
 
NOTE 3: Given that these rely on solidifying the melted chocolate, some of you may be inclined to think of them as fridge brownies and just not put them in the oven. You’re welcome to give this a shot, but I used the heat from the oven to evaporate a little more moisture from the mixture, so I’m not sure how well they’d work done in the fridge. Probably fine, but no guarantees.
 
Anyway. So that’s my Pumpkin Brownie recipe. I will probably make a second batch of them (once I’ve re-stocked on cocoa powder) for my Winter Solstice Shindig, but I’m glad that my experiment worked. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden
 
 
[1] I used my home-made pumpkin butter, which is sweetened with maple sugar and maple syrup, BUT you could also do this with: mashed tinned pumpkin from the grocery store (Add an extra 2 tbsp maple sugar in this case), left-over mashed sweet potatoes (ditto re: sugar), OR canned (home or otherwise) pears that you’ve mashed with a fork (though, in this case, you will probably need to add an extra quarter-cup of cocoa OR tapioca flour, because mashed pears are a lot more liquidy (and a lot sweeter) than mashed squash or sweet potatoes.
 
[2] I actually would prefer to use pumpkin-seed butter here, but tahini is what I had in the fridge. Hazelnut butter on sunflower-seed butter would both work, too, particularly if you’re going the mashed pears route for the fruit content.
 
[3] You really do need to melt the chocolate. The recipe relies on re-solidified, well-incorporated chocolate to hold it together – as such, the chocoalte is acting as a binder for the rest of the ingredients. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
 
[4] And by “cool” I mean “put it in the fridge, or even the freezer, if you need to.

Labneh…(?) – Adventures in Cheese-Making Part Three!

Right.
So… about a month ago, I tried to make yoghurt in my slow cooker. Again.
And I over-cooked it. Again.
So I strained out the clumps of coagulated, over-cooked yoghurt and chucked them in an empty tupperware, and and stuffed the tupperware into my fridge and ignored it for the better part of said month.
 
Two days ago, I pulled it out of the fridge, dumped it into my mash bag (a bit like a Jelly Bag but for beer- and wine-making), ran it under the cold tap to give it a bit of a rince, and the set the bag of curds into a sceive, and the sceive over a bowl, and the whole shebang into the fridge with a weight (a tin of chick peas) on top of it to further strain off the liquid for 24 hours.
 
The end result, once I mixed in some salt, is a super-soft (no rennet) cheese that is – probably(?) – a bit like labneh (yoghurt cheese) and not toooooo far away from chevre or cream cheese. I think I will put it in a quiche or, potentially, into a warm beets-and-dandelions salad with some walnuts thrown on top. 🙂
 
…Okay, so, yes, I made this cheese (or possibly “cheese”) by accident. But I think I did actually make a cheese. So I’m counting this a win.
That said, I’d still like to try making mozzerella – probably the one in Animal Vegetable Miracle, as it uses store-bought (aka: pasteurized) milk as its base – at home, and I suspect that’ll be my next step in my home cheese-making adventures (Rennet! Eek!), but for now I’m happy to work with this accidental Labnehsque that I’ve cooked up.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.

“Cooked”: Part Book Review, Part Feelings of Inadequacy around Cooking From Scratch

So, I’ve been reading Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. Like Omnivore’s Dilemma, the book is divided into four sections that, one way or another, look at the anthropology of eating from a historical… ish(?) perspective. Meaning, of course, that This Is My Bag, Baby.
In this particular case, he’s looking at four different types of preparing food – as charted by the Four Elements (so us kitchen-magic types have something hella handy to work with here – Think: Make a braise to woo your beloved, but bake good communication into a loaf of leavened bread) – along with looking at the course of Food History, and how food (and food preparation) link us to our families, communities, and cultures.
Woohoo! 😀
In discussion the preparation of food, however, he’s also talking about what qualifies as “cooking” these days (these days…) and what doesn’t. Now, I do realize that the man lives in California, where “winter” just means “rainy and about 8 degrees celcius”. So his cult-of-freshness ideals aren’t entirely unusual. However, I do live in a climate where “over-wintering local food” are the kind that you fish from under the ice in early Januar. They are not green, they aren’t green unless we’re talking about cedar tea. So my “cooking from scratch” usess a lot of preserved (and frequently industrially preserved – think tinned tomatoes and bags of frozen veggies that I didn’t grow/forage myself) foods. I confess that I’m feeling a bit defensive about the possibility that my salad nicoise (which includes beets (raw, from a grocery store) and potatoes (same), but also industrially-frozen snap beans and tinned tuna) doesn’t entirely qualify as Real Cooking in his world.
Harumph, I say! 😦
So here it is. I use a boatload of convenience foods in my cooking. Pre-fab, freeze-dried short pasta. Tinned tomatoes. Frozen spinach. All from a bag or a box. My home-made bread, of-which I am so proud, is made with yeast-from-a-jar and white (degermed, de-branned) flour. Easily controlled and reliable (and that’s the way I like it).
None the less, a little part of me feels like some kind of an internal gauntlet has been thrown down. I find myself asking things like:
Could I make just as good a loaf of bread using at least 1/4 whole wheat pastry flour? Would that screw with the gluten content? How much harder would it be to rise? How fast will the flour go rancid? Does Watson’s Mill offer soft/pastry flour? (I don’t think it does). Can I use that sifting trick to “lighten” (“high extraction”) the flour and get a lighter, flufflier dough? What about wild-caught yeasts?
AND
I wonder if anyone I know has a pasta-maker I can borrow?
AND
Maybe I should look into making yoghurt (trying) again, or trying my hand at a more-complicated-than-Fake-Ricotta cheese…
AND
Can I lacto-ferment chard stems… When I eventually get around to having chard stems again?
 
…You get the idea.
Basically, I’m half afronted at this (perceved) critique of my cooking as being Not From-Scratch Enough (whatever that means), and half Called-To-Action to “improve” on my from-scratch cooking/cred by getting off my ass, making myself some mozzerella, and trying my hand at slightly-more-(as-in-any)-whole-wheat flour bread.
Heh.
I told my Lovely Wife that I wanted to try lacto fermentation, and she looked at me in mock (or at least partially-mock) horror. I’d also like to find out if it’s possible to make stuff like salami or procciuto in an electric dehydrator, the same way you’d make jerky… (Probably not… but we shall see).
 
Anyway, that’s where my head is at. Maybe there will be a trip to the Herb and Spice for a pound of whole wheat pastry flour this week, or maybe there won’t be. For the moment, I’ll stick with my rendered-lard candle and soon-to-be soap (yes, I’m about to try my hand at soap again… Here’s hoping…) before I go diving further into the world of Cooking From Scratch.
 
 
TTFN,
Meliad the Birch Maiden.