Friday, September 12, 2014

Apple Season

According to the Calender it is not officially autumn, but I say it's close enough. Many of our trees and shrubs have a few red and gold leaves on them, the nights are cooler (last night was downright cold!), the mornings crisp, and the apples are ready. So are more aprons but I'm waiting for my models before getting them in my shop.

This year the apple tree is so weighed down with fruit you can hardly see the chicken house and yard! I've been picking them daily, and, well, they've been adding up. There are still plenty for the birds

and the chickens

It's funny how childhood memories affect us. Every time I was picking apples or crawling under the tree to pick the dropped ones, my mind kept sneaking to this, or the tin man, or...worse, but I wasn't going to put a picture of the wicked you know what of the west anywhere near this blog!!

I believe these are Jonamacs, but don't quote me on that. They are tart with a hint of sweet, and the longer they stay on the tree the redder they become and the sweeter they are. Crisp and delicious for eating as well as baking. 

Of course I wouldn't have planted apples just for eating, because who can eat all these? Whenever I see a big bowl of apples, or in this case, many bowls of apples I think of the movie Baby Boom. 

Diane Keaton plays the single, high powered city executive who suddenly becomes the guardian of a toddler, ends up moving to an old, perfect farmhouse in rural Vermont, with an apple orchard. She ends up making tons and tons of applesauce, because, why not, sells it locally, puts her marketing knowledge to use, and her toddler's photo on the jars, and becomes a millionaire all over again because it's so successful. Oh, and she marries the local vet and lives happily ever after. You know, like most of our lives.

So back to apples. Let the games begin. Today it was my go to Oatmeal apple muffins with apple butter on the side. For dinner it was roast chicken and sliced apple sandwiches. I've got a long way to go. 

Oatmeal Apple Muffins

1 cup old fashioned oats, uncooked
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup mixed dark and golden raisins
1 1/4 cup all - purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
Demerera sugar or raw sugar.

In a small bowl, combine oats and milk. Set aside until oats have absorbed milk and are soft. Soak raisins in hot water to plump them; drain. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix well. Beat egg, brown sugar and oil until well blended. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients. Stir until well blended. Stir in oat mixture, apples and raisins. Stir together until blended. Grease muffin tins and fill 3/4 full. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake at 400 degrees f. for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9 / 11. Perspective

So, youngest daughter is off to college, It's just me and my best friend now. Which, when I think about it, could be worse. Youngest daughter was gone a week and her cat died. The cat who grew up with her and was part of our family for most of the years we've been out here. So, emotional times and all that. Then today. Again.
My husband (said best friend) is on a business trip this week in New York. This is my first time on my own for a week in .... I don't know ...forever? I talked to him tonight and he was telling me about the ground zero memorial he was able to visit yesterday. He really didn't have the words to describe what it was like and what it made him feel. He just said we all need to go. I've seen the progress on TV of the new, beautiful, proud, defiant tower. Have seen the pictures of the square fountains with the names of the heroes. I didn't know that underground - beneath where the North and South towers were, is a museum. He said it is so vast and incredible and real. Timelines of everything..., what happened when, names and internet bios of all the victims along the walls, timelines of what decisions the President made and what he said, significant and meaningful pieces of every part of that tragic, horrific, significant, unforgettable event. The last time we were there as a family, there was a vast hole still, surrounded by construction fences and workers. For me, a lesson. Holes in our lives can and should be filled. With something better. Something hopeful. Something significant, filled with goodness and passion and peace. 
As I was talking to my husband about this tonight, at one point I heard sirens in the background. He had the windows open to Manhattan and if you've been there, it's a pretty common sound. But tonight. It had significance. I said, "I hear sirens", and we were both silent, listening to the anxiety inducing, yet familiar wale of fire engines over the phone, something so common, yet on this day, something so meaningful. I started to cry. Thought back to that day and how it changed all our lives. A day I will never forget. Yet a day that makes me hopeful and proud and thankful and yes, devastated and angry as well. Still. A day to remember. He sent me these pictures.

 No, I won't ever forget. 

But somehow we move on. 

On a happier note. Tomorrow, there will be apples. And perhaps snow?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Afternoon Tea and Dahlias

While in San Francisco, my Mom and I visited a long time family friend for afternoon tea. It was lovely. I had a Chinese lychee black tea , and there was a simple yet elegant and delectable fruit tart. We had a lovely time chatting about the past and present in our host's lovingly decorated circa 1909 upstairs flat surrounded by hardwood floors and moldings, and cherished antiques. The decoration on the tea table was a vase of Dahlias. Oh but not just any dahlias. These were dahlias grown by a best of show winner at the San Francisco Dahlia Show who just happened to live downstairs. Her garden was a spectacular showcase of many different varieties complemented by a sunken patio, brick, raised beds and meandering paths. I was so pleasantly surprised by this San Francisco garden and so impressed. A little gem in the middle of the city. The only thing I know about dahlias are what I learned in the two days after, Our host sent us off with the centerpiece flowers (and remaining fruit tart!), and I put them in a vase in their new home in my Mom's hallway. The next morning the water was cloudy and the flowers were totally droopy. I changed the water and by afternoon they were all perked up again and beautiful! I did that every day and they lasted three more days! Who doesn't like fresh water?

Happy Friday! And thank you Carolyn for the refreshingly lovely tea time!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Notes From The City - Eating Oysters in Marin

During my recent trip back to San Francisco I found myself on a road trip.  Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge through Marin County towns I hadn't been through in many years, by a State Park I grew up picnicking in, along the bare summer-scorched golden hills of cow grazing land, and lusher forest like areas, I was reminded of the diversity and richness of this region. The drive took us in and out of sunshine and blue skies, through fog caressed hilltops, and throughout was a pleasantly warm and beautiful day.

Our destination was Tomales Bay Oyster Company and our first stop was Point Reyes Station, a popular little town about 39 miles and nearly an hour drive north of San Francisco on a little stretch of Highway 1. We stopped to round up some picnic extras - artisan bread, local cheeses (the much lauded Cowgirl Creamery is located there - but they were closed!), and some desserts at the Bovine Bakery. Plus a stroll through the town. You can find a sampling of the best of Marin County there - from fresh fruit to California Wines to locally raised meat, eggs, and dairy, and handcrafted gifts.

Tomales Bay Oyster Company is the longest running oyster farm in California. Tomales Bay is one of four estuaries in Marin County, where sea water meets and mingles with fresh, thus creating the more mild brackish waters perfect for growing healthy oysters. And grow them they do. On the bottom of the bay in Oyster beds. Carefully monitored and grown, and served impeccably fresh on site to be carried out or enjoyed at their picnic area. We went on a Monday, and I would not want to try to drop in on a busy weekend. You rent a picnic table, buy a big netted bag of oysters, which they pour ice over in order to keep them at the proper temperature, break out your wine, bread, and cheeses, and, in my humble opinion, hot sauce or other topping for the oysters (unless you absolutely love the taste and texture of raw oysters swimming in sea water  - which I will admit I do not). Then you sit back and enjoy your feast while looking out over the little beach, bay, and beyond and listening to their eclectic, engaging music. Oh. And bring your shucking skills or have some skilled oyster shucking companions. I had the companions who then gave me a few lessons. It takes an oyster knife, a towel, a sturdy table, and a bit of strength, precision and focus. I know I've never eaten as many oysters as I had that day, which isn't saying much. I may have had  5 or 6.  Oysters have never been my thing, however, in this beautiful, pristine setting, at the source, I think I gained a new appreciation for them (especially with the mignonette sauce my brother prepared to drizzle over them). By the way, Tomales Bay lies directly on the San Andreas fault - as in the 1906 earthquake fault - which makes for fascinating history and topography - and a humble awareness of your surroundings.

This is a road trip totally worth taking, especially on a mild day. I enjoyed the drive, the sights, towns along the way, and being with some of my favorite guys, (my favorite guy wouldn't get anywhere near an oyster ;) ), and then there is coming back into the city. Here are a few views of the Golden Gate from the Marin side headed home. It makes me think I am long overdue for a trip back over the bridge - destination Napa and Sonoma wine country.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Notes From The Country - July Days

 The freshness and enthusiasm of June and early July have given over to the lazier, more predictable mid summer rhythm of hotter days, afternoon thunderstorms, and the slow, but steady progress of growing vegetables and fruit.  I was surprised last week when I went to feed the alpacas, and noticed the red Choke Berry tree at the edge of the forest full of deep red fruits. I find it gratifying and downright fun to be out on a hot day picking berries, knowing with a bit of work there will be something sweet to enjoy over the next several months.

 I love the whole hot, summery process of preserving fruit or vegetables, from the harvesting to the washing and preparing, to the cooking of a recipe, while a pot full of canning jars bubbles away waiting to be filled. It's the pioneer in me. I settled on Choke berry syrup instead of jelly, because the yield was much greater, and in this case, the little berries have big pits and making syrup was an easier process. My syrup ended up being more of a cross between syrup and jelly -  but serves it's purpose well enough.

 I was going to premiere my syrup on pancakes but then I discovered these cornmeal brown butter scones. I don't think I can properly describe how delicious these are. There are different styles of scones and if you're into dry, dense scones you probably wouldn't like this recipe. This scone is like the best cornbread, cake and biscuit rolled into one. Flecks of cornmeal dot an incredibly light as air, soft in texture piece of heaven. The cornmeal taste is more of a hint - well maybe a nudge. There are a few secrets to this recipe. For one, the butter is divided with part left as is and part cooked until browned. Both are then placed in the freezer until frozen solid. Then instead of working cold butter into a flour mixture with your fingers, the frozen butters are grated with a box grater directly into the flour mixture and tossed together lightly before adding cold buttermilk and cream. Everything stays colder longer making for a light, buttery end result. This scone with some warm chokecherry syrup on it was a hit. Actually - a home run. 

Speaking of browned butter - I've been trying some different recipes lately. One evening I made this beet ravioli recipe with goat cheese. Pureed beets are incorporated into the pasta dough. These aren't red because I used golden beets. I thought the beet taste would be strong, but it was quite mild. Served with browned butter and mushroom-sage flavored olive oil topped with pine nuts (I tweaked the sauce recipe a bit from the original), it was divine. We enjoyed it on the patio one night with a glass of white wine. That's my definition of a perfect summer evening. 

We have been graced with days in the 70's and a few in the 90's, with afternoon thunderstorms to cool things down for some lovely, enjoyable evenings. The alpacas still get hot during the day and have been loving their pool time. The sunshine, heat, and regular showers have the garden growing nicely. Actually this year, for the first time, we covered up three of our garden beds. I hearkened back to my old days of gardening and had fun with a little square foot gardening in the remaining 10 by 10 bed. It's a relief to concentrate on a smaller area where the weeds are manageable, and in one bed I've got a little of everything -  heirloom tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers, french fillet beans, bush beans, peas, romaine, butter, and other heirloom lettuces, plus mesclun, spinach, and arugula, three different kinds of carrots and potatoes! I got a very late start planting, so for now it's just been baby lettuces, spinach and arugula, and a zucchini. So much fun! The chickens are benefiting from the daily weeding and are happy with their shaded chicken yard and  summer diet.

Harbingers of fall in the midst of summer. This is the part of summer when I am thoroughly enjoying being outside in the garden and dining alfresco, but I start to dream of those cool autumn days, soups, sweaters, and football!

Cornmeal Brown Butter Scones 
(Adapted from the recipe on this wonderful blog)
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
total time: 50 minutes
yield: 8 scones
  • 190 grams (1.5 cups) all purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 60 grams (1/2 cup) cornmeal, extra for dusting
  • 96 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), divided
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 170 grams (scant 3/4 cup) buttermilk
  1. divide butter into 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons. place the 3 tablespoons in the freezer while you brown the rest over medium heat, swirling occasionally until golden and smells nutty. immediately pour into a heatproof container that will be easy to pry it out of, like a small tea cup or bowl. let cool slightly and then place in the freezer until frozen solid.
  2. heat oven to 450°f.
  3. line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal.
  4. when butters are frozen, place a mixing bowl on a digital scale. weigh flour, cornmeal, and sugar into bowl, and then add baking powder, soda, salt, and lemon zest. stir to combine.
  5. grate the butters on a box grater and then toss into the flour to combine & coat.
  6. place a small bowl on the scale, measure the cream & buttermilk into it.
  7. pour them into the flour butter mixture and stir to combine.
  8. turn dough out onto a well floured work surface (all purpose flour).
  9. sprinkle the top with flour and using lightly floured hands pat the dough into a nice ball.
  10. place ball on prepared baking sheet and press into a circle about 1-1.5" thick.
  11. using a well floured knife or bench scraper cut into 8 wedges and sprinkle with raw sugar
  12. bake for 18-23 minutes, until golden brown.
  13. cool slightly on sheet and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.