A Few Things I Love

I am learning about the wonders of sprouted wheat flour. The increased nutrition and bio-availability of sprouted grain is very interesting.

So I bought some. Yes, it's spendy compared to regular flour, but I've been adding some sprouted wheat flour to my regular bread baking and I love the result! If you include it in a sourdough recipe, don't let the dough ferment too long, though. Sprouted wheat flour has a natural mild sweetness to it that I think would be great in a tortilla. I intend to try that soon.




Latah Creek Winery isn't very far from here and I am enjoying trying their wines as they become available in the tiny local market. This is one I am watching for!



They sell this product at a local gift shop and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! All the varieties smell great, but the Grapefruit Blossom Honey is my fave!


I also want to try their hair care line!



I wrote in an earlier post that I have been skipping foundation lately and going with just coconut oil and powder. For a person with extra-oily skin, it seems like it makes NO sense to put oil on my face, but somehow it works. I wonder now if my skin wasn't overcompensating for Arizona dryness and my zealous face washing? Anyway, it works great for me!



Plus this:


Then all I have to do is use a little coverup on any blemishes I might occasionally get. Of course, I do use coconut oil in a lot of my cooking, too, but that could be a post all on it's own!

Speaking of cooking:

This is the mustard I referred to in my post on Homemade Mustard:



And I can't leave the four-legged family members out of this post...

I ordered these for my puppy, which is strange since he's plenty happy eating pinecones and deer poop, but nevertheless, he loves them. AND the much-pickier Chloe loves them, too. She prefers the duck ones to any other. Rooster Cogburn likes all the flavors, and the bag they come in, too.



Homemade Mustard

It's becoming a dreadful problem for many people, I know! What to do with those little bits of some fabulous beer that went flat in the growler? What do you do with a bit of champagne, after the party is over? Oh, that Pinot Grigio that tasted soooo good last night, and now there's just a half a glass, but you're too hungover to even think about having that? Well, my beloved, I am here to solve that little riddle for you. Make mustard! You'll be surprised at how easy it is to make homemade mustard and the creative and personal varieties you can craft. Don't think of this as a recipe; it's more of an explanation.

Homemade Mustard

1/2 cup of mustard seeds. Mustard seeds can be found in the white/yellow variety, which are beige or (believe it or not) a mustard-yellow kind of color, or in brown/black mustard seeds. The white/yellow ones are much milder and the ones I have seen in the store don't SAY that they are white or yellow. They just say "mustard seed". Brown or Black mustard seeds are much stronger, so if you want hot mustard, bear that in mind. Making this recipe with 1/4 cup of yellow mustard seeds and 1/4 cup of brown ones will make a pretty spicy mustard. 
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon ground mustard (such as Coleman's)
1/2 cup of ... something. Some kind of beer or wine. Guinness is a favorite. Champagne is nice. Almost any white wine is nice. You can use sherry, light beer, IPA, wheat beer, porter, cold duck, whatever. What you choose here is going to depend partly on what kind of mustard seeds you chose. Although Guinness is good with either mild or hot seeds, champagne might be best with a milder mustard seed. It's your call. I have seen mustard made with fruit juice for this measure, but... what's the point? OK, maybe a cranberry juice for a special day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich?
3 Tablespoons of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is always safe, but don't be afraid to try seasoned rice wine vinegar, or any kind of wine vinegar, or include part of the measure as balsamic or even malt vinegar. I wouldn't encourage all of the vinegar to be balsamic or malt, though. I don't think that would bring enough ZING to your end product.
1 Tablespoon liquid sweetener: honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or even pancake syrup would all do nicely. Don't go with anything too liquidy, though. You want that binding power of something more viscous. And probably not molasses, as that would overpower the other flavors.

I made this with in a mild version using all plain yellow mustard seeds, Pinot Grigio, apple cider vinegar and honey as the sweetener. It was pretty wonderful. My remarks about using Pinot Grigio in the first paragraph are purely speculation, of course. I also made it with ALL brown seeds, Guinness, red wine vinegar and honey. It was so hot I was unable to speak for a few hours after tasting it.

Anyway. Combine all of the ingredients in a glass or stainless steel bowl and let sit for a 3 - 5 days. If the weather is hot, I recommend 5 days in the fridge. Otherwise, 3 to 5 days sitting on the counter is fine.

Pour this mess into the blender and give it a good whirl. Blend it as smooth or grainy as you prefer, adding a little more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to get the consistency that you've been dreaming of.

That's it. Refrigerate it when you're finished blending it and it will keep for a good 6 months.


A New Default

I knew that I was pretty good at solving problems. At least, I'm pretty good at coming up with possible, plausible solutions to try. 

For many years now, I have been building my identity and my work life around this skill. It became my habit to look around me all the time for those things that required attention: to anticipate problems before they happened, to correct existing issues and make positive progress.

So what to do when there are no major problems to solve?

I am learning how to sit.

Be still.

Breathe.

Don't analyze, speculate, hypothesize or quantify.

Live now, in this moment, without having to be concerned about how this can be fixed. 

And I am not struggling to know what to DO with myself and my energies. I am merely resetting my drive to a new default state: the one I had years ago. The state of mind I enjoyed when my children were small and I could sit on the floor and play with them and simply enjoy the wonder of them. 

Wine to Try -- 14 Hands Hot to Trot

Not only do I encourage you to try Hot to Trot, by 14 Hands, I encourage you to try it exactly this way: Sitting outside on a crisp fall evening, by a nice fire, with someone you love, while two dogs try to stare you into giving them some of your dinner.

We had grilled chicken thighs, homemade macaroni and cheese and some pinto beans in some crazy sauce I made up. Since I do not believe that you only drink red wine with red meat (I'm a change it up kind of gal, after all), I thought this was delicious with the smoky flavor of the grilled chicken and tangy, crazy beans. And of course, what DOESN'T go with homemade macaroni and cheese? Oh, yeah. Lactose intolerance doesn't go with it. But that's for another post. I baked the mac and cheese with a buttered bread crumb topping so that added another layer of flavor and the whole dinner was pretty freakin' awesome, if I do say so myself. 

On a cool fall evening, a rich, warm red is a lovely treat and Hot to Trot totally fits that bill. Being somewhat shorter than average, I also appreciate it that the winery is 14 Hands, which is a bit shorter than average for a horse. You have to look for these meaninglessful connections in life, you know? 

I would rate this one something between a Sip and a Guzzle. A Suzzle? It's too rich to guzzle, in my opinion, but too nice to merely sip. It would be just as wonderful to enjoy this sitting around listening to bluesy music and discussing literature as it was to drink around an open fire and watch the colors of the lake deepen as night approached.

Cheers!


My disclaimer:
Bear in mind that no one connected with any of the wineries I might mention here knows who I am. Of course, if they appreciate what I have to say and want to forward along cases of wine, I won't mind. I won't hold my breath, waiting for that day, either. :-)

My rating system:
Sip: a nice wine, goes deliciously with (or IN) food. I enjoyed it.
Guzzle: my idea of a nice sociable wine. The kind of thing I am happy to drink out of cheap plastic cups, sitting around the campfire, or out of a cool stemless glass while enjoying the company of someone I care about.
White Elephant: it isn't like drinking kerosene, exactly, but does not suit my taste. I'll pass it along to someone who might like it. This rating will mean more to you if you agree with my Sip and Guzzle ratings!
Drain-O: this stuff could hurt someone, so I'll send it to the wastewater treatment plant, via the kitchen drain. Maybe it will disinfect the p-trap, while it's in there


Unexpected Adjustments

It's been right around 5 months now since I moved to my little dream spot in Montana. I moved from a small town in Arizona, and now I live about 6 miles from a town that could be more aptly described as a wide spot in the road.

Being a country girl with an antisocial streak, I was ready for and excited by this big change. It is important to note, however, that this was the first time I had made such a major move as an adult. I was a teenager when we moved from Colorado to Arizona, and I wasn't even in school yet when we moved from New Jersey to Colorado. It occurs to me now that my previous life experience prepared me for some things and left me utterly ignorant about others.

I was used to wildlife. We mainly encountered elk and javelina in our area, plus skunks and the occasional coyote and you would see a fair number of road kills any time you left town. I've hunted and helped butcher animals and so on, but I am astonished at myself for how disturbed I feel by the sheer number of  deer killed on the road. A big blood smear, legs sticking up in the air, off to the side of the road. I realize that the coyotes, buzzards, crows and eagles all have to eat, too, but it really is sad.

No more stilettos. Flats and boots. Aside from the fashion adjustment that was, I have to admit that my legs H.U.R.T. for the first few flat-footed months of my life here. I didn't realize what 40+ hours a week in 4" heels was doing to my Achilles tendon.

We used to come here on vacation. Yes, it was a working vacation, but it was time off from work and a getaway and we loved what were doing here. I thought that living here would ruin that and prepared myself for losing the vacation feel of the place. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it is actually an adjustment to still feel like I live on vacation. I go to work and clean the house and do the laundry, but for some reason it all feels like a simpler, relaxed, slower, vacation-mode life now. How is this possible?

For me, this might be the biggest adjustment of all: I am minimizing my makeup down to being nearly bare-faced. I have been wearing foundation every. single. day. since forever. 100% of the time. Even camping! Softer water and lower stress here has led to better skin. A little bit of coconut oil and a quick pat with Coty Airspun loose powder is all, now. Mascara for sure, and maybe a bit of eye shadow, or maybe not. WHO is that woman in the mirror??? I've been preaching about living simpler for a while, now even my makeup is getting simpler. Wow.

And the honeymoon with our new home, the time of discoveries and the unfolding of a new life, continues.


Simple Living

We had a simple dinner of grilled smoked pork chops, baked potatoes and baby greens.

We had a simple dinner outside, at a little bistro table next to the fire bowl in the back yard.

We had a simple dinner, overlooking the lake and the deer.

We had a simple dinner under the hopeful gaze of two dogs who thought they were very hungry.

We had some white wine.

No TV.

No music, except the soft notes of a wind chime and whisper of breeze high in the treetops.

We talked. We talked about nothing and about everything, but no mention of crime, politics, drama, turmoil, illnesses or any other unpleasant topic.

It was a no-pan dinner, so cleanup was almost nothing.

The sun went down, the fire crackled, we sipped our wine and basked in the pure pleasure of a simple life.

Chocolate Eclairs, Etc.

Just in case my last several food posts made you think that I am overly interested in "healthy" food, I thought I would show you what ELSE I made this weekend, besides two loaves of sourdough bread.

Disclaimers:

  • I know these are not traditionally round, but I was lazy and they are easier to fill this way.
  • I cheated on the pastry cream filling, but I'll tell you how.
  • Yes, I am lactose intolerant. Yes, I ate one. Yes, I paid dearly for that sin. I am undecided if it was worth it, since I'm more of a salty-crunchy sort of girl. 
After making these just a couple of times, you will not need to refer to a recipe. They are that simple.

Chocolate Eclairs

1 stick of real butter.
1 cup water
1 cup flour
4 extra-large or jumbo eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint + 3 tablespoons of heavy cream/whipping cream
1 large box of instant vanilla pudding: the size that says to use 3 cups of milk
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of chocolate chips (I prefer semisweet, but whatever makes you happy)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper. Choose a heavy sheet if you can so that it doesn't pop up a corner in the oven. You know how they do.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Then add the water and salt and heat on medium-high to a full boil. Reduce heat to medium.
Add the flour all at once, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball that leaves the sides of the pan pretty clean. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 or 10 minutes, while you pour yourself a glass of wine. Didn't I mention wine in the ingredient list? Whoops.

Make a dent in the dough and add one egg. Beat it with a wooden spoon until it is completely mixed in. Add one more egg and beat again until mixed, and so on with each of the four eggs. You can do this in the mixer if you don't want a little workout and you like washing more dishes than necessary. Now you have choux paste. Pronounced like Shoe Paste, which sounds less appetizing.

Now you have a decision to make. Do you want to be lazy, like me, and just make round cream puff-style pastries? Or do you feel that eclairs should only be oblong? Large or small? What to do? The easiest way to handle this is to spoon your choux paste into a gallon size freezer bag, snip off a good bit of the corner and use it as a disposable pastry bag.

Squeeze the choux paste onto your prepared cookie sheet into the shape you desire, If things go well, the finished shell will be puff up a lot, so space accordingly. For an oblong eclair, pipe an oval about 5 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Try not to make a bulb at the end of the oblong. They don't bake as evenly and sometimes look a little R-rated when they're done. For a round shape, just make a mound of paste about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. Ish. 

Pop them into the oven and threaten everyone on your block to not slam any doors, stomp feet, drop any bowling balls, etc. Egg pastry is fairly easy to collapse. DO NOT open that oven door to peek until the shells are golden brown. No peeking. I mean it, now. 

While your shells are puffing up and becoming amazing, pour yourself another glass of wine and then mix the pudding but only use 2 cups of milk instead of the 3 cups the directions call for. Chill that, and then beat the 1/2 pint of cream with the vanilla until stiff. That canned whipped cream will not work for this step, although frozen whipped topping of the non-dairy variety might work. I've never tried it, but it might. The traditional pastry cream would be something like homemade pudding, quite thick, then lightened by folding in whipped cream. It's wonderful and easy to make, but instant vanilla pudding is even easier. 

When the pudding is well-set, fold the whipped cream into it gently until fully incorporated. Chill.

When your pastry puffs are golden brown and well-risen, turn off the oven and leave them in there. Keep an eye on them in case there is enough residual heat to keep browning them, but let them stay in the oven for 20 minutes or so if you can. Then cool them completely and sip some more wine while you wait.

If you made round puffs, then you just need to cut a little lid off the top of each one and set it aside. You can either pull out any soft bits of center, or you can press them down for a softer shell later. Then spoon or pipe your pastry cream filling into the shells and plop the lids back on.

If you made a traditional oblong eclair shape, you can cut a little hole in one end (toward the top) and press down the soft interior with a butter knife or the handle of an ice tea spoon. Then pipe your filling inside. 

When your pastries are all filled, chill them while you make the chocolate glaze: In a small saucepan over very low heat, or in the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Stir in the remaining heavy cream and stir well until the glaze is smooth and shiny. 

Once again, you can put this in a heavy bag and pipe it onto your pastries or you can spoon it on. Glaze the pastries and return to the fridge to cool. Then cover with plastic wrap to chill while you drink wine until serving time.
Add caption


Not perfectly pretty, but utterly
 delicious!


Now for the ETC. part...(can you still read after all that wine?)

You can do a lot of things with choux pastry. Yes, you can fill it the traditional way with pastry cream. You can change up the vanilla in the cream for almond or lemon or chocolate... you can fold in some berries. You can fill them with only whipped cream (my Mom's favorite). You can dust with powdered sugar instead of glazing with chocolate. You can fill them with whipped cream and strawberries and use a lemon glaze instead. You can make a cream puff ring by drawing a circle onto your parchment and spoon the choux into mounds that nearly touch all around.

Choux is also great for savory treats, though! You can make tiny puffs, and fill them with spinach-artichoke dip or any other hearty dip you like. You can can fill a tiny puff with an even-tinier meatball and add a bit of sauce inside. Or make puffs that are just big enough to hold a smidge of brie and than add a bit of peach jam and one jalapeno ring.

Try folding fresh or thawed frozen corn into the choux paste, drop by spoonfuls onto your cookie sheet, sprinkle coarse salt and a little chili powder on top and bake. Some chopped green chilis are nice in there, too. You can also make a fabulous corn fritter by deep-frying the same little ball of corny choux, instead of baking it. Yum!

Fold good-quality shredded cheese into your choux paste before baking. Smoked gouda is nice, and so is gruyere. Of course, sharp cheddar is always a winner for baking.

Pipe choux paste into straws, sprinkle with parmesan and a bit of garlic salt before baking. Or cinnamon sugar. Or bake the straws naked and use them with your favorite fondue.

Ah, yes. The magic of choux. Four little ingredients that can become so many different things!









Ten Years Off My Life

I don't know why the Good Lord thinks it's funny to keep sending me barfing dogs.

Seriously. Just when I got used to the relief of having a non-barfing Chloe dog, I went and got Rooster Cogburn...who eats everything as in E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G!!! Sticks, deer poop, pine cones, rocks, turkey poop, anything that will fit in his mouth, he'll try to eat it. (Tell me again why I spend the money for grain-free dog food for him?) So, from time to time, Rooster Cogburn will wake me up at some horrid hour with that most-dreaded sound of a ralphing dog.

Did you ever notice how you can struggle to wake up to a ringing phone or the alarm clock blaring, but the sound of a dog barfing wakes you up instantly with no confusion at all about what that noise is?

I digress.

Being a puke-a-phobic person, the sounds that typically lead up to a hurl wake me quickly and I struggle to get back to sleep again, even if it was a false alarm. Well, two nights ago, I was wakened to that licking sound, and Rooster Cogburn sitting there looking at me with a distinctive "I'd really like to go outside so you won't cuss me" look. It looks a little bit like this, but more desperate, somehow.

I let him out JUST IN TIME to not have to clean up dog puke from the hardwood floor wake Sweet Hubs and beg him to clean up dog puke from the hardwood floor.

Sweet Hubs is a saint.

Or else, he hates the sound of ME retching as much as I hate the sound of the dog retching?

But I digress.

The very next morning, Rooster was hurling again, so I was on high alert last night and woke up almost every time he stirred. About 3:00 this morning, I was wakefully listening to a soft clunky kind of sound that seemed to be coming from the back porch. I thought maybe the breeze was moving something or that maybe we had a packrat visiting again. Then Rooster made some disturbing noises, so I thought I might let him out, just in case.

Normally, in my puke-a-phobic panic, I would jerk open the door and shoo him out. That's his bed, and there is the door, so if things go well, I can have him outside in a second.
I don't know what possessed me, but this morning I turned the porch light on instead of just wildly yanking the door open.

And even though the Good Lord seems to think it's mildly funny to torture me with pukey dogs, He was kind enough to not let an awful thing happen.

That soft clunky sound?

It wasn't a pack rat.

It wasn't the wind.

It was something ... I am not exaggerating even an iota... ON THE THRESHOLD of the door I would normally jerk open.

It was one of these.


After I got over the leaping heart that happens every time you get anywhere near a skunk, it occurred to me what nearly happened and along with 10 years of my life slipping away, I laughed so hard that tears trickled down my thigh face.

Rooster did not have to puke. He went back to sleep and never even growled at our visitor.

And that is the story of how I nearly let a skunk in the bedroom, all because of an unnatural fear of vomit.

Sourdough Gingerbread Pancakes


If you already have sourdough starter, you totally rock. Otherwise, you can make your own with this recipe!

Sourdough Gingerbread Pancakes

2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup molasses
½ cup sourdough starter
1 ¾ cups milk

1 ½ cups self-rising flour
(OR 1 ½ cups flour + ½ teaspoon baking soda + 1/4  teaspoon baking powder + ¼ teaspoon salt)
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves

Combine the liquid ingredients in the order listed. Set aside, while you preheat your griddle or skillet/s.

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Add the liquids mixture and stir just until mixed. Do not overbeat.

Spray a little pan spray on your griddle and pour your batter like you would any pancake.


Top with applesauce, apple butter, butter, powdered sugar, syrup…whatever makes your heart go pitter-pat. 

Sourdough Starter

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the wonders of yeast. Being able to get all happy and shiny about yeast seems silly, maybe, but what can I say? I'm a simple girl.

There are a lot of different ways to make sourdough starters and right now I am using one that is sort of a mixed marriage: wild yeast for its special flavor, plus a sprinkle of commercially-prepared yeast for its predictable results. Here's what I did:

I reserved 1 cup of the water from the potatoes I boiled for potato bread (unsalted water, of course!) and let it cool to about body temperature. Just dip your big toe in there and see if it feels right. OK, maybe not a toe. A finger is probably the only acceptable body part for this step. And IT should be clean. 

Combine that potato water with 1 cup of flour. Choose unbleached, whole wheat or bread flour for this. Then leave this fabulously simple mixture outside or near an open window for a few hours. Use a screen if bugs are a problem, or just be brave and take your chances. Stir it every so often to keep a crust from forming on top, if it's a nice day. After the wild yeast have had a chance to land, just throw a damp towel over the bowl and let it rest at room temperature overnight. In the morning, add 1/4 teaspoon or so of commercially prepared yeast, or about half of one of those packets that comes in a strip of three. Really, just a sprinkle. Now give all of that a good stir, add 1/4 warm water and 1/4 flour and let it rest again for 4 hours or so. Now you have a basic sourdough starter. You can leave it out for another overnight if you want a really sour sourdough, but this time frame suits my palate just right.

Now that you have your starter, you have some decisions to make. 

You can keep it going for the rest of your life, with regular care and feeding. You can use up what you just made and start again another day, if you feel that you already have enough organisms which require your care and feeding. You can do like I usually do, and intend to keep it going but forget to take care of it and kill it. As you please.

You can add a cup of sourdough starter as part of your liquid measure to any yeast bread recipe and get a little something special. You can make a full sourdough bread, and I may show you that in another post. The starter you just made is enough for a batch of sourdough bread AND these amazeballs pancakes if you want to really impress the ones you cook for. 

A few tips:
  • You are growing yeast here. A warm place helps, but you can still grow a starter in a cool area. It just needs more time. Not too warm, now. You don't want to cook them yet.
  • What it looks like is going to be affected by the yeast you're catching. The first part may not bubble up a lot or anything. You should see the starter kind of separate and form a liquidy bit on top. It may turn grayish or kind of tan on top and that's OK. If it turns pink or orange, throw it away and start over. This is one time when pink and orange are not pretty colors. 
  • What it smells like is going to be affected by the yeast and the temperature, etc. A little alcohol smell is fine, but if it smells putrid or moldy or like vomit,... well, if you are willing to cook with something that smells like vomit, I can't really help you.
  • It isn't a problem for me here in Montana, but I did have issues in Arizona with fruit flies being attracted to sourdough starter. People with fruit flies and gnats in their lives seems to fall into two categories: there are the "fish them out and go on with it" folks and the "aaack! That is so gross I'm throwing it away!" folks. I'm enough of a redneck to fish em out. You have to have the self-awareness to determine which type you are, and proceed from there.
Please do try this at least once in your life. Sourdough is an ancient food for us and you should have it in your life.


Chill, Just Chill

Ohhhhh, I'm nervous.

So nervous.

This business of moving across the country! It is not for the faint of heart! My Sweet Hubs and I are having dinner tonight with a crowd of people, only two of whom I've even met!

Ugh. Dinner with new people. A bunch of them, even. We met up with a nice couple for a wine tasting thing a couple of weeks ago, and it was just us and them, so that was OK, even though it was scary. But sitting at a table crowded with people I've never met? That's very scary.

Moving to a new place means meeting new people all the time. I am not a naturally outgoing, at-my-ease kind of person. So going to this dinner is damn near terrifying, even though I KNOW I do need to meet people. So I'm trying to chill. Just chill.

And it's an expensive restaurant, too. (I checked out the menu online.) The host is having something like 10-14 dinner guests at this expensive restaurant. That's a pickle, too! If I order the cheapest thing on the menu, it kinda tells the host that I am more worried about his money than he is. Plus, I'm not a very big eater, so I can almost never finish all of a restaurant portion. Will it look icky if I ask for a go-box?

Eeesh. I can already feel my guts twisting in nervous knot.

Chill, girl. Just CHILL!