Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pineapple vinegar

For Christmas a friend sent us a pineapple in a box of assorted organic fruit. We enjoyed every bite of the fruit -- the pears were ripe and juicy, the apples crisp and tart. DS especially liked the dried mango and kiwi; he's ready to try drying our own in a couple of years when the kiwi vines are bearing. But I was eyeing the pineapple. We ate it in a mixed fruit cup but the parings went into a 1/2-gallon jar with a little sugar and water.I've wanted to make pineapple vinegar ever since I read of it six years ago in "Wild Fermentation: the flavor, nutrition and craft of live-culture foods" by Sandor Katz aka Sandorkraut. I waited all this time to try it because I only wanted to use an organic pineapple since I wanted to make it using the parings rather than the edible fruit. You know, part of the making-something-from-nothing or use-it-up mindset so prevalent around the ol' Walnut Spinney homestead.

We've been making other infused vinegars with fruits and herbs we grow and so know what they've (not) been sprayed with. But pineapples aren't easy to grow in this part of Virginia though I did see at least one pineapple in fruit at Edible Landscaping last fall. In their greenhouse, that is. And while I can find a selection of organic fruit at the local grocery, organic pineapple hasn't been available. Plus, there's the whole "how far did it have to travel"-thing that's been nagging at me the last few years. But, this pineapple, this was a gift! And I was very happy to be able to make use of every last bit of it, right down to the peel.

The sweet pineapple scent and flavor of the sample I tasted today when I decanted it into a bottle already have me thinking of how a cabbage slaw will taste if I use pineapple vinegar instead of my regular apple cider vinegar in the dressing. And I'm wondering if I could sub it for (some? all?) the lemon juice in the Apple-Carrot Salad from Simply in Season. And the next time I have fresh mung bean sprouts, I'm going to try making Outrageous Dressing with pineapple vinegar. Oh, and a chicken or pork marinade with pineapple vinegar? I think the possibilities are endless. Wish my flask of pineapple vinegar was bottomless...

Pineapple Vinegar

1/4 cup sugar
Peel and core of 1 pineapple
water *See Note
thin cotton kitchen towel or cheesecloth

Dissolve the sugar in 1 quart of water. Coarsely chop and add the pineapple peel. Cover with cheesecloth to keep fruit flies out, and leave to ferment in a dark spot at room temperature. I used a small glass plate and a small sealed jar of water set on top of the parings to keep them below the level of the liquid. (Same as I do when making pickles.) Otherwise, any peel that extends above the water may grow a bit of mold.

When you notice the liquid darkening, after about 1 week, strain out the pineapple peels and discard. (compost!)

Ferment the liquid 2 to 3 weeks more, stirring or shaking periodically, and the pineapple vinegar is ready to use.

*Note: You may also start with white vinegar instead of water. The vinegar will be ready after you discard the peels. (Too Hot Tamales does it this way.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Menu plan for week of Dec 28/09

Working out a menu plan is so helpful when I bother to do it that I'm trying to make it a habit. Since I'm planning to implement an Austerity Plan for the first quarter of 2010, this head start on accountability seemed like a good idea.

We have our main meal at lunch when DH is working so that means I put today's crock pot meal together by mid-morning and we sat down to a hot dinner at noon. Kind of nice to have it over and done with -- both the planning and now the meal itself. Hope the rest of the week will go as smoothly.

Monday, December 28

Crockpot turkey and dressing (made from leftover turkey frozen in meal-sized portions - recipe below)
Fruit salad (blend of canned fruits)

Tuesday, December 29

Beef stew (potatoes, carrots, celery and onions)
Applesauce (HM)
Lettuce and spinach salad from coldframe w/viniagrette

Wednesday, December 30

Chili (make extra for freezer lunches

Thursday, December 31

Steamed shrimp with Old Bay seasoning
Hummus with cilantro and jalapenos (Trader Joe's)
Baked pita chips (HM)
Carrots and celery sticks
Yogurt dip (HM)
Pound cake with lemon curd (HM, home-canned)
Rhubarb punch (home-canned and spiked with rhubarb liqueur for the adults)

Friday, January 1

[delayed Christmas meal at Mom's - will be assigned dish(es) to take later in week]

Saturday, January 2

Shrimp curry (made with leftover shrimp from Thursday)
Peaches or nectarines (home-frozen)
Pound cake (leftover from New Year's Eve)

Sunday, January 3

Potatoes au gratin with ham bits
Green beans
Pickled beets
Baked fruit compote (peaches from Saturday, dehydrated apples and pears, etc.)
Hot rolls

Crockpot Chicken or Turkey and Dressing

4 cups cooked chopped chicken or turkey
1 box stove-top stuffing mix or a M-I-Y version with dried bread cubes and seasoning
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup water or chicken broth
1-1/2 cups milk, half-and-half or heavy cream
1 cup frozen peas, optional
butter or cooking spray

Grease 1-1/2 or 2-quart crock pot with butter or cooking spray. Combine stuffing mix and chicken in crock. Toss to blend.

Combine eggs and liquids in a bowl and stir to blend. Pour over mixture in crock pot and cover with lid. Cook on High for 2 to 3 hours. Pour peas on top of mixture about 30 minutes before end of cooking time. Replace lid and finish cooking. Serve.

Chris' Chulo

Two days before Christmas I came up with the idea to make a hat for one of my nephews. The pattern came from Marcia Lewandowski's "Andean Folk Knits: Great Designs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador & Bolivia." The yarn came from the local yarn shop, J.J.'s Knitting Knook. While I was there I picked up green and brown wools for DH and a brighter red wool to go with the red from my stash which DS had already claimed. I'll use the same neutral for all three hats since it takes less than 50 yards per hat and the Cascade 220 I chose will do all three with some leftover.

This was the first time I'd worked with color stranding in the round. The process was much easier than I expected and I finished the hat Christmas morning thanks to DS deciding six o'clock was late enough for anyone to sleep on Christmas. Our family Christmas gathering was postponed due to the weather so I had time to block it, too. And I chose superwash wool so I don't have to worry about it felting when he throws it in the wash.

The only problem is that DH and DS both wanted that hat.

It didn't matter that I'd anticipated the problem and have yarn on-hand to make them each a hat from the same pattern. I placated DH by telling him that the thyme green I picked out for him will bring out the color of his eyes much better than the blue I chose for Chris and I explained to DS that I chose the red (his favorite color) with him in mind.

The masterstroke, though, was when I gave DH a piece of knitter's graph paper and told him he could design his own color band. He's thinking tanks and crossed sabers while DS is trying to decide between elven symbols and Warhammer 40K tyranids. As long as they can graph the designs on the paper in the space alloted and use no more than 3 colors to show the design, I promised to knit it. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Primitive woolen stars

I saw similar stars on the purl bee site and set out to make several when I had a little extra crafting time due to the weather this holiday season. I think they might be nice to have on display more than just over Christmas, so I used a brown wool plaid remnant and a few tiger eye beads that I had in my stash.

I followed the directions on the purl bee page but as that site didn't provide a 5-pointed star template, I used the so-called Betsy Ross paper-folding method for making the star-shaped paper pattern.

The wool remnant had been washed prior to cutting but it wasn't truly felted. If I make more, I'll be sure to use wool that's felted enough it won't ravel as this wants to do.

I wasn't too worried about wasting fabric -- it was already a remnant, after all. But even when I don't have something in mind for the leftover bits, I can't bring myself to cut haphazardly through the middle of the fabric. So I laid the stars out, carefully connecting the pattern where possible.

I liked the process of making the stars and imagine I'll cut out more wool stars to tuck in my bag as a project I can work on away from home besides being a good way to use up odd bits of woolen fabric. But well-felted next time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

And if the weather forecast's right about the coming week, this stuff will still be here. Plus another few inches, perhaps?

It started snowing at 3:30pm yesterday and it still coming down. It's been steadily snowing after the first few hours of heavy snowfall. We had 6 inches on the ground by 9:30pm last night. This morning there was at least one hour without falling snow but we were at 21 inches by noon today.

It's lovely stuff but it disrupts the schedule. Today I need to turn a half bushel of apples into applesauce for the canner. Plus decide how to handle an equal number of potatoes that aren't going to last much longer -- they were stored in the backyard shed but it's gotten too cold the last week or two and I need to ready them for drying or canning before I lose them. If I had freezer space I'd make several big batches of freezer mashed potatoes and put them away like that.

And everything we go to do takes longer because of the snow. Even taking the dog out, is a major operation.

I have no pictures of DS in the snow today because he bundled up early, went outside for an hour and when he came back in said that was it for the day! At 5' tall, the snow comes up to his hips and to his waist or higher in the drifts. He came back in soaked through pants and long underwear plus 3 layers on top, not counting his down jacket. The drawstring on his "tall" waterproof boots was pulled tight yet they are still wet. Other than the drawstring, there's nothing to keep the snow from sifting down from the top. Everything's still drying by the woodstove...

As for DH, he started out this morning shoveling paths to the chickens and the sheep. The cars will have to wait. It doesn't matter about the vehicles anyway because our county road hasn't seen a plow since before we got up this morning.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent tradition

Every year I think I'll discover an Advent calendar or craft that will make such an impression we'll have to have one. One year, when DS was enamored of Caillou and we had watched the Caillou Christmas special over and over, I found a Christmas tree printed on cardstock with lift-up flaps for each day. Like the Advent calendar Caillou had in the Christmas movie, under each flap was a country name and a brief description of a Christmas tradition practiced there. It held his attention for two years but now is carefully packed away with the other Christmas decorations that never found a permanent place in our Christmas traditions.For the seventh year in a row, however, we are reading Arnold Ytreeide's book, Jotham's Journey. We know the story by heart now. Even DH who, because of work, only hears certain chapters, knows the complete story. He and DS shout out warnings about Decha of Megiddo and practically act out the storyline word for word.

For the last few years, DS has been taking his turn reading chapters or the accompanying daily devotions. And we have an Advent craft, too, as the book suggests making an Advent wreath and lighting the candles, one by one, over the four weeks of reading.

One year DS made a wreath from artificial greenery at church and we used it for a couple of years. This year he decided to make a wreath from greenery he cut. And since Holly-dog's tail has had a close call or two with the candle flames in years past, the LED votives I found on sale earlier this month seemed a sensible alternative to wax candles.

The wreath will live on beyond Advent, too, because DS has staked claim to it for use in his Warhammer 40K terrain.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

First snow

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Broccoli fresh from the garden -- In December!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Udvar-Hazy Center approval rating soars

In breaking news at the Walnut Spinney homestead, 10-year old gives a big thumbs-up to the Smithsonian Institute's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. He keeps breaking off his recounting of today's trip to ask, "Why haven't we gone there before?"

Today's tour and educational lab program were rated tops and, except for a short time spent napping on the long drive home in the pouring rain, he's not stopped talking about it.

The only drawback was DH's disappointment in not being able to go along. So, to compensate, DS took LOTS of pictures. And I took a few of DS's propeller design tests and other obligatory "I was there" shots, some of which are included here. Now, besides listening to the fifth, or is it the sixth?, retelling of the day's events, I just have to think of an answer as to why we haven't gone there before.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If pumpkin pie is the #1 answer,

Then pumpkin bread is the #2 answer to "What are you going to do with all that pumpkin?" (Hmm, Family Feud flashbacks. Should probably get that checked out.)

While I finished canning the last 20 quarts of pumpkin this afternoon, DS practiced cooking. The good thing about practicing cooking is you usually have something to show for it (and eat!) when you're done. So when my DBIL showed up to get the wood-splitter and drop off a great hay and feed box he salvaged for DH, AJ could share a slice of pumpkin bread and a mug of hot chocolate with his uncle.

The recipe is easy, not too sweet but very tasty and even halfway healthy. DS was especially pleased to learn that it meets required (in other words, Mom's) dietary guidelines for inclusion in breakfast rotation, tho accompanied by a glass of plain milk rather than hot cocoa. The three of us finished a third of the loaf with ease, some will go with DS and me on our field trip tomorrow to the Udvar-Hazy Center and DH will have a few slices to take with his lunch a day or two this week. Then DS can practice making it all over again. I love homeschooling.

AJ's Pumpkin Bread

1-1/4 cup Sucanat or brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree *See Note
3/4 cup milk
1-3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 cup raisins

Cream together sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla. Combine pumpkin and milk in a small bowl. Sift dry ingredients together and add to creamed mixture alternately with pumpkin mixture. Fold in nuts and raisins.

Pour into greased and floured bread loaf pan and bake at 350°F. for 45 to 50 minutes.

*If using homemade pumpkin puree, I like to add 1/2 cup of rolled oats (aka Quaker Oats) with other dry ingredients. It keeps the loaf from being too wet and doesn't make the loaf heavy as adding additional WW flour may.

BTW, the final count was 73 quarts of pumpkin, plus 3 cups of pumpkin puree in the fridge. Glad to have THAT done and on to the next project. Don't tell me what it is, let it be a surprise.