Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Clam Pets

I got this job. A gig, really, for a few days, digging clams up in Shelton. Since they can't look out on the herd of clams in the pasture, the farm, Little Skookum Shellfish, does a yearly survey to keep track of the population of their livelihood. They hired me and a few other students to squat in the muck and dig, wash, identify and measure the manillas in and amongst the mussels and native Littlenecks. It was a really fun job. Totally disgusting, I was covered in sea compost and reeked like low tide. But I also felt this ancient satisfaction, like, this is what my ancestors were probably doing instead of browsing at the co-op for dinner. It made me want to go and squat by a fire and reap the rewards of all the digging.

Little Skookum allowed us to take whatever oysters we wanted from the shore, since they were mostly growing manilla clams. What a treat! I picked a few mid-sized ones and about fifteen small ones. They were Pacifics, and it's not like June known for oyster season, but they were surprisingly sweet and tangy, not too creamy and dull like some I've had recently. Some of the oysters on the beach were as big as Reggie. Ok, not really, but they were at least a foot long. I asked one of the foremen what they do with these big boys, and he said at that point they are really more like pets.

I brought the oysters to a BBQ potluck and ate the small ones raw, grilling the bigger ones till they reluctantly opened.

The farmers also brought up two twenty five pound bags of manilla clams and told us to take as much as we wanted...just what the shore-dwelling cavewoman in me wanted. I bartered half of them away to a friend for helping me move a mattress. Isn't there a slang term for money, something about clam shells?

Then I got the flu and Jean made me miso soup with the clams. He showed me this trick of putting them in a bowl of salt water to make "stick out their tongues". They extend their "feet" and spit out the sand they sucked up into their shells--he said the way they walk is by sucking in sand and water and then shooting it out, propelling themselves through the muck. This didn't work that well, they seemed like fairly sensitive creatures. Every time the bowl got bumped, they'd retreat. The miso was wonderful, duh, and strengthened me with nutritious sea vitamins and the secret ingredient (love). It was with the miso his mom made (it took a year to ferment), wakame, clams and green onions. No dashi, though, just water for broth, because bonito flake broth would be "too much"; too salty and too fishy.

Now, I have about twenty clams left. I tried to make them last night, but they wouldn't stick their tongues out, and I thought they were dead. I left them in the water, and at some point they got covered with a placemat. This afternoon I rediscovered them, and they all had their tongues out! Maybe they like it dark? They're still alive and filtering the water in and out, but I don't know if they are safe to eat anymore. They were not cold all night and they're kind of old. But...still alive? I don't know. Maybe I will keep them as pets.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sakura Soju

I made this a few weeks ago, when the cherry blossoms were at their most spectacular. I was enamored with the copious exuberant trees in my neighborhood: they opened the floodgates of spring and that's something I always welcome after even a mild Olympia winter. Their smell is really an exquisite expression of new life, even the night air in the neighborhood was imbued with that diaphanous odor. I have the impression that the cherry blossoms lay the groundwork for our noses to smell the stronger flowers which follow throughout the season; right now the heavier-scented lilacs are full throttle intoxicating, and later in the summer, there will be deep smelling roses. I wish I could save the smells of spring, though, to remember...

Jean told me about this celebration in Japan called hanami. It means "cherry blossom viewing", and people go and sit under a cherry tree in bloom and eat and drink and welcome the spring. We didn't schedule a hanami this year, I definitely want to do it next year. While reading all about this celebration, I read a few blogs with people talking about sakura (cherry blossom) flavored food items; sakura mochi, sakura sugar, even sakura udon noodles. I know I love the flavor of flowers, so I tried to find some recipes for sakura foods. A lot of them called for sakura extract or flavoring, which I couldn't find on a trip to Uwajimaya.

Based on my successful experience with rose brandy, I made an infusion with a Korean neutral spirit distilled from sweet potatoes called soju. Without a roadmap, I only made a small jar, in case it didn't work out. I stuffed a half pint jar full of blossoms. I read that a lot of sakura-flavored foods derive their essence from the leaves more so than the blossoms, so I grabbed a few of those, too, and filled the jar with soju to the top.

It sat for a week and a half, during which the flowers turned light brown and macerated, releasing a surprising flavor. Words fail, really, it's not like anything I've ever eaten. Unlike the rose brandy, it's not the taste of the smell of the flowers, it's something new. And delicious! Fragrant, perfumey, definitely floral but not as delicate. I imagined using it as a mixer, but ended up serving it as the main course, just with club soda and ice. I wish, I wish, I wish I had made more than one little half pint, but I guess there's always next spring...

Thursday, February 18, 2010


People make jokes about fruitcake. I know, I know. It's known to be heavy, over the top sweet, the thing no one wants to eat over the holidays. But...I don't give a damn about it's bad reputation. I think it probably IS gross when made with green and red maraschino cherries and sulfite-full candied pineapple.
That sort of fruitcake hearkens back to that weird, 1960's aesthetic of food. The one where it's supposed to look like not-food, when science was going to save everything and make food even better than nature did. Yuck.

Like most things, though, made well with real, really good ingredients, fruitcake is awesome.

Our fruitcake, in contrast to that bad kind of fruitcake, was made with delicious and naturally colored dried fruit--nothing resembled bright Christmas tree baubles. We also decided that since really all fruitcake is made of is fruit and cake, we could use whatever kind of dried fruit we wanted. So we took some liberties with the classic combinations, using our favorites; dried sour cherries--a northwest delicacy--and apricots, pineapple, black figs, crystalized ginger and prunes. Also, I hate/am possibly allergic to rum, so we used brandy and Grand Marnier instead, soaking all the fruit in the brandy for a day before baking. I did a lot of research and got used this as a composite recipe.

We made these decadent cakes in December, to give as gifts at Christmas.

3 c sugar 1 c raisins 1 tangerine 1 lemon 2 c dried apricots 3⁄4 c dried pineapple 3⁄4 c dried sour cherries
1/4 c crystalized ginger
1/2 c black figs 1 c pitted prunes
1 c golden raisins
1 vanilla bean
3 + c brandy 2 c walnuts 1 c butter, melted 2 tsp. vanilla extract 6 eggs, lightly beaten 4 cups flour 1 tsp. baking soda 2 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt
Chop vanilla bean and all dried fruit, excepting cherries, into varying sizes. With the raisins place the chopped vanilla bean. Place in bowls and divide the brandy amongst the bowls. Let soak for at least 4 hours.

Check the fruit intermittently and add more brandy if it looks a bit dry.
Zest and juice tangerine and lemon.

Combine all fruits into a big bowl and stir in sugar, lemon and tangerine juice/zest, butter and eggs.

Preheat oven to 325. Grease four tins, we found quirky molds at Goodwill for $.99.
Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the fruit mixture.

Pour batter into greased tins and bake for about an hour and a half (depending on how deep the molds are). Check intermittently with a toothpick. Cool for half an hour, run a knife around the edge of the pan, then carefully turn onto a plate or rack. Brush generously with Grand Marnier. Serve immediately or put in a tupperware or ziplock bag and freeze.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gluten Free Olive Shortbread

For the most part, I avoid gluten-free baking. I've found it in many cases to be sort of depressing, a sad facsimile of a sham, a shadow of the glutinous original. I just eat around wheat products, and for the most part, I don't miss it. But sometimes I get a craving for baking, not just for eating the sweet, but for the process. I miss pinches of baking soda and folding in eggs.

I've noticed, though, in the gluten-free baking I have attempted, that the results generally yield a fairly dense what-ever-it-is. This lends itself to some things. I once made a delicious gluten-free lemon olive oil provencal cake, with lavender frosting. It was flat and dense, but that somehow worked.

So... in these colder months I've been pining for a sweet smelling, warm house. I remembered these cookies my stepmother brought back from Paris once, I think from O&Co--black olive cookies. They were brittle and salty and sweet and olive-oily.

I discovered in the internets that they are a type of french cookie called Scourtines, typically made with niscoise olives. So, I amalgamated a few recipes and came out with this:

1 1/2 stick butter
1/3 c sugar
1 3/4 c Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Flour
a pinch of xanthum gum, just to be safe
3/4 c kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 c dry cured black olives, pitted and chopped
a pinch of xanthum gum, just to be safe

Preheat oven to 350, grease cookie sheet
Beat butter until smooth, combine sugar. Sift in the flour and xanthum gum, stirring until totally mixed. Stir in olives.
Drop a spoonful of cookie dough onto the greased cookie sheet, about one every two inches (they spread out a lot). Bake until a bit golden.

They were really very good. They did not have that "I am deprived because of food allergies and this is what it tastes like" flavor which I find so bitter; they were utterly rich and salty and brittle and everything I wanted them to be.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kim Chi

The newest edition to my fermenting repetoire.

Fermenting food has been a rather intimidating project which I have put off for a while, but have recently integrated fairly smoothly into my life. I think I was afraid of the idea of rotting food on purpose to eat, like, maybe if I did it wrong it would become deadly poison. But the few things I've made so far...have been very easy and imprecise, mostly assembled to taste and with whatever kitchen sink ingredients happen to be around. Kim Chi worried me a little, because it's so exotic, or something.

Probably also because Jean explained that we must use salt preserved shrimp, because vegan Kim Chi isn't truly Kim Chi, it's just pickled cabbage, a westernized facsimile. Ah, salt fermented shrimp...the strangest thing in my refrigerator right now. When Kate saw the jar last night at Dinner Club, she said, delicately, "is that....pickled maggots?!". Nope, just some tiny, incredibly salty shrimp in a jar. Duh.

It took a while to assemble all the ingredients for the Kim Chi, because, well, where does one find salt preserved shrimp? Jean found it at a Korean grocery store in Tacoma. And now we have a whole jar!

1 napa cabbage
2 daikon radishes
lots of salt
3 carrots
bunch green onions
head garlic
inch or two ginger
salt preserved shrimp
korean crushed red pepper
fish sauce

Slice the cabbage in half and lay it in a big bowl filled with freezing cold water, let it sit for a moment and then dunk it in and out several times. This causes the leaves to bloom a bit. Set to dry out in the dish drainer or a colander. Chop the radish into cubes and put in a large bowl. Throw a handful of salt onto the radish, and mix it around with your hands. There should be enough salt so that each cube has some on every side. Lay the cabbage halves, one at a time, into another large bowl, sliced side down. Rub salt on each side of every leaf, all the way to the center.

Through the magic of osmosis, the water in the vegetables is drawn out by the salt. They get pretty droopy and after about two hours are totally wilted and veritably floating in a puddle of brine.

Rinse the radish cubes thoroughly in a colander, return to bowl. If the bowl has a lid, so much the better, but we just used a plastic bad. Rinse the cabbage out very carefully, running water between each leaf. Gently squeeze the water out, and rinse again. Repeat once more. Lay the cabbage halves into a flat-ish container (we used a casserole dish with a glass lid).

Slice the carrots, green onions, and a few cloves of garlic into thin strips.

In a food processor (or else, maybe a blender), add the ginger, as much garlic as you want (we used a whole head for the recipe), a few tablespoons of salt preserved shrimp, and some splashes of fish sauce, about a quarter cup, and chop to a paste. Pour into a large bowl, and add the chili powder, again, to taste, and stir. The consistency will very based on how much chili powder you use, ours was kind of like thick pancake batter, and was just spicy enough for me, but Jean would have preferred it a bit spicier.

Stir the carrots and green onions into this spicy batter, coating them totally. Now the fun part. Smudge a dollop of the pungent mixture between every leaf of the cabbage. Don't do it with your bare hands or your skin will be burning for hours; I suppose if you were extremely prepared you'd use plastic gloves, but we just used recycled bulk food bags. Stir the rest of the paste into the radishes until they are bright red. When each leaf of the cabbage and cube of radish is coated, cover the dishes with a lids/plastic bags and put it somewhere not too hot and not too cold. We put it in the closet on the top shelf. Leave it there for two or three days, tasting every day, until it "tastes right", then keep it in the fridge until devoured.

We made our Kim Chi at night, and in the morning it greeted us with a robust, "Hell-llo! Kim CHII-III!!" smell. If I lived in a cartoon, there would have been bright orange clouds meandering down all the hallways. At first it was a bit appalling, but we all became accustomed to the smell and greeted it back. After the second day, the smell was associated to my body with the way it tastes, and I just wanted to eat it all the time. It didn't last long, we ate it all in about a week.

Jean said he thought it might be the best Kim Chi he's eaten.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cranberry Sauce

Every year I make cranberry sauce it gets better. It's a simple Thanksgiving staple that doesn't get the attention and honor it deserves. It can be so much more than a glob of sour to balance the savory mush on a Thankful plate. This year's sauce really tied the meal together; thanks to the brandy, it was complexly smokey and sweet, and the pumpkin pie-style spices lent a horn-of-plenty bouquet.

Spicy Brandy Cranberry Sauce
adapted from here

6 c cranberries

9 tbs brandy

3 cups dark brown sugar

3/4 c orange juice

10 allspice berries

8 cloves

16 black peppercorns

10 cardamom pods, broken in half

4 cinnamon sticks

Thoroughly wash all the cranberries, picking out the shriveled ones. Put them in a saucepan and add the brandy, sugar and orange juice. Tie up the spices in some cheesecloth, add to the cranberry pan, and bring the mixture to a hearty boil, until the cranberry skins crack. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-ish minutes, until the liquid is reduced and it's nice and syrupy. Toss the spice bag, and refrigerate the sauce until gelled and cold. Serve in your grandmother's crystal dish that she said we never use but, OK, we'll use it tonight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Part 1

I've been seeing these gigantic heads of cabbage at the farmers market lately. I'd have an image of making sauerkraut, but pass it over in favor of some more colorful harvest food. But the cornucopia of produce has been dwindling as we get into the leaner months of winter, and today Jean and I passed some pale green gigantors for $.63/lb and decided today was the day to try it out. We got a thirteen pounder as big as a watermelon, for about $9.

I've hesitated to ferment anything in my house because it's so small. Where would I put it? I am afraid of little bugs laying their eggs in the room temperature stewy liquid, or a mishap resulting in a pool of kraut to wade through, or even just the smell. In my dream house, I'd have a root cellar or a pantry to store food and keep various microbiological food projects safe and out of the way of my tender nose. But... that might be years from now, so carpe diem.

Brine Fermented Kraut
adapted from here

13 lb shredded cabbage

3 sliced yellow onions

12 tbs salt

handful of caraway seeds

smaller handful yellow mustard seeds

It was a task to shred all this cabbage. Jean hacked it into pieces that would fit in the food processor which I had fitted with the slicer attachment. We did it in two batches because I have no bowl or pot which would hold the entire shredded mass. By the end of the project, there was cabbage absolutely everywhere from my kitchen to my dining room.

Added the salt and seeds and onions to the cabbage in the biggest pot I have. We took shifts mashing the mixture for about ten minutes with a wooden spoon to release all the juices and dissolve the salt.

We had two one gallon jars Jean used to make kombucha in and these were just the right size for this amount. Three handfuls at a time, I stuffed the mixture into the jars, pressing down each layer very firmly before adding more. My hands are pretty parched from handling all the brine.

We put a yogurt container lid to the top of the kraut and a small jar on top of that to keep the cabbage weighed down. Then we covered it with four layers of cheesecloth, and it's sitting on top of the fridge, fermenting at room temperature. We're going to skim any white froth that forms at the top, and daily pick out the bits that turn brown. It's going to ferment for three weeks before transferring it to 1 quart jars and putting in the fridge, where the flavor will intensify. It can be eaten ten days after this, or after a few months for a very aged flavor.

I'm excited....