Productive Food!

The inside of my freezer - lots of food inside.  :)

So far this summer, we’ve frozen corn, peaches, apricots, pluots, pesto, more corn and more peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and, uh, some random bottles of water that we put into coolers.

Yesterday we made:

  • our last batch of pesto for the season using fresh basil and fresh lemon from our neighbors’ parents’ yard,
  • hot sauce,
  • a huge container of salsa with tomatoes from our neighbors (which doesn’t freeze well, so we’re going to be eating a lot of salsa this week),
  • lemon juice from our neighbors’ parents’ lemons (the frozen lemon juice is in the kitchen freezer, so you can’t see it here)
  • cleaning fluid out of lemon rinds, basil stems, and some rosemary sprigs soaking in vinegar,
  • apple sauce from two sad apples that fell off the tree,
  • which went on our pancakes,
  • and beet/carrot/ginger/pear/red bell pepper/parsley juice.

I feel quite proud of us.  (No wonder I spent all afternoon tired on the couch.)

There’s still hot peppers and tomatoes to acquire and process this month, and then starting in late september will be apple season (we have 3 producing apple trees).  I’m trying to figure out better (i.e. more nutritional) things to do with the apples than just making apple juice, but everything I come up with takes a lot of peeling and slicing.  We had boxes and boxes and boxes of apples last year, I’m not sure I can handle slicing and slicing and slicing and peeling and peeling.  But I was thinking of trying an apple slicer.  Anyone have opinions about apple slicers?

Dispatches from the other side†

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Experiment: Life

Well, it’s my third day of post-employment vacation.  Yesterday I stayed in bed reading until after 10am, which I haven’t done in a few years*.  Then I got up and instead of making breakfast, I made kasha (slow, so it was for lunch or a later meal), ravioli in the last of the sun-dried tomato pesto (store-bought), and banana oat muffins with the two very brown bananas I discovered at the bottom of the fridge.  (The third incredibly brown banana was wrinkled and sad… it became an offering to the compost.)  I also offered a bunch of sad old vegetables that were beyond saving, and squeezed all the citrus in the fridge into juice, except for one lemon (which Ben used today for our cucumber and arugula salad).  Then of course I had to wash dishes… and then I sat on the couch for the next several** hours watching various TV shows.  :)

Including Ally McBeal, which I never watched more than a scene or two of when it was originally on air.  I watched the season finale of Gray’s Anatomy, and decided I needed another show that’s overly melodramatic and unrealistic yet funny and requiring little brain power.  Ally McBeal seems to suit the purpose just fine; I watched the first four episodes.  :-D  So far it really is all about sex, but I like how Ally is generally honest about the fact that she still loves her many-years-ex-boyfriend Billy, who is now married.  Yeah, there are plenty of moments of self-deception and other-people-decption, but that one is generally right out in the open.  I’m having a little trouble with how awkward and stammery she gets.  It’s a cute character flaw, but occasionally over-done.  And I adore her best friend Renée, who gets to be honest and fabulous.  Of course, they have relatively few scenes with Renée (compared to any of Ally’s coworkers), probably because she’d take over the show.  So, good choice.  And I love Vonda Shepard.  Was she anybody before she played the music on the show?  I know her music well, but I don’t remember if she was famous before Ally McBeal.

Today we got up and went to the farmer’s market and grocery store, and now we’ve made cucumber salad (see above), prepped a summer squash, broccolini floret, and onion stir-fry for later, and prepped a lentil soup with barely, summer squash, broccolini stem, onion, celery (which I despise, incidentally, but usually put into soups because it makes soup taste better), and mushroom (which I hate the texture of, so we’re going to cook the celery and mushroom in broth and then puree it, then add that to the soup).

This week, my world is centering around food, books, and TV.  That seems just right.  Next week, I’m going sewing machine shopping***.


† That phrase got stuck in my head and I can’t think of a better title.  So, there it is.  Speaking of the other side, my dad sent me the best email this morning, telling me that he’s proud of me for following my heart.  It made me really happy.

* So bizarre.  I used to read until 11 or noon easily on weekends.  (And occasionally on weekdays…)  Ben tends to want to get up and, you know, eat breakfast.  And then there were 7 or 8am meetings some mornings.  So I got in the habit of getting up early.  Even if I stayed in bed reading, 10 has been the latest unless I’m sick.  And, actually, I’d rather get up much earlier than 10 most days, to have plenty of time to enjoy the sunlight.  In the summer it’s not such a big deal, but come winter it’ll be important.  Another thing I’ve noticed is that I have this belief that evenings are for vegging out… even if I spent all day vegging and probably could muster the energy to be productive.  I’m not worried about it during my vacation, but once the Experiment starts, I’ll have to pay attention to that and make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.

** “Several” may actually be an understatement….  We also watched the fifth episode of Doctor Who Season 7 Part 2^, whose name I forget^^.  (Yeah, I’m a few episodes behind.  I’ve been busy and savoring. :) ) It was a fun episode with some entertaining bits, but it also strained credulity in a bunch of places.  This season isn’t as well written as the past couple of seasons have been.  The story-lines just aren’t as tight.  Even “Hide” (episode 4) was fun, but when I watched it a second time (so Ben could see it), it had lost all of the scariness and it seemed like some bits were just there for effect and didn’t have any bearing on the plot.  Again, weaker writing.  Sad.

^ What’s wrong with just continuing Season 7?  Why did it have to become part 2?

^^ I imagine I could look it up.%

% Ok, ok, I’ll look it up.  Oh right, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, which was actually a fabulous title.  And it really did live up to the title, and seeing the inside of the TARDIS was great fun (I loved the swimming pool), but it could’ve been more awesome.  Like why were the <REDACTED> trying to kill them?  And after the buildup in the last half season I expected to adore Clara… and while I do like her, she’s not nearly as spunky and funny as she was built up to be.  :-/

*** And maybe get a haircut, new glasses, and give my car an oil change and a car wash.  And also go shopping for a cabinet to store my routers and electronics in.  But since my biggest goal is vacating, I’m trying to keep it all low pressure.  :)

Making Yogurt – Liza’s bastardized version of Indian directions

I’ve been making yogurt for a few months now, from a batch that one of my (wonderful) Indian co-workers brought me of her strain from India.  Just today, my best friend Sally took home some of my yogurt so she could start making it, too.  So, I’m writing down directions.

Here’s how I make yogurt:

  1. I make sure to keep at least a tablespoon of the previous batch of yogurt.  The instructions I was given were that one tablespoon is enough to make the next batch of yogurt, no matter how much you’re making.  I haven’t tried this too closely, I’ve been making 1-2 cups with one tablespoon of yogurt.
  2. I’ve been using a glass container, but you could use plastic or stainless steel (I hear Indian stores have fabulous stainless steel containers, but I haven’t managed to go look yet).
  3. Put the tablespoon of yogurt into the container, then fill the container with milk.  If I make two containers of yogurt, I use one tablespoon of yogurt per container.  I’ve been pouring the milk in cold, straight out of the refrigerator, but see my notes below about the proper Indian method.
  4. Put the container with the yogurt in a warm place.  I’ve been putting it in the oven with the oven light turned on.  I’ve also been using a thermometer to gauge the temperature in the oven (not in the milk/yogurt), and have found that it’ll go above 100°F.  I’m not very scientific about it, so I leave it in the oven with the light on for several hours, until it’s above 100°, then turn it off for several hours until it’s at 80° or lower, and then turn it on again, etc., until it acts like yogurt.  I after I turn the light off the second time, I’ll usually leave it in overnight.
  5. Once it’s wobbly like yogurt, take it out, put a lid on, and stick it in the fridge.  I haven’t been worrying about leaving it in the oven too long, and if I’m not sure it’s ready I’ll leave it in a bit longer.

My theory (and I haven’t done any research about this) is that yogurt bacteria like to be pretty warm to grow quickly.  It could be that getting the milk even warmer than that would be helpful, and then you might not need to leave it out part of the day and all night.

Proper Indian directions, per my coworkers who looked at my like I was crazy when I described how I’d made yogurt (I haven’t ever followed these directions*):

  1. Heat up milk in a pot until boiling.
  2. Take it off the heat, and let it cool off until it’s just warm.
  3. Pour the milk into containers, with a tablespoon of yogurt per container.  Put in the oven with the light on only if your home is fairly cold.  (I’m not sure about the technical definition of that, but I’d guess 70° is nearing too cold.)
  4. Let it sit for about 8 hours.
  5. Cover and refrigerate.

My theory about why my method is working just as well: Milk bought in the U.S. (>99% of it, anyway) is already pasteurized.  Boiling it is like pasteurizing it.  So here in the U.S. it’s an unnecessary step.  Therefore, the only actual need is to warm up the milk.  Maybe warming it on the stove or in a microwave would work better than putting it in cold, but it would take more steps before I could move on to the next thing in my day.  I’ll let you know if I ever try it.

What’s the difference between Indian** yogurt (or any kind of home-made) and store-bought?  Many things. First, home-made yogurt is made up of hundreds of bacteria that are good for your digestion, whereas store-bought uses just a few strains that each company has decided are the “best”, or maybe patentable.  Even the brands that advertise that they have live cultures only have a few very specific live cultures… and the strains may have been added in after the yogurt became yogurt.  Indian, or any kind of home-made, yogurt is yogurt because it was made with all of the strains of bacteria that were in the culture to start with.  (By the way, you probably could start yogurt from store-bought, as long as it’s the kind that has live cultures, but then it wouldn’t have very many strains of bacteria.  If you can find someone who has their own yogurt, that would probably would best.)

Second, home-made yogurt can vary quite widely in flavor, depending on what bacteria are in it.  The strain I have is a bit sweet, even when left plain.  Others can be very sour.

Third, because the beneficial bacteria in home-made yogurt are still alive and active, they don’t leave room for harmful bacteria to grow.  This doesn’t mean it can’t spoil, and I’ve been told to keep it in the refrigerator once it’s made (this also keeps it from getting more sour-flavored), but it’s less likely to go bad.

* I don’t follow directions well.  Also, I was given yogurt before I was given instructions.  And then I decided to try it, based on what I know about kefir and what I’d heard about yogurt.  I guessed wrong, but it worked anyway.

** Other cultures make yogurt, too.  Only my Indian coworkers have told me about it, though, so that’s my point of reference.

Welcome to Summer, and Second Draft-y

It’s a beautiful day!  Summer (sic) has finally arrived in Half Moon Bay!  The sun is warm, the breeze is mild, and I’m not leaving to go to work today!

Ben made a vegetarian chili last night, which I had for lunch today.  Om nom nom.  My favoritest co-worker ever brought me kefir* grains** this week, and I’ve started making kefir.  I put a few spoonsful on top of the chili, just like it was yogurt or sour cream or, you know, kefir, and I ate it, and it was delicious.  Mmm.

The other thing I did today was that I finally started the second draft of my vampire story, with a completely new main character.  I’ve been putting it off for weeks (since my last post), because I don’t really want to re-write the whole damn story.  But!  It worked out pretty well today, sitting outside in the sun (mmm, warm), I managed to see the first scene, and then I started writing.  It just kinda flowed.  The new MC has a voice, which the last one didn’t, and I’m unreasonably amused by her.  (Which makes me fear no one else will find her amusing… but that’s what third drafts are for!)  I think I wrote about 1000 words*** today, and felt much better about it than I would’ve about rewriting 1000 words of the first draft.

(Incidentally, 1000 words is about a fifth of the rough draft–which doesn’t seem likely for this second draft, because I’ve only just gotten to the point where the first draft “started” [after I hacked off the initial two scenes that sucked† and therefore weren’t counted].)

And yesterday I looked up who Mandelbrot was, and decided that I like him quite well as a namesake for my MC.  Who’s a girl.  I dunno, the name popped into my head, that she’s called Mandy, and it’s short for Mandelbrot.  And I couldn’t remember who Mandelbrot really was, so I was afraid he was a serial killer or something.  But no, he’s the guy who discovered fractals, which works for me, though I haven’t figured out why her parents picked it.

* It’s like yogurt, only runnier and different.  This morning’s batch was solid and wobbly just like yogurt would be, though it fell apart when I transferred it to a different container.

** Kefir, you see, is also a bacterial growth, just like yogurt, but the bacteria grow these gel-like modules around them, which are called grains.  It’s really strange, and looks a little like cottage cheese, and you strain them out before drinking the kefir (though you don’t have to), and then put them in a new container with new milk, and they keep growing.  Yum.  I’ll have to report more about this as I continue experimenting.

*** One of the troubles with writing long-hand is that you can’t give an actual number, without doing something dumb like counting.  Computers count for you.  Someday, maybe I’ll learn how to compose directly into a computer.  My recollection is that I usually fit about 150 words into a page of my notebooks, and I filled 6 pages.  But I seem to recall that sometimes the number was more like 200 or 250, and I don’t remember if that was in a different shape of notebook, or if it really varies that much depending on how big my words are.

† Ok, they didn’t so much suck as just not have a place in the story.  I did keep them, because some of the description was relevant.