Tag Archives: ginger

Turkey Day Trials 2014; Floating

25 Nov

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Sometimes, just silly things happen in the kitchen. Like when I went to strain a sauce and acting on habit, strained it down the drain. Or when (and this is from my mom’s perspective) I do a little kitchen jig when the food I make is good. Or spicy. Well, the other day, as a part of my Turkey Day Trials, another mishap came about that still has me giggling.

When Rob and I lived in Oregon, for a treat we would go for a cocktail and appetizers at the lounge at Bandon Dunes. We would dress up Pacific-Northwest-Golf-Club-fancy (yes that is a real fashion category) and watch as the cold-to-the-bone expert golfers would finish up the 18th. It was a little bit boushie and out of our Coos Bay ordinary, and we always struck up conversations with the most interesting (and sometimes famous) people. It got to a point that “our” bartender would put in the usual orders when he saw us walk in the door, and a few minutes later our Blue Cheese Chips were fragrantly awaiting our devour.

The bowl of freshly-fried potato chips always went down quickly and shook off the lingering chill from the constantly-present coastal winds. But what always added to our Bandon experience was driving by the cranberry bogs on the way to the golf resort. I’d always strain my neck to see what stage of growth the cranberries were in, and harvest was always the best time. Stretching fields of red bogs, like giant ruby blankets against the green pines, the floating berries were sucked up into a tube and then shot out like miniature cannon balls into a truck, ready for processing and distribution.

This water-powered firing of small, red fruit usually marked the autumnal season, signaling Thanksgiving was right around the corner. So this year, I paid homage to the cranberry by making an irresistible cranberry relish – one that puts even the coveted, jellied amazingness to shame.

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By simply taking 1 quart of fresh cranberries, ½ c sugar, a bottle of strong ginger beer (I like Reeds), a 4-in stick of cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and (here’s the kicker), a tea infuser of chamomile flowers, you will end up with a reduced, naturally pectin-infused bowl of beautiful, fragrant, and more-than-tasty cranberry relish. The trick is waiting until the boiling bubbles are shiny and slow-to-pop in the pot, almost like preparing a jam. After the relish is cooled, it will be thick yet spreadable, sweet yet tangy. Simple perfection at the Thanksgiving dinner table, or just the everyday autumn and winter breakfast spread.

So what was so silly about making this relish? The fact that in my first batch (a major mishap), I added a bit of liquid, then a bit more, then a bit more, each time expecting the berries to be covered and give me a culinary visual of the accurate liquid amount. And after all those days watching the bogs, I completely forgot that… cranberries float!!! No matter the liquid amount, the cranberries will never sink in the pot like they do with other jam fruit. So stick with the recipe – it works, thanks to my silly mistake.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy with food, love, laughter, and memories!

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Clean Up in the Garden Center

14 Dec

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Don’t “they” say that most horrible emotional crises happen during the holidays?  Like, if there was ever a time to yell, stomp, scream, cry, and down-right pout, now would be the time?  Of course these tantrums happen to sneak up at inopportune times, taking only one, very small piece of straw to break the camel’s back.  It seems quite paradoxical, actually, a grown-up having a fit among a-bit-too-loud cheery Christmas songs and smiling cut-out advertisements exemplifying holiday spirit.

Well, I’m glad to say that I did not yell, nor stomp.  I did not scream.  And while the I-really-am-trying-to-have-a-good-time-but-my-face-says-otherwise pouting did inevitably lead to leaving tear stains on Rob’s flight suit, the wonderful workers at the Home Depot Garden Center would probably classify me as one of “those” people.

Remember that wonderful Christmas tree farm in Oregon where we got to cut our own tree?  It was always cold, festive, pine-y, and everything you would imagine out of a Courier and Ives picture-scape.  Rob did NOT cut the tree the first year (leading to much teasing on my end), and the second year Rob so acutely DID cut the tree, thus having it land perfectly on me.  Payback is, well, what I was when I teased him endlessly I guess.

This year, Rob and I lovingly walked, hand in hand, to pick out the most perfect Christmas tree for our new home in Northern Florida.  We met right after work, making a bit of a romantic date out of the occasion.  Except the Christmas-tree-picking ambiance we’ve become so accustomed to was tainted somewhat by 1) the hardware store, 2) the 80 degree weather, and 3) the fact that when we walked up to the trees, they were all wrapped perfectly in twine for take-home ease.  So, as both of our shoulders hunched over just a bit at the loss of rustic sentiment, I turned, and without restraint, nor dignity, let some tears slip out.  My adoring husband held me and let me cry into his shoulder, and with similar sentiment to my breakdown in the grocery store a few Thanksgivings ago, his deep voice called, “Clean up in the Garden Center!”

In all efforts to make the Christmas tree shopping situation feel more festive, Rob reached into one of his many, many pockets, found his flight knife, and started tearing into those trees like Paul Bunyan.  One by one, he vehemently sliced through twine, letting each tree open, boughs falling with ballet grace and exuberance.  The free-ing of the trees almost let out audible sighs and I could swear a couple started whispering, back to the dirt or bust!

I watched as the lady at the checkout eyed us with a suspicious who-are-these-hippie-freeing-tree people look on her face.  A couple of customers walked up for their own tree, but saw the rally and turned the other way.  Rob, at this point, was hidden among the full figured pines, and I stopped him from cutting another.

“Oh, just one more – this one in the back looks good!” Swipe went the knife. “AND it has some fallen Oak leaves on it!”

He knew that would sell me as my last name means “Grove of Oaks.”  It worked.

Sap and pine-needle dusted, and a bit sweaty, Rob and I purchased our Home Depot tree and tied it to the roof of his car.  At home, just like we would do in Oregon, we made some nibblies, had a cocktail, and put up our tree.  It is a gorgeous tree.  In fact, I think it could give the big ol’ pines in Oregon a run for their money.

Today, our tree is decorated, fragrant, sparkly, and beautiful.  We even positioned it in front of the outlet connected to the wall switch.  So rather than crawl under the tree and risk blindness and choice words from pine branch poking, we simply have to flip the living room switch for twinkle light galore.

To celebrate, I created a cocktail perfect for the holidays.  It is festive, fun, tasty, and perfect for this time of year.  The best part of this cocktail is the simple syrup: sugar, fresh cranberries, water, basil, and fresh ginger.  It simmers until all the cranberries pop, pop, pop, and the syrup gets thick and rich.  But that’s not the best part!  After straining the mixture, the syrup leaves behind a beautiful blend of thick, sweet, stewed cranberries, better than most chutney I’ve ever had.  In fact, we dolloped it atop some super sharp cheddar cheese and an apple slice, and had a perfect hor’dourve to match our drink.

Like every other Christmas that Rob and I have shared together, this one started off in its standard way: a funny story to tell, and a libation with which to retell it.  Enjoy the holidays, and enjoy the chutney and cocktail!

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Cranberry Ginger Martini (with Cranberry Ginger Chutney as a bonus) 

For the simple syrup:

  • 1 c water
  • ½ c sugar
  • 1 c fresh cranberries
  • 1-in nob of ginger, peeled and finely diced
  • a handful of basil

Heat over medium-high heat, and give the mixture a stir, until all the sugar has dissolved.  Let it sit and bubble, until all the cranberries have popped, and the mixture has thickened (this will only take about 5-7 minutes). 

Using a fine mesh sieve, strain out the syrup, and keep the solids – discarding the basil leaves – as a wonderful chutney. 

For the cocktail:
Combine 2 tbsp of the cranberry syrup, 3 oz vodka, juice of ½ a lime, and some ice into a shaker.  Shake until cold and mixed, and strain into a martini glass.  Serve with a garnish of lime and a basil leaf. 

ENJOY! 

Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils, and Tomatoes

10 Sep

Yes, it’s that time again.  New clothes, three-ring binders, pencils, red pens, and those annoying snap-in three-hole punches that leave perfectly little round paper confetti all over the industrial carpeted floor.  The kids are back tin school, and my feet hurt.

It has been three years since I’ve been in a self-contained classroom, and while having worked as a single-subject teacher, a specialist, and then an instructional coach have all been incredible, and memorable, learning experiences, I’m so glad to be back with the kids.  Each day is different, and frankly, kids are cuter than adults (usually).

But getting back on the horse of the day-to-day-is-completely-different expectation has limited me on some of the things I have loved doing.  Such as waking up at 7:30 and watching the Today Show.  Taking long walks, catching up on food blogs, and reading cooking magazines.  And more than anything, spending most of the day in my perfectly L-shaped kitchen, making tomato jam, blueberry sauce, and tomato sandwiches.

In the August edition of Bon Appetit magazine, Adam Rapoport did a little blurb on Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s tang, it’s smoothness, simply it’s perfection.  Especially paired with a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato.  Finally, to read from someone who agrees with me about eating that mayo from the jar (well, I guess I learned from the best: Mom and Uncle Tom).  That little written oration, almost so easy to miss through the early pages of the mag, speaks passion and more than anything, a real summer taste.  Tomatoes, mayo, period.

Until now.  I have been playing with tomatoes for weeks now, and refuse to let one succumb to the overripe gods of the compost pile.  During the bitter, rainy winter/spring months, there’s sans a tomato in sight in our kitchen, so now is the time for indulgence.  I’ve even brought them to school and eaten them like an apple, brushing off my colleagues’ I’m-trying-not-to-look-at-you-but-it-seems-a-little-weird stares.  But the sauce I made, not originally intended for tomatoes, has made the lycopene-laced fruit speak loudly and with force: Peach and Fig Butter.  It’s sweet, tangy, subtle, and giving tomatoes a run for their money.

A friend’s mom was visiting from NorCal (where almost every fruit, veg, and leafy green has the ability to flourish wildly), and brought some Adriatic Figs to share.  These figs were so ripe they were about to pop – their bright green skin thin and stretched, like a, well, tomato ready to pop.  Adriatic figs are milder and less holiday tasting than the common black Mission Fig, and pair well with many summer flavors.  Two of my favorites being tomatoes and peaches (which I mix often), I imagined the perfect combination of a thick, smooth fruit butter to spread on tomatoes speckled with a creamy Gorgonzola.  Paired with a crisp Oregon Pinot Gris, can’t you just taste it now?

It was fabulous.  I took a shortcut with the butter by immersion blending the fruit after it had been simmering for a bit (rather than starting with a puree), shortening the thickening process drastically.  Despite the name, fruit butters don’t actually contain butter, but get their name from the thick, smooth quality the long simmering process renders.  Thick this was, and tasty.  The figs cut the sweetness from the peaches, and the subtle “warming” spices rounded out the fullness of the flavors.  Slathered on a tomato, our taste buds sung.

I teach 6th graders this year.  They are a lot different from the 4th, or even 8th graders I’ve grown accustom to teaching.  They, unlike my 4th and 8th graders, don’t care so much about my cooking stories.  They think talking about Fig and Peach Butter on a tomato is weird.  Maybe it is.  Not much is cool, unless you have a knack for really dry, overly intended sarcasm, which I, unfortunately, remember exuding all too well.  Call it the hormones, or maybe just the “transition year,” but I’m hoping they will come around to understanding the idea of having a passion for something as much as they understand an author’s voice in writing, or variables in algebra.  Having a passion is cool.  It made Adam Rapoport write about mayo.  It made me pair unlikely ingredients.  Hopefully, they will realize the coolness, too.

Fig & Peach Butter (makes 1 pint)

  •  5 large Adriactic figs, very ripe, diced
  • 2 large yellow peaches, peeled and diced
  • ¼ + 1/8 c organic sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¾ c water

Heat all ingredients in a pot over med-high heat until bubbly and liquidy. Add the ¾ c water, and blend well using an immersion blender or spoon into a stand blender.  Cook over low heat until very thick (when running a spoon through the butter, it should leave a trail).  Note: the butter will sputter when cooking; use a deep pot unless you want your stovetop to get covered in random, sticky, Jackson Pollock looking splotches. 

Let cool (it will thicken even more), and slather over tomatoes, toast, dollop on oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  Enjoy! 

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