Home Churned and Hand Pressed

Another [near-]equinox weekend means another Lopez JuggleFest. As with the years past, the weekend was wonderful. This was the first year I got to head out early to help with the prep, and with that came additional organizational tasks, which I accepted with pleasure. So in between as much juggling as I could fit in, a shift in the bakery, and general set-up, I helped head up the cider press and the ice cream making.

The cider press is a hand crank jobber (both the masticating and the pressing). If you add a few willing volunteers, it makes for quick work*. This year, we pressed maybe 30 gallons of delicious cider. I drank probably a gallon of it by myself*. (Oh, and it probably goes without saying, but all the apples for the cider came from on island if not from the property itself.)

Organizing the ice cream took a little more doing. Amiel and I were handed the ice cream torch due to the absence of the usual ice cream guru. We learned the recipes, bought/picked the ingredients, gathered supplies, facilitated the crankers, quality controlled, and helped to serve up the bounty. Everyone* agreed that the results were spectacular. The flavors were kiwi*, blackberry*, peach/nectarine, vanilla, and coffee. Yum.

If it wouldn't blow my strict word limit out of the water, I would go on about all the other great food there was (not to mention all the camping, creativity, campfire, juggling, marimba band, community goodness), but I guess that will have to wait for next year. Ah next year's JuggleFest - another yearly traditional I love having to look forward to.
Monday September 21 2009File under: juggling, food

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Local Food Party 2009

This year's Local Foods Party* was again a great success. Like in years past, there was homemade salt, garden grown veggies, and oodles of fresh berries. Like in years past, there were new and creative additions to the menu (some of which worked and some of which did not.) And like in years past, we had a great group of people gathered together to celebrate the bounty and abundance of northwest Washington's local foodscape.

Some highlights for me (besides being surrounded with good people): smoked bison, pizza*, a gorgeous nicoise salad, crab(!), and peaches and cream. As with the first year, there was also a little entertainment (esp. enjoyed by the kids)

A couple of the foodie experiments that I was hoping to contribute didn't turn out as well as I hoped (but were still lots of fun to do). An attempt to make sugar from beets ended up as taffy so instead went to sweeten blackberry popsicles. The critics commented "I like the first taste, but not the last one that it leaves in your mouth". Also, I made another attempt at tortillas, which I was sure I had pegged. After rendering some fat into lard, finding a local flour source, and drying, storing, and grinding corn into cornmeal, I thought I had all the ingredients, but something just wasn't right. They turned out more like tostadas rather than tortillas. Alas.

Thinking, planning, and talking about the challenges* and rewards of local foods is always a great way to remind me of what we as a culture so often take for granted. Having a meal dedicated to not taking that stuff for granted makes me very happy. Having good friends around to share it with makes it that much better.
Sunday August 23 2009File under: food, events

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Ready Set Eat

What could be more American than gathering together on the 4th of July for a BBQ with friends? Doing exactly that but adding in an eating contest, of course. That's exactly how I spent my 4th and I have to say it was a hoot.

Recalling antics from college, I decided to put together a watermelon eating contest and get as many people to play along as possible. In the end, I could only convince 3 others to join me, but we had a good time with it. As we all stood by with our first piece at the ready, the proverbial gun sounded. We all dove in and immediately burst into such hard laughter that our times suffered dramatically. Perhaps competitive eating and having a sense of humor don't go hand in hand.

With the exception of me (who couldn't stop laughing long enough to get down more than 3 pieces), the competitors were neck and neck until the end. While Tone looked like he had it sealed up, judges ruled too much meat left on the bone so he had to go in for a second pass. Nater, who had been meticulously cleaning the rinds as he went, pulled ahead for the win.

The whole thing was so much fun that I'm inclined to do it again next year. In the meantime, I've got some practicing to do (and that's no laughing matter).
Wednesday July 8 2009File under: holidays, food

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Salmonberries

Walking around in the woods recently, I was treated to a pleasant surprise: salmonberry season is in full swing and I happened upon a great patch. "What are salmonberries?" you ask. Similar to a raspberry in color and fruit structure, salmonberries are a sometimes slightly bitter wild-growing berry of the west coast. Every couple of years around this time, I usually seem to stumbled upon one or two berries, not quite remembering which of the lesser known edible but not awesome berries they are, but have a munch anyway. This time around, however, we found so many and engorged ourselves so much that I doubt I will be unsure in the future*.

While the taste of the berries wasn't awesome* (I like my berries with a lot of flavor and sweet), there is just something about a wild growing fruit that always gets me. It is one of the reasons I am so fond of blackberries (even though they are horribly invasive and can tear up a short-pants wearing leg in no time). I guess it reminds me of what it would have been like before agriculture, grocery stores, and imported Chilean fruit became standard. You just go out for a hike, happen upon some berries, eat them right off the bush, and then head back to your wigwam to blog about it.
Tuesday June 9 2009File under: misc, food

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Oats!

I'm growing oats! or at least attempting to. As part of an experiment I'm calling "Plants Grow", I've cleared a small plot on our land up in Sedro Woolley and planted oats. I'll touch more or the experiment later in the year once I have some conclusions to draw.

As for why I chose oats, I wanted to find some source of local grain to widen the offerings at this year's local food party*. Oats can be made into flour*, used in granola, and of course oatmeal and oatmeal cookies*.

Finding oat seed is not an easy task. After calling all over the county, I found one place that had some, but I had to buy an 88 lb. bag of the stuff. Since my Sedro plot only required about 3 lbs of seed, I have lots left over*. And while it only used about 1 lb. more, I planted a mini oat field here on the home front (with the help of the neighbor boy*), which will also serve as a good control group for my experiment.

Anyway, here's hoping for oats come fall!
Saturday May 30 2009File under: Anacortes, food

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Communal Meals

The first thing I'm told when I walk in Andrew's door in Portland is "We've got dinner plans". Not being one to eschew meal plans, I dumped my bags and headed back out into the [relatively] cold northwest weather. Dinner was homemade tamales with lots of extras at a friend's house. Many people gathered together to cook, chat, eat, flirt, and discuss the finer points of converting a client-side database to be server-based. The following two meals the next day were much the same way: food gets cooked, friends descend, fun ensues.

Yes, these Portland dwellers do it right*. The idea of coming together for a shared meal is one that warms me to the core. Good people combined with good food: I'm afraid that's a hard one to beat.
Tuesday January 6 2009File under: travel, food

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A Corny Experiment

It is corn season here in the Northwest. There are trailers parked on the side of the road at freeway on-ramps and at various locations across the Skagit flats advertising 6 ears for $1. Here soon, it will undoubtedly drop to 10/$1 when the peak of the season hits and people are starting to get tired of seeing kernels everywhere they look*.

I love corn, esp. when it is so fresh and sweet like we have here. Each year, I tell myself that a) I will try to grow some and 2) I will try to put some away (either by drying or freezing). Every year at my local foods party, I get mad at myself for not having put some up the previous year so as to have local corn meal to try out with new recipes. This year, I'm happy to say, I can check both things off my list.

My attempts at growing corn are proving alright. Nothing staggering, but my little plot will provide a few ears. To get enough for drying, I had to turn to Joe's Garden in Bellingham. At the outrageous price of 3/$1.25, I bought 12* and set to drying. Unfortunately corn season and sun season in the northwest don't conveniently coincide, so I'm having to resort to the oven for drying. We'll see how it goes. If everything goes right, I'll take my knowledge from the garden corn to produce a decent little harvest next year AND have this year's dried corn to turn into corn bread or corn tortillas for next years local foods party.
Friday September 19 2008File under: food

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Mmmmm Bacon

I had bacon for all three meals today. (Yes, my life really is exciting enough right now that this gets its own post.) In my defense, 2, likely 3, of the bacon servings were from local sources. Skagit Slow Foods organizes a meat buying "club" with Skagit River Ranch, making purchasing local meats easy to do*. You just place your order online once a month and then pick it up at a local delivery point. Then you cook it up with two eggs over easy, put it in a tortilla, drizzle some fake maple syrup over it, and enjoy heaven's sweet nectar.

Bacon is becoming quite a theme(/meme) on the interweb these days, so just for the heck of it, I thought I'd throw in a few bacon links.
*25 sizzling hot bacon-inspired MUST-haves for fall
*Bacon reddit (Reddit is a user-submitted list of what's new and interesting on the web*)
*Bacon bra (It's amazing what a simple google image search will turn up.)
Sunday September 7 2008File under: food, misc

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Blackberry Pickin

I like blackberries. They are perhaps my favorite fruit. My like for them comes not only from their taste (which is scrumptious), but also from their egalitarianism. They are available to anyone: no special farming required, no payment for u-picking, no secret locations*. Anyone can just walk to their nearest abandoned lot and likely find more berries than one person could possibly eat.

That's exactly what I did this weekend. The neighbors and I grabbed our bikes and a few tuperware containers and headed for the industrial area of Anacortes, the best location for abandoned lots. Deanna was on a mission to make jam while Logan and I were merely there to fill our maws to the brim. While I picked enough berries to trade for one jar of the resulting jam, I also found time to play a little version of basketball using berries as the ball and my mouth as the basket. (I contend that I am a champion tossed-food catcher. If anyone wants to challenge me, I'm in.)

Anyway, I hope to get at least one more berry picking session in this season. It is a treat that satisfies the taste buds as well as the mind. Yum!.

(Of course there is the whole issue of blackberries being a crazy invasive species and taking over almost any area it comes across, but as far as invasive species go, at least it gives something back to the community it takes so much from.)

((Then there is the song lyrics that always go through my head when out blackberry pickin': Jimmy Buffett's Life Is Just a Tire Swing. ...Blackberry pickin, eatin fried chicken/And I never knew a thing about pain'/Life was just a tire swing))
Monday September 1 2008File under: food, Anacortes

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Local Foods Party 08

This year marks the 3rd annual local foods party at casa du Wren, et al. (previous coverage: year 1 and year 2). As always, it was fun, inspiring, yummy, educational, communal, and more. This year's festivities were markedly more cozy* than previous years, partially due to improper organization on my part* and partially due to extenuating circumstances*. Nonetheless, it was a great time among friends new and old.

For a comprehensive list of the food and drink served, check out the menu. I will, however, call out a few of my highlights. Firstly, it warmed my pea-picking heart* to see that we had 3 different people include their own homemade butter in their recipes! Butter, along with salt, is always what I tell people about to help explain what this party is all about. I'm so glad the enthusiasm is spreading. (Speaking of butter, here's a picture of me making mine. Excuse the somewhat staged nature of the photo. Ma framed it to showcase her fancy new kitchen.) Along with folks getting on the butter bandwagon, I wasn't the only person to make my own salt this year. Keith's efforts put mine to shame with loads of nice clean salt. (My efforts were carbon neutral, though.)

A few great dishes that are highly worthy of calling attention to:
*Linda's zucchini/mint/[something else green] bisque served cold with goat cheese and tomatoes. In fact, I'm about to go ladle up some leftovers right now!
*Keith's dehydrated onions: as simple as it sounds but way better. Great for munching on before hand (and luckily he left us enough to keep for hikes, etc. too!)
*Goat's milk yogurt dressing: salad dressings have always been an issue in the past. This year, Ma came across local goat's milk yogurt and fashioned it into a great dressing for her summer squash salad. Then River threw together an impromptu dressing for his green salad that turned out great as well.

Yes, it was another great celebration of the season and the place we live. Thanks to all that joined in the fun. To the rest of you, I hope to see you here next year.

(Oh, and some photos from the feast: Ma's description of her dishes, the spread, the chilluns wait patiently to eat while the grown-ups goo and gaw over it all, plated goodness, post-feast mingle time.)
Thursday August 21 2008File under: food, Anacortes

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