Sunday, September 26, 2010


Luz’s carrot crop has been most impressive. Zie only started harvesting a couple of weeks ago. Zie pulled on a clump of greens and all of a sudden this enormous fat carrot appeared!

Our neighbor Jenn had her two year-old nephew over for a visit last weekend. He watches Curious George videos and so knows a lot about gardening, including compost! His favorite game when visiting is to toss the compost with his aunties. So during his visit, Luz pulled some carrots to show him. He happily carried a miniature carrot around, with the long green stem dragging behind him like Linus’s blanket.

I have happily chomped down several of these carrots. I have always loved carrots because they’re sweet and you can crunch them hard.

Starting in 1977, I went through a spell of reading and re-reading all the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House. books. See I was a farmwife in training, but didn’t know it. My sister had read them all before. I read everything in sight, and, I think, especially liked reading books my sister had read.

Aside: The books are quite frankly racist, with lots of anti-Indian sentiments freely expressed, including that native peoples have no rights to land and should be displaced to make more room for white homesteaders, and that there’s no such thing as a “good Indian.” Ma expresses the worst of these, as well as some less-than-charming anti-immigrant snap judgments. but then Pa actually performs in blackface in a minstrel show, the retelling of which includes a lot of repetition of “darkies.” These unpleasantries are whitewashed away in the nostalgia with which these books are enshrined.

The third novel in the series, Farmer Boy, focuses on the boyhood of Almanzo Wilder (Ingall’s future husband) on his family’s extensive farm in New York. In addition to the livestock they sell, they are wholly self-sufficient. White sugar is one of the few things they have to purchase. They shear their sheep and the women spin the wool and the weave it into cloth for clothing. So they also happen to grow a lot of crops in sufficient abundance that they use them as feed crops for the cattle, carrots being one of them. And the young boy, chomping on carrots while training his young oxen, observes that the outer ring of the carrot is sweeter and can be snapped off, while the inner core has a sharper taste. Luz’s carrots were like that to the nth degree.

Luz had made carrot ginger soup, and carrots are included in many of Luz’s recipes. (Zie likes to see how many servings of vegetables can be incorporated into one delicious meal.) Still, the longer they stay in the ground, the bigger the carrots grow. As I said, I enjoy snacking on them raw. Luz and our neighbor Jenn are already starting their winter plantings, now, so they’re pulling out the summer crops that are done. Luz wanted to open the space currently occupied by the carrots.

So, given our brand-new skill of canning vegetables, a fond remembrance of Sandy Der’s fermentation class, and some ingenuity on Luz’s part, and zie came up with the perfect solution: escabeche. Pickled jalapeños with carrots and onions. A tiny serving of which is the norm at tacquerias throughout Califas, at least.

We’d made refrigerator pickles last year, with the radishes. They were yummy. But the difference this time is that not only would we pickle them with vinegar, but we would then can the escabeche in jars.

As usual, I researched all the safety precautions about canning vinegar pickles, and was happy to see that a lot of leeway is allowed with pickles. So I printed out four different recipes: some with sweetener, some with olive oil. It looked to me like as long as we used at least equal parts water and vinegar, it should be pretty safe. So Luz sent me to the Mexican market on the corner (Mi Tierra) for pickling spice and jalapeños. Right after that, though, before we started pickling, Maria and Gabriela gave us some red and green jalapeños from their barrio ranchito. So we used those instead. Their barrio rancho was the inspiration for ours: they have so many beautiful fruit trees and all kinds of veggies.

Luz reminded me that the jars left over from canning the apples would need to be washed and scalded again, since the water they’d been sitting in had gone cold. I did the rest of the prep, Luz cooked up her pot of escabeche, and then filled all our remaining jars with the chilies, carrots, and pickling liquid.

Although we were out of canning jars, we had one jar in the house where we could put the remaining escabeche and keep in the fridge for snacking.

Well, that was the plan. We ate escabeche with our neighbor Jenn on the deck last night as an appetizer. Luz planned tonight’s dinner around the escabeche. fava-bean burgers in flat bread with avocado and escabeche. (like a variation on a Mexican torta). Super yum.

That one jar of escabeche though is all used up, and it’s barely been twenty-four hours. How long can we hold out?

The dried apple rings didn’t make it even that long. They were done this afternoon and gone by dinner. yummy.

Canning, Part Deux: Apples

We are not apple connossieurs. Luz doesn’t like the crunch or the peel. Catriona only likes sour (granny smith) apples, peeled. When we were juicing big time, though, apples were a staple in our house. We bought them by the box from Berkeley bowl, just so we could keep up with our favorite apple-lime-carrot-ginger juice.

Luz did some juicing a couple of weeks back, as a cleansing before the start of hir school year. Zie juiced something fierce for several days, not only our old standbys but also vampiros using beets from hir garden. Hir carrots from the garden are absolutely the best carrots I have eaten.

When the limpia was over we still had lots of apples left. They weren’t real flavorful for eating out of hand. And it was starting to look like they would quietly go bad while we averted our eyes.

But as you know, we got a canning book and canning supplies last week, and that changed our whole perspective. While lots of people can the fruits of the garden, lots more buy bags and boxes of what’s in season so they can enjoy them later. I know Mrs. Surmani, who used to live next door to us, used to put up all kinds of fruit.

So, what the heck! let’s give apples a shot! First we were thinking apple chunks or apple butter. Catriona got a new canning book this week, Stocking Up, which is especially attractive because its jam & jelly recipes use only honey. We also have big concerns about sugar. Old-time canning recipes call for major sugar, and with diabetes being such an ominous specter on the Latin@ health horizon right now, we are not interested in preparing anything full of sugar.

When we first moved into the neighborhood, Mr. Surmani gave us a lesson on the membrillo (English: quince) which I consider the Troll or Ogre of apples: It’s big, lumpy, misshape, and kind of fuzzy. It’s too tart for out of hand eating, but bakes up a beautiful rose color, very fragrant and delicious. Membrillo (english: marmalade) was the first jelly, because the fruit has a naturally high fruit pectin content. Luz had produced some beautiful membrillo paste in years past, but really the sugar content of the recipes is frightening: 2 cups fruit to 2 cups sugar. Luz tried to decrease the sugar this year, planning to just cook it down, but it never set.

But then, our oven broke. (this hardly sounds like a happy story, so far).

We could still use the gas burners on top, but that was it. After a week of wrestling with the idea, we went shopping for a new stove, and picked a nice one which will support Luz’s MasterChef experimentation. And it has some features we will never use, like “perfect turkey.” And a couple of others that we found very exciting. Namely “bread proof” and “dehydrate.”

My family is not new to food dehydration. We moved from L.A. to northern New Mexico in the late 1970s. There were many aspects of rural life at which we did not succeed. We were complete failures with farm animals, due in large part to our displaced urban German Shepherd, who lacked the breeds herding instincts, in place of which he had a double measure of kill instinct. I need elaborate no further.

However, my dad excelled at gardening and dried foods. He made beef jerky every year with lots of salt and pepper. Some times he put even more pepper so that it would last longer. I’d always liked beef jerky as a kid, although all the jerky I’d ever seen had been encased in plastic. My mom, as a young woman, had a memorable experience working in a jerky factory which seemed to have cured her of any liking for the processed beef product. My dad’s jerky, on the other hand, was something special. legendary. All our relations who came out to visit us in New Mexico will remember eating Alfonso/Uncle Pony’s beef jerky. yum.

I think he strung clotheslines in the attic of the old adobe on our property in Ledoux, and hung the strips of beef like socks on the clothesline. The attic had screened windows on either end to keep out the birds and rodents, and seemed to provide ideal drying conditions. (We were at 7500 feet).

He later expanded his dehydrating repertoire to include apples and green chile. He and my nephews Steven and Cisco used to slice apples, lay them out on paper towels on the car’s dashboard, then lock up the car in the sun to dry out the apples. They would send them to me in California, and I enjoyed them tremendously.

I don’t know how he prepared the green chile. He gave me these when I was living in Colorado, and they were pure magic. When I moved to Colorado was the first time I realized that New Mexico green chile was not widely available (and when all those childhood memories of smuggling sacks of green chile across the California border began to make sense). In northern New Mexico you can buy as much as you want, fresh in season, or frozen, next to the green beans, year round. In Colorado the closest thing I could find were the canned ortega chiles, a big disappointment. But with my dad’s dried green chile, I could sprinkle them into a pot of otherwise potato-tomato stew and make something fabulous. I learned the hard way that these would not keep indefinitely in Colorado or California they way they had back home.

Luz and I still want to learn how to dry the green chile, which has assumed almost mythical status in our imaginations.

But back to the membrillo that didn’t set. And the apples.

So our new stove arrived and Luz cooked several amazing dinners on it and then began to eye the dehydrate function. Zie thought of that membrillo which had never fully set, and the proverbial light bulb lit. After surveying all of our baking pans, zie decided on using the pizza stone as a dehydration tray. Zie spread the membrillo thickly on the stone, popped it in the oven on “dehydrate” and let ‘er rip. the next day, zie had a beautiful membrillo fruit leather. I hope to get a taste of this soon, but it is currently hiding in the fridge, safely hidden from my hungry eyes by a wrapping of waxed paper.

So here we are with these apples about to go bad, and we have this new canning for passion AND a new oven. The result: 7 jars canned apples and some dried apple rings.

Luz cooked the apples with agave syrup, 1/4 cinnamon stick, and filtered water. Zie cooked them for five minutes (as instructed by our canning book). I did the prep, which is filling the canning pot with water, to a depth of 2 inches higher than the jars are tall, heating it to boiling. Washing and scalding the jars, putting the lids and jars in a pot of water and heating that till just before simmering. Luz filled the jars with hot fruit, topped them off with the liquid in which they’d been cooked (being careful to leave headroom so the jars don’t burst). I pressed on the lids, screwed on the rings, lowered the jars into the boiling water, and cooked them for 15 minutes. Then I removed them from the pot, put them in boxes to protect them from drafts (but not too close to one another, so they would cool quickly) and set them on top of our washer/dryer to cool. (we weren’t running the w/d. If we had been, it wouldn’t have been very cool up there.)

The next day (today) I unscrewed the rings so I could check the seals. This consists of lifting the jar by it’s sealed lid. If it didn’t “seal” then the jar will fall down and you will feel like a failure (but you still have a chance to save it). All of our jars are tightly vacuumed sealed. they look good enough to eat.

I took charge of the apple rings. I washed, peeled, and cored the apples, sliced them in into rings about 1/2” thick, dipped the slices in lemon juice, and stacked them while I went on to the next apple. when they were all done, I wiped them with paper towels, put them on our big pizza tray (which has lots of holes in it, thus speeding the drying process) and set them in the oven on dehydrate. They’re done today, and in all likelihood we will eat them all in the next few days. apples are super yummy with lemon juice.

Saints Preserve Us!

It’s been months and months since we’ve blogged. You know the story: Facebook ate my blog!

Well so much has been going lately on our barrio rancho and and we’re going in some new directions. We’re still working on our book Decolonizing Dinner, but now that we’re both back at work, it’s harder to stay connected to the project. So I thought blogging would be one good way to document our adventures and to continue to develop ideas.

Our latest “discovery” is canning. In the past week we’ve canned 12 half-pints of red and gold tomatoes from Luz’s garden. 7 half-pints of apples. Finally, we made escabeche (pickled jalapeños, carrots & onions) from Luz’s bumper crop of carrots.

The tomatoes are what got us started with all of this. Luz’ tomatso plants were overflowing, and although we’d been eating tomato sandwiches, salads, pasta and the like, we weren’t able to keep up with the bounty. Even though Luz was sharing it. Zie was starting to get a bit stressed and so came up with the idea of canning the tomatoes. Last saturday, we came home from a party, stopped by the Ace hardware in the Laurel ten minutes before they closed, and bought a canning pot with rack, a canning kit (with handy tools like jar funnel, jar lifter, digital timer, magnetic thing for getting the lids out of hot water) and a case of half-pint jars. By seven, Luz had harvested all hir tomatoes and Ktrion had read the requisite sections of the canning book, and gone to the store to get the required lemon juice to assure that the tomatoes would be “high acid” and thus could be canned in a pot of boiling water rather than a giant pressure cooker (which we don’t happen to have).

Now, a canning pot is actually the same thing as a tamale pot. In fact if, like you’re like our fabulous friend Josie, your tamale pot may have a flat tray in the bottom with big holes in it. This is perfect for canning. We have several tamale pots but we don’t have a steamer suitable for canning. (We use those collapsible steamers when we’re steaming tamales and they’re not at all appropriate for holding jars. So we bought another pot (yes!) that came with a canning rack. Alas, we were so crunched for time (since the store was closing) that we didn’t notice until much later that the rack is really appropriate for quart jars. We had gotten half-pint jars which were small enough to fit through the spaces in the rack. What this means is that we have to insert the jars one by one using the jar holders and then when the processing time is up, remove them one by one the same way. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s slow and hot and steamy.

Now Luz and have have very different skill sets. Luz is the alchemist, the creative artist, who tastes, improvises, adjusts, throws in a little something from the herb spiral, guesstimates. Zie sees a recipe as a point of departure. I am the chemistry student, who is careful about measurements, cooking times, temperatures, exactitude, following directions as written and in the order prescribed. Which means I was put in charge of canning, since--at least starting out--you need to do things a certain way to avoid botulism and other unpleasant surprises.

Our first canning book--Putting Things By--seemed pretty conservative. In particular, for canning stewed tomatoes, it said not to add herbs or vegetables, unless using a giant pressure cooker. Which we don’t have. This was a big cramp in the style of the tomato-cooking alchemist, who had envisioned basil, garlic, and other delights flavoring the canned tomatoes.

The only lemon juice at our favorite store came in an container shaped like a plastic lemon.

Okay, we adapt. Now, from what my book says, the practiced farmwife can get the veggies from the vine to jar in 2 hours flat. We started at seven p.m. and finished around 1:30 a.m., so there’s obviously lots of room for improvement, but on the other hand, we have a dozen half-pint jars of light orange tomatoes (There were prob’ly more golden tomatoes than red ones in the harvest) gleaming like little jewels on our dining room table.

The next morning Hadas and Margo (and their pit-bull of a thousand names, among them “Rosie” and “Marble Cake”) dropped by to bestow freshly baked honey cakes on our household. Luz ran to give them a jar of canned tomatoes. Like us, they want to try them right away--which kind of defeats the whole purpose of canning, which is to save them till they’re out of season. On the other hand, the whole purpose of canning is that the fruits & vegetables get eaten instead of being thrown away, in which case you should feel free to dig right in.

(Pictures to follow as soon as Luz gets home from yoga and uploads them)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Piñatas for Chickens

Malucho has invented the piñata for chickens. All the chickens are cooped up right now, because the young chickens are living in the tractor in the garage/barn and the grown hens are awaiting their chicken run, towards which Kate has done some amazing work. The little coop has been inside the garage/barn since February when we brought the little chicks home.

When we first brought the Anarquist home, we figured she needed a little quite isolation time before springing her on the recently bereaved Sister Xikn. For one thing, she'd never been handled and was a Wild Thing. For another, she's less than half the size of Sister Xikn, so we worried a bit about bullying. So we moved the tractor into the barn and spread some bedding. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chicken Drama, Part One

We’ve had two Rhode Island reds that we raised from little chicks, born around August 1, 2008. We named them Pío and Pío and referred to them as The Sisters and occasionally Big Sister and Little Sister. Both JJE and Ktrion sang sister songs to the chickens "Hey Sister" from The Color Purple and "Sisters" from White Christmas. The Sisters have been producing large beautiful brown eggs since around February 2009.

We lost Little Sister three weeks ago to a predator and this loss has had a depressing effect on the whole compound. Big Sister escaped with only a few broken feathers, but she had lost her closest friend and nest mate. She's gone through a rough period of shell-less eggs. She's laid only one solid egg in the time since The Incident.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fava Beans and Pasta

from Luz's DeColonial Cooking Club

I used fava beans from my garden! Fresh favas are in season now in CA. Find them at your farmer's market. (The Mexican markets in Oakland have them too!)

Pasta with Fresh Fava Beans, Ricotta, and Shredded Mint

2 pounds unshelled fava beans (about 1 cup shelled)
1 pound uncooked whole wheat pasta (penne or shells work well)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta cheese [vegans, whip up some tofu]
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh pecorino
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easy Black Bean Tostadas

from Luz's DeColonial Cooking Club

OK! Let's build on the success of the chili beans and do another bean dish.

Black Bean Tostadas

2 cups dried black beans
1 onion finely diced
3 cloves garlic, diced

1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. dark chocolate powder (I used dagoba brand, it is fancy and organic, you can use another kind if you can't find dagoba...they sell it at upscale markets and some fancy health food stores like whole foods)

Tostada shells (Guerrero or Los Pericos some other legit. Mexican brand, not taco bell!)

2 cups finely sliced romaine lettuce (more nutritious than iceberg)
1 cup grated queso cotija (or other cheese)
1 tomato diced
2 avocados, sliced
Salsa (buy a good pre-made salsa from the store)
Organic sour cream (optional)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Luz's Healthy Three-Bean Chili

from Luz's DeColonial Cooking Club

1 onion
3 cloves garlic

Spice Mix (make it yourself)
1 TBSP Paprika
1 TSP Ground Cumin
1 TSP Dried Oregano
1 TSP Ground Coriander
2 whole chipotle peppers (dried)
1/2 TSP Cinnamon

1 cup dried pinto beans
1 cup dried small red beans
1 cup dried black beans

Organic Vegetable Broth (or just water)
I large can chopped tomatoes

Toppings: Cheddar cheese, cilantro, avocado

Luz's DeColonial Cooking Club

My students want to learn how to cook easy, healthy meals for themselves and their friends. To help them out, I will post at least one recipe a week.

Friday, January 1, 2010

pumpkin posole recipe

New Year's Day Pumpkin Posole

8 tomatillos
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
5 Roasted Green NM Chiles
1 pumpkin
1 package of dried posole