Monday, 20 February 2017

Ham, Cheese & Belgian Endive in Buckwheat Crepes with Mushroom Sauce

Admittedly this is a bit complicated; not an everyday dish by any means. However it would be ideal for entertaining, as the crepes and the sauce can both be made in advance, leaving the assembly and baking for just before serving, and both of those are very straightforward. 

Note that I first list the crepes under "Finish the Crepes" but they need to be made ahead of time. They can be done a day ahead if you like, and kept wrapped in the fridge until needed. Heat the sauce (in the microwave is easiest) until it's just hot enough to spread easily. The number of crepes used is not a full recipe, but with a full recipe you should have no trouble getting the number of nicely formed ones that you need. Leftover crepes are very easily disposed of, after all.

The number of servings depends on whether people will eat one filled crepe or two; and that in turn depends on appetites and what else is being served. I'm inclined to think a nice crisp salad is what is needed to finish this off.

3 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 45 minutes prep time
not including making the crepes

Ham, Cheese & Belgian Endive in Buckwheat Crepes with Mushroom Sauce

Make the Mushroom Sauce:
300 grams white mushrooms
3 to 4 large shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed thyme or savory
1 cup ham or chicken stock
1 cup light cream

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Peel and mince the shallots. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat; when melted add the shallots and mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes or so, stirring regularly, until the mushrooms are lightly browned.

Sprinkle the flour and seasonings over the mushrooms and shallots and mix in well; cook for a minute or two longer. Slowly mix in the stock, stirring well to prevent lumps, and simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Mix in the cream and continue stirring and cooking until thickened once more. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Finish the Crepes:
1 recipe buckwheat crepes, made ahead
 - you actually need 6 to 8 crepes
6 to 8 medium or 3 to 4 large heads of Belgian endive
6 to 8 slices smoked ham
3 to 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
8 ounces smoked Cheddar or Gruyere
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Put a pot of water on to boil, and blanch the endives for 2 minutes. Rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking and drain them well.

Spoon a little sauce into a 9" x 13" shallow baking (lasagne) pan and spread it out.

Take a crepe, and lay a piece of ham in the middle. Trim an endive, and slice it in half. Use half an endive or a whole one per crepe, depending on their size. Lay the endive piece(s) across the ham to cover most of the crepe from side to side. Sprinkle with a little balsamic vinegar. Add the cheese, sliced to cover the ham and endive from side to side. Spoon over a little of the mushrooms sauce. Basically, you are placing a rectangle of fillings across the middle of the crepe, with the ham no doubt spreading out further. Roll up the crepe - I didn't bother to tuck in the sides - and place it in the prepared baking pan, snuggly against one short end.

Repeat with the remaining crepes and fillings until they are all done and the pan is full. Try to use about half of the mushroom sauce in this process, reserving the rest to spread over the top. Spread the remaining sauce over the top, and sprinkle it evenly with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Caramel Apple Pudding

Here is a very simple milk-based pudding, made rich and unusual by the caramelized apples folded into it. The caramelized apples are also quite easy to do; the one thing I would note is that you should be careful not to let the caramel get too dark before the butter and apples are added - it will continue to darken for a number of seconds more, which given how quickly caramel goes from perfect to burnt is a consideration. Let there be definite brown colour throughout, but don't let it go further than that. 

As ever, whipped cream would have been fabulous with this. Next time I might also soak a few raisins in rum and add them to the caramelized apples for the last few minutes that they cook, but this was certainly just fine as it was.

4 to 6 servings
40 minutes prep time

Caramel Apple Pudding

Make the Caramel Apple Sauce:
4 medium apples
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Peel, core and slice the apples.

Put the sugar and water into a fairly large (2 quart) heavy-bottomed pot. Heat over medium-high heat without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes. Do not let it get too dark; it will continue to cook a little as the butter and apples are added. So; add the butter and apples and stir well. Be careful - it will foam up and may splash about. Once the apples are well mixed in and the caramel is dissolved in their juice, let it simmer, stirring regularly, until the apples are tender and perhaps starting to fall apart. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Make the Pudding:
4 tablespoons arrowroot or cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon rum (optional)

In a similar pot, mix the starch, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Slowly mix in the milk. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Remove from the heat; if you want to flavour it with the rum stir it in now.

Mix the caramel apple sauce into the pudding and divide the pudding amongst 4 to 6 individual serving bowls (nappies).

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Three Sisters Stew

If you have a food dryer, and use it to dry corn when it is in season, you will have a very handy and easy winter food. It reconstitutes to be just as good as frozen or canned corn, but takes much less energy (and trouble) to make and store. It has to be simmered a little longer to reconstitute it, but that is hardly anything.

I left this simple combination of three traditional native vegetables fairly plain; I wanted all the flavours to speak for themselves. You can certainly spice them up if you like. We ate some of it plain, and added chile-garlic sauce to some. This is a great use of (planned) leftover roast squash; fire up the beans while you are roasting it, and this goes together in no time the next day.

Makes 4 servings
30 minutes - 10 minutes prep time
NOT including cooking the beans and squash

Bean, Squash, & Corn Stew; A Kind of Succotash

Cook the Beans & Squash:
1 cup dried beans
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 medium (750 grams; 1 1/2 pounds) butternut squash
a little mild vegetable oil to rub the squash

Pick over the beans and put them in a pot with plenty of water to cover them. Bring them to a good rolling boil and then cover them and turn them off; let them soak for several hours to overnight.

Add the salt and bring the beans back up to a steady simmer. Simmer until tender, stirring regularly.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds and stringy bits. Rub the squash with a little oil and roast it until tender, about 1 hour on a baking dish or tray. Let it cool, peel it, and cut the flesh into bite-sized cubes.

Both of these can (should) be done a day in advance.

Assemble the Stew:
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups dried corn
OR 3 cups frozen corn
1 medium onion
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put the tomatoes and bay leaves in a large soup pot, and add the cooked beans along with about 2 cups of their cooking water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer gently.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a small skillet, and cook the onion until softened, translucent and reduced in volume. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or 2, then add them both to the beans. Add the dried corn, and the salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the corn is tender. Add the chopped squash and heat through.

Last year at this time I made Ham & Potato Dumplings.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Now What?

So now that all your most childish adolescent fantasies are coming true, and it's up to YOU to save Civilization As We Know It... well, uh, how exactly?

I expect to be wrestling with this question for some time to come myself, but the ideas I'm coming up with so far seem to fall under three general headings.

I'm also giving another plug for Bob Altemeyer's The authoritarians, and Jane Jacob's Systems of Survival. Long reading, but those two books have really clarified and directed my views of society for at least the last decade, and are both highly pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in. Like, seriously, written for it. If you do nothing else, please read those two books.

Continue to Educate Yourself:

No Time to be Nice  Naomi Shulman

On Being Good The Belle Jar

These times require a new language... William J. Barber II (NOTE: contains religious language)

Intolerant Liberals Tucker FitzGerald

Fight Fascists with Mockery not Violence David Neiwert

All of the above and the first 2 links in particular are important, it seems to me, to understanding the reality of being a resister. The point that every-day fascist followers are frequently nice people (as opposed to the political leaders who clearly aren't) is vital to understand. The mere fact of being a nice person may, in fact, lead you to behave in ways that support fascism. It is really hard to stop being a nice person when you have been trained to be one for your whole life. This is particularly true, I think, for women.Making the decision to stop being nice and start being a fascist resister requires working some mental muscles that most of us have not exercised too well.

In my experiences as a landlord, I found pretty much everybody, without exception, was absolutely frightened of any conflict and would go out of their way to avoid any interaction with others that could be interpreted as even mildly critical or confrontational. People would come to me, of course; full of complaints and wanting me to deal with it, whatever it was. So I've had a certain amount of training in telling people things they don't necessarily want to hear. Admittedly I was approaching people from a position of power, but it's notable that nobody ever responded to me with violence, and rarely with threats or insults. It can happen, of course, especially in these times when the nasty are emboldened. But people are generally much less prone to such responses than seems to be the general idea. Stand up for yourself; stand up for others. The more you do it the easier it will become, and it is a genuine contribution to a better world.

Take Actions:

Does going to demonstrations and public meetings actually do any good? YES, IT DOES. Go to demonstrations and public meetings:
Rise Up: This is not complicated

It may take only 3.5% of the population to topple a dictator...

We Can't Let Trump Go Down Putin's Path

Contact your government and engage in public discourse. As Canadians, we don't have much input into the American situation, but there is plenty going on here that is wrong and dangerous; now is the time to keep on top of that stuff and contact your MPs and MPPs as appropriate. Give 'em an inch; they'll take a mile. Fight back now.

This one is for Americans, but Canadians should read it too, and consider the equivalent possibilities:

Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda

Next up, don't buy products made or sold by companies that are damaging the world, as much as that is possible. In a way, that's always the central message of this blog. And as with local food, I try to be in it for the long haul and don't worry about being perfect or complete in my avoidance of products made by suspect companies. A million people eliminating 80% of their purchases of products produced by companies of ill-will would likely be a lot more effective than 10,000 who achieve perfect avoidance - if such a thing is even possible, and I'm not sure it is in the modern world.

We are so much more than consumers, but there are an awful lot of powerful people who regard us as nothing but that... the least we can do is be mindful and careful consumers.

Grab Your Wallet Boycott Tool

In particular the above focuses on companies dealing with the Trumps and so many of them aren't here in Canada. But I do note some that Canadians may have dealings with: Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Hudson's Bay, Walmart, and a fair few others as well. Check it out.

Cultivate Connections:

Don't Be a Bystander  BCRW Videos

Here is a short little video about responding to the public bullying that happens more often when fascists are emboldened. People are often paralyzed by the fact that they have no mental preparation for dealing with shocking breaches of usual public behaviour. Having an idea about how you might act in advance really helps you deal with it if you are there when it happens. (If you prefer, there is a transcript here at Shakesville where I first saw it.)

Other possibilities; look for your local interfaith group and check out what they are doing.

Volunteer for something, somewhere. It's not enough to fight back against what is wrong; it's important to be building what is right as well. It doesn't have to be "political". When Mr Ferdzy got horribly distressed and depressed about the state of the world a few years back, I told him to stop complaining and do something. To my surprise, the thing he chose to do was to go volunteer at a programme that helped autistic and other developmentally delayed children get ready for school, and so once a week he would go off and wrangle 3 and 4 year olds for an afternoon. It was not just a socially useful thing to do, it also really helped cut his feelings of powerlessness and isolation, even though in the greater scheme of things it was a very small action and had nothing to do with the things that originally were distressing him so much. 


This doesn't seem very well organized or well written to me, but it's what I have at the moment. I have some more ideas that are still percolating; we'll see if I manage to do anything with them.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Gado Gado

Gado-Gado was one of the first explicitly vegetarian dishes I was introduced to as a teenager back in the '70s. My vague memory is that I thought it was okay; but I never felt much need to pursue it. However, when I was wracking my brains for a crunchy winter salad the idea came back.

In fact, a well-made Gado-Gado is delicious! Sweet and sour coconutty peanut sauce over crunchy vegetables with eggs and tofu? Yes indeedy. It's possible that that first Gado-Gado I had included tempeh, which I have to admit I have loathed from my first meeting with it. It's moldy soybeans and no-one will convince me otherwise. Feel free to use it if you like it, though, as well as or instead of the tofu.

This was a bit time consuming, what with cooking everything in advance. It can be simplified; if you live in the right place you can buy both tofu and shallots pre-fried. The shallots at least won't be local in that case, but there goes three-quarters of the work right there, which is worth considering. Otherwise, without much effort, the potatoes and eggs can be plan-overs from the day before. After that, everything is fast.

I say the fish sauce and cilantro are optional, but really they are the 2 ingredients that do the most to make this taste like something exciting from tropical lands, so please do include them if you possibly can. I talk about draining the tofu in the second part of the instructions, but it should be started the very first thing.

4 servings
1 hour 15 minutes prep time

Indonesian Mixed Salad with Peanut Dressing

Make the Peanut Sauce:
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
2 to 3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
2 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce, optional
3 tablespoons soy sauce
a little finely grated lime zest
the juice of 1 large lime
2/3 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup coconut milk

Into fairly small bowl grate the ginger. Peel and finely mince the garlic and add it. Add the chile-garlic sauce, apple butter, apple cider vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Grate in just a little of the zest from the lime, then add the lime juice. Add the peanut butter and coconut milk. Mix everything together gently (you will need to work the peanut butter without splashing other things around) but thoroughly. Set aside until wanted. 

Prepare the Cooked Ingredients:
200 to 225 grams (1/2 pound) firm tofu
8 shallots
3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
125 grams (1/4 pound) potatoes
2 or 3 large eggs

Cut the tofu into 8 thin slices, and put them on a perforated tray or shallow strainer, and weight them to remove as much liquid as possible. Let rest for 30 minutes or so - do this just before you make the Peanut Sauce.

Peel and slice the shallots into rings. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the shallots. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 30 minutes until crisp and golden. If they show any signs of browning too fast, reduce the heat. Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

While the shallots cook, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat and cook the slices of drained tofu for about 30 minutes, turning them as needed. They should be lightly browned and crisp on the outside when done. Turn them onto a plate to cool. Chop them roughly. 

Wash and trim the potatoes, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them into a pot of water with the eggs, and boil until tender; about 15 minutes. Remove the eggs at the 10 minute mark and cool them in cold water.

Finish the Salad:
2 cups finely shredded green OR green and red mixed cabbage
2 cups bean sprouts
1 large carrot
1 or 2 small greenhouse cucumbers
1 greenhouse tomato (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted peanuts

Wash, trim, and shred the cabbage. Rinse and drain the bean sprouts well. Peel and finely grate the carrot. Wash, trim, an slice the cucumbers. Wash, core, and chop the tomato, if using. Wash, dry and chop the cilantro. Chop the peanuts.

Toss the raw chopped vegetables together and spread them out on a platter. Arrange the cucumbers, the cold boiled potatoes, the shallots, the eggs peeled and sliced or quartered, and the tofu over them. Sprinkle with the cilantro and the peanuts. Serve with the peanut sauce.

Last year at this time I made Pink Fir Apple Potatoes Fried in Duck Fat.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

My Favourite Vegetable Varieties - A Retrospective

When we first started gardening we tried lots and lots of different varieties. That's part of the fun of getting started gardening, and we still like to trial at least a few new (to us) things each year. As time has gone on though, certain varieties have moved into the position of being regulars, or even "the one".

While I hope my sharing this list with you will be helpful when you make decisions about varieties for your garden, keep in mind this is a personal list. It's the varieties that suit our garden soil, our climate, our exposure, our gardening habits, our cooking style, and our personal tastes both in vegetables generally and specific varieties in particular. One persons ideal garden may look absolutely nothing like anothers.

We lean towards heritage varieties, and things that are indeterminate and need support. Partly this is determined by our personalities (we both like to do work up front to save labour later), our locality (short tomatoes don't produce for us, due to septoria leaf spot fungus in the garden), and our tastes (many people including us think pole peas and beans produce better-tasting vegetables). Our near-by gardening friends prefer f1 hybrids as a matter of their personal culture, and short, determinate plants due to their exposed hilltop location - anything staked is likely to blow down pretty quickly, and the list of varieties we each grow has hardly any overlap at all.

Something else to keep in mind: when you grow a variety for a while, you form a relationship with it. You learn how to grow it, how to store it, and how to cook it. Some varieties that have been disappointments to us may have been so because we don't understand them and what they need. I will mention a few things that I suspect fall into that category. 

Still, now that we've been gardening in this site for nearly 10 years, we can tell you what works for us and to some degree, what doesn't, and why. Of course this is a work in progress, and our garden will continue to evolve. Some of these are obscure and hard to find; for that I apologize. Most of them are sold by at least one Canadian seed house. For now though, these are our favourites:

Monday, 6 February 2017

Pasta with Mushrooms & Dried Tomatoes

A while back I came across several versions of a dish called "Pasta Milano" which on investigation seems to be people's take on a dish served at a popular Italian-American chain restaurant*. It generally seemed to consist of dried tomatoes and mushrooms in a cream sauce, on pasta, with or without chicken added. The original (which no longer seems to be on the menu) was, as far as I can find out, without chicken added to the pasta, but was served alongside a thin breaded chicken cutlet. Thin breaded chicken cutlets are a genuine Italian dish - Polla alla Milanese, in fact - which gives this thing a bit of a family tree, even if the pasta and sauce part seems to be a purely American invention.

Do I care? Not really! I saw mushrooms - a favourite winter vegetable - and dried tomatoes, of which I have the back-log of years, and pasta, which we will eat any time any place, and said, "I'M IN!"

I didn't bother adding any chicken, but you could - a chicken breast or so cut into bite sized pieces and cooked with the shallots should do the trick. I served it with green peas frozen from our garden, but any green veg you like will finish off the menu.

2 to 3 servings
30 minutes prep time

Pasta with Mushrooms & Dried Tomatoes

Cook the Pasta & Tomatoes:
225 - 250 grams linguini, spaghetti or spaghettini
1/2 cup snipped dried tomatoes

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender according to the time suggested on the packet; stir frequently. Add the dried tomato pieces when there is about 5 minutes left for the pasta to cook. 

Cook the Sauce:
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
3 to 4 large shallots
300 grams (10 ounces) white mushrooms
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rubbed basil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoon soft unbleached flour
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
plus a little more to sprinkle over when serving, if liked

Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic. Peel and chop the shallots. Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the shallots. Cook for several minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and reduced in volume. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring regularly, until they too are softened, reduced, and lightly browned. Season with the basil, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the flour over and mix in well. Add the garlic, mix in well, and continue cooking and stirring for several minutes until the mixture has thickened. Slowly stir in the cream to make a smooth sauce. Simmer very gently until the pasta and tomatoes are ready.

Drain the pasta and tomatoes thoroughly once cooked. Add the Parmesan to the sauce and toss the pasta with the sauce. Place it in the dish or dishes from which it will be taken, and sprinkle with a little more Parmesan if you are so inclined.

*Macaroni Grill - nevah hoid of it (previously).
Last year at this time I made Deli Style Creamy Coleslaw

Friday, 3 February 2017

Bean & Carrot Salad with Lemon-Mustard Dressing

We've been enthusiastically growing dry beans for about 4 years now, but we haven't been keeping up with eating the beans. This year I am determined that we will eat our way through at least last years and the year before's. Yeah. That's how much we haven't been keeping up. So far we've been doing quite well as we are now eating bean soup at least twice a week. Time for a change, though, so here's a nice bean salad.

The sweet and mild beans, carrots, and cooked onions make a great foil for the stronger, rougher flavours of mustard, lemon and endive. Serve this as part of a salad medley, or as a meal in itself. Some good bread and butter or some toast would be all that might be needed to round it out.

4 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time, not including cooking the beans

Bean & Carrot Salad with Lemon-Mustard Dressing

Cook the Beans:
1 cup white, yellow, kidney, or pinto beans
1 teaspoon salt

Rinse and pick over the beans, and put them in a pot with plenty of  water to cover them. Bring them to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat and let them soak from several hours to overnight. Add the salt and bring them back to a boil. Simmer gently until tender.

This should be done a day in advance.

Make the Salad:
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup sunflower seed oil
a pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a grating of lemon zest
the juice of 1 large lemon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 large carrots
2 medium heads Belgian endive
1 cup peeled, diced celeriac (1 or 2 stalks celery)

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet, and gently cook the onion until quite softened and slightly browned; about 10 to 15 minutes. While it cooks, add the cayenne, savory, pepper, and lemon zest. Stir regularly.

Mix the lemon juice and mustard together. Drain the beans well and put them in  your salad mixing bowl. Peel and grate the carrots, and add them, and trim and chop the Belgian endive. Peel and dice the celeriac (or chop the celery). Toss the beans and vegetables together.

When the onions are cooked, add the garlic and stir it in for a minute. Add the mustard and lemon juice, and mix well. Scrape the onions etc into the salad and toss well. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Last year at this time I made Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Coffee Brownies

I actually made these for Christmas, but it took 2 batches to get them just right - so sad - plus I had a lot of other sugary things posted, so I have saved them to post just in time for Valentine's day. This was probably the most popular thing I baked for Christmas - and I baked a lot - even though there were a number of definite coffee haters around. The people who liked them, realllly liked them is what I am saying. You can count me in that number.

If you want to avoid Nestlé products - and why wouldn't you? - Ten Thousand Villages carries instant coffee powder.

These are a lot sweeter than most of the desserts I make, but damn it, they're brownies. And good enough I think I'll be making them once a year. This make a big pan of brownies; I would think you could cut it in half and make it in an 8" x 8" pan. The baking time might require minor adjustment.

48 brownies
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time, including brewing the coffee
15 minutes later to frost and cut

Coffee Brownies

Make the Brownies:
2 1/4 cups soft whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup honey
2/3 cup very strong brewed coffee
3 tablespoons instant coffee powder
3 large eggs
2/3 cup softened unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Don't forget to brew your coffee before you get started. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9" x 13" baking pan with parchment paper.

Mix the flour, soda, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix the honey and coffee - if the coffee is not hot, heat it in the microwave or on the stove until it is hot enough to melt the honey but not really hot. You don't want to set the eggs when you mix them. Mix in the instant coffee until dissolved.

Add all the wet ingredients - the coffee and honey, the eggs, the butter, and the vanilla extract - to the dry ingredients and beat well (by hand). When the batter is smooth, scrape it into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly.

Bake for 25 to 27 minutes until it springs back when lightly touched in the middle; you can use ye olde toothpick test if you like. Let cool before frosting and cutting.

Make the Icing:
1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
2 cups icing sugar
4 tablespoons very strong brewed coffee

Work the butter in a mixing bowl until smooth and creamy with the coffee powder. Work in the icing sugar as much as possible, then start adding the brewed coffee a spoonful at a time until the whole thing forms a nice smooth consistency.

Spread it evenly over the pan of brownies, let set for a few minutes, then cut into squares - 6 on the short side and 8 on the long side. They keep quite well in a tin - at least a week - and freeze well.

Last year at this time I made Beer-Can Duck.

Monday, 30 January 2017

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Programme... talk about fascism. Yes, fascism. Why, you may ask? (Ha, ha; no, I'm pretty sure you know why.)

I was hoping to check out (at the usual age) before the dreadful day arrived, because frankly I am a coward but no; here we are. We've watched this time come barrelling down the pike for many years, as everyone said no, no, It Can't Happen Here. After all, we fought a mighty big war against it! As it turns out, there are plenty of people who like fascism just fine when it is them doing it to other people and not other people doing it to them.

By the way, I'm seeing lots of people - politically motivated and presumably attention-paying people - commenting about how what the Trump administration is doing is "Crazy", "Disorganized" or "Impulsive". NO IT IS NOT.

It is the bog-standard method of transitioning a democracy to a fascist regime.

There are a lot of people out there with smarter things to say about all this than me; I hope I can be helpful by collating a useful conglomeration of history, information, ways to think about things, and things to do. Most of this is reasonably short and "easy" reading.

This is a very preliminary list. I will add more as I find it; please leave your suggestions for reading material in the comments. I hope to put up another post in a week or so with more concrete action suggestions.

For an Overview on Fascism/Authoritarianism in General:

Umberto Eco Makes a List of the Fourteen Common Features of Fascism.

Ur-Fascism (Umberto Eco again). 

The Authoritarians. Bob Altemeyer. Book is free pdf file at site. It's long (it's a book) but READ IT.

Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce & Politics. Jane Jacobs You will actually have to buy the book somehow (or check it out from the library if you can) if you want to read this, but I highly recommend it. It makes terrific companion reading to the The Authoritarians. Altemeyer is more about the psychology of authoritarians; Jane Jacobs talks about the moral structures (and therefore the social and political structures arising from 2 modes of interacting with the world, and what happens when those 2 modes are not upheld as they should be).

ADDED 17/01/31 12:05 pm: and, on a more ominous note, Major-General Smedley Butlers's War is a Racket

ADDED  17/01/31 3:00 pm Excerpt from They Thought They Were Free. Milton Mayer.

For Information About the American Situation Specifically:

Everything You Need to Know About Steve Bannon, Breitbart, & Russia. Daily Kos.

Is Donald Trump a Fascist? (Spoiler: yes. From fucking Newsweek no kidding.)

I was trained for the culture wars...  Kieran Darkwater

ADDED 17/01/30 9:19 am: A Realistic but Hopeful Assessment from Eliot A. Cohen at The Atlantic.

ADDED 17/01/30 10:07 am: Trial Balloon for a Coup? Yonatan Zunger. 

Now What?

How to Survive an Authoritarian Government. Larwunia at ExtraNewsfeed.

The Complete 4-Page Guide to Surviving an Authoritarian Regime. from your Eastern European friends. 

Autocracy: Rules for Survival. Masha Gessen at New York Review of Books.

Here's What You Can Do to Beat Trump. Student Activism, but pretty universally applicable.

ADDED 17/01/31 8:48 am: Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Crop Rotation and Soil Amendments in the Small Garden

When we first started working in an allotment garden oh, 20 years ago (aauugghh!) I read a lot of gardening books and magazines. The one thing that has really stuck from that reading is our crop rotation plan.

Our plan is adapted from one put forth by Sylvia Thompson, and which is described in her book The Kitchen Garden, although it only gets 3 pages there. I think I first found it as an article in The Kitchen Gardener magazine, an excellent but somewhat short-lived venture, where the plan was detailed in a longer article. No sign of it online, alas.

What I am about to describe is more-or-less her plan, much adapted to our own personal uses. That's one of the beauties of this scheme - it is a simple, even crude, four-part division, and as long as  you remember the logic of the plan quite adaptable. On this blog I've previously discussed this plan briefly and often presented vegetables grouped together in the categories we use, but I don't think I have really delved into it in great detail.

There are 2 general reasons to rotate crops, even in a fairly small garden. The first is the one people tend to think of: to avoid the build-up of diseases and pests in the area. Unfortunately, rotation does not do much to alleviate this problem in a small garden. You are staving things off for perhaps 15 minutes in my experience. Still, we rotate crops partially because hope is as hard to kill as cucumber beetles, and partially because we do get the second benefit: we can plan and target soil amendments to keep our plants at the level of fertility best suited for them. Essentially, this plan groups vegetables according to their nutrient needs.

I'm being a bit facetious about the effectiveness of a rotation plan in avoiding diseases and pests, by the way. In reality while it doesn't do much to evade pests, I suspect it's quite useful in keeping the diseases down to a dull roar. Be sure however, that you are not saving diseased seeds and simply moving the problem along every year. (See our struggle with bean anthracnose.) And if you do get diseases don't put the season-end debris into the compost heap. If you have municipal compost pick up use that; if like us you have a large property, have a compost dump some good distance from the garden, from which you do not actually use the compost.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Lumpiang Hubad - Naked Springrolls

Doesn't look like spring rolls, does it? This is a Philippine stir-fry dish with a joking name - the typical filling ingredients of lumpia (Philippine spring rolls) are sautéed and served with a typical lumpia sweet peanut sauce. As with skillet lasagne, cabbage roll casseroles, or tamale casseroles, people have taken a beloved but very time-consuming traditional dish and made something with most of the flavour but far less work.

Lumpia vary a lot in what may be put in them, and this is a pretty flexible recipe too. Many of the versions I saw called for green beans, which are not available right now (frozen I guess, but I think them too soggy for an application like this) but most of the other commonly used vegetables are surprisingly available winter vegetables for us. I've categorized this as an all-year-round recipe though, because you can adjust the veggies according to what is in season.

As a stir-fry, it is really quite plain. It is the sauce that makes it distinctive, and it should be applied lavishly and mixed in well for best results. You can make it with or without meat added; most recipes I saw called for a mixture of chicken or pork with shrimp. I would think tofu would also work quite well here if you wanted a vegetarian version. In that case I would press it and sauté it until quite crisp before continuing with the recipe.

I'm calling for chopped peanuts over the top as most recipes do. I think they would really improve it, but alas, there were none in the house in spite of my distinct recollection of having purchased some recently. Mr. Ferdzy tends to regard them as his own personal snack (not without reason as I don't eat peanut products often) aaaand, yeah. Next time. Oh, and none of the recipes I saw called for ginger, but I think it needs a little bit of oomph, especially since I have stripped out most of the sugar.

3 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time to make the sauce
40 minutes prep time to make the stir fry

Lumpiang Hubad - Naked Springrolls

Make the Sauce:
6 to 8 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon peanut or mild vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
3/4 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup peanut butter

Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and grate the ginger. Put the oil in a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Mix the remaining ingredients, except the peanut butter, in a small bowl. Set aside.

Add the garlic and ginger to the pan and cook, stirring, for one or two minutes until the garlic just begins to colour. Stir up the bowl of sauce ingredients and pour it in. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until it thickens and clears. Remove it from the heat and mix in the peanut butter, working it well to avoid lumps.

Scrape the sauce into a serving dish and set it aside. Return the pan to the stove top - if you have scraped it out well you will not need to wash it - to use again for the stir fry.

Make the Stir-Fry:
125 grams (1/2 pound) bean-thread noodles
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 small sweet potato
6 large white mushrooms
2 cups finely shredded green cabbage
2 cups bean sprouts
250 grams (1/2 pound) chopped raw chicken and/or pork OPTIONAL
2 to 3 tablespoons peanut or mild vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped peanuts to garnish

Soak the bean-thread noodles for 15 minutes in warm tap water. When they soften, snip them up with a pair of kitchen shears into manageable lengths. Put a pot of water on to boil and boil them for 1 minute, then drain well.

Meanwhile, peel and cut the onion into slivers. Peel and grate the carrot. Clean and trim the sweet potato, and grate it with the skin on. Clean the mushrooms and cut them into slices, first one way and then the other (to form fairly long thin pieces). Trim and finely shred the cabbage. Rinse the bean sprouts and drain them very well. If using the meat, trim it of excess fat and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in the skillet over high heat. If using meat, add it now. Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, and onions, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cabbage, along with spoonful of water, and continue to cook and stir for a few more minutes. You may need to add a little more oil at this point. Season with the soy sauce.

When the mixture appears to be essentially cooked - you are particularly observing the meat, if used, add the drained noodles and bean sprouts and mix them in well; continue to cook and stir for a few minutes until they are well amalgamated into the mixture and the bean sprouts are slightly wilted. Turn the stir-fry out onto a serving dish (or dishes), serve with the sauce and sprinkled with chopped peanuts.

Last year at this time I made Scotch Broth with Dried Peas & Barley.