Archive for the ‘home grown’ Category

Dewberry Pie Reverie

August 13, 2011

Sometimes having concrete evidence of success catapults us into taking on a fearful challenge. I am talking pie crust here…..which can be as  difficult to work with if you don’t understand the ingredients…..kind of like hoping for a good marriage when you’ve only known him for two weeks. The perils translate into bland taste, tough crust, and possibly the horrid soggy bottom. So believe what you see because contrary  to the way I think and talk I admit to being a mediocre baker. I can sometimes bring in all the wow factors. But often I forget a step, or an ingredient or commit an act of baking treason I would fire a student over. (pretend fire of course)

For a two crust pie with a small ball of dough left over for galettes or pie crust cinnamon crisps start with:

2 1/4 cups AP flour

pinch of salt and sugar

1/2 lb. or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, the best you can buy

ice cold water, we don’t know how much yet so have 1/2 cup ready

Mix the flour, salt and sugar with your hands. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces, throw in the bowl and toss with flour. Now, rub pieces of butter between your fingers, kind of sliding them into flat little strips or shards. Keep at this until all the butter pieces have been reduced in size and flattened out, meanwhile being coated with flour. Continue this motion with both hands for a minute, you begin to see the flour change color and become slightly mealy, yet there is still plenty of larger unblended butter pieces.

You can chill the dough for ten minutes now if you have time, and think for a couple of minutes about what you have done: enrobed most of the flour in fat which will protect it from mixing straight with the water you will add next. The flour contains gluten which for pastry purposes we do not want to activate. This is another reason why, for the next steps, we will manipulate the dough as minimally as possible.

So now, use a 1/4 cup measure, get your ice water, and begin sprinkling a tablespoon of water at a time over the flour mixture, fluffing it with a fork. You can imagine fluffing right? Pull the fork up from under the mixture quickly, barely coaxing the water and butter to dance together. Continue adding bits of water and fluffing until the dough begins to come together. It should barely come together. Stop! you’re adding too much. I can see it starting to look wet. Usually 4-6 tablespoons is enough.

Now, carefully scoop up a large hand full, maybe slightly smaller than a soft ball. Gently press together into a ball. If it is falling apart, ok, add 1 more splash of ice water, fluff, and try again. flatten the ball into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap. This is the bottom crust for a 9 inch pie pan. Scoop up another ball, slightly smaller, wrap in plastic wrap, this is the top crust. You should have a small ball, a tennis ball? size left over for playing with later.

The dough before forming into disks over there on the right.

Next, chill these for at least 30 minutes. We want the butter cold so it will continue to protect the flour and there is no chance of the little bits of butter melting out into space.

Use plenty of flour when rolling out, roll out from the center in all directions, not too heavy handed. You learn to feel the dough under the roller moving out evenly. Don’t worry about tears, we can fix them. Once you roll the dough out place the pie tin on top. The crust should come out about an inch past the edges of the tin. The crust is big enough. Fold the dough in half, slip your hands underneath and gently place on one half of the tin. Unfold the dough to cover the entire tin. Adjust for even edges. The colder the dough stays the easier it is to handle. Trim the edges to just the edge of the pan, use scraps to gently press into any tears.

Add your filling! In this case I used the dew berries or blackberries, rubus ursinus, we picked last night, 4 1/2 cups with 3/4 cup sugar and 4 T. of dry tapioca. This is a very tart pie. You must be ready to accept the scoop of super vanilla ice cream needed to foil the puckery goodness.

Roll out the top crust the same as the bottom, so it looks slightly larger than the pie tin. Fold in half, gently drape over the filling, unfold and it looks like

the left. Trim the edges a bit, and gently fold the top crust under the bottom all the way around. Flute the edges to press them together.

Now, you don’t have to do anything else to the pie but make 4 cuts half inch long equidistant from each other and slide it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, center shelf. This first step causes the butter to melt into the crust without thinking. It has no chance to worry about it’s magical job, it just performs. It is in the zone! After 15 minutes turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Now the filling is starting to become gelatinous and the crust is turning. Continue to bake until the juices begin to bubble out the top a bit, and the colour is golden. I just like to spell it that way. I prefer grey to gray also.

However, if you like a little wow factor, brush the top of the crust with milk or half and half, sprinkle BIG sugar crystals over the top and then bake as above. One of my favorite stores in the Pike Place Market is Market Spice for their vast array of herbs and spices and blends, plus, every color of rainbow big sugar crystals.  It is important to let the pie cool to warmish, so the tapioca can pull together all the juices nicely and there is no wet puddle on the plate.

This pie really does need an ice cream or whipped cream foil. It is very tart and…..earthy. As I prepared the berries I needed to pick out a bunch of fir needles (another clue to where they like to live) which probably added some resiny notes.

So! Cut into the crust. It is flaky yes? You barely need to pierce it with the knife and it shatters along a fault line of crispyness. And the bottom looks golden, not like a belly that’s never seen the sun. Congratulations! It took a bit of focus, some whys and wherefores, but it is perfect. Now, there is only the consideration of who to share it with….. those who have an inkling for what you have just accomplished and can share your joy I hope.

Let me know how your crust turns out.

postscript….there are always thoughts that get lost in the mystery of baking, when the hands take over and all we have are our senses. Further notes on pie crust:

You can always use a pastry blender, one of those “D” shaped utensils with half dozen scooped cutter blades held together by the flat handle, to break up the butter into the flour. I just love to use my hands and try to keep them cold. I can tell what is going on with my hands.

as you become more facile with the dough you can cut back on the fat, the butter, if you feel that is important. This ratio just increases the chances of a really flaky yet tender crust. Whole wheat pastry flour can be subbed for the AP flour. I often use it with apples as they seem to go together nicely. Fairhaven Mills in Bellingham makes an excellent pastry flour.


Foraging for Wild Dewberries

August 12, 2011

Just as I wouldn’t tell you exactly how to catch a king salmon, I wouldn’t tell you where we picked the wild blackberries or dew berries below. The Pacific Northwest, particularly western Washington is famous for the wild, tangle of blackberries rumored to cover cars, entire buildings, in a matter of months left unchecked, the Himalayas. These are not the berries I am talking about. the berries we suffer thorn pricks, nettles (which grow in the same environment – a clue!), tripping and falling over nurse logs are dewberries or rubus ursinus. The berry is smaller generally, but has a superior taste, an almost smokey flavor. It took us about one hour to find and pick about four cups, enough for a pie we will make tomorrow.

You will notice (another clue!) the red huckleberries in the mix as well. I couldn’t leave them behind.

The smell of the berries is rich and earthy, one of my favorite aromas of summer, along with the smell of flowering beet seed fields, a real treat if you have never been swept away by their intense odor. When making pies, tarts or galettes these berries do not need as much sugar as the other varieties. Taste and decide for yourself.

And on this broader subject of foraging, we ate the last of our recent batch of fresh crab tonight after pulling the refuse from the woods out of our hair, putting salve on our mosquito bites, and washing dirty feet. I picked some fresh tender green beans out of the garden and put them in with the pasta for the last two minutes simmering. Bruce cracked the crab, I made a garlic cream sauce for the pasta and we were settled in for the evening.

These are my favorite pasta plates or bowls. IKEA for just a few dollars. The black makes almost anything look better.

Bruce really has a knack for prying the leg meat out whole, which always is appealing. We feel very lucky to live in this vibrant, voluptuous place where we can wander around finding good food to eat. We have discovered that the salal berries we saw today are edible and very tart. I am going to look into this!

There is no doubt in my mind that what we did today was foraging. The berries are wild and we only had to know where to look. But I am wondering if fishing and crabbing, and hunting for that matter, are still foraging when one has to buy the licenses and report in the catch. It still requires the work, the know-how, that special aggregate of handed down lore and skill. And yet there is a difference in my mind… I am sitting here writing I just noticed this huge beautiful blackberry juice stain on the side of my hand….I am going to lick the last reminder of my day off and then should probably have a bath………..

Breakfast Musings…..Helping Out

August 9, 2011

This is my favorite breakfast: part of a toasted sourdough baguette, a fresh nectarine or peach, fresh goat cheese and homemade tayberry jam. I do like pancakes with maple syrup, and I do love biscuits and sausage country gravy. Granola with almonds and a full fat organic vanilla yogurt can win me over too. There is pure taste bud joy in the commingling of crusts, creaminess, the slapping together of tart and sweet and sour in the breakfast you see above. I feel a certain success in getting the nectarine to ripen perfectly in it’s brown paper bag. The jam recalls Bruce in the kitchen with his little lacy apron, mashing the berries, stirring the jam, steam wafting throughout our little house, wait, there was no lacy apron? Ok. A different story.

I did a small benefit dinner for some friends last week. One of the qualities about living in a small town is that we know each other. I am not saying I know everyone in LaConner but a lot of us run into each other all the time at our small store, small post office, the bank, walking the dogs, the dock where we dump in our boat, our favorite shops where we know the owners and those who work there. Somehow this makes us all neighbors in the best sense of that word. So when a neighbor becomes ill and has no healthcare plan, and that could be a whole new rant of a post, we rally. There have been benefits and donations, she is getting everything she needs and thankfully  is still with us today.  So I donated a couple of dinners for six, my favorite number to cook for.

How lovely to then be able to cook for other neighbors in the cause! It was a beautiful afternoon on Skagit Bay, up in the trees, looking across to Goat Island and the entrance to the Channel.  We started with goat cheese, pestos, olives, I love those chartreuse ones I can’t spell or pronounce, and some crackers, my favorite opening. Next was a salad of mixed baby greens, gorgonzola, blackberries, toasted pecans and a berry vinaigrette, followed by a filet of fresh halibut, marinated for a few minutes in the vinaigrette, baked for 10 minutes, topped with a skewer of grilled spot prawns, and a nap of reduced and strained raspberries with garlic, red pepper flakes, sea salt and honey, brown rice on the side. The dessert course ran riot! Chocolate genoise with chocolate ganache with raspberry filling and a mound of softly whipped cream! Fresh peach crisp flavored with cinnamon and cardomom resting next to a spoonful of lavender/vanilla ice cream. Enjoy these pictures!

The champagne grapes make a sweet contrast with the cheese.

I will remember how to spell that beautiful olive!


You can use walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts in this salad. I like the milder, sweeter pecans with the super tart blackberries.



White plates would have made the raspberry reduction stand out nicely.




Why so many desserts? We couldn’t decide on one. Small portions saved our day. And there must be left over cake, crisp, and ice cream for a midnight snack.



I am hoping for more photos to come from this afternoon. Everyone had their cameras out for the repast and stunning day.

This Food Revolution/School Lunches

April 4, 2010

……at last, TV and the masses have moved me to write.

We are hearing about, and seeing on TV, a food revolution suddenly going on in the U.S. This brings a snarky smile to my face. The ubiquitous famous cook of the moment could come to any state in the nation and find school district boards, superintendents, food service nutritionists and managers, cooks and servers committed to providing fresh, local foods to the K-12 population.

One might see completely wiped out salad bars at the end of lunch, buckets moments before filled with organic greens, cucumbers, garbanzo beans, broccoli, artichoke hearts, sunflower seeds, olives both black and kalamata, shredded cheeses, cottage cheese, sliced ham, hard boiled eggs, cooked and chilled beets, with home made dressing choices like honey mustard, balsamic, blue cheese and ranch. Add homemade potato salads, broccoli salads, Chopped Asian salads and more.

One might visit with a food service manager and discover the careful choices made when ordering the commodities products from the state agency providing this service. Many managers avoid or take lightly the canned vegetables, the prefab omelets, the chicken nuggets, the beef “dippers, the American cheese products.

Who do you think has encouraged these agencies to offer whole wheat bread flour and whole grain pastas that have appeared just this year?

In truth, I am completely excited about this new “furor” over the way we eat, this new wave that is catching up with the wave that came along about 10-15 years ago when parents and food service employees came together to make a difference. How many elementary schools now have nutrition curriculum that includes menu making for lunches? Curriculum that includes a school garden? Curriculum that includes trips to the local farm, co-op, farmers market? They are everywhere.

I believe that curriculum in the elementary classroom and enough adults spending time in the cafeteria with k-6 students, helping them pay attention to their food, as well as serving lunch after recess when children are really hungry enough to eat, all these combined will affect how they will make the right choices as they move to middle and high school. We do need parents!

I see a first day of school in the near future when fresh local vegetables are stir fried with some kind of local protein, served with fragrant brown rice to kids who just can’t get enough….and say please and thank you without prompting…..

Basil in October

October 11, 2009

Today is October 10th. An extraordinary day for a gardener in the pacific northwest. There is basil to pick, the last of the late white corn, cherry tomatoes are still ripening like strings of exotic jewels draping a weary vine. Roses are getting a second wind, our spring clematis is blooming on the front porch. We are at sea level and haven’t had a freeze yet although about 5 miles in from the water I’ve seen frost on the ground in the mornings. Jonagold apples have more sun burn than i’ve seen here ever.

The shadows from an ever southern sun make one drowsy and nappish on these weekend afternoons. We’ve done our job here, and change is coming. Glorious change, an unknown future no matter what the almanac might predict. Most of the garden has been worked over. there is still a row of potatoes, one of beets, and the basil. We will hang on to it until the freeze that turns it to sludge. I’m leaving the sunflowers to turn to seeds for the birds and squirrels. I’ve seen blackbirds sit on the tops of fallen over sunflower heads, crane their necks down under and peck the seeds out.

We’re pretty satisfied with the garden this year. Despite our late start with some vegetables, we’ve managed a good harvest. And now, we’re both tuckered out, as they say. I don’t think I could weed a row if life depended on it. But it feels good to wander out there amongst the birds, the freshly turned earth. Look for one more possible ear of corn, a slight breeze talking.

I think we had 5 neighbors weed, water, and harvest this year, more than ever before. We planted about the same amount of everything and there was always a handful of green beans, a zucchini, peas, carrots, kale, and lettuce when we were ready to eat. You can dream all you want about the big community garden/harvest/romantic idea, but I think most of us like the solitary work, the quiet heat of the afternoon, after spending the day or week at our current hectic pace.



This one is about 18 inches across.

IMG_0200The squirrel dinner party was interrupted…..

IMG_0202This apple would have been worth all the trouble….

IMG_0205shadows where a few weeks ago the sun blazed away.

IMG_0208our porch in October….yes, this is a friendly place and the humans who live here are quite nice.

Pumpkins in October

October 5, 2009

I promised some more photos of my friend Eddie Gordon’s Family Farm Pumpkin Stand when they opened this weekend. And here are some. I hope to get a few early morning misty ones in the next week or so. And there are more fields, more ghostly spots to reveal.

IMG_0182IMG_0183IMG_0185IMG_0186IMG_0187IMG_0191They grow the usual carving pumpkins and eating winter squash, like butternut, buttercup, acorns, delicata, hubbards, turbans, plus about 25 different heirloom types with wonderful striations, mellow colors. they also have Indian corn, decorative gourds, and corn stalks.

Behind the barn an old stable houses a ghostly tableau, finely carved pumpkins and lights. This is one of my favorite places in the world.

Hedlin Farms Eat Local Picnic

September 22, 2009

Last Sunday, folks all around the Skagit Valley attended their neighborly eat-local, eat home made, picnic. Us LaConnerainians (rhymes with Pommeranian) went out to the Hedlin Farms Stand. David and Company provided the accoutramont, hay bales and picnic tables, beverages, fresh cooked corn from the fields. The rest of us gleaned from our gardens, our CSA boxes, roamed the many local stands, to fulfill our part of the bargain. There were fresh crudite platters and home made dips, salads showing every conceivable color and shape, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. Kai’s fresh salsa with home made pita was not to be missed. There was delicata squash stuffed with an incredible nut mixture, tabouli with more tomatoes, lovely scalloped potatoes, several recipes of this, I had Janna’s. And the desserts……pear crisp, apple crisp, stewed Italian Plums, (WOW!) and…..fresh pumpkin ice cream. This is just a sampling. If I missed your dish….I know I am sorry!

Here’s a few photos of the day and the Hedlin Produce Stand:








thank you Serena, David, Mary, Lauren, Kai, and everyone else at the farm, and all my neighbors.

The Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad Revisited

September 20, 2009

Here it is once again…..traveling to the local garden pot luck this time. I added two ears of fresh uncooked white corn off the cob. A touch of sweetness, and maybe a bit more balsamic.


Please post a comment below on how you liked this salad. I would love to know what you would add from your garden. Thanks!

This Just IN – Zucchini Eating Dog

September 20, 2009

The bigger the more tasty he says. Monk, the vegetable  connoisseur enjoys his fresh picked zucchini. He prefers the stem end as appetizer, eventually delicately leaving the outside skin, devouring the meaty inside.


Real People Eating Real Food Revisited

September 19, 2009

My first concern, 5 years ago, when accepting the role of food services manager at the school district, was reviewing /enhancing the menus to include more nutrition and beauty to what was already being offered.

I’ve always noticed the herded element found in most academic institutions and link this to a kind of lack of respect that flows both ways between students/staff of any kind, after a few years, say 8, in the k-12 system. Of course, in order to accomplish 500 meals in 4.5 hours there is much in the details that needs to be routine, simple, quick, no questions asked, deal with it.

After taking the pictures of our school lunches the last few days I have reconfirmed for myself just how ugly those trays are….and vow to do something about it……and I can through the blessed sense of possibility and purpose of our superintendent when he purchased china and serviceware for 250 people a few years back.

I will have to pick the menus that are easily held by a 10 inch plate, and serve the high school first to see how well they can handle the change with minimal breakage. Over time the esthetics will seep into their souls through their eyes, make them feel more human, more thought about, more cared for. Because I do.