get away

resting

In the blink of an eye, or rather the long, cramped blink of a shuffle through airport security, some hours in an improbably airborne metal device, and another set of shuffles (is that my bag?), we have gone from winter wonderland to tank tops.  This is blessedly disorienting.  It has been quite some time since my last vacation, Father.

As always, the period before departure gave me cause to wonder if in some earlier episode I have angered the gods of vacation.  There were the snowstorms, which of course we could not take personally.  Our dog ruptured a tendon in his knee. Our sheep began lambing two months before such an event was anticipated, and into deep snow and freezing temperatures.  And to drive home the point, one lamb was rejected by her mother and left to our attention. It’s a tall order to find good care for such an impressively precarious house of cards.

lookingup

It is also tough to feature how a creature fitting the description of the teeny lamb (winsome, petite, fuzzy, floppy-eared) could be rejected by any mammal with a beating heart and/or shred of parental instinct.  But she was one of a set of twins and her sister was far more lively and strong.  However much I’d like a sheep to think like a person (‘let me spin this forward: no, I’d be lambing right when they want to go away. We’d better not’), they are hardwired to think like sheep, which means like prey animals.  Things are starkly practical for them.  ‘This one looks like the winner; that one can’t support the cost/benefit math,’ goes the process, I think, though in another dialect.

We often have a lamb that needs a little warming or other attention to get it going on the right path, but this one was really in the red.  Half the size of her sister and barely strong enough to stand, she was not up to the hunt for a teat she could hardly even reach.  We spent two days trying to reunite baby with mama, but mama was having none of it.  A large part of that time was also spent milking said mother so the baby could eat, which sounds bucolic and charming but was more like a bar fight.  A friend described trying to milk a fully-coated sheep as “hunting for a button in a pile of sweaters,” which is accurate as far as it goes.  It’s just that it’s an unwilling pile of sweaters with hooves and a very heavy, hard head, and you (perhaps equally unwilling, and thinking quizzically of your college degrees in subjects quite at odds with the circumstances) are flailing around with her in a small space littered with sheep crap, your enthusiasm further compromised by the thought that you see your vacation receding over the horizon line.

We called a truce and parted ways with one lamb apiece.  If you have ever wondered, I am here to assure you that yes, you can fashion a lamb’s diaper out of an old pair of ballet tights and some cut-up towels.

lespanx

Of course all these events made everyone very hungry.  The lamb’s needs were met with a bottle every three hours, leaving me with half a carton of buttermilk, among other collateral effects.  I woke up one morning last week with buckwheat and blueberries on my mind, and ended up making these muffins three or four times, partially to get the recipe written down but mainly because I wanted to keep eating them.  There is something very satisfying about buckwheat—good for you in a palatable way.  The blueberries get all jammy in the muffin, which is sweet but not terribly sweet, and it’s all very fueling.  I made them with GF flour and regular with equally happy results.  Because the good buttermilk (no gums or stabilizers) that I could find was non-fat, I added ¼ c of cream for a richer & more tender muffin, but you could certainly use all buttermilk instead.

muffins

buckwheat blueberry muffins

  • 1 ½ c AP or GF flour
  • ½ c buckwheat flour
  • ½ c sugar (white or coconut)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • ½ t baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • ¾ c buttermilk + ¼ c heavy cream OR
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • [1-2 T of additional milk or buttermilk; see below]
  • 1 egg
  • 4 T butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 c frozen blueberries

Heat the oven to 400 and lightly butter a 12-cup muffin pan.

Combine the dry ingredients well.  Beat the egg into the milk or milk + cream.  Lightly combine the dry & wet mixtures with a few strokes, then add the butter and continue mixing just until just incorporated.  If the batter seems very tight (the GF flour was more prone to this for me), add a T or 2 of milk along with the blueberries and stir both in. Do not over-mix.

Divide the batter among the 12 cups, and smooth the tops a little.  Bake 12-15 minutes at 400, and turn the heat down to 350 to finish baking until lightly golden and springy on top.

 

 

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what was the question?

The answer is olive oil!

I was really excited to tell you that, so I skipped ahead of the question.

Once upon a good while ago, I posted a recipe for meyer lemon caramel, and that little feller made the rounds. Largely thanks to Marisa, it was linked to and re-posted and made its way here, where it was revealed last Friday that a replacement for butter in the caramel would be welcome. My first answer was coconut oil, because that makes a fine caramel, but it turns out that the person posing the question is not a coconutarian.  That set me to thinking. Over the weekend a lightbulb went off, and I made the caramel with olive oil.  Yes!  Yes!  So tasty.

So all I have for you today is something I had for you a while ago, just updated.  Meyer lemon caramel with olive oil.  I’ve updated the original with that substitution, and now I am going to go eat the rest of the jar.

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ooh, Mommy

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Just recently we were treated to a display of weather extremes dramatic enough that you’d think most of the outliers on the “climate change” matter would have been convinced.  In the course of a couple of days, the mercury did a 60 degree cha-cha, from sub-zero up to 50 and back again.  If you are not in the Northeast, maybe you saw it on weather television.  For those of us playing along at home, it meant not only wardrobe and internal thermometer confusion, but also, for giggles, gooshy mud and enormous puddles that overnight became a thick sheet of ice slip-covered (and I mean that) in a thin layer of slide-y snow.

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canine skid marks

Even on a prairie, those conditions would make it challenging to get to the chicken coop, a few hundred yards from the house.  But we live on a picturesque hill.  The trip to the coop was so treacherous one day last week that once I arrived there intact, my relationship with the Lord restored and updated, I engaged the miracle of cellular technology to let my husband know I would be staying out with the chickens until April and he should forward my mail.  Even the dog who came with me couldn’t get traction, but my gyrations and exclamations were so alarming that his chief concern was still me (I know where the kibble is kept, after all), so on the trip back to the house that he eventually persuaded me to attempt, he skidded in reverse, right in front of me, keeping an eye on me the whole time.

skid marks formed by the human posterior

skid marks formed by the human posterior

I don’t blame winter for the freaky thaw/downpour/freeze (I think we humans can take most of the credit for that), so we are still friends. I like winter, strange as that seems.  I prefer a nice consistently seasonal one, cold and snowy, without practical jokes and meanness, but I like it.  After summer and fall, with the abundant growth and activity manifested therein by plants and children, and then the skid into the holidays, which wring a girl out like a sock, it’s a welcome thing to find myself, preferably upright with nothing in a splint or cast, in the contemplative quiet of midwinter.  I appreciate this slower pace even more since having children, who seem to have their thumbs down on time’s “fast forward” button in all other seasons.  In winter they don’t seem to be streaking past me as quickly, growing as fast.  Even the darkness has stopped bothering me much (I used to feel like a candidate for one of those hats with the lightbulb in it).  When days end early, there are stretches of time when my kids are indoors and awake and still that coincide with mine.  The house is more like a den than a re-fueling station/changing room.

Plus there’s soup.  Its charms aside, winter can leave a person kind of parched and chilled and depleted, what with all the fending for survival in harsh conditions. Soup can set you to rights, provided you pick the right one.  The other day I had a sharp craving for hot and sour soup, the salty and viscous kind so alike in every take-out place I have ever visited that I suspect there is a central tank somewhere (I imagine a similar central source for that neon green seaweed salad that is the same everywhere).

If I coulda, I woulda ordered me up a double portion.  But one of the true things about rural life is that there is no stack of take-out menus by the phone (or streaming under your door.)  So I did a little reading here and there.  I have a little special knack for doing a hack job on treasured and iconic dishes of cultures not my own (here, here, e.g.) and it was time to call upon it.

I made it with a base of chicken broth and I made it with water.  I thickened it with cornstarch and with kuzu root.  I made it vegan and I made it suitable for carnivores; made it with greens, noodles and other tidbits added and not.  Cider vinegar had a smackdown with rice vinegar.  Etc.  Don’t thank me.  I was not toiling away to get it right for you.  I WANTED THIS DAMN SOUP.

The first batch was largely a disaster, because I tried to please all five members of my household by leaving out the mushrooms.  Not only did I later determine that mushrooms were essential, I learned that if you are trying to scratch a deep itch, scratch it.  They may not even be itchy, those other guys, and now your soup doesn’t taste right.  If you see what I mean.

Your tolerance for saltiness and sourness may be different from mine.  I bet it is.  So this is a moderately salty and sour version. You can scale up (or down) on either factor to your personal taste, or itch.

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hot and sour soup of no nation

serves 2-4, unless you are home alone with it in which case you can probably dispatch it before the others come around

For the soup:

  • 8-10 medium size fresh shitake mushrooms (about 6 ounces)
  • 1t neutral oil
  • large pinch of salt
  • 2t mirin (or white wine)
  • 4 c water
  • 1 strip of kombu seaweed about 4” long
  • 1T finely minced ginger
  • 1T finely minced scallions
  • 1T plus 2t kuzu root powder or cornstarch
  • 1T plus 2t tamari or soy sauce
  • 1T plus 2t cider vinegar
  • A healthy fine grind of fresh pepper (white is traditional but I didn’t have any)

For the protein, choose any or all of these:

  • 4 oz firm tofu, sliced in tidy thin squares
  • ½ boneless chicken breast, sliced into very thin strips (see below for notes)
  • 1 egg, well-beaten

If you are using chicken, it is very much easier to cut it into the requisite thin strips if it is partially frozen (or partially thawed, depending on what you started with) and your knife is nice and sharp.  Slice it thinly crossways, then cut the slices lengthwise into matchsticks.  Toss these sticks with a teaspoon of the called-for tamari and thickener (cornstarch or kuzu) as you get the other preparations underway.  You could also use shredded cooked chicken, I bet, if you had that laying around wanting to be eaten up.

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To make the soup, clean your mushrooms and remove their stems.  Slice them thinly.  Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat, and toss in the mushrooms, the salt and the mirin.  Cover the pan for a moment, then begin to stir and toss like mad for about a minute.  The mushrooms should soften up right away, and give up a little mushroominess to the pan.  Remove them right away to a bowl, and set aside where you can’t reach them or you will eat them all before you get the soup made.  Now put the water in the pot, along with the kombu (you can throw in the mushroom stems too, if you like, as long as they are clean), and bring it to a simmer.  Let this cook while you mince up the other goodies.

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In a small cup, mix the starch with the tamari and vinegar until you have a nice smooth paste.  Peel and mince your ginger, and the scallions.

Fish the solids out of the broth pot.  You can mince up the kombu and toss it back in, (but not if my son is around because he will eat it as soon as it is cool enough to snatch) or be done with it.  Dump in the chicken if you are using it, and stir well to break it up.  Add the ginger and the tofu and stir again, then stir in the starch slurry and the scallions and the pepper.  Simmer a few minutes until the broth clears and thickens, and taste for your preferred degrees of salty and sour.  If you are using the egg, pour it in a thin stream, turn off the heat and cover the pot.

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