Spaetzle, new and improved!

I would have thought it would be difficult to improve spaetzle. Flour, eggs, milk, maybe some herbs, definitely a few Tbs. of butter, press through a colander with the back of a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling water and presto – dinner! Then my friend Susan presented me with a spaetzle-maker, and suddenly spaetzle was even easier. Neater! More uniform! Honestly, it’s a grand day when you come across a well-designed kitchen utensil.

Earlier this week I came across a recipe for spaetzle that used ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as part of the dry ingredients. They add some protein to the dish and offset all those carbs and it sounded pretty tasty, too. Tonight we had speatzle with pepitas with a little bit of very good Parmesean grated on top, and a huge green salad (because every meal has to include a large green salad at this point because we’re drowning in lettuce).

Pepita Spaetzle

4 servings as a main dish

1/2 C pepitas, @ 3 C all purpose flour, 3 eggs, 1 C milk, 1 tsp sea salt, herbs

In a food processor, pulse the pepitas and 1 C of  flour until finely ground. Empty the mixture into a large bowl with 2 C of flour. Add chopped herbs if desired: chives, summer savory, parsley and thyme work well. Whisk the eggs and salt in a small bowl with the milk, make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, stir. The mixture should be cohesive, thick and springy. If it’s not, add a little more flour, up to 1/2 a cup. Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes or store up to 1 day in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of salted water to full boil. Rest the spaetzle maker across the top of the pot and load the square container with batter. Move the container on its track back and forth until nearly empty, refill and repeat quickly until the batter is used up. Stir the spaetzle gently and cook for @ 3 minutes.

Ladle the spaetzle on to a wire rack over a clean towel to drain. You could use a pasta board or a dishtowel, or just decant them into a colander. Add 4 Tbs of butter to a large frying pan and cook the drained spaetzle briefly, just enough to coat them and heat through. Sometimes I sautee 1/4 cup of diced red onion in the pan first.

Serve with grated cheese, a German white wine, and a green salad. Thanks, Susan!

 

Snacks for Thomas

I loved making treats for my son. J. didn’t have any allergies, but some of his friends had to avoid peanuts and it was just easier to discover all the wonderful things I could make without: snacks with fruit, seeds, grain, oats and brown sugar. Occasionally there might be a chocolate chip or three, golden raisins, dried blueberries, good times! Now our friend Thomas is newly peanut-free and we’re happy to contribute.

I don’t have a picture for either of the recipes, so here’s a photo of the Boy, snacking.

Brown Bag Banana Bars, adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla,3 ripe bananas

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,  1/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. poppy seeds, 3/4 cup raisins (I like the look of golden raisins. Experiment with softened dried blueberries, too.)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg and vanilla. Mash the bananas (which will make about 1-1/2 cups) and stir them in. Combine the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppyseeds and stir into creamed mixture until all blended. Add the raisins. Spread in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on a rack and cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen bars.

 

Oaties

Ingredients: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries, 2 teaspoons fennel seed (optional), 3 tablespoons  butter, melted, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 cup buttermilk. (After you get a feel for these you can really load them up with fruit: fresh raspberries and blueberries with plumped raisins, chunks of papaya or peach, dates, really just about anything.)

Directions; Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, oats, raisins, and fennel seed, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, egg, and buttermilk until combined, then add to flour mixture. Stir until batter is evenly moistened (do not overmix). Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. I use the Silpat for these, because they can be a little sticky. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let scones cool on a wire rack, 5 minutes.

 

 

Spring!

We’re under a winter storm warning tonight, with 6 to 12″ of snow predicted here and upwards to 20″ in The County. It will be heavy, wet, late-spring snow and there are reminders on the news to keep an eye on flat roofs and swiftly rising streams. I know spring is here, though, because today someone stopped to decorate The Owl.

Owl Baby!

The Kitteredge Brook Rd. Social Capital Owl has a long history; ten years ago I cut down a few small spruce out by the road and left one slender, straight trunk thinking I’d put a bird house there someday. (Spruce is a fast-growing tree here, and if you don’t get them young well, I have a few 70 footers in the garden already from that kind of wishful thinking.)  While I was pondering whether a bird house would be a good idea or not (cats? traffic?) someone came along and nailed a plastic owl to the top.

Not long after that, the owl sported a pair of child’s sunglasses and a very faded lime green bikini. As summer passed into fall a tiny straw hat appeared, a Common Ground Fair t-shirt (with an encore every year after the fair in September), a Halloween costume (my favorite was the pirate outfit complete with tiny parrot), and a Santa hat and wreath. When our son graduated high school the owl sported a tiny mortar board and tassel. Sometimes I go out and retrieve a decoration that is out of season or falling apart, but all the donations are anonymous – even furtive.

My personal feeling is that the good old days were anything but, and that social capital as a concept in modern society reflects nothing but wishful thinking by the formerly powerful and well-connected. I will admit, however, that it has worked wonders on a plastic owl.

Seaweed harvest

Today I went to Beach Road Beach to gather seaweed for the garden. BRB is a utility drop in Seawall where the cables stretch across the channel to Little Cranberry and Islesboro. The beach faces into the prevailing wind and parallel to the current so occasionally huge rafts of seaweed pile up during storms, only to be washed away again at the next moon tide. And it’s a beautiful place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Winter seaweed is friable – naturally freeze-dried by the weather – and therefore easier to pick up and cart off than ripe, wet summer kelp. There are fewer people and their dogs leaving messes on the beach, less trash in the water, and a lot fewer mosquitoes too, so I often go down to Seawall over the course of March and April and load up 6 large garbage bags per trip. You don’t need a pick-up truck – the 20 year old sedan will do fine as long as it’s a Volvo with plenty of ground clearance and studded tires.

It was 35 degrees and blowing a small craft warning this afternoon, but there was plenty of seaweed and I had the place all to myself. I might have to go back tomorrow. . .

Snow

Snow has been falling for thirty hours now. Not very hard, and not much is piling up on the March-thawed ground, but still – thirty hours! Not much to do about it but post a picture, and a poem by Margaret Atwood. Ms. Atwood is from Canada and knows a thing or two about March. Or February.

February

by Margaret Atwood

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

What’s for dinner?

I love cauliflower and it seems to hold up well in the grocery store vegetable aisle all through the winter. This recipe is a gratin that uses heavy cream rather than cheese with mustard, shallots and sage. I use Raye’s mustard, and for this recipe I used their “Winter Garden” variety (my favorite), which incorporates horseradish and herbs. Raye’s is a traditional stone-ground mustard mill in Eastport – now a working museum. They also make mustard with maple syrup, molasses, and local beer, so this recipe could take on different varieties for a change of pace.

An opportunity to use my favorite blue Crueset dutch oven!

I also managed to use upty-million utensils, but that’s something I can correct the next time.

Cauliflower Gratin with Mustard

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped shallots or winter onions
1 cauliflower cut into 1 1/2-inch cauliflower florets – about4 cups? Up to 6 cups would probably be fine.
1/4 cup white wine and  1  cup vegetable broth
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Raye’s mustard (divided)
2 tsp chopped fresh sage or slightly less dried
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
2 cups coarsely cut bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add cauliflower. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Add wine, and then broth. Cover and steam until cauliflower is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add cream, 1 Tbs mustard, 1 teaspoon sage, flour, and lemon peel to pot. Boil until sauce is thick, whisking, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in cauliflower. Arrange cauliflower, stem side down, with sauce in 11 x 7 x 2-inch baking dish.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Whisk in 1  tablespoon mustard and 1 tsp sage. Addcrumbs; toss to coat. Spoon crumbs over cauliflower. Bake until topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Sumer is i-cumin in. Really.

I am entirely sick of winter. Therefore:

The Cuckoo Song

by Anonymous

Sing, cuccu, nu. Sing, cuccu.
Sing, cuccu. Sing, cuccu, nu.
Sumer is i-cumin in—
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu,
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth—
Murie sing, cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu.
Ne swik thu naver nu!

Mystery

Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Stand up

I have a day job in a cube farm. It’s a very nice office – a renovated train station – and I have a window. All good, but the fact is that I sit in a chair all day answering the phone and typing at a keyboard. Or, I used to. Now I stand up to work.

Standing workstations are expensive. We have fairly uniform furnishings at the office and I’ve priced out our brand at @ $400 per station, minimum. Of course, they’re very nice, with adjustable levels for a monitor and keyboard, wings to place documents at eye level and such. I constructed my experimental station for about $40 from the local Big Box Store. It doesn’t adjust and I can’t recommend the level of sustainability, but it was a useful way to try something radical in my workspace temporarily and cheaply.

I purchased two two-shelf units that are both about 11.5″ high, a small bookshelf and a mat to stand on. The longer shelf unit goes in front, with ample room for a keyboard, mouse, and a pack of post-its for phone messages. The shorter length shelf goes in back of the first, and holds the monitor and document stand. My internet reading suggested the bookshelf to the left; it’s possible to reach down to your phone from a standing position but it’s easier to have it pretty close to eye level. I now use a headset and can’t believe I haven’t done that before either – what was I thinking?

I’ve been standing up all day at work for a week now and I was expecting a much harder transition. Not necessarily the strain of standing – 100 years ago nearly everyone stood up to work, it’s a natural position – but I have been sedentary for 6 – 8 hours a day for 30 years. So far it has been easy to leave all that behind.

A quick primer on the subject: Standing at Work, and an opinion piece from the NYT.