Saturday, October 25, 2008

It Is NOT Raining Men*

At least that would be interesting, if a little disturbing. No, it's raining plain old depressing cold water droplets. And I'm feeling uninspired this morning. I blame the rain**.

The only thing more depressing than a cold fall rain is a cold spring rain, when you just want winter to REALLY be over and warmth to once again return to life. Summer rain is the only worthwhile rain. It actually has the positive effect of making things grow (as it did this summer to a somewhat ridiculous degree), as opposed to only negative effects, like flooding the cellar and turning our whole property into a mud slick. Perhaps I should open a spa. Or hold mud wrestling tournaments.

Or perhaps I should go stoke the woodstove and settle in for a day of reading and tea drinking by the fire.

Now which option do you think I'm going to go with?

* "It's raining men. Alleluia! It's raining men, every specimen."

** "Blame it on the rain, yeah yeah. Blame it on the stars that shine at night. Whatever you do, don't put the blame on you. Blame it on the rain, yeah yeah."

Me? Child of the 80s? Why do you ask?

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Big Reveal

I've finished the pears. The Canning Season is done with. And now for the tallying. Prepare to be amazed. I know I was.

The Lists first:


8 quarts plain corn
3 quarts maquechoux
4 quarts strawberries
6 quarts blackberries (MiL)
2 quarts green beans (MiL)

(brace yourselves)

5 quarts refrigerator dill pickles
8 quarts green beans (MiL)
5 pints strawberry jam
5 pints apricot jam (MiL)
5 pints blackberry jelly
5 pints peach jam (MiL)
11 quarts mulberry juice
39 quarts plain tomatoes
5 pints sour cherry preserves (MiL)
7 quarts chicken stock
4 quarts beef stock
5 pints Finny's tomato sauce
5 pints spaghetti sauce
8 pints spaghetti with meat sauce
7 pints mild salsa
14 pints hot salsa
5 pints tomato soup
1.5 stupid pints of ketchup (Ball said this recipe would make 3 pints--THEY LIED)
7 quarts spiced Asian pears
10 quarts peaches
4 quarts applesauce
1 pint pickled jalapenos
39(!) quarts pears

In case you were wondering, that's 207 jars of food.

And now for the photographic evidence.

The Fruit

This is just the tomato products. JUST THE TOMATOES. I win!

And now for a bonus potato shot!

Cleverly disguised in wine boxes.

Suddenly, I feel the need to rest.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mama Sue's Just Good Red Beans

It appears I'll have a revolt on my hands if I don't give you the recipe I use for red beans and rice. It honestly didn't occur to me you'd want a recipe from me, because I'm not a foodie or a recipe writer. Or even a very good recipe follower. Therefore, I make no promises as to the ease of following this recipe. But here it is, straight from the recipe card that I copied off my mom's recipe card, with some additional explanations for you. I made the title up myself. Aren't I just precious? Mama Sue's Just Good Red Beans 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 1 pound red kidney beans (washed and picked through) 1 ham hock or ham bone (or ham or sausage pieces--maybe a cup? Andouille sausage would be traditional, but you can use kielbasa. Or turkey kielbasa. Or even the soy kielbasa substitute. My mom did that when my dad was vegan.) 1 and a half onions, diced 4 small garlic toes, minced (my mom calls cloves "toes"--weird, but cute. Just like my mom.) 1 green bell pepper, diced 1 celery stalk, diced 1 small can tomato sauce (or a half can of tomato paste, if that's what you have) 1 bay leaf 1) Soak the beans in a half pot of water. Use a big pot, 6 quarts or more. You can either soak them overnight or "quick-soak" them. Meaning, bring the beans and water to a boil over high heat, let it boil for a couple of minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it sit for an hour. 2) Drain the water from the beans, then refill with fresh water to an inch above the beans. Add the ham hock or bone now if you're using it and simmer for 2 hours. If you're using the ham or sausage, just add some salt for the first hour, then add the meat in the second hour. 3) Cut up all the veggies in preparation for adding to the roux. You're not going to want to try to chop and stir roux at the same time. You will burn the roux. Just trust me on this one. So chop first. It's like southern stir-fry! Except not. 4) To make the roux, use a large cast-iron skillet if you have it. But you can use any big pan. Heat the vegetable oil on medium heat until hot, then add the flour. Stir together until it's smooth. Then stand there stirring the roux over medium heat. This will take awhile. It's like risotto. Don't stop stirring, and watch the color carefully. Use a flat-bottomed spoon or spatula so you can scrape the bottom of the pan. You really don't want the flour to burn. The flour won't really incorporate into the oil like with a bechamel sauce, so it's okay if it looks separated the whole time. This'll take about half an hour. The color is kinda hard to describe. You're going for something similar to mahogany. Or chocolate. But not dark chocolate. Isn't this helpful? If the roux is a little too light, it won't make a whole lot of difference; it just won't be quite as flavorful. But if the roux is too dark, it will taste a little burned, so err on the side of caution. And if it gets too dark? Eh, I use it anyway. Because I'm too lazy to start over. 5) Dump the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and celery into the roux and mix it all up. Allow that to cook for awhile until the veggies are soft. 6) If you used a ham hock or bone, take it out of the beans, cool a little, then pick off the bits of ham and throw them back into the beans. 7) Stir the roux veggies, the tomato sauce, and the bay leaf into the pot of beans. Taste to see if it needs any salt. It probably will. 8) Simmer at least 2 more hours on medium-low heat, taking the top off for the last hour or so. It will reduce a lot and get thick. You'll need to watch it towards the end, stirring frequently so it doesn't burn. The loooong cooking makes the beans break down and thickens it all. That's what you're going for. It's going to be saucy, not runny. 9) Serve over rice. Butter and vinegar are traditional condiments for this. Put them on the table so everyone can fix their bowl how they like it. I love vinegar and always add about a teaspoon. You could also add hot sauce, if you're into that sort of thing. From my mother's table to yours. Let's all thank Mama Sue. (I don't really call my mom that. NO ONE really calls her that.) Enjoy, ya'll!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on Red Beans and Rice

Although I am not really southern, my mom was born and raised in New Orleans. As a consequence, I use the word "y'all," get twitchy when I hear people pronounce "pecan" like "PEEcan*," and know how to make a roux. Because a part of my New Orleans heritage is the God-given right to make red beans and rice, and grillades and grits (go on--look it up).

I spent a good part of the day yesterday making red beans and rice. It takes about 4 hours, not counting the bean soaking time, so this is a serious undertaking. I should have made it on Monday, which is the day when you'll find it as the daily special on every restaurant menu in the New Orleans area. And that's because Monday was traditionally wash day, so it made sense to make a slow-cooked dish that could sit basically unattended on the stove while the fire burned hot all day to heat the wash water. And that's the end of your Crescent City history lesson for the day.


As I was making the roux, I was reflecting on how I never liked the smell of roux when my mom made it. But I like it now because I associate it with my mom. Roux requires constant stirring, so it's easy to get contemplative while you stand there for half an hour, staring at the greasy cobwebs on your ceiling (but not in MY kitchen of course, ahem). And what I was contemplating is how nice it is to have that memory of taste and smell to remind me that while I am now an upstate New Yorker, I am, and always will be, a transplant. That I have my own family history, and my own sort of roots. It's easy to forget that here, surrounded by A.'s family, A.'s house, A.'s life.

In short, red beans and rice provides a needed reminder of my own identity. That's a lot to read into a pot of legumes, but there it is.

Do you have a food that connects you to your family and your past?

* Say it with me now, y'all--puhCAWN

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stretcher, Please

In the past, I may have whined about working hard and making myself sore. I may have whined about planting potatoes and hilling potatoes and how THAT makes me sore. I may have whined a little TOO MUCH, upon reflection. Why don't you just tell me to shut up, already?

I'm not going to whine today. I am simply going to state for the record that I dug up the remaining three rows of potatoes yesterday by myself, and now it even hurts to type. Yet here I am, typing. For you.

I think martyrdom is much more attractive than whining, don't you?

I dug them by myself because A. doesn't get home until 6:30 p.m., when it's already dark, so he can only dig on weekends. And this weekend is calling for a lot of rain. And it makes me nervous to not have the fall garden chores done in a timely manner. And I only meant to do one or two rows, but I hate to leave jobs half-done, so I finished. And I hurt myself a little. In all seriousness, it was too much.

However, I have photos of the bounty! Wanna see?

What do you see here? I see a tarp full of french fries, myself.

I added my clippers to the photo for scale this time. In case you can't see them in the midst of the potato glut in the above picture, here's a close-up.

That big one kinda looks like Mr. Potato Head.

And that huge potato is not an exception, by the way. There are many of that size. Also many with those funky protuberances. What are those about? They freak me out a little.

So, all the potatoes are harvested. I need to go to the liquor store for more empty boxes (and liquor, but that's a separate topic) so the potatoes can be properly stored in the cellar. Well, "properly" if you define storage in old liquor boxes as "proper," which we do here at Blackrock because we don't have a real potato bin in the cellar and are too cheap to buy the wood to build one.

The garlic was planted this weekend, as well. And I raked compost into the potato patch and scattered oats (they grow in the winter, preventing weeds and providing green compost when they're tilled under in the spring). So the garden is pretty much ready for its winter rest.

And good lord almighty, SO AM I.

Monday, October 20, 2008

If It LOOKS Like Fall, and SMELLS Like Fall . . .

There are flannel sheets on the beds . . .

Green tomatoes in the kitchen . . .

Wood smoke drifting from the chimney . . .

Frost on the window . . .

And my nose is cold at night.

Ain't no doubt: It's fall at Blackrock.

Is it fall at your house yet? How can you tell?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hello, Country Bumpkin

How's the frost out on the pumpkin?*

Thick, is how the frost is. There was a freeze warning for last night, so we spent the afternoon preparing for a killing frost. I went out to the garden with every intention of covering most of the tomato plants, but once I got out there, I ended up only swaddling three of the Stupice tomatoes and leaving the others to fend for themselves. But not until after I had picked all the tomatoes, green and otherwise, on them. And not until after the tomato plants had stuck me with one more huge harvest to be dealt with.

Process THIS, sucka!

* It's a song--"Hello , country bumpkin. How's the frost out on the pumpkin? I've seen some sights but, man, you're somethin. Where'd you come from, country bumpkin?" Good song. Though the lady dies in the end, and then the "frost is gone now from the pumpkin." Who knew a frosted gourd could be so depressing?