Kitchen Adventures

A cake is baked every Tuesday for Ed to take to the Wednesday Community Dinner work crew’s mid-morning snack.

The past two Wednesdays I’d baked an apple cake and a pumpkin apple cake, it was time for a chocolate cake: The Picnic Cake aka Sour Cream Chocolate Cake.

Picnic cake was Ed’s maternal grandmother’s standby cake recipe. It’s a sturdy cake that’s perfect for potlucks and, you guessed it, picnics. Ed grew up eating Picnic cake – it’s still a favorite of his.

I’ll share the recipe, when I have a picture of a normal one. I’m not sure what I did wrong today but when I peeked through the oven window the cake had giant bumps. It will be riddled with tunnels! I’m curious what it will look like after I pour the cooked frosting over it in the morning.

Right now? Chocolate Bump Cake!
Never mind the looks, it should still taste good, and that’s what counts. Right?

Last week my daughter set home a jar of Kombucha from her friend who has been making it for over a year. I suspiciously eyed the brown liquid with a SCOBY floating it in. Hmm, that stuff is what we drink?

Using the SCOBY and 1 cup from the kombucha tea I made a new batch to sit and ferment this week. The rest of the kombucha that Aurora gave us we’ve been drinking all week.

Today, the 6th day, my batch of kombucha looks like it’s doing its thing. Ed can hardly stand to look at it. Can’t say I blame him. The SCOBY mass doesn’t look like anything that should be in something I’m going to drink.
The top has a scuzzy, bubbly, cloudy sludge.
Searching online I was delighted to find that it’s the sign of a healthy and properly progressing kombucha. mmmm

SCOBY = Sybiotic Cultures of Bacteria and Yeast
And we consume this with delight! To our good health!

I can hardly wait to drink some tomorrow and make a new batch to keep it going.

Grateful for:
– the donation of the starter kombucha and SCOBY
– a cake recipe that’s been passed down several generations
– The 10 Bee Hummingbird spindles flying to new homes. I’d love to watch as the buyers unpack the container and spin with them.
– Rescuing a young bird from the jaws and paws of Snowflake.
– Plans for a celebration of life gathering that will be fitting for a young man who loved working on engines; exploring the back roads of the mountains; eating junk food; and quietly gathered friends with his kindness and gentleness.


3.14.17 Sourdough cake, no Pi

I wonder if there is a sourdough pie recipe that I could make on Pi day next year? By then I may well be long past this sourdough madness phase. Yes, we have sourdough!

A day or two after my last post I saw an elderly widower neighbor at the community center who I’d heard makes terrific sourdough biscuits so I asked him for some tips. His face lit up as he launched into a detailed explanation on making a starter and the ingredients for his biscuits. He tore off a piece of paper and with a stubby pencil pulled from a shirt pocket (My dad always carried a pencil in his shirt pocket too.) jotted down the threads of his recipe. Once home I muddled through his spare writing then stirred up another ceramic bowl of milk and flour, this time with a smidgeon of honey. I covered it with a scrap of woven cotton cloth left over from a shirt and set it on the back of the stove for a couple of days then added more flour and milk to the bubbly mass to sit another three days. That evening someone knocked at the door just as Ed and I were finishing supper. The neighbor, Elvin, held out a lidded container, a copied pamphlet of sourdough recipes and his handwritten recipe for his sourdough biscuits. He had no idea how old his starter was — he and his wife had used it for years.

Plenty of food from supper was still on the table so we invited him to eat. For the next couple of hours we had a delightful talk as he told about sourdough, cooking, and growing vegetables. He’d grown up on the farm, only a couple of miles from here, which his grandfather had homesteaded in the 1800’s. He’s filled with lots of stories, local information, lore and legends.

As we visited I measured out enough starter to let sit overnight, eager to try his starter and recipe.


I’ve made three more batches of biscuits, and another attempt at bread. This time the bread was a bit more successful, thanks to Jocelyn‘s comment about not adding too much flour but it’s still not the lofty bread I hope to make sometime soon. Making biscuits has helped to get a feel for just how wet the dough can be / should be in order for the feeding frenzy to happen in the dough and the bubbles to form.

Two batches of starter reside in the fridge; the one Elvin brought over and the one I’d started from scratch from Elvin’s instructions. They both smell wonderfully tangy sweet. Elvin’s has a deeper, more intense tang but considering my starter is less than a month old it’s coming along nicely. I’ve been alternating between them so they’re both being used and refreshed.
Melt in the mouth tasty.

Early this morning as I was setting out the starter for biscuits to have with our soup supper I remembered seeing a Sourdough Chocolate Cake recipe. Since Tuesday is cake baking day and I’d already planned to make a chocolate cake I hunted up the recipe (King Arthur’s baking book) then measured out the half the amount needed from each jar of starter, added more flour and milk into the starter jars and set them on the counter along with the two bowls of dough; one for tonight’s biscuits, one for the cake.

The cake rose beautifully in the oven. It’s been very tempting to nibble at a corner but I’ll wait until morning when it’s frosted. A small corner might be missing when Ed takes it to the Wednesday supper crew. I hope it tastes as good as it smelled when cooking!

Why yes, I have been spinning. Next post…

PS Sorry for my lapse in replying to comments. I’ve had a heck of a time disciplining myself to replying even though I have the best of intentions and I love reading all your comments! I’ll try to do better.

Paneer Cheese

Tasty Tuesday.

The smell of the Brownies just removed from the oven is wafting through the air, a fire is in the wood stove, Ebo is curled up on Ed’s lap.

Last month a friend mentioned making simple paneer cheese. A quick internet search yielded a recipe, a jar of milk and I was on my way to making a cheese. These pictures were from the first attempt.
Note: I’m still very much a novice. These are instructions come from my own experiences making the cheese.DSC00778
1 – 2 Quarts/Liters of milk
3 – 5 Tablespoons of Lemon juice or Apple cider vinegar. You may need more or less; start out with 3 Tbls then add more as needed to get the milk curds to separate.
Pinch of sea or Himalayan salt   The recipe I looked at didn’t include salt but the first cheese seemed almost tasteless so now I add it.

You can use any type of whole milk though it works better to avoid milk that is labeled as “Ultra-pasturized”.

The quantity doesn’t need to be specific. If you want lots of cheese, use 2 quarts (2 liters) of milk.  1 quart will render a small chunk of cheese.
I used about 1.75 quarts since I needed to keep some milk on hand.

Heat the milk in a pan over medium heat, stirring slowly and often across the bottom. You do not want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the pan!

Have the lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, the measuring spoon, and a sprinkling of salt at hand. Once the milk begins to froth and simmer  remove the pan from the heat and pour enough juice or cider to make the milk solids come together into curds and separate from the whey.  Stir, cover and let it sit about 10 minutes

The first time I used cider and it took 5 Tablespoons to do the trick. When I made it again several days ago I used 4 Tablespoons of lemon juice. The lemon juice seemed to do a better job of bringing the solids together quicker.


This picture shows it close to being finished. At this point pretty much all the milk curds had separated from the whey. I expected the whey to be a mostly transparent watery liquid but it stayed a  milky-white.

Pour the contents over a towel lined colander placed over a bowl to drain off the whey. Sprinkle the sea salt over the cheese and massage lightly with your hands to work in the salt.

Briefly run the bundle under cold water to remove any cider or lemon residue. The first time I made it I didn’t rinse it off and it had a slightly cider/sour taste.

Bring the four corners of the towel together and squeeze out all the remaining liquid. Put the cheese, still in the towel onto a plate, pat cheese into the shape and thickness you’d like then fold the towel firmly over the cheese and place a heavy plate on top to firmly press it down for 30 – 40 minutes. This step is important to make the cheese firm enough not to easily crumble apart. If you don’t have a heavy ceramic plate put a jar filled with dry beans or any heavy, clean container on top of the plate.

During the 30 minute wait Violet played the piano.DSC00783
Perhaps someday she will be able to play the music in front of her. 🙂

Pat off any remaining moisture with a clean, dry cloth and let it set in the air for an hour or so then wrap in plastic wrap, or place in an airtight container and place in the refrigerator. It should keep several days.

A simple, mild cheese.  We like it sliced into finger lengths and eaten with rustic breads, or cubed and added to soups or salads.

When Allison was here this past weekend she told us about eating it when she visited India several years ago. Paneer doesn’t melt and is often used in curries.

With future batches I’ll experiment with breading and frying pieces, as well as dusting them with seasonings and briefly toasting on a hot skillet.

The pay-off with the price of good milk  might not be worth the small amount of cheese. I enjoyed making it and like having it on hand.

Late August Busyness.

My feet are swollen and feel like someone’s been beating on them. If I’d known that I’d be continually on my feet all day I wouldn’t have walked the 4.5 mile loop with its 3 hills – two long and steep, more than half the loop on gravel. A couple of weeks ago while walking the last quarter of a mile down the final hill I took a step that landed wrong on a small rock, rolling my ankle over to the road. Fortunately my walking stick kept me from sprawling headlong down the hill.

Glancing around to see if anyone had noticed my clumsiness I was relieved that the early Sunday morning hadn’t brought people out and about yet. Gritting my teeth I hobble-walked home to put my foot into a tub of ice. Oh that felt good after the hot sweaty walk. I’ve been trying to get my time back down to under 15 minute miles. There was a time I could do that loop averaging 13 minute miles. Hills, gravel and all. Spinning with a spindle as I walked slowed the time down to about 18 minute miles, though my arms and shoulders got a good workout. Sometime during July I abandoned the spindle in order to speed up. Perhaps when I can walk consistently under 15 minute miles then I’ll add the spindle back into the mix. Meanwhile I’ve enjoyed using the walking stick.

Having sprained my ankle numerous times through the years I’ve learned that it’s best to keep moving and not to baby it more than necessary. I did tape it up with athletic tape for several days to give it stability.  (Once upon a time I studied sports medicine and was the athletic trainer at the college I attended. I taped hundreds of ankles for the women’s and men’s sports teams.)  By this morning I’d pretty much forgotten about the ankle.

Until late this afternoon. Green beans are hanging by the handful from the strings; tomatoes are dripping off the vines (my best year ever for tomatoes); ears of corn are drying on the stocks; my daughter brought a large paper grocery bag full of plums she picked from their tree which has limbs cracking from the the weight; a neighbor shared his abundance of zucchini; Ed came home Wednesday evening with 6 pounds of Asian pears. Everything needed to be preserved in some form.

Putting visions of spending the afternoon under the tree with my knitting on hold I fortified myself with a bowl of yogurt mixed with ground flax seeds, homemade chia pudding and a handful of frozen cranberries in anticipation of a long day ahead. First the Roma tomatoes. Romas were sliced into four lengthwise, filling the dehydrator. A large turkey roaster was filled with more olive oil drizzled Romas and placed into the oven. Next commenced the washing and pitting of the plums and filling my largest pot to slowly cook. As they were simmered I peeled a hunk of ginger root and pureed it with some water, squeezed out all the liquid using a cheesecloth then set the ginger juice (wow is that stuff potent!) on the stove to cook with sugar and water for a syrup to pour over the Asian Pears. By then the tomatoes were roasted and ready to ladle into pint jars to go into the canner. Our large camp stove, perfect for canning, is permanently set up on the back porch during the summer so the kitchen won’t be a baking oven.  As soon as they came out of the boiling water bath in went the ginger pears. By then it was well into afternoon and my feet were aching so I took a 7 minute lunch break to give them a rest before tackling the plums and working into the evening.

The kitchen is cleaned up, the pots and canner emptied and dried, a few tomatoes are finishing up the dehydrator. It’s been a long day and I didn’t get to the beans. Tomorrow afternoon is the wedding of a young man we’ve known since he was born. Monday I’ll tackle the beans, zucchini and corn.  Already we’ve put up 21 pints of carrots, and 24 pints of green beans, jars of plum sauce (we love that stuff!) and applesauce. There are more carrots in the garden, winter squash and I have high hopes of planting another row of beets and some broccoli for winter.

Most of the drying tomatoes have been packed away in 2 pint jars.
Seven pints of plum sauce (no sugar) are ready to eat and use in cakes.
Six and a half pints of plum jam cooling on the outside table.
Five pints of roasted canned romas. Five pints of ginger asian pears.

Silly me, I thought summer was for swimming, weaving, cleaning and combing, or carding, fleeces and spinning!

There are two ongoing projects that I’d thought would be finished long ago: a Great Pyrenees challenge and a simple pair of boot socks for my granddaughter.

I hope you all have had a chance to enjoy the bounty of the summer season.

PS Before someone suggests it: I often do sit when preparing food for preserving but today with all the multitasking going on it just wasn’t feasible.

Community Suppers

For the past couple of years Ed has been helping at a community dinner in Silverton. What began as the third Wednesday commitment morphed into weekly last fall.

The village we live in is small, just over 300 people, a small convenience store, the Friends Church and the Holy Rosary Catholic church five miles up in the hills, a Post Office and elementary school. We go to Silverton, and occasionally Salem or Portland, for gas, shopping and all the other errands that can’t be met in this small place.

Silverton is an average American town with local colors and characters, most of them decent and hardworking. The economic downturn hit here as it did across America. People who’d once had secure jobs, a house mortgage that seemed manageable, kids growing up in a relatively safe, small town community suddenly found themselves out of a job with no prospects and never ending bills.  Seeing there were many hungry people trying to make a dollar go as far as possible (how many remember buying a soda along with a good sized candy bar for the sum total of .15 cents?) a couple of the churches in town decided to offer weekly meals with one church taking Monday nights, the other, the Christian Church (henceforth CC), Wednesday night. The first week about 50 people showed up and the people who organized, cooked, served and cleaned felt that it went very smoothly and they looked forward to the next week.

Three weeks later they were feeding over 100 people and the good folks at CC realized they couldn’t do this alone so they put out a call for help at the next monthly ministerial meeting. A good thing they brought others in to help for in no time three hundred people were being fed every week. Several churches signed up for the once monthly rotation which is how Ed began to serve.   It wasn’t long before he found his favorite spot: serving the milk and water.

This year they’re averaging close to 500 people with over 525 for the Thanksgiving and Christmas Wednesday dinners.

Every one is welcome, no questions asked, no money expected. There is a donation basket at the last table but no one says anything about it or directs one’s attention to it. There is no preaching or evangelizing. The pastor of the CC is always present mingling in an unobnoxous way with the people and sitting to chat at various tables. People move through a serving line where servers put generous portions on each plate (yes, they use real plates and flatware). Three dessert tables line another wall with the portions served on smaller plates.

I took Feather and Gus both weeks they were visiting, so they could see Grandpa serving and we could eat together.
People come to eat but also to socialize and to be a part of a bigger, mixed community. Many senior citizens love this time of gathering and getting some great home cooking.

Yes! It’s all cooked on in the large church kitchen. A regular set of people prepare the food every week, two retired woman who were cooks at the elementary school bake all the bread, even the rolls that were used for the Sloppy Joes. On the Wednesdays when there are mountains of potatoes to peel Ed will go in earlier in the day to help peel them. He loves the camaraderie of the people from the various churches, the easy laughter and joking while working for the common goal of providing a good meal.

Wednesday, after visiting Aurora and Baby Violet I stopped to have supper with the community and sat at the table with several of the cooks. I’m slowly getting to know Ed’s friends there and contemplate helping out other than sending a cake or two, or a couple pans of brownies with Ed every week (I’m known as “The Cake Lady”).

What a delicious meal that evening! The head cook is recuperating from knee replacement surgery, Ed had gone in at noon to help prepare the food. The local, independent grocery store had donated several boxes of vegetables that morning. The cooks looked at that odd assortment of vegetables and wondered what on earth they’d do with it. The chicken for chicken enchiladas was cooked and ready but what does one do with yellow squash, carrots, asparagus and butternut squash. They weren’t stymied for long.

Chop them up and roast them! They spread the chopped veggies onto cookie sheets, drizzled them with olive oil, some salt & pepper and garlic powder and roasted them about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  It was so good that I made it again (minus the butternut) last night for supper from the extra unused squash and asparagus that Ed brought home. I added an onion cut into large wedges and served the roasted vegetables with black bean soup which I’d set soaking then cooking on our wood stove yesterday morning. Warm satisfying meals for cold snowy days.

All day Wednesday huge, heavy flakes drifted down. For a long time the wet ground melted the snow but by afternoon it began accumulating. Driving home, the big flakes drifting in front of the car lights were so pretty. Yesterday morning we woke up to several inches on the ground – we’re only about 300′ above sea level, just up the road the snow still lay on the ground when I went for an early morning walk today. The knowledge that this was a fleeting storm, soon to be followed by more temperate (most likely fickle!) real Spring weather made the snow a delight.