Spicy Carrot Pickles

Even before Mollie’s delicious looking carrot soup post, I had carrots on my mind. After trying hopelessly to cling to summer for the months of September and October, I’ve finally come around to the reality of seasons and started bringing home root vegetables and winter squash and big bundles of colorful chard instead of bags filled to the brim with zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes. I managed to sneak in one last perfect season bridging recipe – a simple carrot soup by Nigel Slater with equal parts carrots and yellow tomatoes – before succumbing to  more substantial soups and all things roasted and stewed.

Here’s one more season extender – a quick spicy carrot pickle recipe. Now is the perfect time of year to make these pickles. In October/November you start to see big bundles of baby carrots stacked high on the tables of farmers market stands. No, not those slimy baby carrots you find in bags at the super market; verifiable baby carrots planted in the summer and plucked out of the earth hardened by a first frost. These tender little carrots are not only delicious but pretty much exactly the right length to stand upright in a pint jar in a mix of spicy pickling liquid.

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Fresh Ricotta

I was talking to someone the other day about how hard it is to try new things as you get older. Every day I sit back and watch Orion voraciously exploring the world around him. Sometimes it seems like every day he finds something new to examine, learn about, or attempt to master. He’s recently decided that he’s big enough and coordinated enough to start walking down stairs by himself – he’s not. How different the world looks through his eyes.

It can feel insurmountable some days to take care of the littlest of tasks, let alone finding the confidence to take on new unfamiliar adventures. I remember moving to the west coast and trying for the first time to snowboard or surf or even spend a night out in the woods backpacking – each seemed as foreign and terrifying to me as visiting a new country by myself. Then came learning how to drive stick shift. Then learning how to drive stick shift up large hills. And finally mastering parallel parking on big hills. All in all, I’d say the west coast has been good for me. I was raised to eye new and unfamiliar things suspiciously and proceed with caution. So trying these new things, while scary, was also invigorating. Although ultimately other than learning to drive our new car, most of my attempts at new hobbies were fairly unsuccessful.

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Now here I am ten years later fashioning myself into your run of the mill pacific northwesterner with a new slate of hobbies to try or attempt to try. And yet trying new things still feels just as scary. It seems easy on the face of it. Why not just get off your butt and give it your best shot. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you take the right precautions and prepare adequately. Somehow that very real fear of failure though can stop me in my tracks.

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Some days I feel giddy with excitement at trying to get this blog off the ground. I love the back and forth with Mollie, the sharing of recipes and gathering of ideas. I like trying to find new ways to express myself and new foods to try. Yet most of the days in between feel uncertain and intimidating. How can we get our voice to come through. How can we find something interesting to say to our readers about what we’re making. Do we even have any readers. And how can we make delicious, simple food while convincing our toddlers to wait just a minute longer and stop spreading peanut butter on the floor.

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Plum Butter

After a fairly hectic summer filled to the brim with activities, fall announced itself in no uncertain terms last week. I felt myself dragging my heels at first refusing to give in to apple tarts, soups of any kind or anything remotely hinting at pumpkin or spice. But inevitably I’ve had to face facts. Fall is here and it’s only a matter of time until I make my first batch of soup and the sound of rain on our windows sounds cozy instead of depressing.

We’ve been taking the opportunity of a slower season to take a little longer to do things. Orion and I have started taking walks since school is back in session and the local playground is off limits. We’ve been taking fifteen to twenty minutes to explore the three blocks leading back to our house. I said slower, didn’t I. And yet you’d be amazed at how much a toddler can find to marvel at in one block, let alone three.

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We’ve talked about the difference between sun and shade, met rolly pollys, learned about ants and stopped to watch them, met neighborhood dogs, and unearthed small treasures like this ladybug peaking out from flowers around the corner from our house or the elfin-sized swing tucked away under a cyprus that only someone Orion’s height could discover. If it had been summer we would have been rushing through sprinklers or playing with friends outside, too busy to notice the wonder tucked into the edges of our daily lives.

So take advantage of this change in seasons to spend a little longer making a hot breakfast and then sit down on the kitchen floor to share it. Or see the buskers at the farmers market through your kids eyes and let him walk back and forth between two performers for twenty plus minutes unable to chose which he’d rather dance to. And if you’re feeling brave even try to listen to your one and a half year old when they tell you they are perfectly capable of carrying an egg from the chicken coop to the kitchen by themselves. As it turns out sometimes they aren’t but other times they’ll make it all the way inside the door and deliver the egg safely.

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Raspberry Jam

It’s hard to come out and say it dear readers but I may have lied to you. Perhaps that’s too strong a word to use. Misled may be more apt. I’m so fly by night sometimes with my jam making, just throwing some fruit and sugar together and cooking it until I get fed up. Sure I might use a candy thermometer to try and hit the magic temperature I shared with you in my Strawberry Preserve recipe, but usually I get too fed up with my inaccurate thermometer or too impatient and just determine the set of the jam by looks. But our goal is to help you learn how to get predictable results. So if I over simplified hopefully this recipe will shed more light on how to make jam you can believe in.

Another u-pick trip under our belts, although this one with a more manageable eight pounds of fruit, we returned home with pounds of fresh raspberries. I just learned that our county (Whatcom County) produces close to a third of all the raspberries sold in the United States. Pretty impressive stuff and makes me like it here even more. Orion helped us pick berries again although much less so than with strawberries. He primarily took the berries out of our containers and then wandered off and found his very first sprinkler to run through.

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Under a Pile of Pears

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Dear Pauline,

I just came back from the Produce Auction with a gazillion pears.  They’re still quite hard but already edible and very sweet.  Any ideas for how I can use them? I’d like to do a little canning but am also looking for ways we can enjoy them now. Would love to find a way to freeze some for future baking as well.

Please help!

Mollie

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Dear Mollie,

Funny how a few thousand miles can translate into such big differences that change the small daily patterns of our lives. We’re still sneaking blackberries off the neighbors bushes as we walk to the park and just started eating tomatoes, peppers, and corn. But if I close my eyes and imagine the beginnings of fall, here’s what I’d do. First things first, wait until they’re a little soft and smell fragrant, then slice one up and eat it over the sink with the juice running down your elbows, only make sure to do it when no one else is around so you don’t have to share. There’s nothing quite as delicious and special as a perfectly ripe pear. I always find pears start out too hard and then when you turn your back for a day suddenly they’re overripe and mushy. So if you’ve got boxes and boxes, I’m sure you can find one or two perfect ones.

Barring that, here’s some other ideas.

I love just poaching pears as it keeps their beautiful shape intact but ensures a perfectly soft and juicy fruit. Here’s the recipe I used last time we made dinner together – it’s Ottolenghi’s Poached Saffron Pears. No pun intended, I paired them with a simple hazelnut cake and soft hand whipped cream. But I think serving these with a little square of ginger cake would be delicious too.

Pear Butter is an easy way to use up several pounds of pears. Similar to apple butter the basic technique is to wash and then quarter them (no need to peel or core them if you have an ever handy food mill) then place in a large, heavy pot on the stove with some spices. I’d suggest something like 6 – 8 pounds of pears. Add a little water to the pot, a cup or so and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Once they are soft enough to be smushed easily, grab your food mill and start spooning in ladles full of cooked pears. Food mills are a great canning tool that will push the soft parts of fruits or vegetables through a sieve while leaving the peels and other tough parts behind. It’s the kind of tool our great, great grandmothers probably used but no one’s invented anything better yet. Then grab an immersion blender and puree the cooked fruit until smooth. Here’s where the art and patience comes in. Add some lemon juice, probably a whole lemon, and then spices, I would recommend cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg but you could always try cardamom or cloves as well. I would recommend adding about twice as much cinnamon as the other spices but start out with only a teaspoon or so at a time. Stir them in full and then taste. You want just a hint of the spice, not too much since the flavors will intensify as the butter cools. If you need more sweetness, you can add a cup or so of either honey or brown sugar. Then put the lid on the butter and simmer over low heat for as long as it takes for the mixture to thicken to an applesauce-like texture. This could be up to three hours or more. Make sure you stir the mixture every once in a while so it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pan. This gets really messy because it will bubble up and jump out of the pot whenever the lid is off, but it’s totally worth it. Once the mixture is the right consistency, put in sterilized jars and boil for 15 minutes. Then enjoy on toast or stirred into a muffin mix or into pancake batter.

I’ve made a very simple but delicious apple tart that I think will translate well to pears. Take puff pastry dough (which you can find in the freezer aisle of your grocery store) and cut it in half. Then let one half warm for about 20 minutes until it’s more pliable. Slice a pear or two in thin 1/4″ slices, cored. Gently toss these in a bowl with your fingers with 1/4 cup of brown sugar and the juice of half a lemon then arrange in a thin line down the center of the puff pastry with slices overlapping. Bake in a 415 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes until pastry is turning golden and the pears have caramelized. Oh and put down a piece of parchment on the cookie sheet.

I love this Wheat Berry Breakfast Bowl with caramelized pears, wheat berries, and a sweet yogurt sauce. It’s a great fall breakfast treat.

I’ve never made it, but this Ginger Upside Down Cake sounds lovely enough to try, although maybe on a colder fall day.

Likewise this Vanilla Brown Butter Pear Crisp looks delicious.

Some other ideas:

  • Pear and chocolate seem like a natural match. Make a chocolate shortbread crust and then fill with pear slices arranged in a concentric circle.
  • Caramelize some in the bottom of a skillet with butter and brown sugar then throw into your oatmeal or put on top of pancakes, or even cook into your pancakes.
  • Make muesli with almond milk and some grated pears. So delicious with yogurt the next morning after soaking overnight.

Maybe this is the chance to try a tarte tatin. Maybe I’ll even make one using your copy of Julia Child and tell you all about it. Let me know what you do with your pears.

Pauline

Strawberry Preserves

We picked 28 pounds of strawberries last week. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to writing this post after digging myself out from berries, the last thing I want to look at, think about, or hull is definitely a strawberry. I made strawberry preserves, strawberry chamomile syrup, strawberry butter, strawberry popsicles, strawberry buttermilk ice cream, and strawberry riesling granita. We added them to salads with fresh shelled peas, poppyseed dressing and fresh shavings of parmesan. We tossed them in with a fennel seed berry pavlova with whipped cream seasoned with tarragon. The juices literally ran down our elbows and stained every white thing in our house.  If I had it to do over again, would I pick that many berries? Call me crazy but probably. Summer is such a short burst of long days just begging you to eat dinner too late and snack on berries while you wait for the grill to heat up.

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I still remember the first time I ventured to a u-pick farm a few months after moving out west. It blew my mind. Maybe they have berries in other parts of the country but if that’s the case, I had never met them. Or not like this. Row after row of raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, marionberries, tayberries. Who was making up all these types of berries I’d never even heard of? And why was it possible to pick these berries fresh by the pound all without the sweltering heat and humidity or threat of yellow jackets I was raised with in the south. It still seems magical to me and heading out to u-pick is part of the natural rhythm of our family’s seasons. This year we brought Orion along and he actually helped. He was able to focus enough to pick a few berries that ended up in our pails instead of in his mouth.

Soon after our first trip to a u-pick farm I was faced with the enormity of our bounty. Think of how you feel when you look down at your plate on thanksgiving, overflowing with more food than you can ever hope to put away and yet you want it all and more. Now take that feeling and multiple it and you’ll know how I feel when staring down pounds and pounds of fresh picked fruit. What was I to do but teach  myself how to make jam.

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