Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Honey Harvest

We are just a little bit excited around here! Last week my beekeeping partner and I harvested three frames of honey from our bee hive. We should not have taken so much honey, it was a greedy gesture but we could not help ourselves. You see, we have a very strong colony with a prolific Queen. There is a tremendous amount of growth in the colony but not much honey. We are hoping to overwinter the bees which means we should have left the honey for the bees. Hopefully in the next month or so there will be enough foraging that the bees will store more honey for the winter. Regardless overwintering is tricky and even with enough honey the bees might not survive.

We have learned a great deal over the course of the summer, starting with two hives. We stood by and watched the complete collapse of one hive that was queen-less from the start. It was an emotional struggle with a high learning curve. I felt like an irresponsible beekeeper that could have and should have intervened sooner. I should have listened to my mentor who recognized the signs within days. Instead I consulted an array of beekeepers, all experts with great knowledge and experience. Torn between who to listen to we did not take any action and hoped for the best. Meanwhile our second hive thrived and delighted us with each visit. We had a few bumps in the journey, a period of time in which we though we had lost the Queen but this time we acted on the advice and generosity of my mentor and the colony has multiplied and multiplied.

So last Monday Paula and I removed three frames of honey and brought them home to harvest some honey. We were overwhelmed with excitement and energy. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing, having never harvested honey before. We removed the wax casings from the frame and let the honey drip into a large container. A few days later we strained the honey, three times through three different size strainers. I wanted pristine honey that would glimmer in the jar. We no sooner got started straining when we became completely preoccupied with dipping fingers and licking honey from our hands. We stopped abruptly and proceeded to toast slice after slice of bread and lathered the honey on the toast. Even Tina got in on the fun. In the end we had about two gallons of honey, enough to fill about 50 four ounce jars.

I am not a huge fan of honey. In fact, I don't really use honey much at all. I didn't come to this hobby with the longing of a harvest. Getting honey was always the second story for me. However, I am beyond delighted to hand out my little jars of honey to family and friends who have followed our journey. Most of my honey has gone to my Tibetan friends who regard the honey as medicine. My friend Pema took a jar to a local monastery of Buddhist Monks who are blessing the honey. I also recently learned that honey is a traditional part of the Jewish new year celebration so I am doling out jars to all my Jewish friends for Rosh Hashanah. Nothing gives me more pleasure than giving away the harvest. Of course I saved a jar for myself.

My original hope was that somehow I would be tamed and tempered by the bees. I long for something that will quiet me down, slow me in a way that I will become more deliberate and mindful. While I am still convinced that bee keeping can lead to this end, it was an utter failure this summer. I brought way to much stress and worry about my work life to the bee yard which is exactly what I was hoping to temper. I won't beat myself up over this, it was an unusual spring and summer with ongoing worry about contract negotiations and striking at work. My worries about work are far from over and the bee keeping season is winding down so any opportunity to be quieted will have to wait for next summer. Regardless I remain hopeful that next season will bring a new opportunity for this lofty goal. In the meantime Paula and I are committed to another year! I also wanted to give back to the planet in some small way and to that end our landowner tells us he has the best, most robust vegetable garden he has ever had and attributes that to the bees. So in the end we provided some pollinating serves to a generous land owner which is very satisfying.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salsa Boy Helps Open the Canning Season

Our nephew Chase is a connoisseur of sorts. This guy knows salsa. He tells me he can go through a jar of store bought salsa in a day or two. Chips and salsa are his go to food. Last week he and Tina made fresh pico de gallo. I watched. They chopped tomatoes, red onion, garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño. And then they ate, all of it, save a bite or two for Chase to take home.

This got me thinking, Chase might like to can salsa. While I am an avid seasoned canner, I have never canned salsa before. It wasn't so much the canning that had me stumped, it was a recipe. I had enjoyed the best salsa ever from my friend Heidi. Lucky me, she was more than willing to share her recipe.

Now Chase is a good worker and he was excited about the idea but I decided to do a fair amount of prepping prior to his arrival. I peeled and seeded 12 pounds of Roma tomatoes, diced 6 onions, four multi-colored peppers and all the jalapeño peppers prior to his arrival. He still had to help dice the tomatoes, and chop the parsley and cilantro once he arrived.

This was a kitchen adventure to be sure and Chase is leaving with 11 pints of fresh homemade salsa he made and canned himself. He would be leaving with 12 pints but we have already polished off a jar.

Heidi's Salsa with influences from Chase!

10 pounds Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (we used 12)
2 cans of tomato paste to thicken at the end
6 large onions, diced
7 jalapeños minced
16 bulbs of garlic, more if you like
2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups of white vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar
4 multi-colored peppers, green yellow, red, orange
one bunch each of chopped parsley and cilantro
ground red pepper and cumin to taste

Combine everything in a large pot and bring to a boil, simmer for about 45 minutes then add the tomato paste to thicken, continue to simmer another 15 minutes or so. Pack into pint sized jars and process for 15 minutes in a water bath canner.

Tips: I peeled and seeded the tomatoes the day before we made the salsa and kept them in a strainer in the fridge over night with a plate and a heavy heavy container on top to promote draining as much liquid out of the tomatoes as possible. Wear gloves when working with the jalapeño peppers.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

It is all about good ingredients!

I don't remember who told me that good ingredients make the dish but it is true, it just is. I spend a great deal of my disposable income on food. I can attest to the fact that if you get a high quality ingredient you might pay a little more but your going to get a better result in the end. So this vegan cheese, Daiya Mozzarella style shreds, is genius. I have tried other vegan cheese, they just disappoint. But http://www.daiyafoods.com/ is different. You can get the Mozarella or cheddar product (think vegan nachos). I first read about Daiya over at Katrina's blog, http://glutenfreegidget.blogspot.com/ . If you have not checked out this gluten-free blogger you must!

I started to google Daiya cheese and read review after review about how great this stuff was, melted like ordinary dairy cheese, tasted great, and free of all the major allergens. I am a skeptic so I had to try it. We invited our friends Paula and Andrea over for pizza. Andrea recently went gluten-free, dairy free and soy free so she would be the perfect judge. The challenge was on to find a crust. Score, on my first thought, Udi's pizza crust fit the criteria. Udi's gluten-free bread is the only bread worth eating so I figured the crust would good too. This isn't post about Udi's but good grief if your gluten free and have not tried Udi's bread you simply must! Imagine, gluten-free bread you don't need to toast.

We made two pizza's a spinach and mushroom pizza and another pizza with a variety of roasted peppers. Both were very very good. I followed Daiya's instructions, using 4 ounces of cheese for a 10 inch pizza. Next time I might back off on the volume just a little. But the cheese was really spectacular, it melted, it stretched, it oozed, it tasted great! I was thrilled. As for Udi's crust, not so much, I have had better. In all fairness to Udi's I did forget to bake the crust for a few minutes before topping it which is an extra step I usually take when making gluten-free pizza. I just find the crust cooks better and gets a little crispier.

Daiya cheese is a winner and a product I would recommend without hesitation, even after just one experience. Next up vegan nacho's with the cheddar! Helen, when are you coming?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Lesbian That Doesn't Eat Tofu, How is That Possible?

I may have had a bite or two here and there but essentially I haven't ever really had tofu. I know it is the food of my people, so how is that possible. I could list a million reason but the truth is, I find tofu uninspiring, boring and of an odd texture. It sort of grosses me out. This past Wednesday I was invited to our friends Mara and Miryam's for dinner. I love these two people and spending time with them is one of my most favorite things to do. When they asked if I liked tofu I had to admit I had really never had it, other than a bite off of a plate of a friend who had ordered tofu. "A lesbian that has never had tofu, how is that possible" they both asked. So in the spirit of changing that I said I would love to try it. I will admit I was apprehensive about my tofu debut. Miryam made grilled tofu kabobs and I enjoyed them, I enjoyed them quite a bit, so much so that I agreed to take a kabob home which I divided up into salads I made for myself for my work weekend. Yes, I even like the cold tofu. So, I took the adventure one step further when Tina invited our 15 year old niece, recently gone vegetarian for dinner. Informed of this invitation at nearly 9:30 last night I did a quick internet study, I needed extra firm tofu and I needed it then. I sent Tina off to the store so I could continue my study. Following what seemed to be very good directions I drained the tofu, placed it on a plate and put our cast iron skillet on top. 30 minutes later, nearly a cup of liquid had oozed from this weird mass. I cut it into cubes and marinated it in traditional BBQ sauce, GF of course. 16 hours later the cubes were swelling and I threaded them on to skewers with onions, mushrooms, and peppers and then grilled them. They were stunning and according to Taylor, who surely knows a great deal more about tofu than I do, they were very tasty and the best tofu she had ever had. I liked them as well.

But, I have to admit the highlight of the dinner was a gluten free curried couscous. That's right gluten free couscous. I first read about this product over at Gluten Free Girl and was immediately intrigued. It is a corn and rice based product made by Bacchini. I love couscous and it is one of those things I do miss a great deal. I am not really a fan of quinoa which is considered a top choice gluten free substitute for couscous. You can imagine my delight when I learned about this product. The down side of course is that it is impossible to find and I had to order it from a spot in Seattle. This is a menu I will repeat, grilled tofu and couscous.

Gluten Free Curried Couscous

1 1/2 cups Bacchini gluten free CousCous
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups boiled water
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup minced parsley
3/4 cup dried cranberry, or any dried fruit you like
1 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted
1 bunch scallions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 cup diced red onion

Place couscous in a medium container with a tight fitting lid. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork. Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous and mix well. Add the carrots, parsley, dried fruit, almonds, scallions and red onion, mix well. Serve at room temp. Of course you can vary the additions to anything you like!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Raw Lunch at Ecopolitan

I have been gluten free for four years now, no big deal. I manage quite well. Could I be a vegetarian? Easily, but I really do like meat. Could I be a vegan, sure, but it would be hard, especially gluten free. Could I adhere to a raw food diet? Probably not, but I sure liked my introduction at Ecopolitan, a raw food restaurant that is 100% organic, vegan, gluten free and raw. (http://www.ecopolitan.com/) The good news is that I have a very adventuresome palate and enjoy eating new foods. So my visit to Ecopolitan was a blast and I will return.

I just don't think I have the where-with-all to master raw cooking but I am intrigued beyond measure and was sorry that Ecopolitan did not have a cookbook. I am also intrigued enough that I would consider taking a raw food class at my local co-op (Tina I promise this won't get out of hand). I don't know anything about raw cooking but the food I had today was wonderful and after a simple google search I learned there are all kinds of merits to a raw food diet. If I was Oprah and had someone cooking for me day in and day out, I might give it a whirl for a while. In the mean time I am going to visit Ecopolitan as often as I can.

I went to Ecopolitan with my good friend Kathy who is equally as adventuresome at the table as I am. We are a good pair when it comes to eating out. We both enjoyed a carrot gazpacho to start which was simply wonderful, bursting with flavor. I had the Falafel Wrap which was a collard leaf wrap with hummus, falafel, cucumber, tomato, olives, sprouts and tahini-garlic dressing. I am so going to make my next wrap with a collard leaf, sturdy, crisp and tasty. Kathy had a Flaxseed Tostada, lentil taco meat, greens, marinated mushroom, onion, olives, cilantro, cashew "sour cream," and hot sauce served atop a flaxseed-sunflower shell. Chances are I will be back tomorrow. Since Tina is out of town I am going to indulge!