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Good News Bad News

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Well, the good news is the easy repair of our washing machine. Just the switch which says the top is down and the motor can run.

The bad news. Our internet died Tuesday. Much drama. Two visits. Trucks with buckets trying to access connections in brutally cold weather. No internet and suggestions that we need a new cable run. Then, OMG, the internet returned at 11 pm last night. Magically. Now, we have no idea if we need new cable runs from the main road. I am just frantically paying bills and answering emails in case it dies again.

It is amazing how much we now rely on internet to support us.

My volunteer work, at the Conservancy, for example. I need to publicize upcoming events like the renowned owl expert with incredible information about one of our favorite predators. Paul Bannick, on the 12th of January. Ranger will be there. This event may sell out. Go online and book quickly. His event on the 13th in VA has already reached its limit at 175 participants.

Another fun event on the 13th, we have a haiku writing fest. With crafts by Columbia Families in Nature. Come out and banish those cold weather blues.

The last bad news in our area. The closing of Casual Gourmet. I will miss Alexandra’s shop in Glenwood. They are retiring and no one wanted to buy it from them. For the rest of this month, they are liquidating their inventory. Stop in, help them out, and say farewell.

All in all, this brutal winter is knocking us down. We just need to find things to keep us occupied and WARM.

Cookbook Club

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In my last post, where I talk about all the ways we experimented with brining turkey, I mentioned the inspiration of the cookbook club. Friday I started cooking from the 10th book, a different one every month, and sharing it on social media with other “club” members. This version of an online community is managed by Food52, a popular web site for people obviously interested in food.

The club, a closed group on Facebook, has thousands of members. A small percentage of us cook and write about it. What is so interesting to me is seeing results, and comments, successes and failures, by cooks from around the world.  Seasonal cooking as well as regional cooking are thrown for a loop when the Aussies and Kiwis from the bottom of the world, and the Asians, the Europeans, the Canadians, South Americans and those of us Stateside all try and cook from the same book with ingredients we can source.

We vote for the books, three months at a time, a few months in advance. This allows us to reserve library books, or to have a book readily available worldwide.

This month? Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore. I am lucky to have a great county library where I can reserve books, and then use online renewals to keep them for up to nine weeks if no one else requests them. I got the book in midNovember and started reading. I like this book quite a bit. Her column on line explores these great recipes in depth, and uses input to make them easy for anyone to tackle. Tweaks to them. Hints. Substitutions.

I needed to make cookies for a cookie party. I spent Friday doing one from this book and one from the latest Ottolenghi book, SWEET. Sweet is the book of the month for the baking version of our little online community. If you have never cooked from Ottolenghi’s books, you should get your hands on any of them and just have fun. I have all of them in eBook versions. The cookbook club in June let us loose on all of his previous books.

What did I bake?

From Genius Recipes I visited an old favorite. Molasses cookies from the Silver Palate. Mine spread too much. I think I didn’t let the dough chill enough. Still, they taste great and they look like lace cookies, which make them perfect tea cookies.

From Sweet, I made these absolutely amazing cranberry, oat, and almond cookies, covered in a white chocolate glaze. These disappeared immediately at our event Saturday. Not sugary at all. There is only a half cup of sugar in the entire batch, which made 48 cookies. The white chocolate is the right touch to make these really good. Perfect with a cup of tea. The online recipe for these cookies is on the Random House UK web page, The Happy Foodie.

I am working on my baking skills this month. In my CSA share, I am getting the flour and grain shares, which will be put to use often, as I work my way through the Genius Recipe book. Jim Lahey’s famous No Knead bread is on my short list, as is an interesting one grain ingredient cracker. More on whether I do these, and if they are successful, later this month.

As for why I am active in this community. I promised myself that I would continue to challenge myself in retirement. Trying new things. Different cuisines. Tackling that fear of baking. Within our little online group, we commiserate. We encourage. We share. Some of us aren’t as good at it as others. Doesn’t matter. We enjoy cooking and by seeing the results, we become determined to try a harder recipe, and expand our knowledge of techniques.

In February, the cooking club celebrates its first anniversary by opening the month to a free-for-all with all the books we used in the first year. I joined the second month, so I didn’t cook from Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott. I will be reserving that book and facing that challenge. To me, pie crust is hard to do.  But what the heck! They may end up messy, but taste is what really counts.

My other favorites from this past 10 months? Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard. Made in India by Meera Sodha. All the Ottolenghi books. I had three of Ottolenghi’s already on eBooks, and have downloaded the others. CSA farm shares tempt me to dig into those books for good vegetable recipes. And, if it wasn’t for Deep Run Roots, I never would have grown okra in my garden.

Or made these.

Or this.

The okra fries are so easy, and so good. Just olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper. Screaming hot oven or on the grill. Crunchy, salty, spicy. As for that awesome cauliflower cake from Ottolenghi, it will be repeated when we get cauliflower again from the CSA. It is absolutely the best show stopping addition to a pot luck party, and really not that hard to make.

What’s stopping you? Get cooking!

 

Pilgrimage to Penzeys

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Ever heard of Penzeys. The spice place. Known to bakers, cooks, and those who love the freshest of ingredients. I went there today to find fresh whole spices for Indian cooking.

Because of this cookbook.

The October selection of our cookbook club. A cuisine that we both have loved ever since we first met. There are many excellent Indian restaurants in our area. Ananda comes to mind as a personal favorite. And, garam masala is a staple in my cooking.

But, this book is different. Home cooking, not restaurant meals. Simple, flavorful, and tempting me to create my own garam masala from scratch. And, to make simple dishes like the masala omelet.

I think I am set to continue my cooking, and to grind my own masala. Not pictured are the peppercorns. I do have cloves which are also called for in her recipe for garam masala.

Penzeys store is located in Rockville, even though their website says Penzeys Bethesda. Just south of MD 28 on Rockville Pike. Right now, if you go to their store and spend $50 (not hard to do with spices), you get two free jars.

Not going in my Indian cooking, but definitely a plus for some of my other recipes. Their prices are actually comparable to good sources of spice in specialty stores, but they are so fresh.

I also stocked up on a few staples, like these.

Yeah, I know, addicted to cooking. Just like my mom, who couldn’t pass up a yarn, knitting, craft store.

You can also buy online, if you don’t have a store close to you. What’s to keep you from having some awesome dinners?

 

 

A Record Year

On the garden yield. The 2017 tomato crop has blown away all my previous yields.

This was probably my heaviest harvest in August. Over 20 pounds. So far this year my grand total has exceeded 171 pounds, and the cherry tomatoes are still producing.

My previous personal best was 139 pounds the first year I moved to a community garden plot. I thought that was an immense amount and now I am dealing with another 30 some pounds. The freezer is full. I have been gifting a half dozen friends regularly. The food bank and the Wine in the Garden auction basket winner have benefitted from my harvest.

I keep extensive records. By variety. Number of tomatoes. Number of ounces. Every time I pick. I sort. I weigh. I process.

Doing this allows me to decide what to plant again. What to give up. This year? The last of the pineapple tomatoes. They disappointed me for the last time. I love how they look, and how they taste, but they are fickle and fragile.

My replacement for them. Striped German. In the top picture, they are the very large yellow tomatoes with the green stripes. Those were picked a bit early, just before a predicted rain. If I left them on too long, they would split.

In this picture, you can see what happens when the rains come and split the tomatoes. My other favorite from this year, the small cherries with the darkest color, are prone to splitting too. These, the black cherry heirlooms, and those Striped Germans were bought from Love Dove Farms. I bought a market pack of four Striped Germans, and two plants of the black cherries. They will most certainly be grown again next year. They were superior in taste and both produced well.

San Marzano and large cherry tomatoes also did well.

I had two San Marzano plants that produced more than 20 pounds of tomatoes. The red cherry and tomato berry plants also went crazy in late July.

My freezer has dozens of containers of oven roasted cherry tomatoes. All winter long, I will be enjoying them over pasta or mixed with couscous or rice. I freeze them in single dinner size. Enough for the two of us to share.

The plants this year were spectacular.

Ringed by rebar and string to keep them upright. Many reached over six feet high eventually. I put in 32 plants this year in two long double rows in the garden. I lost two of them early in the season. Thirty plants. Averaging almost six pounds per plant. Since eight of the plants were cherry varieties, that’s a healthy return on “investment”.

One other surprise. The purple bumblebee hybrid, which isn’t purple at all.

Do they look purple? Not to me. They do have a great taste. Next year, they will return with the black cherry, striped German, and the San Marzanos. I will probably also repeat the Brandywine and the Rutgers.

It may be the end of the season, but the planning never stops. And, let’s see if I can get to 175 pounds before the first frost.

It’s Tomato Time!

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Yes, it is.

The floodgates have opened. They are coming in by the dozen now. Including a new one in my medley.

Purple Bumble Bee. A hybrid. A large cherry tomato. The first ones were ripe this afternoon. They are incredibly sweet. Larger than others.

I have only gotten a couple large tomatoes so far. Many, many green ones on the vines. Waiting for that tsunami to begin.

In other items out there, the okra are ripening.

Purple okra. Should do well when paired with purple tomatoes, shouldn’t it?

Zucchini still producing strong.

There were two today. I came home and put it all together. Zucchini. Okra. Tomatoes. The lonely two asparagus spears I found. An onion.

Sautéed to serve with heritage pork chops, from Evermore Farm. You don’t get much fresher than two hours out of the garden.

Short and Sweet Saturdays

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A new addition to my writings. To entice me to sit down more often and write. When we get too busy to take the time to pursue our hobbies that bring us pleasure, we sometimes need to stop and smell the flowers again.

I will try and post at least twice a week. Those Tidbit Tuesdays, and these. Discipline. It’s what I need to come down to the computer and write.

I have a long in process post about the trivia behind amateur radio Field Day. I will get it done and posted soon, I hope.

In the meantime, some tidbits from the past few days.

WELCOME BACK HOWCHOW!!!!

Not excited, am I? For 18 months, we mourned the absence of our favorite food writer, who helped me grow this site by linking to it and letting me guest post on the most comprehensive local food scene blog in Central Maryland (and beyond). His toddler had him way too busy to write (and curtailed his frequent visits to the local restaurant scene). It’s good to see him back and writing about what is new and exciting in Howard County.

In other news, I have just finished my first four month subscription to a meat share CSA, with Evermore Farms, and loved it so much I am renewing for the next four months. I like getting this monthly surprise bundle. Keeps me creative in the kitchen. Like today.

My small share. 7-9 pounds of meat a month. I also get a chicken share. Today’s bird was 5.25 pounds. I also chose to get two dozen eggs a month. The right size for the two of us. I supplement the share with a few items from the freezers at the farm. I do have the option of getting a “delivered” share, to be picked up at the Columbia Wegmans every month, or to have home delivery, which requires leaving a cooler outside. I like going to the farm, picking out a couple of extra items (including Rheb’s truffles and Salazon chocolate). Today I did get two skirt steaks to grill.

This month was heavy on the grilling stuff. Beef patties. Sirloin steak. Lamb sausage. It’s a good mix of beef, pork and lamb.

There are some ham “chips” which are just screaming for me to use in a traditional Maryland style crab soup. When I make it, there will be pictures.

And, the last tidbit today. What is it with the wind out there. It knocked over my potted bay leaf plant twice so I had to rescue it in order to keep it safe from breaking.

I had to wedge it in between the patio and deck.

It has all kinds of new growth on it, and it is getting unwieldy. I need to transplant it again to a bigger heavier pot. That does make it difficult to bring inside for the winter but it’s worth it to have fresh bay leaves for soups and stews.

Time to stop writing here and get back to answering emails on the community gardens page. Now that’s a whole other topic I could write volumes about.

W3AO Field Day The 2017 Edition

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Another year goes by. This  is the 8th time I have supported Amateur Radio Field Day here in Howard County. It’s the 20th anniversary of W3AO being on the air for the 24 hour event.

I want to write more about what goes on, down in the trenches, to make any large event like this, composed completely of volunteers, successful. I could call this year’s effort “Doing More with Less”. Less people in total. Less stations set up. This year the club dropped down to 16 Alpha. That means, capability to simultaneously transmit on 16 radios, using generators as power.

A cheat sheet on one of the computers. You try to contact as many regions, as many states and provinces, as you can, during the 24 hour operating period. When you establish a radio contact, you exchange the following information. Their call sign. Their number of transmitters and a letter that tells you if they are using generators, batteries, are mobile or at home using commercially supplied power. Their section. We are MDC, Maryland/District of Columbia region.

The interesting thing about our set up is the sheer number of portable crank up towers. Twelve in all.

On Friday, three small teams of volunteers put up the towers, build the antennas, roll out the coaxial cables and it all fits inside a 300 meter diameter circle on the property between two county schools. They also string wire antennas between some of the towers. Additionally, we set up a satellite communication capability.

It’s fun to head down there when a satellite comes within range and watch them track and make contact with other operators while the satellite remains “open” to both stations.

Things inside the main tent are also interesting. It’s a juxtaposition of really old and really new. As in the Windows dinosaur computers, in order to use logging software, called CT. It doesn’t work on newer operating systems. Put that next to a “K3”, one of the fanciest radios out there, and it becomes one very jarring visual.

Band captains bring their own radios. Their keyers. Their headphones. Sometimes their monitors and other accessories. They don’t mess around.

We set up three generators, and the county loans us a spare, in order to power all this “Stuff”.

And you thought setting up your TV/VCR was complicated?

Really, though, I have such a great time watching this all come together in order to have a successful weekend.

It’s a great team. More in another post in the next few days. Incuding, logistics, and scoring.

Otherwise, the official team photograph.