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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Didn't Miss The Turkey And Here's Why, or- The Long Awaited Red Cabbage Post

Steve and I stayed home this Thanksgiving because there was some work that needed to be done on the car, and the Friday after Thanksgiving was the only day I wouldn't need it and he could get it done. And with just the two of us, I didn't feel like messing with the whole turkey dinner thing, so I made Rinderrouladen and red cabbage, and we had that with whole wheat Spaetzle (and gravy).

Rouladen just means 'rolls' in German, and they are easy enough to make.  I'll give you my recipe for them, which is probably the same as everybody else's, and I'll give you the recipe for my red cabbage, which isn't like everybody elses, and I'll give you Steve's recipe for Spaetzle.

The hardest thing about making Rouladen is finding the right cut for it. Fortunately, Portland has a German deli that also does Rouladen. If I couldn't find a proper Rouladen, I would get my hands on the biggest roast I could and cut it into three-quarter inch slices, then make a butterfly cut from one side of the slice (on the small side of the slice, not the flat side) at one third the thickness, turn it to the opposite end and make another butterfly cut so that it's kind of like a capital N, and then flatten it out and pound it thin and even. Thank goodness I don't have to go that extra step, but I could if I had too.

Spread the Rouladen out on a platter and smear it with some spicey mustard (like a teaspoon, but it really isn't rocket science).

Then lay a couple of slices of bacon on the mustard, some very thinly (very thinly) sliced onions, and then a dill pickle spear on one end.  I used scattered capers this time because I couldn't get at my pickles, but dill pickles are traditional and now that I've tried capers, I think dill pickle spears are better for this dish.  Start rolling the beef around the dill pickle spear and roll the whole thing up.

Tie up each of the Rouladen into a little bundle.

Brown them in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use grape seed oil).

When the Rouladen are brown all the way around, pour in enough water to come half way up their sides. Grab a pancake turner and scrape all that lovely fond off the bottom of the pan.  Throw in a bouquet garni (in this case fresh thyme, parsley and celery from the garden, and a dried bay leaf), put a lid on it, and simmer it for an hour and a half, turning the Rouladen a couple of times during the cooking time.  While the Rouladen are cooking make the red cabbage (see the recipe below).

Remove the Rouladen to a plate and thicken the stock in the pan to make a gravy.  I use a tablespoon or two of arrowroot powder dissolved in some cold water because I have a boatload of bulk arrowroot powder, but you can use cornstarch dissolved in water or flour dissolved in water.  Arrowroot powder and cornstarch can be dumped into cold water and stirred up- they behave very similarly. Flour, however, you're better off starting dry in a small bowl and adding enough cold water to make a paste, and then adding enough water a little bit at a time to thin it enough to be able to pour it.  If you make a paste first, you shouldn't have any lumps. (This method works great with crepe and Dutch baby batters- I mix the eggs into the flour to make a smooth paste and then add the milk a little bit at a time until it's all in- no lumps.)

Once the gravy is done, you can put the Rouladen back into the pan to keep warm in the gravy until you're ready to serve it.  Just keep a lid on it on low.

So while your Rouladen were cooking, you should have made your red cabbage.  I have zero pictures, because they didn't turn out, but that shouldn't stop you from trying it.

Paula's Red Cabbage

In a large saucepan on medium low heat, brown a few cut up slices of bacon or small cubes cut from a slab of bacon.  Remove the cooked bacon and set aside but save the fat.

Dice a small onion and saute that in the bacon fat.

Shred a small red cabbage about the size of a very large grapefruit. Once the onion is translucent, dump the shredded cabbage and cooked bacon into the pan with the onion and toss the cabbage around in the fat to coat it.

Add the following: one cup of beef stock (or a cup of water and a boullion cube), 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of blueberry preserves (the traditional fruit and sweetener is a diced apple and a few tablespoons of honey, but my way is to use the preserves, so you get whole fruits, and to reinforce the red color- it's not strictly traditional but it is my recipe), 1 bay leaf, 1 one inch piece of cinnamon stick, 1 piece of blade mace (or some fresh ground nutmeg), a pinch of ground cloves (whole cloves are too small to fish out later), a small pinch of caraway seeds, and four juniper berries (the last two are optional).  Mix it up and taste the liquid for a balance of sweet and sour.  Put the lid on it and set it to cook for an hour.

After the hour is up, take off the lid and fish out the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and blade mace and discard them. Then take a tablespoon of very soft unsalted butter and a couple tablespoons of flour and mash them together until they resemble cookie dough.  This is sort of like a beurre manie.  Pull pea-sized balls of dough into the red cabbage and lightly stir them in.  Put a lid on it and set it on the back of the stove to keep warm while you make the Spaetzle.

Steve's Spaetzle

Bring a large pot of water to the simmer and add some salt (like for pasta).

It helps a lot to do this in a stand mixer:

Beat together: 4 eggs, 2 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, freshly grated nutmeg and freshly ground white pepper (not black- if you don't have white, skip the pepper), and 1/2 cup of water.  Beat it until it strings off the sides of the bowl.

It should make a stringy, thick batter, not a dough, and will be really sticky.

Spoon the batter in batches into a Spaetzle maker and squeeze it into a barely simmering pot of salted water.

When the Spaetzle rise to the surface, they're done. It will happen pretty fast so be ready for them.  Remove them with a slotted spoon or spider and keep them in a warm serving dish.  It helps to keep them from sticking by stirring a tablespoon of butter into them.

To serve dinner, fish the Rouladen back out of the gravy and carefully remove all that string.  Plate them with the red cabbage and Spaetzle, and then ladle gravy over the noodles and beef. *

I probably shouldn't have written this post before bedtime because now I'm hungry again.

* Some people like toasted, buttered bread crumbs on their Spaetzle, and some people like some minced onion sauteed with those bread crumbs.  Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Drying Rack for the Homestead

My Homesteader drying rack from Forgotten Way Farms arrived almost two weeks ago and I finally put it together today.  We're drying two and a half loads on it as I write (the other half load is on the English rack in the kitchen).  It comes unassembled with instructions so that the shipping isn't as expensive as it would otherwise be.

I really like this rack!  It does take up a chunk of the living room, and maybe not everyone wants to devote part of the living room to drying clothes, but that's where we had the room (this rack is huge), and we're determined to make changes in our lifestyle at the pace we want to, rather than making forced changes later in life. Change before you have to, is the maxim to which we're ascribing.  We get used to living 'simply', as it were, and we'll already be used to it when supply tightens up or our incomes are reduced.  If none of that happens, we'll still have saved a lot of money living this way.

But back to the rack. The only criticism I have, which is pretty minor, was that the instructions had a couple of problems where the instructions didn't quite jive with the pictures, which almost stopped the assembly altogether until I figured it out. The key is to stick with what the picture looks like, because they're right.  Once I had that part done, the rest of it went together pretty quickly.  Something that might make assembly a little easier for anyone thinking about getting this rack is to put a piece of ¾" wood underneath parts that don't touch the floor to make it much steadier to work on.  Also, if you have a speed-loading chuck on your drill or impact driver and a phillips driver bit, it will make fixing the screws into the dowel ends go a lot quicker, and there are a bunch of them. Screwing the ends of the dowels in actually took more time than assembling the rack!

All in all, I think this is a great product, and I'm glad that I purchased the largest size they have.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Running Away For The Weekend: Seattle

Steve and I ran away to Seattle for our anniversary and had a crazy good time, starting with the train ride  from Portland to Seattle.

The Portland train station is in pretty good shape on the interior, and the outside is covered in scaffolding because they're working on it. It's heartening to see the train station being taken care of.

The line that runs between Portland and Seattle is called the Amtrak Cascades.  We opted for business class, and I'm glad we did because aside from there being a little more room, when you check in your seat is assigned and you get to board when they call for business class.  With coach, you have to stand in a long line to get your seat assignment and then you have to stand in another line to board.  You also get a voucher worth a couple of bucks in the bistro car with a business class ticket.  Upgrading our tickets to business class was $32 for the pair and this was for round trip, so I think it was worth it.  It was very comfortable.  By the way, I learned a couple of things on the train:  1) staying awake on the train is next to impossible, and 2) screaming, obstreperous children are just as annoying on the train as they are on a plane.  The difference is that on the train, Mommy can cart the kids off to the bistro car to distract them, which is merciful; on a plane you're trapped. (Don't get me wrong- it's not that I don't like kids- I just really like my hearing.)

The Cascades line runs along the Puget Sound for awhile.  We were incredibly lucky to get such a beautiful day for our trip.

Arriving at Seattle, I saw the cars up there on the left.  They turned out to be antique Pullman cars, and I wish I'd taken pictures of them when I saw them because they were gone on Sunday when we came back.  I asked about them and was told that some people have private cars that they pay a fee to Amtrak to be able to hook up and get hauled around.  Which sounds pretty sweet.  Actually, being able to afford to buy your own Pullman would be pretty sweet, come to think of it.

Once you get into the city, you can ride public transportation for free in the city center during the weekdays, so we hopped a free bus to within a block of the hotel, which was a cinch to find because it's across the intersection of Spring Street and 5th Avenue from the Central Library.  The Vintage Park Hotel is one of those little boutique hotels, which I find I like better than the big chain hotels. The hotel itself was remodeled in the mid-nineties, and in fifteen years, it's showing a little bit of wear and the decor is a little dated, but by and large, it's still a great hotel.  The staff was wonderful; after asking us the reason for our visit to Seattle and learning that we were there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, they sent up a bucket of champagne and strawberries and chocolate on the house. The concierge handled our dinner reservations for the in-house restaurant Tulio, and when we came down for dinner, the restaurant also treated us to a glass of champagne.

Tulio is a really nice little restaurant, and they too took really good care of us.  I loved the cozy and elegant interior, but due to my being a crappy photographer, I couldn't get a decent picture of the interior for you.  The only picture that turned out decently was the beet salad, which was delicious, but then, I like beets.  Our waiter, Alfreddo, was very attentive and helpful; he recommended a nice glass of wine to go with my duck breast; he steered us to a terrific dessert (the pistachio semifreddo with shaved chocolate and candied orange peel), and he even got the email address of the chef (Walter Pisano) so I could ask for a couple of recipes.  He was there when we needed him and made himself scarce when we didn't.  Probably the thing that I appreciated most was that he made us feel welcome and that he seemed to be glad to be helping us.  Not a lot of waiters make you feel that way.

Friday morning's breakfast was at Belle Pastry on the corner of Spring and Western. This is a picture of the goody case.  Steve had the chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat, as I learned in high school) and a ham and cheese croissant, and I had an almond croissant.  This place is well worth seeking out if you're in Seattle.

Okay, yeah, we did the tourist thing. I got a picture of the sign, naturally, but nothing of the interior.  Pike's Place Market is a huge tourist trap, of course, and there's a lot of kitschy-krappy stuff there, but, and this is a big but, the food stuffs are gorgeous.  The fish and meats and vegetables and creamery goods were so beautiful I told Steve we are getting a place with a kitchenette the next time because I want to cook with this stuff!  One of the girls at the Belle Pastry told us that she buys all her vegetables there, and I could see why.  I even found nice chanterelles for as little as $6.95 a pound, which believe me, is a great price for chanterelles. (Finding them for free in the forest is way better, but you do what you can.)

This is the shop across from the market, and is really part of it. I grabbed a chicken gyro there- spicy and delicious.

Dinner Friday night was at Purple at Fourth and University, and it was good too, but the size of the dining room which was cavernous, made it really, really loud.  I also experienced something a little weird that I've never experienced in a restaurant; the seat in which I was sitting, which was just like every other chair in the place, was high enough that my feet didn't reach the floor, and there was no rung on which to rest them, so they dangled throughout my meal.  Not too comfortable, on a couple of different levels.

Saturday we wandered back to the market to buy some things we saw, and then wandered up Pike which was a much gentler slope and easier for me to walk.  By the time we got back to our hotel, we were in need of a restorative, and we managed to catch Tulio's manager on the way into the restaurant.  He was kind enough to allow us into his closed restaurant for an espresso, which we had at the bar.  It was precisely what I was hoping for, which was a relaxed cup of coffee in a nice setting.  Sitting there, we decided to have dinner there again that night, rather than having to go out again, so we made reservations.  The manager asked where we were from and why we were in Seattle, so we told him, and were treated again to another glass of champagne at dinner, on the house.  We didn't have the heart to tell them that it wasn't that night, but oh well.  At least we learned that they are nothing if not extremely gracious.

The next morning we walked down for breakfast at one of the Seattle's Best coffee houses, which was unremarkable, and then popped down the block to the Walgreens drug store for a couple of items.  I missed the group of Asians in leathers that Steve saw, but the fellow that checked us out had a rather feminine afro hairdo, three lip rings, and a luridly colored skull tattoo on his right hand. This probably wouldn't have been as memorable as it was if he hadn't been helping another store employee argue with an old man in a track suit about the price of the cheap wine on the shelf, and that in itself wouldn't have been so memorable if the old man in the track suit hadn't been wearing, and I am not making this up, a purple velvet pimp hat with a leopard hat band.  We got out the door and halfway across the street before Steve said, "Wow- that was a freak show," to which I agreed.  Freak show was the only way to describe it.

We got back to the hotel, finished packing and checked out.  Because the day was so sunny, and it was all downhill from the hotel to King Street Station, we decided to walk the ten or so blocks there.  It turned out to be a really civilized and pleasant thing to do and we were both glad we did.  At the station, we had time to get a good look at it, and it was depressing how bad of shape it was in. Fluorescent lighting dangled on wires from what had been a beautiful, ornate ceiling.

I was really appalled.

This is one part of the station that hasn't seen too much damage from the ill-advised and ill-conceived  modernization that plagued it in the seventies.

But the good news is that it turns out that the station is in the process of being restored.  The station was started in 1904, from designs by Reed and Stem which was the same architectural firm that designed Grand Central Station in New York, and was completed and opened in 1906.  In 2008, the station was purchased from BNSF (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe) by the city of Seattle for the sum of ten dollars, and it's the city of Seattle that is restoring it. Ridership is up in Seattle, and the Sounder commute trains also use the station. From the pictures of the plans, it should be really beautiful, and much more user friendly.

I think we're going to have to run away to Seattle again.  And again and again.  What a good time!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ten Years Before The Mast

The mast and me, five years in
"I had a thought," said Steve.

"Well treat it kindly.  It's a stranger in a foreign land," I replied, which was something my dad always said when presented with the same statement.

"Don't say that anymore- that's old," said Steve, who knew I didn't mean it, but was tired of hearing it just the same.

"Okay.  What was this thought of yours?" I asked.

"Marrying you was probably one of the smartest things I ever did."

Damn right,  I was tempted to say.  But really?  I've been saying for years that marrying Steve was the smartest thing I ever did.

Teaching him how to yeast bake was the second smartest thing I ever did, and convincing him to brew his own beer was probably the third smartest.  But I digress.

Steve and I were married ten years ago today on the front porch of a friend's mother's old victorian on the St. Johns river in Jacksonville. We were both wearing our jeans and Birkenstock sandals.  This same friend's father presided over our ceremony. His sartorial splendor consisted of jeans and sneakers on the bottom half, and a tux and tie on the top half.  He had renewed his notary status just for the occasion, and I still feel that our wedding was perfect.

I'd do it over and over and over again, just the same way, for all the same reasons.

Happy anniversary, Honey Boy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Insulating Ourselves Against the Cold

After the new metal roof, solar water heater, and solar PV system were installed, the very last portion of the roof project was to get the insulation beefed up, which is just what we did.

The first thing the fellows installing the new insulation did was to install the bird box baffles, which essentially provide a channel for the air coming in from the vents under the eaves (called the bird boxes) to flow into the attic unimpeded and out the ridge vent.  They hold back the insulation from covering the bird boxes.  Once the baffles were in, they blew in the new insulation, and here it is.

It's pretty high now.  And it works really well.  On most nights, with outside temperatures in the forties, we were now losing one degree Fahrenheit in warmth inside the house.  On nights where it dipped into the thirties, we were now losing only two degrees.  After observing this for a few days, it occurred to me that we will probably be able to heat the house comfortably with a fire in the morning, and a fire in the evening, which means that our firewood should be easier to make last longer.

There is no telling how cold or severe a winter we'll have, although by all accounts, it should be a lulu due to another La Nina event, but I think we're in pretty good shape.

Better than I initially thought, anyway.