Thursday, November 24, 2011

We ate the photographic evidence

2011 Thanksgiving menu:

Caramelized onion tart
Goat cheese on crackers with pickled bay capers
Bacon, avocado, and cucumber sushi (Nimue's contribution)

Main Course of excess:
Rosemary-Juniper dry-rubbbed turkey with celery acorn stuffing
Roasted potatoes with bacon cream (adapted from Sunset)
Homemade dinner rolls (with recipe from my college friend Di)
Roasted cauliflower and kale with cilantro, cumin, and sesame (adapted from Sunset0
Roasted mixed veggies with balsamic glaze
Green beans and asparagus in tarragon white sauce
Cranberry-gin sauce (Sunset recipe)

I forgot to make the gravy. Ooops.

Dessert (all baked by Sarah)
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Chocolate pecan pie

Lots of good wine.

Hope you all enjoyed your dinner as much as we enjoyed ours. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One of my pictures

The local open space district used one of my photographs in their winter newsletter. It's the one of Ravenswood Open Space Preserve on page 6 at this link. Yay. Micro-fame.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bay Nut Pinwheel Cookies

I took a couple of native edibles workshops given by Jolie Egert of Go Wild Consulting in the last few months, and one of the more interesting things she had for us to sample was a surprising chocolate-like substance that was made from the seed of the fruit off of California Bay trees. There are LOTS of these trees around, so I devoted a mellow bike ride a couple of weeks ago to pick up roadside bay fruits for experimentation.

The fruit itself is pretty nasty (I tasted), but the nuts inside were what I was really after. After removing all the squishy bits, I tossed the nuts into the oven on a cookie sheet and started to roast them. After a few minutes, there was a bizarre noise -- the shells had started to crack and as a result, nuts were bouncing everywhere in the oven. I had to put a piece of foil on top to restrain the little buggers.

Fun toasty smells ensued. After about 30 minutes, I pulled them out and shelled them, as they had started to brown and I didn't want to overdo it. At this point, I sampled one of the darker ones. Mmmm. Interesting toasty, slightly bitter, nutty flavor with underlying complexity reminiscent of chocolate. Chopped up, these would make a nice garnish on a number of things.

Unfortunately, not all of them were quite as brown. I think on average they were under-roasted, but didn't realize this until after grinding them all up in the food processor into a paste and adding some powdered sugar and dry milk. The paste looked promising, but had a vile sort of sour, leafy aftertaste. What am I doing eating weird plants anyway????

What to do, what to do? Clearly there were some flavor components that should have been roasted all the way out, but weren't. I didn't want to toss the sludge into the oven at high temperature, lest I end up with a horrible burnt sugar mess, so I put in a pot on the stove on low heat, hoping that the weird flavor components would be volatile enough to come out with gentle heating. After half an hour, it was clear that this was improving things, but slowly.

I left the goo on low heat on the stove all day, occasionally stirring and tasting it, until the acidic aftertaste was gone. Yay. Another miraculous recovery. (So many things in our kitchen need magic recovery treatments...)

The resulting substance is interesting. Sort of nutty, sort of chocolatey, with a lot of underlying flavor complexity. It's gooey at just over room temperature, but completely solid at refrigerator temperature.

I took part of it and made pinwheel cookies, which all three of us like. Even the kid deems them yummy!

Bay Nut Pinwheel Cookies (base dough recipe from my friend Sarah)

whisk together
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

beat on medium until fluffy and well blended
11 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg

gradually beat in until well combined
3 oz cream cheese softened and cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp lemon zest

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Divide dough in half.
Mix 4-6 oz sweetened bay nut goo into half of the dough (pick the amount that tastes good to you)

Refrigerate until slightly firm (1 hour). Roll out each half of the dough into a rectangle (very sticky, so do this between sheets of wax paper with a liberal dusting of flour), stack the rectangles, and roll them into a log. Roll the log up in wax paper twisting the ends.
Freeze for at least 3 hours (or up to a month)

To bake, place 1/8 inch thick slices on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 7-11 minutes until tinged with brown at the edges.

11/21/2011: a better roast on the next batch


We just got our first Christmas card in the mail today. It's not even Thanksgiving! Of course, stores have had Christmas displays up for a month already, so no wonder people are confused.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another fine mountain bike ride with Nim at Coe

The excellent kid had a nice ride at Hunting Hollow again.

We liked the moss,

the water-droplet-covered tarantula,

and the fall colors!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yosemite in pictures

We took a quick trip up to Yosemite to make good use of the three-day weekend.

A bit of rain on Friday didn't stop the fun. It didn't help Nim keep her tongue in her mouth, either.

The rain in the valley did lead to a nice dusting of snow on Half Dome Saturday morning. We spent a cozy night in our tent cabin.

Nim thinks the shuttle bus is fun, despite the wait and the teeming hordes of others getting on at the same time.

Spectacular conditions for the hike up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Don't we look angelic?

Ice on the John Muir Trail, coming back down from Nevada Falls. At one point, a big bit of ice and snow slid shooting over the trail from above, down into the abyss below. Staying close to the rock face was definitely the best strategy.

Mist in the valley during our pre-brunch hike on Sunday.

Time to run back to the Ahwahnee for brunch. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Do I Have in My Pocketses

When you're Ma, you end up with a lot of weird stuff crammed into pockets, bags, and otherwise affixed to the bicycle.

You can take a road ride with a stapler in your jersey pocket (needed for before-school garden club registration, on the way to to the ride)

Loose change found on the road: a no-brainer.

The occasional hammer, scissors, screwdriver, etc. that fall off of contractor trucks. I can't seem to pass these things up.

A gigantic Bowie knife (found on the edge of a very obscure road up on the ridge), complete with case (found 10 feet down same road) in your jersey pocket makes it feel distinctly like you're riding with a sword strapped to your back for the 35 miles it takes to get back home. Take that, vile automobiles! I don't even want to know what the other cyclist who passed me from behind just before I got home thought. (Note the ballpoint pen, for scale)

Many and varied groceries, musical instruments, sporting equipment, and other detritus of family life in the suburbs.

A 10 lb box of satsumas (on SALE!) balanced across the handlebars.

This morning was one of the weirder ones, though. Yesterday, when I was out on a road ride, I noticed a huge drop of good-sized acorns along side the road, and decided to return later to retrieve them. Necessary for Thanksgiving, don't you know? The experimental acorn bread made earlier in the year was good enough to warrant further experimentation, especially as those were the few puny acorns from the initial drop and not the bigger, less buggy, more numerous ones from the main October drop. I had spotted two corners that looked to be good collection sites, with lots of acorns, and some modicum of a safe place off the edge of the road for me to collect.

It was the mountain bike and a backpack for me this morning, as I thought it would be fun to ride the dirt along the train tracks on the way over to the collection site (and maybe there would be more acorns or other local feral delicacies to be had), instead of the commute bike with the large pannier bags.

Ooop. Always take the Big Bag.

I collected quite a few acorns from a spot along the railroad track dirt and put them in a plastic bag in the backpack, and then rode up the hill to the planned collection spot. I did stop at one additional unplanned spot and picked up some more, giving a total in the backpack of about 5 lb at this point. After a couple more corners, there was planned spot #1, aka the Mother Lode.

I nestled my bike in a pile of leaves on the side of the road where it was out of any possible traffic and yet wouldn't fall down into the creek, set the backpack down next to it, and pulled out a plastic Target bag to put the new acorns in, figuring I'd probably double what I already had, and bent over to start collecting. Then I just sat -- the acorns were so thick on the ground that all the bending over was clearly not the way to go. Cars whizzed by, bikes climbed slowly by, their riders giving me quizzical looks. I just kept picking up the nuts, which had pretty much paved the shoulder in a uniform, densely-packed layer of vegetable protein. Pick up acorns, scoot bottom over six inches, pick up more acorns, scoot again...

After a mere 10 minutes, I sat up to stretch, and the Target bag, now overfull, spilled a little. Hmmm. Said Target bag is actually bigger than the backpack, and the plastic is beginning to stretch, making the self-rending of said bag into a spiderweb of holes imminent. Uh Oh.

Acorns WON'T FIT into backpack.

But I'm not even done with this patch.

Plastic bag will BREAK if picked up off the ground.


I filled up all my pockets in my clothing with as many as I could, but the remainder still would not fit into the backpack. But -- O Glorious Moment -- my emergency fabric bag that rolls up into its own pocket was in my vest pocket. I poured as many acorns into the backpack as I could, and the rest into the fabric bag, thinking that I could ride gently home with the bag hanging off my handlebars.

Now the bag-off-the-handlebar maneuver takes some skill, lest the bag start wobbling and run into the wheels. I'm reasonably well-practiced at this, due to the occasional optimistic miscalculation of volume of groceries purchased. In my less-practiced student days I accidentally sliced up a bag of peaches in my front spokes turning into the apartment driveway, but this never happens any more.

This time, however, it wasn't going to work. Too much weight in the bag and a curvy descent home. Plus there was so much weight in the backpack that my balance was all funny anyway.

Next thought: Balance bag on top of the handlebars.

No dice. Too floppy. I could, however, run the waist and sternum straps from the backpack through the bag's handles and sort of balance the bag on the top tube. Hard to pedal due to the fat bag of loot balanced at knee level, but the weight was at least centered on the bike and couldn't get stuck in the wheels.

I rode this way about halfway home (mostly downhill, aside from a minor climb that just seemed egregious), until I couldn't stand the awkward pedaling any more. Didn't want to damage a knee or a foot by pedaling with my knees pointed out at some goofy angle.

Ok, now what? I threaded the bag through the waist strap of the backpack so that it was hanging behind me instead of in front of me and cinched up the strap as tight as I could so that the bag wouldn't droop onto the back wheel. How much air do I have in the back shock anyway? Lots of weight pulling the strap back. Acorns trying to cut me in half with the strap. Ow Ow ow. But I could pedal.

Ow ow ow a few more miles home.

Tried to take backpack+bag off, got tangled, and fell over. How much does this thing weigh, anyway?

Answer: almost 50 lb. Which really isn't that much weight, had it been well distributed instead of dangling off at odd angles. If I had, say, taken the bike with the rack and big pannier bags. Hmpf.

Keep in mind that 45 lb of this was picked up in one spot in about 10 minutes. No wonder acorns were such a staple in the local diet for so long. Tasty, easy to gather, and plentiful.

Now all that remains (besides processing the acorns) is to decide whether to repeat the process tomorrow to harvest from the other site I had been aiming for, or whether perhaps we have enough...

Trust me, it's heavier than it looks.

Halloween in Pictures