October 14, 2008 at 10:44 PM (Inedible pleasures, ingredient processing and storage, poetry, random musings, sights)

Rows, rows and rows-
Jars empty fill shelves:
Little ghosts in a classroom-
Not one spoils the silence.
With dust-lipped, open mouths-
Parched, they wait breathless;
Crumpled spiders to swallow whole.

The lucky ones munch dried leaves-
Toothlessly torn from a chill gust:
Tea and gossip-
With a wind that whispered, and then went away.

-P. Qeluzsva


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A Syrup to Hail Summer…and the Strawberry Fields!

June 25, 2007 at 11:00 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, Inedible pleasures, sights, strawberries, sugars-sweets, syrups, USA, vegetables/ fruits)

…Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see
It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out, it doesn’t matter much to me
Let me take you down, ‘cos I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real, and nothing to get hungabout
Strawberry Fields forever…

-The Beatles


    Summer has now officially begun- astronomically speaking- for those in the northern hemisphere: we have just passed through the longest day of the year, when the north pole is most oriented toward the sun. On the eve of the 23rd of June, the Midsummer’s Eve festivals of nearby Door County, in tandem with the lands of Scandinavia, kick off the night with bonfires, grilled food, and plenty of alcoholic drinks to wash it all down. The merry-making continues again on the 24th- Midsummer’s Day. I have never attended these myself, but I’ve heard tales…and I imagine that, since these two dates fell across the weekend this year, this pagan holiday dating from pre-christian times was especially riotous…

    But I celebrated in my own way: on Saturday I went strawberry-picking, with a good friend and my mother, at a local “pick-your-own” strawberry farm. (We also scavenged their nearby asparagus-field for any last remaining stalks. I know we’ve heard enough about that vegetable, but it is so much better than what is available in the supermarkets, and it’s season is so short…so, those without access, please forgive my enthusiasm)


The field director… a nice woman who keeps track of the picked rows with a flag-system.


Diligent strawberry-enthusiasts at work…


The plant flowers and produces the berries right next to the ground; straw keeps the berries from touching the damp soil and decomposing, which they do quite quickly after reaching their prime. (Wild strawberries also grow in Wisconsin, and though more difficult to pick, I have had the pleasure…)


Only that darker-red one in the center would be picked now- though it would best after another day or two on the plant; the remainder ripen one-by-one; therefore the flag-system keeps a rotation going until the season ends…


Our final cache about to be tallied by one of the sons: just under 25 lbs. Enough to have a few now and the rest preserved for special treats throughout the coming year…

    I admit, though, that I am quite fond of strawberries, as if you hadn’t guessed… and to kneel on the ground to search the plants for the low-growing fruit, is small consequence for the reward: beautifully ripe, sweet berries with just a hint of tartness left in them at their peak. Already there are plans for jam and strawberry short-cake, but, this year, I’d like to try something new with a few of them: a strawberry syrup with which to make cool sodas for the hot days ahead, to drizzle over ice-cream, pancakes or waffles…or to flavour coffee drinks or even hot cocoa when cool nights eventually return.  And I suppose alcoholic refreshments could be [clears throat] uh…concocted with it as well…

So, that’s what I did…

Strawberry Syrup

(with by-products of seedy pulp and a thick puree)

5 C fresh strawberry puree (rinse well, remove calyx, puree in a blender or food-processor or pass through a coarse sieve)

2 C water

1 3/4 C sugar (more if you like it sweeter; I don’t)

pinch of salt

pinch of citric acid

1)Place the puree, water and sugar in a saucepan and, over low heat, slowly bring to boil. Stir, lower heat and maintain a gentle simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat, cover and allow to cool until warm.

2)Pass this mixture through a fine wire sieve into another pan; this will remove the seeds and some of the pulp: you will have about 1/2 C of fiber-rich, sweet solids remaining in the sieve. This can be chilled and eaten by small spoonfuls…I thought of making a halvah with sooji rava, but… I didn’t.

3)Now, take the strained mixture and return it to the stove; again, bring it slowly to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour this hot mixture through a triple-layer of cheesecloth (I lined a large colander with the cheesecloth set over another pan). Allow this to drip through for about 4 hours. Give the contents in the upper chamber a stir and allow it to drip for another hour. At this point you should have about 1 1/2 C of thick puree that will no longer offer any liquid. This seedless, thick puree can be used for flavouring a cheesecake, making strawberry ice-cream, used as a dessert-sauce, halvah-making, etc… (I promptly froze it)

4)To the potent syrup now twice-filtered- you should have a little over 4 C- add the salt and citric acid. Store in the refrigerator.

5)To compose a strawberry soda, place a small amount in a glass; fill with carbonated water and ice-cubes.  How shall I compare thee to a summer’s day!


I’d like to thank these two lovely people for such a nice time… 🙂 ; behind them is the over-blown asparagus-field that we attacked next! We found enough for a few last dishes of the season- then it’s farewell to the beloved spears until next spring…

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The year’s first visit to a local farmers’ market…Saturday, June 16, 2007

June 17, 2007 at 7:35 AM (Inedible pleasures, sights)

    First of all, a happy Father’s Day to any and all proud sires of life’s most precious gift! Enjoy this day…

    My city has a fair number of open markets- called “farmers’ markets”… one almost every day somewhere in the city. Though called farmers’ markets, being a farmer in no way is a prerequisite for selling here. Small local business, cosmopolitan home-based entrepreneurs, and “city-plot” gardeners all make an appearance here. Visiting one in full-swing is a relaxing activity; there is fresh, local produce to gaze at and sometimes wonder what to do with if unfamiliar; splendid handiwork to admire, treats to satisfy any sudden hunger urges, and people and more people as time progresses…often, I run into someone I know.

    As I was a good boy and stayed home Friday night- well, I was too tired to bother with the fuss of primping honestly, and slept through the night- I arose early at 5:30am and had a little breakfast before heading out to one of the city’s largest markets: the Cherry Street Market- downtown Green Bay. It opens promptly at 6am. In the height of summer and early autumn, it is already swarming with crowds at this early hour, but now- late spring- and only the second Saturday after beginning, it was only starting to hum by the time I arrived.



Some flower-talk…


Larkspur…delphinium? Could be…


A nice table…


Nicer yet…


More anti-mango-bragging measures… 🙂


This lady makes hand-made rugs, and has been selling her loom-crafts here as long as I can remember… I believe I may have bought one a few years ago…


Heaps of onions, radishes, kohlrabi….among other things…


Dried gourds…


I love this family of gardeners; besides having gorgeous produce all season-long- and one of the largest stalls- they are so nice to chat with. They were more than happy to allow a photograph…and look at all those beets!


May I offer you some sugar? 😀 Chocolate-chip cookies, fruit-filled pastries, macaroons…. quite good! I admit to nothing…


As I was leaving I noticed that the crowd had definitely grown during my visit; I came away not unscathed as I had a heavy burden of white radishes, beets, mustard greens, kai lan, spearmint….what else?


Ah, yes… I couldn’t resist one of these Thai refreshments as the heat was already getting to me. It contained crushed ice, cantaloupe, tinted tapioca balls, tinted rice and bean-starch “noodles”, and…sweetened coconut milk… exactly what I needed.


Hello! I had parked near a cut-glass studio and hadn’t noticed this until I returned…. I approached for a better view…


Kind of reminds me of something…what country am I in?

I returned home right away with my new stash of goodies, and set to work sorting and cleaning… you’ll see dishes pop up soon from things I’ll be making- I hope- But here is a blurry pic of the radishes and beets with very usable greens…


Beet-greens are lovely…they intriguingly have just a tinge of bitterness- and very sweet. Radish-greens are sweet as well, with a unique aroma….who was it that posted a recipe for these? It’ll come to me…


The first round of mustard greens…saag panir can’t be far away! Now I just need some lemon-juice and milk….that cow is no help!


What are these? I have no idea… I bought them from a lady who said they were used for a mixed-green stew; I would have bought some of the other kinds included in the mix, but at $1 each, I stuck with these…and happily planted them in an empty pot: a promise of things to yet come…




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On a Skunk Cabbage Hunt…

April 22, 2007 at 10:57 AM (Inedible pleasures, sights)

     This post is not a recipe, nor do I believe it has anything to do with gastronomic delights; however, I believe that the eyes need food of a special kind, so I share this with you!


    Years ago, when my sister and I were growing up, our parents maintained a summer/vacation home about 45 minutes north of Green Bay. Although it was one of the first things to be sold and divided upon their divorce in our early twenties, I must say that it is missed very much still by both of us. The land was given to my parents by my maternal grandparents, and was just a small corner of the several hundred acres that they owned: some of it farmland, and the remainder fully wooded. During the summer, while we were on vacation from school in the city, we spent most of these warm days living there, my father joining us on weekends. Not only was it wonderful to be so near to our grandparents, (my grandmother being a wonderful cook and gardener of German heritage who taught and inspired me in many ways), but, for me, to be often within the immense forest that lay beyond the edges of the rows of corn. Our cottage stood at the gate between these two worlds, and I passed freely from one to the other.

    During these solitary wanderings, I developed a great devotion and respect for nature that, I think, no school could ever accomplish. I was most fascinated by wild plants, and owned, at the time, two handy guidebooks for identifying them that I keep to this day. In fact, back then I would not leave the house without them at my side, so, each time we ventured up there, into the a small suitcase they went, along with a slew of other reading material, and, with freshly-cleaned eye-glasses perched proudly on my nose, and my sister with her collection of crew-cut Barbie’s, we all took off with our mother in our 1970’s Ford station-wagon, to stay at the cottage for a week or more at a time.

     Within a few years, I knew every inch of ground within a half-mile radius of the cottage, which was sat on higher land and was accessed by a gravel-and-dirt road which ran along the corn fields from the main road. Surrounding two sides of the cottage was a dense stand of cedar trees, and beyond this the land rose higher until the trees parted to expose a clearing where milkweed, wild raspberries, black-eyed susans, and phlox grew. I liked to stop here for a bit: to tie my shoes or clean my glasses, to watch the sunbeams play lazily over the butterflies that gaily fluttered from flower to flower, or maybe to ponder a while. On the side opposite from where I’d emerge, the woods began again, here were deer paths that ran away from the clearing. They were easy to follow, and sloped steadily downward as they went onward and became cool and moist underfoot. New, strange plants emerged from the undergrowth here, the familiar plants of the meadows and roadsides becoming sparser, the dark, black earth more visible, until, if one dared go this far as I did, a glorious, shining, greener-than green sight appeared ahead: mosses covering rotting logs that criss-crossed in every way, forming a soft, crumbling matrix that exposed a pool of green water beneath. It wasn’t until I had obtained a pair of water-proof rubber boots that I could venture beyond vision into union with this place.

    The mosquitos would have been absolutely unbearable without a spray-on repellent; still, they managed to follow me like tiny, watchful guardians as I explored. Spiders hang webs here wherever they can to catch this flying feast. To move from the still quietness of the drier part of the woods to this, seems like coming upon a secret caterwauling party in the middle of nowhere. Besides the constant humming of the mosquitos and flies, there were birds that darted and twittered, and frogs that leaped without warning and grew fat on easy meals. It is impossible in all of this activity, not to notice a large, noble plant with splaying green-yellow leaves the size of dinner-plates that grows here in this hidden chartreuse world- and not beyond it… They can’t be mistaken for anything but the peaceful rulers, keeping some sort of arcane order and solemnly praising the filtered green light that pierces this cloistered place and reflects from the pool back upward to make them glow all the more vividly from my shadowed view-point. It wasn’t until a few years later, during a summer workshop course in forest management, that I learnt of their common name: skunk cabbage.

    They aren’t related to cabbages at all, in fact, they are related closely to arbi…..(“taro” as we in the states know them), and like them, are a member of the family Araceae- the Arum family. This particular plant is the only member of its genus, and is one of the oddest of plants in a family of odd plants. It flowers in early spring, before other plants have begun to grow, and even before it’s own leaves appear. Though the plant itself, at the height of summer, is not easily missed I can assure you, these early, short-lived blooms are known to very few who tread in wild places. The plant has the ability to raise its own temerature higher than that of the surrounding air, and in this way, is able to melt the layer of ice and snow above its roots to emerge and, with it’s single, maroon, hood-like flower, to lure carrion-feeding insects into it’s warm interior for fertilization. The whole plant exudes an odour not unlike garlic or hing when torn or crushed, and it is this that gives the plant its common name. Unfortunately, because the plant also has an extremely high concentration of oxalyte crystals- far, far more than the taro- the leaves must be air-dried for six months before it can be consumed; cooking the leaves thoroughly is not enough to neutralize this property, which, according to one wild-plant forager in re-telling his younger days, (when he added minced leaves to a pot of chile con carne and put it to simmer), caused an unbearable stinging sensation that had him rinsing his mouth for over a half-hour!


    Edibility aside, the surreal blooming of a colony of skunk cabbages is a rare sight, and one that I have not witnessed in many years. Therefore, over this past weekend, I decided to wander about a nearby county park where, over the past summer, I had noted a few extremely sparse colonies of this amazing species of flora. I had to do a bit of searching through the low grounds of this gully-and-creek-divided park, but, in the end, I was not in the least bit disappointed for my snooping!




To any readers that got this far: [sung in my best Marilyn Monroe voice] Hhhappy Earth Day….. to you…hhappy earth daaaay…tooooooo yooooooou…..hhhaappy eeeaarrrrtttthhh daaaaay….terra firma……..Happy Earth Day, to you….

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