Given the Opportunity

Last night I made some Indian food and thought that merited some activity here other than the occasional spambot comment.

My friend John gave me a quart of raw milk on Saturday, and rather than say, drink it, I decided to make paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. I’ve made fresh cheese a couple of times; the process is very easy and adaptable with spices and herbs. (This lovely towel, which I used to wrap and press the paneer, was a thoughtful gift from my talented friend, Dawn.)
homemade paneer
The decision to make paneer proved wise, given the presence of other ingredients in my kitchen that, when combined,  make aloo matar paneer: red potatoes that were starting to show their age, a bag of frozen peas that were long overdue their use, and well-stocked spice shelves. I used this recipe as a guide.
aloo matar paneeraloo matar paneer
So, to recap — Saturday: received milk. Monday: made paneer. Wednesday: made Indian dish. Not even a trip to the grocery store was required! This is the way I like to do things, when given the opportunity.
aloo matar paneer

Urban Agriculture

Urban chickens!I took Thursday afternoon off from work to join fellow urban agriculture advocates at a meeting of the OKC Planning Commission. We sat through nearly three hours of mind-numbing discussion before our agenda item — a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance — was up for consideration. But it was worth the wait to hear the commissioners earnestly discuss matters of compost storage and rainwater harvesting. Most eagerly anticipated were the provisions allowing for backyard chickens: six hens per city lot! Sara Braden, a dedicated champion of the cause, spoke eloquently before the commission and expressed the group’s appreciation for the planning department’s efforts. The measure passed unanimously; next it goes to the City Council, with a vote tentatively set for December 31.
OKC Planning CommissionSome of my friends were more prepared than I for the grueling city meeting: Christine brought a novel and Sara had her crochet project. I decided to try out haiku, inspired by the matters at hand:

nutrient-dense globe
backyard food for everyone
gather, eat, repeat

gentle clucking soothes
cast seed sparkles in the sun
and the quiche is served

clean food, full bellies
nourishment just steps away
empower us now

And as the hours progressed…
painful gathering
testing endurance eyes glaze
faithful get restless

shut blinds prevent lust
for two hours of sunlight gone
now where is my book?

hard seats in the church
the congregation fights sleep
SPUDs are not tubers

In a Pickle

fermented cucumber pickles

My “summer of the pickle” turned out to be a flop. After my first tasty batch, the others were disappointing, if not inedible. I forgot to add a grapeleaf to the horseradish pickles and they were a mushy mess. The dill tasted off. Some of the pickles were mottled. While fermentation is an inexact art, I’ve been doing some research to try to pinpoint where I went wrong. This is the best troubleshooting guide that I’ve found. So far I’ve learned:

  • Certain cucumber varieties turn to mush during fermentation
  • Summertime fermenting might be destined to fail in my too-warm kitchen
  • In addition to adding a grapeleaf (or teabag) to keep the cucumbers crisp, I should trim off the blossom end, which removes the source for the enzyme that causes things to go soft
  • Sunlight or incomplete fermentation could cause discoloration.

Almost Eden

I don’t recall ever seeing a fresh fig before I moved into my rental house nearly three years ago. Thanks to this glorious summer and the efforts of my landlady, I’ve been eating figs on an almost daily basis and even collecting enough to make a batch of refrigerator jam. Lately I’ve felt so lucky, like I’m living in Eden or a fairyland.
mascarpone crepes with fig jam
mascarpone crepes + fig jam
figsfigs
figs
fig jam

Plenty

Some friends went hiking in southwest Oklahoma Labor Day weekend and picked about two 5-gallon buckets of prickly pear fruit. I got to help make jelly, as well as a big mess!
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We had a jolly assembly line going: singe the spines off the fruit, quarter the fruit, puree, strain. And things got progressively sillier, due to Nancy‘s prickly pear juice cocktails.
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pb&j
PB & (prickly pear) J

You Are Here

What does a somewhat anal-retentive gardener do when she goes away for a week in the middle of growing season? This:
garden illustration

After all the planning, weeding, watering, and inherent hope invested in my garden, I felt a bit of heartache about abandoning it for a vacation. (But I got over it!) Luckily my new neighbor was willing to help out, so I created this to offer some guidance. (Overkill?) I’m not sure how integral my crude illustration was in Shawn’s watering success, but I was relieved to come home to my lush garden, cucumbers and tiny tomatoes on the vine, and the promise of more to come.

Summer of the Pickle

cucumber trellis
June 17 | I’m quite fond of the trellis I made from two T-posts snagged on bulk trash day, a stalk from last year’s Maximillian sunflowers, and hemp twine.
I’ve been daydreaming of traditional pickled cucumbers since reading this article last August about “the beauty of fermented foods.” I have grown and pickled slicing cucumbers before, but this year I wanted to grow chubby ones that would look so pleasing in mason jars labeled “dill,” “horseradish,” or “hot pepper” — each jar a new experiment in fermented flavors.
I unsuccessfully tried to start some plants from seed, so I was happy to find pickling cucumber transplants from Renrick’s Farm and Garden, via the Oklahoma Food Co-op.
cucumber
July 11
cucumbercucumber
IMG_4047pickles!
July 13 (left) and July 16 | Batch No. 1: basic fermented cucumber pickles! After consulting Nourishing Traditions for guidance, I started with a brine of 2 T sea salt in about 3 cups of water, added about 1 T McCormick pickling spice, and two garlic cloves. To help retain crunch, I added to the jar two leaves from Brian’s grapevine. Then you simply leave them at room temperature for three days (or more, to taste). So good, and I’m just getting started. Watch out, Claussen!