Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cranberries From The Tundra


As mentioned earlier, I've been picking a lot of cranberries/lingonberries (both names are used for the same berry) recently, freezing my fingers and toes in the process. They've shown up in my oatmeal, in crisps, in breads, in sauces, and I just keep picking more to restock my supply. This all comes in handy for this month's Garden Cook Event hosted by Paulchen's Foodblog for which the theme is cranberries.

I decided to add cranberries to my lemon bar recipe because 1) I love lemon and cranberry together and 2) it uses four eggs and I was, once again, the happy recipient of 18 locally-laid eggs the other day. Three dozen eggs gifted in 10 days means finding a lot of ways to use eggs!

This was mostly successful, but I really needed to have been bolder about how many cranberries I added. They were a little thin on the ground, as you can see.


The bars were delicious, though, so here's the recipe. In the future, I think I'd use about a cup and a half of cranberries, or maybe even a cup and three-quarters.

Lemon-Cranberry Bars

Crust:

1 cup butter, softened and creamed
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon each of dehydrated lemon and lime juice

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the ingredients well and pat into a 9 x 11 inch brownie pan. Bake for 20 minutes, until just starting to brown. Remove from oven.

Filling:

4 eggs, beaten
5 TBS flour
2 cups sugar
juice and zest of one large lemon
pinch of salt
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (or more)

Combine the first five ingredients and mix well. Pour over crust and sprinkle evenly with the cranberries. Bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar, and let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sustainable Seafood Month: Wild Smoked Salmon Strata

The Leather District Gourmet is hosting a sustainable seafood event this month, and I'm getting in just under the wire today. If there's one thing Isolationville does have, it's fish. Lots and lots of fish. We live in one of the largest salmon spawning grounds in the world, so our salmon is not just wild, it's local, and very, very little fossil fuel energy was spent to get it to our table.

This year was a great one for salmon in our particular drainage. The escapement (the number of fish that get past the commercial fisheries) was 3 million sockeye alone! We have kings and silvers, too, so there were one heck of a lot of salmon swimming upriver just a couple hundred yards from our house. We did have to drive about 14 miles to where we put in our net to get our subsistence catch in July, but that's it for transportation of these beauties.

My belief is that sustainability is in the use, not just the type of fish and how you get it. Our planet would be so much better off if we all treated animal foods, including fish, as a special occasion food or a condiment. With that in mind, my dish for this event features some of peppered smoked sockeye I made this year. It packs a flavorful punch, so you don't need much of it to get good salmon taste. I was also working on using up the wonderful fresh eggs a friend gave us. A friend of hers keeps chickens who are going nuts with laying, so I was the very happy recipient of 18 fresh eggs last week.

I made an eggy smoked salmon strata, or a stacked omelet. It was fun and pretty easy. Here's a rough recipe:

Wild Smoked Salmon Strata

5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
salt to taste

Beat the eggs and liquid together very well. Set aside.

1/4-1/3 pound smoked, peppered salmon, shredded
1/4 cup capers, minced
1/4 onion, slivered
1/4 cup cream cheese or soft, mild cheese (or goat cheese would be great)
fresh pepper
butter for frying

The dish is a stacked series of very thin omelets, each with one of the fillings. For the smoked salmon strata, I did four layers with the salmon, two of which were heavily peppered as well, two caper layers, a cheese layer, and a thick onion layer. For most of them, I melted butter in a nonstick, small pan, poured in a scant 1/4 cup of the eggs, sprinkled on the filling, flipped, and cooked a minute on the flip side. Each finished layer was added to a straight-sided bowl to help shape the finished product. For the onion layer, I first carmelized the onion, spread it evenly in the pan, and poured the egg on top.

I served this with stuffed, twice-baked potatoes, so I let it sit a while to let the layers come together a bit, and then rewarmed it during the last ten minutes that the potatoes were in the oven. I inverted the strata onto a plate for cutting and serving. It's not much more difficult than making each person an omelet, but it can be quite elegant, and is a versatile dish.

For the price of a tail-end of one half of one fish, locally caught, we had a dish full of salmon flavor and goodness.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Gathering, Revisited

This morning, I picked cranberries.

It sounds so ordinary, typed plainly like that. It was anything but ordinary or plain.

Our cranberries here are tundra-dwellers, not bog cranberries, and grow close to the ground and moss. All advice suggests picking them after the first frost, so they will be sweeter. Not sweet. Just sweeter than they would have been otherwise. The advisors did not mention how much deeper the red would be -- the color of blood that has congealed slightly -- but that was an easy observation.

I didn't get to pick cranberries last year. I was gone before the first frost, and when I returned, we had snow cover until spring. I had been told you could pick the berries until April, if there was no snow cover. That didn't happen last winter. So this was my first experience. Almost. I picked a couple small batches in the last week, just enough for my oatmeal in the morning.

This morning, though, I was determined to get out there while they were still frozen from the night's frigid temperatures. I thought I had gotten used to the tundra's beauty, not immune to it, but at least comfortable enough with it so I didn't have to actively appreciate every small vista my eyes wandered to. And maybe during the day, when it is thawed, I have reached that level of intimacy.

Not this morning.

Most of the berries I picked still had a frost on them, as if nature had sugared them for me in preparation for decorating a cake. They lay nestled in frost-crunchy leaves with moss lying alongside, crisp and ice-outlined. I was unprepared for the beauty of the truly frozen tundra. I may have joked about living on the frozen tundra over the past couple years, but until this morning, I'm not sure I'd ever really experienced the tundra except when thawed. It is a different landscape below 32 degrees.

Maybe the knowledge that I will soon leave this tangled miniature jungle imbued it with a special radiance this morning. The skies were gray, so it wasn't the angle of the light or the quality of the sunshine. Or maybe knowing that my gathering opportunities will be limited in my new life in the desert made this particular foraging expedition just that much more special.

I don't know. What I do know is that the cold disappeared. My vision took in the layers of vegetation more clearly than usual. I appreciated the unfrosted berries hiding beneath icy, fall-reddened leaves as much as the sugary berries sticking up above their foliage, begging to fall into my ungloved fingers.

I will gather again tomorrow morning, before the sun warms the berries and their tundra home. I don't know if it will be as magical as this morning. I don't know if it can be. Even if it is just a typical berrying outing, I will be grateful as always that I can gather to me wild foods tended only by nature; that I can return, however briefly, to a simpler, shorter food chain that ties me so directly to the earth and its bounty.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I Am A Bad Blogger

It's amazing. I go away. I stay in houses with internet access, kitchens, and access to actual stores. With good food and produce. And I don't blog the whole time I'm away.

So, to start: the news. In about a month, I will become the Not-So-Isolated-Foodie. Oh, I'll still live in a tiny town (just under a thousand, as compared to 400 now), but it's a tiny town connected to ROADS. Roads that lead to Big Cities.

Many people, upon hearing the news, have immediately said, "You must be so excited to be getting out of Isolationville!!" But, I'm not. I like Isolationville. I love parts of life as an Isolated Foodie. The food situation is not really one of the parts I love, especially now, returning from the land of plenty to the land of empty shelves (no milk at the store for the first couple days we got back, for example). But I will miss the endless views and the long sunsets over the river and the river itself, always beautiful and always changing (we're close enough to the coast that the river has significant tides). I will miss our friends and the quiet pace of life. I will miss our house that we've just finished settling into. I will miss the amazing seasonality of life here, with the boisterous summers of salmon and bears and berries and the huge calm of winter.

Life goes on. While not excited about leaving this life, I am excited about our new life ahead. We will go from tundra to desert, quite the change. I am eagerly anticipating learning to cook in a solar oven because there will be four months of the year that I will do whatever I can to avoid cooking much of anything indoors. A grill and a trusty solar oven will be my closest cooking friends, I think. Those and the year-round farmers' market that is, admittedly, a little over an hour away. But that's an hour by CAR, not airplane. I can do that. At least every other week.

During my break from blogging due to travel, I did eat some wonderful food, visit farmers' markets, and make a gazillion truffles as my contribution to a homemade wedding. Double truffle boxes as the wedding favors, so two kinds. A very plain chocolate ganache truffle, coated in chocolate cookie crumbs, and an espresso-bean-and-lemon-infused ganache coated in crushed praline pecans. They went over very well.

And now, I have to start planning a month of meals designed to use up my stores of food. I should do a full inventory, especially of the frozen treat type foods, and really plan this, but I probably won't.