Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Photo Montage

Things are gettin' real pretty around here.  Thought I'd share it with you all.

When you don't have a garden, you get really creative.

Rhubarb flowers getting bigger...

...and opening up.  So tiny.

Baby plant nursery.

Pear blossoms.

Apple blossoms.

Huckleberry blossoms.

Baby deer fern and vanilla leaf.

Have a lovely day.
I think I really will miss this place.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rhubarb Wonders

During my last quarter of grad school, I took an undergrad botany class.  Mainly just for the hell of it, but also because I felt like knowing about plants would be helpful in my daily life.  The class turned out to be a little less useful than I thought but I learned some cool stuff.

One of the things that I learned in the class was that most all plants flower.  Whether you can actually see the flower or not, its gotta reproduce in some way or another, the flower being the easiest and most common way.  Throughout my years of gardening, I've noticed that some plants flower and some don't either because the plant is no longer useful once it flowers so we pick it beforehand, or it just doesn't.  The ones that never flowered puzzled me at times, but I never really thought about it.

Some of the ones that I never let flower are onion, carrot, and cabbage.  I do know what those flowers look like though.  But if I asked you what a rhubarb flower looks like, would you be able to say?  I would've had no idea until last week.

It's pretty magnificent.
Shawn was out tending to the chickens when he came rushing back in and beckoned me outside to see "something crazy."  Lo and behold, our rhubarb was flowering.  It kinda looks like a pinkish greenish cauliflower.

We immediately did some research and found that plants around 3 years old flower and it must be cut off quickly if you don't want it affecting yield.  Since we're moving and won't be harvesting any this year, we've left it alone so we can see what happens.  It's cool.  I hope I can dissect the flowers (a bad habit formed from many hours spent in botany lab,) and maybe figure out what a rhubarb seed looks like.  Maybe I'll even plant one to see what happens, though I've read that plants directly from seed are often inferior.

They're kinda pretty.  I wonder if they'll open up?
We are panning on taking some of the rhubarb roots with us to the new place, since we can't imagine a place without it growing in some corner...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pho: Chicken Soup for the Asian Soul

Dooods... so sorry for my lack of postings as of late.  I have no excuse.  I simply apologize.

So without further ado:

Two weeks ago, I came down with a cold.  (Hard not to, when you work with germ factories known as children.)  I came home from a long day at work and passed out on the couch.  My body was achy, my head hurt and my sinuses were starting to get clogged.  There was one thing and one thing only I wanted to eat that night.  Pho.  Living in Seattle, Pho is slowly becoming a staple.  It's a simple Vietnamese noodle soup with some vegetables and meat.  You can also get it with tofu and vegetable broth.  Slather it with hoisin and rooster sauce and it doesn't get any better.  It's also super quick, super cheap, super delicious, and super convenient considering there are a ton of places nearby where you can get it.

So I dragged my ass off the couch and we went.  And it was delicious.  And I felt better.  (I still got sick for the whole weekend, but at the time it made me feel awesome.)

Boiling the spices in with the stock and some sweet onion.
Even though it is so easy and cheap to get, I decided that I needed to know how to make it myself.  So I looked around for some recipes and found good ideas and places to start.  I found that the key to making it right is the right spices in the broth: anise pods, whole coriander seeds, and whole cloves.

Note the basil, cilantro, mushrooms, and fried tofu.
So I basically followed the recipe on the above website but started with vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.  I also put in Seitan and fried tofu in place of the chicken.  So I made it, and it was delicious.  Just like the real thing.

But.  In order for it to really be like the real thing, you need a cream puff to cool your mouth off from all that rooster sauce.  So of course, I had to make those also.

For that, I started with my sister's tried and true puff pastry recipe she uses every time:

1 stick of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
1/2 tsp salt
1tbs sugar
4 eggs

Start by bringing the water, sugar, salt, and butter to a boil.  Mix in the flour until just combined and the dough sticks together but off the sides of the pan.  Let cool for about 10 minutes.  You can help this by stirring the mixture every couple minutes.  Using a hand mixer, blend the eggs into the flour/butter/water mixture one at a time.  Mix until the batter turns sticky and elastic.  Drop them onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet by the tablespoon-full and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  As soon as they are golden and puffed, poke small holes in them to let the steam out and leave them in the oven, with the door cracked, to cool.  (This way you can help achieve cream puffs and prevent them from turning into cream flats.)

While they're cooling, you can make the custard cream filling.

1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tbs corn starch
1/4 tsp salt
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk

Put the sugar and milk (minus 2 tablespoons milk) in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Let the mixture come to a boil for one minute, stirring periodically.  Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in the reserved milk and add it to the milk and sugar mixture.  Beat the egg yolk and egg in a separate bowl.  Add a 1/2 cup of the boiling milk mixture to the eggs to temper and mix quickly.  Then add the eggs back into the milk stirring quickly so that the eggs don't curdle.  Stir until mixture thickens to a pudding consistency.  Add the salt and then vanilla. 

I could probably eat about 47 of these in one sitting.
To this, I also added 2 cups of whipped cream to make it fluffier and filled the pastries.  They were sooooooo good.

We'll be making this frequently.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Egg-eating has been a issue that Shawn and I have known about since before we acquired our hens, and was always a problem that other people had with their chickens.  We made sure to give our ladies good nesting boxes and plenty of time outdoors and supplemented their diet with oyster shell as we noticed their shells getting thinner.  Well, the egg-eating problem became ours starting today.  (Sigh.)

This is a common problem.  Hens usually lay their eggs and walk away not realizing what the point was and why they did it.  Then one day their egg breaks.  They get a taste of it one way or another and they suddenly realize the gold that has been coming out of their butts over the years.  Hey, we think they're delicious, why shouldn't the chickens?

We found out about their problem completely by accident when Shawn was watching Abby out in the backyard.  He noticed she was fluffed up all funny and walking around-half squatting.  Next thing you know, an egg pops out of her.  Without hesitating, she turns around and starts chowing down.  Frannie also came running over like a feast was to be had.  Then it was Shawn's turn to go running out to take the egg away from them, but clearly it was too late.  They know the deliciousness of their eggs and now we have to figure out a way to stop them, and quickly, because the longer it goes, the harder it is to break them of the habit.

Preliminary internet research has suggested we put fake eggs (like golf balls) into the nesting box to remind them of where they're supposed to lay and filling an eggshell with mustard so they get a bad taste in their beaks next time they go for it.  We'll also probably keep them cooped up for a few days and not let them have too much freedom outside to do bad things.  We already have oyster shell out for them so we can't do anything about that.  I just hope the babies don't learn this bad habit and/or get broody because of the dummy eggs we'll be planting in their nesting boxes.

I'll let you know how it goes.  (Stupid Abby.)

4/27/2012 Update:  Abby, to our knowledge, has not done this since.  I think it was a one-time occurrence, and they have all been laying in their nest since.  (Except for the one time that Frannie got lazy and just dumped one while still up on the roost.  That one didn't take the 4 foot fall so well and broke.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hom Bao Heaven

Hom Baos are delicious Chinese pastries, commonly filled with a bbq pork filling.  They're all over the carts at dim sum restaurants and all over Asia with hometown variations.  In Japanese they are called niku-man (meat bun) or an-man (read bean bun).  The bread part is pretty crucial, in that it has to be super fluffy, white, and slightly sweet.  They are steamed so they also have a different consistency than regular pastries that are baked in a conventional oven.  Up until very recently, the secret to this heavenly white dough was a mystery to me.

Until last month.

My sister, who works with a handful of Asian nurses, is exposed to a lot of various home-made Asian deliciousness on a regular basis.  One of these nurses happened to have home-made hom bao with her and my sister could not help but ask her the secret.  It turns out, there really is no secret, you can buy the mixture for the dough at any Asian market, much like you would get pancake mix at the regular grocery store.

So we made some.  Alice made a mushroom, oyster sauce, tofu, and bok choy filling and I made a black sesame and red bean filling.

I don't know what exactly she put in the mushroom filling, but I can tell you about the sesame paste that I made.

1 cup black sesame seeds
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup hot water
2 teaspoons sesame oil

First you need to toast the seeds.  This is done best in a dry frying pan over medium low heat.  You have to stir constantly and keep a good eye and nose on it so that they don't burn, which happens very quickly.  As soon as the seeds start smoking the slightest bit and smelling toasty, they're finished.  While that's going, dissolve about a 1/4 cup of sugar in the hot water and set it aside.  Place the toasted seeds and the rest of the sugar (1/4 cup) into a blender or food processor and add a tsp of the sesame oil.  Start pureeing and add the hot sugar water and more sesame oil until the desired consistency is reached.

Gimme a spoon.
This is a basic sesame paste that can be modified and used in a lot of desserts.  I've also eaten it as a porridge which was delicious.  But to take it a step further, I added red bean paste to it to make it even better.  (I saved half of it and added the red bean to the rest, so I could have both.)

(These and other good hom bao filling ideas can be found here.)

 Ok so once the fillings were made, it was time for the dough.  That was easy peasy.  You just dump the entire contents of the bag into a bowl, add the correct amount of milk and oil listed on the back of the bag and knead for 10 minutes.  Then let it rise in a warm place for about a half hour.  Take out the dough, knead for a minute or so then take large spoonfuls and flatten them out with your hands or a rolling pin.  Use lots of flour for this process because this stuff is super sticky.  Fill it with goodness, pinch it closed and place on a small piece of parchment paper and place in your classic bamboo steamer.  Steam for about 25 minutes and bam!  You will find yourself in hom bao heaven.

Really good to take for lunch the next day!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Surprise! It's April!

Whether the weather has convinced you otherwise, it is supposed to be spring out there.  The cherry blossoms and magnolias are out, the crocuses and daffodils have been around for weeks, and the tulips are not far behind despite the terrible cold that is hangin' around these parts.  Last year, March 19th was the day I declared it was officially spring and put on a t-shirt and went outside.

Today I realized it was April.  That not only means Shawn and I can start celebrating our birth month by eating cake today, but it's about time I get started on my gardening for the season.  Though I am still very unsure about my gardening prospects for the summer, I decided to go ahead as if I have awesome garden space and hope that it all works out.

So I donned my heavy coat and gardening gloves and told myself it wasn't that cold outside (my frozen hands and feet were not convinced) and planted some seeds.  Into pots went heirloom tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, various squashes, radishes, and broccoli.  I'm also trying artichoke again, but I'm not putting any money on 'em.  I have yet to acquire seeds for beets, lettuce, and onions, and will have to wait to plant beans and peas until I have the space to do so.  (I really hope that space comes soon...)  I guess I also have to restart my sunchoke garden and also get seed potatoes one of these days.  But those have to wait also.

I hope they stay warm.
The ladies got a handful of beet leaves today which they snarfed down in no time, leaving their beaks a nice rosy color.  Ah spring... beautiful, even in the bitter cold.  And man, there's nothing like that first date with the dirt to really soothe your cabin-fevered soul.

Beet leaf buffet.
Hey, I think you have some beet blood on your beak...
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