Red Currant Orange Muffins

I’ve occasionally noted how alike in smell, flavour and texture red currant jam and cranberry sauce are. And since I’ve got a freezer full of last summer’s currants, I decided to use them in a recipe calling for cranberries.

The result was a lovely red currant orange muffin. Even better than the cranberry version, because the fruit came from our own garden.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
zest of one orange
juice of 1 orange, plus enough yogurt to make 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup brown sugar
125 g (8 Tbs) melted butter
1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) red currants

Combine flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, yogurt, sugar and butter. Combine wet and dry ingredients, stirring just until evenly moist. Fold in the currants.

Fill well-greased muffin cups—for me, this makes 21 muffins.

Bake 15 minutes at 210ºC (400ºF). Allow to cool in pan 5 minutes before removing.

Still Life with Insects

I’ve written and discarded half a dozen blog posts over the past week. Nothing seems to be quite right. Out of ideas, I resorted to the book of 500 writing prompts I created for my daughter. A random stab at the non-fiction section of the book brought me to the question: What objects tell the story of your life?

I tried to encapsulate everything in four objects:

The fiddle: made by a neighbour in Panama, given to me for my birthday by my husband. The fiddle not only tells the story of our years living and working among the incredible, resourceful people of Panama, but also tells the story of my lifelong interest in learning to play the violin…an interest which always ended up being pushed aside for other interests. Because I’m interested in learning so many things, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

The beetle puppet represents my insatiable curiosity about arthropods, and how that curiosity has bled into my other interests. Peanut butter jars full of bugs on my dresser when I was a kid led to the entomology degree, which led to teaching about insects at Penn State University, and then starting the Bugmobile. And the puppet is only one of many insect-themed and inspired artistic projects I’ve done over the years, as art and science mingle in my brain.

The gardening gloves speak of my weeding addiction and my love of growing food. The gloves are never more than a month or two old, because I wear through them in that time. I think that says it all about gardening for me.

The rock represents adventure, the natural world, and the wild places I have visited and lived in. Like me, the rock has traveled far and has been changed by the stresses it has experienced along the way.

Salt-preserved Green Beans

I always struggle with what to do with too many green beans. I can (bottle) some, but none of us really like the taste of canned beans, and their mushy texture leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t freeze any, because freezer space is at a premium, and I prefer to fill it with sweet corn and peas instead.

So this past summer, I preserved some green beans in salt. The recipe I used claimed that the flavour and texture of salt-preserved beans is far superior to canned or frozen.

I pulled out the crock of salted beans the other day to test them out.

At first glance, they didn’t win any beauty contests, especially the yellow wax beans, which came out of the salt a sort of dead-flesh colour.

I rinsed them and soaked them for two hours, as directed, and then tossed them into a green bean and potato charcharis.

Cooked into a flavourful Indian dish, the beans most definitely had better flavour and texture than canned beans. Almost as good as fresh, even.

Unfortunately, they were so excessively salty, they made the dish almost inedible. Even my salty-olive-loving family couldn’t choke them down. Most of the dish ended up on the compost pile, and I expect an epidemic of high blood pressure in the local sparrow and mouse population who dine at chez-compost.

There are still some beans left. I’ll try using them again—small quantities in otherwise unsalted stews or soups might work well (sort of like a salty ham hock in bean soup). Maybe.

But I’m thinking I’ll just give away the extra green beans next year.

A Reason to Celebrate

“Wow! What’s the occasion?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I felt like it.”

Then I thought more about it. What’s the occasion?

The sun shone all day today.
I had a good writing week.
The kids have been helpful all day.
The snowdrops are blooming.
Pīwakawakas outside my office door.
The neighbour gave us grapefruits.
My seed order arrived in the post.
I had just enough sugar to make the icing.

Every day is a day to celebrate. Every day is a day to enjoy whatever gifts life offers, no matter how small.

Go ahead. Have some cake. Be sure to try the frosting. It’s one of my favourites:

Grapefruit frosting

Beat until smooth:
250 g (8 oz) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioners (icing) sugar

Add and beat until smooth:
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp fresh grapefruit juice
1 Tbsp grated grapefruit zest
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Spread on your favourite cake.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Now that winter has set in, we’ve turned our culinary sights from eggplant and courgettes to pumpkin, pumpkin, and pumpkin. I blogged about our excellent pumpkin harvest earlier this year. That post was written mid-way through the harvest–ultimately we picked nearly 200 pumpkins and other winter squash.

So w’re eating a lot of pumpkin. That’s not a problem.

Yesterday I made lovely pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. They were moist, dense, and spicy—excellent with maple syrup or redcurrant jam.

To make these delicious pancakes, start with my World Famous Pancake Recipe. Add 2 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp cloves to the dry ingredients. Add 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (or other winter squash—I used kabocha squash) to the wet ingredients.

If your pumpkin is dry, you may need to increase the milk to achieve the right batter consistency.

We found these pancakes didn’t store/reheat as well as regular pancakes—they became quite fragile upon reheating (though they were still delicious).

Healthy Cookies? No Thanks …

Seventeen years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I tried very hard to do everything the pregnancy books said I should do. Exercise, diet, sleep … the pressure to be perfect so my baby turned out okay was something all mothers can relate to, I’m sure.

My biggest pre-pregnancy vices were coffee and sweets. Coffee was easy to forgo—the moment I got pregnant, it made me sick to even smell it.

Sweets were harder to give up. I vowed not to eat any sweets I hadn’t made myself. But that only encouraged me to do a lot of baking, so then I vowed not to bake anything. That make me miserable.

I decided to adapt my favourite recipes to make them ‘good for me’, so I could justify eating them. I started with a cookie recipe I loved that was already full of whole grains and nuts.

Following the advice for pregnant mums (which I’m sure is completely different these days), I eliminated the sugar, sweetening the cookies with fruit juice instead. I cut down the butter by half, removed the chocolate, and added more nuts.

The resulting cookies nauseated me.

I don’t think they were necessarily bad, but they were emotionally unsatisfying and difficult for my stomach—a bit wobbly already from pregnancy—to digest. I choked them down anyway.

I thought maybe if I tweaked the recipe a little bit …

The second batch made me feel sick, too.

For over a decade, I couldn’t even look at the recipe for those cookies (not even the original recipe, which I loved) without feeling a bit queasy.

I’ve recently rediscovered those cookies, and am happy to report I’ve recovered all my love for the original recipe.

This comes from Farm Journal’s Cookies. Don’t change a thing. Trust me.

Wheat/Oat Crisps

3/4 cup shortening (I use 190g butter)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
2 Tbsp wheat germ
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips (I actually increase this to 1/2 cup now)

Beat shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, water and vanilla until creamy. Stir together flour, salt and baking soda. Stir flour mixture into creamed mixture and blend well. Add oats, wheat germ, coconut, nuts, and chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at (180ºC) 350ºF for 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Neenish Tarts

Neenish Tarts

The Darfield Bakery is a mandatory stop for us whenever we pass through Darfield.

Our most frequent purchase is neenish tarts—little lemon tarts with chocolate drizzled on top. I’ve had neenish tarts from other bakeries and none stacks up to Darfield’s.

Not all neenish tarts are lemon—my understanding is that the ‘traditional’ neenish tart (they originated across the ditch in Australia) has a gelatine-thickened cream filling and is topped with two colours of frosting. I’m not particularly fond of this overly-sweet, bland tart. Lemon neenish tart filling is made with lemon juice, icing (powdered) sugar, and sweetened condensed milk.

My neenish tarts probably shouldn’t even be called neenish tarts, because they bear no resemblance to the ‘original’ ones, and veer off course even from the Darfield Bakery’s tarts. Still, they’re inspired by neenish tarts, and are just as delicious as the ones at the Darfield Bakery.

Make your favourite pie pastry (enough for a one-crust pie). Roll out thinly (roll more thinly for little tarts than for pie, or you end up with a tart that’s all crust), and cut into 10 cm (4-in) rounds. Line the wells of a cupcake pan with the rounds. Bake the shells empty for about 15 minutes at 190ºC (375ºF), until the edges are nicely browned. Turn out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

While the pastry shells are cooling, make lemon curd. Combine in a saucepan:

3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
60 g (4 Tbs) butter
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup lemon juice

Heat over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Spoon warm lemon curd into each shell and allow to cool.

Melt about 50 g (2 oz) dark chocolate and drizzle over the tarts. Allow lemon curd and chocolate to cool completely before serving.