Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today's Work

Our day began like this -- cookbooks stacked on top of cookbooks. And then there was a recipe pulled from someone's blog.

The day ended with a full stomach.

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving. Ours was filled with love, beautiful people, and much gratitude. What a perfect day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Diet of a Chicken

  • Cantaloupe seeds
  • Lettuce
  • Weeds
  • Worms
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Goldfish crackers (my son is happy to share)
  • Maggots
  • Scratch
  • Leftover pasta, preferably spaghetti -- (chickens aren't bright. They think they're worms)
  • Honeydew seeds
  • Scum from my jams
  • Saltines (my chickens love these)
  • Grubs
  • Bananas
  • Tomatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Crumble
  • Chicken feed
  • Apple cores
  • Leaves off my pomegranate tree
  • Leaves off my parsley
  • Just about anything in my garden except pepper plants. Damn chickens.
  • Pita bread
  • Ears of corn (because I'm nice)
  • White rice
  • Brown rice
  • Spiders
  • Earwigs
  • Snails
  • And of course, plenty of love. Ahhhh. Corny, I know.

Chicken owners, how about you? What do you feed your chickens?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What's that Smell?

There's that smell again.

For the past week, whenever I've walked into our living room, I've smelled something rancid.

Was it rotting fruit? Nope. Everything looked fresh.

Was it the fridge or the garbage? All clear.

Did something die in the other room and I haven't found it, amongst some old bills and papers? Doubt it.

But then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me.

My Kombucha.

The smell was coming from the fermentation of Kombucha, a centuries-old fermented tea that some people drink for its purported medicinal benefits.

A few weeks ago I took a local class that showed me how to nurture what my instructor called the  Kombucha "mother" -- basically its starter -- by concocting a warm environment of bacteria and yeast using black tea. After the class, I brought home a beautiful mother in a jar, and brewed some tea to make my own Kombucha. I placed the mixture in a warm window and simply forgot.

Until today.

My Kombucha has another week or so of fermentation, and, for now, the smell is a little off-putting. Until it's ready, I just might have to open a window.

I'll let you know if it's worth the stink.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Slovak Chop Suey

My mother's simple, Eastern-European recipe of Kolačky (pronounced Ko-lach-kee) is tucked away in her relic edition of "Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book" published by the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Union in 1952.

In this well-preserved book you'll find some amazing recipes, among other things.  There are recipes for pirohy (dumplings), pickles (10+ pages!), crackling biscuits, homemade pork sausage and, my personal favorite, Slovak chop suey.

Why Eastern-European cooks would want to tackle chop suey is beyond me. It must have been all the rage back in 1952.

My mother wasn't much of a cook or a baker. The Kolačky recipe is actually my grandmother's. My mother would make these occasionally, but my grandmother's were legendary -- as was her Poppyseed Cake. Unfortunately the Poppyseed Cake recipe went with her when she died in 1963.

My brother, who lives in Chicago, continues to bake these cookies every Christmas, and as homage to my mother, I have too. Appropriately, the Anniversary Slovak-American Cook Book is dedicated to "our mothers and grandmothers, in grateful remembrance."

I cannot think of a better way to do just that.

Ann Straka's Kolačky

1/2 pound of cream cheese
1/2 pound of butter
Two cups of flour

Prune, apricot, and/or poppyseed filling

Combine the cream cheese, butter and flour until creamy and the batter is fluffy. Roll the dough in a ball and refrigerate it overnight.

The next day, cut the ball into four sections to make the dough a bit more manageable. Roll out each of the sections so they are about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into strips, then squares and fill each one with your choice of prune, poppyseed or apricot filling. Fold the left corner of the square with the lower right one and pinch or twist the edges. Sometimes a little water is helpful in making sure the edges stick together.

Bake for 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar on top.

Please note: In honor of my mother, I have entered the above recipe in this year's Los Angeles Times Holiday Cookie Bake-off. Could you take a few minutes of your time to vote for me? Just follow this link.

They'll ask you for some not-too-invasive personal information (sorry about that) but if I win, I promise to post the recipe for Slovak chop suey. Now who can resist any offer like that?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sleeping Broody

This morning, the spell was finally lifted.

Like Sleeping Beauty who came to life after a long sleep, our Black Silkie, also affectionately known as Black Broody, is done being all cooped up.

It’s awfully late in the season for chickens to be broody. Broodiness usually occurs in the spring when something goes haywire in a bird’s small brain and says, “I need to be a mother, damn it!” She stays in the coop basically all day, believing that she's going to hatch a chick any day now. It doesn't matter there's no rooster around. That hen believes she's going to have a chick.

And that will be the hen's commitment for the next five weeks or more until she wakes up one morning and thinks, “Well, that’s stupid. Screw motherhood. I need a maggot!”

In the meantime, everyone suffers. The other hens can’t get into the coop because Black Broody is crazy, and she’s totally egg-less during her false motherhood.

This is the second time that Black Broody has gone, well, broody. The first time happened a few months back when the only time I saw her out of the coop was when I shooed her out and told her to stop making a honest hen of herself.When I suspected she had gone broody, I consulted my Keeping Chickens book where it said that the Black Silkie will produce an average of “105 eggs before going broody.”

Oh, that’s what happened.

But now I know and, more importantly, know what to expect. Broodiness is no fun for the, um, brood and certainly no fun for the hen who cannot hatch chicks. It seems awfully cruel.

But that’s all behind us know. Black Broody is back. And in a good way.

Now lay me some eggs!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Do You Like Them Apples?

A really interesting article from the Wall Street Journal about the history of Heirloom apples. What's your favorite?

Pictured above are Sebastopol Gravenstein heirloom apples harvested in July. Read more about this extinct fruit from Slow Food USA.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Pomaceous Wonder

My guess is that the apple in the garden of Eden was an Heirloom variety.

In the story of Adam and Eve, the apple was a symbol for knowledge, immortality, and temptation. For me, much of that holds true. I am always allured by the gorgeous unknown apple. Forget Macintosh, Jonathan, Granny Smith, or the Red Delicious. They're fine but aren't interesting. I'm more inclined to taste, observe the texture and smell the brilliance of a Roxbury Russett, Arkansas Black, or a Winesap. 

This past Sunday, I spent time working with the mysteries of heirloom apples. I love exploring the Pomaceous part of the apple tree for many reasons: it’s high in pectin so most successful cooking will result in a crystal clear, beautiful jell set, plus there’s very little waste. With a large batch of apples, you can whip up three types of uncomplicated preserved foods in little time: apple jelly, apple syrup, and with the pulp, a tasty batch of like-my-mother-used-to-make applesauce. I also like apple season because there are so many wonderful, not-found-in-the-supermarket varieties to choose from, such as Ashmead’s Kernel, Elstar, Liberty, and Sierra Beauty apples. Those are the apples I used Sunday, all of which were purchased from Windrose Farm in California’s central coast.

As I was about to venture on to my next task – applesauce -- I decided to take stock of my apple jelly. It was near perfect. A batch I made a month earlier with Heirloom Sebastopol Gravenstein apples was a bit richer in color and prettier, but this group has a much more delicate flavor. And as regular readers of this blog know, I never use pectin in any of my jams and preserves.

So as I embark on my next cooking endeavor, anybody care for some pancakes with apple syrup? You’ll never be tempted to use maple syrup again.

Beginning this month, you'll find some of my favorite batches of Joe's Jams, Jellies, and More for sale on my etsy site at 

Speaking from experience, they make wonderful gifts!