Wednesday, January 18, 2017

homemade grainy mustard

First lard, now mustard. I'm on a roll!

When one of my friends told me she made her own mustard, I was intrigued. While visiting her over Christmas, I spied a jar of the stuff on the counter. I took a big whiff: what vinegary, hot goodness! We ate that mustard at our meal, dolloped atop our breakfast ham, and once we were back home, I emailed her for the recipe.

When I finally got around to making the mustard myself, I misread the recipe. Instead of one cup seeds to three cups water, I did three cups seeds to three cups water. A couple hours later when I opened the fridge to show off my bowl of soaking seeds to my mother, I was surprised to see all the water had been absorbed, oops. I transferred everything to a gallon jar and added another six cups of water. It looked like I'd be making mustard for the masses!

The next morning I drained the seeds and, working in batches, blended them in the food processor along with the vinegar and salt—MUSTARD!

It’s grainy and hot, perfect in sandwiches with thick slices of ham, or as a dip for hard pretzels. I can’t wait to try it in honey-baked chicken, vinaigrettes, and potato salad. (I’ve been giving away pint jars of mustard right and left. I still have another pint or two to share. Anyone want some?)

Homemade Grainy Mustard
As instructed by my friend Rebecca.

Rebecca says any vinegar will do; I used apple cider.

As I was writing up this recipe, I did a little research. Sounds like you can put just about anything in homemade mustard: white wine, beer, maple syrup, turmeric, white sugar, cayenne, horseradish. Also, I imagine you could, just for the heck of it, throw in brown mustard seed, or maybe some black mustard. Fun, fun!

1 cup mustard seed
3 cups water
5 teaspoons salt
1 cup vinegar

In the evening, put the seeds in a bowl, cover with water, and soak overnight. My friend leaves them out on the counter, but she said that one hot summer “the seeds sprouted and produced a hotter-than-hell mustard with odd horseradish overtones.” I put mine in the fridge, just to be on the safe side.

In the morning, drain the seeds. They will be slightly slimy and stinky. Put the seeds in the food processor, add the vinegar and salt, and start blending. At first the mixture will be runny, but keep whirling. After a minute or so, it will thicken up nicely. Transfer the mustard to a quart jar and store in the fridge.

This same time, years previous: cream cheese dip, cheesy polenta with sauteed greens, and snapshots and captions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

all the way under

When we were up at my aunt’s house last Sunday, my older son—a.k.a. The Boy Who Put The Car On The Porch—got it into his head that he wanted to jump into the creek.

Never mind that the thermometer hovered right around 30 degrees (if that).

Never mind that the creek was covered in a sheet of ice.

Never mind that he didn't have his swimming trunks along.

Never mind that there was snow on the ground.

Never mind that it was cold.


While he changed into a pair of swimming trunks he had begged from a cousin, a bunch of the younger kids gathered at the creek to await the show.

One cousin set about breaking a hole in the ice with an ax.

When that went nowhere, a few of the guys helpfully chucked large rocks at the ice. At first the rocks just smacked into the ice and stuck.

But eventually the ice weakened and a hole formed.


My son slippy-slopped his way across the ice towards the hole.

He crouched.

He lowered his feet in and gasped loudly.

And then plunged in, all the way under.

As he heaved himself out of the water, we cheered and hollered, gleeful and toasty warm in our winter coats.

He didn't waste one minute scrambling onto the bank and making a beeline up the hill to the house.

My older daughter took a video of the whole thing. On it you can hear me bellowing, “Go under! ALL THE WAY UNDER” because I am the sort of mother who believes if you are going to be stupid, you might as well go all out.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.18.16), just do it, day one, quick fruit cobbler, snapshots, Julia's chocolate almond cake, and five-minute bread.

Monday, January 16, 2017

the quotidian (1.16.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

To fight the cold that is kicking. my. butt.

Not exactly traditional quetzal colors.

An exercise in time management.

The curse of the youngest: no one to play with.

Rocking the solo dance party.

Just for anyhow.

Packing the joint: Sunday night popcorn.
(Alternate caption: mid-snick. See it?)

Early morning moon-set. 

This same time, years previous: on kindness, through the kitchen window, roll and twist, GUATEMALA!!!, crumbs, vanilla cream cheese braids, the quotidian (1.16.12), rum raisin shortbread, cranberry relish, the bet, and inner voices.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

homemade lard

This post is for my readers—all three of them, probably—who have a sack of pig fat sitting in their freezers waiting to be turned into lard. Judging from the blank stares I get when I mention lard-making, most people do not dabble in pig fat. Most people, it seems, would rather go through life pretending that pig fat does not even exist.

But then there is me.

I am celebrating because I have crossed from ordinary lard consumer to lard maker. I have chopped pig fat—from our very own pigs that we raised on our very own land—with my very own bare hands and then cooked it down in my very own oven till it turned into liquid fat/gold, I am the Little Red Hen, hear me cluck!

Seriously, though: how many of you have a stockpile of fat waiting to become lard? Two of you? Five? This is not a rhetorical question! It is a test to see just how tiny my little island is—Helloooo! Can anyone hear meeeeee?


Anyway. On the off-chance there's another person stashing fat (in the freezer, not the body since I know I’m not alone there) and not sure how to get it into lard, I am here to tell you everything.

Actually, it’s really not that exciting. Just pop the fat in an oven and cook slow and low until you have lard. The main trick (if you can even call it that) is to keep the fat at low-enough temps so it never boils because boiling imparts a bad flavor and color, or so I’ve been told.

so glorious it glows

I cooked my pig fat for a day and a half, got 4½ pints, and then called it quits. The fat cubes were still pretty big so maybe I could’ve gone longer? But that last half-pint of lard was no longer pure white, and I was tired of running the oven. The animals thought the scraps were the best snack ever. (I was afraid the smell of the rendering would be overpoweringly disgusting, but as long as the oven door stayed shut, it was actually quite mild. I even had a friend pop in and not notice the smell at all.)

from left to right: the first to last "pourings"

What am I using the lard for, you ask? Oh, silly you! The options are endless. I’ve already made a batch of sky-high biscuits to celebrate (and to go with this carrot soup), and I mixed some into the pork filling for tonight’s empanadas. In the next few weeks I'll be using lard in everything, from pastry crusts to scrambled eggs to refried beans to soup. Trust me: a stockpile of fresh, homemade lard is not a hardship.

Homemade Lard

Chop pork fat into little cubes (tip: fat is easier to cut if partially frozen) and tumble them into a glass 9x13 pan (or pans, if you have a lot of fat). Bake, uncovered, at 150 to 190 degrees.

After about six to eight hours, liquid (the lard!) will start puddling in the bottom of the pan. When there is enough to make it worth your while, pour it off, through a fine-mesh strainer (or cheese cloth), into a bowl. While the lard is still hot, pour it into jars. Lid the jars (the heat from the lard will make them seal) and let cool to room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator for long-term storage.

Return the pans of fat to the oven and bake for another four to six hours. Repeat the process (pouring off the liquid and baking) until the fat ceases to relinquish more lard.

For more lard-making pointers, go here and here and here.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.11.16), the quotidian (1.12.15), sticky toffee pudding, spinach lemon orzo soup, eyeballs and teeth, creamy blue cheese pasta with spinach and walnuts, and spots of pretty.

Monday, January 9, 2017

the quotidian (1.9.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

A fun-to-make crowd-pleaser.

One of my children has now forfeited her raisin cookie-eating rights. 

Dismantling Christmas.

A great reading (and ankle-grabbing) spot.

Hitting the slopes!

Twenty-five degrees, a t-shirt, and a half-mile walk in barefeet: I think she might be hotblooded.

We went to Pennyslvania.

And then we came home. 

This same time, years previous: how we kicked off 2016, our little dustbunnies, what it means, sourdough crackers, date nut bread, one year and one day ago, between two worlds, buckwheat apple pancakes, so worth it, the quotidian (1.9.12), salted dulce de leche ice cream with candied peanuts, and hog butchering.

Friday, January 6, 2017


On Wednesday I booked my spot on the bus for the Women's March on Washington. I am so excited!

For awhile, I was on the fence about going—the expense, the bother—but then a friend (thank you, Friend!) offered to pay my bus fare which forced me, and gave me the freedom, to seriously consider making the trip.

I had a couple hang-ups. First, what was the march's purpose? The whole thing confused me. Was it anti-Trump? Pro-women? In support of all human rights? And second, marches (and political demonstrations in general) make me skeptical. Jabbing signs heavenwards, yelling ourselves hoarse, spending all that time and money just to… what? Make us feel good about ourselves? Wouldn’t it be more effective to spend all those thousands on, I don’t know… Medical research? Humanitarian aid? Education grants?

On the other hand, maybe the march would be good, less of a self-indulgence and more of a self-discipline. For the last few months, I’ve been plagued with a lurking panic and flashes of flat-out fear that, as we slipped into 2017, have only intensified. Now whenever I pause to actually consider things, my body tenses. It might be easier to stay home, but maybe I needed to step out and move.

I read up on the march, trying to understand the purpose. It's still not completely clear to me, and the origins were rather murky, but best I can tell, the organizers were planning this march before the election because of all the anti-human rights rhetoric bubbling to the surface. Then the election happened, the results drove home the point (We’ve got problems, peoplealways have and always will), and the march got scheduled. Human rights for all, now that I can get behind.

So yeah, I'm going to this march for me. I want to feel better, more hopeful and less fearful. In a lot of ways, the march reminds me of a church service: a motley group of people pressing the pause button on the hustle-rush of the daily grind in order to gather for a few short hours to bolster and support one another and be encouraged. Looked at that way, the march does have merit. It might not be productive in the classic Protestant work ethic sense, but choosing to be with people is never a waste.

So January 21, I'll plant myself in the middle of thousands of strangers and together we'll say, World, here we are. It will be a much-needed—for me, for the world, for whoever/whatever does it even really matter?—jolt of (bracingly cold) fresh air. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

If nothing else, it’s sure to be entertaining.

Will I see you there???

This same time, years previous: how to make a fireball, high on the hog, breaking the fruitcake barrier, the quotidian (1.6.14), headless chickens, of an evening, candied peanuts, and sweet and spicy popcorn.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Christmas cheese

Ask my kids what they did for Christmas and they'll answer, “We had cheese!” Their unbridled excitement for coagulated dairy products might seem odd to some, but to me it’s thrilling evidence I’ve done something right.

This year’s Christmas Eve Feast Of Cheese was bigger than normal. We invited my parents, like always, and then Mom pointed out that my brother and his wife would be at their house that weekend, so….?

Also, Mom said, your aunt will be here, too, so….?

And then I was like, Well, shoot. Might as well invite my other brother’s family and make a party of it!

Mom wondered if she could bring something: Want me to make a pot of soup? No, I said. The menu is set. I might be low-key and flexible about the number of people BUT DON’T MESS WITH MY MENU.

I’d been preparing for our feast for weeks—I followed the sales and bought my cheese, crackers, and sparkling beverages accordingly; I squirreled away links of salamis, dried apricots and dates, prosecco, and jars of gherkins, dills, and roasted red peppers; I tried making fancy nuts and, when they failed, bought a clunky big jar of fancy, already-done nuts—so with the swelling numbers, my needs were specific. Everyone, bless their hearts, was super-obedient, kowtowing to my neurosis most graciously. My aunt rounded out my cheese stockpile. My sister-in-law brought more prosciutto than we could possibly eat (plus a fancy Christmas cake and chocolates!). My mother provided mountains of grapes. And my other sister-in-law contributed an entire flat of all things brined and marinated.

I made a quadruple batch of eggnog and a cranberry sauce for the baked brie. I thrifted for more wine glasses (since, on this one night, the children get to drink their fizzy all fancy-proper) and borrowed little dishes and big cutting boards from my sister-in-law. I hunted down a particular spicy plum chutney and didn’t even bat an eye at the 7-something pricetag because Christmas cheese. (Well, I might have blinked once or twice.)

The afternoon of the feast, I spent hours preparing (which sounds kinda crazy, considering that almost nothing was homemade, but there were countless little steps and in the post-Christmas Eve service scramble with a houseful of lurking people, I knew I’d have minimal prep time).

The beverages required three stations, and I preset everything that didn’t require chilling:

a) eggnog: little glass mugs, bottles of rum and brandy, and a little dish of freshly ground nutmeg for sprinkling.
b) coffee: sugar, mugs, half-and-half.
c) prosecco, wine, and sparkling cranberry-apple cider: wine glasses.

I filled little dishes with the pickles, olives, marinated mushrooms, etc (and even took the time to change bowls if I didn’t like how a particular food looked in a certain dish). I washed and clipped the grapes. I set cheeses on plates, prepped the brie for baking, sliced meats, counted out plates, filled votive cups with fresh candles, and arranged the cutting boards and baskets on the tables. There was no mad dash, just methodical, meditative plodding. It was lovely.

As was the church service! My younger son was Joseph, and there was a real baby Jesus-named-Otis, plus lots of little kids with pokey wings made out of paper plates, a darkened church, dozens of drippy candles, and the same, rich words I’ve heard every year for my entire life.

Back home, there was a scramble, sure, but it was brief and effective, and then: THE FEAST.

Just as we were winding down, there was a phone call from a friend. Their son was in the ER and would we come? Duh, yes. The trip only took an hour or so—my husband and I hauled their other kids to where they needed to go (and everything is fine)—and when we got back home, the kitchen was cleaned up (We didn’t really get an ER phone call, I joked. We just didn’t want to clean up!), my kitchen ceiling sported a colorful paper chain, my fridge was stocked with leftovers, and everyone was lolling about on couches. The centerpiece had caught fire, they reported, but other than that, everything was peachy.

How To Have A Cheese Feast: A Summary

Cheeses: Blue, baked brie with cranberries and toasted walnuts, cinnamon-cranberry goat cheese, provolone, boursin, a blend of Gruyere and cheddar, Swiss, Butterkaus, Smoked Gouda, and a couple others, probably….

Crackers: an assortment, plus pretzel chips. Some toasted rounds of baguette would’ve been nice.

Fresh fruit: grapes, and on the side: clementines, grapefruits, and navel oranges.

Dried Fruit: apricots and dates.

Nuts: candied or spiced.

Meats: sopressata, baby genoa salame, pepper salame, prosciutto.

Olives and Pickles: spicy olives, Greek olive and feta salad, stuffed olives, black olives, big green olives, marinated mushrooms, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, gherkins, and baby dills. 

Condiments: mini chocolate chips (goes with smoked Gouda—try it!), spicy plum chutney.

Beverages: wine and prosecco, sparkling cider, coffee, eggnog, hard stuff, water.

This same time, years previous: constant motion, when cars dance, classic cranberry sauce, baguettes, and my jackpot.

Monday, January 2, 2017

the quotidian (1.2.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace 

For a quadruple batch of revitalization soup: it lasted us from Solstice to New Year's.

I heart bread.

Oh, nuts: an expensive flop.

Learning to use silpats.

To balance the sugar.

It's a love story.

Nursing his audiobook addiction.

Hair trim and blowout.


Computer screen selfie.

Wrapping polo wraps.


Kindle magic: he picks it up and promptly forgets he has a family.

The perks of travel: FOOD.

New Year's Eve glow run: i.e., the race in which I got passed by a gazillion little kids.

Another "finally" project getting ticked off the list.

This same time, years previous: 5-grain porridge with apples, the quotidian (1.2.12), loose ends, and lentil sausage soup.