Words Matter

A couple years ago, I had great luck planting sugar snap peas. Only problem? The plants were so heavy with fruit that the stakes I used collapsed.

Heartened by that single success, I found, bought, and erected a pea tunnel, hoping to provide last year’s crop with greater support. Sadly, rabbits found their way into my pea bed last year. They ate the shoots emerging from the ground, and despite multiple plantings, no sugar snap peas.

Armed with products to deter rabbits and other critters, along with the addition of rabbit fencing to the bottom of my chain link fence, I bought some sugar snap pea seeds. The warm winter, with no cold weather in sight, encouraged me to think about planting in late February.

I ordered ‘early’ seeds. Here’s the blurb from the catalog.

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So imagine my surprise when I received the seeds in the mail and read the back label.

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Got that? Do not use for food, feed, or oil purposes.

Seriously? Why am I planting them? I reached for my phone to call the company and spoke with a very polite young man who listened to my story and then went ‘to check.’ Guess it struck him as odd, too.

Turns out, you’re not supposed to eat the SEEDS. They are treated with a fungicide called Thriam 42-S. I’ve provided the link to some EPA information, if you care to go to the trouble of looking it up.

Problem is, ‘don’t eat the seeds’ is not what the back of the seed packet implies. Something I hastened to point out to the seed catalog customer service guy. What the packet should have said was: Do not use the SEEDS for food, feed, or oil purposes.

Makes a difference, right?

Words matter. I might have written this Blog using some ‘alternative facts’ about this particular seed. The company sure left me an opening.

Words matter. Wish someone would tell that to our government. Wish someone would explain that to the media. But maybe they already know that. Maybe the goal is to tell so many lies that the truth is no longer discernable.

If that’s the case, look out!

We may all end up feasting on poison.

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Cream Puffs

Channel surfing a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled onto the Kids Baking Championship on Food Network. Since I first started watching the Great British Baking Show, I’ve felt the urge to improve my baking skills.

One skill I never thought of adding was pate a choux (pronounced pat-a-shoe), the dough used to make cream puffs. Easier by far to simply buy frozen puffs in the store – something I never do because, frankly, I don’t think in terms of eating puff anything.

But the Kids Baking Championship challenged me to learn this new, intermediate baking skill. I mean, if 10 and 11 year old kiddos can make puff pastry, I should be able to make it too.

The recipe came from everywhere. The ingredients are easy to remember: 1 cup of water. 1 stick of butter. 1 cup of flour. 1 cup of eggs. 1 pinch of salt.

Really? One cup of eggs? Turns out, this means four eggs.

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The water, butter, and salt goes into a pot, brought to a rolling boil at medium high temperature. Remove from heat, then add the flour all at once. Stir, stir, stir until the flour is incorporated. Put the pot back on the heat for about a minute, still stirring, to let some of the moisture out of the dough.

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Let the dough cool somewhat so the eggs don’t scramble when you add them. I stuck my (clean) finger in the dough and figured if was safe to add the eggs as long as the dough didn’t feel hot. It was warm.

I beat the eggs into the flour, butter, and water mixture one at a time, using my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. (I imagine a hand mixer will also work). The result should be a glossy, thick dough that slowly drops off your beaters.

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Pipe into two inch rounds on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone pad. Brush with an egg wash (one egg, one Tbsp. water) to keep the edges and points of the rounds from burning.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375 degrees and back about another 15 to 20 minutes.

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I remembered from watching both shows that some contestants didn’t cook their puffs long enough. I may have erred on the other side. These looked a bit overdone to me.

Cool on racks. Meanwhile, put together your filling. I used whipped cream (2 cups cream, 1 Tbsp.sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla). When the puffs are cool, poke a hole in the bottom of each one and fill with your filling. You’ll need to use a pastry bag for this, which is more difficult than it looks. Again, I was thinking about those ten-year olds. Although I have to admit, Jim was curious and decided that my fumble-fingers needed help. Thank you, Jim!

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How’d they taste? Really, pretty bland. Since this was a first (maybe only) attempt, I kept things very basic. On my way around the Internet to find the recipe, I did see some yummy-sounding savory fillings (think cheese and mushroom) and some livelier sweet fillings (think lemon curd).

Meanwhile, the ones I made this morning might be improved by dipping them in chocolate ganache. Maybe next time…

Not “Kitchen Tested” Cranberry Compote

I grew up eating jellied cranberries out of a can at Thanksgiving. Imagine my dismay on learning that my Midwest relatives do not eat jellied cranberry sauce! I thought it was the fault of the can, which led me to create something “exactly the same only different” (as my husband would say). Thus was cranberry compote devised, based on memories of my grandmother’s prune and apple compote.

Since that first foray into cranberry compote some 25 years ago, I’ve learned that the Internet has hundreds of variations on my recipe. I’ve tried many of them and still like mine best. A word of warning: as recipes go, this one succeeds by guess and by golly. It’s a new experience every time.

Despite all my work, sad to say, my Midwest relatives still don’t like cranberries. At least they don’t like my compote.

The recipe calls for simple ingredients:

2 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and chopped
2 Bosc Pears, peeled and chopped
2 bags of fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
2 Lemons, peeled and julienned (optional – you have to really like lemon)
2 cups of sugar, divided
2 tsps. cinnamon
1/4 cup of water in reserve (you may not need it)

A note about the julienned lemons. I like the sour/bitter chew that you get every so often from the strips of lemon peel. I once added three lemons, but that was a bit much, even for me. First decision is whether you like lemon peel.

And while we’re talking ingredients, let’s talk sugar. I’ve tried this recipe with sugar, fructose, honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Xylitol. Frankly, sugar works best. Since the amount of sugar used varies wildly between one and two cups depending on the sweetness of the apples and pears, and since I make this twice a year, I figure: why not sugar? Okay, so maybe the sugar cancels out the antioxidants in the cranberries. But then again, on a positive note, maybe not.

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Once you’ve chopped and washed everything, put it in a pot with one cup of sugar. I use a medium sized soup pot, which is wider than most pots. Turn on the burner to medium high and wait to hear that first pop of cranberries. Then stir.

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Keep stirring until the sugar melts and the mixture starts to boil. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to stir.

At this point, you need to decide whether to add more sugar. By this time, your compote should have developed a lot of liquid at the bottom of the pot. If it hasn’t, add about a quarter cup of sugar. If it has, leave it be.

If after you add that first extra quarter cup of sugar (and after a few stirs to let the sugar melt), it still isn’t liquid-y, add the quarter cup of water.

Let the compote simmer until it develops a pie filling consistency. When it does, take it off the heat and let it cool. Taste. Do you need more sugar? Add another quarter of a cup and stir. You may need to hit it with a bit more heat to make sure the additional sugar melts.

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As you can see, this is not one of those kitchen tested recipes, you know, the ones where you measure this and that and it turns out perfect every time. With this recipe, a lot depends on your ingredients. Even more depends on your personal taste for sweet juxtaposed with your tolerance for sour.

Did I mention that no one but me eats this?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!!

Cake

CAKE

I’ve been watching the Great British Baking Show, which has to be addictive somehow. Did they get sugar over the airwaves straight to my veins?

I got so involved with the techniques, the bakes, the people, the judges that I searched Netflix and Prime Video for last season, found it, and binge-watched for hours. Then bought a $30 book that came from this season’s contest, only to discover that all the ingredients are measured in (shudder) milliliters. So how many ounces to 600 ml of milk?

Finally, I decided that my old lift mixer wasn’t good enough. I wanted a tilt mixer like the ones on the show. Mysteriously, just as I thought what a good thing it would be to have a tilt mixer, Amazon messaged me about a Gold Box special for one. Amazon is mind-reading now. Now that’s powerful marketing!

Jim bought it for me. Bless him. Although I think he knew there’d be cake in his future.

From Google, I found an American measurement recipe for chocolate sponge glazed with ganache. I do not bake often, but as I said, Jim will eat anything sweet that I make. Sponge came out perfectly. Ganache – despite my worries due to past failures – came out amazingly perfect.

Except that when I tried to take the sponge out of the half sheet pan, it broke into pieces. Color me disappointed! My visions of a many layered cake filled with ganache and raspberry jam (seedless) were dashed.

Darn. I would have tossed the whole thing in the trash, but Jim took the pieces of sponge and layered them in a bowl topped with ganache.

How was it? Achingly sweet.

Next I tried an almond sponge. I am a little suspicious of recipes that start off with two sticks of butter and six eggs, but okay. The recipe said to bake for 45 to 60 minutes in a ten-inch spring-form pan. After 75 minutes I took it out of the oven. The middle seemed a bit jiggly, but the toothpick test turned out okay.

But, when I turned it over, I had cake soup instead of cake. Jim stopped me as I went to throw it away.

“Just put it back in the oven for a while,” he suggested. “What can it hurt? You were going to toss it, and this way, it has a chance.”

Despite my suspicions about his motives – my Jim really likes his cake – I did as he suggested.

Another half-hour later, the cake was done and very, very brown. Again, no layers, but the white chocolate ganache turned out well. Our Thanksgiving dessert.

Happy holiday to everyone. Wonder what I’ll be baking for Christmas?

“Something Completely Different…”

I bought three Ophelia eggplants (Solanum melongena ‘Ophelia’ Hybrid) from Gurney’s last year and thought I’d get a couple of eggplants from each plant.

Oh dear. Thirty plus eggplants later, I’d tired of baba ganoush, baked eggplant Parmesan and eggplant lasagna. I needed something completely different. And then I remembered.

Back in 1978, I visited my folks in Israel. One night, we ate at a great restaurant that served the most delicious pickled eggplant. In fact, I spent a bit of time looking around Omaha, where I lived back then, for a similar dish. No pickled eggplant in Omaha.

Now, with this surfeit of eggplant in my kitchen, I wondered if I could make pickled eggplant. I found a recipe for Moroccan Eggplant Pickles on the Feasting at Home Blog, and decided it might work.

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The Ophelia eggplants are bigger than the ones shown on the Feasting at Home site. I figured I’d need half again of the pickling mixture and three quart jars. I guessed about right as you can see from the photo.

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So now, the jars filled with eggplants sit in my frig to get cold and let the flavors blend. As time passes, the pickling mixture has become decidedly more brown – not the most appetizing color. I’ve already heard one “ewww…” but we’re into trying new things at the Coffelt house, so maybe…

For a special gardening friend: the Ophelia hybrid is self-pollinating, which may be why I had eggplants when others had none.

Deck with a View

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I’ve always wanted an herb garden near the house. This is my ‘mixed metaphor’ plot. We’ll see what it looks like once the basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and flowers fill in.

Kansas Blues

Three years ago, long before I even imagined taking the Master Gardener classes, I planted blueberry bushes on the north side of my house. Why the north? That’s where my mother planted hers. Growing up in NJ, we had blueberry bushes that I remember as at least ten feet tall and five feet wide.

I know I wasn’t able to pick the berries without a ladder.

So now, 50 some-odd years after childhood, I plunked three expensive-yet-straggly-looking blueberry bushes in the ground and hoped for the best.

Little did I know that acidic-loving blueberries hate Kansas soil. I’ve written about my soil test before. Blues grow best when the pH is 4.5 to 5. My soil, two years after planting, tested at 7.5.

Ouch!

I side-dressed with sulfur and again, hoped for the best. But at the end of last fall, I was pretty sure those bushes were dead. A bit of research led me to growing blueberries in containers.

I pre-ordered the right types of Blues (Top Hat and Northblue dwarf bushes), devised a soil-less mix of sphagnum peat moss and cedar mulch, and bought pots. Here is the result.

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Wandering through one of the big-box store nurseries about a month ago, I stopped to see what kind of Blues they were selling. Next to me, studiously reading labels, was a young man who seemed to be struggling to make a decision.

Me: “Buying some blueberries?”
Him: “Maybe.”
Me: “Have you had your soil test?”
Him: “Huh?”

Now imagine me giving forth, chapter and verse, about the proper growing conditions for blueberries versus the growing conditions in Kansas. And imagine him looking befuddled.

Him: “So I should add lime?”

Yippee for the chance to show off how much I know. I explain how lime reduces acid in the soil while sulfur increases it. By the end of my little nerdy lecture, that poor guy had moved on to raspberries. I had successfully prevented yet another disastrous planting of Blues in Kansas.

And now for the punch line.

Remember those Blues I planted in ignorance three years ago? Here they are today.

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Blueberry pie, anyone?