Monday, September 29, 2008

CSA Fall Harvest Day

We had a lovely afternoon at the farm on Sunday, hanging out and eating, meeting our fellow CSA members, and enjoying the sights and sounds. I just can't say enough about what a fabulous experience participating in CSA has been for us. Of course we've enjoyed eating all the amazing organic produce that comes in our box every week, but it's also been lots of fun getting to know Greg and Mary and all the great people that have a hand in the goings-on at Riverbend Farm.

Do check out the rest of my favorite pics from the day here.
Nature provided some great lighting, and the farm offered up photo ops in abundance, so there's just too many to try an pack into one post!

With so much great visual distraction being provided by nature and the picture perfect state of entropy of many of the farm buildings, I neglected to take any food photos, but I can report that the beet molasses cookies did fairly well at the potluck table. I used my stand-by molasses cookie recipe and substituted the product of my "making sugar at home adventure" for bottled molasses. The resulting cookies were slightly lighter in color and with a bit less molasses flavor than normal, but otherwise indistinguishable from a normal, yummy batch. The sugar beet bread was also tasty, and like zucchini bread, most of the flavor came from the spices with not much evidence of the filler ingredient.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Birthdays Week

Whew, what a week!
On Tuesday, my pal Knit-Whit came over for her birthday lunch. She requested coconut shrimp, and I just happened to have an easy recipe up my sleeve that I knew would be yummy.

I served them up salad style, with the spicy pineapple salsa and some cooked and cooled brown rice topping a bed of greens. For extra kick, I dressed the greens in my favorite sweet and spicy homemade vinagrette. We both agreed it was delicious!
For dessert, something banana was the guide, and I tried this banana cake recipe from It was simple and homey, sort of like banana bread (minus the cinnamon) topped off with yummy cream cheese frosting. Not the most beautiful cake I've ever baked, but easy enough to whip out on a whim:

Behind is the special, custom monogrammed Moleskine cover I made for one of her gifts. I think it's adorable enough to warrant making a few more, so look for them to make an appearance in my shop shortly.

Then it was on to birthdays for my two favorite boys...Boy and PupCake! PupCake got some extra lovin' up and treats...he turned five which officially puts him over the hill in greyhound terms. Five is the age of mandatory retirement from racing but he threw in the towel at two, having heard there was a great mom and dad waiting with a home to spoil him rotten, I guess :)

Boy got a custom made black leather and robot fabric wallet that was an experiment in what it would take for me to be able to offer a men's wallet in my product lineup:

For a first attempt, I think it turned out fairly well. I wanted to use a thicker leather than what you'd typically find in a wallet because he has the tendency to wear through them quickly. I'm not 100% happy with the execution, but I think if it were minus the third side, flip-out feature, it would be do able. I'm going to let him test drive it for a bit before I give it a final evaluation.

Today we're off to "our" CSA farm for a Fall harvest day and potluck. I've baked cookies using the beet molasses from the "making sugar at home" adventure, and beet bread with the leftover cooked beet pieces, so full report to come on those!

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Breaking News, Part One!!

I've been teasing you with hints of some fun, exciting news for the last couple of weeks, and as a result of that news, I've been crazy busy and hard at work on a some old and new favorites.
Here's my newest, fresh from the studio design:

I'm calling it the Cutest Bag, because I think it's just the cutest. Just the right amount of girlie, perfectly sized, lightweight and easy to carry. There'll be lots more to come in this style....I've got a few other adorable fabric and leather combinations on the worktable now that I can't wait to show you!

And then, can you guess what these plus a whole slew of MOOPockets and wallet+wristlet combos all have in common?

They are available in a shop near you!!!!
Or they will be shortly, that is. This load of great stuff represents my very first delivery of product for my very first foray in to real life brick and mortar retail, and I'm silly with excitement. The great new shop that'll be hosting this stuff is Pursecution, and it's opening in the Franklin/Lyndale neighborhood in Minneapolis on October 4th.
Did I mention I'm excited?!?
I'm really freakin exicited!!
The owner, Jackee, has a great line of bags under the same name and if I'm this excited, I can only imagine how she must be feeling to be almost an official shop owner! I've only just had a sneak peek, but the soon-to-be-open shop was packed to to the gills with great, beautifully handmade bags from around the world. I'm honored to be in such fantastic company!

Can I hear a hurray for indie shops and indie crafters?

And as if that isn't cool enough, there's more news to come so stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Making Sugar at Home. Yes, Really.

I think I've told you before about how I like to know stuff. About my daily, constant quest for learning on any subject. I just can't help's like a reflex, and it's not at all unusual for me to suddenly find myself having spent two or three hours reading up on something completely, utterly useless. Interesting (to me), but useless.
I guess I'm just insatiably curious for no particular reason other than I think I like those light bulb moments when seemingly random bits of information on unrelated subjects fit together and another tiny little piece of the universe clicks into place in my brain.
I was that kid who asked all the insane questions. That kid who made you wonder just how the heck kids come up with such bizarre stuff and where the heck their parents were, and the one you could get to do something or go looking for an answer just by wondering about it out loud. So when our weekly CSA newsletter arrived the other day with the teaser "...we have open pollinated sugar beets available for making your own sugar. Let me know how many you want.", my natural response was to be interested and curious and to ask myself just how one would go about making sugar from beets on a small scale.

Hello, Google, dear friend.

Not surprisingly, it's a fairly simple process and one that seemed like it could be easily adapted to the home kitchen. But the one thing I couldn't find any information on was yield. Just how much sugar does one get from a pound of beets? It rang in my head like a plague.
So when I got to the farm to pick up our CSA share and came across Greg, our farmer, that question was one of the first things out of my mouth. And like all good teachers, he wondered along with me and then insisted I take a beet home in case I wanted to actually try making sugar to find out.

Meet the beet, just a few minutes and one county over from where it was (organically) growing:

This one was about the size of a newborn. I decided it looked like a French breakfast radish on steroids. I didn't try them, but Greg said the greens are bitter.

I got it trimmed and peeled and chopped it into a medium dice. Thinly slicing was another recommended option, although in hindsight I should have just run the whole thing through with the grating disk on my food processor. Either way, the point is surface area. I ended up with about 8 cups of diced beet, into a stock pot with twice that amount of water:

I tasted it as I was chopping, expecting to taste sweet, but found that it was much, much less sweet than the kind of beets that are intended for eating and with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

I set the whole thing to boil for an hour while I took PupCake for a walk. When we got back, it looked like this:

as you can see, the cooking water has definitely changed color. At this point I thought the water would taste sugary but it was basically like potato or pasta cooking water with a slightly more vegetable-y flavor, meaning it basically tasted like nothing.

I strained out the beet pieces and reserved them, having read they can be used in baking cakes or breads (presumably like zucchini). In an industrial setting the cooked beet pulp is pressed to extract the remaining sucrose-containing liquid and the solids are used for animal feed.

After another hour of boiling, my whole house was like a humid, vegetable-smelling swamp and the liquid was reduced by half and looked like this:

It still didn't taste anything but the very slightest bit sweet. The predominant flavor was of vegetable.

Reduced again by half and into a smaller pan:

Darker and more concentrated but still very little flavor. If anything, the predominant flavor is now salt. How weird.

And finally, the thickened liquid reduced as far as I have the patience for:

Scraping down the sides of the pan got a tiny bit of weirdly flavored "caramel" that hardened when cool. It tasted sweet but much less so than pure sugar with a lot of other strange mineral/vegetable flavor. Like sugary Marmite, maybe.

The end result from a single raw beet:

Just under half a cup of beet "molasses". Actually, it's still only about half as viscous as regular molasses or honey here, so I think a quarter cup of end product would be a more accurate statement of yield. If one were to attempt to turn this into a dry product, it would probably be more like a tablespoon. Because of what is evidently a high percentage of things other than C12H22O11 molecules, I'm not sure this would have ever crystalized but I think it could have been spread out on a Silpat and dehydrated in the oven (or a food dehydrator) and then pulverized with a mortar and pestle to get closer to sugar as we know it.

So, in my kitchen, from six or seven pounds down to a tablespoon with a couple of hundred thousand BTU's worth of natural gas and a gallon of water thrown in not counting the dirty dishes. And in an industrial setting, plus or minus a couple of gallons of petroleum products to grow and process that genetically modified beet. Yowza. That's a lot of energy expended for a tablespoon of sugar. Makes making maple syrup look like a fairly cheap and easy walk in the park. And honey? The jackpot of green, low effort sweeteners.

I'll never look at a chocolate chip cookie the same way again.


Friday, September 12, 2008

It's Panic Month Already?


Holycrap. WHAT happened to August, and WHERE is September going? I'm freaking out just a little that time has flown and I seemingly have nothing to show for it. And it doesn't help that this is the time of year in Minnesota where one starts to panic over what still needs to be accomplished inside the rapidly closing window of hospitable weather.
again, holycrap.

So, since we last met I've:
had a birthday
dined at 20/21 at the delicious? YES!
cut back the insane, house invading tomato plants by more than the size of any normal tomato plant and they're still like 5x normal size
panicked (see above) and more or less aborted on trying to plan a 40th B-day party for Boy
and made about a bajillion new things and cooked some seriously yummy stuff.

Here's a look at part of my birthday swag from Boy, along with the delicious breakfast I made for myself on the day:
and yes, thats FOUR pieces of candied bacon. Because it was my birthday, and if you must know, I ate them all and then felt sick. The omlette was mushroom, carmelized onion and goat cheese with fresh herbs. The whole deal was freakin delicious. I love birthdays.
Isn't Boy an insane good present wrapper? He could totally work in the gift wrap department at Macy's. Like for real. He wraps like no other man I have ever known.
(oh, and under the wrapping was a fancy iPod stereo (with a remote!) for my studio to replace the retarded eighties boom box I have in there now that takes up like ten square feet of space that I can no longer spare. ) Great thinking, Boy!

Here's a dinner you missed, Tamarind Glazed Pork with Melted Greens and a side of Sweet and Sour Tomato Salad, all from my other favorite birthday gift, courtesy of Knit-Whit, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper:

I had the cookbook on my Amazon wishlist because it got a rave review from Gourmet magazine and then I read something else great about it in the NYT and I figured all of that must count for something. Mind you, now, I am a serious cookbook snob. I think most of what's been published in the last decade or so is complete and utter crap by people who have no business writing cookbooks, a problem made worse by the whole celebri-chef issue, but now that I have this one in my hot little hands, I recommend it wholeheartedly. As in this could be your new go-to cookbook kind of recommend, because every single recipe in it sounds and looks amazing while being simple and free of hard to find ingredients. I can't wait to cook from it from cover to cover!

So there's lots, lots more, including the exciting bits of news I teased you with last month and promise to deliver upon shortly, but it'll have to wait because it's dinner time and I'm starving...
Check out Flickr for more food and craft pics!

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