Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swedish Meatballs

This is a recipe I usually prefer to make in the late winter months, but it's good any time the weather is cooler. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures when I made these yesterday, but I figured I'd share the recipe now, while it's on my mind.

Meatball Ingredients:
2 slices of white bread
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom

Remove the crust from the bread, break it into small chunks, and put it in a large bowl with the milk. Set it aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the butter until melted. On low heat saute the minced garlic just for a few minutes to cook it through a bit. Remove from heat, and set aside. (If you like onion, you can finely chop a small onion and saute that until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.)

By now the bread should have totally absorbed the milk. If not, toss it a bit and let it set for a few more minutes. Once all the milk is absorbed, mash it very well with a fork. Add the garlic, and all other ingredients to the bowl - the egg, egg yolk, beef and pork, and all the spices. Mix until everything is well combined.

Preheat your oven to 300F. Next, over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons oil in the large frying pan. When it's all melted and slightly bubbling, start dropping in meatballs. Use a tablespoon to scoop out some of the meat mixture, roll it into a ball, and place it into the pan. Roll another, place. Don't overcrowd the pan. By the time you've put the last meatball into the pan, the first ones will be ready to flip over. On your first batch keep an eye out to get a feel for the cooking time, you may need to flip sooner. You don't need to cook them all the way through at this point, only brown them.

When the meatballs are browned, place them onto a sheet pan lined with tin foil. Then, start the next batch of meatballs browning. (I had to do three batches.) Once all the meatballs are browned and on the sheet pan, put them into the oven.

You can start to make your gravy while the meatballs are in the oven, but keep an eye on them! You want them to just cook all the way through, which may take more or less time depending on how you browned them. Check them every so often.

For the gravy you'll need:
1/3 cup flour
2 cups of beef stock
2 cups of vegetable broth
1/2 cup sour cream
A couple tablespoons of Lingonberry jam. (Don't have that? Substitute raspberry, cranberry or currant jam.)

Heat the stock and broth in a pot, keep it hot over low heat.

Taste the butter in the pan you used to fry the meatballs. If it tastes burnt, discard it and melt 4 tablespoons of new butter. If it tastes fine, use that. Heat it over medium heat until hot. Slowly stir in the flour. Stirring often, let this mixture cook until it's browned a bit - the color will look a bit like coffee with cream, or a creamy hot chocolate.

Mix in the hot stock and broth mixture, a little at a time. The flour mixture will clump up a bit, but that's okay. Keep stirring in the liquid until you've added it all. When it's all mixed in well, it should be a smooth sauce. Let this come to a simmer, lower the heat, and allow the liquid to cook down. You want it to reduce by about half, and become a bit thicker.

When the gravy has reduced and thickened, add in the sour cream, and the jam. I did 4 or 5 tablespoons, but do it to your tastes. Now's the time to add in a bit of salt or pepper, if you feel the gravy needs it. I find that the stock/broth usually has enough salt, but it's up to you of course.

By now the meatballs should have finished cooking. Add those into the gravy, on low heat, and allow everything to heat together for 5 to 10 minutes. Just helps bring everything together. You can serve them as they are, and they make a great appetizer this way. Last night my family ate the meatballs and gravy over some toast, while I personally prefer them over mashed potatoes or even rice. They also make a nice dinner with a vegetable side, such as peas or broccoli. Fresh cranberry sauce, or chunky apples with cinnamon are also nice sides for this meal.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and Being Perpared

Hurricane Sandy is currently storming along the east coast of the US and Canada. I went out to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few things (I really wanted to make some Swedish meatballs for some reason - recipe to come!), and was surprised at just how many people were there trying to get bottled water, canned foods, and so on.

So, let's have a little preparedness exercise. Imagine you're in your home, with whoever else is normally there (including pets). Power goes out. The power stays out for 72 hours (that's 3 days). For whatever reason, your mobility is limited, fallen branches on roads, uncleared snow, whatever - you can only go maybe a few blocks around your home. What do you do? Do you have enough water to stay well hydrated, enough food to be at least somewhat comfortable? Now imagine what weather might be like... is it raining, flooding, is it freezing cold, very hot? What's it like where you live?

Some people are probably ready for such an event. If you're not? It's really easy to be! I know some people think this sort of thing is silly, that you'll just never have any sort of problems (it could never happen to me!) - but come on, better safe than sorry, right? Better to have supplies on hand, and not need them, than to be caught off guard. You don't need to hoard months worth of food if you don't want, nothing like that, a little basic preparation can go a long way.

Water is easy. The recommended amount is a gallon per person, per day. That's for drinking, food prep, and hygiene. You can buy gallon bottles from the grocery store for quite cheap. Some people like to fill up their tubs if they know a storm is on the way, just to have extra on hand for washing up in, and such.

Food. Buy a little each week until you have a fair supply. Don't go crazy buying food you will never eat. Don't like spam? Don't buy it. Think about what sort of food you like to eat, and what can be eaten without cooking. Cereal, jerky, tuna or other canned meats, nuts, seeds, pop-tarts, dried fruits, granola bars, fruit snacks, canned fruit, canned veggies, some canned soups and such. (Room temp or cold soups might not always be delicious, but they're easy to eat.) Cookies, candy, chocolate. Canned beans, canned brown bread. Peanut butter, honey, crackers, little individual cups of apple sauce. Have some high calorie and high fat foods on hand, you might need the energy (especially if it is cold). Don't feel you need to set this food aside and never touch it - eat it! Just replace it if you do. This will keep your supply from going bad. Have pets? Make sure you always have a bit of extra food on hand. Don't wait until you're all out to go get more.

Some paper plates, plastic forks/spoons/knives, napkins, plastic cups, and extra trash bags are good to store away. A non-electric can opener is a must have item.

First aid is important, as well. Most people probably have these things on hand already, but it's good to know where they are, or have them all in the same box. Bandages of several sizes/styles, antibiotic ointment such as neosporin, gauze pads and tape, butterfly stitches, alcohol wipes, small scissors, tweezers, disposable gloves (non-latex if you can). Basic medicines you might need, such as some sort of pain relief, fever reducer, anti-diarrheal, allergy relief (pills and cream), itch cream, burn salve. A small book on first aid. Women should keep some extra pads and tampons around if they need them (even if you usually use something re-useable like a cup or cloth pads, a few disposables can be handy). Diapers for a baby. If you're on prescription medication that you can not live without, see about keeping an extra month on hand at all times. Less important meds? Just try to re-fill a week before you're out, if you can.

So what else might one need? Flashlights with extra batteries, of course. A radio that's battery powered. Sometimes you can find a good radio/flashlight combo that is powered by a crank, which is nice. Keep some cash on hand, in small bills. You might be able to get to a store, to a gas station, but maybe they can't take credit cards. (This happened two winters ago in NH.) A very loud whistle/storm whistle. Wet naps or baby wipes. Copies of important documents, in a waterproof container. Matches in a waterproof container. Fire extinguisher - you can buy little household spray bottle types at the hardware store. Dust masks. Duct tape! Everyone loves duct tape, right?

Don't forget entertainment! Books, cards, dice games, coloring books and crayons, a notebook and pens/pencils, board games. Most people have things like this on hand already.

Think about your own needs, and the needs of your family. Someone wears glasses? A little glasses repair kit is a nice thing to have handy. You might have no need for some of the things I've listed, if you live in a different area you might have different things you need to be ready for, different weather and temperatures to deal with. Really think about what you might need. Read up on what to do in different situations, and make sure your family knows what to do, where to meet, and so on. 

Whatever you do, do not light a charcoal grill inside your home. When I lived in Washington state, without fail every single winter there would be stories on the news of people who died doing this. Candles can also be a danger. Be safe if you use them for lighting - especially if you have pets or kids who could knock them over.

Want to do more? Consider a kit for the car. Same basic things, a little water, a little food, some first aid. Flashlight. Gloves and blankets in cold weather. Salt/sand, a small shovel. 72 hour bags are something else one can consider, basically a bag to grab if you need to leave your house, with enough supplies for 72 hours. Again, it's all about what you might end up needing. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cute Halloween Cookies

I baked up a bunch of cookies for a Halloween party today. First were some little cookies shaped like candy corn. Here's a link to that recipe. They were easy to make, and people really liked them. Rather than using candy melts, I just used white chocolate with a bit of yellow food coloring. Just a tip, if you want to use white chocolate, be sure to get a bar of chocolate, or white chocolate specifically for melting. Most white chocolate chips won't melt right, as they're meant to hold their shape when heated.

I also made Witches' Boom cookies. I decided on a smaller version, using mini pretzel rods and only about two teaspoons of dough per cookie.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Friday

(Well, I guess it's actually Saturday now, but still...)

We're coming up on the mid-point of the Autumn season. I've noticed that the nights have grown fairly silent, the singing insects and frogs of summer gone. The days are quieter, too. There are still a few trees that are just now starting to turn, but many of them have already shed their leaves. Most of the oak and beech trees are covered in brown, dry leaves, which they tend to hold on to through the winter. The sound of the wind whipping through the dry leaves and bare branches really signals that the dark half of the year is setting in.

The sun itself is another signal, of course. Not only is the sun setting earlier and earlier, it stays closer to the horizon each day. Many people notice this, know that the sun doesn't rise as high during the colder months - but not as many seem to notice that the opposite is true for the full moon. The full moons of the dark half of the year will rise higher into the sky than they do during the light half of the year.

The stars also seem to shine brighter in the winter months, and interestingly this is partly because we're actually seeing fewer stars in the sky. During the summer months we're facing more stars, seeing more starlight, which makes the sky seem less clear and focused. Another reason is of course summer weather, there's humidity, heat, summer haze which all helps to obscure the sky a bit. Crisp winter weather means crisper skies.

Bare branches and higher rising moons makes for very well lit nights, of course. It's cold here, but it will be a while before the snow sets in. It's a great time of year to get out and hold rituals in the moonlight, if one is able to do so.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fall Friday

Windy day at the apple orchard.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fall Friday

This is a good time of year to look for areas where curly dock (rumex crispus) might be growing around you, as the seeds are very distinctive looking making it easy to spot. Curly dock is edible - the leaves can be gathered in the spring when they'll have the best flavor, the flower stalks can be eaten in the summer months, and in autumn the seeds can be gathered and ground to make a flower of sorts, should one wish to do so.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Falling Leaves

Watching the falling leaves around this time of year always reminds me of something my grandfather told me when I was younger. He would say to me, if I could catch a leaf as it was falling from a tree to the ground, then whatever wish I wished on that leaf would come true.

To other such a leaf becomes a good luck charm, but for how long? Some don't specify any length of time, while others say that each leaf only brings one lucky day. Yet another bit of folklore says that each leaf will bring a month of good luck with it. A more specific version claims that the leaves must all be caught in October, and you must catch twelve for a full year of good luck. If you don't catch all twelve, the charm will not work. 

Another tradition assures us that catching a leaf on the first day of autumn will keep any colds away until spring. Similarly, some say the leaf can be caught at any time in the season for good health through the winter, while others insist that it must be kept by the bed for the charm to work.

A final bit of folklore says that catching a falling leaf anytime before spring (or Valentine's day, to some) will bring a year of happiness in love and relationships.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fall Friday - Monday edition!

I'm a little late for Friday, I know, but here are some autumn pictures... There's still plenty of green on the trees, but many are also changing at this point, too. Some of the earlier turners are almost bare already, but that late autumn look is still a few weeks off for most.

Fairs have been coming and going the last few weeks. I've been to plenty in my life, but this last time around it really occurred to me that among all the fried foods and sweets, rides and glowing lights, there really are the roots of something much older.
Recently sheared sheep.
Prizes for the biggest and best vegetables. Local arts and crafts. Horse pulling events, horse racing, and other such competitions. Animal shows, cows being milked, sheep sheared, prize winning poultry. People selling and buying animals. Fresh dairy products for sale, maple syrup, hand dyed yarns, goat's milk soaps and lotions... Many of these things, or similar, could be found at older fairs, and the old get-togethers of clans and tribes. Not just a link to much older history, but the particular fair I went to this year has been running for over 130 years now.

My visit to the fair was a great lead-up to the full Harvest Moon on Saturday night. It was sprinkling a bit, and the moon itself wasn't visible, but it was still high up enough, and bright enough behind the clouds to light the sky up and allow me to see. While I currently do not have a garden, my Grandparents do. They don't grow much in it anymore, tomatoes mostly, and some herbs that continue to grow from years past. Since I ate quite a few of those tomatoes, and used some of the herbs, I used that night to leave some offerings of thanks at the corners of the garden. I also left offerings at the rhubarb and berry patches that I picked from over the summer. Our little harvest has all come in now, a nice end to the warmer months of planting and growing.