Friday, November 23, 2018

Feast of Thanksgiving 2018

I actually understand why some folks prefer to go out to dinner or to others homes on Thanksgiving, It's a lot of work when you are the host.  We hosted only ourselves, but we put on quite the spread!  This morning we are left with dishes and all the desserts that we could not even touch due to being full.

You see it all started a few weeks ago.  We began to change from grain heavy meals during the week, to more limited, then to barely any.  The meal portions got a little smaller, or were filled by more nutrient dense items. While we couldn't finish our plates - what we did have was amazing!

Menu for a Feast of Thanksgiving went like this:

Appetizer course
Chilled Prawns
Cheese bites
Hard Salami
Pickled Asparagus***
Homegrown cucumber pickles***
Cold imitation crab dip
Buttery crackers
Whole grain crackers

Main course
Apple wood smoked Turkey
Golden mashed potatoes
Gluten-free smokey Gravy**
Roasted Homegrown Carrots and Beets***
Green Bean Mushroom bake with onions and bacon**
Coconut cream Ambrosia salad**
Dinner rolls

Dessert Course
Pumpkin cheesecake*
Pumpkin Pie*
Pumpkin Pecan tarts with almond meal crusts*,**
Smoked Pumpkin Cheesecake **
Pumpkin pecan Pie/Tart**
Whipped cream
Whipped coconut cream**

Beverage course
Sauk Farm's Grape Cider

*Personal sized **Experimental or new dish. ***Includes good items grown here

Now you might feel this menu was not that daunting.  We had a few hiccups along the way, one being that I bought too big of a bird and B did his best to accommodate my purchase.  We joked that the best way we learn is trial and error.  But at the end of the day, even in light of the issues we faced and lessons learned, we had a beautiful spread and ended in laughter!

Smoked Turkey

Brined with half of a bag of leftover Spice Islands brine, plus some salt, dried cranberries, few juniper berries, extra peppercorns, and a bay leaf.  Brined for 1.5 days (went into the brine Tuesday evening).   To prep for the smoker, we covered the bird in an olive oil herb blend (rosemary, sage, thyme - from home, plus pink sea salt), then stuffed the cavity with 2 granny smith, 2 Sauk farm organic Winesaps, 1 onion, and more thyme and rosemary.   B set the smoker up at 4am, and the bird from hell (as his family calls turkey) went into the smoker at 5am.  B wet smoked it, basting with an apple juice/cider blend. 

Our dog, being his first thanksgiving and all - found out that every time B went for the door, he cold go and smell the aromas that were coming from the smoker box.  He would come back inside and look at me like  "Do you smell that??"  It permeated B's clothes.  We all drooled that day!

Despite our best efforts, 15.5 lbs of turkey in the smoker at a low setting takes a long time.  But there at the end, it was so good!!!  The best flavored turkey ever is our smoked turkey.  B holds me to it when I told him that it was better than I could ever do in the oven.
Turkey in the brine 

Ready for the smoker

Smoked turkey

The sides

If I have to give a recipe on how to make mashed potatoes, I'd stop blogging.  There are things you learn when you are young and part of a large family.  I learned how to make mashed potatoes when I was about 5.  I have been cooking beside the women in my moms family from an early age. So if a 5 year old can make mashed potatoes, so can you.  If you buy pre-cooked potatoes or instant for thanksgiving, and you don't have an ailment - shame on you.  I understand timely matters - I bought rolls this year - but if you are having mashed potatoes - sweet or regular, for the love of all things,  make them from scratch.  If you don't know how or if you are nightshade free, find an Irish granny and ask for help. Potatoes are simple, and the best ingredients make the best mashed potatoes. Enough said on that topic, moving right along.

Roasted beets and carrots

We grow our own beets and carrots every year.  Harvested the weekend before Thanksgiving, they are dug up and given a good washing.  Once the turkey is in for a bit peel and quarter the beets, chop the carrots.  Drizzle with rosemary infused olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and add a few sprigs of rosemary into the baking dish.   Set out on the counter until its time to cook.  These are baked in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes or until easily pierced.

Green bean Mushroom bake - dairy, corn, wheat, soy free

The last few weeks I have been trying to avoid my trigger foods -  corn, soy, wheat, dairy, sugar, and artificial preservatives.  For the most part I have been successful. Thanksgiving did have dairy, some wheat, and limited sugar.  We used honey, coconut sugar, coconut cream where possible, and just used full fat versions when not.  When it came time to discuss green bean casserole - B mentioned he didn't really like the standard version.  Thus we tried something new.

8x8 baking dish
Fresh or frozen green beans 
Washed and quartered mushrooms
1 white onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic chopped
8 strips of thick cut bacon, cooked, cooled and crumble into bits
olive oil

Directions:  cook bacon to crispy, making sure to render all the fat (baking in oven helps do this pretty good).  let cool, then crumble.
assemble dish while turkey is cooking, as you wont put this into the oven until the  turkey is just about done.
Toss together beans, onions & mushrooms with olive oil to coat, place into dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Top with the cooled bacon and set on counter at room temp.  
Note - when this dish cooks it will generate some liquid so don't overflow your dish too much.  
Bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until the top of the dish shows some crispy  bits.
Green bean mushroom bake

Gluten-Free smokey gravy

Last year we did more of an AIP dinner and learned some hard lessons.  Gravy should be made with flour and butter.   Not nuts, not roots, real grain flour and good quality butter.   I was reading on the Lexi's clean kitchen blog about gluten free gravy.  She mentioned that most gluten free gravies use cornstarch.  Well we wanted to avoid corn this year, so that option was out.  Next she advised that King Arthur flour had a good all purpose gluten free flour that would do the trick.  At 6.00 a lb it better!   The only difference we noted was that the gravy didnt have the sheen to it that all my other gravy usually does.  And if we didn't tell you it was gluten free, you would never have known!

King Arthur gluten free all purpose flour, about 1/2 cup
1 stick challenge unsalted butter
Homemade chicken bone broth
turkey simmer broth *
Turkey pan drippings

* turkey simmer broth is the neck which soaked in the brine, simmered in water and stock with onion slice plus half an apple with a sprig of thyme.  simmerabout ed all day on the stove gives great turkey flavor.  strain and use in place of water in your gravy mix.

First make a roux. Melt butter to hot bubbles, add flour and cook, stirring constantly until light brown and slightly nutty.  Whisking at a consistent pace, add the drippings, then the bone borth, then the simmer sauce.  whisk until smooth and allow the gravy to heat throughout.  Taste test, season and add more stock to your liking.  Maintain a low    /simmer until ready to serve.  Serve warm in a gravy boat. 

Imitation crab dip

flaked style imitation crab
4 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayo
chopped green onion
onion powder
garlic powder

In a food processor, combine  crab and cream cheese, pulse a few times.
Add sour cream, pulse
Add mayonnaise, pulse
Add green onion,onion, garlic powders, salt & pepper and pulse until well combined.
Taste test!!  Adjust to add more whatever as needed to your liking.
place into shallow dish, cover and chill for 2 hours.  
Serve with crackers.


Desserts, personal sized

So there are some of our recipes this year.  This was our dogs first thanksgiving and our first without our Missy Kitty.  Grateful for our home, life, surroundings, friends, and family.

Hoping you and yours made it memorable too!!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Missy Kitty

Today marks one month since we had to put our Missy Kitty to sleep.  It is not an easy milestone, as so much has happened since my last blog. 

Originally she was supposed to a cat to keep my grammy company.  When I moved, she went with me - and since then she's been by my side.  Earlier this year she had survived an eye removal due to a lens issue.  We all had hope she would last another 5-10 years. 

One month ago she woke me up, throwing up and looking lethargic.  It was my normal day to work from home, and for that I will ever be grateful. 

She continued to decline all day.  I had to clock off work early and came to the realizaton that this was her last day.  I talked to my mom, sister, and B - we all had tears as this cat meant a lot to everyone.   Our dog knew something was wrong.  Usually they tormented each other and that day he nuzzled her, laid by her side and was the most gentle I had seen of him.  Not knowing if I could drive, my friend said she had some calming medicine if kitty needed it.  She wasn't able to lift her head and I knew it only hours before she'd end up having major problems.  She was already shutting down.   With a goodby to puppy, Missy took a last ride downriver, where her wonderful vet waited past their normal closing time. 

After loooking at her, hearing about the day and some of the prior weeks (eye started to become more dialated than usual), Dr. J  thinks she had a vascular stroke.   The eye lens shifted, she couldn't see the last few hours, and she was in obvious pain. this wasn't something we could have prevented, it was only a matter  of time due to her eye.  It was the right thing to do.   She went night night amid tears and laughter and lots of love with me, her vet, and the vet assistant.  I took her home with me and since B wasn't home, I had to move the green beans to make room for her in our chest freezer. 

In the days that followed, I was super glad for our puppy.  He barely left my side and we grieved together.  I was so heartbroken.  When B got home days later, he made a beautiful box where we laid her to rest with her favorite blankie, toys, collar and all of our love.   Her final resting place is in our rose garden, in between two rose buses, where we can see her spot out our dining room.  My plan is to make a wood sign for her as her memorial garden.  One day we do want a bigger place, and while I won't move her, i will always take her sign with me. 

Some may think I grieve too hard for just a cat.  She was more.  I am aproaching my 40's.  We have failed to concieve the last 6 years, so that darn cat was my kid.  And she's gone.  I know it doesn't fully equate to the loss of a human child - it never can.  But the loss and grief is the same.  There was an empty part of me that just ached for days.  The only solace I took is that she didn't have a long and slow painful death.  She was super healthy one day, and failing the next.  She always trusted me, and in those final moments, she was at peace.

The night we laid her to rest, I decided to make roast chicken - her favorite - for dinner.  An hour into cooking, the chicken wasn't cooking very well.  The lower element went out.  Man did we have some laughs!  You can bet she was chuckling or smirking up there in kitty heaven, just thinking, no roast chicken without me hunans!  Two Amazon orders later, we got the the right replacement element - and I haven't make roast chicken since.  The next time we do, we will dedicate it to our Missy.  Our first taste tester here at Books n Brew, but not our last.

Our pets are more than just nusiances, they are family and we love them just as much - even sometimes more so!

I don't have a recipe to post today, nor a book,  It's just my post about my sweet Missy Kitty. Hug them tight and give lots of love - for their lives are not as long as ours, but they are such packed with lots of love.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ciopino Night

After teasing so many people when buying my ingredients, I bet y'all want my recipe.
I don't have an official recipe. Ciopino is much like gumbo, chili, or meatloaf.  There are tons of varieties and the end result can vary due to ingredient changes.  Here is my usual ingredient list, which may be modified without notice.

This time, I wanted to stretch it and made more of a broth base than a thick soup base.   But it was still wonderful as the taste is entirely dependent on the quality of the ingredients. 

Heavy stockpot with lid, pot to steam clams/mussels, knives, wooden spoon, ladle.

1 whole dungeness crab.  Shell on.
1 lb raw large prawns, tails on.
1 lb raw bay scallops (cause sea scallops are way too expensive for this)
2 lbs fresh Manila or savory clams, scrubbed
1/2 to 1 lb mussels, scrubbed
2 lbs firm white fish (rockfish or cod is best)

Everything else:
3 small onions, chopped
5 celery stalks, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
Vegetable or chicken stock (Vegetable stock seems to let the seafood shine a bit better)
1 bottle of clam juice (or make your own)
2 cans whole plum tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste (use less if you want a more brothy base)
1/2 lemon sliced
Dried Oregano
Dried thyme
Bay Leaf
Red Pepper Flakes
Ground  Black Pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Dry white wine or Dry red wine (i have tried using both.  Use white if you want a brothy base, use a red if you want a rich hearty soup base)
Parsley - chopped
Sourdough bread

Basic instructions
Prep the veggies, set out other ingredients.
In a heavy bottom stock pot, add the onion, garlic and celery and sweat until onions become translucent.  Add 1-2 cups of wine, cans of tomatoes with juice, and bring to a boil then reduce by half. 
**Some would say that only the garlic should be sweated and the wine.  But this is my way.    :)

Next, clean the crab by removing the shell, and breaking body in half, then half again.  Clean out the crab innards and keep the shell.
Remove shells from prawns, and scrub mussels and clams.
By this time you should be ready to add the desired amount of tomato paste, the clam juice, dash or two or Worcestershire, shake of red pepper flakes, herbs, squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and some stock if needed (1-2 cups) then let cook with a lid on over medium for 20 minutes. 
Steam open the mussels and clams in a separate pot with some lemon and garlic.  Once they open, remove from heat.
Drop into soup pot: Crab bodies, then fish, scallops, prawns, and then crab shell. Replace lid on the pot to maintain the heat, allow 5-10 minutes for the seafood to cook.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Remove lid and drop in clams and mussels.  Turn off heat and let sit another 5 minutes.
Put sourdough in the oven to warm for 5-7 minutes.
Take down some bowls, add some parsley to the bowls, scoop big portions of ciopino into the bowls.
Remove the sourdough, cut into large 2" pieces, and serve immediately.


PS - for any extra, once cooled completely - remove the clam and mussel shells, put into freezer safe containers, label and enjoy during a cold winters night.  Keeps well for a year.  To reheat, add 1 cup of vegetable broth to a stock pot and bring to a boil, then add the frozen portion and bring to a simmer. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Ciopino Time

My favorite time of year is here! When the second garden season is starting, the leaves are turning, and its cool enough to make warm soups and stews.   One such recipe I have been waiting to make, Ciopino. 

If you don't like seafood or tomatoes, chances are you may not appreciate the qualities of this dish.  Who knows, you may just find your next favorite fall meal.
I still have some shopping left to do, but if you are like me, you'll be sourcing the freshest ingredients:

Dungeness crab, mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, white fish, garlic, lemon, onion, celery, tomatoes, dry white wine, herbs like oregano, parsley, bay, and of course the meal isn't complete without a crusty sourdough.  These simple ingredients will form what we gloriously savour at least once a year.

Recipe will come later, same with pictures.  Off to hunt down some clams!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Here comes the .... rain.

Yesterday the garden was selectively harvested - outside raised bed tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, some cucumbers, and some zuccchini.  Anything previous harvested item (corn stalk) was removed to make way for the winter garden of  radish, onions and of course our broccoli is still growing strong along with our kale. The cabbage was decimated by cabbage worms in the last week (ugh!) So after I moved the front potted tomatoes into the green house, all of the trimmings were put to the fire. 

Why fire?   We cannot compost until a lid is added to the compost bin as puppy thinks it's fun to dig in it.  At least most of the food scraps have turned into wonderful dirt, but still, eww.

The rains started here in the Upper Skagit Valley, the burn ban was lifted.  I enjoyed my brush fire although I can say with certainty that cabbage does have a smell when burned. With no more 75 plus degrees in the forecast, it was time to prepare for fall.

Today my foot hurts, so it is the first opportunity to sit out on my back deck, cup of coffee, a book, wrapped in a blanket on a lounge camp chair and enjoy the rainy morning.

Welcome rain. Glad to see you back.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Almost Fall and the balance of it all.

It's almost time.  Time for what you may ask?  Fall, or the beginning of Fall which is actually my favorite time of year.  The nights start shifting to cooler temps, my garden bounty is in full giving mode, apples are ready to be made into sauce, stews go on the stove, and sweaters can be worn again!  The days become shorter and I don't feel as guilty being inside as when I do when it is full bloom spring and summer.

I love the crisp morning air, it smells clean due to rains that are finally gracing us with their liquid love.  One of my favorite things to do when I have a spare moment, grab a hot cup of tea or coffee, a book, a blanket and settle out in the back to get absorbed in a story.  This little bit of me time helps me to recharge.

You may wonder what this post is about.  It's not about any one book, or any one recipe.  It's about why I love this time of year.  I struggle with some aspects of life.  Memory, fatigue, attention drift, anxiety, depression, and self esteem issues.  Most issues are not as prevalent because I can now recognize my signs and take measures to circumvent a full episode - usually.  But when my thoughts are running rampant, and I need to de-stress - one of my me time activities helps.  Reading, a cup of decaf tea, being in a quiet place, cooking, gardening, or even a hot bath helps.  

I crave balance.  Being more middle road.  It's a concept that has become more and more a life long ambition.  I don't want to be labelled as one or the other, but a bit of both who can understand all sides of a coin (three sides by the way).  Balance to me is harmony.  Knowing that life can swing both ways -  easy or hard, soft or sharp, light or dark, and hot or cold.  I found my happiness somewhere in the middle.

So today I am reminded of that balance.  You can't have summer without winter, green grass without rain, and you can't have crisp morning air without cooler temps.  I look forward to these life changes, am working to make sure I am appreciative of this life - and thankful for those that share in it with me.   

Happy end of Summer, cheers to an upcoming fall.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Gardening can be like a box of chocolates....

I know, I am stretching the Forrest Gump saying a bit, but it's true.  Some years, due to soil comp, weather, humidity, rain, or like this year - wildfire smoke, I never know what a new seed will do in my garden.

I planted a few new things this year, and tried a few new methods on others.  Every year in my garden is a new challenge, different story, some exceptional resulfs and some epic failures.   This year, I tried to plant a red corn.  The problem? I planted it too early.

I don't have a normal garden, as I have 4 raised beds and a greenhouse..  Everything is either grown in pots or in the raised beds.  This year we planted new things like Red corn, Kale, Broccoli, watermelon, bibb lettuce, onions, cabbage, and a few new kinds of cucumber.

Everything is growing well!  So well that when the corn was planted in April, I didnt expect it to mature by mid July.  Lesson learned, don't plant these until after mothers day weekend.

Unfortunately we got a real hot spell and my corn stalks started to burn.  I harvested my corn, but it was overmature and tough.  It's so pretty though so we are going to dry it for use in fall decorations.   My mom is getting the stalks for halloween decor at her house. 

Garden Lessons are at least edible, so this early red corn will be hopefully gracing our gumbo night next year, just not this year.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mid Summer in the garden - Holy Zucchini!!

It is hot here in the Pacific Northwest, and for those of us more inland and outside of the marine layer, HOT!  Maybe not Eastern WA Hot, but Hot all the same.  With increased temps, things are also heating up in the garden.  Zucchini for instance is in its prime right now.  We have four large zukes and while I am almost laughing and waiting for National sneak a zucchini onto your neighbors porch day (August 8th if you didn't know), I think I may have one solution.   Dehydrating large slices for winter Lasagna.

Three of the zucchini I dehydrated, the fourth was cut into pieces to be grilled.

I can almost see your wheels turning!   Why didn't you think to try that? Or maybe you have and still have a jar of zuke noodles in a cupboard and your are laughing cause I just thought about this.

This summer I have been freezing, canning and dehydrating so much of our garden bounty and some local fruit from Washington farms.  My goal of course is to create enough supply that we could have one meal a week from our garden over the course of the winter / fall season.  That may not happen this season (5 raised beds, 3 which are in their first season), but it's nice to dream, right? 

Dehydrating is a no brainer when you have a good dehydrator.  Mine has multiple racks, and has programmable heat and time settings.  My method is to take the ripest and freshest item, wash and cut into same sized pieces, lay them out on sheets and set to a certain temp for a certain amount of hours.  While some folks may not feel comfortable tackling a new project, I love to learn by trial and error (don't ask about the very first batch of apricots).  There is only so much you can learn via a book! Don't use bruised fruit.   Bruises do not dehydrate well as the fibers are already decomposing.   A small spot can be cut out, but if large, toss it into the compost pile.  Who knows, maybe one day I'll sit and write all these bits and pieces of information down and pass down to the next generation!

One thing to mention before I forget.  You do not want to use the middle spongy part.  So if your zucchini has become mammoth, you will want to cut these in half, then scoop out the seeds and sponge before cutting off strips to dehydrate.  Another option is to cant it out and take slices from each side until you reach the sponge.  Either method works.  The spongey parts are great for either chickens, pigs, goats, etc!

Tools used to portion out the zukes are a cheese slicer (wire or metal), mandoline (if the zuke isn't that big), or just a sharp chef's knife. I tried each of these and  found that if I cant out the zuke, my cheese slicer works great!!

Once they are all sliced, I found that it is not needed to treat these slices.  They are perfectly fine on their own and do not require a lemon juice / water bath. 

My settings were 133 degrees for 6 hours.  I did do one turn halfway thru to make sure they did not stick to the sheets.  All but the the ones with too much skin were perfectly done at 6 hours. 

I will be storing mine in glass jars, and can't wait to post about winter lasagna.   Because these dried out so much, I may not even have a zucchini to leave on my neighbors porch on August 8th!

Jarred up dried  Zucchini slices. Some have the texture of the dehydrator sheets.

Saturday, June 30, 2018


Recently I visited with my doctor.  Just an annual visit to touch base.  She looked at me and said I looked relaxed, happy and glowing. The #1 way to improve my health is thru lifestyle change.  We both agreed it won't happen overnight, it could take up to a year!

So with my little changes in habit that are becoming more routine, self care, relaxation and stress reduction, I have a few indulgences. We also laughed about choice and consequences, and philosophically discussed fluidity in our daily and seasonally life cycles.   We are both the same age, nearing a decade change, so life is starting to have some different meanings. 

So, one thing i have on my indulgence list.  Mini marshmallows for my coffee.  I know, right?  It's not going to kill me, these are the only sugary bits I add.  It makes me smile and think of innocence. 

Recently I ran out of my supply, so as I already had my dehydrator going, I put in some regular sized marshmallows  (since I always keep a bag on hand for campfires), but cut them in half.  I am giggling as I recall waiting to see if they were just as good.  They were!

Not going to post a recipe, this is one thing that is still needing tweaking as i used different temp settings and I haven't a clue how much total time went into making my little treat. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Self care

Everyone needs time for themselves.  This is me, doing that this morning on my new yard couch under a sun shade with a book and blanket.

Reading Liliana Hart's The Darkest Corner

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Spring canning project

Ta da!  Canning is done!   Having issues today posting on the blog, so I will leave you with a few photos!

Asparagus! Going to be so good in 3 months!

 7 quarts, 17 pint and a half and 14 pints.  Plus jam, applesauce and one jar of pickled onions and garlic.

Jam.  Strawberry-rhubarb  and pure rhubarb.

Until next time!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Asparagus season and gearing up for Summer!

So far, here in the Pacific Northwest, we've had a cool moderate spring.  Temperatures are starting to really ramping up though, which leads to excitment as I have been planting herbs and vegetables in anticipation of this year's Gumbo Night.  Last year, our testing year, was a huge success.  I made a few mistakes of my own, but nothing that anyone would notice.  So for this year, I'm changing out a few recipes, adding a twist to one existing one, and planning things out well in advance - 3 months to be exact!  In the garden we have growing tomatoes, potatoes, parsley, cilantro, corn, kale, onions, peppers, carrots,  beets, and even watermelon! My summer goal is to grow as much of my menu on my own as I can.  I do realize that I can grow everthing, but I can sure as well try!

One item that I like to serve, and that I am about out of is pickled asparagus.  So this weekend, it's on the to do list!   My pickling recipe is pretty simple.  Farm Fresh asparagus, organic garlic, white onion, dill, mustard seed, coriander seed, red pepper flakes, sugar, whole pepper, salt, vinegar, filtered water.  Sounds easy right?  The issue we have is that sometimes, there is a tad bit too much salt and they are too briney tasting. While those may not taste as good out of the jar, they are fabulous in bloody mary's or in a macaroni salad!    I use a little bit less sugar/salt than the Ball recipe, as I've adjusted it to my liking.

When first trying your hand at pickling any item, always start in small batches and take notes!  You need to let your pickled items sit for at LEAST 3 months before consuming.  I have had something go awry and have thrown out jars of pickled items because the result was not what I wanted.  If you are not familar with water bath canning, check with your county extension office or local market, many have classes geared for newbies!

As always, remember to read the reciepe all the way thru first before attempting!!

Amy's Pickled Asparagus
Needs:  Pint and a half Ball jars with new lids and bands  (the narrow tall ones)
Water bath Canning supplies (canner with rack, jar lifter, table or area for prep
Preferably - two burner outdoor propane cooktop
Farm Fresh Asparagus (10-15 lbs)

For each jar you will need:
1 clove of garlic
1/4 inch slice of raw white onion
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/8 tsp sea salt (the brine has some salt in it, so I only add a scant amount, if any)
1-2 sprigs fresh dill
1/4 tsp dill seed
1/4 tsp mustard seed
1/4 tsp peppercorns (black, red, or white)
1/4 tsp coriander seed - collected from the previous years harvest!
** note, these spices are the minimum amount of measurements per jar.   Change it up depending on your taste!  
Optional - Ball Pickle Crisp (helps to keep them a bit crunchy)

Pickling Solution (50% water to vinegar ratio)
1 quart white distilled vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
5 cups filtered water (very important to use filtered water)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup pickling salt

Directions (see Ball Pickled-asparagus)
** amy's tip.  Check to see how many jars fit into your canner.   That will be the max of jars you can process at one time - unless you are like me and have two canners (large and medium).  Make note of the amount and only prep those jars at once since you want the jars to be warm (hint, the dishwasher with sanitize cycle is a life saver, if you have extra jars, place them in the oven on warm until ready to use)

*Heat pickling solution in a non-reactive pan to a boil then simmer
*Sterilize jars and tools
*Prepare your water bath canner (mine is outside so I put the propane flame to low)
*Rinse and trim asparagus to fit in the jars within one inch.  Discarde the tough ends, but keep any odd pieces (these are great to pack into jars as filler).
*When the brine is hot, place the spice mixture into hot jars in this order: onion slice,  garlic, dill, everything else (except pickle crisp), asparagus
*Make sure to tightly pack the asparagus, shove as much in there as you can!
*If using pickle crisp, add this in at this step.
*Make sure your water bath canner is ready, once you start the next step, the clock is ticking!
*Ladle the hot brine over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace
*Remove any air bubbles (I have chopsticks which are perfect for this)
*Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in hot water (NOT THE BRINE), then center the lid, apply band to finger tight (not too tight!)
*Place in water bath canner rack and once all are in,  submerge and process for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.
*Lift jars out of boiling water (canning  racks are great, aren't they?), rest for a minute nd then place on a clean towel to let cool.   
*Repeat until all jars are done.
*Once cool, check to make sure they are sealed.  If not, ok to re;process once or just put in fridge for a few weeks to eat fresh!
*Store jars, once cooled, in a dark place for up to a year (mine last 2 years, but are best quality 6 months to a year).  

Notes and Tips:
The most important thing is food safety.  Please make sure everything is sterilized - jars, lids, bands, equipment, your hands!  

Next - if you run out of pickling brine - always add water and vinegar in equal amounts.   I like the tang of apple cider vinegar, but not too much as I want the taste of the asparagus to shine.

If you have a dishwasher with a sanitize cylce, put your jars in there and plan for them to be done as your are ready to place the asparagus in them (so they are hot).   The last thing you want to do is to introduce mold and bacteria - so be diligent!

Water.  Water is life, but hard water does not make good pickles.   I double filter the water I use when canning.  I learned the hard way.  If you don't have access to soft water, a few days ahead boil the water off, then let sit and remove any scum - be sure to not disturb any sediment when placing into a clean pitcher.

If you don't can, ask someone experienced  to help you along for the first time - or take a class.  

Uses for pickled asparagus.  Straight from the jar, chopped and used in tuna salads, sliced and used in a macaroni salad (recipe to come this summer!), bloody mary's, chopped with capers in a chicken picata (so yummy) or wherever else you can think to add this pickled goodness. 

That's all for this tasty Thursday!  Off to clean and prepare for canning this weekend!  Pictures will be posted later!!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

April showers lead to May flowers, and other things!

Here in the Pacific Northwest get tons of rain (usually) throughout March and April.   May begins our big blooms - flowers, fruit trees, grasses, pollen, and more!  May has arrived, brought better weather, more daylight hours, sunshine, and garden things are growing.

There is something else brewing here at Books N Brew, Kombucha.  I bought a scoby and starter tea via Amazon and last week finished my first brew, and began my second.  Wow!   Who knew it was this easy!  The hardest part was finding a warm place, but we have a propane stove that gives off residual heat. 

If you have never had Kombucha, the basic cut and dried explanation is a fermented tea.  Now if you are thinking sauerkraut, you are technically on a similar track, but not the same taste wise.  Kombucha uses a scoby, a blob of yeast and organisms that create this wonderful probiotic drink.   With  batch of brewed tea (I use Irish Breakfast) and sugar, within two weeks the first ferment is finished.   Afterwords a second can be done with flavorings.    We did our first batch and then flavored with fresh fruit and passion fruit tea.  AMAZING!

Why did I begin brewing my own?  After paying $3.00 a bottle for a few months, I knew Id have to try making it from home.  I mean, that is my principle, right?  Why buy it when you can make it from home - fresh?   And soon, I will be able to flavor them with my own homegrown berries and herbs!

Can't wait to share our final results, but meanwhile we will just keep brewing and bottling and consuming our homegrown healthy tonics!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Falling off the wagon

You know how it goes.   One day you just say, eh, fudge it and do something that you quit.  An old habit... mine was flour and sugar.  It gave me that good feeling, so I rode that dragon until over a week ago when my chest got tight and I experienced a severe GERD attack, or what I thought was a heart attack at the time.  Hello wake up call!  The doctors all say to use an over the counter antacid product.  But have you ever done the reading about GERD?  You don't need to suppress acid, you need more acid and to eat smaller meals. 

Lately I've wondered, are medicines just a crutch?  My cardiologist informed me that my PCOS is best managed by lifestyle modifications, but my high triglycerides, at this point, do need assistance. My naturopath said the same things, and reminded me that stress does so much harm on the inside that when it finally shows up on the outside, you are now chasing the symptoms, not the actual underlying problem.

Lifestyle modification.  Why aren't more doctors prescribing this treatment?  Because it's hard to do, or it's easier and more profitable to prescribe a pill?  The American lifestyle is partly, or mainly to blame.  We work very hard and try to live too big.  We don't really need 6 cars and a big boat and new wardrobes every year, but we want them.  Or at least some people do.  Items are not made to last as long, the life-cycle of goods and supplies has greatly lessened even over my short almost 40 years.  When these items don't last as long, people need to buy more, and that means more products need to be produced and more people are needed for jobs.  It's a vicious cycle of consumerism.  The other is our diet.  I have said it before and i will say it again, the american diet is not healthy.  Over indulgence and excessive stimulants has created a sick, stressed out populace. 

So how do we change our lifestyles?  Not everyone can return to the earth ways of the past, nor do we want to starve ourselves of the riches our country has to offer.  There has to be a happy medium right?  That is my goal.  My hubby doesn't have as many issues as i do with sugar, flour and grains, but he is supportive of my journey to wellness.

It all starts with one step, one minor change.  One step to change a habit, leads to repetition training, which leads to lifestyle modification.  You have to replace your thoughts of what you are giving up with what you are gaining. This isn't easy.  I fell off the wagon. While I'm still working toward my wellness, I know I have to make a conscious choice each and every day to improve,  to eat foods that are gut friendly, to be active, and be mindful.

What about you.  Are there things that you feel can be changed or reverted by lifestyle modifications?  If you like coffee, have you tried, to replace your creamer with a simple coconut milk or almond milk?  Have you tried coconut sugar? What about cassava flour? Cauliflower rice?  Roasted white sweet potatoes?  Moderation helps,  knowing that an indulgence is just that, a treat, not a staple in your diet. 

Be well this upcoming season, find one thing to be thankful for each day, and try to change one habit this month. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St Patrick's Day 2018

Today embarks on another St. Patrick's Day.  Looking back, I have thrown some epic dinners.  But the first still makes me smile, in my apartment with a few friends. It started a journey and a promise to myself to keep family traditions alive. As the years have gone by, each year adds something a little different.   Be it a location, menu item, different guests, or different themes.

This year the focus is the Irish American movement.  When our grandparents (some great and great great) came to America, they came looking for a better life.  They brought with them a culture that evolved into Irish American culture of the USA as we know it today. 

The views of the non-Irish seem to think that our families do nothing else but drink, swear, fight and recite poetry. Some days that may be true, but like an onion, we have more layers than that.
Another is that most Americans don't know that corned beef is not irish at all (100% American) or that true soda bread is as simple as 4 ingredients. 

American ignorance (naive ignorance) to only accept the surface without research and looking deeper has led to people losing sight and remembrances of the struggles of those that came before us.  They didn't have fancy clothes, boats, mcmansion homes or white collar jobs.  Most of our ancestors who emigrated from Ireland were dirt poor and they fought to survive on pitiful wages by doing whatever they must. Fact of the matter, today we live like kings and queens compared to our great grandparents.

So with all of that being said, I am proud of my heritage, of those who try every day to be a good person, give a smile to others, welcome all, and embrace the diversity that America has to offer.
We celebrate today and all days my Irish-American values, give thanks to those that came before and give hope to those that will come after. 

My Irish-American values:

1.  Everyone is welcome so long as they are kind and respectful;
2.  Let there always be enough good food to share
3.  Family should be forgiven (may not forget transgressions, but in the end we forgive); f
4.  Friends are like clovers, you can have many, but the 4 leaf kind are special;
5.  Faith is personal and this world has fought too long over it, so if you can't agree to disagree, don't discuss it in my home.

Oh, and my menu today:

Irish cheese and crackers
Guinness pretzels and Guinness honey mustard
Irish sausage rolls

Roasted beets and carrots
Steamed cabbage
Boiled carrots and cabbage (ode to the one pot Irish)
Traditional soda bread
Mashed potatoes

Corned beef

Irish coffee
Homemade irish cream

Apple tarts

Happy St. Patrick's day!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Just another Sunday

It's just another Sunday here at BNB.  I asked B if he wanted cookies, I'm making the weekly meal plan, and tying to figure out what to prep.   It's also time to make another batch of bone broth, and I'm going to attempt it in the pressure cooker - and this time I'm using beef and ham bones.  We'll see how it turns out.

This Sunday is also the last Sunday that Missy Kitty will have both eyes.  Our mascot has  one eye that has been diagnosed as "lens luxation".  Due to the other associated conditions of the eye, the only course of treatment is removal; which will happen this week.  We are confidant that she will transition well and even have some eye therapy planned (see google play for an app called Mouse).

Thus with things on my mind, I plan to make cookies.    But not just any cookies.  I am craving my grain free - almond cookies, but I'm out of almond flour.   I  could try the recipe with coconut flour, but after several attempts at baking with coconut flour, I think I'll hold off.  So husband cookies it is!! 

Next you may wonder how cookies and AIP go together.  I recently read an article which reminds us that AIP is a template, a tool designed to help you identify your trigger foods and to aid you in creating lifestyle and dietary changes (note I did not say diet) so that you can achieve optimal wellness and healing.  I have identified several key triggers that cause immediate reaction for myself (corn, milk, chemical additives) and am working toward seeing which others cause mild symptoms.  So baked goods are an experiment.

My own health journey starts with an AIP baseline and may veer off the path from time to time to include foods that may cause inflammation in others - but for me it doesn't.  You never know until you try.  Sometimes that experiment can be painful (spent four hours with abdominal cramping Friday night due to packet au jus or pepper jack cheese)

Life is too short to restrict everything you enjoy - but for those items that cause your quality of life to be diminished, Life is too short to be in pain by factors you can change.

Be blessed this Sunday, live kind, humble, and smile.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

AIP, bone broth

You may have heard all the rage about nutrient dense bone broth, or seen cartons in the stores.   I'm here to tell you, don't buy it, you have to make it to get all of the health benefits!

Actual bone broth, in a chilled state should resemble, at minimum, a runny jello.  This means that you have extracted the gelatin and collagen and all the minerals from the bones that you cooked.  While some use a pressure cooker, I prefer the slow cooker.   When I first made a batch, I was home recovery from carpal tunnel surgery, so I had the three days it takes to make this!  One day soon I will adapt this for my programmable pressure cooker, just not today.

Warning, this method makes over a gallon of bone broth!  Make sure you read this all the way thru before starting.  Once you have, come back to this starting point.

Basic ingredients (feel free to add more or less per your preferences)
Filtered water up to 3 gallons
Raw apple cider vineger, 2 TBSP (do not sub white vinegar)
Sea salt, dash
3 lbs Bones from organic animals   **
Celery, 3 stalks rough chopped
Onion, 1/2 medium white or yellow, rough chopped
Garlic, 2 cloves, smashed and chopped
Bay leaf
Carrot, 4 , scrubbed, not peeled fresh carrots, rough chopped***

**Use the most healthiest animals you can find to avoid added toxins and chemicals.  You are what you eat, as are they!  I use chicken and turkey bones, equivalent to several quarters, thigsh, legs, wings, and a whole chicken carcass.  I put cooked bones in a freezer bag for later use.  You can use raw bones or previously cooked bones, with or without some meat left on.
***I grew carrots this year so I knew mine were organic, and contained no toxins in the skins so we left the skins on.   Purple cosmic carrots from Baker Creek heirloom seeds, they are pretty and a bit sweet (still pulling them out of the coldframe box). Check them out here:


Day 1
Place the animal bones (poultry or beef/lamb, or combination thereof) in your slow cooker.  Hopefully the bones will fill the pot at least 3/4ths.  Cover with water, add a dash of salt and a TBSP of raw apple cider vinegar.  Cook on low with the lid on for 24 hours.

Day 2
About this time you should be able to see the smallest bones start to disolve. Check back every few hours, removing any scum that forms.  I also like to help break the bones down by smashing them (good stress reliever), its not required as once this process is done, if any are not disintergrated, you can cool and freeze them for one more use (beef bobes may work best for that).   Using the crockpot will help maintain your water level as you do not want to start reducing yet.  Continue on low in the crockpot.

Day 3
By now even the largest turkey breast or leg bone should be soft and you can crush it to see all the minerals (yum yum).  Wash, chop and add the vegetables and bay leaf and cook for 2 hours on low, lid on, checking every hour and removing any scum, smashing and pulverizing the bones even more.  Many reciepes show adding the veggies at the beginning, like I do for a normal chicken broth, but this method is all about the bones first. Make sure when you do the first read thru, you make note of this.  Cooking the veggies too long gives the broth a bitter taste. So on the second read thru (hello!), you are excited to get to this point!

Now, after about 2 hours, remove the lid and start the reduction phase (up to 4 hours). This is where your house will smell of the good stuff!  So let everyone know there will be amazing smells and be thankful that you don't have a fully open concept home!

The reduction is actually the trickest part.  The more you reduce, the more dense and gelled your broth will become.  This step is evaporating the water, not the minerals, gelatin and collagen.  I prefer to reduce by at least a 1/3.  Some broths you may be able to reduce by 1/2, so you will have to use your best judgement.

After the desired liquid amount is reached, strain twice with a fine mesh strainer to remove large particles (the tiny ones will sink once chilled). If there any large bone chinks not disolved, you can chill and freeze those for one more use.   Place the warm liquid back in the slowcooker, unplug and leave the lid off to let the broth cool for a few hours. Once it reaches room temp put into a container with a lid (large juice pitcher works great) and then chill overnight.
The bone broth is done correctlty when the results are gelled, kinda like runny jello!  If it has not gelled, you can put the broth into a stockpot and reduce further as this means you did jot reduce enough.  But if its kinda gelly and looks a little yucky, congrats!  You did it!  You have created a bone broth to be envious of!

How to use.
This reciepe lasted about 4 weeks for us as we would use a cup here and there, adding it into just about every receipe that called for any liquids, cream or butter. 

We store it in a 2 gallon pitcher with a lid so the heavy particlds settled, and top was luscious bone broth.  I couldnt bring myself to drink it straight, but it was added to steamed veggies, soups, meats, rice, potato mashes, used in place of broth (added more water), added to canned chicken noodle soup instead of half the water, used in place of milk for mashed sweet potatoes or cauliflower puree.  I really can't say enough about this stuff!

There you have it.  3 day bone broth using a slow cooker.  It sounds daunting, sczry, and a bit, weird.  But the benefits?  Better gut health, stronger nails, hair, glowing skin and less stomach issues.    Of course bone broth can't magically heal all your health issues all on its own, but this is one of the primary builing blocks to acheiving better wellness for yourself.  Give it a try!
The last little bit of bone broth, time for another batch,

Thursday, January 11, 2018

AIP - super ginger tonic

This past Christmas, our nephew gave everyone a present we could not return.   The norovirus.  A nasty stomach bug that attacks the lining of your stomach and gi tract.  Had we known how bad it was, we may have delayed crossing the mountains to spend the holidays. But, since we had gifts for the OK kids that were too delicate for shipping, we pressed on. 

Skip ahead to Christmas day, we returned home from the sick fest only to be caught in the nasty web ourselves.  I brewed a batch of this tonic, and while hubby refused to drink more than a sip, this kept the nausea and vomiting at bay for myself.   The only reason I can contribute to me not getting this, but 7 others did, is the prior 45 days of AIP (healed leaky gut) and this tonic.

Amy's Special ginger brew to ease nausea and stomach upset.

6 cups cold filtered water
1/4 cup raw honey
1 large piece of ginger root(4-5 inches in length), peeled and chopped into slices.
Dash sea salt
Splash of raw apple cider vinegar

Bring water to just under a boil, add a splash of the vinegar, salt and drop in the ginger.  Heat on medium for 10 minutes, then reduce to simmer.  Stir in the honey until dissolved, then keep on low simmer for another 10 minutes.  Strain and keep in a mason jar with tight lid for up to 1 week in the fridge.

How to use:
When warm, sip on 1/2 cup to ease bouts of nausea, alternating with plain water.
Add to a hot green tea (my fave), add to water, and/or add ice if it's hot outside. 
To rewarm, use the stove top as microwaves are known to zap out the nutrients in the raw honey.
Warning.  Do not consume more than 2 cups per day as this could cause the same ill affects you are trying to avoid.

I sipped on about a cup of warm brew whenever I felt nauseated.   For B, I made him a concoction of ginger brew, kombucha, seltzer water and Gatorade which he sipped on during the worst bouts of vomiting.

The actual plan for the ginger was to make homemade ginger ale using a home-brewed ginger syrup (ginger and honey), then mix with club soda to provide the fizz! That's next up!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Year, New Goals

Every year about this time, I awake early and figure out a few goals for the new year, as well as review the previous year. B and I have jokingly called it "the project list" or list of "shit to do" as resolutions seem too formal.  This year I'm naming it the "get er done" list!

So now I sit with my weekly cup of dairy-free coffee and contemplate about the things I wish to accomplish this 2018.  Things like, complete the St. Pats Dash (Seattle) in less than 58 minutes (I walk/jog); find a bread box design pattern for B to create; use my handy dandy tablet to blog more frequently (doing that now); Christmas presents for 2018 will be focused on gardening (we make gifts every year); review, reduce, and remove unwanted or unused kitchen gadgetry; any unwanted household items should be taken to the local swap meet for a weekend (local one here in Concrete is huge by the way!); and of course - one of the most important, continue to maintain our health using the AIP lifestyle (no I will not call it a diet).

Out of all of those things, the most daunting is to keep focused on AIP.   What is AIP you may ask?   AIP is short for Auto-Immune Protocol.  It is a system that is growing in popularity not for its weight loss features, but the health benefits achieved!  While some may lose weight (I have dropped almost 20 lbs!), it is not designed primarily for weight reduction.  It is meant to help heal your gut and in doing so, as you reintroduce foods,  helps you to identify your trigger foods that create auto-immune flares.

The elimination phase is strict (makes Whole30 look easy), but it truly does help!  You will remove 6 food categories for a period of at minimum 30 days, more depending on why you are trying this (we did 45 days).  During our elimination phase my runny nose, watery itchy eyes, bags under my eyes, fullness, itchy skin, psoriasis patches, myyscle cramps, joint stiffness, skin redness, and even some back pain lessened or went away. B followed along with me since I do all the cooking, but wasn't as strict that I was (he kept some nightshades like potatoes, coffee, dairy, some sugar) and even he reaped benefits like less joint stiffness, better cold recovery, weight loss, better heat/cold tolerance (and he is not auto-immune!)  I find that just eating small amounts of grains or dairy makes me flare up, while nuts and eggs do not.  I enjoy a weekly cup of coffee and have revitalized my love of tea.   It is an amazing sensation to feel the difference and realize that the super tasty grilled cheese sandwich that used to be your comfort food was one item that made you feel unwell.

Keeping primarily AIP is hard.  So many of our American standard diet (known as SAD) contains fake foods that contain more chemicals than actual nutrients.  Going from SAD to AIP presents many challenges, but it is possible!  It doesnt have to be forever, but it may just keep you coming back for more!

Interested in AIP?  Then may I recommend the following book-since this blog is also about reading, not just eating! is the site you will want to grab a cup of coffee (while you can) or green tea and spend a few hours browsing!  This was their first book and it's a great starting point.  I have yet to buy the second, but I am planning on it.   Click the direct link to purchase from Amazon here.

The Autoimmune Wellness website is a wonder trove of resources for those seeking knowledge and help.  I will say this, this protocol does not contain a magic pill, it's not guaranteed to do anything but reset your own system and its success is solely on your own shoulders.   Call it super paleo, primal, whatever.  Its getting back to basics, something it seems so many have lost!

So this year look to this blog to see some AIP friendly lifestyle choices as we continue on our journey towards maintaining wellness!