Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Canning Peach Salsa and the Seduction of Real Life

This is what I expected and even hoped would happen at the peak of summer. I have been carried away by the activity of the season and consequently carried away from my computer. I do love my computer but like in any healthy relationship it is nice to have some time apart once in a while. Yesterday I had a choice to finally sit down and write a post or climb a mountain with a friend. Blog or climb mountain, blog or climb mountain, hmmmmm..... The views along the trail of granite and lakes, trees and wildflowers, were inspiring. My brow was sweaty, my legs dusty, and our bodies, happy to be put to use, moved us through actual space as opposed to cyberspace. There was lovely conversation, human connection. So, dear beloved computer, sometimes real life proves even more seductive than you, thank goodness. 

We've been blessed with house guests every weekend for the past month. More are on the way. We love it. It helps us appreciate our surroundings when we can share it with others. We love the company, the stimulation, and the excuse to stop doing chores for a spell and just enjoy...

Summer peaches are still in full swing. Last week we bought a whole box (lug) from "the fruit guy" who brings them up from the valley to sell out of his truck once a week. There were 60 peaches in the box. That is a lot even with company. I decided to try making a peach salsa. I worked off an internet recipe and canned 12 half-pint jars of salsa. It works great with meat; think chicken, pork, and fish. I love it on fish with diced avocado! Diced avocado is a great addition to the salsa when you are ready to serve it. It is also good with salted corn tortilla chips. There was a lot of chopping involved. I did it all by hand but if you try it you may want to employ a food processor for some of it.

Peach Salsa (Adapted from a recipe posted by William Anatooskin on
These are directions for making a peach salsa for canning. A bowl of fresh peach salsa is easy to throw together and could include such ingredients as: red onion, jalapeno, orange juice, mango, corn, cilantro, lime juice, red and/or yellow bell pepper, garlic, fresh mint, cayenne pepper, cumin, and salt mixed with your chopped peaches.

Ingredient List
7 or 8 cups chopped peaches 
3 large chopped fresh tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped red onion
4 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 small sweet red pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 small sweet yellow pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons liquid honey
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-Sterilize 12, 1/2 pint jars or 6 pint jars, then place upside down in a 250F oven for about 15 minutes.
-Blanch peaches, cool in cold water, peel, pit and chop to measure 7 to 8 cups.
-Blanch tomatoes and cool with cold water, peel, remove seeds and cut into chunks.
-In a large stainless or enamel cooking pot, combine peaches, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno peppers, sweet bell peppers, cilantro, vinegar, honey, garlic, cumin and cayenne pepper.
-Bring to a boil, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the mixture is too sloppy or soupy you can pour off some of the liquid through a sieve. 
-Add salt last and adjust seasonings to taste.
-Ladle salsa into hot jars to within 1/4 inch of top for headspace.

-Wipe jar rim to remove any stickiness.
-Center lid on top of jar; apply screw band just until finger tight.
-Place jars in a hot bath in a canner and process for 10 minutes.
-Remove jars and place on a towel, then cover with another towel to cool slowly.
-Jars are sealed when the lids pop and are curved down, (concave).
-Label jars and store in a cool, dark place.

Quickly blanching the peaches causes the skins
to slide right off.

Enjoy your days!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The PCT Thru-Hikers!

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,663 mile hiking trail that stretches all the way from the Mexican border to the Canadian border through California, Oregon, and Washington. Some intrepid souls attempt to hike the entire length in one season. These amazing people are called "thru-hikers". This summer my cousin Evan is among them. Although he isn't called Evan anymore. Within a few weeks on the trail most hikers are christened with a new name; their trail name. My cousin Evan is now Spud. Spud is blogging about his experiences on the trail when he gets a chance. It is good reading and can be found here: Spud's Blog

The PCT runs very close to Quincy. Just 15 miles west of town the trail crosses the road at Buck's Summit. Then it crosses Hwy. 70 down the Feather River Canyon at Belden. When you reach this point in the trail you are nearly half-way along. 1289 miles to be exact. The four-day High Sierra Music Festival was in town on July 5-8. There were a lot of "rock stars" but they all travelled here by car. The real rock stars are people like my cousin and his three hiking friends who walked 1289 miles to get here. And guess what? They are here! Check out this gorgeous bunch! This is after showers and laundry. Should have taken a before and after.
From left: Spud, Oasis, Honey Bear, and Histo
If you are curious about their trail names as I was, I'll illuminate you. Food is a big topic of conversation out on the trail. Spud kept talking about how much he loved and missed potatoes. Oasis is known for carrying a surplus of water. Honey Bear, well, she loves honey. Once she bought one of those honey bears full of honey for the trail but it didn't last long. Histogram (Histo) got his name because he was making graphs of trail progress (math geek). So there you have it.

I was warned about the appetites of PCT thru-hikers. Spud and his friends average from 20 to 30 miles per day. They eat everything they can get their hands on and still lose weight. My cousin weighed in this morning. He was shocked to see that he has lost nearly 30 pounds since setting out on the trail months ago. For dinner last night I made potatoes, of course. I mean Spud was going to be here! I found some fine looking freshly dug organic russets at our co-op. I baked those and had garden chives, and cheddar, and butter, and sour cream for topping. If I had been cooking just for our family, that would have been dinner. But we also grilled corn and zucchini and onions and chicken and sausages. And, of course, there was beer. Then for dessert there was homemade ice cream and warm cherry compote. I'm pretty sure they got enough to eat. This morning was a different story. I made them all French toast with yogurt and various toppings. They all licked their plates clean and then sat at the table as if waiting for the second course. I sent them to the donut shop. : )

Spud cradling a baked potato

The hikers eating dinner on the patio. Our son made sure he was
right in the middle of them. He is so excited to have them here!

Histo's plate minus the piece of corn he is eating.
Surely one of the bonuses of being a thru-hiker is a genuine appetite born of physical exertion. Another is the potential to develop lifelong friendships with fellow hikers. These four are like a family and their bond strengthened by shared experiences is palpable. They are enjoying a "zero day" (no miles hiked) today and we'll drop them back in Belden tomorrow so they can continue the trek north. We are envious of their adventure but maybe also a tad relieved that it is they and not us who have set such an ambitious goal for the summer, even if our appetite does suffer.


P.S. A few people have told me that they have been unable to leave comments on this blog lately. Sorry about that. If it doesn't resolve itself soon, I will contact Google for advice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Peaches in the Summertime.......

Apples in the fall. If I can't have you all the time I won't have none at all. -Gillian Welch
I couldn't help but lead with a fruit photo again. Our visiting friends from Mississippi stopped at Tony's on the way here and brought more gorgeous stone fruit from the valley below. Peaches were diced and baked into an old favorite (non-gluten-free) coffee cake. They were eaten creek-side in the sunshine with juice dripping all the way to elbows. They were grilled on the left-over coals from a BBQ dinner until caramelized and insanely sweet and topped with homemade honey vanilla ice cream. They were sauteed in coconut oil and put atop crepes. They were diced and drizzled with rosemary honey. They were devoured within a few days with no canning required. 

We love the musician Greg Brown in this house. His lyrics are so down-homey, so farm-girl, so Americana. His voice is so deep and rich. One of my favorite songs is called "Canned Goods". If you have a spare 4 minutes you can listen to an older version of it with a delightful little slideshow by clicking the arrow below.

We are in the middle of a week of 100 degree daytime temperatures. This is when our house shines. The towering pines at the rear of our property provide afternoon shade. We close the windows during the heat of the day and open everything up in the evenings and through to the morning. This effectively keeps our house comfortable 24/7. We've been swimming everyday, either in the creek or the community pool or both. Swimming and eating ice cream!

Leo designed a drying rack for his swim suit after I mentioned that we should probably have a set spot that we hang it each time we return from the pool. He literally drew up the plans for it and we built it together. Then he directed me on how he wanted it painted (light blue waves against a white background). It was a fun project and, yet again, I was impressed with my 6-year-old's creativity and design sense.

We have a bright red Cuisinart electric ice cream maker. It has been working hard lately to keep up with our taste for sweet frozen goodness. We've been making all kinds of frozen concoctions. I am still avoiding cow's milk products for the most part and so I experimented with a coconut milk ice cream and was pleased with the results. I will share my simple recipe here:

Coconut Milk Honey Vanilla Ice Cream
You will need:
1 can (15 oz.) of full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup of pure honey
1 cup of almond milk (unsweetened, sweetened is fine too just reduce honey slightly)
1 T. pure vanilla extract

Do the first part in the morning so you are ready to make the ice cream in the afternoon. Place honey and coconut milk in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until honey is dissolved. Remove from heat and add almond milk. Lastly stir in vanilla. Place pan in refrigerator and let chill 6 hours or more. Stir before adding to frozen ice cream maker canister. Follow directions for your ice cream maker. Our takes 25 minutes. Scrape ice cream into a lidded container and freeze till firm (approximately 2 hours).

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Solar Cherry Crisp....Bear-ly

Ahhh...July is upon us. Did I already mention that summer is my favorite season here at the 40th parallel north? Well, it so is. Fifteen hours of light a day, warm temps, and the fruits of summer all contribute to my exuberance this time of year. I've been busy, busy but in an indulgent, uni-tasking kind of a way. 

I've been creating a lot of stuff in the kitchen but not writing anything down. I've realized that I'm not the best food blogger. I occasionally use a recipe but far more often I am adding a little of this and a little of that and in the end I am hard-pressed to come up with a complete ingredient list, much less accurate quantities. Most things simply come out a little differently every time I make them which keeps things interesting. I expect that is the way most cooks cook but it can make it difficult to share an actual recipe here on the blog. 

I mentioned our neighbor's amazing Bing cherry tree in one of my earlier posts over the winter. This is because I was still surfing the wave of utter summer bliss that the tree (and our neighbors) bestowed upon us. In the past there has been competition for the cherries between birds, and bears, and people. Last year the tree was laden with cherries but for some reason the bear did not come to the tree and the birds left it almost alone. So last year the lucky people were swimming in cherries. Each one was like a jewel and cherished as such. The photos below will give you an idea of what the tree looked like last summer:

Me on ladder with grin
This year was a different story. The tree was again laden with cherries but before they could fully ripen a bear began to visit the tree. She or he would come at night, climb up into the tree, and gorge on the cherries. Then I imagine her back up in the woods during the day sleeping and dreaming about the juicy sweetness of her nighttime exploits. She returned night after night until every last cherry was gone and the tree stood pathetically mangled and broken. I was too sad when I saw it to think of photographing it. Rude bear. No manners whatsoever. The neighbors tried banging pots and pans and telling it in no uncertain terms to skedaddle but the cherries proved too big of an allure. One day my neighbor called to say if I wanted any cherries I better come and get some, so I did. At that point there were still thousands of cherries. I filled a large colander with almost ripe cherries. A few days later the tree was devastated. 

I made a gluten-free nectarine cherry solar crisp with a cardamom cashew custard. Mostly though, we just eat one each time we walk by them. We have a little bit more restraint than the ill-mannered bear. 

I love my Sun Oven! More about it later.
Cherry/Nectarine Almond Crisp
A gross approximation of a recipe:
Cut up about 4 cups of white nectarines and cherries and place them in a baking pan or dish. Melt about a quarter cup of butter or butter alternative (I've been using Earth Balance) in a bowl. Add 3/4 cup of almond flour and 2 T. each of white rice and tapioca flour. Add 1/4 cup of muscavado or other brown sugar. Stir well to combine. Lastly add 1 t. vanilla, 1/4 t. almond extract, and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle over fruit and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. The topping crisps up nicely and tastes like marzipan. Great on its own or topped with vanilla ice cream or you can try the dairy-free custard below.
Cashew Cardamom Custard
From Whole Living Magazine, July 2012 issue
1/2 cup raw cashews
2 cups, plus 1 Tbsp plain rice milk
Pinch coarse salt
1 Tbsp maple syrup
5 cardamom pods, crushed
1 1/2 tsp arrowroot or cornstarch
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
In a blender, process cashews, 2 cups milk, salt, and syrup for 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a saucepan, add cardamom, and bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk remaining Tbsp milk and the arrowroot until smooth. Add to saucepan and thicken mixture over medium heat, whisking, 30 seconds. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Strain custard into a bowl and let cool slightly, then transfer to refrigerator. Serve chilled.

Enjoy the summer!