Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkins and Fudge

Happy Halloween!! 
My son is in first grade. His teacher's husband grows pumpkins competitively. Of course his class had a special field trip to the otherworldly pumpkin patch. It really did take my breath away as we rounded the corner and the mountainous pumpkins came into view rising above a vast sea of equally impressive sprawling green vines. The children were beside themselves with wonder.

One of the pumpkins was grown to compete for sheer size/weight. At the height of the growing season it was putting on over 30 pounds a day! It ended up weighing in at an impressive 1115 pounds which earned it 12th-place in a northstate competition in Sacramento. The 1st-place pumpkin was around 1600 pounds. The bright orange one pictured above, although substantially smaller, got best of show for attractiveness and won a $650 prize.

I took lots of photos and made a poster for the class. I'm so thankful that I have the time to do whimsical projects such as this if the urge strikes.
And then there is pumpkin fudge. In our quaint little downtown there is a drug store. It has been there since the 1800s. It does not have a soda fountain but it does have a "fudgery" (corner where fudge is made). This time of year they offer some seasonal flavors, one of which is pumpkin fudge. My parents first tried it 7 years ago while housesitting for us and they LOVE it. I make sure they get a slice of it each year which they say they can devour in just one evening. 

I don't know how they do it. I definitely have a sweet tooth but to me fudge has always just been too much, almost sickeningly sweet. And now with a diet free from gluten and virtually dairy-free, traditional fudge would be out of the question anyway. 

How about some healthy vegan fudge - a Halloween treat for the gluten and dairy sensitive? Don't worry it is still rich and creamy and chocolatey and sweet, just not tooth-achingly so. This recipe uses coconut cream concentrate and coconut oil in place of butter and cream. (I've been using a lot of coconut oil recently. Subject of another post.) If you look at this blog's October posts, you would think me a chocolate fanatic. Chocolate hasn't really played all that big a part in my life - until recently. I'm pretty into chocolate right now. Dark chocolate. Christmas is coming. Bring it on.
 Vegan Fudge
Ingredient list:
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup warm water
3 T. coconut cream concentrate
1 T. coconut oil
1 cup chopped walnuts*

Mix all ingredients together except the chopped walnuts and stir for a couple minutes until smooth. Add walnuts and stir to combine. Pour into a small dish or pan. Mine was a 4" x 8" ramekin. Chill until set. Cut into squares and store on waxed paper in the refrigerator.
*walnuts can be raw or lightly toasted

Note/Update: I have made this fudge a few more times now and have taken to adding 1/8 t. cayenne pepper, 1/8 t. ancho chili powder, and 1/4 t. cinnamon, and a pinch of sea salt for a delectable spicy Mexican chocolate twist! Oh my, you should try it.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Yes on Proposition 37

California has a proposition on the ballot this election cycle that would require the labeling of foods sold to consumers that contain genetically modified organisms. Typically when I receive my vote-by-mail ballot and pamphlet, it is the first time I have heard of many of the propositions requiring my consideration. Not so for Prop. 37. I can proudly say that I helped get it on the ballot through the initiative process, along with thousands and thousands of other California consumers and voters to whom this is an important issue. We circulated and signed petitions. We donated money. We are insisting on the simple right to information.

Last weekend, I was wearing my "Yes on 37" button when I ran into some friends. Our isolated mountain town is full of "Yes on 37" yard signs. I have NEVER seen a sign or a button saying no. My friends joked that they were starting a "No on 37" movement since there really didn't seem to be one; at least at the level of the people. Remember, corporations are NOT, in fact, people. We stood on the street in front of our food cooperative inventing slogans for the no campaign. "Ignorance is Bliss!" "I Don't Want to Know" "Keep Me in the Dark" "Treat Me Like a Mushroom (Keep Me in the Dark and Feed Me Sh*t)" "No on 37 - TMI!" We laughed and laughed at the thought of it.

We don't watch television at our house so I have not seen any of the ads either way but today I came across this video on YouTube that takes the same tack as my friends and I did the other day. It is less than 2 minutes long and great. Watch it here:

Enjoy and remember to vote Yes on 37 if you are a California voter!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Channelling My Inner Baking Goddess

I started baking as a girl. It was like magic to me. I could mix a few cupboard ingredients together and transform them into a warm-from-the-oven delicacy with minimal effort. If I am honest, I know that my love of baking has been rooted in my love of eating really good bakery. When I first discovered that I had developed a problem with digesting gluten (hmmm.......which maybe isn't so surprising considering my love-affair with flour), I went on a baking spree. For a month I baked like crazy, experimenting with different flours and trying to recreate all of my bakery favorites without the gluten. Some things came out great, even better than their gluten-ous counterparts. Other things, not so much... I think I just needed to reassure myself that I would still be able to bake and to enjoy bakery even without gluten in my life. 

At one point I went to a gluten-free workshop here in town. An uber-healthy woman in attendance made the comment that, "You know, you don't HAVE to try to replace all of that bakery stuff just because it's what you grew up with." Oh. Yeah. I think she is right. You don't have to. A move away from gluten can be a move towards a healthier diet if you don't. I've noticed that many of the gluten-free cookbooks out there focus on recreating those flour-based treats of our childhood. Many of them have cupcakes on the cover.  

I seem to have retained a love of baking that extends beyond wanting to indulge in bakery. When my dear friend requested that I bake her a cake for her birthday recently, I immediately replied, "Yes! And can it have gluten in it?" Gluten-containing wheat flour really is wonderful to work with. Gluten is great stuff as long as you can digest it uneventfully. She asked for chocolate.

High quality, fair trade, dark, rich, real, chocolate is good. I try to eat a little bit every day for my health. ;-) But other than that, I don't consider myself a chocolate person. For instance, I would always choose vanilla over chocolate ice cream and oatmeal raisin cookies over chocolate chip ones. I'm usually not a chocolate cake fan but once or twice in my life I've had a chocolate cake that was so moist and rich and delicious that I loved it. So when asked to bake a chocolate cake, I began a search for a death-by-chocolate kind of a cake that might possibly rival those I've enjoyed in the past.
Guess what? The most promising recipe I found in my collection of cookbooks did not contain any flour!! Yippee! I would be able to bake my cake and eat it too!! 

I had a wonderful time baking it and decorating it and tasting it and presenting it to the birthday "girl". This is really a yummy chocolate cake. Even if you don't like chocolate cake, you might like this cake. There aren't many ingredients but I'm not saying it is super simple to make. Excellent paired with port.

Chocolate Cake (Gluten-free!)
from Vineyard Seasons by Susan Branch

16 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Guittard and Ghirardelli)
1 cup unsalted butter (you can try a vegan alternative here such as Earth Balance)
9 eggs separated
1 cup of sugar
cocoa powder for dusting

Pre-heat oven to 350ยบ. 
Butter a 9" springform pan; line the bottom with buttered wax or parchment paper; dust pan with cocoa powder. Slowly melt chocolate and butter together in a heavy saucepan over low heat; cool. Meanwhile separated eggs into two large bowls. Beat the yolks for about a minute; slowly add sugar and continue beating till thick and lemon-colored. Beat egg whites until they just begin to peak. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Pour the chocolate and yolk mixture into egg whites and fold gently until completely blended. Remove 1/3 of the batter to refrigerator and cover. Pour rest of batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes. Cool 1/2 hour before turning out onto serving plate. Remove paper and frost with remaining batter. Decorate as you see fit.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Canning Apple Sauce and It's Looking More and More Farmy Around Here

The score is 2-nothing Reds
No, those are not our chickens but yes, that is our backyard. Our neighbors acquired some chickens this year and now they are regular visitors to our yard. I'm curious to see how they will fare over the winter. Perhaps we can learn from their successes/failures and try keeping chickens ourselves one day. They had intended to purchase 6 hen chicks but one turned out to be a rooster, much to their dismay. Now there is even cock-a-doodle dooing in the neighborhood. Very farmy indeed.

It is the first day of October. While the nights have been appropriately chilly, it is predicted to hit 98 degrees in Quincy today! And this at 3500 feet above sea level. It has been over 100 in the valley. Some people are complaining, but not yours truly. I know the cold is on its way so I continue to steep myself in the heat, letting it permeate through my body and penetrate my bones, as if by doing so it may help carry me through the winter to come.

Similar to the grape harvest this year, our apples had to be stripped from the tree all in one go due to bear activity. The perfect ones were saved for eating and the rest were cooked into sauce and canned.

Y'all know how to make and preserve apple sauce right? Again, I was so impressed with the amount of traffic to my peach salsa canning post that I wonder if there isn't a resurgence in interest in canning. I myself am a beginning and rather lazy canner but apple sauce is truly simple. The most time consuming and labor intensive part is peeling and coring all the apples. This can also be a nice relaxing activity if you allow time for it. I have great memories of an apple sauce making day with friends last fall. We sat around an outdoor table peeling away the afternoon.

Warning: This is a basic method, not a recipe.
-Once your apples are peeled and quartered squeeze a lemon over them. 
-Put them in a large pot with an inch or two of water and put over medium high heat on the stovetop. Add more water if necessary.
-Cook, stirring occasionally until the apples are tender. 
-Let cool down to warm from hot. 
-Ladle cooked apples and juices into a blender in batches and blend until smooth. 
-Return to pot or saucepan and bring to a simmer. 
-Add sugar and cinnamon to taste. 
-Turn off heat and ladle apple sauce into clean jars. 
-Place lids that were sitting in warm water onto the jars and tighten gently (oxymoron?)
-Lower jars into boiling water and "process" for 10 minutes.
-Remove from water and place on a rack to cool. 
-Wait for popping sounds to indicate the lids have sealed. 
-When the jars have cooled, check that the lids are concave, indicating a good seal.
-Store in cupboard until needed on pork or pancakes or whatever.