Thursday, January 31, 2013

Longboard Races!

Every so often on this blog I am compelled to throw in a post touting one of the unique local events our county has to offer. In the fall there is the quintessential apple press event and in the winter the longboard races help to keep us entertained. 

If you are unsure what longboarding is, I will educate you. I know surfers use the term to describe long surfboards but here in Plumas County (nowhere near the ocean) longboards mean something else entirely. Longboards are long (12-16 foot) wooden skis. Downhill skiing apparently had its beginnings in these here hills. "In 1861, the first organized ski club races were held at Onion Valley, between Quincy and La Porte, giving birth to the sport of downhill ski racing in the western hemisphere." I got that quote off the Plumas Ski Club's website. The Plumas Ski Club promotes and sponsors the annual longboard races. You can check out their website here.

Our community college hosts a longboard making class where you can make your own wooden skis from local wood. My husband has taken the class twice and completed two pair of skis. They are beautiful.
On the third Sundays of January, February, and March there are races at an historic ski hill near Johnsville, Ca. One of the big goals of the Plumas Ski Club is to re-open this ski hill for the families of the surrounding communities to enjoy. Currently it is used for backcountry skiing, sledding, and the longboard races. The March race day is officially the WORLD championship because (as far as we know) it is unique in the world. The male and female winners on that day hold the title of "world champion longboard racer" until the following March.

My husband races. That is him in the red.

It is almost impossible to turn so to stop you place a large pole between
your legs and sit down on it to slow yourself. Dangerous business.
Racers dress up in period garb from the 1800's. Many of the women racers wear long skirts which flap in the wind as they sail down the hill. Men and women alike carry flasks of whiskey to ward off the cold or to help them find the courage they need to push off from the top of the hill.
Sometimes the races are cancelled due to not enough snow, too much snow, or super stormy weather. And then sometimes.......... as was the case on January 20, 2013, it is glorious. The day is bright and sunny, the snow is perfect for skiing, the crowd is in good spirits, and the sun warms your face. On those days, there is nowhere I would rather be than watching the races and cheering on the racers from the sidelines with friends.
A snapshot of the crowd with the historic lodge building in the background
My husband is around 6 feet tall so you can see how long
the skis can be. This was a practice day on the hill.

Each race day, the racers pose for a group photo. Here is 1-20-13s.
So anyway, it is a super fun and unique event with no corporate sponsors whatsoever.

In other news, my friend from Bay St. Louis, MS sent me the link to a competition sponsored by Budget Travel magazine to determine the coolest small towns in America. They've narrowed it down to just 15 towns. Quincy, CA is one of them! As is Bay St. Louis. You can check it out and vote for your favorite here. Bay St. Louis is ahead of Quincy but I can't think why because there are no longboard races (at least not the skiing kind). They do however have an almost tropical island vibe that alludes us here in the Sierra Nevada mountains....


Monday, January 14, 2013

Soup is Good, Kalt ist Bitter, Chai ist Heiß

When I promised to share two of my favorite cold-weather soup recipes, it was cold out. Now it is bitter. Sounds like a German word, bitter. Let me look.... Yes, of Germanic origin and probably related to the word bite. Yes, well, that makes sense; a biting cold, frost bite even. P.S. Kalt means cold and Heiß means hot, although I don't profess to know what letter that is at the end of the word Heiß!

We spent the weekend at a rented condo at a low-key ski resort near Truckee, California called Tahoe-Donner. Temperatures in Truckee were 7 degrees below zero on Saturday morning and 18 below on Sunday. But as a side note, it warmed to a balmy 22° during the days and was fantastically sunny making for a pleasant time on the slopes as long as you were dressed properly.

Morning view from the balcony of our condo

A happy 6-year-old skier with missing teeth

We returned to our home in Quincy to find that some of our pipes had frozen. We are still working on thawing them today. It is just 9° here this morning.

So, yes, soup. Soup and tea. Hot liquids to keep our bodies' pipes from becoming sluggish or freezing up altogether. Although not a big tea drinker most of the year, I can't get enough right now. Chai tea is what I crave with its cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove and black pepper. I've been making it by the gallon. I'll share the recipe, given to me by a friend, below. Hold on, before I type it, let me get another cup!

Ahhhh..... there we go. My favorite tea mug full.

Chai Tea
Makes 1 gallon
1 gallon water
10 to 12 slices of ginger root
1 t. peppercorns
1/2 t. cloves
1 T. cardamom powder
3-5 sticks of cinnamon

Directions: Place ingredients in a pot and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and let rest for 30 minutes. Strain into a gallon jug.
Notes: This mixture is a decaf chai base. From here you have options. You can heat and serve plain with or without honey. You can heat it and pour over your favorite black tea to steep. You can make a milky chai by heating it 1/2 and 1/2 with your favorite type of milk and pouring over honey and/or a black tea bag. Any way it warms one from the inside out.
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Okay, now for a soup. I'll just share one today because I got distracted with chai tea and snow pictures. This soup is from The Greens Cookbook of San Francisco's Greens Restaurant fame. The original recipe calls for fresh mint which we have in the yard in abundance in the warm months. Because I usually make the soup in winter I've taken to omitting it.  I have altered the recipe to always use fire roasted tomatoes which together with the homemade vegetable stock you use for the base and the chili powder creates a smoky depth of flavor reminiscent of a rich tortilla soup. I often take it a step further in this direction by topping it with corn tortilla strips crisped in oil in an iron skillet stove top, avocados, cilantro instead of parsley, a squeeze of lime. It also features that wonderful marriage of dark orange squash and tomatoes.

Winter Squash and Roasted Tomato Soup
Adapted from a recipe from The Greens Cookbook
Serves 6

The Stock:
Seeds and inner fibers of 2.5 lbs of winter squash (butternut, pumpkin, other)
2 diced celery stalks
1 onion roughly chopped or sliced
1 bay leaf
5 branches parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups cold water

I know it is extra work but the flavor is worth it. Halve the squash. Scrape out the seeds and fibers into a pot with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and simmer 25 to 35 minutes; then strain.

The Soup
2.5 lbs. of winter squash
1 roasted red bell pepper chopped (Buy in jar or roast yourself. I know, more work!)
28 oz can of roasted diced tomatoes
1 to 2 T. New Mexican chili powder
1 T. butter (or use all oil)
1 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t. nutritional yeast (optional)
1 t. salt
7 cups stock
1 T. parsley (or cilantro) chopped
1 T. mint, chopped (optional)

Peel squash and cut into 1/2 square pieces. Peelings can be added to simmering stock.
Heat the butter (if using) and oil in a soup pot, add the onion, garlic, and nutritional yeast. 
Cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, chili powder, and salt, and stew for 5 minutes. Add the cubed squash, roasted red pepper, and the stock. Simmer until the squash has melted into a purée, about 30-40 minutes. Season with more salt to taste. Serve the soup with the chopped parsley and mint stirred in at the last minute or go the tortilla soup style route I suggested earlier. This soup is even better the next day after the flavors fully merge. Also goes great with corn bread for that beloved squash, tomato, corn trio!

Here I topped leftovers with strips of Canadian bacon

While I've been blogging and drinking chai tea, my heroic husband crawled (wriggled) under the house and thawed the kitchen sink pipe with a blow torch! Hurray for male chivalry!


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Production Mode: Wine, Hard Cider, Roasted Nuts, and Pickled Eggs

Welcome to 2013! We are home from a week away visiting family in Calistoga, Sebastopol, and San Jose over the holidays. Eat, drink, and be merry we did and were. 

We returned to a house and yard encased in a foot of icy, solid snow and low temps. My husband lit the fire and I placed the flowers in the vahhse that I bought to-day ay ay. Gotta love CSN&Y. So, yeah, there were no flowers. After he lit the fire what I really did was set to work making soup. Good soup and a warm fire are not optional this time of year. I have two favorite soup recipes to share in my next post. The soups both feature winter squash but other than that are very different from one another. I've been making them both for many years.

The tail end of 2012 found me in production mode in my kitchen and happy as could be. I had four fermentation projects finishing up and was able to get them all in bottles before our trip. There was apple mead, 2 apple ciders, and the 2012 Stephan Way Chardonnay. Below you can see the new 2012 label and the finished bottles.
"From an obscure boutique winery and vineyard in downtown Quincy, Ca"

If you followed my wine making adventures in 2011 you know that I made a couple of mistakes that resulted in the loss of two-thirds of the batch. I, of course, made sure not to make those same mistakes this year. I added potassium sorbate to the wine before doing a minimal back-sweetening. All looked and tasted good and I've had high hopes for this batch. Upon return from our trip I now see that there is a crystally sediment beginning to form in the bottles. My first thought was that a refermentation is underway and that all the bottles will be lost. This still may be the case but I was comforted by my computer which told me that:

Tartrate Crystals are also called "wine diamonds". They are a natural product of the wine, and form when the wine gets too cold. It is in essence cream of tartar, forming because of the temperature change. Think of sugar turning into rock candy and you'll have a good mental image. 

Tartaric acid is a normal grape acid. Potassium also exists in grapes, and when these two things bind together under chilly conditions, they form little potassium bitartrate crystals, which then settle to the bottom of the bottle. They're completely harmless, and quite natural. 

While in Europe these crystals are accepted as a sign that the wine is a natural one, and even appreciated, Americans are used to wine being clear, pure, filtered, processed and de-sedimented. Consumers often panic when they see little crystals in their Chardonnay, thinking they are impurities or even bits of broken glass. They often refuse to drink the wine and return it to the winemaker (who promptly serves it to his own family). 

The house was quite cold while were away so I am hoping they're "wine diamonds"! We will see......
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Also in December, I enjoyed making pickled eggs for my father-in-law for a Christmas gift. I don't know that I had ever had a pickled egg before but now that I have I like them! Even better than the eggs are the pickled beets and onions that accompany the eggs in their jars. They ended up looking very festive. I will share the method I used below. Speaking of pickled things, my sis-in-law served some home-pickled carrots the other night that I can't stop thinking about. I'll be sure to share here after she forwards me the recipe.

Pickled Eggs with Beets
To make 3 quart-sized jars of pickled eggs you will need:

2 15 oz. cans of beets
Juice from the cans
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 onion, sliced
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 cloves of garlic cut into chunks
1 teaspoon sea salt
approximately 20 hard cooked eggs


1.  Peel the eggs and place in quart-sized glass jars alternating with the cooked beets.
2.  In a medium saucepan combine the vinegar, beet juice, onion, sugar, garlic, and salt. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered, until the sugar has dissolved and the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.
3.  Pour the vinegar onion mixture over the eggs in the jars, covering the eggs completely. Tighten lids. Refrigerate up to a month.

The pickled eggs will be ready to eat after a few days. The longer the eggs sit in the pickling juice, the more the pickling juice will penetrate the eggs.

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My mother ordered nuts from me to be shipped to friends and family across the U.S.  I also made them for my own gifts to friends, family, neighbors, teachers, etc. The smells of roasting spicy fennel almonds and candied pecans filled the house for days. To me, nutmeat is a treasure, so fatty and nutrient-dense. Raw is best for your health but this time of year roasting them is a treat that warms the house and our bellies.

Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy the year ahead!