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We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. - E.H.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cola Magic

I visited some good friends in Toronto recently, where one of them (who is a kitchen genius, really) served me a drink that rocked my world.

She had made a cola syrup - from scratch! on her stove! - and after taking my first sip a number of miraculous things occurred. (a) COLA! and (b) woah. Because after the first second, the resemblance ends. Suddenly it tastes like vanilla and lavender and cloves and .. all of those things combined. It's incredible. It kicks Coca-Cola's ass. It's like learning what coke could be, and maybe once was, before artificial flavoring and high-fructose corn syrup came and ruined the party for everyone. This drink is complex. And it is good. 

Recipes like this really typify all that I love about doin' it yourself. Every recipe, every project feels like a chance to rediscover everyday objects, everyday foods that are otherwise taken for granted.  Suddenly, cola goes from a somewhat trashy indulgence to a culinary revelation. (I mean really, who cooks with lavender?)

Using vanilla beans was another new one for me. I loved that I had to ask for them behind the counter at my local bulk food store - I felt like I had ascended to new culinary heights. At $5 for two they felt like a seriously expensive addition my basket at first.. until I found out that vanilla beans are a kind of rinse-and-repeat miracle item. When they are done adding their vanilla-ness your cola, you can rinse them and throw them in a jar with a cup of vodka or rum, forget about it for a month or so, and bam! You never need to use artificial vanilla flavoring again. And even better? When it starts to run low, you can top it up with more booze, and repeat the whole process. Magic.

Cola Syrup - originally adapted from Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
I doubled the recipe, because you're going to want to share this one. 

You'll need:

Zest of 2 medium oranges
Zest of 1 large lime
Zest of 1 large lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1 section of a star anise pod, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 one-and-a-half-inch piece vanilla bean, split
1/4 teaspoon citric acid (I got some in the canning section of the bulk food store)
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar.

1. Combine 2 cups of water in a pot with zests, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, lavender, ginger, vanilla and citric acid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
2. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves.
3. Line a sieve or colander with a double thickness of cheesecloth and place over the bowl. Pour the contents of the pot through the sieve. Squeeze out the cheesecloth to get all the liquid.
4. Stir the syrup and let cool.

Add to soda water to taste and enjoy.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dogs Life

This is Lily. She drives me nuts, but she makes me smile everyday.

I can't help but return to the topic of Peterborough Pride, because I just found this photo.
My amazing friends Meagh and Claire, on the front lines of the rainbow battle. Meagh looks like a lion.

I cannot find words for how much I love this photo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Elderberry Syrup / Foraging is Awesome

Recently, friends of ours tipped us off to a local spot to harvest elderberries just outside town. Today, Agata and her mom (cute!) went out together to see if they could find them- and, the huge bowls of berries on the kitchen table are any evidence, they managed just fine.

Not pictured above is the 5 gallons of elderberries that went home with Agata's mom, destined to become elderberry wine. We kept a big bowl for ourselves through, and decided (mostly because we're running low on jars) to boil it down into syrup.

Taking the elderberries off their stems was a pretty fiddly business, but once they were off the process was simple. We boiled the elderberries with just enough water to keep them from burning, and then ran them through a food mill to get out the bulk of the seeds. Then we returned the juice to the pot and boiled it down until we decided it was 'syrupy' enough, and added just enough sugar to balance out the tartness of the berries.

As a side note, elderberries were being sold at our local farmers market for $7 a quart last week. At that rate, we were probably boiling down the equivalent $50 worth of elderberries or something. Foraging = awesome.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Shakshuka - bigger and better

Late the other night, Agata had a stroke of pure genius. We had a table full of tomatoes threatening to go bad, and we were running out of ideas. We've made canned tomatoes, dried tomatoes, salsa, tomato paste... we were feeling pretty much set for tomatoes.

It had been a long night, and we were drinking wine and doing our best to ignore the tomatoes calling to us from across the room. Someone (probably me) got hungry and we decided to make a quick pot of shakshuka, a favorite for cold, rainy fall nights.

For those of you who haven't yet discovered the joys of shakshuka, it's time. Shakshuka is an Arabic dish made with eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, flavored with lots of jalapenos, garlic, onions, paprika and cumin. The whole thing is served topped with feta cheese, cilantro, parsley and chives (or any of those things you happen to have in the fridge at the moment) and eaten with a big chunk of warmed pita bread. I was introduced to this recipe through Smitten Kitchen, and I will be forever in their debt.

So here comes the brilliance. As we were cutting up tomatoes for the sauce, Agata had a brainwave. Couldn't we just put ALL the tomatoes into the pot, (along with pretty much all the onions, hot peppers and cumin in the house), stew it up, and can it? The brilliance here is that, with the sauce pre-made and ready to go, our favorite comfort food just turned into the easiest meal ever.

The less brilliant part was the timing (notice the stovetop clock?).

We (or to be honest, Agata. I was more or less passed out on the table by this point) canned the shakshuka in quart jars for 45 minutes at a rolling boil, and added two tablespoons of lemon juice per quart to raise the acidity a bit. It worked a charm. Some cold winter day, we are going to love ourselves for this.

Next time, we'll just start the whole process about eight hours earlier.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Of butches and bathing suits

Gender identity being the tricky thing it can be, swimwear presents a bit of an annual challenge. To be fair, most of the swimming I do these days is on the banks of the Ottonabee river, so its not like anyone's watching - but that's no excuse really. Here's my dream. A line of hot, vintage, gender-bendy swim wear.  Because I want to look like this guy.

Or this guy.

There will be stripes, and buttons, and pretty ladies will love me (see fig. 2). I read somewhere that these outfits were traditionally knitted, and I'm not sure how I feel about woolen swimwear. I may go for more of a cotton blend...
Anyways, this is definitely on my winter to-do list. I will post pictures.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Little city, big Pride

This weekend was our little city's Pride parade, and it was the biggest I've seen yet. It was about six years ago that I moved here from Toronto, and I made it for the Peterborough's first Pride. I'm pretty sure the protesters outnumbered the paraders. This year there were no protesters, the sun was shining, and my buddy Iris made a sparkly pink sign that read "Bossy femmes against rape culture." Oh, and there was lots of facepaint. Pretty much the day was perfect.

My fabulous friend Meagh, gettin' her face did.

More fabulousness.

Claire, from over at A Pragmatic, Bleeding Heart, rockin' the knuckle tat. 

And I am a butterfly.

I <3 Pride. Oh, and there are not enough sparkles in my life.

Tomato babies

We had our first frost of the season on Saturday. I never thought I would see an end to the tomatoes, but now that their time has come, we can't seem to let them go. For the past two nights, we've been making evening missions to the garden to go tuck in the tomatoes, and the process has claimed every bed sheet in the house.

I guess we're hoping that that if we baby them for the next couple of days, it will get warm again and we can get another couple of weeks of tomatoes. Not that I'm not entirely sick of eating tomatoes, I am. When we're not canning them, or drying them in the oven, we've been giving them away to the fellows at the rooming house next door. They love to chat, and they love my dog, and they scared away a man trying to steal our bikes last week. That makes us friends.

Here's a picture of Agata with some of this weekend's haul.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Look what the tooth (beer?) fairy brought last night! Or rather, my lovely friend Meagh.
This is what happens when you forget to lock your doors.

This is a call for submissions from a really, really awesome project I'm involved with. Its a comic anthology by and for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence and assault. If you're not a comic, we can connect you to someone who can work with you to illustrate your project.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Canning is for lovers

I had always associated home canning with, I don’t know, kitting and reading books and hot toddies and general coziness. This is not the case at all.

Agata and I are both city kids and when we had a big plot of bare earth we got really excited about tomatoes. Now we have a so. many. tomatoes.

 Canning feels like being in a submarine, or maybe a tank, and you’re at war. The air gets thick and hot and wet, and everyone has to yell to be heard over the huge pots of boiling water. There’s a lot of rushing around and hot water burns and bumping into each other, and it all feels deeply badass.

 For the record, for anyone who hasn’t seen the blog Food In Jars, its pretty hot.

garden love.

So, my lover and I have pretty much the most impressive garden ever. (Or really, that I've ever had, which is not saying a whole lot.) Its a community garden located in a park near our house, and we never expected it to do what it did. Which was to grow. And grow. Its the first year for this garden - this time last year it was just a field of grass.

This is the garden when we first broke soil in the spring.

And this is the garden now.
This is my second attempt at a blogging. The first time didn’t go so well, mostly because I’m not very good at the internet. But I’m working on it.

This is me.

 I thought this blog might be a good place to share some of the stuff I’ve been working on. You know, since I just figured out how to get pictures off my phone and onto the internet.