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Homemade Peanut Butter

For almost ten years I've been on a quest, a slow and meandering one maybe, but a quest all the same, to go from a person who heats prepackaged foods to one who actually cooks (and bakes). 

Along the way I've been surprised, embarrassingly often, at the foods that can be made at home, which I had assumed could only be made in factories. If you've never seen someone make mayonnaise for example, would you ever imagine that it's made from whisking together eggs and oil?  Some foods' creation is as mystical as alchemy, until you see behind the curtain.  

Jennifer Reese has a book out that touches on this issue of how foods are made, titled Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  There's a copy waiting for me at the library as I write this, so I can't say too much about it, other than that she  discusses when  making food at home is (and isn't) worth the time and effort. 

I think most people would agree that food made with care in small batches at home is better than food that has undergone an automated process of washing, heating, extruding and packaging in a factory.  Except sometimes, it isn't.  Peanut butter cups come to mind.  I don't know what Reeses does to theirs, but no recipe I've tried at home has ever come close.  And so, when I saw Yvette van Boven's recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter I thought, what a great idea, but it won't taste like peanut butter.  By which I meant, it won't taste like the processed, sweetened, velvety spread that I have eaten almost every day of my life and love. 

Here's where you'd reasonably expect me to tell you how van Boven's recipe compared to my expectations, but I can't.  When I got to Trader Joe's to buy the peanuts, I was confronted by eight shelves of nuts, all begging to be made into butter.  There were pale gleaming macadamias, wrinkled, brain-like walnuts, satiny cashews, diet friendly almonds, and an array of seeds as well.  In the end I brought home bags of hazelnuts and pecans.

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Once I'd changed the nuts involved I felt free to make all sorts of adjustments, including the type of sweetener and the seasoning used.  Based on the interview with van Boven that accompanies the recipe, I think she would approve. 

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Fingers crossed. 

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At this point I was worried that my blender just didn't have what it takes to grind those nuts into creamy submission.  Maybe there's a reason why you never see hazelnut or pecan butter.  I decided to give it one more shot.  I turned the mixer on and went downstairs to flip the laundry. 

When I returned,

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I had hazelnut, pecan butter with a hint of curry - I did mention I played with the seasonings, didn't I?  I know the picture looks a little like pate, but it tastes wonderful.   It's a little grainier than peanut butter, and I don't know if that's my choice of nuts or the fact that it's homemade, but it tastes so good that I keep stealing spoonfuls each time I walk through the kitchen. 

Next time I'm thinking I'll add a little cocoa and see if I get something similar to Nutella.  I wonder what using agave or molasses would do to the results.  As you can see, it may be a while before I buy another jar of my beloved store butter. 

If you'd like to try your hand at van Boven's homemade peanut butter, or create your own signature variation, the recipe (and interview) can be found in issue five of CraftSanity magazine (along with everything from chai apple pie, gardening in the snow to instructions for Tunisian crochet). 

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Normally I would just post my variant of the recipe, but I'm hoping you will buy the magazine (either in paper or  reduced price pdf form) and support Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood as she turns her love of craft and journalism into a new business venture.  For all the back story on the magazine visit Craftsanity.com where you can find a blog and the amazing CraftSanity podcast full of interviews with people making a life through craft.   In fact, you can hear Jennifer interview van Boven in episode 126.

Now I think I left something I need in the kitchen.  Yeah.  On the counter near the nut butter...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Camping - at home

Two and a half days of camping in my own home taught me a few important and several not so important things about this modern day life.  I'll leave the categorizing up to you.

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  1. The hardest thing about losing electricity is dealing with food: how to keep it from spoiling, how to heat it up (cold food is not fun when you're already cold), and how to keep to a reasonably healthy diet.  My breakfast of Cheeze-Its fell a bit short on a couple of these.
  2. Time stretches delisciously in a world without clocks.  A morning feels twice as long when you're not aware that you've already "used up" half of it.  
  3. Quilting and knitting are perfect activities when there's snow outside and no source of heat inside.
  4. You really can light a gas stove with a match without losing your eyebrows.
  5. I owe Jenna of the Cold Antler Farm blog a debt of gratitude.  Her posts about storm preparation and trying to live on as little outside power as possible lead me to buy wind up flashlights, a batter free radio/mp3 player and a solar powered lantern (that also happens to be a water bottle).  Knowing I had these at hand and didn't have to worry about running out of batteries felt luxurious.
  6. Washing up with cold water has more rejuvenating power than a trip to Starbucks.
  7. When the sun goes down and there are no screens, time moves at the turtle pace of childhood.  
  8. While the dim glow candles produce makes reading and needlework painful, there's no better backdrop for listening to Bram Stoker's Dracula!
  9. New Englanders are known for their reserve, but that's just because it only snows 1/4 of the year.  There's nothing like bad weather for creating opportunities to meet the neighbors.
  10. The comforting power of a hot water bottle is underrated.  Curling up with Cozy Bear (my own pattern) in a cocoon of blankets was pure bliss.

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Enjoying the Passing of Time

There's something about the change from summer to autumn that is more ominous and thought consuming than any other seasonal change in the year.  The change from winter into spring is more dramatic, but by the time those first green sprouts sparkle like emeralds in the snow, we're ready to get down on our hands and knees to kiss them. We run headlong toward spring. 

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The change from summer to autumn, however, feels like time is running through our fingers.   As I read about others trying to squeeze in that last bit of sumer fun, setting by the bounty of the season's harvest, and making preparations for the long winter ahead, the sense of time being my enemy grows.   Summer is so loaded with images of freedom and childhood hedonism, that even someone like me, who grumbles endlessly about the  heat and humidity, can fall prey to thinking all will be lost with the turn of a calendar page. 

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I'd been fighting this dread for about a week, when a wonderfully freeing, and as is so often the case, incredibly obvious thought occurred to me.  Whether I grumble and obsess, or smile and accept it, summer will end, autumn will come and the days will grow ever and ever shorter.   Why waste engergy dreading it?  How could that energy be better spent?

Accepting Autumn - a To Do List

  1. Return my mind (and hands) to the cozier crafts of knitting, quilting and crochet. Done
  2. Wipe the dust from my recipe books and dream of the baking and braising to come. Done
  3. Remember all the outdoor activities that I put on hold through the soporific heat of summer. Done
  4. Make friends with the darkness In progress

This last one may be the most crucial.  The loss of daylight, is really the only thing I dread about the change from summer to autumn.  I love the cooler weather, the dryer air, needing a sweater in the evening, and eventually, waking to silvery, frosted grass.  If sunset could just continue to happen after dinner, rather than before, it would be the perfect season. 

Since I don't see the tilt of the Earth changing to satisfy my preferences, I've started taking my walks after dark in preparation.   Taking a walk on a soft, summer night is a pleasure.  My theory is, that if I can create enough good associations with walking in the dark now, maybe when I have little other choice I will see it as a good thing.  If not, at least I'll be accustomed to it, which is better than where I was a week ago. 

My preparations for autumn may not be as tangible as stacking firewood or canning tomatoes, but they're what I needed to help me enjoy summer's passing. 

  


Rubbish

As the snow receded, we faced our annual reminder of just how much rubbish evades our efforts to corral it, and instead finds shelter among the trees, riverbanks and underbrush.  I'm sure some of it is due to classic littering, but I believe a lot of it is accidental.  

For example, I live at the end of a rather windy street.  Each week, after the garbage and recycling bins are set out at the curb, I find a new crop of shopping bags, lightweight plastic lids, and cellophane wrappers in the brush and shrubs at the end of the street.  It's not malevolent; it's just nature colliding with human short sightedness.   I pick it up and put it where it belongs and know I'll do the same thing the next week.

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Unfortunately, the same thing happens on a larger scale all winter, all over town.  In a month or so when the leaves bud and the ground is blanketed in green, much of the rubbish will disappear from sight and slowly become part of the landscape.  Whatever is still visible will be all the harder to get to due to the screen of foliage.  An opportunity for a true spring cleaning will be lost.

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So for the time being I'm making a point of carrying a plastic bag with me on my walks.   Picking up the bits I encounter along my way may slow my pace (and make little dent in the overall problem), but it feels a lot better than just walking on by.

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I just came across an artist named Liz Jones who collects plastic garbage and makes art from it.  You can see some of her work on Flickr

 


March in Toronto

When I wrote yesterday's blog post about the mud of March, I felt like I was being pretty upbeat about a less than pleasant time of year.  Then I read Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's account of March in Toronto. 

I am humbled,

 

                        and entertained.

Take a look.  You can find her at the Yarn Harlot blog.


Walking Companions

I may forget to bring water or ID when I go for a walk, but I never forget my iPod.  Occasionally I'll listen to music as I walk, but most days I use the combination of walking and listening to podcasts to still my mind.  While my body finds its rhythm, my mind is brought back under my control through new scientific discoveries, craft ideas or audio books.  I've included a list in the sidebar of my favorites.  Some are designed to be podcasts (audio shows sent over the internet) and others are podcast versions of radio shows I love.  I can't tell you how many of the stories I tell start with the words "I heard on a podcast that..." 

Apparently I'm not alone.  Molly Wizenberg of the Orangette blog recently wrote a post about Radiolab, one of my favorite radio shows/podcasts.  This is a show I always have a hard time describing the appeal of, but she does it wonderfully.  She writes,

"I started listening to Radiolab as a way to pass the time while I walk the dog, because he needs a lot of walking, and now I listen because I’m crazy for it. It’s part science, part philosophy, and part sound editing wizardry, but mostly, it’s good storytelling. Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, its hosts, spin the kind of stories that lure you away to somewhere else, and when you drop back into yourself, you realize that you’ve been staring into space, grinning like a dope, through the entire show."

I know that dopey grinned look well, and it's only partly due to the joy of walking.  I've laughed out loud while listening to Molly's podcast Spilled Milk (a cooking show that's worth listening to for the banter, even if you rarely enter your kitchen).  I've stopped and stared into the middle distance while listening to a particularly complex explanation in This American Life

Just as the guitar solo in INXS's Never Tear Us Apart evaporates time, and I'm suddenly 16, sitting on the shag carpet in our den, giant donut headphones slipping off my ears, eyes closed tight to ignore my family around me; the podcasts I listen to become linked to the place where I first heard them.  I can't walk down this stretch of road without hearing Heather Ordover from Craftlit talking about Jerry from A Tale of Two Cities and the rust on his boots. 

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There's a section of the bike trail that I always associate with Brenda Dayne from  Cast-On.   She did a show where she took us along for a walk through the winter woods in Wales.  I listened to it on a wintry day in Massachusetts and now when I walk that same path again, I see in my mind the image I've created of the Millennium Woods as Brenda described it.  The list of associations goes on and on.  There's a house on my road that always makes me think of an interview I heard with Maya Lin, the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial (On Point podcast) and a certain field that makes me wonder what it's like to see the world without language ("Words" episode of Radiolab). 

When I listen to a podcast while walking,  I can go farther before feeling tired.  The science behind that was discussed, actually,  in the "Limits" episode of Radiolab.  And sometimes when I have no desire to walk, but am dragging myself out anyway, hearing the opening music from Craftlit is all it takes to make me eager to be on my way.  Craftlit is "a podcast for crafters who love books".  It begins with talk about crafting, but then the majority of each show is the reading of a chapter or two from a book, with commentary and background information to make even the densest texts clear.  When I'm listening to a particularly good part of a book,  I'll take multiple walks in the same day just to find out what happens next.  It's a bit like a friend of mine who listened to all the Harry Potter books on tape.  Whenever a new book came out he'd be at the gym every day, working out and eager to hear the next installment.  Then, when he finished the book, the gym was all but forgotten.  Now that the series has ended and he's relistened to each book multiple times, he's on the lookout for similar listening material.  Any suggestions? 

Someday I'd like to be able to still my mind, release it from its useless whirling through walking alone.  Not that I'd stop taking along my walking companions.  Walking "solo" would just be a good skill to have, like accurately reading a map.  But that's a story for another day.


Afternoon Delight

via rosylittlethings.typepad.com

It was posts like this one on Alicia's blog Posy Gets Cozy that inspired me to make a blog out of my own walks and musings. Alicia's walks and travels give such a wonderful sense of place, that I feel like I've been to the Pacific northwest.

If you enjoy gorgeous photography, delicious recipes, and all sorts of yarn and fabric goodness, I encourage you to visit Alicia's blog. And I'll be back soon with more of my own rambles, once my fingers and toes thaw out a bit more; it's cold out there today!


Pumpkins n' spiders n' ghouls, oh my!

I grew up sheltered by massive pine trees, which each year dropped blankets of golden needles across our yard.   I ran across them, enjoying the way they slipped beneath my feet ice-like and vaguely disorienting.  I bundled them and bound them with string, creating what in my mind looked like a cross between a haystack and the corn stalks people bought at Tuttle's Red Barn.  I'd place these bundles along the front of our porch and wonder why the rest of my family didn't see what I did in them. They usually only lasted a day or two before my brother decided they were fun to use for batting practice, but I continued to make them.

That urge to decorate the front of my home with some of autumn's beauty is still with me, all these years later.   After reading about Julie's decorating for fall in Under the Tulip Tree, I started to think about what I wanted to do this year, which lead me to notice the decorations around me on my daily walks.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

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This one strikes me as quintessential New England, from the shape of the house, to the simple elegance of the assorted pumpkins and mums. 

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I wonder if anyone ever sits in that chair, or if it's just their for appearances.   Either way, it makes the doorway appear all the more inviting.

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I believe it's humanly impossible to look at these without smiling.  Each time I pass them I imagine the giggles and antics that went into decorating them.

IMG_3436 I know there are plenty of scarier ghosts available in stores, but I enjoy the variety you find in the homemade ones.  You can't see it in the photo, but the yard actually has a whole family of ghosties, each with a unique, child drawn face. 

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This ingenious witch sways in the breeze.  She has a tiki torch for a broom, and a delightfully bloated green face.  I'd love to take a closer look inside her robe to see how she's held together, but not knowing the people who live there, that could be a bit awkward. 

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This simple, yet colorful, display ended up inspiring my own decorating.  After years of wanting, but not buying indian corn,  I "splurged".  I felt a little foolish when I realized three ears of corn, that I would enjoy for at least two months,  cost less than a drink at Starbucks.  It made me wonder just how much I had thought it would cost.  It is just corn after all.  Then I remembered years of seeing it in the grocery store, asking my mother to buy some and being told "No, it's too expensive".  It probably was, for a single mom raising two children.    Or maybe she just didn't want to get any and it was an easy excuse.  Either way, remembering that makes me enjoy the little bundle on my door all the more.

 

Post Script - you may have noticed I have a preference for homemade decorations.  If you feel the same way, a pattern for crochet indian corn can be found at Alicia Kachmar's website