Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Shrubs

Throughout 2017 Marisa McClellan, author of the blog Food in Jars, is running a series of monthly canning and preserving challenges. I decided to participate in order to learn some new skills and make some recipes I might not normally gravitate towards.

March was originally jelly, but after a lot of people had problems achieving set (how you describe the firmness of a jelly or jam) in their marmalades, she added an option to make a shrub instead. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in jellies. While I’ve made shrubs once or twice before, I wasn’t particularly happy with how they came out, so I took this opportunity to try again.

A shrub is a beverage – it’s a combination of fruit, sugar, and vinegar that’s diluted in water (typically sparkling water) to drink, though you can use them in other ways. They’re a great ingredient for cocktails and are a wonderful addition to your repertoire if you have a Soda Stream, which we do. We are big beer and cocktail people, but I don’t like to drink every night of the week, and a lot of the time it’s not that I want an alcoholic drink, but that I want something other than water. Some sparkling water flavored with a syrup or shrub does the trick.

I learned in reading Marisa’s resources about shrubs that there two methods: hot process and cold process. A hot process shrub is boiled and can be put up into jars so it’s shelf stable. A cold process shrub is not boiled, and is stored in the fridge. I’d previously made hot process shrubs, which turned out syrupy, so I decided to try cold process.

The thing about a cold process shrub is that it’s really easy to make. You combine fruit or fruit juice, sugar, and vinegar in a jar and that’s it. I wound up making three: blood orange shrub, pomegranate shrub, and spiced cranberry shrub.

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Clockwise from the top: Blood orange shrub, pomegranate shrub, and spiced cranberry shrub.

I’m very happy with how they all turned out. The cranberry is briefly cooked, and is a little syrupy, but not too much. All three have been taste tested and are quite good. The blood orange came out just a tiny bit too vinegary, so I think next time I make that I’ll either dial back the cider vinegar further, or try champagne vinegar. The pomegranate was super easy and very delicious, and I think will be on regular rotation here (especially if I can find smaller bottles of Pom). The spiced cranberry is also very good, but puts me in mind of the holidays. Not a bad thing, but it’s not really the time of year. This is something that would be a great addition to a holiday party, though.

Shrubs will certainly be in my regular rotation – making them is significantly cheaper than purchasing them. Now I just need to get some bottles to put them in so they’re easier to pour!

 

Food in Jars Mastery Challenge: Salt Preserving

Throughout 2017 Marisa McClellan, author of the blog Food in Jars, is runnning a series of monthly canning and preserving challenges. I decided to participate in order to learn some new skills and make some recipes I might not normally gravitate towards.

February’s challenge was salt preserving, and Marisa provided several options, including saurkraut, soup base, citrus salts, and preserved lemons. I decided to make preserved lemons, as I come across them from time to time in recipes and was curious about them. (I didn’t follow the instructions in that post exactly – after reading the comments and other information on preserving lemons, I made a couple of small changes.)

After washing the lemons well, the treatment is simple – combine them in a jar with a bunch of salt. The salt stars to draw the juice out, and the idea is that after a few days they should be submerged in brine. Here are mine right after I prepared them. I gave them a little squish with a wooden spoon to get them started.

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After letting them sit out for four days, shaking the jars two or three times a day, I had more juice but they weren’t quite covered, and there was a lot of salt that hadn’t dissolved. (I also had a leaky mess on my hands, because those plastic caps are not watertight). I had another lemon or two from the batch I’d bought and juiced them into the jars and squished them a bit more as well. More salt dissolved, but a few days later they still weren’t really submerged.

I squished again, bought more lemons and juiced enough into the jars to just about fill them up. They’re now covered and more salt dissolved, but not all of it. I think this means I over salted, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Here they are today, just about 12 days later:

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They will be ready to use in a couple more weeks, but I may let them go a bit longer. In the meantime, I’ve collected several recipes (many from this post) and look forward to experimenting with these this spring.

Dinner Tonight: Third of July

Our farmshare this week included fava beans and squash blossoms, neither of which I’ve cooked with before. Both require some prep. Fava beans have a two-step shelling process, and you need to remove the pistil or stamen from each squash blossom. (Unless your hands are much smaller than mine, or your blossoms much larger than the ones we had, you will have to rip them down one side in order to do this.)

I wanted to use the squash blossoms tonight, because I knew they wouldn’t last much longer. I also wanted to use the fava beans right away. Here’s what I wound up making:

Squash blossoms stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese, basil (also from the farm share), salt, pepper, and olive oil. I drizzled them in olive oil and broiled them in the toaster oven for somewhere between 5-10 minutes – basically enough to warm them through. As is the case with anything stuffed with cheese, they were great. Most of the recipes you will find online involve frying them, which I was not interested in doing. This method was recommended in the comments section of a recipe on The Kitchn. The goat cheese we had on hand was the kind with honey, which is delicious and worked well here.

Pasta with fava beans and sausage, from Smitten Kitchen. I used dried ziti, which held the sauce nicely, and my own canned crushed tomatoes, which I drained slightly so I didn’t have to wait for them to cook down. Quite tasty, though of course this does not really showcase the fava beans.

Hiking the Billy Goat Trail

Handsome and I spent one recent Saturday morning hiking Section A of the Billy Goat Trail (PDF) in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park.

The hike itself is pretty strenuous and not for the faint of heart – there’s a lot of climbing and jumping on large rocks, and some beautiful views from the top of the Potomac Gorge. This 40-foot cliff climb is known as The Scramble:

Billy Goat Trail

It’s not quite as steep as this photo makes it look, but it’s challenging. There wasn’t anyone behind us when we hit it, which was good because I got stuck at one point where my legs weren’t quite long enough to get up over one portion. In the end I wound up sort of levering myself up on my shin, which I was pretty sure would result in a nice bruise, but did not. This portion and a few other things were a little nerve-wracking, so I did a lot of crouching and the like to get my center of gravity lower and better be able to get a hand on things. That said, A++ Will Hike Again. (However you will not catch me running this trail, which appeared to be a pretty popular activity.)

 

I, of course, dragged my camera along, which was perhaps not ideal but worked out just fine. More photos here.

There are a ton of other trails in that area for us to explore – Great Falls Park in Virginia, the Potomac Heritage Trail, and then there’s plenty more along the C&O Canal, including some additional portions of the Billy Goat Trail – and lots of bike trails in the area too.

 

 

WFTDA Nationals 2009

So, as some of you local folks (and those who are Twitter or Facebook friends) know, I went to Declaration of Derby (WFTDA National Championships) in Philadelphia in mid-November. Basically, this is the 12 best traveling women’s flat track roller derby teams in the country — the top three from each of the four regions. Three days of bouting. It was AWESOME. For those who have only seen an intraleague bout (for example, when Baltimore’s four teams play one another), this is a whole other level of the game. It is much faster (though it can also be much slower — deliberately) and the teams are made up of the best players from their league.

Sadly, none of the teams from the North made it to day three. The Boston Massacre and Philadelphia Liberty Belles were both knocked out on Saturday morning (as was my voice, whoops), and Gotham Girls Roller Derby was not far behind them later that day. That said, there were still plenty of awesome games to watch, and that’s exactly what I did. (Would you like to talk about fandom? I missed exactly one bout.) The ultimate winners were the Oly Rollers from Olympia, Washington, who unseated the two big teams to watch — the Texecutioners, from Austin, TX, where the current roller derby resurgence got underway; and Gotham Girls, a powerhouse team and the defending champs. And if that isn’t enough, this was the first season that the Oly Rollers were eligible for tournament play. I didn’t know that until after all was said and done, and I never would have guessed it. Those women put in an amazing amount of work to rocket their skills up to this level so fast!

On top of all the amazing bouts, I also got to spend lots of quality time with one Foxie Renard, picking her brain about random derby-related stuff. Plus there was great people-watching — skaters from leagues all over the country (and Canada!) were there, rocking their league colors and skater names. Awesome. Oh, and I took a very few crappy photos with my point and shoot, since DSLRs are not allowed if you aren’t an official photographer.

For the curious, WFTDA recently announced that 2010 Nationals will be hosted by the Windy City Rollers in Chicago, IL. Take a gander at the rest of next year’s tournament season schedule here.

What a game

Last night the BU men’s hockey team won the NCAA Division I hockey championship. That’s our fifth NCAA title ever, and the thirty-fifth game we won this season, for a new record. WOOOHOOO! (The Terrier Hockey Fan Blog has a great rundown of the stats.)

Let me tell you, this was an awesome, well-fought, stressful game. To wit:

The Terriers needed an incredible comeback just to reach overtime, facing a two-goal deficit with a minute to go in the third period. With goalie Kieran Millan pulled for the extra attacker, Zach Cohen outmaneuvered a Miami defender and tucked in a low angle backhand shot from the left of the crease to begin the comeback, bringing the Terriers back within one with 59 seconds on the clock.

The equalizer came with 17 ticks to go. Senior Matt Gilroy passed up a shot to dish to Bonino who fired a one-timer from the right circle to tie the game.

From NEVER SAY DIE!: Terriers Capture National Title in OT Thriller

Did you notice that part where the goalie was pulled?! Whenever I see an empty net all I can think about are a game or two I saw in college when the opposing team pulled their goalie . . . and then we scored on them some more. Luckily the tactic worked. And the part where we scored two goals in something like 42 seconds to tie it up in the last minute of the third period? Talk about your last-minute comebacks. Continue reading

Downtown Crossing

Filene'sThe nice thing about Google Reader is that I can keep up with the interesting things happening in Boston by virtue of what my friends up there randomly share. Ben recently shared an entry on the NPR Planet Money blog that really struck a chord with me.

A developer working on a project in downtown Boston has run out of money. This, in and of itself, is not unusual. Happens all the time, especially these days. What struck me is that if you look at this photo I took when I was home in July, and compare it to the photo just posted to the blog, it looks like what I saw in July was as far as they got. Which means that they must have only ever had enough money immediately available to cover demolition. Continue reading

Debate on Porn

Sorry for the late post. I had a hard time figuring out how to publish this. Not so web savvy here. Just opinionated 🙂 Now, to the business at hand …

Tuesday April 3rd was a busy day for Boston. By the time the evening news aired, most Bostonians knew about the biggest event: The Debate on Pornography. Susan Cole, feminist author and representing the anti-porn side debated with porn advocate Ron Jeremy, porn star, reality TV figure, and former special education teacher. (Yeah, dude has two bachelor’s degrees and a master in special ed.)

It was an interesting event for the student body to sponsor, given the stereotype of the college as a ultra-feminist undergraduate university — and you can be sure the media was all over it! Standing in line before the event, the local media swarmed the students, asking what they thought of the event. Most women answered that they were curious to hear what Jeremy had to say, and what Cole would bring to the debate. Realizing there were no seething, angry feminazis in the line, the media started combing the crowd asking if there WAS anyone who didn’t want Jeremy there. Pretty funny (and surprising) that they got no response. Perhaps it’s because those who chose to protest were organizing inside the Main College Building, and a whopping 5 people showed up to boycott the event. Yeah, that was really well planned.

Continue reading