In lieu of the pie…

Not every use of pumpkin this time of year ends in pie or a hideously over-sweetened “spiced” coffee drink of red cup fame. (There’s no pumpkin in those things, actually, so never mind…) D’s friend, Rainer, who emigrated from Germany, recently enjoyed some of D’s carrot cake and reminisced about a cake he ate growing up, made with Hokkaido pumpkins. It was, he described it, rich, dense, and spiced similarly. He then gave D. the recipe in …German. Fortunately, there’s Google.

The first thing we had to decipher is what a Hokkaido pumpkin is… and where to find one. The name easily enough identified it as yet another varietal of Japanese pumpkin, but it’s known in this part of California as a Red Kuri (or kari) squash. At our usual market we found something that looked … KIND OF like a red kuri in shape, but it was too large, and the color was more butternutty… and the grocery store brilliantly labelled it “Winter Squash.” Um. Yes. Full of detailed, helpful information, that name.

Red kuri – or Hokkaido squash – as you see in this cheater picture from Wikimedia Commons – are beautiful. Their small size and intensely colored rind are notable, and their inner flesh is kind of …pink. They’re on the sweeter side, and are carried locally at various farm markets, Whole Foods, Sprouts, and the like, though with the before-Thanksgiving run on hard squash and gourds, we couldn’t source any this time. We bought our “winter” squash for Tuesday soup and grated a kabocha instead. Another Japanese favorite, used in tempura, kabocha are hard and sweet and have the same bright orange flesh, so we figured it was a decent substitute.

Rainer’s Kürbiskuchen

200g soft butter —> 7/8 cup
150 g sugar —> 3/4
100 g of honey or maple syrup —> 1/3 c honey
4 egg yolks
500 g pumpkin flesh —> 17 oz
300g Hazelnuts —> 2 c. hazelnut flour
100 g flour —> 1 c. AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt,
1 teaspoon cinnamon,
some black pepper.
4 egg whites

200 g chocolate —> 1 c
dried pumpkin seeds for garnish

This recipe records the equivalents which we used – please note that they are not exact, nor did we entirely follow the recipe, though we were as faithful as we could be.

The what-to-mix-first portion of the recipe didn’t translate very well, but once you’ve made carrot cake, you can pretty well make this. As we had a few hopeful vegans around this holiday, we opted to make the cake vegan — so we made flax eggs and used Smart Balance. We cut the butter called for by half because …well, it just seemed like a lot, and there’s really nothing worse than a greasy cake. We baked it in an angel food cake pan and were astonished at how much oil there was left still in the pan afterward. We were actually a little worried, but it all came right …

German Pumpkin Cake 1

The instructions mentioned something about having chocolate flake scattered on the top of this cake. D. made a deep, rich ganache instead, and we skipped the pepita garnish because if you didn’t see pumpkin seeds, you’d have no idea that pumpkin was the flavor of the cake! Though too soft for T. – she’d like to try the recipe again with the right kind of pumpkin, with eggs, and with a different balance of hazelnut flour to AP flour, just to test some hypotheses – the cake was a hit with the guests over lunch on the weekend, and the remainder was quickly snarfed up by workmates. The ganache contrasted amazingly well with the bland sweetness of the pumpkin. This was a “ten minute cake,” it was literally gone before Rainer even got to taste any! Oh, well. Good excuse to make it again.

Anyone weary of the traditional uses of pumpkin during the holidays might swap out carrots (and raisins) in a traditional carrot cake recipe, and enjoy the results!

German Pumpkin Cake 2
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Baking Like the Babes: Russian Chrysanthemum Bread

When you bake bread every week, or every-other, you lose the ability to really… blog anything interesting about it. Oh, yes, this week the dough had a GREAT gluten! This week we used a little more White Whole Wheat, and a pumpernickel instead of a blended rye…. Yeah, we know we have the ability to gabble on endlessly about that sort of thing, but at the end of the day, we love you too much to expose you to our sheer nerdishness. I mean, we’re the people who peruse the King Arthur Flour catalogue over breakfast! So, we bake – a great deal – and it’s usually wholemeal bread which we use for absolutely everything – toast to sandwiches. Sometimes we’re inspired to branch out by seeing images of some wonderful thing, and that was the case this time. Blogging Baker Babe Lien is rounding up the Bread Baking Babes this month, and while we’re rather short on babe-ishness around here this week, we happily played along with this gorgeous looking bread.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 6

Russian Chrysanthemum bread seems like one of those holiday breads that is just perfect for this time of year. The simple dough calls for using strong flour, which is simply a high gluten flour, and the recipe follows. The filling for the original bread Lien (and many others) made is savory, which you know we’ll have to try before winter is over, but you know we mavericks can never simply follow a recipe properly the first time — we made ours of tartly sweet cranberries and clementines with dark chocolate — basically leftovers from the cranberry sauce T. had just made, with shards of dark chocolate thrown in. It is a TASTY filling – not terribly sweet, not too tart, smooth and richly chocolaty. T. thought this looked like a pull-apart bread to us, but a lot of the Baking Babes – and D. – thought it made more sense to actually slice it. This bread is open to a great deal of variation – it’ll be interesting to see where it lands in our whimsy next! And we do look forward to trying it in a springform pan, or with some more flower-y shapes.

500 g strong flour/bread flour (with some extra for dusting the board when you roll out the dough)
7 g dry instant yeast
125 ml milk, lukewarm (1/2 cup)
125 ml kefir or yogurt (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
90 ml olive oil (3 oz.)

We used whole wheat flour and instead of sugar, maple syrup. We also forgot the yogurt and skipped out on the egg in the glaze and in the dough, as several guests this weekend are vegan. We’ll give it another try at some point as written.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 9

When making her bread, Babe Elle wisely rolled her dough all out and used a biscuit cutter to get the perfectly sized rounds. Would this have made our lives much easier? Oh… sure. *cough* Maybe. Probably. However, D rolling the dough out individually suited the graduated sizes of the petals on his mums.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 10
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 11

Overfilling the petals is really the worst thing you can do, with a loose filling – you need just a schmear of filling to show, and just enough so that it won’t squish out when you’ve pinched the dough together… it should stay in place, allegedly. T. started filling with a tablespoon initially, but switched to about a teaspoon full of filling – enough to taste, not to make a meal on (sadly). And the round of dough is simply folded in half and then the folded edges pinched together to make a petal. This would be a great job for small children with clean hands and a need desire to avoid other work and participate in the making of the treat.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 14

We topped our bread with sugar crystals, colored with saffron, just to add a little crunch and color. Though T. really did kind of over-do it on the filling, the dough turned out to be very excited about proofing, which made the whole thing a bit more forgiving than it could have been. The tender, toothsome dough baked up looking golden-brown and delicious and was really well received by eaters of all ages this past weekend.

Whole Wheat Maple Bread 16
Whole Wheat Maple Bread 18

It’s too easy to be busy lately, and the holiday throws its own craziness into the mix of the daily things we have to do. We’d lately forgotten the fun of baking with others, so we’re grateful for the Babes for being the first to try this easy – yet complex – frilly bread. Can’t wait to try it again!

Posted in Baking, California, Experimental, Food, Life | 1 Comment

Forget paleo, go mid-Victorian

Broccoli Romanesco
Kohlrabi 1.1

“Mid-Victorians lived without modern diagnostics, drugs, surgery or contraception. Despite that, and because of the high nutrient density of their diet, their life spans were as good as ours and their health spans significantly longer.”

Read the full article at Health Spectator – it’s worth a read, particularly in conjunction with the what we eat infographic. Spoiler: eat fruits and veggies and avoid sugar.


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We’re still around; Fermenting things

So, it’s been a while since we’ve written here. T., of course, has been writing over at Writing YA and on her own blog, but D. has been tinkering about with twitter rather than trying to scrape up the energy to actually write anything. So, in the interest of at least letting you know that we’re still here, a brief post.

A few months back, D. got a fermentation crock. In that, we’ve made three batches of kimchi, 2 batches of sauerkraut (one traditional with green apples and caraway seeds, the other Indian inspired), a batch of root beer, and two batches of ginger beer. We’re right now fermenting some green beans and carrots with dill seeds and garlic, for Thanksgiving. They’ll have been in for a solid week, brined, so they should be mildly sour.

Because we have the crock (ginger beer was the initial motivation), D. picked up The Art of Fermentation, and we’ve been enjoying the reading of it far more than any other cookbook we’ve ever had. We’ve come to love kimchi (mix it with rice, yogurt, cheese, and bake it – you’ll be surprised). We’ve also started to look about and say, “what else can we ferment?” In a culture which doesn’t eat that many veggies (check out this infographic), we’re quite happy to be adding more veggies to our diets, packed with flavor.

Anyway, that’s enough gushing about fermenting things. May you have a happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are.

-D & T

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness! Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; conspiring with him to create 80+ degree weather that resists cooling down…

Vacaville 162

So, it’s October already, and do you know, there’s only two weeks of this month, after the weekend. How. Does. This. Keep. Happening.


by Helen Hunt Jackson

Bending above the spicy woods which blaze,
Arch skies so blue they flash, and hold the sun
Immeasurably far; the waters run
Too slow, so freighted are the river-ways
With gold of elms and birches from the maze
Of forests. Chestnuts, clicking one by one,
Escape from satin burs; her fringes done,
The gentian spreads them out in sunny days,
And, like late revelers at dawn, the chance
Of one sweet, mad, last hour, all things assail,
And conquering, flush and spin; while, to enhance
The spell, by sunset door, wrapped in a veil
Of red and purple mists, the summer, pale,
Steals back alone for one more song and dance.

Tomato Bisque Soup 2

So dark out now, when Niecelet goes whimpering to the ferry and comes home from the gym, when D. leaves for work at half-six, dark, dark, and nippier these last few days. Turkeys roam the streets in feral packs while wisps of fog steal over the hills. The change of seasons is upon us.

(Okay, at least one of those things happens pretty much year ’round, but you get the point.)(We’ll leave you to guess whether it’s the fog, or the feral turkeys.) Since the produce is exhausted and fairly terrible about now from both the garden and the farm box (with the exception of the last fat, round eggplant on the very sturdy and still flowering plant), and since the afternoons are overcast and hinting at rain that has yet to appear (pleasepleaseplease, this weekend, let it begin), T. keeps making soup, in the vain hope that soup is to clouds and cold weather as washing your car is to rain storms. So far, no dice. But lots of diced veggies — cumin, garlic, and carrots, exhausted kale, weary tomatoes. We added coconut “fat,” instead of butter, and half and half, instead of cream. All you need is a stick blender, and it all comes together.

And, eventually, so will the season; the start-stop of pseudo-summer will at last give way to the long season of mild, dark, and stormy. We’ll hear frogs again, and curse the wet leaves as they plaster themselves to our legs. We’ll slosh and splash through another winter — with perhaps some real rain this time — and enjoy many a savory cup of soup.

Tomato Bisque Soup 4



Posted in California, Food, Kitchen Favorites, Life | 2 Comments

Taste & See: Miyoko’s & Coracao Confections

Skyway Drive 308

In our continuing efforts to explore the world of artisan vegan cheese with T’s mother, we threw another “wine” and “cheese” (for every time you read that word, substitute “cultured nut product” or something) party to sample some of Miyoko’s autumn offerings – but this time added the raw cacao offerings of Coracao Confections to the mix. The Wee Elf let us know that he was disappointed that we hadn’t simply invited him over to have more Sharp Farmhouse cheese, and his little brother continued to not really taste much, but no matter – this time the Littles were along to make snarky remarks (can you really call the 15-26 group Littles anymore? Yes? Forever? Right-oh, then) and The Aunt came to take teensy, tiny tastes of this or that — and then enjoy more than expected.

That’s the fun of these little tastings – we are all surprised – usually pleasantly – by our responses. Nobody (except maybe T’s Mom) goes into these tastings expecting to love the food – we have chips and salsa on standby, at all times – yet we don’t need them, which is nice. This time our taster’s responses ranged from the pleasantly surprised, to the “Hm, that might be okay in a dish” to the, “Oh, dear Lord, no,” end of the spectrum. What one person views as a hardline NO, another person views as an opportunity to take all of the plate home with them – which wasn’t a surprise. In addition to the chips was homemade pico de gallo, kimchi and pickled veggies and as always, a lot of laughter and rude commentary.

Skyway Drive 309

We started with the scariest cheese in the bunch – the one covered in charcoally-powdered-ash, because why not go all the way out there? The Mt. Vesuvius was slightly firm, with a dense smoothness that clung to the knife. The …smeary black ash was finely powdered and stuck fast, not coming off on anything but fingers and knives. It was quickly ascertained to be tasteless, but still made for some very worried, unhappy faces as it was passed around the table. The Elf demurred quietly. The Aunt reminded everyone that charcoal was a time-honored remedy for a sick stomach, so with tentative expressions, tasters went for the first bite… and said, “Huh.”

Second comment: “Oh, hey, that’s really good!” Third comment, tied with action, “Pass it back, would you?” And then the tasters tried to bogart that whole plate for themselves, even before Elf could finally have a taste and put in his bid for trying to keep the plate. Typical, really.

Skyway Drive 310

Our second cheese was one we knew would be rich and unique. Truffles are kind of a big deal amongst foodies, and though not everyone in the tasting group were fungus-fiends, we figured that we needed to at least try the stuff and thereby hold up the standard for dedicated California foodies, or they’d come and take our license or something. We opened up the French Style Winter Truffle wheel with expectation of a complicated and sophisticated flavor. I mean, we had no choice. The description uses the word “umami.” As in, An elegant, woodsy, and earthy wheel marbled with truffle-scented mushrooms. Explodes with deep umami flavors in a luxurious creamy base. We were going to come away from this cheese having had An Experience.

… Of course, being us, the experience was, “Huh. That tastes like dirt.” “No, it doesn’t, it tastes like earth – it’s earthy.” “Well, that’s what mushrooms taste like.” “Dirt?” “No, I said EARTH.”

And the Laurel and Hardy convention rolled along from there.

This isn’t a bad cheese. It’s creamy, spreads well, is studded with little mushroom-y pieces — but the prerequisite here is that you must really like mushrooms to feel like this is your cheese. Our group is… slightly indifferent to mushrooms, unless they’re on pizza (the Philistines). Conclusion: Melted into a bowl of buttery pasta (dairy-free butter, of course), this cheese would be amazing… just not so much for us on seedy or rye crackers, fruit, cucumbers, or any of the other things we had to pair it with. Maybe an especially sour sourdough could redeem it? It has a real richness and creaminess that needs… something more. We just don’t know, not having elegant enough palettes for that umami! Not disappointed, though. Onward!


You’ll notice that the Country-Style Herbes de Provence picture comes from the Miyoko’s Kitchen website… as unfortunately, our photographer got busy with the pickled cauliflower and some ashy cheese and crackers and forgot to take a picture… *sigh* It is so hard to get good help these days. Anyway. The herby name is evocative, as the cheese wheel is indeed smothered in gray-green herbes de Provence – which include thyme, lavender, and rosemary, but sadly, no purple flowers on ours. The herbs give off their scent as soon as the knife cuts through the product. The cheese is quite firm – enough so that you really can slice it instead of spread it – but we found we liked it better a little softer. This was a taster positive, though not the favorite the Mt. Vesuvius was – it confused some of the less sophisticated palettes of the younger set, and for others, the lavender taste was interfered with by its sweetish smell, making the cheese sweet, but others appreciated the texture and flavors. Softened, the herb-y schmear on crackers was mild and nutty.

Skyway Drive 311

We next moved on to the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic. We knew this one would be well-received, because the creamy, mild and buttery flavor the cultured cashews had in the Double Cream chives are so like Boursin, and could only be improved by pairing with other flavors. The Sundried Tomato Garlic didn’t disappoint. Creamy and tangy, the garlic just a hint and the tomato not too acidic, it reminded us of a familiar and well-loved dish… smeared across a piping hot baguette, this would be a lovely dairy-free pizza type of thing. So, so zesty, creamy, and tasty! For fun, we tested an additional cheese at the same time – but it was a Fresh Buffalo-Style Mozzarella. The cheese, unlike the other wheels, wrapped in waxed paper, came in a cup, where it was packed in brine to keep it fresh. It’s not a particularly pretty cheese, looking much like dairy buffalo mozzarella, except more of a beige-y ball, not stark white.

To taste the cultured nut “mozza,” T. made simple open-faced pizza breads with a plain tomato sauce and medallions of this cheese, which managed to both melt and brown, though not stretch. Surprisingly, the smallest Wee liked the mozzarella best … or, perhaps we should say, he simply chomped happily on all the pizza breads he could reach and asked for more, apparently not noticing any difference between dairy mozzarella and Miyoko’s Buffalo-Style. The six year old palette… is surprisingly robust at times. Or indifferent. Anyway. Our conclusion on the mozzarella is that it is a workable substitute for pizza, and we’ll have to make an additional tasting to see if its mild, nutty flavor holds up to basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pear tomatoes – which is how one also eats buffalo mozzarella.

We veered from our cheese tasting to try Coracao Confections. These chocolates are coconut sugar sweetened, easily found in the Bay Area and ordered simply from the company – big pluses for our non-California readers – and contain 81% cocoa, so they’ve got that deep, dark, good stuff that’s healthy. All of the organic, raw, dairy free, gluten free, soy free, low-glycemic, heart-healthy stuff aside, at the end of the day, truffles are made wth sugar. Of course they’d go over well with the tasters, right? …Kind of. We sampled Raspberry Fudge which got a thumbs up. Rose Truffle which got a confused, “Okay, that tastes like flowers” thumbs up – and it did, the light and lovely rose came through clearly – this was followed by an enthusiastic two thumbs up for Tangerine Bee Pollen, though tasters were again confused and dubious about including pollen in anything they ate, and wondered if the local pollen was supposed to help them combat Bay Area allergies (probably, but one would have to eat a lot more truffles than just one or two to … oh, wait, that’s not a bad idea). Surprised by the Berkley Bar, tasters found this one a good second place, and agreed that it indeed was very much like a Snickers, with raw almonds instead of peanuts. We finished with Peppermint Patties, which contained fresh mint and chlorophyll for a bright and impressive green filling – and…the coconut “bacon” truffle.

Skyway Drive 312

(We can see our friend M. now, giving us a distressed and disbelieving look, with horrified head-shaking, mourning, “Vegan bacon!? Now, that is just wrong. Wrong.” Yeah, well, we live in a world that puts together chocolate and KALE “granola” – of course called “kalenola” – you have to learn to roll with the punches with the California vegan foodies, all right?) In this limited edition truffle, they took flaked coconut and coconut sugar, and then add Hickory Smoke, and Applewood Smoked Salt and added it to the top in a crunchy, slightly salty topping… The smoky, crunchy, and a little sweet adds… something very distressing to some people. Surprisingly, this one got the “Dear Lord, NO!” from the lifetime veggies and vegans in the crowd – our omnivores thought it was actually okay to pretty tasty. So, does it really taste like bacon? No one in this house can say for sure, but coconut “bacon” has been a staple at Coracao for months, and has appeared in various guises – and it sells out, over and over, so people are eating it. …Just not these people, apparently. (FINE, Mark, you win.)

Especially those of us who took that one nibble too many, hit a wall, and made a lot of sad faces while everyone else ate. Poor Elf. It’s very hard to be eight.

We had so much fun doing this that we’re going to do it again. Next time, we’re hoping to grab some other cultured nut products we’re seeing get good reviews – Kite Hill’s artisinal almond milk fresh cheeses are showing up at Nob Hill, Vtopia is a brand coming to our area, and CHAO slices by Field Roast (the tomato cayenne is supposed to be amazing) are already in groceries like Safeway. We expect to encounter both the revolting and the revealing – and it’s all in the name of sharing something meaningful to some of our family (Hi, Mom!) and enjoying an entertaining meal. Cheers!

Posted in Experimental, Food | 2 Comments

Camera Roll

Dundee 245 Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 25
Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 54 Reche Canyon 94
Cranberry Apple Flower Tarte 1 Portland 134
Vacaville 105 Vacaville 148

As the heat wave continues, we find indoor things to play with… and we’ve started messing with this new feature Flickr has called Camera Roll. It basically shows you an organized view of your pictures, based upon some machine-vision thing they’ve got going on, that shows every shot with People in it, or Arches, or Trees, or Flowers, or any number of other odd ways they have of lumping things together. It’s quite fun, and if you’ve got a Flickr account, you can play along, but if not, it’s not publicly available for you to just go through anybody’s photostream and see what’s what, thus we’ve included a few of our grouped shots here. These to the left are a bunch of pictures that were lumped together under Style / Bright, I think. It really does provide a different way to look at your photos, and probably means you’ll look at more of them, and more frequently.

That’s actually one of the questions that we get frequently in the Hobbiton: “Do you guys actually look at all those pictures after you take them?” Short answer: yes. Longer answer, we have them on a slideshow on a screen playing in our living room whenever we have guests over, so if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you could look at them, too! We really do look at them a great deal, simply because they keep us connected to our travels and to our adventures, and reminds us that being home, plugging along through work and whatever other mundane thing is just what one does between trips…

For those of you who do the twitter thing, we’ve finally given in and joined — T, under deepest protest, because the entire thing makes her break out in hives. We’re at @david_t_macknet and @tanita_s_davis if you’re at all interested. Still not quite sure what the point of it is, and still find the limitation on length to be somewhat of an annoyance, but hey, when your agent throws you under the bus says it would be good marketing, you listen, and your spouse joins in sympathy for the pain you will suffer from being on social media again. True love, that.


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Heat, Chemistry & CO2

Vacaville 159

Does it make a difference that it’s a dry heat? Yeah, but not much.

“You’ll have missed the best of summer by the time you go home,” a Highlands shopkeeper said mournfully, as we ducked into her shop to get out of the rain. Och, not a chance, missus.

Skillet Cornbread 3

Welcome to August in California in a drought year, where there’s plenty of summer to go around, in these parts (and it’s usually 10-12 degrees warmer in Vacaville, where D. works and where this picture was taken). We’ve now been thoroughly acclimated back to summer in Cali, and have been home for two tiny heat… spikes – can’t exactly call them waves when they only last two days – where the temps hover near 100°F. Today is the second time we’ve had to turn on the air conditioning and have contemplated setting up our camping cots in the basement office to catch some cool while we sleep. It’s rare that the bay breeze doesn’t catch us — but when that preternatural stillness hits, we know it’s going to be a rotten, hot day. Fortunately, we really don’t get those too often, as close to the water as we are, but we do have a few hard-and-fast hot weather rules:

#1 – make small, quick salad-based meals and stock up on juice bars; no one really feels like eating,

#2 – Turn on the AC before it gets hot (T. has the most trouble with this) and,

#3 – Don’t even so much as boil water indoors (except in the electric kettle) when the temps hit 93°.

Skyway Drive 299

Outdoor gear comes in handy at home this time of year. From the camping cots to the camp stove, in really hot weather, we use it all. A two-ring gas burner with a propane tank attached is great for grilling and baking — we blackened tomatoes – from our own garden! – and peppers to make a piquant and spicy pico de gallo, which is really tasty. We also made cast iron skillet cornbread with our lidded Lodge iron skillet. The lid helped it bake evenly and stay moist, as did the frozen corn we added. Using less than three tablespoons of almond flour in this corntastic dish created an amazing flavor – we’ll definitely do this quick-and-dirty dinner again. (Throw hot dogs and chunks of cheese, onions and a bit of fresh or frozen corn into your batter, and it’s a meal-in-a-pan. It’s a cross between corn dogs and casserole. Just add sliced tomatoes and cukes.)

Around Glasgow 655

The one fly in the ointment is the curious trio of raccoon who have dug up the strawberry bed entirely (!!) and are quite interested in the camp stove and all of our outdoor doings – but fortunately opposable thumbs in this case don’t mean that they can cook.

Because cooking and eating aren’t that interesting just now, we’ve gone into new experiments. We had the MOST amazing ginger beer in Scotland, put out by a company called Luscombe in Devon, England. It’s made in a village called Buckfastleigh.

Aside: Yes, let’s do take a moment and consider that name. Buckfastleigh. Ah, yes – this particular village in Devon also is home to BUCKFAST ABBEY, notorious makers of the hideously destructive delinquent Glaswegian crazy-fuel, BUCKFAST TONIC WINE, aka “Wreck the Hoose Juice.” Aye right, keep it classy, Glasgow. (Actually, that’s one of those names that was always in the paper – we never heard Actual People call it that.

Yeah, so it’s THAT Buckfastleigh. Just blows the mind that two such notable drinks come from the same region…)


Notable to foodies seeking an aggressively comparable non-alcoholic drink in pubs, Luscombe’s Hot Ginger Beer burns all the way down, yet soothes the stomach. Not too sweet, with a crisp bite of lemon to sharpen the gingery glow, it is a perfectly lovely thing to drink to warm you up – or cool you down. They make a Cool Ginger Beer as well, but we hadn’t the patience for that nonsense. Ginger is supposed to bite. Sadly, not at all willing to pay $65 to ship a twelve-bottle case to our house (!), we decided to put our intellect into finding out what’s in the stuff, and recreating it ourselves. Because, why not? Ginger beer is straight forward. It’s only ginger root, sugar, and water, right?

Actual ingredients include spring water, organic raw cane sugar, organic root ginger 3%, organic Sicilian lemon juice 3%, brewers yeast and CO2. Those are the simple ingredients, and we’re pretty sure the CO2 also occurs naturally when the juice is bottled, as it is a byproduct of fermentation anyway. Ginger beer is a relatively old recipe from the times when water wasn’t always the best option to drink, and people drank small beer or ales. Ginger beer is actually very slightly alcoholic — you can’t really make it without naturally occurring alcohols cropping up. That’s an immutable fact of making a fermented beverage – and yes, the good ginger beer and root beer, too, is fermented and filled with those good-for-you lacto-bacteria, just like kimchee or soy sauce. The trick is to allow for naturally occurring alcohols, but not intoxicating alcohols, so it has to be watched and smelled and stirred daily.

Ginger Beer 1.2

We began by processing fresh ginger root. In this weather, any fresh fruit or veg goes round pretty easily, so we found that chopping it up – skin and all – and freezing it assured that we’d have it as needed, and it thaws quickly and easily with no change in body.

Ginger Beer 1.1

Next, we worked on creating a “ginger bug,” which is a starter brew for fizzy fermented soda. It’s simply ginger, sugar, and water and three days in a crock to grow the necessary bacteria. Ginger beer from American brands like “Q,” readily available British brands like “Fever Tree” and gingery sodas from the Virgin Islands are based on a brew like this. Some people worry about adding sugar to this — they don’t want sugary sodas like they get at the store – but the sugar is for the yeast and bacteria, not you! It will be mostly eaten by those little critters, leaving you with just enough, if you do it right. (Of course, we didn’t entirely follow any *cough* recipe – we’re still fiddling, but this is a guideline.)

Rootbeer 1.1

Originally, root beer was made out of …um, roots and molasses. We compromised on a variety of recipes and chose one we liked. In these containers are sarsaparilla root, ginger root, licorice root, a cinnamon stick, and juniper berries; wild cherry bark, hops flowers, a 1/2 c. of “ginger bug;” wintergreen leaf, birch bark, and dandelion root. This is the basics from an 1840 recipe for root beer. Hops are bitter, and they’re what’s in beer to make it bitter, so T. was fairly skeptical about their inclusion… and since we had no brewer’s yeast, we used fresh yeast from the bakery. This… may have been a mistake. Next time we plan to include sassafras root (we accidentally ordered sassafras leaves, which are great for including in gumbo, but not so much in here) and molasses, and a kefir starter, which hopefully doesn’t smell quite so …raw.

The fermented soda experiment is ongoing, but a few things have been learned. First, OPEN ALL BOTTLES GENTLY and IN THE SINK. We had a root beer tsunami the other day, and it wasn’t pretty. The amount of CO2 collecting under the the lid of a bottle can have fatal force – open away from you, just like you would shaken soda, or champagne. Second, lemon juice is brewed soda’s friend – it adds a lot to the blurry medicinal flavors of roots in the root beer, and helps to sort of …cut the raw, yeasty smell. Thirdly, there is a hair-thin line between healthy fermentation and hooch — on hot days, things may go TERRIBLY wrong, very quickly (this hasn’t happened to us yet, but we’ve been warned all over the place about exploding bottles and out-of-control fermentation. We are not making booze! Promise, Mom.) Finally, we’ve learned that though we are willing and eager, making homemade root beer is going to be harder than we thought – the flavor we’re chasing is elusive, and the smell is off-putting to everyone, even veteran booze-drinkers (D took some to work for his coworkers to taste. Once they got past the smell, they all said it was good; T and Niecelet Flea said a definite thumbs down). We’ve concluded that Americans don’t really drink “root beer” so much as they drink sarsaparilla – the flavor of ours was nothing like root beer, except the one time we got root beer from a health-food store and were horrified. We’ll be aiming more for sarsaparilla next time.

The ginger beer is definitely easier for first-timers. We rather like the ginger beer – though T says it’s nowhere near as strong and lemon-y as it should be, and since she drank various brands everywhere everyone else had a diet Coke, she ought to know. T suggests dried ginger root will be added in copious amounts next time, along with fresh, to the ginger bug, and and lots more lemon juice in continuing incarnations. Stay tuned!

Hope you’re finding ways to keep busy and creative in the hot weather – or the wet weather – or wherever you find yourself. Savor every day of summertime – too hot, or not. Life doesn’t resume when it cools down or heats up, or is some ephemeral right temperature – it’s right now, so enjoy.

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All That We Forgot

Kelvingrove Museum D 579

Back home, and resettling into the routine swing of things, we find we’ve kind of lost track of most of August, and are feeling shocked that the Wees and the Littles are going to be back in school in just a few weeks (the Wees in a new school, no less), and that the tomatoes (still largely green – what’s up with that?) are heavy in the wild tangle known as our garden, and even the eggplant has two fat golf ball sized fruit, and getting bigger every day. We’d forgotten how dry the air here is, how frequent the fires — and spent the first week back sneezing and using the humidifier. After the luxury of damp Scottish air and delicious Scottish water, getting back to pitcher filters and that sort of thing is a drag — but, it is what it is. We’re home, and missing friends, but glad to be here.

Iona 19

It was a little funny to remember how much we’d forgotten having been away from Scotland for another year. Both of us laughed at hearing the lyrical descriptive swing of the “Glesga patter” fairly leap from our mouths again — not to mention the unique pronunciations of the brogue. We say to-may-toe, they say toe-mah-toe, and when in Rome, or rather Glasgow, that’s one of the words we normally leave alone, but T. actually heard herself slip into the British pronunciation, much to her amusement.

Aye, Scotland. It’s catching, mate.

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We haven’t lost much of our “ear” – people ask us all the time if we go back to Glasgow, and are unable to understand people, but no – that hasn’t happened yet. Even away from Glasgow, we understood cab drivers and the odd guy in the pub, but there are always people one doesn’t understand — and that’s fine. We’re pretty sure that a few people in Maine or Louisiana would be also equally incomprehensible. (Or someone from the five boroughs – T’s agent is from Brooklyn, and sometimes…) We fondly seized on being called “love,” in a casual way, and took in stride the affection chivying, “oh, go on, go on,” to encourage us to eat another chocolate, or do something we wanted to, but were holding out against for manners’ sake. We smiled to hear the casual insertion of the word “ginger” in conversation, and the speaker not mean a spice. Or, speaking of gingers, our friend L mentioned the word “oxters,” in passing, and it took us a minute to remember that she means “underarms.”

2015 Benicia 7 (T’s favorite of these body-parts words is bahookie – and yes, everyone has one; it sounds exactly like what it is.) We heard the word “clipe” (or clype – spelling is purely at-will in Ulster-Scots dialect) and remembered it as a particularly clipped-sounding word for “tattletale.” We rediscovered – and still did not partake of – the food “cranachan” and still are more than a bit dubious about a dessert in which whiskey soaked oats, raspberries, cream and honey play a part. We delighted in the boon of a Scottish summer — berreis, berries, berries — and extended California’s berry season by two months instead of the paltry one we usually have, with tons of raspberries, strawberries, and brambles/blackberries. We even found some cherries, just as we were leaving, that were amazingly sweet. We had mince — and mushy peas — which were frighteningly good – and even neeps and tatties – though the neeps were an accident; T. goes out of her way to avoid the “neeps” or turnips/swedes in any dish, at all costs. But, even so, it was so good to reacquaint ourselves.

Back home, we’ve remembered what we love about August – bare feet on hardwood floors (only slightly dusty), misty mornings when the fog rolls in, the Perseids, on a clear night away from town, the presence of raccoon — three now, dear God help us — under the kitchen deck, and resuming our attempt at amateur Audubon-ing- around the feeder, two crows have become regulars, as well as a very confused mourning dove (who may soon be eaten by the Cooper’s hawk), three pushy Jays, and a stripey-headed thing we cannot for the life of us identify — but it flits, and is tiny and almost as fast as the hummers. (We should probably just break down and get a bird book, as the Cornell Ornithology website can only do so much.) We are also in melon season — the the most amazing, fragrant charentais can be had from Riverdog’s stand at the farmer’s market — and we caught the last of the cherry glut, and are moving on to the last of the peaches and plums. We feel rich in produce, in scents, in the feel of the sun on our backs.

We’re drunk on the light and the soft air and the long days — but everyone keeps telling us we’re going to have a heckuva winter here in Cali. A large part of us – that part which spent a month of summer ducking into doorways for shelter from plowtery weather – are thinking, “bring it on!” We now have rubber welly boots, mackintoshes, and more umbrellas than you can shake a stick at, and when it’s blowin’ a hoolie, we’ll be ready. Once again, Scotland to the rescue.

Until then… enjoy the summer, and photos of a green and pleasant land.

Scone Palace 8 HDR

Scone Palace 6

Glenfinnan 34

Kelvinbridge 18

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Signs of the Times

Oban to Glasgow 3Oban to Glasgow 4

Continuing to be separated by a common language… One of the things we like to photograph when abroad are road signs, street signs, and signs in general (the sumo-baby signs indicating places to change the diapers of gigantic babies are a particular favorite). Digital warnings like ‘Soft Tyres Waste Fuel’ (Better get that pressure checked, pal) and ‘Tiredness Kills’ are amusing all on their own, but today’s sign pictures are of printed signs – fortunately encountered when we were NOT driving. Possible Queuing Traffic Ahead? OK, sure, you can figure that one out, but it’s certainly not the most straightforward way to explain things, at least not to our minds. Lots of road work on the roads between Oban and Glasgow, and lots of places where they’ve put in temporary signal lights, which causes traffic to back up until the light changes. Thus, possible queuing, as it happens. Meanwhile, ‘Oncoming Vehicles in Middle of Road’ is a sign we saw frequently, driving around the Oban area. If there’s a narrow bridge, or underpass, and the traffic is constricted down to one lane, then you’ll see these… and oncoming vehicles in the middle of the road, which, back in the hinterlands of the highlands, happens frequently anyway, especially with the dreaded White Van Man. (Apparently, people driving white vans don’t own them, are working for someone else, and drive hell-bent for leather. Or, so we are told.)

Oban to Glasgow 9 Appin 21

These two (hidden dip and blind summit) were sort of perplexing to us. The blind summit sort of makes sense – there’s a hill ahead of you and you don’t know what’s on the other side of it (which … duh?). Hidden dip, though? Is that telling us that there’s going to be another vehicle in the dip, or what, exactly? In neither case where we saw these signs was there anything terribly unusual about the conditions. We’re also wondering if Captain Obvious might make up a sign telling the drivers that they can’t see what’s around bends in the road, too. Come to think of it, though, haven’t there been “Blind Corner” signs? Hmm….

And last but not least: the Yes on Independence sign. Lots of strong sentiment about independence, still, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. If anything, it’s gotten stronger since the vote.

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Our Scottish Adventure is ending – we arrive back in California on Thursday afternoon. We’re looking forward to 1) washing all of our clothes, and 2) wearing some other clothes for maybe the next several months. Yes, you can get by on a week’s worth of clothing if you’ve got access to a washer in the flat … but you’ll come to hate those same clothes after wearing and rewearing them for a month!

-D & T

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