Monday, July 15, 2013

Bounty from Field and Lake

Night fishing
I have been working really hard lately, something you may have noticed in my last several posts. My store stock was dwindling and I needed to finish new inventory. I won't ever complain about strong sales, but when most of my wares are handmade or refurbished by hand it can be tricky to find the time to complete projects.

This photo of my daughter fishing reminds me of a Seurat painting!

I was in my office around 9PM Friday, working on a Cissy trunk set I'm close to listing, when my mother called and announced she and my dad would be arriving in the morning to stay. Now, last week we had at least one event every single day or night between swim team and marching band. Add to that my own work in my store and the garden, and our house was certainly not guest-ready! I had just been thinking about how much cleaning I needed to do over the weekend when my mother called. So we got up and scrambled Saturday to clean the house. My mother said the house looks wonderful, though; rare praise indeed!

My parents, it turned out, seem to have scheduled this visit because I'd posted photos of the kids fishing on my Facebook page. My dad loves to fish, and they came right down. Upon noting the state of our rods, all hand-me-downs from my sister, he took himself to the store to provision us in a more proper fashion. I will say, we had a reel with a broken handle and I lost a fish last week because I couldn't get the line in fast enough. We usually fish with little strips of foil, because we go in the day and the foil flashes and looks like minnows, but Dad had a low opinion of that and bought us glow-in-the-dark nightcrawlers from the nuclear power plant. They do work well for night fishing!

Smoked Bass and Steelhead Trout
We caught some bass and I also thawed out some trout I had in the freezer and we decided to smoke them. Amazingly, the rain held off long enough for the fish to get done! It's so good! I don't think there's anything tastier or healthier than a fish smoked less than 24 hours after it was swimming in the water. I ate too much last night. Smoking the fish is a great solution when you don't catch much fish, too. Because the flavor is so strong, you can make it go a long way. I often make an Italian pasta recipe, which translates as "smoked salmon and cream pasta". Basically, tear up a small amount (only a half cup to a cup) of smoked salmon and soak it in cream for about 20 minutes. Then you strain out the salmon and use the cream to make Alfredo sauce. Add the salmon back in when you mix the sauce and pasta. Any smoked fish works well in this recipe and it will feed a crowd, so I make this if we haven't caught enough fish to fry up for everyone.

I think I need fish, too; the first two weeks of this vegetable and whey protein diet made me gain weight. That's usually a sign I've dieted myself into a vitamin deficiency, so I added fish and fortified yogurt (unsweetened) back in and now I'm losing weight again. Here's our recipe for smoking fish:

Our barrel smoker, with the lid off.
We use a barrel smoker. The bottom pan is for coals and any wood chips you might like to add. At our old house I would always save the branches we pruned from our cherry, apple, and peach trees to use in the smoker. I would dry them and then Jerry would chip them up for smoking. Here we have a cherry tree but the branches are wet in all this rain, so we bought a bag of apple wood chips. Soak your wood chips well before using them so they don't catch fire. You just want them to smolder. While you are preparing the chips, you may also soak the fish in brine. Just heavily salt the water, add herbs if you wish, or other seasoning. We used citrus juice from lemons and limes, Old Bay, and salt. Soak these for at least a half hour. After smoking the fish, I use the ash to fertilize the garden. I use the water from the pan to water and fertilize container plants or the garden if it needs it.

Coals and soaked wood chips make the smoke.

Add water to the water pan in the smoker. You may add herbs or citrus juice or peels to this as well. We added lime juice. Place your fish on the racks above the water pan. You can use foil to cover the racks and make them easier to clean later. Cover with the lid and close the little door. Smoke the fish until it flakes easily, about 2 hours for 2 pounds of fish fillets. Delish! The smoker is small enough that we've taken it camping before. One time we smoked pork ribs all day while we were out on Kerr Lake and they were fantastic. We had someone at the camp site to keep on eye on the smoker all day; we just took turns watching it while others went out in our friends' boat.

Water and seasoning goes in the water pan and the fish goes on the racks above.

Besides fish from the lake, we've been gathering other bounty and growing our own. It has been raining now every day since June 21st, so the garden has been challenged. The squash, peppers, and eggplant have been quite unhappy. Our potatoes did well, however. I dug up another big bucket of spuds last night. The plants died back so I went ahead and pulled them. I planted any tiny ones to grow new plants. Because we've had so many home-grown potatoes I had some store-bought ones that got old and started rooting in the cupboard. This is a great money-saver in the summer months. I just dig out any eyes that are rooting before I cook the potatoes and plant them as starts. You can also do this with sweet potatoes. I planted the sweet potato peels two or three weeks ago and they are growing into nice little plants now. The first crop of tomatoes is nearly as tall as I am now. I put in a second tomato crop last week so as to extend our harvest. We have a lot of tomatoes, though it's taking everything longer than usual to ripen.

This potato has eyes ready to grow in the garden.

Sweet potato plants grown from eyes planted a few weeks ago.
We've harvested enough to have Insalata Caprese three times now with our homegrown tomatoes and basil. This is a very simple salad I discovered in Italy. It's a huge family favorite, but not worth making unless you have fresh tomatoes. You slice your tomatoes into rounds and also slice fresh buffalo mozzarella into rounds (this is the round, authentic mozzarella you will see shrink-wrapped or packed in brine in the deli or fancy cheese section). Don't even bother making this with regular old blocks of dry mozzarella; it won't be any good. Back in our old town, the Lowe's Foods made their own fresh mozzarella daily, and I'm really missing it this year! Layer the sliced tomatoes and cheese, alternating, in a circular pattern in a large bowl. Tear up fresh basil leaves (again, don't use dried) and sprinkle over all. Pour olive oil over the salad, and grind sea salt and pepper over. If you want, grind some nutmeg over the salad too. Let this sit at room temperature for a little while so the flavors can mingle. I usually make this salad first and let it sit while I cook the rest of the supper.

Insalata Caprese

This is also the filling for my favorite Italian panini: Pomodoro e Mozzarella! Just spread butter, olive oil, or cream cheese inside an Italian roll or two pieces of Italian bread, fill with the salad, and brush olive oil on the outside of the slices. Cook in a panini press or George Foreman grill until the bread has grill marks. I ate this practically every day for lunch when I worked in Italy!

Foraging is such second nature to me, I guess I've passed it on to my children. If you've been reading this blog for a long time you might remember my secret blackberry-picking spot. We still have quarts and quarts of wild blackberries we put up in past years. I haven't found a good spot here yet. I can see some ripe berries on the roadside near here and I'm thinking of walking over to pick them, but the road is so busy it makes me nervous.

My daughter discovered berries on the juniper bushes near the pool and we have been harvesting them from the neighborhood landscape shrubs. No one else seems to be interested in those, but they are a key ingredient in many Scandinavian dishes. They are more than difficult to find in store here. I've never seen them even once, except in their fermented form: capers. Fresh berries impart a flavor as disparate from capers as cucumbers are to pickles. My daughter was thrilled to show me juniper berries and has been going to pick them daily. I plan to dry them so we can have authentic Norwegian foods all year.

Fresh juniper berries
You might think it odd that we eat such far varied cuisines as Scandinavian and Italian and Chinese. I can only explain that growing up I ate Norwegian-American food prepared by my Norwegian grandparents and my mother. That is my comfort food and the food I first learned to cook. Then, as a young adult, I went to work in Italy. That was the first time I ever lived on my own, without parents, or dorm room and cafeteria attendants, or the cook in my sorority house, so that is where I began to learn to plan menus and gather ingredients. I was tutored by my landlord, Signor Bongini, who brought me fresh eggs from his backyard chickens and herbs and vegetables from his garden. I learned to cook using the freshest ingredients and found these enabled one to create simple but delicious dishes without a great deal of preparation. When I became the mother of two Chinese children, I tried to learn to re-create the foods from their provinces so they would grow up with an appreciation for their native cuisine. As my children grow, so does my enjoyment in teaching them how to grow their own food and how to recognize the ingredients growing wild and forage for them. Wild is always healthiest, and free is always best!

I hope to continue my doll work this week so I can re-stock the eBay store, but now my sister messaged me to let me know her family will be coming to visit in a couple days, so I will need to get ready for that. At least the house still looks pretty good!

Our tomato plants are nearly as tall as I am!


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