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What Is That? Banana Blossom Salad

Banana Blossom Salald

I think there is nothing about New York I miss more than the amazing markets that populated my former neighborhood of Jackson Heights. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian–if you needed exotic produce and quirky packaged goods, this was the place you came. If you needed anything more authentic, you could catch a flight just a few blocks north.

These days some of that longing is assuaged with a visit to the H Mart just west of downtown Baltimore. This large Korean grocery offers a dizzying array of fruits and vegetables that you won’t find at your local grocery, as well as aisle after aisle of strange and exotic snacks, canned goods, packaged convenience foods, and frozen dumplings of 101 varieties. Most of the condiments are not labeled in english, which adds a “box of chocolates” excitement to the shopping experience.

Since my trips are usually made spur of the moment, I don’t usually walk through the door with the idea that I’ll be gathering ingredients for a specific dish. As a result, my basket ends up filled with a lot of weird stuff. This goes some way towards explaining why there is lotus root in my crisper drawer and a dragon fruit on my counter.

This past weekend’s trip had me feeling especially adventurous, so I grabbed an item I had long been fascinated by but had zero idea how to actually prepare. Banana blossom in hand, I went home to investigate.

H Mart Shelves

Banana Blossom: Unpeeled

Banana Blossom: Interior

You see those florets underneath each leaf? If you want to use them in a culinary capacity, you have to remove the inner pistil and scale from each and every one. (I can’t imagine doing that AND deveining shrimp, all for the same dish, but do let me know if you’ve tried it.) The flower prep a bridge too far for me on this outing, I decided to hunt for a salad recipe that used the core of the blossom and could otherwise be made out of ingredients I had on hand.

Banana Blossom: Peeled

Banana Blossom: Soaking

After some frustrating googling, I landed on this recipe and decided it was something I could execute without screaming. Since I was in a rush, I pared it down even further.

Banana Blossom Salad
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories to suit my laziness/pantry limits

1 banana blossom, outer leaves removed
2 cups ice water with 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice added
1 clementine, separated and each section halved
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons coriander and/or mint leaves, well chopped
chopped nuts or spicy india snack mix to top

Dressing:
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4-1/2 teaspoon tuong ot toi (vietnamese chili garlic paste), or to taste

Remove dry exterior purple layers of the blossom, reserving two for use as salad bowls if desired. Discard the rest, as well as the florets found beneath each leaf unless reserving for another purpose.

Peel off the interior layers of the blossom if they come away, continuing to discard the florets. Roll up layers together like a cigar, and slice rings as thinly as possible. Once the leaves become impossible to peel back, slice rings from the heart itself. Immediately plunge the slices into the prepared citrus water. Let soak for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, assemble the dressing and mix well to combine. Adjust heat to suit.

Toss the remaining salad ingredients (aside from the crunchy topping of your choice) together, adding the well-drained blossoms once they are done soaking. Dress and toss the salad. Plate and top with the garnish of your choice.

Once Again Into the Wool: Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2014

sheep-petting

I tend to lose some of my knitting motivation as spring weather forces the mercury up, but the annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival usually kicks me back into gear. Since I posted some motivational photos last year, I was going to skip documenting this round, but in the end the adorable faces were too hard to resist. (Regular readers know I have had this problem before.)

Sheep Counting Sheep

Sheep counting sheep

Sheep: Say that again

You talkin’ to me?

Who's the boss?

Who’s the boss? (click to enlarge images)

This year I kept my spending to a minimum by skipping the $164-a-skein arctic qiviut I fell in lust with. Thankfully my hands got too sticky after a confrontation with a red velvet funnel cake (!!) and I had to regroup before feeling up any more yarn. I still managed to come home with supplies for a summer project I’m looking forward to getting started on, however.

Do you stay motivated to work on cold-weather craft projects once the weather heats up? I think a few baby goats running around my back yard might help. Shhhh, don’t tell Brian…

Sheep: The intense gaze

Sheep: The trio

Sheep: The side eye

Bah bah black sheep

Have you any wool?

Let’s Celebrate! Have a Lavender and Lemon Cookie

Lavender and Lemon Cookie

Though I have somewhat forgotten what the sun feels like due to this three-day sheet of rain it’s hiding behind, over the weekend a picnic was considered and I found myself in need of a simple, portable, no-silverware-required dessert-type experience. Since the suggested locations included our stunning local tulip patch, my mind turned to flowers–specifically the bag of dried lavender flowers I was already stocked with.

I must have googled lavender cakes and cookies and lemonades dozens of time in the past few years, but I had never followed through and actually executed a recipe. In this case, I needed something efficient in terms of time and effort, and bake-able out of what was already in the house. Giada De Laurentiis delivered with charm. Her Lavender and Lemon Cookies are short on ingredients, gentle on effort, and impressive on a plate.

Lavender and Lemon Cookie

Get the recipe: Lavender and Lemon Cookies

Other obligations meant that in the end we had to scrap the picnic, but inspired by these delicate treats, I broke out the fancy china for an appropriately random Wonderland-style tea party on the front porch.

This morning I’m enjoying the last of the cookies over on the music side of my life, as I try to get Dave Malloy’s highly addictive music out of my ear now that production is done on his profile and we begin to celebrate the 15th (15th!! Wow, where did the time go?) anniversary of NewMusicBox! Feeling like a little old lady in internet terms, so tea and a biscuit is quite the proper thing to indulge in.

Spring Brunch Brilliance: Porch Waffle Party

Dark chocolate dipped clementines with sea salt

We stored up quite a bit of cabin fever here in Baltimore this winter, so as soon as the weekend temperatures began to touch the 70s, the neighbors fell into action to get our notoriously non-rowdy porch parties back on the social calendar. While these affairs normally allow us to enjoy some wine and dessert as a summer day cools its way into evening, we traded down to morning so that we could trade up to waffles and mimosas for this season’s kick-off event. After an unfortunate electrical fire, we were also inaugurating our resident waffle mistress’s brand new iron, so it was perhaps best to get things going outside—just to be safe.

Waffle with butter

How do you like to top your waffles?

Mistress of the waffle iron

Mistress of the waffle iron

As the waffle production was very well in hand, I volunteered to provide some toppings. For once in my life I went simple, and I’m going to tattoo this lesson on my forearm so that I can enjoy making party food more and stress about it less. Whip a little honey into softened butter and add a tablespoon of sprinkles: perfect for the kids and takes about 5 minutes. Fry some banana slices in butter, deglaze the pan with bourbon, and stir in some pecans and a good dose of maple syrup: well worth the 20 minutes for the adult joy. A little fresh whipped cream and some mixed berries finished off the tray for the waffle traditionalists in the crowd.

Waffle topping table

Honey butter with sprinkles

Honey butter with sprinkles

With so little prep work to do, I also took a stab at some dark chocolate-dipped clementine slices with sea salt that had caught my eye on Pinterest. I don’t do a lot of fancy chocolate work, so I wasn’t super confident when I started the project, but this proved just as brainless as the rest. A 1/2 cup of good dark chocolate, a bit of shortening if you have some on hand to smooth things out, and then just melt it together in a double boiler, dip the slices, and rest them in rows on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Finish a row and run a pinch of salt flakes down the line. Repeat. The only hard part was setting them down instead of eating them. I popped them in the fridge overnight, covered well in plastic wrap once the chocolate set hard. The next day I just had to pile them in a bowl.

For those who would like a little more detail in their recipes:

Honey Butter with Festive Sprinkles

Banana Bourbon Maple Syrup

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Clementine Slices with Sea Salt

How do you like to top your waffles and pancakes?

Pioneer Days: In The Country Kitchen for Salt-Rising Bread

salt-rising bread

A little more than a year ago, I attempted an old-world recipe from Della Lutes’s completely charming cook book-meets-memoir The Country Kitchen (Little, Brown, and Company, 1936). A few months ago I then passed that book on to a friend, and we got to talking about another interesting recipe referenced in the text for salt-rising bread.

Or actually, almost a recipe, as far as contemporary expectations go. While Lutes quotes the rough method, she comes up just short enough on detail that I was hesitant to try it out. But I had something she did not: the internet.

And of course, the crowd provides. After reading up on the unique smells and the finicky challenges of this bread, I took a minute to gauge my sanity and then plowed ahead. I mean, I do all kinds of weird projects here in Wonderland, so why not? To hedge my bets, I went with the very thorough King Arthur guidelines provided in this post, and I was not disappointed!

salt-rising bread: steps

Interesting points and some things to keep in mind:

Even though it’s called salt-rising, there’s actually not that much salt in the recipe. But there is no added commercial yeast. More details for the curious on the history and the name can be found here and more discussion can be had here.

Some other recipes use potatoes instead of cornmeal, or some combination. Others caution to only use whole grain cornmeal, which I did. (You can buy this—just check your package—or make your own!)

Everything they say about the smells the various stages of this dough emit are true and yet it’s just kind of weird, not stomach convulsingly terrible—to my nose at least. I’m also accustomed to strange cheeses and various fermentation projects, however, so perhaps I’ve simply built up a tolerance.

Most challenging part: You will need a method to keep the dough warm enough—between 90°F and 100°F according to the recipe I followed (though others go as low as 80°F). My oven offers a proofing setting at around 95°F, so I was golden and the development of the dough seemed to proceed on schedule, but your results may vary depending on what you can rig up. You will at least know if things are amiss at each stage, so it won’t just be a big surprise at the very end.

While I started this recipe just before I went to bed one night and didn’t end up with a loaf of bread until the following evening, the actual skills needed and dishes used/mess made are quite minimal, so this recipe is mostly a question of patience to my mind.

And the results are really interesting. The produced loaf has a fairly dense, dry crumb that stores well and makes for excellent toast (really the only way to eat it, in my opinion). Toasting perfects the inherent cheesy, nutty flavors in the dough that people note and that seem to be the nostalgic pull for many.

salt-rising bread

Salt-Rising Bread
As seen on King Arthur Flour, but the recipe’s providence goes back quite a bit further. For some additional process pictures and hand holding, I definitely recommend a read through KAF’s related blog post as well–just don’t panic!

Stage One

1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar

Stage Two

1 cup hot water (120°F to 130°F)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups AP flour

Complete the Dough

4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 AP flour

Stage One: Scald the milk and cool to lukewarm. In a glass container large enough to allow for expansion (I used an 8-cup glass measure for stages one and two), combine the milk, cornmeal, and sugar. Whisk to combine until no lumps remain.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place (between 90°F and 100°F) for 8 to 12 hours. At the end of this stage, you should see some bubbles/foam on the surface and notice a slight smell. If not, you will need to start over (or abandon this project–no shame).

Stage Two: Combine the hot water, salt, baking soda, sugar, and flour and then stir this mixture into Stage One until evenly incorporated. Cover the bowl again and return to your warm place for two to four hours, until the starter has doubled and is quite bubbly and pungent. (The measuring cup makes this even easier to gauge; mine took about 3 hours.) Here again, if you don’t get the results described, you will need to begin again. If action just seems slow, try a warmer spot for a couple hours more.

salt-rising bread: bubbles

Complete the Dough: Transfer starter to a large bowl or stand mixer and add remaining ingredients. Knead until smooth.

salt-rising bread: dough

Form dough into a log and place in a greased loaf pan (8 1/2″ x 4 1/2” is recommended, but I used my 9” x 5” without issue). Cover again and return to the warm place until it crowns over the edge of the pan. The edges will round but the surface of the loaf may be relatively flat. This is expected.

Near the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 40 minutes, until nicely browned.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before slicing. Stores well in plastic for about a week.

Natural Woman: DIY Moisturizer

DIY moisturizer

I tend to approach health and food trends with an open-minded skepticism. Sure, I’ll try oil pulling or short-term juicing since it’s pretty obvious it won’t kill me, and I even did a stretch of “clean eating” that nixed all the dairy, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol from my life for 30 days. But I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I try not to do anything too weird without a good reason and a decent amount of research. I don’t want to live in a world without butter and avocados and coconut oil, but I can stick to moderation and food that doesn’t come in a box for the most part.

For all that care, however, what I hadn’t done is put much thought into what touched my skin. I’m no cover girl, but still it seems kind of silly to put so much thought into what goes into my mouth and then turn around and smear things on my body without reading the labels. And as with food, once you start reading labels things get questionable pretty quickly.

So without being a zealot about it, I’ve started playing around with cosmetic alternatives that, even if I wouldn’t literally eat them, are a little closer to the ground. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily make them a good idea, and I would strongly caution every reader to use your own common sense when experimenting. For example, most of the DIY deodorant recipes I’ve come across have a significant level of baking soda in them which painfully irritates my skin. Just because you make something in your kitchen does not mean that it’s a safe(r) alternative to commercial products.

Rainbow Henna

Dying my hair with my usual drugstore box of color seemed ill advised if I was getting serious about chemicals on my skin, so I tried out this henna which I found at Whole Foods. Mountain Rose Herbs also sells henna in a variety of tones.

DIY deoderant

I’m still looking for the recipe that works for me. This (going even lighter on the soda, but not omitting it completely which removes effectiveness, I found) is the last one I tried. Closer, but not quite.

DIY cosmetics

Most of the products I’ve tried take only a few minutes to assemble and package and, once you’ve stocked a few key ingredients, are fairly cheap to make. Mix arrowroot and white kaolin clay with a bit of cocoa to make a respectable face powder, mix it with a bit of activated charcoal and you get an attractive smokey eyeshadow. Cracking out a small army of lip glosses tinted with alkanet (way better than beet powder!) was child’s play; my attempt to mix activated charcoal into a similar base to get a decent eyeliner was slightly less successful, but definitely educational!

Of all the products I’ve attempted, however, none has felt as sophisticated as the moisturizer I made from a recipe designed by Rosemary Gladstar. For those in the crowd who have made mayonnaise, this project was a similar level of difficulty. The key to successful emulsion seems to be patience. Make sure your oils have cooled to room temperature! (I took this another step and set my glass measuring cup of waters in a bowl of hot water to warm it up some while I waited.) Result: beautiful cream right out of the gate! While this moisturizer does seem to take a few extra seconds to absorb fully into the skin than commercial products, when used sparingly on the face and generously elsewhere, it leaves my skin feeling satiny and in no way greasy. My destroyed winter hands are especially happy.

Do you have any DIY cosmetic tips or tricks to pass my way? Anything you’d like to learn to DIY at home?

Blending moisturizer

Rosemary’s Perfect Cream
The original recipe as found in Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health offers various substitution options, so do check that if you want more ideas. This is the breakdown I followed.

2/3 cup distilled water, room temperature
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
2 drops lavender essential oil

1/4 apricot oil (w/vitamin E added)
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1/6 cup coconut oil
1/6 cup cocoa butter
.8 ounces grated beeswax

Combine the water, aloe, and essential oil in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.

Measure the oils, cocoa butter, and beeswax into a double boiler (I suspend a metal bowl over a small sauce pan filled with about an inch of boiling water) and heat gently until melted. Transfer melted liquid to your blender’s carafe and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to gauge progress. (As I mentioned above, I also took the chill off my winter room temperature waters by setting the glass measuring cup in a bowl of hot water. I’m not sure this was strictly necessary, but it didn’t seem like it would hurt my chances for success.)

When oils have reached the desired temperature, secure lid and turn on blender at highest setting. Add the water/aloe mixture through the top access hole in a slow and steady stream. When 3/4 of the water has been added, monitor the cream in the blender. At a certain point, it will thicken and pull above the blades, no longer accepting more liquid. Stir by hand to make sure all oils and water are incorporated evenly and transfer to storage jars.

Cream will thicken as it sets. Store covered in a cool location.