Thursday, August 11, 2011

On primitive living (but it's not all that primitive, really)

Dear readers that may or may not have electricity or egg-beaters,

Lacking equipment, the hotel has caused us to come up with creative new techniques for cooking.

Fortunately for me, I had an old self-inflicted rule that is now serving me well.  For years, I insisted on doing everything in the kitchen by hand - I envisioned women two hundred years ago doing everything without the benefit of electricity, and I determined it would be prudent for me to be able to do without, too.  I just mean everyday sous-chef processes, like chopping and dicing and mixing.  I shunned things like electric mixers, stand mixers, food processors, and other human skill replacements.  I didn't give up such items as microwaves or light-bulbs (mere flame-replacements)!

Did you know that throwing baking soda on a fire in your oven will put it out?
Trust me, tossing water in would be a bad idea - this is, after all, the modern
age of electricity. 
Eventually I realized that, without the benefit of servants and scullery maids and live-in cooks, it would be much easier to take advantage of Useful Modern Inventions.  About a year into my marriage, my husband surprised me by buying a beautiful stand mixer for me - my "first child", as I jokingly refer to it, because I love it so much!  It has become my right-hand man in the kitchen.  During our normal home life, I used it about every day, and on baking day it would be in use for several hours.  I also started using an electric hand mixer that was given to us on our wedding day.

Scullery maids were the lowest on the house-help food
chain, and weren't usually even deemed important enough
to eat with the rest of the servants!  You'd find her eating
in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the bubbling pots.  

Yeah, I've made meringue without an electric mixer, and believe you me, it takes long enough.

Now that I am living in a hotel room with two other wives (Mrs P and the intrepid islander, Mrs T), and cooking with a bare minimum of Useful Tools, and virtually no electric gadgets, I am having to fall back on old skills I learned back in the day.

Finely minced? Yes sir!  Would I want to do this all by hand when canning
 five gallons of picalilli? Probably not, but I did once, because I had no choice. 

I've never been a big fan of washing multiple components after using an electric food processor, so I usually shred/dice/julienne/mince everything with a variety of sharpened knives.  I brought one with me, and used it to conveniently mince cabbage, carrots, onions, and celery for a pierogi/egg-roll filling.

I suppose this is not an average pantry, anyway; food next to clothes, next to dishes next to hair soap, next to cookbooks next to bath towels ...  Why should anything else be average around here?

The bottom blue tub is full of dishes like a drying rack, food scale, and baking
pans.  The box on top of that is full of books.  The smallest blue box is chock
full of spices.  The white box on the bottom is full of food such as tuna cans,
jell-O powder, dried fruit.  The blue box on top of that has baking ingredients like
flour, oil, and the like.  The canning boxes have jars of pickles and cider!  And
the lovely red suitcase is all of my clothes, yes, it is stuffed like a Thanks-
giving turkey ... 
A crock-pot serves as an excellent oven; so far I've had no trouble baking quickbreads like cake or cornbread in my small crock; sometimes the outer edge is a little crispier than the center, but generally speaking, just doubling the bake time and keeping the crock on high and the lid on tightly has produced delicious results.

A canning jar makes a useful candleholder,
especially when the power goes out, as it did
during a recent storm here!  However, I would
not recommend using a narrow-mouth jar unless
you don't want to can with it any more, because
it can be difficult to get the wax out! 
I was serving Gary a piece of leftover Dutch apple pie the other evening, and we had just enough cream in the fridge to make a little whipped cream.  Of course, we had no electric blender, so I improvised.

See the recipe below to learn how to improvise it on your own!

Making do,

Mrs H

Handmade Whipped Cream

I poured a half-cup heavy cream into a cool canning jar, added some sugar (1 to a few teaspoons, depending on your taste preference), and a dash of homemade vanilla extract that I brought with me.

I capped the jar tightly, tossed it to my husband, and got busy serving some leftover pie onto a plate and heating it up.  He shook the jar for a few minutes until finally, a vigorous shake produced no noticeable movement inside the jar.

I took off the lid, used a spatula to scrape it onto the pie, and we enjoyed our dessert.

Warning: this cream is not very stiff, and will melt quickly!  So serve it just before eating, and have it as cold as possible when mixing and serving.  

It's the blob!



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