Four years ago the most beautiful ray of sunshine burst into my world and changed me into a mother. I never thought parenthood would be so utterly fulfilling, but now, four years into the journey, I wonder how I could have doubted this.
So we celebrated my first son’s young life about a week ago. This was also an opportunity to make a special meal and try to recreate some of the dishes we enjoyed from our conventional kitchen in Boston. Misha and I spent much of the day in the kitchen preparing whatever favorite food we could think of- pasta, hummus, salsa, a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. Ok- the last was more for me than for him…
Still, the focus of the day was Sunnelin and his favorite foods. Normally the hummus and salsa would be easy and quickly zapped together in our food processor, using tomatoes and peppers from the grocery store. Now, however, we are on the farm and trying to put together food without using fossil fuels-ie. electricity. After picking tomatoes and peppers (Sunnelin is lucky his birthday falls during tomato season), Misha chopped every tomato and pepper that went into the salsa- and such a beautiful salsa it was, too. Red and yellow tomatoes, yellow peppers, bits of white corn (also in season) and onion all blended together with whatever fresh herbs were on hand. All the good, fresh tastes of summer in one bowl-the salsa looked like the red, orange, yellow and green part of a rainbow.
Misha next processed the chick peas for hummus through the wheat grass juicer- yes- if you are ever stuck for a device with which to make hummus, a wheat grass juicer will do the trick. After cooking the chick peas on the “death ray” (a parabolic solar cooker that focuses the sunlight to a very hot focal point) for a couple of hours, it took at least another forty-five minutes to grind the hummus. Because the mouth of the juicer is so small he could only process a little bit at a time, but I think this somehow contributed to the smooth, creamy texture. Whether it was the juicer, or an appreciation of the effort that went into it, the texture of this wheat-grass-juicer-ground hummus was one of the best we have had.
As the baker/dessert maker (ok-dessert lover) in the family, I made the cake. With the unpredictable weather we have been having, I to opted bake the cake layers in a conventional oven rather than the solar oven. I didn’t want to risk the inevitable rainstorm that would pop up if I needed to rely on the solar oven to bake the cake.
However, I did spend a lot of time becoming acquainted with the manual grinder. I tested out peanut butter, powdered sugar and coconut butter (it can also crush fruit for fruit leather, but more about that in another post). The powdered sugar was easiest of the three- I poured granulated sugar into the top of the grinder and with a few turns of the handle, the sugar was ground very nicely. The coconut butter was a bit unexpected as I thought I would grind the coconut flakes into some sort of powder. However, after passing a small amount of coconut through the grinder multiple times it started to take on an oily, buttery consistency. Continued, repeated trips through the grinder allowed the coconut to release more of its oil, much the same way peanut butter develops. For the peanut butter, I passed the peanuts through a wide settling initially, and the subsequently tightened the grinding plates . After about only four or five passes through the grinder, peanut butter was born- no oil needed!
The coconut butter, powdered sugar and peanut butter all ended up topping the birthday cake. I started out trying to invent a frosting…I pictured something light, fluffy and stable in the heat. Maybe if I just whipped peanut butter with powdered (ie. GROUND) sugar, it would turn into a light, fluffy frosting, right? Apparently peanut butter doesn’t whip that easily- at least not without a heavy duty stand mixer. So I added coconut oil instead, and mixed in my powdered sugar. Tasty- but not fluffy. This is when I thought I could “powder” some coconut by running it through the grinder and ended up with coconut butter instead. Still nothing remotely fluffy, but the mixture tasted pretty good. Remembering the cake glaze of my youth (one tablespoon powdered sugar and about one cup water or milk…or is it one tablespoon water or milk and one cup powdered sugar? ) I added some water to hopefully thin things out. Somehow, the water initially made everything stiffer, but as I added more, the mixture at least became spreadable. At this point, after a long afternoon experimenting with the grinder, I just wanted it all to taste good.
All of this work for foods that we used to take for granted, using methods we didn’t think about…if nothing else, this adventure we have embarked on makes me appreciate the food we eat. Cooking here on the farm is a full time job- something as mundane as boiling water for pasta now requires a little more effort than simply turning on the stove. Believe me, I am still daunted by the challenge of cooking out here and so often wish I could focus more on what I am cooking rather than how…but I guess I appreciate that pot of pasta more now, too.