Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Friand, you're my friend... and actually a tart


 Imagine my best (worst?) Forrest Gump impression: "I ate some."

I had blackberries and a few plums that were about to go bad. Recipe-hunting led me to this blackberry-plum friand. After further research, I'm not sure this technically qualifies as a friand. 

There are friand tins for making these little almond teacakes. If you don't have the real friand molds, a muffin pan is the appropriate substitute. This recipe, however, results in one large product rather than individual servings. The difference is muffin vs. bread. Same ingredients, different baking dish. Friand-inspired, perhaps? Friand-flavored? I'll call it a...

Blackberry-Plum Friand Tart
3 plums, pitted and sliced
1 cup blackberries
3 Tbsp sugar
Juice of half a lime
a shake of cinnamon
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, stir the plums and blackberries with the sugar, lime juice, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, both flours, and salt. Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the egg whites and melted butter to the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Pour batter into a greased, 8- or 9-inch pie plate or other baking dish. Top with the fruit and its juices. Bake for 30 minutes, then cover with foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the cake is deep golden and the fruit is bubbling. 

Serves—honestly?—4, max.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Repair, Repurpose, Recycle your clothes

We all know (tell me we all know!) that we can donate our unwanted clothes to thrift stores and charities. We also realize (don't we?) that those stores can only resell our donated clothing if it's in decent condition. The clothes that don't fit us anymore, that aren't really our style anymore, that we never actually liked and never wore that much.

So, what do we do with the clothes that we've worn out beyond repair?

Why waste an entire knee sock when the
only part that's worn out is the heel?
It seems sacrilege to put a wad of textiles into the trash. Especially when many items, while no longer functional as a proper article of clothing, still have large swaths of usable fabric to spare.

Ever bent over and ripped your pants from butt seam to inner thigh? Yeah. That won't be a pretty mending job. No one is going to wear those pants again. But, despite that one nasty tear, I'll bet you the threads are in pristine condition elsewhere, like from the knee down to the hem.

I've often cut out and saved such remnants to use in craft projects, like turning old knee socks into awesome argyle arm warmers. For my first nephew's first Christmas, I made him a dog puppet out of sweat-pants scraps. He was named Scrappy, of course. The puppet, not the nephew. And, I made a fabric "busy book" for both sets of niblings entirely out of scrap material. (I need to post that.)

But there are only so many crafts to be made (and only so many crafty gifts you can give). No matter how many crafty people are out there, Americans are still adding more than 11 million tons of textiles to landfills each year. Another 2.5 million tons gets recycled.

Many of us are lucky enough to have a garbage pickup service that includes single-stream recycling, and we can throw all of our recyclables into one bin that gets picked up at our curb. But it's not really all the recyclables, is it? Paper, plastic, metal, and glass, yes. But what about cloth?

Notable local the late Greg Zanis knew what to do about cloth. Here he is saving cotton from the landfill -- and making money on it. 

When I was kid, my family saved aluminum cans for recycling. There was always a garbage bag next to the garage door, slowly, slowly collecting our crushed soda cans. When we finally had a couple of bags full, we took it to the local metal recycling center, where they would weigh it and pay us a few bucks. And then we'd go buy ice cream.

These days, I'm not that interested in letting recyclables accumulate in my garage until they reach a profitable volume. I just want to be rid of the stuff -- responsibly.

So, we're back to the question. What do we do with the clothes we can't donate?

I have not had an easy time navigating recycling search tools like those available from Earth911 or the Illinois EPA. The results come back with Goodwill stores that will take wearable clothing, not scrap fabric. I think you'll have better luck Googling things like "textile recycling in [state]" to find options in your area. That's how I found these:

Let's not forget the preferable order of waste management: 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse, 3. Recycle

Number 1 is just buying less. You can do it! I believe in you.

Number 2 is making what you have last longer, in its original form or otherwise. (Spending 200 years not really decomposing in a landfill is not the kind of lasting we're after.) For clothing, "reuse" covers donating your gently used duds so someone else can use them. It can also be interpreted a couple of other ways... also starting with R! 

Repair. Small rip? Popped button? Learn how to mend your own clothes, or just pay the few bucks most dry cleaners charge to do it for you.

Repurpose. Get your craft on! Or use old t-shirts as cleaning rags. Or braid strips of old jeans into a tug rope for your dog. Save for next Halloween's zombie costume.

Only after exhausting options 1 and 2 do we fall back on number 3. Recycling; i.e., processing the clothes into textile fibers to be made into something new.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Persimmons, Pears, and Lavender


Unless you've spent significant time in the lower midwest, you may only know persimmons as an Asian fruit that grow in California or occasionally show up at specialty markets, but a variety also grows wild in the U.S. I'll qualify that further and say, in the southern midwest. I can attest to wild persimmons in the greater St. Louis area, but I have never noticed any in northern Illinois. I'm not saying they're not here, but I can't say they are here. 

As a kid, I would find the occasional persimmon tree just galavanting through the woods. (I was galavanting; the tree was rooted in its place.) I remember plucking a bright orange persimmon from a tree in my cousin's backyard and biting into it. Beware biting into the unripe persimmon. The Missouri Department of Conservation's Discover Nature Notes blog warns that the fruit is "notoriously astringent" if eaten unripe. 

That an underrripe persimmon will make you pucker is an understatement. 

It will turn your gums to cotton. 

For a while.

How to tell if a wild persimmon is ripe enough? Squishiness. "Water balloon" is the tactile description I've seen online. If a tomato felt like this, you'd say it was rotting. The persimmon, however, is perfect. 

That said, forget any persimmon recipes you find that call for sliced persimmon (unless you've found fuyu persimmons at a market—those are the variety that can be eaten firm). Your wild midwestern persimmons need to be mushy-ripe, and so you'll use them as mush.

Slice off the top of each persimmon and just rip it open.
Pick out its 5 or so pumpkin-seed-sized seeds.

I made a persimmon-pear tart with lavender yogurt. combining a few different recipes. Let's see if I can remember the adaptation -- and before I do, let me make one adjustment already: I originally spread the sugar-and-spiced persimmon pulp over the top of the pears before baking, which turned out OK, but if I make this again, I will instead cook the persimmon pulp a little bit into a jelly and wait to spread it on after baking. I believe this will leave you with more of the persimmon flavor, plus a lovely glossy finish.

Persimmon-Pear Tart Recipe

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch pie pan or, for fancier presentation, a fluted tart pan with removable bottom.

Prepare the fruit:

2 pears, cored and sliced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon sugar, divided
5 persimmons (this is just the number of ripe ones I had ready, you could adapt)
Cinnamon (maybe 1/4 teaspoon)
Ground ginger (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)
Nutmeg (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)

Toss the pear slices with a little lemon juice and sugar. I did this right on the cutting board. Feel free to use a small bowl.

Slice off the tops from the persimmons and open them up. Squeeze or scoop out the pulp into a small bowl, and discard the skin. Remove large seeds from the pulp. Sprinkle on a little lemon juice, a little sugar, and the cinnamon and ginger. Stir to mush and mix.

Make the crust:

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted flour (or gently spoon and level)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Process almonds and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Add the butter, egg, and almond extract and blend until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times until just combined into a soft dough.

Assemble the tart:

Press the dough into the bottom of the tart pan. Arranged the pear slices over the dough, and gently press them in (just a little bit!).

Bake the tart about 50 minutes, until pears are tender and dough's center is cooked through. 

Make the persimmon glaze:

This part is untested as of yet, as I originally spread the prepared persimmon pulp over the pears before baking. Instead, I suggest while the tart is baking, you put the persimmon pulp, along with its sugar, spices, and lemon juice, into a small pot, to cook it into a jelly-like glaze. Add a little water if necessary, so it's spreadable.

When the tart comes out of the oven, while still warm, spread the persimmon glaze over the top.

Optional Garnish (a.k.a. enhancement): Lavender Yogurt

First, make lavender syrup:

You'll need equal parts water and sugar (I did 1/4 cup each for a small batch)
A few stems of fresh lavender
Plain or vanilla yogurt (I used about 1 cup)

Mix water and sugar in a pot and boil together until reduced by one third. Remove from heat and add a few stems of fresh lavender. Allow to steep for 40 minutes, then strain (or do your best to pick out all but the smallest bits of lavender).

Blend the syrup, a teaspoon at a time, into the yogurt. Taste. Add more syrup if you like, and mix well. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Leftover lavender syrup is good on pancakes or fruit, or to sweeten tea or lemonade. It will eventually crystalize, but you can gently heat and add a little more water to re-liquify it. We stored ours in the fridge for a few days before it was used up.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Thank Heavens for Little Scraps


Last Thursday morning, just about 12 hours before we'd arrive at church to record music for Sunday's YouTube service, the Covid-19 protocol email went out. In it: singers required to wear masks.

I said earlier, this year's most popular improvisation sewing project is likely face masks. And, I said I'd probably make more. So shall it be.

Have you tried singing while wearing an ordinary face mask? Even if you can keep the darn thing from sliding off your nose, your enunciation is quite impeded. Hence, the singer's mask, a style that stays put and allows for robust range of oral movement. 

This project was not so improvisational, as I did indeed print and follow a pattern, but it was impromptu. Thanks to my good stock of leftover fabric and other scraps (elastic, twist-ties) and a few free hours, I made two singers' masks in time for the evening recording schedule. I used brown cloth, so I think we look like we're wearing dog snouts. Was this close to adding a black nose and pink tongue -- I have the pieces of felt! 

I won't go into the step-by-step here, because the video I followed does it better. Many thanks to SopranoJoan's skillful tutorial, here.