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eG Foodblog: Abra - I take food personally!

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I did make the starter myself, a number of years ago. It's fun to make - a real science project. It's a great starter, makes a superior bread, and it keeps in the fridge for years. It's dormant in the fridge, so you only feed it when you want to use it. Supposedly you should also just feed it occasionally, if you're not using it much. It seems to keep in the freezer, too, since I'm starting to see a few bubbles. To revive it you feed it flour and water, or milk, in the case of the cyber-starter.

Edited by Abra (log)

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Multi-tasking like mad, I prepare dinner before tackling the mother project.


Here we see the turkey broth cooling, veggies that I'm sauteeing for the humans, and ground beef that I'm sauteeing for, ulp, the dog. Yes, folks, our dog has a personal chef, and he really loves it! I cook some meat for him a couple of times a week, as a change from dog food, even though I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it.


I combine the sauteed veggies with ground turkey breast, start the burgers on the stovetop, and finish them under the broiler. It's a WW thing to do, add veggies to any possible dish. In this case they really help the meat keep from being hopelessly dry.


Dinner is served. I'd rather have some Cabrales on my salad than a bun for my burger, so I do. That's a very WW thing too - since all foods are "legal", we're always choosing between favorites. Those are red onions pickled in red wine vinegar. When you have so much vinegar, you have to use it a lot.


I eat most of my turkey burger wrapped in basil leaves with a bit of pickled onion. The flavors are very wow.

Ok, now for the vinegar.


This is our vinaigrier, a vinegar-making pot that we brought back from Provence a few years ago. It used to have a nifty wooden spigot embedded in a cork. In fact, it used to have two of them. But the acidity ate them away so that they leaked, and lately it's just had this cork, which, as you'll see, presents access problems. That's cheesecloth under the lid. The little fruit flies are mad for this stuff, and you have to fight them off.


I pull the cork and right away the vinegar starts to go all over the place. Some even goes into the measuring cup I have in the sink to catch it.


I pour the captured vinegar into my vinegar bottle. If I'd realized that I would be so visible in these pictures I would have put some real clothes on and combed my hair. Try to ignore me.

Now for the scary parts.


I start to remove the layer upon layer of mother from the pot and gently squeeze out the vinegar. I don't do this every time we need vinegar, but this time we have to get the vinaigrier completely empty, because my ingenious husband thinks he has found an alternative to the nuisance cork.

If you're easily grossed out, just scroll down fast.


All the mother is out of the pot. It's quite appalling looking, isn't it? Just like a placenta, which is probably why it's called a mother.


The new spigot fits, and is installed, and I feed the mother some fresh wine, to help her revive after the trauma of being squeezed.


My husband has a great idea - I put some of the excess mother into jars, label them "Courtesy of Rolling Bay Gourmet", and take them down to the special wine store. The owner can give them to foodie customers, and I'll type up a little instruction card to go with it. Vinegar mother is a lot like Friendship Cake - you have to keep pushing it on everyone you know, or just use it as drain cleaner.

And last, here's how the sourdough starters are doing this evening.


On the left is the milk-based cyber starter, the grape starter is on the right. They both appear to have some mild interest in coming back to life. If anything, the cyber starter looks a little more alert, but time will tell. I'll let them rest overnight in the sink, in case they go nuts, and I'll feed them again in the morning.

Edited by Abra (log)

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I'll swap some of my sourdough starter for your vinegar mother - PM me if interested...

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Believe me, I'd give vinegar mother to anyone who's interested! No trade required! It's getting it to people who are not in Seattle that's the problem. It needs oxygen, so it can't be shut up tightly for long periods, it smells like vinegar, and it sloshes around because it has to stay in liquid. It seems like the Post Office would take a dim view of it.

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What is the consistancy of the mother most like - is it hard and rubbery, or delicate? Do you use the same mother for all types of wine (red, white, etc.), or does the mother grow accustomed to a particular ingredient like sourdough starter?


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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The mother is slippery and flexible, just as I'd imagine a placenta to be. It's a lot like clotted blood, in fact. This is a red wine mother, and only makes red wine vinegar. I did try to use some to make white wine vinegar once, but it always stayed pink. That said, I have certainly been known to feed it some white wine on occasion, with no ill effects.

And speaking of sourdough starters, mine are looking feeble. It's time to feed them again and see if they'll perk up, but amazingly, I'm out of flour. So now I have to run out to the store, and this time I will remember to take the camera.

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I am utterly fascinated by the whole vinegar/mother affair. Now I am wondering if Alton Brown has tackled this sci-fi experiment-in-a-bottle on his show.

Between you and andiesenji I'd love to see a condiment class (vinegar, mustard, ketchup, chutney, etc) in the eGCI. But I know how busy you are.

Thanks for taking the time to post the pictures!

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

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And speaking of sourdough starters, mine are looking feeble. It's time to feed them again and see if they'll perk up, but amazingly, I'm out of flour.

I hope they spring back to life nicely once given a few feedings. When I've used frozen starter it took a few feeding cycles for things to start really going again. I found using a much smaller amount of starter to the flour and water seemed to help.

I'd also love a condiment class! I have made mustard and chutney with mixed results (the mustard was dissappointing, chutney was/is heavenly) and would enjoy more information.


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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Would you believe that I found myself in the store again, with no camera? I must have blog-brain. Anyway, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

I've been having a kind of honey-do morning, making treats for my husband.

He loves chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream, so I created an ice cream for him that tastes like chocolate chip cookies.


Basically it's a French vanilla custard, but made with brown sugar, and then with toasted pecans and mini chocolate chips added. The custard needs to chill for a couple of hours before I freeze the ice cream.

And then, various breakfast treats that he loves, both based on puff pastry. Since we're not in the pastry forum I can admit to using frozen puff pastry, just like 99% of you do, I'll bet. And I can't get an all-butter one here on the island, so I use Pepperidge Farm.


These are almond puffs. Rolled out puff pastry coated with a marzipan goo (I use the filling from the Pain d'Amandes recipe in The Village Baker's Wife),


then dusted with lightly toasted sliced almonds and some Demerara sugar.


The other sheet of puff pastry gets a little roll-out, then a bit of almond goo and a pain au chocolat stick. I know, pain au chocolat doesn't have almond goo in it, really, but hey, it's good this way!


Here they are, done in a jiffy and smelling great.

A group of friends is taking me out to lunch for my birthday - the birthday that never ends, seemingly. On the way home I'll pick up my CSA basket and we'll see what's for dinner.

On Wednesdays I don't know in advance what we'll be having, since it largely depends on what my beloved farmer Rebecca brings me. But I know there'll be salmon, and I think I'll grill it on a cedar plank, since that's a very Northwest thing that you might be interested in seeing. And vegetables. And ice cream.

Edited by Abra (log)

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Oh god, it's hard to read this blog before I've eaten lunch. :sad:

Why do you use demerara sugar?

Also, and maybe others will be asking this, but what is CSA? Sounds like not just organic veggie drop but fish too?

Can't wait to see dinner!

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Mmmm, those pastries look good. Your husband is a lucky man.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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I am really enjoying your blog, Abra, and your home-based business is inspiring me to add onto my current business, so that I can offer personal cheffing as well as home cooking classes.

My biggest challenge has been effective advertising, and business seems to come in spurts, with long lulls between requests for classes.

Has the association been a big help in procuring clients? How long did it take to build a good customer base? Do you advertise other than on your van?

By the way, I'd love to fly out there and take some berries and mother off your hands. Wonderful stuff.

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I like Demerara sugar because it's in big crunchy crystals that stay that way when baked. I think it's a nice finishing touch to rustic baked foods.

CSA is Community Supported Agriculture. I get my veggies from Persephone Farm, and I pay for them in advance in the Fall. You are essentially an investor in the farm, paying the farmer upfront to grow stuff, which you get when it's in season. There will be salmon as a part of our CSA later in the year, but for tonight, it's from the fish counter. I got a lot of nice stuff in my basket today - if the camera's recharged, I'll show you the loot.

Whereas I would have said that the vinegar mother is a mat of bacteria and yeasts, Googling it produced this little tidbit " "Mother" is actually cellulose (a natural carbohydrate which is the fiber in foods such as celery and lettuce) produced by the harmless vinegar bacteria." It grows as a mat that sort of floats on top of the forming vinegar. But as you saw in the pictures, squeezing it gently gets lot of vinegar out of the mat itself. You add new wine on top, and more layers form from the top of the vinaigrier, so that the furthest-down mat is the oldest.

Personal Chefs Network helps you to get clients in the sense that when people do a web search for a personal chef, the PCN website pops up. Every member has a little free web page on the PCN site, and there's a geographic locator as well. I personally haven't gotten any clients that way, but many members report that they have. I think most people find that it takes about a year to get known in your community for what you do. Personal cheffing is also new enough as a business that you have to do education with each person that contacts you. Besides my van and my website, I'm in the Yellow Pages, and I talk about my business whenever and to whomever seems appropriate.

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First off, I want to show you a couple of yummy afternoon snacks.


Gorgeous and sweet island-grown figs


and no, those are not crystallized cat turds! That's the Thai chili-tamarind candy, which I find utterly addictive, and the amazing glass-like seeds that you have to spit out.

I get lots of great-looking stuff today when I picked up my basket


Corn, a tomato, squash, onions, beans, cucumbers, broccoli, and flowers.

My last blog dinner is so....me. I mix all sorts of foods and traditions together - please, I mean no offense to your favorite ethnic foods. I just like to combine, and I'm sorry if purists cringe. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and pan-Asian is in my blood.


The Alaska sockeye salmon is placed on a cedar plank, salted and peppered, then painted with a sauce of maple syrup, tamarind concentrate, and Thai chili sauce with soybean oil (more about that later.)


The huge sweet onion and the broccoli get sauteed with a little Shao Xing wine, nuoc mam, and ketjap manis, while the corn parboils in the background.


I finish the corn on the grill while the salmon is cooking.


The salmon is done and looks perfect. The bottles in the background are the things I used in the dinner. If you can read the Thai, or just recognize the sauce, please tell me the name of the Thai sauce, in Thai. I use it a lot, and it really bugs me not to know how to pronounce its name.


We sit down to our last blog dinner. Beer is great with all these assertive flavors.


The chocolate chip cookie ice cream while it's fresh and soft


and after an hour or so in the freezer.


A tired but happy blogger bids farewell. It's been a privilege and a pleasure to share my life with you all this week.


And Riley thanks his personal chef for a week of custom meals.

Edited by Abra (log)

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Fantastic blog, thank you so much for sharing your interesting life. Great pictures of wonderful food. You and Riley are good to see, too.

"I like 'em french fried pertaters." (Billy Bob Thornton as Karl, in Sling Blade.)

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Abra, absolutely amazing! Thanks so much. Such an inspiration. And 54? Unbelievable. Must be the island air and all that gorgeous food, combined with the happiness of loving what you do and what you have made happen for yourself! Gives me hope.

Cheers and thanks again for everything,


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Abra, I'm so glad these things are archived - I haven't been able to follow day-by-day, so I'm looking forward to sitting down for a long read of your wonderful blog. I guess none of the distinctive national cuisines we know today evolved totally without outside influence, so everybody's cooking is more or less eclectic.

For me, it's a matter of food which is assertive enough to go with rice - something that covers most regions from the mediterranean on east!

The only thing I meditate on is a heavy reliance on out-of-area produce...but in a major city, that's a strictly academic point, anyway.

Thanks for showing us so much gorgeous food and great ideas.

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Thank you for the incredible blog! I'll have to try that salmon marinate next time. Looks like the ice-cream will be a project with our grandson as he loves cookie dough.




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Abra... Thank you for a wonderful blog. I have lurked with wonder. I have many friends in your part of the world and visit as often as I can. The PNW is just amazing. It seems that you have found a wonderful balance.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I have to admit, I'm having blog-withdrawal. You mean I can cook and eat without taking pictures? I found blogging to be such an interesting process, causing me to be so much more conscious about everything to do with food than I already am, something I would have thought to be impossible.

Also, I feel that a disclaimer is in order. What you didn't see is sinks full of dishes (thanks to my dear husband the dishwasher), piles of laundry, unswept floors. Blogging is so selective, and makes one's life look so much prettier that it really is. We live a normal life, full of normal messes. And remember, I have been known to eat peanut butter on rye, with red wine.

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And remember, I have been known to eat peanut butter on rye, with red wine.

i'm still not seeing the problem with this.

thanks, abra. nice job.

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Bravissimo Abra! (or should that be bravissima?) I have enjoyed following your blog. Thank you for sharing your week with us.

Your culinary skills know no bounds. You are equally at ease cooking with couscous or kicap manis. It's going to be a hard act to follow.

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Thanks so much, I really enjoyed your writing and photos. I love your eclectic, creative cooking. It's inspiring me, in fact, I'm making the stuffed tomatoes and the cornmeal cakes next week for a dinner.

Edited by sequim (log)

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I need to add my thanks also Abra! Your blog has been very entertaining, informative, and inspiring.

I've had a similar recipe for a rosemary soaked cornmeal cake with berries around for a while; you're blog is inspiring me to make it for friends this weekend (a happy coincidence with the wild blackberries I picked last weekend!).

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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      This is known as kilukarbivaade or sprat can skyline A canned fish product, sprats (small Baltic herrings in a spicy marinade) used to have a label depicting this picturesque skyline. I looked in vain for it in the supermarket the other day, but sadly couldn’t find one - must have been replaced with a sleek & modern label. So you must trust my word on this sprat can skyline view
      The second photo depicted a loaf of our delicious rye bread, rukkileib. As Snowangel already said, it’s naturally leavened sour 100% rye bread, and I’ll be showing you step-by-step instructions for making it later during the week.

      It was fun seeing your replies to Snowangel’s teaser photos. All of you got the continent straight away, and I was pleased to say that most of you got the region right, too (that's Northern Europe then). Peter Green’s guess Moscow was furthest away – the capital of Russia is 865 km south-east from here (unfortunately I've never had a chance to visit that town, but at least I've been to St Petersburgh couple of times). Copenhagen is a wee bit closer with 836 km, Stockholm much closer with 386 km. Dave Hatfield (whose rural French foodblog earlier this year I followed with great interest, and whose rustic apricot tart was a huge hit in our household) was much closer with Helsinki, which is just 82 km across the sea to the north. The ships you can see on the photo are all commuting between Helsinki and Tallinn (there’s an overnight ferry connection to Stockholm, too). Rona Y & Tracey guessed the right answer
      Dave – that house isn’t a sauna, but a granary (now used to 'store' various guests) - good guess, however! Sauna was across the courtyard, and looks pretty much the same, just with a chimney The picture is taken in July on Kassari in Hiiumaa/Dagö, one of the islands on the west coast. Saunas in Estonia are as essential part of our life – and lifestyle – as they are in Finland. Throwing a sauna party would guarantee a good turnout of friends any time
      Finally, a map of Northern Europe, so you’d know exactly where I’m located:

      Head ööd! [Good night!]
      I'm off to bed now, but will be back soon. And of course, if there are any questions, however specific or general, then 'll do my best trying to answer them!
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