Friday, May 22, 2015

From Beans to Marshmallow Fluffy Stuff

There's an amazing recipe floating around on the Internet that has two ingredients, one always a crowd favorite (sugar) and the other not so much (bean juice).

I found the version I made on Chocolate-Covered Katie, where you will see a lot of attractive fluffy photos and more explanation than I'll add here.

But I do want to give you my experience so you'll know what to really expect. It's never like the pictures, is it?

Here in Montana we eat a lot of beans. The best are made from scratch, but sometimes the canned variety comes in handy. But what to do with the liquid? You can add it to soup or throw it out, but why not make fluffy marshmallow stuff?

For this recipe, first drain a can of garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas. (I used a brand that included sugar and salt, a case of not checking ingredients on the label, which is a topic for another blog. Who the heck puts sugar in beans?) You should have 1/2 cup of liquid. Use the beans elsewhere. I suggest straining the liquid to eliminate any stray bits of bean.

I also recommend putting the liquid in the bowl of a stand mixer. If you're using a hand mixer, draw up a chair and maybe put on a long meditation tape or some pleasant music. If you have a TV in the kitchen, you'll be able to watch at least a half-hour sitcom.

Add 1/3 cup sugar or honey or agave. I'd add an optional dash of vanilla, though I didn't in this test.

On my KitchenAid mixer I started at a medium speed (4). I recommend starting with a high speed (6 or 8) because that will no doubt speed up the process.

At about 10 minutes, the mixture still looked like swirling egg whites, so I upped to 6, then 10 minutes later (still swirling egg whites) up to 8. At this point I was like, "Oh, man, this is ridiculous."

At the 25-minute mark I wondered, "Hey, is that fluff?" I could see streaks made by the wires of the beater attachment, which indicated it was thickening.

Thirty minutes from the start, success!

I was so intent on the fluffing process I didn't think to do taste tests along the way, but I sure dipped into the finished product.

Here's where your experience may vary widely from mine. I like it. In my opinion it has kind of an "off" taste. Not bad, but it makes you realize this is not the real thing. Real fluff is just sweet. If you're used to "healthy" foods that taste way different than the "regular" stuff, you won't be a bit fazed by this not being a replica of the commercial varieties.

Maybe I could have whipped it longer, but I was satisified with the texture, which was soft like thick whipped cream. It is definitely holding up after a few hours in the refrigerator.

I recommend serving it without any comment. After everyone has enjoyed it on a decadent dessert or in peanut-butter-n-fluff sandwiches, then you might reveal the secret. I doubt anyone will care. Paired with another food, you really can't tell this has, um, a secret ingredient.

I feel I could make this again.

I can guarantee I will make it for company. I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when I share the recipe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Japanese school lunches

page from weekly lunch menu at Japanese primary school
~ courtesy of Coco&Me ~

Across Montana and in many other U.S. states, schools are planting gardens and using local produce in their meals. But we could learn a lot from Japanese schools about making lunchtime an educational experience.

On the charming British blog Coco&Me, Tamami shared what she learned about school lunches on a recent trip to Japan.

In her blog post about her visit, Tamami dissects a school lunch menu a Japanese friend showed her.

For example, Tamami translates the text in the photo above:

"Cucumber – characterised by crunchy mouthfeel & warty exterior. One of the fresh summer vegetables."
"Pumpkin – Full of beta-carotene. Maintaining properties for healthy eyes & skin. Builds resistance. Lots of vitamin E & C."
"The information on which area the ingredients are produced is publicised on the council homepage."

I encourage you to visit the post to see all the pages of the menu and read Tamami's descriptions and translations.

But briefly, Japanese schools value the opportunity to educate their children about food. Every ingredient in the lunch is itemized, even by weight, and drawings and captions clarify what exactly the food is and why it is important for health.

I was especially impressed by a note at the bottom of the menu.

As I read through Tamami's blog post, I wondered how Montana schools might adapt such a detailed menu to the lunch program.

Could ag classes gather information about where the food comes from, names of ranchers and other food producers? Even knowing that some food comes from far away would be educational.

Could language arts classes write the text?

Could science classes add botanical details?

Could art classes supply illustrations?

Could the school newspaper put it all together and print out a weekly menu to share with students and their families?

There's a lot of creativity in our schools. And I know from my years of teaching middle school that there's plenty of energy and enthusiasm as well.

Students tend to consider lunch the best time of the school day. Why not also make it the most important part of their education, something they will carry through their entire lives?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Emigrant farmers market: building a community

Market manager Joyce Johnson works hard to nurture the community that revolves around and within the tiny Emigrant farmers market, with an average of 10 vendors and a very big heart.

I wrote about this market during its 2011 season. In some ways it looks the same, but in other ways, it has grown.

"We're seeking to develop a new habitat for a community gathering," Joyce told me today. She deliberately named it the People's Market so anyone in the Paradise Valley could participate, even during the early part of the season when produce is still ripening. She's considering extending the market during winter, wondering if vendors could use the local church hall.

"We're small now," Joyce conceded, "but big-hearted."

I enjoy visiting this market. It feels warm (even in the cold sun of mid-September) and welcoming. Vendors are happy to talk to you about their wares or even about things that interest them.

If you want to learn about yin and yang, ask the woman selling tiny cherry-size "yang" plums from her garden.

If you don't know anything about solar cooking, fireless cooking, or how alive water is, have a chat with Greg, who sells Sunovens and essential oils. The 3 pounds of potatoes in the Sunoven will be done by the time the market closes at 1 pm.

Eighty-year-old Richard will give you his recipe for Dutch oven potatoes if you prefer them cooked traditionally, plus he'll add a plug for cultured vegetables, like homemade pickled beets and sauerkraut, that "do good work on your intestines." Handily, he has plenty of homegrown potatoes, beets, and cabbage for sale, along with squash and other good-looking vegetables.

James is a painter, but he comes to market to share the abundance from his garden. Today he had amazing heirloom tomatoes, garlic, kale, and lettuce.

But the prize was the tub of foot-long, tender Tyria cucumbers. Each seed costs $1.20, and so each cucumber sold for $4, but every bite is a delicacy. James handed out samples of dried cucumber, which was a treat in itself.

You can already see what an amazingly abundant market this is, and I've only mentioned 4 vendors!

Today there were also jewelry, shawls, Native American artifacts, and Yankee Bob's cookies. You can read about Yankee Bob in my 2011 blog post about the market, but now he has extended his selection to include gluten-free and vegan items.

Oh, yes, and some fun wood items.

Stop in soon and get to know these friendly people.

Emigrant People's Market
Lawn of St. John's Episcopal Church, across from Wildflour Bakery
Saturday, 10 am - 1 pm
June 14 - October 25 (weather permitting)