Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween parade

The coming two months of holiday gluttony began today with what is known as the Halloween Parade, a march around Big Timber to collect candy from business owners. This annual extravaganza for children up to 8 years old is worth a drive to Big Timber to see. 

Although there will be plenty of homemade treats handed out during the coming weeks of holiday festivities, this event features store-bought candy only. And lots of it. One shopkeeper said she purchased $80 worth of miniature candy bars to give away this year.

Employees at the IGA, the first stop on the parade route, hand out free large-size candy bars and small toys. For over an hour, as many as 400 children line up to receive the goodies.

Then they walk through town, where the main street is blocked off by the sheriff's department. Everyone takes this very seriously. As well they should. You could get into big trouble if you don't hand over a candy bar upon request.

But mostly the kids are well behaved and cute as can be. 

Some are pretty as a picture.

Sometimes the whole family joins in the fun.

Occasionally there is an interloper, but no one complains -- especially when they are as cute as this little fellow.

A good time is had by all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Treasure State scones

To continue with my bread making journey, I finally found a recipe directly out of a Peter Reinhart book that works for me!

In Crust and Crumb, the scone recipe is delicious. No butter or even jam is necessary to touch up the final product. The secret is a lot of brown sugar and a cup of cream to make 8 large scones. I actually used about 1/4 cup more cream to create the "soft dough" that is spread out to become the scones.

When I ask long-time bakers around here how they compensate for the altitude (we're at over 4,000 feet), they tell me they don't. But sometimes I find myself adding more liquid or flour. So whether it is altitude or atmospheric conditions or just plain bad measuring that is challenging me, I have to be careful when I bake.

One thing I am particularly careful to do, if the recipe gives me more information than merely cup measurements, is weigh dry ingredients. I really only concentrate on the flour since I find that sugars usually don't need as much attention. If I can get the amount of flour right, other things seem to blend in better.

Warm, sugar-sparkled scones (they look like jewels to me) and tea are a welcome treat today. The weather is cold (17 degrees F just before dawn), though the sun shines in a bright blue sky during the day. 

This morning I woke up while it was still dark and was awed by what I saw outside. The vast sky was brilliant with myriad stars and the ground was covered with sparkling frost.

Montana's official nicknames include Big Sky Country and The Treasure State -- both are apt.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buffalo bread . . . easy!

To make a slightly sweet loaf of white bread, I stirred Buffalo Bread mix with some 7-Up. That's it. Put the batter in a pan, stick it in the oven, and 35 minutes later you have bread that's good with cheese, toasted, or eaten plain.

If you know an easier way to make bread, let me know. I don't count plopping commercially frozen dough in a pan; let's have some standards, people! (Although I did hear of one overworked Montana ranch wife who, after years of making bread every day, finally found the frozen loaves at the store; her unknowing husband, who insisted on fresh bread with dinner, never questioned her unflagging devotion to his stomach.)

Montana Bounty Foods makes a variety of mixes near Kalispell. They also run a guest ranch there.

Here's to those who help make our food and our lives a bit easier.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Montana oranges and other good things

This time of year is hunting season. Many women do hunt, but mostly it is the menfolk who go off before dawn to spend time with nature and their guns.

Thus, you see many "hunter's widow" sales, with stores luring in shoppers with bargains and free treats. While the men hunt, the women shop. I'm happy to be in the latter group.

But I am also hunting for markets that offer holiday foods. Some of these call themselves farmers markets, but I think it is more accurate to call them holiday markets. Someone pointed out to me these sellers could easily be farmers, trying to make money in the off-season by creating crafts and sharing canned goods, so call them what you will.

In any case, today was the first annual Hunters' Widows Shop-a-Rama at the Reed Point High School. The 25 vendors, all women, provided a variety of goods for sale, including jewelry, handbags, pottery, candles, soap, cosmetics, and some food items. Not everything was handmade, but the items represented serious home-based businesses.

The fun part of this event was how it was set out as a kind of mini mall in the various classrooms. Hand-lettered signs by the elementary school students described the vendors in each room, and during the afternoon students delivered free homemade cookies and other refreshments to those stuck behind tables and busy with buyers.

Customers could pick up their own free cookies and coffee at a table by the school cafeteria.

While I was there, plenty of customers -- mostly women -- were surrounding vendors and having a good time. In this small town (population 200 or so), any event is cause to get out and mingle.

I took some photos of the food I saw. The most intriguing was the box labeled Montana Oranges. It was being used to hold jars of canned jams, and the vendor only laughed when I asked her where the oranges grew. Someone had given her the box and she was as mystified as I was. If anyone can shed light on this mysterious product, let me know!

Thursday, October 22, 2009




I have been on a losing streak lately with baking. My focaccia, for example, came out like one big cracker -- tasty, but chewy, and nothing I would share with anyone.

But today's English muffins were spot on. They were easy to make, they did what the recipe said they would, and they taste really nice!

I used Clotilde's English muffin recipe on her Chocolate and Zucchini blog, a recipe adapted from Peter Reinhart's book, the Bread Baker's Apprentice. I've been trying to make some of his recipes, and I just don't seem to have the knack. Whatever the problem, I appreciate that Clotilde's version does work for me.

So my advice to struggling bakers -- or you who struggle with
anything -- is: keep trying, look for other ways to do what you're trying to do, and enjoy the process.

Tonight I am enjoying the fruits of my labor. Oh, yum . . .
 hot buttered muffins!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's party time!

I need to bring food to a party tonight and what is more appropriate than crackers and a dip?

I'm on a bread-making kick and so I decided to make the crackers. I don't remember ever making crackers, but I now know it is very easy.

I used the recipe for Thin Wheat Crackers on the Los Angeles Times Web site. I pretty much followed the directions, using the honey-water basting suggested, and of course incorporating Wheat Montana flour, locally produced honey, and sea salt from Utah (that's sort of close to Montana; and it's called "sea" salt because it's from an ancient sea -- more on that perhaps in a future dinosaur post).

My baking never looks like the picture accompanying the recipe. Does yours? Does anybody's? In this case, I thought I'd make heart-shaped crackers. 

Which was alright as far as it went. But since you brush the dough with the honey glaze before you cut, you can't reroll the dough. So my thrifty nature saved the day by causing me to lay out the scraps on the baking sheet, too.

These bits and pieces are like the crumbs in the bottom of the potato chip bag -- still crunchy and tasty.

For the dip, I opted for healthy hummus. David Lebovitz's is the best hummus recipe I've found; I make it often. Only today I realized I didn't have any lemon juice! What is a Montana girl going to do? 

I searched the Internet and saw the suggestion to substitute pickle juice. Pickle juice?! Well, why not? Heaven knows we've got plenty of pickles in Montana.

The recipe calls for 1/3 cup lemon juice, so I added that much pickle juice and then gingerly tasted. I can only say that whoever made that suggestion is a genius! I may very well make hummus with pickle juice from now on. It's delicious!

I'm off to my party now. There may or not be leftovers, but I stashed away some crackers and hummus for myself, and I'll be snacking happily tomorrow no matter what.

Later that night . . .

The party turned out to be an old-fashioned get-together. There were plenty of homemade goodies, but also food for the soul. It doesn't get much better than this. 

Our hostess (below, left) has a wonderful voice. She entertained us with original songs, and then came the jazz. Another talented guest joined her in singing Misty, while yet another guest did wonders on the guitar.

There were several encores, but finally we got some cake, too. Local food, local talent . . . community.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Keeping warm with risotto

It took me over an hour to fix tonight's supper, most of that spent over a hot stove. So I have to say that making risotto must be one of the best ways to keep warm in winter.

Since I substituted barley for the arborio rice, I'm not sure I can call it risotto. I understand that the Italian word for barley is orzo, so perhaps orzotto would be better? But I'll call it risotto for convenience.

When I searched for a recipe to use buttercup squash, I came across a Delightful Delicacies blog post

I've never eaten let alone made risotto, but I gave it a try because the beautiful squash called for something special.

First, I cut the squash in half, removed the seeds, and placed it in a pan of water in a 350-degree oven for about an hour.

This squash has a tough skin when it's raw, but after cooking, it was quite thin and I had to keep picking out pieces of skin as I scooped the squash out.

I followed the recipe exactly, except I substituted pearl barley. My idea was to use something grown in Montana. Only what I had on hand already was in a package I'd bought months ago at IGA. If I had needed to buy barley, I would have gotten some from Western Trails (where I toured the factory recently).

At one point you add half a cup of white wine. Luckily, I had purchased a small bottle for another recipe I was going to make a few months ago (pickle soup . . . more on that another time, perhaps). In the closest town around here you buy wine at the IGA or, like I did, at a place on the edge of town that sells gas, groceries, hunting licenses, and guns. I don't drink much, but I don't think I would anyway if I had to pick out my supplies by standing next to a long row of rifles.

It takes about 45 minutes for barley to cook the ordinary way, by simmering it. So risotto doesn't take much longer, only it is much more labor intensive. You must stand near the stove the whole time and stir every few minutes. I found it rather soothing this evening. I usually rush through cooking, or I wear myself out doing a million things for a simple meal. Risotto is straightforward: stir, stir, stir! There is plenty of time for woolgathering.

I picked the thyme and parsley in the snow just before adding the herbs to the pot. This is something we do in Montana, especially when the cold weather sneaks up on you before you get a chance to harvest.

This is one of the best-tasting dishes I have eaten! The barley is chewy and the squash is creamy. The blend of flavors is superb. Yum!


Whenever you cook your own squash, you get free seeds. They start out rather messy.

Clean them off -- buttercup squash seeds are very slimy! -- then blot dry, toss with a bit of oil and salt, and spread them on a baking sheet. Today I roasted mine at 275 degrees for about 20 minutes. When I checked the first time, they were not quite done. A few minutes later, they were overdone! Still, I caught them before they were burnt, and they weren't bad.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Can you smell the cinnamon?

It's still snowing out, it's hovering around 20 degrees F and is expected to get down to 2 degrees F tonight, and I want my cinnamon rolls!

So I made some.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Soup, beautiful soup

As more snow clouds rolled in from the north this afternoon, I made my favorite soup: Massur Dal and Carrot Soup from Vegan Lunch Box, by Jennifer McCann.

I am not vegan, but I thoroughly enjoy Jennifer's recipes. They are simple (if you don't bother with the garnishes; clever, but I can do without), and they always turn out well. You can read her blog at

Massur dal is known as red lentils in the U.S. Here in Montana, Timeless Food packages them in Conrad. The story of this company and what it aims to accomplish is interesting, so I hope you take a few minutes to read their Web site.

Combine these red lentils with carrots, onion, garlic, coconut milk, and a few other ingredients, and you've got a great-tasting soup. I mix it up right in the pan with a blender stick.

The coconut milk and the spices are exotic for Montana, but the rest of the ingredients come from my garden or a Montana farm. I'd say that most of my food for this meal was produced right here in Montana. 

I felt the soup needed some substance, so I added croutons, which I made from the last bit of Vegetable-Flecked Bread.

It's getting dark out early today, so these photos aren't the best. It's supposed to get down to 19 degrees F tonight and 2 degrees F tomorrow night. Despite Montana's reputation for cold winters, this is unusual for October. The snow doesn't last long when it falls so early in the season, but the weather is pretty cold while it's out there.

My cats are huddled on top of each other. That's one way to keep warm. As for me, I'll eat my soup now, and then cuddle under a comforter to read.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cold snow, warm bread

As a light snow fell outside today, I thought of freshly baked bread.

My friend Lisa gave me a copy of The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Mollie Katzen. I thumbed through it and immediately decided to make Vegetable-Flecked Bread.

You begin by sauteing about 2 cups of vegetables (several homegrown, of course): red onion, garlic, carrots, zucchini, and red bell pepper. Then you stir in a cup of seeds: sesame and sunflower. Then a lot of hard kneading takes place to incorporate this into the whole wheat flour (from Wheat Montana, of course).

But in the end it's worth it: fragrant, delicious.

This is one of those enchanting recipes where the dough looks as nice as the final product.

It tastes good, too.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October harvest

It seems strange not to be planning a trip to a farmers market. But at the same time, it's quite nice to be staying at home!

My October home garden is in its autumnal transition to winter slumber. Dry corn stalks hover over shriveling pumpkin vines. It looks very much like fall. 

I harvested about 4 cups of corn from tiny ears. I heard a lot of home gardens produced small ears of corn this year, and no one seems to know why. Speculation was that it had something to do with cool nights and rainy days, but other crops did well.

I also got 9 pumpkins of varying sizes, even one that looks like an orange hourglass.

In the community garden, I picked about a pound of good-sized jalapeno peppers. My acorn squash plant went to town, producing 8 lovely squashes. The tomatoes did fairly well, although one plant died, leaving, well, one plant. (At home I am still plucking off cherry tomatoes as they ripen.)

Last year in the communal area in the community garden we grew lots of corn. This year it was all kinds of squash. I brought home a pretty buttercup squash that I understand is particularly tasty. I've never had one, and so I found a recipe for risotto that uses it. I've never eaten or made risotto, so this will be interesting on all counts. I might try substituting Montana-grown barley for rice.

lovely buttercup squash

Next year I hope to try canning again. (I used to do this and loved it.) But this year I have lots of squash to store away for the winter. All you do for squash is make sure you pick it when it's ripe, let it sit a bit in the sun to "harden," and then put it in a cool place until you need it.