A Sorbetto Problem

Soon after posting about my first pair of sorbettos, a fit of inspiration struck and all of a sudden my sorbettos had multiplied.  I blame it on the near panic that is induced whenever I think about the hot and humid East Coast summer and the thought that I may have to endure one ever again.  You see this week I am going back to visit my family in New York State, with a brief stop in Ohio (for work) before and after.  The thought of this trip has been making me nervous because one of the major holes in my wardrobe is hot weather shirts, and with my impending trip to the jowls of hell, there is no such thing as too much preparation.  And so the sorbettos multiplied, until Peter asked whether I ever intended to sew anything else, and I promptly moved on to knickers.

For my third sorbetto, I tried to mix things up a little.  No central pleat due to the already busy striped pattern, a thicker bias tape around the neck and arm holes, and I reused the fabric from the skirt of a dress that no longer fits but that I am emotionally attached to because it reminds me of a Jane Austen movie dress (fitted until directly under the bust and then unfitted and flowing the rest of the way down).

For the fourth sorbetto, I gave up on simplicity and added in the pleat again, but used a linen blend in mellow creamy lemon yellow.  I think this is my favorite sorbetto yet; it’s hard to see in the photos, but where the fabric is in more than one layer (for the pleat and neck/arm/torso edges) it forms an even darker and creamier shade of yellow.  I wore the lemon yellow sorbetto wine tasting over the weekend, and it held up to picnicking, driving in the car for a couple hours, and general tipsy-induced clumsiness without barely a wrinkle or instant of discomfort.

Zucchini. Yup, it’s that time.

It may seem a bit early for those of you on the East Coast, but we’ve been eating zucchini for more than a month and have gotten quite good at making it disappear.  I would say it helped that we were in Italy for two weeks, except we returned to find at least 6 torpedo-sized monstrosities in amongst the foliage.  We were saved by a few of our garden neighbors who don’t have summer squash plants quite as enthusiastic for life as ours.  This brings me to rule 1 of having zucchini plants: pick the fruit when they’re small.

Here is a list of ideas for magicking zucchini away.

  1. Zucchini Gratin — my eternal favorite.  It can make both large and small zucchini specimens taste just delish.  It doesn’t hurt that it involves cheese.
  2. Zucchini Fritters.  Here is how Smitten Kitchen does it.  They are amazing with grated lemon zest and minced fresh mint in place of the onions.
  3. Chocolate zucchini cake.  I will hopefully get around to posting the recipe we’ve been using soon, because it makes some of the most moist chocolate cake in existence (although the Guinness chocolate cake does pretty well too).
  4. Variations on the shakshuka concept: cook veggies until nice and soft, then cook eggs in the veggies and eat immediately.  I was originally inspired by the Ottolenghi recipe in Plenty, but the NYT recipe and Smitten Kitchen recipe involve cheese, which may be more your style.  Since peppers haven’t come in yet (what is usually used in shakshuka), I’ve been sauteing onions and zucchini until golden, then adding canned crushed tomatoes, a bit of dried oregano, a dash of Chipotle pepper powder (YES, this stuff is amazing), plenty of salt, and a teaspoon or so of sugar.  Then I drop in two eggs, cover the small pot, and turn the heat down low until the eggs are cooked.  We’ve been eating this for breakfast all week and I’m not even close to sick of it.
  5. Eventually, once we have our own tomatoes and peppers, I will start making ratatouille.
  6. And of course, there’s stuffed summer squash!  With the heat wave we’ve been experiencing this week though, I will be staying away from the oven, in which case the following super-simple preparations will be coming to the rescue.
  7. Cubed sauteed zucchini as part of a burrito bowl!  I’ve been eating at Chipotle too much I guess, but I just can’t get enough of burrito bowls: rice, beans, roasted/sauteed veggies such as zucchini and onion, salsa, and avocado.  Usually I will make a large pot of rice and beans on the weekend which makes this a nearly heat-free (and easy!) meal during the week.
  8. Sauteed strips of zucchini served with sauteed garlic and fresh lemon juice.  And maybe some fresh herbs like basil on top.

A Pair of Sorbettos

I started toying with the idea of sewing my own shirts while we were on vacation, no doubt due to my usual loathing of clothes shopping when there aren’t friends or food to distract me.  Am I the only person to feel positively ill while clothes shopping?  The cruel combination of fluorescent lights and strange “new clothes” chemical smells just knocks me flat with a serious case of the grumps, often followed by a headache and desire to punch something.  I had always assumed there was no alternative, and in the past few years I procrastinated shopping as long as possible, usually right until I had another conference to attend in a place that might suffer from “inclement” weather (anything out of the 60-75 degree range of Santa Barbara).  So while on vacation in Italy, having just gone through the yearly panic-shopping spree, I tried to consider other options.

Somehow or another I stumbled upon Colette Patterns, a small pattern company with an extremely dedicated following of sewists of all ages.  The patterns have extremely detailed instructions with supplemental tutorials on the Colette Patterns blog (The Coletterie), so even if I hadn’t made a few (extremely simple) dresses in the past, I would have felt more than capable of trying one.  However, before investing in a ($15) Colette Pattern, I downloaded the free Sorbetto tank top pattern, not only to try out the Colette Pattern fit and instructions style, but also to give myself a refresher on sewing clothes in general.

Fast-forward two weeks and I’ve already made two sorbettos, with the materials for another one (which I will probably start this evening), and all but the thread for a fourth.  The only tragedy about sewing your own clothes is that it makes you incredibly picky about what you are willing to buy.  I can finish all my seams beautifully, change the fit of a pattern so that it looks perfect, and choose any fabric type and color that is sold on the internet.  In case you are curious, here are a couple pictures showing how my sorbettos turned out.

By the way, if any of you decide to make a sorbetto, you can find a tutorial on making your own bias tape (what I did) here and how to use a pin instead of a bias tape maker (also what I did, although I ironed the folds after pulling the fabric under the pin).  And in case you don’t like the way the pleat down the center looks, you can make a sorbetto without a pleat and also with a scalloped bottom hem.

Nut Brown Ale

Nut Brown Ale

This is a bit of a departure for the blog, I suppose. Beer is bread in liquid form, in some sense, so it falls within my purview as the newly minted “Master of Yeasts”. (If I ever expand into cheesemaking it will have to become “Master of Fermentables” as cheese uses bacteria rather than yeast, as I understand it.) I have, in fact, been part of a wine-making partnership with another grad student, with our vintages up to this point having consisted of strawberry, strawberry, cherry (“featured” in the previous post), and strawberry (aging currently). He likes to say that brewing is perfect for the grad student, as you only need one day of activity, and then for the next few months (as the wine ferments and ages) you can spend 24/7 in the lab and still tell people that you have a hobby and thus appear well-rounded. Perhaps not all of us are so cynical in our outlook; I look on brewing as a profession of faith: that we can combine the most mundane of ingredients–grain, water, flowers–and with the spark of divine/fungal intervention we have ambrosia.

I’m not going to attempt to give you a complete how-to for homebrewing; I recommend Charlie Papazian’s excellent Joy of Homebrewing for that. Beermaking is not particularly any more complicated than cooking or baking, but the set of equipment required is somewhat specialized. The basic idea is as follows: barley is malted into “malt”, a syrup in which the grain has been converted into the sugar maltose. This is boiled and the “hops” (the flower of the hop plant) are added for their flavor and preservative properties. The resulting “wort” is cooled and put in the primary fermentation vessel (a.k.a. bucket or carboy) and the yeast is pitched (a.k.a. added). The beer then sits while the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol. Then it is bottled. There are a lot of funny terms, but there’s not much to it.

Since this was my first time making beer, I got a malt extract kit from Northern Brewer–the “Nut Brown Ale” kit to be precise. For detailed ingredients and instructions, go there. With malt extract, the malting has been done for you, so you just have malt syrup to boil. In this kit (and with many types of beer) there are “specialty grains” which are un- or partially-malted barley (or wheat, oats, etc) that are steeped prior to boiling the malt to give additional flavors (and colors) to the brew.

As any how-to-brew guide will tell you, sanitation is of paramount importance. Sanitize anything that comes into contact with your post-boiling wort/beer. This includes the carboy, siphoning hoses, funnels, yeast package, fermentation lock, bottles, caps, etc.

Ingredients (for 5 gallons, or about four dozen bottles)

Specialty Grains
1/4 lb chocolate malt (no actual chocolate)
1/4 lb Belgian Special B (not a designer drug, I promise)
1/4 lb Belgian Biscuit (no actual biscuits)
1/4 lb Briess Special Roast (no relation to coffee)

6 lb Maris Otter malt syrup

1 oz Fuggle (60 min)

Nottingham Ale Yeast

Steep the specialty grains in a mesh bag in 2.5 gallons water for 20 minutes (below 170 F). Remove and discard grains.

Bring to a boil and add malt syrup. Return to boil and add hops, and boil for 60 minutes.

Hydrate the yeast. Chill wort to 100 F. Fill the primary fermenter with 2 gallons (cold) water and pour in the cooled wort. Fill with water to 5 gallons. Aerate the wort by shaking/rolling around the carboy a bit. Once the wort has cooled to 78 F, add the yeast. Move to a cool, dark place.

For the first 24 hours, this bubbled pretty vigorously, so I had to use a blowoff hose (going into a bucket) as the fermentation lock popped off. After a day or so it had calmed down enough to use the fermentation lock.

After two weeks, it should be ready to bottle. Boil 16 oz of water with 1/2 cup priming sugar (i.e. regular sugar) and add to the beer. Siphon into bottles and cap. Return to cool, dark place.

After two more weeks, it’s ready to drink!

This ale was quite good for a first attempt. No strange flavors, exploded bottles, uncarbonated bottles, or anything like that. We got 43 bottles and 1 growler out of it. It worked out to 52 cents per bottle (ingredients only) , or $1.70 per bottle if you include the total expenditures (some equipment, ingredients, shipping & handling).

Cherry Wine Jelly

So, there may have been a bit of a cherry wine catastrophe.  It turns out that cherries are significantly less sweet than strawberries, and as such, don’t need a final injection of acid blend (whatever that is).  That’s right, the cherry wine Peter spent so much time making turned out sour, and not in the refreshing manner of sour beers, more like “oh god this wine is turning to vinegar”.  Peter tried drinking it for a while, but eventually gave up.
But what on earth does one do with half a batch of sour wine?!?  Well, I finally have an answer to that: wine jelly.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner, but after trying to heat it up like mulled wine (a disaster if there ever was one), it finally dawned on me that lots and lots of sugar was the only way to go.  In case you are the kind of person that likes following reputable recipes, I point you HERE.  Otherwise, read on.

Usually I try to follow canning recipes even if I plan to keep the final product in the fridge, but in my excitement to finally enjoy consuming the cherry wine, powdered pectin was purchased instead of liquid.  Who cares, you might think.  Well, apparently these things make a difference, if the doomsday comments of the above recipe are any indication.  Instead I gave up all semblance of following orders and made up my own version, based on the general guidelines for using Pomona’s Universal Pectin with fruit juice.  Sort of.

Cherry Wine Jelly (using Pomona’s Universal Pectin)
(Makes 4-5 half-pint jars of jelly)
2 cups sour wine
1/4 cup reduced sour wine (from the rest of the bottle)
1 3/4 cups sugar
1.5 teaspoons calcium water
1.5 teaspoons pectin powder

In case you try to use a non-sour wine, instructions seem to suggest adding lemon juice.

  1. Begin by pouring out 2 cups of wine from 1 bottle of wine and set aside.  Reduce the rest of the bottle of wine to about 1/4 cup.
  2. Mix the sugar with the pectin powder and set aside.
  3. Combine the 2 cups of wine with the 1/4 cup reduced wine and the calcium water in a pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the sugar/pectin to the hot wine mixture and stir for 1-2 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
  5. Bring the mixture back to a boil and then remove from heat.
  6. Pour wine jelly into sanitized jars (boil jars in a hot water bath for 5 minutes or so), close the lids, and let sit on the counter until room temperature.
  7. Put the wine jelly jars into the fridge.  You may have to wait 24 hours for the jelly to set properly.  I eat the cherry wine jelly on toast like any other kind of jam, but it would also be wonderful served with cheese.  Or you could eat it on top of foccacia (see photo below) topped with olive oil, cheese, and rosemary.

Bonus recipe: sugar cookies that don’t need to be chilled!  I made these for my lovely physics ladies this week with a touch of sprinkles, cinnamon sugar, or shredded coconut on top.  In case you were worried, they accumulated quite a few compliments.

Sorrento; or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the tourist

Sorrento was by far the most touristy place that we visited. Just across from the island of Capri, which has been a vacation getaway since the time of the Roman emperors, you might say that tourism is in the blood–or the soil, I suppose. The area has been a destination for English lotus eaters for at least a century as well. The reason for that is obvious: take a look around!

View from the B&B. That is actually looking over a pub/disco that was a bit loud on Friday and Saturday night.
View in the other direction. The whole town is built among some pretty dramatic slopes.
Closeup of said dramatic cliffs, complete with gawking tourists (like us).
Every building angles for a view of the ocean. Given the steepness of the hills, it’s not a problem.
Marina Grande. It’s actually the smaller marina; the ferries go to the other one.
The middle marina. I forget the name–Marina Piccola? The big one is on the far side.
A pier. Not sure how much use this guy gets.
Sunning spots at Marina Grande. You actually have to rent the deck chairs there. Go figure.
Vesuvius! We’ve rotated our view of the volcano by 90 degrees or so, having taken the (aptly-named) Circumvesuviana train to Sorrento.

One final note, if you are ever in Sorrento, go to Inn Bufalito, a restaurant and mozzarella bar.  We ate here maybe four times and each time was amazing.  Yes, Anna may have a mozzarella problem.