Saturday, October 29, 2011

Behold the Canyon Creek Farms chili dog!

Chili dog with cheese and onions on a homemade ciabatta roll.

As you know, I've been working hard this year learning to make artisan-type breads, mostly the naturally leavened kind made with sourdough starters. One of the interesting breads I've been making lately is the Italian ciabatta. It's a challenging dough to work with as it's very wet: the baker's percentage is 85% hydration. After it's risen it literally pours onto your board for shaping; it's almost the consistency of pancake batter. The first time I made it I could hardly believe it was going to turn into something edible in the oven.

I first looked up this recipe (in Daniel Leader's book Local Breads) when my husband David asked me if I could make some hot dog buns. He had bought a package of kosher buns at a local natural foods store, and by the day after he brought them home, they were already visibly moldy. So on the spur of the moment, I thumbed through Local Breads and found the recipe for ciabatta rolls and decided to try it.

The soft, wet dough baked up, in 20 minutes or so, into lovely soft, moist, slightly chewy, open-textured buns. David likes Hempler's uncured hot dogs (no nitrates), which are pretty enormous, and I sized the buns to fit them. The really great thing, though, was that even when we piled on the homemade chili, grated cheddar cheese and onions, the buns didn't fall apart. This might have been the first time I ever ate a chili dog without having to resort to using a fork (or even a spoon). Oh man, was that ever good.

I've made these ciabatta rolls several times now, and they've been consistently delicious. And, kept in a Ziploc bag once they're cool, they stay fresh for 3 days (not that they last that long around here). 

I really do love baking bread, and David, who's very particular about bread being fresh, appreciates not paying premium prices for bread that's practically stale. I'm steadily working my way through pretty much the whole Local Breads book, so stay tuned for more of my baking adventures!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Getting the firewood supply in for the winter

The weekend before last was all about the firewood. David had amassed a huge pile of cut rounds out in the woods, and had begun hauling them by the truckload up to the woodshed near the main house. We cleaned out the woodshed, including raking out a layer about 8 or 10 inches deep of bark and wood chips that had accumulated over the past few seasons. Now all we had to do was start in on splitting and stacking.

On short notice, my sister Rebecca and her daughter Chaidie came up early on Saturday morning to give us a hand. A happy surprise was that she had brought along our brother John also. As the day was expected to get fairly hot, we decided to jump right in and get to work. John and David drove into the woods and brought loads of rounds, and in between loads, they both split most of the rounds with 6-pound mauls. Rebecca, Chaidie and I quickly figured out an efficient system for getting the split wood into the shed and stacked.

It actually turned out to work perfectly with 3 people. We were stacking wood on 3 sides of the shed, whose sloping roof is between 10 and 12 feet high. As the stack along the back wall grew to 6 feet or so, we started stacking a second row right in front of the back row. Once the second row was about 3 feet high, Chaidie stood on that row; then Rebecca would hand me a piece, I would hand it to Chaidie, and she would put it on the top of the back row. The second row was also important for stabilizing the back row; once the pile got to around 8 feet it could easily have started to lean forward. At times we had to think about when to start another row on the sides also. It was actually a lot of fun, as well as great exercise.

We worked that day for close to 5 hours, then had some lunch. Rebecca and Chaidie came back the next day, and Rebecca and I did quite a bit of the splitting that time, as well as stacking. When all was said and done, about 3 hours later, we had finished going through that huge pile of wood, and estimate that we have 5 or 6 cords in the shed. That's probably not enough to get through the winter, especially if it turns out to be the harsh La Nina we've been hearing about, but it's a really good start.

Thanks to Rebecca and John and Chaidie for all their help that weekend!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Try our homemade ginger syrup

I have been asked several times recently for my recipe for ginger syrup. This was another of those things that we came up with in our efforts to avoid products with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A drink we both like is Canadian whiskey and ginger ale, and we had been buying Canada Dry ginger ale (the only soft drink we ever bought, as we're not soda drinkers) as a mixer. After trying two or three different "natural" ginger ales, we got a bit frustrated; some actually had HFCS, others had a ginger taste that was just too hot to work well as a mixer. So here it is, our homemade ginger syrup.

(Recipe yields about 6 quarts)

Prepare 6 quart-size canning jars and lids. I usually keep the canning jars hot by leaving them full of very hot water in the sink. Have 6 rings ready. Be ready to bring your canning jar lids to a boil in a small saucepan of hot water. As soon as the water boils, turn off heat and keep covered until ready to use.

NOTE: You can, of course, make ginger syrup without canning. You will need to refrigerate it, though, as it may develop mold or begin to ferment if left out at room temperature. (See below for quantities of ingredients for a 1-quart batch.)

In a stainless steel or enamel stockpot, combine:

9 cups sugar (I use organic white sugar; brown sugar gives a different flavor)
18 cups water, preferably unchlorinated
6 ounces fresh organic ginger, thinly sliced (peeled or unpeeled, as you prefer)

Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once the syrup comes to a rolling boil, turn off heat. Leave the lid on and let steep for at least 10 minutes. While the syrup is heating, thinly peel and juice:

3 organic lemons (since you're using the peel, you really want to use organic lemons for this)

Divide the lemon peel pieces into 6 even parts. Remove ginger pieces from syrup with a slotted spoon or small sieve. Strain the seeds from the lemon juice and add juice to the hot syrup.

Taking the jars one at a time, empty out the water and put one pile of the lemon peel in the jar. Using a canning funnel, fill the jar with hot syrup to within 1/4" of the top and seal with the canning lids and rings. Let cool completely on rack.

Smaller batch quantities

To make ginger syrup one quart at a time, use the following quantities:

1-1/2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1 ounce fresh ginger
Juice and peel of 1/2 lemon

Suggestions for using ginger syrup

Canadian whiskey and ginger ale

1 shot Canadian whiskey
1-2 shots ginger syrup (2 if you like it sweeter)
About 3 ounces soda water

Variation: Try Canadian whiskey with hot ginger ale. Follow recipe above, substituting boiling water for the soda water, and serve in a mug. We love this on cold winter nights, and it's also great when you have a cold, sinus congestion, or flu symptoms.

Just plain ginger ale

2 shots ginger syrup
5-6 ounces soda water

You might also try drizzling ginger syrup over your fruit salad. And please, if you come up with any other ideas, do let me know. We love this ginger syrup, and I hope you'll try it. I suspect you won't miss the HFCS.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Yippee: The bees are back!

Swarm of bees moving into a hive in the eaves.

We are so excited: Two years after our 2 hives of honeybees were killed off by the unusual cold in early winter, a swarm of bees showed up here. I had been amusing myself by sickling down vetch, blackberries and tall grass (for the third day in a row), and when I got to a good stopping point, I decided to take a break and head back to the house for a bite to eat. I was still about 50 yards from the house when I heard a loud buzzing. I looked up and saw a large cloud of bees circling just above the roof of the house. (If you've never seen a bee swarm, believe you me, it is quite a sight; loud, too.)

At the time, David was down by the pond mowing, and although I was tired and thirsty, I ran down to give him the news, as I knew he would be excited, too. For years, there had usually been a colony of bees that had established a hive inside of the eaves on the east end of the house. This swarm had obviously located this spot and was in the process of moving in (see photo above). This is excellent news, as we have quite a few fruit trees up here, and the crop last year had definitely suffered from the lack of sufficient pollinators in the area.

The thing that concerns us is that it is now August 4, and our first frost tends to be around October 20, sometimes a week or two earlier. Once daytime temperatures start staying below 50F, the bees won't fly; they're essentially immobilized at around 45F. It's critical that they have time to build up a food supply to see them through the winter. The problem is that at this time of the summer, not that much is blooming, and even if there were plenty of sources of pollen and nectar, there isn't likely to be enough time to produce adequate honey stores. So we are "feeding" them with a heavy sugar syrup, a normal thing to do this time of year to supplement their usual food sources.

We have a ways to go before this colony is up to speed. We will give them plenty of time, a year or more, to multiply and build up a supply of honey for themselves, before we even think about harvesting honey for us. We value them mainly as pollinators here, and the honey, when it comes, will be a bonus.

For right now, though, we're just so happy that the bees are back.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Green eggs and Hamlet

"I do! I like green eggs and ham! 
I do! I like them, Sam I am!"
-from Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Green eggs and hamlets; are we spoiled or what?

When the Three Little Pigs (our most recent batch of Tamworths) were slaughtered in early May, chef Gabriel at the Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim bought the two bigger ones. Of the one we had left, David's Uncle Stevie bought most of one side, everything but the belly. Usually I reserve the back legs to cure for prosciutto, but this time I decided to try something different. (We already have two prosciutti from last year's pigs, and a large one curing from the one that was slaughtered in January.)

So I took the bones out of the 22-pound leg, left the skin on, and proceeded to divide the meat into eight boneless little hams, which I, quite naturally, am calling Hamlets. Since the pieces were mostly not much more than 2 pounds, I knew they would cure much more quickly than a whole, bone-in ham. I started with my usual dry rub, a mixture of kosher salt, brown sugar, ascorbic acid (an antioxidant that is used instead of nitrates; more about that coming up in another post), and a few herbs and spices. The pieces are simply rubbed with this mixture and put into freezer bags and kept cool for a few days.

Next I took the hamlets out of the bags and put them into stainless stockpots and submerged them in white wine for about a week. This serves several purposes: Additional flavor from the wine; the extra time allows the salt in the dry rub to "equalize" throughout the meat, so it is cured evenly; and the citric, malic and tartaric acids in the wine inhibit a variety of potentially harmful bacteria.

By the way, I used this same curing method for about 15 pounds of  skin-on pork belly. If you've never tried Tamworth bacon, come over for breakfast sometime. Seriously. This is bacon as it should be: chewy, full of flavor, and it doesn't cook away to nothing in the frying pan. Oh, and the drippings are the perfect thing to use for cooking your green eggs.

Finally, the hamlets and bacon pieces were rinsed briefly and patted dry. I put the hamlets in stretchy netting so they would keep their shape (reminds me of control-top panty hose), and put them and the bacon directly onto the racks in my smoker. 2-3 hours on medium heat (about 210-215F in my smoker) with alder chips for smoke, and we had a beautiful pile of moist, perfectly cooked bacon and ham.

 One of our beautiful Ameraucana hens.

Being a longtime fan of Dr. Seuss, and knowing there were fresh Ameraucana eggs in the fridge, I couldn't resist the juxtaposition of green eggs and hamlets. (OK, so I'm a Shakespeare fan too.) Although we are transitioning our dual-purpose laying flock over to mainly New Hampshire Reds, we are keeping 10-20 Ameraucana hens; everyone likes the pretty eggs in shades of blue and green.

Anyway, the book never said "green eggs and GREEN ham," you know. I think I'll go have breakfast while I'm waiting for your e-mails.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Solar installation is underway!

Exciting news, people: for the past couple of weeks, we've been spending most of our spare time on our solar electric project! The pipes, rebar and conduit for the two pole mounts (which will each hold 4 solar panels) are in place; the next thing is to pour the concrete that will anchor the poles. Once the concrete is cured, the next thing will be assembling the frames that hold the solar panels, and installing the panels themselves.

We've been planning for this and organizing this project for a long time, certainly since before we moved to the farm five years ago. A lot of thought went into sizing the system; that is, figuring out how much power we wanted to produce, and from there, choosing the best combination of components to produce that power. No doubt about it, the equipment is expensive, and we didn't want the setup to be bigger than we actually need; frankly, that's just wasteful. On the other hand, we also planned for the addition of hydroelectric power to the system at some point.

Several months back, after burying my head in manuals and studying wiring schematics, I assembled the main power panel. This impressive setup includes two 3.6 kW inverters, a 240-volt transformer, a DC disconnect panel, an AC breaker box, and an 80-amp charge controller. I also built a large wooden box to house our bank of 16 deep-cycle batteries. Before we started working on all this, I really didn't know much of anything about house wiring (or electricity in general, for that matter). I was a bit intimidated at first, but eventually decided I should just dive in and start learning. After all, we're the ones who will be using this system, so I figure I ought to have at least some understanding of how it all works.

Here's the overview: The solar (photovoltaic) panels convert sunlight to electricity. Cables run from each panel, or series of panels, to a combiner box. This box contains breakers and terminal bus bars, to which the cables are connected. Larger cables then carry the combined power from all panels to the charge controller, which in turn carries power to the battery bank. As the name suggests, the charge controller controls the charging of the batteries, partly to prevent overcharging. It is basically the brains of the system.

The 16 6-volt batteries will be wired in two series of 8 batteries each, as we are building a 48-volt system. Very large cables, one positive and one negative from each series, then carry the battery (DC) power to the DC disconnect breaker, and from there to the inverters. The inverters then convert the DC power to AC, and more cables carry this power to the AC breaker box and out to the main house wiring.

Oh, and there will also be wiring from the generator to the AC box; the system is programmed to automatically start the generator to charge the batteries, if the level of charge drops below a designated point.

Pretty simple, isn't it?

Actually, there is a lot of detail in every part of this project. We've invested a lot in all this, one way and another, and we are taking things fairly slowly at this point; it's worth double- and triple-checking to make sure we've done it right the first time.  It's very interesting and sophisticated equipment, and we're fairly thrilled that after all the planning, it's finally all coming together.

Be sure to check back; I'll be posting more soon, along with photos.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The cat who came for Christmas

Sir Winsome de Cosmos, aka Cosmo.

Around Christmas, a cat showed up at our place. For once, it was not a cougar or bobcat. For about two weeks, we'd hear this loud meowing outside our front door after dark, when the birds were all tucked in and we were inside keeping warm by the wood stove. I would open the door and call to the cat, but he instantly bolted away, and I never got more than a glimpse of a very speedy shadow.

Then one night, when I called to him, he meowed back at me, and I could tell he wasn't very far away. I kept calling, and suddenly, he ran right up to me. He let me pet him, and even let me pick him up! For the next ten days or so, we let him in at night and gave him food and water and let him sleep in a pet carrier near the wood stove. Meanwhile, I had posted ads both on craigslist and in the local paper, hoping to find the owner. He seemed like such a sweet cat, very well-behaved, and I assumed someone must be missing him and looking for him.

Unfortunately one day while he was outside, he got into something poisonous and became quite sick. David took him to the vet, and four days (and a large bill) later, we brought him home again. Although we had had several responses to our ads, none of them turned out to match this cat, and eventually we decided to keep him. Our best guess at this point was that someone had dumped him at the end of our road; our gate is 1-1/2 miles up the hill from our nearest neighbor, and unfortunately people do abandon animals there from time to time. Given our location, if he had just wandered away from home, it seems a stretch to believe he would show up at our place.

He seems to be quite used to being an indoor cat, which is good, considering all the predator problems we've had lately. David thinks he may decide to go outside during the warmer weather, so we'll see. As I said, he's a very sweet cat, and the vet said he'd been neutered and was probably 2-3 years old. He's a beautiful charcoal grey tabby; actually the vet called the color Russian Blue, and in a certain light his fur does look blue-grey. He's also very quiet. He's officially been christened Sir Winsome de Cosmos; David says that when he gets that inscrutable look that cats so often have, it's because he's busy controlling the universe. I call him Cosmo.

We sure are enjoying having a cat around the house. He even caught a mouse last week, which definitely raised his stock with us. It's hard to imagine a nicer cat than this one, and although it's very sad to think that someone may have abandoned him, we feel very fortunate that he's now a part of our lives.

As you can see from the photo above, his only problem is that he can't seem to relax. :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Baking bread in a wood-fired oven, Round Two

This past Sunday I was down at the Alder Wood Bistro again, having fun baking more bread. This time I had four batches going: A naturally leavened multigrain bread, sourdough, onion rye and Montreal-style bagels. The only other time I had tried to make a naturally leavened bread (no yeast added), it didn't turn out well. This time, I had actually planned to make this batch a yeast bread (although I was using a starter left over from the previous week's bread), but (oops) I forgot to add the yeast. I realized it at about 4:00 AM, when I got up to mix the dough from the leaven that had been fermenting since Saturday morning. I decided to just do the best I could with it and see what happened.

Well, surprisingly to me at least, it turned out great! Although it never did look as if it rose much in the proofing baskets, I thought it looked good when I slashed it just before putting it in the oven. When I checked on it 30 minutes later, I was amazed to see how much it had risen, and it was coloring nicely. 10 minutes later it was out of the oven.

 Naturally leavened multigrain hearth bread; oh boy!

As soon as the multigrain  and sourdough loaves were in the proofing baskets, I mixed up a batch of dough for the Montreal bagels, and the rye dough. After working pretty hard for the first 45 minutes or so, I now had at least a couple of hours to kill while things were proofing and rising.

After the bagel dough had risen for 2 hours, I shaped the bagels. Then into the boiling pot they went, a few at a time, for a minute and a half. Then they drained briefly on a clean towel before being dredged on both sides with sesame seeds. Montreal-style bagels are traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven; the Bistro's oven was about 530F when the bagels went in. Naturally, being much smaller than a loaf of bread, I was nervous about over baking them, but I needn't have worried. They actually took about 20 minutes, not much less than what it takes in the gas oven I use at home. This is one bread item for which we're willing to disregard the rule of waiting until it cools to eat it; we were both pretty hungry by that time, too, and David had thoughtfully brought along some butter and cream cheese.

Montreal-style bagels just out of the wood-fired oven.

By the time I was done baking the bagels, it was time to load in the sourdough and multigrain loaves. Next I shaped the onion rye loaves; I had carmelized the onions while the dough was rising. The two loaves went into the oven about 15 minutes after the others, and while I had the oven door open I shifted around some of the other loaves; some seemed to be browning a little faster than others. I'm getting used to figuring out where to put the loaves in the oven, depending on their size.  I'm actually a bit surprised at how easily I'm learning to use this wonderful oven.

It was really hard to wait for over an hour to cut into one of the multigrain loaves, and I was anxious to see what the crumb looked like. I had used the same formula that I had the previous Sunday, but I adjusted the hydration level to 70% (it was 65% last week), as we both felt that in the center of the loaf, the crumb was a little on the dry side. (I've just recently learned a formula called the "baker's percentage," which is a means to calculate how much water and flour you need to get a dough of a particular hydration level; I'm so happy I finally got my mind around this one.) I could see right away that it was a big improvement; the crumb was uniformly moist and tender inside a delicious, crisp crust. Once again, I felt thankful that I have been keeping good records of every batch of bread I've made, so I will be able to duplicate this result.

Interior of naturally leavened multigrain bread.

The really difficult thing with this baking is that I want to make a lot of bread at a time (it's a big oven, and I'm having a lot of fun). What to do with all this bread? Hmmm. I feel a taste-testing party coming on...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baking bread in a wood-fired oven

 Recently I started baking bread again. I used to do this fairly regularly, but for whatever reasons, I just haven't done much of it in the last few years. It occurred to me that it might be fun to try baking bread in the wood-fired oven at the Alder Wood Bistro, so I started reading up on this process. Thanks to a fabulous book called "The Bread Builders: Hearth loaves and masonry ovens," my interest in this craft (or is it an art?) has gone to a whole new level.

I talked to Gabriel (chef at the Alder Wood Bistro) who was positively thrilled at the idea of his wood-fired oven being used for baking bread. In fact, it turns out that his oven was actually designed by the late Alan Scott, who was not only the co-author of The Bread Builders, but also a friend of Gabriel's. I learned from Gabriel that in the mornings, the oven is at a perfect temperature for baking bread; also, because it is closed up all night long, the temperature has generally equalized throughout the large space inside the oven. So, feeling a bit like I was cramming for an exam, I studied hard, made a lot of notes, and finally began making my first batch of dough. This was on a Saturday; I had begun the starter (much like a sourdough starter) about a week before, and I was anticipating baking bread on Sunday morning.

I had never ground grain before, but it turned out to be quite easy. I clamped David's Corona stone mill to a large cutting board and then clamped the board to our kitchen table (this prevents denting or otherwise damaging the table itself), and poured some organic rye into the mill. It certainly was some work after a while, and it took some trial and error to get the consistency right; I wanted basically coarsely-cracked hard wheat and more finely ground rye. This was added to the starter along with a carefully calculated amount of water, plus more organic white flour and salt. I stirred it all just to the point of being well mixed, then let it rest for a while; this allows all the grains, especially the coarse ones, to fully hydrate before kneading. Then 15 minutes of kneading and the dough was ready to ferment (and I was ready to take a break).

As I had too much dough to put in our tiny fridge, I left it to ferment and rise in the cool end of our kitchen, well away from the wood stove. My plan was to let it rise slowly overnight, then pack up and head down to the Bistro first thing in the morning to shape, proof and bake. I had two kinds of dough, the one with cracked wheat and rye, and also a French sourdough. It didn't occur to me at that point to figure out how many loaves this was going to make, or what I would do with them. Did I mention the learning curve?

Sourdough baguettes proofing in a linen couche.

On Sunday morning, the dough had risen pretty much the way I had hoped it would; enough, but not too much. It all smelled wonderful, by the way. I was really excited. When I got to the Bistro, I unpacked everything, got organized, and started dividing, weighing and shaping the loaves. I ended up with three sourdough baguettes (0.5 kilos each), one large sourdough round (1 kilo), two large multi-grain rounds (1.5 kilos each) and one smaller multi-grain round (1 kilo). The round loaves were proofed in traditional "bannetons," baskets lined with coarse linen; the baguettes proofed nestled among the folds of a "couche," simply a length of thick, coarse linen (see photo above).

 Multi-grain loaf proofing in a banneton.

Once the loaves were proofing, there was nothing to do but wait. I figured it would take at least two hours. I had brought some writing materials with me, as well as a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle book, so I had plenty to do to occupy myself while I was waiting (somewhat impatiently) to be able to finally load the loaves into the oven.

2-1/2 hours later, the dough was ready (I had learned how to test for sufficient proof, although this was the first time I had tried it, so I was not totally sure of myself). Flipping the loaves onto the cornmeal-dusted peel and quickly slashing the tops, I slid the loaves one by one into the oven, right onto the hot brick floor. Here it was: I knew that in 40 minutes or so, I would find out if I'd succeeded in putting all I had learned into practice. Knowing how much of any skill is learned simply by practice and experience, I was mentally prepared for the possibility that all would not go as I'd hoped. Even so, I couldn't help feeling a sense of confidence; who knows why, I just did.

I set the timer for 30 minutes, after which time I would open the oven door and take a look. When I did, I could see that all the loaves were rising very nicely and beginning to brown. The only adjustment I made was to move the baguettes back a ways from the door; I had loaded them last, nearest the door, assuming that they would bake more quickly and would come out first. I could see they weren't browning as fast as the other loaves, though, so I moved the loaves around to make room for the baguettes further back.

10 minutes later, I decided it was time to take the bread out of the oven. It all looked beautiful, to my relatively inexperienced (and undoubtedly biased) eye. I left them to cool on racks and went back to the crossword puzzle to wait (even more impatiently) for the bread to cool sufficiently to cut.

Multi-grain loaves (left) and French sourdough loaves (center and top right).

All I can say is, if you've never tried a hearth-baked bread, you really should: The crust was incredibly flavorful, as well as having a wonderful crispy-chewy thing going on. We cut into a baguette first, since it was smaller and cooled off faster. I had never made sourdough before, but I thought this bread had a pretty nice flavor. Presumably as time goes on, the starter will increase in flavor and the bread will improve accordingly. A little while later, we cut into one of the large multi-grain loaves; it turned out quite well also, although I could see that next time I should make the dough "wetter" to achieve the more open crumb I was hoping for. The flavor was pretty good, however.

So, as I said, I'm learning, even if I am at the bottom end of a steep learning curve. In the meantime, I'm baking bread nearly every day, which both David and I are enjoying. And I always have the comforting knowledge that if a particular batch doesn't turn out right, the pigs have really good taste in bread.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our latest do-it-yourself project: Homemade tonic water

As many of you know, here at Canyon Creek Farms we are always finding new ways to be more self-sufficient. This naturally means that we are constantly learning, daydreaming, and brainstorming. One of the things frequently on our minds is improving the way we eat. For instance, we love cured meats such as pastrami and bacon, but do not wish to consume nitrates and nitrites. What to do? I'll talk about this more in another post, as it is its own large subject. This post is really about one of our latest ideas: making our own tonic water.

For years now, we have been doing our best to avoid products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. The label-readers among you know how difficult this can be; HFCS seems to show up in an incredible variety of places. Our one continuous bugaboo has been tonic water; we love our gin-and-tonics, but try to find tonic water that doesn't have HFCS. (I recently heard of a specialty shop in Seattle that does sell a sugar-sweetened tonic water, however.) So up till now, we've just decided to put up with it. It's not as if we're consuming lots of the stuff; G & Ts are more of a summertime drink for us.

Not long ago, my husband David came home from Sunny Farms (our local country store) with a 6-pack of Hansen's Natural Tonic Water. Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that it contained HFCS! Back to Sunny Farms it went. I began to question whether it might be possible to make our own tonic water. We talked about it a bit, but figured it would be problematic to find a source of quinine.

A month or so ago, I read an interesting article in Edible Seattle about "craft bartenders" who were making their own bitters, many with exotic flavors such as lavender and root beer. The article included one recipe for homemade bitters, and my eye was immediately caught by one ingredient: Cinchona bark, from which quinine is derived. Ha, I thought, it must be fairly easily available. Actually the article did mention two sources in Seattle, but later I found a web site that offered the bark in much larger quantities, which made it much more affordable.

Another Google search brought me to Jeffrey Morgenthaler's blog. Jeff is a Portland, OR bartender, and his terrific blog includes recipes for, among other things, tonic water. After receiving my first package (a full pound) of cinchona bark, I assembled the other ingredients and made my first batch. We haven't actually tried it yet as I am waiting patiently for the tiny cinchona bark particles to settle out first, but we are quite excited about this. I am also going to try different versions, such as a sweetened type and an unsweetened one.

Anyone ever make their own tonic water? What recipe(s) did you use? Please post your comments and questions; since I'm so new to this I'm sure I have a lot yet to learn.