Tastes Like Spring — A recipe for Scallion Pancakes

“What are they?” asked my son en passant.  “Scallion pancakes; they’re a kind of fry bread.” “Can’t go wrong with fry bread!” he replied, and snatched one to eat before mowing.

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Yes, Spring is here (again), and we’ve gone through our usual winter-spring-winter-summer-winter-spring nonsense. The daffodils are blooming, the grass needs mowing, and the scallions are up. Scallions are the same thing as green onions, meaning ordinary yellow or white onions harvested when young. I have some volunteer onions in the former vegetable patch (soon to be lawn again), and because they grew from rogue seeds last year, and as onions are biennials, this year they will in turn go to seed if not harvested before that point. I woke up the other morning thinking, “Boy, some Scallion Pancakes sound really good!” A dim sum from Shanghai, these fry breads are some of the simplest of the tea-house treats to make. If you don’t have any scallions on hand (or found them withered away in the back of the crisper drawer), you can use Chinese chives (AKA garlic chives or Chinese leeks).

PREPARING THE DOUGH AND SCALLIONS

In a large mixing bowl, blend together:

  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) hot water —  plus a tablespoon more, if needed

Once the dough is rough and clumpy, liberally sprinkle flour on a clean counter, and knead the dough for a few minutes until it’s smooth and workable. Wrap the dough in a damp cloth or plastic bag and set it aside to rest for 30 minutes (set a timer). TIP: Set the mixing bowl in the sink, and fill with hot sudsy water to soak off the sticky bits. Then I go out to harvest my scallions. When pulling up scallions, knock off the extra soil from the roots, and also strip off the outermost leaf. When onions grow, each onion layer is formed from a leaf; stripping off the outermost leaf removes the thin, dried, dirty layer. In the kitchen, rinse off the scallions (including any soil hiding in-between the leaves), and trim off the roots and brown leaf tips. This recipe only calls for the green parts, so you can set aside the white stalks for a stir-fry or omelette. In a 2-cup (1/2 L) measure, blend together:

  • 1 1/2 cups (325 mL) scallions, chopped small
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

TIP: I wear safety / laboratory goggles when chopping onions, as they keep the fumes from my eyes. Yes, it looks doofy, but it’s the best method I have yet to find to prevent the watering-eyes problem.

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A pair of safety goggles set atop a pile of scallions

The scallions need to macerate in the sugar and salt to get soft and tasty, so meanwhile we’re going to do some cleaning up. Remove any clumps of dough from the counter; I use the edge of my square-bladed metal spatula / turner, as I’m too cheap to spend money on an official dough scraper when something else works just fine. TIP: To remove gummy dough bits from the mixing bowl, pour out the suds and use a rubber spatula to scrape off the lumps. Wash the mixing bowl and rubber spatula, plus wash and dry your knife and cutting board, as you’ll need the latter again.

ASSEMBLING THE PANCAKES

Flour the counter, and cut the dough into two even lumps. Take one lump, and roll / squeeze it into a log 12 1/2″ (35 cm) long. Cut the log into five, 2 1/2″ (6.5 cm) long sections. Move four sections aside, and roll out the remaining piece very thin, into a rectangle 10″ x 4″ (25 x 10 cm).

(Yes, these conversions aren’t exact, and that’s okay as we’re going to be further mashing up the dough anyway.)

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Cut log of dough into five evenly-sized sections.

TIP: It’s hard to use a rolling pin to stretch the dough by just rolling it. So after the initial bout of rolling the dough flat, I use the rolling pin to anchor one end and gently pull, then without lifting the rolling pin, lay down the stretched dough and roll the pin over the dough to secure the stretching and flatten it more. Then I roll the other direction to broaden the piece.

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Hold down one end of the dough with a rolling pin and gently pull on the other end to stretch it out.

Now it’s time to fill that piece of dough! Take a tablespoon of scallions and distribute them along the center of the strip, but stop half an inch (1 cm) before each end. (Resist the urge to “supersize” your load; you’ll find out why.)

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A very thin rectangle of dough with a line of chopped scallions going down the middle.

Fold over each of the short ends, and then fold over the top to cover the scallions, and the bottom to cover the top. I’ve never seen any recipe source mention folding in the short ends, but I have found from making burritos and such that tucking in the short end first helps prevent the filling from falling out. Take one end and fold the whole thing over lengthwise (doubled).

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Filled dough showing one short end folded in first, and the bottom and top lengths folded over each other.

Lift from the counter and gently smuush it along its length to make it thinner and longer. Take the end with the original ends, and fold it over a bit.

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An inch of the open end of the doubled, filled dough has been folded over to begin the coiling process.

Then coil up the roll, tucking the outside end between adjoining parts of the ring.

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The filled roll coiled up, with the end tucked into the next loop.

TIP: Don’t even think of trying to use a rolling pin to flatten the coil into a pancake; even using your palm to flatten it onto the countertop doesn’t work well. Instead, dust it well with flour, and use your fingers to palpate the dough, pressing it as thin as possible, all over.

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Pressing the coil thin between fingers to flatten it. In real life, I generally use two hands; here I was taking the picture with the other hand.

Note that some scallions wil pop out of the dough and create a juicy mess here and there. That always happens. Tuck them in, or just use them in the next pancake. Don’t worry your early pancakes aren’t terribly round; they will still taste good.

Repeat the rolling, filling, coiling and flattening process with the other pancakes.

You might ask, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to flatten and fill one of those two big lumps of dough, and then cut it into five pieces, instead of doing each piece separately?” Being an efficient sort, I wondered that myself, and tested my dough with both methods. The fill-then-cut pancakes ended up much messier, with scallions popping out everywhere. You can see the results here, with the fill-then-cut on the left, and the make-five-individually on the right:

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Comparing two methods: five of the the messy fill-then-cut pancakes on the left, and five of the tidy make-five-individually on the right.

TIP: To easily remove the dough and scallion gunk off your hands, use warm running water and a rubber spatula to scrape off the dough; be sure any dough bits aren’t left stuck on the sink where they might harden.

Likewise, scrape off your counter, and put your utensils to soak in warm, soapy water. The washing up will be easy to do by the time you’ve cooked and eaten your scallion pancakes.

LAST STEPS: COOK AND ENJOY!

Get a large iron or non-stick skillet and heat up a thin layer of oil for frying your pancakes. (On my electric stove, the ideal setting is somewhere between Medium and Medium-hot, but stoves vary.) Do not crowd the pan with too many. The pancakes are ready to turn over for frying on the second side when lightly browned, and the dough looks mostly white instead of translucent. Once fried on both sides, remove to blotting paper.

TIP: I drape a couple of paper napkins over the pages of an old phone book; the napkins keep the ink off, and the phone book pages provide plenty of blotting ability. Once the cooking is over, I rip those pages from the book and toss them.

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No sauce is needed for this dim sum; just let the Scallion Pancakes cool enough to eat!

Howdy, Nandi!

Let me introduce you to a new friend of mine, Nandi the garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Unlike most of the snakes whom I have encountered in my gardens, this one was much more amenable to being held, and didn’t thrash about, pee, or exude stink from its postanal gland. We decided to adopt him. (I think it’s a him; the tail after the vent is slender and shortish. Also, males emerge from hibernation first.)

Isn’t he just the cutest thing?

3/4 profile portrait shot of a Garter snake

Despite what pet stores may tell you (or told me), garter snakes are not insectivorous. So In his roomy terrarium/herpetarium, I ended up with a bunch of crickets (and some cricket feed cubes). The crickets will end up as chow for Rosie, my tarantula. Meanwhile though, the male crickets serenade the females, as well as Nandi and Rosie and me. Chirp, chirp, chirp! It’s the cricket equivalent of, “Hey, ba-by! Ooh, sexy!”
A pile of randy crickets hanging out atop the rock under the heat lamp

And as you can tell from this picture, Nandi is not a threat to them. In fact, he seems a trifle annoyed at times, and a few days ago after I fed him a hyuge earthworm, he burrowed into the soft plant substrate to digest, unmolested by the jumping jiminies.
At about 22 in. / 56 cm., Long Snake Is Long. Well, not really; that’s about an average size for an adult, although he could grow longer. Continue reading Howdy, Nandi!

Speak More Kale

This was a major WTF moment when listening to the news today [transcript this link]: the Chick-fil-A chain is suing a Vermont tee shirt maker for copyright infringement. Their slogan is, “Eat Mor Chikin” and his is “Eat More Kale”.
Now, Bo Muller-Moore’s design uses:

  • a different font,
  • correct spelling,
  • a vegetable instead of an animal,
  • and no cows in his design.

Obviously, the design on his tees is nearly identical to the fast food chain’s! </snark>
The Vermont state Governor, Peter Shumlin, formed “Team Kale” as a fundraiser for legal fees to fight this absurd suit. After all, the Vermonter has been making these (and other) tee shirts for ten years, and this is how he makes a chunk of his living.  (Progress on the individually hand silk-screened tees is apparently getting a bit behind due to sudden demand, but there are also big green stickers for a 50-cent donation.)
The phrase “Eat More ____” sounded vaguely familiar, and some googling around quickly showed that it has been used throughout history!

vintage "EAT MORE MILK" advert for Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate

WWI Canada Food Board poster, "Eat more Vegetables! SAVE Meat and Wheat for our SOLDIERS and ALLIES"

"Eat MORE FRUIT" poster, Victorian Railways, Australia

WWI poster, U.S. Dept. Agriculture: "Eat More Cottage Cheese...You'll Need Less Meat...A Postal Card Will Bring Recipes...Cottage Cheese or Meat? Ask Your Pocketbook!"

There are other current usages of the phrasing, such as”Stay Healthy. Eat More Bacteria” for a dietary supplement. (After all, one shouldn’t discriminate between biological Kingdoms!)
If you do a visual google search, you can find an antique billboard on Route 66 that says, “Watch Your Curves. Eat More Beef.” from the Beef Industry Council. Apparently, in an earlier incarnation it was the Texas Beef Council, which also offered up quite an absurd pin-up girl (she’s ostensibly changing a tire, but without any cattle in the picture whatsoever). I mention these simply because they are the humorous antithesis of the “Eat Mor Chikin” cows.
BTW, kale is really tasty lightly braised (PLEASE, don’t cook the hell out of it — that just makes it bitter and stringy). Take your gently-wilted kale and sprinkle with some balsamic vinaigrette, or chop and mix into mashed potatoes (with bacon and onions, if you like), or add bite-size pieces in soups (miso soup with udon and kale sounds REALLY good this time of year).
What makes kale so great is that not only will it over-winter (meaning, you can get it from local farmer’s markets or CSA just about year-round, or else grow your own), but also that it has lots of iron, Vitamins A & C, calcium, and fiber.
Tasty Kale 'Curly Leaf'

Many kales are also quite ornamental as well — not just the frilly pink sort (grown for pretty more than nutrition), but also the tall green or purple-tinged sorts, which are often used for cold-weather plants in outdoor container arrangements.
The ornamental Kale 'Redbor Hybrid'

V1brat0rs for Ensuring All Your Cucumber Needs

Bug G. Membracid recently had a radio show appearance!  (Is it called an “appearance” when you’re on a wireless programme and no one can see you?  Nevermind.)
But it featured her line about honeybees being ‎”little flying phalluses” – which is really funny when you remember that worker honeybees are girls!
That in turn reminded me of a story during a horticultural study tour to a Dutch production greenhouse …
Tomatoes and peppers do not need insects to transfer pollen between flowers, as the flowers are “perfect” (have both male & female parts). But for the pollen to get moved/bumped from the pistils to the stigma there still needs to be some kind of wind or other vibration.
There’s not enough wind for this to naturally happen (or rather, efficiently happen) in a greenhouse, especially when the panes are shut to the weather. So it used to be that the operators would equip their greenhouse workers with *little vibrating wands* (oh yes), which they used to buzz-pollinate Every. Single. Fresh. Flower. (Insert inevitable sniggers from the undergrads.) Of course, that’s a lot of paid worker hours.
Nowadays the thrifty Dutch use bumblebees, who work for much cheaper wages of cardboard nesting boxes and some supplemental nectar. The big, gentle bees still visit all the flowers for the pollen, and resultant heavy buzzing results in flower fertilization for good crops.
 
[N.B.  Derf; “cucumbers in the title is incorrect – they DO need to be insect pollinated! Except of course for the parthenogenetic cukes, which basically set fruit by a sort of “virgin birth” process…]

Singing teh Brain-Dead Workin-Hard Blues: Remodeling

Had a migraine this morning
Cancelled on my shrink.
Need to clean and organise
But I can’t even think.
Moved bedrooms three days ago
O where is my daily pill box?
Boxes and piles everywhere
O where are my clean socks?
I need to go out and garden
Weeds have eaten the side yard.
I need to finish planting
Heat’n’humidity too damn hard.
I need more hours at my job
Stocking groceries at the store;
717 pounds of charcoal
Added bruises to the score.
Need to hammer and hang things
But grandchildren are asleep.
Need to paint and put away stuff
Always more work and I just keep–
Charging for hardware I gotta buy
Like a frequent flier down at Lowe’s.
Wish everything was at the Restore*
Spending too much goodness knows.
Had a migraine this morning
Cancelled on my shrink.
Need to clean and organise
But I can’t even think.
Moved bedrooms three days ago
O where is my daily pill box?
Boxes and piles everywhere
O where are my clean socks?

* Restores are where Habitat for Humanity sells new/gently used building materials; they are a great way to reduce-reuse-recycle and save lots of money on building supplies!  The hitch of course is that the items vary daily at stores.

Web buzzing

Just wanted to share some cool things I found recently!

INSECT-RELATED FUN

Amazonian ants apparently adore Tetris – ’tis a tee from Threadless Tees.

Cartoon with a green background, the upper half with five army ants on a branch, carrying pieces of leaves cut into various Tetris shapes. Below, the crowned queen ant awaits by a Tetris-shaped stack of pieces. (Unfortunately, she's about to get a square and won't have a place to set it!)

and,

NPR has a short episode with guest comments by the inimitable entolomogist and highly entertaining author, May Berenbaum,

There has been a worldwide proliferation of urinal flies, observed May Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois in her new book The Earwig’s Tail.

You can listen to the episode and/or read the transcript, “There’s A Fly In My Urinal”.

realistic black and white fly decal

and,

Jessica (the painter) and James (the author) of Project InSECT have a couple of books out, How Mildred Became Famous (book I and book II).  Mildred is a mantis, and one of the many gorgeous, large paintings that Jessica has done.

Detailed painting of Mildred, the praying mantis, plain chiaroscuro background

GARDENING / NATURE

A brief video:  One year in 40 seconds. Eirik Solheim’s gorgeous time-lapse of Norweigian woods.  Suitably short for the ADHD brain or a coffee break.  (Alas, I’ve tried several ways to get this URL embedded so it will display from this post, but WordPress is being funky.  So you’ll just have to copy-paste it to get to the YouTube page directly.)
youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmIFXIXQQ_E

and of course, a bit of geeky

ACCESSIBILITY


A dismotivational poster with the image of a Dalek (robot from Dr Who show) stuck in a concrete room with only stairs as a means of exit; its word balloon says, "FUCK". The poster caption is, "LIMITATIONS everyone has them"

News Bees

Our carpenter bees are happy, but the short-haired bumble became extinct in its native country several years ago.  Fortunately, immigrant populations survived in New Zealand, and are being re-introduced.  The value of native pollinators is being rediscovered as honeybee populations have dwindled. Find out how to prevent jet-lag in bees and more here in the Guardian.
Elephants are also endangered, and Kenyan populations are pushed to resources where farmers are also trying to survive.  Fortunately, researchers are working with the elephants’ (and bees’) natural behaviors.  A report on BBC News describes how hollow-log style beehives have been used on the continent for centuries, and are used as part of the fences. (Of course, the honeybees also give the farmers good crop pollination, and some honey and wax harvests, too.)
Insect news from my own garden to come soon!

B is for Bob, C is for –

“Eek, a bee!” yelped the little girl as her mother paid for some flowers at the nursery register.
“Oh, that’s just Bob; he can’t sting you.  He’s a carpenter bee.” I explained, holding an open hand up toward where Bob was doing loop-de-loops.  But my repeated explanations aside, most people were not buying Bob’s reported status as a gentlebee-ing.  Let’s face it, an inch-long bee flying around you is hardly subtle.
Not but a couple days later, I came in to work and found a patio-style citronella candle lit near the entrance. Our manager had lit it in hopes of deterring Bob, who had been joined by another male.  Like two World War 1 flying aces, they were staging aerial dogfights.  “They’re not out to get anyone,” I told the other employees, “it’s territorial.”  That didn’t mollify anyone, but fortunately Bob prevailed and his rival left the scene.
“Wow, that’s a BIG bumblebee!” exclaimed a customer.
“It’s a carpenter bee.  They have the shiny, dark abdomens, like a brand-new pair of carpenter jeans.  Bumbles are furry all over.  See the white on his face?  That means he’s a male.  The males can’t sting.”  I’ve never been stung by carpenter bees or bumbless, and have even petted them.
My current computer wallpaper is my photo of a female — isn’t she just adorable?! (more story below):

A large bee with a black head and abdomen, and a gold, furry thorax nectaring on Queen Anne's Lace
A large bee with a black head & abdomen and a gold, furry thorax, nectaring on Queen Anne's Lace

Carpenter bees (Hymenoptera, Family Apidae: Xylocopa virginica) get their name because they dig tunnels in dead wood.  They use these for rearing offspring, and for overwintering.  Painting wood is the easiest deterrent for preventing structures from being bored into.  I couldn’t see anything in the garden center “tent” that would be a great place for setting up housekeeping (the only wooden structures nearby were thin shipping pallets), so I figured that Bob had decided that the garden center was the ne plus ultra of food resources, with its thousands of blossoms.
Like other bees, carpenters are valuable as pollinators, and like orchardists, you can buy (or make) bee blocks in hopes of attracting some.  Once in a while the bees will take a short-cut and “rob” a flower by chewing through the base to get directly to the nectar. (‘nother pix, still more story)
White-faced male carpenter bee stealing necar from Columbine flower
White-faced male carpenter bee stealing necar from pink Columbine flower

While the males are hanging around being territorial, the females are busy stocking their offsprings’ larder with pollen & nectar balls.  Each of their several eggs gets its own foodball and wood-pulp partition.  Once the larva have hatched, eaten up their food, and metamorphosed into adults, they then chew through the wee shoji-screens, crawling over their siblings to go out and start the process over again.
Recently, Bob was nowhere to be seen.  Our manager explained that when he was cleaning up the other night, he realized that the broom made a great fly-swatter.  Apparently I looked dismayed, because he went on to explain that something unexpected happened the next day.  “Bob’s brother or cousin or friend or who-ever moved in, several of them!”
This made me laugh.  ” ‘Nature abhors a vacuum.’ There was an opening in the territory!”
But our story has a serendipitous ending.  As the days have grown hotter, our manager brought out a standing fan to help keep everyone cool as they stand by the register.  Apparently carpenter bees are befuddled — or bothered — by the steady stream of air, and they left to hang around elsewhere.
“Oh, that’s fabulous! You worked with their behavior, not against it.  You always get better results that way, whether it’s insects, students, or employees.  That was really clever.”