Green things and tomatoes like my daddy taught me

This month seems to be going by so quickly. Recently I’d been coveting pictures of incredibly creative deck gardens and some raised bed ideas for smaller spaces but hadn’t intended on taking any action on it. Knowing near to nothing about gardening, I thought I had already missed my window for planting and figured it was too late to add any new life to my very bare and very boring deck. I’d resolved that this spring was not the spring for deck gardens. However, when a friend so graciously gifted me some herb, berry, tomato, flower, AND succulent starts (Thanks, Joan!), the flame was fueled. I got so excited about putting together my little potted garden that I picked up two more sweet strawberry plants and a cherry tomato. To all of the veteran gardeners out there, it gets a bit addicting, no?

IMG_3164

Basil – For fresh pasta, pesto, or caprese salad

IMG_3161

Mint – For mojitos, mojitos, and mojitos. Just kidding. How about watermelon, mint, and feta salad? Or mojitos?

To my excitement (and confusion), these things are actually growing. It’s as if they like me or something.

IMG_3165

Strawberries! This is all so new and exciting!

FullSizeRender (1) copy

Those little flowers will turn into strawberries, right? Oh, I so hope at least one of my three plants produces at least one little berry. I probably wouldn’t even eat it. I would just set my little strawberry on a very large plate and let it be the very proud centerpiece of my dining room table until it molds over and I must tearfully throw it away. Grow berries grow!

FullSizeRender (1)

And this, my friends, is also happening. Cherry tomatoes planted like my dad taught me. Five gallon bucket, dirt, cage, and trash bag. Okay, I’m sure he did it better than this. My pa has mother nature in his blood. But out of all of the wonderful gardening that we did as a family growing up (and I mean wonderful, magical raised garden beds overflowing with sweet snap peas, and sugary carrots, and candy-like tomatoes, and crisp lettuces, and anything else you could possibly want to snack on as a child during a brief break from play outside in the sun – The kind of wonderful/magical that every child should have a chance to experience), this is what I remember the most. Drill a hole in the bottom of a bucket, add some rocks (I actually used pieces of recycled styrofoam as an experiment. Same idea, I think), add dirt, plant the plant, water until the water drains from the hole, add a cage, wrap in plastic to create a lovely green house effect. I remember these bucket tomatoes producing so well. Fingers crossed that lots of sun and me speaking very kindly to my little green babies will make it happen. How about you? Do you have anything special growing in your yards or decks or patios this year?

Don’t judge a book by its cover…

…or vegetables by their ugly. Not long ago, I read an article on how a European supermarket took a stand against food waste by promoting and selling the ugly cast-offs of the produce world in their stores (at a discount, of course). They touted these quirky veggies by proving that they were just as nutritious and delicious and worthy of love as any other. And they sold out quickly! (Their marketing video, here, is actually really great and definitely worth a watch).

FullSizeRender copy

Well, I have to tell you that these little purple potatoes that I had in my pantry aren’t so sexy looking either. The skins are wrinkly, the ends lumpy, and what’s up with that root?! However, I was beyond excited to get my hands on these little guys. Any idea why a girl like me would get this pumped about a potato? Well, just cut into one and see!

IMG_3178

Wow! That color! The modest purple potato, everyone…And hey, the bunch was only $1.00. Of course I couldn’t wait to eat them. With pigment like that, you know they’re going to be good. I cleaned their nubbly skins by scrubbing under running water and cutting off anything too unsightly (like eyes and roots). There is no need to peel since the skin tastes great too (and just think of the extra vitamins, ya’ll!).

I prepared them by boiling in water until just tender, about 15 minutes. While the potatoes were boiling, I sautéed some sliced Kalamata olives in a little olive oil along with some fresh chopped rosemary. Once the potatoes were cooked, I drained them, sliced them into thick rounds, and added to my skillet. I added a small dab of butter (aka flavor gold) to the pan and sautéed them for a bit on med-high just until the skins began to brown. I then finished with a little sprinkle of Kosher salt.

FullSizeRender (1)

You can see how they turned and even darker shade after cooking. So fun. These babies are actually pretty sweet, almost like a yam, so I would consider that when pairing with other foods. I tossed mine with some fresh steamed green beans (not only for taste but because of the beautiful complimentary colors), added an extra drizzle of olive oil, and just a pinch more of salt. Fresh, quality ingredients need little fussing over. Delicious!

Twine Wrapped Bottles

Sometimes when life gets going at lightning speed it’s hard to remember to sit down every once in a while just to tinker or fiddle or craft. It’s good for the health, I say. I recently carved out a few minutes to make this twine wrapped bottle and am glad I did. As it isn’t always easy for me to toss a thing before weighing all possible options for repurpose, I had been collecting wine bottles of different shapes and colors here and there for a while with the intention of turning them into lanterns. I never quite got around to that. Because one can only have so many empty wine bottles lying about the house before feeling like a wino, I decided to break up the collection and turn a few into vases.

photo 1

I could see these being used as centerpieces for a wedding or set in a small grouping of different sizes on a mantel or dining room table. Mine is currently in my guest bathroom. All you need is a clean bottle, twine, and a glue gun. Starting at the top, run a line of glue right under the lip of the bottle and press the twine into it and let it dry. Do this again until you have at least three glued lines around the top. This is your starting point, so it’s important that it sticks well. From there, continue to wrap the twine around the neck of the bottle, one loop at a time. It isn’t necessary to glue every line down at this point, but it is very important that you wrap the twine tightly or else it will unravel on you. Be sure to also push each new loop of twine up so that it sits tight against the last line and there is no glass showing in between.

photo 2

Continue to wrap until the bottle begins to flare out. Around two or three loops before the bottles starts to widen, you will need to start gluing the twine down again.

photo 3

Each line from here on will need to be glued down or else it will come undone as the bottle changes shape. While holding the twine tight in your left hand, run a short line of glue underneath the last row with your right and press the twine into it. Once the bottle begins to straighten out a little you may be able to stop gluing and just wrap. It’s going to depend on the shape of the bottle. You will be able to tell whether the twine will slip or bunch without glue.

photo 4

As you reach the bottom, flip the bottle upside down and begin gluing the rows down again. I stopped wrapping about an inch from the bottom because I wanted a bit of the glass to show, but you could go all of the way to the base. Glue the last bit of twine down and trim the tail with scissors.

photo 3 So what are you tinkering with these days? Do you have any fun ideas for getting that quick craft fix?

 

Diet sabotage and a body breakthrough

I had the pleasure of going out on a spontaneous mini date with my husband last night after we had spent a good chunk of the day apart, running errands here and there. As far as dates go, I think that spontaneous is really the way to go as those kinds of dates usually come at just the right time, when you are in need of a good chat and some refreshment. We popped into a local pub to grab a snack and a pint and to rest our feet. Gabe ordered a lamb sausage, served over some well prepared israeli couscous, grilled peppers, and an apricot chutney. I ordered the house fries with a (dairy-free) chili aioli. The dip I received was creamy, white, and tasted of onion and garlic. I’m fairly certain that what I got was a buttermilk ranch dressing. However, I’m not sure what more you can do to convince a waitress that what you are eating tastes nothing of chili, lime, or aioli when you’ve already asked her twice whether she is certain that what you received is indeed what your ordered and not the other dairy-licious dip being offered on the same menu and when her answer is a resounding “yes.” Although being unconvinced of this fry dip’s dairy-freeness, I ate it nonetheless. I mean really, it tasted so so good with those hot, salty, hand-cut fries, and, well, you gotta trust sometimes, right?  To my friends with dietary restrictions who like to eat out, I feel for you and some of the toes that you must feel you step on by making requests or being inquisitive about ingredients. I felt bashful having to even ask for the second time whether she was positive she knew what I was eating. I was tempted to have her taste it for herself. So, in conclusion, I’m pretty sure that I unwittingly cheated on my diet. Oh well. You win some you lose some, I suppose. It’s nothing that another few weeks of on-track eating can’t fix, right?

On the subject of winning, I had a major breakthrough with another one of my bodily oddities that, until recently, I’ve been convinced was something I would have to live with for the rest of my life – Earaches. Now, I only get these under very specific circumstances: 1) I must be jogging or hiking and 2) I must be outside. It starts as a dull ache in the back of my shoulders and neck and rapidly moves into a sharp pain in my ears and a pounding in my head. I can only describe it as that feeling that you get when you dive too deep under the water and the pressure makes your ears pop or you are descending in an airplane and your ears won’t pop. Times that by two and add in a migraine and that’s about how it feels. It’s rather debilitating and has made me hate jogging with a passion. However, on a whim and at the beckon of an invite from a friend I have recently signed up for The Color Run, taking place in August in Tacoma, WA (woohoo!). I was authentically excited about this opportunity, but the thought of getting another stabbing to the ears and head was making me reluctant to even start training.

My first trial jog occurred a few weeks ago, and I’ll just say that it didn’t end pleasantly for me. I had tried and failed to glean any useful information from the internet regarding this issue with my ears. From what I had read, many people get these headaches, but none have received many answers from either doctors or physical trainers on what the true cause is and what they can do about it. However, in chatting with a fantastically fit and talented runner friend of mine, I learned that some people (like herself) just have sensitive eardrums and that even the wind passing over your ears while jogging can make them ache. She suggested that I wear a headband over my ears to keep the wind out. I am now happy to report that on jog #2, armed with a soft band over my ears and with consciously relaxed shoulders (at the recommendation of another fantastically fit and talented runner friend) that I experienced no (ZERO!!!) earaches. My jogging style is not pretty, mind you. I’m about as fast as molasses out there and am wiggling my arms and shoulders around like wet pool noodles every five minutes to ensure that I’m staying loose, but NO MORE EARACHES!! is all I care about. I was able to go for a third “run” (and by run, I mean walk, jog, walk, jog, pant, walk, jog, sweat, and so on) and was just as successful in the ear department. I am hopeful that this will be a lasting development in my life and that I can continue to push myself forward into new realms, even to those that I never dreamed possible. Thank you for sharing in my joy with me!

 

Time to say goodbye

Well, the time has come. It really breaks my heart to say this, but I must share this news now or I will never accept it as truth. My husband and I are embarking on a six week hiatus…from dairy. I know. *Gasp. How could I possibly deny myself the pleasure of a late night wedge of sharp cheddar or a poached egg smothered in hollandaise. Oh, hollandaise. I forgot about that one. This may be harder than I thought.

Yet it is all too true, I’m afraid. After hearing many a tale on the horrors of hormones in dairy and the negative physical reactions of some who are exposed to lactose of any sort, organic or not, we have decided that a full elimination diet is the only way to know for sure what dairy does to our bodies. We are hoping that this experiment will provide us with at least a little bit of insight into some of Gabe’s epidermal woes and my digestive curiosities. Once our six weeks are up, we will begin to integrate small amounts of organic/hormone-free dairy products back into our lives to see if we have any reactions. Until then, it is “auf wiedersehen” to one of my great food loves. I’ve written a short poem to commemorate this moment.

Goodbye Dairy

Goodbye butter
Goodbye cream
The gooey cheese that’s in between
Goodbye gouda
Goodbye chevre
Goodbye brie on rounds of bread
Goodbye curds
Goodbye whey
“You’ll feel so good!” is what they say

….We shall see…

Soup no more

This last Thursday was the official first day of spring. In my head, I like to think that this is some magical day where as soon as the rosy faced sun comes up a’whistling and a’dancing, the dark clouds run away shrieking, with their skirts hiked up over their white ankles, and the newly sprouted flowers bop and flail about in celebration as if in a Steamboat Willie cartoon. Sadly this day isn’t as cute and conclusive as all that. The clouds remain and so does the chill. However, this day is still a lovely turning point in the season that can be used as an opportunity to air out the literal and figurative mothballs in your home and life. To me this means stowing away the heavy boots and coats, opening the windows to let in the fresh air, dusting the dusty the things, updating my short and long terms goals lists (as well as my shopping list to accommodate the changing produce selections), and preparing my final pot of winter soup.

I had picked up a butternut squash on my last trip to the grocery store, intending to roast it along with a few other root vegetables and serve it as a side dish. But after looking at the calendar and browsing my cupboards I opted to make a soup instead so that I could give a proper and delicious farewell to the winter season. I’ve had butternut squash soups before and they tend to be on the sweet side. While this type of squash does contain some good natural sugars (and roasting it really brings out the caramelized nuttiness locked inside) the addition of salty bacon and spicy chili oil help to balance out the sweet notes.

photo

Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas, Bacon and Chili Oil
Serves about 6

1 Butternut squash, peeled and cut into large cubes
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 quart of chicken stock
pinch of cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup cream (optional)
2 T plus 1 T of olive oil
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
6 strips of bacon, fried until crisp and chopped
*Chili oil

Heat the oven to 400F. Spread cubed squash onto a sheet pan (lined with foil for easy cleanup, if you like). Drizzle the squash with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss it around to coat the pieces evenly with the oil and then roast for about 30 minutes. At around 15 minutes, give the squash a stir to keep one side from getting too dark. At around 20 minutes, feel free to poke your squash with a fork to see how tender it is. If it’s soft and caramelized, take it out. You can either use the squash right away, or, if planning ahead, simply let cool off and store in a container in the fridge until you want to make your soup.

Add about a tablespoon of olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add the stock and give the pot a stir. Bring the liquid up to a boil then turn the temp down to medium-low so that it remains at a steady simmer. Add the cooked squash, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, a good pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Stir and cover, letting simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the soup to a blender and pulse until smooth. Return to the pot. At this point you can either stir in the cream or leave it out for a more low-fat dish. It’s great either way.

Dish soup into bowls. Spoon about a tablespoon of bacon into the center of the bowl. Sprinkle on some pepitas and drizzle the top with a little chili oil.

Eat up and say a prayer of thanks that winter is finally over. It will only get sunny from here on out, right? RIGHT?!**

*I made my chili oil by infusing olive oil with dried chili flakes. You can either buy an infuser or simply combine a spoonful of chili flakes and some olive oil in a mason jar and let it steep for a about a week before using. It keeps for a very long time.

** Along with this being the last bowl of winter soup that I make until the next season, I promise this will also be the last time I passively complain about the weather.

Po’ Me Po’ Boys

This last bout of chilly weather got me feeling quite restless. While I accept my fate as a northwesterner, obliged to walk the drizzly streets in sandals and a raincoat, willing the weather to be warmer and drier, knowing full well that it won’t comply until it darn well feels like it, I can’t help but let my mind wander to places not-quite-here.

On a particularly cold, drizzly “poor me”-inducing sort of evening, I resolved that the only immediate cure to the gray day blues would be to bring a little bit of the south into my home. I’ve never made a New Orleans Po’ Boy in my life, nor am I experienced in the arts of the deep fry, but desperation sent me scanning my brain for something with a little spice. Po’ boys popped into my head as I already had the basics: Shrimp and a good baguette. I reviewed a few recipes and saw that the whole concept of the po’ boy is ingeniously no fuss, really – Meat, bread, mayonnaise or a remoulade. I took some tips from Bon Appétit on frying my shrimp and went from there. Traditionally the shrimp might be a bit larger but I happened to have some smaller “baby” shrimp in my freezer. I thawed and drained those well. I also wanted some heat, so instead of just dousing the sandwich in hot sauce I decided to make a spicy cabbage Sriracha slaw instead. The crunch from the hot fried shrimp and the cold creaminess of the slaw made for a euphoric finger-licking experience. Po’ boys are a little messy. I’ll just warn you in advance.

photo

Shrimp Po’Boys with Spicy Sriracha Slaw

Fried Shrimp
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 pounds small shrimp, pre-cleaned/peeled.
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal

Sriracha Slaw
1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Sriracha
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt
Fresh ground pepper

1 Baguette, split, cut into 4 pieces.
1 Tomato, cut in half then sliced

Whisk first 8 ingredients in a small bowl to blend and set aside. Add about 2” oil to heavy bottomed pot (dutch ovens work well). Heat oil over medium heat to 350°. A deep fry thermometer would be best, but I just estimated the temp by using a regular meat thermometer as well as the sizzle factor of the oil when I dropped in a piece of shrimp.

While the oil is heating up, place shrimp and 2 Tbsp. spice mix in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Pour buttermilk into another medium bowl. Whisk flour and cornmeal in another medium bowl.

Dip seasoned shrimp briefly in buttermilk, then coat with flour mixture. Working in batches, fry shrimp, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

In another bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, Sriracha, vinegar and salt/pepper, then add the shredded cabbage and incorporate well.

Open the baguette and line one side with tomato slices. Add a line of slaw on the other and fill the center of the sandwich with shrimp. Be generous! More is better when it comes to fried shrimp and po’boys. May this sandwich whisk you away to someplace hot like it did for me.