Monday, December 20, 2010

Frita Batidos

It's been a good long while since I blogged about a restaurant. I haven't been eating out much and when I do its usually just a rushed post-gym dinner at our favorite Korean local, Maru, or for a beer and sandwich at a brew pub. But yesterday I joined some friends for a holiday lunch. Since only one of us works in a traditional office where holiday parties are the norm, we made our own little celebration and decided to try Eve Arranoff's new place Frita Batidos.

I got there before the lunch rush began and it was quiet and very, very white. It's a casual place with (white) picnic tables and all hard surfaces so while it was quiet when we arrived, once the traffic picked up, the noise level was approaching uncomfortable. I'm not sure my sensitive ears could handle a boisterous late night crowd.

But the food! Oh my the food! I ordered a black bean frita with tropical coleslaw on top and a side of the twice fried plantains. The black bean patties I've had in the past have been leaden and heavy and feel a bit like a punishment for choosing them over meat. But these are creamy and flavorful and really rewarding. I didn't wish I was eating another friends big Cuban sandwich, delicious though it looked.
This may not look like a huge amount of food for $14, which is more than I usually spend on lunch, but it is all so rich that it was amazingly filling; I wasn't hungry when dinner time rolled around and since I'm one of those people with a hobbit-like tendency to eat every three hours or so, that's saying something.  If I worked downtown I could see getting just the black bean frita with a side of tropical slaw (it was good on top, but I think I'd like it even better on the side); that would set me back $8 and mean that I wouldn't be feeling stuffed. But those plantains were amazing and amazingly rich. They are drenched in a garlic-cilantro butter and accompanied by a sweet chili mayo for dipping. They melt on your tongue and the combination of the sweet plantain and the rich butter, combined with the bright flavors of the garlic and cilantro is just magical. This place is open late and I could see coming here after a show for an alcohol-soaking up plantain gorging.

If you have a sweet tooth, as one of my friends most decidedly does, then you should try the churros with chocolate Espanol.  It was a huge portion which meant we each got to sample them without depriving her of the blood sugar spike she so desired.
They were the best churros I've ever tasted--the dough is flecked with orange peel and nutmeg, they are rolled in cinnamon sugar, and the chocolate is like warm, cinnamon-spiked ganache. I'd say one order could easily satisfy two sweet-tooths or four normal-tooths.

None of us tried the batidos--I was chilled from walking downtown on a windy cold day so I'm going to wait until the weather is more conducive to the consumption of ice to give those a try. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December catch up

Just a little update for those who still check in here. As you may have noticed, blog posts have been scarce of late. I blame that on the 1600+ words I've been churning out for the 1st draft of the novel. By the end of my fiction writing I'm so sick of sitting still (and my wrists hurt) that even if I have an idea for a blog post, I'm too wiped to write it. So here are a few miscellaneous things that I've been meaning to post:

I finished NaNoWriMo! Unfortunately 50,000 words only took me to just past the half-way point in my novel so I'm trying to keep up the momentum. December is harder than November as far as making the time to write. I'm giving myself a break and not expecting any writing on the weekends--it's just too crazy.  But I've managed to add a little more than 15,000 words since the end of NaNoWriMo. I'm approaching the end of part 3 (of 4) so that feels good, though I'm thinking I probably won't be able to finish the draft before the New Year. The kids get out of school next week and finding time to write will become even more challenging.  

Gift/book wise: I'm giving a few family members The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. Somehow I neglected to blog about it here but it was probably my favorite read of the year.

I have a hard time staying hydrated in the winter because drinking cold water when it's freezing flipping cold outside is something that I have to force myself to do. So lately I've been making an effort to make and consume the following two hot, non-caffeinated beverages. The first I call
Winter Comfort:  Make a half a mug of strong peppermint tea--let it steep for about 10 minutes. Then glug in vanilla soy milk to the top of the mug and nuke until the whole thing is warm. I know, it sounds kind of disgusting, but I really love it.

The second is Cheaper than Sweetwaters' Lemon-Ginger Tea: Put about 5-6 cups of water in a pot. Take a piece of ginger root, about 2 inches long, and slice crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces (no need to peel it). Chuck the pieces in the pot. Dump about 1 T of powdered ginger in there too (more if you really love the ginger burn). Then bring to a boil, cover and simmer for a few hours. Stir in the juice of 2 lemons that you squeezed and about 1/2 cup of honey or sugar and stir until dissolved. Taste and adjust for your own sweet/sour preference. You can strain out the chunks of ginger and keep this in a jar in the fridge for a while. Then give it a shake (the powdered ginger settles to the bottom), pour in a mug and nuke until hot. It's also very nice to settle a tummy that may have overindulged in holiday treats.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Past the half way point

    It's day 19 of NaNoWriMo and so far I've churned out 34,992 words. So I'm a little ahead of schedule with the word count though I'm only about a third of the way through my plot map. Since I know that what I've written will need to be tightened up, I'm not too bothered by the length though I will have to keep this momentum up after November 30th to get the first draft finished.

    A few things I've discovered:
    • I really like writing with a map. Whoa boy is it a different experience. Less choice is a good thing for me. It keeps me plugging through the hard parts and stops me from jumping ahead to the bits I know will be fun to write.
    • My main character's mother is blind! And her father dies in the course of the book! I didn't know these things when I started writing, but that's the process of discovery.  As one writing site recommended (can't remember which one): it can be kind of fun to throw a whole lot of grief at your main character and see how they respond.
    • I love Last FM. I don't think the interface or organization of the web site is as good as Pandora but the way it connects songs and groups is way more diverse. For example, if you are on Pandora and create an Iron and Wine station, be prepared to get swamped with Nick Drake and Bonnie Prince Billie. I like both, but not all the damn time. Last FM mixes in way more artists: Andrew Bird, Elliot Smith, Noah and the Whale, and plenty of other bands I've never heard of. I've been playing Last FM while I've been writing and it has proved to be a good way to keep me at the computer.
    • The house is a sty, there are piles of mail that need to be sorted through and we keep running out of stuff like milk, bread and prescription meds. If I didn't have most of our bills set up for auto pay, we'd probably be getting threatening notices from utility companies. I'm barely remembering to get the laundry washed and dried and have had to tell everyone just to rummage around in the clean laundry pile to find what they need for the day because folding and putting it away isn't happening. But the kitties think the clothes pile new kitty bed is fantastic! Dinners of late have been mediocre at best. The thing that blows my mind is how people who work out of the house for 8+ hours a day get any of this stuff done. At least I can chuck in laundry and go back upstairs and write. 
    • But hey, it feels good to be so jazzed with the writing that things that normally bug the crap out of me don't seem to matter.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Patterns/Maps/Plans (and the problems when you don't have one)

    I've been feeling a little frantic lately. Halloween is approaching and I've been trying to figure out how to transform last year's bat costume into a dragon, for the girl critter. At least the wings are taken care of...but there's still a tail to construct and the pointy spikes along the spine to attach and part of me thinks it would probably be easier to start from scratch rather than trying to modify the old costume. Then I could go and buy a pattern and have someone else do the thinking part of how to craft it--all I'd have to do is follow the instructions. But the girl is rather attached to last year's costume (though won't be so easy going as to agree to be a bat again this year...) The boy critter wants to be an Ipod so that takes a big box and some time for him to trick it out--shouldn't be too big of a deal. But this week he also has his class Mythology Wax Museum and he chose to be Hermes, so we have to figure out how to make and stick some wings onto his sandals and on a hat, create a drapey toga thingy and a caduceus (thanks to the girl's reptile enthusiasm we have plenty of rubber snakes available).

    I've also been preping like crazy for this year's NaNoWriMo. I'm working on a new (NEW!) novel and, though I'm hesitant to curse it, the prep has been going really well. I'm not letting myself write any of it until I've created a really detailed plot map, including a chapter synopsis and scene by scene summaries. I got lost in the narrative of the last book and realized that once I'd generated enough text for a three volume series (and it still wasn't finished...) that I really shouldn't have been writing without a map. Maybe someday I'll have the patience and distance to be able to go back and force a form on that text, but for now I'm going to let it sit and start with a completely different mindset. I'm pretty excited about November starting--I feel like a dog that's been kept on a tight leash and on Monday I get let off of it to romp and play and write all the scenes and chapters I've planned.

    Of course I am a little worried about the necessary time commitment and the way everything else in our lives will go to hell.

    Which brings me to my kitchen.  Maybe because my brain has been so preoccupied with stitching and plotting, I haven't had much energy left over for dinner planning. So instead of feeling free in the kitchen, for the past week or two, I've felt really stressed. The farm share ended recently and while I still have a big box of winter squash and bags of sweet and regular potatoes to work through, the rest of my produce is now of my own choosing. It should be liberating, right? I can cook whatever I want! But it's a different sort of thinking and I've been overwhelmed by the liberty, so there's been a lot of 5pm grouchiness where I dig through the fridge and/or freezer trying to figure out what sort of slop to heave on the table and pass off as dinner, while the critters subtly hint (by gnawing on my ankle) that they expect to be fed soon.

    It's not going to get better once November 1st rolls around and I put food (even) lower on the priority list while I try to churn out the book. So, this weekend I'm going to take a little break from my Scrivener plot mapping frenzy to put together a meal plan along with a shopping list (so I don't find myself tearing through the crisper drawers looking for the cilantro I forgot to buy).  I'm thinking of getting really regimented for the month of November--making Monday Slow Cooker night, Tuesday Pasta night, Wednesday Mexican night, Thursday Stir-Fry night and Friday Pizza night. I'll probably feel a little annoyed with how repetitious and rigid this plan is (and I know it would drive me to despair if I had to do this forever), but hey, for the next month I'm going to keep reminding myself that prose, not food is the priority. If I can follow the map in my novel, I should be able to follow the plan in my menu.

    And hopefully, stay sort of sane-ish.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2010

    It has been a while...Tantre Farm Share, week 19

    From vaguely left to right: (Top) butternut squash, sweet potatoes (yams? They don't look pale enough to be real sweet potatoes...), kale, lettuce, arugula
    (Middle-ish zone) delicata squash, head of garlic, tatsoi, sorrel, radishes, kohlrabi
    (Bottom) carrots, red potatoes, green tomatoes, red tomatoes, hot peppers, tongues of fire shell beans, turnips

    Only one more week of overwhelming (and overwhelmingly good) produce! I know I haven't been doing these updates much--summer got pretty crazy since I did not book enough critter activities to keep them out of my hair for long enough to lay out and admire my produce. Thank god for school!

    So what to do with all that stuff up there? Here's what I've come up with so far:
    • The shell beans will go into some sort of minestrone-style soup (they are fantastic in soup--super creamy dreamy). I'll probably chuck in a couple of carrots, the 2 plum tomatoes, a couple of potatoes and some kale too.
    • One butternut will get cut into cubes and roasted, then tossed while still hot with the arugula, some cheese ravioli, olive oil and a little balsamic, lots of black pepper and shards of Parmesan or pecorino. The rest of the squash will probably go in the basement to be stored for later.
    • the sorrel will go in an omelet. I love sorrel omelets.
    • I'll probably try and ripen those green tomatoes in a paper bag (toss in an apple for good ethylene gas).
    • According to Tantre the sweet potatoes (yams?) need to be cured, though last year that resulted in mine going rotten, so I must have done something wrong. If I don't rot this batch then I'll probably peel, shred and make them into burrito filling (like this Moosewood recipe for sweet potato quesadillas).
    • kohlrabi? Akk. I've been pleased that Tantre cut way back on the kohlrabi this year. The one I got is about the size of a softball so maybe I'll go play catch-the-kohlrabi with the critters!
    • lettuce + radishes = salad (duh)
    And the rest of it...will probably get the same old (boring but tasty) treatment of heat, olive oil, garlic, salt, and some sort of acid.

    Sunday, October 03, 2010

    Hope for next year's garden

    This year I grew a lot of weeds.

    Two years ago I made the dumb mistake of mulching my vegetable garden with straw. Clearly it was very seedy straw because this year the grass growing in my raised beds was out of control--it smothered pretty much everything but the peas, garlic and two very determined turnips. Everything else was swallowed by the aggressive grass. I'd weed it all out, go away for a week, and come back to see a luxurious green carpet again.

    Eventually I gave up. I was getting plenty of good produce from the farm share and I just didn't have the energy to deal with the mess I had created.

    However, I do have hope for next year.

    Today I took this,
     dug up the worst of the weeds,
     covered the bed with two layers of newspaper,
    and dumped on about 2 inches of compost ($2.25 per big trash can behind the recycling shed at the dump).

    I read about the newspaper/compost weed-blocker plan in this article in the NY Times. I did two of the three beds today (I only have 2 trash cans and each bed took one trash can full of compost so I'll have to head back for one more fill up). And now I'm looking forward to planting some things that I can't get enough of: one bed will get strawberry plants, one bed will get tomatillos (I want to can some green salsa next year) and the third will get a lot of sugar snap peas, garlic, and maybe a few plants that I've failed at in the past (cucumbers are on the list) and still want to try again. Even if I get the weirdly warped and stunted cukes that I seem to specialize in, they'll have to be better than all the grass.

    Thursday, September 30, 2010

    The creative schedule (and a biscotti recipe)

    I've been having a really hard time getting into the writing groove after I shove the critters out the door wave fondly to my departing progeny. Being yelled at by two uncooperative beings who don't want to get up, don't want to get dressed, don't want to eat breakfast somehow ruins the mood for coherent, much less creative, thought. (Who'd of guessed?)

    But for about the last week, my fiction ideas have been flowing fast and furious when I get up at 6 am. I used to read while I drank my coffee, taking 45 minutes or so for myself before the morning chaos began. But lately, I haven't been reading, I've been grabbing the laptop and pounding out what feels like really good plot solutions while I sip my black brew. But 45 minutes is not enough time--7 am comes around and I feel like I'm just getting going and that makes the process of bed-extraction and school-preparation even more unpleasant because it is tinged with resentment.

    So what to do? Do I continue to return to the writing desk after the critter departure time and attempt to drag myself back to the ideas and inspiration that was flowing so well before all the morning stress and drama began? Or do I do something that sounds a little sick at first: get up at 5 am and add an hour to my creative me-time before anyone (except for the furry hair-balls) is conscious?

    Yeah, it sounds kind of sick when I write it but I'm trying the 5 am thing. In my favor I have the fact that I'm a morning person. I won't be skipping down the stairs at 5 am, mind you, but I will adjust to and accept being awake at such an hour much better than my night-owl husband. But this creative schedule presents me with a problem: I still need to be functional in the afternoon and evening and I don't want to go to bed shortly after the bed-time critter-wrestling takes place.

    I've decided to try a three fold approach: nap, tea and baked goods. I'm not much of a napper but I'm going to try and get myself to lie down and quiet my brain a little in the early afternoon before I have to collect the critters from their scholarly pursuits. I'll follow this forced break with supplemental caffeine consumption and a snack that might help provide enough sustenance to allow me to function (relatively) normally in the evenings.

    The caffeine part I've got down: my sister got me hooked on a new tea supplier, The Tea Trekker. A pot of their Ceylon Fancy Silvertips tea should do the trick. The snack part just came to me as I was preparing for my Dad's 75th birthday this week. As a part of his birthday celebration he requested a batch of biscotti from a recipe my friend Lea gave me; I made these for him a couple of years ago and did not realize how much he liked them. Or maybe it's just that when you turn 75 you get a strong desire to break your teeth!

    These are real biscotti, not the kind that have been prettied up with butter added to make the dough more tender. These babies are hard and substantial and, as I was making the recipe, contain a pretty good quantity of protein thanks to the copious quantity of almonds in there.

    Yesterday afternoon I found myself snacking on the ends and crumbles of the batch I made for him with my cups of strong tea and I didn't have too much trouble functioning like a grownup that evening. So these babies are going into regular rotation in the baking plans--I might try and add some whole grain flours to the next batch to see if I can make them healthier.

    Lea's Biscotti di Greve in Chianti (Orange-Flavored Almond Biscotti)

    2 C all-purpose flour
    1 C sugar
    1 tsp baking soda
    pinch of salt
    2 eggs and 1 yolk (reserve the egg white for an egg wash)
    1 t vanilla
    grated orange zest from 1 orange
    1 and 1/2 C almonds, skins on, toasted

    • Preheat oven to 325.
    • Put the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix.
    • In a 2 C measuring cup, or something with a good spout, mix together the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, vanilla and orange zest. 
    • With the motor running, pour the egg mixture down the feed tube into the dry mixture. Process just until the dough is a shaggy mass--not collected into a ball. (Depending on your egg size you might need about a Tablespoon of water to get the dough to stick together. Drip it in a few drops at a time if needed.)
    • Pour half the nuts down the feed tube and pulse several times; repeat with the remaining half. (If you have a smallish food processor, like I do, you'll need to take off the top and scrape down the sides/break up the big lumps with a spatula.) Don't over grind the nuts--you still want some recognizable chunks of almond in there.
    • Turn the dough out onto a baking sheet lined in parchment paper and start to squish/shape it into 2 long loafs, each about 2 inches wide and situated 3 inches apart on the sheet. This is much easier to do if your hands are damp (the dough is super sticky) so keep a bowl of water to dip your hands in while you are shaping.
    • Take the reserved egg white, add a dribble of water to it and brush the tops of the loaves with the egg white wash.
    • Bake for 25-30 minutes until pale gold. Remove them from the oven and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs diagonally into 3/4 inch wide pieces. Lay them cut side down back on the parchment and bake for about 12 minutes longer. Then use tongs to flip the slices and bake the other side for about 12 minutes. If your dough was a little on the damp side, you might need to increase the second bake time by a few minutes--the centers of the slices should be dry and not sticky.
    • Cool on racks.

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Exquisite eggs (and a salsa recipe)

    Brian's friend, John, has started keeping chickens and yesterday Brian came home with a half-dozen exquisite eggs.

    This morning I poached one and had it with paesano bread drizzled with a little olive oil:
    You can just see the intense color of the yolk glowing through the white, but here's a clearer view:
    No, I did not touch up the photo! It really was that glorious golden orange. I've bought plenty of eggs from the farmer's market, but none have been this deeply colored or this flavorful.

    John is also the source of my salsa recipe. He's a salsa-making fiend and every year adds to the number of tomato plants he grows in his back yard (I think he's up to 50 plants this year). I can't even imagine how many jars of salsa he makes, but he and his two sons eat it pretty much every day. Last year I used his recipe and made 6 pints, which we loved. This year I made 12 pints--6 of the original recipe and 6 with chipotle peppers to give it a smoky kick.

    Tomorrow I think I'll have my poached egg with a dollop of salsa and will raise my mug of black coffee in a toast to John!

    John's Amazing Salsa
    makes about 6 pints

    10-11 cups of peeled and seeded tomatoes. Roma's are preferred but I've made these with all kinds of tomatoes--roma's, brandywines, green zebras, yellow plum, etc.
    3 cloves of garlic
    3 large white or yellow onions
    4 mild red, green or yellow peppers (or a mix)
    4-6 jalapenos with seeds; for the chipotle version swap in two chipotles in adobo sauce for the regular jalapenos
    1 bunch of cilantro, washed (you can leave the stems on)
    1/2-2/3 C brown sugar (depends on how sweet you want it)
    1 C white vinegar
    3 T pickling or kosher salt (not iodized)

    Wash all the vegetables and then cut into manageable size pieces. Use a food processor to chop all the vegetables--I usually leave some a little chunky and almost puree others so the salsa has some thickness. Put all the chopped vegetables, the sugar, vinegar and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 2.5 hours, stirring frequently so the bottom doesn't scorch. You want to reduce the salsa so it isn't watery and some of this will depend on the juice content of your tomatoes, so if it still looks a little watery at the end of 2.5 hours, simmer for a bit longer.

    Prepare your jars--wash, then put on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven for 10 minutes to sterilize. Boil the lids to sterilize.

    Fill jars with hot salsa, put on a lid and screw on a ring. You can either set these on the counter and hope they all take a seal (I have pretty good luck with this but if the seal doesn't take then you'll have to refrigerate the jar and consume it relatively quickly) or take the safe route and process the jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.

    Enjoy the taste of late summer all winter long!

    Wednesday, September 08, 2010

    Canning time

    The critters are back at school (whoo hoo!) and I went a little cuckoo this morning at the farmer's market:
    In addition to my regular bountiful farm share, I purchased a peck of peach 2nds, a peck of tomato 2nds and some additional peppers. The first will go into peach jam and the second and third will go into salsa. Last year I made my own salsa for the first time and it has totally ruined me for the store bought stuff.

    I already have peeled and frozen some tomatoes and slow roasted and froze some other tomatoes and roasted some red peppers from previous weeks of the farm share so I'm hoping to experiment with some different batches. If I come up with a phenomenal new combination, I'll share the recipe.

    So today, while the critters are easing themselves back into the school year, I'll be steaming up the house, peeling and skinning and chopping these fruits. I've loaded up my iPod with a bunch of my favorite podcasts and an audiobook that I've been meaning to listen to. And I'll try not to get so deeply involved that I forget to pick up the critters at the end of the school day...):

    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    A sight for sore eyes (and stomach)

    After two days of road food, the last of which consisted of cheese sticks, grainy apples, granola bars and a couple of cans of Starbucks Double Shots, I was so happy to go out this morning and pick up this:
    No, I have no distinct plans for all this produce, and yes, I will try not to binge and make myself sick.

    Now if you'll excuse me, there are some (a lot!) of tomatoes to be consumed for breakfast!

    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    I wish I was this good with duct tape

    I took the critters to the Botanical Gardens this week to play in their wonderful children's garden and to check out the decorated flamingo lawn ornament display.

    There we met this fine fellow--a flamingo transformed into a dragon, all done with duct tape!
    If I attempted this I would probably stick all my fingers together and end up with wads upon wads of crumpled tape, not this elegant creature.

    There were some other nice flamingos (flamingi?). There was a bird decorated to look like a strawberry (standing, appropriately, in a strawberry patch):

    a bride and groom flamingo (which made me want to perch them on top of a really big cake):

    and a few that had been transformed into other bird species, like this blue heron,

    and this shy loon:

    Maybe next summer I'll keep an eye out for cheap flamingos and see what the critters and I can come up with.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Tantre Farm Share, week 8

    Top row: onions, dill, lots of cucumbers, broccoli, swiss chard
    Bottom row: Thai basil, green beans, red potatoes, carrots, summer squash, beets

    Menu plan:

    A couple of the recipes from last week's menu plan were so good that I'm making them again: the cucumber dill feta salad (this one is tried and true and since we have a bumper crop of cukes this week, it seems wise to have some around for snacking), the beets and chard w/goat cheese and chile dressing (Brian didn't even get to taste this since I loved it so much I didn't save any for him; he's on a work trip this week so once again he misses out!) and the squash and green beans with sauce vert. There was sauce vert leftover which I ended up eating smeared on pieces of baguette with some cheese. I wished I'd had some cold roast beef because the sauce, with its capers and mustard, would make a pretty terrific roast beef sandwich.

    Also on the menu this week:
    • Vietnamese rice vermicelli salad w/cucumber, thai basil, carrots, sweet onion, blanched green beans, tofu and peanuts with nuoc cham dressing.
    • At least one other stem of the thai basil will get planted with my potted herbs so I can have it to use later in the summer (a nice benefit of getting the basil with its roots).
    • Some of the potatoes and one of the cucumbers will go into this German-ish style potato cucumber salad; it sounds like it would be good with grilled sausages.
    • The rest of the potatoes and the broccoli will get roasted w/a soy butter sauce. I'll pair it with either marinated and grilled chicken or tofu.
    • It looks like I'll still have a couple of cukes left so I think I'll make a jar of bread and butter tarragon refrigerator pickles. Normally, I'm a lacto-fermented type pickle eater, but these pickles are really good with summer bbq or on a turkey burger so it'll be good to have a jar on hand.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    Tantre Farm Share, week 7

    From Left to Right: (top row) cucumbers, broccoli, yellow zucchini, garlic, epazote, basil
    (bottom row) fava beans, beets, swiss chard, sweet onions, green beans

    Menu plan:
    • I'm going to use the fava beans in this recipe for linguine with fava beans, garlic, tomato and bread crumbs (and I'll chuck in some of the basil).
    • I'll toast up some pita chips to scoop up this feta cucumber salad; I doubt it will be a part of a meal, more like a good beer-absorbing appetizer.
    • I'll caramelize the onions and use them on a white pizza with goat cheese, olives, basil and fresh thyme, served with this recipe for green beans and (yellow) zucchini with sauce vert. If it is stinking hot, the pizza will get done on the grill.
    • Provided I can stand to turn on the oven in this warm, humid weather I'll make Roasted Beets with Guajillo chile dressing with added swiss chard. It sounds like it would be good with grilled chicken (I want to try a butterflied grilled chicken that is in this month's Food and Wine--no recipe on-line yet; if it's good I'll post it) and baguette.
    • I'll dry the epazote to use later when I cook dry pinto beans.

    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Tantre Farm Share, week 5

    Bottom row: scallions, 2 quarts shelling peas, beets and greens, fava beans, Asian greens
    Top row: 2 kinds of lettuce, parsley, a lone yellow zucchini, broccoli

    This week's share seems a little small, but we're having beautiful cool weather for we humans so I guess that's the price we pay. It works out fine with me since we won't be here the whole week and I would have had to give away a bunch of stuff otherwise.

    Menu plan
    • The fava beans and some of the peas will go into this recipe for sizzling halloumi to be served with good bread.
    • A salad with lettuce, beets, some more fresh peas, scallions, parsley, feta and walnuts will be my lunch for a couple of days.
    • Stir fry of Asian greens, yellow zucchini and scallions with a lot of ginger, served with rice and kim chi and maybe a fried egg.
    • Super basic broccoli this week: just steamed with butter. I'm hoping the girl-critter who eats broccoli will participate in its consumption.

    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    Tantre Farm Share, week 4

    Clockwise from bottom center: turnips, quart Chinese pea pods, chives, spinach, bok choi, 4 heads of lettuce, English peas, scallions, broccoli

    Menu plan:
    • The lettuce and a few scallions will make some lunch-time salads. Lately I've been making a sweet and tangy vinaigrette with some muscat vinegar from Morgan and York, Spanish olive oil from Sparrow, a glob of Michigan honey, salt, pepper and a little dijon. It's pretty basic, but doesn't overpower these soft lettuces.
    • Some of the pea pods will get combined in a stir fry with the bok choi, some sliced chicken, ginger and scallions.
    • The spinach will go into goma ae (I know, again, but we're still not sick of it)
    • Turnip greens and shelled peas get tossed in for the last few seconds of cooking with pasta, then tossed with the leftover frozen pesto from last year (I've got to clear out last year's supply before the basil starts rolling in!)
    • The broccoli and the rest of the pea pods (and probably some scallions too) will go into this Miso vegetables with Tofu recipe which I'll serve with brown rice.
    • I'll use the chives in soft scrambled eggs, a combination I love, particularly with some good, dense, multigrain toast and a mug of strong black coffee.
    • I haven't decided what to do with the turnips. I tried grilling them the other day (tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and drizzled with a little balsamic when they came off) with some other vegetables and they turned out pretty well, so if we're firing up the grill I'll probably do that again.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Tantre Farm Share, week 3

    From left to right, top row: Massive bunch of spinach, spicy greens, two heads of red lettuce, romaine lettuce, strawberries
    bottom row: turnips, radishes, scallions, English peas, garlic scapes, lemon balm

    Menu Plan:
    • Some of the spinach, a few garlic scapes, and two of the scallions will be used to make foil-packet tilapia (see below).
    • Garlic scape pesto to freeze and enjoy in the depths of winter
    • Fresh peas and radishes will be tossed with toasted walnuts, feta, scallions and a mustard vinaigrette.
    • The rest of the spinach will be blanched and combined into this salad with ricotta (and wheat berries instead of barley).
    • My mom's birthday was yesterday so we consumed the strawberries with a lemon sour cream cake and whipped cream. I much prefer lemon cake to biscuity shortcakes as my strawberries and cream delivery device.
    • The lemon balm will be made into herbal tea. I love infusions with fresh herbs--the flavor is much brighter than the dried.
    • I haven't really decided what to do with the lettuce, turnips or spicy greens yet. Probably just salad, braise and stir fry respectively.
    Now, about that fish in a foil packet. I really like making fish this way, partly because there is very little mess (no pan to wash, just rinse the used foil and toss in the recycling bin) and partly because it is easy and flavorful and eminently flexible. It works just as well in the winter with frozen vegetables as it does now with all this glorious produce.

    Here's the general idea:
    • First, crank up the oven to 400.
    • Rip off a big piece of foil for each serving, probably about 18 inches long. Rub a little olive oil on the center and then pile on a portion of leftover rice (you can freeze leftover rice which makes this super easy. Just thaw the rice first.)
    • Assemble a cutting board full of vegetables--you definitely want one or more members of the allium family: thin sliced onion, minced garlic, chopped garlic scapes, chopped scallions, you get the idea. Put half of your chosen allium(s) on the rice and reserve a few to top the whole pile so there is lots of pungent goodness throughout. Most vegetables work fine, just watch out for the ones that release a lot of water when they cook. Try combining any of the following: thin sliced carrots, sliced red peppers, steamed greens, thin sliced fennel, sugar snap peas, some cherry tomatoes. Whatever sounds good and is hanging out in the crisper drawers. Heck, even frozen peas and frozen broccoli works in the wintertime.
    • Lay a tilapia fillet on top of the rice pile. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and any other herbs you want (dill, tarragon, fresh basil, whatever works with your vegetable pile).
    • Pile on the vegetables and the rest of your chosen alliums.
    • Top with some feta, another sprinkle of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Then fold over your foil and seal up your packets, plop them on a baking sheet and chuck them in the oven for 15 minutes.
    • Take out a packet and carefully open it up (there will be some steam); use a knife to poke around and see if the fish is cooked through. If not, seal up the packet again and leave it for another 5 minutes.
    • Open up the packets and slide each one onto its own plate.
    As I mentioned before, this recipe is flexible. You can splash on a little white wine if you are so inspired, you can smear the tilapia with some dijon mustard, or replace the feta with a blob of sour cream and a little lemon zest. I'm sure you could substitute a different fish fillet, just make sure it is thin. I use tilapia because it a) cheap b) mild and c) the US farmed tilapia is one of the best choices on the seafood watch guide. I usually get a bag of frozen fillets and pull out as many as I need the morning I want to make this.

    Tonight's packet contained brown rice, garlic scapes, two big scallions, spinach that I had nuked until it wilted and chopped (the leaves were HUGE), feta and lemon and it was terrific--all the flavors melded together but it wasn't a big pile of fishy mush (which may be one of the more disgusting phrases I've ever written. Fishy mush=ewwww.) I neglected to photograph it before I gobbled it down, but here's a picture of a depths of winter version all piled up and ready to be sealed in its packet:
    Let me know if you come up with any particularly tasty combinations that I can add to our repertoire!

    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Sunday Supper Sillies

    By Sunday evening we tend to get a little nutso around here. Brian decided that his hakurei turnips from the farm share would make an excellent base for a little man, particularly since there was the opportunity to deck him out with orcchiette (the hat), rotini (for the arms) and peas (eyeballs) which could be scavenged from the rest of our dinner. Poor little turnip man never saw it coming...

    On a more serious note, the garlic scape pesto that is topping the pasta and peas turned out much better this year than last year's attempt. Last year I left the flower part on the end of the scape and that left us with garlic breath for about a week. This year, I pinched off the flower portion and just used the stem which made for a much more pleasant garlic experience. This year's recipe also included some lemon juice and zest which turns out to be a great way to keep the flavor bright and spring-like. Tossing some peas in with the pasta--sauteed sugar snaps, blanched fresh shelled peas, some pea shoots or just a cup of thawed frozen peas--adds a nice sweetness and balances out the intensity of the pesto.

    Garlic Scape Pesto
    from Tantre Farm CSA newsletter

    1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
    3/4 cup coarsely chopped garlic scapes, the top flower part pinched off (or leave them on if you want a much more intense garlic experience)
    Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

    Combine the scapes, pine nuts, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse about 20 times, until fairly well combined. Pour in the olive oil slowly through the feed tube while the motor is running. Store in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze.

    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    If you thought last week was green....(Tantre Farm Share, week 2)

    From left to right: (bottom row) scallions, radishes, turnips, garlic scapes, arugula, thyme, peppermint, oregano
    (top row) three heads of lettuce, two huge bunches of spinach, quart of strawberries

    The green just keep on coming! Reporting back from last week's menu: the Turnip Greens Tart was a real winner--I liked it so much I made it twice (I also had some turnip thinnings from my garden to use up for the second tart). I tried it once with the cornmeal tart crust in the recipe, and once with a simple whole wheat pie crust (I preferred the latter). If you are trying to figure out what to do with your turnip greens this week, the greens from this bunch would make one tart.

    Menu plan:
    • Homemade pizza with mozzarella, garlic scapes and oregano, topped with arugula and shaved Parmesan when it comes out of the oven and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic.
    • Spanakopita with the spinach, oregano and scallions, and a salad with the lettuce and radishes. It looks like a ton of spinach, but I know it loses volume when cooked down, so if I need more greens I'll toss in the radish tops.
    • Garlic scape pesto on orecchiette pasta with sugar snap peas (recipe came in the CSA newsletter).
    • Peppermint iced tea
    • It's a little chilly out this week so I'm thinking that a big bowl of Pho-style noodle soup would be good with turnips, turnip greens and scallions in a star anise, ginger, lime broth topped with sliced jalapenos, cilantro and mint. No recipe yet, just an idea...
    • Strawberries to be gobbled straight and fresh!
    • Haven't decided what to do with the thyme yet...maybe I'll dry it if I don't think of something. Send suggestions if you have good thyme-heavy recipes!

    Tuesday, June 08, 2010

    Morning Buzz

    I've been doing my story mapping and now have a much better plan for how to shape and pace what I've written. So today I woke up ready to do some major revisions on my book. In anticipation of a whole lot of desk sitting and concentrating, I set myself up for success by doing some yoga (I'm loving Yoga Journal's video podcasts) and then made myself something to eat that is sort of decadent (because I respond well to treats) and yet still pretty healthy (so I don't crash and burn out). These whole wheat ginger scones were just the ticket.

    Scones don't have to be unhealthy if you resist the urge to slather them with copious quantities of butter. These babies are made with whole wheat flour, plain yogurt and a minimal amount of butter and while they might not be my first choice for a decadent afternoon tea in which clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam are featured, they are a great mid-morning sustaining snack with a latte. You can vary the degree of healthy-tasting-ness by using different types of whole wheat flour: white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour will look and taste more like a traditional scone; all (regular) whole wheat flour will increase the nutty, toasty flavor, if that's what you're looking for, though the latter will also make the dough a bit more crumbly. I did a 50-50 split.

    I paired mine with marmalade, but they would also be great with a small piece of sharp cheddar cheese. Or both if, like me, you are a fan of mixing your sweet and savory.

    And now, if you'll excuse me, I have some marmalade to wipe off of my mouse before I get down to the writing part of my day.

    Whole Wheat Ginger Scones
    adapted from this recipe at Everybody Likes Sandwiches

    1/2 C plain, lowfat yogurt
    1 t vanilla
    1 egg
    1 C white whole wheat flour
    1 C whole wheat flour
    2 t baking powder
    1/2 t salt
    1/4 C cold butter
    1/4 C candied ginger, chopped into small pieces
    2 T white sugar
    zest of one lemon
    1-3 T milk

    1 T milk and some demerara sugar for topping

    Preheat oven to 425.

    In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, vanilla and egg.

    In a large bowl mix together flours, baking powder and salt. Cut or rub in the butter until the flour is coated but still has some small pea-sized lumps. Add the ginger, white sugar, and lemon zest and give it a stir to distribute. Then stir in the yogurt/egg mixture with a rubber spatula until it sort of sticks together. If your dough is still too crumbly to clump up nicely (depending on the flour you use, it may need a little more moisture), drizzle over 1-3 T milk and that should do the trick.

    Turn out onto a counter top and knead just until the dough is fairly uniform. As a friend of mine once said when making pie crust, treat it like a liver! (very gently) Pat it into a circle with a thickness of about 1/2-3/4 inch. If you are going to do the milk and sugar topping, do it now (brush with milk, sprinkle with demerara sugar). Cut it into 8 wedges. Put on a silpat or parchment covered baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    Green season is here again! (Tantre Farm Share, week 1)

    From (vaguely) left to right: radishes, scallions, asparagus, turnips, spinach, garlic scapes, three heads of lettuce, spicy greens mix, tatsoi, black stemmed peppermint

    Menu Plan
    • Tonight I'll be using the turnip greens and a couple of garlic scapes to make this Turnip Green Tart and some of the green frilly lettuce, radishes and scallions will be assembled into a salad.
    • I'll use the other garlic scapes (and add in the radish tops) to this garlic scape spaghetti carbonara. I like that it uses whole wheat pasta and I have some good eggs from the farmer's market too. Braised turnips will make a good side.
    • Red and green lettuce, scallions, and radishes will be the base for a chicken Greek salad. I found some reasonably flavorful beets at the supermarket this week to add in. If I get my act together and remember early enough in the day (and if it isn't stinking hot out) I'll try and make some fresh bread to go with it.
    • I'll assemble a bi bim bop-ish variation with stir fried spicy greens mix, scallions, beef, eggs, carrots and the spinach transformed into goma ae.
    • I'll sub out the red pepper for tatsoi in this soba noodles with asparagus (and scallions) recipe.
    • The peppermint will get hot water dumped over it to infuse for peppermint iced tea. It is infinitely more refreshing that making it from dried.

    Monday, May 24, 2010

    It is almost CSA time

    This past weekend we went out to Tantre Farm's open house and while the kids played on the swing and visited with the chickens, I realized that I need to get my act together since the first share is only weeks away.

    The first order of business is to dig through the freezer and see what is left. I'm pretty sure I used up all the packages of blanched kale and beet greens, but I think there are still some frozen green beans and roasted red peppers that haven't been eaten and maybe some more purple potatoes lurking in the bin of the "beer fridge" (or "beer and potato fridge".)

    The other thing I just started (and hope will be helpful) is some recipe preparation for this year's share. Now that I have a better idea of what will be in the box each week, I need to get a selection of recipes prepared so that I don't blank out and freak out when I see the bounty piled on my table. Of course, I can always refer to last summer's Tantre posts and remind myself which recipes were real winners (and hopefully also remember which ones weren't...). But I've also started a Google Doc called "CSA recipe ideas" and have it organized by vegetable. I browse a lot of cooking blogs and now, whenever I come across a recipe that sounds interesting in the produce-consumption department, I add it to the document with a link to the recipe. So if there is an inundation of peas one week, I can be reminded of Sesame Roasted Snap Peas or Sauteed Radishes and Snap Peas with Dill.

    I've been feeling a little guilty at how I seem to always turn to the internet for recipes these days so I'm also going to take a little time and dig through my cookbook collection and see what looks good in there--then tab it with a post-it note and add the recipe to the document. Maybe I'll also discover that some of my cookbooks have outlived their usefulness and I can liberate a little shelf space.

    Are there any other suggestions people have to prepare for the CSA bounty that will soon be upon us?


    I don't head out into the wilderness without a map. Well, I did once in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and, despite having a good sense of direction, got totally lost and was lucky to find my way back before nightfall. I remember being confused, a little freaked out and yet still hopeful that I'd stumble across something familiar.

    That one time was enough for me to learn my lesson about the importance of maps.

    So why has it taken me so long to figure out that I need a map for my writing?

    I guess I thought that I knew enough from all my years of endless reading and class attending. But plot structure does not come via osmosis and I'm discovering that the way I've been writing is the equivalent of a hand drawn map on the back of a napkin when heading into treacherous territory. Because really, is there any territory more treacherous than my thoughts? (For those of you who have happy relationships with your thought processes, more power to you. However, my thoughts and I battle each other regularly.)

    I recently had this "ah ha!" moment and have put the brakes on the work I've been doing on my book. In the week or so before the "ah ha!" I spent way too much time navigating, getting lost, moving chapters around, questioning turns in the plot and screwing up.

    It was not the most satisfying week of work. In fact, I was a big time grump.

    But now I know it was because I was lost. And yes, the feelings were remarkably similar to what I felt when lost in the forest except for the fact that it was all happening inside my head and I had plenty of tea and cookies* on hand to help me feel a little better.

    So I'm backing up. I've pulled a few books that I admire off the shelf and I'm mapping them.** I'm re-reading them for structure and charting their movements chapter by chapter. And then I'm going to use them as models to map my own book. I can now actually say that I'm looking forward to trying again with my map in hand. It's kind of like getting myself psyched up to climb a challenging mountain, but I won't be going up it empty handed this time.
    *Speaking of cookies, I thought I made good chocolate chip cookies, but the newest chocolate chip cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated in which you brown the butter before making the cookie batter, is amazing.
    **One really good side effect of the mapping project is that I've discovered the central idea for my next book and plan to have a map in hand for that one before NaNoWriMo rolls around.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Writing Goals

    It's hard when you are working on your first novel* to know what is a reasonable amount of time in which to set your goals. There are people like Joyce Carol Oates who crank out amazing prose at a rate that makes normal humans just want to give up and crawl into a cave. There are other writers who taaake-theiiir-tiiiiime and either do or don't feel bad about it. I'm still trying to figure out where I fall on the writing speed continuum.

    I had a hard writing month in April. Not sure why--the weather was glorious so I can't use the excuse of seasonal lethargy. But maybe I can blame the lilacs for distracting me! No, seriously. I went through a couple of weeks in which my writing self-esteem took a nose dive and I thought, with some degree of despair, that I'd have to chuck this baby out the window.

    I'm still not quite sure how I dragged myself out of this pit. I cooked a little, I knit a little, I tried to remember that I'm not totally incompetent at everything I do.

    Here's what I'm planning for the near future in the writing department:

    Summer is going to suck as far as writing time goes. I'm looking forward to some of the stuff I have planned to do with my critters**, but realistically I'll probably only get one morning a week to really be able to write. That means that I need to have a good intact draft done by June 18th (the critter's last day of school and my 41st birthday) with an organized to-do writing list of stuff that could, conceivably, be done with half a brain while simultaneously officiating a super-squirter showdown (typing on the lap top through a clear plastic bag, perhaps). That means it is more important to crank out that missing chapter now than to dig through the first 10 chapters checking for contradictions. The latter is something I could conceivably do with the critters in the immediate vicinity--the former is not.

    Also over the summer I am going to get over my fear that the first person who reads this will look at me with pity and say "This is how you've been spending your time?" So I'm starting safe with my dear husband whose continued gainful employment has allowed me the time to pursue this project (I am still in awe of the fact that he likes his job and they like him and, oh yeah, they PAY him too!). Then after him, I want to find some other people--critical readers, fellow writers--who can be my early readers. Anyone out there who is interested in reading and constructively commenting on my YA/Middle Grade (still not sure which) fiction with a fantasy bent?

    After I spend the summer with the above two projects (working on the to-do list and absorbing feed back on the project) then in September and October I'll plan for a big overhaul.

    Hopefully this will leave me with a submittable draft that I can shop around to agents and will leave my brain somewhat liberated so that in November I can do NaNoWriMo and work on a completely new book. Maybe a different genre or age range or even (gasp) non-fiction.

    Aggg. It's scary just writing this stuff down because that means people will feel like they can ask me about the progress I'm making toward these goals. If you do see me, and venture to ask, and I turn pale and look like I'm going to faint, please administer beer. A nice hoppy IPA should bring me back around!

    *Well, the first novel that I actually think I'll finish and try and pitch. There are at least two that I've started and worked on, one for a considerable amount of time, and then decided to chuck.
    **Which is the topic of another post in which I will be trolling for ideas to add to my "how to stay sane and maybe even enjoy yourself" list.

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Fiona's favorite

    Based on how much I bitch about my kids' lousy eating habits, what am I doing promoting anything that appeals to them? But the one area in which they don't drive me totally nuts is Middle Eastern food. We may have crap Thai and mediocre Vietnamese around here but the Lebanese food can not be beat (well, except in Lebanon...). When the boy critter was just a babe he sucked hummus (aka white velvet) off his pudgy little fist though, before you ask, sadly he no longer eats hummus...but he and his sister do eat copious quantities of lamb!

    Since I can't afford to take them out for kofta and shawarma every week, I had to come up with a home version. Into the base of ground lamb goes some fine chopped onion, pine nuts, allspice and cinnamon, parsley, salt and pepper.
    I make Brian squish it all together and shape it into patties. It's nice to delegate the icky part of the recipe.

    Then I pop them in a non-stick or cast iron pan and cook away:
    There's a lot of fat in most ground lamb*, but a lot of it also stays in the pan, not the patty.

    Then serve it with your favorite Middle Eastern sides and accompaniments:
    Tahini lemon sauce, chopped salad with sumac lemon dressing, red lentil soup, homemade pita and "Fiona's Favorite" lamb patties.

    I couldn't stand the thought of going to the store (sometimes I suffer from severe retail aversion) and it was a good thing too because tonight I discovered that making your own pita is really easy and really good. I followed this recipe from the blog, Brown Eyed Baker, though as a lazy person, I let my Kitchen Aid do all the kneading. Since we were heading down to the FestiFools parade and this outing would interrupt the regular timing for the second rising, after I weighed and shaped the individual dough balls, I set them on a parchment covered baking sheet and loosely covered them with plastic wrap before sticking them in the fridge. When we got back, they rolled out nicely and puffed up when I baked them on the pizza stone. And the sensation of popping a lamb patty into a fresh, warm pita? Fantastic!

    Fiona literally started jumping around the house with excitement when I told her I'd be making lamb patties for dinner tonight, and for a kid who is indifferent-to-hostile to most dinner foods, that is something to see.

    Lamb Patties
    feeds 4

    1 lb ground lamb (can also use ground beef if you are not fond of lamb, though Fiona will think you are crazy)
    2 T toasted pine nuts, chopped fine (or toasted almonds)
    2 T onion, chopped fine (about 1/4 of a small onion)
    1/2 t cinnamon
    3/4 t allspice
    1 t salt
    1/2 t ground black pepper
    1/4 C chopped parsley

    In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well until evenly combined.

    Take heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture and roll into balls, then flatten into patties (12 total, 4 per person). Or divide up into 8 larger balls (like Brian did tonight) and give out 2 per person.

    Pan fry in a non-stick or seasoned cast iron skillet until browned on both sides and no longer pink in the middle.

    To serve, stuff patties in a pita with tomato, cucumbers, lettuce and tahini lemon sauce or hummus.
    * The leanest ground lamb I've found has come from the folks who sell it frozen at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. They aren't there all weeks, but when they are I try to pick some up.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    My head just exploded*

    Both kids just ate red quinoa and a small bowl of lettuce** with their dinner. I'm squinting, but there may be a little light at the end of this hellacious crappy-eater tunnel.

    *The boy critter's phrase for being flabergasted.
    **ok so the lettuce was iceberg. Plain. No dressing. But I ate plenty of iceberg as a kid and I'm going to think of it as a "gateway" salad vegetable.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Toile rescue

    We moved our Alesis keyboard out of our living room and into the boy-critter's room, since he is the one who uses it most (recent repertoire alternates between: Bach minuets, The Who, Regina Spektor*, and his old stand by, Animusic). I discovered that my 9 year-old has very little appreciation for the efforts I put into the subversive toile keyboard cover. I kept finding it in a crumpled ball on the floor, hanging with the dust bunnies.

    So I pulled out some natural canvas, made a (boring) keyboard cover that won't make me wince when I find it abused and rescued my toile. Last week I got some black velveteen, cut up the toile and made two couch pillows**:
    So now I can hang with my aliens while watching TV.

    But there are some places in the toile that are calling for more embellishment and I am trolling for ideas. Here are the locations that I want to corrupt:

    Washing Lady

    Empty Tree

    Lady with a Rake
    I'm trying to figure out if I can turn that rake into a pitchfork somehow; that, plus some devil horns and a tail could work.

    Ideas? Tell me in the comments.
    *After a few week's worth of practice, I can now listen to the boy critter sing the "I've got a perfect body" line in "Folding Chair" without collapsing in giggles.
    **By "made couch pillows" I mean that I attempted to sew two squares together with a zipper and only had to rip it out and start over twice!

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Another hat

    For those days when a fish-on-my head is not the look I'm going for, I made this Floppy Fair Isle hat. It was really fun to knit, I made it all from yarn in my stash (which gives me a thrifty thrill) and it is nice and loose, so doesn't create horrible hat head. I only used four colors of yarn, rather than the five called for in the pattern because the other worsted weight yarns in my stash clashed, but I think the colors and patterns turned out fine with four.

    This hat works great for me, but I have a big head and thick, curly hair and I can imagine this hat being way too big and sliding over the faces or off the back of the heads of people with a smaller noodle circumference or who have fine, silky hair. As the name says, it is quite floppy, so much so that Brian commented that it would be a useful hat to wear when produce shopping in case you need a place to store an extra cantaloupe.

    I'd love to make another one of these for someone, but need to find a big-headed, big-haired recipient who is fond of cantaloupe.

    The pattern can be downloaded here.

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Valentine's Day Breakfast

    Breakfast for my sweetie.

    It grossed me out to be molding hearts out of pork sausage first thing in the morning but hey, I did it for love. The girl critter stuck the toothpicks through to make them look like Cupid's arrow which made for authentic looking hearts, but slightly dangerous eating.

    In the past, I've free-handed shaped pancakes, but this time I pulled out some cookie cutters and sprayed the hell out of them with cooking spray.
    Flipping was a little tricky because it involved working the spatula under the pancake and using tongs to remove the cookie cutter before flipping the pancake.
    Ta da!

    It helps to use a thick pancake batter so it doesn't seep under the edge of the cookie cutter and luckily my standard go-to pancake recipe fits the bill. It makes thick cakes and there's just enough batter for each of us to have two decent-sized pancakes.

    Sour Cream (or Yogurt) Pancakes

    1/2 C white whole wheat flour
    1/2 C all purpose flour
    3 t baking powder
    1/4 t salt
    1 T white sugar
    1 C milk
    1 egg
    1/4 C sour cream or plain yogurt
    1/2 t vanilla
    2 T canola oil
    some blueberries or mini chocolate chips (optional)
    a little powdered sugar for dusting on before serving (optional)

    Mix all the dry stuff in one bowl. Mix the wet stuff in another. Add wet to dry and stir until just combined. Cook the way you would any normal pancake.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    The friend that gets you through it

    I don't want to return this book to the library. It would be like dumping a friend after they got you through a rough patch. And oh my, have I been through a rough patch. A big old comeuppance.

    For those of you who have tolerated my comments these past few winters about how healthy my family has been (despite my kvetching about my kids' crappy diet), today is the day you can sit back and say HA! Because the nasty, nasty norovirus hit us and hit us hard. And that is not a virus that you expose your friends to unless those friends are made of paper. But if your friend is The Art Student's War, by Brad Leithauser, then maybe you will get through without losing your marbles (while you continue to lose your lunch).

    I won't go into the fascinating details of all the puking and mopping and digestive discoveries we have made over the last few weeks (except for this one--it is way better to puke up ginger ale than to have the dry heaves. Nuff said.) But I feel like I've been through the wringer and without this book I'm pretty sure I would have also gone crazy. Or more accurately, crazy in a lasting, she-might-not-be-ok-until-Spring kind of way.

    This is a wonderful book (though I realize I've now wrecked it by making you associate it with puking...) that managed to distract me from my misery. It is NOT a fast read which is particularly good when you are not recovering quickly. The prose isn't impenetrable, but it is rich and layered and you want to savor the observations. It doesn't have a driving sense of plot--it is gentler than that and will wait patiently while you collapse and moan for a while.

    The title seemed very accurate for the first part of the book, where we are following Bea Paradiso from her art classes in Detroit to her USO volunteer work sketching wounded soldiers. Her artist's eye is a wonderful perspective from which to view the strange vibrancy of Detroit in this period. When I moved into the second half of the book which takes place after the war, where Bea is married with kids and rarely has time to do any art, it wasn't immediately clear why the author had chosen the title. But it made sense in the end. The war defined who she was for her whole life--it wasn't just an episode that took place and then was in the past. The fact that she was an art student during this momentous period in which she defined herself and became aware of who she was gave the title a poignancy. She may never have become a full-fledged artist, but she will always have been an art student during the war.

    I think this book would have a whole other level of richness and meaning for people whose parents lived in Detroit in this period. By the time my family moved to Michigan when I was 7, Detroit was post-riot and not a place we went except to scurry inside the DIA or some such cultural institution and then scurry back to our safe little enclave. I occasionally got a glimpse of people's affection for the city through some friend's parents who knew the old Detroit. I remember being taken to Eastern Market for the first time on a Saturday by a friend's family and being awed that such a teeming, alive place with amazing food (yes, I liked food a lot even back then) existed in a place I had heard referred to as a wasteland on weekends. I particularly appreciated the fact that the author, who clearly loves the city, does not overly romanticize it. He lays down the sources of the later riots, shows the bubbling ethnic mixture of the city and how the war both led to prosperity and excitement and also set down certain patterns that were later to explode.

    For those of us interested in Detroit's future who weren't around for Detroit's past, this book is a very helpful way to envision the uniqueness that Detroit offered--it really wasn't like any other city I've ever heard of or envisioned--and to try and see how the best of this past can fit into its future.

    And now, since I still have a cough and thus can allow myself to sit for another couple of hours, I'm going to go watch the new PBS documentary Beyond the Motor City.

    Tuesday, February 02, 2010

    The picky eater chronicles continue...

    Photo from Wikipedia

    Yesterday Ian got a good firm talking-to by his doctor about diversifying his eating choices so after the appointment we headed to the produce section of the grocery store for each kid to pick out a fresh fruit or vegetable they don't usually eat (which leaves pretty much everything but the apple aisle in play for Ian with the carrot section added for Fiona).

    Ian picked out a big hunk of watermelon and Fiona picked out a star fruit. I don't know if there were any two fruits more out-of-season and non-local that the kids could possibly pick, but one battle at a time.

    And through a great deal of wheedling, I got Ian to try the star fruit--and he liked it! And not for the novelty shape factor (which is why Fiona chose it--she took one bite and looked like she was going to hurl). Both kids ate some watermelon at dinner and Fiona even asked for seconds.

    This small success balances out the fact that when Ian tried a spoonful of my red lentil soup on Sunday, he ran to the garbage can, spit it out and rinsed out his mouth with water at the sink with a great deal of theatrical spitting.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Happy Chunky Soup!

    No photo for this recipe because I have discovered that next-day lentil soup is one of the uglier things on the planet.

    But don't let that bias you against this recipe!

    After devouring two bowls of this chunky sausage, lentil and spinach soup last night, I told Brian that I think this may be the first hearty, chunky soup that I really think is worth crowing about. I've had a number of successful experiences with smoother soups, be they Middle Eastern red lentil, creamy tomato, or other pureed varieties. And chlodnik is chunky summertime staple around here. But in the wintertime hearty, chunky soup department, I've been less successful. I've made edible, but not memorable, soups like minestrone, white bean and ham, or split pea. And they were ok, but nothing to rave about. It was more like the ingredients happened to be hanging out together, but didn't really meld into something more than their parts.

    This soup is rave-able. It has a great balance of flavors that really complement each other--the vinegar at the end brings out the best in the lentils (like a good French green lentil salad) and the ketchup gives this just enough sweetness that it sets off the sausage flavor. The spinach makes you feel like maybe this isn't entirely bad for you. We had it with some homemade garlic bread--a half loaf of Zingerman's Italian bread sliced thick, brushed with olive oil that had a clove of garlic crushed into it and sprinkled with a little cayenne and fresh Parmesan cheese. Then the loaf was reassembled, wrapped in foil and heated in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. You could also add a salad but since we were in hunker-down-and-try-and-get-through-January mode, we skipped the raw vegetables and just had a second bowl of soup.

    And if you want a photo before you'll try the recipe, go to the Food52 blog (which I only recently discovered) and look at their pretty picture. I read through their recipe and used most of the same ingredients, but didn't really follow their instructions (which seemed focused on making it fast--since I made it in the morning that wasn't really an issue for me).

    Lentil Sausage Spinach Soup
    adapted from antoniajames recipe on Food52

    1 large Andouille sausage (mine was about double the length of a normal sausage link)
    1 smaller non-smoked sausage, Italian or something like that
    1 T olive oil
    1 large yellow or white onion, diced

    4 cloves of garlic, chopped
    3 carrots, diced
    3 stalks of celery, diced
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 t dried thyme
    1 and 1/2 cups French green lentils
    1 can beef broth
    1 can chicken broth
    2 C water
    3/4 cup sturdy red wine
    3 tablespoons ketchup
    2 packed cups fresh baby spinach
    1/4 cup chopped parsley
    Salt and pepper, to taste
    1 T red wine vinegar

    In a big soup pot, heat the oil and cook your sausages (may want to add a little water to steam them so they cook through without over browning). Once the sausages are cooked through, remove them from the pot and set aside. When they've cooled a little, slice them up.

    In the same pot, saute the onion and garlic on medium heat (you may need to add a little more olive oil--it depends on how much fat your sausages gave off) until onion is translucent. Add celery and carrots and cook, stirring frequently so nothing burns, for another couple of minutes.

    Add your bay leaves, thyme, the lentils and all the liquids (broths, wine, water). Crank up the heat and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 1/2 an hour until the lentils are tender.

    Season with the ketchup and salt and pepper.

    Before serving, add back in the sausage slices, toss in the spinach and parsley and heat through. Stir in the red wine vinegar right at the end.