Monday, August 31, 2009

Peppers, Peppers Everywhere

20 pepper plants is a LOT, which has amazingly resulted in a LOT of peppers. A sweet pepper harvestwhich was mostly dehydrated
and gave me almost as many peppers as I dried all last summer:I think I'm going to need another jar or two. We kept the orange ones out because I had never grown them before, so tonight I stuffed them with a little yogurt, chopped onion, cooked red wheat berries, a little seasoning, and some feta cheese
and put them on the grill. (And in case you're wondering, the little tin foil cups are to keep them upright).

The Anaheim peppers have been going crazy next to the peas
this being only the LARGE peppers from 2 plants. I'm hoping these work out well as a dried pepper because thisis a really good way to make your eyes water all day long. Not sure if I'm even going to attempt to dry any jalapenos.......maybe only if we're going to leave the house?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Today I Wanted a Cookie

Which is sort of bizarre as I am not in general a sweets fan and cookies are pretty much at the bottom of the sweets list anyway, but today I really wanted a cookie.

Which in my world means making cookies.

Today had cooled off some, but I still wasn't going to turn on the oven, so that left "no-bake" cookies--except that shredded coconut has all sorts of additives and is off limits. So in my alternate universe, wheat bran is a good substitute for coconut....which might have something to do with why I'm not allowed to bring desserts anywhere. I am guessing that wheat bran might not contribute to the flavor of the cookie like sweetened coconut does, so I substituted half the butter for peanut butter, threw in some dry roasted peanuts and a bit of extra salt, and voila!No-bake peanut butter, chocolate, and wheat bran cookies. I don't know if it's just the fact that we don't get chocolate very often or that it's been so long neither of us would remember what the "real thing" tastes like anyway, but I thought they were pretty good.

Of course, I'm the one who thought up this whole crazy experiment anyway, so......

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Things I've Learned This Month

* It's best to can pickles in the morning rather than at night. It seems to be easiest to dive in when I'm not quite fully awake.

* The most prolific tomatoes are going to be the least-helpful this case, the volunteer grape tomatoes. No matter how much I want salsa, they are such a pain to peel....

* Next year no matter WHAT the tag says about "easy to grow," if it says "heirloom" I'm putting the plant down and pretending it never existed.

* If you actually have worn the rubber off of your jar lifters, you might be a bit of a canning overachiever.

* Gardening newsletters might be right about planting the seedlings for the fall garden in July and August, but they fail to explain what to do with them when they're several inches tall and it's still 90+ degrees outside.

* Julia Child makes an excellent pizza crust--even when you don't follow her directions exactly as written. This still does not encourage me to cook with an entire stick of butter.

* I might just be a bit perverse, but when people start spreading rumors about "death panels" to try to defeat a healthcare plan, the plan seems like something I probably want to support.

* It's going to take more than 2 days before I'm willing to discuss the whole "carrot-bourbon jam" episode....

* As much as it pains me to say this, I think I'm glad we ended up with the pattypan squash. It doesn't get as bitter or as watery as zucchini. And they're kind of cute.

* If you're just after zucchini bread and cake, freezing shredded zucchini works just fine.

* No matter how hard you try, you just can't explain sleeping in on weekends to a cat.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Trip To the Dark Side

Our youngest kitty, Theo, now needs a special dust-free cat litter, and the vet said to try Wal-Mart, so I ventured there on Thursday night.

I do not generally shop at Wal-mart, and I don't think I've been there since we started our no-processed-foods experiment, so it was a bit of a shock--perhaps a bit like dropping a vegetarian into a meat-packing plant. I think I went up and down all the aisles a few times just soaking it all in.

One aisle in particular surprised me. I don't watch television or read any of the more "sensationalistic" news sources, so I fall behind a lot, but when did people start building bomb shelters again? There's an entire aisle of this stuff. Are communes on the rise again? I didn't even WANT to know what was in the 2-pound can of "butter powder," but odds are pretty high it didn't have anything to do with butter.

And look!
Bean dip is now an "impulse buy!" Yummy!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Note To Self:

When making jam, if a recipe says "cook until thick" do not make any plans for the next 4 to 16 hours.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It Worked!

Having mostly followed Julia Child's directions for her pizza crust, I blithely ignored everything she had to say about cooking it. Not even for pizza am I turning the oven on when it's 90-some-odd degrees out.

I also felt free to disregard the "tossing" of the crust part--which she says takes very little practice. Reading between the lines, I'm still thinking that means one or two pizza crusts were pried off the ceiling or scooped up off the floor, and when we're hungry and dinner is already 3 hours late is not the time for acrobatics in the kitchen. Besides, Andy was watching & would have known if I scooped the crust up off the floor and served it anyway.

So, I rolled it out and grilled it slightly before adding toppings
Two things here worth mentioning:
1. I have never yet managed to roll anything into a circle, but I'm getting better at squares and thought I should go with my strengths
2. I realize pre-"baking" isn't a Julia step either, but I haven't actually grilled a pizza before (only grilled crusts I had pre-baked in the oven), so if the dough was going to ooze through the grill and end up flambeing on the burners, I didn't want it to take the toppings with it.

A little homemade sauce, "legal" chicken sausage, and a bit of cheese later and voila!
A really quite good pizza. (And for anyone wishing to grill their own pizza, the Rotisserie burner DOES help heat the grille a bit quicker, but will probably also burn one edge of your pizza. Just an FYI)

And yesterday's endeavor:
Six pints of salsa! And if you can believe it, since last fall I had actually forgotten how long it takes to make & can salsa. Guess the mystery of how women can go through childbirth more than once has been solved......

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dinner will be at 10:30....

So the day started with 3 batches of pickles brining in the fridge, so I got up this morning, got all my canning paraphernalia set up, and set to work. I got all 6 quart jars packed, filled, and into the canner, but when I opened the canner to see if they were boiling yet I found it full of dill seed. I realize not everyone cans, so I'll just say now--that's a REALLY bad sign. One of my jars lost its bottom, but I had packed it so tightly that all the cucumbers stayed in place. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but it did make it a bit easier to clean up. So, we have 5 new quarts of pickles today.

Then....did I mention I planted NINE jalapeño plants? Really, I thought I would have tomatilloes by now to be using up some of the jalapenos, so it seemed like a good idea at the time (as does so much of what I do). Well, now I have scads of peppers and nothing to add them to, so I pickled one pound of them--which incidentally, is a lot of peppers. and we now have 4 more jars of pickled jalapenos. What we're going to do with them is another matter.

So, to summarize my morning:After swimming a few laps at the gym, I was feeling refreshed an invigorated enough to tackleHave I mentioned that I've been obsessed with Julia Child since I saw the movie "Julie & Julia?" Not enough to make the bizarre aspic things or to make a sauce with 3/4 of a pound of butter, but enough to decide at 5:30 to try her cornmeal pizza crust for dinner.

The good side is, she has you make it in the food processor.The bad news needs to spend about two hours rising. Luckily, we had LEGAL chocolate martinis on hand:This is Andy's homemade chocolate liqueur (after about half evaporated in the "straining" process) mixed with vodka, and it's quite fabulous. So....whether the pizza is good or not is about to be completely irrelevant.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's exciting episode: PIZZA FOR BREAKFAST! And.....


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Never Turn Your Back On The Cucumbers

I had it in my schedule to pick cucumbers every 4 days, and really I knew better, but I ignored the garden this week. I know--in August, after giving them Miracle Grow every week and filling the beds with horse manure...what was I thinking? So tonight we havewhat is about to be a pickling marathonspaceships from the planet "Squash,"
and FINALLY specimens from our volunteer tomato plant, which are either really big grape tomatoes or really small Roma tomatoes. Hard to say, really. as I had both last year. Tasting them doesn't help either because the grape tomatoes I had last year weren't the wonderful sweet snack tomatoes that I had hoped for. They were just nondescript litle tomatoes. Sort of like these......

And if you're wondering why I don't just come to my senses and start giving away cucumbers, the pickles are really fabulous & we've already gone through two quarts and a pint and technically none of them are actually even "ready" to open.'s back to pickling every 4 days. (And yes, no more Miracle Grow for the cucumbers...)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Few Random Updates

* I was so curious about "chipped beef" that I had to go looking for it in the grocery store and sure enough, Winco had it--right next to the Vienna sausages, pickled pigs' feet, and Substance Posing As Meat (SPAM). No wonder I had never seen it. Is it just me, or does it look a lot like meat Pringles? (And need I even mention that it violates every rule we have this year?)

* We are finally getting tomatoes!!!!! Not enough to make salsa yet, but for lunch we had tomato slices and Gouda cheese. Yum!

* I have planted beets, peas, and lettuce for a fall garden. Luckily most of it is in pots inside as the returning hot temperatures would probably kill them. Now if I can just remember to water them.....

* Our compost bin really isn't getting hot enough to truly "compost," so we have added worms to it. I don't mind the worms, but it also means that there are lots & lots of bugs (which bother me a bit, I have to admit), which have attracted a little frog. I also don't mind the frog, but it does get to me once in a while to have something unexpected jump out at me. Why do we think this is a good thing to do to people we love to surprise them on their birthdays?

* The hamburgers turned out as well as hamburgers probably can, but we ended up splitting a bun. Homemade bread certainly tastes much better than commercial buns, but no matter how flat one tries to get them, they turn out much too "poofy" for any sort of sandwich--sort of the height of a Big Mac but without the calories or accompanying heart disease.

* I finally packed away the garlic as it stores better in a "cool dark place" and visitors were beginning to wonder about us. At the rate we're using the garlic, I'm not so worried about it going bad before we use it all up. Or about vampires.

* No matter how charming I find Julia Child, I can't bring myself to use that amount of butter in ANYTHING. I'm sure she knew what she was doing, but was she getting kickbacks from the dairy industry or what?

* As we have now finished off a whole quart of the "mushy" batch of pickles, I'm not too worried about them. We prefer crunchy pickles, of course, but after 6 months of no pickles at all, even slightly mushy pickles are pretty good.

* An antacid snack before going out to dinner with friends is a REALLY good idea after 8 months of no processed foods.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Grilling Burgers

We are grilling hamburgers tomorrow night, which mean that tonight
Andy made rolls. We have homemade pickles, homemade mustard, and homegrown tomatoes. These had better be SERIOUSLY good hamburgers.

Thank heavens we didn't actually have to go butcher the cow for this little endeavor....

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Things I Have Learned So Far This Year

* Garlic "planting stock" needs to be ordered before October, even though you might not need to plant it until then. Otherwise most of it will be sold out.

* Vinegar solves almost all household problems.

* If vinegar doesn't solve a problem, try baking soda.

* Potatoes come in low-starch, medium-starch, and high-starch varieties. Mashed potatoes made from low-starch varieties will have the yummy consistency of glue.

* Peppers thrive when planted next to peas or beans, so they must like a lot of nitrogen. If they are planted next to pole beans, however, you may never see the pepper again.

* Julia Child suggests putting hard to peel garlic in boiling water for a very brief period to make them easier to peel, but what she didn't mention is that if you microwave the water to almost boiling, dropping several cloves of garlic into the water might give you the steam burn of your life.

* Though it doesn't say it on the seed packet, on the growing tag, or anywhere definitely that I can find, tomatillos seem to not be able to self-pollinate, so plant two of the darn things or you'll end up with a big, mangy, water-sucking weed.

* If your cucumbers start turning into bizarre shapes, your watering is too irregular for them. If it's being caused by freak, totally out of season rainstorms, there isn't a thing in the world you can do about it except pickle them as slices instead of spears.

* Hubbard squash can grow to be 40 pounds. This is an important piece of information that I think should be passed along to anyone who might ever be foolish enough to plant one. It will also take over the entire backyard, and is currently closing in on the hot tub.

* "Heirloom" is a term for vegetables that roughly translates into "freakishly hard to grow."

* Potatoes are actually quite good for you until they become french fries. Much of the nutritional value is in the skin, so peeling is best to be avoided.

* Food in America seems to have not ever really been about enjoying the taste of food. We've reveled in speed, quantity, technology, uniqueness, but I can't find any time period where we really developed an appreciation for slow drawn out meals that focus on how food tastes like the Italian, French, and Spanish cultures seem to have done (by my understanding, that is). We are the home of fast food and "super sized."

* Growing potatoes is really a lot of fun. It's like a treasure hunt for breakfast every morning.

* Don't ask for gardening advice from people who sell lawn & garden products.

* It's really, REALLY hard to convince yourself to plant a fall garden in July or August when the summer garden is in full swing.

* If you want broccoli in a fall garden, it would be advisable to locate broccoli seeds sometime before August.

* Seeds can be harvested from some of the plants you grow--others are hybrids that can't reproduce. Judging from the number of "volunteers" I have ripped out, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes are not among them.

* The plant you are least interested in is the one most likely to thrive.

* Before planting 9 jalapeño plants, have a back-up plan in mind in case the tomato harvest is delayed or non-existent.

* We had a couple weeks where our zucchini plant stopped producing entirely, which I never dreamed would be possible. Maybe I hurt its feelings.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Day So Far

* Fixed a "potato thingy" for breakfast

* Put a batch of bread in the bread machine, which did NOT come out looking like a cartoon character* Pickled two double-batches of cucumbers after harvesting these last nightwhich was only 4 DAYS after picking the last batch of cucumbers. It's really a good thing that they're so prolific as the pickles from the botched attempt at the whole 12-quarts-at-once experiment did indeed come out a bit mushy. They taste fine, but not what I would hope for. There are two recipes here--one with a little sugar & mustard seed & one the standard dill that I've been using. Neither of us like sweet pickles or "bread and butter" pickles, but theoretically these just take a bit of the "pucker" out of a traditional dill. We'll find out in two to three weeks!

* Made a chicken, mushroom, garlic (of course) pizza for lunchand am now in serious need of a nap!

We would DEFINITELY be having takeout tonight if it were legal.....

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Good Housekeeping's Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries"

In doing our little food experiment, I have become fascinated by food history, old cookbooks, and old books of "housekeeping." In some ways, I think it's unfortunate that we don't teach people about "housekeeping" since after all, one is presumably going to live in a house for most of one's life. One of the better books I found (published in 1949) explains everything from doing laundry and treating stains to repairing furniture to common household maintenance like switches & lights and fuses to establishing budgets and savings goals. And the cover is washable--it says so, right on the front.

Today I've been reading Good Housekeeping's Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries. It sets out menus for meals for a week for each month. For instance, today being a Monday in August, for lunch we would have had:

Boiled Rice with Fruit
Chipped Beef (I'm going to have to look that one up)
Cream Gravy (nothing like a heart attack to start the day right)

Then for "luncheon," instead of the smoothies I actually fixed, we'd have:

Nut Loaf with Tomato Sauce (?????)
Graham Bread Sandwiches

And tonight we'd be having:

Green Pea Soup
Cauliflower with Mushrooms
Rings of Spaghetti with Garnish of Julienne Carrots
Coffee Ice Cream
Sponge Cake

The recipes are included later in the book, though I have not yet found that nut loaf thing. (Do you think it would be considered an Hors d'oeurvres, bread, or a salad?) This book was published in 1922, so it uses measurements like a "peck," offers up recipes for cooking pigeons (which would solve hunger AND the statue cleanliness problems in America) and has a surprising variety of ingredients listed. The first "modern" grocery store (where you get to pick up things for yourself instead of asking the clerk for them) in America opened in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee and was christened the "Piggly-Wiggly," which has to be one of the more bizarre names ever chosen for a business. I may be underestimating the more traditional grocery stores, but I just wouldn't have expected the normal small-time grocery stores to have things like pimentos and white and black mustard seeds. To be honest, I actually haven't been able to find black mustard seeds in any grocery stores, so maybe I'm just biased. (Then again, I haven't run across pigeon either.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Few Fun Food Facts

* Pringle's potato "crisps" are not allowed to be called potato "chips" because potato chip manufacturers were afraid that the new-fangled potato product made from dehydrated potatoes would take over the market. It never happened, but they are "snacks" or "crisps," and most definitely not "chips."

* "Philadelphia" cream cheese has nothing whatsoever to do with Philadelphia. It was just a really popular city associated with dairy foods when cream cheese was "invented" in New York state.

* TV dinners were invented by Swanson's to unload a whole bunch of leftover turkeys following Thanksgiving. .

* Swanson's second TV dinner offering was fried chicken, which had a strange banana flavor due to the yellow dye (made from banana) that was used to decorate the box leached through to the food. Most people complained, but a smattering of Florida residents loved the banana fried chicken. It takes all kinds.

* Wonder bread debuted in 1921, but didn't achieve "greatest thing since..." fame until 1930 when it became the first sliced bread available.

* Until 1967, Wisconsin--a state with a very large dairy industry--required margarine to NOT be yellow. At one point, a few states required margarine to be dyed a very unappetizing pink color so as to protect the dairy industry by making butter more attractive than margarine. Little did they know they really only needed to mutter the words "trans fats."

* We have dogs to thank for Pop-Tarts. General Foods was trying to create a moist dogfood treat that wouldn't spoil. The success of Gaines Burgers prompted the cereal division to borrow the technology and the result was the Pop-Tart. They just get more & more appetizing, don't they?

* Wonder bread got in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in the late 1970s for neglecting to mention that the "fiber" in it's Fresh Horizons bread came from added wood pulp--not actually from whole grains or any such thing. You know, I've been feeling like we're just not getting enough TREE in our diet....

Now doesn't that just make you hungry?????


You might have noticed my book tally on the left of the blog. Most of my life, I have been an avid reader--a devourer--of books, but in the last few years something--probably life itself--had gotten in the way of my joy of reading. I do not know what happened. Perhaps I burned out, perhaps I was trying to read books that didn't interest me, perhaps I felt I didn't have time...or perhaps after reading page after page after page of technical information trying to understand the world of telephony and data that I came to resent ANY form of written expression that anyone dared to commit to paper. It's hard to say, but this year I decided to rediscover reading as a form of pure pleasure.

Looking at the list, you will perhaps notice a tendency toward mysteries. I have enjoyed them most of my life (though I didn't discover them as a child and so am perhaps the only child of my generation to read neither a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book), so I thought they would be the most "fun," which is rather ironic as each of them represents a murder. I have been highly amused by the Hamish Macbeth mysteries by M.C. Beaton. They were recommended to me by a fellow lover of British mysteries, and they are delightful, humorous, and one of the most outrageously improbable series of stories I have encountered. Remember how on the original Star Trek series that the unknown person of Kirk's landing party was always guaranteed to be killed by whatever was lurking on the unknown planet? Sort of the same thing in the books. There are 25 or 26 of them, and they are mostly set in the same small village in Scotland, and whenever there's a newcomer introduced, they are of course, the one to be murdered. Of course, it makes sense as it is a series and killing off 26 cast members is REALLY going to make continuity difficult, but it does get a little bizarre. I've never actually been to Scotland, of course, but I assume that most small villages do not have a murder every 3 months and certainly are unlikely to kill off every newcomer, but I could be wrong. It would start to impact tourism, I would suspect. Maybe they just chalk up the deaths to the Scottish love affair with the calorie & fat explosions of deep-fried Mars bars which cannot do much for health & longevity.

You might have also noticed that I am a bit behind on my goal of reading 100 books for the year. I should be at around 65 books by now, not 56, but I am reading about 7 different books right now. It seems to drive people crazy, but I seldom read only one book at a time. My book club's latest pick is Pat Conroy's Lords of Discipline, and while I believe it to be brilliantly written and one of the best books I've read, it is also a very intense book and has been giving me nightmares about military cadets & hazing & "honor." To compensate, I have also been reading Julia Child's My Life in France, which is sometimes dull, sometimes charming, sometimes funny but NEVER stressful. It makes a nice balance and has so far not given me nightmares about military cadets attending cooking classes.

Not yet, anyway........

Friday, August 14, 2009

It Can Be Done!!!

The pumpkin "Chinese" food experiment was postponed until dinner, because at lunch I was in the middle of canning 4 more quarts of pickles, but last night I was ready!

Taking the pureed pumpkin out of the bag and finding it not very "pureed," I stuck it in the food processor with some water and a little 5 spice powder, figuring the cinnamon & spices would mix nicely with the sweetness of the pumpkin. I stir fried some veggies from the garden, then added the pumpkin "sauce"
simmering just about a minute before sprinkling in a small amount of cornstarch, then served it over rice noodles with some toasted pecans added for protein:
It was actually pretty good and EXTREMELY healthy, but ugly enough that no restaurant in the world is going to be pilfering my idea. Or any of my other cooking ideas, for that matter, but I'm sure our collective cholesterol count dropped by 10 yesterday.

And since we were enjoying an unseasonably cool evening, I made ginger-garlic mustard. No matter what we decide to do in the future, we'll never be able to go back to commercial mustards. We are both tremendous fans of mustard, and when we first moved in together & combined refrigerators we must have had 10 different types of mustard, so I certainly loved the commercial stuff, but NOW we have experienced a new level of condiment and we just can't go back. And we might spend just a little too much time thinking about food somedays.....

Anyway, this one had ginger, garlic, cracked black pepper, and water boil gently for a bit, then all the solids are strained out and you get this: which smelled AMAZING. Then yellow & brown mustard seeds soak in this for 2 hours, then it's all processed in the food processor, vinegar is added, and the whole thing is brought to a boil over medium heat.

And here's the reason we buy mustard: cooking mustard is one of the most pungent eye-watering fumes I have encountered, and I boil brine for pickles. Now, if you have a cold or sinus trouble, this might do some good. As it was, my eyes were stinging and watering while I had to "stir constantly." Once it comes to a boil, then you gently boil for 15 minutes until it is about 1/3 of the volume and you have inhaled the other two-thirds as nasty, stinging vapor.

Then after a little water-bath processing:
Yep, that's right. 2 1/2 cups of mustard. We'll open it in a couple months and see how it is. We might be sticking mostly with the mustards that DON'T have to be cooked, or saving this little project for cold & flu season........

Thursday, August 13, 2009

And Today's Challenge is.....

"Chinese" food using pureed pumpkin.

Last night we thawed out one of the last bags of pureed pumpkin, and I have one cup left to use, and Andy suggested something vaguely Chinese (vegetables, noodles, ginger or 5-spice or garlic) for lunch, so we have our own private Iron Chef challenge today.

I have either Soba noodles (sorry--Japanese), or bean thread noodles and both are legal. I have peppers, onions, just a tad bit of garlic, water chestnuts, and one cup of pureed pumpkin.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

You're Never Going to Believe This!!!!

Are you sitting down?????

Velveeta might be good for you!

According to Carolyn Wyman in Better than Homemade, (a seriously delightful book, by the way), Velveeta was created as a way to keep the milk solids (whey) and the nutrients that milk contains within the cheese. She also states that Velveeta is actually a more nutritious cheese than...well....cheese. Velveeta received the American Medical Association’s endorsement, the AMA even asserting that Velveeta’s protein was “complete for the building of firm flesh.” Personally, I would have said it was more about building cellulite or flab, but it does seem to have one-third fewer calories than cheddar cheese. Of course, it’s still off limits for us, but I will be taking back at least a few of the things I’ve said about Velveeta. I am still, however, going to feel free to ridicule Cheez Wiz and any other aerosol cheese products, as I am rather confident that they probably have the same amount of nutritional value as, say, the can they come in......

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What We Are Eating

Several months ago I stopped listing what we were eating each day as I thought I was well on my way to becoming a one-woman cure for insomnia, but I thought some highlights might be of interest--especially for those who are playing along at home and DON'T have the luxury of not working. So, some of the new summer "stand-bys:"

1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Believe it or not, this has become a breakfast food here at Chateau Sutton-Goar. Of course, we have to make our own bread, buy or make peanut butter without any additives, and we use only homemade jellys or jams, but it's still a peanut butter sandwich at the end. The peanut butter has to be kept in the refrigerator as there is nothing to keep the oil from separating and floating to the top, and that can be difficult to spread on bread, but it still beats the daylights out of eggs.

2. Smoothies. I have become Queen of the Blender. As you might have guessed, plain nonfat yogurt is good for you (like anything that tastes that bad would be sold if it wasn't), so I mix it in with some of the frozen cherries from the June cherry-picking outing, throw in a frozen banana, a little sugar & pure vanilla or real maple syrup for variety, and maybe a sprinkling of freshly-grated nutmeg. I have been known to sneak in wheat germ or ground flax meal as well, or occasionally a few almonds. They're perfect for the really hot days.

3. Grilled chicken sausages. Costco--bless their little retail hearts--has a line of legal chicken sausages, so when my need for something with homemade mustard & smothered with homemade pickles gets too great, we grill sausages, serve them on homemade bread, slather them with my latest mustard, and plow through half a jar of pickles. Hey, not like we're going to run out of them or anything.

4. "Frittatas." The recipes you'll find for frittatas in most cookbooks probably allow a great deal more egg than I do. Personally, it needs to be there for the protein, but if it can be easily identified there aren't enough vegetables. I saute a lot of vegetables, and then add two beaten eggs and mix them in. I used to try to get them to come out as a true frittata (able to be served as a wedge) but that required too much egg. I am learning to tolerate eggs this year....liking them just isn't going to happen.

5. Hot cereal with nuts or peanut butter added for protein. Sometimes it's about nutrition, not taste.

6. Potato stir fry. Did I mention we planted potatoes in the garden? I chop them up and stir fry them in a nonstick pan (so they don't need any oil), and throw in whatever vegetables are available. Toss in a little feta cheese or monterey jack cheese at the very end if desired.

7. Salads.

8. Meusli: yogurt, fruit, nuts, dried fruit, grains all mixed together and often chilled in the refrigerator overnight. I'm still a bit hit-or-miss on this as I seem incapable of remembering what I've done before, so a few of these have gone down the garbage disposal.

9. Grilled vegetables

10. Salmon with fresh dill sauce (until the dill died) and now with lemon-sage mustard.

11. And for serious desperation: a scoop of natural peanut butter all by itself. As I said, that's for the "hungry right now" moments.

I still cook quite a bit, and this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but when I'm out of creativity, these are my stand-bys. When I'm more creative, we tend to eat better. This weekend I made a surprisingly good pizza with our first buttercup squash, and a wonderful squash-Gorgonzola soup during our little cold snap. The peppers are really getting going in the garden, so the next few weeks should involve a spurt of stuffed pepper variations.

And hopefully a few tomatoes!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia

Friday night--OPENING NIGHT, even--two girlfriends and I went to see "Julie & Julia." I loved it! I thought Meryl Streep was incredibly funny and engaging as Julia Child, and I came away from the movie in love with Julia Child.

And feeling guilty, as I have never been able to get through the book Julie & Julia.

I have tried. I even loved the concept so much that one year for Christmas I gave Andy the J&J book, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a couple balsamic vinegars, some herb salts, several types of dried mushrooms--sort of "French cooking in a box." Andy has read the book, and my mother-in-law even sent me a copy of the book because it seemed right up my alley. And the idea of it was. Only......

I find the author whiny and annoying.

I have even scrounged out the book and am trying again....but she's still whiny and annoying. Who cries over chicken? Liver maybe--and that's only if I actually have to eat it. But chicken? Get a grip.

When I first heard of the J&J book, I loved the idea so much that I actually went through my cookbooks looking for one I could make myself go all the way through. It seemed such a fun way to force myself to make things I wouldn't normally make, but so far I've been stymied. I realize to say that I am never, ever, EVER going to cook squid or mussels or liver of any sort is rather counter to the entire point....and I don't care. I'm still never cooking squid or mussels or liver of any sort. I really dislike eggs, but I'm a bit more tolerant there. I made a soufflé once just to see what it was like, and I think it turned out like it was supposed to, but it was just too "eggy" for me and I threw it out (which is what generally happens every time I make something with eggs). Still, it was an accomplishment and I wanted to try it, but I never found myself at the point of tears or throwing shoes or swearing at my spouse.

I think it's "chick lit." I don't seem to like it. I thought Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood was just a thin version of Prince of Tides-a much better book. I thought Bridget Jones's Diary an annoying mishmash of chick lit and trying to rewrite Pride and Prejudice but without any of it's wit or charm. I couldn't make it through even 100 pages of Twilight, even though most of my friends simply love the book. I dropped out of my first book club because of their devotion to Oprah's book list. I'm not saying these are bad books--it's just that I can't stand them. So here's the question, am I the only female who doesn't like "chick lit?" And if there ARE other females who don't like "chick lit," shouldn't we get a category too, and what would the name be? "Babe books?"

[Of course, as I am currently completely fascinated by food history books, I don't suppose I get a reading group of my own. How many people are truly fascinated by the history of high fructose corn syrup?]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We've Got Pickles!!!!

One of my friends decided she would like to learn to can, and we both had today free, and I thought--perfect, that will be one week after the last batch of pickles, which should give the garden enough time to grow enough cucumbers get about 4 quarts (liters, to those in countries smart enough to switch to the metric system) of pickles.
Does my capacity to continually be wrong amaze anyone else?This is more than 4 GALLONS of cucumbers! And I picked these things just a week ago! That's it--no more Miracle Grow for the cucumbers. I washed and cut and salted and brined while Andy dug out space in the refrigerators for:Knowing that we had cucumbers for 12 quarts of pickles, I decided to drag out the pressure canner for this. I don't know how to pressure can yet, but I bought it because the advertisements said it could hold two layers of quart jars, and we were beyond the capacity of my normal canner.

We cheerfully set to work--Lisa peeled garlic cloves, which was actually trickier than it sounds because the paper skins don't come off of fresh garlic very easily, while I got the brine and jars ready
And then we hit our first snag. That's a really big canner, and it's really deep, and when it's half full of boiling water and there's a jar that is laying on the bottom of the canner, it can be really difficult to get out
That part wasn't covered in the manual. Know what else wasn't included? That 2 layers of quart jars would be JUST under the rim of the canner, making it very difficult to cover the top layer, and impossible to keep the boiling water IN the canner AND that it takes FOREVER to get that much water to return to a boil. Granted, it is a pressure canner not a water-bath canner, but the instruction book does say it can be used as a water-bath canner.

So....45 mintues later, we finally had processed the pickles for 15 minutes in boiling water and....12 quarts of pretty thoroughly cooked pickles. We might have a bit of mush-factor on these, but we had a good time.

And I had my second "cheat" last night:
I know, it's only a bite-size Reese's peanut butter cup, but this was the first chocolate candy I've had since December, and I was a bit concerned about side effects, which is rather funny as chocolate was once prescribed for various ailments--which I would guess created a whole bunch of hypochondriacs. I am happy to say that while there are unknown substances in chocolate, my body does not care in the slightest and the next time I use chocolate for a cheat, I'm getting an entire candy bar.

And Andy will have to pry me off the roof during the resulting sugar high......

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What Was I Thinking??????????????????

I have eighteen POUNDS of pickles brining in the refrigerator tonight. That will translate into 12 quarts of pickles tomorrow and I still have lots of cucumbers leftover.

A week ago I canned 4 quarts of pickles, and thought, "Gee, this is great. I can make pickles once a week and keep up with this." Why didn't anyone warn me that the cucumbers were probably only getting warmed up? AND I HAVE ACTUALLY BEEN GIVING THEM PLANT FOOD!!!!!

Heaven help me, when does it usually frost???

It's Saturday Night and I Have BOTH Cheats Left!!!

What has happened to me? Usually I am frothing at stewing and planning and figuring out when I should plan my cheats for the week and trying desperately to get one for a white chocolate martini, but this week.......Let's not be stupid--I've got my white chocolate martini, but with my amazing absence of alcohol tolerance, I'll be drinking it for the next two hours. So....what to have with the second one? And more to the point, as my idea of a good night is getting into PJs as early as possible, what can I have without having to get dressed and go somewhere???

This is a tough one. There have been foods I have missed but I have not deemed worthy of a "cheat," such as chocolate or olives (which I only recently discovered to be illegal due to a color stabilizer), and there have been foods I have missed so much that I have had to find legal replacements--such as mustard and pickles, and there have been foods that were initially worth cheats up until they started causing severe stomach upset--such as pizza or anything from a restaurant. But this is like a free cheat! I can have something WITH my martini.

Ah....the possibilities....

While I go prowl the pantry, I want to open this up for discussion. What food would you find hardest to give up?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Taking Advantage of Some Cool Weather

One of the problems with this experiment--and I would be the first to admit that there are several--is that harvesting the garden & canning all these great, nutritious, additive-free foods needs to happen when it's insanely hot here. I can't even imagine the brave women who did this without air-conditioning. No real challenge to guess why people pounced on the idea of buying already canned foods.

The last two days have been unseasonably cool & rainy, so pouncing on the opportunity do take care of a few things without roasting, I baked zucchini bread
which one is probably morally bound to make when one grows zucchini, and "zingerbread" for Monday's Soup Nightwhich would fall more under the "being a smarty-pants about zucchini" category. I've never actually made real gingerbread, but does it normally involve coffee and molasses? It's a VERY dark cake.

Since our tomatoes have produced ONE red tomato as of yet and the jalapenos are going crazy, I pickled some of the jalapenos:and have been out giving pep talks to the tomatoes.

I also picked our first buttercup squashwhich is our first "winter" squash to be harvested this year. I can't really figure out if this was "ripe" or not. The pictures all show a dark green squash that looks like this, and there were 4 on the plant and none seemed to be getting any bigger, so I assumed they are full size & mature, or at least close enough. Some people claim buttercup squash is so sweet that it tastes great plain, but those are people who like squash a whole lot more than I do. I like it for what can be made out of it, but not just plain. However, it made a killer squash-garlic-Gorgonzola soup today for lunchAnd everything has been supervised by my sidekickwho finds rainy days a good excuse for a nap. Like everything else in life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


As I've mentioned before, I dislike most of the American breakfast options. With all the potatoes and fresh veggies in the garden I've started doing a version of frittatas--with about twice the vegetables and just enough egg to provide protein but not enough to be visible. I still haven't found any information about why American breakfasts either involve eggs or sweet foods, but in The Secret Life of Food, Martin Elkort lists breakfasts "typical" of other countries. I thought it was really interesting--especially when he states that breakfasts might be the most typical of a country's foods as breakfast is the meal with the least pretension. Having just enjoyed a breakfast of leftover spaghetti and coffee, I can certainly agree with that.

So, a world-tour of breakfasts:
  • France: a just-baked croissant or baguette with butter, and a large cup of steaming cafe au lait in which to dip it

  • England: salty bacon and sausage with an egg, toast, and dark, tangy orange marmalade. Danish pastry. Coffee.

  • Scotland: oatmeal, kippers, bread, and oatcakes. Marmalade

  • Northern Ireland: Bacon and eggs, fried cabbage, and potato mush.

  • Unites States: Orange juice, bacon and eggs, hash-brown potatoes, waffle with syrup; or corn flakes with milk, half a grapefruit. Several cups of coffee

  • China: Dim Sum—a selection of snacks: buns stuffed wit spiced meat, steamed dumplings, duck, spiced rice, sausages, lots of tea

  • South China: Rice porridge (jook) with slivers of fish, frog or preserved egg. Hot soybean milk with onions.

  • Egypt: Felafel: mashed garbanzo beans, garlic and green onions fried in a patty and served in a pita (pocket bread).

  • Israel: A selection of cheeses, smoked and pickled fish, scrambled eggs, rolls and bread, yogurt, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and pastry.

  • Mexico: Chilaquiles: tortillas with hot and spicy meat and cheese

  • Philippines: Garlic-fried rice, dried fish.

  • Vietnam: Rice noodle soup and bean sprouts

  • Japan: Steaming rice porridge with vegetables and spicy pickles.

  • Spain: A cup of coffee

  • Portugal: Fresh bread slathered with butter. Coffee

So far, I'm with the French or the Portugese. I could probably do falafel for breakfast as well, but I just don't know if I could face frog at any meal.....

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Today we're having salmon fillets with lemon-sage mustard and fresh green beans sauteed with mushrooms and almonds.

Some days this is a really good experiment.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Things I Learned Last Month

* Those who don't keep Band-Aids in the kitchen are either optimistic, foolish, or really REALLY talented.

* Chocolate makes everything better--even zucchini.

* Being gone only 4 days does not translate into only 4 days of having a cat sleep on my head when we return.

* It may only be a coincidence, but growing lots of squash and several neighbors move away in the same year does make one wonder.

* Even with something that's relatively easy to grow--like garlic--there's always someone out there who is trying to make it harder.

* Never laugh at anyone else's gardening until you've tried it yourself. If the soil is loose enough, it really is possible to have trouble finding the potatoes.

* Jewelry may be pretty, but a true expression of love is when your spouse rids the garden of aphids for you.

* Anaheim peppers apparently like growing next to peas. Either that or someone is feeding steroids to one of our plants.

* A watched tomato does not turn red

* It doesn't matter if the tag says the tomatillo plant will fruit before the tomatoes if the tomatillo plant hasn't read the tag

* It might be smarter to figure out where all the jars are going to go BEFORE one starts canning, but we like living on the edge.

* Don't underestimate the amount of time it takes a not-quite-ready zucchini to grow to boat-size. It might be 30 seconds.

* Trying to conserve energy by not running the air conditioning is fine and dandy until it reaches 100 degrees for days on end. Then it's time to crank the sucker and send a donation to the conservation league.

* As wonderful as I think his books are, getting P. Allen Smith's newsletter saying that it's time to start planning the fall garden when I'm still trying to get the summer one going makes me want to pop him in the nose.

* Everyone has advice to give on growing tomatoes, but the dang plant is actually a weed that will grow almost anywhere if you aren't careful.

* Check how big a squash can get before planting it. Some can grow to 40 pounds, and one is living in out backyard.

* Planting all the climbing plants in the same bed and letting them fight it out is actually kind of fun.

* It takes exactly 2 strange desserts from the garden to establish one's reputation for strange desserts from the garden. It might take only one if you start with green tomato cake

* Some plants have to work harder than others. I had some extra room, so I decided to give eggplant another go, but that doesn't mean I'm going to encourage it or anything.

* Keep a journal of your gardening exploits, and to remind yourself that however much you are looking forward to the cucumbers, six plants is probably going a bit overboard

Fall! Finally!

Even without extremely hot summers, I've always loved fall.  A little coolness in the air, leaves starting to turn, sweaters coming out-...