State of the Garden, Early May 2013

ImageHello, salad season! Tons of lettuce and radishes coming out of the garden this week, thanks to the 5 days of steady rain we have received. 1 pound of lettuce (read: a lot! those leaves don’t weigh very much so it takes quite a bit to get to 1 pound!) and 11 little radishes this week alone! Surely, the peas can’t be far behind.

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Tonight Alex and I are going to a potluck dinner. We are bringing a pound cake for dessert to showcase fresh spring eggs from a friend, as well as a rhubarb-orange sauce that celebrates the end of winter (citrus) and beginning of spring (rhubarb).

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Are you stalking stocking up on your spring stalks? Rhubarb and asparagus won’t last long so get ’em while you can. Last week, at the farmer’s market, I was a little too amused that my tote bag was overflowing with these stalks–nothing else, just rhubarb and asparagus stalks. I laughed out loud and remarked as much (mostly to myself but definitely loud enough for others to hear), but nobody laughed with me. Am I becoming the crazy lady who talks to herself at the farmer’s market?? Has my quest to “stock up” and “put by” the things that I can’t grow myself deluded me into thinking that everyone else at the market knows why I’m buying asparagus 4 pounds at a time? I stumbled under the weight of my bags to the fresh donut stand. I probably did look a little crazy, stuffing my face with that little treat and leaving a trail of cinnamon-sugar dust from my lips and down the front of my shirt. Maybe my fellow shoppers just assume that I’m really really hungry.

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Speaking of asparagus, I learned a neat tip for getting the most out of these babies. You know how they tell you to hold each stalk horizontally and snap off the “woody stem” at the non-tip end? (Alternately, some people rubberband a whole bunch together and just make one big chop). You can save those woody stems! Thank goodness! I always winced whenever I did that; sure, the ends went to the compost, but it seemed like such a waste of fresh green veggies! Here’s what you do: Chop into 1-inch pieces. Boil them for about 5 minutes, then shock in an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Puree in your food processor and pack into freezer-safe containers. Voila! Asparagus puree. Instant baby food. Or for use in things like soup, breads, quiche, or asparagus flan, which I am very eager to make.

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Alex and I have been living in our house for almost three years now! If I had planted asparagus crowns when we first moved in, we might be noshing on our own asparagus by now!

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In Which I Discover a Weakness in Myself + Yummy Links

I have been out of commission for almost a week now, thanks to a vicious case of food poisoning. Yuck. I wasn’t able to identify the offending foodstuff, but I do know I hope to never ever feel that way again.

Naturally, being limited in my diet has put me in a zombie-like state, dreaming of all the springtime foods I should be eating right now. Rhubarb and asparagus are growing arms and legs in my crisper drawers and putting on a little parade and twirling batons that haunts me when I try to go to sleep. Alas, I have only been able to comfortably digest buttered noodles (often in chicken broth), an entire sleeve of saltine crackers, and rice. And with caloric intake severely reduced, I’ll be working my way back to my normal appetite slowly. Boo.

If I’m ever stranded on a desert island, with no viable source of food, I’ll be a goner. Well, I guess anybody in that scenario would be. But I’ll be first. So. Weak. Without. Food…

I can say that I now have a pretty solid working knowledge of the daytime TV schedule on non-cable TV thanks to the long hours I’ve logged on the couch with two patient pups by my side.

Anyway, here’s a list of links that caught my attention recently to keep you busy while I try to clean up the house and get our lives back in order.

The latest from Michael Pollan: “…the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

– Seven, chemical-free (and mostly DIY) acne treatments, and why they’re better.

– I ordered this beautiful book by Jessi Bloom and have been daydreaming about chickens in my backyard.

– Speaking of chickens, I adore this blog.

– Now that the weather is warming up, stay hydrated by making your own electrolyte water.

– Do you know table manners in other cultures? Here’s a snazzy game to help you out.

– Ever wanted to cure your own bacon?

Oh, and hey, I’m working on a project and want to know your favorite summer cocktail. Leave a comment and tell me about it!

Basic Cheese Sauce

Like a classic pearl necklace, I’m a fan of those basic recipes that afford me the opportunity to dress up or dress down and reinterpret throughout the week.

Basic cheese sauce is one of those classics. Dress up your breakfast casserole by calling it “Mornay sauce” and drizzle it on as a garnish. Dress down your nachos with a bowl of homemade “queso.” And enjoy it several times throughout the week as a base for mac&cheese (you’ll never need the blue box again), as a topping for taco night, an oozy accompaniment to paninis, and so much more.

Make a batch ahead of time, save the leftovers in the fridge, and reheat before serving again. Trust me, you can do this.

Basic Cheese Sauce
Yield ~1.25 cups 

3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons AP flour (or cornstarch, if you want gluten-free)
1 cup milk, preferably room temperature
1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, swiss/Gruyere, pepperjack, parmesan, or a mixture of whatever you’ve got)

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepot over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk together until flour is incorporated and mixture is a golden color.

2. Add the milk in a slow stream, whisking all the while. Let the milk heat up, stirring frequently. After about 5 minutes, the mixture should feel thicker as you stir.

3. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and stir in the cheese. It should definitely be thicker now.

Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and/or herbs. See what I mean about multiple ways to enjoy this throughout the week?

Melt butter. Whisk in flour.

Melt butter. Whisk in flour.

Add milk slowly. Stir until heated through and slightly thickened.

Add milk slowly. Stir until heated through and slightly thickened.

Add cheese until melted.

Add cheese. Stir until melted.

Reinterpret over the course of several meals.

Reinterpret over the course of several meals.

“Pearls are always appropriate,” quoth the late Jackie Kennedy. Add this pearl of a recipe to your repertoire. How would you use this versatile cheese sauce? Do tell.

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We Humble Home Cooks

Family

Here’s a recent shot of our happy household, transplanted for an afternoon to ascend Spy Rock. The weather finally seems to have warmed up, and to make up for lost time, spring has welcomed us with several days of summer weather. However, it’s raining now. I am thankful for the rain watering the garden and washing away that green-yellow film of pollen to which my sinuses have once again surrendered. But rainy days can make one introspective.

I flatter myself if I think that this inconsistent blogger still has regular readers, and even more so if those regular readers have stuck around long enough to wonder where all the food/recipe posts have gone of late.

I, too, have wondered why my meals no longer seem interesting enough to write about. Have I hit a dry spot in my recipe creativity? (Not really). Am I quite possibly the laziest photographer in the world? (Yes, but while photographs of food make reading about food more interesting, perhaps one need not shy away from writing just because no photos exist). Have I been occupying my time with things other than blogging? (Yeah, even if it is watching re-runs of old TV episodes). What could it be?

Sometimes overcoming a writer’s block involves reading more. When this month’s Bon Appetit arrived in the mail yesterday, I leafed through the pages as I usually do, dog-earring those with intriguing recipes or articles that I would come back to later. But then, I was surprised to find me…myself…in one of the articles, and I paused to read while I nibbled on what remained of my bacon and mushroom omelet, sandwiched between two fluffy halves of a cheddar biscuit.

“…the biscuits Ginny wants to bake are supposed to be made with buttermilk. She doesn’t have buttermilk, so she pulls out a small container of milk. The milk, though, is a full two weeks past its expiration date. Undeterred, and unwilling to make that trip to the store for an ingredient she lacks, she gives it a deep sniff, deems it viable, and adds it to the dough after a further souring with a tablespoon of vinegar.

Another recipe we are cooking with calls for sorghum syrup, which she also doesn’t have, so she uses maple. The cookies she wants to make require twice the amount of rolled oats she has. They also call for pine nuts, but she has only pecans…”

It’s an excerpt from a piece by Gabrielle Hamilton who takes a road trip to discover who today’s “home cooks” are, and alternately dines with a few different characters just doing their everyday cooking routine.

Ginny resonated with me because she is me. That is how I cook. Most of the time. Unless it’s a really intricate recipe or garnished with something super hi-tech that I don’t want to have imploding on my kitchen counter, I have gotten to the point that I can scan a recipe, amend the cooking technique for what I feel like doing (or have the time to do), using up the smorgasbord of ingredients that have collected in the fridge or the pantry. I generally know when I can replace one type of liquid with another, or swap this cheese for that one. I can even create a delicious dinner after having just uttered the words “there’s nothing to eat in this house.”

Perhaps I feared that sharing my recipes and meals with you as they appeared on our dinner plates one evening would be pointless since I would undoubtedly not make it the same way the next time. Would you feel cheated that I didn’t make it the way I wrote about it? More selfishly, would I feel like a cooking hypocrite, luring you into a false sense of kitchen perfection with each blog post?

Silly me. Reading about my style of cooking, as represented by Ginny but undoubtedly practiced by hundreds of radical homemakers and home cooks throughout the land, made me realize it doesn’t matter what I’m cooking, or how I’m cooking, or even whether it’s different from the last time I made it, and regardless of whether I published something about it or not.

All that matters is that I’m cooking.

And in the blogging world, sometimes all that matters is that I’m writing.

So tonight, friends, I’m going to be fixing this sausage and kale dish. Except, the sausages I picked up from the store today look like hot dogs and advertise themselves as containing both beer and sriracha. We’re out of pasta, so we’ll be having it over rice. And I don’t have parmesan cheese, so we might try mozerella or chevre, or both. And if I remember, I’ll snap a photo for you.

But in case I forget, just know that we will be dining joyfully, making the most of what we have, listening to the rain pelt our roof, maybe while watching old re-runs. What will you be cooking this weekend to nourish your loved ones and yourself? Do tell.

Mid-April Garden Tour

Just wanted to take a minute to show you why I am so excited about eating salads. Here’s what’s going on in the garden right now.

ImageLettuces (top) and radishes (middle) and some peas (very bottom right). This is the salad bed.

ImageDoesn’t look like much going on here, but that’s a tray of tomato seedlings and basil starts that are in the final stages of their outdoor-temperature-adjustment training. If you look closely, you’ll see three tomato plants on the left that have boldly already made the jump into the ground.

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English garden peas lined up along the fence line, trying my patience.

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Is this Swiss Chard? I hope so. It appeared in the right spot to be a volunteer leftover from last fall’s planting. Random.

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Herbs in pots: chives, spearmint, peppermint, shy sweet peas, basil, chamomile.

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No, not a weed. This is one of two Nanking cherry bushes we planted in the front yard. Delightfully, they were covered in dozens of flowers this spring, just like the cherry trees in our area. Now the leaves have grown in, but the bushes are still babies (hence the protective chicken wire cages). Maybe we’ll get a couple fruits this year?

If we ever move out of this house, I hope the new residents like edible plants!

What spring vegetables are you dreaming about these days? What’s going on in your garden, large or small? Do tell.

First Harvest 2013

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ImageThis morning I severed the first of the “Tennis Ball Lettuces” from their cool, composty beds. Probably a rude way to wake up, but what a delicious lunch awaits me! The season of fresh salads has returned. Can I get an ‘amen?’

4 heads, 0.75 oz.

Screen Printing Love: A Blogging Exchange with DreamGreen DIY

I had always thought screen printing was a really complicated process. Whenever I’d see a greeting card in our local stationery store with a “Screen printed” sticker on its protective cellophane envelope, or browsed dozens of beautiful boutique throw pillows boasting a screen print design, I’d pictured an operation on the scale of the printing press circa Gutenberg. Dozens of stencils and woodblock cuts organized in little boxes, huge ink rollers, and lots of lever-maneuvering to produce what suspiciously resembled an elaborate rubber stamp design. In my mind, screen printing was not something the average home craft enthusiast should think about tackling.

Screen print black heart tote bag

But thanks to my friend Carrie, of Dream Green DIY, and the magic of DIY screenprinting kits, I stand corrected. This art is accessible and fun, and opens up a whole realm of creative possibilities (and it has a fascinating history, which you can read about here). Last weekend when Carrie and I got together chez moi to teach each other something new (as we do a couple times a year), and while our husbands brewed some beer on the stove, Carrie showed me how it’s done!

Here’s what you need:

Fabric Screen Print Ink

Screen print fabric ink (or paper ink if you’re printing onto paper) found at your local craft or art supply store

DIY Screen Print Kit

A screen (yes, really), a template and fabric of your choosing (Carrie selected a simple heart and a canvas tote bag), and a scraper-thingie (technical term, I think it’s alternately called a fill blade or a squeegee).

DIY Screen Print

A friend to hold your screen in place (thanks, John!), plus a little muscle power to help spread the ink

The setup:

Screen Print Template

Screen Print Sandwich

Think of it like an open-faced sandwich. On the bottom, your plate (we put down some old paper to protect the table and keep the bag in place). Next, the bread to carry all your ingredients– in our case, the tote bag. Continuing to layer upwards, we have the template (cut to size for the width of the screen), the screen, and the ink.

The process:

Drag the squeegee this way...

Basically, all you do is plop a generous amount of ink onto the screen. Using firm, even pressure, scrape the squeegee over the ink and down the screen in order to depress the ink through the screen and onto the receiving medium. Be sure to go from top to bottom and side to side and bottom to top–all directions to make sure the ink has adhered. Carefully remove the stencil, and let dry. And that’s it!

...and this way

If you wanted to do multiple colors, you would simply layer them on top once your first layer had dried (and after you wash the original color off your screen). Carrie entertained the idea of making a chevron stripe template and painting it over the existing heart. For this first project, we decided simpler might be better, and Carrie hoped to hand-paint a fitting word in this black heart.

A couple hints we learned along the way:

– Fabric ink really is different from paper ink. Carrie tested the process on a sheet of glossy paper, and we were a little wary that the heart came out kind of smudgy and really uneven. You’ll be relieved to know that fabric ink performs beautifully on fabric.

Screen Print close-up

– Scrape the ink across the screen in all directions, not just top to bottom. In case your fabric has a “grain,” scraping in all directions insures that the ink has adhered. Unless you’re trying to achieve a vintage, splotchy look…

– We decided it wouldn’t be that difficult to make your own screen, if you needed a bigger one, for example. Simply stretch a piece of very fine mesh or gauzy fabric across a simple wooden frame (like an old wooden picture frame, perhaps?) and staple in place.

– Iron the fabric before you get started. Wrinkles are so uncool, and can cause your design to be a little wonky. It would be a shame to ruin a design because you didn’t take 2 minutes to iron your fabric flat.

– Print your template onto cardstock. The heavier weight paper won’t let the ink bleed through and provides more stability throughout the whole process.

Screen printed tote bag

Isn’t this a clever project? Carrie and I were pretty geeked out at how well it worked, and I can’t wait to see what she decides to do with her new bag. It might be something fun to do to make gifts for friends or an activity for girls’ night in. And you’re not limited to tote bags – how about shirts? pillowcases? tablecloths or table runners? cloth napkins?

Oh, and if you want to check out how I taught Carrie to bake a pie, check out her account of the day here! And if you want to catch up on what else Carrie and I have tackled together, check out our recaps here (or here), and here (or here).

Thanks, Carrie, for a great day of fun and learning! Now we wanna hear from you! What skills have you traded with a friend recently? Anybody interested in trying screen printing? Any screen print experts out there with more tips to share? Do tell.

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