Sunday, May 30, 2010

Homemade stuff

I read a newsletter called "The Everyday Cheapskate".  Over the years I've gotten some great suggestions on saving money by learning to make things myself.  I disagree with the newsletter's emphasis on heavy use of coupons (which invariably mean processed foods) and the recipes that emphasize cheap cheese and starches as staples.  But it's her newsletter so I'll take from it what I want.

I made my own laundry detergent for a while and stopped only because I was unhappy about how grey my white items got.  Colored items were fine.  It's fast and cheap to make your own, so why not?  I'll probably start up again sometime.

G-man got a gallon of Paul Mitchell shampoo for around $20 almost 2 years ago when he happened to be at a community college on the same day their beauty school was having a fire sale on supplies.  We'll be using that shampoo for at least another year!  I just refill a small bottle every couple of months.  I swear that jug o' shampoo is never-ending.

These items are things that I saw in the Cheapskate newsletter bit haven't tried.  It's surprising how many things you can make at home, including things like play-doh.

Have you made any of these?  What do you think?  Do you make anything at home that's not listed here?


6 teaspoons baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons glycerin
15 drops peppermint or wintergreen extract

Mix baking soda, salt, glycerin and mint extract together to form a paste. Store in a container you can get a toothbrush into. Glycerin is available in most pharmacies and health food stores like Sprouts and Whole Foods.


1/4 cup grated Castile soap
1/4 cup hot water
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons glycerin
5 drops essential oil, any scent (optional for fragrance)

In a small bowl, stir the grated soap into the hot water until dissolved. Add the olive oil, glycerin and essential oil like lavender, peppermint or citrus. Store in an appropriate container with a lid.

Ant Bait

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup baking yeast
1/2 cup molasses
3"x5" index cards

Mix sugar, yeast and molasses in a small bowl. Spread a thin layer of the mixture on index cards with knife or spatula. Place cards, syrup side up, in areas where ants are a problem. This application is safe and nontoxic.

White Glue

1 1/2 cups cold water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/2 cup cornstarch

Mix 3/4 cup water, syrup and vinegar in small saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. In separate small bowl, mix cornstarch and remaining 3/4 cup cold water. Add the cornstarch mixture slowly to the syrup and vinegar mixture. Stir constantly. Let stand overnight before using.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

My Review of Topeak MTX Basket Rear

Originally submitted at REI

The MTX rear basket from Topeak is the perfect size for shopping and other errands.

Not for the short or big-boned

By Jenn A from Tacoma, WA on 5/29/2010


3out of 5

Gift: No

Pros: Easy to Use, Lightweight

Cons: Too tall

Best Uses: Commuting

Describe Yourself: Casual/ Recreational

I bought this for my commute to work so that I'd have what is essentially a "trunk" for my bike. Having used a bike with a milk crate during all of my college years I was eager for an easy-on, easy-off solution.

I was pleasantly surprised by how light but sturdy this basket is. It weighs very little and is very manageable. It slides on/off the Topeak rack very easily and was simple to attach.

Eager to test out the basket before I committed to my tough uphill ride home from work, I decided that an easy ride to the grocery store would be a good bet. I'm glad I did because it means I'm going to take the basket back.

I'm 5'8" and ride a brand new Giant commuter bike. The front edge of the basket just fit under the seat. My behind, however, is wider than the lower front opening of the basket, making it uncomfortable to sit back on the seat properly. It felt like I was sitting on the edge of the basket.

Unless you're very tall, have a rack that sits back farther, or whippet thin, I wouldn't recommend this basket.


My favorite cookbook

This is my favorite cook book.  I use it constantly.  Can't remember the ratios for pesto or macaroni salad?  Need a scone recipe that doesn't start with "chill 2 pounds of butter"?  Want ideas for an interesting glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey?  Going to make a batch of blueberry muffins?  Got promised to bake cupcakes or brownies?  Just searching for something different?

I've battered it, splattered it, crinkled, and relied upon this book so much that it has earned a permanent spot on the kitchen counter.

When in doubt, I whip this book out.  It's well-written and includes nutritional info... diverse and nicely organized...

...and has appropriate pictures but way more recipes than pics.

There's a whole section about 5 pages long on possible substitutions.  I'm all about switching things up, you know.

The incredible index is something like 20-pages long.

Just check out the section on souffles!

If you ever have the chance to pick up this book, do so.  It's a fantastic resource in so many ways.  There have been new editions that have come out since this one was published in 2000 but I haven't strayed from this, my first love.

I didn't get paid, promised life-long house-cleaning, wined, dined, or sexed-up for this post about my favorite cook book.  Absolutely nuttin', honey.  I bought this book myself about 10 years ago.  Cooking Light doesn't even know who I am because I dropped my subscription in a time of economic woe and now regularly steal my mother's.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kitchen tips

I started keeping my baking powder in a baggie a year to prevent clumping.  Works like a charm.

When you have things in a recipe that can be hard to measure accurately, like yogurt, sour cream, or peanut butter, but have another liquid ingredient like milk, start with the one that's the most liquid.  In my case, I had to measure 1/4 cup sour cream and 1 cup milk.  Start with the milk:
Then add the second ingredient until you've hit the proper measurement amount.

Voila.  Easy measuring, fewer dirty dishes.  I even cracked the egg into this for one less dirty dish.

Speaking of eggs, what do you do with your egg shells?  Garbage disposal?  Compost?  Trash bin?  Window sill?

I keep all of my egg shells in an open container on the window sill so that they can dry.  Periodically I crush them with a meat mallet when the container gets unwieldy.  Don't put a lid on the container or the moisture from the shells will mildew and mold.  Believe me, I know.

There are lots of uses for the crushed shells:
  • If you have egg-laying birds of any type, mix them into the feed for added calcium.  Hens' bodies use about 25% of their ingested calcium to create eggs so they need a lot.
  • Work them into the soil of plants that need extra calcium, such as squash and roses.  Squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants that suffer from blossom-end rot need a calcium boost.
I'm saving up knee-high stockings with runs in them for use later this summer.  My grandfather always used them in this way.  Can you guess what for?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hectic week and breakfast bars

My hubbie went of town for a weekend to work at an electric motorcycle race in Sonoma.  He asked me a few days before leaving to make him food to take with him for the drive and to eat while he's at the race.  I spent the next few days making breakfast bars, granola, sesame noodle salad and other stuff I can't remember.

Then I was trying to get stuff done in the garden while the weather was good.

Busy spring = quiet blog

But I did take a few pics of the breakfast bars for you!  These are like a Nutri-grain bar only less sweet and way more satisfying.  I got the recipe from the quarterly magazine that Metropolitan Market publishes and sells for $0.99.  I never used to buy it until someone left a few in the break room at work and I realized what a great resource the magazines are.  I've found that you can use any type of frozen fruit, though the recipe is written for blueberries.

Oat Breakfast-on-the-Go Bars

2 c rolled oats
2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 1/2 c brown sugar
6 T cold butter
3/4 c milk
1 T lemon juice
2 t vanilla
1/2 c sugar
1 T cornstarch
2 c frozen berries or frozen fruit  (Chop the frozen fruit into pea-sized pieces if you're using something large like peaches or strawberries.  Do not thaw!)
Optional: cinnamon


1. Preheat oven to 350.  Oil 9x13 baking pan.

2. Combine oats, flour, salt, baking powder & soda, and brown sugar.  Using large holes of a grater, shred in cold butter and work in until the size of grains of rice. 
This is a great place to use your bare hands.  I gave up on this spoon very quickly.

3. Whisk together milk, lemon juice, and vanilla.  Stir it into the oal mixture and mix well.  Press a little more than half of the mixture into the oiled pan.  It will be very sticky.

4. In a food processor, combine the white sugar, cornstarch, and process to mix well.  Add half of the frozen fruit or berries and process to mince the berries.  Working quickly, stir the whole fruit into the minced fruit, then spread on top of the oat mixture in the pan. 
Get creative with the fruit mixture.  This mixture is half strawberries and half blueberries.  I think I like the all blueberry mix better.  Lemon zest and cinnamon would be awesome with blueberries.  Imagine ginger with peaches!  Ohhh: orange zest with fresh cranberries (you'd have to increase the sugar quite a bit to make them palatable, though).  Yeeeeah: lime zest with blackberries.

I digress.

(UPDATED: I got so sidetracked by the possible fruit combinations that I forgot to add the cooking time: 50-55 minutes.)

Dollop the remaining oat mix on top of the fruit.  I grabbed pieces and flatted them out as I put them on top.

5. Remove the bars from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan.  When cool, cut into 18 bars.  Wrap individually or place in baggies.  Store in the fridge or freeze.

These freeze beautifully and reheat in 30 seconds in the microwave or thaw in an hour on the counter.  I took a few in a baggie to work and left them in the freezer for quick breakfasts.  G-man, who doesn't like blueberries, liked these bars.

I forgot pics of the final product.  Take my word for it: these are worth the effort.  They're tasty and healthy and satisfying and versatile.

Happy cooking!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Territorial Seed Co. in bed with Monsanto?

G-man and I recently went to a screening of Fresh, which was followed by a panel of meat growers and farmers from the Tacoma area (each is linked from
  • Tacoma Food Coop
  • Lee from The Meat Shop
  • Cheryl the Pig Lady
  • Terry of Terry's Berries
  • Zestful Gardens
The movie was not a total downer in the format of Food, Inc., but rather an inspirational "you can do it!" movie that leaves you feeling hopeful that the small changes you make on a local level will affect the world on a larger scale.  The audience had questions about farmland conservation, large-scale organic farms replacing one type of mono-crop with another, CSAs, the mobile abattoir, and where to get safe seeds. 

There was an audible gasp when various panelists suggested that Monsanto had recently acquired Territorial Seed Company.  Several of the panelists said that Monsanto owned the rights to two types of tomato seeds most commonly grown here in the PNW: "Early Girl" and "Sun Gold".  The panelists, all people who are in-the-know, assured us that they no longer purchase nor recommend Territorial Seed.

Something didn't sit right with me about this.  The claim didn't pass the smell test.  It was too easy, too blithe, and had that same stench of "not true" that is shared by the god-forsaken forwards I get from my dad's cousin.  (I invariably respond with a snopes link and the comment "this isn't true".  I really should take her off of my "safe" email list: her conservative hate-mongering makes my blood boil.)

Territorial Seed Company is focused on the home-consumer market, which is considerally less profitable than the commercial agriculture business.  It's a financial drop in the ocean of big-ag money.  I've been slowly reading a book written by its founder, Steve Solomon.  To allow TSC to be purchased by a corporation like Monsanto seems utterly contrary to his philosophy and to the company's "Safe Seed Pledge":
Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities. Territorial only offers untreated seed.

I think that the belief that Monsanto has purchased Territorial arose when Monsanto purchased Seminis, as is described here.  Seminis is a seed producer and at one point Territorial was purchasing seeds from Seminis.  From what I understand, Territorial had at one point purchased seeds that were sourced from a company that purchased seeds from Seminis.  They do no longer.  Read the full thread in the website linked earlier in this paragraph for the full details.

Finally, I found this on the TSC "About Us" page:
Territorial Seed Company is a privately held company, wholly owned by Tom and Julie Johns. Purchased in 1985 from its founder Steve Solomon, Tom and Julie have grown the business substantially over the past 24 years but have never strayed far from the original course set by Steve.

A company that's "privately held" and "wholly owned" by the Johns cannot be and is not owned by Monsanto.

As for "Early Girl" and a couple of other tomato varieties, the patents are indeed held by Monsanto.  Of this Tom Johns, co-owner of Territorial Seed, said:
Today we do still purchase an ever decreasing amount of seed wholesale from the Home Garden Vegetable division [of Seminis]. These varieties are mostly old favorites from Petoseed such as Celebrity, Big Beef and [Super] San Marzano tomatoes. San Marzano is still today our best selling tomato-home gardeners love the way they process and can. We trial hundreds of tomato varieties each year and we have not yet been able to find a true replacement and maybe never will. Upon request we provide a list of the few remaining Seminis varieties that we offer.
Mr. Johns went on to encourage people to stock up on the Super San Marzano seeds if they wanted them in the future, as he suspects that Seminis/Monsanto will eventually let the heritage seed lines dry up and blow away.

Now you know: Territorial Seed Company is not owned by, nor do their source their seeds from, Monsanto.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ditch that Bisquick

When I was a kid Saturday mornings meant cartoons for the kids, newspapers for the adults, and breakfast together as a family.  Now that I'm all grwon-up and married, Saturdays mean getting up early to let the chickens out, have breakfast with my hubbie, and enjoy a leisurely reading of the paper with a cat on my lap. 

Or is that have breakfast with the cats and read the paper with my hubbie in my lap?

Pancakes are so riduculously easy that I don't know why people make them from mixes.  I used to make the Alton Brown mix but never remembered to print out the mix directions, so it took us more time to look them up than it would to just make pancakes from scratch.

I've had this cookbook for nearly 10 years and had never made these multigrain pancakes.  The "multigrain" aspect always turned me off because they sounded heavy and dense.  But for some reason I decided to make them today.

I'm so glad I did.  G-man said to me, "wow, these are really fluffy".  And he didn't even know that they were different.

Since you can see the recipe above, I won't re-type it.  Basic instructions are to mix the dry ingredients in 1 bowl, mix the wet ingredients in another, then combine right before making.  I use a small soup ladle to make similarly-sized pancakes, adding blueberries to the uncooked side before flipping.

A note on this recipe: it will seem very thin.  I nearly added extra flour to it but stopped myself.  Turns out it didn't need the extra flour after all.

You don't want to make the batter then let it sit longer than a few minutes because you'll activate the baking powder too soon, resulting in flat flapjacks.

G-man slept really late today because we were out WAAAAY past our bedtimes visiting friends, playing dominos, drinking wine, and having mad fits of giggles last night.  OK, the drinking wine and giggling was just me but OMG did I have fun.

This morning I got the pancakes ready to the point right before you mix the wet & dry ingredients and just left it on the counter until he stumbled into the kitchen.  You could prep the recipe the night before if you were so inclined but it does whip together very quickly.

Personally, I think that pancakes are naked without blueberries.  I don't think I'd even had blueberry-less pancakes until college, when I looked at the pale imitations of breakfast with confusion: where were the berries?

Now we're talkin'.

I've decided this is my new go-to pancake recipe.  Nearly 2 hours after having these I still feel sated, not like when I have pancakes made with all-purpose flour and feel hollow an hour later.  Try them: you'll like them!

Friday, May 21, 2010


Arugula is fun to say.


Or, to be precise: ə-ˈrü-gə-lə, -gyə-

But apparently it's for snooty people.  Well dammit, I say NO!  Take back arugula and make it every-man's food.  Think of it as a dressy spinach.  If you've never had it, it's every bit as versatile as spinach.  Raw in salads and on sandwiches, wilted in hot dishes, or as pesto.  It can be mild like spinach but the best stuff has a distinctive peppery bite to it.

I wandered through the entire farmers market and almost didn't buy any fresh produce.  But then I saw the leafy, green, and peppery arugula.  As the vendor handed me the fresh bouquet of greens I could smell that this would be a spicey bundle.  Yummy!

I mulled over my options for the rest of the day, mentally pillaging my pantry for ingredients.  This is what I came up with:

Lemon-arugula pasta with chicken, feta, and toasted pecans
Note that there are no pecans.  I forgot them.  Alas.  They would have been good.

handful of chopped pecans
1 box linguine (I used organic whole wheat)
1 bunch arugula, cleaned & stems removed
1 lemon, zested & juiced
cooked chicken (I had chopped some dark meat on hand)
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 package of feta cheese, chopped or crumbled
olive oil
salt to taste


Cook pasta according to directions.

In a dry pan, lightly toast the pecans over medium heat until they smell toasted.  You'll know it when you smell it.  Remove them from the pan and save for later.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a pan and saute garlic briefly.

Add chicken and heat through.

Prepare the feta, lemon zest, and arugula.
Dump the arugula, lemon zest, and feta onto the chicken & garlic.  Add a little salt.
Then dump the drained pasta onto the whole kit-n-caboodle.  Toss with tongs to melt the feta and wilt the arugula.  Add a little pasta water if you want some sauce - this is a otherwise a sauceless pasta.
Doesn't this look yummy?  The arugula is so pretty and bright green!  Top with lemon juice and toasted pecans... if you did them (dang it!).

Tomorrow I'm going to make a similar dish with sausage and the leftover arugula.  Yum.  I've got a little heel of parmesan left that I'll use up.

The nice thing about meals like this is that they're flexible.  Replace the chicken with ham or proscuitto or peas, the feta with parmesan or gorgonzola, and the pecans with walnuts or pinenuts (or nothing, as I apparently did).  This is not a hard & fast recipe, it's really more of a suggestion.  Try it, or something like it, and let me know what you do!

Happy cooking.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Farmers market time

This little piggy went to market.

There are 4 farmers markets in my town, held in various locations depending upon the day.  In a former job I used to split a CSA share with 2 coworkers.  We would make a weekly pilgrimage to the downtown market to retrieve our box of produce, which we gleefully separated and squealed over once back in the office.

Thursdays weren't very productive, I'm afraid to say.

I've loved open air markets since my first trip to France in 1992 when I was just (mumble mumble) years old.  The market in the city where I lived in France carried local produce, antiques, a wider array of cheeses than most American grocery stores, bulk products like beans and popcorn, clothing, and even live animals. 

I once allowed the 12-year-old daughter of my host family to buy a duckling at the market.  Hey, my host family had property and fowl, so why not?  Marie named the duckling Magnum, after a brand of ice cream bars that are just like Dove bars.

I never said a peep about the connotation of "Magnum" in English.  Magnum was a pet and never got eaten.  Or so they told me some years later.

Anyway, today was the opening day of the downtown farmers market, just 8 or so blocks from my office. 

In honor of the market's opening day, Mother Nature decided to be contrary and throw a storm.  I was lucky enough to dodge the rain showers but not the cold.  It was windy and a mere 48 degrees.  Infinite Soups was doing a brisk business and had sold out of about half of their soups by the time I got in line around 11:30!  I'd never had their soups before and lemme tell ya, that Roman Artichoke is delicious.  It's also about half cream, but it's positively delectable!

Here are my spoils, as arranged on my desk at work:

My boss was in my office talking to me when I was trying to take this pic.  The aroma of the soup was killing me and I wanted to shoo him out so that I could enjoy it.

There were lots of greens at the market as well as spring onions, garlic, and herbs.  Oh, and radishes, beef, salmon, and plants.  It was so lovely to see all that fresh, locally-grown food!

One thing that's new since the last time I went to the farmers market was the use of tokens.  You can see them at the bottom left of the picture.  Maybe they've done this for a few years but it's friggin brilliant. 

PROBLEM: Most of the vendors don't take plastic. 

SOLUTION: People can purchase tokens at the Information Center using plastic.  All of the vendors at any of the city's markets will accept the tokens just the same as cash.  Our markets also accept food stamps (hooray for supporting our community in multiple ways!) by letting people buy tokens with their EBT cards.

Is your favorite farmers market open yet?  What are you buying?

Monday, May 17, 2010

May day in May

Did you know that the well-recognized call for help - May day! - is actually French for "help me"?  "M'aidez" means "help me".

I've been working like a demon recently and am exhausted.  May day!  M'aidez, au secours!! 

Here's a list of the edibles in our yard as of yesterday.  I had to replant lots of things because our cold rainy spring weather prevented successful germination of much of what I'd planted earlier this spring.  Peas, parsley, lettuce, and green onions all sprouted.  Little else did.

Out front, some in the parking strip, some in the beds:

• Potatoes (4 varieties)
• Tomatoes (6 varieties)
• Asparagus
• Herbs: basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, sage, chives, rosemary, thyme, lavendar
• Onions (3 varieties)
• Garlic
• Eggplant
• Jalapeno peppers
• Leeks
• Broccoli
• Spinach
• Lettuce (4 varieties)
• Parsnips
• Yellow squash
• Tomatillos
• Bush peas
• Raspberries
• Blueberries
• Strawberries
• Rhubarb
• Artichoke
• Plum tree

In back:
• Lettuce
• Spinach
• Yellow squash
• Chard
• Cabbage
• Peas: bush & pole
• Purple pole beans
• Carrots: orange & purple
• More potatoes
• Shallots
• A solitary volunteer onion
• A solitary volunteer tomato
• Green onions
• Apple tree
• Crab apple tree (going to try to make my own liquid pectin this year)

Last weekend I spent a great many hours moving dirt, raking, and transplanting things into the area the chickens had destroyed.  Some things have come back now that they're no longer being nibbled daily - including my highland cranberry and sedums - but many have not: violets, calla lilies, hostas, lavendar, etc.  I'm hoping this most recent intervention will pay off with an attractive back yard.

I'll post pictures as soon as hubbie returns with the camera's cable, which he took on his business trip.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

When I was growing up the freezer in the basement was a veritable Davy Jones' locker for frozen foods.  Some things made it back to the kitchen and some did not.  Everything was in there: blueberries, casseroles, packages of freezer-burned meat, Jennie-O turkey loaves, butter, ancient breads, my dad's beer mugs, and god-only-knows what else. 
It's part of our family lore the time my brother pulled a casserole out of the freezer, put it on top so he could continue his rummaging, and forgot to put it back.  It took us several weeks to find the source of the stench.  And when we did... well, you don't want to know.
My mom's mom had a well-stocked freezer in her basement.  I remember visiting my dad's parents in the 'burbs of Boston as a kid and seeing my gram's stairwell shelves packed full.  I think she had a freezer in her basement, too.
My dad had strict rules about rotating the oldest things to the front of the shelf while putting the newest ones in back.  My parents now have a huge walk-in pantry and could feed an army with its Costco-sized containers of StoveTop stuffing, granola, baked beans, and brownie mixes.
It was a given for me that you always had pantries or cupboard stocked to the gills with various foods.  None of us is a hoarder but I do think that it's a dominant family trait to get twitchy when the second-to-last container of anything is opened.
With this in mind, you can imagine how tough my current project is for me: we are striving to eat all the food in our cupboards and freezer.  Not eat as in competitive eating eat but, you know, use it all up.
You actually see the back of our freezer now.  Did you know that freezers had stickers inside them on the back wall??  Or that they had a back wall? 
For the past few weeks whenever I make something, like pizza, cream of asparagus soup, smoothies, or cherry-almond scones, it's with the intention of using up the ingredients in the house. 
1. Fresh, local ingredients are starting to appear at the local markets.  I can't justify buying the fresh asparagus or strawberries if I have some from last year squirreled away in the house somewhere. 
2. I need to start putting away this year's crop for the winter.  Yes, it's only May but if I don't preserve rhubarb now we can't have any in November.
3. Home-canned items are best in their first year so we need to eat the stuff.
My next job is to do an inventory of my canning shelves and make a plan to use some of it up.  Figuring out what we did and didn't use will help guide my decisions for summer preserving.  My goal last summer was to put up 400 jars of food.  Due to our quickie engagement I fell short of that goal.  I'm re-evaluating last year's goal (I can get as fixated as a lab on a tennis ball when it comes to canning) but already know some of the things I want to put up and that I want to try some additional preserving techniques.
Do you preserve foods?  What are your plans for preserving summer's bounty?  Drying?  Canning?  Freezing?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hen pecked

Nugget, our Rhode Island Red, has developed a new game.  I'm betting she'd call it something like "Gotcha, Dumbass".  The neighbor's dog would probably call it "Chickens Make Owies".

To play this game, you need a dumb dog, a dumb chicken, and a rickety picket fence.

Here is Nugget teaching Beaker and Curry how to play.  "First, you stand here and practice your beady chicken eyes expression."

"You gotta wait for the dog to come to you.  Wait for it... wait... wait....  She always comes.  She's dumb as rocks."
"See, I told you!"

"When Sadie puts her nose through the pickets, which she does every time without fail, ya peck her in the snout as hard as you can.  Before Jenn & G-man put up this stupid deer netting, I used to be able to claw that dumb dog, too."
"Don't worry, she'll be back in a minute after she's done barking.  Hehe!  She can't get us but we can get her."

You'd think Sadie would learn her lesson but nooooOOOoooo.  That dumbass comes back to get pecked over and over and over all day long.  I've been pecked by the chickens and it can hurt when they mean it. 

Nugget always means it.

I'm not sure which player is dumber: the hen for taking on a 50-pound dog or the dog for coming back for more.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What's in season for April and early May

April completely got away from me and I forgot to write a post about what's in season right now.  So sorry!  Consider this the April & May posting.  Oops.

  • We're still eating things from the fall crop, things like apples, pears, winter squash, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic.  We're really. sick. of. apples.
  • Greens: chard, kale, collards, early tender greens
  • Asparagus
  • Rhubarb is in full swing
  • Culinary herbs



  • Razor clams - next dig set for May 15-16
  • Some Alaskan salmon, look for sustainable and wild-caught
  • Halibut, sablefish, and black cod (March to November)
  • King salmon
  • Copper River salmon comes into season this month.  (droool...)


  • Lilacs and hellebores.  We're especially enjoying the scent of the lilac in our back yard right now.
  • Lots of bulbs: tulips, blue-bells, etc.
  • Dogwood trees.  This is the time of year I get dogwood envy, the trees are so lovely with their creamy white and pink blossoms.
  • Fruit trees: cherry, apple, pear, crabapple, etc.  Just don't park under a flowering cherry tree like I did.  The car was a mess.

  • Barnyard animals are having their babies right now.  This means veal in a few months, and lamb in the fall and winter.
  • Eggs - our hens are laying about 5-6 eggs daily.  We can't keep up.  It's insane.
  • Chicken - lots of eggs means spring chickens in a few weeks (but not for us, a rooster-less household).  Farmers markets will have fresh birds later this month
  • Rabbit
Please feel free to add other in-season items in the comments section.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cuban sandwiches

A few years ago someone suggested that we stop at a stand in Ballard called Paseo.  He gave us cryptic directions about a shack across from Ray's Boathouse.  Had he mentioned the fact that the place was Pepto-Bismol-pink it would have made our search much, much easier.

I digress. 

"They have the most amazing Cuban sandwiches," our friend gushed.  He was right.  The sandwiches were filled with spicy chunks of drippy pork, Swiss cheese, a dill pickle, and sliced ham.  Served on a crispy, crunchy roll they were simply to die for. 

My husband turned to me, after paying something like $8 per sandwich, and said, "you could totally make this better and cheaper."

He was right.  I've found a sandwich recipe that is easy and delicious, not to mention way cheaper and not so drippy.  And since I'm a glutton for punishment and nothing was on TV, I decided to make my own rolls, too.  These juicy, drippy sandwiches would be great to feed a crowd.  Once the meat is cooked, they're easy to assemble.

This meal took me 2 days but the hands-on time was pretty brief.

Day 1:
Prepare and marinate meat.
Make sandwich rolls (optional - you could also just buy some crispy baguette-like bread that doesn't have a thick crust).

Day 2:
Morning: dump meat and marinade into slow cooker for the day.
Evening: shred meat, prepare sandwiches, moan.

Roast Pork for Cuban Sandwiches

Pork roast, 2-4 pounds

1 head garlic, about 10 to 15 cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cup citrus juice (I used a combo of grapefruit, lime, and lemon because it's what I had)
1 medium onion, rough chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 cup Spanish olive oil

1. Put garlic, salt, and pepper into the food processor and blend until pureed.  Add juice, onion, oregano, and oil and continue to blend until it's the consistency of an onion-y milkshake.

2. Grab a paring knife and go stabbity stabbity all over the pork roast, getting all sides.  This allows the marinade to penetrate the meat.

3. Put the meat in a bowl of some kind, dump marinade over it, cover, and refridgerate overnight.

4. Dump the meat and marinade into a slow cooker set on low and leave for work.

5. Come home and enjoy how your house smells.

6. Remove meat from slow cooker and put into a bowl.  It will fall apart easily.  With 2 forks, encourage the shredding process.  Add some of the juices from the cooking back into the shredded meat.  Set aside until you're ready to assemble the sandwiches.


Pan Cubano

4 cups (17 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter; or 3 tablespoons fresh lard, cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) water

Intructions and pictorial here:

Mine looked like this.  This was one of the stiffest doughs I've ever worked with.  I had a hard time getting it to rise but our kitchen was on the cool side.  I'd make these rolls again but make sure next time that I have a better/warmer spot to allow the dough to rise.

Cuban Sandwiches

Shredded pork
Dijon mustard
Dill pickles
Swiss cheese
Sliced deli ham

Pre-heat griddle or pan.  If you have one, put a cast-iron skillet on top.  You'll see why in a minute.  This was my great-grandmother's skillet.

Slice rolls lengthwise, spread with mustard.  Top with ham, cheese, pickles, then the shredded pork.
We're finally nearing the end of my pickle-making spree 2 years ago.  Finally.

Spray the assembled sandwiches with cooking spray, then put them onto the griddle.  Spray the tops of the sandwiches, then put the hot skillet on top.  This weighs them down (who needs a panini press?!?) and heats them from the top.  Notice that I added additional weight with a measuring cup of water.

I wound up flipping mine because the skillet wasn't hot enough.  You might need to, you might not.

Remove from the griddle and slice on a long diagonal.

Dig in!  I served these with salt & vinegar kettle chips.  I love how the puckery vinegar chips go with the dill pickle.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

One hand in my pocket-bread

It's a slippery slope, this whole cooking from scratch thing.  One day you're in a restaurant when your spouse turns and declares that your own version is better, or that you could make it better, cheaper, healthier at home. 

You order a $6 grilled cuban sandwich at the hoity-toity grocery store only to discover that it's dry, boring, and nowhere near as tasty as the ones you've made at home.

You bake your own bread and the store-stuff starts tasting bland and boring.  You skim the paragraph of unpronounceable ingredients on the packaging, mentally comparing it to the 5-6 items it takes to make nearly any kind of bread, and decide that it really it worthwhile to make your own.

Then you make your own pizza, including the crust.  Every pizza you create is tasty, fresh, loaded with your favorite ingredients.  Sometimes you make pizza just to use up what's left in the fridge.  And it is good. 

Maybe it happens on a rainy Sunday.  You look at your bank account, consider the oh-so-distant payday, and decide that the $4 package of pita bread is an unnecessary splurge for the shakshuka, in and of itself a splurge with all its feta and peppers.

But then you remember that pita bread is just a simple flat bread that people have eaten for centuries.  None of those people had Safeway with pita bread sold in plastic bags.  You think to yourself, "pita bread can't be that hard, can it?"  You flick on the computer and search for pita bread recipes.  Your suspicions are confirmed: pita bread is very, very easy.

You, my friend, have gone to the fringe.

Welcome to the dark side of the oven.