Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eric & Julian

I took this photo to prove to the lovely ladies at xoJane that it is indeed possible to rock a fanny pack! We're at Boyd & Julie's in this pic, and you can see the camper where we spent our wedding night in the background. Boyd & Julie hauled it over to the Avonlea vineyard for us and made it romantic with candles, etc. So fun. I love that camper.

Eric in front of his brugmansias

Aren't they gorgeous? They're growing like crazy this year. Brugmansia, also known as Angel's Trumpets, have amazing flowers and this intoxicatingly delicious smell. Anthropologie actually has an Angel's Trumpet perfume right now, designed by Ineke Ruhland, who seems like a totally amazing perfumer.
Brugmansias are tropical though, so we have to move them back in during the winter - then they live in our plant room/sun room. They've grown so much, I don't know if there will be enough room for them all this year! The cat's box is in there too - I think she's going to love it when they're back in. But we won't have to move them until late September/early October. Our first frost around here is usually October 10-15th.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Black bean, yellow squash & pumpkin seed tacos

Yum! I was starving last night and we had some meat (delicious local ground beef from Pat and Ellie's shop Local) in the freezer, but I couldn't wait. Plus I had a shredded yellow (crookneck) squash in the fridge that I wanted to use up. As a result: Black bean, squash and pumpkin seed tacos. Not only are they vegan, but they're so tasty. Even tastier than the meat ones. But then again I always lean more towards vegetarianism since I tend to think that meat is fundamentally icky. You should have seen me squirm when I was preparing that chicken last week! I almost couldn't do it. Only Eric's laughter made me determined to overcome my squeamishness and roast the damn chicken. I was a vegetarian for years, actually, and just started eating meat last year when I got pregnant. I started craving pork so badly, I had to eat it. 
Anyway, these are easy. The big secret is the taco seasoning. Don't use the stuff in the little packet from the store! Or, use it but know that - it has MSG and the spices are probably all old and not tasty. Eric makes his own taco seasoning. It's really simple and so much tastier than the store packets. 
Taco Seasoning: 
Roast the dried peppers of your choice at 350F until the whole room smells delicious and the peppers are crispy - you can snap them easily and they don't bend. We use anchos (dried poblanos) and pasillas.
Pulverize the dried, roasted peppers in a spice grinder (or a small coffee grinder that you don't mind pepper-ing up). We get them from the Hispanic grocery store.
Add to the mix: cumin, cinnamon, allspice, thyme, oregano.
Eric adds a little salt to, but I prefer to add the salt later - that way you can adjust it for each dish. Add the spices to taste. I'd suggest more cumin and not too much cinnamon but definitely some. Eric makes a bunch (about a pint) at a time. That much taco seasoning takes about 4 of each kind of pepper. This isn't spicy taco seasoning. We just add the spice in later. But you can put some spicy dried peppers right into the mix if you like it that way.

Toast a few tablespoons of the taco seasoning in the dry skillet. Then add a splash of oil (we use peanut), a rinsed can of beans, the shredded squash (one large squash, shredded in the food processor), a diced fresh hot pepper (we used a jalapeƱo), and a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas). Adjust the taco seasoning - taste it and add more if you want more. Sprinkle in some white truffle salt if you have some (this is another secret ingredient - it makes everything more delicious!). If not, use regular salt. At the end, add finely chopped garlic. You don't want to burn the garlic because then it will taste bitter, so that's why we add it at the end.
And then you're done! Toast up some corn tortillas, fill one up and top it with some chopped onion and cilantro. I was too hungry to chop cilantro and we already had some chopped onion in the fridge left over from breakfast.

I know it's weird that I write this stuff down without real measurements. But that's the way I cook - measuring by eye and then tasting to adjust. Use your senses and make it the way that tastes best for you! Baking is another story, but I like to live dangerously and sometimes bake by eye too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Planting Fall Lettuce

I'm so excited about Fall lettuce! This is the first year that I've gotten around to it, but Fall seems like the perfect time for lettuce. You don't have to worry about frost when planting, 'cause it's August. And you don't have to worry about your lettuce bolting from the heat or getting scorched in the sun on the other end of the season.
I got these two long planters from the dollar store (Family Dollar) for $4 each. They're pretty study, look good, and have a built in base/water-catch.
Eric and I each did one planter. We made three long rows with a stick, spread the seeds (it's mesclun, so lots of different seeds), and covered them up with about a 1/2in of soil. We ended up using about a packet and a half.
We used potting soil and it was already a little moist so we didn't water right away, but I'll keep checking it & water enough to keep it moist.
I can't wait to have fresh lettuce! My favorite way to eat lettuce is lettuce sandwiches: whole wheat pita bread, lots of mayo and as much lettuce as I can cram in there. Just thinking about those sandwiches makes me want to go get two more planters ...

Zucchini fritters

Zucchini fritters with dijon-mayo

After making zucchini-ganoush last week, I wanted to make zucchini fritters too. We still have tons of zucchini in the garden. Feeling munchy for a late-night snack tonight, we decided to make them. Here's the basic idea:
- Shred a giant zucchini in the food processor
- Beat together approximately 6 eggs, about 4 or 5T of flour, a little salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg
- Mix the zucchini and egg mixture together
- Fry it up like little pancakes
- Top the finished fritters with a mixture of mayo and dijon mustard

I think the ratio of eggs-zucchini was a little high though. Next time I think maybe 4 eggs to each giant zucchini. I really want it to be mostly veggie with just enough egg to hold it all together. 

Last time that I made these I made the dijon-aise myself instead of just mixing together pre-made mayo and mustard. But tonight I was feeling lazy and we were low on oil. Homemade dijon-aise is pretty easy though.
I just put some dijon mustard in a mini food processor along with some fresh French thyme and then slowly poured in olive oil with the food processor spinning. It whipped up into this delicious, frothy spread that we perfect with the fritters. That time I made kohlrabi green fritters though. Which are also terrific, but you have to cook down the kohlrabi greens a little before you fritter them - they're just too tough to use raw. We had a ton of kohlrabi this year too and this was a great way to use the greens. We used the kohlrabi bulbs to make slaw.
Zucchini is super tender, of course, so no need to saute it before frittering. Making fritters = frittering? I love it. Frittering my time away! Ha.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Homestead daydreams

Nicole from Making it Lovely posted a link to the coolest chicken coop that I've ever seen. The most amazing chicken coop.
Alicia from Posie Gets Cozy posted photos of her visit to the Clackamas Country Fair.
So now I'm deep in daydreaming about goats and chickens. I love goats. So much. I love them! It has always been my dream to get some goats. I can just see myself rubbing them behind their ears and kissing their little noses. We have tons of space - a few fields of wildflowers and weeds that they could munch away on.
I really want chickens too though. They would cluck around our front yard, eating the bugs in our garden and fertilizing the soil. Chickens and goats are almost equal in my fantasies (the eggs! the goat's milk!), but I have to admit that goats win. I just adore goats.
Still, chickens seem to be a bit easier of a project for starters. We have a dog, a cat and a beta fish but neither Eric nor I have had any farm animals before. Plus we'd have to convince our landlords. They are a super nice couple from Chicago (seriously, best landlords ever. Ever.) and I think they'd be up for it but it would probably be easier to convince them to let us get chickens.
Though we do have a barn that we could use for the goats. And we'd have to build a chicken coop.
Karen's chicken coop from the Art of Doing Stuff is so inspiring though!
Eric and I have been talking about chicken coops for ages. Our plan is to build a chicken tractor that we can move from place to place on the property. We'd have to heat it in the winter too. We want to include a rocket stove that would be fueled by sawdust (we know a sawyer who has tons of extra sawdust) that would be automatically fed into the stove. That way we wouldn't have to go out there in the snow and constantly feed the stove.
So maybe we should start with chickens and then move on to goats. I still haven't decided yet.

Improv hanging pan rack

We had a huge problem finding space for our cookware and getting it all organized. Our kitchen is pretty spacious but somehow the pans were all cluttered up in the cabinets. We needed more space to store our mixing bowls and Tupperware too. So Eric came up with this solution:
He hung two maple sticks (de-barked) across the cabinets on either side of our sink. The back stick has a wire basket on one side and an onion braid made of onions from our garden on the other side. The wire basket holds our garlic, potatoes and store-bought onions. Right now we have some sage drying on there too. And a measuring cup.
Eric screwed 8 hooks ($.79 each at the Rural King) into the front stick, which was a little thicker. Simple! I hung all our pots and frying pans up there and now we have lots more room in the cabinets. I love it! It makes me smile every time I walk into the kitchen!
Now we just have to figure out how to organize the lids.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mmm, summer.

Eric got a chicken from the Amish folks at the farmer's market yesterday. So today I made roast chicken. It wasn't my first time roasting a chicken, but it may as well have been because I had no idea how to do it. I googled, of course, and turned to two of my culinary heroes: Ina Garten and Alice Waters. I mostly looked at this recipe from Ina on the Food Network website but I also peeked at this description of what to do from Alice reprinted on the Ladies' Home Journal website. Oh yeah, and I found out how to brine a chicken from the trusty folks at Cooks' Illustrated - on here (opens a pdf, I think).
I never really follow any recipes that I find on the internet - I just look at what they're generally doing and then make it up from there.
I started by brining the chicken like Cooks' Illustrated recommends and leaving it in the brine for about 7hrs. That was mostly just coincidence - I happened to get back to working on the chicken 7 hours later after a marathon day of closet-cleaning and laundry-doing. I should show you my closet! So clean! I even convinced Eric to give a ton of stuff to Goodwill.
Anyway, I patted the chicken dry and filled the cavity with: salt & pepper, 2 Persian limes (it's what we had on hand), most of a head of garlic (with the cloves pierced) and a ton of dried rosemary. Then I brushed the outside with melted butter and sprinkled with with more salt & pepper. I roasted it in a square Pyrex dish, into which I added 4 small potatoes from our garden, more rosemary, two small onions from our garden and a liberal splash of extra virgin olive oil. Into the oven at 425F for about an hour.
Aren't the little onions cute? The potatoes didn't make it into the picture because they were so delicious that I ate them immediately! So delicious that I decided to roast a bunch more of our garden potatoes right in the chicken fat/olive oil.
Not even all of these made it into the picture. Seriously. So delicious.
Eric made us a peach salsa too: two peaches from our peach picking expedition at the Shafer's the other day, a cucumber and a Scotch Bonnet pepper from Rudy Shafer's garden, one little garden onion and some lime juice. So fresh and good. He wanted to add some mint too, but we didn't grow any this year!
And finally, we sliced up an amazing Old German tomato that Eric had gotten at the farmer's market. A tomato that cost $2.50! I was kind of shocked at the price, but we're saving the seeds to grow some next year so it was totally worth it. And it was a tasty tomato.
Tomato porn.
More tomato porn!
I love the crazy tie-dye look it has once it's sliced up!
And so we had ourselves a summery dinner. The chicken turned out great. Really tender and flavorful - I think I got the brine timing and the roast timing just right.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Current Obsession: Habanera

I am currently obsessed with the aria 'Habanera' from George Bizet's opera Carmen. I've seen a lot of opera in my day. I love opera. When I lived in Poland, where the opera tickets are super cheap, I went all the time. And I've been a bunch of those Live at the Met HD opera broadcasts. But I've never actually seen Carmen. Then, while watching TV at my parent's house, I saw someone sing the Habanera aria on one of those talent shows. Ok, I just looked it up and here it is. Lys Agnes singing on America's Got Talent.

So catchy! I couldn't get it out of my head for a little while and then promptly forgot it. Until Tuesday when I was procrastinating and watching the British show Midsomer Murders on Netflix. In the fourth episode, Death of a Hollow Man (about 34min into it), one of the characters starts to sing the Habanera aria to herself. Since then I've been totally obsessed and watched a bunch of versions on YouTube. No surprise, my favorite version is Maria Callas.
Check out that amazing dress! This is the kind of thing that makes me rethink my fashion assumptions completely. And she's so good! I love the little expressions that she does and the fun of it all. It actually makes me tear up a little. Sorry Angela Gheorghiu, as good as your version is, you can't top La Divina. Sigh.
Do you like opera? What's your random current obsession?

Oh, and. I was singing this around the house the other day when Eric reminded me of the Beaker/Swedish chef version. Bork bo bork bork.

Monday Adventures

It's Thursday already but I thought I'd share some photos from the fantastic day that we had on Monday. We had a ton of errands to run and since we live out in the woods away from everything, it's simplest to run all the errands at once. We stopped at my husband's bank and then at my bank (no, we don't have one account!) and then at the Meijer to stock up on groceries and diapers. We were using cloth diapers for a while (maybe a cloth diaper post later) but have recently been using disposables for days when we are travelling around. I just can't take the stinky diaper in the car thing when it's so hot out. Sorry environment!
Our next stop was way more fun. Our friends Boyd and Julie have a shop called Mystic Beads and Earthwear in Niles, Michigan. It is totally the coolest - lots of beads, lots of pretty rocks, lots of smelly-good hippie stuff. Plus Boyd and Julie are seriously the nicest folks ever. Julian tried out some drums.

Watching Papa show him how to do it.

Doing some drumming himself!

Then we got a sandwich and a tasty wheatberry salad from the local Martin's grocery store and had picnic by the St. Joseph River. Julian just played with the spoon though. He'd already eaten at Boyd and Julie's.

Finally we had to go pick up a lawnmower part at the HFS Tractor in Baroda, Michigan. We stopped at the Apple Valley in Berrien Springs on the way because Eric had to pee and my finger accidentally got closed in the window on the way out of the car! Ouch! Since we were already at Apple Valley, I went in and got a package of peas to hold on it for a while and then rubbed in a little arnica gel from their sample section. That stuff is like a miracle. My finger (which was THROBBING) immediately felt so much better. Tender, but much much better. So much better that we went peach picking after getting the lawnmower part!
We went to Shafer Orchards because Eric knows Tom Shafer and wanted to say hi. Their orchard is on one of the highest hills in SW Michigan and it's gorgeous.
 Julian tried his first peach! His two little teeth are enough to scrape a little bit of peach off.

Peach Bliss!
 Just as we were getting started, Tom's son Randy showed up. He's hoping to start a local brewery so he and Eric talked about brewing/winemaking stuff. And then he and his super-nice partner showed us their gorgeous garden and gave us a ton of hot peppers, sweet peppers and cucumbers. Score!
What a great day!
We drove home along backroads and decided to stop in to see our friends Brett and Lily. I didn't get any photos there but they are wonderful people. Lily made us a delicious smoked salmon, goat cheese and fresh tomato sandwich, made with salmon smoked by Pat from Local. Too good for words. Brett made us a great mix-cd for the ride home too!
I was totally exhausted when we got home but it was so worth it. I love connected with old friends and meeting new people. Southwest Michigan rocks.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Well, I don't know exactly what to call it. But we have WAY too many giant zucchinis around here. We went out of town for a week and things got a little out of hand. I made some zucchini bread, but there's a limit to how much of that stuff (even though it was delicious! adapted from the Smitten Kitchen recipe) I can eat.
So today I made zucchini baba ganoush. It's so easy - just like making hummus, but with one extra step: you have to roast the zucchini. You're supposed to roast the garlic too, but I forgot and it turned out fine with raw garlic. So this is what you do:
- roast the zucchini at 400F for about 1/2hr (depending on how you've sliced it)
- put the roasted zucchini in the food processor along with: 3 cloves garlic, splash of lemon juice, a swirl of tahini (maybe a few teaspoons), cumin, salt, pepper, a splash of extra virgin olive oil. I don't measure this stuff - I just throw some in and then taste it until it's the way that I want it.
- whirl it around until smooth.
That's it! And it was tasty. A little grainier than eggplant baba ganoush, but I think that's because I used a giant zucchini. A smaller, more tender one would probably have been more smooth. But the whole point was to use up those monster zucchinis.
On the menu tonight: zucchini fritters with dijon mayo sauce. Yum!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Shopping for glasses online

I love my pink glasses. The color kicks ass and the shape is just right. Plus they're cheap! I get them online from Zenni Optical. I'm uncertain about buying stuff directly from China - ethically, I worry that these are made by people working in terrible conditions. And the quality sucks. They last about 3 months before they break - usually the left arm snaps off.So, despite the fact that I love these so much, I started looking for a new pair of glasses. The problem is that I can't afford to spend a lot of money and as a result I'm shopping online again. Where, of course, you can't try them on and there's no guarantee of quality.
But upside is: fun virtual try-on programs! Yay!
I found a totally cool new place to buy glasses online: Spex Club. These are the ones that I fell in love with for some odd reason:

I've never had glasses like these before. I have a round face and the word is that you're not supposed to wear round glasses if you have a round face. I was always super worried that my round face made me look fat and so was always going for looks that were supposed to make my face appear less round. Rectangular lenses were supposed to do that.
This time, I just got bored and started playing around. And these are awesome! Or are they too Harry Potter? I can't decide.
This is a moot point though, because these particular ones are no longer available. Poo.
But then I found these:
These are from Zenni Optical and they're only $6.95! I'd have to get the polycarbonate lenses so that would make them about $30, I think. Still, a steal. I'm thinking that I might order these just to check out the style.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I love visiting my parents

I'm visiting my parents in Delaware this week. I grew up here, though not in this house. I couldn't get away fast enough after high school, but now I come back and appreciate it in ways that I didn't then. Of course, things have changed. My parents moved to a much nicer and feng-shui-ier house that is somehow totally calming. There's something about the East Coast that always makes me feel slightly inadequate - like my regular granola gear isn't good enough and I should be spending inordinate amounts of time doing my hair and makeup. I've only been here since Friday and I've already shaved my legs after not having shaved them for 4 years. But ... I like it! I love looking down and seeing my smooth legs. I used my mom's electric razor/trimmer thing and totally got a thrill from seeing the somewhat huge pile of hair that was left when I was done. This time it's not because I felt compelled by some outside pressure though. I've just been feeling so depressed recently. No surprise - I had a baby 5 months ago and haven't really put any effort into taking care of myself since. It's finally gotten to me - I was feeling so frumpy. And I am not ready to be a Gwendolyn yet! Gwendolyn is what my mom calls the women who she thinks don't put any effort into their appearance and buy ceramic figurines on QVC. My mom is strangely fascinated by QVC and watches it regularly, shaking her head at other people's mysterious bad taste.
I love visiting my parents because I get to enjoy their neat house full of nice design-y furniture and stuff that I can't afford. Is it weird that I like my parents so much? It's not like we never disagree, but I pretty much think they're great. I love their style and their way of life. It's not really for me, not entirely. But its so nice to visit.
And my mom has all these beauty products! I love visiting anyone, actually, for this - trying out new beauty products without have to buy them. My mom has been into these grapeseed extract creams and things. And she has this facial peel cream that heats up. So I did a facial peel (heated peel = awesome), then tried all the grape products. How could I resist? While the peel-off mask was drying I gave myself a pedicure and read an interview with Ashley Judd (who I just think is the cutest) in an old issue of More magazine. This is the kind of thing that I never do at home. I painted my toenails sparkly gold!
At home I'm all crunchy-granola. I don't wear makeup, I don't paint my toenails, I don't read magazines. But being here has reminded me that I can do paint my toenails and still be serious. In other words, I don't have to take myself quite so seriously. I've been lightening up a lot recently and I really like it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

WTF am I doing?

So, I've been lamely thinking about blogging for ages, and coming up with blog posts in my head all the time. Except I don't really blog. I have this blog here, but I never post to it. I guess because I feel awkward writing to an imaginary audience of people - who are these people who don't now but might (really?) read this stuff? I want to write this stuff down for myself, a lot of the time - to remember a good recipe or a good link to something, etc. And my husband is always saying, "You should blog this!" when we come up with something good.
But I guess I've hard a hard time writing in a voice that doesn't seem stilted to me. Most of the blogs that I look at are so *polished* - all fancy photos, etc. And honestly, I just don't have time for that. I'm not going to be doing that. I have a baby, I'm working on my PhD, I'm trying to keep my house reasonably clean and my dog exercised. I barely have time to take care of myself. Case in point: I just painted my toenails and shaved my legs for the first time in years. Years! So I'm not going to be spending my precious spare time finding the perfect angle from which to photograph my kitchen counters.
Also, I'm not sure how on board I am with the concept of sharing everything online. Or at least, I wasn't. But I've been reading xoJane and loving it - loving the honesty with which those ladies put themselves out there. It's so refreshing to hear about their mishaps and successes. I've genuinely felt freed by their writing to be more myself and to accept my own voice.
And accepting my own voice is something that I've been really struggling with. I'm working on writing this philosophy dissertation and one of the major things that has been holding me up is my fear of putting myself out there - of sharing my ideas with the rest of the philosophers. More on that later. The point is though - I like the idea of just keeping it real.
So here we go. I'm going to post to this thing when I feel like it. I'm going to write what I feel like writing. I'm not going to worry about keeping it to some kind of a theme or being able spin a book off from it or whatever these other blogging ladies are doing. Though props to them nevertheless. And I'm hoping that putting myself and my thoughts out there on here will in some way help me get over that fear so that I can put myself "out there" in other ways too. Cheesy, but whatever - that's what I'm doing.