Tag Archives: food

O Gardening, How I Love/Hate Thee…

So we used to have a really awesome vegetable garden.  We grew all kinds of tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, beans, and even tried corn and carrots.  The carrots were sad, twisted, and bitter, much like some people I encounter on a daily basis, so we decided it’s better to buy them.  The corn was fun to watch grow, and even more fun to watch my Hubby HAND POLLINATING the suckers to make sure everything would come out hunky dory.  The resultant sexy corn had lots of missing kernels and looked a bit knobby, but tasted very sweet, unlike any people I encounter on a daily basis.  We decided that was also better to trust our local farmer’s market for future corn.

We took a pass on a veggie garden for the last few years because of time, weather, and general “ugh, do I really want to dig this all over again?”  But two years ago we built a lovely sturdy raised garden, and put all sorts of good soil in it.  I ordered plants online and lots of seeds, too, and lovingly started our garden.  I had not factored in the resident groundhog, Fred, or the voracious bunnies, or our newly adopted beagle Nellie.  It was an….interesting garden season.  So this year we armed ourselves with chicken wire fencing and garden stakes and whatnot, and felt sure we were all good to go.

 

There is something so sweet about blind faith, isn’t there?

 

We didn’t mail order our plants this year.  In fact, May was such crappy weather we didn’t plant until the beginning of June and used well-established plants from (forgive me, here, because it’s just so shameful to admit) Home Depot.  *shudder*  I try to be a good steward of the earth and take care to note where my food comes from and just who I support with my grocery dollars, but time was short and they were right there….

Here’s the rub:  We have gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes, although I find the flavor not as intense as a true Jersey tomato.  We have plum tomatoes that are great but they like to lay down on the ground as if they’re too exhausted to show up anymore and make it difficult for me to find them.  We have cherry tomatoes that are cheerfully determined to wrestle the plum tomatoes to the ground because they’re showoffs and they want to grab all the glory and attention.

We have cucumbers that grew astonishingly fast, wrapping themselves happily around the fencing and the strings we tied up, blossomed beautiful flowers, gave us three outstanding cucumbers, then promptly died back like something out of a body-snatcher movie.  Three. Lousy. Cucumbers.  Didn’t even get one of those hidden canoe-sized ones.

We have the tallest, strongest, most wide-leafed zucchini plants I’ve ever seen in my life, dripping with gorgeous blossoms (that I really want to fry up) and NOT A SINGLE FRUIT.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  Not one.  Ginormous leaves, incredibly thick stalks, proud blossoms…..and then nothing.  Not one sweet little squash to make bread or frittata or saute with garlic and mushrooms.

 

And that’s it.  That’s the whole garden this year.  It’s now August 29, so I don’t think I’m getting anything else this year, and I have to wonder if I count this year as a success because of the tomato bounty or a failure because of cukes and zukes.

 

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This is what I was hoping for…

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Well, All it Took Was Food

It’s amazing to me how the brain works and how it affects the rest of the body, including the emotions.  It’s been a bit of a wobbly week and that neighborhood didn’t feel right to me.  I was lucky enough to make plans with a friend to meet for a glass of wine, and after spilling out tons of words and feelings and thoughts and “I know, right?” and a plate of perfectly seasoned and crispy sweet potato crinkle-cut fries, I was feeling a whole lot better about Things.

Yesterday we went fishing, and brought our cooler of sandwiches, fruit, pretzels, water, and seltzer, but I never took a bite: too seasick!  I haven’t been seasick since I was eight years old, so this was quite the “whoa” neighborhood.  Interestingly, there was no nausea and no chumming for the fishies; it was full-body trembling, dizzy, and an inability to stand (which is already challenging on a boat).  So I ended up napping and all the food was brought home untasted.  But as a sign of true love, Hubby made pancakes for dinner, half plain and half blueberry and it was the perfect “bring me back to the normal neighborhood” prescription.

This morning I met my breakfast buddy at our usual place, and had my bacon, tomato, and cheddar omelet with rye toast and many cups of hot tea.  More spilling of words, more sharing and laughing and planning and commiserating and by the time it was all over, I had a restored spring in my step and a happy outlook.  Once again, my neighborhood had come back and all it took was food.

I’ve been reading a couple of blogs and I’m wondering what makes me want to read ALL the archives of some, and barely want to skim others, and I think it’s because of the tone.  If it’s funny or upbeat I think I’ve found a new friend, somebody I want to be around often.  If it’s constantly a complaining place, I don’t want to stick around.  The ones who share something personal that bring up remembrances of my own feelings make me want to learn how others think.  How do other brains process the feelings I can’t?  How do others stay so happy all the time in the midst of strife?  Where does that talent for stringing words together come from?  How can I be more like them and less like me?

And today I answered myself: There’s already a them.  Just be a you.  Maybe throw some food in, too.

 

 

 

 

Come to mama.

Come to mama.

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Cinco de Mayo

I don’t think I heard about Cinco de Mayo for the greater part of my life, and the first time I encountered it, it was in print.  I was very confused about a holiday featuring Spanish mayonnaise and thought it was a cooking challenge of some sort.  This is not the first time I felt confused about things.  If I were featured in a sitcom, I’d have an elaborate party celebrating mayonnaise recipes while my “friends” wondered where the margaritas were, and I’d have an embarrassing moment when my normally staid boss attended my party wearing a serape and demanding fresh tamales.  Then we’d all laugh and toast with margaritas and Coronas while eating spinach dip and mayonnaise chocolate cake.  I’m really really happy my life is not a sitcom, as I don’t like Mexican food at all.

So, that makes me different from a large segment of the population.  Whenever I get together with folks for dining purposes, I always say “Not Mexican, please.”  I have come to the realization that I am a lover of ultra simple food and not a whole lot of fire and spice.  I mean, I like spices like cardamom and ginger and cinnamon and anise and whatever else goes into a good chai, but I don’t like curry or srirachi sirachi hot sauce or five alarm chili or Buffalo style chicken wings.  I see no reason to burn off perfectly working taste buds.  Sometimes I even object to pepper, and food network’s mantra seems to be “plenty of pepper.”  (Alas, we don’t get the Cooking Channel which, I understand, is far superior.  We don’t have HBO, either, which has only started bothering me this past week because while I could care less about Game of Thrones, I love John Oliver.)  I don’t want to become acquainted with jalapenos, chili verde, or “refried beans.”  I put “refried beans” in quotations because I am convinced that it’s a secret joke because it is, in fact, NOT BEANS.  I don’t want to even speculate on what I think it really is.

I tried eating at an Indian restaurant once.  Since I love chai tea, you would have thought I’d be well on my way to enjoying that spice palate but you would be wrong.  The only thing I can truly say I enjoyed is the Naan bread, especially when somebody told me it was made with potatoes.  (I am aware that “Naan bread” is redundant, and I’m not putting “Naan bread” in quotations for the same reason as the “refried beans” but in case there are other hopeless cuisine-embracers out there like myself, I thought redundancy would be in order.  Thank you.  This is a PSA.)  I was not enjoying the rest of the meal, and I worried about the five-hour drive ahead of me.  I drank a lot of tea, hoping that would soothe any troubled moments in my future, and checked this experience off my mental list of what not to do again.

Some would call me non-adventurous, or boring, or a scaredy-cat, or lots of other names that I choose not to dredge up from my past give credence to, but I’m going to call it self-preservation.  I’ve lived with my digestion system for quite a while now, and I think I know the limits we can safely explore together.  So I shall happily have turkey meatloaf with rice and salad tonight, and think about inventing a food holiday to which I can safely introduce my spineless taste buds.  

 

 

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Put dat food in mah mouf!

 

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Hooray for Hollywood (or, in this case, New York)

One of the benefits of NOT working a traditional job (or, in my case, at all) is the ability to do things that can’t be done when you are otherwise engaged from 9-5 on a regular basis.  To that end, this week my friend invited me to come with her into Manhattan to see a taping of a talk show.  I’d never done something like this before; never even thought about it, actually.  The only show I ever wanted to see live was David Letterman, and as a teacher, the only time I’d be able to do it would be in the summer and I wasn’t keen on the idea of standing outside in the humid summer with fetid exhaust fumes just to maybe not get in at all because that’s always a possibility.  And now he’s going to retire so there’s a life event I might not get to fulfill, but with this new schedule you never know.

ANYWAY.  We left our comfortable suburban New Jersey homes to tangle with the wild beast of NYC, and emerged into the huge monster known as Penn Station.  You can’t just get off the train and pause to gather your wits about you, peering at signs to determine which way you want to go.  No, that’s a good plan only if you intend to be swept away by crowds and poked with umbrellas and assaulted with backpacks from all the folks who have some. place. to. be. now. dammit.  You just start walking in the same direction as everyone else and wait for an open area to present itself.  Then you fling yourself violently against the wall and catch a deep breath because of course the escalator stairs weren’t working and you just climbed the equivalent of three flights of stairs in double time and you’re sure your heart has never reached a tempo quite that fast before, all the while wondering which of these passing strangers might perform CPR on you because surely you’re about to die?  But then the world starts to focus slowly and you can figure out which exit you want without ending up on another train to an exotic location like Poughkeepsie.

No matter how many times I go into New York, it’s always a bit of a culture shock when I emerge onto the street.  I get transported back to the days when I had to go into “the city” with my mom when she was working as a comptometer operator and she had to bring in big office envelopes of completed work.  The smell was exotic and heady and at the same time just a bit disgusting.  Cigarettes, burned pretzels, taxi exhaust, coffee, and heat.  Enter the subways and you can add a fine layer of old urine and mechanical grease to that.  I was like a dog trying to identify all those odors, but at the age of 4? I guess? it was just a mishmosh that immediately signaled that exciting yet mysterious stuff was going on all around us.

Today, as a mature adult, I certainly don’t lift my nose in the air and give a long appreciative sniff followed by several little ones as I used to, but I still get that jarring sense of excitement and danger when I hit the streets.  Even though it was a bit chilly (and I’m sorry, Bill Evans of Accuweather Forecast, but will you please stop saying it’s going to be 64 degrees when it never seems to get over 48? Thank you.) I didn’t care, I was on an adventure.  On a Wednesday!  At 11:00 in the morning!  I wasn’t teaching third grade how to play recorders or 8th grade how the music industry is a growing one or reporting for cafeteria duty!  

We decided to head to Eataly.  And there, my friends, is where I died and went to Italian heaven.  If I ever meet Mario Batali or Lidia Bastianich, I am going to kneel before them and kiss their talented fingers.  (I have seen Lidia Bastianich before.  I worked in an office that managed the books and payroll for her early restaurant, Felidia Ristorante, and I think I worshipped her then, too.)  This place which takes up an entire city block of Manhattan, is like a grocery store, import store, deli, and restaurant with everything Italian you could possibly dream of.  If we were not continuing our journey on to a show taping, I would have bought enough Italian goodies to sink us into serious debt.  (As it is, I’ve informed my family that we WILL be making a visit there.  Soon.)

After some serious touristy-type gawking, we decided to eat at the pasta section.  The other option was pizza, and I love a good pizza but come on!  PASTA.  Just look at this gorgeousness:

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I’ve carefully edited out the drool spots

That?  That is spring pea and lemon-ricotta ravioli, with scalloped edges, and buttered asparagus with cheese.  OH. MY. LORD.  I grudgingly offered a bite, but thankfully it was declined and I had the whole plate of deliciousness to myself.  Had it not been so crowded I totally would have licked the plate.  My friend had this:

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She never took her eyes off of it, or it would have been mine, too.

I believe this was called parchetti, but I could be making it up.  It is like amazeballs giant rigatoni and had shrimp, scallops, mussels, and probably lobster.  Ohhhhhh…….

And then we shopped among all the jars of pesto and jardiniere, packages of every pasta you could think of, fresh meats, chocolates, fresh fruit and veggies, kitchenware, and this delightful looking spot:

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Which would look a lot more delightful if my iPhone took better pictures, or had a better operator. Hmmmm……

Oh, man!  Cheeeeeeeeeeese…………

Are there any other places like this?  Does Wisconsin have a huge palace devoted to the delights of Dairy Country, with the artistry of a master chef (or two)? Indiana?  What about West Virginia?  I want to know.  You know.  For science.

 

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R. A. T. (Random Access Thursday)

1.  I am hard-pressed to identify my favorite color.  It’s green, but almost everything I wear is burgundy/dark red/maroon.  So is my car.  So was my last car.  My eyes are always drawn to blue, even though my eyes are green.  Full circle!

2.  Same with food.  I am in a monogamous relationship with potatoes.  Until pasta comes along, then I totally cheat on potatoes.  But when popcorn comes a-knockin’ I’m a slut.  Apparently “p” is my favorite letter in the food alphabet.  Yes, that means you, too, pretzels.

3.  I love knitting, but lately I’m reading more about knitting than doing the actual knitting.  Must ponder this.  Need snacks to ponder.  Any suggestions?  Anyone else notice ponder starts with “p”?

4.  The Bloggess is the funniest site I’ve ever read.  I went all the way back to the beginning and I’m up to December of 2008.  I was actually crying with laughter this morning at the thought of dead hobo fingers in her bra.

5.  Which doesn’t start with “p”.

6.  Why do so many people say the Winter Olympics are boring?  I find the summer Olympics akin to watching golf coverage with the quiet whispers and the finger applause.  Dive, dive, dive, splash, splash, splash.  Run, run, run, chest heave, chest heave, chest heave.  Winter has ice skating!  Ski jumping!  And most importantly it has ICE HOCKEY.  To gear up, we’re going to watch “Miracle” tonight.  Maybe one of us will lose a tooth.

7.  After the long slog of snow shoveling yesterday I made oatmeal with butter and brown sugar and it was sublime.  Today I didn’t have to shovel any snow (let us pause for a silent prayer of thankfulness) and I made oatmeal with butter and brown sugar and it was yukky.  Do I have to do manual labor for food to taste good?

8.  I just re-read number 2 and clearly the answer to number 7 is “of course not, dodo.”

9.  The whole world likes Tex-Mex or Mexican or Southwestern food and I hate it beyond all passion.  I realize that may offend some people.  It’s okay, go ahead and hate on my p-words, I understand.  (That totally doesn’t sound right.  At all.)

10.  Why is Candy Crush on my iPad on a different level than the Candy Crush on my laptop?  Don’t these guys talk to each other?

11.  Picture time:

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P-food!

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Random on a Saturday

1.  Farmer’s Market this morning was so full of color it almost hurt the eyes.  There’s still pumpkins, but the broccoli, cauliflower, squash, brussels sprouts, and apples are exactly the color palette that sets my pulse moving.  (And believe me, these days, it’s red-letter news to get the pulse pumping.)

 

2.  NaNoWriMo: Today I felt like a robot.  “Must. Write. Must. Not. Quit. Must. Produce.”

 

3.  I don’t try to profess too many controversial points here, because it’s just not interesting and it’s not like anything I think could change somebody’s mind.  But you would need a team of buff firefighters and some heavy equipment to get me to leave a warm and cozy house full of awesome food on Thanksgiving night just to stuff some merchandise in a bag.

 

4.  It astonishes me how certain comments can bring me to tears of happiness and heart-felt appreciation.  (What would be the opposite of heart-felt?  Why did I use that?  Would heart-warming have been better?  Is it telling that I first typed heart-worming?)

 

5.  I walked to the farmer’s market.  I brought home heavy bags.  That’s my exercise for the weekend.

 

6.  I brought laundry up and down two flights of stairs twice.  That’s totally my exercise for the weekend.

 

7.  I had sesame chicken from the local Chinese restaurant.  That totally wipes out any exercise I may have done.

 

8.  So not sorry,  Our Chinese restaurant is kick-ass.

 

9.  I am going to make cornbread stuffing from scratch this year.  Usually I use a package of Pepperidge Farm (because they remember) cornbread stuffing, but this year I’m going to make my own, cut it or break it down, dry it out in the oven, then use the regular recipe then add BACONZOMG to it.  

 

10.  There ain’t enough exercise in the world for that one.

 

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Me, the night of Thanksgiving

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Cooking

Yikes!

 

I enjoy cooking, and this summer I’ve been cooking a lot.  Tonight was eggplant parmesan, and let me tell you, this dish is a labor of love (and breadcrumbs).  It sounds so easy but from the time I started until I sat down to eat, three and a half hours had passed.

 

Thus, my “yikes!”

 

You need eggplant (obvi), breadcrumbs, oil, eggs, cheese, and sauce.  Throw it together and bake.  Easy, right?

 

Peel the eggplant.  Slice it longways with your mandoline, and decide that for once you are not going to salt it and drain it, since this is the really pretty graffiti eggplant that isn’t as spongy as your dark purple aubergines.  While the mandoline is out you say what the heck, and slice up the onion with it.  And the garlic (which really wasn’t that effective, but hey, I had mandoline fever).  And the mozzarella!  Brilliant!  except not!  But all the slicing was done, so onward.

Let the eggplant sit for a bit.  The poor things have been through the wringer, so they need to recover.  Decide to make the marinara sauce, but make enough for tonight, tomorrow, and all of next week.  Drag out the big sauce pot, throw in the olive oil, heat it up, and throw in the onions and garlic.  Open two cans of paste top and bottom; this way you press all the paste out and don’t go nuts trying to scrape every last bit out of the tiny can.  Fry it up with the sauteeing onions and garlic and pass out from the heavenly smell.  Once it looks like it’s pretty incorporated, throw in two cans each of diced tomatoes and pureed tomatoes, plus basil, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Stir it up really well.  If you stir it up lousy, something terrible is sure to happen.  When it boils and deposits ugly blotches all over your white stovetop, turn it down to a simmer and cover it and leave it alone in time out.

 

Hey, remember the eggplant?  Get out your big cast iron skillet that your parents used for over 30 years and put some canola oil in.  I’m a canola girl.  Now you have to beat some eggs and get some panko breadcrumbs ready.  I’ve stopped using normal (?) breadcrumbs because of all the processed ingredients in it and the high amounts of sugar.  I’m not a huge eater of super healthy stuff, but I try to avoid more processed stuffs the older I get.  Dip the properly chastised eggplant in the egg, press the panko firmly on it, and place into the pan.  You can’t put more than four or five slices in at a time, and your stack of waiting eggplant slices is about half a mile high, so you’re going to be here for a while.  Get annoyed because the first batch isn’t sizzling as much as you’d like, and realize you didn’t wait long enough for the oil to get shiny.  

 

Suddenly everything happens at once.  You realize you left the new package of breadcrumbs, along with oatmeal and wheat germ, at the store.  Younger Daughter who just got home (scoring some mighty fine bargains on her shopping trip, she is SO me) is instructed to call store.  Yep.  It’s there, just been listed as “forgotten bag” and I can come get it.  Hubby will have to get it as I have that half-mile high stack of eggplant to rassle, and they say all he has to do is describe the items.  Older Daughter is texting and the phone is ringing.  Gah!

 

Things keep moving, the eggplant is taking its time and things are sizzling quite nicely.  Hubby calls from supermarket.  Guess what?  They put my items back on the shelf.  They’ve been paid for, they said they would hold them, and they put them back to re-sell them.  Not cool, supermarket.  Not cool.  A sternly worded letter is going to somebody sometime when the half-mile eggplant stack is whittled down.

 

Stir the sauce!  You don’t want it to stick!

 

Finally finish the eggplant.  Grab the baking dish, ladle the sauce, and begin stacking the eggplant, mozzarella, and sauce in layers.  Get it all done neatly with about 1/32″ to spare.  Prudently place cookie sheet under casserole dish and shove into oven which you are positive you set at 375 degrees but is now showing 200.  Really, oven?  Et tu?

 

I’m happy to report that the eggplant was gratefully devoured by an appreciative family and the wonderful Hubby of supermarket escapades washed ALL. THE. DISHES.  He is such a keeper!

 

No really, I enjoy cooking.  Now imagine if I’d tried to take pictures like a food blogger.  Good heavens, I’d be under the table chewing my cuticle.  How do those people do it? I admire their acrobatic and organizational skills, not to mention their styling of food.  Guaranteed my camera would have ended up in the sauce.

 

Is there a meal you will painstakingly create?  If so, can I come over?

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What is it about food?

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Two cucumbers that couldn’t stand to be apart from each other

 

We start the day with it, we plan for it, we read about it, discuss it, photograph it, count it, dissect it, sneak it, celebrate it, celebrate with it, loathe it, love it, sample it, consume it, cook it, bake it, fry it, saute it, chip it, puree it, roast it, freeze it, dry it, pressure it, preserve it, televise it and glorify it.  There are movies, television shows (heck, television networks), books, magazines, and songs about it.

Oh, I hear you.  “Food is a necessity,” you say.  “We can’t live without it.  Naturally it’s a big focus of our lives!”

Yeah, well, why isn’t there Water Magazine?  Or Sun Network?  Or a book called Water, Pray, Love?

You see my point, right?

No?

It’s all about the manipulation.  We can’t do anything to water to make it more than it is.  We need it, but we can’t really alter it.  Yes, you can heat it and freeze it, but it’s still water.  It doesn’t become more appetizing or enhance the taste.  It’s just water.  Can you see a glass of water as the featured cover photo of Food and Wine magazine?  “Ten Tasty Tips with Water!”

Or the Sun.  What do we do except worship it in full or escape to the shadow?  Would you expect a blockbuster movie about Sun!  No 3-D glasses required!  A New York Times Bestseller about that magnificent orb in the sky?  A  tv series optioned for 26 weeks?

Nope.  Food has cornered the glam market.  And now I’m about to put some manipulated morsels in my mouth, which is my convoluted way of saying “Good morning!  It’s breakfast time!”

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Peanut butter-banana-oatmeal muffin and some suspicious crumbs

 

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