Sunday, December 4, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds...

...perched in a tree...

We have been inundated with migrating starlings this past week. At some point a sizable flock decided to take a break in some of our backyard trees.

Alfred Hitchcock, anyone?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bucks and Hawks

So this morning the hubs woke me up with "quick come look in the backyard!" I'm thinking, crap, did it snow? Is the groundhog out there rooting around in the garden again? Is the neighbor doing his weird calisthenics in spandex on the driveway? What?

Turns out it was much bigger than all that. Much bigger. And had antlers. Sharp pointy antlers.

He just laid in the grass for close to an hour, not seeming to be in any great hurry to run off. The sun kept rising in the sky and he still just laid there. When he finally stood up, it was clear why he wasn't running and jumping all over the place - one of his legs was dangling at a weird angle and he clearly wasn't putting a lot of weight on it. It was actually really painful to watch him try and make his way around the yard. He seemed lost, like he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself.

A few nibbles of some honeysuckle and my hostas, and I guess he felt it was finally time to try and move on.

He hobbled down our driveway and up the street and then disappeared. I can only hope that he finds a quiet safe place to rest and let that leg heal. It broke my heart a little to see such a powerful magnificent animal in such pain.

So as if that wasn't enough excitement for one morning, in the midst of our vigil watching the buck, I noticed that our huge hawk was perched in the branches of the silver maple, observing as well.

And then our cheeky mocking bird popped into the picture - I guess he didn't take too kindly to having a hulking raptor of a bird messing with his territory. He comically bounced from limb to limb, challenging the hawk to take a jab, even though he was perhaps 1/6th the size. You've got to hand it to him, he's got pluck.

Yet another reason why I love living in Pleasant Ridge - it's like living in a nature preserve in the middle of the city.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aardvark Tofu

The hubs and I are officially addicted to one of the tastiest hot sauces we've come across in our almost 30 years, and it's called Secret Aardvark. Leave it to my husband to discover this obscure cult classic - we were lazily watching some sort of "food porn" show on Cooking Channel and they were featuring a sandwich food truck based in Oregon. His curiosity piqued, hubs immediately googled the truck and was taking a peek at their menu when he noticed that they offered Secret Aardvark to accompany all of their dishes. Not only that, but they also sell bottles of it. So what's the big deal? What is this stuff and is it really that good?

Oh yes, yes it is.

Deliciously habanero hot with a flavorful roasted tomato base, this hot sauce has it all. A nice lingering burn with a background of garlic, a little smokiness, and little Caribbean flavor, it's amazing - not too watery, not too thick. And we've gone through four bottles in four weeks. So, of course, we promptly ordered a whole case this week.


We've been hitting paydirt lately with our CSA - lots of greens, cabbage-stuffs, squash, sweet potatoes, and broccoli - delicious fall veg. Since the fridge was getting a little crowded, I decided to throw together an impromptu Chinese-influenced stir fry tonight for dinner. I am proud to say everything in this delicious vegan dish is from our CSA except for the tofu and the cremini mushrooms. Pretty simple to whip up, too:
  • mince a clove or two of fresh garlic and then cut up a small white onion, a handful of cremini mushrooms, several medium-sized heads of bok choy, a bunch of scallions, and a nice fat head of broccoli
  • cut a block of extra firm tofu into cubes
  • pour about a tablespoon of dark sesame oil into a hot wok and saute the onion and mushrooms for a few minutes
  • add in the tofu and drizzle in a round of tamari and several splashes of Secret Aardvark and saute for a few minutes
  • dump in the bok choy, scallions, broccoli, garlic, about 1/4 cup of water, and a spoonful of hoisin sauce
  • keep tossing for a few minutes until the greens are wilted but tender
The Secret Aardvark is clutch in this dish - just be careful, once you try it you'll be hooked ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Herbalist

Several weeks ago, in a desire to preserve some of this year's flourishing herbs, I had carefully snipped my way through the garden and filled a large colander full of insanely aromatic sprigs.

I ended up tying three bundles with string, covering them with paper bags to keep off the dust, and hanging them in a cool, dry room upstairs.

  • catnip - for the kitties, of course
  • culinary mix - oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • potpourri mix - bergamot, lavender, hyssop, yarrow, eucalyptus

Today I checked in on the herbs and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had dried nicely. I de-stemmed the dried leaves, gave them a gentle crush, and bottled and bagged them up. The catnip went into a tightly-sealed baggie and has been placed OUT OF THE CATS' REACH; the culinary herbs went straight to the pantry for future dishes; and I divided the potpourri mix between two small muslin bags, perfect for throwing in a closet or room to keep things smelling herby and fresh. I wish you could have smelled the house while I was crushing those leaves...

It worked out perfectly that the herbs were ready, as I needed some dried oregano, rosemary, and thyme for a Sunday night soup I was whipping up. In a fit of CSA-inspired hunger, I created what I am affectionately going to call "Deep Woods Soup", due to the very earthy and hearty ingredients used: Field Roast Apple Sage sausages (cut into coins), leeks, cremini mushrooms, wild rice, kidney beans, garlic, and fresh tatsoi (a delightful Asian green, similar to bok choy).

The base for the soup included a pint of canned tomato juice and a pint of whole tomatoes, as well as the aforementioned herbs and dashes of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. I must say, this was a definite winner, great for cold fall evenings. Serve it up steaming hot with a few slices of my Aunt Bonnie's oatmeal bread, and ladies and gentlemen, you're in business. Bring on the week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Heavenly Blue

It's finally here, one of the garden moments I've been waiting for all year - the morning when Clark's Heavenly Blue Morning Glory unfurls its first tender petals.

Last winter when we were knee-deep in snow and frigid dreariness, I was curled inside busy researching seeds for 2011 and came across this listing at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A true blue is a very rare color to find in the flower world - sure, there are plenty of purples, violets, lavenders, and eggplants, but I'm talking about BLUE. Despite all of the warnings from my mother and other gardeners about how morning glories can simply take over a garden with octopus-like writhing tentacles, I knew I had to give this beauty a chance.

Point, click, buy, sprout, transplant, and wait. I had to stop and catch my breath this morning when I looked outside and finally saw the first vivid swatch of electric blue dotted with a soft lemon yellow center.

Yes, it did sort of end up taking over a corner of the garden, but let's face it, in early fall, many plants are already starting to crisp, brown, and head downhill for the year, anyways. The lush green leaves and bright blue flower cups are a welcome infusion of life, in my opinion. I love the art nouveau-esque coiling and vining of the tendrils.

This plant would be a great choice for a trellis, fenceline, or handrailing.

Kiss the Cook

Something about cold weather moving in that makes a cook want to hunker down in the kitchen and create things...delicious things...

Mocha Dark Chocolate Truffles - homely but divine

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Tart - made with local Capriole goat cheese

Pumpkin Beer Bread - made with The Bruery's "Autumn Maple"

Sprouted Lentils - ok, so these created themselves - if you haven't tried sprouted lentils you need to - they have the peppery nutty bite of lentils and the sweet succulent crunch of fresh pea shoots

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mature Sprouts

It's officially been a week since I started the sprout kit with radish seeds, and look at the gorgeous jar of seedlings that we now have to snack on!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Spunky Sprouts

For years I've wanted to grow my own fresh sprouts - they're good for you, easy to grow, inexpensive, can be grown indoors, come in a rainbow of varieties, and you don't need a lot of room to do it. The only thing stopping me was...well, other things getting in the way, I suppose.

So this past weekend the hubs and I made a trip to Park + Vine to pick up some Upton's seitan (which is worthy of a gusher post, itself) and on our way to the counter something caught my eye - a simple little sprouting kit from Sprout Ease consisting of a wide mouth quart mason jar and three plastic screw-on sieve lids. I figured I couldn't go wrong for $6, so I sprung for it.

The concept is simple:

1) pick the seeds of your choice, whether it be pea, radish, broccoli, alfalfa, chickpea, sunflower, arugula, buckwheat, clover, lentil, and all manners of herbs...

2) place the seeds in the jar and soak in warm water overnight...

3) using the finest mesh screw-on cap, drain the seeds and invert the jar at an angle to ensure proper ventilation...

4) from there on out, all you have to do is rinse gently in warm water every morning and evening until the sprouts are as big as you like, using the different sieve tops as the sprouts grow and shed their hulls...

Easy, right? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

It goes without saying that since you're eating the whole plant, it's preferable to use organic seeds that haven't been treated with chemicals; and I'm sure it can't hurt to stick with heirloom seeds, as well. I have yet to do my research online to find a company that sells good, solid sprouting seeds, so for my first batch this past Sunday I used up some of last years radish seeds - French Breakfast, Saxa II, and White Icicle. It's now Wednesday and these little guys are growing nicely.

I'm thinking sandwiches on a nice wheat or rye with some hummus, plenty of salads, garnish for pasta, and pretty much anything else that could use a little green oomph - can't wait!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Potato-que Surprise

So far this week I'm batting 2 for 2 on cooking a nice hearty dinner. It looks weird, but hang with me...

There are probably only five people in the world who will know what Potato-que Surprise is - it's sort of a family thing. Basically you take sloppy joe filling and you pile a nice layer on top of some good mashed potatoes. Sounds weird, but it's incredibly awesome and filling - think shepherd's pie meets barbeque. We had this for dinner all the time when we were kids.

I have to give another tip of my hat to Eaton Farm as they provided the potatoes as well as the pattypan squash that I used for a side dish. The mashed potatoes (skin-on, of course) were flavored with a little garlic olive oil, some milk, and Greek yogurt - notice the absence of butter - almost broke my heart to not chuck a nice hunk in the pot, but I'm really trying to cook lighter.

I used Five Star Foodies prepared sloppy joe filling - hey, I can't always make everything from scratch, and their rendition is delicious. I then spiced it up with some Sriracha sauce, Trader Joe's barbeque sauce, and some red kidney beans.

For a simple side I sliced up a nice assortment of green, white, and yellow pattypan squash and sauteed it in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Not a bad little meal, and it definitely brought me back to my childhood.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eat Your Greens

I was quite tickled with our off-the-cuff dinner tonight - so tickled that I took a purty picture.

Eaton Farm has been dishing up the goodies this summer in our CSA - I had some fresh kale, swiss chard, and young garlic that I've been waiting to cook up. Not to mention some sprouted tofu and shiitake mushrooms that needed to be used as well. So while my pathetic pudgy pale ass was sweating at the gym this afternoon, I was struck by a wave of culinary inspiration.

First I cut the tofu into slabs and marinated them in a mixture of tamari, lime juice, honey, garlic, ginger, garden jalapeno, cloves, and cinnamon (a little Asian meets Caribbean flavor combo). I then baked it for about 30 minutes until it got a nice crust but was still tender inside. The remaining marinade got reduced over heat until it was kind of chunky and jammy - tart, salty, sweet, spicy.

Next I sauteed the young garlic, shiitakes, and greens in a little olive oil, dusted with salt and pepper, and finished it off with a glug of balsamic vinegar. Cook up a small pot of brown rice and pour a tall glass of iced Rishi Blueberry Rooibos tea and you're ready to go.

In our attempts to watch calories and shed a few pounds, this meal hit the spot tonight. I love it when you just whip things together using whole ingredients and they end up making your tongue do backflips.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harbinger of Autumn

I've been wondering all summer if my one lone butterfly weed was going to attract any monarchs - yesterday I got my answer...

Monday, September 5, 2011


I keep thinking that I'm winding down for the year...canned out, frozen solid, just plain done. This time I mean it. Maybe...?

My mother once again helped feed my tomato addiction when she procured a half bushel of beautiful roma tomatoes for me that had "marinara" written all over them.

I've never cooked with romas before but I know that they are preferred for sauces because they aren't as juicy as typical tomatoes. They are fleshier, meatier, and require much less cooking time if you're aiming for a nice thick sauce. I have to say, I was enamored of they way they cooked down so easily.

Add some olive oil, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, basil, oregano, fresh thyme, and black pepper, take a quick trip through the food mill, and you have yourself 11 quarts of gorgeously zesty sauce.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just Plain Corny

Let's admit it, we all feel a little corny sometimes.

My moment was yesterday when, in a fit of produce passion, I took a day off work and drove 3+ hours to procure four dozen ears of the sweetest sweet corn I've tasted in years. Family members near my grandparent's old farm outside of Columbus are farmers - the real deal - the kind of deal that makes me jealous. One of their main crops this time of year is Incredible sweet corn. Yes, Incredible is the actual name and oh, what an apt name it is.

Growing up the ONLY sweet corn that was worth growing was Sweet Illini. Somewhere along the way we all started growing Incredible and haven't looked back. It's probably the sweetest corn you'll ever taste, if you're lucky enough to get your hot little hands on some. Thankfully I was so lucky.

Four dozen ears, a couple of boiling pots of water, a smattering of corn kernels on the floor, and some fabulous new reusable
Ball BPA-free freezing containers later, and I have set myself up with plenty of corn for the rest of the year.

While I was visiting the farm, I also picked up several pounds of fresh green beans to freeze. It's amazing how sweet vegetables can be when they are picked and eaten within a few hours. I blanched, trimmed, cut, and froze these guys the same way as the corn - they will be perfect for stir fry, soups, or just plain with some salt and pepper.

Thank you Howard and Louise!

From Cucumber to Relish

I'll say it - pickles are intimidating...

Now don't get fresh, they really are. I've heard one too many horror stories about home canners pickling up pounds of gorgeous cucs and ending up with batches of mush on their hands. For this reason I've always been gun shy of canning pickles. Until I find out the secret to making crisp crunchy pickles I am going to stick with my latest concoction - sweet n'hot relish.

I'm not a relish fanatic but every now and then it hits the spot like nothing else - pile it on a Field Roast Frankfurter with ketchup, mustard, and onion, top a Luna Burger with it, or make a killer batch of thousand island dressing for some veg reubens - the possibilities are endless.

I used quite a few pounds of small pickling cucs, green and red bell peppers, onion, a couple jalapenos from the garden, a few cloves of garlic, and of course all those yummy pickling spices - cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and mustard seed. Some people like a finer dice on their relish, but I like it when you have nice little chunky nubs. About the only trouble I ran across was my own impatience at having to let the relish brine overnight.

Sweet, vinegary, spicy goodness!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

She Strikes Again

Yes, you heard it here first, the Mad Canner has struck again.

And oh what a strike it was - an entire bushel worth in one day - yes, you heard me correctly, a whole bushel of tomatoes. I have my wonderful mother to thank for these beauties - hand delivered with care.

Is that a 3-gallon brew kettle that's supposed to be used for brewing beer? Yes.

Is it being used to cook three gallons of tomato juice? Yes.

Am I crazy? Am I mad? Am I neurotic and slightly obsessed?

Yes, without a doubt.

Now that the canning bug has officially bit me, I'm gearing up for a batch of roma tomato-infused marinara sauce as well as my first crack at pickle-relish. I've got my eyes on a sweet relish recipe that is just begging to be jazzed up with a little heat. Stay tuned...