Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tomato Soup with Corn, Harissa and Oregano

Things I learned last summer:
  • Attempting to can can 1,000 lbs of fruit with two and a half people is a very bad idea, even if one of you is very unemployed
  • You really, really need to peel peaches before you cut them in half
  • Tiny peaches are the devil's work
  • For whole-peeled-style tomato chunks, the trick to density is letting them drain for a couple hours prior to canning.

That last tip is from our community's British fairie godmother, aka my neighbor Lynda. 250lbs of tomatoes later (about half of them in chunks) I can tell you that it works. It also leaves you with a LOT of juice- enough to create a small tomato swamp under your kitchen table and necessitate cleaning tomato residue off the walls. 

Totally adding "tomato swamp" to my glossary of community vegetable disasters.

Even then, we canned a lot of juice- when I went through my pantry last month I still had four quart-jars worth. Since we are officially back into canning season (35lbs of apricots down, an orchard to go) I've been trying to finish it off, a task with which the internet was not at all helpful. Google 'tomato juice recipe' and you will get two things: recipes for making tomato juice and recipes for Bloody Marys. (Bloody Maries? Bloodys Mary?) Anyways, I drank some straight, which I didn't like at all. I also tried re-hydrating cous cous with it, which I'm still convinced might work but turned out weird and sticky.

I'm delighted to say I've found a solution- in a brothy, summer-produce heavy soup that came about after some aimless garden harvesting. While the ingredient list is kind of long, the actual cooking is easy. Also, this was literally made from what I had on hand- my llama neighbors have an entire front yard of oregano, and my spring garden produced those shallots. Point is, feel free to substitute- I'm pretty sure it would be as good with arborio rice, white beans and thyme as it was with farro, chickpeas and oregano. No shallots? Use an onion! The essentials are the harissa-spiked tomato broth, crunchy corn and some sort of chewy bean/grain.

Only one more quart to go.

Tomato juice soup with corn, harissa and oregano

1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups unsalted tomato juice*
4 cups water
1/2 cup finely diced shallot (this was about one big one for me)
~2 cups corn kernels.This was 2 corn cobs in my case, but canned or frozen would work fine
1lb zucchini, sliced in thin coins
1 generous Tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp harissa
1/2 cup farro
1 can chickpeas, drained
salt and pepper

*My tomato juice should probably be classified as tomato drainage- it was pretty thin, and contained nothing but tomatoes and a little lemon juice. With normal tomato juice, I would recommend using 2 cups tomato juice and 6 cups water instead, and being very careful with the salt.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (my new dutch oven worked great!) over medium heat. Cook the shallots, stirring frequently, until translucent and a little brown around the edges. Add the oregano, zucchini and corn and toss to combine. Saute, stirring occasionally, until everything has softened and is starting to brown. This only took me around five minutes. Mix in the harissa.

Add both tomato juice and water, as well as 1/2 tsp salt and about 20 grinds of black pepper. (As an extension of my earlier note, if your'e using pre-seasoned tomato juice, you might want to skip the salt here). Add the farro and chickpeas, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover slightly (you know, sort of haphazardly cover your pot) and set a timer for 20 minutes.

When the timer goes off, check that the farro is cooked (it should be) and adjust seasoning if necessary. Both times I made it, I added more pepper at this point. Serve anywhere from just warm to hot.

Your Weekly Waterfowl (8!)

Hello! I've been delinquent on the duck front. I've been delinquent on the everything front. Also, when I take closeup photos of my ducks (or when my farmwife does and I pilfer them) it kind of looks like they are living in squalor. 

I SWEAR we bathe them- but I'm pretty sure they're afraid of water. We have desert ducks.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tomato Bruschetta

I spent my last Saturday night putting linseed oil on a garbage enclosure because at Wasatch Commons, we know how to paaaaaaarty. I also had to renew my passport this week, which made me feel super old (I used up a 10-year passport) and reminded me of all the awesome places I haven't been going lately. I think at this point in my life I was expecting to be living in  Uzbekistan working for the UN and counting tree frogs on the weekend. I have friends who do that kind of thing.

Side note, I do know that there aren't really tree frogs in Uzbekistan. Are there tree frogs in Uzbekistan?

Interestingly enough, it's the same sentiment with which I started this blog, now four years ago. In between my life got a lot, lot worse and then better- and though I sometimes forget, my relative happiness and stability are a gift. I never thought being somewhat satisfied with my life would feel so much like an accomplishment, but it does. My cohousing community (explained here if it's a new concept) has grounded me here in a really lovely way and I'm grateful. That's kind of what I want in life- the ability to be happy doing nothing much on a Saturday night.

I mean, I also want 84,000 other things- my life list will attest- but for now I'm focusing on what I've got. I think I can pull it off for at least the next hour.

My community harvested the first tomatoes of the summer last week, and I promptly abandoned my plans to eat anything else. While I'm fully aware of how irritating it is when food people do stuff like rave about garden-fresh tomatoes, in this case I can't deny reality. A tomato off the vine is a completely different species. Even the ducks understand- last week one of them found a downed tomato, and even though it was too big for her to eat she refused to give it up. I looked up from weeding to see her haphazardly run-waddling through the garden rows while both the other ducks chased after her.

Quack attempts to escape with her tomato.

Recognizing that my current garden-paradise is temporary (and 100% because I have awesome neighbors), I'm giving you a recipe that works regardless. I learned it, in fact, on the mealy, refrigerator-trucked tomatoes that you can find anywhere. It's nothing original- the same tomato, balsamic, garlic and basil combination you'll find if you google 'bruschetta', but it's the framework I've been using for years because why mess with success? It's great on toast of course, but I'll also use it as a springboard for dinner. Some ideas:
  • mixed with a can of white beans (or chickpeas-my lunch Monday)
  • on top of warm cous cous, perhaps with more white beans
  • with cold cooked pasta and mozarella 
  • straight with a spoon, as my celiac-roommate did before potluck last Sunday. I suppose you could put in a bowl and eat it straight too, but that just seems too civilized.
So wherever you live, eat some summer flavors this week. And if you've got some garden tomatoes, I won't judge at all if you choose to ignore me completely and just eat them with salt.

Tomato Bruschetta

2lbs tomatoes, any variety
20 leaves basil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Place a colander over a bowl. Cut your tomatoes (using a serrated knife helps) into small pieces- I cut cherry tomatoes in half, but if possible I like the pieces a little smaller. As you work, transfer the tomatoes to the colander so they can drain a little bit. The draining isn't strictly necessary, but I find that if I'm using bigger tomatoes it's quite helpful.

Chop your basil- I usually go with the 'stack leaves and then sliver' method, but it's up to you. Empty the drainage bowl and dump the tomatoes back in. Add olive oil, balsamic, chopped basil, pressed garlic, a good pinch of salt and many grinds of black pepper and mix well. Taste for salt and pepper. At this point, adjust the other seasonings if you want- I've found that with blander tomatoes I want more balsamic and garlic than with my garden ones. Leave the mixture to rest- room temperature is fine- for at least an hour so all the flavors mingle.

Right before serving, toast some bread- rub with the cut side of a garlic clove if you're feeling fancy! Using a slotted spoon, heap tomatoes generously onto the bread. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cheater's Tortilla Española

I ate my first tortilla española in Spain on a foreign language exchange trip on which I really kind of hated. I was genuinely irritated about how minimally academic the whole thing was, a reaction which perfectly encapsulates the nerdy, well-meaning privileged brat I was at 17. I saw Goya's dark room, ate perfect grilled sardines and learned the difference between tea and infusion by myself at a beautiful old cafe- and somehow, I resented feeling like I hadn't earned them. I mean really- would my doing more homework have made the trip any less of a gift from my parents? If I'm honest, it was that trip where I felt the first stirrings of my depression- an acute loneliness, emptiness and insomnia that I tried to soothe away by submerging my brain in the internet and raiding crackers from my host family's pantry in the middle of the night.

That beginning, so very hesitant, was quickly overshadowed by a crazy medical incident involving a pretty bad staph infection, two trips to the hospital and about six sitcom-worthy language mishaps. Waking up with both my eyes swollen shut kind of pushed the barely nascent idea of mental health out of focus. My host mother, whose name I have long forgotten, earned my lifelong gratitude by being about the best medical advocate anyone could ask for. She took one look at me (face swollen, sleep deprived and slightly delirious) and marched me to the doctor. She yelled at my tour leader so he held the bus for me, she yelled at the nursing staff until they let me, a random American without any identification, see a doctor, she yelled at the patients in the waiting room until they let me cut the line.

I took this photo from the top of a Cathedral in 2007. I think I thought I was artsy?

Look, she may not have been yelling- as I said, I was a bit delirious. Regardless, she saw the golf-ball sized cyst on my forehead, realized I needed help and got it for me. Somewhere in there, my last day staying with her, she also gave me a Spanish-language cookbook that I lost somewhere between Pontevedra, Madrid and Boston.

That cookbook haunts me. It is a reminder that I lose things, constantly, and I lose things that people are not supposed to lose. It was important to me, and I somehow just left it behind. Over the years, I've lost so many things of monetary and personal value through a combination of ADHD, laziness and absentmindedness I can never seem to work out. I lost the backpack I hiked the PCT with because I dropped it off to be cleaned and in my depressive fog never came back for it. I grieve for it too. I lost my flute, or more likely had it stolen from my dorm room, but I'll never be sure: knowing myself, I can't rule out the possibility that yes, I am that careless. I lose earrings and gloves and socks and my jackets and my debit card. Every twenty minutes I misplace my phone, my keys or both. Often, I never get these things back.

My mom used to claim she could track my movement through the house by the trail of objects I left behind.

These days, I wear the same shoes every day because having fewer things means having fewer things to misplace. I wear my grandmother's ring on my hand and never take it off. I have some coping skills, but I still dream about finding a treasure trove of objects I've lost. I still feel the not-so-secret shame of misplaced, permanently lost objects, the greater shame of having lied about losing them, the sometimes desperate desire to be the kind of person who accepts who they are and doesn't bury their mistakes so reflexively.

Is my carelessness a symptom or a fault or both?

In a show of horrifying irony, or perhaps predictions coming true, the day I wrote the beginnings of this post I got in to a car accident that, while resulting in no personal injury, has pretty much shattered my barely-held sense of having my shit together. It's a story for another time, but again I am left wondering and doubting myself. Where do I draw the line between the things I cannot control- the whirlwind of anxiety and ADHD that is my brain- from the ones I can? Will I ever be able to trust myself with anything of consequence? How do I rectify my pain, which is real enough to be diagnose, with the priviledged-even-for-the-first-world nature of my problems? Seriouslywhere are my keys?

(Before you suggest anything, farmwife just gave me one of those tile things for my birthday. She's figured out the drill).

I took this photo last week. Apparently I still think I'm artsy.

So all of this rambling was just a prelude to telling you I've cracked a lazy-girl version of a tortilla española. If you've never had one, a tortilla española is sort of like a potato and onion fritatta cooked entirely on the stove and often eaten as a sandwich. I have made them the traditional way before, (including once just last week) before, but it requires frying a couple pounds of potatoes in batches and guys... I hate frying things. Not for weird dietary reasons- it's just a pain. No matter how careful I am, I always end up with a messy stove, a million oily paper towels and a bunch of fried-in oil. The waste! I know I could reuse the oil, but let's be real... I won't. I just let it languish, aspirationally, in a jar under the sink until someone digs it out and dumps it.

Anyways, after my last attempt, I became determined to find a way of doing this without the fried, and lo! A tortilla ere blooming. Turns out that baked potatoes work just fine- and baking a potato is the kind of thing that takes time but zero effort. You can even bake the potatoes days in advance, or use leftovers. I'm sold. It is not at all traditional, but unless someone finds my long-lost book it will have to do.

Cheater's Tortilla Española

1.5 lbs yellow potatoes
2 medium onions, finely diced
2-3 Tbsp good olive oil
6 eggs
Salt and pepper

Bake your potatoes, or break out the leftovers. When they're cool enough to handle, peel them with a vegetable peeler. This is a little messy. Once peeled, slice into 1/4 inch rounds, or half-rounds if you've got giant potatoes.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook the onions until browned. Meanwhile, beat six eggs in a large bowl with quite a bit (at least 1/4 tsp of each) of salt and black pepper. Mix in the potato slices. When the onions are done cooking, mix them in as well. Be a little careful about how fast you do this, or the egg will start to cook.

Put the remaining tablespoon of oil into a small non-stick pan and turn the heat to medium. I used an 8-inch sauté pan, but well seasoned cast iron would work well too. Pour the egg/potato/onion mixture into the pan, and smoosh it flat. In the first couple minutes, run a spatula around the edges a couple times so that the egg from the top runs to the bottom of the pan. Then let it cook, undisturbed, until it's beginning to set. This took me 10 minutes, but I'm at altitude with very fresh eggs- your time may be different.

When it looks like it won't fall apart, run the spatula around the edges and the bottom. Wearing oven mitts, invert a plate- anything larger than the pan will do- on top of the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Put the pan back on the stove and slide the whole thing back in, cooked side up. Push the edges into place if you have to, and then cook for another couple minutes until it is set, or a toothpick into the middle comes out dry. Serve with aioli, hot sauce or anything else languishing in your fridge.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Your Daily Duck (6!)

Ducks: they will crawl through the fencing to eat brown rice.

Duck ducks!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Your Daily Duck (5!)

"Psst: Galinda! I think she's hiding the food behind her back."

Monday, July 24, 2017

You Daily Duck (4!)

I did something dumb and careless (I got in a car accident- nobody is physically hurt) and I was feeling really shitty about myself, so the farmwife sent me this picture: 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Your Daily Duck (3!)

I'm pretty sure the right ducks are trying to figure out if my iphone is food (still no, ducks). Left duck is a little busy being blurry.

Duck Ducks!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Your Daily Duck (2!)

My beloved dutch oven, a 20th birthday gift from my Aunts, developed a big circular chip in the enamel last week. Lodge offers limited lifetime warranties, so they're replacing it, but I still couldn't bear the thought of getting rid of something that had 

So yep, I gave it to the ducks. Serendipitously, we were looking for a container that was too heavy for them to knock over- for some reason our 'plastic clam-shell full of rocks' idea wasn't sustainable. I'm still pretty sad that my dutch oven is dead... but at least it's being used for cute purposes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Your Daily Duck

Welcome to your Daily Duck! Full disclosure: there is a 105% chance I will become lazy and this will turn into your Weekly Waterfowl. Regardless, it's a series and there will be photos and videos of ducks.


In the words of my farmwife: have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat raw zucchini without hands if your mouth was just two spoons? Wonder no more.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Farro with browned butter, Sage and Eggs

I've started a glossary of community vegetable-disaster terms. So far, it includes "squashpacolypse" (derived from an incident that involved cleaning rotten squash off saw blades) and "zucchini crisis", which just meant someone forgot to harvest zucchini before they went on vacation.

Yesterday, I woke up to an email with the subject line "zucchini apocalypse", which irritated me because my dictionary already contains an apocalypse. Also, in light of my spring-garden fail (have I mentioned our spring garden failed?), I'm kind of irritated at the zucchini. They're doing so well! It's barely July and there are SO MANY ZUCCHINI. I've personally eaten like twelve and also brought a couple to a friend as compensation for being too lazy to make salad. My mom taught be not to show up empty handed, but let's be real- if you invite me over, you're likely to get a loose handful of sage, or three plums and a radish, or some sugar cane I couldn't resist at the NPS store.

I'm pretty sure those are all things I have brought to my friend Rachel's house for dinner. She feeds me a lot.

The last time I ate at Rachel's- the time with the compensatory zucchini- she made pasta with browned butter, an egregious amount of sage, Parmesan and fried eggs. It was dead simple but phenomenal, even with gluten-free pasta. With those ingredients, how could it not be? (Side note- I have like six friends in Utah, and two of them have Celiacs. I am quite confused.) The next day I came home from work, picked some sage, and half an hour later was happily eating on the patio while the farmwife took blurry photos and fed farro to the ducks. The ingredients might not be objectively summery, but the effort to reward ratio certainly is. With a leafy green salad and a glass of white wine it would be fit for company- even if your company is too dignified to show up with random vegetables. I will be making this one again. 

Note: I had a whole thing written about switching from pasta to farro, which I chose for nuttiness and because what I really wanted was the effect of the sage browned butter infusing everything (smaller pieces to be dressed → more uniform distribution). Unfortunately it quickly devolved into me ranting about fatphobia, and bad nutritional science and the gross ways in which those things force us to talk about what we eat. I ended up both very angry AND exceedingly bored with my writing, so I'm gonna spare you the rest of the rant. In summary: I wasn't trying to healthy-up the recipe because fuck that. In the words of the indomitable Lindy West, fuck it very much.

Farro with Browned Butter, Sage and Eggs
Adapted from my friend Rachel (serves 2)

1 cup farro
4 Tbsp butter (half a stick)
2 eggs
20-25 sage leaves, picked off the stems
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (I used a microplane)
Salt and Pepper

Put a couple cups of water and a pinch of salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the farro boil until cooked but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain into a colander with small holes. 

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to bubble/foam gently, add the whole sage leaves. Swirling the pan occasionally (or smooshing things around with a rubber spatula), cook until the milk solids are browned and the whole thing has a nutty toasty aroma. Remove from heat immediately. When the farro is ready, toss it with the browned butter sage mixture, breaking up the sage leaves as you go. (Are these too many instructions? Do people know how to brown butter?)

Fry your eggs. People do this differently- I used the same pan I'd browned the butter in (with a little more butter because life is excellent). Most of the time I also like my yolks a bit past runny- getting into the fudgey territory- but feel free to do yours as runny as you'd like.

Lastly, assemble: divide farro into two bowls and divide parmesan between them, leaving a little for the top. Add black pepper and toss; taste for salt. Top each bowl with an egg and the remainder of the cheese. If you're me, add more pepper and then happily eat outdoors.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Birthday Pavlova

On my second birthday, my mother was about two months pregnant with my little sister. As she tells it, even being near food was unbearable, so she asked a friend of hers to make me a birthday cake. Her friend, who is Kiwi, made me a Pavlova...  and I was done with cake forever. There was to be no other cake. I was a stubborn child  (shocking, I know) and I've had a Pavlova every year since- if not on my birthday, within a month or so. My mom even managed to (awesomely) send one to the me via some friends when I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2012. Our family takes tradition seriously.

Last year, I made my first one (also my second and third, because it took me three tries) and now I have a new tradition: calling my mother and apologizing profusely for making her learn to make meringue for a toddler.

So have you eaten a pavlova? I don't know what kind of meringue it is- in fact, I just recently learned that there are different kinds- but it's crispy crunchy on the outside and then soft and almost marshmallowy on the inside. It's like a sugar pillow with a sugar crust... and then you get to eat an inordinate amount of whipped cream and fruit. I know I'm biased, but I have also never seen leftovers. This year, in fact, I had to make two.

(And, for the record, BOTH of them worked. I am an adult and I can make my own damned cake.)

FINE I LIED. I did have to remake one... but only because I forgot it was cooling in the oven and turned it to 450 to make these potato wedges. It was perfect until then- my ADHD screwed it up, not my inability to bake things. And then we stayed up until 2:30am and ended eating the second one I'd made without photographing it, so I made another one the next day. Also I broke a yolk into one of the batches and I had to start again, and there may still be melted sugar on my oven floor. BUT STILL I AM 27 AND I AM A REAL ADULT I SWEAR!!!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go call my mother.

Becca's Birthday Pavlova

Adapted slightly from my mom's friend Alison

Note: my personal struggle with this cake is disproportionate- my celiac roommate has made a few, and my friend Kiks made me one on my 21st birthday on her first try. I think that means she is a wizard? Either that, or I'm just terrible at following instructions. Point is, don't be scared. Even all flattened it tastes good.

4 eggs

4 Tbsp ice water
1 1/3 cup sugar, divided
4 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white vinegar
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Fruit! I use a package of strawberries, a package of raspberries, a package of blueberries and one kiwi, but you could really use any combination you want.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and cover a baking tray with foil. Separate the eggs, reserving the yolks for another use (I made this mayonnaise to go with my potato wedges). Mix the cornstarch with 1/3 cup of the sugar and set aside.

Place egg whites and ice water in a very clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until stiff peaks form. With the mixer on its slowest setting, or while whisking by hand, add 1 cup of sugar very slowly. Still working slowly, add the sugar/cornstarch mixture, and then turn the mixer back to its highest setting and beat for at least 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and vinegar, and continue beating until most of the way there.

Pile meringue into the middle of the baking sheet, making a disk about 9" in diameter and at least 2" high. Place in the oven, then immediately turn the oven down to 200°F. Bake for two hours, then turn off the oven but leave the pavlova inside it- let it cool down with the oven. When it's no longer warm, peel the foil off the bottom carefully (or just say screw it and serve on a baking tray. I won't judge).

Shortly before serving, whip 2 cups of heavy cream.Spread over the pavlova, then cover in fresh fruit. Toddler Becca would explain that there is only one acceptable way of decorating it: a ring of strawberries around the outside, one in the middle, a very specific order of raspberries, blueberries and kiwifruit... but thankfully adult Becca is a tiny bit less stubborn.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Here are some things: episode 2

This week in community, one of my neighbors crawled halfway through our dog door and nobody was surprised. According to my roommate, who was neither fully dressed nor awake at the time, there was brief moment of shock... followed by a shrug of resignation. "Ah! Mary appears to be climbing through my dog door. Of course she is." Less than two months in community and already accepting the absurd as ordinary. I've trained her well.

Also, I almost had to go to the 4th of July parade in Provo (literally called the 'Provo Freedom Festival'- shudder), so major bullet dodged there. Instead I lay in the grass on the common house lawn and watched my ducks try and eat the sprinklers.

Here are some things I learned this week:
  1. Most of my office does not know what falafel is (absurd)
  2. Ducks really, really like falafel (somehow less absurd?)
  3. "Thank you for letting me ride-along on your garbage truck" is a difficult gift category
  4. A gigantic, slightly bendy zucchini is not the right answer
  5. Riding in a garbage truck in 90+ degree weather is not exactly pleasant
Here are some things I want to read (if I write them here, maybe I won't forget?):
  • "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" by Sherman Alexie and "Hunger" by Roxane Gay. Side note: how did two of my favorite authors come out with books without me knowing this was happening? 
  • On that note, I have a sneaking suspicion that David Sedaris has written something I haven't read yet. Is this a thing? 
  • "Strangers in their own Land", which I have been meaning to read since the election
Here are some things that made me rage-laugh:
  • Utah has no rain, terrible air quality and practically no firework restrictions. HOW IS THIS A THING? Also, fireworks bother both puppies and veterans... and I thought those were supposed to be, like, the only things we all agreed we should support.
  • Orrin Hatch calling for civility like 15 minutes before the president's tweets about Mika Brezinski... about which the Senator conveniently failed to comment
  • A security guard at the Federal Building, when reading my permit application for a healthcare sit in, asking me (genuinely) "Have you tried to set up a meeting with Senator Hatch? He's in town this week- he should be meeting with constituents!". Did he really think that having people (including at least one disabled activist) sit on your lawn for nine straight hours in 100 degree heat was our first choice? 
And to make up for those last things, here are some pictures of my ducks hanging out with their newly refurbished house.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

Baby Bok Choy Salad

So you know how I JUST went on a whole rant about how people should take salad seriously? Like, two weeks ago? This is not that kind of salad. This is a salad for people who already like salads. This is a salad for people like me, who will quite happily eat a bowl of arugula with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. It's a salad for the kind of person who already wants to eat a bowl of greens- or at the very least the kind of person with a garden bed of bok choy that's bolting faster than you can stir-fry.

They were so cute back in May! Then they got all flowery and un-photogenic.

Have you heard that it's been hot? Thankfully we didn't get hit here nearly as hard as the actual Southwest (being a mile up helps) but it was in the 95-105 degree range for a week, and the high hasn't really dipped below 80 since. More problematic was how dramatic the transition was: by this posting, our entire spring garden bed figured out that it was summer and gone to seed. This makes me feel like a sad garden failure. I've also found myself weirdly angry with our zucchini, which have of course taken to this insanely hot weather like the garden champs they are. F**king zucchini.

Is cursing at vegetables allowed on a food blog?

Anyways, if you have some bok choy that is going fast, this is an excellent way to handle it. It's so simple I'd feel ridiculous posting if using raw bok choy as salad greens wasn't kind of a novel idea to me. I know, I'm a white girl. To  make it even worse, the recipe is originally Martha Stewart's... which is likely problematic, because my mom has an hors d'oeuvres book of hers from the 80's with a chapter quite literally titled "Drinks in the Oriental Parlor". As a side note, that book is the best/worst thing I've ever seen. Regardless, I have eaten this salad at least three times since my farm-wife first made it for potluck, changing nothing but the kind of nuts and the increasing volume of bok choy flowers, and I figure that's a good enough endorsement of the taste, if not the source. So go! Eat some baby bok choy. Even if you don't live in a high desert, you've only got a little time left.

Bok Choy Salad

Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart

A note on the bok choy flowers: I normally find flowers in salads a little obnoxious. Most of the time, I suspect they were added for visual impact only. Bok choy flowers were a lovely surprise- they're a tiny bit sweet, which balanced the rest of the salad nicely- and of course they are readily available to me. That said, if you're not growing your own bok choy (like, you know, a normal person) this thing works just fine without.

4 tsp rice vinegar

1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1/2 tsp sugar
5-6 cups baby bok choy, larger leaves cut into a couple pieces
1 Tbsp bok choy flowers (optional)
1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts or cashews (I've used both!)

Put rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar in a jar and shake until the sugar is dissolved. Alternately, you could do this in a bowl with a whisk. Toss dressing with bok choy- I found I wanted almost all the dressing, but this is of course personal- then add the nuts and flowers (if using) and toss once more.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Chive and Oregano Butter

GUYS IT IS SO DAMNED HOT. Just a couple weeks ago, I spent a lovely drizzly morning pulling weeds and shoveling mulch without so much as a water break, and yet by 9am this Saturday my shirt was sweat-plastered to my back. The plants have noticed the change of season too: the bok choy is bolting, the radishes are bolting, the leeks are probably not gonna reach maturity. I’m seriously thinking about redoing some of the spring plants in our fall garden box, because a lot of things I was looking forward to are gonna have to be harvested in a hurry, and probably before they're ready.

Watermelon radishes, pulled somehow both too early and too late

My farmwife is in Ireland (jealous), and I’ve been hanging out at her place, feeding the cats and watering the ducks and making sure they all stay species-segregated. I've also been eating my weight in bread. Since my celiac-roomie and I are still unpacking the kitchen, we haven’t yet written procedures for my eating toast in our house. (By the way, I am not exaggerating when I say procedures- I am anticipating my toast eating to be accompanied by written instructions that would put chem lab to shame. Use this knife! Bring the plate carefully to the sink, making sure it doesn’t tip or touch other surfaces! Wash hands twice!). 

Anyways, since I'm hanging in a non-gluten-free kitchen this week, I put a lot of spring things on toast for potluck. Zucchini quickly marinated with olive oil, mint and lime, radishes with compound butter, avocado, and summer squash with olive oil, green garlic and black pepper...  it was so easy, and somehow also better than anything I've cooked recently. I know I already said one incredibly obvious thing this post, but Celiacs is the worst. (Sorry roomie- I love you! Come back and we can put vegetables on  gross cardboard gluten-free toast!).

The only vaguely multi-step thing was the radish toast, for which I made an herb butter I’m writing about below but forgot to photograph. I was tempted just to put up photos and say “eat spring vegetables, on toast with minimal seasonings!” but that just seemed a little absurd. I’m supposed to be writing a food blog here. Or a blog full of duck pictures. Or just a weird site where I ramble? I dunno. I’m still working this out, clearly.

Most of the herb butter recipes on the internet call for a vague amount of “mixed chopped herbs”- whatever you’ve got on hand. This is probably legit, and a great idea for dealing with a bunch of parsley you bought and only used a tablespoon of, but NOT helpful advice when you live in a weird edible wonderland. Right now, my community has got parsley, chives, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint and lovage, which is a super-strong celery tasting thing that I just discovered isn't overgrown parsley. And that’s just the ones I know about! My life guys… it’s just so very difficult. Where do I find the strength?

So I needed to make some choices. I started with oregano, because there’s a crazy amount of it right now and I almost never use it fresh. I was kinda afraid it would be taste too dark, so I added an equal amount of chives and called it a day. I put it on toast with watermelon radishes and a good bit more salt, but I’m going to remember it for when the corn comes in (corn on the cob with fancy butter !!!!), and I’m very sure it’d be great with a variety of meats. At the very least, it will stop you from tossing out your scrap herbs, and if you eat it plain on toast I won't judge you.

Fancy Butter with Chives and Oregano

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
Kosher Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

Mash butter, chives and oregano together in a bowl with a fork, or a whisk if you're feeling fancy. Add a generous pinch of salt and a good bit of cracked pepper, and adjust to taste by spreading on some bread. Seriously wonder why you haven't been doing this forever.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Here are some things: episode 1

Heyo! I have like three things I need to photograph in order to write about, but truth be told I haven't been feeling great lately (my boss, when she saw me this morning: "Girl, you look like shit!"). I've mostly been sleeping and eating gluten-free crackers. Don't judge me... my roomie has Celiacs. In between, I found some interesting things on the internet and I thought I'd share them:
  • Miss Eaves "Thunder Thighs" - I think I'm in love. I've watched it like 18 times this week. I want to send it to everyone I know. Can we have more of this in pop culture please?
  • "In America, important men were desirable. Important women had to be desirable". The article (here) gives what I feel is an overgeneralized summary of nationality and sexism (and, you know, ignores race and class completely), but that one line pinpoints something that's been making me angry lately.
  • Vegetarian Bacon Mayonnaise : I am HIGHLY skeptical, but also intrigued. If anyone tries this, let me know.
  • So... Alex Honnold free-soloed El Cap? Holy crap. I've started climbing again recently, and for the record, I consider free-soloing not only WAY past my personal acceptable level of risk but also a little selfishly irresponsible. And yet. Maybe breaking the boundaries of what's possible for a human being requires irresponsibility. Maybe it's really none of my business. Regardless I firmly agree with this author on the immensity of the achievement.
  • Here is Ice Cube doing a great job explaining to Bill Maher that he is a piece of shit needs to move past just apologizing and examine his own racial biases, conscious or not. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Billl Maher actively disagrees with and then ignores him. Thoughtful expression of reality: 0, white fragility: 1. Personally, I really admire Ice Cube's commitment to getting his point across anyways. 
Lastly, I'm on Instagram! My username is tencansbeans, and you can follow me here. You should be warned, however, that it's gonna be 68% photos of ducks and protest dogs. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Watercress, Sorrel and Yogurt Sauce

Do you know what you get when you scour the internet for recipes that use spring greens? 25 variations on cold soup. Green soup isn't something I'm historically into- it's a little too monastic, and WAY too close to green juice, which I consider an abuse of vegetables. Nonetheless, last Saturday, upon discovering some unexpected free time, I decided to run a taste test: I picked around three pounds of garden greens (sorrel! watercress! spinach! arugula!) and spent the entire afternoon following three different recipes. 

Wanna play "good, idea, bad idea*?"

Clockwise from top left: sorrel, watercress and parsley.

Turns out I still don't like green soup- one tasted like pond scum, and one was definitely supposed to be served as a sauce and too salty to eat alone. The only one I did like was more inoffensive than truly enjoyable.  None was worth the effort of picking 22 ounces of watercress leaves off their. Pro tip? Never do that.

In the name of waste reduction, I took the second soup to potluck with some baked potatoes, and in doing so realized I'd forgotten to write about this completely lovely watercress and sorrel sauce I made a couple weeks back. It comes from Deborah Madison's "Vegetable Literacy" and is everything those stupid soups weren't- a bright showcase for all the greens occupying my backyard, and totally worth the effort. 

Btw, I know Deborah Madison is a goddess and everything, but "Vegetable Literacy" should clearly be a picture book where she snarkily explains what vegetables are to non-Californians. If I had a nickel for every college educated person I know who struggled to differentiate between a cucumber and a zucchini...

(Please don't hate me Deborah! I love you and everything you stand for, and I know you're too good a person to be snarky about vegetable education.)

Ms. Madison suggested serving it with boiled potatoes, but I never boil something I can roast so here we are. I also suspect it would be great with roasted chicken, or a number of white fishes, but you'll have to tell me.

* Just to be clear, this was Saturday a week ago. Yesterday's bad idea involved an unexpectedly gigantic free Craigslist chicken coop it took ten of us to unload from the truck.

Sorrel Sauce with Watercress, Parsley and Chives
From Vegetable Literacy, by Deborah Madison

1 hard boiled egg 
2 teaspoons walnut oil
1/3 cup yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup packed sorrel leaves, stemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1 cup watercress leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp chopped chives

Add yogurt, sour cream, walnut oil and the egg yolk to a food processor and thoroughly blend. You're not going to use the egg white (I think I just ate mine), so don't be confused. Add the sorrel and pulse a couple times, then add parsley and watercress and keep pulsing until there are no big leaves left. I was fine with mine being pretty well blended, so I let the food processor just blend for a while. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

This just in: baby ducks continue to be adorable

Also poopy... so very poopy. I think this is because they're growing at an extraordinary pace. These photos were taken, like, a week after the last ones. A week!!

This was the ducks' first day outside, and they were definitely a little confused.

Left duck is also a little concerned about the camera.

They don't have names yet, because if any turn out to be male we'll have to kill them; male ducks will literally rape chickens to death (seriously, raising animals is brutal) and I don't want to get any more attached than I already am. That  ship may have sailed already though... just look at them foraging!


And lastly, here is one of the ducks sitting on top of my neighbor/activism boss/friend (partner in duck and town-hall related crime? Farm wife? Our relationship is platonic and multi-layered. I'm taking terminology suggestions).

Just to be clear, the duck climbed up there all by herself. Farmwife is holding onto her because baby ducks will throw themselves off stuff and injure themselves. One of them dive-bombed off my shoulder the other day, and when it hit the ground I was pretty convinced it was going to die (it did not).

 Anyways... ducks! Ducks ducks ducks!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint

On Sunday, by some miracle I ended up awake several hours before the rest of my friends and tried to write. I wanted to post about this watercress and sorrel sauce I made last week, but somehow ended up rambling about the smell of the ocean and the commuter train between Providence and Boston. I'm still convinced there's a way to make it work- something about spring, and foliage, and the distinct ungreen-ness of California and Utah - but for now I'm calling uncle. Instead I'm going to write about salad.

Me in Rhode Island, smelling the ocean like a weirdo totally normal person

See that transition? Excellent transition.

As a longtime (mostly) vegetarian, my feelings about salad run deep. The short version is that I think salad get short shrift because people are lazy about it- rather than planning what flavors and textures go together (like, you know, everything else we cook), people just empty their crisper drawers and call it a day. House salad = all the vegetables in the kitchen, thrown in a bowl with absolutely no restraint and drenched with some salad dressing from a bottle.

When I'm asked to bring salad to a dinner party (this happens a lot! really!) I often feel a need to prove this point. I end up with a strange competitive drive to bring the most delicious thing on the table, even though everybody else gets to play with bacon and butter. This is especially true here, where my vegetarianism is somehow exotic again, just like it was to my New England family over a decade ago. "Eat less meat, an environmental principle" hasn't really gone mainstream in Utah yet. Our written laws still include a resolution denying anthropogenic climate change, which today feels like an especially painful marker of how far we have to go.

Where was I? Right. Defending salad in a politically horrifying world.

The result of all this is that I have a bunch of impressive, take-me-seriously-as-cuisine salads that I eat regularly but also break out whenever I'm assigned salad duty. This one is from Smitten Kitchen, and is as such completely perfect. I made it for a game night a couple weeks back, and was surprised by the subdued reaction- like I said, it's a winner- but vindicated when it was subsequently specifically requested for the same friend's birthday party. Salad: 1 , Utah; 0.

Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
From utterly peerless Smitten Kitchen

3/4 lbs carrots, peeled and grated
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 oz feta, crumbled (or more to taste! I always love more feta)
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds or half as much ground*
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon harissa
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Tbsp lemon juice

*note: I can't find ground caraway, so I use a mortar and pestle on whole seeds. 

Heat olive oil, garlic, caraway, cumin, paprika, harissa and sugar in a small pan over medium heat for a couple minutes (you don't want the garlic to brown). Take the pan off the heat and stir in lemon juice and a good pinch of salt. Combine with carrots and herbs, then leave to marinate for around an hour (this makes a difference!). Add the feta and then serve.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Hello from Providence

Good morning! I'm in Rhode Island, where I'm trying to figure out how the universe hasn't invented nap cafes. Seriously, we have places you can go pet a cat in a strange city but nowhere to nap? Cmon humanity.  My stomach is churning with a strange mix of nostalgia, excitement and anxiety- either that, or I've over caffeinated myself in preparation for my reunion.

Since I have nothing new to say about food (that is, until I can talk Seven Stars Bakery into giving me all their recipes), I have decided to post some pictures of animals. Here are some pictures of dogs supporting Bears Ears National Monument! And here is a picture of my brand new ducklings:

(I'm sorry the picture is blurry- it's the only good one, because the heat lamp screws up the lighting)

Yes, I now have ducks... which is not at ALL weird. I can envision my next several days of conversations: "How's your surgical residency? Prestigious and super important for society? That's great! I live in Utah and my biggest accomplishment is owning like 3.5 baby birds, the latest of which I've abandoned to come to this reunion".

Totally normal conversation. Definitely helping my anxiety.

Anyways, they have giant, cold, floppy feet and sometimes out of nowhere they lose their balance and fall over. I'm officially in love. Happy Friday- and if anyone is reading this, PLEASE get around to inventing a nap cafe.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Watercress and avocado salad with apple onion dressing

Hi all! I was supposed to have a couple of relaxing weeks, but then congress set healthcare on fire. Since all of the legitimate activists in Utah were busy with Bears Ears and the rapidly imploding justice system, I ended up spending yet another week making snarky, desperate signs for my congressman to ignore:

In addition, I'm on week four of a new job and have two (awesome!) new roommate/landlords who came with dogs, a cat and a gluten allergy. I'm also up 23 baby leek plants that keep threatening to freeze to death, community permission to get ducks (!), and did I mention that congress set healthcare on fire? I feel like all my friends in medical school... except, you know, they're doing real person important things and I'm freaking out about how to stop bugs from eating my spinach.

On the bright side, spring in Utah brings a flush of volunteer edible annuals and perennials that remind me why I love my pseudo hippie-commune so very very much. Sage, sorrell, lavender, arugula, parsley, horseradish, more mint than I can handle... the wild areas of our community are erupting, and I want to eat it all, and right now. I find myself slightly panicked by the approaching summer. I've already missed the two week window where dandelion greens are edible and will have to wait for next year. What can I preserve? What do you do with three pounds of horseradish? How can I take advantage of it all, consume it all at once? Why, with this bounty literally in my backyard, am I eating so many tortilla chips? How does time keep passing so fast?

Do me a favor and don't psychoanalyze this one, ok?

Just last week I found out there was a giant patch of watercress behind my friend Kellie's house. Turns out one of my hippies, the one who was going to teach me how to eat dandelions, has been cultivating it for a couple years, growing it the unused space next to a spring. I've walked past it hundreds of times without recognizing it as watercress, or even as food. I would make the world's worst forager.

Nonetheless  I picked an entire basket before realizing I didn't have any idea what to do with it. Luckily for me the internet provided, and in the first couple lines of Google's search results I found a solid use for watercress and the best salad dressing I've made in years. It's got grated apple and onion and soy and rice vinegar and the special power to make a two ingredient salad (just watercress and avocado) taste so delicious even the most anxious among us can relax into spring.

Watercress and Avocado Salad with Apple Onion Dressing
Stolen from Epicurious

1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp grated yellow onion
1/4 cup finely grated peeled apple (any Gala-like variety)
3 Tbsp neutral tasting vegetable oil
1 avocado
6 cups watercress, leaves and thinner stems only

A note on grater size: As directed, I used the large holes of a box grater for the onion and the smaller ones for the apple. If you have a four-sided box grater, I trust you to figure it out. You have a fancy box grater. You've got your shit together.

Combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, onion and apple in a jar and shake until you're pretty sure the sugar has dissolved. (Alternatively, you could do this in a bowl with a whisk, but you know I'm all about salad dressing in jars. Built in storage!). Add vegetable oil, then shake or whisk again until mixed.

When you're ready to serve, put the watercress in a salad bowl and toss with the dressing- I'll leave the exact amount to you, but I like mine dressed pretty heavily. Pit and peel the avocado, then cut it into chunks and toss with the dressed watercress. Eat immediately.