Friday, August 29, 2014

Lentil Sprouts & Dinner From the Garden and Pantry

I didn't even think about this post until dinner was already consumed, cleared, and cleaned up.  Unfortunately, no photos to accompany as the dinner is in my tummy, but I did include links to the recipes I loosely used, and those sites have lovely photos.

I had remembered about my love for lentil spouts about a week ago and started some.  They are quite simple and quick to grow.  I add about 1 cup of french lentils (rinsed and sorted) to a 1 qt wide mouth jar and fill the jar with water.  After about 12 hours, the lentils have absorbed a lot of the water and have increased to about 3 cups in the jar.  Drain and rinse, cover loosely with a cap, a towel, or a piece of cheese cloth.  Continue to rinse and drain every 12 hours, and after about 48 hours altogether, you should see little tails emerging from your lentils!  You may eat them at any stage, but I generally give them one final rinse, and cap the jar and refrigerate.  I have been adding them to sandwiches, namely my new favorite of fried egg and provolone with a friend's homemade cherry tomato relish, lettuce and lentil sprouts on a whole wheat tortilla wrap. I have enjoyed two of those this week.  For additional information about sprouting, the site has a lot of useful information, but I buy my lentils from the bulk bins at my grocery store.

Last night, the lentil sprouts went into a delicious Lentil and Tomato salad from BBC Good Food but I didn't follow their instructions to a T, I used sprouted lentils instead of cooked lentils, I didn't have mango chutney so I used Apricot Jam, I didn't have spinach, so I left that out altogether, and I had shallots I had grown, so I used those instead of the onions.  I really enjoyed the cuminy dressing.

The main dish of our dinner was Zucchini Pancakes, similar to this recipe from Ina Garten.  I had noticed a zucchini lurking beneath the powdery mildewed leaves of the zucchini plants, and went to collect that one, and unexpectedly found four!  One was baseball bat size, so that will become shreds for the freezer to breads & muffins, and be added to soups. We are definitely fans for savory vegetable pancakes, potato being our favorite.  I did use whole wheat pastry flour instead of the All Purpose flour that as called for, and I am positive I added way more than two tablespoons of grated onion.  The kiddo enjoyed these so much she had seconds!  Zucchinis are definitely growing on her, thankfully.

Lastly, we like to enjoy applesauce with our savory vegetable pancakes, and as you may recall, I made some cinnamon pear sauce last week, and as always with the canning process, I am left with a remainder that doesn't quite fill a jar to be canned for the pantry, so it ends up in the fridge to be consumed right away. It was a tasty condiment for sure.

Altogether, our dinner of Zucchini Pancakes, Lentil and Tomato Salad, and Pear Sauce, required only one ingredient from the grocery store, Cilantro, because in my completely cattywampus life lately, I forgot to reseed and stagger my cilantro plantings.

Lentils, Apricot Jam, Lemons and Limes, onion, cinnamon pear sauce (via garden), Shallots and garlic (via garden), spices (cumin, salt and pepper), vinegar and oil, whole wheat pastry flour

Zucchini, tomatoes, eggs 

One random other thing today:  I was able to repair, once again, a zippered hooded cardigan that I must have purchased sometime in the mid to late 90's at Forever 21, to go on my first date with a boy whom my friends, at the time, referred to as Mr. Pisser (because he proceeded to use the restroom no less than 8 times during that date.)  He didn't last very long, as he was not very interesting to me.  Apparently the sweater is hanging in there nearly 20 years later (!) and it is still one of my favorites.  A little run appeared on the hood, and I was able to re-knit that section with the help of a crochet hook and secure the last loop to the seam.  This can be a problem with sweaters that are sewn from machine knit fabric instead of assembled from purposefully knit pieces.

Monday, August 25, 2014

One Pan Pasta Putanesca

I keep running across a one pan pasta recipe on and while it was intriguing and, at this moment, could fulfill my desire to cook healthy meals from the garden, pantry and fridge/freezer, it seemed to me like it could be a little bit bland for us.  So I bookmarked it, thought about it some more, and looked about the pantry and garden to see what was available.  Then it struck me to create a Putanesca version. The Kiddo loves olives and "baby pickles" (capers) so this was a winner in her book. In the garden I had tomatoes, basil, oregano, and parsley.  In the pantry I had red pepper flakes, capers, kalamata olives, whole wheat thin spaghetti, chicken stock, onions and garlic (which I grew in the garden).  In the fridge I had anchovy paste and Parmesan cheese.  I started with the Martha Stewart recipe and diverged from there.  I made considerably less pasta than they suggested, because there are only two of us eating here, and one is four and a half.  The amount I made fed us both, with me having seconds and there is enough leftover for me to have lunch or dinner some other day this week.  I left all the other ingredients about the same amount they had suggested for 12 oz of dry pasta, except the liquid which I cut in half, since I was cooking fewer noodles and I wanted more flavor ultimately. We both enjoyed it and I will definitely make it again.  The Kiddo did eat all the olives and the "baby pickles" first, as I suspected.  I started eating dinner and then I remembered to take the photo.  Oops!

One-Pan Pasta Putanesca
Serves 2-3

6 oz dry whole wheat thin spaghetti (or pasta of your choice, but you may need to adjust the liquid to cook your choosen pasta to al dente.)
1 onion sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb tomatoes, chopped (I used cherry and Campari)
1/4 cup kalamata olives
2 Tbsp capers, drained
3 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 big pinch red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp anchovy paste (Amore squeeze tube)
2 1/4 cups chicken stock or water
Grated Parmesan cheese for topping

In a large skillet (mine was 12 inches) I added all the ingredients, except for the Parmesan cheese.  Go easy on the salt as the olives, capers, anchovy paste, and chicken stock all are salty.  Cover and cook on high until boiling, then stir frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed, the onions are translucent and the tomatoes are breaking down.  For me, this was about 6 minutes.  Remove from heat. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

I harvested 16 lbs of Campari tomatoes this morning, some of which contributed to this dish, most of which are destined for the freezer to be used over the winter. Note the tomato by my thumb which is from the staked and pruned plants, whereas the majority of the small ones are from the sprawling vines.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Intentions and Hope

If I had a penny for every time I had an intention, I would have a full bank account.  I intend to weed the garden, I intend to wash the kitchen floor, I intend to sew sundresses, I intend to go to the gym, I intend to shampoo the dog, I intend to write a blog post (ahem, for the past 6 months!).  Sometimes, this is from lack of time, or shall I say usable time, especially if I am up against a limit of picking the kiddo up from preschool, or showering and getting to work on-time.  Sometimes it is because I get sucked into the vortex that is the internet, and I open my laptop to investigate something, and then I am distracted by email, and other people's blog posts and all those recipes that file into my inbox, and then I fall down a rabbit hole, and forget why I am even in front of the computer in the first place.  Sometimes it is because someone else needs my attention, and their needs are deemed greater than mine. Sometimes it is because I have lost sight of hope.  Most of the time, anything not essential, and somethings that should definitely be essential, fall to the wayside for much too long. 

Today (Yesterday actually, as it took me a day to finish and post) I managed to can Pear Butter and Cinnamon Pear Sauce from the bounty of our ancient pear tree.  I must admit that most of the pears have gone to the chickens and, strangely, Booger the dog has a large appetite for windfall pears.  We still have some pear products in the pantry lingering from the past, so I didn't want to can too much, but I will have enough for some gifts for friends, and some to help carry us through until next pear season. 
Soon I will hopefully can some salsa, as the tomatoes are mounting.  The intentions got the better of me with the tomatoes as well.  I only managed to stake and prune five of the 26 tomato plants this year.  Most of the paths in the garden have succumb to tangle of vines.  My unintended experiment definitely proved the experts correct.  The pruned and staked tomatoes grew fruit that were twice the size of the unpruned rambling plants. The photo on the left are the staked and pruned tomatoes and many of the fruit are close to two inches in diameter, which is generally huge for the campari type of tomatoes I grow for eating, freezing and canning.  The rambling vines had more numbers of fruit overall, but they were mostly around the one inch diameter mark, plus being on the ground were subject to predators, namely field mice, and they seem to be ripening more slowly as well.  Fingers crossed there will still be plenty to freeze and use for soup, salsa and sauce.

Life has definitely had many twists and turns so far this year.  I am still trying to find my place in the world.  Friendships have been made and nurtured, with some discarded, and one very sadly lost, for a very good reason, through no fault of mine.  Hopefully that one will return sometime.  Jobs have been applied for, interviewed and I've been passed over.  The kiddo is growing, struggling, fighting and learning to be a kid with two homes and how to spend most all of the day at preschool.  I am figuring out how much food to prepare and shop for, how many leftovers we can reasonably eat, how to eat more meals from the pantry and freezer, how often we need to have a carnivorous meal, or if we can sustain more vegetarian fare.  I remembered how much I enjoy listening to music, as well as playing my mandolin and singing along, and how painful string instruments can be until one grows sufficient callouses on one's fingertips.  I have realized that I do not really need most of the books in my shelves and have donated close to three-quarters of them to my local library.  This mentality has overflowed to my music collection, and my CDs are slowly being digitized, and many will end up somewhere other than in my home and on my shelves.  I have a relatively large stash (for me) of both yarn and fabric, and I have been able to put a lot of that excess to use making flirty skirts for myself and knitting/crocheting warming items for the kiddo for the impending winter, as well as organizing the remainder into doable projects.  I was able to thrift some fabric I had for years, and would never choose to use for anything.  I remembered that I really love the This American Life show/podcast from Chicago Public Media that airs on my local NPR station KUOW and I am able to subscribe to it on iTunes, and listen to it on occasion.

I have learned that when I am happy and feeling secure in my life, I am exceedingly productive: making small repairs around the house that have languished for years;  whipping out a skirt to wear to an event later that same day; producing yummy and healthy meals from the bounty that is my garden, and the slight hoard of my pantry & freezer; gracefully rolling with the punches of the unexpected, whether that be a playdate of three children in addition to my own, and another parent, that appeared at my door one day just in time for dinner (I had planned and still managed to make Tuna Panzanella to share with my neighbor recovering from brain surgery,) or a camping trip that was cancelled when the other family suddenly succumbed to the stomach flu, or hastily repair the hen run after the Booger decided to break in to eat chicken poop snacks, windfall pears (when there were 20+ pounds of pears on the ground under the tree) and bolted lettuce.  When I am sad and feeling that the weight of the world is working against me, I become a blob: The house goes uncleaned and the dishes pile up;  I can find no reason to cook, not even to nourish us (luckily four year olds love "snack" meals cobbled together from random finds in the fridge, and I have decided that I can survive on wheat toast); laundry is only washed when we run out of underwear; I retreat to watching old favorite movies, finding recipes and patterns online, only to emerge for necessary preschool drop-off and pick-up. 

I have realized that I am a person that largely thrives on hope.  When hope is high, I am charged up and ready to go, nothing can faze me, I take the problems in stride and solve away.  When hope is low, or non-existent, I question how so many hugely disappointing things can one person withstand in the span of a short amount of time.  I know in my head that all of this is just the growing pains of living the new life that was thrust upon me, but sometimes my heart gets the better of me and the tears flow.  The sad songs come out. I sing, cry and wallow, for a minute.  I still seem to have hope most days, but it becomes tempered by heartache and disappointment, and I have to remind myself of what a strong, capable person I am, and how it won't always be like this.  The kiddo will fall into a groove, I will find a job, I will work on my Master's Degree, I will find an adult male to love me, and me him, and we will share a life together as partners, the Booger will stop molesting visitors, and eating toys and toilet paper.

In the past six months of blog silence, I have harvested my best ever crop of garlic and a respectable haul of shallots. We had a huge crop of sweet cherries that were obliterated by foreign fruit fly invaders,  raccoons and crows. The apples didn't get their footie socks applied and are riddled with worms. My overzealous lettuce planting mostly went to the chickens as well as a few friends and neighbors. Sugar snap and snow peas performed smashingly, but the pole beans were mostly a disappointment this year.  The NZ spinach is threatening to take over, it has been a good summer for that, and now I will need to figure out how to preserve some of it.  My intentions were lost on the sunflowers, but luckily I recognized a freebie among the tomatoes and now there is an enormous bush covered in many 5" diameter yellow blossoms.  I have started some of my fall and winter crops but I fear I may be too late for any type of success, but I will blunder along anyway and hopefully some kale and chard will thrive.  I also think mice may be residing in the bed I was going to plant with carrots.  I will need to deal with that somehow.

I went out into the garden several times over the past 6 months and photographed, thinking I would post to this blog.  Instead, I will add some of the best to this post.

Three varieties of zucchini

Front yard garden, sweet peas, borage, zucchini
Garlic, red oak leaf lettuce, borage starts

Red Sweet Cherries

Josta Berries
Foraged White Currents

Borage forest

Nookta Rose garlic curing on the back porch
Shallots curing
Honeycrisp Apples
Zebrina mallow

Shamrock apples
Here's to hope and intentions.  I hope to follow through with my intentions.  I intend to continue to thrive on hope.  I hope and intend to make more frequent and meaningful posts in the near future.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Spring Gardening and Strawberry Oatmeal

    We've had a couple of sunny days, and have been able to get out into the garden.  I've planted some perennials that have been kicking around since fall.  I randomly pulled weeds here and there, and cut back a lot of last year's winter killed growth.  I love to see the new leaves bunching up at the base of the shasta daisies, asters, hollyhocks and lupines.  The plum tree is blooming, the raspberries are showing green buds.  The kiddo and I seeded lettuce, tomatoes - campari and cherries, four kinds of kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, purple kolrabi (Or cold-rabi and the kiddo says), ground cherries and collards, and set them up under lights on the heat pads, in the greenhouse.  Soon we'll be able to direct sow some things out in the garden, I've been watching for the sign, the blooming forsythia, so I can seed the peas, beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, spinach, lettuce, corn salad, and bok choi.  There still is some clean up left, I need to finish the new garden plots, trim the pear tree, clean up the strawberry plants, build a fence so the Booger can't get in and eat the bounty like she did last summer. 

     My kiddo cannot get enough of strawberries.  I unearthed another 1 lb bag of frozen strawberries from last year's garden in the deep freeze and set to work the other morning.  The extracts really take it to another level and make it special.  The strawberries turn the oatmeal a lovely pink color.  The Kiddo had seconds.
Took the photo before I added the yogurt. 

Strawberry Oatmeal

3c water
1 lb frozen strawberries (or could use fresh in season)
1 1/2 c old fashioned oats
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
2 T honey or to taste
3 T ground flax seed
Walnuts and plain yogurt for topping

Bring the water and strawberries to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the strawberries are cooked and tender.  Stir in the oats, simmer another 5 minutes, until oats are cooked and starting to become thicker.  Stir in extracts, honey and ground flax seed.  Serve topped with walnuts and yogurt.  Yum! Serves 4 or more.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bacon Cheese Oatmeal with Fried Eggs for Dinner

    You heard me correctly.  This is what the Kiddo and I ate for dinner.  I read about it in my local Kroger owned Grocery Store magazine in the Health Food section.  We have eaten it before and it was an instant hit and now I know we will eat it regularly for dinner, or maybe breakfast.  Who knows.  This was delicious with scallions from the garden and fresh eggs from my ladies (hens).

I remembered to take a photo this time.

Bacon Cheese Oatmeal with Fried Eggs
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 cups water
6 pieces of bacon, cooked and crumbled, divided
1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1 -2 green onions, sliced
eggs - 1-2 per person, fried in butter to desired doneness (the kiddo likes over-hard, I like over-easy)
optional - Avocado, sliced; salsa

Boil water and add oats, reduce to simmer and cook about 5 minutes until done.  Stir in 3/4 of the bacon, 3/4 of the cheese, all the scallions.  Serve and top with eggs, garnish with reserved bacon and cheese, and avocado and salsa if you wish.  Serves 4. 

I forgot to reserve bacon for the garnish, much to the Kiddo's dismay.  I made a side salad too.  By the time I piled the salad on the plate, you couldn't see the oatmeal clearly so I didn't snap a photo of that.  It was spinach and kale with some carrot curls, mushrooms and scallions.  Tasty.  I ended up with salsa on my portion too.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Breakfast with Kiddo

     I love to do unexpected things for special occasions.  This morning for Valentine's Day I made a special breakfast for the Kiddo, something we eat all the time, but with a Special Valentine's day flair.  I'm talking about heart shaped pancakes with strawberries.  The Kiddo was so excited!  "I love pancakes!  I love strawberries!  They are my favorite!"  It was all the better for the Bob's Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix, homemade cultured buttermilk, homemade vanilla extract (thanks Alana! I learned from her book The Homemade Pantry), backyard eggs and frozen strawberries picked last June in the garden.  There was enough for breakfast and leftovers for another day.  I find the orange extract in the pancakes really complements the strawberries.

Heart Shaped Pancakes with Strawberries

1 cup Bob's Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg
1 cup (or so) cultured buttermilk, or milk, or water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp orange extract
Topping - 1 cup frozen strawberries, defrosted, mixed with 2 tbsp evaporated cane sugar, left to macerate for about 10 min.
Grade B maple Syrup

Heat non-stick griddle (see Note).  Mix all pancake ingredients, except topping and maple syrup.  Let sit 5 minutes to hydrate whole grain flour.  Add buttermilk/milk if necessary to achieve pouring consistancy.  Transfer batter to a measuring cup with a pour spout.  Carefully pour two small circles of batter close together so they touch as they spread out, then add the point in the center.  I was able to fit eight 3x3 hearts on my griddle at at time.  Cook until edges are dry and small bubbles are popping in the center, some leaving holes and golden brown on underside. Flip.  Cook until golden brown and done, should spring back in center when lightly touched with finger. Serve with butter, strawberries and accumulated juice and grade B maple syrup.  Serves 3-4, about 16 small pancakes.

Note: The only non-stick/teflon item I have in my kitchen is an electric griddle for making pancakes or masses of french toast or grilled cheese sandwiches.  I find that I have difficulty making pancakes on cast iron, and that I need to add too much butter to keep them from sticking, and it creates a different type of pancake texture than I desire. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Homemade Lotion

    On a personal note, I have been on a weight loss journey for the past year and a half.  I had a combination of baby weight, extra weight, cesarean section surgery and loss of general muscle tone.  In August of 2012, my doctor urged me to take care of myself, to lose weight, exercise and become a healthier person overall.  I started with walking, and providing a healthier diet to our family.  I made great strides in creating whole food recipes that my family enjoyed and I concentrated on smaller portions for myself.  I lost 17 lbs by the end of October and then winter set in and the holiday season and 5 pounds crept back on.  In late February or Early March, at another doctor's appointment I had a renewed interest in losing weight and getting in shape.  I received a gift of a Fitbit One, pedometer and activity tracking device, and at first I saw it as something negative.  Then I realized the good intentions behind the gift, and I began to use it as a tool.  Though I have had a goal in mind of those 10,000 steps per day, 10 floors climbed, 30 very active minutes,  and 5 miles traveled, I used it more as a reminder, than a regimen.
     In April our family joined a local gym and all of us began using the facilities to meet our needs and interests.  I found that I really enjoyed Zumba, weight and resistance training, and cycling classes.  Other things that I enjoyed like swimming or yoga didn't seem to work into my schedule over time.  I made a commitment to going to the gym that grew to four days a week, for varied amounts of time, as well as a date to walk with a good friend one day a week.  As a family, we tried to make outings active and included walking or hiking as part of the experience.
    The weight I was carrying slowly began to melt at about a rate of one pound a week.  Though I was weighing less on the scale and measuring less inches, I was noticing that loose skin was beginning to appear in different areas of my body.  I dove into research to figure out if there was anything I could do to help with minimizing and tightening skin on my nearing 40 year old body.   I found that eating a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants and healthy fats would help, as well as drinking plenty of water.  Continuing with weights and resistance would work over time as well.  Then I looked into recipes  for homemade lotions or creams and I read in several places about the skin restoring and tightening properties of Castor Oil.  I bought some in the laxative section of my local grocery store and tried to apply the thick oil directly, and it was sticky and viscous and it pulled at that loose skin in sensitive areas when I was trying to smooth the oil on.  Not pleasant.  So I looked again to see if I could do something to make it into a lotion.  I found a recipe on Wellness Mama blog and when I looked back on it today, I see a note that the recipe has been changed, but not a notation of the date of the change, so now I am unsure of the recipe I used for my jumping off point.  I remember at the time that I swapped Castor Oil for the suggested Olive or Almond oil.  I have been using this on and off for a while with some small noticeable result, but at the same time I was doing all the other suggested remedies of eating well, drinking water and weight bearing exercises.  I couldn't definitively say that it was the pasty lotion that was helping.
    Sometime in October, I was checking in on some of the blogs that I read, but don't subscribe to, because I like to read when I have time and desire and not be inundated with emails about recent posts, or use an RSS service that I would have to log into and be regular about using.  I just have a few bookmarks, and when I need to think of something else, I peruse the posts back until I see something familiar from the last time I checked in.  Anyway, I was looking in on one of my favorite blogs, Northwest Edible Life,  and back in September,  Erica had a post about Dry Brushing and the benefits, complete with before and after pictures of her legs.  At the time, I thought to myself, "Wow, looks easy, but when would I have time to do that?"  Well, it turns out recently that I have had plenty of time for that, especially when I am up before the rooster crows (actually, we have no roosters in Downtown, at least not in my neighborhood) with my mind racing a mile a minute.  For about the past month I have been dry brushing most every day and applying the homemade Castor Oil lotion that I mentioned above.  Within about two weeks, I saw a remarkable difference.  The large bat wings of loose skin on my upper arms was diminishing, the bunchy skin above my knees had minimized, the seersucker looking apron of stretch-marked belly was smaller, even the deep wrinkles on my decolletage have smoothed and begun to fade, and as a bonus, my scaly elbows have turned buttery soft and supple.  Miraculous!
    Yesterday, I used the last of my Castor Oil lotion, so I set out today to make a new extra large batch with some changes.  The last batch didn't have enough essential oils to mask all of the castor oil and coconut oil smells, so I wanted to increase those and try a new scent combination, lavender, rose and orange.  I had some languishing Calendula Salve from last summer, that is great for burns, abrasions, insect bites and other skin ailments, but the recipe had made way more than we could actually consume, so I wanted to incorporate some of the excess into my new batch.  I hadn't been happy with how hard and rock solid the past batch was, between the coconut oil, the beeswax and the near constant 63 degrees F of the basement restroom that I use, I spent a lot of time cleaving chunks of lotion from the jar, then laying on my skin to soften and melt, and finally spreading it around.  I would rather have something more like a body butter. 

Here is what I tried:

Homemade Body Lotion
8 fl oz castor oil
8 fl oz prepared calendula salve, melted
8 fl oz coconut oil, melted
1 oz beeswax, grated

essential oils - add what scent you like in the amount to achieve the strength you prefer.  I added rose, lavender and orange.  The rose EO turned out to be diluted to 5%, so I added quite a bit, but the scent is still too faint.  I will keep my eye out for a 100% rose essential oil for the future. 

    I melted everything in the microwave, very gently on 50% power, only until melted.  There are some people that would argue for melting these waxes and oils on the stove, in a double boiler.   I cooled everything down to room temperature and then I started whipping it up in the stand mixer, to get a frosting like consistency.  It wasn't cool enough, so I stuck it out on my 48 degree F back porch, until it was nice and cold, then whipped it again.  I filled 3 - 8oz wide mouth jars, and one little spice jar too.