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Category Archives: Fresh From the Farm

Pickled

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The other day, I found myself the proud owner of a ridiculous serpentine cucumber, courtesy of our CSA share. Not wanting to see one bit of it go to waste, I decided to take this quick pickle recipe out for a spin. I mean, it includes lemon and garlic, and doesn’t require canning. Worth a try? Totally.

Friends, these bad boys live up to their name. SO GOOD!! The only thing I didn’t like was that the cuke only [yeah, only] yielded one jar, and we killed it in one sitting. Goodbye, most delicious pickles. Still, they only took about ten minutes to make. This is what I need to keep reminding myself so that I don’t get all “Oh, who has time to make pickles with one lousy cucumber?” the next time around. You know who has time? This girl. Ten minutes well spent.

Along those same lines, there were a few blackberries and some rapidly withering blueberries in the fridge. Wasting summer fruit REALLY makes me sad, but — here again — who has the time to be boiling up sauces and stuff? And to only get a cup or two out of the deal?

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Yeah. There went another ten minutes, and the fresh berry syrup definitely kicked breakfast (or was it dinner?) up a notch for the maple-abstainer at the table. And one cup was enough for more than two meals, which makes it seem silly not to do stuff like this more often. [In case you’re wondering, you mix one cup of berries with half a cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the berries start breaking down, about 8 – 10 minutes.]

Getting Ahead?

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Alright —

Let’s just establish right off the bat that this is something of a lament, or maybe I’m just trying to fancy up that it’s a whiny complaint, but not a complaint in the “oh, could it get any worse?!” sense. No. This is more of a “have you ever wondered why you bother?” variety of rant.

And, ultimately, a tale of resilience! But — again — not in a way that would be anything impressive; just a minor personal victory.

You’re glad you stopped by today, right?

OK, so a couple of weeks ago, during VBS, I came home and decided to try to cook up some extra meat for the freezer. You would think that summer would be a time when one has more time and energy to whip up lovely feasts every night, but I’ve not found that to be the case. I have found that taking the fully cooked main component out of the freezer makes dinnertime at least feel like it’s totally do-able, even on the busiest day. (This book is definitely the flavor of the month around here. I love it!) So, back to the meat: I browned up three pounds of chuck roast and set it to simmer away in the crock pot. Then I went to pick up the kids at my sister’s house, and proceeded to hang out for a couple of hours. It shouldn’t have mattered one way or the other, except — what do you know! — the power blinked off for a minute and shut down the crock.

Yes. We came home to a stone-cold crock filled with three pounds of spoiling meat. The hour I spent browning all that meat? Could have cut that down to thirty seconds had I just cut out the middle man and thrown the whole roast in the trash.

So, live and learn. The next time I tried it, which was a week ago, I stayed home while it was slowly cooking. And it’s a good thing I did, because when my husband shut off the breaker to the dishwasher…yeah. It shut off the crock pot. But I saved that batch — score!

Also last week, I planned a whole feast which required the grill. Roasted corn (and I had twelve ears shucked, so that there would be plenty for the freezer), marinated chicken — delicious. Oh, but the grill had run out of gas. But we replaced the gas! But…I still couldn’t get the grill to turn on. So I waited for my hero to return home from the salt mines, aaand of course it was a night where he had gotten hung up and was running late.

Super late.

And then he did get home, and discovered that the grill was actually dead.

No feast. Chicken: to the freezer, raw. Corn: bagged, in the fridge, getting dry.

By Saturday, new grill. Kevin really wanted to make pizza on the grill. It’s never worked out for us, but we were feeling good about the new grill and the crusts have been coming out nice and thin in the oven — maybe we were ready to kick it up a notch!

Or, maybe we thought that cinders would taste better than they do. I don’t know. It was disgusting.

Also, the sun-dried tomato pesto that I made to spread on that hot mess just about killed the food processor. Who knew those leathery little suckers were steel-belted?

Tonight started out with a bag of pita that had gone moldy (despite the fact that today was the sell-by date listed on the package) and a bowl of potatoes that I forgot to roast for the roasted potato and steak salad until it was too late. Not only that, but when I realized that I’d forgotten to roast the potatoes, I also remembered that I’d forgotten to even bag up the potatoes when I went to pick up the veggies from the CSA drop this afternoon. Doh!

And this is where what passes for resilience comes in, because I so wanted to just get some takeout and call it a day at this point. I ditched the potatoes, pitched the pita, and went to the freezer for a loaf of ciabatta. Crostini would be great with the salad! So many good spreads in the fridge!

What’s this? No ciabatta in the freezer. Well, sure.

What I did find was a heel from a loaf of rustic sourdough. And croutons it was, and the salad was fine without the potatoes, and everyone is fed and happy and out of the kitchen.

So, there you have it: a tale of good intentions, poor execution, and questionable organizational management. An everywoman story? I like to think so; please don’t rob me of my delusion.

 

Adventurous? No

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Some people seem to have been born with what I call a “Why not?” spirit. They don’t look at all the angles and go through endless pro/con comparisons — they just give it a try.

I have never been one of these people. I mean, maybe to a small degree, but we’re talking so small that I don’t really remember it very well. The girl who performed a duet of “9 to 5” in front of her third grade class? Yeah, she’s long gone. Actually, she may be re-emerging at forty. Well, not exactly — no duets, thankyouverymuch — but I find myself caring about what people think and what might happen less and less. Or thinking about it and then going ahead anyway, which is just as good in my book. But I digress; there’s still a whole lot of “What will happen?!” swirling around in my head.

And now I present you with a shining example of how this kind of brain function can hold you back in even the most minute areas:

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It never in a million years would have occurred to me to brew tea from fresh herb leaves. Dried? Of course, but that’s a lot of gathering and waiting, and my garden is not all that prolific. A couple of months ago, though, I read an article that mentioned a pot of fresh mint and lemon verbena leaves and was so amazed…and then immediately shocked that it had never occurred to me to just try some and see how it tasted. What’s the risk? Wasting a pot of water and a handful of mint? We have running water! I grow mint! It’s free!

So that’s what has been what passes for excitement at the end of a long day: I go out to the garden, slice off a few sprigs of mint, stuff them in a mason jar, and brew up something delicious. I’ve even thrown caution to the wind and added dried lemon verbena leaves [But what will happen? The recipe called for “fresh”!], and that’s extra zingy. Go nuts — add a bag of ginger tea to the mix! Also, as it turns out, I love the versatility of a mason jar. Who knew it made such a great cup?

Oh, what’s that you say? Everybody? Everybody knew? Well, how surprising.

 

Juicy

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About ten years after the first time juicing was so hot, I finally jumped on the bandwagon. Actually, it’s been long enough that it’s once again THE thing to be doing, so I’m not unfashionably late — I’m on-trend! There’s a new one!

Also, it’s important to note that I’m still too cheap and indecisive to actually buy a juicer, and this conversation wouldn’t be happening at all were it not for the fact that my darling sister gifted me her [very, and I do mean very] gently used one. Score! Another important factoid is that I would never have done it more than once if said juicer weren’t easily dismantled and cleaned. Your talking about a woman who really can’t be bothered to clean the pot from the morning oatmeal in a timely fashion, so…yeah, a whole juicing contraption is a bit of a stretch.

But!

People can change, because I’ve been juicing like a boss and that thing is clean as a whistle. I told you we were doin’ things around here, people!

Okay. Now for the juice:

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Carrot Apple Ginger was the first one. Delicious! Really, just about anything with the apple-lemon-ginger trifecta is going to be a winner in my book.

Oops — well, not really. This one ended up getting the eventual thumbs down from me. Kevin *loved* it; absolutely couldn’t praise it enough. In fact, he keeps asking me to make it again — and I will, because I love him — but it hasn’t happened.

It’s the celery. Oh, I can hardly think about it without getting queasy all over again. I was able to drink it, and even thought it was sort of refreshing, but that celery taste is pronounced. I spent the whole night convincing myself that I wasn’t actually going to be sick, that it was just the thought of the celery flavor that made it seem that way.

I should point out that I hate celery. Hate it. But I thought that maybe it was just crunching into it that I hated, and maybe the subtle hint of it in the juice would be delightful. I can’t stress this enough: IT’S NOT SUBTLE. If you hate celery, by all means, leave it out yo’ juice. If you like it, though, blend away — I hear it’s a winner.

(Also: the whole reason I never liked V8 was because of the celery overtone. Should’ve been a clue.)

Not all green juices are created equal, though. The next one was minus the celery and cucumber, and included kale, parsley, and mint:

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And yes: that big ol’ pile was ground down into a single little jar of juice.

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Well, what can you expect from a pile of leaves? I only wish that I’d been doing this when the glut of winter greens was rolling in — making juice really cleans out the fridge! The bag of carrots that we’ve received every week in the CSA box have been disappearing rapidly, and never have I used up the beets and been looking for more. (The beets are for this one — so sweet and good!)

Even more exciting is having Kevin eagerly asking about what’s on the juice menu. I never thought I’d see the day! Of course, he’s asking for a V8-type fix (see above for my feelings on that), and it’s always a little sad to see him pound his glass in five seconds, but still!

The only question is this: Is it wrong to have Chick Fil A for lunch and a cleansing, fresh juice in the afternoon? I think I may have just hit on one of my main stumbling blocks on the road to optimum health….

Guess I’ll Just Go On Anyway

When one of the kids gets sick — which was Monday afternoon’s special surprise — I find it hard to re-group. At the almost eight year point, I’ve finally stopped completely freaking out every single time, which is saying something. (Just ask my husband.) Sure, I still blow a gasket, but only in my head.

Well, sort of. I should probably say that I don’t immediately blow a gasket anywhere but inside my head. Still a significant improvement; I used to do everything but run hot laps around the living room. The second kid broke me of that to a certain extent. She got sick a lot more often, and I just couldn’t keep up with the number of breakdowns required by her frequent mystery fevers.

Here’s a couple of things I managed to accomplish today:

  • prepped the Children’s Church materials for Sunday
  • made my first but definitely not last pot of congee, which is probably the most awesome sick day food ever. Why didn’t I know about this when I was pregnant?!
  • baked bread and made a nice pot of vegetable soup for dinner012

The soup is from this book, which I highly recommend — both the soup and the book. I will tell you that I chose the moment for snapping a picture of this soup deliberately. Once you blend it, well, it’s not pretty. Not at all. In fact, the first time I made it, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t even like it, let alone the kids. Everyone LOVES this soup! It’s really tasty and feels like you’re doing something healthy for your body. Of course, I like to mess that up a little by sprinkling some feta on top before serving it, but that’s just me.

Oh, and there was laundry. Blessedly little, considering.

Really, this is just a way for me to remind myself that I didn’t do nothing today. It only felt that way, but I’m okay with that.

Because I Can Can Can!

It may not look like much to you, but what you are seeing is a total triumph! Yes, I managed to actually can my own pickles this year. Creole Spiced Okra Pickles, to be specific, and those four jars are two summers in the making. Last summer, during the okra glut of 2011, I tried to can a batch of pickles and failed miserably. The jars appeared to be cracked, then the water started sudsing — either from the dishtowel I’d placed in the bottom or from the jars or from the pan. Who knows? — and it went downhill from there. The water was overflowing the pan; it was total chaos. Refrigerator pickles it is! We managed to polish them all off, so it wasn’t a total loss, but it was two hours gone from my life which I’d never get back. No more canning for this girl.

But —

Could it really be that impossible? My grandma didn’t particularly love cooking, and she preserved her own food (as my mom always points out.) Surely it was worth another shot. This time around, I figured out that it might be a good idea to fill the canning pot with the jars already in it. That way, I’d have at least a better idea of how much water they would displace; goodbye, boil-over! After following the instructions to the letter, I ended up with four precious jars of shelf-stable pickles, and one to snack on. (There was only room in the pot for four jars, and I sure wasn’t going through the whole process for one more lonely little jar.) Best of all, it only took about an hour, and I didn’t have to figure out another use for okra.

One thing we’ve been able to count on finding at the CSA pickup, and that is okra. Plenty of okra.

Sure do wish that there was something jam-worthy — that’s what I’d like to try for my next trick. I tell you, for it being the hottest time of the year, I can’t believe how much time I’ve been spending in the kitchen. It’s been all food all the time around here, but there’s fabric on the table, and I’m about to start cutting.

Any minute now….

 

Til We Meet Again, Tomatoes

The heat is definitely on here in Houston, and so — sadly — the number of tomatoes in our farm share is beginning to dwindle. Turns out that the plants don’t set fruit well after the blazing heat begins. First there was a pound of perfect, ripe beauties. The next week, three pounds! And today…four.

Not pounds — just four lovingly grown but not quite ripe tomatoes. *sigh*

It was good while it lasted, though. We’ve eaten quite a bit of delicious sauce, that’s for sure. I may have even started to burn the rest of the crowd here out on the sauce, but I don’t really care. During the wonderful three-pound week, I roasted enough for three batches of sauce, and had two lonely tomatoes leftover. What to do, what to do?

I say, hit the Easy button and grill up some bruschetta. Every TV chef is doing it — why shouldn’t we? There are plenty of recipes for it, but I just went quick and dirty with it: Slice up some bread (I used ciabatta) and throw it on the grill. Once both sides are nicely toasted, rub one side of each piece with the cut side of a clove of garlic. I never think this is going to really do anything, but it does add quite a bit of flavor. Then for the topping, chop up a tomato or two; chop up a couple of leaves of basil, while you’re at it. Throw it in a small bowl, drizzle with a little olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Voila! Now you’ve got a topping for your crispy little bread, and it’s dinner time.

Not that I got away with serving just tomatoes on bread for dinner, but you know.

Also in today’s box: a squash that looks like a giant, light green zucchini (another patron said it was a cochon), and Asian long beans. Oh, and okra — lots more okra. Time to make some pickles!

The Product Placement is Gratis

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It is totally summertime out on our CSA farm, and I couldn’t be happier. On top of the fact that I’m falling behind in cabbage consumption [aside from yakisoba and as a garnish for fish tacos, it doesn’t get much play around here] and am glad not to see it out on the table for pick-up, it was sooo exciting to see all the cucumbers and even eggplant! Yummy eggplant!

Before we start getting all crazy with the eggplants, though, something needed to be done about the whole zucchini/summer squash situation. Those were starting to pile up, so yesterday I whipped up a couple of zucchini lasagnas — which used up all of the zucchini and most of the squash — along with a nice cucumber-heavy green salad. The second lasagna is in the freezer. The plan is to roast that one up in a couple of weeks to see how well it turns out after being on ice. It’d be great to have a pan or two on-hand for when a family needs a meal, but not if it comes out of the oven as a pile of goo. Even a liberal dash of Frank’s (which makes everything better, don’t ya know) wouldn’t help that situation.

These are the thoughts that plague me, but they’re not going to hold me back, I tell ya!

Know what else is occupying my brain today? The thought of making the season’s first batch of theĀ Best Tomato Sauce Ever for dinner tonight with the tomatoes we received this week. Oh, dinner’s going to be delish!

Back in the Saddle

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Let’s back up the train to Mother’s Day weekend:

I’d noticed a trend in the editorials of the May women’s magazines. What do today’s moms really want for Mother’s Day?, they asked. A day off from kitchen duty. Again and again, this was mentioned.

AMEN and AMEN.

Not that I don’t love food or preparing it and what have you, but man! It just never ends, so, yes — I asked for a day off from meal planning and execution. I didn’t want to think about not one meal, nor did I want to dish it out. Frankly, I could not have cared less about what it was; I just didn’t want to be involved (aside from the eating. Girl still has to eat.) Kevin was surprised, but agreed to grant my fondest wish.

And boy, did he! He and the boy made delicious french toast for breakfast, and then we had Subway for lunch. Didn’t care — beats waiting at a restaurant! Dinner was a free-for-all that I didn’t fix, so that was great, too. It was a really lovely day, probably the best Mother’s Day so far.

It was those lovely memories that I clung to the next day when I was suffering mightily at the hands of a stomach bug. A bad day, last Monday, but by Tuesday I was so much better. Phew! Not fun. Sadly, though, by the time I got back into the fridge (because I really hadn’t actually cooked anything since the Thursday or Friday before), it was a bad scene. Quite a bit of the box ended up in the bin. (Actually, it was the stock from the week before that, but still.) Fail! Fail fail fail!

And the aprons that I cut out for my Craft Hope contribution? Still sitting unstitched on the cutting table. Blast it!

So that pretty much brings us up to present. To sum up, very little has been accomplished in the past two weeks, and I feel more behind than ever. Fortunately, we live to fight another day! Today, I got all pro-active with the vegetable bin and made a big ol’ batch of broth:

It may not look like much, but it yielded three quarts and gave new life to some scraps and aged zucchini. Since it was clean-up day, I decided to address the blackening banana situation on top of the fridge (and two others passing time in the freezer) and gave this recipe a whirl:

So good! I mean, I knew it was going to be, because I’d tasted the original, but still. Mm. Okay, and let me just tell you: I once again rushed through reading the recipe and almost didn’t make it. All that oil! So much sugar! Oh…wait…it makes three loaves? Totally acceptable! And superior, actually, because it used up all of the bananas and made three loaves without me having to do the math of tripling the recipe. Score.

Tomorrow, I plan on sharing the end-of-year gifts that I made for the teachers. Here’s a hint: It’s cute and practical, and it’s not a mug.

Fresh From the Farm

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So far this year, we have been blown away by the beautiful produce our CSA farm has been delivering this spring. It’s amazing what a little rain will do!

This is last week’s selection, which pretty much represents every other week in April:

The password is “greens”.

Chard, collards, lettuce, beet greens, kale and more kale — lots o’ greens. There was a cauliflower or two at first, but that ship has sailed. Now come the onions. What am I going to do with all of those onions?? So far, I’ve only used one; good thing they keep a while! Do you think it would stink up the freezer if I caramelized a bunch and put them on ice?

Hey, do you see the big white thing in the bottom right? It’s a watermelon radish. Biggest radish I’ve ever seen. Tasty, too! And those brownish things are Indian Corn Cucumbers — such a delicious cuke.

This week, I neglected to take a picture before packing it all away, but here’s the rundown: more cucumbers, chard, beets, onions, zucchini, summer squash, carrots, and blackberries. I’m thinking of making pickles out of some of the cucumbers and carrots, because the thought of wasting even one is too terrible. As for the beets, they’re starting to pile up a little, so tonight I made a batch of chips to go with our sandwiches.

[Oh would you look at that. I managed to use the one chipped plate for my little photo shoot, here. Nice!]

This is the recipe I use for the chips. The only change I made was to toss the vegetable slices with olive oil rather than spray the pan, and that’s only because I didn’t feel like using the spray. The beets roasted up in about ten minutes. The whole bunch of beets only makes enough for about four servings, but they don’t really keep so it’s perfect.

I’m telling you, I can hardly wait to see what’s waiting for us next week. They say that melons should be coming soon. MELONS!