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Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Remember when I said the next post would be about waffles, unless I had something better to write about? I do–and I’m not reneging on waffles, either. In fact, after I finish writing this, I’m going to try out a gluten-free waffle recipe just for you! (Well, and me, too.)  I’m anticipating three or four different waffles on the recipe page, and one may even involve using. . .wheat. We’ll see when I get there.

Are you a Trader Joe’s fan? Well, I finally had a flash of inspiration, and decided to do something about the lack of a TJ’s down here south of Houston. I put a link on NextDoor.com, and suggested everyone in my area write TJ’s and tell their friends to do the same. So far, several people have, including Neighbor K, who became a fan after hearing me bang on about it, and made her first trip.  If you’re one of my local readers, do this now and tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW. If we get enough people writing, we might actually get one closer than the Montrose store. I suggested Friendswood or League City, but anywhere closer than Montrose or Memorial would be wonderful. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have TJ’s at all, and you miss them terribly, you can go to this link as well and ask about getting a TJ’s in your area. Do the same thing–tell your friends. Go to this link and send them a short email about where and why. Save the text on a Word document in case the site goes bonkers, like it did for me. It worked the second time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Target and found this with a clearance sticker on it:

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Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

End of the summer, an ice cream maker. However, it’s one that requires this:

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

Now that we have Blue Bell back, we don’t need this. And of course, in fine print at the bottom, it says, “artificially flavored.” No thanks. I like my Cuisinart model and the recipes I have in cookbooks.

So anyway. . .guess who has more pesto in her freezer? Yes! ME! (You can envy me now.) As of last night, I now have SIX containers of pesto! No, I haven’t poured steroid fertilizers out back. I went on a little day trip on Monday. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve written about the monthly gardening lectures I attend at my local library, third Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm. Nice people, and sometimes, there’s munchies. (No, I passed on the cake last week.)  The lady who coordinates the lectures and attends every month is a nice person named Shirley Jackson. She’s always there, picks up the surveys, gives announcements and sometimes, she’s the friendliest face I see all day.

One of the announcements has been since the beginning the “open garden” day at the Genoa Friendship Garden in nearby Pasadena. That’s not someplace I normally hang out, and despite writing it down, I never seem to remember. Except for one day I dropped a pitcher of iced coffee on the floor, and. . .oh, never mind. Finally, Monday, I paid them a visit.

Sponsored by the Harris County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension, it’s a little spot where all kinds of plants are grown, and they have plant sales–cheap. I spent a whopping $3.50 yesterday, for two tomato plants and a sweet pepper plant that I’ll put into a big pot this weekend.

Take a look:

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This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

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If you like eggplant, they’ve got a garden variety that, it is claimed, actually tastes good.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

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There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

They grow green onions, just like I do, only more of them. I also got answers to questions about the garlic that never seems to grow well in my garden. One nice lady said it was probably critters. I’ll try again soon.

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A few shots from around the garden area:

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There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

I think these are grapes, but I couldn’t find a label for it:

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And they didn’t forget the kitties, either! (I bet there’s a huge feral cat colony living there, somewhere, that comes out to party in the Garden at night.)

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I was quite surprised to see an area of desert plants, separated from the rest of the garden:

That's the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I've seen since the last time I was in the desert.

That’s the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I’ve seen since I left California. In 1988.

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

Yellow flowers develop on top of the little fruit buds, that’s why there is an indentation. Then the flower dries up and falls off (just like zucchini or peppers) and the fruit buds start growing. When they turn dark purple, you can pick them and peel them, because they’re sweet. I’ve seen “Indian Candy” at truck stops in California and Arizona. (But not in a long, long time.)There were other desert plants, as well, like this, I believe is called an Ocotillo:

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Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

NOW–remember what I said about more pesto? Get a look at this:

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I mentioned to one of my “tour guides” that I grow basil for the sole purpose of making pesto and freezing it for the winter. I told him about Pea & Pesto Soup, and told him that if he made that for his wife, she would be very happy with him. He reached down and cut me a couple of huge branches, big as a wedding bouquet. (Don’t read anything into that.) I stopped on the way home at Randall’s because I knew I didn’t have enough pine nuts to make two or three batches. I might start using walnuts one day–I like walnuts too, and they’re less expensive than pine nuts.

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!! (Tomato plants in the foreground.)

Another one of my tour guides (listening to my discussion of said soup) asked me, “how do you have time to do all that cooking?” I smiled and said, “I’m single.” He was delighted to hear about Pea & Pesto Soup, but insisted that I make some and bring it to him to try. I’d guess he was in his mid-70’s, and he was not about to go online to find the recipe. (Most of the people working there were women.)

There are several varieties of basil growing, like this one:

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

As I’ve done so many times, I picked a leaf and tasted it. Suddenly behind me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “That’s not culinary basil.

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

It wasn’t poisonous, but I did indeed spit it out quickly and ask about it. She said, “I’ve never had anyone pop a leaf in their mouth like that.”

I got to ask lots of questions, and I found out a lot of things I didn’t get from the lectures. First, I’m under-watering my plants. DUH! Second, there isn’t enough room for all the water to drain properly, so I have to get a bigger drill bit soon and drill bigger holes in the bottom of the paint buckets. If I have time next month, I might go take a ride, now that I know where it is and how easy it is to get to from here.

I went into the greenhouse to get some plants, and there were some free seeds, limit 5. That was all I needed.

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

Lettuce will be happening again, soon, too, thanks to the seeds and the cooler weather that’s coming.

It’s not a big greenhouse, but there were plenty of plants for sale. I missed the kale, though. Sorry, K.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Now, to give you some perspective on why gardening can be a good thing, consider the Meyer lemons that I’m hoping will get bigger. I’ve got seeds from last year’s lemons, and I may need to prune the tree a bit. But on a recent trip to The Fresh Market, I found some Meyer lemons:

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I hope to grow more and more.

I sent that picture to Neighbor K. She was quite surprised to see how much they were. NOW do you see why I want to grow them? I do hope mine grow full size before they completely ripen.

You can find out more about the Genoa Friendship Garden at this link. The Garden is open to the public on the third Monday of the month from 8:30 to 11:00 am, and they sell plants cheap. If you’re looking for something to do in Houston, there are two gardens; this one is on my side of town.

Time for fall gardening, and I’ll be hoping that radishes finally grow back there. They grow quickly, and best in the cold winter. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell you all about it. . .if it works.

Enjoy!

 

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Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Epic Bars, the HeatCageKitchen garden, and other updates

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers! And welcome to all the new followers of my humble blog. I’m glad you’re here!

Spring is here, isn’t it wonderful? (If you’re not buried in snow like some folks up in the northeast are; if this is you, my condolences.) We’ve had some rain going on, and today, a cool front has come through. The sun is out, the patio doors are open, and I had to put on socks and pull my warm boots out of the closet again. But it’s a beautiful day here in Houston. I enjoyed my stovetop cappuccino this morning, and the Yeast Free Hot Chocolate this afternoon..

Have you seen alt-health hero and natural hormone advocate Suzanne Somers on Dancing with the Stars? Why not? She’s doing great–go vote for her! (SomerSweet is still currently unavailable.) A new “vibrato” version of her longtime favorite Thighmaster debuted on the first night, and her second dance was much better. She’s also going to be headlining in Las Vegas soon; wonder if she’ll still have her famous “dishpan hands.” (One more thing I have in common with her!) You can see Suzanne & Tony’s dance numbers on YouTube as well as ABC’s website. This Monday is “Latin Night,” so let’s see what they come up with.

I have a few things to tell you about, some of which includes the HeatCageKitchen garden. It’s growing!!

Look closely.

Look closely.

Remember last weekend, I said I was going to get some organic celery and lettuce? I did it–the little green centers you see are the lettuce re-growing. I cut those on Saturday; today is Thursday, and they’re already sprouting! I think the celery is too, but I need to look a little closer before I plant it. The lettuce is going to be planted tonight.

I also was able to catch the end of the farmer’s market at Erma’s this weekend, and got some organic tomato plants:

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

They were 4 for $10, in the pouring rain, and thankfully, a couple of the vendors now have Square as a POS app on their phones. No more checks! I had a nice conversation with the Soap Lady, as well as the folks selling these.

One of those tomatoes is going to be. . .Chocolate Cherry. Hey–I don’t mess around. One is also a yellow tomato–those are delicious, too.

I forgot to pick up a basil plant, so I bought some organic seeds. Longtime readers know I am VERY serious about my pesto, and can’t wait to make more. I have one and a half left in the freezer from last year, and I’ll be using them up by the time the basil gets high enough.

I’ve also got garlic growing from sprouted cloves, and the rooted rosemary seems to be fine. I think the sunflower seeds are sprouting, because I see new little green shoots over there and I’m not pulling them up. The citrus trees, I have high hopes for with all those tiny fruits growing, but I’ll let you know in a future post.

Also for a future post: garbanzo beans, tahini and hummus. Tell you all about it soon. Going to try and grow organic garbanzo beans, too–maybe not for crops, but just to see what happens.

A followup to a previous post: this weekend I found some shampoo and condition with. . .Argan Oil. No kidding. Target has it, no kidding.

It just jumped right out at me!

It just jumped right out at me!

I am still using the Pantene that Neighbor K gave me, but I might try this type when I run out. You just don’t notice these things until one day. . . .

Now then. . .I bought some strawberries a few days ago at my local HEB. First words that came to mind: “Maw Maw, look! Strawberries!”

Yum.

Yum.

My Grandmother O’Donnell loved strawberries like I do, and used to take me up to Ponchatoula, Louisiana, to get some every year. (I was a little bitty kitty.) We got flats of them, and my grandparents would also buy some for other people. Pasadena, Texas, which is nearby, also has a strawberry festival, but I’ve never been; maybe I’ll go this year.

What made me think of it was last month, February 17th, was ten years since Maw Maw O’Donnell passed. As bad as it was at the time, I’m glad she didn’t have to live through Katrina. (I had a big oyster po-boy from Abe’s Cajun Kitchen when I got back to Houston from her funeral.) Maw Maw’s house in Arabi, one of the hardest hit areas, was sold a year before, and good thing, too–it was still on the lot, but not on the foundation, from what I was told. That would have seriously upset my grandmother.

Still, I think about Maw Maw at the grocery sometimes. She would have been 100 years old come October 10th, and certainly wouldn’t have let me take her to the grocery had she lived. I REALLY wanted her to come to Houston with my parents, so I could take her to Central Market (it was only open a few years at the time.) Nope. I could only regale her with stories about it.

Maw Maw taught me a lot about grocery shopping and all that, so I always feel like she’s with me the minute I go into any grocery store, be it HEB, Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market, Erma’s Nutrition Center, any salvage grocery store I might find, or Central Market. I wonder sometimes what she would have thought about all the organic, gluten-free stuff, as well as healthier foods that are available now.

My brother just lost a neighbor, who, coincidentally, reminded him of Maw Maw O’Donnell. She was 87 years old, very active, in great health, did what she wanted, still drove, had the world on a string,and one day, she got something, was in the hospital, they gave her some prednisone, got worse, and never came out. It was over quickly, but everyone was left scratching their heads and asking, “why?” I said a prayer for her (he told me when they got home from her funeral) and hope that she will be reborn in good or better circumstances. My brother, like her family, will be having a period of adjustment. . .because she’s just not next door anymore.

However–we’re living in changing times as far as food goes. Isn’t it great? Let’s keep that momentum going, for us, as well as our descendents, and the rest of the world.

Anyway. . . .

I still haven’t been able to put my paws on a jar of Crisco’s new coconut oil. I have a coupon for a free one generously sent to me by the Smucker company, but can’t find hide nor hair of a jar, darnit. So I’m still on the hunt. I’m sure it’ll be here eventually.

The GER came by this morning to do a vehicular repair for me, and came once again bearing gifts. (I am still eating pecans bit by bit.) He handed me the part in a bag and said, “take a look at this and tell me if it’s the right part.” Oh, right, like I’m going to actually know! However, In the bag with the switch were these:

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

Food of the Gods, Vegan Style.

The GER has been undergoing a personal “detox,” where he has stopped drinking beer, Monster drinks and Red Bulls (ugh), and other unhealthy lifestyle choices, and ordered some supplements from Mercola.com (the official website of health advocate Dr. Mercola.) I’ve never ordered anything from Dr. Mercola, but I might try that joint stuff he sells. The chocolate bars were a “free sample,” which retail for about $5 each, no kidding. I had the dark chocolate bar with my morning cappuccino. Um. . .I wouldn’t eat them every day. They’re not bad, but since it’s not cut with sugar, milk and other fillers, there is more chocolate in them. They are not as sweet as a Hershey’s bar would be, and so the really strong chocolate taste comes through. One has rice flour in it, so while it’s gluten free, it’s not GRAIN free. Just a heads-up.

The GER did request that I procure some healthier versions of BBQ sauce for him, preferably without HFCS. Found some last week at Erma’s Nutrition Center; will check The Fresh Market this weekend. You know, there aren’t any in the grocery stores that I found, but thankfully, Erma’s had some. (He says he’s too lazy to make his own.) He opened the Annie’s, and is loving it; that version has cane sugar in it. The Organicville has Agave Syrup, which I’m completely familiar with, but the GER isn’t. But he can decide whether or not he likes that one.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

The only two choices for HFCS-free BBQ sauce I could find. Neither is made in Texas.

Organicville also had a second type, which I would have bought too, but it contained soybeans. I warned the GER to avoid soybeans so that the phyto-estrogen didn’t overwhelm his system and turn him soprano.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but men should not be consuming large amounts of soybeans. It really can over-take a man’s testosterone, and end up with estrogen dominance. But that’s a Dr. Hotze issue.

Now if you really want healthy, keep reading.

Some time ago, I wrote about Epic Bars, the low-carb/paleo/gluten-free meal replacement bars made out of. . .meat. Unlike Slim-Fast and other meal replacements, these are not loaded with sugar, soy, and other key artificial ingredients to make you feel full. Epic Bars actually taste like a real meal, instead of sugar and chemicals. The first time I had one, I tried it along with a big iced coffee from a nearby Starbucks, and wasn’t hungry for quite some time. (It was July, so it was quite hot.) That, of course, immediately made me a huge fan.

BTW, for all you gluten free/gluten intolerant folks, they are now Certified Gluten Free, and the new labels sport it. Can’t argue with that one.

I have since wondered if I could use Epic Bars as a diet thing–you know, one for breakfast, one for lunch, a couple of healthy snacks, and a “sensible dinner.” You know I’m adventurous enough to actually try it one day, right? I promise, if I ever do, I’ll write all about it. I mean, they really ARE healthy, so how could it be bad?

I’ll think about it another day. Right now, I’m enjoying the blast of cool spring air coming through, and hoping it lasts a good long while.

So I was thinking about doing an update on Epic Bars, and visited their website. Woo hoo! New flavors, new blends, and some different types of products than just the bars. And a sample pack! There are also bags of bites, and now something called “Hunter & Gatherer Mixes,” which combines organic beef jerky with 4 different combinations of dried fruits. Like the bars and the bites, they’re also grain-free, soy-free, gluten-free and GMO-free. I haven’t tried those yet, but will one of these days. They’re not really available much in my neck of the woods, but there are a couple of places I might drop into soon and see what they have. Of course, you can always order all the delicious Epic products on their website, too, which is what I did.

I bought the “Sampler Pack,” just to see what would arrive. Well, take a look:

Can't wait to dive in!

Can’t wait to dive in!

They’ve switched to a different type of packaging, so you can see what’s inside:

Now you can see what you're getting.

Now you can see what you’re getting.

That small one on the top is lamb, which, as you probably know, is more expensive. I’ve bought ground lamb many times, so I know what it costs, as well as other cuts. So, of course, that bar is going to be smaller–because they won’t use any kind of filler, like soy, to make it the same size as the rest of them. That, to me, makes them an honest company.

The biggest one of the bunch is the Uncured Bacon & Pork. I know, people becoming adverse to eating pork, but not me. Up to you. Pulled Pineapple Pork, too? Oh, yes, please. . .with dried pineapple pieces, thank you.

There is even a Chicken Sriracha bar! There isn’t any actual Sriracha sauce listed, but several spices, that, I guess, would give it the Sriracha taste. (I’ve never used Sriracha, so I’m guessing on this one, cause I’m not a fan of burning hot food.)  Organic chia seeds are listed as well, which means the seeds swell and help fill you up, too.

Sesame Chicken with BBQ. . .also sounds wonderful.

Beef with apple and uncured bacon? YUM.

They’ve also developed one with. . .liver and sea salt. I do not have one of those.

Longtime readers of this blog know that liver is one of those things I do NOT like, but Epic went with a new Liver and Sea Salt bar. I am quite reluctant to try it, because, well, it’s liver. They’re not sold individually, and a LSS sample pack has six bars, which means if I didn’t like it, I would be stuck with five.

Maybe I’ll find them locally and get one. ONE. Just to try it. Liver. I’ve got sea salt, if it needs more, to kill the taste of the liver.

Another hallmark of Epic is the humane way that the livestock animals are raised and treated. No hormones, antibiotics, or unnatural feed (like soy) for them, to produce a high quality product. Can’t argue with that. I hope that this kind of ranching and farming becomes the norm one day soon.

Remember with Epic Bars, you must drink plenty of water.

I saw on Epic’s Facebook page and on their blog that Epic is one of the many sponsors of an upcoming road race, called the Durty Spur Trail Run. I did pass the idea to Neighbor K, but she didn’t like the idea of running with livestock animals. Nevermind that she did a race a few years ago where she went through a lake where goats. . .congregate. K and Daft Pug came back filthy, and K was wearing a big, fuzzy hat that looked like Fred Flintstone’s lodge hat, complete with horns. But the smile on her face said she had fun.

This road race is way the heck out in the middle of Texas, literally. So if 10K or 30K is your thing, and you’re free on April 18th to go to Hamilton, TX, have at it. (I’m not available that day; I’ll be resting from an activity on April 17th, where I’ll be gone all day and dead tired when I get home that night–and no, not a road race.)

Hamilton might be one of them places I need to look at later for my “country writing retreat.” We’ll see. I’m just looking online right now. Texas is a big state, so there’s bound to be a place for me in the country somewhere.

So for now, that’s all from my little corner of Houston, in the great state of Texas. I’m working on a couple of new things to blog about, but of course, will keep you in the loop on the garden progress. I can’t believe I didn’t think of planting my lettuce ends–I could have been eating it all this time! Well, we move forward.

Til next time–Happy Dining!

 

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The HeatCageKitchen 2015 Garden

The HeatCageKitchen 2015 Garden

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers!

Well, it’s mid-March, and St. Patty’s Day came and went without incident for me. That is, nobody pinched me for not wearing green (I was, and have green flecks in my eyes), and I didn’t punch anyone for pinching me. So it was a good day!

I’ve seen the GER a little more recently, and yesterday, he brought me a big box of cracked pecans from his backyard.

Some women get flowers. I get pecans. You can have the flowers.

Some women get flowers. I get pecans. You can have the flowers.

Non-GMO and all that. They are cracked, but not completely shelled. This means that if I ever stop EATING said pecans, I will sort them out into pieces, cracked ones, and the minority that did not crack. I’ll finish the shelling, then bag them up to freeze, then turn them into some delicious gluten-free treats. The GER brings the lot to someone who charges him sixty cents a pound to run them through a machine to crack them. Friend of the blog RR says I need to make him a pecan pie. I told him to bring over his Puerto Rican Mama so she can teach me to cook some tasty Spanish food.

Actually, I’ve told RR for many years that if I ever date a man of Hispanic origin or descent, I’m heading over to his house in Katy for cooking lessons from his Mom. He sort of agreed, but I bet he hasn’t told his Mom about it.

So it’s that time of year, and for us urban gardeners, time to figure out what the heck we’re going to grow this year. I’ve been attending free classes monthly at my local library, and I’ve already learned a lot. Crop rotation is important–don’t keep putting garlic into the same spot or pot year after year, plant your tomatoes there and garlic elsewhere. I have made compost for the first time (with a little help from that class in January plus Urban Farm magazine.)  Just emptied my kitchen compost crock into the container again this weekend, and it looks. . .well, you know, it’s decomposing plant matter. It’s compost.

The Meyer lemon plant that gave me four beautiful lemons that I turned into a cake last year is already cranked up for more action this season:

The fantastic Meyer lemon plant.

The fantastic Meyer lemon plant.

 

There are even some tiny lemons growing now, but there will be some drop-off before I get to harvest any full-grown lemons.

See the tiny lemons?

See the tiny lemons?

I’ve seen a few hungry bees looking for nectar, which makes me happy, but citrus trees are self-pollinating. The lime tree I bought last year is starting to bloom, too:

The key lime tree. I'll be very happy if it gives me some.

The key lime tree. I’ll be very happy if it gives me some.

Let’s see if I can lower my lime cost this year. I buy at least a dozen at a time, but had to curtail last year when the price went way up. However, if I can get some limes growing, I’ll soon be having Mojitos:

Mint roars back

Mint roars back!

I recently trimmed back the mint plant and added more soil. We’ve had a good amount of rain here in Houston recently, and when the water comes back, so does the mint. Watering the mint when it’s dry helps, too. That plant is about five years old, I think.

WARNING: put mint into a container, or it will overtake the garden. RR found that out last year when he had a huge swath growing against the fence. (He posted it on Facebook.) The GER says he’s got mint thriving with some ornamentals. I hope he didn’t spend much on onrnamentals. . .or he learns to love Mojitos. (I can teach you how to make those, just ask, OK?)

I’ve also started seeds for jalepeno peppers, yellow teardrop grape tomatoes, bell peppers, sprouting garlic cloves, parsley and sunflowers. If we get sunflowers, they’ll grow against the wall that separates our patios so Neighbor K can have some if she wants. Last time I grew some on the front patio, someone came by and broke the beautiful bloom off the six-foot stem. So now they will be planted in the back patio.

I could not resist a little Jeff Dunham humor. I put in a little tag that says “Jalepeno on-a-STEEK.”

I’ve also planted some Mesclun mix lettuce in a pot, so we’ll see what happens there. I should have planted some kale for Neighbor K last fall, but didn’t think about it . Neighbor K loves kale; I like it, don’t love it, but will try next fall to grow some for us.

The GER suggested lifting the trees in pots up off the ground a little so they can get more sun, so that’s what I’ll be doing this week. All of them, if I can get enough bricks, and they’ll all be happy with lots of sunshine.

I will need to buy some basil plants, because you KNOW I want plenty of pesto this year. At least three, maybe four or five plants. I’m not messing around–I am serious about my pesto!

Here’s a childhood memory: my parents LOVE avocados. Before I was born, they lived in a house that had had an avocado tree in the backyard. They feasted on avocados when it produced, and fondly remembered that for years (until the fat-free thing came along and doctors told them  to leave them alone.) Every time my Mom would buy an avocado, she would keep the seed and try to get it to root. They were in nearly every window–four toothpicks stuck like 12, 3, 6 and 9 on a clock, water in the bottom, and she waited for it to root, then planted it with the greatest of hopes. Did this for my entire childhood, until I left home. Never had an avocado tree. So keep that in mind while I tell you more.

I’ve shown you these green onions before, but let me tell you a bit more about them.

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When I had a “boyfriend,” I got him to take me to Frohberg Farms in Alvin, TX. Aunt Ruth told me about the farm, and even though it was a drive from where I live, it’s still buying local. I need to hike it out there again one day; they have strawberry picking going on now, and I would love to pick me some. (And eat them!)  I bought a number of things, including some green onions. I’d read on the Urban Farm forum that by cutting off the white, rooted bottom of the green onion and planting it, you could regrow them and just cut what you need.

That was in 2010. . .I no longer have a “boyfriend,” but the onions are still growing, through everything, including rain, drought, no sunlight and pests. I bought some from the grocery a few months ago to make a recipe, just to make sure I had the right amount. And I planted those rooted bottoms, so now I have more. I bought the big fat ones, but they grew back very skinny. Who cares, right? Unless you’ve got to have the amount just right, you can go outside and cut some green onions, just what you need. They grow back forever.

Now, that brings me to a bigger subject that I missed writing about last year. Back in November, Urban Farm ran an article that I somehow skimmed past on re-growing food scraps. What do I mean by that? Well, the green onion bit is just one example–and just about anyone can do it. Rachel Hurd Anger’s article starts out with a lady who started re-growing lettuce after reading about it online. Now she wonders exactly what she can re-grow after shopping. Another lady grows lettuce and celery.

I gave the GER a subscription to that magazine for Christmas. . .I bet he saw it.

Have I ever mentioned that I just love salad? I mean, I REALLY love salad. So guess what I’m going to do soon? Couple it with the Salad in the Jar project I used to do, and I will be a rabbit-food-nibbling cat in no time. I’m going to get some organic romaine lettuce and celery in the next few days and sprout the ends in water. Once they start to develop roots, I’ll pop it into the soil, and wait for the magic to grow it back. I plan on doing this with a bunch of heads of organic romaine as well as a couple of bunches of organic celery.

If all goes well, I’ll be growing lettuce AND tomatoes and happily consuming them. If I’m lucky, I might have too many. . .then my friends will be blessed, too. Cross your fingers.

Now, the article goes onto to talk about other things you can grow from roots and ends, like carrots. Legumes, with the exception of split peas, will also sprout for you, and you can have a houseplant from dried chickpeas.

Another example is cutting the top off the pineapple and letting it grow in a pot. Remember this one?

The monster pineapple plant.

The monster pineapple plant.

The GER took it home where it. . .died. Dunno what happened, but he said he even took it to a Honduran lady who specializes in saving plants. She couldn’t save it. GRRRR. . .I was looking forward to some fresh pineapple from the GER’s back garden, too. Oh, well; we’ll try again. But that plant came from the top of a grocery store pineapple from Hawaii I bought one day on sale for $1. You like pineapples? Grow you some!

The article goes on to talk about other plants and seeds that you can re-grow, and mentions one source that never had any luck with the avocado. Well, I know all about that one, don’t I? (I have no idea if my mother is still trying to grow that tree in her 70s.)

While you wait for your garden harvest, there is a book mentioned in this article called Don’t Throw It: Grow It! 68 Windowsill Plants From Kitchen Scraps (Storey Pulishing, 2008.) Author Deborah Peterson talks about what you can grow from leftover pieces and seeds. If you have children, this might be a great way to show them where food comes from, and how to reduce waste, too. I don’t have it yet but plan to order it, since it’s not expensive.

When I looked up that book,I also found Vertical Vegetables And Fruits by Rhonda Massingham Hart. Also inexpensive, I think this will help me grow more in the suburban 8′ x 5′ plot I have now, as well as later, when I get to a much-desired larger space. (And, I think I can make the GER just a teensy bit jealous.)

Thinking about all this, I suddenly had a hankering for Pea Pesto Soup, so I’ve made some, even though it’s not cold anymore. I haven’t had it in a while, and because I had to go yeast free for a while to get rid of the heartburn, it’s OK.(There is cheese in the pesto, and peas are higher in carbs, so it will feed the yeast.) I’ve got one full and one nearly full container of pesto left in the freezer, so I need to get some basil plants this weekend, or I’m going to run out and be very grouchy.

I’ll close with this picture of a stove that would make Suzy Homemaker, um, green with envy, but also make her wish she was a grownup. I found it on Facebook the other day and promptly shared it on my wall:

Amy's fantasy kitchen stove. I don't even care what color it is, or how much it costs.

Amy’s fantasy kitchen stove. I don’t even care what color it is, or how much it costs. I want one.

We all have a dream, right? Now, I don’t have a house yet, and when I do, it’s not going to be a straight drive on I-10 like you think it will be. And if I can pull it off, Google Maps won’t find it, either. I’ve since posted a screen porch picture that had people inviting themselves over. One friend in California said she’d be “happy to share my new house.” Another friend in New Orleans said that between the food, desserts, the clothes, “especially when she puts in that new stove she posted a while back.” Those two ladies are Buddhists, so we’ll be chanting and enjoying the country. If Neighbor K comes over with Daft Pug, she can take him out while we do our prayers. And then we’ll be some happy, hell-raising women. In the country, where we can’t get into much trouble.

Between the stove and the porch and a few other pictures I’ve shared. . .maybe I should start downloading and maybe printing those pictures out for future reference.

So, if you’re still in winter, like my friend Frannie in Arizona, give your garden some hard thinking so you can be ready when the time comes. Start now growing your lettuce, celery and sprout your seeds indoors so you’re ready to go when the frost is over.

If you’re down here in the South, it’s time to start your garden. Get moving, and grow what you like to eat, and whatever grows best where you live.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Fresh from the Garden, Fruit, salad

 

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Muffins and Meatloaf

Muffins and Meatloaf

Hello, Dear Readers:

Now that we’re all over the holidays again, time to get back to some “regular” cooking. For some of you, that will mean “light” cooking, some will just be cutting out the wheat, dairy, red meat, or whatever. In my case, as I mentioned last time, I’m back doing yeast free because I’ve got a bug in my gut. Again. Got more Yeast Control, and started taking it last Friday with some nausea, so I guess it’s killing off the little buggers

I’ve written about the yeast-free diet before and Candida albicans. If you are experiencing gastric things like heartburn, gas, bloating, and other embarassing symptoms, consider reading more and get rid of the yeast overgrowth. It’s an infection, like any other kind, it’s just not visible. NOTE: I’m not a doctor, nurse, medical person or scientist–just a patient who reads and pays attention. The Green Willow Tree still sells Yeast Control, and even though the price went up $4, it’s still relatively inexpensive. Especially when you consider how much not treating will cost you.

Oh, BTW–the garden will be revamped real soon. However, I bought some green onions recently to make sure I had enough for a recipe I was making, and planted the white rooted stems. Guess what? Five out of the six are growing:

The little stubs. They're growing!

The little stubs. They’re growing!

Plant the bottoms,and they grow. The rest of them have been growing for five years. I chop them and use them whenever I want to, and I don’t buy them unless, like that instance, I wanted to have the right amount.

So. . .

Are you still on your obligatory New Year’s diet? Or have you fallen off the wagon already? Most people do by the second week. It’s fine, til you get HUNGRY. Or someone brings delicious food into the office.

If you’re trying to cut down on meat, or calories, or whatever’s new and popular in dieting, you may be considering going vegetarian/vegan. Many meat substitutes are made with soy and other ingredients humans should not be ingesting. However, over the weekend, I found this little item, called Neat, in HEB and thought I should pass it along:

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

I haven’t tried it yet, just looked. This is what’s in it:

IMG_1709

I’ll do some more investigative reporting and get back to you. Warning: if you are allergic to nuts, keep going–there are indeed tree nuts in this mix. YUM. . .

So I’m back on doing whatever I need to during the week, and housekeeping stuff mostly on the weekends. I belong to a number of groups on Facebook, many for writing and some for cooking. Neighbor K told me about Low Carb Among Friends, the group headed by George Stella. If you don’t remember that name, he had a low-carb cooking show on The Food Network; some of his recipes are still on FoodNetwork.com, if you search. Low carb faded away, except for die-hards like myself. I bought his first book, and I knew he had one more book available, but I never looked for any more. They’re all available, either as Kindle books or paperback. One day I’ll go look them up and maybe get the paperbacks.

Why not just get the Kindle version? Because. . .I found a great recipe on Facebook and couldn’t find it again, darnit! But after quite a lot of searching and re-posting it to my wall, I’ve got it for you at this link. (Scroll down past the article to find it.) Gluten free, using almond flour, and sugar free using Somersweet:

Two main ingredients

IMG_1678

And a few berries, meaning I can’t make them right now because that makes it not yeast-free, darnit–but they’re good. You start out with some berries, which, in my case were blackberries on sale:

Big, juicy blackberries!

Big, juicy blackberries!

Just cut them to the same size as blueberries and raspberries:

IMG_1679

The recipe is supposed to make 12, but I ended up with a few more. After you grease the muffin tin, start beating the eggs:

Eggs. . .

My favorite little hand mixer

And then add in some other stuff to make a batter:

Was that the blueberry batch?

That may have been the blueberry batch

Bake them, and let them cool:

IMG_1680

Don’t do this, BTW–you want to use the same size muffin tins for extras. Otherwise, if you forget like I did, they cook too fast and burn a little. . . .

And you have some delicious, fruity, gluten-free muffins for breakfast or anytime you want something sweet.

Yum. . .

Yum. . .

Simple as using a mix, and a lot healthier. (The actual recipe is below.) Except that I can’t have butter for a while, darnit. I’ll live.

Now for something completely different.

Quick question for you: Do you like meatloaf?

Lots of people are divided on the subject, much like cats (people either love them or hate them, but very little in between.)  My mother made it occasionally, but I can’t say it was particularly memorable. Then again, with 4 kids, meals don’t tend to be memorable, they tend to be as fast as you can. Meatloaf didn’t happen often, and honestly, it wasn’t one of my favorite meals until recently.

You know how I like to find meat on sale? Well, frequently ground beef is marked down for quick sale. One day I realized I had a lot of it and figured I needed to do something WITH it. . .hence meatloaf.

Additionally, I’ve developed a liking for meatloaf sandwiches, complete with mayo and other stuff, but I didn’t bake any bread this week. Didn’t feel like it this week.

Here’s the problem: in a loaf pan, they take FOREVER. One day I figured out how to bake it in about 30 minutes. But I digress. . .I’m getting ahead of the story.

See, meatloaf just needs some flavorings and a binder. You just dump them into a bowl, mix them up and bake them. Easy, right? Most standard meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs. Not in my kitchen! If I do have bread crumbs, it’s from gluten-free bread, and I’ve usually eaten them anyway.

So what do you do, Miss Food Blogger?

Longtime low-carb devotees will tell you some Parmesan cheese will work well. And it does. . .long as you’ve not given up dairy. A couple of things I’ve tried have been ground chia seeds (not much!) and this past week, about 1/8 cup of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I still used beaten eggs as a binder, but somehow without the flour component, it can fall apart. The coconut flour worked great, and no crumbly meat loaf. I’m thinking that’s a keeper.

Since I’m also a devotee of the Tex-Mex, I started tossing in a can or two of chiles. Yes, THOSE canned chiles. I get the mild ones so that they don’t burn me, but if you like it hotter, by all means, get the spicier ones, or even the canned chiles in adobo sauce. (That’s hot!)

Another “essential” in most meatloaf recipes is the presence of something I used to like but now avoid: ketchup. Unless you make it yourself, and I have, ketchup can be as much as 25% sugar–usually in the form of the evil high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A few years ago, I found a store-bought ketchup brand with “100% pure sugar.” But. . .it’s still sugar, so I don’t mess with it. (That was for the weekend boyfriend who didn’t give a fig about any healthy stuff.)

So what did you do, Miss Food Blogger?

The simple and inexpensive solution was to simply use tomato paste. A whole can. No kidding, per pound of meat, one 6-ounce can of any kind of tomato paste, so long as it’s not flavored with stuff. I can’t find the picture, but I actually did buy tomato paste once with some kind of “Italian seasoning” in it, only to discover later that it had sugar in it, and quite a lot of it. Back to Kroger I went for a can of the correct type.

As I’ve said before–if I’m eating cake, chocolate, or something else confectionary, I know I’m probably eating sugar. But if I don’t know it’s in my tomato paste, or something else where you wouldn’t expect it, I get testy about that.

If you’re diabetic, or otherwise sensitive, you get it.

So here’s the set up:

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Two tablespoons of chili powder and one tablespoon of cumin and coriander, and mix it all together with some garden onions and 1/8 cup of coconut flour:

The dry ingredients first

The dry ingredients first

And two pounds of meat, two beaten eggs, some garlic, and maybe some salt:

Getting there. . . .

Getting there. . . .

Stash it in the pan, bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, but keep an eye on it.

Now here’s the difference:

The flat meat loaf!

The flat meat loaf!

Yes, it’s FLAT. That’s the pan that goes into the toaster oven (it actually came with it) and after I line it with parchment paper, I pat down that mixture and bake it.

I know, this one split. . .I can’t find the picture of this week’s meatloaf, darnit. This week’s got a little over-done, but didn’t split. I think this is the one I used ground chia seeds in.

The pan is actually 12″ square, and is the broiler drip pan for the toaster oven. It can be used individually as a baking sheet, and can be purchased separately. Because I’ve used it so often as a baking sheet, I wore off the finish and now use parchment or foil for that. (It’s not stainless steel, I think it’s aluminum or something.)

If you don’t have a countertop oven, you can use a regular baking sheet and spread it out to whatever size you want it.

The key here is FLAT. And it takes less time than the loaf pan–a lot less.

However you make your meatloaf, there’s a chance flat might work for you.

So, that’s what’s up here, whilst my writer friends up north are digging through snow and ice and camping in until the state of emergency is lifted. One of those writer friends is in North Salem, MA–she just posted a picture showing snow that’s nearly 6 feet. Poor thing is from San Diego. . .and I am jealous. We don’t get snow in Houston very often, and it sure don’t look like a Hallmark card!

Here’s one of her pictures, if you’re in the South and don’t know what it looks like:

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

If you’re in the middle of all that, please take care, stay warm, and don’t go out unless you have to.

I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, and have been on my patio for a few days now. But that’s not every day, because Friday it’ll be cold again, and I’ll be back in front of the fireplace this weekend.

Stay warm, if you’re up north, and please be careful. If you’re in a baking mood, and you’re snowed in, now’s the time to bake, folks.

And if you’re of a mind, here’s my favorite yeast-free hot chocolate recipe, good anytime, even if you’re not yeast free.

Enjoy, wherever you are!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

George Stella’s Berry Muffins

Prep Time 15 min / Cook Time 25 min / Serves 12

SHOPPING LIST
Nonstick cooking spray
4 large eggs
2 cups almond flour
¾ cup sugar substitute
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup blueberries
1⁄3 cup raspberries

  1. Place oven rack in the center position and preheat to 375°. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add the almond flour, sugar substitute, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt, and mix well, creating a batter.
  3. Gently fold the berries into the batter and fill each of the greased muffin cups 2⁄3 of the way full.
  4. Bake 20–25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins turn a light golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center of one comes out mostly clean. Let cool 10 minutes be-fore serving.

NOTE: The recipe states that strawberries should not be used because of their high water content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Happy Monday! I know, Mondays are awful, right? No, not necessarily, but we’ve been conditioned to believe that they are. It’s just that for a great number of Americans, the work week starts on Monday, and the fun ends until Friday. However, I’ve had enough fantastic Mondays and bloody awful Fridays to be able to tell you that you shouldn’t hang a label on either one.

No, not yet.

I’ve completed watching all 7 seasons of the USA Network super-spy TV show Burn Notice thanks to the free DVDs I get from the library. No, it’s not instant gratification, since you have to order them and wait for them to arrive, but if you’re patient, you can watch a whole lot of stuff for free. Been doing that for 20 years now. I’ve moved on to a BBC program that our Houston PBS station was running but stopped, called New Tricks. It’s about a group of retired police officers under the supervision of a somewhat disgraced Detective Superintendent who is assigned the UCOS, or Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad. I’m on Season One, which I’ve never seen, and I’m waiting on Season 9, which is where the TV station stopped broadcasting it. Season 10 will be out on DVD soon, and I’ll be putting my request in for the library to get it to me when it’s my turn. Smart, well written and impeccably acted by a skilled British cast, there is nothing on American television like it.

One day, when things get a little better, I’m going to have SO many DVDs!! My next DVD player will be region free so I can buy the shows from overseas and watch them. Yes, I already have a few in mind.

So I’ve got a little good news about the HeatCageKitchen garden. First, what’s growing is growing well. Last week’s drought-busting rain helped, even though I do water regularly. However, I’m still fighting off the slugs. Somehow, the darn things are still getting at my basil and pepper plant leaves, although I can’t figure out how. I have discovered that some are finding ways around the eggshells, particularly on the basil. GRRRRRR.

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it's off to Trader Joe's for big clam shells full of fresh basil!

The beleaguered basil

Still hoping for a bumper crop for pesto later this year. If not. . .it’s off to Trader Joe’s for big clam shells full of fresh basil! One way or the other, I’ll have lots of pesto in my freezer this winter.

I haven’t done anything with the garlic scapes,which, as you can see, are happy. I’ve gone through some parsley, though.

But the big news is the little strawberry plant that I transplanted into a hanging planter. I think it’s about 3 years old, and last year it got parked in a paint bucket for a while. It’s now producing berries! Right now there are 13 of them in various stages of development, and one is turning red as of this morning:

See it?

See it?

I don’t know if it will fully develop, or what, but it’s trying to. There is one berry that’s developed into the proper shape, but will likely get bigger,and not changing color just yet.

The perfectly shaped berry. I can't wait to eat it!!

The perfectly shaped berry. I can’t wait to eat it.

Oh, boy, I love strawberries, and if this little plants starts putting them out. . .I’ll be one happy foodie.

Week before last, I told you about a replacement book I bought, The 20-Minute Natural Foods Cookbook by Sharon Claessens. I’ve looked through it a few more times and remembered some good food I’d made a long time ago. I think I finally ditched the beat-up copy I had maybe seven, eight years ago, but I remember using it last about the late 1990s, maybe. I remember the ex-husband coming home to my favorite Spaghetti with Garlic Salmon Sauce (page 48), and complaining about the kitchen smelling like “stinky cat food.” No, he wouldn’t eat it, but that’s what he gets for coming home early.

This weekend, feeling a bit nostalgic (and thawing out more chicken than I needed) I decided to make the dish on the back cover of this book, Pineapple Chicken Mozambique. The dish calls for a quarter of a small, ripe pineapple, but all Food Town had was big ones–so I’ve got a lot of chopped up pineapple in the fridge. I’m thinking about putting it on a small baking sheet and freezing it, because I just didn’t intend to have that much left.

Admittedly, I do like pineapple, but not a whole one at once. Yes, I would, in a prior life, occasionally have pizza with pineapple on it, along with ham, sausage, pineapple or some other kind of meat, olives, bell peppers, and whatever else I could remember. I have to say pineapple on pizza might seem weird. . .but it was REALLY good.

I was also out of onions, so I got some, and wouldn’t you know it? No turmeric! I ALWAYS have that orange-looking powder around, but not this time, so I had to get some. And raisins–a six-pack of those little lunch-box sized boxes. I only needed 2 tablespoons, and that’s what one of those boxes provides. I nibbled on a couple, then the rest went into my briefcase and my weekend/non-work bag. Along with a couple of small packets of peanuts, I might be able to survive a long drive home from town without stopping for a bite somewhere.

Now, while this book is all about 20-minute cooking, what they didn’t do in 1982 was mention the prep time. I had to gather up some parsley and chop that, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then deal with the huge pineapple. I think the whole thing took about 30 minutes, maybe 35, including prep time, which is still not bad for a quick meal for two people. (or one, if you’re that hungry.).

BTW, you can now buy pineapple already peeled, cubed and and dealt with in most produce sections, as much or as little as you want. THAT’s a time saver we didn’t have back then, too, and why didn’t I think of it yesterday? Next time, I’ll get the pre-cut pineapple instead.

One alteration I made was to use olive oil, not corn oil, since most corn oil (to my knowledge) is hydrogenated. Grapeseed oil, as faithful reader Kanani mentioned last month, might be a good substitute, since it’s a flavorless oil, and would let the good taste of the food come through; however, grapeseed oil can be expensive. While I didn’t have a problem with the olive oil, I may try the grapeseed one day and see if it makes a difference.

Oh, and because they are nearly the same thing, instead of tamari, I used regular soy sauce, the kind you find in packets in nearly every Chinese restaurant in America. (If you are gluten-intolerant, you’ll need to find that kind.)  Soy sauce is fermented, so I don’t have a problem with it, and it provides pretty much all the salt you’ll need anyway.

Also, this dish is intended to “serve with brown rice or whole wheat noodles,” but I bet a little quinoa would work too, or some gluten-free pasta, if you have some. Then again, you could just eat it by itself like I did and have more veg on the side, a salad, or some home-made gluten free bread. Otherwise, without the noodles, it’s what I like to call “gluten free by default.”

Remember, this was an “exotic flavor” back in 1982. So how do you make this golden oldie? Like this.


 

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique

2 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

1 medium onion

2 teaspoons oil (corn is specified, but I used olive)

1 teaspoon butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 small, ripe pineapple

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley (I grow the Italian flat-leaf kind)

2 teaspoons tamari (I used soy sauce)

2 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. Chop the onion.
  2. Heat a medium skillet and add 1 teaspoon oil. Add the butter, then the onion. Stir over medium heat, adding the cinnamon and turmeric. While the onion is cooking, peel the pineapple section and remove the tough inner-core fibers. Cube. Yield should be about 1 cup of pineapple cubes.
  3. When the onion is translucent and slightly tender, remove from the skillet and set aside. Add the remaining oil. Heat the skillet until quite hot, but not smoking, and quickly add the chicken. Stir to brown all sides of the chicken.
  4. When the chicken is just nearly cooked throughout, after 3 to 4 minutes, add the onion, pineapple cubes, raisins, parsley, tamari and lime juice. Heat through and serve.

What you end up with looks like this:

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique!

Pineapple Chicken Mozambique! (The cat food just sits there, honest.)

Want a closer look?

I do love my Splayds!

I do love my Splayds.

The combination of cinnamon and turmeric adds a nice color to the onion and chicken without being overpowering. I do think I should have measured the lime juice instead of just eyeballing it, because it was a bit tart. That, of course, was MY fault.

For a quick and easy meal for two, this is a good one, and you can get the needed ingredients on a quick trip through the express lane, assuming you have none of the onion, the spices, soy sauce, oil and butter, that makes for a supermarket drop-by on the way home. For four people (or more), just a little math is involved, and maybe a bigger pot.

For a busy Monday, or anytime you want something fast, you won’t go wrong with this recipe.

Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chocolate, beer, gardening, and. . . .

Chocolate, beer, gardening, and. . . .

Good afternoon, Dear Readers:

My sincerest apologies for my lateness in updates. As they say in IT, I have once again been OBE, or “overcome by events.” No, I’m not getting married, but you know if I were, I’d be working on how to bake my own wedding cake. Gluten-free, of course. And then some chocolate has been involved.

One thing I have been doing is some overdue sewing stuff. I’ve used up quite a lot of leftover pieces, have one overdue Christmas present to give (he knows about it) and am buzzing through stuff that has been sitting anywhere from one month to ten years to make. I completed two lunch bags and gave one away this weekend, along with three vinyl rain bonnets. At some point, the scraps will be either sold on Craigslist, donated, or, last resort, bagged up for the trash or recycling bin.

And while I sew, I’ve been binge-watching the cool crime drama known as Burn Notice. Since I get the DVDs from the library, I’m not watching them in order. I’ve seen seasons 4, 5 and 6, and have 7 and 3 on order, along with a prequel called The Fall of Sam Axe.  The last one is a movie where they take one of the supporting characters and bring him to the fore to show how he got to the current day point. I saw a couple of episodes originally in 2010 when it was new, because I was dating someone who watched it and liked it. I found the DVDs on the shelf a while back and have made it my mission to see every episode through the end of the series. The final season has numerous requests for it, and last I checked, I am 17th in line. The only downside is that I will never be as smart as Fiona, the “trigger happy ex-girlfriend.” Oh, well.

I’ve got a roast in the crock pot, and will be making more of the white bean mash later this evening. But I have a few things to tell you about, so here we go.

First, from faithful reader Aunt Kathy, another gluten-free funny from a comic strip called Speedbump:

GlutenFreeSpeedBump

Aunt Kathy finds these and I love them. ‘Cause if you can’t poke a little fun sometimes. . .you’re no fun.

Opinions on my recent pineapple upside-down cake were “great” (Neighbor R), “really good” (Neighbor K) and “I didn’t care for it” (Neighbor T.) I thought it wasn’t as good as K’s, and I probably won’t make it again anytime soon, but K felt like mine was better than hers. Weird, huh? Neighbor R also really liked it, and I thought it was pretty good too, but I needed to know that T didn’t care for it–feedback is important, right? (I was only using up a pineapple anyway.)

While shopping in SuperTarget last week, I’ve discovered a new product from Smuckers, a fruit spread sweetened with stevia-based Truvia instead of the chemical Splenda:

Truvia-sweetened strawberry preserves!

Truvia-sweetened strawberry preserves!

So far it’s just blackberry jam and strawberry preserves, and there hasn’t been much fanfare on it. The ingredients also include malitol, which is also used in sugar-free chocolates. If you continually nibble on those sugar free chocolates. . .don’t leave home. Seriously. But a tablespoon of strawberry preserves is 15 calories; on top of a 45-calorie rice cake, well, you do the math. May have found me a go-to nibble with no consequences. The strawberry is indeed pretty good; next time, I’ll try the blackberry. Look for the green label and tops. You can find out more here.

New trend? I hope so. I do miss jam and jelly sometimes.

The HeatCageKitchen garden is still going strong. From the blooming Meyer Lemon tree to the high sprouts of garlic and green onion to the little tomato that just won’t quit, I’ve got it going on. This is not without challenges, of course, but there is green stuff. The monster pineapple plant has finally gone to its new home in a backyard, and I’ve been promised some pineapples if it ever bears fruit.

IMG_0174[1]

Lots of flowers, but dunno about the day when I can pick me some Meyer Lemons. When I asked my gardener friend about it, he said, “you might get one or two.” Thanks for the vote of confidence, Dude! I don’t know how old that puny strawberry plant next to it is, but I’m thinking it’s going to get replanted to get more sun, like in a hanging basket.

Get a load of the garlic, shooting as high as the sky:

Anti-vampire insurance.  Not sure about zombies.

Anti-vampire insurance. Not sure about zombies.

I like to go out there and nibble on the green shoots. Yum. They’re not as strong as the actual cloves, but I wouldn’t go kissing anyone after nibbling on them.

The Enigma Tomato

The Enigma Tomato, about the size of a golf ball.

We have had multiple freezes since this plant was purchased a year ago, identical to the dried up stem next to it. I have no idea why, how, or for whom this tomato still exists. But it’s growing and hanging in there, as well as the plant beginning to regenerate. Maybe I’ve got Jack’s Magic Tomato Plant; I’ll see how this finishes off.

I’ve got plenty of mint, parsley and green onions for whatever I decide to create:

A little water and they GROW!

A little water and they GROW!

And rosemary until the Twelfth of Never:

Just plant it. Grows wild.  Great stuff.

Just plant it. Grows wild. Great stuff.

Oh, that bucket next to it? Yeah, there are two of those that were planted with lettuce. Not much since that snail got in and feasted on it. <burp>

Ditto for the radishes–I had two growing with foliage, and some inconsiderate nocturnal creature came by and nibbled all the greens down. Now I’m not sure if I have any growing, or just two, and I’ll need to dig them up in the next month or so and look for red orbs. The article I read about planting radishes said that the colder the better, and you’d see the tops of the radishes peeking out from the soil. No such luck, despite several freezes, and no other evidence of anything, only shamrocks coming up.

Maybe another time. I just wanted *something* to be successful and abundant. At this point, I can make one small salad with a few lettuce leaves, one tomato, mint, parsley, garlic shoots and possibly one or two sliced radishes.

Hey–I bet that would go over well in one of those high-end restaurants. You know, the ones that serve 3 scallops with a tablespoon of chopped fresh baby arugula with olive oil as an entree and charge $85 for it? I’ll give that some thought. A teaspoon of olive oil, a drop of lime juice, a pinch of Maldon sea salt or that pink Himalayan stuff, and all those arranged in some kind of artistic fashion on a fancy china plate. Call it Amy’s Garden Delight Salad. Let me think on this–I bet we could have them lining up through the door! (Unless I just gave Giada de Laurentiis an idea for her new restaurant.)

As a gardener, though, it’s a bit of a flop, unfortunately. But I’m working on it.

Last week was neighbor K’s final evening lecture for the year, and the last evening I would be taking out the pug and feeding him while she was working late. And as has been the custom, K brought home some delish food that was left from said event, which included meatballs with a sweet/sour sauce, corn chips with some spinach-artichoke dip (YUM), and an assortment of dessert bars, which included a lemon bar, several chocolate chip brownies, and something new with chocolate chips, coconut, and other delicious things. Mind you, the bars were sliced small this time, they weren’t big squares, thank heavens. I texted her later to tell her that everything was up to its usual high standard. MMMmmmm. . . .

However–last night neighbor R gave me some chocolate truffles and some chocolate covered acai berries. Well, they were OK, and the truffles are nice, but I don’t think I want any more for a while!

So last Thursday, I had a weird day. Four phone calls, all from people who could not pronounce my name at all. On Friday, neighbor J, one of the few males in my building, got home the same time I did. I told him how annoyed I was at the phone calls, and he said, “You want a beer?” I said, “is it cold?” He said, “No.” I can make it cold, and I did.

However, one beer was all I was interested in. He gave me one beer with another 23. Yes, a CASE of beer. I frosted up one, and cracked it open. . .and remembered why I don’t drink beer. It’s a guy thing. I took one taste and, well, let me put it to you this way–what I normally drink is water with lime or lemon and pink stuff, coffee, tea, or on occasion, a little fruit juice, or, even rarer, wine.

This was a complete shock to my taste buds. But I finished the frosty cold can without a buzz, since I was also eating at the same time. And decided that I would not say “yes” to a beer again. Last time I had a good beer was in 1991 at a place called the Crescent City Brewhouse on a date, and I wasn’t driving. That was wonderful–and I haven’t had one like that since.

The next question was what to do with the remaining 23. . .and they went to neighbor R, who does drink beer. I hope she enjoys them, and thank heavens, has room for them, too.

Please, don’t bring me beer. Thank you.

I’ve got two appointments this week, and some more work to do on sewing up old projects and either giving them away, donating them or otherwise putting them to good use. Meantime, I’m going to make me some dinner. Make yours, too, and make it good, whatever it is.

Happy Dining!

 

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The ‘Burbs and the Bees

First off, I have to give thanks to my very nice neighbor, who brought me some delicious food last night from a work function. The cookies went first, so she couldn’t bring any. The spinach-artichoke dip (which became breakfast) was just addictive–I told her it should be Schedule 2 illegal. The meatballs were perfect for lunch, too. She promises next week that there will be lemon bars on the menu, which she promises to bring, as well as chicken poblano dip. YUM. I loved the lemon bars last year. She remembered. That’s why I’ll walk her doggie anytime.

Oh, and she gave me some home-grown oranges when she came back after Christmas. I saved some of the seeds to sprout and plant. Love oranges.

My last blog post about Suzy Homemaker appliances now has me looking on eBay for that stuff and wondering a) where I will put it, b) when can I buy it, and c) when can I buy a house so that I can have my Suzy Homemaker room to put them in. Sorry, you think about a lot of stuff when you’re unemployed and working on other opportunities.

And, you can actually buy an original Amana Radarange on eBay, right now. My dad bought one in 1976, when they were VERY expensive–a lot more than the $100 or less at Target. Oh, no, we went to a special appliance store in Metairie and got one. This was a big deal for us, and he figured with four kids it would make life a little easier on Mom. (I never asked, though.) They only parted with it because it stopped working (like, maybe 1997?) and they couldn’t get it repaired anymore (or maybe they didn’t care.) Still, it was a great appliance, and if it didn’t weigh 50 pounds and take up half my little kitchen, I might consider bidding on it.

So in my Wall Street Journal this morning,”Personal Journal” section, there was this article about the new Agrarian Collection at Williams-Sonoma. I get emails and catalogs from both Williams-Sonoma and from Sur la Table, but this was new to me. Had no idea they had this whole new collection. It’s for a specific niche market that’s been around for a long time, but let me give you a little background, first.

Lately the press has thrown around the word “prepper” like it was a negative thing, since it was attached to a negative news story. They always tell you that it’s people getting ready for the end of the world or something. Not always. I’m not venturing into that fray of course, but being a “prepper,” or having emergency plans for disasters, is not really a bad thing. Living in Houston as I have since 1998, and in New Orleans for most of my younger years, we do “prepping” frequently, because hurricanes have an affinity for the south. You keep stuff around for emergencies. Extra water. Batteries for the radio and flashlights. Canned food. Stuff like that. Lots of books are dedicated to the subject; I have a few of them as well.

I’ve also noticed that when people start doing their own thing, which is as American as apple pie, the media REALLY likes to ridicule the people doing it. Homesteading and having some preparations, is one of those things to be ridiculed. Until the day you are prepared, and then you’re not so nuts.

As technology has gotten more sophisticated, more people have things like generators and solar chargers for phones and computing devices. You can go all out for stuff like this, if you want, and be ready for just about anything. Yes, even the end of the world that didn’t quite happen in December.

And, you can bet that the New York/New Jersey part of the country will become preppers after Sandy gave them a taste of what we go through in the south periodically. Hurricane Ike didn’t have snow attached to it. In about six months the New York Times will pick up that story, and the Los Angeles Times may decide to run it so Californians can read about the new east coast preppers. Maybe they’ll get the idea they should be more ready for earthquakes, too. . .just sayin’.

I don’t wish that kind of thing on anybody, of course, but, you know earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, and droughts happen, so keep reading.

A few years ago I was involved with a bloke who, among other things, wanted us to a) get married and b) live in the country. (My “townie” friends were horrified when we actually looked at properties.) The second part appealed to me, since I’ve long had this idea of moving out of the city and raising veggies and maybe even chickens for eggs and, well, chicken. At the time, I had a good job in IT, and he didn’t. He lived 50 miles to the north, meaning that I would be driving 100 miles a day to go to work. I’d be dead in six months after I bought the new car I’d need to commute, but that didn’t deter him. Eventually, I realized he was a control freak, and it took quite a lot of prayer to get rid of him (because “I don’t want to marry you, please go away” didn’t seem to do the trick.)

It’s called “Homesteading,” and folks from all walks of life, and in all kinds of places, are doing it. Growing vegetables has caught on in urban and suburban areas partly because of the economy, but also because of a “back to the land” mentality. There is nothing wrong with this.

But you know when something goes mainstream, gets “popular,” it’s not “cool” anymore. Oh, well.

I have a small plot of land , measuring 8’x5′, and I’ve been trying to make it a full-blown garden. So far I’ve got mint, scallions (green onions), rosemary, and a surprise bamboo shoot from a plant I thought was long dead. And weeds, which I’ll be digging up one of these days to plant lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and basil. (I like salads and making pesto.) I’m also trying to sprout and grow a pineapple top. My container garden is a little simpler than one you’d see elsewhere. Paint buckets from Home Depot are cheap.

With the “wedding” off, I got back to a normal life, and the idea of buying property and doing some of my own farming stuck with me. I haven’t done it yet, being unemployed and all, but I love reading magazines like Urban Farm, Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home (kind of like Martha Stewart Living for the farm set, with good recipes, ideas and advice for the modern-day farm household.) Guess I should subscribe, so I can keep them coming. I mean, what’s not to like about growing nuts for food and profit?

But now, Williams-Sonoma has a line of products for the homesteading backyard farmer, including a $1,300 chicken coop, a $29.95 butter making kit, a $598 vintage copper cricket weather vane, as well as an $11.95 herb garden kit. Not to mention raised bed planters, a fungi log for growing your own mushrooms, vertical planters for small spaces like mine, beekeeping equipment, canning and preserving, food dehydrators, sprouters. .. crikey, just go look at it if you don’t believe me.

Oh, here’s something  I’ll be all over: the Asian Tofu Cookbook. NOT!

The Wall Street Journal article says that they will be publishing a standalone catalog for this line, too. Urban Outfitters is also getting into the act, with Terrain gardening centers, targeted to women. I haven’t looked at that one yet, but I should see if we have one here in Houston.

I wonder if they have their own version of the Topsy Turvy planters? I have one but it didn’t go well last year. I put it away, and will try it again soon. Heck, maybe more than one.

Back in WWII, people did this kind of thing as a matter of course. Henry Fonda–yes, the movie star–was famous for his Victory Garden. People raised chickens, veggies, canned, all that stuff, even in the city, however they could. Over time, we got away from doing these things for ourselves.City folks tend to look down on farming types, but suddenly it’s “fashionable” to be a homesteader.

I have a replica poster from WWII that says “Sew For Victory.” Well, sewing is my favorite thing to do, and I thought it was appropriate decor. But that’s what people did. Now, we’re getting back to doing for ourselves, bit by bit.  I’m glad to see that, but I don’t think I’m gonna be buying a $1,300 chicken coup.

While Williams-Sonoma is just branching out into a new market, and they call it a “lifestyle,” I have to say that taking care of yourself can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I mean, my paint bucket garden isn’t something you’ll see in River Oaks or Beverly Hills. Unless that’s a big dirty secret.

Confession: two years ago, we had a drought here in Texas. Bad one. I planted zucchini (from a small potted plant) and cantelope (from seed) back there, and they took over half the plot! I watered it carefully, but over time, the heat and dry conditions were too much, and they shriveled up and died. What survived is what I still have, except the rosemary, but that’s another story.

Here in Texas, it’s getting on digging-up and planting season, and I need to get back there and get busy with it. I should have planted sugar snap peas back in November, but have been otherwise occupied. I love them, but they’re expensive, so why not grow them? Ditto for celeriac, fennel, and some other pricey veg. This year I hope to successfully grow grape tomatoes, finally, as well as bell peppers and cucumbers along with lettuce and the aforementioned things I haven’t killed yet. Oh, and I want to grow lots of strawberries. I love strawberries. Louisiana’s are the best, Texas comes in second. I think the birds got the few that made it last year. Maybe a Topsy Turvy strawberry planter will work better.

I’m not producing ALL my food yet, heck not much of it at all, but I’ll make the effort. Maybe even some cantelope this year. (Love that too.)

You can see the short WSJ video here. And if you have any growing tips, or ideas for stuff, pass it along in the comments.

If you’re interested in homesteading, I can also recommend Backwoods Home magazine, which has a free newsletter and a few free Kindle issues on Amazon.com; you’d just have to search for them. There are also a lot of free articles on their website; just search for what you need. Keep in mind that these are folks that really do live in the backwoods, not in a wooded suburb. This is the real thing.

I also came across this book, Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich, after reading about it by a newspaper colunmnist for the Houston Chronicle.  It’s an interesting read with good advice and even a few good recipes. She talks about what it was like to have her attitude changed towards a lot of things–you’d have to read it to understand. She talks about sewing, too, although not the kind of sewing I like to do, just stuff to get you started on your way to self-reliance.

Another good book for the “prepper” is Just In Case by Kathy Harrison. Geared toward emergency preparedness, it’s a good basic manual for being ready for emergencies. June will be here before you know it, so I guess I should re-read it again soon before hurricane season.

Of course, these are just books I have in my possession–a trip to Amazon.com or a bookstore and a little searching will yield lots of titles on both homesteading and preparedness (not to mention cooking and sewing.)

Let me say here and now that if you suddenly decide to do a little homesteading and a little preparedness, you are not nuts. You are taking care of business and getting ahead of a problem. There is nothing wrong with that. Think about the pictures and the stories of folks who lived through Sandy just a few weeks ago, and you’ll see it’s not a bad idea.

You can also buy freeze-dried food online, similar to the MREs that the military uses, and seeds stored in sealed cans for long-term storage. Many are non-GMO and will last many years. Ditto for the freeze-dried food. I have never tried this stuff, but if ever I do, I’ll let you know. I haven’t even taught myself canning yet, although I do have the Ball book for it.

See why I need a house?

Happy Dining!

 
 

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