Archive for ‘Random Ramblings’

April 21, 2015

Frekadela, a.k.a. Frikedeller, a.k.a. Freakish Stella

bDSC_0027When people ask me about my cultural heritage, I usually say that I’m Scottish. When I was 16, I applied for a summer foreign exchange in Scotland, telling everyone that I planned to spend seven weeks researching the Given family roots. It wasn’t until I was on the plane, a desert girl hurdling towards the greenest place she’d ever seen, that I actually read the genealogy paper my aunt had written 20 years earlier. I spent the rest of the summer being shuttled between various research centers, too embarrassed to tell my host family what I had learned on the plane — that my last name was actually Irish.

If I had really wanted to research my family tree, I would have applied for a foreign exchange in Denmark. My mom’s grandparents were Danish. The Nelsons immigrated to the United States at the turn of the century and settled in Kansas, where my great-grandfather, Elmer, married my great-grandmother, Sylvia. Though she wasn’t Danish, Sylvia took to preparing her new family’s recipes. I’m sure she did her best, but by the time they got to me, family traditions seem to have gotten a bit confused.

IMG_3782Sylvia’s recipe cards are almost always missing some vital piece of information. Her neatly typed recipe for potato chip cookies fails to mention how long the cookies should bake. My mom once tried to take notes while Sylvia made the yeast-risen cornbread my dad had come to love. Somehow, the resulting recipe cards explain in detail how the baker should take care to “slap” the rising dough, but fail to mention how much flour is required.

By the time my mother was cooking for her own family, traditional Danish sweet and sour cabbage had become the go-to side dish to accompany roast turkey and stuffing. No one really thought about where that recipe came from, we just all knew that we liked it so much better than cranberry sauce. But by far our favorite Danish dish was Frekadela — or, as my dad liked to call it, Freakish Stella.

bDSC_0063Frekadela are Danish meatballs, and we made them during the holidays and pretty much any time we wanted to celebrate. I’ve since learned that the real name of the dish is frikadelle… or frikadeller if you’re using the plural, which you almost always are. But, it wasn’t just the name of the dish my family got wrong. Frikadeller are supposed to be made with pork and veal, but we always made ours with ground beef. Traditionally they’re shaped into flat ovals, but my family always fried them on three sides to make oblong triangles. And, frikadeller are meant to be served with a brown gravy made from pan drippings. But great-grandpa Nelson loved ketchup, and he convinced his grandkids that frekadela could not be consumed without being first smothered in plenty of the red stuff. “Grandpa was such a tease, I believed him,” my mom says now. “When people came over to the house, I used to tell them, ‘You have to put ketchup on it. That’s part of the tradition.’”

bDSC_0086But when I eat frekadela, it doesn’t take me back to the old country and my great-great-grandparents. Frekadela doesn’t remind me of great-grandpa Nelson, who died when I was two months old. It doesn’t even remind me of Sylvia, who cooked for us when we were young and taught me how to whip egg whites into beautiful high peaks.

Frekadela takes me back to growing up in the high desert, where sometimes the only entertainment on a Saturday night was watching my mom slowly spooning silky mounds of meat onto a hot skillet. It takes me back to the smell of the desert after it’s rained for the first time in half a year. If I close my eyes, I can see the desert night sky, I can feel the bumping of our old Chevy Suburban as it crossed over the ruts in our dirt road.

Frikadeller is recognized as the national dish of Denmark, but frekadela is the traditional dish of the Given family. A few years back, my mom started adding ground pork to the mix, which everyone agrees is an improvement. But frekadela will never be shaped into boring discs or slathered in traditional brown gravy. Frekadela is served with ketchup. That’s the way it’s always been. And that’s the way it always will be.

April 18, 2014

Flat Bella Visits Boston

In case you’re not familiar with Flat Stanely, the idea comes from a 1964 children’s book. In a nutshell, poor Stanley found himself flattened. But, then he discovered his flat shape allowed him to be mailed all over the world. Many schools have taken on the idea and have the kids mail Flat Stanley to friends and family who live far away. My niece Bella’s school has taken it one step further. The kids make flat versions of themselves to send out. Flat Bella was mailed from California to spend a little less than a week with me. Here’s what we did.

 

Dear Bella,

Whew! It’s been a busy week. Thanks so much for coming out and staying with me. I thought you might enjoy some pictures of our time together.

 

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You arrived on Tuesday, and the first thing we had to do was make you a sweater! I know it’s probably warm in California by now, but spring hasn’t quite come to Boston yet. It’s a good thing you didn’t arrive a few weeks earlier. We would have needed to make you a jacket, a hat, a scarf, and some gloves.

I hope you like pink!

I work at a radio station called WBUR. My job is as a producer and reporter for sports radio show called Only A Game.

On Tuesday, my show interviewed a basketball player named Brittney Griner. Brittney was the top choice in the WNBA draft last year and she led her college team, Baylor University, to a championship in 2012. She’s a big deal.

She was in New York, so we were interviewing her over a special phone line between our studio in Boston and the NPR studio in New York. Because of the special phone line, interviews sound like both people are sitting in the same room. But, Brittney was a little late, stuck in traffic, so you kept our host, Bill Littlefield, company in the studio.

 

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Once Brittney arrived, you and I moved into the control room. Our job was to listen for any mistakes, so they could be fixed. We use a microphone that speaks directly into Bill’s earphones, so that we can tell him what he should do. Sometimes he does everything just perfectly, so I don’t really have much to do. Those days I sometimes joke with him by yelling, “That was awful. Do it again!”
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Of course, everyone who comes into the studio gets to get behind the microphone. You were so good! Have you done this before?

 

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On Wednesday evenings, I go to class. I’m in a graduate program studying Gastronomy, which is just a fancy name for the study of food. It sounds like fun, but it’s really a whole lot of work. We arrived to class early, so I could get my laptop out and my notes open.

 

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The best part of class is snack time! Our class runs from 6-9pm, so everyone is hungry. Each week, one or two of my classmates brings food for everyone to share. This time, Jane brought Armenian food!

 

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We decided to have a little bit of everything. There was Armenian string cheese, cracker bread, eech (an Armenian salad with grains and herbs), and imam bayildi. Also, a two-bite brownie, which wasn’t Armenian at all.

You liked the bread and the string cheese. You weren’t so sure about the eech. But your favorite (other than the brownie!) was the imam bayildi. It’s made from eggplant and it’s name translates to “the priest wept!” It’s absolutely delicious.

On Thursday nights, I try to go to the gym with my friend, Erin. You decided to come with us!

 

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You rode the stationary bike while Erin led me through a weights workout she had named, “The Bella Blast.” By the end, we were all sweaty and tired. Well, Erin and I were sweaty and tired. You still looked pretty good!

 

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Friday was a busy day at work, so we didn’t have much energy left when we got home. We watched the movie, Frozen. I loved it!

 

Most of Saturday was spent doing homework, but we did make it out in time to meet Erin and some of my other girlfriends in downtown Boston. We knew it was going to be a long night, so we stopped at Starbucks first.

 

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On the outside of Starbucks is a huge tea kettle, with “steam” coming out of the spout! This place wasn’t always a Starbucks. Back in 1873, the Oriental Tea Company built the tea kettle to advertise their business. They held a contest to see who could guess how much water would fit inside the kettle. More than 10,000 spectators came to watch as the kettle was filled and the water was measured. The kettle holds 227 gallons, 2 quarts, 1 pint, and 3 gills. Those who had guessed correctly each received 5 pounds of tea!

 

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From Starbucks we walked down to Faneiul Hall. This place is even older the the tea kettle. It was built in 1742 and is sometimes called “the Cradle of Liberty.” Samuel Adams and James Otis gave some pretty famous speeches here back when Massachusetts was still a British colony. They thought the United States should be independent, and eventually that’s what happened.

 

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There are lots of historic sites in downtown Boston. You can visit the cemetery where Mother Goose was buried, Paul Revere’s house, and the oldest commissioned warship in the world, the USS Constitution. All of these places are easy to find. All you have to do is follow the red line of bricks in the sidewalk called the Freedom Trail.

 

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Faneiul Hall is still used for important meetings and political debates, but it’s also a marketplace with all sorts of fun and interesting things to buy. We decided that you needed a necklace to remember your time in Boston. This guy wrote your name in tiny little letters…on a piece of rice!

 

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He also wrote “Boston 2014” on the back, so you’d always remember the trip. We picked out a pretty fish charm for your piece of rice. Be careful. It’s glass, so it can break!

 

After picking out your necklace, we headed into the North End for dinner. It’s the Italian section of town, and there are lots of good restaurants.

 

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Along the way, you made a friend. Flat Stanley was visiting a woman who just happened to be coming out of a restaurant as we were walking by! She knew you two would be good friends, so she stopped us to say hello.

 

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We also had to stop for a pretty view of the water at sunset. Look, Bella. Here you are at Boston Harbor! Back during revolutionary times, colonialists dumped 342 chests of tea in this harbor to protest British rule. I love tea, so I’ve always thought that was a little sad…

 

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We were a little late for dinner, so we had to hurry. We had reservations at place called Nico. We had lobster ravioli, fried risotto, and tomatoes with mozzarella. Yum!

 

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After dinner, we had to find dessert. Luckily, desert is easy to find in the North End. We went to Caffe Vittoria. It was getting late, so no espresso for you! Instead, you and I shared a steamed milk.

My friend, Tiffany, had a pastry called a Lobster Claw. It was huge! Both of you were pretty impressed!

 

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We all agree that your visit has been great fun. I hope you enjoyed your time in Boston. Come back for another visit soon!

 

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July 29, 2013

Do’s and Don’ts of An Amazing Alaska Adventure

I’ll admit upfront that this post is going to be mostly about the do’s of an Amazing Alaska Adventure. (And yes, I know that apostrophe is completely unnecessary and ungrammatical, but you try writing that phrase without it.)

As I was saying, we didn’t really find many don’ts on this trip. It was amazing. Beautiful. Breathtaking. And, likely, once in a lifetime. So, let’s start with the most important.

DO..

go.

Really, I can’t say it much more simply than that. Get off the couch. Do whatever you have to do to earn a few extra dollars (stick to the legal stuff, please) and plan an amazing Alaskan adventure of your own.  You won’t be sorry.

You’ll get to see things like this:

The many colors of Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park.

The many colors of Polychrome Pass in Denali National Park.

And do things like this:

That's my daddy...on a glacier.  Yes, we all hiked on a glacier.  Try doing that in Massachusetts!

That’s my daddy…on a glacier. Yes, we all hiked on a glacier. Try doing that in Massachusetts!

And eat things like this:

Yes, you can still get bad seafood in Alaska...but not at 229 Parks near Denali. There, it's all incredible.

Yes, you can still get bad seafood in Alaska…but not at 229 Parks near Denali. There, it’s all incredible.

DO…

rent a house.

Hotels in Alaska can be expensive. They can be boring. They can be disappointing. We rented the Eagles Nest at the Canoe Lake Chalet in Palmer, Alaska.  It was perfect.

Beautiful views at our quiet getaway.  I only wish we'd had more time to spend there!

Beautiful views at our quiet getaway. I only wish we’d had more time to spend there!

We wanted a place that could fit the six of us (me and my guy, my sis and her family) and that had room to park my parents RV. We wanted a place where we could fix meals in a real kitchen, and eat together around a table or two. We wanted a place where we could sit outside.

We got all that…plus the great travel advice of the owner, Geri.

Speaking of which.

DO…

walk on a glacier.

Geri suggested that we drive east from Palmer to hike the Matanuska Glacier. My parents had spotted it on their way out to meet us in Anchorage, but my dad really wasn’t convinced it was worth paying $20 just to walk on some ice.

See…according to that link above, the Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier in Alaska that can be reached by car. The glacier itself is on public land, but the only road leading up to the glacier is private. And the super-smart people who own and (barely) maintain that road know how to make a buck.

Let me tell you, that was the best $20 (per person, less for seniors and kids) we’ve ever spent!

Why?

Look at those smiles!

Look at those smiles!

Kids dig glaciers. Really. Tell a couple of kids from Southern California that they get to spend the afternoon walking around on ice and they’ll immediately stop complaining that their legs are sore from yesterday’s hike. Give them each a ski pole to help keep them from slipping…and, yes, you might want to grab one for yourself as well.

Mmm...glacier water.

Mmm…glacier water.

Glaciers provide their own hydration. No need to carry heavy bottled water! Just bring an empty bottle and fill it up. There’s nothing like drinking the water from a glacier…while walking on the very same glacier. (Just don’t try to drink it a few days later. It’s just not the same.)

Ahhh...yeah. We did not pay attention to this sign, but ignore it at your own risk.

Ahhh…yeah. We did not pay attention to this sign, but ignore it at your own risk.

Glacier = Adventure. Yes, you can pay a guide to take you in. But, just take it easy. Remember ice is more slippery on the way down, so don’t climb up anything you can’t slide down, if necessary. Remember that any stream you cross is likely to get bigger as the day goes on (the glacier is melting in those long Alaskan summer days). And remember not to go anywhere near overhangs, because the ice can give away at any moment.

No, I’m not a glacier climbing expert. These are just the little things we learned in one afternoon on the ice.

DO…

check out the breweries.

No, I’m not a beer expert either. In fact, I really kinda hate beer. But, Alaska has a lot of really cool breweries. We checked out as many as we could. They all had really nice (but different) vibes, awesome food, and wine for me to drink.

Yay for wine!

Yay for wine!

Where did we go?

Glacier Brewhouse

Lunch, Day 1.  Might as well get started right away!

Lunch, Day 1. Might as well get started right away!

This one’s in downtown Anchorage, and it’s definitely the most commercial of the breweries we visited. My dad was worried about finding parking, so we went into the garage at JC Penney’s a few blocks over.  Boy was that an adventure!

My meal was good, but Jerry's was better. You're going to have to read the Boston Globe to hear about that one!

My meal was good, but Jerry’s was better. Stay tuned to the Boston Globe to hear about that one!

The menu was big and the food was great, if a bit expensive, which is pretty standard for Alaska. There was wine on tap…which I always love. As long as I’m going to be paying a crazy markup for wine in a restaurant, I might as well not be paying for the pretty glass bottles as well.

As usual, Jerry got the stout…and I loved it!

He loved it to, but that’s not unusual. Let me restate the crazy bit.

I loved this beer. Like, I wished I hadn’t ordered the wine, so I could drink a whole glass.  That never happens.

Denali Brewing Co.

This one’s in Talkeetna, a crazy little tourist trap of a town on the way to Denali National Park.

This is the scene...everywhere you look.

This is the scene…everywhere you look.

When we arrived, we thought they were holding a street fair. It was difficult to find parking in the little dirt lot and the streets were filled with people. I asked the hostess at Denali Brewing Company’s restaurant, Twister Creek, and she told me that this was pretty normal for the summertime. Nothing happens here during the winter, apparently.

What a beautiful spot!

What a beautiful spot!

We found a seat on their outdoor patio, under the most beautiful streaky-clouded sky I’ve ever seen. The beer drinkers were happy with their beer. I was happy with my wine. (No Karen-approved beers here!)

But, really, for me, it was all about the food.

Whoa. Now that's a burger!

Whoa. Now that’s a burger!

I chose the “I can see Russia burger.” I’m a sucker for a good name.

It had two chili peppers next to the description, so I knew it was going to have a good kick.  In this case, the kick came from horseradish.

Basically, it’s a burger topped with coleslaw and Russian dressing spiked with horseradish on a sourdough bun. That combo is amazing.

The beef and the bun are where it’s at.  First, the beef. Alaska isn’t known for having great beef. It’s not surprising. I didn’t see one cow during my entire visit. So, Twister Creek takes what may well be less-than-fabulous beef and seasons it up really well. It’s bursting with flavor.

Then, the bun.  Alaska IS known for great sourdough. Just think…those miners had to make bread somehow, and live yeast wasn’t gonna be available in cute, little packet form. I could eat those sourdough buns by the dozen. (But then I wouldn’t fit in my airline seat and I’d never be able to come back.  Alaska is awesome in the summer, but I wouldn’t want to go there in the winter!)

49th State Brewing Co.

49th State is one of those super friendly places where you know you could hang out for hours and no one would ever get itchy for you to leave. There’s lots of cozy seating inside and big picnic benches outside. There’s an indoor fireplace for those cool evenings. And a big board of beers on tap over the bar.

Sadly, our bartender called that board the “Board of Broken Dreams” because it so often doesn’t actually reflect the beers on tap.  Our bartender was cool.

What a friendly smile!

What a friendly smile!

We didn’t eat, and I don’t drink beer. So, my sister Darla is going to have to do the bulk of the reviewing on this one.

Darla got the sampler. It came in a cool, Alaska shaped tray.

This is the tray after she was done, just so you can tell she did a thorough job!

This is the tray after she was done, just so you can tell she did a thorough job!

Now, you don’t get to choose the beers in your sampler. You get what they give you. I was not on top of things enough to keep track of which beers Darla sampled or even what order she sampled them in. But, here are her thoughts.

I think Darla's got a future in this reviewing business, don't you?

I think Darla’s got a future in this reviewing business, don’t you?

The coolest part of 49th State (at least for a no-beer girl like me!) is the bus.

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If that bus looks familiar to you, you’ve probably read the book (or seen the movie) Into the Wild. I haven’t done either, so I’ll do my very best to sum up from what I learned on the internet.

Christopher McCandless gave up everything to live in the wilderness. He abandoned his legal name and started calling himself Alexander Supertramp, which should have been the first clue that this was all going to end tragically.

Chris/Alex hitchhiked to Alaska, where he headed off into the wild with completely inadequate supplies. Luckily, he stumbled upon an abandoned bus, which had been outfitted (by hunters, I believe) with a wood stove. He lived inside the bus until he died, approximately 119 days after leaving civilization.

Oh yeah, this looks like a comfy place to spend the summer!

Oh yeah, this looks like a comfy place to spend the summer!

According to a plaque on site, the bus we saw was from the movie. Recently, a hiker died trying to visit the original bus, and so it was deemed advisable to put the movie bus somewhere accessible.

Either that, or it just looks really cool to have a big green bus on your brewery’s t-shirt.  Believe me, I bought one.

Do…

take a boat ride.

Darla was the brains behind this part of the adventure. She wanted to see the glaciers and the wildlife in Prince William Sound. There are plenty of 150+ passenger cruise ships that do this, but we’re not really a cruise ship sort of family.

We haven't even left the harbor yet, and it's already breathtaking!

We haven’t even left the harbor yet, and it’s already breathtaking!

Darla found Epic Charters, a small company that does a whole lot of water taxi service for kayakers. Their boats are built to drive right up to the beach, so we were assured we could get out and walk around on some of the Sound’s most beautiful beaches (and we did!)  Without those cruise ship passengers in the way, we were assured of a clear view.

Surprise! It's another glacier!

Surprise! It’s another glacier!

The highlight of our day was definitely the Surprise glacier, set back in a bag clogged with chunks of ice. Our guide, Ben, drove the boat as close as was safely allowed and we spent the longest time in awe of the beauty in front of us. We listened as the glacier split apart and chunks fell into the ocean, and then we fished some of those smaller chunks back out again.

Pressure...the same force that makes glacier ice appear blue also turns it crystal clear.

Pressure…the same force that makes glacier ice appear blue also turns it crystal clear.

DON’T…

be afraid to try new things.

On our last night in Anchorage, we wanted to go to Yamaya, a sushi restaurant “Alaska Bob” had told Jerry about.  “Alaska Bob” used to work and live in Alaska, so he knows what he’s talking about.

He said that the restaurant wouldn’t look like much from the outside, and he was right.  From the front, I was pretty sure it was abandoned!

Does this look like the best sushi restaurant in Alaska to you?

Does this look like the best sushi restaurant in Alaska to you?

Inside, the restaurant is small and humble, with just three long, family-style tables. A sign on the wall warns parties of 3 or more to be patient. That’s because everything is cooked by the owner, and he looks to be about 75 years old.

Jerry and I were psyched. Darla was game. But her hubby and kids weren’t so sure they’d find anything on the menu that they liked. Joe settled on a stir fry, which looked pretty tasty. The kids were told that the’d be eating ramen. The were warned that it wouldn’t look a whole lot like the ramen they eat at home.

What they got looked like this:

To me, this is a beautiful bowl of noodle soup. To an 8 and 10 year old, it might as well have been made by aliens!

To me, this is a beautiful bowl of noodle soup. To an 8 and 10 year old, it might as well have been made by aliens!

I was worried the kids wouldn’t eat, but soon the chef’s wife stopped by our table. The waitress (her granddaughter) had told us that she had made the gyoza by hand, so we complimented her on a job very well done. She joked that those dumplings were the cause of the pains in her shoulder…and her back…and her hip. Soon, we were all laughing.

An even bigger miracle? The kids ate those noodles. They even agreed to take a before and after shot for me.

BEFORE
scared

AFTER
happy

I think these kids have the same reviewer talents as their mom!

DON’T…

bother with Wonder Lake.

Let’s start with the good. I loved Denali National Park. The scenery is breathtaking. The wildlife is abundant. And the crowds are minimal. There’s only really one way in and one way out and that’s on a bus. It keeps the number of visitors inside the park to a reasonable number, and the bus driver is always willing to stop so you can take magnificent photos like this.

Don't you love how I just snuck that in there?

Don’t you love how I just snuck that in there?

Yep. We got engaged in Denali National Park. How could I not think it’s the most beautiful place on the planet?

But, here’s the thing. There’s a whole lot to SEE in Denali National Park, but there’s not much to DO. (Besides get engaged, if you’re super, super lucky.) Our plan had been to ride the bus all the way to Wonder Lake and then get out to hike around for an hour or two.

After 5 1/2 hours on the bus, we finally made it to Wonder Lake.

Proof.

Proof.

And immediately got back onto the bus because we were being attacked by more mosquitos than I’ve ever seen in my life! Our awesome bus driver, Ned, had everyone close up the windows. Then, as we were driving away and leaving the nasty bugs behind he said…

“Wonder Lake. Once you’ve gone, you wonder why you went.”

Did I mention Ned was awesome?

February 26, 2013

Cantastic Creations!

So, the two readers who have been paying attention might remember that I recently attended a City Chicks (soon to be Homemade Modern) class for the Boston Globe.

I visited the first class for work, but I had a lot of fun. So, I decided to go back just for me.  Heather Schmidt has put together a great list of classes, and I picked Canning 101: Winter Soups and Stocks.  Like a lot of Heather’s classes, she brought in an expert.  In this case, Ken Cmar did the heavy lifting.  As you can tell, Heather was as awestruck and amazed by the finished product as the rest of us.

If we could can Heather's enthusiasm, the world would be a better place.

If we could can Heather’s enthusiasm, the world would be a better place.

(Incidentally, Ken is enough of a badass to make his own Asian fish sauce. Yes, he caught, fermented, and processed his own fish to make the super-tart, ultra-salty, majorly-tasty Asian condiment. You don’t mess with a man who makes his own fish sauce.)

Ken has apparently been canning for…forever.  Like, a really, really long time.  He has a lot of wisdom to impart.  First, he told us everything we’d need for a economical, efficient pressure canning system.  I immediately went out and purchased everything on the list.  Wanna see?

Whew!  That's a lot of stuff!

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff!

Here’s a list:

  • One extra large pressure canner. (Go big or go home!)
  • Plenty of jars and, eventually, lids. (The jars are reusable, the lids are not.)
  • A jar lifter. (I went deluxe, because I really didn’t want this item to fail.)
  • An extra pressure canner rack. (Not required, but useful for double stacking jars in that great big canner.)
  • A bubble lifter. (I could have made due with a plastic knife, but I had a gift certificate.)
  • A lid rack.  (Yes, you could use that magnet thing, but it really isn’t worth the drama.)
  • A funnel. (I wish I had gone for stainless steel. It just seems cleaner.)
  • A super-enormous stock pot. (For sterilizing everything!)
  • Canning Books. (Knowledge does not come for free.)

Sadly, the books I ordered were less-than-useful. The first turned out to be a print-out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.  Don’t pay for what you can access for free!

The second seems to have lots of fantastic recipes for jams, fruits, and other sweet treats.  I want to can soup.  How many soup recipes does this book contain?  Zero.  Yes, zero.

The third book was the most useful.  It cost almost nothing at my local evil box store.  It’s the Ball’s Blue Book.  It’s awesome.  At least at the beginning, don’t bother with anything else.

But…back to class.  Heather’s not known for her overly serious classes, but for a while…this one turned deadly.

Look at those faces.  Those faces do not mess around.

Look at those faces. Those faces do not mess around.

Okay, so it comes down to this. There’s a super-serious toxin. It’s called botulism. It loves dark, oxygen-weak environments.

Do you know what’s dark and oxygen-weak?

Someday, when I become a canning expert, I will make this.

Someday, when I become a canning expert, I will make this.

Canned foods, baby. Canned foods are kept in the dark, and processing removes most of the oxygen.

So, Ken had some rules for us newbie canners.

  1. Only can approved, tested recipes.  You don’t want to die!
  2. Don’t can dairy or anything that’s high in fat.
  3. Don’t can pasta or rice.  It will turn to goop.  Only can ingredients that can be cooked to hell.
  4. Use kosher or sea salt. Never use iodized.  Iodized salt will cause your liquids to cloud.
  5. Put a date on your finished cans, so you know when they should be consumed. (Within a year, in case you were wondering.)

There is only one problem with the above rules.  We left class without a single recipe.  No print-outs.  No book recommendations.  Ken merely told us to “follow recipes” and that there were many “available on the internet.”

Here’s the problem with the internet.  So very many recipes are posted by random internet chicks.  Do I know who these women are?  Are they experts?  Are they willing to take responsibility for my health?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the most official official-source, only offers the following recommendations for canning soups and stews.

I used a screen shot, so that you know I'm not screwing with you.

I used a screen shot, so that you know I’m not screwing with you.

Let’s sum up.  Basically, this just says you can can whatever soup you want…as long as it doesn’t include pasta, rice, milk, cream, or other thickening agents (for the record, that includes flour and cornstarch!)  Dried herbs are hunky-dorey, though they tend to get more intense over time.  I read elsewhere that sage is a bad idea, because it turns bitter.  I’m sure there are some other random no-nos.

The more I looked around, the more I was concerned.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells me that I shouldn’t add thickeners to my soups and stews, but there are plenty of random internet chicks who add flour or cornstarch.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture tells me I should never, ever can butters or breads, but just google “canned butter recipe” or “canned bread recipe” and you’ll come up with a bazillion options.

Ken said that it was okay to experiment with “seasonings,” but what does that mean?  I know I can’t substitute fresh lemon juice for canned lemon juice in water bath recipes (the acidity level in the former is not consistent.)  But, can I substitute broth for water? (I think I can.)  Or, wine for water? (We did that in class…so does that mean it’s okay?)

So, I came up with Karen’s Rules of Canned Soups and Stews.  Are you ready?

Karen’s Rules of Canned Soups and Stews

  1. Don’t screw with ratios.  Don’t use more veggies, more meat, more fat, or less liquid than the recipe requires.
  2. Don’t use any ingredient that doesn’t appear in an approved pressure canner recipe.  (If I can’t find an approve recipe that uses garlic, I need to omit garlic when making my soup.  Luckily, I found plenty of soup recipes that included garlic!)
  3. Use dried herbs, not fresh.  Keep in mind that their flavor will get more intense over time.  (Avoid sage…it turns bitter.)
  4. Check instructions for individual ingredients.  For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that potatoes should be boiled for 10 minutes before canning.  If you make soup that includes potatoes, boil them for at least 10 minutes before canning.)
  5. Do not add any thickeners.  This includes dusting meat with flour before browning.  Skip the flour, and be patient during the browning process.
  6. Good food is good food.  Don’t compromise technique, ingredients, or know-how for the sake of convenience.  (Lots of canning recipes call for garlic salt, which I think tastes weird.  They also skip important steps like browning meat before boiling.  You know better.  Don’t be lazy.)

So, those are MY starting rules.  Who am I?  I’m some random chick on the internet.  Only follow my suggestions if they seem logical and smart to you.

Keep in mind, this is my best friend, Tina. She canned peaches without following a recipe, using fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Much of the class was spent convincing Tina to throw away her precious peaches, for the sake of the little one growing in her belly.

Ahhh...that's my Tina!

Ahhh…that’s my Tina!

I have even less experience than Tina does with canning. Keep this in mind when following my rules.

February 12, 2013

I got the Karlie!

For the past few months, I’ve been growing my hair long, long, long.  The idea was to grow it long enough to chop it off for charity.  This process requires many decisions:  Which charity? What haircut do I want? And what hypo-allergenic conditioner will I use to help my hair stay strong?  My quest for a good, rich, moisturizing, itch-free conditioner came up empty, which made the chopping all-the-more vital.

I put together a board on Pinterest where I collected some ideas.  A theme emerged.  I wanted above the shoulders.  I wanted something resembling a bob.  And I wanted bangs.

Enter…the Karlie.

Let's face it.  I'm not a super-famous-model like Karlie Kloss.  This haircut should be called "the Karen."

Let’s face it. I’m not a super-famous-model like Karlie Kloss. This haircut should be called “the Karen.”

The New York Times style section declared the Karlie the “it” haircut of the year…a mere 16 days into 2013.  I’ve never been a person to wear the “it” outfit.  I’ve never managed to read the “it” book…at least not until after everyone else has.  But, the “it” haircut?  Seemed like a good idea to me!

For a person who often goes six months without a haircut, I’m a little bit haircut obsessed.  That profile pic in the top right corner?  I took that on one of my haircut “outings.”  See…when I get my hair cut, I generally tend to plan a night out on the town to show it off.  That’s how much I enjoy getting my hair cut.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a LOT of haircuts…

HairCollage

I’ve had super-long hair with bangs, a crazy short bob, and even an ill-fated attempt to get Julie Bowen’s hair from the early 2000’s TV show, Ed.  (Here’s a hint, when chopping many inches of your hair with nothing but a blurry printed out screen shot to show the hairdresser, be sure to go to a hairdresser who speaks English.)

But, the last time I had a bob and bangs at the same time?

I was five.

I was five.

I guess I figured 35 years was long enough, because last week I gathered my inspiration and my courage, and met my friend, Erin, at the hairdresser’s.

Erin agreed to come along to “document” the occasion. Didn’t she do a great job?

I love the look on my face in the middle pic. There's nothing like having a moment of panic when half the hair is already gone!

I love the look on my face in the middle pic. There’s nothing like having a moment of panic when half the hair is already gone!

Did my hair turn out like Karlie’s? Well…not really. For one, I have way too much hair. For another, I didn’t get enough “texture” — a.k.a. layers. For three, I don’t have a personal stylist following me around making sure my hair is perfectly messy.

But, I’m really happy with the finished result.  My hair is bouncy and fun.  Best of all?  Those bangs camouflage my 40-year-old forehead wrinkle.  Yay!

Now, for the big question.  What happened to all that hair?

No, I didn't color my hair.  The ends are just lightened from all that running I did a couple of summers ago!

No, I didn’t color my hair. The ends are just lightened from all that running I did a couple of summers ago!

When I announced my intention to donate my hair, a friend clued me into controversy surrounding Locks of Love, the charity most known for accepting hair donations. Yet another New York Times article filled in the details.

Turns out that everyone thinks Locks of Love makes wigs for kids with cancer.  They don’t (and they don’t claim to.)  Most of their wigs go to kids with alopecia, which causes complete hair loss with no cause or cure.

Now, I don’t want to knock kids with alopecia.  It sounds awful.  But, alopecia has never claimed a member of my family.  Cancer has.

For hair donations for chemotherapy patients, there seem to be two options.  Wigs for Kids collects hair to make, as you might expect, wigs…for kids.  Pantene also has a hair donation program.  They collect donations to make wigs for adults in cancer treatment.

Because Wigs for Kids wants to provide a long hair wig to any kid who prefers long hair, they require 12 inches for a minimum donation.  Pantene will accept anything over 8.

I had 10 inches…at best.

I sent an email to Erin.  I explained my dilemma.  Growing enough hair to donate to Wigs for Kids would require a few more months at least.  I had that aforementioned conditioner problem…and a serious case of hair boredom.  Plus, having just turned 40 I was ready–really, really ready– for a change.

Here’s the actual question I asked…

Want to help me justify giving to Pantene?  I really want to get the “it” haircut of 2013 before it’s “out!”

Wow. What a vain question. Luckily, Erin had a well-reasoned and not-at-all vain response.

EVERYONE wants to donate to kids. If you think of any charity that people really love it has kids involved. Can you imagine just turning 40 with not a lick of hair on your head and no money to buy a wig? I think women’s self esteem is deeply attached to the way they look and their hair is one of the biggest components of that. I would do Pantene in a minute.

I have smart friends. Pantene gets my hair, and I get a beautiful new haircut.  Win-win!

October 21, 2012

Pretty Little Patty Pans

When I went on safari in Africa, I was determined to capture photos that would last a lifetime. After all, when would I ever be going back?

But, as our little group of 11 frantically struggled with dusty lenses, wobbly trucks, and Thompson’s gazelle that just wouldn’t sit still for the perfect shot, our Kenyan guides said to us, “Put down the cameras and just be. You don’t want your only memories of Africa to be from behind a camera lens.”

They were right, of course.

Safari guides are so smart!

Safari guides are so smart!

My film (I was still using film back then) got damaged by Africa’s less-than-high-tech airport x-ray machines.  Even after a whole lot of color correction and futzing, the Acacia trees of my dreams are so much more vivid and beautiful than the ones I photographed.

Recently, I’ve been having a similar experience with food.

Everything I cook, everything I eat, gets photographed and hastily documented on scraps of paper that I eventually lose.  Between homework, Globe work, and work-work…I’m simply running out of words for this blog.  I’ve started half a dozen posts that I’ve never finished.  I just found this one in my drafts folder from July 21.  It’s now a full three months later, and I still haven’t found the time to finish it.

I swear.  Some day soon I will start a post that doesn’t prattle on about my CSA and how awesome it is.  Today, however, I’m going to prattle on about the pretty things at my CSA.

Pretty flowers!

Pretty flowers!

Pretty friends!

Pretty friends!



Pretty patty pans!

Yeah, that post had promise. I took step by step photos of the recipe I created. I lovingly set the prettiest of my finished patty pans aside and picked the perfect plate, placemat, and props to photograph it. And then…I forgot. I have no idea what was in that recipe. I don’t even remember if it tasted good.

So, the other day, I decided to put down the camera…and just be. I made my dinner, without taking notes or having to worry about getting sauce on my camera. I ate the prettiest portion, instead of saving it for a picture. It was lovely.

Of course, I did snap a iPhone pic right before I dug in!

Chicken masala (chicken cooked in sauce from Trader Joe’s, made a little special by adding slivered almonds) with a veggie side dish of fairy tale eggplant, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, red bell pepper, and onion cooked in curry paste and mango chutney.

No, I can’t share the recipe. It’s not that I’m mean… I just didn’t bother to write it down.

September 14, 2012

Land or World?

My guy and I recently got back from a whirlwind trip to California, during which I tried to show him everything the southern half of the state had to offer.

And I mean everything…

Some might say I over planned...

Some might say I over planned…

We visited friends in San Diego and LA, hung with the elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, drank wine in Temecula wine country, wandered the decks of the Queen Mary, scuba dove off Catalina, walked the Walk of Stars, saw the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory, climbed into the belly of a dinosaur in Cabazon, watched the sun rise in Joshua Tree National Park, cheered for baseball at the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (of Los Angeles)…

[deep breath]

…and rode the rides at Disney Land.

So, of course, when I had dinner with a friend the other night she immediately asked, “Don’t you think that Disney Land is a sad, ghetto version of Disney World?”

Um..no.

First of all, don’t be harshing on my Disney Land.  As a Southern California native, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

But, for the sake of “unbiased journalism” (because that’s what you’re looking for when you read random food/photography/whatever blogs, right?) I will attempt to objectively list the pros and cons.

1.  Disney Land is the original.

Maybe this doesn’t mean as much to other people, but I know that my parents went on dates at Disney Land when they were teenagers.  My grandparents probably went on dates there, too.

Heck, I even celebrated my high school graduation there with an all-night, formal-dress, wholesomer-than-wholesome party.

Complete with an awkwarder-than-awkward picture.  Don't even get me started on what I'm wearing.

Complete with an awkwarder-than-awkward picture. Don’t even get me started on what I’m wearing.

2.  Disney World has the better castle.

Seriously, Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World is a thing of wonder.  It’s huge.  It gleams.  It’s got lots of towers.  It’s 3D.  In comparison, the castle at Disney Land sort of looks like this…

No offense to the amazing flickr user who made this Lego Castle.  It's awesome.  Probably more awesome than Cinderella's actual castle at Disney Land.

No offense to the amazing flickr user who made this Lego Castle. It’s awesome. Probably more awesome than Cinderella’s actual castle at Disney Land.

3. Both are pretty damm amazing when it comes to recreating reality.

Exhibit A: One one side is a real fountain in Rome. On the other, is the “fake” fountain in “Italy” at Disney World’s Epcot Center. Pretty close, eh?

I actually prefer the Disney version.  The real one is a little creepy!

I actually prefer the Disney version. The real one is a little creepy!

Exhibit B: Which is the real train station in San Diego and which is the “fake” train station in Disney Land’s California Adventure?

Yeah, I know.  The fake palm tree totally gives it away!

Yeah, I know. The fake palm tree totally gives it away!

4. Disney World serves alcohol.

Sorry, mom, but this is a consideration. When I’ve had a long day of standing in lines surrounded by misbehaving children, a cold, adult beverage is really nice. Of course, at Epcot Center you can skip the lines, the kids, and the rides…and just drink your way around the world. Not that I would do that. Ever.

Look away, mom!  You don't want to see this!

Look away, mom! You don’t want to see this!

I have to make a small clarification here. Although I’m giving the alcohol “win” to Disney World, it’s not a slam dunk. Most of the lines (and screaming kids) are at the Magic Kingdom, which doesn’t serve alcohol. And, while Disney Land is dry…California Adventure is not. So, it is possible (just a hypothetical here) to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Disney Land by taking a short walk over to California Adventure and sitting down for a mojito. Theoretically. Not that I’d ever do that.

This photo of mojitos is for illustrative purposes only.

This photo of mojitos is for illustrative purposes only.

You may have noticed that Disney World is ahead by a half.  (I’m only giving a half win for alcohol, for the reasons stated above, and because I’m not unbiased. I need my candidate to win.)

5.  Disney Land has better rides.

This is what it’s all about, right?  The rides!  Disney World is bigger.  There’s more room to move around.  There are more individual parks.  (Though, seriously?  Hollywood Studios?  That’s worth half a day…at most.)  Disney Land is more cramped, with less room to walk around, and rides jammed into every conceivable corner.  But, here’s the undeniable truth.

The “classic” rides are better at Disney Land.

There.  I said it.  Just try to fight me on this.  Here’s some examples…

A.  The Matterhorn.  This one doesn’t even exist in Florida, so it wins by default.  A snow capped mountain in the middle of a theme park?  With real, human mountain climbers and fake, animatronic yeti?  And yodeling music at the front of the line?  And rider operators wearing lederhosen?  Just too cool.  Those yeti still scare me…every time.

B.  Pirates of the Caribbean.  I’m not kidding here.  Pirates exists at both parks.  Both parks have annoyingly inserted an animatronic Johnny Depp and changed the pirates-chasing-wives part around to be more PC.  But, the ride at Disney Land is twice as long.  And, before it actually starts, it floats through the Louisiana bayou (I really have no idea why pirates are attacking Louisiana) where lucky guests can enjoy a cool, quiet, leisurely meal.

Ahh...doesn't that look relaxing?

Ahh…doesn’t that look relaxing?

The food is pretty darn amazing, too.  We started with gumbo that was impossible to resist.  I had crab cakes.  Jerry had…prime rib? I don’t remember.  Both were paired with this amazing potato dish that was at least half butter.  It was expensive, but totally yummy.

See?  Don't I look happy?  Relaxed?  And STUFFED!

See? Don’t I look happy? Relaxed? And STUFFED!

C: Autopia. I’ve always loved Autopia. When we went to Disney World in the spring, I made Jerry stand in line for it. We waited and waited. (Okay, it was probably 20 minutes) and then got into these little cars, went around in a big, boring loop in the full sun, and that was it. Boring!

At Disney Land, the cars go through their own little world. It’s almost like a mini interstate…but not like today’s interstate. Like the old interstates, in the days of Route 66. Lanes merge and diverge. It’s shaded. It’s usually 5-10 degrees cooler than the rest of the park.

It’s also twice as long.

D. (And the argument that makes all other arguments moot.)
Space Mountain is totally better at Disney Land.

Space Mountain is my favorite ride. It has been since I was tall enough to ride it. It’s a roller coaster…in the dark. There are flashing lights everywhere…and ridiculous music…and some poor actual human who has to sit in a control booth in a ridiculous outfit as the cars head up the first climb.

At Disney World, the lights are turned up just bright enough so that you can kinda see where you’re going. What’s the fun of that?

Plus, instead of the cool flashing lights and suspended “stars” that make you feel like you’re flying through galaxies, in Disney World they just project a few galaxies on the ceiling. Lame.

Just for the sake of argument, I’ll will now run through the rides that are better at Disney World.

Umm…

Anyone got a suggestion?

Yeah…I didn’t think so.

July 31, 2012

What are you running next, Karen?

Over the weekend, some girlfriends and I became official Color Runners.  I’d link to their website so that you, too, could become a Color Runner.  But I like you.  This race was a logistical nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But, first, the good stuff.  The Color Run (at least in its New England incarnation) is a 5K (really, maybe more like 2.6 mile) run through “color zones.”

The color dust is theoretically safe to ingest, should you be unlucky enough to actually have to breathe while running through a zone.  But, it doesn't taste very good.

The color dust is theoretically safe to ingest, should you be unlucky enough to actually have to breathe while running through a zone. But, it doesn’t taste very good.

Everyone wears white and at the end of the race, white isn’t so white anymore.  Let me illustrate…

I am such a dork.  And, what's with that pose?  I did that weird thing with my left arm twice!  Was once not dorky enough??

I am such a dork. And, what’s with that pose? I did that weird thing with my left arm twice! Was once not dorky enough??

Here’s the bad.

Everyone had to park 5.5 miles (or further) from the actual start line. 11,000 runners participated, which means thousands were waiting for the busses when we arrived.

Making matters worse, there were only a few porta potties in the parking lot. So, all us well-hydrated runners had to stand in line to potty before we could get in line for the bus. (As a result, Tina, who decided to run to the starting line for “a little extra exercise” had to wait for us to arrive.)

There was no bag check and it was a point to point race, so anything we wanted at the finish we had to carry through the whole race…which means that everything was covered in color dust by the end.

There was only one water station along the course (not bad for a 5K, I guess). But, the organizers didn’t even spring for bottled water. They gave us the most disgusting tap water I’ve ever tasted. You know when you drink water from a hose that’s been sitting out in the sun too long and the water tastes like rubber? Yeah…that was what the water tasted like.

As we approached the finish line, we had to wade through people walking in the opposite direction. (More on that later.)

Once we got past the finish line…more nasty tasting tap water. I took one sip and threw the rest away. I narrowly avoided being sick, and I am not one who gets sick easily.

There was no clean water (unless you wanted to buy it) and no food unless you wanted to buy BBQ. Oooh…but to buy BBQ you had to stand in another long line for tickets and then stand in another long line for food.

Organizers promised “blowers” to help clean us off after the race, but no…no blowers. (There’s a joke here about the rest of the race “blowing” but I’m going to avoid it.)

When we tried to get back to the parking lot, we discovered why there were so many people walking the wrong way during the last leg of the race. There were no busses to take people back to the parking lot! There were thousands of people waiting for hours in the hot sun for a bus, and we just couldn’t face the wait. Tina took one look at the line, grabbed my car key, and set off to run back to the parking lot. Go, Tina!

Organizers claimed there were multiple major accidents that caused the transportation issues at the end.  Fine.  I’ll grant them that.  The rest of the issues were unforgivable.

So, I do not recommend that you become a Color Runner.  What do I recommend???

The 7th Annual 5K / 10K For Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House!

How do I love this race, let me count the ways…

1.  Louisa May Alcott was my childhood hero.  (Yes, as a child, I rejected the words “heroine,” “actress,” and “Smurfette.”  I felt they were all diminutives and were therefore demeaning to women.  I believe Louisa would have agreed.)

2.  Louisa May Alcott created Jo Marsh, one of the first (and still the best) kick-ass, strong feminine characters.  Jo wanted to be a writer.  I wanted to be a writer.  Jo sometimes felt awkward and unattractive.  I always felt awkward and unattractive.  Jo earned the attention of her cute, rich neighbor.  I dreamed of having a cute, rich neighbor who would fall in love with me.  (Sadly, Joshua Tree is even less populated than Civil War eraConcord, Mass.  Jo Marsh had neighbors.  I did not.)

3.  The Alcott/Marsh families (the book was autobiographical, of course) encouraged their daughters to run and play and be athletic…at a time when such things were considered scandalous.

4, 5, 6…  There’s plenty of parking…at the start/finish line.  No porta potties…because there are real bathrooms.  Plenty of clean, fresh water.  Lots of snacks to choose from.  And bonuses.

Like…

Dudes with muskets at the starting line...

Dudes with muskets signaling the start…

A woman in a hoop skirt out in front...

A woman in a hoop skirt out in front…

The world's most awesome old man jazz band waiting for you at the end...

The world’s most awesome old man jazz band waiting for you at the end…

When it's all over, you can even snag an autograph from Boston marathon winner Uta Pippig.

When it’s all over, you can even snag an autograph from Boston marathon winner Uta Pippig.

I love the little running girl!

I love the little running girl!

If you’re not yet convinced, I give you this: The Color Run is put on by a for-profit company that cuts corners to increase their bottom line.

The Orchard House run is put on by a non-profit that lovingly supports its runners/walkers and uses the proceeds for educational and other programs at the former home of my childhood hero (and yours…if you know what’s good for you) Louisa May Alcott.

September 16, 2012. I hope you can join me.

July 16, 2012

No lemons were harmed in the making of this post…

By now you know that I looooove my new CSA.  One of the fantastic things about Waltham Fields Community Farms is the pick-your-own herbs.  They have a lovely flower and herb garden, with everything planted in pretty little bunches instead of neat little rows.  It’s lovely.

On our first day at the farm, we were instructed to pick “one small bunch of herbs or flowers” per share.  How to choose?

Mint…I grew that on my porch last summer and most of it went to waste. Next!

Thyme…I love it, but I’ve got plenty growing on my porch right now!

After a little wandering, we came across this apparently unlabeled growth.

It’s a mystery!

I rubbed a bit between my fingers and smelled the fragrance. Lemony! I popped a leaf in my mouth. Fresh and light!

At this point someone said, “I hope that’s edible.”
Hmmm…so did I.

I had a “small bunch” of the stuff already snipped and in my hands, and my stomach was turning with the idea that I had just eaten catnip, or something else not really meant for me.

Finally, we had the good sense to look through the greens for a label. Eureka!

Hmm...Salad dressing sounds like a mighty fine idea to me!

Hmm…Salad dressing sounds like a mighty fine idea to me!

By Sunday, my CSA haul had been reduced to lettuce, lemon balm, and bok choy. Let’s ignore the bok choy for the moment, shall we?

I looked online for a few lemon balm salad dressing recipes, but none of them really flipped my lid. Back in college, I spent some time at my friend Sarah’s parent’s house in Maine. Sarah’s mom had a huge garden, almost the size of a small farm. And, every night Sarah would be tasked with making a salad dressing.

She’d float around her mom’s kitchen, grabbing bits of this and dollops of that. She’d throw everything in a little bowl and mix it up. Every night the salad dressing was different. And most nights it was delicious.

Sounds like a plan for my lemon balm, yes?

I threw the leaves into my little food processor, along with a bit of dijon mustard, some red wine vinegar, a little bit of vidalia onion, some lemon juice, a dab of honey, and a stream of olive oil. Yum!

I needed a little substance to my salad, so I hardboiled a couple of eggs and made up some Lemon Basil couscous. Delish!

Yum, yum, yum.  Wait...do I say that about all my food photos?

Yum, yum, yum. Wait…do I say that about all my food photos?

Lemon Basil Couscous

1 pkg Israeli (or pearl) couscous
2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 vidalia onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
fresh basil
juice of two lemons
salt and pepper

Toast the couscous in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add chicken broth and simmer until al dente. If there’s still too much liquid left, pour off most (not all) of it. The couscous will continue to absorb the water as it cools.
Add the onion and stir well. Stream in another tablespoon olive oil.
When the mixture is mostly cool, add the garlic, basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Voila!

Dinner...deconstructed.

Dinner…deconstructed.

I have a confession to make. I didn’t have any chicken broth, my basil plant still hadn’t recovered from the last time I hacked away at it, and my fridge was uncharacteristically empty of lemons.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, I had some Better than Bouillon, which is…better than bouillon. Barely.
I had some fresh basil in a tube, which is really quite a lot better than the dried kind.
And I had this…

Hmm...how long has that been there?

Hmm…how long has that been there?

I have to admit. I have no idea where that came from. I don’t remember buying it. But, since the real lemons were somehow all gone, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

In the end, I’m glad I did. Super tasty and super filling!

Dinner...constructed.

Dinner…constructed.

I finished the evening with a full tummy, a new recipe, and the feeling my friend Sarah would be impressed with my new salad dressing making skills.  Or…at least I am!

June 28, 2012

The Queen’s Asparagus Tartlets

A few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.  There were luncheons, parties, and parades. Needless to say, I was not invited.

By the by…here’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a queen.

For some reason, we thought crowns were red.  Even my sister, Darla, seems to know that's wrong!

For some reason, we thought crowns were red. Even my sister, Darla, seems to know that’s wrong!

Well, while the actual Queen was celebrating 60 years on the throne, I was planning a tea party, and I took a little inspiration from her majesty’s luncheon menu when preparing my spread.

The Queen served an Asparagus tart at her luncheon, but since I was throwing a tea party and tea party food must be mini, I went for Asparagus tartlets.

I found some great recipes online, but none of them really seemed royal enough.  So, I kicked it up a few notches.

Puff pastry, cheese, and asparagus.  What could be prettier?

Puff pastry, cheese, and asparagus. What could be prettier?

The Queen’s Asparagus Tartlets

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed but still quite cold
1 bunch asparagus
1 cup gruyere, shredded
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
3 tablespoons lemon juice
zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar, reduced

Heat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Unfold pastry onto floured surface. Cut along creases. Cut again to make rectangles. (6 or 9 rectangles, depending on the size of your crowd…and the size of your appetite!)
With paring knife, score a border around the edge of each pastry. Place on baking sheet.
Make a vinaigrette from the mustard, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, thyme and salt and pepper. Brush a teaspoon of vinaigrette onto each pastry square. Top with cheese. Toss asparagus with remaining vinaigrette, cut to fit, and place and 3-4 pieces on each pastry square.
Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before eating. Drizzle with balsamic reduction.

If you make the larger tartlets, you can then cut them along the longer dimension to create even smaller rectangles. But, if you make them smaller to begin with, everyone gets their own.  Fantastic!

By the by…the year after my unfortunate grey wig/red crown costume, I downgraded from “Queen” to “Princess” for Halloween. Clearly, that’s where I found my calling…

Really, it was just an excuse to put my hair up and wear my flower girl dress from my aunt's wedding.  Still, a big improvement...

Really, it was just an excuse to put my hair up and wear my flower girl dress from my aunt’s wedding. Still, a big improvement…