Welcome to One-Quarter Acres

Here's a chronicle of life on a plot of land right smack in the suburbs in Minnesota, whose owners would much prefer to be in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Carrot cake from someone who knows carrot cake

I make the best carrot cake ever, no lie. It's even almost healthy, if you pretend that frosting has no calories. I looked long and hard for a carrot cake recipe that met my basic requirements: it must not have pineapple or raisins; it must use oil; it must not contain egg substitutes or anything else to make it "light," since I have my own ideas about that stuff. The result is this recipe, adapted from something I found on Recipe Source and can't find again because there are approximately 500 carrot cake recipes.

My modifications are to use some whole wheat flour, substitute applesauce for half the oil, and substitute flax seed meal and water for two of the eggs. This makes three layers, one 13x9 pan, or 24 cupcakes. I'll bet you could make a good zucchini cake if you use that instead of the carrots. I leave out the nuts these days, since I have a little dude who isn't quite at the nut-eating stage yet.

The 501st recipe for carrot cake on the Internet
2 c. flour (I use half whole wheat and half white)
2 c. sugar
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger
1/2 t. allspice
2 eggs
2 T. flax seed meal
6 T. water
1 t. vanilla
3/4 c. applesauce
3/4 c. oil
3 c. grated carrots
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar

  1. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside. 
  2. Mix sugar, eggs, flax seed meal, water, vanilla, applesauce, and oil. 
  3. Gently mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. 
  4. Fold in carrots. 
  5. Bake in a 350 degree oven in a greased 13x9 pan for about 40 minutes (timing will obviously vary if you use a different sort of format), or until a toothpick comes out clean in the center. Cool completely.
  6. For frosting, beat together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Frost cake and enjoy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The last canning

427This goes down as the last thing I canned this season, though I may pull out my jars at some point during the winter to make some orange marmalade. We have here some Italian prune plums, purchased at the grocery store and hailing from who-knows-where, canned in honey syrup. The recipe comes from Food in Jars.

I bought about 8 pounds of those plums just 'cause they looked awesome and I have somehow obtained a huge quantity of honey from various places. It's one of those things I like to pick up as a souvenir, and then my mom stealthily provided me with a giant jar of it from her friend's neighbor's hives. I didn't notice it until I had bought another big container of honey at the farmer's market. Oh, well. It keeps. I remind myself that they find edible honey in Egyptian tombs. The stuff in my cupboard is fine. Might as well buy more.

I have no idea what I'll do with these lovely plums, though Smitten Kitchen has a contender.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


037 My Pickl-It jars have allowed me to make non-moldy sauerkraut. Hooray! I used the basic recipe for kraut from the Pickl-It website for one jar, and the other is a beet/cabbage/onion concoction that I found here. I didn't add whey, since the Pickl-It people says it's not needed for this kind of fermentation.

The verdict? The sauerkraut tastes like sauerkraut! The beet stuff is so darn sour it brings tears to my eyes and makes me cough, but the flavor is nice otherwise. Since my favorite way to eat sauerkraut is cooked in the crockpot with pork, onions, bacon, apples, and caraway, it's not practical to use this sauerkraut for that. It took several weeks to get it to this point, and cooking would pretty much make all that nice probiotic stuff obsolete.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Use your imagination" muffins

First, imagine a picture of really delicious muffins here.

Second, imagine these muffins brimming with any sort of fruit, nut, berry, or other goodie possible. The sky is the limit. This is a recipe you can experiment with and the results will be delicious despite your lack of adherence to a specific recipe. This is how I like to cook, using recipes as a guide instead of gospel.

I also will not micromanage your baking. The original recipe is very specific about whisking dry ingredients together, adding things in a specific way. You can do that if you want. Me? I dump things in a bowl and as long as I don't mix the flour very long, they turn out.

Use your imagination muffins
Adapted from Elise's blueberry muffin recipe. Makes big, bakery-style 12-16 muffins, but cooked in a regular tin. The thick "liquid" used to bind everything together - yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk - enables you to really mound the batter up and get a big, puffy muffin. These are fantastic straight out of the oven.

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if using unsalted butter)
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk
Plus: mix-ins of your choice (see sample variations)

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Oil or grease a standard muffin tin. You will need 12 to 16 spots, and will definitely want to use a tin rather than any stand-alone reusable muffin papers, as these spread a little on the top.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated after each one. Add vanilla/almond extract.
  4. Add baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix to combine.
  5. Mix in yogurt/sour cream/buttermilk.
  6. Gently fold in flour. (Or, throw caution to the wind and dump it in your mixer, furiously beat it just until it comes together, and hope it doesn't become tough.)
  7. Fold in whatever mix-ins you're using.
  8. Mound the batter into each tin, going for about an inch over the top of the pan.
  9. Bake until muffins are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.  

  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen) and 1/2 t. lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen) with almond extract
  • 2 cups diced apples mixed with 1/4 cup of the sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and any other sweet spices you like (I use allspice), and a pinch of salt and left to sit while the remaining ingredients are mixed
  • 1 1/2 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen), 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, and orange zest if you have it
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped strawberries or whole raspberries
  • Whatever your little heart desires

Monday, September 13, 2010

It's grrrrrrrrrrrrrrape!

A couple of years ago, one of my friends and I raided the grape vines growing all over the fence she shared with a neighbor. I'm not sure of the variety - maybe Red Swenson - but the jelly I made from these grapes was decent enough. Better than the usual storebought, of course, but maybe a little too sour and definitely not the deep, rich purple we know and love from Welch's.

IMG_2796I was informed that her new neighbors ripped out the grape vines. Panic set in! Then I resolved to find a new source of grapes. Enter Craigslist. Now, if you haven't used Craigslist to source local produce, eggs, meat, and the like, you've been missing out. Almost everything you could possibly want is being advertised on Cragislist.

In this case, I found a very nice gentleman not very far away from me who has multiple varieties of grapes for winemaking, jam/jelly, and eating. Someone swooped in and picked the wine grapes, but there were Bluebell grapes enough to pick about 10 pounds (plus 2 pounds of table grapes) in less than an hour. The scent of the grapes was intoxicating, and sent me right back to my childhood. Our neighbors had a grape arbor covered in concord grapes and we kids would go over and pop them into our mouths at every opportunity.

Those ten pounds of grapes yielded 2 gallons of destemmed fruit to work with. Half of that has been turned into the most delicious grape jam one could possibly consume.

IMG_2813I was introduced to grape jam via a jar from another friend. At first I was reluctant; who wants to eat those skins? But one taste had me hooked.

Using the recipe from the Ball Blue Book, I set to work, and one batch of 7 half-pint jars took about 3 hours from start to finish AND I was wrangling two young children at the same time. Another batch done that evening took even less time.

After what happened with the apricot jam (darn near eating through it in record time), I may just need to turn the other half of the grapes into jam as well, though I might want to do jelly instead to skip the whole "acid from the grapes eating away at my skin and making it itch like crazy" thing.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Canned fruit army

Hear me, o peaches and o pears! Thou are not safe from me! I shall turn you all into an army of perpetually preserved produce.

Yet another thank-you to Amy of Crazy Boy Farm for organizing the second round of bulk buying of the most gorgeous fruit my palate has ever laid into. I bought two boxes of pears and peaches, which weighed about 22 pounds each.

Here are the results of my can-stravaganza, peach-and-pear style:

4 pints, 4 half-pints, 1 quart, and a quart-sized container that is living in my fridge of peach salsa; 8 quarts and 3 pints of sliced peaches (one of which did not seal)

15 quarts of pear halves

I've also got three gallon bags full of sliced peaches in the freezer because I ran out of jars and had a bunch of peaches that needed tending to before they'd get overripe.

Peach salsa
The basic idea came from this recipe. I ended up with enough to fill the equivalent of 10 pints.
16 peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, finely chopped
The zest and juice of 3 limes
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 banana peppers, finely chopped (note: please don't wimp out and use these peppers; get yourself some jalapenos)
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Throw all of the ingredients together in a large pot and bring to a boil for five minutes. Take pot off of the heat and let everything sit another five minutes.
  2. Process in sterilized jars.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gadgets make me happy on the inside.

Ah, kitchen gadgets. I do love you. I don't really go for the unitaskers, but there are some things I can't live without. My microplane for one (zesting has never been zestier). My Kitchen-Aid for another. I'm also fond of my plain ol' wooden lemon reamer, and my possibly-ridiculous-but-nonetheless-awesome ice cream maker.

I found two new loves today: Pickl-It jars, introduced to me by Alyssa and TATTLER reusable canning lids, which can be found at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply. Be still, my heart.

For those of you who are local to the Twin Cities of Minnesota, Alyssa is gathering orders for a co-op for the Pickl-It jars. We can get a decent discount if we order as a group. I look forward to being able to make sauerkraut that doesn't look like something out of a horror film.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nothing says "happy birthday" like pastries.

077 If there's any time to make and consume butter-laden pastry without guilt, it's your birthday. Today is mine, so I started some dough last night and crafted some danish this morning. I've been looking for an excuse to do this for some time, and the fire burned even hotter once I put up that awesome apricot jam.

073This is my first time with danish pastry dough. The recipe didn't intimidate me in the least, but it probably should have once I started rolling things out and things started not going well at all. The butter softened very quickly, despite the temperature last night being lower than it had been in a couple of weeks. I sort of half-assed the rolling-out and only got it rolled an inch thick before I had to give up and stick it back in the fridge two out of the three times.

074This morning went a bit better. The dough had been refrigerated overnight and I was able to roll it out and get the round pastries done before things got too soft. I simply cut 1/2 inch strips, twirled them, and made a coil. (Tip: A smaller thickness of dough in the center will make them easier to fill.) I ended up with thirteen of those and four square pastries filled with cream cheese (cream cheese + a bit of sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla) AND apricot.

I'm pleased at how flaky the pastries were, even with my half-assed rolling. The filling's delicious as well, and I opted to leave off any sort of icing or sugar, as they're delicious enough on their own.

Happy birthday to my mouth!

Monday, August 9, 2010

A time to sow, a time to reap.

A time to yank out your stupid sweet corn and plant something else! Yeah!

I'm pondering fall crops. I don't want to waste my time with something that won't give a decent yield, so I'm considering planting garlic and spinach, and maybe nothing else. As usual, the Minnesota Extension office has good information on fall crops that are suitable for Minnesota.

The last paragraph intrigues me. Would it be awesome or folly or awesome folly to plant something like winter wheat? This site seems to suggest that I might have enough time to do it. I wonder if I'd actually get any wheat out of it. I could totally go all Laura Ingalls Wilder and get myself a coffee grinder and hole up in my father's store and spend my days of the long winter grinding wheat and braiding straw for the fire. (Hopefully just the wheat-grinding bit.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'm not so sure I'm good at gardening.

This year I told myself, "You will learn about soil composition."

Yeah, that didn't happen.

I think I overplant like whoa. The square-foot gardening doesn't help, because it is just so tempting to fill every last square. This year I was "generous" and gave my tomatoes more than one square; they are supposed to have nine. I only managed to provide a teepee for one set of beans; the rest are climbing on the tomato cages, trellises, other plants, or reaching over to the chain-link fence and hanging out with the grapes and morning glories.

It all looks very pretty and wild, but it's not good from a production perspective. I'm getting a handful of beans every day, two ripe Amish paste tomatoes, lettuce that I didn't bother to harvest because the CSA box made me feel as if I was drowning in lettuce, and some teeny-tiny squash (like the potimarron in the photo) and watermelons and corn. When I was planting in rows, way back in the day, I got a lot more of a yield.

I think I may be pulling up the yellow beans and a few other things that just aren't performing well, to give the rest some breathing room. And next year I'll get the soil tested, I promise.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Maybe the stars will align this year and I'll finally get to make the circuit of the Twin Cities Parade of Coops. This year it's scheduled for Sunday, September 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with locations all over the metro. There's still time to add your coop if you've got some chickens in your backyard.

Here's all the details! Feel free to distribute (via print or web) at will.

And maybe you'll run into me, should those stars align and you decide you need to see some chickens. I'll be the weirdo in a dress going, "Hi, chicken ladies!" and "Chicka-chicka-chickens!" at all the birds.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The woman with the canner is after you, vegetables.

Ah, canning season. I love it. I work eight hours at my desk job, come home and get the babies fed and tucked into bed (or, rather, baby - my husband is kind enough to deal with the big girl most nights), and spend four hours in the kitchen, and this is what I call fun.

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving is my go-to recipe book for canned goods. It's a whole $8, but worth a whole lot more.
My first dilly beans, four pints worth. I found some lovely, thin, straight green beans at the farmer's market and jumped on those suckers.
9 quarts and 3 pints of dill pickles. I love the Ball recipe for dill pickles, with its bit of sugar. I added a clove of garlic to each jar in addition to big heads of dill. The cukes I found at the market were also nice and thin. I finally managed to pack pickles well, so there's more pickle than brine in each jar.
Six pints of bread and butter pickles. This time I did not use the incredible amount of onions the recipe calls for (3 small ones instead of 8 small ones) and cut the slices thinner than I did the last time I made pickles, which was two years ago. For some reason (impatience?) I had cut them a half-inch thick, which is quite awkward. Plus, the husband complained, and I am nothing if not accomodating, at least when it comes to the width of pickle slices.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Getting in the swing of CSA things

We're trying the CSA thing again this year, after trying Harmony Valley Farm a couple of years ago and finding it not quite what we wanted (great communication and produce and a wonderful fruit share, but too much variety and too many exotic things). This year we've chosen Treasured Haven Farm. It's much closer to the Cities, so maybe we'll have the opportunity to visit this year, and it offered a dropsite very close to our house. Unfortunately, that dropsite didn't work out, but Peg at Treasured Haven switched us to another without a problem.

We had many, many weeks of not much but lettuce, and a lot of it went to waste. We're just not big salad people. But now the produce season is kicking into full gear in Minnesota, and we've had a few weeks of the most delicious potatoes ever, cucumbers, zucchini/squash, and finally tomatoes (and amazing tomatoes they are).

I tried a new potato salad recipe and was very pleased with the results. My usual potato salad is the normal celery-and-onions-and-mustard-and-mayo fare, but lacking celery and being awash in cucumbers, I needed an alternative. This is a keeper.


Cucumber potato salad
Found here. Without the cucumbers it would taste very much like German potato salad for a lot less effort (and vegetarian, too).
1 English cucumber, sliced paper thin
2 pounds Austrian crescent or other fingerling potatoes (I used red potatoes)
Pinch caraway seeds (If you don't have these, leave them out; I didn't notice a huge difference in flavor)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock (I used vegetable stock)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon canola or sunflower seed oil (I left this out)
2 tablespoons sour cream, crème fraîche or plain yogurt, optional (I used yogurt)
  1. Put cucumber slices in bowl, toss with 2 teaspoons salt, and set aside.
  2. Put potatoes in saucepan, cover with water, add generous pinch salt and caraway, bring to a boil, and cook until potatoes are just tender. Drain, peel, and slice into a bowl while still warm. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. In a saucepan, bring stock and onion to a simmer. Add to potatoes, and toss gently until silky and lightly thickened. Fold in mustard, vinegar and oils.
  4. Drain cucumbers well, squeezing out excess liquid. Fold cucumbers into potato salad. Add more salt, pepper and vinegar if needed. Add sour cream, crème fraîche or yogurt if wanted.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This is what you do with 44 pounds of apricots.

Seven quarts of canned apricots, not well packed.

Nine pints of canned apricots, packed somewhat better.

Seven pints of apricot syrup (one went home with my dad).

13 half-pints of apricot jam, 11 that were actually canned; the rest went into the fridge because I ran out of rings.

Several jars of jam have been given away already. It is delicious, and I'd share the recipe but I - *gasp!* - didn't really use one. I tried out Ball's liquid pectin but used a lot less sugar than called for, because I like my jam to taste like fruit, with a bit of tartness. And guess what? It jelled just fine, thankyouverymuch.

I'm happy to report that I used every last bit of those suckers, aside from about 10 lost to spoilage and three (*sob*) batches of fruit leather (using this recipe lost to rain. I was being all smug and green and thought, "Oh, I could HARNESS THE POWER OF THE SUN to dry this fruit leather!" And then it went from sunny to downpour and the fruit leather went into the trash.

For those of you interested in using every last bit of your apricots, I suggest this method:
  • Make yourself some jam.
  • Start canning fruit. Stop after the quarts because you realize using your new, fancy pressure cooker takes a heck of a lot time than you thought. Put leftover fruit in the fridge, along with the syrup.
  • Two days later, when you finally have time and you realize that if you do not can the rest now they will spoil and it will be a huge waste of money and you will not have delicious-tasting apricots to crack open mid-winter, dump the leftover fruit and syrup into the pan to heat while you cut up whatever remains of the non-overripe fruit. Lament that there is any overripe fruit.
  • Can pints of fruit, taking only the ones that haven't disintegrated.
  • Realize that you could make fruit leather with the overripe stuff. Rejoice that you had overripe fruit.
  • Throw the rest of the fruit into the pot with the fruit unworthy of canning. Add some lemon juice. Take out smooshed fruit and blend, getting hot fruit puree all over yourself only twice (out of three times).
  • Realize you still have a lot of stuff in that there pot. Decide to make syrup. Throw more sugar in, and some corn syrup for good measure. Blend the rest of it together and can it.
  • Sit back smugly. And wonder what the heck you'll do with all this apricot stuff.
A big THANK YOU to Amy at Crazy Boy Farm, who organized this fruit purchase. She's taking orders for peaches, pears, apples, and nectarines, which will be delivered in a couple of weeks. Please contact her if you're in the Twin Cities area and want to order. I'm getting two cases each of peaches and pears. I am crazy. The fruit will be crazy delicious.

Friday, June 18, 2010


115Last year my garden was full of sunflowers that planted themselves, and this year is no different. One square of the garden is sunflowers - my daughter calls them the "sunflower family" - and then there are random sunflowers scattered about that I can't bear to yank out.

Sunflowers are some of my favorites. One of my favorite times of the year is when the sunflowers that line the highways in the metro area are blooming. How's that for blooming where you're planted?

I've also got at least one volunteer tomato plant in the garden. I suspect they are pear tomatoes, but I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Yards to Gardens

Yesterday I glanced at the newspaper and saw an article about Yards to Gardens. This website makes me very happy. It connects people with yards to people who need yards to garden. It also lists community garden spaces and provides a venue for sharing tools and expertise.

Read the article in the Star Tribune or visit the website (since the embedded map is giving me script errors) to see what's available in your area.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ach, who needs health food?

Creamed spinach. Yesssss.
A big thank-you to my fairy god-gardener, who made this spinach happen.

Creamed spinach
Sure, you could have healthy spinach. Or you could have THIS spinach. And here's a tip: The sauce, sans spinach and with rehydrated sundried tomatoes makes an awesome pasta sauce.
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
Chopped garlic, scallions, shallots, onions - whatever you have on hand
1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. shredded or grated hard cheese, such as parmesan, romano, or asiago
2 T. cream cheese
1 lb. fresh spinach, blanched and chopped, or 1 bag frozen spinach, thawed
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and garlic, etc. and cook for a few minutes.
  2. Whisk in the milk and cream and cook until very thick.
  3. Turn off the burner, add cheeses, and stir until melted.
  4. Add spinach and heat through.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Today I earned my PHD.

004Callister Farm, located in West Concord, Minnesota, held its second processing class today, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend (and equally grateful to have shared the experience with my friend Kate). If my memory serves, there were nine of us plus the Callisters, and each of us slaughtered, dressed, butchered, and packaged a chicken.

I was expecting more blood and guts and gore than what I got, but I'm not complaining. I stood and watched the chickens die, as I felt they were owed that, and although at times it was difficult to see people who were not skilled in slaughter doing the deed - myself included in that group - it was less difficult to watch the life go out of the chickens than I expected. As Kate pointed out before I stepped up to kill my bird, "These are happy chickens. They lived a good life." That was a speech I needed to hear at the time. It was a lot more difficult to dispatch a chicken than I expected; the feathers and skin provide more resistance than I thought they would.

Strangely enough, I thought the plucker was the worst part, with the thumping and speed and random glimpses of feet. But, boy, does it do a good job.

The farm is lovely and Lori Callister did a fantastic job teaching and encouraging us. Her stories and the family's dedication has solidified my desire to avoid mass-produced meat. Treating the birds with respect and care takes a lot of work, and that is something I need to support.

I've heard it said that anyone who eats meat should take part in the slaughtering process at least once to get an appreciation of where their food comes from. I heartily echo this sentiment, and hope the Callisters continue to offer this opportunity to interested individuals. My eyes were opened even further (and I have a chicken for my oven) for 40 bucks.

And if you need further proof that the Callisters treat their animals well, I offer this tidbit: I crouched down and opened my arms to one of the many layers scratching about the yard, saying, "C'mere, chicken," and it came to me and let me pick it up. I challenge you to find THAT at a Gold'n Plump farm.

Friday, June 11, 2010


128It is so easy for me to be lured into the trap of having beautiful things, even if I have perfectly serviceable unbeautiful ones already. But I am beginning to find the beauty in those things that have been used and worn. I would say something about the patina of a many-times-used prefold diaper, but that's venturing into the realm of weirdness.

These days, I am trying to replace those things that need replacing with handmade (thank you, Etsy) or used, and otherwise just dealing with something until it breaks.

One exception to this may just be my clothesline, for when it's laden with diaper laundry, it comes to my waist. It still makes a pretty picture and dries the laundry fine, but, I mean, c'mon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I has a baby pea! (garden progress as of June 5)

119 The peas are making little pea babies. The first one was discovered on Saturday. And then there was another yesterday. How adorable!

Here are some pictures of the garden boxes. Let's pretend I did a much better job weeding before taking these photos.

113Box #1 is chugging along. The spinach seems pretty happy, and the beans are REALLY happy. The cucumbers, likely victims of the dog, will be replaced with a couple of seedlings from Malmborg's. You will notice that all of the garden boxes now have a fence, which should prevent future dog-related tragedies.

114Box #2, home to melons that are actually sprouting (here's to hoping for fruit, for once), some sad-looking corn, a volunteer tomato plant, and not much else. I managed to get a zucchini to sprout. The tomato seedlings that went kaput will be replaced with Amish Paste and Cherokee Purple (my favorite tomato). Please remind me next year that I am horrible at starting seeds and kill them more often than not so, please, just buy them.

116Box #3 houses the "sunflower family," as my daughter calls it, along with pumpkins that are doing simply smashingly, more sad corn, and some other stuff, including brussels sprouts. I only had room for three brussels sprouts in my boxes so the other three seedlings are stuck by the also-sad rhubarb.

After a couple of very nice rainy days, the garden is about twice the size of these pictures, less than a week later.

Monday, June 7, 2010

You will thank me for this pizza recipe.

134The Penzey's catalog arrived in the mail the other day, and I was drawn to the homemade pizza recipe because the ingredients list included a 12 oz. can of beer. "Interesting," I thought. I get my yeast proofing and pull out the flour and start mixing things together, and upon reading, and re-reading, the recipe, find out that there is no beer used. So, thanks, Penzey's, for your poor editing, which led me to this amazing dough recipe. I found that I only needed about six and a half cups of flour, and swapped sugar for the honey so the baby could eat it. (And eat it he did - a slice and a half!)

Beerless pizza dough
If I had to hazard a guess, the beer was supposed to be for drinking. This makes two large or four medium pizza crusts.
2 c. warm water
2 T. yeast
2 T. sugar
6 c. all-purpose flour (may need a tad bit less or more)
4 T. olive oil
1 t. salt
Cornmeal for dusting
  1. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in your mixing bowl. Allow bubbles to form.
  2. Add olive oil and salt, and begin adding flour. Continue to add flour until the dough is just past being sticky. 
  3. Knead by machine or hand until the dough is soft, smooth, and elastic.
  4. Place in bowl (I'm a rebel and use the same bowl I mixed in) and cover with a damp towel. Allow to rise 45-60 minutes or until doubled.
  5. Dust a pizza peel or other smooth, rimless surface with cornmeal. Roll out and/or stretch half or a quarter of the dough until it's the desired thickness. Place on the cornmeal and add toppings. Slide onto a baking stone in a 450 degree oven and cook about 10 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.
The top pizza was made with olive oil, roasted garlic, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, and fresh mozzarella. The bottom one, which I would marry if it were legal, began with grape tomatoes tossed with olive oil, bouquet garni, and salt, roasted in a 200 degree oven for a few hours, with fresh mozzarella slices on top, and sprinkled with torn basil after coming out of the oven. Bliss.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Challah, holla.

ChallahMy first attempt at challah - which, interestingly, I made before deciding it was definitely time to get all Jewish - was just awesome. Maybe this, more than anything, proves that I was Jewish in a past life.

This does not mean I can correctly pronounce it, nor did braiding come naturally. I have YouTube to thank for its traditional challah shape.

"My Challah Recipe" made a delightful loaf of bread, but next time I will try a recipe with sugar instead of honey so my little honeybee can eat it, as he isn't quite old enough for delicious botulism spores.

And I'll tell you something: French toast made with leftover challah tastes like donuts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My cinnamon rolls that aren't famous yet but should be.

You need to make these.I have long been on a quest for the perfect cinnamon roll recipe. This was an arduous task, involving lots of butter, cinnamon, and new, larger pants. My perseverance has paid off, and it's a good thing I only wear dresses now, as they're a little more forgiving of gaining a billion pounds because you found the most seriously amazing cinnamon roll recipe ever and wish to eat a panful every day.

This recipe is adapted from one called Clone of a Cinnabon, but let me tell you - this is better than a Cinnabon. Your mind will be blown.

For those of you who, for some reason, don't like your cinnamon rolls topped with sweet, luscious cream cheese icing, there's a caramel-pecan roll option.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The garden is in. I repeat: The garden is in.

This is the earliest I've gotten my garden planted in... ever. Most years, I'm waiting and waiting and waiting for all of the parts to come together: a free day, prepared beds, cooperative weather, an assembly of plants and seeds. We've been having absolutely gorgeous weather (if you ignore that cold, rainy stretch) for quite awhile, which meant that I even started cold-weather crops while it was still "cold," and Sunday was the day I tucked everything else in its dirt bed.

A shout out to my neighbor, who held the baby (who is anti-playpen when it's outside, and pro-playpen when it's inside; go figure) during half the planting.

And, for posterity, I present to you... the map of the garden.

Garden box #1

Garden box #2

Garden box #3

*Parris Island Romaine, Slobolt, Yugoslavian Red... I think.

As you may notice, I do the square foot garden thing, though I can't say I do it properly. Who wants to fill nine squares with a tomato plant? I compromised from last year and allotted two. I will kick myself for this later, but chances are the tomatoes are the only thing that'll go crazy, as happens every year.

The tomatoes were started from seed and I managed to not kill them before they were placed into the ground. There's also a Reisentraube tomato in a pot on our stoop, and the remaining tomato plants (as I am not doing a community garden plot after all) will be potted if they can survive long enough. We go through lots of tomatoes. I loved the Hillbilly Potato Leaf tomato last year.

Of those things planted April 19, the peas are the most vigorous. The spinach comes in second, and broccoli third. The lettuce is protesting, so most of it was reseeded on Sunday. I'm not entirely sure it was worth the effort to put in an early planting, since it took forever for everything to come up, and there hasn't been much progress overall.

Most of the seeds I purchased two years ago from Seed Savers Exchange, but they're still germinating well. This year marks the end of the Charantais and Blacktail Mountain melon seeds; maybe this year I'll actually get one. And maybe this year I'll manage to post more than one progress photo.

I have high hopes for the vigor of my plants this year, as I topped off each bed with a nice heap of homemade compost, fresh out of the compost tumbler.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A day of rest

Those of you who know me personally will know that my husband and I are at the very beginning of the path of converting to Judaism. We're going from no official background in religion (save my not-even-half-hearted, done-so-I-no-longer-had-to-go-to-church confirmation as a Lutheran when I was 13) to attempting to integrate ourselves into an entire people with a rich and complicated history.

It's just a little daunting. But what else it is, is amazing. As cliche as it is, it feels as if we have come home.

One of the traditions that appeals to me deeply is making Shabbat. That is, as the Ten Commandments would put it, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy." Most of us have probably heard about all of the restrictions put on the Jewish people on the Sabbath - not only no work, but no carrying, no tying, no cooking, no turning on lights (though note: the degree of observance, at least in Liberal - i.e. non-Orthodox - Jews varies drastically). And I'm sure most of us think that it sounds awful, a whole day of not being allowed to do so many things.

But as it turns out, the Sabbath is seen as a gift. It's a day to focus on family and spiritual obligations instead of earthly ones. Starting with the lighting and blessing of candles, blessing wine and bread, blessing one another, and sharing a meal, it marks the passage of another week and allows you to stop and appreciate what you have been given and what you have worked for.

What a concept! Isn't this what so many of us are longing for in these hectic times? One of the many things that draws me toward Judaism is how the passage of time is noted and celebrated instead of simply allowed to passed, unnoticed except for when we see a gray hair in the mirror and wonder when we got old, or waking up one morning to kids who have slept through the night and realizing how long ago it was that they woke us up every morning and we just wished they would sleep five hours in a stretch, just once, please...!

How do I hope to make Shabbat? I hope we'll greet sundown on Friday with the traditional blessings and ritual paraphernalia (we joke that my husband's into this for the hats, and I'm into it for the food and candlesticks), followed by a meal, with flowers on the table and a passably clean home. I will try to make Saturday a day free of non-joyful obligations. I'll try to have as much food for Saturday prepped ahead of time as possible, so time with my family is maximized. (As much as I love being in the kitchen, I think I spend too much time in there.) We'll spend time on Torah study, reading, napping, laughing. When we can, we'll go to grownup services and Tot Shabbat. It'll be a day of being obligated to live in the present.

This sort of thing isn't just for religious people, either. Why can't we all take a day to turn off the rest of the world and focus on ourselves and our families?

Here are a few inspirational articles I've read recently on the topic:

The Selfish Shabbat - "I hardly believed in God's existence when I started to observe Shabbat. My observance began for one reason only: I was selfish."

An interview with the author of A Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat (since one of my challenges will be how do I do this when I'm at work most the week?)

Can a mom really rest?, an interview with the author of Rest, a book for anyone interested in slowing down and integrating this idea into their own lives.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You say you want a food revolution

The Internet (or at least my friends' Facebook feeds) is abuzz with talk about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Those of you who missed the preview on ABC can catch it on Hulu.

The concept: Know-it-all Brit goes to middle-class American city that's been deemed the fattest, least healthy one of the whole of our fat, unhealthy nation. He attempts to plant a "seed of change," as he says, to help ward of the premature deaths due to obesity, the diabetes, etc. and basically change America's love of processed food. He attempts to change school lunches, works with individual families, and opens a kitchen in town where he'll teach people to cook.

My take: G-d bless 'im. My husband seems to think it's all contrived, but I think the anger he's encountering is real. Interestingly, the individuals he's been working with so far are grateful. The parents of children eating the disgustingly over-processed school lunches are concerned. The lunch ladies and administration... not so much. And he already seems to be making strides. At one point he goes into a first-grade classroom to quiz them on vegetables, and they had no idea what any of it was, though they readily identified chicken nuggets, pizza, and hamburgers. Their teacher was obviously horrified and set out to teach them their vegetables from artichokes to zucchini, and they picked it up immediately.

On a personal note, I grew up eating those over-processed school lunches. Our cafeterias put out homemade bread, too, but everything else came frozen or dehydrated. We've been feeding our children this stuff for decades now. I admit that I largely found it tasty, but that much salt and MSG'll do that to you.

This show spawned a lot of conversation between my husband and I. He and I disagreed on whether or not we eat a lot of processed food; most of the processed food we consume is in the form of sugar. Oh, we love our sugar. Ice cream! Brownie mix! (Don't judge! I haven't been able to make decent brownies from scratch ever!) Chocolate! And we eat a lot of rich food, but it's mostly from-scratch rich food, which may not necessarily make it healthier (unless you're considering the lack of high-fructose corn syrup and salt and trans fast), but it's better. I maintain that we are fat because we sit on our butts all the time doing things like making blog posts about food. And, also, the overeating, since someone needs to consume the results of the kitchen's output.

Good luck, Mr. Oliver. I'm behind you 100%. May you be an example to all of America.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tiramisu of love

TiramisuMy first thought upon hearing that the Daring Bakers challenge for February was tiramisu was, "OMG. Valentine's Day!" My husband looooooooves the tiramisu at Buca di Beppo, as it is very booze-filled and rich. I had visions of a beautiful, molded tiramisu with cocoa-powder hearts upon it, an edible testament to my love. The challenge involved making the tiramisu entirely from scratch - ladyfingers/savoiardi, pastry cream, zabaglione, whipped cream, and even the mascarpone. This is certainly a dessert worthy of being served on Valentine's Day.

Apparently my love is oozy and not very boozy, extremely high-maintenance (we knew that) and a lot of work, but still pretty tasty.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

The mascarpone was a pain. It would not thicken, which I figured about an hour into it might be due to using a glass bowl instead of a metal one, but even after I switched bowls and decided I'd just cook the dickens out of it, it never reached the point described. I ended up sticking it in the fridge and it came out resembling soft cheese and was edible (though very tangy due to the extra lemon I added out of desperation).

The pastry cream did not thicken, either, which baffled me. It's not like I've never made it before. I ended adding more flour, cornstarch, and sugar mixed with a touch more milk.

The man of the house said that he thought my ladyfingers were storebought. What a compliment! I don't know if I folded the batter too much or made them too big or what, but I got about half of what I should have and the tiramisu showed it. It would've been a little bit more structured and a lot more delicious (it was lacking coffee and booze flavor as it was) if I had more ladyfingers. Instead of using rum extract, by the way, I used actual rum. I just barely dipped the biscuits in the coffee (which was espresso made in a drip coffee maker, as I am not fancy enough to have an actual espresso machine, and was too cheap to buy some from a coffee shop), as instructed, and they were not nearly soaked enough.

All lessons to take to my next attempt, eh?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mezze? Yezze!

MezzeOne of my ongoing projects for this year is participating in the Daring Cooks and Daring Bakers challenges through The Daring Kitchen. Each month, secret challenges are revealed, and we must cook/bake the challenge recipe(s) and post about the deliciousness that ensues. Today I reveal my very first Daring Cooks challenge.

The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

Mezze (pronounced "mez" or "mez-ay" - I simply pronounce it "delicious") is the Middle Eastern version of Spanish tapas. My mezze ended up rather Syrian in flavor, due to making the e-acquaintance (i.e., I read his blog) of Tony Tahhan, who does not lack in deliciousness himself, if you know what I mean. I adapted his recipes for kebab, spinach fatayer, garlic sauce, baklava, and fattoush. The challenge recipes were hummus and pita. I rounded things out with falafel, an option challenge recipe, and olives from Holy Land.

PitaPita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

This was some delicious pita bread, and kept for a couple of days after cooking. I found that rolling out the dough thickly made for a better poof. I wish the bread had more color, but I set off the smoke alarm three times as it was, and I'm not sure my oven could've handled more heat.
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook

2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)

  1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.
  2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).
  4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.
  5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

Behold! Hummus that doesn't suck! This is the first time I made edible hummus. If we ate more hummus in my family, I'd make it all the time. I'm sure to make it again because I had the totally brilliant idea of cooking a whole two pounds of chickpeas for this challenge, which means I have a metric ton of them in my freezer now.

Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste

  1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
  2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

FalafelFalafels - Recipe from Joan Nathan and Epicurious.com

These are fantastic. Boy, do I wish I had a food processor, though. I had to use my blender and it was not an easy task. My cookie dough scoop made them the perfect size.

Prep Time: Overnight for dry beans and 1 hour to make Falafels

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight OR use well canned drained chickpeas (7 ounces/100 grams)
1/2 large onion (roughly chopped, about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried parsley (.2 ounces/5 grams)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped OR use a couple pinches of dried cilantro (.2 ounces/5 grams)
1 teaspoon table salt (.1 ounce/5 grams)
1 teaspoon dried hot red peppers (cayenne) (.1 ounce/2 grams)
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon cumin (.1 ounce/2 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder (.13 ounces/4 grams)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour (1 ounce/24 grams) (you may need a bit extra)
tasteless oil for frying (vegetable, canola, peanut, soybean, etc.), you will need enough so that the oil is three inches deep in whatever pan you are using for frying

  1. Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least 2 inches. Let soak overnight, and then drain. Or use canned chickpeas, drained.
  2. Place the drained, uncooked chickpeas and the onions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the parsley, cilantro, salt, hot pepper, garlic, and cumin. Process until blended but not pureed. If you don’t have a food processor, then feel free to mash this up as smooth as possible by hand.
  3. Sprinkle in the baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour, and pulse. You want to add enough bulgur or flour so that the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands. Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.
  4. Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
  5. Heat 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees (190C) in a deep pot or wok and fry 1 ball to test. If it falls apart, add a little flour. Then fry about 6 balls at once for a few minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
  6. Drain on paper towels.

Note: These can also be baked on a nonstick pad (silpat or the like) at 325F (160C), just until they’re firm, about 20 minutes.

Garlic sauce and fatayerThe garlic sauce was so delicious and so potent. I tried to double the recipe so used about 10 cloves of garlic, but I was only able to incorporate about 3/4 cup of oil into the egg whites anyway. Let's just say that there weren't any vampires around here the night we dined on this. My daughter loved the fatayer. My dough ended up a lot thicker and I had a lot less filling than Tony's do, so should I make them again, more rolling will be in order.

KebabI wish I would have been able to grill the kebab, but 25 minutes at 425 did the trick. The more allspice the better with these; I didn't have nearly enough.

BaklavaI had to fudge the baklava because I forgot to buy orange blossom water, which, of course, was one of the main reasons I made the trek to Holy Land. Instead, I added about 1/4 cup of honey to the syrup. It could've used a bit more baking for color, but after two and a half hours in the oven, I wanted to go to sleep, so I gave up on that. More syrup would've been nice, too, maybe just by a half cup.

As far as fattoush goes, this version was basically romaine, radish, cucumber, red bell pepper, and the dressing. It was very refreshing and crisp, and the sumac brings instant Middle Eastern flavor.

All in all, a pretty yummy challenge, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


This will be The Year of the Chickens. First order of business: Submit a permit application to the city. If all goes well, this blog should get a lot more interesting in the coming year.


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