Friday, July 31, 2009

Strictly Collard Greens and the Occasional Steak....

.... is all that's on my plate.

Not really, but it's always a good idea to quote Tribe Called Quest whenever possible.

For those who want to get more greens on your plate but aren't sure how to make these tough leaves palatable, here's a super easy recipe from my CSA.

2 lbs collard greens, tough stems discarded, leaves chopped
2 T medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove minced
2 t bacon fat
2 T olive oil
2 T dark sesame oil
chili pepper flakes, salt, sugar

Use a large skillet with a tight fitting cover. (I use our Creuset.) Melt bacon fat and heat olive oil on medium heat. (My coop doesn't always have bacon fat, so I render the fat from a few strips of bacon and then sprinkle the bacon bits on the greens at the end.) Saute onion until transparent, a couple of minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

Mix in the greens, sesame oil, chili pepper flakes, salt, and sugar to taste.

Cover and cook until tender, about 8 -10 minutes. This is crucial collard greens can be very tough and it takes time and heat to soften them up.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Guest Blogging Over There...

I meant to post this last week but I kept checking the "Random Splashes of Thought Blog" and didn't see my post. Today, I scrolled down and lo and behold, there it was! Turns out, some blogs are set up so that the most recent posts are at the bottom! I guess you learn something new everyday when you start out as silly as me.

Here's the guest blog post that I did over at Random Splashes of Thought.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

A "Soursweet" Weekend Getaway to Lawrence, KS

It was that time of year for my pilgrimage to Lawrence, KS. This time, my friend Sarah was getting hitched, finally, after dating the fellow since she was 16. My husband came on this trip and handled most of the 8 hours driving each way. In spite of having his companionship it was a "soursweet" weekend.

I know. The phrase is "bittersweet." But lately I've been thinking about all things sour and sweet, like my husband's rhubarb dessert made from the red stalks grown in our backyard, or sour cherry jam, or the perfect pluots I finally found at our neighborhood stand. I love sour. I'd spritz lime on my pizza if it weren't for the funny looks. I'd bathe in vinegar. There's something slightly masochistic about a love of sour. Sour foods cause a whisper of a twinge at the back of the mouth, a feeling that borders on pain. You know, the whole, "make it hurt so good" thing.

There's nothing better to soothe the pang of sour than sweet. "Bittersweet" makes no sense because bitter can't be eased by sweet. Trust me, last week I stumbled across no less than two bitter almonds while munching on my midafternoon snack. Sweet almonds did nothing to erase the foulness on my tongue. Only time erases the feeling and taste of bitterness. Sweet and sour, on the other hand, are a bit like ying and yang, one easing the other.

The weekend started with dropping off our nine-month-old Juno (a dog, not a child) at her boarding facility. J and I had had a rough week. She was acting the typical adolescent for days -- misbehaving on walks, not listening to commands that she's "known" for ages. As I drove her to the facility, I was thinking, "We need a break from each other." I was almost looking forward to the time apart. Sure enough, as soon as the boarding employee grabbed her collar to lead her down the narrow hallway to the play area, she freaked out, slipped away from his grasp and ran back to between my legs. She took a seat on the floor next to me and gazed up. I read her eyes. "Don't leave me!" Of course, I'd read her all wrong. She was just afraid of the hallway and the relative stranger grabbing her collar. As soon as I lured her down the hall and she found her way through the door and to the other dogs, I was but a faint smell on her thick coat. It was a soursweet departure.

I think, too, there's something soursweet about weddings. It's a joy to see old friends and to watch a friend make this commitment, but it's a reminder about how things change. My friend from graduate school and fellow Lawrence weekend pilgrim, Aura, reminded me of how it was back in graduate school when husbands, marriage, houses, and kids were the farthest things from our minds. And there I was, my baby-filled belly protruding while we waited in the hotel lobby for my husband. Not that I don't love my life now, but it's a hard lesson to realise you can't have it all. I can't be foot-loose and fancy free and settled and secure at the same time. Perhaps it was all the more striking of a lesson because we were in Lawrence, a place that reminds me of Madison, WI, the town where I went to college and that I love almost as much as any town I've lived in.

We spent our day and a half eating perfect French Toast at Milton's, mediocre seafood at Angler's, and memorable bbq at Arthur Bryant's (sorry no food pics this time); watching crappy movies in our hotel bed; wandering into craft stores along Lawrence's Mass Street; and visiting the Haskell-Baker Wetlands where area universities study ecology, I took most of these pictures, we decided we both like cattails, debated stealing a few osage orange fruit (hedge apples) to deter spiders in our house (we did not), and considered the relative merits of fording the river versus building a raft. We did not die of dysentary.

With no dog and no housework, we got to sleep in in the luxurious king-sized bed. The rooms had been recently re-done so everything was clean and stark. It wasn't home.

On Friday night we laid in bed and I felt the baby tumbling around inside my belly. At a scant 19 weeks, I was sure it was my imagination when I thought I felt a kick on the outside of my taught skin. But sure enough, when Eric put his hand on me stomach, he felt a nudge. He smiled a surprised smile. Finally, I think he's beginning to believe I really am pregnant. The weekend wasn't entirely "soursweet;" some moments were just perfectly sweet.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Canning Lessons

At the end of last summer, I took a course at a local farm on canning and preserving the harvest. Winters in Minnesota are rough, to say the least, and a spoonful of local fruits and vegetables in the dead of a near sunless February can mean the difference between survival and gauging out your own eyes with said spoon. I did not imagine myself doing much freezing and processing this winter until a friend showed up at my doorstep with a trunkload of canning jars a mere two weeks before my sister's sour cherry tree went into glorious fruition.

I pillaged the tree, pitted and cut the cherries, washed the mason jars, filled giant vats of water, and set them to boil on the stove. Soon, I had all four burners going for sterilization, cooking, and processing. Such projects are best done with the husband at work or otherwise away from the house. The kitchen grows quickly hot and humid and the male disposition is not well suited to such conditions. Besides, canning is best done with a heavy dose of either solitary meditation or womanly gossip.

I followed the directions in The Blue Book to a "T." It warns to not mess with the proportions or to even try doubling the recipes. When botulism is a danger, I tend to do what I'm told. I was, however, a little disappointed that my batch came out to less than half the amount the recipe promised. Still, I plunged them into the roiling bath and set them to process for ten minutes.

I'm sure the seasoned canner is more nonchalant than I about this, but I still wait close by in anticipation of the little pop that will indicate that a can is sealed. The instructor in my class had warned that sometimes the seal doesn't take until after the can is removed from the canner and starts to cool. Still, the moments of pop-less silence are filled with a minor dread. Did I do it wrong this time? Am I going to have to store all of these jars in a refrigerator instead of neatly lined up on the shelves of our canning room? Will I poison a gift recipient?

But I should have more faith in the women who canned before me and who wrote gospels like The Blue Book. There's nothing that hasn't already been tried. And, in the case of preserving food, that's a good thing. The gentle pops started as soon as I pulled out the cans until each shiny lid was dimpled. I should remember the next time I can: everything worth doing involves a dash of risk and a whole lot of faith in the ones who came before.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Best Pregnancy Craving So Far...

When we were kids visiting our relatives in Thailand, there would come the inevitable afternoon or evening when a large tupperware container was brought out from the fridge and placed on the lazy susan in front of the hungry eyes of a group of adults.

"Do you want to try some?" someone would invariably ask me and my American-born siblings. The first few times, we were, of course, curious enough to hang around and see what mysterious Thai delight the container held but cautious enough to not make any promises.

The seal on the container would be broken with a satisfying gasp of air that released an odor so horrific that it momentarily blinded us from seeing the golden egg-like pods nestled inside. Durian. The dreaded Durian: a Southeast Asian fruit which odor is reminiscent of rotting fish or garbage on a hot day or the Bangkok sewer system. It was enough to make an 8 year old gag.

"Do you want to try some?"

"You're going to eat that?"

We'd flee to the bougainvillea-covered corners of the yard while the adults savored their fruity treat. It's what some might call an acquired taste.... or an acquired smell.

Durian, or the "king of the fruit" as it's known in Thailand, is famous through Southeast Asia for its pungent odor, its intimidatingly spiky exterior, and it's rich, custard-like flavor and texture. It is the odor that makes it banned in many hotels, on some airlines, and in various public places. As an adult living in Thailand, I finally got the gumption to try some. It was love at first bite. It's surprisingly creamy for a fruit, reminiscent of perfectly ripe avocado. And the infamous odor reveals itself in a surprisingly floral taste on the tongue. It are these subtleties that are missed when you smell without tasting the fruit.

Needless to say, Durian is a little hard to come by in the States and so it was not without some bittersweet disappointment when I woke one morning a few weeks ago thinking of nothing other than the sweet yellow nuggets of fruity goodness.

Fortunately, there is an Asian market near us that rivals the best markets Stateside. Unfortunately, all of their Durian is frozen -- either as the whole fruit or already dissected and hermetically entombed in plastic containers.

After reading some on-line commentary, I opted for the whole fruit, which, some claimed, was more likely to retain the taste through the freezing process.

Needless to say, my husband was not thrilled when he saw the porcupine-esque shape sitting on our kitchen counter. He tried to ban Durian from our house. "I'll eat it outside," I promised. A day later it was thawed out enough to take my clever and cutting board out back.

Durian is the reason why I adore Anthony Bourdain and loathe Andrew Zimmern. Bourdain revels in this tropical delight. (Fast forward to 5:45 or click here to see Bourdain enjoy durian.)


Zimmern, on the other hand, has the gall to spit out the King of the Fruits in front of a durian farmer.

I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to run out and try durian, but if you're the host of a show about eating strange and unusual foods, surely you can choke back a piece of fruit. He fails to do this not just one time, but a second time when he runs across his arch-nemesis again in Chinatown.

It was in the spirit of Bourdain's culinary adventures that I broke open the frozen durian on our picnic table. Frozen, it had lost a little of its structure and potency, but it sated my craving and, as I promised my husband, I finished all six magical pods contained within in the first 24 hours of cracking it open. I had a few nuggets that had to be stored in the fridge overnight. In spite of wrapping them in plastic wrap and foil, my husband still complained that the kitchen smelled like a landfill. I had to agree.

I'm sure that some of my Asian relatives would have warned me that it was a bad idea to eat durian, which has heating qualities, while I was pregnant. Or at least they'd say that I should balance the heat with the cooling effects of a fruit like mangosteen. As much as I'd love nothing more than to gorge myself on mangosteen, they are only recently available in a few places in the states and exorbitantly priced. Besides, I like to keep in mind a more Western idea that what your baby is exposed to in the womb and while nursing can shape the eating habits they'll have during their lifetime. I'm hoping ours has a whole lot more Bourdain and a whole lot less Zimmern.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rhena and Eric Plus One

First comes love.

Then comes marriage.

Then, after a year of trying, comes two pink lines on a stick.

16 weeks and counting down to mid December. Updates to follow...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Christmas in July Sale at Lars and Addie!

Lars and Addie is participating in the etsy-wide Christmas in July sale. I'm offering 10% off of all regularly priced items (priced as marked). I've got more fabric bowls listed and more in the hopper....

Stop on by now through July 22nd to enjoy these discounts and check back for daily additions during the weekdays of the sale!

To find other Etsy shops participating in the sale, search "christmas in july," "christmasinjuly," or "cij" on the front page of Etsy.

Thanks and enjoy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Urban Eden Deodorant: Fresh and Citrusy

It's been quite some time since I've worn antiperspirant. While there are those out there who would only make such a drastic move based on scientific evidence proving that the chemicals that keep us from sweating cause cancer or Alzheimer's, I relied on a much more readily-accessible source of information to make this decision: my gut. What my gut told me was that the human body was made to sweat to keep us cool and, absent an excessive sweating issue, trying to keep the body from sweating seemed unnatural. Besides, my t-shirts were getting yellow pit stains from antiperspirant and, as my sister recently pointed out, antiperspirant always seems to leave a film on your pits that never washes off. Who wants a sticky film?

My aversion to antiperspirant, however, is only slightly stronger than my aversion to my own stank. My trip down the deodorant aisle was increasingly becoming an exercise in frustration. Is there a deodorant out there that not only smells good but keeps me smelling good for longer than three hours?

It was only when I saw a Tweet from a fellow etsian about a shop called "Urban Eden" that I realized that there were options beyond Toms of Maine and "The Rock." I ordered up some of her lemon myrtle deodorant.

The 1.65 oz container of yellowish, easy to rub on deodorant has a citrusy scent that verges on astringent. I mean that in the best way. I like slightly astringent deodorant because it makes me feel like it's working. "Astringent" means "clean" and is in direct opposition to "funk."

I have to admit that when I finally go to bed at the end of the day and I throw my arms over my head, even I still find the odor permeating from my pits pretty offensive. But I think I'm coming to accept that that has little to do with what deodorant I'm using and more to do with my own sweat stinkiness. I think I'm a twice a day rub under the pits kind of a girl. And that's fine by me -- as long as I can keep finding deodorants has easy and fragrant as those made by Urban Eden.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Make These Popsicles

I stumbled across this recipe on The Mama Dramalogues blog and after experimenting with it once or twice, combining it with another recipe I found in Bust magazine, they've quickly become a fav around here. When I say "fav," I mean I eat them everyday at least once a day and I don't feel TOO guilty about it as they have yogurt in them.

(Any)Berry Cream Pops
from Lorraine Starks

1 pint berries (about 12 oz)
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup cream (heavy or light)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup vanilla yogurt
8 5-ounce waxy paper cups or 12 3-oz bathroom cups
popsicle sticks

(I those reusable popsicle containers)

In a saucepan, bring the berries, sugar, and water to a boil. Let simmer for 8 minutes or so (until the berries are soft and begin to break apart). The other recipes have you drain the berry juice, but I love berry seeds, so I left in all the goodness.

Layer the popsicle as follows. First: a few dollops of yogurt with a whole berry or two thrown in. Let freeze for about two hours. Second: Mix about 2/3 of the berry syrup with the cream and mix well. Pour a little over the frozen yogurt. Freeze for an hour or so. (I let it start to get solid, but not so solid that I can't poke the popsicle stick in place.) Third: Mix the remaining berry mixture with the lemon. Pour that on top. Stick the sticks in the popsicle. (If using paper cups, the Mama Dramalogues suggests using a tin foil cover to keep the stick from toppling over.) Freeze for two hours. I do the mixture backwards - the Mamas do it yogurt, berry-lemon, then berry-cream but I like having the most refreshing one at the bottom.

Remove and enjoy!

We've tried both blackberry and raspberry to great success. They hubby has put in a request for strawberry and I'd like to see if we can make blueberry work so those will be the next two flavors. I'll let you know if they're an utter disaster!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fence Building 101

Our poor pup has suffered in our fenceless yard long enough. We (and when I say "we" I mean my husband and his family) are building a fence and she will be able to run free through the crab grass, dig holes in the black earth of our garden, hunt bunnies, squirrels, and cats, and generally wreak havoc in every corner of our yard.

The first steps? Dig up the old chain link and centuries old wooden posts and put in new holes. I wish I had pictures of my father-in-law pulling up the old posts with the Bobcat that his work recently (and conveniently) bought. It was truly a vision of machine versus nature (or at least machine versus urban lot). Of course, we missed most of it because we had various wedding and parties to attend while Eric's father toiled away. It would not be unfair to compare us to Cinderella's stepsisters -- except for the fact that Eric's father pretty much has a huge grin on his face the entire time he's working heavy machinery.

Next, the menfolk had to dig 25 post holes using a rented auger. Getting the auger, the posts, and the flats of 80 pound bags of cement into our yard was enough of a feat. The digging was a whole other story. Turns out that repeatedly pulling this giant metal screw four feet out of the ground is hard work. Not that I'd know -- mostly I just took pictures and found any excuse to stay inside the air conditioned house. I am a delicate flower.

Eric insists that the pictures don't do justice to the amount of effort it took to lift that thing around. Lest you think Dane (in the blue shirt) did even less than I did -- he was waiting for hole to be drilled so he could pour gravel into the bottom: not the most romantic job, but necessary nonetheless. We're currently working on getting the poles straight and level and setting them with concrete. More pics to come...