Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coffee/Tea Swap Box

Earlier this week I got my coffee/tea swap box in the mail from Danido! She sent me so many yummy treats. The coffee is a peaberry variety which I love. Peaberry coffee is so cute- it looks like baby coffee beans! And its from a lroaster that is local to her (in Las Vegas). The tea is a blend that she put together herself and it quite nice. I've already had several cups of each. She also included some coffee flavored candies that are surprisingly flavorfull- they are great for when I don't have time for a real cup of coffee and, oh yeah, they are already half gone. I might have to find a place to buy more. The light colored bars on the left are not bars of fudge, though thats what they look like in person, but bars of soap. We left town right after the box arrived so I haven't had a chance to use the soap yet, but it looks like it will be a very creamy, mild soap. Very nice. And She also sent two tubes of her handmade chapstick and I am addicted. I love this stuff. She sells both the soap and chapstick on her artfire shop, Pale Soap. The little skein of handspun red yarn has the tiniest bit of glittery stuff in it which is very fun. I've already used it to make a teacup handle sweater. I just need to find some cute little buttons to go with it. My picture doesn't show it, but the box also included an ArtFelt kit-- its hiding underneath the note card with the cute sheep drawing on it. I've wet felted, needle felted and fulled before, but ArtFelt uses a technique that seems to combine all three. The kit is for four colorful coasters and I'm looking forward to trying it.

All in all its a really cute package and I'm enjoying it tremendously. So thank you to Dani for such a great gift! I hope she enjoyed the package that I sent her, too!

Straight from the Cow

This week, Chris and I are spending some vacation time at my parent's mountain house in the NC mountains. We've both been working hard lately and can use some resting and relaxing. My parents joined us for our first day here, and this afternoon my mom took us over to the neighbor's dairy farm. The cow fields extend right up by the house and my mom takes near daily walks through the pastures. But only recently has she met the farmers and gone down the hill to the milking barn. The farmer, and his dad, are good ol' boys but real friendly and happy to have us watch through the windows of the milking barn and pet the baby calves which love to suck on fingers! And before we left they filled our jug up with fresh milk-- still slightly warm from the cows!

This year milk prices have been falling in the grocery stores due to an over-production of milk, but at the same time hay prices have been rising because of increased transportation costs. Combined with the heavy rains this spring making it hard to get anything done, small farmers are struggling to make ends meet. So if you have the opportunity to buy local dairy products-- even if its a bit more expensive-- I encourage you to do it. Not only will you be getting a better product, but you'll be helping to keep small farmers in business!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Whole Food Challenge

In one of my last posts I talked about how I want to try to eat more "whole foods". And this has nothing to do with the grocery store of the same name. The idea is to eat more foods that come to your kitchen the way they were grown- i.e. as a tomato rather than a premade and packaged sauce. At first glance this sounds pretty easy. There are lots of whole foods that we already eat. Its common to eat whole veggies or fruits, and cuts of meat count as "whole" too (even if you don't have the whole cow!). But when I sat down with a recipe for macaroni salad today I realized that this might be more difficult than I expected. My usual macaroni salad recipe calls for elbow macaroni, mayonaise, vinegar, mustard, sweet relish, carrots, peas and cheddar cheese. Only two things on that list are whole foods-- carrots and peas. I decided that I'm going to allow pasta on my whole foods diet. Yes, I CAN make pasta myself. And if I'm doing a lasagna casserole maybe I will. But I don't have the time, equipment or skills to make my own elbow macaroni for a casual pasta salad. And I read the ingredients list and its basically just a couple types of flour and egg whites with some added iron, riboflavin, thiamin and folic acid (these last things all being added nutrients). So we'll let the pasta slide. I'm not really sure what to think about the vinegar and mustard. Can those be made at home? It might be worth trying sometime. For this recipe though there were only a few tablespoons of each so I wasn't too concerned.

Other than the pasta, the other main ingredients are the mayo and the relish. I'd like to eventually make my own pickles to be used for homemade sweet relish but thats not something I'm ready to try today, so I picked a jar of sweet relish with the fewest ingredients I could find, and most importantly one without any added corn syrup. I think that the dish would be improved a lot by using homemade relish-- whether its made by me or by someone local. I think I'll see if I can find some at the farmer's market. I know we have a couple of booths that sell canned/jarred things.

The mayo was the one thing that I simply could not justify. I don't think there is anything natural about commercial mayo. Especially not the low-fat miracle whip I normally use. So I decided to try something I've never done before. I made my own mayonnaise. Maybe this is something that you have done before or that you've known of people doing but it seemed very odd to me. I've never thought about making condiments before (and of course now I want to try making my own ketchup and mustard too!). But I found an easy recipe, gathered together the few ingredients needed (I found some pasturized eggs at the grocery store thankfully-- I'm a bit nervous about raw eggs) and pluggedin my Magic Bullet. The magic bullet is one of my favorite kitchen appliances. Its basically a mini food processor/blender and I use it for everything from making butter to blending smoothies to grinding chocolate, to, well, making mayonnaise. At first I thought it was a failure. It tasted weird-- oily and eggy. But I put it in the fridge to chill and the flavors blended a bit better. And then I realized what the real problem was-- I haven't had REAL mayonnaise in years! We always buy miracle whip which, of course, tastes nothing like actual mayonnaise. I'm not sure that I'd like the stuff I made smeared on a sandwich. For one thing its much too liquidy (though longer in the fridge may have helped with that). But once I mixed it in with the rest of the ingredients it makes a great pasta salad!

I also decided to add a couple of hardboiled eggs and skip the cheddar cheese for now. I'd say this one turned out successful! Now I just need to figure out how to make my own relish, vinegar and mustard...

Laura's Macaroni Salad Recipe

  • one box (aprox 14oz) of elbow macaroni pasta (I use a multigrain pasta that is in between a regular pasta and a wholegrain pasta)
  • one recipe's worth of Homemade Mayonnaise using this recipe
  • two hard boiled eggs, chopped
  • a cup of sweet relish (more or less to taste)
  • 2 carrots
  • about 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard (to taste)
  • a couple pinches of salt (i use one big pinch in the water when I cook the pasta and another smaller pinch mixed into the salad)
  • champagne vinegar to taste- a couple of tablespoons (other types of vinegar would probably be fine, this is just what I had in the pantry)
  • I often add peas but forgot this time-- just throw a few handfulls of frozen peas in with the pasta for the last few minutes of cooking time
  • optional: cheddar cheese grated on top

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Thank you!

While in West Virginia this week I got a lovely surprise from one of our family friends. Marcia has been Chris's mom's best friend since childhood and is like an aunt to Chris. Anytime we go to WV to visit family we make sure to take time to see Marcia and her husband. In addition to be a lovely person and a wonderful friend to the whole family (she takes care of Grandma like she was her own mother), Marcia is a talented craftwoman. She does all sorts of things but most recently has taken up penny rug making, a type of applique using felted wool. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the beautiful table runners and mantel covers she had in her home. And look what she made for me! I wasn't celebrating a birthday or any other special occasion, she just knew that its something I would enjoy and appreciate. And she couldn't have picked a better design. The leaping sheep are perfect! Right now I have it in the center of our kitchen table but I think I may hang it on the wall so that it doesn't get damaged and can be seen better. Thank you Marcia for such a lovely present!


Where did this last week go? The first part of the week was spent busy with work and then we spent Thursday and Friday traveling to and from West Virginia for a cousin's wedding. I got two skirts finished in time to wear on the trip, but of course haven't taken any photos yet. During the earlier part of the week I also took a brief moment to bake some cookies--the Orange Poppy Seed Sugar Biscuits I mentioned in the last blog. They turned out yummy, but since the main ingredients are butter and sugar there was little doubt that they would! As per the directions, I formed the dough into logs and refrigerated over night before slicing and baking. I wonder if I could roll the dough and slice it, or just plop it down in spoonfulls, if I didn't want to wait for it to chill. But the slice and bake method worked well and I ended up with very consistently shaped cookies. Of course, I was too busy eating them to take a picture!

I also "collected" a bunch of worm tea from the vermicompost bin. I always forget to do this and by the time I get around to it there is a LOT of liquid in the bottom of the bin. Thankfully the worms are very forgiving. Some people might find this a little gross, but the garden LOVES this stuff and its all very natural. If you do it right, vermicompost doesn't smell like rotting food, it just smells like good, rich dirt. Because, well, thats what it is! I'm going to make a longer post about vermicompost over on the 6 Kingdoms blog, so if you are interested check it out.

The trip to WV only took two days, but felt like a lot longer since we spent so much of it in the car. Thankfully we had Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food on CD to listen to and it lasted through almost the entire trip. It not only gave us something to listen to but it sparked lots of conversation. In general we agreed with Pollan and found the book very interesting. Chris is now reading one of his other books, The Omnivore's Delimma, and once he is done with it (and I have time!) I'm planning on reading it as well. After listening to this book I'm even more committed to eating local "whole" foods and avoiding processed foods. Though I still maintain that my cheerios shouldn't count as an evil processed food :). And, short of breakfast cereal, I think we do a pretty good job. A typical day consists of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch (on homemade bread and with local lettuce if its available) and then dinner depends on what came in the CSA box that week. I'm going to put more effort into making sure that the meats we buy are local and grass fed. The buffalo farmer we buy from at the Carrboro farmer's market is usually at the Wednesday market and we need to take more advantage of that. His meat is more expensive than what you can get on sale at the super market but its lower in fat, grass fed (which means the fat that is present is a better type), and much tastier! Its going to be more difficult during the winter, of course, since we will no longer be getting a CSA box and the farmer's markets won't offer as much. But we are thinking about stocking up on fresh veggies at the market during the summer and then freezing them to have during the winter. We have never tried this before so we aren't sure which veggies freeze best. I guess we have some research to do!

Speaking of food, here is this weeks CSA box. You can see that we are beginning to transition from the spring garden full of leafy greens and sweet strawberries into the summer crops of hardier vegetables. This week we have a huge head of fennel (which to me looks like it should have grown on an alien planet), a bunch of radishes, squash, zuchinni, and onion, cucumbers and spinach (hiding in the plastic bag behind the radishes). The fennel and cucumbers we have been using in salads and the squash, zuchinni and onion were chopped up and sauted together. Chris was especially excited about the radishes which he calls natures candy. I think they have a weird aftertaste, even such sweet ones as these. Unfortunately it looks like we are done with strawberries and lettuce in our box and the supermarket offerings just aren't good enough for us anymore- we have been spoiled! So we may not be eating as many salads as we did this spring. But I'm sure the box will offer us enough new things to make up for it!

Though we were only out of town for two days, it seemed like the garden exploded during that short time. When we got home we were amazed at how much everything had grown. I think all the rain we had last week probably had something to do with that. Our first squash is almost ready to pick and I can't wait to try it, even with all the squash in the CSA box. Squash is one of my favorite vegetables so I don't mind having lots!

The pepper plants have gotten huge and are covered in little baby peppers and flower buds. Pretty soon we are going to have an avalanch of peppers, particularly jalapenos, so we may have to get creative in how to use them. I think we may try making Pepper Jelly. I've made jams before from berries, but never from peppers!

The tomatos and basil are also finally starting to take off. We have quite a few little baby tomatos. Garden tomatos are one of Chris's favorites, and add so much to a salad, so I hope they are good! Unfortunately the thyme has died, and the rosemary is still hanging on but not thriving. So I think we may get another rosemary plant and put it where the thyme was. I love using rosemary for cooking, so I want to make sure we have plenty!

Friday, June 5, 2009

This week I made chocolate bread which turned out ok-- I think I need to make it a bit sweeter next time and maybe add more liquid so that the dough isn't so stiff and hard to form. I also made homemade honey butter to go with it. Yum!

I've also been working on Emma- a lace cardigan that I'm really hoping to finish soon so I can wear it this summer. I'm right at the bust line now and should be able to start the "skirt" soon. I think it will go a bit faster once I'm on the skirt because I'll be working on a more entertaining lace pattern and that always makes me knit faster

Things I want to make or try:

Knit skirt made from an old men's polo shirt,
-- I bought a t-shirt at the thrift shop but need to borrow the serger from my mom since my machine can only do a straight stitch (not good for knit fabric)

This great peg board to organize my studio. I wonder if I could find a piece of scrap peg board at Habitat ReStore...

These Orange Poppy Seed Sugar Biscuits...don't they look yummy?