May 18, 2012

A Story About Pancakes (not the cat)

Confession time:  Until yesterday, I had never made a pancake, by myself, from start to finish.

It wasn't that I didn't know how.  I mean, theoretically, I understood the concept.  I could read a recipe.  Perhaps the finer details of the execution were lacking, but I'm a clever girl—I'm sure I could figure it out.  But the need never arose, given that it is my lot in life to fall in with a man who makes a mean pancake without any help from yours truly.

Also, I'm not a huge fan of pancakes.  (Pancakes, maybe.  On those few instances when he's behaving.)  Along with tuna on toast, pancakes were something we ate when the adult in charge of my dinner did not feel like cooking.  We had breakfast for dinner so often that the charm of the inverted meals wore thin.

Now, that is fine!  Sometimes I don't feel like cooking, either!  Why do you think we keep a supply of Annie's bunny pastas on hand?  But, for whatever reason, I am generally opposed to eating breakfast (read: pancakes) for dinner.  I have come to re-embrace them as a tasty breakfast food, especially since The Husband makes delicious chocolate chip pancakes and we always have a lot of maple syrup to work through (maple syrup, along with beer, wine, and cheese, is something I frequently smuggle back to the desert after trips to WNY; strangely, Arizona doesn't have a lot of maple trees).

On a recent-ish trip back home, we visited our local pancake-and-turkey purveyor, where I became enchanted with a crow statue (sadly, not for sale) and the idea of buckwheat pancakes.  But not the namby-pamby kind that only makes passing reference to buckwheat—no, I wanted hearty, nutty, earthy cakes, dagnabbit.  And rather than topping them with maple syrup—although it is delicious—I had a fridge full of berries purchased during a sale-and-heat-induced frenzy that desperately needed to be eaten before they sprouted fuzz and melted.

Here's what I ended up with:

A tasty quadruple-decker pancake tower, full of various stewed fruits.  The sweetness in both the cakes and fruits is subtle, with the slight tang of the berries helping cut the dense flavor of the buckwheat.

From top to bottom, we have:  maple–bourbon blackberries, mesquite honey and vanilla raspberries, lemon–poppyseed blueberries, and fig balsamic strawberries with black pepper.

I can't say for certain that these were better than the bunny-shaped pancakes I used to get as a kid.  But they were pretty dang good.

[Food considerations:  Vegetarian, but not vegan.  Gluten-free if you use only buckwheat flour.  Contains dairy and eggs.]


The berries

You can use any variety of berry you'd like, and can add whatever flavors/sweeteners/etc. you think work well together.  They come together pretty quickly; you're not making jam, here, so there's no need to cook it for very long.  You only want to simmer the fruits until they have broken down slightly and have made a little syrup.  Generally speaking, I ended up with half pints of the blackberries and blueberries and full pints of the strawberries and raspberries.

Here is the basic formula, with additions specified for each berry.

Put about 1 c. of washed berries into a medium pan, on medium heat, and stir frequently until the juices start to be released (you can add a tiny amount of water to help this along).  Add the sweetener, then cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to break down and the juice covers the bottom of the pan.  Depending on the berry (blackberries and blueberries particularly), you may need to mash a few of the fruits with the spoon to encourage their tasty destruction.  Keep an eye on them while they're cooking, and once they've reached the state of chunkiness you like best, uncover and continue simmering, stirring more frequently, until the juice has reduced a bit and you have a sticky, unctuous syrup.  Once it's to your liking, remove from the heat and pour into a jar.


Maple–bourbon blackberries:  For sweetener, use 3 or 4 tbsp. of maple syrup.  Once you remove the pan from the heat, stir in a scant tbsp. of bourbon before storing.

Mesquite honey and vanilla raspberries:  For sweetener, add 2 tbsp. of mesquite honey, if you can get it (any honey will work, though).  Before covering to simmer, add a vanilla pod.

Lemon–poppyseed blueberries:  For sweetener, use 2 dessert spoons of caster sugar; add a zest of one lemon and 2 pinches of blue poppyseeds with the sugar.  When you uncover the berries for the final simmer, add the juice of half a lemon.

Fig balsamic and black pepper strawberries:  For sweetener, use 2 dessert spoons of turbinado sugar.  Partway through the covered simmer, add 1 tbsp. of fig balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic is fine, too).  Stir in a couple of grinds of black pepper (probably about 1 or 2 tsp.) once you remove the fruit from the heat.

The pancakes (I ended up with six 3-inch and seven 4-inch cakes [sizes are rough estimates])

In a large bowl, sift together 3/4 c. buckwheat flour, 1/4 c. sprouted spelt flour (AP or other standard flours are fine, too), 2 tbsp. sugar, 3/8 tsp. salt, and 3/4 tsp. baking soda.   Melt 2 tbsp. of unsalted butter and stir in.  In a measuring cup or small bowl, mix together 1/2 c. plain yogurt, 1/2 c. + a slurp of milk, and 1 egg; add to the dry ingredients, stirring as you go.  You want a thickish, but still fluid, batter, so add more milk if it seems too dry.

While you're making the batter, heat up a heavy pan or griddle (I used a small, cast-iron stovetop griddle) over medium heat; you want it ready for the batter as soon as it's mixed.  Add a little knob of butter, swirling it about the cover the pan.  Using a small ladle or measuring cup (a 1/8 c. was a good size for my wee cakes), pour the batter onto the griddle, trying to keep it in a neat circle but being accepting when this doesn't happen.  Cook until bubbles begin to pop through in the middle of the cake, about 4–5 minutes.  Flip and cook for another minute or so, until lightly browned; serve immediately (if not building miniature Leaning Towers of Pancake) or place on a baking sheet in a warm oven until ready.

May 17, 2012

It's a Chard-Knock Life

When planning a garden, you should always be sure to plant for your particular climate, so that you aren't left frantically harvesting all your greens just as the temperatures begin to settle in for a long stretch of triple-digit highs.  Now we probably jumped the gun a bit, as it was only hovering around the high 90s during our reaping time, but not only were we working against an unforgiving sun, we were also battling wasps.

Yes, wasps.

Did you know that they were big fans of vegetables?  I assumed they lived off of spite and terror and the tears of the innocent (well, some do) and ruined picnics and sugar.  But no!  They also eat greens.

The wretched buggers were laying waste to our chard and undoubtedly scaring off the friendly bees who only wanted buzz around politely and pollinate things.  Also, they made harvesting much more dangerous for The Husband, who is frightfully allergic to stings and yet never seems to have his anti-sting medications on his person.  So we hosed down the garden to try to scare them away, then quickly made off with all the chard (and cavolo nero, for good measure) we could before they caught on.  And while this did leave me feeling pretty pleased for having pulled one over on the striped menace, it also left us with copious amounts of greenery that demanded my attention.

(It also left us with a lot of rat tail radish that needs pickling or something.)

First up was a garlicky cavolo nero pasta with thinly sliced squashes and crispy beans.  I love crispy beans.  In fact, I ate a lot of them before they even made it to the pasta.  Fortunately, I have come to anticipate issues like these and adjust my amounts accordingly.

For the chard, I ended up making two different batches of chard cakes, which are tasty in both large cake form (with some quinoa and tzatziki)

and in smaller crispy-bit form on top of a salad of shaved pattypan squash and fennel with mozzarella.

Of course, it feels like we've barely put a dent in our greens collection, so more green-centric food will be forthcoming.  Can't let the hornets feel like they won, now can we?

[Food considerations:  The cavolo nero pasta is vegetarian, vegan if you omit the cheese and use an eggless pasta, and gluten-free if you use gluten-free pasta.  The chard cakes are vegetarian, and can be made gluten-free by using gluten-free breadcrumbs, though rice flour would probably work just as well.  My version of pasta contains eggs, as do the chard cakes; the chard cakes also include dairy.  Both should be soy-free.]


Garlicky cavolo nero with crispy beans and squash

If you'll be making your own pasta, go ahead and get the dough started.  My recipe is here (my God, the sister blog is ignored).  Cover and let it rest while you make everything else (it should sit for at least 30 minutes, but can easily sit longer—just make sure it's covered, or else it'll dry out).

To make crispy beans:  Cook a meaty bean of your choice (I used borlotti and followed my normal method of pressure cooker + dried chipotle).  Try to get a good bean type for this, as the beans must be able to stand on their own to work well (as my frequent snacking whilst cooking can attest).  Aside from borlotti, any cranberry-esque bean will work, as will any bean that holds its shape.

Finely slice two or three cloves of garlic.  In a shallow saute pan, heat up some oil (I used a mix of grapeseed and roasted garlic olive oil).  When hot, add the garlic, mix briefly, and then add the beans.  Stir until everything is well coated, season with a large pinch of salt, then let cook on a medium-high heat, mixing occasionally, so that the beans fry and their skins begin to crack.  Once the beans get crispy and chewy, remove from the heat (keep the little burnt garlic chips, too, as they are amazing).

Wipe most of the oil from the pan, then return to the stove.

For the greens, remove the woody stems as needed (ours was still but a young'un, so I left most of it alone).  Wash the leaves, though you don't need to be too fussy about drying them.  Thinly slice about a dozen cloves of garlic; seriously, it can take it, so just BE BRAVE.  TRUST THE GARLIC.

Add some olive oil to the pan and, just like the crispy beans, add the garlic once the oil is hot.  Let the garlic saute for about a minute, then add the cavolo nero.  Stir well, until all the leaves are glossy from the oil, then cover and let cook until just tender (you still want a bit of bite to the stems).  Salt to taste, give a final stir, then remove to a bowl.

If you're rocking the homemade pasta, roll out and cut your noodles to your preferred shape.  If using pre-made pasta, start cooking it now.  You will want the pasta to be ready right when the zucchini (see next step) is done, so don't start cooking the squash until just before the pasta is al dente.

Using a mandoline (or excellent knife skills, if you have them), thinly slice a small zucchini lengthwise, then julienne the squash into strips about the width of fettucine.  Heat up a tiny bit of olive oil in your saute pan and add a pinch of Aleppo pepper.  Let the pepper flavor the oil, then throw in the strips of zucchini.  Cook them very briefly, just enough to warm through, then add the cooked cavolo nero, stir about, and then add the drained pasta.  Stir madly, mixing everything together as much as possible (this may not be easy), then move the pan off the heat.  Squeeze half a lemon (or more, depending on your taste) over everything, along with a few turns of the pepper grinder.  Plate the pasta and sprinkle as many beans as you can stand over the top, along with some Parmesan cheese.

Chard cakes

I basically took these almost directly from Ottolenghi's Plenty, which is a pretty fantastic cookbook for us vegetarian types.  I give you my highly abridged notes on this recipe, plus my tweaks.

1 ¼ lbs chard
1/3 c pine nuts [We did not have any pine nuts, so I used finely chopped walnuts]
1 tbsp olive oil
4 oz kashkaval cheese, coarsely grated [I don't even remember what this is. I used a roughly equal amount of crumbled goat feta in one batch, and 3 tbsp of garlic and pepper farmers' cheese from my fabulous local dairy in the other]
1 egg
6 tbsp dried white breadcrumbs
¼ tsp salt
[2 tbsp cooked quinoa]

Cut stalks from chard. Bring large pan of water to boil, add stalks, and simmer for 4 minutes. Add leaves, stir, and continue simmering for 3 minutes. Drain chard and allow to cool down slightly. Squeeze as much water out as possible. Be quite forceful. Chop leaves and stalks and put into mixing bowl.

In small frying pan, fry pine nuts [walnuts] in tbsp of oil until light brown (about 1 minute). Add nuts and oil to chard, followed by cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, s&p [and quinoa]. If mix is too soft and sticky, add more crumbs.

Heat oil in frying pan. Shape chard mix into eight patties 2 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch thick. Fry for 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to absorb oil.

The original recipe suggests that you serve this with a sorrel sauce, but sorrel isn't exactly in season anymore, so I made a quick tzatziki sauce with 1/2 c. plain yogurt, the juice of half a lemon, a dash or two of red wine vinegar, salt, a clove's worth of crushed garlic, and a large pinch each of dried dill and mint.  Mix thoroughly, then cover and let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (longer if possible).  Plate up on a bed of quinoa and drizzle over the tzatziki to your liking.

The salad was mandolined pattypan squash and fennel, tossed in a lemon juice/olive oil/salt dressing with a dollop of leftover tzatziki mixed in for good measure.  The chard was haphazardly pinched into little ball-like lumps and fried in a tiny bit of oil until brown all over (it managed to not dry out too much while in the fridge, but if it does, just add a bit of water until it sticks together).  Quarters of little ciliegine mozzarella balls are a nice touch, and I imagine that goat cheese would be splendid, too.

Excellent uses for a glut of greens, even if you didn't have to rescue them from the clutches of the family Vespidae.

May 6, 2012

It's Hip to be (Granny) Square

If you look at the top of the page, you might notice that the subheading for this humble blog contains the word "crafts."  You might also notice that this blog isn't terrible crafty; indeed, the last time I wrote anything about craft things was back in February.  This isn't necessarily because I'm not a crafty lady—I have lots of ideas, though a certain Pannekuchen G. Guhlers (shown below being "helpful") does complicate the execution phase of any crafty endeavor.

However, our trip back east meant that I got to be around cats for whom yarn is not the functional equivalent of high-grade heroin, and so I could actually crochet without having to stop every few stitches to retrieve the yarn from a twitchy kitten.

Here's what I have so far.

Yes, it's granny square season here in PHX, and might I just say that I'm terribly pleased with myself for not having lost any of them during my transcontinental flight.  The end goal for all these bits and bobs is a blanket for a certain granny I know who's had a rough go of things lately.  Fortunately, like many grannies, she is not good with computers (or any technology beyond the touchtone phone, which she only begrudgingly owns because there were no rotary telephones at the store the day she needed to buy one), so there's not much danger of the jig going irreversibly up by posting here.

I'm using this granny square pattern, though the actual final configuration of said squares is still TBD.  I'm not really thinking beyond the current round when I'm plotting this out, which hopefully will not be my undoing when I near the finish line and only then discover that I am short on not-insignificant amounts of yarn/squares/time/sanity. 

I do, however, really like the piecemeal quality of making blankets this way.  I generally prefer some level of instant gratification in most things that I do, which makes large-scale projects like blankets difficult for me to stick with if I have a hard time seeing any quantifiable progress.  While the ever-increasing number of squares is starting to get daunting, the system I've been using means that I can easily see where I'm at, how far I have to go, and how far I've come; the simplicity of the squares and the ease with which they come together also does a lot to make me feel super productive from a minimal amount of work.  I mean, look at all these squares!

That's a tower of fiber you can be proud of, right?  Never mind that it's only a fraction of the squares that I need, and this isn't even the longest round.  Making my way through this project has been a lot like pondering our cat:  appearance is everything and first impressions are positive, but if you start to think about it too much, there's really not much there.  Low expectations all around!

I've also been stepping out of my comfort zone, colorwise, on this one.

I recognize that perhaps this yarn stash isn't all that impressive, but coming from someone whose favorite color is grey (a point that The Husband finds endlessly mockable), this is progress.  Also, my grandmother has specifically requested that anything made for her be in the "old lady" style, which suggested to me that neon sparkly yarn was out.  I'm not completely sure what "old lady" necessarily entails, but I like to think that I've found an acceptable elderlyish balance.

May 5, 2012

The Circle of Life, Re-ducks


Ok, so I'm not 100% sure about this, BUT!

Today on our way out to run some errands, The Husband and I noticed a couple of wee mourning doves hanging out on the sidewalk.  They looked a lot like the handsome little critters shown here.  Now, I can't guarantee that they were my chicklets, and I'm still calling a certain cat of ours a birderer, and I really wish the parent doves would stop plaintively cooing outside of our bedroom window, but I think I'll sleep a little better tonight knowing that maybe, just maybe, my micropoultry are doing just fine.

Godspeed, little dovelets.  I'll leave the planter up in case you want to visit.

May 4, 2012

The Circle of Life, Redux

I just recently returned from a lovely trip back home, where I spent most of my time either teaching my niece bad habits like sticking your tongue out for pictures or attempting to save the family's cats from said niece's grabby little toddler hands, which just so happen to be perfectly sized for pulling tails.  Upon our return to the desert, we have been greeted by both good and bad news.

First, the good news:  my micropoultry done growed up!

Yes, what was once just eggs and then featherless blobs has turned into two proper chicklets.

Now, the bad news:  the chicklets are gone.

The optimist in me points out that they were pretty close to fledging time, and they obviously couldn't stay forever.  But then the realist in me points out that a certain cat was caught pawing at the window just before the birds vanished.  And that the adult doves have been sitting in the planter and puttering around and making really sad sounds.  So I've taken to calling the cat a birderer (a bird murderer) and feeling generally bummed about the whole affair, especially because it was my fault he was in the bedroom unattended.

Ok, now, before I get too depressed thinking about this, back to the good news:  The Husband is on an extended chemo break!  We returned from our trip back east to promptly wake at the crack of dawn to make the drive down to the TUX (thank goodness for time changes) and were told by the oncologist that, given the good results from the most recent scans/procedures, it made most sense to keep The Husband off of chemo until a followup scan next month.  That's right:  six weeks of not having to drive to TUX and not being drugged up make for GOOD TIMES.

To mark the occasion, we had celebratory taco and beer night and cracked open a couple of the many beers that The Husband and I had been squirreling away for when he could drink again.

Because these were celebratory tacos, they naturally had to be fancier than our usual tacos.  I jazzed them up with some pickled watermelon radishes and some sauteed mushrooms and homegrown chard and what were probably the best beans I've ever made.  Recipes below!

And speaking of homegrown, check out our garden!

I am seriously pleased with the little fella.  There have certainly been problems, mostly in the bean category (I think there might have been some watering issues).  But the chard, cavolo nero, and cilantro are already harvestable, there are tomatoes on the vine (and my two little from-seed plants are chugging along), and the radishes have gone blooming mad. 

Check out those sweet pods on the radish plants.  Little did I know that each plant makes about one bazillion pods, and we have seven or eight plants, so by my math we'll have about eleventy gazillion radishes to eat.

All in all, I consider this a win.

*EDIT: The Husband insists that I also inform you all that I added some corn (canned, because I'm one of those weirdos who eats the remainder of the corn straight from the can while everything else is cooking) to the beans near the end.  And that the chard went into an onion-pepper-chard saute (thinly sliced up one red onion, half a jar of roasted red peppers, and some chard or other green, heat up in a pan with a little oil and Aleppo pepper, add adobo seasoning and a little cumin powder to taste, and cook until tender).


Quick pickled radishes

Thinly slice (a mandoline is probably your best bet) a couple of radishes (I used watermelon radishes, but any would work).  In a bowl with some semblance of a cover, mix up 1/2 c. white wine vinegar, 1/4 c. sugar, and a pinch of salt.  Add the radishes, making sure they are submerged, and leave to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Lazy sauteed mushrooms

Thinly slice up a portobello mushroom.  In a frying pan, heat up a little oil, then add the mushroom and let cook on medium for about one minute.  Add a couple of shakes of adobo seasoning (I use this blend) or your preferred fajita/taco spices and several glugs of Worcestershire sauce or vegetarian substitute.  Let simmer until the mushrooms are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated (note that the mushrooms will release A LOT of liquid, so keep them uncovered).

Possibly my best beans ever. (For tacos, I prefer black beans over pinto, but any good meaty bean should work.)

If you're smart, soak about 1 cup of your preferred bean overnight.  Drain, then put in a pressure cooker.  Add to the beans 1 or 2 dried chipotle peppers, 3 or 4 bay leaves, and 1 tsp. each of cumin seeds and fennel seeds.  Cook according to your pressure cooker's directions until just done.  Once cooked, throw in a stick of cinnamon and let it infuse with the hot beans for about 1 hour, then remove.  Drain out the beans, reserving the cooking liquid and the chipotle.

In a saute pan, heat up some chocolate olive oil (I get mine from an awesome AZ mill).  De-stem and de-seed the now reconstituted chipotle, chop finely, then add to the pan.  Mix well, and once the chile has cooked for 30 seconds or so, add in the beans.  Mix in a large pinch each of Mexican oregano and epazote, then salt to taste (it can take a lot, so be generous).  Stir in about 1/2 c. of the cooking liquid and let simmer on low for 30 minutes to 1 hour, adding liquid as necessary to keep the beans from drying out.  I prefer my final bean product to be on the dry side, so I let most of the liquid cook off before serving, but if you like a soupier bean, then add the bean juice accordingly.

April 10, 2012

The Circle of Life

Since moving to the desert, I've become enamored with the idea of homesteading.  Maybe it's the pioneer mindset creeping in, or maybe it's because I (intermittently) work from home and thus have too much time on my hands.  Of course, living in an apartment and not having a yard and being inherently lazy all complicate matters somewhat, but a girl can dream, right?

Recently, I decided to finally have a go at growing some vegetables, which I mentioned here.  When The Husband and I lived in Massachusetts, we had some modest success growing tomatoes and a few greens on our balcony, and that was under less-than-optimal lighting conditions.  Here in the Valley of the Sun, the place is lousy with solar radiation, so I figured we had a fighting chance.  Initial impressions were positive, and we finally found a good use for that pesky west-facing window in our living room.

I fussed over all my little sproutlings, turning them regularly and attempting to protect them from the cat (there were some casualties, sadly, with the most prominent being my trashcan potatoes).  After a few more weeks of care and love, here's where I was at:

Now, the sharp-eyed and clever among you might notice that the second photo seems to have far fewer plants.  And you would be correct.  In a fit of gnat infestation-induced madness, I tore most everything out.  I loved my plants, but the near-constant barrage of tiny insects became too much.  When you have to change your cat's water dish every day because there are dozens of dead bugs in it, something has to give.  Mostly, it was the beans and peas that had to go, as they were harboring the highest concentrations of fungus gnats (and they take up a ton of space to boot).  While I miss all the greenery, it's been really quite nice not having tiny winged creatures flying into our noses anymore.

Happily, the gardening gods were smiling, as I managed to upgrade from window planters to this:

Yes, The Husband and I are the proud stewards of our own little community plot!  Things are looking a little bare right now, but with any luck, something edible will come of this!  And hopefully I will remember that there is a beehive over by the mulch and not almost run into it again.

Also, we're raising poultry!

Well, micropoultry.


OK, FINE: some mourning doves have taken up residence in my lettuces.

Yes, a pair of mourning doves has settled into one of my windowsill planters and set up shop.  On the day I planned on harvesting all the lettuce (because it's already getting too warm), I found this:

There is now a second egg, and after some confusion on the part of the parents, there has been a bird brooding the tiny egglets constantly for the past few days.  Of course, this means that my lettuce and arugula are no more, which is sad because they made for some tasty salads.

Oh, well.  My new feathered friends seem to be enjoying it more than I did anyway.

April 8, 2012

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

Hey, everyone!  Remember this blog?  It's been awhile, eh?  After that last post, things got a little crazy.  Well, a lot crazy, actually.  But in a good, affirming-my-faith-in-humanity sort of way.  Which is why I feel like I need to say the following:


To anyone and everyone who spread the word, or donated, or bought something, I thank you from the bottom of my cold little heart.  The support has been nothing short of amazing, and the prospect of being sans-insurance is far less daunting.  We're not 100% there yet, with the new chemo and additional scans/procedures, but it's nice to be able to focus on things like life and getting better without trying to calculate how much plasma one can sell per week before anemia sets in and/or the phlebotomists get suspicious.

And for those of you who haven't caught the Poopstrong fever (only cure: more cowbell poop jokes), here's the website.  You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for updates and general shenanigans.  I've even added links to the right side of the blog, so you can always see what we're up to!

So, apart from fulfilling t-shirt orders, what have I been doing with myself lately?  Well, I've been traveling and stalking waterbirds...

and saving the occasional rogue snapping turtle.

There have been visits to the ocean

and day-drinking excursions.

I've also started cooking again.  Mostly beans, like this vaguely Eastern Europeany black-eyed pea and cabbage saute (that I stuffed in a pita, because why not?):

and this lemony fried lima bean and chard salad.

There has been a resurgence of crafting, as well as some developments in the field of urban homesteading (or, in my case, urban fauxsteading).  I've decided that I need both a sewing machine and a bike.  I sprained my ankle.  I got to stay two doors down from Snooki's place in Jersey City.  And I should really get around to posting that tasty sweet potato and peanut soup recipe to the sister blog.

Oh, and the cat fell asleep in my armpit once.

SO MUCH STUFF.  So stay tuned!