Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hurricanes, Nor' Easters, and Random Thoughts

We were very lucky with Hurricane Sandy. We had several trees come down, some large branches, and lots and lots of twigs, but nothing hit the car or the house. Electricity was sporadic, going out for a few hours here and there, but never long enough to actually get the generator going. Each time we thought, okay, time to get the old clunker up and running the power would come back on. One day, when I thought we were safe from any more power outages, I made pizza dough. What was I thinking? I had the oven preheating and had just finished rolling the dough out when out went the lights. Well, I could still cook on the stove top since we have propane (the oven won't work, though). So I grabbed my big griddle, rolled the dough thinner, cooked it on each side till it was bubbled with brown spots—kind of like you do when making pita bread—topped it with tomato sauce and grated mozzarella cheese, covered it with an upside down lasagna pan until the cheese melted, and voila! Yummy griddled pizza eaten by candlelight. 

We also lost internet for five days. Amazing how you come to rely on it. All we had for news was our trusty radio. We heard the same stories, repeated constantly every ten minutes or so, with occasional updates from Mayor Bloomberg on how New York City was doing, or reports from NJ Governor Christie or NY Governor Cuomo. Rick made an observation that the news reporters were reporting all the grim, tragic, and disturbing stories, while the politicians were spinning it the other way, reporting on the positive improvements as problems were tackled and overcome. It was an interesting observation.

Rick's mom was incommunicado for two days. We last spoke to her during the hurricane. She was hunkered down in the hallway with a blanket, a pillow, and her cellphone because a huge tree had uprooted and she was afraid it was going to fall on her roof. Then no word. With electricity down she had no phone (we're oldfashioned and have kept our corded landline through the phone company, so we never lose phone service), and her cellphone had lost its signal. On the second day, she managed to get a cryptic text out to Rick's sister in Boston: "Mom here. With Mary. In the dark." And then nothing again. No one in the family knew who Mary was, and since we couldn't drive to her I called the nearest precinct, asking if they'd send a police officer to check. They reported to me the house seemed dark (duh) and deserted. We live 35 miles away, which means an hour drive on a normal day here on Long Island. Our town was completely dark, though, no traffic lights were working and they had closed all major roads down including one we'd have to drive on to get to her. In Nassau County, the county executive had closed every road down. Driving that 35 miles would have been dangerous, and maybe impossible. My mom lives two miles away from Rick's mother. She was happily eating her way through all her food. As soon as she heard power might be out for days she decided to cook everything she could think of that would keep unrefrigerated before it went off (some of her choices, like pasta fagioli, were a bit odd in my opinion). She was even having fun cooking after she lost power. Like us, she has a gas stove, but power was out for so long that she ran out of fresh vegetables, had already cooked what meat she had in her initial cooking frenzy, ate all her eggs, and started in on canned soup. She was on her last can when her power finally came back on after 5 1/2 days. At one point, early in the week, she even decided she couldn't let her new container of semi-defrosted Breyers peach ice cream go to waste, so ate (or kind of drank, really) half of it before she decided she might be ill. I made her promise to throw the rest away. We finally did "find" Rick's mom, who was fine. She had been in her basement (with Mary, her tenant). Unlike us, however, she has an electric stove and had to cook all her meals on her propane grill. She does, however, have a gas fireplace so was able to stay warm despite the very cold weather. Her electricity came back on 8 days later.

Then the Nor' Easter hit. Since when do they name nor' easters?? This one was called Winter Storm Athena. In a way, it was almost worse than the hurricane. Winds were gusting almost as high, up to 70 mph vs. the 90+ mph of the hurricane, but we had much more rain by us. And then snow. And it seemed to go on for a long long time. Another tree came down, but, again, it didn't hit anything. Rick's chain saw needed a new chain and he had sent away for a replacement. It arrived on Saturday and he went right out and chopped up the tree before I even knew what he was up to.

Rick goofing around as we started our pile of debris.
In the scheme of things we were all very lucky compared to so many others on Long Island. For us, after the task of clearing downed trees and other debris, the biggest residual problem had been the shortage of gas. Lines were ridiculously long at any station that was actually open and had gas deliveries. People were lining up at any station that had electricity, hoping a delivery would come sooner or later. Even after some stations got power back, gas deliveries were few and far between at first. People sat on line for hours only to get to the pumps and find out there was no gas left. Here, in town, there was police tape and cones up around the gas stations announcing no gas yet cars were lined up anyway, waiting. Finally, this past Friday, Long Island went to an odd/even gas rationing, like New Jersey already had done the week before. With the majority of gas stations now open again, and deliveries actually making their way to us, the odd/even rationing has lines down to almost normal. Yesterday, the station here in town had a line only two blocks long—a vast improvement. Annalee, however, drove 7 miles east and found a station with only 4 cars ahead of her. We had given up a show in New Jersey the Sunday after the hurricane hit because of the gas problem. Traffic might have been extra bad, too, but we would have braved it if not for the gas. It being a 206 mile round trip we couldn't risk running out of and not being able to get home. Especially since Rick wanted to keep what gas we had so he could go rescue the grandmas if they needed it.

The cold weather has given way to more moderate temperatures. At least for the moment. You can hear the sound of chain saws going as people continue to clean up. And each time a truck rolls by with a new telephone pole people cheer and wave. Here's hoping all those still recovering from the hurricane can get the help they need, and can find shelter, especially as the holidays draw near.
Rick conquers chopping a tree! He hates this picture, but I thought it was funny. Now, you needed to be there. This is part of the tree that was stuck in the crook of the big tree you see behind Rick. After he had chopped all the smaller branches off, he grabbed this (which was still about 12 feet long at the time) and started pulling on it until it got dislodged. Only problem is, as the tree fell down on the one side it catapulted him into the air on the other. Rick went flying up, spread eagle, maybe 6 feet into the air and then came flying down, landing in the ivy. Luckily, the ivy was very cushy. Annalee and I witnessed the flight and tried not to laugh until we found out if he was okay. I think Rick has a new career as the human cannonball. After the initial shock, he started laughing, too.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Well, we're sitting here in the house and waiting. The waiting is always the hard part. For days now the exact path and landfall location of Hurricane Sandy was in question. And there was also always the outside chance it would head east, out to sea. From the looks of it now, though, it will be barreling into New Jersey, although from the direction of the storm's winds the ocean water will be forced in such a way that the storm surge will be pretty bad, even here on the north shore of Long Island. Hurricane Sandy is a category 1 hurricane with winds of 90 mph and a pressure of 943 mb. It may be an odd thought, but maybe there was a reason besides needing more sun on our garden that had us cutting that tree down last week, before we knew this storm was coming. It not only shaded our garden, but hung over into the neighbor's yard, with large branches brushing up against their roof and windows and hanging over their fence. Just minutes ago a large branch snapped off the fairly huge maple tree just outside our kitchen door. The sound of the snap and crash had us all running to see what tree had fallen. Rick, who minutes before warned us not to venture down to the beach to see what was happening, grabbed his camera and went outside to snap a picture of the tree. He wanted to update his blog post. Annalee suggested we sneak out the front door while he was busy in the back, but the wind is gusting pretty bad and it's probably not such a great idea to dash down the street. Last year's hurricane devastated the road that runs along the dunes -- now down to a footpath rather than a street -- and I wonder how the houses are faring. Anyway, hopefully no other trees will fall, but the worst of the wind has yet to hit. Back to waiting. The electric company warned of power outages of up to 10 days. The lights just blinked, so I'm turning off the computer!
Rick forwarded me the photo of the downed branch.
Probably the first of many more branches we'll have to cut and bundle.
And here I thought we were done after we chopped & bundled the tree last week!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rick Gets His Lumberjack On

I didn't post all that much this summer on solar cooking. Our yard has a good amount of trees; finding a sunny spot is difficult. Well, there are some sunny spots, but I couldn't place the solar oven on top of the tomatoes. The rest of the sunny spots don't stay that way for long so you really needed to chase the sun if you wanted to cook a meal. And, more often than not, it was Rick who kept the solar oven hopping about the yard when we did give it a try. He spent a lot of time out in the yard this past summer, building the garden back up, creating a super compost pile, and going out late at night to pick bugs off the plants. He'd spritz himself with some homemade bug spray I made, grab the hefty flashlight, and march outside to protect the plants. A man on a mission.

The garden is 40' wide, but never all in sun.
But the garden wasn't getting as much sun as needed, either. The plants themselves looked healthy, but they weren't producing near the amounts of vegetables that we used to get back when we first bought our house thirty-one years ago, nor anywhere close to what folks say a plant should yield. We have photos of Erica standing amidst the zucchini plants as a child, completely dwarfed by the plants, and holding up a gorgeous zucchini. We had a freezer in the basement to store all the surplus food we grew. Now we can't grow zucchini, they just don't thrive. We're lucky if each of our tomato plants got a dozen tomatoes on them. Something had to be done.

With both myself and Rick technically considered unemployed now (although I think we're working a whole lot harder now and definitely being more creative and productive), we figured we really needed to take a good look at how much more we could do for ourselves. We've always had a garden, but it had become a side thought for years, not well tended. I always minded the herbs and Rick was the vegetable guy, but we both were too busy to give the garden the attention it needed. Over the past few years, though, since he closed his photolab, Rick has slowly started getting it back into shape. Inside, we're dehydrating, canning, and fermenting (again, it's mostly Rick's hard work). But we really needed to do something with the yard. When Rick gets a thought in his head he takes action. Me, I procrastinate. He said we need to chop down some trees. I agreed. If we wanted the garden to produce more we needed more light. If I wanted to actually solar cook, I needed sun. But easier said than done, at least in my opinion. But not Rick's. He marched down to the garage and got some pruners. He marched into the basement and got the chainsaw. He went to the shed and got his work gloves. He grabbed the twine and scissors. He was ready. When the man says he's gonna do something, by gosh, he goes and does it. Huge sigh. Guess I had to help.

One of the things I've always loved about Rick is he pushes me to work harder than I would on my own. When I was young I envisioned a life of watching old movies and eating chocolates, or sitting curled up reading my way through a huge stack of books. Maybe sitting in the sun, a drawing pad on my lap, and my pens and ink nearby. I was a daydreamer, a romantic. Who wants to go outside in the dark to pick slugs or beetles off vegetable plants? Who wants to run a 10 mile race? Who wants to can vegetables late at night after dealing with colicky kids all day? His mother is like the freaking Energizer Bunny, so I should have known he'd inherit some of her genes. Years ago, when he was working 100 hour weeks in his photolab, he would often get home after midnight. I would have had an exhausting day, trying to do my layout editing job while running the girls around to all their activities, and by midnight was ready to collapse. Sometimes I would grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and my favorite book and sit and read until I heard his truck pulling into the driveway. Then I'd hurriedly start reheating his dinner and arrange myself to look as if I was doing something, anything, besides sitting and reading. One time, after a long fourteen hour day, he came home and started canning tomatoes. Despite the fact that I really do love that he makes me work harder than my lazy self wants to, I have to admit that there are times I'd love to smack him with my cast iron pot. I think that was one of those times.

I'll miss the tree, but hopefully its sacrifice won't be in vain.
So, back to the yard. I dragged my sorry self outside to help as best I could. We had just watched the new Lorax movie Friday evening and felt a slight pang as we both mouthed the words, "who will speak for the trees?" but we knew some of them needed to come down in order to get more sunlight on the garden. After chopping down some huge branches and pruning some trees, Rick chopped down the mulberry tree. After it came crashing down, our neighbor stuck his head out the window and yelled, "got your lumberjack on today, huh?"

I should probably go to sleep. It's supposed to be another warm sunny day tomorrow and we have quite a bit to clean up. I think I'll actually take some chicken out of the freezer and cook it in the solar oven while I bundle the branches and twigs. Celebrate our new-found sun. Sounds like a plan. 

And, as a P.S. to this post, I'd love to add that Erica inherited her grandmother's and father's hardworking gene. She has also followed in her father's footsteps in the push mom (me) to do things she isn't particularly thrilled to do category. In this case, learn to knit. Although I have to admit I'm actually finding it kind of fun. Maybe there's something to be said for doing things outside your comfort zone, getting past the laziness barrier, continuing to learn. I am almost done with my very first project -- a super simple shawl. I'm really excited about it. You can read more about my progress on Erica's blog and on my other one. So my work is cut out for me over the next week. I need to finish my knit shawl and I need to help clear the yard.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tomato Scrap Sauce

Rick and I are dehydrating vegetables day in and day out now, like squirrels getting ready for winter. Canning, fermenting, and dehydrating all the fresh local vegetables so we can still eat "local and in season" until next season's crop rolls in. So far we've done tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, celery, scallions, mushrooms, jalapenos, peaches, apples, and we're working on onions now. To be truthful, Rick has been doing the bulk of the work. Lucky for me, because cutting up onions is pretty brutal. I've gone in to help him several times and it sounded like we were having a good cry with lots of tears and sobbing sniffly noises. A friend came over last night and was very concerned until I explained I had been cutting onions. Lucky for us he loves onions because dinner was served with a fresh batch of onions going into the dehydrator!

We actually bought the onions from a farm booth up at the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, where we've played for the past seven or eight years (along with seven more pounds of garlic to add to the five pounds Rick grew). We managed to snag the last 25 lb. bag the guy had. Our trip home from the festival was an amazing assortment of smells with onions, garlic, pesto, vinegar, pickles, chocolates, and cookies permeating the car.

Tomato scraps with fresh herbs and garlic from the garden
Anyway, Rick's one handy guy to have around, always making bread, fermenting (sauerkraut, kim chi, cortido, kombucha, kefir, pickles . . .), working in the garden, raking leaves, making an awesome compost pile, and countless other chores to keep our little homestead running smoothly. Prior to the onion purchase I had bought sixty pounds of tomatoes from the farmstand a few miles down the road, plus we set aside another twenty pounds from our garden to dehydrate. When we cut the tomatoes up we saved the ends in a bowl, not wanting to waste them. But they started building up, little tiny scraps from either end of the Roma tomatoes we were using. Finally, on another rare sunny day that we were actually home, I decided to just throw them in the pot and with some fresh herbs from the garden and let them cook themselves into a nice fresh tomato sauce out in the solar oven. I didn't bother sautéing anything indoors to start—just threw some olive oil, minced onion, chopped garlic, and the herbs with a dash of salt and pepper into the pot and stuck it outside all day. Easy dinner. After I mixed it in with the (cooked) spaghetti—oops, that was cooked inside—I crumbled some feta cheese on the top and served it. So pretty and so delicious. 

As soon as the onions are done dehydrating—I think we have another four or five loads to get through—I need to dehydrate what's left of our oregano. I think we're done doing tomatoes for this year. All the basil was already dehydrated or is hanging in bunches in the kitchen. After that, well, probably more apples. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Solar Cooked Pork Butt Roast

Although the calendar says summer still has another week or so to go, most of us think of summer as being over once the school year starts up again. And even though school is far far behind me, school supply sales, hearing the buses rumbling in the early morning and afternoon, and the slightly cooler nights still give me that dreaded sinking feeling that summer is once again over and it's time for homework and tests and cafeteria food and teachers I don't like. Rick and I homeschooled our daughters, too, which makes it seem even stranger that after all this time I can still feel so melancholy about the transition from summer to fall. 

I hardly used the solar oven all season, too. I know it's possible to use it year round, as many people do (I'm jealous), but even so, that's difficult where I live. Well, it's always a bit difficult since my yard is so small and so shady. Summer is really solar cooking time for me with its long sunny days when I can chase the sun around the yard (or, rather, I can have Rick chase the sun around the yard!). Unfortunately, long sunny days didn't seem to happen all that much this summer. When it was super hot and sunny and perfect solar cooking weather, we were traveling with the band or otherwise engaged. When we were home, it seemed to be raining constantly. Monsoon-type raining. We missed Wednesday band practice several times because it was too nasty, the rain so heavy you couldn't see, for Erica to even attempt driving the 10 miles to our house. Rick pretended to be in the Matrix when he dodged lightning while running on the beach one day (the storm started up unexpectedly while he was still 2 1/2 miles away from home), his heart monitor showing a spike in his heart rate of 216 beats per minute as he raced to get off the beach. I tried to go rescue him, but couldn't get the car close enough because the water was over the tires as I neared the beach parking lot. I got out of the car and started wading to the gate, but the thunder and lightning sent me scurrying back to the safety of the car.

But I woke up this morning to bright sunshine and just happened to have a pork butt roast in the fridge, just waiting to be put out in the solar oven. I found a recipe on AllRecipes.com for cooking pork tenderloin in a slow cooker, but changed it ever so slightly for solar cooking. And at a $1.39 a pound, the pork butt roast was a better deal than the more expensive tenderloin. Plus, pork butts are among the best cuts of pork for slow cooking because of their marbling, so it was a good choice for cooking outside in the solar oven.

Solar Cooked Pork Butt Roast
Pork butt roast ready to be placed in the solar oven
2 1/2 lb. pork butt roast 
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 onion, sliced thin
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dried minced onion (optional)
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

1. Place the pork in a black pot (if solar cooking).
2. Pour water, wine, and soy sauce over the pork.
3. Add the sliced onions to the pot.
4. Mix the minced garlic, dried onion, thyme, salt, and freshly ground pepper, kind of mashing it all together. Then sprinkle/rub the mixture over the top of the roast.
5. Cover and place in the solar oven for at least 4 hours or until browned and done.

Solar oven sitting in the garden walkway,
sun tea brewing nearby.
This dish took hardly any time to prepare. I placed the pork outside at around 10:30 a.m. and brought it inside in the late afternoon, around 4:30 p.m. We weren't ready for dinner yet, so I reheated it at 6:00 pm. I simply simmered it on the stove for a few minutes until the juices were hot again, added some cornstarch to thicken the juices up, sliced (well, pulled pieces off) the pork, and served it up. Ta da! Nice and easy. And the pork was so tender! So, you can eat this meal as soon as it's done from the solar oven or, if you have to, reheat it for just a few minutes so the juices get hot.
My shadow as I take a photo
Roast is browning very nicely, yum!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kim Chi and a Really Long Story

Last night we watched Crazy Stupid Love, a romantic comedy starring Steve Carell among others. Annalee loves romantic comedies, and I wasn't in the mood to watch anything too heavy or thought provoking anyway. It was cute. The main couple met at 15 and always considered themselves soul mates. At least until the wife cheats and the husband (Steve Carell) moves out and tries to move on. Ultimately, he realizes he should have fought for her and she realizes her mistake. Happy ending. Rick and I met back in high school, too, when we were 15 and 16. High school sweethearts. I consider him my soul mate, best friend, hero, I love him dearly, and I sure hope neither of us ever cheats or gets tired of the other, but the movie got me to reminiscing. Remember when? 

The thing is, here we are in our mid-50s and we're too young to really be retired, but we need to reinvent ourselves because how we made money just doesn't exist anymore. Who knew technology would make our jobs become obsolete. Rick thought, after so much work establishing his business, he would have been ready to sell it for a profit about now, or hire someone to run it. Not find himself dismantling all his equipment and selling it for scrap metal and having nothing left to show for 21 years of hard work. Remember when everything seemed so hopeful, we asked each other? 

Yesterday was the farmers market and, like we do every Sunday since Mother's Day, we went with high hopes of selling some of the handmade items we're making now. Me carting my decorative pyrographed gourd bowls and shawl pins, and Rick with his kumihimo jewelry, copper earrings, and copper bowls. The market goes from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. We sold $30 combined. After we got home we sat on the couch and just stared at each other. Remember when what we did mattered?

And the other thing is, two weeks ago we left to do a [band] show at the Putnam County Fair and lost our brakes. I was driving.  It was a 110 mile drive. Luckily we were still close enough to get Erica's car, repack, and make our set time. The brake line had snapped. We had the car repaired, but then this past Thursday I was 8 miles away from home when I realized I had no brakes again. The pedal went all the way to the floor with no resistance. Great. I put my blinkers on and drove 4 mph on the shoulder of the road back to town to the mechanic. Which is where the car still is. The mechanic said he fixed both back brake lines but not the front. I mean, why not, though? He knows we travel. What if the brakes had failed while I was driving 65 mph on a highway? Presumably all the brake lines will now be replaced, but the total cost of this repair is almost $1,000. Remember when we could afford a new car?

We had no minivan to haul everything to the farmers market yesterday, but between Erica's car and Annalee's car we managed to get it all there. I babbled to everyone, too antsy to sit still for long. Well, I tend to babble anyway, so maybe it had nothing to do with being too worried to sit still, but I made less sense than usual. I wanted to take back half of what I said. Worry can do that to you. It was nice to be with everyone on such a beautiful day, though, especially after we'd had so much rain. All the vendors are super friendly, and it was good to get out of the house and not be home worrying. I keep finding myself clenching my jaw or grinding my teeth. Stress. So a highlight for me was when little Anthony from Natural Earth Farms made some friends and they were all running in circles giggling. I couldn't help but laugh and really mean it. It did my heart good to watch their antics. Now if I want my kids to run around giggling, though, I have to make sure Erica is sleep deprived. Then she gets so overtired that she gets incredibly goofy. It's actually really funny. She's even funnier if she's overtired and you give her some Skittles candy. Annalee is easier since all you have to do is give her a thimble of wine and she won't stop giggling. But mostly they're adults with their own set of worries. Remember when we could protect our children?

So there I was, sitting at my booth smiling and watching the little kids dashing about with such happiness and joy on their faces remembering when I sat on my parent's front stoop in my jammies, holding a stuffed animal and watching the neighborhood street softball game. I was probably two myself. I had a case of hero worship for the boy across the street. His name was Teddy Bear. I kid you not. I accidentally got hit in the head by a softball that summer evening and he held me until my mom ran outside. I don't remember crying, but I must have. Would I really wish to be two again, though, tagging after Teddy or dashing about the farmers market, or be the teenager who spots the boy in the red Ked sneakers across the hallway, or be the young mother holding the hands of a daughter who loved wearing fake nails and lipstick and cut her own hair? Probably not. Teddy broke my heart and went off to college, I married the boy in the red sneakers, Erica still has her own weird sense of style, and now she just cuts Annalee's hair (but it looks nice). Remember when has made us who we are now, and that's probably the way it should be.

Back to that couch. Rick and I were generally moping until we came to the realization that we always pull through. Together we are strong. Remember when Rick was hit by a bus, remember when I had a tumor, remember when Erica got burned on my very first Mother's Day and we spent the day in the hospital, remember when Annalee had a tumor, remember when we took a huge loan to start the store and made no money, remember when we closed the store and made even less, remember when the  house got hit by lightning. So stop with the feeling sorry already. We are so lucky. Remember when we opened a show for Carlene Carter and she sang "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"? 

I pushed myself off that couch to cut some vegetables to put in the dehydrator, figuring it was time to start stocking up for winter. Rick followed me into the kitchen and made a jar of kim chi. Remember when we worked well together? Yup, because after 40 years we still do!

Kim Chi

Remember improvise, improvise, improvise. Rick wings this, making it differently each time with whatever we have on hand. This is basically what he did today:

1 large Napa cabbage (or a regular cabbage, if that's all you can find)
1–2 carrots, sliced or grated or both
1 onion, chopped
4 big radishes, or 6–8 smaller globe radishes, sliced

1 tablespoon kosher salt per cup of water
For the spice paste:
3 tablespoons grated ginger
4 minced garlic cloves
2 scallions, chopped
4 dried Thai or cayenne peppers, seeds removed
Thai fish sauce, approx. 3 tablespoons

1. Chop cabbage coarsely.

2. Cut up carrot, onion, scallions, and radish.

3. Toss the cabbage, carrots, onions, and radishes in a large bowl. Add brine to cover (Rick needed about 5 cups). Set weighted plate on top so vegetables are totally submerged, and let sit for 4 hours.

4. Meanwhile, mix together garlic, ginger, scallions, crushed hot pepper, and fish sauce in a large non-reactive bowl.

5. After 4 hours, drain the brine from the vegetables, reserving some in case you need it.

6. Stir paste in with cabbage and vegetables.
Photo of airlock.

7. As you pack tightly into glass jars the brine will rise. If it doesn't rise enough to completely submerge the mixture add some of the reserved brine. Cover tightly, and let stand at room temperature for 3 days, then chill for 4 days before serving.

Note: Rick uses an airlock on our jars and let's the kim chi sit for a week before moving into the refrigerator.

Start of our winter stores.

Monday, July 23, 2012

On the Road

We were gone last week doing shows in Lewes, Delaware, and Ocean City, New Jersey. The shows went really well, but once again we were traveling during an extreme heat wave. Somehow we always manage to be gone doing shows on some of the hottest days of the summer. We arrived in Dover, Delaware, on Monday and our car thermometer registered over 100º. I managed to back the car into what was probably the absolutely only semi-shady spot in the entire parking lot—under the overhanging branches of a tree around the side of the hotel by the dumpsters. The rest of the parking lot was just a large flat stretch of empty pavement radiating heat under blazing sunshine. Our second day out, the temperature reached 107º! Despite the heat, we really enjoyed performing because we had fantastic audiences. A good audience really helps generate energy, which in turn helps make a great show. 

I booked a two room suite in a nice hotel that had a fantastic swimming pool and a hot tub and an exercise room. I kind of wish we had a few more shows in the area because we all really enjoyed the routine of going down in the morning for a great Continental breakfast, a turn through the exercise room, and then some laps in the pool. Erica convinced me we would burn our breakfast off if we managed to either do laps or at least tread water for 30 minutes without ever touching the bottom. 

Love the restaurant's name!
photo by Erica
Anyway, I don't have any fantastic recipes to share today, but I really wanted to share this photo of a restaurant that was near the venue in Lewes. I think the address was actually Rehoboth Beach. We saw the sign and thought about going there to eat, but we had food back at the hotel in the fridge and decided to save money, although I'm thinking we should have stopped just for the experience of eating their Hot Rooster Balls, Feast of Balls, Granny Dick's Cheese Plate, Hush Them Puppy Balls or, best of all, Crabby's Balls with a shot of Seaman Sauce. But I did pull into their parking lot so Erica could jump out of the car and take a picture. Wonder if their food is as interesting as the names. Maybe we'll be invited back next year. If so, we'll have to stop here for dinner after the show. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Our Garlic Harvest

Nine years or so ago, Rick brought the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival to my attention as a possible venue for us to perform at. I jumped on the idea immediately because I love garlic. We've performed there every year since (it's the last weekend in September) and I still enjoy going as much now as I did the first year. It's the Woodstock of garlic festivals. The idea of playing there excited me because there's just something about garlic. I love cooking with it. I eat it raw when I'm sick. I read books about it, both culinary and medicinal. I can make any food taste good with the addition of a little garlic. (I have to admit, though, that I have not had my garlic shot at the festival. I'm not exactly sure what that is, but there's a booth where you can have your shot of garlic and then you get a sticker to show you were tough enough to survive the experience. I also haven't had the garlic ice cream yet. But, okay, I love garlic every other way.) 

And, there's just something so comforting about harvesting your own garlic. Braids of garlic, ristras (strings of hot peppers), and drying herbs—a pretty picture, and a kind of Little House on the Prairie sense of stocking up to make it through the winter. Security. Okay, wait . . .  another thing I have to admit to is that Rick does all the work in the garden. And I mean all the work. I wander out and pick stuff when I have to, but more often than not I just give Rick my dinner list and ask him to get me something. "Rick, can you pick me some basil? Rick, can you get me some lettuce? Rick, do we have cilantro outside?" Rick enjoys the garden. I enjoy cooking. Match made in heaven. 

So, yesterday, Rick harvested the garlic. He was a little worried about it because of the overly warm winter and because some of the garlic was dying due to some sort of root rot. And if he's worried, I'm worried. I need my garlic! After he had pulled it he lined all the garlic up and took a photo. I looked at that photo and whined a little, asking—pleading really—if the photo was for me, but alas he was putting it up on his blog. All that garlic looked so darn appealing. Artistic, awesome, all lined up on the wooden bench out under the trees. But he took pity on me and took another photo today for my use. I just had to put a photo up on my blog, too. We obviously already harvested the garlic scapes a few weeks back, and had peas and radishes come and go, but this garlic really marks the beginning of this year's garden harvest for me. Soon our dehydrator will get put back into use as we stock up on all the summer's goodness for winter use.

Meanwhile, the garlic is curing in the kitchen for a few weeks, after which it will be stored in mesh bags in our basement.

It's a little too hot for soup (it's been in the 90s and is supposed to hit 100 on Saturday!), but Annalee's all time favorite soup is garlic soup. It's her comfort food. She asks for it all year 'round, even in this heat. It's fast and easy to make, is absolutely yummy, but without air conditioning in our house I probably won't make it for her until it cools down a bit. It cooks fast, so it won't heat the house, and I suppose a version might be able to be done in the solar oven if you brown the breadcrumbs inside, but eating hot soup in this sticky humid weather doesn't appeal to me and I haven't quite bought into the idea that hot foods in hot weather induce sweating, which cools you down. About the only thing I want is ice cream, which I'm trying to avoid. But here's the recipe anyway.

Some of Rick's 2012 garlic harvest.
photo by Rick

Garlic Soup
¾ cups unflavored breadcrumbs
½ cup minced onion
8–10 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 eggs

• Heat olive oil in a pan.
• Add minced onion and garlic, sauté until soft.
• Add breadcrumbs and cook until breadcrumbs are golden brown, stirring often.
• Add chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
• In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs.
• Bring soup to a boil and slowly pour the eggs in, stirring the soup as you pour. (The eggs should separate like egg drop soup.)
• Add the chopped parsley.
• Simmer for 3 minutes and serve.

This is my take on a recipe I originally found in a Mexican cookbook. It’s a quick & easy soup to make, and also wonderful to eat when you aren’t feeling well.

Variation: Slice 1 fresh tomato very thinly, sauté with onion and garlic. If you add the tomato it might be better to brown the breadcrumbs first, set aside, then sauté the vegetables, adding the browned breadcrumbs back in before adding the chicken broth. (The tomatoes might make it too wet for the breadcrumbs to brown.) You can add more garlic also. My family generally likes 8–10 garlic cloves, but the more the merrier.

Serves 4 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Solar Cooking at the Farmers Market

Train station in the early 20th century
It has been hot hot hot the past few days—hot and sticky—and today was more of the same. And since today was Sunday, it was farmers market day. The market is held in Old Depot Park, where the train station used to be located. I wish it still was, because it would be so much nicer than having to drive 10 miles to catch a train. The railroad line was abandoned in 1939, though. Now it's really just a big parking lot.

Rick and I had been talking about bringing our Global Sun Oven up one Sunday during the market and buying some vegetables, or some of the organic free range chickens or grassfed beef some of the vendors have for sale. We figured it was the perfect spot to use the solar oven—no trees to block the sun—and we could get dinner going while we were tending our tables. I suppose I should go off on a tangent here and say the girls mind the tables while Rick wanders around playing guitar and jamming with some of the other vendors and I generally float about babbling with everyone. Which is okay. Having the music going is really nice and creates a community spirit. I have no clue what benefit my babbling has, though. Absolutely none, I suppose.

Escarole from Monarch Landing CSA, cooked in our
sun oven in the parking lot of the farmers market
But, anyway, today was the perfect day to do some solar cooking at the market, except I didn't think of it before we left home despite the fact Rick and I had discussed it last week. A conversation with Charley, who coordinated our farmers market, reminded me, and since Erica had to run home for a minute I asked her to bring back the solar oven and a pot from the house (we're only about 1/2 mile away). I wish I sold the darn things since so many people stopped to look and ask questions. By then it was 11:00 a.m., but I just had to cook something to demonstrate. I didn't think we had enough time to cook any of the meats for sale, so I dashed over to Julia and Peter's table (Monarch Landing CSA) and they gave me some escarole, garlic, a sprig of rosemary (or was it thyme? I forget) and a few sage leaves. I added a bit of water from my water bottle and put the pot in the oven. In the short time it took me to get the escarole in, the oven was already at 300º and climbing. I was hoping to share the escarole with everyone, but all the farmers sold out of produce and everyone started packing up a little earlier than expected. That was okay with me because I came home with a pot full of escarole, which I set it aside and served later on with dinner. Charley got so excited with the whole solar cooking idea, though, that next week I'm supposed to bring the solar oven back up to the farmers market and the Naturally Grass Fed folks (our neighbor vendor) will be bringing a 3 1/2 pound free range chicken for me to cook. Hopefully we'll have another beautiful sunny day and I'll have enough time to actually cook the chicken! Our other neighbor vendor, Natural Earth Farms (their 22-month old son, Anthony, is absolutely adorable and loves music and dancing!), will be supplying some corn. (I used their zucchini in my oven fried zucchini recipe. I came home with more this week, since the recipe was so yummy.)

In the meantime, Rick grabbed a plate and photographed a few of the escarole leaves for me, leaving the rest in the pot to continue cooking. Thanks Julia & Peter for such delicious goodness!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gourd Bowls & Oven Fried Zucchini

I can't believe I haven't posted anything in a month. Time sure flies. I was working like a mad person through most of May and June, though, trying to finish up any work for my now ex-job, which basically ended on June 20th. I hear commercials on the radio while listening to Mets games about retirement. All these jolly people chuckle and say really stupid things like, now I have no more homework, or we call it Jubilation [not retirement]. I guess retirement is a whole lot different. Since anyone who has read my earlier posts knows, I have a real hard time getting seriously depressed, although maybe not such a hard time getting slightly neurotic. I did get a bit moody back in March, and sad again in May as the job was starting to really wind down. It felt like someone had died. After 18 years, you have an attachment that's hard to break and I admit I cried some. Rick had bought me a bunch of really cool stuff on Mother's Day to make copper jewelry and shawl pins so I could focus on something else. But for my birthday in early June he got me a super cool, incredibly awesome, pyrography burner called an Optima 1. I didn't even know something like it existed! He has got to be the best husband ever. (Remind me I said that when he annoys me.) I woodburn his Navajo spindles, so this new machine will make it easier to get more detailed, plus it's just more fun. He also bought some gourds for me to decorate and I just finished burning a design on a small gourd, using colored pencils to add a touch of color, and then applying an acrylic sealant. I posted it on my etsy shop. I have no idea if selling shawl pins or pyrographed gourd bowls is going to provide any kind of income, but it's been gratifying to get my old artistic juices flowing and to not be sitting in front of a computer screen all day. I am having fun!!!
Bottom view of my gourd bowl

I do need a routine or structure of sorts. Hmmm . . . maybe a bad choice of words, but a groove for my days so I can be more productive. I've only sporadically set the sun oven outside because I haven't been able to concentrate on getting dinner going in the morning or early afternoon. I always cook from scratch, but it's been a bit chaotic as I rush around trying to accomplish way too much and getting nothing really done -- or what feels like a whole lot of nothing. Sheesh! Dinner keeps getting started at 6:00pm with the thought, "What can I cook in half an hour?" I did do a bit in the solar oven yesterday. I put some greens from the garden, minced onion, 1/4 cup chicken broth, minced garlic, and a few bits of bacon in one pot, and in the other pot I placed a few sausage links drizzled with olive oil. Today, though, I was back to starting dinner after everyone was already hungry, but I managed to cook penne a la vodka and some oven baked zucchini sticks in short order. The zucchini sticks have just become a favorite, as they are super easy and make a great side.

Oven Baked Zucchini Sticks

2 medium zucchini, cut into fat french fry style "sticks"
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
a tablespoon or two of freshly grated parmesan cheese
dash of fresh or dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of mustard

I'm kind of guessing on amounts, since I rarely really measure. But after I cut the zucchini I threw it into a tupperware bowl and drizzled oil and mustard into the bowl. Then I covered it and shook it real well until the zucchini sticks were coated (healthier than using an egg). In a separate bowl I mixed the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and spices. I rolled the mustardy-oily zucchini sticks in the breadcrumb mixture and placed them on a parchment covered baking tray. Bake the zucchini sticks in a 450º oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Just keep checking until they look golden brown.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sea Robin Fish Cakes

Rick and Annalee went fishing for the first time this year. Rick's hand still hasn't completely healed since he smashed it last August, so fishing was out for a while, but he was ready to give it a try. It wasn't looking awfully nice in the morning, but after a downpour, it brightened up and was just gorgeous the rest of the day. So, around 5:00 pm, Rick and Annalee got their fishing poles out and trooped on down the street to the beach. I decided to tag along just to see if the fish were jumping. I was hoping if they were biting we'd have some nice fresh fish for dinner since I hadn't done much planning yet on what to eat. We live only 1,000 feet from the beach, and as we walked down we reminisced on all the times I dragged the girls down to the beach in the wee hours of the morning so they wouldn't wake Rick up, since they woke up with the crack of dawn and he was often working 100 hour weeks and needed his rest. Or how the priest at the local Catholic Church would walk the mile from the church down to the beach carrying a huge wooden cross, while parishioners followed along behind. He would give a short sunset service followed by refreshments (someone would drive down with containers of coffee and tea, and assorted goodies) while the kids would take an evening swim. We made a habit of being down there on sunset service evenings because it was such a wonderful experience, no matter your religious affiliation. I was sorry when that tradition ended. And, of course, we remembered all the "old timers" who would wander down each evening and sit on their overturned buckets, holding their poles, waiting for the fish to jump. We would always arrive to find everyone staked out at their favorite spot on the beach, or standing at the top of the stairs for a better view, joking back and forth, watching and waiting. Then you'd hear a shout, and the fish would be jumping, and everyone would start casting. When we first moved here 31 years ago, Rick and I weren't savvy about a lot of things. Mr. Mattson, our neighbor (whose father-in-law built our house in 1929 and from whom we bought the house) took us under his wing. He passed on a lot of his knowledge of fishing to Rick. Mrs. Paccione, our neighbor on the other side, would catch these tiny little fish then stick her fingers in the gills and rip the heads off, tossing the bodies into a bucket to bring home, batter, and fry up. The girls would pop them in their mouths like candy. She taught me how to make fish head soup, which didn't go over well (although it was pretty good), because we kept trying to find the eyeballs. Most all of those old timers are gone now and I miss seeing them all sitting on their buckets. Fishing at the beach is still a popular past time, but it lacks some of the color and camaraderie it had back then.

Annalee casts off
Anyway, we were in luck. We were barely there -- maybe 10 minutes -- when Annalee caught a good-sized sea robin. We used to throw sea robins back until someone told us that they were actually pretty good eatin', just ugly looking and a huge pain to clean. Shortly after, Annalee caught another. Rick kind of shrugged and said she could always out-fish him, but I think he really wanted to catch one, too. By then, though, I figured we'd be eating fish, so I took off for home to get dinner going. I made some German potato salad and a zucchini corn soup because Annalee had been craving that. Then I got the ingredients ready to make fish cakes. Since sea robins are hard to clean, the meat gets kind of shredded during the cleaning process, so we usually make fish cakes with them, although battered and fried nuggets are good, too.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished fish cakes, but I did take a few not very good photos of Rick and Annalee fishing. Oh, and Rick caught himself a fish, too.

Rick and Annalee fishing
Sea Robin Fish Cakes
• 1 lb. sea robin, picked free of bones, chopped
• 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
• 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 teaspoon spicy mustard
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• flour for dusting

1. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the flour. Shape into patties then dredge in the flour.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot, carefully place fish cakes in pan and fry until browned. Carefully flip the fish cakes and fry on other side until golden brown.

We ate our fish cakes on toasted English muffins with everyone's personal combination of mayonnaise, horseradish, ketchup, and relish. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Backyard Foraging

The last month has been pretty eventful. Rick and I had two duo gigs; the band had three. We did lots of driving, too. Two weekends in a row we drove four hours down to the Philadelphia area and then home again in one day, getting in around 3:00 a.m. each time. The following week Rick and I drove almost as far, but up into Connecticut instead. All the shows were fantastic. Thankfully, we followed that with two local shows within a half hour of home. Besides performing, my "regular" job has basically come to an end. I was busy busy busy all month designing the last issue of the newspaper I do and I'm just finishing up some loose ends. I've been having a hard time coping with the loss of the job, so to keep me occupied Rick set me up in the copper jewelry business. I had gone outside one day and gotten in his way while he was doing his copper bowls -- and having loads of fun (working with the copper, not getting in his way) -- so he bought me wire, hammers, mini anvils, etc. He was super kind and thoughtful, knowing I was unhappy and worried and needed to keep busy. Anyway, I set my etsy shop up last weekend and sold four shawl pins so far. So, in a bit of shameless self promotion, you can check out my newest endeavor, which, to stay in keeping, I named Cacklin' Hen Designs.

Another noteworthy event this past month was the start of a local farmer's market, just up the street from us. Annalee was approached to participate to sell her handmade soap, so we all go up with her to sell all our handmade items -- Rick's copper bowls and spindles, Erica's crocheted and knit items and hand dyed yarn, and my woodburned boxes and copper jewelry. Annalee's soap is the runaway hit, but it's kind of fun to be up so early every Sunday and interact with the community as they come to shop. I can't wait for the participating farmers to have a bit more produce, though. It's a little too early to have much variety. Then I can shop for whatever we don't grow while I'm there and skip the grocery store.

Rick has our garden planted. We dragged his father (visiting from San Diego) out to the Pumpkin Patch last Friday to buy whatever plants Rick hadn't started indoors. He then spent Saturday planting the garden. It's awesome. I love this time of year when a newly planted garden holds such promise. (Thank you, Rick, for your hard work!) And while we're waiting, we forage on our property. We cook and make salads with dandelion and radish greens (and the radishes, too, of course), and we flavor dishes with the wild garlic growing all over the yard. My herbs are all flourishing, too.

So, I suppose, life is really good and I should quit whining. What more could anyone want than food made from ingredients foraged in your own yard? Rick sent me a link for Wild Garlic Soup by Georgia Pellegrini. She's got great photos of wild garlic and step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the soup. I made a few adjustments since I didn't have fennel or sherry. I also added onion and threw in some greens from our yard, which made it have a bit of an escarole taste. I left some of the vegetables and potatoes unblended so the soup was a bit chunky instead of totally smooth. Rick mashed the chunks in his bowl so the soup was smooth :the way it was meant to be," but I like soup to have something that needs some chewing action. Either way, it's really tasty.

This was my variation. For the original recipe, visit Georgia's site. I always change things around to suit what I have on hand.

Wild Garlic Soup

• 1/2 cup wild garlic, cleaned, green stalk snipped, outer layer peeled, and root removed
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 1 onion, chopped fine
• 2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
• 1 cup (or more) foraged greens
• 4 cups vegetable stock
• 2 tablespoons + 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 pinch cardamom
• 1 pinch cinnamon
• 1 pinch cayenne
• 1/4 cup white wine
• 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
• Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blanch the garlic for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and saute the onion, celery, and garlic until soft and translucent. 
3. Add the potatoes and vegetable stock and simmer until potatoes are tender.
4. Transfer 2/3 of the vegetables to a blender and puree on high for 2-3 minutes. In the last 30 seconds, pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into the blender in a thin steady stream. It will get all nice and creamy.
5. Pour the contents of the blender back into the pot. (Georgia recommends straining it here to remove the woody fibers from the garlic. I skipped this, and probably will again, but there were a few woody fibers in the soup. Oh, well.)
6. Add in the greens. Simmer to wilt. (Add greens earlier if they need more cooking -- but don't blend -- or cook separately and add in here.)
7. Add more water or vegetable stock, if necessary, if too thick.
8. Mix in the cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, and white wine. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sun-kissed Paella

Rick says I write too slow. Think too much. I need to say what needs saying and get on with it. I admit it—I am the queen of agonizing over every word. It takes me eons (literally!) to write e-mails. And it's not like I'm writing a bestselling novel here. I just want people to know that they can cook good food on a super tight budget, inside or outside, solar or conventional. So . . . here's today's entry before it's tomorrow.

I was horribly grumpy yesterday, and only slightly less so today. I was trying hard to get into a full blown funk, but in a reversal of roles, Rick kept trying to cheer me up. I could use his cheeriness now, too, but he's trying to redesign our Web site with a new program and there's a lot of muttering and sighing coming from the other room. Best to leave him alone. But, even without his unusual-for-him optimism to cheer me up, it was hard to be sad or worried today because it was just so darn nice. Warm and sunny. It feels like June, or maybe even July since it hit 88º yesterday, rather than April. Dry ground and low humidity, combined with strong, gusty winds prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for critical wild fire risk several times over the past few weeks. We actually had a fire last week that they dubbed the Brookhaven Blaze of 2012, that had 2,000 acres of nearby woodland burning. When Annalee came home from work today, she said the pine barrens were on fire again. She saw the special fire trucks that go off-road, into the woods, racing down the street, sirens going, as she drove home. Very odd weather, and kind of troubling, but it's also been perfect for solar cooking. (As much as I'm enjoying the sun, though, a little rain might be helpful.)

I had defrosted a package of two chicken leg quarters, but wasn't sure exactly what to do with it. It wasn't a lot of chicken by itself. I flipped through several cookbooks and finally decided to make an improvised paella. Rick's mom was the first to introduce me to paella—and hers always included chicken, sausage, lobster, shrimp, mussels, and clams—but since we don't have shellfish hanging about our kitchen, and I had no inclination to run out and buy any, I did what you're supposed to do with paella: throw in anything that goes along with rice. According to several internet sites, there's a legend that the dish was created by the servants of the Moorish kings, who threw all the leftovers from the royal banquets into one pot to take home. Another (more popular and accepted) story has it that the folks that worked the fields in an area south of Valencia, Spain, mixed whatever they could find in a flat pan over a fire. And, certainly, that's the area most people associate paella with today. Well, I don't work for a royal family nor do I work out in the fields, so I foraged in my fridge and pantry. I dug out two sausages, some dehydrated zucchini, leather britches (dried stringbeans), frozen peas, green olives, and a handful of raisins to go along with the chicken. That'll do. So here's my improvised version, which served three people. For more recipe ideas, visit Spain Recipes.

• Chicken, cut into small pieces and dredged in flour seasoned with salt & pepper
   (I cut the two leg quarters into two drumsticks & eight small pieces)
• 2 sausages, thickly sliced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 14 1/2 oz. can whole tomatoes, hand crushed
• 1 cup chicken broth
• rosemary
• teaspoon of paprika
• parsley
• zucchini, string beans, peas, olives, raisins 

• rice cooked with a pinch of saffron

Sauté the chicken until browned, place in black solar oven pot.
Brown the sausage pieces and place in pot along with chicken.
Add vegetables, garlic, rosemary, tomatoes, olives, raisins, and chicken broth to the pot along with the chicken and sausage.
Cover and place pot in solar oven.

I had the dish outside for about 3 1/2 hours with the solar oven averaging 300º. I probably should have checked it sooner, but I was busy and figured they always say you can't burn food in the solar oven. It looked and smelled heavenly when I brought it in, though. Next, I boiled some water and threw it over rice with a pinch of saffron and stuck that outside in the solar oven for 30 minutes or so. The rice was perfect. Dinner was done and it was only 3:00. At 6:30, I heated the paella and rice back up in a cast iron pot on the stove for a few minutes. It was super yummy.

If cooking this inside, after browning the chicken and sausage, throw vegetables in pot to soften, add tomatoes, herbs, and broth, and simmer it all for 30 or 40 minutes. Cook the rice either separately and add to the chicken mixture after it cooks, and serve. Or cook the rice directly in the pot with the chicken mixture for the last 20 minutes of cooking time. I've done it both ways. Serve with a simple salad and some crusty bread.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Solar Eggplant Caponata

How can people say they don't eat eggplant when God loves the color and the French love the name? I don't understand. 
—Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet
 The only thing I like better than an eggplant burger is a chocolate covered eggplant burger.
—Shaggy (talking to Scooby Doo)

It was sunny today and I didn't have any real plans as to what to cook, but no way could I let the day go by without using the solar oven. It would be wasteful, non-frugal, downright lazy not to cook outside today. After a bit of head scratching I decided to make something with the eggplant I bought the other day. It was a good deal, too. I got two eggplants and two carrots bundled together for $1.50 off the discounted vegetable table at Waldbaums, along with three grapefruits for 59¢ and a cauliflower for 99¢. As far as I could tell there was nothing wrong with any of it. Rick isn't a super huge fan of eggplant, though, so I threw a few recipe ideas at him so he wouldn't complain too much afterward. He chose caponata, although he claims not remember that and thought he picked curry. I pretty much just rolled my eyes at him.

Eggplant caponata is a pretty easy recipe and there are tons of variations. If you google it, or look it up in a cookbook, you'll find everyone has their own version. So, as always, improvisation is the name of the game. Below is how I made mine today, but that's because it's all the green pepper and tomato I had on hand. I also only had some typical stuffed green salad olives, but green Sicilian olives would work well also. Feel free to add more or less of some of these ingredients.

1 eggplant (no need to peel it), cut into fairly large cubes.
1 cup onion, chopped 
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/3 cup green or red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2–3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup diced tomatoes, canned or fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
pinch of crushed red pepper

1/4 cup green olives, chopped in half
1 tablespoon capers
3 anchovy filets mashed to a paste

1. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook eggplant until it browns a bit (4 or 5 minutes). Do this in batches if necessary. Transfer the eggplant to a black solar cooking pot.
2. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, crushed red pepper, and garlic to the frying pan. Saute for a few minutes and then add the diced tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, herbs, and spices. Heat for a few minutes, then pour the mixture over the eggplant.
3. Cover the pot and place it in the solar cooker for 2 or 3 hours depending on temperature. My sun oven started off at 275º and climbed up to 350º, and I kept the eggplant out there for 2 1/2 hours.
4. Bring dish inside when vegetables are tender. Stir in the mashed anchovies, capers, olives, and a drizzle of olive oil. Adjust seasonings.
5. Leave dish stand at room temperature for several hours to blend flavors. Serve with a warm crusty bread.

Eggplant Caponata made in the solar oven.
photo by the hubby
Rick didn't think the eggplant caponata looked very appetizing for the photo shoot, though, so I grated some orange peel to scatter on top for photo appeal. If I'd had fresh lemons I would have grated lemon instead, but the orange peel actually tasted pretty good when I mixed it in after Rick took the photos. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Opening Day Baseball!

Uncertainty is the only sure thing in baseball. Of course, you could say the same about other sports, and life in general.
– Mark Herrmann, "Opening Pitch"
Annalee just called. She and her friend Sal drove in to Citi Field to see the Mets opening day game. Baseball season has arrived! As New Yorkers, we'll root for the Yankees when they play, and as baseball fans we'll enjoy a good game between any two teams, but there's something about rooting for the underdog, so the Mets are "our" team. Without a tv, we listen to the games on our radio. And, since many games start at 7:10 p.m., we tend to eat dinner while listening to the Mets. We've been known to get lost on our way to or from a Homegrown String Band performance, too, because of a Mets game. One time, after we finished a show in New Jersey, Rick was only half reading our driving directions while listening to a close and exciting game. We ended up driving close to 40 minutes in the wrong direction before I realized we were heading the wrong way. After that, I told him he had to read the directions carefully before turning on a game in the car ever again. (I do most of the driving, Rick is the navigator.) 

Today the Mets are playing the Atlanta Braves, with Johan Santana the starting pitcher. Last time I saw him pitch in person, before his injury and subsequent surgery, I was bored. It was a pitcher's game—neither he nor the other team's pitcher allowed any runs. Sheesh! Rick thought it was great, Santana was awesome (okay, I can agree with that), but I like a little action. Like the time the radio announcer accused them of playing like the Three Stooges: players were caught between bases, more than one runner was trying to get to the same base, balls were dropped or thrown in the wrong driection, runners lost shoes . . . It was a comedy routine. Stuff like that. Or they can win—which, I admit, is really better—if they do it by coming from behind in a spectacular finish. Now, that's exciting. I guess I'm not a true baseball fan. I want to be entertained and amused, or thrilled by the incredible feat. Rick and Annalee, though, they know stats.

It's supposedly going to hit 54º sometime this afternoon, but at the moment it's chilly and very very windy. And Annalee and Sal are sitting in the upper deck somewhere, where the wind will be worse. But at least it's sunny. Hopefully they'll manage to stay warm.

I tried to think of something to cook in honor of opening day baseball, but figured it was an afternoon game so we could eat leftovers for lunch while we listened. Instead, I made use of the bright sunny day and put the solar oven outside and got a pot of tomato sauce going. We'll have homemade sourdough bread (which is rising as I type), and the solar cooked sauce on top of some pasta. After stadium hot dogs, Annalee might actually appreciate coming home to this dinner anyway.

Meantime, let's go Mets!!!

P.S. Yes!! The game just ended and the Mets won 1-0. I just got off the phone with my mom and it brought to mind the first time Rick & I brought the girls to see the Mets play. August 22, 2006, just days before my dad died. Rick & I hadn't been to a game in 25 years and Annalee thought it would be nice to buy Rick tickets as a Father's Day present. Little did we know my dad's cancer would spread, so fast throughout his body, that by August it was uncertain if we'd be able to get to the game. My mom cared for my dad at home the whole time, and we drove back and forth and slept over to help. By mid-August we couldn't believe my dad was hanging in there, he was so weak. On August 22, we stopped by and decided to go ahead to the game. It was the most awesomely exciting game and a much needed break from so much sadness. The Mets came from behind to win against the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the 9th with a homerun by Carlos Beltran. We went to games three more times that season, including infamous game 7 of the NL championship. They lost, but Endy Chavez's amazing catch right at the wall where it said "the strength to be there" felt almost personal. Annalee has a photo of that catch hanging on her wall. And I guess that's one reason I'm a Mets fan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Salsa, Birthdays, and Embarrassing Moments

You can only be young once. But you can always be immature.
– Dave Barry
If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it.

– Erma Bombeck

Rick at his birthday dinner.
photo by Erica
Rick's birthday is tomorrow. We presented workshops and a concert up in Rhode Island over the weekend, so drove up to Massachusetts on Friday to stay with Rick's sister and family. She and her husband wanted to take Rick out for his birthday, so on Saturday evening, after the workshops, we drove a few towns over to eat at their favorite Mexican restaurant. Lisa managed to whisper to the waiter that it was Rick's birthday without him hearing, so he was completely embarrassed and flustered when a whole group of waiters made their way over to our table with a huge sombrero and plopped it on his head while boisterously clapping and singing happy birthday. My nephew, my brother-in-law, and Erica all snapped photos of Rick with their cell phones and immediately started e-mailing them off to friends and family. I asked them all to forward me the photos, too, so I could stick one in my blog for all the world (or at least anyone who happens to read my blog) to see. Hey, Rick is a good sport—he even fixed this photo up a bit for me while shaking his head and asking if I was seriously going to post it. You bet! I'm not sure if I've ever laughed as hard as I did when that sombrero hit his head. Sometimes it can be hard when everyone seems to be laughing at you, but laughter is a good thing. And when it's shared, it binds people together. Laughter is infectious, and just plain old makes you feel good. So, many thanks, Rick, for enduring a rousing rendition of happy birthday in a crowded restaurant.

The salsa at the restaurant was good, but I kinda like the one I make better.

Basic Salsa Mexicana

• One 14 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes (or use 3 fresh tomatoes)
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper
• 1 small jalapeño finely chopped (or skip the green bell pepper and add another jalapeño or serrano pepper)
• 2 teaspoons lime juice
• 2 teaspoons salt (Note: this is a lot of salt, so add a little at a time and stop when you think there's enough for your taste. I was skeptical at first when I read the original recipe in a Mexican cookbook, but ended up liking a decent amount of salt, although I think I stop closer to one teaspoon than two.)
• a lot of cilantro, chopped (up to half a cup)

• Optional: Add a clove of minced garlic and/or a dash or two of Tabasco sauce to taste

Adjust the seasonings to taste. Stir well and let sit for a bit before serving to blend the flavors.