Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nobody Here But Us Chickens

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to roasting whole chicken(s).

I don't recall any disastrous early attempts that might have put me off on the technique.

I don't honestly recall any attempts at all, truth be told. I think the first whole bird I ever tried to roast was a Thanksgiving turkey, long ago and far away. And it turned out OK, anyway.So I am not sure if roasting a whole chicken just seemed quaint or ethnic or maybe it was the cutting up the chicken after the roasting that deterred me.

It could have been mistaken assumptions I held that it would require a special pan (it doesn't) or a long time in the oven (roughly an hour). Maybe it was just years of getting home from an office with starving kids around needing something to eat fast before they hopped back out into the world of "after school activities" that held me back. Well, that and the availability of whole roasted Tyson chickens that looked and tasted pretty good. I don't know.

What I do know is that once I roasted a whole bird on my own there was no going back. I also know there are several easy ways to roast a "foolproof" chicken and if you haven't tried any one of them yourself yet, you should run, not walk, to your best source for responsibly raised birds, buy one, and prove it to yourself. Roasting a whole bird is one of the easiest best ways to reliably provide yourself with feast-worthy protein.

It can even be very economical. I got an organic bird that was on "clearance" because it had just hit its sell-by date and it came to 99 cents a pound. I planned on roasting it that night so the sell-by date didn't make a bit of difference. Even without a sale, once you've roasted your bird you can end up with amazing leftovers and a chance to make stock to boot.

Ready? Here is a quick sampling of two or three of the go-to recipes that frequent roasters swear by.

On Serious Eats last February, food writer Robin Bellnger broke down her (new then) favorite method, an adaptation of Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken with Lemons. If you take the time to cruise the Comments section that follows, you will see there are any number of other devoted chicken roasters willing to share their own tips and methodologies for that perfect roasted bird. Doesn't that give you confidence that you too will soon be calling this your own go-to technique? No?

Then take a look here. The Thomas Keller "My Favorite Roast Chicken" technique is the one I actually end up using most often. It was featured on Epicurious in October of 2004, and once again, if you will cruise the comments to that post, you will note nearly everybody has some sort of tweak they swear by when roasting a bird.

If this many people have that much to say about how great "their version" of a roast bird turns out, how can you not feel better about trying one out yourself?

I will shortcut the Keller recipe comment section for you and share this one amazing trick that will save your ears if not your relationship with any close neighbors. Keller is a proponent of a quick dry roast at very high temperatures. This results in a beautiful bird in a reasonable amount of time with the lovely delectable crisp skin that most devotees are so enamored of.

However, this technique also results in a fair amount of smoke as the chicken fat drips into a superheated pan. If you are not a fan of pre-dinner conversation shouted over the dulcet tones of your smoke detector, then follow the advice of one clever commenter, who advised thin slicing potatoes and placing them under the chicken while it roasts. This puts a starch layer in between the dripping juices and the hot pan. No burning juices means no smoke in your kitchen.

Once your bird is done, the potatoes have soaked up all the fat and juices which means you end up with a side of golden chicken basted potatoes to perfectly complement your roasted bird. Yum and yummer.

Keller recommends trussing the bird and I get off scott free on this point because I typically buy a local (Gonzales, Texas) Buddy's Natural bird for roasting and they come already trussed. This means I take my chicken out of the refrigerator about 30-40 minutes before I want to start cooking. I preheat the oven, rinse, dry, salt and pepper my bird. I then place that bird on a layer of sliced potatoes and in a little over an hour (slightly longer for a larger bird) it is done. How easy is that!

It smells fabulous to boot. Nothing says "welcome home honey!" any more warmly than a house filled with the aroma of roasting chicken. Chanel can't do better.

Try one or both of these recipes. Immediately if not sooner. Then, once you've hit upon your own "favorite way" to roast a bird, at some hazy point in the distant future, you may begin crave a little more excitement. A way to spice things up. At this point, it will be fun to try something more adventurous (but still easy!) such as Jaden Hair of the http://steamykitchen.com/blog/'s Szechuan Peppercorn Roasted Chicken, found here.

I did not get a photo of the plated portions of my bird to share with you but I won't apologize for that here. We are thoroughly enjoying family time during the holidays and making my hub and daughter wait while I set up food photos is not part of the drill these days. There are any number of wonderful roast chicken recipes with their own gorgeous photos on the interweb to visually inspire you. See for yourself how gorgeous a well roasted bird is and how very photogenic they can be when you don't have eaters eagerly awaiting their plates as a rationale to skip that step.

Then, take a deep breath, get to the store and find yourself an organic local chicken all your own and get to roasting! You will not be sorry. And if you do have any leftover meat or a bit of roasted carcass after everyone has eaten their fill? No worries. The meat is moist and ready for any of your favorite "add cooked chicken" recipes. That carcass is one of the best first steps to making your own chicken stock you will ever have.

What's that you say? You meant to but haven't made your own chicken stock yet either? Honey, that's fine, it isn't a big thing but we need to get you past whatever it is holding you back from making the most of your protein purchases. With the economy still trying to tank, wringing every bit of flavor out of those pricey proteins is well worth your time.

But we won't get into that just now. Making your own stock is another one of those iconic activities that has been well covered in many other places. For today, let me just advise you to throw that carcass in the freezer if you aren't ready to make stock right away and we will get back to that soon enough.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No Lamb Left Behind

I found myself with a gracious amount of braised lamb remaining after we'd had our fill for Christmas Feast 2008.  I'd sent a good helping home with Chef Son and we still had at least four servings.

I also had what eyeballed out to be about two cups of chipotle cheese mashed potatoes on hand from a Christmas Eve Niman Ranch steak dinner.  
Throw in a pie crust and I had everything I needed to put together a baked beauty I dubbed Shepherd's Pot Pie.  

Not quite a regulation pot pie, not quite a traditional Shepherd's pie, but something somewhere in between.

There isn't a recipe seeing as I simply combined leftovers on hand, but the technique (and that is a very generous application of the term) runs thusly.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Place pie crust - enough for an 8 inch pie at least - in the bottom of an 8 inch square metal pan.  Arrange so the crust fits evenly in the pan and comes up the sides as far as is possible.  

Note:  I used a metal pan because my first thought was to finish the pie up under the broiler to give the potato topping some sort of browning.

Slightly warm and then place the leftover lamb which is still swimming in its braise liquid reduction sauce in the pan on top of the pastry.  

Slightly warm and then carefully spoon your chipotle cheese mashed potatoes on top of the lamb.  Gently spread the potatoes out to create a top layer but don't worry about getting the potatoes all the way to each side.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until the pie crust is golden brown and the lamb sauce is bubbling.  This looked great enough and more importantly smelled so good that I didn't even bother with the broiler step.  We were feeling starvish and dug in before I even thought to get a photo.

So I grabbed this quick shot of the leftoversand I have to say, even cold the day after the entire thing is so aromatic I was sorely tempted to try it out as a hearty breakfast food.  

I figure to try and throw in some sort of little foil dam when I reheat this to keep the components in place. Moving it all into a smaller loaf pan (plan B) seems to me to run too great a risk of destroying the integrity of the remaining crust. 

When all is said and done, who in the world cares if the crust is broken up in the leftover Shepherd's Pot Pie?

*Sigh.*  I do. I care. Inexplicable but true.

Tonight we have a locally raised organic chicken to roast.  Roasting is such a simple preparation but hard to beat.  And again, after we've had our lovely dinner we should still have some amazing leftover chicken to enjoy.  I am figuring on using most of it in chicken enchiladas and making stock out of any bits past that.  

Now I need your help.I have a full jar of braising sauce left over from our lamb shanks.  I can't imagine just tossing it out but don't have any specific ideas for what I could do with it.  The lamb meat itself is gonesville.  

I could freeze it I suppose, but to do what with, exactly?  Make lamb soup at some point?  Is there any point in trying to freeze it into little cubes of meaty goodness and use those as flavor boosters for future soups and stews?  

I also have leftover pot liquor from cooking the ham bone and greens for our feast.  I can't see throwing that out either.  It is just too flavorful.  Aside from cooking a big pot of pinto beans with it I don't have ideas.  I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be able to get a big batch of beans eaten before they'd spoil.  Do cooked pinto beans freeze well?  

I don't really want to throw any of this stuff out but don't quite know how to keep it in a way that it will be useful in future.  Any ideas from you foodies out there?  Comment away and give me your ideas on how to use these delectable liquids please!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Well.  The dust has all but settled under the tree again, and we can begin to wax nostalgic for the frenzy, the fretting and the fun that all played their part to bring us Christmas 2008.

I'd managed to not fill the house with a bunch of overly sweet or fattening foods (read:cookies and Chex Mix) on my own this year, but had forgotten to take into account the haunting spectre that is the gifted treat.  Food as gift was big this year and our bodies will be big(ger) next year as a result most likely.

Between professional and away-family gifts of foodstuffs, my resolve to have little but healthy stuff in the house (with a clear exception made for Christmas stocking treats) was blown out of the water by the 23rd.

We ended up with both an enormous (and unfortunately delicious) carrot cake, AND a pecan pie as part of our "from our family to yours" gifting this year.

That, on top of stocking candy, is going to shove me and my body over the line into "yup, gained some" territory again in this, the post-holiday assessment terrain.

However I am reporting this not with regret so much as resignation.  It is what it was, my holiday eating for 2008, and it ain't over quite yet.

Yesterday, as part of what I hope will become a holiday tradition for us, ChefSon came over and prepared for us all a feast of Niman Ranch lamb shanks.  Braising yielded amazingly rich and moist meat topped with a sauce made from a pureé of the mirepoix vegetables.  The lamb and sauce were served up with the last minute addition of caramelized onions and sauteéd Maitaki mushrooms.  (Thank you, Wheatsville, take a bow!  Your meat and produce sections rock!)

ChefSon also made a great creamy polenta which he cooled, sliced, then quickly browned in a hot skillet to provide a textural and colorful contrast to the sauced lamb.  

To round out the feast, we harvested a variety of herbs for the braise and several greens from our garden.  

As a nod to tradition, ChefSon tapped the hambone from a spiral cut honeybaked ham we received as a gift from out of state family. Leaving no reasonable plant source untapped, we were treated to a medly of gorgeous greens.  Collard, chard, mustard, cabbage and broccoli leaves were all rough chopped with stems removed and cooked in the "ham water" to predictably delicious results.    

Perfection.  A Southern Comfort meal that could have come as much from the South of France as from Dixie.  

It was a delight beyond words for this Mommy's heart as I watched ChefSon flexing his culinary muscles in the kitchen he grew up in.  I was more than happy to clean up dishes in return for such a warm and delicious family meal.  

Better yet.....we have wonderful left overs!  

I hope however luxurious or well attended your holiday meal(s) are or have been, that you enjoyed the food, the company, and relished the understanding that a meal shared is always better than one eaten alone.  Having our merry troupe all together under one roof, gathered around one table?  That is as good as it gets and as good as it ever needs to be.  It may have not happened on the 25th but it made for a very Merry Christmas.  

And now?  Here's to that Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tis the Season!

Out in the real world, away from the keyboard, a lot of folks are doing what they can to help out those less fortunate than themselves. For instance, this Brownie Troop shown heading back down our drive? This bunch of lovable second grade girls with their MommyVolunteerLeaders, went Caroling for Cans in our neighborhood last weekend and gathered up 210 pounds (!!!) of nonperishables for our local Food Bank.The Blogosphere can also be a generous place. There are all sorts of giveaways generally, and in this, the season when many folks take their one run at doing something to give back? There are several blogarrific ways for you to do something with a few quick keystrokes to help make the nonvirtual world a better place. One large effort, international really, is the Menu for Hope coordinated by ChezPim with the assistance of a network of other well known bloggers and gift sponsors.The Menu for Hope is an amazing example of all that is positive about the World of Online. And you will see a lot of space/virtual ink devoted to promoting its worthy cause.

In the cause of doing something a little more local however, I wanted take a bit of time here on AustinAgrodolce to shine extra light on some of the smaller scale and yet no less important efforts folks are making to share the love. Here is one:

MizFit has got that holiday spirit. For every comment she gets on this post, she will donate a dime to SafePlace.

Miz is tallying up the comment numbers on Christmas Eve Morning, so don't put this off, go directly to her blog and...

1) Enjoy her particular take on the working out life and life in general, then

B) Comment on the post to help raise money for SafePlace which always, unfortunately, sees a rise in demand for their services around the holidays.Do it! Post a Comment here. Then give me a few wrist flexes (remember to stretch first), relax, and go eat a dry carrot stick knowing you have just done 3 good things. Your wrists, your waistline and your conscience will all thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good News/Bad News

You may have read my post a while back about a frozen dinner that was so far off the mark I couldn't finish it.That, my fellow blogarians, almost never happens. I was raised to be a lifetime member of the "Clean Plate Club" and heard a variation of this gentle warning at the outset of every trip down a buffet or cafeteria line from my Mother. "Don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach! Be sure you can eat everything on your tray/plate!".

The Could Not Finish It meal was not the same brand as my usual microwavian fare, so today, just for a fun comparison, I threw in one of my go-to frozen "I need something hot to eat now" meals - a Lean Cuisine.

I have long been a Stouffers fan, and I had branched out past my all time reliables to try something new, their Szechuan Shrimp Stir Fry with Pasta.The photo on the package looked good. But those are styled - we all know better than to expect the food inside to look anything like those doctored photos.The frozen food inside the package looked good. That is encouraging but we all know how adversely the microwave can affect some foods in order to cook them properly. Shrimp are delicate and overcook in a heartbeat. Would these be edible after the reccommended heating time?Well fiddle dee dee! The shrimp came out cooked just so, the dish was not mushy, it had just a bit of "zip" to it and my faith in Lean Cuisine was bolstered. Good news there, right?


As I was tossing the box into the trash I noticed something for the first time.

A nest logo. Stouffers has been bought out by Nestlé.

No big deal you say? VERY BIG DEAL says me.

Nestlé is a corporate monster, right up there with Wal-Mart and the other biggie bad boys when it comes to worker's rights. And I am not talking about thugs knocking pamphlets out of worker's hands, although that sort of intimidation is bad enough.

Internationally, Nestlé management has been accused of ties to trade unionist murders.

So yeah. No more Lean Cuisines for me.

And while that could be seen as good news in terms of my being forced to eat fresh food rather than microwaved convenience stuff out of a box, it is sad to me that as these companies get larger and larger, their accountability gets smaller and smaller.

Also, it is sad to me that so many people will blithely continue to buy what is after all a leader in the genre (damned by faint praise sure enough) without a clue that their dollars are supporting at the least a corporate covering up of cold blooded killings. That is what passes for corporate policy abroad.

And finally, it is especially sad because I grew up loving Nestlé chocolate mix and being delighted and enchanted by the little bird in the nest that is their logo.

On Saturday mornings growing up I watched cartoons and I sang the Nestle song over and over with Farfel the Dog. N-E-S-T-L-E-S. Nestlés makes the very best, chooooooooooclate.Shame on you Nestlé. You have moved past deliberately marketing nutritionally suspect baby formula to actively supporting those who have been accused of killing labor organizers. And shame on me for not paying enough attention to the Stouffer's packaging to note that Nestlé had bought them out.

From now on I will try to see that not another penny moves out of our food budget into their coffers. I don't knowingly buy food from corporations that condone the murder of trade union activists. Not here and not abroad.This is why I am careful about my banana purchases, because it is nearly impossible to buy a banana that isn't coming from a company with bloodstains on their hands in Central America.

I've been to Central America and have friends who live in Guatemala.I won't pretend that an inexpensive banana is a good trade for the brutality, often subsidized by the US, the giant fruit companies routinely visit upon the people who live and work there.

I'd like to hear that you all intend to be careful with your money. Every dollar we spend constitutes a moral contract with the folks we are paying. Every family budget, though small, is a moral document. It all adds up. I don't want our family's spending saying things about us and how we view the world that simply aren't true. That wouldn't make for a very Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year.

What say you? What is the bottom line for your purchases? Low price the driving force? Organic? Local? Sustainable? Taste? Where do you draw the line? Weigh in with your comments and let me know if I am singing your song or way off tune to your ears. I'd really like to know.

Taking Stock

Tree up? Check!
Cat Proofed? Fingers Crossed!
Lights on the house? Check!
Gifts purchased? Check! (I think)
Gifts wrapped? Check! (I wrapped 1-2 every morning before I left the house to avoid the Christmas Eve wrapathon).
Gifts made? Nearly...
Cards sent out? I don't do that so...checkNot!
Special foods made?

Ummm. Not really. I am not planning on making special cookies or desserts or random treats of the sweet or savory variety. Been there done that, plenty of times.

We don't have any visitors this year and honestly, our family eats plenty enough on an ordinary day. No need to ramp that up for a designated holiday unless we want to do something special together. Such as...

I will make my daughter the savory spoon biscuits she loves and have them ready the night she gets home. We will doubtless have some sort of a "what can we buy in Austin that is from Spain" tapas feast home style at some point but the shopping together will be part of the fun for that one.

We will hopefully have a special ChefSon cooks for the family meal as well once GradStudentDaughter gets back to town, but again, the shopping together will be part and parcel of the fun of putting that together.

Sorry I have been remiss about posting recipes or meal reports but I've been cooking really simply lately as a response to the busy-ness of preparing for Christmas.

It has been cold here off and on so I've been braising and souping it up. Day before yesterday we had a wonderful Niman Ranch beef shoulder roast, whacked into pieces and braised with veggies and red wine. Yesterday, we happily pulled covers off the vegetable garden beds once the mercury climbed above freezing and enjoyed Potato and Onion soup, a family favorite, as our reward for braving what passes for "cold" here in Central Texas.Right this minute I am making stock from the defrosted turkey carcass left over from Thanksgiving with an eye towards soup for LawSchoolGirl using homemade stock next week.

YAY! LawSchoolGirl will be home next week! I have fun just writing that.

Tonight I will start defrosted quail marinating for a grill up on Thursday and for dinner tonight we will finish up the braised beef. Friday night, just to shake things up we won't have pizza for dinner but will finish the potato and onion soup with some grilled cheese sandwiches for extra yumminess.

So you see? Nothing much to really report on in terms of "how's about THAT" impressive food going on around here.

Saturday we do have a special night out planned to celebrate our 434th Wedding Anniversary.

Yes folks, the Hub and I have been married since before Colonial Times. We. Are. That. Old.


This afternoon I have more Condo/Redo standing around entertaining various appliance installation guys while they work duty.

Between us? I hate that whole - the guys come in to do something in your house and it never EVER turns out to be as simple as it should - thing. An entire post on that soon if I live to tell the story.

So, yup, taking stock, and making stock here. The Holidays, they are a comin' whether we are ready or not.

How about you? Are you ready to rumble Santa Style?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sign On for Better Local Eats!

A petition is being circulated asking Obama to appoint a "sustainable" choice as Secretary of Agriculture, someone who will shift the focus away from agri-business and towards a more sustainable and nutritious food supply.

As has happened around Austin as exemplified by the CSA farm I get baskets from and last year's water problems they had, small farmers need all the help they can get to secure a better life. That includes other small suppliers as well. Ranchers and cheese makers, Dairies, all of whose traditional ways of life and hopes of getting sustainable food and food products to local markets are threatened.

As the Pitres at Tecolote put it, "When the small farming way of life is at risk, so too is the strength of diversity in the food supply chain."

Amen to that!

I have signed the petition. That places me in the good company of Michael Pollen, Alice Waters, Wendell Berry, and others who care about the health of farms in our historically great agricultural nation.

And here's a little Go Texan bit for you to add if you wish:

**In the comments section of the petition, feel free to cut and paste in the following:
Jim Hightower, former Agricultural Commissioner of Texas, promoter of local, organic, and sustainable agriculture and author of Hard Times Hard Tomatoes and other writing concerning Agri-business and food nutrition would be a great candidate for the job.

The petition can be found here.

For more perspective on this, read Nicholas Kristof's column, "Secretary of Food," from Wednesdays NYTimes:

Obama's transition team says that they are aware of the petition and said that 25,000 endorsements would get their attention, and 50,000 could really influence Obama's pick.
According to the site the petition is currently at 45,000, and signature accumulation is slowing down.

Please take 15 seconds to sign, and a few moments to pass this along to your own networks. To reiterate: this petition has the attention of Obama's team, and they are expected to make their choice public very soon, so there are only a few days left to press for a reform-minded choice.

What Food Says "Holiday!" to You?

I was reading one of my favorite blogs recently - this one centered around dieting.

The ladies who post there have graciously invited others to send in their own diet blog addresses, comparing sharing weight loss adventures to a dish that can be passed along at a banquet or holiday function.

That got me thinking.All food blogs are diet blogs in the strictest sense, Technically, everybody and everything that eats is on a diet. Some folks are trying, more or less successfully however, to restrict the calories in their diet with an eye towards losing weight.

To our frustration around here, after a food binge based around our CSA baskets last Spring/Summer, we the people of the Austin Agrodolce household both managed to gain weight.Even though we were feasting on all sorts of fabulous fresh organic local vegetables, we proved for ourselves that it is not just what you are eating, but how you prepare what you are eating that will make or break your calorie count. (Little more fresh dairy butter on your vegetables, anybody?)

We are being more careful now, and with the generalized lack of willpower in this household that mostly boils down to careful shopping.Try as we might, we haven't managed to stuff our faces with cookies (Hub) or cheese (Me) that isn't actually already on the premises. And neither of us is quite to the point where we will jump in the car just to satisfy a mid-morning/early afternoon/late night craving. Not yet, anyway.

This holiday season I am trying to keep the pantry and refrigerator stocked with lean stuff, and occasionally we can be forgiven if we linger overlong, drooling ever so slightly at the food porn in the catalogs that arrive daily offering us mail order confections from around the world. I can take pride in the fact we haven't devolved to the point of licking the photos. Not yet. I am fully aware this is possible in large part because it is only the two of us in the house. Empty nest has its advantages that way. Early on, with the kids still around, totally avoiding cookies, candies or cheesy salty snack foods was impossible. Even if I didn't buy any or make any there was a constant stream of goodies coming in from school parties, team gatherings, church, scouts, you name it.

And even if we did (much!) better most of the year, there was something about a holiday break from school that lent itself to cooking together. Slowly but surely certain foods became part and parcel of our family's holiday celebrations year to year.

Do you find yourself abandoning your careful eating habits during the holidays? Is there one thing on that sideboard groaning with fatty foods out there with your name on it? What, in this season of abundance, is the particular food or beverage that for you so says "celebrating!" that you will not go without?
Egg nog?

Chocolate covered pretzels maybe?

Our family weakness is/was Chex Mix. We would make (and eat!) batch after buttery batch.

What about you? Come on. 'Fess up in the comments section. What is your holiday food weakness, the one thing you cannot resist despite your best intentions? No calories are consumed just by typing it out, thank goodness. If confession is good for the soul, you'll feel better, too. Your turn!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slacking Off

Between online ordering, actual shopping in a store, the decorating of hearth and home
gift wrappingand other lifely requirements, I have been doing mostly maintenance cooking around here of late.

I've been sticking to casseroles that are tried and true, ones that will provide leftovers to reheat for a second meal, sandwiches, tricked out pizzas, and the occasional dinner salad. All very filling, certainly nobody is starving around here, but when all was said and done, there didn't seem to be anything much to post about, cooking wise.

Actually, I did try out one new recipe, took the requisite photos and everything but once we actually moved this dish from the theoretical to the taste bud?  We were really, "meh!"... We ate it, or most of it, anyway, but we threw out the leftovers, almost unheard of around here, and I already took the page the recipe was printed on and recycled it into my grocery lists to be stack.

If this recipe were going to star in an upcoming movie it would have to be "He's Just Not That Into You".

My philosophy of food when things get really busy is to get people filled first, then dazzle them with the fancy cooking if there is time left over. That means the drill around here lately has been running a bit like this.

On Stage: A Living Room in Central Texas, populated by two clearly non-starved adults one working on a computer while sort of watching the Lehrer News Hour...the other gazing at the decorated tree....
Adult the First:  Honey, what did you have for lunch today?
Adult the Second:  Looooooonnnngggg pause. A salad.
AtheF:  So would you be OK with pizza for dinner tonight?
AtheS:  Sure!

Riveting stuff, yeah?  

I did post on the garden site however so you can check that one out here if you haven't already, and get some sort of an idea of why we aren't feasting on home grown veggies at least.

And I pinky swear, if anything remotely interesting happens around here I'll be back to share. 

At the moment however, much of life's current drama seems to be surrounding the Governor of Illinois and the debate around how stupid he was to practically list Barack Obama's vacated seat in the Senate for sale on eBay.

How about you? Are you baking cookies 24/7? Roasting chesnuts over an open fire? Does Christmas mean extra super duper fancy cooking around your place or do you find yourself happy if you are not using the microwave to prepare the entire meal? Share in the comments if you dare... Me? I'm out to pull the covers off the lemon trees and hope they aren't a lost cause.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Don't Buy Me This for Christmas

Seriously.  I would never, ever, have any use for something like this.Keep a pie? Really? Any pie that lasts longer than 2 hours after it has cooled must have missing ingredients or something because around here we do not keep pie. We eat it.

Immediately if not sooner.

As for transporting pie? That is what laps are for.

That is all.


I have been really frustrated with how blah my food photos have been lately. There is not great natural light in my kitchen, especially this time of year, and "everybody knows" you aren't supposed to use standard flash photography to get a good food shot.

I understand the photos are not the best feature of my blogging so I try not to stress when I get a run of so-so results. I am first and foremost the family cook and there are those times when getting a hot dinner into our bellies outweighs the time and trouble to stage a great food shot.

Even if I don't always get the shot I want, I truly enjoy great food photography. When I stumbled across this I had to share.Take a closer look. Those boulders are potatoes in a land mass made out of bread with a sugar beach. The sea is made out of salmon and the little boat? A peapod.

Carl Warner crafts these ridiculously inventive foodscapes and they have a photo gallery of them in the Telegraph today. No matter how expert or amateur your own photographic efforts are, you will most definitely want to look these over.

Veselka's Cabbage Soup

"Finally!" you are thinking,  "she gets back to writing about food!".  Please to note my descriptor dear reader.  This blog is about life in general, with an emphasis on cooking, but please don't think I could or would leave out any attempt to write about fun, OK?  Sheesh.  And fun is, well, whatever I say it is.  My blog.  Nyaaah! Ahem. Meanwhile, back at the post....

Every so often I read a recipe I simply have to try.

Sometimes that will be due to a featured ingredient (anything with bacon or chorizo), sometimes it is the photograph that makes me think "I want me some of that!".

Although I know next to nothing about Ukranian cuisine (borsht?) SmittenKitten recently blogged about a soup that was so delicious it was something foodies ordered in the heat of summertime. A soup so flavorful that after one taste from a friend's bowl she had order regret and knew she had to do whatever it took to get the recipe and reproduce the soup on her own.

After reading her post and the comments that followed, I knew I too had to make this soup. Even after my friend who works in the food coop where I was shopping for supplies queried as I flourished the recipe at him asking me if I was going on the Cabbage Soup Diet, I was undeterred.

Veselka's Cabbage Soup - you will be mine!! (cue maniacal laughter)I followed the recipe from Smitten's post with two minor exceptions. First, I had turnips on hand to use up so I swapped turnip out for the carrots called for. This made mine a slightly less colorful bowl perhaps but the flavors were comparable and the results were still big time delicious.

The second exception was that I couldn't get a butt roast so I used thick cut chops.  Finally, not really an exception but rather more a detour, I was certain I had whole allspice berries on hand. I mean, look in this spice cabinet, would you?How could I not have whole allspice berries in there!?! I have juniper berries for Pete's sake! I thought of using ground allspice, I sure enough had plenty of that on hand, but at the last minute decided to go into my pickling spice mix and see if I couldn't identify and fish some whole allspice berries out of there.

So that's just what I did.

Once my ingredients were assembled it turned out this soup requires a little more effort than I realized when I first scanned the recipe.

This soup calls for dicing up (rather than the easier rough chop) pretty much everything before you toss it into the pot. There are intervals between steps which makes the timing for that pretty unhurried.

It turns out the dicing is necessary if you want things to cook through in the time alloted, and more importantly it makes for a nice spoon full.  Due to the dice, every flavor is represented in every bite, which is clearly the desired result. It is only tricky for me because I have knives so dull they inspired this post by ChefSon after working in my kitchen a bit for Thanksgiving.

Yeah, that's me all right - ever the inspiration....

ChefSon knows it is BYOK at our place (Bring Your Own Knives) if you want anything that would qualify as "sharp", but I am guessing he really thought he could resist cooking past putting together the gravy. Hey. We made do then and I got everything diced for the soup yesterday without losing any digits. Alls well that eats well.

I need to tell you, sharp knives or no, this soup is well worth the effort. It is really, truly, deeply satisfying.Just the thing to take the chill off a winter's night for dinner and it certainly hit the spot reheated today for my lunch. As a matter of fact, if I was going to take on that cabbage soup diet I would be a happy camper if this was the soup I got to eat every day.Go visit SmittenKitten, grab the recipe, and give this a try. You will not be sorry. It is wonderful as promised. I am tipping my culinary hat to those Ukranian cooks who certainly know a thing or two about cabbage. Now if I had only made a loaf of Ukranian bread to go along with it! Next time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wrap It Up!

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas. Not in the no-snow sense. It won't snow here in Central Texas for Christmas any more than it will be cool and breezy here in the middle of July.

I mean Green Christmas along the lines of doing whatever we can to make sure our celebration causes as little damage as is possible to the environment.

We are flying a daughter home for winter break from attending law school halfway across the country. Our family is already responsible for at least one polar bear treading water on that count alone. I figure it behooves us to do everything else we can to assure that the rest of our holiday fun is as green as green can be.

Let's start with gift wrapping.A couple of days ago I half-facetiously wrote about using plastic ziplock bags as gift wrap. In our family we moved from gift wrap to using mostly gift bags years ago. Still the bags are paper. Using cloth makes so much more sense than paper. Following that thought to its logical extension, I share with you this video that takes the gift wrapping cake. (Ha! You didn't think I could connect this to food, did you!)

In the spirit of Classy Cross Cultural green wrapping, tada! Check out this tutorial on the Japanese art of Furoshiki Gift Wrapping. Now if I can just find a video on how one person can fold up a fitted sheet and have that come out flat, I am set!

Three Things

People who know me well laugh when they see email from me with something like "Three Things" in the subject line.

They laugh because they know I wrote that to help me remember to get to everything I wanted to share in the email.  I am famously easy to self-sidetrack.

They laugh because they know I probably started out with "One Thing" in the subject line and then had to revise it a couple of times as I remembered more things I wanted needed to tell them.

This enumeration technique works fairly well for emails so I figured to try it here and we'll see if I can stay on track for what I want to do with this post.  

Three things in particular caught my eye today.  One is a some very good news I wanted to share, one is a bit of wisdom that helped me a great deal, and the last is an idea I want to recommend to you whole heartedly.

First the good news.  The Pundits of Pudge have revised how much weight the typical adult gains during the holidays.
Estimates currently are that we typically gain only about one pound (down from seven!) from our tendency to overeat during the holiday season.  Before you head to the refrigerator with a spoon to grab the CoolWhip container and celebrate, please don't forget that is one pound over and above the pound we all supposedly gain just by staying alive year to year. 

Unless you work to maintain rather than gain over the holidays, you can count on two extra pounds added on to your baseline weight for every year you survive.  

You do the math.  If you are planning on escaping an untimely (defined:before I turn 85 and subject to revision when I turn 83) death, that is two pounds for every year between whatever age you are now and when you turn 85.  

For me that is a projected additional 60 pounds.  While I may not be totally grossed out by the way I look now,  I cannot for the life of me imagine how I will manage to drag around gracefully carry another 60 pounds.  Not unless I grow another 5 or 6 inches.  And what are the odds of that?

OK.  Still.  One pound down from seven.  Very good news! Note to self - work on maintaining without gaining.  Check! Next up - a bit of real weight wisdom to share with you.  

The first time I heard this idea it made no sense to me at all.  The 4th, 5th and 392nd times I heard it mentioned, I began to pay attention to the cues my own body sends me and the light finally clicked ON.
Nutritionists maintain our bodies, like toddlers, often do not distinguish well between "hungry" and "thirsty". I suppose that is where the conventional advice of drinking a full glass of water before a meal comes from.  It is not so much that the water fills you up (not something I have noticed happening, honestly) as it is that your body may send you a signal that you are dehydrated and you may misinterpret by heading to the pantry for oh, say, I don't know, some potato chips(hypothetically).   

Throw that kind of a miscue in with a glass of wine at a holiday party, and it is easy to see how over indulging results.  The wine stimulates your appetite,  you get dehydrated to boot, and blammo, before you know what's happening there are two kinds of adorable cookies on your platewhere that pile of dry carrot sticks you headed to the buffet to get in the first place were supposed to be.  

Know yourself.If there is any chance at all that your body might be telling you "I'm thirsty!" rather than "I know you just ate a full meal but I am still hungry!", try a glass of water before you eat anything else after a full meal.  If after you are hydrated you still feel hungry, deal with it then, no harm done.

OK.  Good news, wisdom, check and double check.  Now for that idea I want to enthusiastically endorse.  

Puttering around the interweb today I saw a bit on the Gaiam Blog that caught my eye. Entitled "Be the First On Your Block To Get A Farmer!" by Leslie Garrett, the bottom line is that the very best thing you can do to help yourself and your family to eat healthier is to know who is growing your food and how they are going about it.    

This idea is not entirely new - Pollan advocates this in his own way as does Barbara Kingsolver and multiple others as part of the growing Eat Local/Eat Responsible movement.  But "Get Your Own Farmer" is such a succinct way to sum up what it is that we all need to try to do that I couldn't resist.  

Garrett orders most of her food from a local farmer.  "Her" farmer.  There are various ways to duplicate that effort. Subscribing to CSA basketoutfits like our own area's Tecolote Farm, using online organic delivery services like Greenling, shopping the farmer's market before hitting the chain grocer's are all great ways to get your own farmer.  

I would add trying to Be Your Own Farmer - growing as much of your own food in a garden as you can, will be doubly satisfying.  Healthy, too.Try as I might, I have never managed to grow anything fattening in my garden.  It just doesn't work that way.   

Here in Austin we are incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic food co-op, Wheatsville, where you can have a whole dedicated crew of produce, meat and floor stock buyers out there working tirelessly to source the best local, organic, sustainable and responsible products to fill your shopping basket week to week.  Is there a food coop in your community?  Check it out.  

If we are what we eat, then don't you want to be organic, local, and sustainable?  Well of course you do.  Think about ways to put "Get My Own Farmer" high on your Christmas Wish List this year.

Postscript:  There was going to be a fourth thing.  I was going to indulge in a mini-rant around the idea of buying an outfit that is too small to be currently worn and have that hanging in the closet as supposed incentive to eat less and lose weight.  

In the current economic climate that really feels counterproductive.  However, after some thought I decided if I want to point fingers at anybody else's closet I best weed out the clothes I never wear and already have hanging in my own closet first.  

So I will channel the energy otherwise spent on scoldy-typing and redirect that to cleaning out my closet.  Afterwards I may yet return to that rant, filled with self righteous snarkiness, but more likely I will be exhausted and opt for taking a nap.  You can thank me later.  Onward!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


"I'd like to thank the members of the Academy, my mother, and my 7th grade English Teacher, Ms. Conway.  I would not be where I am today without your generous love and support.  I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that the Bananas are all dying and if people don't do their part right now to...."(Cue rising music strains to drown out rest of predictable protest portion of acceptance speech, and....scene!).

OK OK, so not an Oscar exactly, but this blog was recently awarded an "Angel".I am of two minds about this.I am ordinarily wary of the authenticity of inter-community self-generated awards. This bit of back patting where bloggers receive a jpg file with a label on it, classified as an award (!!) and bestowed for various reasons, well, I want to believe it is mostly a genuine gesture whereby people recognize each other for the positive impact of their blogging. 

I don't want to cave to my inner critic who is convinced that the motivation behind circulating these awards is 95 percent a fishing exercise for people who need constant reassurance of being liked and admired.   As in, you give me an award and I will give you one right back.  

Anybody with a computer and certain skills can create an award. At some point they begin to take on the slightly tarnished quality of those "participation" ribbons and trophies popular when my kids were younger, handed out to school aged children for just being there at some event.
I Get a KICK Out of Your Blog Award

In their heyday, these ribbons or teensy trophy cups did not signify winning or placing, they were bestowed based upon "participation".   If you were breathing and present, you got one. The idea was that a majority of kids played sports and didn't win anything, ever, so they should be rewarded for their efforts, encouraged to keep trying.The kids were smarter than that. Although the grown ups who came up with this "everybody is a winner just for showing up" approach were well intentioned, the kids knew the truth. If everybody is "special", then really, special is just the new ordinary. The kids knew who had won the tournament no matter what their ribbons stated.

Learn your history folks. Some countries already tried that "everybody is a winner" approach. I think they called it "Communism". It didn't work out much better long run than the "Participant" ribbons did. 

Human nature will never be rewired by anything as easy as a pre-printed ribbon.

However, skepticism aside, I want to reassess my stance on the Blog Award Situation for a couple of reasons.

First, this award came to me, which certainly must prove its validity and genuinity (yeah I know I made that word up, work with me here). Truly, I am one of those people who never wins anything. Full Disclosure: I did win a cake one time years (and years!) ago at a church cake walk but if I recall correctly, I cheated and knocked another little kid out of a chair to win. The cake, predictably enough, did not taste all that great.  

I am resigned to not winning things.  It is not that I don't try, or don't do my best, it is not that I lack all talent, it is not that I am not competitive. (I bet I am more competitive than you!)  I just am not typically the very best, the most talented, or the most driven. I get by just fine, but I don't typically win awards.

So if I won this award, that must mean there is something different about it.

What is different, and here I am being slightly more serious for a moment, is that the blogger who sent along this particular award truly is an angel in her own way. Folks, if the gracious Bee of the blogging duo dubbed Jugalbandi believes I deserve this award, then I will not argue with her. I will suspend my normally snarkily sarcastic attitude long enough to be awkwardly, sincerely, flattered. And grateful.

For any of you not eagerly checking your inboxes to see if new content has been posted to Jugalbandi, do check it out. This amazing joint venture of Bee and Jai is filled withtop notch photography, inspiring fusion recipes,intelligent in-depth assessment of current food issues, and a close up look at their remarkable garden. Jugalbandi offers an array of entertaining and informative posts, and most importantly, a chance to get to know two very remarkable bloggers.

Sincere thanks for passing along the Angel award, Ms. Bee. I am honestly touched. If anybody out there is a blogging angel, that would certainly be you.

A bit about the Angel Award.  According to the rules you do not have to be awarded an Angel yourself to award one to somebody else. Here is the rest of what you would need to know to pass this along:
1. The rules of this award are not to be taken lightly–which means you can’t give it to someone just because they did something really sweet for you.
2. This award is to be given to bloggers that have shown they are angels by doing something humanitarian and heavenly to help others.
3. You don’t have to receive the award in order to give it. Feel free to copy it and bestow it on someone who is worthy of it. If you think they’re an angel, they probably are.
4. The award must be linked to a post about an organization or good cause you would like more people to be aware of.
5. The rules for this award are to be shown when giving the award.

I am not going to pass along this award today "just because". I"ll know where to get one when I want to. If you have an internet angel in your life however and wish to bestow an angel? 'Tis the season! Please abide by the rules but feel free to share the love.

Now, the more quotidian laundry, actual cooking, and hopefully some Christmas crafting await me.  To be posted soon, my experience making Veselka's Cabbage Soup.