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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Easily Delicious

If you are like me (and maybe you only like me and aren't like me at all, or don't even like me but then WHY are you reading this?) you always end up with left over buttermilk.

I don't keep buttermilk around all the time.  I tend to buy it specifically for a recipe and even have some Magic Buttermilk Powder in the refrigerator that, when I remember I've got it, transforms water to buttermilk. Poof. Just.. Like... That!

When I do buy buttermilk, I can never find it in a usefully small carton, like heavy cream or half and half usually come in. This is clearly a conspiracy of some sort by the PanGalactic Buttermilk Council to coerce people into buying Too Much Buttermilk. And it works.

So there I typically find myself, with a full quart of buttermilk minus the two tablespoons or whatever I used for a recipe, and I simply can not throw it out. I am psychically prohibited. 

My Mom grew up poor during the Depression Era and she imprinted upon me a thriftiness that is often times more binding than helpful. This inability to dispense with miniscule portions of "perfectly good" food remnants that aren't useful in other recipes, and don't suffice as a meal or even combine easily to make a dish all their own means I have a refrigerator filled to the brim with tidbits.   

These leftovers just sit there, taunting me. Laughing because they know nobody else in this house will eat them.  I will potentially be forced to eat them all myself, explaining my need for buying clothes with elastic waistbands and/or scouting for styles touting "generous fit".Snickering because they realize Hub will reach his breaking point, refusing to spend fully 4 1/2 minutes unpacking then repacking the tottering towers of unlabeled repurposed sour cream and olive tubs, only ever wanting to get to his pitcher of iced tea.  Knowing he only reasonably wants to reach in and take something out without triggering a potentially floor fouling cascade of loosely covered remnants.
I haven't bought Cool Whip for over a year. I can't throw out a "perfectly good" resuable container, either. 

Hub will say Something. I will reluctantly clear the three bites of 14 different foods out, resulting in a clearer refrigerator but a cloudy conscience. I will either over eat or face carrying the recurrent psychic weight of ThereAreStarvingChildrenInChina guilt. Thank you, Mother!

Occasionally a recipe comes riding along to the rescue. This recipe, for Buttermilk Pudding from Elise and Company writing at the wondrously useful Simply Recipes is a case in point.

This recipe uses 2 cups of buttermilk. Two. Cups. Further, this recipe hits all the marks for a true Keeper.It has a short ingredient list that allows for generous substitutions. It uses items typically already in even a scantily stocked pantry. It doesn't take any special equipment or use any rarified techniques and best of all? It tastes sublime. All by itself good. Top it with seasonal fruit or jam? Exquisite.

I had in mind to make this when I still had a substantial amount of buttermilk left over from I don't even remember what. Then I stumbled upon the Broccoli Slaw recipe with its buttermilk dressing. As luck and the PanGalactic Buttermilk Council would have it, when I finally got around to making the pudding, I actually only had one cup of the buttermilk on hand.

Sure, I could have gone and bought another quart of buttermilk, but that would have put me squarely back in the "too much buttermilk" fix I was trying to amend. So riffing off the comments on Elise's blog stating others had made this using sour cream rather than buttermilk I simply mixed and matched.  The results were no less phenomenal. 

I used a cup of buttermilk, nearly a cup of left over sour cream, threw in some sitting around half and half which brought it all up to the two cup mark. I whisked a bit to make sure everything was evenly distributed, and ended up with 6 ramekins of Wow.We enjoyed our first round topped with sliced up strawberries and peaches.  For our off season repeat visits there will be strawberry and peach jam ready in the cabinet.  

One other tidbit - I found that the Knox unflavored gelatin packets at my large chain grocer's weigh in at 2 teaspoons each. Other brands might vary so do measure before using. Otherwise - proceed without refrigerator cluttering fearfulness to buy buttermilk now, my people! Garrett McCord via Elise has given us the power. Onward!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Long Weekend

Happy Memorial Day Weekend. In anticipation of lots of folks picnicking, this fabulous Venn diagram of multi-purpose cutlery. Can't go wrong with a splayd, now can you?Honestly we are not doing all that much around here to actively celebrate Memorial Day.  The flag will go out. That is about it.

I like it that way though.  Quiet.  Low key.

We will indeed prepare food and eat it.  Lots of it.  However, none of it may be blog-worthy.

To tide you over (because everybody needs a blog fix when they need it, weekend or no,) I share these random tidbits with you.  A mini-buffet if you will.First up? Peaches. I haven't seen Texas peaches in the stores much, a late freeze took most of them out. But these beauties from Mexico, organic to boot, are the real deal and the next best thingI made a batch of jam already, and have plans for cobbler this weekend.

Check this out. I gave one of the women I walk with regularly a jar of peach jam. She puts up with all my yammering very good naturedly - it is the least I can do. Another woman who just started up with us then asked, innocently, "Oh! So do you grow peaches?". And for whatever reason, somehow I felt stupid for having to reply "No - I just bought some and made jam.". What is up with that I am wondering? I don't think the woman meant anything negative about the comment so why can't I just let it go? Still pondering on that one.These uglies have been congregating on our Shasta Daisies the past few days. They will take down a tomato plant so I am happy they are staying away from our struggling tomatoes AND pleased that plunging them in soapy water seems to be keeping them under control. So far.

Additionally, when I first posted about my garden being invaded by these I had linked to an article in the local paper garden blog, using a photo from the post (credited) only to hear that the newspaper has copyrighted their blogger's materials so you can link, but you ought not use. I was relieved the blog author gave me a polite heads up about it promptly and I switched the photos out rapidamente. I am not out to snag anybody's copyrighted stuff, no ways no days. You must be careful with the internet. Some stuff (like all of mine) is out there for the taking while other stuff is tightly controlled. I was duly reminded to be more careful not to blur the lines.I do heart peaches. I really really do. I kept the peach pits and maybe I will just try to grow my own peach tree after all.

Here is a hats off to everyone who serves in the military and to all their family and friends who do without them while they serve us all. You honor us with your service, all of you. Please be careful and return home safely to the one who love you.

I hope you have good peaches where you live and can have some soon. Whether or not you grow them or simply enjoy them. Have a lovely looonnnng weekend, won't you? Enjoy the extra day, have a nice meal where you go to a little extra trouble just because you can, and I will see you all next week!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


[A word from our sponsor (aka:me).  I realize I write a lot about meaty topics. By that I do not mean I write serious thoughtful pieces, but rather about meat. Cooking and eating meat. I also realize there are many out there who do not eat meat for their own reasons. I respect that and I respect them. I too eschew meat at times. But I am not only cooking for myself in this lifetime so my vegetarian meal opportunities are few and far in between. That said, the following would make a lovely entrée served up with some nice chewy artisanal bread and lovely glass of wine (if you allow a bit of egg and dairy). What? You don't drink alcohol? Have a glass of iced tea. No caffeine either? Oh just read, for heavens sake and you can serve this up any way you like.]

This all started May 11th, 2009.

I had two heads of beautiful organic broccoli in the refrigerator that wanted to become some sort of fabulous broccoli salad when they grew up.

I had the remnants of a carton of buttermilk, purchased to prepare something I don't even remember (I'm sure it was delicious?).

I had an even more beautiful knife, a real knife, a true chef's tool, which was a Mother's Day gift from ChefSon.

I saw this post from SmittenKitchen and it was Crave-at-First-Sight.

Then why did it take me nearly two weeks to get around to making it? I don't know, honestly. I do this all the time, see something that looks delicious and I have ingredients on hand or readily obtainable and I print the recipe out and at times even start talking about it as something I am "going" to do, and then I don't.

I have no reasonable explanation. Strike that, I have no explanation at all, reasonable or otherwise.All that is moot at the moment because this morning, I drew a deep breath, got my workspace ready, assembled my ingredients and the necessary tools and made Broccoli Slaw.

I followed Smitten's recipe exactly. I too used the stems as well as the flowrets because broccoli is broccoli folks and if you like the way one end of the stalk tastes there is no reason to believe you won't like the other. Plus it all gets chopped up, so there is not a hugely appreciable difference once you start to munch.I originally thought to myself I'd prep this with the amounts called for and then throw in more everything-that-wasn't-broccoli. What could be wrong with more onion or more dried cranberries or more toasted almonds? I'll tell you what - nothing. Only once I'd tasted it (just to, you know, "correct" the seasonings. Three times. Silly seasonings.), this slaw wowed my taste buds as hitting pretty much close to the perfection mark at the proportions as called for in the recipe. I left well enough alone. [Score:One for the recovering perfectionist, vs. a gazillion for the universe]

This supposedly keeps up to a week in the refrigerator if, as Smitten Kitchen adorably notes, you do not have any pregnant woman nearby. I'd like to expand that caveat slightly. I am well at the opposite end of the reproduction curve and I will be shocked if this broccoli crack lasts more than 3-4 days around here. You don't have to be riding the pregnant hormone horse to appreciate this wonderfully crisp, slightly freshly greenly sweet amazingly crunchy combination. You only need to like broccoli, appreciate crunchy foods, and have working mouth parts.

I've read on a couple other food blogs where people are suggesting recipes be rated, rather than every blogger writing that every recipe is "fantastic!" every time. I tend not to blog about recipes that don't turn out very well although I did tell y'all about the braised rabbit dish that wasn't awful - it just didn't live up to my expectations. That was more the pasta's fault than the rabbit's I'd say and I don't want anybody to be discouraged from trying rabbit.On the other hand, if I were to rate this broccoli slaw recipe, I would give it 438 stars out of a possible 5. Truly. I have been craving broccoli salad of some sort for weeks now - you can ask the ladies I walk with for exercise. We spent the better portion of a half hour last week dissecting the reasons I might not have found a recipe yet to make a broccoli salad at home that I like as much as I typically like the ones I've gotten at restaurants or from the deli counter at my food co-op.

I like everything about this broccoli slaw. I like the way it looks. I think it is GORGEOUS. I like the buttermilk dressing in combination with the other flavors. I like the crunch. I like how fresh it tastes.I like that I got a red onion that was strong but in a good sweetly insistent onionly way, rather than the obnoxious red onions I get occasionally that remind me of why I used to never like uncooked onion in anything.

You can see, comparing Smitten's photograph to mine, that her salad is a leetle less chopped than mine is..
Above is mine.
And here is Smitten's. Please note - I am asking you to focus on the size of the pieces and not the fact that her photography skills are forty times better than mine. Let's just stay on topic, shall we?
Well there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for that at least. New Knife! It took all my self control to stop chopping while the food was still large enough to see without a microscope. I won't apologize. When you have a sharp knife, as I now do for the first time in years, chopping is fun, people!I strongly suggest you do yourself a large favor and make this slaw. Proceed without caution to SmittenKitchen to get the recipe and get started. Stat! Stop reading and go go go!!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I'll show you mine if.....

To coldly go....
One of local food columnist/blogger Addie Broyle's most popular features on her Relish Austin site is "What's in Your Fridge Friday", where she offers up a profile combined with a photograph of the inside that person's refrigerator. Broyles asks a series of questions of each person profiled, such as "What three things are always in your fridge?". While this is not exactly groundbreaking journalism, for me this feature has been a harmless way to indulge my inner voyeur, a chance to get a peek inside other people's typically private spaces.

Here's a recent example, showing the interior of local chef Josh Watkins' refrigerator. Most of the photos are taken by the person profiled so they are what they are.Taking a similar concept all the way to the "art" setting on the dial, award winning San Antonio based photographer Mark Menjivar offers up a fascinating look inside the refrigerator in a series I recently spotted (thank you Eat Me Daily). Thoughtfully considering what it reveals when we look inside this simultaneously private and public space found in nearly every home, he has assembled a series of portraits from across the country.

From his website"You Are What You Eat" where Menjivar writes:

For three years I traveled around the country exploring the issue of hunger. The more time I spent speaking and listening to individual stories, the more I began to think about the foods we consume and the effects they have on us as individuals and communities. An intense curiosity and questions about stewardship led me to begin to make these unconventional portraits.

A refrigerator is both a private and a shared space. One person likened the question, "May I photograph the interior of your fridge?" to asking someone to pose nude for the camera. Each fridge is photographed "as is." Nothing added, nothing taken away.

These are portraits of the rich and the poor. Vegetarians, Republicans, members of the NRA, those left out, the under appreciated, former soldiers in Hitler’s SS, dreamers, and so much more. We never know the full story of one's life.

My hope is that we will think deeply about how we care. How we care for our bodies. How we care for others. And how we care for the land.

Here's an appetizer:Midwife/Middle School Science Teacher | San Antonio, TX | 3-Person Household (including dog) | First week after deciding to eat locally grown vegetables. | 2008

When visiting his site allow yourself time and be sure to let your mouse linger over each photo to pull up a description of how many in the household, along with a few personal details I think you'll find fascinating. [I want this to be easy for you. Go here. Click on "portfolio", click again on "you are what you eat" then click one last time on "images".]

To be fair, here's a wider shot inside the freezer here at AustinAgrodolce. We currently have three people living here along with two cats, and will soon reach our one year anniversary of having shifted most of our food dollars to a local food co-op that emphasizes local organic sustainable food options whenever possible.I think you can tell two things at a glance: 1) how organized I am (not) and 2) nobody will go hungry here any time soon.

What would happen if a photographer showed up today and asked to see what was inside your refrigerator? Would you feel comfortable sharing what's behind those closed doors with the wider world? Does the food you have in your refrigerator say anything about you people wouldn't otherwise guess? Would a snapshot of your refrigerator project a portrait you are comfortable with?

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Do you ever get recurrent themes surfacing in your life?
I seem to be bumping into lists everywhere I turn.

Orangette wrote an evocative piece recently about how she makes a list of the "Crap I Like To Eat" (CILTE) when feeling uninspired to cook meals. The list is supposed to function as a creative Juiceman, resulting in "an arsenal of inspiration" to help move you from "eye clawing" to hungry and ready to cook.

Her post clearly struck a chord with readers. At the end where Orangette asked folks to share what would go on their own CILTE list, there were 147 comments when last I checked.

Elsewhere, on The Sister Project, folks were allowed to read and share their "List That Helps With Loss". Making the list grew out of a writing workshop prompt meant to facilitate a memoir. It shares with CILTE the idea of being a kick start. Recording some of the mundane hurdles we all are forced to clear even when facing loss, provides a starting point.

The original suggestion was to make a list of thoughts related to the event of what was a final visit with a friend. The response included three lists chronicling a young woman's visit to say goodbye to her best friend, dying from cancer. She wrote "What I Brought", "What I Heard", and "What I Said".

When is a list more than a list? Read the piece yourself and you'll soon discover list making is a simple act, and so much more.

I will cop to being a list maker myownself. I enjoy every aspect of it, start to finish.

I like making a list because it helps me procrastinate from the actual work beginning.
Questioner: "How's it going?"
Me: "..."
Q: "Have you started yet?".
Me: "Give me a minute, I'm making my list!".

While I am in the act of making my lists I appreciate how they can help get my monkeybrain better organized. Occasionally I will realize, secondary to listmaking, that some crucial element to my plan is missing. At times, especially when creating a shopping list, making the list itself demands that I physically check on ingredients. This can be crucial.

I apparently have a fantasy pantry, one that exists in an alternate universe where I know everything I've got, how much I have on hand and exactly where I put it. Then there is our actual pantry, which mysteriously fails to produce essential ingredients, notably recently, organic sugar in quantities sufficient for making home made jam. My Actual Pantry is inexplicably the domain where there was no physical evidence of the remnants of a bag of dried cranberries I had to move out of my way umpty hundred times only to have vanished once I needed those berries to add to a salad I had all the other ingredients out to prepare. This morning.

I would have sworn to you those berries were in there. I would have pledged to you on the lives of my family, without a moment's hesitation, that is how secure I was in the knowledge those berries, in their folded over bag with a wooden clothespin in place to hold it shut, were sitting in there ready for me to use in that salad. Only they weren't.

The act of recording items on a list helps me remember. There are enough times I dash out the door and leave my shopping list at home on the counter, or the fewer times I leave the list in my car, for me to know if I have previously written it out, I can rely upon my memory. If the list is not too long, I have a track record of getting around 96 percent of what I needed based upon recall power alone. My memory is spotty enough and my background fear of Alzheimer's prevalent enough that I maintain the practice of having to actively reconstruct a list in my head, is probably a good thing.

[Yes, that does ignore the idea of having "forgotten" the list in the first place but this is me in Coping Mode. You just shoo with your nagging and pointing out how illogical that is.]

Best of all perhaps, is the delicious process of crossing items off a list. This doesn't apply to shopping lists, there is enough activity loading a basket to keep both hands busy there. When running errands or doing chores however, crossing a completed item off a to-do list is blissful.

This is especially true if when I have procrastinated. That is the list equivalent of true nirvana. For me, the measure of dread and foreboding experienced at the prospect of any particularly loathsome chore is precisely matched, if not exceeded, by my level of glee bordering on gloating at having gotten it out of my way. Get thee behind me, dastardly deed! Thou art done!

[Why my glee takes that medieval tone I have no idea. That might be a great topic to explore in therapy if I ever get any. Moving on.]

It is my contention a well placed list can save a relationship.

For years I was plagued by family members seeking me out at variously inopportune moments. They were driven by a burning desire to let me know that, as the Designated Family Shopper, they had a need only I, with my Superior Shopping Powers, could possibly meet.

These requests tended to come 14 1/2 minutes after I had stretched out on my bed.
Inconsiderate Family Member: "Are you asleep?"
Me: "......"
IFM: "You don't look asleep. Sleeping people don't scowl."
Me: "......!!"
IFM: "You told me to tell you when I was running out of Liquid Paper."
Me: "....."
IFM: "Well, I am almost out."
Me: "...."
IFM: In pleased with self tone, "You told me to tell you, so I am".

The other time a need could magically manifest was whenever I started to take a shower.
Hub: Honey!
Me: "what!"
Hub: "We need mumbledly"
Me: "What?!"
Me: "I'm in the shower." (points taken off for stating the obvious) "I can't HEAR you!"
Hub: mumbledly mumbledly
Me: "WHAT!?!?!?!?"
Hub: Opens bathroom door letting all the precious warm air out. "I said never mind. I'll tell you later." Brightly, "Have a nice shower!" Fails to completely close door.
Me: "!!!!!!"

I began to keep a magnetized pad on the refrigerator door. It holds a running list of "what we need from the/any store". Now whenever anybody randomly comments to me, "we are out of X", or "I used the last of the Y", I simply reply "put it on the list" and we are done. I hardly ever even snap the words out (any more). This has saved us from much heartache and potential bloodshed I am certain. A list in time saves my family.

I decided I won't bore you with a shopping list, and a List that Helps with Loss would deserve its own post. I will share my own CILTE list with you, just for fun.

Crap I Like to Eat:
A fried egg served over:
Sauteéd cabbagge with Sriracha and soy sauce
Ginger Fried Rice
Corned Beef Hash
Another Fried Egg
Roasted chicken
Caesar Salad
Fettucine with Alfredo sauce
Anything in a Quesadilla

There. It worked. I am hungry and ready to hit the kitchen and cook something. If I have what I need in my actual pantry, I mean. How about you? Are you a list maker? Would making a CILTE list help get your creative juices flowing? We're all nice people around here - feel free to share in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's Up, Doc?

I have a long and somewhat complicated history with rabbits.

I cannot distinctly recall if I asked for this costume or if this was a result of a late trip to the Ben Franklin meaning the cool costumes were already sold out in my size.This photo was obviously taken before we left and I was determined to make the most of what I had. I mean, look at those perky ears! They almost overshadow the slightly wan smile, right? Right?

I do remember that I got a lot of lame, falsely bright "Oooh- would you rather have a carrot!?" comments the year I wore this trick or treating. As opposed to keeping and playing dress-up in the Bugs costume for weeks after Halloween as I usually did, I am pretty certain I disgustedly tossed this one in the trash as soon as I got home.

That would be scar enough but then there was my first experience with a live specimen.

A good childhood friend had a rabbit for a pet and I was allowed to feed and water this oh so desirable to me creature while they were on vacation one weekend. As instructed, I dutifully folded and placed lettuce leaves, Rabbit Chow, and filled and refilled the water bowl all without ever opening the cage. My reward, upon their return, was to get to hold said bunny in my lap.

The rabbit peed on me and then scraped near-lethal holes in both my thighs as it attempted to jump into the next county. I was impressed, but not in that good way.

Fast forward, um, years. Lots of them. I'd grown up with limited protein options. My Mom was not an adventurous cook or eater either one and frankly, there were not that many choices available at the local grocer's back in the day.

All by way of which to explain that yesterday, I cooked my first ever rabbit. To eat. For dinner.ChefSon was around and helped demonstrate the lay of the land, or carcass rather, and as I'd been more in a dither about it than I needed to be, it was sort of anti-climatic once I got it plated up and served.Don't get me wrong - the rabbit was tasty enough. I decided, since I'd had it holding frozen for longer than I meant to, to brown the meat, braise it, shred it, and serve it over pasta.Easy peasy, right?

I'd unfortunately purchased a fresh pasta that was not thoughtfully made. It purported to be a jalapeño fettucine that would take 3-4 minutes to cook, but was actually ropy and gluey and did not cook well after twice that long.

It was way way too thick, monstrously so, and that really dragged the dish down. Also I bought an organic parmesan to sprinkle over, which as you can see by the photo, looked extruded. It tasted equally uninspiring. That is a big ol' "no thank you!".Fortunately I saved most of the meat and the braise sauce separately and will try it again in some other format.

My point being, and I am pretty sure I had one, don't wait to try rabbit. Don't be leery. It is tasty, it is similar to preparing poultry in terms of cutting up and serving, and the flavor is its own, true, but not at all overwhelming or gamy.Rabbit is not particularly expensive, and I think it will become more readily available as small local food producers hit their stride in a flailing economy. It would be a shame to skip trying rabbit just because you didn't grow up eating any. I didn't have lamb, goat, fresh seafood or artichokes growing up either, and I once I'd tried them I was SOLD.

I am checking "rabbit" off my "I'd cook and eat that but haven't yet" list. How about you? Anything you think you'd be fine trying out but haven't yet? Anything you tried and thought, "whoa - that is not for me!"? What is off limits for you? Fess up!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Get Your Tweezers Ready

Here comes Misses Splintery Splinter!

Yeah, you heard me. Whether or not you secretly know yourself to hold amazing (potentially unappreciated) powers, The Hero Factory is a chance to play just a little with the concept, in private, and limited only by your imagination (and the parameters of the program)...

Here I am in all my nerdish glory:You will note the au courant thigh high boots please. Being a super heroine does not mean being out of style. Non non non!

I couldn't capture the salt and pepper hair quite, and they shockingly had no provision to add a middle aged paunch, but other than that, this looks EXACTLY like me. Pinky swear. Well, except for the no features bit. I'm not sure if I just missed that prompt but will settle for what I got.

You know, protect my anonymity from arch villains, etc. etc....

Have fun!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Smells like...

I was frazzled earlier this week.

Canning jam can do that.

Trying to pull off more than I am used to can do that.Defending caterpillars against the Hub's insistence they "look" like they'd eat tomato plants, only to discover after losing track of where they went that yes, indeed, these sphinx moth larvae will potentially eat tomato plants, can do that.

Putting together ingredients for chicken stock that look old and tired and done for trusting that every chef I've ever read who says that is precisely what these "past their prime" ingredients are good for, can do that.

But now?

The jam set. In a few minutes I will toast bread and enjoy the first taste of the results of a few hours spent in the kitchen that will continue to provide rewards for a year or so.Despite some fretting I am happy to have provided what seemed to be a positive celebratory experience for what many consider a milestone birthday for my son who has not had an entirely smooth past couple of months.

I found and relocated the two largest of the three potential tomato eating caterpillars far away from my pepper and tomato plants. I successfully identified the plant they were munching on. Euphorbia dentata.

I suck at identification so to have discovered what type of caterpillar and what type of plant is a true victory for me. I submitted photos to the website that helped me ID the caterpillars and helped them expand the host plant listing and that felt good.Most importantly I realized, finally, that this is precisely what we had been hoping would happen in the back garden beds.

We have been seeding in butterfly attracting and native wildflower plants for several seasons running and...it worked! We now have moths nectaring in the back area and laying eggs as the three sphinx moth caterpillars spotted yesterday prove. We actually do have a wildlife habitat establishing itself, by golly. Sidebar: they never label the flower seeds as Moth Attracting because we, myself included, are typically such speciesists. Moths are important too only not so acceptably gorgeous. I am a little ashamed to admit I feel that way but there you have it.

The chicken stock smells amazing. It is making my mouth water and has me thinking with excitement about what I will cook for us over the next few days. It has been a while since I was excited about cooking anything, well, except for the carnitas, and I put more pressure on myself for that than I should.

"It is just dinner" you might say and you'd be right. Only every time I try something new and assure others in my family that "this will be great!" I feel as though I am setting up a test. If I somehow fail that test, well I don't know what exactly would be so awful about that, but I know I don't want that. To fail. At anything. Ever.

Everything is not perfect today but for me, that is what makes these moments of contentment so rich and rare. Perfection, the elusive bar I struggle not to consistently set for myself, has nothing to do with the way I feel just now.

So. Today. Just for a bit. I am feeling, well, successful. I have jam made. I have chicken stock cooking.I have garden beds that are feeding insects and people's physical bodies as well as their spirits, their sense of beauty. I let my son know in a hundred different ways that I love him and support him and am proud of him. Same goes for Law School Girl who survived her first year, finals, and will soon be driving back cross country, coming home to us for the summer.

It feels good just to write the words. Home for the summer.

I have a loving family and I will get to see them each over the summer without it being a big deal. What could make for a happier Mother's Day weekend than knowing that to be true? Over at A Season for Everything I posted a poem for Mother's Day. You'll find it here if you are interested. Otherwise, won't you stop and smell the stock cooking, and together let us mull over how lovely these small victories of life can really be.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

¡Carnitas! Finally we EAT

Last night we celebrated and we had a lot to be happy about.  First and foremost we celebrated ChefSon's birthday. He turns mumblety on Mother's Day this year and I was thinking back to how far we have all come since that first Mother's Day cough! decades ago which was actually the day we first brought him home from the hospital.

We lived in Salt Lake City then and I remember sitting in the car, one hand on that precious car seat, looking around (when I could tear my eyes off this most beautiful baby in the universe) at people taking Mom/G'mom out to brunch etc. wondering how they could possibly be going about their normal lives in light of the earth shattering event we'd just been privy to. We'd just had our first child! Didn't they get it?

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  A hundred or so dirty diapers and sleepless nights later I began to understand a little better how yes, yes, maybe they did get it after all. Having a baby is that big and that little. 

The birth of a child absolutely changes the universe for the folks immediately involved and yet the rest of the world keeps right on turning. Which is why we need to be aware of who we are and how we live, all the time. We want to be keeping this world in respectable shape so when any Mommy brings another World's Most Special Baby into it, we can all be happy about our mutual prospects.Back to last night. We were also celebrating Cinco de Mayo:Swine Revenge. This was the night we prepared and ate Carnitas. 

Faithful readers, these were not just good - they were freaking aaaaaawesome. 

Porky goodness plus. All the recipe notes were right - you can make them day of, braise ahead and broil later, it matters not. Next go-round I might get adventuresome adding a few herbs or spices to the mix but maybe not. The Niman pork was just so very PORKY and that was why we were there. To celebrate the Swine Divine.
I cranked my broiler up to the "smelt" setting, moved the rack to the next to the top position, and started checking the shredded, reduced braising sauce covered pork at about 3 minutes. It took about 4-5 minutes over all but I'd advise you to watch it carefully. This one step of the recipe deserves your full attention.

We had the carnitas Self-Assembly Style. I offered a choice of flour and corn tortillas (most of us double layered one inside the other), arugula, crumbled queso fresco, caramelized onions, guacamole and some chipotle salsa (a blended type) from the Wheatsville Deli folk.

I'd prepped about 2 pounds of pork butt for the 3 of us and we had enough left for maybe 1 more serving. Save-the-world impulses aside, it was hard to resist throwing a LOT of that pork into each taco, it tasted that good. Self conscious types loading their tacos in front of witnesses might pile them a little more lightly thereby stretching how far the meat would go. When it comes to Us eating in front of other family members? Fuggedaboudit.

There's no shortage of places to read up on carnitas recipe experiences. Here is a smattering gathered just for you - all of them from cooking/food blogs I believe deserve your ongoing attention:
I used a version of this for our carnitas....the recipe from Cooks Illustrated
Eggs on Sunday
The Bitten Word
Diana Kennedy Adaptation courtesy of the Homesick Texan
A Crockpot Version courtesy of Married with Dinner

Housekeeping:  The strawberry/loquat jam seems to have set.  Mostly.  There are typically a couple of jars in each batch that seem to take a little longer than the rest. Maybe the last group I put in the hot water bath are the ones not quite there- again I am mostly clueless as to the "whys" I can only share the "whats" with you.

We haven't finished all the loquat jam from last year yet.  I made three batches and was hesitant to give it away until we'd survived eating it and uniformly agreed it was "good".  We did, and it was, but by then we were well past most traditional gifting opps so I have two or three jars on the shelf.  Note that I am not complaining.  

I only made one batch of the strawberry-loquat jam. It is in small jars so it looks like more. I discovered mid-prep last year only the leetlest jars will be covered by the boiling water as recommended by the canning instructions when I use the stock pot I have on hand. So far I have resisted buying any special equipment for canning.  Again, after we have eaten some, survived that, and pronounced it "good" I will share.  

Today is the first day this week I have no major plans for canning or cooking or shopping or celebrating or yard work.  This has been a Big Busy Week for me which is to say it was like most other people's normally hectic lives.  

I have made a lot of alterations in the way I conduct my life over the past few years, beginning with retiring from the "works outside the home too many hours a week" milieu several years ago, followed by retiring from the "behaves as if she is single handedly responsible for the advancement of every cause she supports" milieu just this past year.  

It has been different and at times difficult to separate my sense of "who I am" from "what I do". I think I am mostly "there" now, wherever there is.  Honestly, I am not finding a lot of company on this Isle of Non-Doing.  It is quiet here however, and I appreciate that more and more.

I hope you are having a lovely week however that plays out in your life.  Do try the carnitas when you can.  My only regret is that I went so very many years without having carnitas in my repertoire.  

Do have a Happy Mother's Day however you wish that to play out.  If you do not have celebrating Mother's Day on your personal calendar, then I hope you will simply have a lovely day in your own way.  

And please, whether it takes the form of jam, or a hug and a smile, do remember to share, won't you?  Thanks.  That is all!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Comedy of Terrors

Boil...boil...toil and trouble....
I have a love/hate relationship with making jam at home.

I love having it to eat and to share.

I hate (hate hate!) making it.

The instructions are so precise - measure "exactly" this and "exactly" that, cook it for "exactly" this much time. I wondered if there was an inside joke at the pectin company to see how many times "exact" or "exactly" could be worked into the instructions and still pass institutional muster.

My Mom was apparently scared enough she kept a wide berth from home canning and home canned goods. When neighbors gave us anything in a mason jar she'd as often as not taste a teensy bit, pronounce it suspect and dump it out.

She was a registered nurse and somewhere along the line somebody scared her half to death about the potential for killing off beloved family and friends alike with botulism. As fears go, this one was a doozy and she nearly passed it along to me.

I say nearly not because I am not afraid of killing somebody with my semi-casual home canning attempts, I totally am. However I am not so afraid that it stops me.

That nagging fear does make me edgy as all hell until I get the stuff safely done and jar lids have made their popping noise and refuse to bounce back after the appropriate amount of time. It is well after the jam seems to have set in its jarry home and I have refrigerated, opened up, and sampled some with no ill effects before I begin to relax and casually inform friends of my foray into Little House on the Prairie/Suburb territory. My relief will be so great I will obnoxiously be working that announcement into conversation at every turn.

"Sure, I'd read about that school closing for a week. You are right, parents must be freaking out. Say, speaking of home canning...."

Last year when I made loquat jam for the first (and second) time I think I quintuple checked that each batch had set, rotating the jars so often it was a small miracle I didn't drop and smash one on the tile floor in the kitchen (and not that I am superstitious but now I have written this what are the odds I won't do precisely that in the next week or so. Hmmm? Bets anybody?)
Last year's loquat jam.
This year I was slow getting to the tree with the larger loquats. They come in two sizes in our back yard. I have no clue why - both trees were planted at the same time. I ended up with mostly the teensy variety and knew I wouldn't have enough for an entire batch of jam. Feeling insecure about trying to figure out fractions of a pectin package I thought I'd combine whatever loquats I could get with some local organic strawberries.

The goop left on the stirring spoon tastes like fruity sugar sure enough. I am currently using my not for canning stock pot and not for canning tongs to gently maneuver the jars into their boiling baths, four at a time, and keeping my fingers crossed we will end up with a year's worth of jam and not a year's worth of fruity syrup.

They look pretty, sure enough.
This year's strawberry/loquat jam (I hope!)
But it won't be until tomorrow if I know if everything went well bath wise and later than that to see if it all sets up the way it is supposed to.

I hate waiting. I hate the slightly terrified totally frazzled way I feel when I do this. I love the jam (so far anyway) and the way I feel when I can give somebody a jar of organic home prepped goodness.

I am hearing the requisite reassuring "plink" of the jar lids sealing as they are cooling. Maybe three is the charm and next year I will feel all relaxed and wonderful when I try my hand at jammin'. Maybe.....

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I fixed us a pretty nice dinner last night.

Line caught wild cod, organic broccoli, organic fingerling potatoes dressed with from the farm butter combined with chopped chives from the garden. It was tasty, nutritious, and didn't take me over 40 minutes, start to table. As a matter of fact, it took us less time to eat the food than it took me to fix it.  Much less time.

I'll admit, that bothers me. It is my unscientific theory that years of bolting down less than tempting public school cafeteria food has resulted in rushed eating habits that are very difficult to overcome. I am embarrassed to admit it but if we order the types of dishes that are mostly already cooked in a restaurant and they aren't busy, we can swoop in, order, eat, and be walking back out to the parked car again in a little over an hour.

Even though we are fast eaters, I still try to go with a slow food approach to procuring and preparing ingredients for our meals. My other unscientific theory being that we are what we eat, that our palates are developed enough to enjoy, however briefly, the food we snarf, and in the end our bodies benefit whether or not we bolt the stuff down. I go to the trouble because it is worth it. We can slow down and eat at a reasonable pace any time we want to.

You know, because we are in control. We are after all intelligent, experienced human beings. Not animals.  We are not sophisticated perhaps but fast eaters or not, we certainly can tell shit from shoe polish.

Or could we..........According to a study reported in a working paper* for the American Association of Wine Economists (yes, yes the AAWE!) posing the eternally burning question of "Can People Distinguish Paté from Dog Food?", the answer is a humiliating........no.

(*Working Paper #36 if you want to download it in toto).

Really. This does leave me wondering why, if we are going to mostly throw our food into our mouths as quickly as we can around here, I continue to bother trying to diversify our menu, worry about securing the freshest ingredients and so on.

To the study humans' credit they did rank the dog food as the "worst tasting" of the blended meat products they were asked to sample, but when asked to single out the dog food, they just couldn't suss that out with regularity.

I wrestle what kind of person would agree in advance to taste a series of products if they knew one of them was going to be dog food. Others have raised the issue of why the folks wouldn't have logically assumed the worst tasting product was the dog food just on general principles.I don't know. Maybe they ate it too fast.

Here I am worrying if the water I washed the jars in is hot enough and if it will be OK if I mix loquats from our yard with organic strawberries because I didn't get enough and I wanted us to have a steady supply of healthy jam this coming year.

Do they make jam for dogs or cats?I may never eat paté again.

Are you convinced you could tell the difference? Does knowing this have any impact on how much you will spend on food? On what choices you will make in terms of what you will eat in future? Feel free to weigh in with a comment. I'd enjoy hearing what you think!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

¡Puerco de Mayo! The End To Our Happy Tail (Porcine Saga Part 2)

Our hapless neighbor to the South has taken a lot of hits lately, most of them undeserved. Mexico has endured earthquakes, economic woes all their own, a loss of tourism dollars due to fears of drug gang violence, and now this whole swine flu mess has been splashed all over their zapatos.To my way of thinking the best possible response to all the mayhem is a Cinco de Mayo celebration, saluting Mexico's historical fortitude in resisting the last army invading the Americas from another continent. I intend to do just that by preparing carnitas and serving Micheladas alongside, in hopes this current viral invasion will be similarly overcome.

I started looking around for carnitas recipes and found plenty of them, each using a slightly different methodology but all of them reassuring, with forgiving ingredient lists and nods to other cooking techniques in the comments added, typically something along the lines of "don't worry - they'll still be delicious!".

I do so like it when I'm told not to worry by people who blog like they know what they are doing. The only type of recipe I am currently attracted to is of the "you can not mess this up" variety. A blogger friend calls this low fuckupability factor. I think that term pretty much sums up the only kind of cooking I'm interested in.

Back to our carnitas. I hodge-podged together a recipe, deciding to braise the pork in the oven ahead of time and then figure out how I will brown/crisp the meat when the time comes to serve the tacos.I must confess. It smelled so damned good at the end of this first hour I could barely resist the temptation to test drive a taco (or 4) ahead of time to, um, pig out on my own see what other ingredients I'd want to have on hand to make our Cinco de Mayo experience mas bueno. Right. That.

Here's what I did.


2 pounds pork butt cut (roughly) into 3 inch by 1 inch strips
salt and pepper
1 small 1015 onion peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
juice of 1 lime
2 cups water
1 medium orange, halved and juiced, (seeds removed)

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Salt and pepper your pork strips and add the meat, onion, bay leaves, juices, water and orange halves to a Dutch oven.Bring this to a simmer on the stove top, then cover and place into the heated oven.

After an hour in the oven, turn the meat and continue cooking for one additional hour.Remove pork from the dutch oven (it should be tender and falling apart) and reserve in a bowl. Remove the bay leaves, onion and orange rinds from the liquid. On the stove top bring the liquid to a brisk boil and reduce to approximately 1 cup. (I plan to do this the day of our dinner.)

Check reduced liquid for seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour liquid over pork in bowl. Pull each strip of meat into two pieces using two forks and place on racks over a baking sheet. Broil meat well away from the heat source for several minutes (5-7) on each side until well browned and crisped on the exterior. Watch carefully to prevent charring.

Serve immediately in tortillas with additional elements to suit. 

To keep this as organic and local as is possible, I plan on using Tecolote Farms arugula, caramelized local organic 1015 onion strips from Wheatsville and queso fresco. 

I'll also offer Micheladas, a seasoned Mexican beer cocktail.  Or Negro Modelo plain, for those who like their beer untampered.  

I haven't quite decided what else to serve. It has been so toasty warm in the evenings here I want to keep it easy and light. Perhaps some guacamole.  Maybe local vendor Amy's Dulche de Leche ice cream for dinner. If I come up with something blogworthy, you all will be the next to know!I've posted ahead in case you were needing some Cinco de Mayo inspiration all your own. I'll come back with followup notes and photos of the finished product. I'll also be sure to share if anything comes up that didn't go according to plan. Meanwhile...

¡Olé, y'all! ¡Viva Niman Pork! ¡Viva Wheatsville! ¡Viva Bryan! ¡Viva Tecolote Farms! ¡Viva Micheladas! ¡Viva Mexico!