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CSA Season in Swing Again!

Yesterday evening I arrived home from a long day at the office to discover a HUGE mound of fresh veggies on the counter. The CSA season has begun! For those not in the know, CSA stands for “community supported agriculture.” I have me a CSA share, which means for the next 20 weeks I’ll receive a delicious bounty of fresh vegetables every single Wednesday compliments of my farmer man who I paid a sum several moons ago to be one of his “shareholders.”

This is my fourth year with my farmer man- Steven Parker of Parker Farm. It’s hard to believe it’s been so many years now. D thought this was year three, but an email search set the record straight.

Anyway, back to the food. Delicious delicious mass quantities of food. The first week of the 2012 CSA season didn’t disappoint. We got: pea shoots, arugula, bok choy, swiss chard, turnips, carrots, romaine, and cilantro. It’s been a while since I’ve had to strategize and menu plan, so I’m a bit rusty. Last year I was gone for most of the veggie season, so my share was eaten by others.

The arugula and cilantro will both be turned into their own respective pestos, which I’ve written about before. The cilantro pesto I’ll freeze for later use. The carrots were nearly devoured the day they were delivered and will continue to be eaten raw until gone. As I type, I’m roasting the turnips for tomorrow’s lunch. They’ll become the piece de resistance of a pea shoot salad. The bok choy and swiss chard’s days are also numbered. They’ll become a stir fry Friday night, cooked up with the steak I’m defrosting. That leaves me with romaine and turnip greens, which hopefully will also find their way into my belly. I just may get around to posting recipes.

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Rod Dee and El Pelon are Back!

Many moons ago, a dear friend lived on Queensbury Street in the Fenway hood of Boston. She had a victory garden in the fens and the Linwood (now closed) was our surrogate living room where we’d gather several times a week for beers after gardening or a work out at the YMCA. And El Pelon was our delicious go to burrito joint just up a block on the parallel Peterborough Street. It was tucked in a little strip of eateries called Restaurant Row.

One year my husband and I got anniversary sushi at Umi and took it to the Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline to eat. Rod Dee Thai served up a mean pad thai. I didn’t try the other places, like Thorntons, which is a clean modern sports bar. Sadly, the whole strip of restaurants disappeared after a devastating fire left their insides charred and smoke stained. After years of squabbling over whether to rehab the space or erect a new building from scratch, the matter was finally settled: restaurant row would return. It still took forever, however, to happen.

El Pelon was the first back in business. It has been open over a month now, but I just thought of it and wanted to send a shout out. All their menu items were and are delicious. I have tried many of their items so I know this for a fact. The eatery has a tiny little interior which consists of a few cozy tables and stool seats alongside a wall that are usually all full. In warm months, their seating expands to outdoor picnic tables. There’s often a line.

Rod Dee just opened again next door to El Pelon. They opened so recently they haven’t gotten around to adding this location back to their website. D and I devoured their pad thai this past Monday. It is still delicious and puts other local places to shame.

I recommend all in the Boston area to head down to Peterborough Street in the Fenway neighborhood to check these restaurants out.

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I Quit Coffee

This post is not a recipe. It’s a personal “yay me” shout out. I quit coffee. At least during the week. I’m allowing myself to still indulge on weekends, or say a trip out of town with a cup or two.

I never even touched the stuff until I was well into my 20s. I blame my husband entirely for getting me hooked. He was my enabler. For at least the first year or so I never even brewed my own pot. The husband would make coffee and I would beg him to fix me a cup because he had a knack for doing it “just right.”

At first more than one cup would make my hand jitter. If I drank more than one dose while in a coffee shop, I’d have to leave.  Jacked on an intense caffeine high, I was afraid of what scene I may make if I stayed and continued to try and read my book. They say “Redbull gives you wings” but I got some pretty good coffee wings at the start.

This small indulgence digressed into an all out addiction. My husband and I began splitting a 12 cup pot of coffee daily. Then he switched to a night shift at work. A cheapo 12 pot coffee maker can’t really handle a smaller load without it tasting like garbage. Thus, I began to sustain myself with six to eight cups of coffee to myself per day as I still brewed up a full pot every morning.

I began to feel blasé. I couldn’t even start my day until I’d been up for a few hours and drank my fill. For 2012 I didn’t make “resolutions” but I did sit down in early January and think about where my life is headed and where I want to be when I grow up. I set down eight goals for myself for the year. One was to quit coffee.

I’ve been drinking too much of the stuff. It ain’t helping my teeth any. My sugar and cream is helping to fattening me up and sweeten me out. My tum tum ain’t a fan of all that sludge. So, “off coffee” made my list of goals.  It’ll also help with goal #1 of having my booty be 15 pounds lighter.

Surprisingly, it’s the first goal that I can happily put a tentative check mark towards. After a few days of complete and utter fatigue from my cold turkey quit, my life is happy and complete without coffee. The reason why I’m keeping us friends on weekends is because I still love the smell and taste, the ritual of grinding beans and brewing a pot, mixing it “just right” and then spending those moments sipping often to ensure I drink it down while it’s the perfect temperature.

Oh delicious kahawa (coffee in Swahili), I’d just like to say that “It’s not you, it’s me, and I’m sorry we can’t be together any more. Our relationship wasn’t happy or healthy. I was too obsessive. I needed you too much. But, I’m happy we can remain friends and see each other on occasion. I still love you.”

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How Goes the Compost Bin?

How goes the composting you ask? It goes well. I have worms in there! This makes me happy. I didn’t put them in there, they came of their own accord through the little holes on the bottom of my trash can compost barrel. The reason it makes me go “squee” is because it means that the bin is a happy good composting rot place where worms want to hang and get in on the action. It looks rather compost like in there.

I’m a lazy composter. I toss stuff in there when I think of it. I only think to gather stuff on occasion. Sometimes the bucket in the bottom of my cupboard full of veggie rot that needs to be tended to gets forgotten for a while.

I started this bin back in January, which is not the best time of year to start a compost heap in a New England climate, but I managed, and it did alright.

If you read my first post about the DIY city folk friendly compost bin, you know that I began composting in January. In Boston. Not the best time of year, but it works. I had to give it up for a while as the barrel was buried by snow, and then a layer of ice sealed it in. From February to early April (at least it felt like that late in the year) the barrel was invisible. There was no tending, no adding (this is when my experiment in making poisonous anaerobic rot inside my kitchen occurred).  Despite the ups and downs and hiccups and less-than-dedicated effort, I feel like I earn a green star for still turning a decent amount of kitchen scraps into worm happy compost rather than land-fill.

Here’s a few lesson’s I’ve already learned along the way:

  • It’s important to transfer the goods in your inside bin to the outside bin before a situation develops.
  • Never make your inside bin airtight. I learned that the hard way (you don’t want details, suffice it to say it’s the worst smell in the world, and I believe hazardous to one’s health).
  • Egg shells take a long while to compost.
  • Whole sheets of copy paper also take a while. It’s important to rip those bad boys a little.
  • While it’s never too cold to compost, there can be too much snow.
  • Paying only the slightest regard to “greens” and “browns” and proper proportions will still yield you results, though perhaps not on the fastest schedule.
  • Even lazy-man occasional composting still makes you all warm and fuzzy “I’m saving the earth” inside, which is nice to think.

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DIY Compost Bin for City Folk with a Little Yard Space

If you’re not already a card carrying green freak environmentalist, start off the new year upping your green street cred by creating a compost bin.  If you live in cold climates, starting this in the winter may be a poor idea that does not soon yield results.  I recommend in such a case to wait until spring or recognize that winter composting for the novice will hold extra special challenges, like freezing food scraps suspended in dirt rather than a bin full of hot organic decomposing materials that smell of sweet earth.

In the country, making a compost bin is a non-issue.  An outside bin isn’t even necessary most of the time as there is enough space to create a general compost pile or compost fenced in area.  I live in the city and have a “yard” that consists of a four foot by five foot patch of dirt underneath a fire escape.  If I’m going to compost I need a bin impervious to rats, opossums, skunks, raccoons, and the other critters of my alleyway.

The town of Brookline offers the EarthMachine Composter for $40 which is about $30 more than I’d hope to invest in starting my own compost bin. I also looked into vermicomposting, but lack the dedication to ensure I properly feed and care for my worms.  My three plants are lucky they’re still alive; I don’t want to be responsible for the lives of hundreds of worms as well.

A little internet searching confirmed that I could make an effective bin out of a regular trash barrel by drilling it full of holes and using bungee cords to keep out the raccoons.  The holes allow for air to circulate.  The Happy Housewife blog has great step by step pictures.

The most important thing about a compost bin is providing a hospitable environment so the good organisms (worms and certain microbes) move in while the “bad” (like mice and maggots) stay out. There are whole websites dedicated to educating people on how to compost, like http://www.howtocompost.org/. I hope that so long as I keep any wet-rotting stuff buried underneath sufficient “browns” of leaves, paper, and dirt that I won’t have any smells or problems emanating from my bin.  Done properly, compost should always smell earthy and never rotten. This flyer, new-compost has a handy trouble-shooting guide for how to make your pile happy. There are a number of fridge friendly bulletins to help you keep on task if you’re new to the composting game.

In my kitchen I now have a plastic ice cream pail set up to hold all my compostable kitchen scraps in to facilitate their collection and transfer into the compost bin on the side of my patio.

Instructions:

  1. Acquire a dark colored trash bin (a black bin will bake in the sun more, which is good for the organisms making the composting magic happen).
  2. Drill 10-15 holes (no bigger than 1/2 an inch) into each “side” of the bin.
  3. Drill additional holes into the lid.
  4. Drill several holes into the bottom of the can as well so that worms can find their way into your bin.
  5. Fill the bottom of the bin with several inches of dirt.
  6. Cover the dirt with your first “green” materials followed by a layer of “browns” and a little more dirt.  Moisten everything that was put into the bin.  Snap down the lid and bungee it into place.  You’re ready to go.  Regularly add to it, turn it with a shovel or roll it around, and after a while (depending on season, temperature and contents) you’ll be blessed with beautiful rich organic compost.
  7. Set up a bin with a lid in the kitchen to hold all your scraps to make transferring materials to your bin easy-peasy.

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Apple Banana Muffins

I had a couple of apples leftover from making apple pie the other day so I decided to make muffins. I also had a frozen banana or two laying in the freezer that I wanted to add to the fray.  A google search helped lead me down the path to the bread recipe I adapted into some delicious muffins.

These ended up being slightly dense, yet still moist and light tasting due to the sheer volume of apple chunks contained in each muffin.  The batter was so thick I had to use my finger to coax it off the spoon and into the lined muffin tins!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 overripe banana, mashed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 apples, peeled and chopped into chunks (varying the size of the chunks will lead to smaller ones “melting” into the muffin while larger chunks will be tasty fruit bites)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter and both sugars together.
  3. Add the eggs and stir until fully combined.
  4. Add the sour cream, mashed banana and vanilla; stir to combine.
  5. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon) together in a bowl.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined.
  7. Fold in the apple chunks and chopped walnuts.
  8. Spoon the batter into 12 lined muffin tins (they will be about 3/4 of the way full).
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.

 

 

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Failures in Pasta Making

A while back I tried my hand at homemade pasta.  Several cookbook authors and bloggers praised the ease and glory that was home made pasta dough, so I gave it a whirl.  I had grand visions of the culinary delight that would be made out of my butternut squash and pile of flour and eggs.  Instead, I ended up with a frustrating time-consuming experiment gone bad.  It did not sour me from the kitchen, but it did momentarily quell my adventurous urge to cook new things in the kitchen.

This fiasco reinforced several lessons I’ve already learned about cooking.  When trying a new technique or food item beyond your comfort zone, it is helpful if you have someone more experienced to shadow or watch do it first.  If relying on pictures and blogs and books, you have to be aware that it may not turn out correctly the first time.  As you go through the process, be mindful of what you’re doing so that in the end, you can assess what went wrong, where it went wrong, or (even if everything went right) how you can improve upon it for next time.

My butternut squash ravioli ended up as large square pasta pockets cooked in cloudy squash laden water.  Halfway through the ravioli making and cooking process, I quit trying and thinly cut up the rest of the dough into linguini-esq bits and shapes.

My dough itself tasted yum. The trouble started in rolling it out and making raviolis completely freehand with no special equipment and no previous experience.  Making raviolis out of wonton did not prepare me for this.  Rolled out, the dough overtook the several feet of counter space that I had to work with, leaving me with almost no room to set down everything else I needed.  My dough started drying out too quick which meant that I couldn’t get the stupid raviolis to seal.  If they seemed sealed they came apart later in the cooking water.  The whole process of fighting with the dough and filling to form the squares took much longer than anticipated, which added to my frustration.

Looking back, I now see a number of things that I could have done differently.  For one, instead of trying to roll out all the dough at once, I should divide it into smaller manageable balls.  Only my working ball should be left out while the others are kept tightly wrapped and possibly refrigerated.  My butternut squash filling was delicious but it also was a bit soupier than a basic cheese filling.  Until I’ve got ravioli making down, I should keep with a firmer filling that would be more forgiving of flawed assembly technique.  Pasta, even fresh pasta, increases in size during cooking, so its important to keep in mind that those nice seemingly perfect sized manageable squares will puff up to overtake a plate.  If there is any question about the quality of dough seals it may be wise to consider changing the cooking method. Instead of a boiled ravioli disaster it can be a baked ravioli success, for instance.

Cooking is like anything in life.  You win some, you lose some, you’re sometimes on your game and sometimes not.  Having occasional disasters and great failures is part of the process.  The important thing is to learn from them so that you do not succumb to the same disasters and failures a second time (they can be new failures and disasters).

I don’t plan to attempt fresh pasta again in the near future.  The taste obtained was not worth the heartache and suffering caused on my end.  I may revisit fresh egg pasta making in the future but next time I will make something simple, like lasagna noodles.

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