playing with my food

Garden gone wild!

I’ve been experimenting with cucumbers and zucchini all day, trying to figure out how to preserve the bounty of these tasty veggies — well, they’re really fruit — in different ways. Why? Because we eat only seasonal, locally grown produce. So when there are no cucumbers in my backyard and none at the farmers’ market, there are none on the table. So that means at least six months a year without cucumbers.

I love cucumbers. Cool, neither sweet nor sour, they are one of the most refreshing things I can think of to eat raw, out of hand like an apple, in a salad, with dip. Love them with rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame oil. Just a sprinkle of lemon-pepper is lovely. Or chile-lemon salt (look in the Mexican section at the grocery store — tasty stuff). Sour cream and dill make a creamy little cukey salad (learned that one from my mom). Or I can lay a few slices on my eyelids for a mini-spa treatment. One of my favorite salad dressings is cucumber dressing — no longer made commercially, but I used to buy it all the time and used it on everything from sandwiches to fish, as well as salads. Cucumbers rock da house. But (and this is a big but) — the fam doesn’t really like pickles. Only so many jars of pickles can I make. We still have last year’s stock, unfinished. And probably some from the year before. Disheartening, to say the least.

Zucchini I also enjoy, though with less enthusiasm than the crackin’ cuke. I have discovered how to freeze zucchini in many forms and thus it is not as big a challenge for me. Zucchini and other summer squashes are pretty easy to chop, blanch and freeze — grated, for baking, or sliced, for dinner veggies. And yet…what else can I do with these things?

I asked my friends on the Compact list about some different ways to preserve the bounty. Suggestions included dehydrating them. That sounds, frankly, disgusting. I’ve used the dehydrator to dry onions, celery and carrots before, to make soup mixes. And it makes the whole house stink of onions. Doesn’t exactly sound like the Glade fragrance of the week, does it?
Nevertheless and notwithstanding, I dehydrated some cucumber chips with the intention of rehydrating them later into salad dressings or sprinkled into salads directly. Will report back in about 6 months how that goes. The cucumbers did not stink. They smelled like nothing. They looked like green paper and crumbled right up. I used the thinnest setting on my mandoline to get the slim slices.
Also dehydrated some zucchini chips. I sprinkled these with garlic bread spices, and the house did smell garlic-bread-y all afternoon. I tasted one when they were dry and have been trying to get the garlic flavor out of my mouth for about 3 hours now (spits). Yuk. However, Mr. Husband cannot keep his mitts off the zucchini chips and they are half gone already. So it looks like this is a hit — a homemade healthy snack that is “free” (if you don’t count the effort of growing zucchini) — and not fried. And not wrapped in plastic. Treehuggers (like me) like that.

Onward: I made pickles last week and started wondering how the cucumbers would taste if there were no spices in the mix — that is, dill pickles without the dill? Wouldn’t they just be vinegar pickles? Cucumbers with a little vinegar taste? Could I use those in a salad? Especially if I’m just going to put salad dressing on them anyway? I don’t know. Maybe. So I gave it a whirl today — sliced up a batch of cucumbers and poured plain brine over them — no spices except for the salt. I made just one jar because a bunch of the cucumbers turned out to be spoiled — argh! The refrigerator got too cold and froze everything, then warmed up. Love the crappy old refrigerator that came with the rental…So the extra cukes for my experiments turned into chicken food, all mushy on the inside. Oh well.

Exhibit A. Here are one jar of “preserved cucumbers” and a partial jar of dehydrated cucumber flakes. I’d like to show you the zucchini chips but there are none left. Somebody Ate Them All Up.

And that’s about all I have to say about cucumbers and zucchini. I do, however, have this gratuitous egg shot for you — fresh from the pot, these hardboiled eggs are on their way to the refrigerator and later will become breakfast of champions for Mr. Husband. Yes, the chickies each lay eggs of a different color, which is charming. We write the date on the shell so we know which are the oldest eggs, thus, which to eat sooner.
Today the chickens ran around on the lawn while we cleaned the coop. I gave a wheelbarrow full of chicken manure to my neighbor LaVera, thus fulfilling the belief that I like to give people sh*t. It’s true. You want some? Come get some. I used lots of the dirty straw to mulch and nourish the new rows of beans I just planted today — hoping for another round of green beans in the fall. This summer has truly been the coldest in a long time, and my stock of green tomatoes is not amusing. It’s a little worrisome, since I have plans to eat off my produce for the winter. Sun — shine, please! I also planted more beets and radishes, plus a row of spinach and a small planter of Swiss chard. Here’s hoping a tiny ray of sunshine will warm the garden so these babies can grow.
Happy week to you, my friends.

Today’s Plan (Part I)

So it’s the last day for those of us doing the JFSC, and Mr. Husband and I will fast instead of eat, to think about those who run out of food stamps before the end of the month. I won’t put any restrictions on the kids — they can eat whatever (they’ve been good sports all along). At first I thought about the Catholic Church’s guidelines for fasting, which is half breakfast, half lunch, regular dinner. But that seems excessive/abundant, maybe, for the real FS participant. What we’re gonna go with is this:

  • We can have yesterday’s leftover coffee (I saved it especially) or one teabag for the whole day.
  • As much water as we want.
  • Option to forage for free fruit or produce in the neighborhood (rose hips? berries?) 
  • Samples at the grocery store or from the break room at work, a jar of candy on a counter (whatever is free and openly offered to everyone)
  • Do a survey for free sample if we come across one (in the city this happens sometimes)
  • Go to a public event where coffee/cookies, etc. are served as part of the event
  • Dinner for the adults will be Top Ramen (a 10 cent buy early in the month, but as you know, virtually no nutritional value)
  • Free food offered with coupon
  • Dumpster/curb shopping
  • Handouts from friends would also be acceptable (nothing planned or asked for).

This is a lot of leeway for free food, but I work at home, so unless I go cruise our industrial area for food in the Dumpsters, it’s unlikely I’d run across any. There is an event for the library at 2:30 with free refreshments, so I think I’ll go to that. I would have gone anyway. It just fits, luckily. And I have coupons. This (below) is what I have on hand. Don’t laugh. It’s ripe for a rude joke, isn’t it? Hmm — sit on the couch watching a movie, swigging from the hot sauce bottle, until I run to the bathroom in agony….

I had a bunch of Taco Bell freebie coupons but looks like the teenagers have absconded with them. There’s another set of the TB freebies in Mr. Husband’s car, but it’s locked and he has the key, and is this just G*d laughing at me or what?

Patrick will probably have lunch offered at work in a meeting, and his green tea. We’ll see at the end of the day. As for me, I’ve got a busy day. First, coffee on an empty stomach — mmm! I’m going out to weed the garden and see if there’s anything ripe. I look forward to a couple of cherry tomatoes and some herbs. Later today is that library event, which bodes well for cookies and punch. Then Top Ramen for dinner — we’ll share the package.

It’s not fasting in a religious or spa-cleanse way, but it’s how I imagine the last day of the month, with no food money for a hungry person. What is free to everyone or freely given — I can be open to that and will see what  happens.

Last note before I go about this blessed day — I fed the cats this morning and they turned up their little pink noses at the brand of canned food I gave them. This pissed me off inordinately. Being hungry hurts the stomach and makes one grumpy. The cats had better go catch a mouse, or two. I’m in no mood.

Til later —

BBQ and the Beast

Did you ever see such a happy hostess? No? I didn’t think so. Speaking to you live from Party HQ, where the Father’s Day BBQ adventure is winding down. Well, it’s done, actually. All guests gone, all dishes washed, and all food accounted for. Well, there I am in my pink flamingo apron, clutching my bar stool for dear life as I wonder if there will be enough food or too much, and if people will come, chat, behave, and then leave before bedtime.

The answer to all of the above was, I’m glad to report, a resounding yes. Yes, folks came, had fun and left, and there was enough food, and also too much. People came bearing gifts, and duplicates. For example, we ended up with a lot of watermelon, tortilla chips and 3-bean salad. Really, we all got the 3-bean memo, because 3, if not 4 people, made a 3-bean salad (including me).
Here’s Annie, cooking the chicken and burgers. All the food tasted good, and there were also leftovers. My challenge this week will include how to incorporate cooked hamburgers, cooked chicken and a hell of a lot of 3-bean salad into the rotation — without hitting the grocery store at all. Tonight, we are having a cold salad bar, with several offerings, while they are still crisp and fresh.
I took a little inventory this morning, and this is how the food scene played out: No one ate hot dogs, so those went back into the freezer. So did most of the buns. I have a partial bag of hot dog buns out and one bag of hamburger buns, which I will use as sandwich bread and toast this week. I just don’t like how buns defrost. They seem stale no matter what we do (toasted or not). So I’d like to eat up some of them, and freeze the rest anyway. We ended up with a half a watermelon, two baskets of homegrown raspberries (gift from my mom and her garden), an extra bag of tortilla chips, some leftover beers, and a smidgen of a bottle of Rock Wall wine that sat outside all night and part of the sunny morning until I rescued it — I’ll taste it later, and if it’s not funky, it will go into a soup or sauce this week. Also on the score list: my mom donated a bag of flax seed, which will go into our oatmeal and baked goods. Plus, there was a half a bag of chow mien noodles that will end up in someone’s salad this week or next.
Hungry? Have a party…
Look at that face! How could you not just *love* him! That’s Mr. Husband showing off his fully decorated tiki bar (note by the clock that it’s always 5:00 at the tiki bar). On that bar is a gallon jar of sun tea with gleaned lemons that quenched the thirst of children and non-drinkers of boat drinks. We also used tiki beverage and serve-ware, silverware and some plates, although the paper plates that were used are in the compost already. All the recycling was gathered up to be sorted later in the week. Green and frugal. It’s the politically correct way to say cheap! (Well, it is. But I’m OK with that.)
The Key lime pie, requested as a Father’s Day treat, was super. It had called for 5 egg yolks, and trying to be mindful of using all the food we have on hand, I saved 5 egg yolks in a tupperware. Two egg whites went into the cookie dough that I made (but haven’t yet baked), and the other three egg whites are going to be my breakfast tomorrow. I also used limes for Key lime pie; I squeezed about half the limes, and then cut some for garnish. The rest of the limes were cut up for drink garnishes. The gleaned lemons we got a week or so back were still on hand. I cut those up and used them for drink garnishes, including in the 3 containers of lemonade I made and the gallon of sun tea. Any leftover lemons and limes (there are some left) will end up in tea or juice sometime this week. And that’s about all there is to know about the Father’s Day fiesta on food stamps.
Now, to keep from wasting all that food…stay tuned!
Food as metaphor
It’s often been said that food is a way to express love. I experienced food as love today. There was a slight misunderstanding about where the Boy was supposed to be. He was at a friend’s house overnight, didn’t call when he was supposed to, made plans with an unidentified friend without asking, and then left the overnight friend’s house with a phone that was not fully charged. In the space of about 10 minutes I had one of those little parental heart attacks where you don’t know where your kid is and because of the reliance on technology that is also often unreliable, he was unreachable. Not cool. I was able to get a hold of him pretty quickly, but in no man’s land for a few minutes there, I was freaking out.
When I got him on the phone, I sent him back to the original plan, and jumped in the car. (I try to drive just two days a week — but when your kid’s in trouble, or needs you — out goes the rule.) I kind of jumped on his case on the phone, and on the way over to pick him up, felt a little guilty and that perhaps I had worried for nothing. When I picked him up and all was explained, it seemed a good time for a treat to make amends. I hadn’t had lunch yet, since I had a morning meeting and then cleanup of the backyard disaster. The Boy is always hungry these days. At first I fantasized about Taco Bell (my bete noir), then went to the dollar menu at McDonald’s, since I could get him an item or two. By then, I was going to skip feeding myself til we got home.

To the parents who are wagging their hoary organic heads at me, get over yourself. When a 12 year old boy needs comfort, a sun-baked sprouted quinoa patty is not going to help. Some chicken nuggets might. I know my Boy, and what makes him happy. The drive-through at McDonald’s was the way we chose to cement our friendship again. Note that the Dollar Menu sucks, so we ended up with an appropriately named Happy Meal instead. $3.39 for a bagful of grease, unhappy cow and petroleum byproducts, but emotionally, we survived the afternoon encounter and have moved on. It wasn’t a healthy choice, but one meal won’t sink the boat, and I will argue that an occasional indulgence from parents — especially step-parents, who are truly neither fish nor fowl, if you can follow the extended metaphor — will not kill the child. Nor the budget.

Reminder again that food stamps do not buy fast food. The only thing that food stamps and fast food have in common is the letter F. And the word food, actually. Technically, his meal did not “come out” of the food stamp budget I’m using. In the grand scheme of things, I suspect that most parents (even those on food stamps! who, by the way, are not bad parents because they are using government help to feed those kids) occasionally buy a special food treat when the situation calls for it. Comments? Chime in below.
In other metaphorical use, in recent weeks, I’ve noticed food as politics in all of the rancor about who’s using “our tax dollars” to buy food — or cigarettes and beer — or drugs. (More on this in another post.) I’ve noticed food as snobbery, in the elitist “slow food” movement, whose aim seems to be lording it over the pathetic fools who take their poor children to McDonald’s for a treat. Food is comfort, as we all know, a substitute for therapy, friendship, relationship, sex, companionship, love. Food is fun — ever try to catch popcorn in your mouth? Paint your lips with a red jellybean? Put an orange slice in your mouth and pretend you have orange teeth? Put olives on your fingers? Yeah. Food is fun.
But it’s also power: Monsanto owns the rights to huge amounts of genetically modified seeds and requires that farmers buy said seeds each year, instead of allowing the farmer to keep his/her own genetically viable seeds to use again the next year. The soy industry gives a lot of money to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) each year to help promote the consumption of soy (another overabundant product in this country, no better for you than corn). Vegetarians and vegans, did you know that? Do you know how much soy you can safely eat before you men begin to grow breasts and feel the estrogen surge? And the corn lobby is huge and pervasive. Recognize that corn, corn fillers, and corn sweeteners are in EVERYTHING. Recognize that the food stamp program does not even exist to feed hungry people, but to help FARMERS get rid of excess products. That’s why the USDA runs it, not the social services. Do a little research. Open your eyes to what you are eating and how it got to your plate. Just because you see an ad in Martha Stewart or Oprah or Esquire or Spin does not make it cool. Just because some “celebrity” wrote a book about it does not equate to your own research. All it takes is a minute on Google to get started.
Most of all, what food is to every person on this planet — security. It’s survival. It is the only way we can live. And it is flat-out wrong for some people to have more and some people to have little or none. Come to your senses, obese, diabetic Americans. Put your fork down and wake up. Hunger exists. It hides its face, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t here.
Sunday Menu
Breakfast: Coffee. Patrick: toast and peanut butter. Julia: oatmeal.
Snack: Julia: yogurt, banana.
BBQ (1 to 9 p.m.): various barbecued meats, salads, watermelon, iced tea, lemonade, wine, beer, chocolate cheesecake, Key lime pie, toasted marshmallows.
Monday Menu
Breakfast: Patrick: oatmeal, hard boiled egg, grapefruit. Julia: early meeting (coffee, $3.65, shared sweet roll); Simone: breakfast bar.
Snack: Julia: banana
Lunch: Austin: Happy Meal ($3.30); Julia: cereal and milk, banana; Patrick/Simone: leftover lettuce, tomato, Chinese chicken salad. Ana: Hot Pocket?
Dinner: Salad smorgasbord! Three kinds of 3-bean salad, Tuscan tomato salad, marinated veggies, watermelon, bread.

Lordy Lu: What’s new

Such days, such busy days. Been reading, working in the garden, taking care of chickies, cats, birds, people, and self. Weather, projects, house, life. Busy days, I tell you. Biggest project has been the raised beds. Here come the photos, my little chickadees.

So here’s the chicken coop with a new green corrugated roof. That took us a weekend day to repair. The coop still needs a solid door, as we discovered last night — either an electric fence or steel spikes dug down at least a foot into the earth. Yes, our raccoony friends were here overnight and dug underneath, into the coop. Luckily, the chickies still sleep in the garage, and now we know the gambit. So that’s on the list.
As for the raised beds, we had 3 from last year that were still good, but the large bed had rotted. It has been merely a pile of worn-out topsoil, seen at the right of the photo.
Another view of the dirtpile, and a large shipping crate (at right) that we got from my dad. We’ve been using it for 3 years as a planter box but it was never much good, since it wasn’t completely sealed. The dirt was pretty worn out, too. We tore that sucker apart and used the boards to build our new raised beds.
Here’s Mr. Husband at work, knocking rusty nails out of salvaged wood, some of which included pieces from a broken park bench, leftover scrap lumber from getting our sliding glass door fixed, random plywood and the salvaged shipping crate. Also used sections from our daughter’s broken Ikea dresser. Note gorgeous weather!
Here’s the power tools in action, along with my favorite construction worker. Note laundry hanging dry in the sun. *Solar power* = love it!
Look at this dynamic duo! He’s drilling/screwing and she’s sitting patiently, holding boards steady, wearing appropriate protective gear, and offering completely unsolicited advice. We used stuff from Mr. Husband’s garage stash, meaning nothing new purchased for the project. That’s my power drill, btw. He loves him a woman with power tools…
Salvaged French doors from Freecycle make a lean-to greenhouse where we will grow our melons and peppers this year, with luck. It’s too chilly where we are, right on the water, so maybe the glass will help. The barrel (salvaged from Napa winery) was my former water garden-fishpond, that became a dead zone because raccoons were always eating anything alive. It became a mosquito-hatching nursery after a while. Now it’s holding soil, compost and beet seeds.
End of a LONG day shows us dripping with sweat, enjoying a well deserved fountain beverage from the local quickie mart. We were good and drank water and sun tea all day. Six new boxes, total of 10 inside the fence, with raised beds outside the fence as well (eminent domain). Still need some dirt to fill them (they are halfway full with dirt and compost). All materials salvaged, found, from stash or collected from Freecycle. Total cost: $0, unless you count the soda drinks.
Here’s a gratuitous chicken shot, because they are so darned cute, enjoying the sunshine, grass and scratching for insects. They are even larger than this now. Will post new pix soon (when it stops being rainy).
Here I am, planting seeds in little six-packs. Have started seeds for leeks, tomatoes, various peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and other squashes, eggplant, canteloupe and watermelon, pumpkins and…must be forgetting something. They have mostly sprouted, even the peppers and eggplant. Leeks are 2 inches tall already. In one of the raised beds I have green beans, yard-long beans and sunflowers, and those are all 1 to 2 inches high. Slugs have already been a concern, but chickies LOVE slugs, so one of my fun daily activities is slug-hunting to hand-feed to the girls. They love their slugs and go nuts when they see me coming. Slug Mama. Yep. My new nickname.Ain’t we cute? What’s not to love? I need a shower…note yoga gear which also works well as garden gear. I also have a dandy base tan.
Next on the chore list:
  • Chicken coop door, moat with crocodiles, and a mounted guard.
  • Dirt. The good kind. In a large load, preferably without plastic on it (bagged).
  • Planting stuff. Corn should be knee-high by the Fourth of July.
  • Mulch. Keeps weeds down between the boxes and keeps the mud out of the house, too.
Loving this simple life.

Holiday fun

Dude, it’s Mr Husband and I! We took the cruise of the Lake at Tahoe last week for our anniversary. We joked with the photographer that we were brother and sister. Just being funny. You know how it is.

Vaca at Tahoe/Daveland was great. More to follow.