Bean there, Done that

  Here’s my idiot moment of the season:

We grew beans this year.  We had an amazingly large bounty.  We ate them raw, or broiled, or steamed.  We froze some.  We dehydrated some.  When we were sick of looking at them, we let what I thought were a “few” remaining pods hang on and dry on the vine (is it a vine?) so that we could save seeds for next year. 

Except… once we went to pick them, I realized we had a nice hunk of dried beans.  I started thinking that we actually had enough to make a meal of beans.  It never occurred to me that we could have that sort of yield. 

Max and I shelled the beans together and it was so much fun to share that activity with him.

Now, I must admit…. I don’t cook with dried beans.  I didn’t grow up with them.  I tried doing them in the slow cooker earlier this year and the meal was inedible.  No flavor, didn’t cook through.  But I really wanted to do our crop justice, so I was going to try again.

I again went the slow cooker route, but I added more ingredients for flavor.  At the end of the cooking time — still no flavor.  So, I found a recipe for boston baked beans and I mixed up the sauce and cooked it with the beans in the oven for maybe an hour.  I rescued the beans… and they tasted great.  Cooked through, lots of flavor.  Max ate them! I even made use of the leftovers by adding them to a shredded pork soup.

…I promised an idiot moment, didn’t I?   Well, it was probably a good week later that I realized that I totally forgot to save ANY of the beans as seeds for next year.   I guess I’ll have to order it online again and hope that I get the right variety. DOh!

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Getting the right kind of ‘stuff’

“Stuff” stresses me out.    I hate having a garage full of crap.  There are so many things we keep around for the very few occasions we need them.  Here’s a few annoying examples: 

  • A huge amount of real estate in our garage is taken up by christmas decorations.  We’re talking giant tree stand, ornaments, wrapping paper, lights.  And get this: this year we’re not even putting up a tree because it’s a hazard with Ginger being so small and likely mobile at that time.  But we have no organized place to stash this stuff… so it’s taking up space on the floor of our garage (which has never seen a car!).
  • I know for a fact that we hung on to a plastic Halloween pumpkin to collect candy from last year.  I seem to remember it being in the way after the holiday last year, so we tucked it away somewhere.  Guess what — can’t for the life of me find it!  Now, I absolutely refuse to get another one of these.  I don’t care how cheap they are.  I will always look at it and be pissed because it’s more ‘stuff’ that we don’t need that is cluttering up our lives.  Guess what Max, you’re going trick or treating with a whole foods bag and you’ll like it!

But you know, there’s another kind of ‘stuff’ that I love getting.  When friends, family and neighbors share the bounty from their gardens.   Some notable gifts this year:  lemons, grapefruit, apples, figs, cucumbers (before our truck-load got ripe), eggs(!), spice mixes, kale, beef jerky, make your own cookie kits!  Maybe it’s because these are all consumables which will go away and don’t represent a ‘permanent clutter.’  Maybe it’s because I know these things were picked or made with love.  But I’d love it if our extended family this year agreed to make this holiday season a ‘do-it-yourself consumables’ year.

What would you make as a gift?

Puff Piece

I’ve never cooked with Puff Pastry before.  I got inspired by this blog post at Eating From the Ground Up.  It seemed so simple that I sent J. out to buy a bunch of Puff Pastries to keep in the freezer for quick dinners and appetizers.

I made two tarts, one with our tomatoes, our chives and ricotta and one with my parents’ figs, our thyme, pancetta bits and goat cheese.  I consider it a qualified success.  The one snag: even though I greased the bottom of the cookie sheet, it still stuck to the bottom in a lot of parts.  So, not quite sure how to combat that issue.  Any ideas?

Just Keep Swimming

One of Max’s favorite movies (and mine, for that matter) is Finding Nemo.  Max will walk around singing “Just Keep Swimming” — and it’s beyond cute.  In fact, he asked to go to the “Macquarium” last weekend — which we happily obliged.

We’ve been waiting all summer for summer to arrive.  The heat has yet to make an appearance.  So, that means hanging out at the pool, eating popsicles, (not to mention bell peppers and other garden goodies) have been conspicuously missing from this summer.  Well, this past weekend it finally hit 85 degrees at my in-laws’ house so we hit the pool and we hit it hard.  This was Ginger’s first dip in a pool — and my first post-baby bathing suit.  Notice I’m bringing back the 1920s style full cover up bathing suit.  Ginger took to the pool like a fish to water.

Back to Nemo … Dori gives the advice that goes something like this: when things get rough and one feels overwhelmed, you just have to keep swimming and things will eventually get better.  I’m definitely feeling that advice.  I’m more and more exhausted.  Ginger’s daytime naps seem to be just long enough for me to make a sandwich.  I find myself sabotaging my diet at nearly every turn and the last thing I feel like doing is anything that resembles exercise. 

I looked at old pictures of my maternity leave with Max and saw pics of me in cargo pants that I bought back then because so few of my clothes fit me.  I NEED TO FIND THESE CARGO PANTS.  I think this will require me turning my dressers and closets upside down, but it will be worth it to have one more thing that fits me in the rotation.

Sigh.

Crop Fatigue

I’m approaching crop fatigue. 

See, you never know how things will turn out with gardening.  As you may recall, I had multiple attempts at growing cucumbers because I really wanted to make good pickles this year.  Well, the seeds didn’t seem to take, so I picked up some transplants.  Eventually, some of the seeds/seedlings that I had given up on came back to life.  Some plants have barely given me anything — we’re talking 1-2 pickles max.  Other plants have given me dozens.  This all amoungs to many jars of pickles. 

The problem is, I think the kind I like the best are the refrigerator pickles — not the kind you leave on a storage shelf for a year.  I didn’t count on that — and I certainly don’t have the fridge space to put up my entire crop (A TON).  The result is a lot of pickle jars being strategically stashed as gifts at various friends’ and family houses.  Likewise with pickled green beans.

The tomato plants have been producing at a steady pace, but I haven’t had such a glut yet here it made sense to make a bunch of sauce and put it up.  So, we’re basically just using them as they become ripe — if we get to them before the bugs do.  Max seems to be sick of tomatoes.  I used to save the grape tomatoes for him so he could pick them straight of the plant.  As he seems to be taking a break for a while, I figure they are fair game for us to eat.

Here’s a tip on a great new recipe I tried this week.  Inspired by the TV show “Cooking for Real.”  Take grape or cherry tomatoes.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.  Cook at 375 for 30 minutes or until the skins burst.  It’s like candy!  We served it as a side dish to Salmon.  Next time I may add garlic.  (BTW, Max is a salmon junky — he yells “Oh Boy, Fish!”  when he sees it and it makes me happy)

It occurred to me that we’re only two months away from introducing Ginger to solid foods.  How fun!  Hope she takes to it.

All Hail the Kale

A couple of years ago, I think I bought kale at the farmer’s market and cooked it for one of the Dark Days Challenge Meals.  I came away with an “eh” reaction, finding it a little too fibrous for my taste, though it did have a nice smokey taste.  However, when my friend told me that she had an abundance of Kale from her backyard garden, I thought it was worth giving it another shot with a different preparation.  I’m so glad I did!

We worked out a trade where I would give her some of our green beans — which are now producing like mad.  Imagine my shock when I pulled up to her house with my sad little bag of beans, only to find out that they had pulled the entire kale plant!  No joke, this thing took up the entire passenger seat of my car (see photo).   I knew a google search was necessary to figure out several varieties to use up this amazing bounty that I was trusted with.

Meal one:  Sausage Kale Lasagna.

Meal two: scrambled eggs with sausage and sauteed kale

Meal three: raw kale salad

 

I would eat any of these again in a heart beat!

It warms my heart to participate in such a barter among friends.  Thanks Emily and Backpacking Dad

Ickle Me, Tickle Me, Pickle Me, Too

Today I cracked open one of the fermented pickle jars I started last week from our very own cucumbers.  It was amazing!  It reminded me of the pickles my dad used to make when I was a little girl in Israel.

I based it on the recipe here.  The innaugural use of the pickle today?  Topping a homemade salmon burger with dill mayo on a brioche bun.  Best salmon burger ever!

The only bummer is that I wish this wasn’t a fridge-based recipe because I’d want to make enough for the whole year — and I don’t have a second fridge.  These are massive jars!

When preserving feels like a crime

I am growing way more food than is possible for a small family to eat at one time.   I did this with the full anticipation that I would be “putting up” some of the food for later in the year when we don’t have these in fresh supply on the Almostima ‘farmette’.  

So often we let food rot because we optimistically think we’ll get around to eating it while it’s still good — but life gets in the way.  I’m determined not to let that happen this year.  I know that a fresh tomato or a fresh cucumber is amazing — but there’s only so much of it I can have in one sitting, and one of my plants just exploded with tomatoes.  I’ve already had salad, salsa and bruscetta a few days in a row, and I know many of these will meet a sad fate if I don’t use them now.  (Keep in mind I have 7 other tomato plants that are still largely green.) 

Cucumbers are a trickier item.  I planted a ton of them because I so enjoyed making (and eating) relish last year and wanted to make a lot more pickles this time around, that I was calculating for a big  so that I could eat both fresh cukes and pickles down the road.  But, the plants are under-performing.  The thing is, I crave pickles more than cucumbers, so I went ahead and prioritized the pickling, hoping that more cukes will come my way as the season progresses.  My parents were a little offended that I used two of the cucumbers they gave me from their plants for relish.  Sorry, but I already ate a half-dozen fresh cukes from their plants, and those hot dogs aren’t gonna dress themselves. 🙂

I love how excited Max gets to go produce picking with me in the yard every day.  How many 2 year olds know the word ‘basil?’  I also love that he will eat way more tomatoes directly from the plant than he will if I just put it on his dinner plate.  I remember once last season he commented that  tomato I gave him was too cold to eat — because he was used to tomatoes that had been warmed by the sun on the plant.

Here’s what I’m enjoying preserving:

  • Pickling green beans — love them on their own as  a snack or on sandwiches in place of regular pickles.  Would also be good in a bloody mary, but haven’t actually tried that yet.
  • dehydrating green beans (will put in soups in the winter)
  • dehydrating tomatoes – trying this tonight for the first time.
  • the aforementioned relish (YUM!)
  • fermented israeli-style pickles.  (don’t have a batch ready yet, but will post more on that in a few days/week when I can comment on whether it worked)
  • plum bbq sauce
  • Haven’t done too much jamming lately – but that’s always fun
  • Still to come: tomato sauce!

 Here’s the thing:  preserving, at least as a beginner, requires faith.  I could eat this fresh, nutritious cucumber now, when it’s a known quantity, or I could undertake a complicated process so that I could enjoy it in a different form sometime down the road.  But what if I screw it up?  What if the process fails?  I will have wasted this gift for the sake of imitating something I could have bought at the store for a couple of bucks.  But if I don’t get to eat it and it rots, it’s equally wasted.  Also, let’s face it, our taste buds get bored! 

So, hopefully I’ll master these pickling/preserving techniques and this won’t be such a leap of faith next year.

Compare and Contrast

One thing I can’t help but do is compare my children to each other.  Or, is it that I’m comparing my experiences with each child?  For instance:

  • With Max, I was chained to the pump and afraid of changing poopy diapers on the road, so I basically never left the house.  Compare with: just got back from a 7 hour road-trip out of state with Ginger (courtesy of 100% formula diet and ditching the cloth diapers).
  • With Max he didn’t sleep through the night till 18 months.  Ginger has slept through the night a few times already! (woo hoo)
  • Max was consistently in the high 90s for percentile on height and weight.  Meanwhile, my parents think I’m starving Ginger because she’s in the 40s and 50s. (BTW, I’m not!)
  • Today Ginger had her 2 month well baby visit with vaccinations.  When Max got his shots, it was so traumatic for me to hear him cry like that, that I probably cried as much as he did.  Now, knowing what was coming, I was calmer during the appointment, but had much more anxiety leading up to it because I knew what we’d be facing.

My gut tells me that it’s not healthy to compare the kids.  Each one is entitled to have their own life experience without constantly being measured up against the sibling.  But I’m not sure how to stop.  Either the comparison serves to mark celebration that something is going better this time around or, anxiety about whether something’s wrong because it’s different from before.  And then there’s the whole fuzzy memory issue — I doubt that I remember everything about Max correctly, so a comparison may not be fair on that front alone. 

Any tips out there?

In other new:  I’m proud of the dinner I cooked up tonight.  Having been out of town for a few days, we didn’t have a chance to buy fresh groceries.  Ginger was quite grumpy from her shots, so I thought I’d stay home instead.  I made a soup that is my take on minestrone, and all of it was from stuff scrounged from deep in the freezer, the garden, or the pantry — even though I casually thought there was no food in the house.  Here’s what I did:

Last night, I started chicken stock from a leftover frozen chicken carcass (we should invent a nicer word for this when it comes to cooking… ‘carcass’ is not too appetizing), left over carrot salad (our carrots), bendy celery, and our front yard torpedo onions.   Today I diced up some pre-cooked chicken apple sausage that I had in the freezer and some slightly overgrown green beans from the front yard.  Also from the freezer was a baggie of our snow peas from the winter garden.  I added a couple of tomatoes from our back yard, leftover shredded cheese from making a lunch quesadilla, and the dregs of a corkscrew pasta package (too small for a serving of pasta on its own).  Threw all of this into a pot (though at different stages based on their need) and served with chives as a garnish.

Sometimes I feel like a crazy person given all the random stuff I have in the freezer– from carcasses, to jars of stock, baggies of home-grown veggies, crushed egg shells, tops of leeks, breadcrumbs, what have you — and none of it organized particularly well.  It makes me feel like I have it somewhat figured out when I can pull together a meal that tastes as good as that did!  (The irony is, that when I had a diet of mostly processed foods, I felt more organized, because everything came in a box and lined up all nice in the freezer).  I feel like I need another freezer — but I have to organize the garage first.  Don’t get me started on that…

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Ginger’s cousin was born nearly two months earlier.  I look forward to the girls having as wonderful a relationship as their older brothers have.

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