Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Farmer's Market and Garden Goodies

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Love Maps from Define Design

One of the most remarkable things about my marriage is the sheer fact that we found each other at all. I grew up in New Jersey, went to school in Los Angeles, spent a year in North Carolina, 6 in NYC, and found my way to Iowa. Josh grew up in Montana, went to school in Tennessee and Nebraska, spent time in Uruguay, and found his way to Iowa. I'd never even been to Montana or Nebraska before I'd met him (much less he to New Jersey). So our world is now this lovely combination of origins, settled firmly in the middle of the country...even though a few of my beloved family members still say my adopted home state as a question—"Iowa?"—which makes me giggle.

And when this print from Define Design arrived as a wedding present from a good friend of ours, I was delighted by it and the ability to hang a symbol of our life travels towards each other on the wall.

Here are a few more of Sandrine's prints which would be great for so many gift giving occasions...

I had to show a little Jersey pride, especially in the week post hurricane!

I adore this one too. Such a simple idea, but so meaningful when seen in this format.

Thank you Colleen for our lovely print!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Preserving Green Beans, Tomatoes, Corn, Sage and Rosemary

This weekend was all about preservation—food preservation. With the farmer's market, and our garden and CSA, in full swing, we decided to take advantage of the low prices of season veggies and stock some away. We bought 5 lbs of green beans, which I blanched for the freezer.

After filling 5 bags only part full, we're hoping to do this again before the beans are done to have a deeper supply. We love green beans and the great thing is that these babies will cook up in a flash whenever we take them out of the freezer in the winter. 

Side note: I realized that the most delicious way to cook green beans involves sauteing them over medium-high heat—it's got to be hot enough that the skin gets a little blistery. With the slightly caramelized flavor, and a bit of butter and salt, I ate two servings (made one, then went back and made another) of these for lunch yesterday with surplus fresh beans.

 We shucked and put nearly a dozen ears of sweet corn into freezer bags for a few special meals when it's snowy. I'm already looking forward to them.

 I tried to get a handle on the bowls of tomatoes covering the counters in our kitchen by making a jar of peach and green zebra tomato salsa, and also with a sheet pan of slow roasted romas (oil a foil-lined sheet pan, place tomatoes cut side-down, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 175 F for 4 hours).

Both of these were gone yesterday—the salsa with brown rice and black beans and the tomatoes with steak from Ebersole. The tomatoes would be great for a bit in the fridge packed in olive oil (and maybe some basil!).

And I finally got to do something useful with the enormous quantity of sage growing in the garden—this herb rub with sage, rosemary, garlic, and sald has been on my to-make list for a few weeks. And while you need a lot of herbs, this is an excellent way to use them if you've got them—it's a workout to get those herbs chopped down! This pan will hang out for three days until it's dry enough for jars, then into the pantry until we pull it out to use it on meat during the winter.

 It's entirely likely that I'll do another batch (or two if we have enough herbs) to get a head of the game on holiday presents.

As you can see, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend, but it made me feel like I was getting away with something to put all of this lovely produce that is surrounding us to good use. (Plus it helped me to not spend the entire weekend worrying about how my parent's house was faring on the NJ shoreline—and thankfully all is well there). 

It doesn't feel like there will be enough of these goodies to satisfy our longings for summer during the winter, but I guess that's part of the joy of eating seasonally. This will be the first year that we've put so much away for the colder months and I'm intrigued to see how things go, and whether these small efforts will lead to a bigger push next year.

What are you putting up this summer for good eating in a few months?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Baked Goods Auction for A Fund For Jeanie!

Recently a fellow blogger, talented Jennifer Perillo, suddenly lost her husband. I don't know her personally but I was in tears reading the story of his death, reminded of the fragility of our daily lives. Now, she and her two young girls are left moving forward in their lives with a big hole, so the remarkable blogging community has come together to help.

Through the amazing efforts of Maggy, Erika, Aimee, and Shauna—among many others—Bloggers Without Borders was born as an official nonprofit to help bloggers in need, like Jennifer. They have launched #afundforjennie as a way to raise money to help her with basic things like her mortgage and health insurance, and also to provide a bit of a safety net now that she's lost hers.

As someone who loves nothing more than to bake and cook for my own husband, I decided to team up with Madison from Espresso and Cream—a super talented local food blogger who I know from work—to auction off a customized baked goods basket to raise a little money for Jennie. It's our way of participating in an amazing show of community—and also remembering the comforting nature of providing delicious home baked foods for friends and family.

The basket includes (the deliciousness that you see up top!):
*A loaf of Madison's Whole Wheat Flax Seed Banana Bread
*A batch of Madison's Homemade Larabars (the most popular recipe on her site!)
*Two dozen cookies from Espresso and Cream (you choose any recipe on the site)
*1 quart of my Homemade Granola
*A loaf of bread of your choosing: Zucchini, Chocolate or Cherry Nut
*A batch of my Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pretty amazing, right? We even aimed to have an assortment that won't overwhelm you—the granola will last in the fridge and you can freeze the bread! Bidding will begin at $50; visit Espresso and Cream to post your bid in the comments. She and I will update you periodically to let you know what the bid is up to. Bidding closes on Wednesday, August 30th.

If you'd rather just make a donation straight to the fund for Jennie, I've installed that handy donate button on the left.

Happy bidding!

Wordless Wednesday: A Summer Party at Work

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheesy Onion and Greens Pie with Brown Rice Crust

Casseroles are notoriously hard to photograph, so thank you for accepting this for what it is!
 At some point last week, I remembered this savory pie that my mom made repeatedly about ten years (or more) ago. It had a crunchy basmati rice crust and was filled with summer vegetables. I loved that rice pie and was so glad that my mom was able to spend some time searching for the recipe—which is this Roasted Vegetable-Cheese Pie. I couldn't wait to make it to see if it was as good as I remembered and, as someone who can't eat much gluten without getting a whopping headache, the rice crust was utterly intriguing—and potentially a much simpler way to make crusts than making a GF flour mix.

One of the things that has changed for me since I discovered my gluten intolerance is that I bake a whole lot less. I still make muffins and granola regularly because I've found super easy substitutes, but the sheer price difference between regular and GF flour is a little off putting. This gf flour mix is great, but lately I just haven't wanted to spend the money to buy the 5 different ingredients. Maybe this has something to do with it being summer (probably!), but I love an easier solution when I find one.

 Yesterday, I gave it a go. I used the exact recipe for the crust and improvised with the filling based on the vegetables that we had in the house—we had two bags of beet stems and greens to use up so in they went. Along with caramelized onions and a hefty load of garlic, my filling was complete.

 I topped the pie with sliced roma tomatoes and subbed in mozzarella (it was in the fridge!) for the Fontina that was called for in the recipe. I also added an extra sprinkling of Parmesan on top for an extra flavor boost.

 All in all, it was incredibly easy to put together and it was absolutely delicious. The flavors melded together and were earthy (from the beet greens) and slightly sweet (from the caramelized onions) and the slightly gooey cheese on top pulled it all together. It was a very lovely Sunday night dinner.  I could see making this with a filling of butternut squash, zucchini, or chard—and quite possibly adding in bacon or diced ham—and I am quite certain that I will be experimenting with this rice crust idea when the time rolls around to make pumpkin pie...

Cheesy Onion and Greens Pie with Brown Rice Crust
Adapted from Cooking Light

Cooking spray
2 cups basmati rice, cooked (I used brown basmati but white works too)
2 egg whites
1/4 cup Parmesan
1 T olive oil
3 onions, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
4-5 cups hearty greens (I used beet greens and stems), sliced thinly
3 Roma tomatoes, or one medium tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mozzarella
Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Coat a pie plate with cooking spray.
2. Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl, incorporating well. Press into and up the sides of your pie plate and bake for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat your oil in a large saute pan over medium and add your onions, stirring to coat. After about 5 minutes when the onions are just starting to soften, add salt, pepper, the garlic and the beet greens. Put a lid onto your pan and let cook until the greens start to wilt, giving it a stir every few minutes. You want the mixture to be soft and cooked. If at any point the veg are sticking to the pan, add a bit of water.
4. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese onto the bottom of the crust, then add your vegetable filling, spreading evenly. Add your tomato sliced, then the rest of the cheese, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes. After 20 minutes, check to see if the top is getting brown. If it is, put a sheet of foil on top for the last 10 minutes to prevent burning.
5. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lemony Brown Rice with Zucchini and Carrots

Lemony Brown Rice with Zucchini and Carrots
I whipped this up after work one night recently in an effort to put the lingering veggies in our fridge to good use, and to give the chicken that Josh was roasting some company.  It was so delicious that I will surely make it again. I served it with a bit of tahini sauce from Trader Joes, though it's extremely flavorful all on it's own—the sauce mostly adds a bigger hit of garlic. It makes an excellent side dish if you like to have a protein with your dinner (like Josh often does), or a fantastic vegetarian main dish (which is usually how I lean). You could also add a handful of walnuts, cooked white beans, or some feta if you want to up the non-meat protein. This rice dish is a nice reminder that whole grains can be extremely comforting, regardless of the season.

Serves about 4

2 cups brown rice blend (I love this one from Lundberg Jubilee Rice because it's so wonderfully nutty and flavorful though plain brown would be just fine)
3-4 medium carrots, grated
1-2 small squash, grated (I used pattypan since it's what we had, but zucchini or yellow squash would work)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 lemon, juiced

1. Cook your brown rice according to the package directions.
2. Meanwhile grate your vegetables.
3. Heat the oil over medium heat, add your vegetables, and stir to coat. Stir regularly as the mixture starts to cook, then add your garlic (I like to add it a bit later so that you can taste it more and you don't risk burning it).
4. Once the vegetables are just tender, stir in your rice, the butter, salt, pepper and the lemon juice. Turn off the burner, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes to let the flavors combine.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Iowa State Fair Visit

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Story Behind the Craft: Jessica of Cursive Art

I have a serious weakness for printed matter—cards, prints, postcards, you name it, I love them, especially when they are clearly handmade. I have a few (ahem, three) places in my office where I keep my stash and love nothing more than to go through and see what I have whenever I get the urge to send a piece of real mail. And I've found that buying cards and smaller prints is a most excellent way to acquire affordable art.
So up for today's post is Jessica from Charlotte, North Carolina of Cursive Arts. I adore her style and her use of color and words on her cards and prints—a business that started out as original paintings, but then changed so that she could get more art out into the world. I have my eye on a few things to purchase when I next need to get an Etsy fix. Also, when you get to the part when she talks about losing her job, know that I (who have also lost many a job...that sigh goes to you publishing world) am giving Jessica virtual high fives for pursuing her artistic passion while during her unexpected window of time.


Tell me a little bit about what you make?
I make linocut prints, which is somewhere between stamp-carving and woodblock printing.  I draw a two-tone image, transfer to a piece of linoleum mounted on wood and then carve away the negative space. I then cover the image in thick ink, place my paper on top and then use a tool called a baren to make sure the ink transfers well (this means each of my prints is truly handmade as I don't use a press). I use these prints mostly to make notecards, but I've started branching out to art prints as well.

How did you learn your craft and what do you like about it?  
I am completely self-taught.  I have no idea how I first learned about linocut making, but once I found out about it, I went to the Internet and started teaching myself from there.  Other than the basics, most of it has just been trial and error.  I love the art for a multitude of reasons: for one, it's a real challenge to see if an image is going to come out as well as it did in my head since, when carving an image, it's in reverse. Also, I find the repetitive motions of the printing part of the process to be soothing.  Finally, I love making art that is both affordable and unique.
Is this your full time work?
I lost my job in February, so while I am basically a housewife at the moment, I do spend quite a few hours a days working on my shop.  I only do not consider this full-time because it does not yet pay the bills.  I am actually grateful in a way, for becoming unemployed, because it's given me the chance to pursue art as a potential career.

What are some of your favorite pieces in your shop right now?
My favorite is my Make It print as it reminds me not to be lazy and keep working.  The Sway card has also been a long time favorite because it is most similar to my painting and illustration work.  I also really love the Hullo cards, because of their simplicity.
What do you hope your customers experience when they purchase from you?
I want my customers to feel like they are working with an actual human being, who cares that they're happy and satisfied.  I feel as though you can't even get that face-to-face most places these days, so when someone buys from me, I let them know immediately that I've received their order, and that I'm here if they need anything else.  I also hand write all my thank-you notes, because I so believe in real, personable communication over mass forms like email and text. Don't get me wrong, I love my iPhone, but I love to receive a handwritten letter even more.

If you want to share the story behind the work that you create, email me at thingswemake [at] gmail [dot] com. I love nothing more than to share your story and help us all to find better ways to balance our creative selves with daily life.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

A few days ago, I noticed that our rhubarb plant had grown a lot since I harvested about half of the stalks in the spring. I knew that I was supposed to leave some of the stalks as they were so that it would be a strong plant next year (I do not know why, but I read that somewhere!), so I cut about half, determined to make my first batch of jam.

Part of this was because I made a bit of a resolution to myself to try to cook one thing new each week in my kitchen—to both expand my repertoire when we're eating a lot of the same produce (cucumbers, squash, tomatoes), but also to keep things interesting. The other part of my jam-making motivation was because I was feeling a little left out of the canning that was happening in my house. Josh is a professor which means he gets his summer days at home, so he has already put up 12 quarts of pickles, 12 half pints of relish, and 6 quarts of pickled beets. I wanted in on the fun!

Also, for the record, if ever you should make relish, do yourself a favor and open the windows—otherwise you will feel like you are living in a vat of brine.

Okay, back to the point.

Armed with my fresh rhubarb, plus some that I had frozen in the spring, I went in search of strawberries. Obviously, the main reason to can is to put up fresh local produce. But since strawberries are out of season around here, and I had my heart set on strawberry rhubarb jam, I compromised with organic berries (that were on sale!) from Trader Joes. Blasphemy, I know.

I adapted the Strawberry Rhubarb Jam from the lovely book, Tart and Sweet, because it was simple, straight forward, and it didn't call for the whopping amount of sugar that so many jam recipes do. I didn't have the quantity of fruit that the recipe called for so I simply cut it in half.

I have to say that if you're in the market for a canning book, I highly recommend Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen. The recipes are organized by season and there is a lovely assortment of recipes that range from classic (Strawberry Rhubarb) to unique (Ginger Cardamom Nectarine Jam) and practical (Canned Whole Berries). And as I mentioned, the recipes don't rely on sugar for sweetness, but on the fruit and herbs and spices, which sounds about right to me.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Adapted from Tart and Sweet
Canning is a little intimidating so I recommend reading through the steps from a reliable source (the two links below are very comprehensive, as is the cookbook) a few times before you get started. You can also make this and freeze it or simply use it fresh. I highly recommend it as a topping for vanilla ice cream!
Makes 6 (ish) half pints

2 quarts strawberries
1.5 lbs rhubarb
1.5 cups of sugar
juice of 1 lemon

1. Hull and chop your strawberries and chop your rhubarb into thin slices. Place into a large pot with the sugar and the lemon juice. Place three spoons into the freezer.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer for about an hour. Stir regularly to prevent scorching and try to skim off as much foam as you can (it's a little hard, but do your best). 
3. Meanwhile, bring your large canning pot filled with water to a boil and prepare your jars.
4. After about an hour, start testing your jam using your spoons.
5. When it's done, ladle into your prepared jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe and tighten the lids. If there is any that doesn't fill up a jar completely, store it in the fridge and plan to use it within a week or so.
6. Process the jars for ten minutes, then let cool before storing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo Friday: Flowers in Greece by ArtQuirk

It's been a few years since I was in Europe, but this print—Flowers in Greece by ArtQuirk on Etsy—reminds me of how lovely it can be to stroll around a city (in my experience, it was Rome that I saw places like this, but it's nice to know that Greece is just as lovely!).

And now for a little link love:

Send some support Jennifer's way and make a peanut butter pie for Mikey today.

I love coconut macaroons, so I think turning them into tart shells is entirely brilliant!

We usually eat our beets warm, but this Chilled Golden Beet & Ginger Soup looks like a great way to enjoy them on a warm August day.

Need a new apron? This looks like a fantastic diy version that's even adjustable.

I love this Song Lyric Wall Art project (via Poppytalk) so much that it might just inspire me to get making again.

I'm sure that you're all as excited as I am that it's Friday. On my weekend agenda: haircut (yippee!), the Iowa State Fair (where I'll be staying far, far away from the fried butter on a stick—too far!—though of course paying my respects to the Butter Cow), making strawberry rhubarb jam (in my effort to try making one new thing a week in my kitchen), and probably a lot of reading. Have a good one!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thursday's Thought: Progressing Towards Patience

This was our dinner last night, which we were able to eat on the porch in the amazingly lovely weather. All of the produce was either from our yard or from our fantastic CSA.
"I try to be flexible and place priority on the proper things but it always feels like a work in progress."

That's the nugget, isn't it? It feels like there's this big pressure to settle ourselves, to get our ducks in a row, to tidy up our lives, to get things in order. But the truth of it is that achieving that orderly state is impossible for more than a few moments at a time. The little adjustments and changes and tweaks are ongoing—and in fact, they are what makes life interesting. So clearly to be able to consider life as a work in progress would probably make things a lot easier for a lot of us.

Except often times, we can't quite get ourselves there. Or at least, I know that I can't.

Take, for example, my efforts to clean the kitchen floor. Every weekend, I vacuum and wash the thing—our linoleum shows dirt like the dickens. And about an hour later, it's like my efforts never even happened. And you'd think that a gray floor would be helpful for camouflaging purposes but no, nope! Plus, when you have a garden as big as we do, and you're constantly prepping veggies that were in the ground not so long ago, dirt makes its way onto the floor. That is just a part of our life.

And somehow, this it still irritates me.

But, on the flip side, there is the plain fact that this way of living translates into us cooking a ton. Which means that we eat really, really well. And we are proud of that fact because we value our connection to the land (it seems like the least we can do in a state that is currently overrun with crop dusters) and our support of responsible farmers. So everyday I find that I am practicing my patience as I prepare dinner, balancing these two opposing ideas, doing my best to accept the situations for what they are—95% enjoyable, 5% frustrating.

Which at the end of the day, aren't such bad odds.

Self, please take note.

So this week I'm wondering:

How do you find patience in your daily life?
Or, what worries have you let go in favor of enjoying your life more?

P.S. Becca is this close to having baby #2 so let's send her all the happiest and speediest delivery thoughts we can, okay? Okay!

P.P.S. Blogger is doing funky things to my spacing in this post, just as an fyi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Summer Eats and Baked Goods