Dessert Improvisation

I decided to make ice cream today. Everything is going according to plan, except that my ice cream maker keeps thawing too fast, so the freezing process is taking a tad longer than I expected it to. No matter.

I made mint ice cream (surprise, surprise) since mint is a surplus at the moment. I found a chocolate syrup recipe on Pinterest http://goodiegodmother.com/easy-chocolate-syrup/. Upon looking in the cabinets, I didn’t have enough cocoa powder for the recipe, but I had a couple squares of baking chocolate. So I combined the cocoa powder and the chocolate instead of giving up–why not, right? Improvise!

Also, it was too sweet (since the amount of chocolate I had was still not enough for the recipe) so I added a little more salt (flavor enhancer) and what was left at the bottom of a bottle of Jameson–barely a shot’s worth. It turned out not-so-bad for an improvised chocolate syrup! Now, if only the ice cream would freeze! I really need to update some of my equipment.

Also, I’m keeping the Jameson bottle for another DIY. Stay tuned!

Local

I love the phrase, “Think global, go local”. I’m not sure if that’s been coined or trademarked, but those four words speak volumes about how much our world has changed in only a matter of decades.

I am only thirty-years-old. My dad got his first cell phone–more like a paperweight–when I was maybe twelve. The internet? What was that? If you wanted to order something, there was a thing called a catalog mailed to your house. You had to use–wait for it–a phone to call in your order or mail in a pamphlet with your information on it. It took weeks to receive said order. Doing school projects involved going to the public library to use their computer to look up–wait for it–books that had the information you required.

Everything we could ever possibly want is at our fingertips with a mere press of a button–it’s not even a real button! Technology has become so advanced that it recognizes heat and pressure from your hand to activate that particular picture on your phone or your computer. One press of your finger brings you across town, across the country, across continents! It’s incredible! Amazing! to be able to interact with other people in other countries from your own living room is a modern marvel. And while it’s so wonderful, we tend to forget what is in our own backyards, particularly when it comes to food.

Getting into foraging has made me much more aware of what the local flora and fauna have to offer. I haven’t delved in too deep yet, for the sake of being extremely thorough in my knowledge of what is edible and what isn’t. I am excited about late summer and fall. I had no idea that you can use acorn flour as a gluten-free substitute for wheat flour! I got this idea from the book Southeast Foraging by Chris Bennett. It’s a great reference! I am definitely going to have to try that! Those with a tree nut allergy probably shouldn’t try it, but there are other alternatives out there.

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There is a walnut tree nearby that is already dropping green walnuts, and I am totally gathering some of those to use for baking! It’s best to wait until the shells are brown, so hopefully, patience will win out.

Supporting local farmers is important too. I have found that food I buy directly from the grower is much more flavorful and truer to its variety than were I to buy the same item at the grocery store. I only wish there were more local farmer’s markets open during the week since, like most food industry professionals, I work most weekends.

Supporting other local artisans and businesses is important as well. Local businesses give an area its own unique vibe, its own personality. The places I have come to visit most in Virginia are downtown Charlottesville and downtown Manassas.

Downtown Manassas has some incredible local restaurants–Okra and Zandras are my favorites–and an amazing bookstore called Prospero’s Books whose rows of tomes I could peruse all day long.

Charlottesville has a bit of a funkytown vibe to it, and plenty of bookstores and restaurants too. Citizen Burger boasts of all local ingredients, in-house baked burger buns, and locally crafted brews. Their burgers are amazing! Jeez, now I need to plan another trip there.

That’s all I have for you today! Enjoy the lovely weather wherever you are, and eat some good food! Until next time!

 

Man Cannot Live by Bread Alone…Except I’m a Woman

Bread has been undergoing a revolution, one I am so happy about! Going are the days that everyone is eating that pale white, flat, tasteless packaged stuff that can barely be called bread, and coming are the days of true knowledge and enjoyment of the crusty, warm, savory and sweet creations that artisans craft with their own hands.

I was at a farmer’s market today at the Government Center in Fairfax, Virginia, and Great Harvest was there, selling breads of all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Great Harvest is a chain known in a few places in Virginia that make their own breads in-house. They even grind their own wheat, which is an amazing feat for any bakery. If you love bread and other baked goods and you have one of these places near you, go visit. I promise you won’t be sorry!

This was my very late lunch today, along with an herbal tea made with dried peppermint and lemon balm leaves!

The lemon balm was a bit overshadowed by the peppermint, but the tea was nonetheless refreshing. It’s wonderful to reap the benefits of one’s labor!

I asked the farmer from whom I bought the cheese and a dozen eggs at the farmer’s market about how they’re faring with the weather being so hot. He plainly stated that rain is needed. There’s a tropical storm brewing, so I believe that he’ll get his wish.

So many people complain about it being too hot, and then complain again when it rains. I only ask for balance between wet and dry weather, for the sake of those that grow our food. If it’s too hot and no rain, everything withers, and dies. If it’s too wet, plants can become moldy or even drown. It is a very delicate relationship between farmer and crop and livestock.

So the other reason why I went to the farmer’s market was for fresh eggs. I’ve been dying to make pasta lately (I love my carbs!). I bought a pasta maker, and I went to work this afternoon.

Pasta is pretty easy to make. The basic recipe is flour, salt, eggs (there are eggless recipes out there too), water, and olive oil (I added a little fresh parsley and basil to my recipe). Mix all those together, then knead the dough on a floured surface for four to five minutes. Let it rest in the refrigerator for about one hour.

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Take it out and cut the dough into quarters. Flour the pasta machine, then roll your first dough quarter through it. Start on the largest setting, and work your way down from that until the dough is the consistency you are looking for. Then run the flattened dough through the pasta cutting side.

You can put the fresh pasta right into a pot of boiling water and cook it immediately, or dry it on a rack and save for later.

My drying rack is a pants hanger and each bar I covered in plastic wrap (less cleaning). I added roasted tomatoes and parmesan cheese to the pasta I cooked. It was simple but delicious! The rest of the pasta will be stored for later use. Self-sufficiency, here I come!

So, that’s all I have for you tonight! Enjoy the rest of your evening! Until next time!

 

 

Woodland Friends and Finished Projects

Today was a great day for a meandering hike on the Occoquan Trail. Yesterday’s thunderstorms cut some of the humidity, so the air isn’t so oppressively dense with moisture today. I saw so many animals too, all out doing what animals do. I saw two turtles, a raccoon (a bit disturbing, given that it was after ten in the morning), a deer, a blue heron, and a toad–not to mention the many birds singing to one another in the trees above me. Such happy music!

The deer refused to stand still for a photo op, and the blue heron kept flying off (I saw him three times!) It was a great day for stumbling upon wildlife.

I love saying hi to any wildlife I see. Literally! I say, “Hi! How are you?” They usually look at me like, “What, are you talking to me, human? You are weird,” and then they walk off. Deer are especially known for this. They can’t be bothered.

I love when I see animals on my walks. It’s a reminder that not all the world is in a manic panic and rushing to the rhythm of the hurry-up-and-wait mentality. It’s nice to see that not all the world is tamed and that the wild heart still beats strong. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”. If you haven’t read Walden, I very much recommend it to anyone who has an inclination toward nature.

And now, to totally flip to the other side of that, the limoncello is finished and bottled! It is delightful, too! I sampled a little bit before putting the bottle in the fridge. It tastes exactly how limoncello should–lemony, smooth, and sweet.

Time for another batch! Or maybe, another infused alcohol flavor…I still have plenty of mint!

 

More Plants, and Food!

Hi, everyone! A quick shout out to all my new followers! Thanks for reading, and thanks for deciding to follow me! I am honored!

I have added a few new plants to my collection. I was killing time yesterday at a nursery before joining my friends somewhere, and I bought peppermint, yellow yarrow, and rosemary. I am super excited! Yarrow is supposed to be very good for you and has the capability of healing cuts and sores. I took a couple small samples from the plant that I bought, and I’m drying them so I can add the cuttings to oil for another essential oil. I’m drying some more spearmint as well, and I will store that in an airtight container once it’s completely dry.

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Health is a major reason why I am doing what I’m doing. I am actually in amazing health (aside from the cold I just finished getting over), and I intend to remain healthy throughout my life. My family has a history of heart issues, diabetes, and colon cancer. No thanks, I say to that! When I die, it won’t be because of any of these problems.

My mom has always been a major advocate for healthy eating and living a healthy lifestyle. The other day, we were talking about how we both discovered that a more alkaline blood pH is less likely to become cancerous.

What is pH you ask? It’s a scale which determines how alkaline or acidic something is. The scale goes from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything with a pH higher than 7 is acidic. Anything with a pH lower than 7 is alkaline. Examples of food with high acid would be carbonated water, wine, chocolate, and vinegar. Examples of food with more alkalinity would be broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.

According to what both my mom and I were reading, carboniferous vegetables like spinach and cauliflower will help your system maintain a healthy blood pH. Blood that is too acidic can cause many problems. Her explanation of Diabetic Ketoacidosis was more than a little disturbing. This is where the blood has become so acidic due to having too many ketones in the blood (which are released to counteract too much glucose in the blood) that the blood literally boils. Yuck! No thanks! I will eat the leafy greens to keep that from happening. Cancer can take a hike too.

So my mom shared a fantastic recipe with me for broccoli rabe. I have never cooked broccoli rabe before, but I’m always game for experimenting with food. So here is what it is:

1-2 Pounds chicken thighs

1 bunch broccoli rabe

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 package rice and red beans (I used Zataran’s)

1 bell pepper, chopped

Olive Oil (use the one specifically for sauteeing, it will say so on the bottle)

Salt (I used Kosher salt, but it’s up to you)

Pepper

For Marinade:

5 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 Teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a resealable bag, add chicken and all marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and mix everything around until the chicken is well coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare rice according to the package directions. Add bell pepper to the rice 5-8 minutes before it is finished cooking. Pour rice mixture into a rectangular pan to cool. Set aside.
  3. Prepare an ice bath for the broccoli rabe (this stops the cooking process). Add salt to the ice bath (salt lowers the temperature of the ice).
  4. Cut one inch off the bottom of the broccoli rabe. Divide the rabe into 2 portions. Set a large pot on the stove over medium-high heat. Pour in a generous amount of olive oil (the broccoli rabe absorbs a lot of it, so don’t be shy). Once it’s hot, add garlic to the oil.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe to the pot. Add salt. Use tongs to stir it around. Add more oil if needed. Cover and cook for about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Using tongs, put the broccoli rabe into the ice bath. Once cooled, transfer it out to either a colander or a plate with a paper towel to dry.
  7. Replenish ice and salt in the ice bath and repeat steps 4-6 with the second batch.
  8. Using the same pot, add the marinated chicken thighs two at a time. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side, or until the meat is white all the way through and the outside is browned. Let the meat rest on a plate for 10 minutes.
  9. Place broccoli rabe over top of the rice. Add chicken over the top of the broccoli rabe. Pour remaining pan juices from the pot over the top of everything. Serve warm.

It’s so good! Adding more olive oil takes out some of the bitterness from the broccoli rabe, and it is absolutely delicious! Come one, don’t tell me you don’t want to try this!

20170615_122635 That’s all that I have for you today! Enjoy the rest of your day, stay cool! Until next time!

 

 

The Blue, the Grey, and a Newbie’s Search for Wild, Edible Greens

How’s it going out there? It’s hot here! 95 degrees and humid. What did I decide to do on such a day? I went hiking at the Bull Run Park in Manassas. This is where the first and second battle of Manassas took place.

The first battle took place in July of 1861. HOW those men fought a battle in the dead heat of July in Virginia, in those heavy woolen uniforms, with about 80 to 100 pounds worth of gear on their backs, running full tilt at one another on a HILL, with a loaded firearm and cannons blowing craters and taking limbs left and right, I will never know! I was dying in running shorts and a tank top, and I had a Camel Back filled with water. It barely weighs 15 pounds. There is no cover on Matthews Hill either; hardly a tree over the entire battleground. You feel the heat from above and below.

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It’s very beautiful and peaceful now (except for the sounds of traffic). But being on that hill gives you some perspective on what it was like the day of the battle. There must have been an “Oh, S*#t!” moment as the Confederate and the Federal troops eyed each other from across the field. There were brothers on the left, and brothers on the right, and not everyone was going to be walking off that hill when it was all done.

I’m a New Englander, born and raised. One of my ancestors fought in an infantry division from New Jersey during the Civil War. But I suspect that we had relatives on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. In Clifton, there is a sign posted outside one of the houses on the main strip, claiming that a Payne (my mother’s maiden name) was a housebuilder in the area, and was a lumber broker to the railroad that now runs through the town. My great-grandfather was a railroad worker. Family business? Possibly. I don’t have any formal proof at the moment.

The man on the left is my great-grandfather, George W. Payne. The sign is from Clifton.

In any case, while my roots may be from the north, I feel that transplanting myself in Virginia has worked out just fine! I feel much more at home here in Virginia than I ever did in Connecticut.

So! History aside, the reason why I wanted to go to Bull Run today was due to my burning desire to try my hand at foraging. I only just started, and I my wild edible plant knowledge is not that vast yet. I know what blackberries look like, of course, and I know what daisies, oak trees, maple trees, and poison ivy look like. But I want to be able to eat what I find without possibly poisoning myself.

I have recently started reading: 20170613_150902

It’s very informative about what plant it is, where to find it, what parts of the plant are edible and when to harvest it, any warnings that may caution a novice forager from assuming that something is safe to consume.

Because I am so new at this–green as grass (pun intended)–I did not attempt to pick anything. I simply took pictures of plants that I wanted to research more. Does anyone know what these are?

Also, as a budding naturalist, I am making a home study of essential oils. I started the process with my spearmint last week, and this week I’ve added cinnamon and star anise to the list. I’m using the cold infusion method, where you simply add your plant parts to a sealable jar with the oil of your choice, tighten the lid, and wait two months while it does its thing.

I dried the mint leaves first before I mixed them with oil. I used olive oil as the base. There are other oils you can use (coconut, almond, jojoba), but olive oil is readily available, inexpensive, and less likely to give someone a bad reaction; I have friends and family that are allergic to nuts, wheat, and other potential allergens and it has made me sensitive to their plight.

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I’ve already bought the dark bottles to store the oils in once the oil is thoroughly infused. Now, all there is to do is wait. For two months. Patience. OOOOOOOOMMMMMM……

So that’s all that’s exciting in my life for the present!

Oh, on a side note pertaining to star anise, I’ve added it to my coffee temporarily to help alleviate menstrual cramps. And it works! And it’s a hell of a lot healthier than taking Ibuprofen every 4 hours! Just thought I would share, in case there are any ladies out there who could use a remedy.

If coffee is not your thing, try chai or chamomile tea. Chai has anise in it, along with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves–all amazing for your health! Chamomile helps to reduce pain as well but it is not always suited for people with certain conditions. If you’re pregnant, it’s not advisable to drink chamomile. If you have allergies to certain plants like ragweed, don’t drink it. Also, certain medications may react chemically with the compounds in the tea. I am not a doctor, so please ask for medical advice from a professional before taking my advice.

Stay cool, my friends! Until next time!

Inspiration is the Word

Books. I love books. I love the smell of old books. I need to get a candle with that scent. My favorite books are mostly of the historical genre, or somewhere thereabouts. I particularly love food history and sociology. It’s fascinating to me how food has influenced our very evolution. We became the humans we are through food. We first hunted and gathered, and then we started to settle down and build our own settlements.

But even before that happened, the fact that we started to cook our food changed the entire game for us. It’s part of the reason why our brains are configured the way they are, and why we became erect in the first place, instead of walking around on four legs. If I had a time machine, I would go back in time to that precise moment when the first human to cook food, took the first bite, and changed everything. If you have Netflix (any self-respecting Millenial is nodding their head yes), I HIGHLY recommend the documentary

It’s fascinating to me how food has influenced our very evolution. We became the humans we are through food. We first hunted and gathered, and then we started to settle down and build our own settlements. But even before that happened, the fact that we started to cook our food changed the entire game for us. It’s part of the reason why our brains are configured the way they are, and why we became erect in the first place, instead of walking around on four legs. If I had a time machine, I would go back in time to that precise moment when the first human cooked their food, took the first bite, and changed everything.

If you have Netflix (any self-respecting Millenial is nodding their head yes), I HIGHLY recommend the documentary Cooked. A-freaking-mazing! If you’re into food and food history, it’s a must-see. It’s a four-episode miniseries by Michael Pollan. The episodes are titled Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Each episode explores the fundamentals and evolution of each element, and how they each played a role in the evolution of food. It is absolutely fascinating! Watch it!

If you’re a reader like me (I love books!), then here’s a list of a few of the titles that influenced my attraction to food and food history:

  •  A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage
  • An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
  • Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham (who is featured in Cooked)
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
  • Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin
  • Salt by Mark Kurlansky
  • The Complete Homeopathy Handbook by Miranda Castro

 

If you are a movie fan, here are a few of those:

  • Julie and Julia
  • Ratatouille 
  • The One Hundred-Foot Journey
  • Chocolat
  • Burnt
  • Bottleshock

So what is your greatest influence when it comes to food? What inspires you to cook or bake, or simply eat good food? Any good reads? Any good flics to enjoy? Post your recommendations in the comments!

Until Next time!

 

 

 

Not Popeye’s Spinach!

My spinach is sprouting! This is so great! Spinach is one of my favorite green, leafy vegetables  (sorry, kale). It’s a great source if vitamins A and C, and it’s a good source of iron and calcium. Eating one cup of this is actually a better source of calcium than one cup of milk! Go figure.

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Little tiny spinach sprouts

Fun health fact: vitamins A, D, E, and K are what are known as fat-soluble vitamins, which means they require a fat source to carry them into your body, which will allow them to be absorbed as nutrition by your body’s tissues. So butter, olive oil, and salad dressing are actually active players in this design. Without their assistance, the nutrients won’t be absorbed as sufficiently.

The caveat with many green, leafy vegetables, including spinach, is that it begins to lose its vitamins and minerals almost immediately after being harvested. This is why it is recommended to use these vegetables as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store, and in a way that will preserve the nutrients while being cooked. Soup is a great way to keep vitamins and minerals prevalent, and slightly wilting leaves instead of cooking them limp is a good method.

My spinach is not going to be big enough to use for a while still, but no matter. In celebration, I will share one of my favorite recipes with you. This recipe was inspired about a year ago when a friend invited me over for breakfast one morning. She made this sweet potato and scrambled egg hash that was so simple and so yummy, that I went home and duplicated it…and then added my own spin to it.

Housewarming Sweet Potato Hash

 

1-2 Sweet Potatoes

1 Cup Baby Spinach

2 Eggs

2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter

Feta Cheese, crumbled

Kosher Salt, to taste

  1. Dice the potatoes into small cubes. Make them as uniform in size as possible so they all cook evenly.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter, and wait until it is melted and bubbly.
  3. Add the sweet potatoes. Stir in order to coat them all with the butter. Add salt. Cook the potatoes for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy, and the outside of the cubes are light to dark brown.
  4. Crack the two eggs into the potatoes. Stir until the eggs lose most of their moisture, completely scrambled.
  5. Take the skillet off the heat. Add the spinach. Gently fold the spinach into the potatoes until the leaves wilt. Add feta cheese. Serve hot.

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If that doesn’t make you hungry, I don’t know what will.

So why do all of this? Why grow your own food when it seems so much more convenient to go to the store, pick out your items, and then make it at home? It takes so long for things to grow, and there is a grocery store full to the brim with all the produce, meats, breads, etc that you could possibly want. Why do it yourself?

I will endeavor to explain my reasoning behind the choices I’ve made to do this, and some of the reasons why I want to share my experiences with you:

In this day-and-age, it can be hard to argue with the convenience factor. It’s become almost second nature to simply grab and go. Instant gratification has made us look for the quickest route to the fastest food choices, among other things. The world we live in can often be fast-paced and unrelenting, and it can seem almost impossible to keep up with the workload and put a meal on the table. This can mean fast food drive-throughs, processed foods that get nuked in the microwave and served on a plastic tray, a package of nutrition bars that resemble nothing truly edible.

There may be some start-up costs when beginning a garden, but once it’s up and growing, it almost pays for itself. Also, many of the plants I have I will let go to seed after it’s past peak harvest. That way, I will have seeds for the following year, and I don’t need to buy more from the garden store. Also, extending the life of the produce by canning, freezing, or even infusing into oils or extracts will ensure that you have other options to use what you’ve grown, and you don’t have to run out to the grocery store for it!

 

Living on a budget, it’s nice to be able to save money where I can. I love being able to scratch even one ingredient off my shopping list. I can go, “Nope, I have that on my deck, so I don’t need to spend money on it”.

Cultivating a garden is also a lesson in patience, which seems to be a theme in this blog. Everything in its own time. Plants don’t strain to grow. They don’t try to rush their own growth because the sun decides to be too hot one day. It’s a simple reminder to relax and let go of any stresses I might be harboring.

So that’s it for this post! Enjoy the rest of your weekend! Until next time!

(By the way, if you don’t understand the title of this post, look up Popeye the Sailor Man and Spinach on Youtube. It’s an old cartoon from 1956.)