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Cover of Apartment Kitchen Gardening book
Book Review: Apartment Kitchen Gardening

Think you can’t garden because you live in an apartment or other small space? Well, think again—I’ve got just the book for you.

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Hi, again, Dear Readers:

My apologies for being tardy again, it’s been a busy couple of weeks.  I just wanted to make this blog look good.

But the good news is that suddenly I have several topics to blog about. This includes a couple of recipes that will use the new Recipe Maker plugin for WordPress. Those will be coming soon.

First, I have two disclosures:

  • The publisher kindly offered me a complimentary copy of this book to review and to request my opinion; yes, I’ve read it
  • As with many of my blog posts, there are multiple Amazon links to the book and other supplies here that, if used, earn me few commissions (aka “coffee money”)

Just thought I should mention it.

Amy’s Gardening Experiences

Longtime readers have been amused by my various gardening adventures since the inception of HeatCageKitchen in 2012.

Right now, I’ve got a bunch of purchased plants in the kitchen window, along with two basil sprouts in a pot that were salvaged from last year’s crop. I’m waiting for the nighttime temps to stay above the 50-degree mark so I can start planting them. Need to start some seeds as well.

Plants in window for gardening

Tomato, basil, cilantro, and a strawberry plant

We don’t yet have a place for an outside garden. There are flowers and green berries on those blackberry vines that are all over the place, so I’m anxiously awaiting their ripening and a bumper crop for the freezer.

Blackberry vines with flowers

Berries are coming soon

Some are already forming:

Green berries on vines

The first ones of a great wild berry season.

I’m hoping we can get out there and dig up a gardening spot soon, but I think it’s still a bit too chilly.

In my urban garden in Houston. I attempted to grow as much as I could in a 5’ x 8’ plot of land that had plenty of sun most of the year. Some plants did well, like basil and the Anaheim chili peppers, while I struggled with tomatoes and other plants.

Anaheim chili pepper on a vine

Not really a “Hatch” chile, since it wasn’t grown in Hatch, NM. But close.

I relocated to rural Louisiana in 2016, and gardening here has also been a mixed bag.

Current And Future State

While BF contends that “we suck at gardening,” that’s not really the case. I did well in Houston, but that was also part experimentation and part paint bucket gardening because I knew that I would be moving out at some point. Most of my plants are currently in big white paint buckets, but we’re soon going to use a tractor to dig a garden.

Giant mint plant in white bucket

That’s mint. Mojito, anyone? (I live with a mechanic)

 

More plants in paint buckets with flowering onions

See the flowers on the onions? that one was over two feet high.

The 10-year-old Meyer Lemon tree that came with me from Houston with me froze over this winter. But—surprise! It’s now flowering and coming back to life. We finally planted it in a nice spot this past Saturday.

Neighbor E still does some patio gardening, although his condo has only one patio, and not a large amount of sun. His patio is mostly or all concrete slabs. He doesn’t have any vegetables like tomatoes since Houston’s heat makes it somewhat inhospitable for them. There’s always Anaheim (aka “Hatch”) chili peppers, which grew like gangbusters my last two summers in Houston. I keep saving the seeds every year and keep trying to have a bumper crop here. Only BF and another SGI member in nearby Albany know what Hatch chiles are.

From Across The Pond

So, a few weeks ago I noticed an email from someone I’d never talked to before, Christopher Crompton of Pelargonium Press. I didn’t realize at first that he is in the UK, not the US. Somehow, he found me and my humble blog, and asked if I would review their new book, Apartment Kitchen Gardening by James Jacques.

Cover of Apartment Kitchen Gardening book

The cover (may be different than the one on Amazon)

And why not? Of course, I said yes. Spoiler alert: it’s a pretty good book.

Christopher was even kind enough to send me a physical copy of the book as well as the digital. It’s not a long book, but it’s quite informative and, I have to say, interesting.

The book is geared to a UK audience, but most of it is relevant to US readers as well. Plenty of folks live in apartments, like the one I lived in for 7.5 years before I moved to Houston in 1998. It was a whopping 400 square feet, making the Houston place look like a small house. Somehow, I lived there with two cats, finished five years at Tulane University and graduated twice, cooked, sewed, and got married, all while working 40 hours a week. Then we moved all that to a larger Houston apartment. The best I ever did in Metairie was a few herbs in the windows, and unfortunately, killed an aloe vera with insufficient sunlight. This book would have been a great help.

I did give Christopher the business about the “incorrect spellings,” such as “colour.” But I’m used to those after 25+ years of watching British TV on PBS (now Britbox too) and reading overseas news.

Apartment Kitchen Gardening

This book packs a lot of information into the 133 pages of this 5” x 8” paperback. If reading more than 100 pages seems intimidating, it shouldn’t be—some pages have very nice hand-drawn illustrations, and not all the pages are full of text. The book is specific to people who live in apartments, not houses with nice-sized plots. But any gardener can benefit from the book. Author James Jacques gets straight to the point.

The book is divided into five chapters:

  • Growing in an apartment
  • Choosing your plants
  • Growing places
  • Taking things further
  • Conclusion

In these chapters, Jacques describes everything you need for a successful indoor garden. And no, you don’t need to spend lots of money doing it, because he offers suggestions for repurposing household items for low-cost equipment, such as empty yogurt containers. Clear clamshell containers used for lettuces and berries are also good for starting seeds.

Gardening In Your Apartment

Yes, it is possible. But it takes some thinking on your part to figure out how you’re going to go about creating and growing your indoor garden.

Consider what you have available. Is it just a single windowsill, can you use a window box, or do you have a small patio/balcony available? Even a small balcony can grow quite a bit.

The most important factor is sunlight. The Metairie apartment had four windows because I was in the corner of a small apartment building. There were two windows in the bedroom that got good sunlight, and two in the living area, but only one with sunlight. In my first place in Houston, I had two large windows but none in the kitchen. When I moved to an El Dorado Trace condo in 2004, there were two large glass patio doors on either side of the unit to the fenced-in patios, plus the front door.

The back patio in El Dorado Trace had the sunlight that was good for growing, so that’s what I used. I was only able to grow a few houseplants on the front patio, and those were gifted houseplants on an old washer and dryer covered in a tarp. I tried growing tomatoes and rosemary out there, but nothing happened.

Here’s one suggestion I never would have considered—growing in the bathroom. And why not? It’s usually warmer and more humid than the rest of the house, right? Pineapples, vanilla orchid, figs, and mint love this kind of environment, Jacques says. So, take advantage of it if you have a sun-lit window in yours.

What You Can Grow

Ask yourself what you want to grow and go from there. Do you love fresh pesto (like me) and want to make it yourself? Obviously, sweet basil is on your list—buy one nice plant, cut it, and start rooting them in water so you’ll have plenty. Alternately, start growing your basil from seeds.

Depending on how much room you have and the incoming sunlight, you can grow a nice variety of plants inside. Jacques explains the need for sunlight, how much, and what you’ll need for different types of plants. And if your place doesn’t have enough light, there’s always the option of grow lights.

Salad Days

If you like salad the way I do, Jacques suggests what he calls “cut and come again” lettuce. I’ve only heard that term once before, from cookbook author Nigella Lawson, who used it to describe a cake in one of her earlier books. You bake the cake and keep it for company, then put it away until the next company visit. Jacques uses this description for lettuces that grow quickly and need to be cut frequently. Otherwise, you have the mess I’ve created in a paint bucket:

Assortment of plants in white buckets

That is, or was, a Romaine lettuce plant

I didn’t cut it before because it attracted honeybees and gave them something to eat. One of BF’s car-guy friends has a bee box at the back of the property. When the plant flowers, we see the bees. I don’t think he’s getting the “bee action” he thought he would get. The flowers are gone, the plant dried up, and I pulled all the roots out a few days ago.

Recently, I bought a few more seed packets of different lettuces to plant. Hopefully I’ll I hope to have more “cut and come again” lettuce soon, even if it is in a paint bucket.

Hydroponic Gardening Systems

If you’ve ever seen grocery store produce called “hydroponic,” it means simply that it was grown in water. No kidding. Some plants can be grown only in water with added nutrients. I haven’t done hydroponics myself, although the author does discuss it at length for the indoor gardener. It’s ideal for the “cut and come again” lettuce.

You’re probably familiar with the hydroponic gardening setups by AeroGarden and the like.

Photo of countertop growing system

You’ve probably seen these, but no, I don’t have one.

There are many brands of them now, and they’re also expensive. The cheapest model is under $100 but doesn’t grow as much. One of the top models sells for nearly $900. If you have the means and the room, and really want one, go for it. I considered buying one when I lived in Houston.

Jacques points out the differences between all the different types of kits, and that they may be a bit overwhelming at first. Some kits are basics that you can build upon, and others have more bells and whistles. Mostly, it’s dictated by budget. Like most endeavors, don’t spend more than you can afford.

Caveat

Understand that even when you buy one of these units, you’ll also have to buy the seed pods to replant. You can’t just drop by Walmart, Tractor Supply, or your local gardening spot and buy seeds. It’s a bit like the Keurig or Nespresso coffee makers—you must buy the pods to make more coffee because it’s not like making coffee in a French press. If this works for you—and I know folks with these kinds of coffee makers—go for it. I’m not criticizing anyone for buying either, just pointing out that the pod thing is a consideration if you’re thinking about buying one.

The author addresses these setups, but in the last chapter. Guess what? These systems aren’t necessary for you to garden in your apartment. From recycled milk and yogurt containers to fancy pots with grow lights, there is a way for nearly anyone to garden indoors.

Why Garden?

You’re probably thinking, “Amy, gardening books aren’t really interesting.” If you’re not into gardening and don’t think it’s worthwhile, chances are NO gardening book is going to catch your interest no matter how well it’s written.

But understand that people have an interest in gardening for different reasons:

  • Supplement their grocery shopping and cooking with fresh produce
  • Include more organic foods in their diet
  • Get outdoors more and get some exercise
  • Become more self-sufficient and secure their own food supply
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Increase their own food security in an insecure time (like right now)
  • They grew up gardening and want to continue for the enjoyment and the harvest

My interests are a little of all these reasons. I started my little urban garden in 2008 or 2009. The GER offered advice, and he still gardens in his backyard next to the fence. The man I was dating at the time also had some gardening experience and helped when he visited.

You’ve seen the unusual gardening results BF and I had in the blog—like the septic tank tomatoes. We didn’t plan those. But I’m hoping we can dig up a garden plot in the next few weeks.

Re-Growing Veg

Jacques also discusses re-growing vegetables, which I’ve also done and blogged about. Right now, I’ve got several green onions re-growing outside, and three have flowered. I cut the flowers off and added them to the soil, so I hope they’ll grow more onions. I recently planted a sprouted celery base. There are two basil sprouts from last year’s plants that are also re-growing in the kitchen window. However, I had to cut that for dinner last week for a recipe that I’ll show in an upcoming blog.

Celery growing illustration

One of the nice illustrations from the book

On page 25, Jacques talks about growing pea shoots from “cheap, dried supermarket peas.” I haven’t tried that yet, but darn it, now I want to! (When I do, the next comment I hear from BF will be, “is this another one of your science experiments?”)

Jacques also talks about the science of soil, including mixing your own. There’s even a chapter on compositing and even a wormery! In an apartment? Well. . .I don’t know if I’d go that far. Depends on how into gardening you are.

Gardening can also yield a few flops, like when BF staked the weeds instead of the green bean vines. But it can also be a great activity that leads to a delicious meal, too.

Stretching The Limited Food Budget

With inflation getting worse, chances are you’ll see more people gardening again as they did during the last economic downturn. Who can blame them? They’ll also see the benefits in freshly grown produce that’s readily available. But the people who need it the most may not realize that they have the ability, and just need some guidance.

If you know someone who is on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the government assistance program formerly known as “food stamps”) let them know that they can also buy seeds and plants to grow foodstuffs with their benefits. I bet you didn’t know that, but it’s true.

Anything that grows and produces food can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Planting seeds and plants along with re-growing purchased produce like green onions, celery, and potatoes, and saving seeds from peppers, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables can help a limited food budget go further.

Gardening is also a great project to do with children and will teach them where food comes from at the same time.

Further Reading

Apartment Kitchen Gardening is not only a great little book but also an easy read, too. Not everyone is up for 1,100 pages of War And Peace anymore, including me.

While Jacques touches on re-growing vegetables from purchased produce, several years ago I found a book called Don’t Throw It—Grow It! by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam. The authors describe 68 different types of grocery-store bought food plants that can be re-grown on a windowsill and eventually grown in pots or even turned into a full-fledged crop.

Successes & Failures

I’ve tried to grow avocados three ways—with the toothpicks in water, with the sphagnum moss they suggest, and then just planting the seeds. I’ve had little luck here because it’s just not warm enough and does get cold in the winter. The seeds eventually sprout when you bury them in the soil. But once it gets cold, that’s the end of it. Avocados are also good for houseplants—if you can keep pets from destroying them.

I have some organic dried chickpeas I bought so many years ago to plant, and they’re still in the pantry. They might be viable, but I’ll have to plant them to find out.

Because I love pomegranates, I have some from last fall still in the fridge. Time to harvest those seeds and plant them, along with garlic, bulb onions, and other frequently used things. I also saved the top of a purchased pineapple, too. The last one I grew in a paint bucket got to be quite large:

Pineapplel plant in orange paint bucket

The monster pineapple plant.

Let’s see if I have better luck this time, and maybe get to have some fresh pineapple, eventually. Jacques says it will take about two years before you’ll be able to “harvest” the fresh pineapple.

Until Next Time

I’m always looking for new topics for blog posts. I do have a few in the queue, including a couple of recipe updates and one recipe that I finally made for BF. Amazingly, he was quite happy with it, despite not understanding what was in it beforehand.

Coming soon is also a guest post! A fellow copywriter and a friend of the blog asked about doing a guest post, and I accepted her offer. We’ll be talking about it in the next week or so, and I’m sure it will be fantastic. She understands the blog’s tone but has a different idea on a blog post, so that’s in the works. Plus, she gave me another topic idea.

Springtime is here, so don’t procrastinate. Plants are in the stores now, so grab them while you can. Whether you’re an avid gardener or just thinking about a garden, get started so you can enjoy fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs from your apartment.

Enjoy!

Cut garde lettuce with grape tomatoes
June Updates And Hatch Chiles

Finally some news, including Hatch chiles, sort of.

Hi, again, Dear Readers:

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Well, it’s summer again, and you know what happened. I’ve been writing, cooking, washing, and cleaning, and generally not blogging. For three weeks, the blog was actually broken. Finally, I created a service ticket for my hosting service, and they fixed it quickly.

After finishing the post on the John Walton Celebration of Life, a little catching up is in order.

Copywriting Updates

My new copywriting website is still not finished. It’s one of those big, hairy things I don’t want to deal with, but I have to, eventually.

The good news is that my Upwork Job Success Score (JSS) just went back up to 100%.

UpworkProfilePicAt1002020

I did it again.

I also finally finished two certifications from Digital Marketer: one for SEO (Search Market Mastery), the other for Content Marketing.  The SEO course is the one that I’d been fiddling with for over a year, and Content Marketing was the other one I wanted.

 

Content Marketing Badge

Search Marketing Specialist

These will be added to the new website. . .eventually.

Because Digital Marketer had a hard-stop ending on the free access on April 15th, I had to finish them ASAP. Nothing like a deadline to make you complete something, right? Well, I almost didn’t get the SEO finished because there was a bug on their website that gave me an error message when I went to take the test. Finally, it was fixed, and I was able to finish the certification. I did the content marketing course in two days, and I have notes and handouts and downloads to refer to.

World Gone Mad

I’ve got to be careful about how I phrase this next section. My hosting company sent out an email in March that included a comment on how they were removing *those* disease-related search terms from their domain search tool so that nobody could set up a website to take advantage of the situation, including alleged and likely fake  “cures.” So, here goes.

Last time I wrote a blog post that bug was just affecting some folks on a cruise ship overseas. Now it’s a worldwide thing that has seen all manner of disasters, including economic. While people are starting to emerge from their homes, many because they can’t stand it anymore, the powers that be are continuing to scramble to try and find the right answers.

Part of our preparations included some panic shopping at Walmart for “essentials.” However, what he considers “essential” and what I consider “essential” are frequently not the same. But we were able to get some foodstuffs to pack up under the counter. They’re packed in boxes along with some other foodstuffs that were given to us from BF’s Dad’s house when his sister cleared out some things in favor of “low-sodium” for their Dad to help lower his blood pressure.

Everyone needs cans of chili with beans, right? (Don’t forget the Gas-X!) I added some cans of salmon, which BF wouldn’t touch. For a while, we couldn’t get canned tuna or salmon at all. There were also nationwide shortages of things like yeast, flour, cleaning supplies, and those were evident here. BF was concerned about not being able to get bread, so I bought an extra bag of flour. . .but there was no yeast. I have some in the pantry that I brought from Houston, but that was it. Might be good, might not be, but I haven’t tried proofing it yet. When I found some, I bought it.

We’ve kept ahead of the game on the most coveted item, toilet paper.

Managing The Pandemic

Louisiana has been one of the states with higher rates of cases, but as of this writing, the fatality rate is about 6%, and the recovery rate is high. (I did the math, so be proud of me.) We are fortunate to be in one of the outlying parishes that’s close to the Mississippi border. Our parish has seen a total of 58 presumptive cases, and one fatality due to the bug.

Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Tammany have seen the greatest numbers of cases and deaths, with all 64 parishes now reporting infections. The New Orleans Advocate has a page that’s updated daily with the latest numbers, and the Houston Chronicle also has regular updates for Houston and for Texas.

The most awesome Dr. Sakina Davis at Woodlands Wellness recently had a Zoom call with some of us interested folks to talk about not only what it was, but how to defend yourself against *it* with supplements, healthy eating, and of course, getting some sun as well as supplementing with Vitamin D. I greatly appreciated that. I had to get some Vit C from them, and got a couple of bottles of their very posh-smelling hand sanitizer as well. (I have the most incredible hand sanitizer for miles around!) Another thing: turn off the TV and don’t have a steady diet of “news.”

And if that isn’t enough, it’s now hurricane season. Tropical Storm Cristobal was the first storm to come this way. We just had some rain, nothing serious.

It’s Jumanjij Level 6! 

We’re starting to come out on the other side of the pandemic, and slowly, places are reopening around the US.  We’ve been to our local Tex-Mex place, La Carreta, once, and have bought curbside takeout from them twice. They’ve reopened with masks on servers. We’ve not been to any of the other local places, which have since reopened, including BF’s favorite Cracker Barrel in Hammond. Yet. But eventually, we all hope to get back to some kind of normalcy.

Trending Egg Bites: Starbucks Leads

Once again the Big Green Coffee Company of Seattle leads the way in trends. First, it was the much-lauded (and maligned) Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL, complete with 50 grams of sugar). Now, they’re leading with their famed egg bites.

I’ve done egg bites in the Instant Pot, but they’re a bit of trouble and I’ve not made them in a while. (I even bought two of those silicone egg molds to do make them in.)

Egg bites in red mold

Aren’t they cute? Right out of the pot.

Egg bites are quite popular for a lot of reasons, and it’s probably the one thing I buy the most when I visit Starbucks, other than coffee. 

Cooked egg bites in red dish

Ready for breakfast!

They’re now considered an “emerging food trend,” meaning that everyone is getting on the bandwagon after Starbucks started it. Finally, you’ll soon be able to get egg bites in your grocers’ freezer case. Organic Valley will begin shipping frozen egg bites to stores in late July with an MSRP of $3.99 a pack. Nestle and Valley Fine Foods will soon follow with their own brands.

NOTE: Starbucks has begun to re-open their stores, but our Hammond store has a drive-thru curbside service, Although the store is actually open, there is no seating. You can just go to the counter and pick up your order or hit the powder room (I think.) They aren’t allowing seating outside under the patio, either.

PJ’s Coffee

Understand that when I first got here, the center of my universe in Hammond was the Starbucks on St. Thomas. I was very surprised to see a PJ’s in our town, right by Winn-Dixie, and that was a small comfort. It still is, and both have free WiFi.

Admittedly, I only visit Starbucks sporadically, usually, when I’m going to Hammond anyway, or if I’m headed to New Orleans. If there are extra points to be had or some other kind of “special” reason to go, I might make a trip and hit Target at the same time. I’ve utilized the mobile app ordering, and it worked fine.

Mostly, though, I’ve been going to our local PJ’s Coffee on Fridays, ordering their $1-any-size hot coffees through the drive-through and adding a bigger tip or the folks working there.

The cafe just re-opened a couple of weeks ago. But I was doing what was asked, helping out by going through the drive-thru to keep them in business throughout the shutdowns. 

BF and I went through one day and I got him a delicious breakfast croissant. A couple of times, I bought BF a double-chocolate muffin, including one for his birthday. He was happy with that. We also bought a gift card to help keep our PJ’s in business, and I’ve just started using the money on it. Their drive-thru has been quite busy so I guess it worked.

Like a lot of fast-food places, PJ’s has been following the guidelines set out by the CDC and the State of Louisiana. They just re-opened the local cafe a couple of weeks ago, with limited indoor seating and the same abbreviated hours. There is also a bigger PJ’s in Hammond, but not near Starbucks, although I haven’t been to that one in a while. Situated next to military recruiting offices, they have a second-floor seating area, and also offer lunch items. They too have abbreviated hours, but chances are, the same as ours.

PJ’s also offers discounts to military personnel and veterans, at least here. That’s a plus for BF, except that he doesn’t drink coffee.

But guess what? PJ’s is, through expansion and franchising, moving into other states, including Texas! I couldn’t believe how many PJ’s there are now around the US. California? Maryland? Georgia? Arkansas? Alabama? I had no idea. There is one “coming soon” to Katy, TX, and I notified longtime Boeing brother RR to be on the lookout. There is also a location in Pearland, which is kind of near Miss Alice, but also might be somewhere in the path of the GER. I let him know about it, and that it is a great alternative to Starbucks (his least favorite place.)

Could PJ’s become the new go-to place for coffee and topple the reigning coffee empire? It’s possible. You could find a PJ’s in your neighborhood one day soon.

The HeatCageKitchen Garden, 2020

Partly in response to the worldwide crisis, BF decided we needed to step up our homesteading game at the Casa de Rurale. I just say it’s about time.

After gardening in buckets, small patches of land, and getting some “toilet-tank tomatoes” two summers ago, we now have a more formal garden. I’ve already made two batches of fresh pesto for the freezer, which he is, as always, unhappy about.

Basil plants

Basil is back, and there is more to come.

The plant on the right has already been cut for both pesto and for cloning. I’ve got to plant those rootlings soon and get them out of the window. I’ll fill the chest freezer with pesto for the winter, or I’ll end up giving some away. Now to figure out what to do with the burgeoning tarragon. I’ll start with a compound butter for chicken.

Tarragon with ruler measuring 12 inches high

What am I going to do with all that?

Our neighbor across the street, Mr. JD, brought over his tractor and dug up some land for us in front of the shop, and we’ve been planting and planting again. Some things don’t work but we keep trying. We’ve planted a number of things, some of which are actually doing quite well. Right now we have actively growing:

  • Corn
  • Potatoes, including some from the grocery store we let bud
  • Green beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini
  • Radishes
  • Tarragon
  • Basil
  • Lettuce:
    • Gourmet
    • Iceberg
  • Tomatoes:
    • Yellow teardrop
    • Chocolate cherry, from seeds I saved in 2015 in Houston (no tomatoes yet)
  • Mexican Oregano
  • Peppers
    • Purple bell peppers
    • Shishito peppers (a small, sweet pepper from Japan)
    • Poblanos
    • “Coolapenos,” a variety of jalapenos without the heat
    • Anaheim chili peppers, aka, Hatch

 

Between the plants and the seeds, there have been some that were successful, and some disappointments. We just keep planting stuff and hope it works.

The agreement with Mr. JD was that we would share the harvest, and that’s fine. But when I picked the first of the bounty, three French breakfast radishes, he never stopped by for them. So I washed them and ate them:

Three French Breakfast Radishes

They are gorgeous, yes?

Note: eat radishes right after picking. I’ve planted more, and they’re coming up quickly. I’ve got both French Breakfast radishes and some older seeds of some other type, and both are growing.

The Anaheim, or Hatch, Chili Pepper Plant

Remember a couple of years ago I did some reading into Hatch chiles? Well, I am finally getting some from the garden, after three years of trying to grow the darn things from saved seeds from Hatch seasons past. They’re not exactly Hatch chiles, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

I’m convinced this was a mistake, but our local Tractor Supply had Anaheim “Hatch” chili pepper plants about two months ago, and I got the last one. I keep going back to see if they’ve received any more, but nothing yet.

Anaheim Hatch chili pepper plant with pepper

Looking forward to more of these

At the moment, there are four small peppers in various stages of growth, and I’ve got four in the fridge. I’m planning to roast them soon, and save the seeds. I used the first two peppers to try and plant more–get a load of these: 

Two Anaheim Hatch chili peppers on red cutting board with knife

The first two Hatch peppers that were used to try and regrow more peppers

Miss Raylina, who works at our local Tractor Supply and puts up with my harassment about “setting up the coffee bar,”  told me how to plant any pepper. It’s simple: cut it in half lengthwise and fill the cavity–seeds and all–with soil. Then bury the dirt-filled pepper in your garden. The seeds will germinate and feed off the flesh of the pepper while growing. Simple, right?

I really want more of these peppers this summer, so I’m willing to sacrifice the first two for the greater good of the garden (and give me more “Hatch” peppers, darn it.) But nothing yet. I’ll be saving the seeds out of these during the summer to try and grow Hatch chiles again next year.

But so far, nothing yet. At least we have New Mexico’s harvest in August, at which time I will be able to harvest more of the Hatch chile seeds for next year.

More Garden Pictures

Of course, Anaheim “Hatch” chili peppers aren’t the only thing we’ve got going on. BF insisted on growing corn and potatoes because that’s what his Dad always grew when they were kids. Mind you, BF just turned 50, has been married twice, owned a house once, but has never had a garden of his own. So far, the corn is doing well, with just one stalk knocked over a bit when Cristobal passed through:

Corn stalks growing

These are about six feet high

 

Up-close shot of corn on the stalk

Looks like we will be having plenty of corn on the cob soon, whether we want it or not.

How can we incorporate Hatch chiles in with corn? Well, for starters, do it when BF isn’t around.

Because the little yellow teardrop plant didn’t seem to be doing well, I went ahead and moved it. I figured if it was going to die anyway, I might as well try and give it a fighting chance. Not exactly a bumper crop, but it’s a start: 

Small tomato plant

There it is! One little tomato.

Earlier this year I found three bell pepper plants called Tequila. They turn purple when ripe, not red. I thought it was interesting so I bought a flat of three. Well, one plant didn’t make it, one is still in the shadow of the bigger one and needs moving, even though it’s got one pepper growing on it. But the big plant has three purple peppers, in various stages of ripeness.

Tequila bell peppers

You won’t find these at HEB, Rouse’s, Publix, or Walmart.

Interesting, yes? And then there are the Shishito peppers:

Shishito pepper

Ever heard of these? Me either until recently.

I only saw Ina Garten make these on her show recently, and apparently it’s also in her last book. (Giada de Laurentiis also has a recipe for them.) When I saw the plants at Tractor Supply, I bought two. One is doing better than the other, so I’ll be trying them out when they get bigger. Surprise! One of them is going to be HOT.

Have you ever heard of someone being overrun with zucchini? That hasn’t happened to us yet, we’ve only gotten two off this plant.

Zucchini plant

The leaves are as big as dinner plates.

And because the leaves are so big, I may have to move the oregano–again.

Zucchini growing

That’s the next one that I’ll harvest. They seem to double in size overnight.

BF doesn’t eat them, so of course, I’ll be happily feasting on them soon. Zucchini noodles, and preserved zucchini are right on my list.

We’ve also had blackberries growing wild, but BF has never told me how to cultivate them. (Mr. JD said they were “dewberries,” but whatever–they’re delicious.) I gathered berries every day during the brief season, and I have about two quarts in the freezer. That’s the berries left from when I go out berry-picking with the now 80-pound pit bull. We eat berries together. He loves them, right off the vine. I also drop them into his huge, muscular mouth for him to enjoy.

Salad Greens And Other Ingredients

I love salads, and I have long wished to be able to walk outside, pick my salad, walk back inside, wash everything, cut and toss everything into a bowl. I’ve sort of done that twice so far, but there were no cucumbers yet, and I bought some grape tomatoes at Winn-Dixie:

Cut garden lettuce with grape tomatoes

This was so delicious with a simple oil-and-vinegar dressing and a touch of salt.

I think I may have dipped into the remaining stash I have of Meyer Lemon EVOO and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar from Oil & Vinegar in The Woodlands. Just this once, it was a special occasion. But this salad didn’t need much. Those bottles have been at the top corner of the pantry behind everything. BF has strict orders to never touch it, but he probably won’t anyway.

I miss that place. I wonder if they ship.

I tried to grow Romaine lettuce in Houston but was always unsuccessful. The GER told me once that lettuce is a “winter crop,” which put me right off trying again.  One day I had a nice big leaf growing, and an hour later, a slug took it out.

Then I moved. Here, we’ve grown some “gourmet” lettuce as well as what doesn’t really look much like iceberg lettuce, but is quite tasty.

Green and red lettuce growing

I was quite surprised that this grew as well as it did. Then I cut it for salad.

The seed for the iceberg lettuce moved when it rained or I watered, so it’s in an odd place. I might try to move it again soon, or move both lettuces away from the outer part of the garden plot so they’ll grow better. There’s a reason for that.

Iceberg lettuce growing

It’s re-growing after being clipped. Again.

See, I did sprout some Romaine and some celery in the kitchen recently, but they disappeared after I planted them outside. Not died–disappeared. BF said it looked like either deer, possums, raccoons or some other nocturnal creatures came to feast and dug them out of the ground. Without one of those outdoor cams, we have no way of knowing. I’m not 100% sure I want to know what’s going on outside with Mother Nature, anyway.

We also planted cucumbers, which, along with watermelon, are threatening to take over the lawn.

Cucumber and watermelon growing

They’re everywhere!

You’ve got to check those cucumbers regularly–if they turn yellow, they’re awful. I know this because the GER grew cucumbers once, and we missed one. He found the yellow “ripe” one, and of course, I had to try it. NOPE! So I’m on them daily for the ones that are ready to pick. If I see some yellow, they get harvested.

No watermelons yet, but we’ll be enjoying those hopefully later in the summer.

I do keep watering and pulling ever-present indigenous weeds out of the plot. There’s some over-grown grass to be removed as well, and I take out some every morning when I water. At some point, I hope to do a mass removal of everything and get some of that black fabric to put over the ground to keep the weeds from getting sun. Fingers crossed.

Books, Books, And More Books

Callisto Press has blessed me with oodles of books since last July. The variety of topics include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Wine, spirits, and cocktails
  • Professional poker
  • Aromatherapy (three books, but I’m not allowed to do that in the house)
  • Spells for new witches (I kid you not, it was interesting)
  • The Law Of Attraction
  • CBD 
  • Weight training/fitness
  • Cannabis edibles (not legal here)
  • Successful aging and retirement
  • Fung shui
  • Essential oils
  • Visualization
  • Multiple cookbooks, including:
    • Italian cooking
    • French cooking and baking
    • Scandanavian baking
    • Baking, including cakes and donuts
    • Sauces
    • Barbecue and grilling, including sauces
    • “Five-Ingredient” cookbooks
    • “For two” cookbooks
    • Quick-cooking, 30 minutes or less, including “healthy”
    • Desserts
    • Instant Pot cooking
    • Air Fryer cooking
    • Slow cooking
  • Gardening (including urban gardening)
  • Convection oven cooking
  • Dehydrator recipes
  • Cooking for your dog (absolute truth, including recipes for “doggie date nights” for you and the pup)
  • Psychology in different forms, including three “couples” books and one on “willpower”
  • Sleeping (and how much sleep have I lost reading them? None.)
  • Cookbooks for pecific diets, including:
    • Vegetarian/Vegan
    • Keto (including vegetarian)
    • Pescatarian
    • Dairy-Free
    • Gluten-Free
    • Sugar-free
    • Thyroid disorders
    • Intermittent fasting
    • Lowfat
    • Mediterranean (I have three, including one for Keto)

And that’s just the ones I’ve been able to put my hands on just now.

Amazingly, we’ve found a few new “winners” for me to make again, with two thumbs up from BF. This includes one called Roasted Calabrian Chicken, which I made last week. It was really just chicken and diced potatoes with some dried oregano, fresh rosemary, and (don’t tell him!) a squeeze of lemon juice, on a sheet pan in the countertop oven. Needed to cook the potatoes longer, though. Next one is an air fryer recipe with. . .chicken and diced potatoes. The potatoes go into the bottom, and the chicken goes on top on a little rack. Maybe next week.

How Many Books?

Honest, I have no idea. I haven’t counted or organized them yet. They’ve been coming hot and heavy since last July, and until they started limiting people to four books, I got as many as seven at once. I have given a couple of them away as Christmas gifts, and some may be donated to the library eventually.

I need a new bookshelf now, and I’ll have to organize them accordingly. That means BF will be moving some of his boxes of ju. . .I mean, things, for me to put the bookshelf up. I plan to put a nice china cabinet up next to the bookshelf one day, preferably from IKEA, but that’s going to be a while yet.

I wondered if I would need more bookcases. And then one day, it became e-books. I’m guessing it’s because of the expense, but the reason Callisto gave was because of the delivery times. So now it’s about reviewing e-books, and they offer a very short time window for it, too.

I’ve sent one or two of these e-books to Miss Alice in Houston since she’s now vegetarian, a gift from Hurricane Harvey.

I do appreciate all the physical books they’ve sent me (and now, some of my writer friends) to read and review, and will keep them in their own bookcase. LOTS of delicious food in these books as well as really good info, which I hope to digest before my 90th birthday.

I missed two books out of the last batch of physical books that I really wanted, so I’ve got them on my Amazon wish list. I’ll try to fit them in my next Amazon order (whenever that is.) One was a 3-ingredient cocktail book, the other another “for two” kind of thing.  Oh, well–they’re not expensive.

What’s Next?

I’m a good six months late on this, but I think the next post will be about the cheesecakes. KJ is impatiently waiting for me to write it up, and I need to blog a little more regularly anyway. Plus I’ve got to tell you about the air fryer and the Instant Pot that’s taking up way too much room on the countertop. At least when I use it I can “let R2D2 handle dinner.”

Please take care of yourself, wash your hands, take necessary precautions, and stay far and away from trouble. It’s everywhere, lurking around corners. I’ll be back soon with more delicious recipes to share.

Enjoy!

 

The Cool Post

It’s summer in Texas. Heck, it’s summer everywhere–people are frying steaks and eggs on sidewalks and car hoods. They’re not in Texas, either.

Never fret–I have some nice recipes to keep you cool and comfy.

I caught Valerie Bertinelli’s cooking show last Saturday, and her good friend Faith Ford came by for lunch. Apparently, it was hot in SouCal when they filmed this episode (or they were just pretending) because Valerie didn’t want to turn on the oven. However. . .she did turn on the stove. I mean, how else do you cook lobster tails? While I’m not suggesting anyone go out and buy fresh lobster (I know I’m not, crawfish are the same thing), if you want some, many stores will steam them for you. (I think HEB does.) Valerie’s Lemon Icebox Cake was pretty fast and looked nice and cool. (It does call for Vanilla Wafers.) The episode is called Too Hot To Cook, but cook she does, albeit on the stove top–but not for very long. Want some real fresh-brewed iced tea? They make some, there’s a honey-sweetened recipe in this episode too.

Naturally, I’m up to my summer coffee making:

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

This will be iced coffee once it cools down.

Now, if you’re thinking about going iced on your coffee, as always, The Coffee Detective has articles to get you started. This one explains how to make iced coffee at home, and this article has specialty  cold coffee-based drinks. (Warning: Nick uses alcohol in some of these recipes.)  How long does it stay in the fridge? Until I finish it. Which is going on twice a week now.

If you are in an area where it’s that hot, do you now see the wisdom of the Crock Pot? Even my mechanic friend JK is thinking seriously about making nice, cool Overnight Oatmeal after I told him about it. (I forgot to ask The E Man if he’s tried it.) Don’t be embarrassed–get one or two if you don’t have a slow cooker, and if you have a family, consider a larger waffle maker, too, for making brownies, hash browns and all that kind of thing. There is no need to turn on that oven, unless it’s a toaster oven.

Still looking for recipes for your slow cooker? Sign up at All Free Slow Cooker Recipes and get them in your inbox every day. (In addition to my favorite, Pinterest.) A searchable recipe database means you can go find what you want on a dime. Don’t heat up your kitchen in the summer, please.

I’ve already made my first batch of basil pesto for the year, which I didn’t document, because, well, I’ve done it more than once. However, the rooted basil cuttings have now been planted, and I expect a large amount of basil, and subsequently, pesto, in the near future. Last year I was lucky enough to get extra from my visit last year to the Genoa Friendship Garden, so I kind of made out like a bandit with the pesto. I have five containers in the freezer, and since we didn’t have a really cold winter in Texas, I didn’t make as much Pea & Pesto Soup as I thought. However, at some point, I’ll need to get more of those square containers I use to freeze individual batches. Earlier this year, I also broke one, darnit.

Speaking of the garden, I got more tomatoes:

And that was it.

They were delicious. And that was it.

Four more are behind it, and I’m watching the newly planted basil cuttings too. No more strawberries, and the jalapenos are taking their time. The lettuce, is, of course, gone now.

Anyway. . . .

Last weekend, for whatever reason, I pulled a couple of old cookbooks off the shelf and started flipping through them. I wanted to make something different, and wondered if there was anything I could make that I had on hand, or with minimal shopping. Something I hadn’t made in a while, or never tried. Turns out there was. The first recipe, Cool Lentil Salad, is a good one. Why have I never made this before?

The first book in question is Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook. Published in 1997, this book features elegant but somewhat “lighter” menus, including desserts, that are low fat. (Not all the customer reviews are positive, but that’s OK.) “Casual but sophisticated,” it says on the inside cover. Well, we know what “low fat” usually means–higher in carbs, sugar, salt, and other additives to cut the fat but make it taste good. In these recipes, most everything is made from scratch, as Martha usually does, although I admit to making just a few recipes from the book. Maybe I need to go back and read it again. This salad is made from simple ingredients, quick to make and is a nice, cool addition to a summer dinner.

I can still hear my ex-husband say to me, “You expect me to eat that??” Ah, memories. . . .

Recipe 1: Lentil Salad

Unfortunately, you do cook the lentils on the stove, but only for 10 minutes. After that, it’s just tossing everything together.

The setup.

The setup.

The parsley and celery came from the garden, and I really, really needed to cut the parsley. I’m forever telling LK to water the parsley plant she has out front of her house, and. . .mine is watered, but it really needed cutting too. Finally, I cut it. The re-grown celery also needed to be cut, and I took half of that off. (I’ll use the rest in something else.) The lentils. . .well, they’re in a sealed jar, OK? Next trip to Phoenicia, and I’ll re-stock. I haven’t made any lentil dishes since I made Stewed Lentils & Tomatoes earlier this year.

So I started out by boiling the rinsed lentils and garlic in salted water:

I rinsed off the lentils first.

I rinsed off the lentils first.

And let them simmer for 10 minutes. Meantime, I started chopping celery:

This is re-grown celery from the garden.

This is re-grown celery from the garden. I actually don’t like the leaves.

You’ll need half a cup:

Made it!

Made it!

When the lentils are, as the book says, “crisp-tender”, that is, cooked but not mushy with a textured bite, drain them:

IMG_3063

Discard that garlic, then run the cold water over them:

IMG_3064

I’ll toss that garlic clove later.

And toss the lentils into a bowl (your serving bowl, if you like.) Finely chop that red onion (or as best as you can get it):

IMG_3065

And add it with the chopped parsley into the bowl.

Now, I have to tell you about my recent little benefit: I was at HEB on a Saturday, and when I was walking into have lunch, I mean, get my shopping, I noticed that someone dropped a big, beautiful red bell pepper. It was just sitting there! I figured someone would go back for it, but when I left HEB, someone carefully perched it on the short concrete pylons in front of the door. So. . .it came home with me. And I said, Thank You.

My benefit bell pepper

My benefit bell pepper

I put it on the Butusdan for a few days, but noticed it was getting a tad wrinkly. Into the fridge until I figured out what to do with it, and so I tossed it into the lentil salad. The bell pepper was an addition, not part of the recipe:

IMG_3068

Now for the dressing: It’s just 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of warm water. I whizzed that all together with the frother:

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small

And sending it flying everywhere because the bowl was too small.

Poured it over the salad in the bowl and mixed it together:

Cool Lentil Salad

Cool Lentil Salad

It’s pretty darn tasty, and will complement many summer dishes perfectly.

Recipe 2: White Bean & Olive Salad

This tasty throw-together salad only appeared in the Houston Chronicle via The New York Times many years ago. It was an Everyday Food recipe, and was never in a book or on their website–despite my request to add it. Fortunately, I kept the newspaper section in my personal notebook, and have enjoyed it for many years. It’s simple, and uses just a few simple ingredients for a cool, tasty side dish.

The setup.

The setup.

There’s a reason I put out three kinds of mustard–because, quite frankly, I think you should have a choice. The original recipe calls for Dijon mustard. However, the first time I made it, I only had Creole Mustard, and have been using it in this recipe ever since.

If you can find this mustard, its strong flavor may make you a convert.

If you can find this mustard, its stronger, unique flavor may make you a convert.

I think it’s a lot more flavorful than the Dijon, but that’s just me. You could certainly try the grainier variety of Dijon, too.

Why do I have two kinds of Dijon? Because at Trader Joe’s, it’s cheap.

So, you rinse two cans of cannellinni beans, and add them to a serving bowl:

YUM!

YUM!

Chop (or halve) a quarter cup of Kalamata olives:

IMG_3087

I just prefer them chopped, that’s all.

These are the olives, available in most markets:

Kalamata olives. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Kalamata olives, also from the olive bar in your grocery. Watch out for pits, some have them.

Add them to the bowl. Now thinly slice half a small red onion (in this case, left from the Cool Lentil Salad):

Red onions!

The red onion has a less acrid bite than standard white or yellow onions. But I don’t buy them often.

Time to mix the dressing–and I used my secret weapon again.

IMG_3070

Wash VERY carefully by hand, with hot soapy water when you’re done.

Into a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and one tablespoon of mustard. In my case, I like the Creole mustard in this dish, but the original recipe calls for Dijon:

Almost dressing

Almost dressing

And out comes the Aerolatte milk frothing tool to mix and emulsify the dressing.

Whiz!

Whiz!

Note that you MUST wash it carefully by hand to get it clean. Don’t want olive oil in your frothed-up latte, do you?

Then it’s just a matter of pouring it over the salad, and mixing it up:

IMG_3090 IMG_3091

Voila! A tasty no-cook salad that’s quick and delicious anytime. It makes four servings, by the way:

Yum.

Yum.

This, too, will hold up in the fridge for a few days. If you can keep your paws out of it. It’s THAT good.

Recipe 3: Ginger Ice Milk

The third recipe, also from Martha Stewart’s Healthy Quick Cook, is Ginger Ice Milk, and takes a bit of prep work before it’s ready to eat. Remember that this book came out in the 90’s, when low-fat was still the prevailing mindset in “healthy.” It calls for 3.5 cups of  “low-fat” milk–which is mostly or all sugar, if you didn’t know that. (I’m guessing it’s either skim, 1% or 2%, but it’s still more sugar than fat; whole milk is both sugar and fat.) No way am I going to put a half-cup of sugar into a pitcher of sugar. So, much like lattes and iced coffee, I made it with whole milk, and sweetened it with SomerSweet. (Yes, I still have some.)

The setup

The setup.

I’m not sure whether to call this “ice milk” or “ice cream.” Whatever you call it, you’ll enjoy it in the summer heat.

Warning #1: fresh ginger has a real bite! And, you should observe sitting times and probably not leave it for 2+ hours while heading out for a bike ride. Just 45 minutes of infusion should have done it. (I forget these things.)

Warning #2: If you have an ice cream maker like mine, that requires the freezing of a component (in my case, the bowl) make sure you freeze it ahead of time as instructed. That’s in addition to making the base for the iced treat you’re freezing, and letting it chill completely. Mine from Cuisinart requires 24 hours for the bowl to freeze up properly, and I actually put it in the freezer on Wednesday. If you have one of the fancier ones with an internal compressor (that is, it’s plug-and-play like this one with no freezing beforehand, which cost more), then you don’t need to freeze ahead. One day. . .I’ll get a plug-and-play ice cream maker, or a bigger freezer so that I can keep *two* of the freezer bowls frozen at the ready and make my own ice cream a lot more often. At least I don’t have to make ice for days in advance like I did with the one I used to own.

Warning #3: Ginger can develop a mold on the surface if you leave it too long in the fridge. Like I did:

Yuck! Cut that off!

Yuck! Cut that off!

I only made this to use up the ginger. And, because I like making my own ice cream.

This recipe is dessert for a meal inspired by Japanese cuisine. The protein is <cough> tofu, and there is nori (flat dried seaweed) involved in a “Vegetable Handwrap.” Now, I’ve eaten burritos for quite a number of years, but even I know that it is not possible to chew through the nori wrap! (It’s like chewing aluminum foil lined with plastic wrap–it’s too stiff to make burritos.)  Obviously, the rest of that menu will never happen in my kitchen, but the dessert is a good one.

So, it’s pretty simple to make: heat up 3.5 cups of milk with a half-cup of sugar (I used SomerSweet), and stir, but don’t boil:

IMG_3097

Warm until the sugar or sweetener dissolves, and whisk occasionally to make sure it does.

While that’s happening, peel the ginger (recipe calls for a 3-inch piece, but good luck finding that to spec). I learned from Martha to scrape the peel off using a spoon. Then slice it like the red onion above:

Yes, like that.

Yes, like that.

When the sweetener has dissolved, add the fresh ginger, lower the heat and let it lightly simmer for 15 minutes. Then take it off the heat, add the grated ginger, and let it infuse for 45 minutes:

IMG_3105

We don’t say “steep” anymore, we say “infuse.”

It was at this point that headed out on the bike for 90 minutes. That’s where the powerful ginger taste came from. It’s almost hot, no kidding.

After 45 minutes, remove the ginger pieces (I had to strain out the tiny bits):

IMG_3111

Those tiny browner bits are the ground ginger. I used a small spatula to push them through the sieve and back into the milk mixture.

Then let it cool, then chill it thoroughly. (This is why you plan ahead.)

Once it’s cool (and you’ve frozen your bowl, if need be), it’s time to make this into a sweet treat.

IMG_3115

Now, there’s something I found unusual with this recipe. See where the milk level is? Well, start to finish took about 40 minutes (and thank heavens for earbuds, that machine is loud.) But as it churned, the mixture sort of expanded:

Second picture. See it?

Second picture. See it?

Now get a look at it right before I turned the machine off:

Close to the top.

Close to the top.

I’ve never seen that happen before. But it was time to shut it off, and I did.

Ginger Ice Milk!

Ginger Ice Milk!

Theoretically, the square glass container on the right should have been elegant sufficiency. However, I had to resort to putting the “overflow” in another container. Well, that’s OK–it’s sugar free, I’ll have it whenever I want some. (I also have some cantaloupe sorbet in a separate glass container, sitting underneath these two.

One thing I noticed is that when I put this dish in the freezer with a spoon, it didn’t freeze hard like ice cream does:

Ice cream with a BITE!!

Dessert with a BITE!!

Checking the containers in the freezer, they’re not frozen hard, either. So, you’ll have to eat this quickly before it melts.

Oh, and I also ate the “crumbs” I scraped off the inside of the freezer bowl:

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Or maybe I should have let it churn longer?

Delicious–but let me repeat the warning that ginger can be quite spicy, and it gives a bite to this frozen dessert. I may have left it infuse too long. But it’s SOOOO good!

Recipe 4: Quinoa, Pea & Mint Salad

The last recipe is actually on page 17 of Martha Stewart’s Dinner At Home, a book similar to the ill-received Healthy Quick Cook, but without the “healthy” connotation. Like the first book and one or two before it, the menus are arranged by season to take advantage of what’s available. They don’t call this a “healthy” cookbook, but for the most part, it is–elegant made from scratch dishes using easy to find fresh ingredients. I made this from what I had already, plus mint from the garden, and I have to say, it’s quite good. So let’s make some!

The setup

The setup

I bought that chicken stock for something else a long time ago, and I finally used it. Peas I try to keep around for Pea and Pesto Soup, so that’s only a cup. I have quinoa as well, and that’s a cup. The mint, of course, came from the garden. So, let’s make this one.

First, put the chicken stock (or broth) in the pot, then rinse the quinoa:

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

One cup of quinoa, rinsed.

 

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

I know, not the prettiest picture. Keep reading.

Heat it to boiling, cover and simmer for 10 minutes:

IMG_3128

After 10 minutes, add the peas, fresh or frozen:

Quinoa isn't quite cooked yet.

Quinoa isn’t quite cooked yet–see the little holes where the bubbles are?

Cover and let this simmer for another 5 minutes.

IMG_3133

After 5 minutes, remove it from the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and then 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil:

IMG_3136

Mix well, and then add into a serving dish (which is probably cool):

IMG_3137

Let this sit for five minutes or so to cool a bit, uncovered. Then stir in the mint. I just added the leaves whole, since they weren’t big. If you have big leaves, tear them a little or even chop a little:

Mint!

Mint!

Mix it up well, and serve either warm or room temperature. If you’re doing the weekly cooking thing, this will sit in the fridge all week and hold up just fine. Best to cook after the sun goes down, or if you’re the hardy type, before the sun comes up. (I used to do that.)

Now, if you’ve got grilling on your mind, the July/August issue of Hobby Farms magazine has a quick recipe for Grilled Bell Pepper and Tomato Kabobs with Herbs and Olive Oil. I haven’t tried this one, but it looks tasty and is simple. It would go well with an outdoor grilled dinner.

More farm-type recipes are available on their website. This month’s issue also includes a Letter to the Editor about foot rot in sheep. EWWWW, poor babies! If you see a sheep kneeling to graze, that means it’s in pain and needs immediate medical attention. But if you do have sheep, you’ll likely smell it, too.

What will you have that will keep your house from feeling like a HeatCageKitchen? (Go to the Recipes page for PDF files for all these tasty dishes.)

Happy Dining!

 

Cupcakes and the Honey Bunny

Good evening, Dear Readers:

I’m sorry it’s been a week since I wrote. I haven’t forgotten you or Graze.com. I sent them a link to the last blog post, and the email I got back was that they’ve passed the link around so everyone could see it. Woo hoo!

I’ve been at it, and sent out a proposal for copywriting work, but it didn’t go anywhere. Another potential client I wrote a sample article for had to say no, they’d lost a big client the day before, but check back in December.

But in foodie news, it’s been a week of good stuff.

First, if you’ve ever broken the glass plate in your microwave, take heart. I did that about five years ago, and just figure that one day, I’d buy a new microwave. Not yet. When the plate broke, I had no idea where to go to get another one for a 2003 Sunbeam microwave. Well, I bought a Corelle dinner plate at Wal-Mart and that worked fine until a couple of months ago when one of the little wheels came off the rotating ring assembly that turns the plate. This was probably caused by the imbalance of weight on the dinner plate, and two weeks ago, I did something about it.

Darn, it took moving the microwave out, snapping a picture of the model number on the back, and going online to do a search. Guess what? Appliance Factory Parts had exactly what I needed. The plate was back-ordered, so I called to ask if it was just temporary, or discontinued. The nice man said it was just back-ordered and should be in next week. They shipped it FedEx, and I even got updates as it made its way to my door. I met the FedEx guy out on the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes later my little microwave bought used in 2004 for $10 was good as new.

I also found a new replacement top thingy for a Braun coffee grinder on eBay. The coffee grinder is at least 4 years old, works perfectly and has been discontinued by Braun. The button on the original top is cracked, but without a replacement part, a new one was in order. But no, I got an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) part on eBay. Instead of tossing a perfectly good coffee grinder and buying a new one, my Braun looks new and works fine.

Repair parts: It’s a Good Thing.

Yesterday I had to trek up to The Woodlands, a place I like to go up to occasionally. One of these days I’m going to spend a weekend up there. But no, this time it was for yearly medical testing with the fine folks at Woodlands Wellness & Cosmetic Center, Dr. Sakina Davis and her terrific staff. And of course, I had to make a few stops while I was up there.

I should point out that I drove through some very heavy rains for over an hour to get there. You never know this kind of thing will happen when you make plans. (Ask anyone who’s planned an outdoor party or wedding.)  We had a big front come through, and dropped the temperature about 15 degrees. Mind you, this being Houston, I had sweat trickling down my back when I hopped in my ride to go on the freeway, and then after I got out of Sweet Tomatoes, I saw people in The Woodlands Mall by Barnes & Noble wearing long sleeves. It had not only dried out but the temperature dropped just a little. It actually got cool when I got home last night.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. . . .

First place I stopped when I got there was The Container Store for a couple of small things. I didn’t have time to do Sweet Tomatoes yet, but I hit the Starbucks across the street from Woodlands Wellness for a quick bite, because I was really hungry. I grabbed a Greek Yogurt Raspberry Lemon Parfait and ate it while I walked back across the street.

Turns out I should NOT have been eatin’ anything. I was supposed to be taking the starving blood tests, but I’ll be going back tomorrow after fasting all night to do the blood draw. I’ll take my laptop with me and head to Starbucks for some food and free WiFi so I can wait for the morning traffic to lighten up.

For a late lunch, I made it to Sweet Tomatoes, where I discovered some delicious gluten-free offerings and a new quinoa salad. After the late lunch, I went over to the mall to visit Karla & Anton Kharoufeh at Oil & Vinegar, but both were on the phone. However, Miss Kathy was free, and I talked to her for a few minutes. I really just wanted to say Hi, but I only got to talk to Kathy. Oh. . .bottles and jars of delicious things in there, so if you’re in The Woodlands, please go stop in and get something special and delicious. The Lemon EV Olive Oil mixed with the Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar is absolute heaven when you whiz it in the blender to emulsify it and pour it on a salad. Doesn’t take much, either.

When I left The Woodlands Mall, I headed out to Trader Joe’s, and shopped til I dropped. Neighbor R, who just turned 80, gave me $10 and asked me to get some of the $3 a bottle TJ’s wine, which she’s fond of. She likes the Chardonnay, but also asked about the Pinot Grigio. I brought back two of the Chardonnay and one Pinot Grigio, and she was very happy with that. I asked the very nice cashier to ring the wine up separately, because this was for a “little old lady in Clear Lake,” and she bagged up the receipt and change (about 27 cents, I think.)

I’m always extra-careful handling other people’s money, even if it’s 27 cents.

I bought extra of some things like toothpaste, cannellini beans, cocoa powder and olive oil. Never mind how much I spent on groceries–I’m stocked up on some non-perishables for a while.

Last stop: Frost Bake Shoppe. I actually got to talk to the owner, Terese Yates, and told her why I was buying so many gluten free. You KNOW that’s what I went for. This time, though, I brought some home to share.

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Deliciousness comes from this box.

Since the temperature dropped, and I had some refrigerated goods from Trader Joe’s in a bag with two frozen water bottles, I got four of the Blueberry Cheesecake cupcakes in gluten free, and carefully put the box in that zippered insulated bag on top. They made it all the way without a problem.

Yes, this really is gluten-free:

Blueberry Cheesecake Cupcake

Is this not the most one of the most beautiful cupcakes you’ve ever seen?

Oh, YEAH.

You can read more about Ms. Yates and Frost at this link.

At this point, the drive home begins. However, the weather was beautiful by this time, so it was only the traffic to deal with. And although it was very slow in a couple of spots, for the most part it wasn’t bad. Neighbor K generously fed Jezebel the step-kitty so I could go see the GER first. I didn’t tell her about the cupcakes until I brought her one.

First stop on was down to Galveston County to see the GER at the infamous, aptly named Funk House/Junk House. I called him on the way to make sure he was home, and I said, “I have something for you.” He said, “I have something for you, too! Some fresh fish and some home-grown grapefruits.” He’d been out fishing, as he usually does on Monday (and today, too.) Suddenly I felt bad–all I had was one cupcake for him! Well, I went. . .and I talked to him for a little while and explained that it was, indeed. gluten free, and he would thoroughly enjoy it. He did–and ate it in three bites. (I talked to him today and asked; he loved it!)

Then back to the homestead, and brought Neighbor K one of these delicious things. She said she would eat it in the morning after our early-morning walk. Unfortunately, I was so tired, there WAS no early morning walk. Just talked to Neighbor K, and she didn’t walk either, but did thoroughly enjoy that cupcake. At 5:30 this morning.

Last stop–Neighbor R, to bring her wine and the last of the cupcakes. (I’d already eaten mine, I couldn’t wait.)

So now, they know how delicious gluten-free cupcakes from Frost can be. That fish from the GER was broiled up last night and came out great.

The fish and produce were not the first foodie gifts I received since my last post, either.

Last week, I got a personal visit from the GER. No kidding. He emailed me last Monday, informing me that he’d received actual mail–and it looked legit–for me. Say what? He said it looked like real mail from a friend. Although it was a greeting card sent from Alaska, it had a piece of junk mail in it. I couldn’t seem to catch up to him to drop by the Funk House/Junk House to pick it up, so he ended up shipping it, and stopping by on Thursday. He also wanted to go to Vitamin Shoppe, which happens to be a mile away from me. It was much easier to let him drive us over there so he could see it, and I needed something anyway, so that’s what happened.

Shortly before the card arrived, he’d found himself with a beehive with lots of BEES. Yes, the kind that produce honey. He had to call professionals to come in and remove said beehive, and they gave him the honeycombs they removed from the shed he plans to eventually dismantle and replace.

So, I got him some gloves and set up a bowl with a strainer so we could filter out solid biological matter. (If you’ve never done this, well, don’t think too much about it, OK?)  While he was wringing out the honeycombs with some clean hair color gloves I gave him, we were chatting about different stuff. And, of course, I forgot to take pictures, darnit! But I can show you what we ended up with.

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I later filtered it out again, and then gave Neighbor K a jar and kept one for myself.

Incidentally, if you like those labels, you can find the template here on Martha Stewart’s website. However, they don’t stick well in the freezer. I just used one on this jar because I’d printed some once and they were just handy.

Now, a while back I kept a couple of pictures from Facebook of a couple of pictures of “cleanse” drinks. Then I had to clear out some of the photos (which is why I don’t have a pic of the bowl of honey before I bottled it, darnit.) I discovered that one, now that I have raw, organic honey, I can try.

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The honey is raw and organic because the GER didn’t know that hive was out there. It’s not certified organic, of course, just. . .he never did anything with it or to it.

Now, these things get passed around Facebook all the time; in fact, friend of the blog AK recently asked me for the Cranberry Cleanse, but that’s got a pear, an apple, a piece of celery and some other stuff I don’t have around on a daily basis.

But this one I decided to try. No, I haven’t lost any weight with it yet, but I have been mixing it up with very warm water to help the honey melt, then adding two packets of sweetener to cut the tartness. Then pour it over ice, because I’m sweaty and no way do I want something hot. I can’t say it’s harmful, but I’m drinking it after I get back in from the AM walks with Neighbor K.

Remember one of Amy’s cardinal rules: two packets of Sweet ‘N Low can kill the taste of anything. That’s helpful when you’re ingesting something awful that’s also medicinal. Been there, done that, tell you in another blog post later, maybe during flu season.

So, despite everything else, I’m still here, and still at it. We’ll be back on the walking trail first thing in the morning (yes, 4 am) and I’m off to The Woodlands soon as I get cleaned up and dressed. No eatin’ until they stick me, and I make appropriate comments about the peacocks in the office looking like poultry.

Happy Dining!

Cookbooks and desserts

Good evening, Dear Readers:

It’s a typical spring day in Houston today. Started out about 75 degrees, and by the time I went to get the mail about 2:30, it was about 55 degrees. No, I went out in my shorts. I don’t care. But I did wash the duvet again, and of course, put it back in the closet for the summer. Oh, well.

I’m still at it, and still looking for a “real” job, but haven’t found one yet. I’ve been concentrating on that, so I haven’t done much in the way of foodie adventuring. However, I have come across three books that aren’t new, but are fabulous–and do not involve celebrity chefs. (Plus a couple of other things to tell you about.)

Now, celebrity chefs are great–they’re actually famous for something they do or have done, not for getting arrested or some other thing you hope your kids don’t find out about. Except that one guy. . .oh, nevermind. There’s one or two in every group.

I found a neat tool I want. Doesn’t mean I’m actually going to ever have it, but I want one. Then again, I want a high-end stove and maybe a Vitamix. Not shopping for those yet. However, I think this little breakfast sandwich maker from Hamilton Beach is just awesome. Of course, for that to work for me, I’d need to be making my own gluten free English muffins, and I need a pan for whoopie pies so I can make the one out of the newest Wheat Belly cookbook. . .well, that’s for another day, right?

At one point I was fascinated with counter top breakfast makers, and was going to buy one for a boyfriend’s Christmas present. I used to see 4-in-one, but now they’re 3-in-one, with no popup toaster. He was adamant that he didn’t want one, so I got him a tie or something. (And he’s gone now.) That one is so cute–reminds me of Suzy Homemaker stuff and Easy-Bake Ovens! But no, I’m not getting one of those, either.

Incidentally, last week I had the opportunity to make Crosissant Bread Pudding, and boy was that a mistake. I don’t have the picture, but be forewarned–this is an incredibly delicious dessert to use up some leftover croissants. Holy Shish Kebab!! Make SURE there are plenty of people around when you serve it, OK? It makes a large amount, filling a lasagne pan with a rich, sweet custard and raisins. Great dessert for Easter, just use some day-old stale croissants for best results.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you, either.

It’s a long story as to how I came across these four cookbooks, but I can tell you that they’re now on my Amazon wish list. Yeah, like I need another cookbook, let alone four! But there are reasons I like these books, and this is from the first one:

This involves cream, coffee, chocolate, egg whites, and sugar. Any questions?

This involves cream, coffee, chocolate, egg whites, and sugar. Any questions?

The recipe is called Mocha Tortoni Mousse, very quick and easy, from a book called Dish Entertains by Trish Magwood. She’s a personal chef and talks about catering a party for the actor Martin Short and his family; Tom Hanks was also in attendance at one activity. In addition to categorizing these chapters by subject (breakfast, dinner, dessert) she also breaks the chapters down in further by ease and occasion. In other words, the Mocha Tortoni Mousse is a simple dessert that’s great for everyday, and easy enough to do. Put those in fancy dishes or martini glasses, and even kids will enjoy them (although they’re not boozy.) There are other desserts that are a little more complicated when you want something a little more upscale. It’s an enjoyable book, and styled much like Australia’s Donna Hay. Ms. Magwood has a second book as well: In My Mother’s Kitchen, which I’ve also added to my Wish List but haven’t yet seen.

The second book is one that I haven’t cooked from yet, but it sure is interesting. Chicken And Egg by Janice Cole doesn’t ask the question, but she does talk about what it’s like to start raising your own chickens for eggs when you’re not familiar with it. That would be me, although I’m not in a position to have chickens. I have enough with the cat, and, well, I can just see this beastly little tabby, a former street kitty who would take on small dogs, chasing around chickens and trying to catch them!  The author doesn’t glamorize the topic, and she manages to get some good eggs from her three hens, but there are some setbacks as well. However, there is no discussion of “from pet to pot” as you might expect.

A couple of years ago, I saw a short review of this book in (of all places) The Houston Chronicle, and bought it. Similar in scope, but not all about chickens, Made From Scratch was one of the first books I picked up on the subject of modern homesteading and self-sufficiency. Bonus: there are good recipes in this little book, too.

I’m not sure how I missed The Homesteader’s Kitchen, especially since I’m a fan (and now a subscriber) of Urban Farm magazine. Every month they highlight new books on the subject of, well, city and urban farming. But it, too, is on my Amazon Wish List, along with Def Leppard’s newly released deluxe edition of Slang. They’re all there for the day I get another job and get caught up, or for the next time I need something (which is soon, but the books and CD will wait.)  I didn’t cook from that one either, but from what I saw, the recipes are wonderful uses of home-grown or farmer’s market foods. However, reading the reviews on Amazon, there are some misprints, so I’ll have to consider that before I actually buy the book.

Last week I was on the north side of Houston, and since I had the time, you can probably guess where I went.

Only the most awesome bakery anywhere--Frost!!

Only the most awesome bakery anywhere–Frost!!

Might be my last chance to visit Frost Bake Shoppe for a while, so I took advantage. I also went to Sweet Tomatoes FIRST for a healthy and delicious grazing of green stuff and Joan’s Broccoli Madness. The only place I’ve ever had broccoli, bacon and raisins in one place, and it WORKS. This particular day saw two gluten free cupcake flavors, and one of them was Red Velvet.

The most amazing, delicious, heavenly delicious gluten free thing there is.

The most amazing, delicious, heavenly delicious gluten free thing there is.

I enjoyed every bite. And while this is probably not gluten free, I really enjoyed the looks of this amazing cake:

Is it gluten free? Who cares?

Is it gluten free? Who cares?

I wanted THAT kind of cake in 1996. You couldn’t get anyone to do that for you, anywhere in New Orleans. Nobody knew what that was or how to do it, and “wedding cake” meant lots of frilly piping, no matter where you went. Eighteen years on, nobody cares anyway (the divorce was final in 2001.)

Oh, and I tried making some sugar-free/gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with a thick icing. New recipe, and guess what? They were awful–AND they kept putting me to sleep. I tossed the last three. Oh, well.

Well, since winter didn’t get the memo that it’s spring yet, I’m headed into the kitchen to tidy up and to make some Pea Pesto Soup tonight as well as put together the kind of meatloaf where you toss a bunch of things into a bowl and throw it into the oven for an hour and it comes out somewhat tasty. I don’t feel like doing much cooking this week, but if things get better, I might try a new recipe or two and pass it along. I’ve also got to reconfigure a resume for someone and get it to her by this evening.

Tomorrow, one, maybe two phone interviews, and I MUST get my taxes done, darnit! I got stuck on something a while back and now it’s stalled. Oh, well, let the I-R-S give me a hand on the phone then.

Stay warm and Happy Dining!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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