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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!

Big Jar of Salsa Macha
Salsa Macha!

Salsa Macha–a most delicious thing to make any time. It’s perfect for your charcuterie boards, too.

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Hello, again, Dear Readers:

Apologies again for being later than I wanted, but I’ll explain myself shortly. It’s summer, and the living is easy (we hope.) As always, fall is coming, and certain people in the US population are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Pumpkin Spice Latte season. Heck, everything pumpkin spice–you know who you are.

If you just can’t wait, you can make that PSL at home with a recipe from Starbucks’ own website. Who would have thought it?

But remember–while y’all are sipping your hot PSLs, I’m still trying to enjoy my iced coffee and avoid heatstroke.

With all the rain we’ve had this year, I don’t think we’ve seen a day of 100F temps here. Houston, and most of Texas, has seen multiple 100F days.

This Year’s Gardening Attempts

We have not attempted to repeat last year’s gardening disaster.

I really haven’t mentioned the paint-bucket garden, but we’ve got basil and a few other things growing. I really need to plant the sprouted avocado seeds so they can grow into actual trees.

Avocado Trees in paint bucket

Just plant the seed into the dirt. . .and wait. No kidding, I’ve sprouted several but lost a couple.

Think of how many friends we’ll have when they find out we have avocados growing! Well, except for BF and his brother. Say “guacamole” and BF starts retching.

Two batches of pesto were the result of the last basil cut, and I’ll likely have that much when I cut this batch.

Basil in paint bucket

Think I have two cups here? (Yes, that’s an automotive jack behind it.)

I’ve also got two Anaheim chili pepper plants growing, and one has two medium-sized peppers on it.

Anaheim peppers growing in paint bucket

Darn bugs! I’ll get two if nothing else.

Unfortunately, the little peppers that began forming when the flowers dropped off became slug food, and so I may only have those two. We’ll see, since “cold weather” probably won’t start until at least October. And then there’s lettuce:

Lettuce growing in paint bucket

I need to turn this into a salad real soon

I’ve also bought some plants:

  • “Coolapeno” peppers, the heat-free jalapenos
  • Green onions, as always, but I need to add more to the pot
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Yellow tomatoes
  • Strawberries (the slugs have really decimated this one)
  • Mint (a plant that is overgrown in the bucket and we recently buzz-sawed with a hedge trimmer)
  • Parsley

And as always, sage:

Sage in paint bucket

I try to keep it around for fall dishes

Unfortunately, I didn’t plant them all right away, leading to more of BF’s smarty-pants comments about “science experiments.” I remind him that none of his previous female companions ever brought urban agriculture or other improvements into his house and his life.

Home Visit Nibbles

So a few weeks ago, our district leader OR decided she wanted to make the drive to do a home visit. It’s an SGI tradition of visiting members at home, particularly those who have recently begun practicing Buddhism and offering support. The leaders chant with the members and they discuss. . .whatever. In this case, it was the upcoming district meeting. And, I suppose OR wanted to get outta the house for a while.

Now, because of where I live, nearly everyone is an hour away. The closest members are J&B, who live in Albany, near Hammond. Basically, I’m practicing by myself out here, although most are a phone or Zoom call away. Since I’ve been practicing since 1986, though, I think I’ve got the hang of it. I don’t understand why they want to drive an hour–each way–to do a home visit, but I gave up protesting.

While we were chanting, BF showed up. But he quickly bugged off to the shop and left us alone to talk. He doesn’t mind the home visits, of course, but he does enjoy acting up when people are visiting me.

When someone does drive out here, I try to make sure I have some food and coffee to offer. I’ve baked some delicious treats from the first Babycakes book. I also have the second book but haven’t looked at it in a while. Maybe next time they come by I’ll make that Pineapple Upside-Down Cake on page 116 again.

On this particular day, since it was just OR, I told her I’d make a couple of those little keto chocolate cakes in the Instant Pot for her, and of course, coffee. OR is from Los Angeles, and is Hispanic herself–her parents came from Mexico years and years ago, and she has been in Mandeville since about 2006.  Knowing that I’m a fan of Mexican and Tex-Mex food, she decided to bring something special. Naturally, I didn’t think to take pictures.

Salsa Macha

So OR made a stop at The Fresh Market for a few things, including a box of little gluten-free nut crackers, a small tub of chicken salad, and a couple of slices of Swiss cheese. Why Swiss, I don’t know, I like it fine, and I just said “thank you.”

Along with these nibbles, she brought this:

Bottle of Salsa Macha

It was full when she brought it

Then she asked for a very small spoon, which I happened to have:

Cocktail spoon and regular spoon for Salsa Macha

The spoon on the left is a cocktail spoon, and the one on the right is a regular teaspoon from our flatware

Puzzled by her request, I went to the only one I knew I could put my hands on, in a box of Maldon Salt Flakes in the pantry. I have more of these tiny spoons, but I don’t know where they are.

We sit at the table and she explains:

  • Take a cracker
  • Fold a slice of cheese to make smaller pieces
  • Add a bit of cheese onto the cracker
  • Add a bit of chicken salad to the cracker on top of the cheese
  • Drip a bit of this incredible stuff on top of the cracker stack
  • Eat and enjoy

What the heck is this amazing thing you’ve brought here? OR responds, “It’s called Salsa Macha.

I have eaten it and become enlightened.

The Recipe

OR is a fan of Pati Jinich, host of Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS. I like to watch her when I can, her food looks delicious. Pati is actually from Mexico and is married to an American. They have three sons and live in Maryland. They have, however, lived in Texas.

Pati has three books, which will be going on my “wish list” soon. Her newest will be released in November, called Treasures of the Mexican Table: Classic Recipes, Local Secrets. Her most recent book graces OR’s kitchen, and all three will eventually grace mine.

This recipe is from a longer TV show segment on Cali-Baja Fish Tacos. You can see the whole segment here, and she starts making the Salsa Macha at about the 3:55 mark.

While the tacos look absolutely delicious, they are not gluten-free–she uses regular flour to batter the fish, and makes flour tortillas as well. Just thought I’d warn you.

OR said that since she made the salsa the first time, she carries around a jar of it and puts it on EVERYTHING. No wonder she has that glow of enlightenment.

I’m also writing about this recipe to piggyback on my last post on charcuterie boards. Because you can easily put this on any charcuterie board–just add a warning that it’s a bit spicy as well as contains peanuts. You don’t want an allergic person unknowingly ingesting it and having to go to the hospital.

If you do put this on your charcuterie board, I highly recommend putting the little cocktail spoons out for Salsa Macha. Because if you put a regular teaspoon out, someone will grab a large amount not realizing it should be consumed in small amounts. It does have enough of a bite from both the garlic and the chile peppers that a big tablespoon will overwhelm even the most tolerant of spice-lovers.

Making The Salsa Macha

Let me say at the outset that I am by no means an expert on Mexican and Tex-Mex food. I make no secret of the fact that it’s just one of my favorites. Living in Texas for 18 years, it’s all around, in the same way that red beans & rice, jambalaya, and gumbo are here. You know what I’d rather have, starting with the chips.

When most people hear the word “salsa,” it’s usually accompanied by the word “chips.” It’s either a freshly made tomato garnish, or it’s the kind out of a jar. Either one is good, especially if the chips are hot, fresh, and salty. However, this salsa is different.

Salsa Macha is cooked, and has no tomatoes. In fact, it has. . .peanuts. No kidding.

Ingredients for salsa macha

The Setup (part 1)

Of course, getting all the ingredients together was a challenge (I’ll tell you about that in a minute.) When I mentioned to OR that I was making some, she said she used a whole cup of peanuts, so I cracked open more before I made them.

Prep work involved a few other things, including peeling garlic and deseeding and deveining the dried chile peppers. That took a while:

Cut open dried chipotle pepper

Since it’s dried, they pretty much fall out.

By the time you get them all done and get to this point:

Cut chipotles in bowl

Ready to add

You’ve had a snootful of the pepper dust and have sneezed multiple times. Just cut the tops off, cut in half, or cut down one side, and the seeds are easy to remove.

The packet I got is actually 2.5 ounces, and the recipe calls for 2 ounces. Well. . .by the time you remove all those seeds, I’d say you got exactly 2 ounces.

I also measured out the sesame seeds, white vinegar, brown sugar (just for the first round, I think a sugar replacement like Swerve would work too), and salt for later.

Cooking

First: add 1.5 cups of olive oil to a pan:

Olive oil, 1.5 cups

It’s gonna be good!

And heat over medium heat:

Olive oil heating in pan

Once it’s heated, but not boiling, add the peanuts and the four cloves of garlic:

Garlic cloves and peanuts in hot olive oil

Like this; there are actually four cloves in the pan

Now, don’t walk away from it–you’re actually frying these ingredients:

Closeup of frying peanuts and garlic

Don’t let them cook too long

Pati says that peanuts are cooked long before you notice them, so that’s why it’s important to stay at the stove for this one.

Next, add the seeded and deveined dried chile peppers:

Adding chipotles into the pot

Right in there

Along with the sesame seeds:

Adding sesame seeds to the pot

Right in there

Cook a little longer until the chiles are toasted and done, about another 30 to 60 seconds, then take off the heat. (I just moved it to an unused burner.)

Pot and food processor work bowl

A safety tip is coming.

Grinding And Processing

Here’s where you should pull out that big food processor, you’ll need it.

Let me iterate here that this is HOT oil, and you’ll need to exercise great caution at this point. Hot oil burns badly, and nobody wants to check into the burn unit, ever. If you have small children or animals, shoo them out of the kitchen and away from the stove for their own safety.

Because I was using a cast-iron pot, I brought the food processor bowl to the stove and scooped it in a little at a time. Better safe than sorry, and I don’t want to get injured.

Scooping out of the pot

Just like this

I used a couple of tools to clear the pan:

Clearing out the pan

I got all of it out!

And dumped the last little bit into the work bowl.

After putting the bowl on the motor unit, I added the last ingredients:

Adding brown sugar to the food processor

Brown sugar

White vinegar:

Adding white vinegar to the workbowl

Right in, 3 tablespoons

And of course, kosher salt:

Adding kosher salt to the food processor

Just a teaspoon, but you can add more if you like.

Then hit the ignition:

Running food processor

Grind it up to a nice paste

What you get is this lovely and delicious thing that you won’t want to live without:

Salsa Macha finished

Delicious!

It makes a good bit, and so I filled one big jar and two small ones:

Jars of salsa macha

Into the fridge! (Store it in the fridge if you’re not using it immediately.)

When I clear out that jar on the right, I’m going to wash it well and return it to OR. BTW, those little Ball jars do come in handy for lots of things. Walmart, Amazon, and sometimes Tractor Supply has them.

Finding Ingredients

Raw peanuts are called “green boiling peanuts” here. Why? People boil them in salt and eat them like that. I can’t say they’re bad, but I never had them before I moved to this area.

Now you may be thinking, “Amy, how did you get that kind of thing in rural Louisiana?” Good question–I almost didn’t. That’s why this post is a bit later than I intended. I stayed up a little late last night to make it, too.

OR has access to not only a “Hispanic foods section” in the Mandeville Walmart, but there is also at least one “Mexican grocery store” in the area, too. I’ve been in that Walmart and seen it myself, bought masa harina and corn husks there for our chicken tamales I made once. But Mandeville is nearly an hour one way. Not a good option.

I went to our local Winn-Dixie and Walmart looking for the dried chiles, to no avail. I was on the phone doing a FaceTime call with OR looking for them, but they really don’t have that kind of thing here.

Then I remembered that there IS a Mexican grocery store nearby–in Hammond. So after being up since 6:00 am, and driving an hour from Franklinton to get home from work, BF took me to the little Mexican grocery in Hammond and then brought me home. Once back at the Casa de Rurale, BF went into hibernation for a while.

If you’re in an area where you can’t find these chiles, you can get them online at Fiesta Spices’ website. They have a whole section of their website just for dried chile peppers. Now that I think about it, Albertson’s in Hammond carries some of Fiesta’s spices, so maybe I’ll drop by there next time and see if they have the chiles, too. If not, everything is available online, thank heavens.

Will BF Eat It?

That’s always the question. I didn’t really make it for him, anyway. But he alternates between “I’ll try anything you make” to “I don’t think I’m gonna like it, I’d rather not try it.” Whatever. I’ll let you know.

If you eat this, you, too, will be come enlightened. I’m being silly when I say that, but that’s how good it is.

For my next blog post, I’ll tell you all about Hammond’s Tienda de comestibles, or little Mexican grocery store. We’ve recently seen folks speaking Spanish here, no English. Aside from the other considerations, it could mean more Hispanic foods may become available locally if the migration trend continues. Maybe it’s time for me to finally learn Spanish, even if I have to use DuoLingo. But for now, I can get some of these wonderful Mexican ingredients, along with ready-made chorizo, on the same trip as visiting Hobby Lobby, Rouse’s, and Target.

Until next time–Disfrutar! (Enjoy!)

Cut garde lettuce with grape tomatoes
June Updates And Hatch Chiles

Finally some news, including Hatch chiles, sort of.

Hi, again, Dear Readers:

Follow me on Bloglovin’

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!

 

Amy’s Excellent Garden Adventure

Good evening, Dear Readers:

Remember when I said the next post would be about waffles, unless I had something better to write about? I do–and I’m not reneging on waffles, either. In fact, after I finish writing this, I’m going to try out a gluten-free waffle recipe just for you! (Well, and me, too.)  I’m anticipating three or four different waffles on the recipe page, and one may even involve using. . .wheat. We’ll see when I get there.

Are you a Trader Joe’s fan? Well, I finally had a flash of inspiration, and decided to do something about the lack of a TJ’s down here south of Houston. I put a link on NextDoor.com, and suggested everyone in my area write TJ’s and tell their friends to do the same. So far, several people have, including Neighbor K, who became a fan after hearing me bang on about it, and made her first trip.  If you’re one of my local readers, do this now and tell EVERYONE YOU KNOW. If we get enough people writing, we might actually get one closer than the Montrose store. I suggested Friendswood or League City, but anywhere closer than Montrose or Memorial would be wonderful. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have TJ’s at all, and you miss them terribly, you can go to this link as well and ask about getting a TJ’s in your area. Do the same thing–tell your friends. Go to this link and send them a short email about where and why. Save the text on a Word document in case the site goes bonkers, like it did for me. It worked the second time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was strolling through Target and found this with a clearance sticker on it:

IMG_2350[1]

Hershey’s? Ice Cream Maker?

End of the summer, an ice cream maker. However, it’s one that requires this:

It's GOURMET.

It’s GOURMET.

Now that we have Blue Bell back, we don’t need this. And of course, in fine print at the bottom, it says, “artificially flavored.” No thanks. I like my Cuisinart model and the recipes I have in cookbooks.

So anyway. . .guess who has more pesto in her freezer? Yes! ME! (You can envy me now.) As of last night, I now have SIX containers of pesto! No, I haven’t poured steroid fertilizers out back. I went on a little day trip on Monday. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve written about the monthly gardening lectures I attend at my local library, third Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm. Nice people, and sometimes, there’s munchies. (No, I passed on the cake last week.)  The lady who coordinates the lectures and attends every month is a nice person named Shirley Jackson. She’s always there, picks up the surveys, gives announcements and sometimes, she’s the friendliest face I see all day.

One of the announcements has been since the beginning the “open garden” day at the Genoa Friendship Garden in nearby Pasadena. That’s not someplace I normally hang out, and despite writing it down, I never seem to remember. Except for one day I dropped a pitcher of iced coffee on the floor, and. . .oh, never mind. Finally, Monday, I paid them a visit.

Sponsored by the Harris County Master Gardeners and Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension, it’s a little spot where all kinds of plants are grown, and they have plant sales–cheap. I spent a whopping $3.50 yesterday, for two tomato plants and a sweet pepper plant that I’ll put into a big pot this weekend.

Take a look:

IMG_2784

This was a cute little display:

A diorama!

A diorama!

Here’s a closeup:

IMG_2782

If you like eggplant, they’ve got a garden variety that, it is claimed, actually tastes good.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

These eggplants stay green, and do not turn purple.

Here’s another look at that eggplant:

IMG_2803

There are peppers of many kinds:

Sweet peppers

Sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

A closer look at the sweet peppers

For the okra-loving folks.

Okra--the GER's favorite

Okra–the GER’s favorite

They grow green onions, just like I do, only more of them. I also got answers to questions about the garlic that never seems to grow well in my garden. One nice lady said it was probably critters. I’ll try again soon.

IMG_2795

A few shots from around the garden area:

IMG_2797IMG_2796IMG_2794IMG_2793

There’s an orchard, complete with berry bushes:

Blackberries!

Blackberries!

I think these are grapes, but I couldn’t find a label for it:

IMG_2800

And they didn’t forget the kitties, either! (I bet there’s a huge feral cat colony living there, somewhere, that comes out to party in the Garden at night.)

IMG_2798

I was quite surprised to see an area of desert plants, separated from the rest of the garden:

That's the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I've seen since the last time I was in the desert.

That’s the biggest Prickly Pear cactus I’ve seen since I left California. In 1988.

Prickly pear cactus produces fruit–did you know that?

Cactus pears, also called "Indian Fruit."

Cactus pears, also called “Indian Fruit.”

Yellow flowers develop on top of the little fruit buds, that’s why there is an indentation. Then the flower dries up and falls off (just like zucchini or peppers) and the fruit buds start growing. When they turn dark purple, you can pick them and peel them, because they’re sweet. I’ve seen “Indian Candy” at truck stops in California and Arizona. (But not in a long, long time.)There were other desert plants, as well, like this, I believe is called an Ocotillo:

IMG_2791

Yes, those needles are indeed SHARP.

NOW–remember what I said about more pesto? Get a look at this:

IMG_2805

I mentioned to one of my “tour guides” that I grow basil for the sole purpose of making pesto and freezing it for the winter. I told him about Pea & Pesto Soup, and told him that if he made that for his wife, she would be very happy with him. He reached down and cut me a couple of huge branches, big as a wedding bouquet. (Don’t read anything into that.) I stopped on the way home at Randall’s because I knew I didn’t have enough pine nuts to make two or three batches. I might start using walnuts one day–I like walnuts too, and they’re less expensive than pine nuts.

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!!

He GAVE me that basil. It was HUGE!! (Tomato plants in the foreground.)

Another one of my tour guides (listening to my discussion of said soup) asked me, “how do you have time to do all that cooking?” I smiled and said, “I’m single.” He was delighted to hear about Pea & Pesto Soup, but insisted that I make some and bring it to him to try. I’d guess he was in his mid-70’s, and he was not about to go online to find the recipe. (Most of the people working there were women.)

There are several varieties of basil growing, like this one:

It's basil, but. . . .

It’s basil, but. . . .

As I’ve done so many times, I picked a leaf and tasted it. Suddenly behind me, I heard a woman’s voice say, “That’s not culinary basil.

AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!

It wasn’t poisonous, but I did indeed spit it out quickly and ask about it. She said, “I’ve never had anyone pop a leaf in their mouth like that.”

I got to ask lots of questions, and I found out a lot of things I didn’t get from the lectures. First, I’m under-watering my plants. DUH! Second, there isn’t enough room for all the water to drain properly, so I have to get a bigger drill bit soon and drill bigger holes in the bottom of the paint buckets. If I have time next month, I might go take a ride, now that I know where it is and how easy it is to get to from here.

I went into the greenhouse to get some plants, and there were some free seeds, limit 5. That was all I needed.

French breakfast radishes!!

Sage and French breakfast radishes!!

Lettuce will be happening again, soon, too, thanks to the seeds and the cooler weather that’s coming.

It’s not a big greenhouse, but there were plenty of plants for sale. I missed the kale, though. Sorry, K.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Nice and cozy for the plants.

Now, to give you some perspective on why gardening can be a good thing, consider the Meyer lemons that I’m hoping will get bigger. I’ve got seeds from last year’s lemons, and I may need to prune the tree a bit. But on a recent trip to The Fresh Market, I found some Meyer lemons:

IMG_2308[1]

I hope to grow more and more.

I sent that picture to Neighbor K. She was quite surprised to see how much they were. NOW do you see why I want to grow them? I do hope mine grow full size before they completely ripen.

You can find out more about the Genoa Friendship Garden at this link. The Garden is open to the public on the third Monday of the month from 8:30 to 11:00 am, and they sell plants cheap. If you’re looking for something to do in Houston, there are two gardens; this one is on my side of town.

Time for fall gardening, and I’ll be hoping that radishes finally grow back there. They grow quickly, and best in the cold winter. Fingers crossed, and I’ll tell you all about it. . .if it works.

Enjoy!

Muffins and Meatloaf

Hello, Dear Readers:

Now that we’re all over the holidays again, time to get back to some “regular” cooking. For some of you, that will mean “light” cooking, some will just be cutting out the wheat, dairy, red meat, or whatever. In my case, as I mentioned last time, I’m back doing yeast free because I’ve got a bug in my gut. Again. Got more Yeast Control, and started taking it last Friday with some nausea, so I guess it’s killing off the little buggers

I’ve written about the yeast-free diet before and Candida albicans. If you are experiencing gastric things like heartburn, gas, bloating, and other embarassing symptoms, consider reading more and get rid of the yeast overgrowth. It’s an infection, like any other kind, it’s just not visible. NOTE: I’m not a doctor, nurse, medical person or scientist–just a patient who reads and pays attention. The Green Willow Tree still sells Yeast Control, and even though the price went up $4, it’s still relatively inexpensive. Especially when you consider how much not treating will cost you.

Oh, BTW–the garden will be revamped real soon. However, I bought some green onions recently to make sure I had enough for a recipe I was making, and planted the white rooted stems. Guess what? Five out of the six are growing:

The little stubs. They're growing!

The little stubs. They’re growing!

Plant the bottoms,and they grow. The rest of them have been growing for five years. I chop them and use them whenever I want to, and I don’t buy them unless, like that instance, I wanted to have the right amount.

So. . .

Are you still on your obligatory New Year’s diet? Or have you fallen off the wagon already? Most people do by the second week. It’s fine, til you get HUNGRY. Or someone brings delicious food into the office.

If you’re trying to cut down on meat, or calories, or whatever’s new and popular in dieting, you may be considering going vegetarian/vegan. Many meat substitutes are made with soy and other ingredients humans should not be ingesting. However, over the weekend, I found this little item, called Neat, in HEB and thought I should pass it along:

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

Neat, a soy-free substitute for meat.

I haven’t tried it yet, just looked. This is what’s in it:

IMG_1709

I’ll do some more investigative reporting and get back to you. Warning: if you are allergic to nuts, keep going–there are indeed tree nuts in this mix. YUM. . .

So I’m back on doing whatever I need to during the week, and housekeeping stuff mostly on the weekends. I belong to a number of groups on Facebook, many for writing and some for cooking. Neighbor K told me about Low Carb Among Friends, the group headed by George Stella. If you don’t remember that name, he had a low-carb cooking show on The Food Network; some of his recipes are still on FoodNetwork.com, if you search. Low carb faded away, except for die-hards like myself. I bought his first book, and I knew he had one more book available, but I never looked for any more. They’re all available, either as Kindle books or paperback. One day I’ll go look them up and maybe get the paperbacks.

Why not just get the Kindle version? Because. . .I found a great recipe on Facebook and couldn’t find it again, darnit! But after quite a lot of searching and re-posting it to my wall, I’ve got it for you at this link. (Scroll down past the article to find it.) Gluten free, using almond flour, and sugar free using Somersweet:

Two main ingredients

IMG_1678

And a few berries, meaning I can’t make them right now because that makes it not yeast-free, darnit–but they’re good. You start out with some berries, which, in my case were blackberries on sale:

Big, juicy blackberries!

Big, juicy blackberries!

Just cut them to the same size as blueberries and raspberries:

IMG_1679

The recipe is supposed to make 12, but I ended up with a few more. After you grease the muffin tin, start beating the eggs:

Eggs. . .

My favorite little hand mixer

And then add in some other stuff to make a batter:

Was that the blueberry batch?

That may have been the blueberry batch

Bake them, and let them cool:

IMG_1680

Don’t do this, BTW–you want to use the same size muffin tins for extras. Otherwise, if you forget like I did, they cook too fast and burn a little. . . .

And you have some delicious, fruity, gluten-free muffins for breakfast or anytime you want something sweet.

Yum. . .

Yum. . .

Simple as using a mix, and a lot healthier. (The actual recipe is below.) Except that I can’t have butter for a while, darnit. I’ll live.

Now for something completely different.

Quick question for you: Do you like meatloaf?

Lots of people are divided on the subject, much like cats (people either love them or hate them, but very little in between.)  My mother made it occasionally, but I can’t say it was particularly memorable. Then again, with 4 kids, meals don’t tend to be memorable, they tend to be as fast as you can. Meatloaf didn’t happen often, and honestly, it wasn’t one of my favorite meals until recently.

You know how I like to find meat on sale? Well, frequently ground beef is marked down for quick sale. One day I realized I had a lot of it and figured I needed to do something WITH it. . .hence meatloaf.

Additionally, I’ve developed a liking for meatloaf sandwiches, complete with mayo and other stuff, but I didn’t bake any bread this week. Didn’t feel like it this week.

Here’s the problem: in a loaf pan, they take FOREVER. One day I figured out how to bake it in about 30 minutes. But I digress. . .I’m getting ahead of the story.

See, meatloaf just needs some flavorings and a binder. You just dump them into a bowl, mix them up and bake them. Easy, right? Most standard meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs. Not in my kitchen! If I do have bread crumbs, it’s from gluten-free bread, and I’ve usually eaten them anyway.

So what do you do, Miss Food Blogger?

Longtime low-carb devotees will tell you some Parmesan cheese will work well. And it does. . .long as you’ve not given up dairy. A couple of things I’ve tried have been ground chia seeds (not much!) and this past week, about 1/8 cup of coconut flour in place of the breadcrumbs. I still used beaten eggs as a binder, but somehow without the flour component, it can fall apart. The coconut flour worked great, and no crumbly meat loaf. I’m thinking that’s a keeper.

Since I’m also a devotee of the Tex-Mex, I started tossing in a can or two of chiles. Yes, THOSE canned chiles. I get the mild ones so that they don’t burn me, but if you like it hotter, by all means, get the spicier ones, or even the canned chiles in adobo sauce. (That’s hot!)

Another “essential” in most meatloaf recipes is the presence of something I used to like but now avoid: ketchup. Unless you make it yourself, and I have, ketchup can be as much as 25% sugar–usually in the form of the evil high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A few years ago, I found a store-bought ketchup brand with “100% pure sugar.” But. . .it’s still sugar, so I don’t mess with it. (That was for the weekend boyfriend who didn’t give a fig about any healthy stuff.)

So what did you do, Miss Food Blogger?

The simple and inexpensive solution was to simply use tomato paste. A whole can. No kidding, per pound of meat, one 6-ounce can of any kind of tomato paste, so long as it’s not flavored with stuff. I can’t find the picture, but I actually did buy tomato paste once with some kind of “Italian seasoning” in it, only to discover later that it had sugar in it, and quite a lot of it. Back to Kroger I went for a can of the correct type.

As I’ve said before–if I’m eating cake, chocolate, or something else confectionary, I know I’m probably eating sugar. But if I don’t know it’s in my tomato paste, or something else where you wouldn’t expect it, I get testy about that.

If you’re diabetic, or otherwise sensitive, you get it.

So here’s the set up:

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Basics for the HeatCageKitchen meatloaf

Two tablespoons of chili powder and one tablespoon of cumin and coriander, and mix it all together with some garden onions and 1/8 cup of coconut flour:

The dry ingredients first

The dry ingredients first

And two pounds of meat, two beaten eggs, some garlic, and maybe some salt:

Getting there. . . .

Getting there. . . .

Stash it in the pan, bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, but keep an eye on it.

Now here’s the difference:

The flat meat loaf!

The flat meat loaf!

Yes, it’s FLAT. That’s the pan that goes into the toaster oven (it actually came with it) and after I line it with parchment paper, I pat down that mixture and bake it.

I know, this one split. . .I can’t find the picture of this week’s meatloaf, darnit. This week’s got a little over-done, but didn’t split. I think this is the one I used ground chia seeds in.

The pan is actually 12″ square, and is the broiler drip pan for the toaster oven. It can be used individually as a baking sheet, and can be purchased separately. Because I’ve used it so often as a baking sheet, I wore off the finish and now use parchment or foil for that. (It’s not stainless steel, I think it’s aluminum or something.)

If you don’t have a countertop oven, you can use a regular baking sheet and spread it out to whatever size you want it.

The key here is FLAT. And it takes less time than the loaf pan–a lot less.

However you make your meatloaf, there’s a chance flat might work for you.

So, that’s what’s up here, whilst my writer friends up north are digging through snow and ice and camping in until the state of emergency is lifted. One of those writer friends is in North Salem, MA–she just posted a picture showing snow that’s nearly 6 feet. Poor thing is from San Diego. . .and I am jealous. We don’t get snow in Houston very often, and it sure don’t look like a Hallmark card!

Here’s one of her pictures, if you’re in the South and don’t know what it looks like:

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

Snow from my friend Robbin in North Salem.

If you’re in the middle of all that, please take care, stay warm, and don’t go out unless you have to.

I’m in shorts and a T-shirt, and have been on my patio for a few days now. But that’s not every day, because Friday it’ll be cold again, and I’ll be back in front of the fireplace this weekend.

Stay warm, if you’re up north, and please be careful. If you’re in a baking mood, and you’re snowed in, now’s the time to bake, folks.

And if you’re of a mind, here’s my favorite yeast-free hot chocolate recipe, good anytime, even if you’re not yeast free.

Enjoy, wherever you are!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

George Stella’s Berry Muffins

Prep Time 15 min / Cook Time 25 min / Serves 12

SHOPPING LIST
Nonstick cooking spray
4 large eggs
2 cups almond flour
¾ cup sugar substitute
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup blueberries
1⁄3 cup raspberries

  1. Place oven rack in the center position and preheat to 375°. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add the almond flour, sugar substitute, vanilla extract, baking powder, and salt, and mix well, creating a batter.
  3. Gently fold the berries into the batter and fill each of the greased muffin cups 2⁄3 of the way full.
  4. Bake 20–25 minutes, until the tops of the muffins turn a light golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center of one comes out mostly clean. Let cool 10 minutes be-fore serving.

NOTE: The recipe states that strawberries should not be used because of their high water content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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