Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pumpkin Puree, and the Steps Along the Way

 

caption

Peek-a-boo!

wpid-wp-1421278131091.jpeg

wpid-wp-1421278150727.jpeg

wpid-wp-1421278168465.jpeg

Yes, it’s true.

wpid-wp-1421278210061.jpeg

wpid-wp-1421278221518.jpeg

I have a hallway full of squash.

Look closely, and you’ll see:

  • 1 Light blue pumpkin
  • 1 Jack-o’-lantern pumpkin
  • 3 Acorn squash
  • 3 Butternut squash
  • 3 Munchkins
  • 3 Spaghetti squash
  • 3 Cheese pumpkins
  • 1 Light green pumpkin

Altogether, it was a $23.50 haul way back in mid-October. Yes, October! Can you believe that? It’s been three months, and each one of these pumpkins and squashies are still looking good, no soft spots or anything. In fact, the only thing that’s changed (for some of them) is the color.

The light blue pumpkin? From a cool blue to glow-in-the-dark orange.

wpid-img_20141020_115934.jpg

wpid-img_20150114_201958.jpg

The acorns? From a dark green to brilliant orange.

wpid-img_20141020_120050.jpg

wpid-img_20150114_203058.jpg

And the spaghettis and the light green pumpkin? Yes, them too! The spaghettis (now with orange stripes on their yellow skin) and the light green pumpkin (with slowly-spreading splotches of orange) also got in the game. The other guys, meanwhile, the jack-o’-lantern, munchkins, butternuts, and cheese pumpkins (orange, orange, beige, and beige), decided they were fine the way they were.

Normally when I have a higher-than-typical quantity of local produce, like when I have lots of pick-your-own plum tomatoes from the farm, I’ll arrange them on the table in nice rows so they’re pleasing to look at as well as right there when I need them. I don’t recall exactly how the pumpkins found their hallway home, but I remember that once they were there, the picture looked right. Every day, walking to kitchen, walking to the bathroom, and walking from the kitchen and from the bathroom, there they were, reminding me of how I knew it would be a good idea to empty my wallet that one day at the self-serve farm stand and bring home more squash (if I’m being technically honest) than I needed. I would have started cooking with them sooner if had they started going bad, but in the absence of rot and the presence of beauty, there was nothing to do but to let them sit where they were and feel myself smile as I passed.

This is also a way of saying that the first step to making fresh pumpkin puree is to buy a good-looking pumpkin and think about cooking it one day. For me, the first one up from the October batch would be one of the cheese pumpkins. It was starting to get a few dark spots on its skin, and though they weren’t soft yet, I decided it was time.

wpid-img_20150113_195155.jpg

Overall, the process is fairly simple: cut the pumpkin into pieces, remove the seeds, bake the pumpkin, let it cool, peel the skin, and process the flesh.

From my own experience and reading what others do, it seems the details that go with these steps depend largely on your preferences. Some people cut the pumpkin in half or into quarters, while others cut the pumpkin into eighths (or more). Generally, the smaller the pieces are, the faster they will cook. Most people remove the seeds and strings before baking, but not everyone does. The baking temperatures seem to range from 350-400 degrees, the baking times from 30-90 minutes, and the pumpkin-in-baking-dish arrangements from face-down to face-up (and for some people, also with 1/4 cup water in the dish along with the dish covered by foil). A sufficient cooling time seems to be 10 minutes (or whenever it’s cool enough to touch). And the options for processing the baked pumpkin into pumpkin puree range from cranking a good ol’ Foley Mill to plugging in a food processor and letting electricity do the work. I’ve also seen a few suggestions for using a potato masher.

For me and my pumpkin, here’s what I did.

First I cut the pumpkin in half.

wpid-img_20150113_195802.jpg

Then, after pausing to enjoy the fresh pumpkin smell that comes with the initial cut (it almost smells like a cantaloupe, but distinctively pumpkin), I scooped out the seeds and strings.

Then I cut the halves in half, cut the resulting pieces in half again, and ended up with eight pieces.

wpid-img_20150113_201231.jpg

The next step was to bake the pumpkin pieces. The face-down arrangement is the easiest, so that’s what I went with. To do a comparison, I put two of the pieces in a separate dish with the 1/4 cup of water and covered it with foil. Then I put them all in the oven for 1 hour at 375 degrees.

wpid-img_20150113_201545.jpg

1 hour at 375 degrees turned out to be just right for this pumpkin. When I poked the pieces at that point with a knife and the knife went through easily, I knew they were done. The two baking dish arrangements also worked out well, with similar results.

wpid-img_20150113_215419.jpg

Two of the face-down pieces after baking

After letting the pumpkin pieces cool for 10 minutes, I peeled the skins.

wpid-img_20150113_225418.jpg

And then I got out the Foley Mill.

wpid-img_20150113_230708.jpg

This is one of my favorite steps of the process, as there’s a certain mechanical pleasure that comes with turning the mill. The ability to transform pumpkin flesh into pumpkin puree, using only your own power, is also one of those fun forms of culinary magic. If you’re ever at a rummage sale and see one, it could very well be one of the best $1-2 investments you make all day.

Once you have the mill, the only other thing you need is a pot to put underneath it, to collect the puree.

wpid-img_20150113_231658.jpg

On this day, the one cheese pumpkin produced close to a full pot of puree.

wpid-img_20150113_232405.jpg

wpid-img_20150113_232552.jpg

I’ll estimate the it’s about 4/5 full, and given the size of the pot (2 1/2 quarts), that means I made 64 oz of fresh pumpkin puree, or the equivalent of more than four 15-oz cans!

Now all that’s left to do is make some pumpkin pie! And pumpkin soup, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, and pumpkin recipe yet to found or suggested. If you know of a good one, let me know! There is a good chance I’ll have enough pumpkin to make it 🙂

Three to get ready

Happy New Year!

2015!

It’s going to be the best year yet!

I honestly believe each of those statements. I also believe in pausing from time to time to reflect on where you’re at and what you might do differently to keep moving forward along the path of progress. What better time to do that than at the turning of the year?

Yes, there are naysayers who may naysay that it’s an arbitrary point in time, or that few people keep the resolutions they make, or that the resolutions made are not specific enough, or something else. I think that any resolution you make is a good resolution, and if it is not completed or is partially completed come the end of the year, that’s okay. We do what we can and are ready for, and then we can reflect and make goals anew.

I’ll probably write some resolutions or goals for myself in the coming weeks, around the general categories of work, blog, personal, and fitness, and I know many of them will sound similar to ones I’ve written in the past. That’s okay. In the meantime, and in the longtime, I actually already have three that I made on New Year’s Eve to keep in mind.

I was hanging out with my brother and his family, and we went across the street to his neighbors’, where they were having some neighborhood families over. The scene was this: a gang of kids, mostly 3-6 years-old but some younger; a group of adults, mostly parents but some who were not; an impressive array of food and alcohol; and toys and confetti everywhere. The kids ran around taking part in mostly self-directed and periodically structured-fun (self-directed: collecting confetti into hats, counting down from ten, and screaming Happy New Year! and tossing the confetti in the air, and then repeating many times; structured: gathering as a group every so often so a few kids could stand under a balloon (and so the other kids could watch) as the host mom did a countdown and then popped the balloon, unleashing a shower of confetti and commensurate kid-delight). The adults, meanwhile, mostly took part in self-directed fun, also known as eating, drinking, talking, and making comments on things like the presence of Pitbull, the absence of Dick Clark, and what Taylor Swift was thinking or not thinking when she decided to wear or not wear what she did and didn’t.

It wasn’t structured-fun in the same manner as the kiddie-confetti-balloons, but the adults also had the opportunity and periodic peer-encouragement to write answers to the following four statements and to then clothespin the separate cards to the line:

  • The skill I want to learn this year is _________.
  • The good deed I want to do this year is ________.
  • The person I want to be more like this year is _______.
  • The bad habit I want to kick this year is _______.
wpid-wp-1420501781353.jpeg

A sample of some the early responses

By the time the encouragement made it to me, there were about 30 minutes left in the year. It seemed like the options for answering the cards were to think of something funny or honest. Not yet in the mindset of wanting to go real, I tried thinking of funny. The led to my first response:

  • The skill I want to learn this year is resolution-keeping.

Okay, so not really that funny, but more like a meta-jab at myself and the game. I wasn’t going to give up and not fill the cards out, though. I was going to do all three (I didn’t realize until yesterday that there was a fourth), and I was going to do them before 2014 was over. Five minutes later, after continuing to make little progress on funny, I filled in the second one:

  • The good deed I want to do this year is donating blood.

I’ve given blood three, maybe four times in my life. The first one or two times were fine, as was the most recent time. But the second to last time, a few years ago… It took me 15-20 minutes to give the pint (twice as long as usual), and it involved, part of the way through, me starting to feel really hot and then light-headed. This was remedied in the moment by being laid back and something cool being placed on my head, and then me finishing the giving that way. But the memory stuck with me and planted a seed of fear that it could happen again. Yes, it probably didn’t help that I had ridden my bike to work that morning and that it was 30 degrees outside, and that I was still feeling somewhat cold when I walked downstairs two hours later to give 🙂  Such are the learning experiences of life. In any case. Donating blood. 2015. I could do that. Actionable and accomplishable. Card number two: done. And then the last card – what should I put? “The person I want to be more like this year is _______.” Pitbull was already taken. So were some other celebrities, including some with additions, like, “A less slutty version of Taylor Swift.” I had the card in my hand for ten minutes, at first still trying to think funny, and then trying to think anyone, when I found the most honest answer:

  • The person I want to be more like this year is myself.

My brother looked at it and said, “Philosophical.” I said something like, “It’s the answer that makes the most sense.” This one also doesn’t come with lots of ready benchmarks, but it captures a lot. I’ve gotten better at being myself, but I also know I can do more. It all boils down to fear and courage, and listening, knowing, and sticking with it. Being afraid, not being confident, being worried about what other people think, not listening to myself and what I really want to do and what makes me happy in terms of work, play, relationships, goals – all of that is not being myself. The person I want to be more like this year is myself. And that’s to say: not being afraid, being confident, not worrying about what others think, listening to myself and what I want and what makes me happy – in work, play, relationships, goals, and everything. 2015 is going to be the best year yet, and part of the reason is because I’m going to be like myself even more.

On Saturday morning I was walking around town and saw a flier that said, “Blood Drive: Sunday January 4, 2015 – 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.” By the time I saw the flier again later in the day, at another spot, I already knew I was going to do it. I felt a small current of memory fear, both then and the next day, but that was to be expected. When the appointed time came around on Sunday, mostly the good history repeated itself. It took me 10 minutes to give, and I felt good (I only got just a little warm right at end when the machine beeped, saying I was done). So, I may have gone running three hours earlier in the day before giving. But – I did have a lot to eat and drink right after running, and I also got more ready this time. And it worked out.

wpid-img_20150104_233604.jpg

The forearm selfie: harder than you’d think

Happy New Year!  Thumbs up to 2015.

Giant Cupcakes, Cookies, and a Blondie

Look into my eyes…

wpid-img_20141213_124131.jpg

I’m going to make you giant cupcakes, and you’re going to like them.

wpid-img_20141213_124145.jpg

I’m going to make you giant cupcakes, and you’re going to like them.

wpid-img_20141213_124131.jpg

I’m going to make you giant cupcakes, and you’re going to like them.


So I made giant cupcakes a week and a half ago – along with some regular small ones – and I liked them. And, as a plus for any cook or baker, the other people who tried them said they liked them too. Now all I need is for another friend’s twins to also have their eighth birthday so I can make, upon request, another pair of giant cupcakes.

The first step to making giant cupcakes is to get a giant cupcake mold. This I accomplished through some internet searching, a little feedback from a friend, and a trip to the nearest store that had them in stock (Michael’s).

wpid-img_20141219_221356.jpg

If you search like I did, you’ll see that Wilton is one of the few players in the Molde de Pastelito Gigante game. Repeatedly seeing the name Wilton also triggered the good memory of the early days of MLS when we’d be watching the Metrostars on tv and Andres Cantor on the Spanish broadcast would pronounce the players names, such as Welton, with a vigor that in Welton’s case made it, “Wellllllllllllll-tonnn.” I’m pretty sure it was Andres Cantor, of you know, Goooooooooooooooooolllllllllllll! renown, but please let me know me if you know otherwise. The closest confirmation I could find through solely internet searching was this article, in which the author reminisced, “Believe me, no one could make the name ‘A.J. Wood’ sound so extraordinary.” In the end, Welton turned out to be a four-year flash in the MLS cupcake pan.

The next step after acquiring a Wellllllllllllll-tonnn Giant Cupcake Pan was to find a giant cupcake recipe. I got some intel the twins liked chocolate, and I wanted to add a simple frosting, so I went with the following two recipes I found online:

I followed each recipe as written, except for how long I baked the cupcakes (I let mine bake a little longer). What worked well in my oven, based on my sample size of two giant cupcakes, was to bake the bottom-half of the cupcake for 75 minutes and the top-half for 55 minutes (at 325 degrees). The cupcake mold is a single connected piece – the well for the bottom-half is connected to the well for the top-half (see the picture below) – so as recommended by some others, I started by only adding the batter for the bottom-half. Then, 20 minutes into the baking (with 55 minutes left), I added the batter for the top-half.

wpid-img_20141213_145347.jpg

Giant cupcake #1, here in two pieces after being taken out of the mold (top-half on L, bottom-half on R)

After the baking is done, the final steps are assembling the pieces and adding the frosting. Here’s a quick description of the process, based on what I did:

  1. Take the base of the cupcake (R in the picture above) and slice off the rounded crown part
  2. Take the top cone piece (L in the picture above) and slice off the rounded part that’s underneath
  3. Spread a layer of frosting on the now-level surfaces to serve as the glue
  4. Combine the two pieces to make one giant cupcake
  5. And then spread the frosting on top to finish it off
wpid-img_20141213_170303.jpg

Here’s how the two pieces looked after making the surfaces level (steps 1 and 2 above)

wpid-img_20141213_1726112.jpg.jpeg

And how one of the giant cupcakes looked after full assembly and frosting

In the process of making the giant cupcakes, I also confirmed The Cookie Writer’s FYI that there would be cupcake batter left over. And so what to do with the extra batter? Make more cupcakes! Small regular ones in this case.

wpid-img_20141213_173456.jpg

The full cupcake yield

After taking care of the extra batter, all that was left was the extra matter…of the rounded tops and bottoms that I had sliced off earlier to make the cupcake pieces level. Resisting the temptation to eat them right then, I turned two of these rounded parts into a giant whoopie pie, using the remaining frosting as the filling.

wpid-img_20141215_110813.jpg

In an interesting bit of culinary timing, I had also made this giant whoopie pie and the giant cupcakes exactly one year to the day after having made a made a pair of giant cookies. A few friends were having a holiday cookie-exchange party on the same day last year, and I was making regular-sized, pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies for it. When I ran out of baking sheet space but still had some batter left over, I rubber-spatulaed the remaining batter into two large pie dishes. The result? Two giant awesome pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies. One of the party’s hosts is purported to have eaten most of one of the giant cookies in a single sitting the next day. The other giant cookie is purported to still be in my freezer.

And finally, to end with one more giant cookie memory (who knew there were so many???) and yes again, art, here’s something I made back in college (and recently reacquired when my parents started cleaning out our old rooms).

wpid-img_20141219_2128032.jpg.jpeg

The class was called Two Dimensional Design, and the assignment was to tell a story using four items. (We had to do several of these.) Previously, we had been clipping interesting pictures out of magazines and making a mess with paint on paper, so I already had the top cookie picture and the 18″ x 24″ background sheet (in black-and-white splatter) ready to go. Then I added a brown layer to the background sheet, found some appropriate pictures of the family dog, and the story was complete. Cookie, cookie, everywhere, but not a bite to eat.

Before anyone feels too sorry for her, though, I can assure you that outside of art, in real dog life, she got many a food scrap, took her role as the pre-dishwasher cleaner-of-plates seriously, and was a success in the chocolate-acquiring business. One time she ate a third of my birthday cake off the kitchen table after my dad had briefly left the room, and another time she got and ate most of an entire bag of chocolate chips. It’s like they say: every dog has its day
(full of chocolate).

She was a good dog, we all loved her, and although Blondie was no giant (she came up to around our knees), I’m sure she would have had no problem taking care of an over-sized chocolate cupcake, or two.

The Art of a Radish Seed Contest

Look out below!!! I’ve got a radish bomb of a post, and I’m dropping it in three, two, one…

wpid-img_20141125_231013.jpg

Bombs away! I make no claim to be a reluctant rebel leader or avian symbol of same, but this I will promise for what’s to come – there will be art, math, pictures, words, prizes, rhymes, and more, all brought together through the magic of radish inspiration.

To pick up the story where I’d left off a few weeks ago (In the garden, looking back, looking now) , I was recounting the end of my community garden plot for the year, and in the process, I had put forward a contest — Guess the number of radish seeds (and seed pods) that I had collected from the garden, and win some seeds! And radish art!!

wpid-img_20141110_142733.jpg

How many seeds are in this many pods???

There were four entries altogether, including one that was submitted a little past the deadline and another that was left on Facebook. These ones didn’t follow all of the instructions, but as the contest-creator, participation-encourager, and all-around great guy, I’m going to declare them all valid. Done! Doing so also makes it more interesting, and given the contestant to prize-ingredient (seed) ratio, we can also make everyone a winner in The Ultimate Radish Seed Contest.

To recap, these we’re the clues:

wpid-img_20141112_215101.jpg

A profile shot of the quart-size bag

wpid-img_20141110_141653.jpg

And for reference and math, a picture of a handful of pods…

wpid-img_20141110_142608.jpg

…and a picture of the seeds from those pods

And these were the guesses:

  • Jane – 60 seeds pods, 360 seeds
  • Galina – 120 seed pods, 480 seeds
  • Jim – 240 seed pods, 650 seeds
  • Abel – (no seed pods guess), 1080 seeds

Who’s going to take it? Whose seed guess was the closest, to win first prize?? And whose seed-pod guess was the closest, for second prize?

First prize, if you recall, included not only a packet of the seeds, but also an original radish drawing. Second prize was radish seeds by themselves. The week before Thanksgiving, I was happy to find one farmer at the farmers’ market who was still selling radishes. So I bought a bunch, brought them home, and made a sketch one night.

wpid-img_20141126_010926.jpg

This particular radish might also be the bomb in the Mockingjay’s clutches above, but I can’t tell for sure. It was, in any case, one of nine good-looking models I had to choose from.

wpid-img_20141125_231234.jpg

wpid-img_20141125_230646.jpg

The radish sketch above was actually the second radish drawing that I made. The previous night, I had sketched a small cluster of the seed pods.

wpid-img_20141125_224749.jpg

wpid-img_20141125_225039.jpg

I had overlooked this cluster and another small one in my car. As a result, they hadn’t made it into the seed pod bag along with all the others. That’s a good thing though, because otherwise this drawing wouldn’t exist! And now as there are two drawings, the first-prize winner will have a choice to make: select the one with the radish, or select the other awesome one with the seed pods.

I ended up making a few more drawings – all radish-inspired – but first, back to the contest.

The first step in counting the seeds was to count the seed pods. To do this, I took all the pods out of the bag and then lined them up in groups of ten.

wpid-img_20141207_183700.jpg

To the right of the pencils, I placed all the full pods. Large or small, as long as they weren’t broken, I put them here. To the left, I put all the broken or partial pods. Any extra pieces, such as twigs or pod-scraps without seeds, went into the non-pod pile above. For the purpose of getting a final tally, I counted each partial pod as a half pod.

wpid-img_20141207_1829092.jpg.jpeg

The full pods

wpid-img_20141207_1834582.jpg.jpeg

And the partial pods

And so the final number of pods? Let’s do the math: 202 + (64/2) = 234.

Congratulations, Jim!! You won second prize. And did so with an impressively close guess.

But what about the number of seeds?? Let’s take a look. I noticed that at least a few of the contestants used some math for their guesses – Jane with a 6 seeds/pod multiplier, Galina with a 4 seeds/pod multiplier, and Jim with a… 2.70833333333 multiplier. Based on firsthand knowledge from doing the clues, I thought there would be about 5-6 seeds per pod. And that turned out to be about right, but only if I included just the larger and the most dried out, lightweight, and maraca-like pods. The bag contained a variety of pod sizes and types, and I included them all.

As I was opening the the pods, at first I was disappointed that they weren’t all perfect maracas and didn’t all have lots of perfect seeds. But then I reminded myself that it’s okay for things – for nature, for people, for anything – not to be perfect, and that it’s the actually imperfections that make things real and good. To wish or demand otherwise would be to seek something that’s not there, and to court the opposite of peace and happinesses. As I was tallying the seeds, I tried keeping that in mind.

All the seeds from the pods

All the seeds from the pods

And so the final number of seeds??? Good question! The picture above shows 852 seeds, and I collected another 75 seeds from the bottom of the bag (they had already fallen out of their pods), so that makes for a grand total of 927.

Zoom in on the picture, though, and you can see that the (250) seeds to the right have a different, potentially nonviable aspect to them, and the ones down below (27 on the left, 54 on the right) have more of that. There was part of me that didn’t want to include them – they weren’t perfect! and it wasn’t how I’d planned it in my head (my radish-contest exuberance and seed-saving inexperience had me thinking I was going to find only viable seeds and so would only have perfect seeds to count). In the spirit of acceptance and imperfection, though, I say let’s count them all. So there you have it: 927 seeds.

Congratulations, Abel! You won first prize.

And with that, I have one more thing say:

wpid-img_20141210_1927232.jpg.jpeg

Actually, including that one, I have seven more things, or rather seven drawings with radish wisdom and gusto. Like the discovery of the radish flowers in the garden, and the development of the contest that followed, the following additonal art series wasn’t planned at the beginning but rather happened happily along the way.

For your enjoyment, and for the radish growers of America, if and when they decide it’s time to form a national radish promotion council, here you go, the full series. Enjoy!

wpid-img_20141210_1927232.jpg.jpeg


 

wpid-img_20141210_1930312.jpg.jpeg


 

wpid-img_20141210_193231.jpg


 

wpid-img_20141210_193354.jpg


 

wpid-img_20141210_1936012.jpg.jpeg


 

wpid-img_20141210_1941522.jpg.jpeg


 

wpid-img_20141210_1946422.jpg.jpeg

Rutabaga Surprise

When I saw it, while doing my final Thanksgiving shopping yesterday afternoon at the farmers’ market, the first question in my head wasn’t whether or not I should buy it, but rather, “How could I not buy it?!?”

wpid-img_20141126_141926.jpg

It wasn’t the spelling.

It wasn’t that I needed a rutabaga – the items on my list were cider, apples for applesauce, yams, and Brussels sprouts.

It was the ridiculousness.

The picture above doesn’t convey the magnitude, so I took a few more when I got home.

wpid-img_20141126_195447.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_195811.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_195923.jpg

Before I bought it, I asked the farmer, “So what’s the story behind this rutabaga?” He said, “Yeah, they got really big this year.” He added that he’d sold an even bigger one that morning, but then he checked and said, “Actually this is the biggest one so far, 12 plus pounds. I’m digging more this weekend.” He said it all with a smile and cheerful energy that came across not only as rutabaga-pride, but as his natural baseline.

When I asked what people usually do with a 12-pound rutabaga, he gave the following recipe suggestion, which mirrors a lot of what I found later on the internet: cook it like you cook potatoes, mash it like you mash potatoes, and then add it to your mashed potatoes. Rutabagas are sweeter than pototaoes, he said, and will add a another element.

Meanwhile, a second farmer came over and said, “Yeah, we had a chef buy one the other day, and he said he cooks it and then purées it with a whole stick of butter.” He expressed disbelief at the idea of using a whole stick but thought it could work nonetheless.

When I got home, I decided to move the applesauce-making back until to today (simmering as we speak!) and make a rutabaga-something last night. So I sliced a couple chunks off the 12-pounder and went about making a small batch of mashed rutabaga. The final recipe was a product of farmer advice, internet ideas, my lack of a few things like milk and potatoes, and experimentation. You might say it was…a mash up.

Thanksgiving Mashed Rutabaga

  • 1 regular-sized rutabaga (let’s say 3-4 lbs)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 3 ½ Tbsp butter
  • 3 ½ Tbsp agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
  1. Peel the rutabaga, chop into 1-2″ pieces, and boil until soft, about 30 minutes
  2. Drain the water, and add the evaporated milk and butter to the now-cooked rutabaga
  3. Mash everything with a masher (or blend with a food processor)
  4. Add the final ingredients – the agave, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar

wpid-img_20141126_212842.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_213212.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_214754.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_232358.jpg

wpid-img_20141126_232928.jpg

Looks good with the Brussels sprouts, right? Someone also once told me that everything looks good on a blue plate or in a blue bowl.

The taste is good, too. It’s kind of like whipped potatoes, but with a sweet earthy note. The trick that got me to the end point was adding the agave nectar. It needed a little more of the sweet, so I tested the following options on separate small amounts of the mixture: sugar (too grainy), honey (the sweetness didn’t blend in well), maple syrup (also didn’t blend in too well), and agave (infused itself nicely with rest).

And with that, it’s just about time for me to head over to my parents’ for Thanksgiving and see my family.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

And if you have a great rutabaga recipe, feel free to let me know or share a link. I do have about 8 pounds left.

Eggplant Parmesan Sloppy Joes

If I ever had a restaurant, this would go on the menu.

wpid-img_20141117_205933.jpg

It’s quick, easy, uses whole ingredients, and is delicious.

I made it for the first time about a month ago, shortly after making the regular Eggplant Parmesan. I had gotten another eggplant and some tomatoes from the farm share, and to try something new, I decided to make tomato sauce with diced eggplant. At some point along the way, I remembered I also still had fresh bread crumbs and Parmesan and mozzarella. So I added them, too. The result: awesome Sloppy Joes. 

Eggplant Parmesan Sloppy Joes

The ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • 1 ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated
  • 3/4 cup fresh mozzarella, grated
  • 1 ⅝ tsp salt

The steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat
  2. Add the onions and garlic, and sauté until soft, about 15 minutes
  3. Add the eggplant and tomatoes, and simmer over medium heat until the eggplant is mostly soft, about 30 minutes
  4. Add the arugula
  5. Add the bread crumbs
  6. Add the Parmesan and mozzarella
  7. And then add the salt

Here’s how everything looked at the beginning, when I made it this week.

wpid-img_20141117_190550.jpg

The first step was dicing the vegetables.

The onion (I used three small ones in place of one large one this time)

The onions (I used three small onions this time)

Garlic

Garlic

wpid-img_20141117_193254.jpg

Eggplant (remember to peel first)

wpid-img_20141117_195158.jpg

And the tomatoes

To save time, I actually did the dicing in two parts. I diced the onions and garlic first, and then while they were sauteing in the olive oil, I diced the eggplant and tomatoes.

wpid-img_20141117_195047.jpg

The onions and garlic, looking good after 15 minutes

Once the onions and garlic were ready, I added the eggplant and tomatoes.

wpid-img_20141117_195300.jpg

I’ve found that when cooking eggplant, the key for me is to cook it long enough so that it no longer has its initial toughness, but not so long that it becomes completely soft. A 30-minute simmer worked well in this case.

With the eggplant cooked, I then added the rest of the ingredients: the arugula, bread crumbs, and Parmesan and mozzarella.

wpid-img_20141117_202444.jpg

The arugula

wpid-img_20141117_203004.jpg

Bread crumbs

wpid-img_20141117_203248.jpg

wpid-img_20141117_203916.jpg

And the Parmesan and mozzarella

And then I added the salt and was done!

If you don’t have arugula, you could also try spinach or chard, or leave it out. I like the extra color and taste that the arugula leaves add to the Sloppy Joe mixture, and they go well, too, as an extra topping in the bun. This time I added arugula and a few tomato slices to the bun. An extra piece of mozzarella or Parmesan is another great addition.

wpid-img_20141117_205933.jpg

And if you have small crackers and plum tomatoes, you can also make little Sloppy Joe bites!

wpid-img_20141117_205544.jpg

wpid-img_20141117_205635.jpg

Whether as an appetizer or the main course, I’ll definitely be making this again. It’s like Eggplant Parmesan, but inverted, and in the same category of awesome.

In the garden, looking back, looking now

I got the call about two and half weeks ago. It was the Recreation Department, letting me know the community garden season would be ending soon. It was time to clean up my plot so they could rototill and prepare the garden for the winter and next year.

Listening to the message, one of my initial thoughts was, I could have planted more, weeded more…written more. There was the basil to cook with and write about, the tomatoes to see ripen, and the sunflowers to watch grow and bloom. But that’s okay. I’m writing now, and right now I’m thinking about the pictures and words that will follow here, from my recent last visits to the garden. I’m also thinking about how later on, should a thought or recipe bring a garden moment to mind, I can revisit the garden at those times, too.

wpid-img_20140907_114134.jpg

This is not how the garden looked this past weekend, one week into November. But before getting to the present, I wanted to share a little warmth from the past.

wpid-img_20140907_112220.jpg

wpid-img_20140907_112252.jpg

wpid-img_20140907_112922.jpg

The morning glories had a good time with the sun, too. These pictures were all from early September.

wpid-img_20140907_111817.jpg

wpid-img_20140907_111830.jpg

The interesting thing about my last visits to the garden – there was a brief stop during a morning run, the day after the call; a longer visit a few days later, to look in again; and two final trips last weekend, for the final clean-up – is that even though it was a more muted scene, with browns and fleeting greens before the final frost, there was still a lot to see and think about.

A week and a half ago, from a few yards away, this is what I saw:

wpid-img_20141031_080530.jpg

The exterior scene matched my expectations – I knew it would look a little overgrown and tired, and take on a subdued palette – but then, upon walking around, and in, the garden, I realized there was more. It wasn’t from seeing up close the morning glory seeds that I knew I was going to collect, or from considering the collard greens that had leaves yet to harvest. It was the flowers. There were a few persistent flowers yet. There were a few morning glories and some radish flowers.

wpid-img_20141031_080552.jpg

wpid-img_20141031_080644.jpg

How often do you get to see a radish flower?

I must have seen some radish flowers earlier in the year, but now in November, with fewer distractions, it felt like I was seeing them for the first time. The novelty reminded me of the obvious – when you let plants grow, whether by accident or design, they know how to take care of themselves. They do what they’re made to do – they flower, produce seeds, and foster the next generation. The radish is no dummy.

In this case, it was a combination of luck and purpose from which the radish flowers bloomed. I didn’t harvest all the radishes initially, and then later when the remaining ones were past their, shall we say, salad days, I had the thought, ‘The plants aren’t taking up too much room…Why don’t I leave them there and see what happens?’

For the radish-uninitiated, what happens is the following: the radish bulb sitting at ground level gets a little bigger, while the rest of the plant above ground grows a lot. In the garden this year, it was as if the radish plants were playing and ultimately winning a game of, ‘Let’s see how many branches and seed pods we can produce by the fall, to make sure there are more radishes next year and to impress curious onlookers.’

The following pictures are all from November, but they convey a sense of the progression. 

wpid-img_20141108_135146.jpg
wpid-img_20141108_135637.jpg
wpid-img_20141108_135757.jpg
wpid-img_20141109_152148.jpg
wpid-img_20141108_135536.jpg

Flowers,
Green pods,
Dried pods,
Seedlings, and
More seedlings.

I felt a little bad that these little ones wouldn’t make it much longer with colder weather and rototiller to come, but their presence was also reassuring. The radish plants, left to themselves, had produced some good seeds. As I was cleaning up the garden, I collected all of the dried pods. They filled up more than half of a quart-size bag – a decent yield from the four or so radish plants that had been left to grow.

wpid-img_20141110_142733.jpg

If you’re curious as to how many radish seeds are in this many dried pods, I have an easy three-step process you can use.

1. Consider the yield from a smaller number of pods:

wpid-img_20141110_141653.jpg

wpid-img_20141110_142608.jpg

2. Consider the number of pods in the bag. As an aid, I’ll also give you the profile.

wpid-img_20141112_215101.jpg

3. Use your best math skills to determine the number of seeds.

This actually worked for me in my eighth grade German class when my guess was within 10 and I won the approximately 243 Gummi Bäers in the jar. At a summer picnic this year though, when I tried to guess the number of candy bars in a large jar, I was way off. But radish seeds. And seed pods. And a quart bag. Now there’s a contest!

To be honest, the idea of inaugurating a radish seed contest was not in my head when I started writing this post. But now that we’re here — Let’s do it!


The Ultimate Radish Seed Contest

These will be the rules, and the prizes:

  1. Guess the number of seeds by leaving a comment below.
  2. For a tie-breaker and the second prize, also guess for the number of seed pods.
  3. All seed-guesses must be at least 5 numbers apart.
  4. It’s okay for guesses to go over or under the actual number.
  5. The guess closest to the actual number of seeds wins. 

First prize: A packet of radish seeds, plus a small original hand-drawn radish sketch
Second prize: A packet of radish seeds

The last day to guess will be Friday, November 21, 2014 – a week from today. Then I’ll open the bag and start counting. I’ll also draw a few pictures and then announce the results.


IMG_20140615_145323

This is going to be fun. In fact, it already is. It also brings me back to the garden, thinking of the many different yields and everything the garden has to offer. There are vegetable yields, when you plant vegetables. There are flower yields, when you plant flowers. And along the way, there’s always more. There is a little help from a garden neighbor one day. There is trading extra plants another week. And there is practicing Spanish with some of the gardeners during the year. There are also sunflowers to enjoy. There are volunteer collards to appreciate. And there seeds to collect and play games with.

In addition to the radish seeds, I also collected basil, cilantro, and morning glory seeds during my last visit to the garden. The morning glory seeds are in another quart-size bag, and the basil and cilantro, clipped as dried stalks from the garden, are for now providing household decoration.

wpid-img_20141110_143446.jpg

wpid-img_20141110_134814.jpg

And so the garden ends for the year, but it also continues along with everything else. There are stories to write, pictures to draw, and future gardens to plan. And there are also, I will add, seeds to count.

‘Tis the season

It’s Halloween time! It’s when pumpkins can become people (with and without bodies), people can become whatever they like, and all gourds come to life. It can be complicated, trying to figure out what all the pumpkins and others are thinking and saying, but leave it to me. I’ve been listening and watching, and I also speak a little calabaza, so I can help translate. I wager it’ll be entertaining, but if by the end you’re gourd to death, then, well, I think it worked out too.

wpid-img_20141018_105605.jpg

wpid-img_20141018_105728.jpg

wpid-img_20141018_105619.jpg

Lettuce scare you!

With our pointy plastic heads.

wpid-img_20141011_220152.jpg

Haha! That was a good one! Makes me happy and feel all warm inside.

wpid-img_20141025_100401.jpg

Laugh all you want… You don’t have to wear these overalls everyday.

wpid-img_20141020_115953.jpg

Cheese, pumpkins can be so cranky sometimes.

wpid-img_20141031_005107.jpg

My last soul-sucking job made me cranky too… So I decided to leave and BRANCH out into other goblinry.

wpid-img_20141020_120050.jpg

Well that’s acorn-y one.

wpid-img_20141020_115934.jpg

Speak for yourself, the quality of that one made me green with envy.

wpid-img_20141020_115748.jpg

Us too!

wpid-img_20141030_190532.jpg

I butternut comment or another squash is gonna make fun of me… But aren’t you guys really blue?

wpid-img_20141020_120019.jpg

True, true… You’re blue, orange you?

wpid-img_20141020_120035.jpg

I’m sensing a fight… En gourd!

wpid-img_20141020_120742.jpg

Okay enough of that silly stuff… Does this picture make my butt look big?

wpid-img_20141025_113731.jpg

Hubba, Hubbard.

Let's hang out in my cupboard.

Let’s hang out in my cupboard.

wpid-img_20141020_120742.jpg

Muuummmmmmmm!

wpid-img_20141025_090107.jpg

It’s okay, I know… They should have been more Delicata.

wpid-img_20141018_110146.jpg

I think it’s time to HEAD out to the party, meet some new squash… What are you going to dress up as?

wpid-img_20141011_220207.jpg

Me?… I’m going to be a pumpkin.

*wink

Popcorn cabbage

It’s a topping.
It’s a side dish.
It’s an entree, if you really like cabbage and corn and red pepper.

It’s popcorn cabbage!

That’s the name I’ve given it at least, based on the happy way it reminds me of salty, buttery popcorn, while also bringing a sweet note and a smooth texture. Sounds good, right?

wpid-img_20141026_213423.jpg

Popcorn cabbage, all done

The recipe’s orgins are based in CSA serendipity. Having gotten a head of cabbage in my weekly share a few months ago, I had the thought, Why don’t I try something new?

For me and cabbage, this meant not letting the cabbage sit in the fridge for several weeks and then using it as a minor soup ingredient or as a lettuce replacement for tacos and taco salad. I happened to also have an ear of corn at the time, and with my first thought being, ‘I want to try something that cooks the crunch out of the cabbage,’ I started by sauteing the cabbage in olive oil. Then the rest  followed from there, with the addition of a chopped red pepper and fresh corn.

Popcorn cabbage

The ingredients:

  • 3/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 ear of corn, kernels cut off to use
  • 1 tsp salt

The steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat
  2. Add the cabbage and sauté until almost soft
  3. Add the red pepper
  4. Add the water and continue to cook till the cabbage is soft and the pepper is mostly soft (you can cover the frying pan for a few minutes to quicken this step, if you want)
  5. Add the corn, and cook the mixture for about three minutes
  6. And then add the salt

It’s easy to make, so if if you’re looking to try something new, give it a try. Here’s how the ingredient roll-call and the steps looked when I made it this week.

wpid-img_20141026_190712.jpg

Yes, it wasn’t the biggest head of cabbage I’d gotten this year, but it was the pointiest.

An upstanding red pepper

An upstanding red pepper

wpid-img_20141026_195952.jpg

One of six I ears I got at the farmers’ market

As for the steps, the initial preparation was quick. I chopped the cabbage and red pepper into small pieces, and I cut the kernels off the corn. My technique for the corn is to break the ear in half, stand each half upright on a cutting board (one half at a time), and then slice the kernels off with a knife.

From conehead to flattop

From conehead to flattop

Half a pepper, diced

Half a red pepper, diced

And the corn

And the fresh corn

With that done, all that is left is to add the ingredients one at a time and cook. Since this was my first time cooking conehead cabbage, I also had a cabbage realization: the top part of a conehead cabbage cooks faster than any part of a regular cabbage (which makes sense since the leaves on a conehead are thinner).

wpid-img_20141026_203336.jpg

wpid-img_20141026_204659.jpg

wpid-img_20141026_205931.jpg

I’ve tried a few variations since the first time I made it, such as also sauteing an onion at the beginning (not bad, but it takes away from the corn and cabbage; the simpler the better for this one) and making it without the chopped red pepper (also not bad, but then it’s missing the color, the art, and an added taste-subtlety of similar size).

Plus, if the recipe uses half a red pepper, you can cut the other half for a snack!

wpid-img_20141026_212706.jpg

After I was done, I did some online searching and found that there are indeed some recipes out there similar to mine. For some reason though, they’re all called Sauteed Cabbage. To the internet and the world, I thus add the following entry: Popcorn Cabbage. Sometimes all you need are three ingredients.

Eggplant Parmesan

And then, there was Eggplant Parmesan.

IMG_20141012_121857

It’s actually pretty easy to make, especially when you have all the ingredients all ready and set to go:

  • Tomato sauce
  • Fried eggplant
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded

Here are the basic steps:

Step 1

wpid-img_20141012_105945.jpg

If you’re like me and made fresh bread crumbs for the eggplant, the first step is, Clean out the oven.

wpid-img_20141012_110026.jpg

I mentioned earlier that I had already made Eggplant Parmesan about three times this year. I’ll mention now that two of those times, I started preheating the oven for the eggplant before I remembered to clean up the bread pieces. The smell of something burning, in these cases, provided a good reminder of this step.

Step 2

wpid-img_20141011_225737.jpg

The next step is getring the baking dishes ready. This means adding a small layer of tomato sauce to each dish. If you’re making individual Eggplant Parmesan pieces, this is particularly important so the areas around the pieces don’t burn.

Step 3

Now add all the ingredients, one after another, to form the Eggplant Parmesan pieces – the eggplant, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and then the mozzarella cheese. The process for the layered version is basically the same – just repeat the same ingredient-steps to create however many layers you want. In terms of the cheese to be added, I shredded the Parmesan fine and the mozzarella regular-size.

Pictured below are the steps for the individual pieces:

wpid-img_20141011_230401.jpg

wpid-img_20141011_230805.jpg

wpid-img_20141011_232622.jpg

wpid-img_20141011_234244.jpg

To the right in the pictures above is a second dish where I did the layered version. Three layers were a good fit for this standard 9″ x 13″ x 2″ glass baking dish and for the amount of eggplant I had prepared.

When making the layers, I packed the eggplant pieces a little more tightly so there weren’t many gaps. Then following in turn, I added enough tomato sauce to make the sauce uniform on top of that.

wpid-img_20141011_230859.jpg

Here: the tomato sauce on top of the eggplant while making the first layer

Then the cheeses are added, spread evenly on top of the sauce, and the layer’s done. Each of the three layers was the same: eggplant, tomato sauce, and then the Parmesan and mozzarella.

Step 4

With the Eggplant Parmesan pieces and/or layers now ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake until the sauce starts to bubble and the cheese all melts together (and begins to crisp just slightly). This took me 25 minutes baking at 350 (and then 5 minutes more at 400 to get the desired crisp). Maybe better would have been 20 minutes at 375 – something to try next time.

wpid-img_20141012_114929.jpg

The individual pieces

IMG_20141012_121857

wpid-img_20141012_115030.jpg

And the layered version

IMG_20141012_122038

Overall, I’d call it a satisfying culinary and creative week. My original plan was to do everything in a row – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – but with writing and other things, the cooking got more spread out:

Of course, you can also do everything on one day. It’s really only the two middle steps, the eggplant and the sauce, that take some time. There are also ways to make the sauce more quickly, like simmering it for less time (or using canned tomatoes instead of fresh).

If you try making it, let me know how it turns out. I bet it’ll be good. For me, eating some warm, freshly-made Eggplant Parmesan is a melts-in-your-mouth experience that often makes me think, and sometimes say out loud, Wow, this is good.

IMG_20141014_193125