Container Gardening + Plant Collecting

Typically, by mid-June, I’d be nurturing a well-groomed garden and plucking off a zucchini here, a tomato there. In previous years, this was the case.

This year is an exception. The recurring late-freezes in April, followed by losing Bill, meant our whole spring was not ideal for lazy days of gardening. By the time I had a mind to plant a few things, the garden space was overgrown with weeds and I didn’t have the time or energy to tackle it.

That’s when my houseplant problem took a turn for the worse.

In between freelance assignments and finishing school for the year, I started picking up a new houseplant on benign trips to Walmart, or splitting a larger plant I already had into two baby plants. I fussed and piddled about.

I even set out two bird feeders just so I’d have something to fiddle with.

It finally occurred to me that I was missing a garden and, instead of making my workspace a complete jungle, I should just plant a container garden to satisfy this need to connect with nature and grow stuff. Why this didn’t occur to me two months ago is a mystery.

I chose herbs for summertime cooking (pesto!), but I also selected three Japanese Eggplants because they are my favorites to grow and eat.

Japanese Eggplant is long and slender, unlike its bulbous American cousin, and is perfect when roasted with herbs. I hope this works because container gardening has already satisfied my springtime/summertime need to fuss in the yard and pick at things.

We eventually cleared out the overgrown garden space (Chuck with his weed-eater and me with my shovel), so perhaps I’ll plant a second season garden in August and cross my fingers for a decent autumn crop.

It’s unclear, though, whether or not container gardening has dampened by houseplant problem. Jury’s still out.

Lastly, how sweet is this boy?

Blog Challenge Day 30: Comfort food

What is my favorite comfort food?

If I were in the deepest need of comfort of the provisional kind, I would make a large batch of carbonara and a double chocolate cake. I mentioned carbonara in my favorite foods post, and it’s truly that good. It takes about 20 minutes to make and it’s incredibly cheap if you substitute regular bacon for pancetta.

Pasta Carbonara

Ingredients
1 lb. rigatoni
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta (Italian bacon), chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine (I always use a Pinot Grigio)
3 large egg yolks
Two handfuls freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt, or omit it entirely)

Directions
1. Boil a large pot of water for the rigatoni. Add a liberal amount of salt. Cook the pasta to al dente.

2. At the same time, warm up a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and brown the pancetta for a few minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook together for two minutes. Be watchful not to burn the garlic.

3. Deglaze the pan with the wine and stir up all the drippings. Turn down the temperature so the sauce simmers.

4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and add one ladleful of starchy cooking water from the pasta pot. Temper the water – pour it slowly into the eggs as to not cook them. Drip by drip, whisk the hot water and egg yolks together.

5. Drain the rigatoni and add it to the pancetta and oil. Remove from heat entirely. Toss the pasta so the noodles are coated. Next, rapidly toss the egg mixture with the pasta. Finally, toss in the cheese and add pepper. (Taste it before you add salt. Between the cheese and wine, you may be good to go.)

homemade carbonara

Spicy Roasted Carrots

Super easy, super delicious.

Grab a bag of whole carrots. Wash them and cut off their crusty ends.
whole carrots

Chop them into sturdy sticks. slice

Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder. (I don’t have specific measurements for the seasonings, but you know what you like taste-wise.) Spread out on parchment paper.  toss and roast

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and roast for 30 minutes. I like my carrots a little crispy on the ends.
roasted carrot sticksThey are a delight! ♥

 

Easy Walnut Pesto

Much happiness here ♥
Garden love

beautiful basilA few weeks ago I learned that I’ve been pruning basil the wrong way, and now that I’ve been more diligent about picking off the correct leaves, my basil plant is flourishing! So much pesto!

Easy Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves (approximately)
1/3 cup walnuts
1 large garlic clove (or 2 small ones)
sprinkle of coarse salt
few turns of the pepper mill
olive oil for streaming (about 1/2 cup for thicker pesto, 2/3 oil for pasta sauce)

Put the basil, walnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper into the food processor and cover with the lid. Stream in the olive oil while processing. Use more or less oil depending on the consistency you prefer.

My favorite way to eat pesto is to use it as a sandwich spread, which requires less oil. So delicious!

making the mushroom pesto sandwich

mushroom pesto sandwich

 

Gluten Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

This recipe is a mashing of three recipes I have for gluten free cookies. Since eliminating flour from my diet in November 2009, I’ve baked very little on account of how hard it is to get the flour substitutions right with binder/rising agents. I usually resort to store-bought mixes, but I really prefer to make everything on my own if possible.

These cookies were a win with almost everyone. Jackson doesn’t like whole or chopped nuts, so that was his only complaint. The rest of us ate a whole batch in two days.

Gluten Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup Nutella (I used Kroger’s version of Nutella, which has crunchy bits of hazelnut)
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 handful chopped nuts (I’ve used walnuts and sliced almonds, both of which are fabulous)
1 handful dark chocolate chips (I used 60% cacao)

1. Combine peanut butter, Nutella, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Use a mixer on medium speed to combine entirely.

cookie ingredients2. Add the nuts and chocolate chips. Mix with a spoon until combined.

add chocolate

3. Form into balls (ping pong ball size) and mash down with a fork onto parchment paper. (Do not forget the parchment paper! Most necessary!)

chill dough4. Chill in the fridge for two hours.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Do not let them overcook! These are fragile little baby cookies. ♥

gluten free chocolate peanut butter cookies

*makes approximately 20 small cookies; they need to set, so let them cool completely before eating

 

Easy Homemade Salsa

If you’re growing your own tomatoes or have access to buy some really great ones, you can make your own salsa all summer long.

Start with about 20 ripe medium tomatoes and two clean Ball jars.

prep tomatoesBoil the tomatoes for 3-5 minutes to loosen the skins.

quick boil tomatoes

Let them cool at least ten minutes after boiling so you can handle them properly. The skins should slip off with ease.

wrinkly

It gets messy here, so have paper towels handy. Carve out the cores and discard them with the skins. What you’re left with are slimy balls of tomato flesh and slime. Sounds yummy, right? If you like chunky salsa, rough chop the tomatoes and dump them back into the large pot you just used to boil them. (Minus the water, of course). If you like pureed salsa like I do, drop the tomatoes into the food processor and blitz until they are the consistency you like.

blitz

Add the pureed tomatoes to the large pot with 1/2 cup white vinegar and a package of salsa seasoning. I use Mrs. Wages. You could be really fancy here and come up with your own seasoning mix, but… Eh. This is easier.

seasoning

boil

Boil the tomatoes, vinegar, and seasoning for about 10-15 minutes. Your kitchen will smell fabulous. Pour the salsa into two large canning jars and let cool to room temperature before placing them in the fridge.

JarIf you’re going to save the salsa for winter, you’ll need to can them properly. However, we’ll eat through this salsa within the month, so keeping it in the fridge is fine.

Enjoy! ♥

Our garden grows

The garden has exploded, which feels my heart with pride and joy. I made a huge mistake by planting the strawberries too close together, so I’ll be snipping the vines as we go along in the season. Live and learn.

They are pretty little things, though.

first strawberries

We’re also having success with the buttercrunch lettuce. Gorgeous and great for wraps!

Lettuce

The sweet onions and tomatoes are doing well, just like last year. The only thing I’m not sure about is the eggplant. We’re having a bug problem there. Otherwise, this year’s garden is quite lovely.

Sweet onions

Tomatoes

Happy Weekend, friends! If you haven’t yet watched Jackson’s second movie, Iron Cat and Thicken, please do so! He’d love to hear your feedback. ♥

Salsa, baby!

With a healthy yield of ripe tomatoes, the only thing a girl can do is make a ton of salsa.

how I make salsaSO GOOD. I have one more batch of salsa to make before I pull up all the plants (which are all dying a slow death) and prepare the beds for a fall garden. To date, this has been the most satisfying season of gardening I’ve ever experienced. Thanks be to God for making the earth so rich.

everything you need

Basil Cashew Pesto

It was time to prune the basil, so it was time to make pesto. Thank you, Tupelo Honey Cafe, for an excellent recipe.

Tupelo Honey Pesto RecipeFresh herbs Into the processor Ready to blitzBasil Cashew PestoI couldn’t wait for pasta. The pesto was lovingly spread on a salami and smoked provolone sandwich. Salami, Provolone, and Pesto SandwichSomeone needs to share this joy with me because no one else in the house will eat pesto. So who’s coming to dinner?

 

Pickle Perfection

It was so simple! With three fat cucumbers from my garden, dill pickling spices, vinegar, and water, we have the most delicious, fresh, crispy dill pickles in our refrigerator. I canned them on Tuesday and Jeremy did a taste test this morning. His eyes got big as he said, “They’re SO GOOD! You should sell them at the Farmer’s Market!”

Maybe pickles are my money maker.

Perfect Pickles

 

Happy Weekend to you, friends!

Bacon and Pancakes

I bought a small bag of conversation hearts and made little Valentines for the boys with construction paper. Last night I laid out their tokens thoughtfully and sweetly, as if they cared that everything was symmetrically displayed on the kitchen table. All my perfectionist nonsense went into showing my children that I love them.

But how can I really show the boys that they are special to me? Bacon and pancakes.

And Legos.

BaconHeart-shaped pancakes

Lego Chima

Happy Valentine's Day

Thanksgiving 2012

If there is one thing my sister and I are grateful for it is our boys’ ability to interact with one another as if they see each other all the time and not just twice a year. They love each other so dearly despite the distance. There have never been reintroductions or urgings to play. As soon as these four are in the same room, they are off and running. And then there are major tears when it’s time to leave. As usual, Thanksgiving went  by too quickly.

Photos from the 2012 North vs. South game tomorrow!

Better than Fritos

I really like crunchy, salty snacky foods and often resort to one serving of a family-size bag of Fritos. I love Fritos! But, this cannot go on if I intend to control my cholesterol, and peanuts only satisfy me for a short while until I finally need chocolate or candy corn to go with them.

So, I’ve been eating the heck out of roasted garbanzo beans. The saltier and spicier, the better! Today I roasted them with ranch flavoring and even doubled the batch because I knew my self-control would be weak. Fortunately for my cholesterol and waistline, they’re low in fat and calories (compared to Fritos, anyway) and packed full of fiber and protein. Enjoy!

Roasted Garbanzo Beans
2 cans of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried
1 tablespoon (or so) of olive oil
Liberal amounts of salt and pepper, plus additional spices to your taste (I’ve used a combination of chili powder and cayenne, as well as garlic and onion powder.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the dried chickpeas with oil and spices and spread evenly onto a non-stick baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, then toss them around in the pan so the chickpeas turn over. Roast another 15-20 minutes, until the chickpeas are a caramel shade of brown. Roast longer for ultra-crunchiness.

Jennie creates a baby shower

It’s been years since I’ve had the pleasure of throwing an occasion party, so I was happy to host our cousin Amanda’s baby shower in our home. We had a wonderful turnout – so many guests that I had to bring in patio chairs for enough seating! (I will definitely invest in folding chairs now that I know our living room and library capacity!)

Thank you to everyone who joined us and helped me shower gifts and love upon Amanda and baby Connor.

Continue reading “Jennie creates a baby shower”

Mike Isabella’s Graffiato

When you care about food as deeply as we do, deciding what restaurant to patron is a well thought out plan on Girls Weekend. It’s even more important when you visit a city (like Washington DC) that is saturated with celebrity restaurants. In this case, we chose a Top Chef celebrity restaurant: Graffiato by Top Chef All-Stars runner-up Mike Isabella.

In a word, OMG. I’m just going to dump all of the photos on the page and let you drool. There are roasted pistachios, skirt steak with potatoes, corn-stuffed ravioli, pizza with proscuitto and the most perfect double chocolate gelato there ever was ever in the whole wide world.

And then there are three very happy friends who waited all night long to see Mike Isabella waltz out of the kitchen to greet us, but he never showed up. Oh well!

Brain Food

Occasionally I’ll make the boys a hot breakfast in the morning. I love to cook, but not before I’ve had my two cups of coffee. Fortunately they are content with cereal, which means we save the hot breakfast treat for weekends.

Now that we’re back to school, making a good morning meal can boost the boys’ ability to do their work eagerly and cheerfully. Monday morning I whipped up a small batch of sausage and egg muffins that we ate together at the work table. They were so simple and delicious and seemed to help give the boys the extra energy they needed to start school.

Breakfast Muffins

1/2 pound crumbled mild sausage (cooked, with the fat drained off)
6 large eggs
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Splash of half and half
Dash of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook the sausage and drain the excess fat from the pan. Remove half of the sausage and store for later use (breakfast burritos? casserole?). In a medium bowl, combine sausage, eggs, cheese, half and half, salt and pepper. Whisk together to combine. Spray a six-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray and pour equal amounts of the “batter” into each. (I suppose you could used a traditional 12-cup muffin tin, but that would result in little bite-size muffins. I wanted something bigger.) Bake the muffins for 14 minutes at 400 degrees. They will rise a good inch while baking but will sink down like a quiche when they’re pulled out to cool. Serve at room temperature.

They have no wheat or bread products of any kind, but you wouldn’t know it. Protein seemed to be just what we needed to get the day started.

As for our weekend? We celebrated Bill’s 69th birthday. Hayli couldn’t make it, so she’s missing from this picture (as am I, since I’m the one who took it).

Oops! Happy Early Birthday to me

Yesterday, while Chuck took Jeremy to his last day of tutoring, I decided to make a quick run to the grocery store with Jack. It wasn’t my original intention for the afternoon, but hey – sometimes you just get a wild hair and make a unplanned grocery run.

Jack and I got in the car – which Chuck usually drives – and went to Kroger. We succeeded in shaving more than $40 off our grocery bill with coupons and smart shopping and proceeded to the parking lot to load the car.

For a second, I contemplated putting everything in the back seat with Jackson. Instead, I chose to put them in the trunk. I popped the button in the glove compartment and lifted the latch.

Oh crap. There sat what I presumed to be my birthday gift.

Continue reading “Oops! Happy Early Birthday to me”

Flourless Chocolate Cookies

I’ve been eating gluten-free since November 2009, and I can say that most of the time I don’t crave cookies, cakes and other baked goods. What you see as tempting bits of deliciousness, I see as a big fat stomachache and a day of discomfort.

Anyway, lest I go on about unpleasantries, I’ll tell you that yesterday I was craving something chocolatey and gooey, something that surely had flour. But, I would not rest in defeat!

Behold, these are FLOURLESS chocolate cookies. At first glance, you think, holy crap that’s a lot of powdered sugar! But then you realize there is no oil, butter, egg yolks, or flour, and then you’re like, whew! I’m totally making these.

Thank you, internet, for helping me through yesterday.

3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 large egg whites
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the dry ingredients: powdered sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and chocolate chips. Add egg whites and vanilla and mix at medium speed until combined into a gooey batter.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and spoon batter onto the sheets. Be careful not to make the mounds too big, as the batter spreads. (I found two tablespoons to be sufficient per cookie.) Bake at 350 for 14 minutes. They are done when the tops of the cookies are cracked and glossy.

Let cool completely before you consume them… which feels like a really long time to wait. Pour a glass of milk and enjoy.

Happy Weekend to you!

Sweet Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the sweethearts! May your day be filled with lots of love.

I baked sweet heart treats (literally) for the boys’ co-op classes yesterday. These no-fail butter cookies are such a joy to decorate! Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to make them gluten free so I haven’t actually eaten one of them since 2009. It’s a small form of torture. (The recipe is at the end.)

I have a few crafts planned today on top of our regular schoolwork. In the interest of saving money, we aren’t doing a big night out. Instead, we’ll grab take-out, put the boys to bed early, and cherish the quiet house in each other’s company. I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

To my sweetheart, this is our 16th Valentine’s Day together. My cup overflows. ♥

(This photo was taken in 1997 in the exact spot where he asked me to be his girlfriend one year earlier.) 

Perfect Butter Cookies
Dough*:
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Icing, whisk together:
1 cup confectioners sugar
1-2 tbsp. milk

Cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed. Add egg and vanilla. Combine the dry ingredients, then add to the butter mixture. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for an hour. Afterwards, roll the dough onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Bake the cookies on parchment paper for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool completely before icing.

** I typically double the recipe because one batch just doesn’t make enough. I also make extra icing so I can create different colors for decorating. Use the professional gel coloring instead of the liquid kind so you don’t fudge the consistency. I use sandwich bags for piping. Enjoy!

Hmm… Nutella

I haven’t perfected the art of gluten-free baking yet so I still use a mix from the store. I substitute applesauce for oil and add a splash of milk to make it my own.

On top of this particular cupcake is Nutella icing: two heaping spoonfuls of Nutella, two tablespoons of milk, half a stick of butter and enough confectioner’s sugar to make the icing thick and gooey.

Oh yeah.

And for the child who won’t eat chocolate, we have oranges.

Sisters

I probably could’ve brushed my hair for this.

Anyway, it was great having my sister and her family in town for Christmas. This year was a do-over from 2009 when everyone was scheduled to come to Texas. A few wrenches were thrown into the plan but they high-tailed it to Tennessee this year so I could host the holiday.  I loved having everyone in our house. It was full and busy, but that’s exactly what I hoped for. Cooking for 11 was a pleasure.

As you’ve already seen in previous posts, the four boys had a ball together with only minimal fighting, which I see as a major success. They dearly love each other, despite the fact that they may only see one another twice a year.

We started school today and the boys were a bit of a challenge. When they weren’t giggling, they were complaining, and when they weren’t complaining, they were hungry. And when they weren’t hungry, one boy was making faces at the other boy and we retreated to our separate corners. Back to the grind, I guess!