On the porch, in pots.

When people find out I’m a free lance writer, they tend to assume I write about food. So when they find out I mostly write about gardening, they then begin to assume that I’m some fabulous gardening guru and start asking me questions about their gardens or tell me they’d love to come see mine sometime, which leaves me in a bit of a stammer because my gardens are really not all that. For starters, I’m lazy. Secondly, my lot gets lots of shade, so there are any number of plants I would love to have that just simply, don’t do well in our yard, like roses. Continue reading

Going native.

pawpaw1Pat came across some pawpaws on a recent fishing trip and brought them home for me to experiment with. For the uninitiated, pawpaws are a native fruit not typically found in the grocery store or even at farmer’s markets.  They tend to fall off the tree when they are fully ripe, which happens to coincide with them being incredibly delicate. This delicateness is a large part as to why they aren’t well known – they don’t travel well and need to be eaten almost immediately while giving off an aroma that permeates the surrounding area. They smell like they taste, tropical and yeasty – think a slightly fermented mango-banana mix.  They aren’t much to look at – shades of green and black. Peel the skin off to find pulpy, soft flesh littered with large seeds, that require some work to get to the fruit. A 3″ pawpaw produces a surprisingly small amount of pulp. It takes a number of fruits to be able to make something with them, so if you come across some, grab more than you think you’ll need. They can be eaten raw, but they bake well too, especially when paired with dairy. Continue reading

DIY Furniture Polish

Contraire to popular belief, I do actually clean my house,  it just happens to be low on the to-do list, especially this time of year when I’m up to my elbows in produce (just had a bag of zucchini and another one of cucumbers dropped off as a matter of fact) that needs to be dealt with.  I prefer to use as little chemicals as possible in cleaning my house – even when I’m not pickling everything in sight, I go through a substantial amount of vinegar on a regular basis.  I use it to mop floors, in my laundry in lieu of bleach and fabric softener (and no, our clothes do not smell like vinegar as a result) as well as to spray down the showers after using them to help keep the funk at bay.  Continue reading

Homegrown, in jars.

IMG_8949It was hard to capture exactly how loaded our cherry tree was this spring with cherries.  Last year, being the first year we harvested any fruit from that tree – a banner two pounds! – I was hoping to get as lucky, if not luckier this year. Continue reading

Every day a holiday.

It’s Earth Day.  That one day a year we’re supposed to stop and consider being nicer to this planet we call home.  There are all sorts of events scheduled to take part in this time of year where one can learn to conserve, to show your love of mother earth or just plant a tree. Being married to a Riverkeeper, I am often asked what we do to celebrate the day.

IMG_0477 Continue reading

Basic Curry.

A few months ago, Betty handed me a cookbook she’d bought to give as a gift to someone, but before giving it, she thought I needed to be ‘made aware’ of it.  “I think this would be a good one to have around” she said.  I agreed and so proceeded to get myself a copy.
The book in question is “More with Less“. She had gotten it at the 10,000 Villages store on the downtown mall.  Both the cookbook and the international fair trade organization come from the Mennonite community with a focus on sustainability, using what you have and consuming less.
But I’m not talking about that here today.  You all know how I feel about talking about sustainability – I just prefer to do it and not talk about it. If you want to learn more about 10,000 Villages, click on some of the above links or go check out the store downtown.  And full disclosure, I first learned about their sustainable practice because a dear high school friend is their marketing director.  It was her Facebook posts from her Vietnam trip last year in which she met artisans that taught me about the organization’s mission.  (I also wrote about them previously in The Hook‘s last Green Homes issue.)
No, what I want to talk about here today is this recipe I stumbled upon in “More with Less” that is quickly becoming a favorite.   I first found it when I was looking for something easy and different to do with lamb for Pat’s birthday dinner.  He & Edie are fans of lamb, me, not so much, so I only cook it upon request.  I found a recipe for “Basic Meat Curry” that is truly was basic, with lamb as an option. Also listed as options were chicken, beef, mutton, fish, any leftover cooked meat or meatballs. I made it with lamb for Pat’s birthday and then again recently with tofu.
I love a good recipe that can be varied endlessly.  Not every recipe in this cookbook is so pliable, but it is a very good basic how-to cookbook that you can use for spin-offs.  I have what I call a “Rule of Three” – I use it in buying magazines as well as culling my cookbook collection – where a cookbook must have a minimum of 3 recipes in order to keep it’s spot on my shelf.  This cookbook definitely meets that self imposed standard.  Betty was right when she said we needed this around.
Tofu was on sale at the grocery store last week.  Normally I prefer Twin Oaks Tofu, that locally made goodness, but at 99 cents a block, I thought I’d try the grocery store stuff.  No, it does not touch Twin Oaks, but not everyone has access to Twin Oaks and when friends in other areas ask me about cooking with tofu, I want to be able to tell them how to make it and make it well.  Cooking with tofu is challenging.  I’ve been attempting to cook with it for 20 years and feel like I have just gotten the hang of it.  Most of that I attribute to good tofu, but there has been quite a bit of trial and error I assure you.  Boiling tofu for 10 minutes before you do anything else with it is a good place to start in getting it to stay firm and absorb flavors more readily.
I thought I’d try some of this tofu in the basic curry that was so good with lamb.  As it simmers for several hours, I suspected that would be enough time for the tofu to absorb some of the curry flavor and it did. I also threw some vegetables in there so it would be a well rounded mostly one pot meal served over rice. I do love a one pot meal, probably more than my dishwasher does, for it means I don’t have to bother with the synchronization of things coming off the stove at the same time.  I am a lazy cook.
Basic Fill-in-the-Blank Curry
Heat in skillet:

2 T fat or oil

Saute in oil:
Chopped onion
Minced Garlic
Blend in small bowl:
2 T. lemon juice or vinegar
2-4 T curry powder
Stir curry mixture into onions and fry lightly for 2 minutes.  You can add additional spices (suggested are cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, ginger, cumin, cayenne). 
Add your meat or tofu.  Suggested are:
chicken, cut into small pieces
beef or mutton, cut into 1″ chunks
fish, cut into chunks
Any leftover cooked diced meat
browned meatballs
cubed tofu (try boiling it for 10 minutes before hand)
Stir-fry briefly to coat meat with spices.  Add:
1 cup tomato juice OR 1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 t. salt
1-2 cups broth or water
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours for beef & mutton, 1 1/2 hours for chicken, 20 minutes for fish and cooked meats.  Add more liquid as needed for cooking to thin stew consistency.  (I cooked the tofu for 2 hours, but you could simmer it for just a short while and still have a tasty dish.)  Serve with rice.
Suggested vegetable additions include cubed potatoes (give them at least 20 minutes to cook), cabbage, green beans, peppers, carrots, spinach and peas.

I got a real name tag.

Over the years, I have acquired a small collection of various name tags from different events I’ve attended.  By various, I mean, the names are various.  You see, I don’t always let a proper invite keep me from a party and some of the events I’ve attended over the years have had everyone’s name tags printed and laid out ahead of time, not allowing you to walk up to the door and get in if you haven’t made plans in advance. Which means if you are spontaneous like myself, you find yourself picking out a name and going with it.  Only once have I ever had anyone actually question the fact that I was not who my nametag said I was, because they knew the real ‘me’ and I was 20 years younger, several inches taller, noticeably thinner and a completely different race than the other version they knew that went with that name.  I found that telling the gentleman I was undercover for a very important investigation and that I would appreciate his cooperation, as it may or may not have to do with national security, I was not free to divulge anything further than that, in fact I may have said too much, helped quiet him.

In crashing parties, one must act with complete confidence and authority. 

Last Thursday evening was the holiday party for the local weekly that I’ve done some projects for this past year. Despite the fact that I’d been up & down all week with the upper respiratory bug going around town, I felt we should go and make an appearance.  Besides, I was feeling better that day, surely I was on the mend. (When they say that bug is a 10 day to 2 week bug, they aren’t joking, btw.  I was most definitely not on the mend, but that’s a completely different tale.)

As we walked in, there was a table with a guest list at which you were supposed to check in.  There was also a small collection of name tags which were clearly for people who are affiliated with the publication throwing the party.  Among the name tags was one for me, with my real name on it.   Even better was a title – “Green Expert”, a nod to the fact that I wrote (and partially photographed) their Green Homes and Living special edition this past fall, although in no way do I consider myself an ‘expert’ in being ‘green’.  Honestly, of the 18 pieces in that, 8 of them are some of sort of interest or project of ours around the house.  All I really did was write about us and just tried to make it not sound as personal as I do in this space.

I’ve had a good bit of encouragement lately from friends and family telling me I should just write a book already.  On what I ask and they all say, on just being me.  From what I’ve gathered, one should have a certain niche, a focus if they are going to pitch anything that’s going to be published.  If this blog is any indication, I’m all over the place – baking one day, canning the next with mentions of knitting fail, dinner fail and girl scout troop craft fail.  I’m more of a B+ personality than I am a type A.  I’m the underachiever of the overachievers, the overachiever of the slackers, not excelling at any one thing, but rather, doing a few things pretty okay.  Sometimes making everything perfect, staying on top of every little detail is just way too much energy that could be better used doing something else, like having a glass of wine with a friend or better yet, curled up with a book.  How does one go about putting that into a proposal for anything published? 

Not quite eighteen months ago, I was laid off and pretty quickly decided that I was going to just figure out a way to make a living out of being me.  Since making that decision, I’ve been much happier with my every day life, although cash flow can be a bitch.  I’ve made some things happen, I’ve had some things land in my lap.  It seems that in casting a wide net, I’ve caught a number of things that I’m pretty okay at – writing, teaching, cooking at the top of that list. 

When I started this post, I had every intention of talking about the party last week, how I danced with the guy dressed like a Christmas tree, because really, when there’s a guy dressed like a Christmas tree, you need to do something with him, right? Instead I had this moment where I realized that there was some link between the fact that I have a collection of fake name tags to the fact that I had a real name tag with a title that I found amusing to the fact that I am still very much trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.  That this idea I keep hearing from people as something I should do – write a book – somehow needs to come to life.  And somewhere, in that link, is the theme.