Garden Snapshot 4.30.14

Well, in the time since I’ve been meaning to write this (about a month), the peach tree has blossomed, leafed out, and set fruit.  I’m now set with the task of thinning out the fruit so that what remains will (hopefully) be a good crop.

The daffodils are mostly done blooming; the phlox, too, is on its way out, along with the azaleas.

The coreopsis and oxalis are blooming, their pops of orange and pink a good foil to the soft purple of the creeping phlox.

The irises are blooming, all frilled, lush and velvety.  Between them and the late-blooming daffodils, I’ve been cutting stalks-upon-stalks of flowers, and making fresh vases every week.  Which is about as close to Martha Stewart as I’m going to get.

The asparagus is coming up; the first best taste of spring was a slender stalk snapped straight from the ground and eaten raw: crisp, tender, vegetal.  The rest of it we roasted in the oven briefly with salt and olive oil.

It took me all of March to get my cool-season veggies in the ground; I’m only just now starting to plant out tomatoes and peppers.  I waited too long to pot up my tomato seedlings—they grew leggy, and then one day of heavy wind wreaked havoc on them, ripping leaves and breaking fragile stems.  Luckily most of them have recovered (except, maybe, for the ones I overwatered, or forgot to water.  Mistakes like that always seem more painful early on, before the plants are in full-on grow mode.  Now, though, that I have more plants than I have time or space for them, I hardly remember all the ones that didn’t make it).

I’m trying to grow more peppers this year; somehow I seemed to have forgotten how slow they are to grow but how useful they are in the kitchen, and how much I’d like to have them homegrown, cut up and waiting in the freezer for the winter months.  So!  Bell peppers, this year! Hopefully.  One thing I didn’t have trouble with at all this year were hot peppers.  In fact, I have more than I know what to do with and so have been foisting them off on unsuspecting friends.  I’m not even sure what kind they are, just that they are spicy and will be making their way into batches of hot sauce this summer.

My sweet potato slips became infested with—something.  Mealybugs, maybe?  At any rate, in typical lazy fashion I ignored it, thinking the plants could outgrow it, or fight it on their own, or that maybe—hopefully—it would just go away after a while.  It didn’t, so now the sweet potato slips are in quarantine beside the kitchen sink, where every day I examine them for invaders, and squish tiny bugs—they remind me of miniature trilobites (8th grade science class, anybody?)—with my fingernail or the tip of a toothpick.

The garlic is growing well, with occasional outer leaves turning yellow.  It will be time to harvest soon, which I’m thankful for as I’m out of garlic, and I need that space in the garden for summer veggies.  There are no scapes yet, but I’ve got my eye out for them.

The potatoes have sprouted and are now a few inches tall.  I’ve been spraying them with homemade ‘deer-away’ spray (garlic, eggs, hot pepper) to try to keep the deer from eating them.  I had thought the green parts of potatoes were poisonous, but apparently the deer didn’t get that memo.

I planted a thornless blackberry vine two years ago.  Each year, where the vine tips touch the ground they root and grow another plant.  So where I started with one, I now have five.  I have a sneaking feeling that I ought to transplant them, or at the very least put up a trellis and impose some order before they take over the garden, but in reality I will probably just let them do their thing.  The vines are blossoming now but I’m being realistic and not expecting more than a handful of fruit.  Last year I harvested only three berries from them.  Three!  Maybe even five.

If I had a motto for my garden, it would probably be this: Low expectations, high hopes.  But maybe also: I’ll weed next week.

Better With Pirates

Me [to coworker]: What is this check for?

Coworker: A cannon.

Me:  A cannon?

Coworker: Yeah, you know, from the pirate ship.

Me: Ohhh.  Right.  The pirates.

Coworker: Yeah, they actually offered me a job.

Me:  No way.  Like, being a pirate?

Coworker: Yeah, I guess he thought I looked like a pirate.

Me: Because of your beard?

Coworker: I guess.  Musta been something, because he even called to the other guy he was with and made him get out of the truck and was like, “Come look at this guy, wouldn’t he be a good pirate?”

Me:  I think you could pull off the pirate look.  Is the pay any good?

Coworker: More than I’m making now.

Me: Oh my god, I really think you should do it.  Then we could all come see you be a pirate.

Coworker: Yeah, except I’d have to leave work around 1 to get there in time.

Me:  I don’t think BossName would mind.  Plus, then you could be like, “Sorry, I’ve got to go change into my pirate outfit.”

So now all of our work interactions are filled with pirate euphemisms.

For example:

Me: [Text message to Coworker]:Has Customer picked up yet?

Coworker: Argh.  I’ve yet to see those land-lubbing scally-wags.

Me: OK, when they come by they owe Xdollars.  If they don’t have a check with them make them walk the plank.  Or get an address where I can invoice them. Argh.

Coworker: OK.  Can you order more ProductName?

Me: Aarr righty.

Because work is so much better with pirates.

But I Did

I’ve been battling a terrible cold this last week, drinking mug after hot mug of ginger tea (fresh grated ginger, lemon, hot water, honey to taste) and wishing I had had the foresight to stash away a few frozen quarts of this carrot-ginger soup.  I did think that I had one, but after taking it out to defrost realized that it was not, in fact, carrot-ginger soup but a poorly-labeled container of diced tomatoes (which I had been looking for two weeks before and couldn’t find).  Mystery solved, but not in a satisfying manner.

It is hurting my brain to try to think of a coherent way to transition to these other random thoughts, so instead: Bullet points!

  • This makes me wish I were a cat:
  • And these make me wish I were responsible for naming new products:

    In case you can't see it, the brand of this trailer is "Wells Cargo."

    I also recently saw an ad for a product called ‘The Ring Weeder.’  It took me a few moments to get that pun, and then another few moments to decide whether to hate myself just a little bit for liking puns so much.

  • I met a new neighbor the other day, and proudly refrained myself from saying, “So what did you pay for your house?  It’s alright if you don’t want to tell me, I’ll just look it up in the tax records later.”  Because GIS is my jam.
  • Last weekend I went to my friend Ashley’s bachelorette party.  During the evening we collected some marriage advice for her from strangers, most perplexing of which was this:We couldn’t decide if this was a sex thing or a turkey-on-rye thing.  Or a George Costanza thing. (anybody?) Who is making this sandwich?  Who is eating this sandwich?  In what manner?  We should’ve asked for more details.
  • I made Ashley this chocolate cake, because it goes well with hangovers.  She had wanted to keep things classy, and so we promised there would be nothing penis-related, but I did anyway:

    I will never look at marshmallows or dried apricots the same way again. And now, I bet, neither will you.

    When I was putting it in my car before driving up I-40, all Andy had to say was, “I sure hope you don’t get pulled over.”Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart.

In Typical Fashion

I don’t know what, exactly, to say about the following cauliflower recipe, except that it is very, very good.

My friend sent it to me in an email, with only the comment, “I sent this recipe to my mom and thought you might like it too.  We made it last week and it’s awesome.  I used fresh cauliflower but I’m going to try frozen next time.”

Any recipe that is sent unbidden to both mother and friend must, it stands to reason, be fairly good.

So the next time cauliflower was on sale, I picked some up so I could put this recipe to the test.

But in typical fashion, we could not leave well enough alone.

No.  We had to add some garbanzo beans for protein, curry powder for kick, and serve it over brown rice to make it a full meal-in-a-bowl. (The original recipe is just a vegetable side dish).

We’ve made this three times in the last couple of months and—testament to its goodness—Andy does not groan in agony when I tell him that this is what’s for dinner.  Again.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Braised Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Garlic
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
4 cloves garlic, finely minced or crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 2 14-oz. cans garbanzo beans, drained; 2 teaspoons curry powder (more or less to taste)

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally until beginning to brown on the bottoms, about 6-7 minutes.

Add garlic and stir.  Cook for 2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant.

Add diced tomatoes with their juice, and an additional ¼-1/2 cup water to prevent scorching.  Add red pepper flakes or curry powder if using(I don’t recommend using both, unless you like lots of spice).  Stir and cover with a lid.  Cook over low to medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes or until cauliflower is tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed.

Add salt and pepper to taste and garbanzo beans, if using.

Add basil and stir to combine [Note: I wouldn't recommend adding the basil if you're going the curry powder and garbanzo bean route.  But do as you will.]

Serve over brown rice as a main meal, or as a vegetable side dish.

[I think if you're adding curry powder & garbanzos, cashews or chopped peanuts and cilantro would also be nice additions, but this is just a suggestion].

Speaking of Cakes

Well, we had one briefly glorious day of sunny-and-70-degrees; now it’s going to rain for the next 3 days straight.

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but maybe you’re in need of a good laugh.

If so, I’m here to help…

There’s this essay by Alice Bradley about a home-haircut gone awry which made me laugh out loud:  “Only it turned out that hair is NOT LIKE CAKE, and if it is, it is a very confusing cake with all kinds of dimensions and difficulties I had not considered.”

Speaking of cakes, I found this one in the break room at work the other day:

This is much better than what I usually find in the break room: issues of ‘Practical Welding Today’ magazine, and my coworkers ‘lunches,’ which most recently was a Saran-wrapped packet of—in my coworker’s words—‘pieces of meat.’

But maybe you’re not into cake, or on a diet, or disgusted by ‘pieces of meat,’ or watching your sugar intake.

If so, can I interest you in some Haribo sugar-free gummy bears?

Apparently they cause terrible, um, gastrointestinal distress (i.e. diarrhea). Andy and I spent an evening reading the reviews out loud…and I laughed so hard that I a)couldn’t breathe; b) cried; and c) snorted unbecomingly.

[If you are the kind of person who is not interested in reading about other people’s bodily functions, you should stop reading right now.  However, if you are that kind of person, I’m not sure what you’re doing at this site.]

Some of my favorite reviews:

“My butthole sneezed.”

“I was a prisoner to my own body, weeping like no man should ever be allowed to weep like.”

“There was stuff coming out of me that I ate at my wedding in 2005.”

And the review titled:  ‘I am so sorry Mrs. (teacher’s name),’ which goes:Same story as all of the above only here is MY ending.  …and I was never asked to send snacks to my daughter’s class again.”

Or “My mistake for not reading the review prior to purchasing these.”

My hands-down favorite review, though, has to be the ‘Do not bring to sporting events! which includes the following gems:

“I know what taking a giant poo feels like.  I also know what vomiting feels like.  I can now successfully say that I know what it is like to vomit out my butt.”

And: “I am screaming, my son is now crying, he thinks he is witnessing the death of his father.  I can’t even assure him that I will make it.”

Just read the reviews.  Even if they aren’t all true, they are still at least HILARIOUS.

Happy snort-laughing, all.

Garden Snapshot: 3/9/14

If I were to sum up the last three months in just five words, it would be these: Dear Winter, I’m over you.  And so it was hard, today, when it was gloriously 70-degrees-and-sunny to want to do anything but sit on the porch and bask.

And so I didn’t do any of the things I was meaning to do: I didn’t put clean sheets on the bed; I didn’t vacuum; I didn’t make The Recipe; I didn’t do the dishes.

Instead I took the dog down to the beach where she romped and smelled fishy-smells and became Instant Best Friends with every other dog she met, and thoroughly Did Not Approve of the waves lapping at her feet.  She is now completely sacked out on our bed, getting sand in our sheets, making whimpering dog-dream noises and satisfied sighs.

The ice storm a few weeks back was a sight to behold: every leaf, needle, branch and berry encased in its own perfect shell.  The sky was grayish-white, thick and heavy as a lid.  It was a good excuse to slow down for a moment, to sleep late and drink large mugs of hot coffee.  When the power went out we huddled under blankets and watched a movie on the laptop.  When the battery on the laptop ran out, we turned to watching out the back window as tree limbs broke and tumbled to the ground.  We made a late lunch of cheese and crackers, and since we had nowhere else to be, opened a bottle of wine.

Outside was silent and still: no birds chirping; no car motors thrumming; the only sound that of limbs creaking, cracking, and crashing to the ground.

I didn’t bother covering up my plants in the garden; I worried that the weight of an icy cloth would crush them mercilessly and, anyway, the ice creates its own sort of insulation.  Thankfully, everything was fine: the arugula, the celery, the groundcovers & spring-blooming bulbs.  The arugula has started to bolt now, which I’ve recently read is due not to heat (like I always thought), but to shifting levels of light.

I started some seeds and sweet potato slips a little over a month ago.  The tomato plants are now 10 inches tall, the peppers robust and stocky.  The sweet potato slips are unfurling heart-shaped leaves.  I am hardening-off the lettuces and kale seedlings (and etc.: broccoli, cauliflower, chard, collards, carrots), and obsessively checking the 10-day forecast to see when it might be a good idea to plant them out for good.

Last month I planted peas and potatoes in the garden.  So far, there are no signs of them sprouting.  Not surprisingly, since it has been so uncharacteristically cold.

Last week I started okra and melon seeds.  I made the mistake, one year, of being overly ambitious and starting them too early; they grew gangly and viny and twined themselves into the blinds by the window, making me afraid to move them.  I am learning to keep better notes.  (For example: never again will I start beans or peanuts indoors.  It is entirely unnecessary, and only the result of impatience).

Lily-of-the-valley, daffodils, and hyacinths are blooming.  The gray-green fans of irises are standing sharp and proud.  Surprisingly some stalks of gladiolas are coming up, which makes me slightly worried for them.

Flocks of robins congregate in front yards.  Even my houseplants know that the light is changing: The hibiscus has flower buds on every branch, and the pomegranate that spent all winter as a sad, brown, twiggy thing (after dropping all its leaves when I brought it indoors last fall) is flushing green with tender, hopeful sprouts.

This might just be my favorite time of year, brimming as it is with hope and daffodils and looking-forwardness; filled with changing light and the trembling anticipation of the almost-taste of summer.

It’s good to be back.

I Think I Nailed It

When I studied abroad in Austria, I was assigned to live with a Christian host family because I was vegetarian.

These two things have nothing, really, to do with one another, but the housing coordinator was trained to look for commonalities among people based on a brief paper survey. So she decided that the only other vegetarian student should be my roommate and—what do you know!—my roommate also happened to be a born-again Christian, so wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to live with the Kocher family, who happens to also be Christian* (as opposed to Catholic, which the majority of Austrians were).

*I can’t remember what type of church they went to—Protestant? Pentecostal?—so I am using ‘Christian’ in a sort of vague sense meaning ‘non-Catholic Christian,’ so I guess what I am really trying to say is, they were the kind of Christians who were really into Jesus.

This worked out well for my roommate, who almost immediately found an English-speaking church and began attending their Sunday services and their weekly Bible studies.  She also strongly, relentlessly encouraged me to attend with her, which I did sometimes, though apparently not often enough to prevent her from viewing me as a sinner in need of saving, and from writing Bible verses on scraps of paper and hiding them throughout all of my personal belongings. (I found Bible verses in all of the following places: my purse, my books, my backpack, my underwear drawer, my toiletries bag, my placemat at the dinner table, my desk, my pillow, my shoes, the pockets of my overcoat.  Really.  All of my personal belongings.  A year after I returned from Austria I took a CD out of its travel case and found a Bible verse tucked behind it).

She was also prone to telling me things like, “I’ve been praying for you,” usually after I had been out for a night of heavy drinking.  Suffice it to say, if I hadn’t had to meet her watchful, judgy eye every morning at the breakfast table there’s no telling how many more guys I might have slept with over there.

When our host mother found out that she would be hosting two vegetarians, her immediate response to the housing coordinator, she later told us, was, “Can you send them back?”  This was followed by a flurry of phone calls to all of her friends, asking them in panicked tones, “What do vegetarians eat?”

She was mildly relieved to learn that we ate seafood; this, at least, was something in her cooking repertoire.  This, at least, meant she could (sometimes) serve us something other than salads.

And so for the first week or two, as she dusted off old recipes she hadn’t made in decades (in particular I remember a walnut quiche that was—surprisingly—good) mealtime was met with her anxious face across the table, wondering, “Is it good?”

It was, almost always.  Though I did get tired of those salads pretty quick.

The only other meal I remember—besides the walnut quiche—was a pasta with smoked salmon, peas, and cream.

I was not much of a home cook at the time, but I was so taken with this dish that I had to know what was in it, so I could recreate it later.

“Oh, it’s so easy,” Frau Kocher said with a nonchalant flip of her hand.  “It’s just pasta, and I cook an onion and some peas, and then I add the salmon and crème fraiche.”*

*If you were wondering, most of our conversations with the Kochers took place in English; Frau Kocher’s English was substantially better than Herr Kocher’s due to the years she spent as a teenager in Canada, where her father was a chicken farmer.**

**I am unclear on the exact logistics, but her family moved from the Netherlands to Canada for some reason related to her dad being a chicken farmer.  (Did Canada need more chicken farmers?  Was he not fulfilling his chicken-farmer potential in the Netherlands?  Was he working for an international chicken-farmer-company and they offered him a transfer with higher pay?  I have no idea, but I kinda feel like it was the last one, as improbable as it sounds, or maybe a combination of the first one and the last one.***

***Did I mention the nights of heavy drinking I was doing at the time?  I learned, for example, that I could drink 2 liters of beer in one sitting, but not 3.****

****Actually I could, technically, drink 3 liters of beer in one sitting, but then the night would not end well for anybody, most especially me.

Anyway. The pasta.

Frau Kocher became slightly flustered when I asked her to explain what crème fraiche was.  Crème fraiche was not yet in vogue in the U.S.; even if it had been, they certainly were not stocking it at the Cub Foods in Iowa City anytime soon (or, probably, ever).

I understand now that me asking her what crème fraiche was would be the same thing as someone asking me what, say, cottage cheese is.  “Oh, you know, it’s, umm…it’s made of milk?”

Frau Kocher quickly gave up on the explanation part of things, and showed me the empty container from the trash.  “It’s this,” she said.

“Oh!” I said, “Like sour cream!”

“Yes, but it’s not sour…it’s fresh.”

“Oh.” I said.  “Like yogurt?”

“No,” she said.  “Like sour cream.  But fresh!”

I was certainly no closer to understanding what crème fraiche was.  Except that it was like sour cream.  But fresh.

It’s been about ten years since I first had Frau Kocher’s pasta with salmon and peas.  I have tried to recreate it a few times since, but never with great success.

Until a few nights ago, that is, when I had a package of smoked salmon I needed to use up, and peas in the freezer.

This time I think I nailed it.  I mean, as close as anyone can nail it without actually using crème fraiche.

(What I didn’t nail, though, was a way to work into this story that I was living with the only European who liked George W. Bush because—as Frau Kocher explained to me—“He’s such a good Christian.”)

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Peas and Cream
1 onion, diced
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 block), cut into cubes
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb. pasta (I used thin spaghetti; linguine or fettucine would also be good)
1 lb. frozen peas
2 roasted red peppers, diced (optional)
8 oz. sour cream
14 oz. smoked salmon, cut into bite-sized pieces

In a pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add the diced onion and sauté 5-10 minutes or until softened and translucent.  Add flour and stir until evenly distributed.  Add milk, stir, and raise the heat to medium-high.  Stir occasionally until mixture begins to bubble.  Lower heat and add cream cheese.  Stir until dissolved.  Add crushed garlic and stir.  Turn heat to low.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.

3-4 minutes before pasta is done cooking, add the frozen peas to the pasta.  They will cook in the same water as the pasta and be done at the same time.

Drain the pasta & peas.

Remove the milk/onion mixture from heat.  Add roasted red peppers, if using, and sour cream.  Pour over pasta/peas, and add smoked salmon.  Stir until well combined.

Serve garnished with grated parmesan and ground pepper.

*Note: As much as possible, try not to ‘cook’ the smoked salmon but fold it in just before serving, enough to be just heated through.  Otherwise it becomes slightly dry and not as tender.

Superfood Soup

Andy and I made the mistake of going to Whole Foods a few weeks ago.

I say ‘mistake’ because, as someone who has a thing called a ‘budget’ for the weekly groceries, Whole Foods is not exactly an uplifting place to be.  “Hey!” it says, “Look at all this beautiful, artisan-crafted food that you cannot afford to eat!”

So we stayed near the bulk foods section which is more in our price range, and that is where we made our second mistake: reading the nutrient density rankings of various foods.  We now know that, in the grain family, oats score highest, followed by barley; sunflower seeds are the powerhouses of seeds; and lentils are the best of the beans.  We have to take this into consideration now whenever we cook or bake; we cannot choose our ingredients anymore based solely on flavor or texture, we have to wonder, ‘If I don’t substitute sunflower seeds for walnuts in this recipe, am I failing at nutrition, and thus at life?

Because of this, we’ve been eating a lot of lentils lately, and food has become slightly less fun.  Not because of lentils, but because of science.  Thanks, science!

[Curiously, Whole Foods only carries pearled barley (#6 of the grains), but not whole barley (#2 of the grains), which was the entire reason we went to Whole Foods in the first place.]

The third mistake we made was impulse-buying some frozen onion rings.  All I’m going to say about that is they made me feel sad for onion rings, and I wish I had my $3 back.

But anyway, the barley.

We were in search of whole barley (as opposed to pearled barley) to use in a soup recipe that we’ve been making a lot of lately. Whole barley, as you might suspect, retains more of its nutrients and fiber than pearled barley, and we figured if we were going to cook healthy food, we might as well cook with the healthiest of foods.  But it turns out that nobody sells it—not the grocery stores, not the food co-ops, not Whole Foods.  The Asian market carries something that is actually labeled ‘whole barley,’ but I’m suspicious that something may have been lost in translation since it looks and cooks exactly like pearled barley and the back of the package carries the following description: “Barley grains contain 16 times of fiber which rice grains have, as well as Barley grains are one of the best foods for growing children or pregnant women, people want to consume fewer calories.”

Yes, people do want to consume fewer calories!

The soup in question that has brought on our barley obsession comes from Andy’s mom, who got it from Woman’s World magazine.  I don’t have much to say about Woman’s World magazine except that it actually does contain some pretty useful information, though this information comes with the risk of explanation! point! overload! (seriously, I think there is a 2:1 ratio of explanation points to periods in there).

This soup is originally called ‘Holiday Diet Soup,’ the reason being that if you eat this soup everyday for lunch during December, it will help you lose weight.

Well, I’m here to say that Andy has lost ten pounds; the guy at work I gave the recipe to has lost ten pounds; and I have lost zero pounds (thanks, metabolism! Um, and also potato chips).

I make a big batch of this soup every Sunday and divvy it up into quart jars in the refrigerator; these will be our lunches for the entire week.  It helps me feel prepared.

We added beans to it in an effort to sneak some protein in, and upped the amount of mushrooms slightly.  We usually end up needing to add a lot (or what seems like a lot) of salt, but we use homemade stock which isn’t very salty, so adjust yours to taste.

I don’t like to use the word ‘diet’ because it makes me feel sad, so I’m renaming it ‘Superfood Soup,’ though we’ve made it so often that Andy and I now simply refer to it as ‘The Recipe.’

Superfood Soup Recipe
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
24 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups barley
6 carrots, chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
8 cups stock (recipe calls for beef or veggie, we use chicken)
2 cups dried beans (optional) (we use 1 c. lentils and 1 c. black-eyed peas); you may want to pre-soak these if using any bean larger than lentil
4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 lb. chopped kale or spinach

In a very large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and sauté until beginning to soften.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.  Add the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, barley, carrots, thyme, and stock.  Increase the heat to high.  If using dried beans, add them now, as well as 6 cups of water.  When soup starts to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until beans and barley are cooked through, adding more water if needed (about 30-40 minutes).  Add garlic and kale and cook 10-15 minutes more until kale is tender.  If using spinach instead of kale, add spinach at the very end just before serving.

The article says to eat 3 cups of this soup for lunch every day to help you lose weight.

This soup freezes well, and makes a huge amount.  Just sayin’.

Wishing there were an Olympic sport called: Asking Awkward Questions

If I were a journalist in Sochi right now, you can be sure I’d be asking the hard-hitting questions like,

“Why do you think you just fucked up so badly?”

“Bob Costas, is it true you got pink eye from snuggling with a stray dog in your hotel room?”

“You know that journalists only want to interview you when you’ve done really well or really badly, Which one do you think you just did?”

“Since you thank Jesus when you win, does that mean it is His fault when you lose and, if so, why does He obviously hate you today?”

“I hear you’ve really been enjoying yourself in the Olympic Village.  How many STDs are you going to get tested for when you go home?”

“Which Youtube video do you think got more hits: The one of you falling, or a terrified kitten on a piano?”

“Not counting Vladimir Putin, how many Russians have you met whose names you have actually been able to pronounce correctly?”

“Did you know that STDs do not carry with them a national flag but rather, often a burning sensation?”

“Of all the Olympic athletes, which one do you think the Russian police most enjoy spying on?”

“Congratulations on winning a gold medal!  How many years from now, after your body has failed you, will you be selling it on ebay for rent money?”

“Will you be keeping your ugly Olympic sweater as a memento, or will you ‘accidentally’ forget to pack it and then blame the airline for losing your luggage?  And if you do keep it, how many Ugly Sweater Parties do you anticipate wearing it to and winning the prize for Ugliest Sweater?”

I think I nailed it.

Southwest-Style Pimento Cheese

You don’t really need a recipe for the ‘classic’ pimento cheese, do you?  All it is, really, is grated cheddar, a jar of drained (diced) pimentos, maybe a scant Tablespoon of finely minced onion and a dash of worcestershire, and enough mayo to bind everything together.  Some people, at this point, also blend it together a little in the food processor, which I find slightly disconcerting and wholely unnecessary.  You could even, I suppose, stir in some softened cream cheese to make it even more decadent, but we are already talking about something made entirely of CHEESE and MAYONNAISE so I say, why go overboard, especially with the cost of cream cheese being what it is?

But!  What you DO need a recipe for is this pimento cheese, because it’s got a kick.  And tomatoes in it, so…it’s slightly healthier?

This is pimento cheese, folks, so that's about as appetizing a photo as you're going to get.

A while back I was on the phone with one of my friends who lives in California (and often gloats about the weather), and she ended the conversation with, “Well, I’ve got to go.  I have to make this pimento cheese for a potluck, but I can’t grate the cheese and talk on the phone at the same time.  I mean, I could, but it would be really difficult and I might pull a muscle.”

At which point I was like, Wait.  You are making pimento cheese for Californians?!?

Oh, yes, she said.  In fact, it was specifically requested by a Californian, because he liked it so much the first time she made it that he ate half the bowl and requisitioned the leftovers.

Was this just your regular, run-of-the-mill pimento cheese?

It was not.

It was pimento cheese with a bite to it, made partly with pepper jack and with a can of Ro-tel tomatoes stirred in to boot.

Ten minutes later I finally let her off the phone, but only after she promised to send me the recipe.

Depending on the level of spiciness you like, you can use either all pepper jack cheese, or half cheddar; and mild Ro-tel or regular.  Either way, it really is very good–good enough for Californians, even.

Southwest-Style Pimento Cheese
8 oz pepper-jack cheese, grated
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (or use additional pepper-jack)
1 10-oz can Ro-tel tomatoes, drained
~3/4 – 1 cup mayonnaise (just enough to bind everything together; add more or less depending on your personal preference [you can substitute lite mayo here])
1 tsp worcestershire
2 oz. jar diced pimentos, drained (optional–I feel like the tomatoes give this recipe enough extra color that you don’t miss the pimentos, plus those darn little jars are kind of expensive when you consider the amount of food that is actually in them)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together, adding more mayo if needed to get a more ’spreadable’ consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill until ready to serve.

Serve with crackers and veggies, or spread it on a sandwich or biscuit and top with sliced fresh tomatoes.