How to Not Fail at St. Patrick’s Day

First of all, you should buy and cook a corned beef. Just do it, and follow the package directions, because you know it’s delicious. You should not, under any circumstances, try to roast it. I made this mistake so you don’t have to, unless of course you like eating shriveled slabs of dry, tough meat. Boiling meat in water seems kind of dumb and uninspired, but it turns out that this is how a corned beef likes to be cooked. If you’re feeling fancy, you could add some apple cider and bay leaves to your boiling pot, too.

Secondly, you should make irish soda bread. Substitute whole wheat flour for up to half the flour so that you won’t feel too bad about consuming the entire loaf in two days.

Thirdly, you should buy loads of cabbage, I’m talking like ten pounds or so, since it’s only 25 cents a pound this week. With some of it, you should make this to take for lunches. With another head of it, you should make this or this to serve alongside your corned beef (unless you just want to boil it and be lazy).

Then, with the rest of your cabbage, you should shred it up and make sauerkraut so you can have reubens with your leftover corned beef (which is arguably the best thing one can do with corned beef).

How to Not Fail at Sauerkraut

Firstly, shred your cabbage. You can make it as fine or as chunky as you want, I don’t care. Then toss your shredded cabbage with lots of salt—way more salt than you think you would ever use in your lifetime. It doesn’t have to be exact, it just has to be salty. Pack it into some sort of jar or crock and tamp it down as firmly as possible (a gallon pickle jar works well for this, especially if this is your first time making sauerkraut, since it is free (with the pickles) and since it’s see-through it will help you keep an eye on things in case something starts to go horribly wrong. It should be sort of creating its own juice to ferment in, but if there isn’t enough liquid to cover all the cabbage, add some more (I usually have to). The water should be really salty, probably add 1 or 2 teaspoons per cup of water you put in. Then you should put some sort of weight on top to keep all the cabbage submerged. A cheap way to do this is to fill a ziploc bag with salt water (salted so that in case the bag leaks it won’t dilute your brine) and put it on top.

Nextly—and this is very important—you should cover the top of the jar with a cloth or strong paper towel (something to keep dust and fruit flies out) and secure the towel with rubber bands. DO NOT be lulled into a false sense of okayness-without-the-towel-ness by the fact that your fancy fermenting crock has a very nice-fitting lid because if you do, it will be a very big surprise to you when, in three weeks, your sauerkraut has turned into the world’s largest and most disgusting fruit fly farm. Oh my god, it is a terrible, terrible thing, and I am saying that as the kind of person who is not usually grossed out by those sorts of things. I had to leave it outside under a downspout for a month before I even wanted to look at it again.

Finally, let it sit for a week or two or three. Add more salt water if needed to keep it submerged, and taste it every few days to see if it’s reached your desired level of sour. Serve on reubens or with pierogies.  Keep any leftover sauerkraut in the fridge, where it should keep indefinitely.

Or you could forget all of that and just go out and do some heavy drinking for St. Patrick’s Day. That is, if you’re still in your twenties and/or have no shame about calling in hungover for work the next day.

Garden Snapshot: 3.9.15

Well! It is now March, and signs of spring are here. It looks like we might actually have more than three days in a row of temps above 60, halleluia for that.

Robins are flocking to the yard in Hitchcockian numbers.  They root around in the mulch, pockmarking the garden beds with fist-sized craters.  If I hadn’t seen them doing it, I probably would have blamed it on squirrels.  The dog sits at the front window like a statue, staring at them all.  ’Snooki TV,’ we call it. Her head is just barely the right height to see out the window–looking at her from outside all you can see are eyes and ears.

The house finches have returned and are busy rebuilding their nest in the porch eaves, though they might have already decided to abandon it after they saw me spying on them through the window blinds.

I planted peas the first of February, and last weekend I was ready to call the whole row a loss and sow more when I noticed the first few green shoots poking up, short as a thumb, not yet unfurling their leaves.  For a gardener, I can’t think of a more hopeful sight.

My daffodils* started blooming about a month ago (the first ones on the block, I’d braggingly like to add), just in time to be hammered by some brutal cold (for NC standards, that is)–temps down to the teens and twenties, and a day or two of ice.  Turns out the flowers are a type of thermometer: when it goes below freezing they droop down until they’re face-down on the ground, and gradually perk themselves up as the temperature climbs.

*Botanically-speaking, I know they are really probably narcissus or jonquils, but I don’t care because I prefer the word ‘daffodil.’

The buds on the blueberry bushes are swelling.  I’ve transplanted a dozen of them over the last couple of months, making a sort of hedgerow next to our neighbors’ driveway.  I dug them up from the backyard of the foreclosure, where they had been planted in a weird sort of circle in the very center of the yard.  I did just a few at first, in case they didn’t make it, but they didn’t seem to die (kind of hard to tell when they’re dormant, anyway) so I did a few more the next weekend, and a few more after that, then mulched them with pine straw raked up from the backyard (free mulch! woot!).  They seem to be faring well, and every time I check on them the buds seem a little bit bigger.  Edible landscaping is where it’s at, y’all.  Because when’s the last time your privet hedge gave you the ingredients to make a pie?I’ve been itching to get my hands in the dirt, but–aside from the peas–it’s not quite time yet.  I’ve been satisfying the gardening urge by sowing seeds indoors–first a flat of peppers and eggplants, then two weeks later a flat of 18 different kinds of tomatoes (this is probably a mistake) and a flat of cool-weather stuff (collards, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, etc.).  Last week I started melons and herbs, which have just started to sprout.  I’ll move them under the grow lights this week once I take the cool-weather veggies outside to harden off.

I took a tape measure outside and staked out my beds, and let me tell you, this is probably one of the most important things you should do when you start a vegetable garden. (Also drawing it out on graph paper helps).  Turns out, last year’s veggie beds and paths that I had eyeballed the widths of were waay narrower than I had assumed I made them.  Last year’s 7 veggie beds have turned out to only be 5; some of last year’s paths are turning into this years beds and vice-versa, but that’s okay; I’m convinced that they’ll all be so much better this year.  Per The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible’s advice, I’m also extending my beds to 15 feet long and keeping them covered with a light mulch of straw (which will hopefully help keep the neighbors from complaining, since all this is happening in my front yard.  Though at this point, I’m fairly certain that it will be my own husband who calls Code Enforcement on me; “What are you doing to my grass?” he forlornly asks every time he sees me outside with a shovel).

Andy’s going to be in for even more of a shock once my bare-root plant order arrives; after poring over catalog upon catalog from mail-order nurseries, I finally bit the bullet and ordered: 20 asparagus crowns, 50 strawberry plants, 2 elderberries, a plum tree, a cherry tree, and hardy kiwi vines.  So long, front yard, and hello, fruits!  If you’re thinking of adding any fruit trees or shrubs, now’s the time for ordering and planting bare-root varieties.  You can plant containerized plants at any time of the year, but the drawback to them is that there’s usually less of a selection to choose from.

I just recently found out about Big Horse Creek Farm, a small family-owned North Carolina nursery that specializes in heirloom apples. It’s too late for ordering this year, but next year my planting budget is going to go primarily to them; at any rate, it will probably take me that long to read through all their varieties of apples and whittle down my list to must-haves; even after narrowing it down to just warm-climate varieties there are still 100 to choose from.

I’m planning to go to Whole Foods sometime soon and see if I can’t scrounge up some Jerusalem artichoke tubers and a small horseradish root to plant in the ground.  Everybody warns that these things are aggressive as hell, but I’ve managed to kill them both in years past, so I’m not terribly worried.  Plus they’re edible, so if they get too out of control you just eat more, right?  Like my mint patch that turns into a summertime excuse to have mojito parties. (Here’s a list of some other things you can grow from the grocery store).

I have potatoes full of green eyes sitting on a window ledge that ought to go in the ground (or that ought to have already gone in the ground, actually, but all of February seemed too cold for it).  There are sweet potato slips that sprouted (unintentionally on my part) from tubers in the cupboard and that I ought to be rooting now; thank goodness for the extra evening hour of sunlight we’re getting now.

Shit My Guy Says: The Colonoscopy Edition

Nurse: How are you doing?  Are you feeling nervous?

Andy: Yeah, a little.

Nurse: Is this your first time?

Andy: No, I’ve felt nervous before.

Easy Chocolate Fondue for Lazy People

Well, in case it isn’t abundantly clear from every possible news media outlet, Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.

Admittedly, I’m sort-of an eye-rolling grump on the subject (for instance:cut flowers.  Most of them are cultivated under horrifying working conditions, flown thousands of miles, die after a week and are laden with pesticides.  Because nothing says “I love you” like slave labor and chemicals, and money spent on something that will soon go into the trash can!).  My significant other has been instructed that if he ever buys me a bouquet of flowers, I will punch him in the face.

I have been out to dinner exactly once, ever, for Valentine’s Day, and once was enough. The restaurant was overcrowded, the wait times were incredibly long, and the waitstaff was stressed–none of which combined well to create a romantic, intimate atmosphere (though it was clearly memorable, especially when we witnessed the restaurant owner yelling at his 80 year-old mother for not filling out a ticket correctly).

So tomorrow Andy and I will commemorate this romantic-est of holidays by opening a $3 bottle of wine and eating leftovers on the couch in our sweatpants, and exchanging no gifts.  Which is pretty much what we do every Saturday, which is to say: that’s exactly how we like it.

But in case you’re feeling the need to mark the occasion but you weren’t able to get a reservation at a swanky fondue-ery (or you don’t want to change out of your sweatpants), here’s an easy recipe for Chocolate Fondue.  I usually make a small amount, just for myself, because Andy says that peanut butter is poor people food.

Easy Chocolate Fondue for 1
1 heaping Tablespoon creamy peanut butter (not the all-natural kind)
1 small handful chocolate chips (splurge on the good kind, like Ghiradelli dark) [You're just kind of eyeballing the amounts here; probably about a 1:1.5 or 1:2 ratio of peanut butter:chocolate chips is what you want here, but it's not critical to get it exact]
Combine peanut butter and chocolate chips in a small bowl.  Microwave in 30 second intervals until melted, stirring often.
Dip whatever snacks you want to in it–pretzels are highly recommended, but also strawberries, bananas, marshmallows, graham crackers, etc.
You’re gonna want to put this on vanilla ice cream, but just a warning that it hardens pretty quickly on contact with the ice cream.

2015 Food Trends Based on What’s in my Pantry Right Now and What I Just Ordered from the Seed Catalogue

First of all, let me just say, 2015?!?  I am still getting used to the idea that it is 2000-anything, and if I think about it too much I get a little weirded out and start thinking about HAL and singing Prince songs (or, ‘the symbol formerly known as Prince’ songs).

Second of all, let me just say that I find the idea of food trends to be total bullshit.  It’s not that there aren’t actually food trends that come and go (remember aspic, anybody?) [Actually I am kind of a fan of tomato aspic, to be totally honest].  It’s just that, as mammals, we need to eat food on a fairly regular basis, and the types of food groups we consume as humans have not really changed that much over the decades (assuming, of course, that you are not eating fast food on a regular basis, and also that you are not on the Paleo Diet).

What I cook in my kitchen at home does not really vary that much from year to year.  In a given year, I will try maybe a dozen new recipes; of those, maybe half will make it into the regular rotation.

Which means that when people talk about food trends, what they are mainly talking about are restaurant food trends–not the things that people are actually going to be cooking at home on a regular basis.  Sure, there are things that are going to go briefly viral for the home cook–kale chips, cake pops, salted caramel-anythings–but mostly when people get all hyped-up about food trends, it is about what restaurants are doing–not farmers, not gardeners, not home cooks.

For instance: we have seen the rise of the pretzel bun; of cronuts; of sriracha-everything; of chicken wings; of pork belly.  But when is the last time you made chicken wings from scratch at home?  Or cooked pork belly on your kitchen stove?

For me, the answer is never.

Anyway, here is my completely unscientific prediction for 2015 food trends, based on my pantry and my recent seed catalog order.  And on whatever happens to pop into my head.

1.  Collards are the new Kale. Collards have a higher nutrient-density score than kale.  They’re easier (at least for me) to grow, and there’s a plethora of new heirloom varieties making their debut—from ‘Yellow Cabbage’ to ‘Hen-Peck’ to ‘Alabama Blue.’  Not to mention they’re a Southern specialty, and southern food has been having a moment lately, at least until Paula Deen ruined it all.

2.  Animal Fat is the new Coconut Oil.  If you were to look in my fridge right now, you would find 3 large jars of animal fat: 1 is bacon fat; 1 is chicken fat; and 1 is pork fat.  I used to have some beef fat, too, that I was going to make homemade suet out of, but I accidentally left it uncovered on the counter for several weeks and then it seemed to have gotten some bugs stuck in it and Andy got grossed out and threw it away.  Actually I used to have 2 jars of chicken fat, but I gave one away as a Christmas (Hanukah?) present to a person who wanted to make authentic latkes, fried in schmaltz (a.k.a. chicken fat).

As a completely frugal/crazy person, wasting food in my house is a huge no-no.  And a large part of that means making use of every bit.  So whenever I roast a chicken or make crock-pot pork shoulder, the drippings get poured into a bowl and put in the fridge.  The next day you’ll be able to scrape away the layer of fat off the top; underneath will be a jello-like substance (you could call this ‘bone broth’ if you were being fancy) that, mixed with some water and seasoning, makes a fantastic base/addition to soups or stocks. The fat gets stored in a jar, to be used later for sautéing vegetables, or in biscuits, or in pie crust.  You have basically just procured for yourself some free oil, and if you’ve checked prices on olive or coconut oil lately, you’ll know that you’ve just saved yourself quite a few bucks.  And not to mention, but several sources are finding out that lard (a.k.a. animal fat) is not only not bad for you, but quite possibly actually good for your health.

3. House-made Popcorn is the new Tortilla Chip. Aside from people who suffer from diverticulitis, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like popcorn. It has a satisfying salty crunch, packs a lot of volume into a small amount of calories, and is a whole grain.  The last time I even considered buying microwave popcorn (it was on sale, and I had a coupon) I made the mistake of reading the ingredients, and it was horrifyingly long and unpronounceable, especially for something that should have basically just been: popcorn, oil, salt.  So instead I bought just a bag of kernels, which was much cheaper, ounce for ounce.  That $2 bag of kernels has lasted us over a year.  You don’t need any fancy equipment—just a pot and a stove, and oil that can withstand high-heat. 1/3 cup of kernels will pop into a vast amount of popcorn, which you can then jazz up to your choosing—parmesan, dill, curry powder, black pepper, chile powder, etc.

And you don’t have to settle for just white or yellow kernels, either: there are red, black, blue, and multi-colored heirlooms (which are GMO-free, holla!).

4. Bagels are the new pretzel bun. Maybe?  Nobody doesn’t like my homemade bagels, and my schmaltz-friend gave me the idea that we should make them into buns.  They’re so easy!  And toothsome-ly delicious.

5.  Masa is the new hot pocket. Every culture has their own type of portable meal-wrapped-up-in-pastry. China has dumplings & pork buns; England has pasties; India has samosas; Thailand has spring rolls; Mexico has tamales; El Salvador has pupusas; and America has…the hot pocket.  I think it’s time for a better hot pocket, and this year I’m planning to figure one out using masa.  Basically I’m envisioning very thick homemade tortillas pressed around some type of mostly-veggie filling, something I can make huge batches of and individually freeze for grab-and-go lunches.  But maybe I just described burritos? Whatever, mine won’t have rice in them.

6.  Foraged is the new farmer’s market. This year I foraged wild blueberries, persimmons, and wild black cherries, the spoils of which still stock my freezer.  Word on the street is that some really fancy restaurants are hiring their own foragers to procure obscure hyper-local ingredients for them which makes it seem a little pretentious and hoity-toity, when really, anyone can forage.  All it takes is a little bit of noticing.  Personally, I can say that successful foraging brings with it a very self-satisfying sense of pride, not unlike what I imagine our ancestors felt after felling a mammoth.

7.  Buckwheat is the new quinoa. Yeah, ok, it might not have the same levels of protein as quinoa, but buckwheat is a whole grain that grows easily in America and can help improve the soil. Not to mention, but the leaves are edible and contain high levels of rutin, an antioxidant, in addition to many other nutrients (Just don’t eat huge quantities of them, or you might develop photosensitivity). I’m planning to grow a cover crop of buckwheat this summer on a desolate side of the house and, if it grows as well as it should, I’ll be making use of it in the kitchen as well.

At any rate, this is what’s likely to be happening in my kitchen this year.  Unless I get lazy and decide to just buy cases of hot pockets to subsist on.  Either way.

Lentejas con Chorizo, or: A Hearty Stew for Frigid Nights

My friend Heather studied abroad in Seville for a year when we were in college.  Her host mother, Julia (pronounced: ‘Hoo-lee-a’)(or maybe it was Julieta?), spoke only in Spanish to her and also told Heather that she was her favorite of all the host students she’d ever had, which was quite possibly true.

In contrast, my host mother when I studied abroad spoke only in English to me and made no bones about the fact that she was only hosting students so that she’d have enough money to remodel her kitchen–as in, the very day the term was over, and I asked if I might be able to stay for another week or two she replied, “Oh, sorry, the carpenters are coming tomorrow and it will be too busy.  Safe travels!”

The only other thing I remember Heather telling me about her time in Spain was that at one point she was making earrings and selling them to people at the downtown plaza, which is to say: she had some balls on her, and was fairly fluent in Spanish.  This served us all well a couple of years later on a weeklong girls’ trip to Panama, during which Heather accidentally ended up with a Panamanian boyfriend. (He pronounced her name ‘Heden,’ and apparently did not understand the workings of the answering machine, instead leaving her long messages that went: “Heden?  Heden?  Alo, Heden, puedes escucharme?” or something like that.)

I once left Heather waiting at the Barcelona train station at night for over an hour; we were supposed to meet her there and bring her back to the hostel with us, but instead of leaving in a timely manner to meet her train, my friend Laura (pronounced: La-oora) and I decided to open another bottle of wine and play our 8th straight game of Gaudi Memory. (Sorry, Heather!)  She forgave us once we gave her some wine and let her in on the Gaudi Memory game.

And she also gave us this recipe, courtesy of Julia.  And I have to tell you friends: this is the lentil stew recipe to end all lentil stews.

I usually make a double batch of it (mainly because the lentils and sausage both come in 1 lb. sizes, so it’s easier to just double the recipe than it is to try to eyeball a half bag of lentils) and freeze several quarts.  Then the next time we need a quick dinner we just defrost the lentils, serve with some rice and a salad and–Blammo! we’re kings of the kitchen again.

I’ve made it once using actual chorizo, and other times with hot sausage (the kind in the plastic ‘chub’ rolls; sorry for having to use the word chub) and it’s equally good both ways.  Don’t skimp on the red wine–it’s what makes this stew so-much-more-than-just-another-lentil-stew.

In case you’re thinking that this recipe should be relegated to humble everyday-food, I’ve cooked this for dinner guests before, and it was a big hit.

Lentejas con Chorizo (Lentils with Sausage)
1/2 lb. chorizo (or regular hot sausage), removed from casing (if it comes in a casing)
1 onion, diced
4 carrots, peeled if desired and chopped into bite-size pieces
10 cloves garlic (yes, really!)
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 lb. lentils
1/2 c. red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the chorizo or sausage in a large pot over medium heat, breaking it up into small pieces as you go (like you’re cooking ground meat).  Add the onion, garlic and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften. (I usually don’t drain the sausage fat off, because fat=flavor, but you could drain some of it if it seems like too much for your liking).

Add the red wine and stir.  Add the stock and lentils and bring to a boil. Stir well, then reduce heat to low.  Cover with a lid and cook 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed.  Serve over rice, if desired.  Freezes well.

2-Ingredient Whipped Body Butter

In the kitchen I have a lovely, oversized wooden cutting board that my brother gave us as a wedding present.  It lives on the counter next to the stove, where it is used practically every day, and washed with some frequency.  People who know about these things say that you ought to oil your wooden cutting boards to keep them in tip-top shape (although my mother disproves this theory: she has never once oiled the wooden cutting board that she’s had for as long as I can remember (which is at least 25 years) and the cutting board still works–and looks–just fine.)

In spite of this, every now and then I do still oil my cutting board–after one too many washes, and dozens of onions chopped, it will have two telltale pale areas where we have done our chopping, and the whole board will look dull and lackluster.  Depending on my mood, I’ll either drizzle olive oil over the whole thing, or chisel out some coconut oil, and rub it into the board like a salve.  Either way, afterwards the board is restored to its original lovely luster, and my hands are soft and supple from the treatment.  In case you didn’t know, coconut and olive oils are also good for the skin.

Anyway, ’tis the season for dry skin and chapped knuckles, so here’s a recipe for an easy body butter you can make at home.  Essentially it’s this: equal parts shea butter & coconut oil, melted together, then cooled and whipped with an electric mixer until it is—well, like whipped cream.  You can get shea butter from your local co-op (at Tidal Creek it’s in a plastic bucket by the bulk foods section; you scoop out as much as you want with an ice-cream scoop).  You can add your favorite essential oil, for fragrance, if desired.

I make a big batch of it for Christmas presents, usually with lavender, and even the small amount that’s left on the whisk is enough to keep my dishpan-hands hydrated for days.

A small note of caution: much like some lotions, it’s going to take a few minutes to thoroughly absorb into your skin, so it’s probably best not to use this immediately prior to, say, competing in a knife-throwing contest, or some such.  And also, a little goes a long way (this is a good thing).

And did I mention, it’s only two ingredients, both of which you can (hopefully) pronounce (depending on whether or not english is your first language and you know how to pronounce ‘shea’).

Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Whipped Body Butter
1 cup shea butter
1 cup coconut oil
~10-15 drops essential oil, if desired

Melt together the shea butter and coconut oil.  I usually use my microwave, and since both ingredients are solid (and therefore difficult to measure) I do as follows: in a 2-cup (or larger) measuring cup, spoon in shea butter until it is nearly to the 2-cup mark (do not try to pack it tightly).  Put it in the microwave and microwave on high at 30-second intervals until melted.  When melted, it should probably measure one cup, give or take (it’s not critical to get perfect ratios here, btw).  Spoon in coconut oil until it reaches the 2-cup mark, and microwave until everything is melted together.

Pour the mixture into whatever bowl you will be mixing it in (I use my stand-mixer), and put the bowl in the refrigerator until the mixture has solidified, usually 1-2 hours.  Using the whisk attachment (or beaters), mix on medium speed several minutes until mixture has the appearance of whipped cream.  You may need to scrape the sides of your bowl to make sure everything gets incorporated.  Add essential oil, if needed, then transfer to an airtight container, and use as needed.

It’s going to have the look/consistency of whipped cream/marshmallow fluff, so try to prevent yourself from licking the spoon.

Of Habit

Whenever one of us sits at the bistro table in the kitchen, the dog stamps her feet and wags furiously and wufs at us.  She’ll look at us, and then to the the jar of dog bones on the counter.  At us, then the bones.  She’ll stamp her feet some more, and make all kinds of guttural noises.  She’ll stare at us, then look towards the bones.  We tell her to use her words, because we never get tired of this joke.  And just when it seems like she can’t take it anymore, when the groaning and foot-stomping reach a fever-pitch and we are afraid her tiny heart might explode, we open the container, and we hand her a bone.

She has us well trained.

She is a creature of habit and so, it seems, are we.

When we get home from work (or home from being out anywhere), we play the Welcome Home Bone game.  How it works is, she grabs her rawhide bone and turns in circles in front of me, waggling her whole body spasmodically and making high-pitched moans.  I bend down to pet her and tell her, in my highest-pitched voice, “Welcome home bone,” because this is what I think she is trying to say.  This goes on for a while, her whole body wiggling so fast it nearly buzzes, and me cooing, “Welcome home bone.”  If I let it go on too long, the Welcome Home Bone game usually ends with the dog widdling on the carpet, her spirits instantly dampened by shock and shame. (The Welcome Home Bone game is sometimes also just called Tonya Harding, as in, “Look, she’s Tonya Harding,” since unfortunately the bone she carries is an unwieldy 12 inches long and in her mouth it is also perfectly knee-height).

I find myself, lately, in a hurry to get home from work, as if the early-darkening skies are some sort of foreboding omen.  So I rush home, impatient with the cars in front of me, putting off the errands I thought I might run.  As soon as I am home I take off my shoes, I sit down at the kitchen table and then I…stare at the wall.  For a while, my mind is a complete blank, and I try to remember what it was I was in such a hurry to get home for.  In summer I would fill these after-work hours with time in the garden, or on the porch with a book, but in this season the squirrel-like, instinctual part of my brain is telling me I ought to hoard some food, build a fire, huddle in my burrow.

If I could, I would eat pasta every single day for the next three months.

But instead, I’ve been eating this:Yeah, it’s Ramen Noodle Salad.

But!  Maybe we could also call it Raw Cabbage with Seeds & Nuts Salad, which sounds healthier.

I’m not about to try to claim that ramen noodles are a health food, but if they help me get my daily dose of raw, cruciferous veggies, I say, why not?

I usually make a triple batch of this, and I usually shred my own cabbage & carrots in the food processor instead of buying the bagged coleslaw mix (especially since cabbage can usually be had for 39 cents/lb, holla!), which means I can make a little bit higher veg-to-ramen ratio. (I’ve also found that 24oz of shredded cabbage=about 11 cups, or the capacity of my food processor bowl.

It makes a great work lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and potluck dish.  I took it to a potluck once, and the hostess insisted on keeping all of it that was left at the end of the night, which made me kind of sad (I had brought the whole giant container of it, and was planning on leftovers for my lunch).

You can play around with the ratios of vinegar/sugar/oil, and sub out different kinds of vinegar or sweetener or oil to suit your liking–personally I use cider vinegar, plain ol’ white sugar, and either olive oil or a mixture of peanut/sesame/canola oil.  If you look around the internet at all for this recipe, you’ll find that the vinegar/sugar/oil/nut ratios vary widely (one of the versions I made had the salad practically swimming in oil) so if in doubt, start with less vinegar/sugar/oil than you think you may need–you can always add more later, to taste.

This is what works for me, based mostly off of this recipe.

Ramen Noodle Salad
8 oz. bag of coleslaw mix (or about 3 cups shredded cabbage + 1 shredded carrot)
1 package ramen noodles, broken up into small pieces
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced or chopped almonds
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil
If desired, lightly toast the ramen noodles, sunflower seeds, and/or almonds until lightly browned.
Stir together all ingredients, plus the ramen seasoning packet (when I make a triple batch I usually use 2 oriental flavor + 1 chicken flavor).  Refrigerate for several hours before serving, stirring occasionally.
You could probably serve some chicken or salmon alongside/in to make this a heartier lunch, if desired.

My Backup Plan is Chocolate Cake; And a Recipe for Andy’s Sausage Stuffing

This year for Thanksgiving, Andy suggested telling everyone we had already made plans with other people, then staying home and eating pizza in our sweatpants instead.

I can’t say I entirely disagree with this idea; in fact, nothing sounds more appealing to me right now staying home all day and doing absolutely nothing, not exerting ourselves (mentally or physically) beyond deciding on the next Netflix show or walking to the fridge and opening a beer.

Instead, we’ll be going to his cousin’s house and I will be baking an apple pie.  Having never baked an apple pie before, I’m fairly certain that a recipe disaster will befall me; in which case, my backup plan is chocolate cake.

Andy’s Thanksgiving specialty is sausage stuffing, which is something I’d never had before (that’s what she said!) he made it a couple of years ago.  You can do it with store-bought stuffing mix or with homemade stuffing bread (if I’m going this route I usually just make a free-form/focaccia-style loaf).

Andy’s Sausage Stuffing Recipe
2 packages stuffing mix, prepared according to package directions or 2 loaves of stuffing bread, sliced/crumbled/manhandled into small pieces
1lb. sausage (we usually use the ‘chub’ kind for this; if yours is in links, remove the casings and try to forget the fact that I just used the word ‘chub’)
1 onion, diced
4-5 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
In a pan over medium heat, cook the sausage until browned, breaking it up into small pieces as you go (like when you cook ground beef for spaghetti sauce).  Drain off most of the fat (if desired; you could leave it all in there for extra flavor) leaving at least 2 Tablespoons.  Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.  Add the garlic and stir.  Remove from heat.
Stir together the sausage mixture with the prepared stuffing or crumbled-up bread.  If it seems a little dry/crumbly, drizzle some chicken stock over it to moisten.  Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed.  Transfer to a rectangular baking dish.
Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes until the top begins to brown.

Other Thanksgiving Standbys:

Spinach Dip

Squash Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole (with brown-sugar/pecan topping, NOT marshmallows)

Cranberry Cream Salad* (*not really a salad, unless you’re a southerner and your definition of salad is very broad)

Stuffing Bread

Brown Butter Pecan Pie

Garden Snapshot 11.18.14

It was 75 degrees outside yesterday.  Tonight it will get down to 24, then swing wildly back upwards to 70 later in the week.  Which seems about right, for a North Carolina winter.

Though we had a freeze, technically, a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t really a hard freeze: the peppers and eggplant survived, the dahlia still blossomed.  Most of the tomatoes were okay.  But I realized this past weekend, that I was so over them—tired of the tomatoes that stubbornly refused to redden; the bell peppers that failed to grow larger than the size of an olive (a large olive, but still: hardly worth it).

The cowpeas and okra have been shedding their leaves for weeks: these guys know when to give up the ghost.  And so, I’ve been actually looking forward to a killing frost: the tomatoes were less than stellar this year, so it’s time to move on, to regroup: I need better soil.

For Christmas, I’ve decided, I’ll be asking for a load of mulch.  This winter I’ll be spreading compost liberally, and in early spring amending the beds with blood and bonemeal.  I’ve cast about a cover crop of red clover seed into one sad, sandy bed, and other areas of the lawn where I don’t want grass anymore; hopefully they’ll grow this winter, enrich the soil, smother the grass, and die back in summer. That’s the plan, anyway.  I haven’t told Andy yet; last time I told him I wanted to expand the garden more, he told me, “Leave the lawn alone!” But it’s a pretty pitiful lawn, what with no irrigation, and a soil consisting mainly of sand.

This past weekend I pulled out most of the remaining summer veggies—the ones, at least, that were dead already or not going to produce anything before the first hard freeze.  It felt cleansing.  I pulled up—surprisingly—a handful of sweet potatoes, too.  Some of them were not worth eating, and some of them had been eaten already—by the damned mole that plagues my yard.

In the meantime I’m tending to the cold-hardy veggies.  I’ve seeded a bed with kale, and set out transplants in others.  I have a whole flat of onions to plant, and the volunteer arugulas are holding steady at a stout three inches tall.

I made a potato barrel of sorts: a leftover black plastic pot, filled partially with broken twigs (hugelkultur: google it), dead leaves, and soil.  So far they’ve done well, nestled in an L on the south side of the brick porch (thermal mass!).  Tonight it’s covered with a couple layers of old towels to try to keep the potato tops from frostbite.

So long, flip-flop season.  Happy fall gardening, from this corner of the earth!