Tag Archives: healthy

I Am in Love. Again.

It happens to me every time I pick something fresh to eat, straight from the rich earth: I fall in love with the whole process all over again. Whether it’s my garden, my neighbor’s fruit tree, wild mushrooms from the woods, or berries from an orchard, it’s this sense of complete wonder and fulfillment.  Call it cheesy, call it hippie, call it tree-hugging, I don’t care. There’s just something unexplainably wonderful about it.

Today it was fennel, and now that’s all I want: fennel on my eggs, in my sausage, on my tomatoes.

I pulled the plants, and everything from stem to seed is cleaned and drying. I plunge my seed heads into boiling water for just a moment to make sure there will be no little bugs eating them before I do:

The green bits and flowers are cleaned and dehydrated for powdering. Ever had fennel flowers or pollen? Just amazing.  The aroma when I harvested was so strong that my neighbor, on her morning walk, asked if that sweet, beautiful smell was my morning glories. She’s never used fennel, but I may have made a convert!

This heralds the start of the real work, and the real joy.  Part of the joy is that there’s no waste when we grow our own food. I trimmed the greens, saved the seeds, and the pulled the roots to compost, which made room for the carrots we’ll be seeding shortly.

How is your garden growing?


10 Minute Meatless. It’s Not Just For Mondays Anymore.

There’s a big “Meatless Mondays” movement, and while I’m not going to go into the pros, cons, and politics of that, I will say that I am not sure why it’s only Mondays. Meat is expensive, both financially and environmentally, and eating slabs of it every night is generally not a recipe for responsible living. I’m obviously not saying don’t eat meat. We do. I am saying (again) eat less of it. Even if you’re paleo, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotta have a Porterhouse every night.  And, if you’re like many Americans these days, you couldn’t afford it anyway.

One of the ways we love to eat meatless, or even to stretch a small bit of leftover meat, is a crust-less quiche, more fancifully known as a frittata.

The bonus about this recipe, aside from being filling, inexpensive, healthy, and frugal, is that it’s a great way to use up those bits and bobs of veggies you’ve got leftover. Since our meal plans start on Mondays, we usually have leftovers on Friday or Saturday, sometimes Sunday. If we eat meatless on Monday, it’s a coincidence, but since we eat meatless a lot, I don’t feel too bad about it.

I don’t have a picture of this frittata after it came out of the oven because it rained and got really dark in the kitchen (and my flash makes food look icky). In fact, I don’t have any decent pictures of any frittatas for one reason or another. But trust me, they’re delicious!

A Dinner from My Nephew: Wild Rainbow Trout

My youngest nephew is quite a fisherman. He lives several states away from me, though, so I rarely get the chance to eat his catches, something I lament regularly. I try to fish with him whenever I get back home, and if I had him around, I’d fish a whole lot more here in VA. I’ve watched him grow up with a fishing pole in his hand, a proud smile on his face with every catch. He’s gone from randomly tossing a line in the water at age 5ish to an accomplished, seasoned fisherman at the ripe old age of 17 (how did that happen–man, I am getting old fast!).

Last time I was home, he sent me home with a cooler of frozen, vacuum packed rainbow trout, venison, and wild pork (yep, he and his brother also hunt!).

When we pulled the first package a couple weeks ago, they were beautiful:

We wanted to grill them, so I stuffed them with onions and herbs, and put them on skewers, then rubbed the outside with olive oil, salt, and pepper:

And onto the grill with fresh sweet corn and homemade ciabatta bread:

We put them right over the hottest coals for about 7 minutes a side. Don’t forget to brush the grill with oil first, or they’ll stick and that’s just a mess you don’t want to have to deal with. They came off the grill perfectly, with crispy skin and fully-cooked, roasted meat:

To top off this all-local meal, we sliced tomatoes and basil from the garden, then topped with some local feta cheese:

At the end of the meal, all that was left were the bones:

I can’t wait to make more of this fish. It was beautiful–nutty, smokey, no fishy flavor at all. It was even better because it was wild-caught, responsibly, by someone with a passion for what they do. Thanks, Josh, for the fish and the memories that go with it.

And now, I need to find a place to fish that doesn’t require a boat, because I really miss this kind of fresh fish. My current fishing holes aren’t so productive.

It’s About Time!

Well, in theory, I have internet access again. In reality, let’s not get our hopes up that it’ll last. But, while it does, I am trying to get photos loaded and posts written. First things first: I promised my twitter followers and some other folks a picture of the huge Mortgage lifter tomato we have in the garden, so here it is:

Keep in mind that the fella holding this monster is 6 1/2 feet tall. I have no idea what we’re going to do with it once it gets ripe (other than save the seeds, of course), but it warrants something special. If you’ve got ideas, leave them in the comments!

If you look closely, you’ll see part of our new tomato trellising system. Our tomato plants completely got away from us this year–some are taller than Thadd, and hanging so heavy with tomatoes even at the ends–so our initial system was a bust. Fortunately, a friend of ours has a huge stand of bamboo, and I have a partner who enjoys engineering challenges. Born of this combination was the tomato trellising system we began installing yesterday:

It’s not easy to photograph, but hopefully you get the idea. We got about about 80% of our tomatoes in the lower bed trellised yesterday before we ran out of bamboo. Hopefully, we’ll get the rest done later in the week. I am not sure when later in the week, since we also have a ton of other food-and-garden related stuff do to:

Yep, the tomatoes are in. Above is just a part of one day’s harvest. So, we’re canning on Thursday.  In the meantime:

Peaches are also in. These are from one of our absolute favorite places in the area, Vintage Virginia. I know their website says “Vintage Virginia Apples,” but  they also do peaches and plums, and everything is an heirloom variety. I’ve never tasted any fruit like theirs, and we try to put up a bunch of the peaches and apples each year (drying, canning, freezing, saucing,etc.). I got 30lbs of peaches yesterday, and plan to get another 30 lbs. next week.

Also, we’ll have damson plums from a neighbor to deal with later this week, and I can barely keep up with my basil. So, it’s a busy week, but I know we’ll really appreciate all the work when we have fabulous food all winter. What are you preserving right now?

The Garden

An online-friend and fellow healthy-n-frugal foodie asked me to post some garden pictures, something I really should have been doing all along, anyway.  We’re really excited to have a garden this year, since it’s the first year we’ve ever been able to have one of our very own. We live in a rental, and didn’t anticipate that the landlords would be keen on the idea of us tilling up the backyard. Turns out, we were wrong! They even tilled for us, how amazing is that? It did go in late, which means we had to plant in too much of a hurry for us to do a lot of what we’d like. But, that’s part of starting a new garden, right? We’re already laying out plans for our fall/winter garden, which will include more co-planting and more careful spacing, for starters.

The garden isn’t huge–we’re certainly not going to be able to live on it alone–but it’s a start. We’ll be putting a lot of it up for winter, and it’ll also help keep our costs down during the summer. Plus, fresh-from-the-garden just tastes better. And, our other neighbor has a garden that must be the size of Texas, because holy cow does that guy have produce. He’s been giving us some of his extras, and we’re going to return the favor in canned goods. Bartering for the win.

So, here it is! (Note: my good camera battery was dead, so these aren’t as beautiful as I’d like. I’ll get around to it soon).

We planted a slew of morning glories around the short fence we put up. This serves three purposes: it makes it really difficult for animals to get into the garden, it attracts loads of pollinators, and mostly it hides the very-functional-but-not-so-pretty fence nicely!

We planted 16 tomato plants, all heirlooms of various varieties. We got our first grape tomatoes this past weekend, and our first big tomato on Tuesday!

Above is the “hedgerow” made by the morning glories. We actually need bigger stakes for some of our tomatoes, which will get done as soon as the temperature drops below 99 degrees. Below, our pickling cucumbers and wax peppers:

And, of course, the basil:

This is just one plant. I have several of these, and I’m having to harvest about every other day. Thankfully we love pesto! Not pictured are several other kinds of peppers, the rest of my herbs, a random accidental volunteer zucchini plant, and my blueberry bushes. I’ll try and get some pictures of them soon.

So far, our harvest has been fabulous. We used one shot of homemade garlic aphid spray, and that was it. No chemicals. We’re looking forward to a long season of eating food from right out of our back door, and putting it up for fall and winter, too. I’ve already done a pile of ice-cubed basil (in both water and oil), pesto, sauteed squash, pickles, and some dried hot peppers from the garden.

How is your garden growing? If you’ve got garden pics or a blog, link to it in the comments!

Better Late Than Never, and On the Menu

First, a wrap-up of the Weekend Cooler Challenge.  This should have happened a week ago, but I had huge writer’s block (I have no idea why, I just did). This is the really short version:

It was a total win. No crappy fast-food, a weekend without stress about “where are we going to eat and is it going to cost my life-savings to have decent food?” The slightly longer version is better told by Gaylin herself:

“What do I wish we’d really had time to make? Well, if I hadn’t gotten an emergency call from work that derailed the middle of my cooking efforts, both the scones and the Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon that we get from our fisherman, Montana Dan’s Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon. He sells at the local farmer’s market (as well as online). 
And how did it all fit in the cooler? With the exception of the wine, everything fit with more than enough room, for the time it spent there, including the ice used to keep it cool on the trip. Of course it didn’t stay in the cooler; it actually ended up in the hotel room’s bathtub once we arrived. But that’s another story. ” 
She later added: “Oh wait! I know what I forgot! The homemade nutella brownies. I wasn’t particularly pleased with those. I prefer fudge brownies, but they ended up more like cake brownies. They were good, to be sure, and disappeared almost as fast as the booze smoothies, but they’re a recipe I need to tweak a bit, I think. ” I’m putting this remark in this wrap-up, because I think it’s important to say that even those of us who cook a lot and do it well (and this wonderful woman makes me look like a talentless hack–she’s amazing) aren’t perfect. We have recipes that don’t turn out, we run out of time, we just plan give up some days. And that’s okay. It’s part of cooking, of learning to cook, of finding what works and what doesn’t.  You make a note that something needs to change, and you do it again.
People ask me a lot “where did you learn to cook,” and “How can I learn?” The answer is simple: practice. There’s no way to get good without mistakes. The more you cook, the less you’ll generally totally screw up, but you will still screw up. Generally, those “mistakes” come out less and less severe (I mean, do any of us really think that those homemade-nutella brownies would have been anything other than dreamy?), and sometimes will even result in wonderful new things.
And, with that, I’m going to remind you to visit Gaylin’s page regularly, because she’s awesome. And she admits her mistakes, as well as sharing her wonders (of which there are many). And that is the mark of a wonderful Chef!
This week is incredibly busy for us. For starters, I’ve got a bunch of blogg-y stuff to do, like updating my sample menus, which I’ve been promising to do forever.
Monday: Vegetarian Lasagna with homemade ciabatta bread.  The garden is coming in, and so is our neighbor’s. He planted squash. Lots of squash. I have something like 15lbs of it waiting for processing in my kitchen right now. I love this recipe because 1) it’s not a recipe, it’s more of an idea and 2) I haven’t met a vegetable that doesn’t work in it.  Fresh red sauce, basil and other herbs from the garden, squash, spinach, onions. I did not make my own cottage cheese, though I really need to get my rennet and get that started, nor did I make my own noodles (that’s just because I was lazy). Thadd, of course, did the baking.
Tuesday: BLTs. Tuesdays are always a hectic day here. I teach late, and Thadd works. So, generally this day needs quick meals. I have to admit, we’ve been waiting for this day for months: we’re eating our first garden-fresh tomato, from our own garden!
We’ll have it with our lettuce, and Thadd’s homemade bread. The bacon, unfortunately, isn’t local. There’s only one person at all even sort of local doing it, but it’s an hour drive to get it. So, this is hormone, nitrate, etc. free bacon.
Wednesday: Hoisin Tofu with Vegetables. We have some Twin Oaks tofu left in the freezer that needs to be used up. I’ll rub it with homemade hoisin sauce, skewer it, and toss it on the grill with (you guessed it) squash and grape tomatoes. The veggies will be rubbed in olive oil and sprinkled with Asian 5-spice. Since we’re using the grill and non-petroleum charcoal is expensive, we’ll be doing the other grill items for the week, too.
Thursday:  Grilled Rainbow Trout with Packet potatoes and vegetable. My nephew is a wonderful fisherman. It’s a shame he lives so far away from me, but I am really excited to finally bust out the fish he sent home with me on my last visit to MI. I love rainbow trout, and it’s a rare treat. We’ll grill it gently, and serve it with potatoes tossed in olive oil and whatever spices I feel like that day, and probably some kind of vegetable (we’ll see what’s in at the Wednesday market).
Friday:  Steak over Green Salad, with charred sweet potatoes. The grass-fed beef from Pannill’s Gate Farm is calling our name. We’ll do one steak on the grill Wednesday, then let it chill out in the refrigerator until we slice it up for the salad. It’s great cold. The sweet potatoes are an idea from some friends. When they’re put directly on the coals for about an hour, they get really creamy and lovely!
This weekend is up in the air for a variety of reasons, so no dinners for Sat or Sun.  Lunches, as usual, are leftovers. Breakfasts will be combinations of fresh fruit, yogurt, milk, eggs, bread, and leftovers (I am hoping we have some rainbow trout leftover!).
What are you eating this week?

On the Menu, A Missed Week’s Ketchup..Er, Catch-Up

The Cooler Challenge series was awesome, and a lot of fun. I hope you enjoyed it as much as Gaylin and I did, and let us know if you try any of the recipes. Or, maybe you’ll take the challenge yourself, and share what you came up with! Either way, it did means some of my regularly-scheduled stuff got put off, including last week’s On the Menu. So, here is what we were eating last week:


Sunday: Leftovers. We each had plans that meant we wouldn’t be home to cook or eat together, so we cleaned out the refrigerator.

Monday: Grilled Indian  tofu and vegetable kebobs, with grilled salt & olive oil porgi, over brown rice in stock. Twin Oaks tofu is hand-made from local, non-GMO soybeans, and it’s spoiled me for other tofu. It’s got an amazing texture and a really meaty, nutty taste (I realize those two things sound weird together, but trust me). The veggies & tofu are rubbed in an Indian BBQ rub, and the chicken is cooked in homemade chicken stock. Now, here’s the weird part, I guess. We had some porgi, which is a fish, in the freezer. It’s kind of a long story as to why, but it needed to be eaten. There wasn’t enough for a meal in and of itself, so we decided to put it with another light main course.  I brushed it in olive oil, sprinkled it with black sea salt and fresh-crushed pepper, and tossed it on the grill. It was great!

Tuesday: Homemade multi-cheese mac & cheese, with fresh vegetables and smoked sausage. Served with salad. It was a week to clean out the refrigerator, apparently. Turns out we had a bazillion small bits of cheese, from smoked mozzarella to cream cheese, all local, that needed to be used up ASAP.  I tossed in some squash from our awesome neighbor, who has a garden the size of Toledo I think, some spinach, and a few other bits of veggies that I had lying around. I also put in some smoked sausage, though it wasn’t (unfortunately) local. We really need to buy a quarter hog. Anyway, the whole meal was rounded out with a fresh greens salad.

Wednesday: Cauliflower and Potato burritos. Vegetarian night. This recipe was originally from Vegetarian Times, but since their server is apparently having issues I can’t link it right now. It’s hefty and spicy and wonderful! It was also made with potatoes from that same awesome neighbor who gave us the squash.

Thursday: Grilled Chicken and Potatoes, with grilled balsamic squash. Thadd’s night to cook, and I am on the go. We’re using up potatoes and squash here, too! We did “hobo potatoes,” which is essentially a foil packet with olive oil, butter, pepper, sea salt, onions, and potatoes tossed on the grill. The squash were sliced lengthwise, the salted and allowed to set for about 15 minutes to remove some of the water. The salt was wiped off, and they were coated with a blended mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and basil.

Friday: Jambalaya. I have no idea why, but I have been craving this for a while now. It’s a great way to stretch meat, though I leave the chicken out most of the time.

Saturday: We had some friends over for Ethiopian!

Luches:  Leftovers for the most part, though I’m doing a lot of raw milk smoothies because I don’t get hungry in the heat. Breakfasts: Greek yogurt, fruit, homemade bread for toast, lots of pastured eggs, raw milk. Snacks: raw milk yogurt cheese (made from our milk), edamame and walnut mint pate, boiled eggs, fruit, other cheeses, nuts.

What’s your plan for the week?