Author Archives: bounteous

Christmas tamales

2012 12 26_8074

Sigh.  Christmas?  It’s March.  I know.  And I don’t really have any excuses either!  I guess I just fell out of the habit and it’s been hard to get things started again.

So I’m going to make a goal of at least one weekly post.  Here is what I’ve been meaning to write about since Christmas!

Are you a holiday traditionalist, or do you like to mix things up?  We definitely fall into the latter group.  We hosted Christmas dinner this year for the first time in our new house, and we spent weeks thinking about what we would make.  Then the New York Times had an article just in the nick of time which gave us our inspiration.

We’ve made tamales many times before, but it never occurred to me to make them for Christmas.  I didn’t know they were the traditional Christmas meal in Mexico!  They are labor-intensive, but then you’ve got a perfect, healthy and portable meal for weeks!  They freeze easily and can be tossed right in your lunch bag.  They’re also great for camping.

In the past we’ve used Alton Brown’s dough recipe/assembly, but this time we adapted the one in the NYT.

I think the pork filling is more traditional, but here is my veggie version.  We made both kinds.  Approved by my Mexican neighbor :).

Tamales

For the dough:

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 4 cups dry masa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups warm stock

For the filling:

  • 1 medium-large pepper
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • teaspoon chile powder
  • 1 can beans (or two cups cooked beans)
  • About a half cup shredded cheese
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Assembly:

  • Package of corn husks
  • A very large stock pot
  • Steamer rack

Method

Heat enough water to cover the corn husks in a large bowl.  They will float so devise a way to keep them covered — usually something heavy like a larger bowl or dish on top will work.

Pour simmering water over husks and let soak for 30-60 minutes.

For the filling…

Saute some finely chopped garlic, a pepper and an onion with some chile powder, salt, pepper etc.  Add some beans — about a can or two cups worth.  We used pinto beans this time but black beans are great too.  Heat the beans through, adding some water or stock by the tablespoon if the mixture gets too dry.

Toss in a bowl and mash up coarsely with a fork or potato masher or whatever.  You can also use a food processor if you want it to be more of a paste.  Allow to cool to room temperature and mix in some shredded cheese if you want.  While it is cooling, mix the dough.

The dough

Use an electric mixer to cream the shortening, and then slowly add the dry ingredients.  Add the stock a cup at a time until the dough is soft and pliable, but not too wet.  You can also do this step by hand but it’s a little more laborious.

Assembly

Spread a layer of dough about a 1/4 inch thick on each husk, leaving a little space on the top, the edges, and more space at the bottom.  I find this easiest to do by hand.  How much filling you put in each tamale depends on the size of the husk — they can vary widely — but definitely avoid over-filling and err on the side of too little.  Ease the dough away from the husk and bring together over the filling in the center.  This video has a demonstration starting around minute 13:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCrn5zlGjig

Wrap the husk around the tamale, fold over the bottom and tie with a string.

Steam all of the tamales for about an hour, until they release easily from the husk.

Serve with salsa, guacamole, cheese, etc.

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Enjoy for many meals to come!

-R

Happy holidays! And happy news…

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Greetings and happy holidays!  And apologies for my extended absence.  The thing is, I just haven’t felt up to cooking, eating or doing much of anything these past few months.  I’m 14 weeks pregnant today and just now gradually emerging from the fog of sickness and exhaustion that was my first trimester.  Didn’t think my steady diet of bagels and clementines was really worthy of a blog post :).

We moved into our first house a year ago, on Christmas day, and I’m so happy with the difference a whole year makes!  This year, instead of unpacking boxes we will be hosting our first Christmas dinner, cooking in our new kitchen.  And of course, it would not be the holiday season without our first Christmas tree.

I’ve always been solidly on the real tree side of the debate.  The smell and texture of a live tree in your home is just one of those quintessential things about Christmas.  And I’ve always believed they’re the more eco-friendly option.  Artificial trees are made of petroleum, whereas real trees do cycle carbon, provide habitat, prevent erosion, etc during their lifetimes.

I have been reading recently, though, about the inordinate amount of pesticides and fertilizers that are used in many tree farms throughout the country.  Christmas tree farming is a long-term investment.  When you plant a sapling, it can be more than a decade before that tree makes it to a market.  The market also demands a perfectly shaped, fully and bushy tree.  This necessitates a pretty chemical-intensive farming model to ensure a large and speedy return on investment!

With the purging of chemicals on my mind lately, this concerned me.  How could I cope with the cognitive dissonance that perhaps, PERHAPS, my beloved real trees were not the most environmentally sensitive choice after all?  I started googling to see if there were any organic tree options in the DC area.  Turns out there is exactly one:  Licking Creek Bend Farm sells their sustainable Christmas trees to order and also weekly at the Adams Morgan farmers market.  So into the city we went in search of the perfect tree.

We came home with the most beautiful and fragrant concolor fir, cut only days earlier.  Its branches may be a little more sparse than your typical generic tree, but I think it looks natural and perfect in our home.  You’d think an organic tree would be astronomically expensive, but  they had a variety of price points and the one we selected was comparable to the prices you’d find at a nursery.

I also very much believe in decorating your tree with ornaments that are sentimental, meaningful, or handmade — no color-coordinated, themed trees in my house!  So since this is our first Official tree, it seems a little sparsely decorated as we slowly build a collection.  But I still love it.

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2012 so far has been a very special year to us, and I’m so happy to celebrate this holiday season with my loved ones and welcome in the new year.  Excited to see what 2013 will bring!  Best wishes to a beautiful holiday and prosperous new year to you!

-R

 

 

2012 10 08_7983

Southern extravaganza: the best macaroni and cheese, greens, fried tofu and okra

 

Fall is here.  Winter is coming.  It’s the time of year I start moving toward heartier, heavier foods, but it’s also the time of year I gaze longingly at the lingering summer produce at the farmers markets.  It is the time of year for fried green tomatoes.

Alas, fried green tomatoes were not a part of this meal (it was several weeks ago…probably still summer!).  But they’d be the perfect accompaniment.  I dare even the most rigid omnivore to not enjoy!

The tofu recipe below is adapted from Veganomicon.  The others are from…?  Old and adapted beyond recognition.

Chile-Cornmeal Crusted Tofu

Canola oil for frying
1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed to remove as much liquid as possible
1 cup buttermilk (obv. use a vegan milk if you want to keep it vegan, but add some vinegar (i think, haven’t checked) to make it more buttermilk-y).
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon lime zest
1.5 teaspoons salt

Slice the tofu into eight slices and then slice each of those diagonally so you have 16 tofu triangles.

Sift cornstarch* into milk and stir until combined.

In another bowl, sift together the remaining dry ingredients — cornmeal, spices, lime zest and salt.

In a cast iron skillet, heat oil, about a 1/4 inch or enough to mostly cover tofu slices.

Designate one hand your “wet” hand and the other “dry.”  Do not violate these designations.

With your wet hand, dip the tofu into the milk-cornstarch mixture.  With your other hand, drop into the cornmeal and coat on all sides.  Remove and place in the skillet, frying on each side for 3 minutes or so, until browned.  Don’t crowd the tofu if it can’t all fit in the skillet.

When finished, place on paper towels.

*As a warning, do not let two ingredients prefixed by the word “corn” confuse you, as it did for my friend and me, who, unfortunately yet hilariously, mixed them up, multiple times, in a row.

Classic braised greens

Traditionally cooked for hours in a pot with a ham hock and/or other non-vegetarian ingredients, they can be just as delicious without the meat.

You can use any combination of greens you would like.  I had some mustard greens, kale, and collards all together in one pot this time.  Remove the stems, shred into small-ish pieces, and simmer in a pot of just enough water to cover (add more periodically as necessary) for about an hour.  For flavor, I add some crushed red pepper, dried mushrooms, salt and pepper, butter, sliced onions, maybe a smoky dried chipotle pepper.

Fried Okra

Okay, to be honest, I had never tried okra before, and I was planning on trying to roast them as was recommended on a few blogs and websites.  But Mr. R wanted to fry them.  Which wasn’t a bad idea.  I don’t know what recipe he used, but it was just a basic one, like this.

Macaroni and cheese

This is a simple recipe that cuts out unnecessary steps with results that are just as creamy and delicious.

Half pound macaroni (or other small pasta)
4 tablespoons butter
12 ounces cheese (cheddar, smoked gouda, parmesan, gruyere, be creative!)
12 ounces evaporated milk
Salt & pepper
Optional:  garlic, onion, other seasonings.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions and strain, return to pot.  While still hot, coat with butter, then add the milk and cheese.  Stir until melted and gooey.

A delicious shoulder season combination of hearty yet fresh fare!

-R

 

 

 

 

 

2012 09 15_7975

Windows and doors: soul of a building

Becoming the 5th owners of a nearly century-old house with a few years of neglect has been a blessing and a curse.  Nothing more exemplifies this dichotomy than the doors and windows of the house.

They are (okay, were) all original.  All 100% wood and glass.  All coated on the outside with chipping lead paint.  And all in various states of disrepair.

When you get into a situation like this, it is tempting to rip it all out and throw in the cheapest option.

But I truly feel like becoming the owner of a 90+ year old house is a commitment to its preservation.  I really believe that the concept that we should not invest in our own homes, that we should spend as little as possible, that we should only consider how to short change the next potential owner to maximize the return on our dollar rather than consider what is best for the house, for ourselves, is part of what got us into this housing market mess in the first place.  A house is a financial investment, and a big one at that, but should we really go about our lives thinking only of our immediate returns?  A house is so much more than that.  It is also a home.

All that, plus you know, I really hate vinyl.

Windows and doors, perhaps more than any other architectural feature, say a lot about a building.  You can tell so much about a house immediately simply by standing on the curb and examining the detailing and symmetry of the windows and doors.  Here is a website with lots of photos that explains it quite well.  Different historic periods had very specific ways of conveying the aesthetic of the day through the doors and windows.  On my morning commute through a few distinctive neighborhoods of DC, I love looking at the beautiful detailing and originality of the windows on the Victorian row houses.  And you can immediately tell when they’ve been replaced cheaply.  They simply don’t make ‘em like they used to.  I mean, you’d never see a lovely stained glass transom light above the door of your average house built today.  People simply don’t build pretty things anymore.  They build cheap things.

Vinyl windows don’t have a very long lifespan.  They warp and generally need to be replaced after 20-30 years where they end up in a landfill.   They cannot be repaired.    They are quite ugly.  Their one claim to fame, their energy efficiency, is kind of diminished when you consider that they ultimately warp and bend out of shape.  And it is the opinion of many preservationists that a properly maintained, properly working wood window is not substantially less energy efficient than modern windows.

As for my improperly maintained wood windows?  I can attest that these are less energy efficient, ha.  But with adequate weatherstripping and those optically clear plastic sheets you hang over them with a hair dryer, you can gain a big improvement and reduce a lot of draftiness.

Here is one of the prettier casement windows in my house:.

Another one, plus a sleepy cat who thinks he’s now mantle decor?

Now, there are a few windows on the sides of the house, toward the rear, that we have absolutely replaced with cheap vinyl windows.  We also had the lead-painted trim wrapped in aluminum.  These were a little more urgent and a clear safety hazard (one was in our kitchen, one was preventing AC in our bedroom!).  And in the rear-side of a house, where it can’t be seen from the street, it’s not as critical to preserve its history.

But there are a few beautiful windows in the front that we so far just can’t bring ourselves to destroy.  And the door.  We NEEDED a new door!

Windows are very much one thing, but when you go through a doorway every day, it gets a lot of wear and tear.  I think if we really wanted to, we probably could have stripped and sanded and reglazed the glass on this door, but it was ultimately too much work for an old and flimsy door that really needed replacement.

Here it sits on our front porch waiting to be taken to Community Forklift where someone will hopefully upcycle it into something creative and pin it on pinterest.

It still even had the original doorknob with old-timey lever lock keyhole  (We switched out the knob with a cheap replacement as a temporary solution when it broke).

This historic door could not be replaced by just any door.  We wanted something that matched the historic feel and character of our home.

Our contractor and some of our friends/family were SHOCKED that we were not getting some sturdy, nondescript and cheap fiberglass door.  They also were taken aback by our choice of a door that had a similar lite (glass pane) pattern.  WON’T KIDS THROW ROCKS AT IT, BUGLERS BUST THROUGH IT, ETC ETC?! Um, well they haven’t in 90 years.  And if children really wanted to throw rocks at glass, everyone may as well get rid of their windows too.  Why is it so weird to have glass on a door these days?

Anyway.  We picked out a door from Simpson with traditional Arts & Crafts styling made of ash and stained.

If you would like a wood entry door, it is important that it is in a covered location and that you choose an appropriate species of wood.  It’s a good idea to have a storm door too.  That part is still on our To Do list.

But it’s a beautiful door, no?

We also ordered some period-appropriate hardware.

It is also incredibly sturdy, energy efficient, and should last this house at least another century.

Repairing the old windows is our next project.  Stay tuned!

-R

2012 09 09_7922

Moroccan-spiced chickpea and squash stew

The temperature has dropped, fall produce is showing up at markets, and I am starting to crave warm and spicy autumnal foods.  But there are still so many tomatoes to be eaten!  This recipe perfectly blends the summer and the fall, making it a delicious shoulder-season meal.  Grilling the squash lends a beautiful, smoky flavor to please carnivores and herbivores alike — but you could roast it as well.

I actually had some delicata squash pop up out of the compost in my garden in my old house.  I bought one more from the farmer’s market.  You could use any kind of orange winter squash.

This recipe is very flavorful but I think even those who prefer more mild dishes could handle it.  As strong and fragrant as the cinnamon will smell, it actually lends just a very subtle touch in the end and works perfectly with the cumin.

Moroccan-spiced stew with chickpeas and grilled squash
Adapted loosely from here, and probably some other recipes for inspiration; there are a lot of google results for “Moroccan squash stew.”

1 lb squash — butternut, acorn, delicata, or even pumpkin
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
2 cups chickpeas (or one can)
4-5 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1 bunch greens (I used Tuscan kale, but spinach would be find)
A few hot peppers (I had some cayenne but you could use jalapeno, serrano, etc)
2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
bunch of coarsely chopped celery, carrot, onion for stock
salt and pepper to taste
For garnish:  bunch cilantro, plain yogurt, hot sauce
Quinoa (healthy) or couscous (authentic) for serving

Make the stock:  toss a few handfuls of coarsely chopped celery, carrots and onion (I actually freeze celery/carrots in bags for this  purpose), plus the cinnamon stick, some dried mushrooms, a few peppercorns, thyme, etc — whatever sounds good in a stock — and cover with water.  Simmer until reduced in half, about an hour or so.  You will need two cups of stock.  Strain and set aside.  (NOTE:  you can obviously buy pre-made stock, but if you’ve got time, may as well do it yourself).

Peel and seed the tomatoes.  I’ve always just blanched them, but recently came across this easier method.  Chop them coarsely.

To prepare the squash, peel them, cut in half, scoop out seeds, and grill.  They do not need to be fully cooked at this point, just charred.  When they are done and cool to the touch, dice them.

Saute the onion in a large pot over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes with the cumin (and cinnamon stick, if you are using premade stock).  Add the tomatoes, garlic, chickpeas, potatoes, peppers, and grilled squash.  Raise heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-10 minutes or so, until the squash and potatoes are somewhat cooked and the tomatoes are getting saucy.  Add the stock.  Add the greens.  Simmer everything together until it is flavorful and stew-y, about 30-60 minutes (the longer the better!).  Check periodically if you need to add more stock.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

When it is done, garnish with cilantro leaves, hot sauce, plain Greek yogurt, etc.  Serve over quinoa or couscous.

Mmmmmm.

 

 

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Why everyone should be planting leafy greens now

If you have ever once thought about giving edible gardening a try, greens — lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, cabbage, broccoli, etc — are what you should plant.  And you should plant them now.  Here is why:

1.  Greens are some of, if not THE, healthiest thing you could ever eat.  They are chock full of anti-cancer phytonutrients and fiber.  And they’re versatile and easy to work into recipes.  Tossed in a salad, sauteed with a tasty sauce, cooked into soups and stews, scrambled with eggs, chopped up and mixed into a casserole — I’m hard pressed thinking of a recipe in which greens would NOT work!

2.  They don’t need a whole lot of sun.  Fruiting vegetables need a full day of sun, but when you’re just eating the foliage, you can get by with less.  If your only spot for a container garden is in complete shade, such as behind a wall or building, you might be SOL.  But if you get even dappled shade (like, through trees), or 3-4 hours of sun, you can probably grow greens.  They won’t be so prolific and bushy as they would with full sun.  However, they will probably not bolt as quickly, lasting longer into the season.

3.  Greens are very frost-resistant.  I kid you not, I had kale and broccoli growing over the winter that was snowmageddon.  It was covered in snow for like two months straight.  And it did not die.  I think the snow might actually insulate plants and protect them.  You can plant most greens in the late summer, keep them going over the winter, and harvest them in the spring.  I know that chard will also keep through the winter, and friends have had the same experience with spinach.  As long as you don’t pick the leaves when temps are below freezing, you should be good to go.
Disclaimer:  I have apparently moved from zone 7b to 7a.  I don’t know if that half a zone will make a difference.  And I can’t speak for north of zone 7.  But south of zone 7 — y’all definitely have no excuse not to garden year-round :)

4.  Greens are a gift that keeps on giving.  The chard and arugula I planted this year kept coming back even after I cut it.  Arugula does not last through hot weather, but the chard is still going!  After I chop off the broccoli heads, I can usually get at least one more small cluster of broccoli to come back.  Kale will keep going, but it’s hard to get a second harvest in before it bolts from the heat.  Anyone have any experience with spinach or other greens?

5.  You can even plant greens in the middle of winter.  I’ve never tried this myself.  But this winter I am excited to attempt starting seeds outdoors with a mini greenhouse as seen here.  If it works in Canada, it should work in Maryland, right?

6.  In the middle of winter, you don’t have to worry about pests.  You can neglect them pretty well during the winter.  But just before frost sets in, and after the last frost date, do keep a watchful eye on your greens because as some of the few plants remaining, the bugs will be all over that shit. I’ve had luck with a sprinkling of diatomaceous earth, as well as some of these organic pest remedies from Fine Gardening.  Sometimes all it takes is a blast of water from the hose.

There are many reasons to grow your own food.  First of all, it is fun.  Secondly, while its unlikely you will grow and preserve enough to feed your entire family year-round without several acres at your disposal and full-time work, food no doubt tastes better when it is imbued with the satisfaction derived from producing it yourself.  Some vegetables, tomatoes and corn, for instance, actually DO taste 100% better when freshly picked from your back yard.  And finally, we can go a long way to protecting our earth, promoting sustainability, independence and self-sufficiency by using all available space for something PRODUCTIVE.  Grass serves no purpose.  Why not grow something nourishing?  Even if you just have space for one pot of herbs — give it a try. Grow something.

-R

eggplant

August garden update

I was about to declare my container gardening experiment a failure when I impulsively picked up some red reflective mulch on clearance at a garden center nearby in a last-ditch effort to save it.  Perhaps it’s just coincidence — it is possible my plants just needed until August to store up the energy to produce fruit– but whatever it was, it seems to have done the trick.


(makes it kind of hard to mow the grass around it though…)

I actually have a few tomatoes!  Most are still green but I’ve picked one so far which unfortunately had blossom end rot.  Another is pink and about to be ready to pick.

I have SIX eggplants!

 

My cayenne plant is going crazy!  I pick a bunch of peppers every week.

My poblano plant has not been quite as prolific as the cayenne.  Even in years past with lots of sun my experience has been that they love to grow tall and bushy but not produce a whole lot of peppers.  Is there a secret to poblano pepper plants?  I’d love to have enough for chile relleno!

I even got some fall veggie plants into the ground.

Three weeks ago I started searching for fall seedlings because I had plans the following two weekends and didn’t want to wait too long. But everyone at every nursery I went to looked at me as though I was crazy for wanting to start so early, and implied that they would not have any in stock for MONTHS.  However, when I returned just 2 weekends later, not only had they already restocked but had SOLD OUT of the most popular plants like kale.  WTF.  So much for trying to get a head start.

I have seriously been to 5 separate nurseries multiple times and have not been able to find kale seedlings.  I suppose it is just as well because I don’t really have the space to grow enough kale for my voracious appetite and can stick to things that I use less frequently and cost more at the market.

Or that grow vertically — like Brussels sprouts!

I am super excited to give growing my very favorite vegetable a try.  I got these grow bags on end of summer clearance for just a few bucks.

I also picked up some broccoli and radicchio.

I’ve never grown Brussels sprouts or radicchio before.    No idea how difficult they may be.  It would be SO AWESOME though to get six stalks of Brussels sprouts this year — they are so expensive at the grocery store compared to the $1.99 I paid for a pack of seedlings!  Not sure what I will do with 6 heads of radicchio, however…

It’s hard to believe the summer is coming to a close and September will be here on Saturday.  Summer is usually my favorite season and I’m usually sad to see it go, but I think I’m looking forward to fall this year.  I mean, it’s been pretty hot in my house.  And now that, for the first time in four years, fall does not mean back to school for Mr R and me, I am looking forward to all the fun weekends we can have.

And of course…Brussels sprouts!

-R

800px-WMATA_Departure

Run commuting?

 

I live an annoying 2 miles from the closest metro stop.  And about 5 miles from my office.  A little too far to walk, but close enough to make the 30-50 minute trek via bus and rail seem agonizing.  I mean, many people run that distance regularly!

So the thought occurred to me recently — why not run it?  But how could that be possible — how could you lug your lunch, clothes and all the other crap I accumulate during the day on a jog home?  Has anyone actually ever tried this?

Well, of COURSE someone has, in this day and age when everyone likens themselves as some sort of Lance Armstrong.  In fact, a little googling revealed a whole community of run commuters with lots of advice on planning routes, carrying your things and tidying up at the office.  This was seeming more and more possible.  Instead of delaying my already long-ish commute home by some time at the gym, why wouldn’t I just kill two birds with one stone, and possibly beat the bus home at the same time?

So one Monday morning I decided to give it a try.  I packed my things in my little backpack that has a waist strap and is lightweight.  I brought a sandwich for lunch instead of something that would require a heavy glass container.  I wasn’t ready to run the whole distance, so I took the metro to my nearest stop and planned to run the two miles home from there.

Well had I paid closer attention to the weather, I would have known that a heat wave decided to spike into the upper 90s that day.  And that the route I had planned out was almost 100% in the bright sun.  Having spent most of year so far on the treadmill, I was not acclimated to running in that kind of heat. With a backpack.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of that 2 miles walking!  And it was a while before I wanted to try it again.

This past Monday I noticed that the high was to be a balmy 89 degrees (94 heat index) and decided to give it a go again.  This time, I mapped out a shadier route and kept it up for about one mile, until I hit a busy intersection and had to stop.  And that stop about did me in.  You know that feeling when you stop running in the summer, and you can just feel the heat radiating off your skin now that there is no longer air moving past you?  Ugh.  I ran for probably most of that remaining mile, but had to start mixing more walking in.  Especially up hills!

But even with the walking, I got home earlier than I would have on the bus.  And that is assuming the bus was on time with no delays.  As it cools off, I am sure it would be a faster commute, but then I’ll also have to consider the waning light in the evenings.

Do you have any creative ideas for commuting? Do you bike, walk or run as part of your commute?  How do you tackle problems such as transporting your gear, cleaning up, and extreme weather or darkness?

-R