A little love for the rutabaga

 

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There are a lot of recipes out there to try. Most of the time, I’m thrilled that I can type ingredients into a search box–almost any combination of ingredients–and come up with a recipe that someone has made. Chili, butternut squash, and lime? Here’s your recipe. Thyme, carrots, and lemon? The web pulls up a bajillion options.

With all of this food creativity at my fingertips, it’s not often that something gets made more than once. If it does, it has to be mighty tasty AND have ingredients I’m likely to have around. I have a well-stocked pantry, but there are limits to what I’ll add to it (mainly because it’s full…). One recipe that is on the yearly rotation, in mass quantities when tomatoes are ripe, is a simple Tomato Mozzarella Pie (par-baked pie crust, a bed of mozzarella, a sprinkling of fresh slivered basil, a layer of thickly cut tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil. Bake at 400 for 35 minutes, let cool for 15). By July, I’m dreaming of it.  Another is Spaghetti Squash Carbonara–or it will be a yearly thing, now that I know about it. I’ve already made it twice, and it’s on deck for our dinner Sunday night.

Recipes that use vegetables I’ve grown are a huge plus, obviously, so I’m always looking for new things to do with root vegetables other than simply roasting them. Last year, Eating Well had a goat cheese and rutabaga puree in one of it’s holiday issues. I made it–Thanksgiving, I think–and really liked it. I liked it so much that fast-forward to today and my last two pounds of rutabagas, I remembered it. We had it with roasted chicken and this recipe for dinner.

The rutabaga doesn’t get a lot of love. It looks complicated to break down, it has a pungent smell–it’s kind of horseradishy-cabbagey to me, though I don’t know if that’s how others read it, and it’s not the blank slate of a potato. The breaking-it-down issue is easily dealt with: cut the long root off at the base of the bulb, cut the stem off where it starts to spread out at the top of the bulb, and peel it. I use a regular peeler, but a Y-shaped peeler also works. Cut it up (use a sharp knife and lay a flat end on the cutting board to keep it stable–it’s harder than a potato) according to your recipe and you’re ready for good eating. A cooked rutabaga is mild, with buttery, cabbagey, earthy tastes. Roast it, boil it, mash it, cook it low-and-slow in a stew, but make sure you give it a shot. If you like all the other flavors included, I recommend starting with this recipe.

This is where I got the picture:https://klamathlakefoodexplorer.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/rutabaga-goes-to-aerie-acre/  Oddly enough, even with all of my veggie pics, I don’t have one of my rutabagas. I’ll have to fix that next fall.

You wish you were this sexy…

On the list of topics for my blog, I’d have to say that my upper lip has not always been high up there. But since it’s about three times its normal size right now, it’s kind of the center of my attention.

This isn’t the first time this has happened; December and January saw some inflating, though not quite as impressive as today’s. The first time, I was picking up groceries at a local drop for a Wholeshare group I belong to and then taking the dogs for a walk.  I popped a mint into my mouth, and it seemed that within seconds, it felt like a knot formed at the center of my lip and then the left side swelled up. I thought it might be the mint, so I stayed away from them, and then a few days later, the same thing happened. This time there was a variation, and the right side of the lip swelled. A few weeks later, the whole lip.  Still no mints, so I decided that wasn’t it and started eating them again.

I went through the rest of January, all of February, and nine days in March without it happening, so I was surprised when I felt that knot forming again this morning. It happened right after licking the spoon I used to measure out walnut oil into my salad dressing, so maybe it’s walnuts? I can’t remember if I had been eating them the first few times.  I hope it’s not that. Think of all those plant-based omega-3’s I’ll miss out on if I’m allergic to walnuts! (Of course, that’s my first concern. It has nothing to do with all of the brownies with walnuts that I’ll have to miss out on…)

As far as allergic reactions go–or whatever this is; I’m not convinced it’s an allergy–this doesn’t seem too bad. It’s not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. The worst part is having to go out in public, but given the fact that a lot of the public seems hell-bent on nominating The-Toupee-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for president, I might not mind interacting with them a bit less right now. The swelling lasts less than 24 hours, and an enforced day at home…well, the punishment doesn’t seem so bad.

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Wouldn’t you know, though? This doozy (it’s the worst one so far) happened the same day that I get to see my husband for the first time in almost two weeks. Oh well, some women pay for lips like this, right? I can tell him I’m testing it out before I pay to get both of them done.

Hurry up and wait

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The best advice I have about spring is the advice I find hardest to follow.

Wait.

It was mid-60’s here today, with moments of sunshine that were warm and not just bright, like they have been for the last three months. If a gardener was tempted to stick seeds in the ground, the sodden, cold mud that’s just below the surface of mulch and debris would be a good reminder that it will be awhile. But, oh, it’s tempting to think I can be out there planting things.

Instead, the first warm spring day of the year is reserved for clean-up. I do most of the vegetable garden in the fall, and some tidying of the flower beds if I get around to them. But by October, I’m tired. I’m ready to be done for a few months, and I’m canning my brains out to preserve vegetables and fruits for the winter. (I don’t even put that much up, in comparison to some–most?– people who can. I have no idea how they do it.) So, if I’m being honest, flower bed clean-up isn’t high on the list.

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I don’t feel too badly about that admission, though, because except taking out things like peonies and phlox that can over-winter powdery mildew, most of what I leave has seeds for birds, and provides shelter for critters. In fact, the catmint could probably hide a small city, it’s such a matted, enormous clump. Another benefit is that the hydrangea mop heads, echinacea seed heads, lily seedpods, and grasses offer some visual interest in an otherwise bare garden. (That picture is post today’s clean-up. I’m leaving the grass and hydrangea, because things are still pretty bare…)

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Finally, spring clean-up is like a discovery expedition.  Cutting back the catmint and spearmint, I found the green whorls of tiny new foliage. The day lilies were already putting up new green beneath the flattened gray foliage of last year, and under the mulch, the reddish tips of a peony were showing. One patch of chives is also on its way, though I had to look pretty closely to find it. Exciting stuff. (And probably puzzling to the drivers going by while I had my head practically hidden in the juniper and my bum in the air while I was looking for the chives.)

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I also planted some seeds today, which helps with that “I’d like to have my fingers in the dirt” feeling that I get around the end of February. Celeriac, escarole, leeks, and bunching, red, and yellow onions are nestled in their pods, sitting on a heat mat under the grow lights. The escarole should be the first thing that comes up; I’m looking forward to the excitement that comes with that first tiny green.

This first spring day is usually also a good reminder of muscles that winter makes me forget I have. My calves, hamstrings, and shoulder muscles are moaning quietly in sympathy with each other after the three and a half hours of bending, reaching, crawling, lifting, and pulling. Because heaven forbid I start slowly.

The aches and pains are okay, though. On the northwest side of the house, there’s a witch hazel getting ready to bloom for the first time since I planted it a few years ago. Those scraggly, wispy, crimson flowers–followed by a profusion of others from spring through fall–make everything worth it.

Repurpose

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Despite the cookie-cutter set-up of each show, (which is true of all of the reality shows on television) I find I have been completely sucked in by “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Joanna and Chip make me laugh, and the houses they re-do are just beautiful when completed. If Larry and I ever win the lottery, I’m going to see if I can convince them to come renovate our garage.

One of the things I like so much about the show is how they try to repurpose as many materials as they can. The table in the picture is from a shop I was in with friends this past Saturday, and I loved the use of old doors. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the two doors against the wall, but I think turning lovely old doors and table legs into new pieces always looks so pretty.

I wish I had more confidence about my ability to do those kinds of things. If I could just get the mind-set of, “If it doesn’t work, take it apart and start over,” it would help.  It’s funny, because that’s how I approach gardening and cooking, and I approached lesson-planning that way. I just haven’t been able to extend that to things that require a hammer, nails, and paint.  Maybe I need to add it to the list of things to tackle.

The more things change…

I just finished reading Vanity Fair by William Thackeray for the first time. I waver between feeling like I enjoyed it and feeling like I’ll never get those hours back. It’s rare that I read a book and find nothing to like about any of the characters, but this one succeeds in that dubious distinction. The thing is, given that its a satire of the behaviors and psychology of people during the Regency period in England, and that the subtitle is “a novel without a hero,” I don’t think I was supposed to particularly like any of the characters. While a good plot is probably the most important thing for my enjoyment of a novel, liking even one character is also pretty important. (I’m also a sucker for “good writing,” which certainly existed in this novel, even though his sentences were sometimes tortuously long and winding…and then kind of irrelevant to the main plot.) The plot of Vanity Fair is well-woven and held my interest, but the characters fought against that and sometimes made picking up the book feel more like a duty.

I couldn’t help making comparisons of the world Thackeray is satirizing with modern times in America, and I was rather amazed that the follies and faults of his characters didn’t feel dated at all. Greed, a longing for power, a shallow fascination with being entertained above other matters, hypocritical piety, adultery…it sounds like a selection of articles in the Sunday paper. It seems to support the idea that human psychology is pretty strongly wired in certain ways (which I think is probably the case for the good in humanity, as well, but that doesn’t really show up in the novel, so…).

Oddly enough, as these things so often work, in the final episode of “Downton Abbey” on Sunday night, Mary alludes to Becky Sharp, the female antagonist of Vanity Fair. If I hadn’t been reading it, I would have missed the allusion entirely. It wouldn’t have made my enjoyment of the show any less, I think, to have missed it; however, knowing the reference did add a layer of understanding of the scene that would have been lacking. It’s this, I think, that leads so many educators to call for a canon of works that students read in school, and it helps me sympathize somewhat with their cause. When we read many of the same books, we have a common language that helps add layers of understanding to our communications through our allusions, connections, and references.

What should be in that canon, however, is not something easily agreed upon, and I don’t think I’m going there in this post.

Anticipation

I’m sitting in the living room, and the smell of the Meyer lemon and Key lime plants that are fruiting and in bloom behind me make it smell like a tropical garden. They’ve been blooming off and on all winter, and inhaling the scent is an instant pick-me-up on gray days.

Now that the forecast is predicting lots of warming, I’ll start moving them outside for a few hours of fresh air each day. I’m rubbish at transitioning plants to new conditions in spring and fall, but I’d be devastated to lose these two, so I’ll have to be careful.

Walking the dogs today, there were signs everywhere that we’ll probably see an early spring. Mother Nature is unpredictable, but the early daffodils are three inches tall, the cherry buds are growing, and the ground had a little more give to it today than it has. I’ll start seeds this week for onions, celeriac, and Brussels sprouts, and hope that my sprouts actually do something this year. I had a bumper crop last year, but they were from the starts I bought as a hedge fund against my continued inability to get my own to thrive.

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. When fall roles around, I’m ready. I’m tired of the work in the garden and the break is welcome. Then there’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the new year to keep me occupied. And then…three (if we’re lucky) or four months until the cold lets go and the flowers come back. This winter was incredibly mild, so the longing for spring didn’t start as early as it sometimes does. I was harvestingkale and escarole from the garden into December, and I’ve been able to get out hiking with the dogs quite a bit. Last winter was so cold, any time spent outside felt like a punishment. Mild or no, I’m ready for green leaves, flowers, and food from the garden instead of the freezer and pantry. Welcome back, sun.

Daily play

I catered a dinner party last night, and it turned out that many on the guest list were teachers. It was the first time I had been in a roomful of teachers since I left a year and a half ago, and it was an odd feeling. Kind of like being stuck between two ex-boyfriends, one of whom you’re still friends with, and the other of whom you had hoped to never see again. In between plucking pin bones from nine pounds of salmon (motherflowersonofabiscuitwhatapainintheass) and cutting vegetables for stir-fry, I caught snippets of conversations that both reminded me why I left and reinforced why I still miss the classroom so much.

There was the usual griping about paper-grading, parents, and testing. There were the usual “funny things kids say and do” stories. I overheard conversations about school sports, math assignments, and not having enough time to go to the bathroom between classes. It was nice to hear what seemed to be a genuine camaraderie between all of these teachers, regardless of the grades or subjects taught. A few times, I had to resist the urge to chime in, but with all those pin bones to take care of, chatting wasn’t really an option, anyway. (Note to self: only do salmon for small groups.)

I do miss “talking teaching” with people who are passionate about the classroom, and I miss talking books and writing with students. I get a little bit of a fix during the book group I work with every other week, but that daily play of talking about the importance of words is definitely missing.

And I’m pretty sure this means I should be committed, but I miss working with teenagers. The kids were always the best part of the job, and as insane as they made me, they also brought a lot of joy into my life. Meeting new people at dinner parties does that a bit, but I find salmon to be lacking in the conversation department.

None of this is new, of course. I knew when I left that it would be like this, and often there are days (usually when the dogs let me sleep past the time I would have gotten up for work) that I think, “Ahhh, this isn’t so bad.” But to continue with the sleeping theme, we have to lie in the beds we make, and sometimes, the sleep is not as awesome as other times.

Today, or bust

Last week, with a fridge full of vegetables staring at me and saying, “Today, or bust,” I decided I wanted Indian food. I don’t know much–if anything–about the regional cooking of the country, and there is nothing particularly authentic about what I made, but riffing on things I love at our local Indian restaurant (where I had just eaten two days prior), I came up with this.

I added about half a pound of roasted shrimp, but it didn’t need it {shelled and deveined, rinsed, patted dry, sprinkled with salt and pepper, plopped (separated) on a foil-lined baking sheet, and into a 350 oven for about five minutes}. That said, if you want the protein, chickpeas (rinsed and drained) and pre-cooked chunks of chicken (hello, grocery store rotisserie chicken that makes life easier) would be great. I had it with the leftover rice and naan from the restaurant. What do they do that makes their basmati rice a thousand times better than mine…? I need to ask.

I’m writing it up here because I just finished the leftovers, and want to remember what I did. There are no pictures, because I scarfed it down.  Maybe next time. There will definitely be a next time.

Vegetable Curry

1 tbsp oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)

½ cup chopped onion

1 ½ jalapenos, (seeded if desired) and chopped small

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ head of cauliflower, florets separated and halved (about 3- 4 cups)

2-3 cups chopped frozen kale, defrosted (I had it in the freezer from last year’s gardening season; you could definitely use fresh, but boil or steam it first so that it’s already tender)

¼- ¾ cup water

1-15 oz can coconut milk

½ of a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (more, if desired)

1 ½ tsp curry powder (I love Penzey’s and Simply Organic.)

¼- ½ tsp cumin seed (I didn’t toast it, because I forgot, and it was still great)

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup dried currants (golden or regular raisins would also be great here)

 

  1. Warm the oil in a large skillet with a lid (could also use a Dutch oven) over medium heat, and add the onion and jalapeno. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
  2. Add the cauliflower, kale, ¼ tsp salt, a pinch of black pepper, and ¼ cup of water. Stir, cover with a lid, and cook until cauliflower starts to soften, about 8-10 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure the pan doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the cooked vegetables swimming in liquid, just a little lingering in the pan.
  3. Once the cauliflower is softened, add the coconut milk, tomatoes, curry powder, and cumin seed. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir until the coconut milk is fully incorporated. Don’t let the mixture boil at any point.
  4. Let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes and stir in the currants. Taste for seasoning at this point, and add additional salt and pepper, if desired. Simmer another 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is completely soft but not falling apart. Serve.

Getting out of my own way

I made bread this morning. It is absolutely delicious, and I think it’s going to be the “house sandwich bread” recipe*.

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I’m going to have to work on the whole “getting it out of the pan” thing, though.

No matter. I’ve already eaten three slices…or whatever you want to call the pieces I’m cutting off. Is there a word for a slice of bread that isn’t fully attached to itself?

It’s funny; I’m a pretty confident cook, and that includes most baking. But bread-baking, the kind with yeast, is something with which I haven’t become quite comfortable. Most of the breads I’ve made have been edible. Heck, sometimes they’re wonderful. And when they aren’t edible as toast or for sandwiches, I use them as breadcrumbs or in a strata, so they aren’t a waste. But I don’t often rush to make a yeast bread recipe like I might with another recipe that has caught my attention.

I’m pretty sure this is psychological. The whole “bread is the staff of life” thing is pretty engraved on my psyche, and the thought that every week people have been making bread at home, by the dozens of loaves if the family is large, since time immemorial should be a comforting one. Instead, it turns me into this timid mouse. I tend to mentally over-complicate the whole thing, building up the time required into this mountain I can’t possibly cross in a day, never mind a morning of baking. Ridiculous, but there we have it.

I think people do this with tasks/plans/dreams a lot (or maybe I’m hoping it’s not just me…). We build them up in our heads until they become these insurmountable, unattainable things (that’s the technical term). I did it with starting a business. I assumed that getting a business certificate that would allow me to open a business in my county would be a months-long, millions of papers to fill out odyssey.

It took ten minutes.

I was so tickled, I went and got one in the neighboring county, too. (Okay, I had to have it because my business will operate there, as well. But really, it was so easy. In both counties.) I’m embarrassed to admit that I put it off for a few months because I couldn’t mentally deal with what I had built it up to be in my imagination.

It was a good lesson.  Unfortunately, it was not the first time I learned it. And it won’t be the last. Sometimes, getting out of my own way is the most important thing I can do. And the hardest.

*This is the recipe, if you’re interested: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-100-whole-wheat-bread-recipe  I used the maple syrup option. It really is delicious. But use a well-oiled pan.

Things that matter

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This morning’s Facebook feed had one of those “your memories” photos from a year ago today. I’m wrapped in a blanket, one eye and part of my nose showing, and wishing it would be warm. Last winter was brutal, no doubt about it. Today is very different, with blue sky and sunshine currently holding out against the encroaching clouds that are pushing in over the mountain. According to the weather channels, the gray skies are going to win, but right now the sun glinting on last night’s very crunchy snow is beautiful.

When I pulled into our driveway last night, I had to brake hard. Standing in about fifteen feet from the road and grazing on the grass at the edge of the pavement were two deer. One spooked instantly and ran off to the north, but the other stared at me as if to say, “Oh, is this your driveway?” It sauntered off into the yard about 75 feet away, stopped, and looked back at me. I’m pretty sure it said, “Could you drive on now? That patch of grass is pretty tasty, and you’re in my way.”

I peeked out at it once I was in the house and it was right back where it had been, and stayed there for about fifteen minutes. The gardener in me kind of wanted to shoo it away, since the rotten animals have been nibbling the tips off of all my young trees in that field, but I’m still always so amazed to see them, and feel kind of honored that they stop in our yard.

Moments like these–sparkly snow, deer so close you feel like you could walk up and pet them–are good reminders of what matters in the world.