Saturday, June 30, 2012

I'll be back soon!

I may have forgotten to mention that this is my week in Vermont learning to be a warrior in the food revolution.  I just finished an outstanding program that I will share intensively with you all when I get back to Michigan.  It was too much to try and blog while I was here - 13 hour days packed with more information than I could ever process leaves nothing for my brain to work with at night.

While my time in Vermont is coming to an end, I will still be traveling with Devin through Canada for the rest of this week.  Montreal & Toronto mostly.  But I'll be getting to work this upcoming weekend on some good stuff.


PS - Until then, feel free to check out the TED-esque conference from Thursday.  There are a few slow ones, but several amazing talks - one of which, toward the end, made the entire audience weep.

Correction: My bad.  There is not a video of the conference posted (yet) but the link has more information about the conference and contained a live feed from Thursday.  I guess you'll just have to wait for my posts, gosh.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pantry Raid: Yukon & Sweet Potato Gratin

I grew up with scalloped potatoes that did not come from a box.  However, they were pretty bland basic: cheddar cheese (pre-shredded), russet potatoes, milk, flour, ham, salt and pepper.  And you know what?  I liked them.  A lot.  But I had never had anything like this recipe before.  I. Will. Never.  Go. Back.  These were amazing!  If you're scared of gruyere (like I was) I still recommend you give this recipe a try.  When gruyere is melted it has a less pungent taste, not that it is very strong to begin with.

Recipe by Lora Zarubin
Bon Appétit, November 2008


1 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes 
1 1/2 pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams) 
2 cups heavy whipping cream 
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley 
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary 
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage 
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme 
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt 
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1 1/4 cups (packed) coarsely grated Gruyére cheese (about 5 ounces)


  1. Fill large bowl with cold water. Working with 1 Yukon Gold potato at a time, peel, then cut into 1/8-inch- thick rounds and place in bowl with water. Repeat with sweet potatoes. 
  2. Combine cream, butter, and garlic in medium saucepan; bring to simmer. Remove from heat. Mix all herbs in small bowl. Mix sea salt and black pepper in another small bowl.
  3. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Drain potatoes, then pat dry with kitchen towels. Transfer half of potatoes to prepared baking dish. Use hands to distribute and spread evenly. Sprinkle with half of salt- pepper mixture, then half of herb mixture. Sprinkle with half of cheese. Repeat with remaining potatoes, salt-pepper mixture, herb mixture, and cheese. 
  4. Pour cream mixture over gratin, pressing lightly to submerge potato mixture as much as possible. DO AHEAD: Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Remove plastic wrap before baking.
  5. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cover gratin tightly with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until top of gratin is golden and most of liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10 minutes; serve.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Spring Cleaning - Pantry Raid

I've been over on our grocery budget for the last couple of months - just a few dollars here or there adds up quickly!  This didn't used to be a problem for me but I think I've become a little lax in keeping track because the end of the semester was really busy.  But it isn't the end of the semester anymore - its almost summer! and I need to get all the old meat out of the freezer and all the old canned goods out of the cupboard to make room for new stuff!  (Not to mention we're really hoping to move soon and I don't want to move a bunch of food).

So, I started menu-planning again (I took a break from this during exams) and picking meals based primarily on what we have in the house already.  This way, we're using up old food and my grocery list is really short.  For example, today I went shopping and bought: an onion and some gruyere cheese.

Here's what we've been eating:

  1. Cinnamon Banana-Applesauce muffins: used up flour, really old bananas, and last year's homemade applesauce; bought: nothing
  2. Cream of Asparagus Soup: used up last year's canned asparagus that we almost dumped!, chicken stock, and shallots that were starting to sprout, half & half; bought: lemon $1
  3. Salmon-Quinoa salad: used canned salmon that we've had since 2010, quinoa, chicken stock;  bought: cucumbers - $1
  4. Yukon & Sweet Potato Gratin: used old potatoes, half & half, herbs from the garden; bought: 1/3 lb. gruyere - $3
  5. Four-bean salad: used last year's canned green beans (1 can left!), old garbanzo beans, dried kidney & black beans, the rest of the red wine vinegar from the co-op; bought: onion $1
  6. Lamb Stroganoff: used ground lamb from freezer, last of the sour cream, chicken stock, carrots (we have so many carrots), boxed pasta; bought: red wine $16 (but will be used in so much more)
  7. Seeded Wheat Crackers: used poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, flours; bought: nothing

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pantry Raid: Seeded Wheat Crackers

Adapted from Alton Brown's Seedy Crisp recipe


5 oz. wheat flour
4 3/4 oz. white flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
3 Tbs. olive oil
6 1/2 oz. water
Additional seasoning (optional): more salt, pepper, garlic salt, etc.


In a medium bowl whisk together both flours, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, salt, and baking powder. Add the oil and stir until combined. Add the water and stir to combine and create a dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead 4 to 5 times. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
For a thin snacking cracker: On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 piece of dough to 1/16-inch and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. If there is room on the sheet pan, repeat with a second piece of dough.  Cut into desired size. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 11 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Repeat procedure with remaining dough.
Rolled out with my fancy wine bottle rolling pin

Sliced into size with a pizza cutter

For a thicker dipping cracker: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough as above but to 1/8-inch thick. Bake for 6 minutes on the first side, then flip and bake another 4 to 6 minutes.
For super even thickness and easy rolling: Roll out using a lightly floured pasta roller. Flatten the dough until it will pass through the first setting and go to the highest number that your pasta roller will allow without tearing the dough. Bake according to the thin cracker instructions.
Note: Baking times will vary depending on exact thickness of dough and oven temperature, so watch them closely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
On the drying rack (last two dough balls hiding below)
My first batch had no additional salt and they were good (I ate them all) but could have been better.  My second batch had additional salt sprinkled on the top - delicious!  The third batch had salt and garlic powder - MMmmmmm!  And the last batch had salt and pepper - for Sammit.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Garden Update

Before: Can you believe this was in March!?
Garden: Mid-June
The transplants have adjusted after their moving shock and are starting to grow!

The New

I finally have my tomatoes in the ground (lots of beefsteaks, a mortgage lifter, some romas, and a few smaller varieties).  This year I buried them up to their waists in hopes of developing very strong roots.  I've also been clipping their first few blossoms while telling them they're "too young to think about babies just yet" with the hope of increasingly their yield later in the summer.

I also put my herbs in the ground last night (just before dark).  I have stevia, lavender, two parsley plants, oregano, and rosemary.  Basil and Thyme are interplanted in the beds.  I'm looking to obtain some cilantro and then the herbs section will be complete.

They're wilting from the afternoon heat

The spearmint that I put in two years ago, without realizing its strength, has invaded the pathways between beds.  It smells wonderful when I walk through it.  Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I did NOT plant the rest of my mint (peppermint, orange mint, and chocolate mint) in the ground this year.  Instead I pulled a a few spearmint stems from the ground and planted all 4 mints in a hanging basket that I will keep in the garden but off the ground.

Hanging Mint

The Old

Cabbage Worm Egg
Baby Cabbage Worm
My collards and red cabbage have been nearly destroyed by cabbage worms.  They start with teeny-tiny eggs - about the size of a grain of salt - which I have been removing whenever possible.  Boy did I miss a lot!  Now I have little green worms who are tearing their way through my leaves.  I've been spending about 10-15 minutes each day finding them and squishing their tiny florescent carcasses on the bedside as a warning to other pests.  Image credit: Gardenerd

The sunflower seeds have been germinating and poking through the ground, as have the marigolds and zinnias.  I also have germination on my second sowing of carrots - I'll put a third set in the ground in July.

I was able to recover the black raspberry bush!  We have 6 berries ripening right now.  I pruned the blueberry bush down to almost nothing - and now new leaves are shooting out.  The red raspberry bush  seemed like a total goner.  As I was pruning it I couldn't find a pinch of green in any of the stems....but I see a few leaves at the very bottom starting to poke out.  We might not get anymore berries this year, but at least I don't have a $15 stick for the compost bin.

Speaking of compost!  There is a HUGE difference in the weeding needs given my compost choices.  The city compost, the one I was concerned about, is pretty much weedless.  I take out an occasional prickly lettuce but that's about it.  The compost I bought from Home Depot is absolutely filled with grass and weed seed.  I am constantly picking at it and almost "weeded" my carrot sprouts!  So far there does not seem to be a difference between the beds with weed-blocking cardboard and the one without.

The Future

I plan on creating one more hanging basket with my sad little strawberry plant as well as doing a lot of research on growing strawberries.

I'll be doing a LOT more weeding in the purchased compost beds.  As well as weeding in the pathways.  I'm not sure if I want to fill the pathways with mulch or just keep the prickly lettuce out of it.  I like being barefoot and the soft weeds feel better than mulch.

I will however mulch the beds soon.  I'm keeping my eye on the city mulch drop a few miles from the house.  Once there's a drop I'll go load up the truck again.

I'm also looking into soaker hoses and water timers.  I don't want to spend a lot of money on a good soaker hose just yet, so I'm looking for old hoses that have leaks in them (from friends and family members).  I can drill appropriate holes in them and DIY it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Upcoming Posts

I'm holding off on a few posts until I get adequate pictures ready.  But some good stuff is coming up:

  • Pantry Raid Recipes
  • Strawberry Picking & Storage
  • DIY Dog Potty Bells (saved $20.00)
  • Garden Updates
I've been busy:
  • House Hunting (putting in offers & rescinding them, too)
  • House Maintenance (cleaning & yard work)
  • Car Troubles (over $5,000 worth of repairs to our two cars)
  • Dog Training (crates, potty stuffs, loose-leash walking)
  • Getting a possibly bitchin', possibly regrettable haircut that gave me bangs.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Stephany & Tarot Cards

Saturday afternoon I caught up with a dear friend of mine, Stephany (also known as Edna).  We went to a tarot card reader who lives near my mother's house.  It was quite entertaining and enlightening.  One of my many favorite tid-bits is that apparently Steph and I have lived a number of lives together in the past - during some of which we were lovers - though now we tend to think of each other more as twins.

I met Stephany during our Sophomore year in High School and fell madly in love with her sense of humor and amazing heart.

The class where Steph & I met (and a friend, Natasha)
We, along with our 3rd musketeer Yolanda (who will probably get her own post soon enough), had a number of escapades throughout High School.  We particularly enjoyed hanging out in 24-hour big-box stores and being inconceivably silly.  Steph lived 3.1 miles from me and I would pick her up on the way to school each morning.

Us in a Meijer parking lot (along with Hula-Girl on the dash)

 One of my favorite places to have a Stephany (and Yolanda) is Wheatland each September!  We camp, listen to great bluegrass, eat delicious food, and wear a ton of tie-dye.
Our coordination was unplanned
Steph was in my wedding (and I in hers just a few months before).  She will be an aunty to my children.  She has an irrevocable, unconditional, unapologetic invitation to my life (and house). 

At my bachelorette party
Candid shot of Steph at my wedding
The card reader said she saw Stephany and me pregnant at the same time.  She also said she saw me pregnant, with a girl - a reincarnation of a person close to me to died recently, much earlier than I had planned.  Actually, she said a lot about both of us - some of which I might reveal if it comes true.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Lunch with Angie

This is Angie.
I have an identical picture taken in the exact same dorm.
Today I had lunch with Angie.  Angie and I went to High School together, but didn't really know each other very well then.  We had a few classes together but ran with relatively different crowds.  That last sentence made our High School sound big - it wasn't; we graduated with maybe 130 people.  Anyway, if you told me Angie's name I could tell you what city she lived in and that she liked the color pink and that her boyfriend (now husband) was a really nice guy - but that's about it.  When we graduated I assumed I would never see her again outside an occasional obligatory reunion, just like 125 other people.

In college, Angie and I got together once for a book reading (Anne Lamotte at the Borders in Ann Arbor).  It was totally random.  She had transferred to U of M from an out-of-state college and I had heard rumor of this but it wasn't really on my radar.  I don't quite remember why we met up but we had coffee and went to the reading.  I don't remember much about the actual date but I do remember it was kind of awkward.  But seriously, I was a sophomore in college - everything I did was awkward. (Hah, I'm a 25-year-old grad student and will continue to be awkward my entire life.)  We parted ways at the end of the afternoon and went 4 more years without really seeing each other.

A few years ago we somehow started reading each other's neglected blogs.  I think I was creeping on her and left a comment, to which she politely reciprocated, and so on and so forth until we both kind of realized that we had a lot in common.  Angie was settling into the area and we have similar mindsets when it comes to politics, family-rearing, food, and the earth.  So we got together for coffee again.  Only this time I remember it being fantastic!  It was amazing to talk to someone who knew exactly where I grew up and understood so much about it.  We laughed at the fact that the distance from the west side of the state (where we have a lot of friends and family) to where we live is longer than it is from here to there.  Or so it would seem.  Well, time flew by at our coffee date.  We agreed we should get together again and bring our man-friends to meet and in general just see more of each other.  Then we promptly let a year or so go by before meeting up again.

Today we met at a favorite restaurant of both of ours which we discovered was something else we had in common.  Our two hour lunch flew by as we talked about families, food, farming, and life in general.  We both drank more water than our bodies could hold and continued to talk in separate bathroom stalls before hugging in the parking lot and parting ways.  While I don't plan on waiting a year for another date, I feel that any amount of Angie in my life is just great.  I rarely find someone with whom I can sustain a flowing conversation without being bored or making them uncomfortable (another reason I went into Community Social Work and not Counseling) - but with Angie it's on fire.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seed Camp

I signed up for Seed Camp.  Sammit is coming with me!  Seed Camp is an intensive weekend excursion in Sedgwick, Maine where we will learn how to save all kinds of seeds.  I'm excited for several reasons:

  1. I really want to learn how to save seeds.
  2. Sedgwick is the first city in the US to declare food sovereignty.  You can read more in this article, but basically that means people in the city are able buy and sell local foods while overriding health codes, bans, and regulations.  Read: raw milk is legal, canned goods are a plenty, cottage laws are obsolete. 
  3. We are actually camping.  In tents.  In the woods.  With Sammit's hectic work schedule we are already missing more camping than I'd like.
  4. We get 8 prepared (by someone other than me!) organic and local meals.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Garden Update

Seed starting went better than it ever has - but I still killed pretty much everything by the frost date.  I have a few lettuce heads and some thyme left.  Luckily, I live right down the street from a grow store called Northern Lights.  They specialize mostly in hydoponics but this summer they filled the parking lots with flowers, herbs, and vegetables.  I spent about $40 on two flats of plants and divided them out into my new beds.

Thyme, strawberries, mints, and basil
Carrots, Cukes, Beans, Peas, Lettuces, Peppers, etc.
Garden - finally in!
Garden layout (don't mind the crossed boxes).  Also, I inverted the right side beds so they are symmetrical with the left.
I'm planting several varieties of sunflowers, Beefsteak & Sungold tomatoes, Serrano peppers, sweet & thai basils, and successive plantings of carrots.  I also have pole beans, red cabbage, 3 types of lettuce (red leaf, green leaf, and romaine), and 3 types of thyme (French, English, and lemon).  I'm capping the beds with Zinnias and Marigolds because they attract pollinators but keep predators away.  I used my little knowledge of companion planting to create some kind of a plan for placement.  For example - basil & tomatoes work well together.  Having collards & cabbage, which are cool weather/shade loving plants, next to climbing plants like cucumbers & beans will help keep the former from bolting.  

I look forward to sharing more pictures as they take off - and can't wait for the first taste.

PS - I think I killed the raspberry, black raspberry, and blueberry bushes.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Date Night

Sammit has been working long hours for the last several weeks which means we haven't seen much of each other.  He works nights so we literally have about an hour to talk while he's getting ready for work.  On Saturday we had a date night - something we haven't had in a really long time.

Pardon the ottoman mess.
I thawed veggie pasta sauce (Devin made earlier in the month) and whole grain bread.  Added a quick batch of elbow macaroni and some roasted asparagus.  We watched Ocean's 13 and snuggled on the couch with the dogs.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Garden Beds - Update

Today, instead of cleaning the fridge or picking up the dining room I dug and moved 2 truckloads of city compost to our yard.  Royal Oak drops its compost and mulch a few miles from our house and it is free to residents.  I have been waiting in the shadows for a drop since I finished the beds and today was the day!  It happened to be raining but that hasn't ever really stopped me.  Each bed is about a truckload of compost so I'm half-way done.
March 2012
April 2012
June 2012 with a rose photobomb 
May 2012
June 2012
Because we're hoping to move by the end of the summer I'm trying to avoid getting too attached to this garden.  We might be giving most of it away to the new neighbors (hi neighbors!).  I've decided to use this season to experiment and put my years of research experience into agricultural play.  Each bed will have the same plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, peppers, etc.) but different conditions.  Beds 1 & 2 have a cardboard weedblocker and city compost.  Bed 3 will have a cardboard weedblocker and composted manure.  Bed 4 will have composted manure and no week blocker.  This is a last minute experiment so there will be some flaws (Bed 2 should have city compost but no weedblocker).  I'm going to play around with nutrients and watering schedules.  I did not sift the compost (lazy) but I'm curious to see if that makes a big difference.  I'm going to look into cheap sifting set-ups, maybe Bed 2 will be sifted.

My favorite things about today: 
  1. The compost was warm.  It felt good on my hands.  The steam rolled up from the pile when I lifted my shovel.
  2. Even though I kicked my shoes off outside I still left muddy footprints through the foyer and kitchen.
  3. After pouring the last bucket of compost I took a short, dirty nap on the couch with a very snuggly cat.
  4. My shower was a-maize-ing.
  5. Scratch bison stew for dinner with grain-free peanut butter cookies for dessert.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Pictures up

Sammit and I are waiting for a pre-approval letter from our credit union in order to put an offer on a house we want to buy.  Which means we could be moving just after the 4th of July (I'm trying not to get ahead of myself).  What a perfect time to finish unpacking and get our pictures up on the wall here?  Right!?

Today I hung our wedding photos that we've had since October 2011 (our 1st anniversary).  I also hung a picture my sister drew for my birthday in November; it's in the hallway leading the the second floor.  Finally, I hung the artwork I gave to Sammit for Christmas this past year near our television.  This stuff has been framed and stacked around the house for at least six months.  Whew! It's nice to have that floor space back.  Also, I learned that I cannot hang a straight picture to save my freaking life.  7 screws/nails = 14 holes in the wall.  I'll get better - am I over thinking this?  under thinking?

Our mantel in the living room
Please pardon the reflection
Miyazaki surrounded by his animation