Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Things are pretty slow in the garden right now, so I thought we'd talk about some conversations Chrissie and I have been batting around lately.

For those of you that are curious though, here's a quick update on what's actually going on in the garden:
 - Potatoes are still going strong. We're waiting for the vines to wilt, which is the signal that they are close to ready to harvest. Instead, we have Audrey 2 (from a "Little Shop of Horrors").
 - Lettuce, also going strong. There's so much, we're giving it away. Anyone need any?
 - Tomatoes are starting to get red. Shut up. =)
 - Planted a wild strawberry plant out front. We hope that it grows prolifically.
 - Making plans to plant garlic and more grass seed come Autumn.

So, lots of waiting as you can see. Kitchen table conversation has been interesting though. A friend of ours recently went vegan, which jump started discussions about what that means beyond just food preference. Humans don't have to do all that many things every day. Man needs to eat, drink, defecate, and sleep. That's it. Crazy when you think about it, huh? But people don't get into arguments over whether they sleep on their side or their stomach. People don't start name calling when it comes to whether its better to drink Coke or Pepsi, and when it comes to the other thing, we don't talk about it in polite company. But boy, when it comes to food, we gang up like we're going to fight a turf war.

Normally, I don't like talking about the "why" when I talk to people about their food preferences. I figure that people have their reasons. That's cool. The perk is that it avoids a bunch of future land mines. That being said, I know that I'm walking into it now in this post. If I say something dumb, feel free to call me out.

I don't buy into the vegan thing. I like fruits, veggies, and non-meat things, but I don't feel like the arguments for it are compelling enough for me to change my eating habits. The only thing I do buy into is buying local. That's because it gives me the most ability to source where my food is coming from. What really matters to me is knowing that the person who grew/raised/made my food cared. It's funny, but if I know that one thing, a lot of others things can go unsaid and I can be pretty confident that food was done right.

Show me a diet that meets my criteria and I'll sign up for it too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pasta with Grilled Tomato and Sage Sauce

A couple of weeks ago I saw this recipe on Foodista. I was super excited and had planned to try it that same weekend. We even bought tomatoes. But time got away from us and we ended up using the tomatoes for something else. So, while we were on staycation last week and were wandering around Pike Place Market, we found a vendor from Yakima selling some decent looking fare and picked up some new tomatoes. We coupled those with sage from our garden, and an incredible blackberry infused balsamic vinegar from Leavenworth. The result was excellent.

Grilling the tomatoes adds a nice touch of slight smokey or charred flavor to an overall very simple dish. The blackberry vinegar we chose to use didn't seem to do much to the flavor (though I can't say for sure since we don't have a basis for comparison) but it did lend a nice aroma to the plate.

In the future, we may add more sage. We ended up having 2 pounds of tomatoes instead of the 1.5 that's called for and we adjusted the sage accordingly, but the flavor still seemed a little lost. I forgot to change the ratios of the oil and vinegar, but neither of those seemed lacking.

We also agreed that the sauce (while very good in its own right) could be interestingly enhanced by adding some sauteed garlic or onion, or by toying with other herbs. In it's basic state, it may also make a good pizza sauce. Hopefully we'll get enough nice days during the rest of the summer that we can test some of our theories out!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Strength

There are people in the world with a kind of understated strength that is amazing to behold. These people remind us of our own humanity simply by living the way that they believe is right. There's no pretense, no games. Just love.

I strive to be even a fraction that strong.

One story. One family. One Life.

Happy Birthday, Delia. You are so very, very loved.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Charlie Brown Tree Update

I thought that I would update everyone on the Charlie Brown pear tree today. It's doing really well! Several weeks after we traumatized it new leaves and branches sprouted out, which we diligently watched for any signs of fire blight. Fire blight likes to infect new growth, so this was a critical stage for the tree. So far though, the tree has been totally healthy.

As you can see, we planted some friends around the tree. We put it them there to try and help manage the amount of water the tree was getting. We have an automatic sprinkler system that turns on every day and sprays then entire front area with water. Too much water I think for the Charlie Brown tree, so I stuck large rocks right in front of the sprinklers so they wouldn't deluge the poor thing and we planted little plants there so that the water would get absorbed faster.

The challenge for us now will be to make sure that it has a healthy enough root system to make it through the winter. It's my understanding that a tree (or any plant for that matter) needs to have well established root system in order to come back every spring, so it'll be important that we manage the amount of water it gets well and apply a good layer of mulch in the autumn so that the roots don't freeze over the winter.
It's a good feeling when something you've done actually worked! I'll be honest, I think that I kind of have a brown thumb when it comes to plants. One year when I was younger, my brother and I pruned the blueberry bushes on my dad's farm. The emphasis on the last statement should be on the "one year" part because after he saw the job we did, he never had us do it again. We went after them like we were making banzai blueberry trees. Productive bushes they were not; minimalist statements of austere beauty they were. Maybe though, that's what made me so good at cutting up the Charlie Brown tree in the first place...

Anyway, back to the good feeling, moments like this make me feel like Chrissie and I can handle the entire gardening thing and that maybe we aren't totally in over our heads. Of course, it's not all us. It's a good thing plants know how to take care of themselves on some level too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two in a Row

Last Sunday was a big cooking day! So big, we couldn't post it Sunday or Monday - it had to wait until Wednesday. Not really, I just didn't get around to doing it.

Here's the breakdown. Lunch consisted of homemade pasta with butter sage sauce. All of it was made from local ingredients. For any of those who want to use rougher flour for your pasta (flour that has undergone less milling), I would recommend creating skinnier noodles. In my opinion, it's tastier that way.

Between lunch and dinner Chrissie made chocolate chip, butterscotch cookies, bread, and I made chicken stock. We did not use all local ingredients for these items. These were meant to be eaten during the week. We were very conscious not to eat any of them on Sunday so that we didn't violate totally Locavore Sunday. It was hard. COOKIES!

The chicken stock went well. For those of you that are wondering how much chicken it takes to make stock, it takes 2 picked over carcasses to make a gallon of chicken stock. I'm expecting big things from this stuff. Homemade chicken stock is much, much better than commercially made stock supposedly because the commercial stuff is basically just flavored water. I'll have to put it to the test the next time I make chicken noodle soup.

I think that making the stock is pretty justified because the amount of money spent making the stock is comparable to buying it at the store and the time investment in making it is minimal. Also, your dogs will love you much more for it too. I gave all of the scraps to the doggies, except for the bones, and I was the favorite parent for the rest of the night. On a side note, I don't know if this is a universal thing, but whenever my dogs get nice treats, they get really soft fur after. Does that happen to anyone else?

Dinner consisted of roast lamb, green beans, and mashed potatoes. All the ingredients were procured at the farmer's market. I prepared the roast lamb the way Julia Child says how to do it in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." It is remarkably similar to the roast chicken recipe she has. The deglazing sauce is practically the same. I get this suspicion that all of the basic roast recipes follow a similar pattern, and that I might even be able to extrapolate this to other cooking methods too, so maybe the entire book is a set of variations on a few themes.

Dinner was delicious. Chrissie was in charge of the mashed potatoes and they were the best that I can remember. She decided to leave the skins on this time; my dad would be so proud - most of the nutritional value in potatoes is in the skin, but I think we managed to negate that pretty effectively by boiling the potatoes (boiling things leaches out said nutrients and they end up in the water or destroyed because they cannot handle the heat), and they gave some nice chunk to the dish. We like a mix of creamy smooth with some chunks in our mashed potatoes. Also, let me add that my editor, Chrissie, will be very proud of my long sentence in the paragraph.

The green beans went alright, I probably should have blanched them before stir frying because they were a little chewy, but still tasty. The lamb was superb. I managed to give myself a nice, rare chunk and still provide Chrissie with her much beloved medium piece. Lamb has a nice "earthy" taste to it which makes it a nice change of pace from more traditional bovine fare. Prices are comparable, so it you want something a little different, try lamb.

I'm anticipating next Sunday both positively and negatively. Once we got started, the day went really well, but it took a long time before we managed to pull something together that fit the locavore bill. In the course of trying to figure out what to eat that would be entirely local for our first meal, breakfast was skipped and I was a sad panda. Thankfully, lunch was good and quick to make. We'll see what happens next Sunday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grilled Peaches

It's definitely the time of year for grilling (though it's been awfully hard to tell around here). While typical barbeque staples like burgers, chicken, corn, and peppers are all well and good, it's fun to mix it up a little with things like strawberry shortcake kebabs and of course, some grilled peaches.

These are incredibly straight forward to make, so I'll let you all just bask in their simplicity. Simple food = good food.

Grilled Peaches

Cut your peaches into approximately 8 slices and remove the pit.
Coat the outside of your peach slices with a neutral oil such as grapeseed or canola oil.
Lay each slice on the grill and cook until it begins to get grill marks.
Remove from heat and serve. They're great plain, or with a little fresh whipped cream.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A little perspective on the whole Locavore thing

Our recent locavore challenge got me thinking about the topic in much more depth than I have in the past. I'll put this out there right now, I'm not a hard core locavore, and will never be one. Like all good diets, locavorism has some tenets that make a lot of sense and I try to model my life around them. Like all good diets, it can easily become fanatical, turning kind-hearted, well-meaning people into judgmental, dogmatic guilt-mongers.

The reason I can't be a hard core locavore - I like too many kinds of food. There's a long list of them that cannot be produced locally. Some of my favorites include citrus fruits, bananas, olives, coffee, tea, cocoa, cashews, just about every kind of spice, maple syrup, sugar. It's a lot, and if I were hard core, I wouldn't be able to eat any of it. Really, there's no sin in eating and enjoying these things. The literal consumption of the food is the same here or anywhere. As they say though, the devil is in the details, and the circumstances in which we consume them are not so good. Mostly, it has to do with transportation.

Thinking back on what I know about food and history, it's not a new thing that food gets transported hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles before being consumed. Some great examples are the movement of spices and tea from India and East Asia westward, the comparatively local salt trades which still managed to span hundreds of miles, the transport of wine and olive oil from the Roman empire to neighboring barbarian states, American frontiers-people turning grains into whiskey and pig feed - jugs and pigs being much easier to transport than bushels of wheat or corn, which subsequently were sold or traded.

The difference between then and now is how everything is transported. People used wind and animal power to move around back then. Those were renewable resources. They did not contribute to global warming (if you subscribe to that idea). Fossils fuels are cheap and easy to harness, but they also come with some baggage.

Maybe, it wouldn't be so bad if we didn't use so much oil and coal. If we (as in all of human-kind) only used a moderate amount of fossil fuels, maybe we wouldn't be worrying so much about it's impact on our world. Unfortunately, usage of them in our society is almost universal, and you won't get people to stop using them without some sort of good alternative.

If I catalog all of the food I can get from a far away place, it isn't just limited to specialty foods, I can get literally everything. I think that's the big difference between the past and the present. Back then, people were probably mostly locavores, but today, people are probably mostly the opposite. What is the opposite of a locavore, by the way? A foravore? I am happy being a mostly locavore. I probably get more foreign foods than my ancient predecessors, but it's something I'm working on. The goal being to source as much food as possible locally. Slowly, but steadily, we're getting there.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Courtesy of Amber Roberts Photography
3 years ago, Aaron and I started a new phase of our journey. It feels like it could have been yesterday and yet I hardly remember a time in my life that we weren't traveling through it together.

We've changed and grown. We've learned to cook, bought a house, and added a puppy to our family of furry friends. We've taken risks, learned from our mistakes, and we continue to look forward to whatever may come next.

Our next goal: to make it past the second round of cuts in somebody's anniversary dance.

Happy Anniversary, Aaron! I love you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Locavore Sunday

In honor of our own slightly watered down version of the Locavore Challenge, we spent the day today making sure that everything we ate contained locally sourced ingredients.  We made it slightly easier on ourselves by waking up too late for breakfast, and going to Farmer's Market to pick up our ingredients for dinner. While at the Farmer's market, we had some lunch:

We've eaten at this particular stand many times before and have had discussions with them about the fact that all of their ingredients each day come from the market itself. Good stuff.

For dinner, we wandered around the market for a while to get inspiration. When we noticed that tomatoes have finally started showing up, we decided we should make a variation of a pasta caprese type dish that my grandmother used to make. We didn't quite stick to the recipe that my dad gave us, but it still came out quite well:

Literally everything in this dish was locally sourced:

Flour for pasta: Emmer flour from Winthrop, WA
Eggs for pasta: Aaron's Grandpa's chicken farm in Mt. Vernon, WA
Tomatoes & basil: from a local farm in Yakima, WA
Mozzarella: a dairy in Bow, WA
Olive oil: Leavenworth, WA
Garlic: our yard

The pasta was a little more gritty than it would be with more refined flour, but it still tasted good and the flavor blended with the rest of the ingredients well. The olive oil we had on hand from Leavenworth is infused with basil, which was slightly overkill and I prefer using regular olive oil. On the whole, I think our take on the family tradition is a good one. The recipe is as follows:

Pasta Caprese

4 tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks, saving the seeds
1/2 lbs basil counting everything, or 2 cups of leaves torn into medium sized pieces
4 peeled cloves of garlic
1/4 lbs fresh mozzarella, shredded
approx. 1/2 cup olive oil
1 recipe of your favorite pasta

Mix the tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, and mozzarella and let chill for approximately 1 hour in the fridge. Serve over the pasta.

Try not to eat it all, because it's even better on day 2!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gardening to Save Money

Aaron and I are guest bloggers today over on my friend Erin's blog, Coupon Newbie. Erin is a crazy-impressive bargain shopper, especially when it comes to local stores like Rite-Aid. She also posts tips on finding good deals on organic produce from local farm stands as well as Daily Deals for CSA baskets and the like.

To stick with her theme, Aaron and I posted about some of the money-saving tips we've discovered so far in our victory garden. It wasn't hard, since growing our food has definitely proven to be an economic advantage, albiet a small one sometimes.

For those intrepid followers though who want to know more, here are a few additional tips to compliment our guest blog:
  • Lettuce doesn't need to be harvested all at once. You can harvest only the leaves you need and leave the rest of the plant in the ground and it will continue regrowing all season long. I'm given to understand that if you harvest off the same plant more than three times or so that it will start to get bitter, but we haven't had that issue yet.
  • While space is advantageous, not much is necessary to yield a decent crop of summer produce and herbs if you plan wisely.
  • Don't forget the scapes of your garlic! Fun edible treats can be made with those too.
Down the road when our composting is more established and some of our perennial plants are more mature, I forsee that we will garner even bigger savings from our home-grown goodies. For now we're happy to be eating at least a few meals here and there that are healthier, tastier, and cheaper all on one plate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Eat Local Challenge

Today, I stumbled across this blog which is sponsoring an eat-local challenge for the month of August. Even though our growing season seems to be happening awfully late around here, August seems like as good a time as any to give this a go.

Eating local around the NW doesn't seem like it should be too hard, but I'm betting we'll have some struggles. I try to pay attention to where things come from, but haven't honestly ever put a whole lot of effort into sourcing my food. I'm sure I'll be relying heavily on the Locavore's Manifesto for situations where I'm not sure if I can pull it off.

We're starting a little late and I know we weren't perfect for the first couple of days, but I think my goal will be slightly lower key than the challenge suggests. Since so much could be accomplished if everyone ate completely local for just one meal a week, I will attempt to be absolutely 100% local for one day each week of this month. And I'll come as close as I can the rest of the time.

So what about you? Will anyone out there join us in some permutation of this challenge this month?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Roast Chicken

We made roast chicken for dinner on Sunday night. Making it isn't anything new, but I have never been totally satisfied with the results. It has been a while since I last made roast chicken. I made a point to do it tonight because I wanted to try some new things out. I've sort of been on a chicken quest lately. It's a search to find really yummy tasting chicken. I think I took a step in the right direction today.

The recipe is a combination of what I do with chicken normally and the Roast Chicken recipe from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

3 lb. chicken
6 tablespoons of softened butter divided up equally into 3 parts
1 small carrot & 1 small onion - sliced
1 Tb good cooking oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 Tb green onion - minced
1 cup chicken stock
1 clove of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary

First off, picking a good chicken was very important. Ideally, you want a relatively young chicken (8 months old or less) who has lived a happy, fulfilling chicken life. This would lead me to getting my chicken from the farmer's market, but we didn't have time to do that today, so we got it from the PCC market. It was 3.75 pounds and claimed to be free range. After having eaten it, I could attest to it being superior to a normal supermarket chicken. I'm kind of done with supermarket chicken now. I've had life changing meals made from beef, pork, crab, fish, and a bunch of other things, but never with chicken. It's something that I've only noticed in the last couple of years, but chicken is really bland. There's something wrong with that.

Aside, if everyone eats bland chicken, can one actually say that it tastes like chicken? Maybe that's why everything tastes like chicken, it's the non-descript meat that can conform into any flavor profile. Maybe, it's the other way around. Maybe, chicken tastes like everything else.

Julia tells you to season the chicken before putting it in the oven by sticking 1/3 of the salt and 1/6 of the butter into the cavity of the chicken and another 1/6 of the butter smeared over the outside of the chicken. I did that and also added in a sprig of rosemary to the cavity and rubbing the clove of garlic (which I cut in half) over the entire outside. The garlic and rosemary I owe to Laila Storch and Marcel Tabuteau. you won't find Storch or Tabuteau in any food magazines or shows - they are/were professional musicians. You don't have to be a professional chef to have something meaningful to add. That's what I think anyway.

Julia also tells you to truss the chicken, but I didn't. In fact I've never done that, but I'm sure that I will one day as my quest for the perfect chicken will one day dictate.

Next, you put the chicken in your roasting pan surrounded by the carrots and onions and brown the left, right, and breast side of it under 425 degree heat. After the sides are browned (about 25 minutes total), the oven goes down to 350 degrees for the rest of the time (another hour).

While that's happening, mix 1/3 of the butter together with your cooking oil to make a basting solution and baste it onto the top of the bird every 10 minutes.

When the chicken is done cooking, it gets set aside to a warm platter to rest (makes the meat more juicy). While it's resting you make the sauce (the super yummy part). Spoon out all buy 2 Tsp of the chicken juice from the pan. I removed the burned vegetables from the pan. Add green onions and cook slowly for a minute, then add the chicken stock and reduce at hight heat until theres about 1/2 cup left of stuff. I mashed the leftover veggies as much as I could. Put sauce into a bowl and put the last 1/3 of the butter into it.

And then... eat!

I'm always pleasantly surprised by the sauces I make from the MtAoFC cookbook. Whenever I make them I am super skeptical all the way until the first bite. The process is full of second-guessing and overthinking. The last thought I have before Chrissie and I spoon some onto our plates is always, "God, I hope this turned out alright." Then, you put it in your mouth and bliss. If there's anything I can add to the cookbook, it would be a comment saying, "Don't skimp on the sauce, seriously!" If you say, make a meat dish and decide to skip the deglazing step at the end, you're missing out on a truly delightful experience.

Anyway, chicken! The quest continues.