While we're on the subject of ingredients, I thought I'd talk a bit about menu planning and cooking from ingredients. In the old days, when recipes were my starting point, I would spend about an hour flipping through cookbooks and recipe files until I came up with 5 or 6 entrees that I was in the mood to eat that week. Next I made a list of every ingredient they called for, and then I spent a couple hours at the grocery store, going up and down every aisle, loading my cart with every ingredient, and tossing in a head of iceberg lettuce, a bottle of ranch dressing, ketchup, and a few cans of vegetables to use as sides, plus things like boxed cereals, instant mac an cheese, bottled minced garlic, frozen chopped onions, and any other "convenience" products I could get my hands on. But even with those products, cooking was never convenient, grocery shopping was an ordeal, and huge amounts of food got wasted, either as ingredients that didn't get used before they went bad, or as leftovers we never bothered to eat.
Now, compare that to what I did this week. After picking up my Bountiful Sprout order, I spent five minutes listing everything I got, what was coming ripe in the garden, and what was in the fridge or pantry that should be used up soon. The lists looked like this:
TBS - peaches, blackberries, beets, zucchini, onions, fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, focaccia, tortillas.
Garden - a few green beans, cherry and roma tomatoes
Larder - a jar of roasted tomatoes in olive oil and garlic (made from last week's romas), Gourmet Texas Pasta from the farmers' market, feta, goat cheese, eggs, vanilla ice cream, and some leftover pork stew that I froze.
Now, the trick to making all this work is having a few basic recipes in your arsenal that adapt well to a variety of ingredients, depending on what's available. Mine includes a Provencal salad, which usually starts with boiled new potatoes and green beans, adding some cherry tomatoes, capers and kalamata olives, dressing it with a homemade vinaigrette, and topping it all with a bit of canned tuna and quartered hard boiled egg. But, if I have leftover roast chicken, I can substitute that for the tuna, or if tomatoes aren't in season, I might use sundried tomatoes or roasted peppers. Often I toss in some chunks of feta, if I have it on hand.
Another standby is roasted veggies. I LOVE roasted veggies. All kinds of roasted veggies. Roasting is like flavor magic when it comes to veggies. The basic drill is to cut them into uniform bits, toss them in olive oil and a bit of sea salt, spread them out over one or two sheet pans (don't crowd them or you just end up with bland steamed veggies, with none of that gooey, crispy, carameley concentrated goodness) and bake at 400 F. until spotted with brown patches and easily pierced with fork. Often I combine two or three different veggies, sometimes tossing in some peeled cloves of garlic, and topping all with freshly grated parmesan when it comes from the oven. With the beets, I washed and trimmed them, leaving on an inch of stem, wrapped them tightly in a foil packet, roasted them for almost an hour, quartered them and let them cool slightly then slipped off the skins, and dressed them with a bit of olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and tossed in some crumbled goat cheese.
So, from the lists above, here's what I managed to plan out in less than 15 minutes, without needing a trip to the grocery store at all, other than to replace staples:
Wed. - pasta with Cafe' Lago's roasted tomato sauce, Greek salad, focaccia, peaches and blackberries with icecream or yogurt
Thurs. - Provencal salad, roasted beets, fruit, tortilla
Fri. - toasted focaccia spread with goat cheese and topped with roasted tomatoes, fried zucchini strings, fruit
Houston - take leftovers, pork stew, make a cucumber/onion salad, eat out one night
Mon. - zucchini fritatta, roasted or braised fingerling potatoes, tortilla
Not bad, eh?
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I had the most startling revelation this morning. Apparently, we are no longer addicted to condiments! I was thinking about scrambling some eggs for breakfast, which I rarely do anymore, and that got me to wondering if there was any salsa or catsup in the fridge. Yes, there was, but both were wildly out of date - by a year or two! How did this come to pass? I mean, we're talking about a gal who used to buy new bottles of each just about every time she went to the store! In fact, when I posted that little "How We Met" story the other day, my now infamous roomie sent me a message saying "I knew John was falling for you when little dishes of catsup started showing up at breakfast, since you were the only girl in all three dorms who put catsup on scrambled eggs!"
Another college friend, upon seeing me grab the bottle at dinner, announced "Studies show that people who use an excessive amount of condiments never really liked their mothers' cooking." When I thought about it, I realized she was probably right. Though Mom was great at baking sweets and fixing party food, she was less than inspired when it came to the everyday drudgery of feeding a family of six, and by the time I was in high school, she had given up cooking altogether. John must have had youthful food issues as well, because he couldn't eat a meal without dousing it in A-1, Worcestershire, or tabasco.
Still, that didn't explain why those habits stayed with us for so many years afterwards, despite all the effort I put into recipe collecting, menu planning and grocery shopping, then suddenly disappeared in the last five, unless... Could it be the ingredients I was using, rather than what I was cooking? Was it really as simple as making the switch from packaged, processed, low fat, low flavor ingredients, to those like we received in this week's Bountiful Sprout basket -- real food, straight from real farmers, that needs nothing more than a few sprigs of real herbs, a dab of real butter or really good olive oil and a touch of real wine? Has that really caused such a flavor explosion in our meals, that our palates are finally satisfied, and we no longer feel compelled to drown or disguise everything we eat? Try it, and see what you think.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Tell me, what could possibly be better than this? I wandered into the library this week because I had gone online the night before to put some books on reserve, but the computer kept telling me the number I had entered was invalid. I tried several times, but always got the same answer. Then I tried my original card number, the one I thought I had lost but later found. Same result. When I got to the library they checked the system and found I wasn't there at all, under either number. For some reason, I just didn't exist. I had been erased. Deleted. Kicked out. I know this doesn't seem like cause for giddiness, but wait.
The result was that I had to start over from scratch - reapply, then wait while they re-entered all of my information and issued me another card. While I was waiting, I wandered over to the "New Releases" shelves to give them a once over. I was just about to walk away when something made me freeze in my tracks. What was that down on the lower shelf? Was there a book jacket showing a small girl picking lavender? Wonder who it's by? So I turned around, squatted down, and took a closer look. What to my wondering eyes did appear? The name of one of my all-time favorite memoirists, author of 1,000 Days in Venice, 1,000 Days in Tuscany, The Lady in the Palazzo, and That Summer in Sicily, Marlena de Blasi! So, I ask you, what could be more exciting than finding a brand new book you'd heard nothing about, this time a novel, by one of your favorite authors, when you'd been thinking it might be years before she wrote anything else, if ever! It was all I could do not to squeal out loud and do a little victory dance, right there in the middle of the library!
So, here's what's on my reading table right now. Won't you please tell us what's on yours? What's the best thing you've read recently?
Thursday, June 10, 2010
It's lavender time in Texas folks! The Blanco Lavender Festival starts tomorrow, and for once, I even have lavender abloom in my own yard. No, that's not my yard in the photo. I have exactly two clumps left from the original four I planted. I hadn't really planned to harvest or dry any of it - thought I'd just enjoy it in the garden for as long as it lasted, then pray that it comes back to see me again next year - but this morning's blog posting from Homesick Texan changed all that. Now I'm scurrying around, trying to find out how to harvest/dry/store my blooms, so I can make me some of that Honey Lavender Ice Cream! I used to be absolutely mad for the lavender creme brule that they served at La Madeleine restaurants, and I suspect this recipe will be just as tantalizing. Why, oh why, did La Mad have to switch to plain ol' vanilla?
Speaking of honey and lavender, anybody know of a Texan source for lavender honey? Surely, somewhere here in the Hill Country, someone is keeping bees amongst their lavender fields. Ever since I read and reviewed The Unlikely Lavender Queen, by Jeannie Ralston, where she mentioned this divine combination, I've been dying to try it, but haven't run across any yet. To find a local source would be so awesome. To convince them to sell it through The Bountiful Sprout? Even better!
P.S. Many thanks to texastravel.com for the above image.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
My parents played a little game each day. When Dad got home from work, he'd ask "What did you do today?" After Mom's exhaustive listing of her day's activities, he'd reply"That took fifteen minutes. What about the rest of the day?"
This could be why I adore a week when I've really accomplished something, even if it's just an overdue cleaning or sorting task, and abhor letting a chunk of time slip through my fingers, with little to show for it. Nothing puts me in a funk like wasted time. Wasted anything!
Of course, I realize that Dad was just trying to be funny, but in the back of my mind, half of me is still expecting someone to pop in at any moment, and hold me accountable for time wasted. The other half is in firm agreement with whoever it was who said "The most important requirement for creativity is time for noodling." Time for noodling? What is that, you ask? Well, it's what I do here on the porch each morning, or whenever I'm wandering around on one of my creative excursions - what Julia Cameron refers to as "Artist's Dates." To the casual observer, it might appear that I am doing absolutely nothing, just "killing time", but they couldn't be further from the truth. All the activity just happens to be taking place inside my head. Without noodling, there would be no stories, no blog, no wonderful vignettes or color combinations, no Cantina Garden, no Bountiful Sprout, no good life in the Hill Country, and most certainly, no euphoria.
Still, the common sense half of me demands balance. This half gets very disgruntled if I slip too far into my head, and ignore her need for order and simplicity. Creative Becky is dreading the family reunion that is being hosted here next month, but Common Sense Becky is tickled pink. She knows that it is only when an event such as this is looming, that she is allowed the upper hand. Finally she will have enough power to get shit done around here, and if anyone just happens to drop in and ask for a reckoning, she'll be more than ready for them! First item on her agenda? That gol' darn porch!
Monday, June 7, 2010
One of the best things about the friends I call The Muses, is that they each have several different passions and are involved in many different organizations and activities. That's what makes them so interesting. One of the worst things about The Muses is that they each have several different passions and are involved in many different organizations and activities. That's what makes scheduling any kind of group activity for the four of us an absolute nightmare!
We've been talking about getting together at Fiber Woman's place for months now, so she can teach us how to work with concrete, armatures, mosaic, etc., and we can make some one-of-a-kind garden art. Only problem was, we couldn't find two days in any one week when we were all four available. Finally, after one Muse generously offered to reschedule an appointment, we settled on this Tuesday and Thursday. It's not ideal (hotter 'n Hades and Fiber Woman is exhausted from working 4-day weekends at the Kerrville Folk Festival), but it's the best we could come up with. So of course, they are now predicting rain, both days!
Did you think I forgot about you? Never! First I was in Houston for a few days, then I came home to no internet service last night. This morning, after resetting my router, I had internet again, but blogger was down. For eight hours!
So, at last, here are a few snippets from my weekend - things that put a smile on my face. First there was a pretty good book on tape to help pass the time on the drive down. It had a back-story revolving around life in Russia under Stalin and during WWII. Odd coincidence since I am also reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, and just watched the movie Frida again, both of which deal with Stalin, Trotsky, the war, and revolution in general. I do so love a good historical novel. I learn so much more from them than I ever did in history class!
Next up was doing the carload of laundry I brought with me (which saved me a trip to the laundromat), loving on my grandpuppy, whom we were babysitting, eating some good food, and just enjoying my hubby's company as we read and watched a couple of movies. Oh yeah! And I finally picked up that washcloth again - the one I started knitting more than a year ago, while John was in the hospital. Or was it when my sister had her surgery? Oh, who knows? Who cares? As long as it gets finished, right?
That's my weekend in a nutshell. Now tell me about yours! What put a smile on your face this weekend?