Monday, April 25, 2011


Several years ago, a friend who's into feng shui pointed out to me that the "wealth" bagua in the southeast corner of my garden was a big mess, and might be affecting our family's chi in that area. So we got serious and reconfigured the whole area, putting in a round patio (round is a good symbol for money), planting a lot of gold and yellow plants (same reason), and keeping it groomed. Lo and behold, we had several good years in the income/career success department.

Well, once again, it's gotten neglected, and frankly, the income thing isn't doing so well, so one of my tasks this year is to get this area back under control. I've put in a lot of sturdy perennials, and will fill the messy dumping area with some white sunflowers, (white is the color for metal in feng shui, a good augur for the money bagua). We've also got a cheminee in this area, which is probably not such a good thing in the wealth area (you don't want to burn your wealth), so I'll have to think about what to do with the cheminee.

What works about feng shui is not magic, or directing the chi, or whatever it is that it's supposed to do. It's that it makes you observe things. I always stop "seeing" that part of the garden, and some of that probably translates into parts of my life that I don't "see."

So this year I'll try to make my wealth bagua beautiful and cared for. After all, to be beautiful and cared for is what we all want.

Pork hash
2 pork chops
3 medium russet potatoes
3 small yellow onions
4 T butter
1 T honey
fresh herbs and dried spices- your call. I used basil and coriander
salt and pepper to taste

Bone the chops and dice the meat and rind. Slice the onions, dice the potatoes. I like to salt the potatoes now. Saute the onions in 2 T of butter over medium heat, when they are very limp and starting to carmelize add the pork and pork fat, stirring frequently. When the fat is fully cooked/rendered add the potatoes and the rest of the butter. Saute until potatoes start to brown, maybe 5-8 minutes, then add the honey and incorporate it thoroughly. Add the herbs and spices, and saute another 10 minutes, then turn the heat way down (I used the intermittent setting), cover and let it simmer about 15 minutes.


Friday, April 22, 2011

S-s-s-so C-c-c-cold

Earth Day. I'd rather it was warm and sunny so I could go plant a tree or smile at a child or something, but it's 40 and raining (again). It's amazing the bad mood that extended unseasonably cold weather can put you in. And it's not just the cold, it's the lack of sun. We've had maybe 3 days where it was sunny all day in the past 2-3 weeks.

Part of my spring recharge ritual, since I work in isolation in my house and never get to talk to live human beings, is to take little walkabouts in my garden. I've substituted this for obsessing over the seedlings in my basement, but somehow it isn't the same.

On one of my basement walkabouts I excavated eggplant, tomatillo paste, tomato paste and frozen tomatoes from the deep freeze and made this wonderful portobello chili.

Eggplant-portobello chili
1 eggplant, roasted
2 quart bags (or 2 cans) whole peeled tomatoes
1 pint tomato paste
1 quart bag roasted tomatillos
1 pound portobello mushrooms
Olive oil
1 1/4 cup black beans
1 cup corn niblets
1 T (or to taste) chili powder
salt to taste

If using dried beans, bring to a boil in a large pot of water, then simmer for one hour; allow to soak until water is cool. Just before making the chili, boil again, for 20 minutes. (I think this yields a softer, better bean than the "soak overnight" method.)

Dice the mushrooms, and saute in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. When all the oil has been absorbed by the mushrooms, squeeze a quarter lemon on it; the mushrooms will release some moisture; sautee until they are quick limp. Cut up and then add the eggplant. Cook these together until the eggplant has lost all structure. Add the tomato and tomatillo and cook this down to a thick sauce. Add the beans, corn, chocolate and spices. Adjust spices to taste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Empy nest

The nest was really empty over the weekend. Husband on a tour to New York, son on his world tour (I think they're in Texas today) and daughter on her way to Florida for spring break, (no, not like that, she has grown-up friends who live there, and she's going to do some figure skating training at the local rink).

What I should be doing is finding some friends and getting some girl-time with them, but what I'll actually do is hole up in my cocoon here. If I'm ever really single and retired I'm going to have to get a dog or it's doubtful I'd ever go out at all.

And in case you haven't noticed: this week Palm Sunday | Passover | Earth Day | Easter. Dye some eggs.

Root vegetable soup
1 celery root
4 medium potatoes
1 large parsnip
1 head of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 T butter

2 cups vegetable stock

chopped fresh basil and chives

Peel and cut all vegetables into small pieces and boil until they are very very soft. Drain and return to pot. Add butter and mash. Add the hot stock (I used some chard stems I had frozen to make the stock-- 1 quart of stems, 1 quart of water, 1 T mixed white & green peppercorns) and blend using an immersible blender (or place into a blender or food processor, but really, invest in the immersible kind, they're great). Blend until very smooth. Thin with a little milk or more stock.

Add fresh chopped herbs and serve with crackers or biscuits.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

One of those weeks

First the most annoying person you work with decides that he's just the one to tell you everything he's so much better at. Then your husband goes on a business trip, so you're all alone, which is boring. The bank messes up a deposit, and you find out your dad was in the hospital and no one remembered to call you. Then you say something stupid to a friend, who now won't talk to you, and the local skate shop ruins your figure skating blades (or equivalent). To top it all off, it's April 16th and snowing.

Yeah, one of those weeks. These were the highlight of it, and they were amazingly delicious:

Glazed pan-fried fish
Per diner:
1 filet
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 small red onion, sliced
1 1/2 T butter

Melt the butter in a cast iron pan. Caramelize the onions (cook slowly over low heat-- about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally). Add the salmon, and sear both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Add basil and continue to saute about 10 minutes. Add orange juice and simmer 1-2 minutes, then turn down the heat to very low (I used the intermittent setting and a burner ring to keep it from burning) and cover. Leave for about 10 minutes, until the juice has reduced to a sweet thick sauce. Add a little extra liquid if needed.

Serve with wild rice and spring vegetables.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Baking for a friend

I love doing things for people. This is one of the things that continues to annoy me about my son, who resists having things done for him. My daughter is not so reticent, and is perfectly willing to accept help in cash or in kind.

I started doing things for my young friend Kristen, and lo and behold, she started doing things back (really, I wasn't expecting anything, but in case you need to know, I wear a large and I like the color pink). I've been promising her these brownies for a couple of weeks.

Apricot cornmeal brownies
1/2 cup butter
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 eggs at room temp
2-3 T honey
1/2 cup apricot (or other fruit) compote

1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup white flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal

1/2 cup apricot compote
1 teaspoon corn syrup
1/2 cup crushed nuts

Melt chocolate with butter with a double boiler or microwave oven, combine with honey and compote and allow to cool. Beat eggs till foamy, then add to chocolate mixture by hand. Sift flour with cornmeal, salt, and baking powder and fold into the chocolate mixture. Before completely mixed, add nuts if wanted. Turn into a greased cake pan.

Heat the compote and corn syrup for the glaze until pourable, then spread over top of brownies. Cover with the the crushed nuts. Bake 20-25 minutes at 350F, until an inserted knife pulls out clean. Cool completely before cutting.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What to do with Mahlzeit

Mahlzeit started as an online cookbook of family favorites for my kids, and then I discovered that I really like blogging, so I kept it going.

But it's never really found its voice. It's been a cooking blog and a gardening blog. Sustainability, editorializing, this that and the other thing. So I'm permuting again; we're going to try just free associating here. So now this is just about what I do on any given day-- empty nester, working mother, athlete, gardener, artist. Days in the life of a Renaissance woman.

I made the following crackers last week for a friend whom I forgot does not eat land-based meat. So then we had to eat them all ourselves.


Bacon Cheese Crackers
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup corn meal
4 oz. of cheese (cheddar, gruyere or Parmesan) grated
6 T (3/4 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
about 3 T heavy cream
8 slices thick bacon (pastured pigs, please)

Cut the bacon in small pieces and slowly fry it until it is quite crispy. Drain well.

Mix all ingredients except cream in a food processor; run the machine until dough forms a clump, adding the cream a little at a time to get a nice maleable texture. (I only have a 3 cup foot processor, so I have to divide the dough into thirds). Form into logs about 1 1/2 x 8" each, roll in plastic wrap or wax paper and place in freezer until firm (a couple of hours). Slice into 1/4" or thinner rounds. Only have one log out at a time; leave the others in the freezer until you're ready to use them. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Update (thanks barrel-racer) Refrigerate in a closed jar. Don't leave these out, not sure if the bacon will keep.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

First and last

I never started preserving in a major way before last year believe it or not (right? I talk like I've been doing it from the cradle).

I have always preserved the food I grow--I made and froze tomato paste, I dabbled a bit in heat canning, I've put away dried beans, and made jam from my raspberries. But pretty much I used to only grow what we could consume fresh.

Then I started realizing that even this basic approach was taking us well into the fall, so I started tweaking the garden to see if I could make it to November. Last year, after joining in on Eat Real Food at Not Dabbling Normal (where I am now also a contributor), I decided to see if I could make it all the way to January on food preserved from my garden. We bought an 8 cf chest freezer and resurrected my son's little dorm fridge. I increased the number of shell beans I was planting, and learned a lot of pickling recipes.

I cheated a little by purchasing farmers market in-season fruit and veggies to preserve (notably eggplants and peppers, since mine did not produce very well last year), but everything in my larder was preserved in-season and guaranteed local and organic, which is important to me.

I'm still somewhat dependent on the grid, inasmuch as most of what I preserved I did by freezing, but there's really nothing like "shopping" in your own basement. What I found was that there was hardly anything you need to buy to eat a varied diet all winter, including all the main vegetable types--tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, heavy greens like kale and chard, legumes, beans, corn--are all easy to grow and to preserve. I didn't grow potatoes or onions so I bought those (I never seem to be able to grow onions), but I made it into December on leeks, and I still have some parsnips.

Yesterday, yes well into April, I made the following Xanish rice (can't call it Spanish rice, since I did not actually refer to any references to find out what that really is). The stock, tomatoes, peppers, corn, and carrots where from my garden.

Xanish rice
1 cup white, brown or basmati rice
cups broth or stock per package directions, less 1/4 cup
1 quart bag whole peeled tomatoes (about 3 medium tomatoes, equivalent to a can)
3 chopped shishito or other hot pepper (to taste)
handful of frozen peas
handful of frozen corn
1 cup dry beans

Tomatoes should be room temperature, or even hot. Boil the beans in a small sauce pan for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Cook the rice in the stock according to package instructions, cutting the water by about a quarter cup (the tomatoes will add the additional water). When the rice is about half-way cooked, add the tomatoes and peppers and continue cooking. Before serving mix in the beans, corn, and peas. If the corn and peas are frozen, no need to cook them, just throw them in. The hot rice will warm them sufficiently.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The means of production

We think of sustainability as going "back to the land," and "real" as attaining the rural ideal that is so central to our American mythos.

But in fact, what differentiated us from our uncivilized origins was our invention of the city--a settled collection of people, working together for the common purpose of survival. In many ways, cities and towns are more "natural" places for us to live-- after all we are social creatures, suited by biology to living in groups. City dwellers are just as real as anyone else, and there are a lot more of us. And it's going to stay that way, whether you like it or not. It used to be that you lived on a farm, or in a small town. And then it was your parents who lived there. Then a generation came where they would just visit their grandparents on the farm. Now there's been a couple of generations for whom the farming past is out of living memory, and the family farm is a trip down an unfamiliar country road "I think it's around here somewhere."

Cities are where we live. And cities do a lot of things better-- diversity, economies of scale, specialization, cultural life. What we don't do, what we can't do, is grow things in concentrated farms. Based on our current food system, cities need to import their food. The very things that make cities attractive make food production expensive and cumbersome. In our current food system, cities have to import their food.

During and after the Great Migration when rural southerners moved to northern cities, during the waves of European and Chinese migration, and after the Dust Bowl which displaced hundreds of thousands of farm families, new city migrants brought their farming and gardening traditions with them. Unfortunately, as noted, that rural past is now so far past that it's barely even family story anymore, and the practical knowledge is lost in many families.

About 15% of any given city's land is "vacant."
In cities suffering depression this number may be higher (hence the Urban Farm movement in Detroit). As far as I can find out about 16% of urban dwellers have access to enough yard to put in a garden. Doesn't sound like enough space to grow food for a million people, does it?

But in 1943, Chicagoans grew all the produce they needed, in vacant lots and backyards, as did many other large urban centers, through the Victory Garden movement.

We don't need to put in farms to be able to grow food in cities, of course. Everyone with a yard can have a garden. It doesn't even need to be your own. Lots of people join community gardens, although there is way more interest than there is land for this use and new regulations are starting to discourage the start of new ones on public land in some places. But while there are lots of gardeners with no land, there are even more private landholders with no gardens. There is a small but growing local industry in hiring out your gardening--someone else puts a garden in your yard. In exchange for the land, you get some of the harvest. Or do what The Peterson Garden Project in Chicago did-- find some vacant, privately-owned land, and talk the landowner into letting you put in a garden, even if just for a couple of years until the land sells.

Everyone should grow at least some of their own food. I come from five generations of city dwellers myself-- not a gardener in the bunch. If I can learn to garden, anyone can. Taking back control of this most basic need, even if it's just tomatoes or blueberries in a pot on a porch, is reconnecting urban Americans with the land that is so important to our psyches. And it's giving us back the means of production, giving ordinary people control of this most basic need.

Cucumber-corn chowder
1 quart cucumber, cubed
2 cups corn
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
10 small new potatoes, halved (or equivalent red or yukon)
2 cloves garlic
1 T chopped fresh parsley
4 T butter
2T flour
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable; make sure it's a "white" stock or the soup will be ugly!)
>1 cup milk
1 cup half-half
2 yolks eggs
pepper and salt to taste

Cook the potatoes separately in water or the microwave, until al dente (a little underdone; they'll finish cooking in the soup). I used frozen cukes, but if you have fresh, peel, seed and dice. Dice onions and garlic (or use a garlic press) and saute in 2 T butter with the parsley and dill seeds in the soup pot about 5 minutes (the cukes will turn a bright light green). Heat the stock to a simmer. While it's heating, add the additional butter to the vegetables, melt, then dredge with the flour, letting it simmer, but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add half the stock about a quarter cup at a time, allowing mixing it well with the dredged vegetables. It should thicken each time. Add the rest of the stock, simmer 20 minutes. Add the potatoes, carrots, corn and milk, bring to a light simmer. Continue to simmer until it thickens slightly. Allow to cool to just a little too hot to eat.

Lightly beat the half-half and egg yolks, pour a little boiling soup on to them, stirring at same time, then return it to the hot soup, stirring constantly; it must not boil again or it will curdle. Season to taste with white pepper and salt. Thin with a little half-and-half just before serving.

You can add a little sauteed andouille sausage to this for the carnivores among you.