Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's Make Pickled Vegetables

I'm not a big pickle eater. Loved them when I was a kid - the big, sour dills, and even then I preferred the crunchy kind.

But as I've gotten older, I've found the taste too tart, and mostly I've avoided them. I've considered making them myself, and I did pickle some beets last year. I also made some marinated vegetables for a buffet - spicy ones to go with Mexican food.

Then, last week, I had someone's homemade pickles, both sweet and sour.

Oh, boy. What I've been missing. Like anything else, Industrial Food has ruined our pickles for us. The homemade variety are outstanding.

But I didn't run out and buy a bunch of pickling cucumbers. No, if I can pickle cucumbers, I can pickle anything. And I've got vegetables to use up!

It bears saying that pickled foods are good for you. Pickles used to be served at the beginning of every dinner, as a way to prepare the digestive system for a meal. The bacteria in the vinegar are the kind that do good things for us.

And it's ridiculously easy to make.  Follow along.

Step 1: Cut up your vegetables. I used carrots, Armenian cucumbers (didn't have the pickling kind), red and yellow onions, and garlic. They're all tossed together in a big bowl.

Step 2: Stuff the veggies into jars. Really cram them in there. You'll still have lots of unused space.

Step 3: Here's the rest of the ingredients. Simple, right? This is a Cooking Light recipe for pickling zucchini, but I figured it would be good for anything. It's a not-too-sweet and spicy brine. I love the taste.

I'm afraid I can't find the recipe online, but it was in the August issue for this year. For 4 cups of vegetables, boil 1 cup of vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp. mustard seeds, 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes, and 3/4 tsp salt. Just bring it to a boil, then pour it into the jars. I had to quadruple the recipe for what I had.

The result: gorgeous, delicious, crunchy vegetables!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm Not Lost, I'm Making Wine

Which is a real adventure.

I have to tell you, it's not easy decoding all the instructions for making wine. Maybe it's my age. I just can't comprehend things like I used to.

Anyway, I spent days reading various instructions, including the ones that came with the wine-making kit I ordered. But it took deeper research into the internets to find definitions and instructions. I mean, I need wine-making for dummies. For instance, exactly HOW does the airlock fit into the bucket? They assume I just know this.

I hate to disappoint them, but I've never attached an airlock in my life. Good thing my husband's an engineer.

Anyway, the whole point of this was to use up some of the millions of plums my trees have produced. I pulled twenty pounds from one tree yesterday, which was about all I could reach. But that's enough for five gallons of wine. Perfect!

So I carefully washed the equipment, then washed and pitted the plums. That's when it got fun. Perhaps I should mention that I had to change my blouse three times. And I WAS wearing an apron!

Too many instructions have a downside, and that's contradicitons. So some places said to boil the water, others seemed to indicate the water was cold (room temperature). This may be where I really screwed it up, but I won't know until later. It seemed to me that cold water would never dissolve the sugar, so I went and heated up the water. I put it all in a large bucket, with the addition of things like peptic enzyme, yeast energizer, and other mysterious stuff. Then I faced another challenge.

You're supposed to put the fruit in a mesh bag and submerge in the water mixture. Hey, you know mesh bags have holes in them, right? So how do I pour the (extremely juicy) fruit into the bag and transfer it to the bucket?

Yes, I did think about putting the empty bag in the bucket and pouring the fruit in. But the bag wouldn't stay open - it just wanted to fold over and lay in the water. My bowls of fruit were BIG and HEAVY. And I have arthritis.

The lesson: it's a two-person job. But I managed: I put the bag in my biggest skillet (large, with reasonably high sides), then poured one bowl of fruit into the bag. All the liquid immediately poured out of the bag of course, but the pan (just barely) contained it all. I transfered the bag and liquid to the bucket. With the weight of the fruit in the bag, it stayed upright in the water, and I was able to hold it open and pour in the second bowl. This involved not a little bit of pain in my hands, and just a little bit of spillage.

But it worked.  Here it is:

Does this look strange? I hope it doesn't. There's about three or four gallons of water with maybe 4 cups of juice and 7 1/2 pounds of sugar in that bucket. Along with all the pulp in the bag, of course. The big white spot is a reflection of the light in the ceiling.

Right now, the wine is in the guest room, where the temperature can be somewhat controlled. It's covered with a thin towel while the juice is sterilizing. This afternoon, I add the yeast. Then I wait a few days, I think. Back to the instructions!

As usual, I forgot to take pictures of each step. But honestly, this was MESSY! Taking pictures would have been difficult to do. Fun, though. Can't wait to taste the wine.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Crunchy Goodness

I had a treat for dinner the other night. Fried (as in baked) polenta sticks. Doesn't get much better.

As you can see, I served them with deviled eggs. Also carrot soup, which is one of my favorites. This is all part of my attempt to eat less food. This meal was quite filling and satisfying. I served a crisp Riesling along with it, and felt like I wasn't hurting myself too much.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Saving Money

I downloaded a few great recipes here. These are delicious Mediterrean meals, healthy and cheap. The idea behind them is to eat fresh, local food for under $2.00 per meal. I'm always looking for ways to cut my food costs without giving up the Real Food, so this is perfect for me.

I will say, that the prices for ingredients probably don't reflect organic prices. I mean, where are you going to find local, organic asparagus for $1.69 a pound?

You aren't.

So in that sense, this isn't useful. Frankly, I don't know where to shop in the Bay Area to find "cheap" organic, local food. Everywhere I look, it costs a fortune, even at my local farmers market. Maybe, especially at my local farmers market.

But that's okay. As Alice Waters has said (paraphasing), "Good food is not supposed to be cheap." It's only in America, in the last 50 years or so, that we've latched onto the idea that food should cost practically nothing. It's another way we bury our heads in the sand and pretend The World According to Us has no problems at all.

Ouch. Didn't mean to jump on the soapbox. It happens so easily! The basic thing is that if we eat Real Food, mostly plants, not too much (thank you, Michael Pollen), and if we cook it ourselves, our meals don't have to break the bank

Frugal is good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Low-Cal Meal Jenny Craig Can't Come Close To

Here's a simple, low-calorie dinner that is, nevertheless, amazing. The secret is fresh, local ingredients at their prime. Once again, this meal is a result of needing to use up my CSA veggies, although I confess to buying the tomatoes at Whole Foods.

The carrots are a Moroccan Carrot Salad from my Green's cookbook - just carrot curls tossed with a bit of lemon juice, olive oil (only a teaspoon), sugar (just a bit), and orange peel with a little water. The recipe called for orange flower water, but I had no such thing in the house, so I improvised. These are really good carrots!

The summer squash was sauteed in a little olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. It doesn't get much better than that.

The tomatoes are those heavenly heirloom tomatoes - the kind that are deep red, and heavy with flavor. They make you swoon, they're so good. I just sliced one up, added salt and pepper, and covered them with eggs over easy.

We topped the meal with banana daiquiris - strange perhaps, but I had bananas to use up. It went with the meal just fine.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Do you like the new look? I migrated the information from my old website onto my food blog, and changed the template, too. It makes me feel lighter, somehow.

I was perfectly happy with my web host, but I needed to cut costs. Blogger is the right price (free), plus this way, anybody who finds me through search engines gets to see the blog, too. I like that.

I was afraid I'd screwed it up, though, when I tried to point my domain name to the blog. Everything went to the old website and I couldn't access the blog at all! It turned out I just needed to clear my cache.

That's enough technology for me, today. I'm going to take a nap!


I've been home for a week, and you know - it was good to see vegetables again. I always say that.

My first tasks were to clean the frig, go grocery shopping, and pick up my CSA box. I have to confess to being somewhat disappointed with this summer's boxes. Not completely disappointed - I've had asparagus and English peas, and a few baby artichokes. Green beans, occasionally. But where is my corn or squash? When do the melons come in? What about peppers? I see these things in the store and most of them are from local farms. Why didn't my farm grow them?

Probably they'll start showing up in the box and I'll be overwhelmed. Last year, I remember getting so many sweet peppers, that it took me until this March to use them all up. That's pretty cool, actually. And this week, I got several onions, something else I've been waiting for. So hopefully, the summer stuff will start to come in.

The one thing I'm not so crazy about? Cucumbers. They just don't do it, for me. I like putting them in my drinking water, but that's about it. I should try to make pickles. I'm not mad about them, but I bet my husband would love them. I think my older grandchildren would like 'em, too.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


A family reunion is currently claiming my time. My days are filled with grandchildren, nephews, in-laws of all kinds, Virginia sun and wind, and hours in the swimming pool or out on the river in the boat.

Well, and food, of course.

This side of the family is solidly devoted to fake industrial food, but even these people have a special dish that gives them pleasure to prepare and share. Breakfast and lunch are on-your-own affairs, with lots of *shudder* pop tarts, toaster strudels, sliced American cheese, crackers and chips for people to grab whatever they want. Also, sodas and energy drinks galore. On the good side, there's a never-ending bowl of fruit.

Each family takes a turn with dinner, and it's these meals that allow everyone to shine. My father-in-law made his favorite stir-fry, with lots of real vegetables: carrots, onions, cauliflower, snow peas, scallions, and the addition of marinated beef and chicken. All served over homemade fried rice. Yumm.

My step-son and his wife made beautiful shish kebabs packed with bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, and beef.

My daughter-in-law made a great potato salad, with careful attention to the flavorful dressing.

Their  four-year-old daughter, from the first day they arrived, was enamored of the apple tree in the back yard, and picked apples every time she could get someone to lift her up high enough. As soon as her 12 and 15 year old cousins arrived, she had them in the tree, tossing apples into her bucket.

So I made a pie.

For my turn in the kitchen, I made lasagna, easy to use to feed a crowd:
And a salad with radishes, zucchini, and asparagus, a surprising hit:

Our hosts, my sister-in-law and her husband, prepared a southern meal of barbequed spare ribs, corn on the cob, and a colorful pasta salad. Tonight, my other sister-in-law brings out her family's favorite beef tacos, with lots of veggie toppings. Along with Coronas and lime.

The rumor for tomorrow is crab legs and pizza. THAT one will be interesting!