Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Gardens, Breakfasts and Dogs

Good morning, glories! While I was sitting at my desk yesterday morning, I couldn't help but admire the pattern my coffee was making in the mug while I was slow to drink it, so I had to take a snap.

It's no secret that I've been loving my garden this season! And I'm not the only one. Occasionally I forget to check the squash, and they get too big to eat. What does that mean? Dog toys!

Wheeler has her mouth full with a piece of summer squash.
Marty gnawing away on his piece of squash. 
Besides the squash, I've had some lovely yellow tomatoes. They're really tasty, and a perfect size. So far they are the earliest to ripen and I've picked a half dozen or so. I'm also super excited because tomato plants started coming up in places where some rotten tomatoes must have fallen last year, and at least one is my absolute favorite, but most difficult seed to find - the Garden Peach tomato!

And finally, how about these "green" beans? They are an heirloom bean - a deep purple on the vine, but supposedly when you cook them, they turn an emerald green. I love them too much raw to cook them, so I suppose I won't see that magic trick in the kitchen.

So what's with all these funky veggies? I really love the heirloom varieties, and this season that's pretty much all I bought when I was picking out my seeds. Do you realize how much genetic diversity you are preserving by choosing one of the "weird" varieties, as opposed to your typical big, red tomato or regular old bush bean? Saving seeds used to be a necessary part of the farming process for farmers years ago, which is how we've been able to have so many wonderful varieties available to us today. 

Also, you may have at some point heard about monoculture (growing all of the same variety) versus polyculture (growing many varieties). That's kind of the idea here, too. I'm growing about 6-8 different varieties of tomatoes, all in my backyard garden. Again, it preserves the genetic diversity, but may also be beneficial if pests decide to attack any of my plants. 

I'm not the only gardener around. Ashley loves to spend evenings in his garden (and I love that about him!) and often brings me some of the veggies he's grown. Currently I have a handful of hot peppers drying. It was pretty cool over the past couple of weeks to watch them turn from green to bright red and shrink up into almost fake looking little peppers. 

But this past weekend, he brought a paper bag full of red and white potatoes. We washed them, chopped them up, cooked them in olive oil and sprinkled them with a hefty dose of Old Bay. Delicious! 

And then we have the equivalent of the "his and hers" breakfast. Go ahead...just call us brunchaholics

Ashley's brunch with local turkey breakfast sausages. 
My meat-free brunch with a fresh croissant from a local bakery. 

Are you growing anything new in your garden this summer? What's your favorite part of your weekend breakfast or brunch? Happy Tuesday everyone!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I'll Stop the World and Melt with You

At this hour...at the minute...10:38 p.m. to be exact, we're still suffering a heat index of 101 degrees. Yuck. I think the high heat index of the day reached 107 degrees. Tomorrow's actual temperature is supposed to be 101 degrees with not a cloud in the sky. Beautiful, right?

Anyway, for an hour this afternoon, I escaped obligations and enjoyed this: 

And believe me, I wasn't out of that water for a second until it was time to dry off and go home. Someday when I am married and a homeowner, there will be a pool in my backyard...if my husband knows what's good for him. *insert angelic smile and batting eyelashes*

Before I headed off this afternoon to complete two more of my member work hours for the co-op, I spied this little guy sitting on the door of my car:

Until this summer, I have never seen a praying mantis in Philadelphia. A couple of weeks ago, I found one on the foyer door in the entryway of my apartment. They're following me! When I was a kid, my mom owned a business and in the strip mall where her shop was located, there were large, brick planters with shrubbery in them. I always found praying mantises around them. I was so fascinated by their fragile, interesting little bodies. I guess I still am! Have you found any interesting, summer critters at home or while on vacation? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's not spring, but I'm still cleaning!

If you don't already know, I have two children...two furry, four-legged, barking children. One of my pups, Marty the poodle-terrier mix, is quite the sloppy eater. His messes could probably rival the mess that children of the two-legged variety make, for those types of parents out there.

Tonight I spied an army of black ants trying to make off with a piece of half-chewed kibble Marty spit onto the floor (Did I mention what excellent manners he has? No? Hmm...) and that was enough for me. I muscled up and pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and out into the middle of the kitchen floor.

Let me tell you friends, everything in the kitchen is not all sugar and spice. It's also part dust bunny, part army-carried kibbel chunks, part random food wrapper you could have sworn ended up in the trashcan, part dried mystery crud on the floor....yeah, you get the picture. I could sum it up in one word for you: EW.

After sweeping and scrubbing the floor (I use a pet-friendly mix of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle), I also remembered a good environmentally-conscious tip: dust off the coils on the back of the fridge. Keeping the coils free of dust can help your fridge operate and cool more efficiently, and we all know what that means. New shoes! Just kidding - it could mean a lower electricity bill (which I just may find a tad more exciting than a new pair of shoes)!

And not to be out-famed by Marty, I have to be fair my girl Wheeler, the queen of the castle!

My Favorite Dinner

Mmm...seitan and veggie stir fry! I was introduced to seitan by the wonderful, health-conscious mother of the kids in my neighborhood who I used to babysit. Part of the family ate a vegetarian diet and part ate meat, so seitan was a popular item in their house. Thank goodness for that, because it's one of my favorite meat substitutes, now!

I went for seasonal veggies to add to my stir fry - thin asparagus stalks, carrots and a summer squash from my garden. As you can see in the photo, I also used onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and of course, the seitan. Not pictured are the olive oil and rice.

The process is simple and uses one pan and one pot, at most. In a large frying pan, pour enough olive oil in the bottom to almost cover the the surface. Start with your peeled and slice carrots and seitan (I pull it apart into smaller pieces). Let them simmer a couple minutes on their own, and then add the minced garlic, ginger (I love the zing it adds, so I use about a teaspoon) and chopped onion (this was a small, yellow onion - I used half). The reason why I don't add the onion and garlic immediately is because they have a tendency to burn when heated the entire time. Next, add the squash, followed by the asparagus (washed and cut, of course). Finally, add the teriyaki and soy sauces in whatever amounts suit your taste.

As you can tell, I add my ingredients to the frying pan based on the length of time I want that particular ingredient to cook. The carrots and seitan need much longer to cook than the asparagus. I lucked out and already had a large portion of basmati rice leftover from dinner two nights prior, so I put it right into the frying pan and stirred it up with the seitan, veggies and sauces until it was completely heated. Talk about an an easy meal! This is one of my absolute favorites...now if I could just get Ashley to eat veggies...

BBQ Pulled Pork

Ashley's birthday was on a Sunday in June. He's not really into big celebrations, so we stuck to our usual "Adventure Sunday" (I'll elaborate more on that in a future post) and explored a natural wildlife refuge in the area. I did get him a birthday gift, but while while we were out for the day, I think his favorite birthday treat was simmering in the crockpot at home.

Painted turtle sunning itself on a log in the pond.
I couldn't remember exactly how I prepared the chunk of pig (your best best is a pork shoulder with one fatty side and the bone still in it) the last time I made pulled pork, but I'll let you in on a little secret about the most important ingredient: beer. Not just any beer though - a stout (or three). Look at a million recipes online for BBQ seasoning and you'll find about the same mix of seasonings: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, brown sugar and chili powder. Of course there are more (or fewer) spices you can mix together to meet your particular tastes, but those are the basics. 

I like to mix all of my spices in a bowl, and then rub the pork shoulder really thoroughly with all the spices, just like you'd prepare dry-rubbed ribs. After the meat is coated in spices, I put it aside for a few minutes while I caramelize onions. Slice up a yellow onion into rings, add a bit of olive oil to a large pan and pour in a few tablespoons of brown sugar. On low heat, sauté the onions until they are golden brown, then dump them into the bottom of the crockpot. 

I add a bit more olive oil to a the same pan (You really think I'm going to clean up that many dishes? Please.) and brown all sides of the meat, just to get the cooking started and seal in the flavor. Once all sides are browned, into the crockpot it goes, resting on a bed of caramelized onions. Next I throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme and pour in 2-3 bottles of beer, depending on how large the piece of pork is. 

You want the piece of meat completely covered with liquid, even a little extra so it remains covered as some of the liquid steams out. The beer selection is crucial. You want a dark, flavorful beer. You can choose one with a coffee or smokey undertone, or a sweeter taste. You can find any of these flavors in numerous stouts and porters. Don't be afraid to mix different types of beer. The first time I made pulled pork, we sampled all of the beers in a make-your-own 6-pack and chose two with flavors we thought to be complimentary to each other. So pour in your 2 stouts or porters. I topped my liquid off with half a bottle of a honey weiss, which is a lighter wheat beer. You can always add other flavors such as hot sauce, molasses, BBQ sause, etc. to enhance the flavor of the meat. Be creative!

After all the prep work is done, put the lid on your crockpot, set the temperature to medium or high and give the meat 6-8 hours to fall apart. When it's time to pull the meat apart, I like to keep it in the crockpot and the liquid so it can continue soaking up the flavor and not get dried out. I use a big two-pronged meat fork and a large serving fork since the meat shreds so easily at this point.

Ashley's birthday dinner was complete when the pulled pork was served on toasted potato rolls with homemade cheesy mashed potatoes, made from red potatoes. We ended the day with a picnic on the roof. It was such an awesome meal that I ate three sandwiches! 

Birthday boy's pulled pork and mashed potatoes.

Chow down, birthday boy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Improvising the Sunday Brunch

Is that my awesome boyfriend I spy making breakfast? It totally is. One Sunday morning I'd whipped up the pancake batter, then took the dogs outside and swore I could smell breakfast food cooking (even though I said I'd start cooking as soon as I came in). When I got back inside, Ashley had the pancakes almost finished and was about to start on the eggs. He's the best.

Here's where things got interesting...I don't eat breakfast sausage (in fact, it wasn't until very recently that I even ate a grilled chicken sausage). Usually though, I have some breakfasty meat product in my fridge or freezer for Ashley to eat on the weekends. Except this time. He finished the sausages the weekend before, and I'd put the bacon in the freezer so it wouldn't go bad. Oops. Being the good sport and brave food eater that he is, he opted for a turkey hot dog and said "why not?." So he chopped it up and threw it in with his eggs, scrambled it all up and called it good.

Cutting up 1 turkey hotdog into bite-sized pieces to add to the eggs.

Mixing it all together.

Scramble time!

What lesson did we learn today, friends? Fake it so you can make it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Cheater's Margarita

In the spirit of the weekend (as if we need a reason...ahem), how about a drink recipe? I like to call this one the "Cheater's Margarita" because, well, I cheated!

When it comes to a mixed drink, there's nothing I find more unsatisfying than an overly sweet, not quite real enough fruit flavored drink mix (probably loaded with calories, no less) to be the deathbed of good alcohol. You catching my drift here?

That said, the last time I made these margaritas, I wasn't exactly in the mood to be squeezing lime after lime (time after time?). So, read on my friends and find out how to cheat your way to a delicious margarita!

Liquor: silver tequila and triple sec
Other: Simply Limeade and Simply Lemonade

In a shaker (ok, who am I kidding? a pitcher...) with ice, add a 1:3 ration of triple sec to tequila. Then, shake up your bottles of Simply Limeade and Simply Lemonade really well. [Note - these do have pulp, so if you don't like it, use a strainer when pouring them into your pitcher.] Add about the same ratio (1:3) of lemonade to limeade. The lemonade cuts the tartness of the lime just a bit and makes a really smooth drink. Stir or shake it up, and test the flavor. Adjust to meet your taste preferences, then pour and serve.

And there you go...sit back and enjoy a summer day while sipping on a Cheater's Margarita!


Growing up on the Outer Banks, one of my favorite summer activities (well, besides going to the beach...duh) was picking blueberries. If I remember correctly, the blueberry farm was on Waterlily Road. We went several times during the summer and every time would leave with loads of blueberries. As a kid, it was super exciting to stop at Joe's "Tarheel Produce," where he'd pay you a couple bucks a quart for your extra blueberries. Cash-money, baby!

So, needless to say, I still love picking blueberries. A few weekends ago, right at the beginning of blueberry season up here in PA, Ashley and I went to Solebury Orchards in New Hope, PA for some fresh berries (they also have the best apple cider donuts I've ever had...like, to die for...but shhhh, don't tell anyone!).

Picking was decent. We both ended up with a lot of those not-quite-ripe-but-who-cares-because-they're-the-best-ones-anyway berries in our quart-sized containers. I ate all of mine by Thursday (we picked on a Sunday), and Ashley froze his (I know, kind of a sin, right?). He has good reason though! He recently bought an at-home beer brewing kit and as a substitute for some of the sugar, he's going to add the quart of blueberries he picked. We've had some good fruit-infused beers, and I think it'll turn out really well! His kit is for a Belgian Triple, so if he does it well, the end result might be a little something like the Three Philosophers beer that he loves, just with blueberries instead of cherries.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Repeat that last title...

Gosh, I am getting bad at this. So there are a lot of new things on the horizon.

The public school district where I have been working as a Special Education teacher for the last 5 months has gone to hell. That being said, I'm currently without a teaching job for the fall. I didn't realize I was going to love teaching as much as a did. I'll tell anyone I meet that I love a challenge, and that's certainly what I was handed when I began working in February. And you know what? All the more reason why I loved it. Disrespectful students began to respect me, themselves and each other. Apathetic students began to care about their progress in classes. Students who were used to failing had a taste of success, and I became their biggest cheerleader. Students who weren't used to guidance were given a dose of tough love. The transformation for them (and me!) was amazing. I wouldn't have traded any single tough day...days when I wanted to throw the books down and go running out the door in tears...for anything in the world. And that's why I'm so passionate about getting back in the classroom this fall.

A college friend is following his dreams and starting an online, location-based magazine, and he has asked me to be the editor! Right now it's just a side project with collaboration from friends and friends of friends, but we're really hoping to see this go somewhere. And that's why I want you to check it out (and if you feel so compelled, by all means...spread the word)! We're called Culprit Magazine. Follow the link and you'll be taken to our website, which will be going live with the first issue August 1st! You can also follow us on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook. It's all about staying connected! Through Culprit Magazine, you'll be able to browse events calendars (tailored to each of our initial major cities - NYC, Philadelphia and L.A.), read articles related to events or activities in each of those cities, as well as read articles that may interest anyone in any location. We're all about access, so we've created a wide variety of interest categories to appeal to our readers. Hope to find you browsing the site in August!

Finally (I know, I know...I'm just like those TV shows that show all of the good stuff on commercials, then you find out that clip is from the last minute of the show), what people originally started coming here to read...the food. I have a ton of pictures to upload and meals to write about, my garden to rave (and fuss) about, restaurants to discuss and much more. But for the rest of the night, I must put on my editor's cap (ok fine - glasses) and read through my first batch of stories.

So for now, I'll leave you with a tasty imagine of summertime from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk in Delaware. Yum!