Yogurt cookies and house plants

It’s been awhile since I posted a recipe – or anything, really! – and I found myself with a drizzly afternoon, a sick boyfriend on the couch, and a carton of Greek yogurt that needed to be used before I hit the road for a work trip this Sunday. I took to the internet and searched for “Greek yogurt cookies.” I whipped up a batch of both of these recipes, more or less faithfully:

I made the chocolate chip cookies without any modifications, except I only used 1 cup of chocolate chips because that’s what I had. Interestingly, this recipe doesn’t call for any fat other than the yogurt. I wondered if I would regret not greasing the (nonstick) sheet, but they came off pretty easily. The dough is very elastic and the cookies puff up into a spongy, quick bread texture. For the second round I put a tiny pat of butter under each cookie and also added some cinnamon. The butter created a slightly crispy, salty bottom but it wasn’t necessary.
With more Greek yogurt to use, I next made the brown sugar cookies. I used 1/2 cup butter and an extra 1/2 cup yogurt because 1) I wasn’t feeling up to putting two sticks of butter in a single cookie recipe and 2) I had a lot of Greek yogurt to use. These cookies were essentially the same as the first recipe; a little more biscuity and without chocolate of course (so a little on the boring side), but I’m sure they would have flattened out and crisped up (like the sugar cookie I was hoping for) if I’d used the full amount of butter.
yogurt cookies

Chocolate chip on the left, brown sugar on the right.

With more daylight and, remarkably, more energy (it’s been a long week!) I tackled another project: repotting two of my plants. One is a marble queen that Susan gave me for Christmas – which needed to be repotted way back then – and the other is a precious spider plant I’ve had since the fourth grade that hasn’t gotten a new home in years.

plant repot

Meeting for the first time for a nice, cool shower.

I bought two new big pots for them so now I have two medium-sized pots to upgrade some other plants, sort of like snails swapping shells. I also cut about 25 babies off the mama, so if anyone wants a spider plant, let me know!

Musings over a bowl of rooster chili

This time last year I started this blog with a post about rooster chili. Last night I had some serious déjà vu – Carson brought home a rooster that had started getting frisky, and I ended up following the chili recipe I used last March to a T. It’s rainy and wintry just like it was last year (a very welcome week of rain!) and it left me reflecting on what’s changed – and what’ stayed the same – in the last year.

Carson moved into our house last March, and it’s somewhat surreal to think that we’ll have been together two years in June. This time last year, I was head over heels in love with him. Today I love him even more, in deeper and more complex ways. We’ve definitely settled in; I trust him with my dirty laundry and I don’t feel like he’s going to break up with me if I throw a tantrum. I’ve finally learned what people mean when they say relationships take “work.” I always imagined it was a structured, scheduled kind of work, like having a discussion after a fight. Naive, right? Now I know it’s more of a moving target, a vague series of lessons about trust and patience and compromise. Luckily Carson doesn’t need the patience lesson as much as I do; one impatient person is enough.

This time last year I worked from home; now I go into an office 30 hours a week. It has definitely taken a toll on our domestic bliss, since last year I was cooking 90% of our meals from scratch (plus canning like crazy) and the floors were so clean we could eat off them. But I’m not working until 2 am like I was during my self-employed days, and when I get home, I’m home. I also have a reliable income, which can’t be beat, and it means we can afford to eat out when I don’t feel like cooking. I know some people will scoff at 30 hours like it’s nothing, but I came to Ukiah for a different kind of life. I have grown to hate the word “busy” – we have too much on our plates, but it’s because as a society we are so obsessed with our busy-ness. I’m trying to avoid a frenetic lifestyle, and for me 30 hours a week offers a reasonable balance between work and home. I wish more people would get on that bandwagon.

This time last year we were a two-person family; now we have our adorable dog Bee. Bee has become quite popular; sometimes people pick her up for a run, a trip to the park, or just to hang out. (It takes a village to raise a dog?) I’m working on a collage of pictures of her snuggling with all of our friends; Lauren says  she should be a therapy dog because she makes everyone feel loved.

Carson and Bee  Lauren and BeephotoSteph and Bee

There have been lots of changes, but in many ways things are the same – and I love it. Ukiah is the same quaint country town, we have great friends, the weather is idyllic (albeit drought-y), and we drink a lot of local, affordable, delectable wine. There’s part of a local cow and some chickens in our freezer, and the bees are abuzz with all the spring blossoms. And Carson and I are the same, too – in fact, we’re better. We’ve seen what’s behind our picture-perfect smiles, and we like each other even more.

Tahoe

The end of the cukes, and: a fruity gazpacho variation

It’s official – cucumber season is over in our household! I ripped them out of the ground last weekend after harvesting the final dozen smallish cukes.

cuke destruction

Here’s my swan song to this highly productive cucumber season. I wrote about the merits of cucumber gazpacho, but there’s another sweetheart in the cold soup category that merits a mention: fruit gazpacho.

Perhaps the most delicious dish I made all summer, this fruit gazpacho straddled the line between sweet and savory. As a bonus, it also used cucumber!

Watermelon-basil gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb watermelon, de-seeded with rind removed
  • 1 cup sliced peaches or nectarines
  • 1 lb cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
  • A generous bunch of basil (Thai basil works especially well)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup white, red, or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Top with chunks of feta and a drizzle of olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar.

To make this even more savory, add a tomato or two and a pepper to the blend. A spicy pepper would probably be delicious as well!

the final harvest

Lessons learned during my summer of “doing”

Even though it’s still August and the growing season stretches out in front of us until October (and, truly, all winter for certain things), I can see the signs that production is waning – yellowing cucumber leaves, powdery mildew on the zucchini plants, sunflowers that are toppling over. I have more food in jars on my shelves than I do in my garden. The 100+ degree days are (hopefully) behind us, and I’m starting to look forward to cozy fall and winter nights with a soup on the stove and a pie in the oven.

I’ve learned a lot about how to grow and process food in a hot climate. For example:

  • Crops that aren’t even planted in June in Seattle are already bolting in Mendocino. Accept the new reality of your fast-bolting world.
  • There is no such thing as too many tomatoes (even if your boyfriend prohibits you from planting more).
  • There is such a thing as too many cucumbers.
  • Separate spicy and sweet peppers in the garden. Also… one spicy pepper plant is enough. Having lived in a climate where peppers refuse to grow, this was a new crop to me.
  • Grow basil and zucchini in the ground, not in pots.
  • It’s okay if the occasional food goes to waste – the cilantro will bolt, a few cucumbers will get so big they become bitter, and a lot of fruit will end up on the ground. DON’T PANIC. Life goes on.
  • Sometimes you have to stand over a hot stove in an already-sweltering kitchen if you want to preserve your goods. Food doesn’t wait for cooler temperatures.
  • Your refrigerator will hold more jars of pickles than you think.

garden bounty

My biggest struggle this summer has been doing vs. documenting. I remember an old coworker of mine saying (during a tight production timeline) that she had time to “create processes and documents about how the work should be done, or do the work itself, but not both.”

I love to document things. I like to take pictures and make lists, write notes and save recipes with any modifications I made. In Seattle, Katie and I would draw a garden map and keep a journal with when things sprouted, flowered, and produced food; what worked and what didn’t; and all the new words and skills Jacob was learning along the way. I love that those journals exist.

This year, I did none of that. I didn’t draw a garden map. I didn’t take notes on what worked and what didn’t. All I have to guide me next year will be my notoriously faulty memory – we’ll see how I do.

What I got for my lack of documentation were a lot of agenda-free evenings in the yard, digging and deadheading and weeding and planting and harvesting whatever was ready. I can’t tell you how many successions of radishes we planted because I didn’t write it down, but I can tell you we’ve had a constant supply of them and they keep forever in the fridge. Releasing myself from the requirement to capture what I was doing and simply DOING it was quite freeing.

Of course, next year I hope to keep a garden journal, if I can get my act together. Old habits die hard…

jars of food

Titan, King of the Sunflowers

Carson took it upon himself to plant sunflowers in every nook and cranny of our garden. Most of them didn’t take, but we had plenty of seeds to go around thanks to Susan sharing a dried head from last year, plus a few packets we had already bought, so we just kept sticking them in places and seeing what they did.

Sunflowers are a great late-season food source for bees, so they were a natural in our yard. We have quite a few…

small sunflower

…but only one Titan. Here he is, towering over everything:

big sunflower

See it here, its head already bent?

Carson sunflowerIt was slowly bending more and more, until I got home on Thursday to find this sad sight:

big sunflower 1

Magically, it did not crush any of the tomatoes, peppers, or beans in its trajectory. My friends Katy and Casey were visiting from Seattle on a whirlwind trip, and they helped me document this sucker. Cutting it was like sawing through the trunk of a small tree. If we’re a little over five feet tall, this must be about 12-13 feet with the head straightened out:

big sunflower 2

All the seeds were perfectly, beautifully formed. Turns out the birds are more interested in eating the leaves for dinner than they are the seeds, which I don’t mind because it’s actually quite sweet seeing little birds perched on giant leaves pecking away, and it doesn’t seem to do the sunflowers any harm. (Ingenious of the sunflower to bow its head in such a way that only the very determined could eat it.)

big sunflower 3

Between our garden, Susan’s garden, and the community garden plot we share, there are dozens of sunflowers to harvest. I’m trying to decide if I want to save the seeds for eating, or give them away on Freecycle for planting next year. Thoughts?

Fruity booze, aka “summer bounce”

The hot weather is firmly entrenched in Mendocino county and the gardens have been popping! Between our backyard garden and the community garden plot we share with our friend Susan, we have been awash in blackberries, tomatoes, zucchini, and most prolifically, cucumbers. SO MANY CUCUMBERS. The first round of peppers are almost ready to be harvested and the eggplant and beans are flowering like mad. We have a little pumpkin that struggled at first but tripled in size in a week (maybe because now it’s getting water – go figure).

blackberries

These blackberries are a double whammy of delight, being both thornless and ginormous.

Plums are almost done but continue to ripen with a vengeance. Someone needs to tell the plum tree that it doesn’t need to produce *quite* so much fruit. The sidewalks are covered in rot, even from the trees that are being frequently harvested.

We’ve already done a round of picking, pitting, and canning plums, and I’m sort of plummed out in terms of processing. But I discovered an ingenious use for these tiny, fussy fruits: soak ’em in booze! I like to call it Plum Rum.

plums for rum

Pre-rum plums

I referenced my fruity booze obsession in an earlier post when I added rum-soaked strawberries to a cherry chutney I was making. Those strawberries were supposed to be the start of a summer rumpot, an idea I got from my friend Amber who makes it every year and gives out little jars of it for Christmas. I hoard my rumpot every time, so this year I decided to make one of my own.

Of course, Amber is a much more patient person than I am. Rumpot is supposed to sit for MONTHS, with new fruit (plus more sugar and booze) added as it comes into season. However, after just one week of soaking some strawberries back in May, I tasted it and declared it delicious and, therefore, done. I strained out the fruit, and strawberry rum was enjoyed by all (and, on one occasion, enjoyed a little too much by Susan and me).

With so many plums on hand I decided to give them a try. I smashed them ever so slightly, added significantly less sugar than I did to the strawberry rum (it was awesome but cloying), and let them sit for a week. VOILA – a light but lethal summer drink. A quart of it only lasted five days (to be fair, those days were over the long 4th of July weekend).

Right now I’m making another round, this time with the sunburned blackberries that weren’t good for eating. So if you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood for some blackberry plum rum, holler. It will be ready soon!

Here’s how to make your own.

FRUITY BOOZE (also called Summer Bounce, which I love)

  • Fresh fruit
  • Sugar
  • Rum or vodka

Wash the fruit and chop or slightly mash it and put it into a large non-reactive bowl. (I don’t actually know what this means, and I think I’ve been using a reactive bowl if aluminum is reactive, but I feel compelled to warn you that other recipes encourage a non-reactive receptacle.) Add sugar – I use about a 4:1 fruit to sugar ratio. Add enough cheap rum or vodka to cover the fruit. (I cannot emphasize enough how little the quality of booze matters here – the fruit will cover that taste up.) Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and let sit in a cool, dark place for at least a week. Once you think it’s ready, drain off the fruit (feel free to use the boozy fruit in other recipes like a chutney, or eat it, or chuck it) and serve with aplomb. I like to add it to fizzy water for a refreshing cocktail.

self portrait in rum

Self-portrait in the strawberry bounce

Locavore gazpacho and pickles

Sarah from Eat Mendocino came to dinner last week. She wrote about it here, so I won’t reiterate too much except to say that I helped her make pickles – her first canning process from start to finish – and I love that she described me as both artfully efficient and contagiously enthusiastic. I try!

It was really hot out – too hot to be canning really, but not much keeps me from that project – so I ended up skipping the stuffed tomatoes in favor of a refreshing gazpacho. This was a brilliant choice because most of the flavor comes from fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, which I have in spades right now thanks to tending two separate gardens.

If you’ve never made gazpacho (which is a cold tomato soup), it’s really easy and can be adjusted any which way. Here’s how I did it, plus some variation suggestions.

gazpacho

Summer Gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Zucchini
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Ingredients I would have used if I had any that were produced in Mendocino:

  • Lemon juice
  • Black pepper
  • Stale bread

Preparation:

The quantity of each ingredient depends entirely on what you have on hand and how much you want to make, but in general you want about 2:1 tomatoes to cucumber and any other vegetables such as zucchini, peppers,  cauliflower, or eggplant. I’d avoid broccoli but I can’t explain why I feel that way. This is a particularly good way to use up zucchini since it adds volume and dulls the acidity and spiciness of all those tomatoes and garlic heads.

Chop everything into large chunks. Throw it all in the blender or food processor with some water and about 1/4 cup olive oil per batch (if you’re making a boatload, you may have to blend several batches). Also per batch: 1-4 cloves garlic depending on your taste preference, a little red onion if so inclined, about 1 TBSP lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. If you’re doing it the Spanish way, soak a piece of stale bread in water and throw that in there, too. It sounds gross but it gives it a lovely, smooth consistency. Some gazpacho is served chunky, but I prefer to blend mine until smooth and then add toppings for texture.

Chill for at least an hour, and preferably overnight. I topped ours with local Shamrock goat cheese and some chopped walnuts. I also tossed a few blackberries into mine, because what the hell? And it was a great flavor.

A popular variation uses watermelon and feta cheese. I highly recommend it.

Overall thoughts on feeding a locavore: I was a little panicked that I’d accidentally feed her something not grown or produced in Mendocino county, but it turns out I had tons of local food thanks to the garden and local products I already buy. Also, Sarah brought ingredients like olive oil, butter to cook the salmon backs in, and her own apple cider vinegar and pickling spices that Gowan had dried. The McFadden champagne I happened to have on hand (booty from Taste of Mendocino) was the cherry on top of it all – or should I say blackberry?