Monday, April 30, 2012

The Earthiest of Earth Days...

     Way back when, post-marriage, pre-children, young me decided I should plant a huge garden and produce enough food for us to live on.  We lived in a high-rise apartment with no balcony.  I grew houseplants.  Then we moved to an apartment with a balcony and I grew cherry tomatoes then the outside of the building had to be painted, we moved everything inside and the cats ate/peed in everything.  Then we moved to a condo with no sun so I grew a couple of onions, a lot of geraniums, and weeds.  Then we moved to a house with lots of land located in the Pit of Darkness.  The first year my garden plot got shaded out.  The next year, all I got out of my plot was a little spinach and lettuce, still not enough sun.  So last year I decided to rip out half the lawn.  But first, I tested the sun by planting everything in pots.

  And the sun never shined.  Like, all Summer.  But I still managed to get beets, lettuce, chard, a couple of scrawny tomatoes,

 (I took this picture on 9/10/11, hah!)

bunches of bolita and purple podded pole beans, and a fair number of peas and potatoes.  Squash, cucumbers, and kale all failed miserably.

Admittedly, there may have been more than lack of sunlight involved in the demise of the cucumbers...

     All this to say, clearly, I had better luck and the lawn must go.

     Back in October, my buddy Danika hauled over a load of straw bales so we could have a storytime spot for our Halloween party.  Those suckers were a little heavy.  Because they were a little heavy and also because I was a lot lazy, they sat there, slowly killing the grass underneath it.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong grass. I finally got sick of looking at it back in March and chopped it into layers and moved it over to the part of the lawn that will become my garden.  Guess what I learned?  1) wet straw is even more heavy than dry straw 2) wet straw gets moldy 3) wet straw mold gives me a cough so bad hubby fears I may actually have mold growing in my lungs 4) when you go to the doctor because you are allergic to mold and have a cough so bad your husband thinks you may have mold growing inside your body you win an inhaler!  But wait!  There's more!  Also, nasal spray!  Sweeeet...  Also, slugs reeeeeeeally like wet, moldy straw.  Ew.

But it was moved and it sat in the right spot killing the right grass.  

     Spring sort of sneaked up on me this year.  It was Winter, it was Winter, it was Wiiiiiinteeeeerrrr, SPRING!  I planned to start some seeds last weekend (waaaay late) and I opened my storage spot and a mouse had eaten all my leftover seeds and half a baseball.  You know, I'm a little afraid to mess around with a mouse that eats baseballs.  So rather than shaking him down for my seeds, I placed a new order.  I did get a few new seeds like salsify and miner's lettuce, so I'm counting it a win. 

     Saturday, I spent an hour or so forking the area I want to plant spinach and lettuce in because I learned on Victory Garden that that's the best thing to do (also because "forking" sounds kinda dirty).  Got a rockin' callus.  I was apparently in the bathroom during the part on Victory Garden when they said to wear gloves when forking... duh.

     And so on Earth Day, I moved the straw again.  Took a dose of allergy meds beforehand.  And you know what?  It's still heavy!  But it did a great job taking care of the weeds and grass.  Moss, not so much, but fortunately, moss is pretty easy to fork.

     Another project we've been working on is sheet mulch.  Hubby's been saving cardboard in the garage for us to put down over the weeds we want to mulch over.  Last year we tried mulching over weeds and they just grew up right through it.  I think we didn't have quite enough coverage.  This time, buddy we're going to have enough coverage!  So I spent quite a few hours stripping plastic tape and metal staples out of cardboard boxes and laying them in my flower garden so I would have somewhere to move the straw to.


 I've managed to pretty well get everything covered, but I still had half a garden full of straw!

I made a compost pile next to my composter...

And so, in the spirit of do-it-yourselfedness, I decided to make almond flour this week.  Almond flour is the the very best gluten free flour flavor-wise, but it's really darn expensive.  I had seen a video clip by Greenbacks Gal about making almond flour in a coffee grinder.  She also uses an old-fashioned sifter in her process and blanched almonds.  Since I didn't have most of that stuff, I decided to give it a whirl with my regular almonds, in a food chopper, and a strainer.  Here's what I did:

I found some raw almonds at a discount grocery store for about $4 a bag and I knew I had to try to make almond flour.  To start, open your bag.  I know, thorough, right?  Then, put a handful or two into a food chopper.

Run the chopper for about 30-40 seconds.  This part is really loud.  You might want to wear ear plugs...

When the mixture is pretty fine, stop and pour the almonds into a fine mesh strainer.

Sift out the finest pieces just like you would sift confectioner's sugar onto a cake.  (Tap the strainer against the heel of your hand until the fine stuff falls out...)

This will be the result.  Big chunks in the strainer, fine stuff in the bowl.  Rocket science.

Put the big stuff back into the chopper and process another 20-30 seconds.  Filter through the strainer (there will be considerably less flour this time) then repeat once more.

You can see how moist the big chunks are by the end of the third processing.  I wasn't able to get much more usable flour at this point.

 So I set it aside.

Repeat the process, chopping the almonds, sifting them, returning them to the chopper until you've finished your bag of almonds.  My $4 one pound bag yielded 2 Cups of almond flour the first time I did it and 2 1/2 Cups the second time.  I wrote the amount and the date processed on the bag and stuck it in the freezer.

 Homemade almond flour with skin in the foreground, store-bought blanched almond flour in the background.  If you want to blanch your almonds first, pour boiling water over a bowl of raw almonds.  Let sit for about 30 seconds, drain, and pop the almonds out of their skins!  Let them dry completely on a cooling rack before beginning the flour making process.  Blanched almond flour in the store can cost as much $14 for a bag of  around 3 cups (I like Bob's Red Mill).  So though, I yielded less than 3 cups with my 1 pound, I can get about 6 cups for the price of 3 cups of the name brand.

Now, you could save all your little too-wet pieces of almonds for mixing into pancakes or muffins or even use them as breading for chicken, but I decided to try my hand at almond butter.

 One at a time, pour 1 Tbs of water into the "wet" almond pieces and pulse.  It will take a while for the mixture to fall off the sides.  I eventually added 6 Tbs of water to this batch.

This is about the right consistency.  It has fallen off the sides, and begun that fun whirlpool motion around the blade.  Process until it's as smooth as you like it.  I like mine a little crunchier.

 I got about a cup of butter.  Here you can see the difference between homemade raw almond butter and roasted store-bought "grind it yourself" almond butter.  It's considerably lighter, but also so much sweeter!  You could mix a little salt in if you want during the blending process, but I like mine plain on whole wheat with a little honey...  I also used some as filling in a cinnamon roll.  Pretty good, but it needed something... Haven't quite worked it out yet.

I just made chocolate chip cookies with the flour.  Aw.  Mah.  Gah, Ya'll.  It's a beautiful thing, friends.  You can use this in any of your gluten-free recipes or as a supplement to your regular flour recipes.  Lots of pancake and waffle recipes floating around on the web right now.  I sense they will be floating around my belly pretty soon...  Be careful though, there are a LOT more calories in almond flour!  160 calories in 1/4 C almond flour to white flour's 114.  It does have twice the protein, though so there's that...

Friday, April 27, 2012

An Unassuming Dinner

     People often give me weird looks when I tell them I'm vegetarian and none of the rest of my family is.  Or maybe I've got something gross in my teeth... This week, it's probably asparagus.  I went a little crazy when my local market delivered up local asparagus.  I bought 4 pounds.  Yeah...  It's the first Spring vegetable.  I can't help it.  Plus, it's freakin' delicious.  It's one of the few plants I'm genuinely sad I can't grow here in the Pit of Darkness.  I also picked up a few early beets and some onions.  Since I'm the only vegetarian, our meals are often two veg and a protein.  The vegetables are always prepared vegetarian (no lard/bacon/fat back) and I just switch out the protein. Though more times than not, like tonight, we eat full vegetarian.  My hubby won't eat beets unless they're roasted (they taste best roasted anyway, so no complaints here) so I decided to go ahead and roast the rest of the veggies, too.

any number of smallish* beets, I made about 7
aluminum foil
feta or goat cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Wash and wrap beets in aluminum foil.  Roast beets for about an hour.  Beets are done when a knife pierces easily through to the middle.  The time it takes to cook the rest of the meal should be plenty of time to cool the beets.  When they've had a chance to cool off a little, it's easy to peel off the skin by pulling it back with a knife.  Slice into pieces and sprinkle with a little feta cheese.

*(The larger the beet, the longer it will take to cook I've had some take over two hours!)

While the beets are baking you can prep the asparagus, onions, and lentils.
olive oil
salt and pepper

Lower the oven temp to 350°, wash and snap off tough bits of asparagus.  Lay flat on a baking sheet with no overlap.  Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Bake until tender which will depend on the size of your asparagus anywhere from 5-20 minutes.

olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash the onions and trim off the roots and brown bits on the leaves, then give the same treatment as the asparagus.  Cook time will be similar to the asparagus.  I put mine on a separate baking sheet than the asparagus because I wasn't sure if it would cook faster.  You can try cooking them on the same sheet, but be prepared to take them off early if they beat the asparagus.

French lentils
salt and pepper

Lentils are the easiest beans to do as they cook up so quickly.  French lentils hold their shape a little better than regular green or brown lentils but if you can't find French, the cooking method still applies.  Rinse the lentils, check for rocks and put about 1 Cup of lentils into a pan with about 2 1/2 -3 Cups of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  You can also flavor the water with a little bullion or stock if you like.

This would be good with chicken or turkey if you decided to swap out the protein.
So as you can see, this meal took about 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook, but it doesn't require much babysitting so I actually only spent about 15 minutes in the kitchen.  The hardest part of this meal is remembering to put the beets in the oven beforehand.  That, and remembering to floss out the asparagus...

The boys are back and forth with lentils.  Some days they love them, some days they don't.  Today was a "don't" day.  They are ambivalent toward asparagus.  They'll eat it with enough coercion.  But the beets?  Those go flying.  Big boy asked for seconds before he even got his plate to the table.  Hubs and I loved all of it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Week on the Big Island in Pictures. Of Food...

We just got back from our Hawai'ian vacation!  I took a lot of pictures of food this past week.  My husband got really tired of totally used to modeling food!

 We got breakfast at the resort every day and my very favorite thing was fresh papaya with lime!  

 Another little breakfast featuring sweet ginger cream cheese.  I think it's going to be my favorite new exclamation.  Sweet Ginger Cream Cheese!  Seriously, though.  This stuff was rockin'.

The first dinner we got outside the resort was a place called Cafe Pesto in Kawaihae.  The salad was made with local produce, which seems to be a theme on the island (outside fast-food joints, of course!)

My pasta was very good (I loved the fresh peas and pea shoots!) and the keiki (children) options were more than just french fries and chicken nuggets.  You can see my son's in the background: Turkey and rice.

We found the Fish Hopper in Kailua Kona when we were finished with our submarine ride.  (Yep.  We rode in a submarine!  Awesome.)  My portobello mushroom wrap with roasted veggies was a lovely way to fill my belly, but the dessert was fantastic.

Sweet Potato Haupia Pie.  Purple sweet potatoes with coconut and whipped cream on a graham cracker crust.  Man.  You can see how far we had dug into it before I roused myself to take a picture!

Our resort had the best house made ginger ale.  I am truly going to miss this stuff.  Candied ginger, and lime in sparkling water. 

On the other hand, this resort meal was probably the most disappointing meal I had the whole vacation.  Lots and lots of potential, but the execution was just not there.  So like the  Puka Dogs last year, I am definitely going to try this on my own at home.  Pizza crust, hummus, squash, zucchini, red peppers and a little cheese.  Like I said, lots of promise.  But the result was pretty bland and soggy.  The pitfalls of resort restaurants, I think.

We did manage to sneak in a little education sometimes.  (Food related, of course...) A young man demonstrates how to open a coconut.  Our little one scored us the entire half there a second after I took this picture by licking it... Way to score coconut for Mama, big boy! =)

Wednesday was our Big Day Out.  We drove around the entire island which took about 12 hours between all the stops for sight seeing and potty breaks.  We had just visited the Painted Church and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park (The Place of Refuge) when we realized it was getting to be near lunch time.  We breezed past a restaurant or two before we realized that there was nothing on the road.  Nothing.  We were driving through wildlife preserves which were vast beautiful open fields or sometimes we'd have the coast out one window and steep cliffs out the other window, but there was nothing to eat.  It was looking pretty dire and our little one even fell asleep.  The kiss of death to our "they'll have a long nap part of the way" idea.  And then we came up a giant spray painted sign that said LUNCH immediately beside a giant sign that said EAT and I pointed and went, "Ooh!Ooh!Ooh!" like a monkey as my husband swerved into the parking lot.  This tiny place is called the Lava Tube.  I wasn't sure what to expect.  From the outside it reminded me a lot of the side-of-the road eateries at home which mostly feature frozen fries, frozen chicken, bagged salad covered in deli-meat and virtually nothing vegetarian.  Inside, it was clean, and efficient.  Not overly decorated.  The waitress was very friendly.  The food took a while to arrive, but as it turns out, this was a very good thing.  Everything was hot and perfectly done.  They didn't have much vegetarian on the menu, but the salad was fresh, no chemical taste, lots of cheese, and a few beans on the bottom in a warm fresh tortilla bowl.  My husband's fish and chips featured house made fries and fish.  He said it's some of the best he's had.  I snagged a few fries from him and the boys, they were so good!  The prices were very reasonable and each plate came with fresh fruit.  Absolutely nothing like ripe tropical fruit.  My husband's was mango (one of the best I've ever eaten, just perfect) and the boys got oranges.  The owner/cook stopped out to see us and we had a great chat about her family.  A genuinely nice person who takes great pride in her work and in her restaurant.  If you ever find yourself hungry in the vicinity of Ocean View, HI, this was my favorite "surprise" restaurant of this trip.

One restaurant we planned to visit for sure was Ken's Pancake House.  As newlyweds on our belated honeymoon, my husband and I stayed for a few days on the Big Island and visited the volcano.  Every morning found us seated in front of a window with a giant plate of fabulous pancakes quickly disappearing.  It was dinnertime when we made it to Ken's this trip.  The boys had been great on our day-long trip so I told them they could get whatever they wanted.  My eldest said he wanted blueberry pancakes off the children's menu.  So I'm thinking, you know, pancakes.  With blueberries in them.  Noooooooo....  Ken's doesn't have this statue as decoration for nothing:

This is what my very, very happy boy got:

And I got the vegetarian chili with rice.  We had spent the last few hours traipsing around a volcano in trash bag ponchos and something warm and chunky really called to me.  

 I must say, I think this is the first "regular" restaurant that had something as ambitious as vegetarian chili on the menu.  It was good and filling for our drive back to the hotel.  I'm not sure we'd ever make a special trip to Ken's again, as we have either become too snobby or the quality has gone downhill some, but it was nice to see the ol' place again.  A 10 on the nostalgia meter!

Vegetarian chili with rice, cheese, and fresh onions with a salad on the side...

Can't go to Hawai'i without a luau, right?! 

Boy 1 loved the pork wrapped in banana leaves.

You can see the general consensus of the octopus poke...  But they were good sports and tried everything.  
My favorite dishes were the mushroom poke and purple sweet potatoes with coconut sauce.  And I have to say, poi is growing on me.  It's really healthy for you and if you mix it up with everything else, it's not bad at all, really.  By itself it still tastes like school paste.

Fire dancers, man!  Wooohooo!

The only food production tour we went on (I had wanted to try a chocolate factory tour and vanilla, too) was the macadamia nut factory tour at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company.  It was just the perfect size for our time and our kids.  We walked ourselves through the tour and read signs, but as we were leaving a woman started a guided tour.  Our guys weren't interested, though.  We saw cans being filled, sealed, and labeled and we watched them cool their macadamia nut popcorn on large marble slabs.  The boys ate their weight in samples and even got to crack their own raw macadamia nuts. 

They taste a little like chestnuts to me.  I wish I could find them raw on the mainland.  Delicious!

A display full of nuts still in the hulls.  I brought home macadamia nut oil, shards (little tiny leftover pieces for breading), some macadamia nut cookies, and hubby bought Spam flavored macadamia nuts because, well, why not?  You all know how Hawai'ians love their Spam, right?

And shave ice.  Hawai'i is the best place to get shave ice.  This little place is in Kamuela.  It's right next door to Hawai'ian Style Cafe which is apparently the best place to get local food on the island, but we were never there when it was open.  But this place has legit, hard-core shave ice.  Complete with Li Hing Mui powder. 

Have a gander at the syrup flavors.  Oooohhhh Yeah... You know me and my "no chemicals" policy?  Goes right out the window with shave ice.  Mo' syrup, mo' bettah.  We got guava and pineapple with ice cream on the bottom and li hing mui powder on top.  You would not believe how good this was!

One thing, though, if you do get by here, she doesn't accept cards, so make sure to bring cash!

Speaking of snacks, we learned on this trip that Hawai'ians are serious about deep fried potatoes.  Every restaurant we went in had house made french fries.  And these Atebara brand potato chips made in Hilo were the best we've ever had.  As you can see, the bag was emptied before I could even get to the camera!

I mentioned in my previous post that I wanted malasadas and mai tais and my husband was dying for another manapua.  Well, this my friends, is a manapua.  His favorite is curry, though I'm not sure which this one was.  It's essentially a steamed bun with meat inside it in different flavors.  Basic gas station eats.  Perfect for a quick bite on the beach.

This little unassuming place in Kamuela, called Village Burger is actually in the food court of an upscale strip mall.  Everything they serve here is grown in Hawai'i, most of it on the Big Island itself.  Absolutely top notch stuff.  My husband and boys had hamburgers with house made fries and I got the Hamakua Mushroom burger made with ali'i and shiitake mushrooms.

Hands down the best meal I ate on the island.  You will walk away wearing whatever you eat here and you will show your stains to people and say, "See this?  Village Burger.  Duuude."

Mr. Crackers and I had the opportunity to step out for an afternoon without the Crumbs and happened upon Monstera Noodles and Sushi.  He loved his sushi and I loved these noodles!  These are Yaki Udon made with tofu instead of meat.  The best tofu I've had in ages.  I don't even want to know what kind of magic fat they have to dip it into I just know I want to figure out how to make that particular abracadabra happen at home.

Very good sake too, fresh off the boat from Japan.

For our final night, some friends took us to a restaurant I had been very much wanting to try the whole time called Blue Dragon.  It's in Kawaihea.  The ambiance is just great and the cool thing is there's no roof!  Live music and very local food.

Here's a peek at the Keiki menu. 

Here's part of the grown up menu.

We chose tacos with manapua dough shells for appetizers along with 

Shrimp egg rolls and

Some really yummy freshly baked bread.  I could have eaten a ton of this stuff!

I finally got my mai tai.  This one was made with mango.  Man, it was good!

My dinner was a portobello mushroom burger with nut cheese and house made fries.  It was thoroughly edible, though I was left wishing I'd ordered something else.  On the other hand, our friend said his steak was very good (his wife said it was as soft as cake!)  My husband liked his shrimp dish, too.  The thing I loved about this place was, besides everything being fresh and local the keiki menu was so healthy.  No pizza, nothing deep fried.

But the very best part of the menu was the desserts! (Big surprise, I know...) From left to right, sweet potato cheesecake, chocolate cake, and the best carrot cake I've ever eaten.  Ev-er. 

It was so nice to have a break and let someone else do the cooking (and the cleaning) but I am itching to get back into the kitchen!  

 So much so that I made brunch after being off the plane for less than 24 hours.  It was awesome.  Eggton's brioche with mushrooms and goat cheese was the star, but the gluten free scones were right the heck up there!  If you haven't heard of eggton yet, get thyself over there right now.  She is hysterical!

Oh and one last thing, I posted on my facebook, but I just realized I haven't posted here yet:
I won a year scholarship to the America's Test Kitchen Cooking School!!!  I was one of 5 bloggers chosen and I can't even explain how exciting it has been.  I have learned so much already!  My biggest lesson so far has been you never know how much you don't know until you know it.  I can't wait to share more with you all soon!
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