Friday, March 24, 2023

Friday Food: School Lunch/Home Dinner


Short version: Tilapia and leftover rice or pasta at home, pizza and cake at a party 

Long version: Poppy's classmate had a last-minute, late-afternoon birthday party, to which I took Poppy and Jack. They had pizza and cake there. I had taken out some frozen tilapia fillets at home, which A. cooked with butter and lemon juice, and then served with either leftover rooster rice or spaghetti with pesto.

I had a salad with hardboiled eggs and pecans when I got home around 6:30 p.m. from the party.


Short version: Leftover meatloaf, rice, raw cabbage

Long version: I was at church from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. setting up, attending, and cleaning up after a funeral. Good thing there was enough leftover meatloaf and rooster rice for everyone, because I was not really in much of a mood for cooking by the time I got home.


Short version: Steaks, garlic bread, sauteed mushrooms and onions, pureed calabaza, sauerkraut, raw cabbage, crispy rice treats

Long version: I took out a package of rib steaks, and they were so thick and large, I decided to sear them and finish cooking them in the oven. No way would they have gotten cooked enough in the center without burning on the outside just on the stove.

Flintstone steaks.

It had been a long time since I made garlic bread. The children were very pleased to make its acquaintance again.

It had also been a long time since I had made crispy rice treats for a Sunday dessert. I only had enough marshmallows to make about a third of this recipe, but that was enough for everyone to have two reasonably sized pieces. Of course, what they really wanted was unreasonably sized pieces, but it was a good lesson in moderation.


Short version: Leftover steak, fried potatoes, carrot sticks

Long version: I had baked about half a dozen potatoes the day before when the bread was baking. I also had a skillet with quite a lot of tallow in it that had rendered out while I was searing the steaks. I just left that pan with the grease in it right on the stove until the next day, when I diced the potatoes and fried them in the tallow.

Is it weird to leave skillets full of grease on the stove in anticipation of the next day's cooking? Probably. But then, I never claimed to be normal. And they were really good potatoes.


Short version: Sausages, bread and butter, baked beans, frozen peas, chocolate-chip/almond cookies

Long version: One package of boudin and one of kielbasa, both brought back from our trip to Texas. I had not planned to have sausages, but I realized halfway through cooking my planned pork shoulder that the boys were having pulled pork sandwiches for lunch at school. So, to avoid repetition, I made the sausage. It also meant that I had the pork ready to go the next day after work, which is always a good thing.

The baked beans were from the freezer. Now that I've finished that, I can use the very last 6-pound can of pinto beans we got from the school to make one more giant casserole of baked beans and put those in the freezer. That should be very handy for summer. Which is coming, yes it is.

I made the cookies with almonds because the excess commodities last month included a literal case of toasted (but not salted) whole almonds. Good for both cookies and granola.


Short version: Pork soft tacos, baked peaches with cream

Long version: I fried the pork from the day before in its own rendered lard and served it with cheese in corn tortillas. 

I had made the baked peaches the day before when the pork was cooking, but again, saved it for this day. That worked out, since I, um, didn't actually serve a vegetable. We're pretty low on vegetables right now. 

No one complained about having baked peaches instead of cabbage. Unsurprisingly.


Short version: Bull enchilada casserole, chocolate chip/oatmeal/almond cookies

Long version: I really need to buckle down and finish all the bull meat. It's been in the freezer for over two years now. The problem is, even when it's very processed, it's really too chewy to use a lot of it for anything. That's why it works in this casserole: It's mixed with a lot of other stuff.


The cookies were Poppy's request. I used I think 2 cups of white flour, a cup of oats, and about half a cup of white whole wheat flour. That white whole wheat flour--originally from excess commodities--has also been around a very long time, since I can't use too much of it at once without making whatever I'm baking pretty dense. This is the last bag of it, though, so the end is in sight.

Wish I could say the same for the bull meat.

I unintentionally sort of repeated the school lunch this day, too, because they had beef nachos. Whoops.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Growing Food: The Keepers

A few weeks ago, I gave you my list of things I do not grow in my garden, either because they just don't grow well here, or because I don't like them enough to bother with them. But of course, any list like that begs the question: What DO I grow?

So glad you asked! Here's a very long answer.

First, the things I like enough to start seeds for and keep inside my house for two months before I can plant them outside:

Cabbages--These are fun because they're often the very first thing I harvest and preserve. Although they are typically presented as a fall vegetable to be kept into winter, I have not had luck starting them in summer and getting any kind of harvest in the fall. Our falls feature quite hot days, thanks to our intense sun, and also a lot more little bugs that want to eat the cabbages. So these are a spring crop for me. This year, I have I think ten plants currently in the bathroom waiting to be transplanted. We give several away, and with many of the rest, I make sauerkraut. I might try some other canning recipes this year, too, if I get enough cabbages. 

Look! A cabbage! And a lot of other stuff.

Kohlrabi--In many ways, kohlrabi is not a very practical plant to grow. It's huge, taking up a lot of garden space for just one baseball-sized (or smaller) harvest. And then, when the edible part is harvested, so much of the tough outer part is cut away that it really ends up being very, very little food for the work and space. However. I love it, and so do my children, and I have never seen it at a grocery store. So I grow it. A prime example of something that's worth it to me, but might not be to you.

Basil--Primarily for pesto. There's such a great return on basil, because it's so expensive to buy at a store that I would never buy enough to make pesto. But if I grow it, I will always have cubes of pesto in the freezer for winter. Also, fresh basil for roasted tomato sauce is the best.

Tomatoes--Speaking of roasted tomato sauce, can't make that without the tomatoes. It is definitely a battle growing tomatoes here, thanks to our chilly nights, hot days, dry air, constant wind, terrible hornworms and army worms . . . pretty much everything conspires against tomatoes. But I refuse to be defeated, because tomatoes are my favorite thing from the garden. We eat them fresh during the season, of course, but what I really like them for is roasted tomato sauce for pasta and pizza. Or just plain roasted tomatoes, canned and ready to be used in enchiladas or chile or whatever. In order to have enough to can, I have to have A LOT of plants. Last year, I think I ended up with around 30 producing plants, and I still wished I had more. I just don't get the pounds of actual tomatoes off my plants here like I did in New York, but as I said, I refuse to be defeated. So I just plant more.

Green onions--A new experiment this year. Anything that comes up as a thin, wispy seedling--onions are pretty much the definition of that--has almost no chance outside in our dessicating wind and heat. So I started them inside, in the hopes they'll be a little hardier when I transplant them.

And now for the seeds I put directly in the ground:

Beets--Beets are funny here. They seem to be very patchy in their germination and survival, so that maybe a quarter of the seeds I plant actually make it to the plant stage. But the ones that do make it get HUGE. And I love, love, love having pickled beets for salads in the winter, so I just plant a really big bed of them and expect to have a lot of attrition.

Carrots--Like beets, lots of attrition. But these are particularly beloved by my children, so I still plant a lot of them.

Parsnips--A new thing for me this year. I expect they will behave much like the beets and carrots, in that I won't get a large percentage of the seeds through to harvest, but the ones that make it will be very good. We shall see.

Rutabaga--Same deal as the parsnips. New this year, probably will follow the root-crop pattern, but we'll have to see. I know it's not a universal opinion, but I seriously love rutabaga, so I really hope it works.

Radishes--Radishes do not do well here. Our hot sun tends to make them woody and spicy very early in the spring. Luckily, my children like spicy radishes, so I just pull the radishes pretty small. Not much of a harvest, but they are a fast maturing vegetable, so they don't take up a lot of garden space for long.

Lettuce--Somewhat surprisingly, lettuce does do well here. As I noted before, I'm not great at succession planting, and anyway it's really too hot and dry in the height of summer for good lettuce. However, lettuce will prolifically re-seed itself, so I always have lots of volunteers that are ready when the stuff I've planted is either not ready yet, or already bolted. I appreciate anything that will volunteer. So much easier on me.

Less work for a BLT is a good thing.

Snow peas--I plant these quite early outside, and sometimes the harvest will go into June, thanks to our cool nights. We eat a LOT of snow peas during the season--my kids pull them right off the vines before I can even get them inside--and I always think I should plant more. They take up a lot of room, though, and require a lot of trellising, so I don't.

Cucumbers--I'm not even going to bother planting typical varieties of cucumbers anymore. All I want cucumbers for is refrigerator pickles and fresh eating, and the Armenian cucumber (technically a kind of muskmelon, like cantaloupe) provides that along with a much greater resistance to dry, hot conditions that make for sad, bitter cucumbers.

Green beans--These are what I pickle instead of cucumbers. I grow Kentucky Wonders, which make some really big, long beans that are perfect for dilly beans. And of course, we eat a lot during the season. I also always blanch and freeze at least one gallon bag of them, which my children prefer to eat frozen. Another thing I always need to plant more of but don't. All that trellising again.

Calabaza/calabacita--Our most unique vegetable, the seeds for which originally came from our friend Rafael. The calabacitas this squash produces are my stand-in for zucchini, because I think they're better than zucchini. The mature calabazas provide hundreds of pounds of winter squash for the freezer. The vines of this plant are incredibly long and aggressive, and they irritate me every year when they invade every neighboring area of the garden, but I tolerate it because of the harvest from them.

So pushy, this calabaza.

Winter squash--A. has developed his own strain of winter squash by allowing cross-breeding and only saving seeds from the ones we really like to eat, so now we have a sort of winter squash that has very orange, sweet, and fairly dry and non-stringy flesh. This is what I use for pumpkin pies. 

Garlic--A.'s thing. I love the scapes so much we could never have enough garlic. Although really, yes, we have more than enough garlic. We need to find a better way to store it, though. It always dries out long before the end of winter.

Special mention to the perennials, which grow incredibly well here:

Asparagus--This will be the first year that I can freely harvest our first row of asparagus, which needs  few years to get established. I'm excited. We also put in another row last year, which means in a couple of years, we're going to have incredible quantities of asparagus. Yay.

Rhubarb--I think of rhubarb as a very northern vegetable, but it does really, really well here. We should have great quantities of rhubarb this year, which I'm looking forward to.

Parsley--We just planted this last year, and I think it will come back this year. We'll see.

Dill--Not technically a perennial, but it re-seeds itself and grows every year with no work on my part, so it might as well be.

And then I end up with bouquets of dill at the end of the season.

Raspberries--We have three canes we're trying to get established. Berries are not a natural for our environment, so we'll see how that goes.

We also have dozens of peach, apricot, and apple trees around that are still getting to a harvesting stage, as well as some grape vines, but that's more orchard/vineyard, so we'll leave it here.

So tell me, my fellow gardeners: What's in your garden?

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Snapshots: Patriotic

It's a Church Lady month! I was there to turn on the heat Friday night (in preparation for a funeral the next day) just as the sun was setting, which made for a very atmospheric church.

Attending religious services would have been a very different experience before the invention of the electric light.

Outside the church, there was a completely ice-covered tumbleweed.

So of course I took a photo of it. Why not, right?

And some morning photos . . .

The sun rising behind the apricot tree.

Shorn sheep seeking sustenance. (I couldn't resist the alliteration.)

And Jasper, who is ever-ready with a wagging tail and licking tongue first thing in the morning. Or any time.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.

* I never knew, until just now looking for a link to the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner," that our national anthem has three more verses after the one we always sing. I am somewhat gobsmacked by this.