Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Food Porn

The Huffington Post Food Section has an interesting discussion today about Food Porn-- those luscious, almost-too-good-to-be-real photos you seen in some magazines and a lot of food blogs. There were a lot of very strong opinions expressed by the participants, and a lot of very... um...sensual comparisons of food porn with other porn.

What do you think? Do you like these images? Or do you think they are unrealistic and discouraging to those of us who are lucky if we get the food to taste as good as the recipe suggests, let alone look as good?

Me? I think that as long as you aren't anorexic and using the images as a substitute for really eating, food porn can't be bad. I like to look at photos of unblemished flowers and garden vegetables, too, but I don't actually expect my gardens to look like that. They just give me a goal to aspire to.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers October Challenge-- Doughnuts!

I'm baaack!

I wasn't taking part in the Daring Bakers Challenges for a while. There were lots of reasons, mostly centering on my expanding waistline, and the hot, hot summer. But now that it is cooling down, I'm back in the mood to bake. (The waistline will just have to fend for itself!)

The October Challenge was Doughnuts! The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

The doughnuts could be cake style or yeast raised, but they had to be deep fried. I did the yeast-raised ones, of course. Check out the recipe here. (A word of warning... the recipe makes 24 doughnuts and as many doughnut holes, so, unless you have an army of company coming or a family of teenage boys, cut the recipe in half!)

The instructions said to wait until the doughnuts were completely cool before glazing. Hello! Like I was going to miss out on warm doughnuts with oozy-goozy glaze dripping between my fingers! Not in this girl's kitchen! And it was a good thing I didn't listen, because, while the warm doughnuts were to die for, the cool ones were merely OK. I took some warm ones to work and the rest are getting fed to the chickens, who love them!

I made a simple glaze with powdered sugar and heavy cream, flavored with a little vanilla.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Red Celery?

A produce farm in Oviedo, Florida, has successfully developed a red celery-- well, red at the base anyway. They plan to test market it beginning in December in the west, northwest and southwest-- not in our area, in other words-- but we'll get it eventually. Will the red color get you to eat more celery? How about your kids?

Duda Farm Fresh Foods says the celery has the same great flavor and crunch, with a more interesting color. We eat with our eyes first, of course, but will our eyes tell us that this color just doesn't belong to celery? What happened to purple carrots? That was a development recently, but the carrots in my market (and on my table) are still orange.

Is the Ohio Valley ready for red celery? What do you think?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cooking as Community

"...once upon a time, before every home had its own kitchen in which Mom labored more or less alone, cooking was itself a social activity, one that fostered community and conversation around the chopping board or cook fire long before the meal was served." Michael Pollan, in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

A few months ago a few friends, my husband, and I got together and cooked a meal, intending to do it on a more or less regular basis. Predictably, most of the cooking was done by the women, with most of the men deciding the high road was to stay out of the way. The menu was ambitious for a group who were not accustomed to chopping, simmering and working in cooperation with one another. But the results were delicious and everyone enjoyed the meal and the experience.

When we tried to schedule another one, it never worked out. Life just got in the way.

Kitchens these days are being designed with huge islands where guests and family could, if they chose to, have a glass of wine and help with (or at least watch) the food preparation. In many cases, they remain empty as we call out for pizza or eat fast food more evenings than not.

What would it take to bring back that community, that shared food experience that used to be so common? And would life be more fulfilling if we did?

Why not plan to gather some friends and some ingredients and make and share a meal? And let me know if you like it. It's a beginning...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flour Heaven

I got a box today filled with flour. 17 pounds of flour. I was in Heaven!

My local grocery stores carry all purpose flour, bread flour, and whole wheat flour. End of sentence. If I want to do a recipe with white whole wheat or semolina or buckwheat, well, too bad! So I bit the bullet and ordered flour from King Arthur. My mind immediately began to formulate my plan of attack. Homemade pasta, dessert bars with whole wheat pastry flour, semolina bread...

I think I'm not alone in my turning to breads, soups, and stews as the weather turns cooler. There is something about waking up to a day which calls for a long-sleeved shirt that says, "make some bread today." So I am armed with ingredients for the cool days ahead. Tomorrow, raisin bread.

Money Buys You Things

To paraphrase playwright David Mamet, "Money is nice to have, because it buys you things." (Or, I would add, experiences.) Unless you are actually operating at a subsistence level, where you really have no options, you get to choose on what, and where, you spend your money. If, like some folks I know, you think that Wally World is the next best thing to sliced bread (an apt analogy, if ever I heard one) then the choice to spend the lion's share of your money there is the right one for you. If you like to have choices, though, then some more thoughtful choices need to be made.

I HATE Wally World! And I shop there twice a year, if not more, for the best prices on commodity items (like strands of 100-light Christmas lights.) But if I (as I do) like to have the option of going there for my stuff or elsewhere where the service is better and the quality is better and the choices certainly are better, then I had better think twice about choosing them as my go-to store for non-commodity items, like groceries or clothing, ...or plants.

Yes, I agree that we're sometimes brought to a standstill by the bewildering number of choices in things like petunias. But do you really want to only have the option of red or white or pink? Because if you spend most of your money at Wally World (and other big boxes), and the small businesses go out of business, then Wally World gets to choose what you will buy. And what you will not buy. Because they choose not to sell it to you.

Especially in this economy, you have enormous power. You have the "thumbs up or thumbs down" vote in the acropolis. Who survives, who dies? Do you want choices, or just low, low prices? The next time you are in your favorite "mom-and-pop" small business, ask yourself what you would miss if they weren't there any more. If this bothers you, then think long and hard before you drive by your local bakery/hardware store/garden center to drop a chunk of change at Wally World. The future is what you choose it to be.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Steps to Happiness

What do we need to do to be happy?*

1. Connect. Form or foster relationships with friends and relatives.
2. Be active. Get outside and play or walk or move in some way.
3. Take notice. Of the seasons, of the world around us.
4. Keep learning. Study, or just be curious.
5. Give. Share what we have with those who need.

*Thanks to statistician Nic Marks and the folks at TED.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Supper of Buckwheat Pancakes

I bought buckwheat flour a while back for a recipe I was making, so I thought I'd try making buckwheat pancakes for our Sunday supper. I had always imagined that buckwheat pancakes would be heavy and somewhat bitter. But I was quite surprised! These were much better than regular pancakes, with a pleasant complexity of flavor, and not heavy at all, but rather light and fluffy. The recipe is quick and easy, and makes about eight 6-inch pancakes.

1 large egg

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

3 Tbsp butter, melted

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup buckwheat flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

Whisk the egg, buttermilk and melted butter together in a medium bowl. Whisk the flours, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until blended. Pour 1/3 cup batter onto a hot griddle sprayed with cooking oil spray, flip when the edges are dry and cook on the other side until done. Repeat until all the batter is used. Serve with butter and syrup.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Facebook Knows Where You Are. Oh, Nooo...

Some of my Facebook friends are sending messages back and forth, warning each other that Facebook Places will know where you are if you don't block them. Oh, nooo! That's terrible! Why would Facebook do that?

Well, let's see. Facebook spends lots of money to create a venue where we can all talk to each other and play games and have fun, right? And they just do that because they like us, right? Ummm, no.

Actually they want to know who you are and what things you like. And who your friends are and what they like. And where you all are. So that maybe if you are in the midwest and like football and drink Coke, they can tell the Pepsi Cola Company that maybe they should advertise on a midwest football game or something.

If you don't want Facebook to know stuff about you, don't use Facebook, Folks. You don't have to use it, life as we know it will still go on if you don't. If you use it, then deal with the fact that they will know stuff about you, probably much more than you realize that they know. That's the way it is.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Well, the Holiday weekend is behind us. (You did have a safe 4th, didn't you?) And vacation season is here. What are you doing that is fun this summer? If you can't afford to go anywhere (join the club) at least get your mind-set in vacation mode. Turn off your cell-phone, unplug from Facebook, and just hang out. Do whatever is relaxing for you-- whether digging in the dirt, watching movies, or hanging out at your pool. It is more important how you decompress, than where.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dang Deer and the Daylilies

Just when I began to think this would be the best year ever for my daylilies (when will I ever learn to not think things like that?) the dang deer ate the flowers from the tops of many of them. DH sprayed them yesterday with Liquid Fence... which brings to mind the adage of the horse and the barn door... so maybe they will still have some flowers.

They have eaten brussels sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and carrots (maybe that was a rabbit.) I am beginning to get discouraged.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where Did May Go?

June already? Where did May go? I apologize for not posting in all that time. I'll try to do better, Folks!

We've been eating out. A Lot. Busy, busy, busy, and tired when we get home, it just seems like the better choice to go somewhere and have someone else cook something for us. That's got to change. I have vegetables in my garden going bad because I'm not eating them. And more eggs than we could ever eat-- thank goodness some of the family help us out with that.

So, once more... a fresh start.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grow Your Own

If you are thinking about growing your own fresh veggies this year, and you are in zone 5/6, it's time to plant the cold season crops-- broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, kale-- so you have an early crop of veggies coming. Till the soil until it is loose and friable, plant with a little starter fertilizer, grab the wok and stand by. (My DH always accuses me of doing that.)

You can also seed down lettuces, radishes, carrots, beets-- short of having a share in a CSA or a direct line to a local farmer's market, it doesn't get much fresher than that.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and such (the "warm season" crops) will need to wait until all danger of frost is past.

Do yourself and your family's health a favor this year and grow your own, even if you only have a couple of big pots on a patio or deck to grow in.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

First Batch of Pesto

I made my first batch of pesto of the season today from the cuttings we took from the basil plants growing on for sale in the greenhouse. When they begin to get tall and lush, we cut them back so they become shorter and more branched and lush. And that means someone (this time me) gets the cuttings to make pesto. Yummy green-ness now resides in my refrigerator and freezer.

I wash the basil leaves in cool water and spin them dry in my salad spinner. Then I put four packed cups of basil, 4 Tbsp of pine nuts, 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) in my food processor. (You could use a blender, but you'll have to scrape the sides of the blender more often.) I process until it looks pretty well chopped, scraping the sides down as needed. Then I add more EVOO a little at a time until it is a little thinner than I want the final result.

If I'm going to use it right away, I add a cup of freshly-grated parmesan cheese and stir in by hand until blended. If I'm not going to use it right away, I put it into a plastic or glass container and cover it with a thin layer of EVOO to keep the surface from darkening, and store it in the refrigerator or freezer. Then I add the grated cheese right before I'm ready to serve it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Great Houseplant Census of 2010

I am having garden withdrawal symptoms today. I am reading garden blogs to help me get over it, since my garden is covered with 18+ inches of snow. I decide to take part in the Great Houseplant Census of 2010, suggested by Mr. McGregor's Daughter.

I don't do well with houseplants, or with any plants not installed in the ground, really. If I take a potted plant home with the intention of planting it in the near future, it has a 50-50 chance of actually surviving until I get it planted. We call the landing spot for these poor devils "The Patio of Death."
As far as indoor plants, so far this year I have killed (or neglected to the point that my DH took the poor thing and put it out of its misery) a rosemary plant and a poinsettia. This is a story of the Survivors.

I have a pot of amaryllis-- a neat small-scale bloomer in a soft orange color-- that was passed along to us by a friend, who is an old-fashioned gardener with the experience to prove it. It just quit blooming this past week and my DH cut it back and watered it. Not much to look at right now, but a knock-out when it blooms!
I have a Thanksgiving cactus that I keep in the guest room (a room where we keep the heat and light off when nobody is visiting) and water when I think of it. It actually has a few buds on it right now, but they usually fall off before they amount to anything at this time of the year. It is my oldest houseplant-- probably 10 years old at this point.

Two pothos hanging baskets flank the bay window in the living room. This window faces north and is quite cool, and provides a home for most of my indoor plants in the winter. (The rosemary died here.) The pothos are losing a lot of leaves right now, and I'm beginning to worry about them, but for now they are alive.

I have a bay plant that spent the summer on the patio and is still looking good in the bay window. (Oh! Bay plant in a bay window!)

I have a navel orange plant that I hope will become a patio specimen plant at some point is doing pretty well in the bay window. It survived a hail storm on the patio this past year, and deserves to make it! Some of the leaves are a little chopped up, but until I put it back outside I am reluctant to cut off the damaged parts.

And, finally, I have two actual "houseplants" that I bought in a moment of weakness at a garden center owned by some friends. They are a sanseveria cylindrica, an unusual style of "mother-in-law's tongue" that looked like I couldn't kill it, and an unnamed succulent I just liked.

So that makes a grand total of 8 plants that are living indoors with me right now.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nanaimo Bars: Daring Bakers Challenge for January

Yes, I know I am way late for a January Challenge. DH and I are trying to eat less sweets, you see, and our business is closed, you see, and there is no hungry group of staffers to help us eat them. So I waited to make them until I had a hungry group of friends that I could share them with, at a get-together that happens the first Friday of each month. Foiled again! It snowed 8 inches by the time I was supposed to leave to go to the meeting (and an additional 10 inches since then) and I didn't get to go after all. So now I have 12 more yummy nanaimo bars calling to me from my refrigerator. (Sigh...)
Anyway, to get to the Challenge...
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

The nanaimo bar (pronounced nuh-ny-moh) is a traditional Canadian cookie. (The Daring Bakers chose this bar in honor of the Winter Olympics slated to begin soon in Vancouver.) It is a 3-layer bar cookie built on the first layer which is a combination of butter, sugar, cocoa, egg, graham cracker crumbs, almonds and coconut. But the Daring Bakers never do anything the "easy" way, so the first step is to make the graham crackers. You can find the recipe for the graham crackers here. The recipe called for making gluten free graham crackers, but gave us the option of making them with wheat flour if we wanted. Since unusual flours are hard to come by in my area, I chose to do them with wheat.

For Gluten-Free Graham Wafers

1 cup (138 g) (4.9 ounces) Sweet rice flour (also known as glutinous rice flour)

3/4 cup (100 g) (3.5 ounces) Tapioca Starch/Flour

1/2 cup (65 g) (2.3 ounces) Sorghum Flour

1 cup (200 g) (7.1 ounces) Dark Brown Sugar, Lightly packed

1 teaspoon (5 mL) Baking soda

3/4 teaspoon (4 mL ) Kosher Salt

7 tablespoons (100 g) (3 ½ ounces) Unsalted Butter (Cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen)

1/3 cup (80 mL) Honey, Mild-flavoured such as clover.

5 tablespoons (75 mL) Whole Milk

2 tablespoons (30 mL) Pure Vanilla Extract

If making the graham crackers with wheat, replace the gluten-free flours (tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, and sorghum flour) with 2 ½ cups plus 2 tbsp of all-purpose wheat flour, or wheat pastry flour. Watch the wheat-based graham wafers very closely in the oven, as they bake faster than the gluten-free ones, sometimes only 12 minutes.


1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal. If making by hand, combine aforementioned dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in butter until you have a coarse meal. No chunks of butter should be visible.

2. In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the honey, milk and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

3. Turn the dough onto a surface well-floured with sweet rice flour and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours, or overnight.

4. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of sweet rice flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be quite sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut into 4 by 4 inch squares. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place wafers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

5. Adjust the rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius).

6. Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more sweet rice flour and roll out the dough to get a couple more wafers.

7. Prick the wafers with toothpick or fork, not all the way through, in two or more rows.

8. Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Might take less, and the starting location of each sheet may determine its required time. The ones that started on the bottom browned faster.

9. When cooled completely, place enough wafers in food processor to make 1 ¼ cups (300 mL) of crumbs. Another way to do this is to place in a large ziplock bag, force all air out and smash with a rolling pin until wafers are crumbs.

I put them a little close together on the baking sheet, and ended up with one giant graham cracker, but I was able to cut them apart where they were "scored" and since I was going to use the crumbs anyway, the shape wasn't really that critical. If you decide to make the graham crackers to eat as cookies, though, you need to put them an inch or so apart on the baking sheets.

After they cooled, I put them in my food processor and ground them into crumbs. Then I proceeded with the nanaimo bar recipe, which you can find here.

For Nanaimo Bars — Bottom Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

1/4 cup (50 g) (1.8 ounces) Granulated Sugar

5 tablespoons (75 mL) Unsweetened Cocoa

1 Large Egg, Beaten

1 1/4 cups (300 mL) (160 g) (5.6 ounces) Gluten Free Graham Wafer Crumbs (See previous recipe)

1/2 cup (55 g) (1.9 ounces) Almonds (Any type, Finely chopped)

1 cup (130 g) (4.5 ounces) Coconut (Shredded, sweetened or unsweetened)

For Nanaimo Bars — Middle Layer

1/2 cup (115 g) (4 ounces) Unsalted Butter

2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons (40 mL) Heavy Cream

2 tablespoons (30 mL) Vanilla Custard Powder (Such as Bird’s. Vanilla pudding mix may be substituted.)

2 cups (254 g) (8.9 ounces) Confectioners Sugar

For Nanaimo Bars — Top Layer

4 ounces (115 g) Semi-sweet chocolate

2 tablespoons (28 g) (1 ounce) Unsalted Butter


1. For bottom Layer: Melt unsalted butter, sugar and cocoa in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, nuts and coconut. Press firmly into an ungreased 8 by 8 inch pan.

2. For Middle Layer: Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light in colour. Spread over bottom layer.

3. For Top Layer: Melt chocolate and unsalted butter over low heat. Cool. Once cool, pour over middle layer and chill.

They turned out to be really good, sweet and rich, as much like a candy as a cookie. Make them as a Winter Olympics Party treat. (You can start with store-bought graham crackers to make it simpler, of course, but where's the "challenge" in that?)