Extreme Couponing… Yes, I admit it. I’m jealous!

I was watching some On Demand episodes of Extreme Couponing the other night and was struck with jealousy.  These people (yes there was a male Extreme Couponer) were walking into supermarkets and getting hundreds of dollars worth of food and walking out with a bill of sometimes less than a dollar.  Many of them had stories of hardship due to lost jobs or serious injury that prevented them from working so I understood that it came from a good place.  Then… they revealed that they spent up to 60 hours a week finding sales and coupons and I had to reel back my enthusiasm for this a bit.  I couldn’t possibly get an additional 60 hours into my week with the jaws of life.  So, that was out.  Then… they showed them shopping and I realized where I went wrong.

About 8 years ago I realized that I am “preservative-intolerant.”  I used to have the kind of migraines that could take out a herd of elephants.  I even had the ability to predict the weather with my migraines and could tell you it was going to rain within a day to ridiculous accuracy.  After a two week stretch with one of the worst migraines of all time, I went to my doctor and decided to try medication.  The medication didn’t get rid of them completely and I wanted them gone for good because they were infringing on my ability to have a life.  So, I weaned myself off the medication and started reading everything I could find on migraines.  I learned about food triggers and started keeping a food diary.  First, I realized that my worst trigger was pepperoni.  That was the first thing to go.  I’ll admit that it wasn’t an easy thing to let go because it is The Hubs’ favorite pizza topping (and was mine at the time), but it was more important to be migraine-free so sacrifices had to be made.   The parting was cemented a couple years later when I was making a pepperoni pizza for The Hubs and accidentally got pepperoni oil on my finger.  I licked it off and was rocketed back to migraine land.  Fortunately, I’ve found that I can still make pepperoni pizzas, etc. for The Hubs as long as I wash my hands thoroughly when I’m done handling the pepperoni (no reason to make The Hubs suffer).

I researched all the common food triggers and found that MSG was my only other obvious trigger.  It took a while to realize that cold cuts were out for me too.  Even though not all cold cuts are made with preservatives, they all get cut on the same slicer.  I kept up with the food isolation recommended in the food diary instructions and eliminated then added foods back slowly.  Despite all that, I still couldn’t identify what it was that was triggering the migraines.  I tried the environmental triggers and found that scented candles triggered my migraines so I gave them away to friends who didn’t share my issue.  After trying unsuccessfully to figure out what the trigger could possibly be, it was my mother who found the article that saved my sanity.  She read somewhere that some people who didn’t eat many preservatives when they were kids could develop an intolerance to them in adulthood. When I was a kid, my dad cooked dinner every night using fresh vegetables and very little of what we ate was pre-made so this was a possibility.  If this was true, it would also explain why my migraines started while I was in college and got progressively worse since then.

I started my food diary over completely and started reading every single food label on everything I ate.  What I found was dumbfounding; almost everything had preservatives of some kind in it.  Unfortunately at that time the only supermarket that had a handle on preservative-free food was Whole Foods and thankfully we lived really close to one.  I cleared out all the cupboards and restocked with preservative free and primarily fresh foods.  But, when storm season and allergy season came around I was down for the count again with the migraines.  Finally… I discovered the last hidden constant source of preservatives in my diet: my vitamins.  I was taking a common major brand of vitamins and happened to read an article about additives in vitamins and decided to switch to Solgar vitamins since they claimed to have no artificial preservatives.  Within two weeks, I was clear and have been ever since.  The entire process took almost 5 years to figure out, but (knock on wood) I’ve been migraine free ever since.

When I looked at the carts of the women on the Extreme Couponing show, they had cartfuls of soda and TONS of prepared meal foods.  My enthusiasm faded completely.  Since I can’t eat most of the preservative rich foods, extreme couponing for free food was revealed to be impossible for me.  Until they put out coupons for celery and carrots and tomatoes, I’m just going to have to continue to be jealous.  I will on the other hand use the tips they gave on personal items and cleaning items.  They recommended always checking if your coupon will cover the smaller size.  If you’re getting it for free then it’s obviously a better bargain than the larger size.  I’m thinking if I combine this with getting most of my veggies from the garden then I may be able to save a bunch of money afterall.

The whole thing looked kind of crazy (despite the fact that I keep a fully stocked pantry myself) until I saw a couple episodes where they showed the extreme couponers doing really great things for other people.  One woman was purchasing packs of cat-food since buying it actually generated a credit between the sale price and the doubled coupon.   She said she donated the things she didn’t use/need that paid her for the purchase to various charities.  She may have been featured in a news article/story because she said people all over her state were sending her their unused coupons.  The male extreme couponer was even making care packages for soldiers.  It’s easy to look at people like this and think they’re nuts for doing this and spending so much time on it, but then you see the true opportunity in what they’re doing and it just warms your heart.

Compost Awareness Week (Really?!)

I swear there is an awareness week for everything, but hey, I love compost so I’ll go along with this one.  I’ve now taken my composting game to another level.  I got a worm composting bin!!!! (So excited!!)  The thing about compost is, once you see how easy it is to make and how little you get in the end, you start putting more and more stuff in to get more and more compost in the end.  I have three 4-foot (cubed) compost bins in the back.  Every year, I put in all the kitchen scraps and all the leaves and all the weeds and plant clippings and when the hubs spreads it out, it hardly covers any space at all!  So every year, I end up finding more and more and more things  to put in to get more out.  I’m telling you.  It gets kind of crazy.

Even with all this composting, I’m nowhere near where I need to be for the yard, but as it turns out, the township puts out free compost from the leaves they collect at the end of the fall season.  Thankfully, this should be enough to fill up the rest of the space that the compost we make doesn’t.  And I can say that it really makes a huge difference.  I tested it on my herb bed and garlic beds.  Last season I created a new bed down the driveway with strawberries and garlic and I added peas and lettuce for early season harvesting.  The herbs did well last year when I used regular dirt and fertilizer, but since I added about 2-3 inches of compost on the entire bed this year, the herbs are already going crazy.  I’ve already cut back the tarragon (which struggled last year)  three times and every time I cut it, it nearly jumps for joy with the way it bounces back.  I have a garden bed that I call “The Hubs’ Bed” because he did most of the work to convert it from the mess it was when we moved in.  It used to have a huge conifer that we had removed and then he pulled out the stump with his SUV.  And so he gets first dibs on whatever goes there.  Last year, it did “alright”, but this year, I’m really hopeful for a great harvest since he has already requested Cantaloupes.

Last year, we hit the tipping point with the composting.  I had too much to compost. The bins were so full that I had to get holding bins to store the compost that didn’t fit into the compost bins yet.  And thanks to the almost weekly snow storms this past winter, the hubs had to trek through the knee high snow to dump the kitchen scraps into the bin and I said, “Forget it, I’m getting a worm bin!”  I put three pounds of red wiggler worms in the bin and since they eat about half their body weight in food scraps in a week, they seemed like a reasonable amount for the household between the hubs, the kid and me.  I stuck it  a hidden corner in the basement and it’s been going for a few weeks now.  Pretty soon I’ll have a good amount of compost so I can feed the indoor plants with it.  And I’ve been feeding some of the outdoor plants with the liquid that collects at the bottom already.

Now The Hubs finds all this worm composting amusing, because I am not at all squeamish when it comes to worms.  And that’s about the extent of my non-squeamishness.  I am the serious eeking, screaming, on top of a chair girl if you even hint that there may be a mouse in the vicinity.  I was superbly grateful to get through college with a Biology degree without ever having to handle mice (I was fine with the frogs).  There is a plant called mouse tails that I can’t even LOOK at in a plant catalog ‘cos it freaks me out that much.  My mother on the other hand has a worm bin and refuses to touch it.  I have to harvest the compost for her so she doesn’t actually have to handle any worms by accident.   So I guess you could say I have two worm bins.



You eat Spotted What?

I was watching the Pregnant in Heels episode the other day with the woman who wanted to ask her boss, a British Lord, to be the godfather of her baby. Her maternity concierge, Rosie Pope who is British, recommended that she invite him to tea and serve Spotted Dick. It was priceless to see it dawn on Rosie that Spotted Dick sounded hilarious. It really took a minute. But it’s one of those things where it rarely ever dawns on you that what you eat may be kind of weird if it’s “grandma-food”. I define “grandma-food” as anything that your grandmother served you or anything you ate without question as a kid. As a Jamerican (that’s Jamaican-American for those who don’t know), every Easter you must eat Bun & Cheese. You can make it or you can buy it, but you can’t let Easter pass without having some Easter Bun.

Bun & Cheese is to most Jamaican kids what Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches are to most American kids. Even though you must eat Bun & Cheese during Easter, it’s also eaten throughout the year. When I was little and spending summers in Jamaica, my aunt would give us bun and cheese as a snack in the same way someone else might make a PB&J in the afternoon for a kid. My son, a descendant of a Jamerican is going to have the great pleasure of both Bun & Cheese and PB&Js, which I consider the best of both worlds. Now, Jamaican Spice Bun (or Jamaican Easter Bun) is in maybe the strictest explanation of the food a dense fruit bread filled with maraschino cherries and all sorts of other dried fruits and raisins and it’s usually served with a thick slice of cheese. The cherries are the prized fruit in the bun. In the same way that parents might try to cut a sandwich so all the kids have even pieces, Jamaican parents must cut the bun so each child gets a cherry. If someone has more cherries than everyone else, a fight is likely to ensue.

The thing about grandma food is… it’s often hard to convince someone who has it for the first time as an adult that it’s good. It’s certainly possible, but it is unlikely that anyone will love it like you do. The hubs has tried bun and cheese and if it were the last food left on earth, he would eat it, but it’s just not his thing. I can respect that. Thanks to his grandma he LOVES a great Jewish New York deli sandwich. Whenever we go to NY, he has to have one. He gets so excited about going to a “good deli” that you can almost feel his excitement in the air. I, on the other hand, don’t get the appeal of deli sandwiches. Okay, full disclosure: I get migraines from deli meat. But, even before I discovered this was a trigger the deli sandwich held absolutely no appeal to me. As far as I’m concerned whether the deli is in Philly or NY or anywhere, it’s just a deli. (Even while I’m typing this I can feel my husband getting outraged and him having no idea why.) So, we’ll add New York deli sandwiches to the list of “grandma-food” traditions that the kid is going to try and hopefully love.

Unlike some grandma-foods, bun is pretty standard. It’s either done right, or it’s not. There aren’t a bunch of variations on Spiced Bun that result in one grandma making it one way and another grandma making it another way. Most Jamaicans buy the bun from a Jamaican bakery. If you’re interested in trying Bun & Cheese, I highly recommend buying it from a Jamaican Bakery. It’s not hard to make, but you have to know what the texture should be before you make it yourself. It’s dense, but soft… but not too soft. There are a lot of fruits in it… but not too much. There has to be fruit on the top… but a lot of it has to be scattered throughout. You have to have cherries in it… but not too much or they’re not special when you find them. It seems simple and straight forward, but as my husband will tell you, you can’t just slap some meat on some bread and call it a deli sandwich. There’s a right way and you have to experience the original and then you can try to make your own. This is one original even I don’t make myself. Grandma-food is sacred space.

Presto Pesto – One Hand Tied Behind My Back

In the days of pre-parenthood, I watched the Top Chef challenges that had the chefs cooking with one hand tied behind their backs and cooking in pairs tied together so each chef only had one hand available.  I remember thinking, “That would be fun to try…”  They brought back that challenge for a recent episode and all I could think was, “Big deal, that’s a regular Tuesday night for me.” Lol… oh how things change.  Last weekend, I went out to do some grocery & produce shopping and left the hubs and the kid at home.  When I came back, I took the kid so the hubs could go for a run.  We didn’t have anything in the house for dinner so I figured I’d put the kid to play on the floor with some toys and get something going.  Thanks to the Easter Bunny bringing him teeth #7 and #8 (which were somehow worse than all 6 teeth before these), the kid was feeling crummy and wanted to be held.  So, it was “cook with one hand and hold the kid with the other” night.  I don’t recommend trying this recipe with one hand tied behind your back… I’m just saying it’s possible.  The funny thing is, I should have expected it since when I was at the store, I was thinking, I should pick up one of those one-hand choppers in case I need to cut up something while the kid is having a hold on to mom night.  Next time I’m listening to my instinct.  Thankfully, I was able to cut the onion before the hubs was out the door and the hubs was back in time for me to cut the tomatoes.

I defrosted some sausage, but since I was not going to handle uncooked meat while holding the kid, I didn’t add it.  I do, however think it would be a great addition to this or even roasted chicken or fish.


Spinach Pesto with Garbanzos & Tomato Salad

13 oz whole grain penne
1 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 lb baby spinach
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups garbanzo beans
1 spanish onion (cut lengthwise, pole to pole)
3 cloves garlic

Tomato Salad:
12 Campari Tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Long Hot chili pepper, minced
1 4″ sprig fresh tarragon, minced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil

Pesto Pasta:

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, but undercook it by 1 minute.  Heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, toast the pine nuts until they are lightly browned and you can smell them.  Add the olive oil, onions and garbanzos and leave to caramelize in the pan for 5-8 minutes.  Meanwhile, mince two cloves of garlic in a food processor.  Add the baby spinach slowly until it is almost all chopped.  Add the toasted pine nuts, and black pepper and let the processor run while you add the olive oil.  The mixture should be thick like a paste.

Move the garbanzos and onions around the pan.  You should see some caramelization.  Let caramelize for another 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and when you can smell it, add the pasta and the pesto.  Coat all the pasta with the pesto.  Then, add two (large) to four (small) ladles  of the pasta water to the skillet to loosen up the pesto and to allow the pasta enough liquid to make up for the minute you undercooked it.  Aff more water as needed.

Tomato Salad:

Toss quartered tomatoes with the salt, pepper, chili pepper and tarragon.  Let sit until you are just about to serve.  Shortly before serving, add white wine vinegar and olive oil.


Top the Pesto & Garbanzo Bean Pasta with the Tomato Salad and serve topped with parmesan cheese.


The Secret of a Green Thumb…

I’ve been growing plants for a long time thanks to my mom’s influence.  When I was little, she told me, “We’re Jamaican. We grow things.”  I had a strawberry patch (which was eaten by squirrels, to my infuriation) when I was little and I’ve grown something almost every year since then.  My list of plantings includes so many things on the continuum of everyday vegetables to exotic flowers in my mom’s and then my garden.  The total plants over my lifetime could probably fill a huge farm.  So, believe me when I say that there really is no such thing as a “green thumb.”  While I’ve had decades of experience with growing, I’ve also killed more things that could fill a farm.  My list of failures far exceeds my list of successes.  The difference with people who think they have a “black thumb” is they don’t hide their mistakes.  The secret of a “green thumb” gardener is a compost heap filled with things that didn’t go right the first or first few hundred times.  They use their old mistakes (buried in the compost heap) to feed their future successes (which is all you see).

So, here’s the thing… I’m a huge fan of compost for several reasons.  One is, that it takes all the stuff you have and want to get rid of and gives you free fertilizer that works a lot better than the chemical crap.  (Oh and less on the garbage bill) Early warning… I stick to all organic plant food and fertilizer in my garden.  I have a serious issue with chemical herbicides and fertilizers since there are so many easier, cheaper, and healthier ways to do the same thing with organic treatments and garden gadgets.  There are tons of studies out that show that chemical herbicides act as endocrine disruptors and can affect human and animal fertility.  To be fair, there are studies that dispute this… but why chance it if you can just use something natural (and did I mention compost is free)?  As my mom says, “Why bother growing your own food if you’re just going to use the same chemicals as the ones you’re buying in the store?  Your home produce should be special.”

There are tons of ways to make compost and most of them involve things you’re paying someone else to haul away.  There are compost purists who closely regulate what goes into the pile.  Our bins are more of a little bit of this, little bit of that balancing act.  I toss in just about everything in the yard and most things from the kitchen.  I added some composting redworms to my piles when I started them and they’re in charge of eating most of the kitchen scraps.  If you’re squeamish about worms.  I can tell you that I never see them.  There have been a few times over the years when I had to ask the hubs if I needed to buy some more to put in there because I didn’t see any.  They hate light so unless you’re really digging around, they’ll hide from you, but they can eat their weight in food scraps and weeds so I think they’re a good addition to the pile.   Pretty much anything in the kitchen that isn’t fat/animal can go in (well, it can go in, but the smell will likely attract scavenging animals which is why I avoid it).  Here are some of the kitchen things that go into mine:

  • veggie scraps (carrot shavings, cucumber skins, the hard end of the celery, onion skins, garlic skins, etc.)
  • dead veggies (the mixed salad greens that never seem to last more than 2 days in the fridge, the cucumber you forgot you bought, etc.)
  • tea bags
  • coffee grounds and the filter (coffee grounds from Starbucks are a good way to get extra [they’re more than happy to give it to you so they don’t have to pay the garbage company to take it away])
  • leftover coffee without any cream in it (sugar is fine)
  • egg shells (rinse them in really hot water before you put them in)
  • vegetarian meals that have no cheese

There are some things that I put in that some compost purists do not agree with (clearly… I don’t care).  My pile… my rules:

  • shredded paper/newspaper (if junk mail has my name/info on it, I drop it in the “secure disposal” pile [I figure if someone wants to dig through rotten veggies and worms and then piece the cross cut shreds together, they probably earned the information])
  • little pieces of cardboard
  • old bread (anything with yeast in it isn’t technically supposed to go in…)

You can also throw just about anything from the garden in there:

  • Shredded leaves (and I’ve been known to take the shredded leaves my neighbors put out on the street for the township to pick up)
  • Cuttings and trimmings from plants throughout the season
  • End of season plants without disease
  • Weeds without flowers/seeds showing

About the weeds: I weed selectively.  I either do it in separate rounds or use separate containers for the weeds that have seeds or flowers showing vs. the ones that don’t.   It’s possible for seeds to hibernate in a compost pile so I apply some unkind treatment to the ones with seeds and seal them in a 5 gallon bucket with some comfrey and a little water and stick it where it can heat up in the sun.  The purpose is to get these seeds to either cook and die or germinate in a closed environment and then kill the resulting plants with extreme heat before I add them to hibernate in my compost pile.  It may be possible for this method to kill the disease in some plants, but I wouldn’t risk it so I throw those in the garbage.

The thing most people ask about compost is… Does it smell?  If it smells, then something is wrong, but it’s easily fixed.  The balance of compost is brown material and green material.  Brown material is dry.  Green material is wet.  If it smells, it’s probably too wet, add some dried leaves or shredded newspaper or pieces of cardboard (Brown material).  If it looks kind of dry, more food or fresh weeds or clippings from plants go in (Green material).  If it doesn’t look like it’s breaking down, add some grass clippings or comfrey to heat it up.

You can also get a compost thermometer and check the heat of the pile.  I haven’t gone there yet.  The pile is best between 135 and 160 degrees and so I figure that if there’s steam coming off of it, then it’s hot enough.  If it’s not moving quickly enough, I add a layer of freshly cut grass or comfrey (more about comfrey in another post) or compost accelerator to heat it up.  There is a garden gadget out there for every task you can think of.  I love gadgets and when I’ve bought all the rest of them, I will probably end up with a compost thermometer.

Now, before I go any further (and I warn you this will not be my last post on compost [lol]), I should let you know that there seems to be a strange phenomenon when it comes to compost.  While I was the one who went out to the store and bought the three massive compost bins on a Sunday morning so long ago, it is now my husband who has claimed the compost as his.  I started it because when we moved in, the previous owners were “kind enough” to leave us all the unraked leaves and weeds from several seasons.  I will never forget one day when we were out getting the outrageous cleanup job started, one of the neighbors came out to give us some background about the previous owners… “He never was one for the yard…  He’d come out at the beginning of the season and pick up a stick or two, but that’s about it.”  And from the state of the yard, I believe it.  But my husband is now the one who turns the pile and adds all the different ingredients.  It seems that the idea of crap turning into garden gold was what did it for him.  I’ve also heard from other gardening wives that this is not uncommon.  Something about making dirt brings out the kid in husbands and one day you hear, “Are you sure that should go in my compost?”

Duck Confit & Mushroom Pasta

This isn’t actually a recipe from today, but the hubs requested that I save this one since he really liked it. I made it last Saturday after a trip to my local produce place. I can’t resist buying when I see piles and piles of fresh fruit and veggies so, needless to say, when I walked in the house with two big boxes of fruit and veggies there wasn’t enough room in the fridge. (Okay, so the hubs carried the big boxes in the house, but you get the idea.) Fortunately, it was lunchtime and I had to put something together before the hubs left to meet with his grad school group and my parents came over to see the kid. Spinach and mushrooms don’t seem to like to sit in a refrigerator so I try and make meals with them as soon as I get them home, so they went to the top of the list. I checked the pantry for pasta, but I finished the last of the whole grain short pastas and just had tri-color rotini. If I make this again, I’m definitely using the whole grain pasta. Then, I figured I’d empty the fridge to make room for the new stuff. I found goat cheese and duck confit in the fridge and started experimenting. (I will explain how I ended up with duck confit in the fridge in another post.) Leftover Roasted Chicken or Rotisserie Chicken works just as well in the recipe, but I had duck so that’s what I used. BTW: The hubs recommended eating this with a good glass of wine (my parents agreed). He actually said it felt wrong to eat it without a glass of wine.

FYI: The Poinsettia Chile Pepper looks like an ornamental, but is actually edible. They grow fairly easily and when they ripen up, you can dry them (either in a dehydrator or spread out in a layer in a dry spot in the kitchen). Then, just throw them in the food processor to break them up. Be careful, it’s a hot pepper so you’ll want to make sure you do this with either the windows open or the ventilation on. Then you can fill up your spice jar with it. It’s a bit hotter than the regular crushed red pepper flakes but I grew up with Jamaican food and I like things a little hotter. Adjust the red pepper flakes to your taste.

Duck Confit, Mushroom & Spinach Pasta

Duck Confit Pasta

8 oz portabella mushrooms, ribs scraped off & sliced
1 spanish onion, diced
1 large long hot chili pepper, cut into rings
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried tarragon or 1 tbsp fresh tarragon
1 tsp dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry sherry
1 lb baby spinach
12 oz. tricolor rotini
1-1/2 cup duck confit
4 oz chevre/goat cheese
1 tsp crushed poinsettia pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper flakes)

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. In a medium hot large skillet, add olive oil and butter. When the butter melts, add the mushrooms. Don’t move them around the pan. The mushrooms need time to develop some color. If you’re not sure, turn over one of the mushrooms and if it looks caramel colored or seared on one side, then you’re ready for the next step. Start moving the mushrooms around the pan and add the onions, chili pepper, tarragon and thyme. Leave the mushroom-onion mixture to sweat in the pan for about 5 -8 minutes or until the onions are soft. When you start to see the liquid evaporating, add the garlic and move around the pan until you start to smell the garlic (about 1 minute). Add the dry sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the fond (the caramelized bits stuck to the pan). When the liquid has reduced by half, cover the pan and turn the heat to low for about 5-8 more minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the spinach. Add the hot pasta on top of the spinach and stir to mix everything together. Add two ladles of the pasta cooking water to the pan to moisten everything. Add the duck confit and cover the pan to allow the duck confit to warm through. It should take about a minute to get ready. Add the goat cheese and stir the pasta. Top with 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes and serve.

Black Quinoa… where it all started

The idea of this blog came about because of Black Quinoa.  I was leaving work and trying to think of something interesting to make for Meatless Monday.  Back Story: I started participating in Meatless Monday because it seemed like a good challenge.  Could I make vegetarian food for the hubs without hearing the old Wendy’s tag-line: “Where’s the beef?”  I ran the idea by the husband and he was all for it.  He’s a runner and he was up for the challenge of finding vegetarian food that he liked.  I’m not a fan of the meat substitutes so I generally avoid them.  I tend to use a lot of beans and whole grains and veggies for the Meatless Monday fair.  I’m not fanatical about it which helps me check if I’ve accomplished the goal.  There have been occasions when we’ve finished the entire meal and the hubs said, “Wait, there wasn’t any meat in there!  Nice!”  So, when I sent the recipe to a friend, she suggested I start a food blog.  Blogging seemed unlikely for me, since I was just messing around and trying to make quick and healthy for the hubs.  Then in the next two days I was talking to people about the meals I make for the kid and two more people suggested I write a blog ‘cos they wanted to know what else I was giving the kid to eat.

So, back to the quinoa, I remembered that I purchased Black Quinoa a couple weeks ago, but hadn’t made anything with it yet.  I had regular quinoa and red quinoa already, but the black quinoa provided some visual benefits since it looks pretty similar to ground beef.  By some truly odd coincidence, I decided I was going to try to make Southwestern wraps with the Black Quinoa substituting ground beef then I was looking at the hubs’ Facebook post where one of his friends said he should eat quinoa.  I stopped in the supermarket on the way home and all they had was the small wraps so the plan was amended to Southwestern Black Quinoa Quesadillas.

I’ve been putting quinoa flour in some of the kid’s food to add protein and figured the whole quinoa was small enough that he should be able to eat it now without issue so I made the quinoa without any salt so I could set some aside for his food.  I’ve incorporated the Black Quinoa in two different things of food for him since that time: Butternut Squash, Kale & Black Quinoa and then Butternut Squash, Chayote Squash & Black Quinoa.  I steamed about two cups of the Butternut Squash and Chayote Squash in his baby food cooker and mixed it in with about 1 cup of the quinoa.  I didn’t cook the kale since it was already blanched and just mixed it in with everything and covered the pan to let it all warm through before packaging it up.

The kale was actually from my mom’s garden last year.  She grew massive (almost 3 foot tall) kale plants and we had so much that we were giving away whole plants to friends just so her other plants didn’t get crowded out.  At the end of the season when we figured we’d eaten and juiced it and given so much away that people were just accepting it to be polite, my parents started pulling up the whole plants and blanching and freezing the leaves.  My dad minced some and left some cut larger.  I packaged them in 8 oz. portions in freezer bags (yes, I weighed them) and threw them in my freezer and my parents freezer for the winter.  Oddly enough, my parents and I still  have kale left over despite eating it through the winter.  Needless to say there was a ton of it.  My mom grew it in her front yard in between her ornamental plants and apparently it was the talk of the neighborhood since most people didn’t realize she was growing food.  They were sure it was an ornamental plant, but no one could find it in the garden centers.

So, for the adults, the Quesadilla was surprisingly good and went something like this.  (Early warning, this makes a lot of filling so you can throw it in the fridge and save it for later.  I actually added it to a brothy chicken soup for lunch one day in the week.):

Southwestern Black Quinoa Quesadilla

1 cup black quinoa
2 cups water/chicken stock
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 red onion, minced
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
½ large red chili, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chipotle powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 ½ cup minced blanched kale
1 ½ cup salsa
1 cup arugula leaves
Mozzarella (or any melting cheese)

Make quinoa according to package instructions.  (If you buy it in bulk, then rinse it first until the water runs clear to make sure you get rid of the soapy coating.)

In a medium-hot pan, add olive oil and the whole cumin, coriander and mustard seeds.  When the spices start dancing in the pan, add the red onion, beans and chili pepper.  While they are heating up, add the rest of the spices.  Stir the bean and spice mixture then add the garlic.  When you can smell the garlic, add the frozen corn kernels and kale and cover the pan and turn down to medium-low.  When the quinoa is ready, add it to the pan and stir to combine.  Add the salsa (more if needed) to ensure the mixture is moist and turn up the heat to medium for a short time to make sure everything is heated through, then turn back down to low.

In a medium hot frying pan, toast the tortillas individually without oil.  When it begins to bubble slightly, flip the tortilla and add just enough cheese to cover the tortilla leaving a 1-inch border.  Add a few arugula leaves and about a ½ cup of the quinoa mixture then fold the tortilla in half and press to toast.



Why would I start a blog on food?

Why would I start a blog on food?  Probably because I’m obsessed with food and just about everyone who knows me, knows about this obsession.  Ok… I’m not obsessed with food in the straight-forward normal way of claiming I have an expert palate and only eating snobbish food and looking down on anything that doesn’t meet some super exacting standard. My obsession with food is a result of being an only child of a mother who has been growing “organically” for longer than I can remember and a dad who is an amazing cook.  So, my obsession with food has everything to do with how food becomes food and making it taste good.  My family is Jamaican which comes with it’s own dynamic of being told to go boil some of this or eat some of that when you have some kind of ailment or another.  The other huge part of my food obsession is gardening.  If it’s possible for me to grow it instead of buying it, I’m most likely going to grow it (or at least try to).  I get ideas for new ingredients in dishes by scouring seed catalogs.  I’m working on creating a mostly edible landscape around my house and my ultimate goal is to have the elusive Four Season Garden so we can be mostly self sustaining throughout the year.  There are some things I will probably never grow like peaches and apples so thankfully we live within normal driving distance to quite a few farms.  And I have also been known to wander through a new supermarket for more than an hour looking for new ingredients I’ve never tried before.  This food obsession is also part of the reason I spent an extra year at college to get a minor in Nutrition. I love knowing why you eat certain things. I love knowing why Masa Harina is better than regular corn flour. So there it is, I’m a food nerd.

So, now that I’m a mom of a 10 month old son, I’ve been giving him all kinds of different foods and oddly enough the only thing he hated instantly was bananas.  He has since changed his mind about the bananas, but he is willing to eat just about anything and I love trying new things with him.  I also love trying new things with my husband.  He’s open to trying new foods and giving me the chance to try to make it a few ways before he makes a final decision.  So far, he’s game to any food except fennel and ackee.  I can live with that.  So, here’s the rest of the reason why I’m starting a blog.  I have a habit of coming up with “brilliant” ideas for dishes, making them once and then never remembering what they were or how I made them.  The hubs will ask me to make something again and he’ll describe it and I will have no recollection of ever making it.  Poor hubs… So now, I have a way to remember it all.  What I made for the kid… What I made for the hubs… And it will also be fun to track the garden and what dishes I was able to make out of the garden each season.