We’re Juicing it Tonight

Parenting takes more time and energy than it looks.  So, some of the healthy habits that were easy pre-parenthood take place at odd hours now.  Yesterday, while The Hubs was in class, I went to the produce place.  I got there 10 minutes before they closed and studiously ignored all the hard glares I got from the people working there who just wanted the day to end and go home.  I sympathized, but I needed fruit & veggies so we both dealt with it (at least that’s how I tell it) as I raced through and picked out what I wanted.  As usual, I bought more veggies that 2.5 appetites could handle in a week and headed home.  The Hubs came in from class wiped out and exhausted after a long day.  And as luck would have it, I couldn’t have fit any more veggies in the fridge if there was a crowbar option available with my brand of refrigerator.  So, I did what I usually do when there’s more veggies than room: I juiced.  For the record I am talking about extracting juice from whole fruits and vegetables.  I made the mistake once of looking up “juicing” on the internet and it unfortunately took me a minute to realize why all the search results had to do with power lifting.  Apparently I should have been searching for “juicing for health”.

My parents have been juicing since the days of the Juiceman Jr. which I think came out in the 90s.  The Juiceman Jr. was their first of many juicers.  The Juiceman Jr.  juice was less like juice and more like a meal.  If you’ve looked at the sales descriptions of juicers now that talk about fine mesh extractors, foam removers and horsepower in the motor, it’s because they are trying to get the juice to look like juice.  It didn’t always.  My parents bought several models and brands through the years including Vita-Mix which I  LOVE as a kitchen machine (It’s so more than just a blender), but I don’t think what it makes is as useful as juice from a juice extracting machine since you have to add water and ice to the Vitamix.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s diluted juice.  Great as a smoothie though!  Juice Extracting Machines have come a long way from the Juiceman Jr.  Long story short, after trying way too many machines I’ve settled on the machine by the other Infomercial King: Jack LaLanne.  It’s easy to clean (most important factor), easy to use, doesn’t require a lot of pre-chopping and makes good smooth juice.  It can’t juice bananas or avocado so save those for the smoothies, but it does a great job with just about everything else.

If you’re going to juice, start out small then build your way up.  When I married The Hubs and came home with a juicer, I asked him if he wanted juice (I think he thought I meant store-bought apple juice) and  he said, “Sure!”  S0 ,I made him my usual juice with any and every fruit/vegetable in the kitchen.  I should have started out easy on him, but he likes a challenge so I handed him a glass.  It tasted awful.  To his credit, he wolfed it down and handed me the glass and we didn’t talk about it for a week and then I handed him another glass.  If you’re going to get into juicing, start out with mostly fruit so you get in the habit, then start adding veggies and eventually you can do a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit.  Carrot-apple is a good starting point.  There are recipes that come with the juicers, but if you see one with an onion.  Don’t try it.  Friends of ours tried it and hate may be way to kind of a word to describe their reaction.  Try to vary your juice ingredients as much as possible.  When you get in the habit,  start adding more greens and green vegetables until eventually you can drink a 16-ounce glass of the green juice.  You can juice for taste, but eventually you may want to juice for health.

So, last night around 11pm, the hubs and I had had our juice.  I juiced two big heads of kale, three apples, a pear, and three carrots which gave us a 16 ounce glass each.  The hubs and I have mastered chugging thanks to juice.  You’re supposed to drink it quickly after it’s made to take advantage of all the enzymes and nutrients from the fruits and veggies.  It’s not meant for slow sipping over time and when you get to the point where you’re juicing for health and not taste, there’s not much of a choice.  I’ve been juicing for so long that I don’t know if I actually feel better or it’s a Pavlovian response at this point but I slept perfectly and woke up feeling energized.  I have a bag of collards waiting at home and the hubs is going to get that juice post run on Saturday.  I’m sure he’s excited.

The Dinner Time Food Trade — Sweet Potatoes

We’ve reached the point in The Kid’s development where he wants to feed himself  so, everything must be finger food.  He also wants what is on the adults’ plates.  He gets very excited when he sees everyone else’s plate, but he is willing to give everyone some of his food as well. (Sharing is good I guess.)  And apparently it’s hilarious when adults eat baby food. So, we tend to keep an eye on what we’re eating to make sure at least some of it is baby approved (no hot pepper/spicy mustard) and make sure his food is edible since we are sometimes under obligation to eat it.  I can’t wait until he is safe to eat nuts because I really want some cashew chicken. But until then, we’re engaged in a food trade from baby plates to adult plates.

My current favorite food in the trade is Sweet Potatoes. When The Kid was on pureed food, I steamed them with apples or pears or nectarines. Steamed with nectarines was amazing. I had to make another batch the first time since I think I ate half of it and The Hubs kept saying, “I like sweet potatoes” as though I should have considered making some for him. But I generally prefer the flavor of baked sweet potatoes and of course the minimal effort required.  I’ve smashed the baked sweet potatoes and mixed it with his beans (big favorite).  I’ve just handed the kid pieces of baked sweet potato off my plate (went over well too), but the other night I was entirely too tired to think of something to make and tried something for him that ended up being so good, that I had to “help” him eat it.

 

Sweet Potato & Whole Wheat Israeli Couscous with Corn

1-1/4 cup water
1/2 medium size sweet potato cut small
1 cup Whole Wheat Israeli couscous
1 cup frozen corn

In a small saucepan, add the sweet potato pieces and 1 1/4 cup of water.  Heat until the water is boiling.  Add the couscous and corn.  Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

 

When it’s done, the sweet potatoes should not be easily distinguished as individual pieces, but will form a coating on the couscous to help them clump a little so the little ones can grab the couscous pearls more easily.  This is actually really sweet and if you decide to put it out for everyone to eat, I would recommend something simple like roasted chicken and your veggie of choice.  Pork could probably work well with this too if you like sweet accompaniments.

 

 

What am I supposed to do with all these herbs? – Let’s start with Mint

When we moved into our house, the first thing we did was remove the massive ugly shrubs that I’m guessing were planted when the house was built in the 60s.  That may also be the last time they were tended to, because they were crazy wild and far beyond the point where I would have considered rehab.  Removing them was no easy task and The Hubs actually had to drag one out using the hitch on the back of his SUV.  The Hubs was one step shy of dynamite to get those shrubs out.  It wasn’t an easy job, but after a lot of hard work and sore muscles they were gone, chopped up and hauled away by the township’s yard waste removal program.  The first thing I planted was herbs (they’re usually the cheapest plants at the garden centers).  I like to try new herbs, but I’m less interested in paying for them so I pay for seed packets and try them out in the garden.  If they work, then great, if they don’t then oh well.  But thanks to trying out some of the oddities that are available as seeds, I’ve grown Cutting Celery (tastes like celery, but easier to grow), Mitsuba or Japanese Parsley (which doesn’ t look anything like Italian Parsley) and Salad Burnet (which is a leaf plant that somehow tastes like cucumbers).

If you put an herb somewhere that it likes, it will grow like crazy for you.  So, if you have a friend who grows herbs and has an established set, chances are they will be willing to give you some of what they have.  Depending on how established they are it may be easier to give you cuttings instead of actual plants, but friends and family are a good source to save some money.  Over the years, I’ve planted many types of herbs and some of them did too well (yes there is such a thing) and this year I’ve offered them to just about everyone I know.  I’ve given away tons so far and the growing season hasn’t even gotten going yet.  I think my friends have stopped looking me in the eye when I mention the herbs for fear that I’m going to try and offer them more.  Thankfully, there’s a program by Philabundance called Share the Harvest that allows you to give away your produce/herbs that your friends are tired of you offering so it goes to feed people who need it.  So, my friends should be able to relax for a while.

One of my favorite no-fuss herbs is mint.  As I’ve learned over there years, there’s no such thing as “just mint.”  There are so many kinds of mint that sometimes it seems like there must be some crossover somewhere.  I can’t leave a garden center without a mint plant if I see one I haven’t grown.  Over the years I’ve grown spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, apple mint, mojito mint, salad mint… you get the idea.  Honestly, not all of the mints taste strongly of whatever flavor the namers claim is there, but many of them are pretty and worth the effort to grow.  I HIGHLY recommend that if you decide to grow mint that you do each one in their own separate pot.  Mint is one of the wild child plants of the garden.  Once it’s in the ground it can spread like crazy, take over the growing space of other plants and be nearly impossible to remove.  It constantly straddles the fence of pain in the butt weed and beloved herb.

Since mint grows like crazy you have to figure out something to do with it.  I dried it to make mint tea.  Then I started making syrups.  Whenever I make iced tea for a party, I put out flavored syrup instead of sugar.  I just don’t like using sugar since it never melts and you just end up with half an inch of sugar bunched up in the bottom of the glass and hardly any sweetness in the tea.  Everyone likes different levels of sweetness so syrup is the easy solution for me.  I use cane sugar so my syrup has a browner tint than using regular granulated sugar, but whatever sugar you like should work.

Syrup

Mint Syrup

1 cup mint
2 cups sugar
2 cups water, room temperature

Add mint to medium size sauce pan.  Add sugar and smash it up with a wooden spoon (like you would if you were making a mojito).  Pour room temperature water over the sugar and let it sit for a few minutes as it starts to dissolve.  Heat up the sugar-water mixture over medium heat.  Don’t mix it.  Don’t touch it.  Just watch it.  Watch the mixture until it boils and it looks like all the sugar has melted and it’s clear.  (You don’t want caramel so don’t leave it unattended.) Put the cover on the pan and take it off the heat.  I usually leave it to steep for about an hour so it gets pretty strong.  When it’s done (you can start tasting it at half an hour if you don’t want it that strong), pour the syrup through a strainer into the container of your choice and refrigerate (or use for iced tea).

 

Local Honey

It’s that time of year for some people’s love-hate relationship with flowers to really get going.  The Hubs used to have TERRIBLE allergies.  I used to HATE allergy season because I couldn’t get any sleep thanks to his outrageous snoring.  Along with the runny nose, itchy eyes and the runny nose, he wasn’t getting good sleep either.  So, we were both miserable.  He tried everything!  Anti-allergy medication and even anti-snoring sprays, strips, and pillows.  We used to go to the warehouse stores and stock up on the anti-allergy medicines every year.  At one point he took so much of one that he developed a tolerance and had to switch to another one.  Nothing made a difference.  Despite everything we tried, every year the same thing happened.  Then, I read an article about raw local honey.  They were working on a theory that by taking a spoonful of local honey a day you could inoculate yourself against the pollen that triggered allergies in the same way you teach your body to fight off a virus using a vaccine.  Since the bees in your area would be coming into contact with all the pollen in your area it was best to find the farm closest to your house.  Since most people travel within their own zone (it’s a gardening thing, I’ll explain in another post), it should cover most pollen they come in contact with.

Needless to say I was desperate.  I looked everywhere for local honey and couldn’t find it.  The local supermarkets only had honey from other states and even Whole Foods hadn’t caught up to selling local yet.  Thankfully, I got an email about a pick your own organic farm about a mile from our house.  I went to check it out just to be nosy and finally found some local honey.  I probably embarrassed myself with my yelp of joy, but I couldn’t care less.  It was time to test the theory.  The Hubs was understandably underwhelmed by this idea.  If we had tried every possible option, why would we think something as simple as honey would work.  The first season it didn’t make that much of a difference.  The second season was a little better.  The third season was so good I forgot why I hated spring.

The funny thing is that I used to have an allergy to something in the early fall.  I still don’t know what it was.  My mom found an article on a study that found that some people had an unknown environmental allergy that surfaced in late summer to early fall.  (I don’t know where my mom finds some of the articles she finds.)  The sufferers all had outrageous migraines, but the people running the study couldn’t figure out what they were allergic to so they just documented the phenomenon.  These migraines were so bad that it felt like the room was spinning while I was lying flat in a dark room in an empty and soundless house.  I remember trying to stand up and feeling like my head had it’s own pounding heartbeat.  It took me a while to figure out that the pain medication did nothing for these migraines, but after my mom read the article I tried allergy medicine and it was like a godsend.  Ever since I started doing the annual local honey I haven’t had these nutty migraines (and thank goodness) even without the allergy meds.

When I was a kid, I spent summers in Jamaica and my aunt used to line my cousins and me up every morning and we all got a big spoonful of honey.   It was technically local honey, but no one really thought about it then.  (Jamaica seems small, but thanks to the hills, there are different growing zones so some things that grow in certain areas won’t grow in others.)  We just picked up the honey from a guy not too far from the house.  I remember how much fun it was to go visit the guy who harvested the honey and if we were REALLY good she’d hand over pieces of the honeycomb to us.  (If you read the post on Easter bun then you’ll likely understand that a fight generally ensued depending on who got the biggest piece.)  I love honey.  Yeah, I get that it’s good for you, but I seriously love it.  That’s why I was so confused a few years back because I suddenly started hating the taste of it.  I couldn’t figure out what went wrong.  I used to go to the supermarket and pick up some honey and try to replicate my aunt’s morning routine and I’d just end up spitting it out.  Then I realized that I kept buying Clover Honey.  It was the easiest one to get and always in the biggest bottle so I’d just grab that one and go.  I can’t stand the flavor of Clover Honey.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  There’s just an aftertaste that I find unbearable.

Thanks to the anything but clover honey search I discovered how many different types of honey there are.  There’s a baker in Canada who only uses blackberry honey from California in one of his cookies because he says the cookie doesn’t taste right with any other type of honey.  So, obviously, I’m going to have to get some to test if it’s true.  There are people devoted to his cookies so he must be doing something right.  So, then I started checking out how honey got it’s different flavors.  Apparently, the only way honey  can be labeled with a “flavor” is if there is a threshold amount of the named plant in a three mile radius from the hive.  The honey bees supposedly only really travel about three miles from the hive so they’re most likely to harvest from plants in that area.  The easiest way to tell is that the package will say “Blueberry Honey” if it’s from blueberry harvesting bees and “Blueberry Flavored Honey” if it has blueberry (whether it’s artificial or natural) flavor added.  You can find honey from bees that harvest from all kinds of plants.  Supposedly lychee honey is one of the more expensive ones and since I LOVE lychees I’m going to have to bite the bullet and order it one of these days just to try it.  It’s not local but the flavor has go to be amazing!  And thanks to the internet you can hunt down any of your favorite flavors.

I would love to have a beekeeping setup at the house, but something tells me that a little boy and a bee hive aren’t the best mix.  I’ve heard that there are people who will basically let your rent the setup if you have an organic garden and they will come and do all the work.  I don’t know if they have the service in my area, but it is a pretty cool idea.  Thanks to the scare a few years ago about the bees disappearing and whole hives dying off, there has been a resurgence of beekeeping.  And since there are rooftop gardens in so many cities, there are also beekeeping rooftops too (something has to do the pollination) so finding local honey in the city isn’t even as hard as it seems like it could be.  The farm where I get my local honey is finally having their open house this weekend so I will be there bright and early to pick some up before Snore Fest 2011 begins.

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.

Vacation Walks… The Plants

San Diego Vacation:  Cont’d From: Vacation Food Continued… Breakfast & Dessert

 

Thanks to my love of plants and gardening, I have fun checking out what grows in other areas and seeing if there’s anything new I should be adding to my collection in my home garden.  We walked more than 10 miles in the short time we were there so we there was a lot to see.  The coolest thing in San Diego is that Bird of Paradise, which is a gorgeous plant, just grows on the street.

If I wanted to grow it at home, I’d have to take it inside and baby it and be very kind in order for it to grow.  They have it growing on the street as if it’s no big deal.  I realize I could go on for days about all the plants I saw like the Datura, Ice Plants, etc., but I’m just going to go into two of them: Nasturtiums & Castor Bean Plant.

 

 

Nasturtiums are one of those odd plants that grow in “poor soil.”

If you are not a plant person, then Nasturtiums may be the ideal plant for you.  Actually, if you take too much care of them, they won’t grow well.  In San Diego, Nasturtiums grow on the hillsides that line the highway.  The leaves which are generally pretty small look like dinner plates where they are growing on the hillsides.  It makes a gorgeous picture to see the green nasturtium leaves cascading down the hills with dots of orange and yellow flowers surrounded by all the other colorful flowering plants.  I just loved the contrast to the plants that grow along the highways by us.  Probably the coolest thing about nasturtiums other than the fact that they don’t like to be babied is that they’re edible.  So, you can grab the leaves and/or the flowers of the no-nonsense plants and toss them in your salad bowl.  I’ve also heard that the seeds are edible which makes sense, but I’ve never tried them.

 

The other plant I saw a lot  during the Murray Lake walk (that I’ve grown in my backyard) was the castor bean plant.

The thing about the castor bean plant that I think is pretty cool is that if you see them growing in the wild, they tend to be scattered since the seeds explode out of the seed pod which I suppose that is there way of avoiding the overcrowding problem so many plants seem to dislike so much.  Now that I have a kid, my days of growing castor bean plant are over for a while.  Even though everyone has heard of drinking castor oil, the castor bean seeds actually contain a toxin.  Well, it makes sense since a couple tablespoons can start your intestines spasming.  Depending on the source, there are mixed messages about whether the plants should be added to compost piles.  I don’t know how serious it is since the toxin is found in the seeds, but since the seeds also look like flavored jelly beans so I think I’ll just take a few seasons off from it so the kid doesn’t make the mistake.

I like to cook up meals that remind me of vacations and I think I’m going to have to do something similar in the garden too.  This year, I’m going to have to plant a bunch of nasturtiums in the garden as a reminder of the San Diego trip.  Thanks to all the compost The Hubs has helped me haul into the yard, they’re going to have to grow in pots to keep the soil richness down.  Hopefully mine will approach the size of dinner plates like the San Diego ones.  There are different kinds of nasturtiums: vining and mounding so the ones in the pots are likely going to have to be the mounding types.  Since they’re edible, it should keep our salad bowl interesting.  I am curious if I’ll be able to convince the kid to eat a flower.

Vacation Food Continued… Breakfast & Dessert

Continued from: Vacation Food… The Mexican Places

 

The Breakfast Experience started Friday Morning with breakfast at Americana Restaurant.  It was a nice little place in a great area so we ate outside under a heat lamp.  (Funny thing about San Diego: all the locals apologize for the weather when the sun isn’t out.) The breakfast seemed really simple when we looked at the menu and we ended up ordering some breakfast quesadillas and a burrito.  Even though they seemed simple,  the flavor was really good.  The quesadillas were one of the daily specials and the burrito was on the regular menu.  The eggs had a great flavor and they were light and airy and delicious and combined with chorizo, onions and the tortillas that were perfectly crisped so they didn’t crunch, but added just enough contrast to the fluffy eggs.  They served it with a lightly dressed salad and it was just a great plate of food and a fantastic way to start off a day without a heavy stomach.  Which was good since we went on a 5 mile walk through Torrey Pines that ended with a walk back down the beach.   Tortillas may become the “new pancakes” thanks to this breakfast.  I’ve had breakfast burritos and quesadillas before, but I always manage to forget that this is a great alternative.

First long walk in Torrey Pines. Up the mountain and then back down the beach.

On Saturday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at 8 in the morning to go to Hash House a Go Go.  It was a 45-minute wait even though we got there quite early.  We were told that the wait can exceed an hour if you don’t get there early and it was absolutely worth it.  The portions at Hash House are enormous!  We decided to go “thirdsies” on everything and ordered the Sage Fried Chicken & Smoked Bacon Waffles, Corned Beef Hash and the Hand Hammered Pork Tenderloin Farm Benedict.

Hash House: Corned Beef Hash (top right) and Bacon Waffle

The Chicken & Waffles were outstanding.  I expected the usual fried chicken with batter an inch thick, but the batter was super light and the sage added so much flavor.  The chicken was actually just breast pieces which I think makes eating a dish like that much easier to eat and they baked the smoked bacon into the waffle.  And I mean entire long pieces of bacon that were pre-cooked (so they were crispy and cooked through) and so long that they were hanging out of the waffle!  The combination of the sage in the chicken and the bacon in the waffle just took the whole dish to another level.

Hash House: There is actually half a biscuit and potatoes underneath all that meat! (Oh yeah... and spinach too)

The Pork Tenderloin was surprisingly good and I mean surprising because I generally don’t like the texture of pork.  But this was dark meat pork so it had a ton of flavor.  I really only ended up having a taste of the Corned Beef Hash (I just couldn’t fit it), but they make corned beef hash the right way with actual chunks of corned beef and real chunks of potatoes.  I like the mushy version too, but the real thing done right is something special.  The potatoes were really well flavored and very crispy with the corned beef flavor infused in them.  They served it with a huge biscuit and eggs.  The biscuit was dense but had a great finish.  I am not from the south and I can understand someone from the south may not have been a fan, but I like a dense biscuit with a great finish.  I like the super light and flaky ones too, but some biscuits have a gumminess that lingers and I just don’t like that.  This one was dense, but still had a clean finish.  It was all good but filling and there was enough food left over for two more meals.  We went to the beach and passed out after all that food.  My sage plants are getting pretty big thanks to all the rain while we were gone so I think I’m going to have to make up a sage chicken recipe to recreate the memory.

We didn’t end up eating much dessert on the trip because there was so much good food and we just didn’t have any room once we finished our meals.  So, the trip to Babycakes was one of the two sweet highlights of the trip.  Their cupcakes are crazy good.  We tried the Black Bottom Cupcake, Classic Vanilla Cupcake, Guava Mango Cupcake and the Lava Cake.  I think the Guava Mango Cupcake was my favorite.  It was so intensely flavored that the one bite I had was enough to last.  I might have to try the flavor combination in a cookie at some point.  I make a coconut thumbprint cookie and make either a guava filling or a mango filling, but now i’m considering ways to combine them.  I have no idea why it hasn’t occurred to me until now.  We also went to Uncle Biff’s for cookies.  We had one cookie each.  I had the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.  The flavor of their cookies was so good that you didn’t need more than one.  I love desserts like that.  I read somewhere that with food the first bite is always the best, but every bite of the Uncle Biff’s cookies was incredible.  The fact that it was my reward after another 5 mile walk around Lake Murray just made it taste even better!

This was our second long walk around Lake Murray

The great thing about Buff is he’s already planning our next trip out to San Diego.  We’re going to have to stay longer next time so we can have more time to revisit the great places we went and fit in all the places we didn’t have time to visit this time around.  Although, knowing Buff, he’ll have found even more great places and we won’t have time to visit all of them on the next visit either.  My other favorite thing about the trip was the great walking trails.  We had to justify all the eating somehow, right?  There were at least two more spots we didn’t get to go and one of them is a hike up a mountain that looked crazy steep.  I can’t wait to see what kind of restaurant we’ll visit to justify that!

San Diego Vacation Cont’d: Vacation Walks… The Plants

Vacation Food… The Mexican Places

The hubs and I have a friend who we’ve nicknamed Buff.  We both met Buff at the same time in college and we might as well be The Three Musketeers or the Three Stooges considering the amount of fun we have when we get together.  Buff shares my love of great food and he’s one of the few people I trust implicitly when it comes to restaurant and food recommendations.  About a year and a half ago, he moved out to San Diego. We missed him a lot, but in the time he’s been away, he’s amassed a list of restaurants that the hubs and I had the great fortune of sampling over our recent vacation to visit San Diego and Buff.   We were there for3 days and 4 nights and went on two 5-mile hikes and walks to justify the eating madness.  I don’t know why, but it just seems so much easier to work out on vacation for me.  Odd, but true.

So, I have a serious obsession with fish tacos that started when I was pregnant.  I swear, Buff is like my food brother because the very first place he took us when we got off the plane was to South Beach Bar & Grille for Fish Tacos!! I don’t know how he possibly knew about my obsession (I checked and the hubs did not tell him), but I’m telling you, it was exactly the right place to start for me.  We started off the meal with Fried Zucchini and then had the fish tacos with beans and rice.  I tried the Baja (Pollock), Mahi, Oyster, and Lobster (and yes I sampled some of everyone’s).  All fantastic, but as Buff predicted, the Baja was my favorite.  This place has figured out deep frying like few other places I’ve seen.  The batter on the outside of the fish and zucchini was paper thin and mainly served to keep the food moist during cooking since it flew off at the slightest touch and let you taste the food instead of just batter.  I rarely ever fry food at home mostly because I’m far too lazy to get the deep fryer out and all the oil and then do all the cleanup.  And setting up and cleaning up a batter/3 coat station to make food for two people is just more than I’m willing to do.  I don’t take issue with frying the way some people might since I know there are tricks to frying that involve the perfect temperature to allow the food to cook through without leaving the finished product dripping with oil, but it’s a time and cleanup thing for me.

I also had fish tacos at Fred’s Mexican Cafe during the trip and the sauces they used on their fish tacos was so good.  I tasted the carne asada and it was just amazing!  It was lighter than most carne asada, but it was intensely flavorful.  But, the true treat of Fred’s was the tomatillo sauce they put on the table with the chips.  I like tomatillo sauce, but I LOVED their tomatillo sauce and I may be spending the entire summer trying to recreate it.  It wasn’t overly tangy like tomatillo sauce usually is, but it had all the fruity flavor with more weight to it than normal tomatillo sauce so I’m wondering what else they added to make it so good.  Thanks to that sauce I was full by the time the food showed up so I guess I’ll have to go back next time I visit and give their food another chance.

I love Mexican food!!  Correction: I love Real Mexican food!  There are a lot of places near us that make what I call “fake Mexican food.”  Some of my favorite things about Mexican food are its freshness and balanced seasoning.  Instead, many of the “Mexican” places near us use salt as if it is the only spice and seasoning that exists.  There’s something for me about the way real Mexican food uses spice, texture and combinations of flavors to allow you to have a taste experience.  One of the coolest things I learned from a friend who is (parents born in) from Mexico, is to add radishes to tacos.  She is from an area where a lot of radishes are grown.  Although I’m game to try anything new, I thought the radishes were really odd when she suggested it at a taco party she threw a few years ago.  After one taste, I was hooked.  Her tacos that night were really good and flavorful, but I’ll remember forever how the addition of the radishes added the crunch you would get from red cabbage in a fish taco and it added another layer of freshness and clean flavor to the tacos.  I still prefer red cabbage on my fish tacos, but for chicken and beef tacos, I now add radishes.  Who knew…?

 

San Diego Vacation Continued: Vacation Food… Breakfast & Dessert

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.