musings

not to make excuses, but….

Dear blogging friends,

I owe you an apology.

First, because I’ve been a pretty much absent follower for the last month and a half and have very much missed reading and commenting on all of your wonderful blogs.

Second, because I’ve also barely had any time to share any delicious food with you.

It’s not that I haven’t been eating.

Of course I have.

At least two or three meals a day (except for several very hectic mornings when I forgot–yes, forgot–to eat breakfast).

But, I’ll confess…I haven’t been cooking much lately.

So, what have I been up to these last two months or so instead?

In a nutshell, this:

does this make you dizzy? ’cause I’m a little disoriented…

But also, this:

my school library blog

And this:

my 5th graders’ class blog

And this:

an educational unconference

And this:

a two-day conference about using Google Apps in schools

Plus this:

excerpt from the Red and Black’s review of our show at Flicker

And, finally, this:

band night at the Hart County Community Theatre

As you can see, I actually have been blogging. Just not about food.

And I’ve been doing all that other stuff, too, most of which has taken up a lot of time that I would otherwise have spent cooking and writing about it.

I miss you guys and hope to be back to humble feast soon!

But, in the meantime, I hope you’ll forgive me, and maybe you could even stop in to see what my kiddos have been doing in the library lately. School is taking up a lot of my time these days, but I really am loving it. 🙂

Cheers,
Tanya

Categories: musings | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

we are the big bad wolf (or, what we did with the pig that didn’t get away)

So, a while back, I pretty much swore to you guys that Micah and I wouldn’t be buying another pig head.

I lied.

Oops.

Here’s the thing:

Micah really, really loves curing him some pig meat.

He most recently made bacon from a pretty slab of pork belly, but one of his favorite and most frequent curing projects is guanciale, a salty and porky cured Italian hog jowl that tastes kind of like bacon on steroids.

And lately, we’ve been having trouble finding hog jowls from any of our usual sources. None in the Athens Locally Grown listings, none in the Moonshine Meats farm store.

It’s like every recently slaughtered pig within a 100-mile radius is mysteriously without cheeks.

We’re almost out of bacon, so the situation was getting urgent. Dire, even.

Micah emailed Eric at ALG, and he suggested that Micah contact Greendale Farm–who turned out to also be sold out of hog jowls.

But they did have whole heads.

So, guys, it was an accident, but yes…we did end up with another massive pig head in our refrigerator.

I’ll spare your gag reflexes and forgo the photo of the whole big ol’ head staring at you…but I do have to share the impressive amount of pantry staples one head will yield.

First, the jowls:

in about two and a half more weeks, we’ll be in hog heaven with this cheeky, streaky bacon

And here’s the rest of the haul:

look at that army of freezer jars…..

So, what exactly is all this stuff?

Well, here’s what one pig head will very generously give you:

  • about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds delicious home-cured hog jowl bacon
  • 3 gallons + 2 cups pork stock (freeze in 1- to 2-cup portions for easy additions to soups, stews, and sauces)
  • 1 cup lard (makes a great cooking fat, especially for brunch and Southern fixins)
  • about 1 pound pig skin trimmings (perfect for seasoning beans, greens, and soups)
  • about 2 pounds pulled pork meat (which we used to make some fantastic barbecue sandwiches)
  • 1 pork tongue (I have no idea what Micah plans to do with this, but it’s in our freezer…I’ll keep you posted!)

Micah spent pretty much a whole day prepping all this stuff, but now we’ve got a freezer and refrigerator full of delicious pork products that cost us next to nothing.

Was it worth it?

Yep, I do believe it was.

And, because I’m sure some of you are wondering:

No, we did NOT make any headcheese with this hog head. We picked the meat off of the skull, but we left all that weird cartilaginous stuff out of our harvest.

I swear, we’ll never make headcheese again.

Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t swear. I haven’t been too good at keeping promises lately. 🙂

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quick lunch extravaganza – when life gives you bread, make sandwiches

Our house has been infested.

With fleas, earlier in the summer, and lately with some very persistent ants.

But, mostly, with bread.

It started when I overbought buns for a cookout a few weeks ago. Micah was smoking a pork picnic roast and grilling burgers for almost 20 people, so I cleaned out the Daily Groceries bakery case and brought home enough buns for everyone to have two.

My calculations didn’t account for folks going bread-less, which many of them did (in order, I’m sure, to consume more of the delicious meats and veggies on the table).

So after the cookout, we still had about twenty buns leftover, but only enough uneaten burgers and barbecue for about half that.

Oops.

We would’ve frozen the extra bread, but our freezer was already getting out of hand.

Which meant that, after the extra pork and beef were gone, we still needed to eat eight more buns, because of course I just couldn’t bring myself to waste them.

Four buns became vehicles for our delicious berbere-spiced sloppy joes disorderly josephs.

A couple of onion rolls were transformed into savory French toast sandwiches with tarragon and some of Micah’s crispy home-cured bacon.

the roundest French toast I’ve ever made

Step-by step:

  • Cook a few slices of bacon and set it aside, but leave the grease in the pan.
  • Whisk together one egg with a little milk, salt, pepper, and dried tarragon.
  • Batter the buns in the egg mixture.
  • Cook in the bacon grease over medium heat until browned and crispy.
  • Layer on a plate with bacon and top with a drizzle of maple syrup.

This French toast was not only quick and easy, but also a tasty way to repurpose those extra onion rolls. They soaked up the egg-and-milk batter beautifully, creating a fluffy, moist French toast that paired perfectly with the salty crunch of the bacon.

And when we finally got down to the last two bits of our booming bounty of buns, we made these:

toasted sorta-caprese sandwich….gooey and melty….yum…

This sandwich was also laughably simple, but so tasty.

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  • Split two sandwich buns and brush the insides of both halves with olive oil, then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • Add a few thick pieces of cheese (we used Edam) and some sliced tomatoes (we used a handful of halved sungold cherries).
  • Close the sandwiches and wrap them in foil.
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the sandwiches are nice and warm and the cheese has melted.
  • Add a big handful of fresh basil to each sandwich and enjoy!

The same day that we ate these delicious sandwiches, my friend Jackie brought me a jar of her generations-old sourdough starter, with instructions to feed the starter the next day and then bake with it the day after that.

I dutifully followed Jackie’s feeding instructions (minus the potato flakes/potato water), and that jar of yeasty goodness responded by giving me three large loaves of lovely bread:

fresh out of the oven, fluffy, and delicious

I’m very excited to have a sourdough starter and a fantastic recipe now–but dang, we ended up with so much bread! Fortunately, I was able to share this stuff with two of my best friends, so Micah and I only had one big loaf left to eat ourselves.

Next time (tomorrow!), I plan on tweaking the feeding and baking proportions of this recipe to yield just one or two loaves at a time, and I’m also excited to try using my sourdough starter to make other yummy baked goods like cinnamon rolls or pizza dough. If you want to make sourdough but don’t have any starter, ask around to some bakerly friends and you can probably find someone who has extra. Or, you can always make your own like my blogging buddy Stephanie did a while back. 🙂

Anyway, so right when Micah and I thought we’d found the light at the end of the starch tunnel, we now had another very large loaf of bread to eat.

So we did what any sane person would do in this situation.

We made more sandwiches.

bread + bacon + tomatoes + pesto

These sandwiches were salty and crunchy from the bacon, savory and spicy from the pesto, sweet and juicy from the tomatoes, and crispy and hearty from cooking in just a little bit of bacon grease. You could use your favorite pesto recipe or some store-bought pesto–or if you can hold out for one more post, you can use the parsley pistachio pesto we enjoyed (I’ll give you the recipe next time I write!).

Sourdough sandwiches, round two:

grilled cheese with pickled beets and fresh basil

The pickled beets and onions gave this tasty sandwich a fantastic tangy sweetness that played nicely with the spicy fresh basil, creamy Edam, and sharp cheddar.

We enjoyed crusty hunks of toasted bread with a few other meals throughout the week until finally, today, there was only one big two-sandwich hunk of bread left.

So today (no pictures of this one–sorry!), we sliced up that last hunk of bread and filled our sandwiches with pesto, bacon, and cheddar for a yummy concoction that went perfectly with the free potato salad we got with our weekly Earth Fare coupons on Sunday.

Why devote an entire blog post to this most humble of feasts, this I-don’t-know-what-to-eat-so-I-guess-I’m-stuck-with-sandwiches brown bag filler?

What’s so great about the lowly sandwich?

Sandwiches can be boring, can make you feel like you’re in a mindless, hopeless bread-filling rut.

But that’s not how I feel about sandwiches at all.

To me, a sandwich is a blank slate, a beautifully clean canvas.

If you stuff your sandwich bread with wilted iceberg lettuce and a sad, sad slice of processed ham, then of course it’s not going to be a masterpiece.

But if you let yourself think outside the lunchbox, you can turn plain old bread into a delicious work of art. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

a little patriotism for the 4th of July

how’s that for independence?

Categories: musings | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

date-night dinner – 6.29.12 – disorderly josephs

I have to hand it to my mom and dad. Statistically, there is no way they should’ve been good parents.

When my mom found out she was pregnant with me, she was fifteen and my dad was barely eighteen. They were party kids, recklessly making mischief in our tiny town where, honestly, there was little else to do besides skinny-dipping in the lake or getting sloshed on Boone’s Farm.

Mom and Dad could have given me up, could have stayed trouble-making teens for at least a few years longer before gradually easing into the responsibilities of adulthood.

Instead, they got married, got jobs, had my brother Dave (so I wouldn’t be an only child), bought a house, settled down.

They grew up.

I remember one evening when I was little, sitting on the sofa and watching my mother iron. I asked her how old she was. “Nineteen,” she said. And all I could think, at three and a half, was that my mom was so old.

Now that I’m pushing 30, my own nineteenth year a whole decade gone, I shudder to imagine what kind of mom I might have been at that age. I was so impulsive, so self-centered, so careless. Such a kid.

Could I have enforced bathtimes, naptimes, mealtimes, bedtimes? Could I have woken in the night, time and time again, to feed and comfort a wailing child? Could I have handled potty training, or changing the sheets and flipping the mattress when accidents happened?

My parents, young as they were, did all of these things and more.

Once, when Dave and I were very small–not even in school yet, if memory serves–Mom and Dad took us for a rare dinner out. To hear them tell it, Dave and I were holy terrors: loud, misbehaving, and embarrassing the heck out of our poor, young, helpless parents. Mom and Dad were mortified, ready to snatch us up by the ears and carry us out kicking and screaming.

At some point during this meal, another diner in the restaurant approached our table. I’m sure my mom and dad braced themselves for a well-deserved tirade at their incompetent parenting of us unruly brats. But instead of complaining, this woman paid my parents a compliment. Dave and I, she said, were two of the quietest, most well-mannered children she had ever seen.

Yes, Mom and Dad always had high expectations for our behavior.

Mealtimes, for example, were a ritual that no one questioned.

We always sat around the table together, whether Dad had grilled burgers or Mom had made up a Crock Pot of fifteen-bean soup. We sat around that table together even on those rare occasions when supper was a pepperoni pie from Pizza Hut or submarine sandwiches from our local (and now defunct) deli, Ol’ Haileys.

The table was always set with silverware and paper napkins.

Dave and I always drank milk with dinner–no sodas or sweet tea in our house–and we ate what Mom or Dad had made for us, no exceptions, no special orders. We were expected to try new foods before we decided we didn’t like them. And if there was dessert, we could enjoy that sweet treat only after we had finished our dinner.

I say that no one dared question this sacred ceremony of supper, but that’s not entirely true.

My mom and I reminisced the other day about one of our very favorite meals: sloppy joes (Manwich from a can, obviously) with macaroni and cheese (Kraft from a box, naturally). The messy meaty sandwiches perfectly complemented those creamy orange noodles, all washed down with a tall glass of milk (of course).

But one night, for some reason that I promise I would tell you if only I could remember it, I decided I was not–do you hear me? NOT!–going to eat sloppy joes.

The napkins, the silverware, the glasses of milk were already on the table. The sloppy joes were already assembled on our plates, the macaroni and cheese already heaped beside them.

And I said, “I don’t like sloppy joes.”

“Yes you do,” Mom said. “You’ve had them before.”

“Well, I don’t want sloppy joes,” I said.

“Fine,” Mom said.

Young as she was, she knew she couldn’t win a battle of wills with a four-year-old. But she had size and authority on her side, so when she said what she said next, I had no choice but to obey. “Go to your room,” she said.

And I did.

I stalked to my room, sulked in my room, eventually sobbed in my room because I really was hungry and I really did want sloppy joes and macaroni and cheese, and my room was closest to the dining room, so I could hear everyone else eating and enjoying their sloppy joes and macaroni and cheese–enjoying their suppers while I moped, miserable and hungry.

When Dad finally came to get me, much later, I walked with him back to the dinner table. There, right where I had left it, was my lonely, cold plate. Cold sloppy joe. Cold macaroni and cheese, almost solid from sitting out for so long.

My three-year-old brother, I’m fairly certain, was messily slurping on the fudgsicle he’d earned for cleaning his plate.

I remember all of this so well: the argument with my mother, the haze of the setting sun filtering through my bedroom curtains as I wallowed while they all ate, the anger I felt before it dissolved into pitiful, hungry shame.

But I have no idea whether I ate that cold sloppy joe or went back to bed without eating a thing.

Either way, my mom and dad won.

It took me at least one more tantrum to learn my lesson for good–but the egg salad incident is another story for another time.

You’d think sloppy joes might dredge up painful memories for me, that the very thought of messy meat on a bun might propel me into a rage or a fit of tears.

But actually, despite my traumatic experience with these saucy sandwiches, I love sloppy joes. They make me smile with child-of-the-80s nostalgia, the same way I smile when I think of my teenage aunt Missy’s asymmetrical perm or those matching Easter dresses my mom sewed for us with the flowers and the puffy sleeves.

So when Micah and I were brainstorming ways to use up a surplus of sandwich buns we had leftover from that Hudson family cookout we hosted two weeks ago, one of the first things we thought of was sloppy joes.

Instead of ground beef or turkey, we defrosted a pound of ground pork breakfast sausage from Moonshine Meats, because it was what we had a lot of in the freezer. And since we don’t keep Manwich around, we used some of this stuff to sauce our sandwiches:

Emily G’s Berbere Sauce

Emily G’s is a Georgia-based purveyor of jams, sauces, and seasonings, and this particular sauce was the food item in our wine club box from Shiraz last month. I was familiar with berbere because of that Ethiopian meal I cooked a couple months back, and I had a hunch that the smoky, spicy, sweet flavors of the sauce might make a perfect sloppy joe.

When I told my mom about this meal, she laughed. “Those are too fancy to call sloppy joes,” she said. “What you made were disorderly josephs.”

this is actually a leftover disorderly joseph that I ate for lunch yesterday
(the lighting was better, and I liked the looks of that blue plate)

There’s really no recipe for me to tell you, but here’s how we made them:

  • Wrap four sandwich buns in foil and heat in a 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, brown 1 pound of medium heat pork breakfast sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Drain off some of the fat, then return the skillet to the heat.
  • Stir in 4-6 tablespoons of the berbere sauce or another tomato-based sauce (depending on how disorderly you want your josephs to be).
  • Cook until the sauce has heated through and thickened a bit. You can add a sprinkle of flour if you want to help this along.
  • Once the meat is done cooking, get your warm buns out of the oven, open them up, and fill each one with a scoop of messy, meaty goodness.
  • Eat and enjoy–with plenty of napkins. 🙂

The beauty of sloppy joes is that you can really sauce them with whatever you happen to have around. Barbecue sauce and ketchup are perfectly reasonable options, not to mention salsa or marinara. Or you could sloppify your joes with a homemade sauce of fresh or canned tomatoes and whatever seasonings you feel like throwing in. The possibilities are truly endless.

In the fuzzy foreground of the above photo, you can see what we ate on the side, but here they are again:

notice the white plate? this was the first time we ate this meal

Micah made these delicious oven-baked french fries from a recipe on Fork and Beans for Shira’s Spiced Potato Bakes. We didn’t change a thing about the potato recipe, which Shira did quite a nice job explaining in the original post, so I’ll let you go visit that.

We did change up the dipping sauce, though, mostly because we had an excess of fresh parsley and no fresh cilantro. So here’s what I put in ours:

  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix all of this together in a small bowl and keep it cool in the refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

While sloppy joes disorderly josephs, oven-baked fries, and beer might not sound like much of a date-night dinner, I assure you that this lovely meal was perfectly suited for a happy Friday evening with my honey, just as it was perfectly suited for a lunch of leftovers yesterday.

And what if I make this supper for my kids some day and my own four-year-old daughter turns up her nose at one of my sloppy joes? Well, I would gobble up that poor, neglected sandwich in a heartbeat. 🙂

Categories: links, musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

know your food

I already posted this video with my other Red Clay writings last week, but I wanted it to also have its own link here because the message is pretty important to me. If you’ve already watched it, feel free to view again or not. If you haven’t, I would love for you to take a look and tell me what you think:

Click here for image credits.

I’m also sharing  my video with Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday for June 29th.

If you’re as interested as I am in slow food, local/sustainable foods, whole foods, etc., visit their site. I had never seen it until one of my friends from Red Clay mentioned it to me the other day, and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing.

Categories: links, musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Red Clay writings + that exciting project I mentioned yesterday

Hey guys.

I’ve mentioned the Red Clay Writing Project a time or two now, and today is our next-to-last day. It’s been a whirlwind, and I haven’t slept or cooked or spent time with Micah nearly enough–but I’m still sad that it is coming to an end.

Like I mentioned before, we’ve pretty much been writing nonstop.  I’ve got a Google Doc now brimming with story starts, scraps of poems, little bits of introspection….and most of that work is unpolished, rough, and completely unsharable.

Other fruits of my Red Clay work are pieces you’ve already seen, like my musings about root vegetables and my ramblings about vision.

Now, if you’ll indulge me, I’ll share a couple more with you.

*   *   *   *   *

The first is a poem inspired by this little scrap of plastic:

Sal L. Russo was my Pappaw, my Mammaw‘s husband and my mom’s dad.
I’ve saved this since I was a little girl.

Upcycled

Stiff, knuckly fingers
took scissors to me one day.
For those fingers,
for the hands and the body
that moved them,
I was the voice that told doctors,
“Yes, you can care for this old man.
He will be paid for.
He is covered.”

Skinny, withering,
wheezing in from plastic tubes,
leaning on a cane clutched tight,
he needed care—
needed me.

In a year, I was replaced
with a copy of myself—
younger, shinier,
not yet thumb-worn at the edges.
Useful, while I was used up.

The old man could have snipped me
into a trash can
like crescents of yellowed fingernail,
silver mustache trimmings,
an expired credit card.

But this old man,
practical as he was,
was also a man of songs.
Aged, bony fingers—
the same ones that wielded the shears—
plucked out melodies on guitars and banjos
as a tiny granddaughter looked on
and listened.

I once was a silent thing in a leather wallet,
only speaking at the pharmacy,
the hospital.
I once was a thing of business.
But now,
I make music.

*   *   *   *   *

The second poem I’m going to share came out of a movement and improv activity that we did in our class last Thursday where one of us would start a scene, the others in the group would join in. It was also inspired by my first date with my husband (six years and three days ago) and our honeymoon in New York City (almost three years ago).

Death-Defying Stunts and Other Human Oddities for Your Amazement.

Remember the fire-eaters,
the knife-jugglers, the sword swallower.
Remember the tattooed lady.
Remember the spectacle, the danger,
the applause of a mesmerized crowd.

Remember the Cyclone,
the old wooden coaster,
rickety click-clacking
up and down
crisscrossed, whitewashed
peaks and valleys.

Remember the Wonder Wheel,
that tilting car on the Wonder Wheel,
sitting with the one
who quickens your heart
and flushes your cheeks,
sneaking a curled pinkie
around his thumb for the first time
and the electricity of one feverish hand
reaching out for another.
You could look across the water,
across the glittering boardwalk lights,
across the popcorn-dusted bustle
of buzzing, bumping bodies,
and see sparkling Manhattan
stretching infinitely before you.

But you don’t.

You are in Brooklyn,
at Coney Island,
on the Wonder Wheel,
surrounded by sideshows and chaotic sweat,
clutching the trembling hand of the man
beside you—
the man who will still thrill you,
still swallow fire for you,
long after
the carnival
closes.

*   *   *   *   *

And last, here is the digital literacy project that I created to present to our group this morning and to share with all of you in the blogosphere, too:

The music is a song that our band, Fleet Machine, has been playing together since we formed in 2010. Blake wrote the song long before that, and it’s been performed in many different incarnations in different bands he and Micah have been in together. But this is the version we play, minus the vocals. (If you click the link above, you can hear the song in its entirety.)

The images are Creative Commons-licensed issues from flickr (full image credits here).

And the text, visual effects, and layout/design are all my own.

Thanks for letting me indulge a little.

*   *   *   *   *

Next post: two more recipes for gluten-free goodies. 🙂

Categories: musings | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

supper tonight – 6.7.12 – frito pies

Yes, you read that right.

Yes, we bought a bag of (corporate, processed, full-of-preservatives-and-crap) Fritos.

We could’ve (and probably should’ve) walked down to Daily Groceries or driven over to Earth Fare for some organic, all-natural Frito-type corn chips with five or fewer easily pronounceable ingredients. It’s always my preference to buy a healthier, more sustainable option.

But when you’re really hungry after a long day at school or work, and the chili’s completely ready in the pot, and then Micah says, “We need chips! How about Fritos? I’ll go get some.”–well, it’s kinda hard to stick to your principles.

And since we do stick to our principles most of the time….well, I wasn’t going to argue.

Plus, I’ll admit: I like Fritos. Always have. And I love, love, love Frito pies.

You might’ve had Frito pies before, but if you haven’t, let me tell you a little bit about them.

The Frito pies of my childhood were comprised of three vital components:

  • Canned chili. Dave and I were the working-class kids of teenage parents, so brand-name chili like Bush’s or Hormel happened sometimes, but other times, the cans looked a little more like this:

from the creative folks at Max Pictures’ Blather, where they actually printed
Dharma Initiative PDF labels for chili and Spam, affixed the labels to the cans,
and then snapped some photos

  • Fritos:

from Frito-Lay’s official website

  • And shredded cheese:

from Joe Hribar’s blog, which includes a whole section about food packaging

We ate a lot of Frito pies growing up, so you would think they were commonplace enough for me not to get that excited about them (or maybe even enough for me to get tired of them).

Not so.

For whatever reason, Frito pies always sparked high spirits. If one of us asked what was for dinner and Mom or Dad responded, “Frito pies!”–they always said it with that exclamation point at the end, always enthusiastic, always eager–then Dave and I always felt the excitement, too. (I’m speaking for him here, of course, but I’m pretty sure I’m hitting the mark.)

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because we had some choices–how many chips, how much cheese, what the final crunch-to-chili ratio would be.

Maybe Frito pies were exciting because they were kind of real food, but still kind of junk food, too, and maybe when the chili ran out, we’d still get to snack on the leftover Fritos afterwards.

Or maybe Frito pies were exciting just because they tasted really damn good.

Whatever the reason–the autonomy, the forbidden-fruit-thrill, or the hearty-spicy-crunchy-melty deliciousness–Frito pies are one of my very favorite childhood memories.

They’re a tradition that carried over to my teen years, too, when we would go camping with my Dad and someone might stew a big dutch oven of homemade chili over the campfire (or just plunk an opened can of chili beans right down on the grates of the grill), and our chili and chips and cheese sometimes got fancified with a sprinkling of black olives or a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream.

My mom still makes Frito pies sometimes–the kind everyone’s pinning on Pinterest where you put out lots of little single-serve bags of Fritos next to a big pot of chili and and an assortment of fixins so your party guests can build their own Frito pies without dirtying any dishes because the chip baggie doubles as a sort of bowl.

Well, as of last Thursday, I still make Frito pies, too:

the layers, from bottom to top: a generous fistful (or two) of Fritos, a heaping
ladle of chili, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar, and a scattering of fresh cilantro
(Micah also added a dollop of Greek yogurt–subbed for sour cream)

When you eat a Frito pie, you should top it with whatever chili you like best, whether it’s a can of No Beans Hormel or a pot of vegan chili with sweet corn and chunks of carrot or some very traditional chili that’s just chile con carne, stewed to sublime, spicy perfection.

Our chili wasn’t the best we’ve ever made, definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty dang good, so I’ll share how we made it here.

What’s in it:

  • 2/3 cup dry black beans (or you could use a can of already cooked)
  • 1 cup dry pinto beans (or use 1-2 cans)
  • 1 pound bulk pork sausage (ours was medium-heat breakfast sausage from Moonshine, but once we seasoned it, it didn’t taste like brunch anymore)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper (or sub cayenne)
  • 1 can Pabst Blue Ribbon (or beer of your choice)
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Step-by-step:

  • If your beans are dry, soak ’em and cook ’em. We used our pressure cooker to get them done in about 45 minutes, but you can simmer them all day on the stove or in a slow cooker–or just used canned beans because they’re easier. 🙂
  • In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, brown the ground sausage.
  • When the sausage is cooked through (or close to it), add the garlic, onion, and peppers, and saute until they’re translucent and tender.
  • Mix in the tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, and ground chipotle.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, including the beans. (You can add the liquid from the beans or not, depending on how thick and chunky you like your chili and how long you want it to take to reduce.)
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least 30-40 minutes, but as long as a few hours to let the flavors really play together nicely.

Now that you have that big, spicy, hearty pot of chili, go ahead and make yourself a Frito pie. A basic three-ingredient stove-top pie, a rustic campfire pie, a cute little Pinterest pie….or make up your own. Use Fritos, or splurge on the organic all-natural five-ingredient corn chips. It’s really up to you.

And in the end, that’s probably the best thing about a Frito pie. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

gluten-free experiments – strawberry coffee cake, crustless carrot quiche

Y’all, I’m in the middle of something really incredible.

It’s called the Red Clay Writing Project, which is part of a larger program called the National Writing Project.

The Red Clay Summer Institute, which I’m about halfway through right now, is sort of like a writing camp for teachers. We meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day for three and a half weeks in June, and during that time we….

  • write
  • talk about writing
  • read about writing
  • write about writing
  • share our writing
  • read and listen to others’ writing
  • reflect on how we can build safe writing communities in our classrooms
  • explore why it’s important for us to share our voices and for our students to share theirs
  • discuss ways we can support our colleagues as teachers of writing

And that’s just the short list. This thing is intense, overwhelming, and absolutely amazing.

I’ll share more about my experience in Red Clay once it’s over, but for now, I want to talk about food.

Since we meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day, we are together at breakfast time and lunchtime, and so one of the things that we do is take turns bringing food each morning to share with the group. Of course, this is right up my alley. 🙂

I was originally planning to revisit some of my favorite muffin recipes until I learned that two folks have a gluten intolerance–which makes whole wheat muffins a not-so-inclusive choice for sharing. And I really wanted to make foods that everyone could enjoy.

Thus began my research into gluten-free baking, from which I learned that there are all sorts of interesting flours (rice flour, teff flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour) that gluten-free eaters deal with when they want to bake, not to mention the xanthan gum and guar gum that often contribute to creating a pleasing texture in GF baked goods. I don’t keep any of these items in my pantry, which just made finding workable recipes more a of a challenge.

I also follow several awesome gluten-free blogs, a couple of which I nominated for some blogging awards a couple of days ago–but I still struggled to find a recipe that I was really excited about making in large quantities for this particular purpose (and that didn’t require all those fringe flours).

Honestly, I got pretty frustrated. There are so many phenomenal web resources for gluten-free eaters, but it’s really freaking hard to find recipes on these sites that contain normal pantry ingredients.

All I wanted to do was figure out how to make a gluten-free coffee cake without making a trip to the store, and it just wasn’t happening.

Then came the “Aha!” moment.

Cornmeal is gluten-free. So is almond flour–and although my cupboards contained no almond flour or almond meal, I did have a tub of raw almonds that I could whir around in the food processor.

So I revised my search terms, removed the word gluten-free from my vocabulary, and looked instead for a recipe that included the words cornmeal, almond, and cake.

Jackpot!

Simple Bites offered a recipe for Lemon, Cornmeal, and Almond Cake, which, of course, I made completely differently than they suggested based on what I had in my kitchen. My version was different in that….

  • I doubled it to fit in my Bundt pan instead of a single 9″ cake pan (better for sharing with 20+ folks).
  • I didn’t include lemon juice or zest (we didn’t have any).
  • I used a different proportion of cornmeal to almond meal (there were only 8 ounces of almonds in the cupboard, so when I doubled the recipe, I didn’t have enough to also double the amount of almonds, but I did have extra cornmeal).
  • I added strawberries (just because).
  • I did a few steps slightly out of sequence (just because).

Not surprisingly, my version ended up looking a lot different from theirs, too:

very pretty Simple Bites cake on the left, my funky cake on the right

I wasn’t happy about how this cake turned out, especially since much of the top of the cake (plus gobs of melted butter) stayed in my Bundt pan when I turned it out onto a plate. The final product was also much sweeter, denser, and richer than I was going for–more like dessert than breakfast. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed to bring it in. (Did you happen to read my ramblings about vision the other day? Well, let me tell you–this cake didn’t achieve the vision I’d anticipated at all.)

But, surprisingly enough, it was quite well-received by my fellow Red Clay participants, several of whom asked for the recipe.

So, here it is. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 8 ounces raw almonds OR 8 ounces almond flour/meal
  • 1-1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pint strawberries, cut into 1/4″ pieces

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F and grease a 10″ Bundt pan.
  • Mix your dry ingredients:
    • If your almonds are whole, toss them in the food processor with the cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until the mixture takes on a coarse, sandy-looking texture. (Don’t go for too long, or your almond meal might become almond butter!)
    • If you already have almond meal or flour, whisk it together with the brown sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to cream the butter and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs–one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before you add the next one.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined. (My mixture was pretty thick.)
  • Fold in the strawberries.
  • Pour the batter into your Bundt pan and bake for 60-70 minutes.
  • Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a plate or cooling rack.

If you make this recipe, please let me know in the comments how it turns out for you! I would especially like to know whether or not your final product is swimming in a pool of butter at the end of the process.

(If I make this cake again, I’ll reduce both the butter and sugar by at least one fourth in the hopes that it will be less of a disaster. :))

one more, just because

Since I brought in something sweet last week, I decided for this week’s gluten-free adventure to take a savory path. Having made some mini quiches for Dave and Kim‘s shower last weekend (post about that coming soon!), I had little eggy pies on my mind. But even the crustless quiche recipes I’d found still called for a little bit of flour to be whisked in with the eggs for a little more structure, so I had to do a little more searching.

Again, cornmeal came to my rescue when I found this recipe for Crustless Carrot Quiches from Better Homes and Gardens. Well, actually, I found an adapted version of it that, for some reason, called for more eggs.

Again, I both doubled and changed the recipe, because that’s just what I do.

And, again, I kind of wish I had been able to adhere to the original ingredients and instructions, because I wasn’t in love with the results.

kinda cute, but not Better Homes and Gardens cute….

These weren’t terrible. Some people even told me they liked them. But I didn’t. The flavor was pretty good, but the texture was way off: kind of grainy (maybe from the cornbread?) and not as creamy as good quiche ought to be (maybe too much egg and not enough other liquid like milk/cream/yogurt?). I don’t know. I might make some variation on these again, but I wouldn’t follow either of the two recipes I linked to above. (Of course, please feel free to follow the links and the recipes if you’re so inclined.)

I wouldn’t follow my own version again, either, but I’m posting it anyway because one person asked me for it! (So, maybe, these weren’t as bad as I thought they were…?

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 9 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt (but I thought it needed a bit more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (the original recipes called for more–this would’ve helped!)
Step-by-step:
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease two 12-cup regular muffin pans (or you could do a whole bunch of mini-muffins and cook for a shorter amount of time).
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots and cook for about 2 more minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. (At this point, I’d probably throw in a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt for some added creaminess, plus more cheese than I used.)
  • Add the carrot mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture among your 24 muffin cups–this will be about 2-3 tablespoons per cup.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until set.
  • Allow to cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove the quiches to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Next week, my group brings food on Monday and then on Friday, so I’ll have two more gluten-free experiments to tell you about soon. Hopefully, they’ll go better than my first two. 🙂

In the meantime…

that’s me on the bottom right…

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

supper tonight – 6.5.12 – leek & mushroom pizza

Vision:

Musing, wishing, dreaming…

     …conception, imagination, anticipation…

…an overall idea of how you hope something will turn out.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a prophecy.

Some written recipes include an indication of their creator’s vision. Maybe a grab-you-by-the-tastebuds blurb at the top of the page, a charming anecdote that invites and entices you, a photo that captures one stylized representation of what your mouthwatering result should look like.

But mostly, the recipe is a plan–a straightforward description of ingredients and materials, steps and procedures.

A recipe is the map that helps you navigate to your cabin in the woods, not the relaxing thrill of the forested hike you look forward to taking when you get there, not the buzzing and chirping and humming of nature all around you, not the sweet warmth of the hot cocoa you’ll sip on the porch when the evening chill sets in.

The recipe is not what makes your mouth water, not what you’ll look forward to.

The recipe is concrete, explicating (hopefully in careful detail) the very real process of creating your vision or someone else’s. But it is abstract, too, because you as you’re reading, you don’t yet smell it, taste it, experience it in any tangible way. It is only a string of words and numbers, measurements and imperative sentences, that can lead you through–and to–that sensory experience.

The vision blurs these lines, too. It is abstract because it does not exist yet–it is only your dream of what will be (or what could or should be), not what actually is. But it is concrete, too, because the vision is what you can smell and taste, see steaming, hear sizzling–even if only in your mind.

When I cook, I might follow a recipe. But I’m more likely to adapt a recipe, ignore a recipe, forget a recipe, create a recipe as I go along.

Recipe or not, I almost always have a vision. I know what I want my food to look like on the plate, to taste like when it touches my tongue, to feel like as I chew.

I know how I want to feel when I eat it.

But when you’re cooking with someone else, someone you love, and you have a vision but no recipe, how do you communicate that vision to the person cooking with you?

*      *      *      *      *

Tuesday night, Micah and I cataloged the contents of our refrigerator, brainstorming pizza topping combinations. Some items–the squash and peppers, the ham and brie–were off-limits, already earmarked for other purposes. What was left?

For several minutes, we stood, stared, chatted, considered.

I saw the creamy-white button mushrooms, round and plump, still dotted with specks of dark soil. I saw the young, slender leeks, their stalks delicately stretching from small ivory bulbs to sleek green leaves. I saw a deli tub of fresh mozzarella, moist and elastic, floating in cloudy, salty brine, ready and waiting and eager to melt.

And then, I had a vision.

Brown and beige and shades of green. Warm, mellow, earthy flavors. Nothing bright and flashy, nothing showy, no punch-in-the-mouth heat or tang or bite.

I didn’t have a map, but I knew where this pizza was going and what it would do when it arrived. I pulled the mushrooms, leeks, and mozzarella out of the refrigerator, plucked garlic powder and thyme from the spice rack, gathered flour and salt and yeast for the crust.

Micah greased a pizza pan with olive oil while I mixed the dough. Then I pressed the dough into the pan, thinner and thinner, spreading it to the very edges.

As the crust prebaked on its own, unadorned, for maximum crispiness, Micah melted butter in a skillet. I cut up the mushrooms and leeks, which Micah sauteed while I sliced the cheese. The recipe was created as we worked, every ingredient and action working together towards the vision I had in mind.

When our crispy crust came out of the oven and off of the pan, I spread the softened, buttery vegetables over it.

Micah looked again into the fridge. “How about some of these?” he asked, picking up a tub of mixed green, kalamata, and oil-cured black olives.

I love olives. We both do. But I thought about my vision and decided: not on this pizza.

“No,” I said as I worked, eyeing my distribution of leeks and mushrooms, looking for spots that still needed to be filled in. “I don’t really want olives.”

“But what if I do? Could we put olives on half?”

“Olives don’t go on this pizza,” I said. “I’ve got a vision.”

“I think they’d go just fine.”

“But I don’t want olives.”

“I do,” Micah said, clearly exasperated.

With good reason.

I was being stubborn. Of course I knew that. Even then, I realized I wasn’t communicating my vision very well, wasn’t justifying my choices, definitely wasn’t convincing Micah that olives were a topping for another pizza, another time.

“No olives,” I said. I carefully placed the wobbly ovals of sliced mozzarella, spacing them evenly, tweaking the design as I went along.

Micah, sweet and patient as he is, compromised. And by compromised, I mean that he let me have my way.

Micah isn’t what you’d call whipped, isn’t a doormat, doesn’t just give in to my whims any time. But he does pick his battles, and he knew this one wasn’t worth fighting.

I, on the other hand, am hard-headed enough that I would’ve argued about it, not for the sake of fighting, not even because it was that important to me, but just because I wanted to be right (and, of course, I felt sure I was).

The pizza, now dressed, went into the oven. Without olives.

Soon, scents of crisping crust and bubbling cheese, garlic, herbs, sweet leeks and warm mushrooms diffused through the kitchen.

A few minutes later, the pizza was done.

a vision, realized

We sliced. We tasted. The crust crunched between our teeth. The mushrooms and leeks were buttery, delicate, and tender. Each bite was warm and mellow, brown and green, earthy and rustic and exactly what I had envisioned.

“Do you still think it needs olives?” I asked Micah.

“No,” he said. “It’s good.”

“Like I said, I had a vision.”

What’s in it:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
    • 1/2 cup warm water (about 100-110°F)
    • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
    • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • For the toppings:
    • 1  tablespoon butter
    • 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
    • 4 leeks, washed and sliced, white and light green parts only
    • 6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    • salt and pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Put the yeast in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve the sugar into the water, then pour over the yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
  • Add both flours, salt, garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball, then knead on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes (or use the dough hook on your stand mixer). Flatten the dough into a disc.
  • Brush 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil on a large pizza pan.
  • Put the disc of dough in the center of your pan. Press it with your fingers to spread it all the way to the edges of the pan. (It will be very thin! If you accidentally tear the dough like I did several times, just do your best to smoosh it back together. :))
  • Brush the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough.
  • Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes.
  • While the crust is baking, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the mushrooms, leeks, and dried thyme. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and the leeks are slightly translucent. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  • Once the crust has baked for 7-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and slide it off the pizza pan and onto a large cutting board (or your kitchen counter, if it’s clean enough–mine never is!).
  • Top the pizza with the vegetables, then the mozzarella.
  • Return the pizza to the oven and bake it directly on the rack for another 8-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to bubble a little bit.
  • While the pizza cools for a few minutes, sprinkle it with just a tad more salt and pepper. Then slice and enjoy.

the vision, close-up

If When your dinner turns out amazing (it will), please don’t gloat and say “I told you so.”

Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be sharing this pizza with someone who understands your vision, or (more importantly) someone who understands your stubborn need to be right all the time–and loves you anyway.

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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