Dilly Bean and Cucumber Garden Salad

All it needs is a little olive oil.

All it needs is a little olive oil.

The idea of pickled foods increasingly appeals to me, but the sourness is so strong that I can only snack on a couple bites before it’s too strong for my palate. I made my first batch of Dilly Beans a couple weeks ago (I used the version in Canning for a New Generation), and finally brought up a jar to “test” the recipe.

As a pure snacking food, I like the beans better than pickles (even baby dills) because of the miniature size. The strength of flavor is still an issue, so I thought of a different way to prep them, especially since I haven’t been very hungry in the middle of the day this week.

Enter the Dilly Bean salad. It’s so simple I’m not going to give a recipe. I pulled some buttercrunch lettuce I’d cut and washed out of the fridge, sliced up a cucumber, and diced up some dilly beans out of the jar. The beans are strong enough that the only dressing the salad needs is some olive oil.

Do you like pickled foods? What are some of your favorite uses?


Homeschooling and Pressing the Reset Button

Even the most schedule-happy of homeschoolers has a weakness: she is her own boss. At any point in the day she can, like me, throw up their hands and say “fuck it.” What the hell, run wild my goblins!

That flexibility is a boon and a bane all at once. It allows you to make whatever you want of the day, but it also leaves no consequences if the day falls apart. How do you manage it when your goblins are fighting tooth and nail against education?

My trick is the reset button.

No, my kids aren’t little Frankenstein’s monsters, with a secret button on the back of their neck.

What I’m talking about is the end-around distraction. The redirection. Taking a break, then circling back around to the original task with renewed vigor.

I’ve had to use this with Goblin Alpha several times the past few days. When she digs in her heels or freezes up in frustration, instead of giving a punishment and going right back to the activity, kicking and screaming, I build in a little break to allow tempers to calm down. Since there’s always things to do in the garden, we’ve all gone outside and picked vegetables for a few minutes, then returned to our work.

It’s not a magic bullet, but it’s something to think about if you have kids that are hard to keep focused but you don’t want to crush the joy of learning either.


Pan-Fried Pumpkin Pancakes

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When I tell the Alchemist I’m making pumpkin pancakes for dinner, it makes her day. Not only are these ‘cakes delicious, they’re dirt cheap to make.

I adapted this recipe from the book Independence Days. The original didn’t quite work, but I want to issue credit where it’s due.

Yields 8 filling pancakes which reheat quite well.

Ingredients

  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup sugar or honey
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon (I use Pampered Chef’s Cinnamon Plus blend, which is closer to pumpkin spice mix in flavor. Adjust this based on your preferred pumpkin pie spice combination.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Oil for frying
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Add pumpkin, eggs, milk, cinnamon, and sugar to a large mixing bowl.

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Mix thoroughly, then add flour, salt, and baking powder.

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Batter will be stiff, not terribly pourable. I use a 1/2 cup measure for adding batter to the pan.

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Heat a generous amount of oil over medium to medium low heat until shimmering. Add a scoop of batter. Cook until the pancake has cooked about halfway through up the sides.

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Flip the cake CAREFULLY. The hot oil loves to splatter.

Test for doneness by poking the center. It should be firm, not springy. If necessary, adjust heat to cook pancakes through without burning one side.

Test for doneness by poking the center. It should be firm, not springy. If necessary, adjust heat to cook pancakes through without burning one side.

The trick is the last step. Even though I’ve been making these for a couple months now, occasionally I’ll still fail to cook one all the way through. On my stove, a burner temperature closer to medium-low once the pan is hot seems to be the correct way to go. It takes patience to cook the whole batch, but this is food that truly sticks to your ribcage. Incredibly filling and relatively nutritious owing to the whole grain flour and pumpkin.

In my plan to get through the next 12 days on $70, these are going to be made at least twice.


3 Months of Hard Work in the Garden

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In April, everything except the perennials up against the house was grass. I think we’re making decent progress here 🙂

The weather’s been good for tilling, so I’ve gotten a good chunk of new bed area dug in, but there’s a limit to how much I can dig each day – even without attending to the kids – because digging all of this manually is hard on the knees and feet, especially the heavily compacted soil I’m digging in right now. And in my experience, a powered rototiller would just bounce around and create pollution on such tough turf.

It’s too late in the year to plant much of anything, so all the new beds are getting green manure cover crops for tilling in late September or early October – whenever the leaves start falling. Then I’ll pile leaves over all of the beds and let the worms go to town making new soil for me over the winter and early spring. Not sure how much decomposition will happen in a Wisconsin winter, but free soil is free – and worm castings add lots of fertility. I can tell I’m a gardener because I get excited when I see fat, happy worms in my dirt.


Budget Depression

sandSometimes you get ahead of yourself. Sometimes the unexpected shows up and thrashes you. Sometimes you just plain dropped the ball.

When you’re a homemaker, it’s up to you to hit the numbers. I’ll be honest, running an ERE-oriented household gives me a set of metrics far more demanding than any corporate mandated bullshit. And some months I just plain suck at it.

To stick within our grocery budget for the remainder of July, I’m going to have to get really creative, but I want to. Badly. My love affair with ethical and locally sourced food is great. I’m passionate about it. But it’s very, very easy to get ahead of where our finances are right now. Ditto canning and preserving.

With another year of experience, maybe I’ll be able to know the flow of the seasons better and plan accordingly. But I can’t keep blowing past our budget limit – it makes me feel like I’m doing a crappy job running our household.

So the next few weeks I may do some refactoring. Look at where I can still buy the ethical animal products, but use less of it. Eat differently. Still hit my own demanding numbers.

Then again, the goblins are growing. Especially since we use bikes as a major source of transportation, we all need more calories. So maybe the plan itself is flawed. But I won’t know until I try.


Leftovers as pizza topping

The wonderful cookbook/memoir An Everlasting Meal made me rethink leftovers. Instead of a warmed over version of the same exact dish, why not use leftovers as a component for a totally new dish?

Most weeks I do one giant pizza night, where I make 4 16″ pizzas to give us dinner for that night plus the next night. Usually I allot one of those pizzas as an “experimental” one.

Tonight’s used the last two portobella caps we had left and it was AMAZING.

Sex on a plate.

Sex on a plate.


Grilled Portobella Caps with Balsamic Goat Cheese

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As long as I can remember, my Mom’s been making a dish where she pan roasts chicken breasts topped with an obscene amount of goat cheese, which is further topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction. When I was young, the flavor was too strong and I’d ask for one without (or with much less) cheese.

Last week my local grocer had a killer price on Portobella caps ($2.40/lb, or less than what white mushrooms have been going for). I ended up with a few too many, but remembered that there was a log of chevre rolling around in the fridge needing a home in our stomachs.

This is a bit too spur-of-the-moment to call it a recipe, but here’s what I used:

  • 10 ounces portobella caps, washed, stems removed.
  • 10 ounces goat cheese
  • balsamic vinegar, to taste
  • dried green onion (not present in the final flavor profile, but fresh green onions would be quite nice here)
  • pepper, to taste
  1. Mix cheese, vinegar, and pepper in a large bowl until you’re satisfied with the flavor profile.
  2. Gently spread the mixture on the caps (gills up).
  3. Grill over direct heat just until the caps start to collapse, remove to indirect heat until cheese is heated through.

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Don’t be afraid of direct heat. I’ve had mixed results grilling mushrooms in the past, so I went ultra cautious at first. I oiled the grates (not necessary) and started over indirect heat for a good 5 minutes with little progress. I inched each cap over. Over. They only started fully cooking, collapsing, and releasing the prodigious water all mushrooms have locked up when under full heat.

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Obviously you don’t want to dry them out, so move them away from the coals once the gills start watering up.

I enjoyed them with a salad of homegrown spinach (and a couple baby lettuce leaves picked for good measure), strawberries, and cucumbers with a freshly mixed balsamic vinaigrette to pair with the vinegar in the goat cheese. Hiding in the back is Dogfish Head’s interesting good-but-not-excellent IPA brewed with Syrah grape must.

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Any of you have favorite ways to use either portobellas or goat cheese?