Thursday, May 27, 2010

Busy isn't always bad

I was supposed to meet some old friends for dinner tonight. It has been on my calendar for weeks, but of course work was a total nightmare and there was no way I could sneak out at 5:30 to make the 6:00 reservation. I'd warned my friends of this possibility and they graciously accepted my flakiness as par for the course. Sometimes I am surprised I have friends at all. I did manage to get out eventually, and showed up at the restaurant just as everyone's plates were being taken away. Clearly my only option was to have a glass of wine and tiramisu during the after dinner coffee-chat time. Ordering a hot meal while everyone waited would just have been rude.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

All hail the King

I am NOT a baker. I have a dessert or two I enjoy making - mainly a good berry crisp (rhubarb and strawberries, I'm coming for you very soon...) - but for the most part I simply don't have the precision or patience. Cooking is fine because unless I'm trying to follow a very specific recipe, which I almost never do, I can usually just work with what I have. None of this measuring crap.

However, thanks to King Arthur flour, I do make a mean scone. Ok, King Arthur makes a mean scone, but I'm learning to make it my own. They have this excellent basic scone mix that you can add whatever you like to. I originally bought it (along with their muffin and pancake mix) to find a home for the millions of blueberries in my yard. We'll discuss that further in July. I've branched out though, and made a variation on Western One's favorite this morning - turkish apricot and almond. Of course I realized after I started that my almond supply was low, so I chopped up some old cinnamon roasted almonds instead - an interesting variation, but not quite my original masterpiece.

While the scone mix doesn't need anything, I like to play around a little depending on the fruit I'm adding. For this batch, it was a touch of freshly grated nutmeg and some vanilla.

Best part? Yet another crap-free product. Try reading the labels of grocery store muffin mix one of these days. The drawback? While the King Arthur catalog is super fun to look at, it does cost a small fortune to ship pounds and pounds of flour. But, the store is just outside of Norwich, VT - if you're ever wandering through lovely New England, stop in and stock up, it's worth it!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

F you, squirrels

While watching wonderpup play at the dog park, I was mentally composing a post about my first strawberry from the garden and, tiny though it was, the joy it brought me. I showed it to Western One this morning, who told me to leave it alone, but it was red and ready for the picking. Teeny tiny, but still, lovely.

I just wandered outside to pick said tiny strawberry, photograph it and then devour it. I'm sure you can guess what I found...

This is all that remains of my first strawberry, laid out in a temporary resting place among the list of all the stuff I should be doing instead of mourning my loss and cursing urban rodents.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

One important aspect of trying to live a more well-balanced and thoughtful life is being sure to make time for good friends. No, the cocktails are not my good friends (ok, they ARE, but I'm referring to living, breathing friends). I occasionally have to work in the City and usually I'm just dying to get back to the train so I can get home after a long day. But on Friday I put my foot down - there was no reason to run back to Albany on a beautiful spring day in NYC. So I went to Jersey.

I caught up with a good friend for drinks in Hoboken. I'm not typically a fancy drink kind of girl - give me a beer, a glass of wine, gin and tonic, scotch, or a margarita and I'm happy. Every once in a while I go crazy and have an old fashioned or a Hendrick's Lemonade (thank you New World Bistro Bar).

But last night I was tempted by pretty and sake based. I should have snapped a shot of our first round, where my drink involved sake and plum wine and my friend had something technicolor. I switched to some sake plus cucumber concoction for this shot and am seriously rethinking the lack of cukes in my garden.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Now this is living...

Western One's chili, cornbread, cold beer and a campfire. After a long and harrowing week, this was a much needed Friday night dinner. We opened camp this weekend and it has dawned on me that not only do I need to think about good, fresh meals during the week, we have to plan ahead a bit for weekends too. Fingers crossed for a bountiful CSA this year, weekends at the lake will cut down on my farmer's market time (thank goodness for mid-week in downtown Albany) and we all know there's no relying on MY garden.

[editorial note: I would, however, like to report that I have garlic popping up, teeny tiny strawberries, the rhubarb (that I didn't plant...) is doing well and there's a flower on one pea plant. We will focus on the positive today and ignore the death and destruction among the rest of my plants.]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The sweet smell of defeat

Before you, dear readers, is a picture of defeat. Yes, I know it looks like plants on a windowsill, but trust me, it's defeat. Despite all my fawning, pleading and grow light love, my seedlings are in a sad state of affairs. Actually I think it's suspended animation. They popped their little heads out of the soil, and decided they just couldn't go on. Maybe I brought too much talk of NYS politics home with me and my tomatoes and cayenne peppers thought there is no sense growing in such a crazy world. In my defense, lest you think me a complete horticultural homicide fiend, my peas are doing "ok" and the beans are trying their best. But give them time.

Whatever happened, I bought some tomato plants today at Honest Weight. I just can't count on a seedling renaissance - fresh tomatoes are too important. Just the smell of the leaves had me dreaming of fresh capri salad and BLTs. Too bad my basil is dying. Who would like to start the tomato deathwatch? There are six plants - I'll buy whoever calls the day number three dies some good beer. Heck, whoever picks the right week wins!

The other problem plaguing my garden is also in this picture. I always loved lilies of the valley as a kid. I remember picking them in my great-grandmother's yard and their smell still brings a comforted smile to my face. I was happy to see a nice row of them running along the border between our yard and our neighbor's. We moved in at the end of July, so the flowers were long gone and I tingled with anticipation as they started to pop up this spring. That is, until the invasive little bastards have not only taken over the yard but have laid siege to my raised garden bed. I have more lilies of the valley popping up within in my little pine board square than vegetables. Oh cruel irony.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Meat Morass

One area in which I am really struggling to synthesize my desire to make good food choices and my time, energy and budget is meat. I know, it's the biggie. It's fairly easy to seek out local veggies, read labels, and the like. But meat is a totally different story, at least for me. I think I consciously avoided thinking too much about the issue, because once I did I knew I'd struggle. I like my $0.99/lb chicken legs as much as the next guy and we have a tendency to eat a lot of meat in our house. It's easy to grab the big family sized pack of thighs, all wrapped up in little packages of four, and toss in it the freezer. I don't have to think too hard about what to make for dinner if I have stuff like that around.

But the more I think about the costs of cheap and easy meat, the harder time I'm having. I've found some great local farms selling their meat at farmers markets and the co-op, and I feel good about buying their product. Not just because it avoids all the problems that come with thinking too hard about industrialized meat production, but also, because a nice, aged, grass-fed steak is just delicious. I haven't yet figured out how to address the cost issue, because it is a significant difference, and the convenience factor.

I think it just takes some reprogramming and research. I still don't entirely know or understand all that I should be looking out for when choosing meat. Today was a prime example - I drove out of my way to go to a local butcher that carries Bell and Evans chicken. A quick check on their website and I felt good about seeing "free range" and "antibiotic free." I shuddered at the images of dark, scary, overcrowded chicken houses and decided to go buy this chicken. Once I got it home, I did a little more reading and came across a few folks writing very critically about B&E and purporting to show that their labeling, precisely what made me feel better about buying it instead of some other large industrial brand, is misleading.

Now I know there are people out there that can find something bad to say about pretty much anything. I'm sure there is someone that thinks I'm morally bankrupt for typing away on my Mac while watching soccer and drinking milk. I'm not much for falling for every hyper-critical blog post about how awful company x is or how dangerous process z is, and I am not really all that concerned about the chicken I've now purchased, but it was a good illustration for me as to just how difficult it is to wade through all the information out there when seeking a credible guide to making better choices.

I am certain my meat struggle will continue... any guidance from my friendly readers is much appreciated!!

Wind wind go away

Today would be a great day to putter around in my fledgling little garden and will my tiny plants not to die. I'm a bit slow thanks to a fun night out at the LCA show at which I had to consume copious amounts of gin (but not tooooo much, mind you) to wash down the predictably bad Crowne Plaza banquet food. We are convinced the meal consisted of steak-ums and boxed au gratin potatoes. Anyway - unappealing meal plus a touch of a hangover is a great recipe for garden and kitchen puttering, but it's crazy windy out and the outdoor part of that plan just isn't as fun as it should be. If I can get myself motivated to make coffee and get to the store(s) - grocery shopping is always an adventure for me - maybe I can just stick to a lazy day in the kitchen. Ah, but that means getting off the couch.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Herby Goodness

I have the house to myself tonight and a project for work due tomorrow, so dinner possibilities were limited to what I could concoct from existing groceries. (Per my recent whining, I refused to go out again and I used the little down time I had to take pup to the dog park so the grocery store was not going to happen). I had a moment of inspiration, and undying appreciation for my already-flourishing herb garden - thanks to the farmer's market for the basil and my house's previous owner for the chives. Some chopped herbs stirred into leftover goat cheese from the popper experiment and poof - not your average grilled cheese. If I'd had fresh tomato it would have been perfect. The photo doesn't do it justice, and sorry for the bite...I couldn't wait!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A can of worms

I've been thinking about my venty little post last week. First, I don't mean to imply a week of eating out does not equate to eating well. Certainly it's not great for my bank account and I know less about what is in my food when I don't prepare it myself. And, as I've said before, I find it frustrating when I spend more than I need to on a meal when I could have something just as, or more, tasty at home.

The point is more like this - I want to eat a reasonably balanced and healthy diet. I like putting thought into my meals and am really making an effort to make better choices and learn about what I am buying. It is a process, and there is, at times, an overwhelming amount of information out there. It can be confusing, disheartening and expensive. But I think it is worth it.

Even with all that, recognizing that I largely have the will to be thoughtful about food choices and thankfully am in a position to speak with my wallet at least to some extent, I still struggle. I like to cook and experiment. I am eagerly awaiting fresh, homegrown veggies. I don't have kids pulling me in twenty directions and commanding all of my time and then some. And I still have a difficult time sticking to this goal. Thankfully, my default on a late dinner night is typically take out from a neighborhood haunt, be it pizza from Pasquale's (or pasta, like tonight) or some tasty Capital Q bar-b-que instead of the McDonald's drive through.

So if someone who really thinks hard about food (and has the means to avoid the temptation of value menus) has a difficult time staying on the right track, how do we expect those with less time, less will and less means to avoid the pitfalls? I don't at all mean that to sound condescending, and I fear it might. I just mean that the food choices I try to make aren't always a priority, or frankly an option, for everyone. As someone who works in health policy, I become more convinced every day that this question, and the tentacles of ancillary questions that come when you really start to think about it, is really at the core of fundamental reform. I know that is nothing new, I'm not making some profound statement here at Green Peccadilloes, but when you look at the societal cost of obesity and associated chronic diseases, it takes your breath away.

It shouldn't be hard. I will get off my soapbox now, because at the moment I have more questions than answers, but is a question worth exploring.