Monday, June 24, 2013

Our First CSA Adventure

We have been talking about joining a CSA for about a year, and we finally took the leap! CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It means that we now get our vegetables directly from a farm. We signed up for a half-share, which means that we get a delivery every 2 weeks. We pick up our order at the 12 South Farmer's Market in Sevier Park, which is a stone's throw from our front door! It could not be any more convenient.

Every other Tuesday, we pick up our half-bushel box of fresh produce. It is overflowing with whatever is perfectly ripe at Delvin Farms that week, much of it picked earlier that same day! Our second box, pictured above, was filled with two kinds of kale, lettuce, swiss chard, yellow squash, zucchini, cabbage, spring onions, basil and garlic.

Not only is it helping us to eat more locally and seasonally, but it is challenging us to be better cooks. We do most of our meal planning while we're walking around the Farmer's Market. We take a peek at what's in our box, and then make the rounds picking up what we will need to supplement it from the other producers. Our pantry is well stocked with quinoa, arborio rice and chicken stock for risottos, cous cous, and pasta.

My favorite quick meal that can be made with any summery green (arugula, spinach, kale, chard, etc.) is pasta with chevre and greens. Just cook the pasta and the greens, and then as soon as the pasta is drained, stir in a log (4-6 oz for 3 people) of fresh chevre and a squeeze of lemon. Toss in the greens and serve!

Here are links to two more of my favorite recipes for using up those delicious greens!

Chard, Bacon, and Gouda Quiche

Kale Salad with Toasted Coconut

I wonder what will be in tomorrow's box...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From The Garden

This weekend, a small dream came true. I got my very own lemon tree! I opened our front door several times this evening just to admire it. I hope we can take good care of it and that it will bring us fruit for many years.

We had a great afternoon of gardening. We added 3 tomato plants, 4 lavender bushes, and of course, our meyer lemon tree. Today's planting doubled the size of our little experiment in (mostly) container gardening.

After we were done, we made lemonade with homemade basil simple syrup. It was delicious! It's so nice to have such an abundant little herb garden. Hopefully before too long, the lemons will be from home, too!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Movies Worth A Second Look: Lars and the Real Girl

Did you pass over this movie? Did you see the sex doll and think it would be too crass? Did you learn that Ryan Gosling played someone delusional and think it would be too "out there" for you?

This movie is worth a second look.

It ranks among the most tender movies I have ever seen.

It's a beautiful portrait of what it looks like to be a community, and how to be accepting of others.

 It is at times funny and other times very moving. Ryan Gosling delivers a brilliant performance.

Some of the questions it raises include:
How can we be our most welcoming community?
How can we treat others with mental illness with dignity?
What does it mean to be an adult?
What does the church have to do to be welcoming?

If you haven't seen it, you should make a date to watch it.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Beginnings: Our Little Container Garden!

We really wanted to have a raised bed garden this year. But I realized that the amount of shade in our (tiny) backyard probably wouldn't be conducive to growing an abundance of vegetables. So instead, we've decided to grow things in front of our duplex in containers, and then stake tomato plants along the side of the house. 

It's probably a good idea to start small. I don't have a green thumb, but I want it to get greener. We love to cook with fresh herbs, so I had a grand old time picking out some of my favorites at the nursery. 

I did manage to pick up a few tips at the nursery. For example, when planting herbs in containers, it's important not to plant seedlings of the same variety together, because they take the same nutrients from the soil. It's better to plant mixes of herbs, like we did this afternoon. I'm glad I learned that today, because otherwise I would have planted all 3 basil plants in the same container. 

Take a mini-tour of our tiny container garden!



And this is the Earth Box. Friends, I have to say that I am very skeptical of the Earth Box. Greg pointed out that I have no reason to be, because the people who made it know a lot more about gardening than we do. I just don't trust it, you know? I kept asking as we were cutting the holes, "Will the lettuce be able to come up through this? Are you sure? Are you SURE?" Also, it gets watered through the plastic tube. I don't completely understand, but I'm eager to try it.

We planted 8 green lettuces and 8 red lettuces. The little red guys are a little bit behind the green ones in growing, but pretty soon we will have a lovely salad mix! 

Next weekend, we're going to plant tomatoes! I want Cherokee purple, because they are my favorite for salads/sandwiches, and tomatillos, because homemade salsa verde is one of the best tastes of summer. Do you have another favorite? An heirloom variety we should really try this year?

Photos taken by Greg. Isn't he wonderful? 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bread&Wine: Recommended Reading

If you love to gather friends and family around your table for a meal, if you love to cook, if you love to eat cold watermelon in the summer sun with the juice running down your chin, if you love to deliver a hot meal to a sick or hurting friend, if you love to clink glasses of plummy red wine with friends in your living room or surprise a loved one with a rich, stratified birthday cake, you will love this book. If you interested in the "spiritual significance of what and how we eat, and with whom and where," and if you are interested in what happens when we sit down together, break bread together, feed one another, then this book is a must-read.

This is not a cookbook, although there are recipes accompanying each chapter. It is a series of vignettes, read like stories told around the dinner table. It's about communion, in an everday sense.

I know people who don't care about food, who could eat cardboard pizza or who forget to eat. I know people who have unhealthy relationships with food, who eat too little or too much. I know that food in this country is unjustly distributed, so that while I can jaunt over to Whole Foods on a Wednesday for something I forgot to pick up on our weekly trip, other people in my city have to take a 3 hour bus ride just to get to a grocery store with fresh produce.

Bread&Wine is an ode to the table. Shauna explains, "It's not actually, strictly, about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories. It happens when we leave the office and get a sitter and skip our workouts every so often to celebrate a birthday or an accomplishment or a wedding or a birth, when we break out of the normal clockwork of daily life and pop the champagne on a cold, gray Wednesday for no other reason than the fact that the faces we love are gathered around our table. It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it's not strictly about food, it doesn't happen without it. Food is the starting point, the common ground, the thing to hold and handle, the currency we offer to one another."

I'll admit that there have been a few times that I have wished that I were one of those people who could eat cardboard pizza or forget to eat. The chapter titled "Hungry" really resonates with me. Shauna writes about the way that women especially try to ignore their appetite, to demur about hunger ("I already ate; I couldn't possibly..."). She writes about her liberation when she learned from other women who declared their hunger, who didn't undereat or overeat, who allowed themselves to take pleasure from it. She concludes, "I love the table. I love food and what it means and what it does and how it feels in my hands. And that might be healthy, and it might be a reaction to a world that would love me more if I starved myself, and it's probably always going to be a mix of the two." 

Like Shauna, for me, food is integral to how I show other people I love them. Like Shauna, for me, food is an integral part of my memories. When I think about dating Greg, I think about the fat Spanish olives shared on the patio at Mas Tapas.  When I think about our honeymoon, I think about the pine sauce on our duck breast at The Inn At Langley and fresh cherry-peach smoothies at Pike's Place Market in Seattle. Every time I make fresh herb bread, I think of weekends at the river house with Julie and Emily, talking all night and drinking wine and dipping Emily's herb bread into bubbly fontina cheese.When I think about home I think about my mom's inimitable chicken salad and thick slices of sun-ripened tomato sprinkled with salt and cracked pepper. I remember how growing up whenever someone was really sick or someone passed away, Mrs. Stinson would come over with a homemade cheesecake, still warm from the oven. You won't know what cheesecake can be until you've had it while it's still warm.

I want to learn how to make cheesecake, not because I want to eat it often, but because I want to be that friend or neighbor who brings over a still-warm cheesecake when everything falls apart or when the deadlines are stacked or when the new baby comes home.

That's a large part of what Bread&Wine is about. It's about inviting people to the table. It's about tossing a salad while your nephew gives an extended presentation about a very small scientific fact. It's about the simple alchemy and restorative properties of baking bread when everything else feels uncertain.

So you see, it's not a cookbook. But the recipes are also very good. Shauna gave me the encouragement I needed for us to make our first risotto, with champagne and parmesan and peas. We felt so excited as we stood there, stirring, while the risotto kept expanding. Now it's in our regular rotation. It's worth mentioning that there are a number of gluten-free recipes in this book, and that it is well-balanced between healthy and comfort foods. I'm looking forward to trying her mango curry chicken next week, which was mentioned in both of her first two books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet.

Go read the book, and gather people around your table, and be hungry, and feed yourself, and feed others.

Also, visit Shauna Niequist's website for more information, to keep up with her lovely blog, or to find out more about her other books.

Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & WineShauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life--friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Birthday/Anniversary Gift Idea: Hotel Robe

I turned 27 yesterday! April is a very busy month, because Greg's birthday is just 8 days after mine. His parents are coming to stay with us this weekend, and they're taking us out for a joint birthday dinner at Silo, which looks fantastic. Greg and I are going to go out just the two of us to celebrate my birthday, but we already had a nice celebration at home last night. Greg sauteed tilapia last night in coconut oil, lightly crusted with (unsweetened) flaked cocnut and a berry-cilantro salsa. We got the recipe from How Sweet It Is, which is by far my favorite food blog. We substituted blackberries and raspberries for the pomegranate, and it turned out to be fantastic!

My big gift from Greg this year was a robe from the Inn at Langley, where we stayed on our honemoon. It's a snuggly-soft lightweight waffle weave, perfect for spring/summer. It's embroidered with the name of the inn.

Isn't that a sweet idea for a birthday or anniversary gift for your loved one? Just order a robe from the hotel or inn where you had a special trip.

My birthday present is an everyday reminder of our amazing stay in the Puget Sound and this view from our balcony:

Great idea, Greg!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Affordable Art: Janet Hill Studio

I am so excited to share these oil paintings by Janet Hill Studio! I am over the moon about her designs. I want to decorate my whole house with them!

I'm dreaming of a gallery wall with floating bookshelves and groupings of these prints. 

Many of her paintings are part of "narrative series." Your imagination will run wild completing the stories of characters such as Miss Moon and her dogs, or the inhabitants of Black Walnut Manor.

The colors are so opulent! The subjects are glamorous and beautiful, with a touch of whimsy.

I think this one, titled "Tallulah Shaw Rehearses before her last show. 1959." is my favorite. Those flamingos!

Open edition prints of many her paintings are available from between $26 and $45. Visit the Janet Hill Studio to add one to your art collection!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Recommended Reading: Rules of Civility

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

In between The Great Gatsby and World War II lies the story of Katey Kontent, Tinker Grey, and their social circles. The year is 1938, the place is New York City, and the story is complex.

It is hard to believe this is Amor Towles's first novel. The characters are colorfully developed. As the narrator Katey is introduced to new people throughout the book, you will be surprised how well you feel you know and understand them.

The city, too, comes alive under Towles's pen. From the jazz bars to the elaborately decorated store windows of Bergdorf Goodman's department store, from the Plaza Hotel to the bullpen at Conde Nast's towering office, you will feel as though you too are living in New York. Each place is described in narrow detail that never borders tedium, but makes you feel as though you have walked the hallways of the characters' flats many times and nosed around picture frames and urns.

Anyone who is as enthralled by portraits of this era as I am will enjoy this book. The effervescence of the profuse parties at the Hollingsworth's mansion is reminiscent of the parties of Fitzgerald's novels, and the inscrutableness of Tinker Grey even recalls the mysterious Jay Gatsby.

This book deserves to be slipped into your bag for your next holiday, carried on the train, or reclining by the pool. You will want to read it at your leisure because it will be hard to put down.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Butter Mints for Easter

This recipe is so easy, it doesn't really merit a blog post- except to point out that it's easy to make them in a palette of lovely spring colors for Easter. I'm taking a batch of these to Greg's extended family this weekend.

 This is a great opportunity to try out Food Network's Frost by NumbersThis convenient list tells you how many drops of each color (from a standard box of red, yellow, green, and blue food coloring) to add to create the desired hue.  I used grasshopper pie (5 drops of green, 5 drops of blue).

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Talking with the Bristols about Brewing at Home

Our dear friends Clark and Jessie are very knowledgeable about beer. They have been brewing at home for over a year now. Here they share some tips for getting started and also suggest a few of their favorite craft beers for your next get-together!

We got started home brewing when we got married. A few of my coworkers gave us all of the necessary equipment as a wedding gift. Specifically, they gave us the 'deluxe' kit from Northern Brewer, a great home brew supply store and website. 

The first few batches of beer that we made were based on kits (recipe+ingredients) that we ordered from Northern Brewer. Recipes are definitely the way to go at the beginning because the results are guaranteed to be good (assuming you pick a kit that is highly reviewed) and the kits are always cheaper than buying the ingredients separately. After making a couple of recipes you develop a pretty good sense of the typical ratio of ingredients, the flavor contributions of different types of yeast, and how variations in the ingredients will affect the result.

We have come up with a few recipes of our own, some good, others "interesting." I have a tendency to go overboard with certain ingredients when making up my own recipes.

The three best beers that we have made have all been from Northern Brewer kits: Caribou Slobber, Rye Stout, and Farmhouse Bierre de Table. Caribou Slobber is intended to be a clone of a beer called moose drool, which I have never had. It is a caramelly brown ale with a little extra hops. Rye Stout is exactly what it sounds like, and quite delicious if you don't mind a dark beer. The Bierre de Table is a French-style pale ale that has a great peppery flavor to it resulting from the yeast.

The main challenges of home brewing in a small apartment are related to temperature. One challenge is chilling the wort after brewing and before fermenting. The goal is to cool 2.5 gallons of sugary liquid down from boiling to 90 or 100 degrees as quickly as possible. The only method that we currently have for doing this is to put the pot in an ice water bath in our sink, which can take as long as an hour depending upon how much ice we have. The other temperature-related issue is fermentation. Our apartment is small and old, with hot water heat, so we have to ferment all of our beers at 70-75 degrees. If we had a basement or a dedicated refrigerator we could use different varieties of yeast that work better at lower temperatures.  

The best part of brewery tours for me is learning about nontraditional techniques that a brewery may use in the beer-making process. For example, we recently went on a tour of the Jackalope brewery in Nashville and learned that they add maple syrup to one of their beers post-fermentation. This circumvents the problem with using things like syrup and honey in beer, which is that these ingredients are almost entirely fermentable and will normally be consumed by the yeast during fermentation and converted to alcohol, losing their unique flavors.

Buy an equipment starter kit and try it out! I have seen some small-scale starter kits (to make 1 gallon of beer) available online. One problem with these kits is that they only allow for making a dozen 12-oz bottles of beer at a time.  They are a great way to test the waters to see if you enjoy brewing, but probably not an efficient way to replace store-bought beer in your life, unless you plan on brewing relatively frequently or drinking your home brew relatively infrequently.

 1. Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien (from BFM Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes). This might be the best sour beer that I have ever had. Unfortunately, it might be hard to find. I recently discovered it and have seen it available only twice, once at Meridian Pint, the other at Churchkey in Washington, D.C.

2. Rogue Dead Guy Ale- An ale in the style of a German Maibock (traditionally a lager, not an ale).

3. Hop Slam- This is a winter seasonal from Bell's.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To Do In April: Organic Tulip Festival

When I lived in Virginia, this was my favorite thing about spring. Pick-your-own tulips for a dollar a stem! This is the perfect daytrip from Washington, D.C., Richmond, or anywhere else close to Charlottesville. 

You can get directions to the farm and all other details here

50,000 organic tulips have been planted on the farm this year! The field is open for picking from  March 30-April 14, but you won't want to miss the Tulip Festival on March 30 and April 6&7. There will be local wine and food, gardening talks, hayrides, and local artisans. 

Your tulips will need some water on the ride home. 

Looking for other things to do to make a day or weekend trip out of it? I love Charlottesville! Here are a few of my favorite things:

Explore the pedestrian mall downtown. It's nice to stroll around the cobblestone streets browsing local shops. You won't want to miss Oh Suzannah's or Rock Paper Scissors. Eat lunch at Revolutionary Soup. The Sengalese peanut tofu soup is to. die. for.

The grounds of the University of Virginia are glorious in Spring, when the iconic Lawn is resplendently green. If you enjoy history (or architecture) you will want to visit Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.

There are lots of wineries around Charlottesville. One of my favorites is Veritas, which boasts spectacular views from its tasting room. Charlottesville is situated in the middle of wine and horse country, and you will enjoy driving past the beautiful farms and vineyards.

For a nice dinner in town, I recommend either The Local or Mas Tapas. The Local accepts reservations, and it really showcases the local food movement that is so prominent in Charlottesville. Mas Tapas does not, so it's best when you don't mind waiting. We usually go to Mas Tapas with the idea that this is our plan for the night, so we don't feel impatient or rushed. However, it's still my favorite restaurant (after living in D.C. and Nashville), so it might be worth the wait. Especially if you're spending the night in Charlottesville.