Monday, June 10, 2013

Easter, etc.



Inquiring minds who want to know: oatmeal date nut cookies, which are already vegan, can also be made gluten free. They’re just a little crunchier and snappier, and who minds that?!

I baked those tasty things for a church choir potluck. For Easter! It being June as I write this and Easter, of course, not being a June holiday, let me clarify. I celebrate Orthodox Easter (the Easter of the Orthodox Christian church- if you have Greek, Russian, Lebanese, Romanian, etc. friends it may be theirs, too) and it’s on a different calendar than Catholic and Protestant churches. So it was a LOT later than American Easter. (Though, er, still awhile ago).

So anyway this Easter potluck was so we could practice the complicated and difficult music. Except only five people showed up (and two of us were related). So it was not all that successful, except the food part!

Making the food was actually a fun challenge since for food to be Lent-appropriate, it should be vegan (I don’t eat totally vegan during Lent because of calcium fears, but many in my church do, and the food served at the church itself should be supportive of the church’s official policy, obvi).

It also had to be gluten free (or should be, out of kindness) because both our church’s choir director John and his wife Betty have Celiac disease.

Also, Betty for charming reasons best understood by her had come up to me in the middle of church one Sunday and handed me this pad thai sauce container:


I appreciated her gift, and figured I might as well use it on something I could share with her.

So I cooked up some rice noodles, made some tofu:


threw in some veggies:


And voila, pad thai. Ish. No final picture- it was ugly. But good!

And we also brought, of course, dessert.


But the really exciting dessert was a week later, on Easter itself. Something I have allllllllllways wanted to make? Olive oil cake!

I discovered this scrumptious-sounding if ever so slightly vague recipe for olive oil cake and mostly followed it (subbing a mix of white flour, whole wheat, and semolina for the plain flour) then consulted this overly complicated but methodologically clear olive oil cake for timing (which caused me to let the cake rise for two hours before baking it) and anyway it was great!

Heat some olive oil


Infuse with lemon


Plus anise seeds (mm)


The recipe wasn’t clear whether or not you were supposed to strain out the seeds, and I thought a few might be nice to help retain the flavor, so I casually poured the oil mixture in the batter, leaving behind the lemon and approximately half the seeds in the pot.


Batter was SUCCULENT! Could’ve eaten the whole thing with a spoon. So dense and creamy.


Baked that off- it didn’t rise much but it was real tasty! For the finished cake, I improvised a glaze which involved orange marmalade thinned with water- not a lot more complicated than that.

This ended up REALLY good.


Meanwhile, right before Easter, we received a VERY generous Easter basket from a very sweet family friend. It contained this GI-NORMOUS sweet, almond-paste-studded Easter bread.


And the Easter celebration itself was at my sister’s godparents’ home. They had gotten a lot of it catered. The spread was quite beautiful.


They had requested that all the lamb be cooked well done (…) I snuck into the kitchen with the caterers and begged them to save a medium rare bit for me. They obliged, and were very very nice :)

My dinner plate:


Blessedly medium-rare lamb with scads of tzaziki (definitely eyes>stomach on that one, but Steve was nearby so all was good), grilled vegetables (done by caterers- EXCELLENT! Perfectly cooked!), spinach and cheese pies, roasted potatoes that were wonderful, and salad. And wine! Gave up booze for Lent. Such a worthwhile thing to do. I’m no lush, but I only want to drink when I feel like drinking, not when everyone around me is. It was a useful exercise in mindfulness.

Spent much of the meal lounging by their pool, looking at their e-normous house!


Believe me when I say this barely scratched the surface on dessert. Phase 1 was enjoyed poolside.

Gazillions of berries, koulourakia (traditional Greek cookies), some of my olive oil cake, one of Steve’s oatmeal-toffee cookies.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

lately i’ve been

Lately I’ve been gardening like it’s my job. I mean, it isn’t. Obviously. Fortunately, since I’m not all that good at it yet.

Still, the adventure of growing plants from seed is going surprisingly well- here’s a shot of my overcrowded deck, taken Sunday.


I thought I’d recount a bit of my journey, to encourage those of you who’ve wanted to start a garden but have doubted your abilities. Believe me when I say that if I can do it, anyone can do it.

After planting my seeds, my first sprouts were greeted with joy. You’ll recall that they began their lives indoors, with consistent warmth cultivating their growth at a crucial and delicate phase of their lives.

Tomatoes and basil grew reliably (with the heirloom romas being particularly hardy). 


I worried about the heirloom zucchini because it took forever to sprout and I was afraid I wouldn’t get anything. Well, I needn’t have worried, as it turned out it was just taking its time below the surface, ultimately rising in an impressively large sprout.


The dill were the absolute cutest, reaching for the sun.


Once we had reliable sun and warmth outdoors, and the plants were hardy enough to be relocated, they got potted on the deck.

You produce an amazing quantity of seedlings when you grow from seed. Keep that in mind, particularly if you’re doing a potted garden. (I am by necessity, since deer freely wander our yard, entirely unafraid of us, eating absolutely whatever they want).

Here are just some of the pots required to contain just what the tomato seeds successfully produced:


Transplanted a few of the little basil guys, but had to keep most of them in the pot til I had space for them. So precious!


I’d bought a pepper plant at the farmer’s market, then suddenly panicked. Don’t plants need to cross pollinate? Isn’t that necessary for plant sex? (The fact that I call it “plant sex” is a good indicator of how much I know about cross pollination, obviously).

So my thoughtful boyfriend bought me an additional pepper plant and an additional squash plant, so my lonely plants could have necessary companionship.

They came in the neatest containers, where you rip off the plastic rim around the top and then everything else is biodegradable, so you can plant it directly in the pot.


The pepper department looked good (and its leaves bore a striking resemblance to basil, which I thought was interesting)


He also got a boyfriend for my lonely squash.


And so some more time passed, with me visiting my plants each day to top them off with water if needed (tricky, knowing what’s not too much and not too little- a Goldilocks esque quandry). It’s so nice visiting them, talking to them, cheering them on in their progress. I was explaining this to my mom, who agreed that it was so amazing watching things grow and then said, “It’s just like being pregnant!” And then I changed the subject, eurgh. Plants are quite enough responsibility for me for the foreseeable future.     

And now? Now all my plants are doing swimmingly!

The tomatoes are big and beautiful (and I need to stake them sooner rather than later)


The squash are glossy and abundant.


And the peppers are filling me with delight! I am growing them for the first time so am particularly enchanted by their growth progression.


You see, they have little baby bulbs!


And the first has begun to transform into a sweet little pepper flower! So excited.


In the herb department, we have thriving basil and wintered-over sage. The sage I raided to make succulent bison meatballs just the other day.


Very excited for the harvest! Will continue to update, mostly for my own scrapbook-like memories!

Lately I’ve been eating this for breakfast a lot.


It’s a (subtly) healthified version of an absolutely delicious Steve creation. I combine:

- yogurt (1/2 a cup or so; Steve uses full-fat vanilla yogurt, I use lowfat or nonfat plain yogurt plus a little milk, plus a little vanilla, plus stevia)
- a whole buncha whole flaxseeds (crunch!)
- sliced banana
- frozen blueberries (which I don’t bother to thaw; I use the Trader Joe’s frozen organic wild Maine blueberries which are tiny and packed with flavor)
- peanut butter
- oats

Steve also adds honey.


Guys, this is DELICIOUS. And difficult to photograph, obviously.

Lately I’ve been trying to be a runner.

My primary motivation for this is that I got shoes that are THE CUTEST. I know nothing about running shoes, so I went to DSW and looked for shoes that cost
-$85 or less (my dad was kind enough to get me these. We’ve been playing racquetball twice a week and my old shoes- which I’d gotten in high school, were understandably junky)
-Well padded with good support (I didn’t like the minimalist shoes at all. I also tend to do a lot of arc trainer at the gym, and that machine necessitates well-padded toes)
- Didn’t make my knee hurt when I ran up and down the aisle at DSW

So I ended up with these cute Nike Airs.

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Lately (ish) I’ve been eating a lot of hardboiled eggs. After Greek Easter, we had a tonnnn of them. For reasons best understood by her, my sister’s godmother, who hosted Easter this year, asked us to bring three dozen Easter eggs… then already had that amount made herself.

Anyway, Jacques Pepin has a great recipe for hardboiled egg and tomato gratin and I made it a coupla times, with my own spin


The gratin must contain tomatoes and hardboiled eggs. Beyond that, one can add
- cubed stale bread
-onions, slow-cooked until soft
-fresh herbs



Lately I’ve been taking organic chemistry. Pray for me.

Thank goodness I have Sheila helping me study.


Lately I’ve been making a TON of fruit compote. I finally, finally found rhubarb at the farmer’s market (I completely missed rhubarb season last year, SAD) and made a truly delicious strawberry-rhubarb compote. It involved agave nectar and a little powdered ginger.

It was magnificent on whole-wheat pancakes with a ton of chopped almonds.

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Fruit compote is great to use up fruit that’s still good but perhaps a little squishier than you’d like it. My most recent rendition contained nice farmer’s market apples that were a little too wrinkly to eat raw mixed with a few soft cherries and strawberries from otherwise nice containers of them.

Lately I’ve been interrogating orthopedic surgeons because my poor baby sister is getting knee surgery tomorrow. I hope everything goes well!

Lately I’ve been apartment hunting in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area and I think I at last have success! I’ll share more once I’ve dotted i’s and crossed t’s, since apartment hunting is a volatile business, as I’ve learned the hard way.

Lately I’ve been eating not the best, mostly because I’ve had such bizarre sleeping habits. Sleeping ridiculously late, setting alarms and being unable to get up when I need to. Not cool. Staying up late, feeling really buzzed, eating junk food, then waking up with no appetite and skipping breakfast. Not cool! I want to get back into a healthier routine. I know I do better when I wake up at a reasonable hour; I’m happier and more productive in the morning. I like being a morning exerciser. Etc. I need a way to make this schedule happen in an organic way. I think these not so fun habits may be connected to a slightly lowered mood, which probably has something to do with imminent life changes, a course that demands skills that are far from inherent for me, and fears about getting the job I need in NC. And another thing, my next point…

Lately I’ve been watching the new episodes of Arrested Development on Netflix and boy are they awful.