Sunday, April 22, 2012

Clearing a Space

Happy Earth Day!

  It may be rainy here in Buffland, but I'm remembering that old song about April showers and May flowers, and I'm not getting bogged down by the cold wet. Just a couple of quick ideas for you, today-- a link to Best Buy's electronics recycling list, here. They really take a good variety of stuff, so you might want to spend a little time today or tomorrow packing up those extra monitors, keyboards, or the black & white TV you know you'll never get fixed. We have a few things to take in, ourselves.

 Another idea, one I'm taking up-- set aside a whole day each week, when you don't even turn on your home computer. It's amazing how relaxing it is, not to have the laptop ruling your life for a day. Peaceful, quiet, energizing. And good for your eyes and wrists!

 Try a raw breakfast this week, if you don't do that already. It saves energy you have to pay for, and gives great energy and nutrients you need. Doesn't have to be fancy, and you might surprised how filling a small bowl of dried and fresh fruits dotted with chopped raw nuts, wheat germ, raw sunflower seeds or raw flax seeds can be. You might want to shred some fresh spinach or carrot in there, too.

 Soak the nuts for at least an hour if you can; if it's too much trouble in the morning, soak them for an hour before bed instead, and then drain (use the water as a vitamin treat for your houseplants or plants outside) and refrigerate the soaked nuts overnight. Other easy, no-special-equipment options might be a salad bursting with fruit and sprouts, raw smoothies, or chunked avocado with hot pepper vinegar... that'll wake you up fast!
 Or make our favorite raw oatmeal, recipe here.

  I like that there is a day set aside to think about what we do, how we treat the complex living thing called Earth. And I can put aside all the antithetical consumerist crap that has inevitably developed alonside it, because I've also seen a steady rise in green activism-- and it's been fueled by days like today, by movements like Meatless Monday; by people like you, and me, taking time to do one extra helpful thing or consciously refraining from one more harmful thing on a regular basis.

 It adds up.

 Peace, Mari

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sign of Decency

Even the most carnivorous people I know and love don't want the animals they consume to suffer needless, excessive cruelty, to be tortured, or have pain-filled joyless lives that end in horrifically cruel deaths. The cow on the milk carton always looks happy, free, peaceful-- in reality, that is untrue most of the time, as most of vegetarians are aware.

 Just by signing a few petitions, we can come closer to stopping animal cruelty in our lifetime:

  Put your name down today. Let's do it!

  Peace, Mari

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Herbs and Happenings

 We're not quite past the danger of frost here in Buffland, but if you have a safe, sunny spot, you could still start some herbs now, for planting outdoors soon.  I know, the perfect way is to bag the little darlings and keep them in the moist dark till they sprout, but that has never worked for me-- I prefer to sow my seeds or bought seedlings straight into soil, with plenty of sun to help them get a move on. Whether outside or in the pot, they still germinate; it just takes longer.

 An herb I adore, that's fairly easy to grow, is Lemon Basil. The fragrance alone is worth the cost of the seed packet, and the taste blows ordinary anise-y Basil away. Cinnamon Basil is a spicier, earthier version, and its grows just as easily for most people. It's intriguing added to sweet dishes or baked goods. I've had some trouble with it, but also some success. I've never had much luck with Holy Basils, but there's no reason not to keep trying.

 When you have a plethora of Basils to use, your pesto will be transcendent, even if you use almonds or walnuts in place of the costly, if ethereal, pine nuts. Having outrageously great basil does give incentive for spending the bucks on pignoli, though. What better excuse? And it's good with or without cheese, so perfect for non-dairy people. Toasted hazelnuts make a pesto so rich and scented, cheese is beside the point. It's the easiest thing in the world to make, with or without a food processor-- just good olive oil, fresh garlic, herbs, nuts, and cheese or a little salt. Of course, there are always possible add-ins, as the link above shows. But you can't make it better, than making it with homegrown herbs.

 I've seen some "lowfat" recipes that use water or less oil, but this is due to a misunderstanding of how to properly use pesto in the first place. You don't use it straight with pasta, piling it on and on till you can actually taste it. The proper way, which also uses less and is therefore less caloric (not that I would care!) is to keep back a cup of your pasta cooking water, add a small amount of pesto, toss, and add a little water at a time, preferably over a still-warm burner. This emulsifies the pesto, helping to make it a creamy sauce, and the starch in the water also helps the sauce cling to and coat each piece of pasta more thoroughly.

 That is why you never rinse pasta unless you are using it for a cold salad, where the starch would just stiffen on the pasta as it cools, preventing the dressing that is applied later from coating it well. The pasta water trick is well-known, but most people not raised to it ignore it, and so never get their pasta to taste as good as it does at their favorite restaurant. It's not a secret ingredient folks, it's just the average, brilliant, wonderful Italian fusion of science and art: pasta water, added at the right time, or not.

 Do it in small increments, add more pesto as you want after the sauce has blended itself with the water. And try this with every other sauce you use on pasta. With red sauce, people can add more at the table, to suit their tastes.

Getting back to the plants, you might want to grow some parsley, too. It's one of the cheaper herbs to buy, usually, but having it fresh at home, all the time, turns a minor luxury ingredient into a standby item you'll use everyday. And it helps freshen up the pesto when your basil slows down. It's supposed to be an annual, but if you plant it straight into the garden, it may surprise you and come back, if you don't pull out the very edible root-- once I even had it come back after a two year absence!

 That was when I had a handerchief herb garden right outside my kitchen door in Indianapolis, with parsley, oregano, and sometimes garlic and dill. Other herbs didn't get enough sun there to make them happy, but having parsley, curly or flat, growing within three feet of my stove was a joy and a help.

 In Buffland, in Spring 2012, I'm going to plant small, in containers and one biiiiiggg ceramic planter: some herbs, tomatoes bought as seedlings from a local nursery, and a few lettuces, with maybe some sunflowers across from my kitchen office, where they'll soak up plenty of rays, and no doubt give the squirrels an easy meal. What will you grow this year? How much garden space do you have? Any, lots, none? Is there a community garden nearby you can work with? Enquiring mind wants to know.

 Speaking of community gardens, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo will have an exhibit at the Sixth Annual Enviro-Fair, at Buffalo's City Hall on Friday the 20th, just before Earth Day. There'll be other exhibits as well, and admission is free. If you want to learn how to get involved with, or set-up, a big garden to share with neighbors, why not check it out? Here's a link.  Buffalo Riverkeepers, Jamba Juice, ReTree WNY, Habitat for Humanity, The Fresh Air Fund, and many other will be exhibiting at this celebration of Earth and Ecology. You may see me there also-- I'll be the one with the flowering tree painted on my face.

 Some other great gardening ideas, and ideals, can be found here, at Anthony Anderson's site. I recommend checking out everything written there about the Food Forest concept.

    Peace, Mari

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pineapple for Dinner? Oh, yes.

There are recipes that have been floating around out there, in the ether or in community cookbooks, just about forever-- some for sentimental value, some because they're just plain good. This tasty casserole of pineapple, oddly mixed with cheese and topped with buttery crumbs, falls into the latter category. It may sound too '50's kitschy to stand, but like a well done backyard barbecue, it deserves to be revived and enjoyed for the sheer pleasure it brings.

When I first saw this posted on the CLBB, I knew it must have come from a recipe developer for a commercial kitchen. But the simple combination of ingredients was still appealing, and the buzz about the dish was 100 percent positive, so I gave it a try last night, and I'm here to tell you, it's good stuff.

 How could it not be? A favorite fruit in convenient canned form, plus the age-old formula of crisped crumbs and cheese. You can top almost anything with crumbs and cheese to make it edible, and in fact, that was my primary strategy for getting my ex to eat vegetables he wouldn't otherwise consume. Here, it's a surprising but inspired approach for baking fruit-- the sweet, acidic pineapple plays off the sharp creaminess of cheddar, and the buttery crumb topping absorbs the extra juice and ties the whole thing together. And it tastes richer than it's calorie count would suggest.

 My own addition to this popular recipe was a bit of ginger and coriander (dried, but I think fresh would be wonderful). The recipe recommends serving this with ham or pork, of course, but I used it as a side for a non-cheesy tortilla casserole, making for a very comforting, easy oven meal. It would be an excellent brunch dish, with something spinach-y alongside, like a salad or omelet, and maybe some nut bread. I may serve it for breakfast soon with a good soy bacon; it takes only a few mintues to put together and 25 minutes to bake, so very doable for the mornings when we're not up at 3:30 am.

 Originally posted to the CLBB by Linda in MO, I believe, and revived by request for vbak, this is the soon-to-be-famous

Pineapple Cheese Casserole, adapted slightly by both Linda in MO and Mari.

1 -20 oz. can pineapple chunks (drain and keep juice)
3 T. flour
1/4 Cup sugar
1/8 tsp each ground ginger and coriander, optional
1/2 Cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (grate your own for this-- it makes a difference)
3-4 T. melted butter
1 C crushed Ritz type crackers ( I used an Aldi's brand)

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine flour, sugar and 4 T. pineapple juice.

Add cheese, spices if using, and pineapple, and stir.

Spoon into deep pie plate or casserole dish.

Mix cracker crumbs with the melted butter. Cover casserole with crumbs.

Bake 25 minutes or until heated through. Serves 2-4*, depending on your willpower.

*NOTE : You can double,triple, or quadruple this recipe depending on how
many you are serving.

 Have a great week!

    Peace, Mari

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bread & Honey

 Having just regained my appetite after a week of being sick and recovering from same, I had to do some real baking yesterday, for the family holiday dinner.

 I know you know I'm no believer; but my mother is, some of my family are, and anyway, Easter is a lovely rite of Spring that I enjoy celebrating in some form. We used to invite friends to our home nearly every Easter, and I had a standard menu of Spring foods down pat. It's easy to feel in tune with the earth on Easter, with breezy weather and more sunshine and the fertile symbolism that abounds. Those seasonal hot cross buns have a Pagan origin, as does every part of the feast, really, and although I don't make them each year, I do make like to some kind of yeast bread.

 Yesterday, I baked two types of rolls, using old favorite breads instead of the fancy buttery roll recipes that I'd first considered. I needed a non-dairy bread for my sister's current diet, and this one, a rich, tender bread sweetened with honey and studded with dried fruit, fit the bill. It's a luv of a dough to work with, silky and pleasurable to handle once it has absorbed all the flour it wants.

 This was my first successful bread, from when I decided to start baking all my own loaves, 23 or so  years ago. It's a blonde raisin bread from Marilyn Moore's Wooden Spoon Bread Book, and I've been tweaking and adapting it since the first loaf, when I found I didn't have enough golden raisins (but did have apricots) and didn't have any ginger (but cumin subbed nicely, and gave it a special touch it didn't have before).

 Now I purposely make it with different flours, different dried fruits, different oil. It's adaptable to your needs, and could easily go vegan with the use of agave or maple or even brown rice syrup in place of the honey. It might be stickier, though, so in that case, be careful not to add too much flour when kneading-- it WILL smooth out, and get silky, with a little handling. And once baked, it's lightly sweet and tender and hard to stop eating-- everyone likes it, even the sister that doesn't like the flavor of honey. Maple will give a slightly  different sweetness, of course, but good anyhow.

 As given, it makes two average loaves, but I got about 17/18 good-sized rolls out of it. You could make them slightly smaller, but don't go too much bigger-- it's a high-riser of a dough, and too big rolls just won't work as well, for dinner or breakfast. Of course, you could make half into rolls, half into the best bread for breakfast you'd ever want. This braids nicely if you want to go that route. It keeps well from the honey, freezes incredibly well, and tastes fresh, fresh, fresh.

Apricot-Honey Bread, from The Wooden Spoon Bread Book, adapted quite a bit by Mari

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

 2 cups warm water
 2 scant tablespoons active dry yeast (or 2 packets)
1/4 tsp ground cumin, ginger or coriander

Allow yeast to proof about ten minutes, or till foamy. Stir in:

 1/2 cup oil (I use olive oil)
 1/2 cup honey
 1 1/2 tsp salt
 grated rind of 1 lemon
 2 1/2 cups unbleached or bread flour
 1 cup white whole wheat, or whole wheat flour

 Beat well. Stir in:

 1 cup of chopped dried apricots, or a mixture of apricots and golden raisins or craisins

 To make a soft dough, gradually add:

 3-4 cups unbleached or bread flour

 Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. It will be a little sticky at first, but trust me, it becomes silky and wonderful to knead in a couple of moments or so. When dough is smooth, place in a greased bowl to rise, tunring once to grease the top. Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes-1 hour.

 Knead dough down in bowl and divide in half. Shape into two loaves or 16-18 rolls, and place in greased baking pans (leaving a half-inch of space between rolls, if making). Preheat oven while dough rises-- 375 degrees F. Let loaves rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 30-45 minutes. Rolls will take 15-25 minutes to rise. It's risen properly when you can press a finger into the dough and the depression stays. Slash the tops of the loaves or rolls slightly, slashing crosswise with a very sharp knife; three slashes per loaf, one or two (I use a cross shape) for rolls.

 Bake loaves at 375 F for 35-40 minutes, rolls for 18-35 minutes. The bread should be somewhat browned all over, and pulled away from the sides of the pan when finished. Cool in pans ten minutes, then cool completely on wire racks.* Store at room temp in a plastic bag, or freeze for later use. Keeps frozen 4-6 weeks.

*To gild the lily, while the bread is cooling on its racks, brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter, then sprinkle with a half & half mixture of sugar and cumin or ginger. Or, you can brush the risen, slashed bread with a beaten egg and sprinkle with the spice mixture before putting it into the oven.

  Enjoy this super-easy, simply delicious bread sometime soon. It could make your Spring morning.

   Peace, Mari