Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The best tuna salad you will ever eat (provided you like cilantro)

There's something stalwart and ordinary about tuna salad. It's not the most exciting of things, let's face it. It's homely and sensible, perfectly respectable and good-for-you, but maybe the slightest bit plain. If tuna salad was a person, the person would be an L.L. Bean shopper. You know? Okay.

That said, it may be hard for some of you to get excited about this recipe. I can tell you why it excited me, and it's for the dullest of reasons: my husband is a vegetarian, but now I have a job cooking (among other things) for his grandma, who will eat anything. I am, in fact, her personal chef. This is how I choose to see my job. Spread open before me now is every enticing meaty recipe I've ever laid eyes upon, possibilities, all. It's not that Patrick was particularly adamant about keeping our kitchen vegetarian, (in fact, he never said a word to that effect) but it's just, well, I'm not about to tackle a sumptuous and fussy Bon Appetit recipe for myself. But for Pearle? For Pearle, anything.

It's been so long, purchasing and opening cans of tuna fish was a thrilling experience. Hoo, boy.

In the end, my conclusions are as follows:
1. I really need to get more
2. I will never make a different tuna salad in my life, ever.

Dijon-Cilantro Tuna Salad adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
6 tbsp sweet pickle relish
4 tbsp dijon mustard
2 5-oz cans solid albacore tuna, packed in water, drained
1 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup finely minced red onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Wheat bread
Tomato slices

Mix together yogurt, relish, and mustard. Add the tuna and mix well. Gently stir in the rest of the ingredients. Toast the bread for extra points, and serve.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Refashion #8: Cantaloupe cardigan

It should be obvious: I'm really getting into this refashioning business! Those of you who saw me through the Great Canning Frenzy of 2008 know that when I set my sights on something, I don't stop until I've throttled the living snot out of it. Last summer, I didn't just learn to can. Oh no. I started modestly enough: applesauce, bread and butter pickles, a little tomato sauce. Pretty soon I was fastidiously compiling recipes, buying pectin by the quarter-ton, and inviting myself over to my parents' friends houses just long enough to load their unwanted canning jars into my car, slam the trunk and drive away. I exaggerate, but only a little.

But this post isn't about canning, it's about refashioning. It's about how, in the space of six weeks, I've doubled my bobbin supply, halved my fabric supply, and purchased no less than six different kinds of elastic. Oh, and three new books, eighteen spools of thread, snaps, a zipper foot, and a covered button maker.

That's where this project began, right there with the instant the covered button kit touched itself down into my cart. Visions of sweet little flower-covered buttons danced in my head, thanks in no small part to one Amy Karol.

This is the first project I've done where I actually used two thrift-store items. (Ooooh, do I get extra refashionista points or something?) The sweater (obviously), but also the fabric I used to cover the buttons and trim the bottom of the sweater. It was a cotton/spandex-blend skirt from American Eagle, and let me just say emphatically that after 1+ hours hunched over the thing with my seam ripper, I am never de-constructing an American Eagle garment again! Triple-seamed madness. Yeeps.

The covered buttons were ridiculously easy to make. And exciting. So exciting I felt the need to dance back and forth several times between my craft room and Patrick's studio saying, "Look, honey, covered buttons!!!" I'm sure he was thrilled.

ANYway, this is the before shot, just for reference:

(The funny red line down the middle is my tailor's chalk.)

Don't worry, pretty soon this phase will wind itself down and I'll move on to my next fixation. Any guesses? Paper mache, maybe, or mosaics? Candle dipping? Welding? Your guess is as good as mine!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring: a photo essay

I hope your weekends were as full of friends and sunshine as mine was.

There were garden times:

Flower times:

Shared meal times:

And rest times in the shade of the porch roof, hydrating and applying aloe. The first warm weekend of April takes its toll.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thrifty Kitchen: Fresh herbs

So, let's talk about fresh herbs for a minute. Frankly, they're amazing. A little pinch of finely chopped this or minced that, and a lackluster dish is transformed into cuisine. Instantly, you're classy and cultured, the type who could discourse articulately about anything from post-colonial economics to existentialist baseball. (I made that last one up.) But you know what I'm talking about: you get a meal that's practically gourmet, for all the effort of running a sharp knife through some nice green leaves.

All right, now, who's encountered a puddle of viscous cilantro, a lump of The Herb Formerly Known as Dill in the bottom of their produce drawer? Raise your hands! I would say that, among all the produce we buy in a year, fresh herbs are the ones most likely to get forgotten-about and wasted. You never need a whole bunch of herbs. Grocery stores only sell them in the bundle, though, and so you either plan in a week's worth of herb-laden meals, or you let that bundle (minus the 2 minced tablespoons you actually needed) go bad. I'd long accepted it as one of the sorry realities of modern kitchen economics.

Then, I discovered my freezer.

One day, in a mad fit of waste-not-want-not fervor, I hacked up the whole bristling bunch of parsley, in one fell swoop. I set aside the bit I needed for my recipe-of-the-moment, and herded the rest into a freezer bag.

Now, I have a special compartment of my freezer set aside for little tightly-rolled bags of frozen chopped herbs. It's embarrassingly well-stocked: parsley, dill, thyme, sage, oregano, tarragon, basil, mint, cilantro. (It should be clear now who's become a little too fond of adding a little frou-frou gourmet touch to her cooking!)

The bonuses are many. I've come to love always having these herbs at the ready when a soup needs a fresh little kick. Parsley can perk up anything, basil (naturally) finds its way into anything bubbling and tomatoey on our stove. As a result of the convenience, we're eating more herbs, too. Aside from tasting good, they are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants. Did you know an ounce of cilantro has more vitamin A than a carrot?

The best part is the economy of it all. Those fresh herbs are not cheap, at the grocery store. Freezing them this way, each bundle of herbs can last for months. You get your money's worth, and there's no slimy green stuff in your produce drawer.

Recipes Featuring Fresh Herbs:

Pasta Pomodoro
Transylvanian Eggplant Casserole
Homemade Vegetable Stock
Chickpea Crepes
Potato Pancakes
Three Sisters Stew
Rosemary Cornmeal Scones

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day, and a brief philippic

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty
of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
~ Aldo Leopold

I hope everyone has a good Earth Day. If you do one positive thing, for the planet, go over here and please, please, sign this petition.

As you may know, the White House now has an 1,100-square-foot organic garden. Apparently, the planting of such a prominent organic garden has made the agricultural chemical industry a little nervous. They have written a letter to Mrs. Obama, reminding her of the many benefits of conventionally grown (read: not organic) food. In essence:

Dear Mrs. Obama,
It appears to us that you're planning on growing an organic garden. In order to make it weed, insect, and maintenance-free, may we recommend poisons.

Does that irk you the same way it irks me? Beware, I think I'm about to climb up on my soapbox.

My objection to the letter isn't so much its recommendation of non-organic growing practices. I buy plenty of non-organic produce. I'm not crazy; I understand the need for everyone to be able to afford their groceries, and the grim reality of organic grocery-store produce is, it's usually more expensive than conventional. I would never admonish someone for buying a non-organic grape in my life. Promise.

What gets me is this advisement, this haughty presumption. You are but a lowly landowner, they have said, and we have Almighty Science behind us. We know what is best for you and your land.

Knowing what is best for a piece of land is a downright complicated thing. After four years of college (and more classes with Environmental in the title than you'd scare believe existed) I've heard tons of advice on growing practices, forest management, and land stewardship. And my conclusion? Well, my conclusion is that good old Aldo was right. It all comes down to the holy trinity: integrity, beauty, and stability.

Is there anything beautiful, integral, or stable about chemicals? I thought not.

And at that, I will thank you for humoring me on a brief tirade about modern agriculture. Tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flowers at your feet


This morning I stepped out for a soul-filling photo shoot. The world was rain-laminated; yesterday there were crazy winds that brought down some twigs and branches but (fortunately) not very many petals. Everything felt brand-new, they way it does only in springtime after a rain.

Tender peas.
Have I mentioned how much I love my neighborhood? I mean, the people are great, but the springtime bulbs and flowering trees are why I really love it. (Just kidding, to neighbors who read this blog!) I'm a country person at heart, but this time of year, I bravely concede to the romance of a flowering tree-lined city street.
As long as there's magnolias in the world, you'll find me gawking on street corners in April, wowed by the creamy pinkness of those bashful petals.
This fallen fellow is a Norway maple flower. Maples have such pretty flowers, but everyone always goes for the weeping cherries and dogwoods. Poor little guys. I like 'em, though. They're green.
After my morning stroll, the balance of the day was spent planting, digging, turning, raking, weeding, and just generally working the dirt farther and farther up under my fingernails. Dirty fingernails this time of year are a badge of honor. I'll take 'em.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Refashion #7: Indian pajamas

Person in line for lunch: Nice dress.

Me (also in line): Thanks.

Person: Did you make that?

Me (blushing): Yeah.

Person: Oh cool! Really nice fabric!

Me: Thanks!

I couldn't screw up the courage to tell her I'd made from a pair of pajamas. Indian pajamas, but pajamas nonetheless. It's thoroughly titillating to be wearing nightclothes in public, even if they have been refashioned into something less pajama-y.

These pjs were a set: a longish nightshirt with a high collar and 3/4 sleeves, and an extremely high-waisted pair of pair with tight button cuffs. So funny. I was able to get two articles of clothing out of the set-- a summery blouse from the top half of the nightshirt, and this dress from the bottom of the nightshirt with an improvised yoke top. An empire waist, a few box pleats, good to go. And I won't be caught dead wearing them together, don't worry!

Beginning to think I have better luck when I eschew pattern-following. Hmmm.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

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