Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Asparagi alla Milanese

I've been busy reading this great book, In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love - Seasonal Recipes and Stories From an Italian Kitchen, and have already run across a couple of fantastic recipes.

Last night I started off making Asparagi alla Milanese and was delighted with the result. I'm usually not a runny fried egg sort of gal, so I cooked them a tad more thoroughly than is probably expected. I also decided to roast the asparagus rather than pan steam them. Since we are up to our ears in asparagus this time of year, I'm always happy to come up with new recipes for it.

Here's my version of the Italian classic:

Serving: One

Ingredients
2 inch thick bundle of fresh asparagus
2 to 3 teaspoons butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs
Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions
Heat oven to 425 degrees. While the oven is heating up, snap the tough ends off the asparagus, rinse and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil and add salt to taste. Roast in oven until cooked but still crisp (about 8 minutes).

In the meantime, heat a skillet on medium-low, adding butter when skillet is hot. Crack eggs into butter and season with salt and pepper. Heat until cooked to your preference.

Place the roasted asparagus on a plate and slide cooked eggs directly on top. Top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lavender honey lemonade

Giant Pacific OctopusWe spent last weekend toodling around Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula, just a short ferry ride from Seattle. We started out at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center and checked out their great touch tank and this amazing Giant Pacific Octopus.

It was the most active octopuddy I've ever seen in captivity. Usually they are just hiding in the rocks, but this two-year-old was pissed off (he was going to be released into the bay this week) and chasing after crabs and generally tormenting them. I can see why he was ornery, the tank was pretty small for him so I was happy to hear he would be released. But, also extremely glad I had the chance to watch him up close and personal.

Liberty Bay BoardwalkNext up was some pastries at Sluys Bakery and, after checking into our accommodations, a stroll down the boardwalk, stopping to check out some kids fishing off the side. The water was a few feet deep under the boardwalk and we were amazed to see how far out the tide was the following afternoon.

Kitsap Memorial ParkOn Sunday we hung out at a local beach on Hood Canal, enjoying some low tide action followed by a quick stop in Port Gamble to visit the "largest private shell collection in the U.S.". And eat some saltwater taffy.

During one of our stops, at the Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse, I had this great Lavender Honey Lemonade. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I found a recipe for lavender lemonade from a local lavender farm and tweaked it to recreate what I had over the weekend:

Henry and Emma - PoulsboIn sum, a great time was had by all!

Lavender Honey Lemonade

1 cup honey
1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender (or 1/4 cup fresh lavender blossoms)
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained
Ice cubes
Lavender sprigs for garnish

Combine honey with 2 1/2 cups water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.

Add the lavender to the honey water, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand at least 20 minutes (and up to several hours).

Strain mixture and discard lavender. Pour infusion into a glass pitcher. Add lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups cold water. Stir well.

Pour into tall glasses half-filled with ice or refrigerate until ready to use.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Creating a Mediterranean oasis

Last weekend we went to a local cafe that just opened it's backyard patio, replete with tile patio, pergolas and climbing vines, fountains and lots and lots of plants. It was so enjoyably relaxing I was convinced I needed to recreate something similar in my own backyard.

So, since then I've been thinking about how to create a Mediterranean oasis. I'm planning on getting some outdoor furniture, but it's really the plants and other landscaping that completes the deal. I don't want to spend a ton of time waiting until everything is just right, so I've invested in several potted plants to give my backyard patio an Italian feel. In addition to the wine grapes, fig, bay laurel, and Arbequina olive tree I already have potted, I'm adding a border with tons of different lavender, some red rosemary and a few grasses for good measure.

I replaced my lemon tree, this time with a tree that is more of a topiary and taller and will be completing the deal with several dwarf Italian cypress. I want to get a solar fountain for an additional touch, but I think I'll need to thumb wrestle my husband over that one. It's all starting to come together as the weather is getting nicer. We may end up doing some remodeling: making the back deck smaller and the patio larger with tiles rather than concrete. But even if we end up just adding plants and some patio furniture, I'll be a happy camper.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Snappy salted potatoes

Salted potatoesMy brother came over on Sunday for dinner and whipped up a batch of fingerling potatoes.

Okay, "whipped up" is definitely not the correct description to use because he used a technique his friend Leonardo showed him for cooking salted potatoes that requires very little effort. The end result is that you have salty, snappy potatoes that are cooked to perfection.

Curious? Well, I was too. Basically, you just place your fingerlings (or other small) potatoes in a saucepan and fill the pot with water until the potatoes are just covered. Huck in a handful of salt (anywhere from a few teaspoons to a tablespoon depending on how many potatoes you are rocking) and simmer/boil uncovered until all the water is boiled away and there's nothing left but potatoes and salt. I guess this method is similar to papas arrugadas, which are popular in the Canary Islands.

The potatoes will squeal for life as the water evaporates away, but do not fear. This is part of the process that will result in fabulous potatoes. All in all, it takes about 45 minutes to cook. What you get in the end are creamy potatoes with a skin that snaps when you bite into them.

Serve with creme fraiche (or sour cream) mixed with chopped chives and pepper. Do not add any additional salt as the potatoes themselves are good n' salty. I guarantee you won't be able to stop eating them. Which is a good thing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Preventing ingrown hairs naturally

If you shave, wax or otherwise remove hair from your body and suffer from bumps, ingrown hairs and the like, it can be extremely annoying. Not to mention painful and very unsightly. There are a number of products on the market that purportedly help prevent or reduce skin irritation and ingrown hairs but they tend to be expensive. They work fairly well but the cost can be prohibitive. If you are African American or have very curly hair, ingrown hairs can be a considerable headache.

I've just started using Whish Flawless Ingrown Hair Serum, but at $22.50 for 1.1 ounces, unless it works miraculously I'm not sure it's a habit I can keep up. Another very popular product is called Tend Skin which is cheaper at $20 for 4 ounces, but many find it to be too harsh.

So, what's a bumpy girl (or boy) to do? Well, I found a recipe for making your own version of Tend Skin, which consists basically of Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, witch hazel, purified water and uncoated aspirin, which are similar to the main ingredients in Tend Skin. It sounds like you can skip the witch hazel and water in the mixture, if you want to keep it simple. The beauty of making it yourself is that if you find the original formula to be too harsh, you can dilute it by reducing the alcohol and/or aspirin and increasing the water.

Anyway, the cost is considerably less to make it yourself so it's definitely worth a try even if it doesn't work out for you. Here's the basic recipe:

5 oz Isopropyl alcohol
15 uncoated aspirin

Add the ingredients to a squeeze bottle and shake to mix. You'll need to shake before use as some settling may occur. Apply with a cotton pad or cloth after shaving or showering or however often is needed. And, remember to exfoliate several times a week and moisturize to help prevent ingrowns.

Related posts:
Sustainable hair removal
Homemade clay mask
Hand rescue cream

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mega food manufacturers go local?

While many of us consider local food to be food grown within a certain range close to home, it also invokes the idea of sustainable agriculture, small, family farms and low environmental impact. Well, mainstream food manufacturing has started to co-opt the term "local", hoping to take advantage of this buzz word that has gained in popularity as consumers attempt to understand better where their food comes from. In other words, getting to know their producer by buying their food at farmers markets, local farm stands and the like.

When Frito-Lay and other mega manufacturers, who have more to do with junk food than sustainable agriculture, announced they were coming out with advertising campaigns to capitalize on this latest trend, many in the local food movement have been less than pleased. Sure, they are advertising the fact that the companies are buying produce and meat local to their manufacturing plants, the end result from the consumer's standpoint is anything but. Unless you happen to live near one of these mega-processors, those chips are still not going to be "local".

From their press release:
In addition to the national and regional television spots, the "Lay’s Local" campaign will be supported by a comprehensive marketing effort that celebrates the local connections of the brand through national print advertising, on-pack messaging and 40,000 in-store displays that are customized for each participating state to celebrate local connections and contributions to Lay's Potato Chips. The brand also will participate in more than 50 local-market events throughout the country celebrating the local communities that play a role in making Lay's Potato Chips.

On one hand, they are lowering the total food miles involved in the manufacturing process. Or are they? Based on Frito-Lay's press release it looks like they have changed little in the way of how they obtain their potatoes, they are just marketing the proximity of their source farms. They've made no changes in the way they grow the potatoes as far as I can tell either. Just another incidence of jumping on the bandwagon and beating the meaning out of it.

What do you think? Do you feel this is misrepresentation by greedy corporations or is this a step in the right direction to more sustainable food, by letting people know where the food source is located?

Image courtesy of The Onion

Friday, May 1, 2009

Getting started with plant starts

The last three years I've gone way out of my way to pretty much start all my vegetable plants from seed. The only exception was tomato plants since I never seemed to get my act together in time (although one could argue that tomatoes are fruits so they don't count).

Anyway, the results have been very mixed with, I hate to admit, less than stellar results. I'm sure a lot of it is just due to my ineptitude, but I think a lot has to do with the fact that we have such weird seasons with it being cold late and then hot with everything bolting. The only things that have been successful have been plant and herb starts that I bought on a whim or out of desperation.

This year I think I'm going to try something different and use more starts just to compare. And, well, out of laziness. It certainly is a heck of a lot more pricey to buy plant starts rather than seeds, but since I've had such poor results from seed starting I figure, in the end, maybe I'll come out ahead since I'll actually have something to show for it.

And, perhaps, by the end of the season the results will be the same and I'll know next year just to stick with the seeds and save myself some money. I've already begun with some spicy lettuce mix and broccoli plants. This weekend I'll get my butt in gear and plant my potatoes and onion sets. And I'll go pick up some plants and jump start my crops.

What about you? Do you start from seed or do you buy plant starts?

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