Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Preserving the harvest: Corn


Corn at the market

Know what's a regular laugh riot? I didn't like tomatoes or corn until about, mmm, yesterday. Ok, I like everything but fresh tomatoes - and I still can't eat them all alone. Corn I always found to be a stuck-between-the-teeth nuisance - then I finally ate it raw! The heavens, they did open! I do like corn after all, just not on the cob, or rather off the cob and in my teeth.


Corn in my kitchen

And so, into the freezer goes the corn. I found a very nice vendor at the farmer's market selling a natural corn with no pesticides. Corn is one of the crops that can be quite difficult to grow without a ton of chemicals, much like apples and berries, so it is nice to find a good producer with a nice product. I ended up with a total of 16 ears in the freezer - a rather odd number. We don't use too much so a few bags will do us for the winter just fine. Someday I would love to try to pickle corn but I didn't get that far - I would love suggestions for recipes if you have any though!


Corn. Ready for the complicated freezer instructions? Ok. Peel husks, stick in bag. Or peel husks, cut off kernels, stick in bag. Admittedly some people prefer to blanch corn before freezing - that is popping it in boiling water for 5 minutes or so, then cooling it quickly in an ice bath. I haven't found too much of a difference. It could be the corn I'm using, but I go with the easiest method since it doesn't seem to impact the end result.


Oooh, freezer bags, my favorite thing to take pictures of!

I ended up freezing a few bags of corn and then 3 ears, broken in halves, for corn on the cob (that's what fit in a bag. Very exact huh?). That's all we really need and no need to overdo it since I still had some when the crops started to be harvested this year.

We've been so lucky with our market goodies lately, but it's time to work on freezing stuff from our garden as well. We just harvested all the carrots and chard. The onions are coming along nicely, as well as the fennel. The potatoes (9 varieties!) are probably about ready to go as well. I'll be doing some planting in a last ditch effort at some fall crops this week as well. Otherwise? Back to market!


How are your gardens coming along? Plant any fall or second crops yet? What did you plant?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Preserving the harvest: Tomatoes, take two or so...

Getting sick of tomatoes yet? How 'bout apples because I'm sure I'll have more of those too!


Well, this weekend we had the annual tomato you-pick festival at the farm up the street so we are about set on tomatoes! Between our prolific garden and the farm I had more than 50 pounds (about 23 kilos) of tomatoes to save. What's a gal to do?


I roasted some, of course - mostly the heirlooms and fun ones like "green zebras".


Here they are, ready for a pop in the oven!

The larger tomatoes got cored, peeled, seeded (messy, all of it. I'm not good at controlling the mess, I'm afraid) and turned into a sauce. A spicy sauce, as it resulted. Somewhere between Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food recipe of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt and the final result the following was added: red pepper flakes, 4 types of onions, basil (fresh and dried), Italian seasoning, the leftovers of a jar of sauce I opened the other night, more garlic, some oregano, truffle oil, and pepper. Do you see why I need to own a book called The Art of Simple Food? I do love to add, edit, and add some more to a recipe...I can't even recall the last time I actually left a recipe alone and didn't change it...

Whoa. Embarrassing. I just sat here for a solid minute staring at the corner of our TV armoire trying to think of the last time I followed a recipe. I came up with nothing. Maybe the duck of March 2008 - the one with the 7 hour balsamic reduction sauce that our friend Andy, man of a million talented taste buds, looked like he might die over. Yeah, I know the date. I also found out I was pregnant that day so, you know, it was sort of monumental. Coincidence that Eh's favorite word and thing in the world is "duck"? I might have to stare at the corner of the TV armoire again for that deep thought...


So, yes, sauce! I got a very full 6 jars out of my pot today and enough extra for dinner tonight. My oh-so-wonderful husband made some of his homemade "sex pasta" (because I swear it is better than, well, you know...), sauteed up some veg from the garden/farm and tossed together another awesome and simple meal on the fly. He's cute. I like that guy. I'm keeping him for sure.

What about the other 5 million tomatoes? What was left was all the romas we picked. Those I washed, popped in freezer bags, and froze. Yep, whole, in the freezer. I know some would argue the roma tomato makes a better sauce or paste but I prefer them for our freezer tomatoes. They thaw quickly and since the seeds are negotiable they require little to no work to use in any recipe that calls for canned, diced, or even fresh tomatoes that get cooked down. Just defrost and the skin pops right off - and the rest goes into your recipe.


Freezer bags do not make for pretty pictures but you get the point. 5 more bags for the freezer. We already had 4 in there and a bunch more to pick from the garden. That means we have about sixty pounds of tomatoes in the freezer, plus the sauce. That's about right. We used seventy pounds from last August until about June, a few more bags from the garden and we should be golden - not a single gassed, unripe, billion mile transported tomato shall there be! Hurrah!

I should mention that we re-use our freezer bags. I also can't remember the last time we bought freezer bags. For a "no paper" kind of family (aka no paper napkins, paper towels, etc) it might seem counter-intuitive to use freezer bags but they work well for the space and we've reuse them to oblivion so, for now, I feel ok about it. Plus, my dream collection of 900 types of glass storage containers in every size imaginable costs bucks and space. It'll have to wait.

I ended up painting the top of our cheap chest freezer, aka storage central, with chalkboard paint recently (and the pictures are appallingly bad so you'll have to imagine) and writing lists of fruits, vegetables, pre-made and other foods we have in there as we go. I can't tell you how great it is to be able to just look at the top of the freezer and know, right away, if you have what you need for a recipe or not! If you have an uber-cheap, or don't care about it freezer I highly recommend getting a few bucks worth of chalkboard (or white board) paint and giving it a go! I like to use the "bistro chalk markers" - aka a chalk pen. We use bistro markers on our black fridge for notes as well - wipes right off the shiny front!

Next up: Corn. Don't worry, I promise to give you ideas on what to do with all this frozen or canned food come winter!

Friday, August 27, 2010

An apple by any other name...

Don't forget to enter the giveaway if you haven't!

Rounding out the impromptu "apple week" I'm taking you for a little journey... What day does the week start on anyway? I always consider it Monday but I suppose it could be a Sunday? Regardless you are getting one last apple-filled post!


Personally, and usually, I like my photos right out of the camera. (Dreaming: wouldn't it be fun if you could shake your camera and all the photos fell out in a pile?) Mostly that's what you see here, on {every}nothing wonderful – stuff right out of the camera or with only a few tweaks to exposure/brightness (my camera has a stuck ISO that I can't fix and compensate for sometimes). Why? First, because I don't have time for a ton of post-processing (proof, I've been trying to write this post for over a week) and second, because I'm a purist stickler who, for the longest time, believed that good photography doesn't need extra work. I know, I know. I shake my head at myself too.

With M4H Soft pop and Watermelon Blues Actions applied

Ok, so I was wrong. I mean yes, take a great photo and learn how to do so (I have so, so much to learn about this), but some photos really benefit from post-processing. I will say though, I have tended to agree with Henri Cartier-Bresson – "People don't watch enough. They think. It's not the same thing." I'm pretty sure that is why, for the longest time I considered post-processing too deliberate, too over-thought. Again, that is wrong, but hey, you live, you learn, etc.


I now see post-processing as more a part of personal style. Traditional film photographs were expensive and processing took time, patience, and a huge amount of know-how - and again, a boatload of cash. The digital age has brought a proliferation of photography (which, I am indebted to because otherwise I certainly wouldn't be able to indulge in my habit) and with it an abundance of post-processing techniques and styles. Some I love, some not so much.


I decided to play with some Photoshop actions and see how they altered my photography - all of which you see scattered about this post. I downloaded some free actions from My Four Hens Photography and got to playing. Oh, an action, by the way, is basically a recording a set of more complicated or involved adjustments (color, exposure, curves, contrast, whatever) that you load into the program and press play to apply to your image - so you can duplicate an exhaustive process with similar results time after time. You can do limitless things with actions - from simple photo processing to making your images look like stamps, curling the corners up, puzzles, whatever!


All this, of course got me thinking about style - photographic style, that is. Here I was thinking to myself that people use post-processing to define their style and forgetting/ignoring all the other details that make up a personal style. Some of the elements that make up our style we don't even realize, some we are more deliberate about. So what does make a personal style? Uh yeah, no idea, but I did stumble upon this page and decided what could be more fun - and more of a learning experience - than for all of my photography (or design) friends and me to try to identify our style (and where we could push ourselves) with a few key questions. So, with no expertise, no quantifiable answers, and no wrong selections you have the "Put me in a box, here's my style questionnaire". I challenge you to try it for yourself, and, if you want to exercise the brain, try doing it for another photographer you love (see if they agree or learn anything from an outside view)!


Tricia at {every}nothing wonderful


- Nikon D80 - digital, plenty of room on the SD cards (because they get dumped every day)
- Normal lens 28-20mm, Telephoto/zoom lens 70-300mm


Uh, none. What you see in the "about" section


- Camera is used handheld
- Try to keep photography spontaneous, but still life studies
- Tend to like a closer more cropped shot than a wider shot
- For some reason seem to prefer a portrait style (taller) photo over landscape (wider) shots - though I am trying to work on that!
- I prefer to crop with the camera, not on the computer or in post-processing
- Tend to shoot color, would like to do more black and white
- I like things to happen as they are. If something falls or moves when I'm shooting I like to leave it and take a picture of it, likewise I like "found" images - like the "Forgotten Friday" series - I like stumbling across a photo wherever it already is (or wherever the toy was already tossed)
- I prefer spontaneous over planned for most every shot - even if I know I'm going to shoot a pile of apples, let's say, I like to dump them out and then leave them like that, as opposed to methodically stacking/arranging things
- This is not on purpose per say, but if I'm with a group of people taking a picture of a particular thing my image rarely looks like what the group got, usually it is a detail (and then I'm confounded and wonder 'why didn't I take a picture of the whole church?')


- For this blog - still life mostly!
- For personal - people! My 365 project is of my daughter. I love taking pictures of people but am always very self-conscious of it if I haven't asked permission first and I am highly protective of my family - you will rarely see them on this blog and if so probably not their faces. Although I make decisions for my child I don't feel it is my right to use her likeness in a place where it may exist forever - when she is able she can decide what her identity is and how to portray it to the world. (But I love seeing other people's babies online, don't get me wrong!)
- I am highly attracted to patterns, repetition, lines, distance (depth of field), reflections, things that are fleeting (birds, for example, or bugs), and color.
- I could probably take pictures of food and details of the human body forever (hands, feet, eyes...)

Quality of light

- I pretty much never use flash. I rarely use a bounce-attachment for the flash (still doesn't work for me) and I very, very, very much prefer natural light. I like to think I can find light where there isn't much and I look for it. I like playing with light a lot and love to shoot nearly directly into the sun sometimes just for effect. I find lens flare intensely interesting.
- Dawn and dusk are a total gift - I'm probably outside, behind a camera at 5pm if I have a choice.

Things to work on or goals

- More black and white, more wide shots (I'm often more pleased with a wider shot than some of my closest shots of the same thing).
- Would love to bring out and use my SLR (Canon Rebel G, nearly the same lenses as I have now)
- Work on considering, trying and learning more post-processing techniques (more than I know now).
- I enjoy playing with cropping and different film (movie) ratios - try more of that.
- Lately I'm often surprised at what comes out of the camera versus what I thought I took - I would like to make that divide smaller.
- I want to study more photographers and their styles.
- While most people fear wedding photography I feel it has come a long way and that many wedding related photographs are very artistic. I think I would enjoy the challenge of shooting a wedding and would like to "apprentice", learn some tricks from a wedding photog...and shoot a wedding as an assistant once. Just once would probably be enough though haha. (Posed portraits like school pictures make me want to die at the thought though - never, please!)
- I would really, really like to go to a professional workshop or course someday.
- I would really like a mentor.
- I want to participate in more on challenges/competitions - online or otherwise.
- I would like to make money at this someday bu not at the cost of my joy with the hobby.

Anndddd the other photographer I selected is actually a couple! The Gaupers. I found them by chance - a friend was in a wedding they shot recently and I saw some of the pictures on Facebook. I immediately started asking questions as soon as I saw their stuff - is that a fisheye lens? How do they get that color? How is that so well lit? Why don't they have any blur?

The Gaupers Style


- Admittedly I don't know all of this - I know they use Canon products and if you really want to create a log while going through their blog you could. Let's just leave it at high quality digital with a plethora of lenses


According to them they are self-taught. Very Good Will Hunting for Ryan in the 'education you can get for $1.50 in late fees from the local library" kind of approach. His wife, Holly, apprenticed with him and learned some of what Ryan already knew (though, I will say, she clearly has incredible natural talent). Ryan has degrees in web design and graphic design - which I think lends itself to photography very much.


- Camera is used handheld from what I can tell
- They do a lot of wedding and portriat photography but it has a lot of movement.
- They use color like crazy - jewel tones stand out and make things pop often - while I think some of this is spontaneous they seem to dedicate a lot of time and energy to post-processing to highlight and bring out things like color
- Depth is a big factor in their photography too - they use it often and to create focus on the people/subjects. They have a a mastery of using a combination of color and depth to create interesting compositions
- They like to use a fisheye type lens for the more "fun" aspects of a wedding - it creates focus in interesting areas and makes what could sometimes seem, um, drunk messiness much more fun and enjoyable.
- They seem to be able to bring out the sass and fun in the people they shoot
- They shot a little cockeyed - it creates a lot of movement in their photos
- They like bringing out the beautiful in urban settings


- See above
- For more see their website or flickr stream

Quality of light

- I'm really interested in their use of light - I can't quite figure it out or how they are doing it but they must have some amazing flashes/bounce cards, etc.
- They do have a post about their flash equipment and many posts about how to use it but, none of which I can afford right now...

Suggestions or things I would like to see

First of all I really don't feel like I have room to be critical but I would say I would like to see two things:
- They are amazing at urban settings but I would like to see some of their more soft, nature type settings pop as much as their urban processing
- I like the fisheye but I would like to see some other new and fun ways to capture the dancing element of weddings.

PHEW! This was a long post!

Did you see a favorite action you liked - which was your favorite apple?

Forgotten Friday

A Friday tradition. Something forgotten, made still life - usually toys that were loved but abandoned.


A little sick of toys for now...how 'bout an empty (for now) and abandoned bird house for a change?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Apparently it is apple week!

Ever hear of the phrase "as American as apple pie"? Of course you have. It's a funny, quirky little turn of phrase because pretty much nothing about apple pie is very much American at all. Apples are from somewhere in Asia, pie is pretty assuredly Roman in origin and well, there are about a billion variations on the singular recipe: Apple Pie.


Apples went though their dark days in America - with prohibition roiling about, industrious imbibers crushing tart, inedible apples into the cloudy filmed drink we call "cider" gave apples a black eye for a bit. But, of course, marketing came to the rescue (and the 21st amendment), the Apple marketers touting the merits of "an apple a day" and so forth.

Perhaps though, the apple is a perfect symbol of the American public at large. For the most part, but for a dwindling number (sadly) of Native Americans, most Americans can not call any part of the land that makes up the United States the homeland of their heritage. Recipes came from every area of the globe in the pockets, purses, and minds of generations that settled here - and so, like the at least 7,500 types of apples available, there are probably that many variations on recipes using apples that have come to be a part of the fabric of memories of American life.


Apples seem to bring out the industrious nature of Americans - be that Johnny Appleseed* wandering about selling seeds and saplings to a rather large swath of the American public, or the cider makers thumbing their nose at prohibition, the horticulturalists at the University of Minnesota who have developed a huge number of new apple varieties, or the Cornell/New York State Experiment Station that maintains the world's largest collection of apple trees.

* Sidenote: John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, planted all his trees from seed - something having to do with his religion. Only thing is if you plant a seed from an apple the resulting tree won't be the same variety. The seed is actually the byproduct of both the tree the fruit grew on and the variety that cross-pollinated that tree


Despite apples being used as a negative trope in such parables as the garden of Eden, I, personally, think apples bring out some of the best stuff in people - they highlight the ideal that people are, inherently good at heart and do actually care. They are a difficult plant to raise, for many reason, and demand patience, understanding, and attention. People like the now mythic Johnny Appleseed, cultivated their apples and relationships with care, passing on food for thought and the body.

I made more apple sauce today. The apples I used came from two places about as pure as can be: ingenuity and charity.

The ingenuity comes from a dedicated and hardworking group of neighbors who built and maintain a section of our neighborhood filled with a variety of fruits - berries, peaches, apples, grapes, etc. Neighbors are welcome to pick and enjoy fruit from this entirely practical landscaping scenario. I took the little one the other day and we selected a few apples form each of the different trees. It was here that I realized Eh might love the skin of an apple as much as I do – she picked her own fruit and held it tightly, first taking a big bite, then nibbling off the skin as fast as she could. When I made apple sauce I gave her a bit of skin and, indeed, she loved it!

The charity comes from a local farmer. I went to the farmer's market today, despite only having five dollars left in my grocery envelope. Eh and I needed to get out and the weather is gorgeous. As I wandered about I noticed one of the sellers I like has started to have apples, and, though they have 15 varieties growing, only 3 were available. Having a stroller at a farmer's market means having a little more patience than some and being willing to take a backseat to those who are more able to plunk themselves at the front of the line. I waited. Not a big deal. I got a taste of a lovely variety I've never had, Zestar (bred to be an early apple). Not too long a wait and a man on the side, who was loading and moving the apples, asked if he could help me. I told him yes, that I wanted to make apple sauce for Eh, that I only had five dollars and that maybe a variety would work? He asked about one of the varieties in front on him in the large bushel ($18) and half bushel baskets ($12), and said that was what he would suggest. Of course I said sure and that I would take whatever I could get for the five dollars. He looked at me, looked at Eh, and then pulled the bag full of apples from a half bushel and said "Here you go!"I asked if he was sure. He said yes, and winked at me and then said "Tell your neighbors. Do something good for someone". And I totally teared up (behind sunglasses, thank goodness). I always pay farmers who do such deeds back and I will, as always, give him the few extra bucks next time I go to the market, but I love the faith it restores in humanity when people are generous.

"The smallest act of kindness is more than the grandest intention" -Oscar Wilde


As luck would have it I wandered the rest of the market just looking around and stumbled upon a mommy group whose goal is to be inclusive and service oriented. All of the activities are somehow service related – making blankets for those in need, doing crafts with veterans, soup kitchen work, etc – all of it includes the children of any age, teaching them that service is important and necessary. I joined. Do you think that's what the apple farmer meant?

So, I guess that is what "as American as apple pie" is – something made up of many different origins, no right or wrong way to do it, with an eye towards industriousness and charity, highlighting the good of our diverse landscape.

I ended up making apple sauce but I also made three "Apples in Their Nest" (from The Silver Spoon cookbook)- one for my incredibly understanding and wonderful husband, one for the gentleman in my neighborhood I had a meeting with tonight (who has given me some work), and one for my neighbor who helped me last week when I had a bit of a bump on the head.

Now go do something good and be as American as apple pie about it!

Don't forget to enter the giveway!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My First Giveaway!


Giveaway time! Someday soon (read: within a year) I'll set up an Etsy shop. Until then, if you see something you want a print of shoot me an email (everynothingwonderful at gmail dot com)! Don't worry, I'm nice!

Since I've had a few requests for prints the giveaway is this - One of the following (no watermarks, of course):
  • A photo of your choosing, be that one I've taken already or one you see down the line, in any size you like up to 8x10.
  • A pack of 5 cards, hand-mounted and signed - Your choice of just one or five different photos.
Either option includes up to three image editing options of your choice (for instance, black and white, sepia, or vintage tone post-processing work).


I'll use a random number generator to pick the winner on August 31st (one week from today). In the meantime you can peruse my Flickr stream to decide what you want! I'm adding new pictures every day. I must apologize though, I put everything in one spot so some of those images are just examples for this blog and not so, um, frameworthy.

If you would like to participate simply put a comment on this post and I'll run a random number generator in a week to let you know who won! Don't forget to include your email if I don't have it already (like I wrote mine above or you might get pesky spammers) so I can let you know you've won!

Happy browsing!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Preserving the harvest: Apple Sauce

It's funny, no sooner are we in the full swing of things with summer than fall starts to creep up on us. School started, back to school sales are abundant, the strange urge to purge and clean sets in, and apples have come the farmer's market. Which means a few things, all very important: apple sauce, apple cider, apple donuts, apple pies and, of course, apple picking.

I can't wait to take Eh apple picking! She already loves to ravage my tomato plants, and apple (ap -pah!) is her new favorite word - I can't imagine what she'll do when she realizes she can combine her two favorite things in one adventure!

Since I had a few bucks left in the grocery envelope and we're out of apple sauce I decided to pick up some at the farmer's market this Friday. (I was also hearing "ap-pah, ap-pah, ap-pah!" incessantly). These particular apples, firm as could be, crisp and tart were perfect for exactly the plan I had in mind - apple sauce, homemade, piping hot, lots of spice.

I have really amazing childhood memories centered around apples. I remember being pulled up to the kitchen island, my mom on the opposite side, her hands moving swiftly and with deft expertise peeling the pile of apples before us. I would snack on the discarded pile of peels, plucking the bits with the most apple on them out of the bowl, while we talked about nothing in particular. We are very good at talking about nothing in particular.

Despite the fact that my mother doesn't really like to cook, year after year she would stand there, peeling miles of apples, helping me make apple crumble, apple cakes and apple pies for school. I was always fascinated with how my mother could peel an apple in one long ribbon, the knife blade always just a few hairs distance between the apple's skin and hers. I think of her whenever I hold a paring knife this way, peeling the skins of summer and fall fruits.

I love fall and the abundance it brings, the generosity of the earth and bakers. Delicate jams and full flavored fruit butters, pies and breads, a last ditch effort on the part of all of us to give thanks one last time before winter makes a fierce return. Best yet is how forgiving fall harvests are - a pumpkin cake can use more or less pumpkin, an apple pie needs no particular number of apples, squash gets cooked for however long until it is soft and subtle in taste. Apple sauce, good alone or great on top of pancakes, on the side of a beautiful piece of pork, or any other way you like it, is a perfect celebration of fall.


Start your apple sauce by peeling 8-12 apples. They can be disparate in size and variety, in fact I would encourage it. Slice them into chunks and toss them in a pot with 2-3 cups of water and 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice.


I like a nice spice in my apple sauce. In this case we used freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon. I used about a teaspoon and a half of nutmeg and about the same of cinnamon. You could also add allspice or a pie spice if you like. There are no rules for spice - add a little, see if you like it and add some more if you want, or add none at all and just enjoy the apple sauces as-is. Add in your spices and just 2 tablespoons of sugar and turn the burner on to medium-high.

Bring the mix to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or so. In the meantime think about what you are going to put all this apple sauce in, or what to do with the peels (you might try drying them for a crunchy snack!).


After 20 minutes the apples will pretty much fall apart with a good stir. What's left you can mash with a potato masher for a chunky consistency, or blend (I like to use an immersion/hand blender in the pot) until it is the texture you prefer.

Take a taste. Now is the time to add more sugar until you get the flavor you like. Some apples will sweeten with heating, others are sweet to begin with, and some are so tart it seems no amount of sugar could do with trick at first. In the end I probably used about a quarter of a cup of sugar for this recipe - and they were pretty tart apples to start. You may find recipes that call for much more sugar at the outset, but trust me, better off to add the sugar later than have an overly sweet concoction on your hands.

That's it! You've got homemade apple sauce. Try not to eat it all in one go, I dare you. By the way, it freezes well so save some for later!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Opportunity awaits!

Oh, the opportunities the weekend does bring...

Opportunities to go to fairs and festivals, to explore your hometown, to venture out for a trip, to talk walks and naps, to indulge in every way. In our case, today involved a little of everything - painting a bathroom, donating stuff to charity, going to a meeting, helping a friend, visiting a fair, some nothing - eating ice cream treats, taking naps, tickling the kid, window shopping, and discovering a whole lot of wonderful in our own backyard!

You know, like myself!


Or this guy:


Usually on the weekends I try to get help with the great declutter of 2010. But then sometimes I get to compare and I don't feel so stressed by it all. Then again, I wouldn't toss any of this cool stuff either!


And if all of that didn't make my little {every}nothing wonderful heart pitter patter enough this sure did!


More on that later though!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Forgotten Friday

A Friday tradition. Something forgotten, made still life - usually toys that were loved but abandoned.

Tomato, tomahto

And yes, those are indeed my precious tomatoes in the chutes of an un-filled water play table.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Love a lovely package!

I love mail. I love the feel of paper, a well written letter, a pretty stamp. I love boxes that say someone thought of you. I love packages with layers of fluff protecting something small or so well packed they need no extra protection.

That's probably why I love things like Lovely Package, or the like-named, unrelated Lovely Package Flickr Pool.

I received a package the other day - not so lovely on the outside. A simple number ten envelope, my name and address scrawled on the outside, bursting at the seams. The inside? Lovely indeed!

It was a free bag from The Green Bag Lady!


I have to admit - I'm pretty picky about home sewn things. For someone who is absolutely terrible at anything sewing related this is a strange hang-up, I realize. For such a lightweight bag (done for shipping purposes) the sewing is impeccable. Better than anything I have seen or commissioned (since I started doing such things). I'm impressed!


I assume the sewing has something to do with this but, it's strong too!

Sew (hehe, I had to) who or what is Green Bag Lady? As the site says - "I am an artist. I make bags. I will give you a FREE handmade fabric shopping bag at Green Bag Lady events if you promise to use it instead of paper or plastic." You get a free bag, we get less plastic bags being used, we all get a little closer to being responsible in our choices. I like that!


Better yet, if you have random fabric laying around - which, let's face it, many of us do - you can donate it to the project. You get rid of clutter, a green bag gets made and given away and you never know where the pay-it-forward goodness goes from there!

Or, if you have sewing talents, there are patterns on the site for: a shopping bag, a produce bag, or a gift wrap bag!

If you're in MS, ND or TN check out their upcoming events and get a free bag!

I love a lovely package that keeps on being a lovely package for other things, no?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dragonfly love

I've always been fascinated with dragonflies. No real reason why, but they do look pretty interesting. I'm finishing up the neighborhood newsletter and there was a small tidbit on dragonflies (not my words):

Did you know that some dragonflies migrate? One of the best known migrating dragonflies is the Common Green Darner (Anax junius), one of the largest dragonflies around and a frequent visitor to [our neighborhood].


According to at least one source, swarms of up to a million migrating green darners have been seen in Illinois and New Jersey. What’s intriguing is that it appears not all green darners migrate. No one is sure why. Like monarchs, the green darners that do migrate are making a one-way trip. Their offspring will complete the migration cycle back.


And there are ecological connections to this natural wonder. Kestrels have been observed migrating in proximity to the dragonflies, and it appears likely that the dragonflies are a great in-flight energy source for the birds, especially the juveniles. And speaking of eating, another name for these elegant but carnivorous creatures is “Mosquito Hawk” in recognition of their consumption of that annoying insect. If only there was a way to contract with them to patrol our yards this year.


We could definitely use some more "mosquito hawks" around here lately! Useful and pretty – I approve!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Simple Supper: Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach Polenta

Anyone who knows me knows I have magazine problems. The problem being that I love them. I keep the pile to a minimum but I always have a basket of them. I can't help it! They have pretty pictures, great ideas, things that make me think! Usually though the majority get recycled or reused and the cooking magazines get torn apart and filed.

This month I didn't need a recipe for a reminder of a favorite meal. Roasted tomatoes make my heart sing - they are just so yummy, and yet, not on that many people's radar! And polenta, well, that is just savory and comforting - who could resist?


Better Homes and Gardens has an article in the September issue about "American Home Cooking" - which contained their recipe for slow baked tomatoes with garlic and mint. Mint! It's funny how often a spice comes as a revelation to me. Last spring tarragon was an eye-opening joy. This summer, mint.

Not quite how I do my roasted tomatoes but very, very similar. Really, you don't need a recipe - just the ingredients and some time. I prefer a very slow roast but have had equally successful attempts with cooking at 250F for a longer time or 325F for a shorter time.


I start my roasted tomatoes with, you guessed it, tomatoes. As many as you like or have is fine. For smaller tomatoes slice them in half, cherry tomatoes you can leave whole if you like, and for bigger tomatoes, try slicing in equally sized chunks, or again, half is fine.


Spread your tomatoes one layer deep in a baking dish or on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, throw a few cloves of garlic (or a few more, I like garlic) in there, add basil or mint (!) if you like, and drizzle with olive oil. That's it. I like my olive oil to be between 1/8" and 1/4" deep on the bottom (more with bigger tomatoes, to keep them from sticking and burning). Pop in the oven and roast - just keep an eye on them - when they look like the picture below they're done!


That's it! I served these over a spinach polenta but you can keep them in the fridge for a week or pop them in the freezer for later. I like to freeze whole tomatoes throughout the season, just as they are, ripe and whole. Pull them out the morning you think you'll use them and the skins pop off with a little squeeze - great for sauces, soups, anything.

I also like to roast big heirloom tomatoes to freeze as well. Add a few roasted tomatoes into whatever you are making and the flavor becomes more complex, deeper and slightly smoky. In this case you might want to use less oil and a slower roast method. Regardless make sure to save the oil - with it's savory garlic and tomato infused flavor it's a great drizzle for a simple soup, on a piece of bread with cheese, or over fresh steamed veggies.


So, polenta. How do you make it? Easy, easy, easy. It's little more than boiling water, adding the corn meal/grits, stirring, waiting and popping in a dish. Really! I really like the Bob's Red Mill Organic type I'm also a big fan of their mission and being employee owned, but that's another blog), but I'm sure other brands (or better yet, local crops) are great as well. The instructions on the package are really all you need. Promise.

For our polenta I added spinach - a few handfuls, shredded a bit, some asiago/parmesan/hard cheese. Put some of those roasted tomatoes on top, a drizzle of oil, and some fresh basil.* Mmmm! Delish! This is even better than the variation we usually do - a bed of steamed greens, polenta on top, topped with fresh marinara sauce and some shredded hard cheese. The same, but different.

You don't need to cook the spinach if you add it to the polenta while it cooks - it's hot enough to do the work for you. If you want to use a hardier green - like a chard or kale I might suggest a bit of pre-cooking first. You could try beet greens as well. Or add in a chopped scallion or two. Make your polenta south western style with some whole corn kernels and roasted peppers in it and a bit of salsa or roasted tomatillos (same recipe, with tomatillos!) on top. You really can't go wrong - and if you are new to cooking this is a great way to experiment with flavor. Heck, I'll bet if you really wanted you could make a pretty amazing chocolate polenta as an alternative to a more gluten-laden bread pudding. (After a quick search, apparently I'm not the first to think of this, ...now I have to try it!)

*Note: Be careful with the salt - since you are adding salt to the tomatoes, maybe don't add it to the water like the polenta package might suggest - especially if you are using a salt cheese as well.

Roasted tomatoes really are an American classic and useful in so many recipes. Let's face it, polenta is little more than thickened grits, another American classic so roasted tomatoes on polenta? A classic all it's own.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!