Saturday, December 24, 2016

A few ways to make Brussels sprouts: Prologue

Hello, what readers remain after my series of long hiatuses.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
(If you're just here for the Brussels sprouts, scroll down to the next heading. Enjoy some plant and cat pictures as you make your way!)

I last wrote that I was starting a solo law practice, specifically a civil rights practice. I have not figured out how my blogs will continue and coexist with my new career. A long time ago, I decided this blog would contain as little as possible about law or politics and my opinions on those topics. I didn't want to alienate readers who might disagree with me about the law, but with whom I could still share valuable, meaningful conversations about gardens and recipes (and life). Even readers who did agree with me, I imagined, were not coming here for my opinions or politics, but for the pretty flowers. This is how I treat Instagram and wish Facebook would be for me — a place for everyday life updates and calming things, like botany and recipes. No matter how active we are, it's okay to want a refuge from the news.

It's frustrating when sad news or angry political opinions creep into those refuges (which happens with my Facebook timeline no matter how much I try to curate it.) Actually, it's more than frustrating; it's unsettling when I've tried to step away from sad news or things that make me angry, to remind myself what else is out there, to recharge, gain perspective, gather energy for the next battle, and that reflective time is interrupted by what feels like an angry shout. I don't want to give my readers that feeling.

New cat! More on that later.
Additionally, so much has become political that wasn't, and I argue, shouldn't. So as much as I'll try my best to stick to flowers, food, and everyday life, what I write about flowers, food, and everyday life might still take us out of the politics-free refuge. This is just where we are today. I'll do my best. (That said, I'll opine plenty on my law blog, when I regain the energy to write in it again. I tried to keep that mostly opinion-free, but I've decided that's unnecessary and difficult. As long as I respect others' opinions, I think it'll be okay to state mine.)

In the past, I strove to keep anything about law school or work off of this blog because of vague concerns about my professional reputation. I say vague because these concerns were tied to nothing specific and were probably overcautious. I'm pretty prudent when it comes to writing about work, and as soon as I finish my law firm website (which currently is—intentionally—a blank gray page), that business will be Google-able, just as this blog is. There's no secret. Potential clients will know how much I like flowers, and people who follow me for pictures of cats and flowers will know how strongly I feel about civil rights. And most likely, it won't hurt my professional reputation to write about my recent struggle to get my email client to stop crashing. (I initially wrote "my recent email problems," but then realized even those words are politically loaded right now!)

Writing about the adventures of starting a new business, separate from the law and opinion side of it, might be something people want to read. Even my weeks-long struggle to keep my email client to stop crashing and stop filtering important messages to spam, a struggle that made me feel incompetent, could be entertaining and maybe helpful to someone else in the same position.

For example, there's a post on my law blog that I wrote because it was assigned for my blogging class, a "personal reflection." I wrote about the self-doubt that plagued me during my second year of law school, how I was beginning to doubt I should be a lawyer at all, how I was initially turned down for my first civil rights job, but eventually got it, and then everything became clear to me—that I should practice law, and it must be something with a social justice focus. I hated that post. I hated making that part of myself public. But the response to that post has made me leave it up; readers, particularly second-year law students, thanked me for writing it, because they were experiencing similar self doubt. So maybe I will write about my e-mail troubles and impostor syndrome, in case it helps some other new small business owner or new lawyer out there.

I haven't come to any conclusion yet except that I still want to write. I need to write! When I've blogged regularly, I've been a better writer, especially professionally. I need to keep practicing my storytelling—how to be succinct, how to edit, how to turn a dull topic into an interesting narrative.  Two things in particular which have had a firm hold on my mind are topics that immediately put a listener into a state of boredom. Eyes glaze over the minute I say the words, "malpractice insurance" or "problems with my e-mail." But these have been the theme of my November and December. Since they've managed to keep such a strong grip on my mind, there must be a story here. Why are they important to me? That's where the story lies, and if I can figure out how to tell the story, I can figure out how to make any story interesting.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
But today's story isn't about malpractice insurance or email. It's about Brussels sprouts. And why I rarely post recipes on this blog. When I actually create something, instead of following a recipe, I often don't measure, and I rarely test a recipe enough to feel like it's fair to post it here. I know from experience how maddening it is to try something from a food blog and have it go wrong. I'd hate to give that experience to anyone!

However, plenty of readers could read my lists of ingredients and approximations of technique and figure out what to do. So instead of waiting until I have time to track measurements and test recipes, I'll write up my non-recipes with a warning that they're imprecise.

 The Part That is Actually About Brussels Sprouts

While I couldn't find a picture of
my late 2007's Brussels sprouts,
I found this picture of that tiny kitchen,
with a de-sprouted stalk on the window.
It is the time of year for Brussels sprouts. At some point in the past nine years, I became known for making Brussels sprouts. In 2007, living in a very small apartment in a poorly insulated house in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I tried both making and eating Brussels sprouts for the first time. I can't find that first recipe I tried, but I recall taking a lot of unnecessary steps like cutting an X into the sprouts and blanching them, before pan-roasting them. So much extra work! But they were delicious; my roommate and I were sold. The Brussels sprouts obsession had begun.

At some point, I settled on Heidi Swanson's recipe for Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts. I made them for my family Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then my parents and grandparents became Brussels sprouts fans, too. Subsequent Thanksgivings and Christmases, my grandparents would request that I bring the Brussels sprouts. When I'd visit my parents, they'd request Brussels sprouts. Sometimes I broke away from the usual recipe. I found reference in this very blog to making Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs in 2009; I described it as "autumnal perfection." I have a memory of experimenting with a new Brussels sprouts recipe for my mom and dad, quartering them and frying them in with bacon, shallots, apples, and maple syrup. I can't imagine that was bad, but I don't recall ever making it again. The simple version is the best, so why make extra work?  Halved, pan-roasted on both sides, topped with Parmesan cheese—the perfect Brussels sprouts preparation.

In recent years, grew to resent being the bringer of Brussels sprouts. I grew to hate systematically halving them and laying them in the pan, making several pan-loads in order to have enough little sprout halves for everyone. I hated flipping them carefully with a spatula, only to have some mischievous sprouts excited by the heat of the pan, bounce in the air and flip themselves back over. Every year I'd think, "It's easy! Just cut them them in half, lay them flat, flip them, put grated cheese on top!" I can even buy pre-grated (but fresh!) Parmesan cheese from my neighborhood market. And every year I'm reminded that despite the low number of steps, even when the cheese is already grated, making these sprouts in volume is time-consuming.

This post is too long for me to include all of the ways to make Brussels sprouts that I planned to write about, so I'll end with just one, and save the other two for their own posts. The next two posts will be my own "non-recipes" for Brussels Sprouts Party Dip and something I have no better name for than Monday Night Brussels Sprouts. For today, I'll end by sharing my new way to make everyone's favorite holiday party Brussels sprouts—oven-roasted on parchment paper.

I will always be grateful to Susan of Farmgirl Fare for the gift she brought me in 2013, a Facebook update linking to Quick and Easy Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Parmesan. This recipe changed my life, and if you are the friend or family member perpetually assigned to make Brussels sprouts in volume, this recipe will change your life, too. Something about the parchment paper makes the Brussels sprouts cook in the oven, on both sides, the same way they would cook in a cast iron skillet with babysitting and flipping. But on parchment paper, there is no flipping. No wicked sprout halves turning themselves over in the pan! You just cut the sprouts in half, toss them with your preferred oil and seasonings, lay them face-down on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and bake them! Then toss them with lemon juice or Parmesan cheese or whatever you want.

No flipping! Life-changing Brussels sprouts! Give them a try! And I'll get my Brussels Sprouts Party Dip recipe up for you, readers, if not in time for Christmas, then in time for New Year's Eve. Thank you for reading, and happy holidays (each and all of them!) to you!

Koko under the tree.
All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I Have Writer's Block. Here Are Some Pictures.

It is finally cool enough — but not too warm — to eat breakfast outside.

This was just for two people.
If I did not have writer's block, I could write about most of the items on that table. Are you curious why there is a pile of cardboard in the background? It is going to outline new garden pathways, and, with wood mulch on top, serve as a weed blocker.

One place I have felt creative is the kitchen. I have been using up odds and ends and scraps and leftovers everyone is tired of, to make new meals that everyone likes. That is a leftover mushroom soup quiche with cutting board remnant bread crumb crust. I strained the vegetables and rye berries out of the soup; combined them with cooked shallots, garlic, and broccoli to form the quiche filling; and used the remaining broth from the soup as the liquid in the quiche crust. I have started to make tart crusts without looking at a recipe, just throwing stuff into the stand mixer....with mixed results, so maybe don't think of this is as a great I do not have a recipe other than "some rye flour, because there were rye berries in the soup, some all purpose flour because I just wanted things to be easy, some bread crumbs from the container in the freezer, some rolled oats, some butter and olive oil and then the soup broth (reheated) added while the mixer was going until it formed a ball, sort of, and could be easily formed into a press-in crust. I thought about par-baking it but changed my mind." The ingenious idea to use bread crumbs to make an easy press-in pie crust came from Mollie Katzen, the section on pie crusts in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. (Here's a link to someone else's adaptation of Mollie Katzen's recipe, if you'd like more guidance. Or you can just get The Enchanted Broccoli Forest from the library and flip to the section on pie/tart/quiche crusts. Or buy it! It's one of my most-used cookbooks.).

At the beginning of law school, a friend and I discussed giving this blog a theme — Torts and Tortes — about the ways I save time and money and manage to cook healthy food while a law student, a person extremely short on time and looking to save money. It never materialized during law school, but I guess I could write about that stuff now. Bread crumb tart crusts and leftovers quiches were two of my most-used time-and-money-saving cooking techniques throughout law school.

I do not know how I became this frugal. I don't know where I learned this. I want you to know that I see that, from the outside, some of these things I am about to tell you seem a little much. I know what you are probably thinking, and I understand. I think it's a little crazy, too.

There is a plastic quart container in my freezer of collected breadcrumbs. After slicing bread on the cutting board, we sweep the crumbs into the plastic container. Before throwing out the bag that store-bought bread came in, the teaspoon or so of crumbs gets dumped into the plastic container. Whenever bread is fixing to go stale or moldy before we can use it, into the Vitamix dry blender it goes, and from there, to the plastic container. It doesn't take long before we have enough bread crumbs for an easy press-in quiche crust. My husband once admitted that, the first time he saw me dumping crumbs from the cutting board into a specially-labeled container in the freezer, he thought this was one of the weirdest, most unnecessary things he'd seen me do, but that the quiche crusts soon changed his mind.

(Sometimes you have to toast the bread in a skillet or low oven before the blender step.)

And then the quiche custard. We buy gallons of milk, because it's only like, a dollar more than the cost of a half gallon. Then begins the rush to actually use the entire gallon before it goes bad. When it goes bad, it just gets dumped into the garden bed designated for tomatoes because maybe that will add calcium to the soil and that way it's not a total waste (?). If I remember to make yogurt, none of it goes bad. Another way to use up that milk is to make quiche custard. Sometimes I made large quantities and froze it, making dinner really easy when law school got really busy.

But here's where the super-frugal-potentially-too-far part comes in. After blending things in the VitaMix, or chopping things in the dry blender (such as onions, grated Parmesan cheese, or stale bread into bread crumbs), and being unable to get every little bit out of the blender even with a spatula, I will put some kind of edible liquid into the blender to get every last bit of food out. Sometimes this is oil and vinegar, to make salad dressing. Sometimes this is milk, and then with that herb-Parmesan-onion-flavored milk, I mix some eggs and make quiche custard.

(A few weeks ago, I accidentally broke a Pyrex pie plate. I par-baked a bread crumb crust on a too-high temperature. 450F. That was really stupid. Then I put the pie plate on a heavy wooding cutting board that probably had a tiny bit of water in it somewhere. Within minutes, the pie plate cracked. It did not explode, but tiny glass fragments fell all over, and I had to throw out a lot of food just in case exploding Pyrex micro-fragments had flown into it. Better safe than sorry. The cost of food is less than an emergency room visit. (Of course I mean "put in the compost" when I say "throw out." ) Luckily, the quiche custard was still in the VitaMix, perfectly covered and perfectly safe from flying glass. Also, this was twenty minutes before company was set to arrive and I was still in my pajamas. The quiche custard became a scramble! Brunch was saved!)

This next picture is an okra blossom that opened up last week. I know I'm supposed to rip out my summer vegetable plants right now. I know this okra blossom is unlikely to turn into anything edible. But it's so pretty, and I have nothing else to plant in the beds right now, and I like to think that by refusing to take out my vegetables until first frost, I'm helping pollinators!

This is an emotional cat who runs around the house, crying and trying to cuddle with people, at the sound of arguing, children crying on TV, loud laughing (which I hypothesize she interprets as arguing), people discussing the news (particularly politics (particularly this election (thankful it's almost over))) (which often gets loud enough to sound like fighting even if it's just a lot of vehement agreement), and most music. I think the cat thinks most singing is also crying or fighting, some kind of conflict. Since we lost our old cat Mimi (which I have not written about), this cat has been even more emotional. (Don't worry. We took her to the vet to confirm she was not ill. The vet confirmed that she is perfectly healthy but "depressed" and "lonely." We are in the process of getting another cat, one the same age as Kokusho, with a sweet personality.)

A year ago, when this emotional cat was showing signs of separation anxiety (crying when I would pick up my keys and bag to leave for school and work, licking soap), I discovered two things that calmed her down. First, I made a bed for her atop the printer atop the file cabinet next to my desk, so that when I worked at my desk, she could feel like we were hanging out, and maybe not be so upset when I left for a long day of classes and work. Second, by accident, I discovered that this cat loves Icelandic folk singer Ólöf Arnalds. (So do I. This song is a favorite of the cat...and me, too.) My routine last fall involved studying at my desk in the mornings with this album playing over and over again, while the cat happily blinked and rolled around in her "house" atop the printer atop the filing cabinet next to my desk.

I forgot to explain Koko's "house." It's just a soft cat carrier that Koko loooooooooooves. We often place it wherever we want her to sit, to distract her from some kind of mischief. It works.

Anyway, I have been on a 90's music kick. The cat merely tolerates Tori Amos and P.J. Harvey (despite the playlist she made on my computer last year). They don't make her cry or run around the house. Last week, after buying a CD at a concert, I discovered 90's music that has the same effect on Koko as Ólöf Arnalds — Mortal City by Dar Williams. I have not yet tested other Dar Williams albums.

A pile of warm laundry AND Mortal City!

In my opinion, the last day of summer in Atlanta was October 20th. It took this long for that pineapple sage, above, to bloom. When I first learned of pineapple sage, I was told (in New Jersey) that it was a September bloomer. Maybe extreme late October blooming is normal in Atlanta. I have no idea. Do you?

This is a creation I made after reading recipes for Tamale Pie, after thinking, "Can I use masa harina to make pie dough?" and googling madly. It was also a cheap-person-use-up-leftovers creation. From the aforementioned brunch (the one with company and the broken pie plate, not the one for just two people pictured above with the leftover soup quiche), we had a huge quantity of leftover collard greens. With more pot liquor than I knew what to do with. (I only have a vague idea that you do stuff with it besides dunk cornbread in it. Y'all, I am from New Jersey.) I learned here that masa harina uses a lot of liquid (makes sense - like when making tortillas!), so instead of the tablespoon or so of cold water that you throw into regular pie crust, I used a cup or so of reheated collard green liquid as the liquid in this haphazard tamale pie dough. The remaining collard green liquid was used to soak TVP, a frugal person ingredient that I like to use to supplement meat in hamburgers or add meat-free protein when I'm in a hurry and don't want to soak beans. I (sort of) use this recipe. (Also, we often using meat broths as the liquid for TVP, or bacon fat as the cooking we are not at all vegetarian.)

Mmm. TVP. I love that spatula with my name on it.

Tamale Pie (sort of)

And because it wouldn't be a post on this blog without some mention of pickles:

I didn't even crop this to make it look nice.

Remember a few months ago, I wrote that I couldn't figure out how to get carrot daikon pickles to stand up and fill a jar efficiently and attractively? I was silly. It's easy. You lay the jar on its side, lay the tall skinny vegetable in the jar, roll it gently to get the other side, carefully turn it upright gently, poke rebellious pickles with a chopstick to make them comply, then dump the brine over top. This was based on the recipe for snow pea and lemongrass pickles from The Banh Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen, another favorite in my house. You might think that with a title like that, it would be a single-purpose cookbook, but no. It is one of the most-used, up there with The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It's a collection of recipes for different marinated meats and tofu/tempeh, pickles, sauces, mayonnaises, and other condiments which are great on banh mi, but can be adapted to many other dishes, too.

I've also started rereading this favorite blog, Crazy Aunt Purl, starting from the very beginning and working my way through the archives. When I feel compelled to check Facebook or burned out from reading about the election, I retreat back to 2005 and I feel better. I highly recommend this blog! I still miss mid-2000's blogs.

There is no natural end to this ramble. Bar results come out on Friday, and I am no longer writing cover letters. (A post lingering in my drafts folder is about how I was having trouble writing in this blog because I was so sick of writing about myself, writing so many cover letters applying to jobs.) That is because I got accepted into a program that will help me start my own solo practice. Instead of applying to jobs, I am making my own (with lots of help) and realizing a BIG DREAM. I think stress about both of these things (bar results bad stress, solo practice good stress!) is what has given me writer's block. I haven't decided how much I will write about being a lawyer here, or how my law blog will factor into my practice or how much I will keep writing in my law blogs. For now, it's just Torts and Tortes and cats and plants.

All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday Morning Baked Eggs

A difficult gardening season is winding down. The difficult summer—hot and dry—is over. This was the first year I've ever said, "I can't wait for fall." And it's here!
We still have plenty of gardening time left in Georgia. Our pepper plants are still producing. The Egyptian walking onions, having walked all over the front and back yards this summer, are producing green onions now. We have herbs—flat-leafed parsley, curly parsley, sage, basil, Thai basil, rosemary, thyme, red shiso, green shiso, ngo om, sorrel, pineapple sage, catnip, chives, lemon verbena, and oregano. We have perennials to plant. Many of the flowers are still flowering, like this annual, re-seeding red salvia, and the pink zinnias in the background.
Red salvia. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
But now it is cool enough to have the windows open. It is cool enough to sit outside even after 9am. It is cool enough to be outside all the time! Luckily, my husband just made this storage bench for our front porch. Now we have more seating for entertaining, and instead of a chaotic mess of garden gloves, tools, and plastic pots that blow around the neighborhood every time there's a storm (sorry, neighbors!) and cause me to spend the next couple of days running into people's yards saying, "Is that my pot?" and trying to grab the pot and run away before being we just have an attractive bench. (Gate and chair setup is so that we can keep the door open, for air circulation, without worrying that the cat will get out.)
Husband's storage bench and my junk on the table. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
 (Which she can do, if she's on her leash.) (That mysterious mound in the background is our attempt at hugelkultur - a post for another time.)

Cat on a leash on a purple porch. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
We had breakfast on the porch this morning, these baked eggs I am about to tell you about. I logged into Pinterest last night for the first time in months, and was inspired by the first pin I saw! Mexican Baked Eggs from Closet Cooking. I didn't actually read the recipe - just glanced at the ingredient list and thought the idea of something like eggs in purgatory, but with refried beans instead of tomato sauce, sounded delicious and perfect. Just skimming that website transformed me from overwhelmed to inspired! I had a ton of cooked kidney beans that I didn't know what to do with, half a can of tomato paste that I didn't know what to do with, and a selection of peppers and onions from the garden. I cooked the bean mixture last night, and assembled it all in the pan this morning.

 A Sort-Of-Recipe for Baked Eggs in Beans

I warmed some oil in a skillet, and added a little chopped garlic and chopped onion—it was just some teeny Egyptian walking onions, so these aren't necessary and could be replaced with shallots. I cooked the alliums in the oil. Then I added the beans - about two cups of cooked kidney beans, plus their cooking liquid (which I had saved in the jars where I stored them, post-cooking.) I added some chopped peppers from the garden, a mix of cherry bomb and some mystery pepper that isn't very hot. As these cooked down, I added about 2tbsp tomato paste and then I started adding spices. I dumped in some Adobo seasoning, Italian seasoning, and carrot powder and celery powder. (These are the results of having a juicer and an Excalibur dehydrator and refusing to throw anything away, ever. I started saving the pulp from the juicer, dehydrating it, and grinding it in a spice grinder to use as seasoning/a soup stock add-in.) Once the vegetables had softened and the liquid evaporated into a thick sauce surrounding the beans, I turned off the stove, put everything back in the glass jars that had housed the beans, and put in the fridge. (I cleaned the skillet, too.) (Had I used a different cooking vessel, I would have put a lid on and put the whole thing in the fridge, but I hadn't planned that well.)

In the morning, I re-oiled the skillet, warmed it up on the stovestop, and dumped all the bean filling back into the pan. Once that seemed warm (after a few minutes), I created wells and walls to keep the eggs in place. The pre-baked picture demonstrates shows the bean barriers better than the post-cooking picture:
Before the eggs were baked. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I let this cook on medium while the oven pre-heated to 350F. I put everything in the oven and checked on it every ten minutes. To my surprise, the eggs looked cooked after only 20 minutes. I turned the heat to warm, threw some scallions on top of the pan (pre-chopped from another recipe), and went outside to gather some fresh herbs for embellishment (because Adobo seasoning, Italian seasoning, and carrot and celery powder were not enough!)
Still getting stuff from the garden! Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
(The new storage bench also makes a lovely backdrop for garden harvest pictures!)
Baked eggs and kitchen clutter. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

Basil, sage, oregano, and flat-leafed parsley were chopped and added to the top of the pan, after it all came out of the oven.
Baked eggs close-up. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

This is a perfect time of year. Warm, but the air-is-soup humidity of summer is past. We can still get (part of) breakfast from the garden, and we can enjoy it outdoors!

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

More rain, more pickles

This posted was written, edited, and eventually abandoned in June. Now that the bar exam is behind me, I am publishing it.
Inside a tunnel of art, looking out a window, at Howard Finster's Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

I've been meaning to tell you about the trip I took with my husband to Paradise Garden earlier this month.

Rain falling on Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

I've had a few ideas. A general post about my love of environmental art or folk art, which I discovered after moving to the South (where such art is abundant.) It would have included pictures of other folk art we've seen in our travels, such as the Alabama Museum of Wonder. Or pictures from Storm King in New York (not folk art at all, I think, but maybe environmental art, as it is a sculpture garden. I don't know what I'm talking about. Feel free to correct me, real artists/art historians), which we visited sometime before we moved to Georgia.

More view of rainy Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I love the look of nature and manmade objects coexisting or juxtaposed. I love taking pictures of it. I love the way the art is not just the sculpture, but the experience. I love the way it changes every time, yet in a way is dependable. You can go back ten years later, at the same time of year, and despite the changes in the world and yourself, the plants and the weather and even the insects and animals are similar.
Rain-soaked sculpture by Howard Finster, at Paradise Garden. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
I thought about doing some research first, getting books about Howard Finster from the library in order to incorporate some of his own words into a post about seeing his work. Many of these were woven into the introductory video shown at the garden; many seemed relevant, comforting, or otherwise worth pondering and sharing, but I didn't want to use misquotations from my head, mangled by time and memory. So for now, I'll share some pictures, and leave the well-researched post for another day.

If you're within driving distance of Summerville, Georgia (in the northwest of the state, near Rome and about forty minutes south of Cloudland Canyon), I recommend visiting Paradise Garden. It's beautiful and delightful.

Photo of green mango achaar in progress, by me. CC 2.0.

The time for day trips as bar exam stress relief is drawing to a close for me. Instead, the outlet for my anxiety has been domestic projects. Above is a picture of my attempt at lacto-fermented pickled green mango, turmeric root, garlic, and cherry bomb chili pepper. The seeds are cumin. The story behind this is that my neighbor, a cashier at the market where I was buying green mangoes, asked me if I was going to use them to make pickles. I replied that I was planning to make green mango salad.

As a side note, one of the weird side effects of bar stress has been developing wild cravings for fruits and vegetables. This has something to do with a belief that doing healthy things will help me retain information, or at least combat the awful stress stomachaches I was getting at the beginning of bar prep season. On this particular day, I became fixated on green mango salad thickly sliced green mango in a light dressing (like maybe lime juice and a little fish sauce?).

But my neighbor rattled off, from memory, his recipe for pickled green mango. Just pack them in a jar with salt and turmeric and leave them on the counter for three days.

I perked up. I had just read something about the benefits of lacto-fermented stuff for people with angry stomachs, and I had tried a similar green mango pickle about a year ago. That recipe involved oil, and the whole thing was just an unappetizing, oily mess.

My neighbor informed me that I could use oil, but I didn't have to. Just salt and turmeric, and after three days, I could add chili and garlic and cumin if I wanted.

I went home and commenced Googling. Eventually, I skimmed a section in Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation, a gift I'd gotten for my husband. He accused me of getting this as a Rollerskates for Grandma present. I protested that he had, at the time, an interest in making fermented hot sauces.

("Rollerskates for Grandma" is a phrase invented, I think, by one of my grad school friends in Portland. This friend has a brilliant way with words, of clever phrases and comparisons. She uses the phrase "Rollerskates for Grandma" to describe giving someone a gift that is really a gift for yourself. I think this can be either a gift you'd rather have, or a gift you get someone else so that you can use it. Since my husband and I share both a house and certain hobbies, this phrase comes up quite a bit.)

Sandor Katz, or at least what I'd skimmed, assured me that this kind of pickling would be no big deal. If the something went wrong, I'd know. There would be mold or a bad smell. I could then simply skim off the mold or compost the whole mess, then start over.

And so I packed the slices in as much kosher salt as I could find, with some tiny cubes of turmeric root. I used a plastic bag full of salt water (the Internet said so, okay?) to weight everything down.

After three days and some more Googling (which told me that lacto-fermented stuff could stay on the counter for up to six days), I added garlic, cumin, and chili pepper. I had begun to suspect that I'd used too much salt, so I thought adding more vegetables would even things out. I added water to keep everything covered, and left it on the counter for another three days.

Kokusho is suspicious of countertop pickles. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

The resulting pickles taste of nothing but salt. I haven't thrown them out; I'll probably add them to something I'm pureeing instead of salt, in case I can get some kind of lacto-fermented benefits from that. I've since learned that it's okay to use saltwater brine, that one need not cover the produce entirely in salt, to keep out bad germs. If you're wondering why this wasn't obvious to me, keep in mind that my head is currently being filled with the intricacies of the Rule Against Perpetuities and miscellaneous powers of Congress; in order to retain things like when the rights of a third-party beneficiary to a contract actually vest, I have to force out a little common sense.

Friday, June 03, 2016

It Finally Rained (Plus Pickles)

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Baby okra plant.

      Several days last week, rain was predicted, typically at noon. I waited. Sometimes, I watered, but mostly, I waited, not wanting to waste resources or over-water and rot my plants' roots.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Iris leaf (blurry).
      Sometimes noon would bring clouds, a heavy dark layer and heavy, humid air.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. 'Rutgers' tomato plant.
      It was supposed to rain last Thursday. It was supposed to rain this weekend. It was supposed to rain on Monday. It finally rained yesterday, a different Thursday.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0. Do Chua.
      In the evening, I made carrot and daikon pickles (do chua), using a different recipe than I have in the past from a blog I discovered last week when trying to find vegetarian dumpling recipes that didn't necessarily involve tofu. (Not that I have anything against tofu; I just don't always have a package in the fridge that I don't have other plans for. What I do tend to have on hand are dried beans.) It wasn't just the recipe for mung bean dumplings, but the writing before the recipe about the author's life, which drew me in. I immediately wanted to read more of this blog, The Viet Vegan.
     This is the third do chua recipe I've tried. In Portland, my husband and I went through a brief banh mi phase. I don't remember what recipe we used, but I'm sure it involved grating the carrot and daikon. Last summer, we started to work our way through some of our cookbooks that were sort of neglected. We started with Delightful Thai Cooking by Eng Tie Ang, and switched to her Delightful Vietnamese Cooking, and very quickly became fixated on this book. Her do chua recipe involves chopping, not grating, the carrot and daikon. The resulting pickles seemed huge to me, and even though they were good, I thought maybe I'd done something wrong.
    I went to the First Oriental Market, a small market near my house. It deserves its own post, because it is sort of magical seeming. First of all, it looks small, but the inside is deceptively large. Second of all, it's no H-Mart substitute for when you don't feel like going to Buford Highway. They carry things that H-Mart does not have. Third, they always have different things, including plants for the garden, and fourth, the women who work there give great advice. Sometimes I go there with a shopping list and a plan, but sometimes I go there just to see what jumps into my basket. (Usually, it's a plant.) It's where I got my shiso plant last year, which reseeded into many beautiful shiso plants.
     Back to the pickles. One day last summer, I had grand plans to surprise my husband with banh mi, all component parts made from scratch. I'd made baguettes, mayonnaise, and probably some other things I'm forgetting, but I was second guessing my do chua. So I stopped at the market and asked if they had carrot and daikon pickles in a jar.
     "People usually make that at home," was the puzzled response.
     "I tried that," I replied. "But I don't think I did it right. They're really big and they're kind of smelly."
    After clarifying what they smelled like (sulfur, radishes, that brassicaceous smell), the woman confirmed that I had done everything right. I wasn't supposed to grate or shred the vegetables. They'd be too soft! They're supposed to be crunchy! And that smell was normal. She told me that some people open the jar outside and wait ten minutes.
     Even though my husband and a friend called them "fart pickles," everyone agreed that despite the smell, they were great on banh mi.
    I'm not sure what compelled me to try a different recipe. Is it because I was excited to find a new blog? What I mean to say is, I wasn't concerned about the "fart pickle" issue, but I'm happy to report that this most recent batch of do chua does not smell like anything unpleasant. Also, they are delicious. I've eaten about half of the contents of a pint jar.
     I recommend The Viet Vegan's recipe for do chua. It was easy and fun, and the pickles are delicious! Even though I waited too long after buying the daikon, so the daikon matchsticks are not crispy and don't stand up straight in the jar. Notice how beautiful The Viet Vegan's pickles are, standing nicely in the jar. I hope to someday develop the skill to arrange the pickles neatly--mine are jammed haphazardly in the jars.
Shiso and Asclepias tuberosa.Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey.  CC 2.0.
     That is one of the shiso plants that re-seeded from the plant mentioned above. The last draft post from that summer is a long-winded story about buying it and impulse-buying other herbs with it. I love the way the purple shiso and orange butterfly weed look together. Finally, this morning, I got a picture of them that didn't include ugly sidewalk or random garden implements.
     When I bought that shiso last summer, shiso wasn't regularly available at any nearby grocery stores, so having my own plant feels special, like a botanical blessing. The orange butterfly weed growing next to it is also one of my favorites in the garden, a plant I grew from seed and has thrived, despite my initial low expectations. I planted it before I'd had much success with anything grown from seed, when I thought of myself as a terrible gardener. It too feels like a botanical blessing. Seeing them together next to the front walk, I'm momentarily taken away from studying stress; it is replaced with a brief calm and a surge of happiness.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Tulips Flourished

An anonymous commenter kindly commented on my last post that it was not boring, and that they wanted to know how the tulips fared.
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.

They not only survived the temperature changes of our late winter, but grew tall and bloomed. The rest of our spring bulbs followed suit. We had two kinds of tulips, crocuses, a small blue-flowering Allium aureum, and an abundance of Scilla siberica, a spring flower to which I attach a lot of affection and some memories.

Scilla siberica. Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey. CC 2.0.
Especially delightful was the success of the checker lilies. I had tried to grow Fritillaria meleagris in previous gardens with no success. I'm not sure if my Portland checker lilies even bloomed before dying. I had such little hope for them in Georgia that I think I deliberately forgot that I planted them. But they grew. They persisted in breaking through Georgia red clay, persisted despite my neglect, and bloomed in at least three different beds in the yard. I hope they come back next year. Perhaps I will plant more this fall.

Look at the cool pattern on the tepals!
That's not a typo; they're really called tepals!
Photo by Sarah E. Kelsey, CC 2.0.
This was a short update between bouts of bar prep. In drafts, I've started further updates on the topics from my last post. A lot has happened in the last four months! I had pneumonia, I got better, I graduated from law school, and now I am studying for the bar exam. I'm doing an online, flexible program, so I have time to do the outside things I like (such as listening to lectures while weeding and reading study materials on the porch). In between studying tasks, I'm still gardening, cooking, reading, taking pictures, and writing. Once I start revising, I'll have more to share with you!

More soon!

Monday, February 01, 2016

A boring update just to get back in the habit

Hello again from Atlanta on a strangely warm winter day!
Lots of things are happening! I'm in my last semester of law school! Soon, I will be blogging much more regularly--but for a class, in a different blog, only about constitutional law. (For those interested, I plan to focus on the areas of constitutional law in which I'm most interested, about which I feel the most confident and informed, such as freedom of speech/expression and equal protection, with a little Fourth Amendment thrown in.)
Even though this school year has been just as busy as the previous two, to some extent I have more control over my time.  This is not true every week, but some weeks and weekends I'm able to schedule my responsibilities with enough flexibility to leave large blocks of time to pursue other, more fun things. This includes writing for fun and knitting and kitchen projects and plants and all of the things I typically write about. Also, the stiff writing style of school and work seems to have leaked into my fun writing (just look at the first two sentences of this paragraph--ugh!), and more regular writing will hopefully help break me of that.  (Which is, incidentally, also important for my blogging class--it's a class on public legal writing. One of the main goals is to get better at writing for the public, writing about complex issues not in the style of a memo.)
Some of these fun things that are new this winter are that I got a juicer for Christmas. I could write and write and write about my juicer for many posts. I love my juicer! It's a cold press slow juicer, and having never used any other kind of juicer, I don't know if the things I'm going to talk about are unique to cold, slow juicers or not. It's quiet. It's a bit of work to clean, but not frustrating - there are a a lot of parts, but they are each individually easy to clean - things don't get stuck in impossible places. The solids that separate from the juice are useable, and so not only do I have access to the new cooking world that is juicing, I also get to explore the new world of making things with the juicer remains! Which is more appealing than I just made it sound! Vegetable pulp goes in the freezer to be added to meatloaf.  (Eventually, I'll try adding it to things like veggie burgers, meatballs, lentil loaves, and regular meat burgers.)  Sometimes it gets added to healthy breakfast muffins--although my first experiment, healthy beet ginger muffins, is nothing to get excited about. (They're not inedible. They are filling. They serve the function of a healthy, filling, portable, easy breakfast item. That's the best I can say about them--they're functional. Just what you want in a baked good.)
I also have been using the saved, frozen juicer leavings to add to tea! Some juices are great added to tea, too.  This is the main reason to keep ginger juice or turmeric juice around, but I found over the weekend that chai tea made with half boiling water, half sweet potato juice is delicious.  At the moment, I am drinking the results of steeping dried orange peel, green tea, dried rosebuds, and ginger juicer pulp in the tea pot, with turmeric juice and honey added to the cup. Yum!
In news outside of the law school and the kitchen, I've started hosting social knitting at my house. This began when I shared a Facebook post about the new Warmth for All chapter in Atlanta, a charity group that is coordinating with International Rescue Committee to donate handknit items to Atlanta's refugee community. I have, since this past fall, been determined to get more involved in helping refugees, and for reasons I won't discuss on the blog (not now, anyway), my schedule has gotten restrictive in a way that makes me hesitant to sign up for a volunteer orientation or designated weekly volunteering time slot--I would hate to cancel due to a last minute obstacle outside of my control, that nonetheless inconveniences the organization. A lot of the knitting community is helping refugees by working with 25,000 Tuques and other international efforts; I was planning to start that, too, but thought, "It seems silly to send hats only to Canada when there are refugees in my own city." I thought about starting my own group--contacting IRC and World Relief Atlanta, and then contacting local knitting groups--and was delighted to find someone else has already done it!
After I shared Warmth for All's Facebook post, a bunch of my friends responded that they wanted to participate, but wanted to learn how to knit. I offered to host and teach in my living room. Just like I used to do for my college choir ten years ago! Other friends came to help teach, and we're going to do it again this month--maybe every month!--as well as go to Warmth for All's stitch-in events!  I finished my first scarf to donate this weekend, a plain old Lion Brand Homespun scarf in a colorway called Wild Fire. (Another post could be dedicated to Lion Brand Homespun, the yarn I learned to knit with, the budget yarn of my dreams. It gets reviled by some knitters, but I say they are wrong. Homespun is soft, comes in beautiful colors, durable, machine washable, and because of its price point, accessible.)  Here's a picture of my finished scarf, displayed on the arbor in our garden, with a close-up to show the colors of the yarn.

I'm also working on the same projects I was working on a month ago--a yellow cardigan and a pair of plain Vanilla Socks for myself in pretty yarn. I'm planning to cast on two more projects for charity--some kind of hat, once I locate my size 4 circular needles; and the Wheat Scarf by Tin Can Knits in some pretty, colorful yarn I found in the Tote Bag Which Houses The I Have No Idea What To Do With This Yarn! Collection.
In botanical news, my spring bulbs are coming up. I have no idea if that's bad or if that's just gardening in Georgia.  It was nearly seventy degrees yesterday.  It was in the twenties the previous weekend.  This is just how Georgia is, I guess.  I suppose it would be nice if I had taken a picture of these plants to share with you, right?  Next time!  Anyway, I'm not the only one.  This morning I noticed a neighbor's daffodils, which I'd been observing on my daily walks, are blooming. I think they were not blooming yesterday; they waited just until February.
Also in botanical news, I had a visitation from a botanist and she gifted me with seeds. A friend from college stopped in Atlanta on her way road tripping from South Florida back up North, and she brought Miracle Fruit! I'd heard of this for the first time about nine years ago, when a friend told me that she and her boyfriend had ordered these strange fruits on the Internet that you eat and then everything you eat after that is sweeter until the effect wears off. This post is already getting long, so I won't write a plant profile on Synsepalum dulcificum or an account of my experience eating key limes (delicious!), star fruit (yum!), or cornichons (pretty much exactly the same!) under the influence of miracle fruit--not today, at least.  We saved the seeds from the fruits to attempt propagation at home. I'll document that process!
In unrelated life news, I want to try Stitch Fix, but I'm afraid to commit. First of all, in my tiny house, I have a ton of clothes I don't wear (and am slowly moving to the "donate" pile--to eventually actually take to a donation site!).  Second, what if they send me stupid stuff that I hate and I waste a bunch of money?  Third, I'm just being weird about breaking out of my routine while concurrently giving control of an aspect of my life to a stranger. Do any of my readers have thoughts on this?

Well, this has been long enough for a "boring update" to get back into the habit of writing about non-work-related things for the public. Happy February!