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 idea...so 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 fat.......so 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 seen...now 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!