Thursday, August 29, 2013

Stitch Fix 1

"The rumors of my death have been exaggerated."  Mark Twain

I'm still alive.  My zucchini, however, is not.  Greenville has been hit with a ton of rain, and it killed our squash.  I did manage to get in one more zucchini dish before then that I'll share with you soon.  Right around the same time as my zucchini dying, I took on some new responsibilities at work.  I've been busy learning a new job and adjusting to a more demanding schedule.  But, obviously, a new job means new clothes!

A friend at work put me on to Stitch Fix.  For a $20 styling fee, a stylist sends you a box of 5 items based on an comprehensive clothing profile. You have three days to try things on and decide what you want to keep.  The styling fee goes towards anything you purchase.  If you purchase all 5 items, Stitch Fix takes 25% off the total.

I'm not good at thinking outside the box, and thought this might be a good way to get myself to try new things.  And it's every bit as fun as it sounds!

Look what was waiting for me when I got home!

I could not wait to open it.  But first I had to make the bed so that my pictures would be internet-ready.

Seriously, everything about the packaging is adorable.

Every item comes with a cute styling card that shows how to dress the item up or down.

There's a lot of attention to detail in that little box.  Here's what I got from top to bottom:

Portland Ikat Keyhole Back Belted Dress 

No.  Just no.  I don't care for ikat in general, and this pattern didn't change my mind.  Also the top was about 2 times too big on me.

Matt's reaction: Uh, no.

Verdict: Going back.

Calafia Jersey Wrap Dress 

I was very on the fence with this one.  The color is great - not too purple, not too burgundy.  And the fit was perfect too.  Not only is it incredibly comfortable, it has pockets!  But I just bought a wrap dress from Banana Republic, and I was considering ordering that in another color.  In the end it was the cap sleeves that did it.  I always have problem with things looking fitted on my narrow shoulders, and the absence of sleeves solves that.  Plus it will be nice to have another piece that will work for the office or the weekend.

Verdict: Keeping it.

Alan Cowl Neck Asymmetrical Jacket 

I've been on the lookout for a grey cardigan for a long time, so I was very excited to see this in the box. I had put on my personality profile that I wear sweaters all year long (our office is set to Klondike). Sadly, the zipper didn't do nice things for me, and the fabric was just a teeny bit itchy.  I wanted to love it, and almost kept it.  But if I'm going to spend that much on a cardigan, it's going to be one that I have no questions about.

Verdict: a reluctant goodbye.

Jacy Hooded Knit Jacket 

So many things to like about this: the long cuff, the grey lining, the wide belt, the fact that it was like wearing a  giant blanket.  But I couldn't wear the hood to work, and I'm not spending that kind of money on something I can't wear to work.  Plus, Matt said it was a little drab looking.

Verdict: going back

Hammered Geometric Strand Necklace 

I'm terrible at picking out and buying jewelry, but this is wonderful.  My wedding bands are yellow gold, so I'm thrilled to have some new yellow gold jewelry.  An added convenience of Stitch Fix is that I could try everything on with all my clothes at home.  I tried this necklace on with about four different things, and I loved it with everything.

Verdict: Keeping.

I promised myself there would be no awkward mirror selfies, but it seems it's impossible to go through a Stitch Fix box without one.  Here I am rocking my new necklace.

I've already signed up to receive my next Stitch for my birthday in a couple months.  This was some of the most fun I've ever had shopping!

If you're interested in signing up, would you mind using this referral link?  Stitch Fix will give me a $25 credit, and Matt will be very grateful.

Sign up here

(This is in no way funded by Stitch Fix.  Until I placed this order, they had no idea I exist.)

What do you think?  Do you want to see an awkward mirror selfie of the wrap dress?  What do you think about ikat? If you're curious about the prices, message me.  I'm happy to pass them along to give you an idea of the price range.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Guest Post: Zucchini Feta Scones

Charis of Hazelnuts and I have been friends since English 102.  In between raising Hurricane Hazel, working part-time, cooking, being involved in church and refinishing furniture, she keeps me sane and reminds me to take time to enjoy life.

When Liz started The Great Zucchini Challenge, I was enthralled. I studied every recipe, laughed through all her amusing anecdotes, and may have shed a couple of pregnant tears at her nostalgic memories. I wanted to be just like her, in my pretty kitchen after a productive day of work, gently cooking my cares away while becoming a more meaningful person through my varied intake of zucchini. She made it sound so fulfilling.

I asked her to pass along any extra zucchini, since she had enough to roll around on the floor of her kitchen, apparently. She obliged with the most enormous green vegetable I’ve ever seen.

My husband noticed it on the counter and took a step back in a rather horrified way. I explained that Liz had inspired me to do our own version of The Great Zucchini Challenge. He looked at me and then at “that thing” rather dubiously.

I first tackled the chocolate cake Liz had shared. I even made a chocolate ganache to accompany that warm goodness. It was DEE-VINE.

Brian ate one piece and said it was nice. I pointed out that you couldn’t even tell there was zucchini in it. He said that’s what made him uncomfortable about it. Zucchini shouldn’t hide and try to be something it was not. It made him squeamish. 

Whatever. I ate his share obligingly.

He was much more comfortable with the chicken tortilla soup. The slices of zucchini stood out and did not hide ashamedly. 

Then I tackled a recipe I found for scones. I have a thing for scones. And I could envision myself in my bright, clean kitchen, mixing up a merry batch of scones and throwing out witty sentiments left and right for a Zucchini Challenge Guest Post. I was feeling fulfilled just envisioning the baking process.

Then Hurricane Hazel wandered in. Well, mother-daughter bonding time over baking can be fulfilling, too. At least, that’s what I’ve read in the Mommy Blogs. As if anything I’ve ever read in a Mommy Blog resembles what my life actually looks like. I set her on the counter and we got started. 

Don’t let the cute pictures deceive you. There were eggshells in the wet ingredients, Hazel tried eating the flour, I burned my protruding bellybutton on a hot pan, and most of the dry ingredients ended up on the counter when I let my “helper” stir them. We had to have a second attempt. And there was nothing calming, fulfilling, or serene about any part of it. I eyed the scones sourly as I shoved them in the oven and wondered if Liz had days in the kitchen like that.

But I repented when we pulled them out. Tender, not too crumbly, and so savory. In fact, they reminded me a bit of Red Lobster’s cheddar biscuits (is it kind of trashy to mention a chain restaurant in a blog post? Sorry…). And that’s how I described them to Brian. They are savory, I explained. Like those ones you love from Red Lobster.

Ever dubious, he tried one. Nice try, he said. The zucchini is trying to hide again, and it’s not like Red Lobster.

I pointed out that we were being frugal and were living off of free food from farming friends. He pointed out that prison food is free, too. I ate another piece of chocolate zucchini cake and ate his scone, too. 

For the record, Brian is not a scone fan. Don’t be dubious about them based on his hesitance. They are the best savory scones I’ve ever made. They freeze and thaw well, and are the perfect addition to a meal of greek chicken pitas. Next time, I’m going to add a little extra lemon zest, as the called-for amount wasn’t very noticeable. Also, next time, I’m just going to bake them at Liz’s house and leave Brian and Hurricane Hazel at home to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

The original recipe encourages you to crumble your own feta from a fresh block. I am an Aldi shopper and impatient. I used the pre-crumbled jazz fresh from the plastic container and it was lovely.

Also, the recipe didn’t tell me if I was supposed to drain or pack my zucchini. I ended up squeezing out my shredded zucchini and packing it in, so I may have used a more generous amount than was intended. 

Zucchini and Feta Scones (as adapted from Rook No.17) http://www.rookno17.com/2011/07/baking-with-olive-oil-savory-zucchini.html

2  cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups (approx. 2 medium) shredded zucchini
1 cup crumbled feta cheese 
Zest of one small lemon

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir in oregano.  Set aside. In an electric mixer, beat eggs and oil until smooth and lightened in color.  Stir in the zucchini, feta and lemon zest.  Add the dry ingredients and mix to combine.  Using a 1/4 cup kitchen scoop, portion dough on to prepared baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tops of scones are lightly browned and spring back to the touch.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.  Best when served warm.

I am flattered that my writing conveys images of peaceful zucchini relaxation, but I assure you there is a reason all my food shots are close-ups - no better way to hide all the dirty dishes and chaos.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Day 9: Let's Not Haggle for Darling Courgette

We finally got to try Tupelo Honey Cafe.  Everything I'd heard about it is true.  Matt said, "I had high expectations, and this exceeded them."  I concur.  Would also like to add, that although it isn't pictured, it was the best asparagus I've ever eaten.  I'm still thinking about those Appalachian egg rolls.  How did I get so lucky as to be born in the era of food fusions?

Took me two days and five false starts, but I finally finished watching Les Miserables.  I cried.  I would have cried more if Matt hadn't been present with a commentary.  There are plenty of haters, but I thought that the method of recording the actors singing was incredibly moving.  I come away from every performance of Les Miserables with something new, and this was no exception.  

If you're familiar with the musical, then you know that M. Thenardier can never remember Cosette's name.  At one point he refers to her as "Courgette."  This is French for zucchini. What better movie could there be for taking a break from a zucchini challenge?

We liked Tupelo Honey so much that we went back for brunch on Sunday with the sisters.  

Our neighbors had us over to eat with them Saturday night.  At dusk, I climbed over the fence to put up the birds.  I will never get tired of looking at that sky over our property.  When I went back to the neighbors', Matt was holding an hour-old keet (baby guinea fowl) to keep it warm.  It was the color of a pussy willow catkins and almost as small.

Sunday afternoon Rebekah and I sat out on the back porch, listened to the rain, and played with acrylic paint.  Matt questioned my ability to paint, but later he told me he'd frame my painting and hang it on the wall.  That's love.

Just ask any of our overnight guests.  We've needed a new coffee carafe for long time.  When we went to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy one, they didn't carry it in store and had to order it for us.  Since we had a 20% off coupon burning a hole in our pocket, Matt bought the Cuisinart ice cream maker he's been eyeing.  We made roasted strawberry ice cream from Zoe Bakes.  Zoe is behind the artisan bread that changed my life, but this ice cream was not life changing.

Ice cream is one of those things that really is better homemade.  Even the best quality grocery ice creams like Haagen Dazs and High Road can't taste as fresh  (I tried Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream once.  I know she's the darling of the food blogging world, but I couldn't even finish the pint we bought.  And I'd paid...no, I don't want to admit how much I paid).  So, of course, this ice cream was good, but it wasn't spectacular.  And it wasn't worth the mountain of dishes.  I'm currently collecting ice cream recipes.  Zucchini is so last week.*

* Just kidding!  Zucchini is far from over.  Already gearing up to try this, this and this.

Not pictured:  the laundry village growing up in my laundry room, the turkey poop, the turkey's hitting me in the face with their wings when I tried to catch them, and us running 20 minutes late for breakfast while my hungry sisters waited.  Some things just don't photograph well.

What did you do this weekend?

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 8: Zucchini Fritters pt 2

Subtitle: Variations on a theme by Smitten Kitchen.

Posterity, you're welcome.  For your benefit I've eaten three batches of zucchini fritters.  I'm not done yet, but I like what I've come up with so far.

From what I can tell from Martha Stewart and Bon Appetite (and about ten other food blogs) the proportions are pretty consistent across the board.  I stuck with the Smitten Kitchen egg - flour-zucchini ration, and experimented with the flavors.

Even though I enjoyed the first batch, they weren't as flavorful as the cauliflower fritters I'd made from Smitten Kitchen.  Crushed red pepper and Parmesan cheese came to mind; but I liked Bon Appetite's idea of goat cheese.  I did what had to be done, and made two batches.

The results: there was nothing wrong with the goat cheese and scallions.  Especially with an egg or sour cherry jam on top.  But I think I'll be making them with Parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper next time.  Really, really good.

You can make them however you like. The salt from the cheese and the heat of the red pepper just worked for me.  If you try it another way, I'd love to hear about it!

Third place: Original Recipe

Second place: Zucchini fritters with scallions and goat cheese

Add 2 ounces of crumbled goat cheese to the original recipe.  For topping: mix 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp lemon zest to 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt.  Serve with fried egg or jam.

First place:  Zucchini fritters with Parmesan and crushed red peppers

Omit scallion from original recipe.  Add 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and 1/8 tsp of crushed red pepper.  For topping mix 1 tsp of lemon juice, 1/4 lemon zest, and 1 clove garlic, minced to 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Day 7: Zucchini Fritters pt 1

The answer to all food-related questions should be: fritter.

What should I eat? Fritter.

What should I serve at my dinner party?  Fritter

What should I do with all this zucchini?  Fritter.

They are easy, they can be made with almost anything, and they are fried.  Hello.

My Aunt Mary Beth suggested I try zucchini fritters after she saw a recipe for them in Bon Appetite.  The BA recipe wasn't available online last night, so I made the zucchini fritters from Smitten Kitchen.  They were good.  But now that Aunt Mary Beth's original inspiration is online, I want to try those as well.  And I think I could develop my own that I like even better.

This zucchini project is digressing from a zucchini obsession to a zucchini fritter obsession.  I might need an intervention.

Matt had a work thing until late last night, so I took about 2 hours to make these fritters.  The recipe doesn't call for stopping to check Facebook, singing along with Les Miserables, texting Holly, or taking pictures of the pink sky, so it probably won't take you that long.  Thank goodness I didn't half the recipe, because I ended up devouring them all.

I ate them with the sour cream topping, I ate them without the sour cream topping, I ate them with a fried egg, I ate them with a fried egg and the sour cream topping.

I had finished all but the last fritter, when I saw Matt's headlights coming down the driveway.  Grabbing the last fritter for him, I went outside to help him unpack his car.  Just as I was shutting the door behind me, I realized that there was a man walking up to the house and it wasn't Matt.  His shoulders were squared, and the grim line of his mouth said that he was geared up for a confrontation.  Kicking myself for being so stupid, I hoped that Henry's "Danger! Danger!" barking sounded more dangerous than I thought it did.

In a rush, the man introduced himself and explained he lived on the property that bordered us on the west.

"Do you have a medium-sized, red dog?"  He tugged at the bill of his ball cap.

"Oh, no." I nodded my head in the direction of Henry's frantic howling. "We just have a small pug."

The neighbor went on to explain that there'd been a dog terrorizing his horses, and every time he chased it off, the dog ran straight to our house.

It was during this discourse that I realized I was wearing only one shoe.  Why?  Maybe it had fallen off when I tripped on the zucchini on my kitchen floor.  Maybe I absently slipped it off while I was posting on Facebook about tripping on a zucchini.  But for whatever reason, I was standing in front of my new neighbor, wearing only one shoe and holding a fritter.

Looking up, I saw he'd followed my gaze and seen my unequally shod feet.

"Hmmm."  I tried to casually tucked my hand down by my hip as though I always carry a fritter like some women carry clutches or small monkeys.  "I haven't seen any dog like that.  But it's not ours."

He visibly relaxed.  "Well, I tried to come by earlier this afternoon, but no one came to the door.  I'm on my way home from cowboy church, and thought I'd stop by and see if you's home."

I introduced myself and observed that it looked like he had a big operation going on behind us.

"Well," he dragged out the word.  "We have some horses and a miniature donkey."

Aha!  I sensed common ground (he'd lost me momentarily at the cowboy church reference).  "We need to talk to you, then," I said.  "We've been wanting to get a miniature donkey."

He pulled at his ball cap again.  "Well, I've had her a long time.  I don't reckon that I'm wanting to give her up."

So now I was not only the crazy neighbor wearing one shoe and waving a fritter around, I was trying to take away his precious miniature donkey.

"I didn't mean your donkey."  I hurried to reassure him.  "I just thought you could give us some tips."

After this, our conversation progressed smoothly.  His wife came out of the car and we talked about sheep, camping, chickens and horses.  (Our area is very horsey).  We exchanged phone numbers and parted with the words "Good to meet you!" and "Stop by any time" on our lips.

I went inside, found my other shoe, and celebrated by eating that last fritter.

Zucchini fritters
adapted from Smitten Kitchen (go read hers and look at her beautiful pictures.  Her detailed directions are great!)

1 lb of zucchini, grated
1 teaspoon of salt
2 scallions, split lengthwise and sliced thin
1 egg, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking power
(I added 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper to the second half of the batch)
olive oil

1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
1 small garlic clove, minced

Heat oven to 200 degrees.  In a colander, toss grated zucchini with salt.  Let rest 10 minutes.  This will draw out the excess moisture.  In a cheesecloth or towel (or paper towel because your cheesecloths are dirty) squeeze small sections of the zucchini until most of the liquid is squeezed out.  It will be a lot.  In a bowl, mix zucchini with the egg, scallions and pepper.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together.  Add to zucchini mixture and stir to combine.  Over medium heat, fill the bottom of a cast iron skillet (or whatever skillet you use) with oil.  Heat over medium heat.  Add spoonfuls of the fritter batter, using a wooden spoon to flatten into little zucchini pancakes.  Cook until brown and flip over to cook the other side (about 2-3 minutes per side for me).  Drain briefly on a paper towel them move to the oven to keep warm.  Deb suggests keeping them in there for 10 minutes to keep them crispy, and I can vouch for the success.  No more soggy fritters for me!

Stay tuned for the continuing zucchini fritter adventures.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 6: Pasta Primavera

One thing about blogging every day, is that the most frequent visitor ('tis I) gets a little tired of the surroundings.  You might have noticed that the blog has gotten a much needed facelift.  Huge thank you to Code It Pretty, c.w. frosting, Hot Bliggity Blog, and PicMonkey for all the help in making my blog look fresh and new!  If you're a blogger, please go check out these sites.  Especially Code It Pretty who is responsible for keeping me up until 2:00 in the morning wandering deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of HTML. 

After a couple people mentioned that they were pinning recipes from the blog to Pinterest, I added a Pin it button to my pictures.  Finished that around 1:00 am.  When I looked today, I saw that I'd accidentally added two Pin it buttons which made me look a little desperate.  I also added some banners for Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.  So if you're into that kind of thing (and don't mind looking at a lot of pictures of ducks), come and be friendly with me there.

Dinner last night was pasta primavera from Becka's Blog.  Becka's husband Rob was my French teacher for two semesters in college.  Whenever he sees me, he still speaks to me in French (do not attempt this: only French teachers are fluent in that particular vocabulary). This has led to the impression among my coworkers that I speak conversational French.  I don't bother correcting anyone, but keep my fingers crossed hoping no French speaker ever comes to our office needing assistance.  

I don't know why I've never done pasta this way before.  There's a lot of things to love about it.  For one, it's incredibly simple; and if you chop all your vegetables beforehand, this would take only 30 minutes and be literally as easy as boiling water.  Second, it lends itself to being doctored up to taste.  I added some crushed red pepper and garlic to my second helping, and Matt thought it would be good with some grilled chicken instead of sausage.  Third, it pairs pasta - such a criminal in the health world - with healthy vegetables instead of a sugary tomato sauce.

All these zucchini dishes have taken their toll on our inventory, and I had to supplement the zucchini with yellow summer squash.  I picked up some colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe's.  Aren't they pretty?

I used our favorite Trader Joe's spicy Italian chicken sausage.  In retrospect, even though the sausage is already cooked, I should have browned the sausage before adding it to the roasting pan.  I was talking to Daisy (not her real name) about it at work today, and she said I should have used kielbasa sausage.

(12:50) Collins, Elizabeth: I don't eat kielbasa

(12:51) Daisy: you've never had a hillshire farm smoked sausage
(12:51) Daisy: ?!
(12:51) Daisy: Like even in a low country boil
(12:51) Daisy: ?!

(12:51) Collins, Elizabeth: I've eaten it - I don't eat it now
(12:51) Collins, Elizabeth: I know I'm about to be lynched, but...I don't add sausage to my low country boils

(12:51) Daisy: NOOOOOOO LIZ

(12:52) Collins, Elizabeth: I know!
(12:52) Collins, Elizabeth: I have a sensitive tummy when it comes to smoked/cured meats

(12:53) Daisy: oh yeah you can't do pepperoni either right?

(12:53) Collins, Elizabeth: no
(12:53) Collins, Elizabeth: no prosciutto either

(12:53) Daisy: OMG what do you put with a cheese tray?

This is why Daisy (still not her real name) and I are such fast friends.  She's really good at getting at the heart of a matter - like what goes on a cheese tray.

But if you can eat keilbasa, then give it a whirl in this pasta primavera.

Pasta Primavera
adapted from Becka Loach

1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/4 olive oil
1 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste (next time I will add crushed red pepper and a glove of minced garlic)
12 oz sausage slices (if using chicken sausage like I did, you might want to brown them in a frying pan first)
8 oz dry pasta - I used farfalle

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place vegetables in a shallow roasting pan.  Toss with olive oil and seasonings.  Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.  Stir and add sausage.  Bake 15 more minutes or until vegetables are tender and sausage is warmed through.  Meanwhile cook pasta according to the package directions.  Top the cooked pasta with sausage and vegetables.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 5: Chicken Tortilla Soup

chicken tortilla soup

When I posted about my zucchini and asked for recipes, Valerie was first on the scene with a recipe for chicken tortilla soup.  Valerie and I have been friends since college where we met in society.  If you didn't go to a Christian university with societies, than there is really no way for me to describe what it is.  There is just no good context for explaining a mandatory, same-sex social group that meets once a week for activities like reciting poetry, putting on skits, playing mafia, and opening Hershey's kisses with your feet.  Like I said - impossible to explain - but it was the kind of social organization that formed lasting friendship (like Alaina, Kara, Sarah, Melissa, Valerie, Annaleisa, Katie, and the other Katie) so you always have someone on hand when you need a good zucchini recipe.

This, like every zucchini recipe we've tried so far, astonished me.  I know I'm prone to the superlatives and dramatics, but Matt is not. Last night he told me, "This might be my favorite thing you've ever made."  Not his favorite zucchini recipe from this week.  His favorite thing ever.  Out of everything I've cooked for him over the past seven years.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 4: Zucchini Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

For no good reason, I am sensitive to the smell of raw garlic.  Possibly I have vampire in my family tree?  I love garlic flavor, and I use it with impunity.  But the smell of raw garlic makes my stomach turn.

Last night, I loaded up all the dishes from dinner and reached into the bag of dishwasher tablets just to come up empty.  Since we no longer live in a bustling metropolis, I had to leave them and plan on grabbing detergent today over my lunch.  This morning I woke up, and all I could smell was garlicky garlic with garlic.  That braised zucchini and leeks clinging to the dirty dishes in my dishwasher had made my house smell like an evil spirit's nightmare (at least to my sensitive nose - no complaints from Matt).

Our 180 degree lifestyle change has taught me many lessons in innovation, and I was highly motivated.  Gritting my teeth, and keeping one eye on the clock, I Googled "DIY dishwasher detergent."  I didn't have time to sort through the plethora of DIY mom blogs, but several clicks showed that all the instructions were about the same.  I mixed together my salt, Borax and washing soda, poured vinegar into the rinse cycle and crossed my fingers.  Keeping in the spirit of Pinterest, I even poured the remaining detergent in a mason jar (there was one sitting out on my counter, and my philosophy tends to be, "why put it away when you can stick something in it?").

The jury is still out on the results.  Now that I've had more time to research, I'd like to make some changes (add citric acid and a little dish soap).  But the fact remains that this morning, right after feeding the chickens, ducks and turkeys, I made dishwasher detergent.  Made it.  From scratch.  We're going completely Country over here, people.

Today's zucchini recipe comes from Taste of Home - which in a lot of ways was the original food blog but in magazine form because it was before food blogs existed.  Most lunchtimes, my sister and I would each grab a copy of Taste of Home and flip through the glossy pages while we ate.  I loved that magazine.  They had beautiful photos of food and personal anecdotes both touching and humorous.  Each recipe had a promising picture and a story.  And isn't that what is at the crux of food blogs?

Day 3: Braised Zucchini and Leeks

The summer of my senior year of college, I read Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat. I had just had to have my choir dress let out a little, and felt like emergency action was required.

What I remember from the book is the philosophy of thoughtfully eating what you like.  Guiliano doesn't frown on dessert, but she encourages eating one piece of quality bittersweet chocolate over eating a frosted Krispy Kreme doughnut or half a bag of M&Ms.  She writes about facing a craving for an apple pastry head on by eating slow roasted apples cooked in cabbage leaves.

(Who are we kidding?  Cabbage leaves instead of layer upon layer of crisp buttery pastry??  As I type this, I'm struck that she would likely support a cake that substitutes zucchini for Coca-Cola.)

But the concepts are good.  If you love the apple flavor, don't substitute a cheap, unsatisfying fiber bar - eat real apples.  Just limit yourself on the fats and sugars the majority of the time.

Guiliano also shares the diet plan that her family's doctor advised for her after she put on weight in the United States.  For the first 48 hours, she ate only what she deemed "Magical Leek Soup."  In glowing terms she describes how this was the catalyst of her life-long love for sweet, buttery leeks.  She drank the delicious and nourishing leek broth several times a day, and whenever she got hungry she would eat a boiled leek with a little olive oil and cracked pepper.  Not only were these leeks delectable, they filled her up; and she still lost some significant pounds (or kilos).

I was sold.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 2: Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

If obsessing over zucchini and pouring over recipes make me anything of an expert (they don't), the two most common pairings with zucchini are cheese and chocolate.  Which bodes well for my taste buds and not so well for my waistline.

Our house is a little divide on chocolate.  I prefer it to any other flavor, and Matt is indifferent.  He does enjoy high quality chocolate, but doesn't mind mixing things up once a while.

When I made that first batch of muffins, Matt looked at them and said, "What are those dark things?"

Me: Raisins.

Matt: Oh, good.  I thought they were chocolate chips.

Me: No, they're raisins.


Me: We're out of chocolate chips.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 1: Potato, Zucchini and Tomato Gratin

I didn't start with chocolate cake after all.  When I got home last night, I decided we needed something to go along with our leftovers, and made another on of the 366 recipes Jesse sent me: Martha Stewart's potato, zucchini and tomato gratin.  It looked good on paper, and I'm up for anything gratin.

It was everything I was looking for in a zucchini recipe.  Simple and flavorful with a rustic elegance. With only five ingredients plus the seasonings, it profiles the vegetables.  Spread olive oil and minced garlic clove in a gratin pan.  Cut the vegetables as thin as possible and layer in the pan.  Top with some salt, pepper, thyme and a little more olive oil.  Sprinkle it with finely grated cheese, bake it for about a hour and you're done.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Prelude to Zucchini

First of all, thank you so much to all of you that sent me recipes and linked me up! I am overwhelmed with recipes.  My cousin Jesse alone sent me 366 recipes.  She's the sister of the cousin who gave the recipe for the delicious sounding pie.  Obviously my cousins know their way around produce.  Congratulations, Jesse.  You win.  Please come to Gray Court to collect your prize of one golden summer squash.

And in case any of you are still processing that number - yes, it's enough that I could make one a day and still not be done in a year.  

I have recipes for zucchini pasta, zucchini pies, zucchini cupcakes, zucchini muffins, strata, quiche, casseroles, and soups.  I was even sent a recipe for a zucchini slushie.  

This, friends, is going to be exciting.

It begins tonight.  We're eating leftovers (got to clear space in that fridge for zucchini cobbler and zucchini tian) and the Helpful Neighbors are coming over to help us check out the floor of our chicken coop, so I'm thinking that we'll be serving up zucchini chocolate cake.  Also, the recipe comes from Jesse, and it seems only fair to start with one of hers.

Going to be seeing a lot more of this.

Note: Since I intend to post every day (or nearly), I won't be linking to Facebook.  If you are interested in following this to collect zucchini recipes or just to see how long it takes me to go crazy, you can subscribe to receive posts by e-mail but entering your e-mail up on the right.  It's really easy to unsubscribe if it gets to be too much.  And I don't make money or anything if you subscribe.  I just makes me feel a little more self-important.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Great Zucchini Challenge

It has begun.  It is the middle of June, and already Matt's generous planting of zucchini and summer squash is yielding bountiful produce.

Those first several squash are always exciting.  Matt worries that I pick them too soon, but I ignore him and slice them up thin to fry in olive oil.  Less than a week later, they are coming in a pretty steady stream.  We're eating sauteed squash every other night, and I am polling people at work to find out if any of them will take zucchini.  Within days, we are eating it every night and I no longer care if people at work like squash.  They are taking it home anyway.

Yesterday, I discovered we'd missed one (nine), and I found myself dealing with enough zucchini to start a baseball team (although, as vegetables go, these are shaped more like quarterbacks).  After sauteing one (half) for dinner, I decided to try my hand at zucchini baked goods.

Zucchini baked goods confuse me.  Maybe I'm missing something here, but the zucchini bread, zucchini muffin and especially the zucchini chocolate cake all just seem like a way of dealing with excess zucchini: a coping mechanism for zealous home gardeners.  It's the human version of peanut butter on Henry's monthly heart-worm pill.  You can either make baked goods with a rich, dense crumb or you can make a sub par and equally unhealthy product with shredded zucchini in it. Yum.

As a kid, I didn't complain.  We didn't eat sweet breads or muffins very often, but zucchini bread was permitted.  Quick breads = bad.  Zucchini quick bread = have a third slice.  It was like the ice cream we were encouraged to eat the last morning of vacation.  Then I grew up and started taking my calories without the zucchini, thanks.

But last night, the behemoth zucchini scared me, and I made muffins.  The recipe came from Smitten Kitchen.  Deb gave me the brownies that have never let me down, and I confidently grated my zucchini and stirred it into the batter.  When I came in from putting up my birds, the house smelled comfortable and promising.  I spread two muffins with butter and gave one to Matt.

They were just like I remembered.  Meh.  Not bad, but not great.  The dumpy country cousin to a real muffin.

Now I'm on the hunt for real zucchini recipes.  Recipes that celebrate the zucchini.  Recipes that can't be improved by eliminating the zucchini.  I have my eye on a couple recipes like this sandwich from How Sweet It Is and this pasta from The Pioneer Woman.  My cousin Jamie sent me one for a quiche that I'm super excited about.  And I'm even wanting to try this tart from Smitten Kitchen.

If you have any recipes that you like or are curious about, send them my way.  I'll try any recipe you send me  with three exceptions:

1. Crazy expensive - if it calls for 24 karat gold dust, it's not happening.  Twenty-four carrots are ok.
2. Really weird ingredients - I'll try almost anything.  But I'm telling you now, zucchini jello is out of the question.
3. Allergies - if it has cinnamon in it, I have to substitute nutmeg or allspice.

So that's where we're at.  Some people challenge themselves to climb mountains or quit smoking.  Mark Zuckerberg (spellcheck just tried to change that to cheeseburger, haha!) challenged himself to eat only meat that he's killed himself.  I'm challenging myself to eat copious amount of zucchini.  Baby steps.

As long as I have recipes and zucchini, I will be blogging zucchini.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Vacation from Vacation

"It's like Dillinger once told me: 'Remember, it's always the darkest just before they turn on the lights.' " - from Anything Goes

I have this theory about vacations: they are for children, resort towns and swimsuit retailers.  In fact, I suspect they were designed by swimsuit retailers exactly the same way Valentine's Day was cooked up by card companies.  The gym is probably in on it too.

It's pretty genius, actually.

Glossy posters and shiny TV ads tantalize with photoshopped beaches that are a sharp contrast to my gray cubicle walls.  Images of people carelessly flung across a padded lounge chair haunt me as I wake up at dawn to sleepily pull on work boots and feed chickens.  

I buy in, and plan a vacation.  It goes something like this:

1. Decide on time-off.
2. Hope Matt and I can get the same time-off.
3. Apply for time-off.
4. Change time off-because Matt couldn't get approved for the same time.
5. Breathe a sigh of relief because we finally got the days in sync.
6. Find a place to stay.*
7. E-mail approximately two dozen people to ask exactly "how handicapped friendly are you?"
8. Find a place for the dog to stay.
9. Find someone just crazy enough to want to take care of chickens and still be relied on to not let them become skunk bait. 
10. Convince Katie to keep four baby turkeys for a week.  "They've only flown out of their cage twice.  Very easy."  
11. Confirm beach rental.*
12. Confirm all animal keepers.  Use lots of flattery to butter them up and ensure the well-being of animals.  
13. Mulch garden in attempt to prevent jungle tendencies.
14. Use Round-Up on everything else.
15.  Do laundry.
16. Find all the pieces of all the bathing suits.  Surprisingly difficult.
17. Attempt to have the whole house clean at one time.  It's never been done, but why not try again?
18. Mow grass within an inch of its life - must be done within moments of leaving .  Obviously.
19. Cram two weeks worth of office work into one week.  But do it in a way that does not imply that I can be relied on to work at these speeds when I get back.
20.  Schedule and pay contractors working on inspection punch-sheet for the house we're selling five days after we return. 

After days weeks months of that any vacation would seem like the lap of luxury.  Seriously, to sit down anywhere right now, I would think, "Wait - I don't have to pack a suitcase today? How incredibly indulgent!  I'm done following up on a sheep-sitter?  Well, well, well, look who is going all lazy today."

At this point the ocean shines brighter, the sand feels sunnier, the beach house more charming.

It is in the preparing for a vacation that the need occurs.  This is how the resort towns guarantee they'll stay crowded, the swimsuit retailers sell ill-fitting spandex, and the gym gets money for exercise.   

I plan to go enjoy the pants off this vacation next week.  And not only because I couldn't find all the pieces of my bathing suits.   

For a more poetic, sentimental view of our annual vacation, you can read what I wrote last year.

* I actually didn't have to do those things this time around.  Thanks, Dad!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

A coworker brought in the biggest box of chocolate I've ever seen.  After eating most of them, we were inspired to make some Valentines of our own.

It might be a while before we're given free reign with chocolate again.

Hope you all have a happy Valentine's Day!

Note: The expressions on the Valentines are in no way meant to reflect the feelings of the models in the photo.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Cookie Legacy

My mom is a chemist.  When I was young, this caused me some consternation.  I didn't think of myself as math or science minded, and I wanted to make her proud.  I didn't excel at numbers, Erlenmeyer flasks and graduated cylinders bored me, and my grades came with effort and not ease like in the language arts.  After high school, I dismissed science with a wave of my hand and set off to study music.  I chose a program that didn't have room for any science classes.  I knew my place in the universe, and it was in the arts.

Thankfully, with time comes perspective.  I understand now that an artist can't avoid the sciences any more than a scientist can avoid the arts.  And I also understand why my mom, and probably most of us, love chemistry.

Stress baking is nothing new.  Debbie Perelman of Smitten Kitchen wrote a piece for Martha Stewart Living in which she talked about dealing with the anticipation of childbirth by making brownies for the labor and delivery nurses.  In the movie Julie & Julia, Julie Powell is making a chocolate pie and says, "I love that after a day when nothing is sure . . . you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick.  That's such a comfort."

There is comfort in absolutes, and there are absolutes in chemistry.  I can't control how people act towards me.  But I can control the ratio of flour, sugar and butter in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I know that the lemon in a lemon meringue pie naturally fights with the bonding agent and has to be proportioned correctly.   And knowing that the temperature of the butter affects the quality of pie crust and biscuits makes me feel just a little bit more in settled.

I used to be an absolute dunce when it came to making cookies.  I didn't like to eat them and I didn't like to bake them.  I had no idea what I was doing, but now I do. Did you know that refrigerating the dough for 36 hours causes the oils in the butter to break down and absorb more of the salt and sugar?  It's chemistry.

Thursday, I had a bad experience at work.  It was exacerbated by the soup I had spilled down my front at lunch.  As I spent the afternoon giving my side of the story, I was always conscious of the streaks of crusty soup on my clothes.  So when I went home, I pulled out the mixer, the unsalted butter, and the chocolate chips and made oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies.

A calm settles over me when I'm baking.  I am reassured by the predictability.  And I feel close to my mom seven hundred miles away.  Because in the sifting of flour and leavening and the creaming of cold butter and sugars, I know I understand her better than I did fifteen years ago when I was so anxious to make her proud.  I better understand the wonder that chemistry has for her, and I'm grateful to share that wonder with her in the kitchen.  It is in these little things - not my bachelor's in music - that I begin to really know my place in the universe.

The recipe comes from here, and I saw it first here.  Here's the recipe as I made it:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of unsalted butter
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, but I'm using some seriously strong vanilla these days.  Thanks, Charise!)
2 3/4 cups of rolled oats
2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips

If you're going to bake the cookies immediately - preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugars until smooth.  Add vanilla and mix to blend.  Add eggs one and a time, mixing at medium speed until thoroughly combined.  In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredients (all the dry ingredients except the oats and chocolate chips).  Slowly add to mixer and beat until just combined.  Add rolled oats and chocolate chips and mix with a spatula until combined.  

Refrigerate at least one hour and up to 48 hours.  (Obviously, you can skip this).

Place generous spoonfuls of cookie dough on your prepared sheet and flatten with your hand.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.  It was 12 minutes for me - but my spoonfulls were pretty generous.  You want to remove them with the edges are starting to brown but the middle is still a little undercooked.  Let them sit on the cookie sheet for about 3-5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to completely cool.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Little House in the Deep South

We looked for over a year and a half, but nothing we looked at even came close to having all of the specific characteristics we wanted.

2. Flat pasture
3. One story
4. Wide door-ways
5. NO open floor plan.
6. Laurens County
7. Reasonable distance from work,

The houses with wide-doorways had small kitchens and open floor plans.  And the houses with acreage were hilly and mostly wooded.  Looking back, I should have know that any house we found that matched all these parameters would be unique and require work.

But then Matt and our realtor George found this house on fifteen acres.  Fifteen flat acres.  It fit all of our requirements and it was in our price-range.  As you know, we made an offer and finally moved our lives here.

It is, of course, a work in progress.  But for now, here is a photo tour of the house that has been the cause of so much consternation and excitement in our lives.

View of the front room looking in from the living room:

The kitchen is directly across from the front door:

To the left of that is a closet, the guest bath, utility room, and the stairs leading up to the loft:

Looking up at the loft and into the living room:

Another view of the loft with doorway between the front room and living room closed:

That glass paneled door leads to a bedroom that we are currently using to house lizards and spiders.  No tours of that!

Going through the pocket doors, here is the living room:

The master bedroom is off the living room:

So there is the first floor our farmhouse.  Pictures of the outside and loft to follow!
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