Every year at the beginning of farmer’s market season, I get increasingly anxious waiting for garlic scapes to show up. Scape season is really, really short, and they’re never really what you might call abundant. Usually one or two vendors at any given market will have maybe a dozen or so tiny bundles. If it’s a really good year, those vendors might have them available for two weeks. Maybe.
This year, though, I have garlic in my garden. I was actually on the ball and planted last October. Now, half of one of my 4′ x 4′ raised beds is full of huge, beautiful garlic stalks. I was starting to get really nervous that I’d been overconfident thinking I didn’t need to go on my desperate search for garlic scapes this year, because my garlic didn’t seem to be producing any. I’d nearly given up hope, and then after a few days so busy I had no time to do anything but turn on the drip lines to water (because my timer has dead batteries, and I’ve been too busy to get more), I went out this morning and there they were!
One of the things I hear from people constantly, when they comment on the things I cook, is how impressed they are with my ability to make extremely difficult, incredibly complicated things. Usually I just smile and say thank you, because so few people are willing to believe me when I say that really, it’s not difficult or complicated. I mean, some things certainly are. My very first batch of macarons came out surprisingly well, but after several years and making them dozens of times, they’re certainly not something I’d recommend to a beginner. Most things, though, are nowhere near as complicated and difficult as people generally think they are. Case in point: ricotta cheese.
I am not messing with you at all right now. Ricotta cheese is stupidly easy to make. And really, given the price of those little tubs at the grocery store and how easy it is to make it yourself, why wouldn’t you? It takes about 90 minutes but only about 10 of that is actual active work. An hour of that time is just letting the cheese drip, and the other 20 minutes or so is waiting for the milk to heat. Continue reading
Remember that old spam email that got passed around so much years and years ago? The one that claimed a woman was charged $250 for a cookie recipe by Neiman Marcus, and so she decided to share it with everyone she knew to get back at them? The neighbors came by while I was baking these, and neither of them had ever heard of the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe email, so now I feel like an old nerd. Oh well.
That story was obviously a load of bull, but the cookies that recipe makes are amazing.
One of the things I struggle with as a gardener is allowing beneficial insects and arachnids to share the garden, even though I’m afraid of them. We’ve got a reasonable population of little black spiders (I can never remember what they’re called) that are stalking hunters rather than web builders. I’ve watched one stalk and then drag off a daddy longlegs that was at least 3 times her size last summer. That’s a serious little hunter. Today, while clearing out a patch of weeds that had grown around our water spout so I could get the drip lines going again, I spotted one that looks like the same species, only the damn thing is roughly the size of a walnut. I’ve never seen one anywhere near that big before. Do we have tarantulas in Portland? It might have been a small tarantula. Continue reading
An important thing to know about me is that I am a fundamentally lazy person. I’ll put a huge amount of effort into things that are fun, not so much things that are not fun. My gardens in the past have been full of weeds, because I hate weeding. I have, on multiple occasions, bribed someone to till my garden plot for me because that’s hard work. Lucky for me, there are people willing to be bribed with baked goods.
So, when I found out about straw bale gardening, it was a revelation. Our current home is on a lot that seems to be almost entirely heavy clay. Previous tenants had removed the grass in a big chunk of the back yard, maybe for a garden, then covered the whole thing with plastic and that hideous “decorative” bark. I assume this was done after they figured out that really, nothing but weeds will grow in the patch they chose for the garden. I put in a huge amount of work to get that patch plantable again the first summer we lived here, and quickly learned the same lesson. Not much wants to grow in heavy clay, and I lack the time, money, and energy to do the huge amount of amending that clay needs to actually be good for growing anything.
For planting season #2 in our house, I built a couple of small, shallow raised beds from kits I got at the home improvement store. My two little 4×4 raised beds did kind of okay, but I didn’t get much of a harvest. They were only a few inches deep, and the plants all eventually grew roots long enough to find that heavy clay that’s only a couple of inches down from ground level.
The first year I tried straw bales, I bought four and just plopped them right on top of the existing, nearly useless raised beds. I figured if it worked at all, at least I wouldn’t be killing my back and knees by kneeling on the ground all the time.
Once the bales were in place, they needed conditioning. Honestly, hauling the bales and then conditioning them is by far the most labor intensive part of straw bale gardening. Continue reading
Originally posted on July 14, 2008
In spite of my love of all things culinary, I somehow managed to get through my first thirty years or so of life without ever hearing of French macarons. I have never been to France, and certainly not to Laudree. So of course, culinary snob that I am, I had to learn to make them. I take it as a personal affront if someone else knows how to make something better than I do. I realize this makes me just a tiny bit insane. I am quite proud to say that the pictures in this post are of my very first attempt.
Also, more than a tiny bit insane since I decided that I should blanch, peel, and grind 150 g of whole almonds, even though I had a perfectly lovely bag of Trader Joe’s Almond Meal sitting right there in my kitchen. I’m not entirely sure why, except that I’d never done it before, and I’d had some whole almonds in my freezer for a while.
After hours of searching online for recipes and techniques, I was determined to come up with a flavor combination that hadn’t already been done to death, so I decided on cardamom with rosewater buttercream filling. Continue reading
Originally posted to my incredibly old blog on January 28, 2008
One of the quirks of my love of cooking is my absolute obsession with learning to make things from scratch that most of the people I know don’t even realize can be made in a tiny apartment kitchen. I started canning fruit jam while living in an apartment with literally 18 square inches of usable counter space. I make hand-dipped truffles that rival (in taste, though I’m still working on appearance) the candies you’d pay obscene amounts of money for in a boutique chocolate shop. If something is supposed to be far too much trouble or too difficult to make at home, then I want to make it.
My latest obsession? Marshmallows.
That’s right. Homemade marshmallows. Light, fluffy, wonderful marshmallows. Marshmallows so good you’ll wonder why you ever ate those boring, flavorless lumps of stale fluff from the grocery store.
They’re nowhere near as difficult as you think. As a matter of fact, with a few tools, a decent stand mixer, and a little patience; you could whip up a batch in the afternoon and have fresh marshmallows after dinner.
The flavor possibilities are nearly endless. My first batch was simple vanilla. Vanilla doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves. I’ve already promised my darling wife mango and peach marshmallows for my next two batches. This time, however, I’m going with strawberry. Continue reading