Morning Chaos

Cutest picture ever
Ready?

It’s amazing how when you force to clear out the muddy stuff, things become so much simpler and clearer. For instance, every morning the pups and I have a routine. I let them out of their cages and they all jump all over me and fight for my attention. Then Sam runs to get her ball and Gief runs to get the green throwy thing and I have a few brief moments to give Bear undivided attention. Then Sam and Gief come running back to me. Sam jumps on my lap and drops her ball and waits patiently for me to throw it down the hall. Zangief plays a game of half-assed keep away and I have to pretend to chase him before he gives me his toy to throw. We play fetch for a few minutes, while Bear sits by my side and gets all the pets he can in-between throws. Eventually he will join his brother and sister in the fun. Three large puppies wrestling, growling, barking, and running. Three large puppies jumping all over me, each other, the couch, all trying to get a piece of Mom in the morning. It’s loud and crazy. I think most people would be horrified at the sight. It’s kind of embarrassing. But when you take away the scratching nails, the loud, annoying barks, the getting plowed into by a 120+ lb pup, it’s this awesome feeling to know these three beautiful creatures are just so freaking happy to see you, they can’t even control themselves. It’s unwavering, unconditional love at its best. I absolutely adore it. It’s my time with them and when they are too old to want to run and play anymore, I will miss this time.

2012

2012 has started with a fog of negativity, nothing that could cloud the horizon of a new year, but enough that it still hangs there in reminder.  2012 is going to be a big, exciting year.  I am refusing to let that cloud dampen everything I have planned for this year.  If anything, it has really driven me to appreciate the positive notes in life that much more.  So for the past few weeks I force myself to stop and take notice of at least one thing I am grateful for or something that puts a smile on my face.  I’ve tossed around whether I should put this out there for all to see or not.  Sometimes it just feels relieving to put the thoughts swimming in your head on paper.  I am not the most eloquent writer and I’m sure most won’t even care.  This is something for me.  I want to immortalize these things, because everyone needs a reminder every once in awhile.

Potato Salad with Peas and Mint

I love to cook.  I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and spices.  Before I went to college, I was sure I was going to go to culinary school.  I started working in restaurants when I turned 16.  I started out in the kitchen and thought I’d found my niche until I realized that I would never have a weekend off and I’d have to spend hours slaving in a hot kitchen and all for a measly salary because, let’s be honest, there are few out of hundreds of thousands that actually make it big.

So now my husband and friends get to reap the benefits of my cooking adventures.  Joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) has been the best decision ever for someone like me.  Each week is like an episode of “Chopped”.  What will be in my CSA box this week?  What recipe can I come up with that uses as many of the ingredients as possible?  I’m a freak, I know, but it’s fun.

This week brought us red skin potatoes, mint, goat’s milk feta, ramps, popcorn, maple syrup, spelt flour, and eggs.  I first thought of just a pea salad with mint and red onion, but then I thought about throwing the potatoes in and then topping with the feta…YUM!!  It was one of my better ideas.

Potato Salad with Peas and Mint
Adapted from this recipe I found

2 lbs redskin potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces **It’s better if you chop the potatoes smaller, so they blend with the peas better
12 oz peas (thawed if frozen)
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
2 ramps, chopped (or substitute a shallot or onion)
2 tablespoons vinegar (I used apple cider because that’s what I had, I think red wine would be my first choice)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt to taste

Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold, salted water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil on high, then reduce heat to medium and allow to gently boil until fork tender.  Drain potatoes.  Mix potatoes with the next 5 ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Top with crumbled feta. I like to mix everything while the potatoes are still warm so they soak up the oil and vinegar.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs

Yesterday was an exciting day.  A day I had been anticipating for weeks.  It was the start of the CSA I signed up for.  All day, all I could think about was what was going to be in that box. Most ingeniously, I received an e-mail a couple days ago letting me know what might be in the box, so at least I was somewhat prepared.  With baited anticipation, I prepared by searching through recipe books to figure out what I was going to do with turnips, a heaping pile of potatoes, and another dozen eggs I wasn’t expecting.  Fate brought me to my Cooking Light cookbook where in the first few pages I discovered a recipe for Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs.  Turnips?  Check.  Potatoes?  Check.  Eggs?  Check.  It was a match made in heaven for this CSA box.

Rosti Casserole with Baked Eggs

1 1/4 cups fat free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups grated, peeled turnips (2-3 small)
1 1/4 cups shredded Gruyere cheese
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup onion (the original recipe called for 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated whole nutmeg
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and grated (the original recipe called for 1 30 oz package of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, thawed)
Cooking Spray
8 large eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine yogurt and flour in a large bowl, stirring well.  Add turnip and next 7 ingredients to yogurt mixture.  Spread potato mixture evenly into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and brown around the edges.  Remove from oven.  With the back of a spoon, make 8 indentations in the top of the potato mixture.  Crack 1 egg into each of the 8 indentations.  Return dish to the oven and bake for 8 minutes, or until egg whites are firm and egg yolks barely move when the pan is touched.  Garnish with chives and additional black pepper, if desired.

My First Chicken

Today I cooked my first free range, organic chicken and it was amazing.  To be honest, before this I’ve never even cooked a whole chicken.  I followed this recipe over at Local Kitchen, with only minor adjustments.  I used fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme and just regular milk.   I even had to chop off it’s neck.  It sounds a lot worse than it was.  I honestly was gearing myself up for it the entire day before, but the chicken and I made our peace and it came off quite easily.

So the consensus?  It was good.  Really good.  The main difference was the texture of the meat and the durability of the bones.  You’re eating muscle that was actually used.  It really makes you realize how bad the other chickens must be if you can break their bones in half with your bare hands.

I wish I could show you a pretty picture of this after it was plated with an amazing cauliflower puree and delightfully rich gravy, but it was devoured within seconds of hitting the plate.  I’m surprised we even used forks.

Spring is finally here

 

Although the first day of Spring was weeks ago, today it finally feels like Spring.  The sun is shining and it’s supposed to hit 80 degrees.  Butterflies and birds are flitting about the yard, and snow is not in the forecast this week.  Today is gorgeous, and the perfect opportunity for the seedlings to begin acclimating themselves to the outdoors.  I was erring on the side of pessimism when planting the seeds, so there’s like 4-6 seedlings to a cup.  I figure I’ll wait until they get their first set of real leaves to thin them out.  For now, all seems to be going well for my first go around.  I was worried about those green peppers, and was at the point of consenting to having to buy starts, but yesterday they decided to show their little green heads.

Meet the Family

After Pidgey died, I realized I didn’t have any pictures of him.  He was a small, blue parakeet.  He was so friendly and was always the first one waiting to be fed in the morning.  Most of the time he would jump on the side of the food bowl before I even got it in his cage.  We got him originally as a boyfriend to Hedwig, although most of the time she just screamed at him every time he tried to get close.  I miss him terribly.  The death of Pidgey sparked a need in me to document my little family the way it is today.  So here they are…

Effie

Meet Effie, she is a cockatiel.  We adopted Effie and Isis last August after a friend of a friend needed a new home for them.  We were at the point of her eating out of my hand, but then she had a health scare and needed to go to the vet, so her trust in me has taken a step back.  She went on an egg laying spree for a couple weeks, where she was producing at least one egg every day.  The trauma on her body was causing her to be nutritionally depleted and caused her to get sick.  She’s been on antibiotics for a week and I think she’s feeling better.  She went for a week without laying an egg, and then laid two on Friday.  It’s still progress, though.  The crazy thing about birds is that they lay eggs when they have everything they need, which sounds great, but it is really hard on their little bodies.  As a pet owner, it’s a fine line between wanting to give them everything they need, but not so much that she thinks it’s ok to start laying.

Isis

This is Isis.  He generally follows Effie’s lead.  Since Effie is on the outs with me, Isis is on the outs with me.

Hedwig and Oliver

Hedwig is the white parakeet and Oliver is the green.  Hedwig is the first bird we purchased.  I had accidentally killed Ben’s hamster, so I bought him Hedwig to make up for it.  We named her after Harry Potter’s white owl.  We had her for a few weeks before she stopped singing, that’s when we got Pidgey to keep her company, and then she just squawked at him all day.  We adopted Oliver in August along with Effie and Isis.  Oliver and Hedwig hit it off right away and Pidgey was left out as the third wheel.  Oliver has a very cute chirp that makes up for Hedwig’s squawkiness.  Oliver doesn’t take shit from her like Pidgey did.  He does what he wants, when he wants and when her incessant squawking doesn’t keep in line, Hedwig resorts to biting him.  Oliver bites her back and then still does what he wants.  They are fun to watch.

Samus

Samus is the baby.  We picked her up last April after finding her on Craigslist.  At the time, I thought it was a huge deal making the jump from one dog to two and almost backed out of going to get her.  Now I can’t imagine life without her.  She is the sweetest and cutest little girl ever.  She is a tongue ninja.  Every time you’re not on guard, her tongue will end up in your mouth.  She has a blue ball that is her most favorite thing in the world.  She takes fetch very seriously and will only stop when she physically can not run anymore.  She is a power chewer and as long as she has something to chew on she will lay and be quiet.  She is incredibly loyal.  When she feels threatened, she barks and then runs behind her big brother for protection.

Zangief

Zangief was our first dog.  We got him two years ago after seeing an ad in the pennysaver.  He was so small, and we were so unprepared.  After we picked him up we went straight to Petco because we didn’t even have food bowls.  We had to potty train him in the garage because it was March when we got him and it was so cold and windy he was too scared to go outside.  Zangief is too smart and too tall for his own good.  He gets bored very easily and when he gets bored he gets into stuff he’s not supposed to.  When he feels he’s not getting enough attention, he will do things to get attention.  Which is why, at the moment, I no longer have any dish towels.  He howls and whines and makes all kinds of noises.  When he’s super sleepy, he squishes up his legs and then straightens them out and flops on his side.  It’s a rarity to see him sleep though, because he always needs to know where everyone is and what everyone is doing.

Grim Reaper

Also known as Grimmy.  Grimmy is the best cat ever.  He sleeps 23 hours out of the day and just wants to cuddle.  He never takes revenge on you for not cleaning his litter box often enough or forgetting to fill his food bowl before you leave for work.  We’ve thought about getting him a kitten to play with, but I think he’s happy how his life is now.  His place is on my lap, unless there’s company and then he’s all about getting their attention.

Gardening… the Beginning

It’s been a busy past two weeks.  Between long work hours and researching the best way to feed my new obsession, I’ve had close to no time to cook anything worth writing about.  Although, there was a very delicious homemade corned beef that I brined myself and was amazing.  However, I think the time has passed for people searching for corned beef recipes, so that will wait until next year.

In the past two weeks I’ve commandeered I small and super cheap freezer from Craigslist, poured over every website containing information about eating locally in the Greater Pittsburgh area, went to a Go Green fair, and started a garden.  So far we have started 3 different kinds of tomatoes, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, green peppers, two different kinds of salad, spinach, lavender, basil, and oregano.  We went a little overboard and picked up like 20 other things that go straight into the ground.  I’ve never done this before, and haven’t done nearly as much research as I should have, but I figure something has to grow, right?

Garden Gnomes are keeping watch…

The issue I’m finding is that every piece of helpful information (blogs, articles, etc.) all ended in 2007.  Where did these people go?  I know I’m late getting to the party, but did the hoopla already die out?  I hope not.  I hope by sharing my path from square one, it will inspire someone else to do the same.

A Time to Change…

I’d like to think I’m not an impressionable person, but I am.  At least I can say that when I put my energy into something, I go all out.  I like projects.

Practically every day I see someone trying to cheat the system for their own benefit.  So what’s to say people don’t do it with food?  There are times when we go out to eat and I am appalled by the slop that they serve and expect you to pay a ridiculous amount of money for.  It makes me think, if they’re willing to serve this mess to your face, what are they willing to do behind your back?  And then I started reading.

I admit I shop at big chain grocery stores.  I buy almost everything non-local and out of season and the cheapest I can find.  I read The Jungle years ago and it still didn’t hit me.  But I make sure my animals only eat the highest quality organic produce.  Seems a little off balance and messed up, right?  I’m willing to go out of the way for my animals but not myself?

It really makes me realize how messed up our relationship with food is.  We have tried cutting out carbs and replacing them with bacon and cheese, replacing sugar with aspartame and replacing eating fruit with fruit drinks.  We mask “nutritious foods” in chocolate, sugar, or grease so that kids will eat them.  One of the most profound things I found in my internet wandering was a study of obese children in California being diagnosed with rickets, a disease that is caused by malnutrition and often seen in poverty stricken countries.  How could obese children be malnourished??  Because corn is in everything and when your diet consists of highly processed, manmade foods you are mostly eating corn and that is it.  What ever happened to eating in moderation?

I could write a 15 page essay on the treatment of animals and the soil and how as a country we have raped every bit of nutrition out of the food we eat and then wonder why we have to rely on vitamins and supplements to get us through the day.  I could write about how chicken can be labeled “free range” and it only means that they are packed so tight in a dirt field that they can’t even move, or a cow is “organic” even when it spends its days knee-deep in its own excrement.  How this doesn’t count as animal cruelty, I have no idea.  And don’t even get me started on the “high fructose corn syrup is healthy” advertising campaign.  It’s messed up and changing shouldn’t be just a fad.  I realize I’m a little late to jump on the “slow food” bandwagon.  Maybe I just needed to grow up a little to realize how important it is.

So I’m changing.  Not because it’s the cool thing to do, because it’s the right thing to do.  I care about my health, the health of my family, and the treatment of the food we eat.   Just because I want to eat chicken it doesn’t mean I think it should be tortured.

What’s sad is it isn’t easy or convenient to make this change.  Unfortunately, we have been raised in a country where we get what we want, when we want.  I’m operating under Michael Pollan’s philosophy that “good isn’t the enemy of perfect”.  I joined a CSA so I can have farm fresh, local produce delivered to a convenient location in the suburbs and we’ll go from there.

I hate labels because I think people get too caught up in meeting the standards of the label and miss the whole point.  However, there is a ton of information on the internet if you search “locavore” or “slow food movement”.