Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gingered Apple-Cheddar Slaw

Apple season is upon us!  I live in upstate New York, where many apple varieties were "born" (Cortland, Macoun, Empire, Jonagold and Jonamac, just to name a few), so I always try to take advantage of the abundance of local apples available at this time of year. 

Tonight, I made the Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Sautéed Apples from Cooking Light: it uses apples, apple cider, shallots (which we have from our CSA), and thyme (which we have in the garden).  Although the weather has been much cooler lately, and I've been craving warm, homey food, I decided the side dish would be a recipe I picked up at the NY State Fair last year and have really been wanting to try: Gingered Apple-Cheddar Slaw. This recipe, which was provided by Cabot Cheese, appealed to me, but I felt it needed some changes.  

Rainbow salad in a bag
For one thing, I was surprised when I realized that this "slaw" doesn't actually include any vegetables.  It's just, basically, apples and cheese, unless you count cilantro as a veggie. So, to increase the nutritional content (and the crunch factor), I added in a bag of "rainbow slaw" (also called "rainbow salad") from my local grocery store (this is the pre-cut mix that includes broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and cabbage).  I use this stuff all the time; it's so easy to add a handful to a salad or a wrap!

Since the volume that the dressing had to cover was now much greater, I decided to increase the mayonaise, rice vinegar, and ginger.  I also added some spice to the dressing to give it more flavor. 

Although I was a little afraid that cheese might be weird in this slaw, I was amazed at how perfectly the flavors complimented each other. This recipe is unique and really good.  I think it'd made a really fun dish to bring to a picnic.  For now, I'm just glad that my husband is out of town so I don't have to share. 

Gingered Apple-Cheddar Slaw
Adapted from a recipe by the same name from Cabot Cheese 
Serves 6

Ingredients for Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise (can use low-fat Greek yogurt for some/all of this, if desired)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of Roasted Ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon of Lawry's Seasoning Salt
1/2 teaspoon of granulated garlic

Ingredients for Slaw:
1 Honeycrisp or Pink Lady apple
4 ounces Cabot Sharp Light Cheddar, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger (if you can find some local ginger, use it. The taste difference is amazing!)
1 package of rainbow slaw (or rainbow salad)

Directions:
1. Put the ingredients for the dressing in a Ball canning jar. Screw on the lid and shake until combined. 

2. Cut apple into quarters and cut away core. Cut quarters into thin slices, then stack several slices and cut into matchsticks. Place in medium bowl.

3. Add cheese, ginger, and rainbow slaw to bowl.

4. Add dressing and toss gently to combine.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Crisp And Satisfying: Rosemary Flatbread

Rosemary Flatbread: cooling. Almost ready for nibbling!
   Found this recipe on Pinterest, from the Smitten Kitchen blog and thought it would go well with the summer salads we're having, using lettuce from our CSA and summer fruit from local farmer's markets. 

   Since it requires an oven temp of 450*, I decided to make them at night, when it's cooler. Here's the recipe (Smitten Kitchen says it's from the July 2008 Gourmet magazine): 


Crisp Rosemary Flatbread
Adapted from Gourmet, July 2008
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary plus 2 (6-inch) sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil plus more for brushing
  • Flaky sea salt such as Maldon
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F with a heavy baking sheet on rack in middle.
  2. Stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in center, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.
  3. Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece (keep remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) on a sheet of parchment paper into a 10-inch round (shape can be rustic; dough should be thin).
  4. Lightly brush top with additional oil and scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing in slightly. Sprinkle with sea salt. Slide round (still on parchment) onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread (discard parchment) to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (1 at a time) on fresh parchment (do not oil or salt until just before baking). Break into pieces.
  5. Flatbread can be made 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
The flatbread, rolled out and ready to go in the oven.
    I found that it took some doing to incorporate all the flour.  I had to get my hands in there and separate the dough so the sticky insides showed, then knead in the last bits before it was fully incorporated.  Otherwise, the recipe worked well.  I added a tiny bit of garlic powder for flavor.  Next time, I think I'd add some fresh ground pepper, too.

That sparkling salt tastes so good!

    I used a really coarse grind on my Darling Buds salt grinder, and think that the coarseness really added to the flatbread taste.  I love salt, but I think anyone would appreciate the crunchy deliciousness of the big crystals here.

    Although I ate more than my share of this with my salad last night, it still made more than enough for 6-8 people. I'll definitely make this one again.  Next time, maybe I'll try some of the thyme in my garden!






 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Google's Recipe Search: Wow!

     Have you done a search on Google for a recipe lately?  Having been a longtime user of www.Dogpile.com (a metasearch site), I'm pretty new to using Google for regular searching, so maybe I missed it before, but when I  did a search today for a strawberry rhubarb crisp recipe, I actually looked at the information on the left-hand side and was surprised to see how detailed it was!

     Check out the screen shot below.  See how you can limit your search to ingredients, cook time, the number of calories included, and more?  I had no idea that they offered these options.  Have you used this?  Did it work well? 

 
     I'd love to have the ability to limit the search results to just those from blogs, and I think it'd be really helpful to have the option to search for just vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, and/or dairy-free recipes.  What would you like to see included?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pottermore: A Few Links to Help You Enjoy the Experience

Diagon Alley on Pottermore


     If you loved the Harry Potter books as much as I did, you are likely to enjoy Pottermore nearly as much!  It's been a long time since I closed the covers on the last book, but the magic of them has stayed with me.  

     Back when I was in the thick of them, my best friend and I tried joining a text-based Potter site.  Although it included the fun of a sorting hat and such, it really didn't do much to help you feel as if you were in Harry's world, so we abandoned it with regret.  I was thrilled, therefore, to hear from J that a new site, backed by J.K. Rowling herself, was in the offing.  If you haven't been, and you have even the slightest interest in Harry Potter (or kids who do), you really should check it out: go to www.pottermore.com to join in the fun!
 
     In addition to making you feel as if you're in Harry's world, Pottermore also gives you the chance to better understand Rowling's writing process. When you find and click on items in the scenes from the book, they "unlock" notes from her on how she developed the characters and the wizarding world.  It's fascinating and often rather funny.  You can also find galleons, potion ingredients, books (which give you spells and potions), chocolate frog cards, and tons of items.  There's something around every corner!

     The site matches the pace of the books, so you won't get sorted and be able to use all of the fun parts of Pottermore until about chapter 4, so keep going!  Once you have your wand and are sorted, you can make potions, practice spells, participate in wizard dueling, and more! These things are really challenging, so I thought I'd share some of the resources I've found here to help.  I've found that successfully brewing a potion gives a serious sense of accomplishment and is, much to my chagrin, a bit addicting!

If you're having trouble with your potions, check out these resources:
Potions 101 at Blog of a Pottermore Beta was really helpful to me in explaining the process and giving great tips for helping you make the quickest, most point-worthy potions
Pottermore Potions Study Guide by HexThestral57 is incredibly comprehensive, with lists of what happens in every potion, including images of the ingredients.

If you're having trouble with spell-casting and/or dueling, check out these resources:
One of the things I didn't realize when casting spells is that you have to follow the process described for every letter shown. Find out more at the links below:
Dueling 101  at Blog of a Pottermore Beta was really helpful to me in explaining the process of spell casting and how to improve.  It also helped me learn which spells have higher point values.
Another description of spell-casting is at Pottermore Now!

If you check out Pottermore, look me up!  I'm MoonMoonstone6085.




Monday, May 28, 2012

Top 10 Comfort Foods













     In March, Cooking Light had an article that featured the comfort foods of some of the world's most respected chefs, such as Jacques Pépin. They then crafted recipes for these comfort foods, lightening them just enough to make them healthier without sacrificing flavor.  I love Cooking Light's take on food, but I have to say that this article--and the accompanying discussion about your top 10 comfort foods--made me think more than most.

     I just couldn't help wondering about comfort foods.  Obviously, we all have them, but from the foods named by these chefs--soup, gnocchi, kimchi, Lebanese stuffed peppers, mashed potatoes--it's clear that what's soothing to one might not be to another. For instance, I find meatloaf anything but comforting: when I eat meat, I like to know exactly what I'm eating, and the thought of mixing it with eggs makes me feel, shall we say, less than comfortable. 

     There's research on comfort foods: scientists say that men and women prefer to eat different things when it comes to comfort: men like meal-oriented foods like steak and potatoes or soup, while women prefer snack foods that are carbohydrates or sweets, like potato chips or chocolate. Choices based on experience and memory seem obvious; the foods you ate as a child, or those that gave you comfort during hard times or illness, can bring back memories and make them extra-special to you.  But I think there's a lot more to this, and it's pretty fascinating. Does our choice of comfort foods say something about us?  

Inspired by Cooking Light's "top 10" lists, here's mine (in no particular order):
Mmmm . . . mac n' cheese
  1. Kasha Varniskes
  2. Macaroni and Cheese, preferably cooked in an oven until the edges are crispy.
  3. My mom's Thanksgiving dinner
  4. Borsht (I use the recipe from Frugal Gourmet) and challah with butter
  5. Tuna melt, made in the toaster oven, open-faced, on whole-wheat bread with my mom's tuna salad
  6. Sourdough bread, fresh from the oven, with butter (like they serve here)
  7. Refried beans with garlic powder and Lawry's seasoning salt, warm, with melted cheese
  8. My mom's berry or plum cobbler, warm with ice cream
  9. Red beans and rice (I love the kind at Popeye's)
  10. Homemade oatmeal, with brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts, and cranberries
Red beans and rice: yum!


Now it's your turn!  
What are your favorite comfort foods?



Looking for inspiration and healthy versions of comfort foods? Try these links:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Free Stamps on All Personalized Cards at Hallmark: Until May 1!

Just one of the cards you can make at Hallmark.com
Some people think that card and letter sending is a dead art. To them, I say "Pbbbbbt!"  I adore sending cards, and have a huge pile of them at the ready for any occasion.  I decorate them with tons of stickers (to make up for my horrific handwriting), use special stamps and return address letters, and seal them with a big smile. Getting fun mail (i.e. anything that isn't asking me for money) gives me such joy, and my mom taught me that you have to give to receive, so I send a LOT of mail. (I'm not a "Platinum Member" of the Hallmark Gold Crown Club for nothing, you know.) 

One of the reasons I love Hallmark is that they have such a wide selection of cards that seem to really speak to the situations that people I love deal with.  A couple years ago they came out with a line of cards to help support and encourage those dealing with cancer, and it happened right when two people I care about had been diagnosed.  It was really comforting to send them cards that spoke so perfectly to what they were dealing with and said so well what I wanted to tell them.

However, I'd never made a personalized card on Hallmark.com until last year. I definitely was missing out: the personalized cards are the same prices as those in the store, but they are so customizable that it feels like a crime to pay the same price!  You can add photos and text to the front, both sides of the inside, and the back. You can play with fonts, add drawings, and even change the text of the card itself .  It's amazing, and really easy to do.  (No, I don't work at Hallmark. I just LOVE their products!)

Best of all, after you're done, Hallmark stamps and mails it for you (if you want), and until May 1st, they'll provide those stamps for FREE (it should be free automatically, but if not, try the code SAVE3 at checkout)!  It's the perfect time to create a Mother's Day card: for about $3, you can give Mom a card that she'll love forever (after all, it has photos of YOU on it, right?).  

Now I just have to go figure out what photos I'm putting on Mom's card this year . . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

There is no Death!

My Zaida Max
     Today, my friend S shared a piece from Roger Ebert's journal entitled "I Remember You" which describes his dismay as more and more of the important people in his life pass from this world into the next.  In particular, Ebert is bothered by the way in which those people fade, not from this world, but from our memories.  He details, in his typically amazing writing, his realization that he's the only person left in his family that could recognize his uncle, Ben.  He was at the funeral of a cousin when he saw a photo in the family slide show and was
 . . . startled, and waited for it to come around again. I pointed at the screen and started to write a note to explain, but it was no use: Now that this cousin had died, there was no one in the room who would have understood--not even his own younger sister. 

The photo showed a family gathering in front of a small house in North Champaign, on some land where there's now a shopping mall. In the second row, much taller than anyone else, was Uncle Ben. He was married to Aunt Mame, my father's oldest sister. He drove an oil truck, and when he passed our house he sometimes tooted his horn and I'd run out in front and wave.

He was high above me in the cab of the truck, a considerable figure. He smoked cigars, which I found odd and unusual. I remembered him being tall, but in childhood everyone seems tall. In the old photo, I realized how tall he really was.

I think there's a chance I was the only person in the room who knew it was Uncle Ben in the second row. There were probably a dozen who knew in general who the picture showed--ancestors on the mother's side--but does the name or an idea of Uncle Ben linger on earth outside my own mind? When I die, what will remain of him?
Ebert makes a really strong point: as long as we are remembered, even if our body no longer remains on this Earth, we still live.  But what happens when even the memories of us are gone?  Of course, one can hardly ruminate on such a subject as it applies to another without thinking about ourselves, and Ebert is no exception. In discussing several good friends with whom he spent many happy times--but are no longer alive, he says: 
I remember them. They exist in my mind--in countless minds. But in a century the human race will have forgotten them, and me as well. Nobody will be able to say how we sounded when we spoke. If they tell our old jokes, they won't know whose they were.

That is what death means. We exist in the minds of other people, in thousands of memory clusters, and one by one those clusters fade and disappear. Some years from now, at a funeral with a slide show, only one person will be able to say who we were. Then no one will know.
     I understand where Ebert is coming from.  It's a terrifying thought to consider that you may, one day, be unknown to anyone.  A couple years ago, I came across a gorgeous and well-tended baby book dating to the end of the 19th century.  Several old photos were affixed to the pages featuring a young infant. A lock of brittle hair was included in a pocket on another page. Several of the child's details were written, in curly inked handwriting, across the pages.  I was amazed to realize that perhaps no one from this child's family wanted this precious memento of an ancestor.  Seeing how loved the child had been, it seemed utterly incomprehensible to me, and yet, here was this baby book, for sale, in a bookstore.  Apparently, the child--or the adult he became--was no longer remembered or cherished.

     How can we not fear that someone similar could happen to us?  That our lives might not have any meaning, in the end?  And yet, although I sympathize with  Ebert's concerns--how can I not?--I think that there are many ways that memories continue to exist long after we do.

The TV version of Mr. Edwards, with Laura
     A commenter on Ebert's Journal, Jennifer Morrow, points out that writing is one of the ways to extend memory.  She notes that because Ebert wrote about his memories of Uncle Ben, we can now all remember him, and that is the "beauty of writing." She went on to make a connection to the Roman poet Catullus, while I thought of Mr. Edwards from Little House on the Prairie.  The Little House books were a major part of my childhood, and the images Laura painted with her writing have never left my mind.  Mr. Edwards loomed larger than life (after all, he met Santa Claus!), and it's impossible for me to forget the stories she told about him.  Although it's possible that he is an amalgamation of several men that her family knew in Kansas, nonetheless, the stories are the memories she accumulated from interactions with other human beings.  Although she passed away in 1957, and most of those who may have known him probably left us long before then, millions of readers (and, eventually, TV viewers) grew to know him because of her writing.  Shakespeare himself makes this argument in "Sonnet 18" when he says:

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Obviously, writing is a wonderful way to memorialize those we know and ensure that others will always know them in the way we did.

My Bubbe Manya and Zaida Max
     Beyond writing, there are other ways that our memory lives on. Another is in stories.  My family, like many, tells stories of our relatives and ancestors whenever we get together. Some of them are so often told that most of us can recite them along with the teller, but we enjoy them ever time.  In fact, my sisters and I eagerly clamored to hear the stories over and over, until we, too, had memorized them.  Some of these stories featured relatives we never met in person, including my father's grandfather, Zaida Max, who died long before my parents even met.  My great-grandfather came to live with my grandparents when my dad and uncle were both in college but still living at home.  They got to know him in a way that had not before been possible, and the stories they tell about him are hilarious, charming, and give me such a picture of Zaida Max that, although I never met him, I feel as if I have.  That's why it was so surprising when my uncle shared a photo of Zaida Max (above) when we were visiting him last summer: he stood so rigid and unsmiling that I literally didn't recognize him. Uncle Ron says that his Zaida always stood that way in photos: regal, formal, and hardly like the person I'd come to know through their stories.  This is the man, after all, who is famous for saying, although was born and died a Jew, "When I was a young man, I used to eat a lot of bacon."!  I realized in that instant that unless my family had shared their stories of my great-grandfather, I never would have really understood who he was.  These photos don't tell even half of the story, although the one at the top of the page seems much more like the man I see in my mind.

So, writing, stories, and, even, genealogy (but that's a story for another time) are ways we can continue to live on even after we--and those who knew us--are gone.  Ebert got it right: as long as we are remembered, we never truly die.  But that doesn't mean that we only live as long as those who've known us directly do.  As long as those who know us share their memories with others, through writing, stories, artwork, and more, we'll continue to live on and on.  And that's pretty comforting.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wooden Dreams

   Whenever I breathe in the heady scent of cut lumber, I'm transported to my father's side in his workshop.  I'm just tall enough to see over the table covered with sawdust, and my dad is explaining a technique or asking me to hand him a tool.  Thankfully, my dad really believed it when he told me I could be anything I wanted; he never saw my gender as a reason to treat me any differently than he would have a son.  I don't remember when he started asking for my "help" in his workshop, but it was a constant in my early life.  It wasn't until I was older that I realized, through talking with friends and reading books, that it wasn't very common for girls to learn woodworking at their father's side.

   During those times in the workshop, Dad taught me so much: how to make repairs to a house, how to build anything you can imagine from wood, and how to keep a home running without calling in help.  He was a good teacher: patient, clear, and enthusiastic. He taught me the names of tools and what he used them for. He showed me how helpful organization was, and made sure I was safe. I had my own pair of gloves (huge on my tiny hands) and a pair of my own safety glasses.  We weren't the only ones in the shop, though Before I was old enough to help him much, my dad created "Segal & Son," a very effective partnership between he and my Zaida.  They eventually added  "& Granddaughters" and my sisters and I were able to join in the work . . . and the fun.  Those memories are priceless.

   The times we made an immediate difference to our family, like the time we fixed the menorah that broke hours before the first night of Hannukah, and those that challenged my fears, like the times we added tar to the many patches on our confusingly leaky roof, are the ones that sparkle in my memory. But it's the deep joy my father felt when he worked with wood that warms my heart most when I look back at those times.

   My parents both worked really hard for many, many years.  It was my fervent hope that when they finally retired, they'd have the chance to do the things they really enjoyed.  What a blessing to see those hopes realized!  Although my parents, like almost every retired person I've met, tend to do more in retirement than they did while working, they both have found time to pursue the things they love best.  For my dad, that's been working in wood.

    Although he's worked on many projects in the past few years, the most recent one really resonated with me.  Dad's been talking about it for a couple of years now, and started collecting the materials for it during my visit last summer, when we visited an art show that featured driftwood sculptures, and a person from the club was selling pieces of raw driftwood.  My dad picked up more pieces during a trip with my mom to their favorite places in Oregon, and this winter, he began work on a candelabra made of his finds.  He prepared and stained the wood, sculpted it in to place, and decorated it with stones and shells picked up on my parents' travels.  It's a gorgeous piece, and I just had to share it here.  It stands not only as a symbol of my dad's joy in working with wood, but as a reminder of several of the many things my parents enjoy now that they're retired: travel, time on the beach, and time together. It gives me so much pleasure to know how happy they are, and it gives me hope that one day I, too, will be able to focus solely on the things I really love.

My dad's beautiful work.

 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Let Us Break Bread Together...

More like my childhood: Robert and Vivian DeRosa share
Sunday family dinner; a long-standing tradition as
Robert grew up in the same home.
Age: Robert 60, Vivian 55  Time: 5:59 PM
Location: Fresh Meadows, Queens
     When I was a kid, I ate dinner nearly every single night with my family. All five of us would sit around the dinner table and focus in on each other and the food my mom prepared.  I realize that sounds a bit like something out of Leave It To Beaver, but that's truly what we did.  It happened, in no small part, because my mom ensured it did: she was convinced that having a daily meal together as a family was essential.  So, even though her days were busy, my father was self-employed and spent most of the day and night working, and my sisters and I all had numerous after-school appointments and activities, it was a rare evening when we didn't sit down as one family and eat together. 

Story Donich, a 2 year old has dinner
while watching cartoons on her iPhone.
Age: 2  Time: 6:31 PM
Location: Sunset Park, Brooklyn
    I couldn't help but think about this when reading about a project called "Dinner in NY" by photographer Miho Aikawa, which explores the ways in which New Yorkers eat their dinners and, more importantly, what they do during dinner. In his introduction to the project, Aikawa notes that a study recently noted that we "now do almost 50% of our eating while concentrating on something else," and his photos illustrate this clearly: a large number of his subjects are watching TV, browsing the internet, and using their cell phones.  Even a two-year old child watches cartoons on her iPhone while her parents seem immersed in their own private thoughts.
  
    Aikawa makes a strong point: although we're spending a large part of our eating time focusing on other things, we're spending more time eating: approximately 25-30 minutes more daily than 30 years ago. Not only is all of this extra eating time likely to mean the consumption of more calories, as it's hard to know when you're full if you're distracted by other things, but it doesn't seem to provide more enjoyment. We're spending more time eating and less time really experiencing our food.

Jessie Zinke, a designer, has leftover for dinner on
her bed, while watching her favorite TV show.
Age: 27 Time: 6:54 PM
Location: Chelsea, New York
   I recently started my attempt to follow Geneen Roth's eating guidelines, and was most worried about the one that says: 
 "Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspaper, books, intense or anxiety producing conversation and music.
Yikes.  Although I'm a huge fan of eating, I'm not entirely sure if I enjoy it on its own or if it's the combination of eating and reading, eating and being on the computer, or eating and watching TV that really gives me pleasure. Afraid of being alone with my own thoughts or, worse, suffering the ultimate hell of <gasp!> boredom, I really, really didn't want to follow this guideline.  It took me a couple months to really commit to doing it at every meal. After a week or two, I was shocked to find that even eating with another person was too much of a distraction for me.  I'd become meditative about my eating experiences.  I really tasted my food, and I was much more in touch with the ways in which my body responded to it.  My thoughts became friends, and I learned to be so much more comfortable with silence and stillness in other aspects of my life.  

Looking at Aikawa's project from that perspective, then, makes me a bit sad to see how many people spend their mealtimes distracted.  Where before I would have seen joy, I now see a kind of "half-life" because it seems that the people depicted are experiencing neither of their activities fully. 

I can only hope that people will continue to find ways to connect with their loved ones and their food: some of the most hopeful photos in this project, to me, are the ones that show people eating while talking with loved ones: on Skype, over a speakerphone, or even at the same table.  Although I really enjoy my food when I focus in on it by myself, it tastes even better when I'm eating it with someone I love.  As Aikawa says, "When you enjoy mealtimes, you're more likely to eat better."  I hope we all find more ways to enjoy our mealtimes and be there fully when we're eating. 

All photos by Miho Aikawa

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making Iced Tea

My best friend L, like me, loves tea.  So I was surprised when she told me that she didn't know how to make iced tea.  I tried to explain how I do it, but she found it too confusing.  Hence this blog post!

Sometime last year, I decided to give up soda. I've been drinking diet soda daily since childhood.  Considering the possible side effects of all those sugar substitutes ... well, it just seemed like a good choice for me.  But I love having something flavored with meals, so what could I drink?  The huge stash of tea in my pantry gave me a really good idea: instead of only making iced tea in the summer, I could make it year-round!  I make a couple pitchers a week, and it's made giving up soda eminently more palatable! 

Here's my method: 

 
1. Get everything in place. You'll need: 
  • a way to boil water (I love the Adagio utiliTEA Electric Kettle; more about that later!)
  • Tea (either loose or in bags)
  • a way to steep loose tea (if using; I prefer t-sac's size 2 filters)
  • a container to brew your tea; I find a metal bowl works well, but you can use anything that is safe from heat shock)
  • a bamboo skewer
  • sweetener (if desired)
  • a spoon 
  • a pitcher (I use Sterilite's Gallon Pitcher, which stains badly, as you can see. Any pitcher that is safe from heat shock should work fine)
 
2. Ready Your Pitcher

Take the lid off and lay it aside (we'll use it later as a tea bag rest). Add sweetener to your pitcher, if desired. Add enough to sweeten a gallon of tea (or the amount your pitcher holds).  Keep in mind that any granulated or thick sweetener will dissolve better in hot tea, so if you add it now, you'll have perfectly sweetened tea by the time it cools. I use a combination of agave nectar and vanilla-flavored liquid stevia.  I can add more stevia later if needed, as it dissolves easily in cold liquid. One of the best things, to me, about making your own iced tea is that you can use healthier sweetening options!

3. Prepare the Tea 

There are two different options I use: loose tea and tea bags.  I'll illustrate how I use each.  

First, loose tea: 

As I mentioned before, I like to use t-sac's size 2 tea filters.  You could use a tea diffuser or other method; just make sure whatever you use allows you to include enough tea for about 8-10 cups (with room for expansion).  A general rule of thumb is one teaspoon of tea per cup, with an extra one "for the pot."  Some methods for making iced tea have you brew very strong tea, then dilute it with cold water or ice.  I find that brewing several pots with the same tea allows me to make a mellow iced version that isn't watered down.  In order to accomplish that, you need to use high-quality tea. It doesn't have to be expensive, but you don't want to use generic orange pekoe tea bags from the grocery store.  A great source for inexpensive quality tea is your local TJ Maxx, Ross, Home Goods, or other stores of that type.  There are, of course, local specialty stores, and even really expensive options like Teavana (which does have amazing tea that can be brewed repeatedly, if your pocketbook can stand the cost...).


Use the spoon to add tea to your chosen receptacle.  I usually fill the t-sac bags about halfway, shaking them down to make sure the tea fills the bottom completely. The bag on the left is full.








If using the t-sacs, fold the top down two times (see bag on left in the photo), then thread the bamboo skewer through the top.  See below for a close up of this method.









How to thread the skewer through the t-sac: weave it in back and forth.

Once you've threaded the two t-sacs on your skewer, rest it across your receptacle.  Make sure whatever you use is safe to receive very hot water without suffering from thermal shock, and that your tea will be immersed in the water when you fill the receptacle.  I use this metal mixing bowl that was damaged: the bend in the rim makes a kind of "spout," which I really like.




Or, Use Tea Bags:
I find that four normal tea bags is enough to make a gallon of iced tea.  Here's what I do to use them: using the paper tab at the end of the string, I tie the tea bags to my bamboo skewer.  I basically just make the beginning of a knot: the tab keeps them from falling off.

Step One: bring tab over the skewer so it hangs off the back.

 














Step Two: tuck the tab through the circle made just below the skewer.
















Step Three: pull tight.




Do this for all four tea bags on the same skewer, then lay it across your receptacle. 


4. Brew Your Water
 

 As I said before, I adore the Adagio utiliTEA Electric Kettle. It's the best gift I've ever given myself!  Although it brews water quickly, can be set down on the base facing any direction, and has a stay-cool handle, what makes it so exceptional is that it has a variable temperature gauge, made just for tea brewing! As you can see in the photo, the gauge goes from low temp (left) to high temp (right), which a special section for green teas (conveniently marked in green) and black tea (marked in brown).  I didn't like green tea until I finally made it with this kettle. It's amazing what a difference it makes when tea is made with the right temperature water, and this kettle makes it so easy!  Sadly, it's currently back-ordered everywhere. Guess it was just too popular!  But keep checking, and hopefully you can get your hands on one sometime soon!  Anyways, if you are making green or white tea and have a kettle like this, set it for that temperature.  If you're brewing black, turn it all the way to the right (or heat water to boiling).  This kettle makes four cups at a time, so that's what I make.

5. Start Making Tea (About Time, Right?)

 While your water is brewing, check out the time your tea should brew.  Many teas come with this information on the label or jar.  If not, consult a guide. I find that the information on the back of Teavana's bags is really useful, so I cut it out and kept it.  You can see it below, in case it's helpful for you too!  Keep in mind that the guidelines for iced tea on the chart assume you're brewing it all at once. Since we're doing a pot at a time, use the times for hot tea.


Teavana's tea brewing guide, with water temp and brewing time.

Using those time guidelines, when the water is ready, pour it over your tea and set a timer.  Refill your kettle and set it to heating again while your tea brews.  Sometimes the two take the same amount of time (score!), but if that's not the case, make sure you're nearby so your tea doesn't get that bitter tannic acid flavor from overbrewing!



6. Rinse and Repeat (well, just the latter, actually...)

Once your tea has brewed, lift the tea out and place it on the upturned lid.  Pour the tea into your prepared pitcher.  Then replace the tea in your brewing receptacle, and pour any tea from the lid into the pitcher, too. Repeat this process three times, so you've brewed four kettles (16 cups) of tea, total. You can be less vigilant about the time you brew the tea with your last batch; it will be a weaker brew to begin with. so a little more time won't hurt.



7. You Can Almost Taste The Refreshment!

Now all you have to do is wait for your tea to cool!  I like to put my pitcher on a trivet to elevate it so it cools faster.  

If, like me, you can't wait for your first glass, just fill a cup with ice and pour the hot brew over it.  It'll be a little watery, but still very good.  Once the tea has completely cooled, put the lid on and refrigerate. You'll have delicious iced tea for days...if it lasts that long!






Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Origami Owl Order Arrived!

My necklace came in a Chinese takeout box!
    I saw a picture of a gorgeous Origami Owl necklace on Pinterest; it was pinned from the Finding Normal blog, where the blogger explained how she had selected the locket, the charms and backplate, and showed photos of the finished product.  I was immediately hooked!

   Origami Owl's necklaces are called "Living Lockets:" you can select charms to put inside your locket, which has glass in the front and back to show them off.  You can also choose the size of your locket, whether it will be gold, rose gold, or silver; and whether or not it will be surrounded by crystals.  A hand-stamped metal backplate that can rest behind the charms is also available.  There are other customizable options, and since you can open up the locket to change or rearrange the contents at will, these really are "living" pieces of jewelry! 

My locket: what a great "fortune!"
    Although I almost never purchase special things like this for myself, I loved this idea so much, I immediately created my locket and ordered it before I could have second thoughts.  It arrived today and I'm so thrilled to see that it's all I'd hoped and more!  

    As the blogger at Finding Normal noted, the packaging is gorgeous.  The locket came in a darling little takeout container.  Inside were my charms and backplate along with a little fabric fortune cookie that contained my locket and chain.

The locket with chain and extra charms.

     I often have trouble with chains for necklaces: they seem to choke me more often than not.  So I was prepared to have to use another chain for my necklace, but was pleasantly surprised that the one that came with my locket was not only more than long enough, but beautiful and extremely adjustable for length, so I can wear it with a variety of necklines.
 
     I picked out six charms for my locket, but I can't use all of them at once without obscuring the backplate.  However, the metal plate is easy to remove, so when I want to, I can wear them all inside the locket. I also can switch out the charms depending on my mood.  Since I am easily tired of the same old thing, this is great news!


 


    Here are a few more photos of the locket.  I'm wearing it already, even though no one is here to appreciate it save me and the dogs.  I just love how it looks and feels! 

I chose a large silver locket with crystals around the edge, a gold backplate with the word "blessed," and six charms.

My six charms: butterfly (change and growth), an "amethyst" heart (husband's birthstone), an angel wing (protection and faith), a sand dollar (my love of the beach), a cross (faith), and a suitcase that says "NY" and "LA" (my two hometowns/states, and my love for travel).

Wearing my beautiful new locket!





Sunday, February 19, 2012

Beet Burgers to Die For...

I cannot take credit for this recipe!  I got it from the fabulous farmers that run Muddy Fingers Farm and our CSA (not sure what a CSA is? follow the link...): Matthew and Liz.  They shared the recipe on the blog they write for our CSA.  Then Liz encouraged me to try them, saying they were amazing. Not only were they as good as she said, but my husband, who usually runs with the "it's not a meal if it doesn't include meat" crowd, loved them! Best of all, they're really healthy, even if they don't taste that way, and they're a great excuse to visit your local farmer's market, even at this time of year.  Carrots and beets may be available!

So that you can get your beet burger on, too, I'm sharing the recipe here and on Pinterest. My comments are in square brackets, while Liz and Matthew's are in parenthesis.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think...and what you decide to top your beet burger with!

Beet Burgers
Notes, in parenthesis, are from Muddy Fingers Farm
  • 2 cups grated beets
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • ½ cup grated onions
  • 1 cup cooked rice (I make a little extra in advance, if I know I am going to be making beet burgers)
  • 1 cup toasted sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 3 T flour
  • ¼ cup oil
Minced fresh or dried garlic, cayenne, and parsley or other herbs to taste.

Toast seeds in a dry pan for several minutes, stir often. Mix all ingredients, form into patties and bake at 350*F. [they didn’t say how long to cook these. . .could take anywhere from 15-30 mins, or maybe more, depending on your oven. They get browned on edges and a much darker color overall when done. Flip them over after 10 or so minutes; they're yummier if you cook them on each side.] They can also can be make in a skillet (easier for just a few). Frozen ones can be reheated in a toaster oven.

(Since this is one of our all time favorite recipes, we will make a double or triple recipe at once and freeze the extras, then they make a quick meal when we are in a hurry. A food processor is your best friend for these!)