in season


Or at least things I’m doing that aren’t going to kill the Earth as quickly.

1. My garden. I’m hoping to grow a large percentage of our family’s summer and fall food, and hopefully keep the garden producing through the winter, as well as keeping some of our harvest with root-cellaring. Our house has a perfect room for a root cellar. It’s cold, dark, and if we get a door on it, I think it will be ideal all winter. Plus, I just got a book on four season gardening, from some people in Vermont, so I have to trust that they’re serious about producing even in the winter.

2. Composting. I’m so happy I have my own compost bin, and I will have a separate heap to put all the yard scraps in. That way, when I need some brown to put on top of the kitchen scraps, I can just grab some from the pile. Less goes into my trash, and I have home-made fertilizer for my lovely garden.

3. Cloth diapering. I can’t stand the thought of putting those horrible “disposable” things in the landfills. The funniest thing is seeing how huge my baby girl looks in the giant cloth diapers, though. I had to buy some summer clothes for her yesterday, and I ended up getting a bunch of skirts and some shorts that are the 4 year old size, so they will fit over the diapers.

4. Buying recycled clothes. There’s really no reason to shop for new clothing, since there is so much out there that gets discarded, but is in perfectly good shape. Plus, I have a love-affair with thrift stores. The other day, when I got home from a thrift store spree (there are about 7 thrift stores within a couple of mile of our house), Derek asked me how my treasure hunt had gone. I giggled. But I do love finding treasures that have been cast off for whatever reason, and I feel like I’ve avoided adding to the burden of resource depletion and possible human rights violations. Keeping goods in the loop eases my consumerist mind.

5. Using the local library. I love reading, I love books. I can’t afford to buy all the books I want, but more importantly, I want to avoid using up more resources by purchasing books I will only read once. Which is to say, I still buy books, and I still love them, but I’m buying fewer books. Plus, one needs to support the local library for so many reasons. They have so many books you will never be able to buy, they support literacy, both the boo variety and the computer variety, they have so many community programs, and they are havens of peace and quiet. My sanity would be much more threatened without the local library.

6.Turning things off. I try to leave lights off as much as possible. I try to hang the laundry to dry whenever possible. I encourage my kids to notice when things are unnecessarily ON, and help them understand why they should be OFF. I’ve tried to use as many low-energy things in our house as I could, with all compact fluorescent bulbs, low energy refrigeration (lesser of two evils, as far as I’m concerned. I wish I didn’t have one at all), low energy (and low water) washer and dryer, etc.

7. Opening windows. This spring is so gorgeous, but it’s already started getting hot. I’ve been opening the windows for circulation, rather than turning on the air conditioner. If I do end up desperately hot, I will try to keep the thermostat at something in the upper 70’s, rather than actually trying to make my house cool. Seasons are good for us, and a constant 71 degrees is not good for our dear Earth. During the winter, we kept the heat at 61 at night (I know, we could go lower, but my baby girl won’t keep herself under any blankets yet, and even with two pairs of fleece pajamas, she still got pretty cold) and 64 during the day, except on the days that I just couldn’t take it anymore, and turned it up to 68. I believe in sweaters and wool socks. From the thrift store, of course.

8. Recycling. Yes, I know how cliche all my things are, but I believe in recycling. I recycle everything I can. I want to really reduce how much trash we send to the land fill, so I recycle the things that can’t be used again, use up what can be used, make regular donations to the thrift stores, send the organic stuff to my compost bin, and give stuff away. I also try to purchase things that aren’t excessively packaged. Sometimes I get the large size, sometimes I skip something I want because it has too much plastic on it. Packaging makes me sad, especially when it’s intended to make the item look bigger or more exciting, and when there are multiple, unnecessary layers.

9. Making my own. Last night, I made a bunch of flannel baby wipes, and poured some home-made wipe-juice on them. I like to make my own cleaning products, using vinegar, Borax, baking soda, essential oils, and other good stuff. I would love to be a brilliant craftswoman, designing and building furniture and clothing out of reclaimed materials, but I’m just too lazy. Yesterday, I was about to throw an umbrella away. It has been on our porch all winter, and it was a piece of junk to begin with. It was rusty, all the little wires were bent, and it was unusable. When I picked it up, I suddenly thought how it would make a cute (and waterproof!) skirt for Kiki. All I need to do is cut a circle out of the middle and add some elastic or a strip of fabric with a fastener. Then I could decorate it with some ribbon or embroidery. Or maybe some tiny tassels on each of the points. I’ll post some photos when I’m done. And maybe while I’ve got the sewing machine out, I’ll get to those curtains I’ve been meaning to make since last November!

10. Use less. I try to limit the use of things that aren’t totally waste free and non-toxic. I’ve started only washing my hair about once or twice a week, instead of every other day. There’s really no reason to wash your hair every day, since your natural oils help your hair stay healthy and shiny, and also help with the frizzies. Plus, washing your hair often makes your skin produce more oil than it needs, so it gets greasier faster if you wash it all the time. I also don’t put clothes in the laundry unless they’re really dirty. By that, I mean that they have discernible spots or smells. Clothes shouldn’t be laundered often, because each time you wash them, the fibers break down more and the color fades, so if you want your clothes to last, don’t wash them so often. Just because you wore a shirt doesn’t mean it’s dirty. I give my shirts at least two days, and this may be TMI, but pants can last a couple of weeks. After all, that’s what underwear is for: to protect your clothing so you don’t need to wash it as often. (I’ve also found some more environmentally friendly laundry detergent that I love. Seventh Generation makes some that does well in an HE washer, and it smells incredible, like eucalyptus and lavender.)

Happy Earth Day!

I roasted two little Sugar Pumpkins this afternoon, at the request of Calvin, who is dying to try some pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin. Ever since people started putting up Jack-‘o-Lanterns before Halloween, he’s been begging to cook up a pumpkin. So I went to Trader Joe’s where they were selling Sugar Pumpkins, which are actually meant for eating, not carving. I bought two, because I knew violence would ensue if a pumpkin magically appeared at the behest of one child, and there wasn’t one for the other. And I always like to use the whole beast if I can.

Easy as pie, so they say. I sliced the little (baby-head sized) pumpkins in half from top to bottom, put them on a greased cookie sheet, skin side up, and baked them for an hour at 300 degrees. Then, when they were cooled down, I scooped out the flesh and pureed it with my stick blender. Actually, Derek was in the room and he asked me if I needed him to do the pureeing. I told him I was doing just fine, and he confessed that he thought it looked like fun, so I let him do the pureeing. Tomorrow, I will whip up some pie crust. Tuesday, I’ll make some pie.

As for the seeds, I put them in a big bowl, ran a little bit of water in, swirled them around, and picked out the big chunks of pulp. I ran some more water and they floated above the rest of the pulp, so I could just scoop them out onto a paper towel. Calvin has also been asking for pumpkin seeds, you see.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds

about 2 cups fresh raw pumpkin seeds, washed and patted dry
2 T butter or canola oil
1/4 cup real maple syrup (it would probably work just fine with only 2 tablespoons, but wouldn’t that be sad?)
generous pinch salt
1/8-1/4 t cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in a large bowl. Add maple syrup, salt, and cayenne and mix well. Stir in pumpkin seeds and mix to coat. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast for 45-60 minutes, stirring every ten minutes, until golden. The syrup should be dark golden brown and very sticky.

When you take the seeds out of the oven, stir them with a couple of spatulas for about 5 minutes while they cool, breaking up large clumps. Eat immediately. Yummy.

Derek and I ate the entire batch as soon as it was cool enough. I don’t know how Sugar Pumpkin seeds compare to carving pumpkin seeds, except that I was expecting them to be more woody. It seems like I’ve had the seeds in the hull before, and I had to chew and chew those suckers. Well, these ones I made today were not at all like that. In fact, they were so yummy that Zeeb ate a bunch, calling them “Pumpkin chips” and Kiki found a clump that had fallen to the floor and tried to eat it. I can usually get things out of her mouth, like when she eats rocks or marbles, but this time, she would NOT give it up. She had those jaws clamped tight, and kept mooshing her lips so I couldn’t stick my finger in there. It was amazing.

Anyway, if you want a yummy, good-for-you snack (and by that I mean not processed or including unpronounceable ingredients, not low calorie), try these. They’re so easy. I’m gonna make some for appetizers on Thanksgiving.

In a characteristic fit of I-can-do-anything-itis, and after having read this article in the New York Times, I hauled off and ordered 10 pounds of fresh olives a few weeks ago. They arrived a couple of days after we moved into the house, so I stuck them in the fridge to await their fate. Today was the day. I finally bought 12 quart canning jars last night, and 2 pounds of lemons. I got up this morning with that glow of excitement at the start of a new project. I’ve only been thwarted in minor ways, no big set-backs yet.

I washed my olives and put them in the jars with the brine, vinegar, lemons, garlic, and celery. I still need to go get more lemons to make juice to add, and I also need a bunch of hot peppers, which I had forgotten about. Also, I think I need at least one more head of garlic. I’m not totally certain the jars are big enough, though. The recipe says to put 3 1/2 pounds of olives in 2 1-gallon jars, but I only had quart jars. And it seems like if you use gallon jars, you end up with olives only in the bottom half of the jar. But you use a lot more brine that way. I think I’m gonna have to keep an eye on those buggers.

I’m so excited to try my own home-cured olives in 6 months. I love olives. Sometimes I think I should have been born in the Mediterranean, because I love olives, citrus, garlic, and flatbread more that about anything else. I wish I had had some good green olives last night, because I could have used them in our dinner. I had to improvise with black olives and capers, which I’m not sure would really fall into a traditional Moroccan meal. The capers, I mean. But man, was it yummy. So yummy, that for your entertainment, I’m posting the recipe for this Moroccan Lemon Chicken and Almond Rice Pilaf, as well as Roasted Cauliflower, which it the perfect accompaniment to the chicken. It’s a little bit of a cheater menu. I used leftover rice from the night before, and subbed in the wrong olives, but it was still so good.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken

1 T olive oil
1 whole, boneless chicken breast with skin and wings (I used 8 frozen thighs from Trader Joe’s)
1 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t paprika
1/4 t cinnamon
2 t finely grated lemon zest
1 1/2 t flour
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1/3 C green olives, pitted and sliced thin (or black olives plus 1 T chopped capers)
1 T honey
1/2 C drained, rinsed canned chickpeas (which I left out, because I had none)
2 T chopped fresh cilantro (also absent, because where do you get fresh cilantro in Ohio in November? I don’t know!)

In a large, heavy saucepan (I don’t use non-stick for stuff like this, because the fresh-ground spices scratch it up, so I use cast iron), heat the oil over medium high heat. Don’t let it smoke. Dry off the rinsed chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken with the skin side down (this is one of those times when you really want the skin still on. It makes this dish taste like actual chicken, and also gives the sauce a nice, velvety texture) until the skin is deep golden brown. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the pan and cook a few minutes until soft. Add spices (if you’re me, double the amount), zest, and flour, and simmer for one minute, stirring. Add broth, olives (and capers), and honey. Add the chicken again and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, uncovered. Stir every so often, and don’t worry about the skin that forms on the sauce, just stir it in. Add the chickpeas, simmer, add salt and pepper to taste. When serving, make sure everyone gets a lot of sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Almond Rice Pilaf

1 t olive oil
1/4 C chopped or slivered almonds
2-3 cups cooked rice (I used long grain brown rice)
small handful of raisins

Heat the olive oil on medium in a skillet (non-stick is good here) and add almonds. Stir and cook until toasted and a tiny bit golden. Add rice and stir, incorporating all the oil and breaking up any chunks. Add raisins and keep stirring until all the rice is hot. Be pretty careful not to burn the rice. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water to rehydrate the rice. The water steams the rice a little.

Roasted Cauliflower, or Cauliflower Fries, or The Best Cauliflower You’ve Ever Tasted, Even If You Think You Hate Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground caraway
3/4 t salt
pepper

Toss the cauliflower with the oil, then the spices and salt. Again, if you’re me, double the spices. Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet in one layer, and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes. You should hear a lot of sizzling. Take it out and turn the cauliflower. It might look a little burned on the bottom, but that’s what you want. Return to the oven and roast another 10 minutes. It should be shriveled, blackened and crispy on the edges, and kind of juicy looking. Let it cool a little before you try it, and then prepare yourself for a new addiction. Keep the kids away, because they will eat it all. And beg for more, even fight over the remaining pieces.

Compulsive Writer is on a dessert binge, and keeps posting cake recipes, so I have cake on the brain. But no zucchini! What to do?

I’m providing you with my mother’s famous chocolate zucchini cake, because every once in a while, you need you eat your zucchini in the form of dessert. For me, it’s actually hard to accumulate enough zucchini to make this, since I positively love zucchini, especially if it’s little and I can sautée it in a freaking hot pan until it has brown spots, add some salt and pepper, and serve it up with pasta.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Preheat oven to 350°, grease and flour two 8 inch cake pans (I think it’s 2, I’m gonna call my mom to make sure, so check back later, just in case).

In a big bowl, sift together:

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C cocoa
2 2/1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t soda
1 t salt
1 t cinnamon (optional)

In another medium bowl, cream together:

2 C sugar
3/4 C butter or shortening

Beat into the creamed butter and sugar:

3 eggs

Stir in:

1/2 C warm milk
2 t vanilla
2 C zucchini, shredded (packed, generous cups)

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix to combine, so there are no little bubbles of flour. Pour equally into pans, and bake for about 1 hour, until they’re done, that is, when a toothpick inserted almost in the middle doesn’t come out gooey.

Frost this cake with chocolate ganache frosting, chocolate buttercream, or chocolate syrup. I prefer ganache, personally.

No, I do not know where to find zucchini eggs. I don’t believe they lay eggs. This is just my favorite way to use up those millions of zucchini and tomatoes in the middle of summer. I love them both, so I try lots of different ways of preparing them. But I’m telling you, this one is just extra good stuff. Even my little boys kept begging for more. The chartreuse color of the eggs may be a little shocking. In fact, if you just look at the eggs without the rice, tomatoes and yogurt, it is not entirely appetizing, but assembled, it looks great. You can also skip the curry powder and the yogurt, and it would be good that way, too.

Curried Zucchini Eggs for 4

2 T olive or canola oil
1 or 2 T good curry powder
1 medium or 2 small (cigar sized) zucchini, grated
4 eggs, beaten
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup plain yogurt
cooked brown rice
salt and pepper

In a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, heat 1 T of the oil on medium-high. Add the curry powder and stir around, then add the grated zucchini. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until the zucchini is soft, but not totally dry. Salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl or plate.

Return the pan to the stove and lower the temperature to medium. Add the other T oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add the beaten eggs. Scramble a little, until beginning to set, then quickly add the zucchini and scramble some more, until the eggs are done. Remove to the same plate as before.

To serve, make a mountain in this order: Rice, zucchini eggs, chopped tomatoes, a dallop of plain yogurt, salt and pepper to taste.