22 February 2010

let the gardens begin!

we've got green things growing in our basement! i started some seeds for cold-weather plants: brussel sprouts, leeks, parsley--and i also brought in a few of the seedlings that are barely hanging on outside in the cold frame. so, we have some lovely cabbage and broccoli starts warming up under our new grow light.

i didn't think it was possible to be more excited about the gardening season than i was last year...or the year before, for that matter. but, i am. this year, i have a better home garden space, and i am doing an internship with mother hubbard's cupboard--in the youth gardening program at the banneker center. this means i have two gardens to play in, and i get to teach a group of eight-year-olds about the joys of growing your own food!

plants are amazing things, ya know? last week, we needed some fresh thyme and sage leaves for a recipe. i went out into the back yard, to the spot where our thyme plant lives, brushed aside a half a foot of snow, found the layer of straw i'd put on top, in the late fall (hadn't remembered that i'd done that), and there i found those tiny, tear-drop-shaped leaves, all fresh and green and ready for soup! such a treasure. the sage was easier to spot, it's still standing, with silvery leaves peeking up out of the snow.

muddied my boots and warmed my heart.

17 February 2010

my korean grandmother?

when carl makes a good pasta sauce, or homemade gnocci, he jokes "ahh, just like my italian grandmother used to make." he makes the same joke for any other dishes we prepare, which originate from far away lands. lately, we have been honoring my "korean grandmother." this winter, i find myself dead-set on perfecting a couple of korean dishes that i am particularly fond of. i am not necessarily interested in preparing them in the most authentic manner, as i am attempting to replicate something i have tasted before.


when i co-taught a food preservation class with stephanie last fall, we did a hands-on demonstation of lacto-fementation. you don't use milk (as i initially wondered), the lacto refers to the lactic acid that is released from vegetables when you agitate them with coarse salt and allow them to ferment at room temperature for a couple of days. those acids serve to preserve the food, and saturate it in irresistible, complex flavors. this process is used in the making of kimchi, a korean sort of sour kraut, which is usually extremely spicy-hot. my friend erica shared some from a (not spicy) batch she had made, and i almost devoured the entire quart jar on the spot. there was something nearly addictive about the taste. it was crunchy, slightly sour, and utterly compelling. my taste buds just couldn't get enough. since then, i have been trying to duplicate it. my first batch wasn't even close. i used something like nappa cabbage, only leafier, and it lacked the crispness i was hoping for. when i tried again, i used a green cabbage head, and this recipe, with a great deal of modification. for instance, i didn't hug my cabbage, but i did infuse it with good vibes--and, apparently too much red chili for my taste. it actually turned out really well, but as it aged, the heat increased, to the point where a table spoon at a time was all i could handle. but, i am encouraged that i came close, and i will keep trying. that recipe calls for fruit, which seems odd to me. i skipped all the fruit, except the lemon, and next time, i won't include it either.
*also pictured here are tsukemono, from my "japanese grandmother." but that is for another post.

I've also been making korean-style vegetable pancakes (pa jun). i first tasted these at a lovely little korean bar-b-que in, of all places, the town i grew up in, in southern missouri. as a vegetarian, the pancakes were pretty much my only option at that place, but they were terribly delicious. it has been twenty years, and i have never forgotten them. i only started making them at home this fall, after tasting some less-than-satisfying ones at a korean church fundraiser, here in town. i looked up recipes on the web, found this informative, and slightly amusing video, then started experimenting on my own. i find that making a bunch of small ones, is easier for me than a single, pan-sized one, and also offers more surface area for the crispy edges, which is the whole point, as far as i'm concerned. they are very easy to make, which surprised me, because i have a habit of really messing up breakfast pancakes. what's different about these is that you're not going for fluffy and light. it's flat and crispy you're after. so, you can flatten them out with the spatula, as they are browning in the skillet. we keep fizzy water by the case in our house, so when i found a recipe that included seltzer, i knew it was the one for me. you can use whatever vegetable combination appeals to you, as long as it includes tons of scallions. below is what i prefer. serve with a simple soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil mixture, for dipping, and of course, kimchi on the side.
mmmm. just like my korean grandmother, in springfield, missouri!

pa jun (korean pancake)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup seltzer water (plain water is fine too)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of white pepper

two bunches of scallions, sliced in half lengthwise, then chopped diagonally, about 2 inches long
1 carrot, julienne cut
a few mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 hot green chili
olive oil

first, prepare all the vegetables. then mix the batter. add the vegetables and stir, just enough to coat them in the batter. heat some oil (a tablespoon or so) in a heavy skillet. once the oil is hot, drop about a half cup of batter in, and spread the vegetables out. repeat, for as many as will fit in your skillet. cook over medium high heat, until the bottom browns nicely, then flip, to brown the other side. at this point, you can press down on the pancake, with at spatula, to flatten, and spread any uncooked batter out into the pan. add more oil if needed. when both sides are crispy, remove from heat. these are best when eaten just off the stove. you can keep them warming on a baking pan in the oven while you cook the rest, but they tend to lose their crunch.

14 February 2010

sweet dreams

we've recently found ourselves in a bedding crisis. i wake almost every morning with an aching back. often, i can't wait to get out of bed, no matter how early it is, because the bed is just so damned uncomfortable. we have a double bed. a futon.

throughout most of my adult life, i have slept on futons. there was a brief futon break in grad school, after i purchased the cheapest possible mattress and box spring upon arriving in houston. but it gave out quickly, as one might imagine. j and i shared an extremely soft mattress set for a while, it nearly broke my spine. the futon we have been sleeping on for the past four years isn't any better, and it seems to have gotten worse lately. or, maybe we are just getting old.

it doesn't help that a certain little person finds his way into the bed at some point in the wee hours of the morning. i wouldn't really mind that, if only the bed were a bit bigger.plus, carl's feet hang over the end of the bed, for crissake!

in a desperate last ditch effort, i switched our bed futon, with the one on the couch. it was lumpier than the other one, and seemed to sort of turn up on the edges--like a raft. horrible.

we both agreed that we'd like to get a king-sized bed, and a nice one. problem is, we don't have that kind of money. anything we could afford would probably not be an improvement on what we currently have. we found ourselves torn between the realities of our financial situation, and our belief that we should be kind to our bodies.

then a little angel posted on facebook that good friends of hers were selling a like-new, high-dollar, stearns & foster, king-sized mattress and box spring for a hundred bucks. though the post was over a day old, and someone had already responded, i called her immediately. within the hour, i had purchased the (immaculate) bed, and arranged to have it picked up by yet another angel (with a truck). the owners even threw in a non-crinkly mattress protector, a mattress pad, two sets of king-sized sheets, and a bed spread-- all in excellent condition. i told them that i felt like we'd won the lottery.

last night, we had the best night's sleep in years--maybe decades! it is so firm, spacious and wonderful in every way, i can hardly believe it's actually sitting there, in our very own bedroom. since he's only had a chance to bounce on beds-with-springs during vacations, cosmo, too was thrilled. our heartfelt thanks to all those who made this possible. we rest easy, because of you.

11 February 2010

sick day

  • snuggling up in my comfy sweater and fluffy orange blanket
  • fever
  • cosmo reading sometimes to me (all the way through), as i rest on the couch
  • aches and pains all over
  • carl's yummy soup, with sprouted chickpeas from stephanie
  • shivering
  • a beautiful snow on the ground, and in the trees
  • wicked soar throat
  • carl drawing an extra hot bath for me, including a pot of boiled water
  • red wine in a "puck" glass
  • seinfeld re-runs + rachel maddow
  • feeling loved

01 February 2010

winter light

after living for two years in a shoe box of a house, with no space for a dinning room table, we now have a nice open "great room," and a proper dining room table. trouble is, the lighting is all wrong. yes, there is an overhead light, but i typically despise overhead lighting, especially this type, which filled every room of my childhood. my childhood not being entirely pleasant, to say the least, i tend to go for "accent lights," and basically, any form of lighting other than overhead.

the overhead lamp in this room also happens to be offset from where one would probably choose to place a dining room table, or, at least where we chose to place our table (and, what's up with that allen wrench in the fixture?). it would be easy enough to hang a nice pendant lamp over the table, either a swag type, with the cord draped over to the wall outlet, or, i could even conceal a cord in the oh-so-attractive dropped-tile-ceiling . but so far, i haven't been able to locate an affordable pendant lamp that i like the looks of. i've strung white christmas lights in two locations, bracketing the table, which increased visibility considerably, but it is still too dark to eat by without candles on the table, we found that two canles weren't enough.

luckily, i happened upon this candelabra at the goodwill a couple of weeks ago. we may end up spending our entire pendant lamp budget on taper candles, but, by god, we can see our food! plus, all those candles help warm the room, and cosmo gets a big kick out of lighting, and blowing out each of those flames every night.