Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking Time to Breathe

I am not sure where the last couple of days went.  It does not help that it has gotten hot again and the temperatures at night are just a little too high for comfortable sleeping.  I am grateful today to be able to stay inside with the fans on and to do some reading and stitching--I've been too tired and uncomfortable to do either for the past couple of days.  Yesterday was grilling day, so I will not have to cook today.  Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler, but of course, I will be roasting as I make fish chowder in the soup kitchen!

Bill commented yesterday afternoon that it seemed like the hottest day in the U-pick field this season.  I think he was right.  In the farm newsletter they commented that they could use some rain.  It wasn't that long ago that there was too much rain!  In any case, things are starting to be ready for harvest.  In addition to the flowers, herbs, and beans in the U-pick field, there were also a few kinds of tomatoes available, and they have been trickling in for the farm shares, too.  There was a melon bonanza this week.  They said they try to stagger the harvests of cantaloupes and watermelons so they're not all coming at the same time, but this year, it didn't work out that way and we got 4 cantaloupes and a watermelon!  And the salad greens are back!  Yay!  There was too much rain for them earlier in the season, but yesterday there was mizuna, mix-and-match tatsoi, arugula, and lettuce mix, as well as mix-and-match baby bok choi, little kale, and chard.  I took some of each of the lettuce mix, arugula and tatsoi, and mostly baby bok choy with a few kale leaves.  I just mixed it all in a big bowl and made my own salad mix.  I already had chard that I brought home from the food pantry on Monday and some lettuce mix--all donated from a couple of different local farms.

I have been rather enjoying the flowers this year.  I know nothing about flowers or arranging them or anything, but there seem to be more of them this year and in greater variety, so I've been varying color schemes each week.  I give a small arrangement to my friend and neighbor and keep a small bunch for us.  Yesterday I did yellow and white with a purple accent flower.  I also cut some dill flowers to include in the arrangements.  they are something that I've seen before, but never particularly noticed.  For some reason yesterday they just called out to me and I paid attention.  I love their firework-like appearance.

For now I will enjoy my daily salad--or salads.  There are a lot of greens that need to be eaten and I'm the only one who likes them.  Still, as is always the case at this time of year, my thoughts are starting to turn to Crock-Pot soups.  Maybe it will get cool enough for soup soon-ish. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Garlic in the Garbage Garden

I've written before about my "garbage garden" where I have plants that have been either grown from kitchen scraps or would have gone into the pig bucket at MCHPP.  I have a basil plant, a bunch of scallions, some baby bok choi, and a couple of celery plants.  The last week I added garlic. 
There was a head of garlic that was missing some cloves in the food pantry a few weeks ago and someone asked me if I wanted it, so I took it (of course).  I used several of the cloves and then separated the rest and stuck each clove, pointy side up, into a pot of dirt.  Here come the garlic shoots!  Yay!  These are great to snip over salads or soups just like you would do with chives.  Snip them and they will keep on growing. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fresh Salsa

Today is our 33rd anniversary and Bill and I sat around this morning deciding what to do.  We thought about driving to Boothbay to see the aquarium, but when it came right down to it, it just didn’t seem that appealing. Neither one of us felt like a long drive.  We thought about going for lunch at a place just over the bridge in the next town within easy walking distance that has a deck over the Androscoggin River.  But we looked at the menu online and were both underwhelmed--it all seemed a little ho-hum.  We thought about a Mexican restaurant down the street from where we used to live and also within easy walking distance.  Everyone raves about it.  So we looked at their website and discovered that they aren’t open for lunch.  They are always packed at night--especially on the weekends, and dealing with a crowd in a small space seemed decidedly unappealing--and really good Mexican food is easy to make at home anyway. 

In the end, we walked to Big Top Deli on Maine St and had lunch there.  Bill really felt like an Italian sub and they have good ones.  It’s funny--on Maine St in Brunswick there are restaurants all over the place.  Brunswick is known for its restaurants.  We rarely go out to eat so have been to hardly any of them.  The one thing we would love to have here is good pizza and with all of these restaurants, there is no excellent place for pizza.  There’s a decent place on Pleasant St, but no really great pizza in Brunswick.  Every place we’ve tried has had really bland and boring sauce that had no herbs and tasted like it came directly out of a can and onto the pizza.  If there was excellent pizza, we might have gone and had that, but the sandwiches were quite good, so it turned out well.

As we were walking to Big Top, we passed the gelato place and I thought that I might like to stop in after lunch and get a gelato.  I got a small sandwich to save some room, but that didn’t work.  I was full when we left, so we skipped the gelato and instead walked down to the commons and walked around the downtown farmers’ market.  When I’d been looking at the menu for the Mexican place online, of course I saw the salsa and chips listed and I started thinking that some fresh salsa would be good.  We found some fresh tomatoes of various sorts at the market and I picked out 5 big ones in three different colors--orange, purple, and red.  Then we stopped at the grocery store on the way home for some blue tortilla chips.  I made the salsa and we can have it with grilled leftovers for supper.  I also picked up a package of double chocolate Klondike bars to satisfy my ice cream craving.  I figured that I’d be able to fit them in the freezer, even if I had to stick them into little spaces individually!

Fresh Salsa (make a lot--it disappears fast!)
--5 large tomatoes, chopped
--1 large onion, chopped
--pickled jalapenos to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons, chopped)
--garlic (minced fresh or garlic powder)
--chopped fresh jalapenos or other hot peppers, optional (if you remove some or all of the ribs and seeds, you will tone down or eliminate the heat)
--dried oregano to taste
--2 tablespoons sugar
--3 tablespoons vinegar
Place everything in a bowl and mix together.  Let sit for a few hours for flavors to blend.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Grilled Pita

It's Tuesday and no thunderstorms in sight, so we grilled a bunch of stuff again.  I made turkey burgers and we had some garlic and cheese sausage.  We also had a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breast, so we cooked all of that and I'll use it for several days to come in various ways.  I had a large summer squash that I sliced along with a small one that I cut in half and brushed with olive oil.  I then sprinkled with garlic powder and Italian seasoning.  I cut a few red bell peppers in half and had a pile of chilis.  When I was done brushing the oil on the zucchini, I had some left in my little bowl, which I didn't want to waste.  I decided to brush it on half a small loaf of Italian-bread-shaped oatmeal bread that I'd sliced.  I did that, sprinkled with garlic powder and wrapped in foil.  I figured I could put it on the grill to heat as the coals were winding down, along with all those chilis and whatever bell peppers and squash that didn't fit on the grill with all the other stuff.  I also decided to try making grilled pita crisps.  I separated half a large pita into single layers, brushed these with olive oil, and sprinkled with some smoky chili powder.  I placed these on the grill while the coals were still hot and while the chicken and sausage were cooking. 
When it was done, I tossed it on top of the still uncooked veggies to cool slightly before tasting--I was out of places to put things.  It's really good.  I plan to make more of these next week.

The heat has come back here and after having halfway decent and not extremely hot weather for the past little while, I am feeling it.  This reminds me why I hate summer.  I am tired and not sleeping well.  My joints ache.  I sometimes find it an effort to breathe and we have an air quality alert issued for tomorrow.  Sigh.  I am grateful that it is only supposed to last a couple more days and then go back to being halfway decent again.  I will be happy when it's cooler!  But until it is, I can be glad that I will not have any need to stand over a hot stove or to turn on the oven, because the food for the next several days is already cooked.  Yay!

For another great planned leftover idea, check out today's post on A Good Eater!  She's got some yummy stuff going on with chicken and veggies in her Crock-Pot!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Odd -n-Ends Pasta Sauce and Quick Veggie Chili

Spent about an hour in the kitchen today using up some of my planned grilled leftovers and creating new planned leftovers.  I also made lunch, which is our big meal on Saturdays, since Bill will be at work at suppertime. 

First I made lunch for today and Monday (I do not know what time I will get home from my shift at the food bank and it's best to have something to heat and eat).  I added some olive oil to a pot and tossed in a chopped onion, a chopped bell pepper, a large clove of minced garlic, and a round summer squash that I'd chopped.  I cooked this stuff in the oil, stirring it around, for a few minutes.  Then I added two small eggplants that we'd grilled the other day.  They were peeled while still hot from the grill and I just roughly cut them into chunks today before adding to the pot.  Then I roughly chopped the bit of chard that we had left from our farm share this week and set that aside.  Finally, I sliced the rest of the grilled extra hot sausage we had left.  I added that, then the chard and stirred until the chard was wilted.  Then I added about 6 ounces of tomato paste and I rinsed out the can (a 12 ounce can) and poured the water into the pot, along with some oregano and basil.  I stirred to incorporate the tomato paste and let it simmer while the elbows cooked.  A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese completed things nicely. 

After lunch, I decided to make myself a pot of chili (I'm the only one who likes it around here).  I added olive oil to my pot and diced some carrots.  I chopped an onion, a red bell pepper, and two grilled jalapenos and added all the veggies to the pot.  I stirred them around and let them sweat.  After a few minutes, I added a can of kidney beans that I'd rinsed, and a can of diced tomatoes with juice.  Then I added the rest of the tomato paste from the can I opened for the pasta sauce and a bit of water.  Finally, I put in a smoky chili powder that I have never used before.  It's salt-free and has a few different kinds of chilis in it, including chipotle.  I love chilis and smoky flavors both, so I'm interested to see how I like this.  I let everything simmer for a little while and poured it into a container.  I'll have a bowl for supper.  There will be enough left for a few more days after that, as well. 

In addition to the new leftovers, we still have a couple of burgers and some zucchini, onion, and bell pepper left from the grill and we will eat these for lunch tomorrow.  The grilled chilis that remain will be frozen for use later on. 

So an hour in the kitchen has served me well and frees up extra time in the days ahead.  Why just cook for one meal, when you can cook ahead for a few more with no extra time or effort spent?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chicken and Avocado Sandwiches

Today I used some of the grilled food I had in the fridge to make lunch.  Since Bill changed his shift at work on Fridays, we now eat our bigger meal of the day at lunchtime on Fridays as well as on the weekends.  This afternoon, it was chicken sandwiches with avocado spread.

I used my food processor fitted with the steel blade to make the avocado spread.  I tossed in some of the veggies we'd grilled the other night--bell pepper, a red jalapeno, some onion--along with a couple of cloves of garlic and some cilantro.  I whizzed that all up, then added a couple of avocados and whizzed everything around until it was creamy.  I heated up a couple of boneless, skinless chicken thighs that were also grilled the other night.  I spread the avocado mixture onto some oatmeal bread from Panera that I'd brought home from the soup kitchen yesterday and topped with the chicken thigh and another slice of bread.  Delicious, healthy, fast, and easy. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chowder Broth?

Cooked in the soup kitchen today and made chowder again. It was pretty slow today--we served 80 firsts and 34 seconds.  I've had some questions and comments about the broth, so I thought that I would post how I make the chowder.  People are also surprised about the non-traditional veggies in the chowder--I get a lot of comments about that.  I am sure there's a particular way that Maine folks make their chowder.  I have no idea what that way is!  I just try to use what we have and today we had beautiful, local, farm fresh carrots, summer squash (yellow crookneck and pattypan), and kale, so those were added.  Someone came up and told me that she liked the veggies because they didn't "overpower the fish."  Since many of our diners are also food pantry clients, I have been encouraging them to take these kinds of veggies and to try making chowder at home.  It's pretty basic and you can use what you have.

My process is the same every week--as someone joked today, "Shari can probably make chowder in her sleep by now!  She probably has chowder nightmares!"  I don't have nightmares, but I do have a system :-)  The chowder is different every week because the available veggies vary, but the process is the same.

Put some oil in a pot.  Add chopped onion, carrot, bell pepper, summer squash, minced garlic and celery.  You can add some diced bacon if you want. Cook in the oil, stirring, until the onion is translucent and the other veggies are starting to soften.  Add some chopped kale (stems removed) or chard and stir just until wilted.  Add some cubed potatoes.  Cover with water just up to the level of the veggies.  Bring to a boil.  Cook until the potatoes are almost done and then add in chunks of white fish.  Keep cooking stirring occasionally.  The fish will flake as you stir.  When the potatoes are soft, remove pot from heat and add milk, cream, or half and half.  I do not use that much.  I add about half a gallon to each of the 3 large pots that has 12 pounds of fish and all the veggies in it, so to make this at home, you don't need much. If I had needed to stretch the chowder to feed more people, I could have added more milk.  I sprinkle in some black pepper and sometimes I have added snipped chives, scallions or fresh parsley at this point if those things were available.

People ask about the broth, but as you see, I just use water and it makes its own broth.  The potatoes thicken it a bit and the flavor from the veggies makes a nice rich, flavorful broth without having to use special stock or anything.  I gather some people add a lot of butter, but I don't use any.  Between the olive oil and the bacon, there is enough fat in there, in my opinion. 

Today with the chowder we had Panera bread, sliced melon, and a wonderful garden salad.

I am off next Thursday, so no chowder for me.  I probably won't be cooking it at home.  We did our weekly grilling yesterday instead of Tuesday, because there were thunderstorms in the forecast for Tuesday.  We didn't get any, but had we fired up the grill, they probably would have appeared.  Anyway, we have veggies, chicken, extra hot Italian sausage, and some turkey burgers--plenty of food to last at least through Saturday.  We got our first farm tomato Tuesday when we did our farm share pick-up--we had half yesterday and saved half for today--yummy sliced on the grilled burgers.  I got a nice loaf of bread today, too.  Panera does make some good bread.  So we're all set for a few days.  I am pleased because people enjoyed their healthy lunch and we helped to prevent food from being wasted. And we had a good time in the process! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In and Out at the Grocery Store

This morning Bill and I did our large monthly grocery shopping trip.  I prefer not to do it on weekends, but it just worked out that way this time, and we know that if we go early in the morning or after supper, the store will not be crowded. And since I like to get it over with, we went this morning.  We were walking in at 6:55 and in and out in about 20 or 25 minutes. Less than an hour from the time we left, everything was put away and we could sit down to breakfast.  Glad that's done!

It helps that we know what we are going to buy and that it is all basic, mostly perimeter, kinds of food.  We don't spend much time in the produce section at this time of year, because I bring home produce from MCHPP and we get our farm share every week, but there are always onions to pick up and we grabbed some avocados today.  We venture down a few aisles, but even then most of what we need is near the end.  The one aisle that we walk down from one end to the other is the coffee/tea/cereal aisle.  The tea is at one end, the coffee in the middle and the round boxes of old fashioned oats at the other end.  Then it's on to dairy for eggs, soy milk, orange juice, cheese, yogurt, and butter.

There was hardly anyone in the store and staying along the edges means that we don't have to try and go around people in the narrow aisles as they stand and ponder what they want.  It means that we do not have to stand there ourselves and ponder 50,000 choices.  I know which oatmeal I am going to buy and I can grab my 3 round boxes almost without breaking stride :-)  It means that I can walk right up to what I want, grab it, and keep walking.  I am oblivious to the stuff around me as I zero in on my intended target.  I haven't a clue about what kinds of processed foods are available--I just never see it in the store. It's a blur as I race
by, trying to escape as quickly as possible!  I do sometimes see it at MCHPP, though.  One day I was amazed to see fruit in a tube.  I had no idea such a thing existed.  There was a tote of this tube fruit and food pantry clients could take a few if they wanted.  I was doing a demo that day, and the tote of tube fruit was right there by my table, so I got to witness how excited both kids and adults were about the opportunity to get this stuff. Clearly, it was familiar to them.  If I had to find it in the store, I would be lost--I would not know where to find such a thing.  But when I see it in the pantry, I stand and examine it, like an archaeologist with a newly found artifact.  I read the ingredients, look at the packaging and file the information away--another piece of data for my ongoing analysis of US food culture.

I was telling Bill as we were walking out that clearly we had gotten used to the newish store layout, so it must be almost time for them to remodel again.  I hate it when a grocery store remodels, because that slows me down--as is their intention.  Studies show that the more time people spend in the store, the more money they will spend.  Remodeling means that people have to walk up and down every aisle to find the stuff that they want, which is now in a completely different place.  And walking up and down each aisle means more opportunity for impulse purchases.  The very slim profits made by grocery stores don't come from the stuff on the perimeter, for the most part.  They come from all the stuff in the center, so the more time shoppers spend there, throwing stuff into their cart, the better for the bottom line--of the store, not the shopper!

The more you buy from the edges of the store, the better off you will be--you will get more bang for your buck because that is largely where the real food is located and real food provides more nutrition than heavily processed foods.  I include frozen veggies (plain without sauces) as real food--these are often a more economical and healthier choice than fresh, depending where you are and the season.  By staying on the edges of the store, you will get in and out faster.  Having a limited number of basic ingredients makes meal planning much easier as well--it is easier to decide what to make if you have basic stuff to create with, rather than searching for specific ingredients to make particular recipes.

We live in a culture in which freedom of choice is held up as a great thing. Food is one more consumer good and the number of choices increases all the time--this is supposed to be empowering for us.  Research shows otherwise.  In Paradox of Plenty (a book I highly recommend), Harvey Levenstein talks about this research, which clearly shows that too much choice wears us down and leads us to just grab something--anything--in order to be able to stop having to choose!  So really, far from being empowering, all of these choices simply lead to more stress.  We had a visitor from Norway some years ago and one day in the grocery store he finally looked at me and asked, "How do you do this?  How do you know how to behave in a place like this?"  He was not at all thrilled to be faced with so many options.  And the thing is, many or even most of the options that we have in a typical grocery store are not good options anyway.  Years ago I realized that I could spend my time making the kinds of choices marketers wanted me to make or I could make a different choice entirely.  I could choose to opt out.  So I did.  I understand that advertising--of food as of all consumer goods--has nothing at all to do with my well being.  It's a game.  It's a game that does not serve any of us well.  I'm not playing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Grilling the Farm Share

The other day Bill suggested that we should plan to grill a bunch of food every Tuesday, weather permitting.  That way we have food for several meals in the fridge--we can just heat and eat or I can use the stuff in other dishes.  I love this!  It is so convenient to have the food ready to eat or use.  Tuesdays are a great day to grill because we pick up our farm share on Tuesdays.  Today a good portion of it went from the farm to the grill in less than an hour and a half.

I was pretty excited today because the hot mustard salad greens were back!  Hurray!  They were mix and match with arugula, but I took all mustard.  We also got radicchio and baby bok choy, which I will use together in salads.  Last time we got baby bok choy I managed to root a couple of the ends and I now have a couple of small, but thriving baby bok choy plants in the bedroom window with my celery.  Maybe I can get some more plants growing from this batch!  Anyway, we also brought home carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, 3 sweet onions, and a couple of fennel bulbs in our share.  In the U-pick field we got basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, rosemary, green beans, and flowers.

When we came home I got stuff sorted and put away and then started prepping the food for the grill.  I sliced the onions in thick slices, cut the zucchini in half, and trimmed the end piece off the fennel.  I brushed everything with olive oil and sprinkled Italian seasoning on the zucchini.  I halved some sweet peppers and took out the seeds.  I had a package of chicken breasts which I cut into smaller pieces and sprinkled with a little chili powder.  I cut a large piece of salmon into 4 portions, placed each on a sheet of foil sprayed with nonstick spray and topped with dill before closing the foil into a packet.  I also made packets with thinly sliced potatoes, onion, garlic and a bit of parsley.  We cooked the chicken, veggies, chili peppers, hot dogs, and chicken jalapeno sausage.  When all that was done we added the salmon and potato packets and closed the lid.  We came upstairs to eat and went back down after about 45 minutes.  The coals were spent and the food was done.  We have enough food for 4 more meals.

The fennel was quite good grilled--sweet with a hint of licorice flavor--and I am usually not a licorice fan, except for licorice Altoids (go figure!).  Last year I think I mostly sliced the fennel into salads and ate it raw, but I quite like it on the grill. 

I had some whole grain tortillas in the freezer, so I took a couple of those out and made a burrito with a piece of chicken, a sliced grilled red jalapeno, some of the grilled onions, and a lot of cilantro. I had a grilled zucchini half on the side.  I can use the rest of the chicken later in the week by adding it to some veggie.tomato sauce I took out of the freezer this morning.  We can have that over rice. 

Having this food ready makes meal planning a lot easier because I know what needs to get used and all I need to do is round out the meal.  So I will make salads to go with the some of the salmon tomorrow night and plan to have the chicken with sauce and rice on Thursday when I will be tired from cooking in the soup kitchen. I will cook the rice tomorrow and keep it in the fridge, so all I will have to do Thursday is heat and eat.  I find that meal planning is much easier when I have a limited number of choices.  Having this set grill day is working out quite nicely, too, even though this is only the second week of that.  I find having a schedule is very helpful and because we grill what we have, the meal plan just kind of takes care of itself!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Rest of the Basket Cheese

I had a little bit of basket cheese left from my stuffed grilled peppers the other day, so last night, I decided to use it up. I also had half a tomato and a pizza crust I'd gotten off the bread shelf at MCHPP, so I made pizza.

I sliced the tomato thinly and laid it on half of the crust, sprinkled with garlic powder and dried oregano, and topped with provolone cheese.  On the other half of the crust, I snipped a lot of fresh basil, added garlic powder, topped with basket cheese, shredded Parmesan, and sliced sweet onion.  Yummy!  I will probably never have basket cheese again, as I have never seen it in the store we shop at and honestly, while it was good, it was not so amazing that I would feel the need to hunt for it.  Ricotta would substitute nicely.  So I probably will make a ricotta-basil-Parmesan pizza in the future.  There's plenty of basil in the U-pick field at the moment and there will be more crust on the bread shelf, so it's a quick, easy, cheap, and delicious kind of meal.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm Getting a Reputation!

I am, apparently, getting a reputation for fish chowder, of all the weird things!  I hardly ever cook fish unless it's a Thursday in the soup kitchen and when I cook it at home, it's a matter of slapping it on a pan, topping with herbs and baking until flaky.  I know NOTHING about fish.  And yet here I am--another Thursday, another 134+ servings of fish chowder.  Annette told me today that she overheard some people talking in the hallway outside her office today.  They were discussing the lunch menu and one of them said, "Ooh, Shari always puts all these great vegetables in her chowder."  Several people told me today, "You make the best chowder!"  One woman just wanted a little because she was force-fed chowder as a kid growing up in Boston, she said, and she hated it.  Before she left, she told me, "I ate it all!  My mother never made chowder like that!"  Of course, this all makes me feel happy.  It is a nice feeling to feed people and know that they're enjoyed what you've prepared for them.  I am especially glad in this case because I know that for some of the people there today, that was their only good meal of the day and I am glad that they liked it and that it was nutritious--no point making healthy food if people won't eat it.  I always try to incorporate as many veggies as I can in my lunches and I have had people come up and thank me for that.  Since I know some of them are probably food pantry clients as well, I hope that translates into them deciding to take that bunch of kale or the zucchini and to do something with it.  Still, I think it's odd that I am getting a reputation for fish chowder, since it's not something I make all that often and because it's summer and to me chowder is a winter thing.  This is Maine, though, so fish chowder is a year-round kind of meal!

Today's chowder contained onions, garlic, bell peppers, summer squash, potatoes, Swiss chard, and kale, along with a little bacon and about 35 pounds of white fish.  I guess the pantry was very busy yesterday and was pretty well cleaned out, so we used what we had, as always.  We also had a nice green salad with lettuce from a local garden, and a nice fruit salad with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, plums, and pineapple.  And there was plenty of bread, too--we went through 5 large loaves.

So while I went in this morning feeling kind of bad because I figured people must be getting sick of chowder by now, I came home this afternoon realizing that I was completely wrong--people love their chowder.  I have no idea whether I will be making chowder again next week.  If I do that'll be fine with me.  I think Annette said there is more fish left, so we will see what happens.