Sunday, May 30, 2010

Blackberry breakfast bars

The recipe may have said "breakfast," but the entire batch of bars disappeared within an hour one Saturday morning. Am I ever so glad we froze extra blackberries when these were in season!

Blackberry breakfast bars

2 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup quick cooking rolled oat
2 tbsp. sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine/butter melted
1 cup all purpose flour

For filling, in a medium saucepan combine berries, sugar, water, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncover, for about 8 minutes or till slightly thickened, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and baking soda. Stir in melted margarine or butter till thoroughly combined. Set aside 1 cup of oat mixture for topping. Press remaining oat mixture into an ungreased 9x9x2-inch pan.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes. Carefully spread filling on top of baked crust. Sprinkle with reserved oat mixture. Lightly press oat mixture into filling. Bake in the 350° oven for 20-25 minutes more or until topping is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 18.

Growing garlic: Plan now for fall

Growing garlic is about as easy as it gets. Put a bulb in the ground in the fall, wait through the winter, and in late spring or summer (depending on the type), you get fresh garlic. There's nothing that compares to it. Not the bottled kind, nor the white papery, decaying bulbs at the grocery store.

The problem is, it's not a cheap habit. If you're ordering, you need to think about it now, and prepare to spend $8.50 or more per half-pound of garlic. And if you want multiple varieties, you better have ground space and serious cash. It adds up quickly!

Or you can start shopping now. Keep an eye out at your farmers markets for garlic. (A word of note: It goes quickly, so arrive early in the day!) Store back a few bulbs for fall, and you'll be ready for planting with a more manageable bunch.

This weekend, I managed to get some early spring heirloom garlic for 50 cents a head. For three dollars, I even with my tendency to cook using lots of garlic, I'll have plenty to plant come October!

If you're thinking about using the types at the grocery store, I'd advise against it. I've had no luck with regular or organic garlic varieties sold in the shops. Good luck!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Views from Puerto Rico

I realize most of the country is on vacation in some form or fashion this weekend, so I'll join the club.

Here are a few photos of part of our country you might never see. Last week, I was blessed to see a good friend who's spending this year in San Juan. While it's part of our country, it's a radically different culture and a vastly different climate. So enjoy the views!

Originally posted at the Green Phone Booth May 29, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Persistence, patience and a princess

Patience is a virtue. And tonight, my princess learned that things can be worth the wait.

This tale starts with a night like many other nights. A casual drive home from daycare. A discussion of all highlights of the day: from what was eaten at snack to who fell down or got into trouble.

Then, as we turned a corner in our subdivision, I saw it. A pink dressing table, complete with mirror and stool, stood at the side of the road, beckoning to be saved. No princess would be complete without one. At least that's what my daughter has mentioned from time to time.

Nevermind that her birthday was next month; cost and reality of a child's fickleness meant that a gift of this nature was not in the making. But a freebie was worth the consideration. I pulled to the side of the road.

It was technically free, but it would come at a cost. The thing was covered in grime, smudges I suspect (hope) were simply mommy's makeup, and in a few cases, things I'm just not sure I'd want to know what they were. (To give you a sense, the pictures were after a good hosing off!)

I walk to the car and sigh. And I propose a solution. "It's gross, really gross," I tell my daughter. "If you want it, you're going to have to help clean it up and clean up your room so it can go there."

She eagerly agrees. And I pick up the encrusted dressing table and toss it in the back, hoping nothing too disgusting makes its way inside.

Yes, my daughter has learned another lesson tonight: How to scrounge at the tender age of four. I guess she's ready for college.

After dinner, I cart the thing to the backyard and hit it with a power wash. Or two. At least half the dirt and the crusty stuff is gone. Then I summon the troops.

Both troopers come outdoors with rags and a small bowl of baking soda, ready to help.

The toddler lasts a few minutes before he turns to the hose, soaking me in the process, cackling enthusiastically. My daughter, to her credit, keeps scrubbing until I announce that with the heat, it's time to quit for the evening.

While it's not quite perfect yet, we're down to small smudges that I can take care of quickly on my own. And as soon as that's accomplished and the bedroom is successfully tackled, this might actually make it indoors.

What you don't see here is the face of a pretty princess, dressed to the nines in her frilly pink swimsuit, perched on a freshly washed stool by her freshly washed dressing table. With the smile of satisfaction and pride on her face.

Because something she waited for and worked for finally came to be.

I hope it's a lesson she'll remember for years to come.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Radish stirfry? An unusual recipe to share

Indiana this week got rain. A lot of rain.

As a result, when I finally stumbled into our garden Friday night, I was greeted with serious changes. My peas must have grown several inches. My garlic now dwarfs my toddler. And radishes were everywhere.

I picked an entire basket of radishes, which sat on my counter, muddy and ignored, until morning. And while our family enjoys the sauteed radishes, it's time to expand our repertoire.

So I did a search for radish recipes. And stumbled on to a very unusual idea: Using the tops for your dinner. Recipes exist for everything from soups to stirfries using the leafs rather than the roots of radishes. Who knew?

So instead of getting one dish out of the radishes, I'll get two. A good thing because, as I found with this dish, radish tops look far too close to lettuce for my little guy.

I settled on a stirfry of the radish leaves, similar to stir-frying bok choy. (The original recipe for Spicy Stir-Fried Radish Greens and/or Swiss Chard appears here.)

After thoroughly washing the leaves (the most time-consuming part of this process), I roughly ripped appart the leaves, removing the stems.

I heated my wok with about 1/2 tablespoon of peanut oil and added the radish greens and 1 tsp. minced garlic.

As I was tossing the leaves, I mixed on the side 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey and a splash of hot sauce. (Keep in mind two of us like things mild.) As the leaves wilted, I added the sauce, tossed quickly, and served.

The verdict? Mixed. I thought it was fine, with a little extra salt. My husband looked at me with one eye raised and turned to the kitchen to make some very bland rice. (To his defense, he did try it, and noted it had a slightly citrusy taste.) And the 4 year old? She settled in with a bowl of it, eating every last bite.

GPB: Staycation or not?

Staycations were the hot trend of last summer, but was it just a product of the economy or a sign of things to come?

In today's Green Phone Booth, I share my family's discussions on whether to stay closer to home or drive farther to get back to nature before our first school year begins.

Read more here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Postcard from Puerto Rico, day 3


Not Buenos Dias, Buenos Tardes, Buenos Noches or any other greeting I'd learned in high school Spanish class. Simply put, Buenos.

This lazy greeting I've heard day in and day out in Puerto Rico brings it such an air of simplicity and informality I've struggled to get used to the last three days. Not having your check rammed down your throat as you're taking your first bite? I can live with that. But the waiting, the extreme abdication of time, seems surreal most times.

I look everywhere for a clock, and there aren't any to be found. In truth, it's a blessing; a vacation should be about losing time and finding yourself.

The last three days have been about finding that small spark of me and learning to play by others' rules. True, as a parent, a wife, an employee there's a lot of negotiating in my life. But too often, mom forgets to take care of herself, and as you know in that old adage, if mom's not happy, no one is.

For three days, I've read, I've walked, I've shopped, I've had uninterrupted conversations - seemingly small things but large considering the many daily interruptions in our days, be it people or electronic.

I soak in everything - noticing the changes in trees, the colorful tropical flowers, the blueness of the waters. And I'm not interrupted in my quietness. I told my friend this morning, while reading Eat, Pray, Love, that I could never subject myself to a silent retreat. Perhaps mine was just made of small moments.

So each morning, I'm awakened at a far earlier time than I'd ever dream of at home, by the sun and the birds. And I spend hours in a hammock reading - yes, reading - actual books in their entirety, not simply a quick magazine article, picture books or part of a newspaper page.

I balance my desire to see all I can of Puerto Rico with the reality that the noon sun brings the hottest temperatures of the day, and it's best to wait until a little later in the afternoon, as the air cools. I balance my anticipation for getting out with the reality of traffic snarls and reroutes due to student protests at the capital, and silently admire the fact that someone in this country is willing to do more than just complain or write a Facebook post grumbling about the state of things.

And this morning, my last hours in San Juan, I spend sitting in the hammock, reading, admiring the sun (which comes in infrequent spurts in Indiana) and enjoying the awesome view - the mountains, the water. And I hope few people here take it for granted.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Puerto Rico, day 2

The sun blared through my blinds before 6 a.m. - 5 my time, and the birds were singing like crazy, each blending into a song.

10 hours of sleep is a beautiful thing.

This morning, I lazed in a hammock again reading my book for hours - a joy with the breezes, the birds, the clouds blowing over the mountains. While it's hard for me to slow down, this was a welcome opportunity.

Today is a decidedly warmer day, and it looks like rain is in the horizon. At least the mountains are out of view. We're planning to visit Old San Juan today, now that the protests have passed. I'll probably look for a small treat for my children as well, but it's always a challenge to find something that's not junky or a "Mom went to Puerto Rico and got me this" T-shirt. I'd stopped in the bookstore the other day to look for a Juan Bobo story - the kids had heard about it on Super Why on PBS - but unfortunately it was out of stock. And if I really wanted to order it in-store I could do it at my bookstore at home.

Yesterday we were blessed with cooler weather and a few sprinkles, compared to Monday's rain. We drove to a small town called Dorado, and visited one of the many beaches along the coast. The trick for us was finding one not clouded by runoff from the previous day's rain - much of the water had turned a cloudy brown from the dirt. We settled down at Cerra Gordo, watching the waves crashing against the reefs, swimming and feeling the sand and seaweed against our toes.

After some time in the ocean, we drove through another town looking for lunch and were slowed by a funeral procession. Instead of the families in black and parade of cars, we watched as loved ones, dressed brightly, sand loudly and marched proudly in the street, a painting of the deceased in their arms. I think I'd like to be remembered with music and joy, rather than sadness and quiet, too.

Dinner was shrimp smothered in garlic (probably one of the last shrimp dishes I'll have in quite some time) and fried plaintains, something admittedly new for me and a dish I'd try again.

We admittedly turned in early - I'd forgotten what the hot sun takes out of you. Looking forward to my last full day in Puerto Rico!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hola from Puerto Rico

Hi from not so sunny Puerto Rico!

I admit this is my first real vacation that involves no family members since well before my oldest was born. And that's too long.

Fortunately, I was blessed to have a very generous invite from a friend who's a faculty member at the university here, and I'm spending 72 unsual hours in San Juan.

I arrived yesterday to torrential rains (apparently we picked hurricane season!) that didn't quit until late until the night. Instead of roaming old San Juan or dipping my toes into the beach, I ducked under umbrellas and hoped for the best.

Instead of running around outdoors, we were limited to wandering the most ubitiquous of American institutions: wandering the mall. After seven hours in transit, a little walking was in order! We opted for a low-key evening at home after dinner out.

The most unusual thing is the culture. I find it interesting that while we're in America, we juggle seamlessly between English and Spanish, and the laid-back attitude is taking some getting used to after rushing around for, well, years. And I could get used to 79 cent pineapples at the grocery store!

Today, the skies are overcast, and we've already had a few showers. The cool breezes are welcome after yesterday's mugginess, and I hung out in a hammock for several hours today doing what I haven't done in ages: reading a book. Uninterrupted.

Right now, we're hoping for a return to wellness for my friend's pets, whom she understandably doesn't want to leave at home for reasons I won't recount here. That, combined with a strike and protests planned in old San Juan, means we're very much playing the day by ear. So while this wasn't the visit to Puerto Rico I'd imagined, it's at least restful. Wishing the same for you today!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Birthday balance

A friend e-mailed the other day, inviting our family to a birthday celebration. In it she wrote:

It will be very low-key. No goodie bags or bounce castles. And no gifts,
please. ### won't be opening gifts at the party, and we are trying to teach her
that having a party with her friends is a gift, too.

It's heartening to read messages like these, though it's sad we have to apologize for not having the event of the season, complete with souveneirs. When we teach our kids at 4, 5, or 6 that they can have exquisite events, tons of things and activities galore, maybe they miss out of the thrill of getting something they've actually waited to receive.

And yes, I realize I write this while I'm planning a Fancy Nancy party for the Big Five -- our first major themed birthday extraordinaire. But there's a difference in creating a fun celebration and an ordeal. It's one thing to play tea party and let the girls dress up, it's another to give my child's friends makeovers and send them home with "swag bags" complete with accessories and kiddie makeup galore, as one party site suggested. In all honesty, I'll likely let them get all sugared up and then run around and burn off the energy. Not exactly high class, but they'll have fun...and maybe sleep well for their parents that night!

How do you find the balance between celebrating a major life event and not going overboard?

Friday, May 14, 2010

2010 Farmers Market Dates - Indianapolis Area

Here is a list of Indianapolis-area Farmers Markets. I'm admittedly a bit behind on it this year, as I've spent more time planting and re-killing my gardens than posting.

Already Open:
  • Binford Farmers Market, corner of 62nd and Binford in Indy: - Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 noon (More info)
  • Bloomington: Open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through October. (Read review.)
  • Broad Ripple Farmers Market: Broad Ripple High School. Hours are 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., but come early on Saturday mornings - It's always been busy when I've attended! (More info; past review)
  • Greenwood Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon through October. (Past review)
  • Indianapolis City Market: Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May through October, and Saturday mornings downtown. (Previous year's review)
  • Traders Point Creamery Green Market: Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. through the last Friday in October. (More info)

Coming soon:

  • Carmel Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 to 11:30 May 22 through Oct. 2 (More info)
  • Chateau Thomas Winery Farmers Market: Thursdays, 4 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 14 (More info)
  • Columbus Farmers Market: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, June through September (More info)
  • Fishers Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon, June 5 to Sept. 25 (More info)
  • Franklin Farmers Market: Saturdays, 8 to 11 a.m., June to October
  • Irvington Farmers Market, Ellenberger Park on Indy's east side: Runs noon to 3 p.m. on second Sunday of June, July, August, September and October. (More info)
  • Kokomo Farmers Market: Saturdays 8 a.m. to noon (More info)
  • Noblesville Farmers Market: Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. May 22 to Oct. 30 (More info)
  • Westfield Farmers Market: Fridays 4 to 8 p.m. (More info)
  • Zionsville Farmers Market - Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m., June to September (More info)
Any others in the region you'd like to share? Post information here! Happy to spread the word!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recipe: Chicken pasta with spinach and sundried tomatoes

Lately I have been the queen of great culinary intentions. I buy something at the farmers market or bookmark a recipe, only to let the produce languish in the fridge.

Last week was no exception. I'd manage to score one of the few containers of organic spinach from the farmers market, only to get tied up in children's battles and other issues in the past week. My plans of a strawberry-spinach salad went out the door as the kids discovered the berries, and by the following Saturday, my spinach was looking slightly wilted and sad.

And then I got inspired. I stumbled on a recipe at the LA Times site (You can find the original recipe here), searched my pantry, and got to work. Here is the end result:

Spaghetti with chicken, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes

3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 package fresh spinach (I'm guessing around 10 ounces, based on the size of the container)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon jarred garlic (admittedly cheated that day!)
8 oz. spaghetti
Salt and pepper

Prepare spaghetti according to directions. If using sundried tomatoes that aren't packed in oil, add the tomatoes to the pasta water in the final minutes of cooking.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Saute' chicken until done.

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 1 cup of water and add to the chicken. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the spinach to the chicken. Add the wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer about 10 minutes or until the spinach is cooked. Serve over pasta.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring in the eyes of a 4 year old (a photographic essay)

Today we took advantage of some cooler weather and a dry spell to wander outdoors. Armed with her very own camera, our 4 year old shares a preschooler's look at spring:

"I thought it looked beautiful. Because I like it."

"I always pick the heart flowers. because they're so beautiful."

"I planted the garden. I love carrots, strawberries, lettuce, green beans, garlic. That's all."

"I want to give this to Mama because it's wonderful. The flowers are gone. That's all that I want to say on that one."

"The dandelions for me, I like to pick the dandelions. They [the clover] don't blow very well, but the dandelions do. If they are white, the dandelions blow very well. I wanted them for my family."

"I like the dog because it's wonderful. I always want to keep this dog. I really love that dog."
I hope you enjoyed her first photo essay! We'll share more non-fuzzy photos of the seasons this year.

GPB: Shoes for other souls

Today at the Green Phone Booth, I'm sharing resources to share your unneeded shoes for other souls. Check it out!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dandelions for dinner?

My yard is the bane of the neighborhood.

And it's not because we're being green. Two years of unemployment and underemployment of my husband have left no funds for even keeping our grass reseeded. What it means is clover's invaded, and there's a sea of those yellow flowers spreading across my lawn.
I suppose I could pull them. But it brings back bad memories of one spring in Kansas, where I sat outside my rental for hours, pulling dandelions, only for it not to make one dent.

If I can't beat them, though, I guess I could eat them. Yep, people were paying good money for dandilion greens at the Bloomington Winter Market a few weeks back. And I've seen recipes for them ranging from salads to smoothies. (Of course, you could also kick back with a glass of dandelion wine after a tough day at work...)

I'm sure it is fine. And I certainly haven't put anything on my lawn the last two years that would cause any chemical concerns. But I'm struggling with the idea of actually eating my weeds instead of getting rid of them a more conventional route.

Instead, I'll stick with my favorite solution: Joyfully accept a bouquet of them from one of my children, who think those flowers are just perfect for mom.

Rhubarb recipes: Bars, coffee cake, pie and more

Rhubarb recipes from my grandmother's cookbook. In case you hadn't noticed, she had a penchant for desserts. Enjoy!

Rhubarb Bars
4 cups cut-up rhubarb
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
Sprinkle of salt

Mix and cook until thick the rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, water and vanilla. Cool. Then prepare base. Mix, until crumbly. Pat 3/4 of the mixture into a 9 x l3-inch pan, building up sides about 3/4 inch. Spread with cooled rhubarb mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until nice and brown.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups cut-up rhubarb

Mix all together, folding in rhubarb last. Use a 9 x l3-inch pan or two layer pans. Sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar and some cinnamon over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 min.

Rhubarb Conserve
2 1/2 pounds. fresh rhubarb, cut up = 10 cups
2 large oranges
1 large lemon
8 cups sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cus raisins
1/2 t. cloves

Place rhubarb in a large kettle. Grind the oranges and lemon; add to the rhubarb along with the sugar. Bring sloly toa good boil. Lower heat and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and boil 5 minutes more.

Pour into sterilized jars, cover and process 5 minutes in boiling water or freeze. Do not fill jars to top if you plan to freeze.

Rhubarb Pie
1 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
2 cups rhubarb cut into small pieces.

Mix flour and sugar together. Add egg and rhubarb. Add to an unbaked 8 or 9-inch pie crust. Dot with butter, cover with top crust. Put a damp 1-inch strip of cloth around the edge of pie. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then about 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Rhubarb Sauce
Cut 1 quart rhubarb, add water almost to cover, add about 1 1/3 cups sugar. Boil until it falls apart, 10-15 minutes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

10 ways to kill your garden before it's really started

Gardening and I just don't get along this spring.

I can do the right things. Start my seeds. Add my mulch. Prop it up with poop. And it doesn't matter. These poor plants are croaking.

This year, I'm like the teacher who can't cut it in the real world.

So here you are, folks, 10 ways to kill your garden before it's even really started:
  1. Start your seeds indoors. Let your children assist with seed starting - and they thin the few seedlings that were actually growing in their enthusiasm to touch the plants.
  2. Think you're doing OK because they're a window in the room and they're growing like crazy, but don't give the plants quite enough light, so they wind up too spindly, flop over and can't cut it when they reach the actual outdoors.
  3. Opt to start second batch of seeds in same peat pellets outdoors in natural light. Let the plants stay outside when you get an inch of rainfall. Realize days later there's no drainage in the peat pellet tray.
  4. Salvage the third of the plants that survived the flood, sticking them into egg cartons and leaving them outside. Forget they're there. Remember they need watering about a week later.
  5. A few of the plants are surviving. Repot them in a larger pot to allow for root growth. Toddler going a million miles a minute plows right on top of them, breaking the pot and plants inside, in his enthusiasm to run to the trike.
  6. Attempt to plant seeds in the garden (the way nature intended). Get a few things in, spend more time chasing kids, and lose a good chunk of your onion sets to the whims of a 4 year old.
  7. Realize the seed thing just isn't going to happen for you this year. Get excited about plants at farmers market. Go crazy. Make the tomato lady very happy. Plant them all. Accidentally take out carrots and radishes that you'd planted - thinking they were weeds - in the process.
  8. Hear about a heavy frost advisory. Bring poor peat pellets inside. Forget about the $20 worth of heirloom tomatoes and the cinnamon basil planted in the garden. Find them withered, shriveled and brown, leaves dry and crisp, the next afternoon.
  9. Come home and find that the wind has blown peat pellets and wimpy plants all over your driveway, squishing half of what's left.
  10. Attempt to save poor squished plants. Pick them up and gently carry them to the garden. Plant them. Get motivated and take the few small squashes in the pot to the garden to divide and give them room. Rip the roots off in the process.

So here I am. May 1. Literally months into my growing season. $60 or so poorer. And nothing but a half-cup of radishes to show for my efforts. But I'm willing to go another round. If not you'll catch me at the farmers market again soon.

GPB: Cleaning out for a cause

Has the rainy forecast gotten you determined to do something about your spring cleaning? Today in the Green Phone Booth, I post my first installment about how you can make the most out of your clothing donations to charity. Check it out!