Green Eggs and Hot Dogs

Green eggs and kosher hot dogs!

Green eggs and kosher hot dogs!

There are recipes created on camp stoves that would never taste the same if replicated in a kitchen.  You won’t find Ramen noodles and hard boiled eggs on a typical breakfast menu, but as fortification for a day in the kayak, nothing beats this salty concoction.

Camp meals can be very well-planned out, or they come together spontaneously out of hunger or just some outdoorsy inspiration.  I’ve crafted some pretty high-brow fare in Bishop the Westfalia, and this recipe is arguably not for the gourmand:  green eggs and hot dogs.  Take one bell pepper (the green), saute with garlic and  dried spices (oregano, parsley, paprika), slice up some hot dogs, scramble in some eggs and top with cheddar and salsa.  Mmmm, this is one tasty camp breakfast!

Every meal I eat while camping somehow just tastes better, even the most simple things, not to mention my morning coffee.  My senses must be heightened away from my normal environment for every morsel is somehow more delectable.  I’m sure that a lot of what I perceive as tasty is simply just an appreciation for food eaten out of the ordinary.  Perhaps this exaggerated taste is driven by a smidge of an instinct here:  food is hard to come by in the wild.   I know that for myself, I’ll take a haphazardly planned meal made on a camp stove, enjoyed in a beautiful setting over table service, china and white tablecloths any day.  My concept of fine dining is all about eating in an amazing location and nothing more.

Bishop along the canyons of the Owyhee river.

Bishop among the canyons of the Owyhee River.

 

Grandma’s Sewing Machine

My crafting companion

My crafting companion

When I first moved, my goal was to spend my newfound time learning how to sew.  I used money that I’d saved from selling off possessions on Craigslist to purchase myself a new machine.  Now, I rarely buy brand new things preferring instead to purchase things that have already had a life, i.e. previously owned.  But I decided to get a new machine as an investment in my new creations.  This machine was to become my companion in craft, but our relationship soon soured with each and every mechanical breakdown.  My quilting group took to calling my machine names on my behalf.  It was not a good thing to have a new machine with a new, addictive hobby and not be able to complete my projects.

Then I found out about my grandmother’s Bernina sewing machine languishing unused in storage.  I asked for it, and my mom had it serviced for me to bring home from Colorado.  This machine is everything I hoped for, and more, in a crafting companion.  It is solid and strong, made of metal and not cheap plastic.  And just like the intangible benefits of my heirloom cast iron pots, sewing on this machine makes me incredibly happy.  I’m connected to my grandma as she too used this machine to make things for loved ones.  There is something very special about creating on the same equipment as your family.

Today, I took a quilting class and set up right across from me was another Bernina Record, made even more interesting as it was a grandmother/granddaughter duo taking the class together.  My classmate had purchased her machine online for her granddaughter, a very enthusiastic and grateful eleven year-old excited about her “vintage” machine.  Several other people chimed in about the quality of our machines, sharing memories of their own and finally I was proud of my machine, forgetting all of the old negative feelings of my previous one.  But for me it isn’t just a high quality machine, it is an heirloom that I will have forever.  I am connected to this sewing machine because it had a life before me, a life with my grandmother.

 

 

Proven: Crafting is Good For You!

I’ve long known that crafting has beneficial properties, but now even that giant of breaking news (CNN) has substantiated this belief.  Quoting a study looking at the benefits of knitting on your brain, specifically in PTSD patients, CNN reports that the results are almost identical to those of meditation.  The activity of knitting creates a quieting response to the parasympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).  In an additional British study, knitting acts as a natural anti-depressant by releasing dopamine both during the creation of the project and at the culmination of the project, either during the admiration of the completed work or when given to a loved one.   There is additional work being done to learn if crafting keeps the brain younger by activating memory, problem solving, etc. and thereby preventing atrophy.

Anyone who creates, whether it is music, pottery, gardens or food knows that there are inherent, intangible benefits that come from the process.  I have always called my creations therapeutic, and one can see that during times of trial, my output of handmade stuff increases.  On a bad day, I’ve learned that curling up in bed doesn’t make me feel any better, but chopping up vegetables or sewing 1/4″ inch seams sure can boost my mood.  Science is just substantiating what many of us already know.  Crafty diem!

Yes, Towels Can Be Cute

Embroidery dresses up the mundane

Embroidery dresses up the mundane

Even the smallest, most useful things in our lives can be beautiful.  Take the humble towel, existing solely to mop up our messes and dry off our bodies. Thankless towels spend the majority of their existence damp and in service.  So, let’s do something to make these utilitarian instruments more aesthetically pleasing.

Let me state that I love embroidery!  It is a mixture of sewing and painting and, as evidenced above, can liven up the standard.  I am a fan of the old  iron-on transfer patterns that you find in any general craft store.  There are myriad themes from the super kitschy to the sweet.  Embroidered tea towels make perfect housewarming gifts that can be personalized to your recipients tastes, from steelhead to martinis to pastoral scenes.  These towels are both useful and charming.

Ready for service

Ready for service

Complimenting the embroidered towel is the knit towel.  Made with 100% cotton, these towels are very absorbent and quick drying.  There are many patterns online, or you can create your own very easily.  If you love flat two-dimensional knitting projects like I do, then you’ll love making towels.  And, washcloths.  Knit washcloths are awesome for dishes:  soft, reusable, non-smelly (like sponges), and scrubby.  Washcloths are another super easy, meditative knitting project that elevate a utilitarian tool to something more.

Celebrating Your Month Birthday

Taking a few moments to celebrate another month

Taking a few moments to celebrate another month.

This is something I began doing in earnest this year, although I contemplated it for several:  celebrating my birthday every month.  I’m not talking about anything extravagant and I do not make a big fuss about it.  What I do is take an hour or so to enjoy and celebrate another month gone by.  Last night was my date, so after chores and other cumbersome tasks, I poured myself a little drink, lit a candle, grabbed a book, a knitting project and a quilt, then parked myself on the couch for an hour.  It was a relaxing way to unwind, and it reminds me to take care of myself, to be grateful for another month, to look forward to what lies ahead.

Sure, you don’t need a special date on a calendar to do something good for yourself.  And, as I can demonstrate, it really does not cost money to be good to yourself.  Taking care of yourself includes taking moments to just be and those can happen every day, too.  Life is all about enjoying what you’ve got, when you’ve got it.  Cheers to the little moments in life that we can celebrate!

License Plate Bird House

A-frame birdhouse

A-frame birdhouse

I can find a secondary use for almost anything:  an empty vodka bottle becomes an olive oil dispenser, single socks become dust rags and plastic bags have a long, useful life in my home.  I had my first set of Oregon license plates just laying around and I knew I could create something cool with them.  It dawned on me that the size of the license plates was perfect for a birdhouse, and if I angled them just right, I could create an A-frame style house.  (I’ve always been partial to A-frames — it must be because I was born in the 70s.)  Thanks to some assistance from my resident master woodworker, and voila, an A-frame bird house made out of my old license plates!  Now, I haven’t seen many birds milling around it, but I also haven’t seen any bees either, so perhaps in a different climate this will actually serve a purpose other than purely an aesthetic one.

Avocados and Tahini!

My new favorite thing!  Pass me the pita bread.

My new favorite thing! Pass me the pita bread.

Two of my favorite things to always have in the kitchen are avocados and tahini, but honestly, the thought never occurred to me to combine them.  Lo and behold, an authentic Lebanese recipe to use both as a condiment.  According to the cookbook Lebanese Cooking,  the recipe is called Avocado Bi Tahini, but has variations and names around the Middle East.  I frequent Middle Eastern restaurants of all varieties and have never seen an avocado based recipe on the menu, but according to the cookbook author, this is a standard sauce regionally.  Here’s to hoping that this combination gains traction stateside!

The recipe is so basic and simple, yet so rich with flavor.  In a bowl, mash 2 garlic cloves with salt to taste.  Then mash in two ripe avocados with a little lemon juice until all lumps are gone.  Add in more lemon juice, 5 Tbsp of tahini and 1 tsp. of ground cumin.  Add crushed peppers on top if preferred.  Serve!

I made this as an alternative sauce for falafel and tabouli (from pre-mixed boxes — sometimes you have to skimp on making everything from scratch).  I  think this would be great as a spread for a wrap sandwich with veggies and feta.  Or, this would make a great veggie dip.  The possibilities are endless!

Chickens and Eggs

They are hard to photograph!

They are hard to photograph!

It’s hard to say which came first, my desire for chickens or my desire to have freshly laid eggs.  Honestly, I don’t know how the inspiration hatched in my mind, but whatever the root cause, I am so happy to have backyard chickens of my own.

A few weeks after relocating to the desert, we built a coop out of wood scraps.  Our coop looks like a real barn with gables and barn doors.  The neat features of our coop (thank you, engineer sweetheart!) are:  a convertible roof for the summer time, a side door to the nesting box and a windowed side for light in the winter.  We purchased Poppy and Marigold (my chosen monikers for our flock of two) as teenagers from a family outside of town and transported them home.  For the first few days, they seemed a bit freaked out, but they quickly adapted to life at our homestead.  Almost two years later and we still check on them constantly and spoil them rotten with the remnants of our meals.  Their favorite treats are probably brussels sprouts bits and potato skins.  Oh, and you can’t forget the pounds of watermelon rind they took down the first summer.  They are our sole entertainment and we like to speculate on the inner workings of their lives.  The most curious thing is how attached they are to one another; there is no pecking order, no discontent and a lot of co-dependence.  For such simple creatures, they sure do boost our lives.

They like to come and visit us when they escape.  They want inside -- they know we're probably cooking something good!

They like to come and visit us. They want inside knowing that we’re cooking something good!

And now onto the eggs!  Not only are our chickens companionable, but also they provide us with delicious eggs (almost) daily. Walking out the back door to gather food is a great feeling.  And, it’s very good to know that the eggs we are ingesting are free of chemicals and antibiotics, and full of flavor and nutrition.  I can barely eat eggs anymore that are not from local chickens — there is no flavor, and frankly, they gross me out.  Our eggs are so robust and bright, they put commercial eggs to shame.  They abound with flavor and nutrition.  And, not to sound too corny, but I feel connected with my food knowing that it was a gift from our birds.

Thank you chickens for this lovely egg.

Thank you chickens for this lovely egg.

It’s a symbiotic relationship:  leftover scraps from our veggies turn into delicious eggs.  I hope that I can have chickens forever, I really do.  It is a very straightforward relationship and I enjoy it immensely.  It is a simple relationship, less than a pet but more than a plant in a garden, but a relationship nonetheless.

Sometimes You Just Need To Stir. Or, Demysitifying Risotto.

Yum!  All that stirring pays off.

Yum! All that stirring pays off.

Ah, risotto.  Just the name conjures up creaminess, decadence and gobs of time stirring a pot to a perfect consistency.  What if I told you that risotto is actually not that hard?  Or time-consuming?  Or that all that stirring is actually therapeutic?

Years ago I discovered the miraculous properties of this dish.  It is one of those dishes that requires very few ingredients, can be made in infinite varieties, never fails to impress friends, and is a true pleasure to make.  Two of my personal favorites are mushroom or corn.

Having the fixings on hand for a batch of risotto is important for you never know when you’re going to have a hankering for some stirring.  As for ingredients, all you need are:  stock or broth, onions/shallots, arborio rice, a vegetable of choice (mushrooms, butternut squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, etc.), splash of wine/sherry/vermouth, and cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, jack, provolone, even cheddar). As you can see, I’ve discovered the dish to be an infinitely versatile dish with few rules.

Some days I just return home from the job, mind a-racing, heart a-thumping and I know that I need to do something that requires mindless movements with a stomach warming reward.  These are the days I turn to risotto, not just for a tasty meal but for the aforementioned unconventional rewards.

Is risotto time-consuming?  Not particularly, especially when you consider that even a frozen pizza takes about a half hour to bake.  Does it need constant attention?  Sort of, but that extra attention is what makes this dish so meditative to make, and delicious to taste.  Personally, risotto is one of the most comforting meals to eat and to make.  It is very inexpensive and you can incorporate various ingredients to your liking.  In life where there is so much that you cannot control, isn’t it good to know there is a meal out that benefits from your attention and also tastes amazing?

Below is my adaptation of a corn risotto recipe.  (We received a bounty of corn this summer from a neighbor and froze it for preservation.)  I am not a stickler for exact measurements, so once you get the hang of this dish, you can adapt as necessary.

For the love of stirring — basic corn risotto recipe

  • 4 cups broth or stock (or, use stock concentrate and water)
  • 1/2  cup chopped onions or shallots — how ever much onion you prefer
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cup corn (frozen is what I use)
  • 1 cup arborio rice (gluten free, often found in bulk sections of your grocery)
  • splash of wine, sherry, vermouth (not necessary, but tasty)
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheese  (provolone, jack or even cheddar work well here)
  • Optional:  bacon, chipoltles (chopped with some adobo sauce to taste)

In a separate saucepan, heat the stock or broth to a low boil.  Keep warm to utilize during cooking.

In a medium pot, saute the onions in about 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, or do a combo of 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. (I have chopped up one piece of bacon, cooked that and then sauteed the onions in bacon drippings, too.)  Saute the onions until translucent and fragrant — about 5 minutes.  Add the corn, and cook until slightly warm, a few minutes.  If using chipotles, add them at this point.  Chipotles are strong, so use caution here!  Add rice and coat the rice with the corn mixture.  Add a splash of wine if available, and again stir to coat.

Now begin adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir to incorporate and make sure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  The rice should not boil, but remain at a medium temperature throughout the pot.   Stir fairly consistently until nearly all broth is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.  Continue until the rice is cooked and creamy and there is little to no broth left in your second saucepan.  This should take about a half hour or so.  The rice will be slightly al dente, and the dish will be creamy.  Remove from heat and stir in your cheese and any herbs you’d like to add.

Voila!  A calmer mind, an exercised wrist and a warm meal to enjoy!