Thursday, June 16, 2016

Emerald Soup (Or I'd Have Never Thought....)

... that I would enjoy something called, "Cream of Spinach Soup."  I mean, it just doesn't sounds all that appealing to me.  It sounds too healthy.  It sounds like it wouldn't be filling.  But...I surprise even myself sometimes.  Its a superb addition to our recipe box--though I refuse to call it Cream of Spinach Soup.  No way.
It all started when every single shelf in our fridge contained bags, tubs, and even a large soup pot full of greens, namely spinach and bok choy.  I decided to flip though a few cookbooks and see if I could find a new recipe that would put gads of them to use and maybe even clear off a shelf in the fridge.  When I saw, "Spinach - Cream of Spinach Soup," in the index I was immediately dubious.  Still, we needed something for dinner and had everything it called for so....
As directed by the cookbook we found the soup a bit plain, but we've made it our own with a few adjustments and alterations and we quite like it.  Its got a surprisingly luscious mouthfeel on account of the tofu.  Not at all thin and watery like I might have imagined spinach soup to be.  Still, I rebranded it.  Emerald Soup has a more alluring ring to it, if you ask me.

We've served it with toasted cashews sprinkled on top or with fresh Navajo-style fried bread.  Make it even more filling by pairing it with some nice baked tofu.  The possibilities are endless.
Emerald Soup

1/4 - 1/2 onion, chopped
olive oil
3/4 - 1 lb fresh spinach
2 C vegetable broth

1 1/2 t cornstarch
3 - 6 oz tofu, any kind
1 t Italian seasoning
1/2 - 1 t salt  
(optional, see note below)
1 C additional vegetables (optional, see note below)

Saute the onion in olive oil for a few minutes, until translucent.  Alternately, skip the fresh onion and use a teaspoon of onion powder, if you prefer.
Add spinach and cover.  Cook about five minutes, until wilted.  Alternately, skip this step for a more raw, spinach packed flavor.
Place all ingredients in a blender/Vitamix and process until smooth.
If using a Vitamix just run at high speed for three or four minutes until the soup is steaming hot.  If using a regular blender, transfer the pureed soup to a pot on the stovetop and heat through.

We make our own vegetable broth which contains no added salt.  If using a store-bought variety likely you do not want to add the additional teaspoon of salt that is called for in the ingredients list.

Feel free to add in different vegetables.  Other greens in place of the spinach.  A chunk of bell pepper.  A handful of garlic scapes.  A spring of rosemary.  Keep in mind that adding too many different veggies may affect the bright green color for which the soup was named, but so long as it tastes good that's the bottom line.  All the additions we've made have played out well.
Its a nourishing, uplifting soup for a spring or summer day.  I mean, just looking at it makes me feel better.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Easy, Creamy Macaroni Yum Sauce

This sauce is like rich, creamy heaven.  The starchiness of the potatoes and the creaminess of the cashews combine in a way that is just splendid.  The sauce clings well to pasta and has a melty and decadent mouthfeel.  Its super easy to prepare as all the vegetables are boiled together in one pot and then just pureed up in a blender (or, if you have one, a Vitamix).
I originally started making this sauce as a vegan alternative to mac-n-cheese, but we have found that it goes well beyond that role.  Add a dollop to the top of cooked green beans.  Toss with roast vegetables.  Use it in recipes calling for a white sauce.  Dilute with stock for a rich and luscious soup.  It really does make a dank mac-n-cheese type meal though, hence it being known as Macaroni Yum Sauce.  I highly recommend it in that capacity.

Easy, Creamy Macaroni Yum Sauce

1 - 2 potatoes, chopped
1 - 2 carrots, chopped
1 - 2 C cauliflower
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 C cashews
1 1/2 C water 
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 t salt
2 T nooch (totally optional)

Chop all vegetables into fairly equal sized pieces.
Start a pot of water to boil.
Add potato and cauliflower and boil for two minutes.
Add carrot and boil for five minutes.
Add onion and boil for seven minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.
Drain reserving some of the cooking water  Combine cooked veg and all remaining ingredients in a blender and process until very smooth.  

Serve tossed with short pasta, or in any other capacity you see fit.
Feel free to play around with the vegetables.  The recipe is very forgiving.  One time I only had one potato when it called for two.  However, I had some cauliflower so I just subbed that in instead.  It proved to be a swell addition to the recipe.   I love the taste of nutritional yeast (a.k.a. nooch).  Lately I've taken to adding a couple of tablespoons to the sauce.  Its not critical, but I like the depth of savory flavor it adds.   Same goes for the onion and garlic powders.  They're not required, they just add to the depth of flavor.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Me-Made-May: Week Four+ Photo Round-Up and Recap

Well, goodness!  May is more than a week over--and so quickly!  Yellowstone trips, my birthdayWilderness Walks, and more and--zoom--it's June!  With that I offer the last week of Me Made May photos and some thoughts and reflections on my MMM '16 endeavor.

May 22:  There was another total record failure.  I cannot recall what I wore and there are no photos to help me out now. of my dresses, but that is all I know for sure.
May 23:  After a slow day at the office Matt's mom cooked me a special, belated birthday dinner.
May 24: I wore The First Dress with black base layer.  Frankly I was surprised to realize that this was the first appearance of this dress during MMM.  Its been well loved and worn since the day I made it. I guess some of the newer dresses must have edged it down the hierarchy of favorites though.
May 25:  I wore the Blue Floral With a Ruffle with a thick blue sweater over top and blue leggings.  It was a mellow day--work, cycling, and puttering around the house.
May 26:  I wore The Blue Dress Without a Pattern.  After cycling home from work I did a little bit of mowing in the yard before heading out to a belated birthday celebration at a local waterpark.  I love swimming.  So much so that I spaced taking a photo.  Ooops. 
May 27: I wore The Yellow Floral with a light denim shirt overtop.  We went downtown for some music and then stayed out quite late (for us) at our friend April's birthday party.  There were games and beers and a fire.  It was a lovely night to spend outdoors.
May 28 : At the last minute we decided to stay home over the long Memorial Day weekend.  Matt had tie-dye to work on.  The housework and garden had fallen a little behind.  So, on Saturday I slipped on the ubber-comfy Tie-Dye T-Shirt Dress (with a black base layer) and spent the day puttering around the house taking care of business.  I failed to take a photo though.
May 29:  I wore The Coordinated Dress, topped with the same blue sweater from May 25th.  The sweater is a really nice one which I luckily snagged at a clothes swaps years ago.  Matt continued to work on tie-dye for some quickly approaching gigs.  I taught myself how to brew beer since Matt hadn't had time to do so lately and we were all out.  I've helped him bottle in the past, but I've had very little hands on experience with the actual brew day activities.
May 30: As was the case on Saturday I wanted my most comfortable dress for the day of work I had planned.  As such, I selected The Tie-Dye T-Shirt Dress again.  We're in charge of the corn and vine crops at our community garden and we had a little work day planned.  I also finished up a thorough weeding of our home library collection, moving all the books upstairs and eliminating one large bookshelf entirely.
May 31:  It was hard to believe it was the end of the month, but all of the sudden I was picking out my last dress for Me Made May. The Blue Floral and Brown Wool Dress got the honors for the final day of the challenge.  I ended up leaving work early as my shoulder was really bothering me and making typing and deskwork a drag.  After cycling home (which was interesting) I spent the afternoon on the sofa with a book and a cat. 
All in all it was another fairly simple challenge.  I've sure made myself plenty of dresses over the years.  That is clear.  It was obvious to me that I have my favorites, my wear-again-immediately-after-its-out-of-the-laundry dresses, like the Yellow Floral or The Coordinated Dress.  Others I didn't touch the whole month long, namely the Earth Day Dress.  I only wore The First Dress once and The Blue Floral and Brown Wool Dress twice.

I will not attempt to take a photo every day again.  I am not sure it added much, at least from my end, and I just kept forgetting about it.  I am alright with that though.  I'm just not much of the "selfie" type, I guess.  Maybe with a group of friends sharing a super fun experience, but not just me standing around in a dress on a fairly ordinary Wednesday.

In reflecting on MMM '16 I've already put some thought into what challenge I might set myself for next year.  I am thinking of focusing on the act of daily sew in lieu of a what-to-wear challenge, which have been rather easy for me each year.  I think a task oriented challenge would be more, well, challenging.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Kitchen Colors

The spinach is bolting in the heat.  It's been in the 90s.  We discovered a wonderful new spinach soup recipe and have eaten it several times in different variations.  Last night we added garlic scapes which was a delightful addition.  It's probably the prettiest soup I've ever seen.  A bowl of liquid emerald.
We harvested the first strawberries today.  Well, technically the first berries were picked last week, but this morning we finally harvested a sizable enough quantity that they actually made it into the house.   There really is nothing quite like a just-picked berry.
Both are so bright and colorful.  They are almost as pretty as they are yummy.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Renaissance Tunic and Vest for my Peasant Boy

As I've mentioned in the past, we sell tie-dye at a renaissance fair every June.  Its a absurdly fun time.  I love the adults playing dress up.  I love the handmade touches that hearken back to a simpler time.  Its just a total blast.  Before we started selling tie-dye neither Matt nor I had ever attended anything quite like this before.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Photo credit to Mike, the splendidly clad archer in the photo below.
So, with each year that passes we learn something or add something to our own participation in the quaint, whimsical atmosphere of the fair.  This year, for example, we brought dollar gold coins to give back to people as change when they bought something from us.  We called it The King's Gold.
I also made Matt a simple tunic (which he tie-dyed) and a rustic vest from some scraps of wool and felt I had in my stash.  For having no pattern and totally winging it, I was pretty pleased with how both turned out.  Matt looked much more authentically peasant boy this year than in the past.  Huzzah.  I recycled parts of my Laura Ingalls Wilder costume into a simple peasant girl get up.  Kenneth the Humble kept hounding me to get out and milk those cows!  But, I was too busy watching Matt throw axes and chasing fairies for that sort of labor.
There was, as usual, an incredible cast of medieval type characters including sword swallowers, acrobats, jesters, wandering minstrels, jugglers, knights, Lords, weavers, and fairies.  The village blacksmith didn't make it though as he was injured while trying to shoe a dragon--or a so a sign in The Shire informed me.  Seriously.  An absurdly fun time.
Photo credit to Matt's mom, Sharon.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Garden Alphabet

A is for Apple Tree.
We have two at our house, planted in the Spring of 2014.  They've not yet produced fruit, but have filled out and look lovely this year.  I wish I could say the same about the apricot and plum tree, but, alas, the deer like them too well so they are more spindly looking.
B is for Bok Choy.
Bok choy were the first greens we harvested this year.  They're so quick and easy to grow and we use them in loads of ways in the kitchen from grilled to smoothies.
C is for Currants.
The currant bush is simply loaded this year.  We're going to make jelly, provided there is enough fruit.
D is for the Double Compost Pile.
Matt usually has one big compost pile going.  We've got two at the moment.  We've been calling it "stormpost" as it was made with the abundance of fallen green leaves after that hail storm we had.  Hey, at least we found the silver lining.  We're going to have way more compost than normal on account of all that stormpost.  Since we use up compost faster than we can make it that was a nice way to turn life's lemons into lemonade.
E is for Eggplant.
I really prefer the longer, skinnier Asian-style eggplants to those big, fat, Italian honker.  They have a better texture by far, I think.
F is for Fennel.
The fennel plants look pretty wimpy right now, but they always do until we transplant them out into the garden proper.  Thank heavens for that woman at the Farmer's Market a few years back who insisted I buy and roast a fennel bulb.  She was right.  It was amazing.  I'm already looking forward to it again this year.  Its a true seasonal delight.
G is for Garlic Scapes.
We didn't get as many scapes as we'd expected since many were damaged by the hail, but they are another seasonal treat, though I am not as over the moon about them as some people I know.    We made pesto with them last year, but Matt just really prefers basil pesto.  They're tasty and green though and a by-product of growing the garlic I love, so we'll  gobble them up somehow.
H is for Harvesting the Bounty.
So far we've harvested boy choy, spinach, scapes, parsley, and some flowers (for bouquets).  The strawberries are just starting to redden up so I think they will be next.  
I is for Irises.
These deep purple (and in my opinion,abnormally skinny) irises are just stunning.  They came with the house.  I've added some other irises, but they never bloom as early or with as much beauty.
J is for Jerusalem Artichokes.
We need to do some research.  We didn't harvest any of the tubers (also called Sunchokes) last year so that the bed could get well-established.  Well, it seems to have done that.  The bed is thick with the stalks.  So thick, in fact, that we're wondering if we need to thin them.  I like the idea of a perennial vegetable, but we're still working through the learning curve on this plant.
K is for Kitchen Sink Turned Garden Sink.
Matt built a Garden Sink over the winter of 2013-2014.  He took a regular ol' kitchen sink (purchased at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore) and some discarded lumber (from our friend Chelsey) and made us a great workspace and tool for keeping the garden soil out in the garden where it belongs.  We use it all the time.  It was a great creation--though the counter is starting to get a little warped and we should probably have put some finish on the wood.
L is for Leaves.
Matt saves leaves in the fall for use in the following spring/summer for building up his compost pile.  We'd found we were all to often short of the dry, carbon-rich materials needed to balance out the wet, nitrogen-rich green materials.   So, for the last couple years he has stacked them up in bags (dozens and dozens of bags) between the back fence and the shed.  Ginger has recently decided the mound of bags also makes a swell place to hang out--secluded, warm, soft, and offering the occasional rodent to hunt.
M is for Magenta Flowers.
I swoon over the clematis on our fence.  It was another flower that came with the house--in fact, I'd never heard of a clematis before then.  The cascade of magenta blooms, oh, I just love it.  We have two shades of peonies in the front beds and the deeper magenta one is just going off gangbusters this year.
N is for our Neighbor's Yard.
In the way that Matt and I are crazy vegetable gardener people our neighbor is a crazy flower gardener.  Her yard dazzles and inspires me.  So many colors and shapes all season long.
O is for Onions.
We may have too many onions planted this year.  We thought that the sets didn't come up and so replanted only to have the first ones showed up.  So now the beds are a forest of onions.  We're hoping the hail didn't ding them up too badly.  We've got red, white, and yellow onions.  Onions and potatoes are our two main staple crops, the ones we hope to store and eat throughout the winter.
P is for Potatoes.
We grow a lot of potatoes.  This is only one of our potato patches, in fact.  We devote much of our plot at the community garden to potatoes, too.  We eat potatoes just about every day.  They are so versatile and filling, not to mention tremendously easy to grow!  We've got  several varieties including my beloved All Blues (which are really purple, if you ask me).  We're even giving fingerlings another go this year.  They are SO tasty, but are much more of a hassle to harvest and wash since they're so small.
Q is for the Queen of the Garden.
I mean, what else would we call her?  Its basically her yard now and she just allows us to tend it for her.  In this photo she is sitting on the picnic table surveying her kingdom.
R is for Rosemary.
Following in the lead of my friend Jessica we attempted to overwinter our rosemary and thyme plants in pots in the livingroom.  The rosemary took it just fine--though was starting to get kind of spindly so I was glad when we were able to move it back outside again.  It remains to be seen if the thyme will make it through the ordeal.
S is for Sage.
Our sage bloomed this year.  Neither Matt nor I remember this from years past.  Its so pretty and purple, though in typical plant style it is now putting all its energy into those blooms instead of the  less-pretty-but-edible leaves.   As we have more than a quart jar full of dried sage from last year I am not worrying about it too much.  I have been picking and enjoying the purple blooms in my flower bouquets though.
T is for Tomatillo.
We only put in two tomatillo plants this year.  They are especially great in chili and salsa, I think.  I also find them to be striking plants, what with those two-toned blossoms and all.
U is for growing things Under Cover.
We are row cover converts.  I don' think we'll ever grow greens naked to the sky again.  They are so helpful in deterring our most common pests.  Its been especially windy this year though so they keep blowing off, much to Matt's dislike.  We might have to come up with some heavier boards or something for the edges--though soon all the greens will be harvested making it a moot point.
V is for Volunteer.
Matt was playing around with saving cabbage and chard seed last year.  Apparently that seed got scattered about the patio by the wind because there are a couple volunteer cabbages in the crack between the slabs of patio concrete.  They make me smile.
W is for Weeds.
Pulling weeds and (non-herbicide) gardening...they sure go together.  There is little avoiding that.
X is for our eXpanded garden space.
Though we did not expand out garden this year, we have systematically added to the space since we moved in--the raspberry patch the first year, the raised beds the second, the front beds the third.  I don't think we've plans to bring any new plots into cultivation this year--though we may continue work on one of the front beds that is perpetually underutilized on account of an overhanging evergreen tree.
Y is for Yard Art.
We like having unusual, pretty, or otherwise interesting things to look at scattered around the yard and garden beds.  This includes a Paul Molitor bobble head doing a long slide into the bok choy as well as some more traditional pieces of yard art, such as the owl next to the rosemary pot in the R is for Rosemary photo.
Z is for the buZZZZZZZZing Bees.
The raspberry patch is just a buzzing non-stop during the daylight hours.  Watching I can tell there are several kinds of bees in there, doing their thing.  Its pretty great.  We keep trying to add a new patch of flowers or two each year to help attract more of our pollinator friends for a visit.
Now you know my ABCs....

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Review: I Draw On Cats

I got the funniest little "activity book" the other day through Blogging for Books.  It's called I Draw On Cats by A.R. Coffelt.  It is a dot-to-dot book themed pretty much exactly as the title would lead you to think.  Its dot-to-dots on top of photos of cats in poses that might make you think they are about to, oh, I don't know, eat a bowl of spaghetti or put on a jaunty hat and glasses.  It's silly, but it was fun, too.  And quick.  Dot-to-dots are quick.  I completed dozens in rapid succession.  It won't take long to complete the whole book.
The small, colorful book itself is rather odd in format.  All the pages pull out in one long accordion strand.  They are double sided and perforated so you can rip them out, presumably to share them with friends or hang them up--both of which I intend to do actually.  I've got a few cat-loving friends I thought might get a kick out of them as I did.
At first I was just using a black marker to connect the dots.  Quickly I realized that more colors would be needed for the cats to, well, look right.  Each page has dots to connect in addition to some lines that are already drawn.  The black marker looked super when the pre-drawn lines were also black.
Thing looked weird with black against the pre-drawn white lines however.  Ultimately I realized I could fill in the white lines with any color I choose.  I got out my bundle of washable markers and found that it worked well.  I made a boldly purple astrocat, possibly my favorite.
Though that Chariot Cat is a pretty close second.
I'm really looking forward to the one from the cover--Super Cat--I think I'll do that one next.  This book makes me wonder if Dot-to-Dots for Adults will be the next Coloring Books for Adults craze.  Seriously.  Those adult coloring books are just everywhere these days.
Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging for Books  program.