So I’m cooking cacti now

This cactus leaf turned up in my vegetable bag. I cut off the prickles and fried it up. Tossed it with some salsa. I call it Totally Desert Salsa.

Yippee ki yay!

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Budget Vegetarian

Since moving back to America, I’ve started a new life as a Budget Vegetarian. Don’t worry, my dear readers. I’m not going to get all preachy on you. You know that’s not how I roll. I just want to share my dietary experiment with you. I know! Let’s do this Q & A style. Won’t that be fun?

What is a Budget Vegetarian?

Definition:

A dietary plan that limits meat consumption for the purposes of lowering personal expenses. Budget vegetarians do not purchase meat, but won’t refuse it if offered for free. For example, if your friend cooks you dinner with meat in it, you can eat it and that’s totally cool.

I googled this and it doesn’t pop up in the first search screen, so I’m going to declare it a new fad.

Why become a Budget Vegetarian?

It’s a lifestyle choice that you might consider after, say, researching the price of rental housing in Silicon Valley and then looking at your paycheck.

What famous people are doing this?

Me and my brother, who coined the term.  In this blog I am publicly inviting all of my Hollywood friends to also become Budget Vegetarians. Watch this space!

How much money will I save? How healthy will I get?

I cut my food budget by about 30%. I feel pretty healthy, I guess. You should ask your doctor about that stuff. That’s a sort of vague question anyway. Next time maybe think about refining it a little.

Will I lose 53 pounds? 

Dude, look. This is just a blog about my life. How can I tell how much, if any, weight you will lose? I don’t even know you. For all I know, you’re 54 pounds and losing all that weight would kill you! You should talk to like, a dietitian or something.

Will I be cool if I become a Budget Vegetarian?

No. But you may save some money and eat more vegetables.

I’m sold. How do I start? 

I signed up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme. I love CSAs. I’m lazy and I don’t like shopping, and these lovely people pick all the vegetables and fruit and deliver it in a bag for me. Because they do all that work, I feel guilty for not eating the vegetables, so guilt is an added incentive.

Alternatively, you can just buy a bag of potatoes and a can of beans at the store and you’re good to go.

 

Are you considering the upward trending lifestyle that is Budget Vegetarianism? Welcome. You’re part of a growing fad that has already nominally changed the lives  of at least 2 people. 

Budget Vegetarians Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Inconvenient Citrus

I signed up for a weekly veg and fruit box from this local CSA called Freshness Farms.  Let me be clear, the produce is beautiful and delicious – I have no complaints.

Isn't it lovely?

Isn’t it lovely?

The thing is, well…I’m overwhelmed by the citrus.  Where I grew up on the east coast in the mountains, I could only dream of so much citrus.  In California, I can go to the back yard and pick a lemon off a tree – any time I want, any day of the year.  This blows my mind.

The fruit box comes heaving with citrus fruit – bags and bags!  Not just safe fruit, like oranges, but tiny things I had to Google – kumquats.  You eat them whole, apparently.  The peel and everything!

Citrus is taking over the fridge.  I can’t eat it fast enough.

“Look,” I tell my family, “I’m instituting a Citrus Quota.  Two pieces, everyone, every day.”

I expand my culinary horizons, throwing citrus into every meal – orange salad, a lemon in every cuppa tea, blood orange sangria, kumquats in stir fry.  Sal whips up a dish with black rice and candied orange peels.  We’re trying.

Blood orange sangria

Blood orange sangria

At last count we have:

– 4 oranges

– 20 mini oranges (maybe clementines?)

– 2 grapefruits

– 57 kumquats

– 2 lemons

– 1 mystery Monster Citrus

The citrus is winning!

I pull the Monster Citrus out of the bag.  Sal says it’s a lemon.  I scoff – no lemon could aspire to be so large!  I declare it a grapefruit, and tackle it for breakfast one morning.

I cut the thing open and take a bite.

“Oh my God.”

“What?” Sal calls from the dining room.

“It’s a lemon!”

“Do I get any ‘I’m right’ points for that?”

It takes a gallon sized plastic bag to store it.  I stand a moment at the fridge, staring at it with awe mingled with trepidation.

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Monster Lemon must be cut with a bread knife

Dear Lord, California.  What citrus mysteries to behold!

Monster Lemon showed some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.

Monster Lemon exhibited some antisocial tendencies. He was quarantined in the fridge after this incident.

Vikings and Lichens

While my office mates are scattering south in search of beaches and tans, I’m headed north for some freakin’ midnight sun and glaciers.

Norway is, in a word, intense.  Take a ferry through a fjord and count how many times you say, “wow”.  The water is literally green – something to do with how the sediment reflects light.  Lines of silver-white waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs, shorelines speckled with red-roofed cottages, and glaciers, people.  GLACIERS.

It's MAGICAL.

It’s MAGICAL.

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Don’t even get me started on the Viking Museum in Oslo.  The ships are legit – curly ends and everything.  The ships were found buried in mounds, the tombs of elite Viking people.  That the graves were unearthed and (ahem) raided to create the museum was a bit of irony.

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At this time of year, you can wander around fjords and gather lichen well past 10:00 pm, bathed in the glow of the Nordic sun.  It was something I never got used to, falling asleep in lingering light, only to have the sun rise again around 3:00 am!

So, lichen.  It’s what grows in the wild tundra of Norway’s exquisite mountains, above the tree line.  You might just spot a glacier while you’re up there, gathering your lichen.

Why lichen, you might ask?  Well, to make Lichen Bread, of course.

Pot full 'o wild lichen

Pot full ‘o wild lichen

Wholewheat flour, lichens, loads of milk, cultured milk, oatmeal, water and salt.  Some magic happens, then it's cooked for a couple hours.  It's the thickest, hardiest bread I've ever eaten.

Wholewheat flour, lichens, loads of milk, cultured milk, oatmeal, water and salt. Some magic happens, then it’s cooked for a couple hours. It’s the thickest, hardiest bread I’ve ever eaten.

Why, Rhubarb, why?

It’s our anniversary, and I’m completely unprepared.  The social worker at work is having none of my excuses.

“Do something special for him!”  She says, “It is important in a marriage to keep things fresh!  You will thank me later.”

Hmm.  “Special”.

I have some rhubarb in the fridge.  Rhubarb is different, rhubarb is…”special”…

My husband is always complimenting my pancakes…

(*cue the foreboding music*)

I search the internet for some recipes.  Oddly, they are generally for serving pancakes with rhubarb, like on the side, or as a compote.  Can’t seem to find any with rhubarb embedded into the pancakes.  Hmm…wait, found one!*

Just a few minor adjustments, a little zazz, some cinnamon, ginger…

Hey, this is looking good!

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I take a bite.  The rhubarb bites back, all tart and angry!  Hey, rhubarb, what gives?

I try thinner pancakes.  Maybe rhubarb will cook down, chill out a bit.

But these are just uglier.

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I get desperate. Sal will wake up soon!  I try straining rhubarb from the batter, dumping in honey, throwing in sugar –

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it’s all going terribly wrong.

I fry the rhubarb, gently, trying to coax out the sweet zingyness I know is in there!

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I put the mixture back in the batter, and try the pancakes again.  They’re pitiful, so thin – crepe-like but without the delicate Frenchness of real crepes.

I have, as we say in Appalachia, a “come to Jesus” moment.  This is not “special”.  This is gross.

I have to get rid of the evidence.  I have to dispose of them, quietly and quickly, because Sal will literally eat anything to spare my feelings.

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I wash up everything.  Sal comes into the clean kitchen, blinking sleepily.

“Let’s go out for brunch!” I say.

He smiles. “Ok!”

Rhubarb, you win this time.

*I did not include the link to the recipe I used, because this experiment was a dire failure.

N.B. – one of my dear readers and colleagues lent me a lovely Jamie Oliver book after reading “Right, rhubarb“.  I left it at work, of course.  I’d like to thank her and our social worker for their good-intentioned advice / ideas.  This advice, although providing inspiration for the above Rhubarb Catastrophe, was in no way a contributor to the end result.  For this, I blame myself.  And my dad.  For passing on his nefarious Mad Scientist gene to me.

Right, rhubarb.

My relationship with rhubarb is complex, like the flavour of the plant itself.  My first encounter did not go well.  Rhubarb appeared one day in my veg bag, proud and red – in beauty and length, heads above the humble ground vegetables.  I didn’t know how to approach it.  It’s like celery, I decided.  A really pretty celery.  I tried grilling it with other veg – it rebelled, pooling into a beige inedible mush.  I realised the plant was more than meets the eye.  I didn’t “get” rhubarb.

Next time it appeared, I just gave it to my friend, who transformed it into an amazing cake of some kind.  What?  Celery cake?  I was befuddled, yet inspired.  I asked around my British colleagues, trying to unravel the mystery of rhubarb.  Among the suggestions were rhubarb crumble (“it’s lovely“), rhubarb compote / jam, pie, etc.  In a bar I encountered rhubarb in a cocktail.

Maybe there is hope for you and I, rhubarb, I thought.

Next time rhubarb appeared, I tried again.  I adapted an internet recipe for rhubarb and strawberry compote, mixing in a bit of ginger.

It was, in a word, lovely.

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Chop your rhubarb and mix in some minced ginger and about 1/3 cup sugar. Squeeze in some lemon juice.

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Cook rhubarb on low heat for about 10 mins until just tender. Add a bunch of chopped strawberries and simmer a tiny bit longer.

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Chill or serve at room temperature. Eat as you would a soupy jam. It’s great with croissants, ice cream, yogurt…

Whenever it turns up in my veg bag, I scratch my head in wonder.  Rhubarb.

 

*Compote recipe inspired by: http://frenchwomendontgetfat.com/content/rhubarb-strawberry-compote

pickled adventure

This blog post is dedicated to my British and European readers on this side of ‘the pond’.  Friends, you may not believe me when I tell you my people eat pickled pigs feet.  You may express chagrin at my tales of Appalachian country stores, and the wonders to behold there.

Well, I’ve got some photographic evidence for you!  These were taken in a little country store in southwestern Virginia, along a highway.

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I felt a little bad taking the pictures without permission, so asked the store guy if it was ok.  He was a bit stiff with his “yeah, sure” but lightened up a bit when I complimented his incredible selection of barbecue sauces.  He was also the town mayor.

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Chow Chow. LOVE IT.

I grew up believing that you could pickle anything, but that you only got two colours to choose from – Green and Pink.

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Old-skool candies from circa 1950s.  The kind you hope not to find in your Halloween bucket when trick-or-treating.  I always ended up with a Mary Jane or one of those crappy weird caramels with the caked white stuff in the middle.

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Now do you believe me?