Thursday, August 31, 2006

More oven lovin'

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Wet ingredients:
2 mashed bananas
1 egg
1/4 cup oil
2/3 cup sugar

Dry ingredients:
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

Add wet to dry, stir a little then fold in
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Spoon into muffin cups, cook until they look done at 350.
Still lovin the oven. (Now all I need to do is visit the Love Library, right Julie?)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Love my oven

Oven theater presents:
It's not a special oven, really. I mean it's just standard. But to me it's special. I never had such a nice oven in the five years I've been married. It's full size. I can fit 9x13s and muffin pans and cookie sheets in it. It works. BOTH heating elements get red hot. And it has a light and a little window.

For fun, I like to push back the dish rag curtains and watch the show of muffins rising. Joe laughs. But laughter quickly is silenced, muffled ... by one of the tasty muffins of my performance produces.

After making vegan (read: I ran out of eggs) zucchini muffins, I made a dozen banana chocolate chip muffins... Joe's request.

So you might have guessed I'm feeling human again. Though my sinuses are swelling intermittently as the battle grounds for my immune system and that nasty bug. My side is fighting the battle, like good little white blood cells should.

But I think I'll go help them along in the best way I know how. Good night!

Edited 8/31:
Rachel reminded me to put up the recipes. ;)
For "vegan" zucchini muffins:
Dry Ingredients:
1 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Wet Ingredients:
heaping cup of grated zucchini (I use a grater with really small holes)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil (or a little less)
a little vanilla extract

Pour one bowl into the other, stir til moistened. Spoon mixture into muffin cups and cook at 350 until tops turn golden brown. Because they don't have eggs, they don't really rise above the muffin cups. But they taste really good. You can also stir one egg into the wet ingredients and get regular muffins that are also tasty.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A little lovin in a bowl

I've been slacking on my blog because I've been a little under the weather since Sunday evening.

Sadly, it looks like I've got pleurisy. Which at first I confused with pleurosis, that crippling disease that isolates the poor protagonist in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie... But it's not that. Yay. (Though it might have been fun to say I've got 'blue roses.') Really it's just a viral infection of the lining of my lungs. And it hurts. Boo.

Joe was brave and made me a chicken noodle soup per my instructions from the couch where I rested when we got home from work today. This one's really simple: Just chicken broth, chopped zucchini (cooked til translucent) and some cavatappi (big fat corkscrew shaped pasta.) It turned out wonderfully.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Morning dew

Visual breakfast

This morning as I was getting ready for work I peeked out the window at my herbs to see if they needed watering. They didn't, but the scene was too inviting to pass up. Here's Tom Morris, wiping sweat from his brow before going at it with the tiller.

(Sorry, I'm going to wax poetic/cheesy now.) Something about the mist and dew and streaming sunshine seemed like the Lord telling me it's time to have yet another new start. And my purple daisies, which came back blossoming again from the near-death of our steamy summer, reminded me of part of a song:

"Thou Breath from still eternity
Breathe o're my sprit's barren land
The pine tree and the myrtle tree
Shall spring amid the desert sand
And where Thy living water flows
The waste shall blossom as a rose"

Well, here in Hoptown we've got cedars instead of pines. Crepe myrtles rather than the biblical kind. Red clay instead of desert. And, in my flower pot of yellowed stems, daisies instead of roses. But I was inspired anyway. :-)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Random Cooking Adventures

Ricotta Pancakes

I was off Friday-day because I had the night shift. I woke up and felt like making pancakes. Joe's mom makes ricotta pancakes-- and he loves them. Unfortunately, he hasn't had them in a long time because of my issues with dairy. Hers are thin like Swedish pancakes, but more tender and less greasy. The ricotta makes them tangy. Mine came out totally different... but aren't they cute?

Carrot Soup

Those carrots Joe plucked from the red earth many days ago were starting to look forlorn. Neither of us particularly likes carrots. After my pancake semi-success, I got inspired to try to make the ginger carrot soup from Evins Mill. I don't really want to talk about how it turned out. Let's just say I ate some of it and the garbage disposal ate the rest. I'm gonna blame it on the carrots.

Corn Salsa

On Saturday we went to our neighbor Blane's place for a cookout. I brought this uber yummy salsa, which I like so much that I made it twice in the last 7 days.

1 can corn, drained
1/4 vidalia onion
5 cloves garlic (don't expect your breath to be pretty afterward)
1 small bell pepper
1/2 medium tomato
1 small avocado
1 large lime (juice)
salt and pepper

Fried Green Tomatoes

Sunday lunch... I had to cook the green tomatoes I bought several days ago because they were starting to blush. (Again, I was inspired by Evins Mill eats) For a first attempt, I think they came out well. But today when I reheated the leftovers in the toaster oven it was more like "fried green goo."


Sunday dinner. Joe and I like curry because it reminds us of a good friend we had in Taiwan. We called him Bro. Seong. He loved curry. And we loved the way he'd roll his r's whenever he'd talk about curry. This dish turned out pretty spicy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Clip: Herbs on Ice

Here's an example of what I do all day...

Column, plant photos, illustration and page design by me. I know you can't really read it, but non-southerners might notice that my deck uses the terms "sweet and unsweet." In the South, the servers will ask you if you'd like sweet or unsweet tea. Sweet is reeeeally sweet. Unsweet is just normal iced tea. Anyway. The column is about herbal teas I enjoyed in Taiwan and my inspiration to make infusions out different herbs from my container garden.

Here's the text of the story:
Herbs on ice
Botanical blends take summer teas beyond sweet and unsweet

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 1:15 PM CDT


“If it moves, they’ll eat it.”

So goes the joke about the Chinese and their thrill-seeking approach to food. I’d like to expand the proverb with “If it grows, they’ll drink it.” Where else but Asia can one find 7-Elevens on every street corner, stocked wall-to-wall with things like winter melon juice or peanut milk or rosebud tea?

When my husband and I lived in Taiwan, it was always fun to snag some of these liquid wonders as souvenirs for my husband’s dad, who got a kick out of drinking “something different.” He still talks about the asparagus juice.

Convenience stores weren’t the only places to find unusual thirst quenchers. While I lived in Taiwan, I grew accustomed to an afternoon “tea break” — an unofficial but regularly observed trip with my co-workers to the tiny tea stand around the corner from our office. The stand was about the size of a closet. Yet it was able to produce over 100 flavors of tea — some herbal, some fruity and some floral. Some came equipped with oversized straws to accommodate chewy tapioca balls or gummy gelatin or chunks of fruit. The tea could also be sweetened or plain, with milk or without, hot or icy. Whatever the concoction, it was only about 60 cents.

I bid my days of gulping fresh aloe tea goodbye when I moved back to the U.S. In the South, the most popular teas are “sweet” or unsweet.” But I see a world of potable possibilities growing around me.

My father-in-law is also an adventurous gardener. The small backyard patch he started about a decade ago has grown each year to make room for another variety of squash or cultivar of thyme. Spring through autumn, my mother-in-law is ever faithful to weave his wares into her home-cooked meals.

The first summer after we moved back to the U.S., she had prepared a pot of fresh peppermint tea from the abundance of the garden. Though mint has always been my herbal teabag of choice, I was stunned by the superior strength and smoothness of the fresh infusion.

This summer, I decided to grow a few of my own herbs to have on hand for that next beverage break craving. My “tea stand” is open for business, and always open to new flavor suggestions.

3 recipes for tea Time

Iced Vanilla Mint Tea

Though I think peppermint is perfect by itself, my father-in-law has discovered an even more indulgent partnership of flavors, adding creamy vanilla to the crisp tea. To make it, drop 1/4 cup fresh peppermint leaves into 2 quarts of boiling water.

Turn off heat and cover.

Let leaves steep for a few minutes or several, depending on desired strength of tea. Remove leaves and chill. Before serving, add 2 drops of vanilla extract to each cup.

Lavender Milk Tea

Lavender has been used in European cooking for centuries, but my first sip of this perfumy herb was in Taiwan. To try this fragrant treat, fill a tea ball with 1 teaspoon of dried lavender buds. Common or English lavender lavandula angustifolia has a better taste than lavandula stoechas, also called French or Spanish lavender.

Submerge the buds in 1 cup of boiling water. Stir in 3 tablespoons milk or soymilk, and add sugar to taste.

Lavender tea is a unique treat served hot or chilled.

Lemon Thyme Tea

My mother-in-law and I knew thyme spiced up mild fish fillets, but we were curious whether it could make a good tea. The result was intense and tangy. Coil one sprig of fresh lemon thyme into a tea ball and let it steep in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Add a teaspoon of honey, if desired.

According to herbalists, this invigorating infusion can help clear respiratory congestion and soothe indigestion. It also makes a nice afternoon pick-me-up.

Emily Parrino is a New Era copy editor. She can be reached at 887-3298 or Her column runs once a month.

Food Quiz #2

Can you guess this mystery food?

This quiz's questions:
1. What is this food?
2. Where did I buy it?
3. What is Joe's favorite dish that uses this ingredient?

*Jake is not allowed to answer this quiz because he ate the dish in #3.
Please leave a comment to sumbit your answers :-)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Evins Mill nature

The Herb Cottage
(I've broken this blogging session on Joe and my anniversary getaway into 3 posts because blogger takes issue with me posting more than 5 or 6 pics in a post. So start at the bottom to get the intoduction)

Susie Yelverton introduces Joe to Puerto Rican(or some latin American country) Oregano, which she just plucked from one of thousands of plants she grows at The Herb Cottage. Susie is Jason's neighbor, and she supplies him with the fresh herbs he uses in his dishes as well as fresh flowers to decorate the tables at Evins Mill. She gave us a whirlwind tour-- and boy does this gal know her herbs -- before leading us out of the simmering afternoon sun into the airconditioned store that was wall-to-wall herbal supplements and teas. Joe bought some royal jelly (he's been on a bee kick lately) and I got a lavender essential oil spray. Susie recommended spraying it on your pillow to destress and fall asleep, or in high-tension offices.. or directly on people that are stressed (or stress you out). It really conjured some comical images in my mind... but I think I'll be stingey and not bring my lavender spray into the newsroom.

A.M. hiking
The kitchen and breakfast buffet line were about five steps outside our room's door. It was great to have the smell of breakfast (specifically bacon) as an alarm clock. It got us up before 7 a.m. both days. And that gave us time to explore the grist mill, trails and waterfall. Saturday morning we made the trek down a rather challenging and slippery trail. Sunday morning we did it again, and took a dip in the pool. Joe of course had to sit right under the falls. I stayed back and watched the little schools of fish darting around my toes.

You can click on a photo to enlarge it. Once you do,don't close the window, rather hit the back button to get back to this post.

In this photo, Joe is carrying a stick. A spider-swishing stick. The trail was lovely in every respect-- pine needles carpetting marble with a smattering of sycamore and an occasional frightened frog. But something about the south... spiders LOVE to build webs in the middle of trails. So we had to tread softly and swish a big stick to keep from getting webbed on our way to the water fall.

Speaking of spiders...
These things were ALL OVER the green house at the Herb Cottage.

Finally, I just wanted to include this nice little bench, which was so welcome after climbing the steep and sweaty trail from the waterfall. The humidity was so thick Saturday morning, I fogged up my glasses and, apparently, my camera lense, trying to take this picture!

Evins Mill cooking class

At times it felt Joe and I were the only ones staying at the Inn. And after looking over a map of the place, I'm pretty sure ours was the only room actually in the Inn. The rest are cabins linked by an elevated boardwalk winding through the forest. So we usually had a long porch full of wooden rockers and boston ferns all to ourselves. We were also the only guests to sign up for the cooking class with Evins Mill's gourmet chef, Jason.

We got to watch him work on Saturday night's dinner, which began with Carrot Ginger Soup with coconut milk and lemongrass. This recipe feeds a group larger than I'll ever have the misfortune of serving... but I'll post it anyway.

Carrot Ginger Soup
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh garlic, chopped
1/2 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbs vegetable oil
3 quarts chicken stock
5 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped
1 handful of lemongrass, tied
1 can coconut milk, unsweetened
1/2 heavy cream*

Sautee onion, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes with oil in a large stockpot until tender. (Jason said this step was not really necessary, but he liked to be able to savor the fragrance) Add chicken stock, carrots and lemongrass. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer for two hours or until carrots are really soft and mushy. Puree with hand held blender (gotta get me one of these, saw they're only about 20 bucks at Linens N Things). Strain soup (that's what he's doing with that giganto seive in the photo) Then add coconut milk and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Makes a gallon, can be made in advance and reheated.

* my soup at dinner time didn't have the cream, and I didn't miss it at all. This soup is awesome. And I don't even really like carrots.

Also on the menu was Peruvian Coffee Crusted Beef Tenderloin. Jason seemed really fond of working with raw meat. Joe and I observed that he seemed to be handling it like it was a live animal that needed a little massage in order to coax it into tasting its very best. Must have worked because we both agreed it was the best beef we'd had. Ever. And I don't even like beef! I see a trend here.

Ah, and this was the hands on part of the class.

Joe thinks: Eh, this isn't so bad. I'll just take my big sharp chef's knife and wack away all that nasty fat.
Jason thinks: That was like $50 dollars of meat you just cut off!

Actually, Jason explained that there's a lot of waste. Choice tenderloin is 15 dollars a pound, but it works out to be $20/lb after you remove all the fat. He tries to save it for stock or the Habitat for Humanity chili cookoff, which he apparently won. (I saw a trophy in the hallway.)

That night's meal was really the best I've had in a long time. We ate by candle light (hence lack of photos) All my courses were butter- and cream-free. And we finished with flourless chocolate cake and very good (decaf) coffee. Joe's had a Baily's glaze, which I dipped my fork into. MMM.
Needless to say, 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts later, both Joe and I are having troubles getting into our pants. I guess the fast will begin tomorrow.

Evins Mill Food

Joe surprised me with a weekend to central Tennessee... A little town called Smithville is home to the Evins Mill Retreat. We stayed at the B&B which was actually a B&B&D because our "culinary package" included dinners, a cooking class and an herb garden tour. I think you can tell this was an anniversary weekend designed just for me:

Breakfast buffet, eaten on a second-story veranda. Eggs made to order with chopped veggies and fresh pepper and the mini scones were a nice touch. I didn't finish my pancake though.

Joe enjoyed cinnamon apples on his pancakes. But, he said, they still weren't as good as mine.

Here's where we ate our morning meals and the hors d'oeurves. Like Fried Green Heirloom Tomatoes: Yum! Now I finally feel initiated into Southern eating.

I almost finished mine before I remembered to take a photo. While we were enjoying our first FGTs another guest told us that he's also had them coated in cracker crumbs. I liked the cornmeal's hearty crunch though. And the tomatoes were firm and lemony.

Is it breakfast or dessert? Evins Mill staff were very conscientious of my dairy intolerance. The first night we arrived they prepared my wild rice soup, grapefruit salad,prawns and sweet potatoes without any milk or butter. The sweet potatoes were whipped and studded with fresh tender thyme leaves. I squeezed fresh lemon on them too. It's definitely a combination I'm going to pursue in my own kitchen. OK but I had a point. On the menu for dessert was Caramel Orange Bread Pudding. You can't really take the milk out of that, so I got a stawberry shortcake made with puff pastry and strawberries with honey and mint leaves. It was so yummy. Then this morning I saw the same ingredients reincarnated (minus the mint) into these iced puff churros with strawberry topping.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Herb harvest & cornpeckers

I harvested some of my basil today just as some storm clouds were blowing in. All that basil went into the blender with some pinenuts, olive oil, garlic and parmesan cheese. The resulting pesto went on a pizza shell with some tomato slices and fresh oregano (also from the patio)

Turned out pretty tasty, but next time I'll add more tomatoes to level out the pesto-y saltiness. Joe enjoyed it.

While I was snipping the herbs for my patio pizza, I kept hearing this little tapping noise. It was breezy, so at first I just thought something was vibrating in the wind. But the noise persisted intermittantly .... and it seemed to be coming from the corn field. I had to inspect.

Here's what I found:

Apparently nobody taught him he's a woodpecker, not a cornstalk-pecker.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Eggplant mini-burgers

Joe picked me 3 eggplants from the never-ending Morris vegetable garden out back. He informed me today that he only picked them for me, as he does not like eggplant. So the pressure was on. Before they were to become shrively in our defunct crisper, I had to make something with them. And eat them. has an eggplant burger recipe with a total prep time of like 15 minutes.

It instructs the cook to slice a medium eggplant in 3/4-inch slices, nuke on a plate for a few minutes until the centers are cooked, then pan fry in butter (for me, olive oil) until each side is toasty. Melt cheese over the "patties" and then server on a bun with all the regular hamburger fixin's.

I gather my eggplants were a far cry from "medium sized". So I cut bread into fourths and made mini burgers with onion, pepper jack soy cheese, dill, roma tomato, basil leaves, ketchup, garlic salt, and mustard powder. I stuck the bread quarters in the pan with the eggplant for a few minutes to toast.

It was pretty tasty. I guess I couldn't really even taste the eggplant. But it was a good excuse to eat all the other burger toppings.

Paducah food

Last night we decided to check out Paducah's "Downtown After Dinner" a summer street festival of sorts. First we ate at d. Starnes-- a bbq joint that is connected to a quilt shop and an ice cream shop. We both thought we were ordering something we'd gotten before-- dry rub barbecue pulled turkey. Sadly, it was just lunch meat with some sauce. But the meal was redeemed. We each had a side of the Most Delicious Vinegar Slaw in the World. I can't quite figure out what makes this cole slaw so special... other than the happy fact that it does not have mayonnaise binding it together. This mix of finely chopped cabbage, onion, carrot and pickles has celery seed and dill seeds and the perfect oil-vinegar-sugar-salt combination. I put mine on my sandwich.

Joe gets his meal:

Joe ate his food very fast. 2 minutes later:

We were under the misimpression that many restaurants were supposed to be serving samples, so we had a small dinner. I did get a bag of popcorn- something I haven't had in a while. But other than that, nothing to keep our mouths busy.

While at d. Starnes, I over heard a server tell a customer that Downtown after dinner is ending a month earlier than usual because of a low turnout this summer. I have a theory about that. One, it's been triple digit temps all summer. Two, about half the street performers are so tone-deaf, they might be driving away the tourism.

Joe and I listened to 89.7 "All bluegrass. All the time" on the way home to cleanse our ears.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My mint

I repotted my mint today. Getting ready to make some fresh mint tea. Don't worry mom, I didn't cut it all off!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mellow Pomelo

Answer to Random Food Quiz #1:

That was a pretty quick round of Food Quiz (see previous post if you don't know what I'm talking about.) Many thanks to all who made a guess, especially those who ventured to leave comments.
My co-worker 'Sunshine' figured out that this funny fruit is a pomelo. She wins... a jar of pickles! But they won't be ready for another two weeks, says my sous pickle chef husband.

A little bit about this lovely fruit.

It was a tricky quiz because not all pomelos look the same. The first time I laid eyes on some-- there were 3 or 4 rolling around in the trunk of my college roommate's mom's car. (Remember that, Pamela?) And they were the size of small beach balls. They looked pretty much the same as a grapefruit, except for their enormous girth.

A few years later, when Joe and I taught English in Taiwan,I was introducted to a new variety. It was green, shaped like a pear and only a little larger than the average grapefruit. These fruit are really popular during the moon festival and little kids like to wear half the spongy rind as a hat. An odd practice that Joe would never be able to imitate because if he's in the same room as someone ripping one of these babies apart, he goes into an endless sneezing fit.

Poor guy. And pomelos are really so yummy. The little juicy pouches are more durable than most citus fruit, so you can pull apart and peel the big sections without getting all sticky. I used to peel the fruit and leave it out uncovered for a couple hours. This would dry out the (intensely bitter) inner skin and make it really easy to remove.

The pomelo in the pictures is one I bought in Champaign while were in grad school. I was shocked to discover a ruby interior, yet another variation. I'm sure there's probably still other kinds of pomelos out there, too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Random food quiz #1

In an effort to make this blog more interactive and to broaden my blogging possibilites on days when it's 100 degrees and I don't want to cook anything... I've decided to start a food quiz. Here's how it works: I will post a question and you can answer! Doesn't that sound like fun?

Leave me a comment if you know what this is. Or if you don't, but want to guess.
Bonus question: when is it in season?
Extra bonus question: What is it called in Chinese?
Final-extra-bonus question: What kind of allergic reaction does Joe have to this food?

Perhaps I will keep a tally of food quiz winners and send them an edible prize. ;0)