Saturday, May 30, 2009


One of the things I loved most about our (last) house in Cbus were the lilacs. I had planted lilacs under every window on the first floor. In spring, the fragrance was intoxicating (and probably overwhelming if you're not into lilacs). It was with great dismay that I realized I would probably never be able to sustain a lilac bush here in Toledo. Too much shade. No place I could really put it to even give it enough sun.

So imagine my delight, when today, my birthday, I discovered that the gangly, overgrown bush by the entrance of the house was indeed, a lilac bush. I'm guessing that the previous owners pruned it back at the incorrect time two years ago, resulting in no blooms last year. This year, there are about 6-7 tufts of lilacs. Clearly, the lack of full sun is influencing the bloom, but hell, I'll take whatever I can get. I sacrificed a few sprigs so I could make the kitchen smell like lilacs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Backyard Gardening...

At the completion of my master gardener training last year, the one piece that I was disappointed in was the small wedge of time that edible gardening (which I will call vegetable, fruit and herb gardening) was allocated. It was about half a day, total, most of which was spent on very, very basic elements of vegetable gardening (starting things from seed, how much light do most vegetables need, etc.). This is not the fault of the program, rather reflective of the large amounts of information and the diverse knowledge of the student population in the master gardener class. I'm sure while I was furiously taking notes on something as foreign to me like, roses, the master rose lady was picking the dirt from her fingernails.

However, I was so excited when I saw an opportunity to specialize in that which I adore the most. Tomorrow, I start the Backyard and Local Foods specialization, which is being offered at a statewide level. It's an 18 month program, where we meet once a month. I'm eager and excited to really learn in a more academic setting about the gardening that I tend to fumble through each year.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I'm a consultant, dammit.

I thought I should provide a brief update on my employment situation.

When I started this, I had no job, and, well, to be honest, no real prospects at the time. Not to mention, when one comes off of a PhD program, you may not even feel like doing anything remotely like what you just spent the last six years doing. This is complicated by living in what is basically a dying town. Each week I hear of another friend who has lost their job, or is nervously awaiting the next round of layoffs. Not only is this disheartening, but it leaves me little hope of someone desperate for an employee with solid structural equation modeling experience.

However, as we are nearing the two year point in our new situation, I am happy to say that the years of education have not gone to waste. I am an adjunct professor and I am doing some consultant work that has made me very happy. I get to feel like I have a hand in things, and when people ask me what I do, I don't have to say "unemployed" or "stay-at-home mom." Instead, I'm write down "consultant" for every line asking for employment.

I have found the consulting work to be quite fufilling and challenging enough that I feel like I am a useful part of a team. I am also optimistic that my continued experiences will only lead to more of these opportunities. In my adjunct world, I've been working on committees this quarter, and have found it absolutely fascinating to look at the comprehensive exam and dissertation experience from the other side.

So there is life, after dissertation and after mourning the tenure track.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peanut Butter

I have been making peanut butter at home for about three years now. After Whole Foods came into our neighborhood, we fell in love with the fresh ground honey roasted peanut butter that you pay an arm and a leg for but grind it right there in the store.

It didn't take long for us to try it at home. The result was just beautiful. Slightly bumpy (a food processor can't get grind it completely smooth), fresh smelling, never separating into that oily goop like the natural stuff you buy in the store, and slightly sweetened because we still use the honey roasted peanuts.

When I mention that I make my own peanut butter, people get that glazed look on their face. You know that look: The "Oh. You're one of THOSE weirdos who sew their own clothes and raise their own chickens and don't use deodorant and sing songs around a guitar instead of watching Make Me a Supermodel like the rest of us" look. Well, I would raise my own chickens if I could, but I'm really liking Salome and the hot guy from England and I hope one of them takes it all.

The thing is, it is so.damn.easy and cheap for that matter, it doesn't make sense not to make it anymore. It lasts forever and it tastes so much better! And it takes approximately 8 minutes to make. I timed it.

So, I'm sharing my peanut butter strategy with all of you. I encourage you to run out right now and try it.

First, get yourself a big ole can of honey roasted peanuts. You can use plain roasted peanuts, but DO NOT use dry roasted. I'm not sure why, but they are not as oily and do not develop the butter texture. No matter how long I ground them, I ended up with just crumbly peanuts. I now go to one of those wholesale stores and just buy a case of the huge tubs of peanuts so we don't have to worry about running out.

Add those peanuts to your food processor, about 1/2 to 3/4 the way up the bowl.

Next, start the processing/chopping of those peanuts. At first, your peanuts will look like, well, chopped peanuts.


Keep the processor running. At the next stage, your peanuts will start to clump together. They are starting to extrude oil, and you'll notice that there are little clumps at the bottom of the processor, and it may even clump around the top. This is a good time to get a spoon and start breaking it up a bit. Keep processing.


The next stage is when the peanut butter is really starting to come together. There will be some areas that look like peanut butter, but it's still really chunky. Stir it up a bit again, and keep processing.


About another minute or so into the processing, and it's really going to start looking like peanut butter. You're going to look at it, taste it, and cry out with pure joy and consider all the things you could do with this sticky elixer from the gods. But don't stop now. The picture below really looks like peanut butter, but I strongly encourage you to keep processing for about 2 more minutes. If you stop now, the peanut butter may firm up substantially in the fridge (which is where I keep it, just to be safe) making it nearly impossible to spread on that squishy white bread your child so desires. Trust me. Let it go. Stir it up again. Process for about another 2 minutes.


Finally, your peanut butter should look like this:


See how it's no longer holding a line? You may think it looks a little runny, but once it is away from the heat of the food processor, it will firm up. It's done now.

Finally, give a taste to your child who has been begging for some peanut butter since you started making it.


And there you have it. I was told as a child that eating peanut butter alone was one of the most dangerous things you could do since the Heimlich doesn't work on peanut butter. So please don't turn me in to Child Services.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's really hard *not* to sing a song while I write this...

You know which song I'm talking about... It's about pronunciation. And vegetables. And ditching everything. But it seems so cliche that I'm.Not.Going.To.Do.It.

If you are one of my friends whom I pontificate to about tomatoes, the kinds of tomatoes I have, my collection of tomatoes or why everyone should grow tomatoes, I apologize. I really like tomatoes. I know of no other vegetable (or fruit, if you want to be picky) that comes in so many different shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, aside perhaps from beans, which aren't nearly as interesting to me. Most people that I know have seen a red tomato. Maybe a yellow one. They are familiar with cherry tomatoes and beefsteaks, but that's about the breadth of their tomato knowledge.

At our last house, my record was 15 varieties of tomatoes crammed into my little garden in one summer. I have in my possession over 45 types of tomatoes. I'm in the process of cataloging all of them, so I'm not sure what my current count is, but I'm pretty sure I'm in the upwards of 60 or so varieties. If you are new to tomatoes, you might be interested in Carolyn Male's book 100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden, a really interesting look at some of the different variations in tomatoes. My goal is to try all 100 over time.

This year, I have planted:

Paste/plum tomato:

  • Amish Paste
  • San Marzano (these did not germinate at all. Kind of bummed about it)

Cherry-type tomato:

  • Pink Ice - new to me, haven't tried these before, but picked them up at the TBG seed swap
  • White Cherry - I'm hoping these are similar to Snow White- one of Miss Things' old favorites
  • Black Cherry - beautiful black/red color
  • Green Grape - also a new one for me, but I love having cherries in every color.

Regular/Salad tomato:

  • Stupice - a really early tomato, 55 days - can't wait to get those puppies going.
  • Anna Russian - haven't tried this one before, made the 100 heirloom book though.
  • Riesentraube - heavy setter - really looking forward to this one
  • Juanne Flamme - beautiful small orange/red tomato - one of Elise's favorites.
  • Nyagous - black, baseball sized fruit. A new one for me this year.
  • Orange queen - large, orange fruits. This one didn't perform well in columbus, so I'm giving it another shot here.

Mr. H built me a small garden box for the spot in the back of the yard where we do hopefully get enough sun to grow something. Last year's experiment with pots by the driveway was not successful. It is fenced in to keep wildlife like squirrels, deer, racoons and one of our dogs who cleaned out several tomato plants in the last house. I also am borrowing space at a girlfriend's house who is trying gardening for the first time. I figure between the two, I can supply myself with enough fresh veggies for at least the three of us.

The seedlings are doing very well in the sunroom. They probably could be transplanted again before they go into the ground, but I'm not sure I have the room for it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The cost-benefit of making your own household staples

I read an article on this topic the other day on Slate. Personally, the things the author mentioned in her article I would not consider staples in my house. I mean, we like bagels and all, but it's not the same as not having bread in the house. The same with granola. We like it, but it's not what I would consider a staple.

There are a lot of things that I make at home because I think they are cheaper and/or taste better. Other things, I continue to buy generally because although I think my homemade stuff is better, the time it takes to make them makes it it too prohibative to make them at home. I do think I'm going to try to keep track of the cost of making things at home. Including the time it takes to make them, although my time isn't incredibly expensive right now, other people's might be.

Things currently made at home as a "staple":
  • peanut butter. This is a big one. It is incredibly easy to do, and I'm hooked on it now. Couldn't imagine it any other way.
  • corn chips. Less fat, not fried, damn crunchy, and can control the amount of salt.
  • jam.
  • pickles
  • cookies. Bags of dough ready to go at all times in the freezer.
  • croutons. We eat a lot of salads and soups. In fact, i need to make a batch today.
  • salsa. Made with canned tomatoes, but better than the processed stuff.
  • tomato soup. Again, always kept in the freezer.
  • coffee beans. We are using our roaster heavily, and I think we will be weaned completely off purchased coffee beans except in case of emergency.
  • stock. I am addicted to making chicken stock now. It tastes much better, and not as salty.

Things that I have made, but decided it was not worth the trouble:

  • bread. Just can't keep up with the demand. Fresh bread does not make as good of sandwiches. It goes bad quickly.
  • english muffins. Tasty, but I don't have the process down pat enough to make it worth the effort.
  • Indian food. I know this is kind of broad, and I do make Indian on occasion, but usually it's just a whole lot of prep, and doesn't taste all that much better than our frozen dinners. We stick by our favorite takeout place and our frozen dinners.

Monday, May 4, 2009

White anchovies of love...

I've been gone for a long time. I know that. I feel bad. In fact, several times I have come back to this page, sincerely looked at the posting box, picked out a topic to write about, but then felt so overwhelmingly guilty about the length of time from my last post I left without writing anything. I have a similar relationship with hairdressers and the dentist. Somehow I always feel I'm going to have to do penance for my absence. So when my dear friend poked me about writing again, after I had been tossing around the idea of writing in my head again, I thought I would just plunge right in and do the Hail Marys (or is that Maries?).

I love anchovies. When I was a kid, my family would pile into the car and drive up to Michigan to visit my father's family. My dad was one of six kids. His oldest brother (whom I was named after) was over 20 years older than him (this thought makes my uterus cringe into a little ball). When we would arrive, all the crazy brothers and sisters and their kids would come over to my grandmother's house and they would laugh and talk and be loud and play cards, and drink tea and eat eggs, and, at a very late hour of the evening, order a pizza with everything, including ANCHOVIES. I remember sneaking down to eat a slice of pizza and the anchovies tasted like forbidden salty fruit. And I would then have to run up the scary stairs, past the boarded up butler pantry in the dark because my grandmother didn't believe in anything more than 40 watt bulbs in the house.

I distinctly remember my first white anchovy - it was at a restaurant in Columbus called Spagio on a ceasar salad about 8 years ago. It was nothing like I had ever tried before. They are not salty. They aren't "hairy." The flesh is firm and vinagar-y because they have been preserved in oil and vinegar rather than salt. The color is white. They are beautiful and tasty and I challenge anyone who does not like anchovies to try them at least once (as I did at my friend's house this weekend).

Alas, in this area, they are difficult to find. And they are expensive. Mr. H ordered me two bottles from Parthenon Foods and they are really lovely. I like them better than the last brand I had (don't ask me what they were). Shipping is what really kills you, although it's still cheaper than a two hour drive to a city that does have the little gems.