Above The Border Eats

Last week, the Hubs and I took a long weekend road trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Neither one of us had been there before, I had some Hilton points to burn, and it actually not that long of a trip from Charley West (That’s slang for Charleston, WV, for those of you following along…).

One of my very favorite things about travelling is exploring the regional food and drink. Yelp is pretty much the best thing ever for that. I’m always worried that its kinda annoying how much researching I do on where to eat when we plan a trip–then again, over the years, none of my travelling companions haven’t complained when I find the perfect restaurant…

Niagara Falls, Ontario was a bit of a challenge. Not much was coming up on a Yelp search. Now that I’ve been there, I know why. That place if full of chain restaurants. Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Margaritaville all have there place, but I want to know what makes Niagara Falls’s cuisine unique. Its right beside a lake and in a fertile valley. That should be easy! I can eat at a chain any old time.

As it turns out, I did find a fantastic place that is all about fresh, local ingredients: Weinkeller. We went there for our fancy “anniversary” dinner. The place is known for their wines, which they make in-house. The whole menu is pretty much a prix fixe option. You can either do the five-course, or the three-course. The really awesome thing about it was that they would let you sub a glass of wine for the courses if you wanted to. Seriously. I’ve never heard of that before for prix fixe. We both got the five-course option and ordered some wine in place of starters. I got the roasted tomato gazpacho, which was heavenly. I tend to think gazpacho is usually kinda tart and acidic, but this was smooth and mellow. I also had the fried goat cheese as an appetizer. It had this rosemary honey drizzle over it, which actually was the best thing we ate. It was seriously amazing. We both had the nightly special, which was a filet rolled in espresso grounds and wrapped in bacon. The whole meal was very rustic and approachable, not all stuffy and fancy. The owner even came over to our table and wished us a happy anniversary (The Hubs mentioned it was our anniversary when he made the reservation) and chatted us up. I brought home some serious inspiration from that meal. I have a really good roasted tomato soup recipe that I cannot wait to try to tweak a bit to make it a gazpacho. And I need to know how they made that rosemary honey drizzle. I’m hoping its just chopped rosemary in honey, because I want to put that on everything. It would be amazing on pork loin or chops, I think. Who knew those two ingredients worked. My mind was blown.

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The last day we were there, we drove about ten miles north to Niagara-On-The-Lake, a small town straight out of a Normal Rockwell painting. The Niagara River/Lake Ontario region is known for ice wines, and many of the wineries are around the town. We took a self-guided bicycle tour of some of the wineries, which was a lot of fun. I don’t care much for sweet wines, so a taste of the ice wine was plenty for me. I had no idea that the wineries grew so many other types of grapes and produced some really fantastic semi-dry to sweet whites and reds. We got to tour one of the wineries, which I thought was fascinating. I

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have toured wineries in California Wine Country before, and the set up and process is pretty much the same. In Ontario, growers have to deal with colder weather that can sometimes interfere with the late-harvest grapes. Huge windmills in the vineyards automatically kick on when the temperature gets down around freezing that circulate the air around the vineyard and raise the ground temperature four or five degrees. Of course, ice wine is made usually in January after the grapes have frozen on the vine, concentrating the sweetness of the grapes. Wine grapes are much smaller than table grapes to start with, but ice wine grapes might only yield a couple drops of juice per grape. Its important to press the grapes while they are still frozen so water doesn’t get into the mixture, so the presses are pulled right out into the vineyard, and the wine is pressed within a couple hours of harvest (usually at night) for ice wine. It was fascinating to learn about the process, and its clear the wineries are very good at making it. The attention to detail was astounding.

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I looked up what USDA hardiness zone the area is in, and its in the same as me–Zone 6! Amazing! Because the Niagara peninsula is right between two Great Lakes, it enjoys a perfect climate for growing stone fruit (we saw lots of fresh-picked peaches and cherries for sale). The air from the lakes regulates the temperature and makes the growing season much longer than other areas at the same latitude. That might explain one crazy thing that I kept seeing all over Niagara Falls–canna lilies. The public spaces around town were overflowing with blooms of all colors and shapes, but there were canna lilies everywhere. Many varieties I’d never seen before. They are a tropical plant, and the rhizomes must be dug up in cold winter climates to ensure their survival. I took a chance and left mine in the ground last winter where they were planted up against my house. I thought that might help protect them, but they didn’t make it. I wonder if they dig up these rhizomes? Sure they do, but where do they store them all?

Finally, we had to try some poutine since we were above the border. Its really a Quebec thing, I think, but it was available in Niagara Falls, just over the border. Even at the McDonald’s. I’m not sure how I feel about Spicy Buffalo Poutine from McDonald’s but its definitely interesting. The Hubs got some at the Irish Pub we ate at in Niagara-on-the-Lake with his burger. Poutine is french fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds. It sounds gross, but it was surprisingly tasty. For the record, I think it was shredded mozzarella cheese on top instead of cheese curds, but it was still really good. Poutine isn’t really an Irish pub kinda food, but curry fries definitely are. I got them on the side with my burger and they were amazing. I’ve never heard of this, but apparently its a thing in Ireland. I had to ask what exactly curry fries were. They are french fries with curry sauce over them. I need some more of these in my life sometime soon.

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We couldn’t go that near the birthplace of Buffalo wings without trying them at the place they were invented. Yelp didn’t give me high expectations at The Anchor Bar, but the wings were actually better than average. Basic buffalo wings are pretty simple. Fry them, then coat them in a mixture of butter and hot sauce. The Anchor Bar does this very well. The wings were hot and crispy, and I got mine with spicy BBQ sauce since I don’t like buffalo sauce. Just right. Spicy and sweet. The Hubs got hot buffalo, and said they’d probably be mild anywhere else–the weren’t that hot at all. The place was super touristy and cheesy. It’s kinda sad because it seems kinda desperate. But I guess if they just acted like inventing Buffalo wings was no big thing, then it would be kinda hipster, and that would be annoying, too.

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At any rate, we had some fantastic food and wine, and I can’t wait to try my hand at coming up with recipes for some of the food we ate. Oh, yeah… The falls were pretty cool, too.

PROJECT RECIPE: Pan seared steaks with red wine sauce

Tuesday, when I did my post about summer squash and swiss chard, you might have noticed the steak on the plate with the squash. My intention when I started cooking on Sunday evening was to do a PROJECT RECIPE post about the steaks, but the squash was so good, I couldn’t resist sharing the recipe and turning that into a post as well.

No doubt the squash recipe was good, but my God. The steaks. Wow.

Sunday morning, I was reading the paper, and noticed this article about Appalachian food. At the end of the article was a recipe for simple pan seared steaks with wine sauce, inspired by the author’s trip to the Capitol Market. It sounded delicious as I was reading it.

We have placed an order for another half of a beef this year from the same place we got our’s last year. The beef farmer is the father of someone we know who has a farm outside of Fairmont, about two hours north on I-79. The beef should be ready around the beginning of September, and although I think we’ve done a great job of eating half a cow between the two of us (for the record, we gave a lot away to family, and always volunteered to bring the hamburger to cookouts with friends…), we still have a little bit to finish up. We hadn’t even touched the packages of filet steaks yet. I figured they would be perfect for this recipe, although she used sirloin.

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First, let me say that I’m not used to cooking steaks on anything but the grill. It might not be that odd for you to make them in a skillet, but it’s not something I’ve done before. Maybe I’m weird because of it. But I am definitely a better person for having made these steaks. They were that good. As a matter of fact, I plan to make these again since I have a few packages of filet left to finish before we get the next half beef in a month or so.

The key here is using an iron skillet. And real butter. You get that nice crispy crust with the iron skillet, and the butter makes the already tender cut of meat like … well, butter.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Hells yes it’s a keeper.

How I changed the recipe: I changed the ingredients quite a bit, actually, but not the method. I used filet instead of sirloin, as I mentioned. Also, I didn’t have shallots, so I used red onion. And I didn’t use cabernet or some other kind of normal red wine, I used tawny port wine. It has a deeper and sweeter flavor than regular red wine (but not too sweet). The results were amazing.

This was actually really easy and quick. I got perfectly juicy medium rare steaks–something that I often find difficult to do on the grill. You should definitely go and try this recipe next time you want steak instead of throwing them on the grill, even if you have to modify the ingredients. I’ve always said there is something magical about butter and wine in a skillet. This recipe definitely makes the case.

So much swiss chard. And a recipe for all that squash

I spent some time Sunday working in my garden. It had been neglected for far too long. I mean, I had watered it, and picked a cucumber here and there, but I needed to give it some real TLC.

And its the time to year to start thinking about a fall garden. You read that right. In the heat of summer, now’s the time, to plan what you’ll be harvesting in the cool, crisp days of fall. It makes sense, since summer plants are started in April or May for harvest now. What’s sad is that the first frost day for Zone 6 is in less than ninety days.

To that end, I planted beets, spinach, peas, and swiss chard for a fall harvest. I can’t believe I planted more swiss chard. I mean, I’m up to my elbows in it. I’m afraid the Hubs is getting tired of it.

I never had swiss chard plants that grew this robustly before. I’d harvest a few bunches of it in the past, but that was about it. I planted these plants along the front of my new raised bed that is up against a chain link fence. I planted beans in the back of the bed to trellis up the fence, but the deer had other ideas for the beans. The bed is full of new potting soil, and I attribute the prolific nature of this year’s swiss chard to that. It’s like gangbusters in there.

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At any rate, I thinned out some of the plants that were too crowded and picked some outer leaves off those that I left. I also dug up my potatoes to make room for more swiss chard plants, and I pulled up what was left of my spring kale. It was way past time to do this, but I had a few puny plants that were just limping along and never got full size. They could be really bitter since its too hot for them now. I hope not.

My father-in-law’s garden is doing amazing. He has given us at least a few grocery bags of peppers and yellow squash already, and they’re still coming on. He is already sick of eating yellow squash. I’ve been cutting up at least one a day to work into dinner somehow just to keep up with it. Last night, I started throwing vegetables into a skillet, and before you know it, I had a wonderful pan of sauted vegetables, so I thought I would share the recipe. We can all use a new recipe for yellow squash about right now. At least I know, I could.

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Mid-Summer Squash Skillet (4 servings as a side)

  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 or 5 sprigs of fresh sage
  • 1 Tb minced garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 small yellow squash, sliced
  • 2 small zucchinis, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 small bunch of swiss chard (about 2 cups, leaves and stems), chopped
  • 2 Tb fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat until the oil is nice and hot. Place the sage leaves in the oil whole and fry for a few minutes on each side until crisp. This will smell amazing. Remove them to a paper towel to drain. Add the onion and garlic, and cook about 5 minutes until the onion softens. Stir often to prevent the garlic from burning. Add the squash and zucchini and stir well. Add the stems of the swiss chard, then the white wine. Cover the skillet with a lid for 4 or 5 minutes. Add the leaves of the swiss chard, and season with salt and pepper. Stir well and cook until the leaves have wilted, 2-3 more minutes. Add the parsley and the fried sage, and stir again. Serve immediately.

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This was so tasty, and the perfect way to highlight the flavors of summer squash, which to me are sometimes bland. The red onion makes it slightly sweet, and the swiss chard brings it back down with a little bitter hit. It was way easier than frying squash, which is one of my favorite things to do with it. I am getting a little tired of that. And at least this way, I use a little bit of all that swiss chard, too.

My Wineberry Patch

072 We live in the city limits on a .6 acre lot. I consider myself lucky, because although its not totally flat, we really have a fantastic backyard. Our house sits close to the road, leaving most of the lot for backyard space. It slopes down from the house for about 30 yards before it gets kinda brushy and woody. Our property goes right into a wooded area that seems like a dense forest when the leaves are on. (When they are off, you can see the road on the other side, not that far away). Since we moved there a few years back, I’ve tried (mostly in vain) to coax a few more feet of grassy yard out of the brush and ivy each year. Where the grass stops and the brushy part begins is a thick tangle of English ivy, poison ivy and weird and sprawling vines I can’t even identify. I’m very slowly making progress.  The English ivy is disappearing, as we try to cut it back and dig up as much as we can in the spring and fall. The poison ivy is proving to be more stubborn.

Last year about this time, one evening, I had walked down to the edge of the grass, like I do a lot after I water my garden or empty my countertop composter, and imagine the possibilities of this tangle of vines and brush. I’d love to have some beehives down there. And, I imagine a few fruit trees or space for more gardening. But on this particular evening last year. Little red berries growing from canes that looked like raspberries. I’d never noticed them before. I had the Hubs climb into the ivy patch and pick some so I could see them up close (I am severely allergic to poison ivy). Wild raspberries were growing in the brush at the bottom end of our lot! Yippee!! I had him pick the rest of what was on the vine, which was about two cups. We ate them fresh with yogurt.

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Last winter, I pruned the canes back and raked away as much ivy as I could from around them, anticipating an even bigger harvest this year–maybe enough to make a cobbler. I babied those canes and waited for the blooms to appear this spring.

But after doing some research on the internet (for this blog post, no less), I have no doubt that its not raspberries that I have on my lot, its wineberries.

Wineberries are a variety of raspberry, actually, native to east Asia. It was introduced in the United States in 1890 as an alternative to raspberries, and is sometimes used in cultivating hybrid raspberries. However, they’ve become naturalized, and can be found throughout the eastern United States in woody shady areas. It is also considered an invasive species, and may not be planted in some states.

No worries, though. Wineberries taste a lot like raspberries, only slightly more tart. They can be substituted in recipes easily. I just need to keep an eye on these canes and make sure they don’t start to spread and choke out what’s around them… Although, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to choke out some poison ivy with an edible plant.

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Recipe Reality Check

One thing I’ve learned since I started this food blog, is that food bloggers have all sorts of approaches to writing. Some of us blog with a particular subject in our mind, formulating and outlining an idea before sitting in front of a keyboard. Some of us cook or make things just to take pictures of and write about, and sometimes that food gets eaten, sometimes not. Some of us plan posts weeks in advance. There really is no wrong way to do this.

Except maybe this way…

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Yeah. This was supposed to by my post about squash fritters with a recipe. I have a bunch of summer squash, and I’ve made them like this before, but last night, it wasn’t meant to be. They stuck to the bottom of the pan horribly and fell when I tried to flip them. We still ate them, though. The Hubs called them “squash hash.” I had a lovely tzatziki sauce made that we spooned over them. They tasted fine, but they weren’t squash “fritters.”

You see, I don’t plan blog posts any more than I plan what I’m going to make for dinner. If I’m making something I feel particularly inspired by, and it’s appropriate for a blog entry, I snap a few pics of the process. Then I try to put it in a pretty plate and stage it, all while a hungry Hubs looks on impatiently while I snap a few pics with my iPhone of dinner. Then, we eat. The whole photo shoot is over in less than two minutes.

But sometimes recipes flop. Don’t be fooled by all the pretty pics you see on Pinterest or Instagram of food bloggers’ food. For every beautiful shot of mouth-watering food “porn”, there is a lot of work that goes into it. More so than my shots, I’m sure. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, the final products just don’t materialize how you expected.

Which is why you get a post like this from me instead of a lovely post about summer squash and a recipe showing you something you can make when you’re hit with the inevitable summer bumper crop that happens every year.

I’ll post one eventually, I promise. But for now, this recipe still needs work.

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As American as Apple Pie

When John Adams reflected on how the anniversary of our independence would be celebrated in the future, he wrote: “it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” I think the only thing that could improve that sort of celebration is a piping hot apple pie.

That is how I marked my Independence Day; with the illuminations and a homemade apple pie, anyway.

Many summers ago, I had a job between high school graduation and going to college at a local wildlife management area. There were a handful of us college kids, and we would plan big pot luck meals for lunch sometimes. There was a tiny and hardly-ever-used kitchenette in the office, so we could heat stuff up and do a little bit of cooking there. For one of the lunches, a girl I worked with brought in butter, flour and some fresh berries and sugar. She flat out just made a pie right there. From scratch. It blew my mind.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, because when you eat a fancy two-crust pie, it seems like it would be so hard to make. But as it turns out, making pie crusts is easy. Of course, it’s easy to buy them, too. But they’re so easy to make, it seems silly to buy them.

Basic two-crust recipe

  •  2 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup cold butter
  • pinch of salt
  • about 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In a large bowl, mix the flour and the salt.

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Cut the butter into pieces and add to the flour. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter up into pea-sized pieces. If you don’t have a pastry cutter,  you should buy one. They are pretty cheap–like five or six bucks. And you can use them for more than just cutting butter into flour for pie crust. It’s the best thing I’ve ever used for making guacamole. No really, if you don’t have one, use two butter knives and cut up the butter by pulling the knives away from each other through the flour.  Add the ice water a few table spoons at a time while stirring until the dough starts forming a ball.

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Flatten the dough into two discs about the same size and wrap in plastic wrap, or put a lid on your bowl and put it in the fridge for an hour or so. The butter needs to harden again to make the pie crust flaky. Once it firms back up, put it between two pieces of plastic wrap and flatten it out with your hands.

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Begin rolling it out gently with a rolling pin. You might have to peel the plastic wrap up and keep repositioning it. Roll it until it’s 1/8 inch thick or so, and big enough to cover your pie pan. This is why the plastic wrap is handy. It makes it easy to get into the pie pan.

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Then all you have to do is trim the edges off. Leave enough to make the design in the edge.

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You can repeat the process for the “lid” of the pie crust, and cut slits in it to vent the filling.

Or you can do something super fancy for the Fourth of July, like this:

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Boom. Murica.

It was really easy, actually. I have some star-shaped cookie cutters, and I just cut out the star shapes and overlapped them on top.

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It made a really festive touch for the holiday. You could even make a solid “lid” and use the cookie cutters to cut out shapes in the lid for the vents.

It depends what you put in your crust as to how long you bake it and at what temperature. Pies that have fillings that need baked usually bake for around a hour. If you’re doing a chilled pie, like meringue, you bake the crust only 10 or 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long to get an empty pie crust done. I baked this apple pie for an hour at 425 degrees. Pecan pies, which I make a lot, bake for about an hour, but at a lower temp, say 350 or 375 degrees.

There are lots of recipes out there for basic pie crust. Some people swear by using vegetable shortening, but I find butter works just as well and gives it a nice flavor. Please, use real butter. Don’t use margarine (it’s really bad for you) but it also contains water, which won’t work in the crust. Any kind of “spread” butter alternative does actually, and can’t be used for pie crusts. I’ve used shortening before, and the results are as good as with butter, but its not something I keep on hand. I have heard lard makes the absolute best crusts, but I’ve never tried.

Also, if you want to make a single-crust pie, like for a meringue or pecan pie, just cut this recipe in half.

While making crusts is pretty easy, it does take some specialized equipment. My friend who first impressed me by making a crust from scratch at work, used her hands to break down the butter into the flour. This is actually really difficult, because you don’t want the butter to get too soft, so you have to work fast. I do recommend dropping the cash on a pastry cutter and rolling pin. It would be so much more difficult to make crust without these two items, and like I mentioned, you’ll find the pastry cutter is useful for other things.

You might have missed the boat for the stars and apples pie for the Fourth of July, but berries and fruit and in full season right now. There’s nothing better than a pie made from fresh berries. And apples are coming in season right around the corner in the fall. Then, it’s time for pumpkin pie. You can put your new pie-crust-making skills to practice practically all year long.

 

Fried Green Tomato Sandwiches from The Greenbrier

Earlier this week, I went to watch the Greenbrier Classic at the historic Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Not familiar? Just flip on the Golf Channel or CBS (on Saturday and Sunday) this weekend. It’s a fantastic showcase of the historic luxury resort, its breathtaking golf course, and the beauty of West Virginia.

I love The Greenbrier. Who wouldn’t? The last few years, since it has been under new management, it has taken huge steps to become more accessible to the average West Virginian. Last winter, my mom and I stayed there and enjoyed the world-class mineral spa on a discounted package designed for only either West Virginia and Virginia (its very close to the border) residents. And since the Classic has become an established PGA event, the weekly badge price has dropped substantially. I think it’s a steal.

Since we started going to the Classic a few years ago, my favorite thing about the golf tournament is getting a fried green tomato sandwich from the concession stand. My brother-in-law first told us about them. They went the year before we started going. Of course concession stand prices are inflated for events like this, but he said he was scanning the list of offerings and a grilled chicken breast sandwich was something like nine bucks, and the Greenbrier’s signature fried green tomato sandwich was $1.75. He picked it out of value alone, but realized it was probably the best thing on the menu. Fried green tomatoes on a soft bun with pancetta, arugula, goat cheese and garlic aioli is pretty hard to beat. Doesn’t that sound amazing?

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I was never a huge fan of fried green tomatoes before trying the sandwich. I could take them or leave them. But it didn’t take long for this sandwich to be haunting my dreams in the nights leading up to and right after the golf tournament. A couple years ago, I did a restaurant redo of the sandwich, and I’ve since kept it in regular rotation for dinner through the spring and summer when fried green tomatoes are available. Here’s the link to my original post.

There isn’t really a recipe here. Basically, just fry some green tomatoes. Here’s my recipe from June of last year. The main thing to remember to get crispy tomatoes is to not move them around the pan much once you start frying them. Basically, all you need to do after you fry the bacon and the tomatoes is slap them on a soft bun like brioche, add some arugula, goat cheese and some mayo. If you want to get real fancy, you can make your own garlic aioli, but mayo is cool with me.

If you get a chance to visit The Greenbrier Classic, you must get the fried green tomato sandwich.  If you can’t make it, try them at home. They’re super easy and simple. They make a great quick dinner. If you’re used to eating fried green tomatoes plain, you’ll definitely love them on a sandwich with goat cheese and bacon.

‘This must be pepper weather.

I tend to think of peppers as a mid to late summer vegetable. Like an August vegetable. But this year, they are already ripe and ready to eat.

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It could be the hot and wet summer we’ve been having. Just look at how they’re going! The pot on my patio is a golden marconi. I have some bell peppers in my raised beds. I planted all sweet this year because my father-in-law planted all hot. We figured we’d just swap. My father-in-law said he already has a “mess” of jalapenos.

Salsa season is coming early, friends.

I couldn’t resist getting some more pics of my garden. It looks amazing, with all the rain and hot weather.

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Every year, I am surprised by what vegetables do well. It’s never been the same from year to year. I’ve never had any luck with swiss chard, but this year, its blowin up. I’ve already had some for dinner, wilted with white wine and hit with some red pepper flakes and kosher salt. Tastes even better since I grew it myself.

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This is a volunteer roma tomato. I always have a handful of tomato volunteers where I mix in my compost. I compost tomato seeds when I chop them, and I consider this a freebie. One thing I’ve never done before is to thin out my volunteers, and I’ve never gotten more than a handful of tomatoes from them. I thinned them to about 18 inches apart, so maybe this year, I’ll get many more tomatoes. I left four plants behind in my raised beds where I planted the spinach and asparagus and carrots and beets earlier this year.

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I have two hills each of cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash. They are looking robust and full of blooms. They’re probably a little behind schedule, but it shouldn’t be much longer.

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The kale is still even alive–it’s a little late in the season for it, as it does not do well in hot weather. I could be very bitter by now since I’ve let this go so late, but maybe not. It’s not very big, so that could help. I need to harvest it this week, though.

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The bee balm is blooming now. I have a couple plants that I have spread apart in my flower bed. It smells amazing. Not just when it’s blooming, but it’s the leaves that smell just like earl grey tea. It is actually known as wild bergamot, and bergamot is what gives earl grey tea it’s distinctive flavor. The echinacea is also blooming. I put this plant in about three years ago, and it has only ever had a couple blooms. This year, it’s full of blooms. I should probably divide up the roots this fall and replant them. These plants are things that I can use in the kitchen–they’re best known as herbs you can use in tea. But I haven’t ever tried it. Maybe I should give it a try this year.

I cannot wait to make some stuffed peppers or salsa with these fresh peppers. It sounds like it’s going to be a very long and fruitful season for peppers, which suits me just fine.

So I made perfume.

You guys remember a few weeks back when I wrote that post about body products? And how I mentioned that one of my vices is wearing perfume every day (the others are good cheese and House of Cards)?

I finally used up all of what I was wearing at the time, and decided to try my hand at making my own. I have to say, it doesn’t suck. It smells really nice, actually.

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I started out by going to my local health foods store and smelling all the essential oils to decide what I really liked. I LOOOOVED the jasmine essential oil. I could have probably used it alone and been good with it. I also liked the cedar wood, but it didn’t jive with the jasmine, and I wanted to mix a few to make my own signature scent.

They even sold little roller bottles (and dropper bottles and atomizers) right by the essential oils, and several other supplies you might need. I noticed they also were selling grapeseed “carrier” oil, also. I had some at home that I use for cooking and making body scrub, so I asked the guy at the health foods store, and he said the grapeseed carrier oil was the same stuff that is sold for cooking.

I also already had lavender and eucalyptus essential oil at home that I use for other stuff (cleaning and making sugar body scrub. So, at the store I tested out the jasmine with both, and they seemed to compliment each other nicely. I had my blend.

I did a search online for a basic how-to. There are tons of them out there. But the process was pretty common sense. Some instructions say to use alcohol to dilute the oils, but I didn’t want to use it simply because it is very drying for skin. Here’s how I did it:

You will need:

  • 2 Tb. carrier oil (grapeseed, sweet almond, jojoba or other neutral-smelling oil)
  • essential oils for the base notes, middle notes and top notes (or whatever combo suits you)
  • Small dark-colored glass bottle

Add the carrier oil to the bottle. Start by adding the base notes. Add around 5 or 6 drops of the dominant oil. In the world of perfume, these are sometimes the more strong scents like musk or frankincense. Add 4 or drops of the middle notes. These could be the more floral scents. Then add 2-3 drops of the oil you want as the top note. These are more delicate, and compliment the other two. Of course, you can just blend it however you like it, and not worry about what is a base note and what is a top note. I certainly endorse this process. Start by adding a few drops of each initially and shake well. If you feel like you need a little more of one, add a drop or two and shake again until you get the scent you want.

The next batch I make, I do plan to use alcohol mixed with the oils. This doesn’t last all day like perfumes I’ve bought. I think the alcohol might actually make it last longer.

I’ve been wearing this for a week, and I love it. It’s a truly unique perfume. I buy into all that hoodoo about pheromones and how perfumes smell differently on different people. The science behind smell is serious business, too. Retail stores are experimenting with scent diffusers to trigger the parts of a customer’s brain associated with a positive experience, and ultimately spend more. It’s well established that scents and memory are closely related. When we smell something familiar from our past, memories are triggered more vividly than with any other sensory interaction. Sometimes when I smell a perfume that I used to wear long ago, I remember those times. CK One will always remind me of high school. Maybe sometime long into the future, when I get a whiff of jasmine, I’ll think of this summer and this time in my life.

A Rhubarita and Rhubarb Muffins

So, last week, I stumbled on this post on pinterest for rhubaritas from the local kitchen blog.

Yummy. I love rhubarb. And tequila. Makes perfect sense to put them together. Rhubarb is kinda tangy and sour-ish, but when you add the sugar, many folks compare it to the taste of strawberries. It’s a perfect flavor to pair with tequila blanco in my opinion, so I couldn’t wait to try this.

Actually, I love margaritas, but sometimes the mix leaves something to be desired. Sometimes it just tastes funny to me. Especially when it’s made with artificial flavors, colors and high fructose corn syrup (most of what you can buy is). So, naturally (no pun intended…) this recipe appealed to me.

And it was so pretty.

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No artificial colors, and it was this beautiful shade of bubble gum pink. Real food, folks.

At any rate, to make this delicious cocktail, you need to cook down some rhubarb to make rhubeena. That’s basically rhubarb juice and sugar. It’s yummy, by the way.

So, I had a pound of rhubarb that I bought from the Monroe Farm Market, and I figured no better way to use it that by mixing it with tequila. Unfortunately, the recipe for rhubeena (available through the link on the local kitchen blog) called for four pounds of rhubarb. Eh, I figured I’d just have a little less, no big deal. But one pound of rhubarb only made me about a cup of rhubeena. Boo.

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In order to get the rhubeena, you need to strain out the pulp after the rhubarb cooks down. When I did that I was left with about a cup and half of rhubarb pulp, and it seemed like such a shame just to throw it out. I decided I could use it in place of (and then some) my usual applesauce in my usual muffin recipe. I played with the spices a little bit and got this sweet and spicy crumbly muffin.

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A couple weeks back, I ordered a jumbo muffin pan from Amazon. I love it. But, I know, I know… the thing that is wrong with America is our ginormous portion sizes. But this is a weekend treat. (We’ve stuck with the smoothie routine on weekdays). Six jumbo muffins are perfect for the weekend. A couple for breakfast and maybe a late afternoon snack with an iced coffee, or dessert after dinner.

At any rate, I thought I’d share the recipe with you. Rhubarb is only here for a short season, so enjoy it while you can.

Rhubarb Wheat Germ Muffins (adapted from Betty Crocker’s Bridal Cookbook)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used almond)
  • 1 1/4 cups of rhubarb pulp or rhubarb compote (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tb cold butter
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the egg, milk and rhubarb compote. Add the flour, baking powder, salt 1 tsp of cinnamon, ginger and sugar, and mix well only after adding all the dry ingredients. In a small bowl, cut the wheat germ, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, sugar and salt into the butter with a pastry cutter or with two butter knives until the butter is pea-sized and well blended. Grease a nonstick muffin pan with butter or coconut oil. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups and top each one with the butter mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for jumbo muffins or 20 minutes for regular. Makes 6 jumbo or 12 regular muffins.

Rhubarb Compote Makes about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 pound rhubarb stalks, diced into 1/2 pieces
  • 1/3 cup sugar (you can add more if you want it sweeter)
  • 1 Tb lemon juice

Add all ingredients to a medium sauce pan and cover. Cook on medium low heat until the rhubarb breaks down, about 20-ish minutes. Stir occasionally, to keep it from sticking. It should have a chunky applesauce consistency. You can freeze the leftover for another batch of scones or it’s great on plain yogurt.

(I’ve shared this recipe for rhubarb compote last year here, when I used it in rhubarb scones.)

The pinch of salt in the crumble topping is an unexpected twist to these dense muffins. You can always sub out the wheat germ for flour, it’s just that I have a lot of wheat germ that I never use, so I’m always trying to find ways to work it in. It’s a nice texture for the crumble topping.

Enjoy, but hurry with the little bit of rhubarb season that is left!