Friday, March 29, 2013

Avocado Toast is the New Kale Salad

To pamper myself on an early weekday or weekend, I've started going to brunch on my own. Sure, I could wake up the boy before 8 to come with me, but food isn't a huge motivator for him in comparison to sleep, and I enjoy navigating places and experiences on my own. During one of my brunch voyages, I checked out Bartavelle Coffee and Wine Bar, located in the old Cafe Fanny space and conveniently located next to Acme Bread.

I've been there twice now, and my first order of avocado toast coupled with a cortado (1/2 espresso, 1/2 milk) was so good that I ordered the exact two items the second time I went there. And I was so enamored with avocado toast that I've made it several times for breakfast, snack, and dinner.

My first attempts at avocado toast were edible, but not blissful. Partially, this was because I had no patience and I didn't wait for one avocado to ripen, and the other avocado I bought was a bit past ripe. Since the avocado is the star of this dish, it has to be just right. The other reason it wasn't so great was logistical: so many dishes for one piece of toast. I had a bowl, a cast iron pan (for the toast - no toaster here), a cutting board, a knife, a plate, and a fork to wash afterwards.

Subsequent attempts reached the bliss point because, the second time I went to Bartavelle, I had a seat at the counter and watched my toast being made.  And now I will share it with you.

Start with a 3/4" piece of levain, Acme has the best, but any rustic loaf will do. If you have a toaster, throw it in on the "lightly toasted" setting. If you don't have a toaster, heat up a cast iron pan on medium and toast the bread on both sides. Once your toast is done, drizzle one side with olive oil, and mash 1/2 an avocado onto the toast using a fork.  Squeeze some lemon juice over the avocado, and mash a little bit more. Finish by sprinkling some crunchy salt (I used Maldon smoked salt flakes), chili flakes (I have a stash of Korean chili flakes that are fruity and hot, but Bartavelle uses marash peppers), and drizzle with more olive oil. Done!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Break from Kale Salad Pictures

There's nothing like reviewing your last few blog posts and realizing that you've forced people to look at multiple pictures of kale salads. While I'm obsessed with them, kale salad obsession is not as common as cat and dog obsession, and since most of you were lured here first by cat hat pictures, I feel bad about the unintentional bait and switch. So, while these are still not cat hat pictures, they're a step up from kale salad, right?

The boy is racing in 24 Hours of Lemons, and since the car name is Balto, they thought that it would be funny to also refer to themselves as Team Idiotarod (iditarod, get it?), and who better to lead the Idiotarod than our boy Mingus? So, although Mingus is no Balto in appearance or demeanor, as a Nordic dog he is close enough. We put his harness on and let him pull the car into BS, the first judging station where the teams convince (and bribe) the judges that the car is indeed worth no more than $500.

Mingus was a crowd pleaser, and as you can see, he is also quite pleased with himself. The funny thing about walking him around is that everyone wants to tell you about your dog.

"Is that a husky? A malamute? No, can't be, he's too small for a malamute!" Followed by, "he's too big for a malamute!" by another person. Followed by, "Is your dog a tervuren wolf?"

That last question really puzzled me because I've never seen a tervuren wolf before, and further Google research shows that Mingus looks nothing like a tervuren wolf.

I just told people that he looks close to a malamute, so that's why we call him one, and that we got him at the pound so he could be a mixture. That answer seemed to satisfy those who really wanted to be right about Mingus's genetic makeup. People are strange.

The other common question was how he got the name Mingus. No, not Charles Mingus. No, not Mingus Among Us. Yes, a GSD that I loved in East Oakland named Mingus. So, you see, my love of GSDs runs deep, and even Mingus has a touch of GSD in him. If I would have known that Mingus was a jazz musician, I would have never named him that because people are constantly singing bits of Mingus songs to me and I become really embarrassed, both for them and for me. Sometimes, I feel like an Idiotarod myself when I have to give the real answer for why he is named Mingus, so oftentimes, I let people draw their own conclusions on why he is named what he is named.

The jury is still out if we'll go back tomorrow to watch more racing. Mingus was tuckered out because he's such a social butterfly that he did not have nearly enough napping time, and I'm unsure if I want to be out in the sun, sans shade, for most of the day again. We'll see how we feel tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Back to the Garden

What you see above is two years of vegetable scraps, dried leaves, brown paper bags, toilet and paper towel rolls, and egg cartons sifted into a wheelbarrow.

The compost is teeming with roly poly bugs and an occasional gross worm-like thing. (Millipede?)  Here's hoping that this will result in a snap pea bonanza! 

I'm amazed at the small yield considering how much scraps we generated every week. Between the compost and the worm farm, scraps get consumed around here. This compost was destined for the front yard garden after we took out the German radishes and aphid infested kale. Growing greens in the summer is harder for us since a call out goes to all the bugs in the area that there's an all you can eat buffet in our front yard. Apparently, the deer know it now, too.  Besides sugar snap peas and a collard tree, we're unsure what to plant.

The reason we are unsure of what to plant is partially due to our Fully Belly Farm CSA - we don't want to grow things that are redundant to our farm box. Although we can grow radishes, I don't necessarily need to eat loads of them and we usually receive a bunch a couple times a month. Plus spring and summer are times to plant the alluring vegetables like tomatoes and snap peas, vegetables that taste best fresh off the vine. That being said, we'll probably plant more carrots since the royal chanteys are a sweet treat and pest resistant. I would plant more greens like chard, bok choy, and kale, but last summer we had loads of leaf mining insects. I should probably look into organic ways to control those pests because we go through a lot of greens. If you have any suggestions for what to grow or natural pest control, please let me know in the comments.

As mentioned before, the ants have infested our kale with gray aphids. I picked the last of the leaves, inspected them carefully, and chopped them up for a raw kale salad.

I know it seems fussy to some, but I love to massage my kale salad. I can sit and veg out while I'm massaging the kale - no need to moderate heat or get a pot or pan dirty. I can do this all in the serving bowl. Just put some crunchy salt, a little oil, and a little acid into the bowl and massage for as little or as long as you want. I taste as I go, so when the kale is sufficiently supple and sweet, I stop the massage.

Sunday's dinner was a massaged kale salad with segmented oranges (I got a new knife, or "sword" as the boy calls it) and braised lamb necks. Lately, since I'm trying to figure out more one pot cooking, I've been throwing a few handfuls of wheat berries and more water into the braise about 45 minutes before serving time. The grains turn out flavorful, and any leftovers are destined to be a bed for my poached or fried egg breakfast.

And abruptly transitioning onto the subject of knitting, if anyone is interested in buying some Hiya-Hiya interchangeable needles, I have both the small and large sets for sale. The large set has never been used. I'll probably put them up for sale on Ravelry soon, but if this is something you're looking for, lemme know and I can give you more details and pics! They are the 4" steel tips (not the sharps). $45 for the small set, $65 for the large set, or $100 for both. Paypal payment please, and free shipping in the US.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vitamin D

Done! My Vitamin D sweater, started in June 2012, is finally off the needles, and I've been sporting it around town. Since I wanted my cardigan to be longer than the pattern suggests, I knit 5 lower body radial rounds instead of 4.

The yarn is Lisa Souza BFL DK in the Forbidden City colorway. I purchased this at Stitches West 2012. Happily, this yarn softens up quite a bit after a good soak because part of the reason the cardigan sat around so much was that each time I tried it on, it was itchy. I lost my motivation because I hate wearing itchy wool! But, since my girlfriends have reinstated our weekly knit nights for 2013, I had to do something during that time other than eat cookies, cheese, and drink sparkling wine. So, I dragged the sweater with me. Some nights, I didn't knit a stitch, and then after about the 3rd week of dragging the sweater around, I really wanted it done. Two days later, the second sleeve was bound off and I was ready to soak it.

The most exciting part about finishing this sweater is that I no longer have a sweater's worth of yarn stashed away. Wheeeee! This makes me feel free! I have a few single skeins of yarn leftover from projects and some earmarked for socks, but besides that, my stash is teeny tiny. The anti-hoarder in me is rejoicing.

More details about my modifications are on my Rav page.

Friday, March 1, 2013

It Burns! It Burns!

How do you piss off a malamute? By transforming your once frigid house into a furnace with an insulated roof and a gas insert. Mingus thinks we suck, but Fifty-Fifty thinks we're the best people ever.  You win some, you lose some.

We're coming up on 10 years in this old house, and there were some project that were always earmarked "nice to have" but not "need to have," so these projects were oftentimes scoped out, then promptly abandoned. Four years ago, we visited a fireplace insert store in the hopes of knocking off a "nice to have" project, and the whole experience reminded me of buying a used car. I hated it, and I was so turned off by both the sticker shock and the sales technique that I decided that walking around the house like the Michelin man wasn't such a bad thing.

Near the end of January, I was tired of being cold. Again, we went shopping for a fireplace insert, and this time we found a place that was upfront with their prices. Since we were putting in an insert, it would be the perfect time to update the ugly, smoke-stained tile on the fireplace surround, right? So, in one really long day where I had earmarked for a hike and a pedicure, I instead spent 7 hours chipping off tile with a mallet and a spackling tool. The boy was supposed to help me, but he had a last-minute meeting in Seattle, leaving me to do all the work the day before we had contractors scheduled. Ugh, those 7 hours were made extra miserable by bad television and numb hands. Judge Judy really bugs me, and Mario Batali is a smug man who shouldn't wear orange crocks, shorts, or put his hair in a ponytail. 

For those friends who haven't seen me in ages, sorry, but I'm content to hang out in front of the fireplace most evenings.  And since I'm still in my cocktail phase, I'll be drinking something delicious like an apricot flip. That fireplace makes me very, very happy.

A second batch of kombucha is brewing now, this time with some fancy tea the boy bought me in Taiwan. Normally, I'd feel guilty about using it, but since it has been sitting in the pantry for years, I figured this was better than throwing it away. My first batch made with jasmine tea is sitting in bottles, hopefully getting fizzier by the day. My preliminary taste tests have been positive.

Pressure cooked 6 bean soup uses up those annoying leftover dried beans

How to feed two people homemade meals who have limited time? That has been the question for as long as we've been together, and we never quite nail it. As our standards for healthy, tasty meals go up, the more time is needed. In addition to the pressure cooker, slow cooker, weekend cooking marathons, an arsenal of cookbooks, and our produce CSA, we recently added a meat CSA.

Kale from our garden, right before their massage
Split Rail Family Farms has a booth at our local farmers market, and that's where I pick up my box. This is our first week, and we are in love! I made a goat and carrot stir fry with cumin and dried chilies on Monday, and last night we had pork osso bucco that I braised with bacon, sauerkraut, leeks, green garlic, potatoes, and beer. I didn't have to go to the market to pick up any ingredients, which is part of the time saving master plan. The trickiest thing to remember is to defrost the meat a day ahead of time. The CSA provides enough meat for 2 meals a week, but the portions are so generous that we're finding it's more like 3-4 meals a week.

To help with meal planning, I used my phone to take pictures of each meat, and as we consume it, I delete the photo. This keeps me from standing with the freezer door open, staring for minutes at the contents. If the contents of the refrigerator weren't so dynamic, I'd adopt this system for it as well.

So, to those of you out there who like to eat meals made from scratch, yet have multiple obligations (everybody, right?), what tips and tricks have you picked up along the way to make sure you're not eating out all the time? Please, please share in the comments section!

Ethan, your mom is on to you! Go home!
February wasn't all work, fortunately.  Due to unusually warm weather, our annual snow trip to Arnold and Bear Valley turned into a biking and skiing trip. The XC skiing was fine, although a lot of the trails were closed, and the biking was awesome. What would have made that trip even better would be a ban on burning yard waste - the air was thick with pine needle smoke.

I know we need more rain and snow. I really do. However, I am loving this weather! Now that the days are longer and I no longer commute both ways to work in the dark, everything is better. I even have my knitting mojo back! Expect to see a completed cardigan soon.


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