Friday, July 29, 2011

Watermelon Gazpacho

Once or twice every summer, we invariably make watermelon gazpacho. It’s a delicious way to consume half of a large watermelon, and as the summer draws to a close (it is nearly over right?) it's a great time to enjoy a cold soup. We discovered the following recipe when we went on a raw food kick a few years ago and have been enjoying it ever since.

My mom was visiting for a few days and brought a giant watermelon from her farmer’s market. I was surprised when I cut into it that it was the color of cantaloupe. I have never seen nor heard of orange watermelons. Are there other colors of watermelon? Though delicious, it was also seedless, which I don’t recommend. For this recipe, the watermelon has to be seeded, and seedless watermelons produce immature seeds that are more difficult to remove (and supposedly edible, but this particular watermelon had a lot of them and I didn't want to eat them). I don’t understand the appeal of seedless watermelons anyways.  It’s fun to spit out seeds – why deny children a chance to spit? Also, if you have a watermelon that produces seeds then you can save a few to plant the following year.

We had the watermelon as well as cucumber, tomato, and bell pepper, which form the base of the soup. The recipe also calls for a little bit of green onion, ginger, cilantro and jalapeno, none of which we had so I substituted finely minced garlic and basil from our garden. It was delicious. I guess I’ve learned that you can make a cold soup with the above base and season it anyway you want or have ingredients for. This soup is such an enjoyable summer meal, I should probably try a few more cold soup recipes before Labor Day.

This recipe can be found in Matthew Kenney’s and Sarma Melngailis’s Raw Food/Real World.  The cookbook also has wonderful raw variations on alcoholic drinks.  We especially love the mojitos which replace the white rum with sake and sparkling white wine.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho
3 cups watermelon, seeded and pureed in a blender
1 cup seeded watermelon, diced small
1 cup seeded tomato, diced small (about 2 medium tomatoes)
1 cup peeled, seeded cucumber, diced small 
(from about 1/3 English cucumber or 1 or 2 whole Kirbys)
½ cup red or green bell pepper, diced small
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 small handful cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon minced ginger
½ small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 green onion, white and 1 inch green, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large glass bowl or container, combine the watermelon puree with the diced watermelon, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, lime juice, cilantro, ginger, green onion, and salt.  Stir to combine.  Season with fresh black pepper and additional salt, if desired.  Ladle into chilled soup bowls and serve, or refrigerate to chill and then serve.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Snapshots: July 18-24

This week Ezra has been using his newest favorite phrase, "I did it!" 
(It always ends with an exclamation point.)
 Our beans germinated
 and we harvested some basil.
 It was really hot
and we cooled off at the Splash Pad.
 We tried out the "new" phone
  and canned for the first time. Our peach jam was by all measures a success!
 Ezra spent a lot of time playing in water
and discovered his foot prints.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Better Late Than Never: A Vegetable Garden

I sowed our peas and beans a few days ago. I know. You’re probably sputtering, “But it’s the middle of July.” I have wanted a vegetable garden since we first bought our home five years ago. We had lots of plans for the yard including landscaping, a vegetable garden, and building a couple of small walls. But our first two summers here, most of our effort in the yard was spent, unexpectedly, on digging up trash. We unearthed seemingly endless quantities of old lawn mower parts, rusty nails, and shards of glass from broken windows, as well as a seat, burlap sacks, and a gasoline tank. Our house, formerly a church, had been abandoned for nearly forty years and was for many, many years the town’s trash dump. Fortunately we didn’t do the major clean up and restoration – we wouldn’t have known where to start with the latter – but cleaning up the yard has taken some time. 

We started landscaping with perennials three years ago, beginning mostly with cuttings from family and friends. Two years ago we started digging out a small bed for our vegetable garden only to discover bedrock at a depth of 12 inches. Sigh, I guess that is why Stinesville is the "birthplace of the limestone industry." We planted our garden anyways, but discovered the location received too little direct sun. Needless to say, our garden failed to thrive. We had resisted building a raised bed largely because it wouldn’t be cheap to purchase building materials and soil, but because we continued to find small amounts of scrap metal, glass and other items immediately under the topsoil in the best area for growing vegetables (based on sunlight and grade), we finally decided this year to go with a raised bed. With a little help we were able to do it for free.

Garry reused limestone leftover from repairs to our home’s foundation to construct a raised bed, Garry’s sister and brother-in-law, co-owners and installers of Sandstone Creek, LLC, donated some dirt salvaged from a job, and we had the beginnings of a vegetable garden in mid-June. In early July I planted a couple tomatoes, a basil plant, and sowed some basil seeds. I finally was able to install a trellis Monday evening and sow the beans and peas. Tomorrow I’m planning to sow chard and I still have plenty of space to plant broccoli, cabbage, beets, lettuce and greens for a fall harvest. We won’t have our own produce until August or September at the earliest, but I love our garden!

Sweetie, Darling and Other Terms of Endearment

I recently heard a couple teasingly refer to their 3-year old's daycare as “lord of the mini-flies.”  Though their reference to William Golding’s novel seems an accurate description of a daycare’s social atmosphere, I couldn’t help think that technically they should be calling it “lord of the maggots.”

I’m not sure what a mini-fly is, but I guess this seems nicer than referring to your loved ones as garbage-eating larvae.  At least most people feel this way.  There are a few people who see nothing insulting or grotesque about worms, maggots, or even simpler organisms like amoeba, and find all of those fair game for use as sweet, loving terms of endearment.  Some people might call these people biologists.  I call one of them my wife.  Amanda once, with complete seriousness and affection, told me that wrapped in a blanket I looked as cute as a grub.
A cute and adorable grub?

Though we both have fun pet names for Ezra, using terms of endearment for each other is something that has never been very natural for Amanda and me.  She mostly calls me Garry, and I mostly call her Amanda. I think a few circumstances from early in our relationship set this pattern. First, we became a couple after a period of just being close friends so suddenly calling each other “baby” seemed weird.  Second, we were in our early twenties and associated this kind of language with older generations.  Maybe this is why I always notice and am fascinated by other couples dropping a “honey” or “pumpkin” into their conversations. My favorite is when a term of endearment is used strategically to soften requests or criticisms such as, “I asked you to take out the trash an hour ago, honey.” Amanda’s rare expressions of affection may be odd choices drawn from entomological sources, but at least I know they do not have an ulterior motive.  “I asked you to take out the trash an hour ago, maggot,” would not be very motivating.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Is For Astronaut

The final space shuttle mission launched 10 days ago on Friday morning, July 8. When Atlantis returns to Earth from its 12-day mission, NASA's shuttle program is being retired. It’s been a notable year in the history of space exploration – the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion (a tragedy, one that left an indelible impression in my youth), the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – and I cannot help but look back at my first career aspiration that never happened.

Actually, becoming an art teacher was the first career I can remember being interested in. I adored my art teacher, Mr. Cuffy, and I wanted to emulate him. He had closets full of art supplies, boundless energy, unlimited encouragement, and I can remember several projects I created, and loved, in his classes. It’s readily apparent though that “Art Teacher” wasn’t going to be the employment reported on my taxes; the images here are illustrations I drew for a report. (They speak for themselves don’t you think?)

It was hard for me to learn I couldn’t be the best at everything, but my second career choice was the one I really felt passionate about. I was going to be an astronaut. I’ve always loved science, and at the time being an astronaut seemed a natural extension of my interests. I remember being enthralled by the exhibit of the lunar lander at the Air and Space museum in Washington DC. I pored over National Geographic maps of the solar system. I'm embarrassed to admit I saw the movie Space Camp too many times - seriously, our family got it for free, it was one of our only movies and we must have watched it at least once every day for an entire summer break! When I was in elementary school, I loved space, and I imagined myself traveling into space in a shuttle and I longed to see the Earth from a shuttle window.

As a 4th grade student at Windsor Oaks Elementary school in Virginia Beach, Virginia I wrote a report about my future career. My mom recently moved and as she was sorting and packing our family home, she came across my 4th grade report. It included a questionnaire and a handwritten essay neatly enclosed in a yellow folder.


For your entertainment, here are excerpts from my questionnaire and essay.
Job Title: Astronaut (Mission Specialist)
What does your job involve? An astronaut is an American pilot or scientist who travels and works in space. Astronauts operate spacecraft and conduct engineering, medical, and scientific experiments in space.

Do you need special equipment? They need spaceships and spacesuits.

Why would you like this type of job? I would like this job because I like space.

What might you dislike about it? I might dislike it because I might have a bad accident and die.

Can you find this kind of job in any part of the country? You can only find this job at space centers.

Can both men and women do this kind of work? Why or why not? Yes, except for jobs that need lots of strength.

Astronauts do experiments to find out what happens to animals, humans, and plants in zero G … Space has many dangers … They [astronauts] test how foods act, they listen to music, and look out of windows.

I received an A+!
I don’t remember when my interest in becoming an astronaut waned. Perhaps it was                         after the Challenger explosion. Most likely it was simply when I learned my vision (or lack of it) would eliminate me outright. Perhaps I just grew out of it or a combination of all three. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this and it has been a pleasant reminder that children have unlimited possibilities for wonder, interest, and exploration.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Polenta Rancheros

Summer is officially here and we've been quite lucky in southern Indiana. The summer solstice was followed by several warm days - comfortably warm, not too hot, not too humid - and cool evenings. We've been so comfortable. This is in stark contrast to last summer, which started with high temperatures in April and continued without abating until September. We don't have air conditioning so an extremely hot day definitely impacts our lives. And a string of extremely hot days? I don't think Garry and I were speaking by this time last summer! (It wasn't Garry's fault). Thankfully, our relationship survived last summer's heat intact (thank you, Garry) and this summer we are truly appreciating how easy and comfortable the weather has been. Can you tell that I'm enjoying it? I really am.

Despite the moderate temperatures, we still find lighter dinners preferable as the temperatures indoors are typically warmer than outdoors.  We've been sticking with salad, fresh fruits and vegetables for the most part, but it's also nice to have cooked meals, though we prefer to stick to the range-top and avoid the oven as much as possible. We recently tried a new recipe I've wanted to test for a while, a vegan take on Huevos Rancheros. This classic Mexican dish traditionally consists of fried eggs served on corn tortillas with a tomato-chili sauce and is usually accompanied with refried beans and avocado.   This updated version replaces the tortilla and egg with polenta topped with beans.  It was delicious, super easy and quick ... very little time cooking over a hot stove!

This recipe came from the famous vegan author, Post Punk Kitchen's Isa Chandra Moskowitz (who else?) maybe most notably known for her cookbooks Vegan with a Vengenence and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, the latter co-authored with Stacy Hope Romero.

Polenta Rancheros
from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan Brunch

For the Rancheros sauce and beans:
2 teaspoons cumin seed
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons oil
1 large yellow onion, diced medium
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 fifteen-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teasppon salt
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup or agave nectar
2 fifteen-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed

For the soft polenta:
5 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta cornmeal
2 tablespoons olive oil

Optional items for garnish:
Chopped green onions
Cashew Sour Cream
Cherry tomatoes

Preheat a large, heavy -bottomed pan, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Dry toast the seeds in the pan for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until they're fragrant and a few shades darker (just be careful not to burn them). Raise the heat to medium high, add the oil, and sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic for about 10 minutes, until onion is browned. Add the tomato sauce, salt, and syrup and cook for about 5 minutes.
Transfer the onion mixture to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If using a blender, intermittently lift the lid to let steam escape so that it doesn't build up and explode.  
Return the sauce to the pan and add the beans. Cook over medium heat until the beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

In a saucepan, bring the broth and salt to a boil. Add the polenta in a slow, steady stream, whisking as you pour it. Add the olive oil and lower the heat to simmer. Let cook for 12 minutes, stirring often. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

I like to use wide, shallow bowls for this dish, but any bowl should be just fine.  Ladle some beans into the bowl and top with a big spoonful of polenta. Dot with the sour cream by drizzling drops slowly from a tablespoon, and top with a dollop of guacamole. Finish it off with chopped green onions and a cherry tomato. Voilà!
We topped ours with guacamole, red onion, and tomatoes.  Delicious!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!!!

 To celebrate the 4th of July, we went to a baseball game - America's past time -
with Amanda's family.

Ezra watched two innings,
and then he played with rocks for seven.
He did not make it to the post-game fireworks.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Piper v Skunk

Our evenings have been a little hectic for the last (how old is Ezra?) 21 months.  Every night is a struggle to temper chaos as much as possible.  That is why last night was shaping up to be a treat.  Ezra was asleep, the housework was under control, the pets’ bedtime routine finished, and neither Amanda nor I had anything too urgent.  Could it be that we had a few quiet hours alone before going to bed?  We settled onto the couch together to finally watch the Netflix DVD that had been sitting around for months.  Halfway through the first episode of Bored to Death, Piper who was sitting outside started barking.  He was using the loud, forceful bark he reserves for teenagers walking by our house.  Usually I check on the situation to insure everything is okay, but I was enjoying the unexpected cozy, relaxed, and calm time with Amanda.  I did not want to jump off the couch so quickly after settling into this rare opportunity.

The barking stopped as quickly as it started.  We continued to watch the episode assuming the teenagers had passed.  Just as Bored’s main character, an unlicensed private detective, discovered the ex-girlfriend he was pining over was dating the man he had been hired to follow, I turned to Amanda and asked, “do you smell a skunk?  [pause]   Is PIPER still OUTSIDE?”  If Piper had been barking at a teenager, it was a teenage skunk.   Our regular state of chaos had returned.

I thought I did not mind the smell of skunks.  I mistakenly believed the musky, patchouli smell I always inhaled when a skunk passed was their famous defensive stink.  Apparently, that is their normal smell. The foul, odor they produce as a biological weapon smells more like a mixture of sulfur, garlic, and burnt rubber. The smell is terrible and causes your eyes to water and nose to burn.  I now understand why a 5 lb. skunk can cause a 700 lb. bear to turn and run.

Piper is 80 lbs – most of which is fur.  He is difficult to bathe under normal circumstances.  Bathing him at midnight, in our backyard with a homemade potion to remove the stench of skunk is far from normal circumstances.

We did not know where to begin so we turned to the book of answers, the Internet.  The most highly recommended solution we could find to remove the odor was a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking powder, and liquid soap left to soak at the point of contact for at least 10 minutes.  We did this a few times.  We gave Piper two shampoo baths.   Since the hydrogen peroxide mixture is too strong to apply to the head or face, we followed the advice of several websites, and we washed his face with a store bought vaginal douche.

Even with the soakings, scrubbings, douches, and baths the faint smell of skunk remains. The hydrogen peroxide solution worked best, but it also bleached Piper’s black fur.  His back now has several large, reddish spots.  We did not leave it on long enough for him to fully transform into a peroxide blonde.   I’m unsure if the douche really helped that much - I guess he now smells like a skunk in a fresh summer rainstorm.