Monday, December 03, 2007

Still Pun After All These Years

I wish I felt well enough to celebrate this blog's third anniversary in style, but perhaps later this week I can treat myself to the now-traditional dinner at the local Bistro. For this evening, though, I'll take a look at last year's hopes, what I learned, and what I hope to try this next year.

Last year, I had hoped to continue to cultivate a green thumb, though on the smaller scale offered by my then-new apartment. I'm sorry to report that the sprouts I started failed miserably, and I have yet to try again. I did manage to grow some baby (very tiny!) lettuce and some delicious kale alongside my usual herb pots, but it was hardly enough to satisfy me. It's taken me all year to adjust to the difference in light and temperature provided by a large west-facing bay window... and to realize that not many garden ventures will be possible here.

One of the new projects I wanted to tackle at this time last year was making my own fresh pasta. It took until April before I actually gave it a go, but once I did, I was hooked. I have yet to make it a weekly or bi-weekly routine in my kitchen, but I think I'm getting there. It makes such a difference to taste fresh grains, fresh eggs, and occasionally fresh herbs in pasta that takes very little effort to cook.

At the end of last year's harvest season, I declared that I would "try and make [it] last as long as possible... Anyone want to predict how long it will take to use it all up?" If you guessed "until the 2007 farmers' market began" -- you win! In fact, I still have some applesauce and jam left from last year, so I should find ways to use those soon before I dig deep into this year's preserves.

I'm not sure I've solidly established any "new food traditions" this year, though I may have laid the groundwork for some. February's chocolate rampage may become an annual tradition, replacing the Chocolate Potluck I held at a friend's suggestion for four years running, and in just a few months we'll see if I'm so inspired again.

As for new recipes... well, I think at this point you'd probably have to knock me out cold to keep me from thinking about and developing new recipes to share with you!

So what can you expect to find here in the coming year? I make no promises, but here's my own wish list:

1. I'd like to keep more of an apartment garden going, and I've started more kale and some beans as a first step. If at all possible, I'd also like to start a garden with a friend, either at home or at the Inn. I really missed raising some of my own food this year, so I'd like to dig in the dirt again.

2. I'd like to keep making staples (pasta, crackers, bread) from scratch when possible. With any luck, I can work out a semi-regular rotation so that I can have some of these items on hand for busy weeks or for when I'm under the weather and need something simple.

3. I hope to stretch out this year's preservation (frozen and canned, especially) to the start of next year's farmers' market, adding in as little non-local food as possible. I can tell already that I'll need to keep myself well-supplied with fresh leafy greens, whether they're local or not, and I'll have to make exceptions when I run out of local items like honey (already dwindling, thanks to this infection) and homegrown dried mint. Still, I have plenty of food stashed away, and I'll need to find ways to use up some items (like jam) in a more timely fashion.

4. Related to that, I hope to explore food preservation in greater depth, trying new recipes and techniques. I'll try to give more detailed recipes for even the simple preserving that I do since a few of you pointed out that lack this year. And I hope that by reading more and trying more, I'll be able to handle some of your questions a little better!

5. I intend to make time to do more cooking for my parents. It's been so good to have them back in town, even with the Chef Mother's repeated hospital stays, and I want to contribute to their good health somehow. It'll be tricky at times, given the dietary restrictions they now both have, but I hope it will give me a chance to learn more about nutrition and how eating SOLE food (as described at The Ethicurean) can be done on a tight budget.

6. If I have time, I'd like to refresh myself on the basic sauces. I do so little in the way of dressing up my food, but my experience at the Inn has shown me that some of those classic techniques might just be what I need to spruce up a meal from time to time.

7. I hope to reduce my food waste even further, before I get to the point of composting, and I'm going to open my mind to new ways of doing that. I know that sounds funny, but here's an example: When drying red peppers this fall, I realized that since I was chopping the peppers into small pieces, why not save the seeds to dry with them, and then use the lot as crushed red pepper flakes instead of buying that at the store? Seems obvious now, but it really caused a lightbulb to go off in my head. What else can I do? Hmmmmm...

8. I'd like to make the index pages on this site a little easier to use. I know some are getting lengthy, and even I have a hard time finding old articles sometimes. I have ideas for what to pull out into new index pages, but if you have any suggestions on the matter, please let me know! If I have time over the holidays, I might be able to work on this, but otherwise it will be -- as is everything around here -- a work in progress.

That, along with some of the ideas I mentioned a couple weeks ago, will certainly keep me busy and well challenged this year! I'm looking forward to all of it, even next year's preservation season (after only two months off!).

I hope you're looking forward to it, too... bad (good?) puns and all.


At 12/05/2007 7:49 PM, Blogger Alyssa said...

I for one love reading your blog. It especially helps me that you also live in Ohio. It helps challenge me to think about what I can do about eating well, healthy and local. We got our first cow this year from a friend who has a dairy farm out near mogadore. So I'll soon be thinking of new and interesting ways to use beef. I know you're a veggie, but those recipes inspire me as well. Btw, how much sun does kale need? My new front yard faces south though is well shaded with trees, I'm trying to figure out if I can grow edible ornamentals in a partially shaded area.

At 12/07/2007 7:16 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Alyssa! I'm glad to know my ideas and recipes can help you make some healthy meals!

I am not entirely sure how much sun kale needs, but mine does reasonably well for being potbound in a west-facing window. You might even try planting some kale now, if you can dig into that patch a little, as kale does like cold weather. (You'd have to insulate with leaves or a cold frame, but it might be worth a try to see if you can grow something in that area when the trees are bare.)

Otherwise, maybe some herbs would work well in that spot?

I am waaaaay out of practice at cooking beef (about 15 years out of practice!) so have no suggestions of good recipes, but it sounds like you have an exciting time ahead of you, finding new ways to enjoy locally-raised beef!

At 12/09/2007 10:33 AM, Blogger Tina said...

Sounds like you were pretty successful overall in your goals; great job!:-) Could you grow mint in pots in your window to replenish your stash?

It's funny, after you blogged quite a bit summer about recipes and tips you learned about food preservation from Stocking Up, I started looking for the book at the local bookstore, without success. Then we had Thanksgiving at my late grandparents' house (which my dad and uncle still own) in the woods of Northern Michigan, and what did I see when I glanced over at the bookshelf next to my chair one night? Yep, that's right, an old copy of Stocking Up! Brought it home, and hope to use it a bit next year!

At 12/09/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

kale--the more sun, the better. parsley, mint, carrots and lettuce will do well with partial shade. lettuce especially appreciates some shade in the afternoon. otherwise most vegetables do better with full sun.

At 12/10/2007 7:20 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Tina! I'm pretty pleased that I kept on track and kept myself thinking and challenged. I've tried mint in pots... dug up some from the house before I moved... but they can be terribly susceptible to whitefly. The pots I brought with me didn't have that problem, surprisingly, but I still couldn't keep them going. So I may rely on the Innkeeper to supply me next year.

Glad you found a copy of Stocking Up... and in such happy circumstances! I am still learning so much from it...

Ed, thanks for the info. I only tried kale in the garden once before moving, so I wasn't sure. (Hope that helps you, Alyssa!)

At 12/11/2007 3:58 PM, Blogger Alyssa said...

Does one buy kale in a plant or seeds? (says one mostly ignorant of growing anything but tomatoes and herbs, oh and now garlic).

At 12/12/2007 8:52 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Alyssa, I've been starting mine from seed, like lettuce. Sow it directly into the soil (check the seed packet for depth). Under the right conditions, it should start to sprout in about a week.

At 12/14/2007 2:00 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Happy belated third blog birthday. Keep up the great work! Boy do you have an industrious list for next year. It's so wonderful that you are finding more and more ways to "stock up", preserve, eat locally and produce less food waste. It's interesting how we make a commitment in our life, and then fine tune and tweak it. Looking back 3, 5 or 10 years, it's amazing how far we can get by making little changes as our awareness grows. I'm glad you have recovered from you sinus infection!

At 12/14/2007 2:06 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks, Bri! Fine tuning is definitely a great way to express what I've been trying to do the past three years as I learn more. Making those changes isn't always easy, but wow! have they been fruitful!

Health is a marvelous thing... though I admit that the extra rest when I was sick was much appreciated, too. Glad I'm ready to get on with life now, though!


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