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Monthly Archives: March 2012

This year is the first year that we are trying to garden. I tried making a self-watering contraption two years ago that resulted in the most expensive tomato I’ve ever had. I’m going to starting doing a weekly post hear about the triumphs and pitfalls we encounter gardening. Let’s kick it off with a failure.

I turned over about 1/6 of the garden last fall. That are is smooth and ready to plant, save for the stray weeds. The rest has now sprouted some form of grass and turning it over has been a monumental undertaking. I’ve put about 10 hours of work into it and have just 1/6 of the garden to go. I also have the blisters to prove it.

But Drew, what about using a tiller. We’ll dear reader, we have a friend with a tiller, and a we have a friend with a truck, but so far the twain have not meet due to scheduling, work, et cetera.

So the lesson to learn here, is that doing some work in the fall in the garden saves you a tone of work, sore muscles and blisters in the spring.

Something I’ve failed at on here is talking about, or really even mentioning, my favorite preserved food in a jar. So without any further ado, I give you peanut butter!

That’s not just any peanut butter. It’s the most expensive peanut butter I’ve ever eaten. The amber paste comes from Big Spoon Roasters in North Carolina. As you can see, its ingredients are pretty minimal, though more than the Smucker’s All Natural stuff I usually eat. It could have been the $14, including shipping, I paid or the addition of sweetness that I’m normally missing via Smucker’s, but I have to say this is the best peanut butter I’ve had, ever.

It wasn’t velvety smooth, but it wasn’t chunky, it was more of a coarse texture. Most of it got consumed by me standing over the jar with a spoon, though some did make it into my oatmeal.

I wish I had saved some to cook with, whip up a peanut sauce for some Thai inspired dish, but it was too delicious to save, and I’m too impulsive. Big Spoon has 3 other butters that I’d love to try, but their costs, plus shipping, are a little prohibitive for me. Maybe if I make it to North Carolina.

I’m not sure if it was the title for yesterday’s post, my most recent purchase, or whether I’m truly obsessed, but I dreamed about cookbooks last night. I dreamed that someone was trying to take and ruin my favorite cookbook. That should be an offense punishable by a 10 year prison sentence. As should any book giving stealing. (Though the law would have the obvious exception that if you loan a person a  book, it is, under the blind eyes of the law, the same as giving the person the book.)

Anyway.

Out of my favorite cookbook came the recipe for cured salmon my wife and I tried. We’re total salmonfiles, and lox is so expensive that it just made sense to craft the cured fish at home. It worked amazingly, and we’ve done it a few times since.

This past week I tried a slightly different recipe, and had just as good of results. Though honestly, next time I will likely frankenstein the two recipes to create a better one. (Anyone who ever does anything in the kitchen usually thinks they can improve on a better cook’s recipe, don’t they. Bunch of horses asses, thinking they know better, not knowing the many failures it took to get that recipe they used perfect. #sarcasm Are hashtags acceptable outside of twitter? Or does it just make me look like I’m trying too hard? Weigh in in the comments section!)

Unlike the original cured salmon recipe, this one uses no dill nor booze. It’s pretty simplistic.

All you need is salt, sugar, pepper and salmon. Plus a big glass bowl, a small glass bowl and some plastic wrap. That’s it. Five days later you’ve got some delicious cured salmon. 

The weather here has been unseasonably warm. I’m assuming it’s like that for the rest of the country too. Beyond my own personal first of wearing shorts before May, the warm weather means the growing cycle here is ahead of schedule. That’s great! More fresh, local food sooner. But it also is putting some pressure on us first time gardeners to get our soil worked over and early spring plants planted.

I’ve been doing some reading in anticipating what needs planted when. The Internet is obviously an amazing source of knowledge on that. And I’ve got a trove of books about gardening, some specifically about Illinois, thanks to generous family members. (Though it obviously benefits them if the garden succeeds because they’ll get canned veggies, salsas, hot sauces and whatever other experiment I get over zealous on and make too much of.)

Still my favorite book, and go to reference is a text from 1943.

The descriptions include how to plan, when to plant, days to harvest all the basics you would expect. The way it’s presented, and the little bit of history about each plant make it actually fun to read. And it has tips in it that seem like they were lost for a few decades, before being rediscovered by those wanting to grow “organically.” I put organically in quotes because of these tips are presented as matter-of-factly instead of the “alternative” to chemicals.

The first round of plants will go in next week, hopefully. I’m thinking carrots, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, potatoes and onions. I’ll post pictures once everything is under way.

There are few things that can cause greater waves of nostalgia than the smells and tastes of foods we hold dear. Biscuits and gravy will forever take me back to my parents kitchen on lazy Saturdays. Summer to me is fried zucchini and BLTs.

For my father, those smells and tastes are rooted in Cajun cooking. He grew up in Melder, the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. It was the land of red beans and rice, jambalaya, and crawfish boils. So it’s no surprise that he finds solace in visiting the Cajun Connection in Utica, Illinois. Not only can he get the Cajun classics, he can jab with the restaurant’s owner, another transplanted Louisianan known as Cajun Ron.

On their last excursion north to get a taste of the south, my folks and their friends got a tour of Ron’s kitchen and were given a special treat.

Yes, that’s an alligator tail he’s holding up.

“While in the kitchen, Ron cut slices from the best part of the tail for us – he called it ‘gator loin’ and breaded/fried it while we stood there.  It literally melted in our mouths.”

That wasn’t the end of the kitchen treats.

“He then sliced off a bit and dropped it in the deep fryer for a moment, took it out and coated it in his own home-made buffalo sauce – fried it again (never seen that done before) and then sprinkled it w/ the same sauce.  Wow!”

I’m one of those people who doesn’t need a memory to have nostalgia for a time and place. Reading my dad’s email I can almost hear the accordions and washboards in the background. I’m in my lightest collared cotton shirt, the sweat refusing to evaporate from my face because the humidity is at 90 percent. My friends and family are sitting around, enjoying some gator, Boudin balls and cornbread. Washing it all down with a cold beer.

Laissez les bon temps rouler

The project that set me off blogging again was brewing a gallon of peanut butter beer. Opened a bottle the other day and it was like I struck oil in my friends kitchen. The beer shot out of the bottle and I was left dumbfounded. I hadn’t shaken the bottle or anything. What I did, was put too much priming sugar in the mix. Usually the sugar would give your beer a nice carbonation. Over prime it too much and your bottles might explode. I didn’t do that, but as you can see below, you an’t exactly open one of these in the middle of a party.

Post Script:

Despite the volcano-like effect, the beer is still pretty delicious.

NPR has a nice introduction to do-it-yourself kitchen projects, with a few ideas for first time projects.

My favorite line from the story

The possibilities for do-it-yourself culinary projects are endless, I soon discovered, though I also discovered I had a tendency to go overboard.

That seems to ring especially true for me. Though, unlike the author, I never have this following thought.

I was at the farmers market last summer stocking up on cucumbers to make my own pickles (green beans, too). As I passed by the honey stand, I wondered if it might be too much to cultivate a hive on the fire escape outside my bedroom window. Would the neighbors really mind? …I quickly — and wisely — nixed the budding beekeeper idea.

Nix an idea? Pffff.