Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CSA Share: Sunchoke Soup

This winter, I've finally signed up for a CSA, or community supported agriculture from Greensgrow Farm in Kensington. Yes, there's a farm in Kensington. It's not all bad there.

It may not sound like it makes much sense to sign up for a CSA in the dead of winter, given that I live in the Northeast and local picks in the cold of winter mean lots of roots and cabbage. But I did it. It's been great so far. This week, I got a bunch of Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes in the share.

Sunchokes are related to the sunflower but taste like artichokes. They look like ginger, which confuses people. I handed my boyfriend a piece of ginger and a sunchoke and he couldn't tell which was which. Apparently, they can do a number on people's tummies since they contain inulin. The inulin is part of the reason why they aren't too popular.

But they really should be. Because, as I said, they taste like artichokes, but don't require all the prep of artichokes. They're little tubers, so you can just chop them up and do what you want with them. I didn't even bother to peel them.

I went the soup direction with my batch of sunchokes. If you don't know what to do with it, make soup, I guess. I could have roasted them, but given that it's winter, I have a feeling I will be sick of roasted veggies soon enough.

The soup was mad easy, as soup really should be. You throw stuff in a pot and heat and that's it. I based my soup off of this recipe from the Guardian. I say based because it's in British and metric and I didn't have the wherewithal to convert things. So I just threw stuff in. I think I used one leek, half a pound of sunchokes, and two potatoes. I didn't feel like cutting an onion, so I left that out. Since I didn't have cheddar, chestnuts or parsley, I didn't make the pesto either. My batch of soup made enough to feed me dinner last night and lunch today. All told, good times.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Alcohol For the Holidays

DIY-ing it for the holidays continues to be trendy. Usually, I like to make a few gifts to give to family members at Christmas. Since I've started giving homemade gifts, the bar has gotten higher and higher. Cookies? That's so 2008. Bagels? 2010. This year, my homemade gifts are made out of booze.

Judging from the buzz on the Internet, making your own liqueurs is popular this year. It's also pretty easy, depending on the liqueur you choose to make. I'm trying my hand at coffee liqueur, cranberry liqueur, and the ever-popular limoncello.

I got the recipe for coffee liqueur from Epicurious. It was almost impossibly easy. I did turn my back on the coffee syrup for a second though, resulting in a sticky boiling-over mess. I sampled a bit of the liqueur in a white Russian tonight and it was better than a certain name-brand booze, if I'm allowed to say that.

The cranberry liqueur recipe came from Cooking Light. Again, it was dead simple. Chop up 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, make some simple syrup, add vodka and let sit for a month. I just started the recipe a few days ago, so it won't be ready in time for Christmas.

Limoncello. Limoncello. Everyone gets all excited about this liqueur. It was actually the most annoying to make, as it involved removing the zesty-peel part of the lemons. The zesty-peel part of 10 lemons, actually. Using a slightly dull vegetable peeler and paring knife. I got lemon juice in my eyes twice. Currently, those peels are soaking 750 mL of vodka. After about a week, I'll add some simple syrup and let sit, then strain. I've never actually had limoncello, so I'm hoping it's good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Work of Stitchery

That's my latest stitched piece. It's inspired by a pencil drawing I saw at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Although I had the wherewithal to take a picture of the drawing, I didn't record its title or the artist. Guess I'll just have to go back there and take a look again.

I have big plans for this piece. I intend to do a series of the same design, in different colors and stitches. Some will be stretched over canvas, others left in their hoops. We'll see. In addition to this design, I plan on doing several other paintings or artworks as stitched pieces.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Sunflowers

That thing looks pretty ugly, doesn't it? It's a little hard to believe that it went from looking like this:

To that in only a very short amount of time. I'm waiting for its seeds to ripen and develop before I cut it down.

Sunflowers seem to be all the rage this summer. Every urban garden has at least one growing. I've seen them popping up in random spots such as empty lots in West Philly and in front of gas stations or the CVS. While I'm glad to have grown this one, I doubt I'll do it again. It's a huge use of resources for little pay-off. I mean, sunflower seeds are great and all but it's much cheaper to get them from the bulk foods section at the Whole Foods or wherever than to grow a single giant flower and wait for the seeds to be ready.

The little sunflowers, on the other hand, are very much worth the effort. Look at how sunny they are:

Unfortunately, they had an even shorter shelf-life and gave up the ghost back in the middle of July, aided, as in all things, by those pesky alley cats.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gardentime 2011: The Tomatoes Have Landed

Last year was the first time I tried growing tomatoes. I wasn't impressed. The plant produced maybe 5 fruits, most of them cracked and mottled. This year, I told myself I would stick with a bushy determinate type of tomato. Something small and manageable.

So Lord knows how I ended up with this guy:

That picture was actually taken a month or so ago, which explains why the basil is still small. The plant has only grown since then.

When it comes to eating tomatoes, I prefer the smaller cherry tomatoes. Not really thinking things through, I ordered a black cherry tomato plant from a farm at the beginning of the season.

Small fruit means small plant, right? No, not at all. I'm have really no reason to complain, as this plant has been many times more productive than the Big Boy I grew last year. Case in point:

That's just one day's worth of picking. Last year, the plant capped out around the beginning of August. Here we're into September and the black cherry plant is still being productive.

Of course, this summer was vastly different than last summer. Although everyone looks at me like I am insane when I say this, this summer was actually not very hot. Yes. It was hot. There were a few heat waves. But it was nothing like last summer and as far as being a tomato plant goes, that makes a huge difference. Another giant difference this summer is that I was around during the early parts of it, when it was the hottest, so the plant got more care and attention when it needed it most. I didn't head out on any sort of vacation until August, and by that point, we had plenty of rain and the temperatures dipped down to around 80 to 85 degrees on a regular basis.

I am pretty sure I'll try black cherry again next summer. I may even try to grow two different varieties, one cherry-sized and one larger.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Basil, Basil, Basil

I went a little overboard with the basil plants this year. I picked up two different seed packets, one for sweet basil (or pesto basil) and the other for purple ruffle basil. Basil seeds are super tiny and a lot come in a single packet, so this year, as with last year but more so, I went a little nuts planting them.

A group of purple ruffle basil surrounds the mammoth sunflower (more on that in a later post). Sweet basil covers the soil around the tomato plant and hangs out with the hot peppers, both of them. All told, there's about 15 basil plants in the backyard.

Which means either a lot of pesto or some creativity. I've already put the basil to use in this Strawberry Basil Margarita recipe from The Kitchn as well as in strawberry basil ice-pops, from Mark Bittman at the New York Times.

And that leads us to the pesto. Is it the summer of pesto or does it just seem that way because I have an ass-ton of basil? Saveur had an article on pesto, complete with a gazillion (okay, 11) different recipes. I tried the Pesto Genovese recipe from the print issue. Pesto Genovese is your basic pine nuts-basil-cheese-oil pesto recipe. The Saveur recipe has you blanch the basil first which really affects the color in a dramatic way.

It's hard to believe this much basil:

Produced only this much pesto:

Look at that color. Usually, when I make pesto it's a dark green-gray color, not that vibrant green. While blanching adds a not inconsiderable number of steps and time to the process, I recommend it just for that color alone. I think it also made the pureeing process a little easier. Since I don't have a food processor, I have to use a blender. The blanched, softened basil was easier to chop up, giving me a smoother sauce, compared to the chunky versions I've dealt with in the past.

That batch of pesto only used up about half (or less) of the basil in the garden. The plan is to use it on potato gnocchi tomorrow. As for the rest of the basil, well, I see pesto tortellini in the future. Maybe some more ice-pops and margaritas.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Peppers and More

Peppers, in my mind, are one of the easiest vegetables (fruits) to grow. I've had far more luck growing peppers at home than growing tomatoes or any other plant. Granted, the findings are skewed since this year and last I grew three pepper plants and only one tomato. Maybe the bounty would be equal if I grew three tomato plants too.

This year, I'm growing Purple Beauty Bell Peppers, Poblanos and an unusual pick, Aji Limon. The aji limon peppers that have ripened so far have been super hot but with a nice, citrusy kick. So unlike the cayennes of last summer, I'm getting a bit of dimension with the heat.

The poblanos have been pretty tasty and on the mild side. I've thrown them in a quesadilla and made some casserole using roasted ones. Really, the main reason I picked poblanos this year is because I wanted to make stuffed poblanos and this stuffed pepper recipe that was in Saveur last summer.

Purple Beauty is the fourth type of bell pepper I've attempted. The first year I tried orange peppers, which weren't very profilic, but I also didn't know what I was doing (whereas this year and last I sort of know what I'm doing. They have more space at least). Last year I grew yellow and baby bells, which turned out to be yellow, orange and red. Purple Beauties start out green like all other bell peppers but turn purple much more quickly than a red bell turns red or a yellow bell turns yellow. I find them to be not as sweet as other bell pepper varieties, so they're a good option if you want something between the sharpness of a green pepper and the tangy sweetness of a red pepper.

To end on some bad news, I've had to pull up my chard thanks to a pesky alley cat. That cat decided to crawl all over the chard and use its pot as a litter box. I'm pretty angry about that, since that's a lot of chard to lose to some shit and fur.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Swiss Chard

I'm scared of spinach but I love Swiss chard. It makes no sense, I know, since they're considered interchangeable in cooking. But spinach makes me gag and chard doesn't. So I'm growing chard in the garden this season and it's doing pretty well.


That's just about an ounce of chard. There's a lot more that I haven't picked yet. And here's the thing about chard, it will grow back after you cut it. I'm not really sure how that works, whether it forms new leaves and stalks or new leaves from the stalks you leave behind, but I'm anxious to see it happen, because chard's probably the vegetable I buy (or bought) the most and if it will just keep producing throughout the summer and into fall, I'll be pretty excited.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Crafty Stuff Update

Just finished this sampler the other night. It's not framed or stretched yet, hence the wrinkles.

It's the companion piece to the sampler I finished a few months ago. It's original title was Gray Scale and my original intent was to have it be pure shades of gray, but apparently, you can't get pure gray floss. So it's more colors with gray, which makes me want to call it Gray-ish instead.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Strawberry Disappointment

Look at that strawberry. So plump, so red, it must be delicious, yes? Too bad it was the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth.

I'm about 2 seconds away from ripping up the strawberry plant and putting something else in there instead (after dumping out the potting mix which I'm sure is full of nasties by now). It looks as though I'm just going to get one super sour berry from the plant this year. All the others fell prey to fungus or bugs or just shriveled up and died.

I know it's not really the plant's fault. I take a lot of blame for its complete failure. It's clearly the wrong type of strawberry plant for this situation. I am pretty sure it's a June-bearing type but I lost the tag a long time ago so have no way of knowing for sure. June bearers put out runners, which I don't have the space for, and take about a year to get settled.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Adventures In Making a Portfolio

I'm participating in a showcase day next Monday, held by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. At the showcase, I'll be standing at a table with a few other local dramaturgs, all members of LMDA, while representatives from local companies come by and peruse our portfolios. There will also be designers at the event, as well as auditions for actors.

Anyway, in order to be at this event, I need a portfolio. Which, I didn't have up until now. This is very much not a position I'd recommend anyone find themselves in. I had to review material I hadn't looked at in years and sum up what I did as a dramaturg, which was a little tricky given that some of my projects happened, oh, four years ago.

As I put the portfolio together, I'll write more about the logistics of what went into it and, finally after the showcase, how things worked out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Zucchini Whoa

The last to get planted in the garden this season ( far) was zucchini. The zucchini was an afterthought, remembered only after everything else was planned and only really remembered because I found the perfect pot for it at Ikea.

Zucchini. I know what you're thinking. It's going to take over the yard, like that damned cucumber did last year. It's a vining plant, you'll be drowning in the thing and kicking yourself by July.

Not this one, at least, so I've been told. I've planted the Raven bush variety, which according to the fine folks at The Kitchn, is small enough to grow in a pot.

I've been mighty impressed with this little guy so far. I planted three seeds on Friday evening and already (Wednesday), they've all shot up. I'll have to pull two of the seedlings up, but will wait till they're a bit taller to do that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Stop With the Rain Already

Well, there it is. Everything is out, save for the zucchini, which I haven't planted yet. And the reason I haven't planted it? Because it's been flipping raining for the past week. We just got a reprieve yesterday, when it was sunny and bright and beautiful, and today, when it was less sunny and threatening to rain all day, but hasn't put out yet.

There's those people who say "oh, but we need the rain," every time it rains. True, that's true under most circumstances. But this, this is too much rain. My plants are turning yellow. I just found a strawberry that looked ripe and ready on one side and turned out to be blue on the other.

A person can die if she drinks too much water too quickly. The same holds true for plants. The leaves turn yellow, the fruit rots and fungus and molds take over.

When it doesn't rain, you can irrigate. It's a lot more difficult to pull a cover over the plants when the rain gets excessive.

That all said, not all is rotting or dying. I enjoyed some sugar peas the other day, and I usually hate sugar peas. I also got to eat some of the chard, which you can see growing against the wall.

And my mammoth sunflower is growing quite quickly. This is it only two weeks after planting:

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Here We Go

The garden's actually been going since early March, but this is the first I've gotten around to writing about it. This year, I'm letting myself go a little bit more out of control than I did last year, which means: more herbs, more peppers and a giant (up to 12 foot) sunflower.

Admittedly, I didn't intend for the sunflower. But then the boy came home with an unopened seed packet that he "found" at work, so might as well try, right? We've also got some dwarf sunflower seeds that we're (ok, I'm) going to try.

So this is the list of stuff I'm attempting this year:
Sugar peas (an accident, I wanted shelling peas, bought the wrong packet)
Aji Limon (a yellow hot pepper with a slightly lemony taste. Apparently. I've never had one)
Purple Beauty pepper (purple bell peppers)
Black Cherry Tomato (also a behemoth plant, perhaps a bad idea. But black cherry tomatoes are the tastiest)
Mammoth Girasol sunflower
Smaller sunflower (not its actual name, but that escapes me now.)
Raven's Bush zucchini (a late addition. I know I said no curcubits this year, but apparently this one is actually small.)

In the herb department, I'm growing:
Greek oregano
Garlic chives
Lavender (apparently, cats dislike lavender, so I planted it mostly to keep them away.)
Purple ruffles basil
Sweet basil

I've also put some planters on the wall and stuck some flowers in them, along with a planter of lavender. I'm growing some type of lily, purity candytuft and those yellow/orange flowers you see everywhere, but I forget their name.

There's also some English ivy taking over one corner of the backyard, but I take no responsibility for that.

And in other exciting plant news, we've got a tree in the front now. It's a Sargent Cherry, which means it will produce pretty flowers if it lives long enough. I really hope it survives. We've been fussing over it, but it still seems to be dealing with transplant shock or something.

Apparently, the first 3 years of a tree's life are critical and precarious. You have to water them but not too much. It's also best to not throw garbage all around the tree's mulch or you know, mishandle it. But since we live in south Philly, those things are rather unavoidable. I've already cleared a cigar wrapper, what looked like a chewed on rubber bouncy ball, a cigarette filter and other random pieces of garbage off of the tree.

So, let's see how this goes. I'd still really like a shrub for the front, next to the steps. But I'm not sure what to plant. I'd love some jasmine, but that's more viney than shrubby.

We'll see. I'll leave you with a picture of a few baby Swiss chards that I've gathered from the garden already.

Friday, April 29, 2011

You Need a Dramaturg: "Sweet Valley Confidential"

Whoa. I just finished reading Sweet Valley Confidential, the 10 years later follow up to the Sweet Valley High series (even though the series began in 1983 and then through the '90s, into the early 2000's, Jessica, Elizabeth and their friends never aging past junior year of high school, except to move into some spin-off series. So really, it should be 27 years later).
It was probably the worst book I've ever read. Chunky, clunky prose. Awkward character descriptions. Horrible sex scenes. Wow did this book ever need a dramaturg. Or you know, an editor.

For those of you who never read Sweet Valley High or any of its spin-offs (Kids, Twins, University, Senior Year. There was also, I believe, a television show), it's the story of two identical twins, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, who live in a small town in California. Though the twins look alike and each have "perfect size 6 bodies" (though in the follow-up, they just have perfect figures, "size 6" no longer meaning what it used to), they are nearly opposites. Jessica's the flirty one, Elizabeth's sensible, a writer. Jessica moves from boy to boy, Elizabeth has been matched with Todd Wilkins since forever.

Until Confidential, that is, when Jessica and Todd rekindle some affair they apparently had during senior year of college, fall in love and send poor Elizabeth fleeing to New York, where she sleeps with some other guys, cries after sex and finally ends up in love with, of all people, Bruce Patman. Oh and, along the way, gets a job writing for some off-Broadway review magazine, despite the fact that she has no experience in theater. And Pascal's version of the theater world looks a lot different than any version I've experienced.

What? As a mythology and its own world, the world of Sweet Valley was convoluted to begin with. There were over 100 books in the series, during which the twins and their friends remained in 11th grade. And a lot happened in those 100+ books. Elizabeth was kidnapped, got in a motorcycle accident, their older brother's girlfriend dies of leukemia, Jessica wants Todd (the subject of the first book, actually), and this isn't counting the non-canonical thrillers and special editions. The twins have witnessed more murders and gone on more summer vacations than is actually possible, even for fictional characters.

Okay, so the convoluted, twisted mythology of the series really doesn't have much to do with how actually terrible the follow-up book is, but it doesn't help. Pascal tries to rehash a lot of the characters' backstory, a kind of wink-wink "remember this" type thing that makes the book drag on, especially because she repeats the same things over and over. Yes, Patman was the spoiled rich boy, Caroline Pearce the relentless gossip, Winston the nerd. Got it. No need to say it more than once.

I've no problem with the storyline of Jessica and Todd ending up together. Sure, it's a little icky and a little jarring, as if Pascal is betraying fans of the series, pulling out this quick twist to ostensibly make a buck when women aged 20 to 40 shell out the $20 for the book. The plot twist doesn't exactly help the series' mythology, it doesn't really give the readers any sort of pay-off, but it's not terribly out of line.

Pascal didn't so much write the other books in the series, or maybe I was too young to notice how shoddily composed they were. The SVH and other series books were "created" by Pascal and written by a rotating team of writers. Confidential is written by Pascal and well, she really needed a ghost-writer on this one. The constant repetition makes it seem as though she's reminding herself of the story of these twins or, to put a more negative spin on it, makes it seem as though she's getting paid by the word. A decent editor could have gone in there and hacked the book down to 100 pages and it would have been much more enjoyable novel with a much more engaging story. I swear, when I read about Jessica's guilt for the 100th time, I nearly threw the book across the room.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Adventures in (Cultured) Almond Milk

As a shopper, I'm prone to impulse buys. For example, one time I bought half a pound of cranberry cheddar cheese because I had a sample of it at the store and it was really tasty. Or the time(s) I bought vegan ham. Last week, on a trip to the whole foods to pick up some half n half, I stopped long enough in the yogurt section to notice something calling itself as Amande and describing itself as "cultured almond milk."

As a newish fan of almond milk, I figured cultured almond milk (aka almond milk yogurt) would be worth a shot, despite the $1.49 price tag and the voice in the back of my head warning me about those times I tried soyogurt (bleck!) or coconut milk yogurt (actually okay, but thick, expensive and you can't escape the coconut taste).

So I bought the Amande. Just one container of the strawberry variety. They also had blueberry and peach on offer.

And then it sat in the refrigerator for nearly a week while I worked up the courage to eat it. Today, I finally dove in.

Peeling the lid off of the container revealed a hot pink substance with the consistency of a slightly frozen pudding cup. It looked as though it would slide right out of the yogurt cup if I turned it upside down (it did not). It was studded with pieces of strawberries. A pinkish gooey syrup slid over the surface of it.

I dipped the spoon in and took the tiniest of bites.

There's the thing where you just know, you just have a sense that something isn't going to taste good and that you just wasted $1.49. I just knew after a few small bites that finishing the container of cultured almond milk would be the challenge of the week.

Soyogurt has that taste. I can't really describe it. If you don't prepare tofu properly, it sometimes has that taste. So does sour soymilk.

Almond milk also has a taste. It's not quite as strong as the soyogurt taste, but it's there and it is definitely distinct enough to interfere with your enjoyment of the almoyogurt.

But what put the nail in the coffin or whatever you will for me was the sweetness. It claims it's sweetened with fruit juice, but that trail of sugary syrup goo running across the top of it and the feeling that I had just drank strawberry syrup straight out of the bottle suggests otherwise.

In sum: cultured almond milk: only a good idea if you have $1.49 you can't find anything else to do with and enjoy consuming bright pink, sugary foods.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quilt Finished. Finally. And Never Again

It wasn't that it took me a long time to work on this stupid thing. It's that working on it was just so, so tedious. I just don't have the patience to cut (or rip. I'm a ripper) fabric into that many tiny little rectangles and squares, then sew them together, then sew them together, and still, sew them together.


On another note, I was at the craft store picking out embroidery thread for my next project when I overheard another girl say "I'll never make a quilt." Words I believe I said myself, a few years ago.

Live and learn.

At least it's warm.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Need a Dramaturg: "Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark"

Welcome to a new, hopefully semi-regular post: "You Need a Dramaturg." I think I got the idea for it originally after the first round of snow this winter, when I laughed to myself that the city, with its unplowed streets and sidewalks, needed a dramaturg. But then I thought it may too confrontational and could offend people, so I decided against starting it.

Until now.

Today, all the reviews of the $65 million musical Spiderman: Turn off the Dark came out. And you know what was a constant theme throughout all the reviews?

Not "You Need a Dramaturg," no, not in so many words. But this:

"It’s the storytelling, stupid" from the LA Times

"The much-told woes of “Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark” boil down to a problem that has similarly ensnared far humbler new musicals: an incoherent story" from the Chicago Tribune

"True, signature Taymor touches like airborne puppets, elaborate masks and perspective-skewing sets (George Tsypin is the scenic designer) are all on hand. But they never connect into a comprehensible story with any momentum." from the NY Times

What do those quotes all have in common? That the story of Spiderman is, in a word, fucked. Or at least incomprehensible.

What do we go to theater for? The story. Yes, even if the story seems non-apparent, even if we're seeing a non-narrative work, it's the story that brings us in.

And so. For all that $65 million, you'd think they could have found a few thousand to throw a dramaturg's way to you know, make sure the story shown through. Or help them find the thing in all the flying and stunts and stage magic mumbo-jumbo.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Adventures In Almond Milk

I don't really do New Year's Resolutions. Instead, I set goals. If I reach the goal, great. If I don't, well, I don't. One goal is to make more food at home. I don't mean simply cooking my meals, since I do that already. I mean make foodstuffs that I'd usually buy in a bottle or jar at home.

Almond milk is the first thing I've tried to make at home. I got the recipe from the book D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch. I have a number of other recipes from there that I'll be attempting over the next few months.

Back to the almond milk. It's one of those things that is so mind-numbingly simple to make, but may not be worth it in the end. The recipe calls for 2 cups, or half a pound of almonds, plus 8 cups of water to make 5 cups of milk plus the spent almond pulp, which you can add to granola or cookie dough. The almonds I got were over $7 a pound. A 2 quart box of almond box costs around $3 in these parts, so it's really not cost effective.

On to the taste and texture. The homemade milk definitely tastes better than the box kind. I didn't sweeten mine and usually I don't touch almond milk unless it's sweetened or flavored. In the texture department, well, let's just say that if you pour yourself a glass the homemade stuff and take a big gulp, you may gag. My description of it to my boyfriend was: "delicious, but gritty." That was after the first straining.

It got a little less gritty after subsequent strainings, but still isn't as smooth as I would like. I wonder if using cheese cloth in addition to the fine mesh strainer would help or if I should let my blender run longer.

In sum: tastes better except gritty and costs more. Worth it? Maybe not, unless you can find cheap almonds.