breakfast quinoa

Breakfast Quinoa

So the other day, I wandered into my pantry (which is just a glorified word for the never-ending chaos that is my utility room – it just happens to have shelves and is right next to the kitchen) looking for some crackers… and it became clear to me. I mean, I had to gingerly remove and stack jars of chickpeas and brown rice on the floor. All to get to a box of crackers that was hiding behind a 5 pound bag of flour. In a moment of pure clarity, I knew. I needed a pantry clean out.

(I mean, there was some mild cursing when I almost knocked over a jar of dried currants, but mostly it was a moment of very dignified contemplation.)

One of the things I am drowning in is COPIOUS amounts of quinoa. I think I have like, 2 pounds. Which is basically – since quinoa is not very heavy in the first place – like a barrel of quinoa. Sure, there are about a million recipes for quinoa salads out there, but that just wasn’t what I was feeling.

I had tried breakfast quinoa once before, but I wasn’t thoroughly satisfied. Previously I had used rice milk and it just… didn’t do anything for me. It was pretty darn tasteless, in fact. I used regular milk here, but by all means experiment with almond or soy milk if that’s more your thing, and let me know how it turns out. And of course, this is mostly just a base recipe; you can add whatever you have in your crazy, over-stuffed pantry: nuts of all kinds, dried fruit if you have some, honey or maple syrup drizzled on top… the sky is the limit.

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Breakfast Quinoa

Serves 2, easily halved

Gather: 
1 cup quinoa, rinsed until the water runs clear
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
yogurt, to serve
jam or fresh fruit, to serve
toasted almonds or pecans, to serve
turbinado sugar or honey, to serve

Prepare:
Bring quinoa, milk, water, and vanilla extract to boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and scrape down sides. Cook at a low simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Top with yogurt, jam or fresh fruit, nuts, and/or sugar or honey to your heart’s content.

gardening, fish or cut bait edition

Fish or Cut Bait Gardening 1

So remember what I said earlier? How I have no experience with ANYTHING having to do with gardening? Keep that in mind. Because of my insane nerdspaz tendencies, I own FOUR gardening books. FOUR. I had yet to plant anything (beyond the seed of doubt in my mind that any of this will be remotely successful, of course) until this past Sunday. I’ve probably spent more time on Google in the past few months than the people who WORK at Google. If there was a show for information hoarders, I would star in the first episode.

As I mentioned, last weekend I dug up all four of the garden beds, and also spent a few hours looking like an uneducated stalker at the local Southern States and nurseries. Seriously, I went to TWO local nurseries, and TWO different Southern States. And I asked for people’s opinions at every single place I went. At one of the nurseries, a woman implied that I might be biting off more than I can chew for my first year of gardening. (Actually, there was no implication. She straight just said, “you’re biting off more than you can chew.” I left after that.)

I stopped asking people for help after that.

Thus, my “fish or cut bait” title — which is really the Politically-Correct-Food-Blogger Version of another less-than-popular colloquialism that I decided not to use because I’m too classy because I was afraid people would be offended. Basically, I figured it’s time to stop asking questions and just DO SOMETHING.

Fish or Cut Bait Gardening 2

I think, out of sheer terror of not having a plan of attack, I’m going with the Square Foot Gardening technique this year. It’s good for newbies like myself, and it keeps you organized and such. I figure later on, once I get my bearings, I can change it up if I see fit. So at 4 beds each measuring 8 feet by 4 feet, I have… 132 squares to fill with plants.

My first thought was something along the lines of, WOW THAT’S A LOT OF SQUARES. Which was also my husband’s first thought, although our interpretations were somewhat different in a very men-are-from-mars-women-are-from-venus way.

Me: “Wow that’s a lot of square feet. Shit, I hope I can grow at least ONE tomato or else I’m going to look like a total ass.”

Brad: “Wow that’s a lot of square feet. I bet we’ll grow so much, we can sell the extra tomatoes to the neighbors for $6 a pound.”

Um, no, husband. You can go inside now. Go sit inside with your high expectations. Go sit inside where I can’t see you.

Anyways, here’s what has gone in so far:

1 square of lacinato kale (planted from seed on Sunday 3/4/12)
1 square of spinach (planted from seed on Sunday 3/4/12)
1 square of red cabbage transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of mustard greens transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of cauliflower transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of broccoli transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)
1 square of arugula transplants (planted Thursday 3/8/12)

Have you ever heard the phrase “fake it till you make it”? I’m thinking I’m going to officially name my garden the “Fake It Till You Make It Garden” since I basically have no idea what I am doing. Case in point – transplants, how do you plant them? I heard somewhere you were supposed to tease the roots away from the ball of soil, so that’s what I did.

It’s been a week, and theoretically my spinach should have sprouted, but we did have a two nights with below-freezing temperatures this week, so I’m just going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll show up soon. It makes you wonder about using wooden greenhouses sometimes. The transplants look much the same as the day they left the nursery, except now they’re in the ground.

Tomorrow I’ll plant beets, radishes, leeks, peas, turnips, and rutabega. And then after that will come carrots, lettuce, onions, and even some seed potatoes… whenever I figure out when to plant them.

the perfect side: chopped mixed greens with vinaigrette

Confession Wednesday, you guys. I’m having an affair.

I’ve been cheating on the typical winter sides – mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, roasted squash – and fallen in love with the simple green salad.

(I think it’s serious.)

I might be alone in this, since too often I get emails or phone calls or texts asking for a good side dish involving carrots, potatoes, or green beans. Personally, I could have salad every meal. Is there anything more perfect than a simple mixed greens salad with a tangy homemade vinaigrette? (Unless Ryan Gosling is bringing the salad to you, of course. In that case, ignore this post and continue on with your amazing life.)

xx

People are always fascinated when I say I make my own salad dressing, but hand to God, I cannot figure out why. I tell people to try it themselves – chances are they have most of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry anyways. You certainly don’t need any fancy gadgets to make a vinaigrette. And it can be as simple or as complicated as your skills/time/confidence/imagination allows.

The basic ingredients are: mustard, vinegar, and oil. As for mustard, you can use whatever you’ve got in the pantry (although I would stay away from yellow and brown mustard in the beginning – try a classic dijon or country mustard first). For vinegar, there are so many options: balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, sherry, champagne, cider, rice wine, brown rice wine… the list goes on and on. And oils! My preference is a good olive oil, but you can always experiment with a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut, or a flavorless oil like canola or grapeseed.

When you’ve been making vinaigrettes for as long as I have (the last store-bought dressing I had expired in 2009, don’t ask me why I remember that) you end up with an impressive vinegar and oil collection. Which means you can whip up any number of crazy vinaigrettes each night. Add some honey if you want, some lemon juice, some crushed red pepper flakes. GET CRAZY.

And as far as the logistics of making a vinaigrette… step away from the bowl and whisk. All you need is a jar with a lid. Go look in your fridge for that one jar of random condiment that you aren’t sure you’ll ever use again or you’re not sure if it’s still safe to eat… go ahead, I’ll wait. Dispose of whatever ill-fated condiment was residing in that jar, give it a good scrubbing, and you’ve got your very own vinaigrette maker.

xx

Now for the greens. Maybe eventually I’ll get some salad greens from the garden, but for right now I’m perfectly happy with the massive tub you can get from the grocery store. (I prefer organic greens, because then I can rationalize it away when I’m too lazy to wash them.) Now here’s the kicker – I chop my salad greens. EVERY TIME. My sister-in-law turned me onto this — I call her the Salad Whisperer behind her back, because she can make a salad that will bring you to your knees with its deliciousness. I can’t put my finger on it as to exactly why I love chopping the greens up… I guess it really just makes a salad easier to eat. More composed. So you feel like your kitchen is a 4-star restaurant.

I don’t know though. Maybe it’s magic.

So, here’s my favorite two vinaigrettes. The balsamic for if you’re just starting out, and the champagne for when you want to graduate to a lighter flavor. If you’re feeling adventurous, add some golden raisins, dried cherries, or blanched almonds on top.

I’m betting you’ll develop a crush on salad, too.

The Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard
about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
about two tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of kosher salt
a pinch of cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in an empty jar and shake until combined.

My Favorite Champagne Vinaigrette

a teaspoon of champagne mustard (like Cherchies)
about two tablespoons of champagne vinegar
about two tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of kosher salt
a pinch of cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in an empty jar and shake until combined.

thoughts from early march

One of my goals with the new house was to start a garden. We’ve never lived in anything but an apartment, and sadly, those two apartments came sans backyard, sans front yard, sans balcony for pete’s sake. The extent of our gardening experience was receiving one of those Aerogardens for a wedding gift.

So, back in October, I guilt-tripped my father and brother into coming over to help me put together four raised garden beds. I would have done the beds all by myself, but I own neither an electric drill (yet) or enough muscles to screw two large pieces of wood together (probably never). For the record, I ended up using non-toxic-pressure-treated wood to make my raised beds. I mean, I would have loved to use pure cedar or some other naturally-non-toxic-won’t-warp-in-Virginia-monsoon-season wood, but I would prefer to only have my name on ONE mortgage document this year. I know everyone harps on never using pressure-treated wood because the chemicals will leach into the food that you’re growing, which makes perfect sense. But the wood we bought apparently doesn’t have the crazy chemical that regular pressure-treated wood has on it, and it was only like, $1 more per foot. It will totally suck if one day I wake up with an extra arm and you guys will be all, I TOLD YOU SO CARTER. And I will be all, you’re right, but think of all the awesome things I can do with an extra arm, you know?

Next: Dirt. We needed dirt. I ordered 6 cubic yards of a 50/50 topsoil/compost blend, which was delivered to my backyard, and which I shoveled into each of the four beds. Shoveling 6 yards of dirt makes you freaking ripped, by the way. Also sore. I think I barely moved for a week after that.

Of course, after all this work, it was the end of October and therefore too late to plant anything for the fall season… I think. (In hindsight, this winter was so mild I probably could have at least planted some mixed lettuces and they would have been fine but, hey, you live and you learn.) So I basically let my beds sit untouched for about 4 months until this past week, when I dug them up. Theoretically I could look at those 4 months of doing nothing as a waste of time, but I opt to think of it as time to let the nutrients of the compost and topsoil work. (Read: I am rationalizing my laziness. So what.)

So I dug up my raised beds. Added compost and composted cow manure and mushroom compost and something called “greensand,” per the local nursery’s recommendation. I moved around lots and lots of dirt. I’ve been asked how to become a real estate agent. I listened to music on my headphones while I moved dirt. I got blisters on my thumbs from where I moved dirt. I ordered gardening gloves so I could move dirt more effectively.

And I enjoyed it.

Sort of crazy when you think about it, I guess.