Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simple Lives Thursday #12

Hey, blog world!
It's Simple Lives Thursday, when we link up all the great things we're doing to consume less and produce more.  You can grab this badge and use it on your post.

 These blogs host:

  •  A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa

  • Sustainable Eats


  • I'll have a post later today or tomorrow with an update on my gardening classes soon, but until then link up here and read what everybody is up to as we transition into harvest season.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Project Food Blog 2010 Post #2 The Classics: Palak Paneer, Murgh Makhani, and Naan

    Greetings everybody!
    I'm very excited to finally be writing my second post for the Project Food Blog challenge.  I really enjoyed writing the last post, and the same feeling applies to this post.  It's cathartic to write about why you do what you do, but it's very comforting to return to doing what you do.
    For this post we were asked to get out of our comfort zones a bit and cook a classic dish in one of the world's many ethnic food traditions.  It's a pleasure to talk about the rest of the world, especially in terms of food, and I appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate how I go from inspiration (something I've talked about on this blog before) to a finished dish.  This time, I operated under the constraints set out by the original recipe, since we were asked to remain as accurate and traditional as possible.
    When I was asked to narrow down the field of possible cuisines, I had a difficult time.  You see, I meet and work with people from some of the world's most ancient cultures and cuisines every day.
    If I told you I lived in a small city of 60,000 in Southeast Iowa, you might imagine a homogenous population of European decent.  Luckily for me, Iowa City is a university town and I teach English as a Second Language.  So, I live in a place that's quite diverse and teach adult students from all over the world.  The majority of my students are from Asia, especially China, and the Middle East.  Here's a photo from one of my first classes.  I hope you can see that I get to work with some wonderful people.  (In fact, one of these students was a Korean restaurant owner and sommelier!)
    We have potlucks at the end of every semester, so I've gotten to taste my share of interesting home-cooked food from all over the world. Last week was Mid-Autumn Festival and a student brought me a mooncake.  (Honestly, I liked the outside but the salted egg yolk inside was a little stinky.)
    I have also been invited to food parties at our local Korean church and have gotten to try the basic dishes.
    So, I began searching for inspiration by thinking about the dishes they had cooked me and their home cuisines.  I narrowed it down to Thai and Indian.  Thankfully this was an easy choice to make because I have experience with India, and frankly I'm a little intimidated by the idea of cooking Thai for Pim!
    Having briefly studied Hindi while I was in college, I have always been intrigued by Indian culture.  When I think of India, I think of all kinds of spices and chilis, so I knew it was the perfect inspiration to dig into.  Everything about Indian food is warm and comforting, so it's also perfect for the beginning of fall.  Other than a few curries, I had no experience cooking Indian food, so it met the "out of comfort zone" criterion as well.
    Once I'd decided, (which my dear friend Maggie anticipated on the blog's facebook page) we headed downtown to eat at India Cafe, one of the two Indian restaurants we frequent, the other being Masala, which is vegetarian.
    And, in the spirit of research, we stuffed our faces.

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Simple Lives Thursday #11

    It's that time of the week again, where bloggers from around the country and the world check in and tell us what they're doing to produce more and consume less. 

    Link up to this or any of the other three host blogs:

  •  A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa

  • Sustainable Eats


  • You can use this badge on your post if you'd like:

    So tell us, what are you doing to keep it simple this week?

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Why I Blog: Entry for Project Food Blog

    Hi everybody!
    I hope this Sunday finds you recovered from the weekend and ready for the work-week ahead.  I'm writing today to fulfill the first entry for a contest I entered called Project Food Blog.  The contest asks bloggers to write a post fitting an assignment each week and are judged on how well their post ranks against other bloggers.  Some bloggers pass on to the next challenge, and the eventual winner gets $10k and a year-long feature on Foodbuzz.  I chose to participate in the contest because I hope it will teach me some things about myself and my blog, even if it doesn't culminate in a win.
    In particular, I think participating is worth it alone to be an impetus to write the entry post:  Why I Blog. I waited unti the last day to enter because I'm just like that, but also because this post has been rolling around in my brain for the last few days in various forms.

    I blog because I see it as one crucial part in my learning process in the kitchen.
    I have not always cooked.  In fact, I distinctly remember being a teenager and watching my mother sew and cook while I thought, "well, all that knowledge is going to die with her, because I'm sure not interested."  My uninterest in home crafts wasn't because I was some sort of radical feminist high-schooler; I just simply didn't care for it at the time.
    I started living on my own, eating dorm food, and developed an interest in cuisine. When my thenboyfriend,now husband and I moved into our own apartment, we started cooking together and getting interested in food.  More so even then, we enjoyed simple seasonal foods because we lacked the space/equipment/knowhow to create more complex dishes.  Even though it was a 500 sq. foot one bedroom apartment, we gathered around food with our families.

    We even experimented with photographing food.

    After that, we got married and moved into a rental house which had a gas stove and a kitchen large enough to hold all the wedding gifts we received.  

    We gained experience photographing prep work.

    and entertained friends.

    That fall, in that house, I wrote my first blog post in September of 2007.

    The first recipe I gave was for chicken pot pie, which I still use today.  This is the quality of photography I was displaying at the time:

    I kept track of meals in a food journal.  This book became the seed for my blog.

    Then we bought a house and started to grow food in a garden, and the documentation process took off. We got a DSLR and a laptop and I have worked harder to compose photographs and write up clear and interesting instructions.  We found a passion for local and ethical foods, and enjoyed the pleasures of more sophisticated food every year.

    If you have ever seen this illustrated lecture on motivation (well worth 10 minutes!) you'll remember the speaker discussing the three things that make people do work well.  He was discussing this in terms of a business environment, exploring the idea of motivation, the topic for this post.  He said that there are three things which lead to personal satisfaction and better performance at a task: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  (He discusses this around 5:18 after summarizing a study that showed money to be an ineffective motivator for complex tasks.)  

    These are three things that blogging gives to me.  I chose what I write and when I publish it.  I have spent time and effort improving my level of cooking, my photography skills, and my writing style on this blog.  And my personal blogging purpose is to share my journey learning to find, prepare, and preserve the best food out there.  

    So, this is why I blog.  I appreciate the opportunity to write this post.  If you see it fit, you can vote for me in the contest here

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Simple Lives Thursday #10

    Hey everybody!
    I hope your week is going well!  Iowa City has taken a clear turn into fall weather, with cool evenings and less sunlight every day.  I'm trying to look forward to my favorite parts of the season without letting myself worry too much about the impending winter, so we're spending lots of time outside around the picnic table and grilling while we still can.

    We're canning, freezing, and drying as quickly as we can to prepare for winter.  Since it's Simple Lives Thursday, please tell us what you're doing to make life simpler and prepare for the cooler weather.  If you would like to share, go ahead and connect your post here, or at one of the three other host blogs run by inspiring women:

  •  A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa

  • Sustainable Eats


  • You're free to use this banner on your blog post if you'd like!
    So, what are you doing to consume less and produce more?

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Local Foods Connection Culinary Walk, Year Two, and my First Master Gardener Class

    Greetings readers!
    It's been a busy busy week but I'm finally ready to share with you the photos from the Culinary Walk I went to which is run by the great organization about town, Johnson County Local Foods Alliance.  We went to the walk last year and were very excited to do it again.  My husband wasn't feeling well so we didn't make it to every stop, but it was still worth every penny. 
    Luckily it was another gorgeous fallish day in Iowa City.  This is the view West, looking directly at the Old Capitol.  

    Like last year, we started the evening at the Cow.
    Pork (from my pork lady!) with some local veggies and some kind of green sauce.  The pork was so tender and juicy, and the vegetables were well seasoned.

    Next up was Devotay, who served up a little sausage with caraway cream, lamb meatballs, a wonton with greens, and watermelon gazpacho.

    Then we headed to Hearth/126, where we got a few flatbreads, which I didn't manage to photograph.  We also got this little 'cannoli' and I was very excited to find out that the cream included local paw paw! If you're not familiar with paw paw, it's essentially a tropical-tasting fruit that grows in Iowa.  My guess is that it came from Red Fern Farms in Wapallo, and luckily they're having a farm tour this Saturday!  If you're interested in going, contact them at or (319)729-5905.

    Then we went to the New Pi Coop where we got simple cheddar biscuits and rosemary gravy.  I could smell the rosemary from blocks away, so I was more than hungry by the time I got there.

    The last stop we made it to was the most exciting because we've never actually eaten at the restaurant, Chef's Table.  I have a policy with new boyfriends and restaurants: if they don't stick around for at least a year, I'm not interested.  That policy, combined with the fact that this place is overtly fancy, have kept us from venturing into its doors.  That said, Chef's Table took complete advantage of the Culinary Walk as an opportunity to show Iowa City what it's all about and in my experience they were successful, with a few minor misses. 
    We walked in the door and were handed a glass of sparkling wine and shown a table of charcuterie.  As we helped ourselves we were told this was just the first of four stations we'd be going through in the restaurant, which had been shut down to accommodate culinary walkers.  The dining room is nicely lit, but the tables were a little small for the multiple (totally appropriate) wine glasses, and each side of the room was flanked with soft bench seating, which seemed contradictory to the otherwise upscale interior.  (My first thought was, "if I were here in a pretty dress, I'd be slouchy in this seat", because one comes to restaurants like this specifically to wear fancy dresses)

    We proceeded to the wine room, which has an excellent reputation and has been written up in several publications including Food and Wine and Wine Spectator.  We had a kitchen sink red and a few cheeses.  They were good, and the wine was good, but the room was spectacular and the wine person on duty was friendly and informative. 

    The next stop was the most interesting to me, and I think will be to you too.  We were invited into the kitchen to see the facilities and watch the team prepare a local tenderloin with carrot puree.  Obviously the staff knew hundreds of people would be walking through, but I have to comment on how clean and organized each station was.  The dishwasher food tray was even clean!  I am NOT an organized person, but when I cook I need things to be in their places or I can't focus, so I very much appreciated how systematically the kitchen is set up, and how well the staff communicated with each other.  (I admit my mind wandered to how much all this could possibly have cost.) 

    I believe the man on the right is the chef, who told us all about the dish and led plating. 

    Take a look at this station.  Each of those little bottles holds a different sauce or oil. I want some of those.  Super bright lights over the plates is so helpful, both for the them to see the food and to keep it warm.  

    The result was this plate of carrot puree, local bison tenderloin, local potatoes, and microcarrots with a little jus.  The tenderloin was seared and seasoned perfectly, but truthfully the combination of the creamy puree, jus, and meat was a little on the rich side.  I wanted some acid, especially since this course wasn't served with anything to drink.  But it was beautiful and showed a mastery of the basics of execution.  

    We ended the tour with jalapeno margaritas and chocolate with hops.  The margarita was super sweet but the heat was nice and went very nicely with the hoppy chocolate.   

    We don't invest much money in eating out, but Chef's Table reminded me that beautiful food served well is worth it.
    While we were sad to miss the other restaurants on the tour, the Culinary Walk was a great experience, and worth much more than the food we received.  We will go again next year and recommend you do the same.  It's a great time of year to spend the evening walking around downtown and enjoying the transition from day to evening.

    Aside from eating, I've also been learning things!  I've had one Master Gardener class so far and it was very interesting and somewhat overwhelming.  The two topics covered in our three hours were soil and botany.  The classes are offered by professors of these fields from Iowa State University.  Iowa State is a land grant university, and is very well known for its agriculture programs.  (In particular, the the Leopold Center for Sustainability does great work and is worth your attention.)  
    So, the program asks these professionals, who are some of the best in their fields, to summarize their knowledge into an easily digestible 90-minute lecture.  And to perform it over webcast using powerpoint instead of a chalkboard.  The instructors performed very well and I enjoyed both presentations immensely, though it did require significant mental effort to consume as much of it as I could.  Luckily I had a doughnut made with apple cider from Wilson's Orchard.  

    I put a photo of the soil lecture on this blog's facebook page, which you can 'like' if you're into that.  

    I miss being home since these are week nights, but spending time listening to lectures is better spent than watching t.v. or surfing the internet, so I'm more than happy.
    Tell me, what are you learning and eating these days?

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Garden Catchup, More Thrifting, and an Exciting Announcment: I'm going to be a Master Gardener!

    Hey everybody!

    I thought it was time to share some garden updates with you as we enter September, the first and most exciting of which is that I've been accepted to the Master Gardener program this fall!  If you're not familiar with the Master Gardener program, it includes and education and volunteer component and is conducted by your county extension office.  (If you don't know what your county extension office is, look it up!)  I will be taking classes on everything from landscape design to compost and then will be volunteering at community gardens to earn my certification.  I hope to be working at the University of Iowa's student garden or at the Goodwill garden on the south side of Iowa City. 
    If you're a Master Gardener, I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!
    Back to the garden as it stands now.  It's been cool around here mornings and evenings, but the days have continued to give good warmth and sunlight to the garden.

    The thin and tender pole beans are producing well.

    The volunteer Wapsi tomatoes got a little extra support after the harsh winds we've been having. (Also, go Hawks!)  These are very delicate and sweet.

    Simple Lives Thursday #9

    Hey blogosphere!
    It's the time of the week again (my favorite!) when a bunch of brilliant bloggers link up the amazing things they're doing to consume less and produce more.  I have learned from each and every contributor  and continue to be inspired and motivated by their creativity in using the best nature has to provide.  There are so many thoughtful and interesting posts each week, so I do hope you'll try to contribute and take part in the conversation.
    Remember these lovely ladies host.

  •  A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa

  • Sustainable Eats


  • and me.

    If you'd like, you can use this banner from my blog at the bottom of your post.

    Tell us, what are you doing to consume less and produce more? Link up!

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    Late Summer Salad, with Cucumbers, Kale, and Tomatoes

    Greetings, all!  
    How is your week going?  Truth be told, the first time I wrote that I typed "fall", but I couldn't bear to look at it and changed my mind. 
    Things have been moving quickly around here!  Just last week it was hot, so when these two boys stopped by they needed watermelon popsicles.

    I went to the Coralville farmer's market last week for a change of pace and picked up a bunch of very strange looking vegetables from a farmer who learned how to grow them from two Indian farmers.  I confess I don't know the names for them, but they are beautiful.  The long green thing is a bit like a zucchini, and the bumpy green things are bitter melon, but the one I love the most and can't wait to try again is the little yellow cucumber.   In fact, I think I'm going to grow it next year, if I can manage to save the seeds. (Gardening is awesome!)

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet the lemon cucumber.  Google results for this beauty come up with articles titled "Weird Vegetables" and "It's New to Me"(the latter of which has an interesting comments section) but the facts are simple.  This is a baseball shaped cucumber with thick yellow skin.  The core of soft pulp and some seeds can easily be scraped out, and the flavor is much sweeter and less bitter than traditional cucumbers, thus it's also easier to digest.  While it isn't much grown in the US, it does well in the Midwest and is prolific and easy to grow.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Simple Lives Thursday #8

    Hey y'all!
    It's that time again!  Join in the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.  Just linky up your post at the bottom of the thumbnails and your recipe will be shared among the following fabulous blogs:

  • A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa

  • Sustainable Eats


  • and this one of course ;)

    Give a Homemade Gift: Red Velvet Cake in a Jar

    A couple weeks ago I helped throw a baby shower for my older sister, who is welcoming a baby this fall.  I made some cupcakes for the party and decorated them with chocolate butterflies for the garden-themed shower.

    Isn't she cute?

    Because my sister is just that good, she prepared a wonderful thank-you gift for me in the form of red velvet cake in a jar.  I savored every scoop of it and decided it's the perfect way to give a gift without spending much money or creating much waste.  In fact, the jar she gave it to me in has been repurposed for canning. 
    I thought I'd pass along this idea so you can give simple gifts that are both delicious and beautiful.

    Begin with your favorite cake recipe and cook it in cupcakes.  She used this one, but you can use any cake recipe you like, being sure to watch out for too much dye. 

    Cut each cupcake into a top half and bottom half.  Then, simply layer the cupcake with frosting and fresh strawberries. 

    Simple but perfect.  Giving food as gifts is a favorite of mine, and here are some previous posts about projects I've done.
    Cranberry Clementine Marmalade
    Apple Butter and Preserved Lemons

    Until next time, gift some food to somebody you love!
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