Thursday, April 8, 2010

Foodie Friday Survival

I don't know about you, but I've gained weight since Foodie Friday began. Just viewing the delicious recipes sends me waddling to the kitchen for instant gratification: potato chips, cheddar goldfish, cookies, even Little Debbie Hostess Cakes.
This week, I decided to arm myself with low-calorie nibbles. Grapes are 100% out because they're toxic to dogs. Kettle Popcorn has small 100 calorie bags--not bad (but it's a little sweet, which can be good if you are in the mood for that).
My mother, who is very thin, says that vegetables are always a safe bet.

So I settled on hummus (70 calories per 2 tablespoons) and cut-up vegetables.

Bandwidth hates hummus (that's okay, more for moi) but he kindly posed.

I'm a little behind this week. My husband just got out of the hospital today (we thought he had appendicitis but it wasn't--yay!). The winner of the contest will be announced tomorrow.
If you are participating in this week's Foodie Friday, Mr. Linky awaits your permalink.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Semi Rustic Nectarine-Berry Upside-Down Cake PLUS a 24-Hour Contest

Why do grocery-store strawberries look fresh and unblemished in the produce department and on the way home, they deteriorate? Why do almost ripe nectarines wither and darken overnight? My refrigerator is on the blink, but still.
Do I have bad fruit karma?

I seriously thought about letting the chickens have the fruit; but then I decided to be a good farm wife. I removed the offensive spots and made a cake.

It's not the prettiest cake, but I've definitely made worse. This time, the taste was just right--slightly tart, not too sweet. It was even a little undercooked, which made a gooey, pudding-like center. Heaven!

Whipped cream turned bad fruit karma into a decadent, pack-on-the-pounds, thunder-thigh making dessert.

When Dr. Big got home, Bandwidth said, "She made another weird cake."

"Just taste it," I said and slipped a spoonful into Big's mouth. He chewed in complete silence, which can be a good or bad culinary sign.

"The chickens'll love it," Bandy said.

"Nope," said Big. "The chickens ain't getting this."

Semi-Rustic Nectarine-Berry Upside-Down Cake

1 white cake mix
1 box instant vanilla pudding mix
canola oil
3 large eggs
2 nectarines, peeled and cut up
1 1/2 c. strawberries, capped and sliced
1/4 c dried cranberries (I used organic. If you have time--I didn't--you can soak them in peach brandy to "plump" them a bit.)
brown sugar
chopped pecans
Preheat oven 350 degrees.
Spray pan with PAM
Melt 3/4 stick butter
Pour into pan and add brown sugar. Mix. Add pecans.
Add fruit.
If you have lovely nectarines, leave the skins on, slice, and arrange in a fetching, pinwheel pattern.
Mix cake according to directions (but add the pudding mix). Pour batter over fruit. Bake 50-55 minutes. Use a cake tester if you don't like "runny" centers and be prepared to cook a bit longer. Cool and invert. Sprinkle with demerara sugar. Throw caution to the wind and serve with whipped cream.
Pat yourself on the back. Smile when your husband kisses you. Wink at the produce counter and promise yourself to plant your own berries this year. Plus, you have outwitted bad fruit karma.

I'm linking to Lady Katherine's Tea Time Tuesday. It's her birthday, so be sure to stop by for a visit.
Now for the 24-Hour contest.
The prize is a $25 gift certificate to Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
To enter, leave a comment and complete this sentence:
"The last time I bought strawberries, _____."
You can enter as many times as you wish, and your name will go into the electronic "hat" each time.
The contest ends at 10PM (central) Tuesday night.
(Disclaimer: all give-aways and door prizes are donated 100% by Dr. Big and Gollum.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How to Make Lavender Water

Several years ago, a friend gave me a bottle of lavender water. It came in a spritzer, and I used it to freshen napkins and pillowcases. The calming scent tiptoed into my dreams and I always awoke happy and refreshed. Well--most of the time.
I was sad when I used the last of the ironing water and decided to pull a Mrs. Frankenstein and make my own.

Pictured from left: Lavandula Heterophylla (from Publix--couldn't resist), culinary lavender, lavender water.
My lavender garden needs tending. In fact, it looks pretty scraggly. The icy winter claimed two or three shrubs, though this particular variety was supposed to withstand temperatures below 20 degrees. (We bought the plants at Home Depot 2 years ago.)
Naturally, I'm planting more. Lavender likes a sunny spot and grows 3' tall and 3' wide. I interspersed my shrubs with hardy knockout tree roses. Dr. Big, who is my go-to guy for all things biological, says it's best to pick lavender when the flowers start to open. Farmers know those things. Which is a good, because I'm a terrible gardener.
But I'm trying to learn.
The Country House Kitchen Garden claims that "eating sage butter in the early morning was a rule of life for some, while washing their hands in a scented herbal water, distilled from thyme, lavender, and rosemary was another."

I began searching for a recipe. I didn't want to use dried lavender (though it's delightful for culinary purposes, such as shortbread, honey-lavender chicken, and bread). Last year, several bloggers made lavender shortbread, which is one of my personal favorites.

One recipe called for vodka, as the alcohol preserves the aroma longer than just distilled water, but I wanted to keep this recipe simple and opted for the distilled only.
It smells heavenly, a sort of purple-blue smell.

According to A Modern Herbal, "Lavender was hawked around the streets of London with the haunting call, 'Who will buy my sweet lavender?'"
In those days (as now) dried flowers were tucked into linen closets to infuse the scent into bedsheets. The aroma is supposed to be calming, although the authors of Herbs claims, "Lavender oil is a stimulant used to prevent vertigo and fainting."

What You Need:
1 bottle distilled water
Essential lavender oil
fresh lavender sprigs to decorate outside of bottoe, optional
spray bottle or decanter

Pour water into a bottle. I used spring water because it was on sale--Bandwidth, the biochemist, promised it would work.
Add 5 drops essential oil to every 5 oz of water.
If you are very, very patient, steep the water two weeks. If you're like me and can't wait, just spritz everything from tablecloths to your husband's undershirts. Anything spritz-able (not a word, but you get the idea) will calm the spirit and freshen the house.
It took less than 2 minutes to "make" this, including the time it took to find a funnel.
The cost: less than $5. While fresh lavender sprigs are beautiful in the water, they are organic and will make the water cloudy in a few days.

This would make a darling Mother's Day gift...or even a bridal shower present.

"The air was fragrant with a thousand trodden aromatic herbs, with fields of lavender, and with the brightest roses blushing in tufts all over the meadows. . . .”-- William Cullen Bryant
I'm linking to Metamorphosis Monday over at Between Naps on the Porch.

The Country House Kitchen Garden, edited by C. Anne Wilson, Sutton Publishing in association with The National Trust, London: 1998.
The Encyclopedia of Herbs: A Cook's Companion, editeed by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, Dorling Kindersly, Inc, London: 1992.
A Modern Herbal, Treasure Press, London: 1974.
Herbs by Simon and Judith Hopkinson, Globe Pequot Press, Chester, CT: 1989.
Culinary lavender. A wee bit pricey, $6/ounce.

quotation from

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dr. Big's Fruit Cocktail Tree

I've heard of fruit cocktail and ambrosia, but a fruit cocktail tree?
Dr. Big planted one last year. It's supposed to produce peaches, plums, nectarines, and apricots.
"How is this possible?" I asked Big.
"Grafting," he said. "With fruit trees, you can transplant limbs to limbs."
The admittedly small, logical part of my brain, the part that goes numb when I balance the checkbook, thinks Big got snookered. But my fanciful, nature-loving part is rooting for this little tree.

It may never produce a single fruit, but its pink blossoms have brightened our bald, winter-ruined backyard. One thing that amazes me: how did the tree's tag make it through the winter without fading or tearing?

I'm taking this as a good sign. Maybe this tree will be just as hardy.

Like all of you, I've been waiting and waiting for spring. The windows are open and a sweet breeze stirs the curtains. Big says he may have heard bullfrogs down by the pond--for sure I can hear the donkeys bray (they're fond of doing this at 3 a.m.--in case you're wondering, it sounds like a foghorn that got caught in a meat grinder).

I love country living and feel blessed to live on this hilltop.
Happy Easter!