Thursday, October 14, 2010

Peach Panic

In late July/early August I got buried under 70 pounds of peaches. You read that right. I got nailed with 3-5 pounds of peaches daily. I have made frozen peaches, peach stuff, peach jam, peaches over ice cream, canned peaches, peach hooch (vodka and brandy), peach crisps and peach smoothies. Next year I'm trying peach leather and Jamaican jerked peaches.

I became a peach pusher.

I took peaches to classes. I left unmarked bags of ugly peaches on porches. I became embarrassed explaining to everyone why my peaches are so ugly--Coryneum blight, people. Also called shot hole disease, California blight, peach blight or pustular spot, all caused by the fungus Coryneum carpophilum. 'Elberta' peaches are really bad to get it, and the humidity of the Eastern seaboard never lets up.

Other than the zinnias, the rest of the garden died in this year's heat. Broke my heart. I bled peach puree everywhere.

I stopped pushing peaches and just scrambled to use the damn things. My garage is now an advertisement for Ball canning supplies. I went to the Amish country of Ohio and scanned the Internet, looking for peach tips. MP couldn't find anything in the freezer because it was packed with peaches. I ate peach smoothies for two weeks.

MP dislikes peaches. I began to resent his tastes.

I learned that click bugs really click and that it takes ants 2 days to bury a whole peach.

The canned peaches were terrible--too soft. MP suggested granitas. With a generous shot of dark rum it was awesome. Peach daiquiris were not far behind. The peach hooch was a disaster; it tasted like cough syrup and I could not tell which was the vodka and which was the brandy.

Any post I made from July through August would have read like Dr. Miles Bennell screaming, "Look, you fools, you're in danger! Can't you see?! They're after you! They're after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone! THEY'RE HERE, ALREADY! YOU'RE NEXT!"

After that, there was really nothing to post about, because when you're surrounded by peaches and it's 95 degrees and you've already spent 4 hours next to the stove, experimenting baking with hamburger buns just sounds like a bad idea.

But I'm excited now. Because it's cooler, because the peaches are all gone. Because I'd like to tell you about my recipes for bread and thin mints and hamburger buns.

Still there are peach mysteries out there. One last peach hung and hung on the tree for days, hard as a Styrofoam ball... and then it was gone. Did one of my young neighbors pilfer it? Doing some work in the flowers up next to the house, I found a pile of 20 peach pits. What stacked them there?

For the moment, the peach tree is still. I eat my toast with peach jam and plan for the holidays.

Hey Aunt Marsha, guess what you're getting for Christmas!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is That... A Ripe Peach? A Gluten-Free Bun?

For somebody who really hates to travel, I do an awful lot of it.

This latest round wasn't too bad (MP cooked), but there was one really dismal restaurant meal. I ordered from their "gluten-free menu" and got, exactly, a piece grilled salmon, grilled asparagus, and a lemon-half. There was no salt or pepper on the fish or asparagus. No butter or oil. No herbs. Nothing. What I listed is what I got on the plate.

It wasn't about good food; it was about not getting sued. I thought, "Dude, are you even trying in there?"
____________________________________________________________________________


All these little peaches out there look like this:


Except for these three. And I have no idea what's up with this.


They're very close to the ground (I totally should have cut that branch this spring but I didn't because I am a wimp)and maybe... Nope. I got nothin', just three mutant peaches. I check out the big one and, alas, it has some end-rot or something. It would never last in this heat. I squoze it a little and... huh?

Ladies and Gentlemen, is this not a ripe peach?



I ate it and it was divine. Ripe peaches in June? Whoever heard of such a thing? Elberta is supposed to be a late-season, August-September peach, and I get mine at the end of July -- except for this, and I don't know what this is.

Gardening is very engaging. Little mysteries everywhere.
____________________________________________________________________________




Look at this.

Yes, go ahead. I'll wait.

Do you see that? Do you see that bun? I made that bun! An honest-to-goodness hamburger bun, the likes of which I have not had in seven years! (BTW -- the beer in the back is a K├Âlsch, which was a great choice with the burger.)

There are still some issue to be worked out, but I am seriously on to something. When I get this ironed out, you can bet I'll post it here!

And there's a restaurant I know of that needs some recipes, too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Love and Lemon Squares

There is a mockingbird perched in the peach tree, panting. No one believes me when I tell them birds pant when they're hot, but it's true.

Welcome summer. I want lemon squares.

Not that I know anything about lemon squares. I've never made lemon squares before, my mother never made lemon squares, and I have no childhood memories of tire swings (ours was made out of a plank), swimming pools (it was a creek), or nibbling tart lemony confections on a screened-in porch at twilight (okay, that I totally made up). At some point in my life I must have eaten them -- except I can't say when -- and at some point in my life I knew I would someday want to make them because I have no less than five different recipes clipped from magazines and saved in my baking binder.

Nevertheless, it's hot and I feel the lemon square call of shortbread and tart citrus and a fine dusting of powdered sugar.

I confessed all this to MP one afternoon. As there are only two of us in the house, I can't really see any point in whipping up a batch of something only to find out upon completion that MP has always hated what I just whipped up. Seeing as I had five different recipes, each claiming to be the One True lemon-square, I asked MP if he liked lemon squares and if he had any opinions about them.

Confronted with the possibility of lemon squares, MP leapt into action. He studied the recipes with much frowning and tongue clicking. On the subject of zest-usage he could see both pros and cons; on the matter of powdered sugar he was absolute -- there can be no lemon square without powdered sugar. Not only did MP have an opinion about lemon squares, but he provided me with the exact mathematical ratio of lemon curd to shortbread that would optimize for lemon square perfection.

Suddenly this became much more intimidating. I wasn’t sure I could whip up what is essentially a two part dessert (shortbread plus lemon custard) with such precision.

“Don’t worry if they don’t come out perfect,” replied MP, “I’ll eat the evidence.”

Love takes many forms.



I went with Joanne Chang’s lemon bar recipe from a 2002 issue of Fine Cooking. Because her ingredients were also listed by weight, it made the conversion to gluten-free easier for me. I did 4 oz of my white rice/tapioca starch/potato starch blend and 2 oz of brown rice flour, which gave me a bit over a cup of flours. With an added ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum, I had my GF shortbread base.

A word on curd: once again, here’s a recipe that uses eggs in ways the casual baker may not have tried before. Try it anyway -- yes, making your own curd is some trouble, but it is worth it.


And strain your curd! I have no idea what this cruft is. I didn't scramble my eggs when tempering them, I swear! I'm gonna claim that the cream curdled because of the acidity of the lemon juice.


A strained curd is a smooth curd. This is what is meant by "coating the spoon."

Ms. Chang and MP disagree on both the ratio of curd to shortbread and the powdered sugar issue. In her experience customers love the thicker layer of lemon curd, and she doesn’t feel that the bars really need the layer of powdered sugar. MP is a shortbread hound and likes many of his baked goods to be topped with a sugar crust. I would say that these are philosophical differences in the lemon square vision, and each baker must follow their heart.


I did not pour all of the lemon curd over the shortbread, but only enough so that shortbread and curd existed in MPs 1:1 ratio. Having leftover lemon curd did not bother me at all, because I also had leftover macarons in the freezer. Believe me, the curd found a home. In addition, I did feel that the lemon squares required a faint dusting of powdered sugar –- but only upon serving (left on the bars it melts right into the curd), passing the sugar so that each could arrive at his own level of sweet perfection. (Note: one of those hinged tea-balls makes a great powdered sugar shaker.) They need to be stored in the refrigerator; the shortbread is pretty buttery and it helps the cut bars keep their shape.

For someone who had no previous lemon square experience, I was pretty pleased with myself. And true to his word, MP ate the evidence.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Around the Yard -- Peaches

Stepped out with my coffee one morning to survey the yard and I saw this little guy:


He was so cute, I stalked him.

I have no idea how he got in. I just had a new gate and fence installed for the very purpose of keeping bunnies out. This little guy was not ten feet from my tomato seedlings. This did not amuse me. Taking pictures, I knew at some point he would run, and then I'd find out how he got in.


I got pretty close.

I finally dropped the camera and thought, 'Well you dumb bunny, just how close are you going to let me get?'

Not closer than that. He took off toward the gate. But I guess when you are very young and small you panic easily. He went and donked his wee head on the gate. But on the next try, to my surprise, that little guy squoze between the gate and the gatepost! A two inch gap, maybe? I dashed to the gate behind him to see where he went.

Nowhere, I guess. No bunny in sight.

That a bunny broke into my back yard reminded me that a) it's time to get the tomatoes in the ground, and b) I'd better make sure all the little green peaches are up off the ground. Rabbits will eat little green peaches, and if they know there are green ones, they will hang out looking for ripe ones (says my inner Farmer MacGregor, anyway).


When we got back from Paradise, I thinned the peaches (left). Today, I thinned them some more (right). All told I think I thinned five pounds of green peaches. It was a great fruit set this year, and I'm very excited.

I'm really bad to thin peaches. I'm too tender-hearted. All those beautiful clusters of three and four and five peaches look like a turn of the century postcard! But I must be firm. Two reasons: thinning the peaches in the long run gives you bigger peaches and helps keep the tree producing year after year without skipping.

And here's the second reason:


Do you see that, that crescent-shaped mark on the peach? That's from a plum curculio. These little bugs look for the surface where two peaches touch and enter one of the peaches at that site. It's protected there; predators can't see the mark. Thinning peaches so they're 6-8 inches apart puts a crimp in plum curculio style -- no cozy, inside surfaces.

I have a feeling that part of the reason a few peaches have been dropping is not just that the tree is unloading. I think the curculios have been busy. Well, I can get busy, too.


It's not like we're suffering here. Plenty of peaches. Still, you know, there's the oriental fruit moths. And then the mockingbirds -- first year I covered the tree with netting, but this year it's so big I'm not sure I can.

Harper Lee tells us it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, but I sure would thwack one with a peach-pit if it ever went after my peaches. It's the way they do it; they use their beaks like a knife and spoil the peach and move on to the next one.

Now if mockingbirds ate plum curculios, that would be different...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

True Adventure – Tomato Basil Risotto

 When you are Very Young, Adventure sounds like a Wonderful Thing. Unknown lands! Exploring new places! Experiencing new foods! But when you become Older, “Adventure” seems more like “Bother.” Fingers get pinched, feet get sore, bowels are unsound, and figuring out where to eat night after night is a chore.

It isn’t easy to travel gluten-free. Sometimes you end up eating plain, crappy food—or none at all. Airports are a carbohydrate wasteland. In public spaces, we want to be sure we are never more than 200 yards from a soda. "Shelf-life" is a problem for food chemists, not chefs.

Of course I pack my own food—what the TSA will allow. But one cannot feel satiated on fruit and nut bars. Salad doesn’t quite cut it, either. Besides, after eight hours in an airport, who wants to eat iceberg lettuce out of a cup? Forget the dressing; “modified food starch” could mean anything. (Note to self: learn to make beef jerky.)

Arriving at a restaurant isn’t always better. The best people: bartenders who know nothing about food allergies, say so, and are willing to go into the kitchen and read the labels on the boxes for you. The worst people: servers who assume they know about food allergies and, as a result ask neither you nor the kitchen staff any further questions. It is very common for servers to confuse “gluten-free” and “low-carb.” If only you knew how many times waiters have refused to serve me French fries...

My vacation was fun, we had a wonderful time, and there is no doubt in my mind that I ate wheat and got sick from it. We were ready to come home for some comfort food.

Risotto fits the bill nicely. It’s hot, creamy, and eaten with a spoon (okay, a fork if you want, but spoons work better in bowls). It can be made in endless varieties of flavors, vegetarian or not, as a main course or a side accompaniment. It knows no season. Risotto rocks. It’s no accident that one of New York City’s premiere gluten-free restaurants is named Rissoteria.

So, ah... Why am I not showing you a picture of this fabulous Tomato Basil Risotto of which I speak? Well, um... It’s MP’s fault. He made it, and it was so fabulous, I thought, “This is absolutely my next post!” but we’d eaten it all so I was going to photograph the leftovers when I had them for my lunch but MP who almost never eats leftovers snuck into the kitchen and ate it for his lunch and there wasn’t any to photograph. The fiend.


Here. This picture is from Last Night’s Dinner, which is where we got the recipe from. Yes, it really looks that fabulous.

Many instructions for risotto are very hyper-vigilante, “You Must Keep Stirring!” but really, risotto isn’t that much of a diva. The texture will still be lovely even if you only stir it every few minutes. If you’ve never done a risotto, this tomato-basil version is a lovely place to start.

When you are Young, Adventure is Grand; when you are Old, it is a Bother. When you can embrace all that Adventure can be, knowing that the best part of Leaving is Returning to your own Home Cooking, then you have reached just the Right Age.

Looking over our photos, MP and I think we’re pretty darn close.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why yes, I was stranded on a tropical island...




Seriously, I was. I have pics to prove it!

Wow. Even I think it looks Photoshopped. It wasn't but... Wow. Blue water.

Alas, lovely as it was, tropical islands are not known as hotbeds of gluten-free eating. This one sure wasn't. Boy howdy, was I ready to come home to bake and cook.

I'm working on some ideas right now, really wonderful things. Ideas like this:


That's a hot dog bun, folks. A bit craggy, but decidedly gluten-free. But who knew that attempting to create a GF bun would lead to such a philosophical discussion of just what is a hot dog bun and what is its purpose? Trust MP to get straight to the heart of the matter: It's a bun. It holds the hot dog. That's it. It's not complicated.

And this:

You see those? Those are the peaches I had to pick off because there were too many on the tree! And I could still stand to go over the peach tree again! I am very excited.

So sorry for the delay. I'll spare you the GF woecake and get cooking!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sleepless Nights -- Macarons

My first experience with macarons was a cell-phone charm.

This one, actually, from Q-Pot, Japanese purveyor of exquisitely crafted food as jewelry (the top image). I think all their cell-phone charms are gorgeous, but I found something particularly captivating about macarons with jewels stuck in buttercream. At 3,780 Yen, this is a $40 cell-phone charm.

I saw it, wanted it, and immediately went to Strapya World and bought the $10 knock-off (the image beneath) Not as beautifully crafted, perhaps, but something I could afford.

I’d been seeing macarons (not the coconut-meringue cookies called “macaroons,” but these brightly colored confections) pop up here and there in chicey-poo-poo magazines dedicated to travel and cooking. The articles inevitably waxed poetic about fanciful flavor combinations (wasabi-grapefruit! White truffle-hazelnut!) and a divinely chewy/crunchy texture, but I didn’t really pay them much attention other to think that macarons were another very pretty example of Pastries I Can’t Eat.

Then I found out that they are gluten-free.

Macarons are appealing on several levels. They are beautiful. They come in bright colors and tantalizing, exotic flavors. They are small, delighting the beholder in the same way that doll furniture, sushi rolls, and petit fours delight. They cannot be bought at Wal-Mart or your local grocery; there is a certain amount of exclusivity (dare I say snob appeal?) to finding a baker that actually makes them. You can’t have them everyday because it’s difficult to find them, so who would begrudge you a few calories when you can get them? They are like a tiny wrapped gift, small and lightweight. Macarons make the perfect Treat.

So... Why aren’t we all out there making them?

Because according to the authors of the chicey-poo-poo articles, that these little cookies are the Divas of the Pastry World. They are fiendishly finicky, easily upset by humidity and the temperature of the kitchen. They can be ruined if you overbeat them by one stroke. Only the truly experienced pastry chef should even dare attempt them, and even then they fail sometimes, and—

Oh, hooey. I mean, seriously? It’s a sandwich cookie. It has four ingredients. What’s with all the drama?

I have done a lot of searching. I have baked a lot of macarons. I can tell you definitively that macarons are not a Big Deal... And they are a Big Deal. It depends on the kind of person you are.

When I see an ingredient list this simple, I know that the process used to combine them has got to be important. This is the case with macarons. You need to understand how each of the ingredients is working in the recipe in order to make the best of the recipe. (I’m sure I just lost some of you right there. That’s okay; not everyone gets excited about this stuff. But you should definitely keep looking at the pictures!)

For some, this kind of recipe presents an interesting challenge, and they just want to dive in and see what happens — like Bakerella at SugarComa this past January. Then there are some people who create macarons with a kind of Buddha-like simplicity. That would describe Tartlette. She has several recipes on her blog for macarons, and none of them involve dire warnings, tears, or drama. Look:


Not only does she make fabulous macarons, but she takes beautiful pictures of them: on the left, Powdered Strawberry and Vanilla-Bean Macarons; on the right, Black Tie Macarons

I studied the macarons on her site and the PDF copy of her article Demystifying Macarons from Dessert Magazine. I cross referenced it against other web sources. I gathered my materials, wrote up my instructions, and made my first batch of macarons.

I get it now. From the first shattering bite, I was hooked.

You want to try your hand at macarons? Start here. Her directions are what you need to know. I cannot improve upon these instructions, but I would like to add a few notes from someone who has not had pastry training and who can see where the home baker might get a little nervous:

As I said, macarons are a process. Whatever recipe you choose, you will want to read carefully beforehand, several times, to understand what you’re going to do and when. Measure everything carefully, preferably with a scale, but failing that, use the right measuring techniques for dry ingredients. Get your stuff in order on the countertop – parchment lined pans, spatulas, pastry bags. You do not want to be rooting around in the cupboards in the middle of this.

Believe it or not, baking powder was an invention. Before that, people used baking soda, and before that they either used yeast or whipped egg whites to leaven baked goods. In this day of boxed mixes, we don’t mess much with whipping egg whites, so when a recipe says “soft foam” or “medium stiff meringue,” confusion or uncertainty is understandable. If you’ve never whipped egg whites in your life, you may want to practice with a few just too see what “foamy,” “soft peaks,” “glossy peaks,” and “broken” look like. It isn’t hard, but if you’ve never seen it before it can be rather daunting.

Egg whites smell funny. Not exactly bad, just... not good. And leaving them out in your kitchen for a day or two doesn’t improve them any. This step kind of bothered me, and I couldn’t tell if I smelled an egg smell or the beginning of something sinister. Assuming your kitchen temperature isn’t ninety degrees, just go with it. Egg whites smell funny.


The number of strokes is important. Lock up the cat and send the kids outside, because you need to concentrate and count. If you have never folded egg whites into something before, you will definitely want to practice on a pancake or muffin batter. When I began my “macaronage,” my internal dialogue went something like:

5 strokes: “She’s nuts. This will never work.”
10 strokes: “What have I gotten myself into?”
15 strokes: “Well, at least it will make a good story.”
20 strokes: “You know... This might actually work.”

I found 20 strokes a good place to stop and add any add-ins (cocoa powder, food coloring, etc.). This is also where I began to be much more careful and thorough, turning and scraping the bowl.

But if you should use 51 strokes, the macarons will not be ruined! The point is, pay attention. Watch the batter, not the television.

Tartelette specifically states that powdered food coloring is better than the liquid food coloring we all have in our pantries, because the powdered coloring does not add moisture to the meringue. This makes sense; if the egg whites are left lingering on the countertop for 24 hours, why would you want to add liquid back in?

Naturally, I had to try the liquid food coloring. I'm like that.

I divided the batter at 20 strokes and adding 5 drops liquid food coloring with 1 teaspoon powdered egg whites to each half of the batter. I also tried another divided batch with 3 drops liquid food coloring and no egg white.

Yes, it made a difference. Instead of the impressive shatter/chewy combination, the texture was much more subdued. Actually, I never felt like I got any of the batches baked all the way through; I baked them for the full 12 minutes and then a bit longer until they started to brown. They stuck to the parchment. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t that magical transcendent texture that all the articles raved about. They went from, “This is amazing!” to “Well, these are pretty tasty.”

Can you use liquid food coloring? Yes. But you will never achieve the intense colors you can achieve with powdered coloring and the texture will suffer. I personally will not be using the liquid drops again, and I think for your first batch, you shouldn’t either. If you take the time to make macarons, then you should have them as they should be and experiment later! (That is to say, I haven’t tried gel food coloring yet, and I certainly will...)


I am a terrible judge of size, so I drew 1 1/4 inch circles on the undersides of the parchment paper and used them as a template. It wasn’t until I had actually loaded a plastic bag full of batter and cut off 1/4 inch at the corner that I realized I had no clue how to use a pastry bag. None. But with the pre-drawn circles as a guideline and a few macarons as practice, I did just fine.

After the first batch, I got the Ateco tips Tartelette mentioned in her article; unfortunately, having no clue about pastry bags, I ordered the wrong size coupler. That was okay – the guys at ultimatebaker.com set me straight. As a matter of fact, he said “Just promise to order from us again!” and dropped the right sized coupler in the mail, for free. (Unfortunately, I’m not really sure what size he dropped in the mail... If you’re as pastry-bag-challenged as I am, call and ask. They’re nice.)

 

Using real pastry tips was quite exciting. I spent more time trying to keep macaron batter in the bag than trying to pipe it out. But like whipping and folding egg whites, it takes practice and patience. As you can see, I didn’t manage too badly.

Three of the four macaron ingredients—confectioner’s sugar, egg whites, and plain sugar—are also the same ingredients in royal icing. Royal icing is the mortar of the pastry world, used to make a particularly hard, shiny icing for cookies or to glue the pieces of a gingerbread house together. You should not leave the mixing bowl in the sink and wait to do cleanup, or you will have to chisel dried macaron batter off your utensils. If the batter should dry, running hot water in the bowl and letting everything soak will get everything unglued... eventually.


My favorite combination so far is chocolate mint. Using the recipe outlined in Demystifying Macarons, I came up with:

3 egg whites
30 g sugar
200 g powdered sugar
110 g almond flour
and after 20 strokes, 2 TB of natural cocoa powder

And for the filling, a basic ganache:
1/4 c heavy cream
3.5 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
3-5 drops peppermint oil (which is not the same as extract)

I used 5 drops of peppermint oil. MP informed me that the peppermint level of the macarons about blew the top of his head off. I like things minty, but you need to know your audience.

You can never make too many macarons; they freeze great. I layer them, unfilled, with parchment paper and put in a few of those “DO NOT EAT” desiccant pillow-paks I save from vitamin jars, and let them thaw on the counter for 15 minutes to a half hour before eating. They’re good plain, with jam, with ganache, with ice cream... Sometimes, I just lie awake at night thinking of what to put in macarons...

There are worse ways to spend sleepless nights.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Snacks: The Drama Llama Strikes

My taxes are being held hostage by an accountant who tells me her son is sick with H1N1 and refuses to answer my email and calls. The local grocery is closed for remodeling and I have to drive to a different store, which is always irritating because the shelves are arranged differently. Contractors with pneumatic nails guns are crawling over the back of my house putting up a new deck. And there's one or two other things I could mention, but nobody needs those images -- trust me.

The drama llama has struck and I'm starving and I don't have time to be fixing special snowflake food.

Having appropriate snacks in a crisis is important. Stress can make us hungry as well as give us the urge to gnaw on a fencepost out of frustration. Without having provisions, you're liable to end up eating crap that doesn't fill you up and only makes the stress that much worse. The psychological aspect of an appropriate snack is also key. In the history of the world, no woman has ever had her heart broken and said, "I just want to sit on the couch and eat carrot sticks!"

Healthful, filling, psychologically satisfying. You can do this.

Avocados: They contain fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. Their healthy fats make them deliciously creamy. More importantly, if you mash them up with cocoa powder, soaked dates, and a few other ingredients, you get chocolate mousse.

But if that seems like too much trouble, then go light: slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, squeeze a bit of lemon or lime on each half, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Turkey roll-ups: Forget about the tortilla wraps and wrap your fillings in a slice of turkey -- a teaspoon of salad dressing and lettuce leaves, a bit of hummus and a green onion, or just plain spicy brown mustard and a bit of cheese. Turkey is is low in fat and high in protein, a great source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. Just make sure your source is gluten-free (YES they put wheat in deli meat. Usually as part of a cheap spice blend) and doesn't have a lot of weird chemicals and sweeteners.

Boiled eggs: The Incredible Edible Egg -- The ultimate in portable snacks! A good source of riboflavin, Vitamin B12 and phosphorus, and a very good source of protein and selenium, if you're worried about saturated fat and cholesterol, don't eat the yolk. Dip them in salt-free herb blends.

Have you seen the cute bento egg shapers? Smacking an egg and peeling it is a great tension reliever!

Nuts: Plain, raw nuts. Almonds, specifically, but also pecans, walnuts, and Brazil nuts from the shell (the ones you buy in bulk are old and rancid. If you think you hate Brazil nuts, that's probably why)Nuts are a higher-fat food,but it's mostly heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and they have protein. Two tablespoons of almond butter with a drizzle of honey and cinnamon feels like a very decadent treat.

There is a difference between stress eating (OMG CHEEZY POUFS!) and having a snack because the activity of your day has worn you down and you need fuel.Some might say that these are (*gasp*) high-fat foods and you will gain weight! But when you are really stressy and hungry, you need more than a carrot stick. I keep my portion sizes small on all these snacks -- one avocado, one slice of turkey, one egg, or 1/4 cup of nuts.

Food doesn't solve anything except hunger, and more is not necessarily better. When things are stressy, you need to stop and take breaks. Sometimes creative visualization can calm your nerves... like imagining how you'll shave the drama llama and knit a sweater.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More of Spring (and some Peachy Drama)

Because Spring happens fast, and you don't want to miss it!


This is Persian speedwell, sometimes called Bird's Eye. They're weeds. Each one is no bigger than your pinky nail, but a whole carpet of them is truly spectacular.


Hyacinths, in an in-your-face pink!

Bradford pears. A whole street full of them looks like snowfall. The "pears" are more like crabapples; they taste terrible, but the birds love them.


Star magnolias don't get nearly as big as the great magnolia trees of the South. They make me think of water lilies.


This is also a kind of magnolia called a tulip tree.


A flowering plum. In Japan these flower so early that they're often flowering in the snow. If you see a painted scroll with a gnarled, flowering tree covered in snow, it's either an almond or a plum -- not a cherry tree.


And speaking of flowering fruit trees...

Of course it wouldn't be Spring without a little Peach Drama. The tree was looking really good -- really good -- and then the temperature dropped. MP and I managed to get the plastic over it for a night, much as I did during last year's cold snap, but this time I am so glad MP was around. The tree has grown significantly, and there's no way I could have done it along. As it was, we had to attach another piece of plastic just to get the thing covered to the ground.

But... I can't tell how well it worked. The weather got so rainy and nasty, the tree stopped blooming. The flowers out now look kind of ratty and spent, but there are still buds waiting to pop. Did I lose many flowers? Did I hurt the tree? No clue until it sets peaches. I cannot imagine doing this for my livelihood -- the suspense would kill me.

I keep thinking of a quote or a line from something: "There's a madman in the garden murmuring bits of truth, but if you would hear him you must first get down on your knees." An allusion to the Agony in the Garden? I don't recall. But I do think Spring is like that -- little quiet bits of glory everywhere, but if you want to see them, you must get down on your knees on the wet earth and look.

It's worth it.