Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writer's Block

I've been staring at a mess of words for an hour now.

Well, that's not entirely true. I stopped to bake. And do the dishes from dinner. And vacuum. And clean the kitchen floor.

So now I'm back at the computer. I'm supposed to be working on my application to Vermont College's MFA. Somehow when I have no incentive to write, I'm prolific. But as soon as I have a lot riding on 25 measly pages, my mind locks up.

This blog is a no-incentive, high-satisfaction medium for me, so here we meet again.

Let's begin with a Bountiful Baskets update:

Blackberry-Banana-Mango Shakes
Thanks Mike, for making it look pretty!

I've recently come into some food storage items, which has been another fun food challenge for us. I made these shakes with
1 mango (BB),
1 banana (BB),
about 1/2 c. blackberries (BB),
1/3 c. powdered milk (food storage),
1/2 c. water (the sink, hehe...),
1 can of tropical fruit plus its lite syrup (food storage),
1 c. ice
and a tiny splash of vanilla.
I modified this recipe a bit from the back of the powdered milk box. They were yummy! Next time, I'd add a little honey and freeze all the fruit before hand. The shake was shake-y, but I'd have preferred an icier texture.

My mom also gave me her old bread machine. She's had it for a long time, and it's always made really great bread. She also gave me tons of bread mixes! On Monday, I whipped up some cinnamon raisin bread. I love the bread machine: throw in the mix, the yeast, and the water, and 4 hours and 10 minutes later culinary magic yields a beautiful loaf of nice, dense bread. I was worried that the yeast might be too old, so I used a fresh packet.

Today, I decided to experiment with the mixes as they were and made some Hawaiian sweet bread without replacing the yeast packet with fresh yeast. Lesson learned! The bread had a great flavor but was a dense little brick. So I decided to get creative and make bread pudding with a few things I have needed to use up.

Hawaiian Bread Pudding
Sorry for the yucky picture; I am not a photographer, just a foodie.

I made this with
about 2 c. of the sad Hawaiian bread brick cubed (food storage),
about 1/2 c. coconut milk that Mike had sweetened a little while ago with brown sugar,
1/3 c. powdered milk (food storage),
1 c. water,
1/2 tsp. cinnamon,
a little splash of vanilla,
and 1 egg.
I mixed all the ingredients together, saving the bread for last. I let it sit in the fridge for a while, gave it a good toss, and sprinkled it (generously) with brown sugar and a few dots of butter. Baked it for about 35 minutes, until it was bubbly and springy.

Oh. My. Word. I just finished a little bowl, and you better believe I'm going back for more. Bread pudding traditionally has raisins in it (we didn't have any, and I didn't feel like them anyway) and is served with a Bourbon sauce which... yeah, again, didn't exactly have some on hand. The brown sugar makes it alllll okay, but I was really tempted to make a Dr. Pepper sauce. But I didn't feel like any more dishes tonight. Maybe another day.

I also made some stuffed Anaheim peppers. No pictures of that. It's not my fave flavor, but Mikey ate 'em down. We had a little veggie cream cheese hanging around, so I added an egg yolk, lots of grated Monterey Jack, diced green onions I needed to use up, small diced ham, you know, all the good stuff. I served it with refried beans and Summer Corn Fritters from that Jessica Seinfeld cookbook. Yummy-docious.

And I'm on a homemade tomato sauce kick. I didn't realize how easy it is to make! Maybe I'll ramble about that another day.

Several random pieces of completely unrelated news:
  • We're moving to San Antonio in August! Yay to Mike for being an adult and getting into grad school!
  • I started a yoga class today. My body and soul are happy, happy, happy. Today's mantra: PATIENCE.
  • For the first time in my life, I have officially "let myself go" at school. I do what I have to do to get it done. I've just been so busy with life...
  • I've planted four pots with herbs and flowers. They're sitting right outside our front door, and I can't wait to see some little sprouts. I check them every day! Hopefully we'll get to our plot in the ward garden soon.
Okay, it's been another hour. Can I hack it as a writer?

Upcoming: My cousin Kristen's Spinach-Kale Turnovers (hello leftover chard!!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Fruits of Bountiful Basket

Well, lunch was incredible thanks to Bountiful Baskets. I had some spaghetti and ham on hand (my mom got us a ham on sale the day after Easter, and we divided it into plastic bags and froze it; I had a bag defrosting in the fridge), so I decided to make a fresh veggie pasta.

I made a tomato sauce with three tomatoes, an onion, some fresh garlic, a tiny bit of olive oil, and lots of seasoning from an Italian blend spice grinder from Target.

Then I pan-fried some cubed ham, corn from two of the cobs, and four mushrooms. No oil needed because of the ham.

When the spaghetti was cooked, I tossed the sauce, the ham and veggie mixture, and the spaghetti in a big pan, then threw about half the Swiss chard leaves, cut into 1-inch strips, on top. (We're saving the other leaves and stalks for something else, to be determined...) I let the leaves steam covered for a few minutes, then tossed it up again.

We ate it with some Parmesan cheese on top. It was pretty amazing. I wouldn't have thought of these ingredients together without buying through the co-op this week. So that's good.

Still, we think the price is a bit much for us to pay every week, so we're going to try skipping a week and ordering after that. We'll be out of town for Memorial Day weekend, so we couldn't have picked up our food anyway had we ordered for this week.

Next, we're going to try stuffing some Anaheim peppers with cheese, corn, and ham, then breading and baking them. I also want to try to make corn fritters from my new favorite cookbook, Double Delicious. Because Jessica Seinfeld's recipes call for so many purees, I think I might get the huge 25 lb. bag of carrots from BB next time (after price checking, of course!) so that I can whip up a bunch of puree and freeze it.

I'm also thinking about mango-blackberry-banana smoothies. Mmm. We're also making a big green salad tomorrow for dinner with my family.

Okay, enough of my ramblings. Yay for spring veggies!

Come back soon for updates on our plot in our neighborhood garden...

The Great Co-op Experiment

Have you heard of Bountiful Baskets? I first heard about this food co-op last fall, but never acted on it as a single lady and never thought to divide the spoils with a few friends. Oh well. Mike had heard of BB too, and brought it up a few weeks ago. We decided to give it a go, especially as we're trying hard to focus on eating fresh, healthy food.

So we tried to sign up for last week's pick-up, but after only a few short hours, all the Utah county spots were claimed and we had to wait for this week to get on board. It's pretty popular, I guess! We ordered the standard basket for $15, plus a $3 charge for a first time purchase and $1.50 processing fee. You can check out the BB website for all their add-ons.

Now, we had a few reservations. Would we get food we'd actually eat? Would we get enough produce to justify the $19.50? Would the food be good quality? We had heard from Mike's boss that the baskets seemed pretty skimpy, so we had our doubts.

I picked up our "basket" this morning. For the record, they have laundry baskets set up in advance with all the site's orders. I simply showed up, gave them my name, and they showed me my food, which I transferred to my own bags. I love that they avoid extra packaging!

Here's what we got:
You like the cracked walls, right?
3 mangoes
6 bananas
1 cantaloupe
6 Fuji apples
6 oz. blackberries
1 head romaine lettuce
1 bundle Swiss chard
6 ears white corn
8 oz. mushrooms
6 tomatoes
6 Anaheim peppers

My first reaction was, "Eh, this is okay." Of the things in our basket, we only buy apples, romaine, and tomatoes on a regular basis. We usually get bell peppers instead of Anaheim peppers. Everything else we like but don't usually buy.

So we got food we like, but not food we usually buy such as carrots, celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and squash. But Mike and I agree that it's nice to have fresh, locally grown produce and we like the challenge of cooking with unfamiliar foods.

But then of course I get curious... What would we have spent on this food at the grocery store? So I went to three local grocery stores: Smith's (down the street from our house), Macey's (on Bulldog), and Buy Low (a little farther from our house but famous for its cheap produce). These are the three stores where we shop, so I wanted to know what sort of deal we really got with BB.

At Smith's we would have spent $28.49! And that's not including the Swiss chard, which they don't carry. Now, their produce was really pretty. The apples were a little bigger, the mangoes a little riper. The romaine there was smaller. Smith's corn was pretty sad looking. The bananas were super cheap.

At Macey's, we would have spent $30.02, although they were the only store I visited that carried Swiss chard. Macey's also had pretty produce; they have a lot of employees constantly trimming and fussing over the food, making sure it's beautiful. The romaine looked nice, but the cantaloupes were pretty tired.

At Buy Low, we would have spent $18.45, plus whatever Swiss chard would have cost. I checked Buy Low's weekly ads too, since they have produce specials on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but none of our basket items were included in this week's sale. Buy Low definitely had the best deals, but the saddest looking produce. They only had 6 ears of corn in the entire store, but they were pretty nasty. Mangoes were cheap, blackberries were super cheap. The Fuji apples were scary looking, though. Anyway, Buy Low would have been a little cheaper than BB, although they didn't carry Swiss chard, and if we do BB again, we won't pay the first timer fee, so BB would still be cheaper overall.

The big question is whether or not it's still worth it. Just because it's cheaper to buy from BB doesn't necessarily mean we're saving money. If we only buy $10 worth of produce every week anyway, spending $16.50 next week doesn't make much sense. Decisions, decisions...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Because I have a nephew!

I've hesitated to post anything on our blog because, well, who can compete with my sweet husband's amazing twilight post about our impending nuptials? Which went very well, thank you!

In other news, in addition to becoming a married woman, a daughter-in-law, a sister-in-law, and (of course) a wife, I have become an aunt! To one very precocious nephew who's turning six next week. Actually, when we spoke on the phone last week, he told me was five-and-a-half. It seems like he's been five-and-a-half for quite a while. What did he want for his birthday? A guitar and pizza. Boys will be boys.

Anyway, this nephew of mine is smitten with Spongebob Squarepants and Cars. Hence, The Nephew is the lucky recipient of, drum roll...
Okay, okay. So I know these little tied blankets are about the easiest thing on the planet to make, but I'm eager to secure my spot as Favorite Aunt to The Nephew, so something had to be done. So I made a blanket. The end.

It feels good to be an aunt. Now I just have to meet the little guy...