Kitchen fung schway*

I’ve got a problem.

It’s my chee.** My kitchen chee. It’s all blocked up.

The facts:

  • When we first saw this house, the one we bought a few months ago and now reside within, I blogged about the experience here, namely the part wherein I fell back in love with the kitchen sink of our past.
  • When we first saw this house, the one we now reside within, I was quite taken with the kitchen. It had bright white cabinets. It had a nice dishwasher and refrigerator. It had a gas stove. I wasn’t crazy about the travertine floors or laminate countertops, but decided to embrace those flaws as “sacrifices***.”
  • When we moved into this house, and began washing dishes, I couldn’t help but feel a little trapped while standing before the beloved sink. Mind you, there was nothing behind me, and I wasn’t tied to the sink.
  • When our neighbors came by for a visit one night, and we discussed the manners in which the previous two owners made renovations and updates, they told us that the Owner-Before-Last decided to wall-in a kitchen window.
  • That window? The one that Owner-Before-Last walled-in? It was just above where my beloved kitchen sink now stands.

And further:

  • In our last house, I spent all my time in the kitchen. Granted, it was the brightest, most pleasant room in the house. but I always assumed it was because I just love being in kitchens.
  • Since we moved, I’ve spent less and less time in the kitchen. It’s not as bright. And there’s the mild claustrophobia.
  • Not only have I spent less time in the kitchen, but I haven’t really been enjoying cooking.
  • I haven’t been enjoying cooking.
  • I just wrote that.
  • Can someone get me a brown paper bag?

So, I’ve decided it’s the bad feng shui of our kitchen. I need that window back. I’m taking my cue from this example of good feng shui architecture, straight from the Wikipedia page:

I mean, if they can stick a giant hole in the middle of a building in Hong Kong, surely we can manage the same in our Midwest kitchen?

It’s now on the Ever-Growing List of house projects for the husband. The cabinets to the right will come down, the window will be cut back into the wall (the view being the peeling siding of our neighbor’s house), open shelves will be built. Natural light will enter the room from a third source, increasing my chances of daylighting. My chee will flow eastward as I scrub pots and pans.

What do you think? Will all my problems be solved? Will I fall back in love with cooking? Will I finally be happy?:

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* Yes, I know. It’s really spelled feng shui. But I’m from the South & Midwest, and it just doesn’t seem quite authentic to spell it correctly, since what I’m writing about is probably a bastardization caricature of the true definition anyway.

** Ok, and YES. This one is really spelled qi. But how many people really know that? If I wrote that, wouldn’t most of you read “kee,” and not know what I mean? This blog is low-brow — you should know that by now.

*** Read: I am a spoiled Western brat.

**** Right again. This sketch does look eerily similar to the layout of my kitchen in Georgia. But what’s wrong with a little recycling?

Reproducing the Holy Grail of ice creams

I do not like banana-flavored things. Also, not a huge fan of bananas. Can eat them fresh only in certain OCD-laden circumstances.

As a kid, if my Halloween-candy-bag had anything banana-flavored, I instantly put it in the “trade/discard” pile that my sisters and I would create as we sifted through our stash (fresh food also went into that pile, since my mom was always on the lookout for hidden razor blades and other death-traps). I never bought banana-flavored snow cones, or ice pops, or anything yellow, for that matter.

Then one day in high school, I opened the freezer door and found a carton of Blue Bell’s Banana Pudding ice cream. I’m quite sure I avoided it at first, thinking it would have that same fake, syrupy, bright yellow flavor of all things banana. But at some point I must’ve caved — and how fortuitous. It was truly a creamy, frozen version of a big bowl of cookie-laden banana pudding (which, ironically, I always loved — what’s not to like about vanilla custard, a “tasteful”  [modifier quantifiable only by me] amount of sliced bananas, whipped cream, and vanilla wafers?). How did they do it? How could they make it taste so… real? It became my go-to ice cream flavor, until I moved to an unfortunate state in our union that didn’t sell Blue Bell; I remember withdrawal symptoms, until my system adjusted to the void.

And then, one dark day, you couldn’t find it anymore. Not in Mississippi, not anywhere.*

I began to discover that there are two types of people in this world: those who have experienced Blue Bell’s Banana Pudding ice cream, and those who have not. You can tell who is who by their verbal and body-language response when you say the words; if they raise an eyebrow, or scrunch their nose, or back away a few inches, they were never exposed to the perfection. On the other hand, if their eyes widen, and they grasp at your shoulders in hopes you will be the bearer of good news, telling them you’ve found a place where they still sell it — then these people? They’ve had it.

I found two of the latter, one night as I shared pints with a couple of Indy bloggers: Angie and Amy. These ladies knew of The Ice Cream. They knew, we remembered, we mourned, and then they challenged. You make ice cream, don’t you Katy? Why don’t you try to recreate the flavor? You know, for the good of mankind?

Well, if you put it that way.

Four months later, I am here to share the results. I have nothing to compare it to, since it’s been a full decade I’ve been without the original. But it tastes like my memory — creamy, cookie-laden, homemade, Southern banana pudding. It’s good. My family and Angie say the same (hoping Amy can join the fan club once she gets a taste).

Have you longed for it? Do you have an ice cream maker? It’s a little labor-intensive, but worth it. Try it — and let me know your thoughts if you do!

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Banana Pudding Ice Cream (just like Blue Bell’s)

Before subbing store-bought marshmallow creme, try the recipe — it’s super-easy, and the only version I can vouch for. It is very important that the vanilla ice cream base be chilled, and you are ready to churn, before you purée the bananas (the ice cream will turn an unsightly coffee-color if you don’t freeze asap after adding the bananas). The ice cream tastes best if it is eaten withing 3 days of freezing — though I don’t think that will be a problem.

For the ice cream (inspired by a vanilla ice cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz)

(The vanilla ice cream base must chill for at least a few hours before adding the bananas & freezing — I usually start it the night before and refrigerate overnight)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • heavy pinch salt
  • 6 large egg yolks (save the whites for macaroons)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lime or lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup of the heavy cream with the milk, sugar, and salt. Warm until the sugar and salt are dissolved.

In a large bowl, pour the remaining 1 cup heavy cream, and set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. While whisking the yolks vigorously, slowly pour a couple ladles-full of the warm cream/sugar mixture into the yolks. Once tempered, slowly whisk the hot yolk/cream mixture back into the saucepan, and stir.

Continue to heat until the mixture thickens slightly, or reaches 165º on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat, pour through strainer into the remaining cup of heavy cream, and stir in the vanilla. Cool mixture over an ice bath, and then chill for several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.

When you are ready to churn, place the bananas, lime juice, and about 1 cup of the chilled ice cream base into a blender or food processor. Purée together until smooth. Stir the purée back into the rest of the ice cream base. Pour into your ice cream maker (there is usually a little leftover after my maker is filled — I pour the extra into a couple popsicle molds for banana ice-cream popsicles), and freeze according to the directions for your maker.

For the marshmallow creme (I adapted this recipe from Cold Creme):
Makes enough for 3 or more batches of ice cream, but freezes well.

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In large mixer bowl, use a whisk attachment to combine egg whites, corn syrup, and salt.  Beat for 10 minutes until thick. (After only a minute or so, it begins to fluff up, but keep beating!)

Add powdered sugar at a low speed to thoroughly incorporate.  Add vanilla extract and beat until well blended.

Refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a month (it’s usable right out of the freezer, as it doesn’t harden, so freezing is your best bet).

To put it all together:

  • vanilla wafer cookies (I like the 365 brand from Whole Foods), broken into halves or quarters.

In a 1 1/2-quart air-tight container, scrape about 1/4 of the churned ice cream. Add 2-Tbsp dollops of marshmallow cream over the surface, and then scatter cookies on top. Layer in more ice cream, then more marshmallow creme and cookies, repeating the process 2-3 more times (finish with a layer of ice cream). Press plastic wrap or wax paper directly on the surface of the ice cream, seal with lid, and freeze for several hours before enjoying.

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* I have since heard rumblings that people can still get Blue Bell Banana Pudding ice cream. I have no idea how, since they don’t list the flavor on Blue Bell’s website. But apparently, at a Walmart, somewhere, in the midwest (?):

I would hate him, but for the fact that he at least acknowledges the greatness of The Ice Cream.

Ms. Fisher: Quote of the Day

This quote pretty much sums up why I continue to obsess over food (even though I’ve never eaten a morel, or been to Lausanne — but felt a similar way one foggy morning in Switzerland after being served a hot bowl of muesli):

…my mother and I went off on a short jaunt. We stopped for lunch in a village between Lausanne and Berne and ordered two croûtes aux morilles [toast with morels and wine cream sauce] and some local white wine. Morels are justly more expensive than plain mushrooms from the woods, but it was a special spree… and they were so delicious that with only faint demur from Mother we ordered two more of the large pieces of toast drenched with hot cream and piled with black slices of the strange phallic growths that are almost but not quite as mysteriously tantalizing as truffles. I am sure we asked for more wine. I remember that the large café cat came in and sat cleaning his paws in full view of my mother, who prided herself on being unable even to swallow with one in the room. Finally she went into an elaborate and almost Jesuitical rationalization of the plain fact that she would like to eat another croûte, or perhaps one between us. The gist of her argument (against her mother’s early training? Her damaged liver? Her lifelong war with her voluptuous nature?) was that she knew she would never taste such a beautiful thing again. It was that simple!*

*Fisher, M.F.K. With Bold Knife and Fork, 1969. New York: Paragon Books, p.185-186.

Taste profiles of corn dogs, fried butter, and muddy pigs.

The Indiana State Fair. Can my words describe much more than what’s communicated in the photo above?

I have fond memories of the fair. Until last night, the whole of those flashbacks were based on the state fair in Mississippi — which, as it turns out, isn’t a whole lot different from the one here in Indiana (although I don’t remember any four-story tall, three-dimensional reproductions of American Gothic, nor do I remember quite as much emphasis on things dairy). The fair memories of my childhood/teen highlight reel include standing in line for free molasses biscuits, standing in line to get on rides that came in on a flatbed and were put together in a matter of hours by men who seemingly don’t own shirts, and standing in line deciding whether to get the elephant ear or the funnel cake (I always went for the funnel cake).

All of these things were a normal part of my childhood, not unlike Santa Claus or summers at the YMCA. When October came, you went to the fair. It wasn’t until I had about 20 years distance, and then revisited last night, that I realized just how bizarre it is. Beautiful and bizarre.

Of course, being the person I am, we went with food in mind. And again, being me, we chose to visit the fair on Two-dollar Tuesday (entry, rides, and many food items were only $2 all day). I learned last night that there are both perks and drawbacks to Two-dollar Tuesday: a perk being that everything is cheaper, so you can afford to throw caution to the wind, follow the sign’s orders, and “Try the Muddy Pig!” (that would be vanilla frozen “custard” served in a styrofoam cup with individual plastic tubs of bacon, almonds, and chocolate syrup to top — a two dollars not well-spent). The main drawback is that there are a whole lotta Hoosiers in this state just as cheap as I am, and they were all at the fair last night.

Which, of course, adds to the aura. All those sweaty, sticky people, eating things on sticks. Things that would get any of us strange looks if we were to cook them up at home an offer them on a party tray. But at the fair? Normal is definitely relative.

The plan was to stay focused in our food forays (with the exception of the aforementioned Muddy Pig — the moment got away from me, and my judgment was clouded): we were there for the corn dogs.

In a conversation earlier that day with a friend, I voiced my concern that, after my 20-year hiatus from fair food, I would find all of it repulsive, that all of the nostalgia would have dissolved, gone the way of Santa and happily-ever-after. But she insisted that I would be fine, especially if I got a corn dog. She said they make the batter right there, with fresh Indiana corn, and batter and fry it before your eyes. The nostalgia had not left me: I commenced with salivating.

Eight hours later, we found ourselves in an electrified sea of no less than 75 vendors selling corn dogs. With little to go on other than what we were told by way of hand-painted sign, we chose four: two straight-up dogs, and two turkey/tenderloin dogs.

I confess that I didn’t think there’d be much difference between these battered meals-on-a-stick (yes, we did watch them being fried, but I don’t remember seeing anyone shucking corn in the trailers). What we discovered was that there seems to be two schools of thought on creating the perfect corn dog: there’s what I’ll call the Classical School, which focuses on the corn part. There is thought and pride taken in the batter, not unlike a search for the perfect corn bread. The corn-to-dog ratio might be a bit heavy, but that’s ok, since it’s the corn that matters. The second school is what I’ll call the Meat-Is-More school. These guys are all about the meat, and use a lot of it. The corn-to-dog ratio is much smaller, but — and this is the sticking point for me — the batter is sickeningly sweet. There’s corn in there, but I’m putting money on their dumping a 50-pound bag of Jiffy mix into a Hobart and calling it done.

Because when I call it a meal-on-a-stick, I don’t necessarily mean that it has to include dessert. Especially when you end up feeling like you’re eating a hot dog wrapped in a doughnut. Which, apparently, some people find appealing:

But before I judge, I must also confess: I did succumb to temptation, and tried two deep-fried sweet treats of my own: fried butter, and fried cookie dough. We can file that under the “you only live once” category (if not the “ensure that you’ll only live once” category).

And in case you’re wondering which one won the taste test? Let’s just say I should’ve stuck with nostalgia, and gone for a funnel cake.

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Krispy Kreme pic cred goes to the DesignHER Momma — you can read her take on the fried butter experience here.


Summer lunch: rice salad with sprouted lentils

One of my favorite throw-together lunches is a rice salad. The method is quite simple: take cooked (cooled or refrigerated/leftover) rice, add a little or a lot of chopped veggies from your crisper drawer (or straight from the pile of garden bounty that somehow continues to grow on your kitchen counter, no matter what you consume), stir in a protein-of-choice (usually meatless, like nuts or cheese), toss it all with a dressing (oil, vinegar, maybe a little mayo?), and season well. I like to make a very large bowl, so there is plenty leftover for the next day (I also like making it during the week rather than weekends, insuring that there are no mouths but my own to eat it).

Rice salads never get old, because they are never exactly duplicated. No measuring, no recipe (though I attempt to give loose proportions below) — just abandoning your inhibitions, having your way with a chef’s knife, adding mayo if you’re feeling creamy, and calling it lunch. This week’s version of it — of course — utilizes more of all these tomatoes, so basil, fresh mozzarella, and quantities of olive oil also made the cut.

The sprouted lentils have been a little protein fetish of mine this summer — sprouting the pulses unlocks more nutrients and makes them easier to digest (i.e., no Beano required). The raw lentils are mildly crunchy and taste very “sprouty,” — which is sometimes desirable; but if not you could lightly steam them, or sautée briefly in garlic and olive oil to take the edge off the green flavor (this, unfortunately, also kills some nutrients — but I still eat them both ways). The fact that they are an incredibly cheap and nutritive protein gives them staying power in my kitchen. You can read how to sprout the lentils below.*

So make a late-morning date with your cutting board, and start cleaning off those counters — there is a limit to how many cucumbers an average kitchen countertop will hold. Do yourself a favor, and make an even bigger quantity than what’s listed below — it’ll keep for several days in the frig — getting you through the rest of the week with an instant lunch at the ready. Which is really nice on those days when lunch could otherwise end up being the crust off two kids’ pb&j sandwiches (other people do that, right?…).

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Rice Salad with Sprouted Lentils, Tomatoes, and Mozzarella

  • about 3 cups cooked (cool, or room-temp) rice (or other grain of choice)
  • 1/2 small red onion, or a couple shallots, or a few scallions, finely chopped
  • about 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (seeded if using large slicers)
  • about 1 cup (or more) cubed fresh mozzarella
  • about 1 cup sprouted lentils (raw or cooked)*
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • simple vinaigrette, for dressing
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss together the rice, vegetables, cheese, lentils, and herbs. Dress to taste with a simple vinaigrette (alternatively, dress with oil and vinegar or lemon juice). Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle with more olive oil. Add more of this or that until the flavor suits your wants. Will keep in frig for several days.

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* How to sprout lentils:

Place 1/2 cup dry lentils in a large canning jar (half-gallon is preferable — if you only have a quart-size, sprout only 1/4 cup lentils). Fill jar with water at least half-full, and let sit overnight.

The next morning, drain and rinse the lentils. Place the well-drained lentils back in the jar, and let the jar rest on its side in a cool place (if you don’t have a mesh screen lid, then place a paper towel over the opening and secure with a rubber band — the sprouting lentils need air). Rinse again that night.

Repeat the rinsing 2x a day (morning and night) until little sprouts appear — I usually let my sprout “tails” grow to about 1/4 – 1/2″ long — this only takes a couple days in the summer. Once ready, you can keep them in a sealed container in your refrigerator.

More useful and detailed instructions about sprouting beans can be found here.

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Digging dirt in the city

A thing to love about Indianapolis: it is a city surrounded by farmland.

A second thing to love about Indianapolis: it is a city filled with farmland.

Indy is a typical mid-size midwestern city in that it has its share of empty lots. Between relatively flat topography, a location that enabled less-than-dense development, and an economic decline in the last quarter of the 20th century, the city has torn down old structures and left lots bare. What better way to fill those lots than with edible gardens?

We were able to attend two different urban farm events last weekend: a small gathering of folks celebrating the inaugural year of the Butler Campus Farm, and a tour hosted by our chosen CSA this summer: Big City Farms.

At both events, I was struck by the same thought: how beautiful a thing, a farm in the city.

The Butler Campus Farm is located beside the campus intramural fields, and therefore feels less-than-urban — separated from the campus by the canal and a setback of trees, and bordered on one side by a restored prairie, you can walk among the rows of over 100 tomato plants (yowza!) and feel like you’re on a farm in the country. This was the first growing season for the farm — a project of Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology (I’ve got the hots for the director) — and it has been amazing to see all the work and what it has yielded. Kaitlyn Haskins, the student farm manager, organized Saturday’s Summer Harvest Potluck to help celebrate the faculty and community volunteers who have helped make the farm so successful. It was an amazing first growing season: the produce has been sold weekly on campus, and is being sold to both the campus food services and local restaurants — in short, there was plenty to celebrate.

As we arrived, we were met with the sound of the campus bell tower playing ragtime tunes titled with names such as Cabbage Leaf and Beets and Turnips — the selection arranged especially for the evening by a farm volunteer who is also in charge of the bell tower. Eating picnic-style on blankets brought from home, we filled our plates from the makeshift buffet setup under the harvesting porch built that morning. The food could be described as variations on a theme: the theme being tomatoes. But that is what they have, in unabashed abundance, at the farm here in the dog-days of summer — and their many preparations filled our bellies well. For dessert, we could partake of blueberry bread, peach empanadas, or grab a slice of the farm’s first watermelon (the second melon will be auctioned off this weekend — if you’re local and love watermelon, you can send a bid for the second one to farm@butler.edu).

The next evening we had been invited, along with all the other CSA members, to tour the urban farming plots for Big City Farms. Our tour began at the home of Tyler and Laura Henderson; Tyler, along with Matthew Jose, founded BCF, and they are in the middle of their second summer as a CSA (community supported agriculture).

After munching on fresh-cut veggies and sipping some SunKing pale, we began our walk around the Cottage Home historic neighborhood, where within a two block radius lies the majority of the plots for BCF. I was surprised to hear that several of the lots are being used by permission of the owner, if for no other reason than it means the owner doesn’t have to mow the grass. Matthew and Tyler began preparing the lots two years ago — they started by sampling the soils to check for nutrients and possible toxins, and then mulched and planted accordingly. Much of the area we toured was currently planted with cover crops, or “green manure.” These will be tilled back into the soil, and give pH stability that can be harder to obtain when repeatedly using cow manure.

After seeing the places where our vegetables have been growing, and hearing the guys talk about farming, I was left both inspired and overwhelmed by what they do. It inspires me to attempt a larger garden next year, and to prepare for that even this fall after we harvest the last late-summer produce from our meager garden. But it also left me wondering how two guys can do what they are doing; the area they cover, even within a relatively small radius, is a lot of land. They have help, mostly in the form of volunteers who want to learn about gardening — but still. All those plants, and how they need to be picked. And weeded. Not to mention the science behind farming — checking for pH levels, and finding non-pesticide solutions to potential pests. Makes my head spin, just a bit.

Which is just one reason I’m not a farmer. And the reason I’m quite thankful for those folks who do love to farm, and want to do it in the city. I’ve nothing against rural farmland — it’s where most of the goods at our farmer’s market are grown, and also where much of the livestock must reside (you can have chickens within the city limits, but as of now having a pet dairy cow is against the rules). But if we are interested in narrowing the divide between those who choose to eat local, fresh food and those who find it inaccessible, then urban farming is an important step. It is visible to those living in the city, and the stark and lovely contrast between lush edible gardens and a backdrop of skyscrapers and bus stops can be a conversation starter with an array of people of different backgrounds — exactly the people that populate our urban areas.

If you want to be involved in your city, check this site for CSAs in your area — there might be some that are using city lots. If you are in Indy, there are volunteer opportunities with both the farms we toured. Check their websites (links above) for volunteer and contact information.

Salsa Fresca

The time has come. From recent tweets, it seems that everyone is wondering what to do with all the tomatoes.

And even though I try, each and every year, to proselytize everyone within ear/blog-shot to try tomato pie, there are only so many of those you can make in one season. This summer, I’ve been relying heavily on a classic salsa fresca to keep my counters free of over-ripening (and fruit-fly-drawing) tomatoes.

We didn’t grow jalapenos in our garden, but they’ve been coming in our box from Big City Farms — and those boxes have also been supplying us with small, sweet red peppers. The wonderful thing about a fresh salsa is that you can improvise a good deal, and still have something delicious. The basic necessities are tomatoes, onion (or scallion), garlic, and acid (lime or lemon juice, and/or vinegar). If you have cilantro, a handful is a classic addition — but I usually pass on it and go for the same amount of flat-leaf parsley (heresy in some circles, I know, but not in this one).

This makes a small amount of salsa — maybe 1 1/2 – 2 cups — so it won’t last long (not even a day in my house).  I’ve been making a batch at lunchtime, and throwing it on top of a simple cheese quesadilla, or simply scooping it up with blue corn chips until I’ve had my fill. It’s so satisfyingly tangy — and the tomatoes are sweet and able to shine in that way they can only do during summer months.

This recipe is adapted from one in Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook (I’ve simplified it a bit, and use jalapenos rather than red pepper flakes for heat).

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Salsa Fresca (fresh tomato salsa)

  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 very small sweet pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro or Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (or more to taste)
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Toss all ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste, and add more salt or lime juice to taste. Refrigerate unused portion in a covered container.