In which panic obscures clear thinking and my eyesight

As soon as the waitress (or owner?) placed the dish in front of me, I was fairly certain that I would be taking some food home with me.  And I thought, “Well, it’s a Chinese restaurant, so they’ll have those nice little cardboard boxes.  Still disposable, so not as good as, say, bringing my own reusable container, but a lot better than styrofoam.”

Fast forward to the end of the meal.  It’s a small restaurant and we’re standing at the counter to pay.  I ask for a box and then see the huge pile of styrofoam, and the woman reaches for one.  I start to panic.  What to do?  Do I take the styrofoam or do I say no thanks and waste the food?   I really want to take the food home with me — it was good and I hate wasting food — but I also hate styrofoam.  Dilemma.  Which is the lesser of two evils?

At which point my non-panicking companion says, “Could we please have one of the little cardboard boxes?”

To Go Box

Maybe if I had taken a deep breath, I would have seen the cardboard boxes, too.  Crisis averted.

June Eating

I really like food — eating food, cooking food, talking about food, thinking about food.  Fortunately, the husband shares these interests, so we usually cook together.  When my sister asked me for recipes awhile back, I was stymied, because we don’t often cook from recipes.  Sure, we have a shelf with lots of lovely cookbooks sitting on it, but except for some tried and true favorites, the cookbooks get little attention.

We prefer to cook with what we have on hand, trying ingredient combinations based on what sounds good and variants of dishes we enjoyed in the past.  If we have any ingredient we’re unsure about, well, that’s where internet searches come into the picture.  We also prioritize local foods which are abundant here right now, so without further ado, here are some recent creations.

  1. Sauteed swiss chard* with garlic and sun-dried tomatoes, served with quinoa.  Side of broiled asparagus**.
  2. Broccoli* and celery* stir fry with garlic and peas, served over rice.  Side of roasted beets*.
  3. Chanterelle mushrooms* sauteed in butter and olive oil with garlic.  Served over homemade bread with a side of steamed asparagus**.
  4. Salad of mixed lettuces* and arugula*, topped with roasted beets*, goat cheese**, and homemade poppy seed dressing.
  5. Whole wheat cappellini with homemade basil* pesto.  Side of grilled beets* and sweet potatoes.

* Food we grew (or foraged, in the case of the chanterelles).

** Food grown locally that we purchased from the farmer’s market or farmer.

Energy Hog

We use relatively little electricity because most of our high energy items (furnace, hot water heater, stove/oven) are gas.  (This is not an intentional decision that we think is somehow better environmentally, it’s just the way our apartment is set up.)  The air conditioning uses by far the most electricity, so our highest kilowatt hour (kWh) months are usually July and August, followed by June and September.  We just received a “Personal Energy Report” from our electric provider, showing monthly usage over the past year, and were shocked to see that our electric usage in December was on par with that in June and more than double that in November. And the higher trend continued in January, February, and March.  We were definitely NOT running A/C in December or any of the months immediately following.

So what happened between November and December?  We purchased a deep freeze.  After a decent bit of research, we decided on a chest freezer (rather than an upright), because even the most energy efficient uprights use more energy than the average chest.  Since buying used is greener (environmentally and on the pocketbook) than buying new, we were happy to find a 2-year-old chest freezer on Craigslist.  So in late November or early December, we wrangled the thing down our basement stairs (a near death experience), plugged it in, and began filling it with food.  It allows us to buy certain goods in bulk, thereby reducing car trips to the grocery store, as well as grow extra food (or buy extra local and in season) and preserve it for winter, thereby extending our local eating.

Now, we suspect that it may be chewing through energy like none other.  There are a few other factors that may have explained some of the energy increase, but none were consistent over the 4 inordinately high months or fit so perfectly with the timing of the initial increase other than the deep freeze.

We plan to further investigate the matter by purchasing a electricity usage monitor that will allow us to test how much electricity any appliance we plug into it is pulling.  I will post the results of our sleuthing as they become available.

Strawberry season + deep freeze = lots of work (and some good eats)

Late last fall, we purchased a used deep freeze so we would have a way to store local produce for the long winter months.  We are just now beginning to fill it with spring’s bounty.  Last weekend was asparagus; this weekend was strawberries.  Locally grown, using organic practices strawberries.

I froze most of the berries whole, but I couldn’t resist making some freezer jam.  I’ve observed my mom making freezer jam, but had never done it myself.  When I called for directions, she warned me that I would not like the amount of sugar necessary for the process.  (I frequently cut the amount of sugar in recipes to make them healthier.  You can often do this without negatively impacting the recipe.)

A quick bike ride to the grocery store yielded some Sure-Jell (pectin), complete with directions for freezer jam.  I quickly scanned the directions and saw that for 2 cups of crushed strawberries, I was supposed to add 4 cups of sugar.  4 cups of sugar???  For 2 cups of berries?!?  Why don’t I just open the bag of sugar and pour it straight down my throat?

As I was contemplating reducing the sugar, I looked more closely at the directions, which seemed to be speaking directly to me:

Measure exact amount of sugar into a separate bowl.  (REDUCING SUGAR OR USING SUGAR SUBSTITUTES WILL RESULT IN SET FAILURES.)

(Note: bold, italics, and all caps were part of the original directions, not something I added.)

They may as well have written, “Melissa, we are talking to you.  We know you are thinking about reducing the amount of sugar.  Don’t do it!”

I reluctantly bowed to the wisdom of the powers that be, and I now have about 10 cups (I doubled the recipe) of delicious strawberry flavored sugar goo jam in my freezer.  To be enjoyed in moderation.