In a Pickle

If I were the type of person who posted photographs of cute things on Facebook, would I post comical little kittens doing cute things? No. Puppies looking adorable and being mischievous? Nope. Precious babies? Not until I have grandchildren.

I’d post the cutest little vegetable ever . . . the Kirby Cucumber! Who can resist those plump little cukes? Just look at them! They make you want to just pick them up and take them right home with you!

Aren't they the cutest?
Aren’t they the cutest?

And that’s exactly what I did! Kirby’s are not usually sold for more than a few weeks in the summer where I live, so when I see them I adopt buy them.  Then I get them pickled right quick so I can enjoy their yummy cuteness for a little while longer.

With just two of us at home and no garden space, I don’t go in for a lot of time-consuming food preservation. I like to make quick pickles which can easily be ready in just a few days. You can take this basic recipe and then add spices.  You are welcome to add such things as mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander seeds, celery seeds, garlic or whatever your pickle-lovin’ heart desires. You can also slice the cukes into about 1/2 inch slices and they will be ready to eat in a few hours.

Do make sure you start with a clean jar and lid and add the recommended amount of salt to ensure your pickles will last until you have eaten them all (which is never a problem for me since I love me some pickles!)

Easy Lemon Dill Pickles

  • 10 Kirby cucumbers, washed and dried (orgainic if you can find them)
  • 2 Tablespoons Sea Salt
  • 2 cups Apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups Spring water
  • Sprigs of Dill
  • Lemon peel shavings from one organic lemon
  • Clean glass jar with lid—I had a 2-quart jar but you can use a smaller jar or two different jars, or whatever you’ve got on hand.
These babies are in a pickle!
These babies are in a pickle!

Wash and dry the cukes and slice them if desired—I like spears.  I read somewhere that if you trim off the flower end of the cucumber (opposite the stem end) the pickles will be firmer and I’ve found this to be true.  Put the sea salt, water and vinegar in a pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then let it cool down a bit. Stuff your cucumbers into the jar so they are packed in really well.  You want them tight enough that they won’t float to the top when you add the brine and get exposed to air. Pack the sprigs of dill and the lemon shavings in there too.  Pour your brine into the jar to thoroughly cover the cucumbers.  Tap the jar on the counter to get rid of air bubbles. When the brine is completely cool, close the lid and put the pickles in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to eat in a day or two and they will “evolve” as they continue pickling in the refrigerator.  Eat them within about a month.

You can use this type of brine for pickling other veggies too!

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you may know that I’m going to recommend my favorite pickle dish, peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Nothing could be more delicious!

Simply Radishing

Today’s Daily Prompt: Turn, Turn, Turn asks, For many of us, winter is blooming into spring, or fall hardening into winter. Which season do you most look forward to?

Though I wouldn’t have a problem living in any climate whether hot or cold or dry or humid, I think I am like most folks as far as seasons go. I rejoice in whatever is coming next!

I have lived in places where winter consists of a few weeks of rain and cooler temps and where decorating the palm tree for Christmas is common. I’ve also lived where winter thrives well into the “springtime” months and begins again before the official end of “summer.”

Maybe I should call myself a “fair weather friend!” Because I love the promise of the changing season more than the season itself. I love the broader viewpoint that comes from observing the daily nuances—sometimes hardly perceptible—that reflect bigger planetary motions which give us a changing season and the illusion of the passing of time.

April is no exception.

This is the time of year when I crave much lighter food including a LOT more vegetables. The weather gets hot very quickly here in New Mexico and actually I’ve been adjusting my menu choices for over a month now to prepare for it.

What caught my eye recently are these vibrant-looking radishes!

radishing

I like to make a very light pressed salad with radishes and greens when the greens are this fresh and wonderful.

Pressed radish salad

  1. Wash the greens and radishes thoroughly (they can have quite a bit of sand and dirt) then separate the greens from the roots. Slice the roots thinly. The quickest and easiest way to do that is to cut them in half lengthwise and then slice vertically. A good, sharp knife makes all the difference!
  2. Roughly chop the greens including the stems and put them in a bowl with the sliced radishes
  3. Sprinkle it all with sea salt and mix it around until the greens start to glisten. The salt draws some of the moisture out of the vegetables. 
  4. Find a small plate that fits into the bowl and place it on top of the radishes and greens. Then find a heavy can or jar or rock and put that on top of the plate. The weight will help to “press” the salad.
  5. Press the salad at least a half hour. You can press it for as long as you like, but the longer you press it, the more “pickled” the veggies will be. I like them just lightly pressed myself. This takes a little of the raw taste out of the radishes but maintains its fresh, light character.
  6. Rinse excess salt off of the salad and spin or pat it dry. You can dress this if you want to but I don’t. Keep in mind that if you add vinegar or citrus it will turn the greens dark. So add that just before serving.

I don't trim off the green stub from the stem if it looks fresh. I will trim the little dark blemish on that half-sliced radish.

I don’t trim off the green stub from the stem if it looks fresh. I will trim the little dark blemish on that half-sliced radish.

Today it is September

A child once wrote:

  • Summer is suddenly gone and
  • Every leaf blushes with the change that
  • Promises cooler days and chilly nights.
  • Time to gather wood for the fire, time for
  • Everyone to settle down for the season.
  • Many harvested fields and many cidered apples
  • Bring the promise of continued life, that
  • Earth will turn to rest so all may
  • Rise to grow once more in next year’s glory.

This is my favorite month of the year and the beginning of my favorite season.  Is it yours too?  I have been reading so many wonderful blogs about putting up fig jam, preserving fruits and vegetables, getting ready to harvest and getting late summer planting done.  The gardeners, too, are talking mums and bulbs!

There is so much abundance!  So much food to, as they used to say, “put by!”  So I thought I’d share my simple recipe for cucumber pickles which only take about three weeks to be ready.

Good Ol’ Pickles

  • 5-6 Kirby cucumbers, washed and quartered
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • Pickling Spices
  • 1 cup Spring water
  • 2 cups Cider vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons brown rice syrup
  • 5 Cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 Quart clean jar with lid

Pickling Spices*

  • 3 Whole cloves
  • 2 Bay leaves or 2 tsps dried bay leaves
  • 1 Small dried chili pepper
  • 1 Tsp black peppercorn
  • 1 Tbl coriander seeds
  • 1 Tbl whole mustard seeds
  • 1 Tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 Tsp cumin seeds

In a small pot bring your spring water, vinegar, brown rice syrup and salt to a boil while you clean and quarter your cukes. Pack the cukes in a jar and add the pickling spices and the garlic. When the salt is dissolved in the boiling water, cool the mixture down enough to pour into the jar. You want the cukes to be fully covered with the water so if you need to add more liquid you can pour in some more vinegar. Put the lid on the jar and put it in the refrigerator for about three weeks and . . Voila! . . . you have good ol’ pickles.

* Pickling spices can also include things like dried ground ginger, chili pepper flakes, coriander, cinnamon sticks, mace, and cardimom. Dill pickles would of course include dill seeds and dill. You can buy pickling spices already assembled, but beware: If the ingredients don’t list out the individual herbs and spices and just says “spices,” then it may also have chemical additives such as MSG which you probably don’t want. Unfortunately it is legal to include such things in something labeled “spices.” I only use all organic ingredients with no additives in anything I make.

Happy Autumn!

Patty’s Pico Di Gallo

If I had to name one type of condiment that I love the most, it would be “Anything Pickled!”

I am famous (or maybe that should read “infamous”) in my family for serving up peanut butter, onion and pickle sandwiches.  Not that I’m a big Pickling Aficionado.  I don’t have a pantry lined with pickling crocks and barrels. (Though I drooled over some that I saw in a Williams-Sonoma catalogue this summer!)

I love Mediterranean cuisine and recently discovered a traditional fermented dish, Preserved Lemons.  These are basically pickled lemons and mostly you use the rinds. The directions for making these is here: https://mycookinglife.com/2012/07/08/preserved-lemons-a-tradition-in-moroccan-mediterranean-and-indian-cuisine/

These took one month to pickle and the result was outstanding!  I have made many things with my pickled lemon rinds.  I have slivered and added them to salad, I have included them in sauteed escarole with olive oil and garlic.  I enjoyed couscous and garbanzo beans with veggies and lemon rinds.  I have made a dessert with melon balls and a few blueberries drizzled with expresso flavored balsamic vinegar and garnished with slices of pickled lemon rinds.  All so, soooo good!

I could imagine a combination of finely diced pickled lemon rinds, roasted and sliced almonds and a bit of chopped parsley as a topping for broiled tofu.  Or take the sliced almonds, diced lemon rinds and parsley and add some vinegar, a little orange juice, olive oil and a bit of something sweet like mirin or brown rice vinegar as a dressing for steamed fresh green beans or cauliflower.

I have also entertained the idea of margaritas made with preserved lemon pulp and garnished with the rind or a smooth martini garnished with a pickled lemon rind. I don’t drink margaritas or martinis but I bet it would be excellent.  I’m sure any of you who are good at cocktails could come up with some fabulous creations.

Cover of "The New Food Lover's Companion&...

Cover of The New Food Lover’s Companion

Today I’m making a Pico Di Gallo using preserved lemon rinds.  And what is Pico Di Gallo and why is this different from salsa you ask?  (I did ask.) According to one of my new favorite cooking references, The New Food Lover’s Companion, Pico Di Gallo means “rooster’s beak” and refers to eating it out of the bowl with your fingers.  Pico Di Gallo is made with raw ingredients while salsa can be cooked or raw.  Usually Pico Di Gallo is not as liquid-y as salsa and it often has ingredients not found in salsa such as cucumbers or tropical fruits.  In this recipe, I used pickled lemon rinds, kiwi and fresh mint.  This is strictly experimental, so you and I may both be on the cutting edge of a new culinary delight.

Patty’s Pico De Gallo

  • Plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • Red onions, diced
  • Celery, diced
  • Jalapeno pepper (for medium hot) or green pepper (for mild), diced small
  • Kiwi, peeled and diced
  • Pickled lemon rinds, thinly sliced
  • Fresh mint, chopped
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Salt

There is nothing fussy about this, just put in the quantities you think are right.  Celery is also not a common ingredient for Pico Di Gallo but I like the added crunch and since I like only a little Jalapeno, I find the celery cools the overall dish down for me.  Sometimes garlic goes in Pico Di Gallo but I didn’t want to try a dish with garlic and kiwi together.  The kiwi makes for incredible color and I like the taste combination but you could go with more traditional mango instead. And finally, you can certainly use cilantro but it isn’t my favorite taste and I thought the mint would be very refreshing.

The verdict is in! This Pico Di Gallo is refreshing and delicious.  A sublime twist to a popular dish.

Preserved Lemons – A Tradition in Moroccan, Mediterranean and Indian Cuisine

I’ve been longing for preserved lemons and their uniquely intense flavor for months now.  What a wonderful flash of zing!  What a refreshing, piquant, tart highlight to bring simple dishes alive!

You will find recipes using preserved lemons from Northern Africa, the Middle East, from India and even in some Caribbean cuisines.  They are extremely easy to make, too!

Step One:  Gather up your ingredients.  You’ll need fresh, organic lemons.  Pick ones that look good and don’t have a lot of blemishes.  You may choose Meyer lemons or regular ones.  Wash these thoroughly.  You’ll also need course sea salt.  Do not use regular commercial salt as this has additives and it is too harsh for this use.  You’ll also need a clean jar in which to put your lemons while they preserve.  I chose a Kerr one-quart jar with  tight-fitting two piece top.  You can also use the kind of jar with the rubber seal in which the lid clips on.  Some recipes I saw online recommend sterilizing the jar first but most do not.

You need lemons, course sea salt, a jar and of course a good sharp knife and a cutting board.

Step Two:  Hold the lemons stem-side up and cut them into quarters but without going all the way through the lemon.  You want to end up with a lemon that is quartered and can open like a flower, but is still all in one piece.  If you have a good, sharp knife this is easy.  And to make it even easier, you can place the lemon between two wooden spoon handles or anything else wooden that will stop your knife from going all the way through the lemon. And, should you accidentally cut all the way through the lemon . . . no worries!  Just carry on and use those pieces too.

The wooden spoon handles prevent the knife from slicing all the way through.

Step Three:  Salt those babies!  Open the lemon up and generously salt each cut surface with course sea salt.  You don’t need to rub it in or do anything else to it.  But, you can experiment with adding other spices and herbs to your salt and mixing them in before you salt your lemons.  Hmmm, what about coriander, fennel, cloves, cinnamon stick, peppercorn, bay leaf . . .?

Thoroughly salt the lemon surfaces with course sea salt.

Step Four:  Close up the salted lemons and pack them as tightly as possible into your jar.  Fill the jar with spring water and secure the lid.  The lemons will take about thirty days to preserve and then they will last for a year or more.  I have my jar sitting right on my kitchen table because I think it looks beautiful and I enjoy the anticipation of all the wonderful recipes I’ll come up with when they’re ready to use.  (And I’ll be sharing those with you, my friend!)

Close the lemons and pack them into the jar tightly.

Add spring water, seal the lid and wait thirty days.

Keep It Simple Sweetie – Five Basic Rules for Knowing What to Eat

Me:  “Hunny, could you get the soap box outta the closet for me please?  I think it’s under that basket of hats and gloves.”

Hunny:  “Again?  Why don’t you just keep it out if you’re going to use it so much?”

Me: “I know.  I know.  I’m trying not to get on it but sometimes I just can’t help it.  Believe me, I would love to write a nice, pleasant little blog that everyone knows and loves.  But it is not always possible.”

~~~~~

[Guests walk in.]

Oh!  Hello there!  So glad you dropped by!  Can I offer you a recipe or two?  How about a nice cup of tea?

[Silence]

Hmmm.  You seem upset about something.  What can I help you with?  Oh I get it!  You’re confused about all these foods that people are running around raving about and telling you that you need them in order to be healthy?  You’re under pressure to consume acai berry but you don’t really understand why?  You’ve heard you shouldn’t eat soy, you should eat soy, you have no idea if you should eat carbs and now you’ve read my blog and wonder what the hell there is that you can safely sweeten your food with?  You never in a million years imagined that plain old feeding your face was really so complicated?

No problem!  Let me tell you the basic rules of knowing what to eat.  The rules are so simple, I’m sure you’ll say you really already knew them.  I’m just reminding you.

1.  Choose whole foods.  These are foods that have all their edible parts left intact.  They have not been heavily refined or processed.  Examples of whole foods are unpolished grains, beans, whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole animals.  Yes!  Have a cow!  Really, if you are going to eat animal protein at least eat something that resembles a part of the whole animal instead of meat-like products that are ground, pressed and blended with God-knows-what.  About a year ago I learned that ground beef is often mixed with other things and that this is not necessarily included on the label.  And just recently we all read about “pink slime” and how some school districts are vowing to eliminate it from the school lunch menus.

2.  Eat organically grown and raised food.  There is plenty of information available about what organic farming is.  But it can get confusing if you don’t know the legal definitions so here you are (from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture website):

100% Organic and Organic:  Products labeled as “100 percent organic” must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

Made with Organic Ingredients:  Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either “soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots,” or “soup made with organic vegetables.”

3.  Choose foods that are as fresh and local as possible.  Sure you can buy a can of organic pinto beans, some frozen organic brown rice (and I have been guilty of both on occasion) but it is simply not possible to preserve the nutrients and life energy of a food when it has been harvested a year ago and has been sitting in a warehouse six months after that.  And even if you are buying fresh—let’s take cabbage for an example—your “fresh” cabbage is losing precious vitamin C while it’s waiting for you to pick it up and put it in your cart.  If at all possible, look for “locally grown” and look for any farmer’s markets local farms or other sources of food that is truly fresh.  Better yet, start your own garden, grow some herbs, participate in a co-op or community organic garden or whatever you can.

That is one reason why locally grown food is important.  But there is another reason to choose locally grown food.  That is, your ability to easily get along with your environment. Today we can get any food from any part of the world.  But why do we have to import something like fresh pineapple if we live in Alaska?  Obviously pineapple doesn’t grow in Alaska and in many other climates as well.  So if we ate tropical foods every day while living in a cold climate we’d probably find it harder to stay warm.  Tropical foods are in balance with tropical environments.

I have a friend who was recently consulting someone about their diet.  She found out the person, who lives in a southern state, had a problem of being too hot all the time.  She wisely recommended that he consume less meat because she knows that meat keeps a body very warm indeed.

4.  Include naturally fermented foods.  Naturally fermented foods provide valuable “good bacteria” for your digestive tract.  In a world dedicated to killing every kind of bacteria and “germ” with fluoride in water and toothpaste, chlorine in water and chlorine wipes for every surface, and the king of intestinal flora killers–antibiotics—it’s no wonder that people suffer everything from chronic gas to serious yeast infestations.  First of all, realize that if you are ill and have to take antibiotics, do it responsibly.  Antibiotics kill bacteria but don’t differentiate between the good and the bad.  Every day put back the beneficial bacteria that the antibiotic is killing.  Some people feel this is wasteful and they just wait until they are finished taking the antibiotic.  I don’t agree.  By that time you have been totally stripped, leaving your intestinal tract open to infestation of whatever comes your way.

All traditional cultures have fermented foods.  It was done to preserve foods and it was well known to be helpful to digestion.  Pickled vegetables, pickled fish and yogurt in western cultures.  Naturally fermented soy products such as shoyu (real soy sauce) and miso as well as other types of pickles and fermented foods are used in eastern cultures.

When looking to purchase naturally pickled or fermented foods, beware that many of the cultured dairy products are pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized and then they add the beneficial bacteria such as acidophilus.  When I talk about including naturally fermented foods, I am talking about ones that are developed by traditional processes that result in live beneficial bacteria.  You should also know that the ever-so-popular yogurts available are often flavored with sugar and sugared fruit products.  That defeats the overall purpose of protecting health and leads to my final basic rule for knowing what to eat.

5.  Don’t eat refined sugar.  Get to know what is sugar and what isn’t and which types of sweeteners are complex carbohydrates and which ones are not.  I have written many posts on this blog about the subject.  Sugar is one of the most devastating food additives ever and it has been around so long, and contributes to so many health problems which are blamed on other things that it is truly insidious.

I know many people who consider themselves very healthy and conscientious who say they mostly avoid sugar and only eat it as a special treat.  That is excellent and I admire their intentions to avoid this toxic substance.  But the problem I see is that sugar is in so many things that it is difficult indeed to eat little or none of it.

~~~~~

Me: “I’m done with the soapbox now, Hunny.  Help me get down, please.”        

Hunny:  “Shall I put it away?”                                                                                              

Me:  “For now, thanks.  But I might need it again so don’t bury it too far into the closet.”