Friday, February 26, 2010

Container Potatoes


 "Sooner or later your fingers close on that one moist-cold spud that the spade has accidentally sliced clean through, shining wetly white and giving off the most unearthly of earthly aromas. It's the smell of fresh soil in the spring, but fresh soil somehow distilled or improved upon, as if that wild, primordial scent has been refined and bottled: eau de pomme de terre. You can smell the cold inhuman earth in it, but there's the cozy kitchen too, for the smell of potatoes is, at least by now, to us, the smell of comfort itself, a smell as blankly welcoming as spud flesh, a whiteness that takes up memories and sentiments as easily as flavors. To smell a raw potato is to stand on the very threshold of the domestic and the wild." - Michael Pollan (The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

I'm not sure how I came across it- but last week sometime I found an article outlining the basics of growing potatoes in containers.  It is ridiculously simple, and incredibly inexpensive.  When I started container gardening for the first time last year- I somehow missed the fact that potatoes are an excellent candidate.  It's the perfect solution for people with no yard, or even limited yard space.  I may very well be the last person on earth to figure that one out.

You need four things: sprouted, or seed potatoes (the ones that go all crazy in your pantry before you can eat them are perfect!), lots of dirty dirt (large amounts of compost are a plus), water, and a nice, deep container.  Really- it's the exact same items that you need to grow anything else.  Surprise!

The only real difference is the container that you use.  Rather than a standard terracotta or ceramic pot- you want something deep.  Really deep.  This can be anything from a plastic garbage bag, to a garbage can, to a laundry basket, to an actual potato grow bag.  The key is to make sure that whatever you use is at least 18 inches deep and allows for drainage.  If you use a container that lacks holes you will need to punch some yourself.

The growing method is also incredibly simple.  Start with 6 inches of soil in the bottom of your container.  Add your little sprouty taters, and then top them off with another 3 inches of soil.  Give them a little water and a little time- once your potato plants have sprouted 6 to 8 inches- add another layer of soil- being sure to leave a few inches of the plant showing.  Continue this until your container is full of soil.  After about two months your potatoes will be ready to harvest- which can either be done by digging into the container, or simply pushing it onto its side.  

Do you have any experience growing container potatoes?  What about any other surprising or unexpected vegetables?

Links: The Benefits of Growing Potatoes in Containers, Potato Bin, Buckets, and Potato Grow Bags, How To Grow Potatoes in a Trash Can, and Potatoes, from The Old Farmers Almanac.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Praise of Brussels Sprouts

Please don't start gagging, or decide that you can't trust my tastes or opinions until you've read this entire post.  Alright?  Let's do this.

I hadn't quite realized until last night that I was obsessing over brussels sprouts.  I stopped in at Trader Joe's on the way home to pick up a few odds and ends for dinner- and got stuck in the always disappointing produce section.  For some reason I was convinced that if I looked hard enough and long enough- they would magically appear.  They, of course, did not.  I was verging on the edge of cranky-grumpy, so I settled for the half wilted kale hanging out in my fridge as an accompaniment for the last piece of light smoked and baked black cod that we so selfishly have kept to ourselves (yes that was long-winded bragging).

This was not the first or only sign of my budding obsession.  If you were to look through the starred items on my Google Reader account you would find a frightening abundance of brussels sprouts recipes.  I don't know how or when this happened.  All I know is that it did.  And it won't stop until I have completely overdone it.  Sorry Matao.

- Need proof that I'm not crazy?  Serious Eats has even dubbed them as Ingredient of the Year!

- If you live in Seattle, you probably already know that Molly of Orangette, as well as the recently opened Delancy is a bit of a culinary genius.  But, seriously?  Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts are probably my soul-mate.  Look at them!

Brussels Sprouts in Cream from Orangette

- Blue Kitchen has a gorgeous recipe for Brasied Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Golden Raisins, and Linguine.  While I'd personally probably leave out the raisins (I only like them when they're hard and chewy), this dish is fairly simple and gorgeous- to boot.

- Bacon seems to be a favorite brussels sprout pairing, with good reason.  The salty, smoky, chewy yet crispy draw of it is hard to resist.  Brussels Sprout and Bacon Pizza?  Yeah, count me in.

Sprouts from SJ Gourmet

- And, finally- if you're still feeling skeptical (seriously?)- there's always cheese.  101 Cookbooks has an absolutely perfect recipe for Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts that uses nothing more than olive oil, salt, pepper, and whatever cheese you prefer.  This is quite possibly what we'll be having with dinner tonight.

What's your favorite way to eat brussels sprouts, if at all?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Everything Oatmeal Cookies

I meant to just make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I really did.  But then this thing happened where I realized that I only had 6-grain rolled cereal instead of just oatmeal, and I didn't have enough of one type of chocolate or nuts, and then I over-salted my dough on "accident", which lead me to believe that I should probably put some pepper in there too.  Who doesn't like salt with pepper?  Then I realized that I had a tiny bit of pumpkin pie spice that really needed to be used up, and it seemed silly to just let it sit there.  Right?  You can probably see where I'm going with this.

But here's the thing: they're really lovely.  They're both chewy and crispy, the ridiculous mixture of spices and flavors is actually quite subtle, and they almost kind of sort of seem healthy.  I guess they would be if it weren't for all of the butter and sugar, but if that were an issue we wouldn't be talking about cookies at all.  Oh, whatever.

I like recipes that leave room for adjustment.  I cannot/do not ever follow a recipe the exact way that it is written, and I don't think that you (whoever you are) should feel obligated to, either.  It's what makes cooking so enjoyable for me.  The fact that no matter what recipe or idea I'm working from- I can always find a way to make it my absolute own.  Thursday night I made creamy roasted mushroom and sausage soup with potatoes and herbs de provence.  I'd love to blog about it, but creamy soup with brown bits floating in it- while delicious- is actually quite hideous to photograph.  The point being- is that I went looking for a mushroom soup recipe- found one- and then completely changed everything about it.  And it was exactly what I wanted.   I just didn't know it beforehand.

I'm rambling.  This is about cookies, not ugly soup.

So, here is the recipe, as I made it.  It comes with lots of notes, because some things can be subbed and changed, and others can't.  I think it's generally good to know which are which.

- 1 cup butter, softened (melted is fine if you're working with cold butter- you'll just need to put your dough in the fridge for an hour before baking)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 medium eggs
- 2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use homemade, so I like a stronger flavor)
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-2 teaspoons sea salt (if you aren't into salty cookies just stick with the 1 tsp, if you are- go with 2 tsp, but not over)
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (optional- you can also use a combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice, but stay heavy on the cinnamon and ginger and light on the others)
- 1/2-1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (if this is just too weird for you it's fine to leave it out- but it adds a really nice spiciness that I love in sweets)
- 3 cups oatmeal (or rolled cereal- I realize that most people will only have oatmeal on hand- but if you want a really good chewy, toothsome cookie- Bob's Red Mill has a great 5 grain variety, and I find my 6-grain (plus sunflower seeds) mixture in the bulk bins at Ballard Market)
- 1 cup chopped nuts (I used a combination of walnuts and hazelnuts, plus a tablespoon of flax seeds)
- 1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate bits and pieces (mine was half semi-sweet chocolate chips, and half dark chocolate that I cut into chunks/slivers with a knife)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 C)
2. Using a whisk, cream together butter, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla until light and fluffy.
3. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, and pumpkin pie spice.  Mix into the creamed mixture until just blended.
4. Add oats, nuts, and chocolate, and stir until combined.
5. If you used melted butter- let your dough chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
6. Drop dough by heaping teaspoon-fulls onto ungreased baking sheets.
7. Bake for 12-15 minutes (check at 12 to see if they look wet still).  Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes, before transferring to a cooling rack.

These cookies are easy to veganize- I'd use shortening rather than Earth Balance, unless you cut the rest of the salt from the recipe.  Eggs would work well with pretty much any sub, although I'd personally do flax, or Ener-G rather than tofu/applesauce/banana subs.

Got it???

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dinner for One


Sometimes my absolute favorite type of cooking- is the kind that I do for just myself.  The nights where Matao is at work- usually after a good workout- when I have plans with the couch, the cat(s), and a book (and/or Netflix).  The nights where I don't feel like washing dishes, or making sure my meal is balanced or diverse.


During the winter months- my go-to dish is almost always oatmeal.  Not the sticky, gluey, mushy kind that comes from a packet or a tub (sorry Quaker), but instead the chewy, toothsome type that comes from bulk bins and occasionally Bob's Red Mill packages.  The kind that is specifically listed as "thick".  I like to cook mine in half milk, half water, with a big glob of brown sugar- topped off with flax seeds, walnuts, dried cranberries, and a dollop of cream.  This is the kind of oatmeal that could make any oatmeal hater change their ways (ahem Amy!)

Cooking for yourself only is an entirely different experience than cooking for someone else.  You don't have to take into consideration anyone's tastes or preferences.  You can use the ingredients that only you love, and cook your food exactly the way that you want it.  I tend to eat much more slowly, and with more awareness of my food when I'm by myself, even when I've prepared an incredibly simple or thoughtless dish.

Some of my other favorite meals to cook for myself are Annies Shells & White Cheddar with diced fresh tomatoes and garlic, hard cooked eggs mashed up with a little mayo and black pepper, and simple multi-grain toast with peanut butter and homemade jam.  None of these are anything that I would plop down in front of Matao, and expect something other than an "are you serious?" type of reaction.  Not because he's demanding or finicky- but simply because I never cook this way for anyone else.

What are your favorite meals to cook and eat on your own?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cats and Plants

Oh yes.  We did it again.


Her name is Ollie.  She had been at the shelter for nearly 8 months, and is teenie tiny and quite affectionate.  Luna is obsessed with her.  We were afraid she'd be grumpy about having a new cat in the house- but instead she follows her everywhere and tries to snuggle her or pounce her every chance she gets.  Ollie has yet to show much enthusiasm about either activity.  Poor Luna doesn't seem to understand what all of the hissing and growling is about. 

I gave in to our insanely early spring and bought a few seed packets last week.  Ballard Market is currently carrying a small selection of Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, and I ended up buying organic red Russian kale, organic Genovese basil, and two "blend" packets- one of hot peppers, and another of heirloom tomatoes.  Jalapenos were our most successful plant last year, so I'm excited to see how a mixed variety will do this year.  I also went to Costco with my mom last weekend, and picked up some Northwest grown blueberry bush starts.  They're two different varieties, but I'm too lazy to get off my butt at the moment and see which.  Hah!  Notice all of the cherry blossoms taking over our street?  They have gone crazy everywhere, and they make our ugly street a bit more lovely in their own way.

Aside from that- my weekend consisted of a dance party in the middle of Theo's retail floor, a lot of gin and tonic, chocolate wafers with lavender and sea salt, dressing up as a "Presidential Mustache Cupid" (no pictures!), the weirdest e-mail ever, a blanket fort birthday party, and lots of Matao snuggles.  I don't have a thing to complain about!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

From The Journals of Sylvia Plath

"July 1950-- I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. Now I know how people can live without books, without college. When one is so tired at the end of the day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth. At times like this I'd call myself a fool to ask for more..."

- The Journals of Sylvia Plath

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Link Love!

Goat cheese, via Eating Is Art

- I have yet to purchase a cheese making kit to make mozzarella or hard cheeses, however- I am more than happy to make both soft goat cheese, as well as fresh buttermilk cheese using basic kitchen ingredients.  I picked up goats milk at Trader Joe's last night, of all places, and I'm really excited to try this again with fresh goats milk from the market.
- My lovely love Becca at Better With Garlic has started doing her own link roundup.  Another of my favorite posts of hers is about her trip to the Red Mill Factory, where she ran into Bob!  So jealous!

- Universal and functional jar lids are some of the most clever and useful new kitchen gadgets that I've seen in a long time.  They come in a set of five, including a long-handled cap, oil & vinegar cap, cocoa shaker cap, creamer cap, and sugar shaker cap.  We save jars like they're going out of style- and aside from general storage and beverage holding I'm always thrilled to find another use.


- Native Shores Rendezvous is something that I found out about from Ashley at Small Measure.  Right now I'm trying to figure out the logistics of getting there, but it's something that I am seriously considering.  "Intensive on the role & use of wild harvested sea vegetables, shellfish, and coastal edible wild plants in everyday life, simple living and survival."  Ideally I'd like to find a few people to carpool with, but if I can get my act together I may just go on my own.  

- Ballard Bee Company is a local (to my neighborhood!) company that allows Ballard residents to rent or sponsor hives.  I tried their honey for the first time on Saturday night at A Caprice Kitchen.  We were literally eating it off of our fingers, because we are jerks with no manners.  Amazing!

- The Year of the Coupon is a great post about being a frugal grocery shopper, while still focusing on sustainable, organic, local, and ethical foods.

- Christina of Nettletown finally broke her big news: Nettletown is Expanding- into a restaurant!

Chocolate Pudding from Mixed Greens

- Chocolate Pudding made from Theo Chocolate?  Oh, yes.  Yes, yes, and yes.  I don't think I need to say any more.

What are you getting into this week?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Discovery Park, A Caprice Kitchen, and LUNA!

Today was perfect and then some.  Somehow in the four and a half years that I've lived in Seattle I have managed to never visit Discovery Park.  Never mind the fact that it is oh... a whole two or so miles from where I currently live.  That is irrelevant.  I don't own a car, and that's the only excuse that I really have.  That is it.  It is the worst excuse ever.

My mom was in town the past few day, so she picked me up this morning and we drove allllllll the way to Magnolia to meet up with my aunt Fran to hike around for a bit.  We did a quick mile or so hike through the woods, out to the beach, and then wandered down the beach until we ran out of walkable area.  Ugh.  I was in heaven.  This is the kind of thing that I miss more than anything about Alaska.  The city is exhausting when you feel so separated from nature all the time.


After becoming sufficiently chilled, hungry, and grumpy, we made our way back to Ballard, and up the hill to A Caprice Kitchen.  This restaurant and myself had a bit of a tough start, but I have so much faith in the concept that I continue to go back.  Tonight solidified it for me.  This is my favorite restaurant in Seattle.  Anne is always recognizable in the kitchen by her red shirt and wonderful hair, and tonight she came out to talk to us when we were pestering our server about the sauce that paired with our pork and fig empanada.  This is the kind of restaurant that I want to have some day.  It's small and cozy, the menu changes every week, it is never loud, and you never feel rushed.  Everything is locally sourced (aside from the coffee and tea, which is expected and easily forgivable).  Sharing three, or all of the small plates is my favorite way to enjoy their menu, and aside from a few misses- I have fallen hard for just about every bite that lands in my mouth.  This is one of the only restaurants in Seattle where I will happily eat everything on the menu without a second thought.  I am hardcore in love.

I am also ridiculous.  Look at how cute Luna is!  She is like a furry little ravioli with claws.

Monday, February 1, 2010



Valentines Day is one of those holidays that I like to acknowledge in my own silly way, but not really celebrate.  Last year I went on a ghost tour and lock in that involved playing poker, being locked in a dark room with a video camera trying to find some guys box without giggling too much, and finding a dead rat in a closet with my besties (yum!)  I like to be cheesy and I like to make things, but I'm not all about the mushy gushy stuff.

This year I decided that I want to have lots and lots of Valentines.  Why not, right?


And what better source of cheesy handmade goodness, than right here!  So, if you'd like to be (one of) my Valentine(s) this year, and get a real live (but not alive) valentine in the mail- all you have to do is leave me a comment- if you live outside of Seattle shoot me an email with your address as well (renai.marie at  I promise not to stalk you.

I'm going to try to get everything in the mail by the 10th at the latest, so try to get me your info before then!

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