Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A New Take on Tuna

Tuna sandwiches. I grew up on them and very possibly you did too. Though my mother and grandmother were both amazing cooks, tuna at our house was pretty basic: a can of tuna, enough Miracle Whip to hold it together, and slap it between a couple of slices of white bread. And hey, I was happy with that, until I ate lunch at a friend's house where tuna definitely went upscale. Her mom put a chopped hard-boiled egg and pickle relish in with the tuna and MW, and added lettuce, and since I was probably about 14 then, I asserted my right to make tuna that way at home too.
    I long ago fell out of love with Miracle Whip and smooshy white bread, but aside from using mayo and putting it on whole grain, my tuna sandwiches stayed pretty much the same. Sometimes I left out the egg, usually I added a goodly amount of chopped celery and some kind of lettuce, occasionally I put some grated cheese on top and either stuck it under the broiler for an open-face tuna melt or grilled it like a cheese sandwich. But today I tried something different and tasty:
This is Marc Matsumoto's Carrot, Tuna, and Avocado Salad, tucked into half a whole wheat pita, along with some arugula from the garden and slices of red pear. Digression alert: for years I didn't get excited over pears. They were okay, but as a kid I'd only ever tasted canned pears and they weren't terribly exciting. But a perfectly ripe, still crisp, fresh pear? That, my friends, can be something akin to a religious experience. And these red pears are just that - perfect.
     The recipe for the above tuna delight can be found at It calls for canned Italian tuna, which is packed in olive oil, but I didn't have any so I used good old Starkist water-packed and added a tiny drizzle of olive oil for flavor - just a bit. There is no mayonnaise in this salad, just 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, but we didn't miss it. The avocado fills that gap nicely. The recipe calls for julienned carrots but since I don't currently have a mandoline, I just grated them on the biggest holes of the box grater; it also calls for half an onion - I had a red one so I used that. Sweet onions would be great too (aren't they always?).
     I haven't banished my "regular" tuna salad from the repertoire, but this is a nice change. I've also played with mixing chopped olives, chopped capers, and crumbled feta cheese into my regular recipe (minus the egg and pickle relish), with less or no mayo (depending on how much feta you use), maybe just a little olive oil, and then grilling the sandwich or, if it's on, say, a split baguette, wrapping the whole thing in foil and heating it in a 350 oven for about 15 minutes. That's really good too.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Leftovers, Anyone? More with Sticks and String

Recently I've been obsessed with knitting these lovely round lacy dishcloths - I've lost count of how many!
The pattern is at (Note that the pattern recommends knitting an extra row at the very end. I've tried it both ways and prefer it without that extra row.) Joe thinks they're too pretty to use for dishes and make very nice doilies instead. I've given a few of the plainer ones that I knitted before stumbling on to this addictive pattern to my mom, who feels the same way and uses them under hot dishes on the table. As long as they like them, it's fine with me.
     Each cloth uses up most of a ball of yarn, especially these variegated and striped yarns which have less yardage to begin with, but there are always leftovers, and I've used them to make little coasters like the one in this picture.
The pattern is at Of course there wasn't quite enough yarn to complete the coaster, so I finished it with some more or less coordinating yarn, and I'm happy enough with it. But then decided I needed another kind of project to use up those odd bits of yarn, and here's what I came up with - ta da! scrunchies!
They're about as simple as it gets. These are done with worsted weight 100% cotton yarn and an H hook. Using one of the stronger coated ponytail elastics as a base ring, single or double crochet all the way around, as many stitches as you can get onto the ring. Join to the top of the first stitch with a slip stitch and then start the outer ring: *ch 6, skip 1 st, sl st into the next st. Repeat from * all the way around, join with a sl st and end, or, if you have enough yarn, crochet another round of ch 3, sl st into next ch 6 space. I hope this is understandable; I'm not a professional pattern writer and I pretty much made them up as I went along. This is how one of them looks "in action."
Late last summer I cut off my long hair, and then after a while realized I needed a professional to trim up my less-than-satisfactory results so it could look more presentable while it was growing out again. It's so nice to be able to justify using these little goodies - I am just not a short-hair person, no matter how much I like those styles on other people. The song is right: "I gotta be me." And part of being me, I guess, is finding ways to use up little bits of this and that - like leftover yarn - rather than throwing them out.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fresh Off the Vine

I used to plant snow peas in the winter garden until one year I decided to try the sugar snap peas everyone was talking about. Now each year I'm faced with the dilemma of which kind will get garden space. Because we don't have unlimited acreage (or any acreage at all), I like tall vines that make use of the wonderful trellises Joe built a few years ago.
     You can see how the trellises are attached to the concrete wall at the top with brackets. Joe's a wonderful, careful craftsman (I'm so lucky!); the trellises are extremely sturdy, more than 6 feet tall (but not so tall I can't reach what grows on them), with vertical posts every two feet and chicken wire between the posts for the vines to climb on.
     It's much easier to pick peas (or anything else) when they grow this way than with bush varieties, and I think (though I have no statistical evidence to confirm it) that the tall vines yield more per square foot, and all varieties of peas freeze well, so abundance is welcome.
     Oddly enough (at least it seems odd to me), the seed catalogues were full of the bush varieties of both snow peas and sugar snap peas, but the Oregon Sugar Snaps were the only tall ones I could find in the catalogue I'd decided to order from; ergo, the decision was taken out of my hands. I thought they were a bit slow getting started, but now they've hit their stride, they're very productive and delicious. Few things are tastier than a crunchy, sweet sugar snap pea just plucked from the vine.
     Perhaps I've said this before, but if so, I'll say it again. Picking peas of any variety is not a task to be rushed, because if you rush, you'll miss many of the pods and all of the pleasure. It's important to slow down, relax your gaze, get into a sort of meditative, Zen state in which the peas can reveal themselves to you. There may be some sort of general metaphor for life there.
Peas are not like tomatoes, for example, contrasting with the foliage and shouting "Pick me! Pick me!" No, pea pods are the same color as the leaves and vines, and depending on the angle at which they're hanging, it's easy to mistake one for the other. So I move slowly down the row, scanning from top to bottom, bottom to top, and when I've reached the end of the row, I turn around and do the same thing going back the other way, because invariably I find more on the return trip, pods I couldn't see because they were hidden among the leaves, or because the light comes at them differently from the other direction. Joe built the trellises just far enough from the wall that I can get behind them, but I guide the vines to grow on the other side, so there usually aren't too many back there.
     Another nice thing about sugar snap peas as opposed to snow peas is that if you miss a day or two of picking, they'll still be edible - you can't let snow peas get too large or the actual peas get too big - they get tough and the pods get stringy. Here's my crop from yesterday:
Together with what was in the refrigerator from an earlier picking, I was able to freeze enough for three dinners some time in the future, in the searing heat of summer, perhaps, when these cool and beautiful spring days will seem like a long-ago dream, and still have enough for dinner last night.  Here's what we had , a simple stir-fry of sugar snap peas, crimini mushrooms, red bell pepper, onion, pak choi (some of the last from the garden, since it's beginning to bolt), and tofu.
     Some years ago on Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor told the story of how Mrs. Ingqvist took cooking classes and learned a whole lot of ways to cook tofu, but when she told her husband that eating tofu could add ten years to his life, he said he didn't think those would be years he'd enjoy. Joe and I actually like tofu, but I think my mom agrees with Pastor Ingqvist, and since she's doing very well at almost 89 years old, I really can't use the longevity argument on her. I just don't cook tofu when she's coming to dinner.
     No doubt I'll write more about tofu some time in the future. This stir-fry would be equally good with shrimp or chicken, beef or pork, though those protein sources might dominate and in this case I wanted the focus to be on the vegetables.
     I don't really use a recipe for such a basic stir-fry, since my ingredients are usually whatever's on hand in the refrigerator, but here's the basic procedure:
 First, do any slicing or chopping or measuring before you turn on the stove, including cooking the rice. I heat up the pan-sprayed wok with a couple of teaspoons of oil in it (if you use a nonstick wok, as I do, be sure never to heat it without some kind of fat - even if it's just pan spray - or liquid in it, since heating them dry can release toxic chemicals) and toss in your protein (in this case, for two people, just under 1/2 pound of pressed, cubed tofu) and stir-fry till it browns a little (if you're using shrimp, cook them till they're not quite done, take them out, then add them in at the end again to finish cooking - overcooked, rubbery shrimp is not pleasant), then add seasonings - I use a combination of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or sherry, a spoonful of sugar, grated fresh ginger, and minced garlic. Then put in the vegetables in batches, the longer cooking ones first, and the tender greens, if you're using them, at the end (the delicate pak choi last night needed only 1 minute or so to wilt deliciously). I usually add some (half a cup or so) liquid and put on the tight-fitting lid after adding the veggies so there's an element of steaming as well as frying. Then serve it all over rice.
 One final note about mushrooms:
never store them in the plastic produce bag in which you bring them home from the store. I put mine in the refrigerator in a little basket lined with a paper towel, so they can breathe and not get slimy if I forget and don't use them right away.  My mom does the same thing but uses a bowl with a paper towel. Don't cover them unless it's with more paper towel. (Actually, a cloth napkin would work as well as the paper towel and be more eco-conscious, and I'm sure I have a stained one that I can put to that use.) They may dry up and shrink a little, but they're usually still good if you're going to put them in a dish where they cook in some liquid that will reconstitute them. That was the case with the criminis I used last night; they'd shrunk to about 3/5 their original size and gotten a bit leathery, but they drank up the seasoned liquid and steam and were a flavorful addition to our dinner.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Giving and Receiving - A Stick and Some String

I recently got involved in 3 swaps through a wonderful online knitting community, Knitting Paradise,, and have already received one package from a very nice lady in Utah, who sent me this potholder and the vintage pattern booklet it came from, as well as a couple of recipes and 3 more potholder patterns.
Here's the one I'm sending to my other swap partner (it's not a straight across swap; you don't send one back to the person you get one from).
The pattern for this crocheted potholder (Knitting Paradise also welcomes crocheters) is at; she also has a number of other colorful and clever patterns that I think I'll have to try. Do check out this link, if only to see the gorgeous, brightly colored potholders in the photos. This one looks subdued in comparison, but my swap partner's kitchen colors are brown and beige, so it should go well. And it doesn't need to just be decorative. With all those thick petals it will protect the hands nicely. The pattern itself is surprisingly easy and simple - well, it surprised me, at least - and works up quite quickly. Michael's currently has Lily Sugar and Creme cotton yarn on sale for 4/$5, so I stocked up to make some of these for myself. You want to use cotton yarn because acrylic will melt and doesn't protect your hands very well.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lovely Lemon Soup

Yesterday I picked the last half-dozen lemons off my little Meyer lemon tree, and was happy to see bees busy among the blossoms; those blossoms are so deliciously fragrant it can make me feel a bit intoxicated just going out the back door!
     I used one of the lemons to make Greek Avgolemono Soup, something I've been wanting to try. In theory it has always sounded tasty, being made with simple things I love: rice, broth, eggs, and lemons. I've tasted it at Sweet Tomatoes and it was just okay, so I really needed to see if homemade would be better than something made in large quantities and kept hot in buffet pots - I was pretty sure it would.

I used a recipe from Oprah's website, where I somehow found myself a few weeks ago (I'm not quite sure why or how I got there, but finding the recipe section was a nice surprise).
     It was really lovely, light and yet also filling, and I've packed up the leftovers (it serves four and we're only two) for our lunches at work on Monday. The recipe says it's good hot or cold. It thickens as it cools but tastes great. That's fresh dill in the picture. I've got dill and cilantro growing in a wine barrel again this year and they're both quite lush and thick. Soon it will be time to cut them back and make mustard dill sauce (click on that heading in the sidebar for the recipe, and the recipe for Mast va Khiar, Persian yogurt with cucumbers and dill) and cilantro pesto to freeze.