Showing posts from April, 2014

Spring Chicken Salad

We're super-busy this week, so bring on the easy dinners! One of my favorite things to make ahead of time is chicken salad, and spring is the perfect season for it. All my favorite herbs to throw into a chicken salad are just coming up now, and it's lovely to have them back after a long winter. Here's how I make my favorite chicken salad.

Spring Chicken Salad

makes about 4 servings (1/2 cup each)

for the chicken:

2 chicken breasts, deboned and without skin
1 small head of garlic
4-5 sprigs of rosemary
olive oil

for the dressing:

1/2 cup mayonaise
2 Tbs dijon mustard
1/8 tsp curry powder
1 large lovage leaf (and possibly its stem, if it's a fresh, young leaf)
2 chive leaves
3 green scallion leaves (or 1 small, whole scallion including the bulb)
1 large sprig thyme
1 large or 2 small ribs celery

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat chicken dry and brown in a hot pan:

There are three chicken breasts here, but I only used two in the chicken salad. Jonas…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Netflix DVDs

We've already cut back on our on-screen entertainment, but I'm taking it a step further by 
Canceling the Netflix DVDs we get in the mail.
Earlier this year we cut back on the DVD portion of our Netflix subscription because we found that we weren't really watching all that many of these movies. They would come in the mail and then gather dust near the TV when we got busy. I mean, we had a copy of The Sound of Music lying around for six months.
So it wasn't that painful to dial back our rentals to just two DVDs per month.
But here's the thing. Since returning The Sound of Music and vowing to get better about actually watching the movies we get, over 50 percent (5 out of the last 8!) of the discs have been damaged to the point of being unwatchable. They skip, they pixelate, they freeze. 
And the killer is that every single movie that I actually wanted to watch (meaning, not Kirk's sci-fi or the kids' cartoons) was messed up. Every one of them. 
Over the weeken…

Honey Chipotle Cornbread

Ah, April vacation. Even if you don't have fancy travelplans, it's a great time of year to enjoy some time off. In addition to getting some outside chores done, we were able to catch up with good friends for a couple nights this week to enjoy some low-key dinner and conversation. One of these get-togethers featured a chili and taco supper, and I made some cornbread to bring along as a side dish. Not just plain cornbread, though —  decided to spice it up a bit. This is an adaptation of the (excellent) cornbread recipe on the back of the bag of cornmeal.
Honey Chipotle Cornbread
Makes about a dozen muffins
1 cup cornmeal 1 cup flour 3 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. salt 1/4-1/2 tsp. ground chipotle 3 Tbs. honey 1 cup minus 1 Tbs. milk 1 egg 1/4 cup oil
1. First, you need to grind the chipotle peppers if you're starting with whole ones:

We smoked and dried our own last summer, and have whole ones stored in the freezer. To grind, use a pair of kitchen shears to cut into very small …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Haircut

You may or may not know this about me, but I have short hair:

It's my default style, and most of the years of my life it has been more or less this length, give or take a few bobs and a stretch of luxurious long layers courtesy of my pregnancies. It's super easy and makes the most sense given my personal combination of fine, straight hair and laziness.
Still, what you get in ease of styling (typically a product-free five minutes of blow drying), you pay for in upkeep. Short hair needs to be cut every six weeks, and when it's fine, it needs to be cut by a real pro (for which I happily pay a premium). 
But it's been short for the last five years, so clearly there's room for a change in both style and cost if I
Decrease my trips to the hair salon to just once every two months.
This pretty much requires me to grow it out, because there's no way to keep a pixie-ish 'do looking decent this way. That's okay — I could stand for a change, and this gives me a goo…

Farm Fresh Easter Eggs

Last year we had some serious trouble hard-boiling our Easter eggs. They weren't finished in the center and were impossible to peel without gouging out big pieces of egg white that stayed attached to the shells. This is because fresh eggs have a much stronger membrane (the part between the shell and the white), while store-bought eggs have been sitting around long enough to let the membrane separate a bit. (You can read a very thorough, more scientific explanation here.)
This year, we vowed to do better.
Although the internet is full of ideas about how to make fresh eggs easier to peel (ice bath, pin prick, baking soda, steaming), the varied comments left by others on each method led me to believe that there's no magic bullet here. You just have to plan ahead.
And since planning is my strong suit, that's what we did. Back in March, we started a separate box to save our clean, unpecked eggs for Easter. It was full by the end of the month, and we left it in the back of the f…

Herbal Apothecary: The Aloe Harvest

Yes, you read that correctly. As our temperatures ricochet between 75 and 25 degrees, we've been experiencing high winds for several days. I know, I know — it's always windy here, so what's the big deal? Well, this go-around was enough to take out the cable, a massive tree limb, and our poor, domesticated aloe plant.

It was great to have the windows open over the weekend, but on Monday the wind really picked up, and our aloe ended up on the floor, with three smushed leaves. The photo above shows the plant after I trimmed off the broken leaves, which is why it's now kind of lopsided.

Two leaves I cut down to the base, but this one was only broken at the tip, so I decided to try to save most of it. Aloe leaves heal themselves pretty quickly, so it should be ok.
I wasn't planning to harvest aloe while the plant is still so small, but it would be a shame to waste the leaves that the wind so efficiently delivered to me. Turns out that I also needed to make some more so…

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Entertainment Budget, Part 2

Sorry if this is super lame, but I'm going to repeat myself.

Cut back the entertainment budget by (another) $40 per month.

It's true, we've already done this. But that's no reason not to do it again.

Now our entertainment budget is actually $80 per month less than it was at the beginning of 2014 ($40 cut in January, and another $40 cut now). And I have to say, just like we never really felt that tiny trim back in January, I don't think we're going to notice this one in April, either.

So our battered "Entertainment Envelope" is a little thinner, but that's a good thing. (As I mentioned before, we are on a cash-only basis with eating out and going to movies, so that we stay squarely within the budget we've allowed ourselves. This envelope stays on a desk in the living room where everyone can easily see what's left to spend, which helps us plan ahead and make decisions together.)
And even though this is a repeat, I think it goes to show that …

Signs of Spring

We've been on a springtime weather roller coaster here the past several days, bouncing from balmy to brisk and back again. It was another big weekend in the garden, with lots of bed prep and planting (leeks, onions, carrots, parsnips, radishes, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, and potatoes). My hamstrings and hands are still sore, but we got a lot done.
It would be a shame, though, to focus only on the to-do list without enjoying all the little changes that spring brings to the garden. Here's what's blooming:

Bulbs are up in the perennial border, and these blue glory-of-the-snow get better each year. We inherited them and they have naturalized nicely. There are also some darker blue Siberian squill, which are just starting to come up.

We removed the spills from the sugar maple now that sugaring season is done. The wound should heal over by autumn.

More blue! These sky blue muscari bulbs are in the cutting bed, but I never actually cut them down. 

Rhubarb stalks have also ma…

Maple Sugar Round Up

As of this weekend, our maple sugaring season is over. The trees haven't budded out yet, but the sap has slowed way down now that we aren't getting below freezing temperatures at nighttime any more.

We boiled down our last three pints of syrup over the weekend, and next weekend we will be dismantling the fire pit, taking out the spiles, and cleaning everything up to pack away for next year.

2014 maple sugaring stats:

4 taps (3 in our sugar maple and 1 in our Norway maple)

32 days of collecting sap

80-90 gallons of sap

17 1/2 pints of maple syrup

The one thing I didn't keep records of was the obscene amount of firewood we burned through to make this happen. I do now that we spent a lot of money on it, because we were getting it at the hardware store by the bag. In the future, we plan to build a small woodshed behind the garage and order a half-cord or cord in the fall, which will see us through any emergency fires we'd need to light due to a power outage, and of course …

Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Charitable Giving

As I mentioned before, moving into the second quarter of the year means having to make some more difficult choices, now that most of the easy cuts to the budget have already been made. I don't really love doing this, but I've decided to

Limit our charitable donations to one gift per month.

For us, this means cutting our budget from $75 per month to $50 per month, since $50 is the size of an individual donation for us. The $75 line item in our budget is based on past spending in this category (by the way, that was super easy to figure out because we use a software program to track our bank accounts).

Our (former) pattern of giving was to just write a check for $50 whenever our favorite charity asked, as long as we had a nice cushion going in the checking account when we received the mailing. We would also write a check on the spot for charities our friends were raising for (think of walkathons and stuff like that). We didn't really keep track of the budget.

Well, now that I&…

First Weekend of Work

Finally! A weekend warm enough to get outside and dig in the dirt! 
You may recall that last weekend the weather was terrible, our soil was still partially frozen, and we weren't able to adhere to our original planting schedule.
Well, in a week's time the crocuses have bloomed and the soil has warmed (well, most of it, anyway). Because we had some catching up to do, our first weekend outside was a big one. Here's the run down of all the stuff we did.
1. Uncovered the fig tree:

Back in the fall we stacked potato boxes around the fig tree and filled them with leaves to protect the tree from the cold and wind. As you can see, the leaves kept the shape of the box. I guess we'll see in a few weeks how the tree fared as it leafs out again. Despite some droopy branches, there's at least one bud on it that looks ok so far, and if it made it through this harsh if a winter, I think it'll be a keeper.
2. Lots of garden bed prep. This means turning the soil and adding fert…

Celery and Parsley Update

Back in February, I started some celery and parsley from seed. This is new for us. In the past, we've always just picked up a six-pack of each from a local nursery to transplant. They've been getting harder to find each year, though, so we decided to give it a go from seed.
These two plants are notoriously difficult to start from seed, so I was very pleased when the seeds germinated well on our seed starting shelves. These were planted almost six weeks ago, and today the reminder to start hardening them off popped up on my phone. Let's see how they're doing, shall we?

That's the parsley. So far each seedling has just one true leaf, in addition to the oblong cotyledon leaves. Looks good so far, but that leaf isn't even as big as my pinky fingernail yet. 
Also, you need at least two, and preferably four true leaves before you start hardening these off outside in the cold and wind and (some day) blazing sun to get them ready to transplant.
Hmm. Six weeks and just …