Saturday, September 26, 2009

Farewell Summer

I'm a warm weather kind of girl, and I'm not too keen on winter. But I must admit, I enjoy living in a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. I like the changing of gears, the refocusing that occurs at during the seasonal shifts. We start to focus on new pursuits and eat different foods. I like being a little more aware of the passing of time.

That's one of the things I love about the liturgical cycle as well. It establishes a rhythm of life, daily, weekly, and seasonally. I like noting the shift of tones from one week to the next and singing the different Resurrectional troparia. The feasts of the Church mark the passing of the year. While the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8 still falls firmly into summer to my mind, by the Exaltation of the Cross one week later on the 14th, I can't help but start to think of fall. St. Thekla is the patron of our ladies society, so this week our parish celebrated liturgy on Wednesday evening for the Feast of St. Thekla. On Wednesday evenings our parish has vespers, dinner, and Bible study. We usually take a short break from this during the summer, and this Wednesday also served as sort of a kickoff for the fall inquirer's class and adult Bible study. The Feast of St. Thekla on September 24, falling as it does so close to the autumnal equinox, has become one of the markers of autumn to me.

So we're saying goodbye to summer around here. We got the last box from our farm co-op last week, and we're savoring the last of the warm weather vegetables. We recently enjoyed this "snacky dinner" as we call it at out house. (It doesn't sound quite as sophisticated as calling it tapas or meze, but it tastes just as good.) Snacky dinner is very simple, and we both love it. It feels very relaxed. It involves setting out a variety of snack-like foods. For us, it almost always includes hard-boiled eggs. Often it means cheese and crackers, olives and fruit, and usually something dippable. It tends to be seasonal--in the winter there is often dried fruit and citrus. On this night it was sliced tomatoes with feta and basil, a very delectable local pear or two, and the usual hard-boiled eggs. The unappetizing looking grey stuff was the star of the show. That's baba ganoush. I had a lot of eggplants hanging around. Mmmm, it was yummy. It would have been lovely with some fresh pita, but even with the last of the bag of tortilla chips it was delicious. It was a really good way to say farewell to summer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Soup, Salad & Bread

I love soup. The combination of soup, salad and bread is my favorite meal. There are infinite variations on the theme, and we eat a lot of different soups. Three seasons of the year we eat it at least once a week. I especially love to make it for fasting days, and I have several in the rotation. Minestrone is a good, basic vegetarian soup for those nights. It's one of those soups that takes well to variation. You can throw in whatever vegetables you've got, but this is my standard version. It's based on a recipe out of the Betty Crocker Vegetarian Cookbook, which I bought when I was in college and still getting my feet wet in the kitchen. It's quite quick to make, and is based around some of my favorite vegetables.


1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil of your choice
1 cup diced onion
1 bell pepper, diced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
2 cans diced tomatoes (or equivalent chopped fresh)
4 cups vegetable broth or water (Water actually works just fine, but the flavor is a little richer with broth.)
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed (Home-cooked beans are fine too, of course. Any white bean or chickpeas are also good in this. )
1 small zucchini or summer squash, cut into half moons (or quarters if you use part of a bigger squash)
1/2 cup small pasta (like shells or ditali--I usually use plain old elbows)
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in your soup pot. Add bell pepper and onion, saute until onion is translucent and veggies are tender. Stir in spices--you could substitute a tablespoon of Italian seasoning for the individual spice if you want. Add tomatoes, broth and beans; bring to a boil. Simmer for twenty minutes or so. (If you want to make this a day in advance or to freeze, stop at this point and add the pasta and squash when you reheat. The water version is better if you make it ahead to let the flavors meld overnight.) Bring to a boil again and add the pasta and zucchini. Boil for the time required to cook pasta. Season with salt and pepper as desired. You can double (or even quadruple) this recipe if you have a larger crowd to feed.

And now my very own recipe for Flax Seed Fridge Rolls. We love these. They are yummy, and they are so easy and convenient. And I made up the recipe myself! Several years ago my grandmother gave me a recipe for refrigerator rolls. I loved the idea, but the recipe was not really my style. So I came up with this recipe, which bears no resemblance to the one that inspired it. We eat these all the time. If I ever cook more than a couple of meals for you, you will likely eat these.

Flax Seed Fridge Rolls

2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup oil--sometimes I use olive, sometimes canola
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt

Put the water, yeast & sugar in a large bowl. I usually use a 2.5 quart Pyrex. Let it sit about 5 minutes until it gets bubbly. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. It's important to make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and get it well mixed. You will have a really wet, sticky dough. Cover your bowl with a damp dishcloth/towel or plastic wrap.

If you make this in the evening and you want to eat rolls that night, leave the bowl out on the counter to let the dough rise while you make the rest of your dinner. Otherwise, stick your bowl in the refrigerator to let the dough rise overnight, or all day if you make it in the morning. The photo above shows dough which has been in the fridge for a couple of days and has had some of the rolls baked.

When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 400. Grease a muffin tin (for however many rolls you wish to make) and fill them about 3/4 full with the batter. Bake about 20 minutes, until they're a nice golden brown. (As seen in the top picture.) There you go, fresh homemade rolls with dinner! So easy! I usually bake six at a time for us. This makes around 16-18 rolls, and you can keep the batter in the fridge for up to a week, baking rolls as needed. At the end of the week the rolls tend to have a kind of sourdough tang to them. I hope you find this recipe as useful as I do. We love to have fresh bread with dinner, and this makes it really easy to do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Knit One, Almost Two

Usually, I don't do a lot of knitting in the summertime. I tend to get the urge to curl up and work with yarn when it gets cool outside. I guess it just feels like a cozy craft to me. This summer, however, I've been doing a lot more knitting than usual. Perhaps that's in part due to the unseasonably cool summer we have had. And I've knitted my way through four seasons of Northern Exposure from the library, so watching such a wintry show might have had something to do with my desire to knit as well.

I remember enjoying this show when it originally aired back in the nineties. I was in high school at the time, and it has been interesting to watch it again from a different perspective. The thing I like most about it is the strong sense of community between the people of the town. Although they don't always like each other or even get along very well, for the most part they are very supportive of one another. They always seem to be there for each other when they need it. I have been a little disappointed that despite being set in Alaska, so far the only reference to the Orthodox Church has been a throwaway line about the Russian influence on the state. At one point in the fourth season I got my hopes up, because Chris (the radio show guy played by John Corbett, who among many roles also stars in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) decides to visit a monastery, but it turns out not to be Orthodox. I have two more seasons to go, so maybe there will be something yet.

I have two knitting projects that I've been working on, and I'm getting close to completing both of them. I thought I'd share my progress on this one so far. I'm about to turn the heel on the second sock in the pair. I used this pattern, and the yarn is Tofutsies. I don't have the band anymore, but my guess is that the colorway is 802. I bought the yarn last Christmas to knit a pair of socks for my dad. It was the first pair of socks I ever knit, and I bought two skeins thinking I might need one for each sock. My dad kind of has a thing for crazy socks, so I chose this really colorful yarn for him, and he was quite pleased to get them in his Christmas stocking. Since I had the extra skein, I thought I would knit a pair for myself as well.

I've found I really enjoy knitting socks, and I liked this pattern a lot. I suspect I will use it many times again in the years to come. There is plenty of mindless knitting in the round, so it's perfect for watching movies (0r TV shows on DVD.) They've also come along to Bible study and on long car rides. I like that just when I can't take any more knitting in the round, it's time to turn the heel. Once the heel is done, I get to go back to knitting in the round, and when I start to lose interest again it's time to start decreasing for the toe. This pattern has a round toe, which is perfect for my narrow-footed, long-toed family, but it also gives an alternate kitchener toe. My unusual summer knitting spurt has been well timed, since it means these will be done just in time for sock weather. I think my other knitting project will be off the needles pretty soon, so that will likely turn up here before too long.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Desperation Dinner

OK, this is my pantry staple dinner. It's the one that I pull out when I'm in one of those situations where I really need to go grocery shopping, or it's been one of those days and I just have no interest or energy in cooking. Sometimes I fall back on this one if James isn't going to be around, and I don't feel like putting a lot of effort into a dinner for just me. It comes in handy if the dinner plan fell through for some reason. By keeping just three little ingredients around, you can save yourself from resorting to that other kind of fast food.

This makes enough for 2 people--you could easily double or triple it for a bigger family.

1 can of chili beans in sauce
1 cup of salsa
1 cup of corn (can be frozen or fresh, or even canned if you drain it)

Pour them all into a pan, stir and heat.

It's that simple. It's not gourmet, but it's better than Taco Bell and just as cheap. I've been making this since I was in college, and I was pretty pleased recently when Kroger started carrying organic chili beans. Since I live in corn country, at this time of year I have plenty of locally grown corn that I cut off the cob and freeze, but I had this floating around the freezer from when last summer's supply ran out, so I wanted to use it up.

You can easily jazz this up, if you like. In this case, I stirred in chopped fresh tomatoes. I like to sprinkle green onions on top, too. You can use any kind of salsa your family likes, and I heartily endorse using homemade. You could add more vegetables or even a side salad to actually make it a balanced meal, if you were so inclined.

Depending on what I have on hand and my level of energy and time constraints, I serve this over baked potatoes, with tortillas (seen here) or tortilla chips. Crackers, rice, couscous, quinoa or biscuits would be fine choices, too. If it's not a fast day, sometimes we eat this with fried corn bread, and top it with cheese or sour cream.

And I really like it with polenta. Polenta only has two ingredients! And one of them is water, which doesn't even really count, so this is great if you're in an Old Mother Hubbard kind of situation with your cupboards.

1/2 cup cornmeal (not a cornmeal mix with flour, just straight up cornmeal)
2 cups water (divided)

Whisk together the corn meal and a 1/2 cup of water. Bring the remaining water to boil, then stir in the cornmeal slurry. Reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes until it's thick and creamy. Season it any way your heart desires.