Archive for the 'Friends' Category

Farewell to Sher

I would really rather not be writing this post.

I would really rather not have eaten this particular meal at this particular time.

I would prefer to have stumbled across it, like so many other recipes posted by food bloggers I know and enjoy, and would prefer to have just made it whenever, unnoticed. I would prefer not to have been thinking about what I was going to way when I wrote it up.

Most of us in the food blogging community know this already: last Sunday morning, very suddenly, Sher of What Did You Eat? died of a heart attack.

Sher’s one of the bloggers I had not met. But I’d been reading her for awhile now, connected to her via Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, and because I have a friend who lives in Davis, I always felt like I could visualize where she lived as I read about her life.

And now she’s gone, and that’s left me with a lot to think about. She’s the first blogger in my regular reading to fall away, not because she abandoned her blog, but because life abandoned her. It breaks my heart, and I find myself thinking about the other food bloggers I know, the other people in this community of technologically-minded women and men who enrich my life so very much, and how they are not just glimmers on the screen to me. They are my peers, my friends, my compatriots. Any one of them gone leaves a hole.

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

Sher's stuffed mushrooms

My mother called while I was cooking up Sher’s Poblano and Cheddar-Stuffed Portabello Mushrooms last night. As I talked, I dried the spinach, and my salad spinner is a noisy thing. “What are you doing?” she asked.

I explained. “She was only 60,” I said. “I’m not very joyful about preparing this meal.”

The event: Remember Sher through her recipes. Kalyn suspended Weekend Herb Blogging in Sher’s honor, and asked those of us who take part in an event to take part in this one, organized by Mary, the breadchick, instead.

I spent some time browsing Sher’s archives, looking for something that spoke to me. This recipe did, partially because I love stuffed mushrooms, partially because it featured cilantro, an herb that, I’ll admit, I tolerate, but that I know Kalyn loves. And Kalyn and Sher were such good friends that it seemed appropriate.

I can tell you this: the “green taste” that Sher describes? It really shines in this dish. There’s no other real way to write about it, so I’m going to leave it in Sher’s hands. And the recipe is amazing. I do wish I had made more of it. I will make it again, to be sure. I’ll even keep the cilantro in there—I really enjoyed the recipe as Sher posted it.

But I hope to never make it again with as heavy a heart. To Sher’s family, I wish you consolation in your grief. To Kalyn, I wish you consolation as well, but I thank you for organizing this.

And to Sher, thank you. Thank you for this recipe, thank you for the other recipes that folks will have chosen and prepared in your honor this weekend, and thank you for your joyful writing. Know that we miss you.

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The report from BlogHer ’08

If you’ve been following my Twitter account over the past few days and weren’t a BlogHer ’08 attendee, you’re probably about ready to abandon me, either because you wanted to be there and are madly jealous, or because you couldn’t give a whit about the conference and you would prefer I stick to my regular Twitter diet of odd musings about my walking commute down Oakland’s mean streets.

Note to those of you in the former category: keep an eye on registration for next year, because the conference keeps getting better and better.

But, to appease those in the latter category, I promise that the BlogHer-related Tweets will careen to a halt, and that this will wrap up my formal coverage of BlogHer ’08 for the week. Or the month. Or some other time period as yet to be determined.

Regardless, the conference provided one of the best opportunities in women’s blogging to put faces with words, and to meet new bloggers who I had not yet stumbled across in my prodigious RSS feed reading. One can never have too many posts in one’s feed reader, I always say.

OK, I never say that. But this is the age of the Internet, so I’m at least trying to get that phrase into circulation. It’s better if you say it in a slightly snooty accent, by the way.

I did end up going with my tagline (“It’s amazing what I’ll do for a good tomato.”) for Kalyn’s Food Bloggers’ Birds of a Feather gathering. Others interpreted the 10-word assignment a little differently, either stringing together 10 random words or not following Kalyn’s guidelines at all, or, in the case of one hapless PR person, meandering through a pitch for whatever site she represented (it does not speak well of her pitch that I cannot remember what she was talking about…) until she got to about word 75 and Kalyn reminded her diplomatically and firmly of all the other people patiently waiting to speak.

Friday night featured a terrific dinner at R&G Lounge with a bevy of amazing food bloggers: Kathy of Panini Happy, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, Shuna of Eggbeater, Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, Sean of Hedonia, Elise of Simply Recipes (Thanks for the mug, Elise!), Lydia of The Perfect Pantry, Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy, Amy of Cooking with Amy, Claire of Cookthink (Thanks for the tea towel, Claire!), Jennifer Jeffrey and myself. If I forgot someone, which I hope I did not, bug me via comments and I’ll happily update.

On Saturday, I finally got to meet Deb Roby, who is a Home, Garden and DIY editor for BlogHer and who also blogs at A Stitch in Time and Weight for Deb. She hosted a Home, Garden and DIY Birds of a Feather gathering Saturday that ranged through a variety of topics from everyone’s secret resources to sustainable products for the home.

On Sunday, I hit the UnConference, which is a free-form event where the attendees determine the agenda and take the discussion in whatever direction works best for all the small groups of participants. The move to Oakland has spurred me on to taking a closer look at my blog and where it’s going in its next phase (It’s like a teenager, this blog, with its phases and its moodiness and its storming around from topic to topic…), and I just happened to stand up and call for a session on going through a blog brand transition at the same time that Diana, maven of Of The Princess And The Pea, stood up and requested the same thing. We combined forces and ran the session together, and for those of you who joined that discussion, I promise to have the notes up by the end of this coming weekend.

I wrapped up the UnConference by spending about 45 minutes chatting with the only other Genie I’ve ever met in person—Genie Alisa of In a Bottle. We started the conversation by talking about WordPress, but moved on to life, how we depict it on our respective blogs, and how that affects the people around us and our relationships with them.

It was just the kind of discussion that makes BlogHer so rewarding—from a common platform, women who didn’t even read each others’ work before the weekend began went home feeling that much more connected to a larger community of women trying to do just the same thing: Tell a story, raise a hand and ask a question that might change the way someone else thinks, and maybe even make the world—online and offline—a little more beautiful.

Enchiladas for the journey

Remember how I said on Thursday night that I push deadlines but don’t miss them and that I’d report back about BlogHer, um, yesterday?

Well, make that tomorrow. The conference is still going on, it’s been an amazing weekend of networking and experiences and the occasional gratis glass of Prosecco (OK, maybe the occasional two glasses?), and I’ve gotten very little sleep because even when I get home, my brain is racing so hard I can’t get myself to go to bed.

And, in the meantime, I have a story to tell that has nothing to do with BlogHer, but is time-sensitive. Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen has made some tweaks to the rules for Weekend Herb Blogging, and technically, this story fits under the rubric of the old rules rather than the new. The new rules go into effect this coming week, so today is my last day to sneak this in under the wire. Sure, I could just post it without participating in WHB, but where would be the camaraderie in that?

And see? I’m just making a deadline!

So, even though I’m writing this from a conference room on Union Square in San Francisco, this goes back to my last days in Iowa, for a recipe that, much like my move to California, is not so much specific measurements, and more a wing-and-prayer approach of combining things that go well together, tossing them in the oven to bake, and enjoying what comes out.

I spent the first half of my last week in Iowa in California, actually, looking for an apartment. It was a crazy weekend of hoofing it around Oakland, following leads off Craigslist and taking deep gulps at the rents and the deposits required to move in. I signed a lease that Tuesday evening, boarded a red-eye back to Cedar Rapids, and then crawled into bed as soon as I got home in an attempt to avoid the amount of packing I had to finish in three days.

Because the move happened so quickly, I didn’t really have a chance to properly eat down all the food in my fridge and freezer, and because the winter had been so fraught with delayed travel, I hadn’t been home enough or rested enough to manage the proper cooking program I usually maintain.

This meant I still had some slow-roasted tomatoes in the freezer, and as anyone who reads Kalyn or Alanna of Kitchen Parade knows, you don’t waste slow-roasted tomatoes.

I also had made my last visit to the Iowa City Farmer’s Market that Wednesday night, planning mainly to pick up a few gifts for the folks who would be hosting me on my journey west, but deciding, while I was there, to grab a bunch of locally-grown asparagus. Even though I knew I had to stop using my cooking gear and get it into boxes, the asparagus looked to good not to buy it.

So, on Thursday night, I told Betsy to make time for one last dinner cooked in my big Iowa kitchen. It was time for enchiladas, which, over the course of my last year in Iowa, became one of my favorite go-to comfort foods. Fast, easy and, as I made them, arguably not that unhealthy, I started making large batches every couple of weeks, taking the leftovers for lunch or, on days when the comfort was necessary earlier in the day, eating them for breakfast.

Spinach and slow-roasted tomatoes

Spinach and slow-roasted tomatoes

I use an informal recipe, so informal that I’m not going to write it out in traditional fashion. But trust me…anyone can do this. I pre-heated the oven to 375 degrees, then pulled out my stoneware 9” x 12” pan (stoneware’s not required). I sauteed the slow-roasted tomatoes and a bag of baby spinach over medium-high heat until the spinach wilted, then mixed the tomatoes and spinach in a bowl with a diced package of baked tofu (hickory flavored) and three or four spoonfuls of salsa. These ingredients, it should be noted, are not written in stone—if you like mushrooms, or chicken, or black beans, or corn, try any or all of that.

I rolled that filling into spelt tortillas, but you can use flour tortillas or even corn, although warming the corn tortillas first will help keep them from cracking as you roll them up. I placed each tortilla seam-down in the pan, nestling them against each other so they held each other together. I poured a 12-ounce bottle of Trader Joe’s enchilada sauce (that’s my favorite brand, but any enchilada sauce will do) over the top and then sprinkled the whole pan-full with shredded Colby Jack. Eyeball the cheese until it seems right to you – there are days when just a light touch works great, but other days when extra cheese makes all the difference. Gauge your own mood accordingly.

Then I baked them up, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until the cheese had melted and the sauce around the edges bubbled and hissed.

Enchiladas, between asparagus and avocado

Enchiladas, between asparagus and avocado

I also roasted that asparagus, and plated up the enchiladas with the Iowa asparagus on one side and sliced avocado, which just happened to have been flown in from California, on the other. Betsy and I ate dinner at the kitchen table gleaned from another friend who passed it along just when I needed it most, as the light faded over my garden in the back. There would be no more cooking in Iowa, but it seemed just the right dinner to end on: one that featured ingredients from both states, that I served to a friend in the kitchen I’d loved since I first walked into it, and that offered nutrition and comfort for the journey.

This is my post for Weekend Herb Blogging, which is hosted this week by Archana of Archana’s Kitchen. Please stop by later in the weekend for the full round-up of posts!

Debunking my personal plumeria myth

Years ago, I lived with a roommate who was addicted to Bath and Body Works shower gels and moisturizers. Her scent of choice? Plumeria, which I eschewed in favor of Sun-Ripened Raspberry or Warm Vanilla Sugar (so many mornings of seeing that B&BW label in the shower finally wore off on me). Even then, my priority was all things edible. Or, at least, edibly scented.

In the echo chamber of my head, I pronounced the name of the flower like a fast food place that specialized in stone fruit. Not a taqueria, but a PLUM-ehr-EE-ah. I persisted in this belief that the scent had something to do with plums, even though the flowers on the label gave no indication of that whatsoever.

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Plumeria blossoms, Hanalei

Then, a few weeks ago, I ended up on vacation on Kaua’i with The Mint Killer and her family. On the way out of Lihue, The Mint Killer pointed at a line of trees with white blossoms and said, “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. That’s my favorite.”

It had been more than 10 years since I pondered the mysteries of my roommate’s fast food stone fruit body wash, but suddenly it was as if the clouds over Hanalei Bay had broken and a rainbow had appeared.

“OH!” I said. “Plum-AIR-ee-ah. I always thought Bath and Body Works made up that fragrance.”

The Mint Killer gave me the oddest of looks, the kind of look that says, up until now, you have demonstrated most of a grasp on smart, even when it comes to plants, but now I’m not so sure.

But I say this: if a stone fruit fast food place opens in your neighborhood, you will be the first to know how to pronounce its name. So there.

The great ice cream caper

In the carpool on the way home from work on a sunny and warm Wednesday back in April, my friends Betsy and Dan and I decided to go out for burgers. Snow had crept back in the forecast for early the next week, and we needed some ground beef and some sunshine to make ourselves feel better about the impending weather.

Mint chocolate chip

Mint chocolate chip

Over dinner, Dan and I fell back into our running argument about regionally- and locally-made ice cream: I maintain that Heyn’s is better than Whitey’s, and Dan is a Whitey’s guy through and through. We’d been fighting about this for weeks (because, really, what else would a couple of foodies fight about?), and finally Betsy called us on it.

“Why don’t you do a taste test tonight?” she said. “I’ll be the impartial observer.”

“It’s on,” I said.

We agreed to the terms: mint chocolate chip and chocolate chip cookie dough from Heyn’s, Whitey’s and Blue Bunny, a more commercial brand, yes, but still an Iowa-made product. (I should note, here, that when I wrote about locally-made ice cream for Edible Iowa River Valley, we left Whitey’s off the list—it is actually made in Illinois…) Dan and I would sample each flavor and try to identify which sample belonged to which ice cream maker, and then we would also rate which one we thought was the best.

The rating was less the issue, in this contest, than the fact that we both swore we could pick our favorites out of the line-up.

Ice cream acquired, Betsy readied our samples.

“Are you guys going to have a full scoop or just a bite?” Betsy asked.

“Scoop,” I said, and I thought, what else would we eat in a freaking ice cream taste test Imeancomeon.

“Uh, scoop,” Dan said. (I remember this because I wrote it down at the time. I am all about recording intelligent conversation for future blog purposes.)

“What’s the winner going to get?” I asked, very focused on my impending victory over Dan and his assertions.

“I think it’s really what the loser should have to do,” Dan said. “Maybe the loser should have to pay for all the ice cream. Or wear a sign at work tomorrow that says, ‘I lost the ice cream taste test. Ask me how.’”

“Maybe they should have to run outside and run around the house naked,” I said. “Or go to work … NAKED.” Again, I say: I was focused on victory, people. Victory.

Contemplating the chocolate cookie dough

Contemplating the chocolate cookie dough

But it turns out that was not the case. “You’re going to be very disappointed with my picture-taking abilities,” Betsy said when she returned from the kitchen with the first round: mint chocolate chip.

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ll just tell everyone that the pictures were taken by a” (and here, I used finger-quotes) “Masters-degreed artiste.”

And so the tasting began. Cold stares flew across the living room. There were more cackles than talking. And, to be honest, after we tried the chocolate chip cookie dough and I decided that not only was I sure which one was Blue Bunny, but that I liked it the best, as well, I had lost a lot of confidence in my ability to pick out good ice cream. I could smell a loss, so I tried to cut back—a little—on the trash-talking.

When all was said and done, we both correctly identified who made each of the chocolate chip cookie dough variations, but I misidentified the mint chocolate chips. Dan, however, got that one right as well, garnering himself a win. He also took great glee in knowing that I chose a Blue Bunny flavor over two more locally-made options.

Evidence of my favorite...

Evidence of my favorite...

“Sometimes the best cook doesn’t have the best palate,” said Dan.

“Being a winner doesn’t mean you get to be mean,” said Betsy.

I sat there quietly, hoping they had forgotten my suggestion that the winner go to work naked.

Then they both turned to me with expectant looks on their faces. My stomach sank. Were they going to ask me to strip down and run around the house?

No. Much worse. They were expecting me to expose this loss to the world.

“What are you going to write when you put this on the blog, Genie?” Betsy asked. “That you failed? That you chose Blue Bunny?”

So yes, World. I failed. I chose Blue Bunny. And Dan never really got a trophy out of the deal, so today, his 30th birthday, seems like the appropriate day to mark his domination as an ice cream taste tester. Dan, I hope you’re able to put that skill to good use in future endeavors. And happy birthday, dude. Wish I was there to raise a glass—and an ice cream bowl—in your honor.

Dan, enjoying this

Going to BlogHer 2008?

Last summer, I lived a scant 4.5-hour drive from BlogHer 2007’s chosen location. I had all kinds of plans to be there for the conference, figuring that I could just steer my aging green Camry (and by green, I mean its color, not its environmental profile, at this point) toward Lakeshore Drive and have a blast with all kinds of fabulous women bloggers.

And then I realized what weekend it was. Thusly and therefore, I planned myself the most ridiculous travel weekend ever, which meant I got one solid day of BlogHering, followed by three hours of sleep, followed by continued crazy voyaging.

This year, when BlogHer announced it would return to the Bay Area for the third annual conference, I wrote it off. There was a point when I had an inkling I might move out here, but that was not a point at which I had any inkling I would be out here two months before the conference’s opening day.

Then I found myself a short BART ride away from the weekend’s activities. What’s a garden-oriented blogger to do but show up? This year, I’m in for all three days, including the Unconference on Sunday, July 20.

I'm attending the Home and Garden Meet-up. Are you?

I'm attending the Home and Garden Meet-up. Are you?

I float between life as a food blogger and life as a garden blogger, so I plan to be at the Food Bloggers’ Birds of a Feather meet-up on Friday, but will also attend Deb Roby’s Home and Garden BOF meet-up on Saturday. Deb’s going to interview bloggers at this event for a vodcast, so she’s looking for questions. Anything you’ve been dying to ask me but were afraid to comment about? Send it to Deb, and you never know what might end up on the Interwebs.

If you’re going to be at BlogHer 2008, please look for me. I love meeting other bloggers, and would love to get to know you better!

Very slightly delayed gratification

Right as I was leaving work yesterday, I started getting increasingly urgent messages from my friend and former roommate, Susan. She needed my number. She needed to call me. She thought she had my number, but somehow she did not. When she actually sent me a message via Twitter, I knew something serious was going on.

This is about when I noticed that I had a voicemail from Susan, who had apparently found my number. The serious thing, as I found out shortly thereafter, was a question popped, a ring delivered.

It seems that Susan and her fiancé, Don, went out to Roosevelt Island, which is smack dab in the middle of the Potomac River between D.C. and Arlington, Virginia on Friday, and after a picnic, he asked her to marry him.

But Genie, this is a gardening blog, you may be thinking. And even if you have just moved and may be awfully discombobulated, why are you telling us about the social milestones of your friends? Aren’t there plants to talk about?

Why yes, good people of the Interwebs. There are plants to talk about, and if you’d just hold on, I’d get to that part of the story.

As I was saying, the engagement happened Friday. But here’s the thing. It would have happened sooner, before Susan went on an extended set of business trips to Chicago and Ecuador, but for one tiny detail.

The day Don was originally planning to ask Susan to marry him, she beat him to the question punch. She asked him if he’d dig her a garden bed.

“Oh my God,’ I said to Susan on the phone. “A whole bed?”

“Yes,” she said. “Which meant he had to dig up all the grass.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I remember what a huge pain that process was. And how long it took. And I was actually helping. A little. Anyway, by the time Don finished, it was too late, that day, to take Susan to the island, and so he held off until there was time for an unhurried moment of surprise.

But now Susan and Don have a garden AND a wedding to plan. “And every time we eat our vegetables, we’ll think about how this all happened,” she said to me last night.

I can’t think of a better reason to delay something…even something so happy. To Susan and Don, I wish you smooth wedding planning, incredible veggies out of that garden, and as much happiness as you both can stand. Can’t wait for the Key West blowout!


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All words and images (unless otherwise credited) on The Inadvertent Gardener are © 2006-2008 Eugenia E. Gratto. All rights reserved.

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