Archive for the 'Moving' Category

A change of venue

There’s been a lot of motion happening for me this year, and so it should come as no surprise that I’m adding another move to the list. This time, it’s a blog move of sorts.

I’ve dug in over at http://www.theinadvertentgardener.com, which isn’t all that much of a change; after all, that URL has always brought you to the right landing place. But for those of you who have this specific address bookmarked or in your feed reader, now’s the time to update. The latest, greatest RSS feed is located here:
http://www.theinadvertentgardener.com/index.php/feed/

If you still have the old feed in your reader, you may see some posts bubble up – I’m going to be doing some cleanup along the way and redirecting links from this location to the new one. If you have me in your blogroll, I’d love it if you’d update the link, too.

So, on to http://www.theinadvertentgardener.com. Hope to see you there!

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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!

Where the spice road led me

While I might have set limits on my most excellent readers, I did not set limits on myself as I set about to place a Penzey’s order. Pick my top three spices and stop there? Nevah!

I did give serious consideration to Roshani’s suggestion that I hit the San Francisco Herb Company, and I took a look at the bulk spices at Berkeley Bowl when I swung by there Saturday morning to pick up a few necessities for a party I’d be attending later. But at the end of the day, I decided to go with Penzey’s.

It means the spices will be shipped to me, yes, but it also means I’ll know I’m getting incredibly high quality product, and it also means I can get my hands on an infusion of their Bicentennial Rub. I used that stuff to make my first official Thanksgiving turkey a year and a half ago, and then started using it pretty regularly as a rub for steak. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s good on anything that needs to be grilled up. I’m considering trying it on tofu just to see what happens.

So are you ready for the list? Because it’s a doozy. There’s the aforementioned rub, of course, but I also needed to get some peppercorns (I’m already running low), and I happen to love Penzey’s four-peppercorn blend. Done.

In the blended-for-me-oh-thank-you-for-doing-the-work category, I picked up some zatar, garam masala, bold taco seasoning, Tandoori seasoning, Herbes de Provence (I do listen to you, Heather!), and Salt-Free Mural of Flavor (it’s a random bunch o’ stuff, but it’s so good on eggs, people…).

In the just-one-at-a-time-kthx category, I picked up Korintje Cassia Cinnamon, ground cumin, dill weed, whole nutmeg, turmeric, and two kinds of oregano: Turkish and Mexican, because one’s supposed to be good for Meditteranean cooking and one for Central American cooking (I’ll let you take the wild guess as to which is better for which), and I do both, and it’s my order and so if I want to be obsessive about my oregano, I will be. Also, to tell you the truth, I’m curious. Is there that much of a difference? I’ll have to report back once I have the order in hand.

Notably absent from the list include saffron and coriander—unless I missed it entirely, Penzey’s seemed not to have ground coriander, which is really what I was looking for. I like the pods, but didn’t really want to deal with them. I do love saffron, but prefer to buy it right when I’m going to use it for a particular recipe. I’m sure I can find some in San Francisco…this place has a school for people who want to learn more about cheese, so there must be a saffron purveyor across whom I can stumble later.

So that’s the scoop. Thank you again to all of you who provided thoughts on the matter – they were much appreciated.

Of course, this is just the spice part of the equation—there is more herby goodness to be had in the fresh-and-recently-live format—but I’m very excited to be awaiting my box of delights. Clearly, it doesn’t take much to keep me happy.

Tools to grow tomatoes

My exit out of Iowa happened almost faster than I could have imagined. I made a trip out to California to visit a friend in mid-April, and at the time, my party line was that I was looking for jobs and might move out here, might not.

Two weeks later, I flew out for an interview. Two weeks after, I flew out to find an apartment. Two weeks additional, and I was walking through the door of my new place.

This weekend will mark my second in the area, and it still feels more like I’m on some kind of vacation, or work trip, or something—I am constantly having these moments where I catch myself thinking I’m just a visitor, just passing through, bound for the airport any day now.

A few people asked me what I was going to do with my plants. Dig them up? Take them with me? Well, besides the lavender plant, the truth is that I didn’t have anything but annuals planted, and the idea of digging up a bunch of lettuce to carry with me in the car simply wasn’t appealing. I love to eat lettuce, and therefore I refuse to develop a personal relationship with it.

But I am a woman who likes her stuff, and so I expected to want to take all my garden accoutrements with me.

As I found myself taking inventory of the various tools, pots, stakes and cages in my possession, I was surprised to discover I didn’t really have that much attachment to any of them, and to be honest, I didn’t have time to get them all cleaned in time to feel like they were worth packing.

There were some things I kept, of course—for two Christmases in a row, Susan has given me great gardening gifts: monogrammed gloves this past year, and a really cute little gardening toolkit the year before. Those made it into the packing rotation. But the big stuff? Because I knew so little about what my gardening situation would be when I landed in the East Bay, it just didn’t make a lot of sense to take them all with me.

I have long been a fan of Freecycle, and its mission to keep things out of landfills that might otherwise end up there, and so that’s where I turned. I emailed a woman asking for pots and gave her a heads up that I had a bunch available. Within a couple of days, all my pots made their way out of my driveway in the back of her car.

Tools to Give AwayThen I saw someone post that they were looking for a garden shovel, so I wrote the woman to tell her I had one available, and, incidentally, was she looking for anything else? She wrote me back to tell me her 11-year-old wanted to learn to garden, and she wanted to help him, so anything would be helpful. I gathered up what I had left and leaned it all against the front porch.

The woman’s father came to pick everything up on one of the days I was home packing. “Really? All this?” he said. “This is great.”

We carried it to his car, where he told me he and his wife were visiting from Maryland. “My daughter’s a single Mom,” he said. “She’s got two boys, so she can use a lot of help. She’s going to put all this to good use. She wants to grow tomatoes.”

Truth is, I would have given the tools away to anyone who wanted them. But I’m glad they went to someone who really needed them—especially to someone who wanted to use them to pass on the gift of a fresh, homegrown tomato to her kids.

Losing the lavender

After my original lavender plant overwintered successfully from Garden Year One to Garden Year Two, I decided to see if I could go for three years in a row. At the end of the season last year, I buried it (as I had the year before) in a larger pot and sat back for the winter.

Dead lavenderAfter the snow finally melted, the lavender sat there, looking as dead as it did post-winter the year before. By the time the snow began to melt, I’d already started poking around at options in California and back in D.C.—the winter had something to do with it, for sure, but there were other reasons driving my decision to leave Iowa City—and I’d given some thought to the fact that I probably wouldn’t move any plants.

The lavender plant, though, was different. It was left over from my very first summer of gardening, and I decided that, no matter what, I’d figure out a way to bring it along if it survived the winter.

I watched it pretty closely, checking it about every other day for signs of life, but nothing happened. The thing just sat there, grey and lifeless as it had been when the snow dropped away from it. Finally, I relegated it to the compost pile.

I won’t ever know, probably, what killed the plant. It could have been the awful winter, or it could have been rootbound in the pot, or it could have just reached the end of its lifespan. Plants die, after all, and I’ll admit I know very little about the standard lifespan of a potted lavender plant.

As I get my California growing ventures underway (and I’m still working on exactly how that’s going to play out), I may, for sentimental reasons, locate another lavender plant. It won’t be the same as my first one, but it’ll do the trick of keeping the memories alive.


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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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