Saturday, October 29

Open Face Calzone?

No food related blog post (refer to post below) should be without a recipe of sorts (refer to post below). And as you know, with me it's all about experimentation. Sometimes we leave earth and do something we've never imagined and don't know if any one else has imagined. I like to think of myself as the 'Nelix' of the Starship Agüin. But this was something I had once and thought it deserved a permanent place in my kitchen. Not without a story.

Last December, for the Holidays, we traveled to Argentina so our kids could meet their family and I could experience what Christmas and New Years is for Ariel. It was an exhausting trip. Every day was filled with visiting one family or another and we still didn't get to see a lot of important people or do half of what we had planned. One particular day, we came back to our simple rented apartment above the cobblestone streets of La Plata. We were all beat. It was all I could do to put the kids in their pajamas and put them in front of a movie to fall asleep in this strange new place. We were starving. So I sent Ariel out in search of something edible. I didn't care what he came back with, but I would prefer something green, my only specification. I expected him to bring back one of the savory tarts I had come to enjoy. But when he reappeared over an hour later, there was a pizza box in his hands. At first I was dismayed because I didn't really want pizza. Then he opened the box and I saw a beautiful mass of vegetables. I have no idea what it was called. But it was cooked over a wood burning flame and the crust was perfectly browned, little specks of cheese singed around the edges. This is the first time I've tried to replicate it. If was wasn't worth it, I wouldn't be blogging about it, or at least I wouldn't publish my post.

  • Open Face Calzone of Artichoke and Chard

  • Pizza crust, enough for two 14 inch pizzas
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Hand full of Vine Ripened Tomatoes (5 or 6 medium size Roma or equivalent)
  • A pinch of Salt
  • Two cloves of Garlic
  • Two hands full chopped, fresh Swiss Chard or Spinach, or half and  half.
  • 1 cup Marinated Artichoke Hearts 
  • Enough Mozzarella (or your pizza cheese of choice) to top off the veggies  

Split your dough in half and roll out to form
two ovals. Oil your pan, throw your dough on it, oil it too and set it aside. I liked this particular crust to be thick and bready, not thin and crispy. This is not a pizza and you'll probably be disappointing if you go into it thinking of it as pizza. If you don't already have a dough you normally use, the version here is pretty close to what I use, though I don't think it needs the sugar. Next prepare your sauce. This is the simplest and best thing ever. When there are good tomatoes in season it's the ONLY thing.  Simply use some sort of food processor or even a mortar and pestle to puree your tomatoes along with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Chop the artechokes into fine slivers. This helps my kids. They enjoy things more when they aren't in big chunks. Steam your greens until just wilted. The best way to eat your greens is young and tender. If you've never experienced baby chard, you've never experienced chard. I used half chard and half spinach mostly because I had a LOT of Spinich that was in danger of not being appreciated.You could probably saute them too. But either way don't scimp, they'll shrink a LOT and you'll end up with not enough greens to balance out the artichokes. Now take your dough that has been sitting out and stick it in the oven on 400 F for about 5 minutes. When your crust no longer doughy but not browned, take it out and smother it in tomato-y goodness. Now this is where you have to leave the pizza out of your brain. This is not meant to be a pizza. Separate your greens in half and spread them out in a thick layer over the tomato sauce, then do the same with the artichokes. Sprinkle your cheese over the top evenly.  you don't need a lot of cheese. The photo below is deceiving because there are light colored artichokes underneath. (The power of Illusion is one of the only powers a mother of a three year old has with her child's food!)

Everyone has their way of cooking pizzas and such. I would say use a preheated pizza stone, but obviously any old cookie sheet will do. Bake until cheese is browned on top and edges and crust is crispy. For me it was about 30 minutes on 400 F.

Did I forget to mention that my three year old daughter LOVED this. Even the second time around! She would have eaten half of it on her own. To be served, as in any Argentine meal, with a salad of greens.

Buon appetito!

Me Eats + Three

Sort of the point in this whole red neck blog is that I've never really known whether something I do fits with what is expected of one human by another. I don't necessarily want it to fit and I don't necessarily want to know if it does. And so my life is just one big awkward human moment, I just try to enjoy it. But there are some things that are common to all of us humans. We all, for one, eat. But what we eat and why we eat it, that comes from innumerable places as we go our merry way on this planet. It differentiates us and it defines us. I don't feel fully qualified to say much regarding the ethics of food. But Michael Pollen sums it up pretty well in The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food. I've never been extremely concerned about the health factors either. It seems pretty simple as long as I am eating real food (again, refer to above links). We all have our special ways of going about this human act, but my kitchen is my own and I am on a quest to find a happy balance for my family and, like I always tell Ariel, make sure we live to be one-hundred-and-eleven. 

With myself, two kids, and an Argentine, food at our house is a constantly changing adventure. Not because we are trying dangerous and daring things, but because you just never know what to expect. One day Ada's favorite food is corn chips, the next she won't touch them...that's life with a three year old. I've pretty much stopped planning meals around what they will and will NOT eat because, well I love to cook, and every time I make something specifically for THEM and something about it isn't JUST right (pretty much every time) it's like a cold wet blanket in the middle of January. But I do want to make things that they LIKE and I want to make things that will teach them what food actually IS (Wonder Bread NOT being included in this category). Since I've stopped trying so hard to please them and just focused on making good food, it seems like they've eaten more and better.

Food at our house is also an ongoing test in the human ability to adapt. We have two entirely different food cultures that we are meshing. I guess that could be true in any household. Having an Argentine in the house, there's pretty much no way we could ever go vegan or vegetarian. But I must give my carnivore a little credit (actually, alot) for the ways in which he's adapted. We usually eat meat once or twice a week, and very rarely red. In 'his' country, they eat red meat once or twice a day and fluffy white bread is the only kind of bread unless you happen to be diabetic or have high cholesterol. Some time I'll blog about a traditional Argentine Asado. It'd be worth the risk of disgusting most of the people who read my blog.

For all of the adaptation Ariel has endured, there are a lot of things we elect to do the Argentine way. For their love of meat, they use their vegetables very creatively and frequently. No meal is complete without a salad of greens, simple or complex. Rarely served with a bottle of salad dressing, rather some variation of vinegar and oil. Yams are eaten savory, with herbs, in stews and purees, not with marshmallows on top. Coming from the land of high fructose corn syrup, Argentine food to me is about cleansing your taste buds and filling them with simple goodness. In the beginning of our marriage, learning to cook for him was a labor of Love. In our first little apartment (which I was afraid to leave for fear of being mugged) I basically spent five months experimenting with six ingredients (literally that's ALL I did). Simply potatoes, garlic, white flour, onions, eggplant, and eggs I stole from my mother in law's chickens (Yes Lucia, it was me).  I bought cheap vegetables when I could, but for the most part that was it...until my Mom came to visit. She can attest to the fact that it WAS a pretty bland diet. When she came down for my wedding, she brought with her peanut butter and for the first (and last) time in my life I enjoyed 'American cheese'. It was nice because it didn't need a refrigerator and we didn't have one anyway. We were VERY poor.  The art of simple food arose out of necessity, but I have always had kind of an obsession with making something out of nothing. Many of those somethings have turned into very disastrous, inedible substances (each specific awkward instance is recorded very well on the walls of my brain and if you remember one of them yourself, I've probably retold the story laughing my guts out, more than once), but I keep experimenting. Cooking for my family still is a labor of love, though toned down and quite a bit less romantic with two kids.

Argentines follow a strong Italian tradition. Going beyond the ingredients, it means taking the time to cook and then, the time to enjoy food together. One of the ways we do things 'Argentine' style is that we eat 'Almuerzo' instead of dinner. Almuerzo is at the same time as lunch, though not to be compared in any other way. It means we spend a fair portion of time together in the middle of the day. A huge part of Argentine culture is about just enjoying one another's company over a meal, and 'Almuerzo' is always followed by drinking yerba mate unless there is something of THIS world that keeps us from it.  It is, in effect, ingested group therapy. If you are ever invited to drink yerba mate with us, it's only because we value you and want to validate you as a human being. That just what we do when we drink mate. That's not to say that there won't be a healthy share of brutal honesty along with a good amount of political discussion, also unavoidable parts of Argentine culture, but mostly, it's about talking. I attribute drinking mate with Ariel to why we are such good friends, because we are very different creatures. But taking the time, brings us back to the same place every day, together. It's also important that we spend time together with the kids. They drink mate too. But it's not about the mate, its about learning how to communicate and value each other. And this way they don't starve to death if they didn't like what we ate for almuerzo.

My biggest challenge with feeding my family (Argentine included) is teaching my kids about food. Though every day I doubt whether I am capable, I WILL teach my children that green food is good and that food is about people not just what you do and don't put in your mouth. So there you have it. That is part of the food culture at OUR house. I would love to hear about YOUR food culture. Why do you do things the way you do?


Monday, October 24

Lost Things

How do you start to replace something when you can't even accept that you've lost it; keys, a bag, a necklace, your favorite shirt? I am a loser of things. All things. Right now I remember putting my wedding ring on the top of a shelf, somewhere doing something dirty with one of the kids. Was I changing a diaper? Was I cleaning up a gigantic spill? Either way, it's been 6 months of keeping my eyes open, and still no ring. I look for it unconsciously, constantly. Every time I reach up high for something that is just out of sight, I feel around for a tiny round smooth object that my fingers may have just missed the last time I reached up there.

One of my most legendary favorite lost objects was also a smooth little ring. But it was plastic and blue and transparent. It's face was a heart. I got it from a silly boy I met at the silly mall with my silly friends. I was 13, and though It's hard for me to say it, I have to admit that my silliness all started around that time. I am much sillier now than I was then. But this ring; this small token that told me I might not be as odd as I thought; I kept it long after I figured out what a silly silly person that boy was. I wore it around my neck on a long chain with a few other sentimental thread-able objects. But because I am a person who loses things, I sometimes wore it on my finger, and I sometimes put it in the pocket of my pants and washed my pants. I sometimes loaned those pants to other people and they washed them and gave them back to me, with the ring still inside. Through my melodramatic adolescent 8th grade year, I lost and found that ring so many times that I thought it was impossible for me to actually lose. I was so annoyed that the unlosable object was such a ridiculous reminder of such an insignificant person in my life. I did actually WANT to believe that.

So in an attempt to disprove my theory that I could not lose that ring, one day while walking home from school, I took it off my finger and tossed it into the air as high and far as I could. I was near a very large pine tree and imagined that it was caught on one of the high branches and I would never see it again. As time passed I wondered what had come of it. Had it fallen down? Had someone picked it up? Surely no one would have gone underneath the tree and found it. I went back one day and looked around under the tree; I didn't scour the area thoroughly or anything. I just looked a little bit. I tested my old hypothesis. And no I did not find it. I must admit that I was disappointed. But I learned a lesson: Some things can be lost. Now I've grown a bit. I know that you don't really need to try hard to lose most things. In fact somethings seem to have a mind to lose themselves all on their own. Once, a few years ago I saw my niece wearing a little ring exactly the same color and size as my little trinket. I almost wondered if I was going crazy, but I remembered very clearly that I had not found my ring and I had thrown it into the tree. I had to make a very conscious effort not to want the ring, even just to remind me of a childhood crush. 

This time though, I haven't lost a ring or my keys. I can't bring myself to believe most of the time that I've lost anything at all. Nothing that didn't want to be lost anyway. I wish I could come up with some sort of test, to check my theory that these infinitely important 'things' have indeed been lost. But every time I think about them too much, and try to imagine contacting them to figure out what happened, I shut down and it takes me a few days to recuperate. A few days that, as a mother and spouse, and a person who generally tries to paint a positive picture of her life, I can't afford. Today I feel like I can see more clearly than I can most of the time. It also hurts a lot more than it does most of the time. It seems like it's the first time that I've identified this huge, gaping, black hole, though I know it's actually on a weekly basis. But I do a pretty good job of keeping it all in.

They say that the train of mourning has different stops on its arrival to...wherever a safe, healthy place is. The first stop is denial. That's where I've been stuck for the last year and a half. Unconsciously I've been trying to replace some of those 'things' which have been lost by seeking out other relationships and people that I care about. But I'm like a broken record; trying to push my way over that nick in the groove that makes me repeat the same thing over and over again, the whole while trying to act like there is no nick. How can you replace something you've invested your whole self into for your entire life? I just want to be able to fill the empty spaces. This isn't the first time I've lost someone dear, but it's the first time I've lost three. Today I feel like a house sized anvil is crushing me with the weight of trying to act like I can just go on and time will heal all wounds. It won't.  But I feel like I'm getting closer to stepping back on the train to the next stop.

Tuesday, October 18


Sometimes you just need to write, and write, and not think about what it's about or who or how. My first memorable English teacher was a cranky old crone in the eighth grade. She laughed at me when I asked if I could write my assignment as a poem. I got a D+ in her class. The next year there was an old fart that taught me the way of my words. His name was Gordon Cottrell. I could have been thirty or sixty or twelve to him and it wouldn't have mattered. He was a man who could see into the soul of a person and find what creative thread wound round their heart and force them to pull it out themselves. Being the emotional, pubescent teen I was, my mind was in a constant wandering state. I remember very clearly the changes I would go through in a day, from feeling completely shut up inside of myself, to feeling like life couldn't contain the beauty I gave it. I remember everything because that was the year that I came alive. It was as if everything before was puppetry. For a brief space of time I was lonely and happy. There are few times when those two words meld into each other, but it doesn't make it any less true. I knew that I had always been a loner. That no friend was ever actually a friend, and that something about my family kept me from feeling a part of the human race. Maybe every 14 year old girl feels that way? But for that brief period of time I enjoyed it. It was in part for a little thing we did every morning in Gordon Cottrell's class called a free write. Sometimes it was a word. Sometimes it was an unfinished phrase. But there wasn't a day when I walked into his class, sat down, opened my spiral notebook, or any piece of pressed lumber I could find, and didn't opened my mind. Back then I was over analytical. Overly critical of myself, overly confident, in as much as I ignored every other human being.  But when I closed my hand around my pen and Mr. Cottrell would announce 'today's free write' it didn't matter what it was. He could have said 'donkey butt' and it would have sparked the same enthusiasm in me as a line from Edgar Allen Poe. Because what I needed wasn't someone who understood my problems or someone who would push me to polish my grammar. I needed someone to give me the first word.

I imagine now, opening myself in that way, making myself vulnerable. At the end of the ten minutes, when he would finally tell me that it didn't matter how far we had gotten, I had to stop so we could go on with the class, I had written something so completely personal and free flowing that I'm glad that he doesn't remember it. He was an old fart then and he's an older fart now. I saw him in a store a few years ago when I just found out that I was pregnant with my second child. I heard his voice from the other side of a display and it filled me with the same liberation I felt as a fourteen year old girl opening her heart about the mundane, the spiritual, the creative: explorations in words. I had to introduce myself because he didn't remember me. And to be honest it gave me a pang of shock. Someone who was so influential to my growth and who probably didn't actually read, so many many very personal, constantly changing, things; and I was just a passer bye to him, one in a hundred students he had in a day.  But it doesn't change the impact he had on me or my writing. There was a time in my life, when I felt that I could not be a whole person without writing every thought down in a journal. I look back at those journals, and though it's entertaining to see the things I felt as a growing young human girl, most of it is pretty useless. Now I'm trying to find my words again. I'm back to where I wake up in the middle of the night with clarity and words that never come by day. And I think I'm brave enough to share them. My kids actually let me get enough sleep that I'm half sane the rest of the time too. As I watch them grow, I want them to find people like Gordon Cottrell, who are accepting of every stage of creativity. We as humans are unlimited in our ability to make something from nothing. And though I've enjoyed making lots of other things, babies, bread; turned sand and dust into rock and glass; I'm glad I finally found my words again.

Saturday, October 15

Friday Fixer-Upper

In an effort to immerse myself more fully in blog-world, to understand it more completely, I am creating a 'Meme'. Can memes be created by just anyone? Well, I am just anyone and I am doing it. So what if it's merely because I thought of a silly title for today's post. You don't have to tell anyone. In all actuality, posting today has nothing to do with the fact that it's Friday, accept for the fact that Yesterday was Thursday and it happened to be the day that Ariel and I finished (or at least very very close) a summer-long fix-up-project. It is still Friday in all of the United States. Hopefully it will be when I finish this post, because it would be some what less effective if it were not. 

Friday's Fixer-Upper

This is our backyard when we moved into our little duplex house in West Valley, Utah, 5 years ago. I am surprised that the grass was still green. It must have been those April showers. We've spent the last 5 years trying to keep that ugly grass green.  We've seeded and reseeded, watered by hand and with sprinklers, fertilized and aerated, and it has always been brown by mid June. With our dogs, it's been dirt clods by September. I take full responsibility though, because I'm proudly stingy with the water. It's more effective to use it on the garden, which seems like it takes  the same amount of effort but gives me fruits and veggies in return.

 Ever since we moved in, it seems we've barely left one project for five minutes to find ourselves knee deep into another. I've grown accustomed to one friend asking me as she comes up the stairs on arriving, "So what have you changed lately?" Which makes me feel good. Someone noticed.

So this year, it was finally time to do something about that grass. I'm just tired of it. One thing about me is, I don't keep up with the Jones'es. I just don't. I guess you could say I'm passionate about it. A trait I inherited from my Dad possibly? If someone thinks it should be done, I bet I'll find a way not to do it. But despite my neighbors well manicured lawn and neat little picket fence, I found myself planning out our landscape. Not the kind of planning that one day I would like to do, but the kind that you're going to do somehow and soon. ( I must admit, it has something to do with starting progress toward an ornamental horticulture degree from Utah State University. Talking so much about growing things made me realize that I could do a lot more with what I have than I thought.)

First things first, move the shed, and later on,
paint it orange. The paint was from a lucky find at Home depot of clearance paint for $7.

Enclose the house and yard with fencing and double doors. The best thing I got out of the old yard was the wooden door that came from the old fence. We reused every piece of wood that wasn't rotting apart and only had to buy about 10 slats of wood to finish the double door. Up until this point, everything has happened slowly, over a period of 3 years. Last year I tilled in half of the grass in front. It wasn't growing anyway. The portion closest to the house is my greens garden. It will be easy to protect when winter hits, being so close to the house, so the lettuce, chard and beets will grow through the winter. This year we turned the front portion on the drive way strip into a perrenial and herb garden. I planted alot of random seeds in the spring of wildflowers someone gave me a few years back. I have been delighted to watch the seeds sprout and guess at what is a weed and what is a flower. i have yet to figure out what these big pink perennials are. We also had a few varieties of mountain flax and poppies that were gorgeous in the spring. We also dug up a square of garden space that has been growing a few feet every year. This year though, we're running it all the way back to the fence.

Next, turn the gravel next to the car port into a patio. Something the kids can ride their bikes on. Thank You Liz and Edgardo for your hours of slave labor.We started out with about a hundred pavers that we found for free on KSL and from our neighbors and picked up a couple hundred more of the same size from Home depot for $1.50 a piece. This was by far the most expensive part of anything we've done out here. But I would have spent more, it has been so worth it.

Next Dig out the grass. I say dig, because one of my most active experiments has been reclaiming the clay soil that my garden grows in. Two inches of top soil goes a long way then everything else you're looking at is practically sterile. The grass we dug up was a significant portion. We split it into two sections, one with fabric and river rocks to serve as a pad for the camper trailer. I hope the grass will take care of itself now that there's not so much of it. (Yes, that straw colored corner IS grass) This week we found a great place to buy wood chips. The county reclamation sells them by the 'truckload'. But I'm pretty sure that must be a dump truck load. We mulched the front flower bed and everything in the back a good two inches and still had about a cubic yard to spare, all for thirty dollars and two loads in our utility trailer. It's the size of a truck bed, and the guys who loaded us up would have given us more for our money if we had a bigger trailer.
Since the soil in these areas isn't great either, and I dug what was up for the garden, the wood chips will decompose to help the soil and whatever I plant there in the spring.

We've also added half a ton of sand  to the garden and will be adding some horse (or whatever free) manure to help the garden. The area under our ugly trees has been a barely surviving flower bed. Our dog Molly gets a bit rambunctious, so we've hung some wire fencing and retail display pegs(?) to protect the plants until they have a chance to get established. Hopefully next year everything will grow! Then I'll take a residential landscaping design class and I'm pretty sure I'll want to do it all over again.

Tuesday, October 11

Experimentation is the Spice of Life

The other day I was shopping at Rancho Markets, located in our local Latino Mall, and came home with a special spice. A spice I had never tried. A spice that I needed to try, even if just to say I had. I Love to shop at Rancho Markets for a number of reasons, one being that they have such amazing deals on things that I love. I'm still working on my theory for why certain things are cheaper there and others are not, but the biggest assumption is that it all comes down to what is cheapest in Mexico at the time. In a one income (actually, 1 full time student, 1 part time student, 1 part time work) household we do the best we can to eat sustainably. For some reason I felt inclined to write that in an equation: S+1/2S+1/2W= Us, which mostly means we grow as many tomatoes, veggies and herbs as we can and eat locally produced bread and such when we don't make our own. I recently learned that as far as sustainability goes, in some ways Mexico is way ahead of us in the United States. I figure they must realize that their future depends on their natural resources (Gol! Gol! Gol!), a big part of them being agriculture and tourism. Mostly they lead certain areas of biodiverse cropping.  So while my rationale is not completely free of holes, I like shopping there. Mostly for the produce.

I Love Fall's abundance of red, orange and brown colored things. As much as I prefer the greens of basil or spinach, sweet potatoes, yams, apples and pumpkins make me feel like all is well. Last week I took one trip to Rancho Markets because they had Yams on sale. 4 pounds of yams for every dollar spent. As usual I wandered around the tables with mounds of limes and papayas and cactus leaves, but stopped at the yuca. My eye was caught by the price hanging, hand written above them. 3 lbs/$1. Into my cart, literally exploding with sweet orange fleshed baby yams, I tossed in two plumply round wax covered tubers, not knowing what on planet earth I was going to do with them. And now, a week later, I want to experiment, which is the true spice of life. As I write my house is being filled, inch by cubic inch, of a smell that I have never experienced. It is earthy, nutty, sweet and new. And yet half an hour ago I had no idea what to do with two plumply round brown skinned fibrous yuca. About an hour ago I went in search of what to do, if I was smart and planned all of our meals out ahead of time, it would probably be for a different day. If. I typed in, like I always do, the name of the ingredient I wanted to use, and found a lot of other people who had the exact problem as I did. Very few people (who use the internet for finding food related inspiration) have any idea what to do with a yuca. So I figured I'd better write a blog about it, actually I felt a responsibility to blog about it. Of course, even as I write I don't know if the experiment will be a success. I don't know if anyone will want to try my yuca fries, even my husband or my two cookie loving children.  But here is what I did:

Roasted Yuca Fries:

Start by pealing the Yucca root. (Some have a waxy coating for preservation, I just checked to see that it IS compostable) Cut the Yucca into 2 or three shorter sections equaling your desired length of fries (when in doubt, 2-3 inches). Cut these sections into 1/2 inch thick julienne strips which you will then proceed to toss in olive oil to coat. Then toss yet again onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and any other spices you like. I am a garlic fiend, so I shook some dehydrated California garlic granules over it all, followed by some nutmeg, because I put nutmeg in just about everything (no joke).

Turn your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your pan on the top rack. Set your timer for 20 minutes. and check every 5 minutes after that, turning every time. In total I ended up with about 35 minutes total oven time. If I were to do it again, I'd cover with tin foil for the first 20 minutes or so. You know the fries are done when the edges start to turn golden brown. Serve them with, oh ANYTHING.

Ok, so I finished my experiment. To judge whether or not it was a success I have my picky-cookie-loving-son Nahuel, who ate half of them himself. Granted he slithered and slathered them in ketchup, and it took him most of the afternoon to finish them, but hey, he's two. The texture was dense, crisp outside, soft inside. I thought it was more satisfying and better tasting than potato fries because there was more to taste and it's a tad bit sweeter than a potato.