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May 31, 2012

Sephardi Chickpea Soup: Serve Hot or Cold!

I picked up a wonderful book at the library, which is part cookbook, part travelogue:  The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan (2001) in which she shares more than 300 recipes as she makes her way around Israel, stopping in different neighborhoods representing different cultures.  You'll also find anecdotes and personal histories revealed by people young and old as they share backstories behind their passion for food and cooking.  Truly a wonderful read.

I decided to try a chickpea or "hummus soup" from the book.  Intended as a cold, refreshing soup, the original recipe contains simple ingredients in plentiful supply in Israel: chickpeas, lemon, vegetable broth and a garnish of fresh thyme.  The recipe is shared by Haim Cohen, of Turkish-Israeli descent and chef at Keren restaurant in Tel Aviv.

The original recipe is beautiful in it's simplicity:  chickpeas and vegetable broth in a food processor, strained until just the creamy part remains, with a bit of olive oil, lemon and parmesan cheese.

But I wanted to adapt the recipe to a full-bodied soup which could appeal to husband and 4 yr old alike.  While Avi likes hummus with pita, chips, or baby carrots, I didn't think she'd go for the novel texture of a hummus soup.  My adaptation is more recognizable as "soup" but uses the same basic idea, but with the addition of fresh vegetables and plenty of herbs in the soup itself, not just reserved as a garnish.  It still tastes wonderful hot or cold--cold soup can make for a refreshing lunch on a hot afternoon, but generally, Americans, or rather, folks from Ohio, tend to regard soup as solely a hot dish, and can't get past the temperature change.  My adaptation tastes just as good hot too, so no worries hot-only soupers!

I imagine adding your own favorite herbs and veggies would likewise produce a wonderful soup for you, so feel free to experiment.
Adaptation of a Sephardi Chickpea Soup recipe.

The stock:

Instead of vegetable broth, I made a chicken-vegetable stock.  I tossed a couple thighs and drumsticks (thawed) into the crockpot, added chopped celery (2 large stalks), carrots (a large handful of baby carrots, coarsely chopped), onion, bay leaves, and a hearty helping of assorted fresh herbs from our garden (lemon balm, lemon thyme, fennel, and rosemary), peppercorns, a couple generous pinches of salt, and filled up the remaining space with water.  I let this cook on low overnight.  I just rinsed the herbs and tossed them in, I did not chop or pull the leaves off the stems.  These are just to help flavor the stock, and will be removed at the next step.

If you're using dry chickpeas, go ahead and rinse and soak them overnight too.

The next morning, I pulled out the chicken pieces and set them aside.  I then strained the stock so that only the liquid was reserved.  I personally don't like the taste or texture of vegetables which have been stewing like this, so I let Garrett, my dog, feast on chicken-flavored celery and carrots, and discarded the rest of the additions.

This produced about 40 oz of broth.

The soup:


I used canned chickpeas (2 cans) but you could also use dry, but you'll have the extra step of having to boil and cook the chickpeas first before moving on.

Filling up my food processor with several heaping spoonfuls of chickpeas, more fresh herbs (this time: lemon balm, lemon thyme, and mint, just the leaves now), and broth, I blended the mixture until creamy smooth.  Continue until all the chickpeas have been processed.  I poured my batches (since I have a small processor) into a soup kettle as I went, then stirred together, taste tested, and added more salt and pepper and herbs as needed.  I also processed a small handful of baby carrots with the last batch of herbs).

Next, I fired up a saute pan to pre-heat it to quite hot while I sliced some zucchini (I then sliced each ring into quarters).  I added some olive oil to the hot pan, and gently sauted the zucchini.  I removed the skin and bones from my reserved chicken, and coarsely shredded it with my fingers into the saute pan (it's already cooked, but I'm a bit paranoid). Saute until the zucchini is texturally al dente (I like mine still a bit firm).  Then dump the mixture, olive oil and all, into the rest of the soup.  To this I added about a cupful of baby sweet peas.

Stir, taste, add seasoning as needed, stir and taste again.  When you get it "just right" to taste, you're done!  Refrigerate to let the flavors mingle for a few hours (you can eat right away if needed).  I also froze a quart for later, double-bagged in zip-lock style baggies.

I always try to freeze a bag or two of soup or stew when we make it.  Chances are good that we'll grow tired of eating soup before it's all gone, and frozen soup makes for a quick thaw or microwavable lunch down the road.  Freezing some right away is better than waiting to see if you'll eat it all during the week and then freezing the leftovers, because you greatly reduce your chance of freezing bacteria and preserving the fresh taste.

Serving:

You can serve chilled for a refreshing treat on a hot afternoon, or microwave or put in a separate pot just the servings you require to heat.  If you heat and re-heat the whole batch, you'll loose the "al dente" texture of the vegetables and the herbs will fade and discolor, and you'll end up with mushy leftovers that have lost all the original charm of the dish.

Garnish with a sprig of mint or your desired herb, or float some thin lemon slices to serve.  Since I used lemon balm and lemon thyme, my soup retained the citrus vibe of the original recipe, but you could use a splash of lemon juice if you did not have lemony herbs available.

Also note, the original recipe would be classified as a "dairy" dish (it had Parmesan cheese) where as my adaptation would be a "meat" dish (chicken, but no dairy), which would be important if you're keeping Kosher.  For a vegetarian alternative, simply omit chicken from your stock and add more flavorful vegetables such as peppers for full-bodied vegetable broth.



Enjoy!

P.S. In case you're wondering where that cool cobalt hued hemp-wrapped wine bottle flower vase in the first photo came from... Yes!  I made that too!

May 28, 2012

Country Kids' Urban Gardening Adventure

My husband, appropriately, has the green thumb of a country kid, and the drive to work the ground.  Even as a small-town suburban kid, I grew up with a sizable chunk of land, and several thriving gardens, both decorative and vegetable.  When we lived in Richwood, Ohio, Chad put in an impressive garden in our yard, but when we moved back to the city for work (Richwood is over an hour away from Columbus, which made for a grueling and costly commute) the garden space was what Chad missed most.

Chad constructed several large plywood boxes and small beds for our porch area and added to these several pots for a really beautiful container garden.  One of the beds contains a trellis component onto which we're training Chinese wisteria.  The boxed bed portion contains native wildflowers and strawberries.  He made window-box-sized containers in which we initially planted violet tulips and yellow daffodils for the early spring start, but which now house some extra tomato plants.  Other home-made boxes contain pansies and marigolds and other native wildflowers.
The Urban Garden Starts:  photos from our early sprouts, in March, 2012

At Big Lots we purchased a tomato Topsy Turvey on a stand and strawberry and pepper hangers for less than $10 for the three simply because they were last years' models.  We started our herbs and flowers from seed in the grow light we received from a fellow FreeCycler last year--a coat of spray paint in hammered copper for the frame and deep plum for the trays, spruced the fully functional seed starter right up.  From other generous FreeCyclers we've adopted a 6-foot Ficus, a box elder sapling, and most recently, an assortment of heirloom tomato varieties, peppers, broccoli and some other wonderful selections!

Not everything is living on our porch in containers, however.  We reclaimed a neglected plot of former-flower-bed our apartment complex no longer landscapes.  Chad removed the weeds and trash and worked the surprisingly fertile soil into a 60-linear-foot vegetable garden strip, which we hope will produce a bounty of fresh herbs and vegetables plenty enough to share.

Chad had weeded and cleaned up and started to plant an additional rectangular bed, but one un-neighborly neighbor (to put it mildly) decided after it was all cleaned up that he wanted it for his own personal waste receptacle and threatened (drunkenly) that he would kill anything we grew there, so we moved our young veggies to the long bed.  True, that idiot got away with being a bully, but we can't police the garden all the time, and for as much of our own money and time as has gone into this project, we'd be beating our heads against a wall to get into a perpetual squabble with this guy.  Some people are just jerks, you know!

So far, the rest of our neighbors have been respectful of our communal garden, probably because they've seen how much work we (and by we, I mostly mean Chad!) have put into it, and how involved our four-year old daughter, Avi is in planting and watering.  It now features an impressive collection of tomatoes, peppers, squash, peas, lettuce, daikon radishes, many different herbs, broccoli, celery, sunflowers and more.
Our Communal garden well under way, this Memorial weekend, May 27, 2012


Because we're on a budget, a lot of inexpensive innovation has gone into our container garden and our flower-bed vegetable garden.  I'd like to share some of our tips!

Container gardening:

1.  Anything can be a container for a container garden.  Just because it's not a "flower pot" doesn't mean it couldn't be.  We turned two ten-gallon lime-green vinyl yard buckets were drilled and turned into planters for bearded iris and herbs.

2.  Look for rejected pots and containers--free cast offs from FreeCycle or Craigslist, or even useful goodies hiding in the dusty recesses of friends' or family's garages.  Chad grabbed a couple empty garden urns from Chad's mom's garage which now contain rhododendron--she no longer used them.  You can always spruce things up with a good cleaning and a coat of paint!

3.  Make your own!  For about $80 in 1/4-inch plywood, 2X2 boards, and a sheet of lattice, Chad built six beds and boxes, one of which is 3-feet X 6-feet and 10-inches deep, and which features a 4-foot high lattice trellis.  A coat of latex paint ($3 for a gallon, from the "mis-tint" section at Ace Hardware--the customer may have decided they didn't like the color after it was mixed, but the light wheat tone was a perfect neutral for our project) protects from the elements and looks finished.

4.  Save on soil-  for tall containers that house short plants, it's useful to add a filler if you don't need the full height to be potting soil. We recycled old newspaper and wadded up pages into loose balls to fill the bottom of the urn planters and added soil to the top half.

5. Make everything drainable-  Chad drilled drainage holes in all the containers which did not drain on their own.  Homemade wooden boxes are not water-tight, but anything plastic, vinyl or ceramic can probably be drained by drilling small holes in the bottom.  Most herbs and veggies like a good watering after a hot day, but in the off chance you might over-water, or to prevent a wash-out after a summer storm, make it easier on yourself and make everything drain.

6.  Mix and match and move-  Most things transplant well, so if you end up planting plants that just won't get along, feel free to gently dig up and move around.  We started with flowers with flowers and herbs with herbs, and have learned it's better to make pairings based on growing preferences.  Tall and skinny in the back, with short and bushy in the front is a successful mix--we now have herbs living in front of Irises, wild-flowers at top of the big, empty base of the Ficus pot, and have otherwise moved around plants as space and their own growing needs required.

General

1.  Pest control without the chemicals-  a colony of feral city cats butted heads with Chad at the start of the growing season, as they dug in our seedlings and sprayed yucky male cat urine (oh the ammonia! Ew!) all over--killing some of our starts.  But we didn't want to dump a bunch of chemicals all over our plants (if we wanted to eat pesticide, we'd just buy commercial produce!) so we looked into non-chemical alternative.  Our favorites:  No More Squirrel is a brand of all-natural pest repellant made entirely from cinnamon, rosemary, clove and some other plant essential oils which squirrels (and cats) do not like.  You could make your own version with the same essential oils.  Even more effective for the cats:  sprinkle a generous amount of dried red pepper flakes around the top of the soil or mulch.  

2.  Metal cage alternatives-  tomatoes and other vegetables usually require some help standing straight as they grow.  Metal tomato cages get rusty and are not efficient to store in apartment living, but buying them and throwing them out after the season is wasteful, not to mention costly.  An excellent alternative is using bamboo stakes (less than $3 for a package of a dozen a couple yards long at our Lowes) which can be cut with a mitre saw into desired lengths.  You can build a tee-pee-shaped cage or just stake plants onto a single pole, securing with a piece of twine, string, or hemp.  

3.  Save those shells!  Egg shells, that is.  Several plants like a soil rich in calcium, which you probably won't find in city beds.  Save your egg shells, crush them up and sprinkle around plants in the top soil, gently raking them into the soil with a hand rake or your fingers.

We'll add more as we go, er... grow, so check back for updates!  

May 24, 2012

DIY Vapor-rub with Essential Oils


As a life-long allergy sufferer I love my Vicks Vapo-Rub.  But it's expensive, and we seem to misplace it a lot... you know, you go lay down on the couch so you don't infect your spouse and it goes MIA.  Or Avi wanders off with it and it gets swallowed up into the great unknown that is where she hides miscellaneous "treasure" she finds and ferrets away.

With the AC on now thwarting all the spring pollen, it's dry and uncomfortable at night for me, so I found myself bemoaning a lack of Vicks and thinking about how to improvise.

I tapped my selection of essential oils, and used a drop or two of Eucalyptus, White Camphor, Tea Tree, and Peppermint mixed into a dollop of petroleum jelly I put in the middle of a plate.  I worked the essential oil into the petroleum jelly with a silicone spatula so that it was very well mixed.

Determining how much essential oil to add and the ratio of oil to petroleum jelly is a personal preference.  If you have been shoving Vicks up your nose for the last decade, like me, you'll be adding more.  If you're more sensitive, you can add less and achieve a result you can live with.

Either way, essential oils are potent, and can irritate the skin, especially mooches membranes if touched directly to them.  You can always add more, but you can't take it away without diluting the mixture, and mix, mix, mix.  You want the oil to be enveloped in the jelly before you smear it on you.

I'm very happy with the home-made remedy, which is much MUCH cheaper, and can be whipped up quicker than you can drag the kids to the pharmacy to pick up a jar!


Recycle Craft: Reclaimed Floor Tile Trivets

Last weekend we here at Sine Metu Designs sponsored a free make-and-take demo at the 4th annual EcoChic Craftacular which featured local artists and artisans who have an eco-friendly spin to their art, crafts, and business practices.  The event is sponsored by Etsy Team Columbus, a collaboration of local indie artists, and of which I'm proud to be a member!  The Team worked very hard to bring the community this fantastic event and it was a huge success:  raising $1000 for the Whetstone Community Center, $250 for two local animal shelters, ADOPT Pet Rescue and Colony Cats and Dogs, and $100 for a local Arts foundation, all serving Columbus-area and Central Ohio.



In the spirit of being eco-friendly, we chose an arts & craft project that made use of reclaimed building materials--which are often in ready supply this time of year as folks get to work with home renovation projects. The reclaimed tile we used I found for free on FreeCycle, which I continue to mention often because it's such a great recycling resource.  

We transformed reclaimed ceramic floor tile (ours are 9-inch by 9-inch) into artsy trivets in a few easy steps, then showed all who cared to learn how to do the same; then we went wild with the enamel paints and produced some functional masterpieces!


Supplies:  Reclaimed tile, cork or felt, spray adhesive, thin quick-tack glue such as super glue or jewelry glue, wooden furniture buttons (optional), enamel acrylic paint for ceramic or "patio" grade acrylic and brushes, Sharpie or permanent marker (optional) and clear spay sealant (optional, but recommended).

First, we removed as much grout as possible from the tiles, using a pair of channel lock-style pliers to remove the line of grout along the edges.  The way these pliers "bite" provide a lot of torque, and it's very easy to snap the grout right off the edge, whereas it was impossible to do so with the bare hand.  Thanks to my hubby for always knowing which tool to use!

Next, I trimmed a pice of cork to the size of the tile.  I purchased a roll of thin cork with a self-adhesive sticker-back at Hobby Lobby for less than $5 and it was enough to make more than a half dozen trivets and several coasters.  If preferred, simple craft felt can be used and adhered to the back with spray adhesive.

To add "feet" to the trivet (optional) I used a thin layer of jewelry glue to adhere round-top wooden furniture buttons to the corners of my tile after I attached my cork.  You can find wooden furniture buttons in the woodworking aisle of craft stores such as Hobby Lobby or at the hardware store--they are used to cover cam-screw holes and are inexpensive.  I purchased a pack of 30 for $1.47 at Hobby Lobby.

Once the feet have dried, you can flip over and begin to paint! Because of the sealant glaze, I recommend ceramic paint or "patio" grade acrylic paint as it's more permanent than general-purpose craft paint.  If you plan to use the tile as a garden marker or step stone, or as an actual trivet for hot pots and pans, you want a more durable finish to take weathering and scratching.  If the tile is strictly decorative, it likely doesn't matter.

Get your inspiration and plan your painting.  If using enamel, you can't just "wipe-off" if you mess up, so draw carefully.  I outlined my images in Sharpie.  A couple layers of paint will cover the marker, or you can use permanent marker to add fine details over the dry painting.

With enamel, build your painting in layers. You can add light colors over dark colors if you let the bottom layer dry first.  It is better to apply two coats of thin layers to build up blocks of color than to try to glob on one thick coat.  You can also paint the sides of the tile for a more finished look.

When the paint is dry and you're finished with your design, spray with a clear glaze or sealant, let dry, and repeat.

Other ideas:  Make a bold geometric print by spraying with a textured spray paint (pictured, hammered copper) and paint acrylic lines in a complementary color when dry (I used cobalt blue enamel).

Make a chalk board server and tell your guests exactly what they're eating by painting several layers of chalkboard paint over the tile.

Let your kid go nuts with the paint for a recycled art experience!

Try some garden tile markers, like the below "Avi & Daddy's Garden" we made.


May 11, 2012

Tales of Subversive Leftovers


I have never been a fan of leftovers.  My reasons rage from boredom to questioning the safety of food that's possibly been left out a little too long before being refrigerated and now looks....suspect.  But in an effort to be frugal and reduce our overall waste, I've attempted to make up with leftovers.  It's not a loving relationship.  It pretty much requires that they be unidentifiable in a new dish, but it's a start!

Witness the above beauties.  Leftover shish kebob veggies the hubby grilled the night before got chopped up and stirred in at the tail end of veggies and scrambled eggs.  I stirred in some turkey sausage, gave a gentle topping of grated cheddar and viola!  Leftovers anew.

This is such a versatile recipe, you could really take it anywhere you like.  I'm hesitant to even call it a recipe, more like a shell.

To get the toasty crunchy cups, preheat the oven to 425-degrees F.  Cut 9-inch flour tortillas in half to form semi-circles.  Brush lightly with olive oil and kosher or sea salt or other herbs, if desired.

Using a cupcake pan, form the semi-circles into a funnel shape and squish the pointy end into the cupcake pan until it lies flat.  The edges should retain the cup shape, and stick to each other via the olive oil.

These get baked until the desired shade of golden, about 7-10 minutes, but check early, because there is a "perfect" somewhere in the middle and you don't want to cross it.  That will depend on your oven and pan, how much oil you used, etc.

While these were baking, I scrambled up some eggs, and in a separate skillet, reheated my chopped grilled vegetable leftovers (red & green peppers, sweet onion, tomato and zucchini), already-cooked turkey sausage, and some broccoli florets which had lost their crispiness in the fridge.  I added kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste and threw in a few fresh herbs from the cutting garden, such as cilantro and fennel.

You could probably do all this in one pan, but I don't like my eggs over-scrambled.  To leave them nice and puffy, ideally you let them sit a bit, like you were making an omelet, and towards the end you flip them around a bit until they're in 'scrambles.'  But the veggies I like to stir frequently, to make sure nothing is over-cooking and my seasonings are nicely dispersed.

I mixed the veggies/turkey sausage to the finished scrambled eggs, spooned them into the tortilla cups and grated some cheddar on top.  The crunchy cup made them transportable (we ate them while walking around outside) and gave such a nice texture that veggies and eggs alone couldn't match.

They are also freezable, and you can pop them back in a hot oven to heat them up while trying to retain as much of the crispiness as possible.  They're better than your average hot pocket microwaved from thawed, but they won't have that perfect crispiness from a microwave.

They were a big hit for the family and a friend who stopped by!

*   *   *   *  *  *

Here is another variation I tried later that week for dinner: Fancified Fishsticks!

Same tortilla shells as above, but filled with some leftover romaine salad, fish sticks, yellow pepper, a swirl of honey-Balsamic vinaigrette and topped with fresh-grated parmesan cheese.  They tasted wonderful!  You would have never recognized those cheap little fish sticks in all that deliciousness, and it was a perfect adaptation for a kid-friendly favorite.  As in, while my 4 year old was happily munching fish sticks and ketchup (shudder) we were feasting on little cups of Fancified Fishsticks.

I served three in a row in two serving "boats" and it was really quite attractive.  A fun, offbeat version of a go-to kids classic, that used up leftovers AND didn't take any more time!


May 9, 2012

Vase rehab DIY: Blah to Yay!

I have often mention the joys of sprucing up some freebies:

*  Those oddball items you keep hanging onto but live in the depths of your closet or under your sink because you don't actually like them but feel bad about throwing them out because they're still useful.

* Thrift store or yard sale finds with potential

* Freecycle (freecycle.org) freebies

I have acquired a small collection of glass vases from Freecycle.  My husband's Urban Garden Paradise includes a wildflower cutting planter box, so in preparation for some fresh cut bouquets, I have been seeking out some containers.  I also have decided faux flowers are not necessarily relegated to the status of Mrs. Havisham, and can be done in style with punchy colors or romantically with vintage hues.  I've worked in both styles to various rooms:  vivid and playful daisies in the living room, and soft and romantic classics in the bedroom.

So my vase collection necessarily needs to grow from 1-2 to several.  But who wants to spend money on vases when they're so abundantly found second hand for free or cheap?  That's not to say I appreciate the style of those castoffs, so that's where a little creativity comes into play.  I've been itching to try some new techniques and rehab these either blah or dated vases, and here is my first endeavor.

Perfect for faux flowers, interior-painted vases can cover up internal ripples (as in my example) and leave plenty of room for a punchy embellishment on the exterior.  Check out the easy DIY below!

Witness my plain rippled glass freebie.  I'm not a fan of rippled glass vases.  I'm sure it's appropriate somewhere, but I don't care for it.  Plus with faux flowers, often the stems are not very attractive, so a translucent vase can subtract from the decorative effect.


(Right)
1.  Pour a water-resistant paint into the vase, such as latex paint or "patio" or outdoor acrylic.  I went with a Clark and Kensington Flat Enamel Paint and Primer in One in a Mediterranean teal that I got (for free!) from Ace Hardware.  It had wonderful coverage.

2. Gently roll the vase around until the paint has covered the full interior.  Then pour the excess back into the paint can.

3.  Let the vase sit upside down over some newsprint to drain the slower excess from the interior, for about an hour or so.  Don't let it sit so long the paint starts to dry and the newsprint peels off.  If this does happen, just scratch off the paper from the rim and touch up with some of the wet excess pooling on the newsprint.

4.  Turn back over right side up, and allow to dry, several hours or overnight.

5.  (left) Once dry, add your front embellishment with "puffy" paint or fabric paint (I used Tulip fabric paint in white).  If you make a mistake, or don't like it, just wipe clean with a damp paper towel, dry the vase, and start over.

6.  Add glitter, gently tap off excess.

I started with this dot design in the puffy paint, but discovered it didn't work too well with the glitter I used.  I ended up sticking my fingers in it and disrupting several "dots" so I scrapped the whole design by wiping it off with a paper towel while it was still wet.  My simple three swirl lines (next photo) replaced it.

The glitter I used was the "tinsel" style which is little strands of flat strips of glitter instead of the regular tiny square pieces.  It has a nice, unexpected textural effect. (Martha Stewart tinsel glitter in Feldspar.)

Finally, add your flowers!  Faux flowers would work best at this stage, although you could spray the inside with a clear waterproof sealant if you wanted to be able to use fresh flowers.

Now you can see that the teal blends in with my decor!  I used a monochromatic palette but some other fun combos could be done with complementary colors such as a violet or plum interior and yellow or gold glittered exterior, or cobalt interior with orange or topaz glitter.  You could make your outer embellishment as simple or plain as desired.  Use your imagination!




May 8, 2012

Columbus Writing Contest - Flash Fiction: Hatchling on the Riverfront by Casey McCarty

Stop by this site to vote for my Flash Fiction entry!  We had 2500 characters (about 500 words or less) to create a short piece using three randomly generated images.  My images were a T-Rex, a scene of Columbus, Ohio along the Scioto, and the Ohio statehouse.

All who vote will be entered in a drawing to receive an Amazon Kindle, just for voting, so pass it on!

Columbus Writing Contest - Flash Fiction: Hatchling on the Riverfront by Casey McCarty

What's it about?  Check out this Word Cloud Teaser!


UPDATE:  "Hatchling on the Waterfront" won 2nd place from the judges' picks!  Check it out and take a look at the other entries.. there was some wonderful stuff!

Read the winning micro-short stories HERE!