My Other Blog

If you’re a dedicated reader of Living on the Diagonal, you know I also began blogging for Mother Earth News a few months ago. Just thought I’d take today to remind you I have a site over there if you’d like to check it out. I Blog for Mother Earth News-1In fact, Mother Earth News is running a contest for its bloggers right now—to see how much traffic we’re getting for articles posted between December 1 and January 31. If you’d like to help me make a better showing, all you need to do is pop over there and click on each of the articles written since December 1st. (Even if it’s not your thing. Do it as a favor.) Simple as that. Thanks in advance.

(Sharing is helpful, too. Just click on your favorite social media icon(s) to the left of each article. Easy peasy.)

My most recent article tells about our early experiences gathering sap to make our own maple syrup. I’ll share more maple sugaring details next week. The week after, you can find my favorite chili recipe. It features sweet potatoes (or winter squash), and it’s delish!

Mother Earth News is where you’ll find other recipes, including my popular vegetarian quiche, my award-winning cornbread, my mom’s delicious pineapple-zucchini bread, and the world’s best kale salad (in my opinion, anyway).

I’ve written about how to make gardening easier with posts on making and using bean arches, growing in raised beds, and letting perennials and volunteers do your gardening work for you.

I’ve also posted a couple of articles telling about the Mother Earth News Fair, a unique sustainable living event that takes place in multiple venues across the country every year.

All that and more to come.  You can find all my Mother Earth News blog posts here.  Hope you’ll stop by for a visit.

Recipes: Rhubarb Syrup and Rhubarb Soda

Recipes: Rhubarb Syrup and Rhubarb Soda

Maybe you’re already seeing ruby-red stalks of rhubarb in the produce section of your favorite grocery store. If so, you need to grab them up and rush home to make your favorite rhubarb dish—in my experience, stores stock the stalks for only a few short weeks in springtime.

For this reason, I used to think rhubarb’s season was short-lived, but if you grow it, you know the plant continues to grow all summer long. If you’re like me, you have more rhubarb than you know what to do with, yet you don’t want any food source to go to waste—especially one that’s so chock full of important vitamins and other nutrients.

Making rhubarb syrup for soda (and other uses) is one quick, easy, and delicious way to use up a fair supply of your abundant crop. Yes, it’s sugary,  but much better for you than that bottled high-fructose-corn-laden stuff that comes off the grocery shelf. It’s simple to make, too—just three ingredients.

I first discovered this recipe in John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist’s excellent Farmstead Chef. More than a cookbook, it’s about real food, sustainability, community. But it’s a darned good cookbook, too, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan recipes (and a  few that aren’t) that take their cue from what’s in season, so if you grow your own or frequent your local farmers’ market, Farmstead Chef is going to be right up your alley.

Their recipes aren’t just tasty; they’re simple and sensible, too—you won’t have to go searching in specialty stores for ingredients you’d likely never use again for any of these recipes. Besides, Lisa and John are the coolest!  You never know what they’re going to be up to next. I highly recommend this book (as well as their books on sustainability).

I’ve tweaked the instructions a tad to suit my tastes and food prep style.

Rhubarb Syrup and Soda

Put twelve cups of fresh, chopped rhubarb and 2 cups of water in a large nonreactive pot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook until the rhubarb is soft and pulpy (approximately 20-30 minutes). Alternatively, you can cook on low in a slow cooker for a couple of hours.

Place a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl and drain the juice into it. Use the back of a large spoon to press out as much liquid as you can without forcing the pulp through the sieve. (You’re done with the pulp now, so you can add it to your compost,okay?)

Return the liquid to the pot and place over very low heat. Add 3 cups of sugar, stirring constantly until it’s dissolved.

At this point you have rhubarb syrup, which you could use in any number of applications, but since this is a recipe for soda, we’ll stick to that plan for now.

Let syrup cool to room temperature. Now you have three choices. Refrigerate it or freeze* it for later use or enjoy it right this minute. Here’s how.

Lightly mix 1 part syrup to 2 parts unflavored seltzer water.** So, for a 12-oz. glass, 1/4 cup syrup and 1/2 cup seltzer. At this point, you’ll need to do a little taste-testing and, if needed, either add more syrup or seltzer to suit your taste buds. Be sure to make a note of your final proportions for future reference. Pour mixture into an an ice-filled glass (a 12 oz. glass is the perfect size) for some lovely, blush-pink bubbly. If you’re serving a crowd, you can mix up a bigger batch and serve immediately from a pitcher—you don’t want to lose the fizz factor.

* You can freeze your syrup in wide-mouth Mason jars. They’re freezer proof as long as you leave an inch or two of head space. I prefer using these white plastic lids rather than the two-piece contraptions that come with the jars. These days you can find the lids in most stores that carry canning supplies.

Because of the sugar content, the mixture doesn’t freeze solid, so when you find yourself in a winter funk and need a pick-me-up, it’s easy to dish a few spoonfuls of this magical elixir into a glass and top it off with seltzer. Spring in a glass.

Cheers!

**I’ve also tried this with lemon-lime flavored seltzer, and really liked the extra flavor complexity.

(Check back next week for more on versatile rhubarb.  Click here for my easy skillet rhubarb upside-down cake.)

Skillet Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Nothing says Spring like the bright freshness of rhubarb, the earliest vegetable to come to life in our garden each year. Everything about rhubarb is delightful. It’s not fussy. It’s tough—it can take spring’s unpredictable temperature swings. It’s reliable, coming back bigger and stronger every year. It’s a showoff with its gargantuan leaves and showy, red stalks.

Rhubarb’s massive leaves could serve as emergency umbrellas. But don’t eat them, please—they’re full of poisonous oxalic acid.

Perhaps its only flaw is that rhubarb needs winter’s cold to thrive. As a child of the hot South, I’d never even heard of rhubarb before that fateful summer when our family camped our way to visit my Minnesota cousins. I’ll always remember the moment Aunt Ruth handed me a saucer of deliciousness in the form of a triangle slice of rhubarb pie. I fell in love right then and there. Unfortunately, it was years before I made my way to a climate where rhubarb would thrive and I could bake my own rhubarb pies.

It’s images of pie that dance in most of our heads when we hear the word rhubarb, but this odd vegetable has lots of other culinary uses, too. Jam, for one (mm-m good). There are rhubarb breads, rhubarb wines, and non-alcoholic rhubarb drinks. We’ve even made rhubarb pickles. They’re more pulp than anything else, but I think they make a nice condiment, and they give a flavorful kick to stir-fry. I was surprised recently to learn that rhubarb is also used in savory dishes. You can find over 300 rhubarb recipes in the online Rhubarb Compendium. But you won’t find this recipe for Skillet Upside-Down Cake there.

I swear, this cake gives rhubarb pie a run for its money. While it doesn’t pack quite the puckery, acidic wallop as its counterpart with crusts, it still has enough tang to be interesting, which makes it a good way to introduce rhubarb to young, inexperienced palates.

Skillet Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Oven: 350 degrees

Don’t you just hate it when you start mixing up a recipe only to discover these dreaded words: butter, at room temperature. Well, consider yourself forewarned. Don’t start mixing until you’ve given your butter a chance to warm up.

Topping:

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
¾ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups (about six stalks) rhubarb cut into ½ inch pieces

Batter:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature (See? I told you.)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup milk

To make the topping, melt the ¼ cup of butter in a cast iron skillet.* Add brown sugar, stirring constantly until it melts and the mixture gets all bubbly. Remove from heat and layer pieces of rhubarb on top of butter-sugar mixture. You should have enough rhubarb to cover the pan in a more or less single layer.

In a mixing bowl, cream room temperature butter and white sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in salt and baking powder. With your mixer on a low setting, mix in flour, about a ½ cup at a time, alternating with milk and ending with the flour.

Pour batter over mixture in skillet. Batter may be so thick that you’ll need to dollop it into the pan by the spoonful, instead, and then gently spread it to even it out.

Bake about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of cake and about halfway down (not so far that it encounters the rhubarb) comes out clean. (I always start checking after about 30 minutes. You don’t want it to get too dry.)

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Fresh from the oven

I never have the courage to turn my cake out onto a plate so that it really is upside-down, though the Gnome has had success with that method. If you want to give it a shot, let the cake cool a few minutes (5-10 max), loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto a serving plate.

First slice–just add fork

Serve alone or with ice cream or whipped cream.

NOTE: If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can substitute a nine-inch square cake pan. Heat your butter-sugar mixture in a frying pan or saucepan and transfer it to your baking pan before adding the rhubarb pieces.

Abundant is too tame a word to describe well-established rhubarb. If you have some in your garden or a corner of your yard, you know what I mean. Tune in right here in the coming weeks for a few more ideas on cooking with rhubarb.

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Quiche

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful Quiche

Quiche, anyone? If you’re like me, quiche seems like a pretty elegant dish. Lots of folks confuse elegance with complexity, but quiche proves that simple can be elegant, too. I was reminded of this when I was at my first Mother Earth News Fair (more about this event in a future post) where a presenter was providing tips for easy, cheap, and green living.

What got my attention was when she told us quiche was her go to dish whenever she had dinner guests. She went on to explain that since she raised chickens (we don’t), eggs were usually in strong supply and that quiche was a really simple dish to prepare, especially if you go crustless. (I don’t—more about that in a minute.) And it never failed to wow her guests. Sounded good to me.

You’d think proportions would matter with a dish like this. But I’ve seen recipes with anywhere from four to eight eggs. Some recipes call for cream, some for milk. And the amount of cheese varies significantly, too.

About that crust. The easiest thing of all is to skip it. Just be sure you spray or butter your baking dish well. I like a crust, though, for the added texture. But I’m no pastry chef. My attempts at making piecrust from scratch have usually been pretty dismal, and I find those in the refrigerated section of the grocery story—the ones in the red box with the puffy dough boy on the package—do just fine. I almost always have a package in my own refrigerator, just in case. You could use frozen, too, but I’d suggest you go for deep dish.

The neat thing about quiche, I’ve discovered, is that it’s more method than recipe. When I come across something as simple as this, I keep the ingredients and oven temperature info on a 3 x 5 index card that I stick inside a kitchen cabinet for quick reference.

Here’s my favorite take on this deceptively simple dish.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

If using a crust, lay it in your pie pan and crimp the edges. (If you’re making it from scratch, you’ll have to seek out your own recipe.)

2-4 cups veggies of your choice (We like a combo of mushrooms, onion, and Swiss chard or some other leafy green. Broccoli and bell pepper—red for color—are other favorites.) Lightly sauté or steam your veggies, depending on which ones you’re using. Remember,they’ll keep cooking in the oven, so you don’t want to overdo it.

1 ½ cups grated cheese (Again, your choice. Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, whatever tickles your fancy—or whatever you have on hand. A mixture of different cheeses works well, too.)

Mix the following together:

4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt, or to taste
½ tsp pepper, or to taste

Place prepared vegetables in pie pan. Cover with grated cheese. Pour egg mixture over all. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Add a tossed salad and a side of fresh fruit and you have an easy and sophisticated meal.

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World’s Best Granola

I love it when someone shares a favorite recipe and it turns out to be one of my faves, too. I always include the name of the giver, in this case Becky B, when I rename it. That way, I always think of these special people when I’m preparing or eating the dish they brought into my life.

This is a seriously delicious and seriously easy recipe. The hardest thing about it is melting the butter. The most time-consuming—and most crucial—task is checking it every five minutes while it’s in the oven. You don’t even have to be all that great at measuring because exact measurements just aren’t all that important.

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Becky B’s granola with yogurt and berries

If you have a nut allergy or they’re too expensive at the moment, just substitute with more seeds. You might want to use different nuts or seeds. It really doesn’t matter. For instance, I’ve rarely added almonds just because they don’t happen to be in the house when it’s time to mix up another batch. I’ve also tossed in a couple tablespoons of chia, sesame, or flax seed at one time or another.

In truth, the recipe didn’t originate with Becky. The copied piece of paper she handed me said it came from her uncle who apparently got it from Emeril Lagasse. I have no idea how many iterations it’s been through, but here’s my take.

Becky B’s Granola

Preheat oven to 325.

Mix together the following:
3 c old-fashioned rolled oats
½ c slivered almonds
½ c shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
¼ c hulled pumpkin seed
¼ c sunflower seed
½ c chopped pecans and/or walnuts (I always add more, sometimes as much as double)
1 tsp cinnamon

In a small pan on low heat, melt
4 T butter mixed with
1/3 c honey
(You could also do this in the microwave, but be sure to cover your container to keep the liquid from spattering.)

Add: ½ – 1 tsp vanilla, depending on your preference.

Pour liquid mixture over dry and mix well.

On large baking sheet, spread granola evenly in thin layer. I find it works best to use two baking sheets (with sides). Otherwise, it’s too easy to make a mess each time you need to stir.

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After five minutes in the oven

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, moving the outside edges (which will cook faster) to the inside each time you stir. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. Important: do not overcook. Unless you oven cooks lower than the temperature you set, it’s better to remove the pans from the oven after 20 minutes even if the mixture doesn’t look quite done. The granola will continue to crisp as it cools.

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Crisped perfectly

Now, right here is where I part ways with the recipe that was given to me. The instructions say to add ½ cup raisins and ½ cup dried cranberries or blueberries or both at this point. But if you do that, all that wonderful crispiness disappears almost overnight. I’d much rather add my fruit when it’s time to eat. Bonus: if you do it my way, you can use your choice of dried, fresh, or even frozen fruit.

Cool granola on pan. Keep in airtight container. Recrisp if needed.

Note: I’ve never needed to recrisp once I started omitting the dried fruit. Even though this tasty mixture usually goes pretty fast in our house, on occasion we’ve still had some after several weeks—still no recrisping needed. It keeps really well. It’s a terrific topper for your favorite yogurt, too.

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This recipe makes about four cups of granola. If you leave out the dried fruit, the granola stays fresh for weeks–but it rarely has that chance at our house.

 

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Croutons (Yum! Yum!)

Several folks have asked that I write more about our experiences related to moving here, hand-building our home, and trying to live more sustainably. I’m tackling that project, but it’s a big one. In the meantime, how about I leave you with our favorite pumpkin soup recipe?

We’re pumpkin fools around here. It all started a few years ago when I was browsing through a seed catalog and my eyes fell upon these words: Baby Pam pumpkin. Pam’s my mother’s name. That’s all it takes for me to become infatuated with a plant—a name that rings my chimes. (I’d be terrible betting on the horses!) The Baby Pams were great eating pumpkins, but awfully small, maybe softball size. It was always guesswork figuring out how many we needed to, say, bake a pie, and too often we found we hadn’t cooked up enough of the vitamin-rich orange flesh.

But the lure of pumpkin growing had gotten under our skins. With their bright colors, huge leaves and sprawling vines, we were hooked. And there was this plus–pumpkins store well, which means good eating well into winter with no up front preserving effort. All you need is a cool, dark place. A basement or unheated closet will do.

Catalog pages were filled with colorful displays–so many varieties. We got carried away with the weird-looking pumpkins: the green ones, the white ones, the ones with warts. Most of those were more for decorating than eating. We thought the grandkids might enjoy using them at Halloween. But they never did particularly well in our garden.

After that experiment, we read about Long Pie pumpkins, also called Nantucket Pie.

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Various pumpkins and other winter squash from our garden

An heirloom variety, the Long Pie is known for its sweetness, and it has very little of the stringiness pumpkins are known for. If you were to see it in the garden, though, you might think it was a zucchini on steroids with its elongated shape and dark green skin which rarely fully ripens to a deep orange until it’s in storage. Since trying our first Long Pie, we’ve never so much as looked at another pumpkin variety.

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Long Pie Pumpkin

But the problem with Long Pies, if you can call it a problem, is that they are both prolific and pretty good-sized. On average, they weigh five to eight pounds apiece—we’ve had some quite a bit heavier. One is always enough for a pie. In fact, whenever we’ve roasted and pureed a Long Pie, we’ve usually had extra to put in the freezer for some unknown future use. The last year we kept a record of such things, we harvested more than 250 pounds of Long Pies. That’s a lot of pumpkin. And just how many pumpkin pies can two people eat, anyway? (The Gnome says, “A LOT!”)

So we began looking for other ways to use pumpkin. We’ve substituted it for sweet potatoes, we’ve made pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin chili, pumpkin risotto—all delicious, by the way. But our favorite alternate use for pumpkin has got to be this cream of pumpkin soup, especially on chilly winter nights. The cream makes this dish extra smooth and rich. Add the cinnamon croutons and it’s a standout.

Of course, you don’t have to grow your own pumpkin to make this pie, nor even buy it fresh (though if you do, you’ll need to roast and puree the pumpkin first.) A can of pureed pumpkin will do fine. Just be sure you don’t accidentally buy pumpkin pie mix.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where I found the recipe for this soup, and I hate not giving recognition. I’ve searched my cookbooks, recipe cards, and online favorites, all to no avail. I found one that’s awfully close, though, from Judith N. over at the Food Network website. Since I can’t find the exact recipe I use, why don’t I just go ahead and give her credit?

CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP (approximately six servings)

Croutons

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 slices whole wheat bread

Soup

1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
4 cups homemade or 2 cans veggie broth (chicken, if you prefer)
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (or one 15.5 oz can)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

For the croutons, combine butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix well. Spread this mixture evenly over one side of each bread slice. Place bread, buttered side up, on a baking sheet. Bake until bread is crisp and topping is bubbly, about 10 minutes. (You may want to do this step ahead of time to give the croutons time to crisp up as they cool.) Cut each slice of bread into bite-sized pieces.

Saute onion in butter in a saucepan (one that will comfortably accommodate eight or ten cups) until tender. Add half the broth and stir well. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, use it to process the mixture until it’s smooth. Otherwise, transfer to your blender or food processor for blending. (When it comes to outfitting the kitchen, I’m kind of a minimalist, but an immersion blender is a wonderful tool to have on hand. It works like a charm, saves on dirty dishes, takes up very little real estate, is easy to clean, and is relatively inexpensive. So glad I finally learned about this device.)

In the saucepan, combine blended mixture with remaining ingredients and stir well. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When the soup is cooked, you have a choice. You can add the cup of whipping cream to the entire mixture and warm, being sure not to boil the soup or scorch the cream, but it’s much prettier to dip the steaming soup into serving bowls and swirl the cream directly into each bowl, approximately 2-3 tablespoons per bowl. Top each serving with cinnamon croutons, and call everyone to the table for some super deliciousness.

(Disclaimer: No chefs live here. But with a great big garden, we’ve discovered lots of terrific recipes–mostly simple to make and without exotic ingredients. I enjoy sharing our finds with others just as much as I enjoy being on the receiving end. I do try to be clear, accurate, and thorough, though. And I can promise that all the recipes I put on my blog have been rigorously taste-tested right here at Living on the Diagonal and have received the Gnome’s seal of approval.)