The Great Spice Challenge

  • [wp_caption id="attachment_8" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Heirloom tomatoes"]Heirloom tomatoes[/wp_caption]

  • Happy Anniversary!

    We went about our day in a normal fashion, and had just gotten home with dinner (pizza with eggplant and goat cheese and Caesar salad) when Matt’s mom called. From my end of the conversation, I gathered that Matt was thanking her for a card we hadn’t yet received. I suddenly realized that it was our anniversary! Four years, which isn’t much in the grand scheme, but not too shabby. We both felt terrible that we hadn’t remembered on our own what day it was…and we would’ve been much nicer to each other if we had. Unconditional love is a nice thought, but sometimes dirty dishes get in the way…….

    I weeded in the garden for a bit today. Every day I venture out, vulture-like, to see what’s ready to pick. We’ve had some strawberries so far, and the blueberries are getting very close. The raspberries have started to turn, and I picked what I could from the edge of the patch. It always turns into a brambly mess as the weather gets nice, as hard as I try to keep paths clear so I can pick. Instead, I have to put on pants, sneakers, and long sleeves so I don’t get too scraped up.

    Tomorrow we’re going to New Hampshire for the fourth. We’ll be at the Manfre’s lake house, close quarters and hopefully fun times. I’ve always loved the fourth, since it’s right around the corner from my birthday. When I was little, we would go to Pennsylvania to visit with my Mom’s family. They would have a cake and present for me, and I would swim until my lips turned blue. There are pictures of me when I was six in my pink tiger bathing suit with the little skirt, eating cake.

  • I'm a blogger, too!

    [wp_caption id="attachment_17" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Sausage and peppers with fresh local squash"]Sausage and peppers with fresh local squash[/wp_caption]

    Well, those of you who have known me for awhile probably never would have thought they would see ME blogging. Since I am rather adverse to computers and technology in general, it is rather a stretch. I thought it may be a good project for someone nearing an important age (it's not 20). Maybe it's the fear, or just the novelty, but I hope to keep it going---at least for a few months.

    I am beginning my much-anticipated four day vacation. I plan to do lazy things that I don't normally have time for, like lying in the hammock (a new addition to the estate--check it out when you visit) and creating a brand new gelato flavor (I've been wanting to use fresh herbs in everything). Also, I am determined to make fun popsicles--all the rage now, but there's something very appealing about them. Like the Jell-O pudding pops that I loved as a kid--creamy and comforting, vanilla, chocolate, and swirl. My brother and I had them when we went swimming at my grandparents' pool.

    I also plan to get in the studio and try to remember what I do there. It's unfortunately been awhile...The good news is that 500 Handmade Books just came out (published by Lark Books), and my books are two of the 500! Not a very good percentage, I know, but good enough for me.

    Stay tuned to this space. I promise pictures and more.....

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The Great Spice Challenge

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I really appreciate challenges that have limitations. It’s proof of what you can make with a length of rope, a piece of wood, and a slice of American cheese. Currently, I have accepted the challenge to use fresh whole spices in new, surprising ways. Marx Foods offered free whole spices to bloggers willing to test and come up with recipes and interesting uses. It’s a marketing scheme, but certainly one that is mutually beneficial.

Last week, I received the sweetest box in the mail full of tiny sample bags. Most are quite familiar, but there are a few that I’ve never used in their whole form (annatto seed) or that I’ve never thought much about using on an everyday basis (fennel pollen, whole star anise), and some that are old familiar friends that I never tire of seeing or using (whole Tahitian vanilla beans, Tellicherry peppercorns).

Although I am a strong believer in using whole spices, freshly ground, it is not always practical when you get home from work and want to eat immediately. I was finally inspired to invest in a small, manual spice grinder. I have a mortar and pestle, which I’ve used with variable success, and a coffee grinder that I would never consider using for spices (I don’t believe that a piece of stale bread would really get rid of the remnants and not ruin our beloved brew). I found an inexpensive model at the local kitchen store, half the price of a well-designed Swiss model, but with similar features including a ceramic mechanism. It has a little enclosed container to catch the freshly ground spices, which is a huge plus (and the Swiss Miss did not). I tested it immediately and it easily ground allspice berries to a fine, feathery powder unlike my mortar and pestle, where any round spices would jump out onto the floor. Annatto seed proved especially taxing to my white marble mortar and pestle, finally turning the waxy seeds (with the addition of olive oil) into a vibrant brick-red paste that had no intention of washing off anything, including my hands and now orange mortar and pestle. Now that I am correctly equipped with a spice grinder, I am ready – let the Spice Games begin!