Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wild Blackberries

In my neighborhood, we have community open space, which is basically a fancy way of saying green spaces with no houses on them that everyone is welcome to use. While walking near one such "open space" last week, I saw something that looked like a blackberry. I stepped closer. 

It was a blackberry. Growing all by itself in the wild! (I mean, as wild as it can be inside a residential area.) I texted a photo to my dad to be sure it wasn't something poisonous, and when he confirmed that it was indeed a blackberry, I ate the ripe one that had caught my eye. Yum!
I went to visit again yesterday and realized that all the surrounding plants are blackberry bushes too. So exciting! Now all future walks must be planned to pass the blackberry patch and enjoy a little snack. I can't resist those warm, fresh berries. :)

Any edibles growing near you? Would you eat food you found?

Monday, July 21, 2014

America's Test Kitchen on Tour

To celebrate my dad's birthday, we took him to a live America's Test Kitchen event. It was a behind the scenes look at the TV and radio program by the same name. My dad has enjoyed the show for years (Mr. G and I don't watch it, so we were clueless). We learned that the test kitchen's mission is to help everyone cook great food at home, and they try to help people accomplish this by testing kitchen equipment, comparing food products, and perfecting recipes. 

The TV and radio show's host, Christopher Kimball, was also our host. He was excellent! So funny and a great storyteller. He highlighted different parts of the show for us (a relief for this newbie) and they did some live demonstrations of the show's typical parts. 

One such part was a recipe experiment. The match up was between burgers made with store-bought ground beef and those made with freshly ground meat that is immediately cooked. They found the freshly ground meat was superior in ease of cooking, flavor, and texture. Who knew just letting the meat rest could make such a difference?

A prominent part of their show is comparing products (like 15 brands of mozzarella cheese) to find the best one. So they brought 3 brands of chocolate chips (you can see them on the middle table in the photo) for audience members to rate. The middle of the road chocolate (both in price and cocoa percentage) was actually rated best! 

Another portion of the presentation was a smell test. Volunteers from the audience were asked to smell an unknown substance (that were touted as "common kitchen items") and identify it using smell alone. Maybe I'm strange, but I was thinking this would be so much fun at a party! 

The volunteers were unsuccessful, but the first sample turned out to be maple syrup and the second was nutmeg. We of course came right home and started sniffing our condiment bottles and spice jars! And identifying them without looking is not as easy as it sounds.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful evening. It was nice to spend time with family and enjoy a very thought-provoking presentation. Mr. G and I found one of their cookbooks at our local library, so we'll be cooking what catches our eye for the next two weeks to see if their recipes are really as great as they say! :)

How's your sense of smell? Have you heard of America's Test Kitchen?

Friday, July 18, 2014

What's so different about California?

Just when you thought I was finally done with California posts :)

This is my last one! I just couldn't resist writing about some of the things that were so different from my everyday life on the East Coast.

Weather. We stayed close to the coast for our entire trip so we woke up to fog every morning. It burned off by about 10 or 11am, followed by clear blue skies for the afternoon, but I didn't like it. I'm a morning person, and being greeted by overcast skies when I woke up was a bummer. But I guess that's the trade off for having pleasant temperatures year round. :)

Driving/traffic. Traffic where I live is minimal because it's a rural area (the population just broke 2,000 in 2010). But we've experienced big city traffic in our travels. California traffic was different. We weren't in any dense city traffic, more like lots of stop-and-go highway driving. The carpool lane was new to us and thankfully saved us many times. Also surprising was the fact that motorcycles frequently drove between the lanes of traffic. Those drivers definitely made good time compared to the rest of us, but I wouldn't have the stomach for it!

Restaurants. Sometimes eating out can be difficult because not many restaurants around my hometown offer vegetarian options other than a side salad. In California, we were able to find vegan and vegetarian restaurants without a problem, and even traditional restaurants offered at least one vegetarian dish. We were also given a glass of water with almost every meal (without asking for one). This used to be commonplace here too, but it was outlawed when we had a terrible drought about ten years ago . . I wonder if that law continues to be in effect?

Bugs. We encountered bugs exactly ONCE during our entire 9 days in California. It was marvelous. Many shops and restaurants propped their doors open, or had entire rows of French doors along one side. Even with all that good food around, there were no flies, wasps, bees - everything that would be attracted immediately to outdoor dining around here. The one time we saw bugs was while hiking in the redwood forest. Once we got sweaty, some little black bugs were very happy to hang out with us. 

I'd love to hear if anything surprised you about my trip or somewhere you've visited. :)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dottie Sleeping

Dottie has been known to sleep in some unusual places but she continues to surprise me! We found her in the tiny space next to the TV receiver last week:

linking up for wordless Wednesday

Monday, July 14, 2014

Could you perpetually cook from scratch?

Last month's issue of Ladies Home Journal featured an article about a woman who decided to cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks from scratch for a week as an experiment. For example, she made pasta, bread, and sauce by hand for spaghetti night. There were some days she spent 5-6 hours in the kitchen! By the end of the week, she noted that she had enjoyed the experience for the most part (especially since she shared some great moments with her kids in the kitchen) but it wasn't sustainable forever. 

It got me thinking about how much processed or pre-made food I normally eat. Unless I was forced to, I doubt I could cook homemade 100% of the time. It's not that I seek out Froot Loops and frozen dinners for every meal, but I get busy and have cravings just like everyone else. 

So here's my processed/pre-made food tally for Friday:

Breakfast: milk and cereal
DSC_0446 DSC_0449
Same old, same old. I eat this for breakfast every day. On extra hungry days, I'll add a banana.

Morning snack: KIND bar and strawberries
I love these nut-based bars. Very filling and lots of different flavors!

Lunch: vegetable soup (that I made at home, but I'll count the butter as pre-made)
Making this was my first time ever cooking with radishes. They're good in soup! We usually eat them raw in salads or as an appetizer with other raw veggies so it's nice to have another option. 

Dinner: salad greens with grilling cheese, almonds, and tortilla strips
I had to have two bowls of this. Yum!

Dessert: ice cream!
One of my favorites. Chocolate and peanut butter is a perfect combination in my mind.

Pre-made foods tally: 6 (cereal, KIND bar, butter, cheese, tortilla strips, ice cream)

Seems about right. Apart from a very simple meal like scrambled eggs with fruit, I don't think there are any dishes that I could consider 100% homemade because I rely on someone else to make part of it - the syrup, pasta, ketchup, chocolate chips, etc. And I like a shortcut now and then, so I buy frozen corn to avoid shucking it and jarred tomato sauce to save time. But I'm okay with that. I enjoy cooking, but I think it would quickly become a chore if I had to churn my own butter and make pasta by hand. 

Would you enjoy making all your food from scratch? Do you think it's weird that I've never eaten cooked radishes before? :)
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