Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peaches in peach tree

Peaches in their natural habitat

I have a peach tree in my front yard, and for at least five years I needed to prune it but was completely intimidated by the idea of pruning a fruit tree that was mostly working the way it was supposed to. I was afraid I’d do something wrong and the tree would stop producing fruit at all or, worse, would just up and die on me and it would be all my fault. So when my friends at the Stone House had a tree-pruning workshop in February 2009, I signed up in a heartbeat.

The workshop was great and I came home and pruned my tree with confidence, and was so happy to get that taken care of.

I wasn’t sure if I’d get peaches the first season after pruning, though I didn’t prune as much as I should have in hopes I’d still get fruit, figuring I could do another round of pruning during the next dormant season. But then we had a very late frost and then I had a herniated disk in my back which prevented me from standing up for the entire peach season (and then some) so I actually have no idea what happened to the peaches that started out on the tree but seemed to have disappeared by the time I was able to inspect the tree again. Peach season 2009 turned into a bit of a mystery. All I know is that I definitely did not eat any peaches from my tree in 2009.

This year, however, I have a bumper crop and have been eating them and freezing them and on Saturday I managed to get to my very favorite peach-related activity which is to make them into a pie using a recipe of my grandmother’s. Her recipe can be made with any fresh fruit, but we usually make it with peaches because it’s so delicious.

I’m too lazy to make a pastry crust, and I think a graham cracker crust works just as well with this recipe, so that’s what I usually make.

My grandmother sent this recipe to me in 1996, when she was still living in Seattle, and had come back East for my brother’s wedding and was staying with my parents. My dad typed it into an email and sent it with a short note from my grandmother saying she was looking forward to seeing me at the wedding.

At that point, I’d been working almost entirely with modern recipes where they give everything in very specific amounts — not even one large onion, but 1 cup of onion — so my grandmother’s recipe seemed unusual because it gave amounts for most of the ingredients but it didn’t give anything for the peaches. It just said “add sliced peaches.” It seemed oddly vague and incomplete, like she’d forgotten to include details about the most important ingredient.

So when I saw her that weekend, I said, “Thanks for the recipe, grandma, but I have a question. How many peaches do you use?” And she looked at me for a second like I’d asked the oddest question and then said, “Well it depends on how big they are.”

I don’t know why I thought that was so funny but I did.

Of course it does.

The whole thing helped me see that recipes are guides, not holy writ, and you can do anything you want with them. You should use what you have and use as much or as little as you need and just do the best you can, don’t worry too much about what the recipe says.

So here’s the recipe, and you should use as many peaches as you need. It depends on how big they are. (The peaches from my tree are small, so I need a lot, probably 5 or 6 at least. Standard store-sized peaches you’d probably need two or three.)

Peach Pie

Peach Pie

Grandma Beulah’s Peach Pie

1 Tbsp butter
8 Tbsp (1/2 cup) flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla

1 prepared pie crust (pastry or graham cracker crust)

Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler.

Combine separately the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt) and the milk and egg yolks. Add the milk and egg yolks to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, then add to the double boiler and heat until thick, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in the vanilla.

Put in prepared crust and chill. Add sliced peaches to top when ready to serve.

Mindless Eating Update

Monday, July 19, 2010

As noted in an earlier post, I found the book Mindless Eating really interesting and thought it had some very useful and practical ideas for controlling your food environment as a means of preventing creeping weight gain and promoting better health.

One of the many interesting studies discussed was one in which people in France and people in America were each asked how they knew when they were done eating. Responses from the French people were mostly along the lines of “when I’m full” or “when the food no longer tastes good.” Responses from Americans were along the lines of “when my plate is empty” or “when everyone else has stopped eating.”

That is, French people used mostly internal cues to determine when they’d had enough to eat and Americans used mostly external cues.

Another study noted that people tend to eat much larger portions when eating from a large container (for instance a bag of chips) than when eating from a smaller container (for instance if the chips have been put into a bowl).

Given these related insights, I decided that one of the first simple habits I would try to instill would be to not eat anything out of a large container. Everything I eat has to be moved from its original bowl or packaging to a portion-appropriate sized bowl before I eat it. (I’m not, however, specifically limiting how much I can eat — if I want to have six bowls of something, I’m free to do that. I just have to put it in a normal-sized bowl before I eat it.)

We had a gallery opening on Friday at The Scrap Exchange and we have a new routine where I bring home the cans of drinks that are left at the end of the night to keep in my fridge until next month. (We’d been buying two-liter plastic bottles but there was so much waste, we decided to try this instead. It’s definitely working better.)

Along with the drinks came half a bag of pretzel nibs and some leftover artichoke dip, and I started snacking on those as I was putting everything away and figuring out what I was going to do about dinner, since it was after nine and I hadn’t eaten yet.

After a handful or so of pretzels, I realized what I was doing, and that I was breaking my rule, and I almost said, “Well, whatever. It’s Friday and it’s late and I didn’t eat dinner, this is fine.” But then I thought of my little chart with the check marks and decided there was no reason to not do what I said I was going to do — since I could have as many bowls as I wanted, it’s not like anything was different in terms of what I could eat, I just had to stop for a second and portion things out.

So I looked at the pretzel bag to see how much one serving was and I counted out sixteen pretzel nibs and put two tablespoons of dip in a little bowl and it looked like a pathetically small snack and I was sure I’d be back for more but the funny thing is that I finished putting things away then went into the dining room and ate my snack while waiting for my dinner to heat up and when I was done with the sixteen pretzel nibs and little bitty bowl of dip, it was totally fine. I felt no desire to go get more. Especially since my dinner was going to be ready in just a few minutes. Then I had dinner and for dessert some peaches (from the tree in my front yard! they are tiny, but tasty) and it was great.

So I just wanted to follow up on the earlier post to say that it does seem to actually work.

And I’ve been meaning to put up more summer recipes but I keep eating everything before I take pictures so I don’t have anything to go up for that yet. Hopefully soon.

In the meantime, I wrote a guest post for Bryant about garbage, so feel free to check that out.

Food Projects Update

Friday, July 9, 2010

As noted in previous posts, there are a few projects I’m following.

First is the dollar a day idea expanded to a year over at 365 Dollar Year.

My thought when I first read about this was that it felt pretty structured with not a lot of room for error and not a lot of flexibility. I know that’s the obvious approach and seems like the best idea — get a whole bunch of stuff up front at the best price possible and work from there — but it locks you into things and limits your ability to make adjustments and change things up as you go along.

I’m a big fan of the book Your Money or Your Life, and one of the things that stuck with me the most from that book is the idea that personal creativity and ingenuity are your most important assets, and that increases in skills and knowledge that allow you to save money far outpace increases in costs due to inflation and/or other external factors. If you’re paying attention to what you’re spending money on, how you feel about it, what you could do differently, then you’re learning all the time how to do things better. Getting a whole lot of anything up front assumes that you will want the same things in a month, two months, six months that you want right now. And that what you see now is the best price you’re going to get, and nothing you learn in the next six months will improve your situation. I’ve found this to not be the case at all, especially in the beginning when I was really learning and making a lot of big changes. So I don’t like getting a lot up front, I like getting a little at a time and keeping my options open.

The approach taken in the 365 Dollar Year was to buy months worth of staples and leave some money out for weekly produce purchases. (Or at least I think this was the idea — things haven’t been laid out quite as explicitly as I would have liked in terms of what was spent when, etc. Or possibly I just haven’t read carefully enough.)

She had a rough week — bedbug infestation and then a summer cold, leading to frozen pizza eating (not sure how that’s counted in the budget, she has a pot of “cheat” money for soda and chips, might have come from that?) — and I wasn’t sure if she was going to pull through and keep going. Seems like she’s been a bit frustrated lately with how much time things take to make, limited options, and just trying to get enough with hardly any money. But as of now, still hanging in.

The second project is the Dollar a Day Coupon project and he’s still rolling along on that, heading into month three. He’s started posting step-by-step information on how he develops his money-making deals, which are fascinating.

I’ve so far resisted the temptation to do a complete analysis of his project, including a database of what he bought, what coupons he used, the retail price of the food he actually ate (to determine how much he really saved), and everything else. I have way too many other things I should be doing — and really the last thing I need to spend my free time doing right now is putting together a database, that’s what I do for a living, let’s try to get leisure-time activities that are not identical to work tasks please — but it’s been tough. I feel a great need to dissect and understand this whole phenomenon.

One thing I’ll note about the coupon thing is that for anyone concerned about privacy issues, this strategy requires you to have store discount cards and to get online coupons. So the products aren’t actually “free,” you’re simply trading personal data about your shopping habits and allowing companies to market directly to you in exchange for reduced prices on specific products. I think most Americans have pretty much given up worrying about privacy at this point, so probably no one cares, but just wanted to mention that.

And a third project of note is local, Ginny Skalski, of Ginny from the Blog fame (she did a little piece about The Scrap Exchange a few years ago), is eating only food from farmer’s markets for thirty days.

As of Day 11, she’d spent $267.44 on food. Yikes! Her trip to my neighborhood farmer’s market set her back $97. (I reckon I’d like the Durham Farmer’s Market a lot more if I could spend $97 a week there without having to start taking in laundry to make ends meet.) But more power to her, I think she’s having a good time and learning a lot.

Anyway, there’s your update on food projects.

Hope all is well with everyone out there in blog land. More soon.

Summer Foods, Part I: Gazpacho

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



A few years ago at about this time of year I was talking on the phone to a friend who lives in Wisconsin. I said I was making gazpacho and watermelon sorbet. She laughed and said, “Let me guess, it’s hot there.”

I nearly always drop some weight in the summer, partly because I bike a lot and partly because when it’s really hot, I have no appetite. Cooking makes the house hot, eating and washing dishes makes me hotter, feeling full when you’re hot is just gross. So I eat lightweight foods — raw fruit and raw or barely cooked vegetables, cold soups and salads — and drink gallons of water.

It was hot hot in June then we had a lovely cool week, but it looks like it’s heading back to hot hot hot this week. So in honor of that, I’ll post some of my favorite summer recipes, starting with my very favorite, gazpacho.

This earns the number one spot by virtue of having many things going for it and hardly anything against it — it uses fresh, seasonal vegetables; it does not heat up the house to make; the recipe makes a lot, so you can share it and still have a lot to eat; and it tastes great. The only downside I can think of is that tomato juice tends to have a lot of sodium, but you can try to get a lower sodium version (I used Knudsen’s when I made it last week) to address that problem.

The version I make is based on the original Moosewood Cookbook recipe, with a jalapeño and extra garlic thrown in. (The original recipe calls for one clove of garlic which is not nearly enough.)

20-30 minutes to prepare, 2 hours to chill
6+ servings

1 small, well-minced onion
up to 3 cloves crushed garlic
2 cups freshly-diced tomatoes
1 medium-to-large green pepper, minced
1 medium-to-large jalapeño, minced, with or without seeds, as you prefer
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
2 (or more) scallions, chopped (both whites and green)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley

4 cups cold tomato juice

juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 lime (plus more to taste)
1 tsp honey
2 Tbsp wine vinegar (red wine or balsamic)
2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp. tarragon
1 tsp. basil (or substitute fresh)
dash of ground cumin (omit entirely, or add more depending on how you feel about cumin)
dash of tabasco sauce (use instead of or in addition to the jalapeño)
salt and black pepper to taste [NOTE: unless you are using very low sodium tomato juice, you will not need to add salt]

Combine all ingredients, then taste to adjust honey, vinegar, spices, and lemon/lime juice. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Some or all of the soup can be puréed.

I usually purée about a third of it, so it’s still chunky but the base is fairly thick.

I eat it with some kind of bread — baguette or bagel or crackers — with goat cheese, and some kind of very high-water fruit, watermelon or cantaloupe or pineapple. And fresh corn on the cob, if I have it.

I think it’s the perfect summer meal.