Radio Silence

So I realized today that it has been a little over a month since my last post. So much for my New Years goal to post regularly. In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to in my absence, here is a picture that sums it up nicely:

A stack of books

I’ve been researching the diet of Florida natives before European contact for a huge paper I’m writing for my class this semester. The way I see it, this paper is the big thing standing between me and graduation so I’m trying to be a little more thorough than I normally would. As of right now I’m about half-way done with the paper-writing process. With any luck I’ll have the paper done by mid-April. I hope to be back to posting regularly sometime around May, earlier if I’m lucky (and productive).

Other brief and slightly relevant news:

Garden: Currently dealing with an infestation of spider mites so many of my plants are quarantined to one of the balconies. Fortunately my african violet and lime tree remain uninfected so far. The strawberries are blooming and the carrots are starting to be big enough that I can eat the thinnings. The currant tomato plant survived the winter and is blooming again, which I don’t quite understand but I’m not complaining.

Etsy: I’ve been continuing to work on designs but this will shift to working on an inventory sometime soon since I hope to participate in a couple of local craft fairs/holiday marts come fall. I hope to get my Etsy shop up and running before then.

And lastly, if everything goes well for the next few months I’ll be graduating in May. Yikes!

Hope you all are having a pleasant spring!

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters

This recipe has actually been a few years in the making. It all started on a summer road trip when I accidentally left my snack mix of chocolate chunks, dried cherries, and toasted almonds in our car on a hot afternoon. By the time I realized my mistake the chocolate had completely melted and coated everything.  Not being one to waste chocolate, or cherries for that matter, once the mix had cooled down enough for the chocolate to solidify I decided to eat it anyways and it was delicious. I’m not quite sure why it tasted so much better than the original mix, but it did. The rest of the melty mix was quickly consumed then forgotten about…

… Until a few weeks ago that is. Making the sunbutter cups got me thinking about other candy I could make and I remembered that happy accident from the road trip.  I melted some chocolate, threw in some almonds and dried cherries and mixed it up to see what would happen. I wasn’t quite happy proportions and the whole almonds made the clusters a bit difficult to bite into.  Still they tasted good enough to warrant another attempt. Encouraged by the praise from my sister “I like these better than any candy you can get in stores” I worked on a recipe and came up with one I’m pretty happy with.

 

Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters (makes ~26)

1 cup (163 g) Enjoy Life Chocolate Chunks

1 ½ cup (197 g) Toasted Almonds, coarsely chopped

½ cup (79 g) Dried Cherries, coarsely chopped

1. Melt Chocolate. You can use a double boiler, or a microwave like I did. To melt the chocolate in the microwave I did 30s on high, then intervals of 10s on high until the chocolate was melted, stirring the chocolate in between each interval. Your microwave may require different times.

2. Pour chopped almonds and cherries into chocolate. Stir to coat. You want the cherries and almonds to be completely coated in chocolate.

3. Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto a lined baking sheet in whatever size you want your clusters to be (mine are about a tablespoon each).

4. Place baking sheet in the refrigerator or freezer. Once clusters have hardened, remove from sheet and store in the fridge or freezer.

Keep in mind, there is a lot of wiggle room with the ingredients. If you want more cherries, add more cherries. If you don’t like almonds, use some other nut or seed instead. Don’t want clusters? Pour it onto a cookie sheet to make Chocolate Cherry Almond Bark. Substitute coconut flakes for the cherries and you’ll have a sort of Almond Joy cluster. The possibilities are endless…

Can't let the chocolate stuck to the sides of the bowl go to waste!

Can’t let the left over chocolate go to waste!

It’s the weekend already?

So, I’ve been a bit under the weather this week and just didn’t get around to writing a new post for the Plants in my Apartment series. Please accept my sincere apology and this picture of new growth on my Thanksgiving cactus cutting in its place and have a nice weekend!

Pink growth on green Thanksgiving cactus cutting

My Current Relationship with Food

I’ll admit it; I’m a bit of a foodie. I have quite a fascination with the food I eat. I love learning about what it is, where it comes from, and how to cook with it. I enjoy trying new and novel foods and I try to use fresh, high quality ingredients when I cook.

I haven’t always been this way though. Not so long ago I used to not pay attention to what I was putting in my body. I was blissfully ignorant of what was in my food, only caring about whether it tasted good or not. Because I grew up eating home cooked meals made with good ingredients (Thanks mom!) I was somewhat aware of what was “good” for me and what wasn’t, but it wasn’t something I gave much thought to.

This apathy bled over into cooking. While I learned to cook as a child, I didn’t particularly like it. During summers, my mom would give my sister and I each a night to cook dinner. I did enjoy picking new recipes to try, but cooking itself was difficult and time consuming so I didn’t do it much. This attitude remained until college.

Big Rainbow tomato salad

During my first year of college I had a meal plan and no access to a kitchen. The dining hall food was good for about the first month of the semester then rapidly declined. The food was super-salty and kind-of flavorless and I missed mom’s cooking. During my second year I also had a meal plan, but didn’t use it much. I felt sick a lot this year and dining hall food was NOT good for an upset stomach. I did have occasional access to a communal kitchen so I would make myself egg drop soup, but I didn’t make much else as kitchen was gross. I moved to an apartment with a kitchen the second semester of my sophomore year and I started to learn to cook out of necessity.

My junior year of college was when I learned about my food sensitivities. Suddenly I had to pay attention to the ingredients in food, since there were a lot that I couldn’t eat. It was tough at first, because at that time I was afraid of food; it had made me feel so bad in the past and I had no idea what was “safe”. Eventually I adjusted to my new diet and started cooking quite a bit more since my sensitivities took away the option of most prepared foods, and a lot of restaurant foods. I probably do 95% of my own cooking now.

As a side effect of having to look for the 9 foods I couldn’t have, I started paying more attention to ingredients in general. Some I recognized, some I didn’t. Most I could pronounce, but only because I took organic chemistry. The more I paid attention, the more I started to question things. Why were these ingredients in my food? What purpose did they serve? What were their benefits? What harm could they cause? Unfortunately the answers to those questions have a lot of grey areas, with the only discernable pattern being moderation.

Dealing with food sensitivities is challenge and frustrating at times. Add being more aware of, and wanting to avoid, certain other ingredients/ways of growing food/packaging, and food gets complicated really fast. Some days I feel like there’s nothing I can eat that satisfies all my preferences. Most days I compromise. If it’s not local, it’s organic. If it’s not free of weird ingredients, it doesn’t have a lot of ingredients. The only thing that I’m firm on is avoiding my nine sensitivities. Moderation. Even in trying to be healthy, moderation is key. I’d go insane if I didn’t compromise, and I’d starve.

Cherry Piet Topped with hearts

While it would be easy to focus on what I can’t have, the food sensitivities, I try to seek out new foods I can eat instead. This has lead to some wonderful discoveries. Some of my favorites new ingredients are: pomegranate molasses, mochi, tamarind paste, beets, sesame oil, and lentils. I’m amazed at the existence of all the different types of rice, (I grew up eating minute rice), salts, olive oils, and vinegars. I’m also fortunate to live in a place where exotic fruits are easily found in farmers markets. I’ve tried jaboticaba and lychee, mangosteen and black sapote (also known as chocolate pudding fruit; it makes excellent smoothies). There’s even a star fruit and a mango tree on campus! Choosing this attitude makes the food sensitivities seem much less of a tragedy and more of the push I needed to start exploring a new world.

I used to have a horrible relationship with food. When I was healthy, I ignored how it affected me. When I was first sick, I was afraid of it. Now, I’m much more aware of what’s in my food and how it makes me feel. I’m in the process of becoming more aware of where it comes from, how it was produced, and how it gets to me too. There is still a little fear, and I think there always will be. I can’t forget that food made me feel so bad for so long. Even still, seemingly safe foods, foods I’ve eaten hundreds of times, will randomly make me feel bad. But mostly, I love food. Cooking is a wonderful blend of art and science. The creativity, colors, and combinations of flavors beautifully blended with chemistry make for some tasty dishes. While I may have nine things I can’t eat, there’s a whole world of things I can left to discover.

Plants in my Apartment – Dill (Anthum graveolens)

Dill Weed

Dill is an herb that has been around for a very very long time. It was first recorded in Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans also grew dill. The Greeks were particularly creative using it as a perfume, to flavor wine, to treat wounds, and as a way to gain courage. Dill even makes an appearance in some versions of the Bible (Matthew 23:23). In more recent history dill seeds were chewed during church services and meetings to keep people awake, earning them the name “meetinghouse seeds”.

Medicinal use of dill, as a pain killer, was first recorded by the Egyptians in 1,500 B.C. The Ancient Greeks used it as a digestive aid and a remedy for gas. It has also been used historically to treat colicky babies and help people sleep. Recent studies support Dill as a digestive aid. Dill has even found a place in folklore, both as protection from and use in witchcraft. It has also been used as an ingredient in love potions.

Culinary, Dill is well known around the world. It is particularly popular in German, Scandinavian, and Russian cooking. It also makes an appearance in dishes from Sri Lanka, India, and the Middle East. Dill was likely brought to the Americas by early settlers.

As a plant, dill is in the same family as parsley, cilantro, fennel, and carrots. Some of its more poisonous relatives include Queen Anne’s lace and hemlock. Dill is an annual although it is sometimes grown as a biennial. It is native to the Mediterranean and is available to home gardeners in a number of varieties. Common varieties include Bouquet, Fernleaf, Mammoth, and Vierling.

Growing Information

Size: Dill can grow to reach about 3ft (91cm) tall, but dwarf varieties are available.

Water Requirements: Dill will grow best in soil that is kept moist but not water logged.

Soil Requirements: Dill needs soil that has adequate drainage. It does the best in soil that has a pH range of 5.0 – 8.2.

Light Requirements:  Dill is happiest when grown in full sun, but will tolerate part shade.

Temperature Requirements: Dill grows well in temperatures ranging from 42-79°F (6 – 26°C). It is considered to be a cool weather crop.

Nutrient Requirements: Dill can benefit from being fertilized, but nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer can affect how much the plant grows and what it tastes like, for better or for worse.

Pruning: Pinch back flowers to keep dill from bolting if you are growing dill for its leaves. You may find it necessary to stake taller stalks to keep them from tipping over.

Pests: The major problems of dill are aphids and root rot.

Companion Planting: Dill is a good companion plant for cabbage. It repels aphids and spider mites, and possibly squash bugs. In addition to cabbage dill does well with lettuce, onions, and cucumbers. Dill attracts tomato horn worms so keep it away from tomatoes. It also competes with members of the same family so don’t plant it near carrots or caraway.

Harvesting and Use: The best time to harvest dill leaves is in the morning. They are typically used fresh but can be dried as well. They are common as garnishes, in potato salads, and on fish. Dill seeds are harvested when they have turned a golden brown color. The seeds can be added to fish, vegetables, and sauces. Dill is also used to make Dill pickles.

Interesting Information: Dill is a host plant for Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

 

Sources:

The Herb Society of America Dill Guide  – Everything you ever wanted to know about dill. Includes a handful of recipes too.

The National Gardening Association Plant Care Guide  – General info and care instructions for dill.

Golden Harvest Organics – Companion plant information

Wikipedia Apiaceae Entry – General information about the Apiaceae family