Fall Prep in Summer Heat

It's 95 degrees as I write this.  It's September and the heat is still oppressive.  We did get a break from the heat with a good storm (hello, Hermine) this past week.

I'm still trying to get myself organized and my house properly furnished.  I have some decorations up, though, and enough furniture to have a couple friends come by if we choose.  So that's a start. 

It's weird to be thinking about fall coming again already, but here we are.  I'm hoping to be more productive as the weather is cooling off.  Apparently I'm only heat tolerant if the heat is dry; I think I slept half the summer.  

I am also hunting for a car and saving my pennies.  My Crown Vic gave up the fight at the beginning of summer.  The good side is I've been walking more.  The bad side is that this is not a car-free town for all things.

We are having a cooking competition later this week at work.  I initially thought I'd do Paella Valenciana (because I happen to have a rabbit in the freezer) but then I thought about getting Paella anywhere on the bus, and well.  Right, plan B?  Still thinking about it but I'll share whatever I make.

Hope you are doing well and having a great summer.


I moved my few possessions into a new house the first of the month.  

It's a pretty special little house.  The grandfather of my landlady built it from a kit, back in the 1920s.  If you don't know about the Sears kit houses, or if you want to find out more, feel free to dig around in the links below.

Being that it was built in the 20s from a kit, it's a gorgeous little bungalow - and yes, it's even green!  The porch is deep and has a swing, too.  The floors are original hardwood, the walls are board and molding.  Everything is kind of old and worn and comfortable and a bit off kilter.  There are no closets, only one sink, and an electric stove.  It's a manual-work kind of house.  I don't think I could love it any more.

I hear the train roll by on the regular, and I can walk to all the goodness downtown has to offer.  I expect I will be fixing up furniture and things until spring, and I hope I'm here long enough for friends and family to visit.  It's that kind of place.  My kind of place.






I think I mentioned some months ago that I was planning to move.

I'm in temporary-housing mode down in the Triangle, but I made it!  Most of my non-work time is currently consumed with finding a house.  I'm pretty excited about the possibilities.

Also the Triangle has two things Southern California mostly forgets:  Rain, and Autumn.  I am quite enjoying both.  

I think I better get on that afghan sooner rather than later.  It's already cool enough to need it, and how the heck did it get to be almost October, already?!

Elastic Recipes: how to do it

I posted one of my favorite recipes on Sunday, for ratatouille, and I said it was elastic.  What I didn't say was how to stretch it up or down, and I thought it might be useful to do a little walk through of that in case anyone didn't catch what I meant.  If you already figured this part out, you're awesome, gold star.  If you didn't figure this out, you're still awesome, and here we go:

The main idea is to keep the proportions of the ingredients the same.  So in my ratatouille recipe, the first items in the ingredients list are all 1 lb each:  eggplant, squash, and so on.  If you wanted to make half as much ratatouille, you would go with half a pound of each of these, then a quarter pound of mushrooms later.  Whatever you do to the first ingredient, you do to each of the ingredients with a measurement.  Conversely, if five pounds of ratatouille isn't enough and you want to double the recipe, just double each of the weighed ingredients.  Two pounds of eggplant, two pounds of squash, a pound of mushrooms, et cetera.  

Can we just pause for a moment here?  Because five pounds is a lot of veggie.  Just wanted to make sure you're with me.  OK, fantastic.  Let's continue. 

That's the easy part, but it's not the only way you can fiddle with an elastic recipe.  For this one specifically, you can tweak the vegetable proportions.  Say you don't like eggplant, but you love squash?  You could cut the eggplant and replace it with squash.  Maybe instead of a pound of eggplant and a pound of squash, you have two pounds of squash - one green, one yellow!  Or you love mushrooms, but are meh on bell pepper?  Swap the amounts, and it will still work.  If you make this dish in the fall, you could swap out the summer vegetables for fall vegetables and still make it pretty delicious.

My rule of thumb is, I go by the recipe pretty closely the first time I make it, and I make notes of what I like and don't like.  If my cooking time varies from the recipe, I note that.  If I want to try substitutions, I note that for next time.  If I'm considering substitutions, I think about flavor but I also think about texture and things like cooking time and water content.   Part of the reasons the specific substitutions above work, is because the ingredients are similar.  The mushrooms-peppers swap is the most challenging, but even that is pretty easy to do if you're watching your food as you cook it.  The texture will be slightly different, and you may find that's exactly what you wanted.  Or maybe you'll never make that swap again, but either way you've learned something and given yourself more options in the future.

Is there a recipe in your stock (or family lore) that you consider an elastic recipe?  How do you approach substitutions and stretches?

Elastic Recipes: ratatouille

I heard the term "elastic recipes" long enough ago that I've forgotten where.  Or, more accurately, I'm sure I read it.  The idea is that some recipes can flex to the amount of ingredients you have.  If you've cooked for a length of time, I bet you have at least one of these somewhere in your brain or cookbook.

There are some things that do not lend themselves well to this approach.  When I make bread, for example, no matter how many loaves I make, I repeat the recipe for each one.  Canning recipes, same thing.  But if I'm making my gramma's biscuits, I just go by how much flour I have, or how many people want biscuits.

Another favorite elastic recipe, especially this time of year, is ratatouille.  I'm going to give you the general breakdown, with some of my notes.  Feel free to take it and run with it and make it your own.   This makes a fuckton of ratatouille, but you could easily scale up or down for whatever size crowd you're serving.  Just keep your general proportions the same, and you'll be fine.  I have faith in you.


  • 1 lb each:  eggplant, squash, tomato, bell pepper
          I like a good medium eggplant, a small zucchini, a small yellow (crookneck) squash, a small red bell pepper, a small green bell pepper - this gives a nice variety of color and texture.  If you can get heirloom tomatoes, do so.  It will take longer to cook but the flavor is worth the effort.
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves (or more if you like) garlic
  • several tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste plus some for the eggplant
  • optional:  1/2 lb mushrooms
  • optional:  parmigiano-reggiano cheese (you know, parmesan cheese.  But none of that shaker crap, get real cheese, OK?   You'll thank me later.)
  • Gear:  Dutch oven (cast iron is nice!), colander, chef knife, cutting board, something to stir the veggies with

So, basic idea:  add each of the veg into some olive oil to soften and cook down.  Once you have all the veg in, let it simmer until everything is cooked through and the flavors are nicely blended.  Put cheese on top and serve hot, or save it and serve cold tomorrow.

Here's how you do it:

1.  Dice the eggplant into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces.  Salt generously and pop them into a colander to drain.  They will take 15-20 minutes, so this is a good time to get everything else together.  You can also do all your knife work here if you like.   Good mise now saves you insanity and heartbreak later.  Just trust me on this.

2.  Dice the onion into 1/2 inch pieces.   Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your Dutch oven and let the onion soften over medium heat until they're soft, translucent, and somewhat fragrant.  I salt the onion just a little bit, and salt each vegetable lightly as I add it.  Except the eggplant because you did that already.

3.  While the onion is softening, dice up the rest of your veggies.  Everything should be in roughly 1/2 inch cubes.  Save all the guts of the tomatoes, they go in too.  

4.  Add in the bell peppers when the onions are translucent.  Salt at this point is up to you - I've noted what I do.  Also make sure you have enough oil - it's easier to add more than to take any out.

5.  Add in the squash when the bell peppers are just about soft.  

6.  While the squash are cooking down, rinse and squeeze out the eggplant.  I know, it sounds weird, but it helps.  Also, if you did it right, you put way too much salt for eating, so you need to rinse most of it off.  Squeezing just helps get the extra water out.  Feel free to substitute "blot in a towel" for "squeeze" - whatever you're comfortable with.

7.  In go the eggplant, mushrooms, and garlic.  These shouldn't take more than a few minutes to start to cook down.

8.  When everything else except the cheese is in, and the eggplant is softening up, add the tomato with all the juice and such.  At this point you should be seeing the beginning of what will be a lovely vegetable stew.  

9.  A few notes:  I don't generally have to add any liquid to this, since the veggies are mostly water.  If you do need to, feel free to add vegetable or chicken stock.  Or, you know, wine if you're so inclined.  I find this is better without the wine, honestly, but preference and all that jazz.  Also, be patient and let each ingredient cook up a bit before you add the next, at least until the eggplant.  It's time consuming, I know, but it's so worth it.

10.  Stir everything up a bit, cut the heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer.  This part takes anywhere from 30 minutes on, depending on how much you're making and your stove.  Alternately you can put it in a 350 degree oven for the same amount of time.  What you're looking for is a rich vegetable stew that tastes like everything jumped into a hot tub together and had a fun party.  

11.  Don't forget the cheese!  When your stew is done cooking, let it stand for 5 minutes with the lid off, then grate or shave some Parm on top, to your liking.  I've been known to cover the top with cheese then pop it under the broiler for 2-3 minutes for some golden brown deliciousness.  That may not be strictly authentic, but it's strictly delicious and I'm all for it.

Hook a Sister Up!

One thing I had forgotten about being on the east coast was the whole "sometimes winter snows you in" deal.  The day before I came here, I hiked Mount Lee in shorts and gold boots.  The day after I got here, most of a foot of snow fell on us.

My mom taught me to crochet when I was in elementary or middle school, and I thought it would be fun to pick it back up again.  Yarn and hooks can be fairly inexpensive, and I can make things that are actually useful.

So yarn happened.  And then beads happened, because I rarely resist a chance to sparkle something up.  And of course as soon as I started to make good progress on a fluffy, warm scarf . . . spring happened.  


It's a Family Affair

Hello from the beautiful Shenandoah Valley!  Happy Spring!

I'm staying with my family on the east coast for a while, for a variety of reasons.  I've got a few projects up my fleece sleeves, so look for some updates on those over the next few weeks.  I've also got a few ideas on what to do with this site, which I'm going to test out and probably not post until I sort out a viable plan.

Hope you are all doing well and, if you're somewhere cold, staying warm.  

In the meanwhile, here is a picture a friend took of me at Harper's Ferry.  The flood marker photo is a thing I do.