Archive for December 2009

Hell Yes Chocolate Macaroons

My best friend got me Company's Coming Fondues for Giftmas, so of course the first thing I cook are the macaroons. It's a cool book--I'm more interested in the recipes for the dippers than for the fondues themselves, although the lemon and cherry fondues look crazy-good!

Anyway, the macaroons... The recipe's listed ingredients were two beaten egg whites, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/3 cup confectioner's sugar, two cups ground almonds, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla; I modified it with 1/4 cup cocoa powder and about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, because I'm ridiculous. Bake at 325 for 12 minutes (I should have for a bit longer--the recipe says make 3/4-inch balls, but I just did 1-inch-plus globs).

They turned out completely decadent. Like a cross between real macaroons and chocolate chip cookies.

Rating: A+++

Oh, P.S., I'm in Ottawa for the holidays. I traded the two-foot snowstorm in DC for the crazy icestorm in Ottawa. Awesome.


Here's Your Sign

In DC, you never really know, exactly, when "real winter" begins. Sometimes it never does. Sometimes it smacks you in the face and crushes you beneath the obviousness of its arrival, like a drag queen in sequins and three-foot-feather-plumed hat with a giant spotlight shining on her (except the snow is probably less comedic and outgoing).

This year is definitely one of the latter instances.

The pre-snow photos were taken on Friday, 18 December. Snow photo is from Sunday, 20 December.

This is the front planter, which used to have the Datura moonflower and Alternanthera dentata. In the foreground are a lot of turnips, arugula, spinach, and radishes, mixed in with rhubarb, garlic, spearmint, and purple verbena.

The Alternanthera dentata didn't survive through the first real freeze, so I chopped it back. The second freeze split open what I left behind--I thought it kind of cool, but disheartening, to see the water within the plant pop open the stems.

And despite the ravages of the A. dentata, the purple verbena was all like "I'm a-flowerin', yup."

Here's the other end. The strawberries are doing well, even making new leaves in the cold, but the Leyland cypress hasn't done much this year--except for not dying. I could count that as success. The freeze killed A. dentata, the Datura, and the ornamental sweet potato, so I ripped all those out a few days earlier.

Remember when some drag queens fell on Datura? Removing the light obstruction from Leyland allowed his leaf tips to turn yellow, as they are supposed to. So that's a bonus, right?

The grape vine lost all its leaves in the past two or three weeks, but it grew about a dozen feet in just months. We'll see how it does next year. Maybe I'll get grapes? Or maybe I'll just make dolmades with the leaves?

Here's the spring bulb garden--the daylily and the Iris are doing just fine, but the ornamental sweet potato died here as well. The verbena in the foreground is just as happy as the one in the other planter. I mulched the planter with fallen ivy leaves and the remains of my ornamental sweet potato vines and the moonflower.

And the crocuses in the bulb garden are doing the same things as the ones on my windowsill--they made leaves! You can only just barely see at the top of the photo a tulip sending up a shoot to catch some rays, too.

But 'twas for naught, 'cause then it snowed, and everything's under the snow and all cold. I don't want my plants to die. The grape vine is a cascade of ice from water dripping off the building; nothing was mulched except for the bulb garden; and by golly, someone's gonna step on my rhubarb again! Welcome to winter in DC.


Winter Already Brought It!

So how appropriate is it that I've been AWOL all weekend because the snow absolutely forced me to stay at a friend's and bake and hang out and make a snowman? 'twas a fun weekend, and an even funner week is ahead of me--I got to work from home today yesterday because of ice! (Everyone else just isn't working. My coworkers and I are the "lucky" ones.) So I ended up going to a cafe only blocks away from work, of course. (And, of course, got distracted and didn't finish this post. C'est la vie.)

With all the white stuff on the ground shouting "New season! New season!", I figure a fall wrap-up is in order. There has been a lot of change in the past few months--the tomatoes are gone, the Mr. Yogato Garden is barren, and I have been paying more attention to nonedible plants.

I'll split up the update into two posts. This one will focus on the Indoor Garden (as it should!). A post later this week will spotlight the Mr. Yogato Garden 24 hours before and 24 hours after the storm.

So, overall, the whole "growing food indoors" experiment was floptastic. I mean, although finally figuring out how to pollinate the peppers and tomatoes, I harvested only a few mini potatoes and one pepper and less than a dozen Ace Bush tomatoes. The edibles have been a bit disappointing, but I blame lack of planning and thinking more than the plants themselves. I did not think, really, about what would be best in an indoor environment. I will try again next year with happier varieties and edibles that I'm more interested in. The tomato plants' growth was rewarding, but the harvest was not. I don't really use tomatoes--it would do me greater good to figure out a variety of squash that is amenable to indoor growing!

And speaking of growing edibles indoors, I ordered some Bloody Butcher Corn from Seed Savers Exchange. I put a few in a few pots just to see how they like it in my living room. The rest I plan on planting as vine support at Mr. Yogato (of course) in the spring. I love corn--it germinates so swiftly!

My indoor Crocus flowers are gone, but the bulbs are sprouting leaves! I think I also see some of the Scilla siberica popping up--I don't remember planting tulips in this container, so it has to be the Siberian squills. I hope.

Remember my cute little gesneriad, Episcia "Coco"? After he popped out a single flower, he decided to send out another runner. The growth has been slow but steady, and I'm hoping that after having potted him up, he'll reward me with a cascade of growth. Despite my initial worries about being able to keep Coco alive (due to the purported horrid care requirements from several of what I consider to be reputable sources and websites), I have found this particular plant to be much more accommodating than people give it credit for.

Barton the Beast, my Gynura aurantiaca, however, was said to be pretty friendly, and he was, for a little while. But then I hacked him back, and he said "Peace be with you, I'm dead." The Zamioculcus zamiifolia in the pot there is developing a nice little bulbous growth at the base of the leaflet. I'm hopeful for its survival and proliferation.

I got these Kalanchoe as a bonus when purchasing my pregnant onion, among other plants, back in June. They're doing well, but not amazing. Give them time.

This Kalanchoe is definitely doing well! I got a cutting from a coworker in October. Her's are in a vase of water and rocks in her office underneath an Indoor Garden(er)-provided grow light bulb. It's leggy, pale, and does not have red leaf edges. Mine is in the windowsill. Its growth is dense and the leaf edges are red. It make me happy. I've heard-tell that it has yellow flowers (if that helps identify it to species...?).

I got this Maranta prayer plant at the same time as the first Kalanchoe. It has done well--it sends out new leaves all the time and is currently branching, so I sometimes have new leaves coming at the same time from different branches!

After salivating over these at Garden District for months, Mr. Subjunctive's profile of Philodendron bipinnatifidum sealed the deal. In just weeks since I bought the plant, it has sent out two new leaves.


These are the survivors of the slug incident. I am happy that some of the rhizomes made it. This Begonia was truly pretty!

A recent, previously unblogged-about purchase. This Sinningia is currently flowering, but I think I need to move it to a more shady position. It already looks like we'll have a love/hate relationship.

Oh, my squills! They're so awesome.

These tulip bulbs that I bought at the DC Green Festival? Not so good. Click for a bigger picture of icky insects crawling all over the rotting bulb. Ugh. Vomit. Trash.



Do you think the universe is telling me something? Nick at Macheesmo tweeted about wanting Facebook fans to get the name he wants (you have to have 100 fans or something, right?). So, having recently joined Facebook after stern talking-tos by my mother, of all people, I was like "yeah, sure, why not, I'm already giving in to the dark side..."

Even Facebook thinks I should be at home cooking more empanadas. Good thing I'm going to the store tonight to buy stuff to do exactly that!


Another New Plant...!

Three of the last four posts have been about new plant purchases.

Make that four of the last five. I swear, I'm almost done buying stuff. (I just spent $30 on seeds for next year; they should be here in a day or two.)

Alright. I have a problem. But look! Dracaena Cordyline fruticosa "Baby Doll"! (Thanks for the ID, Mr. Subjunctive! I thought better of Garden District, but now I'm all like "Who you gonna trust? No ones!") Who can look at that and not buy is for such a cheap, cheap price? And, again, supporting a good cause so Garden District doesn't have to go all the way out of business.


Ho Ho Ho!

Happy Holidays, y'all!

With Hanukkah having just started and other holidays just around the corner, I thought it appropriate to show my holiday spirit, Indoor Garden(er) style.

I bought trees, of course! Araucaria heterophylla, Norfolk Island Pine, from Garden District; and Pinus pinea, Italian Stone Pine, from a Safeway. The P. pinea came with decorations and sticky leaves, but I had to decorate the A. heterophylla myself. Its boughs are graced with the knitting of a friend from university. Every year, she makes mini-mittens for her family and close friends. I'm hoping for a sixth one this year. I started copying her, but I crochet mini-stockings as ornaments (so that the mini-people don't have warm hands and cold feet, you understand).

The random clear spirally thing and the spray of glassy glitterbeads come from an overly decorated tree at a restaurant last New Year's. My friend stole them off of the tree while we were waiting to be seated around 2 AM. If you stick the glassy glitterbead stick into the clear spirally thing, it looks like a carrot.

I'm not one, really, for celebrating the holidays as many do, especially through decorating. But when one runs across cheap little cute trees and one has such decorations, well, there's little choice but to buy those trees and decorate them.

We'll see if the P. pinea makes it through to 2010. The Internets doesn't give me hope. A. heterophylla is said to be more amenable to growing indoors, but we all know what happens to happy indoor plants over here...!

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I spent a few hours yesterday cooking. I wanted to try Nick's Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe from his blog, Macheesmo, and Jess's Pumpkin Empanadas recipe from her Vegan A Go-Go podcast that I watch. (I watch only two cooking podcasts; Vegan A Go-Go and Maangchi's Cooking Korean Food podcast. I made Maangchi's hwajeon once, but I don't think I made it well. They looked pretty, however!)

Anyway, while waiting for things to cook/cool/etc., I ended up roasting some pecans as well. I had so much leftover empanada filling that I made a pie, too. I'd say it was a productive day.

Details and results as captions; read on!

One of the reasons I have problems following recipes (besides my inclination to "make it better" without ever having tried it all the way through first) is because I don't know how big a "medium-sized" anything is. What I think is large or medium or small may be very different than what the recipe-writer thinks. Although Nick said "2 medium or large sweet potatoes" in his ingredients list (which could mean anything, to me), he also included a picture of how much he used, and basically implied that it didn't matter, 'cause you just add enough flour to get the gnocchi dough to the right consistency anyway. Pictures that go along with the recipe's steps? Awesome. Pure awesome.

...but despite Nick's detailed pictures and instruction, I think I didn't add enough flour to the mix before trying to form the gnocchi. They were pretty sticky and soft when I tried to roll them out on the floured cutting board. But, I say "good enough." I have so many! They're tasty even without cooking them.

I call myself lucky that this was about the only mess I made throughout the day.

Here's the gnocchi served. I made a butter sage sauce and garnished with fresh sage. It was absolutely wonderful with sage! The sweet potato flavour is very subtle, but the sage accents it well, and the butter wasn't overpowering.

Jenna at ModernDomestic was featured on the Washingtonian's Blogger Beat a few days ago. I'm on Twitter now (I know, shoot me), and I follow her. She had tweeted about this feature, saying that her kitchen really was that small. I had to see. I had to see what other people consider to be small. Because, as you can see, I think mine is smaller. I have a clean pan, a dirty pot, a greased cooking pan thing, my bowl with dough in it resting on the lip of the sink, a cutting board acting as a countertop, a countertop acting as a drain and a countertop, and the sink full of hidden dirty dishes. This is the extent of my kitchen. It used to be a closet right next to the front door (I live in a converted hotel). All of my big kitchen supplies (think crock pot, rice cooker, blender, etc.) are stored in the walk-in closet that leads to the bathroom.

If you feel particularly moved by my hardship, you may donate an apartment to me, preferably with two kitchen sinks, an island, and a large freezer separate from the refrigerator. Throw in a kitchen aid or a breadmaker, too, and I'll knit you an awesome scarf.

Here's me overfilling my empanadas. I didn't have pumpkin, so I used acorn squash and butternut squash all mashed up together. I made the dough a bit too thick; I'll make 'em thinner next time so I can fit more filling in. Or, I was thinking of splitting the filling and turning half into the dough and the other half into the filling, so the dough would be, like, wicked-awesome tasty. But, still, this recipe was very tasty, incredibly easy, and versatile. They're almost better than burritos! I can see baking scrambled eggs and cheese in these, too!

The finished product. I only had one packet of yeast, so I couldn't do the full recipe (which makes 16).

With or without enough yeast for the dough, I still had way too much filling. I don't know what I did, but the pie doesn't taste all that good, and the crust was not exactly yummy. But, I'll eat it anyway. I just won't subject anyone else to it!

This is my first attempt at roasted pecans. They were good, but a little overburned. Even so, they were hard not to eat throughout the day. I was happy when my friend finally arrived and almost finished them off. These things are dangerous!

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Office Addition

My coworker went to a meeting in Phoenix the other week. Before she left, I jokingly in all seriousness asked her to steal pieces of cacti that she would likely have encountered so I could root and grow them. Although she was attacked by what she called a "jumping cactus" that literally threw itself upon her as she wandered past it, she didn't bring back any broken-off bits.

She did, however, bring me a mini collection of cute-as-a-button cacti in an awesome painted clay container from the botanical garden! She tells me that on her way to the airport to return to DC, she ran across a little league baseball game and watched it with the cacti (cacti get in to games free, in case you were wondering--better than children!).

Can I say "I heart you, coworker!" without HR getting in a huff?

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More New Roommates--For A Good Cause

Because Garden District, my local plant store, filed for Chapter 11 a few weeks ago, I decided that I must spend more money there. I had been stopping by a lot but not buying anything as the indoor store shut down and was consolidated into the outdoor store, which moved across the street into a larger lot. The Prince of Petworth, local blogger celebrity, posted an AFP video that spotlights Garden District as an example of how small businesses are struggling despite President Obama's support of them.

Anyway, I'm one of those "supportive customers" mentioned in the video--I would much rather toss money at a local friendly face, even if it's more money than a chain store would charge for the same item.

I won't, however, buy a Christmas tree. I'm generally a scrooge around the holidays anyway, so I probably wouldn't decorate even if I were staying, but this year I have a reasonable excuse: I won't be here. I might buy a living potted one that I can keep until I kill it through over/inattention. I haven't decided.

Dieffenbachia compacta

Cyclamen "Sterling Scarlet"

And a pretty flower! There are about a dozen, now, and more on the way. The variegated leaves are also quite attractive--I don't have faith in my ability to get my beloved plants to flower, so it helps that the leaves will keep me satisfied.

Aloe "Grassy Lassie"

The label says it's a hybrid, but with what? All the flower spikes decided to say "Sike! We just playin'." when I got this home. Flowers don't seem to like my apartment--they never stay around that long.

Philodendron bipinnatifidum

This was labeled P. selloum--see Mr. Subjunctive's take on the naming convention. Then read the entire rest of the post. That post is one of the reasons I decided to buy this--I love crazy-big-leafed plants.

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Post-Thanksgiving Weight Watchers (I Swear It's Plant-Related)

I have been in Weight Watchers since June 2008, and as of last night, I'm down 72 pounds.

The weight-loss journey is really what reinvigorated my interest in plants. (See?! Plant-related!) Growing, cooking, eating plants--that's what helped me lose weight. I accidentally became a mostly-vegetarian during that process, and that's helped me eat gigantic heaps of food and still continue to lose weight, like the 1.6 pounds I lost last week (including Thanksgiving!). The plateaus and blips on my graph (click for the more readable version) are from weeks during which I was eating meat or eating out more frequently. (This summer/fall has been a bit crazy.)

I have to say, I don't do Weight Watchers as they'd like one to. Counting points for the rest of my life is unsustainable for me, so I stick to good, healthy food (home-cooked [some home-grown], organic vegetables, mostly); exercise a bit; and eat as much as I need to not be hungry. The meetings keep me accountable, and the people keep me coming back every week.

It really is easy. The only time it's hard is when you do the things you know you shouldn't be doing (like eating General Tso's Chicken two or three times a week, in addition to those giant muffins for breakfast and jalapeno poppers at any happy hour you're invited to) but expect to get the same results as you have (regular, healthy weight loss).

Could I have lost 72 pounds in less than a year and a half? Well, of course. Would I have enjoyed all the friends, the holidays, and THE FOOD? (Only about three people will say "THE FOOD" in the fashion I am thinking it, and they would laugh, but they don't read my blog.)

Some of my friends know the "mmmm" sounds I make every time I put something in my mouth; The Soupergirl knows her soups give me mouthgasms; during "team building" yesterday with my coworkers, they found out that I LOVE FOOD. I love it so hard. As long as it tastes good, I'm satisfied, but food is what I live for. It's not just a necessity, it's a treasure, and every meal should be savored and worshiped and just... I want to eat now. I will not diet. People can eat copiously and still lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, but they have to eat smart, too. That's what Weight Watchers and being a plant/food blogger is teaching me.

So, what's for lunch today? Home-made spicy Thai tofu/mushroom/onion/zucchini soup. Yummy!

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