Sunday, December 13, 2009

Green Your Hanukkah!

Being half Jewish (and not a very good half Jew at that), I'm prone to forgetting significant Jewish holidays.  This year, Hanukkah really crept up on me.  I honestly didn't even think to look at the calendar until I was unpacking the Christmas decorations on Thursday (yes, ironic, I know), saw the menorah, and thought, "Oh, hey, when does that thing start?"  The answer: Friday night.

Friday was a busy day for me, and I was out and about until after sundown anyway, so I blew the first night.  As the second night approached, a half-joking thought crossed my mind: "I wonder if there's an app for that?"  And I'll be damned if there isn't.

Image snagged from

iMenorah, for the Jew on the go (their real slogan is "For the Jew far from home!" but I like my version better).  I downloaded it and was able to light the menorah while Mr. L and I were out to dinner on Saturday night.  It was great!  You tap to light the shamash, then light the other candles from left to right.  After you light them, some random voice recites the prayer aloud, and the candles slowly burn down over the next few minutes.  Genius!

This image also snagged from

But being half Jewish, I still have some guilt about not actually lighting the menorah at home.  So I'm going to rationalize it in a couple ways.  First, they donate 10% of the proceeds to a San Francisco charity (the app costs $2.99).  Second, it's more sustainable, right?  Conventional candles are often made with petroleum products, and more petroleum products are used to transport them to the store and then back home to my house.  Plus, when you burn them they emit all sorts of nasties, I'm sure.  But this app is the totally green alternative!  Minimal inputs, no transportation costs, no indoor air pollution from the burning.  It's great!

Now, I won't get too smug about how charitable and green my new Hanukkah ritual is.  But I will tell you this: while iMenorah does make Hanukkah a bit more fun for me (using it made me giddy) and might actually be greener and all that, it just didn't feel quite the same.  Next year, I might try sourcing some locally produced soy Hanukkah candles and see how that feels in comparison - perhaps it will make me even more smug?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Awash in a Sea of Produce

Keeping up with a CSA is hard!  We really struggled to find ways to use all the yummies we got before they went bad, and we still weren't entirely successful.  Not big fans of eggplant, those went to the break room at work for someone else to put to good use.  We had so many peppers we couldn't possibly use them all, and some of them have become shriveled and sad looking.  The rest, however, went into some tasty meals.

We used many of the peppers in a fresh salsa.  I roasted one of the poblanos, then minced and added it to the salsa, along with a few serranos and jalapenos. Some of the other peppers went into a chili Mr. L made later in the week, although even then, we still couldn't use them all up.

Lettuces and some of the carrots went into yummy salads for dinner and lunch.  And I triumped over the kohlrabi!  Thanks to Wendy over at I Love Baby Quilts! for sending me to a link explaining all the great ways to eat kohlrabi.  I went with the simplest - peeled and shaved raw over a green salad.  Delicious!  It really does taste like a raw broccoli stem - sweet and a little earthy.

I tossed the fennel and remaining carrots with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme and roasted them according to the instructions posted at TheKitchn last week.  Super yummy!

The butternut squash went to very good use in an amazing Butternut Squash Risotto with Shrimp from Bon Appetit's November 2009 magazine.  The risotto is infused with the sweet, earthy butternut squash flavor.  Because you saute the pancetta and shrimp separately and then stir them into the risotto at the end, they retain their individual flavors and as you're eating you discover pleasant pops of smoky pancetta and sweet-salty shrimp.  Divine!

The risotto looks a little monochromatic in this photo, but I assure you the orange squash, 
pink shrimp, and reddish-brown pancetta all pop on the plate.
The beets were fabulous in a Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop (thanks to SBITC and fortunecookiejunkie for reminding me of this awesome recipe!)  My favorite thing about this recipe is that it features the beet greens as well, so you really use the entire food.  And it has goat cheese, which is also always a plus. 

Lastly, the Swiss Chard went into a delicious recipe for Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans from Eating Well's January/February 2009 issue.  This one just didn't photograph so beautifully, but trust me when I say it tasted great!

We picked up this week's CSA delivery, and it contains much of the same as last week, including lettuces, carrots, beets, peppers, and two small butternut squash.  We received a few new items as well, including fresh dill, new potatoes, and bok choy.


I'm still a little stumped by what to do with all the peppers we're getting, though.  We just can't use that many serranos and jalapenos in a single week.  Do any of you have a solid way for preserving these?  Smoking and canning?  Pickling and canning?  Help!

I'm also having trouble identifying these peppers this week.  They're the size and shape of a poblano, but much closer to an anaheim in color.  Anybody have any idea what they are?  Can I stuff & bake them?

The largest of these guys is about 6 inches long, much closer to a poblano in size and shape.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Bushel and a Peck

Our kitchen is literally busting at the seams with produce right now! We joined a local CSA recently, Johnson's Backyard Garden, and yesterday we took our first delivery. For those of you unfamiliar with CSAs, the gist of it is this - you buy a share in a local farm, and in exchange you get a portion of the harvest each week. For about $30 a week, we're getting roughly half a bushel of farm fresh, organic, local, seasonal produce. Look at all the beautiful stuff we got yesterday!

Here's the breakdown:
  1. Red and green leaf lettuce (1 head each)
  2. Chard (1 bunch)
  3. Eggplant (2)
  4. Japanese eggplant (1)
  5. Kohlrabi (3)
  6. Beets (4)
  7. Fennel (1)
  8. Carrots (1 bunch - about 13)
  9. Assorted peppers (including seranos, jalapenos, possibly some Anaheims, and some others I haven't yet identified).
Vibrant purple eggplants.

I truly doubt I could have picked up all this organic food for just $30 at the local farmer's markets, or even at Central Market. And I love the idea of supporting a small local farmer who's doing something they love. My only problem now is - what do I do with it all???

Gorgeous beets. I haven't managed to get any of the beet seeds I planted in my backyard garden to grow like this.

So, at the suggestion of my good friend Sarah over at Pretty Bird Press, I'm challenging myself to use everything I receive from my CSA each week. I'll post my efforts here, as well as any recipes I use. My hope is that this will not only help Mr. L and I eat more healthy foods, but also to expand our horizons and introduce us to some ingredients we haven't tried before.

Working all these peppers into our diet will definitely keep us warm on the cold fall evenings Austin's been having lately.

I need a little bit of help from you, though. Do you have any ideas for what I should do with all this deliciousness? I'm especially curious about the kohlrabi - I've never cooked with this before, so I need all the suggestions I can get!

The daunting kohlrabi - I won't let you stump me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dennis & Erin's Excellent (Italian) Adventure - Part 4

Day 8 (Tuesday , October 20)

Today we departed Florence and made our way to Rome. Before leaving town that morning, I decided to make one last trip to the leather markets, where I picked up what I now affectionately call "my lovely."

Soft black leather, chocolate brown suede lining, pockets for my phone and iPod, and it even smells like leather - all for the low, low price of €50 (or about $75). sigh. I think I'm in love...

We caught our train to Rome, and during our 3 hour trip I took another series of really blurry photos from the train. The windows on this train were even dirtier, so the photos look extra bad. But, it was still nice to see some more of the Italian countryside. A few of my favorites.

After arriving in Rome, we walked the few short blocks from the main train station to our hotel, Roman Residence. This was, by far, the nicest and most comfortable hotel we stayed in - modern decor, complimentary bottled water, a flat screen TV, a shower with plenty of hot water, and a reasonable nightly rate. The hotel is small - only 4 rooms - and the owner, Massimo, is very helpful.

After dropping our bags and settling in, Dennis and I decided to explore Rome on foot. The hotel isn't located in any "prime" tourist areas, but it was in walking distance to everything and very close to the train station. We stopped in at a pizzeria for lunch and had what might have been the most disappointing meal of our trip. They confused our order and brought us a seafood pizza that was absolutely terrible. On the bright side, we did pick up a couple very valuable pieces of information for future reference: squid ink on pizza is not tasty, and putting pre-cooked shrimp on pizza before putting it in the oven results in shrimp with about the same texture as a super bouncing ball.

With a thoroughly unsatisfying meal in our bellies we continued our stroll north, eventually winding up at the top of the Spanish Steps. Looking past the faux Egyptian obelisk at the top of the steps, we had a lovely view of the streets of Rome.

Descending the Spanish Steps.

The view from the bottom of the Steps looking back up wasn't quite as lovely, in part because the
Steps were cast in late afternoon shadows and crowded with teenagers. We lingered on Piazza di Spagna for a while, watching the crowds and absorbing the atmosphere.

A chestnut vendor.

This poor horse can't possible know how funny he looks.

We left Piazza di Spagna and headed west, finally arriving at the Trevi Fountain. The amount of detail in the carving is astounding, and it transitions from semi-natural formations to formal sculptures seamlessly.

Next we headed to the Pantheon, where I got a little bit obsessed with photographing the domed ceiling.

The Pantheon ceiling. It's awesome.

Then it was on Piazza Navona, where we found another faux Egyptian obelisk and a vibrant artists' market. We also got to enjoy a serenade from this guy:

Not Pavarotti.

Finally, Dennis insisted we head to Campo de' Fiori. So we trekked on, and once we got there we spent a whole whopping minute looking at a statue of Giordano Bruno. And then we left.

We walked a lot further than we realized because the walk back to the hotel was a long one. Along the way we passed Trajan's Column, but we were too tired and focused on getting back to the hotel to be impressed. Exhausted from our long day of walking, we skipped dinner and collapsed into bed.

Next Time: We explore the peculiar specifics of the Vatican's dress code.