Keeping it Together When the Plan Falls Apart

I’ve shared with you that I’m not necessarily the best meal planner. When I said that, I didn’t really give you the whole picture. The truth is that with planning our culinary landscape, there are a variety of points in the process that can go wrong. 1) No plan at all; 2) an incomplete plan; 3) an unrealistic plan; 4) no grocery list; 5) an incomplete list; 6) an inefficient shop and finally 7) a culinary fail.  Any concerns you have about making something yucky should really take low priority in your worries about food. If you get through to 7, you’ve really run a marathon in my book.

So this week, I made my realistic plan, made a list, and then promptly blew 3 meals on the plan by forgetting to buy tomatoes and onions. Who forgets onions? This “I’m going by my plan and my list no matter what girl.” Daggone alliums didn’t make it on the list. We’ve had a full week here at Lake Domestica, so rather than try to fit in another trip to the store so early in the week, I decided to do some quick shuffling.

Moved burritos to later in the week when I already had errands planned, changed the varia bowl to soup in response to sniffly requests and rather than making potato pancakes, which I love but don’t like to clean up, I switched them out for a lovely, easy and super quick Dreena Burton recipe from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan: Everyday Vegan Recipes Worth Celebrating.  I absolutely love this book. Dreena has a site and tons of books and they are full with a great range of recipes. I’ve found things from the simple to the sublime in this book and it always gives a boost to my plant strong repertoire.

 photo dda1ada6-b9a8-4835-aa0d-6c9eb5c61e71.jpgRather than our favorite potato pancakes, we had Ms. Burton’s Potato Squashers. These are essentially the world’s easiest and simplest twice baked potatoes. Rather than ordinary russets, the recipe calls for Yukon Golds. I used Kennebec Whites as that’s what I grew in the garden. They have some of the same qualities as the Golds in that they are a little waxier and creamier than the russets. At any rate, the basic plan is to bake them to tender. To press on them until they give a bit, dress with olive oil and salt, return to the oven at greater heat so that the exposed and olive oiled flesh browns and crisps. Dead easy and fan flipping tastic. 100% approval rating AND would you believe that Ms. Picky Pants actually wants me to pack leftover potatoes in her  Thermos for lunch? Oh my stars, it’s like a dream come true. A simple delicious dinner that my daughter wants to eat as leftovers at school. I swoon.

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We had our potato squashers with sautéed green beans and a big green salad. Mr. Little Sis and I had ours with our favorite potato condiment, malt vinegar. And just so you know how great these were, I’ll share the greatest part of our dinner – the kids skipped the ketchup. Woot! Thanks Dreena!

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The big lesson? When the plan can no longer be executed, do a little shuffling, move things around, make the best of what you DO have, and check in with your most trust worthy advisors. If you do, you might be eating something as delicious as our dinner. :-)

Porridge Got A Bad Rap… Polenta with White Beans and Kale

Pease porridge hot

Pease porridge cold

Pease porridge in the pot

Nine days old.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that I am of the last generation to learn this little gem from 1760. Whenever I hear the word porridge, this little ditty goes through my head. The really interesting part is that pease porridge bears nearly zero resemblance to what most of us think of as porridge these days. Pease porridge is, if I may draw an ill fitting comparison for the purposes of illustration, much more like hummus than like porridge. As I understand it, pease porridge was legumes cooked, mushed and flavored (onions, olive oil, maybe meat if it was available). When we talk about porridge today, what most people mean is a grain cooked in liquid until the two do some magic to make a soft warm bowl that is neither liquid nor entirely solid. Deeply satisfying, warming, wholesome and hearty.

As you likely already know, the Sis sisters are huge fans of porridge in its traditional Western breakfast form – a little sweetness added to cooked grains. We’ve already shared pumpkin apple steel cut oats, chocolate oatmeal, and quinoa porridge, to name just a few. Apparently the Scottish are the kings and queens of porridge, and porridge has starred in a number of culinary competitions, including the recent London Porridge Championships, not to be confused with the World Porridge Making Championships… who knew? All this attention being paid to the production of and the adornment of porridge makes those packets of precut, highly sugared, not really that much more convenient than the real thing oatmeal seem a little, well, lame (more thoughts on reasons to ditch “instant” oatmeal here).

Aside from bolstering my own love affair with oatmeal, this story of the London Porridge Championships reminded me of a historical culinary truth that I keep forgetting before I can implement it in my own kitchen. Porridge can be savory. Oh yes, and it’s not just for breakfast anymore, in fact it never was. Old cookbooks are full of recipes for savory cooked grains for lunch and dinner. We eat a lot of rice around here, and frankly a savory porridge might be just the thing our varia bowls need every now and again. And so I decided it was time for a savory porridge experiment… but how to approach it to best hedge my bets with Ms. Picky Pants?

I settled on polenta photo a313cca6-c072-4607-8036-92e5599d8d40.jpg. I didn’t want to potentially diminish the power of oatmeal in the morning here by having an oatmeal fail. Polenta’s creaminess and corniness seemed promising for my corny crowd. Mediterranean flavors tend to fare well… seemed like a good bet all around. And so, while not perhaps a traditional Scottish porridge, a grain cooked in liquid to creamy perfection is indeed what polenta is. Topped with white beans and kale? Oh yes, please.

I made this delightful dish from Patrice at Circle B Kitchen. I followed the recipe pretty closely (I AM capable, just usually not willing) except that I cut the animal products out of the polenta by replacing the liquids for cooking the polenta with 3 cups of veggie broth and 1 c coconut milk. I also ditched the cheese in favor of a smaller amount of nutritional yeast. Butter gone, olive oil in. Done. Vegan polenta. Admittedly less creamy in fat feel, but still super creamily delish. And the perfect base for white beans with kale. Thanks Patrice, for a lovely dinner and a baby step down the road to porridge for dinner.

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Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils

 photo DSC01007.jpgAs you can imagine, when I find myself in a food rut, I turn to the blogger community for a little boost. I’ve found some lovely meals this way. This find, however, deserves a little more than a “lovely” title. Batter Licker’s Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils were a culinary revelation, and not just because it’s another lentil dish although that may be part of it. ;-)

Let me start from the beginning. I’ve been working on planning my meals a little more carefully. Big Sis has a great system and is really good about making meal plans and following them. My intentions are good, but in all honestly I usually don’t make it to the finish line on this particular goal. As a result I spend more at the store than I should and I waste a lot of time late in the day coming up with a last minute fix (although some of these have turned out quite well).  In planning, I also provide myself with the opportunity to try to incorporate some new meals using ingredients I already have or know how to work with rather than scrambling at the last minute to follow someone else’s instructions. A few weeks ago Asian Cabbage Rolls made it onto my plan and BOY am I glad they did.

These rolls are warm and satisfying without leaving you feeling loaded up and weighed down. The lentils work beautifully with the Asian flavors. I can’t say enough about how much Mr. Little Sis and I enjoyed this dish. At first glance the dish looked complicated, but really, the only tricky part is making the rolls themselves. The rest of the procedure is pretty similar to making any simple bean dish. The only changes I made to this recipe were ditching the egg (something the original author said she’d do next time), switching out the sugar for maple syrup in the sauce, and decreasing the chile in the sauce in favor of adding it at table for the sake of the little people.

This lovely meal goes something like this. There is admittedly a bit of chopping. And if you don’t have leftover rice and cooked lentils, that needs to be done as well. May I suggest you start the rice first, then the lentils, then the chopping and gathering of other ingredients and preheating the oven. Mark Bittman has rightly criticized the overly organized French method of mise en place, and I suddenly realized, upon finding out what his book was about, that I should have written that a while ago… another missed opportunity. ;-) I digress. The point is, start the longest bits first, then prep the rest. It’s efficient, and still yummy.

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After the chopping and cooking, there is some combining and then the fiddly part, the daggone cabbage wrap bit. I have tried making various cabbage rolls before and had all manner of trouble getting them to roll and stay rolled. I now have a trick, which I will share with you so you don’t curse and stomp in your kitchen. When you choose a cabbage leaf, get a big one that is not torn. Then chop a couple of inches off the bottom where it connects to the head. What you’re trying to do is to get rid of the thickest, toughest part of the cabbage leaf, you know the part that won’t roll. Get rid of it and you know what? They roll. IMagine that. The next part of the trick is to use a kitchen utensil to hold those rolls in place as you create them and place them in your dish.

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There you go. Awesome tricks so you can now make cabbage rolls – Asian ones, Polish ones, Italian ones, whatever you want. Cut the inflexible bit and hold everything in place. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. I’ll find it after I eat more of these. Delish!

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Broccoli ‘Cheese’ Soup – all of the taste with much less fat

One of the most wonderful things about a powerful blender is the creamy soup that can be created and poured… or schmoved with a spatula into bowls – already hot!  If your blender isn’t strong enough to heat, then you can always pour this into a pot and heat after you’ve creamed it.  There is nothing like soup to fill the belly and warm the soul.

We experimented with a lot of soups when we first bought a Vita Mix (15 years old and still going strong).  One of our favorites was Broccoli Cheese Soup.  What’s not to like about Broccoli Cheese Soup?  Well, once you determine that you can’t handle dairy, and there are those that argue that the fat in dairy is a bad choice, and those that would rather leave the cow’s milk to the cow’s…. well then, the cheese is not to like about broccoli cheese soup.  So here is my dairy free version, loosely based on the recipe for broccoli cheese soup found in the Vita Mix recipe book.

Dairy Free Cheesy Broccoli Soup

1 tsp oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cups steamed or blanched broccoli
1 cup raw cashews soaked in water for about 5 hours or more (I put the cashews in a 2 cup measuring cup and then fill to the 2 cup line with water
1 c unsweetened milk – I used almond
1 c water
1.5 Tbsp bouillon

You can also substitute broth for water – or broth for water and milk.  Whatever works for you!

Steam or blanch your broccoli – keeping in mind that stemmy pieces need a little more cooking than plain florets.

I prefer to saute my onion and garlic before adding it to soup.  Just saute until translucent while steaming your broccoli (which I did in the microwave)

Put all ingredients in the blender and whirrrrr it up, or more accurately,  sideways until it is smooth and blended and if you don’t want to heat in a pot – let it spin till it’s hot!

I served mine with some broken up toasted Ezekiel bread.  My husband said it was fabulous but I was too busy eating to notice ;-)

This took 20 minutes from the beginning of chopping onion to pouring in the bowls.  You gotta love that!

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Enjoy the arrival of Fall – may your windows be open, your skies blue and your hearts full like a pumpkin.

Fall Recipe Parade – Yes, there’s some pumpkin

It’s that time of year – one of the many that sneaks up on me each and every year. While it is still sunny and warm here in mid-Maryland, I am apparently supposed to desperately want pumpkin everything. And honestly, I’m okay with that (except for the coffee thing, I don’t get it – but to each her own coffee). Here at the pantry we do have a healthy love of pumpkin. We also love the other flavors of fall and the opportunity to break out those super warming dishes as the temperatures begin to drop. To welcome this season of bounty and cool nights, we offer you a treasure trove of autumn yum. Most of these recipes are both gluten and dairy free. :-)

Morning Warmer Uppers

  

1. Pumpkin French Toast

2. Dark Chocolate Steel Cut Oats

3. Sweet Potato Apple Oats

Mains

  

4. Slow Cooker Burritos

5. Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala 

6. Sweet Potato Chili with Greens

Sides

  

7. Amazing Applesauce

8. Herbed Bulghur Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Cranberries

9. Waldorf Saute

Sweet Endings

  

10. Super Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies

11. Walnut Crust Apple Pie

12. Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Yay for pumpkins and apples, for warm afternoons and cool mornings, for low humidity and crunchy leaves, for new pencils and new schedules. Here’s to fall and wonderful food, family, and friends. Delish!

Super Easy Freezer Pickles

 photo IMG_0689.jpgI may have mentioned it already, but I have a cucumber problem this year. I haven’t had a cucumber problem in many, many years. I can only assume that our relatively cool summer prevented the nasty powdery mildew and other humidity related diseases that eventually do in all of my curcurbits. In surveying my cucumber bounty, I knew there was only one answer, to pickle some of them. Big Sis and I have already shared some pickle preparations, but they aren’t really meant for the long haul, sort of more of a 10 day window on those puppies. My past experiences with hot water canning for pickles left a bad and totally non crunchy pickle taste in my mouth.

 photo IMG_0687.jpgAnd so in honor of our cool summer, I turned from one temperature extreme to the other in search of a perfect freezer pickle recipe. I found this one, and then didn’t follow it. :-) Who on earth needs 4 cups of sugar in anything? Not this momma. And I assume that the turmeric was added for the sake of color – to make them look more like commercial pickles, which use yellow food dye to look like what? What would happen if we all just decided greenish pickles are okay? But, I digress. I hustled out to the store and picked up some of these babies. I could use glass, and with a vinegar based brine I usually would, however, one of my kids’ new chores is to do the fetch it run from the downstairs freezer and I had visions of freezer pickles all over the basement. So I went with plastic.

This couldn’t have been easier. These won’t last as long as water bath pickles would, but given the reaction my kids had to the batch I prepared last week, they won’t make it until winter anyway.

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  • 8 pounds cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2T salt
  • 1 1/2 c maple syrup (oh yes I did)
  • 1 c white vinegar
  • 1 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t celery seed
  • 1 t mustard seed

In a large container (I had to use my largest pot), combine cucumbers, onion, and salt and let sit for 3 hours, stirring periodically. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 2-3 hours. Drain and rinse cucumbers and onions. Add liquid to cucumbers (being sure to get them out of the strainer first… I’ve done such things). Pack in 1 pint containers, being sure to leave at least an inch at the top for freezer expansion. Freeze for up to 6 weeks. Thaw in fridge, consume with a week or so. Crunchy, sour, sweet, delish!
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Creamy Roasted Tomato Pasta (DF)

 photo IMG_0756.jpgI don’t quite understand it, but my tomato cherry tomato plants just keep going. They look terrible. An ill-timed vacation left the plants vulnerable to the one two punch of japanese beetles and grasshoppers, but they don’t seem to have gotten the message that they’re kaput. And so I keep going out and gathering a few at a time. I have standard cherry tomatoes and these wonderful yellow pear shaped ones that I grew from seeds my Mom got for me while visiting Monticello. Yes, these are Thomas Jefferson’s tomatoes. What former history teacher wouldn’t geek out about that?!

At any rate, I featured these tomatoes in a an easy and satisfying dinner last night that got a 100% approval rating – yes, folks you heard me right. Last night I defeated Ms. Picky Pants. Granted it was pasta, so it’s kind of cheating, and I deconstructed the dish so she could have some control over the ratio of the elements, but the pasta had the creamy goodness already on it, and pre-sauced pasta without complaint is a victory over here! I take what I can get. We’d had a few not thrilled with dinner nights in a row, so I decided it was time for a dish that stood a better chance of at least being consumed without complaint.

 photo IMG_0753.jpgWhat makes this pasta meal special is three main elements. The creamy goodness (here I’ve used my friend Annie’s cashew cream which I think I could write a book on because it’s so wonderful), the roasted tomatoes (if you’ve not done this you have really been missing out), and the fresh herbs. The cashew cream provides just the right amount of cream feeling without the clumpiness of sunflower cheese or real dairy ricotta. And roasting tomatoes? Nothing brings out the sweetness like a little roast. Throw in a little olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and you’ve got a dresser upper for just about any dish. Fresh herbs? I say yes please!

The original version of this dish is here on Meatless Monday’s website, a great resource if you are looking for vegetarian meal ideas. Because my version is pretty close, I’m just going to cover a few highlights. In changing this recipe for my family, I removed the dairy, increased the pasta amount (because leftovers are good), and left the components separate (aside from combining the cream and pasta) because this is a more successful strategy with my children. You could also choose to use gluten free pasta or veggie noodles like these.

Roasting Tomatoes: To achieve super goodness, preheat the oven to about 350. Place clean tomatoes in a baking dish. Add olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of salt. Stir to ensure tomatoes all have contact with the other yum. Place in oven and cook until tomatoes have cracked skins and have begun to release their juice. Mine took 35 minutes, with a goose up to 425 for the last 5 minutes. Your kitchen will smell heavenly.

While the tomatoes are roasting, boil your pasta, chop your herbs, and if you have some toast some pine nuts in a pan. If you don’t have pine nuts, walnuts would also make a nice addition to this dish.

Creaminess: As I said, I used cashew cream for my version and simply added just enough to the dish to ensure that noodles all had some cream, but were not drowning. Many dishes with cheeses and cream sauces go overboard in my opinion, so I usually start with less than the recipe calls for and see how that looks.

Herbs: Fresh basil makes this dish absolutely sing. The combo with the tomatoes is a natural, and the basil cuts through the cream in a way that makes the dish lighter feeling, more summery. We also put chopped fresh parsley on ours.

Other veggies. After our initial taste, which garnered universal approval, Mr. Little Sis and I began our usual varia-bowl treatment by adding fresh spinach and other chopped veggies we had in the fridge. This would be a great place to use some zucchini noodles.

So there you go, another way to use that summer bounty, and to enjoy those flavors while they linger. May all your pasta be delicious and all of your meals garner 100% approval (or at least 75). Delish!

 

Cool Cucumber Soup with Herbed Cucumber Relish (DF)

 photo IMG_0726.jpgI have cucumbers coming out of my ears – and no Big Brothers, I did not eat a seed. I can only assume that our relatively cool Maryland summer has delayed the usual onset of powdery mildew (which has now arrived and I’m combatting according to Big Sis’ suggestion) long enough for my cucumber plants to go bananas, so to speak. I’ve regularly been harvesting not just 1 or 2, but anywhere from 6 to 16 (yes, I said 16) delicious cukes from my 4 cucumber plants. What variety is doing so well in my not very well tended garden? I have no idea. Seed mixups are a real bummer. I digress.

In order to take advantage of my cuke bounty, we’ve been experimenting with some things, and I’ll share more of them over the next few weeks before it snows and puts an end to this whole summer bounty thing. Today, while it is relatively hot, I’ll share a lovely cooling use for all those wonderful cukes.

If you’ve been playing along for a while, you already know how I feel about Deborah Madison. In addition to my Deborah Madison cooking bible, I have a slimmer volume dedicated only to soups, because I really like soup. In this beautifully produced and photographed cookbook, there are a few cool soups perfect for beastly weather. Last night I was inspired by her Cool Cucumber Soup, although as usual I was compelled to make some changes. At any rate we had an 85% approval rating (meaning Picky Pants initially enjoyed it and changed her mind later). So, for all you cucumber lovers, or just those of you who like the sound of an easy cooling meal made from the most abundant veggie out there right now…

Cool Cucumber Soup with Herbed Cucumber Relish (DF) adapted (and made larger and milder) from Deborah Madison’s version in Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen(serves 4)

Soup

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  • 2 pounds cucumbers
  • 1 1/2 c cashew cream (here, from our lovely friend Annie) or yogurt or sour cream
  • 3/4 c herbs (I used dill, basil, and parsley to great effect
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Relish

  • 1 pound cucumbers
  • 2 T chopped scallions
  • 1 T dill
  • 2 T chopped basil and parsley
  • 2 t olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Peel and seed the cucumbers – dice 1/3 of them (or one pound) and set aside for the relish. While I often recommend skipping peeling and such, in this case I peeled to remove the bitterness sometimes in the skins. Coarsely chop remaining cukes and place in blender with the rest of the ingredients for the soup. Blitz until smooth. Place in fridge to chill. Yes, that’s it. No, I’m not joking.

Just before serving, combine ingredients for relish in bowl and stir. Done. No muss, no fuss, no cucumbers wasted. Delish. Happy super late summer!

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Blueberry Pie w/ sweet potato & walnut crust- GF/DF

I do love sneaking the vegetables into places where no vegetable has gone before.  Vegetablization is like charting new territory and is great for your health ;-)  What better place to vegetablize than in places where I used to use gluten and can no longer due to Mr. Bigg Sis’ dietary constraints?  But don’t let no need to lose gluten slow you down here, because more vegetablizing is always a good, and in this case, a delicious thing.

You may recall that in the past I presented you with a walnut crusted apple pie.  It’s delicious but turns out more like a cobbler when all is said and done.  So I am still interested engaging the search for a healthy GF crust…. and will go back to the cobbler-y things if it doesn’t work, right?  Or try Little Sis’ nectarine cream pie with a walnut crust which is also GF / DF.  Oh the possibilities are endless…. and this possibility I combined the idea for a sweet potato crust (also tasty and cobbler-ish) with the walnut idea to see if that might yield something a bit more pie-like.

Blueberry Pie with Sweet Potato/Walnut crust

crust
2 cups shredded sweet potato
1 cup walnuts
2 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maple syrup
1 pinch salt

3 c blueberries (mine were frozen at home)
1/4 c sugar
1/4 + 1/8 oats (that’s 1/4 cup and then about a half again of a 1/4 cup measure)

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a pie plate (I used coconut oil)
Shred the sweet potato in the food processor

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Take it out and put all the other crust ingredients in the food processor and reduce to a fine crumble

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Add the sweet potato back in and process into a mash

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Spread the mash into the bottom of a greased pie plate (I found fingers more effective than a spoon)
Bake at 375 for 15 – 20 minutes or until it starts to get a little crisp.  If your crust is a little thin it will crisp better, but the thick crust was nice as well – just spread out well and evenly and up the sides

While the crust is baking, mix the blueberries, sugar and oats
Pour into crust when it has baked

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.  You can cover the top with foil if you like to protect the edges of the crust.

Feed it to happy, intrepid, inter-vegetable travellers…

20140831_184827-001 Now I will say that this came out a bit cobbler-ish as well, but the edges of the pie crust were crispy, so I”m thinking that if I made it a little thinner and cooked it a little longer prior to filling that it might come out more crispy.  On the other hand, this really rocked, and all 3 of us had seconds… so why mess with it?

20140831_184835-001May your September be full of pie!

 

 

Pleasing Picky Pants…Oven Baked Carrot Fries

I have an unwritten policy as regards dinner planning in my house. It’s important to remind you all that I am the mother of one VERY picky eater. When I say picky I don’t just mean that she makes faces when she eats or that she really loves the foods that all children love most.  When I say picky I mean my daughter has about 5 foods in the world that she enjoys, the rest is either nearly tolerable or yucky. We spend a LOT of time in nearly tolerable. When I plan a few days worth of meals I attempt to ensure that at least every few days I make something that Ms. Picky Pants might actually almost enjoy (even if it’s not one of the top 5). If I know the main dish isn’t anywhere near the top 5, I try to make up for it with sides she might like to ensure some level of dinner time tranquility. Which brings us to tonight.

Having backed myself into a grocery corner by running out of time yesterday, I was committed to having my beloved nutshroom burgers. I should mention that Mr. Little Sis and I both love these. My son is not enthusiastic, but is accepting. My daughter USED to love these burgers. That’s the other thing I should tell you about the top 5 foods Ms. Picky Pants enjoys. They rotate out on a daily basis. I’m not making this up. In response to “I thought you liked this dish sweetie,” my daughter will say “I DID like it before, but I DON’T like it today.” Yes, she is going to be the death of me. You can, perhaps, now also see why I don’t accommodate her preferences more than I do. I’d have to actually know what her preferences are on that day to even consider accommodating her. I digress.

 photo IMG_0670.jpgIn order to make the nutshroom burger dinner a pleasant experience I had decided to make oven fries. Many problems can be solved with my oven fries. When the time came to get started this evening, I realized that I had failed to procure the needed spuds. My own garden spuds are not quite ready for fry size, so I decided to do some creative improvising. Internet search engine to the rescue. Carrot fries coming up, thanks to William Sonoma. Continue reading