Can, Freeze, Burn My Hands Off, Repeat

I am drowning in garden produce this week, so I spent my Sunday making jalapeno salsa, so I could my use some of my burgeoning jalapeno crop before it overtakes my kitchen:

And, to be honest, I was the total idiot who decided to chop seventy-plus jalapenos without protective gloves. My hands are still burning, and I nearly cried when I washed my hair in the hot shower this morning. Let’s just file that under lesson learned, shall we?

Since our jalapeno plants continue to thrive like they drank radioactive Kool-Aid, I also plan on making and freezing some bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers next weekend, in hopes of having readily available appetizers for our busy holiday entertaining season. My poor Food Saver is probably going to go on strike soon, because it’s my go-to answer when I have a lot of fresh garden produce but not enough time for a marathon canning session.

So far, all my canning attempts have followed my trusty Ball Blue Book, but I think I’m ready to branch out a little. A trip to the bookstore may be in order soon, because I need to fresh ideas to preserve our hard-earned harvest. However, that’s a bridge I’ll cross later this week.

Despite the added workload that the garden poses right now, I still am so incredibly happy that we put in the effort to get it going during the Spring. The raised beds were both costly and time-consuming, but they accomplished exactly what we hoped: we have a thriving vegetable garden in an area of hard-clay soil, and we’ve taken a step toward more sustainable living in the midst of our urban community. Even more important, the heathens see their dad and I working together to plan, create and execute a shared vision for our family.

I’ll just keep reminding myself of that fact when I’m seeding seventy more jalapenos next weekend.

With gloves, of course.

A Trip to the Farmers’ Market, a Day of Cooking and Gran’s Fresh Tomato Dip

With my husband out of town, doing whatever it is guys do on a “guys’ weekend,” I decided to split my time today between fun and productivity. First, the heathens and I headed out early to explore our town’s new and improved Farmers’ Market. We tried to support our local Market last year, but with limited vendors and few genuinely local products, we wrote it off after our first visit. However, the organizers must have really listened to the community, because they’ve tripled the size of the Market and I was amazed at the diverse offerings from many north Louisiana vendors. Because my garden is overwhelming me with my own produce, I was more interested in finding other handcrafted products in my efforts to buy locally whenever I can. Well, by the time we left, I had a pound of local honey (from Hummer & Sons), a bottle of Southern Hurricane wine (from On Cloud Wine) and a tub of sundried-tomato goat cheese from a central Louisiana goat farmer (WesMar Farms). In the meantime, the boys snacked on fresh beignets, bought various knickknacks from local artists with their allowance money, and charmed the honey guy out of a couple of fresh sunflowers.

The heat soon drove us back home, and I got started on taming my own mountain of vegetables that was overtaking my kitchen counters. First, I tackled the eggplant by making Baba Ghanoush, as well as a completely improvisational roasted vegetable ratatouille. Both are now chilling in the refrigerator, so the jury is still out on whether those experiments will be tasty treats or epic failures. Next, I popped about 30 tomatoes in the oven to slow roast, with the plan to make some roasted-tomato pesto, and save any leftover tomatoes to snack on throughout the week. Finally, I used up the remaining tomatoes on my homegrown tomato standby recipe: Gran’s Fresh Tomato Dip.

This dip is a weird in that it is neither a salsa nor a pico de gallo. If I had to describe it in a few short words, I’d say this dip is just a delicious way to appreciate the sheer perfection of a homegrown tomato. In fact, I usually will not make this recipe using store-bought tomatoes, so we seem to enjoy Gran’s Dip only during the summer months. Got a tomato invasion of your own? Here’s Gran’s Tomato Dip, step by ridiculously easy step.

First, let’s start with the players:

Gran's Tomato Dip


  • 2-3 large tomatoes, preferably homegrown or locally produced
  • 3 green onions
  • 1 small can chopped black olives, drained (4.25 oz…I think)
  • 1 small can chopped green chilies (about 4 oz…I think…again)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (not pictured, because I am a dork)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Black pepper to taste and additional salt if you so choose
  • To make Gran's tomato dip, start by chopping the tomatoes and placing them in a medium-size bowl:
    Next, chop the green onions, including both the white bases and green tops:
    Add the green onions, green chilies, olives, olive oil, vinegar, garlic salt and pepper to the tomatoes:
    Stir gently until well-combined. Cover tightly and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but preferably 8 hours or overnight. Taste and see if it needs additional salt before serving, but it usually doesn't.
    Serve with tortilla chips, Frito's scoops or whatever similar chip you prefer.
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    I’m going to make a cocktail now…I’m tired.

    It’s just not natural to have so much productivity on a Saturday…

    Avian Invaders and Greek Food—Yep, It’s as Completely Unrelated as You Think

    When I came home from work today, this little guy had taken up residence in the base of my deck. I gave him wide berth, but he somehow managed to give me the “Whatchoo talking bout, Willis” look from every angle.

    I am pretty sure that look is the “bleep off” version of bird. Hopefully, he’ll move along soon, because my boys will start thinking he’s a pet if he hangs around much longer.

    In completely unrelated news, the garden continues to produce food faster than we can eat, can and freeze. I got a little desperate this weekend, and did a frantic search for eggplant recipes, with the hope of reducing the pile of vegetables that is overtaking my kitchen counter. I landed on Moussaka (which I can’t even pronounce, by the way), and decided that a little experimentation was in order.

    I certainly did not have high hopes for this recipe. First, it contained a bunch of ingredients that regularly send the heathens into riot-mode. Second, I am a Louisiana girl, and my pathetically underdeveloped palate is still confounded by the spice combinations that are in a lot of Greek food. Indian food too, for that matter. Lastly, just the simple fact that eggplant is the main ingredient was enough to have my husband doing the dramatic choking/dying pantomime. *Sigh*

    Well, lo and behold, we all liked this dish, and I got to rack up the cool mom points for a garden-fresh meal. It was deliciously rich and cheesy, and the eggplant was well-disguised from the heathens’ vegetable-laser-vision. I don’t know how “authentic” this recipe is, but our simpleton taste buds sure enjoyed it, and I was able to reduce my vegetable invasion for at least a day.

    I served the Moussaka with a simple Greek salad (also using veggies from the garden):

    And got to feel like the Saturday dinner superstar. Want to have a Moussaka adventure of your own? Here’s the recipe I used:



    • 3 eggplants, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices
    • salt
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 pound lean ground beef
    • salt to taste
    • ground black pepper to taste
    • 2 onions, chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon fines herbs
    • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
    • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
    • 1/2 cup red wine
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 4 cups milk
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • salt to taste
    • ground white pepper, to taste
    • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1. Lay the slices of eggplant on paper towels, sprinkle lightly with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the moisture. Then in a skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. Quickly fry the eggplant until browned. Set aside on paper towels to drain.
    2. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the ground beef, salt and pepper to taste, onions, and garlic. After the beef is browned, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, fines herbs and parsley. Pour in the tomato sauce and wine, and mix well. Simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, and then stir in beaten egg.
    3. To make the béchamel sauce, begin by scalding the milk in a saucepan. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Lower heat; gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Season with salt, and white pepper.
    4. Arrange a layer of eggplant in a greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover eggplant with all of the meat mixture, and then sprinkle 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese over the meat. Cover with remaining eggplant, and sprinkle another 1/2 cup of cheese on top. Pour the béchamel sauce over the top, and sprinkle with the nutmeg. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
    5. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    Why My Husband Deserves a Cookie

    My husband has been working his proverbial behind off on our garden this year, and he deserves a cookie, some kudos and a vacation. On a completely unrelated tangent, am I the only person that remembers the Kudos granola bars? When I was a kid, my mom used to buy the Price Club in L.A. out of Kudos bars, because she knew that they were a sure-fire afternoon snack for our eternally hungry household.

    Hmmmm…Kudos….but I digress…

    After realizing last year that we now live in an area of hard, compacted clay, my husband and I spent our Spring constructing raised vegetable beds, in hopes of transforming our new, urban surroundings into something that nurtured our inner farm-kids. I think we both felt drawn to the comforts and convenience of city life, but we still yearned for some of the creativity and self-sufficiency that we both experienced during our country upbringings. Since our new city home just happened to be situated on a double, corner lot, we were blessed to have plenty of room to goof around with…relatively speaking, of course.

    We spent a considerable amount of time this Spring building the raised beds, and transforming them from empty shells to an actual garden.

    Well, to be honest, my husband did the building, planting and caretaking, and I…supervised… but you get the idea. These vegetable beds were definitely more costly and time consuming than we initially anticipated, and after my husband moved approximately 200 wheelbarrows full of dirt with only his wits and a shovel, I think we both wondered if we should just abandon our urban, overly-optimistic homesteading vision. At the time, we had to constantly remind ourselves that the initial investment would result in years of culinary dividends.

    Luckily for me, my husband is stubborn with a capital S. He has spent EVERY single day watering, weeding and babying our little garden, including my often neglected herb garden:

    Long after the first few 100-degree days drove me into complete garden apathy, he’s still been spending his mornings and evenings ensuring that our early efforts continue to pay off. And Holy Cow, has it ever:

    He’s picking veggies faster than I know what to do with them. Meanwhile, my youngest heathen continues to take credit for his eggplant seed selection:

    As you can see, it’s a daily freak-show at my house. But a dang-tasty one…

    Picture Time! …or Not…

    Ahh, boys. Trying to get a good picture of my guys is like trying to give a cat a bath…it just never seems to work out quite how you want it to. Even when there is bribery involved:

    And yes, I am aware that my child looks like he was attacked by a demonic weed-whacker. Haircuts are not at the top of my list right now, ok?

    I can never get all three of these clowns to be still at quite the same time.

    Or to be simultaneously cooperative:

    (or wearing clean, matching, unwrinkled clothes, but that’s beside the point)

    I love ’em anyway.

    The Power of Positive Thinking—Or How to Tolerate a Louisiana Summer Without Losing My Mind

    Summer arrived with a vengeance this week. The yo-yo of Spring’s pleasant, then hot, then pleasant again weather has settled into simply sweltering. Though my disdain of Summer has lessened over the past two years, I still get a little bummed out knowing that we’re in for 95+ degree days from now until late October. Not to mention the 105 degree/100 percent humidity days of July and August that are just around the corner. After two months of lingering on the porch, playing in the garden and wallowing in the sun, I always feel a bittersweet sadness when I finally admit that uncomfortable sweat will be a daily battle from here on out, and my hair will be in a perpetual bun for the next four months. I won’t even get into the terror that will be my electric bill from my air conditioner’s futile attempts to keep my 100 year-old home tolerable…that’s the stuff of nightmares.

    To combat my dread of Louisiana’s perpetual heat and humidity, I am trying to remind myself of some of the things I love about summer. A “psych myself up” plan, if you will:

    • Lake Days!!! What’s better on a lazy summer weekend than a trip to the lake? It’s a cheap way to get the kids out of the house and active.
    • J’s new home includes a pool, within walking distance of her fridge full of cocktails.
    • What’s better than a fresh, ripe, homegrown tomato? I can’t wait to make Gran’s fresh tomato dip, tomato pie and a smoked Gouda, bacon and tomato sandwich.
    • I get to sleep an hour later, since I don’t have to take the heathens to school at the butt-crack.
    • More grilling! I love my grill more than my husband does, and I am always looking for a good excuse to heat it up, rather than my kitchen.
    • Summer reading, trips to the library and sitting by the pool with a great book…assuming the heathens stop trying to drown each other long enough for me to read a page.
    • Holiday planning—I always try to get the jump on holiday planning and shopping during summer, because I have more time to think and imagine.

    I may not be able to escape of suffocating heat in the months to come, but I will do my darndest to look on the bright side and enjoy it.

    Besides, I have a stack of coupons for antiperspirant, I like within five minutes of a drive-up daiquiri, and I can always slap on my NSU cap if the hair situation gets too bad.

    Slow-Down Sunday and an Unexpected Macaroni Grill Copycat

    After several hectic weeks, and an unfortunate tendency to overbook, overdo and overanalyze everything, we slowed things down around our house this weekend. I always seem to forget how fine the line is between “active” and “overwhelmed,” until I’ve jumped past it into the land of Stressville.

    Yesterday started with a marathon canning session, because our garden is producing food faster than we can eat it. My husband has managed to keep the garden healthy despite the continuing drought, and I’ve kept my green-thumb-of-death far away from it. The tomatoes, eggplant and cantaloupe aren’t quite ready yet, but we have jalapenos and cucumbers coming out of our ears. After five more jars of jalapeno jelly, I tried my hand at sweet pickles:

    That was certainly an adventure, because as a pickling virgin, I was unprepared for the otherwise predictable fact that cucumbers float. How in the heck do people keep them from popping above the rim and contaminating the lip of the jar before they can get the lid on? Am I missing something here? Anyway, these jars will have to cure about four to six weeks before I can taste- test them to see whether my first foray into pickles was epic success or depressing failure. As a relative canning newbie, the odds are split pretty evenly between these possibilities. Meanwhile during my canning sprint, the heathens goofed off, as they are wont to do:

    Yes, that was my child wearing gloves, when the temperature outside was roughly 98 degrees. Furthermore, you should note that he cut all the fingers of said gloves off, which apparently occurred WITH MY HUSBAND’S BLESSING. My oldest has since been notified that he should run all scissor-generated wardrobe modifications by ME, before undertaking them…sigh. His brother managed to contain his amusement:

    Probably because he was thinking, “better you than me!”

    We watched a rare late afternoon storm from the shelter of our front porch:

    And then headed inside for dinner.

    Perhaps the best part of the day was my surprisingly successful bread experiment. In last month’s Food Network Magazine, I saw a recipe for something similar to Macaroni Grill’s bread. Since my youngest heathen loves this bread and can eat his weight in it, I decided this copycat recipe was worth a try. After all, I was in the need for some cool mom points to start my week off right. I mixed up the dough in my stand mixer, and let it rise in our laundry room, since the heat in humidity in that room cuts our rising time in half:

    Forming the loaves was easy, because this dough was very forgiving and not at all sticky:

    The finished product was perfect:

    So, yes, I did in fact rack up some cool mom credit. The only way I deviated from the recipe was by omitting the additional sprinkling of rosemary over the top of the loaves. Rosemary is a strong enough herb in this recipe that the flavor already comes through well enough, and the additional rosemary garnish probably would have freaked the heathens out anyway. Want to try it? Here’s the recipe I found at Food Network:

    Almost Famous Rosemary Bread


    • 1 1/4-ounce packet active dry yeast
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and serving
    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
    • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
    • 1 teaspoon fine salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt Freshly ground pepper
    Stir the yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer). Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.
    Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, the flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons rosemary, the fine salt and 3/4 cup warm water; stir with a wooden spoon (or with the dough hook if using a mixer) until a dough forms.
    Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting lightly with flour if necessary, until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Or knead with the dough hook on medium-high speed, adding a little flour if the dough sticks to the bowl, about 8 minutes.)
    Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Add the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until more than doubled, about 2 hours.
    Brush 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Generously flour a work surface; turn the dough out onto the flour and divide into 4 pieces. Working with one piece at a time, sprinkle some flour on the dough, then fold the top and bottom portions into the middle. Fold in the sides to make a free-form square. Use a spatula to turn the dough over, then tuck the corners under to form a ball. Place seam-side down on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, putting 2 balls on each baking sheet. Let stand, uncovered, until more than doubled, about 2 hours.
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake the loaves 10 minutes; brush with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with the kosher salt and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon rosemary. Continue baking until golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve with olive oil seasoned with pepper.
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

    Aunt L.

    My Aunt L. is a trip.


    She’s fun, she’s unpredictable, but most importantly, she’s an artist. When I was growing up, she was the person I was closest to out of all my extended family. She took me to art shows, made us breath-taking pottery for Christmas gifts and generally instilled in me some of that wild non-conformity I am sure would give my grandfather an aneurism. He would always say that Aunt L. marched to her own beat, and as I grew older, he started to say the same about me…talk about a high complement. As a kid, I was fascinated by her art studio and the magical wonders that seemed to come out of it. She was that unique rebel of the family who you knew would be the first to get behind whatever crazy idea you had, because she would rather you try and fail than let the idea pass you by.

    One of the greatest benefits of leaving the country for city life is that we are far closer to many of our friends and family, including Aunt L. I don’t think I realized how much I missed her until I was able to have her back in my life with satisfying regularity.

    My boys are fortunate in that our new location means that they get to spend a lot of time with Aunt L., and she always has something in her pocket to tantalize their creativity. Lately, she carries around a small bag full of random glass fragments and beads. All the pieces are polished and smooth, and their diverse colors, textures and shapes beg to be explored by the boys’ curious little hands. She loves to give them creative challenges by announcing an idea, then asking each of the heathens to create the idea using her mixed bag of glass pieces and shapes.

    Which, much to my surprise, they do so with patience and care.

    I am almost startled at how intensely they will sit and focus on one of Aunt L.’s activities. They even take turns with some modicum of patience, compared to the usual free-for-all that reigns over their playtime.

    Ok, so pumping them full of Icee’s doesn’t hurt either. Just ask this clown:

    Icee’s or not, watching the boys with Aunt L. reminds me of all the wonderful reasons why it takes a village (or an eclectic extended family) to raise a well-rounded child. It’s easy to forget all the people who make up the pieces of me, so it’s also a secret joy when I get to see them again through the eyes of my children.