Monday, February 25, 2013

Easy Potato-Vegetable Fritters

This is an easy meal I've been making recently. I discovered the world of fritters while living in New Zealand. I'm calling them fritters, but they go by lots of other names too. I had eaten potato latkes before, but New Zealand was the first place I was introduced to the idea of making them with other kinds of vegetables. It's fairly crucial to have potatoes (or sweet potatoes) and onions involved, but in addition you can use any vegetables that are good for roasting. Shredded cheese makes a really nice addition too, and you could add in bacon or chopped sausage if you want to get really fancy. You can make a similar dish using mashed potatoes, but I think the texture with shredded ones is much better. Last week I made some using a bunch of frozen shredded zuchinni that I had in the freezer. Here is my basic recipe (this makes about six medium-sized fritters):

Shred in a food processor:

1 1/2 cup vegetables (zucchini, carrot, parsnip, kale, etc)
3 medium potatoes
1/4 onion

Mix together in a bowl, salt lightly and let sit for about five minutes. This will draw out the moisture from the vegetables. Use your hands to squeeze out the liquid, and drain it off. Put the veggies back in the bowl. This step is crucial- if you don't get rid of the liquid, you'll end up with soggy fritters.

Next, add one egg and 1/2 cup of flour.

Mix thoroughly. Heat a skillet with a couple tablespoons of a good frying oil in it. I use canola oil, it has a high flash point so it's good for frying at high heat. Spoon the mixture into pan and use the spoon to flatten it into pancake shapes. Fry at medium to high heat until the fritters are nice and brown on both sides.

They're delicious just with butter and salt and pepper, but I also really like them with horseradish for a topping. These take about twenty minutes from start to finish, they're a tasty and quick meal and a good way to use up any random veggies you happen to have in the fridge.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Garden Beginnings

It's almost that time of year. I'm restraining myself this year when it comes to starting my veggies for the garden, since I massively jumped the gun last year and learned my lesson. But still! There are crocuses and daffodils blooming in this town, so surely it's nearly time for planting (never mind that it's 45 degrees and raining sideways).

Monday was a holiday, so I had an extra day of weekend to dream about garden things. On Sunday night I sprawled out on the floor with my dinner, box of seeds, and some handy engineering paper left over from my biostats class, mapping out what/where I will plant things this spring.

I am forcing myself to hold off till early March before starting my tomatoes and peppers, but on Monday morning I planted a flat of greens that I can harvest straight from the tray, just to start something growing! I rigged up the lights under the table, and got the timer set up to keep the light on 16 hours a day, and put my tray down there in its artificial sun to start growing.

The blanket is to insulate the trays from the floor, which gets quite cold. 

And, a few days later....
Sprouts! I planted a mix of greens: arugula, mizuna, bok choy, and miners lettuce.

On Monday afternoon the weather was cold and clear, and I biked up to the community garden to check in on my plot and harvest a big bag of chard. The poor plot has been pretty neglected this winter. Since the beginning of November, I haven't done anything but turn up every few weeks to cut a bunch of chard. 

A bit weedy.

Turns out planting leeks from starts, even at the beginning of September, doesn't mean they'll grow rapidly through the winter! They've grown, but not much. Oh well, I'll just let them keep going and once the weather warms up they should get a growth spurt. 

The parsnips have been growing decently well, but are a little overrun with weeds. There's no telling what's going on beneath the surface though- last summer the garden had a healthy gopher population so they could very well be nibbling away on the roots...

The cover crops seem to have been doing well- this vetch is looking healthy.

I had plenty of time, so I weeded the chard and leeks and parsnips, and it felt SO good to get my hands in dirt again. This time of anticipation is so much fun- plotting and planning and deciding what to plant. Everything is so full of potential. I am excited to see what my plot looks like this summer. I'm also going to do a few pots of herbs and flowers outside my apartment, to see how things do there, and ideally to have some fresh herbs available to cook with.

 Looking a little tidier after weeding. The chard hasn't gotten huge, but has been growing steadily all winter. I'll just leave it growing for as long as it will produce. I can't get enough of it, and it helps me keep up with the dietary recommendation for lots of dark green vegetables (multicolored stems notwithstanding...)

Because of the limited space I decided not to plant any squash this year. It's easy to come by delicious, cheap, locally grown summer and winter squash in Portland, and since it takes up so much space it's not really worth it for me to grow it. I'm only going to do a few potato plants for the same reason. I LOVE new potatoes, so I'll plant a few early in March to satisfy that particular craving, but after that I can get them at the farmer's market. In the winter, I get potatoes from the Grocery Outlet store. They carry bags of Oregon-grown organic potatoes for very good prices. Potatoes are on the dirty dozen so I only get organic ones, and it breaks the bank to buy them from trendy, upmarket places when it's not farmer's market season. 

Fellow gardeners- what are you planning to grow this year?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Simple Weekend

It's a long weekend here, since Monday is President's Day. After a week of procrastinating on pretty much everything and generally being in a funk, the weekend has gotten off to a good start. I went for a hike with a good friend yesterday morning. It was so good to get out into the woods for a few hours, breathe the fresh air (and see little green buds on bushes!) and still get home before noon (right as it started raining!). It got me good and energized, and I was able to keep that energy going all day, and finish up all my readings for one class and get lots of baking done, and other chores, in between readings.

I'm feeling the crunch of being more than halfway through the term, and it feels nice to have the energy and concentration to be able to focus a little more on school stuff so I don't get stressed out by trying to get everything done last minute.

I pulled out my garden seeds last weekend and they've been sitting in my living room as inspiration all week. This morning I carried a bag of potting soil home from the hardware store (only four blocks, but still- oof!), and today and tomorrow I will be starting some greens and veggies under the lights and mapping out and planning what to do with my community garden plot this summer.

I'm running around a bit today- I'm at the library now, and when I'm done here I'm going to try out a new bike route, going to the Mill End Store. In my opinion, it's the best fabric/yarn store in Portland, and I still have a $20 gift certificate that was a birthday gift last summer. I'm going to start a new, slightly more complicated knitting project, and I'm starting mostly from scratch in terms of supplies. For the last few years I've been knitting with needles and things from Matt's grandmother's knitting basket, but of course I don't have those anymore. I only own one pair of bamboo needles that are just right for knitting up cotton dishcloths. It's time to start building up my own collection. I'll do it a little bit at a time, as my budget allows.

It feels so nice to get the bulk of my work done at the front end of the weekend. I don't manage that particularly often, and it gets me into a good mood and makes me more productive for the rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


These last couple of months, especially since I moved into my apartment and school started back up, my instinct has been to keep things as simple as possible. I think this is born out of the fact that my life has been very emotionally trying for the last few months, and every time I think things are finally going to settle down in the emotional realm, something else crops up. I guess that's par for the course post-breakup, but it's still really hard. My whole make-a-plan-and-do-not-deviate way of handling life has changed, and certainly for the better. I still plan things out (I love my checklists), but I don't beat myself up for not following through with my plan. I am now abundantly aware that I can, without warning, be knocked down by an emotional juggernaut at the most unexpected moment. So I have learned to roll with it, and go with the flow in a way I was never able to do before. If I am suddenly ambushed by a memory or some new type of emotional fallout, it is best to drop what I am doing, process whatever it is that is going on with my emotions, and deal with that so it doesn't build up into a massive knot of anxiety. I spent far too long suppressing everything and not processing any of it; it is actually very refreshing, and far less painful, to actually be an emotional wreck for awhile, talk it out with my friends or family, work through it, and then get back to my homework or chores or whatever.

That's all a very long-winded way of saying: simple feels good, and not planning too far ahead feels good, and consciously reducing the number of complicated things in my life feels good. I am following my gut instincts much more, and only doing what actually feels right or sounds good. It also makes me realize how different my definition of simplicity is from that of many other people. For me, keeping it simple means not going out to eat, but cooking everything myself. It means taking the time to do chores like washing dishes by hand. It means not having internet at home (which I am still completely sold on- the only thing I really miss is Skyping with my overseas friends), it means not making any long-term plans. I have no idea what my life will look like after I graduate in June, and for once it feels okay to have the future be unplanned.

I am keeping my social life simple- hanging out with my friends mostly on an impromptu basis, not staying out late, and not booking myself up with obligations to do anything that doesn't sound good. I really do enjoy spending time by myself, so most of the time I don't mind just coming home at night and staying in.

One area where I've been struggling  is school. It has been incredibly hard to concentrate on my schoolwork with all the emotional mayhem racketing around in my brain. Thankfully I am only taking two courses this term, in addition to my fieldwork, and the workload is noticeably lighter than previous terms. I'm ahead on credits, so next quarter I only have to take one class (my very last!) while I finish up my fieldwork. I am very much looking forward to having less school obligations. I love learning, but it's hard when I have to balance my school requirements with the need for self-care. I find the two things are almost always mutually exclusive!

I'm moving slowly through most things- the last year of my life has been so hectic and crazy, and I never managed to be able to just sit and breathe sometimes, and write in my journal as much as I needed to, and sometimes just walk around my neighborhood simply for the sake of getting fresh air and clearing my head. I'm doing those things now, and it is very grounding and reassuring. I think I really, finally, understand the meaning of "one day at a time." 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I'm on Ravelry!

Hey fellow knitters- I finally took the plunge, and created a Ravelry profile! My goals for this year include knitting things that are more complex than dishcloths, so I finally tuned in for some extra inspiration. It is a bit overwhelming (so many people, so many projects, so much possibility), but also wonderful. As a beginning knitter, I definitely need all the comments, details and photos to help me along as I embark on slightly more complicated projects. Come find me here!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Simple Meals and the SNAP Challenge

I'm pretty proud of how I've been doing these last few weeks in terms of cooking good, simple meals and making plenty of leftovers. I changed my menu planning strategy to include lunches (I'd only ever planned for dinners before), and that made a huge difference. By looking at my menu plan and knowing that I am counting on taking leftovers for lunch, I do a much better job of cooking larger amounts of food. The middle of the week is always kind of rough- I have a lateish night on Tuesdays and a very late night on Wednesdays. So usually I throw something in the crockpot on Tuesdays, and plan ahead so I already have something for lunch on Thursday and don't have to cook anything up when I get home at 10 PM on Wednesday night.

 Making buttermilk biscuits on Saturday night. I didn't have the time to make bread (accounting for all the rising time), so this was a quick fix until I could get to it on Sunday evening.

I never buy buttermilk, but adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk does the trick!

This week, for my nutrition class. I've been on the SNAP Challenge: having to eat for a week on a food stamp budget. (For those of you outside the US: SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and used to be called Food Stamps--it's the government's food assistance program for low-income people). SNAP benefits are issued on a monthly basis, and the average daily amount of the benefit is $4.38 per individual. It's highly highly inadequate to purchase truly healthy food, although the system is getting better and SNAP is accepted at many farmers markets now. It is, however, slightly more money than what I have budgeted for myself for food on a monthly basis. But I am very advantaged compared to many people on SNAP: I have three good grocery stores within walking distance and lots of experience of how to get healthy meals out of very little money. 

Cauliflower with melted cheese. Green onions were one of the only fresh vegetables I had the fridge when the challenge started, so I've been eating them on everything!

However, for this exercise, rather than calculate out what I could eat on $4.38 per day, I amended the challenge to mean that I couldn't buy any groceries from the time the assignment was given. I have a lot of dry bulk goods in my cupboards, but my fridge and freezer were already fairly sparse, so I figured it would be a fairly realistic challenge. Also, I've been on SNAP in the past and remember that that was usually the case: I had plenty of dry beans and rice and rolled oats, but had to plan and budget very carefully to get fruit and vegetables and meat to last the entire month.

I started to crave something sweet. These are Cape Cod oatmeal cookies with almonds and raisins, from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook

This pasta recipe is another one from Jamie's Ministry of Food. It's SO easy and really delicious.

Chickpeas for protein, with paprika and some (kind of old) chard from the community garden.

I'm eating far less fruit this week- I only had two bananas in the house, and the rest has been canned peaches. Also mostly frozen vegetables, and I am definitely eating far more bread and grains that I usually do, just to fill myself up. I've managed some good meals, but it's taken a lot of planning and calculating to spread out my protein sources through the week. I'd highly recommend trying to do this, if you aren't already living on a small budget, to get some perspective into the food situation of a huge portion of the US (and the world). I'm getting curious to find out what other people's experiences are with this.

In other news, my paperwhite bloomed this week! It smells heavenly.