Friday, May 25, 2012

A dull day turned delicious—Chicken, Chard, Cauliflower, Chipotle Soup

A so-good impromptu super low-carb soup on a dull day turned delicious. That dollop in the middle?
The ever-present chipotle sauce. See below.

How many quart bags of chard did I freeze last year?

These are a year old and still good. Even though I felt sorta stupid not
using the fresh chard from the garden. Bird in hand thing. 
But more importantly, the grew-that-weeded that-picked it-froze it- going-to-eat-it thing.

I woke up feeling blah. My day was looking like the same ole same ole. The barometer was down and the weather blustery. Motivation eluded me. Felt flat. Worthless. What the hell am I doing living? I brewed coffee. Kicked around the house. Thought about doing yoga. Didn't. Thought about going to see elderly mother. Did. Held arthritic hands with her and others at her assisted living home. When I'm there, I think about how far I am from being there myself. Twenty years? Thirty? The thing is, it won't be that long. Twenty or 30 years is a flash, as anyone over 60 recognizes.
The last of 2011's green beans. Bye bye!

I forced myself into the garden. Sky was spitting, wind biting. I fell to my knees in the blueberries, pulling weeds from around berry-heavy bushes. I don't know the names of the weeds. But I killed them. I wasn't apologetic. Take that, you bastard! I wrested them from the soil and tossed them into the grass. I pruned berry limbs that were on the ground. I rearranged the peas along the fence behind the berries. I reattached the prayer flags. I forgot about feeling bad. It was 5 p.m. I thought about dinner.
A few whole chipotle peppers bubbling in chicken broth.

Dried tomatoes. Killer sweet.
On "blah" days, infrequent as they mercifully are, I don't think much about cooking, and writing is in another room, one with the heat off and the shutters closed.  But I was perking up. Dinner! What can I make? What can I write? I'm back!  How the hell does that happen? I suppose it's a matter of will. It's forcing yourself to move when you don't feel like moving and create when you don't feel like creating and just getting your mind off yourself and out of gloom and into thinking this: Wow. I'm alive. I'm healthy. I'm lucky. I love people. A few love me. I love life! I'm going to make a freaking kick-ass dinner! And I did.
On my knees in the garden—and also generally in the moment— I clicked off the pantry inventory, head down, pulling weeds like crazy: 1 pkg. of frozen green beans—the last from 2011; frozen 2011 chard; cooked chicken; frozen homemade chicken broth; dried whole chipotle peppers; dried tomatoes; canned serrano sauce; onions and garlic; raw cauliflower; chiptole sauce; sliced fresh avocado; fresh cilantro. Well, hell. No problem. No problem! I love coming back from blah to blast.

It's not like tonight's was the greatest dinner ever. But it was a super tasty repast pulled from our own dried and frozen sources, mostly, plus our canned pepper creations. And also from my flagging psyche. I don't expect anyone will be able to recreate exactly what we had for dinner, although I wish you could. My message time and again, is to go with what you have and trust your culinary instincts. But this was really good, and if you can approximate, go for it!

Low- carb Chicken, Chard, Cauliflower, Chipotle Soup

Enough for four, served with salad and, if you can indulge a few carbs, served over brown rice. Not for me, but PK can throw down the carbs like crazy, so I cook a cup of rice for him every three or four days. To gain weight, he must eat a large bowl of ice cream daily. Plus lots of rice, potatoes, and pasta as were featured in our family meals in pre-low-carb days.


2 Tbsp olive oil or butter
Quart or so chicken broth, canned, frozen, boxed, whatever
Half a medium/large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 or 4 dried chipotle peppers. (Substitute 3 canned in adobo sauce chipotles if you lack dried.)
Large bunch of fresh chard, rinsed and de-stemmed, or box of frozen spinach (I have never seen frozen chard for sale. Why is that? It is so good.) If using frozen spinach, just dump the frozen lump into the soup.
Handful of dried tomatoes—about 3/4 cup.  Or more. In tomato season, try one large ripe fresh.
1 cup sliced green beans (This addition had entirely to do with what I had in the freezer. You can skip the green beans and instead add spinach, zucchini, another green, whatever you have on hand.)
Half a head of large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
11/2 -2  cups cubed cooked chicken, more or less
Serrano sauce to taste (if you have it)
Garlic/chili sauce to taste (you can easily buy it! And you must. This is essential.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh cilantro as garnish
1 medium avocado, halved and sliced, served atop the soup
Chipotle sauce as desired (and it is SO desired! The sex queen of the kitchen.)
Grated cheese
Saute the onions and garlic in oil or butter. Add the chicken broth and the dried tomatoes, and the dried chipotle peppers or the chipotles in adobe sauce. (Try substituting three canned chipotles with a tablespoon of the adobo sauce, and freeze the rest.) Mash them up as they cook. Add the greens—chard, spinach, green beans, thinly sliced zucchini and cauliflower. Cook until cauliflower is tender/crisp. Add the chicken and the pepper sauces to taste. Heat through. Ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese, fresh cilantro and a dollop of chipotle sauce.Adorn with avocado slices.

This dinner is guaranteed to turn blah into bliss, especially if you're the one to cook it!

Chipotle Sauce

2-3 cubes frozen chipotle cubes - or 2-3 canned chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
2/3 c mayo (more or less)
2/3 c sour cream (more or less)
2/3 c plain yogurt
2  tsp. lemon or lime juice.
2 tsp serrano sauce or garlic/chili sauce (to taste, as always)
Mix and serve over, or on the side, with grilled meats, fish, veggies, eggs, or atop soups or stews.

Hell, have it on your cereal, if you still eat cereal.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Time and Farm Implements

There's PK tooling along our country road en route to our adjacent rental property, where it's time to mow the spring-tall grass.  He couldn't be happier.

PK is central to my life (spouse), and tractor (s) have been semi-central to his. Not that I haven't played into his life, or that our two incredible sons have slipped by unnoticed. But owning and operating a tractor has been part of his MO for the decades we've inhabited our 3.5 acres in southern Oregon. We've been on the same land since 1974, the year he bought the Massey Ferguson. 
A couple weeks ago, PK purchased a brand-spanking new tractor, a Mahindra. This after an entire winter a couple years ago rebuilding the classic Massey Ferguson and months of agonizing about spending the big bucks for a new tractor after the classic developed insurmountable, at least for our budget and his patience, problems.

Paul on the Massey Ferguson, spraying sulphur in a long-ago spring.
He bought the Massey Ferguson used, very used, and he went straight to work mowing apple orchard grass, hauling a spray rig to kill coddling moth, nipping fungus in the bud, and moving the harvested fruit. He also had a demanding full-time day job, of course. I remember many winter and spring days when, after working eight hours, he'd spend another three or four hours pruning apple trees. He used the tractor to haul the brush and to spray for various reasons. How did I not know this behavior was unusual? Extraordinary? I guess I thought it was normal for a guy to work that hard.

In those days, we had 300 fruit trees. Now we have about 30. Our garden, however, has assumed a large, some might say ominous, presence.

I didn't recognize the Massey Ferguson as a sign of life passing-too-damn quickly until I took photos to help sell it.  But as the shiny new unit was delivered and the Massey Ferguson ingloriously left the premises, I took a dive into the past.
Young Paul and toddler Quinn loading apples onto our old (and long gone) flatbed truck.
This was probably 1979 or 1980.

We were young—in our 20s—when the Massey Ferguson came to live with us. Guess what? It is better to be young than to have a young tractor. PK longed to be farmer then, but he needed to make a living. He really did. Now, as a retiree and with the help of the Mahindra, he can be a gentleman farmer and not have to worry about money or beating himself up using a failing farm implement. But the time for him to really be a farmer has passed. Is that what he wanted? Would I have liked being a rancher's or farmer's wife? It's too late. We'll never know.

We've arrived, somehow, where all those forks in the road have led, finally, to reality central. We are now where we were headed in the 1970s—and it is exactly where we physically landed decades ago.

If you are in your 20s or early 30s, beware. Every choice you make will reverberate in ways that you can't imagine. Even in your dreams. Because it isn't real to you that years will mysteriously become decades, and a singular event will occur and you'll know that a turning point is at hand, even though . you may only recognize this later. Too much later to change the course. Thinking Why didn't I do this or that? is pretty much useless.

Suddenly, you are there and a new tractor is in the driveway and your husband is so damn happy mowing the spring grass and front-end loading compost and planning to dive into the neighbor's horse manure that he can hardly stand it. You are both in your sixties. It is unbelievable. And what you are doing now is not building a life, but beginning to turn it into compost to pass along to the next generation. Life is good. You got lucky.

Does anybody want the land-based life that we have built? It isn't half bad, and there's still plenty of time to let the compost work. The new tractor? It will be here long, long after we're gone.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Low-carb Pizza Crust - Seriously!

Not much left after two pizza-starved beings dug into this one. 
I've missed pizza since ditching it because of carb-heavy crusts. Even my own super-thin, delicious and crispy whole-wheat crusts were not acceptable. Wheat is wheat—a carb bomb no matter what. Scraping the toppings off pizzas does not do the trick as far as the overall pizza experience goes. Gotta have something beneath the pepperoni and cheese.

So I was excited when my friend from long ago, Grace McGran (Diane Cratty when I knew her in the 1970s) resurfaced in my life, and among many other gifts, has supplied a recipe for a low-carb pizza crust.
Believe it or not, this is a zucchini-based pizza  crust, and it is delicious.
Grace was a pastry chef for 40 years!! and had ballooned to an unacceptable weight before she read a book that changed her life that corresponded, more or less, with the end of her happy career fashioning breads, pie crusts and decadent desserts. She's put her extensive chef/baking experience into creating low-carb substitutes for stuff like pizza crust and zucchini bread. Whenever I try out one of her recipes, I will share the results. In the meantime, if you don't want to wait for me, go directly to Grace!

She's amazing. She has, however,  a caveat about her blog: it's posted on a weight-loss/wellness community called sparkpeople, which mostly focuses on the pervasive low-fat, whole-grain myth of healthy nutrition. (Without joining, you may not be able to access. Membership is free.)
To be clear, both Grace and I embrace, with good reason, the low-carb lifestyle. This dietary path does not include bread or most grains, but does include butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and other fats that seem to encourage weight loss and/or weight maintenance.

Here's Grace's recipe with a few photos and my pizza toppings. The crust is the important thing. I'm so happy to have it! And who would have thought that the lowly zucchini could have risen to the challenge. Thank you, Grace!

My pizza loaded up with pesto, peppers, onions, uncured salami, and serrano sauce.

Just out of the oven, with cheese, cooling on Grace's crust recipe.  Can't wait. 

Zucchini Low-carb Pizza Crust

Zucchini - 3 cups, grated (buying this out of season was worth it)
2 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp
Almond flour or almond meal, 4 Tbsp
Flax seed meal (ground flax) 4 Tbsp
Coconut flour, 4 Tbsp
Chickpea flour, 4Tbsp
Pinenuts, 4 Tbsp (I used sunflower seeds as pinenuts are now $19 a pound!)
Parmesan cheese, finely grated, 4 Tbsp
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1.5 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Shred the zucchini, then put into a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and toss with a fork. After 10 minutes or more, transfer to a colander to let drain for a few minutes. Then squeeze by hand until liquid is gone. Grace uses a ricer for this operation.
In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients thoroughly, using a fork or whisk. In another bowl, combine the eggs and olive oil and stir until well combined. Now mix all ingredients together. You should have a fairly stiff dough.
Prepare a 14-inch pizza pan by covering it with a round of parchment paper. (I didn't have parchment paper but slathered my pan with solid coconut oil, which worked fine. No sticking!) Using your hands, pat the dough evenly over the pizza pan. It will be 1/4 inch thick. Try to even it out so there are no thin areas to burn.Place in the 400 degree pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, then remove to add your toppings.
My pizza toppings:
Basil pesto, enough to cover the partially baked pizza crust
Serrano sauce, a thin smear to cover the pesto (a good marinara sauce would be fine, but not quite as kicky)
Overlapped pieces of uncured Applegate brand salami, or other uncured meat topping
Chopped red onions to taste
Marinated artichoke hearts, four or five, chopped
Sliced sweet peppers, liberally applied

Return baked crust with toppings to the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, depending upon how thickly you've layered. Remove from the oven and top with whatever cheeses you're using (I used Parmesan and mozzarella) Turn off the oven and return the pizza to the oven for five minutes to melt the cheese.

About the unusual flours. When Grace sent her recipe, I was dismayed. Coconut flour? Garbanzo bean flour? Almond flour or meal? But have no fear. The gluten-free craze has hit the hinterlands as well as metro areas, and I was able to easily locate all carb-free flours in Oregon's rural Rogue Valley.