Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Watermelon Whisperer

In the good old days of the the 1980's, watermelons had seeds: big, black seeds that were perfect for watermelon seed spitting contests.  What ever happened to the seeds?  How do they even grow watermelons without seeds?  When will we stop drawing pictures of watermelons with seeds?
Vintage Watermelons.
The perfect watermelon is a matter of personal opinion.  For me, the perfect watermelon is sweet, crisp, and juicy, without the slightest hint of being grainy.  I seek perfection when I search for the perfect watermelon; is that too much to ask?
Here is my unsolicited advice for choosing a watermelon.  When you approach the giant cardboard box at the supermarket full of watermelons, take a deep breath and dive in.  Not really, although sometimes I think it would be easier on my back to just crawl in there, but rather prepare yourself mentally for the task ahead.  Melons that sit in the field longer, ripening, have a discoloured ring where the melon makes contact with the ground.  The longer is has been ripening, the more yellow it will appear.  Look for a melon with skin that is not too shiny, which indicates under ripeness, or too dull, which indicates the dreaded grainy texture inside.  Next, hold the hopeful candidate with your fingertips if you can manage to do so without dropping the melon.  Using your other hand, knock the melon and listen for a nice hollow sound.  If anybody looks at you quizzically, or questions your methods, maintain the air of confidence.  You are the watermelon whisperer.

Boris Kustodiev's Merchant's Wife
She knows the watermelon secret.
Once back in the confines of your kitchen, crack that melon open and evaluate the lottery ticket on which you just gambled, because here is the real secret: there is no way to pick a perfect melon.  I have tried every "tried and true method" and it is still a fifty-fifty chance of picking a lemon instead of a melon.
The good news is that you can still be a watermelon whisperer.  When I used to pick a bad melon, I would half-heartedly nibble on some but mostly leave it in the refrigerator, taking up valuable space until it was mushy enough to discard out of food-safety concern, which is justifiable, rather than pickiness, which is inexcusable!  However, there are several things that you can do with a subpar watermelon, and here are a few ideas:

1.  Dehydrated watermelon.  It tastes like candy.  It takes quite a long time in the food dehydrator, but well worth the effort if, like me, you have a sweet tooth.  You can either simply cut slices and lay them out on the dehydrator trays, or you can blend the watermelon with other fruits and make fruit leather.  I am eating some as I type this: quite delectable.
The fruit leather never makes it to a storage container.  Yum.

It gets eaten as soon as it's ready!

2.  Popsicles.  Puree your lousy watermelon and freeze in a popsicle mould.  Straight watermelon is good, but you can also mix it with other fruit purees or juices too.  The watermelon is pretty sweet, especially if it is overripe, so the possibilities are endless since you aren't limited by adding sour fruit.  Some ideas:

  • Watermelon, strawberry, and fresh lemon juice
  • Watermelon, nectarine, apple & apple juice
  • Watermelon, blueberry, raspberry
  • Watermelon, cantaloupe
  • Watermelon, kiwi
The potential combinations are endless.  I've even seen some pretty creative and inventive recipes like watermelon/mint, watermelon/green tea, watermelon/ginger.

Watermelon nectarine strawberry pops waiting for another hot day.  
3.  Watermelon Lemonade.  Puree the runner-up and add the puree to your lemonade.  Strawberries in there are lovely too.

4.  Watermelon Ice.  Have you ever lamented the fact that ice cubes, while purposeful, water down your drinks?  Add some flavour by freezing watermelon puree in an ice cube tray and add to your drink instead of ice cubes.

5.  Watermelon Jam.  I haven't tried this yet but there are oodles of recipes for it and it sounds scrumptious.

6.  Watermelon Syrup.  Sadly, sometimes jam does not jam up.  Bonus = failed jam can be used as syrup on your pancakes!

7.  Pickled Watermelon.  I have been hearing about pickled watermelon rinds for years but never actually tried it.  I always pictured it as pickling the rinds from pieces that people had been eating from, but of course you could just cut the watermelon and rind apart.  Silly me.  Waste not, want not!

Enjoy!  Any other ideas out there that I missed?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Just Call Me Book.

I have a relative who, when he was a child, played with a certain brand of toy car so much that his parents changed his name to that kind of car.  They actually, really, legally changed it, I believe.  If not legally, he has gone by this car-name since childhood.  Thankfully, my parents didn't do this, or my name would have been "Book." I used to devour books when I was a kid.  At one point, my parents gave us a dollar for every novel that we read, which didn't last long because clearly I did not need any extra incentive to bury my nose in a book!  I would gobble up even more novels to earn money to buy more books ad infinitum.  I remember my older sister begging me to come outside in the summer and play badminton with her, but instead I would tote around my portable bookshelf with about twenty books so I could reread all my favourite parts.  I jest not; I made the mini-bookshelf at vacation Bible school one year and it was a dream come true for me.  I continued reading for enjoyment until my university days, although I would like to believe that I tempered my bookish ways with other interests as I matured.
As an English major in university, I read for four and a half years straight.  I must have stopped to eat meals because I am still here and without any major nutritional deficiencies.  There were courses in which I just couldn't keep up with the reading requirements.  I remember sitting in my Chaucer final exam next to my future brother-in-law, who was also in that class, thinking "Oh.  I did not read this part of the Canterbury Tales.  Right."  I looked over at him (not at his test paper, worry not) and hoped he was faring better than I was.  I'm sure he did; we would often get the same grade after I spent ten times longer writing the same paper.  Sharp mind, that one, and thankfully a good guy.  It was somewhere around that time that I stopped reading for enjoyment.  I couldn't keep up with what I was supposed to be reading, so I certainly didn't have time to read anything else for fun.
Somewhere along the line of years since then, I suppose I'd forgotten how deliciously fun it can be to loose oneself in a good book.  I hope to re-engage the literary world and spend less of my "free" time on Pinterest, pinning projects that I'll never finish, pictures of houses that will never look like mine, and ideas for kids that I'll never get around to and just make me feel like a subpar mother.
I'm on Goodreads now to get suggestions, but let me know if you have any suggestions of your own!  Here are some of the latest books that I've read and enjoyed:

Harry Potter Series: I know, it's scandalous, right?  A pastor's wife should not be reading this witchcraft and wizardry business.  I once took quite the finger-waving-raised-voice tirade from a peer for my appreciation of J.K. Rowlings' work.  Curiously, many who take issue with the Harry Potter series fully embrace C.S. Lewis' Narnia series.  Both are allegories about the battle between good and evil...just sayin'.

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins: I wrote a brief snippet about these books in this post.  I'm looking forward to seeing how they transformed the first instalment in the series into a movie.

Room, by Emma Donoghue: My mom recommended this book to me a while ago after she read it with her book club.  When she gave me the gist of the disturbing premise of the book, I did not want to read it because I have enough worrisome scenarios that try to gallop through my mind every night before I go to sleep. The story is told from the perspective of a five year-old boy who is being held captive with his mom.  The focus of the story is the world that his mother has created for him in what would be, to our senses, the most horrible of settings.  Don't allow the fact that the voice of the story is a five year old boy; he has a very advanced vocabulary and it does not distract from the work at all.  The author is so masterful at creating characters, that I find myself wondering for half a second at times how each of the characters is doing these days.

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda.  This book made me wish that I was a slower reader so that I could have stretched out my enjoyment of this story.  The story is told by several different characters over the span of many years.  It begins with a birth story in India, and a courageous mother who places her daughter for adoption rather than allow her to suffer the same fate as her first daughter, who suffered a fate all too common in cultures in which sons are highly favoured.  Little does she know that her daughter will be adopted a world away, by doctors in America.  It's a beautiful, achingly sad story infused with enough hope and insight to make in an enjoyable, though at times, unsettling read.

Currently on my night-side table: A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle, and Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Major Omission

Remember that post in which I confessed my envy for people who have life-long friendships?  It occurred to me today that I made a major omission in that post.  It's the kind of realization that kind of makes the blood in your body start flowing in the opposite direction, or at least that is what it feels like, and you feel like you cannot do a single thing until you right the situation.  I was driving to church this morning after a lovely morning walk with my boys and my younger sister, when I remembered and I considered for half a second going home to write up these thoughts.  It was lurking around in the back of my mind as I wrote up my last post, but I didn't pay close enough attention to those thoughts to formulate them into words.
I have lifelong friends that I neglected to mention, and best friends at that: my two sisters.  They inspire me, encourage me, laugh with me, cry with me, defend me, purge ugly clothes from my closet with for me, and they have been there since day one (or, in younger sister's case, since her day one).  What more could one ask for in a friend?  And I have two!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Silver and Gold

On a recent jaunt through Value Village, I purchased a rather strange item: a girl guide sash, complete with badges.  I intended to take the badges off and use them for making quaint homemade birthday cards or other crafty endeavours yet to be determined.  As I was paying for it (and internally questioning my judgement just a tad), the cashier gushed about all her memories of Brownies and Girl Guides.  I told her my plans for the badges and she seemed a little...crushed that I was going to take it apart.  I then proceeded to tell her that I always wanted to be in Girl Guides but never was, but now I finally have the sash anyways.  I don't really know where that came from, but I suppose it was true.  I was a bit envious of the girls at school who had the cute little uniforms and the sashes and the campouts.  I attended "Pioneer Girls" at my church instead.  It was pretty great, and we even had badges too (on a banner, not a sash), so I don't know why I was envious about Girl Guides.  One of my favourite memories of Pioneer Girls was the song:

Make new friends, but keep the old.
One is silver, the other gold.

We sang it in a round, and it would go on and on and on.  Is it possible to have silver and gold?  I hope so.  My modern day struggle with envy is not about badges on sashes and uniforms, it's people who seem to be able to stay connected with people  You know the people I'm talking about, who have had the same core group of friends since they were twelve or five or in utero.  I haven't been very diligent in keeping up with friendships that I wish I had.  I know that it's reasonable to expect friendships to drift as life circumstances change, and it's just impossible to maintain every friendship as life gets fuller, but sometimes I wish that I had just tried a little harder, been a little bolder, and cultivated friendships that instead have waned.  Fortunately, this is a problem that can be remedied, to some extent.  Today I had a friend over for lunch whom I had not seen in many years, perhaps even a decade!  It was so fun to reconnect, and to spend time with somebody who knew me in a totally different period of my life.  There's something special about having friends that you have known for eons.  You become witnesses to each other's life stories; you see each other change, and grow.  Hopefully, those who have known you the longest see you in the scope of your history and encourage you onwards.  Hopefully they have the grace to remember where you started from, and to forget the details of your awkward stage.  I had pretty awesome bangs combined with a killer cowlick in high school.  And braces until the last month of grade twelve.  And severe public-speaking-phobia.  

The person I have been friends with for the longest continuous time period is my husband.  On Canada Day this past week, it marked twelve years since our first date and the beginning of something pretty special.  He's pretty amazing.  Even when he impersonates me on Facebook when I forget to log out, he's pretty kind.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chandelier Reveal

Remember this lovely that I picked up on craigslist?

After lots of scrubbing, scratching, spraying, she now looks like this:

Isn't she pretty?

I still need to patch up some holes in the ceiling from the previous light fixture; I just photoshopped them out of the picture for now!  I don't think the chandelier had ever been washed prior to me acquiring it, so it took a bit of work to get it ready for spray painting.  The black tarnish was super thick in the crevices of the detailing, so I resorted to using a pin to scratch it out.  I went to the trouble of doing that because I was afraid that the detailing wouldn't show once it was all one colour.  I used Rustoleum gloss white spray paint with built-in primer.  It seemed to get used up more quickly than the separate primer and paint I used on the door knobs, but it's hard to know for sure since this was a larger surface and therefore more of it gets lost in the wind.  I also learned that spray painting outside during cottonwood season is not the best idea!

Ode to the C

Vegetables that begin with 'c', that is.  Cabbage, cauliflower, and cilantro, in particular.  Is cilantro actually a vegetable or just an herb?  In any case, it has been a while since I've posted any recipes, so here are a few of my recent favourites.  Actually, it's been a while since I've posted anything!  Life just seems to get busier, doesn't it?
The first recipe is easy, relatively inexpensive, and delicious!  It's a good recipe for company because you can assemble it earlier in the day and pop it in the oven a while before they arrive.  Because we all know what those dinnertime hours can be like when you have small children.

My version of that includes O wanting to play different versions of make believe games in which I have to pretend to be somebody else.  Usually, it's one of his cousins, or his Strong Start teacher, or a character from TV.  Somehow it evolves into me having to be several different people at the same time: "Mommy, you be Dora and Diego and Boots and Barney, okay?"  I end up chopping onions, tears streaming, and having a five-way conversation with myself and O, with me carrying on four parts of the conversation.  "O, can I just be myself for a while?"  "Okay.  But you be Barney pretending to be Mommy, okay?"  Meanwhile, T is alternating between crying to be picked up and crying to be put down.  Oh, the hilarity.  At least I can look back on those times once they are tucked in bed and laugh at the craziness of it all.  On to the recipes!

Cabbage Roll Casserole

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 1/2 pounds chopped cabbage
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 teaspoon salt
28 ounces of Beef Broth (I use McCormick's All-Vegetable Bouillon and water)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
In a large skillet, brown beef and onions in oil over medium high heat until redness is gone. Drain off fat.  In a large baking dish, combine the onion, tomato sauce, cabbage, rice and salt. Add meat and mix all together. Pour broth over meat mixture and bake in the preheated oven, covered, for 1 hour. Stir, replace cover and bake for another 30 minutes.

It's all the deliciousness of cabbage rolls without the work of rolling cabbage leaves.  I know it's best to show pictures of the recipes, but, to be honest, this is not a meal that looks really nice.  It has a nice personality and great sense of humour though.  

The next recipe is also a cabbage recipe.  It looks nice, especially if you use a mix of green and purple cabbages, but I still don't have any pictures of it.  I made a giant salad yesterday for a family gathering but I ate all the yummy leftovers for lunch today before I remembered about taking a picture.  Next time.

Asian Cabbage Noodle Salad.

2 heads of cabbage - green and purple
2 packages of Mr.Noodles or similar noodle soup package
1/4 to 1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup vinegar (cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, white vinegar, or rice vinegar all work fine)
2 TBS. soy sauce
1/2 cube McCormick's all-vegetable beef bouillon.  (Most versions of this recipe call for the packet of seasoning that comes with the noodle soup but...throw that little packet of MSG out!  This way tastes much better)

In a non-stick skillet, heat the sugar, slivered almonds, and crushed noodled until noodles and almonds are nicely sugared up.  Chop or shred cabbage.  Combine ingredients of dressing in a small jar or container and shake it until well-mixed.  
Important note - the dressing will make the noodles soggy eventually, so it's best to put the dressing on the salad just before serving.  If you are just making this salad for your own family, you might want to let people put the dressing on their own portion of salad, and keep the noodles and nuts in another container, so that the leftovers aren't full of soggy noodles.  

And now for the cilantro recipe.  Again, fairly inexpensive, pretty easy, and tasty.  The trifecta of recipe requirements in my estimation.  

Walnut Cilantro Pesto Pasta

1 cup walnut pieces
2 bunches of cilantro, chopped (discard the stems)
4 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
ground pepper to taste

12 oz pasta (spaghetti or fettucini work well)

Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, place walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat.  Shake pan or give a stir every 20 or 30 seconds to prevent burning.  Do this for a couple of minutes until walnuts emit a toasty fragrance.  Remove from heat, set aside.  In a blender or food processor, combine the cilantro, garlic, and walnuts until finely chopped.  With the food processor still running, slowly add the olive oil to achieve a smooth paste.  Add salt and pepper, mix well.  Toss with cooked pasta and serve.  If you have leftover pesto, it also tastes fantastic on pizza in place of traditional pizza sauce!

And finally, the cauliflower gets his turn.  I will admit that I have never been a fan of cauliflower.  I always avoided the ghostly little guy on the vegetable platter at parties.  However, I recently unlocked the secret to enjoying this vegetable: roasting.  In the past, whenever I saw "roast whatever vegetable in oven blah blah blah..." I skipped that step in the recipe.  If you are going to cook the dish later, why bother roasting it beforehand, right?  Wrong, as it turns out.  It gives a different dimension to the taste of it - kind of nutty, and sweet in a caramelized way.  Cut the cauliflower into florets and place on a cookie sheet or large baking dish, slather them in some extra virgin olive oil/butter/margarine, and roast, uncovered, in the oven for about 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees Farenheit.  You can sprinkle it with salt and pepper, or a combination of herbs and enjoy on its own, or mix with some quinoa cooked in broth and cooked cubed chicken breast.  Once you have tasted roasted cauliflower, you too may have a whole new appreciation for this once humble veggie.  Who knows, cauliflower may yet have his moment of fame and become the next quinoa or acai berry.
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