Homemade: Watermelon Granita

Summer = watermelon.

But sometimes I get a little over-excited about watermelon season and start to buy watermelons before they’re really at their peak. This happened a couple weeks ago when I bought a seedless (seedless was my first mistake) watermelon. It was definitely not juicy enough to warrant summer watermelon excitement. So what do you do with an entire non-juicy watermelon that no one is going to eat? I first considered just tossing it…until I found a recipe for watermelon granita.

Watermelon granita is like watermelon sno cone but way better. It’s a good way to get rid of a watermelon but it’s a little time consuming for my taste. That’s why I got my husband to make it. πŸ™‚

Here’s what he did:

Chop up the watermelon.

Then blend it.

Then strain it.

Then add the zests and juice of two limes. After you use them up the limes look like this.

You also add a sugar syrup mixture. Stir it all together and stick it in the freezer. After two hours the granita will start to get slushy. After that point, you need to stir it every half hour or so. If you don’t stir, it will just turn into a rock of watermelon ice, so stirring is essential.

I forgot to get a picture of the final product so here’s one I found on teh intarweb.

Feed to little children and they will eat it like this…

…and scream very, very loudly if you take it away from them.

Watermelon Granita (from Grow Organic, Cook Organic)

  • 1 whole watermelon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • finely grated rind and juice of 2 limes

Cut the watermelon into quarters. Discard most of the seeds, scoop the flesh into a blender and process the watermelon quarters in small batches.

Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into a bowl. Allow the syrup to cool, then chill until needed.

Strain the watermelon puree through a sieve into a large plastic container. Discard the melon seeds. Pour in the chilled syrup, lime rind, and juice and mix well.

Cover and freeze for 2 hours until the granita mixture around the sides of the container is mushy. Mash the ice finely with a fork and return to the freezer.

Freeze for a further 2 hours, mashing the mixture every 30 minutes until the granita has a slushy consistency.

Homemade: Pesto

Saturday night, Brad offered to make dinner, and I’m never one to turn down that offer! He’s actually a much better cook than I am because he’s more meticulous and pays more attention. I already had the meal planned out, so that was a bonus.

I had been reading about homemade pesto from lots of online friends, and since I got a basil plant at the farmers market a few weeks ago I wanted to try it out. Though my basil plant is flourishing the most out of all my plants, I still didn’t have enough fresh basil leaves. I pulled the largest leaves off the plant but wanted to leave the little ones and let them grow. My goodness! Fresh basil smells and tastes delicious! I added a bit of dried basil leaves.

The basil goes in the food processor – I guess I am using that a lot more than I used to – along with olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts, but I prefer pine nuts), garlic, Parmesan cheese (please, not from the green can), and salt and pepper. Then…whir.

And…ta da! Pesto goodness. So much better than the jarred stuff. Fresh and light and tasting of summer. Pour the pesto on any kind of pasta and enjoy. You can also spread a little bit of pesto some bread, add cheese and make the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Basil is actually my favorite herb because it is so good on everything, from pasta to sandwiches to breads…I’m very glad that I can grow my own and enjoy it all summer long. I’m hoping to make a lot of this pesto-y good stuff and can it for the winter months when I’m craving summer flavors. That’s the goal any way. I actually have a list of things that I want to stock up for winter, and I’m hoping with the move and everything that I will find time to get the canner out.

Pesto (recipe from allrecipes.com)

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pine nuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper

Handmade: Veggie Garden

For the past few months I have been debating whether or not I want to start a vegetable garden. Last year I literally spent months mulching a large area in our backyard (and I might add the area farthest away from the driveway where the mulch had been dumped – over one hundred wheelbarrow loads, I kid you not!). I started some seeds, which would have been successful in any other house. But starting seeds is very difficult when you have a cat who loves to eat plants and will climb any height to get at the tasty green morsels mommy for some reason likes to put on top of dirt, which is not so tasty but good for tracking all over the house. Yes. That is my cat Zoe.

Anyway, with the house on the market I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through all the effort to buy plants and take care of them, especially the weeding part, when someone else would most likely get the harvest. But I kept looking at the plot and the weeds growing up,

and it felt like the land was telling me it wanted a purpose in life. Boy, do I know how that is, so I couldn’t deny it a purpose. So I picked up a few plants at the farmers market last Saturday: two different varieties of tomatoes, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and cucumber. And planted them.

These are the peppers.

But the five little plants only took up about 1/6 of the space. Now I know they will get bigger, but I left them plenty of room to grow, and now I keep envisioning more plants as I lie in bed in the mornings. I want to grow beans and strawberries, lettuce, and carrots.

Last year with all the weeding a mulching, I think I didn’t experience the joy of gardening, just the hard sweat and unending toil of gardening. Plus, I only grew three types of plants. And summer squash gets old after about 3 days. This year I am striving for much more diversity. Part of me is hoping to be around for the harvest but if the people who buy our house get to also enjoy lots of veggies, I will have to be satisfied with it. I will be in Chicago after all. And that is better by far.

Homemade: Mozzarella Cheese

The past month or so I have been trying my hand at homemade cheese. I first heard about making cheese from Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – which is a fantastic, five-star read. Before that I never would have thought of making cheese. I always thought about cheese as a base product, like milk or salt, you can’t make it. You just have to buy it. But, oh buddy, I was wrong.

I bought Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, and flagged some of the first cheeses I wanted to make. Things I learned first: (1) Softer cheeses, like ricotta, cream cheese, sour cream, and mozzarella, are the easiest to make. (2) You must use milk that has not been ultra-pasteurized. Other than that, any kind of milk is okay. (3) Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients first. You can get the oddball ingredients like calcium chloride, citric acid, and rennet from Leener’s ( I – HEART – LEENER’S).

The only recipe I’ve mastered (or tried, for that matter) so far is 30-minute mozzarella. And really, I did make mozzarella in thirty minutes today. Yay! Once I got it down (took about three tries because I didn’t add salt to the first two batches) it’s very simple. Start with a large pot and one gallon of milk. You will need a thermometer as well:

Heat the milk slowly to 55 degrees Farenheit. Then add the citric acid (dissolved in cool water). Heat to 90 degrees Farenheit and add the rennet (dissolved in cool water). Then stir every once in awhile and keep heating to 105 -110 degrees. At that point, turn the heat off but keep stirring every once in awhile until the mixture looks like this:

Curds separated from the whey. The whey should be yellowy and translucent. Scoop out the curds into a bowl.

Then press down the curds and pour off the whey. Microwave the curds for 20 seconds and then knead them like dough (in the bowl). Also, at this time add about 1 tsp. or salt (sea salt or kosher salt, not iodized salt).

Once the cheese/curds cool off a bit while you are kneading them, microwave again for 20 seconds. The cheese gets pretty hot so be careful. Knead again and microwave again until the cheese can stretch out like taffy and not break. Then roll into balls and place in ice water for 30 minutes or so.

You can store this in the refrigerator for several weeks. It is a bit softer and more difficult to slice and great than store-bought mozzarella, but dare I say, more tasty than the store-bought. Plus, you can tell friends you made it and they will revere you as a great domestic queen (or king). Oh yeah. πŸ™‚ Something like that.

Homemade: Butter

Sorry for my blogging absence, folks. I’ve been sidetracked by our hopefully-soon-move to Chicago. No offers on the house yet, even though we’ve had lots of lookers in the past few days. Everyone seems to like the house, but no bites yet. I’ll be up in Chicago looking for an apartment next week, so I’ve been spending most of my free time scouring Craigslist for apartments in our price range. We have an application in on another great one that my parents visited this past Monday. It would be absolutely wonderful if the accepted us! I’ve also been searching for a new home for one of the dogs, as we can’t have all three in an apartment. I have several possibilities there as well, so things are looking better, even though I’m still anxious for something to happen (hopefully that something would be the selling of our house).

This past week I discovered a new food love: making butter. This all started as a joke, with one of my friend’s stating that he just churned the butter he brought to our small group meeting. Then everyone commented, “That sounds like something Kristen would do.” Oh yes, friends, I am the hippie of the bunch. Well, when I saw a butter making kit on Leeners (man, do I love Leeners), I knew I had to have it. Now, as much as I love Leeners, the butter making kit was a bit of a disappointment because basically all you need to make butter is a jar. Here’s how to do it:

Fill said jar about 1/2 to 3/4 full of heavy whipping cream, and then shake. That’s it. Shake. And shake some more. It works best if the cream is room temperature first, and you don’t have shake fast. After about 20-30 minutes the cream will start to thicken and turn into whipped cream (go figure). The jar will feel really light at that point but a few more shakes and you will feel the cream thicken even further. After about a minute, the butter will separate itself from the rest of the cream. The liquid is now “buttermilk” and the solid is “butter.” Dump out the buttermilk into a separate container (save this and make buttermilk pancakes…YUM!) and then add some ice water to the butter and shake for another minute.

Fill a bowl with ice water and put the butter in the water. Use a spatula or small spoon to push down the butter. This part is necessary to remove the buttermilk from the butter. Leftover buttermilk will make the butter go rancid very quickly. Dump the ice water when it gets cloudly and add more ice water. Repeat until the water remains clear.

Now you can store your butter in a butter keeper. This container allows you to keep butter (go figure) without refrigeration. You fill the top portion with butter and the bottom portion with ice water. Then you tip the top over into the bottom. Some of the water will be displaced, but this is what creates a water-tight seal between the two parts of the container. Now your butter will stay soft and fresh for 30 days.

This Saturday I found a handmade butter keeper at our local farmer’s market. It is beautiful (sorry for no picture – I am lazy). I almost kissed the potter for making it! Yeah, I get a little excited about food-related items.

You are What You Eat…or “How to Become a Vegetarian, Organic, Made-from-Scratch Localvore in Just Nine Months”

I am currently lacking a camera – the battery is charging – so I can’t show you any special recipe today. Today’s dinner wasn’t a complete success anyway. It was supposed to be pitas stuffed with avocado, portobello mushrooms, and plantains. Those are all things that I happen to enjoy a great deal, so I thought they would be good together. It was…interesting. After the first one, I just ate everything separately and enjoyed it all a good deal more. The pitas, in particular, were amazing. I’ll be sharing that recipe sometime soon.

Instead I wanted to put down some thoughts about why I take such interest in how and what I eat. Last summer I read a book called Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe. This is the sequel to Diet for a Small Planet, which – unbeknownst to me – was a quite popular book in the seventies. Hope’s Edge takes a look at several different communities around the globe who are choosing to create food differently. Instead of using harsh chemicals that destroy the soil and cause diseases in farmers, they grow food organically. They choose not to inject food and animals with growth hormones or antibiotics. They choose to grow local fruits and vegetables rather than hundreds of acres of bananas or coffee or wheat or corn. The authors believe (and I tend to agree with them) that there should be no food shortage. There are physically enough calories to go around. The problem is that these calories are not used efficiently. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef. Most animals that we eat for food are packed into pens and houses and fed grain rather than allowed to roam free and eat grass. Not even taking the animal’s welfare into consideration – though that certainly is important – if the grain these animals eat was eaten directly by people rather than converted into meat, five times as many people could eat. At the same time it takes 2,500-6,000 pounds of water to create one pound of beef and only 60 pounds of water to grow one pound of grain. That’s a lot of water that people could be drinking.

Because of this information Brad and I decided to become vegetarians. We’ve learned a lot in the past 9-10 months and completely changed our eating habits. Instead of Wal-Mart or Aldi, we shop at the natural food store (this requires a lot of planning on my part because the store is 45 minutes away, so I try to do the shopping when Brad has to meet with a client in the same town, once a week). We don’t buy meat but we do eat it if served to us (and on vacation). Obviously, food at the natural food store is more expensive since it is usually organic (or at least all-natural) and/or local. This has forced us to be more careful about what we eat.Β  We don’t like to pay a lot for the pre-packaged foods (think crackers, cookies, frozen meals, etc.) so we started making a lot more from scratch. I don’t want to pay $6 for a pack of cookies, so if I want them I have to make them, which means we don’t have a lot of sweets and snacks around usually (typical dessert is 1/8 of a bar of fair trade dark chocolate). As we moved in this direction in our eating, we realized that we should really produce our own food. We have a big backyard so surely we could have a garden. Our first attempt, last year, was mildly successful, and this year I’m trying to grow a few more plants and learn a few new things.

Our next step was to learn more about eating local food. We started to realize that our food comes from somewhere: bananas from Costa Rica, oranges from Florida, lettuce from Oregon. All that food has to be brought right here to Arkansas, usually by truck. On average, every item on your plate has traveled 2,000 miles to get there. That’s a lot of gas. Wouldn’t it be better for God’s earth if we just ate what we could grow and produce nearby? This would also allow our family in other countries who are growing wheat to send to the U.S., to then grow their own food – food that they could then eat themselves, rather than send somewhere else. During the summer there are lots and lots of wonderful growing things to enjoy, and hard-core localvores (folks who try to eat only local foods) stockpile a lot of these things to eat during the fall and winter.

So that’s where we’re at: learning to make things from scratch, eat less meat and more veggies, grow our own basil, and store food for the winter. We’re definitely not perfect at this whole thing. Sometimes we just can’t resist the burger at Chili’s. Sometimes we order take-out pizza because we didn’t buy enough cheese to make our own. Sometimes we can’t afford to buy organic. We’re still learning. And it’s interesting, but I feel like I am learning a lot about God through this whole process. He is teaching me how the choices I make, even the little choices, affect other people, people who may live on the other side of the world. He is also teaching me about how amazing He is. He invented cilantro, for goodness’ sake, and I can grow it in a pot in my backyard!

Handmade Tuesdays: Starting Seeds

So, what do you do when your house is on the market but you have finished cleaning every square inch of your house multiple times…why, start a garden of course? I was going back and forth about whether or not I should start some veggie plants. My thought was that if I started the garden, I would want to stick around for the harvest (or maybe I would curse myself into not selling the house until the end of September) but I want some more practice at this growing-your-own-food thing. A green thumb certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I think I have more of a brown, maybe khaki-colored thumb. So more practice couldn’t hurt. Even if all the plants died, it wouldn’t be much of a loss and I would (hopefully) learn something in the process.

So last week I got out my Pot Maker – a wonderful hand-me-down Christmas gift from my aunt – and got to work.

It’s pretty easy to use. Just cut wide strips of newspaper, wrap them around the knobby thing, and push the whole thing into the base. The base crunches up the bottom of the newspaper and creates a little pot. Fill with organic potting soil, a few seeds, water, and then wait. I placed all the pots into a little tray which comes with a plastic lid (this is just an aluminum baking pan – $2.50 or something for two at Wal-Mart). Then I set the whole thing on top of the refrigerator so that the heat of the working fridge with inspire my little babies to grow. The lid is to keep my cat out and keep in the warmth.

Last year I bought one of the greenhouse tray things with the little pellets that you put the seeds in. $12.50 or something plus more for the pellet things. And the thing really didn’t work! This was much cheaper and a few days later, my seeds are actually starting. I have lots of lettuce, some basil, and some tomato going (no pictures currently because my camera battery needs some recharging). The squash, zucchini, eggplant, and spinach are taking their time but that’s okay. The next step will be getting the seedlings big enough to put in the ground. That may take a few weeks. I’ll try to keep track of my progress here.

Today will be another full day of rain (it is such a blessing to have a dog who is scared of thunder and jumps into your bed whenever she hears it…keeping you awake all night…please, note the sarcasm). But the rain should be good for the annuals and shrubs I planted over the weekend. Thank goodness I mowed yesterday because the rain is also good for the weeds.