Home is Where the Farmer Is

I was born in El Paso, and grew up in Dallas.  I spent the last 4 years of my life in Texas living in the mid-cities area – a collection of suburbs connecting Dallas and Ft. Worth.

I’m a Texan, through and through.  To this day, if someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll tell them, “I live in Podunk, Ohio but I’m from Texas.”

I was 42 when I left Texas and moved to Ohio, and I hated it.  I cannot even begin to describe how incredibly homesick I was.  It didn’t help that I went from a metropolitan area of over 3 million people to a small city of barely 73,000 – heck, the suburb where I lived in Texas was nearly that big.  Worse yet, the only decent ethnic food in the area I now live is Italian – if you want French or Thai or Mexican or Vietnamese or Colombian or Middle Eastern or, gee, anything that isn’t pizza or pasta (well, maybe German), you better learn to cook it yourself, because it pretty much doesn’t exist here.  There are exactly 3 ethnic markets in our area; one Mexican, one Asian, and one Halal – all approximately the size of my walk-in closet (you think I kid).  You have to spend $20 at the Asian market before they’ll take a debit or credit card.

Don’t even get me started on what passes for barbecue here.

Dallas has more shopping malls per capita than any other city in the world…Podunk has one.  The tallest building downtown is a whopping eight stories tall.

The area we moved to is also pretty insular; in Dallas, there are a lot of people from not just all over the country, but from all over the world.  Here, it’s not uncommon for young people to move into a house down the street from their parents when they leave home.  And I’d never been met with so many cold shoulders as I had when we moved to Podunk – it was literally years before we made friends here, beyond our co-workers and a lovely woman I’d actually met online years before.  To this day I get asked, “Why on earth did you move here??”

I guess it just turned out that we weren’t looking in the right places for friends, and it took changing the way we eat to meet them.

They’re called farmers, and they are just the nicest, warmest people. In. The. Whole. World.

We friends with our beef farmer, hog farmer, poultry farmer, vegetable farmer; we’ve made friends with a lovely lady who makes artisan goat cheeses.  We’re friends with our butchers.  We found someone who grows the best damn watermelon in the area, as well as someone who not only grows a dazzling array of winter squashes (and sells them dirt cheap), but raises the tastiest goats you’d ever hope to find.

They all think we’re a little off our rockers.  Which makes them pretty smart, too.

I’ve become quite attached to these people, and while I was becoming attached to them, I became attached to the entire area because you simply can’t separate these people from the land.  And I surprised myself recently with the realization that I don’t dream of moving back to Texas any more; bluebonnet season may be spectacular, but so is autumn in Cuyahoga Valley.  Downtown Oak Cliff may be full of history and character, but so is downtown Wadsworth – and you don’t have to worry about being mugged.  People may not drive with any sense of urgency here, but I never have to worry about the traffic on I-635, either.  A 45-minute trip to have dinner in Dallas used to be nothing; nowadays, a 45-minute trip to Cleveland for dinner calls for an overnight stay.

Somehow in the last couple of years, this became home.  I’d like to stay awhile.

For more Hometown Spins, go visit Gretchen at Second Blooming.  Take her some barbecue from The Salt Lick; she’s homesick.

Delicata Squash with Apples and Chili Spices

Arrrrggghhh – it’s the 10th Anniversary of Talk Like a Pirate Day, mateys!

Well, that was fun.

Anyhoo, it’s also Wednesday, which is almost as fun as Talk Like a Pirate Day.  For what it’s worth, I’m closing in on this cookbook thing (I do not know how other bloggers put cookbooks out so quickly – perhaps they give up things like sleeping and bathing?), and have gotten to the point where I’m cooking older recipes and taking new photos of them, because In The Beginning, Jan’s Food Photography Sucked.  Like a bucket of ticks.

One of the dishes I’ve done lately was one originally posted nearly two years ago, when we began our love affair with winter squashes.  Which, coincidentally, have begun to make an appearance in our CSA share and at the farmer’s market; methinks it’s time to visit our squash farmer (and perhaps discuss another goat?).

One of our favorite squashes is delicata, a small oblong-shaped squash with a cream colored, green-striped outer skin and a golden, fine-textured inner flesh. It ranges in size from 5 to 10 inches in length, with an average weight of 1 to 2 pounds, and is considered a “novelty squash.”

We consider it delicious, especially in this dish, which is one of Jolly’s favorites.

Oh, and look – it’s Whole30 compliant, too.  Vegan, even.

Delicata Squash with Apples and Chili Spices
Delicata Squash with Apples and Chili Spices

Delicata Squash with Apples and Chili Spices

Serves: 4
  • 1 pound delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 medium tart cooking apple, such as Granny Smith,
  • peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  1. In a large saucepan, bring 1 quart of water to a boil; parboil the squash cubes for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and drop into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cool, drain again and set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot, but not quite smoking. Add the coconut oil and, once melted, swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the squash, apple and onion; reduce the heat to medium. Add the salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and garlic powder and cook, stirring frequently, until the squash and apples are fork tender and the onion is soft and fragrant, 7 to 10 minutes.
  3. Nutrition (per serving): 124 calories, 7.2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 487mg sodium, 477.2mg potassium, 16.4g carbohydrates, 2.8g fiber, 6.5g sugar, 1.6g protein



Chocolate Banana Snack Cake

You do odd things at 4 a.m. because you can’t sleep.  Like bake a cake.

Well, that’s not the only reason, but it is the reason I was doing it at 4 a.m. in the morning.

It’s that time of year again – our funds are squeezed due to all the darn food we’re buying and preserving to get us through most of the year.  We’ve canned 4 bushels of tomatoes, a half bushel of green beans (and will probably do another bushel before it’s said and done), canned or frozen 5 dozen ears of local sweet corn, canned I don’t know how many jars of salsa from our our garden (we’re growing both tomatoes and peppers), and I’m planning on roasting and canning a variety of squashes, including pumpkin, in the next few weeks.  We’re picking up our latest side of beef this week, have another hog coming in October, and if the hunting gods favor me, I’ll have at least one deer in the freezer before the season is over.  I’d also like to get another goat, if not two.

I know it seems odd that I’m using that as an excuse to bake a cake, but I’ve already got everything I need in my pantry to bake it.  Let me explain a little further…

The Young One, who these days would be better described as The Young Bottomless Pit, takes his lunch to school every day.  He takes a sandwich on sprouted whole wheat bread, nuts (he’s fond of pistachios and cashews), cheese cubes (we buy large blocks just for this purpose), fruit of some sort (this week it’s apples and grapes), carrot sticks, celery stuffed with some sort of nut butter, and a fig bar or other cookie purchased from our local natural foods store.

Those nuts and cookies are flippin’ expensive, so he’s not getting them this week.  He’s getting home-popped organic popcorn, of which I have a generous supply in my cupboards, and this snack cake – if his reaction this morning is anything to go by, I’m probably screwed and will never get to buy him a cookie again.  Not surprising; the cake is dense, moist and chocolatey, and really pretty quick and easy to throw together.   It requires no icing or other adornment (although I bet it would be great topped with a nice chocolate ganache), and you get 16 servings out of an 8-inch square pan.

Works for me…even at 4 a.m.

Chocolate Banana Snack Cake
Chocolate Banana Snack Cake
Chocolate Banana Snack Cake

Serves: 16
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 2 tablespoons potato flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large very ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 4 tablespoons melted ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F; generously grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan.
  2. Whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl; set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), mix the eggs, bananas, sugar, ghee and vanilla on
  3. medium speed until well blended. Mix in the almond flour mixture in three additions on low speed, mixing well and scraping down the sides after each addition.
  4. Spread the batter (it will be thick) into the prepared baking pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Place on a wire rack and allow to cool. Cut into16 squares for serving.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 173 calories, 10.2g total fat, 42.5mg cholesterol, 172.3mg sodium, 208.4mg potassium, 16.8g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 7.7g sugar, 2g protein


Tempura Okra

Well, it’s Monday again, and all sorts of things are going on around here.  The print function of the recipe plugin I use is still broken (I apparently have the developers stumped as to why), so for the time being, I’m uploading a printable .pdf file of the recipe and linking to it until we have this issue worked out.  Although it’s beginning to look like it might be my web host, so I’m looking for a new one – I’d welcome any suggestions as to which company is best (this isn’t the only reason, it’s just the latest).

I’ve also changed the permalink structure – how the URLs, or web addresses, of individual posts are displayed – and have installed a redirect plugin.  It seems to be working, but if you attempt to access a page or post, especially via a search engine, and get a “404 – page not found” error please let me know.  I know it’s happening – I’m getting them right and left for the old printable .pdf’s of recipes – and I’m not sure why.

*sigh*  They never tell you these things when you start a blog, do they?  Thank goodness I’m reasonably geeky, or I’d be completely lost.

Anyhoo – moving forward.

Tempura fried okra is a thing of beauty – I truly do not know why I hadn’t tried it before.  Tempura anything, for that matter, but it takes fried okra to a whole ‘nother level.  It is light and crispy and not greasy or heavy at all.  The secret, it seems, is in the ice cold club soda in the batter.  No, don’t ask me why; I may be reasonably geeky when it comes to technology, but am not at all certain why this should be.

I do know, however, that a traditional tempura batter contains wheat flour (often a combination of wheat and rice), and should never be over-mixed or it will activate the gluten, resulting in a tough and doughy texture when fried.  There’s no worry here, since I used tapioca flour and an egg yolk – you can beat it to death and that will never happen.  The final product does not suffer at all; a tempura made with this way will rival anything made with a more traditional recipe.

Note:  I didn’t really measure anything when making this, but I did use approximately equal parts of club soda and tapioca flour.  If you feel you need to use more, go right ahead, but anything over 2 cups of each will probably need an additional egg yolk and a bit more salt.  You should also be aware that you won’t use all of the batter or all of the dipping sauce, so the calorie/carb counts in the nutritional info are overstated.

Tempura Okra
Tempura Okra
Tempura Okra

Serves: 4
  • 8 ounces okra, cap removed and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup club soda, ice cold
  • 1 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup lard or other fat suitable for frying
  • Dipping Sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari or soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  1. Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce – honey, soy sauce, lime juice and red pepper flakes – in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl or container and set aside.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolk and club soda in a medium bowl until well-blended; slowly whisk in the tapioca flour until a thin batter forms (you may not need all of the flour). Heat the lard in a small, heavy skillet over high heat to 350 F. Working in batches, drop the okra into the tempura batter and turn with a fork to coat. Transfer to the hot lard and fry until crisp and beginning to lightly brown, turning once, about 1 minute per side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain; repeat with the remaining okra until it has all been fried.
  3. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
  4. Nutrition (per serving): 271 calories, 10.8g total fat, 54.2mg cholesterol, 813.6mg sodium, 214.6mg potassium, 42.1g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 9.6g sugar, 2.9g protein


Let’s Get Physical

Let’s be honest here – my idea of exercise consists of yelling for The Young One to run down to the basement and bring me a jar of tomato sauce.

And I have the ass to prove it.

Making a deal with TC, my young diabetic friend, to exercise every day of the Whole30 was probably the best thing I’d done for quite some time.  Yes, I was disappointed that I only lost 2 1/2 pounds after it was all said and done, but there was another benefit I hadn’t really considered when I’d agreed:  it made me feel better.

Understanding the health benefits of exercise is one thing; doing it is something else all together.  I don’t necessarily enjoy it so I tend to do it grudgingly, and heretofore the only thing it made me feel once it was over was gratitude that I wasn’t doing it any more.  However, recently I’ve found that it offers a measure of relief – sometimes a great deal of it – when I’m getting to the point where I’d gladly punch bunnies and kick puppies.

Which is not to say that I’m going to join a Crossfit gym ever in my life any time soon, but if walking on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes 4 or 5 days a week will keep me from gouging my loved ones in the eyes with a letter opener, then hey – I’m all for  it.

But why does it make me feel better?

Just a little consultation with Dr. Google reveals something rather frustrating, if not downright depressing:  no one can really tell you for sure what causes the often erratic mood swings that accompany perimenopause.  However, it seems that the hormone imbalances caused by the decreasing frequency of ovulation – in other words, an increase in estrogen and decrease in progesterone – affects the body’s production of both endorphins and, more importantly, serotonin.

While both endorphins and serotonin are known for boosting emotions, serotonin produces a milder effect, causing happiness and feelings of security. Endorphins, on the other hand, are a more intense form of pleasure, sparking such intense reactions as euphoria and ecstasy, depending on the amount of endorphins circulating in the bloodstream at any given time. At low levels, endorphins can produce the mild effects of relaxation and joy, similar to those produced by serotonin, making regular, moderate exercise very important, especially when you’re feeling particularly stabby.

We’ll address exercise and weight loss (or, if you’re fortunate, management) at a later date.

For more sweaty Spins, run on over and visit Gretchen at Second Blooming.  On the double, people.