Adventures with tea

At Christmas I got an excellent teapot and DH got himself an electric kettle (for his coffee habit).

One great thing about this teapot is that it has a large mouthed bucket filter.  My previous adventures with loose-leaf tea have involved balls of various kinds and sizes which are pain to fill and a worse pain to clean.  With this teapot I just scoop out two tablespoons of tea (one for the pot and one for me), fill with hot water, and then dump out the solids into the compost when I’m done.  The dishwasher will take care of any lingering tea residue.

I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis (because when I need it for migraines I really need it, also withdrawal is a harsh mistress), but I do like herbal tea.  It turns out a lot of loose leaf tea is better than a lot of teabags, which has given me a new appreciation for even teas that I like in bag form (for example, mint). I’m still not that crazy about roobios (I overdid it on roobios teabags when it came out and have not yet recovered) and straight ginger tea reminds me of morning sickness (since constantly drinking it was the only thing that would keep me from throwing up early on with both kids).

I went to a great cafe in The City where the nice lady at the counter recommended hibiscus mint, which mixes my two favorite teas together.  She even gave me some loose tea to take home even though they don’t sell loose tea.  On a later City trip I went to an actual tea shop and got bags of different teas, some of which I wasn’t crazy about and gave to DH and some of which I really liked.  They have a great mint, but they didn’t carry hibiscus by itself, only in mixes, so I couldn’t recreate hibiscus mint. (The lady there suggested trying the Mexican grocery chain for hibiscus, but we didn’t make it to one.)  And, sadly, their rose bud tea seems to have been contaminated with something I’m allergic to (which could be any number of things, like grass or any number of tree pollens)– I love rose, but I don’t love hives.

I tried the teashop in our town, but they only had mixes and their teas were kind of stale and unexciting.  :(  I would be surprised if they stay in business, especially with competition from several excellent boba tea places that just opened.

I ordered some hibiscus from amazon, thinking I was getting 4 oz for $10 and actually got a pound.  It’s ok, but not great– misses the tart bite I like most from hibiscus.  It makes a pretty decent iced tea though.  I gave 4 oz to one of my colleagues who makes tea in her office, but 12 oz is still a lot to go through!

On one of my recent conference trips, I stopped at Teavana and really like the box of citrus tea blends that I picked up.  They mix quite nicely with the hibiscus as well.  Generally I’ll do one steeping of just their citrus blend and add a tablespoon of hibiscus to the second steeping.

I considered going to the rishi tea site and ordering a bunch of samplers from their loose herbal teas (along with another pack of mint), but before doing that, I impulse bought a 3 month subscription to Tea Runners for DH.  It’s supposed to be 3 regular teas and 1 herbal tea, but our first packet was 4 regular teas, including a tea that combines the two things DH hates most in tea– Lavender and Bergamot (he really hates Earl Grey).  (He also dislikes chicory and believes that fruit and meat should never be combined in a savory dish, but that’s the extent of his food dislikes– he’s pretty easy-going.)  So that was a bit of a disappointment.  I may yet do a rishi order.

I like mixing the teas together to make new flavor combinations.

DH sometimes makes his own chai from (Penzey‘s) spices, and I’ve seen other suggestions for homemade herbal teas, but I haven’t gone that route yet.

So:  Tea, when you need something warmer or less fizzy than La Croix.

Do you drink tea?  What kind do you like?  Where do you get it?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . 29 Comments »

Purple Carrot: A Review

This review is not sponsored or anything at all.  #2 has just been nagging me to do it since everybody else is doing blue apron [which #2 still doesn’t really understand] and we’ve been doing this one instead.  We get no money from this post.

Purple Carrot is like Blue Apron except it’s vegan [#2 understands this a little better because she imagines if you’ve grown up in a meat-eaters culture, it’s harder to come up with tasty new vegetarian recipes all the time].  Each week we get a box with 3 meals (for 2 people) in it.  The servings are frequently on the small side, though.  Currently our plan is that my partner cooks on Wednesdays and Sundays, and I cook on Fridays.  (The rest of the time we fend for ourselves.)  Neither one of us is actually a vegan, but we couldn’t find good vegetarian options for my partner (he’s ovo-lacto veggie) because most other services had one dumb vegetarian option each week (pasta and a salad, we already know that, duh!).  A nice side effect of it being vegan is that I never worry whether the food is staying cold enough in the cold box while waiting outside our door for me to open it when I get home from work: no meat, no dairy, mostly stuff that won’t give you food poisoning at a picnic if it gets a little warm.  It does stay cold in that box, though.  Even though I eat meat, I’m not sure I want raw meat in a box that sits.

We have been using Purple Carrot since June 2016.  The fact that we’re still using it almost a year later is a review in itself, I guess.  Like any meal service, you can pause your subscription or skip weeks if you’re going to be out of town or just don’t like the upcoming menu.  Unlike other services, you don’t get to pick the food– you can either get all the food that week or none.  That’s it.  We’re doing it this way in order to eat more vegetables and try to have at least some healthy food.  Also to avoid decisions — all we have is go/no-go and not “what do we pick?”

Some recipes we both end up not liking (rare).  Sometimes one of us likes it more than the other.  Sometimes we agree that the food is just a bit… odd, though not bad.  And sometimes we have a BIG hit that’s delicious, nutritious, and that we didn’t have to think up ourselves (or shop for, or decide among millions of recipes, resulting in paralysis).

For us, it’s worth the cost 3x/wk, at least for now.  We might stop at some point in order to save money, or if it stops being worth it for us.  Below I’ll put a few of our favorite recipes that we loved.  (it helps if you like German food, which I do and my partner doesn’t) (easily modifiable with other veg you have lying around) (one of the highlights of all time) (surprisingly delicious, though it would be better with cream) (eat this every day) (not actually a risotto but very tasty) (#2 tried this with CSA veggies replacing sumac with lemon zest and liked it too.  Add some feta and you’ll increase the joy.  Noms!)

Grumpeteers, has anyone tried Hello Fresh though?  I’m thinking of trying that one day.  Other thoughts?  Who likes to eat veggies?  How do you get veggies into your life?

Ask the Grumpies: Knife recommendations

monsterzero  asks:

I need to get a nice sharp knife, mostly for chopping vegetables; any suggestions?

We like our Shun knives, but they are way more expensive than you need. The “best” knives on the market are much cheaper.  So, as beautiful as the Shun knives are, you can spend a fraction of their cost to get a great set of knives.

Generally if you only have one kitchen knife, you want it to be a utility knife.  I’ve noticed that a lot of “knives you must have” lists on the internet disagree with me on this, instead saying that you should have a chef’s knife and a paring knife, but we use the utility knife all the time both to slice and to pare, and we pretty much never use our paring knife.  We actually have two utility knives, our beautiful Shun knife and a more moderately priced Kitchen Aid version.  Henckels and Victronix both get good ratings online.  Note that these are sometimes listed as small chef’s knives instead of utility knives.  Generally you want 6 inches.

If you have two knives, then you should get a chef’s knife if your hands are big or a santoku if your hands are small (I love my santoku, DH usually uses the chef’s knife instead).  Victronix again wins accolades for the chef’s knife.  Seriously, Cook’s Illustrated raves about their 8 inch chef’s knife which is now ~$40 rather than the $27 it was when their ratings came out.  For santokus, it may be worth paying the extra money to get Shun or Wusthof.  Note that you chop differently with these two types of knives (the Santoku doesn’t rock)– you may want to watch a video or two if you’re not used to the kind of knife you end up with.

If you get a third knife, it should be a bread knife if you like to eat a lot of bakery-style bread.  We decided on this one from Tojiro for my little sister after discovering her hacking through artisan bread with her chef’s knife at Christmas.  At $18 it is a bargain.

Then maybe a paring knife (we never use ours though).

And that’s really all you need unless you want one for carving turkey.

One item that we really appreciate having is an electric knife sharpener.  If your local farmers market has a knife sharpening station where they sharpen by hand using a stone, that’s probably going to be better for your knives, but there’s a lot to be said for getting a quick sharpen at home and just replacing the knife a few years earlier than you would had you gotten them professionally sharpened each time, since you will still get decades of use out of the knives.  There are a lot more options now than when we got ours, but Chef’s Choice is still the sharpener people recommend.  I bet you can get away with the $40 version, but there are also $180 versions which I hope will carve at angles for you (something you would need for hunting knives, but not so much kitchen knives).

Grumpy nation, what knives do you love?  Which ones do you regularly use?  How do you keep your knives sharp?

What food do you love that nobody else likes?

One of the problems with other people is that they have different food preferences than you do.

This can be a benefit if the food in question is something you can purchase in small quantities or that doesn’t go bad, because then you can buy it for yourself and have no competition from eating it.  But it’s problematic if it’s something that you can’t share and will thus go to waste if you get too much of it.  If the other people in the household are vocal about their distaste, then you might not get/make the item unless the loudest is not there for whatever reason.  (A reason our family orders Hawaiian pizza only when DH is away on business.)

I really like grapefruit juice, but I’m the only one in the house who does, so I can’t drink an entire carton before it goes bad.  I do, however, order it whenever I see fresh squeezed on the menu at a bunch place.

The rest of the family doesn’t mind beets, but I’m the only one who really loves them.

DH rarely gets to eat Brussels sprouts because the rest of the family ranges from meh to yuck.  DC1 used to love sardines but has outgrown them (the cats got almost an entire tin the day DC1 discovered zie no longer wants to eat them, but they have been missing out on smaller amounts since).

#2’s husband is a vegetarian, so… meat.  Especially bacon. He’s not that enthusiastic about pesto or soup, but he’ll eat it if it’s there.

What food do you love that nobody else likes?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 40 Comments »

What is your favorite kind of pie?

#1:  I like apple myself.  Though I’m also a fan of pecan in moderation. (And, of course, pot pies are great.)

#2:  1.  Pumpkin, 2. French silk, 3. pie full of hammers [#1 does not know what this is], 4. Pecan-bourbon pie with chocolate chips

How much do you rely on recipes?

We really like cookbooks.  I like to read them for ideas.  DH likes to actually use them (I use them too, but generally with more modifications).  We both love to try new different things, which means that now we’re back from Paradise with more limited food options if we want new and different without first driving for two hours, we’re going to have to make it ourselves.

DH put a few more cookbooks on his wishlist and I noticed one of the books people buy when they buy that cookbook wasn’t really a cookbook at all, but a book about how to cook without a cookbook.  (I would link to it here, but I can’t remember what it was called!)

Cooking without a cookbook is how I was taught.  Most of our groceries were based on whatever was on sale, which means my parents were very good at cooking based on what we had rather than going out to buy things based on what they planned to cook.

We’ve sort of reversed that now that A. we have enough money that it doesn’t matter if an ingredient is expensive when not on sale (though I still use walnuts in place of pinenuts in pesto– I still have limits) and B. DH has taken over the bulk of the cooking.

We haven’t been for a full grocery run for a couple of weeks.  We had a couple of dinner parties for which we over-bought and then got overwhelmed with the CSA and then ended up not making things on our menu plan because we got busy.  I hate wasting food, so instead of our usual weekly menu planning I basically told DH just to get a few necessities and we would eat down our freezer and the fridge.

One of the things we needed to deal with was a head of broccoli.  We’d put a broccoli chicken casserole (from The Old Fashioned Cookbook) on the menu list, but it had been there for a couple of weeks and DH just wasn’t into it.  So I suggested maybe we could use up the pie crusts leftover from our last party (we’d made mini-quiches) to make a chicken broccoli potpie instead.  He was much more enthusiastic about the idea than he’d been about casserole and suggested we make it that night.

I found him in the kitchen with two pots and a pan on the stove, the grater and a measuring cup out along with the milk, and a big hunk of cheese.  There was chicken sauteeing in the pan and chopped broccoli on a cutting board.  After some questioning he pointed to a broccoli cheese pie recipe he’d found on the internet.  The big pot was slowly boiling water to blanch the broccoli.  The little pot was for making cheese sauce.  The grater was for the cheese.  We discussed the cheese which had not been part of my mental picture and decided we’d try it.  At that point DC2 demanded Daddy’s presence in another room and I took over.

I put the pots and grater and measuring cup away.  I finished cooking the chicken.  I added the broccoli, stirred, and put a lid on.  Every few minutes I opened up the lid to stir again.  After the broccoli was just a little undercooked, I poured in a handful of flour and stirred it all around.  Then I decided that wasn’t enough flour because not every floret or chicken piece had been coated, so I added some more.  And stirred and toasted a bit.  Then I poured in some milk and stirred until it became a gravy.  Not all of the flour had dissolved yet, so I added some more milk and stirred some more.  Then I diced a few pieces of cheddar (first I tried slicing and breaking them into chunks, but the chunks were too big, so I diced the next few) and threw them in one slice at a time and stirred until they melted.  When the gravy looked cheesy enough I stopped adding cheese.  I turned off the stove, stirred a bit more, and stuck on a lid (note:  we have an electric stove– if we’d had gas, then I would have turned it down to a simmer).

Pot pie is one of my standard recipes that I make without a recipe.  It always starts with a meat or mushrooms (if there’s raw carrots or onions I throw them in before the meat, otherwise raw veggies go after… frozen or cooked veggies go in after the roux), then I put in flour (and maybe spices) with the meat and toast to make a roux.  I then add water or milk or soup stock depending on the kind of roux I’m making.  Then cooked/frozen veggies.  Then it’s ready to be thrown into a prepared pie crust and baked.  The only thing I need a recipe for is remembering how long to bake the thing.

I’ve got lots of other standard basic recipes.  Quiche, stirfry, spaghetti, chili, “soup” (I really hate “soup”, since that’s where my father always put all of the leftover odds and ends whether they went together or not– so these days we always make soups from a recipe), grilled cheese sandwiches with stuff, empanadas, tacos, baked chicken, fried porkchops, all sorts of fish things, fruit crumble, fruit pie, even granola (thanks miser mom!).

I don’t measure things, I just have a sense of about how much to add and I can tell when it’s not enough.  I don’t know how long things take (except the oven part), but I have a sense of when they’re about ready.

Lately we’ve been mostly using recipes.  I’ll still substitute based on what we have or what we need to use up.  But it’s still kind of fun to just make something based on what we have available.

Before the internet made it easy to find exotic recipes, I used to play around to replicate what I’d eaten at restaurants.  Or to fit some craving I was having.  We don’t really do that anymore.  Instead we’ll find the highest rated recipe on the food network and use that instead.  There’s less randomness.  On the whole, it’s probably better, in the same way that the Garmin and Yelp have improved our eating out experiences, but we have lost a bit of the serendipity that comes from getting lost and finding something off the beaten path.

Another thing I noticed was that I cook in order to minimize the number of dishes used and the time spent in the kitchen.  DH will sometimes do a mise en place.  Generally I’ll do my chopping in a way that minimizes the number of cutting boards used (keeping in mind that after a board has touched raw meat it must be washed before using again) and takes advantage of waiting time to chop the next ingredient.  This is partly because I get bored waiting in the kitchen, but mostly because growing up I was the one who was going to have to wash all those dishes by hand.  Most of my meals take one or at most two pots.

How do you do most of your cooking?  Do you use recipes for most things?  Do you use a recipe as a base idea and then modify it?  Do you have a repertoire of memorized baseline meals that can be modified?  Do you like trying out new recipes?  Do you buy based on what you want to make or do you make based on what you have on hand?  And… do you think your answers to the previous questions are related to when you learned to cook?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 59 Comments »

Money, Love, and Food

This is a repost from 2010 back when we had great blog posts but few readers to appreciate them!  Feel free to comment as if it’s new since there weren’t many comments to begin with.

Thought provoking post at GRS, for anyone with children or who grew up with parents.

To sum, a woman grew up with a father who told her they were wealthy but would not spend or let her spend on things.  Now she feels guilty whenever she does spend, despite having a healthy (100K) emergency fund in place.

The comments contain a lot of conflicting arguments about how we’re destroying our kids.  It seems like parents can’t win.

The things her father said to her sounded a lot like the things my father said to me.  I had many of the same experiences growing up.   Yet I did not take away the same lessons and overall I am very happy with my relationship with money.  Sure I felt guilty spending on luxuries when we had no money and we were trying to pay off DH’s college debt, but once we got into a comfortable place, I got comfortable with spending on things I could afford.  Take care of myself and my family first, then spend on luxuries without unhappiness.

Over the past couple of days my mind has been grappling with the question about what’s the difference between my situation and hers.  At first I thought it might be the autonomy I was allowed with my own small allowance (nobody made me save it– though I did learn to save on my own for larger items).  But I don’t think that was it.   It also isn’t talking about money as a family or not talking about it.  Or knowing the parent’s financial situation or not knowing the parent’s financial situation.  It definitely isn’t being denied an ice cream cone out or getting every wish granted.

The real problem is when we associate tools with love. The poster and most of the commenters are taking for granted that how money is spent is a sign of where love lies.  That isn’t the case.  Money is just a tool.  After basic needs are met, you can spend nothing or spend a ton aligned with your family values about what is important, but that is not love.  The child in the post perceived the soda or ice cream as lack of love.  As a child I perceived it as not wanting to spend money on an item that my father did not value.  A commenter talked about how he felt guilty when told that they couldn’t go on a vacation because they were saving for his college.  As a child I saw that as information that my family valued education over trips to Disney World (not that we didn’t travel– we went on countless road trips, but generally on the cheap and often to visit family) and that my future was important enough to delay gratification for (and corporations are really good at getting people to spend money).

There’s a reason I’ve never understood the women who want their husbands to buy them expensive jewelry to prove their love or to apologize for an argument, especially at the expense of quality time as a family or true financial security.

In my family, we were also encouraged to ask questions and test limits.  I think my father was proud when we made a counter-argument about how we were willing to pay the additional money to get a cold drink *now* or that the ice cream in the small pint is better quality than the ice cream in the large tub and we don’t need a large tub’s worth anyway.   It was most important to him that we understand why and how we were spending our money– not to be skin-flints but to truly understand frugality and value.   For my own parenting, I think we don’t have to worry about the money messages we’re sending if we talk them out, encourage communication and even disagreement, and let our children know if we’re worried they’re taking the wrong message. It’s like teaching undergrads, if you encourage students to ask questions in a safe environment, teacher mistakes can become valuable teaching moments rather than a disaster. They can lead to more rather than less learning.

How does this juxtapose with Donna Freedman’s wonderfully sweet column on material gifts from her mother?  It’s the gesture, not the item.  But the gesture need not be a thing at all, and it need not involve money at all.  It really is the thought that counts.  Maybe it’s ok to think of buying a soda as an act of love (though it’s an odd thing for most Americans where soda flows more freely than water), but it is never ok to think of the lack of buying it as a withdrawal of love.  There are many ways to show love, and a homemade toaster cozy or a timer that brought order to a mother’s life are examples of things where the thought is much more important than the money spent.

For me this connection is more obvious with food– emotional eating.  Culturally this is a big problem for us… chocolate chip cookies do cheer someone up when they’re down.  I love it when my husband bakes me a batch.  It reminds me of vacations with my late grandmother or brownies from my mom.  But it is important to separate the thoughtfulness of making the cookie from the cookie itself.    And maybe the few extra pounds is worth it for immediate comfort.  It’s when that emotional food connection becomes a problem, or that emotional money connection becomes a problem that we really need to remember that love is love and money is a tool and food is something to eat.

Do you intertwine love with money or with food?  Do you have healthy or unhealthy associations with money and/or food?