Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who dosen't like Chinese food?

Or any "Asian" food in general?  Even if most of what we get here in the USA is made to appeal more to American tastes...  its still my favorite genre of foods.
However,  i don't get to have it often.  My hubby prefers Italian and Tex-Mex style foods much more... and that is much more than i do. 
I have noticed over time that i am getting really tired of tomato/pasta/cheese meals. I have been searching for new recipes in the last few weeks, but so many of these 'quick and easy meals' start right out with tomatoes.  Now, don't get me wrong...  i adore a fresh tomato and a good sauce is hard to beat, but tomato based meals 5 nights a week is getting hard to swallow.  Another point of discontent is the vegetables.  Most of my non-tomato meals are slow-roasted, soups, stews, or boiled dinners.  This means soft vegetables.  I'm hurting for some fresh crunch, bright flavors and unique taste.
So i decided to turn to the alternative.
The only sticking point is that much of the special flavors in Asian foods comes from unique ingredients.  Not having much of an Asian population here can make this difficult.  I can find things like panko bread crumbs, soy sauce, pre-made teriyaki sauce and dried shiitake mushrooms,  but not much else.
Last year i found an online company called Asian Food Grocer.  I was looking for unique candies for my oldest daughter.  She loves Kit-Kats and AFG sells sweet potato flavored Kit-Kats among other unusual flavors of them. So i made a small order and was pleased with the service.
My oldest has lately been intrigued by Japanese foods and culture, feuled by anime and those Kit-Kats, so this Christmas i ordered her some Japanese soda pop, more unique candies and their biggest package of nori (both of my kids eat nori by the sheet). It was an absolute hit. Considering that both orders went so well, i decided to go all out and really fill my pantry with more authentic ingredients.
I researched recipes and noted all the non-American seasoning- oils, pastes, sauces/condiments.  It was a lot of fun to learn about them and how they are used.
I found a few helpful recipe sites:

Soon, armed with special ingredients i should be able to change up our daily meals with new flavors from subtle Japanese to more indulgent Chinese.
 I wonder if we might even lose some weight?

Now on to gardening....

Asian vegetables.

Some are not too uncommon around here (though slightly different they are usable).  Green onions, various cabbages, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, kale, snow peas, gourds, radishes, turnips, squashes, pumpkins and more.
All of this i can grow at least part of the year.
This means i may be changing my garden plans...again.  What a surprise!
I shouldn't have to change much,  just reconsider some varieties.  Maybe instead of globe onions, bunching onions might be good- and easier.  Instead of regular cabbage, maybe napa cabbages. Not sure how easy it is to grow daikon... but maybe worth a try- or research at least. .
I'm looking into trying winter melon too...  but it looks like they are huge plants.  Remember my birdhouse gourd experience?
  Maybe i can try something in my parents' garden. 
I read that winter melons taste similar to summer squash and zucchini, so it may not be worth bothering with.
But the bunching onions sound easy enough.
Green beans are used a lot and i have good luck with those.
Broccoli is fairly common and i planned that anyway.
There are some interesting sweet peppers i'd like to try... i think i'll pass on the hot ones.
I'm not sure about eggplant.  I had terrible luck the last two summers with Slim Jim and didn't have much better luck with Raveena which is a 70 day-  both Asian long types.  If i can find a cooler-cropping, earlier type and start them early i might try it.  Big round eggplant isn't cheap up here so a good crop would be worth the effort.

 Anyway, that's what i'm thinking.  I'll have some time to experiment with grocery store veggies over the winter and see how it goes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What a bizarre winter- weather, marine tank, and orders for Spring.

Here it is January 1, 2012 and its 42 degrees out at noon.   We got a little snow for Christmas and snow showers all day, so it was pretty.  A few days later we got a lot of rain which washed the snow away.  Friday night into Saturday brought us some freezing rain and sleet making the roads a bit slippery.

One of my hubby's fraternity brothers was planning on coming over to pick up the salt water aquarium stuff i'm giving him.  After my heater malfunctioned last fall and i had to evacuate the tank i just haven't had the desire to rebuild.  So, i'm giving it all away. Tanks, stands, overflow box, return pump, refractometor, skimmers, metal halide light, about 50# of base rock....  Anyway, it will likely be next week before he can pick it up.  Maybe i'll get back into it some day,  but i sort of doubt it.   Though i loved having one, it takes a lot of time and commitment, and unless you are lucky enough to be given lots of good equipment, it can be a real money pit.
I just want to complete this chapter of my hobby life and move on.

Zoanthids, my favorite variety of coral

I don't remember if i recorded it yet,  but late summer i made an order with Raintree Nursery. My order consisted of :

Phoenix Tears Goji berry- 2
Male Seabucktthorn- 1
Female Titan Seabuckthorn- 1
Goldbeere Elderberry- 1
Caerulea Blue Elderberry- 1
Native Beach Plum- 4

My order is slated to be shipped the week of 4-29-2012

I have seeds for most of these plants, but the majority of them need to be stratified for as much as 6 months.  I have tried some of them without success and really kind of wasted those 6 months  of time.  Then it would be as long as 3 years before harvest begins.  Also, most of these seeds don't come with a cultivar name- likely are the wild sort with unpredictable production and quality.  So i decided to bite the bullet and order these named  plants from a seller with a decent reputation.
Not sure what i will do with my seeds... maybe trade them or just give them away.

 I'm building up quite an elderberry collection.  When my order arrives i will have 5 types. Elderberries can be used to make Elderberry Syrup, which is a well loved cold remedy known for a very long time in Europe.
I could also make jelly and wine if the harvests begin to get large.

Gojiberry (also called Wolfberry) As well as being darn tasty, this is another fruit with health benefits. It has quite a history in Chinese medicine.

Seabuckthorn has a long list of beneficial properties.  From immune system support, anti-inflammitory effects to anti cancer possibilities.  There are a lot of sites out there that will proclaim this superberry as a cure-all. Using multi colored 10 point font all caps and will charge you indecent sums for their product...  while not exactly a magic bullet, it does have valuable benefits.
They are said to be a bit of a challenge to harvest since they have large thorns.  Commercially, whole branches are removed to be stripped by machine.  According to what i have read, the berries will hold well on the plant so picking a modest amount at a time over days will be possible.  The berries can be frozen to hold until enough are gathered.  The juice is a vibrant orange and separates into three layers, cream, oil and juice.  The leaves also make a nice tea.  Apparently Junebugs like them so i'll have to be vigilant.

The native beach plums were purchased to replace the ones i got from Oikos.  Those plants did well in pots for almost 3 years, but got dried out late last summer and didn't make it through the winter.   As i am planning to plant these in the side of the front yard box, i need a fruiting plant that can handle road salt. Hopefully they will be a good size when they arrive and put on some good growth before next winter so they can withstand piled snow from the plow.  This winter would have been perfect because there is no snow and no snowbanks to worry about.  The price was decent so i bought 4 in case i have winter casualties due to snowbanks.  The  2 spares will be planted out back for safekeeping.  The native beach plum has no touted health benefits, but has a reputation for making a fine jelly and should be edible right off the tree.

If i have success with these plants, i plan to share cuttings with anyone who asks- as long as i have enough to work with.  Assuming anyone is interested, lol

So, basically i've been spending some time perusing my newly arrived seed catalogs.  I don't plan to do much experimenting this summer.  I'm sticking to the standard veggies.  Tomatoes, beans, squashes etc.  I did get some seeds from Sheryl at Providence Acres.  I bought:
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries
San Marzano Paste Tomatoes  - i do already have seeds for some from Pinetree, but i thought i'd like to try and compare two varieties and, of course the photos of her tomatoes make them look absolutely delicious.
I also got a bonus packet of Morning Glory seeds,  thanks Cheryl!

I doubt i'll bother starting peppers from seed this year. I have yet to get a usable fruit.  They simply don't seem to have enough time to grow.  I think i will buy seedlings from Garden Spot this year.  If it does not work this year, i'll give up on it.  Peppers are not very cheap around here, so it is worth another shot.

Well, that's all for now.  My toddler is having a tantrum. :)

Happy New Year all!