Better Butter Storage

Despite growing up on yellow tubs of margarine, I am a big fan of using real butter.  My only peeve is what to do with that partial stick of butter.  You can’t leave it uncovered because it picks up funky flavors.  For years, I’ve been putting it in a sandwich baggie.  I try to reuse the baggie as long as possible, but inevitably, it ends up in the garbage.

And then I had a forehead slapping “DUH!” moment.

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Yeah. A half-pint mason jar is all I needed.  Good bye plastic, hello glass jar!

In the Garden: July 18

I watched a seminar on straw bale gardening earlier in the year at a Home Show. The premise was fascinating and seemed pretty solid. With living in a rental, installing garden beds and killing large swaths of lawn is not an option. So, I bought the book and four straw bales and gave it a go.

The bales are positioned between rosebushes in the decorative border filled with bark that edges the yard.  One set of bales has tomatoes.  The left three plants are Mortgage Lifters from Liisa and the one on the far right is a cherry tomato variety called Juliet.

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The other set is half cucumbers (lemon and burpless bush varieties), half zucchini.

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I used yarn in place of wire between the fence poles and put old CDs on the top string to help fend off birds. The CDs are also doubling as plant markers.

I’m pretty pleased with the straw bale garden so far.  The cucumbers plants are huge and happy, the most success I’ve ever had with them! The tomatoes are a bit small, probably because I planted them a little late.  Now if I could just figure out what keeps eating the ends of my baby zucchinis, we’d be doing great. I’ve already lost three baby veggies to whatever is nomming on the ends.

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Besides the bales, I have one tiny garden bed that isn’t completely overrun with strawberry plants.  In this bed are two snap pea plants and one edamame plant.  The greenery not in cages are beets.  I also have a banana pepper and basil and mint plants in pots, but I forgot to get pictures of those.  I enjoy gardening, but I am thankful that I don’t have to try and feed my family on just what I can grow.

So what are you growing this year?

First Harvest

Thankfully, the garden survived the high temps while we were gone over the weekend.  In fact, I think it flourished with the 90º temps, thanks to the good soaking I gave it before we left.  The straw bales seem to be doing a good job keeping the tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis hydrated. I’ll try to get a picture in the future, but these were not from the straw bale part of the garden.

The foods from my first harvest were from the original garden bed that came with the house and some containers of herbs.

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Sugar snap peas, larger than expected.  Rex thought they were delicious and scarfed one down before they made it into the house.

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Enough basil to make pesto for dinner.  Rex loved pulling the leaves and was very sad when we were done picking.  I washed up the basil and then threw it into the food processor with some parmesan cheese, a few walnuts, lots of garlic, and some salt. I blended it up while drizzling grapeseed oil in until it looked about right and p(r)esto!

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I served the pesto up on some organic pasta from Costco (I don’t remember what this shape is called) with a side of asparagus.  Rex had three helpings of pasta in addition to his asparagus!  I’m hoping my basil plant will continue to flourish and there will be many more pesto dinners in our future.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the mint that was picked with the basil. It became something else entirely.

Da Bears

A sunny and not too rainy spring Saturday leant itself to visiting the Zoo this past weekend.  We packed a picnic lunch and made it a short trip, just checking out the Great Northwest animals.  Being spring in the PNW, most of the animals in these exhibits were especially active, as this is their native weather.

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These two bears were having some sort of quarrel.  Either that, or they were putting on a show for the visitors.

This bear was having a late morning nap in the cave.

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The bobcats wanted nothing to do with the people and were being quite standoffish.

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There were also otters (moving too fast to get a picture), eagles (we didn’t get close because they made Rex nervous), and assorted other animals.  This exhibit is all arranged in a forest setting that lets you “hike” around waterfalls, salmon runs, and assorted flora and fauna.  It is really well done and I highly recommend checking it out on your way to view the more exotic animals.

P.S. Other than parking ($2.40), this was a zero dollar outing for us. We used our zoo membership and brought our lunch.  It was a really nice frugal adventure.

Wildwood Trail

One of the benefits of living in this city is the amazing amount of parks and natural areas.  Today we went to Forest Park and hiked a tiny portion of the Wildwood Trail near Pittock Mansion. It was Rex’s first hike and he seemed to really enjoy it.

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I’d scored a $10 kids Poang on Craigslist, but the seller lived waaaay out in NW Portland.  So far in NW that we drove through Forest Park to get there.  Since it was about a 30 minute drive from our house, we decided to make an outing out of it.  We all wore our boots* and enjoyed a bit of mud and nature.

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Afterwards, we hit up Lucky Lab Brewing on NW Quimby for a bit of lunch and a beer for Sam. It POURED rain and hailed for a bit just after we arrived.  Then, all of a sudden it just stopped and the sun came out like it had never happened.  The weather here is weird.

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The Poang is in fantastic shape and looks almost new.  I washed the cover and could barely get it back on before Rex climbed in.  He’s quite pleased with his new chair and I’m quite pleased about my $20 savings.

*Rex is wearing Stonz booties.  They were a little pricey, but well worth it for my small-footed unsure walker. He’s been wearing them since crawling and we often pair them with rain pants from LL Bean.

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

It finally happened.  I’ve been thinking about trying homemade hot dog buns for yearsWhen we all decided that hot dogs were what was for dinner, I had the chance.  Hot dog buns are not something I keep on hand.  So, I hit up Pinterest, looked over a few recipes, picked one, modified it, and hoped for the best.  The results?  Delicious!

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They are fluffy and chewy with great texture.  The bit of whole wheat makes them more filling than your average $1/bag buns from the store. I made mine as directed, going with 3oz of dough per bun for 16 buns.  That proportion made fairly large buns which were a tad big for our turkey dogs. I think next time, I would make smaller buns and greater quantity.  This recipe also lends itself well to hamburger buns with the addition of an egg wash and sesame seeds.

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You can crunch the time of the second rise by warming up your oven a bit and then turning it off and putting the dough in.  I have a “keep warm” setting on my oven that heats it to 170º.  I turned that on while I was portioning the dough out and then turned it off and let the dough rise with the door closed.  They were perfect size in less than 30 minutes.  I also used the dough setting on my bread machine to do the work of the mixing and first rise.  If you don’t have a bread machine, just use a stand mixer and follow basic bread dough procedure through the first rise.

Homemade Hot Dog Buns

Adapted from this recipe at Baking Obsession.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups half & half, warmed slightly
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Directions

For Hot Dog Buns:

Add all ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer and set for dough cycle.  After the dough cycle is complete, portion your dough out into 20 equal portions (roughly 2.5oz each) and shape into logs.  (I shaped mine like rolls (folding all the edges under and pinching them together) before rolling into logs.)  

Place on a greased 9×13″ sheet pan and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled and dough is touching.  Bake at 375º for 20-25 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

For Hamburger Buns:

Follow same procedure as hot dog buns until shaping, portioning into 16 equal pieces (approx. 3oz each).  Shape into rounds and flatten slightly.  Place on a greased 9×13 sheet pan and allow to rise about 30 minutes in a warm place.  Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 1tbsp water or milk) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.  Bake at 375º for 25-30 minutes.  Buns should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Allow to cool before slicing.

Both types of buns are best eaten the same day and will last shorter than store-bought buns.  They freeze nicely, warming up in the microwave in 15-30 seconds.

Strawberry Vinaigrette

Spring, you’re such a tease!  You show us beautiful, sunny days so we start putting long-sleeved shirts into boxes and digging out flip flops.  Then, the sun stops. The rain shows up and douses us with enough to flood the streets and make everything decidedly soggy.  You drown the new plants that went out during those sunny days and crush all hope that summer will ever come.

I’m so over your craziness, Spring.

Despite the lack of sunshine, I’m still craving salads.  That bag of spinach in my fridge calls out to me, begging to be wrapped in a fruity vinaigrette and maybe sprinkled with a bit of cheese or some toasted nuts.  But I never have salad dressing in the fridge.  On the rare occasion that I buy salad dressing, it is always over priced and never used before it goes bad.  And it never tastes quite the way I want it to.

But then, I made this and everything changed.

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I sort of inhaled the first salad with this dressing without thinking to take a picture until it was too late.  Rex was begging to eat it by the spoonful.

A vinaigrette that’s not over done. It’s light and mild and sweet.  It is the promise of summer in a jar.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Strawberry Vinaigrette

Adapted from Keeper of the Home’s Raspberry Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup frozen strawberries, thawed for 30-45 seconds in the microwave
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or to taste)

Directions

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until smooth.  Store in the refrigerator.

Makes approximately 1 pint (2 cups).