Know what this is?

Yes, that’s right, its a prickly pear cactus bloom.
And what that means is that all of these buds,

could become fruit that look like this.

(image found here)

And then could become all manner of deliciousness like pricklybeena or jam.

Just wanted to share a few photos from my quick trip to Oregon this past weekend. It was lovely! They have moss and primeval looking ferns like you wouldn’t believe (which I actually did not get any worthwhile photos of).

They also have restaurants/fish marts where you can actually find out how, where and by which boat your fish was caught. Talk about locavore friendly! This is at Local Ocean, in Newport (click to embiggen to read the little fish signs!).

There were really cool things at the aquarium we visited.


And on the way out, some lovely mountains.

It was a picturesque and a second (more leisurely) trip is definitely in order.

Although I have spent most of my life living in Pennsylvania and Maryland, neither of my parents grew up in the area. My mother is from the Carolinas (yes, both), and my father is from California. So even though I grew up near Philadelphia, I didn’t have a really good cheesesteak until I was in college – because Pat’s and Geno’s just weren’t part of our vernacular.

However, in place of much of the local Philly cuisine (don’t laugh, we have 3 Iron Chefs now!), we had southern inspired and west coast inspired foods that most of my friends would have scorned, because it wasn’t typical Mid-Atlantic cooking.

From my mother I learned about savory corn bread and pepper vinegar pulled pork; from my father I learned about eating squid and smoked oysters and artichokes. Usually we eat artichokes steamed, pulling off the petals and dipping them in hollandaise or mayo – however, when they aren’t in season, and you really need an artichoke fix, this dip is the way to go.

This is a heavily modified version of a recipe I was taught at a party once – and I continue to bring it to potlucks and parties on a regular basis (including to the Hip Girl’s Potluck 2 months ago, where I was told to post this recipe ASAP! So much for being timely). Enjoy!


Cheesy Artichoke Dip

This is the before shot, there is no after shot because it was completely consumed!

  • Ingredients:
    • 1/2 c olive oil based mayo
    • 1 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 c shredded fresh mozzarella
    • 1/2 c shredded Dutch Chevre (this is a semi-soft cheese, not the soft French kind)
    • 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 c rehydrated or fresh chickpeas
    • crackers, chips, or veggies to dip

  • Methods:
    • 1. Put chickpeas into a food processor and pulse until very finely chopped. Preheat the oven to 350.
    • 2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, mixing well. Transfer into an oven safe casserole dish with a lid, and smooth the mixture out so it is even.
    • 3. Wipe down the insides of the dish if you made a mess, the residue will burn during cooking.
    • 4. Place the dish on the middle rack and cook for 20-30 minutes, until the dip is melted and beginning to brown around the edges.
    • 5. Serve and enjoy!

  • Notes
    • You can use the spicy artichoke hearts, including the pepper, if you want a hotter dip.
    • I have successfully substituted smoked mozzarella and feta for the mozzarella and chevre – it was just as good. The main thing to remember when substituting cheese is that you want as much dry/hard cheese as softer cheese. Too much soft cheese makes the dip greasy.
    • Even if you hate chickpeas, do not skip them! The chickpea pulp soaks up any excess grease from the cheese, and gives the dip a better consistency. At that point the chickpeas are so cheesy, you actually won’t notice they are there.
    • Technically you can eat this while knitting – I brought it to a knitting group dinner, and we managed to eat it all without dropping a single stitch. Just be sure to keep napkins handy!

We had our first CSA pick-up today. Last summer we were too busy moving to invest in a share, but this year, since we’ve moved to farm country, I was determined to find a good CSA. We found it at Blooming Glen Farm. Just picking up my share was a hoot – everyone was so friendly. I will have to bring my camera next time so I can properly show you the glories of picking up your produce straight from the farm.

This week’s share included escarole, lettuce, kohlrabi, turnips, swiss chard, kale, spring onions, bok choi, strawberries, and some herbs and edible Johnny Jump Ups.

So dinner tonight was a mixed escarole and lettuce salad, with strawberries, pine nuts and feta cheese. I made a quick balsamic and olive oil dressing, and it was lovely.
See?

Those strawberries have made my husband rethink his dislike of strawberries. They are that much more awesome than your typical grocery store berries. To the point where he asked me if I expected to have any strawberries left to make jams and things, as he stood eating a sizable portion of them. We both have been guiltily munching on them all evening, when we think the other won’t notice. We’ll see if we end up with any jam or sauce or strawberry mead this year. I’m guessing no.

Life proceeds apace, and I realize I have been MIA for a couple of weeks, after doing so well for almost a full month!
So to tide you over, because I am working on many things (including the recipe for artichoke dip that I was asked for by everyone at the Hip Girls Guide to Homemaking potluck), here is a teaser of the peacock inspired shawl I am designing/knitting for a zoo fundraiser.

I have been baking since I was very very young. My mother was fantastic at getting all of us into the kitchen to help with holiday baking or bread baking or other cooking in whatever capacity we could handle (she’s basically a superhero – remind me to tell you about the 12 hour epic road-trips with 3 kids). I even have photographic proof of my baking and mess-making prowess:

Even as a youngin’ I knew that yeast was an integral part of the bread baking process – my mother is also a biologist – and I even knew that yeast needed to be alive to work. Which is sort of strange to think about, now, as an adult. That I knew that, and some children don’t even know you can bake your own bread!

My understanding, however, has never been extremely sophisticated – bunch of ingredients + yeast + oven = delicious bread. In a lot of ways, baking and cooking are still ‘magic’ to me.

When I recently realized that bunch of other ingredients + yeast + bucket = something completely unlike bread – I was pretty much hooked. Yeast being the magical fungus that it is – it also helps make alcoholic beverages!

So now, in our basement, we have one of these:

and some of these:

The bottled is Chardonnay, our first attempt at home wine-making, and is about a month away from drinkability. The fermenter/bucket is the beginnings of mead. If you are unfamiliar with mead (like most people), it is essentially wine made from honey. It is impossible to find in a store (at least in Pennsylvania), and if you get a taste for it, you may need to begin making your own. The kicker is that it takes about a year of aging to be truly drinkable, but once it is, you will have trouble not drinking it all. We got a taste for mead while camping with someone who made his own – he had brought a few bottles, and we all got happily tipsy.

We have about 2 cases of the wine, and should end up with about 2 cases of the mead as well. And really, all we did was dump yeast in a bucket of grape juice or honeyed water…
I told you – yeast is basically magic.

I, like many knitters, have been dabbling in a little design work here and there for awhile. Just small things, like panels for baby socks, tiny people and animals, and the occasional somewhat short-waisted baby sweater.

So when I was asked to design and knit a half-length shawl for a fund-raiser my zoo is throwing in June, I was both excited and horrified. I have never attempted to design anything as exciting as a lace shawl, and I’m not the fastest knitter in the world. And there is one more thing you should know about my typical knitting designs – but if you are a knitter, you might want to sit down first.

I don’t like to do knitting maths.

That’s right, my typical design method is to just start knitting and eye-ball things. Little or no swatching. Definitely no calculator. Occasional rip-backs because I fouled it up too badly to fix on the fly. This is making the shawl project (using tiny yarn, tiny needles, beading and lace) more difficult than it should be. But, as per usual, I will just continue to knit until I either have a disaster or a shawl. I will be taking it to the Caribbean next week (because lace-weight alpaca LOVES the beach), and hope to have some lovely pictures of it for you soon.

For those of you who might be interested in doing something similar – I recommend getting in touch with your favorite local non-profit organization. I have noticed that many organizations and schools hold silent auctions, and are often very excited to be able to offer one of a kind items by local artists.

In case you live in the Philadelphia area and are interested in obtaining this monstrosity work of art, it will be auctioned off at Elmwood Park Zoo’s Beast of a Feast on June 4th. Proceeds go towards funding the zoo so it can continue to educate and promote conservation efforts, as well as towards a conservation project in South America.

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