Category Archives: Gardening

potato salad for one

Potato Salad

Looking for a satisfying weekday dinner for one? This simple, hearty potato salad is your answer for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow.  Of course, you could choose to share. 

Cooking is a whole different experience in the summer—at best it is simple, spontaneous, and takes advantage of whatever produce is abundant.

The other night I came home from work tired and with nothing in particular in mind for dinner.  It was wonderfully hot outside, and I wanted something salad-y.  Potato salad, my brain whispered, but there were no potatoes in the house.

I wandered outside to the rose beds, where I usually plant potatoes under the flowers.  I didn’t plant any this year, but the magical thing about growing your own potatoes is that you inevitably miss some at harvest time, and find a few volunteers the next year.  The landscapers have been kindly and meticulous about working around those volunteer potato plants.  The truth is, I love my potatoes far more than my old-fashioned thorny roses, which reach out to scratch me as I dig underneath them.  But they coexist peacefully enough with each other.

So I got my spade and started gently exploring the deep soil.  The evening sun slanted golden over my shoulder, and the cat followed me, as he always must—sniffing a bit at the holes I dug, then rolling luxuriously on the driveway as I piled a few different varieties of itty bitty potatoes next to him.

When I had a good double handful—enough that I couldn’t carry my potatoes and my shovel without dropping something every few steps—I brought my potatoes into the house for a wash.  Thin-skinned, freshly dug potatoes don’t need much more than a swipe and a rinse to get the dirt off.

Two handfuls of potatoes made enough potato salad for two servings.   When you’re cooking for one, that’s dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow.  Of course, you can scale up the recipe as need be.

I topped my dinner portion with half a can of good olive oil-packed tuna and put a few roasted tomatoes on the side to complete the meal.  The other half of the tuna went in the fridge for the next day.  The tuna can went on the floor at the insistence of the cat.

Potato Salad

  • 10-12 tiny potatoes
  • 1 egg, hard-boiled, peeled, and coarsely chopped
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp diced onion
  • 1 tsp minced parsley
  • 4 cornichons, diced (or other pickles, or a tablespoon of capers)
  • salt and pepper

Bring a stockpot of water to a boil.  If you don’t already have a hard-boiled egg handy, you can do this: when the water is barely simmering, carefully lower in the egg.  Set timer for 5 minutes.

If your potatoes are larger than bite-sized, cut them in half.  When the 5 minute timer goes off, add potatoes to gently boiling water and cover.  Set timer for 10 minutes.

Dice onion and cornichons, mince parsley.  Get a bowl of ice water ready for your egg.

Around  the 10-minute mark, fish out a potato and check for doneness.  When a fork will pierce the potato to the center, but still with slight resistance, they are done.

Drain potatoes and egg.  Place egg in ice bath.  Rinse potatoes lightly with cool water to stop cooking.  It’s okay if they are still warm.  Peel and coarsely chop egg.  Stir all ingredients together in a bowl, drizzling on enough olive oil to moisten.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

A Tomato Story

Some years I have a bumper crop of tomatoes, growing in a tangle of vines straight up their eight-foot trellis to touch the eaves on the south side of my house.  The summer heat radiates off the bricks and bathes the tomatoes hanging in heavy clusters of red, orange, and yellow.  The scent envelops me as I walk by, earthy and green and fecund.  I gather baskets of them, and make sauces and sandwiches and give the rest away to friends.

Other years, like this one, the thin vines seem to shiver all of the cold, damp summer.  I wait anxiously for a few ripe tomatoes in late August or early September.  But whether a bumper year or a disappointing one, there are always plenty of green tomatoes left on the vines when the chill of late fall hits.

I gather these late bloomers and bring them inside before the first frost.  They aren’t as juicy or fragrant as those that ripened on the vine, but they are still better than supermarket tomatoes.  I have to keep an eye on them, because there are always a few that, in spite of a nurturing environment, good companionship, and benevolent oversight, go bad and threaten to take the rest with them.  These must be firmly and swiftly dealt with.

Maybe you also have the summer’s last tomatoes, still slowly ripening on your kitchen counter.  And maybe, like mine, they refuse to ripen in orderly twos or threes, but rather in bunches that threaten to overwhelm your ingenuity.

This chutney is the perfect answer to the tomato problem.  It is a beautiful, deep garnet color that just cries out for you to taste a spoonful.  And when you do, it is sweet and spicy and sour and salty all at once.  It has a definite fiery kick from the cayenne, which brings back a bit of summer in every bite.  I’ve been spreading it on sandwiches and topping slices of cheese with a dollop.  It would not go amiss alongside roasted chicken either.

Tomato Chutney

(adapted from My Bombay Kitchen,via The Traveler’s Lunchbox)

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped   
  • 1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
  • 1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups malt or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups turbinado/raw sugar, or half light brown and half white
  • 1 to 3 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt

First, open a few windows. Place all the ingredients (start with the smaller amounts given) in a heavy nonreactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring so everything gets well combined. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the chutney reaches the consistency of a soft jam. This will probably take at least 2 hours; you can speed things up by increasing the heat, but then you’ll need to remember to stir much more frequently. Particularly once it starts getting thick it can burn in a flash.

Adjust the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar while the chutney is still warm. Add more cayenne if you’d like it hotter.

To can for shelf-storage, sterilize four or five 8-oz jars.  Bring the chutney back to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then proceed with your favorite canning method. Otherwise, it will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts; recipe can easily be doubled

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Starting Seeds

I don’t make my living as a farmer.  The pace of my work days is not determined by the seasons.  But life does get busier in the spring, as I try to fit a bit of gardening into my already full schedule.  Planting time won’t wait, even if I happen to be in the mood to lounge around with a book or go out to lunch.  As the weather starts to warm up, and the trees blossom, I start seeds–some indoors, then others directly in the ground.

Scooter loves to help with starting seeds.  I’m not sure what the allure is, but he is fascinated with seed packets.  He hears the rattle of the seeds in their paper packets and comes running, to roll on them and bat the packets around the floor in a cat frenzy.  In spite of his help, I manage to get the early crops started in seed flats, where they will bask by the windows until the ground warms up a little.

Chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, cilantro–the greens are the first and last crops of the growing season.  The warmer weather crops such as green beans, zucchini, and tomatoes flourish only for a brief time in mid-summer.  The potatoes and carrots are patient slow-growers.  I have to remind myself in the spring that it will be worth it–the cold dirt under my fingernails and on my knees now will be worth it when I can pluck fresh carrots from the ground in the evening on my way in the back door after work.

As a gardener, faith and persistence are needed to continue to nurture the tiny shoots that grow so slowly in the cold spring until they finally bear fruit–if they bear fruit.  It’s a gamble every year.  I bet my time and money and effort against the vicissitudes of the weather.   When it pays off, it pays off big.

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Ten Ways to Save Money on Food

Whether it’s the general state of the economy, post-holiday spender’s remorse, or you are saving for a big vacation, there are excellent reasons to trim your grocery bill this year.  Here are some suggestions to help you do just that.  It is possible to eat wholesome, whole foods without fiscal ruin.

1. Prioritize.  What matters most to you?  Figure that out first, then spend your money where it counts.  Organic produce?  Free range meat?  Wine?  Chocolate?   We all have different needs and desires.  For example, I buy very little meat, but I am willing to pay as much as necessary to get humanely raised products.  On the other hand, I eat a lot of vegetables and other than certain specialty and seasonal items, I don’t always buy organic and I pay relatively little for produce.  Good cheese is a necessity for me, so it goes to the top of the list.

2. Don’t go to the grocery store.  Every time I stop at the grocery store to pick up “just one thing” on the way home, I seem to spend $30.  Somehow that one item turns into several.   Be flexible.  Can you do without that one item for now?  How about a substitution or a different meal all together?  Don’t have chestnuts?  Maybe pecans would do.

3. Pay attention to the seasons.  Not only does food taste better when it’s in season, it is often much less expensive.  Walk around a farmer’s market and see what’s happening right now.  When the local harvest is plentiful, the prices go down.  Buying tomatoes in mid-winter will cost you dearly, as they have been shipped from far away.  And just as an aside, they will taste terrible.  Go with the flow and fill your basket with root vegetables instead–enjoy asparagus in the spring, and berries in the summertime.

4. Check out the ethnic stores.  If you live in an area with ethnic groceries, you can save a considerable amount of money.  The price for saffron threads at the Indian store up the street makes me want to do a victory dance.  I buy most of my produce at a small, neighborhood Asian store.  The produce is not always perfect, but most of it is pretty good, and the prices can’t be beat.  I can buy a large grocery tote full of fruits and vegetables for around $12.00.  If you use tofu, soy sauce, Sriracha, rice noodles, or any other Asian staples regularly, you will be able to get them for a fraction of the price you would pay at the regular store.  Plus, in the bigger stores the variety is amazing, and it’s just a lot of fun to explore.

5. Buy spices in bulk.  Not only will you get your spices for a fraction of what you would pay for a jar of the same product, you can buy just what you will use within a short time, thus avoiding a cupboard full of stale spices.  I often buy what seems like a large quantity of herbs, spices, or seasonings at the co-op, only to find that the bag weighs so little that the cashier rings it up at the ten cent “minimum” charge.

6. Don’t waste food.  Estimates vary, but by many accounts Americans waste somewhere around 30-40% of the food they buy.  Therefore, just by eliminating food waste, it may be possible to trim your grocery budget by a third.  Buy and cook only what you think you will eat within a reasonable time.  Remember your leftovers and eat them for lunch, freeze them, or repurpose them as part of a new recipe.  Consider the waste potential before trying a new recipe.  Will it require only half a can of beans?  If so, what can you do with the other half?  Or could the recipe be doubled?

7. Make soup.  This is really another way of saying don’t waste food.  A pot of soup is the ideal way to use up small bits and pieces of meat or fish, leftover rice or beans, whatever vegetables are on hand, and even the broccoli stems.

8. Spread some love. If you can’t finish it yourself, could you share it?   Granted, this won’t save you money directly, but  may help someone else save a few pennies.    Keep an eye on the pantry and donate staple items before they expire.  When the garden is burgeoning or your CSA box is out of control, bring your extras to work.  Or invite a friend to dinner.

9. Grow your own.  You have to be careful with this one, as the equipment and supplies associated with gardening can easily cancel out any savings.  But the quality of your own fresh-picked produce can hardly be overstated, and gardening can be a way to save money.  I get the most bang for my gardening buck from greens, as I eat so much kale and chard.

10.  Forage.  What grows wild and free in your area?  Watercress?  Truffles?  Clams?  My sister and I picked gallons of blackberries last fall, which then became jam–enough for both of us and a whole lot to give away, too.  I’m contemplating trying my hand at dandelion wine this year, so if you live in the Seattle area and are expecting a fine, chemical-free crop of dandelions in your yard this spring, let’s talk.

What are some of your tried and true ways of saving money on groceries?

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Happy Anniversary to Me!

It’s been one year since I started The Rowdy Chowgirl, which makes it just a year and a couple of days since the big light bulb popped on over my head.  I remember it well.  I was at work, doing some last minute clean-up before leaving for the day.  I’d been mulling over the oft-touted advice to “find your passion and everything will fall into place”.

I’m passionate about my writing,  I thought.  And what else?  What do I think about, talk about, seek out?

Food.

And like the classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial, the two came together.

Hey!  I should write about food! My hand stopped moving toward the files.  I immediately knew I was on to something.  That big light bulb was humming away up there, burning brightly just above my forehead.

Anniversaries put me in the mood for reflection and stocktaking.  It’s been a wonderful year—one of trial and error, learning, creativity, and getting to know so many wonderful readers and fellow bloggers.  I’ve written about some of the things that matter most to me:

Feeding the hungry

What I Want to Know

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Ethical food production

First Do No Harm

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Gardening

Don’t Crowd Me Baby

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Family

Thanksgiving

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Friends

The Ladies of the Club

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Travel

And That Sweet City

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Restaurants

The End of the Hamburger Trail

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And just plain good recipes:

Mushroom Chestnut Soup with Creme Fraiche

From The Foundation Up

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Rosewater Pistachio Biscotti

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater

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Lamb Ragu

Your Last Bad Boyfriend

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Thank you all, dear readers, for joining me along the way.  Happy Anniversary!

Love,

Rowdy

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