Stuff and Nonsense: June 2017


Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

It's nearly time to pick up this week's CSA share and there's a limit to how much more stuff I can get in the fridge so ... time to cook with bok choy! I hadn't cooked with full-grown bok choy (aka pak choi) before, but I figured it couldn't be that different from cooking baby bok choy -- probably just more chopping.

I decided to keep the dish simple because it was my first time (so why complicate things) and (more importantly) I was making it in the ROAWR! HUNGRY time between gym and work, when the longer I delay eating, the more likely I am to abruptly consume a whole bunch of (ultimately unfulfilling) random and then be very, very cranky with myself.

So. Bok choy stir-fry. With matchstick carrots, because why not? And lots of alliums, because alliums make everything (savory) better.

Easy Carrot & Bok Choy Stir-Fry

Yield: 2 generous servings


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz chopped sweet onion
  • ½ oz chopped garlic
  • 2 garlic scapes, chopped
  • 4 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 large head bok choy, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp coconut aminos
  • Salt and red pepper flakes, as desired


  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring often, until pan is very fragrant.
  • Add bok choy, carrots, and soy sauce. Cook, stirring often, until greens are wilted and stalks are crisp-tender.
  • Season to taste.

Because I knew a big bowl of stir-fried vegetables was not enough to satisfy the ROAWR! HUNGRIES, I topped my bowl with grilled shrimp skewers. I'd never grilled shrimp before (today was a day of new things!) but the Internets told me to grill them 4 minutes per side or until pink so that's what I did and they were quite delish. A wee bit too peppery as I was heavy-handed with the seasoning blend I used, but definitely something I'd make again.

Now I just need to sort out the kohlrabi. It's just so weird looking, though. Like a mutant Pikmin.


#WordlessWednesday: At Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden

Roses in bloom at the Walnut Hill Park Rose Garden in New Britain. The Garden was first built in 1929 along Grand Street, but was relocated to the World War I Memorial when garden restoration began in 2009. Walnut Hill Park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.


The Summer Before The War by Helen Simonson

Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (link to review) remains one of my favorite novels of all time, so it's a little surprising that it's take me this long to get around to her recent The Summer Before the War. To be fair, my thinking went: I was a little worried that TSBTW couldn't compare to MPLS and I would be disappointed and so if I never read TSBTW then I couldn't be disappointed, right?

Silly, silly woman. The Summer Before the War was an excellent read. One of those delightful books I want to press into the hands of everyone I know and inflict upon book clubs. I even (rather desperately) want someone to make a film adaptation à la Merchant Ivory Productions.

It's sweet and witty and sad and just so fucking CHARMING. If you've ever wanted an Anne Shirley, Downtown Abbey, World War I mashup ... this is the book for you. Am I wrong to have imagined Beatrice Nash as a Friend of Anne? A well-educated, young teacher who believes in woman's equal place and making the world better through good(ish) works? Fiercely independent, eminently competent, and yet a little lonely and desperate for bosom companions?

Okay, so I WAS completely smitten with Beatrice. But it's the kind of novel full of interesting characters who are very difficult not to fall at least a little in love with. The only characters I can say I did not like were Mrs Fothergill, (an odious woman), the landlady (ditto) and the Professor (because SPOILERS, but trust me).

Lest you think this book is all sweet and gentle fluff, I will point out that quite a lot of it is about women's rights and class structure. Beatrice can't look after her inheritance, because she is an unmarried lady. She almost loses her job, because she is too attractive. She can't publish her fathers letters, because she is a woman and, therefore, has no authorial authority. Who she dines with, what books she reads, which students she gives extra help to, how much she spends on ladies' incidentals ... Beatrice is judged for all these things and one imprudent choice could cost her her living and place in society.

And then the war happens and so much changes. And so much doesn't. Because People.

I listened to The Summer Before the War on CD, read by Fiona Hardingham. Hardingham did an excellent job distinguishing between the different characters and classes, giving them each their own unique voice so that I was never confused about who was speaking. She also brought appropriate wit and emotion to every scene, giving the the story great immediacy. She made me laugh. She made me cry. She made me sit in my garage for an extra three minutes, because I couldn't bear to not hear just a little bit more.

Definitely recommended.

The Summer Before the War written by Helen Simonson & read by Fiona Hardingham (Random House Audio, 2016)


Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

I signed up for my very first CSA and have been excitedly counting down to June 23, when I could pick up my first share. The farm I use provides quarter, half, and full share subscriptions. Because The Husband doesn't enjoy eating many vegetables, I went with a quarter-share which is intended to feed one person for a week. Well ...

I'm sure it does. Problem is, I also acquired a friend's full share from different farm, because she just couldn't get to it this week. It's a one-time thing and, while I'm truly thankful for all the extra produce, I'm also thankful I hadn't signed up for a half or full share because I'm a little overwhelmed as it is!

What was in my combined CSA?

  • 1 pint + 1 quart of strawberries
  • 1 large bunch of pak choi (bok choy)
  • 2 large bunches of kale
  • 1 kohlrabi
  • 1 large head of romaine
  • 1 large bunch baby spinach
  • 3 garlic scapes
  • 1 large bunch red radishes
  • 1 large bunch white radishes
  • 1 thyme plant
  • 2 ears of popcorn
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs

It's ... a lot for us. Especially when I take into account all the produce already on hand! So I made a crustless quiche. They're simple enough to do and can easily adapt to incorporate pretty much any vegetables or cheese you like. Obviously, I used what I had on hand which included a partial bag of matchstick-cut carrots and a wrinkly bell pepper.

This is a very dense, very veggie quiche with the eggs there mostly as binder. If you prefer a more fluffy, eggy quiche then add more eggs. I like it just as it is -- a warm, cheesy slab of garden on a plate -- and it's a great way to get in some of your 5 (or 10!) a Day.

Summer's Bounty Crustless Quiche

Yield: 8


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz red onion, chopped
  • ½ oz garlic cloves, chopped
  • 10 oz chopped kale
  • 3 oz matchstick-cut carrots
  • 6 oz bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 4 oz semisoft cheese (havarti, etc), cut into pea-sized cubes
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 oz shredded Parmesan


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil 13X9 baking dish.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large French/Dutch oven at medium heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until garlic is fragrant. Add kale, carrots, peppers, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and greatly reduced in volume. Spread across bottom of oiled baking dish.
  3. Whisk eggs and milk together in a bowl. Add cheese and egg mixture to baking dish. Gently mix everything together and top with sliced tomato. Scatter parmesan across top.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven until quiche is set in the middle and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool in dish for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with fruit or dressed baby greens.


#WordlessWednesday: Hydrangea macrophylla

Spotted this hydrangea at a local garden center
& really wish there was a place for it in my garden!


The Girl Before by Rena Olsen

Clara is living a seemingly normal life with her husband and daughters on a beautiful rural estate when her home is invaded by masked gunmen and she discovers her life is built upon lies. Her husband and his family are human traffickers and Clara is one of their victims.

But Clara doesn't feel like a victim. Mama, Papa G, and Glen are the only family she's ever known -- or loved. If they are not Clara's family, if they do not love her, if they have lied to her with every breath for as far back as she can remember ... then who is she? And the beautiful daughters she has lovingly raised and prepared for their bright futures with Papa G's customers ... does that make Clara a monster, too?

While The Girl Before was not an easy read, it was certainly a compelling one. I enjoyed Olsen's choice to alternate between the past and present in a thoroughly non-chronological, but thematic way. This meant, of course, I had to pay attention to what I was reading and at a few points, had to flip back to an earlier section of the book, finally realizing how the bits knit together. This did not put me off in the least, as I was glued to the pages and finally finished this book in the wee small hours of a workday morning.

Admittedly, Clara's ... obtuseness ... was sometimes frustrating. Readers only know what Clara knows and what Clara knows is that she had a perfectly okay life before federal agents took her husband and daughters away. She's mourning, she's scared, and she's uncertain who to trust, so she clings to what she "knows." And thus, sometimes, I found myself shouting unsympathetic things like "your daughters are sex slaves, you stupid woman!" while Clara struggled to come to terms with both what had been done to her and what she had done to others.

Overall, an uncomfortable read, but a good one. I look forward to reading more by Rena Olsen.

The Girl Before by Rena Olsen (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016)


#WordlessWednesday: Iris & Peony

White iris in bloom against deep pink peonies.


June Flowers

The world's best co-workers gave me a gift card to White Flower Farm when I left that library in late March and it has been burning a hole in my pocket ever since. I spent a little on two Nepeta “Little Titch” (I have a weakness for catmint) last month, but held back on any other purchases until I felt sure I knew what I wanted to do and wasn’t just going to go on a buying spree and then try to jam the plants into my beds, all higgledy-piggledy.

On my last Friday off, I ended back up at White Flower looking for more “Little Titch” to flank the lady’s mantle growing in the front bed -- the combination of pale lavender spikes against the fuzzy cupped leaves and chartreuse clusters seemed a good one -- but it was not to be. Undeterred, I settled for two “Limelight,” instead, which have a similar footprint to “Little Titch” but with brilliant lime-green foliage. I’ve planted the catmint in a checkerboard around the lady’s mantle and, in hindsight, it might be too much yellowy-green together ...

The pansy basket hanging off the side porch has been looking a bit sad of late so I moved it to the table on the back porch and replaced it with a fluffy strawberry shortcake of a hanging basket full of ruby and raspberry verbena, cherry blossom pink calibrachoa, and white lobelia. Smitten with that color combination, I added a planter of white bacopa, light pink calibrachoa, and burgundy verbena. They look lovely together and I may try a similar combination in the mailbox planter ...


Improv Cooking Challenge: Jalapeños & Cheese

After much indecisiveness, I decided to experiment with jalapeño and cheese corn muffins for June's Improv Cooking Challenge. Unfortunately, the first batch was nearly indelible -- astonishingly hot, much too dry, and a little tough. However, I tried again -- adding more liquid, reducing the amount of dried jalapeños, and stirring less -- and eventually arrived at a moderately zippy, tender muffin.

I used Cabot's Jalapeno Jack, a creamy cheese generously studded with fiery jalapeño pieces. It's a flavorful cheese, with plenty of spice, but doesn't set fire to the back of my throat. Really, though, any spicy semi-soft cheese you like will work in this recipe. Just as you should only cook with wine you like to drink, you shouldn't cook with cheese you don't want to surreptitiously nibble.

If you can't find plain kefir at your market, buttermilk or soured milk will work in a pinch. I used kefir simply because I almost always have a container of kefir in my fridge and running to the shop to purchase a container of buttermilk that would end up going off before I could use it up was just ... nope.

Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins


  • 3 oz canola, plus extra for greasing the muffin tin
  • 5 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 5 oz cornmeal
  • ⅛ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp dried crushed jalapeños
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 oz plain low-fat kefir
  • 4 oz whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 pickled jalapeño slices


  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Brush a 12-hole muffin tin with neutral cooking oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, mustard powder, baking powder, cheese, crushed jalapeños, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the kefir, milk, oil, and eggs together.
  4. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, working swiftly yet gently to avoid tough muffins.
  5. Divide the mix between the 12 oiled muffin wells (they will be quite full) and top each with a jalapeño slice. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when tested.
  6. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Serve warm with whipped butter.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.


#WordlessWednesday: Poppy (Papaver)

Hairy sepals slowly splitting to reveal a maturing poppy flower.


The Gardens In Late Spring

On my days off I try to get out into the garden first thing and do some weeding and planting. The vegetable seeds and seedlings I planted in the new steel raised beds have made great start -- probably thanks to the superior garden soil and compost the deep beds are filled with, but possibly also due to them being much closer to the house and thus less likely to be pillaged by critters. My radishes are beautiful little ruby orbs, the pea plants are becoming properly bushy, and even the lettuce (something I never before tried from seed) is slooowly coming up. The tomato plants do look a bit sad, but it’s been a cool, grey, rainy spring so far and that's not really the weather tomatoes thrive in.

"Cherry Belle" radishes

Delicate baby oak leaf lettuce & friends

A few Saturdays ago, I attended a container gardening program at White Flower Farm in Litchfield and came home with a big pot of annuals that's now been hanging out on the porch, waiting (with the tomato plants) for a few sunny days. Like a fool, I tossed the pot markers, so now have no idea what some of the plants are called! Whatever they are, they are pretty.

The yellow, honeysuckle-like plant I can't name smells pleasantly minty.

The herb planter -- also a White Flower Farm project -- would probably look a bit more luxurious if I'd leave the rosemary alone for a time, but I keep pinching off bits to cook with and so the poor plant just keeps recovering old ground! Also, as with most things in the garden, it has just been TOO COLD AND WET for the poor thing.

Some day, the sun will come out and the rosemary will be happy.