30 July 2013

Recipe: CSA grab-bag breakfast muffins

A quick follow-up to yesterday's recipe for CSA grab-bag ragout. We were graciously invited to a gathering to meet the new baby of an old friend over the weekend. I didn't get a chance to hit the shops for a gift, so I figured I would bring something edible. Taking a gander at what I had on hand from this week's CSA, I saw peaches and carrots, and I noted that the party was scheduled for a brunch-type of hour. So I decided to bring something a little sweet, but not too dessert-y for the crowd.

Amy Daczyzn includes what she calls a "universal muffin recipe" in The Complete Tightwad Gazette. It's a wildly flexible recipe for using up odds and ends around the pantry and fridge -- or, I should say, using CSA produce efficiently!

These are not the supersized, cake-like muffins you get at the coffeeshop. They're dense and filling. The carrots and whole-wheat flour give you some fiber, which I remember needing in the early weeks after my daughter was born. And I think they taste great when spread with a little cream cheese or soft butter, served with coffee. Or with mimosas, which were on hand at baby Eddie's party.


  • 1 1/2 cups white flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ground cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 small peaches, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, grated


    Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tins with butter.

    Combine the dry ingredients and spices. Add the wet ingredients and stir gently until mixed. Fold in the peaches and carrots.

    Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove and let sit about 15 minutes, then remove muffins from pan. Serve immediately, or let cool completely on a wire rack before storing or transporting. Yields 10-12 muffins.
  • 29 July 2013

    Recipe: CSA grab-bag ragout

    The summer bounty of our community-supported agriculture subscription continues. What I can't finish up by my weekly pick-up date fills the crockpot, leaving room for the new produce to fill the fridge.

    It helps that I found a very new crockpot at my favorite charity shop some weeks ago. It looks as though it was never used -- perhaps a housewarming gift to an apartment dweller, in whose kitchen it languished, untouched, until the renter moved out in June. Their 4.5-quart loss is my CSA stew gain. And it's all black! I call it my Punk Rock Crockpot, and after the end of CSA season, I'll look forward to making stew and chili in it this winter.

    Anyway, my point, and I had one when I started this post, was to discuss the issue that the selection of produce in your weekly CSA box isn't necessarily the selection of produce that you would bring home yourself from the supermarket. Instead of a balanced variety of items you know you like, you get a sack of multi-colored carrots here; two pounds of red potatoes there; and three large zucchini and pound of weird-looking heirloom string beans to top off the box. Plus a pint container of cherry tomatoes.

    Ever cooked cherry tomatoes into a sauce? Well, we did. Since it's light on the tomatoes, I'm calling it a ragout, though it's not a terribly authentic one. But it successfully brings down the number of zucchini in the fridge this week.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 8 ounces string beans
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dried oregano and garlic powder to taste
  • 2 servings pasta


    Chop the tomatoes in half. Slice the zucchini lengthwise, then turn and slice lengthwise again. Chop into 1/4-inch slices, so that the result is quarter-circle sections of zucchini slices. Snap, de-string, and slice the string beans into 2-inch pieces.

    Start cooking pasta.

    Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add tomatoes and season. Saute tomatoes a few minutes, until soft, at medium-high heat. Break tomatoes with a potato masher until a good amount of juice has run into the skillet. Add zucchini, toss, and heat through. Add beans, oregano, and garlic powder, and toss. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the pasta is done. Drain pasta, add to skillet, and toss or stir. Serve hot with cheese grated on top.

    Serves 2 to 4.
  • 16 July 2013

    Top 3 tips for keepin' cool inside during an Excessive Heat Warning

    Here at the homestead we're in the middle of an official Excessive Heat Warning, a severe weather condition where there is "heat index of at least 105 F [41 C] for more than 3 hours per day for 2 consecutive days, or heat index more than 115 F [46 C] for any period of time." In the mid-Atlantic we experience a spell of the former situation a few times every summer. Here's how Rowhouse Livin' prepares and bears!

    1. Keep the thermostat up and use fans. We're blessed with a central air conditioning system in our home, but this tip works well with window-mounted room air conditioners, too. We set our thermostat at 78-82 F (25-27 C) (or set your window unit at "low" instead of "high") when the outside temperature begins to be unbearable. By itself, this air conditioner setting isn't the most comfortable, particularly if you're cooking or baking. However, when we use a box fan or two to stir the air around, we find it's totally acceptable.

    It's not cool, or high-rise office building cold, but you know, nobody promised you a meat locker. That is to say, there's no reason to keep your home 35-40 degrees (20 degrees C) below the outside temperature. It's wasteful of your own money; it burdens the power grid; and, anecdotally, it makes you whinier about the heat outside when you contrast it to the bone-chilling cool inside.

    The only risk here is what happens in some tragic cases during city heat waves. Some fatalities are caused by people running fans with their windows closed, while not running air conditioners at all. Without letting the heat escape through a window (or an air conditioner) in some way, fans simply turn the home into a convection oven (PDF, section 4.2.2). So don't try this tip without an air conditioner! It's a strategy for lowering the electric bill by cutting back on air conditioning, not by eliminating it completely.

    2. Keep a jug of water in the fridge. This practice was standard operating procedure when I was a kid. Today, during a heat wave I'll fill a 2-quart pitcher with cold tap water and pop it in the fridge in the morning. I'll top it off with more water if we don't finish it by the end of the day, and I'll clean it a few times per week. It's devilishly refreshing to gulp down a glass or two of water after running errand in the heat, or hauling groceries or a briefcase home on foot.

    Plus, tap water is cheaper than sweet mixes, sodapop, and instant iced tea. And it won't add empty calories to your diet while you're cooling down your core.

    3. Keep your clothing loose and cool. And here's where you learn too much about me. I wear a housedress in the summer. Instead of wearing a t-shirt and jeans, khakis, or even shorts, I put on an old, oversized, sack-like sundress. It's a thin cotton weave, so it allows circulating air to touch my skin and keep me cool. It's old and stained, so I don't care if it gets dirty while I'm doing housework. It's ugly, so it gives my daughter an opportunity to roll her eyes at me and think I'm goofy. But I like it, because it helps me tolerate a higher setting on the thermostat when we get this ridiculous weather.

    Now, if only it had pockets. Maybe I'll haul out the sewing machine and add one or two once the heatwave breaks.