Sunday, July 30, 2006

The War

It's not what you think.

I'm waging war against the Japanese beetles who have devoured my roses, plum tree and primroses in the front garden. They have made their way to the back deck and are eating and mating (not a pretty sight) on the blossoms of the hibiscus tree in the container garden. Thankfully, they don't like anything else on the deck.

Weeks ago, I had sent a letter to my homeowner's association, copying my local councilman, but have received no response. Thus, I took the matter into my own hands. I have since installed Japanese beetle traps in the parking lot ground in front of the house and in the land I actually own in back of the house.

So far, I've changed the bags several times because they've captured quite a few of the nasty things. How they work is by two types of lures. The floral lure attracts the female beetles and the phermone lure attracts the male. They fly around the plastic bag holder, but when they land, they cannot hang on, so they fall into the bag below. The bag has a tiny waist for the bugs to fall through, but they cannot climb back up and out on the plastic. Thus, they eventually die. Then, it's my turn to tie off the bag and throw it out with the garbage. Actually, the timing for changing the bags works out exactly with garbage days. If you wait too long, the bag begins to smell and turn off the bugs so they don't become trapped.

I'm not sure if I'm actually winning this war because there are millions of these beetles and only two traps, but I just want to stave them off enough to ensure that my roses will make it past the ugly beetle season. Besides, I'm aware that there is no actual winning of a war when there are deaths involved, even if they are just Japanese beetles.

In other news, I regret that I haven't been doing all that much cooking, baking or picture taking. It's just been so beastly hot that I hesitate to bake. John and I even put off making our own pizza for fear of turning the house into an oven. The heatwave shows no signs of abating, but I'm doing some stove-top cooking and picture taking, so there will be colorful posts once again.

Also, I will keep up with my Cooking for US postings as I'd promised them. My next two will be on matzo brei and a kale side dish.

The most exciting news is that the mixer has shipped and I received my carob cookbook from So, that means there will be plenty of mixer photos and postings very soon.

Stay tuned! And, keep cool.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Must-Have Items for the Kitchen

Adam wrote an interesting post on must-have items for the kitchen. I found myself writing an epic comment, but thought better of it and posted it here.

I'm with him on most of his list, especially the silicone spatula. I've found the spoonulas to be essential for the continuous stirring involved in chocolate making. I buy 'em up when they're on sale whenever possible.

Microplane graters in at least two sizes. I'm always cheese-ing something up with mine. Recently, I gave in and bought a coarse grater because it came with the plastic cover. My ancient fine grater still has the cardboard safety cover.

A good mixer. I just bought a KitchenAid stand mixer on sale at (you can read about it at my site).

Le Creuset grill pan. It's perfect for grilling fish and pork chops (says John).

You said a pepper grinder -- I also use a salt grinder for the big chunks of sea salt.

Global utility knives. They're ideal for cutting all manner of food, especially veggies.

Nexcare waterproof bandages by 3M. They blow BandAids away.

Oxo salad spinner for all the obvious reasons. I also use it for drying other veggies.

Mixing bowls in a variety of materials: glass, steel, plastic, etc. Some foods react to certain materials, and some hold heat/cold longer than others.

Lock n' Lock storage containers. These are the best containers I've ever used. They keep food fresher longer and seal air/water tight. Even better than Tupperware.

Shelves for cookbooks.

Ziplock freezer bags and Sharpie permanent markers. This way, you can write the date on things you're freezing, and it won't disappear or rub off.

Silicone tongs. We use them with the grill pan as well as the All-Clad cookware (even if it isn't non-stick).

Electric tea kettle. It boils water in a fraction of the time it takes on the stove.

Cushioned mat and kitchen clogs (I have a Williams-Sonoma mat and Dansko clogs) for long periods of time on your feet in front of the stove/counter. They really make a huge difference.

Kiehl's Creme de Corps for your hands after cleaning up. This lotion is very good at rehydrating skin. You won't need to reapply it before you go to sleep, either.

Good music and a reliable CD player nearby.

A garbage can that opens with a foot pedal.

I could write an even longer list of food items, but here are my top 10 (not in any particular order and preferably organic):

1. Butter (nice, considering I'm a former vegan)
2. Horseradish (my not-a-secret-anymore ingredient in so many recipes)
3. Garlic (fresh and jarred)
4. At least 10 different spices (pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika, mustard, and ginger to start)
5. Eggs (preferably from cage-free birds)
6. Fresh baby spinach
7. Oats or oatmeal
8. Some sort of sweetener (I'm agave nectar-friendly at present)
9. Club soda or seltzer
10. Lemons (they always seem to make so many things zippier)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Richard's in Wired!

Remember my friend Richard and the uninterruptible power source he built using his Toyota Prius? Well, Wired magazine must have liked his PriUPS idea because they featured him in this article in their August issue.

I missed this one last year, but the NY Times published a blurb on the project as well.

You'd think that the good folks at Treehugger would feature him. I'll send them a note. :D

Good for you, Richard Factor!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Artisan Mixers On Sale at Amazon

Guess what I'm getting!

Nice rebate, free shipping and another discount from Amazon cuts about $75 off the price of this Artisan mixer from KitchenAid. I've been watching them for months now, and have finally figured out where I'll be putting it in the kitchen.

All of the purples were out of stock, but since the Polish pottery all has a cobalt blue color, I went with that. I also invested in the two year service warranty.

Now, all that's left is a bread machine and a sewing machine on my list. Well, that an a new house with a big kitchen, pantry, and.... Well. You know.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Blogspot Blocked in India

Hey, did you folks read about this? The New York Times reports today that anything with in the URL was blocked by India. If you were affected by this, please comment here. Thanks!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A month ago, I signed up to be a recipe tester for Cook's Illustrated. Mind you, I'm not a subscriber, but I thought it might be fun. This is the second recipe they sent me because the first was for something with sugar that I couldn't do. They sent me a recipe called Streamlining Baked Manicotti. I did my own recipe testing by not only using the no-boil lasagne noodles from Barilla they recommended, but these manicotti shells, also from Barilla. Below is a photo journal of the cooking experience. Enjoy!

I chopped the basil in large pieces because I like it that way. I learned that John doesn't, but it cooked down a bit. Any excuse to give props to Global knives. :D

This is the lovely sauce. It's canned diced tomatoes in juice, minced garlic, red pepper flakes (didn't taste them at all), extra virgin olive oil, freshly chopped basil and salt. I used the immersion blender on the tomatoes prior to cooking with the rest of the ingredients because John doesn't like chunky sauces.

Did I ever mention my electric tea kettle? No? Well, it's among one of my favorite kitchen devices. I use it daily to boil water for my herbal tea. It works in half the time it takes to boil water on the stove. We used it here to boil the water to pour over the "no-cook" lasagne noodles.

After we poured boiling water over the lasagne noodles and kept them separate by moving them with a knife, John laid them out in a single layer on paper towels to dry.

The cheese mixture is part-skim ricotta, grated parmesean, mozzarella (part-skim in this case), an egg, salt, pepper, freshly chopped parsely and freshly chopped basil.

The stuffed bits on a bed of the sauce.

After you load up the shells/noodles with the cheese mixture, coat the bottom of a baking dish with the sauce, place a layer of the stuffed shells/noodles, then cover with the sauce.

After you bake the rolled up shells and noodles in the sauce, covered for 40 minutes at 375, you take out the dish, remove the foil and pour the remaining 1/2 cup of parmesan over the tomato sauce. As you can see, the cheese started melting right away. Pop it back in the oven on broil for 4-6 minutes until the top is spotty brown. We didn't wait that long or put it on broil since the house was hot already and it's just not worth the high price of gas.

Even though we halved the recipe, it still seems like a lot of parmesan cheese to me.

The finished product with my sauce and the left-over cheese mixture spooned in between the rolled up lasagne noodles and the manicotti shells as John suggested.

This is the final version with Cook's Illustrated basil sauce and both types of noodles. John preferred the flat, lasagne noodles and my sauce, while I favored the basil sauce with the thick manicotti noodles. Nice to know he prefers my sauce. :D Although, I think it was a matter of his disliking too much fresh basil. All in all, I think it was an ill-named recipe. Calling it streamlined was inaccurate in several ways -- rolling the "no-cook" lasagne noodles up around the filling took more time than simply stuffing the cooked manicotti shells. The "no-cook" lasagne was a complete misnomer because we cooked the noodles when we poured the boiling water over them and moved them around with a knife to keep them from sticking. Finally, the entire cooking time was 2.5 hours! Hardly streamlined. However, it was pretty tasty. And, I'm glad that I tried it with both sauces and both types of noodles.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Surgery Update (or Deb Goes On a Liquid Diet)

So, the dental surgery happened yesterday. It wasn't as extensive as originally planned thanks to some improvements, but it took more than half the day nonetheless.

I tried chewing some soft food yesterday, but it was a big, painful chore. This morning, I whipped together some non-fat plain yogurt, blueberries, a banana and a nectarine in the blender and have been drinking it for breakfast. It's a fat-free, high-protein, high-C nutritional drink.

Next, some Celestial Seasonings Detox tea because I had a ton of chemicals coursing through my system yesterday. Between all the novocaine (nasty epinephrine made me shake), Alleve, antibiotics, and allergy/sinus stuff, it's no wonder I'm wiped out! I'm going to see how long I can go without taking anything (except the antibiotics to prevent infection).

Earlier, I felt alright, but now I'm starting to feel like I've been socked in the kisser again.

My back and neck problems came back as well because I was in dental chairs from 10 am until 2 pm. That will pass by the end of the weekend, if I stretch, ice and heat my back. Been there.

Generally, I'm just taking it easy and trying not to speak much, since it hurts.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


This morning, I'm going in for some dental surgery. Ugh.

But, before I do, I'm posting this article about how a writer for Saveur magazine was stopped as a potential terrorist for carrying a jar of honey, a seashell and some pork butt rub. The world is going to h*(( in a handbasket, if you ask me.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

My First Magnolia Cupcakes -- Made Deb-Friendly

One of my favorite sites is The Canadian Baker. I found this recipe there and had to try it. It's called Traditional Vanilla Birthday Cake, from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook.

These are for my 11 year-old nephew's birthday party tomorrow at Mom's.

I made some adjustments to the recipe to make it suitable for my dietary restriction, and to add a little color.

First, I used one and one-half cups of agave nectar for the two cups sugar in the main recipe. I also split the batter in half and added three-quarter cups of carob powder to one of the halves. While I mixed in the carob, I also added the half cup of agave nectar I didn't add to the regular batter.

The baking time was right on the money! That never ever happens when I substitute agave nectar for sugar. Of course, I cut the milk by one-third.

I made the frosting completely by guessing. I used 12 oz. of whipped cream cheese, one-half cup of agave nectar, one-half teaspoon of vanilla paste and two tablespoons of arrowroot (which didn't really do anything, actually). I combined everything, but wasn't pleased with the speckly appearance of the vanilla bean seeds in the frosting, so I whipped out some of the chocolate coloring paste in Deb's Delectables purple. OK, it was a lot brighter and deeper than DDLLC's purple, but it was in the same family.

Below is a photo log of how I made the cupcakes. Enjoy!

The fluffy batter. I tasted it, raw eggs and all. Pretty good.

After I pulled half the batter out of the mixing bowl, I added the carob to the mixture.

A teaspoon of each batter in the mini paper liners.

Bake the minis for 20 minutes. The larger cupcakes required a minute or two more. I also turned them halfway through since my oven is so unreliable.

I plopped a heaping tablespoon of each batter in the regular-sized cupcakes.

The freshly baked minis.

The regular-sized cupcakes prior to frosting.

The finished minis with their bright purple cream cheese frosting. I'm not sure if Jorden's kids are going to like them with the tangy frosting, but we'll see. The cake itself turned out great, even with the challenging substitutions and the addition of the carob. I'd give these an A minus, but only because they didn't stay fluffy. They flattened out at paper liner level. The flavor was perfect though, and I'd definitely make them again just plain, or with other additions, like carob chips or the freeze-dried strawberries that are so yummy.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


You have got to go visit Treehugger and see this short film. I've just been reading Ruth Reichl's Tender at the Bone, and the topic of dumpster diving back in the 1960s was approached in the same way. Ruth's book is excellent. I'm so glad Mom and Dave gave me her three books to read.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Basic Gardening Techniques at Very Good Things

The lovely Ali from Something So Clever has posted the July issue of Very Good Things. My column on gardening features an ongoing series called Basic Gardening Techniques. For issue 7, it's How to Repot a Plant. Please visit and enjoy. The whole magazine is lovely, especially Ali's Lemon Cream Cupcakes. Must try to make them Deb-friendly.

In other news, I'm fighting an awful battle that I'm afraid I'm losing. It's against the scourge of the gardening world, the Japanese beetle. My plum tree in the front of the house is infested with the things, and I'm just praying that they don't attack my newly potted container garden in the back of the house. It's only a matter of time, though, since I've spotted at least three near the deck.

The worst part is that I can't use the traps because they must be placed at least 30 feet from the beloved plants. Otherwise, the beetles will still eat the plants and be attracted to them rather than the traps. And, I live in a townhouse development, so I can't hang the traps in the shared areas.

So, I contacted the association (to which I pay an unGodly sum every month for very minimal services)(never again will I live in an association-run area). On the phone, they balked. So, I took to my email and copied my councilman (for whom I voted in the 2005 election, mind you) on the message I sent to the association. I don't expect this will solve anything, but it's the right thing to do.

In the meantime, out of my office window, I'm watching the beetles devour my plum tree and roses. If you want to learn more about the damage these pests can do, visit this site.