battle 24–mystery peas–day 1

So way back in the first week of January when I decided we could mix things up and do any of January’s vegetables at any time during January, what was really happening was I was conveniently getting myself out of having to eat peas right away. I hate peas. Continue reading “battle 24–mystery peas–day 1”

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battle 20–day 3–artichokes/part 2

My mom used to say when we were kids that on any given day she could usually count on one of us being bad and one of us being good. Rare were the days that my sister and I were both bad at the same time (and probably more rare were the days we were both good), but when the cosmos decided to gang up on my mom and those bad days came to pass, we could usually count on her coping by taking deep breaths and threatening us within an inch of our lives. Continue reading “battle 20–day 3–artichokes/part 2”

battle 20–day 3–artichokes/part 1

Before we talk about the possible cataclysmic demise of this whole project over one really dumb vegetable, let’s spend some time cherishing one of my biggest wins and appreciating the ingenuity of one of my most awesome supporters. My third and final hit on my plea for y’all to spring me from my January blues came from Future New York Times Best Seller of the World’s Most Ridiculously Amazing Cookbooks Sarah F., who has been sending love and advice from afar since the project began and who really saved the day on artichokes. Continue reading “battle 20–day 3–artichokes/part 1”

winning matters

I think I’m going to stop apologizing for being such an effing slacker. It’s minus 27 degrees outside right now (translation: 34 degrees) and that should be reason enough to never have to do anything ever. Once the weather warms up and I come out of hibernation we’ll kick this back into high gear, but while we’re experiencing frigid, Arctic temperatures here (translation: it’s sort of cool, we haven’t had any snow, and Sunday was even kind of balmy) I think we should just all count on JVV being kind of unreliable.

Now that we’ve all lowered our expectations we can get back to the business of winning shit. Is my perpetual winningness annoying? I didn’t think so either (obviously) but we were at a friend’s house last night for Family Fun Night with games, and of course I was winning, when David said to me, “You know, you don’t make this very enjoyable for the rest of us.”

Really? You mean losing blows? Ferfucksake, I know that, that’s why I win shit. But in the spirit of not always being a self-righteous asshole (who wins everything, always…always), I will concede this much: I have been stumped recently by an ugly, ugly, hateful green vegetable and I may or may not have to admit defeat for the first time. Maybe. No promises.

battle 23–day 2–cabbage

I was feeling a little more optimistic about January when I didn’t keel over after cabbage stew, so I decided to briefly set aside my unnecessarily ambitious plan to conquer the whole month in one week and dedicate the next few days to cabbage. Plain ole cabbage.

I fear and have avoided eating cabbage for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s a vegetable. For another, it has a stupid, jarring name. I am not a fan. And also, I definitely discriminate against it for being grown in a patch with orphan babies. That just doesn’t seem right. So it’s taken me a while to overcome these ingrained biases and get to the point where I understand that cabbage is just another leafy green, like arugula, or something else lovely I already love. I can love cabbage, too, I can love cabbage, too, I can love cabbage, too.

When I was complaining about cabbage to JVV’s friends on facebook (I don’t know why y’all are still my friends, I am so cranky), lots of folks offered up some really great ideas, but most of them involved cooking it in ways that would make the cabbage too closely resemble my nemesis, the onion. To me, cooked cabbage looks like onion’s red-headed stepsister, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t woman enough to take her on. Then I remembered rhu-Barb saying somewhere, sometime, something like, “You could always just add shredded cabbage to shrimp tacos.” Mmmm. Tacos. Voila. Thank you, rhu-Barb.

To make shrimp tacos, I took a little bit of my awesomeness, added a tad of my greatness, mixed it together with my brilliance and topped it with cabbage. Twenty-some odd weeks ago if I’d tried to make this meal, I would have had to track down and compare 15 different recipes, consult with the Google on everything from the origins of cabbage to the history of the taco, and spend countless hours wandering grocery aisles looking for the abundance of ingredients I still hadn’t decided on for gourmet tacos that would probably still be a bust.

But now I’m a pro, so here’s what I did instead. I combined the top notch culinary skills we’ve all taught me throughout the course of this project with some very important life skills I’ve spent years honing, i.e., a little bit-o-kitchen know-how plus a lot of laziness equals one fantastic taco.

After Terrible Vegetable Smorgasbord Sunday, Melissa sent me home with the leftover cabbage she’d picked up at Trader Joe’s while I was napping. Cabbage, check. Then I started pulling out some of my favorites, spectacular standbys like avocadoes, tomatoes and cheese, all items I always have in the house. Favorites, check. Then I got fancy, zeroing in on Elwood’s seriously good homemade hot sauce and ranch dressing to cool my mouth from Elwood’s seriously hot homemade hot sauce. Fanciness, check.

Now I just needed the shrimp. And I was so close to putting this whole meal together without wandering any aisles.

David and I have never been very smart about our freezer. We don’t know how to buy frozen food, we don’t know how to eat the frozen food we do buy, and we don’t know how to freeze food if it’s not already frozen.  I don’t necessarily hold this against us because I’m happy to eat fresh food, but in the case of fish, frozen is probably the safest route for me, except for the part about not knowing how to buy frozen food. The one reliable frozen fish item David and I have purchased consistently over the years is breaded, popcorn shrimp, which is probably really processed pig parts in the shape of tiny shrimp, but we like it. And we always get the same kind: Kroger brand. So last week, pre-tacos, we were thinking about having shrimp and potatoes and David said he would pick up the shrimp on the way home, but when he got home he had in hand a different brand of frozen shrimp because he couldn’t find the kind we normally eat. It turns out we really liked the new brand, not least because the shrimp were definitely real and were supposedly caught near St. Simon’s Island, which is nearby (I dig local) and my family is from there, so I felt good about supporting folks from home. Mmm shrimp. But this week, shrimp taco week, when I asked David to pick up the same shrimp for shrimp tacos he could not remember where he got it. This was cause for minor panic at our house. For me. Before either of us embarked on an all-out shrimp hunt in the frozen aisles of all the grocery stores we frequent, I made him retrace his steps in his mind.

“Try to picture the aisle where you got the shrimp. Were there high ceilings (which could be Kroger on Edgewood or Publix on Glenwood) or lower-ish ceilings (Publix on Ponce)? Was it bright-ish (Publix) or darkish (Kroger)? Were you sort of near the front or the back of the store?”

Then I realized I was describing our grocery stores, in detail, to determine on which aisle he had been standing when he plucked the shrimp from its case, and I began to feel reasonably confident that I probably won’t ever get lost in my grocery stores again. I’m having kind of a big head about this right now.

We were able to conclude from this little exercise that he got the shrimp at the Publix on Ponce and the reason he got the new brand in the first place was because he was at Publix and we usually get Kroger brand, so it stands to reason he wouldn’t have been able to find our usual brand at Publix. I’m like a food sleuth. I amaze me. Big head getting bigger.

On taco night, I tossed the shrimp in the hot sauce, made a pico out of the tomatoes, avocado and cheese, then tossed that in the ranch dressing, put them all in fancy pants pretty little flour tortillas and topped those babies with some shredded cabbage. Holy best taco ever. Big head explodes.

battle 20, 22, 23–artichokes, parsnips, cabbage

The second friend to offer to hoist me out of the slump was my neighbor, Melissa R. It’s not unusual for Melissa to offer to cook for me under normal circumstances, but circumstances have changed in the last year and keeping me alive no longer tops her list of priorities. I suppose suggesting that I topped her list of priorities previously is a stretch, but now I’m really way down on the list. I’m like…third.

So here are the new circumstances: first, Melissa had a baby and the way that goes is he needs to be fed more often and my guess is more nutritiously than I do; and second, because my food preferences are changing, it’s not as easy to feed me as it used to be when her husband and I both refused all the same foods and she could make the same bland, colorless, tasteless meal for everyone.

But she perseveres.

So last week I was whining and complaining about all the terrible vegetables in January and how I really didn’t know if I could stomach them. Turnips. Bleck. Parsnips. Bleck. Even Melissa, who comes from farm people and will eat anything that grows out of the ground or off a tree or otherwise tastes like dirt, said the snips are good for nothing vegetables. But she was not about to let something as banal as cabbage get the best of me. (Cabbage, of course, is what I was the most afraid of. Gross. I hate the way it looks all slimy and translucent when it’s cooked. Like an onion. I seriously want to vomit right now just thinking of it.) We came up with this grand plan to knock out as many of January’s vegetables as possible the next day, then Melissa went grocery shopping and I took a nap.

Terrible Vegetable Smorgasbord Sunday included the following:

Trader Joe’s spinach artichoke dip—Heavenly. I ate so much of this I didn’t want to eat anything else, but in the spirit of TVSS, I eventually had to turn my attention to…

Mashed potatoes with parsnips—Less exciting, but not unmanageable. My beef with potatoes and parsnips is similar to kohlrabi trying to act like a potato, except this really is a potato…with parsnips. It was hard to evaluate the parsnips because of the awesomeness of the potatoes, except the potatoes were ever so slightly less awesome than usual, and obviously parsnips were the culprit. However, it didn’t make me want to cut my arm off or anything, so if faced with another mashed parsnip Christmas situation, I would probably be able to handle my shit.

Beef stew with cabbage (and no onions)—Surprisingly delicious (the cabbage, I mean…obviously Melissa’s stew was going to be good).  I got text updates all day on the progress of the cabbage stew, which Melissa thinks she burned at the last minute, but since we’re  a bunch of amateurs and we were preoccupied by rooting out slimy cabbage bits, we totally didn’t notice, and we ate it anyway, happily. Then we discovered, with lots of joy and exultation, that we like cabbage.

Terrible Vegetable Smorgasbord Sunday was like winter’s answer to summer’s fried food night. We accomplished a lot easily and deliciously with not a lot of effort. I still wasn’t done with artichokes (spinach artichoke dip seemed so good it felt like cheating, I needed to eat an artichoke) and I felt like I had one more cabbage demon to slay (cole slaw), but I went ahead and considered myself done with parsnips. Good enough.

battle 21–day 1–rhubarb

To help peel the project back off the ground, I pleaded with JVV’s facebook friends to give me exciting mix and match ideas, or—and this was what I was really going for—to cook any of these terrible vegetables for me in exciting ways. Emphasis on all the someone-else-doing-this-for-me parts.

I got some hits on that. I like this trend. A lot.

The first offer I received was from my new favorite friend, rhu-Barb. I’ve known Barb since she and BFF Lauren and I all worked together a number of years ago, but for some reason she didn’t catch the anti-veg itch when we started this back in the summer because she didn’t know I was me (penalty against Barb for this transgression). It was only in about mid-December, after Lauren—drunk with blog stardom from her third or fourth cameo—made everyone in her immediate vicinity read every post with her name in it that Barb put two and two together. So she went back to JVV’s auspicious beginnings and read about every fire, explosion and upended pizza until she knew about my vegetables better than I did. Then she e-mailed me:

Dear Julie,

You are the smartest, funniest, most hilariously awesome person I know, and I agree with you, you do have great hair, plus, vegetables are the single most terrible invention ever in the universe and I hate them, too, but I have managed to survive them, and I think you can, too, with this secret: cake. I would be obliged, honored even, to make a vegetable cake for you any time.

Your biggest fan,

Barb

I may have taken some liberties with that e-mail, but it definitely had the word cake in it. And she definitely offered to make it for me. And I definitely took her up on it.

Barb’s offer made my mouth water—rhubarb coffee cake and fresh-squeezed, homemade orange juice—and I was a little cranky with her for offering it during squash week when rhubarb week was still a month away. I wanted it to happen, like, that day. Then I realized, while I was being cranky in my head with my biggest fan for offering to make me a bunch of delicious homemade awesomeness, that my mouth was watering over a vegetable. A vegetable that had previously made me gag. Don’t I win something for that? Like a cookie?

Or cake.

Barb stuck to the rules and planned to bake rhubarb cake during rhubarb week.  Then she, Lauren and I gathered in Lauren’s office before work one morning and rhu-Barb unveiled her vegetable cake.

Friends.

Few things in life make me happier than cake. It does things to me that make me blush. Until now, the rules have dictated that my vegetables must be prepared in the form of a dinner-type main or at least a substantial side, but since we’ve struggled to get moving again and we’re considering all kinds of new rules in this new year, let us fold into our arsenal of ways to win vegetables—fried, with meat, or covered in cheese—a new weapon: bake it in a cake.

Rhubarb. Won. And, we’re back.

rhu-Barb’s Amazing Vegetable Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk (use the full-on fat kind, seriously)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups sliced rhubarb
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

TOPPING:

  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

–Before you start: Preheat oven. Grease pan.
–In medium bowl mix butter, sugar, egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.
–Stir in rhubarb, flour, and soda.
–Pour into greased 13 x 9″ pan.
–Combine brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon; sprinkle over batter.
–Bake in 350 oven for 45 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean (course, if your toothpick hits a piece of rhubarb, it will not come out clean…take another stab).

NOTE: Approximately 9-10 stalks rhubarb needed. If you cannot find them at the market, Publix has frozen rhubarb. Its usually somewhere near the ice cream and/or frozen juice. One bag will work, but sometimes I go crazy and use a bag & ½. If using the frozen kind, let it thaw a bit in the fridge for a day or so (you don’t want to use it frozen, but just barely thawed), then drain off the liquid and chop it up a little smaller (like each chunk into 3-4 pieces) because the way it comes is too big.

Note from Julie: I love Barb’s recipe. Very instructive. Very helpful.