battle 13–day 1–kohlrabi

I got home Monday night from my super awesome vacation and I was beat from all that relaxing, so I took Tuesday off and started last week’s veggie on Wednesday. I checked the list and discovered it was Swiss chard. I groaned. I already know I’m going to hate Swiss chard because it’s not cheese. I scrolled through the list to see if I could find something more interesting to look forward to. When I reached the end of the list I noticed that Swiss chard appears again in the penultimate (yeah, I said it) week of the project. Huh. This must have been what Nascar Patterson was talking about when he said one of the veggies was on the list twice; funny how I overlooked his comment at the time because I didn’t care (i.e., I couldn’t possibly have made a mistake). So, either I really had my doubts about Swiss chard when I set up the schedule and thought I needed to give myself two tries, or I made a mistake. Obviously it was because I had my doubts.

Then I remembered that I never was able to find kohlrabi during beet-and-kohlrabi week, and even though I was sort of stoked about skipping it altogether, I thought, grrr, maybe this would be a good time to try to find it again. So, Swiss Chard Week No. 1 became Kohlrabi Week Do-over.

I was still licking my wounds from the various pumpkin fiascos (…I might have left out the part about abandoning the cookies while the last batch was still in the oven…), so I sent David to the farmers’ market in search of kohlrabi. Really, folks, I know better by now.

And. He. Found. It.

I can’t tell you how excited I was, after weeks of this saga, that he fucking found it. And I’m using “found” in the strictest sense of the word—like discovered treasure—because it was neither in the area where it should have been stocked, nor was it spelled right, nor did anyone who works there know what it was (either in English or YDFM language), nor did the cashiers know what to charge him for it. David texted me with minute-by-minute updates and questions. “Are you sure it’s K-O-H-L-R-A-B-I?” I paused. Of course I’m not sure. It’s a vegetable I never knew existed before three months ago. “I’m positive.”


Now that we had kohlrabi in our possession I had to figure out what to do with it. Kohlrabi, which Google says is German for cabbage turnip, is a member of the turnip family but it is most closely related to cabbage and cauliflower. It is usually light green, but the ones I got were purple, which brought back bad beet memories. Ugh. Beets. I was relieved when I cut into them and found a white, starchy center, not unlike a potato.

potato or kohlrabi

I decided to roast kohlrabi the first night. I peeled them and then cut off the “woody” exterior (I basically peeled them twice). Then I sliced them into French fry-like strips, tossed them in olive oil and placed them on a cookie sheet. I roasted them for about half an hour, stirring and flipping them every few minutes in the last 10 minutes. Then I added cheese and baked them for about five more minutes. They came out looking like cheesy fries.

cheesy goodness

Here’s the thing about food that resembles other food but isn’t. It’s disappointing. Kohlrabi has a white, starchy center like a potato, but it isn’t a potato. I cut it into French fry-like strips and they came out looking like cheesy fry goodness, but they weren’t French fries. We took a bite and it tasted….not at all like the food it resembled. It tasted like kohlrabi cut into strips and roasted with cheese on it.

I mean, it wasn’t terrible. It was totally fine. I’m just not down with food that pretends to be something it’s not. Be kohlrabi, kohlrabi. I think potatoes have the market cornered on fries.

battle 12–day 3–pumpkin

Pumpkin week ended with a mini-vacation to Southern California where we planned to get our ghoul on for Halloween. We and 13 of our friends rented a totally shabby 5,000-square-foot shack on a golf course, put in many long hours of hard labor by the pool during the day, and suffered through some really boring live music at night. It was a tough gig. To relieve us of this misery, my initial plan was to bake and bring everyone pumpkin treats—pumpkin crisp and pumpkin cookies—but some last-minute packing emergencies (i.e., I didn’t start packing until the last minute) derailed that plan, so instead I took some breaks from the laborious tasks of sleeping late and lounging in the hot tub to bake the crisp and cookies in the shack’s grossly oversized kitchen.

The recipes for both pumpkin treats originated with Supporter Jenn, and before that I think they might have come from a Phish chat board (who knew people used these boards for talking about more than which version of what song they saw at what show what year under what circumstances and whether it rained?), but they were both super easy and–for my vegetarian friends, which are, I think, like, all of you–totally meatless.

This was the first time I’d cooked anything in a kitchen other than my own, which was a challenge. I thought about this earlier in the week when Lauren was making lasagna in our kitchen, because she mostly didn’t seem fazed by the fact that she was in someone else’s kitchen making this extremely complicated recipe, but when I looked around I realized it was probably because she’d brought her kitchen with her, all her own pots, pans and utensils. I mean, she even brought her own casserole dish. Pfft. I have a casserole dis… nope. I absolutely do not own the size of casserole dish Lauren used for pumpkin lasagna. Oh, snap.

Of course, before I got lost in that gigantic kitchen, I got lost in the grocery store, which I thought was totally reasonable since I was practically in a foreign country. PROJECT 29 to 30 Steph, who had already done her new thing for the day, turned her attention to helping me find evaporated milk. No shit, it took us 20 minutes and walking up and down the same four aisles 12 times before she finally found it on the coffee aisle. For real? When I bought evaporated milk a few days earlier in Atlanta (before the packing emergency), I found it on the baking aisle, so I thought it couldn’t possibly just be my grocery store ignorance that had us wandering the store for so many minutes. To soothe my ego about this recurring issue, I did some investigating on getting lost in the grocery store and found this awesome piece about placement of grocery stock. Suddenly I felt a lot less bad about all the times I’ve been lost at the farmers’ market. From now on whenever I can’t find something I’m just going to blame it on the stock boys. Assholes.

Back at the house I fumbled around the imposing kitchen looking for all the baking accoutrements I would need for my first pumpkin treat: pumpkin crisp. Despite its impressive demeanor, the kitchen of our casa de fancy pants was seriously lacking in cooking and baking supplies. I imagine the people who live in these kinds of houses don’t do much cooking. They have people for that. Fortunately for me, I can barely tell one kitchen item from another, so using a broiler pan as a cookie sheet was completely acceptable. Our real only obstacle, which threatened to be relatively major, was that no one could figure out how to work the can opener. Actually, we weren’t even sure the object we were using was a can opener or a cork screw; when we finally determined it was probably the former it became even more frustrating when it turned out to be nothing more than a can-opener-or-corkscrew-shaped paperweight, since accessing the contents of the can was kind of crucial for assembling the pumpkin treats.  You know. Pumpkin.

can opener

Several people had gathered in the kitchen at this point—either because they were shocked I was actually awake before noon (Sarah F), or this was the first time they had actually seen me cook (Sarah F), or because actual real breakfast food was happening on the stove (everyone else)—and it was someone among this group who finally noticed that an electric can opener had been sitting on the counter the whole time, laughing at us as we each took turns fighting with the can opener/corkscrew paperweight. Whatever.

Things moved at lightning speed after that. Ingredients mixed. Mixture in oven. Pumpkin crisp baked, removed and summarily devoured. Because the crisp was so easy to make after those first few hiccups, it made me think about how easy my life will be once I know where every single thing is in the grocery store and once I have every single kitchen item at my disposal forever until eternity. I can cut prep time on everything down to like 30 seconds. This was such a great daydream. Until I made the fucking cookies. Goddamn fucking pumpkin cookies.

I took a break between the crisp and the cookies. A long break. I consumed a few adult beverages. And sat by the pool a little. And lounged in the hot tub a bit. And took a nap. By the time I got around to the cookies, I was A) overconfident and B) drunk. The thing about cookies is you have to have sustained interest in tending to them in fits and starts: one batch in and one batch out, remove some to cool, put more on the cookie sheet, another batch in, another batch out. Blah, blah, blah. But there’s always a weird time period of five or seven minutes in between with nothing to do; it’s just short enough that you can’t really start a new chore or project, but just long enough to be bored to tears standing in the kitchen by yourself. Cookies really aren’t for me. I read over the recipe again while the first batch was in the oven, trying to entertain myself at my little pity party in the kitchen. It was then that I discovered the flaw in cooking while overconfident and under the influence (CWOUI): things such as, like, measurements get blurry but you don’t care. I might have accidentally added twice the amount of pumpkin the recipe called for. Oops.

To fix this I just started adding shit to the remaining batter. To be fair, this little revelation made my pity party a lot more interesting. A little more flour here, a dash more of whatever else was in the recipe there, and voila….fuck, more batter. More cookies. More time standing here by myself. I really hate baking cookies.

Pumpkin crisp, in. Pumpkin cookies, out.


Pumpkin Crisp

Prep: 15 min.; Bake: 1 hr., 5 min.; Stand: 10 min.

1  (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1  cup evaporated milk
1  cup sugar
1  teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon
1  (18.25-ounce) package butter-flavored yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Butter Recipe Yellow Cake Mix, per the original recipe’s suggestion)
1  cup chopped pecans (I skipped the pecans, but eh, it was still delicious)
1  cup butter, melted
Whipped cream (optional) (I didn’t do this optional part, but I’m sure it would have been great)
Ground nutmeg (optional) (I don’t think I did this either, I don’t like nutmeg)

Stir together first 5 ingredients. Pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cake mix evenly over pumpkin mixture; sprinkle evenly with pecans. Drizzle butter evenly over pecans.  Bake at 350° for 1 hour to 1 hour and 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream, if desired. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired.

battle 12–day 2 1/2–pumpkin (lasagna recipe)

Hi friends. I’m still here. And even though pumpkin week totally revived me from my winter vegetable funk, I promptly went on vacation to sunny southern Cali and left half my brain there. Whenever it decides to rejoin me, I’ll post more updates about the cooking I did out there and what I’ve done since I’ve been home (I found kohlrabi!).

In the meantime, I’ve had a lot of friendly and insistent reminders to post the pumpkin lasagna recipe. It was one of the best meals of the whole project so I encourage everyone to do it while pumpkins are still in season (the cooking ones, not the smashing ones). Many thanks again to BFF Lauren for this gem.

Northern Italian Pumpkin Lasagna, from “Pumpkin, A Super Food for All 12 Months of the Year”

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (Lauren skipped the onion for me)
2 lbs/4 cups fresh pumpkin, seeds and fibers removed, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ lb bulk sweet Italian chicken sausage (Lauren will have to verify what she used; I think it was special)
1 large clove garlic, minced

12 oven-ready/no-boil lasagna noodles* (Lauren boiled whole-wheat noodles)

Béchamel sauce:
5 tbsp butter
6 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
5 c nonfat milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
3 c grated part-skim mozzarella
1 ½ c freshly grated parmesan

*Using no-cook noodles cuts out one step; however, if using regular noodles, cook and drain them and reduce the amount of sauce: use 4 tbsp butter, 5 tbsp flour, 4 c milk.

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until wilted. (I say skip the onion. Yuck.)
  2. Stir in the pumpkin and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with the oregano, the salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Add the sausage and cook until it loses its color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour. Cook for 1 minute, until bubbly. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens and bubbles, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and set aside.
  4. Combine the two cheeses in a medium bowl.
  5. Heat the oven to 375.
  6. To assemble the lasagna, spray a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Ladle ¾ cup of sauce on the bottom of the pan and top with 3 noodles, placed crosswise.
  7. Pour another ¾ cup of sauce over the noodles, then 1/3 of the pumpkin filling. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the filling. Repeat the layers of sauce, noodles, filling, and cheese twice. Top this with the remaining noodles, pour over the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. The lasagna should look soupy.
  8. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with nonstick spray and cover the top of the pan, with the oiled side facing down. Bake for 45 minutes, uncover, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Holy complicated. I’m so glad Lauren made this for me. Truly, it was worth every ounce of her effort.

battle 12–days 1 and 2–pumpkin

All I have to say is, thank god for pumpkin week. And all BFF Lauren had to say was, it was a good idea in theory…

Pfft. I thought scheduling pumpkins for Halloween week was a great idea since the stores and churches and schools and farms would be bursting with fresh patches of big, orange squashies. Then again, the only pumpkin item on my agenda that actually called for fresh pumpkin was the lasagna Lauren has been planning since the project started, so it wasn’t likely I would be dallying in any pumpkin patches and if there were gonna be any consequences of my bright idea (which there obviously were), I probably wouldn’t have to bear them.

Monday was still gloomy and gray so I spent most of that day thinking and planning (i.e., moaning and groaning) rather than shopping and cooking. While I was thinking, planning, moaning and groaning, I decided I should incorporate into pumpkin week the three most culturally prominent pumpkin foods: pumpkin pie, pumpkin seeds and Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte. Then I laughed. Like I’m going to make a pie. But I can probably manage seeds and a latte, and two outta three ain’t bad (thank you, Meatloaf).

At happy hour on Monday with Erin and Amber at the Spanish-Venezuelan-Cuban fusion Mezcalito’s in Oakhurst, I actually discovered a salad with pumpkin seeds (I mean, it’s not like I was digging for gold, it was just right there on the menu). So I added grilled steak to that bitch and knocked Day 1 out of the park. To be fair, they were just seeds and I couldn’t even really see them, so I’m not positive the kitchen remembered to put them on my salad, but it was a good try.

I was most looking forward to pumpkin lasagna on Day 2, though, which I really intended to be my inaugural pumpkin meal. BFF Lauren has been talking about pumpkins and pumpkin lasagna for weeks now, ever since she discovered a cookbook with nothing but pumpkin recipes (an entire book), because apparently pumpkin is not just a vegetable (and even that may be debatable), it’s a super food. I don’t know what a super food is, but it sounds important. Each time Lauren has made pumpkin lasagna she tells Facebook, and everyone there seems to agree it sounds delicious. So. Bring on the deliciousness.

Except for that one part about the consequences of my bright ideas…

OK, but for real, if you were planning this project, wouldn’t you have put pumpkin during Halloween week? It’s just fucking clever.

So the thing about pumpkins is they come in various sizes, most of which are appropriate for cooking, except at Halloween when their only sizes are big, bigger and monstrosities, which are really only appropriate for carving and smashing. Obviously I wouldn’t know this because when would I ever have had occasion to cook with a pumpkin before? And frankly, I didn’t know stores sold pumpkin at any time of the year other than Halloween. So actually, I thought I was doing pumpkin week a favor by situating it at the end of October. You’re welcome, pumpkin week.

But, eh, sorry, Lauren.

So Lauren, who had planned her day around pre-prepping the rather laborious pumpkin lasagna construction, wound up a bit perplexed by the scarcity of the cooking pumpkins amongst all the carving pumpkins. She got a carving pumpkin anyway and called me to let me know the situation and that it might be a little longer before she got to my house, like I had any fucking clue what she was talking about.


Meanwhile, back at my place, I served a pumpkin seed appetizer (it was just pumpkin seeds in a fancy bowl) to David and my sister, Bethany; played loud music; and showed off my best dance moves while they ignored me and talked about esoteric bullshit. Whatever, yo. It’s pumpkin week.

Lauren called again to say the larger pumpkin wasn’t working, so she was delayed because she had to go out and found some smaller ones. Now that she was prepped and ready to go, she and her pumpkin lasagna parts were officially on their way.

cooking pumpkin

Pumpkin lasagna has a lot of parts. I’ve discovered that most of the recipes of this project that have been really worth it have had a lot of parts. And pumpkin lasagna… so fucking worth it.

We spent the next hour doing what has come to be my favorite part of this project: spending time in the kitchen with friends and family around warmth and yummy smells. The buttery, orange pumpkin sautéing on the stove and the creamy white béchamel simmering in Lauren’s bright red pot were the perfect antidote to my winter vegetable blues. Suddenly I was transformed into a cozy snow bunny, dreaming of hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows by an open fire on chilly nights, bundled in sweaters and hats and scarves, mmmmmmmmm. I love pumpkin week!


pumpkin lasagna

Lauren carefully layered all the parts—whole wheat noodles, sautéed pumpkin and chicken sausage, béchamel, and mozzarella and parmesan cheese—in a casserole dish and popped that prettiness in the oven. When it came out all pretty and golden 45 minutes later we ooh’d and ah’d. It was beautiful. A fucking masterpiece. Lauren was not surprised.

“I make pretty shit.”

And I win shit. We’re such a good team.

Bookmark and Share

battle 11–day 1–bok choy

Is it just me or are fall and winter vegetables a hundred percent more boring than summer vegetables? Also, is it weird that I have an opinion about that? I think it is.

So last Monday was my sixth wedding anniversary—happy anniversary to us!—and my clever husband took me to my favorite restaurant, Watershed (which I classify differently from my all-time most favorite eating establishment in the whole wide world forever to infinity because one is a restaurant and one is a “joint,” although we did eat at my all-time most favorite eating establishment in the whole wide world forever to infinity one year for our anniversary and it was lovely). Watershed, of course, has the world’s best vegetable plate. Sometimes. Like, in-the-summer sometimes. On Monday Watershed’s vegetable plate had field peas, green beans, collard greens (the disgusting kind), fried okra (OK, well that was delicious), and, horror of horrors, roasted tomatoes. I say why mess with a good thing when tomatoes are perfect, perfect, perfect right off the vine. I mean, perfect. I sat there depressed while the dark, gloominess of autumn and its boring vegetables chilled my bones. Roasted tomatoes. Ugh.

Fine, it wasn’t that bad, but I’ve had some really shitty vegetables three weeks in a row—beets, collards and now bok choy—and it’s hard to keep up the enthusiasm when the hits keep coming. Seriously, beets? Gross. Thank god for pumpkin next week; that should be a gimme.

I recovered from my trauma over the end of the summer vegetable plate at Watershed and got back to business with bok choy on Tuesday. Many thanks to Elwood for finding me a recipe with ham hocks and bok choy; many curses at the farmer’s market for giving me ham hocks that look like lumps of pig butt. My Biggest Supporter Melissa R. and Infinite Naysayer Jon offered to do a stir fry with their wok, since that’s all anyone seems to make with bok choy, but they weren’t available until Thursday so I had to come up with something else for the next two days. Google and I spent a lot of time together Tuesday looking for creative ways to eat bok choy, and here’s what we came up with: stir fry. I did find one Web site that said I could deep fry it and I about fell out of my chair I was so excited, but  when I got further into the recipe it said the method for deep frying bok choy is to just fry it longer in a stir fry. Booo.

I was getting kind of cranky and about to give up altogether (we were within two hairs of my first defeat…and by forfeit, no less) when David reminded me that we have a wok-like contraption (like, how would I know this?) and then said that he would be happy to make dinner while I sat on the sofa and sulked. So my first almost-defeat turned into David’s first battle for the blog. Way to take one for the team, DP.

I was really only able to sulk for a minute or two before getting bored with my self pity (I didn’t have an audience, so it wasn’t really worth the effort); I went into the kitchen to see if there was anything I could do to help. There wasn’t. So I hovered. While David cooked I thought about all the things I’d learned on Google that day that I’d forgotten to tell him, like about separating the greens from the stalks and cooking the stalks first, but I didn’t want to nitpick, and since neither of us would have known the difference between well-prepared bok choy and chewy, overcooked bok choy I just kept my trap shut and smiled my I-know-something-you-don’t-know smile.

stir fry

When he was done, David took extra care to lay out his stir fry so I could take pretty pictures, but then discovered what I struggled with early on in this project: veggie sides do not a meal make, and meals take planning, so…. We had turkey sandwiches and bok choy stir fry. Yum.

The bok choy was eh. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, but if I encounter it again I’m pretty confident I can eat it without complaint. Mostly I think I wasn’t keen on its pairing with a turkey sandwich, but I really appreciated not having to cook while I was in my post-summer-vegetable funk, so I’m calling it won and moving on to pumpkins, which I think will get me into the fall spirit in a really yummy way.

bok choy

battle 10–day 1 and only, after party–collards

First of all, I’d like to just go over the rules of Julie v. Veggies again. Maybe some of you are new to this project or maybe some of you are steadfast naysayers and have some unreasonable reason to think I can’t win everything all the time, which I can, so we’re just going to go over this again, slowly.

  1. First and foremost, I make up the rules and I can do whatever I want.
  2. Generally, the week should go like this: I eat a vegetable and if I don’t like it, then I keep trying until I come up with something palatable; this is pretty standard since I can’t usually stomach, ugh, new vegetables, ack, right away. However, on the random weeks I win early and can add a new vegetable to my diet Monday or Tuesday, then I have the rest of the week to do whatever I want. I can write about what assholes you naysayers are, heap lavish praise on you supporters for being my favorite people in the whole world, or daydream about having tea and crumpets with the Queen of England. I can also keep on eating that vegetable, because if you’ll recall from three milliseconds ago, I’ve already added it to my diet permanently, but if for some reason I don’t love the next dish I make with it, that doesn’t mean I suddenly lose; it doesn’t negate my earlier win. That’s like saying just because I don’t like onions on my hamburgers I don’t like hamburgers. Complete nonsense.
  3. Let me just take this opportunity to reiterate that I make up the rules and I can do whatever the fuck I want.

Now that we’re clear, we can revisit collard week for a second. Briefly. IhadregularolecollardsonSundayandtheyweresohorribleIwantedtogougemyeyeballsoutalittlebit. Next up, bok choy.

OK, fine. Since I cleared collard greens with such success on Collard Saturday, I figured, hey, they’re a part of my diet now, why not just give standard greens a little try, what could it hurt? Someone suggested trying the greens at my all-time most favorite eating establishment in the whole wide world forever to infinity, Daddy D’z BBQ Joint, which I took under advisement, and then went to the Midway Pub instead to watch football. I actually didn’t really plan to eat the greens at Midway, I was really only going to eat greens on Sunday if we went to my all-time most favorite eating establishment in the whole wide world forever to infinity, because chances were they would do them right at a barbeque joint, but the glutton for punishment in me took over and before I could stop myself I had ordered them and they were in front of me and I was trying to decide if I should have a pretend fainting spell or just fucking eat them. I was very, very close to pretend fainting.

Melissa assured me the only way those awful things were going down was by dousing them in hot and pepper sauce, while her consummately anti-vegetable husband, Jon, stuck to a “if you have to drown them in sauce, what’s the point, screw em” mantra, which I’ve been saying all along about all the vegetables, thank you very much. Still, I added both hot and pepper sauce with many, many shakes. Lots of sauce. Lots.

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. TerribleHorrible.  No good. Very bad. Gag.

So Melissa said, “Give em here.” Then she lifted one lonely green out of the heap, held it to the light and inspected it very closely….for bacon. The bacon was its only savior! Now they’re really going to be awful. She ate them. Then her eyes started to water. Too much pepper sauce. “My mouth is on fire.”

Traditional collards, out. Collard gratin, in. I still fucking win.

battle 10–day 1 and only–collards

When I realized late Friday how much effort I was going to have to put into preparing collards, Collard Friday very quickly turned into Collard Saturday. I was still committed to my one-day battle and I wanted to do it right, so I planned to spend all Saturday afternoon in the kitchen with collards. Mmmmm.

Saturday morning I went to the farmer’s market. And I might have gone by myself. But before you naysay anything about broken promises and whatnot, I actually found every single thing on my list.

So, have you ever seen a collard before? Or a bunch of collards? And if someone said to you, “three to four bunches of collards,” would you know how much that is? I walked up to the collard bin at the farmer’s market and I was the only person standing there for a minute (thinking to myself, of course I’m the only person buying collards because they’re goddamn disgusting). Before me were the biggest, hugest leafy green leafy things I’ve ever seen. Huge. Gigantic. Big. Bigger than me, big. Big. Several big stalky stems were bound together, which didn’t make sense to me, so I thought, I’ll just take those apart and take what I want. And you know I really only wanted one. But something about how I had to very laboriously separate the one stalky bit from its stalky bit friends wasn’t altogether intuitive, plus my recipe called for “three to four bunches of collards,” so then I started to really study the stalks and stems and binding of the stalks and stems. Were the big stalk-like things that narrowed down into many, many stems a bunch? Or were the eight or nine of those things bound together considered a bunch? If that was the case, could I possibly need 30 pounds of collards? I was beginning to feel like it was a mistake to come by myself this time, not because I couldn’t find what I was looking for, but because I wouldn’t be able to carry what I found.

As I stood there deliberating over how many collards to get, several more people finally came up and started putting bunches in their baskets. So I just watched them. The lady next to me turned to a plastic bag dispenser behind us; apparently collards are so big they get their own supersized bag. I watched as she pulled one off and then picked through the collards until she found a set (still not sure on the bunch business at this point) she liked (also not sure what her criteria was) and dropped it in her McBag. I followed suit. I got a big bag, picked through the collards, inspected them for nothing at all, chose one that looked like all the other ones, dropped it in my basket, and moved on to the rest of my list. A slight panic about Collard Saturday began to set in, but I suppressed the urge to let it take over. I mean, collards are so big and so green. And also so big. But you know, I can totally do this.

The next place I went in the farmer’s market was the meat counter for some ham hocks. I’ve never bought ham hocks before, not because I have anything against them, but mostly because I’ve only really ever heard of them being used to make vegetables taste better, and well, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I don’t eat many vegetables. So I said to Mr. Meat Guy, two ham hocks, please. I had no idea what to expect, and actually, Elwood’s recipe called for smoked ham hocks and I was kind of hoping that’s what I’d get. Instead Mr. Meat Guy gave me two raw pieces of pork that looked like every other piece of raw pork I’ve ever seen. This was not an exciting experience. Nothing to see here, people.

It got a lot more exciting when I got home and realized hoping for smoked meat and not getting it meant I was going to have to smoke it myself. Of course, I didn’t actually realize that until I had a pot of simmering chicken broth on the stove to which I was about to add some really, super raw ham hocks. Yum.

I paused, and I thought for a second. I looked at the raw ham in my hands and thought, wait a minute, these ham hocks aren’t smoked! And then I envisioned myself firing up my smoker and spending the next six years smoking those hocks and the four years after that simmering collards, and blah, no thanks. I was pretty sure I was going to hate them to begin with, there was no way I was putting all that effort into something that fucking disgusting. (I mean, come on, Elwood, even you weren’t sure these were going to be good….I know we have faith in meat and beer, and I do, I totally do, but….you should have seen those fugly collards.)

Plan B. I was trying to knock these out in one day; obviously there was a Plan B.

Plan B was Alton Brown’s mustard green gratin, but with collards instead of mustard greens. I loved this idea, especially because it was a totally different way to prepare collards, it had my most favorite food word of all time—gratin—and it took about a thousand percent less time than the traditional way.

Once I read over the collard green gratin recipe a hundred times and did some Googling on how to clean and prepare collards, I determined to finally settle the bunch question for myself. I decided one of the big stalky bits with a ‘bunch’ of little stems is a bunch, because this is reasonable, and if a usual recipe calls for three or four or five or six bunches and they were grouped together that way at the farmer’s market, then the individual pieces are probably a bunch. Deductive reasoning is what that is, right there. Also, I got a little dizzy when I thought about having to work with much more than three or four of those stalky bits, so I got comfortable with my answer and didn’t verify with Google because if there was an answer other than the one I came up with, I didn’t want to know. Finally soothed about this daylong mystery, I started cutting off the stalks and stems and washing the dirt (and possibly bugs, according to Google) off the leafy greens. OK, now, collards are huge and scary and they’re super time-consuming, especially for the relatively small yield you get in the end, but I found the methodical, repetitive cutting and cleaning to get them ready really relaxing. I don’t think preparing them in the future will wind up being the best use of my time, but I enjoyed the one experience I’ve had with them so far.

cleaning collards

chopping collards

I finished cleaning and cutting the greens and added them to the garlic and mushrooms I was sautéing in a roasting pan on the stove. This was the first time I’ve used a roasting pan on the stove and the only one I had was way, way bigger than what the recipe called for; really, do people have multiple sizes of roasting pans? I went with it, though, and I think I did it right. Then I added the greens to the cheese mixture I’d already prepared and popped that bad boy in the oven.


Hey guys, collard green gratin is great. It tasted like spinach, actually, which is one vegetable I tolerate extremely well. And when I took it as my side dish to a potluck that night, everyone agreed this is a perfectly acceptable way to win; I don’t have to like the other kind. And I probably won’t, so, one-day battle with collards won. Done.

I do still have those ham hocks, though, so if anyone has any idea how to marry ham hocks and bok choy, I’m all ears.

battle 10–collards

Welcome to Collard Friday. Since my huge, huge success with beets took only a mere two weeks, I decided to really gamble with collards and try knocking them out in one day. Then I thought I would raise the stakes even further by pushing the one-day battle to the end of the week so if I win, I really, really win, but if I fail, I really, really fail. Living life in the fast lane, that’s what that is right there.

Actually, none of that’s true. I’ve been out of town on business and I’m scared shitless of collards. I considered trying to find a meat-n-three restaurant while I was traveling, so I could get started earlier in the week with the standard, traditional, boiled mush version, but I’ve had traditional collards before (they’re nearly unavoidable on New Year’s Day around here) and I’m pretty sure I hate them. So instead I mostly ate cookies and milk from room service (milk does a body good just as much as vegetables, so suck it, naysayers) and am now crossing my fingers that I can come up with a palatable way of preparing collards.


Bookmark and Share

battle 9–round 2/day 1–beets

I was really conflicted about extending beets into two weeks. One the one hand, they were really fucking terrible, so I could just take my first loss and be done with it. I mean, it stands to reason there may be some vegetables in the world I wind up not liking, right? Ten weeks ago all I ate was fried okra and creamed corn and now all of a sudden I can’t get enough zucchini? But on the other hand, I do not accept defeat gladly. I like to win. I love to win. And even though I do like to win fairly, I’m also not above lying, cheating and stealing. Considering this intense, overwrought, irrational love of winning, it seemed an embarrassing shame to surrender to a beet. I mean, it’s pink.

So, onward to beet week—round two.

To beat beets I had to get serious, no more of this namby pamby shavings on a salad or ginger (which I don’t like anyway) on boiled beet mush. I was going to have to deploy one or all of my three best weapons again vegetables: meat, cheese or the frydaddy.

Meat Pusher Elwood sent another excellent sounding recipe for beets with bacon, but this one looked a lot harder, especially because it had the words “reduction” and “vinaigrette” in it. I considered reminding Elwood that I don’t know how to cook, thinking I could delay the inevitable one more night (beets! ugh!), but I’m going to have to give up that line eventually because I am actually starting to learn some shit, so I quit being baby and gave it a try.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself and cooking is that I really love being in the kitchen, reading and re-reading recipes, searching Google or my dictionary or the Joy of Cooking for the meanings of words, checking off mental lists, creating and cleaning. I move slowly and methodically, but I’m starting to create my own processes and I really relish my time with myself. Unfortunately for David, he can’t read my mind, he doesn’t know what’s next on the list in my head, he gets in my way, and half the time I run him out of the room with a spatula. But he wants to participate, and I appreciate that, so this week when he offered to help I gave him the grocery list, because one thing that would really help me a lot is not wasting my time wandering aisles of grocery stores looking for mythical vegetables and magical jams.

But of course, not long after I turned him loose he called me. From the grocery store. Lost. “I can’t find beets.” Motherfucker.

Fortunately I still had two from the previous week. I had no idea if they were still any good, but I had them, so I used them.  And then I got to work on Elwood’s recipe:

    • Haystack Mountain goat cheese (I used plain brand, it was great)
    • 4 garden beets; place beets in saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer in water for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Let cool and peel. Slice each beet into 4 rounds. Set aside. (I only had two, this was fine, I figured more bacon and fewer beets was probably a good ratio)
    • 12 slices bacon; cook until slightly crispy.
    • 2 cup balsamic; simmer in small pot, reduce by 1/3 and lightly coats the back of a spoon. Let cool.
    • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1 each garlic cloves – minced
    • 1 ea shallots – minced (Obviously I skipped the shallots)
    • 1 cup Dijon
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar (I forgot the brown sugar, oops)
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • Black pepper
    • Emulsify all ingredients in a blender, pouring oil in slowly to blend.

    Set oven to 350 degrees. Place slice of beet on sheet tray. Smear 1/4 tablespoon Haystack Mountain goat cheese. Dot of Black Pepper. One Slice of Bacon. (Repeat two times.) Add more goat cheese to top. Place in oven for about 6 minutes or until warm. Use spatula to set on plate. Drizzle balsamic and Dijon vinaigrette on plate and serve.

    I took my time with this one. I studied the recipe and strategized what to do first. I spent a few minutes cursing Elwood for sending me something so complicated looking with so many ingredients and moving parts, but then I remembered it had bacon in it and got excited again. So, curse Elwood, done. Get over it, done. Next up, simmer some beets and reduce some balsamic. I figure this is where knowing how to cook would probably have come in handy.

    simmering beets

    I popped the beets in a pot with water and poured balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan and put them both on the stove to “simmer,” even though I had no point of reference for what that instruction meant. I took a guess, turned the heat on just above low-ish and went to work on my vinaigrette. While I was doing that I noticed not much was happening with the balsamic. Then I thought, huh, maybe something’s not right, maybe I should do something.  But I don’t know shit about reducing. I’ve never “reduced” anything before, ever, in my life, and it would be fair to say I probably only learned that use of the word “reduction” in very recent weeks or months, so noticing not much was happening with my balsamic and suddenly thinking that meant I should do something about it was, like, the cooking gods shining their love down on me and saying, “You got this one, Julie.”

    I asked David how high the heat should be for simmering. Whereas I like everything hot and fast, David thinks everything in the world can be cooked low and slow. So of course he said, “Low.” Since the heat was already just above low and nothing was happening, I found this answer suspect and decided to consult with Google instead. Google said simmering is just below boiling; some bubbles should form on the bottom and rise to the surface but not enough to boil or thoroughly cook. I turned the heat up on that shit and my balsamic started reducing immediately. I’m telling you, there’s something to cooking hot and fast. Don’t knock it, yo.

    reducing balsamic

    But, what the cooking gods giveth, the cooking gods can taketh away. While I was being distracted by learning, I forgot to add the brown sugar to the vinaigrette. I later thought really complex recipes should come with check boxes so I can mark off when I’ve completed certain parts, like a to-do list, but then I might get pissed about having an incomplete list at the end because I didn’t check “add shallots,” and I really hate leaving lists undone, so maybe the check boxes aren’t the best idea for recipes. I’ll keep thinking about this. In any case, a fourth cup of brown sugar is nothing to sneeze at so I imagine it would have changed the taste in no small way, but the vinaigrette turned out super awesome anyway, so I wasn’t too upset about it.

    bacon and beets

    Then I cleaned up and sliced the beets, laid them out, smeared on a ton of goat cheese, added strips of bacon, then more goat cheese, warmed them in the oven for a bit, and then added the prettiest parts of all: my very first ever vinaigrette and my very first ever reduction of something. I poured them on top all fancy like, the way they do in restaurants and admired my handiwork. Sexy. That was the prettiest fucking meal I’ve ever made.

    And I loved it. I mean, it was covered in bacon and goat cheese and a balsamic reduction, of course I loved it. And David was so beside himself he was speechless (I feel sure anyone who knows David will find this unbelievable, but it’s true, he actually couldn’t talk), so even though he was pretty useless at the grocery store and in the kitchen, he redeemed himself at dinner because he loved my beets.

    bacon beets

    So I beat beets, obviously. Then when I was telling Seriously Rude Naysayer John yesterday about my huge victory, he asked (rhetorically, not interrogatively, John), “That kind of makes the beets more of an ingredient though, doesn’t it?” I can’t repeat what I said to him on this clean, family friendly blog, but it prompted him to follow up with, “….not to downplay the culinary success of the endeavor.”

    And he’s right about that. Beating beets was the overall goal of these two weeks, and thank the cooking gods I did that, but I’m proudest of the “culinary success.” I made a vinaigrette, yo.

    Bookmark and Share

    battle 9–day 2–beets

    This morning I woke up considering doing a major first in the history of this august project…extending a vegetable battle to two weeks. This was my thought process, see if you agree: This was originally supposed to be kohlrabi week. When kohlrabi hit the skids, I scrambled to move up beets, so then I wasn’t really mentally prepared for what is likely the very worst vegetable in the history of the world. My first pass at it was relatively successful, but not enough to call it won, yum yum beets, and my second attempt was a miserable failure. And then all of a sudden this week was over (how did I only have two nights with beets? That’s weird…oh, there was that one night I told beets to suck it and went out for sushi instead, and that other night I…OK, it’s all coming back to me now)… so I’m just a little pissed about ending this week undone. So I thought, well next week was supposed to be beet week anyway, and I still haven’t found kohlrabi, why not just keep going until I beat beets? Don’t you agree?

    Stupid fucking kohlrabi. I hate you.

    So this morning, I got an e-mail from the East Lake Farmers’ Market that their growers will have kohlrabi at the market this weekend. Seriously. No shit. I am serious as a heart attack about that. I looked back through all my e-mails from them and this is the first time they’ve had it. I don’t know how to feel about these stars aligning in kohlrabi’s favor. Obviously I have to do kohlrabi week now. But can I still continue beet week like I wanted to? I’m considering this. I make up the rules, of course, so I can do whatever the fuck I want.

    In the meantime, the reason I’m so anxious to keep at it with beets is that last night I bombed my only real pass at eating them. And by ‘eating’ I mean swallowing and digesting. Steph over at PROJECT 29 to 30 has also never eaten beets, so we decided to tackle this one together and made a date for girls’ night out at Watershed. Not only is Watershed my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, they have gingered beets as a side item. Score.

    I ordered the vegetable plate with all my favorite veggies, which some of my dinner companions poo poo’d because they’re all fried or cooked in animal fat (so delicious), and then asked Mister Server Guy about the beets. He said, and I quote, “They’re great. I don’t even like beets and I love them.” Steph—who had earlier in the day choked down some salad bar beets and found them to be most mud-like and unappetizing—and I hung on every word of this ringing endorsement. Let us eat beets.

    Or maybe let us heave a little and then spit up beets.

    Watershed’s ginger beets looked a lot like cranberry-from-a-can you only ever eat at Thanksgiving, so their appearance was misleading from the get go. Not that I really like cranberry-from-a-can, but that blobbly purplish stuff conjured an image in my head that the taste in my mouth failed to match. As I chewed and settled in with this disappointment, I started to actually taste the beets. Wow. Awful. Think of gross meets terrible meets worse meets dirt. That’s beets.

    I spat it out. On my plate. Then I was so grossed out looking at it that I moved the spat-out-bit back to the beet side dish. Then I gave the beets to one of my unsuspecting dinner companions. I do feel a little bad about recycling beets I spat in. A little.

    Steph, meanwhile had a much better attitude about gingered beets than I did, and she actually ate hers. Even after Mister Server Guy took our plates she kept her beets and continued eating them, considering them carefully. Whatever, Steph. Showoff.
    I am going to do beets again next week. I will not be defeated. GRRRRRRRRR.

    Bookmark and Share