Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Splendor in the Grass" or "Believing in Tomorrow"

 I know summer doesn't technically start until tomorrow but as far as I'm concerned summer starts when the temps hit the 90's and make no move to come back down. This is my reality. This is summer.

 I don't think I need to tell you that the heat in the south is ridiculous. A man once told me that Nashville in the summertime feels like standing inside somebody's mouth, which I think is pretty accurate. For this reason most of my life I've hated summer and I've dealt with the season by wrapping myself in a cocoon of ice cream and not stepping a toe outside it until September. This year however, I decided to lose my mind and mix things up a little.

In a moment of insanity/summer break folly I (ambitiously) started two gardens, an herb garden in buckets on my apartment balcony that started out small but ballooned into a jungle of fourteen pots of herbs two tomatoes a pepper and a squash plant. And I started a somewhat medium sized garden annex in my mother's stolen back yard that has also grown to ridiculous size. I am however despite the heat, totally addicted to both of these projects. For the past month I've found myself getting up at the crack of dawn for a run, and once my feet tire and I'm magnificently sweaty, I make a pit stop at my mother's house to tend to my squash babies,  (you know, give them shower, check on their leaves, mix up some fertilizer) and I almost always end up fooling around for more than an hour. I don't usually plan to do this, it's hot, I'm sweaty, the sun is beaming down, I just can't resist the chance to check up on my little plants every day.

This gardening thing really surprised me. It started off as sort of a throwaway idea but I've found that it's so rewarding watching little seeds turn into sprouts, turn into flowers, turn into food, that I just keep on planting things. And I keep on reading and learning and thinking about planting things so the garden keeps growing and the sickness continues.

In fact I've spend so much free time reading about hand pollination, insects, what fertilizer to use, and what can grow with what, that I've started to develop this little fantasy where I have a this beautiful intimate restaurant with a  massive garden in the back. I grow all my own tomatoes and berries and peppers, and I raise my own bees. The eclectic menu changes from day to day depending on what's looking the best in the garden, and sometimes I just shut it all down to have an uninterrupted heart to heart with my seedlings. I love this fantasy. It usually washes over me when I'm wrist deep in dirt, or when I'm weeding and I find a surprise little green tomato just starting to form. It's a wonderful feeling of bliss, even if that little restaurant never exists. It makes me think that maybe I've misjudged the better parts of summer. That despite its ridiculous saliva-like humidity that maybe there is something about it to really love, even if it's just a few stolen moments in the dirt.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Go Right Ahead"

There are times in this life when things get embarrassing.  When you're out for a run and a stranger in a slow moving car hears you scream to yourself "COME ON WOMAN! YOU CAN DO IT!"... and they give you a look... like you must be a hobo. These are the times when wearing a ski mask in public, seems like a good idea. But there are also times to be proud. Like when you figure out the answer to a problem that's been plaguing  you, and you want to do a happy dance.

I've experienced both of these feelings this week. 

My shame; yes I talk to myself in public, and no, this is not the first time I've been caught.
My pride; I have found the holy grail of dairy free baking. Home made sweetened condensed coconut milk. 
It will change your life. It'll give you pride and if you're like me, it'll make you scream "EUREKA!" while doing a happy dance (and you won't even care who's giving you the eye!).

I will however confess, that while it did provoke a happy dance, it took me three tries to get this right. It isn't hard to do if you know what to expect, but in the throws of whisking I kept doubting myself. Is it thick enough yet?*whisk whisk whisk* Am I burning it up?* sniff sniff whisk* If it gets thicker when it cools is this thick enough? * whisk whisk whisk*  My first try I kept the heat way too low, and after an hour it hadn't really changed consistency at all. I figured I was just stupid, tried to use it anyway and ended up with a sort of soupy mousse situation. Fail!

My second try was in the middle of the night, which should have been my first clue that this wouldn't work out. I used raw sugar because that's all I had in the house, and since I  was headed to bed once I got done with the cook stage I just stuck the whole thing in the fridge to use in the morning.

 Don't be like me and make either of these choices.

 The raw sugar tinted everything a brownish golden hue, and the fat separated from the milk in the refrigerator over night, making an floating iceberg of coconut oil. When creaming my batter together I thought to myself, eh it'll all come out in the wash but alas this was not the case and the finished product was speckled with islands of coconut oil. Ew. 

By my third try I was a seasoned pro. I got a nice comfortable bench to sit on, and set myself up with some wifi action. I nursed the creamy dreamy coconut milk while it simmered a full forty five minutes, until it left streaks in the pan when I ran my whisk through it, was the consistency of yogurt, and just the slightest bit nutty smelling.

I let it sit until it was room temperature, and from there ignored my lazy urge to deal with it later and made the pie filling right away. This time everything was perfect. All the aspects of a key lime pie that I love and remember, no sacrifices, no excuses. Perfect texture, perfect taste, total elation. 

Strangers of the world, warm up your stink eye, because you better believe that I'm causing a scene!

Dairy Free Key Lime Pie

This is admittedly a little labor intensive to produce, you have to stand over a hot sauce pan whisking every moment or two for forty five minutes, but the results are beyond worth it. It's an equal swap for  sweetened condensed cows milk, wonderfully undetectable, and look, it makes cream pies!

Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk

2 (13.5 ounce) cans of  unsweetened coconut milk ( I used Thai Kitchen brand)
1/2 cup caster sugar

Add two cans of coconut milk and a 1/2 cup of sugar to a heavy bottomed sauce pan, and simmer on medium low heat (whisking frequently to avoid any lumps) for about 45 minutes until the mixture thickens and has reduced in volume by about half. Trust yourself on this, there is a visible difference between what you started out with and and the finished very thick yogurt like end product. If after 45 minutes it still seems too runny, just keep on simmering until it reduces.

Let cool to room temperature before using.


12 whole graham crackers
5 tbsp shortening
4 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp light brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of a food processor add 12 whole graham crackers and pulse until you have medium-small crumbs.

In a mixing bowl combine 5 tbsp shortening, 4 tbsp coconut oil, 3tbsp of light brown sugar and the graham cracker crumbs. Fold mixture together with a rubber spatula until the crumbs are evenly coated with the oil mixture. Press crust into the bottom and sides of a 9 1/2 inch pie plate, bake for 10 minutes until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before filling. Leave oven on.


4 large egg yolks
the zest of one lime
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp key lime juice
Sweetened condensed coconut milk

In a large mixing bowl, cream together all ingredients, whisking well to smooth out any lumps.
Bake at 325 for 15 minutes, center will still be jiggly. Set on a cooling rack until the pie is cool to the touch ( about room temp).Chill in the fridge until set, at least four hours or overnight. Slice and enjoy!