Vegetarian Friday: Mashed potatoes and green-chile gravy

On vacation in 2014, I ordered something called a green-chile parfait at a little diner in Gallup, New Mexico, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Said parfait was a Coke glass in which the cook had layered mashed potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar cheese. The execution was kind of mediocre (I think they made the parfait and then microwaved it in the glass, because it had some hot and cold spots in it), but the idea? Brilliant.

I don’t have any parfait glasses, so I just made a bowl of skin-on mashed potatoes and topped it with green-chile sauce and shredded cheddar. It was delicious. Here’s how to make it:

1. Click over to the Visit Albuquerque website to get the green-chile sauce recipe I used. I forgot where I’d stashed my plain cumin, so I subbed a tablespoon or so of my usual homemade taco-seasoning mix for the cumin, and I upped the garlic to three cloves because I grew up in a town full of Italians, and if you’re going to use garlic, you might as well do it right. For the broth, I used a cup of water and three of those vegetable-stock cubes I froze last summer. It turned out very well.

Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It's good on just about everything.
Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It’s good on just about everything.

2. Bake two potatoes, cut them into chunks, and mash them up, skins and all. (Time-saving tip: Potatoes bake well in the Crock-Pot. Wash them up and cook a bunch at once; when they’re done, you can dice them up or mash them and freeze them for later use.)

3. Layer potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar in a bowl and nuke until the cheddar melts.

Serves two, with enough green chile left for a batch of huevos rancheros or a couple of wet burritos.

Emily

Daydreaming in a winter garden

I spent a little time in the garden last week, pulling out last summer’s tomato vines and clearing the beds so they’ll be ready to replant this spring. I wasn’t sure what to do with the vines, and while the fire-ring raised beds are neat and easy to work with, they’re not terribly pretty. My long-term goal for the backyard is to turn it into something straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel — an irresistible Heligan in miniature, if you will — and big metal rings aren’t quite up to that standard. I’d been considering various options for making them more aesthetically pleasing and getting them to blend in with the scenery a little better, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on retaining-wall blocks or stackable stone. While I was standing on the deck, surveying the yard and taking a mental inventory of the tasks I need to complete before spring, I noticed an abandoned doves’ nest on top of the fence post nearest the house and had an idea for recycling those spent tomato vines:

I can't decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.
I can’t decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.

I’m trying to decide whether I like it. It certainly blends in better than a bare metal ring, so I’ll probably keep it until I think of a better idea.

Meanwhile, I was perusing the Shumway’s catalog and found this:

I'm not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I'll make an exception for this one.
I’m not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I’ll make an exception for this one.

Obviously I’ll be ordering a couple of these so I can have me a time with a poor man’s lady this summer.

Emily

P.S.: Confession No. 1: When I was 16, I wanted to be Neil Diamond’s backup singer when I grew up. Confession No. 2: I still do.

Tiny Tuesday: Merry minimalism

When I bought my Christmas tree, I wasn’t dreaming of living in a tiny house. I didn’t even know tiny houses existed. I just wanted a cool retro tree that would fit in my apartment.

Seventeen years and four moves later, I appreciate my shiny, easy-to-assemble aluminum Christmas tree as much for its space-saving design as for its great atomic-era look.

I’m not suggesting everybody who’s considering a tiny house should rush out and buy an aluminum tree and color wheel, but as I was taking mine down, it occurred to me that of all the things I’ll have to shrink when we finally build that tiny house in northeastern New Mexico, my Christmas tree isn’t one of them.

I have a few other decorations, but they usually stay in storage; the ones I get out just about every year are the tree (with matching green and red glass balls hanging from its branches and a color wheel underneath to illuminate it) and the little plastic creche my mom bought for me at Ben Franklin when I was 3 or 4 years old:

Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I'm betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.
Next year, I might put the end table in the garage and spring for a full-size aluminum tree with the branches that have the big flared ends. I’m betting it will still pack down to a reasonable size.

In the featured image and the one below, you can see what the tree looks like when it’s packed into its box:

Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.
Gratuitous picture of the box, just because the graphic design is great.

Below is the whole setup, packed and ready to be stashed in a plastic storage tub in the garage:

Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I've no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.
Tree on the left, color wheel on the right, and a 24-pack of glass ornaments on the bottom. I’ve no idea where the box for the creche went. It vanished several years ago.

If your holiday decorations are taking over your attic or spilling out of the closets, I can wholeheartedly recommend a throwback Christmas tree, ca. 1958, for ease of assembly, disassembly, and storage.

Emily

Make-It Monday: Propagating African violets

I have no idea whether this will work, but I found instructions online for propagating African violets, and since I had a violet growing and blooming like mad, half a bag of leftover potting mix, and an empty plastic salad tub, I thought I’d give them a shot.

Here's the tub. It creates a mini-greenhouse to keep them warm and moist. The mother plant is in the background.
Here’s the tub. It creates a mini-greenhouse to keep them warm and moist. The mother plant is in the background.

I had several plants that needed to be repotted, propagated, or both. My aluminum plant — which was rootbound and suffering terribly in the dry air in this house — went into a bigger pot, with a plastic bag over it to keep the leaves from drying out. Meanwhile, my spider plant needed a bigger pot for itself, and I snipped off a couple of its babies and transplanted them while I was at it:

This was the pot that originally held the mother plant. I expect this baby will outgrow it quickly.
This was the pot that originally held the mother plant. I expect this baby will outgrow it quickly.
Another baby I planted. I love this uber-'70s, avocado-green pot I bought from the Plant Lady.
Another baby I planted. I love this uber-’70s, avocado-green pot I bought from the Plant Lady.

We’ll see how they do. They look cool on the credenza, where I put CFLs in a couple of faux-mid-century lamps to supplement the decidedly inadequate natural light coming in the front window.

I developed a new appreciation for African violets after a conversation with a young friend in California who messaged me on Twitter to ask what sort of plants would do well in her dorm room. I suggested several species, including African violets, and after looking at some pictures online, she was quite enchanted with them and was looking forward to a plant-shopping trip with her dad. (Good luck, Kadijah! If you ever make it to Missouri, we’ll spend an afternoon poking around the Plant Lady’s shop and Mother Earth Plants.)

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Hand me the wine and the dice

I’d planned to make a long list of goals for 2017, but if there’s a lesson to be learned from 2016, I think I found it the other day in the lyrics to a song from one of my favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals:

If death were given a voice,
That voice would scream through the sky:
“Live while you may, for I am coming!”
So …

… Hand me the wine and the dice.
The time is racing away.
There’s not a taste that’s not worth trying.
And if tomorrow it ends,
I won’t have wasted today;
I will have lived while I am dying.

— Don Black and Charles Hart

“Hand Me the Wine and the Dice” is sung at the funeral of one of the central characters in Aspects of Love, a wealthy painter and patron of the arts who is driven, perhaps by the premature death of his first wife, to enjoy every day to the fullest.

After losing so many people I admire last year — some I knew personally, and some I knew only through their work — I found myself thinking about that song the other day.

I’m often guilty of spending so much time regretting yesterday or worrying about tomorrow that I miss today, and it literally makes me sick: I wasted a big chunk of 2016 battling tension headaches and muscle spasms I suspect were entirely stress-induced.

I’m not doing that again.

My goal for 2017 is to do less.

It feels strange — selfish and unproductive — to say that, but just last week, I found myself passing up a volunteer opportunity because I wasn’t confident I’d be healthy enough to pull it off. Taking care of myself isn’t selfish; it’s necessary if I’m to be of service to others.

My hope is that a few months of systematically removing stress from my thought — resting more, being more present in the moment, and giving myself space to enjoy the life I have here and now — will improve my health and recharge my batteries to full power.

If it doesn’t? Well, as the song says: “I won’t have wasted today.”

There’s something to be said for that.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Buy used furniture

Used furniture is one of my favorite forms of recycling. While I purchased a couple of new pieces during my big redecorating project last year, much of the furniture in my house was used when I got it.

My coffee table and end tables came from the Herrin City Library, which sold off or threw out much of its original furniture during an expansion many years ago. The clock in my bedroom came from the same source, and I think that might be where Mom picked up those great lamps that grace the end tables, too.

This cute mid-century bookshelf came from an antique shop on Main Street here in Cape. I expect it will hold up considerably better than the 3-year-old particle-board shelves it replaced:

shelf1

I went looking for mid-century dining furniture at Annie Laurie’s but wound up falling in love with this uber-’70s table and chairs, which came with an extra leaf:

table

The set was too cool to pass up, so I bought it and declared the dining room a ’70s zone — a look I punctuated with a metal faux-woodgrain shelf I found hiding under a layer of unfortunate contact paper at a little shop on Spanish Street:

shelf2

A can of WD-40 and a little patience yielded a nice nostalgia trip, as Mom displayed her houseplants on similar shelves when I was little. Mine serve as a sort of holding pen for stuff that lands on the dining table and for whatever reason can’t be put away yet. About once a month, I look over the contents of the shelf and determine which items are ready to go to more permanent locations.

To my way of thinking, used furniture has three big advantages over new:

1. It’s already here; nobody has to cut down another tree or pull another barrel of oil out of the ground to produce it.

2. With the exception of valuable antiques, used furniture tends to be cheaper than comparable new items. I gave $85 for my dining table and chairs — about $400 less than the IKEA set I was considering, and probably more durable.

3. The antique stores here in Cape are all mom-and-pop operations located in historic buildings, which means when I shop there, I’m not only keeping more of my money in my community, but I’m also contributing to the upkeep of a historic property. WIN.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring