Veggie of the Week Challenge: The Colors of Italy Pizza

pizza baked on a stone with pepper and zucchini length-wise slices, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce and an Italian flag toothpick in the center.
Red pepper and zucchini pizza. © Jan Decher, 2018.

This summer, my brand-new middle grade book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, took up the vegetable portion of my brain (I heard that) so dinner was often shoot-your-own-sandwich.

We interrupt our veggie challenge for a moment to bring you a word from our sponsor:

If you’d like to try TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS at your local library, you can recommend it on Overdrive. (See image below.) Thanks for the veggie boost!

screenshot of Trouble With Parsnips bookcover and Recommend button and Read a Sample button

Back to our regularly scheduled veggie: To celebrate (and thank the long-suffering locals), I bring you (TA-DAAA!):

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ace Pepper

We grew a variety called “Liebesäpfel” (love apple) that were very small this year because of the drought. Small green peppers are on this pizza along with the red pepper from the store (on sale this week even though it’s November!) and zucchini. “Ace” is a favorite pepper variety that we grew both in Minnesota and in Vermont.

Pizza dough: our favorite recipe is from the KitchenAid mixer cookbook with 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. If you have a good mixer, you can easily double the recipe. (We left our mixer behind when we changed countries and electrical systems. Even if you use a good mixer, DO let the dough take up all the flour before you add more. Stroll by the working mixer and put a little more in every once in a while. You and the dough will be happier.)

2 1/2 tsp dried yeast, 1 c water (the same temp as your hand–it should feel like nothing), 2 tsps olive oil (the freshest you can afford), 1 tsp salt.

If you mix up the first 2 cups of flour with a big spoon in a bowl, your fingers don’t get sticky. Dump it out on a floured board and add the rest, little by little, until you like the way the dough looks. German flour has more protein than American flour so the dough won’t take as much.

IMHO, the key to EASY home-made pizza dough is adding a LITTLE flour at a time.

Pour a little olive oil in the bowl, turn the dough all around in the bowl so it’s shiny. Cover it with a kitchen towel and leave it on the counter all afternoon to get nice and puffy while you do other stuff.

Treat it like a slow-cooker meal and make it in the morning. Or the day before. (If you refrigerate pizza dough overnight, it comes out even tastier. I cover it with plastic in the fridge.)

Half-way healthy: 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of white flour keeps the half-way healthy dough from being too heavy. Or add a little toasted wheat-germ for more B-vitamins. Fresh mozzarella is inexpensive here and lets you use a bit less cheese. Tomato puree (not sauce) keeps the salt reasonable and the pizza juicy.

To anchovy or not to anchovy? A friend of mine always puts anchovy paste in the dough, but I haven’t done that for a while. Not sure if it adds more protein than salt and fat. Does anyone know?

Cheap: Red peppers were on sale, maybe because it’s still quite warm weather for November. We used to buy a bushel of each color pepper at the end of the season from the Farmer’s Market in St. Paul (Minnesota) and then they were quite reasonable. If you freeze them ready to use (washed, seeded, and sliced), dinner is half-made.

Vote: Murmurs of mutiny! Oh no! The pizza stone method is too advanced for us. We have to wait between small pizzas because our pizza peel isn’t big. Making pizza on a huge cookie sheet makes it’s sturdy enough to pile on more veggies.

As people filled up with pizza . . . questions about possible pepperoni died away. A close call, but success!

I wish I knew how to make these pesto, tomato, mozzarella boats. We ate them in the Cinque Terre and they were marvelous:

baked boats of bread filled with pesto, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

Veggie of the Week: Tendersweet Cabbage + Sausage Stir Fry

wok with sliced cabbage, carrots and kielbasa sausage next to a pot of brown rice and a flat variety cabbage cut in half
Germany is the land of sausage. Half-way healthy version. Photo ©Jan Decher

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

In short, cooking went on the back, back burner, while I published my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS, so dinner was unimaginative for a few months.

hardcover of TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS standing amidst cups on breakfast table.
Hardcover invades table set for breakfast. © Laurel Decher.
Mild-mannered hardcover disguised by breakfast dishes. © Laurel Decher

By the way, I got to see the hardcover for the first time today! Yippeeeee!

*cough* Writer folk are easily distracted from the important work of feeding people.

 

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Tendersweet Cabbage

The grocery store had a variety called “Jaroma” that’s supposed to have a less “cabbage-y” odor. Not sure we noticed the difference, but the shape was like the Tendersweet. Another milder variety of green cabbage is the “point-y” one. (“Murdoc” looks like a 1920’s skirt, very flirty for a cabbage.)

The stir fry is very simple: onion, a generous hunk of fresh ginger, chopped, a few garlic cloves with the center sprout removed, 3 sausages, sliced thin and 2 carrots. When that looks sautéed, I add 1/2 a cabbage, sliced and chopped through a few times in the other direction, turn the heat down and let the cabbage slowly melt into tenderness.

A little cornstarch dissolved in cold water with the healthiest bouillon cube I could find made the sauce. 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper added a bit of zip.

Half-way healthy: I like to “cancel out” the sausage with cabbage family vegetables and I slice the sausage as thin as possible to get the flavor. Brown rice balances this stir-fry nicely.

Cheap: The cabbage was on sale for under $2 and I only used half. If you were cooking for a mob, you could use the whole thing with another carrot and onion for balance. I froze the rest of the sausages in the package.

Vote: Thumbs up! “It would have been too sweet without the brown rice.”

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge is Back: Ruby Chard

garden bed in early spring, no weeds, but red poppies blooming
My garden last May. © Laurel Decher.

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The Veggie of the Week Challenge

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And we’re back! In case you missed last week, this’ll catch you up:

My family endured, uh,  . . . minimalist cooking during the publishing of my first book, TROUBLE WITH PARSNIPS. But they need vitamins and writers can’t run on chocolate forever.

Hence the Challenge:

No recipes will appear here in their entirety.

No holds barred. If the crew orders out for pizza, you’ll get the details here.

At least one inexpensive vegetable must appear in the meal. (Honor of an epidemiologist!)

Half-way healthy. An attempt at lower fat and whole grains will be made, but cream and cheese will inevitably appear. You’ve been warned.

Without further ado, this week’s vegetable is:

Ruby Chard!

(Spinach would work here too, but Ruby Chard grows all season long. Healthy, cheap, and tasty.)

Mean Mac & Cheese adds a vegetable to a kid favorite. Purists can eat noodles from the middle. (Epidemiologists aren’t heartless.)

I fold ruby chard leaves in half, rip off the center rib and slice the stacked leaves nice and thin. The chiffonaded ruby chard gets tucked into the corners of a 9″ x 13″ pan or around the edges of my only big casserole dish.

pasta casserole with chiffonaded ruby chard on the edges on checked tablecloth
Mean Mac & Cheese with Ruby Chard. (Same dish, different veggie.)

Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure* is the Béchamel sauce we use for Mean Mac & Cheese. (Sounds so much fancier than white sauce with thyme, bay leaf, cayenne pepper and salt. We’re all about the words.)

*We have the German translation of both Vegetarian Epicure volumes bound into one: Das große Buch der vegetarischen Küche.

Half-way healthy:

  • If you have people who balk at whole wheat pasta, try “hay and straw” (half “regular” pasta and half whole wheat.) Or try a different brand (or shape) of whole wheat pasta. (Some brands really do taste like cardboard. Persist! 🙂
  • Béchamel sauce can be lower in fat than whipping cream, if you use lowfat or skim milk and actually measure the butter. It helps to add extra milk to the sauce to make sure the ruby chard doesn’t dry out.
  • Sharp cheddar cheese has more flavor per serving of fat than mild cheddar so you can get away with a little less cheese. Adding a small amount to the top during the last few minutes of baking makes the whole thing seem cheesier (in the best possible way).

Cheap: I had a whole salad spinner full of ruby chard from the garden, so I didn’t buy my veggies. You can spend as much or as little as you like for whole wheat pasta and cheese.

The vote: Another thumbs up!

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Basic Garden Vocabulary in German and a side-trip to Mexican Oregano

Vegetable garden overtaken by poppies, nasturitiums, cosmos and zucchini plants
Clearly this garden needs tools and more plants. 🙂

I’ve never grown vegetables in Germany–until this year. That means I need lots of new words!

If you’re considering gardening in Germany, maybe this list will help you out. Or provide you with a little entertainment. Or I’ll just be able to look things up here when I forget them. 🙂

die Gartenschnur–garden twine, jute, often dyed green here.
die Harke–rake (memorization: Rake and Harke both have r’s in them.)
die Hacke–hoe

Note: When my father-in-law (from Northern Germany in Sauerland) said Hacke or Harke, I always thought it was the same word. He pronounces the “r” way back in his throat, somewhere near his toes. When we visit this weekend, we’re going to have a Harke/Hacke challenge. Stay tuned!

Update: I’m crushed at how wrong I was. Even I can hear the difference when he says them. On the bright side, I can finally ask for the tool I want.

die Samen–seeds (not to be confused with der Samen which means seed of the human variety.) Or stay on the safe side and use:

das Saatgut–seeds

der Setzling, die Setzlinge–young plants ready for transplanting into the garden.
das Unkraut, die Unkräute–weed, weeds
die Kräuter–herbs

And for the Dark Side:

der Laubbläser–leaf blower. I was hoping for a creative word for the whining distractions like the German word for vacuum cleaner–der Staubsauger–which is literally “dust-sucker” but I guess you can’t get more literal than leaf blower.

Oh no, now I need to buy 8 different kinds of oregano–these all sound so delicious!

According to the Californians at Rancho Gordo, who are experts in beans of all kinds, these are the two kinds of Mexican Oregano I need to try.

Mexican Oregano

and

Oregano Indio

Who says book research isn’t a plus for family life? You’re probably wondering what Mexican Oregano has to do with 11th century Italy. I was looking up how to cook beans in a glass fiasco for my revised Chapter 1. Anyway, I’m sure Mexican Oregano helps keep up with the zucchini harvest.

Uh, no. My chapter isn’t done. Funny you should ask.

Bye!

Hope your writing, reading, and summer are all going well!

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

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The Good Earth: International Gardens

Orange-y dirt fluffed up for the garden year, path in the middle.
Paydirt. The classic rich soil of the Rhineland. © Laurel Decher, 2017

A landmark. The day before yesterday, I was given my first garden plot since we moved to Germany. Turning over the soil stirred up surprising feelings.

It’s an International Garden so the invitation was in German and in Arabic. My fellow gardeners are from Egypt, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Germany. People were talking about melons, chilis, peas, and pole-beans. I’m very curious to see what will grow.

And what will work. We had a lot of animated conversation in several languages while we got the garden beds ready. The way people grow food is as much a part of their culture as the way they eat it. Several gardeners had advanced training in agriculture in their home countries, but everyone dug right in.

First-class dirt. Some of the most fertile in the world. I also learned a new word for dirt. 🙂 Löss (German) and loess (English) refers to the kind of yellow-brown clay-ey soil that is typical of the Rhine and the Mississippi.

In Pearl S. Buck’s classic novel, The Good Earth, the land has the power to bring riches and a new life to a poor farmer. (And, of course, new troubles because a novel is about the way we deal with the challenges, right?)

What will these new gardens bring into our lives? Fruits, vegetables, flowers, barbeque parties, cake, friendships, and maybe a few more roots to this new home.

Is your garden still buried in snow? What are you planning to grow this year?

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Contrast with Apple Blossoms, Bach, and Story

These apple blossoms and buds look like visual staccato and legato notes.

Sometimes learning something that you had given up on changes your whole view of the world. James Rhodes’ How to Play Piano teaches rank beginners how to play J.S. Bach’s Prelude in C Major. I never learned to read the bass clef and I’ve really been enjoying this attempt. It makes you wonder what else is still possible.

Rhodes suggests listening to the following musicians play the Prelude. They all interpret it differently:

All of those versions got me thinking about contrast in fiction. While down the YouTube rabbit hole about what that middle pedal on the piano is for, I discovered Robert Estrin’s virtual piano lesson about using short (staccato) and long (legato) notes to bring out the melody in Beethoven’s sonatas.

It’s got me wondering how I can bring out the main story arc using contrast in fiction. There are lots of things to try:

  • Rhythm: Short and long sentences
  • Pacing: Dialogue, action, exposition
  • Setting: Light/Dark, Loud/Soft, Hectic/Peaceful

It all ties into Friday’s post on The Winged Pen about a Setting Exercise from The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Rebecca Smith-Allen’s post on the The Urban Setting Thesaurus is up today.

I’d love to know what you think about this. Have you consciously built contrast into your stories? Or do you have favorite examples from your reading? Feel free to share.

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The question that moves my work forward

Fountains, square tower with crenelated edge on top, small palm trees in the foreground, huge one in the back, stone-edged path, green grass and blue sky.
What can you do when everything seems so complicated? Image: English Gardens, Palermo, Sicily. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

What’s the simplest solution?

This is the question that moves me forward when I get stuck. I’m not sure why it helps. Maybe it’s what my friend and writing mentor Susan Graham calls “making a decision.” Friends are a gift.

With this question, I move forward with the information I’ve already got. Information gathering stops. I try something out.

Do you have a question that helps you move forward when you get stuck? Share it in the comments below.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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