Sloppy Joes

I think I am on a foods-I-enjoyed-as-a-kid kick. But who cares? I’m just glad to be cooking regularly again.

Mike and I actually ate vegan sloppy Joes from a boxed mix quite a bit the last few years, so I was curious how difficult it would be to recreate the recipe with real meat.

I turned to a comfort food expert for this one – the Pioneer Woman. Her recipe looked great, but it was definitely written for a family much bigger than ours. So I fiddled around with the measurements (adding more of some stuff I like) and came up with this:

Sloppy Joes

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup ketchup (could go up to 3/4 cup, if you like)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinches of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 whole wheat buns

Instead of using butter, I decided to cook the meat together with the onions, bell pepper, and garlic. There’s plenty of fat that comes off of the meat, and if you get too much, you can drain it off once it’s all cooked.

This made more than enough for two dinners, but I appreciated the leftovers.

Then I mixed in all the remaining ingredients (except the buns, of course), and let the mixture simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. Right away it picked up that Manwich hue, and I knew the recipe was legit.

Toast the buns if you want them to hold up a little bit better. Wish I would have realized that as a kid.

Mike thought it might be nice to use something like ground turkey next time just to make it a little lighter. I’ve tried making Joes with mashed tofu before, too, and it works pretty well.

Tiny oranges!

I looked at the orange tree the other day and I noticed that the itty bitty oranges that have been there for months are finally starting to get bigger.

I have no idea if they’ll turn into edible oranges at any point, but now I’m excited!

Giant poufs for Erin’s office

I can’t believe I forgot to mention this, but my poufs are part of a blogger’s home makeover on!

A few months ago, Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind contacted me about getting some giant poufs for her home office.  She was redecorating it and sharing the progress on

Erin is possibly the nicest person on earth, so I was happy to help her out. I made her two gray poufs, and here they are with her DIY shelving.

photos by Erin L.

It was also pretty cool when I saw this reblogged on Swiss Miss!

You can read more about Erin’s home decorating projects here. I will be excited to see the final office reveal.

Also, I have more plans for that rope-y yarn…

Loving: snails and such

Happiness this week is a snail creeping down my neighbor’s house,

or down the driveway,

tiny tomatoes ripening on the vine,

chicken and waffles at Aunt Mary’s Cafe,

and a yarn that’s actually called “Really Big.”

My first time making gnocchi

I pulled this recipe out of Outside magazine, of all places, thinking it would be a good excuse to try making gnocchi for the first time. I figured that since it was in a magazine for manly men (one of my faves, even so), and that it only took up part of one column on the page that it would be easy enough for a beginner. But this recipe is seriously labor intensive, at least by my standards.

Still, I thought it sounded yummy, so I gave it a try.

Potato Gnocchi Tourmalet

You start by baking two pounds of potatoes, which then have to cool so you can peel and mash them. I used russets because that’s what I had on hand, but next time I would use goldens for more flavor.

In a bowl you mix up:

1 1/2 cups flour
2 beaten egg yolks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt and pepper

When the potatoes are cooled and mashed, mix them into the bowl and form a dough ball. Let it rest for 15 minutes.

Next, make the sauce. I really loved this sauce and might use it for other recipes. The sweet chili sauce is a great addition.

Saute in more olive oil:
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 small red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced

Then add:
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
salt and pepper to taste

When that’s all mixed together, turn off the heat and set it aside.

Set some water to boil for your gnocchi.

Now you get to actually make the gnocchi. You start by dividing your dough ball into four parts. Roll each section into a long rope, about 3/4-inch thick, on a floured surface. I ended up dividing each fourth into another half to get a manageable rope.

Then you cut the rope into 1-inch chunks and roll a fork over them to get them to curl up a little tighter. If I had one, I would have liked to use a little gnocchi roller.

When your water’s boiling, salt it, and start dropping in the gnocchi in batches of 20 or so. They only take a few minutes to cook, and when they come to the top of the water you scoop them up and drop them into an ice water bath to cool.

By this point you will have dirtied every dish in your kitchen and half your utensils. But you’re so close!

So they’re not the most beautiful gnocchi, but they are tasty.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When all the gnocchi is boiled, you’ll add it to a 9×13 baking dish with the sauce, some chopped fresh basil, and 3-4 ounces crumbled feta cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle on 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, and a little more fresh basil. Bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Phew! I am exhausted just typing that.

I was really happy with how this dish turned out, though. It was really tasty, and I can see using the same potato gnocchi recipe to make with other sauces. Maybe pesto or something where you saute the gnocchi in a pan to get that brown crust.

Last taste of summer

You know that summer is ending when you live in a college town and you make the mistake of going to Target in late August. I made it out alive, but I was nearly lost in the stacks of mini fridges. You know how it is.

Anyway, I was just thinking that it might be nice to do a little roundup of some of my favorite summery recipes while it’s still warm enough to make them.

Aunt Lark’s tabbouleh salad is a great way to use ripe tomatoes, and it’s a perfect potluck side dish.

This fresh cucumber salsa is also a tomato love fest.

You’ll need some trail mix for hikes, bike rides, and other adventures.

Sadly, I am not overrun with basil this year, but if you are, make pesto Genovese for your pasta and sandwiches. It’s great on roasted potatoes, too.

Or spread some pesto into this zucchini pesto bake. Surely you have some zucchini baseball bats to use up.

If you can still find rhubarb, you have to make this bright pink rhubarb lemonade.

And do not let summer go by without making this nectarine tart. It has to be one of my favorite desserts of all time.

I’m excited for all those acorn squash and pumpkin recipes that come with fall — more of those soon!

Tilapia fish sticks

How’s this for a retro recipe?

I would just like to say that you are never too old to eat fish sticks. But making them yourself is the way to go.

This was another thing I found in Real Simple. I really heart that magazine. I pulled out the ’10 things to do with tilapia’ feature, because I know it’s one of those things we buy a lot even though we’re not sure what we’re going to do with it.

Here’s the basic technique. You can definitely season up your breadcrumbs to make it more interesting, or whip up a yummy dipping sauce. (I made a simple tartar sauce with light mayo, pickle relish, and a little black pepper.)

Cut 3 large tilapia filets into sticks. I got roughly 8 from each piece of fish.

Set up 3 pans for your batter station — I like to use cake pans because I have so many of them from the wedding cake project!

• 1/2 cup flour
• 2 beaten eggs
• 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs

For the frying part, you can use a skillet, but I like to use a saute pan. Fill it up to about 1/2 inch with vegetable oil. I used a mix of olive and canola oil. You want this on medium-high heat.

You could also bake these in the oven. But you won’t get that pretty golden color, and you won’t get the same crunch you get with frying. This is definitely one of those recipes where you’re going to have to turn on the portion control to make up for the full fat. But I’d still rather do that than make something that doesn’t taste good.

OK, so when you’ve got a few sticks breaded, drop them into the oil and cook for 3-4 minutes, turning them over if one size isn’t getting browned. Scoop them out and drain them over paper towels.

Serve with cole slaw, salad, oven fries, or just about any summery side.

Zucchini orzo salad

Apologies for the long absence! After we went to Big Sur, Mike and I spent a lovely day in wine country at an office retreat. And then I came down with something (again!) and spent the rest of his parents’ vacation in bed. I had all these plans to share photos of our travels, but it was not to be.

The last six weeks have been the busiest and best for me since I quit my job in 2009. But sometimes you pay for overworking yourself, I guess.

So anyway, I am feeling like myself again, and I have some yummy recipes to share.

The first is this super easy orzo salad. I believe I cut it out of a Real Simple magazine a few months ago. It seemed so light and summery. And even though this has been the chilliest summer of my life (we actually made hot chocolate the other night), I decided to make it anyway.

Zucchini orzo salad
adapted from Real Simple

8 ounces orzo
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sauteeing
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or white)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 medium or 4 small zucchini, cut into half moons
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried dill

Cook the orzo according to package directions and drain under cold water to cool it down. (By the way, I had the hardest time finding orzo at the store. I finally just bought this one because it looked close enough).

While your orzo is boiling, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Saute the zucchini pieces with salt and pepper until they start to brown a little. The original recipe didn’t call for cooking the zucchini, but I love that extra layer of flavor.

While that’s going, whisk up your vinaigrette (3 T olive oil, 3 T vinegar, and red pepper) in a big bowl. After you turn off the zucchini and let it cool a little, add it to the vinaigrette and let it marinate about 20 minutes.

Finally, add the orzo, feta, and dill to the zucchini and toss it all together.

Back to Big Sur

Mike’s parents are in town for a few days, so we took them down to two of our favorite places, Monterey and Big Sur.

Some photos from the trip…

Pelicans hanging out in Monterey.

There was a lot of this happening along the trail in Big Sur. We were trying to get photos of hummingbirds.

These two jays were a variety I’ve never seen before.

Wonder what kind of spider made this web.

And those redwoods.

On feeling like a legit business

I’m not sure if it was because of Renegade, or because of my giant knits, or just because, but last month something changed with my little business. I’ve been selling crafts in some form for almost three years now, but not until July did I really start to feel like it was working.

I’d been in kind of a drought up to that point, and my mind was all over the place wondering what to do next. I thought about getting a normal job, going back to school, changing my career path entirely, and a million other options. But at some point my thoughts started to focus, and I realized that the combination of my knitting business, which I LOVE, and my writing business, which has always been something that felt right to me, deserved my full attention. So that’s what I did. I found my focus. I think that’s what I needed all along.

I’m getting to the point now where I have to order pretty much all of my supplies online in bulk because I have emptied my local craft stores (of yarn, batting, foam rolls, dye boxes…). And I don’t have time to make the trips anymore because I need to be at home working.

I’m starting to have problems that are good problems to have. Yes!

That is to say, I really have to start taking this seriously now. My business is starting to look like what I always wanted it to look like. It’s amazing. Also scary.

I know I am doing the right thing, though, because my mind is constantly thinking about more things I can make, ways to improve what I’m already making, shows I can sign up for, giveaways, marketing, all of it. Thank goodness I am an organization freak, because it’s a lot to manage.

In the interest of taking things seriously I read an article (can’t find it now) about pricing your products. I usually have to ignore these recommendations because knitting just doesn’t work in these formulas. I pretty much proved myself right. I determined that my most popular item, the xlg pouf, should retail for $520, the giant pouf for $876, and a small pouf $240. The small pouf currently retails for $35. So yeah, I’m a little off.

But joking aside, what does that mean? I don’t want to just write it off as impossible. But obviously something is going to have to change for this to be sustainable. One possibility is having some luxe products that make up for the lack of profit elsewhere. Another option would be to just stop making the smaller poufs altogether. I hate to eliminate all of the less expensive items, but maybe I could make some smaller things out of rope, which would be faster and more unique anyway.

Darling photo by Sarah.

You probably don’t want to hear all this. But I can’t be the only one with a handmade business that struggles with these issues.

The other thing that is going to change is how I’ve handled shipping. I am so done with the post office! I have put up with their cranky employees, long lines, crazy rules and terrible customer service for too long. No other company could operate so poorly and still exist. The last straw was yesterday when I received an email confirming that my packages had been picked up while they were still sitting on my front porch. Gah!

I have my issues with Fedex and UPS, but I think I’ve learned enough about them now to make it work.

I’m happy to say now that I’m off to start working on my first wholesale order for a new store in San Francisco. It’s in north beach, the same neighborhood as the Jack Kerouac Alley show. I had to turn down another offer to sell at a store because it just wasn’t right for me. That was hard. This makes it worth it.