28 July 2007


Have you eaten any cucumbers lately?

You should give them a try.

Most of my life I have eaten them only as either a salad addition or as single slices with salt. Join with me in broadening the cucumber horizon!

Breakfast (or Snack!)
Cucumber sticks. They're like carrot sticks or celery sticks, but cucumber.

I came up with this mostly out of laziness. I had been reading about making sushi. Sushi often has vegetables cut up as thin match sticks. Remarkably thin. I didn't really want to cut anything so small. (I'm already a bit of a safety hazard. Sharp knives moving quickly sounds like disaster.) Outside of sushi, I couldn't really see a use for match stick cucumber. But they did do another thing I'd never seen done to a cucumber before. They scooped out the innards. Shocking!

How to make Cucumber Sticks:
First of course wash your veggies.

Next slice the cucumber in half lengthwise.

Then take a spoon and scoop out the seeds. You'll be left with two troughs. At this point, because my cutting skills are limited, I like to cut each half into half, widthwise. Now you have four quarters. Well done.

Tilt one quarter on it's side. Skin side down. Cut lengthwise into ¼ inch to ½ inch planks. Continue with the remaining quarters.

Play around with the plank width to determine the size you prefer.

I like to cut these up the night before and wrap them in a damp paper towel sealed in a plastic container.

They make an excellent breakfast during the car ride to work. Leftovers can be added to lunch, or eaten as a snack on the car ride home.

I've tried seasoning the cucumber sticks with a few things, but none of the seasoning really improved upon the original.

Cucumber as Beverage?
I have learned that caffeine, sugar and I don't mix well together. Sadly consuming significant quantities of caffeine-free, sugar-free sodas also has a deleterious effect. While having a delightful effervescence, plain seltzer water can quickly become monotonous.

Water is good. But, apparently not enticing enough to keep me from dehydrating in the hot Florida sun. It seems that when I'm working outside in the Summer's heat I manage to forget about adequate hydration. Even when I bring a full water bottle and carry it around with me.

An idea recommended to be by a co-worker (thanks, Cecilia!) has worked wonders!

Cucumber Water
Adding just a slice or two of fresh cucumber, lends a delightful flavor to a glass of water.

Not only do I end up drinking more at each sip, but as the favor fades in the mouth, I am reminded to take more frequent sips.

At the picnic table you can add several slices to a pitcher of ice water. Very refreshing. I'm particularly fond of cucumber, but you'll get pleasant results with a variety of fruits, herbs and spices.

Condiment(Pickles need not apply)
This is a taste sensation I learned about from my forays into Indian cooking (thanks, Vani!).

Cucumber Yogurt
Follow the directions above for the cucumber sticks, until the part were you have quarters.

Then cut your quarters lengthwise in half. Next dice all segments widthwise until you have lots of diced cucumber.

Mix with plain yogurt.

Serve this cooling condiment with spice Indian dishes or as a sour cream substitute in Mexican dishes.

If your not afraid of the heat, you can add jalapeño or green hot pepper to the mix. Just when you think your going to get some nice cooling yogurt, you bite into a pepper. Heck ya!

I haven't tried it as a dip yet. However, I think this would also make a great chip or celery dip.

Madhur Jaffrey, has a more sophisticated (aka: time consuming) version of this in her amazing book, “World Vegetarian”. Hers involves making a 'yogurt cheese' by draining the yogurt of it's moisture, and includes cucumber, dill, and garlic.

Botanical niftiness.
Cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae Family. This Family also includes squash and melons.

Cucumbers are generally fertilized by bubble bees and honey bees. Inadequate pollination will result in deformed cucumbers. To optimize the number of perfectly formed cucumbers, beehives will be brought into the fields just before the flowers bloom.

For more technical information on cucumbers check out wikipedia.

Related Posts

21 July 2007

Green thumb? Or Black thumb of Death?

Over the years, I have tried many different methods of maintaining plants of my own. I've met with varying degrees of success.

The Early Years.

Growing up, I helped my parents maintain their gardens. But I wanted to try a thing or two on my own. I was becoming interested in herbs, especially 'wild' herbs. I asked for some space in the garden to grow some Achillea (or yarrow, if you prefer). I had a plan. My parents, having seen my plans in action in the past, were cautious. Dad tilled a piece of grass next to the greenhouse. The greenhouse was a good distance from the garden. It was unlikely any crazy thing I did could disturb the precious green beans and squash. Smart parents.

I had already scouted about on the property, and knew exactly were I could dig up some Achillea for transplant. I had never done this before and wanted to be certain of an at least moderately successful outcome, so I transplanted a lot of Achillea. It turns out Achillea transplants rather well. Under cultivation it does extremely well. The small plot grew far more yarrow than I alone could make use of. (You are doubtless wondering what possible use I might have for 'wild' yarrow. Especially as these are most commonly cultivated into a variety of different flower colors, and wild yarrow flowers are quite plan. A topic for another day.) And then I went away to college and my parents were left to deal with the Achillea madness.

For a time my parents hoped the Achillea would just die off without me there to tend them. And then upon realizing that these plants were a hardy sort, they decided on more drastic measures. The greenhouse was demolished. The earth was scraped even with a tractor. The ground was tilled, limed, fertilized and planted with grass. Mom says the Achillea never made reappearance. She says grass covers all. They claim that it was simply time to do away with the greenhouse. As for me, I think it was the yarrow.

College Dorms (of doom) Part I.
My first year in college I lived in a dorm. The dorm room had very little sunlight. I did attempt to grow a miniature rose (given to me by my mom). To provide the rose with light I had to put it up high on a windowsill behind a tall bookshelf. What with all the moving in and starting college, by the time I thought to check it for water, it was one crispy critter. Resuscitation was impossible.

College Dorms (of doom) Part II.
The following year brought another dorm room with a friendlier roommate, Meredith. We had been keeping two pet rats (another topic for another day). We decided to give them away. Suddenly the dorm room was just too quiet. Perhaps a fish tank? Once at the pet store a leopard gecko caught Meredith's eye (this is not however the gecko's story). To go with the gecko we eventually grew crickets and of course grass for the crickets to eat. The grass grew quite well. As did the crickets.

Eventually both were liberated to the wild.

The Apartment.
My final year in college I lived in an apartment. At last! Real windows and a covered porch. Perfect! I could have indoor and outdoor plants. The room overlooked the porch so I could, even with my busy schedule, monitor the plants and make sure they had sufficient water.

It worked pretty well, right up until Meredith and I got a cat. As it turns out, cats (Or perhaps only our cat. My feline experience is not broad enough to generalize.) like to eat green things. It took me a little while to catch on to what was happening. At first I thought my indoor plants must have some sort of strange insect infestation (I was taking entomology classes, and worked in an entomology lab, so insects were on my mind . . .). When the cat started throwing-up the pieces of the plants, the 'ah!' light went on.

I had selected most of my plants from things that were to be discarded from the lab I worked in. Many of them would not survive a North Carolina winter. I had upon selecting them thought I could simply bring them inside for the winter. But now, doing so would be a death sentence as surely as leaving them outside.

I figured out that my dresser was tall enough that, provided I didn't put anything shorter next to it, the cat couldn't jump the distance to the top. So the plants were able to come in for the winter. But on top of the dresser they were well out of my field of vision. So I didn't really get to enjoy them. Also they were pretty far from any real sources of light. Eventually I managed to get a light for them and they made it through the winter, but it was a close thing.

Most of the plants I took care of that year, were pretty useless types of plants. Primarily decorative plants meant for more tropical climates. I wanted to keep practicing at taking care of green things and their main appeal had been that they were free. After college, I ended up giving most of them away. There was one plant though that I have kept. It makes me smile every time I see it. It is a purple Oxalis

The Duplex.

Now I live in a rented duplex in Florida. I have a cat still and my roommate (not Meredith this time, Jesse) has two as well, so indoor plants are again out of the question.

The Mosquitoes here are gigantic. I learned this while planting some hibiscus around the duplex. . The Mosquitoes were so large I could actually feel them landing. I make Mosquitoes salivate.  

I was determined. I managed to get quite a few hibiscus planted before being pumulted on all sides by vast hordes of blood sucking fiends. I was forced to retreat indoors, to a shower to get them all off.

At least the hibiscus got planted though right? Right. A week later they were all eaten by snails.

I managed to save one lone hibiscus. It is doing quite well. I never have to water it. Which is good. Since it is unlikely I would survive the endeavor. The Mosquitoes regularly patrol the neighborhood, waiting for their favorite blood supply to make an appearance.

I attempted to keep potted herbs just outside the sliding back door. The rather strong winds given off by the tropical storms that regularly head this way, knocked over the pots and in the few weeks of distraction that followed, the plants dried out before I thought to check on them.

How could I keep plants inside without having them be savagely ripped apart by my roommates kittens? The kittens are rather energetic and have no problem leaping to the top of the dresser I had used previously for overwintering. I kept thinking that I could some how modify a fish tank into a terrarium. It would need to be tall, so the plants would have room to grow. And rather thin, so it would fit on my window sill. And I wanted to come up with a way to modify it so it would open in the back so I could easily do maintenance on the plants. And of course some sort of cat proof lid. I was pretty sure I could make all of this happen. I thought to my self though, 'But wait Liz. Why reinvent the wheel? What if some other enterprising spirit has already done this and has detailed plans online that could prevent you from wasting money on incorrect materials and useless tools?'

Fifteen minutes of googling later, and I had a much cheaper, less crazy solution. Basically you use some sort of glass jar, filled with different soil layers and then put a lid on it. A little self contained environment that doesn't need to be watered more than once a month. I already had some huge mason jars (thanks mom!), that would work perfectly. I ran out to the garden supply and bought six different herbs and soil. I was also suppose to get activated charcoal and pebbles but in my excitement forgot! So I get home and cast about for a pebble substitute. Aha! Marbles! :) I had time to pot up one of my plants. The next day I went to the pet store for activated charcoal and pebbles. A few hours of labor later and I have six jars of potted herbs. Lovely.

In a few months time I will update on the success of this endeavor and post some pictures.

17 July 2007


Monday morning I watched the Sun come up will I drove into work. A beautiful sunrise. A sunrise made all the better by my breakfast. Raspberries. The Sensual Delight. The Raspberry is a feast for the senses. When ripe, raspberries have a glowing red hew. Their scent is distinctly sweet and floral. Their delicate flesh is followed by the rough crunch of seeds. They have an acidic bite with a lingering sweet taste, as though you had sucked the nectar from a rose. Were these ears able to catch the sound of raspberries growing, the brier taking nourishment from earth and sky, there could be no doubt of its dulcet tune. A Lesson in Mindfulness. I remember, growing up on my parent’s farm in the foothills of North Carolina, picking berries on the hillsides. My parents built their house on a brier patch and the berries emerged every year. To pick fruit from a thorned plant, is a challenge. To be sure, losing a bit of blood to them is a fair trade for the bounty you receive, but how to avoid the thorns? Using gloves wasn’t helpful. Any thick enough to block the thorns would be too thick to keep the fruit from being crushed. You have to become very observant of the position of your hand in relation to the plants. Your movements and the movements of the plants as they turn in the wind. Staying quite in mind and concentrating on the task at hand. The moment my mind wandered I’d get jabbed. The Feast. Many of those berries never made it into the collection basket. Yum! :) Those that did make it back to the house would wind-up in many tasty recipes. When cooking with berries simple recipes seem best.


Head out to the berry patch and start picking. Breakfast is berries! If your not full after picking a basket full try making yogurt-fruit cups. When I have frozen raspberries I like to mash them with a little honey or splenda. Next pour plain yogurt on top. Then just mix everything together. This is usually as complex as I make it, but you could add granola, and a host of other yogurt toppings as well. This is an excellent replacement for the high-fructose corn syrup laden fruit yogurts found in grocery store cooler. Healthier, cheaper, and a good deal more fun. Frozen raspberries become quite bitter so some sort of sweetener is usually needed.


Make a fun twist on the peanut butter and jelly classic. Instead of jelly use fresh raspberries. Use a whole wheat bread, real peanut butter (or almond butter), and mash the raspberries on top. Works well with a variety of berries and fruits.


Salad! For salads I like to get the spring salad bagged mixes. They contain so many different things, every bite is an adventure. Put the salad on plates, add raspberries and cucumber cut into raspberry sized chunks. The raspberry/cucumber combination is very appealing. Add your dressing. Remember simple is better with berries. So a little oil and red wine vinegar. Salt & Pepper. You're done! Raspberry, Cucumber heaven.


Berry Cobbler is an especial favorite. It works quite well with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and combinations there of.

Berry Cobbler 2 cups Berries 1 cup Flour ½ cup butter pinch salt

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.

Place berries in 8 inch oven dish

Mix together remaining ingredients (I like to use my hands for this, fun texture!) and crumble over berries.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes.

My mom made variations of this for desert. Thanks mom!

While already vegetarian this recipe is easily adapted to vegan and sugar free.

Snack or All of the above:

This is great for any meal or a snack! Take a banana and divide it along it's seam until you have three equal sections. If you've never done this before just try pushing into the tip, at a curve. The banana should fall into three sections. With the wedges pointed up, put the banana sections on a plate close together forming a plank. Spread on almond or peanut butter. Chop dried raspberries and sprinkle on top. Eat with a fork.

Wow! Vegan, Raw, Sugar-free, Dairy-free, and Delicious!


Raspberries are in the genus Rubus. Making them a close relative of blackberries.

For more technical and botanical information on raspberries check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry.