Why hello there! Longy time no seeum!
It’s been a minute, I know. Sorry about that.
I went upstate for a little vacation with my sister and her kids, and as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have time to get a backup post together to share while I was away. We went to a Bluegrass festival in the Catskills for 5 glorious days, and while I missed you guys, I loved every second of it.
Amazing music and friendly strangers. Boiling hot days and freezing cold nights. Spending time with family. Getting drunk on whiskey and wine and dancing barefoot until the wee hours of the night. Going to sleep on a firmly inflated mattress and waking up on a rock. Drying blankets in the sun after accidentally leaving the tent windows open during a thunderstorm. Lifting my niece up over a sea of tents to see the rainbow after the storm. Doing my duty in a porta potty or at the grocery store bathroom…
In keeping with my last post, I had ideas for a summery healthy dinner that I planned to share with you last week, but fate had other ideas. I scheduled an extra day off after the festival so I’d have time to nurse the world’s largest hangover. My plan was to make and photograph said recipe then. Two days into my trip however, things changed.
If you recall my “yardening” post from last spring, you may remember hearing about our “sickly plum tree” and seeing the trunk of said tree in the photo below.
Two days into my trip I received a text from Russell with this photo:
That’s taken from our bedroom window, and in the foreground you can see the deck we built last summer (with stairs to the right) to make getting out into the yard easier for us and the pups. The old “sickly plum tree” had just given up. Since we moved in I’ve been trying to figure out how to nurse the poor tree back to health, but the fact of the matter is that I had little to no idea what I was doing. I tried trimming off dead branches, but more kept dying, and every spring the leaves and fruit suffered from a white mildew that would cause all the fruit and about half of the leaves to fall off early in the summer.
Late last summer I noticed that the tree had A LOT of ants on it, and most of them would travel down to the base of the tree and disappear into the ground between the roots. Well, apparently the ants had decided to take advantage of the defenseless old tree and make a nice home in it’s trunk. When I finally got back home to take a look, the trunk of the tree was completely rotted out and had been turned into a dark and crumbly swiss cheese of insect tunnels. After fighting with all the strength it had left, the tree had finally just given up.
Seeing how bad the trunk was, I’m actually surprised it hadn’t fallen earlier.
Rather than making delicious food in the comfort of my home, on my day off I got to stand outside for several hours in 95 degree heat and cut the poor tree up into manageable chunks with the world’s dullest, rustiest handsaw. After waiting for almost a month for our landlord to fix our oven when it broke, we figured it wasn’t even worth asking for his help with the tree so I just did it myself. It was quite a workout though, so at least I can say it was all in the name of fitness.
Anyway, now the yard looks more like this.
I’ve still got a lot of work to do to clear all the debris and get rid of the wood somehow (we can’t have fires back there, we tried once and had the fire department at our door within 20 minutes). Although I miss the tree, and it may take some getting used to, I actually really like how open the yard feels now. I feel like I might need to rethink my (meager) landscaping there, but the quality of light in our room feels so much nicer and brighter now, so that’s good.
Without the time to photograph a full meal after the tree massacre, I thought I might share this taco seasoning I’ve been using lately instead. Russell and I tend to eat a lot of ground turkey or grilled chicken tacos, and now that we’re trying to eat better they’re a great meal we can make after work. There are a lot of small family owned tortilla factories in my neighborhood so we can get our corn tortillas super fresh. A few torillas filled with some well seasoned lean meat, sauteed onion, and black beans is the perfect quick and easy weeknight meal. Rather than cheese or sour cream, we like ours with a few creamy slices of ripe avocado.
I like to make my own seasoning because we make tacos so often. The store bought stuff is crazy salty and some of it has some really questionable ingredients that I’m not super comfortable eating on a regular basis.
This seasoning is not only fresher and much less salty, but you also know exactly what you’re putting into it and can customize it to your taste. I like my tacos nice and spicy, so in addition to the chile powder I like to add ground cayenne pepper too. Cinnamon adds a warmth without adding spicy heat, and smoked paprika adds a great warm smokiness. You may think cornstarch is an odd addition to a seasoning blend, but most taco seasoning does have thickening agents in it to help make a nice thick sauce. If you don’t like using cornstarch you could substitute arrowroot powder instead or leave it out altogether. It’s your party!
Homemade Taco Seasoning
6 tablespoons ground chile powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper, optional
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine all spices in a small bowl and whisk until evenly distributed. Can be stored in an airtight jar or container for future use. Recipe doubles (or triples, or more) very easily.
If using ground meat, brown the meat first then add seasoning along with a few tablespoons of water. You’ll want about 2 tablespoons of seasoning per pound of ground meat. Stir regularly until meat is fully cooked and sauce is thickened. I like to add a diced small onion while I brown the meat, and a drained can of black beans right at the end. Serve with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
You can also use the seasoning as a rub for chicken breast. Sear the chicken breasts until fully cooked and slice thin before adding to tacos.