Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Nook vs. Kindle: Why I Chose Nook

My e-reader of choice is, and has been, the Nook by Barnes and Noble. While I have the Simple Touch and the original Nook reader, and Ye Olde Nook Color, my favorites are their recent line of color tablet style e-readers, the Nook HD and Nook HD+.

My babies, the Nook HD and Nook HD+

Barnes and Noble Lets You Do What You Want With Your Hardware

Barnes and Noble initially earned my loyalty because of their approach to modding and hacking the Nook. They don't really care if you do. No draconian legalese threatened dire consequences for rooting their first color tablet, the Nook Color. There are even free and open discussions on Barnes and Noble customer forums with info on how to do it, and B&N doesn't censor this. By rooting, or "nooting", the old Nook Color you could have access to the entirety of the Android market for apps via the Google Play Store, not just the ones offered by Barnes and Noble through the Nook interface. If you decided to un-root, and wanted to reset to Barnes and Noble's original software, you could. No harm, no foul. Most importantly, no getting stuck with an expensive electronic brick.

Barnes and Noble Acts Like Your E-Books Are Actually Yours

Another reason I chose a Nook e-reader, before they even made the Nook Color tablet version, was that at the time I was shopping for an e-reader (since changed), you couldn't borrow e-books from the public library and read them on the Kindle.

While that is no longer an issue, I've stood by Barnes and Noble for their better approach to their e-book customers as compared to Amazon. In 2009, Amazon.com pissed off a lot of their customers by going in and retroactively removing content from their Kindles, without warning, due to copyright issues. More recently, Kindle titles have been removed on software update due to regional content locks, so for world travelers, it was a nasty surprise. Both times, it was handled in a ridiculously crappy way, and that kind of heavy-handed non-transparency is something that I don't want to support.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Run Android Apps - Natively

Newer generations of Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets already include full access to the Android catalog via the Google Play Store right out of the box, so you don't even have to bother rooting them. Of course, if you're an 11th level Android wizard, you can still hack to your heart's content, but for mortals who just want to be able to do stuff without a lot of hassle, both sides win. With the Kindle Fire HDX you are stuck with Amazon's catalog of Android apps, unless you do some extra rocket science workarounds. Which Amazon frowns upon.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Can Read Kindle E-Books Too

Since the Nook allows access to the Google Play Store, you also get a second bonus - you can simply install the reader applications for Kindle, and read ebooks that come in that format on your Nook. You simply have your content in the cloud, and can download via the app in the Nook, no big deal. I like not being forced into a walled garden - I have enough of that nonsense to deal with as an Apple user.

With the Nook HD and Nook HD+, or a rooted Nook Color, you don't have to miss out on any Amazon Kindle e-book deals. An even more elegant way to read any e-book format on your Nook is to use a program to convert them into epub files. Then, you can use a reader application like Aldiko that can access all your content in one place, no pesky booting in and out of different applications every time you want to read a different book. The open source Calibre e-book management software, combined with Aldiko reader application is what I use most often now.

Nook HD and Nook HD+ Are An Excellent Value

This summer there was a whole bunch of sound and fury that B&N would no longer be making Nook e-readers, but it ended up signifying nothing. They are still producing, and selling them. The prices are great for what you get, so when I couldn't make up my mind which version I wanted - the 7" Nook HD or the 9" Nook HD+ - I was able to get both. The fact that you can also add extra file storage to both Nook tablets via micro-SD cards, up to 32gb, means you can buy the cheapest model and still have plenty of room for all of your stuff.

In future posts for this series, I'll round up content resources for your e-reader and some great open source software for organizing and accessing all of your e-books and pdf files, and podcasts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel

It's been pretty warm for October in my fair town of Coxsackie - more like May than October, and I was not in the mood for typical fall recipes featuring creamy baked anything. With fresh fennel on hand, I decided to make use of it in a way that fits this new version of fall, in a cold salad, so here's a quick easy one for Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel.

Smoked Chicken Salad with Fresh Fennel

In all my years of getting fresh local vegetables, either from farmers markets or CSAs like ours from Soul Fire Farm, I've never actually cooked with or used fresh fennel. So, adventure ahoy when some showed up in our Soul Fire box!

I knew about braising and roasting the bulbs, but I just wasn't that interested in doing that - I had one good sized bulb, but not enough to fill a whole baking dish, and honestly, it just didn't sound very tasty. After looking around on the internet, I came up with a plan for using every bit of the fresh fennel, for maximum efficiency and deliciousness.

  • Fennel Bulb - Cut apart the bulb, and use the white "leaf" sections like you would for endive crudite - delicious with hummus!
  • Fennel Fronds - Cut off, tie bunches with string at the base, and hang to dry. Use to season homemade sausage.
  • Fennel Stems - They look like celery, but have a nice light fennel taste - use fresh sliced, in salads, stuffing

Given the interesting flavor profile of the fennel, I decided to amp up a typical chicken salad by using smoked chicken. So. Much. WIN!

Smoked Chicken Salad With Fresh Fennel

  • 2 cups cooked smoked chicken meat
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel stems
  • 2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion (red is pretty, but any color will do)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Salt to taste (not really needed with all the other flavors!)

Fresh Fennel Stems with Red Onion and Smoked Chicken

If you don't have a smoker to make your chicken, you can get a close approximation by using a teaspoonful of Wright's Liquid Smoke sprinkled outside and inside the chicken cavity and roasting it in your oven. Don't use too much, it's very concentrated. Other brands of liquid smoke are abominations and horrors that mix in caramel coloring, corn syrup and all manner of stupid junk. Wright's is the joint, smoke essence and water. In the Albany NY area I find Wright's at Hannaford stores. It's not as fabulous as smoking over hardwood, but seriously, it's close and sometimes that is enough!

This is super easy, you just dump the first 3 ingredients in a bowl, and add the mayo a little at a time until it is the consistency you like. Season with the pepper, taste, then add salt if needed. Chicken salad with fresh fennel should be stored in the refrigerator, and while it can be eaten right away, I suggest letting it chill for at least an hour or so to develop the flavors and let them blend.

Serve the salad any way you'd like - if it's not too much fresh fennel flavor in one place for you, try using the white bulb leaves as carriers for the chicken salad, nice and crunchy! Otherwise, crusty bread, or a nice cracker base are great.

This is our last week for our regular CSA share from Soul Fire Farm, and I can't believe how quickly the whole season went! Luckily, they will be trying out some hoop rows for winter greens, and we can still get eggs, and maybe even shiitaki mushrooms, as they're available over the the next several months until the regular CSA share season begins again. In addition, I'll re-subscribe to Field Goods to fill out our vegetable and fruit needs during Soul Fire's slower season. The Hudson Valley, Catskills and Upstate New York region is a wonderful place to live if you like great fresh local food!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Check Out My Pumpkin Seed Cherry Date Treats at From Scratch Club

This month's contribution to From Scratch Club from yours truly is a quick and easy raw treat recipe, Pumpkin Seed Cherry Date Treats. Great for lunchbox add-ons, and even better for real food Halloween treats - no added refined sugar, it's all dates and dried sour cherries that give the right amount of sweet, and great texture.

Try it out: Pumpkin Seed Cherry Date Treats

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Foraging Black Walnuts

I've seen the big green balls every fall since we've lived here, and even had a few hit my car when driving by the trees they came from, but I never knew that they were anything potentially valuable, taste wise. When I learned that these were black walnuts, I was inspired to get off my duff and start foraging for them.

Black Walnuts shelled and direct from tree

Black walnuts have a much richer taste than the regular walnuts you find in the store. They are also very expensive comparatively, so if you happen to have trees you can get legal access to, it's totally worth the time and effort to gather and process them. Don't be a jerk and harvest from private property or from a forest preserve without clear permission first.

To get to the black walnut itself, you need to remove the green vegetal layer that covers the hard shelled nut inside. The juice from this outer layer will stain *everything it touches* a dark brown, to black. So, wear gloves. That don't leak. Or this will be you:

Fun fact: Ten days later and my nails are still dark brown, though the skin has faded a bit. This is after multiple soaks in hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice.

The best way to remove the green outer shell of black walnuts is by stepping on them, and rolling back and forth until the nut inside comes out.

Then, rinse them under a hard blast to remove as much of the rest of the goo as possible.

Let the black walnuts drain a bit, and then spread in an even layer on a large cookie sheet or other flat platter, and let them dry for a few weeks. It's best if they are out of direct sunlight, and in our house they can become cat toys so we have to plan accordingly.

Black Walnuts Drying

Black walnuts are very hard to crack. You could look at it as a challenge along the lines of Feats of Strength for Festivus, or just use a heavy hammer on a hard block. I've even heard of people running over them with their vehicles, but haven't tried that out for myself yet, so your mileage may vary (LOL!)

Foraging Black Walnuts on Punk Domestics

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pumpkin Bread, Gluten-Free Or Not - October Seasonal Eating

This pumpkin bread comes out moist, with a nice balance of sweet and spicy, thanks in part to an Indian spice mix that is not traditionally used in baked goods. Garam masala does the trick, used here instead of something typical like allspice, because it adds some interesting notes and a little kick too!

Gluten free pumpikin bread slices

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread

If gluten-free eating is not your thing, this recipe can be made using regular wheat all purpose flour. You may also substitute your favorite gluten-free all purpose blend for the gluten-free flour blend used in this recipe. This is one quick bread that I make regularly, because we all eat it like it's going out of style. It also travels well if you have a potluck or other function.

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread

Measure out, and mix together thoroughly:

  • 1 ½ cups gluten free oat flour
  • ½ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup tapioca starch
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp. guar gum

OR - substitute 3 ½ cups of your favorite gluten-free all purpose flour, the  DIY gluten free all purpose blend here, or regular wheat flour for the mix above.

  • 2 ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • ¼ tsp. salt

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 2 cups pureed cooked fresh pumpkin, or 1 15 oz. canned pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prep two 9x5 loaf pans, I like using cooking spray, but butter or parchment paper will also work.

Combine flour with the next 5 dry ingredients, and set aside. In mixing bowl, combine sugar and oil, and add eggs, water, molasses and pumpkin. Beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients and stir until blended. When making the gluten-free version, I like to use the whisk attachment in my stand mixer, and blend until the guar gum is activated, making stretchy sheets of batter on the whisk. You can see how this looks in the picture below:

Gluten free pumpkin bread batter with guar gum

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, test doneness with toothpick – when it comes out mostly clean, but with a little bit of moist crumb attached, it's perfect. Let cool in pans 10 minutes, then on cooling rack til room temperature. Makes 2 loaves.

This recipe works with gluten free all purpose mixes and regular wheat flours. Don't try to slice loaves before they're totally cooled off, or they will be gross and gummy.

As a gluten-free quick bread, it has a great moist texture that stays nice for several days at room temperature if stored in an airtight container. The loaves also freeze well, just leave them whole and wrap well in foil, or in freezer bags with air pressed out. Thaw at room temp before slicing, and it'll be like you just baked it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Easy Homemade Date Sweetened Tomato Ketchup

I had avoided making ketchup from scratch because it seemed like every recipe required way too many fresh tomatoes, and WAY too much time on the stove with peeling, seeding and then cooking the whole mess down to a satisfactory ketchup consistency. A while back, one of my favorite food bloggers, Maroc Mama posted a cool looking homemade ketchup recipe using dates that didn't take hours to make, and sounded pretty good.

  Easy Homemade Date Sweetened Ketchup

Maroc Mama's recipe uses dates as the only sweetener, and they also make the ketchup naturally nice and thick, without having to boil down gallons of tomatoes for hours. My adaptation increases the finished amount, uses canned tomatoes for ease and convenience, and includes allspice, cloves and cinnamon for even more ketchup-y flavor.

All told, it took around half an hour to prepare, and the results were excellent. The test I use is to see how it flies with my son and husband - they both could not care less about healthy eating or high quality ingredients if it doesn't taste great. Both of them went out of their way to tell me how delicious this is, and they consumed mass quantities, so I figured this recipe was worth sharing far and wide.

Easy Homemade Date Sweetened Tomato Ketchup

Inspired by and adapted from: Maroc Mama's Date Ketchup


1 cup onion chopped
4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, strained, w/liquid reserved separately
1 cup pitted dates, lightly packed (medjool are very nice)
2 tsp ground dried ginger
1 tsp kosher salt (less if your tomatoes are salted, to your own taste)
1 tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground cinnamon
 ¾ c white wine vinegar


Large non-reactive saucepan
Immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor


Heat olive oil in large non-reactive saucepan, add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Drain canned tomatoes, reserving liquid. Crush tomatoes by hand (watch out for splatters – guess how I know!) and add them to the pot along with the dates and 1 cup of reserved tomato liquid.

Mix in the salt, pepper and spices. Bring to a simmer, and let go for 10-15 minutes, or until the dates have softened. Make sure the heat is not too high, or it will burn!

  Date Tomato Ketchup Simmering
Stir in the vinegar. Blend the whole mixture until smooth. I used an immersion blender, and it worked beautifully, but you can use any blender or food processor.

You should have a fairly thick mixture by now, but if it's too thin for you, put it back in the pan and simmer at low medium heat until it's reduced to your liking. Taste for salt, and adjust as needed. Let cool at room temperature and store in refrigerator.

  Easy Homemade Date Tomato Ketchup in reCap Jar

Makes 1 quart. I put mine in a jar with a reCap lid for convenience.

This was my first time making ketchup, and it was really worth it.

Easy Homemade Date-Sweetened Tomato Ketchup on Punk Domestics