Friday, August 31, 2007

Pride in Green Tomatoes

Yeah, it's ripe! It's called the Aunt Ruby's German Green Tomato, and I've been nervously puttering around the plant for the past few days, because, well, how ya gonna know when it's ripe?
Fortunately I've developed the Gentle Squeeze Trick. If you feel a slight give under the fingers, odds are the tomato is ready to eat, no matter what color it is. Also, the unripe green ones are milky, ghostly... The ripe ones are lustrous and perhaps a bit goldy.
So today we had a tomato tasting for lunch. The green, a Brandywine, and a French variety called Dona.
I'm pretty good at tasting, but maybe not so good at describing.
Here's how it went:
"Ooh! Tomatoey!"
"No, this one's even more tomatoey."
"Wait — Tomatoey!"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Broke Da Mout

In Hawaiian slang, "broke da mout" means something so tasty, you cried.
I ate a couple of things today that broke da mout. For one, a raw puree of tomato soup (salted, and then run through the food mill, then chilled with minced celery, shallots and cucumber... oh, gosh, it all came from the yard).
It was so good, we saved a little and strained out the chunks to make a Local Bloody Mary. Except I haven't perfected local vodka yet... (Stay tuned!)
We had, obviously, kitchen waste-age (cucumber scrapings, tomato skins, like that). And I put them into the garbage disposal. Which hummed, but didn't whirl.
Cranky thinks it's his fault for grinding up lime and lemon rinds a few days ago. He's surely wrong: a garbage disposal is supposed to be able to grind up rinds.
Well, clever me. I resorted to the "broomstick trick," where you attempt to loosen the gears with a stiff wooden implement.
And I broke da mount.
Plumber coming tomorrow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Which Came First?

I'm chicken to let this baby get any larger on the plant, even though I won't be cooking it today.
Something this fresh — could you imagine ever buying an eggplant at your grocery store that was any less than two days old? — will probably still be OK tomorrow, when I convert it (and much more yard produce) into my summer's first ratatouille (not counting the movie).
I just didn't want it to keep growing to the point of woodiness.
I was probably over-concerned. This baby, a common variety called Black Beauty, is only about 6 inches long. Seven.
OK, vegetables, schmuh... I'm just happy because Gonzo resigned.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pepperoni Surfing

Nothing is allowed to enter our mouths unless it is riding on a plank of pear, tomato or cucumber.
The zucchini will have to fend for themselves, being mostly grated and baked or souped (yum).
Up next: eggplants. Oh, yeah.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Death by Zucchini

OK, not death, exactly, although that is a scary-looking pot of green sludge.
The zukes keep chugging in from the garden. I took the sage advice of a fellow gardener-blogger who said, simply, "Pick them while they're young."
If there's a part of your greedy brain telling you to just let them go one more day and they'll be bigger... Don't listen! It's perfectly sensible to cut them off the vine when they're pretty and petite (and I'm a hound... I let 'em go to about eight inches). I mean, come on! More will grow. More will grow.
So at the moment we have a refrigerator full of nice-size zucchini, and it made sense to grate some into a pot of thawed turkey broth for soup. (Plus onion, salt, pepper, cream... Simple as hell.)
And that's when I got to thinking. We save all this fantastic winter bounty in the freezer — turkey broth, the simmer liquid from corned beef, pot likker from stewed greens — and it brings a deep, earthy bass note to summer's soups.
Also, we save summer's bounty by freezing tomato sauce, pesto, cucumber juice. We can (if we know how and I'm thisclose to learning how to can) fruit preserves, chutney, pickles — which bring a bright dash of sunlight to our winter meals.
Totally cool.
Year-round fabulosity.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Looking a Gift Meal in the Mouth

Everything on our plates today was free, except for some purchased peppers which we sauteed to soft acceptabilitiness.
There were the grilled zucchini halves, burned to the point of tasting like seaweed. (Lesson learned.) The zukes were a gift from our garden, and by the looks of things out there, we'll have plenty of opportunities to perfect our zucchini grilling techniques.
And the sausage. Oh, dang, the sausage! A perfect coil of homemade pork wackiness, courtesy of Anita and Cameron from Married... with dinner.
Cameron suggested that we run a couple of skewers through the coil to keep it stable while it grilled over — BONUS! — gifted charcoaled wood from the Rev. Biggles.
It came out so good. I told Cranky I only wanted a few inches of it, but I ended up eating almost half the coil. Delicious, inexplicable taste. Heat, yes, and herbs. Perfect fat ratio. But I kept detecting a lactose-y goodness. Like the ghostly flavor profile of cheese. Me like, very much.
Thank you, everyone.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer in a Bowl

I got the recipe for this dish from Nora Ephron's 1983 "novel" Heartburn, about a marriage gone awry in the midst of food and eating. I put quotes around "novel," because the book was a thinly disguised bonk on the head to Ephron's philandering then-husband, Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Oh, yeah, he's a horndog. I ran into him in the lobby of a trendy, upscale Los Angeles hotel some years ago, and his eyes went straight to my chestal region.
Anyway, Ephron did what I thought was very unusual at the time in her book. She interspersed recipes with her narrative.
But would they be fictional recipes? Did I dare to attempt one, or was she just taking poetic license?
I dared. It was great, and the easiest thing ever.
I can't give you the exact recipe, because somebody made off with my copy of the book, but it's so intuitive, you can just wing it.
Chop up some juicy, ripe tomatoes. A lot. Add minced garlic. A lot. Throw in torn-up basil leaves, as much as you like. Drown this in good olive oil, with some salt and pepper. Leave the whole mess out on the kitchen counter for a good few hours, while the summer temperatures help macerate it all into a no-cook sauce for pasta.
Slop it on the cooked pasta and give it a dusting of grated parmesan cheese. (It will not be a piping hot meal. That's the point.)
It's best with spaghetti, I confess. And it looks much better with spaghetti.
But (sigh) we dumped some over ziti and it was still very tasty.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Should I Make a Little Pair of Pants for It?

I'm going to feel kind of queasy about taking a knife to this thing.
Holy Lorena Bobbitt.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Campbells Are Coming, Oho, Oho!

First of all, I didn't know you could grow celery at home. Just never thought about it.
Second of all, it never occurred to me that you might try making celery soup at home.
Why would anyone make celery soup? Campbell's sludgy sodium soup?
BUT! One day a couple of months ago, Cranky brought home a tiny six-pack of celery seedlings. And they are flourishing. I'm still amazed.
They're not some special yuppie-colored variant of celery. No special configuration. Just basic, green celery.
And... Until you've had home-grown (or, OK, farmers market-grown) celery, you'll never know why this homely specimen has much value at all.
It's rich with earthy, mineraly flavors. Green! Deep!
Remember the best home-grown potato you ever tasted? Like that.
Good enough to use for soup.
Abbreviated recipe: Chop celery and a little bit of onion. Thaw turkey stock. Cook vegetables in stock with tarragon and thyme. Salt to taste. Make a small amount of white sauce. Stir in as much cream as your doctor will allow. Mix into the celery messins', and use your immersion blender to get a good, mushy stew.
Footnote: When I was a kid, I thought the Scottish song was about camels, not Campbells.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sometimes a Recipe Is Just Not Needed

Ohmygod, are we getting our Five A Day!
There's so much edible vegetation ripening in the yard, we find ourselves having to dutifully munch and munch. We haven't had to throw away a single thing yet. It's all getting consumed.
It's to the point that we're reluctant to buy "store" food. Even farmers market food is now designated "store-bought food."
That kinda limits my intake of proteins (but I don't think I'm allowed to raise goats or hens in my neighborhood). Which is stupid and wrong, so, yes, we're still buying cheese and meat and eggs and stuff.
Gosh, we've even bought produce, because it's the kind we aren't growing at home. But then we have to ingeniously incorporate it into the yard diet.
Take yesterday's salad. Yard lettuce, yard arugula, everything else bought. Because the beets and carrots needed using. (Beets: roasted. Carrots: thinly sliced and sauteed hard. Some toasted walnuts. A little blue cheese. Some un-fiddly dressing, any kind you like.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sometimes a Recipe is a Good Idea

For a few years, I've been enjoying this summery, grated cucumber soup made with buttermilk and sour cream, some flavorings (Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, a little bit of grated onion), and served chilled. I make it the same way every time, because that's how the recipe goes. I might vary the proportions of various ingredients, but it's always peeled, grated cucumbers.
Until this summer. I now have an Asian cucumber plant of my own, and it's been producing some beautiful, gnarly, sweet, crisp specimens. Tender skin. No seeds to speak of.
And it's all mine! I grew it; I don't want to waste any of it. (I'm like that.)
So I thought it perfectly reasonable to chop up the cukes and run them in the blender, unpeeled, (and not grated!) for making this soup. Easy-peasy. I anticipated a creamy, smooth, pale green concoction.
Instead I got grit. Green-flecked grit.
It tasted great, but my recipe writer (a favorite) was right: Peeled, grated cukes make a cushiony, velvety soup with interesting mouth-feel. Blendered, unpeeled? Pah.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Isn't That Nice?

I'm almost ashamed to show you this picture, because actually it isn't that Nice. As in Niçoise.
It's a gringo attempt at a pan bagnat. We had all the right ingredients (give or take), but we didn't drizzle them with enough dressing. We weighted the sandwiches down with a plate topped with the Joy of Cooking, but maybe we didn't wait long enough weighting.
We never reached garlicky wet oiliness. We failed to achieve "bathed bread."
Ah, well, it was darn tasty. Close approximation, given our non-Frenchitude.
I'm too old to sunbathe topless, anyway.
No Orangina, either.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Farmhouse Lunch

If you knew how blandly suburban this neighborhood I live in is, you'd never call it farm land. There are SUVs on the street, kids playing wiffle ball next door, the tinkle of wind chimes from over the fence. Roses. Juniper bushes. Swimming pools.
But in my secret enclave in the backyard, I am raising hell. I mean vegetables.
For supper last night we made a tart of whole-wheat flour crust (and butter and cream), filled with home-grown tomatoes, some herbs, and a sauteed onion. The veggies went over the partially blind-baked crust, which was first smeared with Bodega Goat Cheese crema (groan!), and then it was topped with grated Spring Hill dry jack. Oh, mommy.
We ate the leftovers today with an impromptu salad of backyard lettuce, cucumber slices and (purchased) radishes. It was a total Farmhouse Lunch. I nominate this meal for this week's One Local Summer.

Details: Cream and butter, Clover. Whole-wheat flour and onion, Full Belly Farm. Radishes, Marin Roots.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pear Pairing

I am in the middle of a pear harvest. I have so many pears, I'm constantly cooking them down into pear butter, which greatly reduces their volume and cranks up the concentrated flavor. This afternoon I will be making some pear chutney.
What's wrong with eating pears fresh, the way the tree intended?
Nothing at all!
We've had quite a few of them simply washed and cut off the core.
And to get a little fancy, we sliced off "fillets" of pear and topped them with prosciutto and blue cheese. (That was fancy enough for company. I like to call a lucky stumble-upon like that "restaurant worthy." Happens once in a while, usually the simpler the better.)
But it took the imagination of a couple of friends, who had been recipients of a sack of our pears and a bag of fresh arugula from our garden, to come up with a "one-louder" interpretation of local eating. Pear-arugula salad.
I'll try that next.

Monday, August 06, 2007

All I Can't Can

It has been a real eye-opener, having a miniature farm in my backyard.
A lot of the plants went into the ground rather late for my area, meaning if they'd gone in sooner I'd be knee-deep in motley harvest by now.
As it is, I'm only plagued by tomatoes, cucumbers and arugula.
And when I say "plagued," you know I'm kidding.
Oh, wait. Lettuce too. OK, I'm not kidding.
Let's not talk about the pears; I didn't plant them.
A whole bunch of this stuff cannot be preserved. Sure, there are cucumber pickles, but these are the delicate Asian variety... which doesn't mean I'm not going to try. Might not work, but we'll have fun scarfing them up freshly salted if need be.
The tomatoes are notoriously saveable, and I will get around to my oven-roasted "sauce" as soon as I get tired of BLTs and tomato tarts.
The arugula and lettuce are just too ephemeral. Meaning we must harvest and eat as often as possible. Could life get worse?
And then there are the zucchini, which are only just now showing a tinge of manliness. Soon they'll be fierce warrior cubs, and we'll have to roast them and grind them into soup... but I don't know a way to preserve them for winter.
I eat what I can't can.

Tender leaf lettuce with halved Sungold cherry tomatoes, topped with a scattering of marigold petals. Hey! I grew 'em.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

If You Give a Puppy a Pear...

Hey, slow down with that thing, little fella! Pears don't grow on trees, you know.
Oh. Right.
They do, and they continue to drop off nightly, about 20 on the ground most mornings. The pears are getting bigger all the time. Because they are growing. On trees.
I sure hope Bean Sprout isn't under the tree when one decides to drop. I had a pear fall onto my back yesterday while I was picking up the previous night's jumpers. OW! Heavy.

Friday, August 03, 2007


It's crunch time.
(Ha, ha. I just cracked myself up. Unintended pun.)
The cucumbers are getting unruly, and need to be eaten or else caged and smacked with a whip. I choose eat.
In our case, with the robust harvest for a mere two people, the eating needs to be a little cucumber-intensive. Tonight we are having a grated cucumber soup made with onion, sour cream and buttermilk, seasoned with habanero powder and salt. Not a good photo op, but a grate (great) dish. Bowl.
Yesterday we decorated halves of cukes with local wild smoked salmon, dablets of local goat cheese, and Italian capers. Much better photo op.
It was like... sushi!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

One Local Summer, zzz

No, really, it's not a bore to me. Maybe to you.
I'm still eating most of my food gathered from a 100-mile radius, so when I select a meal of the week to represent my efforts, it's almost arbitrary which one I pick.
Today for lunch there were some decidedly non-local capers, so I will talk instead about a charming, brainless meal we ate the other day:
Homegrown tomatoes stuffed with egg salad, served over homegrown lettuce leaves.
Does anybody stuff tomatoes with egg salad? I know about 'maters stuffed with tuna salad, but right now, no thanks.
This was really nice. Baby food, in a way. Easy, comforting, pretty. Also, no mayonnaise in the egg salad. We just stirred in some olive oil and champagne vinegar, and emulsion happened. Oh, and there were slices of miniature homegrown celery stalks in the egg salad. We were cradle-robbing; I'm sure the celery will get big soon.
In honor of Liz's One Local Summer.
Specifics: Vinegar, Sparrow Lane, Napa. Oil, Sylverleaf, Loma Rica (more than 100 miles, but not much). Eggs, Marin Sun Farms, Marin. Salt, eh...