Archive for August 2009

summertime, suspended

August 29, 2009

000_0868Cilantro is the first thing to bolt–even in this cool, damp summer, it only took a few weeks before the flowers started appearing and the leaves thinned to feathery nothingness. Last year, I was disappointed at the change–no more leaves for the salsa–but this year I knew better. Because after the flowers come the fruit. And the fruit, in this case, is the coriander seed. Green, it bears little relation to the dusty brown balls packed by McCormack. It tastes green and lemony, slightly reminiscent of cilantro but without the soapiness. Early in the summer, I smashed about 1/4 cup of them and added honey, lemon and olive oil for one of the best grilled-chicken marinades ever.

They also make a lovely flavoring for vodka. This presentation is lovely but slightly deceptive; one little branch is not enough, in my opinion. I smashed lots and lots into a large bottle, then after steeping for a week I strained into bottles containing a decorative sprig. It’s great for topping off a glass of lemonade.

how much of what we did was good?

August 27, 2009

Gardening, like life, involves making choices, and often information pertinent to important choices comes to light later than we would have liked. In Roseboom, I am fairly isolated from major media outlets, and though I had heard a bit about the blight from my neighbors, I didn’t realize the scope of the problem at first. By the time I started looking up articles in the New York Times, it was midsummer. I had taken out a few of the hardest-hit plants, but overall I had adopted a laissez-faire attitude: if a plant had more green than brown, it stayed where it was. Then I began to read how the recent upsurge in amateur gardening might have actually contributed to the problem; novice gardeners, not recognizing the warning signs, actually provided incubators for the plague to gather strength and then hop to the next neighbor. I read this about the same time that a bucket of unsullied green tomatoes, brought inside after being plucked from an infected host, collapsed into slime in just a couple days time. And so, it was time for drastic measures. My remaining plants were in various states of health, but not one was pristine, so out they all went. No mercy. Feeling very responsible, I piled them in the farthest back corner of the property and forgot about them, mostly.  But not long ago, among the withering stems, I noticed a few bright spots. Not only had the yellow cherries failed to succumb, they were ripening fast, even as the plant they grew on shriveled to nothing. (Although it had spent a couple of weeks among corpses of the afflicted, it seemed bothered less by the blight than by being severed from the soil.) It recalled an image of a plump baby attached to the breast of a grey, gaunt woman somewhere in rural Appalachia. I’ve probably harvested about 50 little tomatoes at this point, and I’m glad for every one of them, but I can’t help but wonder what my windowsills would look like if I had left that poor plant’s feet in the ground.000_0875

mid-august menu

August 27, 2009

000_0871soft lettuces with nasturtium flowers and mustardy vinaigrette

roasted beets with lemon thyme, green beans and toasted walnuts

grilled scallop squash with basil, lemon zest and yellow cherry tomatoes

grilled pork chops

cheese, bread, berries

the whole of the harvest

August 25, 2009

000_0854Last year I learned that it is, in fact, possible to have too many garden-fresh tomatoes. Well, almost. For a few weeks, when they appeared at three meals a day, I got tired of the idea of them. But then, I would cut into one…. and somehow only part of it would make its way into the bowl, or the saucepot, or the drying rack. Even when they were covering every windowsill, every countertop, every everything, those shiny globes were still irresistible.

This year I restrained myself and planted only 19 tomato plants (as compared to last year’s 29). And, like growers across the country, I saw them shrivel with blight. I only managed to rescue a handful of early-ripening yellow cherries…

O come, let us adore.

flying squash monster

August 25, 2009

By August, the balance of power shifts in the garden. No longer must I clear weeds to give developing veggies room for self-realization. No, my infant plants have grown into big bullies, more than able to fend for themselves. The big task is bringing in the vegetables fast enough, before they become monstrous. In mid-August, the beans and squash seem to grow before my eyes. A typical daily  harvest looks like this:


And yes, it frequently includes a monster that somehow managed to escape my notice and grow unchecked for an extra week or so. I thought this one might be nice stuffed. Since squash can be on the bland side, I planned feta/rice filling fragrant with fresh green coriander, arugula, mint and chives. And more squash.



gather potatoes while ye may

August 11, 2009

There is a blight sweeping the entire northeast, taking out all variety of nightshades. For awhile I was pretty confident I’d duck it—my tomato plants were the healthiest I’d ever seen, thanks to a combination of generous rainfall and a neighbor who is very free with his rotted manure. But last week, I began to see the telltale spots on a few stems. They were the poorest of the plants, so even as I ripped them out I retained a bit of hope for the monsters that remained.000_0825

I also plucked off a pile of shiny green tomatoes before throwing their fast-blackening stems on the rubbish heap; I had had a lot of success ripening the last tomatoes of 2008 indoors, and I figured these orphans could coaxed to redness in the same way. Or I could always experiment with some recipes intended for unripe tomatoes.

But after only a couple of days, I had this:


And then brown spots started to appear on my potato plants, too. In the space between showers yesterday afternoon, I was able to get most of them out of the ground. It’s early, of course, but with potatoes it’s not so much a question of ripeness as mass. The longer you leave them in the ground, the longer you will have a store of potatoes in the larder. The early wee ones are a lovely luxury, though, if you can bring yourself to arrest their growth. Or if you are forced to.

This year I planted fingerlings, and while a few had reached full size in time for this forced harvest, most were the size of a walnut—or smaller. There was also a rogue red potato that sprouted on the edge of last year’s compost, and this unplanned pregnancy resulted in some whoppers, one as large as my outstretched hand.000_0842

I fear these guys, like the green tomatoes, will have a shortened shelf life, due to their brush with the blight. So I’m planning to eat them as fast as I can. Last night I started with the smallest—only about the size of cannellini beans—sautéed with their skins in butter. Normally, when I’m preparing an indulgent meal for one, I reach for the arugula. But my favorite peppery greens—especially pungent this time of year—seemed a bit much for these delicate tubers. I went instead with butter lettuce, sorrel, and nasturtium blossoms, tossed with a very soft vinaigrette sans vinegar—olive oil, vermouth, a touch of sweetish creamy mustard to help with emulsification. Yes.000_0841

a crust of bread…plus

August 11, 2009


pasta with walnut sauce and today’s harvest

August 7, 2009

Cut one medium yellow squash and a fistful of green beans into bite-size pieces while boiling water for pasta. When water is at a full boil, add a couple of servings worth of dried pasta, similar in size to the vegetable pieces. Grind a large clove of garlic and a handful of walnuts with a pinch of salt. When the pasta is almost done, add vegetables to the pot. Return to boil, then drain and dump in a bowl. Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil and turn to medium. Scrape in walnut paste. Do not clean mortar & pestle—the leftover bits will help with the next step. Chop arugula coarsely. Add half to mortar and grind, then add this to the pot. Remove sauce from heat and toss with pasta. Allow to cool for a minute or two, then add remaining arugula.000_0829

I was planning to add some shaved pecorino romano, but it smelled too good already and I was too hungry. Maybe next time.

precision can be more misleading than vagueness

August 7, 2009

One of the pieces collected in Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine is an appreciation of the writer X. Marcel Boulestein. Following a reproduction of his recipe for Braised Veal with Carrots, she notes:

“His omission of detail was deliberate. It is impossible, he was in the habit of saying, to give precise recipes. And certainly precision—unless carried to the ultimate degree, as in Madame Saint-Ange’s Livre de Cuisine or Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking—can be more misleading than vagueness. Boulestein was impatient of written detail. When he does specify precise quantities or times he is often wrong. His special gift was to get us on the move, send us out to the butcher to buy that good piece of veal, into the kitchen to discover how delicate is the combination of veal, carrots, little onions, a scrap of bacon, seasonings and butter all so slowly and carefully amalgamated—and all done with butter and water alone.”

I came across this while drinking coffee after my morning yoga class. I have a wonderful group of students, curious and questioning. Their very specific questions have forced me to articulate some of the changes in the way I think about practicing and teaching. There are a lot more different interpretations of poses going on in my class these days, and I do a lot less adjusting. I remember a chef responding to a question about measurements by holding up two very different heads of cauliflower. While there are certain basic techniques with a broad range of applications, who would be so foolish as to specify a precise formula for something as variable as one cauliflower? Or one human body?000_0832Also, how bout them squash? Like little celadon flying saucers. And no two alike.