Archive for July 2010

cool as a cucumber

July 31, 2010

I spent nearly two months without a working refrigerator this summer. This was not some intentional extreme-green experiment. It just happened. When the fridge first went out, at the beginning of June, it was impossible to find a moment to deal with it. And then, as time went on, it simply wasn’t a priority.

Living without refrigeration forced a few adjustments, it’s true, but nothing too major. Since I do most of my provisioning from my yard, it meant that I didn’t pick anything until I was ready to make use of it. Fine. I also cut out eggs and dairy, which was easier than I expected (nuts are a great alternate way to add substance). The biggest challenge, particularly in the early part of the season, was that I could no longer make a big batch of [something] and live off it for three days. But cooking every day is not such a bad thing.

Anyway, last week I finally got around to replacing the old klunker, which had come with the house, with a shiny new energy-efficient model.

 There are few vegetables that go with cold as well as cucumbers. I sliced a few and tossed them with a little salt, a little sugar, and some crushed fresh dill. After an hour or so in my new fridge they were a perfect snack.

Also, I made some cheese. I know, I know, historically, the whole point of cheese was to preserve milk in the days before refrigeration, but I confess… I just couldn’t go there. So my house has been cheese-free for awhile. And there is nothing that says summer like a nice fresh ricotta, flavored with lemon and thyme and then drizzled with olive oil, accompanied by a sharp-flavored salad of arugula, olive oil, and tomatoes still holding the warmth of the sun.

And the next day: leftovers! Ricotta with chopped cucumbers, mint, chives, olive oil. Pretty cool.

no bent forks

July 26, 2010

I have a director friend with a favorite speech (typically delivered over a meal) that goes something like this:

     This is a fork.

     Not a knife.

     If you try to make it into a knife, all you’re going to get is a bent fork.

Her point is not so much about cutlery as about understanding and respecting the essential qualities of the actors you’re given to work with.

The day after a gathering at my house, I found a mostly full bottle of red wine on the counter among the empties. It belonged to the genre one friend calls porch wine—not special, not bad, just fine for distractedly sipping on the porch.

I hated to throw it out, so instead I threw it on the stove, with a scattering of last season’s coriander, to reduce. As I considered what I was going to do with it when complete, I realized I didn’t have a lot of options. Red wine glaze just doesn’t go with most midsummer vegetables.

Then I remembered some eggplants I had picked up at the farmer’s market. Reduction done, I corrected with a little honey, then added salt, olive oil, some smashed garlic cloves, and the eggplant (halved lengthwise) to the pot. After simmering for awhile, I put the whole thing in the fridge and went to bed.

The next morning I put some rice on to cook, figuring to layer it with the soused eggplant and some feta and oregano. I cut up the eggplant and tasted a bit. Not bad… but not special. And not nearly as appealing as all the things coming out of my garden faster than I can eat them…

Hindsight is 20/20. I should’ve thrown out the wine before rendering those lovely eggplants unspecial. Instead, I threw out the whole conglomeration.

There are schools of cookery that are all about culinary alchemy—making silver knives out of stainless steel forks, as it were. There are old techniques for making tough cuts of meats into tender, refined dishes, as well as new techniques that turn solids to foam, or liquids into self-contained shapes. While I appreciate the craft, and often the flavor, of such dishes, in my own kitchen I’m more inclined to let a fork be a fork. More and more, I find the best way to appreciate the essential qualities of whatever came out of the garden that day involves the application of olive oil and salt. Sometimes the “recipe” calls for the application of heat, sometimes not. Herbs and/or lemon are sometimes nice, but unrequired.

After I let go of the eggplant idea, I shredded some radicchio and chopped a handful of green beans and added those to the warm rice, along with a splash of olive oil.

potato/salad

July 23, 2010

The potato beetles have turned out to be not such a problem. I don’t know if this is due to the regular application of scented mist (a lovely activity on a sunny afternoon) or just good luck, but I’ve only seen the very occasional striped bug. The main problem now is density. Not too long ago I realized those potato volunteers up front really had to go.

An early harvest feels like cheating the future, but it does bring a luxury of wee potatoes. The fork in the picture gives you a sense of scale.These went into a pan with a little bit of water and a large lump of butter. I wanted a special accompaniment for this one-time treat… something delicate, yet capable of cutting through the creamy richness. I settled on a salad of assorted herbs: basil, mint, arugula, oregano, celery leaf, dill fronds, chives, thyme blossoms.

it’s beginning to look a lot like summer

July 23, 2010

good morning, garden! what do you have for me today?

grilled squash & onions + assorted herbs + purslaneassorted roasted beets & baby onions + radicchio

the dark side of gardening

July 11, 2010

Last week I started thinking again about the volunteer potatoes at the front of the garden. Part of me thinks one can never have too many potatoes. But of course, I’m pretty fond of winter squash, too, and the first was beginning to threaten the second. So I resigned myself to removing the infant tubers. Gardening does require sacrifice, and sometimes plants must be plucked before their time.

When I reached the doomed potatoes, slight sadness turned to horror.

The larvae of the dreaded potato beetle. Until now, For the most part, I haven’t minded sharing a bit of my bounty with the four- and six-footed residents of my little half-acre. So what if the flea beetles take pinhead-sized bites out of the arugula, or the local woodchuck has an appetite for beet greens—there’s still more than enough from me. But this pest is different. According to potatobeetle.org:

Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) is the most important insect defoliator of potatoes. It also causes significant damage to tomato and eggplant. One beetle consumes approximately 40 cm2 of potato leaves at a larval stage, and up to additional 9.65 cm2 of foliage per day as an adult. In addition to impressive feeding rates, Colorado potato beetle is also characterized by high fecundity, with one female laying 300-800 eggs. Furthermore, the beetle has a remarkable ability to develop resistance to virtually every chemical that has ever been used against it.

Terrifying, right? Especially the part about “also causes significant damage to tomatoes.” So what’s a pesticide-shunning, nightshade-loving gardener to do? I started to research organic control methods, and I have to say, they’re pretty gruesome. Compared with fast-acting execution via manmade poison, the natural solutions bring to mind the methods of a sadistic enforcer from days of yore. For example:

  • Create trenches around the field and line them with black plastic. The larvae fall in and can’t climb out. The dark ditch lining heats up and eventually roasts them alive.
  • Dust the plants with finely-ground wheat bran. The critters ingest the fiber, which swells when they drink and causes them to explode.
  • Use propane flamers to destroy them.

 Yech.

But I also came across suggestions that you could render the plants unappetizing by spritzing them with water to which a few drops of essential oil of tansy or peppermint has been added. So that’s where I’m starting. I’m also picking off the bugs as fast as they appear. So far, they’re only on the volunteers and have not found the official solanaceae section of the garden. This is causing me to rethink pulling the misplaced plants; perhaps it’s better to let them stay and serve as a trap crop.

no-lettuce lunch

July 3, 2010

The garden is finally beginning to throw off a few edibles of the non-leafy variety. Today I pulled three turnips and plucked a couple of handfuls of peas.

Also, I have a new favorite weed: purslane. It grows along the ground, rather than reaching for the sun, so unless you’re on your hands and knees getting after the tall weeds, you’re likely to miss it. Today, getting after the tall weeds, I discovered it everywhere. Unlike dandelion and many other “found” greens, it has a very mild taste. I also appreciate that the leaves are thick and plump—a nice change from the flimsy salad greens that have made up so much of my diet these past months. If there were a Purslane Marketing Council, the slogan could be “Less bite, more chew.”

The young turnips were mild enough to eat raw, so I sliced them thin, along with a golden beet and some peas in their pods. Then tossed in the purslane and dressed it all with a vinaigrette made with green coriander, mint and honey. Yum.