Friday, July 31, 2009

Seasonal and weird

Brace yourself as we travel to a whole new realm of seasonal eating. Today, I present you the Green Bean Panini.

(I have The Twilight Zone running through my head: "You're traveling through another dimension...")

Alright, I'll admit. This is weird. Maybe not Twilight Zone weird, but still. What kind of crazy eats green beans on a sandwich?

This kind, that's who. And, believe it or not, these sandwiches are so good we've made them multiple times. This has become more than just a last-ditch effort at consuming a surplus of green beans. (Though that is how they started out.) Over the course of two summers, the Green Bean Panini (or, Beanini, if you want to abbreviate) has vaulted itself to the top of the pile: when there's green beans in the house, this is the first place we turn.

And it's easy. So easy. And it's not going to heat up your whole house. Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for this summer's miracle food, the key to happiness, the marvel of mankind, the... ok, ok, here's the recipe.

Green Bean Panini

First: Having a panini press is helpful (though not necessary) to the success of this sandwich. If you're lacking, simply do these up grilled-cheese style, in a frying pan with a little oil, turning carefully after about 5 minutes per side. Or, if you have one of those George Foreman lean mean grilling whatevers, you can use that. On with the recipe, then.

Bread. (Whole wheat is good, as is pumpernickle. Whatever you choose, it should be hearty.)

Cheese. (Our very favorite is Jarlsberg swiss.)

Some kind of fancy highfalutin mustard. Dijon, stoneground, whole grain, whatever. Just not that watery yellow crap.

Green beans, washed and trimmed. About 12-15 per sandwich, though it depends on the size of your bread.

Some slices of red onion

Those are the ingredients. First, give a small saucepan a spray (or a drizzle) of oil. Throw it on over medium heat, and put in the onions. Let them translucify, turning once or twice. Add the green beans, and about 1/4 cup of water. Cover, and let the beans steam for about three minutes. At this time, you should begin heating your panini press, and lay out your cheese, sliced bread, and mustard jar. When the beans are bright green, remove the lid from the pan (to evaporate any excess water) and arrange beans and onions on one slice of mustard-ed bread. Top with cheese. I'll let you decide what constitutes the proper amount of cheese. Top with a final slice of bread, and slide carefully into your panini press. Press until those oh-so-appetizing grill marks appear on the bread, and the cheese has become sufficiently oozy.

Take a bite, and be happy. See? Would I lie?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On neighbors

I didn't have neighbors, growing up. At least not neighbors in the Sesame Street sense, where it's all smiles and "Can I borrow your rake, wonderful neighbor of mine?" In the Sesame Street world, you always (and very quickly) find lots of things in common with everyone. Strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.

In the real world, there's a line between friendly and friend, and it can be a darn difficult thing to cross. Stuff gets in the way, stuff like politics and religion and where you buy your groceries. Sometimes, you put on a pleasant face to the people on your street, only to talk smack about them when you're behind closed doors. We've all done it. You gripe at and ridicule their new car, their paint color choice, their weedy lawn. Sometimes, there are petty differences. Sometimes, your neighbors just aren't your kind of people.

Oh, but sometimes they are. Sometimes, through something as simple as a shared garden, you find some of your closest friends in the space of one short summer. Who wouldn't bond over such shared glories as the first feathery leaves of lettuce, the cucumbers that produced a bumper crop, and the nasturtiums that clambered cheerfully into the tops of the tomato plants? Through the slow and mindful jobs of tending our garden, I got to know my neighbors, Jen and Corrine.

Having uprooted myself from my life (and my friends) to move in with Patrick, and about to be his wife, I was sorely missing the companionship of women. Men, even the best of men, communicate in nods and grunts. They use fewer words. They won't be impressed by the embroidery you've spent all afternoon with: "It's nice! What else do you want me to say?!" There are things sacred and special to most women that are firmly beyond the ken of most men. I missed that bond. Then I made friends with my neighbors.

In the space of year, we've shared weddings and holiday meals, canning kitchens and snowed-in afternoons. We've covered each others' cat-care duties, loaned small appliances, and ferried baked goods back and forth across the driveway between our houses. Looking back, I wonder how I got along without them.

When they move away next week, I'll keep that fabulous line from Dr. Seuss in my head:

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
And I'll have canning jars, books, and this fabulous schoolhouse desk to help me smile and think of them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A summer weekend

The arrival of the bountiful harvest. The weathering of warm rainshowers, the bittersweet acknowledgement of the summer's first goldenrod blooms. Morning roadsides fringed on both sides with misty blue chicory. The blossoms close by noon.

The employment of our arsenal of zucchini recipes. The countertop pile of green beasts becomes a permanent fixture. New threats and curses are developed and tested on the fence-scaling, broccoli-munching, tomato-buglaring groundhog which has plagued our garden since the end of June. His new trick: stealing the apricots out of my solar dryer! Rodent-proofing a solar dryer is a topic for an upcoming post.

The gifts of a wet and dreary June: an abundance of mushrooms.

Getting out to the woods for the first time in (what feels like) a month. Vacationing from the steamy kitchen to quiet my mind and observe-- it felt luxurious, almost, after a day of yard saling and a week of canning.

Still life with Breakfast and Terrier. Blueberry jam, plain yogurt, and graham crackers. Sunday morning on the porch.

A Monday morning Morning Glory, a reminder to get up early and greet the day.

I hope your weekend was quinessentially summer, whatever it means to you.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Summer Vegetable Chowder

For the third summer in a row, I've found myself coming back to this soup. It starts, as it always does, with the first little nubs of fresh broccoli in the garden. It gets me thinking. I begin to anticipate that evening in mid-July when I'll stir up a pot, braving the hot stove for a bowl of this concoction, the very best way to highlight fresh summer vegetables.

The ingredients are simple, the quantities are small. That's another reason I like it. As someone with a tiny garden, I'm ever on the lookout for recipes requiring, say, eight green beans, or two tablespoons minced broccoli. This recipe fits the bills: it's highly adaptable, and calls for snippets of just about everything we grow.

So. If you like vegetables, and you like chowders, and you're not afraid to make hot soup in July, this is for you. If you like your vegetables better when they're sauteed in butter, this is definitely for you. Here it comes.

Summer Vegetable Chowder

2 large potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2 cups water or vegetable stock

Cook the potatoes in the water until soft and mushy, about 15 minutes. When it's done, add 1 cup of peas (fresh or frozen), and 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels (fresh or frozen) to the pot. Set it aside.

Meanwhile, do your chopping. Small, (relatively) uniform pieces of vegetables are important here:

1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 medium carrots, diced
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup chopped green beans

Begin heating 3 tbsp butter in a skillet. Start with the onion: add it to the pan and saute about 8 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Then add the other vegetables, one at a time in order of appearance, sauteeing 5-8 minutes in between additions. Aside from letting the vegetables burn, it is impossible to screw this up.

Take a minute to check on your potatoes. Once they're cooked, you can mash them or puree them, along with the cooking liquid, whichever you choose. If you're a wimp who doesn't like whole cooked peas (like me), you can puree those, too. When the vegetables are all properly sauteed, transfer them into the potato pot.


2 cups milk (soured is okay; buttermilk would also be good)
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp salt
ample freshly ground black pepper

Gently re-warm the soup, taking care not to let it boil. When it's hot and tasty-looking, ladle it into bowl and garnish with some chopped fresh basil.

And did I mention this is really fantastic with pumpernickel or rye bread?

Every time I make this, I do things a little differently. Sometimes, like last night, I sneak a cup of grated zucchini into the potato pot, and puree it along with everything. Sometimes, there are no green beans. Sometimes, there are lots. The important thing is to have a wide variety of vegetables in small pieces, and for them to be delicious. The butter helps.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yesterday evening

There are those of you who may say, sometimes she goes overboard.

Sometimes, she loses track of life's priorities, neglecting her husband and friends for a steaming pot on the stove...

stirring, stirring, stirring and humming, distant and determined...

...filling jars with the feckless abandon of a true lunatic. Some of you will say, this is a problem. This isn't right, this is not how things should be. The kitchen floor should be mopped, and the counter scrubbed. The fruit flies should not encamp themselves in the sink, or in the garbage pail. The stovetop shouldn't bear even a slight resemblance to a Jackson Pollack painting, and dinner should not be postponed for want of more canning.

To all those of you who would say this, I say to you:

You may have a point.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Beautiful peaches

... and they smell as good as they look. Later tonight, they are destined to wind up in those canning jars in the background of the first picture. For now, while I work, I can only dream about their sweet juice and golden flesh...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Berry, berry blue

I think it's safe to say I've picked my blueberry quota for the year. Once I started reaching my hands into the bushes and grabbing those shiny blue-black marbles, I found I couldn't stop until the bucket was full. The sun was climbing, and it felt good on my shoulders. There were birds singing and wildflowers waving in the breeze. There were so many reasons to stay and pick a little more, a little more, until I was lugging 30 pounds of blueberries down to the check-out.


I think it's safe to say I'll be making me some jam!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Anti-Basil Pesto

If you've read the title of this post and sadly shaken your head, I'm with you. Prior to this little experiment, I was firmly entrenched in the PESTO IS MADE FROM BASIL, ONLY! camp, fervent in my belief that no other green leafy plant could compare. Arugala pesto? Lettuce pesto? Get out! Basil is the only thing that belongs in my food processor, drizzled with oil and dusted with grated cheese.

And then:

Then this happened. Broccoli, spinach, kale even! Oy vey!

What happened was, well, it's July, and there's still last summer's frozen vegetables inhabiting my freezer. Last night, I grabbed a hunk 'o frozen spinach, a hunk 'o frozen kale, nipped some broccoli florets from our garden, and launched a foray into non-basil pesto territory.
And I have to say, it was killer. Here's what I threw into the mix:

Emerald Pesto

8 oz mild, green vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp fresh dill (2 tbsp dried)
1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
1/2 tsp salt
2 medium garlic cloves
4 oz ricotta salata

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and whirl until done. If desired, more oil (or water, or vegetable stock) can be added to thin the pesto. The consistency I got was spreadable, which is just how I like it.

I'd really love to try this again with some other strong cheese in place of the ricotta salata. Feta would make the pesto almost like spanakopita filling (never a bad thing). Parmesan or romano would make more of a traditional flavor. There's fontina, too, and gruyere to try. Oh, the possibilities.

One thing I really liked about this, in addition to its undeniable deliciousness, is that it was cheap. Homemade pesto from store-bought basil is far from an economical proposition, whereas you can pick up a block of frozen spinach at the store for, what, $1.59? And you'll still have some leftover to throw into an omelette tomorrow.


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