Friday, August 30, 2013

Garden eating: August

For the first two installations in the series, see June, and July.

This is when it really starts to get interesting. I was rattling off a list of what's ready in the garden the other day, for a friend, and it was like a grocery store inventory. A rather high-end grocery store, honestly. Potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, cucumbers, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, arugula, herbs, fennel, kale, chard, carrots, leeks, celery, broccoli... oh my! How did this happen? Those seeds I put in the ground months or weeks ago are actually doing their thing, and it is awesome to see. The tomatoes are absolutely rolling in-- not by the laundry basket-ful, but in perfectly respectable quantities all the same. I canned six pints of salsa from my own garden tomatoes this week, and that felt pretty amazing. 

Oddly, most of the tomatoes we ate this week were snack-style, layered with mayo and salted and peppered on bread. I wanted to focus on some of the other things that are ready right now, like the fennel, and that bok choy. The tomatoes are just getting started, too. That's the glory.

So, we have, in order of appearance:

Sesame ramen with scallions and bok choy, a spin on this amazing thing. I just throw whatever veggies in after I've heated and infused the oil-- oh, and I use wayyy less than the 1/2 cup it calls for--and it's good to go.

Sorry for the crummy photo, it was a dark and stormy evening. We've started doing rice and beans once a week, and I'm absolutely loving it. It's sooo healthy and delicious, and CHEAP!, and I top it with a quick salsa or pickle made from whatever's in the garden. The basic formula: chopped crunchy vegetable, squeeze of lime, a little cumin, salt and pepper. This week and last, I made fresh salsa with red onion and garden cilantro... pure heaven. Pure, unadulterated heaven.

This was a mix of grilled beet, potato, fennel, mushrooms, and squash, over polenta with a blue cheese vinaigrette. 

My favorite thing to do with green beans: this recipe, with tofu instead of shrimp (SO easy) and two tablespoons of brown sugar added to the curry paste. I freeze that curry paste (with garden basil, cilantro, and hot peppers) so we can eat this all winter, with frozen green beans. 

Last but not least, my favorite tart in the whole world, this time packed with steamed squash and broccoli, and accompanied with green beans roasted with olive oil, salt, and almonds and topped with chopped parsley.

Oh, it's a good, good season...

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dusting off my sewing machine

Yesterday, I made a bag. I'd shaken enough of the deadlines-induced haze from my head to realize, Monday, that a very important birthday is fast-approaching. And I hadn't made anything yet. Hadn't even considered making anything yet. So, I rectified that situation, post-haste.

I love having a stash for times like these. Having a big house full of bits and bobs and scraps and spare half-yards of this and that comes in so handy when you need to whip up a last-minute birthday present.

I went with my standard and oft-sewn tote bag, in linen and home decor weight fabric fabric, with a lining patched together from coordinating scraps. It has a squared-out bottom (which I love) and the handles are reinforced with interfacing. The birthday girl in question is turning 14-- suuuuch a tough age, considering I haven't seen her since 2008, and prowling her Facebook photos hasn't turned up much in the way of inspiration. So I went for something sophisticated but youthful, practical and sturdy. And, I reason, if she doesn't like it now, maybe she'll keep it with her for five years, and it'll grow on her. 

Here's hoping.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday hike

What a fine weekend. Happy hour at the pub on Friday, project time on Saturday, steak-and-lobster dinner Saturday night (for me; P had a gig), lawn mowing Sunday, and then, a hike!

Hadn't had one of those in awhile. On my to-do list all summer has been: find another place to hike, ideally a little closer to home than our standby Gilbert Lake State Park. Chenango and Otsego counties are both pretty full-up with state forest parcels, and so we've been dutifully poring over the map, adventuring to first one and then another, hoping to get lucky and find one close by with a rigorous three-mile loop through pretty woods. 

And water for Del. This one came pretty close. We hiked a good rigorous hill at Hunt's Pond State Forest, then continued up the road to the fishing access site, which boasted (free, nice) campsites. There was a decent gravel loop for hiking, that paralleled the lakeshore then turned through nice hemlock woods.

And did I mention, there was a lake?

A lake full of fairly enormous, lily-pad-skipping bullfrogs, much to Del's consternation.

I loved being in the woods and seeing everything this time of year. Especially on the lakeshore, the flowers were sooo diverse, and all blooming (it seemed) in those late-summer carnival colors. Orange and gold and purple and magenta and baby pink and deep violet and white and pale yellow. 

Del emerged from the weeds satisfied, thoroughly tuckered, and decorated with tearthumb. It was great spending some quality time with this guy. He had his first off-leash adventure, even, in the state forest, which was a great success. 

A satisfying, low-key, gorgeous weekend. The very best way to close out the month.

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Friday, August 23, 2013


Sorry for the radio silence this week. I spent all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday patching through a last-minute flurry of interviews and edits on an article that has lingered, somewhat ominously, over my desk for a month. So nice, yesterday, to hear pleased words from my editor, walk outside and let out a giant Paaaaahhhhhhhh...

I felt like one of those self-inflating life rafts.

I've been barely keeping up with the garden, these past few weeks. Really, just keeping up with the harvesting, and trying very hard to keep up with preserving. I'm doing pretty well, but I just got the September issue of Bon Appetit, in which there are all sorts of interesting transitional recipes, AND I'm realizing I've eaten zucchini three times a week for a long time, AND right now I have gorgeous heads of bok choy, mustard greens, and napa cabbage in the garden. Poof. How did that happen? While I was hacking away at deadlines, the crops I planted the first week of July just grew... and grew.

Meanwhile, the flowers...

And canning-breaks. I'm sure some freelance writers go see a movie when they're feeling burned out, but not I. Tuesday night I turned a $5 case of day-old 'maters (yeah, I still have to buy some 'maters, to can...) into seven quarts of stewed tomatoes, and 6 half-pints of tomato paste. 

Last year, I figured out a big canned-tomato short cut. Instead of doing peeled whole tomatoes in water (the PEELING, the ploppy JAR-FILLING...) I started just throwing washed, cored tomatoes into my giant three-gallon pot, mashing them layer-by-layer as they cooked. My pot will fit a whole case of tomatoes this way. Then, I let it heat up to a boil, and stir until all the tomatoes are soggy and broken-down. Then, I throw in a heaping tablespoon of garlic powder, salt, and lots of dried basil, oregano, and thyme. I can seven quarts' worth of this tasty slurry-- a nice, full water-bath canner makes me happy-- and process for 40 minutes.

But meanwhile, I let the slurry continue cooking down, at medium heat, another hour or so. I let it cook and cook and cook, until it thickens down into tomato paste. And then, at a quarter to ten, I can the paste in half-pint jars. 

A lot of times, the economy of canning seems a little uncertain to me, especially when I'm canning purchased produce. But even taking into account the $3 boxes of canning jar lids, this little project was definitely a frugal enterprise. A 28-oz can of grocery store tomatoes is, what? $1.19 on sale? Yuppers.

Swiss chard, arugula, scallions.

So, as the summer assignment crush finally fades away, I am deeply looking forward to getting back to outdoor pursuits. Walking around the yard yesterday, after I unplugged, I was amazed at how late-summer tawny everything is looking. The birches always lose their leaves early; the New England asters are inching up above the top rail of the back fence; the goldenrods are swingin'. My neighbor Jody has beach ball-sized pumpkins looming orange under the slumped mildewy leaves in his garden. Wednesday, I dug up one of my Kennebec white potato plants, and was AMAZED. Last year, my potatoes yielded so poorly, and the taters were rubbery and oddly sweet. This year, just that one plant yielded 12 pounds of potatoes-- three of 'em were damn near guinea pig-sized. WOOT.

It's a good season to be heading into, indeed. 

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Friday, August 16, 2013

At the fair

Happy Friday, everyone!

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Thursday, August 15, 2013


Let me warn you: this here blog is about to get redundant. It's food preservation season. I haven't even started doing anything with tomatoes yet, and still I have bottles of hot sauce cooling on the windowsill,

...and blanched eggplant in the freezer,

...and this bouquet of calendula, which I dried in the oven. I grilled and dried a bunch of jalapenos, too, and blanched and froze broccoli and more green beans. 

And, oh my goodness, this was last Friday, when it was pouring rain and the only occupation I had available (other than cleaning the house or caulking molding or other such nonsense-- was to suit up and harvest, weather-be-damned, in order to earn the exquisite pleasure of working in the kitchen while it rains.

That has got to be my very favorite thing about fall.

So that's what I did, last Friday. I shredded and froze zucchini, and made pesto and curry paste, and seven quarts of vegetable stock. That felt so good. Even if I can't get started on tomatoes yet (though they're coming) I can get all these other little bits and bobs crossed off.

Yesterday I went to Binghamton with Patrick, to shop, and I found, among other things, half-price lavender and alliums and hyssop and yarrow, and a pair of sturdy cargo pants in chocolate brown for three dollars (new gardening pants!). I've been working at clearing out that weedy garden edge, and now that I've purchased some things to plant there, once the job is done, I'm finding myself full-up with motivation.

And with a projected high temp of only 73, I better get myself out there...

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Garden scenes

The garden is starting to get that late-season slumpy look. It seems early, but then, it always seems early. As much as I look forward to fall, it's always bittersweet to watch the wild green thicket of summertime growth fade away. Everywhere there are dying zucchini leaves and spent calendula blossoms, yellowing string beans and potato rows inching closer to the harvest. 

This morning was foggy, and so the row of Swiss chard drew me in like a shelf full of old mercury glass. They show the most beautiful colors on those wet, dim mornings. Pewter, plum, and platinum mixed in with the reds and greens. 

The calendula is looking really nice. It's something I planted with the intent of harvesting and drying the flowers to use in bath salts, lotions, and other gifty handmade things like that. But the harvest, in this case, would mean cutting all those happy orange flower-heads, so I procrastinate. Also, I want enough of the heads to stay and ripen seed where they stand, so they'll replant themselves.


Fennel. I am dreaming of a roasted vegetable tart featuring fennel, onions, potatoes, and cabbage, with lots of dill sprinkled in. 

Over where I grew beets in the early summertime, I've planted rows of bok choy, broccoli raab, and curly mustard. All is doing so splendidly. I love fall greens.

I finally picked the first of our cucumbers last week. Surely a record for lateness, but I'm still happy to have them. After a few rounds of cuke and tomato salad, into the pickle pot they will go. 

In other parts of the garden, the raspberries are done fruiting (save for one or two soft, magnificent gems hidden in the shady centers of the rows, which I've delighted in finding, one by one...). I'm launching a campaign against the weed-choked far edge of the garden (the edge you very conveniently can't see in any of the photos...) this week, a campaign involving scrap lumber and long screws and end-of-season-sale perennials. We'll see how it goes; it will surely be a lot of digging. But. My summer deadlines are met, at last, and with the cooler, crisper days I am itching to get back out there and make tracks.

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Friday, August 9, 2013

The Puppy Frolic

God, that second-to-last picture just slays me. Look at those jowls flap! 

Del has been having a pretty good summer. He's enriched our life so much-- even when he wants to hang out by the kitchen window and watch squirrels while I am trying to get dinner made and beans blanched and zucchini shredded, all at once-- I remember this. After dinner is play time. Play time is Patrick's domain, because, call me a wuss, but I find even a very gentle and loving dog like Del scary in play mode. He snarls and huffs (at the toy, not at us) and jumps up with his very big toothy mouth fully engaged. He makes himself as wild and wolf-like as possible, for about three minutes, before he's spent his playtime energy for the day and goes back to his preferred armchair. I stand back and grin from ear-to-ear.

Such a good boy.

August is shaping up to be pretty busy for Patrick, which is good, because it's shaping up to be canning time for me. It's incredible-- and admittedly slightly baffling to me-- that I get nostalgic for the sight and smell of simmering-down tomato sauce. But I do. It'll be awhile before I'm canning garden tomatoes, as they're finally starting to blush, bit by bit-- but of course, once you pick that first ripe one off a plant, the rest of the cluster seems to ripen overnight. 

In addition to tomato sauce, paste, puree, bloody mary mix, salsa, and stewed tomatoes (phew!), I want to can a ton of bread and butter pickles, escabeche, hot sauce, roasted red peppers, and veggie stock. So I'm a little impatient to get going here, a little over-eager for chilly fall nights home alone canning and listening to Radio Lab. Man. How funny that that is my idea of a good time. Someone should make an introvert meme like this for canners.

When people stop inviting you places because you keep canceling plans. | 27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand

I'd love to hang out, but I have to go sit in my house and can things...

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Home on the range

It's so nice, in many ways, to be home. It reminds me how much I love cooking-- really-- when we come back. Patrick had such a packed weekend, band-wise, and I stayed home about every minute I could, blanching and freezing and making pesto and going blueberry picking and buying more chickens.

That's right, these girls are new. After losing Pasty and Genevieve a few weeks ago, I'd been rolling around the idea of finding two hatch-year pullets to fill out the flock and keep us in eggs. I called the farm up the road. I wasn't too hopeful-- it was August, after all, and I was going to be picky about breed. This here homestead ain't no place for no newfangled red sexlink-- we like heritage breeds in red, buff, and stripey. But, lo and behold, they had two Rhode Island Reds born April 1st, and we could have them for $5 apiece.

Thus Rhonda (as in Vincent) and Reba (as in McEntire) have come to stay. They have caught on beautifully quickly, and Loretta, for her part, doesn't seem to mind them much. Surprisingly, SO surprisingly, Reba laid her first egg for us yesterday. First off, a chicken supposedly takes a month to adjust to new surroundings before settling in to laying; second, 16 weeks is young for a laying bird; and third, getting them gathered up from their old home and into my cat carrier was beyond traumatic, involving barking farm-dogs and lots of flurried running and squawking. And then the stuffing.

So I'll take it as a compliment that Reba's began laying already; she must approve of the coop.

In the meantime, we're still waiting for these guys to start laying... 

...and meanwhile, 'Retta's gone looking for friends in all the wrong places. Anybody want to write a dialogue for this photo?

And meanwhile, the garden is still looking great. My tomatoes are finally starting to blush, little by little; I will have cucumbers very soon, too. Winter squash and peppers are both not looking so hot at all-- probably the cooler summer is to blame for that. I really didn't mind having an average high of about 76 between June 1st and now, though, in trade for two bum crops. I finally have a slew of carrots that have made it past infancy, thanks to plastic mesh fencing I laid over the germinating rows. So galling to have lost multiple carrot plantings this year, since I've never had trouble before, and carrots are about the most time-consuming thing to replant, and replant, and replant... Le sigh. It is always, always something. 

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