Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I love grocery shopping in my basement

My goal was to make it to January using only produce from my own garden, and I did it and then some.

Not only do I still have a large bag of swiss chard just in the fridge, but the basement freezer (my Mother's Day gift to myself) and my son's old dorm fridge are packed with sauces, pesto, roasted slices, purees and cut up pieces of everything I grew this year (and a couple of items from the farmers' market and CSA).

It is an indescribable feeling to be able to just hop downstairs (there's an image) grab a bag of something and make fresh bharta, or marinara, or snag an applesauce or some corn relish, knowing exactly where those ingredients came from, and without spending a dime in additional energy output or cash. Yesterday we had Lake Michigan fish from freshpicks with this wonderful sauce.

Cucumber-sour cream sauce
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 cups cucumber pieces (cubed and seeded, from freezer), thawed and drained
juice from 1 large slice lemon
salt and pepper

Put all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Steal your neighbors' Christmas trees

Starting the day after Christmas, you'll be seeing everyone's Christmas tree in the alleys here in Chicago, or on the curb in the 'burbs.

Here's what I do:

Drag them into your yard and take a good pair of sturdy pruners to trim off the branches. Use the greenery to cover your garden beds now before the coldest part of the winter--they'll act as mulch, add necessary nutrients to the soil, and serve as winter interest in your yard. In the spring, rent a chipper and create your own pine mulch to refurbish the paths.

Save the trunks of the trees to create trellises for beans and peas in the spring.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Just dropping in

No words of wisdom today; here's a recipe I filed away awhile back that I don't think I ever posted. A stick-to-your-ribs winter soup for a chilly day.

Squash-apple Soup with roasted ginger

1-2 pound squash (I used pattipan today, but butternut, acorn or pumpkin also work)
1 large apple
about 1" of fresh ginger root
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 pound of bacon, chopped (optional, for carnivores)
4-6 cups stock
2 teaspoons white pepper
salt, to taste

Quarter and seed squash, brush lightly with olive oil. On a separate baking sheet (or in a pie pan), place about a 2 inch chunk of fresh ginger plus two large apples, cored and peeled, and brushed with olive oil. Roast apples and ginger for 20 minutes, and squash for 35 minutes in a 350F oven, or until a knife slips in easily. Allow to cool and then peel both the ginger and the squash. Put in food processer and puree. Make a stock with the peels (add all peels-squash, ginger, apple- plus a few white peppercorns and salt to 2 quarts of water, boil down to 1 1/2 quarts).

Sauté onion and bacon lightly in large pot. Add squash/apple puree, water, apple cider, brown sugar, stock, salt, and spices. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir frequently. Blend to thicken in blender-size batches. Serve with sour cream: one teaspoon on each serving.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making mocha coffee on a snowy morning

Who's recipe this is I think I know
They posted it on the internet though
They will not see me copying here
To watch my stats just grow and grow

My grown up children think it queer
to see Mom on the internet here
Between the bytes and frozen ethics
The darkest evening of the year

They give my Facebook page a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the beep
Of yet another old lady tweep

This coffee's yummy- dark and deep
But I have promises to tweet
And more recipes to "borrow" before I sleep
And more recipes to borrow before I sleep.

Mocha Coffee
1 T chocolate powder
1 T powdered sugar
2-3 T boiling water
2 cups strong brewed coffee
a 2 1/2-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
> 1/4 cup heavy cream

Mix the sugar, chocolate & water in a coffee mug until smooth. Add the cream, then the coffee and stir. Garnish with cinnamon sticks

(Original chilled mocha recipe at Epicurious)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


It’s a long line of 390 American meals, from that first mythical Thanksgiving in 1621 to today. Thanksgiving is our secular Yom Kippur, shared in the Americas by everyone across cultures and religions, no matter where you were born or how you will die, a day of thanks and atonement, when you greet your family with love and food (are they different?) and join to think about what’s good in your life, what’s real, what matters.

Thanksgiving is unique in that it celebrates not military victory, or religious myth, or how our culture and way of life is best, but a simple meal. It’s a holiday not just with food traditions, but, at its heart, about food. With no historical or religious basis other than a meal that someone decided to write about, it is unique in the world as holiday created for and sustained by households, about house holding.

Thanksgiving serves faith over religion, ordinary people rather than heros, and, ironically, production and creation rather than purchase and consumption. It remains unique in American culture as a holiday that has resisted commercialization, if not escaping it entirely. As our media and politics try to rend us into competing tribes, Thanksgiving reminds us how we are alike, and that America is strong because of our e pluribus unum ethos. Sensitized in my lifetime to what Thanksgiving augured for Native peoples, even this tragic history can serve to alert us to our need to come together, even if just once a year, to remember how vulnerable all are to blind faith, unchecked consumption, military overreach, and the worship of heroes over neighbors.

When you emigrate to America you bring your culture with you. But we give you Thanksgiving once you get here, and the gift makes you an American.

I hope you are surrounded today by your loved ones, even the ones that set your teeth on edge the rest of the year. I hope you are sharing the pie from your great-grandmother’s recipe, and the Mexican chutney that your granddaughter found on line. Remember how food and tradition bind us, from the sister of your blood, to the sister of your heart, to the sisters you will never meet, but who connect you nonetheless.

Apple pie with candied wintermelon
Use your favorite apple pie recipe (mine came from my mother's ancient Woman's Home Companion Cook Book). Substitute about 1/3 of the apples with candied wintermelon. Here's how to preserve it:

Preserving wintermelon
(or any firm melon like cantelope or honeydew. This will not work with watermelon)

• Remove the outer green skin of the wintermelon and cut approximately 1 lb winter melon into finger length sticks just like french fries.
• Blanch melon by putting into a pot of fresh water with 1 tsp of baking soda, and bring to a rapid boil for 3 minutes. Transfer the melon to a colander to drain.
• Heat 2 cups of sugar with 1 pint of water in a shallow pan until dissolved. Bring the syrup to the boil. Turn down heat to low.
• Transfer the drained melon to the pot of syrup. Press a plate on top of the melon to immerse the fruit in the syrup. Bring the syrup slowly to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes; do not let it boil.
• Take the pan from the heat and allow cooling. Do not drain. Leave it in the syrup for 24 hours whilst leaving the fruit undisturbed. Carefully lift the fruit from the syrup and leave to drain for 30 minutes.
• Transfer the fruit to wax paper or parchment and leave until dry,and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Things that annoyed me at the Safeway today

• I live 50 miles south of Wisconsin, the richest dairy country in the world, yet milk at Safeway comes from Colorado and California.

• The lady who didn't like the canned pumpkin because of "additives" but didn't have time to buy and bake a pumpkin, which I believe is guaranteed additive free, by definition.

• No concord grapes

• Identical free range eggs (at least they had them!)-- same brand, grade, quantity, and even package wording and design-- but one was 70c more expensive. No one could figure out why.

• It's hard to use the self checkout if you have your own bags; it senses when you put an item into a bag, but only its own bags. You have to get the clerk to keep entering a "skip bagging" code.

I'd like to once again thank Whole Foods for buying up or shutting down all the local organic and coop markets. Also, if that lady had just bought the damn pumpkin, she could have made these:

Roasted squash seeds with candied ginger

Seeds from 4 small butternut squash or 2 small pumpkins
5-6 pieces candied ginger
pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger)
sea salt

Heat oven to 350F

Clean and drain the seeds, then lay them out on parchment paper until they've dried to slightly sticky (don't dry them all the way). Place in a bowl. Dice the ginger into very small bits, mix with the seeds. Sprinkle with the spices, sugar and salt until completely coated. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment, spreading them into a single layer. Bake in 5-minute bursts for no more than 15 minutes, until browned and crispy. Allow to cool and then hide them because otherwise everyone will steal them from you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meeting Farmer Rick and the Flowerweaver

I used to wonder if I would ever make the kind of intimate, lifelong friends that I made when I was in college. In that period of your life, you spend a lot of time with, well, time, and interacting mostly with people who closely share your interests and outlooks. Your off-hours are filled with them-- you eat with them, play with them, run into them at random times during the day.

And when, as an adult, do you get to do that again? You spend your days in an office with people thrown together randomly by their skill set. Most of the day you interact with these people only at it relates to the task at hand. While you can get incredibly intimate with these people-- you go to their weddings and holiday parties, they know when you've had a fight with your spouse, or your mother, they send you cards when your favorite aunt dies-- work friendships, however intimate, tend to last only as long as the job. It's very hard to connect at a personal level, independent of the profession and maintain the connection once you don't share phone lines anymore.

As an adult, you mostly meet people through very narrow mutual interests-- yoga class-- or you see your family.

And then came the internet.

On line, I have met people very much the way I used to meet them in school: through mutual interest, on my off hours, and I "run into" them at random times throughout the day. I have met a dozen people in the past year, through gardening on line, who are now some of my best friends.

Today I got to meet the people behind the blog The Flowerweaver, whom I know from My Folia, in town to visit their new grandbaby. I made them a garden lunch: parsnip soup, raspberry soda, peach scones and the autumn salsa noted below and took them to the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago's wonderful free 20-acre greenhouse. We spent 4 hours in non-stop conversation, and not just about gardening.

So yes, I guess I will meet new and wonderful people, all my life.

Autumn salsa

2 large apples, peeled and cored
15 medium radishes
1 small onion
lime juice

Dice the apples, radishes and onions. Caramelize the onions in about a tablespoon of butter. Mix all together with about 1/4 cup (or less) of lime juice. Salt to taste. This made enough for healthy servings for three adults.

Remember to zest the lime and either freeze it or set it aside to dry. Always nice to have a little citrus zest around.

By the way, this is so delicious. I might try it with a little honey or sugar for a sweet salsa some time.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recycling recipes

I read somewhere recently that the typical family uses just about 10 different recipes; when I look at the label cloud I see that, indeed, there are 11 recipes here tagged "family favorites." It would be interesting to take, say, 50 families and see how many common recipes they have among themselves-- you could instantly grow your repertoire by just making someone else's family favorite.

It sounds a little depressing, to know that you're repeating a meal every ten days. But are you really? Or are you taking basic concepts and adapting, changing, reinventing?

There are some basic concepts, starting with meat or vegetarian. Subdivide those into different types of meat and vegetables. Further divide that by cooking method. Start changing up the additional ingredients. Pretty soon you've got not 10 basic recipes, but a hundred.

When you cook seasonally, this activity completes itself. I can't cook with fresh peas or string beans right now, because there aren't any, so I'm using swiss chard and brussels sprouts as the green in all my dishes. What I was making with eggplant in July I am now making with squash. It's a little scary the first time you look in the fridge to pull out something for, say, biryani, and discover that it isn't there. So you take a deep breath and substitute.

Now, the good news is, you've been eating for years and probably have a decent sense of what substitutions you can make. The other good news is, if it doesn't work there's always carry out.

Here's Monday's adapted soup:

Squash soup with caramelized radishes

3 T butter, melted in a pan
4 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed
20 medium radishes, halved

Melt the butter, turn the heat down to low and add the vegetables. Brown them over a very low flame until soft and browned, about 20 minutes. Add to the soup just before serving. Here's a couple of squash soup recipes:

Butternut-cider soup
Roasted autumn-veggie soup

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The best thing

When the first sprout pokes its head through the dirt

I always think
This is the best thing about gardening

When I make that first spring salad with the early crops
of lettuce and radish and green onion
I always think
This is the best thing about gardening

Then comes that week where you spend 12 hours
Every day,
Digging and planting and listening to the early bees
And you can’t get the dirt out of your pores

And suddenly it looks like a garden again
And I think
This is the best thing about gardening

Every day, all summer long
Flowers bloom and birds sing and bees move from blossom
to blossom
And that’s the best thing about gardening too

But then comes fall
The garden starts to die
But you chop the dead leaves
And turn the empty earth
And it is black and rich and full of worms and promise

And that is the best thing about gardening

Autumn salsa

2 large apples, peeled and cored
20 medium radishes
1 small onion
lime juice

Dice the apples, radishes and onions. Caramelize the onions in about a tablespoon of butter. Mix all together with about 1/4 cup (or less) of lime juice. Salt to taste. This made enough for healthy servings for three adults.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How foodie culture has made people afraid to cook

It's not just cheap, available, easy and frankly tasty boxed food, fast food and prepared foods (even the so-called "organic" companies have gotten into the act) that have made ordinary people reluctant to cook.

It's also the popularity of writers like Martha Stewart and even Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver, as well as cooking shows that emphasize high end ingredients, professional preparers, and exotic dishes.

I love to cook, and I'm pretty good at it, but these shows, books, and articles are just plain intimidating.

They purport to be encouraging people to cook, but frankly, I'm not going to have "pizza night" where I have to make pizza from scratch, however seasonal, local, organic and whole I'm trying to be; it entirely defeats the benefit of pizza night, which is that there is no prep and no clean up. Do these writers not get that? I'm never going to hunt for chanterelles; I didn't even know what they were before I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I don't know anyone with a backyard clay oven. Can I cook a whole goat in my Kenmore, do you think?

We're never going to get people back to preparing their own home-cooked food by only talking about $12-a-pound morels, and turning up our noses at the perfectly fine, pre-sliced plain white mushrooms available at the Safeway. I love making scones, but grating frozen butter, per America's Test Kitchen, is just a pain in the ass. But apparently this is the only way to make "perfect" scones. We don't need another Hell's Kitchen, or Rick Bayless with his flawless urban farm; we need Prince spaghetti night again, where Grandma makes sauce to put on the readily available pasta from the grocery store.

Tomato-apple soup

This is a wonderful "leftovers" meal, which I made with the apple peelings from a simple homemade apple sauce (peel and chop up apples, throw them in a saucepan, simmer until it turns into sauce. A four-year-old could do this.) I served it with this morning's banana-apple scones.

10 small to medium tomatoes, cut in half
Apple peels and cores from 8 apples
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
1 cup apple cider, or any vegetable broth

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, and put all the veggies/fruits on it. Lightly salt and pepper (I used sea salt, but any salt will do), and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 1 hour in a warm oven (300F), or until the tomatoes start to brown and shrivel very slightly. Put all in a 2 quart sauce pan, including draining any liquid. Add the cider or stock; all the veggies should be covered, just. If they are not, add more water. Simmer until the tomatoes have lost all shape and the skins have slipped off. Run this through a food mill until all seeds, skins, pits, etc have been seived out, return to the sauce pan and smooth with a handheld immersible blender, or smooth it in the blender or food processor. Makes enough for two large or three to four smaller servings.

This does not need any additional spice, herb, or garnish.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

Pork chops with heirloom tomatoes, basil and garlic

Sunday, October 17, 2010


One of the things I hear most often when I preach, ahem, talk about how I eat, is "oh, I don't have time for that." To which I always want to respond that more accurately, they don't want to devote the time to that.

As an excuse for feeding your family food that is nutritionally suspect if not actively unhealthy, it's a bad one. It's not how much time you have, it's what you do with it. People often use the excuse that cooking "cuts into family time," as though family time must be consumption oriented in the worst sense-- trips to shopping malls, or theme parks, or even cultural activities, where you leave your home and part of the point is to spend money (I believe we're supposed to call it "stimulate the economy). Family time can also be spending the day, like I did today, in the kitchen with your kids, your friends, your siblings, your spouse, prepping food for the week or the season.

And yes, it takes a lot of time. I started this morning at 8 a.m. and I'm not quite done (still have soup to make). I have washed 6 sinkloads of dishes (we don't have a dishwasher). I have washed every pot I own at least twice. I'm exhausted. But my daughter went home with a quart of tomato sauce and a pint of hummos. Last week my son got tomato sauce, pickles, corn relish, and candied winter melon. I prepped 15 pounds of food for the food pantry. I've got three dozen muffins which will last this small family nearly a month (I froze two dozen for later, saving more hours for that elusive "family time").

I've been doing this every Sunday for more than a month. But I have a freezer full of food that looks to get me through the winter. I won't need to cut into "family time" in January to go to the grocery store, and I'll generate almost no trash, meaning less trekking to the alley with garbage when it's 20 below.

So before I share the recipe, here's what I did today:

with fruit purees
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
3/4 cup unbleached wheat flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. autumn spice of choice (cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice, clove, etc.)

3/4 cup maple syrup (for apple) or 3/4 cup honey (for pumpkin or pear)
1 egg
1/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
3/4 cup apple, pear, or pumpkin puree
1/4 cup butter (melted)

Sift together all dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, applesauce and melted margarine. Mix until dry ingredients are well moistened. Batter will be lumpy. Bake in greased 8 inch square pan or muffin tin, in 425 degree F oven 18-23 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 3 dozen muffins.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I ate that on purpose

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Every time you turn around these days, there's a new term about getting away from the American industrialized, depersonalized, outsourced food culture. Now on my third food challenge, I think that Michael Pollan actually said it best (that's why they pay him the big bucks).
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The main thing I take away from these efforts--all of them personally and culturally challenging, mostly well meaning, in varying degrees sensible--is that what you need to do is think about what you are eating.

When I was growing up in the middle of the last century, you didn't have to think about it. The food you bought, even in suburban supermarkets, was what it said it was. It had a shelf life and a source, which was mostly nearby. Importing food was something that starving Indians (as in subcontinent) did. Even as a child I knew which fruits were in season, not because I looked up a chart, but because if it wasn't in season, you couldn't buy it. No one ever got salmonella poisoning, and E. Coli was something you learned about in high school biology. Meat was meat colored, not that bizarre bright red (how do they do that, and why?). Chickens came with innards. Fruits did not have individual labels, and the butcher packed your meat in paper, even at the supermarket (yes, Virginia, there were butchers at the supermarket). You could buy only the amount you needed, and exactly the amount you needed, because they cut it on the premises. I got to Junior year in college before I knew that you could buy French fries frozen in a bag.

Because of this, I am able to "think" about food. I have clear memories of what it looks like, when it's naturally available, and how it tastes. My mother had to cook, because the prepared food industry was just getting started ("Prince spaghetti day", anyone?).

Younger generations don't have this advantage. You are rediscovering what I grew up understanding, perhaps the last generation to do so. I'm not saying there were no processed foods; we had spam and cake mixes and tv dinners and every day there was a new "convenience" product. But families eating meals cooked from whole ingredients was the norm, not the outlier.

For the way I live and eat, I think the "slow" approach works best-- seasonal, local, organic, whole. It gives you flexibility--can't find or afford organic? Buy it from the local mom-and-pop, instead of the super store (on the "3 outta 4 ain't bad" theory). What works about it, and all the other monikers, is that they make you think about what you're putting into your and your family's bodies.

Unprocessed. Real Food. Slow food. Locavore.

Call it deliberate eating.

Pumpkin Caramel syrup
1 c. brown sugar (or 1 cup evaporated cane sugar mixed with 2T of molasses)
1-2 T water
1 tsp white vinegar
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 c. cream
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1T homemade pumpkin pie spice (ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, in 4:2:1:1 ratio)

Put the brown sugar in a heavy-bottom saucepan, adding just enough water to make it the consistency of wet sand. Turn on the heat to medium and add the vinegar. This will keep the sugar from recrystalizing. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the pumpkin puree and spices and reheat to just short of boiling. Add the butter and continue to simmer until the butter is completely melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cream, then add it to the sugar-pumpkin mix and bring it back to a boil. Cool several hours in refrigerator or overnight.

Syrup will thicken and set in the fridge. To get back to pouring consistency, put the amount you need in the microwave, or reheat on the stove top.

Use for pumpkin caramel lattes, or as a sauce for ice cream, scones or apple pie!

You need a farmer to run a farm

Last June, through a miscommunication at Peterson Garden, we put in 12 "farm" plots-- four that we called "Farm4You" and 8 that we designated "Farm2Give." The F4Y plots were sold for $100-$250 to individuals who had time to harvest but not to care for a plot; the F2G plots were installed as teaching plots with all the produce donated to local shelters, community organizations, and food pantries. The original intention was to have as many F4Y plots as we could sell, and 4 demonstration plots (a Vintage plot, a Three Sisters, an Heirlooms plot, and a Bee Plot) from which we'd donate food. One day, in a fit of enthusiasm, I put in 3 more, then took on a fall plot as part of an outreach project.

Because the miscommunication was mine, I felt somewhat obligated to be the one caring for these plots.

Each plot is 24 square feet, for a total acreage of less than 1% of an acre. By way of perspective, an average, commercially-oriented truly family-owned farm is 180 acres, or some 1000 times the area I was taking care of.

While I did end up harvesting nearly 200 pounds of produce just from the F2G plots, I'm sure that we lost a lot of the yield to lack of care and missed harvests, so that produce rotted or dried before it could be picked. Because we didn't have a farmer, whose job it was to nurture these plants, plots didn't get watered, didn't get picked, didn't get pruned.

My lesson from this? As the title says, if you're going to have a farm-- a commercial enterprise providing food to other people-- you need someone whose job it is to grow things, in other words, a farmer. I know how much work goes into a garden--I plant twice that area in my backyard every year. But that's a few steps outside my door, and if I miss a harvest, I can rationalize that I'll just turn that into compost. No one starves or loses income because I let a few tomatoes rot on the ground.

But I feel bad about the yield we lost at Peterson. Good intentions and a green thumb don't make a farmer. What makes a farmer is an investment of time, and effort; it's a job that you do every day, not just when you can get there in your spare time. Not that I didn't already have all kinds of awe and respect for farmers, but this experience has hugely reinforced that.

Apple Carrot Bread

1 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. orange extract (optional)
2 eggs

2 medium apples, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup + 1T honey or 1/2 cup maple syrup+2T molasses
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350F/175C. Grease or line with parchment, bottom only of 9 x 5 or 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.

Whisk dry ingredients together; set aside. Beat eggs, add and beat in softened butter, honey, and molasses. Add fruit, mix thoroughly, then add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan to cool. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 1 loaf.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The carpenter loved them

I was going to wait for some topic to pontificate on, but these are too good not to share immediately. You can thank "Kiki" for these; she was telling me sad stories and I felt compelled to ply her with sweets.

That's Sherri testing them, all unknowing that I made up the recipe. Fortunately, they're delicious.

So far, no one who's eaten them can believe they have no sugar.

Pumpkin-maple cookies with white chocolate chips

14 T ( 1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1 large egg plus 1 egg yoke
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
10 oz. bag white chocolate chips (Sun Spire makes an all-natural one)

Heat the oven to 350F/175C. Line acookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the butter until smooth, then beat in the syrup and molasses, a little at a time. Beat the eggs then add to mixture, one half at a time. Mix in the vanilla and pumpkin puree. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg (if you grate your own, this is about 1/3 of a nut), and cloves. Slowly beat the flour mixture into the batter in thirds. Stir in the chips. Scoop the cookie dough by heaping teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are browned around the edges. Cool on wire racks.

For an alternate, less sweet taste, and a truly sugar-free snack, substitute dried apples or pears for the chips.

Unprocessed readers: All spices also purchased whole and ground by me. To grind your own spices, you can use that old coffee grinder that's hiding away somewhere from your hipster days. To clean it, run some white rice through it after each spice, then wipe down with a rag. See, a use for the white rice you're not eating this month!

Makes about 4 dozen 2" cookies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How unprocessed IS unprocessed?

I'm taking part in the October unprocessed challenge from blogger Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules, and have been taken a bit by surprise by the depth to which people are taking the unprocessed concept.

I didn't really think about the concept of "processed" food; after all I process all my food, inasmuch as I cook it. I try to stick to whole foods like fruits and vegetables out of my garden, but I have no problem with flour, wheat or white, rice- white, brown, or wild, pasta from the chain market (and as far as I'm concerned whole wheat pasta is just nasty. Semolina, please) or sugar, although I have switched from standard white (which is usually highly refined beet sugar) to evaporated cane. I never thought about these as being in a category called "processed." I can't make them myself for varying reasons of skill, appliances, time, and philosophy, so I buy them as ingredients and make a meal.

So what this challenge has made me confront is, first, what exactly is a processed food? Raw food enthusiasts will throw cooked food into that category. Fair enough. Flour is processed by definition, and in fact you CAN do this yourself, but does "unprocessed" mean not processed at all, or is flour okay if processed at home? Some "staples" like sugar, really can't be made at home; I can and do switch to honey when appropriate, but frankly, sometimes it's got to be sugar. That's another food, single ingredient, but highly processed by nature.

There are lots of foods like this; processed, outside the home, the process being the thing that makes that food what it is. And I'm not talking about Lays potato chips. I'm taking about pasta. Jam. Bread.

The take away is, a challenge like this makes you think about what you're eating. It confronts you with not only the health, but the social nature of food:I need a miller to process my flour. Since I went SLOW, I actually know my miller, if Facebook counts as "knowing" someone. But I had to think about it. It makes you think about what others are eating. If you step over a line you've drawn for yourself (chocolate) you know you've done it, like cheating at solitaire. Doesn't really matter, but no one's making you cut out refined sugar, and no one knows when you eat it.

Well, except you and your gods.

I made this tonight, with roasted garden vegetables (home grown green peppers, winter melon, radishes and carrots) and penne from organic grain. It's seasonal, local, organic and whole, but is it unprocessed? You tell me.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spitfires soldier on

It's the last official Spitfire check in, which makes me a little sad. This was a wonderful project that connected me with a lot of people I'd never have had occasion to speak with, literally or virtually, otherwise. It helped me as a gardener to see what sorts of failures and triumphs others had, and how this planting thing connects us all.

The plant itself was a giant "meh" for me-- I'm not sold on the concept that a nasturtium can "climb." This one needed to be trained to grow up; it really wanted to trail, and while the color was a big plus for some people, I'm not that fond of it. My search for a deep purple, black, or mahogany nasturtium continues.

These plants were rather schizophrenic-- they hated the heat, but craved the sun, wouldn't climb but too spindly to trail nicely. They grew well in my conditions from all methods--wintersown, direct, and indoor starts, and I ended up with 6 healthy plants. The foliage really finally took off in September and they doubled in size in just the last 5 weeks or so, so in the end I'm getting nice fall color out of them.
Anyway, this plant was so-so, but the project was great. Let's do it again next year! (Or what about a houseplant, started now, and nurtured through the winter....)

So last time: I'm growing Spitfire Nasturtiums for the Seed Grow Project. Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds, and a big thank you to Mr. Brown Thumb for setting it up and getting me involved.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Real Food, redux

Oh, I love those web challenges-- Kindergardens, Eat Real Food, Project GROW. Here's a new one, Unprocessed, from blogger Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules. Basically, one month with no processed foods.

I love Andrew's definition of unprocessed:

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with readily available, whole-food ingredients.

It backs up my contention here at Mahlzeit, that all you need to cook is common sense. In fact, I think a lot of my non-cooking friends (cough Monica cough) are actually cooking more than they let on. The foodie police and cooking shows intimidate us into thinking that we all have to be gourmet cooks (whatever that means) or it somehow doesn't count. I've taken to buying my spices at the Spice House so I can get them without fillers (although I don't think they are organic for the most part) but when the clerk there asks me rather superciliously what kind of cloves I want (they have 4 different ones), I just look at him. I don't know. Cloves, dude. I just want cloves.

I really try never to make anything on here that any eater couldn't make with easily available ingredients and common sense. Personally, I try to use food I've preserved--whole veggies and fruits either from my garden or from the farmers' market, but even the local corner grocery store (if you're lucky enough to still have one) carries garbage-free whole foods, both fresh and canned.

Point is, you don't need fancy ingredients. You don't need fancy appliances, or pots. You barely need a cookbook, and if the only one you have is of the Betty Crocker "learn to cook" ilk, you're doing great. I'm still using the same set of Revere Ware pots I inherited from my mother, who bought it in the 40s when it was the latest thing in cookware. (Yes-- the ones with the Bakelite handles.)

The main thing you need to cook healthy, delicious food is mileage. Eat real this month, just make yourself cook. You'll be ready to make Thanksgiving dinner in no time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's a heaven for?

To play on the aphorism-- a gardener's harvest should exceed her shelf space, or what's a basement for?

I have upwards of 30 pounds of winter melon that needs to be preserved. No matter how long it will keep in the shell, once I cut one I have to preserve it, because each one is way too big for two people to consume in a single meal, even with leftovers. Here's the first of a whole bunch of winter melon recipes:

Candied Winter Melon
5 pound winter melon
3 cups sugar
juice of two lemons
Remove the outer green skin of the winter melon and cut into finger length sticks just like french fries.

Blanch melon fingers by putting into a pot of fresh water with 1 tsp of baking soda, and bring to a rapid boil for 3 minutes. Transfer the melon to a colander to drain.

Heat the sugar and lemon juice in 1 1/4 quarts of water in a shallow pan until dissolved. Bring the syrup to the boil. Turn down heat to low. Transfer the drained melon to the pot of syrup. Make sure to completely immerse the fruit in the syrup. Bring the syrup slowly to a simmer and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes; do not let it boil.

At this point you have two options- store in the syrup, using heat canning, or drain and dry. For heat canning, transfer the hot syrup and melon into heated jars and follow standard procedure for heat canning. For drying, allow fruit to cool to room temperature. Do not drain. Leave it in the syrup for 24 hours whilst leaving the fruit undisturbed. Then, carefully lift the fruit from the syrup and leave to drain for 30 minutes. Transfer melons to wax paper or parchment and leave until dry, then store in an airtight container.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Giving food away

I hate to give away food.

Sounds hateful, doesn't it? But I have a terrible time picking produce from my garden with the intent to donate it to a food pantry, or gift it to a friend.

This guilty little secret was mitigated this year because I took charge of the "Farm2Give" plots at Peterson Garden--seven 4x6 beds which were put in specifically to give away. So I got to feel all good about myself, as we've donated more than 50 pounds of food so far.

But I've had a lot of extra produce in my own garden as well, and it's all sitting in my larder.

I started thinking about this because my dear friend B has been hit hard with both breast cancer and an ovarian cyst-- they found the two tumors within a span of a few days. So I spent the morning today making food for her-- cucumber soup, squash soup, pesto, jam-- from my precious store. The squash soup especially is delicious. The pesto used up half of the plants that are still in leaf. I love B with all my heart, but it's killing me to give this stuff away.

I suppose in a way that makes it the more special-- it's not much of a gift if it doesn't mean anything to you.

The hoarding of food is built into our genes. Above I use the term "precious store" facetiously, but food is, in fact precious. It barely even qualifies as race memory to save food. Within living memory, you saved food or you and your family died. Modern food keeps- in refrigerators, or in cans, or simply on the shelf through untested modifications like irradiation. I would guess that something like potato chips have a shelf life measured in years. Because food is now easy-- grown, cooked, and preserved by someone else-- we don't value our food as much.

I value my food. It's entirely possible that I love my winter melons more than I love my children; I hope it's never put to the test. I don't quite name each tomato, but I do refer to them by gender. My food is precious to me. Here's hoping that the goddess understands, and bestows extra blessing on it for my friend.

Roasted autumn vegetable soup with roasted squash seeds
1 medium squash (about a pound), seeded (conserve the seeds)
4-5 small parsnips
2-3 cloves garlic
3 cups vegetable stock (I used a carrot green-based stock)
garam masala
white pepper

To roast the squash, parsnips and garlic: heat the oven to 350. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Set these aside. Peel and roughly cut the parsnips (about 1" chunks), and peel the garlic. Put all on a baking sheet, and either brush fully with olive oil, or spray with a cooking spray. Put in the hot oven for about 40 minutes. Check the garlic at 20 minutes; if it's started to brown, remove it. When the vegetables are all done, allow them to cool until you can handle them. Scrape out the squash meat, and put this in a large soup pot with the garlic, parsnip chunks, and spices. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft, then blend with an immersible blender, or decant into a food processor or blender, until smooth. Non-vegans serve with a little cream, topped with:

Roasted squash seeds
Gently remove the meat and string from the conserved squash seeds (just squeeze them in your hands; the seeds will pop out). Spread these on the same baking sheet you just used (why wash two?) and allow them to dry for about 10 minutes. They'll go from slimy to sticky; you don't want them to dry all the way. Dredge them with seasalt until they are completely coated, then with some garam masala. Pat them down on the baking sheet, and roast at 350 for 5 to 8 minutes, or until lightly brown.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Balancing the scales

I tend to extremes, so it’s not really in character for the fall Equinox to be my favorite of the earth holidays. I’m not a compromiser; Libra and her scales just annoy me. My brother is a classic Libran compromiser. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him growing up stuck in a household with a dour and whiny Capricorn (me), a creative, flighty Gemini (my mother) and a choleric Aries (my father).

My family matched the sun cycle- two Solstice and two Equinox birthdays: winter, spring, summer, fall. There’s a novel in there somewhere, or a mythology. Perhaps the eventual implosion of that family unit is the reason I’m a gardener- a garden balances the eternal with the ephemeral. You both keep and consume a garden; not the same garden of course. Each year in a temperate zone you make a new plant from an old seed- the cycle of life. A family that consumes itself, like mine did, has no replant; you cannot save the seeds and start again.

And for Libra, a meal with, um, scales (sorry).

Pan-fried white fish

1 large fish, fileted
2 tablespoons butter
lime juice
capers (optional)

Heat a large skillet, and add the butter. Once it's melted, place the fish in the pan, sear on one side (about 1 minutes), then turn and sear the other side. Turn down the heat and continue cooking, turning only one more time (so the fish doesn't fall apart). When it is cooked nearly through, splash some lime juice on it. Add capers and finish cooking. Fish is done when it is white all the way through and falls apart easily when prodded with a fork. Don't worry about keeping it in one piece when you remove it from the pan.

Serve with rice and Tomatillo salsa (salsa verde)

10 tomatillos
5-10 cherry tomatoes
1/2 jalapeno pepper
lime juice

Roast the tomatillos and jalapenos: heat oven to 350, cut vegetables in half, place them on a baking dish and brush all sides with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool them in the bowl of a food processor. When they are cool, run the food processor til they are completely blended, then add the tomatoes, a small handful of cilantro leaves, and a splash of lime juice. Blend again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloom Day, September

What do blooming flowers have to do with common sense food? Nothing, really. I also have a large ornamental garden and I like to share the pictures with the crew that participates in Garden Bloggers Bloom Day (15th of every month).

But in a way, my take on Bloom Day is like my take on food-- there are flowers that anyone can grow, just like there are meals that anyone can make. So here's some flowers that grew because I stuck a seed in the ground, and a soup that looks like gourmet fare, but tastes straight off the farmer's table.

Above, right: Nasturtium "Spitfire" from Renee's Seeds for the Seed Grow Project.

Left, Cosmos "Rose Bon Bon" from Renee's Seeds for the Seed Grow Project, below, Caryopteris, traded with a contact on and bottom, Hyssop.

For the full September Bloom Day photos check out my flickr! Thanks to May Dreams for coming up with and hosting Bloom Day!

Squash-apple Soup with roasted ginger

1-2 pound squash (I used pattipan today, but butternut, acorn or pumpkin also work)
1 large apple
about 1" of fresh ginger root
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 pound of bacon, chopped (optional, for carnivores)
4-6 cups stock
2 teaspoons white pepper
salt, to taste

Quarter and seed squash, brush lightly with olive oil. On a separate baking sheet (or in a pie pan), place about a 2 inch chunk of fresh ginger plus two large apples, cored and peeled, and brushed with olive oil. Roast apples and ginger for 20 minutes, and squash for 35 minutes in a 350F oven, or until a knife slips in easily. Allow to cool and then peel both the ginger and the squash. Put in food processer and puree. Make a stock with the peels (add all peels-squash, ginger, apple- plus a few white peppercorns and salt to 2 quarts of water, boil down to 1 1/2 quarts).

Sauté onion and bacon lightly in large pot. Add squash/apple puree, water, apple cider, brown sugar, stock, salt, and spices. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir frequently. Blend to thicken in blender-size batches. Serve with sour cream: one teaspoon on each serving.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


I tried to hire a graphic designer friend recently to design a new logo for my fundraising consulting business. She designed the logo all right, but she wouldn't let me pay her. Her exact words were "I'll work for fresh-picked corn."

In the end, we weren't able to connect with the fresh corn, but I took her 10 pounds of fresh and home-preserved produce yesterday-- garlic bulbs, herbs, black bell peppers, a huge zucchini, tomatoes, carrots, chard, pickles and peach chutney, all packed in a mini picnic basket. (I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture, because it was gorgeous.)

Using garden produce and home preserves as gifts is an honored tradition of the crunchy set, but bartering for services goes back even farther. Paying the doctor with a chicken is a cliche of American mythology, and of course barter is the basis of the entire concept of commerce. We still barter in everyday life, because of our cultural decision to honor the collective delusion that paper money has value.

Most of my seeds this year were from barter too, otherwise known as seed swapping. It's THE best way to make new friends if you're a gardener. I think pretty much every new gardening friends I've made in the past two years (see my blog list!) I met through seed swapping.

What have you bartered your garden bounty for this year?

Homemade chocolate syrup
originally from The Tightwad Gazette via the blog Small Notebook for a Simple Home. Text is verbatim.

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to let it get too hot and boil over! Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then. Yields two cups.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Still spitting fire in September

I'm growing spitfire nasturtiums for the Seed Grow Project.
Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds!

How are your spitfires doing?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hipster Supported Agriculture, Part III

Hipster Supported Agriculture is part of the KinderGardens project over at Inadvertent Farmer. Check it out to see how everyone's been gardening with kids all summer!

I spent the afternoon today at Peterson Garden working with three teens from Jewish Child and Family Services on the last empty plot in the garden. I'll be meeting with them and others from the program a few times each week after school and on weekends.

Today they got a tour of the garden, learned a little bit about what a community garden is, and harvested lettuce, giant zucchini (which I had somehow missed harvesting, so they got a little big), tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, and chard from our "Farm2Give" plots. They planted some short-season seeds (radishes and lettuce) and broccoli starts. We talked about the importance of keeping the plot watered until the seedlings get established, and got them all to get their hands in the dirt.

I'll be helping them with the project through mid-October, and hope to get to talk about organic gardening, a little backyard botany, and eating your veggies. One girl categorically refused to eat a cherry tomato because "I don't eat vegetables." You just want to cry. How have we raised a generation that doesn't eat vegetables? She wanted me to come to their facility to teach them how to make pickles though.

So I've kind of run the gamut of city kids at this point-- I had my old student Katie in my own backyard, a girl from a well-off, even privileged background for whom the back story on gardening was unnecessary. Her parents, former hippies, had already indoctrinated her! and the idea of urban gardening was nothing new.

In July I worked with a Service Learning Group from the nearby high school. This group was very diverse racially and economically, but motivated and used both to creative thinking and interaction with engaged adults.

Today's group is from an at-risk population from very troubled backgrounds, with little stability in their lives. I went into it a little nervous; as a sports coach I've had lots of interaction with teens, and with disabled kids, but I have to tell you, you don't get a lot of "at-risk" children in an ice rink.

But they were just that-- children like any teens, on the brink of womanhood, asking intelligent questions, making excellent leaps of imagination based on some very cursory plant information I gave, and using knowledge from school to draw conclusions about what they were seeing in the garden.

All in all a very rewarding afternoon.

If you'd like to help Peterson Garden with projects like this, please visit the website and click on Donate in the menu bar. And thank you.

Monday, August 30, 2010

How much should I preserve?

At this time of year the blogs are full of pictures of 40 jars of tomatoes that some uber locavore just put up. You read about people's 20x20 foot hand-dug root cellars, and the 200 cucumbers that they turned into pickles.

I just read a comment from a friend that she "doesn't have enough to save right now"-- but what does that mean? How little is too little?

I mostly eat as I grow. I don't really have the space, or I'm not willing to devote the space, to grow enough for the 8 months of preserved food that you need in this northern temperate climate. But even so, for most of my gardening life I've grown just a little too much to consume.

Now, I'm a somewhat selfish gardener. I don't give much (ahem, any) food away. I'm always impressed, and slightly guilt-ridden, over people who bring their baked goods or overflow tomatoes to work. If I've got 10 extra tomatoes, that's a quart of sauce. Too many zucchinis, peppers, or eggplants? You can roast and freeze those. (Or pack the roasted peppers in olive oil. They won't keep quite as long, but they give the olive oil an amazing flavor). And you don't need either the time nor the storage for dozens of jars. Put up 3 jars, and for all I know, eat them next week. This year for the first time we got a small chest freezer, just 5.5 cubic feet, for freezing fruit and blanched vegetables, and I use my son's tiny old dorm room fridge for about 20 jars of heat-canned sauces and relish.

So if you've only got enough tomatoes for a little extra sauce, well, you're not feeding an army, and there's a grocery store down the block for January (for now, anyway). It's great to save a lot.

But you can also save just a little.

Fried squash blossoms with chorizo stuffing

12 large freshly picked squash blossoms (any type-- I've got Butternut, Pumpkin and Zucchini)

The stuffing:
2 chorizo sausages
3 small potatoes
1 large sweet pepper
3 small zucchini or 1 medium eggplant
2 egg yokes

Fill a sauce pan with light oil (canola or corn) to at least 3" depth (do not overfill- top of oil should be no closer than 1" from the top of the pot). Heat to 400F.

If using eggplant, dice it, place it in a seive over a bowl and lightly salt. Let it sit about a half hour until it drains, then rinse it. Discard all liquid. Drench it with olive oil and let it sit 10 minutes or until the olive oil is absorbed. Peel and grate the potatoes, dice the pepper and zucchini or eggplant. Remove the casings from the sausages and fry in a little olive oil, breaking them up into a ground meat texture. Place all ingredients together in the frying pan and continue frying until the eggplant is completely cooked, adding olive oil if necessary. Add egg yolks and quickly mix it. Saute on low until vegetables are soft (about 20 minutes). Allow to cool.

For vegetarian, clearly, leave out the sausage, replace with wild rice or toasted pine nuts.

The batter (from Cape May Magazine, although I thought theirs was too thick, and added a second egg white):
½ cup flour
½ cup rice flour
Salt, pepper
2 egg whites
½ cup club soda

Mix flours and spices and add to club soda. Whisk lightly to incorporate. Lumps are better than over mixing. Whisk egg whites until foamy. Add to batter.

Gently spoon the stuffing into the blossoms, folding over the ends to hold it in. Hand dip into the batter and immediately submerge in hot (400F) oil. Deep fry until the batter is golden brown. Serve immediately.

These were so good that by the time I got the camera, 6 of them were gone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An act of courage, and the hand of the divine

Sometimes the most mundane activity inspires the most profound thoughts. After gathering the morning’s harvest, I set about dicing the six cucumbers to freeze (fresh cucumber soup in January!), nibbling as I cut, as one does. I slipped a sweet piece of pale green crunch into my mouth and experienced the most revelatory moment:

I made this

I made a cucumber. I also "make" tomatoes, eggplants, squash, corn. Beans. Beets. Carrots. In fact, I can make anything, with help from God and the goddess. A garden brings the divine into the kitchen, through each small miracle of a fruit.

Urban Americans are so disconnected from food origins, and so indoctrinated to rely on someone else's expertise, that it takes both imagination and a profound act of courage to eat something that no one has inspected, or vetted, or processed, or labeled, or packaged. In our culture every single piece of fruit has a label and a number. Small storefront grocery stores are mistrusted if not demonized, let alone the guy selling watermelons off the back of his truck. Children ask “what is it” when confronted with a cherry tomato on the vine, and have never snipped the ends off a bean. Eating something that only you and God have touched is nearly revolutionary if not actively subversive.

I learned today that in the UK, everyone is entitled to an allotment, because “landless citizens have a right to the commons.” Here in the states we’ve let cities like Detroit and New Orleans die, because god forbid someone should use someone else’s land (i.e. vacant, abandoned lot) to grow their own food. God forbid the government should be required to redeem land that they allowed private companies to contaminate, so that no one can use it to grow things on, while allowing agribusiness to drench our inspected, vetted, processed, labeled, packaged foods with poison.

This week, we've been subjected to a report about poisoned eggs. Eggs that have been bleached, irradiated, scrubbed, and in fact, vetted, processed and labeled, have supposedly sickened more than a thousand people. We took "baby's first perfect food" and turned it into poison. I don't have to worry about it. I get my eggs from a local farmer, who neither poisons, nor cannibalizes, nor confines her chickens, and whom I've met.

And I grew a cucumber, a carrot, a tomato, a bean. I ate it hot from the sun—God’s hand to my mouth.

Cucumber-raisin bread
Adapted from "Best Zucchini Bread Ever"

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (or all-purpose)
2 teaspoons cinnamon (freshly ground, if you're into it)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (again, freshly grated, assuming you have, um, nutmegs? around)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder (make your own!)
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup canola or nut oil
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with a splash of vinegar)
1 cup organic Turbinado sugar (or brown sugar, firmly packed)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely grated cucumber
4 oz raisins, plumped

Preheat oven to 350F.

Oil a 9×4 inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper. Line a 6-cup muffin tin with papers OR oil a mini loaf pan. Whisk dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy, then beat in yogurt, buttermilk, oil, sugar, and vanilla and combine well. Stir in grated cucumber and plumped raisins. Fold flour mixture into the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Spoon batter into 6 muffin cups (or mini loaf pan) and pour the rest into the 9×4 loaf pan. Bake for approximately 50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes in the pan.

Loosen the sides and remove from pan. Cool loaf completely before cutting.

Hot and Cold

As the days start to switch over from summer's hot, high sun to autumn's golden coolness, it's time to start adapting the recipes to reflect the weather. Cold cucumber, beet and tomato soups become warm creamed soups. Salads give way to casseroles, and the summer drinks go from cold and refreshing to warm and soothing.

So as the days stay hot while the nights cool off, here's some drinks for both ends of the spectrum.

Honey-vanilla yogurt smoothie
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
4-6 ice cubes
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Throw it all in a blender.

Vanilla milk
8 oz milk, heated
1-3 teaspoons sugar (depending how sweet you like it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Completely dissolve the sugar in the hot milk, add the vanilla. Allow to cool a little. A wonderful bedtime soother, even for little kids (not enough sugar to keep them awake). For a little caramel flavor, dissolve the sugar in a pat of melted butter and a couple of tablespoons of milk first. I have also tried this with honey; the sugar is better.

I've asked for vanilla beans for Christmas (can't justify the expense for everyday), and will be trying these at some point with homemade vanilla syrup.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Giving food away

One of my favorite activities of The Peterson Garden Project is our Farm2Give beds. These are seven 6x4' raised plots planted and tended by volunteers, with all of the produce going to local food pantries.

We've been harvesting upwards of 10 pounds of produce a week for about 3 weeks now-- tomatoes, corn, melons, beans, summer squash, cucumbers, chard, peppers. We have two nearby food pantries eager to take the produce, and a couple more near various volunteers' homes or businesses.

The difficulty comes with delivery. Some pantries take food only in narrow windows, generally on weekdays during the day. Others have more flexible delivery times, but less reliable staffing. One volunteer had 30 pounds of produce fall off the back of his scooter on his way to deliver it, and he didn't notice until he got there.

It's cumbersome and haphazard, and food gets wasted through spoilage and loss. I don't have room to store 30 extra pounds of produce that I pick on a Sunday (when I'm off work), but can't deliver until Thursday.

I've been trying to contact the Greater Chicago Food Depository to see if we can deliver stuff there. Presumably, they are staffed for more hours. Problem is, I don't know where "there" is-- there doesn't seem to be an address on the website-- and no one is returning my calls.

Kinda gives new meaning to the old gardener's joke, that I've got so much food that I can't even give it away.

Sweet and Spicy Corn Relish

8 ears sweet corn
, husked and nibletted
large yellow onion
3 bell peppers
4 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2-3 small hot peppers (poblano, shishito, or jalapeno)
2 cups cider vinegar
cup sugar
teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix the vinegar and sugar, stir thoroughly and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Place the spices in a cheesecloth bag and soak it in this mixture. Set aside, but keep it hot. Dice the cucumbers, tomatoes, and hot peppers, dredge with salt and about a tablespoon of sugar, mix well and set aside. Dice the onions and peppers, and blanch with the corn (place in boiling water, bring to a boil again, leave on full boil for 5 minutes). Mix all the vegetables together in a large ceramic bowl (or other non-reactive) bowl, and mix with the hot liquid and spices. The liquid should cover the vegetables (if it doesn't, add hot water until all the veggies are just submerged). Place in the fridge overnight. Next day, drain off the liquid into a large saucepan and bring to a full boil. Put the vegetables into a room temperature bowl. Pour the back over the vegetables then place in Ball jars and heat process to preserve.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What to do with the cherry tomatoes

You know that scene in The Return of the King where Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn are in the cave with the ghost army, and all the millions of skulls coming tumbling down?

Now think cherry tomatoes instead of skulls. That's what I feel like.

One of the things that can catch inexperienced gardeners unaware is the bounty. Everyone's heard the apocryphal stories of the sneak zucchini attack-- some hapless gardener plants 10 zucchinis in a fit of madness and can't get rid of them, so they leave them on some unsuspecting neighbor's porch in the middle of the night.

This year, as part of the Eat Real Food challenge at Not Dabbling in Normal, I decided to see if I could preserve enough food to make it into January before resorting to store bought (since I'm trying to stay local and seasonal). I planted twice as many tomatoes as usual, plus 6 cherry tomatoes, thinking I'd eat the cherries and preserve the full size.

And like the newbie that I'm not, I got caught unaware-- I've got cherries out the wazzoo. About 4-5 quarts so far, with double that ripening as I write. They make great snacks, and a friend is taking 2 quarts (plus some corn, and though she doesn't know it yet, refrigerator pickles, not to mention, ahem, zucchini) in payment for a design job, bless her, but what to do with the rest?

Cherry Tomato Eggplant Bruschetta
1 quart Cherry Tomatoes (about 60-80 tomatoes, depending on the size)
1 eggplant
garlic to taste (let's say 3 large cloves)
2+ T olive oil plus 1 T olive oil
Fresh herbs (basil is nice, also parsley, also oregano)
Salt and pepper

Adjust quantities if you have 80 pounds of cherry tomatoes, like I appear to.

Peel and dice eggplant and dredge it with salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour, until some liquid has accumulated. Rinse, pat dry, and macerate in 2 tablespoons olive oil until thoroughly absorbed. Quarter or dice the tomatoes, chop the herbs very fine, press the garlic. Mix it all together with the remaining olive oil. At this point you can either roast it in a cool oven (300-325F/150-160C) for 45-55 minutes, or cook it in a skillet at high heat for about 5 minutes. Cool and eat right away, or spoon the hot bruschetta into hot jars and heat preserve. For a sweet garlic taste, roast a head of garlic whole first, then whip that with the olive oil before mixing it all together.

Cherry Tomato Salsa
Use any basic salsa recipe, just with quartered cherry tomatoes instead of diced full-sized tomatoes. Here's one from

1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño, minced
Juice from 1/2 of a lemon (I'd rather use lime, but she uses lemon)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt

Toss the cherry tomatoes, red onion, and jalapeño together in a small mixing bowl. Squeeze the lemon (um, lime?) juice over the mixture, and stir in the fresh cilantro. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving.

Cherry Tomato Paste
You need at least 3 quarts of cherry tomatoes to end up with a pint of paste, or a quart of sauce. Put the tomatoes into a sauce pan with a little water (maybe a quarter cup, just to keep them from burning until they start to release their own liquid). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the tomatoes have lost their shape. Run through progressively finer sieves in a food mill, until the seeds and skin are separated. Compost the seeds and skin, or use them as the base for stock. (Then compost them.) Return the tomato-y liquid to the pan and cook down by half (i.e. keep cooking and stirring until half or more of the water has simmered off.) Spoon hot paste into hot jars (1 cup for paste, larger for a thinner paste, larger still for a sauce consistency) and heat seal. Since cherry tomatoes have a high sugar content, for extra insurance against spoiling add a little lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. (Do this to taste. You don't want your tomato paste to be sour. For additional insurance, store these cold.) If you like, you can add salt, spices, garlic or onion to this, but I like the flexibility of a pure paste.

Dried Cherry tomatoes
Cut your tomatoes in half and lay between two clean screens. Set out in the sun for 2-3 days; bringing them in overnight. (from the gardener behind Read Between the Limes). Colleen Vanderlinden, the organic gardening guru at, says she does this with her grape tomatoes especially.

More tweeted advice:


Thanks to all my tweeps for the ideas!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I relish the summer!

No words of wisdom today, just a wonderful summer relish, and a really bad pun

Spicy Peach Relish
for every 4 medium peaches:

1 bell pepper (red is the best aesthetically, but any sweet bell will do)
1-2 hot pepper of choice (I used Shishito because that's what I have growing)
1 small sweet onion
1 medium cucumber
Zest from 2 limes

1/4 cup peach preserves
1 T balsamic vinegar
Juice from 2 limes
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint or cilantro (flavor will be quite different depending which one you use)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Peel, seed and finely dice all fruits. For a hotter relish, don't seed the hot peppers. If you don't want your relish too hot, seed the peppers, or use only some of the seeds.

Heat the brine, pour over fruit mixture, put in fridge overnight. Ladle into sterilized jars and heat seal.

A tweep asks "okay to put in fridge overnight, rather than hot mix into hot jars?" Someone correct this if it's wrong-- do I need to reheat? Don't want to kill anyone! @Canvolution says "make it a fridge relish; can't tell how acid it is with all those veg!"

Serve with chicken or seafood, or over a leafy salad.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"What the hell" gardening

There are lots of gardeners with impressive, even terrifying, depth of knowledge. There are gardeners who can build any structure needed for any type of plant, and ones who know exactly how to build soil or which treatment to use for a sick plant, based on a glance. There are gardeners who not only know the names of, but plant dozens if not hundreds of tomato varieties, and also can tell you what they taste like, and whether they are "slicing" or "paste" tomatoes. (There's a difference? I think I've been doing it wrong.)

There are gardeners who know what to do with tomatillos.

I confess when I started getting active online I was extremely intimidated by gardeners who knew the difference between tagetes and calendula, which I always just called "marigold," (I sound like I have clue, yes? Don't be fooled). They have the scientific names for dozens of plants at the tips of their tongues, and always know which named variety of lily, or iris, was growing in their own backyards, not to mention yours.

And then there are the "what the hell" gardeners:
  • The rabbits ate most of the climbing beans' stalks, and all the leaves, but they don't look so bad, so what the hell, I'll leave them.
  • Damn, a squirrel took a bite out of that tomato, but it doesn't look so bad. What the hell, I'll pick it and just cut off the nommed bits.
  • Whoah! Winter melon will climb up a bean trellis, who knew? What the hell, I'll just add some supports for it and see what happens.
  • The potted peppers don't look so good. What the hell, I'll throw in some bean seeds; beans fix nitrogen, (or something) right? That should help.
  • Hey- there are turnips coming up from last year. What the hell, let's see what happens if I just let them go to seed.
  • Are Vermont cranberry beans dry beans or shell beans? What the hell, let's pick some and see how they taste.
  • I think those are aphids at the top of the 12-foot-tall corn, where I can't reach. What the hell, let's try power spraying them off.

So what the hell have you done in your garden that you were clueless about, but, well, what the hell...