Category Archives: gardening

Spring


[in Just-]
by E. E. Cummings

in Just-

spring when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far and wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring

and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles

far

and

wee

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Pesto, pesto, pesto

From an episode of Seinfeld
[Setting: A restaurant]
(Jerry, George, and Elaine are all eating at an Italian restaurant. George hasn’t eaten anything)
ELAINE: Do you want some of mine?
JERRY: Take some of mine.
GEORGE: Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it.
JERRY: Who said you have to like it?
GEORGE: Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear – pesto, pesto, pesto.
JERRY: I don’t like pesto.
GEORGE: Where was pesto 10 years ago?
JERRY: Elaine is having a “houseguest.” She’s picking him up at the airport tonight.
GEORGE: A guy?
ELAINE: (Slightly embarrassed) Yes, a guy.
JERRY: He’s from a.. Yakima, right?
ELAINE: Seattle.
JERRY: Everybody’s moving to Seattle.
GEORGE: It’s the pesto of cities.

i don’t care what anyone says, i love pesto. this year i’ve been experimenting with making lots of different pestos, mainly because i have had bumper crops of herbs in the garden. i made the classic basil pesto but with walnuts because, although they add a wonderful creaminess, the price of pine nuts is ridiculous.

a few years ago i planted one little tarragon plant that has now become the monster that took over my garden. i’ve been cutting, digging and giving it away as well as using it to flavor roasted chicken and in pickling vegetables but the damn thing never seems to get any smaller. finally, i cut about two feet off the top of the plant, which is now about five feet high, and that resulted in about 5 packed cups of tarragon. so, into a pesto it went along with some parsley, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, walnuts, olive oil and juice from a half of a lemon. when i tasted my creation soon after making it, i was a little worried because the walnut taste was quite pronounced and there seemed to be a distinct flavor of grass. but after letting it sit for about an hour the flavors came together and it was simply delicious.

c and i do not eat a lot of pasta so we are enjoying pesto on grilled chicken or fish, as a spread on bread or as a dip for various vegetables, and as a substitute for mayo on a sandwich. because of that, i use less olive oil than would normally be called for which allows the pesto to emulsify better. if i want to use this same pesto on pasta, i just add more olive oil. i also discovered that mixing one part pesto with one part softened cream cheese makes a wonderfully delicious spread. you can also mix pesto into hummus or soups or any other spread you can imagine.

since we are up on the tail end of the gardening season, i used up all the basil in the garden to make one last basil pesto. this time i used pistachios, which made for a softer flavor and a texture close to a pesto made with pine nuts. and once again, the flavor was much better after sitting for some time.

the classic way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle, of which i have many being married to a pharmacist and all… but not the right kind for making pesto. like most people, i use the food processor. so one day, i was all geared up to make one pesto and my food processor quit working. out came my trusty blender and i discovered that a blender pesto is much smoother and creamier than food processor pesto, but you have to be careful that you don’t overblend.

i don’t use recipes for pesto, just ratios and if you memorize the ratio, you can be completely creative in making pestos out of anything that sounds appealing.
pesto:
2 – 3 parts herb to 1/2 part oil, 1/4 part cheese, ¼ part nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, juice of ½ a lemon (if using herbs other than all basil) and salt.
And you can easily make pesto vegan by just leaving out the cheese (although you have to add more salt to compensate)

regardless of which device i use, here’s my process for making pesto:
roughly chop the nuts in the processor first and set aside. chop the garlic by hand. grate the cheese. process the herbs in the processor with the olive oil until halfway to the final texture. add the nuts, garlic and cheese and continue to process. add more oil if necessary to achieve the texture you want. tightly cover the mixture and set aside for an hour.

the combinations are endless.

and after the summer is long gone you can still evoke the memory of lazy summer nights and the perfumed air of a thriving garden.

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Stop it! Just stop it!

i’m not a first adopter and i’m not a trend setter. or perhaps i should say that neither of those are a goal of mine but sometimes i accidentally become the first at something.

but these days everything goes viral and every other day there’s another new meme to keep up with and/or add to and it’s even difficult to be on the cutting edge if you’re trying. (well, except maybe if you’re a kardashian…)

here’s the thing about memes: most often lunacy takes over and someone has to declare that it has to stop (not you ann counter).

so now i’m declaring that some things have to stop.

can we just talk about the grilled salad? okay, so maybe this concept would work if we were talking about grilling vegetables that make sense to grill like peppers, onions, eggplant or even corn. i might even be able to get on board with grilled tomatoes (although i’m not sure why a glorious, fresh august tomato needs to be embellished.) i subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines and a couple of other magazines that routinely include recipes and this idea of a grilled salad has been making the rounds.

so let me get this straight: i’m supposed to take a perfectly wonderful item like romaine lettuce — which by the way i eat because it’s crunchy and usually cold– and burn it on the grill. and i’m not even sure why. i have had this burned lettuce and i don’t get the appeal. is it just because it completely flies in the face of logic?

grilling salad either began and an act of clumsiness or a drunken meme and now it’s evolved into a party trick. i guess that we have just plain run out of ideas. that must be it. there are just so many cooking shows and cooking segments and cooking magazines that we have to make up insane things just to fill air time or pages. but when you run out ideas stupidity prevails. like grilling lettuce.

and speaking of grilling, can we just talk about grilling summer fruit and/or perfectly good pound cake? i’m especially baffled by the proliferation of recipes calling for grilled watermelon. i’ve had grilled fruits (peaches, nectarines and pineapple) and they’re good enough, but grilled watermelon is ridiculous. it does not make it taste any better, in fact one thing watermelon is not enhanced by is being eaten at anything other than icy cold temperature. isn’t the reason we eat watermelon to be refreshed on a hot summer day. how is a wilted, burned, limp slab of watermelon refreshing?

btw, if you notice almost all of these grilled fruit recipes call for ice cream or whipped cream to complete the flavor profile, which leads me to believe that the real flavor everyone is raving about is sweet ice cream or liquor flavored whipped cream.

we need to cease with the compulsion to “do” anything more to some of the glorious bounty this time of year than just enjoy it. we also need to stifle the impulse to follow along with every harebrained idea that gets printed in a magazine or posted on-line.

chris rock said it best: “just because you can doesn’t mean it’s to be done.”

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Filed under Food, gardening, laughs, seasons, summer, tips

Good Food and the Earth’s Bounty

let’s just get this straight: i am an omnivore. i like meats, cheeses, veggies, fruit, bread and most things alcoholic, not that that constitutes food, but most alcohols are made from grains or fruit so they qualify as some kind of food source. maybe just food for the soul. i say this because c, my sister and i recently enjoyed a meal at a restaurant called Vedge that was one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten on all of our years of eating out. here’s the kicker: it was all completely vegan.

now, c and i are good cooks, i’m a pretty good baker and we have pretty high standards when it comes to food. that’s been amplified because of our recent weight loss because we’re no longer mindlessly eating food. if it’s not very delicious, we’re not eating it.

i can confidently say that every single item i ate at vedge tasted delicious, was beautifully presented and that the entire experience was inspiring.

if you haven’t been to vedge, you must go. <img src=" photo vedgephilly2_zpsfa51388b.jpg” alt=”” /> owners and chefs rich landau and kate jacoby are brilliant ground breakers making amazing cuisine. they’ve earned all kinds of accolades nationwide over the past year, all of it well deserved.

the menu is set up as small plates, so they recommend you order three or four dishes each, and trust me, you will want to order three or four dishes for yourself, or probably everything on the menu.

we started with charred shishito peppers, peel and eat lupini beans and an assortment of green olives to accompany our cocktails. i grew shishito peppers this summer and c and i sautéed them in good olive oil with just a pinch salt and thoroughly enjoyed them. these were as delicious as those. none of us had ever had a lupini bean, but i will hunt them down to eat now. done in a spicy oil, they would remind you of a mild fresh lima.

next, i had a yellow beet, avocado, smoked tofu and capers dish, kind of a savory napoleon of deliciousness, c had the funky kim chee stew, spicy and wonderful and ch had the fancy radish dish for which vedge is famous
which presents five different radishes of varying heat, some cooked, some raw. next course ch and i had carrot swarma style with lentils and harissa,
a beautifully composed dish with a range of savory, sweet and spicy flavors and c had the roasted miatake mushroom, which he reported was quite delicious. both c and i had the fingerling fries, easily one of the best potato dishes i’ve ever eaten. not like any kind of fried potato you have ever eaten.

finally, we all indulged in dessert. personally, i shied away from anything dairy-like since vedge is vegan, thinking that even the best effort would fall flat. both c and ch enjoyed their “ice cream” and “cheesecake” respectively, though noted that it paled in comparison with the real thing. i enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding,
which was one of the best desserts i have ever eaten in my life. vegan cake is so often dense and gummy, but this was like a sponge cake. here’s the recipe and you’ll never guess what substitutes for eggs in this cake.

what they are doing with food reminds me of what alice waters http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/alice_waters started back in the 1970s with chez panisse, but even more revolutionary because it’s vegan. i feel compelled to say the standard, “you won’t even miss the meat”, but that’s not doing justice to the cuisine at vedge. the fact is, not only will you not care whether there’s meat on your plate, you will be so enamored with the inventive flavors of your food that you’ll be asking, “what’s meat?”

thankfully, landau and jacoby are opening more locations for vedge and have just published a cookbook, so we can attempt to replicate their dishes at home.

as a little point of pride, here’s a blogger who wrote about vedge and about a first visit to philadelphia, giving both rave reviews.

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Transitions

september’s one of those transitional months. it’s not quite fall by the calendar date but the light has changed, which makes it not feel very much like summer anymore. the once prolific blooms on the annuals have slowed, their deep emerald leaves are fading to yellow green and fraying at the edges. the geraniums are still going strong. i hate to pull them up when they’re still so pretty, but somehow they feel misplaced this time of year. it’s just too early for the chrysanthemums, though the stores are full of them now, they’ll be nowhere to be found when i really need them in november.

we’ve had a number of days previewing fall weather this summer, but the definitive feeling of fall is more about the change in light than the change in temperature.

a funny thing happens this time of year — the summer’s appropriately bright tops and ts suddenly feel garish and out of place. so too with embellished sandals. where the bright sunshine of summer welcomed the strong hues and sun kissed sparkles, the amber light of fall begs for deep, rich jewel tones, muted colors plain leathers. problem is that the more appropriate hues of autumnal clothing are in fabrics much too heavy to wear now. this is another time of year i carry an extra pair of shoes and a light jacket or sweater to work. start the day with a jacket and flats, ditch the jacket and change to sandals in the afternoon.

much as i enjoyed the herbs all summer, it’s now time to abandon the fresh basil plants and turn the leaves into pesto or process them with some oil and freeze them in ice cube trays for use in winter sauces. surprising how much of an addition of this basil will perk up a sauce or soup.

i dried a good deal of my oregano last year, which turned out to be some of the best oregano i’ve ever tasted, but it feels a little too early to pull it up for drying. likewise for my thyme. the sage will be safe and happy until it’s all cut down for the thanksgiving turkeys. my silly tomatoes are still green pellets so i have to decide whether to pick them and wrap them in newspaper and wait for them to ripen, or just enjoy them as fried green tomatoes.
there are still plenty of multi-colored cherry tomatoes in the farmer’s market for confit. i just saw what looked like an amazing recipe for a meatloaf that was roasted surrounded by these little gems. i hope to have time to try that before they’re all gone.

c and i didn’t take a full summer vacation this year but we did get to spend some time on the beach. it’s been years since we hung out on the sand or romped in the ocean waves, maybe because of being overweight and overly self-conscious. it felt so freeing to put on a bathing suit and enjoy the waves, even though i spend a pretty good part of my time getting knocked over.

our back yard is our little oasis that takes us through every single season and we were able to enjoy it quite a bit this summer since the weather was rarely too hot and humid. in fall we’ll enjoy a fire every weekend in our outdoor fireplace and sometimes c even rakes leaves by the light of a coleman lantern. the cacophony of the cicadas and crickets will be replaced by the distant sound of high school band soon, the sound that carries fond memories of our three back in the day.

but for now, while i’m planning for fall, i’m still clinging to the last bit of summer. the light will tell me when it’s time to fully move along.

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Filed under Fall, family, Food, gardening, seasons

Summer

it’s been a cool, rainy summer here in the east, so the typical summer bounty hasn’t been what it usually is. my tomato plants are laden with green tomatoes that are waiting for hot weather to ripen so i’ve had to resort to buying tomatoes.

there is nothing else in the world like a freshly picked jersey tomato. honestly. i’ve had a lot of good tomatoes, especially in texas and mexico, but there’s something about the new jersey soil that makes a tomato smell and taste a particular way.

we’re getting a lot of tiny heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market this year– little multi-colored gems as sweet as candy. i’ve been indulgently turning them into tomato confit. if you’ve never done this, i highly recommend it and if you do make this, have a loaf of good french bread handy.

Tomato Confit Recipe
1 quart of heirloom cherry tomatoes
good olive oil
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
4-5 fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of fresh garlic
fleur de sel or the best salt you can find

choose a dish that will fit the cut tomatoes snugly. cut the basil leaves into strips. chop the garlic cloves. distribute the basil, thyme and garlic in the bottom of a baking dish. cut the tomatoes in half. layer the cut tomatoes over the garlic and herbs in a single layer, cut side down. pour enough olive oil over the tomatoes to cover them halfway. sprinkle salt over the tomatoes. bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes until the tomatoes are lighly browned.

c’s parents have a house in salem nj on the delaware river and for as long as i’ve known him, we’ve enjoyed some summer days there. there’s screen porch that wraps around 3 sides of the house so you can enjoy the breeze and the view from the water, even from the back of the house. there are rocking chairs on the porch. when the weather isn’t terribly hot and humid, you can leave the doors and windows open and enjoy a breeze through the entire house.

there’s just about nothing to do at the salem house but relax. reading is a big pastime, magazines mostly, big stacks of them piled up against the wall, ready for consumption. often there are boats and jet skis zooming up and down the river, sometimes big vessels making their way up the channel in the distance. there are long conversations on the porch at night while enjoying a cool beverage and quiet mornings at the picnic table at the back of the porch.

when the tide went out there used enough of a sandy shore for the kids to play in the water when they were little. the water was only about 2-3 feet deep going out about 30 feet. since then the river has been dredged to deepen the channel, which pulled sand away from the shoreline. even at low tide there’s not much beach. the sea wall is ideal for fishing at high tide. there’s a lot of screaming and squirming when the hook has to get retrieved from an angry catfish. more screaming and squirming the time we found a dead squirrel hanging off of the front gutter.

the usual dinner fare in salem is freshly picked corn and tomatoes from the farmer up the road and something grilled, often steak or hamburgers, rarely chicken. there is often a beer with lunch and cocktails before dinner and a bag of bugles to dip in the bacon and horseradish dip, a tradition that was started by c’s mother.

for the last few years i’ve been working on perfecting a blueberry pie recipe, so i’ll be making one of those. somehow when we’re at the salem house for a few days i’m compelled to bake something.

i can tell that the light has changed and we’re getting hints of fall weather. i’m going to savor the last few weeks of summer in all of its glorious bounty.

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what do weed pullers and Peggy Fleming have in common?

oh the joys of seeing the plants re-awaken… the winter takes its toll (although no so much this year) and it looks like the bare, muddy ground could never produce a thing.  then come the weeds.  (honestly, some of the weeds in our yard must be descended from chernobyl seeds)

i usually just pull the things, though i have been known to douse a few with chemicals.  since pulling weeds doesn’t always get the whole root, this year i decided to buy a weed puller.  i was remembering the kind my dad had that kind of looked like a forked snake tongue with a wooden handle.  it’s still kind of the same except that the handle is now rubber and there’s something called ergonomics that’s put a bump in the shaft.

of course there are a lot of designs of this tool, even some that have a very long handle so you don’t have to bend over/kneel down. (i passed on that one figuring that i wouldn’t be able to see the weed from that far away)

i remember using that weed puller when i was a kid, but i don’t remember that it worked all that well.  (it probably worked just fine, i probably didn’t work it very well)  i just remember spending more time than i ever wanted to pulling weeds in the garden.  my father (or my mother i don’t know which) decided to plant an iris garden in the back yard.  if you know anything about irises you know that this is a plant that requires a great deal of fussing over to have the beds look nice.  (either we hadn’t heard of mulch or weren’t on top of gardening enough to put some down) besides the weeds, the plants have to be dug up and divided every couple of hours (kidding, it just felt like that… it’s actually every couple of years), which is a lot of work.  (come to think of it, i don’t know how we grew irises in the crappy california soil which became like concrete if you didn’t seriously water every day)

somehow it was my job to tend to that iris garden, though i don’t remember liking irises in the first place.  (i planted the sweet pea garden under the mailbox – a space of about 6” by 12” as opposed to the 20’ by 40’ iris garden… no, it was probably a quarter of that, but again, when you’re a kid…)

what i remember the most about that iris garden is that i missed seeing Peggy Fleming skate her gold medal performance in the 1968 olympics (you young people are thinking, “so what’s the big deal just dvr it or catch it on line.  no, this was back in the days when live tv was live and if you didn’t see it live, you missed it forever) because i was out weeding that damn iris garden.  i’m sure i have a mental block against ever planting the things in my own garden.  and maybe i even had a mental block about owning one of those weeding tools too.

so i finally bought one and what i can tell you is that it’s one of the greatest inventions of all time.  it’s amazing how much junk i can now get rid of with that handy puller!  it’s even great for scraping the nuisance ivy off the wooden walls of the garden house and whacking in the loose nails on the fence.  In a pinch it might be misconstrued as a weapon (like when one of the few foxes that live in our neighborhood decided to sidle up the driveway and watch me put down mulch)

I’m glad I finally bought a new tool (that’s actually an old tool), even if it brought back painful memories of missing an historic gold medal performance.

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