Sunday, June 26, 2011

Local Pizza and First Sungolds

Harvested the first full pint of sungolds of the season!

For these next summer weeks, there will be sungolds to harvest most every day. After I harvested almost a full pint this morning, I picked another half-pint or so this evening. You can sit and watch the tomatoes ripen if you're really dedicated!

Kate and I made a stellar local pizza last night. I threw together some sauce by mixing a can of tomato paste, some extra virgin olive oil, a bit more water than the amount of olive oil, some salt and pepper and minced garlic and whatever Italian dried herbs I had on hand, which in this case was oregano and thyme.

I used my standard Barbara Kingsolver pizza dough recipe and chopped up some mozzarella from last week's CSA, and Kate cooked up the spicy pork sausage from this week's CSA.

We picked some fresh basil from the garden and tossed it on at the end.

So fresh, so easy, so good, so local!
I'm really excited to have leftovers of this for lunch this week alongside my fresh sungolds. Coworkers, try not to be jealous.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lunch today

For lunch today, as on many weekend days, a hash: potatoes from Hickory Mountain Farm, sauteed with oil, kale from the backyard garden, and garlic from Whitted Bowers Farm; topped with sungolds from the backyard garden, and dressed with soy sauce from Lord knows where.

Market Morning

Just home from picking up the season's last CSA box. It's been so wonderful getting these weekly treasures from Keenan at Hickory Mountain Farm. I'm looking forward to continuing to buy produce and other farm items from Keenan over the rest of the summer and fall. This week we got another motherlode of potatoes, cured onions, and cucumbers, as well as some yellow squash, hot pork sausage, and yummy salty feta cheese.

I also got some goodies from the Carrboro market. On my first circle around the market I picked up four green bell peppers and a lovely little watermelon from Rob at Whitted Bowers Farm, and on my second go-around I couldn't resist picking up another melon. Rob had samples out, and they're just so tasty! Plus Sara got a beautiful sunflower from Rob as well, and I chose some string beans from another farmer.
The kitchen counter is looking mighty tasty these days! Gotta get to cookin'....

Friday, June 24, 2011

An Unbeatable Bargain

I know. This is not quite in the spirit of gardens and farmer's markets and vegetables and fresh food. I am fully aware. But I have to share this with you anyway.

Yes, it's true. This is a picture of eleven (eleven!!) pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream on my kitchen counter. It is not my birthday. I did not get my wisdom teeth out. No, nothing like that. This beautiful sight is the result of an extraordinary good deal that I stumbled upon at Food Lion today.

Normally I don't go to Food Lion, but I stopped by briefly today with the intent of buying orange juice (for margaritas, and Vitamin C) and tonic water (for gin, and, well, for gin). As I turned the corner down the freezer aisle on my way to check out, I was confronted with a most amazing sight: Ben and Jerry's ice cream on sale. And this was no ordinary sale, oh no. Ben and Jerry's costs at least $4 in most stores, and admittedly, it is regularly $3.50 at Food Lion, already a decent discount. But today, oh today, each pint was on sale for $1.67. I truly could not believe my eyes. An entire pint of glorious Ben and Jerry's ice cream for less than two smackeroos! It could not be! I immediately went to the front of the store to get a basket, which of course I had not picked up at the start of my grocery shopping venture as I had planned on only getting my two items. I skipped and hopped my way back to the freezer aisle. I called my roommate to tell her the wonderful news and solicit flavor requests. I called my friend Kate who was stuck in an interminably long Friday at work with words of encouragement and promises of ice cream. And I began to fill my basket with lovely pints.

And that is not all! Oh no. I selected my pints and entered the check-yourself-out line. As I was ringing up my items, cheerfully watching the discounts ring up on the screen, I noticed a coupon spit out of the register behind the check out screen...for $2 off three pints of Ben and Jerry's! I was already getting an incredible deal, and now Food Lion wanted to give me more of a discount. Unreal! I had to do one sneaky move, as there was a limit of four pints per transaction, which was to purchase my ice creams in three separate swipes of the credit card - but this was suggested by a friendly and helpful cashier, so I think I'm in the clear in terms of grocery store fraud. The grand total for ice cream came to under $14 for eleven pints. My freezer has never looked finer, or more inexpensively filled. My dad and I like to compete for who can get the most savings in a single grocery store trip - this might take the cake.

In more produce-oriented news, check out this beautiful cabbage, recently harvested from the garden. They're so elegant with all those protective leaves, almost like a multi-layered skirt of sorts.
I chopped the cabbage up, shredded some carrots, sliced some cucumber, and ripped up some Thai basil, Italian basil, mint, parsley, and cilantro. Tossed it all together, mixed up a bit of white miso and lime and sesame oil, and threw it all together in a tupperware. Simple, refreshing lunch today.
Not all of the cabbages looked so nice coming out of the ground. This one was befriended by a cute but destructive little worm - you can see him there on the left if you look real close. Little wormy took some big chunks out of this cabbage, and didn't leave me enough worth saving. Can't win 'em all! It was pretty cool taking a good long look at how the little worm demolished the cabbage, though.

I did a mini art project this morning, painting this little plant holder a nice shade of red. I discovered that paint can be very inexpensive, and made a splurge purchase of a tiny one dollar bottle of ruby red at my last trip to the craft store, along with a small paintbrush, thinking I could paint some of my tin cans or other improvised home plant holders. I was a bit scared of how this would turn out, but I like how it matches my other red kitchen items from its new spot on the kitchen windowsill. Soon I'll find a nice green friend to fill it.

Remember I had thrown some purple basil and cilantro seeds into some containers a few weeks ago? They're sprouting! Looking cute.

The sungolds are starting to ripen! They look so colorful on the vine.

Here's the fruits of the first harvest. Soon there will be handfuls of sungolds ripening every day!

Also, remember the lettuce seeds I tossed on the ground underneath the tomato plants? They're started to sprout up as well! Hopefully the tomatoes continue to provide enough shade that they can grow in this heat.

Even more exciting, the beet seeds have sprouted too! I think the mulch helped keep them cool, and the ones with the most shade have come up the strongest, so it's possible the heat is still too much for the others.

And last but certainly not least, last weekend's CSA. I got some meat and eggs as we've been so overloaded with vegetables recently. Squash blossoms, chicken eggs, cucumbers, pork sausage, spicy radishes, and mozzarella cheese.

Next week is the last CSA! I'll still be buying plenty of vegetables from the markets, though I'll be sad not to walk down the road with my big box full of grub after next weekend.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

CSA Week 5 and Pompano

Lots of exciting treats in this week's CSA pickup! A bunch of leeks, various kinds of cucumbers (including two yellow ones!), a huge bag of beets, three turnips, a pile of cured onions (meaning they can be stored on the counter for a long time, as opposed to spring onions, which are right out of the ground and need to be refrigerated and used quickly), and a batch of potatoes, mostly blue ones (my favorites!), as well as mozzarella cheese. Mozzarella! Perfect for the many, many pizzas being made around here these days as a vehicle for eating all the great early summer veggies. Just wait until the tomatoes ripen, it'll be pizza day every day here in Carrboro...

I made it to the Carrboro farmer's market bright and early this week, and lucky I did! The most wonderful and exciting treat was waiting there for me, a treat I missed out on two years ago because it only made a two-day appearance at the market and I waited to purchase it, and in my waiting I lost my opportunity because it sold out entirely. What is it?

Honey from Whitted Bowers Farm! And this is no ordinary honey, no sirree. This is Rob's amazing, raw, biodynamic honey, complete with giraffe cartoon on the jar designed by his six year old daughter, Téa. This Saturday was Rob's first day bringing honey to the market, and given my lost chance to have it two years ago, I jumped on it quickly this go around. I also bought a clove of perfect, perfect garlic from him ("Rob, how do you get your garlic to look this beautiful? It's perfect!" "Well, Rachel, it takes a lot of love."), as well as carrots from Ken at Maple Spring Gardens, and cilantro from Bill at Ayrshire Farm.

I also talked to Bill about my desire to plant cilantro from seed. The cilantro I planted in the garden this spring bolted really quickly, so quickly that I barely got a chance to use any of it. I bought a packet of Santo variety cilantro (coriandrum sativum) which is labeled as a slow bolting, container-compatible variety. I started some seeds in a pot this weekend, and also planted some containers of Purple Petra basil (ocimum basilicum) from seed, a beautiful ornamental and edible basil that I thought would look cute growing in tin cans. This is my first time planting from seeds - I've always used seedlings before - so I'm hopeful that they grow.

In other planting news, I transplanted my first rooting project! I snipped this cutting off the basil plant in the garden a few weeks ago, and after a week or ten days, just when I thought I might need to toss it and start over, I noticed that it had started growing some roots. After a week or two more, the roots were almost two inches long! Time to transplant.

I've had this blue pot for years, but have never successfully used it because it lacks drainage holes. (Why anyone makes pots without drainage holes I cannot understand, but anyway.) I took a hammer and a nail to it yesterday and managed to bust a hole in the bottom without shattering the whole thing. Add some potting soil, water, and the rooted basil plant, and I've got a lovely new addition to my room!

I'm not sure how big this guy will get - basil plants I've grown outdoors get big, fast - but I imagine that given the limits of the container, the plant will naturally restrict itself to growing only to a manageable size.

After gathering advice from a number of farmers and garden store employees, I also decided to take the plunge and throw some beet seeds into the garden. I chose Detroit Dark Red (beta vulgaris) seeds, though I hesitated to purchase them at first because it is so darn hot out, and technically beets are a cooler season plant. But I read online somewhere that it is possible to succession plant beets all summer long, meaning that you plant a row every week or so and then harvest continuously once they ripen. I was advised to try to find a shadier spot for the beets (not going to happen in my full-sun garden - the only shady spot available now is under the tomato plants, where I did in fact throw in a few lettuce seeds a few days ago as an experiment!) and to make sure they stay really wet. I took out the remaining lettuce plants, which had bolted up to heaven, and added a bit of compost to one of the empty rows. I put in about eight beet seeds, and covered it up with mulch. Hopefully the combination of lots of rain last night, the mulching, and my promise to keep the seeds well watered will lead to some success. We'll see!

Remember the whole fish that came with last week's CSA? I promised lots of photos. Here they are!

First we rinsed off the fish and took a good, long look at them.

Then came they part I was the most nervous about: the gutting. It wasn't too bad! I am sparing you readers the Discovery Health style images of the fish guts, in part because it seems too graphic for this blog and in part because my hands were too messy in the midst of gutting the fish to take photos. But here we have a nice picture of the gutted and scored pompano.

Then we stuffed the inside of the fish with rosemary and lemon.

Then we nested the fish on a bed of onions, sprinkled them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and briefly broiled and then baked them.

They were delicious! And easy! And had barely any bones! We ate them with rice and some cooked green veggies. So, so good. A good lesson in going ahead and taking the plunge on somewhat intimidating food adventures. Often, like with these pompano, they turn out great!

It also gave me a silly opportunity to call Sara's dog Maggie "Pompano" for a few days. She hasn't started responding to the new name. Shucks. But I did recently teach her to lie down! I take my successes where I can.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Japanese pizza, CSA week 4, and garden update

Inspired by our overflow of cabbage and leeks in last week's CSA box, I found a recipe using plenty of both in the "leek" index of one of my favorite natural cooking sites, 101 Cookbooks. The author, Heidi Swanson, takes beautiful photos and creates mostly vegetarian recipes using natural, whole ingredients.

Japanese Pizza from 101 Cookbooks

2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup leeks, well washed and chopped
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or apf flour)
a couple pinches of fine grain sea salt
2 eggs, beaten
1+ tablespoon olive oil
Garnish: toasted slivered almonds, chives/ herbs (I used cilantro)

Combine the cabbage, leeks, flour, and salt in a bowl. Toss until everything is coated with a dusting of flour. Stir in the eggs and mix until everything is evenly coated.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a generous splash of olive oil. Scoop the cabbage mixture into the pan, and using a metal spatula press it into a round pancake shape, flat as you can get it. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom is golden.

To flip the okonomiyaki, slide it out of the skillet onto a plate. Place another plate on top and flip both (together) over. If you need a bit more oil in your skillet, add it now, before sliding the okonomiyaki back into the skillet. Again press down a bit with a spatula and cook until golden on this side - another 3 -5 minutes.

When you are finished cooking, sprinkle with toasted almonds and chives, and slide it onto a cutting board to cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Serves 1 - 2.

My flip was nowhere near as elegant as Heidi's. Instead, it involved putting a dinner plate on top of the cast-iron skillet, wrapping my hands in a towel apiece, and dangerously flipping the skillet and plate combo, then returning the flipped pizza into the skillet. Tricky! But tasty, for sure.

This week's CSA box included lots of wonderful veggies and two special surprises! First, a bag of beautiful and colorful potatoes, two spring onions, one fennel, some Italian broccoli rabe, a bunch of cucumbers, and a handful of beets. Since we still had an overbalance from missing a delivery a few weeks ago, and we're overloaded with veggies from the CSA and the garden, Keenan hooked us up with some cinnamon raisin walnut bread.

And, best of all, Keenan also suggested we take some fish as part of our weekly share! Our fridge is now home to two whole pompano.

I was skeptical at first about preparing whole fish, but we got to chat with the fisherman himself about how to gut and cook these guys, and I think it'll be a manageable yet adventurous project. There will most certainly be plenty of photographing this event! Look out!

The tomato plants continue to grow and grow. There's even the first signs of ripening sungolds!

The celebrity tomatoes are getting sizable too, though there's still only a tomato or two on each plant. I pruned and weeded the tomato area a ton this weekend, so the plants should all be in good shape to really start fruiting over the next few weeks.

There's also the pink girl plants that went in the ground a few weeks after the sungolds and celebrities. They're growing strong, as are the summer cabbages! Two of the pink girls have tomato cages around them, and two have wooden stakes, as an experiment in using twine to hold up the plants. They're not big enough to need the extra support of twine ties yet, but soon I'll tie big branches to the wooden stakes so the plant doesn't fall over from the weight of the tomatoes.

Also, the first tiny little peppers are blossoming. They'll stay green until they get almost to size, when they'll start turning red. Last year I planted yellow peppers, which are apparently the most disease-resistant, and they grew just fine, so hopefully this red variety will make it through the season.

The thai basil sprouted all these beautiful purple flowers, which I promptly cut off after taking this photo, as the flowers inhibit leaf growth. But aren't they lovely?

One important lesson from the garden that I want to keep in mind in upcoming seasons is to harvest early, rather than waiting for the plants to get the size one might see them in the grocery store. I waited quite a while to start harvesting the lettuce and the greens, and in hindsight it would have been better to go ahead and start using them earlier. I read in one of Gayla Trail's books recently that the plants are made to produce their fruits, whether that's the flowers on the basil plants and the greens, or the tomatoes and peppers on plants where the flower itself is what we eat. By harvesting early, you encourage the plant to grow more, so it can flower more and therefore reproduce. It always feels a bit scary to harvest early, as if by taking leaves or vegetables too soon, the plant will get all used up, which is the silly and flawed logic behind my harvesting inhibitions. In actuality, the reverse is true: by harvesting early, the plant will grow more and more. Good gardening lessons to remember.