“He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” – St Francis of Assisi

 

 

Fast forward…

July and August have come and gone without so much as a wave from this blog. That is because we were giving them all sorts of attention in other areas–the garden, for example,
and the kitchen.

Quite demanding, those two months. Lots of weeding, harvesting, preserving, dinner-party-ing, hookah-ing, harvest-marketing, and eating. To prove it in a very, very abbreviated fashion, here is a “fast forward” through the last 60 days.

On July 1, our garden looked like this:

Look at those neat little rows go. Our pole beans looked like this…

So little, cute, and unsuspecting.

Then I attended a conference for work, we took a vacation in Michigan, and the garden kept growing. Three weeks into July we were up to our ears in squash and bush beans. So when the family came over to celebrate my brother’s and mother-in-law’s birthdays, I naturally served fresh pasta with zucchini and summer squash, and a chilled green bean salad with those pickled radishes from June.

My mom really, really liked it…

And the garden kept growing. So, on August 1, we harvested all this…

And this…

Did I mention that in addition to the heirloom squash and Italian zucchini, we had some volunteer zucchini sprout from last year? I was relieved. Just when I thought we might not have enough squash.  So nice, those guys…

Two weeks into August, we harvested our first tomato.

Better late than never. It was delicious.

I talked some friends who were vacationing in Michigan to bring me back 24 pounds of peaches, and 20 pounds of blueberries. As I was dealing with those (freezing the berries and canning the peaches in a lavender-infused honey syrup – yum!), the beans, squash, and new
tomatoes kept coming.

Oh yeah, and we discovered these weirdos growing out of our compost bin and trying to sneak-attack the garden.

Turns out they get bigger, oranger, and taste delicious when steamed and salted. Hooray for edible surprises.

Now it’s September 1 and the pole beans look like this:


Not so cute any more, eh? We may be slightly over our heads…

Amazing how so much can happen in 60 days. I didn’t even tell you about the onions, cucumbers, peppers, and our first baby cabbage. (I know I’m probably biased, but I swear it is the most adorable, most perfect, most beautiful red cabbage ever grown on this green earth. It’s also deliciously tender when steamed, buttered, salted, and served alongside weirdo pumpkin-compost-squash. Just sayin’.)

September, bring it on.

June Berry Love

Here is a short list of things I love particularly in June:

1. Organic produce.

2. Friends with extra organic produce who share it with me (thanks Cyndi!).

3. Strawberries.

4. Food in jars.

5. Strawberry jam in jars.

This small-batch jam was made by tossing 3 cups of halved organic strawberries with 3/4 cups of sugar and letting it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, then dumping them in a pot with another 3/4 cup of sugar until they reached 220 degrees–with the juice of a whole lemon stirred in during the last 5 minutes of cooking time. I mashed the berries a bit before sealing them into 1/2 pint jars. It filled almost three.

Some fresh biscuits may now be in order…

This and a batch of pickled radishes were my last act in the kitchen until the middle of July. I’m headed to Michigan for a conference, immediately  followed by a camping/microbrew/winery tour/vacation down the coast of Lake Michigan back home to Elgin. Aided by the guidance of a dear foodie friend who left part of her heart in Grand Rapids, I hope to return with some bottles of wine, fresh inspiration, and maybe even some more strawberries.

P.S. Dan built trellises for the pole beans and cucumbers today. They look so good and are just in the nick of time! More on that later.

May: Asparagus Barley “Risotto”

About a year ago I decided to start eating as locally as possible. I stopped buying bananas, I started buying apples from Washington (not Chile), and I haven’t eaten asparagus in something like 300 days.

But the time has come, my friends, for those precious little shoots of purple/green goodness to come up out of their miry depths to greet the sun–and my mouth–with pride. Asparagus is such a proud vegetable, isn’t it? So straight and tall, never caught without a crown, keeping watch over the rest of the garden… Inspiring, to be sure.

So I’ve been eating as much asparagus as I can get my hands on: roasting it, steaming it, blanching it, boiling it, shaving it, chopping it, and folding it into this delicious barley risotto dish when I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

I lightly sautéed one leek in a tablespoon of olive oil and removed it from the pan before starting the risotto. Cooked the barley using  a vegetable stock that I make and keep on hand, ladling it into the pan as the grains drank it up. Was generous with the salt and pepper and fresh thyme, added a squeeze of lemon, pressed in a clove of garlic, and folded in some homemade ricotta . I chopped eight stalks of asparagus and blanched them so they were crisp and tender right before tossing into the risotto, and then poached a couple of eggs in the leftover green water. Topped the whole thing with fresh ground pepper and chopped scallions–and there you go!

So simple, so hearty, so asparagussy…

So I’ve learned my lesson: to keep myself from deprivation when asparagus season concludes in a few weeks, I have taken to buying extra bunches from my farmers market to fill up my freezer–and I would like to experiment with pickling spears in the near future.

But for now, long live these steady watchmen! May they always rule in my kitchen (in May, at least).

If you plant them, they will grow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite some neglect in their early childhood, our tiny heirloom seeds have finally fought through the dirt and emerged victorious!

Because they’re planted in peat pots, keeping these tiny beauties adequately hydrated was a challenge at first, but thanks to a tip from a colleague of mine, they are no longer parched.

Planting tip: give your newborns cup holders.

Here they are, all five varieties of tomatoes and three kinds of peppers, lined up in my office window.

Social tip: All kinds of babies are great conversation-starters–even green ones.

Instead of watering the dirt on top, I have been keeping the cups a quarter full of water. The peat pots soak up the yummy H2O and the rootlings greedily suck it down. It’s beautiful, really…

 

Look at that… This little guy is still hanging on to his seed, nervous to break out of his shell. So precious…

 

 

…and I don’t mean to brag, but this little lady is going to be tall. We’re talking  model material. Yes ma’am. With the biggest, juiciest fruit you’ve ever seen.

 

 

 

 

…And when April finally decides to stop showering and warm up already, we’ll cut some slits in the bottom of each pot and put them in the ground.

Kind of like  veggie security blankets: Safe and warm, but eventually outgrown.

Now you are probably tired of looking at all these baby pictures, but it was just too hard to pick only one! 

Stretching more than imagination.

Happy March!!!

Last weekend was marvelous. I stayed home, finally finished reading Animal Vegetable Miracle, and made the best batch of mozzarella ever.

I’ll admit that cheese making is another Barbara Kingsolver inspiration (I’ll be moving on to Amy Cotler next), but how could I help it? When she wrote about visiting the Cheese Queen in New England and making six different kinds of the stuff by lunch time, I was like, “No whey! I have got to try that!”

So I looked up the Cheese Queen myself, and ordered me a starter kit.

The first batch didn’t turn out quite right, and I royally ruined the second batch. The Third batch was pretty good, and this one–well this one is close to perfect.

Making cheese from scratch may be an odd  hobby for a 20-something living in this 21st century, but it is so simple, inexpensive, and relaxing. As a blossoming locavore, I personally enjoy the added benefit of knowing exactly what is in my cheese, and precisely where it came from. And I really enjoy the simple task of stirring, waiting, stirring some more… yes, it may be cheesy, but it’s also a great way to unwind. (Not to mention a fun date activity for an almost-spring Sunday afternoon.)

I like to dream of starting a cheese-making revolution, calling all my hippie pals to band together and revolt against super-processed cheese from super-sad milk. And while that may just be a silly thought, I wanted to share how it’s done–out of curdesy–just in case.

This is all you need to make mozzarella: milk, citric acid, rennet tablets, and a little cheese salt.

___ __ __
The only equipment you need is a helper (for fun), a pot (stainless steel is preferred), a thermometer, some cheese cloth, and a stirring spoon.


Step 8                                Step 8, 9, and 11                Step 12                                 Bella ball’a mozzarella!

1. Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid in 1 cup of water and pour it in your pot.
2. Add a gallon of whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized and stir.
3. Heat to 90 degrees while gently stirring and contemplating your day.
4. Dissolve 1/4 of a rennet tablet in 1/4 cup of water and add to your milk by stirring with an up-and-down motion.
5. Remove your pot from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes.
6. The milk should have separated into curds and whey, and the substance should kind of look like custard or cheesecake. Break the curds apart with your spoon and heat to 105 degrees while stirring.
7. Remove from heat again, stir for another 3 minutes, and pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander. (Save the whey for bread, pizza dough, or stock!)
8. Move curds to a microwave-safe bowl and stretch the curds with your hands.
9. When the proteins break instead of stretch, put them back in the microwave for 30 seconds, drain, and stretch again.
10. Add a teaspoon of cheese salt
11. Repeat step 9. 3 or 4 more times, pulling the curds like taffy–and make sure you taste it! (The more you stretch, the firmer the cheese.)
12. When you’re happy with it, make it into a shape you like and put it in a ice-water bath for 20 minutes so it holds its shape.

And that’s it! Easy-cheesy.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” -Conrad Hilton, hotel executive