Thursday, August 31, 2006

Farm Team

It's been a slow cooking week, I know. After the frenzy of the weekend, it took me two days to get around to the rest of the tomatoes and the eggplant, and I haven't done much since.

So until I get back in gear in the kitchen, you might want to catch up on some reading. Tom Philpott, from Maverick Farms and blogger at Grist, has a new series on Grist called "Victual Reality." Here are the first three articles:

August 16: Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood: Why "the market" alone can't save local agriculture

August 23: Up Against the Wal-Mart: Big buyers make organic farmers feel smaller than ever

August 30: Cold Comfort Farm: Could small farms provide fresh food year-round, even in northern climes?

The last article came in particularly handy last evening as I talked with the Absent-Minded Professor over a family dinner about our local farmers' market and how I hoped the Cheerful Lady would be extending her season again this year. Wouldn't it be great if all these growers could be supported enough to have a year-round farmers' market here in our town?

Guess it's time to talk to the farmers again and find out what they think!

And thanks, Tom, for continuing to articulate a strong case for local farms!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Bye Bye, Bhartha

When I picked up a quart of Fairy Tale eggplant at last week's farmers' market, I meant to make something of it right away.

But the week slipped away from me, and as I picked up even more eggplant this week (to take up the Gentleman Farmer's excellent suggestions for freezing eggplant), I knew I'd better use those adorable little eggplant and fast!


Once I'd finished drying yet another batch of grape tomatoes this afternoon, I halved those little beauties and roasted them in the oven, then let them cool as I prepared the remaining vegetables for baingan bhartha, one of my favorite Indian dishes (if done well).

Often when I cook dinner, I rush through everything because I'm so hungry and ready to eat. But I started the bhartha (and the rice) early enough to let the onions and garlic and ginger brown and soften nicely before adding tomatoes, cilantro, and a cayenne pepper from the Archivist to cook down into a brightly colored mush.


After that I added the spices and the roasted eggplant, now scooped out of the skins, and let it cook down and become wonderfully fragrant. I didn't have any cream in the refrigerator, but luckily Ms. Potter had picked up whole milk plain yogurt for her art show reception, and I was able to skim just enough cream off the top to add to the bhartha to give it that incredibly rich flavor. (Don't worry; she approved!)

At last, I could sit down to dinner: brown basmati rice topped with creamy, spicy, rich bhartha and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. What more could I want?


It was so good, it was gone very quickly!

But thank goodness for leftovers... I don't have to say goodbye just yet.

Edamame's Little Girl


Edamame... soybeans, tender and green and fresh from the fields... what a find at today's farmers' market!

I first encountered edamame several years ago, when my favorite Chinese restaurant offered them as a special appetizer one night because the owner had been given a big bunch of them. Steamed and lightly seasoned with a soy sauce dressing, these tender little morsels were easy to pop or suck out of their fuzzy pods for a delicate treat.

I've since bought them, frozen, out of the pods and in bags, and I've enjoyed using them as a substitute for garden peas in soups and pot pies and other dishes. And while I know soybeans are grown around here, I never thought I'd find them fresh!

When I rhapsodized over the quart of edamame at the stand, the Tomato Farmer gave me That Look, the one I've come to expect on so many of the farmers' faces... the one that says, "This lady must be a little bit nuts to get so excited over such weird vegetables, but if she wants to buy them, I've got no problem with that." He also informed me that he had loads of them, so I will definitely be looking to bring more home next week!

So what, you may ask, did I do with a quart of edamame? I steamed them, pods and all, and let them cool before squeezing the beans out of the pods. (And let me tell you, that is fun!) Except for about 1/4 cup of the fresh beans, I put the rest in a bag, sealed it, and tucked it in the freezer for winter (with high hopes that I'll add a few more such bags next week).

The reserved edamame went into a quick pasta dish that I threw together for lunch: whole wheat spiral pasta tossed with edamame, corn, orange cherry tomatoes, and roasted red pepper, drizzled with olive oil and topped with Parmesan cheese.


Finding such a wonderful treat at the market made me incredibly happy all day, and having such a colorful lunch made me feel like a kid again. (It doesn't take much, I know.)

And here's hoping that next week I'll enjoy more soy!

Loads of Fun

Another Saturday, another visit to the farmers' market. I love Saturdays!

I headed downtown this morning, promising myself that I would go easy on the market shopping today since the fridge is full of things for Ms. Potter's art show opening reception tomorrow. I knew I'd be getting more tomatoes for canning, of course, and since the Archivist brought me some homegrown hot peppers this week, I also want to make salsa. But I really wasn't going to go overboard. Honest.

Ha!

Just browsing the stalls made me hungry for all that luscious and brilliantly hued produce, but when I made it to the Asian Lady's table, all willpower fell away. There in a basket nestled below the table were a bushel of beautiful little butternut squash, just begging to go home with me.


After that, I bought brazenly, adding two of the Asian Lady's Japanese eggplant to my pack, followed by half a peck of second-rate tomatoes (with cracks on the top; otherwise perfectly good for canning), a large regular eggplant, and salad greens from the Gentleman Farmer.

I visited the Tomato Farmer to share some of my dried tomatoes with him, and I ended up snagging five pounds (yes, pounds) of Roma tomatoes as well as a quart of edamame (soybeans)... a rare treat!

Feeling the weight of all those tomatoes starting to pull me down, you'd think I would slow my buying at that point, right? Oh, no. Not possible.

I bought a pint of orange cherry tomatoes from the sweet older couple, the last of the season's okra and yet another eggplant from the Fiddlin' Farmer, and garlic and red peppers and peppermint and honey from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe.

And I meant to stop there. I did. My backpack, though not full, had begun to pull down my shoulders, and both my basket and my net bag were fairly well loaded.

But then, I stopped to visit the Sheep Lady, and lo and behold, she had fresh parsnips. She admitted that they would be better after the first frost, but she knew she would only be at the market one more week, so I picked up her card and promised to call to order lots of parsnips later this fall. And I decided before leaving that I needed to indulge this week in one of her daughter's rumpled bouquets in a little tin pail, tucking it into the top of my basket and praying that I'd get it home in one piece. (I did.)

I left the market, arms straining under the weight, and knew it would be a very slow walk back up the hill. So why then did I head south instead of north, stopping by the local deli for a quart of olive oil to tuck into my pack as well? It wasn't, perhaps, strictly logical, but I thought I might as well replenish my stores of that ever-so-useful ingredient while I was in the neighborhood.

What can I say? I love market days! And even the heavy loads are full of fun.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Can a Lot


WWII-era poster from the U.S. Office of War Information
Digitized by Northwestern University Libraries


Talk about a blast from the past! Finding an online source of WWII-era posters like this filled me with nostalgia for my youth, when the Chef Mother would have summers off from teaching and spend time teaching me how to cook, bake, and preserve some really good food.

Granted, neither of us were perky blondes in ruffled aprons. By the time our fruits, vegetables, and jams were canned, we usually had damp, limp dark hair plastered on our foreheads, sweat running down our backs, and exhausted muscles.

Still, nothing quite matches the satisfaction of putting up your own canned goods for the winter, and I've been busy lately doing just that.

Following Saturday's tomato extravaganza, I still had two quarts of Roma tomatoes to process, and so I decided after work today to make a small batch of tomato sauce, something I've never done before.

I recently discovered the National Center for Home Food Preservation web site based at the University of Georgia, and as I looked through the new USDA guide for canning tomatoes, I thought I'd better print it out since the guidelines have changed slightly. And since it gave very clear directions for making plain tomato sauce... well, why not try it?

The prep work for making tomato sauce is nothing in comparison to boiling, peeling, and crushing tomatoes for canning on their own. And for once I had the chance to pull out my food mill and work out my frustrations by squeezing every last drop of pulp from the skins before setting the pot back on the stove to reduce the liquid.

It's true, I only ended up with two half-pint jars from all that work, but at least it proved that making the sauce was a fairly simple and trouble-free procedure. I know I'll need some sauce on hand this winter along with the jars of tomatoes, so I'm glad to discover that I can rely on this method as well as on drying and canning.


Sure, this mythical world of happy homemakers in spotless aprons might seem to exist only in propaganda posters. But don't let it be forgot that there is still a spot for preserving the harvest in this day and age.

That spot is happily ever after here in my kitchen... and yes, I do can a lot.

Corn of Plenty

When I was much younger, corn was one of my favorite vegetables, running a close second to potatoes.

Every summer, we'd pick up dozens of ears of sweet corn (especially the bicolor variety) from the local farm and have a grand shucking and boiling before a big dinner, and I'd usually eat up to three ears of buttery corn on the cob in a sitting.

The Chef Mother would always freeze several bags of corn shaved off the cob, and I would look forward to seeing those golden kernels again as a side dish throughout the winter. When asked what vegetable I wanted with dinner, inevitably I would reply, "Corn!"

Now that I'm older, I still enjoy corn, though perhaps not with the same all-encompassing passion of my youth. I don't often eat corn on the cob, fun though it may be, because I always have to reach for the dental floss afterward. And though I freeze corn to use throughout the winter, serving it reheated as a side dish just doesn't have the same appeal (though it's wonderful in soups and other dishes).

But while we're still in corn season, I'm happy to try new recipes with fresh kernels. A while back I stumbled across a recipe for corn pancakes that sounded worthwhile, so I tried it last week and thought it was more than acceptable, though it needed... something.

With a little additional pondering, I knew just what that "something" would be: a little cornmeal to enhance the corn flavor, and a bit of spice.

This morning I tested the recipe once more, this time with my alterations (and a couple of others that occurred to me at the last minute), and I found the cakes even more to my liking. Instead of a thin, spread out pancake, the batter made denser, fluffier patties that stayed in place in the pan.

These substantial morsels served the exact purpose I had in mind: with cumin and chili powder laced lightly through the batter, the pancakes made the perfect foil for my homemade chutney, giving an Indian twist to a morning favorite.

Since the cumin and chili powder are found in other cuisines, I could serve up these cakes with a dollop of salsa or yogurt. I may even try a bit of muhammara on top of them tomorrow morning. [P.S. The muhammara is amazing on these!]

It's nice to know that an old favorite can still surprise me with its versatility and malleable flavor.

It's also nice to know that I can make more corn pancakes for the rest of the week!


Corn Pancakes

I stumbled across a recipe for corn pancakes in the July-August 2005 issue of Vegetarian Times and was intrigued. I've made a number of variations on my grandfather's pancake recipe before, but I hadn't gotten as far as including vegetables in the mix. The first time I tried the recipe, I thought it tasted pretty good but thought it could be better, especially since I found out that my homemade blueberry chutney went very well with it. So, a week later, with more fresh corn, I tried again and ended up with this low-fat, whole grain, much more pleasing (to my palate) recipe. You can omit the cumin and chili powder if you want, but adding those spices makes this dish acceptable for dinner as well as breakfast, with a dollop of salsa or sour cream on top for a Southwestern flair or chutney or yogurt for an Indian flavor.

1 c corn kernels (shaved off blanched ears of corn)
1 c plain nonfat yogurt
1 large egg
2 T unsalted butter, melted, or vegetable oil
1 tsp maple syrup
1 c whole wheat flour
1/4 c cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
Vegetable oil or nonstick spray for pan

Combine corn, yogurt, egg, butter or oil, and maple syrup in a large bowl, beating well. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and spices (if using) and add gradually to corn mixture until well blended.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat and brush lightly with oil or spray. Spoon batter onto griddle in 1/4-cup amounts. Cook until top of pancakes starts to dry and bottoms are set and golden. Flip pancakes and brown other side.

Batter can be stored in the refrigerator no more than 3 days.

Makes 6-8 pancakes (depending on size)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What Are You Eating?

I've enjoyed a long birthday weekend with My Wonderful Parents in town and with visits with other members of the family. But truth be told, though I love them dearly, I'm quite ready to get back to my usual routine, especially where meals are concerned.

It's not that I haven't eaten well this past weekend. Perhaps you could even say I've eaten too well, to a certain extent. For three days straight, all but one of my meals were eaten out at various restaurants around town, and that's way too much for me.

I've gotten so accustomed to cooking my own meals to my own tastes, and especially now with the fresh produce from the farmers' market. But I knew I couldn't cook for my family the entire time they were here, and I knew they had places they enjoyed for meals, and so I was willing to go with them (especially when Dear Papa opened his wallet).

Please don't think I'm complaining. It's not that I had bad meals, though I confess to eating more salad with iceberg lettuce than I would have liked. It's that on the one hand, I thought too much about the food, knowing that it wasn't locally grown... and on the other hand, I didn't think enough about what I was eating.

Have I confused you? I've spent so much time the past year or two learning about the importance of eating locally and enjoying the tastes of local foods that this round of dining out was something of a shock to my system. It's almost as though I had to block out what I was eating so that I didn't berate myself for not eating locally, and that in turn made me feel unsatisfied after the meal because I hadn't given it my full attention.

Maybe I wouldn't have thought about this all that much before my recent reading of Nourishing Wisdom: A New Understanding of Eating by Marc David. In looking at all the various philosophies of eating and nutrition, David pointed out that most diets and ways of eating are missing the spiritual element:

Food is not merely something we eat. It is a ceaseless reminder that we are mortal, earthbound, hungry, and in need. We are bound by a biological imperative that forever keeps us returning to the soil, plants, animals, and running waters for replenishment. Eating is life. Each time we eat, the soul continues its earthly journey (pp 2-3).

Am I taking my eating too seriously, making too much of a fuss about what's on my plate? I don't think so. I've noticed the difference before between how I feel when I shovel food into my mouth mindlessly and when I take the time to savor the meal, but the juxtaposition has never before been so clear to me before.

So in order to bring myself back to myself and back to my usual appreciation of food, once my family had headed off in various directions, I settled back into my usual routine and took the time to taste each morsel of a simple but fresh and satisfying dinner prepared by my temporary housemate, Ms. Potter (no relation to Harry, thanks): cheese tortellini tossed with fresh local tomatoes and my homemade pesto, a crisp salad with tender tiny carrots from the farmers' market and a light vinaigrette, and a locally baked Parmesan bread.


And tonight I enjoyed some lightly fried okra (probably among the last of the season) before whipping up a dish of muhammara, a tangy Middle Eastern puree made with roasted red peppers from the local deli, whole wheat pita crumbs and garlic and walnuts from the farmers' market, and a healthy drizzle of pomegranate molasses, among other things. Served with more whole wheat pita for dipping, it made a fine fresh addition to dinner, and I think it might even work well as a sandwich spread for lunch tomorrow.


I'm slowly working my way back to my usual way of eating, with lighter, fresher meals than I find in most restaurants and a greater measure of mindfulness than is possible when eating out. It makes me feel so much better to taste the fullness of the flavors instead of the fullness of my belly.

I like knowing what I'm eating, and it deserves my attention.

Muhammara

When the fair Titania sent me a bottle of pomegranate molasses, I searched Epicurious for a few recipes to inspire me. This Middle Eastern dip sounded like a great recipe to try, and though of course I have made little changes, my variation shouldn't be much different from the original. Serve with toasted pita wedges, crackers, fresh vegetables, or use it as a sandwich spread. You can't go wrong.

1 whole wheat pita, torn and ground into crumbs
2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 c walnuts
Up to 1/2 lb roasted red peppers, including oil (about 2 whole large peppers)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T pomegranate molasses
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

In a small food processor, grind the pita in small batches until small crumbs result. Add remaining ingredients (except olive oil) and puree until nearly smooth. (I like mine a little chunky.) Drizzle in olive oil a small amount at a time, pureeing until desired texture is achieved. (It doesn't take much.)

Scrape muhammara into a bowl and serve at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups

Monday, August 21, 2006

Having My Cake and Eating It, Too


Behold... the Chef Mother's legendary carrot cake.

Yes, it's that time of year again, when the anniversary of my birth brings my favorite cake, loaded with a full pound of carrots, plenty of rich spices and walnuts, and a luscious cream cheese frosting.

And though a long road trip and a recent surgery prevented the Chef Mother from making the cake herself, her foolproof recipe allowed My Fabulous Aunt to step into the breach and do the necessary baking for the day.

So if you see me with a contented smile over the next few days, you'll know why...

You can have your cake and eat it, too. (At least I can!)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tomato or Not Tomato?

I admit it. I have a one-track mind.

In the midst of everything else that's going on these days (including impending changes at work and a weekend visit from My Wonderful Parents), I continue to cling to my Saturday morning farmers' market foray as a source of true delight in my crazy week.

And, as with last week, this week I kept my eyes peeled for tomatoes.

Not that difficult a task, really, since almost everyone has been growing tomatoes this year, and the many farmers have a wide selection of tomato varieties to offer. And since I only canned 2 pints of crushed tomatoes last week and know I need many, many more to get me through the winter and spring, I knew I'd be stocking up again.

The Fiddlin' Farmer had plenty of rich red organic Early Girl tomatoes, so I picked up two quarts from him, along with yet more okra and kale.

The Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe also had some beautiful tomatoes, including a striped red-and-orange heirloom that looked tasty, so I bought two more quarts from them, along with yet more garlic.

The Asian Lady had her favorite Hillbilly tomatoes again this year, so I bought one big colorful sample, just for eating, and she gave me a big sprig of basil to go with it... no charge!

The Tomato Farmer, not surprisingly, had loads of tomatoes, so I bought another two quarts of his Romas as well as a quart of Kennebec potatoes. He asked if I did much with the small grape tomatoes, and when I told him about how much I love to dry them and use them in cooking, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse: a flat of grape tomatoes for $3. Happy day!

Among the other stalls I visited, I bought more whole wheat pita from the Pita Princess, two bags of whole wheat flour from the grist mill folks, huge Canadian Harmony peaches from the sweet older couple, and more zucchini and the first batch of Fairy Tale eggplant from the Gentleman Farmer.

My Dear Papa caught up with me as I wandered and helped me carry things back to his vehicle, and when I had some free time in the afternoon, I dried two trays of grape tomatoes in the oven and canned 5 1/2 pints of some of the other tomatoes in the canner.

I'll probably repeat this routine next week, searching for and preserving yet more tomatoes, because in small batches like this, the work is really quite manageable.

There's just no question... I have to have my tomatoes!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On a Different Tropic

Having a refrigerator full of good local produce is a wonderful thing. I come home at lunch or after work, choose a vegetable, and whip up something simple that showcases that food's flavor and freshness.

Of course, some days I crave something a little more complex, something that combines flavors, often in unusual ways, and makes me sit up and think, "Wow!"

With a pound of tofu nestled amidst the vegetables and rapidly approaching its sell-by date, I thought perhaps it should become part of a more elaborate dish. I had originally planned to make the BBQ Pomegranate Tofu found in Vegan With a Vengeance, but after a talk with the fair Titania last evening and a persistent curry craving, I opted for something slightly different and a little more tropical.

I knew I still wanted to use my pomegranate molasses, but I wanted to add some rich and savory spices as well. At Titania's suggestion, I added a banana to the sauce as well as the tomato I had already planned to use, and I steamed some green beans to throw in with the baked tofu before adding the sauce and slipping it into the oven.

But I knew I wanted just a little something more to go with all that, and since I have an abundance of zucchini in the house at the moment, I decided to make a variation on my favorite zucchini-feta pancakes, whipping up something more like latkes only with curry seasoning.

So there you have it... a zucchini fritter topped with a sweet and savory tofu curry that draws both from the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies, loaded with good fresh vegetables and happiness. The flavors and textures melded together beautifully, causing me to help myself to seconds (a rare occurrence) as well as want to lick the plate.

You might want to vary this a little bit: I would have liked to use sautéed greens as the base for the presentation, but I used the last of my kale over lunch. And other green vegetables might work well in baking with the tofu, though something with a bit of crunch would provide the best contrast.

But no matter how you slice it, this dish definitely merits a "Wow!"


Tropical Tofu Curry with Zucchini Fritters

The inspiration from the sauce came from Vegan With a Vengeance, though of course I couldn't resist varying it wildly. Don't be intimidated by the length of the recipe. You can bake the tofu the day before, and if you really want, you can make the fritters the day before and reheat them in the oven. (Or you can simply serve the tofu and vegetables over sautéed greens, which can be done while the tofu bakes.) Aside from baking the tofu, I had this all done in about one hour, and the resulting meal made that time extremely well spent.

Baked Tofu:
1 lb tofu, drained, sliced, and pressed
2 T vegetable oil
1 T tamari

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a 9 x 13 nonreactive baking dish, turn tofu in the oil and tamari mixture to coat both sides. Bake for 15 minutes, flip the slices, and bake for 15 more minutes. Set aside; you can refrigerate this overnight.

Sauce:
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tomato, minced
1 banana, thinly sliced
2 T pomegranate molasses
2 T ketchup or tomato paste
1 T tamari
1 c vegetable stock
1/2 tsp maple syrup
2 c green beans, trimmed and washed

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add shallot and garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Add curry powder, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and sauté another minute to allow flavors to meld. Add tomato and banana and sauté briefly, then add pomegranate molasses, ketchup, and tamari and stir to mix. Pour in vegetable stock and allow to simmer for 5-7 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Stir in maple syrup to sweeten to taste.

Steam green beans until crisp-tender. Add to baking dish with tofu, and pour sauce over top. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes.

Fritters:
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 egg
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 c unbleached flour
Oil for frying

Mix together fritter ingredients in medium bowl. Heat oil in skillet. Drop approximately 1/4 cup batter per fritter into skillet and allow to brown thoroughly on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, lay one fritter on each plate and top with 1 or 2 slices of tofu and a generous helping of sauce and beans. Serve with a fruity white wine or a tasty sweet lassi. Revel in the compliments for your cooking!

Serves 4

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fifty Ways to Eat Your Tomatoes

After the account of my visit to the farmers' market yesterday, you must think I have a real obsession with tomatoes. And you might be wondering, what on earth is one person planning to do with seven quarts of fresh tomatoes?

Though in two days I can't quite come up with fifty ways to use all those red beauties, I've managed to do quite a lot. And for the most part, what I've done has been to preserve the fresh tomatoes to use this winter in one form or another.

The Early Girls and a few of the Romas endured the age-old procedure for canning: a quick dip in boiling water, a slip of the skins into the compost dish, a brief simmer, and then a hot water bath to seal the two pint jars that will start off this year's collection.

The paste tomatoes found their way to the food processor and then into a stock pot with sautéed onions, garlic, green pepper, carrots, and celery (all from the farmers' market as well, I might add) plus dried herbs.


After two hours of simmering, those luscious tomatoes ended up as over two quarts of a chunky vegetable-laden pasta sauce, destined for this winter's spaghetti or perhaps even lasagna.

The cherry tomatoes and then the grape tomatoes, of course, were ideally suited for drying, a fairly simple process, though it may last an entire day. Doing one batch a day, I halved and seeded the small tomatoes –- easily the most laborious part of the procedure, which is why I didn't try to dry them all at once.


The tomato halves then get tossed with salt, pepper, dried thyme, and olive oil before finding elbow room again on a baking sheet.


Give them up to 12 hours in a 200 F oven, and those little morsels roast slowly, concentrating their sweetness and flavor into shriveled, leathery or crispy nuggets of intense tomato taste. I packed the dried tomatoes into jars and topped them off with more extra virgin olive oil, slapped on a lid, and slid them into the refrigerator.


Those will emerge again later when I want to throw together a rich pesto pasta, or for some other magical meal, and the leftover olive oil will then find new life, infused with flavor, in other dishes.

I still have nearly two quarts of Romas left, but they need another day or two on the windowsill to finish ripening before I can them as well. And next week... well, who knows how many tomatoes I'll bring home then? Considering how often I use canned tomatoes (especially in Indian dishes and in vegetable soups), I really don't think I can have enough jars of that particular harvest.

Sure, I'll still save a few fresh tomatoes for meals this week (like a quick pasta toss with sautéed garlic, tomatoes, and basil), and I know I can think of other ways to use or preserve this fruit/vegetable.

So stay tuned... I'm sure I'll have more ideas later.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

When the Gettin' Gets Good

Learning to eat in season has helped me pay more attention to the cycle of harvests found at the farmers' market, and that in turn has helped me appreciate how that affects my work in preserving produce for the winter.

As soon as I was tired of drying peas and freezing beans, it was time to freeze, dry, and bake with berries. And as other vegetables start to wane, I walked to the market this morning with one very clear goal in mind: start stocking up on tomatoes.

Of course, I always browse the market for what can be eaten during the week, but I've been buying more this year for the sole purpose of preparing part of the harvest to use later.

Happily, my goal was easily met this week, as I walked home with five different kinds of tomatoes (in large quantities), with reassurances from all the farmers that the tomatoes would keep coming in for a few more weeks.

But before I get too focused for the weekend, you'd probably like to know what I found otherwise at the market, wouldn't you?

The Fiddlin' Farmer had more okra, so of course I bought a quart as I've been tweaking the fried version, adding a hefty spoonful of curry powder and a sprinkling of chili powder to the cornmeal mix. He also had huge paste tomatoes that he said would be good for making sauce, so I bought two quarts of those, along with a bunch of flat Italian parsley for drying.

The Corn Queen had another pickup full of fresh ears this week, so I bought half a dozen ears of yellow corn for use in cooking this week, and I also picked up another small bag of ruby red popcorn to have on hand.

The Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe had left their stand in the capable hands of their children for another week, and from them I purchased more fresh peppermint (to be dried and used in herbal tisanes), carrots, green beans, and lots of garlic. (Personally, I can never have too much garlic!)

I picked up another pint of honey from the Bee Man and a large zucchini from the sweet older couple next to him, and since the Tomato Farmer had some beautiful Roma tomatoes this week, I bought two quarts from him.

The Gentleman Farmer and his son also had tomatoes, so from them I bought two pints of grape tomatoes, two pints of cherry tomatoes, and a quart of Early Girls. I also picked up two slender zucchini from them just to have on hand for quick sautés.

I know I've got plenty of work ahead of me now, but what a joy it was to climb back up the hill with so much good food!

And it's only going to get better over the coming weeks...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

When Life Hands You Lemons...

It's been a quiet week in the kitchen, and most of my meals have been thrown together on the spot with no thought of cooking anything fancy to share with all of you.

Really, you don't want to know how many nights I can eat nothing but fried okra. And while an occasional pasta dish is a nice change of pace, how hard is it to toss it with a quick fry-up of fresh garlic, ripe tomato, and basil?

I haven't even baked, despite the call of my sweet tooth!

In short, you might well think I've been taken ill. The truth of the matter is, I'm just enjoying each day, trying to slow down a bit in the midst of chaos.

So it's only appropriate that this week I should find myself craving unreasonable amounts of freshly squeezed lemonade.

Thoughts of fresh lemonade in the summertime might call up images of a big pitcher, rounded and dewy with condensation, filled with a cloudy pale yellow liquid and slices of fresh lemons on top. But that's not my speed this week.

Instead, I've been making my lemonade glass by glass. It seems so much easier just to hand-juice one organic lemon at a time, taking a few moments to cut and scrape the peel to dry for later. And I've found that the way I most like to sweeten that tart brew is... maple syrup.

Surprised? Don’t be. Maple syrup adds a little depth and richness to that light, tangy lemon taste, and with cold filtered water poured on top, you end up with a refreshingly simple drink that can quench any thirst.

Though I don't remember my grandmother ever making fresh lemonade, it just seems like a nostalgic drink, made all the more so by mixing everything in her old tin tumblers (which keeps the liquid nice and cold) and by sipping it on the back stoop while listening to the locusts chatter away in the evening sunlight.

Do yourself a favor. Accept those lemons that life hands you. Make some lemonade and sweeten it the simple way.

Then sit back, and relax. It'll all be okay.


Maple Lemonade

After having a fresh-squeezed European style lemonade (like the citron pressés I used to enjoy in France) at the Hungarian pastry shop last week, I was inspired to make my own lemonade glass by glass. It's so easy, you barely need a recipe, but this will get you started. Honey, by the way, also works well, but strangely enough, I prefer the maple syrup.

1 lemon, halved
1-2 tsp maple syrup
Cold filtered water

Juice the lemon halves thoroughly and pour juice into a glass. Stir in maple syrup to sweeten according to your taste. Top off mixture with cold filtered water. Sit down, put your feet up, relax, and sip.

Makes one serving

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Aw, Shucks!

It's been a long, busy day, and I'm feeling a little corny at the moment. So if you'll lend me an ear, I'll tell you all about it.

The day started off bright and early with a visit to the farmers' market, slightly displaced this week as the town prepared for Festa Italiana. The first farmer I spotted was the Corn Queen, with the back of her pickup open to reveal a bountiful harvest. I stopped there first and bought a baker's dozen ears of bicolor corn, knowing that if I didn't get those into my backpack first thing, I wouldn't have any room for them at all.

Onward I browsed, and I greeted the Cheerful Lady's son and daughter, standing in for their parents this week. I bought three bunches of peppermint from them (since my homegrown supplies were non-existent), as well as more shallots, two red onions, and another bag of basil.

The Fiddlin' Farmer had plenty of okra this week, so I bought two quarts this time around in the hopes that I might actually move beyond fried this week. I also bought more curly kale and two small Japanese eggplants from him... I can never resist!

The Original Organic Farmer had the same kinds of produce today as last week, so I just stuck with a bag of romaine for salads. I also enjoyed a nice chat with her, which may open the possibility of helping her at her stand next year!

The sweet older couple had grape tomatoes this week, so I bought some from them (hoping to dry them), but I bought some larger tomatoes from the Gentleman Farmer, along with a small zucchini and an equally slender yellow summer squash.

I picked up more pita from the Pita Princess, and after sampling her roasted red pepper hummus, I decided to splurge and buy some of that, too, for sandwiches. And when I spotted that among the containers of goat milk fudge at another table was a mixture of peanut butter and chocolate fudge, I immediately snatched up a container and gladly handed over the money.

I had a lot to haul home, so I stopped at My Favorite Coffee House first for a muffin and a mocha, then I gradually made my way back up the hill, ready to get into the kitchen and do something with all that fabulous produce.

First, I had a nice little corn-shuckin' party all to myself, getting those 13 ears of corn ready to boil.


Once the corn had cooled, I shaved the kernels off the cobs and froze most of them for later, saving about 2 cups' worth for dinner.

I also dried the peppermint in the oven, followed by two pans of my homegrown chocolate mint, for use in teas and baking come winter. I also finally got around to making the green tomato chutney I had meant to make last weekend (before it got too miserably hot).


By early evening, I was ready to spend the time to make one of my favorite summer dinners: midsummer risotto. With homemade vegetable stock and fresh produce from the market (red onion, tomato, zucchini, summer squash, corn, and basil), this simple dish may take a while to cook properly, but the rich creamy texture and the mix of fresh flavors is unbeatable, especially when topped with toasted pine nuts, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and chopped fresh basil.


Sure, a lot of my own effort went into gathering and cooking all this wonderful local food. But I don't see it as work as much as a pleasure to give all this good food the respect it deserves... and then to enjoy it myself.

And by buying plenty to save for later, I'll be able to enjoy this good food over and over again.

What can I say but, aw, shucks?!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Haydari, What's For Supper?

It's hot out. I mean, really hot. Really, really hot.

I know, you've noticed this, too. But without air conditioning at home, I've found that plenty of strategically placed fans and repeated applications of cold water (internally and externally) have saved me from wilting too badly.

But when it's this hot, I don't want to eat much, and I surely don't want to cook.

I've been very thankful for that bag of organic mixed salad greens that the Original Organic Farmer pressed on me at Saturday's market, because I've been nibbling the leaves straight out of the bag.

But lettuce alone, though a great idea for a honeymoon, doesn't quite cut it for a meal. So I've also pulled out a recipe for a delicious and easy yogurt based dip that I've eaten with crackers and cucumber slices.

After visiting the Turkish restaurant in the Big City a couple of times, I've gotten absolutely hooked on their haydari, drained yogurt combined with white cheese, fresh herbs, and walnuts. I found a similar recipe in A Taste of Turkish Cuisine (though it lacks the nuts), and I found it so satisfying last night that I made it again tonight.

Draining yogurt is wonderfully easy: place a mesh strainer over a mixing bowl, line the strainer with cheesecloth, spoon in plain nonfat yogurt, and allow the whey to drain out. If you're thinking ahead, you can start this in the morning, let the bowl sit in the fridge all day, and have a thick paste left. But if the thought doesn't occur to you until after work, half an hour should allow enough whey to drain off and thicken the yogurt to the consistency of sour cream.

Once you've drained the yogurt, you're set to make any number of yogurt dips, including raita, borani, or tzatziki, something a friend reminded me when sending me a recent online article about these dishes.

Right now, though, I'm going to stick with the haydari until the feta runs out.

And I'm hoping for cooler weather soon.


Haydari

Though I have another recipe from A Taste of Turkish Cuisine that looks similar and includes the walnuts, thus making it more like the haydari served at Anatolia Cafe, this is the one labeled "haydari." I'm not going to be picky, because this is really, really good. I've modified it only slightly, but it's still very easy to throw together on a hot evening. Serve with pita wedges, crackers, and/or fresh vegetables (I like cucumber slices).

2 c drained plain nonfat yogurt (see above)
1/4 c plain feta cheese, crumbled
1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly or minced
1 tsp finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp dried mint
1/4 tsp ground cumin
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Mix everything together. Serve as noted above. It's hot, and I don't think you need me to tell you any more than that.

Leftovers (if any) will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days (but not in my household).

Makes 2 cups

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Eat Like You Live Here: August

Wow, it's August already? Let's see, if I just got okra and beans and tomatoes (even green ones) at the farmers' market, it must be so.

Eating foods in season truly does make a difference. Not only are these vegetables and fruits fresher, but their flavors seem so much more appropriate to the weather. A ripe tomato or a juicy peach tastes so much more refreshing on a hot day, don't you think?

Well, if you're not sure, now is the month to try that thought on for size yourself. Around here, this is a big harvest time for all those Midwest favorites, and I intend to take full advantage of it.

Did July find you exploring your farmers' market and local foodshed a little more? A couple of local friends reported that they sampled different mushrooms at our market, and they also enjoyed cooking with some of the other delectable produce. Tina announced that she found maple sugar at her farmers' market, so I believe we'll be making a swap soon!

As for me, I really enjoyed last month's challenges. Maybe you think I went a little crazy finding new ways to use blueberries (and blueberry pancakes are coming up tomorrow morning), but it was a real joy for me to explore what other flavors combine well with this local favorite. (The answer? Cardamom, ginger, and even savory flavors like cumin and curry.) Aside from the goat milk fudge, there weren't too many new items at the market to sample, but I did enjoy trying new recipes for old friends.

I'm having a lot of fun trying new ways of preserving produce, both in drying individual foods and in combining flavors in chutneys, and I look forward to doing more of that in the next couple of months. And all of a sudden, having almost entirely local meals every day got easier between finding that the local dairy not only had butter but unsalted butter (which I prefer) and using all the local baking ingredients I've squirreled away.

I hope you're having as much fun with this challenge as I am, and to keep you eager about eating locally, I'm making August's challenge really easy. (Blame it on this heat wave and my disinclination to work, if you like!)

1. Go back and follow July's challenge again, trying more new foods and new recipes. With more produce coming in every week, this should be a real treat!

2. Instead of just enjoying local foods on your own, invite friends over for an entirely (or almost so) local meal. Here's your chance not only to share really good, fresh food with people you love, but also to show them just how rich your local area is in food production. And if you've got a garden, share some of your homegrown food, too. (I can tell you from long experience that that always impresses and pleases guests!)

Eating should be a pleasure, and eating locally should be doubly so. It's hardly an indulgence to savor all this good produce.

Go! Buy local! Eat! And don't blame me if you’re hungry.