28 June 2009

Week 5 Pickup

Sunshine! I can't believe it. We actually had a day of lovely, bright, intense, warm, glowing sunshine! Even though I wasn't feeling 100%, who could resist the opportunity to get out in the gorgeously gossamer golden day?

Time to survey our lands. Just when I thought the asparagus couldn't get any taller, they sprouted up and feathered out even more. One asparagus is taller than the tomato cages we've got in the garden for the pea plants to climb. All but one our our asparagus roots have produced an asparagus or two at this point, so I'm not feeling nearly as anxious as I did last month about sacrificing all of the square footage I did to the asparagus plants. That one root frustrates me to no end, though. Arrrg! Why won't it grow when all of the others did?

We've got tiny little green beans hanging from curlicued vines and plenty of plump pea pods filling up with their sweet little peas nestled in tightly together.
The fingerling potatoes I planted a few weeks ago are now sprouting and leafing. I'm waiting for another dry-enough day to get out there and start mounding the soil around them, giving them incentive to start growing little potatoes and lots of them.

Our peppers (hot and sweet) are in flower as are the zucchini and squash. Last year, our zucchini and squash flowered brilliantly all season, but not one went to fruit. I'm debating as to whether I should harvest some blossoms to stuff and cook or just leave the plants alone and let them do their thing. I'm torn because if I'm not going to get any fruit out of the plants, I should at least get some tasty blossoms, right?

The tomatoes are in flower too, at least most of them are. One plant, the grape tomato, has lots of tiny little green fruits hanging off the dangling branches, weighing them down and making them droop. I'll have to get out there with some more twine to tie up the branches and thwart gravity.
Another plant, the Lemon Boy, has one lone almost-golf ball-sized tomato nestled between big fragrant leaves.
Have I mentioned that I love the smell of tomato plants? You can't beat their herbal, green freshness. There's something almost mineral-y about their heady scent. I find myself touching the tomato leaves and bringing my fingers to my face to breathe in the vegetal aroma.

Survey complete, we threw the bandannas on the dogs (don't leave home without them) and threw the dogs into the car and headed off to the farm for our weekly CSA share pickup.

We drove with the windows down for as long as we could tolerate the blizzard of golden and white fur in the car. Yes, indeed, the golden retrievers are shedding!

We've gotten the art of picking up our shares down pat at this point. We've finally got our name on the sign in sheet so I don't have to produce the receipt for the shares every week. J and I head back to the cooler, knowing exactly how we're going to get in and out of the frigid room full of produce as quickly as possible. We've even started bringing our own plastic bags for the loose produce (like pea pods and strawberries) so that we can reuse and be more efficient at the same time (those thin plastic bags on the roll make me crazy!).

Into the cooler we plunged. J opened up our insulated grocery bag and found a stable surface for it as I snapped a photo of the CSA board for the week.
I methodically located every item and handed them to J in the order best suited for not crushing the produce in the bag. I poured our snowpeas and strawberries into our zip-top bags from home and scooped up the pre-bagged spinach and mesclun and bok choi. The only disappointment this week was that there was no rhubarb, despite the sign. I can't believe I was actually looking forward to more rhubarb, but I was hoping to experiment with cherries and rhubarb this week. Oh well.

The flower share was a lovely bouquet of sunflowers and lavender.
My bouquet of a sunflower with wheat stalks from last week is still healthy, so I've got two happy arrangements cheering up my cooking space in the kitchen. J doesn't see the value in the flower share, but they make me smile.

We didn't use any of the new share goodies yesterday, since we're still trying to use up last week's shares. I used the last of the sauteed pea shoots and a few eggs in a giant pressed sandwich for dinner last night. This was the week of sandwiches! J and I bought a whole wheat boule at the Union Square farmer's market on Friday. It was golden and crusty, but when I sliced it open, it was undercooked in the center. I scooped out the gummy insides then filled the bread bowl with the last of my shredded mozzarella, the garlicy greens, and lots of red pepper flakes before popping the reassembled bread into the Foreman for a pressing and a toasting. In the meantime, I fried four eggs in a skillet the same size as the bread. When the boule was flattened and golden-crisp and the cheese was thoroughly melted through and the whole sandwich was warm and fragrant, I opened it up and slid in the pan of eggs. Using a fork, I breached the creamy vibrant yellow yolks and spread their oozing richness around, poking through the whites to allow the velvety golden liquid to seep into the greens below. I plopped the top back on and sliced through the crisp crust of the boule and watched the juices of the greens mix with the slowly flowing egg yolks and leak out onto the cutting board. I sliced a wedge out of half of the sandwich and put it on a dish for myself and J took the rest of the half, unsliced, and bit into it with abandon. While he was munching away on what I have to admit is an amazing sandwich, I carefully removed the top crust of my tiny wedge and scooped up all of the spilled egg yolk with it before replacing it and enjoying my enriched first bite. Yum! I'll be making this one again this week, but with my own homemade bread and some broccoli rabe I picked up at the farmer's market. Maybe I'll use some Parmesan instead of the mozzarella next time, as the greens and egg yolks provide more than enough lubrication for the dry crusty peasant loaf.

I've been stressed out about the unused strawberries from last week, especially since we picked up another two quarts yesterday. When I started waking up every 15 minutes this morning (first wake up was at 6am), I decided to get up and salvage whatever berries I could to make an experimental lower-sugar jam. Surprisingly, most of the berries were okay. I washed and hulled them and tossed them, whole, into my saucier. About six cups of whole berries survived. Most recipes call for anywhere from three to five cups of sugar for that volume of berries, but, this being an experimental jam, I only added one cup to the berries before boiling them for 30 minutes. I stirred in some lemon zest and juice (for tartness and pectin) and made what I think is my best jam yet. It's sweet, but not tooth-achingly so. It's tart, in a fresh and zesty way. It won't gel up as well as my last sugary batch, but it will be delicious spread on toast or poured over a slice of cheesecake (I'll be making some of this for Donna's cookout in a couple of weeks) or eaten off of a spoon directly out of the jar. It's fresh and sweet and bursting with the taste of sunshine and spring rain. I am definitely picking up a few extra quarts of berries next week (while J is out of town) and making several batches of freezer jam so that I can enjoy this taste of summer on a spoon during the dark days of December, January, and February.

All of the bread from the farmer's market is gone, so it was time for me to get back into my bread baking habit from last February and March. During a dark, cold February commute, I listened to a podcast of an interview with Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (http://tinyurl.com/lymf2p), and made several batches of their high-moisture dough over the course of the next few weeks. I experimented with the dough, making rolls, boules, baguettes, ciabatta, bagels (lots of bagels), and jalapeno-cheese bread. I stopped making dough before Passover and never got back into the swing of it again. I dug up my copy of the book yesterday and read it from cover to cover. Although I'm inspired by the variety of applications for this basic dough, I'm going to stick to mastering the ciabatta and baguette for the next few weeks. So, there's a baker's bucket full of dough rising next to my stove right now and I've got a ciabatta and broccoli rabe sandwich on my mind for dinner tomorrow night.

As I write this, J is in the kitchen cleaning out the refrigerator. It really is overcrowded and things are getting lost in there, only to be found when they're really not edible anymore or after the perfect recipe for using them up has come and gone. I think - no, I know - J is afraid of me cleaning out the refrigerator because I'm ruthless. I'll throw out anything he hasn't touched in recent memory. When he's done, I'll head back into the kitchen to prep the greens for the week and contemplate dinner tonight. We haven't had a good pasta in quite some time, so maybe the garlic scapes and spinach will meet up with some penne or fettuccine or rigatoni. Whatever pasta I use, you know I'm going to use almost-too-many red pepper flakes!

27 June 2009

The Last Week of School = The Week of Little Cooking

Ah, the last week of school has finally come and gone. I’m usually a strange mixture of excited (I look forward to sunny afternoons in my lawn chair with a good book, a cocktail, and the company of my pups) and wistful (as I say goodbye to the little ones who have been my company, my audience, and my focus for the past ten months). This year, though, I find myself rather emotionally numb. Although I’m most assuredly looking forward to two months without lesson planning, grading, early morning alarm clocks, and LIRR commutes, I can’t seem to muster up the enthusiasm I usually have at this point of the year. Although I will miss the interaction with my students, especially those few extra-special kids that always bring a smile to my face, I don’t find myself feeling particularly emotional because of the impending separation (there was no crying this year – a first for me). Maybe I’m just overtired. I haven’t been sleeping or eating well during this last (and busiest) week of the school year. Maybe the veil of sleep deprivation has grown thicker and more opaque during this crazy school year so that it blocks some of the intensity of my feelings. Maybe it was just a very different year. Maybe I’m changing as I become a more and more experienced teacher. Maybe. Who knows?

I do know that I am excited about having more time to focus on my garden (which, by the way, is starting to flower and fruit as the rains start to taper off) and my cooking (I actually busted out a cookbook this morning and pored through it cover to cover) and my writing (this blogging thing has brought back the writing bug from my high school days). I don’t need to travel or have a big adventure this summer as long as I have all of that, plus some good quality time with J and my fuzzy ones. That suits me just fine.

So, as you can imagine, very little in the way of cooking got done this past week. Last Suday we picked up our shares and I prepped all of the greens and sautéed off some for use that night and throughout the week. Sunday night I stuffed homemade enchiladas with the cooked down kale and garlic and a mixture of pepper jack and sharp white cheddar. I baked off two pans of my kale enchiladas and froze one for enjoyment later in the year when my refrigerator isn’t bursting at the seams with greens. I served the enchiladas with some vegetarian refried beans, some shredded iceberg lettuce (mesclun mix does not work here at all), and a handful of organic tortilla chips. Of course J and I splashed on heavy-handed doses of hot sauce and dolloped on some low-fat, rennet-free sour cream.

Sounds great, right? It was, but it came with a high price. While heating up some canola oil to soften the corn tortillas for the enchiladas, I turned to the refrigerator to grab some ingredients. J, noticing that a pan was on the stove with the heat on under it, thought I had accidentally left the stove on under a dirty pan and picked it up to wash it. Now, J is excellent at cleaning pots, but he usually makes a mess while moving them to the sink, sloshing the contents about during transport. Have you figured out what happened yet? Yep, as I turned back towards the stove, J picked up the pan containing the hot oil and managed to slosh the hot (fortunately, not yet scalding – but indeed hot) oil down the right side of my body. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Fortunately, being married to J for twelve years has trained me in the fine art of burn treatment (ask me about the second-degree burns on my hand from our fifth wedding anniversary sometime). I bolted into an ice cold shower and stayed there for a very very long time, letting the frigid water run down my shoulder, arm, and side, cooling down the angry red skin. When I finally emerged, I made large bundles of ice in paper towels and iced down my arm (it had taken the brunt of the direct oil contact – my shoulder and side were protected by my favorite gray t-shirt) for another agonizingly long period of time. Finally, I slathered my whole right side in aloe (with some lidocane for the pain) and headed back into the kitchen to finish the enchiladas. They were good, though, and I didn’t blister or scar at all, so J has been allowed to live for a while longer. I will admit that I shouted some not-so-ladylike things at him while running to the shower and while in the shower. The tirade may have continued during the icing portion of the treatment as well. He ate well and he did carelessly fling hot oil at me, so I’m not going to let the guilt eat me up.

Monday night was a fast dinner kind of night. Working on report cards, I caught a late train home and needed something tasty and fast. I had a ciabatta in the bread box and a block of mozzarella and a bowl of garlicy sautéed pea shoots in the refrigerator. Panini night! I fired up the Foreman grill while grating up the cheese. I layered greens and cheese and (duh!) red pepper flakes between crusty slabs of ciabatta and grilled them to golden-brown, melty, crunchy, herbal-green, garlicy goodness. We tore into the toasty toothsome crusts and let the cheese and the juice from the greens dribble down our chins until nothing remained on our plates but large flaky crumbs of ciabatta. Although we were full, we still wanted more.

Tuesday night was my last night of cooking for the work week. Wednesday night was the Black & White Ball for our sixth and seventh graders at school and J and I dined on pizza slices and cups of Doritos sold at the Black & White Bar run by the seventh graders. Thursday was graduation and I ate leftovers from lunch in the car during the long drive home. Friday was the last day of school before summer vacation and J and I dined on nibbles from the farmer’s market in Union Square and various other favorite restaurants. Tuesday, though, was all about the bacon. Bacon? Yes. Vegetarians eating bacon? No. I’ve mentioned Bacon Salt and Baconnaise before. (Remember www.baconsalt.com?) Tuesday night was a celebration of both. One final ciabatta toasted in the Foreman Grill while I cooked up some Morningstar Farms bacon strips in the microwave and stirred some Baconnaise into some yogurt-based blue cheese dressing. I tossed the bacony blue cheese with some of the mesclun mix from the share pickup and sprinkled it all liberally with Bacon Salt. When the bread came out of the toaster, I pried apart the crispy pressed layers and stuffed them with soy bacon and my bacon and blue cheese salad greens. Talk about a smoky, creamy, pungent, crunchy, grassy-green sandwich! I can’t wait to try this one again once my tomatoes start coming out of the garden. That is going to rock.

J and I picked up some goodies during our Friday-Last-Day-Of-School-Fest in Manhattan, so Saturday’s breakfast was leftover dumplings and other delights from our favorite restaurant in Chinatown. Lunch was yet another panini (we were heavy into the bread this week) made with slices of cheddar-jalapeno bread we picked up in Union Square. Paired with pepper jack cheese, the spicy bread was pressed and crisped in the Foreman while I tossed the rest of the mesclun mix with some light blue cheese dressing and a ton of Bacon Salt. I was going to use my new bottle of Jalapeno Bacon Salt, but I thought it might be pepper overkill. Once the bread was thoroughly toasted (and the cheese embedded in the bread was melting against the plates of the Foreman), I pried open the slices and spread the cheese-glue around before stuffing in the bacony and blue cheese slathered greens. This was a glorified grilled cheese with a creamy salty smoky salad stuffed inside. The peppers in the bread and cheese gave it a nice kick and Jason wanted seconds. Alas, I had used up the greens, so Jason turned to his secret stash of hummus in the fridge and grabbed the bag of tortilla chips.

For only a few days of cooking, I’ve babbled on quite long enough. Stay tuned for the tales of this week’s share pickup and my plans for its bounty. Happy eating!

21 June 2009

Using Up Week 4's Shares

What a crazy week! I'm really looking forward to July and August, so that I can have time to focus on my garden and my cooking. It has been raining every day for about two weeks now, so I haven't been out in the garden for anything more than a drive by inspection. The yard is water logged and flooded in places and the constant pouring from the sky makes going outside a very unpleasant experience. Most of my inspections are from the comfort of my living room via the big windows that line our eastern wall. The asparagus are now flowering out. Have you ever seen an asparagus go to flower? It looks like a tall, thin, fern-like tree. They're strange, but so much fun to watch. The zucchini and squash plants are getting big from all of the rain, but the eggplant plants are unhappy. The green bean plants continue to grow skyward, but I don't see much in the way of flowers yet. The strawberries in the front yard are putting out tiny green fruits, but they're not ripening. The rain is good for the plants, but they're craving some sunshine and heat.

Last Sunday, J and I resolved our ongoing debate about how to use up the big bunch of cilantro we got in last week's share by making a huge double batch of salsa. We got some good canned organic whole tomatoes and blitzed them in the mini food processor with a good handful of cilantro, a couple of jalapenos, red and white onions, freshly-squeezed lime juice, and some salt and hot sauce. I don't usually like salsa, but this stuff is good. We heated up plates of tortilla chips sprinkled with jalapeno-jack cheese so that the cheese got good and melty, then dolloped the whole thing with our spicy, herbal, onion-sharp salsa. We made pannini with the same cheese on slices of a good rustic loaf and dipped the crunchy-melty-warm sandwiches into the salsa before devouring them. I crisped up some whole wheat tortillas in a skillet before frying a few of our organic, free-range eggs, and assembled huevos rancheros (tortilla, egg, salsa on top) in big bowls, sprinkled with crumbles of tortilla chips for crunch. Salsa was a good investment of time and cilantro. I can't wait to make this with our fresh tomatoes in August and September.

The radish question mark still loomed until J started talking about daikon. I decided to slice the radishes impossibly thin (using my Japanesse mandolin) and pickle them in rice wine vinegar and sugar. Word to the wise: heating the vinegar to dissolve the sugar and to speed up the pickling process is good. Inhaling a snoot full of warm vinegar is bad. After I finished my cough attack, I layered the some-red and some-white radishes in a shallow covered dish with the pickling liquid and some kosher salt and stashed it in the fridge. Within 24 hours, the pickling liquid turned pink from the red radish skins and J was happily chomping away on wafer-thin rounds of radish. I can't get past the smell of the radishes to try them, so this snack will be J's.

We ate the homemade strawberry jam spread on every bread product we could find in the house throughout the week. The sweetness has been tempered by the coldness at which we serve the jam, so it is really pleasant now. The jam even set up into a nice, thick consistency in the refrigerator, so it is easy to spread and it doesn't run off the bagel or biscuit or muffin or spoon. J and I munched happily on bagels and jam yesterday morning, discussing the ways we could use up the rest of the jam: mix some into a strawberry smoothie or milkshake, top a cheesecake with it, blend it into cream cheese or butter, use it as a filling for a cake or cupcake or sandwich cookie, mix it into whipped cream for strawberry shortcake... We had more ideas, but some are not sharable in such a public forum. ;)

We learned a valuable lesson about leeks last week. Did you know you could get a seed leek stalk in your leeks? It's a very hard core in the center of the leek that is difficult to cut and too woody to eat. We got three seed leeks in our share last week, so I labored in the kitchen to salvage the few outer layers that seemed soft enough to eat. I ended up with about a cup and a half of long, thin leek slices that lived in the fridge while I figured out how to use up this not-big-enough amount to its best advantage.

Saturday morning found me at the stove making creamed leeks and mushrooms. I sauteed the leeks and some sliced crimini mushrooms in a bit of butter until they were meltingly soft (not easy with these woody leek leaves) and stirred in a drizzle of cream and let it reduce to a velvety-smooth consistency. The cream turned a light brown, almost beef stroganoff color, from the mushrooms and it was redolent of the earthy mushrooms themselves. I stirred in some blanched asparagus (we had two small bunches left over from the shares) and spooned some of the mixture (creamy sauce and all) into two small consomme bowls. Eggs in cocote were my goal, with the creamy vegetable mixture as my base. I cracked two eggs from our share into each bowl, seasoned them with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzled a tiny bit of cream over each before placing the bowls in a skillet of boiling water. I slapped the cover on and, just a few minutes later, we had softly-cooked egges (okay, I waited a bit too long - inexperience - and a bit of the yolks was not softly-cooked enough for my tastes) with bubbling warm veggies underneath. J and I cracked what little of the yolks that remained creamy and stirred it all into the veggies and cream sauce below. J dunked bits of toasted bagel into his bowl (I found a couple of leftover bagels in the freezer and toasted them up. I would have preferred some baguette, but a girl can't be too choosy on a rainy Saturday morning.) and I slurped my eggs up with a spoon (saving my bagel for strawberry jam - it's addictive).

We were more than adequately fueled for the morning after our eggs in cocotte and we stashed the left over veggies (I dream of them over egg noodles) in the fridge before setting out to run errands.

We didn't make it to the farm yesterday because of the weather and a ton of traffic between us and the farm. We had dinner plans with the NY/NJ family so we pushed off our pickup until today.

I've still got pea shoots and arugula in the refrigerator from last week and two eggs remain. I just nudged J (still half-asleep next to me) to begin the process of getting him up and out to the farm to pick up this week's goodies. J went a bit crazy at Costco earlier this week and bought TWELVE pounds of cherries (you can't see my counter tops with all of the cherries in my kitchen at the moment). I'm thinking about making a cherry chutney with some of the share bounty this week. I'm pretty sure we'll be getting more rhubarb, so it will be a cherry-rhubarb collaboration of some sort this week.

It's the last week of school, so I won't have much time to cook, but the promise of next weekend and the summer that follows it lies in front of me, beckoning me to plow through the week, full steam ahead, and get to that promised land to enjoy a summer of cooking and eating. I'm looking forward to it.

14 June 2009

Week 4 Pickup

I'm the most tired energetic person you'll ever know. I don't sleep much, I'm always on the move (hyperkinetic, according to a recent blog comment - thanks, Gatton), I'm jittery all of the time and I've been off of caffeine for a couple of years. I'm exhausted, though. I dream of long naps and full nights of sleep. I wish for refreshing wake ups and days without yawning. Not gonna happen in this lifetime!

That said, I am often a victim of inertia. Without proper motivation, I could stay in bed all day. I'll read, surf the web, catch up on my phone calls and emails, plan lessons, grade papers, and even groom the dogs; but I won't get out of bed unless I have to. There are variations on this routine - I can remain planted to the couch or to my lawn chair in the sunshine. I get plenty done (though not the things J wants me to get done), but I really will stay put all day if you let me.

Getting up to go to the farm on Saturdays has been a push out of the house for me for a month now. Each Saturday I have, quite uncharacteristically, gotten up and showered and gotten J and myself fed and out the door, pups in tow, well before the noon hour. For me to wear any clothes other than pajamas on a Saturday is rare indeed, so imagine J's surprise when I'm suited up in jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers and packing up my bag on a Saturday morning. This CSA thing might be good for me in more ways than one.

J slept in yesterday, so I had time to scrub down the shower and bathtub, read a few chapters in my latest favorite literary series (have you read the Chronicles of Chrestomanci yet?), shower, get dressed, make and eat breakfast (including coffee - decaf, of course), and hang out on Facebook before he staggered, bleary-eyed, out of the bedroom. Coaxed awake by coffee (the real stuff for him), he showered and dressed and "surveyed our lands" with me.

The asparagus have gone bananas! We don't have a lot of them, but the ones we have are growing like crazy! They're huge. We brought a tape measure in the garden to get a sense of just how tall an asparagus can get and we were really surprised.
There are some tiny red berries on the strawberry plants and lots of little green berries peeking out of the pots.
We've got some pods plumping up with peas and tiny tomatoes popping out on a plant or two.

The green bean plants are climbing their cages, spiraling their way up the wiry frames.
Everything is growing, but little is flowering. It has been very gray and rainy so far this spring, and the plants want their heat and sunshine. I hope it comes soon before I have a garden of plants that miss their opportunity to bear fruit this year.

Lands surveyed, we loaded the pups into the car and headed east. I popped my netbook onto my lap and wrote about how we used up last week's food while J listened to the radio and exceeded all posted speed limits until he came upon a $1 iced coffee special at McDonalds. That slowed him down for a couple of minutes.

Before pulling into the farm's parking area, we checked out an 8 acre farm for sale next door. It's got a big house, several out buildings, and a golden-retriever dream pond. We drove around the property edge for a few minutes, each fantasizing about life on a farm:

Nicole: I've got my neatly-laid out rows of veggie plants and fruit trees next to my chicken coop full of silky chickens in every color. One of the out buildings hosts my commercial kitchen space, where I bake cookies, cupcakes, and cheesecakes to sell to the masses of people who flock to the North Fork for wine tastings and pick-your-own fruit and roasted corn at the farm stands. My pack of a dozen or so golden retrievers swim in the pond and torture the chickens by shaking out their wet coats near the coop.

Jason: He's got one out building housing his home brewing operation and another to hold all of his stuff so I stop complaining about how much of it he has.

Holden: He's chasing ducks in the pond and bossing all of the other goldens around because he is the oldest and the favorite.

Riley: He's drinking dirty pond water and chasing anything that moves fast enough to be chased. When he's tired, he naps in a sunny patch on the grass, within earshot of me, so he knows when treats are being given out.

It's a happy fantasy world for all four of us, each in our own special way, but one that is not going to happen any time soon unless someone knows how I can get my hand on $1.3 million to make it happen. Sigh.

Garden of Eve's animals were lively and particularly noisy yesterday. The big white sheep let J touch his curly coat while he munched on whatever he could get his mouth on and the goats bleated out happy hellos to all. The piglets had gotten noticeably bigger (in just a week)and were frolicking with a couple of little white sheep.

The cooler was full of good stuff, waiting to be taken home. Here's this week's haul.

The wheels started spinning right away. I knew the strawberries would have to be cooked somehow because they were so very ripe that they would hardly last a day in the refrigerator at home. I didn't want to repeat the strawberry-rhubarb combo two weeks in a row, so I had to use the rhubarb either alone or in combination with something else. Hmm... J wanted to try the pea shoots cooked this week, so I know some garlic and olive oil will be involved with that. What to do with a bunch of cilantro? No tomatoes yet for salsa... The arugula and lettuce would easily be used up in salad or on a sandwich or two. The radishes? I'm still a big question mark with radishes. Leeks? More leek pasta? It's too warm for leek and potato soup. (Don't tell me to make a chilled soup. I'm not a fan of cold soup.) Asparagus...maybe on the grill this week...

The strawberries and rhubarb were a top priority as both were very ripe and very soft. I still had a few apples left from the first couple of weeks. They were going soft, but still usable. Aha - apple-rhubarb compote. The apples are almost too sweet and the rhubarb is quite tart - that should balance out, right? Right. Apples, rhubarb, butter, brown sugar, a sprinkle of kosher salt and some bubbling on the stove time made for a tasty sweet-tart-tangy treat. J spread some on a toasted bagel (or two) and pronounced it delicious.

Two quarts of strawberries, hulled, and cut in half, and slightly mashed with a potato masher hit the heat for ten minutes before I doused them with sugar and cooked them for another half hour. I had combined ideas from several different recipes I found online and used more berries and less sugar than the average of all the recipes I had seen. It was still too much sugar. The jam is loose (not enough sugar to tighten it up) and tooth-achingly sweet. Some lemon juice and kosher salt stirred into the mix tempered the sweetness some, but it's still very sweet to me. I know I need the sugar to get the jam to set, but I'd like to stay cavity-free. I'll have to look into using pectin next time so that I can cut down on the sugar some more but still get the jam to gel properly.

All of the fruit cooking on the stove smelled amazing. Even Holdy and Riley were drawn toward the kitchen, where both camped out by the gate we use to keep the furry beasts away from the food. The sweet stuff is cooked and put away, now to figure out what to do with the rest of the shares.

13 June 2009

Finishing Up Week Three

I have a love-hate relationship with June. I think all NY teachers must have it. June is the cusp of the school year and summer. June is the point at which we see the light at the end of the tunnel. June is the threshold of the freedom, whose promise has motivated us for months.

June beckons similarly to our students as well, turning what once was a relatively normal gathering of children into a minion of monstrous souls. They suddenly have no volume controls, or off buttons for that matter. They’re not only noisy; they’re more energetic than ever. They’re not only energetic; they’re completely unfocused. They’re not only unfocused; they’re absolutely insane!

Needless to say, the last three weeks of school are difficult for teachers. My classroom has been sucked into a power struggle between sixth graders, longing for the glory days of elementary school movies in class and field trips and popcorn parties to round out the school year, and me, their teacher hell-bent on squeezing at least some of the as-of-yet uncovered curriculum into their skulls so that they can start off next year without weeks of review. I will win, of course. There is no question about that. The only question is – how bruised, bloodied, and beaten (physically and emotionally) will I be after my victory?

Why all of this talk of school on a blog about Community Supported Agriculture, home gardening, and overeating? Because, through June 26th, school controls my life, how I use my time, and how I think. I’ve been blogging mentally all week, but I haven’t had the time or mental energy or focus to type or post anything. I have been cooking, though. I’ve been making the time to cook. That time will not be available to me for the last two weeks of school, what with report cards and packing up my room and all, so I’ve got to make the most of this weekend to write, cook, and eat up a storm.

What did I do with the rest of last week’s shares? I had a lot of fun with them. In the interest of full honesty, though, I confess that I had designs on a pasta recipe to use up most of what’s left of the food last night, but I was just too tired to cook. We had takeout for dinner, and I don’t regret it. It was tasty and it involved very little in the way of fresh vegetables, but it was comforting and emotionally therapeutic. A good enchilada can work wonders on a moody girl.

I learned last Saturday that locally made does not always mean better tasting. The bread we bought from a local farm stand/bakery was, well, blah. We did snazz it up with the local lettuce, some Baconnaise (so darned good and bacony), and some crisp vegetarian bacon (you can never have too much bacon). I finally served up the pea shoots in a crisp salad tossed with lemon juice and rich olive oil with some homemade labneh dolloped on top. I wanted to toss in some home-grown mint, but I was too hungry and too lazy to run outside to grab some. Next time, though, the mint will be a fresh and tasty addition to the salad. It will contrast well with the labneh.

We didn’t fill up too much on dinner because dessert held the promise of many smiles. I cooked the two stalks of rhubarb down with a pint of the strawberries (so tiny and fresh and, surprisingly, tart), some of the strawberry juice we purchased, and some sugar. I stirred in some lemon zest before giving it all a whir in the food processor and letting it cool and set up. It was sweet-tart-tangy-strawberry deliciousness. I should have let it cook a bit longer to get it to set up into less of a sauce and more of a jam consistency, but my inexperience in this area got the best of me.

In the meantime, I baked up a batch of cream scones and sliced up another pint of the strawberries while I directed J into whipping up a small puddle of cream. Within a half hour we had homemade strawberry-rhubarb shortcakes – my way. Picture this (you’ll have to because we ate them before I could take any pictures): a rubied glistening puddle of strawberry-rhubarb sauce in the bottom of a shallow white bowl; a golden-brown blushed scone, glistening with the crystals of sugar I sprinkled on top before baking, nestled into the pink-scarlet pool; a generous dollop of softly whipped cream pillowed over the scone; thick slices of the tiniest almost-glowing red strawberries pouring over the cream; and a not-so-artful drizzle of the strawberry-rhubarb sauce over the top. Again, some fresh, homegrown mint would have been a lovely garnish, but my appetite and laziness won again. Besides, who needs garnish when you’ve got a plate like this just waiting to be eaten?

I managed half a plate before sugar overload meltdown struck. J ate his bowl, the unfinished half of mine, and a second bowl he fashioned for himself while I lay drooling on the couch. It was so very very good.

Sunday morning found me and J in the kitchen snacking on leftovers from the previous night’s dinner and dessert. Lunch was salt-and-pepper pistachios and hummus with flatbread out in the yard after some gardening in the sunshine. Since it was Riley’s fourth birthday, dinner was to be a true celebration. While J ran out for a haircut, courtesy of everyone’s favorite Unkie Scot, I shelled a pint of fresh organic peas, sliced asparagus and garlic, and sliced and thoroughly washed the leeks (boy were they sandy!). While I cooked a big pot of fettuccine I sautéed the leeks and garlic until they were soft and yielding and just beginning to turn golden at the edges. Before they could dry out and crisp, I threw in my customary handful of red pepper flakes and I doused it all with a glass of a crisp local white wine. While that reduced into an amber syrup, I blanched the asparagus in the pasta water, beat a couple of eggs and had J, freshly coiffed, grate some Parmesan cheese. In one fell swoop, we tossed the pasta, asparagus, raw peas, and eggs into the leeks and tossed it all together with a generous glug of spicy olive oil and a fluffy mound of cheese. A sprinkle of kosher salt and a few grinds (okay, maybe more than a few for me) of black pepper later and dinner was served. I hate to brag, but this was a mighty fine bowl of pasta. The leeks were almost creamy and the wine-syrup was thickened and lush and clinging to the noodles. The peas, few as they were, were the stand out flavor of the dish, carrying through every bite, laden with pea or woefully pea-lacking. The asparagus were crisp-tender and the fluffy threads of cheese were wonderfully salty. J and I ate like two greedy piglets, but I couldn’t finish my bowl. Riley and Holdy eyed the pasta hopefully, but there was no hope for them – J laid claim to any and all leftovers. Sorry, pups, maybe next time.

The second quart of strawberries was not going to make it another day. The only problem with getting absolutely ripe fruit from the CSA is that ripe fruit’s shelf life is miniscule compared to the bullet proof stuff we buy in the grocery store. It demands to be eaten now or it will dissolve into a puddle of brown mush. A strawberry dessert was clearly in order, but what to make? I’m starting to learn to think of meals from a “What do I have?” perspective rather than a “What do I want?” starting point. Remembering the strawberry-rhubarb concoction in the refrigerator and the whipping cream and strawberry juice snuggled in behind the milk; it came to me – Strawberry Fool! I set J to work whipping cream again while I sliced the rest of the strawberries. Tonight, I thinned out the strawberry-rhubarb sauce with some of the strawberry juice and, while looking for the Gran Marnier, I stumbled upon my bottle of cachaca. Oh yeah, this is going to be good and I feel a cocktail forming in my head. I sent J to rummage through the refrigerator for a can of seltzer and to fetch some glasses. Now I was making both Strawberry Fool and its beverage cousin, the Strawberry Foolish. Party!

Strawberry Fool assembly: drop several sizable dollops of pillowy whipped cream into the bottom of a shallow dish, toss sliced strawberries with strawberry-rhubarb sauce thinned with strawberry juice and cachaca, nestle spoonfuls of syrupy strawberries and sauce into the mound of whipped cream, crumble leftover scone over the top.

Strawberry Foolish assembly: spoon strawberry-rhubarb sauce into a glass, thin down with strawberry juice and a shot of cachaca, add ice, top off the glass with seltzer, and mound a spoonful of whipped cream on top. If you like your drinks creamy, stir some cream in with the juice and cachaca before adding the soda. Next time, I’m blending this up into a delightfully frozen concoction.

The rest of the lettuce was used up on Monday night’s black bean and bacon jalapeno cheese burgers. Tuesday night was a wash because of a doctor’s appointment. Wednesday night was falafel night (I thought about slicing the radishes into the salad I stuffed into my whole wheat pitas, but chickened out). Thursday night was Panini night with some fabulous Zarro’s bread and some homemade tomato sauce (I wanted to make spinach Panini, but I was too wiped to clean the spinach). Friday started with the best of intentions to use up the spinach and asparagus in a pasta dish with a radish salad, but the week got the best of me. Thus, the need for Mexican takeout to soothe my soul.

Wow, all of this writing and I haven’t even hit this week’s bag full o’ goodies. That’s another entry for another day. So much great stuff, so little time.

06 June 2009

Week 3 Pickup and Recipe Planning

The animals at the farm were active today. The turkeys were particularly vocal. I think one of them freaked J out a bit with his gobble gobbles. The goats were climbing everything in sight. One little white goat flopped onto his back and rolled around on the ground like Holden does when we let him outside. Ah, the joy of rolling in the dirt!

There were two mud-spattered pink piglets frolicking in a penned-in area next to the CSA cooler. I watched them while waiting for the cooler to empty out (the guy ahead of us had NO idea what he was doing – hello! – it’s not brain science!). Of course, the piglets made me feel a bit sad. J tried to cheer me up by insisting that the pigs were not for food, but instead for “the whole agricultural experience” – not buying it. There’s only one reason to keep pigs, and it’s not for their cuteness or manure. I then had to explain to my dearest husband that the turkeys were being kept for Thanksgiving, reminding him of the story of the barn fire taking last year’s harvest. My big, tough guy gave me the saddest little boy face when he finally got it.

When the cooler finally emptied out, it was time to assess our goodies for the week:

Veggie Share: 1 head lettuce, 1 bunch leeks, 2 bunches asparagus, 1 bag spinach, 1 bag pea shoots

Fruit Share: 2 quarts strawberries, 2 stalks rhubarb

Egg Share: ½ dozen eggs

Flower Share: 2 nasturtium plants (there were more sunflowers and cosmos, but they let us choose from the other flowers for sale

There are still pea shoots and apples left over from last week’s share. Two eggs remain as well. They will be added to this week’s haul, which I’m really excited about cooking up this weekend. We also scooped up a pint of peas and I’m looking forward to shelling them (strange, I know). A quick stop at Briermere farm next door tortured J with too many pies to choose from, so we settled for a baguette and a bottle of fresh strawberry juice (too tart for drinking straight, but will be great in this weekend’s desserts and cocktails).

Before I start planning for this weekend, I should tell you how we used up some of last week’s share during the week. On Tuesday I sauteed the rest of the young shallots with some garlic and onion and the spinach (J cleaned the spinach this week!) and cracked some eggs into little wells I made in the bubbling mixture. We scooped the greens and aromatics and just-barely-cooked eggs onto thick slices of toasted batard from Tom Cat Bakery. While I was cooking, J attacked a new wedge of Parmesan with the vegetable peeler and made a bowlful of long, thin shards of salty, pungent slightly grainy cheese. We broke some of the longer strips into smaller wafers and sprinkled all of this umami-riddled goodness onto our eggs and greens. We always take our first taste of food in the kitchen to check for seasoning. J and I ended up eating in the kitchen, standing at the counter, because once we started digging into the creamy egg yolks and garlicky greens atop the crunchy bread we just couldn't stop. Before spinach goes out of season, I’m going to have to buy up a lot of it, saute it with tons of onions and garlic, and freeze it so we can enjoy this dish in winter, when it would surely bring back spring in quite a delicious way.

Tonight’s dinner will be a low-key production highlighting one of my newest internet culinary finds: Baconnaise. Have you heard of this stuff? It’s bacon-flavored mayonnaise. It’s vegetarian and kosher and delicious! More vegetarians are lost to the lure of bacon than any other meaty substance. I totally get it. There’s something about the smell of bacon that beckons me from my happy vegetarian place. I miss bacon. When I see cute little plump pink piglets frolicking on a farm, though, I don’t want to touch the stuff. J & D’s (www.baconsalt.com) has a line of bacon-flavored sprinkles, Baconnaise, and (yes!) bacon-flavored lip balm – all vegetarian and kosher – to bring the happiness that is BACON back to my life. J and I taste tested the Baconnaise on a breakfast sandwich this morning. We pronounce it delectable! So, tonight will be soy-bacon and Baconnaise sandwiches on the baguette we just purchased. We’ll use some of the lettuce from the share and lots of Morningstar Farms soy bacon. I’ll toss the pea shoots and some mint from the garden with some olive oil and lemon juice and serve my little salad with a dollop of my homemade yogurt cheese and some shavings of Parmesan. It’s too bad tomatoes aren’t in season yet, because a BLT would be so good right about now. I’ll be patient. It will be worth the wait for the first BLT with all local produce and a schmear of Baconnaise. Oh my, I’m beginning to feel a bit flushed!

I’m super excited about the two quarts of strawberries we’ve got. I think I’m going to bake some cream scones tonight. J loves scones for breakfast, but I’m going to serve scones with fresh strawberries and a bit of honey-sweetened whipped cream for dessert tonight. Top this with a chiffonade of mint, and my strawberry shortcakes should knock his socks off. He might eat the same thing for breakfast tomorrow.

We’re out and about running errands now. I’m typing on my Netbook in the car while J attempts to navigate and yells at the dogs for shedding in the car. The radio is way too loud, so my concentration has reached its limits. I’m going to shut down for now and enjoy the scenery and the company of the pups on this beautiful sunny end to a rainy week.

I’ll let you know how dinner goes and what I plan to do with the rest of the goodies tomorrow.

01 June 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

J woke up Sunday morning with a hankerin' for something sweet. So much for my soft boiled eggs and asparagus plan. I had an awful lot of apples to use up so it was pancakes with sauteed apples (with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla) for the big guy. I had soft boiled eggs with some toasted leftover ciabatta - yum. Life is better with toast, isn't it?

We spent much of the day outdoors, planting the final seedlings, fertilizing everything, and doing general garden maintenance. J put together his outdoor armoire/shed (I say armoire. He says shed. Potato-potato - let's call the whole thing off.) The big project was taking all of the tomato hanging baskets down to fertilize them. That's a lot of overhead work. One of the hanging tomatoes didn't make it (not bad for 12 hanging pots), so we replaced it with a seedling left over from our already-crowded garden. Let's hope the little one takes.

I headed inside while J worked on the cars in his manly way (changing oil and other fluids and plugging two tires with nails and screws in them). It was time to cook up a mess of applesauce. Thirteen apples, half a stick of butter, a fair amount of brown sugar, kosher salt, cinnamon, and cognac later, I was whizzing the soft, fragrant apples (pink lady and red delicious) in my Cuisinart. (Sorry Teri, it's not a KitchenAid). Man, that stuff is tasty. It's sweet and soft and tinted a faint pinkish-brown (pink = apple peels, brown = cinnamon). If we don't eat the rest of the apples by the end of the week, another batch of applesauce will definitely be in order.

While the applesauce cooled on the counter, I cleaned out the Cuisinart (Teri, calm down!) and whipped up a batch of hummus. I usually don't like the stuff at all, but I've been craving it like crazy this week. Fortunately, I always have several cans of chickpeas handy and J likes keeping lemons in the house for his soda habit. With a little garlic, olive oil, tahini, kosher salt, and a lot of Tabasco (a Cajun girl's pantry staple), I had a big batch of hummus in no time. I toyed with the idea of sending J out to scoop up some pita chips before I remembered I had some low-fat whole wheat pitas in the house. I cut them into wedges, sprayed them with canola oil, salted them, and slipped them into the toaster oven until they were crispy. Awesome! They were so crunchy and toasty delicious.

Dinner was not going to involve a compromise to suit J's sweet tooth. I was making pasta with poached eggs for sure. I switched up my recipe this time to include the shallots and young garlic we picked up with our share. I also threw in some of the asparagus. Penne was the lucky pasta of the day. I cooked down some onions with the shallots, young garlic, regular garlic, and (you guessed it) tons of red pepper flakes and a generous glug of olive oil. Before everything burned, I splashed in a glass of a tasty local white wine. That reduced to a chunky amber-hued syrup while the penne cooked. I tossed it all together with some pasta cooking water until the penne was fully cooked and coated with the good stuff. Off the heat I added some olive oil, lemon juice, chopped chives (fresh from my garden), and fluffy shredded Parmesan cheese. I plated the pasta in bowls and snuggled a couple of poached eggs on top of each. A fresh grinding of black pepper was the finishing touch before I popped open the yolks and coated the whole bowl of pasta and veg in their velvety lusciousness. Boy, was that tasty!

J was kind enough to put all of the food away (he ate well, so I didn't feel guilty about refusing to get off of the couch after dinner). Our fridge is bursting at the hinges full of food from the shares and my cooking spree this weekend, so life is good. I'll grab some of the tomato sauce from Saturday and the whole wheat ravioli I've got tucked into the top shelf of the refrigerator to whip up a quick dinner tonight. I may toss the pea shoots with lemon juice and olive oil for a light salad on the side. One thing is for sure...it's applesauce for dessert!