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!