Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More with the Food

Lordy lordy kids, we are all about food over here right now. Cosseting it in the garden, harvesting it, trying to either put it up or eat it. Last summer was our first summer garden, and some of you may remember that I was not too hot on it. Winter gardening is mostly about growing leaves. Summer gardening is about fruit. Which need more water, more nutrients, more ideal temperatures and soils, and way more protection from pests. Last summer we ate some very fine food, but the experience left us gunning for round two. And boy, what a round this has been. This weekend we harvested the remaining fingerling potatoes (I can't recommend the potatoes in a pot thing strongly enough), the last of the garlic, three pounds of tomatillos, the usual enormous bowls of sungold tomatoes (cut them in half and oven roast them, yum), the first huge hillbilly tomato, five long japanese cucumbers, thirteen small pickling cucumbers, and a huge pile of kale and chard. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, we picked six gallons of blueberries and bought a half bushel of peaches. It's like a farmer's market in our kitchen right now. That photo down there is all food from the front yard, except for the nuts, oil, and parmesan cheese in the pesto. Yo, roasted fingerling potatoes with homemade pesto will just about kill you with the tasty. Ooph. Also the chilaquiles with salsa verde from all of those tomatillos, with eggs from the backyard. Yum.

Coming soon: a hell of a lot more tomatoes in all sizes and shapes, more basil, more cukes, more tomatillos, eggplant, and some peppers about the size of a grapefruit. We are fretting over our winter squash right now. The delicata never really took off, in part due to what was perhaps an overly short hardening off and definitely because we planted our squash way too close together. Lesson learned. Anyway, the butternut pretty much just terrorized the delicata, and this weekend I took pity on everyone and pulled the delicata. We got a few good sized squash, but I don't know if the abrupt departure from the vine will mean lousy flavor. There are about fifteen huge butternut still fattening up though so I am not too worried. Anyway, upon getting down in that mess of vines and leave we discovered what may be the grossest garden pest yet: squash vine borers (don't click that link unless you really need to know). Fucking hell. I am honestly both repulsed and fascinated by our resident pests. What we get: mexican bean beetles, cucumber beetles, aphids (all kinds, with cabbage aphids winning the award for nasty), harlequin bugs, cabbage looper worms, and now squash vine borers. This summer we have seen one or two cucumber and bean beetles and two or three harlequin bugs. I am really diligent about hand picking for the beetles, both the eggs and the adult bugs (I love harlequin bug eggs, they are really neat looking). The aphids have caused us to pull out the big guns twice this summer: they very nearly did in our cherry tree and our rhubarb; in both cases I just wasn't paying attention and the infestations were way past blowing them off with water, but usually they are a low grade presence that we mostly ignore. Cabbage loopers I just hand pick for eggs and worms. And I will be digging out squash vine borers with much greater diligence henceforth because I am going to have squash soup and butternut pie this winter if I have to camp out there with a pocket knife. This book is our kickass go-to in those oh-shit-what-the-hell-is-that moments. I need to get better about knowing our good insects; we've seen a lot more new faces since we planted a huge bed of lovely flowers, but hell if I know what they are.

Anyway. That was pretty much our weekend: picking, cooking, eating. Also some seriously so much fun music; we learned the coolest new tune that is so flipping crooked that you just have to stop thinking and play it, and I finally realized that it's more fun to play the guitar loud. Ha!

Also, Portland was fun. Our friends are married now and I did not barf while playing for their ceremony. It was just about as chaotic as I expected, with the guitar player wandering up the hill just before the ceremony trying to find someone to borrow a guitar from, thus resulting in last minute tuning and general feelings of "why oh why do I agree to do such things" but then it sounded great and we got to follow the newlyweds down a beautiful hill while playing merrily and catching a fine view of Mount Hood. Other than that, it was hot as hell, we ate a lot of seriously mediocre food (ok, except for a pretty fine meal here), marveled at All the Bikes, stayed here for a night (fun!) and I got to see an old friend from college who is brainy and neat. The end.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Still Dusty

Oy, people. Heading east across timezones makes me wail at the alarm clock like a teenager. The rainy and the gray going on over here in North Carolina is not helping. It is, however, helping our garden turn into an overgrown tangle of squash, cucumbers, tomatillos, tomatoes, and basil. Like, Eliot Coleman would take one look at us hopping and straddling and contorting and he would pronounce us complete losers. Well whatever, we may need a third arm to actually reach everything but we are happily eating bowls of sungolds and plates of cukes and the freezer is slowly stocking up with pesto and we have been able to eat just fine after 1) being out of town for over a week and 2) being completely unable to find time to go to the grocery store. Let's hear it for the chickens too, while we're at it...

ANYWAY. So Seattle rocked. I really, really like it there. Which always sort of surprises me because I visited there for years and was very eh about it. What happened? Who knows. Anyway, as usual we spent our days with a fabulous mix of family time, some actual honest-to-god touristy things, and above all: chasing food down that I read about or heard about or asked about or had been hankering for. First: the touristy. We finally made it to Seattle's downtown main library. Librarians both love and hate this building, and I can see why, although I myself thought there were neat things and completely awful things about it. I dug the spiral; despite every person from Seattle that I've ever talked to pronouncing it hard to use, I will flaunt user feedback and stubbornly remain pro-spiral. The children's area was very cool, but somehow seemed really cold. There was *a lot* of vertical open space. Also cool, but I can completely see some many wondered just how many books would have fit in that space. The color scheme is already dated, and don't get me started on the carpet. And there is an extremely bizarre, dare I say even creepy second floor area that is painted entirely in red. The corners are round and the lighting is poor and I have recently watched too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer for such a thing.

Onward. Golden Gardens Park for some stunning scenery. We landed in Seattle for some crystal clear super sunny weather, and you could tell from the enthusiasm of Everyone Everywhere that they don't get uninterrupted weather like that very often. Onward still. Pike Place, just because it was right there after the library. It was crazy and crowded and the fruit vendors made us realize that we are going to have to grow some thicker skin if we plan to return from Vietnam without serious psychological damage. We bought some lovely flowers and I got into watching the cheese guy push his curds around and then we fled.

Hang in there, we're almost there. Next was the Plant Conservatory. I so love a conservatory of plants and flowers. This one was by no means the most impressive one I've ever been to, but it was small and sweet and B's gramps and lady friend came with us and we really enjoyed ourselves. Lastly, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or Ballard Locks. Easily the most touristy thing on the list, and at first I was a bit yeah-whatever-boats-go-up-and-down-enough-already. But then. We went down into the Fish Ladder. Holy hell, I could have watched those damn salmon swim upstream for hours. Mesmerizing. We saw both Chinook and Sockeye and I made a complete dork of myself by cheering them on. Righty-o.

Anyway, we were over in Ballard because we decided that our mornings in Seattle would be something of a bakery hunt. Do not get me started on the bakeries here in Asheville. Actually, if I refrained from ranting, I could do it in three words: do not bother. Which if I am silver lining it, is probably why I have become a much better baker since moving here. But if I am not silver lining it, it sucks because so far croissant/puff pastry doughs remain Out of My League, but damn if I don't love a good ham and Gruyère croissant. Anyway, we enjoyed several highly mediocre bakeries before setting out for Cafe Besalu on NW 24th and really, you can just stop there. I not only got my croissant issues resolved, B got his brioche situation remedied, and then we both about died with the tastiness of a sour cherry hand tart. Plus: for all you decaf nerds out there they will brew you a fine decaf americano and you will once again utter the thing you utter when you find a decent cup of decaf coffee. (What, you don't remember what you utter? I know, it had been a long time for us too...)

Ok, this is getting too long, but we returned to a favorite Vietnamese place, tried a new Vietnamese place, enjoyed some much talked up but ultimately not stellar Szechuanese food, and ate a startlingly excellent carnitas taco at a restaurant where you can rent a kayak. Sadly, we did not make it to the hand crafted salami shop, but there is always next time.

Portland later, be well out there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Home home home, and glad to be so. We had fabulous weather, fine eats, incredible company, and now we have married friends. Highlights after the dust clears.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Headed West & Nerves

Last night's supper. Wherein I seriously had to make myself shut the hell up about how excited I was about it. We grew that broccoli, but in ever greater excitement, those are our fingerling potatoes, roasted with our garlic and rosemary. The potatoes are amazing. Rich, nutty, buttery, the perfect amount of waxy, and not one bit mealy. I'll admit that was kind of afraid to tip over the first potato pot. I would not have been one bit surprised if we found about three potatoes in there because really: we are just figuring this stuff out. But I was so happy with the harvest, especially considering that we pulled these on the early side. There are two more pots to pilfer, but this time I am not afraid.

Headed west later today, for Seattle, for family, for fine eats, for Portland, and for a really special wedding. These two are such good eggs. They played twin fiddles for our wedding, and we are playing with a guitar player for their wedding. I am a little bit eeps about it. Performing is not my thing. The best music I play is usually in my own kitchen or with people I know really, really well. Audiences jam my circuits. Learning to play music is the hardest thing I have ever done, absolutely no doubt. I started late, I am bad at being a beginner, and it took me a few years of playing to realize that I was going to have to work at being a musician - it wasn't just going to magically happen no matter the wishing I might do. I am surrounded by so many talented musicians, and I still work so hard to refrain from comparing what I do to what they do, and likewise to refrain from worrying about what they are thinking of my playing. There is a lot of ego wrangling that I have had to do, and at times that has surprised me. I have done more crying than I'd like to admit, and I am ashamed to say that I have threatened to sell my instruments more than once in fits of completely immature rage and frustration. But this desire to play this music runs so deep for me. There is absolutely nothing more beautiful, more wild and freeing, more dance making to me than the sound of a fiddle and a banjo. It moves me, it always has and it always will. I wanted to learn to play music for literally almost twenty years before I bought an instrument, dug in my heels, and vowed that I would not stop. And that guy down there. He's taught me so much - countless tunes, a framework of music theory, harmony singing, and how to play the guitar. But mostly what he teaches me is how to be kind to myself. How to silence my inner critic, and god that voice is deafening sometimes. How to appreciate the journey, see the distance between where I am now and where I was then. So on Saturday, as our favorite friends clear a path through their loved ones to marry one another, I will play with nothing but love in my heart and a mind cleared just for the making of music.

Jeez. That is about as confessional as you'll probably ever get here, thank goodness. How about a link to clear the air? Melvin Wine is one of my favorite West Virginia fiddlers. He's not alive any more, but his tunes sure are, and Twin Sisters is a favorite of mine. What a dapper fellow. Also. Don't laugh, it was 1984. We play a lot of what this guy plays just because he plays it so flippin' good. Also. Shitty recording, but these guys play seriously happy music.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Still Life with Chicken

The sungolds have issued their shot across the bow. These small bowls of sweetness are the first wave of what is shaping up to look like a deluge. Hit me with your favorite salsa recipes, friends.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Getting There, Rabbit

Who-wee kids, we are rounding the corner on the final lap of our summer insanity. We drove up to West Virginia for the family reunion last weekend, which puts our butts in the car at a whopping 30 hours in just over a week. All completely worth it, and I say again: read aloud in the car, your road trips will fly by. West Virginia was a breathtaking palette of greens. Like every flippin' green your brain can handle. We picked red and black raspberries in a generously cloudy morning, swam in the river, ate way too much incredible food (my uncle Patrick and my Granny each managed to bake The Most Amazing Cake of the Year), played some wiffle ball, set off a few fireworks, and just soaked up the crazy and brilliant crew of people that make up my family.

We came home to cucumbers. Like ten pounds of cucumbers, no joke. I am always curious about how gardeners choose what to grow. Some tackle it from a financial angle - what do they buy the most of or what is the most expensive to buy at the grocery store. We do a certain amount of that, in particular in the leek department. Some go for the items that really taste much, much better when grown at home and picked fresh. I know this is really everything, but things like asparagus are legendary for being an entirely different experience when eaten fresh. And then there's your folks who grow what works for them. And I have to say, if that is how we chose our garden we would have to turn the whole thing into a cucumber patch. We stick the seeds in the ground, lazily train them up a lattice, and after a few single cucumbers here and there we are suddenly The Cucumber Pushers. I don't even ask people any more; just yesterday I walked up to my neighbor who was on his cell phone and put a bag in his hands full of cucumbers. No need to thank me! Anytime! U-pick! Anyway. In the middle of fobbing off cucumbers we also made some pickles. Since we're leaving for Oregon in a few days, these are vinegar pickles. Salt pickles are coming soon. We used this recipe, with a few modifications (way less sugar, more spice) and some homemade pickling spices. The pickling liquid tasted so good, both B and I kept dipping a spoon into it when we walked by. We pickled three big jars and now we the wait, don't worry I'll report back.

Also, can I confess that I really love epicurious? I have reached a point in cooking and baking where I only want to make things that have been either made by someone who has reliably excellent taste or things that have been commented on by 40 people each offering up their adjustments and opinions. Nothing sucks worse than over salting your casserole, you know? Anyway, I was trolling around on it because we continue to have more chard and kale than you can shake a stick at. Seriously, I have been leaving greens all over the country lately and we still can't keep up. We actually only planted about five plants of each, since last summer I did full rows and realized that greens are not a daily thing for us in the summer. But they are all so huge! So anyway, I just found a half dozen excellent sounding recipes on epicurious that each call for 1-2 pounds of chard or kale or both, so I am a happy lady.

Last up: our garlic crop is about 75% harvested. Interestingly enough, the softneck variety (Susanville) has been the size queen of the bunch (that big one up above is about the size of my fist) likely because it was a cold winter, but while the hardnecks are smaller, their cloves are still very large. While noodling around researching garlic at one point I came across this, which, you know, just made me giggle out loud (Christopher Kimball is the Cook's Illustrated guy). So there you have it. Lucky us, because we have about a zillion hardnecks ready for the eating. I will take another picture when we are allowed to clean them up after curing them. I was initially not that excited about growing garlic, but my gardening gal Jenni talked me into it and it was so fun that we're going to do some overwintering onions this year too. Did I say here already that B dug another whole bed, a fourth long one? Love that man.

Ok, that's the news. B's mum is coming for the weekend and then we're headed to Portland to help these people get married. Be well out there.

P.S. These are really yummy. Simple, but yummy - I like baked things with yogurt in them. Next time I'd put some toasted pecans in there...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wedding Mail

Placed on our front doorstep by the postman exactly one year after we were married, carved by one of our favorite guys around. We are looking forward to dishing him up a bowl of something tasty when he's here next.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Blink and It Grows

We are home sweet home, after a fabulous and nostalgia filled trip to see old friends in DC. I am lame and did not remember to take a single picture. We like DC. The Ethiopian food was everything we'd hoped for, and frankly, a kick in the pants lesson that the vegetarian platter habit needs to go. We visited Abe and various war memorials in the fading twilight it was nice to gaze at the White House and wish its inhabitants well.

When we got home the garden was so huge we nearly choked upon turning into the driveway. Cripes. Everything is dripping with heavy fruit, and we ate our first Sungolds, still warm from the heat of the day, growing on a tomato plant that is now nearly as tall as I am. Cucumbers are on, both the long Japanese cukes and the squat pickling cukes. Peppers are ripening, along with eggplant, tomatillo, broccoli, cabbage, winter squash. We harvested a portion of the garlic that looked ready, and they are huge and gorgeous, shining white and red and purple under the dust of the dirt they grew in. I have made two batches of pesto just with the basil pinchings alone. Yum. The raised bed has officially hit the crazy mark. The borage is a tangled forest that is almost always humming with bees. I love it but maybe next year not quite so much?

Suffice to say that there have been a lot of healthy dinners lately. Below, slaw fixings. Carrots, golden beets, beets, cabbage. Add an apple, some dried cranberries, make a dressing of oil, ume vinegar, mustard, chopped garlic, lemon, sugar, salt, pepper. Ooph, so flipping good.