Friday, September 30, 2011

Color Overload: Seattle Farmer's Market

A few weeks ago, I headed north to Seattle to attend a lovely wedding and catch up with an old college buddy.  The weekend was just fantastic, as was the University District Saturday Farmer's Market!  I wandered through the stalls, oggling at the absolutely beautiful produce and wishing I had a stove.  I was also struck by the abundance of wild and cultured mushrooms.  As I am still reeling in the tomatoes, we have not yet reached mushrooming season down here.  But the Pacific Northwest, with its abundant rainfall, is swimming in gorgeous mushrooms.  I am eagerly looking forward to our mushroom season and many more meals of mushrooms on toast.

There was also a great selection of cheeses, including a stand from one of my favorite creameries: Willapa Hills from Doty, Washington.  I first found them at the California Artisan Cheese Festival in 2010.  Upon arriving in Seattle I picked up some of their Two Faced Blue, a delicious sheep/cow blue cheese.  At the market I also got to try the Pluvius, a cow's milk table cheese that reminded me of a slightly milder feta that I could barely keep my hands off.  I left with some of that, too.  Yum.

Now, please enjoy the colors and textures of Seattle's U District Saturday Farmer's Market!



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tomato Feast!

I believe it was less than a month ago when I predicted that all the tomatoes would probably ripen at once.  Well, I am pleased to report that I was correct.  The tomatoes are coming in by the basketful now and earlier this week I went out and harvested... 19 pounds of tomatoes!  What?!?!?  And I was only picking the super-ripe ones.  I am sure I could have bumped that up to 25 lbs if I wanted to harvest purely for numbers.  That's just how the garden is- when it rains, it pours.  Not a bad showing for a Tuesday morning.

This harvest was so large that, for the first time, I learned the limit of my little digital scale- 9 pounds.  I had to remove one of the Carbon tomatoes in the photo above and measure it individually to get the total poundage of that variety.  If you look closely, you can see that the scale is reading "EEEE"... not terribly helpful in the quantification department.

The above photo shows the tomatoes separated into individual varieties.  They are (clockwise from top left): Mortgage Lifter, Carbon, 1 purpley-green unripe Carbon that had fallen off the plant, 1 Pineapple, 2 Black Krim, and a bowl of Sungolds.  Holy cow! 

So what to do with all these tomatoes?  There was Sungold Caprese Salad, a tomato-for-jam swap, and gazpacho!  It is unbelievable to me that I made it all the way to September before making gazpacho.  It is one of my favorite summer meals and an excellent use for fresh, homegrown tomatoes.  I've used a variety of different recipes over the years, but for this batch I just modified the good ole Joy of Cooking.  I am pleased with the results and it was such a hit the other night that I got a recipe request for it!  So here it is, a simple and delicious use for those late-season tomatoes.

Serves 8-10
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

bell peppers (I used orange and yellow for a sweeter flavor), seeds and ribs removed
1 English cucumber, peeled
~4-5 lbs tomatoes (I used 2 Mortgage Lifter, 2 Black Krim, and 3 or 4 Carbon)
4 cloves garlic
~1/4-1/2 cup red wine vinegar
~3-4 Tablespoons olive oil
~2 heaping teaspoons Kosher salt
1. Roughly chop peppers, cucumber and tomatoes.  Reserve juices from tomatoes as you are cutting.  In batches, (unless your blender is humongous) "chop" vegetables together in a blender; use tomato juices for liquid to enable blending (or use a little water if more liquid is needed).  Remove each batch to a large bowl as it is finished.

2. On last round of blending, add minced garlic cloves, red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt.  Add to large bowl and stir to combine.

3. Let gazpacho sit, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.  The longer it sits, the more developed the flavor becomes (though after a few days the garlic may be too strong).

4. Taste for seasoning- it may need more salt, some pepper (crushed red pepper flakes? paprika?), or a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve cold or room temperature.


Friday, September 23, 2011

A Perk of Growing Your Own

I recently met up with some friends for dinner and offered to bring gazpacho as I am currently inundated in tomatoes.  One of those friends instantly offered a swap: her homemade jam for my homegrown tomatoes.  Done! 

There is something so satisfying about bartering with things you put time and effort into in a way that money just doesn't have.  It's also more pleasing to trade with friends than to get presents.  I know that she and her family will be enjoying MKG tomatoes for the next few days, while my husband and I will be enjoying her Strawberry-Rhubarb jam.  There's just something about that knowledge that makes me feel content. 

This is one of the best perks of growing your own: sharing the things we work hard to create with others who do the same.  I am a satisfied gardener.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Weekend Activity: Eat Real Festival

The Eat Real Festival is back on in Oakland this year!  For three days, September 23-25, it will be taking over Jack London Square.  I went to two days of it last year and it was spectacular.  There are food trucks abounding with amazing and varied dishes - I remember eating dim sum and cupcakes and pizza and a BLT and .... so much good food!  Plus they also have beer and wine, and if that weren't enough, they have demonstrations on urban homesteading and how-tos for the kitchen/farm!  Last year I watched a backyard chicken presentation as well as a kimchi-making demonstration.  Oh, and there was a butchering competition, too.  I also submitted my homemade Backyard Ruby Pluot Jam to the canning contest (sweetened with local honey) and I didn't win (there were over 40 entries) but I got some really good comments back.

All-in-all, it is truly an awesome event and I highly recommend attending.  Oh yeah, and it's free.  Score.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sungold City

Once upon a time I didn't appreciate the variations in vegetable flavor provided by different varieties.  I knew different types of tomato provided different textures, and cherry tomatoes were generally the sweetest.  But over the last few years, as I've tried a variety of tomato plants in the MKG, I've found a whole world of flavor open up to me.  The purple tomatoes have a depth to their taste, sometimes described as smokey.  The big red tomatoes of burger-topping-style tend to be more acidic.  And the yellow and orange tomatoes are just plain sweet.

All of these different flavors have a certain place in cooking and eating, and I appreciate them all.  But nothing compares to the Sungold cherry tomato.  If you read this blog, I assume you have already heard the virtues of the Sungold cherry tomato extolled at length in other blogs and magazines etc.  Suffice it to say that they are stunningly sweet, like tomato-flavored candy, and the most lovely shade of warm orange, the kind of color that looks like summer.  I would recommend anyone interested in growing tomatoes plant a Sungold cherry, and if you don't have one at home, pick them up whenever they appear at the farmer's market.  Seriously.

Sungolds are great for a ton of different recipes.  I often eat them fresh off the vines or as a snack whenever I walk through the kitchen (a bowl of them graces the counter all season).  I also love making this amazing dish from Make Grow Gather.  Roasted sungolds and basil oil, drizzled over burrata.  Mmmmmm.  If it's not too hot to turn the oven on, this recipe is a guaranteed winner.  But if it's still a little warm out, and you want a quick recipe to savor those sungolds in, give this Sungold Caprese Salad a try.  It makes a great snack all summer long and is a perfect salad to mix up in a mason jar and tote to a picnic (along with a batch of zucchini carpaccio).

Sungold Caprese Salad
Adapted from everywhere- it's a Caprese salad folks.
Serves 4-8

2 pints Sungold cherry tomatoes
1 10 oz. container bocconcini mozzarella, drained
1 handful basil, sliced into ribbons or torn into chunks
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

1. Put Sungolds, bocconcini, and slivered basil into a salad bowl (or large Mason jar).

2. Assemble vinaigrette: put olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar.  Cover and shake until well-mixed.

3. Pour dressing into salad bowl.  Toss and serve.


If you want, you could always cut the bocconcini in half to make smaller bites, but that just takes longer, doesn't it?
Also, you could marinade the bocconcini in the dressing to impart more of the oil/vinegar flavor, if that's what you're into.

Friday, September 16, 2011

GBBD September 2011

The sedum "Autumn Joy" have finally joined the rest of the flowers blooming in the garden! They are just as lovely as I'd hoped and they are an absolute bee magnet! They are always covered in a half dozen bees at least. The California fuchsia refuse to falter (happy hummingbirds) while the buckwheat is starting to fade. The blooms have been pretty stagnant around here- I'm happy to add the sedum to the group.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tomato Time!

Clockwise from top: Isis Candy cherry tomato, Mortgage Lifter, Carbon,
San Marzano, and Black Krim 
 We're three months behind but we're finally hitting tomato season here at the MKG.  I am definitely ready for tomato time.  On Sunday I went out into the garden and harvested just over seven pounds of tomatoes.  What?!?  From nothing to 7 lbs in a few weeks.  Oh, gardening, it's always all or nothing.

Now it's time to figure out what to do with all of them.  For the Sungolds I have my eye on my go-to Sungold Caprese Salad.  The San Marzanos are great in sauce or as slow-roasted tomatoes.  The Black Krim and Carbons will probably find their way into gazpacho, and the Mortgage Lifter will become part of a nice heirloom tomato salad.  Any of the above will work well in the MKG Summer Veggie Tart... the recipe for which will be posted soon!

So how is tomato season where you are?  Is it long gone or just beginning?  And what would you do with this bounty?

And also, a pile of Sungolds

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Plethora of Pretty Purple Peppers

Behold, two of my favorite Bostonians at their first California Farmer's Market-
Santa Barbara, August, 2004:

That is what it looks like when you meet your first purple pepper.

In honor of those two, I've been sure to plant one purple pepper plant every year in the MKG.  The fruits start to ripen and it reminds me of that picture, and those friends, and that summer, and it makes my heart happy. 

This year I went a little crazy and planted TWO purple pepper plants- Tequila, a purple bell, and Pretty Purple Pepper, a teeny purple hot pepper.  I am quite impressed with both plants.  There are a plethora of pretty purple peppers dotting the small plant, and the Tequila pepper ripened quite nicely even in this strange and unusually cool summer weather (p.s. the forecast for today is 95°F... huh?).

The thing about the hot peppers, though, is I am totally scared of them.  I'm a bit of a pansy when it comes to heat and these are supposed to pack a real punch.  I'll have to try them out on my Californian husband- he has a higher heat tolerance than I do.  But if they aren't too bad, can you just imagine how awesome guacamole would look studded with purple onion and purple pepper?  Way more visually interesting than a boring old green jalapeño.  They would also make pretty pickled peppers, but they are so small that one plant would barely provide enough for a quarter-pint.

As for the Tequila pepper, I think a raw preparation would be best to preserve that lovely color.  In fact, I have some blue corn growing that should be ready soon.  Perhaps I will save the pepper so that I can make a blue corn soup, garnished with chopped purple pepper! 

Vegetables are just way more fun when they are crazy colors.  Seriously- take a look at those ladies in the first picture again.  They are having a ton of fun with vegetables.  Awesome.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Savory Strawberry Crostini

The strawberries have been ripening a few at a time all summer.  Usually, they don't even make it into the house.  I just pop them into my mouth and continue harvesting around the garden.  However, now the strawberries seem to be picking up steam.  On Friday I harvested about a pint at once!  It was time to do something intentional with the harvest.

It was really hot here this weekend (into the 90s) and I didn't feel like making a big fuss.  I also wanted something savory for my snack and the perfectly-ripe strawberries weren't going to last sitting on the counter indefinitely.  I decided to take a cue from Brazil where one of the most popular sandwich pairings is apricot jam and brie.  It is a delicious combination.  I toasted up a few pieces of bread, added a splash of olive oil, a slathering of brie, a layer of sliced strawberries, and a liberal dose of balsamic vinegar.  Yum, yum, yum!  If I had some basil or mint kicking around, I probably would have thrown some fresh herb slivers on there, too.

This makes an excellent light lunch, but I think it might be even better as an appetizer.  As I enjoyed the meal, I lamented the fact that I didn't have a nice, cold glass of Prosecco to go with it.  That would have put it right over the top.  If you find yourself hosting a Champagne brunch, I would encourage you to try this as an accompaniment.  Just slice up a baguette and toast lightly in the oven, then follow the recipe below.  It is definitely a winner.

Savory Strawberry Crostini
serves 1 or 2
easily upscaled to an appetizer, just use a baguette

2 slices bread
1 pint strawberries
3-4 slices brie
olive oil
1-2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. Lightly toast bread.  Slice strawberries.  Slice brie.

2. Brush toasted bread with olive oil.  Place brie slices on toast and spread.  Place strawberries on top of brie.  Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the toasts.


* If you want to make this into an appetizer, I would suggest tossing the strawberries with the balsamic, then placing them onto the crostini.

** You might want to add a dash of sea salt on top, depending on how salty the brie is.

Friday, September 2, 2011

August 2011 MKG Harvest

Zephyr, Sunburst & Black Spineless zukes,
Maxibel & yellow wax beans, Sungolds
The August harvest is usually totally over the top.  So much food!  But this year, what with the cool weather hindering tomato ripening and a bunch of traveling, the August harvest is looking a little sparse.  September though- I can feel it.  There will be tomatoes coming out of my ears.

The main veggies on the plate in August were green beans and zucchini, along with a steady stream of strawberries here and there.  The chard is still out of its mind and pumping out plump leaves (the plants are coming up on a year old!).  And finally, last week, I got a ripe tomato that wasn't a Sungold!  I love Sungolds more than anything else, but I've been looking forward to having some proper big tomatoes and was pleased to harvest a trio of Romas.

August 2011 MKG Harvest

9 Black Spineless zucchini
Zephyr squash
Sunburst patty pan squash
1 Cocozelle zucchini
~ 2 lbs Maxibel green beans
~1/2 lb yellow wax beans
1 large bunch chard
15 strawberries (about a pint)
2 Meyer lemons
2 pints Sungold cherry tomatoes
3 San Marzano tomatoes
plus whatever the cat-sitters harvested

Those items became:

Zucchini Carpaccio
Zucchini Basil Flatbreads
Sauteed shredded zucchini
Sauteed green beans with butter
Raw green beans snack
Potstickers with garlicky greens
Fresh strawberries
"Lemon ice"
Raw chopped tomatoes with salt

I already know that my September harvest will include more peppers and eggplants.  This year just seems to be a couple months behind schedule.  Baba ganoush as a fall dish?  Apparently.
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