Category Archives: Gardening

Gazpacho 2

Gazpacho

Gazpacho has been on my mind lately.  As I’ve waited for my tomatoes to ripen, I’ve been perusing recipes and mentally rejiggering them to suit my own requirements.  I wanted to reproduce the gazpacho I had in Spain last summer at a back-alley outdoor café in the shadow of the Alcazar, with the sun shining just beyond the sharp shadows of the table umbrellas, a Toledo alley cat winding around my ankles, the clatter from inside the kitchen, the smell of baking breading and cigarette smoke, and a first sip that was so cold and refreshing I could feel it all the way down to my hot, dusty toes…in short, I wanted to do the impossible.

Never have I seen such a terrible summer for tomato lovers.  I’ve harvested a few cherry tomatoes, but the rest of my crop remains steadfastly green.  If they could move indoors with me, out of the damp chill, I’m sure they would.

At the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, I perused zillions of beautiful organic tomatoes, grown in sunnier parts of the state.  They were gorgeous, and no doubt worth the four or five dollars a pound they were going for.  But then!  Then I happened upon a corner in which rested box upon box of the unlovelies.  I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for bargain rate cosmetically challenged tomatoes all summer with no luck.  At last, at last…here they were.  Organic tomatoes, $2.00 per pound.  A crowd jostled around the crates, one person even squatting over a box of tomatoes like a territorial lioness protecting her kill from hyenas.  A little overripe, or misshapen or cracked, all different sizes and colors, they really were beautiful in their own way.

This gazpacho may not be exactly the same, but it’s darned close to the one I had in Spain.  Cold, crisp, bright with vinegar and tangy with fresh vegetables, it is a taste of summer.  If you should be so fortunate as to have ripe tomatoes in your garden, you are already half way there.  Serve in mugs for an easy walk-around first course, or in bowls garnished with chopped hard-boiled egg and a hunk of crusty bread on the side.

 

Gazpacho

  • 4 cups seeded, diced tomatoes tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • ¼ cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 3-inch long piece of baguette, crust discarded
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp Sherry vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ cup olive oil

Soak bread in water for 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Combine bread, garlic, vinegar, salt, sugar, cumin, peppers, and cucumber, and half of tomatoes.  Blend until smooth.  Add remaining tomatoes and olive oil, blend until tomatoes are finely chopped.

Transfer to a glass container and chill until cold, approx. 3 hours.  Season with additional salt and vinegar as needed before serving.

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Spring Fever

It’s just a tease, I know—not a promise.  But when the weather suddenly turns beautiful in February, as it has here in Seattle for a few deliciously warm sunny days, I can’t help it.  I get spring fever.  I know we’ve still got a long haul until spring is here to stay—months of cool rainy weather to get through in fact—but this weekend.  Oh, this weekend.  I felt the sun on my bare arms, and put my sunglasses on for the first time in months.  The sailboats went scudding around Lake Union and everyone in Seattle seemed to be at Greenlake on Sunday afternoon.  I opened all the windows and let the breeze blow through the house.  I stepped out into the garden to pick the last scrunchy curls of winter kale before I start planting again, and thought about seeds and steer manure.

And how could we not go to the UW Farmer’s Market and stroll around in the sunshine, talking to farmers and looking at eggs and grass-fed beef and honey and pastries and jam and…well, I get a little giddy when the sun comes out.

So maybe the spring fever was responsible for the all the Aperol this weekend.  An Italian aperitif, Aperol is a pinky-orange cousin to Campari.   I first tried Aperol just a few weeks ago in a cocktail with champagne and absinthe.  It was, I must say, quite drinkable.

Then I saw a recipe for a dessert called Arance all’Aperol on delicious days, just about the time the sun came out.  The combination of oranges and blood oranges soaked in vanilla sugar, lime zest and Aperol beckoned with a promise of utter simplicity and a glow of brilliant colors– the impossible pinks and oranges of a Caribbean sunset, or a bouquet of spring tulips.

I knew this had to be the next installment in my dessert initiative.  And after my oranges had soaked in their pretty bath, they became something surprisingly delicious.  A little sweet, but more complicated than that, with a dizzying array of flavors dancing together like a taste of spring.  The recipe suggested adding whipped cream or custard, but it did just fine on its own.

But there was still a lot of sunny weekend left, and a lot of Aperol left in the bottle, too.  Somehow, in the course of a few warm days, I became a devotee to kombucha.  I’d been hearing about this fermented tea drink in magazines and all over the internet, so I decided to try some and I fell madly in love with its hints of sweet and tart, its whisper of fizzy fermentation.  I had to get more from the store as soon as I finished the first bottle.  Now, all of the health claims made about kombucha may not be true, but it certainly is delicious.

And just like that, inspiration struck.  I looked back and forth between the bottle of Aperol and the citrus flavored kombucha.  A lightbulb turned on over my head, and I mixed a half ounce each of vodka and Aperol with a wine glass of kombucha.

The color of the Aperol was muted to a rosy peach.  And this ice-cold cocktail tasted of spring itself—of picnics on lush grass next to a slow-moving river, of whispers and giggles, croquet and Easter dresses and pink toenail polish.

As soon as you see the sun, do not hesitate.  Mix some up and share it with your girlfriends, or your sisters, or your book club.

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Fall Back

It’s Sunday morning at 8:00 am and I’m yanking carrots out of the ground, wearing pajamas and a pair of Birkenstocks.  It’s a surprisingly clear morning.  Drops of water sparkle on every leaf, the hummingbird that lives in the hedge is swooping and peeping, and I’m wide awake.  I shake mud off of the flaming orange carrots, then snip a few branches of rosemary and a handful of kale before scuffing back into the house to trade Birkenstocks for slippers and put together a crock-pot full of chicken soup. 

Every year, I eagerly anticipate the end of daylight savings.  I look forward to falling back—into bed that is, for an extra hour of precious sleep every morning.  So why, in the name of all that is holy, am I out in the damp garden pulling carrots, instead of pulling the covers back up to my chin for another delicious hour (or two)?  I didn’t have any problem sleeping until 11:00 am on Saturday morning, and in fact, only woke up then because of an untimely phone call.  Clearly, my internal clock has gone rogue this morning. 

Whatever the reason, wide awake is what I am, and it’s soup season, so I’m making soup. 

I peel, and chop, and season, and strip the meat from the carcass of last week’s roasted chicken.  And when the crock-pot is full and simmering gently, I take my coffee and toast and tuck my cold toes back into bed. 

Chicken Soup

My chicken soup is, like many of my recipes, based on whatever ingredients are on hand, guided by my whim.  I generally try to pack in as many vegetables as possible, a few different carbs, and a bit of chicken, too.  The wine and fish sauce are all about boosting the umami, or intense savoriness of the flavor.  Today’s version is as follows:

Chicken Soup

 Ingredients: 

  • 6 cups vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces.  (I always include carrots, celery, and sautéed onions.  Today I added leeks, mushrooms, potatoes, turnips, green beans, zucchini, and kale.  Adapt to suit your own tastes–I don’t recommend broccoli, cauliflower, or cabbage in this soup, as they will overwhelm the other flavors). 
  • ½ cup dry small white beans
  • ¼ cup barley
  • 1 tbsp wild rice
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • ½ tsp tarragon
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock

Place all ingredients in crock-pot, finishing with enough chicken stock to fill to within 1 inch of top. Cook all day on low, adding additional broth if needed at end of cooking time.   Remove rosemary sprigs and bay leaf before serving.

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Don’t crowd me, baby

carrots in groundI’m a fickle, fair-weather gardener.  I love my garden like no other in the spring.  Absence makes my heart grow fonder, and around February I start to daydream about seeds, and draw diagrams, and prepare seed flats.  It’s fun to plan for my summer crops from the warmth of my couch. 

In March I reluctantly rake the muddy soil, and heave around bags of steer manure to nourish my beloved before rushing back inside again to warm my cold hands.  “Sorry, Garden.  You understand.  I’d love to spend more time with you, but…” 

When April rolls around and the sun begins to make it’s timid appearance, I set out lettuce and spinach and kale seedlings, and fuss over the temperature and humidity, and cross my fingers that my dear fragile darlings will not be hit with an untimely frost. 

My passionate devotion grows when I can finally set tomato plants into the ground in May.  I prepare the soil for them as if I’m making a bed for a cherished guest whose visits are never long enough, and for whom nothing is too much trouble. 

We get along great in June, my garden and I.  I come for frequent visits, and am rewarded with lettuce, and greens, and maybe a few carrot thinnings for my trouble. 

Around mid-summer though, my attention starts to wander.  “Garden,” I whine, “I have other friends too, you know.  Yes, I know you want weeding, but must it all be about you?  I’m HOT!”  I go out and drink Margaritas on a restaurant patio somewhere and come home late.  But my garden is inexorable.  We make up, and I come away with baskets full of green beans and zucchini, and I remember what made me fall in love  in the first place when the tomatoes come on.  I simply can’t get enough of their scent.  I tie the vines lovingly to their trellis, and gaze fondly upon their rosy red loveliness, and croon over my precious…  

By fall, I’ve really had enough.  Sure, there are still tomatoes on the vines, but they are pale imitations of their mid-summer predecessors.  And yes, I’ve got carrots and onions and kale still out there, loyally waiting to see me through the winter.  But I need a little space, just a little break you understand… and it’s raining, and the slugs are everywhere. 

But this year things are going to be different between us.  I’ve made a commitment.  I’m going to be more nurturing, invest in the health of my patch of earth.  I’m not just a taker in this relationship, I’m a giver. 

I planted a winter crop of fava beans, aka green manure, to enrich the soil.  Then I went halfsies with my urban-farmer friend Tobin on a five-pound bag of Fall Mix Cover Crop Seeds. 

When he handed over my share of the loot in a gallon Ziploc, it looked like nothing so much as a big bag of pilaf mix.  A pilaf made of Austrian Field Peas, Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, Annual and Winter Rye, and advertised to “help control weeds and erosion while adding valuable nitrogen and organic matter”.  So that meant that I had to get out there and clear the ground, and broadcast my seeds, even though I’d really rather be inside eating pilaf or, well…doing pretty much anything else. 

Now my cover crop is already sprouting, like a whiskery green 5 o’clock shadow covering the damp ground.  So this winter, my garden need not feel neglected, tucked under it’s cozy covers until spring comes, when I’ll turn all of this greenery under to enrich the earth, and we’ll pick up where we left off.

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Chard

Scooter in the gardenI had to hurry.  By the time I got home from work the sun had already dipped behind the hedges, and shadows were swiftly falling over the garden.  Armed with scissors and colander and accompanied by my cat, Scooter, I raced against the fading light to harvest enough chard for dinner before the slugs made their nightly appearance.  Because, I must confess, I am much too squeamish to risk twilight encounters with slugs. 

 The curly, sturdy kale will last all winter if I’m lucky, but the chard has been going fast.  Still, enough remains for a few more meals.  I carried my colander full of summer-green goodness inside.

                                 Rainbow Chard

As soon as the urgent business of chard harvesting was accomplished, the pace slowed down.  It was so delicious to have a free weeknight, with no dinner plans, no committee meeting or yoga class, to not get an oil change or do errands or laundry or even go on a run.  I pulled on my most comfortable sweatpants, the ones that are too old and ratty to wear with any witnesses- even to go to the grocery store I have to swap them out for a higher-class of sweatpants. And slippers were definitely required, what with the chill in the air.   

I turned on some cooking music.  Tonight’s selection: Appalachia Waltz by Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor.  Then I washed and inspected the chard carefully, rinsing under the curling edges of each leaf, to ensure that no dirt or bugs remained. 

Before proceeding further, I got out some of the roasted chicken and root vegetables left over from Sunday, as chard cooks quickly. 

The process couldn’t be simpler, and here it is: I chopped the leaves into approximately inch-wide ribbons, discarding the stems. After heating a small amount of olive oil in a wok, I quickly sautéed the greens until just barely limp, then turned up the heat and squeezed some lemon juice over the top.  A quick dash of salt and a few grinds of the peppermill, a final stir, and the now perfectly steamed chard joined the chicken and root vegetables on my plate. 

This fall crop of chard tastes stronger than it did in the spring.  Then, it was light green and refreshing, and I stir-fried it with the delicate chopped stems included.  Now, the greens are darker, have a much earthier flavor, full of soil and sunshine, more mature, as befits the season.

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