Monday, June 29, 2009

nibbling, munching and audible gasps

One evening last week I took a walk out to the garden to visit the tiny veggies and to assess the workload for the following morning.

I took note that there would still be lettuce for picking and even snapped off a few remaining pea pods before I noticed the beans.

At which point I let out an audible gasp.
Nearly the entire center of four rows devoid of leaves - munched to the stalks, tiny beanlettes left exposed! Barely a plant was left un-nibbled.

Heartsick, I then discovered the evidence:
Deer. In the garden. Feasting away.
Needless to say, a better fence is in order; however that is not immediately possible. The current method of deer defense involves the application of a wretched-smelling (though all-natural) repellent solution around the perimeters.
When one grows vegetable plants, she can expect to defend the crop from all manner of detrimental insects and weeds, slowly, day-by-day, a bit of work here, a bit there. It is quite another thing to wake one morning and find the entire garden bare - a very real possibility with deer, rabbits, or even raccoons sniffing about.
I am fortunate to have lost so little, though it still makes me sigh to see those bare stalks. My home would not be the same without my animal neighbors, but with a little luck and some perseverance, perhaps I can turn their attention from my own garden back to the wild.

In the meantime, I'll take in the survivors and savor my harvest just that much more.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


The beets are in.
I'd say it's pretty rewarding to venture out to the patch and pluck up these hardy roots. Perhaps more than their above-ground neighbors, beets, carrots and radishes seem to give me the most sense of wonder. I suppose since I can't see what's going on down there I am naturally curious and genuinely giddy when I can finally see what they've been up to for so many weeks...
Good job, beets - way to grow!
Mixed Beet Salad with Anise Hyssop
(adapted from the recipe for Red and Golden Beets with Anise Hyssop from Deborah's Madison's book: Local Flavors)

6 medium Chioggia beets
6 medium Detroit Dark Red beets
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 a medium red onion, sliced into very thin rounds (use a mandoline if available)
1 1/2 Tb. Champagne vinegar
1 large sprig of flat-leaf parsley
1 large sprig of anise hyssop

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the sliced onions and vinegar in dish, sprinkle with salt and refrigerate while you prepare the beets.

Wash, trim and peel the Chioggia beets. Quarter them and place them in a shallow roasting pan. Toss with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with just a pinch of salt. Roast the beets in the oven just until fork tender - about 35 minutes, depending on their size. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

While the Chioggia beets are roasting, wash and steam the Detroit Dark Red beets until fork tender - about 35 minutes, depending on their size. Place the cooked beets in a colander and run cold water over them until cool, rubbing the skins off as you rinse. Trim and thinly slice the peeled beets into rounds.

Layer the sliced Detriot Dark Red beets on a platter, scatter the quartered Chioggia beets over them. Top the beets with the onion slices and pour a bit of the soaking vinegar over the dish. Finely chop the parsley and hyssop to garnish the salad. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. If you have them, scatter over the top a few hyssop blossoms or nasturtium flowers to finish the dish.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yunnanese Potatoes

June is a whirlwind; the lettuce just keeps coming - collards and chard and snow peas too. The beets are surfacing, the melons and squashes are all stretching out along the ground. Corn is growing taller each day and the garlic is nearly ready for curing. In the midst of all this, a quick (unfortunately blurry) dinner of pan-fried potatoes makes good use of the just-cut garlic scapes and snips of the ever-plentiful chives.
Adjusted from the recipe for Quick and Tasty Yunnanese Potatoes in this book (which I cannot seem to put down), they are simple new potatoes - parboiled, allowed to cool, then pressed between the palms and fried with plenty of chopped green onions, garlic scapes and chives in little mixture of chili-spiked coconut and mustard oils.

Quite pleasing, indeed.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

strawberry pie

In my garage, snuggled under a tiny window lined with old bottles we unearthed tilling our little patch, sits my freezer. Nearly neglected in spring and summer when the garden is in full glory, it occupies its humble spot. However, when we can't bear to look at another green pepper or can't seem to keep up with over-productive green beans, into the freezer they go. A quick blanching followed by an ice bath and a towel drying is all that's necessary. Sometimes not even that much. In the dregs of winter it's a pleasure to rustle a bag of home-grown carrots out and recall their just-picked sweetness.

It's hard, however, to gauge just how much one should put away. How many bags of shredded zucchini can you use before the next year's haul is at hand? (The answer, I'm coming to find, is approximately one, by the way - shame on me!). So I find myself looking for ways to finish off the flavors of last year, before my freezer becomes the time capsule of fruits and veggies past.
Also, it just seems a little odd to bring in pints and quarts of new sun-warm fragrant berries while that icy prior generation looks on still in hibernation.

No worries, though. This pie turned out beautifully using last year's berries (which were hulled and frozen the day they were picked).
Strawberry Pie*
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine's recipe for Fresh Strawberry Pie with Whipped Cream)

The recipe specifies the importance of using only perfectly ripe berries, but I found that my perfectly ripe frozen berries were just a luscious.


For the crust:
1 package honey graham crackers
2 Tb. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tb. sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grind the graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor until they become fine crumbs. Add the sugar and butter and process until evenly incorporated. Press the crumb mixture in the bottom an up the sides of a 9 inch pie plate. Bake the crust in the oven until golden - about 15 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.

For the filling:
2 Lbs. hulled and quartered frozen strawberries (hand-picked when perfectly ripe is ideal, of course)
3/4 C. sugar
1/3 C. fresh lemon juice
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp.) unflavored gelatin

In a large bowl combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and allow to stand, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Place a sieve over a large measuring cup and gently strain the liquid from the berries. Set the reserved berries aside. If necessary add enough water to the strawberry liquid to equal 1 1/2 cups. Pour the liquid into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface. Allow the gelatin to soften for a minute or two, then bring the mixture to a bare simmer, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. Remove the mixture from heat and, in a metal bowl, combine it with the reserved berries. Place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until it starts to thicken (the original recipe says until the mixture begins to mound, but I found this an odd term - it should be thick and just beginning to gel). When the mixture has chilled sufficiently, spoon it into the prepared, cooled, crust and refrigerate the pie for at least 4 hours (up to 24).

Serve cold with fresh whipped cream if you have it handy.

*I have altered this recipe specifically for the use of frozen berries, if you are making the pie using fresh, follow the original recipe for the pie filling through the link provided (the macerating time and liquid amount have been adjusted here to allow for the thawing and excess liquid of the frozen berries).

Monday, June 1, 2009


...for a recurring craving:Vietnamese Vermicelli Bun with Grilled Lemongrass Chicken


(The list of ingredients/accompaniments may be long, but it is easily varied and, once assembled, you have only to choose your preferred combination)

For the marinade:

1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and sliced
1 Tb. granulated sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 shallot, minced
juice of 1 lime
2 Tb. Vietnamese fish sauce
splash of tamari (or other soy sauce)
1 Tb. sunflower, canola or peanut oil

1 - 1 1/2 Lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast, pounded very thin
(shrimp or tofu would be good also)

Suggested accompaniments:

1 package rice vermicelli, cooked, drained and rinsed in cold water
shredded Romain lettuce
fresh sprigs of mint, cilantro and basil
lime wedges
nuoc chom*
Vietnamese hot chili sauce
julienned carrot, cucumber and scallions
fresh mung bean sprouts
chopped peanuts
crispy fried shallots


Crush the lemongrass with the sugar and salt with a mortar and pestle until a paste is made (a food processor may also be used). In a shallow bowl, combine the lemongrass paste with the shallot, lime juice, fish sauce, tamari, and oil. Stir to combine and add the chicken, being sure to coat each piece. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours.

Bring the chicken to room temperature and prepare charcoal grill. When coals are ready, grill the chicken until cooked through and nicely seared. Remove to a board, allow to cool slightly, and slice the chicken into 1/2 inch strips.

Assemble the bun: For each serving, add to a large bowl a bit of shredded lettuce, some of the julienned vegetables and bean sprouts. Top with a serving of vermicelli. Lay strips of the chicken on top of the noodles, and serve with torn herbs, fried shallots, peanuts, lime wedges, nuoc chom, and chili sauce.
*Nuoc chom recipes abound - I used the version found in this book. However, the ratio of lime juice/rice vinegar to fish sauce and the addition of hot chilies and/or garlic are largely subject individual tastes and are easily modified by experimentation.
It's beginning to taste like summer.