Category Archives: May 2011

Recipes by date

Beach, Garden, and Redemption Soup

Our vacation on the beach came to an end this Memorial Day weekend.  Gentle waves, tepid azure seawater, an unfailingly cheery sun and balmy temperatures bestowed us with long, lovely days outdoors.  Best of all, we all managed to escape being stung by the schools of stingrays that floated lazily up and down coastline letting the waves buffet them up and down the tips of their wings flashing like tiny shark fins.  Brave and/or foolhardy souls actually stood in the surf while the mass gently undulated, kissing like butterfly wings as they meandered on their way.  The tiny creatures that live in the shallow waves breaking onto sandy beaches belie the teeming mass of animals that make the seas their home.  Whenever I am in the ocean I rarely raise my eyes from searching the depths of the water around me in hopes of glimpsing some errant sea creature come just a little too close to shore.  The stingrays were not an unwelcome surprise.  We also captured a sand crab holding him temporarily hostage to entertain the boys with his Houdini-like escape skills.   And to top off our cavorting with nature’s creatures, we visited Winter who is the acclaimed dolphin with the prosthetic tail.  Harry Connick Jr. & Morgan Freeman star in a movie about her life.  Nature in all its glory (I mean Winter, not Harry).

Stingrays in the surf

Garden Dilemmas

I’ve been trying to germinate green peppers for two months now.  Finally I stuck a few seeds in a tiny plastic pot and put it on my kitchen windowsill.  The tiny sprouts were just struggling to push aside the soil and I couldn’t bear to leave it alone for a week while we were on vacation.  So I took it on vacation with us.  It resided very happily on the patio and I talked to it daily.  I was rewarded with two sturdy, leafy sprouts.  I brought it home and put it on the back porch to re-acquainted with the family and I went to check on it this morning I discovered two sad, spindly, leafless stalks.  Some damn critter must have eaten the leaves.  I hope it gets a bellyache.  Fortunately, two more sprouts are emerging so I brought the pot back inside to the windowsill with another tiny pot where I’m trying to germinate oregano.  Do you know if you very gently stroke seedling leaves the plants will grow stockier and sturdier?  Give it a try – just do it when no one is watching.

Aside from a daily watering, my garden was left unattended for the seven days we were away.  When I am home, I visit the backyard several times daily to see if anything exciting has happened in my absence.  For that reason, the garden has seemed to grow at a snail’s pace.  Imagine my excitement to come home to find the tomato plants doubled in size,  one spectacular chartreuse cucumber, basil  begging to be made into pesto with extra to freeze,  newly opened periwinkle borage blossoms…these are the joys of gardening.

Mini Cucumber

Alas, the powdery mildew has not disappeared completely from the zucchini and the tomatoes now host a family of newly hatched caterpillars.  I really despise caterpillars.  I gave them a good bath with bacillus thuringienesis.  I hope they are drinking it up and it is corroding their little bellies into a fatal mass of rotten goo.  How violent.  Have you ever considered gardening as a violent activity?  With all the talk about organics, companion planting, crop rotation, composting, treading lightly on our earth, etc.  I still have my very own Quentin Tarentino bloodbath happening in my backyard.   Barbara Kingsolver touched on this subject in her completely engrossing, enlightening, erudite book Animal Vegetable Miracle.

Borage Flowers

Even the most humane gardening practices will unavoidably cause harm to earth’s creatures.  But just because we feel comfortable destroying living beings on a small-scale for our own improvement does not give us license to destroy on the factory farming scale.  Now for a glimpse of my dark side:  my conscience is completely comfortable with the wholesale massacre of innocent caterpillars.  I may still have some bug guts under my nails from this morning’s raid.

Since this December 2010, I have eaten a mostly vegetarian diet.  Well, while on vacation last week I slipped off the vegetarian wagon and boy am I suffering the effects.  I ate lots of fish and seafood and I feel AWFUL!  My stomach is all queasy, I feel lethargic, I haven’t slept well, let’s not mention my bathroom habits but suffice it to say the machinery is malfunctioning.  And the cravings!  Last night I CRAVED Chinese food – the bad stuff – breaded and fried animal.  And I gorged on this stuff until I felt I could eat no more and then I ate some more.  About 30 minutes after my gluttonous rampage I felt like I hit a brick wall.  I could barely keep my eyes open and my body felt like it was trying to run a marathon while I was lying down.  So I get the message.  Too much animal protein stresses my body and I have enough external stress without bringing it inside.  What is it about the crazy cravings unwholesome food brings on?  I need to return to sanity.  Bring on the fruits and veggies!!

So I made what I call Redemption Soup on Sunday.  The recipe is adapted from The New Mediterranean Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and she calls it by its traditional name, Gazpacho.  Full of raw, nutrient packed veggies it is just what an overindulged tummy needs.  The soup will be creamy, cold, tart, refreshing and your body will thank you with glowing skin, a clear, focused mind and the energy of a two-year old (I wish).

Redemption Soup

6 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes *easy peeling instructions below

1 cucumber peeled and chopped

1 green pepper chopped

1/2 red onion chopped and then soaked in cold water for 15 minutes (this step takes away some of the onion’s pungency)

1 thick slice day old French bread soaked in cold water and then squeezed dry (I didn’t have day old bread so I put the slice in the microwave and zapped it until dry – less than a minute)

1 tsp toasted and ground whole cumin  **instructions below

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp sherry

1/2 cup very good quality extra virgin olive oil (yes, this is an extravagant amount, but trust me, its worth it)

salt & pepper to taste

Garnish:

1 chopped boiled egg

1 tbsp. capers

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

1 finely diced jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed)

Place the tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, and drained red onion in a blender and process until pureed.   (I have a small blender so I whirled half the veggies, poured them in a bowl and then processed the remainder in a second batch) Tear the bread into pieces and add it to the vegetable puree in the blender.  Add in the cumin, vinegar and sherry and process until everything is very smooth.  With the motor running slowly pour in the oil and then add salt and pepper to taste.  If you have split the vegetable puree in two batches, pour the seasoned half into the first batch and stir together to combine.  In a separate bowl, stir together the capers, parsley and jalapeno.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped egg and caper mixture.

*Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Carefully drop in the whole tomatoes 2 or 3 at a time.   Leave the tomatoes in for 2-3 minutes or until the skin starts to crack open.  Immediately remove the tomatoes and drop them in a bowl of ice water until they are cold enough to handle.  The peels will slide right off without taking a lot of the flesh with them.

** Heat the cumin seeds in a skillet on medium heat just until they become fragrant.  Grind in a coffee grinder – if you don’t have a coffee grinder be creative and use something heavy (rolling pin, cast iron skillet, bricks, etc.) to crush them.

The sugars in the vegetables provide active energy, the protein in the egg helps ground the potent energy burst and the miraculous product of the jewel of the Mediterranean, olive oil, just keeps all systems running smoothly.

I would be remiss to neglect mentioning one of my favorite movies of all time Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown directed by Pedro Almodovar.  Pepa, the heroine, in a fit of despair over her breakup with her lover, empties a bottle of sleeping pills in the blender with her gazpacho.  Various supporting characters stop by her apartment and sip the gazpacho resulting in hilarious complications.   Great movie! Great gazpacho!  Give both of them a try – together would be ideal – minus the sleeping pills, of course.

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All About My Garden

The fall before my oldest son turned one I set up two raised garden beds in my backyard.  I planted a bunch of vegetables that were loved to death by caterpillars – the big, juicy Chartreuse ones that make you feel like you are murdering a small animal when you stomp them and their guts ooze and leave a greasy residue you have to wash away with the hose. YUCK.  Weeds then came along and choked what the caterpillars rejected.  At least my procreation plans moved right along and I got pregnant again.  Fast-forward two years and now that I no longer have a baby attached to my breast (well not for nourishment anyway) the second incarnation of my garden is underway.  Three cedar log raised beds replace the two plywood 4×4 beds I began with three years ago.   I’ve also repurposed one corner flowerbed for edible plants.  Hold your breath, here’s what growing in my suburban backyard:

  • Ronde de Nice zucchini
  • Flageolet beans
  • Calypso beans
  • Christmas lima beans
  • Miniature white cucumber
  • Forellenschluss lettuce
  • Aunt Molly’s ground cherry
  • Sweet Pea currant tomatoes
  • Rainbow tomatoes
  • Heirloom Greek tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Nasturtiums
  • Calendula
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Greek Oregano
  • Savory
  • Lovage
  • Borage
  • Bee balm
  • Red Velvet Sunflowers
  • Mint from summers past that refuses to die

Okay, I have only three raised garden beds, (well, a total of four beds with the ground level plot where I’ve sown the ground cherries and one of the beds is 4×7) how, you might ponder, do I have room for all these plants?

Newly sprouted bee balm

Well…. seeds are miniscule capsules of future promises and you can toss A LOT of them onto the soil and their green heads so teeny tiny when they pop above the soil.

When I planned the “major” plants, I really had no idea how big the beans would grow (see previous post about “Cooking Beans”) and now I wish I had planted more of them.  And due to my congenital lack of patience, I want all the bare dirt covered NOW with a carpet of verdant, fecund green.

The growing rate of the different plants took me by surprise.  I planted all the seeds on February 26 in peat pots.  Some seeds lulled around like divas in a mud bath and some set their sights on the checkered flag.  Now in early May the Christmas limas have outgrown their 6’ bamboo supports, my currant tomatoes have teeny yellow blossoms on foot tall plants, and the squash pumps out blossoms like Lucy & Ethel’s chocolate factory.  Sadly, troopers that they are, my little ground cherries could be mistaken for an amuse bouche garnish.  However, I do realize that if all goes as planned, come July, my backyard will make the Little Shop of Horrors look like a petunia patch.

Ronde de Nice Squash Blossoms

No seriously, at this point in time, most of the plants are in their adolescence, just now showing the curves, muscles and hairy patches that indicate looming adulthood but not yet crying out for elbow room.   I have really had to contain myself when I make “quick” trips to Lowe’s or Home Depot.  The stores now stock a much better variety of seed than they have in the past and I find irresistible those little packets with their pretty pictures and the magical music the seeds sing to me when I shake the packet!  Just yesterday I caved in and bought rosemary and lavender plants because their plump sappy sticky bottle green leaves wafted their hypnotizing fragrance into the air and I fell in their thrall.  Those now abide in clay pots.

Next year I will be better able to anticipate my needs and so I will (promise!) purchase all my seeds through seed savers exchanges to do my part in promoting plant diversity by using heirloom, non-GMO, organic seeds.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even sketch a garden plan.

Garden May 2011

My First Dragonfruit

I am completely in awe of the amazing blogs being created.  The brilliant photography!  The witty, genius writing!   One such blog chronicles a Swedish couple, their daughter, and their six-month culinary and cultural voyage around the world.  A guest writer from Asia posted pictures on their blog of this improbably bizarre fruit called dragonfruit.  I had never heard of such a thing!  Shaped like an alien flower bud, its exterior is a vivid gaudy fuchsia and its interior is polka-dotted white and black.  Visions of an 80’s outfit I wore in high school scarily come to mind.  My husband said he had tried the fruit before but I have never in my life seen it.  Duly inspired, I took off laptop in tow to a coffee shop to get my thoughts together and plan my own brilliant blog.  While there, I searched the CSA database to find a Friday farmer’s market.  I found a Friday farmer’s market in Flagler Beach.  Coincidentally, my husband surprised me last October with a romantic birthday weekend at Flagler Beach.  We stayed in a magical bed and breakfast owned by a most genial couple.  Suddenly I had unfolding before me a day at a lovely beach AND a new farmer’s market!  I burned my tongue slurping down my coffee, packed up my things and raced back home to pick up the family and get on the road.   Flagler Beach is an hour and a half drive from Orlando but the boys napped blissfully and we got to listen to Brian Ferry in peace the entire way there.  The bridge over the intercoastal dropped us on a quaint beachside town square unfolding toward the blue Atlantic and occupied by perhaps a dozen white tents covering a plethora of colorful wares.

Flagler Beach Farmer's Market

We hurried the boys out of the car promising them a festival and then the beach (Little white lies are a mere survival tool at this point in our lives.  One does not reason with toddlers).  After a quick survey (again, casual meandering does not figure in with toddlers in tow), we entered the largest of the fruit and vegetable stands.  One of the first things my eyes landed on was a plastic bag only partially obscuring the oblong, fuchsia object about the size of an orange inside.  I could hardly believe the day’s serendipity!  Dragonfruit!  One lonely specimen but mine nonetheless.   A $3.50 treasure!

I asked the stand’s proprietor where it came from and with a shrug of her shoulders she said Miami.   Tropical Miami may or may not be an appropriate climate for the fruit of a cactus.  A topic for future exploration.  So we wrapped up our shopping, schlepped everything to the beach.  After settling under our umbrella I got out a paper plate and plastic knife and whacked unceremoniously into my prized fruit to taste it.

Yes, future posts will explore my congenital lack of patience.  What did it taste like?  Drum roll please…not much of anything.  The flesh was mildly sweet, a drier version of the confounding soft and crunchy texture of kiwi but no explosion of violently complex perfumed tropical nectar promised by the gaudy exterior.  Oh well.  For all I know it had spent the last four weeks in a cargo hold being gassed to keep from rotting.  Sigh.  But what an incredibly lovely fruit!  I refuse to lose my enthusiasm over one example.  I know when fresh and chilled (and eaten under a palm tree on a Balinese island) it must taste better so I’m not going to write it off just yet.  I just need to find a more local source.  Or better yet, go to the source.  And anyway, how can I deny the joy in this completely serendipitous day?

This website for a company based in California has a really interesting description of the fruit:  http://www.tradewindsfruit.com/dragon_fruit.htm

Closer to home, here’s a place in Miami that offers an enormous variety of exotic fruit:  http://www.tropicalfruitnursery.com/index.htm.  This culinary adventuress may have a field trip to Miami coming up soon!

The impetus for day of the dragonfruit: Green Kitchen Stories  http://www.greenkitchenstories.com