Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer's Obsession

It seems that every summer I get stuck on a preserving method. First it was pickles then I started desiccating in salt and sugar. And, last summer, I was all about the tincture. I still have some basil, sorrel and lavender tincture in the kitchen. Now, of course I will put up some the above, as a matter of fact, I already have pickled jalapeno peppers and green tomatoes.

This year I am fascinated by the concept of achar…an Indian style of pickling that is big on spices and salt, and requires hours sitting in the hot sun. Since I am spending my summer in Atlanta I am offered a more intense, concentrated heat that my north-facing apartment in New York City affords me. Mushrooms have a better chance of sprouting then any sun-dried tomato would ever have there. This will not be my first time at making an achar. Years ago when I lived in Los Angeles I made a lime achar – I was in southern California and citrus was everywhere. It was a traditional application but it was my first.
Being in Georgia my mind immediately drifted towards the state’s iconic symbol…peaches. I am very familiar with mango achar, so why not a peach? The season for peaches started a few weeks ago here and has not quite peaked, so getting under-ripe ones was not an issue. I felt that if I used ripe peaches they would breakdown too much in during the process, and I am hoping for some chunks to remain behind.

At the farmer’s market this past week I secured my green subjects, and now all there is to do is baby sit them a bit – they require a daily shaking to help distribute the salt, spices and liquid that collects on the bottom -- otherwise, it is a wait and see. There is a roasted pork, steamed snapper and bowl of rice hoping to be accompanied by this southern achar.

Peach Achar – yields approx. 1-quart
4-pounds under-ripe peaches
2-inch piece peeled ginger
1-ounce fresh turmeric – peeled
1-teaspoon fenugreek
1/2-teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3-Thai green chilies
10-whole cloves
12-whole cardamom
3-tablespoons sesame oil
1/2-cup kosher salt
1/2-cup coconut or white distilled vinegar
Wash the peaches and then cut the peaches in quarters and discard the pit. Then cut each quarter in half and place in a 4-quart clean glass or ceramic jar.

In a mortar grind the ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, peppercorns, chilies, cloves, cardamom and 1/2-cup of salt to a rough paste.

In a 6-inch sauté pan heat the sesame oil over a medium heat, and add the ginger paste. Cook the paste for about 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic.

Carefully pour the paste into the jar with the peaches. Add the vinegar and remaining 1/4-cup of salt. Secure the lid tightly, and give the jar a good shake.

Place the jar in a spot where the sun will shine upon it for at least 6 to 8 hours a day. Shake the jar daily, for 3 to 4 weeks.

Store after that in the refrigerator.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Birds sing, it’s a new day

Gather around the feeder
A rainbow; a shared joy

Whole Wheat Berry Salad - yields 6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 cups wheat berries - uncooked
6 Roma tomatoes - quartered
1 Heart of Celery - diced
1 small red onion - diced
1 English hothouse cucumber - diced
6 sprigs of mint - chopped fine
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the wheat berries to a boil over a high heat in 6 cups of water; then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the wheat berries for 30 to 40 minutes. Drain off any excess water, and cool.
Remove the pulp from the tomatoes, and push the pulp through a sieve to collect the juice. Discard the seeds. Dice the tomatoes. Mix the diced tomatoes, reserved tomato juice, celery, onion, cucumber, mint, vinegar, oil and berries together. Season the salad with salt and pepper. Serve the salad at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


And, so I have returned to my love and my nemesis – the garden and the insects that keep me on alert. Life moves along even when you don’t obsessively baby-sit, prune, coddle, and stare. In the week since I left them I was occupied with other life needs and pleasures:
the first cherries of the northeast, tender pole beans in a trio of colors carrots
so tender and sweet, and not to forget to mention time with good friends. It was good to be distracted.

Now, back in my own yard my ritual has started up anew – so many sneaking weeds to seek out and pull. Flowering herb heads to be nipped in the bud and added to the evening salad. I anxiously await the arrival of the corn and watermelon. I left the corn was no higher than my waist, and after a few drenching storms in the past week they have responded by exhibiting an adolescent growth spurt. They are now, proudly shoulder height with long tassels popping out. I know they need to cross-pollinate, and there are about nineteen stalks ready to get-down. Though I don’t think I will be harvesting any for the Fourth of July weekend but anytime there after I am sure. My itsy-bitsy orbs have swollen into quite recognizable future seed-spitting contestants, and they have spawned many new orbs.

I did get some good advise from the farmers I know up north regarding some of my trouble spots, and fingers crossed they might start to flourish. The one reassuring bit of information I got was that the habanero grows slower than the jalapeno and I should stop worrying that they are feeling neglected. I was most grateful to learn that for I am, in my mind at least, to making my chili sauce this year from my own backyard. I will wait the thirty days they want, and in the meantime the

okra requires cooking; tomatoes are bursting on almost every plant, and cucumbers and zucchinis mysteriously mature overnight.

Summer Bean Stew – yields 6 servings
7-ounces Swedish brown or kidney beans
1-large onion – chopped
4-garlic cloves – chopped
1-jalapeno - minced
1/4-pound okra – sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
3-cups chopped tomato
1/4-cup chopped fresh sage leaves
2-ears of corn – kernels only
2-small zucchini – cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2-tablespoons – roughly chopped Italian parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Soak the beans for about 8 hours in 6-cups of water. Drain the beans, and place in a 4-quart pot. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reducer to a simmer, and cook for an hour. After an hour drain the beans again, and return to the pot. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno plus 3-cups of water. Bring to a boil, and simmer for another 1-hour.

Then add into the beans the tomato, okra, and sage leaves. Simmer for 30-minutes. Stir in the corn, zucchini and parsley. Cook for another additional 10-minutes, and then season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Heading back to NYC for a week and I just had to head out at first light this morning and say good-bye. Some last minute weeding, a pruning of yellowed, energy zapping leaves and then, a quick scan for larvae. Damn, I should have left a diagram highlighting, which plants were prone to having eggs deposited upon them. Got to pull myself together. Just take it all in knowing all will be perfect. I have appointments and work to attend to that cannot be performed remotely, so adieu until the week has passed.

Now, I have left explicit instructions on what to do, which herbs were starting to flower where there will be vegetables within days of eating. As well as, how I’ve been sprinkling the morning coffee grinds and tea dregs over the garden, and which spot was to be next to receive this daily dusting of fertilizer. Do not forget to turn to compost pile at least once while I am gone, heck don’t forget to compost. I also left a plea to hand water once or twice for the oscillating sprinkler head is convenient it does not do the job I need done – the two chili pepper plants in the far corner are a be stunted and I fear not getting their share of water.

Phew, it is exhausting both physically and psychologically to grow things…I cannot imagine if I had children how I would ever let them out of my sight. I’d hate to miss anything not to mention my obvious enjoyment I get for controlling as much as I can. Really it is the commitment made and the desire to see a fruitful, bountiful outcome. The truth of the matter I am anxious to hit the farmer’s market and compare notes with some of my favorite vendors, perhaps, I hope, get some tips for my lagging lavender

and recalcitrant chamomile. Not to mention, indulge in the fruits of someone else’s labor. Maintaining a garden, farm or windowsill with life sustaining life is journey fought with anxiety, love and promise – I have an even greater appreciation for those who venture out onto their land tending plots that is not for a household but a village. This gardening dilettante bows to their energy, knowledge and survival forever grateful that they are out there to catch me when I fall.

Cucumber Salad – yields 4 servings
1/2-pound cucumber
1/4-cup lemon balm leaves – roughly chopped
2-tablespoons lemon thyme leaves – roughly chopped
2-tablespoons sorrel leaves – roughly chopped
3-tablespoons rice vinegar
2-tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the cucumber into 1/8-inch thin rounds. Toss all ingredients together, and allow it to sit for an hour or so before serving.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Some are invited

Amidst all this promise of life giving life a war wages, me versus a tenacious invader, fire ants. Indigenous to South America these aggressive, biting pests quickly move in, overtaking the more docile native population and reign by swarming and terrorizing anything that disrupts their work. I am prepared at this point to take them on having suffered the blistering, discomforting manifestation of their bites. What might end-up being my Waterloo is a nest that took hold in a pile of garden clippings just adjacent to the shade garden. I made the mistake this past spring when one day I discovered this particular mound rife with winged juveniles. I should have at that point worked to disperse the nascent colony, flinging them here and there in order to shake up the confidence of this developing drone army. Now, two months later masses of workers scour the lands around the nest in search of food to feed their queen and her seemingly endless production of offspring. I am not defeated yet. Though my options are limited to environmentally sensitive applications – rid is what I want but not the product I will buy.

So far, I have unleashed my own cursing plagues upon them: cooking oil, viscous lavender-scented hand soap, a mixture of tea tree tincture, detergent and water, cornmeal, coffee grounds, borax, and flooding them with the hose. I have even taken to urinating on the mounds for I read they seem to find it annoying – who doesn’t? Clearly, I am willing to try anything. My next step is to secure diatomaceous earth, which is made from the fossilized remains of algae-like plant. Ground to a fine powder that feels like talc to us humans for insects it has razor sharp edges that tears at their exoskeleton causing them to dehydrate and die. Gruesome yes, but necessary for it’s survival of the fittest. I can’t get to the nursery in town that carries this brutal yet environmentally kind killer for a day, so until then it is kettles of boiling water.

It seems like the tide has turned, and it is in my favor. The continuous march, on end of my nemesis has abated. After a seven-day battle, with heavy causalities of both sides, surveying the battle theatre this morning all seemed silent. I am not ready to raise the flag of victory quite yet, but I am hopeful. For now, I will keep vigil watching for signs of re-grouping.

I am excited to report that after a hard fought seven-day siege I have won. It has been two full days without a sign from my stubborn, aggressive enemy. Or, sure there has been a wandering solider here or there but nothing threatening. I am now looking for my next mound to conquer.
I found a ladybug crawling up the base of one of the tomato plants; I do hope this so welcome insect has friends and family to invite over for a meal they are great eaters; they are a great controller of aphids and other pests. Do they eat fire ants? Though I am definitely conflicted for I have been spraying my plants with an organic concoction meant to rid the leaves of that which would be appealing to the ladybug. However, the shade garden is most definitely a tad harder to control, for every morning I have found a few leaves of the squash spotted with amber-hued eggs and new hatchings of what I think are spiders.
Do I dare try to capture this welcomed ladybug and move it to where there is a buffet waiting? Most assuredly, I want to support and promote, as best as I can, the life cycle of this voracious eater for it wants what I find a nuisance. And, after the battle I waged, mano-a-mano, help is greatly appreciated.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The season in me

I am beginning to embrace my compulsion, excessive behavior. In truth, I have no choice, as it is right in front of me everyday. I am bolting out of bed daily, of course putting up coffee first but once brewed, I head down to the gardens, spilling coffee along the way, to pluck any weed that sprouted overnight. Then I proceed to inspect each individual leaf for clusters of deposited eggs, caterpillars, or any other leaf cutter that has not taken refuge with the dawn’s light.
I am waiting to be able to truly start harvesting my meals, unfortunately for me, that will have to wait. Happily, this love affair I am having with dirt and the life that has taken hold in it has not tarnished the thrill of heading to a Farmer’s Market and hearing the siren’s call of another’s bounty. An added bonus is that I am in an environment that is new for me, the Atlanta area, and the timing is different. The years spent breezing through the markets of the Northeast gave me a good idea as when to expect something’s arrival. With the first week of June not yet clicked off, I have secured fragrant peaches, green beans, beets, and freshly dug-up garlic all ahead of my set calendar. Though it is the scapes from the garlic I was glad to see. Granted, I am a few weeks into the season for these unopened garlic flowers and if I were up north I would just be seeing the first of them. Fortunately, they were not too beyond – meaning ready to flower rending the stalk very fibrous, better for an infusion into vinegar. A buck’s worth down here gave me plenty for tonight and tomorrow’s playtime.

I know it is not the novelty of being the moment in the market, as I am an old hat at that, that is fueling all this enthusiasm rather it is the combined newness of unfamiliar markets and the comparison to the land I am actually working that has invigorated my wonder in the nature of things.

Potatoes with Green Beans and Garlic – yields 4 to 6 servings
Approx. 2-pounds new pounds – cut into 1-inch cubes
2-tablespoons olives
1/2-pound greens beans – de-stringed
1/4-pound garlic scapes
1-tablespoon Texas tarragon leaves – roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees.

Toss the potatoes with the olive and season with salt and pepper. Place the potatoes in a cast iron skillet and cover with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes.

In the meanwhile, cut the beans into 1/2-inch pieces and roughly chop the garlic scapes. Place them in a colander.

Bring a full kettle of water to the boil (about 2-quarts), and once boiling pour directly over the beans and garlic scapes. Allow the water the drain through and the beans mixture to cool in the colander.

Once the potatoes have cooked put the beans, garlic scapes, tarragon and potatoes in a work bowl and tossed to combine. Serve immediately, or at room temperature.