Thursday, April 30, 2015

Scratch and Sniff Heaven

I am making my list leaving plenty of room for impulse buys. I have made sure that my calendar in clear for the morning. It is so hard for me not to be too anxious, anticipating tomorrow. The Asheville Herb Festival begins tomorrow, sunny skies and warm temperatures are guaranteed, and this year I have a new garden with plenty of empty space. Last year, on my first visit, I was more of a voyeur with a wish list. The farmer selling mitsuba and shiso, which was able to go home with me, also had wasabi. The new house has a stream running through it where I have already planted watercress and ostrich fern is about to get another roommate. I am chomping at the bit to see if I can manage growing wasabi; stashed away, a shagreen wasabi grater I have had since living in Tokyo is ready to come out of retirement.

I love farmer’s markets, no great revelation, and all those brilliant vegetables and fruits I come across. However, it is the employment of herbs and spices that increases the pleasure of a dish: peas are taken
to another level with the simple addition of mint and summer savory should be as basic in your repertoire as parsley and thyme. So, heading to an event dedicated to olfactory satisfaction is pure nirvana. Even with more than fifteen herbs growing around the house, there is always room for more. 

 Bread Salad  - serves 6 to 8
3 cups of cubed bread – from crusty Italian peasant loaf or baguette
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a pasted
1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
1-cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes - halved
1 hot house cucumber - ¾” diced
1 small red onion - sliced thinly
3 celery stalks - ¾” diced
1-cup fresh peas
5 scallions - diced
2 bunches arugula - washed and roughly chopped
1-cup torn sorrel leaves
2-tablespoons pine nuts - toasted
½-cup torn mint leaves
¼-cup red wine vinegar

Spread the bread cubes on a baking tray and dry out in a 250-degree for about 10 minutes. Do not allow the bread cubes to develop too much color, but dry out.

Place the vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper in a food processor and pulse. Pour in the oil and process till smooth.

Toss all ingredients together making sure to distribute the dressing thoroughly.  Serve.

If you want you can assemble the components of the salad up to 24 hours in advance.  Keep the bread and dressing separate until you are ready to serve. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The waiting game

All that is left of the daffodils are its slender flat leaves. Pink, red, purple and white azaleas are just past their peak. The lettuce and radishes are still a week or two from harvest. Nascent green specks are uniformly taking root in the garden. But my cupboard is bare.

These weeks from last frost to first harvest are emotionally trying. I long for the profusion of summer’s largess and the variety I crave and the ease in obtaining it. Yes, ramps, fiddleheads and asparagus excite me to dizziness; their flirtation in the kitchen is short lived (and, in part that is why I love them so, they never overstay their welcome). The jar of pickled ramp stems will garnish Blood Mary’s and pulled pork sandwiches latter this summer in all probability. I am by no means ungrateful for their return, but their presence just heightens my desire to move it along.
I am ready now, to be overwhelmed by the day’s haul of zucchini and cucumber, and babysit a maturing watermelon in order not to grab it too soon. I get like this every year at this time – chomping at the bit for the full expression of summer.  

While I seem to display very little patience with Mother Nature it is my childlike enthusiasm for foods coated in dirt from the yard and farmer’s markets buzzing, just hours after the sun has risen, cures me of any culinary block/rut I might be experiencing; waiting is the only option. In the meantime, my freezer needs to be fully depleted of the vacuum-sealed bags that got put into suspension late-last summer into the autumn. There are enough tomatoes, sun-dried zucchinis, black-eyed peas and husk tomatoes to keep me busy until the red, purple and white shoulders of the radishes displace the soil out in the yard.

Husk Tomato Tea Cake – yields 10-inch cake
1-pound husk tomatoes (fresh or frozen)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
4 eggs
½-cup sweetened condensed milk
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1¼-teaspoon baking powder
⅛-teaspoon salt

Buttered and flour a 10-inch cake pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a standing mixer mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

In another bowl beat the eggs, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla together to combine.

In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Then on a low speed add the flour to the butter mixture. Once the flour has been added to the butter pour in the egg mixture, and mix well.

Place the husk tomatoes on the bottom of the cake pan, and pour over the batter. Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before un-molding.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

a helping mouthful

I don’t consider myself a novice garden any longer, perhaps more of a journeyman at this point. I have a few years of successfully germinating seeds and getting them to supply me with enough to work. I don’t believe I have had to purchase tinned tomatoes in almost five years. Though this is the first year, after trying for several, that I actually have ready a sufficient amount of compost. The house we bought last year came with a compost heap, and all last summer it was fed kitchen scraps, grass clippings and countless eggshells, which gets company everyday. The contractor who was renovating the kitchen tried to convince me to install a disposal – Are you crazy, and lose all those vital nutrients.

Now, this is the largest mound I have had to tend it to date. And, I will confess it was not turned with any frequency. So, finally the other day, after which I hope was the last frost, I climb into the rotted mass and started pitching. Skimming the top to one side I discovered moist, dirt. This dovetails perfectly with my present need. During the winter fair amount of trees got cut down around area that was once used for a garden. The hope is to remove the shading canopy over the plot. Given the profusion of mint in the area I know something is going to grown there, and I also recognize that I have a few years ahead of me in trying to get rid of the mint. I like to sink my mint in a large pot in the ground just to thwart its meandering nature. The spearmint that got planted in another garden spot has in informed me, that a container will not always stop the march of this determined herb.

Not only am I tracking its roots to the nodes, and beyond, I am digging up wheel-barrel full of tree roots that have moved in deep within the soil. All winter long, when the weather allowed, I went out digging up sections knowing, hoping spring will come. As I started finishing up my churning of the earth ready for one last push, the incorporation of that massive pile of compost I have discovered that this plot of ground is flush with earthworms. What a great sign for this rebirthed garden. Earthworms consume decaying matter and aerate the soil something I definitely want in the hard clay base I live on. I was ever so vigilant to make sure that I covered them up after uncovering them. I mean I love the fact that a pair of Blue Birds has decided to make a home in the birdhouse, but I will not intentionally share my earthworms with them. So, after discovering I had a very alive piece of land and squishing countless lavas between my fingers I am anxious to see how well things thrive in this new land I will be tending. The hardest part is not the backbreaking shoveling on the dirt, but rather, the waiting.