Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peasant Food—eating fresh

Not gourmet fare, perhaps, but tasty. That's ratatouille, a mix of just about everything that's being harvested now, plus Golden Jubilee sweet corn and grilled hot Italian Taylor's sausage. Simple, tasty peasant food. 
Late August and all of September is high season for peasant food, when the garden leaps into the kitchen and lands on the plate every night. It's like the veggies are at this moment (it's around 9 p.m. as I write) putting on measurable growth. I'm sure someone, somewhere, has documented the fact that a zucchini can grow several inches a day. Well, they're all going nuts out there. I'm almost afraid to go out at night. The green beans, the peppers, the corn, the tomatoes, the zukes, of course, and the cukes, which appear to be even more excited about August heat. All this makes for some colorful plates. No recipes here, except for a look-back at zucchini-based lasagna, but here's what dinners look like in August when a huge garden is just outside the back door. And also part of today's harvest.

Last night was a quick fix using the usual suspects: cukes and onion salad, fresh tomatoes, zukes, onions, and chard, fried with a little rice, and sweet corn.

Fancier fare that includes grilled salmon, grilled/smoked onions and peppers, and the usual August veggie medley.
 And tomatoes, of course. 
These are the zukes, cukes, and eggplants I picked today. What to do? Give some away!

In the bag, veggies to share. On the right, those to eat fresh or process. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Night and a Day Away - Crater Lake

From the top of Garfield Peak in Crater Lake National Park. 
It's been scorching hot in the Rogue Valley, and PK and I have been working too hard too much on our big garden/little farm. Let's go up by Crater Lake and camp for a night then go for a hike in the Park? I suggested. He was on it, and the next day we were in our Four Wheel camper headed for our favorite camp spot just 90 minutes from home and a half hour from Crater Lake National Park. 

This says it all. Sweet respite and a brew beside the river.
We arrived at the best little campground ever (it shall remain unnamed) around 4 p.m, and scored the last remaining river site—only 10 sites in the campground. That would be the Rogue River a few miles from where it emerges from the earth in a magical place called Boundary Springs just outside Crater Lake National Park. Here the river is a sprinting creek, leaping through the flower-filled meadows and the old growth forest and making freshet music that we were longing to hear. No cell phone service here, and no wireless, of course. It was just us, the river, the trees, the star-filled night, and the wonderful forest fragrance.
Old growth Douglas Fir trees around the picnic table at campsite number six. 
The next morning we drove to Crater Lake, marveled once again at its utter blueness, and got a good workout on a couple of hikes. 
Is there a paint color called Crater Lake Blue? It is so intense and beautiful.

Still a bit of snow on the trail to Garfield Peak. It felt great to be tourists for a day.
We were home in time to throw together a quick feast from the garden, which didn't know we were trying to escape its demands and pumped out a bunch of ripe melons and tomatoes during our brief but much-needed break. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Spectacular onion harvest

Just-harvested onions drying in the sun. 
Big daddy Texas onion, 16-inches circumference!
You never know what will happen when, in the spring, you go forth into the garden with implausible seeds or puny starts or sets and sow them into the soil. This year we have been rewarded by numerous crops, but perhaps none so amazing as the onions. A note about onion harvest. It is a sensory  experience because onions create a fragrance that is released from the warm soil in an intoxicating burst, When I started this post, I wasn't thinking about the olfactory benefits of onion harvest. But when reviewing the experience, I couldn't help but focus on the eye-rolling, head- tossing perfume released during harvest. It is a huge part of the pleasure. Along with the size and vigor of the 2011 onion crop, the harvest fragrance about had me rolling in the garden trenches.
Onions drying on the shaded front porch. 
We almost have enough onions to make/freeze caramelized onions. Almost. It's disheartening, really, to see exactly how much is required to make a handful of caramelized onions. But I cooked down enough onions (about 3 large ones) for one amazing pesto, sausage, peppers and caramelized onion pizza. Here's a recipe, followed by onion cultivation photos from start to finish.

Yes, drool. This pizza is heaped with caramelized onions. And plenty of cheese, peppers, etc. 
  • Dough - I use a bread machine recipe using whole wheat flour. I divide the dough into three parts and freeze two. This makes for a super-thin crust when used with a 12-inch pizza pan. 
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup pesto. I use homemade, and it doesn't have cheese in it yet. Spread this evenly over the crust. Commercial pesto is good also.
  • 1.2 - 3/4 cup marinara sauce. Relax, use a bottled marina if you don't have from-scratch marinara. Spread evenly and sparingly over the pesto.
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, cooked, drained, and crumbled. Distribute evenly.
  • 1 to 1.5 cups caramelized onions, spread over the sausage
  • 1 large sweet or mild pepper, chopped, spread on top.

Preheat oven to 450. Pop prepared pizza into oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven when edges brown. Add grated Parmesan or other cheese and return to oven a few minutes until cheese melts. I wish I could eat this right now!

How to caramelize onions
Thinly slice 3-4 onions, dump into a large skillet and add a couple T of olive oil. Cook uncovered over medium heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir as necessary as onions release moisture and begin to brown. They're done when they're uniformly browned and sticking to the pan.

Get used to the idea that what you see before you in the pan will reduce by at least half.
At the beginning of the caramelizing process
Near the end.

Onions from start to finish. Photos

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wild fire - nothing new in the West

One of several helicopters dipping their buckets into the Rogue River collecting water to dump on the fire.
Wild fires are part of living in the West. Every 10 years or so, we watch one from our backyard. It is usually on a southwest-facing hillside called Tin Pan Peak just outside of Rogue River and a mile or so from us. Late this afternoon, several small fires erupted along the Rogue River and also on the Tin Pan Peak crest. Maybe arson? They blew up and converged and by early evening were thought to have burned at least 200 acres. That's small, as wild fires go. Just a few minutes ago, I took this photo as the fire had "laid down" for the night.
The fire tonight, as seen from the back porch.
The fire crews will no doubt subdue it tomorrow. But still. Even though this was probably a human-caused blaze (most are lightening-caused) and won't likely result in loss of homes of lives, it is humbling to watch a fire blow up.  We've never worried about fire at our house, except, of course, for that one time shortly after we relocated to Grants Pass for four years for Chris to attend high school and we had renters at our home, and the wood stove caused a fire that almost burned the place down. Local fire fighters saved the day and the house, and the fire just caused $30,000 damage  and displaced our renters for three months.
Well, maybe we do worry about fire.
More fire pics.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ridiculous luck

Devouring dinner tonight, I was reminded of life's inequities. Life has NOT been unfair to me. Not at all. On the contrary. I am so fortunate it's sickening. I'm not sure how and why some people, like me, slip into golden favor while others are born in Somalia or countries where women are victimized by genital mutilation and children suffer and die because they lack clean water or adequate food and they suffer, suffer, suffer before dying too young. Or why women in my own community endure domestic abuse or puzzling but disabling hormone imbalances or ungrateful children or homelessness or worse.
As I digest my excellent meal, I'm grateful. I try not to guilt trip too much. It's not my fault that so many people in so many places are deprived while I enjoy life's favors, including excessive calories with bonzo nutrients. Tomorrow I'll undoubtedly have another such meal because I can. It's the great good fortune of my current situation and PK and I working our butts off in the garden. From the beginning, I've been lucky:

  • Two years ago I won a cruise for two to the Caribbean!
  • A few months ago I won a great camera!
  • Sixty-six years ago I was born to working class parents who never doubted that I was the most magnificent person on earth. (Except for, of course, my sister, who was also Golden.) My parents didn't have much money, but it was always understood my sister and I were absolutely brilliant and would go to college. And we did. (Sister may be brilliant, and I managed to eke through.)
  • On rebound from an unfaithful lout, I met and married PK.
  • We had two amazing sons who continue to astound and fulfill us. Children can be a great gift.
  • Our grandson, Noah, 14 months, is beautiful and brilliant and has the best parents, a fact that adds immensely to my contentment.
  • I almost died once, but have had great good health most of my life.
  • Friends are plentiful and precious. 
  • Our current cat, Koko, is amusing, and as I compose, he's digging into bookshelf drawers in my office. He is now trapped, but I shall soon liberate him.
  •  My mother, LaVone, 95.8, has become a part of my daily life. I sometimes chafe at the restrictions she presents to my comings and goings, but mostly I marvel at her resilience and spirit and the great good fortune I have to be with her now.
  • Which brings me back to being lucky, And here's tonight's dinner. Thank you, whoever presides over the universe. Great meal!

Corn on the cob, smoked grilled chicken, cuke/onion salad, the season's first fresh tomatoes, smoked grilled peppers, garden medley including zukes, eggplant, peppers, onions, basil, and garlic. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Zucchini frittata with dill sauce—and more!

Dinner tonight — Zucchini frittata with dill sauce and cucumber/onion salad. Those red things are our first tomatoes! but not at all essential to the recipe. Tomatoes are still a couple weeks away from ripeness.
Every year we have zukes to burn. Actually, we give most of them away or chop 'em up for compost. Used to be, in the old days, we fed 'em to the hogs. But now that we have only four zucchini plants (and zero hogs) and three of our zuke plants are sub-standard, thank god) I'm attempting to use more in dinners-for-two and perhaps even freeze some for winter. (Plus hauling burlap bags of them, along with multiple cukes, to the Community Center Food Bank.)
So here's a surprise experiment that turned out very well. I'm home alone tonight, but this could easily be doubled or quadrupled for the main dish—or used as a substantial side. As always, my recipes are "soft" in that I don't measure precisely. But this one is more measured than most. Here's a hint about real foodies: we cook without an audience (or a partner present) and relish every bite.

Zucchini Frittata
2 T olive oil
4 small to medium zukes, cut into like-sized pieces (think 1/3 inch thick and about the size of a quarter)
1/3 - 1/2 medium onion, finely sliced
1.5 T minced garlic
1 sweet or mild green pepper, sliced but not diced (optional—it happens that our peppers are coming on strong.)
2 beaten eggs (maybe some day we'll raise chickens again!)
1/2 to 3/4 c shredded fresh basil, loosely packed
1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese (Feta cheese would also be good.)
salt and pepper to taste
pepper flakes to taste
dill sauce (recipe follows)

Saute the zukes in the olive oil until crisp/tender. This could take 10 minutes.  You don't want them mushy, just starting to become translucent. Add the onions and saute a couple minutes or so. Add the pepper and garlic and stir fry for a couple minutes til the garlic is intoxicating. (Don't get drunk, but do enjoy some wine while cooking!) Add the beaten eggs and fold into the veggies. When eggs are almost set, top with shredded basil and Parmesan cheese. Cook over low-medium heat a few more minutes until cheese is nearly melted. Remove from heat and let it rest for a few minutes. In the meantime, get the dill sauce ready to serve.

Dill Sauce
This is a staple in my kitchen while dill weed is running rampant in the garden. This year I've dried a lot of dill and will attempt to replicate fresh dill in winter. I think it can be done. Dill sauce is spectacular with dishes such as zucchini frittata, anything with potatoes, any fish, and much more. Plus it is simple to slap together and keeps a long time. If you have fresh dill, more power to you! If not, see what happens when you use dried dill that still exudes essence of dill. If dried dill doesn't smell like dill, use it for compost.

1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh dill, minced, or 3 T dried dill
1/3 c plain yogurt
1/3 c sour cream
1/3 c mayo
3 T fresh lemon juice (can substitute lime)
Optional: 1 T lemon zest; 1 tsp Tabasco

Combine ingredients and mix well. Taste. Adjust dill and lemon to taste. Cover and refrigerate. Keeps up to a month, but is so good it won't last long.

Cucumber/onion salad
When it comes to fresh garden cukes and onions, this is a super simple recipe that never fails to please.
Double or triple as necessary. The salad keeps well, refrigerated, for several days.

2-3 medium cukes of any variety. Don't use super big ones that will have lots of seeds and bitter rinds.
Test to see if skins are bitter. If so, peel with a potato peeler. If not bitter, just cut off the ends. If you like, fancy up the recipe by striping the cuke with a peeler. If the cukes are large, you will  need to seed and peel them.
1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/3 c rice vinegar
1/3 c sugar ( or substitute Splenda)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and taste. Adjust seasonings. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Seasonings may need to be adjusted later as salt extracts water from cukes and onions.

Garden photos follow, if you like.
Overall early August garden scene.
 Plants encroaching on house. Residents preparing to flee.

Messy  entwined dill, green beans, and marigolds.
Still, it appears all co-exist to mutual benefit.
Can they please send a message to Congress?

Innocent-looking yellow six-inch zuke. Tomorrow? Twelve inches! Run!
Standing guard over the garden, youthful sunflowers are at their most audacious, tempting birds and bees with flagrant displays; They don't actually dance, except with the wind, but they don't need movement
when color and size and in-your-face life force are so outrageous. In a couple months they'll go to seed and be totally ravaged by birds. I won't forget their youth and beauty. (Or my mother's.) 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy @ 95.8

Here's LaVone, on the right, intent on bingo at her new digs, Morrow Heights,
an assisted living facility close to  my home in Rogue River, Oregon. 
My somewhat-older sister and I often discuss the probability that we will live into our nineties. Our father died at 93 and our mother is 95.8 and going strong. However, we've sorta decided we don't want to go there. What we'll do to prevent it, I don't know. I've told her I'm not going to be the one to do her in when/if she decides to check out. But I'm still in disbelief that I'm approaching 70, my sister, of course, is somewhat older. Age denial began decades ago and continues. Stupid, I know, not to "be here now", and sometimes I can be. But other times I look in the mirror and say, Who, me? My mother doesn't look in the mirror (she can't really see that well) and that's a lesson. She just IS here now, almost free of vanity* and distilled to her most essential needs: eating—her appetite is keen, seeing me, and playing games. Bingo every day! Yes! And dice two or three times daily and also a plastic-wand themed noodle-cize class. Between these activities and eating, showering, physical therapy,and pushing herself around in a wheelchair, she's occupied and has found her own elderly version of happy. I do not doubt that she is enjoying life, despite all the crappy details.

She forges ahead despite being almost deaf, nearly blind, stooped with severe osteoporosis, and having endured a recent pelvic fracture, a brief hospitalization, and 21 tortuous rehab days in a nursing home. Now she's installed in her fourth "home" in less than three years, and what does she do? She scrutinizes the activity schedule and jumps into every slot that will accommodate her. She's found her place, and I hope she never has to  move again. I'm learning from her. I don't know if I want to BE her. I'm not big on bingo or dice. But her ability to find pleasure in what some would consider a very thin medium is instructive and even inspirational. You go, LaVone. When (and if) I become 90, I will remember your example. Maybe my sister will too, and we won't have to deal with the messy details of euthanasia.

*While in the nursing home, she took my hand one day and implored, How do I look? Are my wrinkles really deep? I told her the truth. She is still attractive. Good bone structure doesn't lie. Her back may be stooped, but her cheekbones are still proud. 
LaVone a couple years ago, only 93, going with the flow.