Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Garden at Summer Solstice

From the garden today, basil, a sweet onion, and the season's first zucchini!
A memorable summer solstice was in the Grand Canyon in 1994. PK was the trip leader for our private group of families. Sixteen people, 18 days. Half of our entourage was age 16 or younger. Our sons Quinn and Chris were 15 and 8, respectively. Quinn and Sarah created a solstice symbol in the sand at our camp, red cliffs soaring overhead. Mark and Susan Goracke attempted to create pizza without crust. Or a working stove. How to top that?

Today topped it. Why?

Because today is now. And now is what we have. And really, today is all that matters.We have wonderful memories, but memories don't sustain. They may even hold us back. 

Today is summer solstice 2012. I was ruminating about the Grand Canyon while digging in our garden to water and eradicate weeds. Amidst the tomatoes, at 90 degrees, I laid low, literally, and snipped soil-skimming tomato leaves. If you don't know, tomato leaves on the ground are not good.

Just above, a nest of baby swallows twittered.  (Not online, however) A bit higher, adult swallows dive bombed. I was literally on my back a few feet from the nesting box originally created for bluebirds, but which swallows have commandeered. Swallows are fearsome, brave, spirited, and wonderful. I laughed and shouted as they tried to clip me.

This is what you don't expect from gardening, but what you can rejoice in if it happens. Lying helpless on the ground and having birds try to scare you away. Seeing the natural world as if you weren't even there. (Glad it wasn't a cougar or grizzly!)
I didn't have my camera, but will try to capture. Alas, the fledglings will soon leave the nest and the drama will be over. The swallows won't give a damn about me. I probably won't get a photo. But for today I have this memory of tiny birds with giant spirits. And a bit more. 

A major random volunteer lettuce harvested.

A black beauty zucchini in the making.

Leeks about to bust into flower. 

The first sunflower of 2012. 

Among the first raspberries.

The end of the major strawberry crop and the start of broccoli.
Thank God for blueberries. It'll be a trick to shield them from  devil birds. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Garlic scape pesto

A garlic scape curls in on itself. Cutting them is advised so the  energy goes into the garlic heads.
In the meantime, garlic scapes can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Or so they say.

Something new, to me at least. Garlic scapes—the curlicue thingies that develop near the end of garlic's time in the soil. Apparently, they are a delicacy. All kinds of blogs and cooking sites feature them. I don't know how I learned these snaky-looking do-dads have a name or a culinary purpose. For years and years I've broke them off and tossed them into the compost. Now it appears I was a fool. Not a surprise. Been a fool before.
Scapes right out of the garden, sitting on a lawn chair. Waiting for a G&T? 
Garlic scapes are not readily available except at farmers' markets and upscale natural food stores, and only in season. They probably cost a fortune. But we have them in the garden as the garlic approaches maturity, so I decided to try them. Our menu tonight: big garden salad, broccoli quiche, and garlic scape pesto. Here's a recipe I found online. I altered it quite a bit, mainly by adding more olive oil and cheese plus some basil and parsley. It's a basic pesto formula. And tasty! It was great on the quiche and would be fantastic on fresh tomatoes. If you have the scapes, give it a try.Or look up other scape ideas. Scapes taste mild garlic/tangy and work well as a pesto base, but I hear they are also wonderful in stir fries.
Note: Next evening I tried garlic scape pesto with sauteed chard and a eggs. Yum!

Garlic Scape Pesto
As always, use your judgement and taste buds to fine tune

10 -12 garlic scapes
1/2 cup fresh basil
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or other savory hard cheese
1/3 cup lightly toasted slivered almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts
1/2-3/4 cup olive oil (I used at least 3/4 cup)
Salt to taste
Hot pepper flakes (optional)

Process the scapes, basil and parsley until finely chopped. Add nuts and cheese, and drizzle the olive oil into the processor until you've achieved the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper flakes to taste and whirr a few more seconds. Use immediately, or store refrigerated and covered with a film of plastic wrap. May be frozen air tight for a couple months.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

When something dies under your house, just go outside

I'm shivering in my office. The rest of house is toasty, but the office window is open wide, and chill seeps in. A vent beneath my desk is open to the crawl space under the house, and something died  there. Right next to my vent, evidently. A bouquet of aromatic roses and a scented candle do not touch the stench, nor does the cold air from the open window.
Roses brought into the house to counteract the dead rat smell did not work. Look good, though.
Outside the fragrant flowers and erect young vegetables are bursting with life and sweetness. The strawberries and blueberries ripen, birds swoop and flit between the feeders and the garden, all ringed by a pretty country fence and surrounded by green mountains. We can see a smattering of homes on the hillside across the valley. In our neighbors' pastures, miniature horses frolic, and a field of ripe hay awaits cutting. Next door, a rosy-cheeked toddler delights her beautiful and loving young parents. Perfect.

But under our house, death.  There could be a dozen corpses under there, for all we know. PK has been waging a poison war against the gophers and moles that are tunneling through the garden and even under paving stones. Some tunnels lead under the house.

A gopher or mole did this, dislodging dirt and sand under
paving stones, which, incidentally, had just been repaired!

This isn't the first time a rodent or two or three has croaked just a few feet out of sight and reach. Several years ago PK inch-wormed his way to a far corner of the crawl space to retrieve the rotting rat  that revolted all who entered. No more crawl-space inch-worming for PK, and certainly not for moi. We'll open more windows or hire somebody with a hazmat suit. In the meantime, we'll go outside!

NEWS FLASH! Minutes after I wrote the above, a PEST EXTERMINATOR knocked on our door. Unbelievable that he showed up. In my university English lit classes, such an event would be considered deus ex machina, whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. (Wikipedia).

This type of intervention can't be written without peril, but when it happens in real life, you just rejoice and marvel. We hired the same guy last year to close up the crawl spaces, and he just happened by to see if we needed anything. At exactly the most opportune moment.

Oh my God! Yes!

He donned mask and coveralls and squeezed through a crawlspace entryway. Beneath my office, right below the vent, he found a fetid seeping rat carcass, which he shoved into a plastic bag and drove off with in his big black truck.
A couple days later, life is good and air is fresh here at my computer. In addition, our deliverance guy found and blocked the pest entry. We paid him $100 and everybody was happy, except the neighborhood rodents. 
A few country-living photos follow attesting to the general wholesomeness of the lifestyle. 
But David Lynch knows, and I know, that death, decay, and evil can strike—or seep—at any moment. For now, I enjoy the wholesomeness and hope for the best. Thank you, exterminator guy. Thank you, universe.

Out here, a few tractor fumes hardly interfere with the fresh air. 
Volunteer poppies delight the eye and spirit.

This is the first serious greens harvest of the season. By "serious" I mean we can't possibly eat all that chard and kale, and I must clean it, rip it into pieces, steam it, and shove it into freezer bags. I''ll be glad I did as chard and kale are winter staples.  The onions? The very first sweet onions thinned this season. 

It's difficult not to admire a vegetable that emerges from rocks. Go chard!!

The faithful perennials make me glad.

I love this rose bush. 
The late spring/early summer garden a couple weeks ago. Not a whiff of dead rat out here.
But as David Lynch and I know, death, decay and evil are never far away. I know we're not the only ones who notice.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Salad for dinner- again!

With smoky tri tip, grilled asparagus, caramelized onions, fresh cilantro, cheese and loads of crisp greens,
salad for dinner is all you'll need. The pinkish dabs are chipotle sauce. Recipes below.

At least once or twice a week, sometimes more often, we have salad for dinner, especially in the spring/early summer when greens are plentiful, tender and sweet. Salad as dinner sounds virtuous, but it isn't. Our salads are decadent, filling, nutritious, and delish!  I could barely finish the one pictured. I think it was all the grilled/caramelized onions that did it. As a carb watcher, I realize that onions are fairly carbaceous (new word?), but onions at the tail end of their storage life beg to be eaten. Ever heard an onion beg? It's pitiful. Bread can whine and be ignored, but not homegrown onions about to sprout and melt down.
This year's onion crop was planted from starts on April 23. On the right, sweet varieties that we'll begin thinning/eating soon. On the left, "keeper" onions. Down the middle, a shallow trench of compost. Onions like to eat.
We had softball-sized keeper onions left over from last season (!) until about a week ago when I had to toss the last one into the compost. It was literally weeping. Breaking down. Why couldn't you eat me? I had no answer. 
At the start of the grilling process. The asparagus is pulled first, then the peppers,
and when they're browned, the onions. Cool before using on salad.
A great way to use near-death onions is to slice them into thick rounds, marinate them, and grill til nearly caramelized. Also on the grill for this salad - fresh asparagus, also marinated, but removed from the heat while still tender/crisp, and store-bought sweet peppers.

General salad-for-dinner guidelines follow. The only thing to really embed into your brain is don't stress about how much fat is in the dressing, the avocados, the cheese, or the meat. Really. Just forget about the fat and enjoy how great it tastes. Skip the garlic bread, of course. You will be thinner in the morning.

Salad for dinner in a nutshell
You'll need greens, veggies, protein, and some kind of dressing.
Greens - fresh from the garden if possible. If not, there's a lot to be said for boxed or bagged ready- to-eat greens. Figure on two or three generous handfuls per person. Greens include all lettuces (except why bother with iceburg?), spinach, cilantro, mustard greens,  bok choy, etc.
Other veggies - I generally chop cabbage, kale, chard,  broccoli and/or cauliflower as about a quarter of the salad.  Avocados are used throughout the winter and early spring. Veggies change as the summer garden offers up tomatoes, cukes, zukes, beets, and so on. Any veggies on hard may be used: carrots, asparagus, celery, whatever. Greens and veggies are least 90-95 percent of what's on your plate. Oh, the joy of life without bread!
Our second salad-for-dinner this week didn't involve the grill, but a Costco rotisserie chicken, fresh asparagus, and one small avocado for each salad. Other protein choices include smoked fish, tuna salad, any thinly sliced cooked/smoked meats or poultry (but not processed meats), hard-boiled eggs. Cheese is mostly a condiment. I like either feta or Parmesan. Vegetarians could use grilled or baked and seasoned tofu, more cheese, more eggs, or whatever protein they prefer.

Laurie's Sesame Dressing and Marinade
My friend Laurie served this to me at least 20 years ago, and I had to have the recipe.
I've made variations of this for at least two decades. It is definitely my salad dressing of choice and it is always on hand.
6-8 cloves fresh garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, lemon juice, or other acidic liquid
2 Tbsp. dijon or other mustard
sweetener to taste— I use a dash of Stevia
a dash of white pepper for a little kick

Use a food processor. Peel the garlic and process til finely minced. Add all other ingredients, then process until the oils are emulsified. The oil will separate after the dressing sits for awhile, but it is easily  mixed with a twirl of the spoon. Works great for dressing a salad or marinating veggies for the grill or even steak or chicken.

Chipotle Sauce

2-3 cubes frozen chipotle cubes - or 2-3 canned chipotles in adobo sauce, minced
2/3 c mayo (more or less)
2/3 c sour cream (more or less)
2/3 c plain yogurt
2-4  tsp. lemon or lime juice.
2-3 tsp serrano sauce or garlic/chili sauce 
1-2 tsp. cumin Mix and serve over, or on the side, with grilled meats, fish, veggies, eggs, or atop soups or stews.