September 23, 2008

Grape idea!

('dem are some pretty grapes.)

Steve (the farmer/neighbor with the gigantic garden) grew them and suggested I take all I want because he leaves them for the birds. I've been taking him at his word and stopping by regularily to keep our house supplied with bowls full of beautiful concord grapes.

Today when I got home from work and was contemplating whether or not to go to yoga, I stood gazing out my kitchen window absent-mindedly nibbling on a bowlful when inspiration (or laziness) struck: it was time to make grape jelly.

Twenty minutes later, I was back in my kitchen with about five pounds of grapes and high hopes. This is the process:

Step 1: Admire grapes.
Step 2: Rinse grapes.Step 3: Pick stems off grapes (but don't try to be perfect, or you'll stand at the sink all day)Step 4: Stick the grapes in a blender and blend.Step 5: Line colander with cheesecloth (or have another great idea for how to separate the skins and seeds from the juice. I'm open to suggestions.)(I then secured the rim with a rubber band to keep the cheesecloth in place.)

Step 6: Pour grape goo into colander over pot to collect the juices.Step 7: Wait a very long time for this to drain.
Step 8: Get bored and manually squeeze the goo through the cheesecloth. This feels like squishing a full bladder wrapped in a washcloth. I'm guessing here.

Steps 9-?: (These steps are similar the end stages of the peach jam -- see that blog posting for more detail if this is confusing)

Add sugar to the juice (I added about 2 cups, perhaps less) and cook over medium/low heat for a while (60-90 minutes, until reduced). Sterilize jars (about 4 half-pint jars for 5 pounds of grapes) and lids. Ladle out a cup or so of the juice into a blender and add pectin powder (I use Pomona's Universal Pectin) and then recombine with the rest of the boiled mixture. Add calcium chloride water (it comes with the pectin, and activates it so you can make lower-sugar jams and jellies). Ladle into jars, tighten lids and process in a boiling water bath for 5-10 minutes.
(I'll take a better picture in the daytime)(That's a little better.)

And it's crazy tasty. But don't take my word for it.

September 21, 2008

Tomatoes down and brown

Summer is over -- the tomatoes told me so. I walked out to the garden this weekend and found them, all yawns and elbows and bad posture, asking to be put to sleep for the winter.The cold nights are getting to them, and I'm pretty sure I prompted their early demise by inadequately supporting them throughout their growth.

Lesson learned: invest in those loonly-looking circular support thingies and don't rely on posts and twine to support indeterminate tomato plants.
So I harvested all of the red ones and am mentally preparing to bring down the whole crop pretty soon. Here's the haul + some basil and a few pole beans:
Garden eats are usually cheap as well as delicious, but tomatoes are the gateway fruit. Beautiful, fresh tomatoes and their bully friend, Basil, scream "turn us into a caprese salad!" and who am I to argue with the harvest?So I run off to the store to find some bufala mozzarella imported from (where else?) Italy to slice up and sandwich in between layers of ripe tomato flesh and basil leaves.

(this is not my picture:)Tomatoes? free. Basil? free. Bufala mozzarella? about $17.00/lb (about 2 of those balls). Makes about 6 caprese salads. That's crazy.

But oh, my, god. The flavors. Incomparable. They should use this to ease people off heroin.
In honor of my grandparents' visit this weekend past, we had a little dinner party with some of my favorite people. We had a garden meal of caprese salads, fresh spinach pasta (rolled out by little Ramona) tossed in garden pesto (see recipe), roasted pole beans with smashed garlic and served with no-knead, hot fresh bread (see recipe). And Matt brought a divine chocolate angelfood cake. It was a fabulous evening!-- Complete with dancing and somersaults.
Recipe for caprese salad:

(serves 2-3)

1. Grow/borrow/find/buy/steal:
  • 3-4 gorgeous, good-sized tomatoes.
  • 1 ball bufala mozzarella
  • small handful of basil leaves
  • good-quality extra virgin olive oil
  • good-quality balsalmic vinegar
  • coarse salt/pepper

2. Cut the stems out of the tomatoes and slice into rounds, about 1/2 inch thick.

3. Lay largest of rounds flat on serving plate (if making three salads, lay down three)

4. Slice mozzarella in rounds, slightly thinner. Lay one slice on top of each tomato slice.

5. Cover the mozzarella with 2-3 basil leaves

6. Drizzle with a little olive oil and then a little balsamic vinegar.

(The order is actually important, I've found, because without the barrier of the olive oil, the mozzarella takes up too much of the balsamic vinegar and gets soggy. You'll get a more pleasant separation of the flavors if you pour the olive oil first.)

7. Repeat until you've used up all your tomatoes and cheese, Top with a sprig of basil, oil and vinegar, sprinkle a touch of coarse salt on top and serve. Have pepper on hand in case you want it, but if the tomatoes are punchy enough, you will want them naked as the come.

September 17, 2008

I have a new friend with a giant garden

His name is Steve. Can you see him?Maybe you can't because the HUGE GARDEN that takes up his ENTIRE yard is in the way.

Can you see him here next to the 15-foot hight tomato plants?Or among his 10+ fig trees?Maybe he's hiding behind the escarole or the fennel.Oh, silly Steve. I guess he's shy. But that didn't keep him from chatting with me this morning and sharing some fresh figs.

I should retire my shovel out of deference to his urban gardening skills and manifest dedication. Apparently, he has to bundle up his fig trees at the end of each growing season and put them in his house. All ten! In his living room! And I think getting some chickens is a big deal.

Every square inch of his property is cultivated and trellised. He's semi-retired and spends his hours, largely with his sidekick-supercute grandson in tow, tending his crops. He's got gaggles of concord grapes within a week of peak ripeness which he claims to grow only for shade and he's invited me to pick as many as I want. This is too cool to be true. I have a neighbor who is a farmer who wants to give away his grapes and figs!

September 16, 2008

Finally! I drew you a picture.

So. I was in yoga a few weeks back and I got to daydreaming (which is exactly what you're not supposed to do in yoga). An image popped into my head and wouldn't go away. It was of a hen making her nest in a pile of skyscrapers, and she looked both happy and determined to have her way.

That, I thought, is me. And that image is what I wanted to have represent this whole citylovescountry effort.

So I went to Bob Slate Stationer (this great paper/art store) and got myself a bunch of Pigma Micron pens and some drawing paper and set about to draw what was clucking contentedly in my brain. Life and work and scheduling interfered, and this project took way too long. But here is draft 1, and I'm throwing it out there for comment.

What do you think? I'm totally going to print it on a T-shirt and wear it around.

September 13, 2008

((Shameless self-promotion...))

I've added this "gadget" that allows you/me to see who else is reading this blog if you're curious. I know I am!! You can find it at the bottom of this page. If you like that kind of thing.

Jasmine in bloom

The jasmine along the fence is finally in bloom . . .
and the critters are thrilled.The turnips are coming on strong (at least I think these are the turnips?)and the snails have so far shown restraint with the tender young peppers.
This basil is now in the freezer as part of a monster batch of pesto:
And I am giving away these beautiful red babies as fast as they ripen. Next year, I am planting only Brandywine tomatoes, though - mark my words.
Life is very, very good.

September 11, 2008

Fall is in the air . . .

This is how it feels outside.

I took these pictures in Vermont a few years ago, and this morning, the chill in the air consolidated all available enthusiasm in one person in our household.

Erik - "Not happy."
Me - "?"
Erik - "Winter's here. It's practically snowing. All happiness has died."
Me - "What about apple-picking? The changing leaves? The brisk, blue skies?"
Erik - "I have to wear socks."

This summer has been one of the best summers of my life and yet I'm thrilled that fall is here. Though it signals a winding down of the natural world, to me, it signifies a kind renewal. Back to school. Cozy sweaters. Sharp #2 pencils. A distillation, a preparation, a sort of focus after the frenetic spawn of summer. And as much as seedlings poking through cold dirt in March embody life's reemergence, autumn reminds me that we are caught in this loop for another cycle, and there's as much to celebrate now as ever.

September 9, 2008

THE bread

I've teased you long enough. Now it is time to share the recipe for the worlds best, easiest, most addictive bread.
That's an olive and garlic loaf, but with the basic recipe, you can make any number of variations.

I must mention here that this recipe is not my invention. Nor is it the invention, I'm sure, of the people who wrote this book:
The loaves really do look like that. It's just stupid how pretty they are.

Now for the shock and amaze part: no kneading. no rising. no punching, no fussing. You mix up 4 ingredients - water, yeast, salt and flour - set it aside for 2 hours, refrigerate and use the dough for up to 2 weeks.

That is it - promise. But I'll take you through the steps just to prove it.

Gather your materials:You'll need:

3 cups warm water
6 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt

You will need a large bowl with a non-airtight lid. Keep in mind that it will live in your fridge, so if you use it every day, reconsider your choice and find a different one.

Also, I bake the loaves on a pizza stone and I think this works great. If you don't have one, improvise.

You'll also need a metal broiler pan or ovensafe skillet into which you'll pour 1 cup of water at baking time to steam the loaf as it cooks. DO NOT USE GLASS. I learned the hard way and shattered the pyrex baking dish all over my first beautiful loaf.

1. Get water. (90-105 degrees, but no hotter or you'll kill the yeast. Better to be too cool than too hot.)
As for the flour, I recommend starting out with basic white flour before trying out heavier and whole grain flours. I use organic unbleached. It's cheap and yummy, and makes for delicious and light loaves.

For the salt, I use a coarse Kosher salt, but I think most will do.

2. Dissolve the yeast, then the salt in the warm water.
3. Add 6 cups flour. I know this sounds silly, but measure very carefully. The exact ratio of water to flour makes a big difference, I'm finding. So don't pack the flour down and level it off with the back of a knife. If you already know this and I'm insulting your intelligence, forgive me.
4. Mix it up until there are no more dry spots. You will not get out all the lumps, so don't try.

5. Cover with the (non-airtight) lid, and set it aside for 2 hour (or more, but not less).The mess will triple in size over the next few hours, and the bowl will become warm to the touch. Fermentation at work. Right up there with purple beans turning green. 6. After 2 hours (or so), put in refrigerator. At this point, you can use it right away or wait up to 2 weeks, though it's much easier to handle when it's cold.

7. When you're ready to bake it, dust the surface of the dough with a little flour and cut off a hunk about the size of a grapefruit/softball. Be sure to dust your hands with some flour, or you're in for a very sticky mess.

Don't knead it.

In fact, you want to handle it very little if you can help it. Just form it into a ball by stretching it over itself from the inside out and turn in 1/4 turns until you've achieved a relatively symmetrical ball. Once you have that shape, you can elongate it into more of a loaf shape, or even roll it into a baguette shape. What you're creating is a "gluten cloak" around the outside of the loaf. It will appear rather taut and shiny if you do it right. And it will be sticky, but resist the urge to over-flour the surface.

8. Set aside to "rest" for 40 minutes.(Here you can see I sprinkled the surface with coarse corn meal. I don't usually do this, but it can be nice.)

9. Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Have the pizza stone on the middle rack, and on the rack below, the broiler pan (empty and NOT GLASS). You can switch these around (pan on top, stone on bottom) but I've had better luck with this arrangement.

10. Right before you pop that baby in the oven, put some slices in the surface with a sharp serrated knife. It cuts best if you dip it in flour first.
11. Slide the loaf on the hot stone (you may need an assist from a spatula)12. CAREFULLY pour 1 cup of hot water in the (NOT GLASS) broiler pan

13. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden brown. Don't worry - you won't dry it out because this dough is very wet to start with.
14. Once you remove it from the oven, you're "supposed" to let it cool completely. BS. I eat it as soon as possible, and I recommend you do, too, but keep in mind you may destroy the loaf because it's much more delicate when hot. Also, it's freaking hot, so don't burn yourself.And that's it! Enjoy. And please write to tell me what you think!