If you hit the summer season just right, you can easily give your Fourth of July party patriotic flare with a simple bowl of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream. There’s nothing so simple, local or delicious. But we had more than the nations birthday to celebrate this past weekend; July marks my friend Theresas birthday, as well. So this was no time for mere sparklers; I needed to pull out the big blueberry cake. More »
I was not always a fan of beets. It took a little green-gal bravery to introduce them into my menu. They always seemed so “earthy,” but not in a good way—more like, you know, dirt (Dirt, my gardener-daughter tells me, is an inaccurate term, anyway—“It’s soil, Mom.”). Well, okay… More »
Have you heard about “capsules”? If you are a Pinterest fan or follow the fashion world, “capsule” wardrobes are the BIG buzz. To be honest, I don’t think this is all so new, but, hey, I’ve been around a while. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is to begin with five or six basic pieces of clothing and build a wardrobe with some accessories and creativity. Goals include saving you time, money and stress. But why am I talking about clothing? I’m not really. I’m talking about homemade salad dressing. More »
Nope, never liked it. A gunky mix of over-cooked potatoes, mayonnaise and yellow mustard, pickle relish and maybe a dash of hot sauce. Yuck. I grew up the outcast at the family picnic table, the ugly American child who turned up her nose at a sacred patriotic dish. Then, I noticed (somewhere in my 30’s, I suspect) that potato salad had changed. More likely, my awareness of food and cooking had grown… More »
Wow. A lot of stuff is going on! I’ll get to local celebrations, my Green Gal anniversary and my husband’s special dinner in a few…. For now, let me share with you what I’ve been reading… More »
Being a brave soul in the kitchen often means an attitude adjustment, letting go of every preconception in order to approach something new with an open mind. I guess being brave in general requires a certain amount of faith and a willingness to learn and grow, doesn’t it? Such was the case years ago when I first dared to serve a cold soup to my family. My 90-year-old grandmother looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. My daughter (then about eight) simply stated: “I’m not eating that.” And, Don? Well, Don gave me one of those “please don’t put us through this” looks and then stared silently at the table. Oh, come on! It was vichyssoise, for goodness sake!
Eventually, I won them over. Not with vichyssoise, but with gazpacho. It seems that it is easier to accept cold tomatoes and cucumbers than cold potatoes and leeks. Whatever.
Over the years, my gazpacho has gone from exotic meal-night experiment to summer staple, inspired by many of my very favorite chefs such as Mollie Katzen, Didi Emmons and Deborah Madison and the fabulous produce at my farmer’s market. Gazpacho is a great dish to keep you cool on hot days and one of the best ways to celebrate the heirloom vegetables from local farms as the summer begins to wind down. Besides, it couldn’t be easier to make—chop, add, puree and chill. It serves as a delicious and healthy low-cal meal and a perfect make-ahead party food. Pass the margaritas!
- Four cups tomato juice (You can make your own tomato juice from fresh peeled and seeded tomatoes, or use your own vegetable stock for a slightly different take on this classic, or rely on a commercial brand—I’ll put in my plug for RW Knudsen’ Low Sodium Very Veggie Organic Juice. It comes in a glass bottle—not plastic—contains less salt so you have more flavor control, and is made by a reputable company you can trust.)
- One medium red onion, or yellow depending on your taste preference and availability
- Two to three cups freshly-diced tomatoes (I try to use a mix of several varieties, including heirloom Cherokees, green zebras and golden striped Germans. The riper your tomatoes, the better your soup.)
- One large cucumber, seeded and diced
- Two large bell peppers, ideally one green and one red, seeded and chopped.
- One hot pepper such as jalapeno or serrano or habanero, depending on your desire for heat (Leave in the seeds if you want a lot of heat or throw in half a minced ghost pepper, if you dare.)
- The juice of one lemon and one lime
- Three to four cloves minced garlic
- One teaspoon raw honey (Processed will also work.)
- Two tablespoons red wine vinegar
- One teaspoon ground cumin
- One tablespoon Mexico Spice Mix (My spice mix comes from New Mexico from a little guy right off the side of the road at the Rio Grande Gorge Flea Market. Not much compares unless you go to a high-end spice shop and ask for a southwest blend or some true chili powder. Look for brands without added salt such as Penzys.)
- One quarter- cup fresh cilantro, minced
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Two tablespoons olive oil
- Garnish: diced avocado and sour cream (optional)
- Combine all ingredients except the avocado and sour cream in a big bowl. Transfer in batches to your blender and puree. Return puree to a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Chill for at least two hours. It is better if it sits all day or even overnight.
Note that the prep time does not include the time it will take to chill the soup. You really want the soup cold and the flavors well married. Overnight is ideal. Want a chunkier soup? Puree only half the veggies and add back into the bowl.
Lest We Lose Our Edge on Bravery….
I have made my gazpacho so many times, I don’t even bother consulting my recipe notes any longer. It really is a very traditional version of the summertime classic, and, as my step-sister Barb likes to say: it’s just a big bowl of vitamins on your table.
But, there is always room to shake things up, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s time to put an edge on this dish by thinking outside the soup bowl. If you’re up for something new, take a look at these yummy recipes from Delicious Living Magazine. Evan Treadwell’s Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho is perfect for August when melons are super ripe and sweet. And what about Carrot Gazpacho? This past week, I found super-ripe tomatoes and homegrown carrots side by side at the market–perfect timing! These recipes mean healthy meals and excellent use of in-season, local produce. I hope you’ll try one and let me know how you liked them.
Got your own favorite gazpacho recipe—share! Next week, let’s continue this chilly conversation with my friend Henry…. who’s just as cool as a cucumber.
Wow. A lot of stuff is going on! I’ll get to local celebrations, my Green Gal anniversary and my husband’s special dinner in a few…. For now, let me share with you what I’ve been reading…
The National Parks System: Creating America’s Mythology
For a couple of weeks, I have been preoccupied with the centennial birthday of our nation’s National Parks System. As a member of The Sierra Club and The Nature Conservancy, I receive periodicals from both organizations, which are always brimming with amazing photography and eloquent, inspiring and passionate prose. Their August issues are almost entirely devoted to the history, beauty, preservation, controversy, competition and value of the more than 400 parks, historical monuments and sites, battlefields, and riverways that make up our National Parks System.
According to Nature Conservancy contributor Amy Crawford, 307 million people visited the parks in 2015. A record-setter. These people came from all parts of the globe and from all walks of life–all of them drawn to, searching for, yearning to discover, needing to define…. Something.
As I read about John Muir’s journey from awed sheep herder in the Yosemite Valley to staunch environmental champion and Sierra Club founder; as I learned the tumultuous history of America’s public lands—a history of battles and treaties, of power plays and powerful visions—as I reveled in the personal stories of people touched by the magic of nature in places sacred, breathtaking and fragile, I realized something: the National Parks System does much more than oversee and protect public land; it preserves our evolving mythology.
The parks contain our doors to the Underworld, our stairways to Paradise, our craggy shores where sirens sing and mermaids sleep, our voyages down mystic rivers, our giants, legends, magical beasts and terrible gods. They touch us as not only as scientists, hikers and conservationists but also as musicians, artists and writers. They are, as is often said, our national treasures. But they are not secure.
When I was a little girl growing up in my grandmother’s house, we had few store-bought canned goods. I ate homemade strawberry preserves and red plum jelly plopped on buttermilk biscuits regularly for breakfast. Could explain why my dress size was a “chubby” in those early years. The food in my grandmother’s kitchen was pretty amazing, although for me it was just how food was—never encountered the Pillsbury Dough Boy back then. But some things my grandma cooked up were not as appealing… at least not to me. For instance, my grandmother had an immense fondness for stewed rhubarb on toast.
I couldn’t begin to count the mornings I sat at the breakfast table watching her ladle this slimy, pink concoction onto dry toast. I simply refused to try it. After all, the alternative was strawberry preserves and plum jelly. No brainer in my young mind. But this negative image stuck, and I have shunned rhubarb, even in the popular traditional dishes like strawberry-rhubarb pie, all my adult life. I figured if you had to keep covering it up with strawberries, how good was it, really? But I’ve matured (I hope) with a more open mind.
Well, yes I can… can… under very guided, expert help, that is. Last week I spent an entire morning in the kitchen of Lony Less, one of my market-vendor friends who has been canning, drying and preserving his own produce for years. It was a pretty amazing and humbling experience.
From his small backyard garden and space-challenged galley kitchen, Lony manages to turn out pickles, pie fillings, condiments, pesto, beets and sundried tomatoes. Enough for himself, his local customers and his many friends. If you are on his gift list, you are truly a lucky green gal or guy.
Last week, a combined abundance of cucumbers from Lony’s garden, his market colleague Bob Grinstead’s garden and one anonymous donor had Lony (and lucky little me) in a pickle… literally, of course. And, as we began our morning, I realized two things right off the bat:
- Lony understands the basics of cooking better than most of us, and
- the process of canning depends on the same principles as most of the cooking I already do—keep your space clean and organized, prep ahead and create a system to make your dish come together easily at the end.
Nope, never liked it. A gunky mix of over-cooked potatoes, mayonnaise and/or yellow mustard, pickle relish and maybe a dash of hot sauce. Yuck. I grew up the outcast at the family picnic table, the ugly American child who turned up her nose at a sacred patriotic dish. Then, I noticed (somewhere in my 30’s, I suspect) that potato salad had changed. More likely, my awareness of food and cooking had grown.
My first attempt at giving potato salad a re-try was inspired by Annie Somerville, celebrated chef of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco and her best-selling Fields of Greens cookbook. Chef Somerville has a recipe that combines roasted yellow fin potatoes and fresh artichoke hearts with a lovely light vinaigrette. I tried a version of this salad, and I was on my way back to waving the flag. From that moment on, I’ve sought out and tried all kinds of “potato salad” (But no, I never developed a taste for the pasty yellow stuff most everyone else loves.).
Have you heard about “capsules”? If you are a Pinterest fan or follow the fashion world, “capsule” wardrobes are the BIG buzz. To be honest, I don’t think this is all so new, but, hey, I’ve been around a while. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is to begin with five or six basic pieces of clothing and build a wardrobe with some accessories and creativity. Goals include saving you time, money and stress. But why am I talking about clothing? I’m not really. I’m talking about homemade salad dressing.
Ok, let me explain. When I served my beet salad a few weeks ago, I was asked to share the recipe, and, of course, I was happy to and that led to the post earlier this week. But I also got another fairly familiar question that comes up whenever I serve a salad: “Where did you buy the dressing?” or “What brand of dressing is this?” or (once I tell them the dressing is homemade) “Can I buy something like this at the store.” The answer is no: no I did not buy it; no there is no brand to look for; and no you really cannot buy in a bottle anything comparable to what you can create fresh yourself.
There is a pervasive misconception, I think, that homemade dressings are a) time-consuming to prepare, b) require expensive and/or exotic ingredients, c) are messy and inconvenient. All of these ideas are wrong.
I was not always a fan of beets. It took a little green-gal bravery to introduce them into my menu. They always seemed so “earthy,” but not in a good way—more like, you know, dirt (Dirt, my gardener-daughter tells me, is an inaccurate term, anyway—“It’s soil, Mom.”). Well, okay…
A few years ago, I finally gave beets a try because they were showing up everywhere, and everyone in the culinary world was talking about them and making amazing dishes with them (sorta like bacon now—don’t hold your breath on that one.). For my first try, I roasted beets in the oven. Not bad—sugary and rich! Then they appeared on a salad I’d ordered at a nice restaurant. Super-thin slices of sweet and tangy explosions on my tongue. So THESE are beets! Then I found the golden beets—and the beet goes on, so to speak.
If you hit the summer season just right, you can easily give your Fourth of July party patriotic flare with a simple bowl of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, topped with whipped cream. There’s nothing so simple, local or delicious. But we had more than the nation’s birthday to celebrate this past weekend; July marks my friend Theresa’s birthday, as well. So this was no time for mere sparklers; I needed to pull out the big blueberry cake.
I mean, of course, a baked good, not a firecracker* (I’m much more comfortable with powdered sugar than I am with black powder.). And Theresa’s favorite birthday cake is a blueberry angel cake with lemon glaze. In fact, it’s the favorite cake in general among my friends. Over the years, it’s been transformed into a strawberry angel cake with orange glaze and blackberry one with pastry cream. But the original cake—the one I discovered years ago—is made with blueberries and is the inspired creation of master pastry chef and James Beard winner Gale Gand.
I’ve been feeling kinda down lately. Everywhere I look there is bad news…unspeakable tragedies across the globe (some that directly touched people I know), vicious political campaigns, greedy corporations, waste and negativity. Not much to celebrate these days. (OK, hang on… you know this will turn itself around in a minute–sort of a “market-makeover.”)
Last Saturday, I was speaking to John Accornero, a mostly organic farmer and bee keeper who sells honey at the Land of Goshen Community Market, and I was ON. A. ROLL. Actually, I was probably speaking AT John not to him, going on and on about everything from Monsanto’s complete disregard for the environment and small, independent farmers to the evils of terrorism and the hopelessness of Climate Change.
John listened patiently (He’s very patient.), slightly smiling in a sympathetic way. When I came up for air, John found a break in my sea of despair and tossed out a life raft: “I think people are basically good and America is basically a good country,” he said. “People, overall, want to do the right thing. Sure there are a few bad apples and some bad decisions are made, but, really, at the heart of things, people in America want to be good and are good.”
The market season is shifting, as we move from Spring to Summer. We will say goodbye to my favorite little pie cherries this week, welcoming blueberries and raspberries to our tables. We’ll see the last garlic scapes… escape (In fact, there were only a smattering yesterday.) but can anticipate fresh garlic (Just got my first bulb!) any time now. Kale is quickly becoming the only “green” as the sun gets hotter. While it can be disappointing to see what we love disappear (and tempting to go rough at the supermarket for out-of-season, high-carbon-footprint produce—don’t do it!), I see this as a magical opportunity. The turning of the season is our chance at variety, creativity and ingenuity. So this week, we’re making tarts—one for dinner and one for dessert–staying pretty local the whole meal through.
I came upon this Rustic Mushroom Tart recipe in one of my Penzeys spice catalog mailers. The great thing about a Penzeys mailer is that, in addition to checking out their great spices, you can get some wonderful recipe ideas and read inspiring stories about other people who love to cook.
Actually, what drew me to this tart was not the recipe at all; it was the story of the person—Annie Laurie Cadmus, director of sustainability at Ohio University—who contributed the recipe. She just touched my heart with her enthusiasm and commitment to “work with students, faculty, staff and community to encourage behavior change in a way that supports environmental and economic lifestyles today and well into the future.” Wow.