vegetables

One City Garden

by Caroline

I grew up in a little town (it calls itself a village, and while I find the word a little precious, it fits) of big, pretty houses on smallish lawns. The yards weren’t fenced, and my neighborhood didn’t have sidewalks, which made it a pretty soft place for a kid to grow up running around with her friends, racing from one yard to the next as our game developed. Our yard was part of the action, too, until my dad realized that the front got a lot more direct sun than the backyard, and so that’s where the vegetable garden went. Screened by a pretty hedge of deep pink and white beach roses, the garden produced peas, beans, tomatoes, broccoli and lettuce, among other vegetables. My dad established another small garden next to the side door and encouraged a patch of blackberries at the end of the driveway. Volunteer squash and tomatoes sprang up from the compost pile and, as my siblings and I grew up and needed less yard to play in, Dad cultivated gradually larger swaths of the backyard, too.

Now my parents have retired to a big piece of property in rural Connecticut, where my dad has an enormous garden and orchard, and I’m the one with an urban garden. Now, this is not the kind of really urban gardening that Lisa wrote about last summer. We don’t have a front yard here in San Francisco, but we can at least do our planting in the ground, not a truck (though honestly, my kids would prefer a truck).

For now, while my children are young and require a lot of my attention for their cultivation, we’re keeping the garden small. (A friend, whose youngest child is the age of my oldest, has recently converted her entire backyard into an edible space; no lawn at all, just paths made and lined with herbs, blueberry bushes and fruit trees in sunny spots along the fences, vegetables — some in beds, some (like the artichokes) standing alone — sprouting up in every spare nook. I dream of such a yard, someday). We’re still learning what we can
produce here in our foggy neighborhood; we don’t get a lot of heat or sun, but we have a pretty long growing season; greens do very well, tomatoes do not. And whenever one of my kids has an urge to plant a seed, I encourage the impulse even if I know, as with yesterday’s apple seed, it’s not likely to bear edible fruit. Some times, it’s important simply to plant a seed.

future apple tree

future apple tree

strawberries and chard

strawberries and chard

lettuces, agretti, and zucchini

lettuces, agretti, and zucchini

can you spot the artichoke?

can you spot the artichoke?

Fast-Slow Roasted Garlic & Tomato Sauce

by Lisa

My quest for fast, delicious, from-scratch weeknight meals continues.  There’s the night I teach and I have to prep dinner at lunch, and there’s the afternoon soccer practices when we spend a lovely hour at the park, and a ballet night that doesn’t get us in until after 6 pm. So prep time is greatly reduced, and some nights, dinner needs to be on the table in 10 minutes or less, otherwise, bedtime is hopeless. I need food that gets to the table fast; I need food that keeps at room temperature, or that won’t be compromised by the refrigerator.

Here’s what I’ve learned: planning is vital.

Fish tacos work, all kinds of eggs work, so does a roast chicken (if you’re home to cook it early), and quiche. Then there are all the things that you can prep on the weekend and transform over the week. When you can get 2 different meals out of one thing, it’s also economical.

This weekend I brought home a few pounds of Roma tomatoes from the farmer’s market, spread them on a baking sheet, sprinkled with olive oil and salt and threw in a few sprigs of basil just because I had it AND two whole bulbs of garlic. I roasted the heck out of them in a 200 degree oven. After several hours they were totally deflated-looking.  By then, it was 8 or 9 o’clock at night, and I didn’t want to deal with them anymore, so  I stuck them in a covered dish and stuck it in the refrigerator.

P1120277

A few days later, I remembered the tomatoes when I needed dinner.  I dumped them in a pot, squeezing the roasted garlic out of its husks, added a little salt, about a 1/4 cup of white wine and after simmering for a few minutes to blend the flavors, I used an emulsion blender to smooth it out. You could easily blend everything in a blender and then heat it slowly after. Also, you can use any kind of fresh, flavorful tomato. Early girls are good if you can still get them.

The result was a creamy, garlicky, deeply flavorful sauce we ate over pasta. The kids loved it.

P1120281

Two nights later, the same (leftover) penne, mixed with extra sauce and baked with a topping of fresh mozzarella and grana, made a faux, super-fast, what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-cook-tonight lasagna, which I think they liked even better.

We’re still at the very end of tomato season here, any maybe you are, too.  If you can find good fresh tomatoes anymore, you can still roast the garlic and blend it into a can of good San Marzanos.  But if you can still find some tomatoes, load up, slow roast, and freeze the tomatoes whole, right off the tray once they’ve cooled.   Or make this sauce and keep it in ziplocks next to your frozen pesto.   You’ll thank yourself on one of those cold dark nights that are just around the corner.

Pumpkin Time

by Caroline

the pumpkin wagon

the pumpkin wagon

It happens every year, the clamor for pumpkin treats: pie, cupcakes, pancakes, muffins. Eli, particularly, adores all things pumpkin and thinks it’s quite reasonable to expect a pumpkin pie for dessert an hour after we return from the pumpkin patch. Well, maybe so, but not with the new pumpkins, certainly. In fact, you all probably know this already but it bears repeating: you don’t want a Jack-o-lantern pumpkin for pie and really, you don’t even need pumpkin (shh!). Roast an acorn squash with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, even a knob of fresh ginger, stuck in the cavity, take out the flavorings when the squash is tender, scoop it out of the skin, puree, and then proceed with your recipe as if it were pumpkin. Really, nobody will ever know the difference.

But still, we go to the pumpkin patch every year, because what’s October without pumpkins? And when we are home from the pumpkin patch, one of our favorite quick pumpkin recipes is for muffins.

pumpkin muffins

Preheat the oven to 350.
Combine in a medium sized mixing bowl:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
3 T ground flax seed meal (you can skip the flax and replace it with an extra tablespoon of butter if you like)
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t baking powder

Combine in a small bowl or measuring cup:
1/3 c water, milk or apple juice
1/2 t vanilla

In a large bowl, beat until creamy
5T unsalted butter

add
1 c brown sugar
1/3 c granulated sugar

and beat until combined.

Then add
2 large eggs
1 c pumpkin puree

And mix well. Now add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture. Stir just until combined. Then add, if you like, chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips (about 1/2 c each).

Bake in a muffin tin for 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Eating Beans

by Caroline

Until recently, we have usually used dried beans around here mostly in craft projects: sandwiched between a stapled pair of paper plates, they make excellent tambourines; Ben’s made a mancala game with a handful of dry beans and an egg carton; and of course the possibilities with construction paper, glue, and beans are pretty endless. Except for lentils, I tend not to buy dried beans for cooking because half the family doesn’t much like them and they take a long time.

But I’m trying to get over that for several reasons. First of all, dried beans are cheaper; also, they pose no risk of chemicals leaching from the can into your food (as I just read about in Betsy Block’s The Dinner Diaries); and although they do take a while from pantry to table, most of that time they are cooking easily on their own without your attention. If you have a pressure cooker or crock pot (I do not), beans are even easier and quicker. But mostly, I am getting over my reluctance to use dried beans because my dad grows such beautiful ones for us, and Eli had such a great time picking and shelling them in Connecticut last month, and when food is presented to me with such love, I’m not going to let it gather dust in the pantry until it’s time to make a new tambourine. I’m going to make chili.

dried Jacob's Cattle beans

dried Jacob's Cattle beans

Eli shelling the beans

Eli shelling the beans

a pretty bowl of shelled beans

a pretty bowl of shelled beans

the raw and the cooked

the raw and the cooked

the very spicy chili

the very spicy chili

Chili’s the kind of thing that inspires great passion and thousands of recipes, but for me it’s always been a dump it in kind of thing, and I’m not a purist: I had some carrots that weren’t getting any fresher, so I tossed those in, and when my chili turned out to be a lot spicier than I wanted, I chopped and added several potatoes to calm it down. Fresh corn would be a great addition, too. Here’s the recipe for the chili I made, very loosely adapted from The Joy of Cooking:

First, soak your beans. There’s no need to do it overnight. Simply put them in cold water, bring them to a boil and then, with saucepan off the heat, allow them to remain in the water for 1 or 2 hours only. Drain and refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook the beans, bring them to a boil in a big pot of cold water, and then lower the heat and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are tender. Now you’re ready to make chili.

1 large onion, chopped, about 2 cups

2 large red bell peppers, chopped (I happened to have already roasted all the bell peppers I had in the house, so my chili used roasted bell peppers)
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups dry beans, soaked and cooked (I used the Jacob’s Cattle beans from my dad, but a variety of different kinds would be nice; 1 1/2 c dry=roughly 5 c cooked)

2 pounds chopped fresh plum tomatoes (or if you don’t have fresh, a big 28 oz. can of tomatoes)
a couple chopped carrots and/or potatoes, if you like
1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup dry red wine (or water)
1 fresh chile (serrano, jalapeno or the like) diced, to taste

1 T dried chili powder, to taste
1 T ground cumin

Salt and pepper


In a big pot, sauté onion, bell pepper and garlic in oil about 5 minutes or until soft.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour, adding more liquid (wine, stock tomato juice or water) as needed.

Digging Potatoes

by Caroline

heading into my Dad's garden

heading into my Dad's garden

My kids are having the typical city kid experience of farming: they visit farmer’s markets regularly; they have both visited local farms and gotten to plant and pick vegetables. But they are lucky in that every summer, we visit my parents and the boys get dirty in my dad’s big vegetable garden.

We like to go in late August, to take full advantage of the garden’s variety, but this year our trip was timed with the Mets/Giants baseball schedule in mind so went a bit earlier. The East Coast’s cool, rainy summer delayed things in the garden, so although there were berries (especially fat, juicy blackberries) we didn’t experience last year’s bountiful berry harvest. No, this year was really about potatoes, and the boys are still talking about digging potatoes.

Digging potatoes is magical, no doubt about it. Above ground, you see a fairly scrawny plant. It gives no hint of what it’s producing below the surface of the soil. You push-pull the plant away and start scraping in the dirt with your hands — no shovel required.

digging

In Connecticut (the only place, come to think of it, that I have dug potatoes) it’s easy to mistake potatoes for rocks (and vice versa), and the purple ones my Dad likes to grow are particularly hard to spot. It’s almost more about feeling your way to them with your fingers. And then, suddenly, there’s one!

got-one

and another!

harvest

The boys especially like finding the tiny, half-a-bite potatoes I called vitamins when I was little, so now they do, too.

We dug a hill of purple potatoes, and then a hill of reds, and soon enough we had plenty for the evening’s potato salad.

redpotatoes

The potatoes are really prettier before they’re cooked into salad, so I didn’t photograph that. But here is one more gorgeous potato, dug by my boys from my dad’s garden:

purple

We’re back home again now, eating potatoes from the farmer’s market. They come into the house a lot cleaner than the ones we bring in from my dad’s garden, and they taste pretty good, but they’ll never be as much fun as potatoes we dig up ourselves.