Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Summer Peppers

Yesterday I woke up to a thin layer of snow on the ground, it was long gone by the time today's sleet and drizzle started. And it all makes me miss summer. In August my Dad stopped at the neighbor's farm stand and bought a large laundry basket of red peppers. Mom called and invited us over to help. Growing up, her mother and grandmother would roast peppers, both hot and sweet, on their gas stoves and spend the whole day canning them. Both mom and I have electric stoves, but Dad thought the grill might work.
It did.
So we roasted our peppers outside. My forearms turned pink for lack of long tongs to turn them with. Once black, they were packed into bags to steam before Mom and Brad scrapped the blackened skin and seeds away. Dad watched, drank wine, and offered suggestions. A large laundry basket of peppers becomes a good sized bowl of roasted peppers, and Brad and I left that evening before they had all made their trip through the pressure canner. But we were forgiven and given 5 jars of bright red to get us through the winter. So yesterday it snowed, and then got slushy and officially became winter, and I cleaned out the refrigerator and found a half used jar on the shelf. I made corn soup from an icy bag of kernels found in the very back of the freezer and the sad, limply forgotten scallions in the crisper became scallion cream biscuits. They were both lovely, and the soup was especially warming thanks to the roasted red peppers I stirred in right before serving.

Corn and Roasted Red Pepper Soup
(Adjust measurements to fit what you have, I'm just guessing at them anyway.)

2 and 1/2 cups frozen corn
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 potato, peeled and cut into medium dice
4 cups broth (I used both veggie and chicken)
1/2 cup cream or milk
2 tbl butter

Saute onion in 1 tbl butter until translucent.
Add corn and saute for a few minutes.
Add potato and stock.
Cover and simmer briskly until potato is tender.
Use an immersion blender to puree until only slightly chunky.
Add milk or cream as desired to enrich.
Before serving, stir in roasted red peppers.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A New Start

So, it’s been a while… Since July 2nd to be exact… Shortly after my last post a tiny parasitic being took control over my brain and body and things got a bit blurry. I was certain of a few things though:

1. I needed a nap.

2. Vegetables are horrible and the work of the devil.

3. I needed another nap.

4. The garden and the blog would have to wait.

Amidst all that sleeping, queasiness, and eating only white foods with no odor, a few minor miracles occurred.

I rallied long enough to make a perfect raspberry tart with vanilla pastry cream.

Mom, Dad, Brad and I roasted and canned a laundry basket of red peppers.

My New York friends stopped by and worked for their dinner.

These grew,

and these,

and way too many of these.

And this...

Now that the garden is frosted and gone (except for the beats, turnips, Swiss chard, an exuberant bunch of oregano and a solitary artichoke) and the parasite in my belly has changed first into a squirming baby kicking away at my internal organs, I’m finally hungry again. So I thought I should resume posting--more cooking and less gardening as the ground begins to freeze--but still tasty things to share. And a baby by mid-March, just in time for the next round of planting.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


This spring I had irises, daffodils, tulips, peonies and roses blooming in rapid succession. There were bouquets in each room of the house, and I could tell where I was standing by scent. I am beginning to forget that flowers were once an extravagance. My first spring in New York City, on the way home from a late night in Manhattan, we came upon a corner market that was selling daffodils for $3 a bunch. I don’t remember how many we bought, but I do remember sitting on the couch in front of a vase packed with their luminous yellow and clean scent. It made me feel rich, joyful. Now I pick fist full of flowers and have more than I need; they smell thick and new and so sweet it almost hurts. The spring flowers are gone, the pea blossoms have long ago turned to pods, but this past week was hot and wet and the garden is beginning to bloom again. The spinach bolted, sending up tiny flowers on fuzzed spikes, so we pulled up the plants and picked all the leaves. They were dusty with pollen and I made spanikopita. The heirloom and mesclun mixes have also gone to seed. They are thin and wispy in their rows and I hope that if I let them be they will re-seed and grow--a second harvest in the fall. Our green beans and soybeans have small white flowers that give way to furry pods, miniature versions of what we will pick next month. But the standouts are the squash blossoms. They only last a day and turn our hills to piles of fire--deep pumpkin orange for the zucchini and butter yellow for the cucumbers. Once a fair number of the zucchinis start growing I will pick the new blossoms and make tacos and soup from them. Only the really rich can afford to eat flowers.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Twice now I have run from the house to chase deer out of the garden. The last time I got very close--her eyes were more stupid than startled as I shouted and clapped my hands. She had a bit of green lettuce hanging from her mouth, and I chased her through the garden twice before she took to the sidewalk and other less noisy yards. I try to look big and make as much noise as possible when I fuss at the deer, but they don't take it to heart. We have fenced in the tomatoes to protect them, although I doubt that it will trouble the deer much. They are solid and hungry and I think it may take more than chicken wire and tin pans to change their minds.

It has been raining daily for what feels like weeks and Mom warns me that I need to check the cabbages because this is the kind of weather that makes them split. Apparently if they split they must be eaten right away. I'm not quite sure I see the worry of this but her voice was very serious as she said it, so twice a day I check my cabbages for cracks. This also gives me a chance to pick the cabbage worms from them and the broccoli. Twice now I have watched a wasp wiggle its way out of the heart of a cabbage with a worm in its mandibles, and each time it has made me happy that we have chosen worm holes over pesticides. The garden needs weeding but the constant rain has made it too muddy, so I pull what I can from the sides. I had forgotten about this weather--days that start hot before the sun even rises. Walking feels like moving through warm damp velvet, and then out of nowhere the sky goes black and it rains like a bucket being emptied. It's shocking how quickly the warm air peels open to cool shards of rain. This is when you open windows on the lee side of the house and sit on the porch tracking the storm's progress by the nearing and then receding lighting and thunder. When I was little we would put on bathing suits and play in the street until the thunder and lightening were almost simultaneous and the storm was directly overhead. Then our parents would make use retreat to the safety of our house and the lightening rod on the roof. Then it is over, the storm gone as quickly as it came. The garden ticks and glows green as the sun returns, the corn straitens up and it all grows, grows.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Berry Picking

We have mulberry trees at the edges of our yard and I have spent the last few days on a ladder. They aren’t our trees--the trunks touch down in the neighbor’s ground--but the branches lean across into our yard and I seem to be the only person interested. I only feel concern about stealing from the birds that have built their nest in the top branches. Sometimes I pick the berries one by one, other times I hold my basket under a branch and trouble the clustered berries with my fingers until they fall. Mulberries are good at falling. When they are ripe they tumble away from your hand just as you reach for them. Sometimes I am masterful and twist perfectly, picking just one berry without shaking the branch and knocking them all to the ground. Other times I hear the plink of lost berries falling against my ladder. I work from the bottom up, first standing in the grass and staining my feet on the fallen berries. I always think I’ve picked all the ripe ones on a branch, but when I climb the ladder and look down, I see whole handfuls that I’ve missed. Berry picking can’t be rushed so there is plenty of time to think, considering the jam making potential of the berries, nonsense thoughts about silk worms and paper scrolls, humming a horrible country song that was on the radio when I was in high school.... It doesn’t much matter. My head is hidden in the branches and this makes me think that no one can see me, that I have disappeared from the world and all that matters is fingers to berry, berry to basket. I will save some of the berries from the jam making and bake this cake to welcome Brad home.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The limits of kindness

We have more lettuce that anyone could possibly eat and all the radishes have gone woody. The radishes are my fault--I didn’t have the heart to thin or pick. And it's not just radishes I can barely bring myself to harvest. We spent so much time planting and watering and weeding and waiting that when I go to the garden to pick lettuce for a salad and everything looks so lovely and lush, I find myself picking one leaf at a time, looking for the plants that seem most able to survive the trauma; it takes forever. Radishes were especially difficult because they were the first green leaves to pop up at the start of spring... I got attached. And you don’t quite know what they look like under the soil. It’s so sad to pull up a radish and find yourself with a tiny little root that needed more time. Of course, if I had thinned them as I should have, they would have grown much larger and I wouldn’t have had to worry. In the end they were so woody that handfuls of them had to be pulled and tossed on the compost heap.

Our peas are blooming and green pods are beginning to dangle from the vines.
They have only made it a third of the way up our overly ambitious trellis, but the plants look great twining around the strings, their bottom leaves going brown as they direct all their energy into flowers and seeds. I’ve been checking our cabbages for worms every day. They are hard to spot--lovely little green things, perfectly matching the leaves and nothing moving but their jaws as they nibble. They are soft and often still chewing when I picked them off the cabbages and put them in the bird feeder.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The neighbors wonder...

We coo and photograph the garden like new parents.

I have fallen in love with an ant colony that lives in the pea patch, in the evenings I give them the crumbs from my after work snack and ignore Brad when he wonders it they are nibbling the roots of our plants. They are red and vicious looking, the bullies of this bit of ground, busy piling crumbs of earth on the low leaves of my peas.

I squat with my chin on my knees, watching and drifting, pulling the occasional weed. I always thought it would be lovely to be tiny and live in the garden, making my home under a mushroom.

This past weekend our garden partners came over and we put top soil on the half of the garden that the plumbers had turned to clay. Then we planted the rest of our seeds and some plants from the farmers' market. Now all we have to do is wait...