Thursday, July 21, 2005

Pinkelman's Plants rocks

I have three beautiful beefsteak tomatoes waiting for consumption and I have them earlier than ever thanks to Pinkelman's Plants.

They pose in all their shiny glory near MJ's copy of Ideas of Heaven.
I love it when friends start a business that makes your own life better (and of course we are happy that they are happy blah blah blah, but really, it is much easier to be happy for someone when what they do makes you happy too.)

Sarah has been selling her plants at local farmer's markets--Chelsea, Ypsi, and even (after much wait for a spot) Ann Arbor. John and Ami bought some of her beautiful Morning Glories that we got to see last weekend during the latest gluttony fest--beautiful huge blue-purple blossoms. And I got to make specific requests for tomato plant varieties. Sarah humored me and grew the exact seedlings I wanted and now I have what I consider the perfect combination of tomatoes in only three plants--one big red beefsteak plant, one of the best cherry tomato plants ever--the orange Sungold (though in my house we call them sugar bombs) and my favorite heirloom, Green Zebra with medium sized tart fruits beautifully stripped in yellow on a background of vivid green. I picked a bunch of Sungold cherries yesterday too but they went straight in my mouth and didn't make it back home to pose for the camera.

Last year I didn't have much luck with my tomatoes--I overcrowded the plants, got too lazy to track down what I really wanted and ended up with one psycho plant and three other disappointments. The psycho plant was a cherry variety called Sweet 100s, but it really was more like Sweet 10,000. The plant grew and grew and grew till it was over 10 feet long and there were fruit popping out all over the place. I couldn't keep up with it--I picked colanders full on a daily basis. They were good cherry tomatoes, but not as good as Sungolds. And despite this tomato bounty I couldn't make a really good BLT because the Supersonics I planted produced 2 pathetic fruit and the big yellow tomato plant (can't remember its name) produced some fruit, but it was blah flavored. There was a grape tomato in there somewhere but it was pretty much smothered by the thicket of Sweet 100s that grew around it.

It's a good thing the tomatoes look so successful this year because it looks like my pole beans are a big bust. Last year they produced really well, this year they are still blooming when I know other people (Ami and John for one) have plenty of beans ready for eating. And the plants look really weird too--yes, I know a wired bean when I see one...My kale is doing really well though and I have some seeds hoarded away for a late lettuce crop when it cools down again.

I haven't quite decided how to consume those first three tomatoes though it did occur to me that Big 10 makes its fresh mozzarella on Saturdays, I have already indulged in some of Big 10's bottle-your-own olive oil (I bought the Organic DO Gata-Hurdes Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Spain and it is fabulous--grassy and vivid) and I have plenty of beautiful basil (thanks again to Pinkelman's Plants) all of which could combine to make a fine caprese salad.

You know the best thing about the salad is that I'll get it all to myself (unless Fiona becomes interested in tomatoes all of a sudden). Brian went off to Louisville with his best friend Brian (yes, they have the same first name, they are both automotive engineers and they both married women who bailed out of literature PhD programs...) to go to Lebowski Fest. I went last year and after about 3 White Russians I looked like this:

I just don't think there is any reason to revisit that state. And I suck at bowling.
Maybe this year Brian will win (or at least place) in the dude costume contest. Here he is last year with an incredibly freaky Jesus Quintana. The guy stayed in character all night long and even we were weirded out by him after a while.

I look forward to hearing all about the drunken revelries and freaky costumes and bowling scores, but this weekend I plan to put my feet up, bribe the kids with endless popsicles so they are nice to me, and, of course, eat really well.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Best damn summer beer snack

It is hot and humid and now is a fine time to share the best damn summer beer snack I've ever had. It also helps that it is so easy you can even assemble it after having had a number of beers on an empty stomach.

My friend Juliet introduced me to this after she lived for a year+ in Vietnam with her anthropologist husband, Ken. You take a lime, squeeze it into a bowl or on a plate, chop up a chile (I use serrano or jalepeno, but really any spicy variety will do fine), then pour about a tablespoon or two of kosher salt in the middle of the lime juice puddle. This will be your salty/sour/spicy dipping sauce for raw cucumber spears. Obviously fresh, unwaxed cukes from the farmer's market or your own garden are the best for dipping, but really even supermarket waxed ones are ok; you just might want to do some peel removal.

It sounds too easy and too basic to be so appealing, but try it. It really is my favorite summer beer snack--refreshing and crisp, salty and sour, and if you want a little more kick, just mash your cuke into the hot peppers. The only warning I give is that this really isn't something you serve to people who are sensitive about double dipping. If they are the intended eaters, cut the cukes in smaller bite sized pieces.

Open yourself a cold one (Bell's Oberon was particularly tasty this afternoon) and enjoy the flavors of summer.

Mish Mosh

Yesterday was a mish mosh kind of day, unfocused and all over the place.

There were a few memorable moments which included Ian making and enjoying his first recipe for Homemade Lemon-Lime Soda Pop. I have been trying to get the kid into the kitchen for years, but his disinterest in food and food preparation has been extreme. What got him in yesterday? I put it down to the magic of Saul. Yesterday afternoon, Saul gave Ian a birthday present--his first cookbook and the ingredients to make the soda pop (a lemon, a lime, sparkling water and apple juice concentrate). The cookbook is Pretend Soup by Molly Katzan--I checked this out from the library last year on Saul and Deb's recommendation and couldn't get Ian to even sit still to look at it. But getting a copy as a gift from one of his favorite people seems to have done the trick--Ian read the whole book yesterday, even the recipes that included vegetables, and was eager to get in the kitchen and make the soda. It is the best kid's cookbook I've seen with pictorial recipes that kids can follow easily.

And here is a photo of him enjoying his soda:

And we all know that a yellow wiggle straw makes it taste even better.
Here is to hoping that I can convince him to make a bagel face in the near future--it includes small quantities of many vegetables that Ian hasn't put in his mouth in about 3 years. I think I'll increase the likelihood of success and invite Saul over to make them with us.

The ice cream maker experimenting continues. Last night I made banana ice cream.

My version of Chunky Monkey.
It was good and banana-y, but too sweet for me. Unfortunately I made the too-sweet custard for it in the morning. Later in the afternoon I got to hang out for a while with Lynne and Deb both of whom have been making homemade ice cream for years. They agreed that almost all ice cream recipes have too much sugar for their tastes so they always cut it back. Next time I'll remember their advice. The gelato I made on Saturday wasn't too sweet thankfully.

And to finish out a mish mosh day I read through the second story of Joan Silber's Ideas of Heaven (another of the 2004 NBA finalists) and tried on my new socks for the first time:

Made with Knitpicks Memories sock yarn in the colorway Flower Power.
In person they look a little less like peppermint sticks--the orange and green are more prominent than in the photo.

Knitpicks just announced a new solid color superwash sock yarn called Essential which I am going to have to order when I get brave enough to do some lacy or cabled socks.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another justification for gluttony

I ate a ton on Saturday night. My justification is that I needed to do so in order to neglect my stomach for all of Sunday so I could finish the newest Harry Potter (I did). All I had for lunch on Sunday was a cucumber. Sometimes one obsession (finishing a book) takes priority over another (stuffing my face). The only thing I laid off of on Saturday night was the wine (for once) so I could make sure I woke up with a sharp enough brain to make speedy book progress.

Now, getting back to the Saturday night feast. We went over to Ami and John's and, in between games of bocci, we were able to watch our paella master in action:

If you'd like to see John's t-shirt up close (and view other very cool shirts) look here.
Here is the paella almost ready to be eaten--it is still developing the delicious rice crust on the bottom of the pan:

The green beans were picked a few seconds ago from the copious supply in their garden.
MJ brought a salad with a terrific toasted hazelnut vinaigrette from a Mark Bittman recipe which helped cut through the richness of the paella.

And I brought my first attempt at gelato:

chocolate gelato with lemon shortbread cookies
The gelato was good, but didn't blow me away. The texture was fine--smooth and slightly custardy and it packed a chocolate punch, but it didn't have much aftertaste. I wish I had added some form of citrus to the gelato--maybe some orange oil or zest? Something to make the finish a bit more special. I don't have culinary memories with which to compare it because, it now occurs to me, I've never actually had chocolate gelato. When I was Italy I always ordered one of the fresh fruit flavors because they were so mindblowing--I was a particular fan of peach and melon gelato. The lemon shortbread cookies (from The Best Recipe) were delicate and buttery, but not lemony enough. I should have tripled the quantity of zest in them.

And the book? Mmmm, mmmm, good. If you are looking for a critical response to Rowling's latest, look elsewhere. I had a grand time feeling like a greedy 14 year old gobbling down a wonderful story and putting my critical brain on hold.