pivo and ceviche

I’m jetting off to Prague.  For a conference.  Suspicious about the food; I’ll just come right out and say it.  I did discover a strawberry “festival” at the Hilton, with hopes that other, less formal strawberry festivals will be happening around the city.  But I still have vivid memories of the Czech dish I ordered way back in my student travels in the dark ages: lumps of flour and water dough swimming in bacon grease, topped with pork cracklings and cheese curds.  Somewhere, deep in my ancestral blood, a Québécois was crying.  But generally I love Eastern European food, so I’m trying to be hopeful.  Let me put it this way: I’ve already located a Hungarian restaurant.  And supermarkets.

I’ll keep you posted.

I also discovered that Czech lagers go quite well with ceviche.  My husband got tenure last month, and we’ve been celebrating.  The fanciest to-do was the official party that the university threw.  I’ve never had such excellent catering.  Seriously, give an engraved gold magnetic name tag to whomever was in charge of that spread.  Of all the delicious things, the shrimp ceviche, albeit served mysteriously on Asian ceramic spoons, rocked my world.

But isn’t ceviche raw fish, you ask.  In this case, no.  It was Oregon pink shrimp marinated with lemon, onion, tomato, and cilantro.  Kind of like a seafood salsa. And the best part is that you don’t have any worries at all about uncooked shellfish.  Usually, ceviche is a mix of fish and shellfish that is cured by citrus juice and salt, similar to gravlax.  But with a shorter marinade, pre-cooked shrimp work very well.

It got me thinking about the utter destruction of the shrimp industry on the Gulf coast, and where we source so much of our shellfish as a nation.  Luckily for Oregonians, we have a particular catch of tiny “salad” shrimp each year.  Last year’s season was particularly good.  The season runs from April to October, so you should buy now and buy often.  Best of all, it’s rated sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

And no added oil!

Here’s my reconstruction of the recipe we had at the tenure party:

Oregon Pink Shrimp Ceviche

  • 1 lb. pre-cooked, shelled Oregon pink shrimp (or other tiny shrimp, if you must)
  • 1/4 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1 plum tomato (for color/texture, really; replace with red pepper if you can’t bear out of season tomatoes), chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, optional
  • handful of cilantro, chopped (I used ‘Delfino,’ which has fern-like leaves, from my garden)
  • (psst…if you’re lazy, just use a 1/2 pint container of prepared pico de gallo salsa, plus a little extra onion, instead of the above)
  • 3-4 limes (essential)
  • salt to taste

Boil water and soak the shrimp in it for a few minutes.  Drain off most of the water (leave a cup or so).  Add lime juice and other ingredients.  The marinade should be sour but not mouth-puckeringly so, and only a bit salty, and it should submerge most of the shrimp.  Add a bit more water if you need it.

Marinate for at least two hours in the refrigerator.  Keeps overnight well, but after a day it won’t be quite as nice, so eat up with tortilla chips or in little glass bowls as a cocktail appetizer.

yet more rain — with berries

…and the strawberries are ripening slowly, and without much sweetness.  It’s frustrating because I just finished a story on local strawberries, with every intention of adding gorgeous photographs of the crop in full season.  Not this year!

But my green caneberries are hopeful, and surely the rain will stop by July, right?  I have a good crop of little blackcaps (black raspberries) with their magenta-fringed blossoms:

and raspberries of various sorts.

But this is my pride and joy, my very first honest-to-goodness homegrown tayberry.  The tayberry is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry (like the more popular boysenberry or loganberry).  And yet the plant is of a wholly different character than the raspberries and blackberries: low to the ground, slow-growing, languid.  But since I love these berries so much, I think it might be worth it.

attention new gardeners and lawnbound suburbanites

When we moved in to Raccoon Tree Acres four years ago, my garden area looked like this:

There was a small area fenced off with chicken wire to the left, suggesting someone threw in a few sad plants one year and forgot about them.  The “garden” was dominated by a scraggly, ill-located rhododendron, the view from the house dominated by a chain link fence.  The brown line is actually a little incline that separates the entire garden area from the lawn.  Legend has it that this area was always a garden for the farm house next door.

After rototilling the whole thing and building raised beds, then cultivating for a few years, it looks like this:

It’s just an average quarter-acre lot with two mature trees (incense cedar to the left, Siberian elm to the right), but the garden makes it my slice of paradise.  There is enough room for seven rows, plus various other “patches,” like my onion patch, lettuce patch, strawberry patch, and lovage-artichoke-rosemary-bay patch.  There is an elderberry tree growing to hide the ugly garage and broken drain spout to the left, and I’ve let the landscaping from the neighbor grow over the ugly fence.

As soon as I can convince my husband, we’ll add a retaining wall to the incline and put in the long-awaited patio expansion and path to the garden.  Every year the lawn is less and less pleasant, and I dream of vivisecting and smothering.

And you can do the same.  All you need is a sunny flat area, a rototiller (or neighbor with one), a couple of years of shipped in soil and compost, fertilizer, labor, and patience.  Every year, I try to do a little more.  I did it while writing my dissertation and job searching/working/freelance writing.  I don’t think it is out of reach for anyone who has some dedication to gardening.

By the way, the rhody (‘Virginia Richards’)is still there, but with water and fertilizer, plus some shady plants that will give it some respite from the sun as soon as they grow up tall enough, it has incredibly lovely blooms:

more rain

More rain…and I’m out of Sluggo.  Time to buy the industrial sized bag, I’m afraid.  In the short respite of sun yesterday, I managed to prep the cucumber row, weed a few areas, and plant my watermelon, zucchini and patty pan squash (‘Benning’s Green Tint,’ bought on whim at MOC) starts.

My peppers are doing ok.  They seem to be happy in the new bed, even without the sun, and I’ve already noticed some growth.  My tomatoes are growing up strong and fearless, much to my surprise.  I think it’s the new organic fertilizer I’m using.

I harvested two new potatoes on an extra potato plant I pulled out to make room for the zucchini.  Adorable little things.  Can’t wait for their brothers.

In other news, I found the squirrels had decimated my strawberry bed, eating at least a dozen of the biggest, best unripe berries.  Not happy.  So I improvised a fence around part of the patch, hoping at least some will remain to ripen when the %&@#$^#&! sun comes out.  I should probably throw out some seeds or something for them if they’re that hungry.

Today, before the rain really starts to fall, I just need to transplant the beets and basil (maybe), and put in the beans, cucumbers, and one more set of squash (chioggia di marina).  Then it’s sit back and pray for sun.

EDITED TO ADD:  Ooh, sun for 2 minutes!  I’m completely soaked, having just finished planting two kinds of cucumbers (McPick hybrid pickling and Cornichon Fin de Meaux from France), Chioggia di Marina squash — one hill from seed saved from Anthony Boutard’s squash, and two hills from Seed Savers (by the elderberry and on the V of the lettuce bed), and three kinds of beans: vermont cranberry (E), Hutterite soup bean (W), and Maxibel bush (W side of peas). I’ve got…

— excuse me while I go kick some strawberry-eating rodent @ss —

Sorry.  I’ve got two kinds of dill: a Dukat start and Mammoth seed at the south ends of my three middle rows, and Detroit beet seeds and transplants in front of my herb bed.  Found a Za’atar marjoram that overwintered, and my new marjoram is doing well.  Basil is looking sorry.  I’m not sure what to do.  I think I need a cloche.

rain, rain, GO AWAY IMMEDIATELY.

My lettuce, sprouts, peas, and artichokes are doing well, as much as one can do well with nightly visitors.  But my new pepper bed, about which I’m worried irrespective of the weather, does not need the continued rain.  My ripening strawberries don’t need it, either.  Or my tomatoes.  Or roses.

I love my new front bed (floating in the sea of grass above).  If you recall, I named it the Dissertation Draft Memorial Bed to commemorate the thousand-or-so pages of shredded dissertation drafts that went in to fortify the “brown” material in the layered compost.  Through the winter, I layered vegetable and yard scraps to the decaying mix of page and leaf. (The haskapberry hedge-to-be is on the left (east) running along my neighbor’s irise, and my currants are also to the left middle.  I’ll be taking out the failed (another failed!) rhubarb and the lone leftover potato plant and putting in squash.)

The plan was to move my pepper bed from the southwest bed I put in last year, so I could have a hot bed for tomatoes in back, and a new hot bed in the front.  Last year’s peppers:

The problem is that the front bed isn’t quite done, since cold compost takes many months to rot down, so I used a technique often done in so-called lasagna planting beds.  I dug a hole in it, and filled it with new soil, then planted directly in the soil.  I figured that any heat generated by the rotting compost would actually help to keep the peppers warm and toasty.

But I didn’t count on constant rain weeks into the “dry” season.  The rotting mix, of course, is a haven for slugs and all kinds of decomposers.  The wet weather has made me anxious and vigilant.  Even though I put down Sluggo bait, one of the leaves of one of the pepper plants that was touching the mulch got eaten the very first night.  Another stem was chomped on, and the plant likely won’t make it. And none of the plants will even grow until they see some sun and warm weather.

But if they do, and my bet that the bed is placed well for a full day’s worth of sun, they will be excellent.  I purchased almost all of the unusual Hungarian varieties available at new grower Garden of Eaton.  Jeff Eaton has the dream setup for suburban plant propagators — a mini farm in an otherwise unfarmlike suburban development, complete with hoop houses and a green house on every square inch of the property.  I spent an hour or so going through the hundreds of small pepper plants.  His plants aren’t as far along as most of the other starts I’ve seen at the market, but the varieties are promising.  I wish other growers would branch out.  Then again, the anxiety I feel about these little unproven cultivars would make me, if I were a farmer, stick with the tried and true.

So here’s the list.  Hungarians in the west, other peppers in the east.  I’ll probably break down and buy a jalapeño and plant it in the back, since I’m so worried about the new bed.

West row from S to N:

  • Eggplant – Kermit – 60 days
  • Eggplant – Kurume Long – 65 days
  • Pepper – Paradiscom Alaku Sarga Szentes (seeds from Matrafured, Hungary but developed in Szentes) – 80 days
  • Pepper – Szegedi Piacos (probably misprint for Szentesi) – 85 days
  • Pepper — Leutschauer Paprika – 85 days
  • Pepper – Feher Ozon – 80-85 days.  “Excellent for container growing, early gardens, and cool areas. The conical-shaped pods are 4″ long by 3″ wide and are born in clusters.”
  • Pepper – Szegedi Paprika – 85 days.  “4-5″ long by 1½-2″ wide with a pointed bottom. Thick flesh. Matures from yellow to orange to red.”
  • Pepper – Paradiscom Alaku Sarga Szentes – 80 days.  “Yellow, flat, ribbed pumpkin shaped fruit with very thick, crisp and juicy flesh and the tremendous flavor that peppers from Hungary are famous for.”

East row from S to N:

  • Eggplant – Kermit – 60 days
  • Eggplant – Orient Express – 45 days
  • Pepper – Round of Hungary – 75 days
  • Pepper – Liebesapfel – Early
  • Pepper – Lipstick Pimiento – 73 days
  • Pepper – Padron – 65 days
  • Pepper – Pasilla Chilaca – 80 days
  • Pepper – Pasilla Chilaca – 80 days
  • Pepper – NuMex Anaheim (variety?) – 75 days

a mouthful: black pepper punition cookie sandwiches with haskapberry jam

I brought these little yumyums to a wonderful barbecue yesterday.  I had added freshly ground black pepper to my trusty, flexible, rustic punition cookie dough, then dolloped some haskapberry jam in between two cookies once they came out of the oven.  The vivid, fruity jam worked really well with the buttery cookie, and the pepper left our lips tingling.

Plus, the slightly-t0o-firm jam worked really well as cookie glue. For errors, it has been said, are volitional and portals of discovery for the cook of (eu)genius.