beet box: over 30 ways to serve the ruby orbs in your refrigerator crisper

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Having been rather beeten down by a mountain of beets, I turned to my Facebook readers, who generously suggested some new and thrilling recipes for this unmistakable vegetable.

Most of my own favorite recipes, unsurprisingly, minimize the sweetness and hail from Eastern European roots.  These include the spectacular molded Russian chopped beet, herring, vegetable, and egg salad called Herring under a Fur Coat that Portland’s Kachka has made fashionable again.  Or perhaps my Polish-style grated salad of sauerkraut, apple, carrot and beet (mixed at table).  And I always have on hand beet kvass to sip or fortify cold borschts.

But shall we head over to India with a beet raita and pickled mustard-seed beet stem relish instead?

If none of my recipes appeal, you might like some of these:

  • Similar in style to beet kvass, you might try fermented beet pickles.
  • Nutritionist Yaakov Levine suggests a simple raw salad of cups grated raw beets, juice of one lemon, 2 tbsp of olive oil and a pinch of fresh dill.
  • A cumin-scented, grated beet quinoa with chickpeas?  Why not?
  • The Master Food Preservers turned me on to this beet chocolate cake at a potluck.
  • Cinnamon-poached beets, which are braised in liquid with cinnamon sticks.
  • “Dirt candy!” said one reader, recommending roasting simply. Some folks use olive oil, and some use butter, plus salt and pepper.  I always add thyme, and orange zest if I have it, when I’m roasting beets in foil.  It’s a great shortcut to peeling beets, as well, since the skins slip right off after roasting.
  • My favorite recipe is a warm salad that uses light-colored beets, parsnips, a fruity vinegar, and plenty of grated ginger.
  • Chef Yotam Ottolenghi does beets, I am told, with tomatoes, preserved lemons, roasted red peppers and more. The word in the Math-Science library on campus is “It’s delicious.”
  • Beet salad with walnuts and feta or a walnut oil vinaigrette, adding rosemary and/or parsley, or go more exotic with a:
  • Moroccan-style beet salad with mint, grapefruit, and red onion, or Lebanese-style with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, and mint.
  • Belly’s delicious beet, red cabbage, capers, creme fraiche and mint chopped salad is a must in early spring as soon as the mint comes up. Here’s my version with fennel fronds.
  • Or get even more creative with your pomegranate molasses and try Chef Chris DeBarr’s “Beet the Day ravioli,” which is a name I just made up: “Roast ’em (yellow ones give the best illusion of pasta), peel ’em, slice ’em as thinly as possible, whip soft chèvre with truffles (peelings are okay, but I frown on truffle oil), stuff a good dab of the trufflicious goat cheese on a round, top with another thin round.  In the restaurant we took it next level by briefly heating the faux ravioli in a hot oven in avocado oil (cuz it is more heat stable than olive oil and rich yet neutral in taste), finishing with pomegranate molasses and red wine syrup from Sardinia called saba, and sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt…but you can just use the inexpensive pom molasses and call it a day.”  OK, will do!
  • In Australia, my friend and fellow travel writer Richard Sterling recounts, they put a slice of beet on a cheeseburger, reminding me of:
  • PartyDowntown’s beet ketchup for winter months when tomatoes aren’t in season.
  • Chopped beets with brown butter, ricotta, and pistachio as a topping for thick short pasta shapes was suggested, and I heartily agree: the beet/soft white cheese/pistachio is one of my favorite flavor and color combinations. See, for example, Melissa Clark of the NYT’s recipe here. Or take a hint from 900 Wall restaurant in Bend, which turns the pistachio into a pesto and serves the beets and cheese à la caprese.
  • Another pasta recipe you might try includes chopped beets, Oregon blue cheese from Rogue creamery, and beet greens sauteed in a little olive oil.
  • Beets and grains go well together. I remember having a wonderful wafer-thin raw beet and emmer wheatberry salad with goat cheese, showered with sesame and sunflower seeds, at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle a few years ago.  Or sample, as a reader suggested, a beet risotto with goat cheese and hazelnuts.
  • And if all else fails, put them “In the compost. Don’t look back.”

i say plum and paste tomatoes

IMG_8629 Visual only! Don’t even dream of canning these wonderful ‘Ananas Noire’ tomatoes on view at the farmers market last Saturday at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Oasis.

IMG_8624 These guys?  Probably not.  Very much slicers, too, in my book.

Paste tomatoes are the bane of the gardener/canner’s existence, I’m feeling more and more.  They taste bad, they’re prone to blossom-end rot, and they take forever to ripen.  I’ve tried a number of varieties, always seeking that nirvana of good flavor and robust health, but every one seems to have its significant downside.  Every year I end up supplementing my significant acreage (ok, one super long row) with purchased plum tomatoes.

IMG_8620Plums are gorgeous and long-lived when they’re grown properly, especially the new striped and black hybrids, but the taste doesn’t advance beyond mediocre.  Although I strongly disapprove of adding bottled lemon juice when processing tomatoes, I kind of think it doesn’t matter when you’re using plums, since there’s no flavor to begin with.  Regular ‘Roma’ tomatoes are useless, and ‘San Marzanos’ are particularly awful here in the Willamette Valley.  People insist on buying them, since they are the Italian variety everyone knows as quality, but they just taste like cardboard in and out of the jar.

IMG_8619So what’s a local girl to do?  Keep searching for better varieties for our region.  I grew ‘Saucey’ for several years.  In 2014 my biggest success is a grafted plant of ‘Jersey Devil,’ which may be a new offering from Log House this year. They have a very pleasant little tail at the end and turn bright red, just like Satan.  They didn’t crap out like my highly anticipated ‘Orange’ and ‘Black Icicles’.

But paste tomatoes, in my opinion, are better than plums, but still prone to diva behavior.  They’re the ones that are not necessarily elongated and hollow/seedy in the middle, but may be more heart-shaped and solid flesh with very few seeds.  They will be a bit more liquidy at first than plums, but cook down nicely and produce a much more flavorful sauce.  I’ve posted many times about ‘Amish Paste,’ so I won’t go into it here, but the 1-pound tomatoes I get from the good strain of this plant (i.e., not the small tomato strain), are excellent.  Farmer Anthony Boutard recommended it to me several years ago, and he’s since moved on to his own ‘Astiana’ line plucked from a market in the Piedmont region of Italy.  I’ve yet to haul my preoccupied behind up to Hillsdale to get in on some of that ‘Astiana’ action.

IMG_8623Heart-shaped, solid tomatoes are also good for sauce.  One possibility for me this year might be these ‘Reif Red Hearts’, spotted last weekend next to the ‘Ananas Noires’. They look quite promising indeed as a sauce tomato, from what I’ve read on the internets.

IMG_8618As for local plums, and there are better varieties than ‘San Marzano,’ like ‘Scipio’, which was good last year from Sweetwater Farm, and these fat and gorgeous ‘Opalka’ plums from Mountain View Farm in Junction City.

Another possibility to consider are the good ol’ round canning tomatoes, like the all-purpose Moskovich, again from Ruby and Amber’s stand at the market.

IMG_8625What varieties are you picking, buying, and canning this year?

ozette potatoes and a sauce from garden herbs

IMG_8647I bought some delicious, glossy PNW-native ‘Ozette’ potatoes from Turnip the Beet Farm at the Lane County farmers market on Saturday.  I’ve written about them before, and think they’re fantastic for the locavore and armchair anthropologist.  They taste good, too!  As far as I know, Turnip the Beet is the only farm that produces them around here.  Farmer Lela says it’s the second crop of the year and they should have them at the next couple markets.

I like the Ozettes because they’re waxy and flavorful, so they make good fried potatoes and potato salad.  Or simply boil them and serve with the brilliant German green sauce, Grüne Soβe (or in the dialect of Frankfurt, Grie Soß).  It’s more of a spring thing, but if you’ve got a burgeoning herb garden, it’s a great summer dish.  All you need is seven herbs, a binder (e.g., sour cream) and something sour (e.g., lemon) and a little mustard.  The herbs that are traditional are sorrel, chervil, parsley, borage, burnet, cress and chives, but there are many variations.  Why not make a PNW herb blend?  I’ve seen basil and dill and marjoram included in some recipes, even.  Here are a few variations:

Mine was made with my very thick homemade sour cream (read: too thick for this sauce), a little milk to thin it out (bad idea, as it de-emulsified the fats), wine vinegar, mustard, and the traditional herbs minus cress.  Sorry about the poor picture, I was hungry.

I’m particularly excited about these potatoes because they represent yet another young farmer couple who are making a go of it in Lane County to bring us heirlooms and unusual produce, produced in a sustainable and labor-intensive way.  They’re worth supporting.  Even better, they just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for new greenhouses, so they’ll be able to extend the season in the future.  Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

grapest show on earth

IMG_8636Whoa, looks like my green table grapes (of indeterminate variety) really liked having more airflow and a less severe prune!  For a change, my laziness resulted in happy times: a bumper crop of the little, seedless, acidic things. So. Many. Grapes. Expecting yours did as well as mine, I won’t try to pawn mine off on you as a hopeful gentleman did the zucchini bat below:

IMG_0188Thus, I present to you the recipes I’m experimenting with this year. I’m afraid my grapes are less juicy and more tart than the average grape, so I’ll probably have to adjust the recipes. 

I’m looking forward to:

You might be tempted to try some of these 51 grape recipes.  I dunno.  Some of them look awful.  And that goes for most grape recipes on the internet.  Anything remotely indicating a grape pie, for example — a weepy, mushy grape pie with some offensive topping where the recipe writer warns the reader ahead of time — is not going to be something I sample.  If you do, and you like it, let me know!

One recipe link that’s broken is an interesting one for “burnt grapes,” which seems to be just a raspberries Romanoff adaption, in which one tops the fruit with sour cream then brûlées it.  Eh.  Not my fave, and grapes would be slipperier.  But here’s another link for that.

Pickled grapes?  Hmmm, maybe.  You tell me.

Or this grape almond olive oil cake that won the contest that produced the Collins and chutney recipes?  Sure thing.

You could also try fresh grape juice, which is made by processing a ton of grapes in a blender, then straining. Or grape juice for canning, recipe here.  I had some wonderful grape juice this winter sold at the Cottage Grove farmstand made of blends of table and wine grapes, both red and white, so I know it can be good, and not a trip down Welch’s memory lane.

IMG_8631Aaaand upon seeing the price of table grapes at the market…anyone want to buy about 50 lbs. of grapes? I’m trying to fund a freelancing career, here. ;)

but first, the tomato news

IMG_8416Tomato time.  I take advantage of cooler nights and melt down chunks of paste tomatoes with a little olive oil and salt in a 225 degree oven overnight to make tomato paste.  After I mill out the skins and cook the rest of the water out, I freeze the paste in ice cube trays.  I’ll do this several times during tomato season to keep up with the harvest.  Not everything needs to be canned/preserved in big batches!

For a change of pace, try my green and red pizza sauce, cooked similarly to tomato paste but with more seasoning and green tomatoes.  You don’t need any special equipment for this one!

And later in the season, you can bet I’ll use up all the rest of the paste tomatoes in my ketchup recipe, one of the best recipes I’ve ever developed.

This year my always huge tomatoes got away from me in the dry heat, and I’m battling an even more severe blossom end rot issue than usual.  It’s clearly a calcium/fertilizer deficiency, since they grew so fast and I thought I had covered my bases with my usual treatment of dried milk and eggshells, plus even watering.  Even a calcium infusion late in the game didn’t help much.  Kind of mad at myself, since I’ve now lost about 75% of the plum tom crop, but I still have huge numbers of tomatoes, so I can’t complain about anything other than my own lack of vigilance.

What’s growing extremely well is the next generation Indigo tomatoes developed first at OSU.  I planted a grafted variety from Log House Gardens called ‘Indigo Cherry Drop’ that has proven to be blossom-end-rot (BER) bullet-proof (the only plant that emerged unscathed).  The others, not so much:

Tomatoes 2014

  • Orange Icicle and Black Icicle (both very prolific but wiped out nearly clean with BER, orange variety tastes terrific)
  • Black Ethiopian (a solid salad tom, pretty good BER resistance)
  • Indigo Cherry Drop – terrific, perfect golf ball size; actually tastes good, unlike the first gen Indigos (not great but good), and very pretty
  • Sungold
  • Amish Paste (got the big strain this year, thank goodness, and it’s stronger against the BER than expected)
  • San Marzano (grafted) – still tastes bad and full of BER
  • Jersey Devil (grafted) – another plum but same problems
  • Sunset’s Red Horizon
  • Henderson’s Winsall
  • Anna Russian – another big paste (or rather heart-shaped) that resembles Amish but seems heartier
  • Rose di Berne
  • Black Mt. Pink

And while I’m at it, just thought I should mention the peppers are doing very well.  I had to pinch off blossoms early in the season to encourage the plants to grow large enough to support the crop, so I’m just now getting some full, beautiful pepper development.

Peppers 2014

  • Corbaci (a long skinny sweet pepper, really cool and prolific, grew in pot)
  • Sweet banana
  • Carmen (x 2, not sure why i grew two of these)
  • Paradisium Alatu Sarza Szentes (yellow ribbed flat guys)
  • Jaloro (yellow jalapeno, in pot, hot)
  • Atris (F1 hybrid, huge)
  • Mulato
  • Mulato Islena
  • Padron
  • Aji Amarillo  (no flowers yet!!)
  • Negro de Valle
  • Pasilla Baijo (chilaca when fresh)

juicyberry pie: recipe for all juicy berries

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Since my haskapberries went bonkers this year, I thought I’d turn some into pie.  The texture of these berries, which look like elongated blueberries and taste like a combination of tart boysenberry and wine grapes, is soft and juicier than blueberries.

Haskapberries!  I think I finally picked the last of them yesterday.  Not bad for a crop that ripened in the third week of May this year.  The berries sweetened and softened on the bushes, too, making even the annoyingly clingiest bush easy to pick.

IMG_7529This recipe is an adaptation of my blackberry pie recipe, but it works for haskaps and all juicy berries, really.  The main idea is to showcase the raw berry flavor and texture, but hold together the filling with a “paste” of cooked berries with a little thickener added.

Why am I so convinced this is the way to go?  Ah yes, my juice factory with the last haskapberry pie I made:

IMG_7666Tasted great; bled like a stuck pig.  So yeah, trust in me…I fail for you!

Plan ahead: the pie crust, the berry sauce, and the finished pie all need to be chilled before serving.  You’ll also need to buy some Clear Jel, a modified food starch that doesn’t break down after time, like corn starch does; you might substitute corn starch for less satisfactory results.

IMG_7664Juicyberry Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie.

  • 5-6 cups fresh haskapberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries, or any juicy berry
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Clear Jel
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 prebaked and cooled pie shell (see recipe below)

The day before or several hours before you assemble the pie: prebake and cool a 9-inch pie crust.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of berries and water. Mash berries well. Heat until boiling on medium high heat. In a small bowl, mix Clear Gel and sugar. When berries are boiling, add sugar mixture to berries, stirring constantly for one minute to set the starch and thicken the juice. When thick, remove from heat and cool to room temperature.  Don’t omit the cooling process.

(Whoa!!  A note from our sponsor about blueberries:  You might want to add the fresh blueberries to the hot slurry mix instead of waiting for it to cool down so they soften a bit.  Your goal is to have a fresh tasting pie, not cooked, but blueberries benefit from a little taming.)

Pour cooled sauce over top of rest of fresh berries in a large bowl.  Stir gently to combine with sauce, trying not to break berries. Chill well, at least an hour before serving.

Slice with sharp knife and use pie server to aid transfer of servings, as the pie will be looser than pies made with cooked fruit. Top with whipped or ice cream.

Prebaked Pie Crust

1/4 cup cold water with ice cubes in it
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I’ve tried soft pastry flour and white whole wheat; it never works as well as just plain ol’ flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
9 Tbsp. (4 ½ oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

About 30 minutes before you plan to make the crust, throw butter and a bowl of iced water in the freezer.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend, then  add the chilled butter.  Pulse until it looks like a coarse meal (the old way is to say ‘alligator’ six times) and the butter is in tiny pieces but still very visible.  Measure out 1/4 cup of water from your chilled bowl of ice water, then add the vinegar to the water.  Slowly add the water-vinegar mixture to the flour meal, pulsing until the dough starts to come together.  You want it to be right on the borderline between crumbly and a clump of dough.  You may need to add a tiny bit more water.

Gather the dough and mound it on a clean surface.  Now here’s the fun part.  Take egg-sized bits and press down with the heel of your hand, “smearing” the butter and flour together.  Then shape all the dough into a disk about 1 ½ inches thick, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, refrigerate it for a few hours to two days.

When you are ready to roll, take the dough out to soften for 15-30 minutes (you want it cold but pliable, and not sticky).

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a circle with the diameter of about 11 inches. As you roll from the center outward, turn the dough so you ensure it doesn’t stick.  Add flour to the surface and your pin as needed. Transfer the dough gently into your pie dish, and press it to shape.

Trim any dough to about an inch larger than the dish edge, then fold the dough under, pinch all along the top, and prick dough with a fork all over, including the sides. Place the pie crust in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake the empty pie shell (this is called blindbaking, and helps combat sogginess) for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown, on the lower third of the oven.

Cool the pie shell to room temperature before adding filling.

 

stalking the backyard daylily

IMG_7707A proud clump of orange daylilies or tiger lillies (H. fulva) graces one corner of my garden, blocking out a poppy and a lavender bush and encroaching on my daffodils.  Disdainful, I stopped in my murderous tracks a few years ago when I read one can eat most parts of the plant in a blog post by wildcrafter Hank Shaw.

I’ve since read more about them, including the history with some dubious tasting notes, and a chapter in Euell Gibbons’ classic, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, which seems to be a book that lights up the eyes of people who wish they were wholly foraging for food (while shopping at Whole Foods).

Being one of those people, mostly, I knew I had to take my dreams of a feral future and make them a reality, so I stalked the daylilies in my backyard.

What, you say you don’t know what a daylily is?  This is a daylily:

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Not a daylily (with an added bonus of an artichoke to symbolize the choking you will do when you eat a poisonous cultivar of true lily, below):

IMG_7714You can immediately tell them apart because the daylily grows in a big clump and has long, skinny leaves growing from the clump, but the true lily has many short opposing leaves growing up each stalk that culminates in a flower. Another things that differentiates them is that daylilies frequently repatriate to the wild, and they often resist the elements in parks, old lots, and meadows.  More on identification here.

The buds, flowers, stalks, and root bulbs of the daylily are all edible, but being a lazy hunter-gatherer, I went for the easy stuff: the buds.  Pick them when they are just about open, and don’t delay, since the ‘day’ part of daylily is not false advertising.  They ripen, bloom, and are gone in 24 hours.  You can see one bud just ready to be plucked to the left of the daylily in the image above the poison-choke-lilies.

IMG_7680Ever have Chinese hot and sour soup?  The “golden needles” or lily buds are none other than the dried buds of the daylily.  I dried a bunch and plan to use them in soups.  Apparently, they let off a slightly gelatinous ooze when you cook them, so they thicken up nicely.

The rest of the buds I plucked to eat in the manner I love vegetables the most: quickly dry-fried and salted.  You may have enjoyed padron or shishito peppers prepared this way, or perhaps Sichuan green beans.  Daylily buds rank right up there with the pleasure, and their unusual origin and utterly free cost to you will make you the star of all the foragers in your neighborhood.  OK, maybe not my neighborhood, since there are real foragers who live here, but if you live in a neighborhood without any, let me know and I’ll move there, since I could use a little stardom.

Anyway, the recipe in the first photo for dryfried daylily buds couldn’t be easier.  You’ll love the taste (but be careful, as apparently some folks are allergic or react poorly to the very mild and delicious greenbeany taste, likening it to armpit sweat).  Try just a couple at first to see if you are one of those unfortunate souls.

Heat up a heavy pan, cast iron if you have it, on high until it smokes.  Toss your daylily buds in a tiny bit of oil just before you toss them into the hot pan.  Smoke will ensue, so take the pan outside, flipping the buds with a spoon for just a few minutes until they are charred in spots and softened.  Salt with a coarse-grained finishing salt and serve immediately.

spicy silky fermented kim chi

IMG_7601I’ve been asked a few times to post a “normal” kim chi recipe, the ubiquitous kind at Korean restaurants, with napa cabbage and spicy sauce.  Your wish is my command.

The last time I made this recipe, I was teaching a demo on fermentation to the brand spankin’ new Master Food Preserver class of 2014, and I had the distinct pleasure of horrifying our eminent leader, Nellie Oehler of Dutch extraction, who likes her pickles sweet but still gamely tried a piece of my kim chi.  Her face reminded me that this is not a recipe for everyone.  But as she said, smiling as she grimaced, “I’ll try anything once!”  And so should we all.

I like this recipe because it retains the spiciness and color better and has a lovely silky texture, thanks to the porridge made of sweet rice powder that binds everything together. The porridge, I believe, is a style of the south.

I never hesitate to throw in seasonal vegetables: the last batch I made contained cubed tiny turnips and young daikon with their leaves from the farmers market (thanks, Groundwork Organics!) and strippings from the aging kale in my garden.  You might experiment with fresh new carrots, thinly sliced green garlic, garlic scapes, radishes…the list goes on.

If you’re a fan of kim chi or want to see more background on kim chi techniques, you might want to read my daikon cube kim chi and white kim chi with pear recipes, too.  Add some shiso pickle and salted cucumber slices with sesame seeds, and you’ll be well on your way to a fancy Korean banchan (set of kim chi dishes that accompany meals).

Spicy Silky Kim Chi

Yield: varies, about two quarts when finished.

  • 1 ½ lbs. white napa cabbage
  • 1 small Korean radish (“moo”) or enough daikon for 2-3 cups cubes
  • brine: 2 tablespoons salt plus 5 cups water
  • 3-4 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup Korean salted shrimp, minced*
  • 1/3 cup fine (vs. coarse) Korean red pepper powder (“gochu karu”)
  • porridge: 1/2 cup water plus 1 tablespoon sweet rice powder**
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1-2 cups shredded young kale, mustard, or turnip greens
  • 1 small Asian pear or green apple, thinly sliced into matchsticks

The night before you plan to make the kim chi, rinse and cut the cabbage into 2-inch square (no larger) pieces.  Peel and cut the radish into thinly sliced half-moons. Toss radish and cabbage, then add a brine made out the salt and water. Let mixture sit in bowl on counter for 8-12 hours.

Wash your hands, counter, and cooking equipment well. Drain the brine from the vegetables and prepare the kimchi souse and rice porridge.

For the porridge, add 1/2 cup of cold water to a saucepan, then add immediately the sweet rice powder. On medium low, whisk the powder into a solution, and cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, to create a sauce the texture of paste. Let cool on the stove.

For the souse, make a paste in a food processor with the garlic, ginger, sugar and shrimp.

Mix the souse, porridge, and the red pepper powder into the cabbage and radish mixture well with your hands (you might want to use gloves if your hands are sensitive to spice), massaging spices into the cabbage.  Add a little bit of water to ensure everything is nice and pasty, and the souse covers the cubes.  Add the scallions, greens, and Asian pear slivers, and mix well.

Place the kim chi in a half-gallon or larger-sized glass jar that has been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized.  I use a 3L hinged jar without the rubber ring, so I can close the jar but not seal it.  It helps to use a canning funnel to get the stuff into the jar — you’ll get red pepper paste everywhere.

Let sit on the counter for about 2 days, mixing and pushing down the vegetables into the souse.  After it starts to bubble, let rest in the refrigerator for 5 days before eating.  You can actually eat the stuff at any point from right after you make it onward, but it tastes better after a few days.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a month or so, but the flavor will change over time.

*Purchase at an Asian grocery store like Sunrise, available in the refrigerated section. The shrimp should be tiny and bright pink and very salty.

**I use Mochiko, a Japanese brand, which is widely available, but you can buy it in bulk at Market of Choice.

strawberry candy

IMG_7662As happy as I am to usher in strawberry season, it’s really just a prelude to raspberry season for me.  I’m not really a huge fan of strawberry jam, since I find it discolors more quickly than other berry jams, and the pieces are often too big and slippery.  My favorite preparation for strawberries is, instead, dehydrated slices that taste sweeter and cleaner than other dried berries do when dried.

IMG_7591Sliced at 1/4-inch thick and dried until crisp at 135 degrees, they make great additions to trail mix, cheese plates, oatmeal, and granola.  The trick is to slice them evenly (do not follow my example here), get them fresh, pick a large, solid variety (Hoods or Tillamooks work well; avoid Seascapes or Shuksans) and make way more than you think you’ll need.  I sometimes wait until the end of the season so I can get a deal on a flat after everyone has tired of eating these delicious morsels fresh with cream, as we do.

Have little strawberries left over?  I’ve stopped using supermarket California strawberries for my annual strawberry clay facial mask because of the pesticides (no, I’d never eat them).  So make a facial from nice organic Oregon ones instead!

summer salad and a meditation on value

IMG_6779IMG_6754IMG_7476IMG_7552IMG_7581IMG_7588Who could have predicted the percentage of pleasure in the back corner of a quarter-acre lot?  When we talk of commercial real estate, we use the language of profitability: so many ridiculous dollars per square foot in value.

I weigh the square footage of my garden, instead, in pleasure units per annum, and I am a wealthy woman.

The garden produces pleasure at a rate far greater than the sum of its parts. Through my cultivation, I live history and I plan for the future; it’s a living record of failures and hopes. I began this garden by digging out the dirt and forming the growing plots and subsidizing the soil with every bit of dirt capital I had.  It has evolved over the last six years and its topography traces the story of my life.

Exhibit A:  This square foot is ruled by a fat clump of chives with now fading lavender puffballs with papery feathers that I planted when I established the herb row six years ago.  It gave me volunteer ‘Seascape’ strawberries (2) that are darker and sweeter than my main crop ‘Bentons’ that are better for jam. It also killed off two generations of lemon thyme, never hardy, prompting me to move a new pricey start to the middle where the sun will establish it more firmly. It is coddling three shiso seedlings, all marked by slug attacks at the seed leaves, the red shiso the worst of the lot.  I need the red shiso to experiment further furikake, a dried crumbly topping for rice, since the stuff last year wasn’t quite right without salt.  The green gets salted and used as wraps for summer barbecue.

Exhibit B:  This shady square foot is tayberries, now nearly as long as my thumb, which I planted after marveling at them at the market three years ago. The tayberries, yes, that the squirrels have been eating, I’ve discovered, after crowing that those little rascals have been leaving my strawberries alone this year.  The tayberries are threatened, too, by a patch of mint rooted in a deep-set plastic pot to contain it, tucked far back in the shady corner of my garden, but longing to colonize new, more fruitful lands.  And the terrible threat of losing the sun: the elderberry planted to shade the glorious fragile ‘Virginia Richards’ rhody (since discovered to not have the proper sun trajectory) and hide a sagging gutter on the neighbors’ garage (since fixed, since moved out) is now 15 feet tall, and shading the tayberries instead.

Exhibit C: And this square foot, anchoring the potato bed ringed in cedar logs from the branch that fell in the winter storm two years ago, has an Italian fennel sentinel, the fronds used for gravlax and fish and salads.  Its pollen I cultivate for fig jam for the ‘Desert Queen’ fig that — please! — is rallying with leaf buds now after the freeze that wiped out fig season for the year and killed many fig trees wholesale.  The sentinel guards three ‘Marechal Foch’ grape scions and four little apples: ‘Karmijn,’ ‘Esopus Spitzenberg,’ ‘Canadian Strawberry’ and ‘Pendragon,’ all rare, all volatile, all fighting the fleeting nature of life and the suffering that reminds us it will be over too soon.

See?

But the garden is more than just a record of a personal past, and, as a hedonist, I hesitate to say this, but it’s more than just pleasure.  It’s resistance and power.

One example will have to suffice.  Because I cook from my garden, I am free to experiment with the idea of a salad.  Yes, a salad.  Something that’s drummed into us by industry as the paragon of a healthy meal.  It’s a diet meal.  It’s a female meal.  It’s the kind of meal we should not only eat but exclaim delightfully over, Oh, it’s so fresh and healthy and I feel so good while eating it!

And we do this while we are masticating over-processed bagged mesclun made of differently shaped little leaves that all taste exactly the same. Do they harbor e. coli?  We don’t know.  What matters is that we bought it, and when we buy it, we buy into values that promote performing fitness as a marker of class.  The open secret is that these salads don’t create pleasure.  They traffic in anxiety.  They separate the growers from the consumers with an idea of what we *should* eat, not what we *can* eat if we can just…

…wander out into the garden with not even the faintest anxious pressure for ‘eating healthy’ or ‘being fit.’  I eat my salad in the morning.  I bundle a sour sorrel leaf and an odd little papalo leaf around a gooseberry and a tiny carrot.  I smush a strawberry on a tender escarole, slightly bitter, and wrap it burrito-like around a rattail radish pod.  I make a sandwich out of two pea pods, two leaves of tarragon, and a beet leaf. I pick pale yellow collard flowers and pink-white radish flowers and purple johnny-jump-ups and magenta and pale pink pea flowers and eat them as a chaser for the tip of a garlic scape.

Not a single one of these can be eaten in a restaurant or out of season, or really, in someone else’s garden.  It is mine.  My salad is the product of my labor, my fiddling, and my palate that hungers for bittersweetness.

My labor is worth very little to nothing, all the institutions in my life tell me.  But in its nothingness, it’s everything to me, because I cultivate hope each year and breed out failure and have momentary, seasonal, nearly unique and nearly wholly my own momentary pleasure and joy in living.  There is nothing more valuable in the world.

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Images (top to bottom): lovage, tayberries, haskapberries, garlic scapes, raspberries, gooseberries, Bruno Jupiter Bright, kitten extraordinaire, growing in the kale bed.