In my kitchen November 2012

With school back in session for a few months now, we have settled into the routine of moving between the garden and the city. This month, I am in my city kitchen, not our outdoor garden kitchen. In this kitchen, there is …
A tea cozy

Before I lived with chickens, I used to think they were cute. I guess I may have been influenced by the histrionic mother hens in the cartoons, but I got warm feelings when I thought about them. Then we got chickens and I saw what they were capable of. Before long, I came to view them as dinosaurs in disguise. I won’t go into details, but let me just say that it was a few years before any chick hatched in our coops lived much past the age of a month or two. Those motherly, nurturing cartoon hens weren’t real!! Not to mention the horrific damage they can inflict upon the vegetables with their tireless scratching.
I still like the way chickens look, though, and I am a sucker for chicken shaped things (I have chicken shaped egg cups that I find very satisfying to set upon the table), so when I saw this tea cozy I was thrilled. Never mind that it is hard to find a proper tea cozy anywhere these days, this is a cozy with some serious personality. And when I am away from the garden, I still have a chicken at the breakfast table — and this one is very well behaved.

Lebanese Coffee

Where on the planet Earth could I have possibly found such a thing? Why, in Abu Dhabi! A few years back, some dear friends of mine moved from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi. I saw them again on their visits back to Turkey, but we always talked about me and the boys going there (Ali doesn’t leave the garden). It was just talk for a long time, until one day Tuba and I were talking and suddenly it was time; I found myself booking actual tickets to visit her and her family. Her daughter, Ella, is Baki’s very first friend and in spite of her being almost 3 years older than him, they remain fast friends. And Ted is a fellow gardener. Plus, Tuba and Ted love to eat and cook (and do both well), which makes them excellent company.
We had a wonderful time there, catching up on the chats and coffees that we had come to miss and in the mean time taking in a bit of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In the glittering malls, it was easy to forget where in the world we were. Of course, in a mall you expect to see the same stores that you recognize from every other mall you’ve ever been to, but in the Dubai Mall there were stores from so many different countries that it was like the whole world was there. I was reminded of Hong Kong, where it sometimes felt that you could traverse the entire city by going from one mall to another, and your feet would never touch the ground.
The evening that Tuba and I spent in downtown Abu Dhabi, then, was an interesting change. After an exhilarating romp through Lulu Supermarket (I love to visit markets and supermarkets when I travel), she took me to a Lebanese restaurant among dated looking high rise buildings. The place was doing a roaring business,and no wonder — the food was great. Afterwards, we went next door to buy coffee at the Lebanese Roasters. Tuba marched me straight to the back of the store where a row of coffee grinders was rattling away and the rich smell of the coffee filled the air. It is lovely, dark coffee, roasted until it is just this side of black. And in the store, with its white paneled ceilings and fluorescent lights that looked like standard issue 70s office building decor, its wooden drawers with glass window filled with nuts, the steel shelves stacked tightly with tea and the linoleum underfoot, I felt as if my feet were touching the ground at last.

Banana Pink Jumbo

There is always something from the garden in the kitchen and this being November and all, naturally there is a squash. I got the seeds for this squash, named Banana Pink Jumbo from Territorial Seeds the year before last, but the seedlings came to a bad end last year. This year though, we had two plants that flourished at the feet of some tomatoes and today I baked one in order to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. (I guess most pumpkin pies in the US aren’t made of pumpkins at all; I read somewhere that Libby’s canned pumpkin is made of butternut squash.)
The minute I cut the Banana open, I could smell its kinship to melons. There was such a sweet, fresh smell to it, and the raw flesh was lovely, crunchy, and just slightly sweet. I set aside a wedge of it to make a pumpkin cake that I read about at Rachel Eats (it’s cooling right now and I can’t wait to have it with tea tomorrow morning).
And that’s what’s happening in the kitchen right now. I hope that everyone out there who will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday has a good one, with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches the next day.

If you liked peeking into my kitchen, you ought to check out some of the other blogging kitchens out there. Celia at <a href=”http://figjamandlimecordial.com/in-my-kitchen/”>Fig Jam and Lime Cordial</a> has a list of them all!

Farewell, summer, hello green tomatoes!

Some garden chores we do without thinking much of it. You know the ones I mean — the weeding, cutting plants back, staking them, crushing caterpillars or looking for eggs on the underside of a leaf. But others have more weight because they are harbingers of their seasons. As we move ever more firmly out of summer territory and into the persistently nostalgic realm of fall we have been performing the requisite garden chores — sowing garlic, peas and broad beans, and tending the cool weather veg. And last weekend, I cast off my final moorings to summer as we gathered the green tomatoes.

The sun abandoned us last weekend and a chilly rain fell. At night, cold winds with ice on their breath rushed down from the mountain, and sent us in search of woolens stowed away months ago. We retreated to the warmth of the wood stove, with chestnuts crackling merrily atop its lid. I finally had to face it — no tomato was going to ripen in weather like this. Ali and I cut the plants down and gathered the hard green fruit. At the end of it, we had about 10 kilos. (The tomato plants had cheered up once the heat receded a bit, and when it started to rain a little on top of that, they started fruiting like mad.)

10 kilos is a lot of fried green tomatoes, but luckily we had other plans, too. While we were living in Nairobi, my mother learned how to make green tomato chutney, and it has been a staple of our pantry ever since. It is lovely, gingery, vinegary stuff that keeps forever — we have had bottles for years and they just mellow and mature, getting yummier as the time goes by. Somehow, years have passed since we last made chutney (last year, for instance, was not a banner year for tomatoes in our garden), so I told my mom that we would have to make a big batch. And boy did we ever — not once, but twice!

Let me be very clear about one thing here — my mom did all the work. My sole contribution to this process was to get all the ingredients and talk up the importance of having lots of chutney. That got my mom all fired up, and no sooner had I mentioned that I hoped we could get it done before the tomatoes started to ripen than my mother started chopping tomatoes. She made two batches of chutney, each using 4 kilos of tomatoes. Since you may have more or less than that, I am writing the recipe for one kilo, so that it can be easily multiplied or divided.

GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY

1 kg. green tomatoes (I like to weigh them after I chop them)

65 g. ginger

100 g. garlic

500 ml cider vinegar

350-400 g brown sugar

1 T Garam Masala

1. Chop your tomatoes and mince the garlic and ginger.

2. Toss them in a non-reactive pot and add the vinegar and sugar. Simmer over low heat until the whole thing gets dark brown and thickens to your liking. You will want to stir it once in a while, particularly towards the end.

3. If, like us, you did not stir enough towards the end and it starts to catch on the bottom and get a bit scorched, don’t panic. Just dump it all out without agitating the bottom of the pot, and no one will be the wiser. As penance, you may eat as much of the burnt chutney as you can stand, but it’s not really necessary. Just soak your pot and let it go.

4. Stir in the Garam Masala, and add a bit more if you think it needs it.

5. Pack it in jars, eat it out of the pot, hoard it, give it away. (If you want to can it, you could do what I did and sterilize your jars, pack them and then process them in a water bath for 5 minutes.)

We ended up with 10 big (650 ml) jars of chutney and a few bowls for the table. Amazingly, it did not deplete the tomatoes, so I am pickling the rest.

I use the formula for sour pickles that can be found in Sandor Katz’s excellent book, Wild Fermentation. It is one of my favorite books about food because it is about so much more than just food (as if food weren’t enough!). He recommends a 5.4% brine solution, which is to my liking. The only change I have made is that I throw a few chickpeas in because that’s what folks around here do, and this is pickling country!

SOUR PICKLES

2 litres water

108 grams non-iodized salt

fresh dill

2 heads garlic

a pinch of peppercorns

3 or 4 chickpeas

vegetables — green tomatoes, for example. Cucumbers work too!

a handful grape, horseradish or cherry leaves (keeps things crunchy, but you can make respectable pickles without these)

1. Dissolve the salt in the water. Pack your jars — dill first, then everything else and cover with brine.

2. You need to keep your vegetables submerged in the brine. I can never find a plate that will fit into any of the jars that I use for pickling and I am sadly lacking in crocks, so this is what I do: I get a gallon sized ziploc bag and fill it about a third full with brine. Then I let all the air out before I seal it and I end up with a floppy brine bladder. This fits into any space and keeps everything in the brine and out of the air where it belongs.

3. You will most likely encounter scum while your pickles are fermenting. Skim it, and if you remove the brine bladder and it has scum all over it, it is easy to rinse off.

4. Depending on the weather, you could start tasting your pickles after 5 (hot weather) to 7 (cooler weather) days. When they are as sour as you want them to be, move them into the fridge (or if you have a nice chilly basement, that works too).

And lest I sound too gloomy about fall, let me close with a look at some of the good things about this season:

Pomegranates, persimmons, and gourds…. oh my!

Cola bottle cloches

It has been longer than usual since I last posted, and for all the usual reasons that people don’t write — hectic times, and no wherewithal to bring things to a standstill for long enough to put anything down. I dislike it when the days get away from me, and every day that goes by without writing feels a little heavier than the last. When the boys are asleep, time seems to slow back down though. So instead of turning in early to get those extra hours of sleep (since they never get added on at the waking up end of things) I thought I’d put myself out of my misery and put a few words down about what’s up in the garden.
We are well and truly in the northern hemisphere, but autumn is still not quite a done deal here. Our daily highs are in the 80s/20s and although it has started to rain now and then, we are not in the soaked earth days of winter.
With the temperatures still so high, there are lots of grasshoppers and other hungry characters at large in the garden. All of my winter veg seedlings were getting devoured before they could grow much; even the chicken patrol has its limits (and lately the chickens have been invading the veg beds, too, leading to reinforcements of our chicken wire perimeters around the beds).
Before I go any further, let me point out that I know no self-respecting person would admit to having enough cola bottles to hand to do what I am about to describe. Any plastic bottle will do, of course — water bottles, which even the best of us end up with from time to time, would also work. This is just my way of putting the things to use.
So anyway, Ali pointed out that cloches might help matters. This is how I acted upon this useful bit of advice:
I sow our veg seeds in paper pots on trays that hold 24 pots, so I armed myself with that many bottles, cutting them just below the middle with a bread knife, and grabbed my favorite transplanting hoe. I was going to need short stakes, and it just so happened that there were lots of dried out asphodel stalks about (they grow wild here), so I gathered those.
I dug a hole and placed the stake:

added a seedling:

and once I’d gotten the seedling settled in, sat the bottle top onto the stake:

I started using the bottle top cloches about a month ago, and those first seedlings are doing really well. After about ten days under the cloche they got big enough to be liberated and the majority of them are still going strong. Being sheltered just gave them time enough to get big and tough enough to withstand the attacks inevitable in an organic garden. I bet they would be nice little shelters against frost when the time comes.