In My Kitchen, October 2012

The clouds had been gathering all day, but when the first fat raindrops began to fall, it felt like a surprise. Within about five minutes, the rain was coming down in sheets; Kaya and I were making dinner in the kitchen, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get it to the house without getting soaked. (Umbrella to the rescue.)
When we woke up this morning, the air felt as if it had been scrubbed clean. It was the first morning that had the air of an autumn day, redolent with the smells of damp leaves and soaked earth. Everything seemed clearer and brighter, and the kitchen seemed particularly inviting. So, without further ado, I offer the first glimpse of the kitchen this fall. (To see what’s happening in the mother lode of kitchen glimpses, head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.)
In my kitchen…

…there is the distinct feeling that the maximillian sunflowers are about to stage a world takeover. They are great because they explode into bloom at the very tail end of summer/beginning of fall when everything else is swooning from the heat. Another sign that fall is here at last.

… there is a bowl of popcorn from the garden. Baki and I planted some Dakota Black popping corn and we harvested it a few weeks ago from skeletal, dried out plants. Out of the blue, Baki asked for popcorn this morning right after we ate breakfast, so we tried it out. After much energetic popping, I am pleased to report that it is unbelievably tasty — I swear, it tastes buttery! I like, too, how it looks burnt, but it’s just the hulls and kernels from the corn.

… there are quince, ready to be eaten. These might look green and unappetizing, but they are sweet and fragrant once you get them out of their fuzzy peels. Ali picked them from the tree, which was bent almost double under the weight of the fruit, and we’ve eaten plenty of them already. I will be making quince jam this week, and will post the recipe. It’s my mother-in-law’s no-fail easy-peasy pressure-cooker quince jam.

So these sights, smells and flavors of fall have gotten me well and fully appraised of the change of seasons. Summer is but a sweaty memory. I’m digging out the wellies and the sweaters. Hooray for fall!

In My Kitchen, August 2012

I’ve been an enthusiastic follower of the In My Kitchen series that Celia, over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial does for a while, so I thought I’d have a go. (My kitchen is outdoors, hence the lack of walls.)

This month in my kitchen there is:

A bottle of chili oil

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This is an easy thing that I just learned how to do from the inimitable Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. I’ve had the book for a while, but never tried this. When I found some chili peppers from last year in a paper bag, I knew it was time.

This is how you do it:

Ingredients:

1 cup dried chili flakes, seeds and all (If you grind your own in a food processor, do it in the open air so you don’t breathe in the spicy dust!)

2 1/4 cups neutral oil (She uses peanut, but I can’t get that so I used canola, to good effect.)

1. Heat the oil to 350 F/177 C. (This cooks the oil, so it tastes better.)

2. Let the oil cool until it reaches 225-250 F/107-121 C (This is when having a candy thermometer is fun.)

3. Add the chili flakes and let it settle for a few hours. Then it is ready to go. It will take on a deadly red hue and be lovely and spicy. (I put a spoon in the jar, poured in the hot oil, and then added the chilis. I never removed the spoon again because it was so satisfying to always find it there when I need it. And I dip into my chili oil at every chance I get!)

There is a loose bundle of lemongrass knots:

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Every year, our friends at Sundance Camp host an international juggling festival where they have stalls for people to sell things. Ali likes to make lavender bags, little muslin bags filled with lavender from our garden, to sell there. This year, we’ve got loads of lemongrass, and Ali just keeps planting more, so I have been tying blades of lemongrass into little bundles to sell as lemongrass tea. It’s a nice job for the heat of the day, and they are very handy — you just drop one in your cup and add hot water. A minute or two later, a lovely cup of tea is ready.

And there is a cup of flowers from the garden:

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I spend most of my time tending the vegetables, but we do grow a lot of flowers as well. I never get around to cutting them, but my mother always does, and unlike me she can also arrange them nicely so that they look just right. She is leaving this Sunday for NYC, and I will miss having her here. Actually, we all will. She fits into our life here so easily, and while she is here it is hard to imagine how we managed. Luckily, she plans to be back soon, at the end of October. Thanks for all the help and support, mom! I hope you had as much fun being together as we did.

(Baki is licking brownie batter out of a pot back there. They were brown butter brownies, a recipe my mom found online at Bon Appetit. The brownies were very tasty, you might even say evil, and that recipe can be found here.)

And those are a few things in my kitchen. Thanks for joining me!

Morning ramble

Ali and I sat  on the porch for a moment this morning, enjoying the cool of the morning. “We would be watering now,” he said. I can’t recall if he bothered trying not sounding smug. After watering our potted plants and the greenhouse this morning, I went down to the bottom terrace of the garden to pick some tomatoes that had ripened, weeding as I went. I have been hopping from foot to foot waiting for a bowlful of tomatoes (as opposed to a handful).

On the way down, I stopped to say good morning to the chicks, out for their morning scratch-around (we let the chicks out in the morning because the bigs stay in the coop all morning and come out in the afternoon after they have laid). Yes, we finally have some chicks. I kept thinking and thinking that the hens were broody but they never were, and finally after I had given up all hope one of them sat down for three weeks and the result is 8 chicks, hatched in the dead of summer.

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I got my tomatoes (a heavy bowlful — yay!), as well as a few sprigs of basil, and headed back up to the kitchen. On the way up, I noticed that the beans are flowering (and beaning) again. This is Trionfo Violetto, a purple pole bean.

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And I took a peek under the eggplant leaves and was encouraged by what I saw.

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My mother and I are in the midst of a mild polenta obsession, so I thought we could have some polenta and eggs for breakfast. I had some leftover corn stock and my mom had brought a little chunk of Pecorino Romano with her from her fridge, so this is what we ate:

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To follow suit, this is what I did:

Polenta and Eggs with Tomato:

1 cup polenta

2 cups stock (or water)

1/2 cup milk

pinch of salt

1/4 cup grated cheese

poached eggs

Bring the liquids to a boil and pour in the polenta while whisking. Cook slowly, whisking to avoid lumps, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in grated cheese and spoon a generous amount into a bowl.

Add a cut up tomato, a poached egg, some basil, and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

That’s a Brandywine tomato, which I am growing for the first time this year. I know, Brandywines are Heirloom Tomatoes 101, but for some reason I never tried them. Well, they are firmly on the roster now. Now I see what all the fuss was about.

Ali was dismayed to catch my photographing his breakfast; it nearly put him off eating it. He relented, though — and then announced that he was getting a little tired of polenta.

On to the next thing…

Compote

A recipe for compote:
You’ll need some

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peaches,
And some

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apricots.
Peel them if you like, and cut them up. Put them in a pot with water to cover and sugar (or honey, or stevia) to taste. Toss in:

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Herb flowers- these are oregano. They grow wild in the garden and are a great favorite with the butterflies.
Simmer for five or ten minutes and let it cool. Compote is nice chilled- it’s quite refreshing on a summer day. Bits of cooked fruit in a light syrup- it goes down pretty easy. It might seem like food for invalids, but since an invalid would require comforting, nourishing fare, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Thyme flowers would be nice, in fact that’s what gave me the idea: I was reading a book called Mes Tartes by Christine Ferber, whose book, Mes Confitures, is my current favorite jam book (although the titles are French, these are English translations, by the way).
Her tarts are quite intimidating sounding and I have not attempted one yet. (I’m sure I’ll do it when my mom is with me in the kitchen this summer.) She had one tart, though, involving apricots and flowering thyme. That thought stuck with me.
When Ali brought a handful of the last, almost overripe apricots from the tree at the bottom of the garden, I mixed them with peaches from the tree by the kitchen, which have been falling even though they are slightly underripe (the whole kitchen area smells like peaches now,as the fruits ripen). I thought the result was quite tasty. The flowers taste like oregano, of course, but there is also a distinctly flowery flavor to them as well. It has made me curious about other herb flowers. I’ve not cooked with lavender much, for instance, but I’d like to.

Bearing fruit

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This is the result; but first, some back story.

We began work in this garden four years ago. It seems like ago, although it has passed by quickly, but it is not all that much time when you think in terms of trees. With trees, time stretches out before you in decades because the steps that trees take are big long steps that span years. Kaya, on the other hand, takes little steps, so that from one week to the next he is quite a different little fellow.

When we first got here, we had to plant a tree a week. This is because we used a dry, sawdust toilet. Now, most things that I do are driven by necessity, not ideology. We use solar electricity because there is no other kind where we are, for example, not because we are great green giants. But one thing that I do get sort of driven about is water. And although I am not evangelical about it, I disagree with the notion of using water to transport human waste. Overall, although it is stinky stuff and can be full of ick, I can’t see why we don’t face up better to our own excrement and the disposal thereof. To this end, when it came to our toilet, I put my foot down and said no to the septic tank.

This left us with the problem of what to do with our buckets of waste. (They were not as stinky as they might sound, as we used sawdust to bury any deposits, but full is full.)  Our answer to this weekly dilemma was to dig extra deep holes when we planted trees and simply empty the buckets into them. A layer of dirt and a tree later, we could consider our toilet flushed.

Over the past four years, as you can easily calculate, we have planted a number of trees. They seemed to like the arrangement just fine.

(Things slowed down a bit last year when we got a separation toilet. If you are interested in knowing more, I will let Google do the talking.)

We have not had a huge amount of fruit from these trees, as anyone who has planted little saplings will know. The first year, I dutifully plucked all the flowers off of the trees. The next year, they bloomed like crazy and I rubbed my hands greedily. Then all the flowers fell off on their own and we had harvest like this: one sweet red cherry, one jujube, two apples. That is when I learned that plants really won’t be convinced to do anything they don’t want to do. If you want them to do something, you have to make them want to. And a young fruit tree is interested enough in thriving that it will not set more fruit than it is ready to, or at least the ones in our garden won’t!

So when Ali asked me if I had taken a look at the apricot tree down at the Old Water Tank terrace lately, I skipped down the hill and was delighted to be greeted by the tree pictured above. Kaya and I went down to pick them (he was in charge of sampling) and were rewarded with a nice heavy bucket of fruit:

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I picked some of them before they were, strictly speaking, very ripe, but I didn’t want the bugs to get into them, and my mother had mentioned that she would like the apricot jam to be not too sweet. I have made jam with half of them, and it is tart, so she ought to like it. With the rest I think I may try my hand a fruit leather. These are tasty apricots, but not crunchy, which is how I prefer to eat them. We have a crunchy apricot bearing tree at the top of the garden, by the road, but those fruits are still green.

My first overabundance of fruit. A sweet predicament!