Birds in the garden

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Butterfly on a Mexican sunflower

Perhaps because the garden is very luscious this year, there are a lot of birds. Sparrows raise their chicks and peck for insects. A cardinal pair nest nearby. There is always the robin couple who raise their broods on the earthworms I cultivate along with the vegetables. And every year I see hummingbirds in the bee balm, scarlet runner beans and Mexican sunflowers.

For the first time, I saw yellow finches feasting on the sunflowers.

 

 

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“Want some keenies?”

2015_07_Julia with ZucchiniHere is my charming and erudite friend Julia with many large zucchini. What to do with them is a persistent problem for vegetable gardeners who choose to grow summer squash.

After making all the usual zucchini and summer squash dishes, I discovered an unusual and delicious soup in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It’s really a hybrid between zuppa and risotto. It’s creamy, dairy-free and very tasty.

 

 

 

Rich Zucchini Soup — with my adaptations

3-5 tablespoons olive oil
half an onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup short-grain rice (I used Arborio)
2-4 small-to-medium zucchini, crook neck or other summer squash, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups vegetable stock or water
2 eggs, at room temperature
juice of half a lemon, freshly squeezed
chopped parsley and/or grated Parmesan for garnish (optional. You might also try chopped mint)

In a medium-sized soup pot, add the olive oil and heat over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

Add the grated zucchini, salt and pepper. As the zucchini starts to wilt, it releases its liquid. Continue stirring occasionally until all the liquid is gone and the mixture just begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. (This step is what makes this recipe interesting. The rice absorbs the zucchini juice and plumps up. It took longer than Bittman indicated in the recipe but be patient because this step is exactly why this soup is so unusual and very delicious.) Once the zucchini liquid is gone, add the stock and cook for 20-30 minutes until the rice is tender and the grated squash is melting into the soup.

In a large heat-proof bowl, whisk the eggs until creamy. Whisk in the lemon juice. Take a large spoonful of broth (no vegetables) from the pot and slowly, drop by drop, add it to the eggs. Whisk constantly so the eggs do not curdle. Repeat until the egg mixture is thick, smooth and warm.

Bring your soup to a gentle bubbling. Slowly stir in the egg mixtures. Taste and season as needed. Serve immediately. Garnish if you wish.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I did and it gives something exciting to to do with all that summer squash.

P.S. This soup is great cold the next day!

 

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Shrubs, part one

IMG_2972No, this is not a post about shrubs, bushes and trees.

Shrubs, deriving from the Arabic word for beverage, are the original soft drinks.  A recent New York Times review calls them sipping vinegar and the rediscovered ingredient in chic cocktails. Shrubs are incredibly thirst-quenching. Like pickle juice and isotonic sports drinks, they replace needed fluids in the human body.

I must admit I’m obsessed with making shrubs out of the fruits — and even some vegetables I grow in my garden. Here you see rhubarb and raspberry shrubs. When I used to have a glass of wine in the evening, I now mix sparkling water and shrub. (And shrub is delicious with Proseco!)  The next couple of posts will be about shrubs with some recipes and tricks. First, here’s some history.

Shrub, syrup and sherbet all derive from the Arabic word sharab, beverage. All originally were fruit juices with vinegar and sugar blended to make refreshing drinks and have nothing to do with pancakes or frozen desserts. Shrubs originate in Turkey where Western Europeans discovered Ottomans and other Muslims in the Middle East enjoying non-alcoholic drinks.  From there, shrubs spread through Europe and to colonial America in the 17th Century. Martha Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were notable shrub makers and drinkers. Shrubs were made and served to mask the taste of bad hooch, by genteel society-ladies, and by the US government for soldiers during the Civil War. Then soft drinks hit the market, and shrubs disappear.

In Michael Dietsch’s Shrubs: an old fashioned drink for modern times (2014), he recounts a story that astonishes me. Apparently, Roman soldiers and commoners drank a vinegary fruit drink called posca. When I was growing up I was taught that the Roman soldiers giving Jesus, thirsty and dying on the cross, some vinegar was an act of derision and cruelty. Instead the soldiers were compassionately slacking Jesus’ thirst with their own shrub.

Stay tuned for more about shrubs.

 

 

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Cherry pie

With sour cherries picked last month and frozen, I made a pie and shared it with friends who made perfect whipped cream. A cool treat on a hot summer night.

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In Memoriam: Pamela Haley

My dear friend Pam Haley died peacefully on 21 July. Pam was a very caring person whose abiding generosity, good humor and natural tenderness embraced people, animals and gardens. May she now dwell in the Garden of Delight.

Pour yourself a glass of pinot grigio or chocolate milk, and toast Pam’s memory with me.

Pam Haley at the garden, spring 2014

Pam Haley at the garden, spring 2014

When Death Comes — Mary Oliver, a favorite poet of Pam’s

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world in my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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“Garlic is as good as ten mothers”

IMG_2897I harvested my garlic crop yesterday. Lots of beautiful heads now cure in my kitchen.

I harvest the garlic when 4-5 of the leaves have browned but the paper that surrounds the head of cloves is still fully intact. This means I usually take some samples until I choose the day that seems best to me. Since I grow several varieties of both hardneck and softneck garlics and they mature at different rates, I always have a few heads where the paper has split and the cloves are exposed. Not to worry: you can still enjoy the garlic. There’s a certain amount of judgment and a lot of forgiveness in deciding when to harvest. Whatever day you choose, you will enjoy wonderful garlic.

You can clean your garlic by peeling off the outer leaf-paper or by gently rinsing off the dirt. There’s much debate about which is the better way to clean your garlic. Some don’t clean it at all and cure it as is. Others cut off the root beard being sure not to damage the root plate that holds the head of cloves together. I’ve tried all and always have had great garlic. I prefer to clean my garlic because it’s tidier to cook with later. I lightly rinse and dry it in the shade.

Garlic, once picked and cleaned up a bit, needs to cure for 4-6 weeks. I tie 8-10 heads together with cotton twine and hang them in an open, fully shaded, well-ventilated place. Curing allows the moisture to leave the cloves and concentrates the flavors. As a rule of thumb, I usually pick my garlic around the 4th of July and start cooking with it around Labor Day. (I also pickle garlic and often use the loose cloves from the heads with split papers. More to follow on this.)

It’s best to use up your garlic by December Solstice: otherwise, it rots or sprouts. Whatever you do, don’t store your garlic with potatoes or onions. The moisture that potatoes and onions release will cause your garlic to rot more quickly. Store it as able in a shaded, well-ventilated spot.

You can also cook with fresh, newly harvested and uncured garlic. Can you tell the difference in taste?

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Pesto

IMG_2878The basil is ready for eating, for making pestos. Just perfect.

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Fruits galore

IMG_2875I go away for a week and come back to a garden bursting with produce. Six cups plus of raspberries. Beets and carrots for roasting. Three colors of fillet green beans. A green pepper, the first tomatoes, the first eggplant, the first squashes and the first cucumbers. Plus very sweet snap peas. And the garlic is close to harvesting. Enjoying all the bounty of it.

 

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Tarragon terrific

IMG_2851This year, the French tarragon — thriving, delicately flavorful and beautiful, is having a terrific year. For reasons I don’t fully comprehend, the thyme did not survive last winter’s bitter cold but the tarragon did. (Thyme and tarragon are perennial herbs which I leaf-mulch heavily in the fall to help them survive temperature fluctuations and extremes.) French tarragon is absolutely delicious raw in salads and added to dishes near the end of the cooking.

French tarragon has long, flat, slender spear-like leaves and, when plucked from the woody stem and crushed, a delicate anise flavor. According to Leanne Kitchen in The Produce Bible, tarragon came late to European cooking, arriving in France and England in the 16th century. Its ancient ancestor and current cousin Russian tarragon originate in distant Siberia and Central Asia. Of course, the French adore tarragon and it appears in classic béarnaise sauce.

I adore fresh tarragon leaves chopped in roasted beet salad with balsamic, olive oil and goat cheese. (Check your beets because baby beets are coming in right now for roasting and eating.) It’s also excellent chopped fresh in vinaigrette over roasted asparagus. And it’s easy to drop leaves into white wine vinegar or olive oil to infuse and flavor them.

What’s your favorite use of tarragon?

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This year’s garlic

IMG_2849This year, the garlic is slow to mature and be harvested. Usually I’m harvesting my garlic around the 4th of July but this year it’s not ripe yet for harvest and curing. Perhaps it’s the long, cool spring we’ve had. Perhaps it’s all the rain since garlic likes the soil moist but not wet. Or some combination.

How do I know the garlic isn’t ready to harvest yet? I look for the first five leaves on the stem to turn yellow. As you can see from the picture above, the leaves are all still green on the 4th of July. It may be August before the garlic is perfect and ready for harvest.

 

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