Tuesday, September 27, 2011

For the love of Indian summer...

Nasturtiums are pleasing to the eye and peppery on the palate.

It's been autumn for almost a full week now, but it's still feeling quite a bit like summer. We were forecast for a record high today! This is a perfect time for visiting local tourist spots that are too busy in the summer and will be inundated with leaf-peeping tour buses in October. It is also a wonderful time for embracing the last hurrah of the summer garden.

I'm still harvesting a pint or more of cherry and plum tomatoes every other day. And I'm still pinching back the suckers on the tomato plants - the tomatoes clearly still think it's summer.

The nasturtiums are also capitalizing on the balmy weather. After a very slow start this spring, the nasturtiums looked anemic for months, but managed to survive and even started blooming about a month ago. Now, they are absolutely covered with blossoms and are crowding out the basil. It's just beautiful!

The red light district for pollinators - complete with fringe and fishnets.

And just in time - the bees and hummingbirds love to visit the nasturtiums and our other late-blooming garden flowers. The hummers are getting ready to fly south for the winter, and the bees need to stock up for their overwintering as well.

I do anticipate a frost in the next few weeks, which will wipe away all remnants of summer... but until then, I will soak up the sun, wear sandals as frequently as possible, eat fresh tomatoes and nasturtium flowers on my salads, and smile at the extravagant profusion of orange flowers and variegated green leaves every time I pull into the driveway. Long live Indian summers!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mad Money

I sold my first eggs this week! Yay!

The ones in the blue tray, I'm keeping for myself.

The eggs I sold are still a little on the small side, so I discounted the price to $2.50. You can see that the eggs are getting bigger, though - compare the egg on the right with the one on the left.

I've haven't made any side income in several years, so this extra $2.50 in my pocket seems very, very cool. And somehow not inconsequential, even though $2.50 doesn't go very far these days.

$2.50 may look inconsequential,  but it sure feels nice.

This inspired me to contemplate at length what sort of special jar I should choose for keeping my egg money. Right now, I've grabbed an old-school wire-bale Ball jar so I can watch my mad money grow.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You Know It's Summer When... You Eat Tomatoes Every Day

Fresh tomatoes are a pure summer delight. The flavor is sweet, the texture firm, and the colors stunning. Though early and late season varieties have been bred to extend the season for tomatoes - I particularly like the ambition of the variety named "Fourth of July" - tomato season in northern New England is a boom time of just one month. (Unless it's a late blight year, like 2009, where tomato season was a complete bust - but that's another story.)

While my first thought of tomatoes evokes Italy, tomatoes are actually native to South America and were cultivated in South and Central America as food crops. European explorers sent the tomato and its Solanaceae family cousins (potatoes, peppers and the important cash crop of tobacco) back across the Atlantic. The Italians and the Spanish embraced the tomato as their own, and in an interesting quirk of history, Americans did not start eating tomatoes until they became popular in Europe. (For more on this, check out this History Channel snippet - click on the picture of the tomato.)

It's the tenth of September now, and just this past two weeks, "all the lights are turning green to red." Unlike the David Grey song, tomatoes turning green to red means that you've got to kick it into high gear. While canning, freezing and drying tomatoes is an excellent way to handle your summer tomato harvest, you've just got to eat a lot of fresh tomatoes while they are at their most summery flavorful ripeness. Especially if you've stopped eating the bland, mealy supermarket tomatoes for the other 11 months of the year, it's practically mandatory to get in while the getting's good.

Right now, the getting is really good - and what's even better, you don't even have to work hard to appreciate the flavor and beauty of fresh tomatoes. I'd like to share 9 simple dishes featuring fresh tomatoes during this "what? more tomatoes?" end-of-summer time. I'm loathe to call these recipes, as there is so little work involved and there are no measurements - and the first doesn't even require a plate.

1) Eat cherry tomatoes by the handful, or eat a ripe heirloom tomato like an apple.You may want to eat the full-sized tomato outside because the seeds have a tendency to go everywhere.

2) Sliced tomatoes with a sprinkling of sugar. Sounds weird, but this was a favorite in my family growing up, and reinforces that tomatoes are indeed fruits, not vegetables.

3) Caprese salad - sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves. We typically dress this with some ground pepper, balsamic vinegar and olive oil over the top.

4) Halved cherry tomatoes mixed with creamy goat cheese and fresh herbs.

5) Oven-roasted plum, grape or cherry tomatoes. Slice in half, toss with olive oil, and put in the oven at 350 until the fragrance from the oven overpowers you (between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the size of your tomatoes). This is excellent to put on top of a piece of meat.

6) Tomato-cucumber-feta salad. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers with chunks of feta tossed with a little oil and vinegar.

7) Tomatoes with yogurt-dill sauce. Sliced tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes served next to a dollop of Greek yogurt with fresh or dried dill, garlic powder and onion powder.

8) BLTs! This is the best use of those monster heirloom Brandywines or Cherokees where a single tomato slice will cover the whole piece of bread. This sandwich is so good that we actually made a special trip to buy Boston lettuce so that we could eat BLTs on the front steps on Saturday night.

9) Pa amb tomaquet - I think we are all familiar with Italian cuisine involving tomatoes, but how about a Spanish dish? Barcelona is a beautiful city with its own wonderful Catalan language, and a fabulous, dead easy dish called bread with tomato (pa amb tomaquet). Slice up a baguette or other crusty bread and toast it or grill it. Rub it with a clove of garlic - you want to get chunks of garlic into the holes of the bread. Rub it with a half of a tomato, scraping the tomato flesh into the bread until you have only the skin left. Brush or drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

What's your favorite way to prepare fresh summer tomatoes?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Keep on the Sunny Side

It's been sort of a rough week. Our neighbors to the west in Vermont experienced catastrophic flooding, I had 4 straight days of outrageous headaches due to a mystery virus (or maybe it's Lyme disease - the test won't come back until Tuesday), and I've missed work during a particularly deadline-ridden period of time.

But guess what?!

It's not all about me. While I've been trying to sleep myself back to feeling better and worrying about how Vermont is ever going to rebuild all those destroyed roads and what deadlines are more "flexible" than others, guess what? The universe has not stopped for me. Life is going on, just as it always does.

Fortunately, it's late summer and the weather, the garden and the chickens don't particularly care how I'm feeling. They're all doing great. The weather (once Hurricane Irene blew past) has been gorgeous, the tomatoes are finally ripening, and the Red Star hens have started laying! It's hard to stay focused on yourself when all these great things are going on in the larger world.

This egg was still warm from the hen.

The first egg-laying was so exciting for me, and it couldn't have come at a better time. When you're feeling like all you want to do is crawl back into bed, but you've just found the first 3 eggs from your pretty hens, how can you not make yourself a lovely breakfast with optimism?

I decided to make sunny-side up eggs.
Since they started laying on September first, we have received 7 pretty brown eggs from our Red Star hens. (As you can see above, one was a double-yolker, but the others have been on the small side, typical of new layers.) The New Hampshire Reds are two weeks younger, so we don't expect them to start laying quite yet.

I'm very very happy about the eggs, and also very happy for the lesson in perspective I received along with those sunny-side-up eggs.