On the First Cool Evening

Some nights my body is so weary I almost forget about my love of food and wish there was a microwave dinner I could heat up. Then I remember that it’s not a microwave dinner I want at all, just the ease of it. I love my box of vegetables and my piles of produce from the farmers’ market, but they are undoubtedly more work.

There was food in the fridge that Chimp had made, so without the energy to cook I ate pasta, chickpeas and tomato-zucchini stew without ceremony. As badly as I felt, I decided I deserved extra cheese on my dinner. A lot of extra cheese.

I closed up the house at around 7 p.m., with the temperature starting to drop. Tonight’s the first night that turning the oven on has felt like a welcome idea. I put some figs in to roast, and pulled from the refrigerator the bag of shelling beans I got from John on Saturday. I sat down to get them out of their pods.

He had told me there were three types; I put three bowls in front of myself. I quickly found three types, then four, then five; I incorporated two similar types into one bowl, then two into another.

The pods were of varying maturities. Some peeled open easily and the beans fell into the bowl almost without effort. Others I had to pry open with great attention. Every so often I misjudged the amount of force needed, sending a loose bean careening into space in a grand arc. The cat watched one fly and sniffed it on landing. It was swiftly deduced that it was clearly not cat food nor a cat toy and it and subsequent missiles were disregarded.

I combined one batch of beans with another, coming down to two bowls. Eh, I figured, even if they have different cooking times and some get softer than others, they’ll still look pretty together.

The warmth of the oven began to reach my spot at the table, warming my back. I sat shelling, aware of the darkness gathering outside and the rising smell of the roasting figs with a sweetness like a batch of molasses cookies.

The beans went in a bowl and the pods went in a growing pile. I thought for a long time about a friend struggling with a still-evolving problem and the difficult decisions that lay ahead. I thought about how much more pleasant it is to think on others’ troubles than your own, and how much easier it is to solve others’ problems in your mind than your own.

The last of the pods snapped open, I looked at the two bowls. I decided the difference between them was not really important. I combined them into one.

I got up and took the figs out of the oven and watched their edges curl around their flesh as they cooled.

I decided I would cook the beans plain, with butter.

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What You Missed at the Market

About my absence: I am just swamped at work and it’s keeping me from doing much else. I’m not even cooking…Chimp has been keeping us fed.

Saturday was the first sweaterday at the market since the spring. It sure was nice.

I picked up some of these beans from John of Flower Garden of Madera. He said they’re three different types – I need to shell them still to find out what I’ve got.

I got a pint of jalapenos from Michele, thinking Chimp would certainly find something to do with them. He loves cilantro, lime juice, jalapenos, garlic and salt buzzed together into a fresh seasoning, as do I.

I also picked up another eggplant! I’ve been making this dal recipe that’s just been great – one more try and I think I’ll have it perfected.

What’s In the Box

After I picked up the box last night, I was too swamped with cooking and work to get to this then, so here it is on Thursday lunchtime.

We have in the box this week:

Red Roasting Potatoes (Wonder if these will be as incredibly sweet as the Yukon Golds from last week?)
Sweet 100s Cherry Tomatoes
Nakata’s August Red Nectarine (These will probably be the last nectarines I’ll eat this year. Where did the season go?)
Soghomonian’s (Three Sisters) Ribier Grapes (big, black, seedy and sweet)
Genovese Basil
Romaine Lettuce
Roma Tomatoes
Fair Hills’ Gala Apples (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that apple season is here – I don’t like it yet, but I’ve at least accepted it.)
Baby Leek (Not “leeks” but “leek” – as you can see, there’s one diminutive leek in the box. I tucked it into the bag of shallots and onions I have in the fridge because when I went to wrap it up all by itself it looked so lonely. I guess it’s because it so resembles a scallion, and both they and leeks usually come in bunches with all their friends…)
White Garlic
Italian Frying Peppers
Italian Zucchini

When I was driving over to get the box I was absolutely exhausted from the day’s several long phone calls for work. I had some dal in the fridge, but I’d already had that for lunch, and I was trying to think of what I could possibly manage to make for dinner, considering that at that moment I could hardly stand up.

Once I opened the box I was relieved to see its contents. Summer vegetables are so easy to work with. I knew I had some cooked chickpeas in the fridge – this is like having cooked chicken breasts for an omnivore, I think, in that they can go any which way. I minced some garlic, chopped up some plum tomatoes I’d gotten from Michele on Saturday, a zucchini and some basil from the box, started some water boiling, and in no time was enjoying a little tomato and zucchini stew with chickpeas over whole-wheat pasta.

“A good dinner doesn’t have to be complicated,” I thought.

Looking at what was in the box, I also decided to whip up some whole-wheat pizza dough, making another iteration, with another small change, to the food processor-kneaded recipe I’ve been working on perfecting all summer (it’s almost there, I swear). By the time I was done with dinner, feeling refreshed and had put the food away, the dough was ready to be made into crusts.

I topped the pizzas with sliced plum tomatoes and frying peppers from the box plus some onions, and a nice layer of fresh mozzarella and Dry Jack cheeses. (I had to photograph this pizza under a mix of incandescent and florescent light, which is not very flattering…I tried the “night portrait” mode on my camera too, but it made the pizza look like a deer in the headlights somehow.)

Sometimes I surprise myself. I thought I was going to come back with the box and be forced to collapse for the evening, but a little dinner and a little rest really helped. When I went to bed last night, I was feeling some of the feeling of tiredness after an active day, which is so pleasant as compared to the all-encompassing exhaustion that I constantly carry around to varying degrees. I can tell today that I pushed myself a little too much, but I’ll take it easy and hopefully I’ll stay on an even keel tomorrow.

When Chimp came home from work late in the evening, I said, “You only have two choices for dinner. I made a chickpea stew with tomatoes and zucchini, or there’s pizza.”

“Pizza?!” he said, dropping his bag and heading for the kitchen.

“I knew all you’d do was complain,” I told him.

Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing

Frankly, given how often I make this, it’s hard to belive it hasn’t made it to the blog before now.

This is one of my favorite dinner salads. We make it in spring, when the first radishes appear, along with green onions and green garlic. At that time of year, it tastes like a spring tonic after a winter of cooked green vegetables. The salad gets a rest during the height of the summer when the heat is too much for radishes here, and then it returns with the fall crop. This time of year, we use mature onions and garlic, and it’s a reminder that the days are starting to gather in.

Part of my love for this salad is that it’s super-easy – if the chickpeas are already cooked, it’s just a little chopping and getting the dressing ingredients into the food processor. Sometimes I’ll toss a little cooked grain into this salad – bulghur is my favorite, but quinoa or millet or even some cold brown rice would be nice. I do that – as I’ve mentioned before – because the grain picks up the dressing nicely and also gives the salad a bit more heft and a pleasant chewiness.

We had this with Yukon Gold potatoes from our CSA box that I roasted with olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, parsley and garlic after they came out of the oven. They were the sweetest-tasting white potatoes either of us had ever had.

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What You Missed at the Market

Summer’s definitely starting to come to a close. The peaches and nectarines are seeing their last days; there are still plenty of plums, of course.

There are still grapes, too, and will be well into the fall. Fred Smeds of Savage Island brought the above Concord grape juice today. He says he likes it even better than the cherry juice his wife Paula also makes from their fruit. Having had both, I said it’d be hard to beat the cherry juice in my mind.

“The grape juice is good for everything, though,” he said.

“What, you mean like vodka…rum…” I raised an eyebrow.

“No, no, I mean good-for-you good for everything.”

“Ah, you mean like anthocyanins and resveratrol.”

“Yes.”

“I bet it’s still good with vodka, though.”

I was telling Fred another one of my inane stories while I was picking out what will probably be my last Rose Concord grapes of the season, (one month with Rose Concord grapes…11 months without, sigh) that since I learned a few years ago that the grape industry term for the percentage of loose berries that fall off the bunch is “shatter,” whenever I pull grapes out of the bag and see the stragglers down at the bottom I hear Mick Jagger singing the Rolling Stones’ tribute to NYC.

The onions are starting to wane a little bit. Michele of K.M.K. brought purple and white last week, and this week, just white. Pretty soon I’ll have to turn back to supermarket onions – always a sad moment. The garlic’s going great as fall is coming on, though – I picked up more from Vine Ripe’s booth again this morning.

There are lots of peppers to choose from. I picked up these pasilla peppers from Angel Farms and some green peppers from K.M.K.

Also got some of these San Marzano-type tomatoes from Michele – these are great for skewering or cutting in half and roasting, as she suggests.

I talked to John of Flower Garden of Madera and he said he’d have some black-eyed peas in pods next week. Very exciting news to me! He said he mostly grows them for soil fertility – leguminous crops, are, of course, good for fixing nitrogen in the soil.

I took home some figs from Marchini Sisters for another fig sauce experiment. It’ll make it to the blog if it turns out.

Also grabbed some cucumbers from Il Giardino Organico for one of my customary cucumber-radish-onion-chickpea salads with the fall radishes that came in our box this week.

And I bought some eggplant, would you believe?

Last week when I had that eggplant in my CSA box I made something that turned out really well and I thought I’d try to improve on it a little bit before putting it to the blog. I picked up some of these white ones from Michelle to challenge myself. Will this be the eggplant revelation I’ve been looking for all these years? We’ll see. If it doesn’t turn out to be, Vachte from Cracked Pepper promises me that his Eggplant Napoleon will change my mind….worth a try.

A Different Kind of Fried Green Tomato

Well, no, those aren’t particularly green, are they? They do look suspiciously red. (They were green when Michele sold them to me on Saturday; I just didn’t get to them fast enough and they reddened on standing a few days.)

That’s not what’s different about them, though.

Though I’ve had some food blogs put me in their Indian category when linking to me (I consider it an undeserved honor), I’m as pale as a marshmallow. I’m not Southern either – yes, I grew up in Virginia, but Northern Virginia, the D.C. area, which is a different state entirely from Virginia Virginia, the rest of the state. I sometimes tell people I’m from the “Fake South.”

Despite that, somehow this Indian-by-Southern food hybrid arose in my kitchen and has developed into one of our favorite summertime treats.

Most fried green tomatoes are made with cornmeal and use egg to bind the coating. These are made with chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or besan, which is a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In this dish, it fries up on the outside of the tomatoes with a smooth, crunchy (not gritty) crust, and it doesn’t require the slices to be dipped in egg before the batter is applied – which means they can be made vegan. (You can do fried green tomatoes without egg, but there is significant trouble in convincing the cornmeal to stay attached.)

I laced this chickpea flour batter with aromatic cumin, coriander, cayenne and ginger. The result is something like pakora, the Indian batter-coated vegetables or cheese – but I’ve never seen a tomato pakora.

They’re simultaneously crunchy, juicy, salty, tomatoey, spicy – and all-around delicious.

Continue reading “A Different Kind of Fried Green Tomato”

Emerald Beaut Plum Crumble

So, besides the salad already mentioned, here is where many of those green-skinned Emerald Beaut plums ended up. Surprise! They’re yellow inside! Don’t they look nearly like peaches, as yellow as they are? It’s only the lack of any red coloring around the pit cavity that gives them away as plums.

Chimp and I made a double batch – two 8×8 pans – of plum crumble at the start of the week; I took one of the pans down to the office on the day of a meeting and we kept the other one to enjoy ourselves.

This recipe became a major favorite of mine last summer, when we made at least four double recipes of it with large quantities of fruit left over from photo shoots. It’s adapted from the July/August 2006 Cook’s Illustrated, where it was originally a recipe for peach crumble (having tested multiple varieties of all three fruits in this recipe, sometimes in combination, I can vouch that plums work equally well, as do nectarines).

What I love about this recipe is that it makes a massive amount of topping – none of this little-bit-of-crispy-stuff-on-top-of-a-whole-lot-of-fruit problem. There is at least as much volume of crunchy, crumbly topping as fruit, and it’s like a miracle – you just pulse it up in the food processor, spread it out on a sheet to bake, and when it comes out, it’s made itself into all these little cookielike nuggets with bits of almonds in them. I have seriously considered just making the topping, rolling it out into shortbread cookies and forgoing the fruit altogether.

So there is a two-step baking process here – bake the topping, then place it on the fruit and bake the fruit – but it is entirely worth it. I use white whole wheat flour and I think the extra nuttiness makes for an even better end result than when I first made it with unbleached. After all, crumbles often have whole oats in them, so why not a whole-wheat flour?

We went ahead and peeled the plums on this occasion, but if you’re not fussy and the fruit isn’t fuzzy, I don’t think that’s even absolutely necessary.

Oh, and a tip – if you are baking and you find yourself with stone fruit that is clingstone, as we did on this occasion, don’t wrestle with trying to cut wedges off the pit. Instead, set the fruit on its stem end (on its head, basically) and cut down both sides of the pit to cut the cheeks off. Then cut off the other two sides that are left, then the little bit at the tip. You’ll lose a little bit that sticks to the pit, but that’s always the case with clingstone fruit, and cutting it that way is safer than trying to knife and extricate all those little wedges away from the pit while holding the slippery piece of fruit in one way or another.

Continue reading “Emerald Beaut Plum Crumble”