When the question is not, “What is there to eat?”
But, “What needs to be eaten?”
When bringing in the day’s vegetables takes all morning.
And doing something with them takes the rest of the day.
When you worry, not about what to eat,
But how to eat it all.
When you begin to think that life is nothing
But picking and processing vegetables.
When you know
You will appreciate all this work
In the dead of winter
When you are still eating
Peas, corn, cherries, strawberries, green beans…
All you want
Is to sit
For five minutes
While all you denizens of the northern hemisphere are baking Christmas cookies, we’re down here trying to figure out how to eat an overabundance of early summer fruits.
This week, we had a delicious confluence—too many cherries and too much ricotta cheese. There’s only one thing to do with that situation—make ricotta cheesecake and smother it in cherry pie filling!
The ricotta cheesecake—essentially a sweet soufflé—puffed twice the height of the pan in the oven, then fell most unattractively when it cooled. But it left a perfect rim for holding cherries.
I’ve had a hankering for figs lately—must be the holidays—so I made fig cookies. They taste like a cross between fig newtons and walnut crescents.
This recipe is adapted from a recipe in The Gourmet Cookie Book (Have I mentioned before that this book is the most beautiful book ever made? It is a lesson in effective graphic design, and has lots of good recipes, too. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, you must buy this for someone. If you have finished your Christmas shopping, you need to buy it for yourself. Aw, never mind—just buy it for yourself, regardless.)
Anyway, these cookies take most of their sweetness from the figs. If you wanted a slightly sweeter cookie, I think they’d be fabulous dredged in powdered sugar!
1 cup butter
¼ cup sugar
1 cup walnuts, ground*
1 cup dried figs, ground*
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
Cream butter. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Stir in ground walnuts and figs, and vanilla. Stir in flour, mixing until all incorporated.
Use a scant tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Form into small finger shapes about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 300°F (150°C) for 25-30 minutes. Do not let them brown. Cool completely before eating—they crisp nicely as they cool.
*I grind the figs and walnuts together in a food processor—the walnuts keep the figs from sticking together in a big clump.
In a drought, I can’t not blog about mulch at least once. Even in a normal summer, I don’t think I could grow vegetables without mulch—it’s just too dry and the sun is too intense.
We mulch with grass clippings, and the mulch serves a number of purposes. First, it disposes of the grass clippings, which would otherwise end up sitting clumped on the lawn, or fill up the already overflowing compost bins.
But the mulch is more than that. It holds moisture in the soil, so I don’t need to water as frequently. It also suppresses weeds, which is absolutely essential for my sanity—without it, I’d be spending every waking moment just weeding from September to April.
Grass clippings are particularly nice because they aren’t as attractive to slugs as the alternatives (pea straw or barley straw), they have a fine texture that can be gently nestled around even small plants, and they don’t blow away like other mulches do.
The only problem lies in getting enough for all our needs in early summer. It takes a lot of mowing to mulch all our garden beds!
The first tomato of the year is always an event. We don’t buy fresh tomatoes, so tomato season is eagerly anticipated from May to December.
This year, our first tomatoes came early—early December instead of early January. The early fruits are off a variety that’s new to me—Bloody Butcher—though the variety isn’t noted for early ripening.
The Bloody Butcher plants were hit hard by overspray while they were still in pots in the greenhouse, so the early ripening could be a response to stress, or it could just be a response to the hot spring and early summer weather. Either way we’ve already enjoyed half a dozen small tomatoes.
And truly, there is nothing quite like a home grown tomato!
Cilantro is an acquired taste. This strong herb is used in Asian and Central American cooking, and is one of those things you either love or hate.
When I first tasted fresh cilantro (Coriandrum sativum), I will admit I didn’t like it.
It wasn’t until I had culantro—Eryngium foetidum, also known as Mexican coriander—that I really learned to like the flavour (Never mind that the scientific name means ‘foul-smelling thistle’).
In Panama, both are eaten, and though they are only distantly related plants, they serve the same culinary purposes, with similar flavours. Panamanians consider Eryngium foetidum the ‘real’ cilantro, and call it simply culantro. Coriandrum sativum is called culantro Chino (Chinese cilantro).
Culantro grew wild in our lawn in Panama, and we weren’t long in the country before we were eagerly searching it out to flavour our dinners. It was a disappointment to return to the U.S. and find we could only get culantro Chino—positively bland in comparison to the foul-smelling thistle we grew to love.
But we’ve since grown fond of Chinese cilantro, too. It grows year round here. In fact, it’s as much a weed here as culantro was in Panama, and I find it cropping up all over the place. It does a lovely job of providing a year round crop without any work on my part at all. I just need to be open-minded about leaving the ‘weeds’ where they sprout.
I picked up the food for a backpacking trip today. All I can say is BLECH, and HOLY COW THAT STUFF’S EXPENSIVE! And we don’t go for the “backpacker” food—we just buy the instant meals available in the grocery store.
To buy over-salted, over-sugared, freeze-dried, highly processed food when there is fresh produce pouring out of the garden is physically painful.
I suppose we should plan in advance. As vegetables come into season, we should dry enough for our trips, make up our own highly-processed, over-salted backpacking food. Once upon a time—before children—we did some of that.
But it’s actually a lot of work…to change a delicious vegetable into something we would only consider eating if it were the only option. I just can’t get excited about that.
So, we’ll probably just keep buying those icky instant meals. It’s backpacking, after all—you don’t do it for the food.
It was a fruity day today—picked and processed cherries, blackcurrants, and red currants.
We enjoy mixed berry jams, but this is the first year we have enough red currants to make straight red currant jam. Naturally, I had to try it.
I am in love.
The jam is incredibly tart and hits you with waves of flavours.
And it is impossibly red!
I tried some on a cracker, then had another and another…
I can tell that it’s main problem is that it won’t keep well 😉
I didn’t dare believe it until it happened, but we got over a centimetre of rain today. Squally thunderstorms rolled in at lunchtime, curtailing my gardening and cutting power, but I don’t mind. A centimetre of rain will do lovely things for the garden and paddocks.
Dinner switched from the planned ricotta and pea tart to risi e bisi, which could be made on the gas stove without electricity.
This blog was written the old-fashioned way—on paper with one of my favourite pencils (and uploaded when the power came back on).
Now there’s nothing left to do by sit down with a glass of wine and a book to read by the light of the solar powered Christmas tree lights.
Some days it’s unavoidable, and we have a culture clash in the kitchen. No, I don’t mean that I want stir fry for dinner, but my husband insists on a curry. This is a more literal clash of cultures—sourdough vs. cheese culture. Either one can infect the other, with unsavoury results, and both take up large amounts of space in the kitchen, so we try to avoid making both on the same day.
Today, however, there was no getting around it. The neighbour gave me 50 litres of milk—I had to make cheese. And my husband already had the sourdough bulking up Friday—he had to make bread.
Timers were going off all morning, and it was a trick to know what each one was for—was that the bread, the parmesan or the cheddar? And what needed to be done to it? Then of course, I was standing over the hot oven, stirring cheese curds for hours. And all dishes had to be washed, dried and put away immediately, or they were in the way. And trying to keep the cheese-making stuff sterile? Forget it!
Glad that doesn’t happen often!