Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Mimosa Dilemma

In honor of this summer's harvest and all things girly, I decided to have a little garden tea party this weekend.  It would give me the opportunity to finally have my double dutch teammates over to my garden since they have been hearing incessant news about it since December. I put my garden's bounty to use in a few choice recipes: Caprese salad (i.e. slices of my heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella from the Farmer's market with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil), Disappearing Zucchini Orzo, tea sandwiches (with the crusts cut off!) with homemade hummus and cucumbers, and mini-zucchini bread loaf "favors" (i.e. little loaves, packaged up and ready to go home with my guests). 

As a special treat and challenge for myself, I made baguettes for the first time ever to go with the Caprese salad. They came from yet another fabulous recipe in the Kneadlessly Simple cookbook. They were actually pretty simple to make, although it required some hand-shaping and I had to make a baguette tray (a baking pan with two long troughs) out of foil. While they weren't as long and perfect looking as the baguettes you'd see in a French bakery, they tasted delicious. I think with a little practice, I could get it dialed in. 

I was inspired by Molly on Orangette to make peaches in white wine. I served them in the beautiful little antique tea cups my friend Gina lent me. It was delightful to eat wine-soaked peaches out of dainty cups and saucers. Plus, it allowed for polite sipping of all the delicious juice after the peaches had been eaten. A bowl just wouldn't do. 

Now, this brings us to the title of today's post. When asked what my guests could bring, I suggested a bottle of champagne. Mimosas seem girly and elegant – the perfect choice when you've asked all your guests to wear tea party dresses for the occasion. However, when I made that suggestion, I had no idea I'd be confronted with a localtarian dilemma. 

On our way home from the farmer's market, on the day before the party, I realized I had to stop by the store to buy orange juice for the mimosas. Now I know oranges don't grow in the Pacific Northwest, but I was hoping that I could get some juice from the sunny state of California, just a few states away. But since I don't ever drink orange juice, especially now that I started this local/seasonal endeavor, I had no idea how difficult that would be. Jake and I began scouring the store, looking at every brand of orange juice there was, trying to find out where the oranges in the orange juice came from. The most information we could get was that while the OJ might have been packaged in California, the orange juice came from the USA (thank you so much for narrowing that down), Mexico, or Brazil! I wasn't about to buy orange juice from over 6,000 miles away after making painstaking efforts for almost a year to eat foods that come from within my own state.

So with that, we were off to another store, in hopes to find a more local brand of orange juice. When we got to that store and discovered the same 6,000 mile juice situation, we began exploring our options. Maybe another type of juice, we thought. But the other juices we found neglected to specify where the fruit had come from. Besides, when Jake picked up the bottle of carrot juice, I concluded that those exotic mimosa possibilities might deter my guests from ever braving my parties again. So, we decided on option number three: I would buy oranges and squeeze them myself. So I did. I bought six pounds of organic Valencia oranges, grown in California. Then, I invested in a mini hand juicer and set out to juice all the oranges by hand. $12 later, I had half a pitcher of orange juice and the most decadent, labor-intensive mimosas I have ever had. Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience. It made me look at orange juice – an all-American beverage that we take for granted – in a whole new way.  
In the end, except for our California orange juice, it was a localtarian success. The champagne, provided by my guests, who know me all too well, came from Chateau St. Michelle in Woodinville. I'll definitely have a garden tea party again next year to celebrate the summer's harvest, but I'll think twice about serving mimosas. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Fruits of my Labor

Our abundantly sunny summer has  been good for the garden. It overflows with more food than I can eat. So, in an effort to not let any of it go to waste, I spent an entire day last week preserving food. Thank goodness for the book that has provided me with all the shortcuts and tips. I'd be lost without it. The best way to describe that day would be organized chaos. Ever corner of my kitchen was in use, my blue tile covered with shredded zucchini, tomato seeds, apple juice and more. I transformed seven pounds of zucchini into a quart size bag of zucchini medallions for freezing and 17 cups of shredded zucchini, which later became ten mini loaves of zucchini bread, three dozen zucchini chocolate chip cookies, a zucchini quiche, and a nine cup bag for the freezer. And all of this zucchini (and the zucchini mentioned in all my prior posts) have come from one plant!

I put my apples to use in a rustic apple tart. I also used them to make a pie filling. I put it in a pie dish (sans crust) and put that in the freezer. When the entire mass was frozen, I slipped it out of the dish, wrapped it up in freezer paper, and stashed it back in the freezer. Now, when we're in the dead of winter and I want to make a delicious fruit pie, all I need to do is make a crust, put the frozen filling in the pie plate, cover with a top crust, and bake. I love the possibility of this "bake it later" pie, but I'll have to tell you later how it actually turns out. 

I dehydrated five trays of heirloom tomato slices. I am going to pack them in olive oil with a little garlic and basil. Then, when all the tomatoes have been devoured, I can use the flavorful oil for something else. While I was prepping my tomatoes for the dehydrator, I put all the seeds that oozed out into two plastic containers, one for each heirloom variety. I tried to start the process of saving my tomato seeds before we left for Pittsburgh, but when we returned, I found my tomato seeds all dried up and covered in mold. So, this time, I was determined to make it work. And it did. Once the tomato seeds (and juice/water mixture) fermented for a few days, I was able to strain and clean the seeds. Then, I spread them out on a pad of newspaper to dry. Tomorrow, I'll pack them up and save them for spring. We'll see if they sprout. The whole process was so simple, it almost seems too good to be true. 

Finally, no urban gardener would be complete without a fabulous fall clutch! The clutch I made last spring served me well, but I was feeling like I needed something  to help me ease into the winter. So with Amy Butler's fall-toned floral fabric and some coordinating blue tweed found in the remnants section of the fabric store, my clutch is complete and I'm content as could be. It's like toting my garden around with me. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

While you were out...

Jake and I went to a wedding in Pittsburgh this weekend. We left on Friday and returned Monday night. On Tuesday morning, when I went out to my garden, still in my pajamas, I made the following beautiful discoveries:

Two baby delicata squash

Lots of new dahlia blooms

Two huge zucchinis
The biggest zucchini in the picture above weighed 2 1/2 pounds! Just to put that in perspective, the small zucchini in the picture was about the size of an average zucchini, weighing just under 1/2 a pound. While I love this picture of this morning's harvest, I didn't think it accurately showed just how big those zucchinis were, so I had to take one more:
Wondering how I know how much they weigh? I've got Jake's kitchen scale and I'm discovering that it is a pretty handy kitchen tool to have. Many recipes, like the ones I love in Local Flavors and Super Natural Cooking, call for certain amounts of vegetables by weight, rather than cups. The scale allows me to weigh the vegetables I pick from my garden to see if I'm using the amount that it calls for. 

I officially crossed over to the food-nerd world this morning when I weighed out the flour I needed for the bread I was making. Until today, I had been scoping and leveling the flour I used. This strategy works just fine, but I keep getting the message from multiple sources (i.e. Nancy Baggett from Kneadlessly Simple, Molly Wizenberg from A Homemade Life) that weighing your flour is the way to go. So, today I gave it a whirl. I actually tested out the method by weighing one cup that had been scoped and leveled. According to the Kneadlessly Simple Bread book, 1 cup of flour is equal to 5 ounces. When I weighed my scoped and leveled cup, I discovered that it was a little under! Not by much, but when baking, a little of anything goes a long way. I think either way, my baked goods would turn out just fine, but as long I have Jake's scale in my possession, I think I'll keep baking the foodie way. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

My Fall and Winter Garden

I started the day by planting my fall and winter garden, filling up all those seemingly empty squares in the photo above. In late July, I started planting seeds of plants that I will be able to harvest in the fall and throughout the winter. I ordered a bunch of hardy, over-wintering seeds from Territorial Seed Company's Winter Garden catalog. According to Seattle Tilth, July is the second spring in our climate, so it's a good time to plant cool weather crops again, like lettuce and peas. The following crops will hopefully be growing in my garden this fall:
  • lacinato kale (dinosaur kale) and red kale
  • collards
  • boy choy
  • swiss chard
  • 3 types of bibb lettuce
  • romaine lettuce
  • red merlot lettuce
  • onions
  • rutabagas
  • 2 types of spinach
  • 6 buckets of carrots

Then, I got out the ladder and precariously gathered all of the apples I could reach off my tree. I have no idea what kind of apples they are, except that they look like little crab apples. They're small and tart, but they bake beautifully. Last night, I made a rustic apple tart with another Mark Bittman recipe. I'm telling you, that cookbook of his is worth checking out. 

Finally, I harvested the seeds out of one of my ripe heirloom tomatoes this afternoon. I'm going to take the seeds through a fermenting process that will allow me to store them until I am ready to plant them in February. Thank you Gayla Trail (the author of the book that got me started, You Grow Girl) for showing me the way. 

Monday, August 3, 2009

Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie

I came home on Sunday morning to find a beautiful surprise - a big brown grocery bag full of apples. My neighbors were gracious enough to give me some of the apples that were practically falling off their tree. I didn't even have to scale the fence, which I had contemplated doing many times as I watched those apples ripen and remain untouched. So, as an expression of my gratitude, I decided to bake them a pie. And since I was already going to have the whole kitchen in a mess of flour, I made us one as well. 

I used Mark Bittman's recipe for Traditional Apple Pie with Flaky Crust from his How to Cook Everything cookbook. Bittman's recipes are simple and straightforward, usually featuring one or two choice ingredients in each one. When you cook a Bittman dish, you end up with a gourmet tasting meal without having to follow a lot of complicated steps. Needless to say, the pies turned out delicious. 

One of the things that I loved the most about the recipe was making the crust in the food processor. I used a similar process for the crust of the Huckleberry (blueberry) Skillet Cobbler I made last week. You literally put all of the ingredients for the crust in the food process and it does most of the work. I'll never make crust another way.

Before I leave the topic of pie, I wanted to make a comment about another super handy kitchen tool: the apple peeler/corer/slicer combo. There are no frills with this contraption. It's a pretty simple, old-school apparatus that really does exactly what it claims. With the turn of a crank, that really takes no effort at all, the apple is peeled, sliced into rings, and cored. It makes the job of baking an apple pie a cinch. I inherited mine from my mom, which she got from my grandpa, but they still sell ones exactly like mine. I just used it again today to prep apples for apple chips. It's the coolest!