Ecce Spotholders!

A good pal, who just moved in to a new-to-her Midcentury Modern, has a birthday. The house is being done up in shades of gray with splashes of Modernist art and carefully selected High Modern furnishings. The kitchen accents? Lime green and orange.

I plan to post a pattern--for knit and crochet versions--but may sell it to benefit a local food equity program. Denverites tend to be passionate gardeners, in spite of (maybe because of!) our short growing season. And there are wonderful organizations who transform parking lots into garden plots.

As the crab apple trees display their dramatic pale-pink toppers and the tulips display their pretty dresses, it seems appropriate to help spread some fertilizer in those neighborhoods where access to a convenient grocery store is limited.

Plus they make quick housewarming gifts!

Spring: Cue Etta James

What with the tulips being so fleeting, well, you know, they just make my heart swell. With the new green just tipping tree branches and the wind scorching the brown earth, they are a welcome burst of color.

Besides, you'd rather see miles of stockinette or the wonky kitchener job from last night?


Liberal medicinal herb laws notwithstanding, the above baggies contain basil pesto. Really.

Though we could be hiding anything in our tangled garden at this point. The black cherry tomato plant overwhelms and the herbs have gotten all leggy and flower-topped, which makes for happy bees and not-so-tender leaves. Temps threaten to graze 90 today but inevitably we'll get a killing frost, and the herbs, tough as they are, will be toast.

Hence the wrestling with the Cuisinart. Fresh basil, costing what it does in the dead of winter, well, an hour or two in the kitchen is a small price to pay for some easy weeknight dinners come January.

Feeling in a bit of a pesto rut, I consulted Bittman for inspiration. I love how he offers loose formulas and ideas not dogma. His pages on pesto, for example, include notes on basil, dill, mint, parsley, arugala and cilantro varieties and how to serve. More on some of these other condiments later.

Back to the basil at hand. Classic Genovese Pesto, he writes, is made with a mortar and pestle. I'm sure it's divine. I'm sure it's superior, but I registered for a Cuisinart for a reason. Moving right along. 

He also writes that one needn't add cheese to the mix, plus his ratio of basil to nuts seemed high but intriguing.

With a food processor there is no labor to pesto, except for processing the vegetable matter. The whole mess has to be washed and the leaves and flowers stripped from their woody stems, a dreary, painstaking chore. Then whirrrrrrr and it's done.

The result? About a cup and a half. 

And he was right about the nuts.

Instructions follow:

Wash and stem about four cups basil leaves.

Sautee 2 cloves garlic in a dollop of olive oil.

Toss a healthy handful of walnuts into the food processor.

Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup olive oil.

Toss everything in the food processor with a good pinch of salt.

Grind up. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve with fresh pasta.


Pie Eyed

The apple tree has been a source of great bounty--and repetitive stress--this season. From our tree friends and neighbors have made jam, sauce and dehydrated slivers, and we've churned out numerous cakes, pies, crumbles and breads.

(My brother had me in stitches when he referred to my tragic, dry-as-dust apple cake as "pandowdy," an appellation that sent us to the Internet and the discovery that the apple crisp-cobbler category contains delights, variously named, pandowdy, Brown Betty, slump, buckle, sonker and grunt, among others. The  noun, "grunt," had us laughing uproariously. "Remember what grandma called grunt?" I asked. If you come from Southern Indiana--or tasted my "pandowdy," you'll realize my brother and I never matured past age 12.)

Still the apples persist. Mitch and I have composted as many as we can and put the grade A's to good use, but a quantity, nonetheless, have gone to the landfill, where they are contributing to the global carbon load. This weekend we made a last stand, Mitch picking the pinkest, fattest fruit and me rendering them into pie--four in all--plus a crumble.

You'll notice I cheated--Kroger, transfat-infested shells as a cradle for our organic apples. But the topping is healthy-ish: Oatmeal, walnuts, butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. A quick, tasty topping for girls-on-the-go beset with too many apples.


Garden report

Lethargy and a big orange cat on my lap prevent me from shooting this morning, but picture the usual: Really big zucchini, really tiny tomatoes.

Like most high altitude farmers, we're in the waning days of our garden. The broccoli continues to amaze; it is the brassica that keeps on giving. After initially putting forth six large bouquets, our six plants weekly push out enough tender florets for dinner. And there's no end in sight. We will definitely repeat.

After fighting back from a bout of powerdery mildew, our zucchini has been a steady producer. Instead of showering us with more squash than is manageable, it's been languidly proferring food stuff, one dirigible-sized vegetable after the other. We've feasted on zucchini casserole, zucchini lasagna, zucchini bread, stir fry and quiche. It pretty much goes into everything.

We are also the happy parents of seven winter squash of questionnable identity. Beautifully striped like delicata, they are turban-shaped like the buttercups. We have no idea. They're curing in the basement, the mother plant succumbing to the aforementioned powdery mildew.

The Black Cherry tomato has been a champ, if a bit invasive. A garden hog if ever there was one. The Purple Cherokee persists in disappointing, laden as it is with heavy, green fruit. The Big Boy, reliable but unimpressive. Our sweet pepper, which gave us two brilliant red darlings, has late in the game sprouted seven offspring. We're hoping for a bit of speedy ripening but not holding onto our eyelashes.

And, the herbs? Brilliant as always. This weekend, there will be pesto, bags of it, pasley, sage and basil, stacked in the freezer for a taste of summer all winter long.

Is it time for lunch, yet?

The tomato crop

We understand now why heirloom tomatoes became heirloom. While the more modern cultivars stay in their cages like proper plants, the heirlooms sprawl onto the sidewalk and into the herbs, making themselves completely comfortable like a messy in-law come to stay.

It's not like we don't like the idea of the old vines (and we're quite fond of the offspring), but here in the city where garden space comes at a premium, the heirlooms, well, there's nothing to be said except, they're piggish about real estate.

Behold the above monster. We've had our sights on it for some time. (It's a Cherokee Purple, incidently.) I'm thinking it deserves a good stuffing.


Spaghetti yoga

Last night after processing the above mountain of tomatoes with a proportional ratio of raw garlic, I went to yoga.

I shook hands with the yoga teacher, whom I had never met, and spotted the woman next to me through various poses as she did me. It wasn't until about mid-way through the practice as I began to glow from exertion that I realized my hands smelled pungently and distinctively of raw garlic. Like I had been ingesting the stuff whole for weeks.

As the teacher twisted me into a broken facsimile of full pigeon, I kept thinking, he's going to forever think of me as Stinking Rose.

The Great Harvest

I spent a good part of July cussing out the tomatoes, convinced I was going to have to pay people to take my jars of green tomato pickle relish (like I know from green tomato pickle relish).

Happily, our reticent fruit decided to ripen up and today we are burdened with so many plump, red tomatoes that it's a tad overwhelming.

"It's too bad it all comes at once," Mitch said.

"Yeah," I agreed. "Too bad Mother Nature doesn't check our calendars."

Monday we had gazpacho (sans the weird egg business described in this recipe). Yesterday, apple/rhubarb cobbler from produce Mitch scored in Westcliffe. Today, Pappa al Pomodoro Soup (has the added benefit of using up some of our fresh basil and sage). Tomorrow, more spaghetti sauce and another rhubarb thing (open to any and all suggestions). Friday, maybe a nice caprese salad?

We're scrambling to keep up with our slow food!

Tomato gore

They are a perverse lot, tomatoes. One minute you're shouting at them to ripen up, the next you're begging people to take them before they decompose into pools of red gore.

This week faced with a basket of soggy beauties, I decided to make spaghetti sauce. But being mid-week and and lacking the fortitude to blanche, peel and seed tomotoes, here's what I did:

Recipe--Peels-and-all Spaghetti Sauce

1 dozen fresh tomatoes, cored and halved

5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 onion, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

Red pepper flakes, a healthy pinch

1/2 cup chopped, fresh basil

3-4 Tbs of tomato paste

Salt to taste

Directions: Sautee garlic and onion in olive oil until translucent. Add red pepper flakes. Turn heat down to low and add tomatoes. Stew for about an hour, leaving the pot uncovered to allow sauce to reduce. Stir in basil and tomato paste. Grind to bloody pulp with an immersion blender.

Bon appetit!

Describe a tomato: A challenge

Sometimes when we hike, I try to think of new ways to describe what we're seeing. For example, how do you paint a picture in words of quaking aspen leaves that fits but isn't cliche?

Aspen leaves are like the coins on a belly dancer's belt? Uh, no.

The vellum sound of aspen leaves, trembling? Better.

Shimmy shimmy shake shake? You see where I'm going.

But how would you describe the taste of a tomato? A good one?

OK? Ready, set, go!