21 August 2011

Tomorrow is the first day of my last semester of college!

117 days from now, I will sit in an uncomfortable chair placed on a basketball court, surrounded by about 20 of my chemistry chums, wearing an enveloping shiny gown with a ridiculous looking square cap with a silly dangling tassel. I guess now would be the time to send out the invitations to witness my special ceremony, but you can just send me monetary gifts.

My final semester's courses are Advanced Instrumental Analysis, Environmental Chemistry, Genetics, and Chemistry Careers, and I expect the workload to be relatively painless.

Hooray to having an end in sight! So many levels of freedom will be attainable once I shake hands with a few people on 16 December, and yes, I am very very ready.

10 August 2011

Homegrown Raspberries!

Red Raspberries
Three years ago, I labored heavily when digging ditches for our four 100-foot rows that had been designated for Black, Golden & Red Raspberries, as well as Blackberries. If you've ever planted berries, you know to not expect much fruit the first couple years, since the plants need to mature a bit and use their energy to set their foundation. The one-year old plants did produce some fruit, but just enough to keep Zuben busy for 20 minutes each day, foraging for his treasure, with which he would typically eat all of before telling us what he'd been doing. (The Golden Raspberries are usually all for him.) When the plants produce fruit during the year, they're simultaneously jutting out new runners that will pop up the following year to yield the next year's berries, so each winter, the old producers are whacked off for optimal health and production.

Golden Raspberries

 Now in our third year, we are LOADED with berries! Our Black Raspberries came first mid-June, yielding about 8 or 10 pounds within a few week time frame, with the Red and Golden bearing ripened fruits near the beginning of July, and the Blackberries peaking aroun the same time. The Red and Golden Raspberries have never been as plentiful as the others, but having 3.5 people in our household, we were quite fine with the "half-person" consuming most of them, and allowing the other three people to have a handful every other day.


This summer has been a bit weird in the weather department, with a mostly arid July and a very wet start to August, leaving our Raspberry plants quite confused. The Golden and Red Raspberries are almost finished with their second flowering of the season! As a novice to the Berry farmer business, I didn't know they would produce fruit twice in one year. So, more recipe hunts! :-)

I made this delicious and simple Raspberry Coffee Cake with a few modifications, and I do believe the recipe will be finding a home within my cookbook. YUM

09 August 2011

Eggplant <--> Aubergine

Zuben's excited about our Eggplants

Whichever you may prefer, the eggplant (or aubergine) is quite a mysterious fruit. Much like a spongy mushroom, the off-white flesh hidden beneath the tough, shiny purple skin will easily absorb cooking oils or juices, resulting in an either very rich dishes like Imam bayildi, or sloppy flavorful morsels like that in Ratatouille.

This is my third year growing the plump purple fruits, and for the second year in a row, the harvest is bountiful (the first year was dismal due to hungry flea beetles). So far, I have made the most amazing Eggplant Parmesan, where I used our homemade roasted tomato pasta sauce with sauteed baby zucchini and fresh ricotta cheese. I have also stabbed the eggplants repeatedly with forks, charred them over open-flame, then roasted them in the oven until the fruit became almost gelatinous to make Baba Ganoush.

Through my aubergine adventures, I have discovered why it is essential to make food plans. To make an impromptu dish with these babies, I must agree with myself in advance to make sacrifices in texture and flavor. Through no fault of my own as the farmer, eggplants are filled with subtle-bitterness and very moist, and this is where salt is very necessary. LOTS of salt. When I can contrive my eggplant dish well in advance, I like to cut the fruits then douse them with a blanket of salt to osmolyze the gratuitous water, which will also purge much of the bitterness. After waiting about an hour, sometimes two, for the dehydration of the sliced or chunked morsels, I wipe away the excess salt, then press clean towels firmly to dry the fruit as best I can.

Despite time-challenges, cooking with eggplant is quite simple, and I'm looking forward to many other culinary feats from the lavish yield I'm getting this summer. Next up, Caponata, Soup, Fries, and Greek-Style Stuffed Eggplant.

08 August 2011

I Love Pumpkins

A few of my pumpkins from 2010
Align Center
Have you ever cooked a fresh pumpkin? I have gifted many varieties of squashes and pumpkins to friends, but most have no idea what to do with them. Until a few years ago, I'm not sure that I had ever had a pumpkin pie made with anything but the store-bought, canned mush that is actually pureed butternut squash, cooked under high pressure with the skin still present. Now that I grow my own, I have tasted the sweet flesh from more than a dozen varieties, and I will never go back.

Although it is a time-honored tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving with an iconic Pumpkin Pie, many Americans have diverged from the deep-rooted agricultural heritage our country was formed on. Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds all can be grown in a relatively small space, but a majority of us let our foods be grown thousands of miles away, mostly in California. Well, I am one of the lucky ones that has the ability to grow most of my own food in my backyard, and have had the pleasure to grow, prepare and taste many varieties of pumpkins and squashes, I will never go back to eating pumpkin from a can.

This year's harvest has not been as plentiful in the pumpkin department as previous years, but I am still able to experiment and play with them in the kitchen. Last year I was a bit overwhelmed with an overly bountiful array of pumpkins filling my pantry and kitchen counters, with at least 200 pounds of flesh waiting to be cooked and consumed, so I sold some to friends and to Homegrown Foods. I may still be able to stuff my freezer with pumpkin puree again, but I doubt I'll have enough to sell for others to enjoy. This summer has been way too dry, and the plants just can't soak-up enough water from the infrequent and short-lived rains.

Candy Roaster

My first pumpkin this year was a Long Island Cheese Variety from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but I haven't pierced its beautiful tawny skin just yet since it weighs about 8 pounds and has a thick enough skin to wait until another day. Besides, no one seems to mind its beautiful presence.

The Candy Roaster was chosen to be the first to go into the oven, resulting in 2 pounds 4 ounces of sweet smelling puree reminiscent of cantaloupe. To highlight the delicate fruityness, I decided to tackle a new feat - The Ghost Chili.

Ghost Chili
Creamy Ghost Chili and Pumpkin Soup with Tarragon

2.5 cup chopped onion, divided
4 Tbsp butter, divided
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 Ghost Chilies, with seeds and veins removed, and roasted until crispy
     but not burnt, then ground with a mortar and pestle
2 cups (about one pound) pumpkin puree
1.5 cups diced potato, peeled
6 cups water
1/2 tsp salt, and more to taste at the finish
fresh tarragon

To make the chili sauce, melt 2 Tbsp butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 cup onion, cooking until translucent. Add the ground chili peppers, stirring until fragrant. With the heat on medium-low, slowly stir in the heavy cream, and cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup. With a sieve, isolate the liquid sauce in one bowl, adding salt to taste and reserve the chunky stuff in a separate bowl, setting both aside until later.

To make the pumpkin soup, melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter to a saucepan over medium heat, then add the remaining 1.5 cups onion, cooking until translucent. Next stir in the pumpkin puree, chopped potatoes, water and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes to allow the potatoes to become cooked and softened. Remove the pan from the burner, add the chunky remains from the chili sauce, and puree with a hand-held mixer until uniform.

Serve the soup warm, or chilled, but be sure to top with fresh tarragon for an excellent juicy astringency that complements the delicate sweet pumpkin and subtlety tames the heat from the ghost chili peppers. If you prefer more pizazz to your palate, drizzle the soup with the prepared chili cream sauce before topping with the tarragon, but be careful!

My bowl, which I mistakenly served with Greek Yogurt

Watermelon Ideas Needed!

Our watermelon are ready!

I guess we have had superfluous doubt about the productivity of our melons and squashes from this arid summer. Cutting into the first watermelon of the season always draws excitement and curiosity, with an anxious stare from the initial piercing of the knife, until validation and joy when it's ripe. The juicy pink goodness is a summer staple for many sweltering afternoons, and Zuben could eat watermelon everyday if allowed. As for me, well my belly just doesn't agree with it, but I try it at least once each year.

I found a few recipes to try, such as sorbet, cake and pie, and will soon discover if prepared watermelon can be eaten with full gratification. If you have a favorite recipe, I'd love to give it a try <3