Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ruby Gold tomato sorbet: Sweet!

by June
The garden gives us not only food, but such pleasure. Until I started gardening myself, I never realized how very hard it is to grow food. Enthralled as I am by the miracle of compost and of seeds that spring to sprout when water is added, engaged as I am by the sprint to the sun by the corn and by the ohhh! moment of harvesting ample beets and carrots, I remain daunted by Japanese beetles and squash bugs, by blight and too-hot temperatures. Or too much rain. Or too little. So any harvest is a celebration for our family.

I love that Fern and Blossom rush to help me unload the baskets with exclamations over how well the corn did (our first ever this year!) and over how many edamame beans are on each stalk. Look how long the carrots are! How fat the beets! I love that our girls are watching and waiting as eagerly as I am. It does feel as though we celebrate each bite we take when the garden is providing our meals.

That is never so true as with tomatoes. We love our tomatoes. And, of all our heirlooms, we love the big, knobby, gloriously swirled Ruby Golds most of all.

This year we made a sorbet with Ruby Golds that is a celebration of all that's best as summer bends to autumn (and we bend to the work of stacking firewood). The last hot days spin down into evenings that close in too early—but find us eating our supper by candlelight. This sorbet goes very well with candlelight.

Ruby Gold Tomato Sorbet
1 cup sugar
3 pounds Ruby Gold (or other heirloom) ripe tomatoes—peeled, cored and chunked
a handful of basil leaves
• Make a simple syrup: In a saucepan, melt sugar into one cup of water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and toss in the basil leaves. Let it steep and cool.
• In a blender, puree the tomatoes then pour the puree through a strainer.
• Strain the the basil out of the simple syrup.
• Combine the syrup and tomatoes in a bowl and chill until thoroughly cold.
• Process in an ice cream maker as you would any frozen concoction.
• Serve it softly frozen or scoop it into another container and freeze it until firm, which may take about three hours.

We served ours topped with slow-roasted Sungold "raisins" and a little sprinkling of Malden's flaky sea salt. We also baked some Lime Basil Shortbread cookies.

Oh, you want that recipe, too? Yes, you do! It turned out to be a passionate favorite here (and everywhere we shared it).

Lime-Basil Shortbread Cookies
(do yourself a favor and just double it)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons sliced fresh lime-basil (or any sweet basil)
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
granulated sugar for sprinkling the tops
• Place flour, powdered sugar, butter, basil, lime zest and juice, and salt in a food processor.
• Pulse until the dough clumps together in a nice moist hunk.
• Chill the dough for at least an hour.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
• Measure tablespoonfuls of the dough and roll them between your palms into a ball. Place each ball onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
• Dip a juice glass into water, then into the granulated sugar, and press each ball of cookie dough into a circle.
• Bake for eight minutes, then check. We like them with just a rim of golden brown.

Enjoy by candlelight! Happy summer-turns-to-fall-but-still-tastes-like-summer sorbet and cookies!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sungold noodles!

By June

How lucky are we that readers actually miss us when we're gone? And miss our recipes? We've gotten special requests for more tomato recipes—one request came from a local friend while we were up to our necks in the lake and another came all the way from a friend in Oklahoma, where the tomato harvest is probably almost over (while ours has barely begun).

We're honored that friends—far and near—care! Thank you!

Fortunately, we've been eager to share one of our favorite recipes. This is the week when we finally finally finally got a whole bowlful of Sungold tomatoes, which means we immediately put on the water for pasta.

This recipe comes from an Alice Waters book from way back. She recommends Sweet 100 tomatoes. I always use Sungolds. My apologies to Alice because I no longer crack the book. I just do it from memory now, which is no doubt the best homage a cook can have. It means the recipe has a place on your family's table—and in their hearts.

So from our hearts (and my memory) to your table...

Sungold Tomato Pasta

Halve as many Sungold tomatoes as you can get your hands on (four or five or six cups). Marinate them in a cup of really great-tasting extra-virgin olive oil and enough red wine vinegar to suit your palate. Add a grinding of black pepper (liberally) and sprinkle on salt to satisfy. Let that rest while you...

...toast a cup-and-a-half (or so) of homemade bread crumbs and...

...boil up your pasta, out of a box or freshly made. We like spaghetti or spaghettini for this recipe.

Just before the pasta is ready, add your tomatoes to a deep skillet and set the flame to a gentle hum. The juices may start to simmer but don't let it simmer long. You just want to warm the tomatoes and get them ready to melt only when you eat them.

Drain the noodles and then tip as many as will fit into the deep skillet. But be gentle with the tomatoes. The beauty of this dish is that the tomatoes melt on your tongue—and not before!  Load into a spacious bowl and sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and a huge handful of torn basil leaves.

Enjoy! We enjoyed ours so much last night that I didn't even grab a photo. You'll have to take our word on this: It was a beautiful sight. And the way it tasted was pure Sungold art.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our peaceable kingdom

by June

Where have we been? Not far really. Home is a good place to be. But since we've been away from here, how about some postcards of our summer?

We've been watching the garden grow in the new beds...

and playing with the silly goats...

Blossom and Fern "pretend" ride the goats.
 ...and the beloved cat and chickens, too.

We've been raising ducklings...

...into ducks named Peach and Ping.

That's Ping with Fern's big toe in her beak.
We sit on the back porch—when we can grab the closing moments of a hectic day—and we watch our peaceable kingdom and think of friends near and far. We've been thinking of you. I can't tell you how intertwined our life on this land is with the friends we've made through the blog. We've heard from some of you lately, asking where we've been and when we'll be back. And we, too, have been wishing we could pick up the conversation where we left off. And now we have. What's new, dears?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The glory of leeks

by June

Fortunately, goats don't eat leeks. They do eat kale—bite, gulp, gone. Chewing as they went, Buttercup and Clover explored the garden one day this spring. Oh, the girls and I flapped along behind them, waving and yelping and shooing them toward the gate. But still they managed to munch through blueberry shoots and raspberry leaves and the lovely ruffled Beedy's Camden kale that survived our  harsh winter.
2010, when the leeks were at their headiest
Friends joke that goats will eat anything. We reply glumly that mostly they just want to eat what we want to eat. But they eat faster.

Somehow they spared the Bleu de Solaize leeks that stood through the snow. Lucky for us! (Shhhh....don't tell the goats what they missed.)

Leeks are one of my favorite things to grow. It's hard to purchase them the way I love them—the size of a pencil. And it is even harder to find something that is so gorgeous in all its incarnations and so friendly to the bees. I always let some go to flower.

We are late with our garden this year because the snows were slow to melt, and we had already determined to dismantle the old raised beds and build them higher and stronger. We're also enhancing the fence to dissuade woodchucks and, ahem, certain members of the family who can't control their appetites when they come nose-to-leaf with a goody. Ours has been the ugliest garden on the planet, swathed in chicken wire and crowded and... Out with all that. But this transformation has meant that some things are behind sprouting schedule (and the blog and our blog friends have been sorrowfully neglected).

Fern and I finally got the leek seedlings and some seeds planted this week. We always put out seedling King Richard or Lincoln leeks for summer eating. But we also plant Fedco's Bleu de Solaize seeds. They grow all summer, then overwinter with nothing but snow as a blanket. In the spring, they are always one of our first meals from the garden (even this frigid year and despite the goats).

One of the simplest ways we prepare them is that old French favorite: Leeks Vinaigrette. My new favorite recipe is from my new favorite cookbook, Around My French Table. It calls for walnut oil in the vinaigrette, and...swoon.

We ease a double fistful of slender leeks out of the garden, then trim their roots, strip their outer leaves and soak them in water. I don't tie them in bundles (as most recipes suggest) but just lay them into salted, boiling water (often in a shallow skillet).

While they cook, I shake up a jar containing:

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or champagne)
2 tablespoons walnut oil (this is Dorie Greenspan's inspired variation)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
ground pepper

When they are absolutely tender (less than ten minutes when they are so fresh and thin), I fish them out of the water and douse them in the vinaigrette. They soak it up as they cool.

Eating leeks in vinaigrette is almost as much a celebration of spring as planting the seeds that will be next spring's feast.

Happy gardening and cooking, dear friends! We'll be back soon with more on the goats and the little...waddlers we are expecting! And we'll be skipping over your way for more news and to catch up on your gardens and kitchens and families, but please sing out here too. Happy spring at last!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sugar days

by June
Can you tell we've been a little frozen up?

It's been a winter of hugging the woodstove (and one another) as the wind howled, the furnace rumbled, and the snow mounted. I know that somewhere it is already spring. The calendar says so. But here we are still swinging between frigid nights and days that are often bright but bracing. Fortunately, that's perfect weather for gathering maple sap to boil down into syrup.

We have a wedding tree on our place. It was an old New England tradition to plant a sugar maple in the front yard—to celebrate a wedding. Our tree has four trunks—a sugar clump, we call it. It is always gloriously ablaze for our October wedding anniversary, and then in spring it graces us with more sweetness...a bountiful run of sap that pitter pats into the buckets. If we're diligent about keeping the fire going, that clump can give us syrup for a year's worth of pancakes and popovers and lemonade.

When we are at the sugar clump, we notice that even though the taps are often iced up, some signs of spring are here. The light is crisp and warm. Robins hop about on the patches of grass where the snow has retreated. The mourning doves coo to one another in the firs. Daffodil spears are slicing up through the soil and lilac buds are swelling. Spring will come. Summer too. And when it does, some hot afternoon, we'll have a glass of maple lemonade and think of these cold days of almost-spring.

We hope this favorite lemonade recipe of ours will be enough for you to forgive us our long absence here. It's such an easy drink to make, yet it is the most refreshing treat on earth. Squeeze six lemons into a glass pitcher, then add about a half-cup of maple syrup (more or less to taste). You can add a little sugar if you want to boost the sweetness but preserve the precious syrup. Grate a little lemon zest into the pitcher. Add ice and water until it tastes right to you. (We've learned that this recipe is flexible and personal. Each one of us angles it a slightly different way.)

If this tardy missive of ours reaches you (and if you haven't given up on us), please send word back. We've missed our friends, each of you. Is it spring where you are? We welcome reports of buds and blossoms and nesting birds.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with homemade dumplings!

by June
What is the potential of some flour and a little water? This time of year, in our home, those humble ingredients are mixed together to become part of a tradition that stretches all the way to China—and back in time thousands of years.

When we first brought our babies home, we despaired of being able to give them a connection to Chinese culture in any deeply meaningful way. Living in Maine, how could we  begin to understand the complexity of one of the world's oldest and richest cultures? I remember thinking, How can we do it without a Chinese grandmother to cook and tell stories and impart wisdom handed down by generations?

We were fortunate to find other families with ties to China. With them, we celebrate each new year with dancing and singing and dumpling-making. Other families share their grandmothers and those grandmothers share their wisdom—whether it be the finer points of mah jongg or the secrets of making dumpling wrappers.

This Chinese New Year's eve, we were snowed in. But we had flour and water and the sweet promise of a day coming soon when the music would soar and the children would dance and the dragon would wind through the swirling crowd.

As families around the world did that night, we made dumplings according to the wisdom passed down to us by loving grandmothers.

We took about two cups of flour and mixed it with about a half-cup of water that is just off the boil. We stirred it with wok-size chopsticks counter-clockwise, and then when we could gather it into a ragged ball, we began to knead it with our hands. When it was soft as an earlobe (that tip could only come from a grandmother, no?), we wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it rest for a few minutes.

Then we rolled it into a snake and pinched off pieces about as big as a man's thumb. (One of our favorite cooks does it by scissoring the base of her thumb against the base of her first digit.)

Next we wielded our dumpling rollers. (One of our dearest grandmothers still uses a rung off a chair that she found decades ago, but Birch made the girls each a rolling pin from a wooden dowel. Blossom named hers Half Apple and Fern calls hers Bamboo. They use them for cookie dough at Christmas and pie crust any old time and dumplings at Chinese New Year. Even though the rollers are only about five years old now, they are already silky from rolling between the pads of little hands and dough.)

The trick to dumpling wrappers is to flatten the dough lump in one direction then another, then turn the dough and take a swipe here and a swipe there, then turn it again. With practice, a circle emerges.

On New Years' Eve, we rolled and rolled.

Then, onto the full-moon dumpling wrapper went a little filling.

A finger dipped in water traced the outer edge, and then one side got folded up until the rims touched.

Pleating is an art. We are still learning that art and will never be as fast as the grandmothers who are patient in showing us; their fingers fly. We feel clumsy in comparison. But, the eating is so good that we are willing to forgive ourselves some lumpy dumplings. So we cradled the filled dumpling and pinched and pleated from one end to the next.

Our filling was simple. We've done all kinds of elaborate fillings through the years and eaten some wondrous fillings created by our friends. But on a snowy night at home, it's always possible to have some kind of dumplings.

Simple and Fast Dumpling Filling

1/2 pound ground meat (we used turkey)
1/2 cup chopped scallion greens (we didn't have Chinese chives)
a pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons of rice wine
a grind of pepper
1/2 teaspoon (or more, to taste) of sesame oil

Mix all the ingredients together.

Place the dumplings in a bamboo steamer and steam over high heat for about 14 minutes. Test whether the dumplings are done by cutting one open.

Our dipping sauce recipe is here.

We ate ours as we are eating all meals these cold nights...crouched around the coffee table by the fire. Even though we were one little family tucked away in one little home, we were part of a grand tradition that encircled the globe that night.

Happy Year of the Rabbit!