Strawberries!!!

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On Friday my husband and I picked 25+ pounds of strawberries at a local farm.  They were daunting when I got them home.  Of course we wanted jam and I like an old recipe from colonial days.  The New England colonists brought with them Sweet Woodruff, an herb native to Europe, where it was a necessary ingredient in their May wine but they also put it in strawberry jam as a flavor enhancer.  I made 12 jars of Strawberry-Sweet Woodruff jam and 14 jars of Strawberry-Pineapple.

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They’re the reddish ones in the middle

The farm gives out free recipe sheets and there was a recipe for a strawberry/pasta/kale salad which intrigued me but when I tried it we found it underwhelming.  I thought it had promise though so I tried it again, making it a whole meal this time using chicken chunks, quinoa, kale, strawberries and roasted sunflower seeds.  We really enjoyed it.  I used a sweet & sour lemony vinaigrette and garnished it with the zest from the lemon.

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And then there were the other uses:

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On cereal

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Strawberries and cream with a sprinkling of sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strawberries give me a chance to use my beloved old Royal Doulton berry plate that I found at a flea market with my brother. The bowl is perforated on the bottom so the berries don’t get soggy.

I also made a fresh strawberry pie, too sloppy to show you.  It’s been very rainy here and I should have used more cornstarch as it’s more like a thick sauce and spreads all over the plate (but still tasty).

 

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Lady Jane is Always the First to Bloom

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I always summer my Amaryllis bulbs in the garden and rest them for a couple of months in the fall.  I bring them up into the sunlight in late January to have some beauty in the cold days of winter.  I’ve had Lady Jane at least 20 years.  Happy Spring!!  [Click here for a link for full instructions that I posted earlier.]

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Happy Pi Day!!

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In celebration of Pi Day, 3/14, I made this raspberry pie from berries we picked last fall.  Yum!!

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Spaghetti Squash: A Garden Thug with Tasty Possibilities

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Here it is in the fullness of its growth. It spread from its bed to the right and smothered the asparagus. Vines that went through the fence and got outside were swiftly nipped off by deer or who knows, it might have come in the house!

I like to try a new vegetable every year but I was an innocent when I decided to try out spaghetti squash, having no idea it would be so aggressive.  The squash themselves average about a foot long.  The vines on the other hand easily spread 20 feet.  They are a winter squash type and are ripe when they turn yellow and the skin is no longer tender.  I planted two hills and got about 25 squash.

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The ripe squash

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I get an inescapable mental image when I see them like this and understand if you do too.  Ignore that. To begin, you need to cut them in half and bake them at 400º until you can pierce the skin with a sharp knife.  If you cut them crosswise you get longer strands. I found it easier to take the seeds out before baking them but it can be done afterwards as well.

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Pull at the strands with a fork and separate them as you go along.

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This is the palette from which we can create our dishes.  I tried using it as I would angel hair pasta but I found that it got lost in heavy sauces such as marinara or Bolognese.

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It worked very well in place of pasta sheets for a cheese lasagna.  I layered it about an inch thick and pressed it down gently with a spatula.  (above: lasagna plated, below, lasagna in the pan).

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Here it is with the classic “Aio e Oio.” It makes an excellent side dish, here with maple glazed salmon filet and caramelized Brussels sprouts.

I found it really works well with lighter sauces.  I sauteed it to dry it out some then made the sauce and added the squash, turning it in the sauce until all strands were coated.  Aio e Oio (Roman garlic, olive oil and red hot chili pepper with parsley) is wonderful.  I also tried it with a sauce of olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice and basil and that was terrific as well.  Be sure to salt it as you saute it as it is very bland all by itself.

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The Panama Hawk Migration

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Panama City from atop the Canopy Tower.  It reminded me of the Emerald City of Oz.

We traveled to Panama in early October mainly for the hawk migration, but there were many other fascinating sights such as the Three-toed Tree Sloths munching on the Cecropia leaves outside our window.

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We stayed at Canopy Tower an old converted US Military radar installation.  The food was excellent with menus prepared by the owner’s Mother (?) who was a well known chef.  We came back from one day’s outing to find the remnants of that cuisine being sampled by seven juvenile Coatis.  They didn’t mind in the least if we watched them and they were relatively respectful of each other, unlike their cousins the Raccoons..

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It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip bird-wise as well with my eBird total of 195 species.  There were beautiful insects with Blue Morpho butterflies fluttering everywhere.  I also encountered a creature completely new to me, a Helicopter Damselfly (Megaloprepus caerulatus).  It was lovely at rest but absolutely mesmerizing in flight, twirling delicately down the path (click on the name for a link to a short video)

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Here is the Helicopter Damselfly at rest.  It is huge, about 7″ long and with a similar wingspan.  (Photo courtesy of Christine Howe, all rights reserved)

But of course the hawk migration was the primary reason for our visit.  We drove to Ancon Hill where the official Panama hawk watch is held.  We were told that almost no hawks had come through on the previous day but they had heard from Veracruz, Mexico that they should expect large influx were due this day.  We saw very few at first but then they started rising from the canopy and flying in from the west.  They gathered and rose swirling (kettling) until they reached the top of the thermal and then slid off to the east.  We were told that in one half-hour period we had seen approximately 18,000 hawks, mostly Swainson’s Hawks and that every Swainson’s Hawk in North America passes over the Panama Canal on its way to its wintering grounds in Argentina.  I found the experience very calming, watching them floating in, up and on their way, hundreds at a time.

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There are a few Turkey Vultures  and Broadwings but most of these birds are Swainson’s Hawks, a tiny fraction of the spectacle.

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Pickled Beet Taste Test

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With the threat of hard frost looming I decided to harvest my beets.  They did quite well this year and I had so many I decided to make up several pickled beet recipes and see if I liked them better than the way I have been doing them all these years, a recipe I learned when I lived in Denmark.

The first recipe I tried came from “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine (March/April 1994, p.11).  I was intrigued by the fact it had vermouth, red wine, rosemary and orange slices along with the typical ingredients.  The next was from a cookbook that has given me some great recipes in the past; Smith & Hawkins “Gardener’s Community Cookbook” compiled by Victoria Wise, Workman Publishing, New York, 1999).  This one had horseradish and lots of spices and since I like the tang of horseradish, I put it on the list.  I also tried one from the “Bon Appetit” website which included coriander berries, “interesting”, I thought. Finally I included my Danish recipe of old, which includes onions.

We gave it three tries on successive days and my original old recipe won each time with the Bob Appetit recipe a close second and the Cook’s Illustrated and near tie for second.  The Gardener’s was too tart although I’m sure adding sugar to balance the vinegar would improve it.

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…and the winner is…

Here’s that recipe (happily the simplest):

DANISH STYLE PICKLED BEETS (serves four)

  • 1 pound prepared beets (about 3 large)
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

Prepare beets by washing them and boiling them in their skins.  When they can be pierced easily with a sharp knife, remove them from the water, saving 1/2 C water from the cooking liquid for the pickling sauce.  Let the beets cool enough so you can handle them to peel them.   You should be able to just push off the skin with your thumbs.  Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan (including the beet juice) and bring to a boil.  Slice the beets and add them to the saucepan.  Cool and refrigerate for a day or two before serving.  Can be served hot or cold.

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Green Tomato Ideas

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Green Tomato Pie.  This pie tastes a lot like apple because of the spices but it has a firmer texture which we really enjoyed.  This is adapted from an apple pie recipe.

The first light frost burned the foliage on my tomato plants but the fruit is still fine, so faced with a bushel of green tomatoes, I went to work.  First (with Thanksgiving coming) was Green Tomato Mincemeat, my mother’s recipe.  It takes mincemeat from the artery clogging, heavy dish of yesterday (one pound of beef suet!!!) to a vegetarian taste alike and gets rid of loads of green tomatoes.

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This is enough for 10 pies!

Next came Green Tomato Jam, a recipe I got on a trip to New Zealand from the Australian Woman’s Weekly.  It’s like a marmalade as it has an orange and a lemon with the tomatoes but with a subtle difference.  You can make it in the Cuisinart, so it goes quickly.

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Green Tomato Jam

Of course we had a couple of meals with Fried Green Tomatoes.  I found this recipe on line at Epicurious.com.

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Fried Green Tomatoes with basil mayonnaise (Horseradish Sauce is good too).

I ended up with Green Tomato Pickles (a recipe from a family friend that I’ve been making since the 1960’s).  These are a crisp pickle, good on hot dogs or just as a relish.  Recipes available on request.

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Green Tomato Pickles

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