Archive for August, 2015

My Beautiful Aubergines

Almost too beautiful to eat...

Nearly black and glistening, almost too beautiful to eat…

Sorry!  “Eggplant” simply does not do justice to this lovely vegetable (well, technically a fruit).  I’ve tried a different (to me) method of preparing them for dishes like Aubergines Parmesan and Moussaka.  I trimmed the tops and bottoms, sliced them into lengthwise slices, about 1/3″ thick but instead of frying up the slices, I brushed each side lightly with olive oil and baked them at 400º until browned, turning once.

This was far easier than frying them, uses less oil and took only about 20 minutes.

This was far easier than frying them, uses less oil and took only about 20 minutes.

After they were all browned, I made three Moussakas, one for now and two for later.  I baked two in baking dishes lined with tin foil and froze them.  after they were frozen, I took them out of the baking dishes and stored them in the freezer.  This winter I’ll just take off the tinfoil and put them back into the baking dishes for an easy meal.

Moussaka, ready for the freezer.

Moussaka, ready for the freezer.

Moussaka is a dish I first encountered in Greece many years ago.  It’s a ground meat,tomato and onion filling between precooked Aubergine (eggplant) slices and topped off with a custard of milk eggs and feta cheese, plus seasonings.

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Combating Squash Vine Borer Without Pesticides

Cover the stem with soil and the plant will send down a new root system.

Cover the stem with soil and the plant will send down a new root system.  (Please ignore the weeds.  The tall pale green plants are dill which I’ve let grow for the Swallowtail butterflies)

Believe me, I’ve tied all the remedies (except chemicals) to combat this pest:  the pantyhose sleeve, the tinfoil barrier, self pollinating plants under a row cover… I’ve probed the hole with a paper clip to kill the larvae.  Nothing really worked.  Last summer I realized my squash was sending down roots along the stems.  Once the borer got in and the plant was dying, I covered the dying stem with soil and kept it watered well.  The plant revived.  This summer I have again had success with this strategy and new squash have begun to grow,  I think the season for the squash vine borer, a type of sesiid moth (Melittia cucurbitae) is over, so maybe I’ll have squash until fall.  I do need more as I haven’t had a chance to make my hot dog pickle relish yet!

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Making the Most of Your Garden: Spectacular Salade Nicoise

Salade Nicoise with pan seared tuna steaks

Salade Nicoise with pan seared tuna steaks

When the garden is in full production I love to make Salade Nicoise.  Here I’ve showcased green beans, grilled baby squash, cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, lettuce, baby beets and squash blossoms stuffed with herbs and chevre.  I have adapted Julia Child’s recipe but this is more a matter of assembly than cooking.  The base is a French style potato salad (boiled in their jackets, peeled and tossed first with minced shallots, white wine, then vinaigrette), then you just arrange everything else.  I make my vinaigrette in a mustard jar that still holds the final bits of mustard the knife can’t coax out.  This gives me a handy jar to shake it in.  The vinaigrette is the remains of the mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, minced garlic and herbs (I used basil for this one).  I add hard boiled eggs cut in half, drizzled with the vinaigrette and topped with a bit of anchovy.  The green beans are tossed in vinaigrette just before placing them on the lettuce and you drizzle it over everything else.  Top it off with a few black olives (Nicoise, if you can find them), sprinkle capers and parsley over the top, et voila!

The platter I use is a huge antique feather-edged Leeds one that I found at a flea market.  I only use it for this and for New England Boiled Dinner.

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Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom with the Connecticut Young Birders Club

Young Birders clowning around at the end of the boardwalk at Moose Bog.  (We all did quite a bit of clowning around on this fun trip.)

Young Birders clowning around at the end of the boardwalk at Moose Bog. (We all did quite a bit of clowning around on this fun trip.)

I accompanied the Young Birders to the very top of Vermont at the end of June and what a great time we had!  We camped out for two nights at friendly, welcoming Pond Island’s Brighton State Park while we explored the region’s birding hot spots, spending most of our time at Moose Bog.  We never saw a moose, but it was a beautiful bog and it was there that we got our birding “Boreal Grand Slam,” the Black-backed Woodpecker (life bird for me), Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay and Boreal Chickadee.  A birder has to travel north to see these birds.

Chris Rimmer and a Bicknell's Thrush.

Chris Rimmer and a Bicknell’s Thrush.

After our stay we moved south to Mount Mansfield, camping an additional night at Smuggler’s Notch State Park.  There we rode the Toll Road (ski trail in winter) to the top of Mount Mansfield where we visited with Chris Rimmer, Executive Director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE) and his research assistant .  This is one of the areas in which he studies the rare Bicknell’s Thrush.  We accompanied them along the mist net routes as they extracted birds for examination and banding and were even allowed to assist by releasing the banded birds.  We helped with recording duties, learned a lot about the importance of preserving the entire migratory route, and about VCE’s work in Hispanola and Puerto Rico where Bicknell’s Thrush winter.

One of the Young Birders helps out with the recording process.

One of the Young Birders helps out with the recording process.

Bicknell’s Thrush nests only at the tree line, thus it is found on the highest mountain tops in New England, Southern Canada and the Northern Appalachians.  As the climate warms, the tree line climbs further up the mountain leaving the tiny Thrush an ever decreasing area in which to nest.  Thanks to the work of VCE, we have much more knowledge about this bird, its habitat requirements and threats to its existence.

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