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Harvest Cornbread

Summer is more so an emotion than a season. Annually it arrives, heat and hazy sunlight, a shimmering mirage of memories forgotten and ghosts of summers past, of childhood and yesteryears. And each summer has its own personality. Some come particularly hot and lazy, sprawling languid and driving anyone within reach to naps and slow eyed ruminations. Others come cool and soft, all lush greens and gentle breezes. But the best days are the rainy summer days.

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Awake and ready to face the morning’s tasks, I wasn’t what you could call saddened at the sight of rain coming down the a.m. A cup of coffee and front porch sitting in the cool air came as much needed comfort. I frequently forget to pause lately and those not so subtle reminders are less pesky than welcome.

Gardening is in full swing with necessary tasks compiled daily. Weed, water, harvest, prune, keep vigil for pests, fertilize, repeat. In that way, the art of gardening is imitating life lately. A series of tasks toward a higher goal eating up hour after hour of every passing day. And in the heat, the early bird gets whatever the early bird gets before the sun rises too high and that time is long devoured in fast course. But not today. Today the rain came down, rhythmic and soothing. Soft summer rain is among the finer things in life, cleansing, cradlesong like in its ability to soothe a too hurried mind.

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With only time left for a few quick tasks before the post rain humidity and heat came for the day, harvesting was tantamount. Harvests have been plentiful this season, to the point of necessitating either giving away bags of vegetables or coming up with new ways to use them on the fly. This recipe is one such concept. Love standard cornbread though I do, I have never been a Bible (or recipe book) thumping cornbread purist and frequently play with adding seasonal items or cheese or spices, among other ingredients.

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Cornbread lends itself ideally to mashups with new ingredients, both holding its own flavor yet being mild enough by nature to allow additional ingredients a platform from which to shine. In this case, vegetables are the feature, with the fresh corn amplifying the bread’s flavor and the other veggies playing off same. I used what I had an abundance of but do play with this platform, adding and subtracting with whatever vegetables you have available. Fresh from the oven with a bit of butter, this bread is perfect to enjoy on the front porch while summer rain comes down.

HARVEST CORNBREAD

hc6post½ cup melted butter
2 cups self-rising white cornmeal
½ cup all purpose flour
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 cup corn kernels, divided
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 jalapeno or other pepper of choice, sliced
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion

Preheat oven to 425. Pour approximately 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into a 10” cast iron skillet and preheat the skillet in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal and flour. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, melted butter and buttermilk. Add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir until moistened. Fold in 2/3 cup of the corn kernels. Pour batter into pre-heated cast iron skillet.

Bake for 10 minutes. Carefully remove skillet from oven and top partially cooked bread with remaining 1/3 cup of corn and tomato, pepper, and onion. Return skillet to oven and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Remove from oven and immediately remove from skillet.

Notes:
I do love cheese and this recipe is perfectly suited for the addition of about a cup worth. Use any kind you prefer and divide it evenly between the batter mixture and the top of the bread or just sprinkle it on top of the bread with the vegetables. You won’t be sorry!

Don’t like spice? Swap the jalapeno for a sweeter pepper. Or no pepper at all! The vegetables listed above are by no means required. Pick and choose with what you have fresh and available and change it up. Herbs make a fun addition too. Cornbread lends itself perfectly to nearly any flavor pairing so your imagination is the limit.

 

Heirloom: Weissbehaarte Tomato

In much a similar way to parents being shunned from having a favorite among their children, it feels wrong to say I have a favorite section of my garden. But I do.

The cornstalks are shiny and stately rustling in the plains wind, the deep jewel green leaves of the squash plants are mysterious and exotic, the bright rows of herbs and lettuces are as lovely as any flower garden. But there is another section, a haven, a quiet sort of oasis of sweetly sharp scented leaves and jeweled toned heirlooms in every shade of purple, red, brown, white, yellow, pink, and orange: the tomato section. From the first of their unique scent at the end of winter when early tomatoes are peering brightly up at grow lights to the last days of harvest in fall when the last fruits are small and more useful for seed than culinary purposes, tomatoes will always be my favorite plant to grow.

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Thus every year the heirloom features here will no doubt include a tomato type, this year being no different than last on that count. And once again, like last year, one of the standout tomatoes this year has been a saladette cherry type, namely weissbehaarte. Not only is the weissbehaarte prolific to the point of overwhelm from early to late season, but for someone who would rank white types as her least favorite of the many hues of tomatoes, the taste is surprisingly delicious. They are milder than awt1post typical white tomato and are particularly visually appealing when served fresh in salads or on an appetizer tray. Their skin is remarkably smooth with high crack resistance and in color ranges from a soft near white pale yellow to bright pastel sunshine gold. Such a unique and pretty tomato type, they are not only an attractive plant in the garden, but also garner many compliments on the table.

Weissbehaarte (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Weissbehaarte’) is an old German heirloom. Skin is thin and silky, pale yellow in color. One to two ounce plum/salad type. Vines grow large with plants growing six to eight feet and produce prolifically. Very easy to grow with enough space. Indeterminate, 75-80 days.

Heirloom: Golden Zucchini

It’s strange, the difference a year can make. Looking back at how different one June can be from the last is nearly dizzying. Sometimes the comparison is heartbreaking. Other times it is a welcome reminder. In the garden, the difference between any two seasons is palpable and as one toils it isn’t difficult for the mind to wander between comparisons of this and last season’s gardens to this and last season’s daily challenges or successes. While the daily life of this summer has been more challenging than most, the season’s garden has been for the most part a dream. Especially the squash.

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Two seasons ago, all my squash were attacked and rapidly killed by squash vine borers. By rapidly, I mean my plants were done for before I even realized what was happening as I had never encountered vine borers prior to that season. They also summarily destroyed my gourds and melons. Devils.

Last season came torrential rains, blighting most of the garden and smearing the rest with powder mildew. When the rains finally broke, the weather immediately shifted into drought and extraordinary heat. And with the heat came uncontrollable swarms of squash bugs. Also devils.

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But this season, an overabundance of summer squash has been the way, especially from two prolific white squash types and three of the four zucchini types.

One zucchini in particular has found its way onto my favorites list, even though it was old seed gifted to me and initially it seemed as though none of the plants were going to come up. In the end only one plant did come up, but when it did it came up to beat the band, currently standing at just under three feet tall and consistently producing two to three fruit almost every other day.

Not only is the plant sizeable and very attractive, featuring large shapely leaves in stunning velvety green, but the fruit is the most beautiful sunshine yellow and the taste is slightly more mild than green zucchini types. Even if allowed to mature on the plant, at which point their size grows yz5apost1rapidly and their color becomes a deep gold near orange color, this type does not become especially seedy and maintains its excellent flavor. This and cocozella are my personal go to’s for zucchini dishes as both maintain their flavor and texture perfectly when cooked. Never though have I seen such a both prolific and delicious zucchini type and so Golden Zucchini found a place here as a recommended heirloom for your own garden.

Golden Zucchini summer squash was developed by W. Burpee. They are very prolific bush-type plants. Harvested at six to eight inches, they feature stunning glossy bright yellow skin. Easy to grow direct sewn, but requires space. 50-55 days.

Spring Green Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette

This is the strange time of year when change is exaggerated, when I look at photos of the garden from only a few weeks ago and the rate of growth borders on preternatural. Seeds just budding last month are mature plants now, in the process of producing. And a garden tilled not long ago all dirt and rows marked by hay and mulch has gone from shades of clay and dirt to shimmering bold greens of every tone.

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The world seems greener this year than any years in recent past. Nature shivers emerald, all gossamer leaves on the rainiest days and bright forest tones in the sunshine. Most days are rainy, albeit not like last year. And warm. So warm already that the early greens and cooler tempered plants are bolting while the squashes and tomatoes are sprawling in their takeover for the season.

With all the cool natured plants in a race to bolt, recipes center around making the fullest use of their produce. And so, a simple salad. Quick to make but as fresh and rich with flavorful green as the end of spring is.

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SPRING GREEN SALAD WITH GORGONZOLA VINAIGRETTE

sp13postAbout 1/2 cup of snow peas, blanched
4-5 thinly sliced radishes
1 or 2 thinly sliced spring onions
About 1/2 cup of basil
3-4 handfuls of mixed spring greens (baby spinach, baby arugula, watercress, etc), washed and dried
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, divided

Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt and next 3 ingredients (through olive oil) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese. Set aside.

In a large bowl toss together peas, onions, salad greens, basil, and radishes. Drizzle with dressing and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Serve immediately.

NOTES:
No, the measurements are not exact. I was working with harvest. I recommend playing with the amounts to suit your own palate.

 

Spring Pasta with Roasted Garlic Sauce

The words “purple is royal” have been uttered more than once in the last few weeks and as the garden fleshes out in emerald and lavender, ultraviolet and splashes of pearl, I wonder if I wasn’t feeling a bit royal when planting. Or perhaps I have more of my mother’s blood than realized (purple is her all time favorite). Or maybe it was a surprise for E (purple is also her favorite). Maybe all of the above.

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Either way, the irises are blooming along the fence line, honeysuckle has just begun to perfume the air, and somehow an accidental very purple theme for the first round of blooms has been managed all over the property. It will change as the other flowers come in, pinks, scarlets, and heavenly blues. But for these few weeks, spring has come in royal, all velvet purples and soft lilacs against a deep shimmering green backdrop while indoors the season has come when fresh flowers are always on display straight from the garden. 

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The vegetable garden is also flush with green as all the first plants are well along. Even spots of purple are mixed throughout the herb section. Thus inspired by those early veggies and all the brightness of the season came this recipe. Coupled with roasted garlic and the faint licorice hint of tarragon, early peas and sugar snaps are the feature of this spring dish. As the cool of April and May storms roll by, this pasta is a hearty comfort food highlighted by the first gifts of the warm season’s garden.

Spring Pasta with Roasted Garlic Sauce

sp13post1 cup fresh green peas, shelled and blanched
1 cup sugar snap peas, blanched
Pulps of 6 heads of roasted garlic
Olive oil
12oz fresh pasta
2 slices of pancetta, diced
1 leek, green stalks removed, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole cream
1 cup parmesan, plus additional for garnish
Salt & fresh cracked pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon, plus fresh sprigs for garnish (see notes)

Prepare the pasta as directed, drain. Meanwhile, to prepare the sauce, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the pancetta, stirring to coat. Cook until the pancetta is lightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the leeks and mushrooms, stirring frequently . Sauté until just softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the wine, stock, and roasted garlic pulp and cook until reduced by half, approximately 10 minutes. Add cream, peas, and sugar snaps and heat through. Remove sauce from heat and toss with together with pasta, tarragon and parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh sprigs of tarragon and additional parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately.

 Notes:

If tarragon isn’t a favorite, a half tablespoon of freshly chopped mint is a lovely replacement.

This sauce lends itself well to a variety of pasta types but paired with spring veggies, fresh pasta whether homemade or store-bought is best with this recipe.

An excellent how to for roasting garlic can be found here.

 

Roasted Asparagus and Mushrooms with Lemongrass-Ginger Dressing

Whether the Missouri route or the Arkansas route, it is a long drive back to Oklahoma from Tennessee. The first few hours down the music highway or along the Kentucky byways are pretty enough, but cross the Mississippi and the simplest route on budgeted time is the interstate. Hours on end and the scenery blurs together, especially when you’ve been driving since shortly after one in the morning and exhaustion kicked in with the bright glare of the morning sun.

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Alternate drivers, push through, make lists for projects waiting at the house, sing along with radio, admire the Bostons on the horizon, almost to the state line. A few hours later and home, all draped in bright spring green, everything budded and bloomed, shimmering virescence has shrugged off the last signs of winter in our week long absence.

Strange how quickly things can change, how when you aren’t looking the next season marches in leaving no trace of what was beginning to seem permanent. Just days ago we left blistering winds, drought dried air, and blowing pollen clouds like yellowy smoke from some b-rate horror, but this morning the sun shone softly through the pines and the world looked clean and new. The crepe myrtles and oaks are brilliant green with new leaves, the trees in the orchard have shed their blossoms for crescent shaped emerald leaves and budding fruit, and the early planted section of the garden is maturing rapidly; heads of lettuce, tendrils of climbing peas, first sprouts of potatoes, and heart shaped radish leaves all over. The irises along the fence are blooming velvety purple and pale yellow and even my Japanese honeysuckle is in full bloom, bold fuchsia red against a pallid plains backdrop.

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Best of all, the asparagus planted last year has taken excellent hold and has even produced a small harvest, promising for next year. In excitement for all flavors earthy, bright, and infused with spring, this: a simple twist on roasted asparagus and mushrooms which pairs them with the bright flavor of lemon and a ginger-lemongrass vinaigrette I like to make. The leftover dressing can be stored for use on a fresh spring greens salad as well.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS AND MUSHROOMS WITH LEMONGRASS-GINGER DRESSING

lm8post½ pound cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered if large
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
3 tablespoons quality olive oil
Sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
Ginger Lemongrass Dressing (follows)
Sliced lemons (optional)

Preheat oven to 425. Place the asparagus and mushrooms on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, then toss to coat the asparagus completely. Arrange asparagus and mushrooms in an even layer then sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven stirring once, about 15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender but still crisp.

Transfer the asparagus and mushrooms to a serving platter and drizzle with dressing to taste. Garnish with slices of lemon if desired.

LEMONGRASS-GINGER DRESSING

2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
2 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp chili flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp tamari

Shake all ingredients to combine.

NOTES:
With regard to the dressing, I like spice, a known fact. If you prefer the spice turned down, cut the chili flakes by half. And if a bump in sweetness suits your palette, add a tablespoon of honey to the mix in lieu of the tamari.

The dressing will keep for a few days covered and refrigerated.

Natural hues.

es1postThe fertility rites of spring are in full force, trees budding and blooming, seedlings sprouted and growing voraciously, birds nesting, rabbits stirring. There is a soft beauty in the gentle themes of the Easter celebration, the stunning examples of years of adaption of the symbols of equinox rituals into the imagery of the Christian church, all bundled and prettily packaged in the palest tones of mother nature. And outdoors the velvety golds, pale yellows, baby pinks, dusty roses, bright lilacs, deep violets, and soft lavenders of the flora are particularly splendid in the early warmth of this precocious spring, the garden and flowerbeds are coruscant with luminescent young green, and es2postthe sky is the clearest blue nearly every day. Inspired by all the lambent colors of youthful nature, this year’s Easter (which came early for us as necessitated by our shared family) involved not only a garden themed Easter basket delivery from an early Easter bunny but also a game of playing botanist, chemist, and artist in the kitchen. This time not for a recipe, but rather for the dying of Easter eggs without the use of chemically made dyes.

If you’ve ever used beets in anything, you’ve seen their nightmarish ability to render any surface bloody stained. And of course there’s the ghastly nature of grape juice on pale colored rugs and permanent smeared acid green of grass stains on anything pale and ill-advised for outdoor wear. But as with all things tedious, those same annoying qualities can be useful, with a change of application. In this instance, those same natural stains became stunning natural dyes.

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E’s face (and Josh’s, for that matter) at the turning of plain water, vegetables and spices into tiny mason jars of bold patinas was absolutely magical. And the rustic jewel-toned results of our experimenting were nothing short of nature’s own magic themselves. For a bit of nature’s own finery on your Easter holiday, here is a simple guide to creating the standard egg dying colors with kitchen staples. Happy Easter from our home to yours.

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Natural Dye Easter Eggs

Boil your desired number of eggs. Remove from hot water when cooked and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, create your dye colors as explained below. When cool enough, strain each color liquid into an individual cup or bowl large enough to submerge an egg in, making sure to remove all of the solid ingredients. When the eggs are cool, rub shells with white vinegar to help dye adhere. Submerge eggs completely in dye color of choice for 5-10 minutes. (The longer they soak the deeper the color tone.) Remove eggs from dye and set on a paper towel lined plate to dry. Enjoy.

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RED: Coarsely chop one large beet root. In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cup of water to a boil. Add chopped up beet to water and allow to boil for 2 minutes before removing from heat. Steep for approximately 5 minutes, or until the cooked liquid turns dark red.

PINK: Peel the outer skin from two red onions. In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cup of water to a boil. Add the onions skins to water and allow to boil for 5 minutes before removing from heat. Steep for approximately 5 more minutes, or until the cooked liquid turns dark red.
*Alternatively, if your beet had its red stem attached, the chopped up stem could be used to create a pink dye as it doesn’t turn the water as red as the beet root.

YELLOW: In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cup of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of turmeric to water and allow to boil until turmeric begins to dissolve before removing from heat. Steep for approximately 5 minutes, or until the turmeric is completely dissolved.

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GREEN: Coarsely chop a large handful of dark spinach leaves. In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cup of water to a boil. Add chopped up spinach to water and allow to boil for 5 minutes before removing from heat. Steep for approximately 5-10 minutes, or until the cooked liquid turns dark green.

BLUE: Coarsely chop the dark outer leaves of one head of purple cabbage. In a small saucepan, bring 1 ½ cup of water to a boil. Add chopped up cabbage leaves to water and allow to boil for 5 minutes before removing from heat. Steep for approximately 5-10 minutes, or until the cooked liquid turns blue violet.

PURPLE: Heat 1 ½ cups of grape juice to a boil and allow to cool slightly before using as a dye.

NOTES:
es9postThe above colors are only those shown in the photos and these ingredients are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Experiment and let them be inspiration for you in creating more additions to a rainbow of Easter eggs from the items in your own kitchen. Carrots, paprika, and other colorful items would make stunning dyes as well. I was limited to brown eggs, and although I was pleased with the results, white, pink, or blue eggs could easily achieve even more beautiful hues. (White eggs will give you the truest shades.) Please do comment below with any additional vegetables, fruits, or spices you have great luck in dying with.

As seen in the photo, we created our own egg dipper with a cut up metal hanger, which works great if you multiple children as one hanger will yield 3-5 dippers. However, spoons work just as well if the cups you are using have enough space.

Be sure to refrigerate cooked eggs promptly after dying if you plan to eat them. Consuming eggs used for egg hunting and other Easter activities is not advised.