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Persimmon Nut Bread

Waking up late on a weekend morning, just in time to see the golden orange syrup of first light in autumn playing on the last of the turned leaves and the deep dark green of the pines, and I felt inspired to be outdoors. We winterized, cutting back my fruit trees and clearing the flower beds, trimming up outgrowth and splitting wood.

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Autumn is shifting toward winter, first frost is coming, the light stays filtered in amber all day and the long shadows never dissipate from sunrise to dark. Inside, the smell of chicken broth from the all-day cooking of chicken and dumplings mingled with the smell of an apple pie baking. It’s cool season, when cooking becomes heavy and the savory smells of each meal permeate the air long after the food is devoured. And this is the season when an instinctual need to bake takes over.

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This year, inspired by some stunning persimmons, I opted to adapt a bread recipe of my granny’s with a recipe run once in the Times-Picayune. As a child, it was ritualistic, annually watching with wide eyed anticipation a persimmon being cut open deftly and carefully with a two inch pocket knife. Would there be a knife, fork, or spoon inside? Did the almanac predict the same? If so it’s gospel truth. If not, the almanac must be having an off year, because the persimmons know.

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And so an homage to those most beautiful of autumn fruits, those natural weathercasters, a deliciously moist bread. It’s none too rich and well adapted to be served as a light snack to guests this time of year or to be eaten by hand leaning lazily against the kitchen counter barely awake in the a.m. as the coffee brews and the first orangey gold light lazily peers through the windows.

PERSIMMON NUT BREAD

pb10post½ cup melted unsalted butter, cooled
¼ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup persimmon pulp, mashed
1 ¾ cups flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp clove
½ tsp allspice
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and persimmon, mixing to combine. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir flour mixture into permission mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Add walnuts and cranberries and mix well. Pour into one large or two small greased and floured loaf pans. Bake for one hour in smaller pans or one hour and fifteen minutes for larger pan or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

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Vanilla Cranberry Pumpkinseeds

Anyone who has known me for more than a day or two will likely be aware of two things: waste disgusts me and Halloween is the end all, be all greatest holiday of them all. Although, to be fair the latter is hardly opinion, it is fact.

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And so, as we prepare costumes and travel plans and watch E run amuck in her amazing unicorn costume, a new recipe for those tired of the old standard roasted pumpkin seeds. With multiple pumpkins carved into Jack O’ Lanterns or roasted into homemade pumpkin pie, standard roasted seeds would’ve been running out of our ears. But this recipe, adapted from Wallflower Girl, plays the wholesomeness of roasted pumpkin seeds against the sweetness of honey and the tartness of dried cranberries. A delicious snack, it’s perfect for an overabundance of pumpkinseed.

VANILLA CRANBERRY PUMPKINSEEDS
Adapted from Wallflower Girl.
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1 cup pumpkinseeds
½ cup dried cranberries (dried cherries or raisins may be substituted)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tsp honey
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp. boiling water

Preheat oven to 300°F. Stir together the honey, sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl to make a paste. Slowly add the boiling water just until the mixture becomes syrup like. Pour the pumpkinseeds and cranberries (or choice of dried fruit) into the bowl, stirring constantly until they are completely coated in the sugar mixture. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a spoon drop the seed mixture in small clumps to make approximately 15-20 clusters. Bake 15-20 minutes until just golden brown. Cool before serving.

Chickpea & Spinach Ginger Tomato Soup

And so, October. Most days have been unseasonably warm, but then came the first with cold gray skies and wind that carried that sharp snow smell. It seemed ridiculous to put off the last of the garden clearing any longer. The tomatillos and some of the beans are still putting on, but otherwise the season has ended for another year, and due to the amount of soil damage and powder mildew, winter gardening is being skipped this year.

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Final vegetables were picked for seed, each plant was pulled for compost if possible, supports were stacked with like kind and the greenhouse is nearly full now with stored supplies. Raised beds built for rotation have had their frames pulled and stacked and their dirt spread as the rest of the garden was plowed down. I am, however, postponing pulling the remaining flora until first freeze as the hydrangeas, morning glories, and four o’ clocks are still bearing.

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By project end, my face was flushed and cheeks cold and the sky was darker, leaves blowing out of the trees in great clusters. Inspired, a soup was in order, but not just any soup. This soup is ideal at the turning of each equinox, tomato heavy and ginger seasoned, it features the warmth of summer, but the chickpeas give it a heartiness ideal for the incoming or outgoing cold. And when you find yourself craving tomatoes at the turning of spring or, as in this case, lamenting the end of their season, this recipe lends itself well to the use of the last year’s canned (or store bought) tomatoes.

 

CHICKPEA & SPINACH GINGER TOMATO SOUP
Adapted from Serious Eats.

soup7post28oz can diced tomatoes
1” knob of ginger, peeled
Olive Oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp smoked paprika
6 oz fresh baby spinach
2 14oz cans chickpeas
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Sea Salt & Fresh Cracked Pepper
Balsamic Vinegar

Pour half of tomatoes and liquid into a blender and add ginger knob. Blend on high until completely pureed. Set aside. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or stew pot over med high heat and add onion, garlic, and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and slightly browned. Add tomato ginger puree and stir to combine. Add spinach a handful at a time, allowing each handful to wilt before adding the next. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining tomatoes, chickpeas with their liquid, bay leaves, and soy sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and drizzle each serving with additional olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Heirloom: Red Kuri Squash

I found out on one of our trips to back to Tennessee this year that my husband had no idea what kudzu is. On occasion those tiny nuances that are engrained in my being and completely alien to him arise and remind me that I married a non-Southerner. And such a strange feeling to live in a place so near home and yet cut from completely different cloth, a state that borders the South and yet might as well be another planet.

But I digress. As I drove the winding back highway to mom’s, I pointed out the kudzu eating the landscape, swallowing barns and other myriad amorphous shapes of things long forgotten under those eerie emerald leaves. He was dumbfounded at the sight of it and the botanical characteristics that make it such a nuisance. It must seem strange to someone who’s never seen kudzu, like some plant from science fiction come to eat the rural South, and yet the very sight of it to me is comforting, decided proof I lived in Mississippi too long.

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Upon returning home, flashbacks to the story of how we came to have kudzu in the South and how it took over washed over me when I saw that of all my squashes and melons, in the ideal temperature and rain amounts, a Japanese selection I ordered out of curiosity had all but taken over the front of the house during the week we were gone. We moved into this house too late in the winter for me to plant the bulbs I wanted along the front gardens, so en lieu herbs and a few compact vegetable plants took those places for the year. At least, they were intended to be compact.

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The Red Kuri squash seeds I planted had proceeded to take over the front, growing approximately twenty feet in total length and making for surprisingly attractive vines trellised along the front. Thus it makes its way into this heirloom series, recommended for simplicity of growth and productivity as well as attractiveness, but one that requires space.

fu6postAnd not only are they attractive and productive, they are delicious. Their flavor is mildly nutty and semi-sweet, but more than their flavor it is their texture that is so amazing. Super creamy, these make ideal soup and pies. They keep very well and those we have left will become soup this winter.

Red Kuri Squash (Cucurbita maxima) is a hardy Japanese winter squash. Also known as Orange Hokkaido Squash, Japanese Squash, and Onion Squash. Fruit has thick red orange skin, similar to a small pumpkin without ridges, and are about 4-10lbs each. Prolific and easy to grow from seed. Great keeping variety, 92 days.

Apple Slaw with Orange Ginger Dressing

ac3postMore often than not, I crave home flavors. The stylings of food rooted deeply in the great gumbo pot of the South, the most basic vittles based in hillbilly essentials and seasoned with heart. And, over the years and many varied moves, I have adapted those tastes and flavors exotic and new to me into the fold, taking that which my granny taught me and adding a splash of flavor standards from other regions I called home, from recipes of friends near and far, from cookbooks of the other side of the world.

To wit, this. A recipe founded in that most basic concept of apple slaw, a roots food autumn staple, while gently folding in a layer of Asian influence, taking the basics of cooking with spices common to my much adored Thai dishes and rolling them back into Southern equivalents, just for a bit of flair. Out went the more common mustard and lemon replaced with orange and ginger, ideal for fall.

APPLE SLAW WITH ORANGE GINGER DRESSING
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½ small red cabbage, sliced
1 endive, sliced
1 green apple, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup dried raisins
¼ cup cashews

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
2 tsp ginger, finely grated
2 small garlic cloves finely minced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a small jar with lid and shake to blend. If you do not have a jar available, they can be briskly stirred together in a small bowl.

Combine cabbage, endive, apple, raisins, and cashews in a large bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss to fully coat. Serve immediately.

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Notes: 
While the dressing can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator, the salad should only be prepared immediately before serving.

Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Honey

There is talk, whispers of autumn all over the internets. I’m certain I’ve already read the words pumpkin spice a dozen or so times. The deer who was a fawn last I looked is less reticent to emerge from the back woods and can frequently be spotted in the driveway at dusk, all awkward adolescent legs and jutting neck. And my mother turkey and her dozen brood are no longer an adorable trail of tiny tag alongs, but rather they are all nearly grown and have no fear of me or my camera. They were roosting outside my bedroom window in the shade yesterday.

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Most of what remained of a garden after the rough weather season is ready to be pulled and the sumac trees are turning. Perhaps because sumac is one of the first to turn and one of only a few trees native to the many varied regions in which I’ve lived, their change in particular is the great heralder, the harbinger of the equinox.

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In spite of the hints of season’s change, a few plants are still putting on and the peppers have out shown them all. To be fair, it took very little to shine as most of my scant garden production post-monsoon this year is for seed, but in spite of stunted growth all but a few bell types have produced fairly. And so, a pepper dish. Not so much a dish as a side or hors d’ oeuvres, but never the less a mildly spicy sweet homage to the warm days fading. A healthy dollop of feta whipped with just enough cream cheese for smooth texture, garlic to compliment the peppers, honey as a farewell to long sweet afternoons and smoky paprika to bring it all around again. Playing with cravings rarely turns out so perfectly. Even Josh liked these, and he hates the texture of peppers. That level of crowd-pleaser love letter recipe to summer makes this an ideal replacement for that potato salad you thought you’d take to next weeks bbq and will use up that overabundance of peppers to boot.

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STUFFED SWEET PEPPERS WITH HONEY
1 dozen medium sweet or mild peppers
8oz Feta cheese
2 oz cream cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp honey, plus more for drizzling
Pinch of sea salt and dash of fresh cracked pepper
Smoked paprika

pep4postPreheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with foil.

Making sure to protect your hands, cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove the pith and seeds from the center. Lay the peppers open side up on the baking sheet; if any peppers wobble, cut a sliver off the underside of the pepper creating a flat surface on the bottom. In a medium bowl, microwave the feta cheese and cream cheese for 20-30 seconds, until softened. To the cheeses, add honey, garlic, pepper and salt and stir until combined and smooth. Scoop an equal amount of the cheese mixture into each of the open pepper halves. Sprinkle lightly with the paprika. Bake for 10 minutes, then place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to darken the tops. (Watch peppers during this step to prevent over browning.)

Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes. Transfer the peppers to a platter and lightly drizzle with honey. Can be served still warm or at room temp.

Heirloom: Black Vernissage Tomato

This has been a year of lamentations on the mass drowning of mine and everyone I knows’ gardens. A few plants, although stunted, have managed to put on but by no means in the quantities of a more typical season. As with every summer though, a standout has shown through, this one particularly impressive for not only putting on in mass quantities but for doing so under the strenuous conditions of down pours and unseasonable cool turning immediately into drought and heat. As a planned segment of Crescent in the Pines is to highlight prized heirloom varieties and other garden selections of note, this beaut seems an obvious choice for the first feature of the Heirloom series.

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That standout is Black Vernissage, a saladette sized tomato ironically sent to as a free gift with my spring seed order but one I will grow every year hereafter, not only for its deliciousness but for if prolific nature and its ability to make one of the best sauces I’ve ever gotten from any tomato.

bv2postBlack Vernissage features everything great about both paste tomatoes while also maintaining the best flavor qualities of chocolate and black toms and with a light acidity and nearly no sweetness it has  a sort of savory pepperiness en par with the scent of fresh sweet basil. That combination of rich flavor and being particularly meaty, the Vernissage lends itself well to a heavy red sauce where it needs little herbal assistance in creating a fresh, rich flavor.

 

Black Vernissage Tomato (solanum lycopersicum) originated in the Ukraine. Also known as Vernisazh Chernyi. Thick, crack resistant skin. Deep burgundy and fleshy pink, striped with green.  Prolific and easy to grow. Indeterminate, 70-75 days.