Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cashews, Sweet Cashews

Cashews are plucked, apparently, from the end of a cashew apple. Add this fruit to my list of things to try when (someday) I'm  in South America and/or India. I always thought of cashews as the most decadent nut, the ones that get plucked out of the mixed-nuts bowl first, and the ones that were the most (gasp) fattening. But it's better fat, right? I don't care.

Earlier this year I had raw nut pate for the first time at a yoga studio/raw food cafe. I was somewhat skeptical of what sounded to me like glorified chunky nut butter, but I loved it and made my own by adapting this recipe. I made mine much chunkier than the photo on that website.  It's like a very coarse nut chutney.

Who knew that waterlogged nuts pureed with onions and garlic and herbs and bell pepper could be so good? The cashews make the pate savory, and, eaten on crackers or stuffed in a red cabbage leaf, the stuff is addictive. Which makes me wonder why I've only made it once.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The United States of Samosa // Manjula's Kitchen

Once upon a time, a friend and I made the United States of Samosa. Meaning: we vastly overestimated how many pounds of potato filling to make, and we had no idea how to make those pretty, pyramid-like shapes with the dough. So we had samosas ranging from little Vermonts to pudgy Californias to an out-of-control Texas. The picture is nowhere to be found, but the memory of that five-hour samosa affair is still strong in my memory, even after years have passed.

Tonight, as I perused recipes for toor dal, I came across Manjula's Kitchen on YouTube, and I remembered that my friend and I had Manjula's video to thank for the one perfect samosa we made that night. Here she is:

One day, I will have the courage to attempt samosas again. One day. Not today. And not with five pounds of potatoes.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bitter Melon Soup

I'm finally coming through on my promise to post about bitter melon soup. My roommate and I made a team effort. I played sous-chef since she had actually made it once before.

For the filling:

Broke vermicelli noodles into 2-inch pieces and soaked in warm water:
We seasoned the ground pork with garlic, fish sauce, ground white pepper, and chopped shitake mushrooms, then added the noods.

Tending to the bitter melon:
We blanched the bitter melon in boiling water:
Sliced into 3-4" pieces. One of them had dark red-orange seeds because it was a tad over-ripe. Looks pretty cool, though.
Scooped out.
Stuffed and simmering in some home-made chicken broth we had in the freezer.
The finished product:
It was good, but could have used more simmering, maybe in less liquid. Like most soups, this is one that's supposed to be better a day or two later, after it's been cooled and re-heated. We were on a time limit though since our friend was coming over for dinner. She approved, though, so 'tis all good.

Notes for next time: more fish sauce, mung noodles instead of vermicelli noodles, less liquid, longer simmering.

My dad has a big trellis (like this one) that squash and melon grow on every year. I love walking beneath it in late spring as the green tendrils start working their way in and out of all the slats. Until next summer! I'll have another bitter melon recipe then.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ups and Downs in the Summer Garden

So far the perils of my urban gardening include cigarette butts, tomato thievery, and now, an automobile accident.

This little fellow could have become a wild, roving vine growing heavy with yellow patty pan squash. But it was not to be. I planted him in an inopportune location, too close to the curb of my little plot, and it was run into repeatedly by cars parking in that spot. I'm disappointed, but I have a seedling growing indoors right now that I will re-plant safely back from the curb once it sprouts a few more leaves. I will have patty pan squash this year, damn it, even if I have the pollinate the blossoms myself! They are so cute. Cute is a high priority in the garden. And on the plate. And in life in general. Okay, maybe it's not a priority, but it's fun.

Aside from the squash casualty, the garden has been doing pretty well. The tomato plant is still growing and fruiting. I took some to my parents and to my aunt. I have to say it felt pretty damn good to be able to bring them something I grew myself after so many years of only talking about what I was trying to grow. And leaving their house with baskets full of their veg-- of course, that still happens. I also got to gift my mom with a wee strawberry. She was impressed with the sweetness of both. So proud, I was.

The strawberry plant is now sending off runners, which is very exciting! Maybe next season I'll have two ripe strawberries at a time.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

There is a National Sunflower Association

And they taught me how to harvest the seeds from the "Mammoth Sunflower" I grew (I received a great bounty of seeds from my sweet Secret Santa last year, including sunflower). I started this sunflower in a pot so its growth was stunted-- it only got to 4-ish feet tall when this variety can grow to 10-12 feet tall. I can't wait to plant some directly in the ground next season and have a whole army of these things. And then I can throw a harvesting party.
Here's my Sunny. His head got super-droopy in July:
You can see the bald spot where I plucked off sunflower seeds now and then for a taste. Raw sunflower seeds are nice.
 I beheaded him and brushed off all the florets:
 All those tightly packed seeds. Magical.
The sunflower was about nine inches across.
This is what was left of the stalk:
 I found that it was pretty sturdy after pulling it out of the ground, and have since stripped off the leaves and turned it into a support for my tomatoes. After waving it around like a weapon a few times.
 The shucking process took a bit longer than I expected. 
About half of the seeds I collected proved to be empty after a squeeze (I guess the bees were not so busy this spring), but I had a good couple handfuls of the seeds. After cleaning them and soaking them in salt water per the National Sunflower Association's instructions, I dried them. Didn't get a chance to roast them before gifting them to my friend Claire, but she seemed to approve of them as they were.

It was worth the effort of the last few months. Enjoyed a pretty sunflower, then got tasty seeds and a new pole for the still-going tomato plants to hang onto. All good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Box o' Green // My Parents Are My CSA

I have not shared bounty from my parents or the fate of said bounty in while, but I was inspired to do so again by this most recent haul:
All of it was green. All delicious.

From their garden:

From the market:
  • Mangos 
  • Small watermelon
I always take walks around the yard whenever I go home, examining all the different things blossoming and growing and dying back. Their wild tomato plant is starting to die back. The persimmons and guavas and bananas are green and on their way for a fall harvest, and my dad has many more rows of those sweet lettuces and mustard greens sprouting up along with tons of Thai basil. I'm usually wary of taking too much home since I have a hard time cooking and eating everything, but I have help in the form of Vicky, my Vietnamese-American roommate.

It's awesome having a fellow Southeast Asian for a roommate and have an opportunity to bring a taste of home into our kitchen. There is something really special about cooking things that were so much a part of daily life during childhood and which are now so occasional. 

Coming up this week: bitter melon soup and Asian squash stir-fry. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

American Cooking: Creole & Acadian // Gulf Oil Spill

I want to find as many books from the Foods of the World series as possible. I have the one pictured, American Cooking: Creole and Acadian by Peter S. Feibleman, and The Cooking of Provincial France by MFK Fisher.

Feibleman's prose doused me in the romance of Louisianan food from the perspective of one who had grown up with it. He has a delicious nostalgic tone along with the recipes and large photographs--traveling through his earliest memories of his own kitchen to the restaurants in the French Quarter, all the way to the bayou. He talks about glistening trees and shimmering water and eating po'boys in the rain, his lilting, lazy narrative easily evoking his New Orleans upbringing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Strawberries Home-Grown & Strawberries Farm-toxic

I used to walk past a strawberry farm on my way to middle school, just around the corner from my parents' house. I grew up in Garden Grove, a town in Orange County (but definitely not The OC land), where a Strawberry Festival is held every year.

Despite the strawberry farms I grew up around, I hadn't thought of strawberries as a plant for the garden, at least not until I saw an episode of Jamie At Home focused on them. My friend Mary Rose grew Alpine strawberries in her container garden last year and, a few months ago, gave me a plant that grew from runners. (Man, plants are so magical.)

I planted the little guy in my garden, and after a couple of weeks of hand-wringing that it might die, it began to grow new leaves and send off blossoms. Even though I grew up near strawberry farms, I didn't know that they sent up such pretty little white flowers. I suppose I hadn't paid much attention or thought to pay attention.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Say Peas // Google Cuteness, Again

I love it when Google is cute with food on their homepage. Today's graphic is in honor of Gregor Mendel's birthday. Remember learning about him and his peas in grade school biology?
Yeah, I don't remember much other than something about dominant and recessive genes. But I do like peas.  And I'm very fond of Jamie Oliver. In honor of Mr. Mendel, peas, and Jamie Oliver, I share with you this video from the 'Peas  &  Broad Beans' episode of Jamie At Home.
I would never have thought to pair peas with mozzarella before seeing this. Nom.

[There's an archive of all the Google Doodles! Of course there is. I didn't know they had different ones in each country... behind the times much? Yep.]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stolen Fruit // Urban Gardening

Today I discovered that someone picked three of the first big, ripe tomatoes I grew.
They've been bright red and looking juicy for a few days, but I was waiting for them to spend some more time on the vine to get the best flavor possible (though this article suggests that's not necessary). When I went down to water the garden this morning, I was surprised to find three of these big ones gone. None of the smaller tomatoes were taken. It was upsetting at first.

I came back up to my apartment and wrote a note that said "Dear Tomato Thief, picking without asking is rude." After taping up the sign and returning to my apartment, I thought about how I've picked fruit without asking before from trees I've come across (though I've never picked vegetables from what I knew was someone's garden), and realized that I wanted to be kinder about the whole situation. I'm not the ten year old kid wielding a baseball bat jealously guarding against neighborhood kids picking from my grandmother's pomegranate trees any more. Or at least I don't want to be.

Yes, it was rude of whoever did it, but I can't know that it wasn't a visitor to one of the apartments, or even just someone in the building who hadn't seen me lovingly tending to the garden and thus didn't think much of it, so I took down the note and replaced it with a sign that says "Please ask before picking" with my name and apartment number, hoping that next time, someone will ask first. I can't be sure that anyone will actually ask, and the fruit is sitting there, ripe for the picking, but I'm hoping that they'll at least think twice before doing it. When friends have asked me before if I'm worried about people messing with the garden or taking fruit, I brushed off the idea and said I wouldn't care too much. Now I know that I do care... but not enough to be angry or frustrated with it. It happened, it's past.

I just Googled "gardening stolen fruit," and the first article listed said this:
Since nothing can be done about it, it is best to let it slide & try not to feel a blind grudge against an unknown invader. And consider. . . maybe that unfortunate felon was just that desperate for something good in their diet.
I'll agree. Grudge-holding is hard, and wearing. I hope the tomatoes were ripe enough, and that they were tasty.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tobacco & Tomatoes Don't Go Together // Gardening

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where tomatoes are crossed with tobacco plants, creating an addictive, high-inducing fruit? 
In reality, smoking near tomato plants is highly discouraged because of something called tobacco mosaic virus:
Tobacco Mosaic VirusTobacco Mosaic Virus: There are actually several closely related viruses (the tobamoviruses) that cause the wilted, mottled, and underdeveloped fern-like leaves characteristic of the tobacco mosaic virus. All are spread by what are termed mechanical means: something or something that's been in contact with the virus touches an uninfected plant, and voila -- you've got an infected plant. Sanitation is therefore of the utmost importance, starting with never smoking near tomato plants, as tobacco can carry the virus. Infected plants should be destroyed. Back-yard plants purchased from a reliable nursery or grown from certified disease-free seed and handled in a tobacco-free environment by only one or two people, are unlikely to develop this disease. 
Source: here.
I'm not sure whether to really worry about this or not. Well, I really have no choice about it since there are many smokers in my apartment complex, and I don't think I can keep everyone from smoking near my plants, let alone not throw their cigarette butts on the ground (though people are considerate about my garden, which has been mostly butt-free).

What is confounding me, however, is how the rogue tomato plant that grew from a few tomatoes carelessly tossed into the succulents (and promptly forgotten until the yellow blooms were spraying all over the place) seems to be doing so well, setting more fruit than any of my lovingly-tended plants despite practically growing in an ashtray.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Crispy Potato Roast // Don't Stress Out

I like to use recipes more as a starting point and technique guide than as instructions or rules, and fitting them to what I have and not stressing out too much about exact ingredients or quantities. This is why I'm not big on baking like my friend Kim, who is a baking bad-ass

I saw this post on Smitten Kitchen for a gorgeous sorta-not-really gratin potato dish and had to try it. Had to. But didn't. For months. Until my friends and I had a steak night. Steak is a great reason to make delicious things happen with potatoes. 

Pictured are russet potatoes with red onions crammed in between them, and butter shmeared over the whole thing. The recipe didn't call for it, but I added a splash of milk to the bottom of the baking dish. It just felt right (and it was-- the milk made the potatoes soft and creamy). I used rosemary instead of thyme because that's what I had on hand. I think thyme would have been better, but my thyme died soon after my third move last year. Alas.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Swiss Chard & Radish Greens

Some of the very first bounty from my little parking lot garden were radish and swiss chard greens.
Radish sprouts just beginning to get their first true leaves
I'd never had swiss chard before I volunteered at Community Services Unlimited in 2008. Neelam introduced me to the greens and I fell in love with their earthy flavor and texture. Aaaaand they're wonderfully easy to grow. So you should go buy a packet of seeds, find some dirt, and plant them. Now.
Baby Swiss chard
These are the Ruby Red variety. I have some yellow, pink, and white ones starting as well. 

Both the radish and chard are so easy to grow and grow quite fast.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Becoming The (Grow Your Own!) Grocery Fiend

I started this blog five years ago while I was in college, on a budget, and loved walking every single aisle of the grocery story. Now I'm out of college, still on a budget, still love walking the aisles of grocery stores, and in love with the magic of gardening. So I'm going to document my own growing here, not just my parents' awesome garden. I didn't think to share in this space before because my little experiments often turned out fruitless (literally, har har) and I rarely actually got to eat or use the things I grew.

Because they died.

And while I am sort of guilty about killing probably a dozen different plants over the years, from herbs to tomatoes to squash to lettuce, the magic of watching things grow is just irresistible.

Friday, May 20, 2011

When You Can't Have Coffee In The Morning // Spice Appreciation

A couple of months ago, I went to see a homeopath and he prescribed a remedy for me during which, to my horror, I had to avoid coffee.

My first thoughts: This is wrong. Terrible. Inhumane. Many synonyms for those words. But not really. But kinda.

I love coffee. Nothing excessive (anymore). My morning cuppa. Setting the water to boil, grinding the beans, choosing one of my handful of "favorite" mugs, stirring together the grounds and hot water with a chopstick, wrapping up the french press with a tea towel to hold in heat, the waiting, the gentle pushing down of the screen, then stirring in a spoonful of condensed milk or half and half and brown sugar... the body of the Trader Joe's Sumatra roast I use, the grittiness of the coffee (since I like to grind it a bit finer than is usual for a French press), the steamy aroma of it.

I haven't made my morning cuppa since that first visit back in March. How did I cope?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

More Snapshots of Where the Grub Comes From

It's been a while since the last time I showed what my parents' backyard looks like. I love strolling through it during my visits and marveling at how they can get everything to grow so damn well. I have my own little 3' x 6' plot going in my apartment building's parking lot, and I would be eversojoyous if  my haphazard gardening technique yields... anything. Okay, to be fair, I've been able to snag a few arugula leaves, my swiss chard is coming along nicely, and a couple of my tomato plants are budding, so I guess I'm doing alright.

But it's nothing compared to my parents' yard:

Mustard greens, I think

Friday, May 06, 2011

I'm Growing an Apple Tree

About a month ago, I ate a baby Gala apple and was surprised to find that the seeds within had germinated. (Due, perhaps, to refrigeration during transport?)
Like my aunt, I couldn't resist planting it. In a tiny, tiny pot.