Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thoughts from the Urban Homestead and Summer Recipes

Some of our Piquillo peppers

It has been a very, very busy summer so far around the homestead!  We've had a number of opportunities to test our growing "self sufficiency" skills.  It seemed for awhile like  something major needed fixing every day! It's an old house and some of the systems are old and every once in awhile it needs to remind of us of that. And this along with, of course, the everyday, non-negotiable work of tending the growing things:  watering, weeding, checking, harvesting and preserving. All this and five very spoiled fur kids to keep healthy and happy. The work is hard and the days are full, that's for sure.

We are now nearing the end of yet another long heat wave.  We've seen temperatures above 90 each day with very high humidity. Even the occasional downpour doesn't do much to cool things down.  As we made a commitment four years ago to eliminate air conditioning (along with the microwave and a few other energy sapping things), this summer has certainly helped make us even more "heat adapted".   But, nobody is suffering. We both feel great, our home has been open to summer breezes and the occasional rain blowing in, and, yes, we hear the sounds of the city we live in from time to time.  And we have the cool water of the spa/pool to cool off in from time to time.   Some things we have noticed:  neither one of us has that creaky bone feeling in the morning; we enjoy the changes in the air from daytime to dusk and into night time and we spend a great deal of our time outside.  As we roll into August, (and I won't discuss our diminishing energy bills) the plan again this summer seems to be working very well.

I must say that our garden continues to amaze me; nearly every morning there is something unexpected, surprising or just lovely - this is the addiction side of being a grower.  In a way, I am trying to live by returning to some old ways of doing things and it's rewarding but it is a whole lot of work!  But, after five years of planning, learning, asking, listening, screwing up and effort, this year we will have the biggest yield from our garden so far!  Combine that with all of the wonderful food we have been able to purchase at our local Farmers Markets and our freezers and larder shelves are filling up quickly.  Along with making me feel proud, this also makes me feel a lot better about what we are going to be eating over the winter months - even if I didn't grow it, I know who did, where it came from, how it was raised and what's in it.  And please remember, when you go to a Farmer's Market you are buying goods from the producers of those goods almost all of the time. Those producers are not a chain, they are a small business. Because of them, you have access to real food!  How many folks consider doing some freezing and canning - even when they don't grow anything themselves?  If you have great Farmers Markets and producers available to you, there's no reason not to do it.

Lastly, a request.   Please, whenever the opportunity arises, encourage others to make the change from processed, tortured and traveled to real food. When you watch a co-worker pop one of those over-processed, cardboard box, "lean" whatevers into a microwave for lunch, you are witnessing them hurting themselves. And if they consistently come back to the office with a fast food bag, the situation is even more dire!  Time is of the essence in these matters.  It takes a long time for the human body to get all of the junk, chemicals, sugar, high fructose corn syrup and who knows what else, out of the system.  Our systems literally have to detox, and our tastebuds have to learn to enjoy authentic flavors again - or maybe, sadly, for the first time.  Do whatever you can to educate and encourage.  Lead by example and take the opportunity, when it presents itself, to say something.

Some of Our Cucumbers ready for pickling

At this time of year many of us have surpluses of tomatoes and zucchini - and that happens whether we grew it ourselves or just could not pass up the beauties at the farm stand.  Here are a couple easy ways to make good use of some of that bounty.

1.  Marinated Zucchini  (adapted from Canal House "Pronto")

Five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound of small zucchini, halved lengthwise
1 clove of garlic minced
One tablespoon red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Sliced fresh basil leaves

Brown the zucchini, cut side down in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium/high heat
Turn then over and cook until just soft - about 2 minutes more
Put the cooked zucchini on a plate, sprinkle with good salt
Put the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a jar and shake it
Season the dressing with salt and pepper
Pour the dressing over the cooked zucchini
Add the basil leaves
Toss it all together
Marinate the zucchini at room temperature for at least an hour.
This will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week in covered container.

Alternate:  Melt butter and anchovies in a skillet, stirring constantly until blended and pour that over the zucchini instead of the vinaigrette. 

2.  Easy Skillet Cherry Tomato Sauce

Three tablespoons (divided) of extra virgin olive oil
Three tablespoons (divided) of unsalted butter
One small onion, sliced thinly
Two garlic cloves, sliced thinly
One cup or more of cherry tomatoes of your choice
1/8 cup of rinsed, chopped capers
1/2 cup of white wine or dry vermouth
Fresh Basil
Salt and Pepper
Hot pepper flakes
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Pasta of your choice, cooked al dente

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add one tablespoon of the olive oil and one tablespoon of the butter - melt and stir the oil and butter
Add the sliced onions and the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft - not brown
Add the cherry tomatoes, whole, stir well to blend with the onions and garlic and cover
Keep an eye on the pan - after a few minutes the cherry tomatoes should start to burst and you'll see their juices in the mix
Remove the cover from the pan and stir in the chopped capers
Add the white wine or dry vermouth - let the mixture simmer for 2 - 3 minutes until the mixture reduces
Add one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter and stir well
Let the mixture cook down for about two minutes and add the remaining butter and oil
Stir and add fresh torn basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes to taste

Add cooked pasta to the skillet, toss, add some pasta water to thicken the sauce a bit

Lastly, sprinkle with the grated cheese
Serve with extra grated cheese for diners to use to taste.

Beverage Tip:  It's a wonderful time of year for "Pickle Martinis"! (see the Foodist blog post of September 2, 2010)

Cherish Real Food!