Kitchen Garden

Pasta Dinner

Late season Roma tomatoes and basil

Walking to the garden I searched a row of Roma tomatoes for ripe ones for dinner. There were a few so I picked them.

Nearby I had planted basil and picked some as it was beginning to go to flower.

I carried the produce in my t-shirt and made my way to the kitchen where I added garlic and onions from the garden for a simple pasta sauce.

With noodles made from semolina flour, and steamed green beans, it made dinner. We were the better for it.

Kitchen Garden

Church Cookbook

Recipe from One Hundred Years in Good Taste Centennial Cookbook 1898-1998

One Hundred Years in Good Taste Centennial Cookbook 1898 – 1998 is rooted in the time in which it was written, the late 20th Century. I read it in a single sitting, while in my folding chair outside the garage, waiting for the food rescue truck to arrive and pick up my surplus tomatoes.

It is a collection of recipes from Holy Family Catholic Church in Davenport, Iowa where I was baptized and confirmed. There are some brief historical notes with photos inside. I learned the school building where I attended second through sixth grade was acquired by the parish in 1944. I have four church cookbooks from this community.

I’m searching for ideas for the kitchen garden based on my experiences while growing up. The recipes weren’t that helpful or inspiring.

When we first married, Jacque and I went to the grocery store together. I would make the rounds of the perimeter of the store then head to the generic aisle known for its display of many types of generic food in yellow packaging. Many of the recipes in this cookbook might easily have originated in that yellow food aisle — ingredients like mayonnaise, onion soup mix, grape jelly, canned tomatoes and importantly, condensed, creamed, canned soup of several kinds. Some recipe writers specified a brand, such as Velveeta cheese, Old English cheese spread, Corn Chex, Hormel Chili with No Beans, Hungry Jack Biscuits and the like. Such ingredients, whether generic or name brand are anathema to a kitchen garden and should be cursed and denounced. They remain common in grocery stores nonetheless.

Meat culture pervades more than half the book. I’m used to setting that aside and the coronavirus pandemic isolation removed all temptation to eat meat. Removing the meat and processed food recipes I’m left with some appetizers, a few vegetable recipes, bread and rolls, and desserts. I guess that’s something.

I left Davenport for university in 1970 and never returned for more than a temporary stay. Telling in this cookbook is I recognize few of the names of recipe contributors. Many surnames are familiar and likely descendants of people I knew during the 11 years I lived there. I was hoping for more familiar names to trace the roots of my cuisine. By 1998 the parish had changed considerably.

Based on this reading I will likely make a Mexican-style casserole using flour tortillas, tomato sauce, peppers, refried beans and cheddar cheese as the base. We seldom make dessert although I might refer to the many pie, cookie and cake recipes when I do. There is an extensive section of preparations using rhubarb, so I’ll be coming back to that if we plant some in the garden.

One of the few recipes with a narrative is the one for Croation (sic) Nut Roll (Povitica) by Rose Hood pictured above. The ending sentences are awesome: “So therefore, I’m a Croation. We have a lot of Croation food, as that is what we grew up on. No finer food! and it all tastes very good.”

“No finer food!” After reading that, I wondered why any non-Croation recipe was included at all.

I collected a lot of community cookbooks in thrift shops and yard sales, several bankers boxes of them. There is an older one from Holy Family Church dated by use of five-digit telephone numbers in the advertising. The conversion to seven digit phone numbers began in the 1930s. One from the church is dated 1977 which has some familiar recipe authors. The fourth is another from the 1990s. In addition to these, I have a 1977 cookbook written by the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary. Mercy Hospital is three blocks from the church and where I was born.

For now I rely on Mother and Grandmother’s recipes for ancestral dishes. My kitchen garden is just getting going so there may be more from these cookbook searches.

Kitchen Garden

Making Pizza

Homemade pizza.

What different can be said about pizza? It’s ubiquitous.

In Iowa even convenience stores make and sell it in substantial quantities. Few foods are as personal and varied as this combination of crust, sauce and toppings.

In our kitchen we’ve gone through different iterations of pizza making and consumption. We began with home delivery or take out pizza made at a restaurant specializing in the pie. Pizza night was when we didn’t have to cook. After we joined the wholesale club we began buying frozen cheese pizzas, or “pizza blanks” as I called them. To these we added our own toppings, typically kalamata olives, diced onions and bell peppers in season. This method was less expensive than buying take out. The latest iteration is making our own, which is easy for a seasoned cook. Each of the three main elements has its variations.

Crust is hardest to get right and I’m not fully there. My bread-making recipe for a 12-inch pizza pie is basic: one cup of warm water, one teaspoon of active dry yeast, a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a dash of salt. Some oil or fat would add flavor and texture but we are trying to reduce the amount of fat in our diet so I leave it out.

Flour is important. Our pantry standard is 100 percent organic all purpose wheat flour. Before I try other flour types I want to get this one right. I don’t use a specific measurement but gauge the wetness and elasticity of the dough while I’m making it to determine when I’ve added enough flour. It took a while to gain this skill without making too dry a dough.

The dough-making process is to add the water to a mixing bowl then stir in the yeast, sugar and salt. Add a quarter cup of flour and mix together. Prepare a bowl in which to let the dough rise in the oven. We use a cooking spray to make it easier to get the dough out of the bowl after it has risen. Once the raising bowl is ready, add flour until the dough is workable but neither too wet nor too dry. Turn it out on a floured counter and knead it, adding more flour until the texture and dampness is just right. Place it in the raising bowl and cover it with a towel in a warm oven. To reach desired oven temperature I turn it on at the lowest setting then turn it off before I put the dough in to rise. I let it rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. When it’s ready I knead it to bring it together then shape the crust on a pizza paddle lined with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray. It is optional to brush on extra virgin olive oil as a moisture barrier.

I make two kinds of pizza sauce: tomato sauce and cheese sauce. The photo above shows a pizza made with cheese sauce. I have been experimenting with this and haven’t found the right combination of ingredients. This one used ricotta cheese mixed with sliced fresh basil and diced garlic scapes. If the ricotta is too dry to mix or spread, add a tablespoon of milk or cream to make it more pliable. Then spread it evenly on the crust.

Few things are better for pizza sauce than a couple of peeled Roma tomatoes crushed with a fork and drained, mixed with fresh basil and minced garlic. That’s the sauce. When tomatoes are not in season a prepared tomato sauce, or drained, canned tomatoes whizzed in a blender with garlic and basil will serve. The key here is to get as much moisture out of the tomatoes before spreading the sauce on the pizza crust.

Toppings are more about philosophy than ingredients. Depending on what kind of sauce you have, you don’t need a lot of toppings. You want to be able to see and taste the toppings so I use a couple with a final dusting of Parmesan cheese. Spend some time evenly spacing toppings on the pizza. Don’t use too many. It adds eye-appeal which enhances the overall experience.

Most times I top pizza with mozzarella cheese when it is a tomato sauce. I like fresh mozzarella best, although grated hard mozzarella provides a similar flavor and texture after baking. We almost always add diced onions, sliced kalamata olives or bell peppers. If there are fresh tomatoes we slice them thinly and let them drain before adding them to the pizza. Caramelized onions are a great topping. If one can tolerate hot peppers, thinly sliced jalapeno or Serrano peppers are great. Because our pantry has many kinds of dried chili peppers I add them before baking if diners can tolerate the heat. If they can’t, red pepper flakes can be shaken on before serving.

To bake the pizza I place four unglazed floor tiles on a rack at the lowest setting. I heat the oven as hot as it will get using the 500 degree setting. When the oven reaches temperature or close to it, I slide the pizza on the parchment paper on the tiles and close the door. I set my timer for ten minutes and don’t open the oven until then. It’s usually done at ten minutes.

I leave the pizza on a cooling rack for a couple of minutes before cutting and serving to enable it to come together.

Would love to hear your comments about pizza making in your kitchen. Thanks for reading.

Kitchen Garden

Tomato Season

Tomatoes placed at the end of the driveway for neighbors.

The great tomato give-away begins!

Despite best intentions the garden produced an over-abundance of tomatoes. I posted this image on our neighborhood Facebook page with a description of where to find them. Within a couple of hours most of them were picked up by neighbors.

The food rescue non-profit in the county seat has been invited to pick up more this week. We’re not yet to the point of throwing them at passing vehicles, although check back in a couple of weeks for an update.

This year I will can whole Roma tomatoes because they have more flesh and less moisture. Matching processing to kitchen use has become increasingly important. A quart of drained, canned tomatoes is a good base for pasta sauce, a typical use. Knowing what I need and want in the pantry also contributes to the excess production.

Tomatoes are a money crop for a home gardener. When they begin to ripen it feels like the work that went into the garden is paying off. The first garden I planted in 1983 had a single variety of tomato plants. This year I planted about 20 varieties. The flavor of a fresh, home-grown tomato is something that truly defines a Midwestern summer. We have fresh tomatoes and use them in cooking for every August meal.

It is important to share the bounty. In previous years I canned or froze everything I produced. No longer. Part of the pandemic personality I’m working to develop is that of gardener. By sharing the bounty broadly, it reinforces who I am.

That’s all for this brief post. I’m getting hungry after a 10-hour fast and tomatoes await on the counter.

Kitchen Garden

First Slicer

First slicing tomato from the garden

Behold the first slicing tomato from the garden. We are pretty excited.

I cut back the number of tomato plants this year yet it looks like there will be a bountiful crop. I cut back because only so many canned tomatoes are required in a kitchen garden each year. Going into tomato season I have enough left from last year for another year.

Sure. There are other vegetables. Tomatoes make the garden.

Thursday the local food rescue organization Table to Table made their first pickup from our garden. Friends and neighbors can take only so much produce like kale, collards and cucumbers. I needed an outlet for garden extras so they would not become compost.

The mission of Table to Table is to “keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from donors and distributing to those in need through agencies that serve the hungry, homeless and at-risk populations.” They recently began working with local gardeners to collect produce in a program named Fresh Food Connect.

Table to Table garden recovery coordinator Zach Vig rescuing produce from my garden.

“The concept of Fresh Food Connect (FFC) is simple,” Zach Vig, Table to Table garden recovery coordinator wrote in an email. “Home gardeners oftentimes grow more food than their family can eat. FFC aims to reduce the amount of produce wasted in this way. By utilizing a user-friendly app, gardeners can let us know in real-time where the extra produce is, so we can send out volunteer couriers to rescue it. This food will then be distributed on our normal food rescue routes to those in the community who need it.”

This is a positive development for gardeners and an additional piece of the local food network. I look forward to my next donation.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Garden Potato Time


When potatoes are in season we eat them, otherwise not so much.

This year I grew two varieties in four containers. I’ll get more with the fall share for which I bartered at the farm. When they run out we’re done with potatoes for the year.

We boil the first new potatoes and make hash browned with those nicked while digging them. We’ll bake some of the larger ones. We’ll make French fried potatoes, something we do only once a year. I grew leeks so there will be a batch of leek and potato soup. The small ones get halved and go into soup. Already I made the first batch of potato salad and there will be more before we are done. The key is to grow enough to make it through our recipe book at least once. There might be some potatoes left for Thanksgiving. There might not.

Potatoes are just another vegetable in a kitchen garden. It is important to grow a wide range of vegetables for the flavor, seasonality, and to use in traditional recipes. If anything, cooking is about tradition once basic dietary needs are met.

These spuds look pretty when fresh from the ground and washed up. It is a moment of brilliance in an otherwise regular day.


Still Life with Weeds

Still life with yard weeds

Mother died eleven months ago and the time since then has been life-changing. It is partly because she is gone, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic and our resulting retirement, and partly because of a reckoning with my physical health.

A lot has happened and I don’t know where my life is heading.

Not only do changes center around us personally. American politics, the murder of George Floyd, the heat wave in Siberia, and a global human restlessness driven by complex factors set a backdrop in which anything we do beyond basic survival seems futile.

We must continue to take one step after the last one even if our destination is uncertain. We can’t give up.

Yesterday I found a zucchini under a large leaf. It was gigantic. I brought it to the kitchen and it maxed out the scale, somewhere about 2.5 kilograms. Normally such summer squash goes in the compost bin. This year I posted a photo of it on social media and it attracted a lot of attention, including suggestions on what to do with it. There was no shortage of ideas.

I grilled three slices for lunch, made soup using a suggestion from someone living in Italy, and shredded the rest to freeze for later. Sometimes one has to deal with the zucchini we are dealt.

Kitchen Garden

Weeds in the House

Wildflowers, July 11, 2020

I like my lawn. It is a great source of mulch for the garden, although it seems like there is never enough.

What is there transitions throughout the growing season. We are currently in clover and around the edges native plants come up like the ones in the photograph.

These are weeds, but they look nice on the counter.

When basil comes in I make pasta sauce of last year’s canned tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil. I’m trying to use up the old tomatoes to make room for new. Pasta sauce varies from preparation to preparation. Near as I remember, this is what I did yesterday.

Summer Pasta Sauce

Drain six pints of canned, diced tomatoes in a funnel. Once thoroughly drained, put them in a slow-cooker, reserving the liquid for another dish. Whizz them with a stick blender until somewhat smooth yet with a few chunks of tomato.

Ribbon all the basil you have (about a cup and a half of chiffonade). Put the basil in the slow cooker and incorporate with the tomatoes.

Dice two cups of onions and mince three or four large cloves of garlic.

Heat two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Once shimmering add the onions and stir gently until they begin to turn translucent. Salt to taste. Next add the garlic and cook until the aroma of garlic rises from the pan. After a couple more minutes transfer the mixture into the slow cooker and incorporate.

Turn the cooker on high heat and let it go throughout the morning. Around lunch time stir and turn the heat down to medium. Once it’s dinner time, cook pasta noodles, put the drained noodles in a mixing bowl and ladle a couple of generous servings of pasta sauce on top and mix gently with tongs. It’s ready to serve topped with Parmesan cheese, pepper and maybe thinly sliced green onions.

We served the pasta with steamed green beans picked that morning and simple cucumber salad. We’re in the cucumber season so we eat them constantly. There’s no room for more pickles in the ice box or pantry.

New potatoes are in so I tried a new recipe for potato salad. I cut it back to make less for two people, so it could be doubled or tripled for a dish for potluck. In the time of the coronavirus, there won’t be any potlucks soon.

Summer Potato Salad

Boil a pound of peeled, cubed new potatoes. Don’t boil them to mush. Hard cook an egg and put both in the ice box overnight.

Dice the potatoes into a bowl. Grate the egg into the same bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, a quarter cup prepared mayonnaise, a tablespoon Dijon mustard, and a generous tablespoon of chopped sweet pickles. Stir gently with a spatula until incorporated. Put the mixture in a refrigerator dish, level it out, and sprinkle paprika on top for decoration. Leave it refrigerated a couple of hours before serving if you can resist eating it at once.

Potato salad has many variations and this is most like what Mother made for us when we were graders.

Kitchen Garden

Garden Tour July 2020

Some photos from the garden taken Friday, July 10.

Kitchen Garden

New Potatoes

New Potatoes

The idea of new potatoes is to harvest them two weeks after the flowers are finished. This is what they look like with thin skins and creamy potato goodness inside.

I boiled a pound for dinner and served with butter, salt and pepper. Keeping it simple with condiment flexibility is a characteristic of our kitchen garden. Diners can take cooked vegetables and finish them how they will.

When I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store I bought seed potatoes as soon as they came in. Planting is within a radius of Good Friday, although not necessarily on the day. I planted early this year. A few years back rodents ate our potatoes in the ground so I moved them to a container. Container growing is working, likely helped by the two stray cats who hang out in our garden.

Our main sources of potatoes are from our garden and a bartered fall share of the community supported agriculture project. When there are potatoes we eat them and seldom buy outside spuds. We follow the season.

The soil in the containers needs recycling for next year. There are too many roots and not enough nutrients. This year the containers were more than half empty when I planted. As the vines grew I added more soil and compost until the container was full. The result was potatoes grew in layers and there were more of them in each container.

The photograph represents the yield from one container, about five pounds. There are four containers this year so they will last until the fall share begins in September. Together they should keep us in potatoes until Thanksgiving after which we’ll wait for more next year.

In addition to boiling potatoes, I’ll roast some with other root vegetables and onions when they are available. We make potato salad, escalloped potatoes, leek and potato soup, parsley potatoes, mashed potatoes, and add them to vegetable soup.

The harvest of new potatoes is another marker in the gardening season. Such markers help us keep our sanity in the chaotic world of the coronavirus.