Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring Freeze

Tomato and pepper seedlings under a grow light, April 20, 2021.

I didn’t take any chances with a potential freeze last night. I set up a space heater in the portable greenhouse and took trays of tomato and pepper seedlings indoors to put them under a grow light. It doesn’t look like ambient temperatures made it down to freezing.

Better safe than sorry. Story of my life.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

Bell Pepper Seconds

A gardener and farm worker has access to lots of summer vegetables, especially “farm seconds.” It is difficult to use them up before they turn to compost.

The recipe for roasted red pepper and tomato soup is simple and the results are sweetly tasty. It was born of an abundance of bell peppers and tomatoes.

I wouldn’t expect anyone to go to the market and buy ingredients for this dish. If one has the peppers and tomatoes, almost everything else is on hand in a well stocked kitchen.

Roasted Red Peppers

Make a batch or two of roasted bell peppers for the soup and to use in other dishes.

Preheat the oven to 450 Degrees Fahrenheit with the shelf in the middle position.

Cull the best red peppers from the lot, halve them and remove the membrane, core, seeds and any bad spots. Using a melon baller makes it super easy and more precise in removing all of the membrane. Peppers needn’t be perfectly halved. Put them skin side up on a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet with sides. Nestle them close together to get as many as possible on the baking sheet.

Bake at temperature for 25 minutes and remove from the oven.

Using tongs, move the roasted peppers to a bowl and cover it with a plate. This process helps loosen the skin. Let them sit until they can be handled without burning fingers.

One-by-one take the pieces of pepper and remove the skin. Place them in a refrigerator dish and refrigerate until ready to use.

Roasted red peppers are an ice box staple during pepper season. For longer storage there are recipes for oiling and preserving them. They are so sweet and tasty they won’t last long in most households.

Roasted Red Peppers Before Removing Skin

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

This recipe makes two quarts, enough to serve four – five people.

Add one cup vegetable broth to a Dutch oven and bring to a boil.

Add:

  • Equivalent of 5-6 large tomatoes, one-inch dice.
  • Enough roasted red peppers to approximately equal the weight of the tomatoes, maybe a little less.
  • Two tablespoons salted butter.
  • One six ounce can prepared tomato paste.
  • One teaspoon each dried spices including smoked paprika, granulated garlic and thyme. Fresh is better if you have it. Double the amount if you do. Herbs and spices are always to taste.
  • One tablespoon dried basil. Fresh basil is better. Double the amount if you have it.
  • Two tablespoons dried onion flakes.
  • One tablespoon sweetener. I used sugar because it was in the pantry.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Teaspoon of red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper or your favorite pepper spice (optional).

Stir to incorporate the ingredients, bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Cook until the tomatoes begin to soften. Don’t cook the tomatoes to death. You will want some bits of recognizable tomato granules in the final product.

Either transfer the mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to smooth it to a pleasing texture. As mentioned, I like little bits of recognizable tomato and pepper.

Add one cup half and half and stir constantly until the soup is well-mixed and up to temperature.

Serve hot, garnished with fresh basil, a dollop of sour cream or snipped chives. Whatever looks appetizing and is available.

This recipe was fun to make and better than manufactured roasted red pepper and tomato soup in aseptic containers. Leftovers, if any, will keep for a couple of days.

Categories
Home Life Kitchen Garden Writing

Saturday at Home

Baked Carnival Squash

After a Saint Patrick’s Day meetup with friends in Iowa City I drove home, parked my car in the garage and haven’t moved it since.

It was too cold for outside work on Saturday so I stayed in, did laundry, cleaned the bird feeder, wrote, read, and cooked dinner of bean soup, Carnival squash and applesauce cake.

The ambient temperature is expected to rise to almost 60 degrees, so I’m planning to work outside after a shift of soil blocking at a community supported agriculture farm.

I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History in its entirety this weekend. Her combination of background information with personal stories of field trips is eminently readable. I can’t remember a day so absorbed in a book since leaving transportation. The main takeaway is how uncertain scientists are about changes in earth history over the long term and the consequences of our lifestyle.

Japanese Beetles

The broader meaning of words like “Anthropocene” is not settled, nor agreed. What I know after this immersion, and after reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Haran, I am ready to move forward with something other than narratives of how homo sapiens swarmed over the planet like Japanese beetles.

I buy more bird feed since working at the home, farm and auto supply store. Counting whole kernel corn, I have five different varieties in the garage. Each type attracts a different bird and we enjoy watching them through the French door off the dining area. Some days I feel like picking up a 20-pound bag on sale, and do. I went overboard with 50-pound bags of whole corn and millet, although sparrows seem to really like the millet. There is no science to my purchases.

Bartering is making this year’s garden planning a lot different. Part of the barter system is trading labor for a spring and fall share. Each side of the deal can be defined monetarily. I get a credit of $13 per hour for labor which is applied to retail price of the shares. I use greenhouse space and materials to germinate seeds and care for seedlings until planting in my garden. I will also acquire onion sets and seed garlic through the farms. Where there is a clear financial value, the barter system is simple and easy. This part of the exchange translates into things we can use in our garden or kitchen.

The exchange for specific produce is more complicated.

Canned Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a large part of summer. Last year I planted them in three different garden plots. This year I’ll decrease my plantings to what we’ll use fresh and rely on the farms for canning tomatoes. In 2013 the farmer provided crates of tomatoes which I canned. We split the canned goods 50-50 that year. That was a bit disadvantageous to me considering the amount of work. We haven’t finalized the split, but both farms I work on produce many more tomatoes than needed for their members. One farmer wants lots of canned tomatoes. Something can be worked out.

Bell peppers were a garden failure last year and for many previous years. I’m eliminating them completely. The farms produce bell peppers with a high frequency of imperfect fruit. I plan to trade labor for these seconds and get all of my bell peppers from them. In addition to fresh eating, I seed and freeze them to use throughout the year. We did a 50-50 split on these in 2013, however, this year I’m considering a straight trade of labor hours against a to be determined cost per crate.

There are a number of items we don’t use much in our kitchen but are abundant on the farms. I don’t plan to grow any kohlrabi or cabbage. Should be no problem getting what we need without occupying space in our garden. I’ll barter for some additional broccoli for freezing.

Likewise, I don’t plan to grow lettuce outside my small plot of Belgian lettuce. In between the spring and fall shares that’s coming from bartering.

Summer squash is abundant and available from the farms as are many kinds of greens: collards, chard and “braising greens.” I will grow my own kale and spinach, and everything else will be bartered from the farms.

Eggplant? If Johnny’s Selected Seeds proofs and sends Black Beauty seeds I’ll plant them along with Fairy Tale eggplant. The former can be sliced thick, baked and frozen. The latter are good for the kitchen while in season. There is always an abundance of eggplant at the farms.

Yesterday was the last winter Saturday of staying indoors. Going into the planting season it will also be my day off from the home, farm and auto supply store and the farms. Yesterday was a good day, made better by a feeling of accomplishment. As humans we sometimes need that.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Poblanos, Onions and Pickles

Fermenting Dill Pickles
Fermenting Dill Pickles

JOHNSON COUNTY, Iowa — In the margins of time between social engagements lives a local food movement available to all who seek it.

There is inadequate time in life’s span to become an enthusiast, however pursuit of local food culture is not only okay, it can be rewarded with meals that comfort more ways than imaginable.

While Jacque was in town with her sister, I made last night’s supper of seconds of poblano peppers and yellow onions from the farm, a couple of links of vegetarian sausage, and a variety of home made pickles.

After removing bad spots from the onions and peppers, I cut them into thin strips and piled them on the cutting board. I cut the sausages on the bias and browned them in a pan. Once finished, I removed them to a paper napkin sitting on a plate and began sauteing the onions and peppers in olive oil, seasoning with a bit of cilantro, granulated garlic, salt and pepper.

While the vegetables were cooking I arranged three kinds of pickles, sweet, dill and daikon radish in a bowl. Once the vegetable mix was finished I spooned it into the bowl beside the pickles and topped it with the cooked sausage. With a glass of iced water, it made a meal.

After dinner I went downstairs and checked the crock full of cucumbers. Fermentation bubbles had begun to appear after two days, indicating a successful pickling process. Patience is a key ingredient when making pickles. I hope I have enough of it on hand to make it 11 additional days when the dill pickles will be ready to eat.

Simple stir fries and pickles become a way of life when vegetables are available from the farm and garden in abundance. Cooking in the local food culture is an act of rebellion from a consumer culture that engendered us in the Western hemisphere. It represents taking control of our lives.

Do I always cook locally produced food at home? No. I pay attention to the seasonality of food and align with it as much as possible. I’ve found it makes for better ingredients and depending on the cook, for better eating.

There is more to the seasons of food than common affection for sweet corn and tomatoes. Learning more is a step toward living a better life and who doesn’t want to do that?

Categories
Writing

Roasted Pepper Garlic Spread

Cheese Spread with Pickles
Cheese Spread with Pickles

The warehouse club sells packs of six 8-ounce bars of cream cheese. I bought one.

A basic use-it-up strategy is to make a spread for crackers and bread for after work snacking or luncheon. It’s easy.

Soften a bar of cream cheese on the counter until it reaches room temperature. Unwrap it into the bowl of a food processor.

On the bits and pieces shelf in the pantry locate some roasted bell peppers. Add about one whole pepper’s worth to the bowl. Roast your own if you have them, but in winter, who does?

Add one peeled clove of garlic and process until the texture is smooth.

The basic spread could be seasoned as you like it, although I found garlic is enough. Spread on crackers, toast or bread, Top it with pickled bits from the ice box: cucumbers, olives, beets or radishes and no finer winter snack can be found. If we lived in Russia a shot of vodka would be a mandatory accompaniment.

Much though I enjoy thinking and writing about cooking and processing food, it’s not why I blog. That is, the food’s not the story, the process is.

My first blog in 2007 was an effort to provide a place for our daughter to keep up with the home front. Not sure how much she reads it now, but she has been and remains a primary audience regardless of where I have gone with this writing. Luckily, I have grown a larger, supplemental audience.

Learning and writing about food preparation exemplifies a main process for understanding complex topics. There are few recipes simpler than the one above, but its simplicity belies complexity that led me to it. It is easy to collect recipes, more difficult to decide which batch of 25 will go into a seasonal repertory, and harder still to align a cuisine to seasonal, local food. Writing this blog helps with all of that behind the scenes, when all the reader sees is the end of the process in the form of a recipe.

So it is with the other main topics: sustainability, politics, the environment, worklife, climate change and local food. A constant trying-out of ideas and phrasing. Most of what I see in daily life is complex and simply recording what may have happened through a viewpoint not that interesting.

This blog is a process that leads hopefully to better living. I am thankful for anyone who follows along.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Serrano, Bangkok and Jalapeno Hots

Tomatoes and Peppers
Tomatoes and Peppers

LAKE MACBRIDE— It’s a home work day and planting was on the agenda. It began with preparing the soil next to the slicer tomatoes, and planting a row each of Serrano, Bangkok and Jalapeno peppers. I mulched and fenced them, hoping to leave them until harvest.

The lawn is cut in varying heights. Places where I harvested clippings are short. The rest of it is rough cut and uneven, ready for another pass— more farm field than lawn.

I don’t have to leave the property until tomorrow for outside work. In the meanwhile, there’s more to do.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spinach Picking and Pepper Planting

Tomatoes on the Pantry Shelf
Tomatoes on the Pantry Shelf

LAKE MACBRIDE— There is a lot of spinach in the garden. The trick is to harvest it before the sun gets high in the sky. I got a bushel this morning, and it is washed and drying between terry cloth towels.

In the space left from radishes, I planted bell pepper seedlings, clearing a tray out of the bedroom (finally). One tomato plant in the slicer patch had died, so I replaced it. The rest are looking good. Just one or two more rows of tomatoes to plant and then the growing. Outside work broke up my gardening morning.