July 28, 2011

Don't Fear the Zucchini


Are you enjoying your summer produce? Whether it comes from a farmers' market, a super market, a CSA share or your own back yard, I hope you are finding and enjoying the abundance of fruit and vegetables that are thriving this summer. At the farm we are harvesting a wide variety of crops, spending hours picking beans, choosing the best ears of corn to harvest, and finding plenty of summer squash.

Zucchini, yellow squash, patty pans, and other types of summer squash are growing abundantly. By mid-summer the plants are huge. Spiny stems up to my waist, leaves big enough to make a good rain hat. The yellow and black cucumber beetles buzz around and eat as much as they can, but they can no longer destroy the squash plants that have become a jungle of leaves and stems. One or two plants that seemed so little in the spring can produce more squash than a family might care to eat in a week. If you turn your back for too long you will have baseball bats where innocent green squash once grew.

Don't fear the zucchini*. After you have grilled it, sauteed it, baked it into bread and chocolate cake (what better excuse to make a chocolate cake than zucchini that needs to get used up?) you can hide it in your freezer for a while. Without a garden of my own, I don't have a zucchini problem, but I usually make a point of freezing a few before the season is over. Simply grate them up and freeze the grated squash in an airtight container. For very large over grown squash, I cut the flesh away from the very seedy middle, discard the seeds and grate up the flesh. If you have a food processor with a grater attachment that makes the process even faster.

You can use the grated zucchini for baking in the middle of winter, letting the heat of the oven remind you of the hot day in the garden or at the market, when you picked the zucchini that ended up in your freezer. I also use the grated squash to make savory pancakes. If you aren't sick of summer squash yet, I recommend you make these quick cakes while summer is still here so you can eat them topped with fresh salsa or the watermelon salad below.


*I am using zucchini and summer squash interchangeably. While there may be subtle differences in taste, I think most summer squash is pretty much the same and can be used for the same purposes.

Zucchini and or Summer Squash Pancakes
I make these with very simple ingredients, but there are endless possibilities. You could add some cheddar or feta cheese, herbs, or other grated veggies. I usually make the cakes big enough so that each person gets 2 or 3 for a meal, but you could also make them into bite sized appetizers. Be sure to drain the squash well, especially if it has been frozen.

2-3 medium summer squash (about 8 inches long) to yield about 4 cups grated
1 small onion, diced
1 egg
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper

Grate the squash. Place it in a colander and gently press as much liquid out of it as you can. In a bowl, mix the squash with the onion, egg, and flour. Add salt and pepper.

Place a skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, add clarified butter or coconut oil to grease the pan. Scoop about half a cup to a cup (depending on how many and how big you want the cakes to be) of the batter onto the pan. The batter shouldn't spread much and I have a large skillet, so I usually cook four cakes at a time. Cook for about three minutes, then flip. The cooked side should be golden brown. Cook for about three minutes on the other side, flip again if not done to your liking. Continue this process until all of the batter is make into cakes.

Makes about eight 3-inch cakes. Serve topped with fresh salsa, watermelon salad, lemongrass creme fraiche or other topping of your choice.

Watermelon Salad
Like all summer salads, this is a celebration of what is fresh and available. I made it one night with cucumbers and mint, and another time with basil. I'll give you the basics and you can go from there.

4-6 cups cubed watermelon
2 cups tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and sliced across
1 medium onion, diced
several leaves of basil or mint, torn into small pieces
1 cup crumbled feta
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Adjust ingredients and flavors as you desire.

July 26, 2011

Summer Festivities


My brother, Stuart, and sister, Natalie were visiting for a few days last week. I took them to see some of the local sights.


We went swimming, grilled vegetables and polenta (so good when it gets nice and crispy), ate dinner outside, ate ice cream, played games, and I got to be a bit of tourist in the place where I live.


On Saturday we rented a couple of bikes for them from Nice Ride and pedaled to the Tour de Fat. They tried out all of the crazy bicycles in what amounted to a bicycle side show. It was really nice to have them here, even during the hot hot weather. I loved having a few days off to enjoy summer and spend time with my sibling visitors.


Last night Ray and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary. We tried grilling pizza for the first time. It did not come out perfectly, but it tasted really good. We ate on the steps outside our back door, enjoying the evening light and neighborhood sounds. While we ate the pizza, a cherry and blueberry crisp baked on the grill's residual heat. Ah, summer evenings! I'm soaking them in as much as I can before they disappear.


How have you been enjoying summer?

July 21, 2011

Imperfect, but Joyful


Here's the thing: I love food. I love creating with food and making something out of scattered ingredients. I love taking inventory of what I have on hand and creating a delicious dinner. I love harvesting new onions and the smell of the soil mixed with their onion scent, mud dripping onto my shirt as I carry them out of the field. Picking basil while its heady scent fills the air, crunching into a cucumber seconds after it has been picked, and transforming milk into tart yogurt.

I love making and sharing food here. This creative process for me is very imperfect, but joyful. Challenging but nourishing in so many ways.  Honestly, though I'm not sure what shape it will take, I've realized more and more that growing and creating food is what I hope to make my life's work.

You'll notice that my offering today is a little lopsided. The cardamom ginger ice cream was soft and spreadable when I sandwiched it between two ginger molasses cookies (also it was at least 90 outside and probably 80 in the kitchen, not to mention the humidity). They didn't freeze into the dreamy perfect ice cream sandwiches that I imagined when I thought of making them. They did make for just the right treat on another very hot evening, complete with sticky fingers and dripping ice cream here and there.


Sometimes, I wish I was a perfectionist. When it comes to creating I am never as focused on the perfect result as on the process, messy though it can be. I could hand you an ice cream sandwich and, most likely, you would appreciate the cool sweet gingery cream tucked between the chewy cookie layers. We would enjoy the summer evening and not even notice if it was lopsided or dripping a bit. When it comes to creating something edible, how it tastes is crucial but to taste it on this screen looks matter even more. I can always throw myself into creating without thinking twice, but my skills at executing (and photographing) the best of what I have made often fall short.

I have a strong desire to learn more about cooking and writing and photography (and sewing and farming) which I will work to fulfill. Still, for me, it is always about the process. This seems to take a meandering path, a winding road that doesn't go directly from one point to another and I can't always see what is around the next bend.

For now, we have cardamom ginger ice cream sandwich cookies. I had some frozen ginger molasses cookie dough that needed to be baked and decided that they should be paired with ice cream. I love ginger and a hint of cardamom, so I thought that would be the right match for the cookies. The recipe takes a bit of time, but a few of these in the freezer will make a heatwave a little more bearable.


Ginger Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies
This ginger molasses cookie is perfect for making these ice cream sandwiches (but you can use your favorite recipe, too). The ice cream does not need the cookies, it is great on its own (the cookies are too) but they both go well together. Although I love the simple smooth cardamom ginger ice cream, it would also be really good with some chopped crystallized ginger stirred in (maybe 1/4 cup?).

There are several steps in the process of making the ice cream and the cookies, but you can make and freeze the cookies one day and make the ice cream another day. I like to refrigerate my ice cream bases overnight so they freeze well in my ice cream mixer. Once you have mixed the ice cream, freeze it for a couple of hours but take it out and spread it on the cookies before it gets too hard. Freeze the ice cream sandwiches until the ice cream is solid and then enjoy!

Cardamom Ginger Ice Cream
I adapted this recipe from David Lebovitz's vanilla ice cream recipe.

1 cup whole milk
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar 
3 cardamom pods
1-2 inch piece of ginger root
2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks

Heat the milk, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan. Grate the ginger root and add it and the cardamom pods to the milk. When the mixture is hot but not close to boiling, remove from heat, cover, and let infuse for one hour (if you are leaving it for longer than an hour, keep cold in the fridge). After the cardamom and ginger have infused the milk, strain out the cardamom pods and grated ginger.

Place a 2 quart bowl into a larger bowl that is filled with water and ice. Place a strainer on top of the bowl and pour in the cream. Whisk the egg yolks together. Rewarm the milk and pour a small amount into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks constantly. Add a little bit more of the milk and continue whisking the yolks. Pour the egg yolks into the saucepan of infused milk and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to keep the eggs from over cooking. When the mixture thickens, remove it from the heat and pour it through the strainer into the bowl of cream. Stir to combine and refrigerate it until you are ready to mix the ice cream according to the instructions on your ice cream maker.

July 19, 2011


Garlic Scape

Have you tried garlic scapes? They sprout out of the stem of hard-neck varieties of garlic curling into an illegible alphabet of stems. In the northern United States, garlic is planted in the fall and begins to sprout in the early spring. Sometime in June the scapes shoot up. Eventually this stem will blossom in the garlic's "flower" and produce tiny little bulblets of garlic. These can be planted and will grow into small garlic plants, but usually individual garlic cloves are planted to become next year's crop.


Back to these scapes. They are sweet and garlicky and easy to snap off the stem. Harvesting the scapes helps the garlic plant focus on growing a larger bulb instead of producing a flower. At the CSA where I work we spent a whole morning picking the scapes off the garlic plants. Since then, all of the members have been taking home handfuls of these twisted green stems each week. When the scapes are cooked, their flavor becomes less spicy but still pleasantly garlicky and sweeter than the flavor of a clove.

I recently picked up a copy of Put Em Up by Sherrie Brooks Vinton which is a fun and informative book about different preserving techniques and recipes. One of the sections that convinced me I needed the book was the chapter of recipes for ramps and scapes. I had more scapes than I could imagine using soon and was glad to try Sherrie's recipe for garlic scapes in oil. For me, preserving food is part obsession, part experiment. Each year I try new things that I haven't frozen, canned or fermented before.

Scapes are only available for a short part of the season which is a good reason to enjoy them while they last. If, however, you have more than enough and want to make them last even longer this recipe is a fast way to keep garlic scapes in the freezer to throw in future soups, stir fries, or scrambled eggs.

garlic scapes

Garlic Scapes in Oil
Adapted from Put Em Up by Sherrie Brooks Vinton
If you are freezing the scapes, you can spoon the cooked into ice cube trays to create small blocks of frozen scapes (once they are frozen, transfer to an airtight container). I usually put the scapes into a large plastic freezer bag and flatten the scapes into a thin layer. It is easy to break off the amount that I need this way, too.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups finely chopped garlic scapes

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil to the skillet and once the pan is hot, pour in the the scapes. Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the scapes are cooked but not too soft. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in the fridge for a few days or freeze for several months.

July 15, 2011

Creative Process Interview with El from Fresh New England

 If you haven't seen the beautiful blog, Fresh New England, you need to go admire the lovely photos and amazing recipes. When I first contacted El about participating in my creative process series she was busy getting ready to launch Fresh Photography. Now that she has a bit more time to talk about her work, I am so happy to share the process and thoughts of another talented creative woman.

If you haven't seen it, don't forget to check out the rest of the series here. And thanks again, El, for sharing your thoughts!

First tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative pursuits. I’m the founder and creator of the website Fresh New England, the dessert blog Fresh and the owner and principal photographer at Fresh Photography. These outlets allow me to express my love and passion for New England’s local farms and food producers through cooking, baking and photographing food made with fresh, local ingredients. My photography also helps regional food businesses, chefs, farmers, restauranteurs and authors put their best foot forward and promote their work to the general public.

In terms of my background, I studied art and began baking in childhood and I’ve refined my skills through both formal and informal education as well as travel. In addition to these pursuits, I have several advanced degrees and have worked in the communication and business fields for many years. I’m fortunate because every aspect of my work, be it baking, photography, teaching or consulting informs the other and inspires me to take my skills to the next level. I love what I do - especially when it comes to making food taste sensational and look beautiful.

Tell us a little bit about your work space. What do you like about? What would you change about it if you could? Most of my food photography and styling is done in my home studio. Our house was built in 1865 and consequently the studio design is reflective of the Victorian era. The high ceilings, hardwood floors and marble fireplace make it a truly exceptional place to work and be inspired.

At minimum, my studio is a place for prop, equipment and chocolate storage. This is important because at any given time I can have 50 or more pounds of chocolate in the house. More importantly, however, the studio is where I write, work on my iMac, conduct lighting experiments, shoot and style food and edit photos. Unfortunately and all too frequently, it’s also where I eat my blog posts.

I love the space because it’s timeless and it’s elegant. I just feel good when I’m in it. It’s also close to the kitchen which is key when I need to create, style and then shoot a recipe.

It would be nice to have more natural light. But I suppose that’s more about changing the New England weather than changing my work space.

What motivates you to create? Art mostly. I spend a lot of time studying the masters and always find museums inspirational. I’m lucky living in New England because I can pretty much throw a stone
and hit a museum or gallery. What else? Often times the food itself is inspiring and evokes a feeling or memory that I want to capture with my camera. Food is very emotional for people, myself included, and it’s always interesting to trigger that emotion with a photograph.

What stalls or inhibits your creative process? Clutter and disorganization. Being neat and organized frees me up to concentrate on my art. It’s also important because food is pretty messy and the last thing I need is to get cake batter on my Nikon.

Can you talk about some things that you have learned from mistakes or failures? Of course. I’ve learned to embrace them. When I’m learning something new, I expect to make mistakes. Taking the time to learn something properly and from the ground up definitely reduces the likelihood of failure and that’s what I strive to do. But generally speaking, I don’t get upset about mistakes. No one is successful all the time. If you don’t fail, you’re not trying and you’re certainly not learning.

Do you ever have doubts about your creations or creative process? How do you keep them away? Typically, when I see people doubt their work, it’s because they’re comparing their work to the work of others. To me, that’s a waste of energy because everyone has a different skill set and everyone sees the world through a different lens.

If I see work I admire or a style I’d like to emulate I ask myself, “what skills would I have to learn in order to achieve that particular effect, result, etc.?” and then I set out to learn those skills. Taking the time to study, educate and discipline myself sets me free to reach my full potential both as an artist and a person. In the words of Epictetus, “First, say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” That’s pretty much it.

July 14, 2011

Kohlrabi and a Stir Fry Sauce


Have you met kohlrabi? Not as photogenic as tomatoes, eggplants, even summer squash, it lies on the table looking a bit awkward and uncertain. Bringing one home might make you feel that way too. Stems and leaves stick out of the green orb that makes up most of this vegetable while you wonder what to do with it and even whether it came from this planet. Or, maybe, you already know that kohlrabi is a brassica, from the same family as broccoli, cabbage, kale, bok choi, radishes and arugula. It is amazing that such a variety of vegetables can grow from the tiny, dark brassica seeds that all look similar.

Don't fear -- an alien has not invaded your kitchen (I don't know why but these strange green vegetables -- they come in purple, too -- seem to me like something that might come from outer space). You will need a knife, however, to enjoy the crisp flesh that reminds me of the best flavors of broccoli and radishes combined. Cut it open, and slice off a piece. The outer skin is tough, but the inside is almost juicy. Although you may be tempted to ask what do I do with this thing? You have options.


Eaten right off the cutting board it's a snack. You can cut it as you like and add it to any salad, or feature it in this one. I used it in a stir fry, mixed with a few other brassica cousins. The crunchiness of the kohlrabi mellowed, but even in the mix I could still pick out the pale green slices.

Brassicas prefer cooler weather, so you may have already eaten your spring kohlrabi, or it might not appear at your farmers' market until the fall. This year is our first time with a CSA share which means that instead of picking out only the produce that we frequently eat, I get to try vegetables that I haven't spent much time with. This week I made a very green stir fry with garlic, broccoli, bok choi and kohlrabi. I mixed up a sauce to add some sweetness and spice to the vegetables and tofu that I served them with. I suspect it will go well with any vegetable/protein combo but especially with whichever seasonal vegetables you have in your kitchen.


Ginger Miso Stir Fry Sauce
You might remember miso from this dressing. It adds saltiness and depth of flavor to this sauce. I love the way the slight sweetness contrasts with the green vegetables, but you could use this on any sort of stir fry. The recipe makes about a half cup of sauce, which was just the right amount for the two-person stir fry I made. If you are stir-frying larger quantities, you can easily double the recipe.

2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon miso 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

Put all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Stir fry vegetables of your choice (and a protein if you wish, I used tofu) until just cooked. Turn off heat and pour in the sauce. Stir and toss to coat and flavor the stir fry.

July 8, 2011

Vegetable Still Life and Balsamic Vinaigrette

I've started bringing home my weekly share of produce from the farm. It is still early in the season and at this time of year the bag of newly harvested vegetables is a treasure chest of fresh tastes. New squash! peas! chard! garlic scapes! hardly need a recipe to make a meal. A quick saute or a few minutes on the grill and they can land on your plate ready to eat. I might toss them with whole wheat pasta or pile them onto polenta or quinoa. It's lovely in summer, when the days are long but so very full, that cooking can be so effortless. The vegetables speak for themselves and need little attention or adornment.

Some crops, like peas, last for only a few weeks and there is no chance for them to grow old. As the season goes on, though, other vegetables will lose their shiny new quality and I will start using them in more creative or complex recipes. Zucchini will be hardly worth admiring, let alone capturing in a still life, but the farm fresh variety will still have the advantage over any vegetable shipped to the grocery store. There are so many recipes that I ignore in the winter because they are far far better when the ingredients are in season locally. I will get to work on these soon, but for now I want to keep it very simple.

One of my favorite treatments for summer vegetables is a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. I learned how to make it from my friend Sarah when we were living in a little farmhouse as apprentices at Shelburne Farms. We had a gas grill on our porch and would grill veggies almost every night. It is my favorite marinade for mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini and nearly any vegetable that I would grill. It also happens to be my go to salad dressing. Salads are the other easiest way to enjoy vegetables (and fruit) and I could and will eat salad with every meal.

balsamic vinaigrette

I usually just pour in the ingredients in rough amounts, shake, and taste, but I've included a more specific recipe below. You can, of course, adjust to your taste.

Before I leave you to a weekend of grilling, salad making, or however you choose to enjoy your summer days, I wanted to mention that I have a guest post up on Small Measure. I was honored that the wonderful blogger and author, Ashley English, let me write a post of ideas for homesteading (home making, home growing) when you don't have land or an actual homestead. Big thanks to Ashley for letting me share my ideas!

Happy Friday! 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard
2 teaspoons minced garlic
pinch of salt

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined. Store in the refrigerator and shake well before each use. For marinating vegetables: pour generously over sliced vegetables and let marinate for 15-30 minutes. The vinaigrette recipe is easily doubled when you need larger quantities. For salads, pour the desired amount on the salad or on individual servings.

July 5, 2011

Blueberries for Pie Day


Blueberries are summer. Tart but sweet juices bursting from their blue skins, a slight crunch of seeds. Wild blueberries are best. So tiny, they should be eaten by the handful. It takes more of them to make a pie, but it is worth it. One of the fields adjacent to my Dad's old new england farmhouse is full of their the low to the ground bushes. When I was young we would check the field for berries in July until there were enough to start filling containers. Sometimes they would end up in a batch of summer morning muffins, picked and tucked into batter before I came downstairs for breakfast.


At least once during the blueberry season, my Dad would declare that it was time to make a pie. It took a lot of picking to get enough. On trips out the the field, we would pick a cup full here, a bowl full there until, after a few days, there were enough berries to fill a shell of rolled out dough. Still warm from the oven, the pie was a treat, but it was even better after a night in the fridge. A cold slice of blueberry pie for breakfast was part of the ritual, too.


When I think of blueberries and summer, I also think of mornings in a rented lake house in western Maine. The smell of pine and a soft carpet of pine needles surrounding the house, making it easy to go barefoot. In the mornings I peer out the window, hoping to see the sun up to warm the lake and the dock where I will spend most of the day reading and dipping in the water. Sooner or later various family members gather in the kitchen for breakfast. When we first started vacationing there, it was my Mom, my step father and us five girls. Now there are husbands and children, too. Since we are always there in July, we make sure there are always pints and quarts of blueberries around. Brought from local farm stands, we eat them in pancakes, with yogurt or cereal, and by the handful.

At least once while we are there, we go for a hike before breakfast. Up a short trail through the woods frequented by mosquitos and patches of sun splashing through the trees. On the top of the very little mountain we scramble down the rock face to enjoy the view. There are scattered blueberry bushes clinging to what little soil they can find. Selfishly, we grab the few tiny fruits they make and greedily pop them in our mouths. 


I'm not in Maine this summer. I have blueberries, though. They are the round, cultivated variety nearly the size of grapes with only a hint of tartness in their blueberry flavor. Still, they capture that summer flavor. We've been eating them in pancakes and muffins and in honor of summer and a pie party and thinking of my family far away enjoying wild blueberries and weeks at the lake I baked them into a pie.

I've often hoped for perfection when making pies, but I after making this pie, I realized that there is no need for a pie to be perfect. With butter, flour, sugar, fruit and some spices it is hard to go wrong. I know the crust can be frustrating and intimidating. My King Arthur Flour Cookbooks have long and detailed instructions for attaining crust perfection, but even if you have to scrape it off the counter, patch holes, or do a single crust instead of two, just fill it with fruit, bake and enjoy.


Blueberry Pie
A few notes: I increased the original crust recipe (adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking) because my crusts always come out too small. Fortunately I had plenty of crust. You can use all whole wheat flour, just make sure you chill the dough overnight. For the filling, I add a little flour to thicken it slightly, but I don't cornstarch or any other thickeners. The filling will be juicy with berries. I made this vanilla ice cream to go with it.

Crust - makes enough for a 9 inch double crust pie (or maybe more than enough if your better at crust than I am)
2 cups (7 ounces) unbleached white flour
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
15 tablespoons (7.5 ounces) cold unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) orange juice
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) ice water (or more as needed)

Mix the flours, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour with knives, a fork, a pastry cutter or your fingers. Break up the butter and combine it with the flour until most of the butter is combined with the flour but there are some large pieces, too. It will be unevenly crumbly, resembling a coarse meal with larger chunks. Sprinkle in the orange juice and gently toss the dough to distribute the liquid evenly. Add the water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is wet enough to come together in a ball. Press the dough together to get any remaining flour. Divide the dough in half, wrap each half in parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days (ideally overnight!).

When you are ready to make the pie, roll out one half of the dough. I usually roll my dough on parchment or a silpat to keep it from sticking. I flip it over often and dust it with a bit of flour. Try to keep the dough fairly circular and roll it until it is a couple inches larger all around than your 9-inch pie pan. If the dough is stuck to the parchment when you are done rolling, just flip the dough stuck tot the parchment over onto the pie plate and center the circle of dough on the plate before you peel off the parchment. Add the filling. Roll out the second crust and place it on top of the filling. Tuck both layers of dough on top of the edge of the pie plate. If there is a lot more dough than you need around the edges, you can trim it, but leave enough to make a pretty edge around the plate. Press the two layers of dough together and form a nice edge with your fingers or a fork. Cut slits in the top of the pie to let out the steam. 

Blue Berry Filling
8 cups Blueberries
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons butter

Mix the blueberries, lemon zest and juice, flour, sugar and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir gently so the blueberries don't get crushed and so that the sugar, flour, zest, juice and nutmeg are evenly distributed. Pour the filling into the prepared pie crust and place dots of the butter on top. Cover with the top crust and follow instructions above

Baking: Preheat the oven to 450' Bake the pie for 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 350' and bake for 15 more minutes. Let the pie cool for an hour or two before eating.