Monday, July 27, 2009

Abundance in the City

I started a small garden on the back deck of my apartment this spring. Now, at the height of summer, I am amazed by the abundance of my plants. I have seven tomato plants, four jalapeno pepper plants, a golden raspberry plant, two candy onions (that I didn't think would grow at all), Genovese basil, orange thyme, English thyme, creeping thyme, common thyme (I like thyme a lot!), rosemary, Munstead lavender, English lavender, golden sage, common sage, tarragon, flat leaf parsley, common oregano, greek oregano and chocolate mint. All of that on one little back deck.

The tomatoes swelled to full size and are ripening quickly in the (finally) hot july sun. They ripen at the pace of about four a week. They are exceptionally good, being red, sweet-tangy and juicy! The tomatoes are all heirloom varieties. My husband Jeff and I started six of the tomatoes from seeds. They are small red varieties called "Costaluto Genovese" and "Double Rich". The two look so similar that I can't tell them apart. We bought the seventh tomato, a big old-fashioned plant called "Lucky Cross", at the farmers market. The "Lucky Cross" plant grew tall fast and bloomed late. For a while I didn't think it would produce any fruit at all, but now its strong stalks are full of delicately striped, very large tomatoes. "Lucky Cross" turned out to be a lucky late-bloomer!

The deck is relatively bug and pest free. Or a least there are plenty of beneficial bugs to watch over the garden. There are several spiders that build daily webs among the tomato plants. There is one particular orangey-red spider that has been building webs in the same spot for three weeks.
Here is the steadfast spider, the guardian of my tomatoes.

It has become quite large feasting on insects over the weeks. We have also seen ladybugs and a praying mantis on our plants. We are really lucky to have these friendly bugs around.

At Jeff's parents house we planted Yellow Finn potatoes (23 plants!), cucumbers, spinach, arugula, brussel sprouts, chard, onions, a few of our heirloom tomatoes and eggplant. Unfortunately, our success there has only been moderate. The onions, eggplant, tomatoes and chard were ravaged by harsh weather and insects. The spinach and arugula were delicious but have long since gone to seed. The brussel sprouts were wonderful. We cut them up and sauteed them with olive oil and fresh garlic (a la Lidia Bastianich) and we roasted the rest with carrots, mustard sauce and a sprinkle of caraway seeds.

Here I am with a stalk full of brussel sprouts. We harvested three brussel sprout plants and they were all great.
The Yellow Finn potatoes were also successful. We harvested one plant a couple weeks ago just to see what the potatoes were like, they were absolutely beautiful.

This is one of the potato plants. They have pretty white and yellow flowers.

I couldn't stop admiring them. Their smooth yellow skin, almost had a shimmering quality. They really were the most lovely potatoes, and I had grown them!

I made the most buttery mashed potatoes with them. Really the potatoes would be just fine baked and served hot with a pinch of salt but it's fun to gild the lily.
Still, all was not well. The potato plants were attacked by hordes of vicious potato beetles. We had to harvest every potato plant at once, which was really disappointing because we were hoping to harvest one plant at a time so we could have freshly harvested potatoes late into fall.

Jeff and I were overwhelmed by the quantity of our potato harvest. When we were done we had about 3o pounds in a red rubber bin.

Don't let this photo fool you, that is a massive amount of potatoes and they are heaped several layers deep.

We made some crispy french fries out of them. So good!

The cucumbers are producing madly right now and we harvested so many! I've been giving cucumbers away to friends, family and neighbors and we still have a ridiculous amount.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Breaking the fast.

Breakfast is a dearly loved, but seldom practiced concept.  It is the first meal of the day, literally breaking the nightly fast of sleep.  As a very young child I mixed up the compound word by transforming breakfast into fastbreak, meaning in my childish brain "a quick break in the morning activity that required eating" or as I used to say to my parents,  "It's a fast break with food."  I used to try and avoid eating breakfast by saying, "I'll have my fastbreak later."  My mother, puzzled by my linguistic abnormality and my refusal to eat breakfast, explained to me the concept of breaking the fast of sleep with  a"break-fast" every morning.   Since then I have come to really love the days first meal and now I refer to it as breakfast.
I recently visited the Kihei Cafe on Maui and had the most wonderful french toast topped with bananas, crushed walnuts and a dust of confectioner's sugar.

When I got back home I was haunted by the memory of the rich, buttery, eggy dish.  
So, my husband and I recreated it at home.

Using day old bread, eggs, milk, and ripe bananas created joy on the breakfast table.

It turned out quite well.

Jeff's Easy French Toast

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of vanilla
4 medium-6 small slices day old bread (must be a good quality bread)
medium skillet or frypan
a little cooking oil or butter to keep the french toast from sticking to the pan
ripe banana or bananas 

Mix the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla in a shallow bowl.  Dip and briefly soak the bread slices in the eggy mixture.  Put the pan on medium heat with a small amount of oil or butter.  When the pan is hot enough, place the eggy bread in the pan and cook until lightly browned on each side.  Top with sliced bananas and serve with butter, maple syrup or honey.
This is also yummy served with chopped walnuts, whipped cream or fresh berries.

French toast is a clever way to use up leftover, stale bread.  It was originally called pan perdu or "lost bread" but it is not lost in my home or my heart.

Friday, March 20, 2009


More posts to come...