Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Peas, Glorious Peas II

but i thought you loved my dirty roots...

As I looked at my meticulously groomed carrots resting in their sterilized pint Ball jar, anticipating the day they'd become pickles, I paused to consider what I'd been up to all afternoon. If my favorite root vegetables are those freshly pulled from their beds and covered with dirt, why was I spending my entire afternoon scrubbing, peeling, and trimming one bunch of Peter Martinelli's carrots to create a single jar of pickled carrots? Why didn't I just skip the prep work and drizzle the carrots with olive oil and roast them or simply rinse them off and eat them fresh and unadorned?

Instead I found the preparation of this sole jar of pickled carrots profoundly fulfilling. Now this wasn't my first foray into pickling, just my first jar of pickles using produce from the recently-back-in-action Point Reyes Farmers Market. I'd experimented with cucumbers, green beans, and other carrot varieties. I'd searched for and tried using an assortment of sizes and types of jars: Ball, Kerr, and a even a French wire-clamp jar with a rubber ring (these canning vessels are classic examples of the type of nostalgic domestic objects to which I'm forever attracted). Lastly, I read recipes from a diverse array of cultures before writing and then attempting a few of my own.

Once I decided what this particular pickling project would entail, the carrot preparation mentioned earlier began. Next, I selected whole spices from my Morton & Bassett collection, chosen specifically for my pickling experiments, and crushed most of the spices with my thumb to release their flavor, some required the strength of the bottom of a stainless steel measuring cup, and one spice, star anise, was too pretty to crush and was added fully intact. The smell of the apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and crushed spices simmering on the stove was fantastic (Chris disagreed, but I loved it!). The photograph above is of the full jar as it cooled to room temperature.

My choice of attempting to make yet another labor intensive jar of pickled carrots versus biting into a fresh carrot much closer to its original and well-loved dirty root stage isn't much of a stretch when I consider other aspects of my life. How did a hyper-driven corporate recruiter with her favorite phrase "make dust or eat dust" posted prominently on the front of her computer abandon that world completely and pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree? The same way a proud urbanite committed to the contemporary art world and public transportation moved to a small rural town (pop. 350), bought a car, and became dedicated to growing fruit, vegetables, and caring for two boxes of composting worms.

These are just a few of the disparate experiences that have somehow become stitched together to create the person I am today. There is some part of me, sometimes a very small part, that has a soft spot for just about everything in my past.

Sometimes I miss the clear and quantifiable way I was rewarded in the corporate world. Calculating my value is much more complicated now and often leaves me feeling a bit unsettled. I was spoiled by my city apartment's proximity to delicious Indian, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants (just to name a few of my wide array of gastronomic choices). Guilty trips to H&M for $3 earrings or $5 sunglasses and those fabulous evenings having drinks in swanky bars with my girlfriends...sigh. Oh city life...

But now I make homemade lemonade with the lemons and mint that grow right outside my front door. I walk 5 steps out my back door and savor what seems like an endless supply of raspberries and blackberries. And then there is the gratification of digging my hands into the dirt with my neighbor to uncover a family of little potatoes and watching my peas' tiny tendrils hold on tightly as they climb higher and higher up my fence. The peaceful nights, quiet with the only exception being the sound of a lonely owl softly hooting every now and then...glorious. Oh the country life...

I love it all, but for now I focus on the moment and patiently await my first bite into one of my crisp pickled carrots.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pt. Reyes Test Kitchen: Radishes and Beets

You might wonder, what are you going to do with radishes on a regular basis? Obviously, we put them in salads. That's just fine. They fit right in and are a good source of Vitamin C. The French Breakfast radishes are particularly good sliced thin and served on a slice of fresh bread with butter and salt. I'm not sure where we read about this....but it is an excellent treat.

However, real men don't only have two options for eating a vegetable, especially when neither of them involved cooking. This is where yesterday's test kitchen picked up. I thought...I've never heard of sauteed radishes, let's give it a shot. And while I was at it, I harvested three types of beets from the beds. The dark purple is Bull's Blood, the yellow are Goldens, and the candy-cane looking beet is a Chioggia.

Experiment One - Sauteed Radishes vs. Raw Radishes. The radishes were OK sauteed, you could use them in a pasta perhaps as a source of nutrition and you might not notice they were there. Denise thought the texture was a little off and I just thought they were a little bland.
Verdict -When radishes lose their crispness and their spicy kick, what's the point.

Experiment Two - Sauteed Beet Greens vs. Raw Beet Greens. The Golden and the Chioggia greens are actually green, the Bull's Blood are red/purple. I cooked all three and the Golden and Chioggia greens were excellent cooked. The Bull's Blood...not so much. The funny thing about this experiment, is that if you just bite into a Bull's Blood green raw, they are the sweetest and best. Almost sweet enough to make into a salad green, especially when they are young. On the other hand, the Golden, and particularly the Chioggia were really unpleasant as raw greens.
Verdict - Sauteed Golden and Chioggia Beet Greens make an excellent green for a dinner, lunch, or perhaps even frittata/omelet. The baby Bull's Blood greens could be used in a mesclun or on their own as a salad.

Experiment Three - Sauteed Beets vs. Raw Beets. OK, OK, this isn't much of an experiment. Of course the beets will be good. But what we found interesting about the Chioggias was that they are excellent eaten raw, like say, a radish. In fact, I prefer them to radishes raw. The Bull's Blood and Goldens are not so good raw. They have a hint of beet taste, but it seems that they only really release their sweetness/taste once cooked. (This might also have to do with size. The beets I harvested are about an inch and a half in diameter.
Verdict - Chioggias, in my opinion, are the rockstars of the beet world. The root is good raw, good cooked. The greens are excellent cooked. I have built a new "Beet Box" out back and ordered more Chioggia seeds. My plan is to use succession planting for the rest of the season so we always have Chioggias on hand.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I know you are but what am I?

Peas, Glorious Peas

The peas just might be the highlight of the kitchen garden so far.