Okay. Living in the East has many advantages. It is gorgeous. There are four unique seasons. Outdoor activities are varied and plentiful. Living in the East also has its disadvantages. There are four unique seasons; punctuated with humidity and extreme cold. There are also truly menacing-looking, icky bugs. This last one is the worst! I remember when we purchased our home. Our realtor warned us about something called 'Thousand Leggers."
'What is a Thousand Legger?" I asked
'You'll know." was her reply.
Well. She was right! The first time I saw one, I knew this horrible, lightening-fast, gigantic, creepy crawler was a Thousand Legger. After the initial shock and terror and yes, scream, my first thought was KILL IT!!!!!
Killing a Thousand Legger is easier said then done. I mentioned they are lightening fast. I am NOT exaggerating! They are also gigantic! They are most of all, horrible! It is one thing to think about killing a Thousand Legger; it is another thing entirely to actually do it. No paper towel exists that is big enough or thick enough... No description comes close to how yucky and frightening it is to murder the thing. Even our dog Lollipop gets in on the action. She is a crack Thousand Legger-finder. Lolly's ears prick up, even when she seems like she is asleep. Next, she lifts her head, jumps down from the couch and the chase is on! Being the resident bug finder is a great trait in a dog.
In our house, we have "bug" screams. I bet you do too. There are "spider" screams. (Do NOT get me started on spiders.) There are "cricket" screams. (My mother is the resident record-holder for this type.) Then there are "Thousand Legger" screams. Thousand Legger screams coming from the shower are particular favorites of mine. The tile walls of a shower really accentuate the shrill sound.
Anyway, what to do about the critters besides kill them? What to do you ask? There is nothing to do about them...Grin and bear it, count your blessings they are harmless to humans, teach your dog to track and kill the little suckers, check your bed each night and breathe deeply. Oh yeah, maybe sprinkle boric acid about where they critters may be happily hiding. Good luck!
Okay people! What is all the fuss about? I grow turnips and have absolutely NO idea why? Turnips are pretty much tasteless, nondescript additions to soups correct? Turnip greens give me a horrible, burning rash. The turnips themselves are peppery to the point of being bitter. The one thing they have going for them is they are easy to grow.
Yesterday afternoon, our family worked outside in the blazing heat to do what I said was a "little" gardening." Three hours later, I had yanked up my turnip crop, dug for and replanted potatoes, pinched beans from vines and gently plucked tomatoes. I even found a lost zucchini and discovered the mystery things growing all about my garden are angry watermelons. I say "angry" watermelons because they are not happy they came to the party on the eve of the month that brings potential frost; so, just to be spiteful, several are turning black and rotting at the ends. I also found musk melons but not before some little (no doubt, adorable) free-loading creature tunnelled their way in and ate them-self, I hope, to death. THEN, the real work in our garden began- weeding. Oh, Lord, don't get me started!
Anyway, hot, sweaty, filthy, covered in scratches, thorn injuries, rashes and bites; I stumble into the house, cleaned up and cursed myself for ever planting a garden! It is gratifying to tend and consume food you grew yourself but it is also a commitment. Gardens need to be taken care of and they don't care if your child needs to get to college or if your child begins school this week or, if in general, the "tender" of the garden is just plain tired of tending the garden...
Where was I? Oh YES! Turnips!
So, after all of the above, I sautéed the turnips until they were tender in a bit of olive oil and butter. I added organic sucanat (dried cane sugar) for its nutty, robust flavor to banish the bitterness of the turnips, garlic and shallot and finished them with a bit of half and half. I even did a voodoo dance over them. (You know, the kind you do in front of automatic paper towel dispensers.) ALL to no avail! After dinner, my sweet but dumb husband turns to me and says,
'What were those white things? Turnips?'
'Yes.' I said
'Well, that's enough of that. Lets NOT do THAT again.' He said.
'Yes.' I said. "Turnip-Shmirnip' and then I promptly thwacked him with the rash-promoting turnip greens I had been saving for just such an occasion.
We got invited to a barbecue by a lake in New Jersey. This sounded like a wonderful plan. We arrived at barbecue in New Jersey. We had a fabulous time! Good food, perfect weather, the river was peaceful and romantic... We got eaten alive! The end.
August seems to be mosquito and chigger month. Apparently famished from June and July, the poor darlings seek sustenance on whatever or whomever is closest by; too weak to seek out someone their own size. Well, I have had it! My husband has over three dozen bites in one small area on one leg! I was lucky and got a combination of mosquito and chigger bites so at least I get to pick at scabs and blisters; thus, avoiding boredom. What is a home chef to do? Yes. You got that right. What is a home chef to do? Head into their kitchens sports fans and do SOMETHING about it!
What do I do? Usually, suck it up since bug bites are a summer ritual but there may be one or two other people out there whose favorite past time is not itching and picking. So, I turned to the internet and the first hits I got when I searched for "Foods that will help with mosquito bites" was from Reader's Digest. Some of suggestions seem a bit, well, smelly. Smelliness is one of the reasons I hate bug spray, especially when you couple it with the first thing I said about rituals and bug bites. As I scanned further down the story, I lit on vanilla. Well, I thought; vanilla. THIS I can do! I get to smell like cake? I'm in!
1Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Mix and rub on the exposed skin to prevent mosquito, tick and black flies.
It is tomato season and if you are a gardener who grows tomatoes, that means getting creative with your tomato crop and herb garden. What are some things I do with my tomatoes? I roast them, boil them, chop them, of course eat them right off the vine or sliced with a dash of salt but I also stuff them. I enjoy making stuffed tomatoes because there is NO recipe required. I throw all the ingredients into the food processor and since I have good aim, I blitz the ingredients, shove them into the tomatoes and bake them until yummy.
If you need a "recipe" you are out of luck. If you need a "guide," here you go:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Throw or place fresh bread, day of or otherwise, herbs, garlic, cheese and seasoning such as salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Add a bit of olive oil if you wish. Stuff the mixture into tomatoes that have had their tops sliced off and the seeds and ribs removed; being careful not to pierce the tomatoes. Drizzle the top of each stuffed tomato with a little olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and then bake until the crumb is crispy and brown; about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes. Serve but be careful because the insides are hot.
I like to use a teaspoon to remove the insides from the tomatoes and Campari tomatoes because they are the perfect size when serving small sides or tidbits.
The above tomatoes are topped with homemade carrot top pesto (the carrots are not ready for harvest but I have tons of greens to spare) and drizzle with olive oil before baking. I also added whatever extra deli meats I had in my refrigerator to the filling such as ham and salami. I think cooked chicken or turkey would be good too.
Dew-covered kale and nasturtiums are shown at the top and what I believe is a watermelon (little help here please...) and a riot of herbs
This morning I braved the mosquitos and the humidity to decapitate herbs and tear babies from their mothers protective embrace. Plainly speaking, I was out harvesting! Ahhh, summer... I have a well-earned reputation as a lazy, survivalist and forgetful gardener. Year after year I plant and plant some more and year after year I forget what I planted. Where is the fun, I ask you, in knowing EXACTLY what you planted and where? "None Fun" that's where! "None Fun" is not a "fun" place so I stay away. I am "lazy" because I chop off the herb bloom "heads" and throw them where I want more herbs, (gardening tip) and we have covered the "forgetful". I am a "survivalist" gardener because I am not good at coddling what will not survive on its own. Anyway, this morning our garden gave me kale, chard, herbs and squash. Sounds like the makings of a good side dish to me.
Wash the greens and herbs well but gently, making certain they are free of debris.
To remove the kale leaves, grasp the stalk with one hand and pull away with the other. The same technique may be used with the chard (although we eat the chopped and cooked stalks). Place a bit of olive oil in a heated large skillet, add the greens and wait for them to wilt down. You may also add minced or sliced garlic and sauté before adding the kale, a bit of wine and butter are nice extras too but optional. After the greens have wilted a bit, season with salt, pepper and dash of sugar to balance the bitterness of the greens, scatter with chopped or torn fresh herbs if you like and serve.
It's August and it's HOT. Here in the East it's not just HOT, as an added bonus, it's humid too! I do not enjoy the humidity but my garden sure seems to; especially the herbs! My herb garden is a riot of new growth and blooms. Herb gardening is great because the dirtier you are the better the herb garden. "Litter" your blooms wherever you wish to have more herbs and like magic, you do. The herbs are on Round 3 and even Round 4 of production in some places. This morning, my dew-covered chives (Round 3) looked so fresh and lovely just before I chopped them for the bouquet below. The mint blooms were lit by the morning light as I hacked them and scattered them about. Many herbs just grow wild here, courtesy of our flying friends; many are overlooked and unnoticed. Why? Mint is NOT just for a garnish. Fresh mint is delicious and adds a spicy undertone when used correctly, that is to say, sparingly. Herb blooms are not just pretty but excellent in a salad. Nasturtiums may be eaten as is, stuffed, added to oil or even dried and finely ground up with sugar for baked goods. Give it a try, you'll be happy you did.
Nasturtiums, sage, thyme, mint, chive and oregano
No matter how old our children are, they are still our "babies." When our "babies" are ill, we feel ill. When they hurt, we hurt. When they...well, you get the picture. Our older daughter, Alyssa, recently staggered out of her room, pale and burning with a fever of 102 degrees. What does a mother do? Go into full blown "mother" mode of course! Dah! After placing (I am certain Alyssa would say "shoving") the thermometer into her mouth, I reacted calmly (Alyssa would not agree) and promptly cancelled all plans for the day. I tucked her into a comfy chair, pillowed her up and proceeded to fuss over her. There is not a person a live who doesn't wish for their mother to "fuss" over them when they are ill. I brought fresh, cool water and fever medicine. I searched my brain for something pleasant to eat. My brain settled on Momma Toast. Momma Toast is simply, perfectly toasted toast (not too crispy or brown), slathered in butter and cut into bite-sized pieces the sickie gets to eat with a fork. The fork makes it taste magically delicious and special. The fork is the vehicle for the mother-love that goes into each morsel. Momma Toast tastes of childhood and fussing and love. Offer a piece or two up to your baby the next time they are ill or need cheering up. Perhaps add cinnamon and sugar if the need is particularly great. Hugs are NOT optional!
Here in the East we are living with extreme heat warnings. Today it was 99 degrees but felt like 110 degrees thanks to the ever-present and (need I mention) oppressive humidity! The problem is weeds wait for no one and neither does a potato harvest! I worked outside for over three hours weeding and harvesting, harvesting and weeding... I mercilessly yanked and dug the mother potato's babies and replanted those too small to eat today. I patted and tucked the little darlings back into the ground, said a silent prayer over them and moved onto the next plant. My reward? Fresh, fragrant, earthy potatoes! Okay...NOW what?
I scrubbed them clean, cut them in half, sautéed them until golden on both sides over medium-high heat in an oven proof, large skillet and finished cooking them in the oven at 425 degrees until tender.
Serve the potatoes as is or with Ranch Dressing (think kids) or with fresh tomato sauce.
So last night my husband Russell is watching olympians play badminton. This sounds like a drinking game just waiting to happen. I do not mean to offend the four other people in the universe who are badminton fans but come on...badminton is just something you watch while waiting for Michael Phelps to swim in a race. So, what do you do the one night (or maybe two) your husband has sole "control" over the remote? Make lemonade out of lemons. No! Really!
The garden often provides me with inspiration this time of year. The combination of heat and plentiful rain make for an excellent tomato crop and happy herbs here in the East. What goes well with tomatoes? Thyme! I decided to make a Savory Cheese and Tomato Tart.
Here is the recipe! I recommend using garden or Farmer's Market tomatoes because the freshest tomatoes become super sweet in the oven! I used thyme but most any herb will be delicious. If you decide to try the recipe with rosemary, I recommend using 1-2 teaspoons instead of a tablespoon. The same goes for sage. Enjoy!
Mary’s Kitchen Savory Cheese and Tomato Tart
1 9-inch Pie Crust (homemade or storebought)
@2 Pounds tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick and seeded
2 Cups (8 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herb (thyme, chive, dill)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 Cup feta cheese
1/3 Cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 Teaspoons sugar
3/4 Teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 Teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1/2 Tablespoon cornmeal
Lay sliced tomatoes in a single layer on 2 layers of towels on a sheet pan, then cover with more towels. Drain 10-15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
To make the filling:
In a large bowl, combine the cheddar and feta cheeses. Remove 1/4 cup of the mixture and set it aside. Add all the remaining filling ingredients except the cornmeal to the cheese mixture and stir to combine ingredients.
Roll out piecrust on a sheet of parchment paper to a rough 10-inch circle (IF using homemade) OR unroll premade piecrust and place onto a piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle cornmeal over the top of the crust.
Layer cheese mixture and tomatoes on the crust, starting and ending with the cheese mixture. Top the final layer of tomatoes with the reserved cheese. Bake until bubbly, about 35-40 minutes.
Avid home cook and passionate instructor