Tuesday, April 03, 2007

To Be Outdoors

It feels so good. Nothing cures Seasonal Affective Disorder like working in the vegetable garden on a temperate afternoon. What makes it even better? The smell of a street lined with lacy-blooming camphor trees, good friends who chat with me as I stick my hands in the dirt, and a friendly cat who wants to hang out too.

My melon seeds have not arrived yet, but I planted my eggplants, peppers, some Spanish lavender, and of course, my tomatoes. I followed advice from one of my favorite gardening books, The Year I Ate My Yard, and "planted" an egg with each tomato plant. The egg decomposes slowly, providing the plant the phosphorous, calcium, sulfur, and other essential minerals as it grows. Unlike most traditional fertilizers, which give the tomato too much nitrogen too early, it encourages more flower and fruit growth, rather than massive leaf growth.

The Year I Ate My Yard is a quirky text--part narration, part philosophy-rich rambling, and part process analysis. It's funny and helpful and a great introduction to healthy, thoughtful gardening. A couple of years ago, I read it, loved it, and later went to see Tony Kienitz read at Vroman's. Totally enchanted by his humor and natural approach, I asked him to sign my book. He did, writing "To Christina: Eat your own yard! Best of luck, Tony."

On Monday, when I bought my tomato plants at Burkards, I saw him there, shopping for a client. I did not go up to him and praise him yet again. Instead, I smiled to myself, remembering the command he gave me at the signing. No, I am not eating my yard this year Tony, I'm eating a friend's yard, but I think it may still count.

Grilled Spicy Steak
Adapted from Epicurious.

When we have nights like this, soft and sweet smelling, happy with the song of LOUD crickets, being outside is a moral imperative and grilling is mandatory, even if it is on a balcony. This dish makes the night smell (and taste) even better, with it's warming spices and depth of garlic.

For each pound of flank steak (delicious) or skirt steak (beyond delicious) you will need:
1 teaspoon of chili molida
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle Tabasco
1 large garlic clove, mashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon of coarse salt*
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon raw sugar
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

*I mash the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle, then use the mortar as a bowl in which to mix the rest of my ingredients.

To make the steak:
You will have the best grilling luck if you plan ahead enough to bring the meat to room temperature before grilling.

Stir all ingredients together, except the meat, until smooth. Cut off the extra fat from the skirt steak or flank steak, and if you're working with a flank steak, using a sharp knife, create very shallow scores, about an inch apart, on each side. The "stripes" will help the spice mixture permeate the meat, and will keep the muscle fibers from tightening up to toughness as you grill.

Light the grill, clean off the grates, and let it heat up until hot.

While the grill is heating, place the steak in a large shallow dish, smear half of the spice paste over one side of the steak, turn the steak over, and smear the rest on the other. Let the meat rest for a few minutes as the grill heats. When the grill is ready and very hot, toss on the meat. Let it cook on high 3-5 minutes for each side, or until the meat is the level of "done-ness" you prefer.

This is wonderful as a main dish, served with beans and a crispy salad, or sliced thin as the filling for tacos on warm corn tortillas with good guacamole.


Susan in Italy said...

How interesting this tactic of planting an egg with the tomato plants. Is it whole and raw? One year I planted tomatoes on the same day we had whole fried sardines and a small handful of the guts that Gabriel cleaned from the fish went into each pot. I think it worked, in any case it didn't hurt.

Christina said...

Hi Susan in Italy. Yes, the egg is whole and raw. It's a practical, cheap fertilizer that everyone, excluding the ovo-phobic (if such an animal exists), has at home. I love tricks like this and like your strategy of planting with sardine guts. It makes me feel connected to the thousands of years of cultivation that preceded me.

Susan said...

The egg is one of the oldest composting tricks around, that and coffee grounds. I second your cheers for skirt steak; it's cheaper, less tough and more flavorful than flank.