Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tiniest Violin

So it is the peak of summer and farmers' markets, backyards, and roadside farms are laden with fruit. Fruit everywhere. Vegetables everywhere. Recently, at the Santa Monica's farmers' market, a friend purchased more goodies than he'll ever be able to eat in a week just because everything is available right now, and it all tastes so good. We're buying with our tastebuds right now. Isn't it wonderful?

I should be thrilled, but I'm in my last week of summer vacation and doing everything I can to keep from getting blue about the end. I got a haircut, a henna tattoo, some new shoes. I've been running every day to force endorphins upon myself.

But it's tough work hanging on to freedom when the end of it is inevitable.

I know. It is ridiculous for me to complain when I have months off at a time to do whatever the heck I want, and most everyone else has two weeks and that's it.

Try looking at it from my perspective though: Today, in the first hour I was outside, I saw the tiniest lizard I've ever seen. I saw a blue jay catch a bottle-green cicada and eat it loudly on the fence, a clicking, squawking flash of blue, black, and very, very green. I saw a turquoise dragonfly lazily make its way around the yard, a swallowtail in the purple buddliea, and bees swarm the neighbors' red eucalyptus. When one becomes accustomed to this much beauty regularly served up with a side of sunshine, it's particularly hard to go on a fast.

Poop. Summer ends. Darn it.

Summer ending or not, the fruit and vegetables and huge harvests from my yard and others' are here, and I've got to figure out what to do with everything that's coming at me. So I better stop complaining, buck up, and enjoy what I've got, because what I've got is damn good.

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Recently, a member of COFEA posted that she had figs that she wanted to swap for veggies. After an email exchange, we agreed to yellow tomatoes for figs. I brought her six lovely Not Weses and she gave me four pounds of very ripe purple figs. Four pounds!

I came home from the trade, ate the two delicious figs that were on my little tree, then made jam with the recently acquired bounty.

Rummy Fig Jam
I had no cognac at home so I substituted rum after I found this simple, quirky recipe on Epicurious. It's good on toast, great stirred into yogurt, and delicious slathered into hand-tarts.

You will need:
2 lemons (these MUST be organic, as you will be using the peel!)
4 pounds of black figs, rinsed and quartered
4 cups sugar
3/4 cup golden rum (or 1/2 cup light and 1/4 dark)
1/2 teaspoon salt

To make the jam:
With a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, peel off only the yellow portion of the lemons into strips. Stack the strips, then chop them into fine matchsticks.

In a large, heavy pot, stir together the lemon peel, the juice from one of the lemons, the figs, the sugar, rum, and salt. Let sit for one hour while the fruit macerates.

Over medium-high heat, bring the fruit mixture to a boil. Boil for 35 minutes, or until the mixture is thickened significantly. If you drop a dollop of it on a cold plate and run your finger through it, the two sides of the finger trail should not merge, but instead stay suspended like the jammy-sugary-almost-caramelly goodness they are.

Following the directions of your hot water canner or pressure cooker, can the jam into six half-pint jars. Or, you can be lazy like me this time, and pour the jam into the six half-pint jars, let cool and label, then freeze.

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Peaches, Nectarines, Plums: they're everywhere and they're at their sugary, nectar-y peak right now. Pies and tarts are great, but the fruits are also fantastic sliced and served over homemade ice cream. Here are the two ice creams that serve as great foils for fruit, and right now, are making ECG and me almost forget that I have to go back to work next week.

Honey Vanilla Ice Cream
Slightly adapted to the way I cook from Patricia Well's The Paris Cookbook. This is a simple, creamy, fantabulous way to showcase local honey. A scoop of this with a superripe plum is August in a cup.

You will need:
Two vanilla beans
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup local honey

To make the ice cream:
Flatten the beans, slice them open, and scrape out their gooey seeds. Use your knife to scrape the seeds into a large saucepan and drop in the bean pods too. Add the cream, milk, and honey. Turn the heat to medium and stir the combination to dissolve the honey into the mixture. Heat just until the mixture is beginning to think about simmering, then remove the pot from the heat. Cover the pot and let cool to room temperature, then place the pot in the refrigerator and chill overnight.

The next day, remove the vanilla pods from the mixture, squeezing out whatever goodness they still have in them back into the pot, and toss the pods into your compost bin. Stir the mixture to make sure it is thoroughly combined (if the vanilla seeds have clumped together, don't worry because they'll break up in the ice cream maker), and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's directions from there.

This makes three-quarters of a quart of ice cream.

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Ginger Ice Cream
Adapted with an addition of candied ginger from David Liebovitz's The Perfect Scoop. More elegant than the previous recipe, this is only for ginger lovers. My friends who've tasted this who love ginger love this. Those who don't don't. I'm in the first camp.

You will need:
A 3 ounce knob of fresh ginger, peel still attached
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
1/4 candied ginger pieces

To make the ice cream:
Place the candied ginger pieces in the freezer to firm up, making them easier to chop later. Place a large bowl in the refrigerator to chill.

Slice the ginger, peel and all, into thin slices. In order to keep the ginger flavor from being incredibly overwhelming, place the slices in a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover it by 1/2 inch, and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then drain, discarding the liquid.

Return the ginger slices to the pan, add the milk, one cup of the cream, sugar, and salt. Warm the mixture, stirring, and just before a simmer, remove the mixture from he heat. Let the combination steep at room temperature for an hour.

Rewarm the mixture. Remove and discard the ginger slices. Pour the remaining cup of cream into the large chilled bowl and set a mesh strainer over the bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the ginger-infused mixture into the egg yolks, then scrape the combination of the cream mixture and the egg yolks back in the pan. (This step, though seemingly "extra," helps keep the eggs from cooking too quickly.)

Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a silicon or wooden spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until the mixture thickens. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream in the chilled bowl, the coolness of which will stop the cooking.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight, or at least for three hours, then freeze it according to the instructions of your ice cream maker's manufacturer.

While the ice cream is freezing, remove the crystalized ginger from the refrigerator and chop it roughly. It will be hard, but the firmness of it will help keep it from sticking together. In the last two minutes or so of the ice cream maker's run, scoop the crystalized ginger into the mixture. The blades should mix the ginger pieces evenly through the ice cream.

This makes approximately one quart of ice cream.

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I just received an email from my blog friend Laura at Mas du Diable. The Armenian Cucumber seeds I sent her have grown and have given her almost more than her household could consume. She asked what I do with them. Since I discovered this recipe at the end of last summer, I make it all the time. If you put a bowl of these guys in front of me, I won't stop eating them. So Laura and whoever else is suffering an cucumber overload, here you go, my favorite way to get rid of cucumbers quickly.

Smashed CukesAdapted from this recipe from Saveur to the cucumbers I have on hand. The salad is summery and brightly flavored, and a great counterpoint to all sorts of grilled meats. The quartet of sugar, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil do amazing things together. Try it.

You will need:
1 large Armenian cucumber or 4 kirby cucumbers
sea salt
1 inch knob of ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 roughly chopped garlic cloves

To make the salad:
Cut the cucumbers into irregular chunks about 2" long and 1/4" thick. Dump the cucumbers in a bowl and toss together with 2 teaspoons of salt. Set the cucumbers aside for an hour while the salt removes excess water from the chunks.

Meanwhile, julienne the ginger into short, fine matchsticks. Place in a medium bowl and set aside.

After an hour, drain the cucumber chunks. Using your hands, grab a few pieces at a time and squeeze out more liquids. Once you've squeezed the pieces in your hand, drop them in the bowl with the ginger. Continue until you've squeezed juices out of all of your cucumber chunks.

Toss the sugar, vinegar, oil, and garlic into the same bowl, and stir to combine. Taste to see if the mixture needs more salt (in my experience, it never does). Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 minutes while the flavors meld, then serve.

Depending on how much you like cucumbers and what else you're serving, this can serve 2 to 4 people.

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Yeah, it is all good stuff, I know. But right now, I've got a heck of a psychosomatic-school-starts-next-week sore throat and head ache. Whine, whine, whine.

Get over it, Christina.

15 comments:

Melikay said...

My poor friend!!! I'm so sad for you. :p (that's my tongue sticking out)
I have been enjoying some peaches from the FM these last few weeks, and every time I eat one, it just brightens my day! I LOVE summer fruits!! It was such a pleasure to read your post!
I have a favor to ask...is there any way you would consider changing the background color to a lighter color? I'm having a difficult time reading it--dunno why, but dern--my eyes ache from focusing so hard! if no, I totally understand. I wonder if anyone else has this issue...
xoxo

Another Outspoken Female said...

Sometimes it's hard to be in the moment, without mourning the loss of the moment too.

Though your loss is our gain! Can't wait for spring in my part of the world.

AmyR said...

Oh what perfect timing! How did you know I have a fig tree dropping figs faster than I can keep up with picking them?


My aunt is a teacher, and we have similar conversations as the summer draws to a close. You're right, I usually point out to her that she had months off! Whole months. That actually might make it harder to go back.

Pam said...

I've been back to school for weeks now. It seems harder and harder each year. I'm already counting the days till fall break!

Petrea said...

I can almost smell your photos. They're luscious.

June said...

I'm loving your charred green beans, as in loving them almost every day. (We love our Chinese food around here, and have to make our own as we are a long way from an authentic restaurant.) And now I am going to go make good use of my cucumbers. Thank you!

Here's the thing about the loss of freedom to work: Maybe you'll remember why you love your work enough to relinquish your freedom for it. It surprises me every time it happens, but it happens!

Christina said...

Melissa: Done!

AOS: I'm looking forward to reading about your spring.

AmyR: Aren't the figs wonderful right now? I have another jam recipe on my site that uses apples too. It's a tangier, more fall-ish flavored jam. This one is more intensely figgy and less spicy.

Pam: I'm actually feeling much better about everything today than when I wrote it. I was at school all day today preparing for the beginning, and I feel pretty good. It's not the job that I dislike--I LOVE this job--it's the grading, the meetings, the getting up so early. But then, there's the kids, and man-alive, I love those kids.

Petrea: That is a very kind compliment, especially coming from you, a person who brings a whole city to life with her photos. Thank you.

June: I'm so glad you're enjoying those beans. I could eat them all the time too. And, thanks for the peptalk. I know why I love my job--those darned crazy teenagers--I just have to meet my new crew to be reminded of that.

Rowena... said...

Oh how I wish I could swap fruit/veggies with someone here! This will be something to work on in the future, but I do hope to be blessed with perfect summer weather next year. Italians need to know more about heirloom tomatoes!

Lucy said...

Biting into the last of the local, now floury, Fuji apples, I'm suddenly wishing it was cooling down, not warming up - I want to taste them at that early, crisp peak all over again! So much I meant to do with them but didn't.

Hey - your fig jam = yum. Fig jam made a potful of brewed chai tea = wow yum. Shula of the Poppalina blog and I do a jam swap each year and in Feb she sent me a jar of her chai fig jam. It rendered me speechless...

Those cukes sound amazing. Bookmarked (all of it's bookmarked) for next year.

(I've tried to email you a few times of late, but they keep bouncing back...clearly summer has been good to you. X)

Melly/Melody/or Mel said...

I feel refreshed. I am so happy I stopped by. The figs..oh, the figs!!

Good things must come to an end...but good things come again! I am looking forward to some cooler temps.

Bec said...

Amazing, as usual. I can't wait to get back to my ice cream machine and try some of these recipes. I've been mourning the black mission fig tree in the backyard of our last house. And, we teachers are allowed a good whine for the end of summer!

ann said...

hang in there! you know the minute you're back into the groove, you'll love it all over again. And the garden will always be there to soothe you when you get home :-)

Cafe Pasadena said...

Ginger Ice Cream...
Oh that sounds goooood. Especially on a day like 2day!
And, I haven't even tasted it yet.

I'll let you go back to your kitchen to experiment with the next tasty item.

Christina said...

Rowena: Especially since some of the best come from Italy!

Lucy: Thanks! I'll have to look into that chai-fig jam recipe, since my fig source has offered me even more!

Mel: Cooler temps, tell me about it! With the mountain behind me burning and the thermometer topping at 105 today, I'm really looking forward to cooler weather. I hope we get plenty of rain this winter too.

Bec: Do let me know how they work for you! I hope you enjoy them. I'm sure someone you know has a fig tree that is overwhelming them right now . . ..

Ann: You're right. I'm already feeling much better about going back now that I've spent most of this week on campus preparing. Thanks for the pep talk!

Cafe Pasadena: I wish I still had some in the freezer . . ..

dick said...

That cucumber recipe is much like an Amish cucumber recipe my grandmother used to make. She added sliced onions to it. Just wonderful with almost anything as a side dish/salad or as a relish with a sandwich. A great Virginia ham sandwich with these cucumbers on the side is fabulous.