Saturday, June 21, 2008

Teamwork (You Scratch My Back, I'll Give You Sorbet)

For the first few days of summer every year, I stall. For some reason, the weeks and weeks of freedom that lay in front of me keep me from doing all the things that I want to do. So much to do: where should I start?

Thank goodness my birthday rolls around soon after school ends each year and shakes me out of my lethargy. Last year, my birthday very effectively motivated me; ECG and I got engaged that day. Doing so created a whole list of things we needed to complete in the upcoming months. This year though, I'm not planning for a wedding. Instead, I have a whole marriage ahead of me, and that means ECG and I have a long list of items to complete together. Some of them are set for an undetermined future: visiting his extended family in Argentina, completing an long-term volunteering assignment together, raising chickens. Some of the items are for our more immediate future: finding homes for all that junk we keep behind the carved wood screen, organizing all of our financial information into Quicken, and going to Portugal. Early next month, ECG has a conference in Lisbon, and I get to tag along. Lucky for me, international conferences appear to be one of the perks of being married to an incredibly talented scientist.

I don't know if it is because the birthday signifies a shortening life (and thereby less time to do all that I want to do—geez, that is depressing), or simply because it is usually such a celebratory time that any summer doldrums disappear (I like that possibility better), but my birthday always snaps me into active mode. And this year, I've made a list of goals I want to achieve this summer. Here are a few with which I need your help.

In the garden:
  • I want to figure out the mysteries of peppers. Last year, the few sweet peppers I had were sunburned and unhappy, and the hot peppers were productive, but not very hot. This year, I've started by taking more control over the plants and growing them from seed. (Several varieties never germinated for me, even though I was patient. I'll try different seed sources next year for the varieties that never sprouted.) For sweet peppers, I have Red Ruffled, Buran, and Bull Nose. So far, Red Ruffled is leading the group by far and is lushly full and beginning to flower. The other varieties look healthy but still small. In the hot pepper department, I have Fish Pepper, Bonnie's Hot, and a few slow-growing Chapeu de Frade seedlings. I expect the Chapeu de Frade to be slow, and it should be a perennial here in Southern California, so if I don't get fruit from it this year, that is okay. However, I really want healthy crops from my other plants. All my peppers are in full sun, receive a good soaking from the soaker hose once a week, and are mulched with compost to fertilize and retain water in the soil. What suggestions do you all have for big, flavorful pepper crops?
  • Last summer was the summer where I first delved into the splendor of melons (an adventure which I am continuing this summer, by the way), but this summer I'm growing winter squash for the first time. I have one hill of maxima, Uncle David's Dakota Dessert, and one of moschata, good old Waltham Butternut, and I would love your input. Once again, the plants are in full sun and are mulched with compost. I'm training the vines up towers I built from concrete reinforcement wire. Last year, I battled powdery mildew with my melon vines. I've read that a simple spray made from diluted milk works wonders preventing powdery mildew. Has anyone tried that? Does anyone have any other suggestions to combat powdery mildew or increase production on the squash vines? Keep in mind that I garden organically. Here's the latest picture of my mascot:

In the kitchen:
  • One of my favorite condiments in the world is chili-garlic paste, the salty, garlicky, spicy goodness that is usually fire-engine red with ample chunks of ivory garlic. This condiment often appears with Korean and Chinese food, and frequently with Christina food. As I'm planning on the bountiful crop of hot peppers, I really want to learn to make this myself, especially since every brand that I find in the stores has all sorts of stabilizers and other ingredients that I don't recognize as food. If you know a good recipe for chili-garlic paste, please direct me towards it. I will be eternally grateful. Just imagine, the recipe that you lead me towards will have a permanent place in my kitchen. Wouldn't that make you feel great?
  • Although I have tried on several occasions, I have not yet defeated the pasta monster. I have the pasta maker, I have the recipes from the experts, but I do not yet have the "feel" or instinct for the texture and moisture levels I need to be aiming for. This summer, I will conquer homemade pasta (and twirl it with the goodies from the plot.) Does anyone have any suggestions to help me on the way towards silken sheets of pasta perfection?
In return for any and all help you send my way, please take this recipe, a recipe that has proven to be a lifesaver to ECG and me in this very hot week. Seriously, this is the antidote to humidity, the cure to exhaustion, and the best salve for no air-conditioning. It may seem simple, but in this case, simple is exactly what works best. If you have an uncle with plenty of grapefruit to spare (or a neighbor, or a friend, or even some person you've never met but who has a box of grapefruit out in front of his yard that says "FREE GRAPEFRUIT," as I saw today) it is a moral imperative for you to make this sorbet. For the rest of you all, it is optional, but highly recommended.

Grapefruit Sorbet
You will need:
3 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (strain to remove the seeds but try to leave some pulp, as it add an interesting, explosive texture in your mouth as the frozen cells explode under your teeth)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon limoncello (tiny amounts of booze help keep sorbets from freezing as rock-hard)

To make the sorbet:
Chill the juice. Mix the sugar and water together in a saucepan and heat on medium high, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted completely into the water. Remove the pot from heat and let it come to room temperature.

Once the sugar syrup has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the chilled juice. Stir in the tablespoon of limoncello. Pour the mixture into a lidded container and let it chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Follow the directions of your ice cream maker to complete the sorbet.

You are welcome.


pam said...

I think teachers are all alike. We have such high hopes for summer...all the things we will do and accomplish. If you get a good chili garlic sauce recipe, please post it!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Happy birthday! And I'm with you on chili-garlic paste, though I'm quite happy to purchase the Lan Chi brand.

Wendy said...

Oh, the pasta monster is on my list too! I tried handrolling and it was a disaster. Have now bought a machine and it stares at me everytime I open the cupboard. Will let you know if I make any discoveries.

Maybe the first few weeks are best used for breathing space.

Anonymous said...

I've done a little pasta-making. Perhaps the best instruction I got was at a restaurant where I worked, and the sous chef sidled up to me with a ball of the dough and held it out to me like he was offering me a hit off a joint or something: "Rub that," he said. "Smooth as a baby's bottom!" And, whoa, it was, exactly. Totally silky. So that's what I shoot for.

The other thing I've found is that it usually needs _more_ flour than you think. You have to shut off all your pastry dough logic and just keep shaking flour over it as you're kneading. It makes no sense.

And it does take a _lot_ of kneading (but maybe that's just me, starting off with not-quite-ideal proportions). It's a good idea to get some friends to spell you. And always, always let the dough rest at least a few hours in the fridge before you roll it out. Often, what seems like intractable stuff after ages of kneading will mellow right out after you let it rest.

Hope that helps! When I do make pasta, I always think I should make it more--it is actually pretty easy, considering the amazing thing you get out of it. Although try not to make it for more than, say, six people at a clip. I once made it for 20, and it took me hours to roll it out, and my abs were actually sore the next day from all the cranking.

Anonymous said...

Zora's advice about conquering the pasta monster is right on. My problem though is that mine is usually too dry, so I keep a spritzer full of water at hand spritzing as I knead until I achieve the perfect consistency, a baby's bottom. I don't let mine rest in the fridge, just wrapped in plastic wrap for about an hour on the counter, and I always have stellar results. I hope that helps too. I think it's something you just need to develop a feel for, and that's something I am more than confident you can tackle Christina!

Now, onto peppers... I'm no pepper expert, but I did grow 4 last year that survived a tornado no less! And mine were really spicy. My peppers get partial sun and seem to like it a lot, and the lady I bought my seedlings from this year said that they like to "feel cozy" and that's why they do so well in pots. They like to be moist and warm. I know none of this is advice, but maybe they're wanting for a little shade? Probably too late now, but maybe next year you could try that... Good luck! I love watching your garden grow!

Christina said...

Pam: If I find it, I will share!

Lydia: Isn't it wonderful stuff?

Wendy: Check out the great advice from Zora and Ann about pasta. I think it may help both of us.

Zora: Good advice. I'm not aiming to serve 20 to start, that's for sure! I'm picturing you cranking away--no wonder you were sore! I'm used to wedging (kneading) clay for long periods of time before throwing it, but I haven't kneaded and kneaded and kneaded pasta dough. I will certainly make myself do that. I'm thinking that the next pasta test run will be Thursday evening: I'll let you know how it goes.

Ann: Spritzer, check. I'll make sure to have that on hand. Thanks for the great advice. As for the peppers, I was at the plot this morning, and one of my pepper plants, the lushest, biggest, and most mature so far, had clearly begun to set fruit. I really want those darned Red Ruffled, and I'm determined to get them. I may look into shade cloth, because I think your suggestion about less sun may be right on. One thing I am certain about is that the entire garden (melons and squash excluded) could do with a little less heat right now. Argh, it is hot.

Unknown said...

Does that mean that you are a Gemini, too? Your sorbet looks like the perfect thing for our terrible heat wave. Although I know up there in Pasadena, you are at least 10 degrees warmer than here. Stay cool.

kate smudges said...

I'm curious to see what advice you get with your peppers. I am growing about 3 different varieties for the first time - near the rhubarb no less - and am curious to see how they do.

The grapefruit sorbet sounds delicious, although I don't know where I'd be able to get grapefruit at this time of year here.

A thought about the chile paste - I have a hunch that you might have success if you asked Anne at I have a vague recollection of one of her posts talking about this. I'm usually too taken with her photos to pay much attention to the ingredients. She also lives in S. Calif.

I have the same sort of thing happen to me at the beginning of each gardening season - so much to do, yet I sit in my garden chair and just muse about the endless possibilities. said...

just discovered your blog----love it---i too am growing winter squash---in the california desert 115 degrees. i have two varities---sweet dumpling and marina di chioggia. check out my sites and i am also growing watermelon and melons and wish someone could tell me when they are ready.

hope to see you in dales garden---will add you to my blog roll.

Christina said...

Geni: Yes, I'm a Gemini too. As for the heat, thank goodness it has broken. Today felt like heaven, it was so much cooler.

Kate: Thanks for the suggestion on the chili paste--I'll definitely be checking out her blog. I'm glad to know I'm not alone in the feeling of inertia . . ..

Miriam: Congratulations on your wonderful garden. For me, I've found several ways of telling when melons are ready. Some kinds naturally "slip" from the vine when they're ripe. For those that don't, I pick them when the first tendril closest to the fruit dries up--that is true for watermelons as well. I also watch closely for subtle changes in color and smell. With practice, you'll get pretty good at it!

Shaun said...

Christina ~ Happy Birthday!!!!
I only wish I could help you with all your questions on how to protect and encourage your developing babies. I will put a word in with Eric about the chili-garlic sauce, though. The grapefruit sorbet sounds divine, especially with that drop of limoncello. I hope you and ECG have a wonderful time in Lisbon...I can't wait to hear all about it.

Rowena said...

Christina you are so way ahead of me on the gardening game that I look to YOU for inspiration. Your Bad Boys post and the Melon analysis...posts that still remain on the back of my mind for future reference! Next year it's Black Krim baby!

Happy belated birthday to you (another Gemini eh?)! I can only say that my birthdays mean pig out mode. For that I'll use any excuse I can get. As for the pasta, I find that supermarket brand flours in the US are different from the flour here. Less stronger or weaker gluten, however that works out (the US stuff). If there's a flour available specifically for making pasta I'd go with that one -- after that it's trial and error!

Kale for Sale said...

I have a hot pepper garden too with serrano, jalepeno, padron, Bulgarian carrot, ring-o-fire and piment d'espelette. Don't you love all the varieties? I hadn't hear of the ones you planted. The names are like poetry.

Last year the serrano and thai weren't that hot but I wasn't sure if we'd simply gotten used to the heat or if it was the result of the growing conditions. The habernero were too hot to eat however.

I'm looking forward to a chili paste recipe here in the comments or hope you post it if you find it otherwise.

And Happy Birthday. Your photos are terrific.

Anonymous said...

Christina, I'm lazy when it comes to chili-garlic sauce and use Huy Fong's stuff. But Andrea (at VietWorldKitchen) has posted two versions that might work for you:

Julia said...

I've heard semolina flour makes life a bit easier...