Tuesday, August 04, 2015

vitality veracity

I lie about my garden all the time, if not overtly then at least covertly. I allow you to imagine my wafting lofting hillocks and berries and greens and pods just bursting with color and clarity and taste. And no weeds.
What was it last time? Oh, peas. Well, they were quite wonderful, but then it got so exasperatingly hot, and then it poured. Another thing I allow you to think, really exhort you to do, too, is that I get out there every day to see what needs to be done. You can’t garden from behind your desk. Sometimes days slip by so fast, almost as fast as weeds grow and so do zucchinis.
The other day a friend stopped by and wanted to see the garden. How embarrassing! The peas should have been pulled this long time if only to allow the Brussels sprouts and broccoli to get some sun and perhaps begin to thrive. The lettuce has been allowed to bolt, weeds are taking over the herb beds, the kale is blowsy and tough, the chard has gone wild, and tomatoes need to be tied up higher. Zucchini is in logs and its enormous leaves are shading the eggplant. Even the grass needs to be mowed.
The mere thought of all that work makes me sag. Some people need a pool boy. I need a garden girl.
Thank goodness for the farmers. I mean really. Thank God For The Farmers. Those hardy fighters that started the first farmers’ market back in the early ‘70s – that would be the nineteen 70s. It was tough going. They – the growers and their eaters – really had to fight the city to find a place to set up, and then a larger space, and then even larger. The starters were Jeff Bender, Andy Snyder and jonny-come-lately Greg Cox. Along came Steve Chamberlain of Dutchess Farm, and Ray and Chris Powers powering their Bear Mountain Bread stand.
Because of them – and others – my fridge now contains slim little French green beans, a pint of tiny patty pan squash with their blossoms, 17 pounds of Pratico tomatoes waiting to be frozen, a lovely large cauliflower, a magnificent ovoid purple eggplant.
A fresh chicken went into a strong brine yesterday as soon as I got it home from Market, and then onto the grill last night. This would not be the picture without comparative newcomers Alchemy Gardens, Grabowskys (grilled corn on the cob, too), Radical Roots, and who had those beautiful little beans? It might have been Scott Hewitt from Fields of Manna in Wallingford. Or maybe it was Singing Cedars from Benson. Plew Farm has fresh chicken all summer, they told me. Larson’s Farm is able to sell raw milk from the Market due to new licensing laws.
Plethora, Baby! Plethora!
My only problem now is how am I going to eat all this stuff. And, what with planning and cooking, where am I going to find the time to mow and weed?
Nice thing about this kind of plethora is it all needs to be very simple. Simplicity allows the wonderful fresh taste to come through.
So, I won’t lie to you, I rely on some quick sauces and cool techniques to get through this so-highly-prized time of year.

#1: The first is quick fried tempura.  Eggplant, green tomatoes, just-ripe tomatoes, zucchini, okra, those little patty-pans with their blossoms on. I slice them – not the okra or patty-pans – dip them into a tempura batter and fry them in some lard, or coconut oil, or a mixture of butter and olive oil. I don’t deep fry them, just pour in a kind of lavish amount of oil. Garnish them with little Thai (or other) basil leaves. Eat’em up.

Elizabeth David’s Tempura Batter
This is an excellent coating. I think it’s the oil in the batter that keeps the coating on the food rather than in the grease:
Take 4 ounces of flour, about a cup, and put it into a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt, then gently and slowly whisk in “3/4 teacup of tepid water”, or until the mixture is about the consistency of somewhere between thick cream and half and half. Let it sit for a while to let the gluten relax, and, when you’re ready to use it, whip one egg white and fold it in. Dip your food into it and fry it up.
I’ve been using 2 egg whites lately, and I think it makes a better covering.

#2: The other day I had some friends over on the spur of the moment, or hour, and I hustled up a few tidbits quickly to nosh on. One of them was zucchini cut into sticks to be dipped into this dressing. It got accolades. It has no added salt but it is salty enough. Probably because of the Hellman’s.

Creamy Dill Dressing
Whisk together ½ cup Hellman’s or homemade mayonnaise, ½ cup sour cream, 1/3 cup dill weed, chopped fine, 1 clove garlic, chopped fine. Allow the flavors to marry, and serve it up.

#3: And this! Kind of a first-timer, the first time, I think, that my dotter Zoe arrived with a jar of homemade stuff and off-handed it to me without much ado and... it was wonderful – as dressing, as dip, as marinade, as eat it with a spoon. My little string beans, lightly steamed, buttered, are going to love this drizzle. The recipe is from her friend Caroline’s Aunt Jane. Caroline lives in North Carolina. I don’t know where Aunt Jane lives. Make it!

Aunt Jane’s Ginger Dressing
      • 3 inches of ginger, grated (minimum)
      • 4 (or more) garlic cloves, finely chopped
      • ½ cup tamari
      • ½ cup olive oil
      • ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
      • ¼ cup or more tahini
      • 1/3 cup raw honey
      • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
      • ½ cup water
There are no directions, but I think I’d put this all into a blender and process it, in which case nothing would have to be finely chopped.
Yes, it’s been a long, worthwhile road from that first Farmers’ Market up to the present when it’s accepted as one of the premier events on a Saturday – outside in Depot Park in the summer and in the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center in the winter. Wednesday late afternoons present a smaller version.
Now, if the City would only recognize how important the Market is to Downtown, and put the benches back so longtime supporters like me – who are, after all, not as vital as we were in the ‘70s – could take a rest in the midst of the festivities, that would be nice. And smart. And maybe the gravel that has supplanted the grass could be dealt with in a splendid way? Get with the celebration, City Guys!
The next step in this glorious food revolution is to continue renovating the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center to make it truly a center for food for the entire area.  Greg Cox and his Board of Renown is on that like stink on a pig. Important revelations and revelry are on tap for this Sunday, the 16th.
$20 a ticket, friends, all proceeds to go to building a shared use commercial kitchen and processing facility, and a large scale storage and aggregation infrastructure. A biomass Heating System is in the works, as is a community teaching kitchen.

Okay, and now, no lie, I need to get out there and weed!

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