Thursday, April 27, 2017

TBT May 29, 2008 Falmouth Bulletin "Lessons from Val's Kitchen" Salad recipe adds some zing to spring

On May 29, 2008 this story appeared  in the Falmouth Bulletin: "Lessons  from Val's Kitchen"

Salad recipe adds some zing to spring
For years I have had what I call a “black thumb”.  No magic touch with vegetation, just a rotten rather than green thumb. Oh, I managed to keep a few house plants alive throughout the years.  This I believe happened not because I was trying. By chance, the only place in my apartment with sun was a large window with an ample window sill. My technique of barely remembering to water the plants on occasion somehow helped too. However, now that I live in a house with a yard, I would like to imbue it with life.  In the last couple of years, my sad attempts at planting seeds failed because I was always too impatient to learn the rules of gardening 101 or perhaps I just blocked it all out…

You see, Val has always had a very large, organic vegetable garden.  The planning started in the winter when the seed catalogs would arrive in the mail.  She would comb through them and choose the best seeds for her soil sometimes ordering various bugs and traps as well.  Once they arrived in the mail, the seeds would be started in the basement under the grow light and her careful watch. As the seeds sprouted under the eerie purple light, we knew what our fate would be come spring time, after the last sign of frost.

The truck loads of seaweed arrived soon after the plants went into the ground.  This would be used to mulch the entire garden, a task that seemed to take weeks in our young minds.  Karyn manned the pitch fork and loaded up 5 gallon buckets for me and Ethan to haul down to Val’s location in the garden.  We went up and down the sloping hill along the side of the house in the hot sun, until Val allowed us to take what seemed like a one minute break . The brown, moist seaweed got inside our shoes filling them with sand and slime mixed with sweaty feet. Yucky.

To my mother’s delight, sometimes we would have the pleasure of mulching with horse manure.  We thought she was insane not knowing the virtues of the fertilizer. Karyn dressed in tall rubber boots and a bandana over her nose like Jesse James, continued to man the pitch fork while Ethan and I gagged as we hauled our buckets in the hot sun.

Times were really tough when the seaweed wasn’t as plentiful and Val didn’t score her horse manure.  Instead of making lemons out of lemonade, Val made “manure tea”, a fertilizer out of our pet rabbit’s droppings.  The recipe is as follows:

Fill ¼ of a five gallon bucket with rabbit or chicken manure

Top off bucket with water

Leave in the hot sun to “steep”

After 4-5 days pour the mixture over your crops.

If the wind blows just right, you can smell the sweet aroma of the tea from anywhere in the yard while it is steeping.  Yummy.
The gardening trauma did not end with the mulching.  A whole new phase of torture began with harvesting the crops.  Raspberries proved to be especially gruesome.  The wild, unruly and very thorny bush would slowly envelope me as I inched my way in to pick every last one.  Even though it was best to wear long sleeves and pants as not to get my skin torn to shreds, a child never remembers to do that in July.  Don't think for a second that I could have gotten away with leaving a few berries on the most interior of the sharp vines.  Val always checked.
In spite of my memories of childhood gardening, I have been spoiled by the quality and taste of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested and consumed at their peak.  Luckily, I still reap the benefits of Val's garden.  I no longer have to help with mulching as she plants a little less quantity and variety.  Now, I know how fortunate I am when she says, "Do you want some tomatoes? Here's a bag, go and pick what you want."  As for my own yard, I don't have enough time or room for a vegetable garden but you should check out my potted herbs on the deck.
The following recipe is a springtime favorite.  Val's Aunt Viola, who was known for cooking and entertaining, made this often.

Aunt Viola's Special Salad and Dressing
1 large bag fresh baby spinach
1 large bag fresh salad greens
1 red onion, sliced thin
parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
homemade croutons (see recipe)
For the dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried onion
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup salad oil

Wash and dry green and toss together in a large salad bowl.  Arrange red onion rings over top of greens and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and croutons.  Combine all ingredients for dressing and shake well.  Dress salad and serve immediately.

Homemade Croutons
5-6 slices day old French bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cube slices of bread.  Toss cubed bread with butter.  Spread bread onto a cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with parsley, garlic powder and salt.  Toast in oven for 5-10 minutes until browned on edges.  Allow to cool before adding to salad. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Warm Tarts for Chilly Spring Days

Easter falls later on the calendar this year although looking outside, you might not realize it.  Yes, there are crocuses and daffodils finally opening their buds to the sun but the air is chilly and raw.  We've had so much rain!  I suppose all this precipitation is a good start for the season but it sure puts a damper in everyone's attitude, especially Declan's.  He gets so mad when the coach cancels practice, again. 
"They are such babies! Why can't we practice in the rain?!  It's not that cold!!"
I try to calm him down.  Seriously, 38 degrees, torrential rain, it's just silly to cancel.  The weather is fine.  But I wouldn't want to be out in it.  That sideways rain, the kind that pelts your face and ruins your hair in spite of my best efforts to deal with it by wearing a thick rubber raincoat and still sporting my winter boots.  The rain manages to seep in wherever there is a crack in the armor.  Forget using an umbrella.  The wind is so strong, it renders it useless in seconds.  It turns the  pop-open travel umbrella into a little black kite, sailing 100 yards across the supermarket parking lot.  Or even better, forcing the umbrella inside out bending the metal prongs, warping them permanently and ripping the fine fabric into a spider web of threads before I am barely out of the car.
  When the sun finally does appear, on a few occasions in early April, the ground is so damp and the air still bitter, winter coats are de riguer.  Don't forget your gloves, scarves and hats, too.  All the parents at Declan's soccer game last Saturday looked like they were ready to go sledding instead of attending a springtime match.  No one dares put away the snow gear until we are well out of the woods, around June 1st, if we are lucky.  But who wants to adhere to such sensible rules on Easter Sunday?  Pastels and bright white fabrics are featured in the new Spring lines in all the fashionable boutiques and stores.  Pedicured toes show off the latest sandal styles in all the magazines.  Everyone is sick of drab winter colors: dark grey, black, hunter green.  We are ready to give heavy coats and big boots the heave-ho.  I've already spotted bare legs and ice cold feet belonging to shivering, yet stylish women.  I'm sure I will see plenty more goose bumped and red skinned outside church this Sunday morning.  Fancy ladies and chic girls rubbing their arms and hopping up and down and in an effort to warm up while the little children search for plastic pink, yellow and blue eggs filled with candy.  As soon as these fashionistas get home, I have a feeling they will be back to fleece and flannel for at least a few more weeks.  Mother Nature will make sure of it.
  Warmer parts of the country may be celebrating the arrival of new spring clothing lines and accessories but I envy them more for their earlier spring harvest.  While we are still eating the last from the root cellar, in warmer climes, they get to feast on spring greens and quite possibly, the first sprouts of rhubarb.  Although we are quite a few weeks away from harvesting any rhubarb on Cape Cod, as luck and advance planning would have it,  I still have some from Val's huge rhubarb patch stashed away in the back of my freezer.  I was so frantic last year when the weather began to turn hot, just before the rhubarb stalks grew fat and fibrous.  I harvested and chopped so much of the ruby red and dark green stems, that I thought I had gone to far.  Even though I filled half my freezer, there was still so much we left to wither in the hot summer sun.
  I pickled it, made elixirs, froze quart after quart.  I ate a lot of rhubarb in June, July and August.  Then, I forgot about my freezer stash.  It took the angle of the sun and the date on the calendar to remind me, again. 
"Wow, I need to use this good stuff up before Val's plants begin producing again." I said to myself.
  I've been making free form tarts and quick sauces to go alongside poultry and pork.  I eat any leftovers with vanilla yogurt and whipped cream.  I just can't get enough of the sweet/tart flavor and the promise that someday soon I will be able to take off my wool socks and let my feet feel the green grass warmed by the sun.

Mini Rhubarb (or any fruit) Tarts
(makes 4)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon flour
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold butter, diced
6 tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Mix the filling: combine rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and 1 tablespoon flour.
To mix the crust, place 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, salt and diced butter into a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse peas.  Slowly add enough water until the dough just comes together.  Separate dough into 4 small disks and wrap each in plastic.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough disks on a lightly floured board.  Place each section of rolled out dough 2 per cookie sheet.  Spoon 1/4 of the rhubarb mixture into the center of each dough piece.  Crimp dough up around the fruit, pressing down slightly on the bottom edges to make sure the crimp stays in place.  Brush the edges of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle tarts with Turbinado sugar.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until tarts are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cook for 10 minutes before serving.  Yummy with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream!