Market Day

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This is what $31.00 bought me at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market this morning. Is it cheaper than what I would have paid at a local grocery store? Probably. Fresher? Almost certainly. More neighborly? Absolutely!

And the specific items which were bought at a wholesaler and resold here (and you KNOW it happens)…well, I would still rather buy it here than in a supermarket.

…And FYI, the little zip-loc bag between the asparagus and the tomatoes is cilantro, not pot – although I imagine people selling pot at a farmer’s market would make a KILLING!

Memorial Day Breakfast

Breakfast for two:

appetizer:
1 thinly sliced apple
several small pieces of Amber Valley Sage Derby cheese

main course:
many stalks of asparagus, sprinkled with chili powder and grilled on a George Foreman grill
a five-egg omelet with roasted bell pepper, wilted spinach, and peppercorn Gouda cheese
two cups of toddy

…all eaten out on the porch while watching the sun cross the sky.

So It Begins

This morning I spent a couple of hours planting the last of my salsa plants for the year. I have twelve pepper plants in the ground, and three tomato plants in containers.

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I have eight plants in my front bed, six of which are visible in this photo.

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Four more plants are in the back, near my recently-planted Arborvitae at the north end of my property

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The tomatoes were a spur-of-the moment decision, and will supposedly thrive in the pots.

The pepper plants are as follows:
1 Red Cherry
1 Kung Pao
1 Hungarian Wax
1 Concho
1 Serrano
1 Pimienta “Cowhorn”
2 Anaheim TMR 23
2 Super Cayenne II
2 Jalapeño

The tomatoes are as follows:
1 Amish paste tomato
2 San Marzano paste tomatoes

That’s right: twelve pepper plants this year. I had three last year, and they did amazingly well in containers. This year I wanted something a little more aesthetically pleasing, as well as manageable, considering my limited space. I do not expect all of them to thrive, but the ones that do bear fruit at the end of summer will help me to learn where to plant things next year.

I have a couple of unused containers left over from last year, so if I find any more interesting/promising pepper seedlings, I may put them to some use.

Mmmm…Little Tiny Birds

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Thanksgiving: Cornish game hen, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, salad with home-made dressing, French bread, cranberries, and mincemeat and red raspberry pies.

And Sleep. Lots of sleep. And quiet. And skies so clear the Milky Way was bright enough to navigate by.

And family.

And more food.

And more sleep.

O God It Burns, part II

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This is the most recent harvest from my pepper plants. 29 cayennes, 6 jalapeños and 8 habaneros. The cayenne and jalapeño plants are done, and there are maybe 40 more habaneros still turning orange, awaiting harvesting.

This will bring the total for the whole season to, I think, nearly 100 peppers from three plants. I am already planning a pepper garden for next year; at least a dozen plants and maybe half a dozen different kinds of peppers.

Point of interest: If you need to harvest peppers before they turn red, put them in a paper bag with a tomato. For some reason this will cause the peppers to change color.

O God It Burns!

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This is the take from my pepper plants this afternoon. 20 jalapenos (I gave five to a neighbor) and five super cayennes. I also have a habanero plant which has at least 30 peppers, which I will pick when they start to turn orange.

I have been making my own salsa since I first began harvesting peppers about a month ago, and lemme tellya, a jalapeno fresh from the plant makes a fine ingredient.

2 large tomatoes, diced
.5 of a large (tomato-sized) white onion, diced
1 good-sized yellow bell pepper. seeded and diced
1 can of corn kernels
2 regular, or 1 humongously heaping, tablespoons of finely chopped garlic
2 jalapenos and 1 cayenne pepper diced to about pixel-sized pieces
1 generous dusting of black pepper
1 light dusting of salt
1 light dribble of balsamic vinegar

Mix everything together and eat! Also good as a garnish over eggs.

In the same sense that any soup with beets as the main ingredient is technically borscht, any mix of chopped veggies that is predominantly tomatoes and hot peppers is technically salsa.

I think that next summer I will plant about a dozen pepper plants and maybe use some of them to make anti-personnel spray.

Stalking the Wild Nostalgia

Back when I was a kid growing up on the farm I discovered a natualist author by the name of Euell Gibbons. He wrote books – informed by his own life experiences and necessities – about how to survive and thrive by eating wild food. Many of his plants and animals were native to southern Michigan so one spring, book in hand, I set out to provide for my family.

Just to put things in perspective, our farm was pretty stable, and if there was one thing we didn’t lack, it was food. I probably had more steak by the time I graduated from high-school than most people have during their entire lives.

I immediately discovered two things.

First, timing is everything. There are no acorns in May. There are no fiddlehead ferns in September. Day-lilies were edible last week. This week they have the texture of cardboard.

Two: a hungry Oakie (as Gibbons described himself) will eat things that a well-fed farm boy will not. Possum. May apple. Any of a number of mushrooms. Eel.

That is not to say that there were not a few successes. Sassafras tea is one of the most wondrous good drinks in all the world, especially with a spoonful of brown sugar thrown in. Crayfish are damn yummy, if much smaller in Michigan than in, say, Louisiana. Frog legs brought purpose to the deaths of the bullfrogs we shot full of BBs every summer. Day-lily pods cooked in butter taste much like green beans, but I imagine a sufficient quantity of butter will make most anything taste like green beans. Mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries, cherries, apples…I didn’t need a book to figure them out. Likewise, bluegills. Never got around to asking the neighbor who trapped rattlesnakes for MSU if he would send us over some meat some time.

On my desk in front of me sits the 1974 Field Guide edition of Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It is green, and beat up, and Euell Gibbons, chewing on a leafy twig of something, grins from the cover. Leafing through it, I found a note which said the following: “Tried the pods. If you are hungry they would fill the empty space. Pg 130.” Page 130 start a four-page description of the culinary joys of milkweed. I never got around to trying that one.

A few years ago several of Gibbons’ books were reprinted. Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, the two with which I am familiar, are fantastic reads, even if you never in your life plan to eat anything which doesn’t come out of a can.

As an amusing side note, take a look at what Amazon.com recommends in their “Customers interested in XXX may also be interested in:” section. By gum, foragers are just not to be trusted.

Lamb

This afternoon Virginia and I went to Sami’s for gyros. After the initial feeding frenzy, in which I lost the tip of my pinky finger, we traded gyro stories. Actually, it was less a trade and more of her listening to me while she ate.

I had my first gyro in Gorky Park in Moscow, in June of 1994. This was at the tail end of a six week class excursion to Russia, and the bunch of us were dirty, sleep-deprived, suffering from mild alcohol poisoning, and loving every minute of it.

The day was overcast and spitting rain, and the park was mostly empty, except for the carnies. Boy, if you think American carnies are scary, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We didn’t dare go on any of the rides; by Cedar Point standards they didn’t look like that much fun and we had a healthy distrust of Russian safety measures. The latrines were the most frightening experience of my life. They made my eyes water from a hundred yards UPWIND.

Just off of a smaller path a ways away from the river two Azerbaijani gentlemen had a small kiosk set up with a home-made rotisserie grill thing and a small strongbox. On the rotisserie was a big hunk of sheep meat. After days of sparse sack lunches and shoe-leather stew, the site of so much fresh meat sent us into a slavering frenzy of waiting in line for the sheep to finish cooking. The twenty minutes felt like an eternity. Every movement of an Azerbaijani arm left a vapor trail and the glint of sunlight from gold teeth was blinding.

Finally they were preparing my gyro. Several thin slices of lamb on pita bread, with a cucumber sause and fresh crushed parsley. To this day, I remember it as one of the best meals of my life.

Furor Scribendi

I have finished Off to the Side , and am wiser therefore.

Reading Jim Harrison has always affected me, usually hitting me with strong wanderlust, cabin fever, and a general dissatisfaction with many areas of my life. This time through I drove around a lot, explored those parts of Kent County of which I had always been aware, but never seen. I also tried purposefully to get lost, but what with the sun always directly south and the large number of large roads, this turned out to be impossible.

On Sunday I sat down with my dead-tree journal, an apple, and a bottle ($5.99) of Leelanau Cellars Autumn Red, a wine which has never disappointed. My idea was to enjoy the wine and the apple (which seemed an appropriate pairing) and, sip by sip, describe the experience of drinking.

And I discovered that this wine, which I have always quite liked, does not hold up all that well under close scrutiny. Granted that I am far from a connoisseur of wine, but this just tasted a little…off. Musty. Thick. If chilled in the refrigerator and drunk on a hot summer day it would more than serve, as it is quite dry, but slowly taken at room temperature with a tart apple it suffered.

The argument could be made that one gets what one pays for with wine, but last winter I picked up a case of, uh, some red wine for $20.00 which was excellent, light and dry and a steal at twice the price. Currently my favorite red is St. Julian Great Red ($5.99), which is difficult to beat at any price.

For some interesting writing about food -or using food as metaphor for sex, death, etc.- pick up Harrison’s book The Raw and the Cooked, a collection of his food columns from various magazines during the 1990s.

Next up is the Rowe book Living Philosophy , which should build my brain muscles up to where I can dive into Dostoyevsky after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Ignis Fatuus

After numerous false starts the computer is finally up and running. I was without a steady home PC for over a month, and in that time I rediscovered things I had forgotten about. Like girls. And books. And friends.

The rudiments of the first Project Gutenberg, uh, project are up at the PG subdomain . The first and only completely marked up text is Tartuffe.

A surprising number of the available PG texts are Russian in origin; Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov, et.al. Probably because the type of person who would spend several weeks typing an eight hundred page novel into a text editor is the type of person who would get a kick out of reading that novel in its original language. I am not that hard-core, but I do like to get into the spirit of things, so this evening while I was on the phone with a beautiful woman I cooked up a big mess o’ borscht. My recipe is as follows, in descending order of volume of ingredients: water, beets, potatoes, onion, celery, carrot, salt, Tabasco. The precise proportions don’t really matter. In this borscht is a lot like gumbo. As long as you have beets, pretty much everything else is done to taste. The Tabasco is in place of the more traditional vinegar, and it compliments the deep red of the soup nicely.

For those of you who think I am now a communist or something, let me assure you that the only Marx I follow has a New York accent.

On a less irreverent note, I added a new photo page, currently linked in at the bottom of the navigation. All pics were taken with an Olympus D-550 set to take low-light pictures. Slow shutter speeds and fast motion blurs.