Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ipita's trip to the farm

Recently, David became obsessed with the idea of bringing Ipita to our garden plot. After giving Ipita doses of flea medication as a preventative measure, we loaded him up in the car along with our garden supplies and took him on a field trip.

Ipita seemed to really enjoy his farm visit. He especially liked...

...exploring the tall weeds that are growing around our garden rows

...running in between plants

...checking up on what David was up to

...staring out at the other garden plots from behind our garden fence, guard-cat style

On the car ride to the garden, Ipita was pretty stressed out (he probably suspected he was on his way to the vet), but on the car ride home, he was content to curl up at David's feet. Based upon the success of this field trip, David has decided he is now going to take Ipita to the garden every time he goes to the garden. (I think this is excessive, but also realize this will happen regardless of my input.) And so...Ipita is now both our house (apartment) cat and our farm cat. Look for him in future farm updates!

Crops, crops everywhere

Many wonderful crops are coming out of the Danger Zone lately. Here is our August Danger Zone update:

All of the tomatoes are beginning to ripen, and are extremely good-tasting. We are finding our larger tomatoes are splitting a bit on top (due to all of the rain lately), but this has not affected their flavor so far.

One of our tomatoes fell off the plant before it was ripened, and so David made fried green tomato slices. This is one of my favorite appetizers, and these did not disappoint. They were delicious! I am not-so-secretly hoping more tomatoes make their way off the plant a little early...

Linus the pumpkin has grown considerably since my last update and looks promising to be ready in time to be our Great Pumpkin on Halloween night this year. Recently another pumpkin has started to grow, and I have (appropriately) named it Sally.

Our Chinese eggplant plant is determined to grow, despite the continuous attacks from the little black beetle bugs. So far we have two little eggplants coming in.

We made pickles two nights ago with our first round of pickling cucumbers, and we will make more tonight. Our regular cucumbers have also been doing well too; I like to eat slices of them with hummus.
We have real ears of corn now, but it is hard for us to tell whether or not they are ready to be picked yet. David read that the corn is ripe two weeks after the silk forms, but our ears just don't look large enough to be ready. I think tonight or next week we will have to pick one and test it out.

Despite their growing leafy tops, our carrots are still not ready yet. We ate this one anyway (since we already picked it), and I can confirm that I still like eating these carrots.

After a slight delay from our first zucchini, we have two more growing in. It is amazing how well these zucchini plants have recovered since their stems were split!

In less interesting news, our sunflowers are growing taller by the second it seems (and some have surpassed me at 5 ft. 8 in.), but still no flowers yet. Also, our pepper plants are doing very well, but have not quite turned from green to red/purple.

It has become very fun to go to our "farm" lately because we get to take yummy vegetables home with us almost every time we visit. Currently, our fridge is packed with swiss chard, lettuce, cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes. (Perhaps it really is time to throw that salad party after all...)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts

I recently bought the Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts book, and it is fabulous (though I am slightly biased because I am just a little obsessed with all things Martha). The recipes are genius, though I would honestly buy it just for the beautiful color photos of each recipe. While I do not have the time (or the money) to cook all of the 150 pies and tarts in one year Julia and Julia style, I am really excited to try to make as many new pies and tarts as possible.

Karen (a post-doc with me in the Crane lab) and I made a blueberry and buttermilk tart soon after I bought the book, which went very well despite our unfocused approach to baking it. (I forgot to take photographic proof, so you will have to take our word for it.) However, as anyone that uses Martha's recipes regularly knows, there are usually extreme consequences when Martha's directions are not followed exactly as written. I refer to these consequences as the wrath of Martha. Laziness and shortcuts are not allowed when "cooking with Martha," and she will punish you if you ignore her lengthy (and sometimes annoyingly detailed) advice. (If you would like to cook without fear, I suggest cooking recipes from Rachael Ray or Paula Deen. Their recipes can be doctored like crazy before reaching the point of failure.)

When I was visiting Amanda and Paul a few weeks ago, I offered to bake Paul a pie of his choosing from the book. He chose banana cream pie, and I set about making the pie crust, which I did according to every single detail Martha demanded (even though I have made pie crusts several times without incident just by using my grandmother's approximations). Above is the finished pie crust dough waiting to be pre-baked. When it came time for pre-baking this awesome-looking crust, I did not add pie crust weights to fill the crust as Martha asked me to. My first reason for not listening to Martha was a practical one - Amanda did not have pie crust weights (who does really, unless there are centerpieces around that contain marbles). My second reason was based on my own experience and instincts - I have baked many pie crusts in my short lifetime that have turned out beautifully and have never, ever used pie weights before. And so, for both of these reasons, I decided this detail in the recipe was not so crucial. I figured it was more of a suggestion from Martha than a demand, and I put the pie crust in the oven without the pie weights.

I miscalculated BIG TIME. I should have known better than to trust my own experience over hers (she's Martha freaking Stewart after all!), and she was most definitely not kidding about the pie weights. In fact, Martha got pretty pissed off at me for not using pie weights, as shown in this photo. Epic fail. Without those blasted pie weights, the crust puffed up and shrunk up around the edges! It looked like and had the texture of a giant tortilla shell used in taco salad. The rest of the banana cream pie-making process went downhill from there. Frustrated over this crappy crust, I did not cook the custard long enough and it did not set. (Though that may have been a blessing in disguise, because I doubt the custard would have tasted very good inside this mess of a crust anyway.) When I got back from North Carolina, I compared Martha's pie crust recipe to my grandmother's to see what could have possibly made such a difference, and was not surprised to discover the ingredients and their proportions are essentially the same in both (Martha uses a pinch more sugar in her crust than Grandmom Lola does). There is obviously no reasonable explanation for the failure of this pie crust other than the wrath of Martha.

After a little time off to repent my mistake, I got out the cookbook last night and made this Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese Galette with some swiss chard from our garden. I followed Martha's directions exactly, and it turned out perfectly. (For those of you who do not have the cookbook, you can find the recipe here.) The crust of this galette was particularly interesting because it included oatmeal, which was a unique crust ingredient for me but added a lot of texture to this dish.

Now that our squash plants are beginning to produce, I am considering this as my next Martha-based challenge!