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Archive for July, 2009

Where is the dividing line between cupcake and muffin, really?  Well, whatever side of the line, last night I attempted to solve my carrot surplus by baking little cakes of carroty goodness.  Naturally, cream cheese frosting went on top:

carrot cake muffin (Large)

I used Alton Brown’s carrot cake recipe, with a few modifications.  I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose (just to experiment), and I added some walnuts and raisins.  Finally, I decreased the cook time to half an hour at 350°, and 15min at 325°.  Then, for the cream cheese frosting, I substituted maple syrup for about half the sugar.  Yum!

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A while back I went to the plant swap hosted by Washington Gardener and DC Urban Gardeners.  I got a tomato start from a young woman who had brought many different varieties in little pots.  Several of the pots had lost their labels, and she wasn’t sure which variety mine was, but thought it was probably a black krim, which is a big purplish heirloom variety.   But now that the plant has gotten bigger and started to produce fruit, it’s clearly not a black krim:

mystery tomato yellow (Large)

What type of tomato is this?  They’re about twice as big as a typical cherry tomato, but slightly smaller than Romas or San Marzanos.  And I can’t tell whether they’re ripe now as yellow tomatoes, or whether they’ll turn red.  Does anyone recognize this tomato?  Are they ready to pick?  Help!

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Finally got out to my garden plot after 10 days away from it.  It was a total weedapalooza.

weedy garden (Large)

Morning glories and other weeds are taking over everything.  And almost all of the potato vines have wilted and dried out.  I don’t know if they’re getting choked by the morning glories, succumbing to late blight, or just dying a natural death.  But it’s a bad scene.

dead potato vines (Large)

Oh well, I guess that just means it’s time to dig up the fingerlings.  The tomatoes seem to be doing alright, although the rains I missed while I was gone clearly caused a lot of splitting.  Witness this brandywine:

brandywine (Large)

True, a scarred tomato can still be quite tasty.  Though, I’m a little skeptical that I’ll ever get to eat this tomato.  Like other gardeners in other gardeners in this area, I’ve suffered a lot of squirrel damage to my tomatoes.  That mutant brandywine I wrote about a while ago got completely devoured just before it got ripe.  I might have to take the Dirty Radish’s suggestion and build a cage around the tomatoes I really want to save.

But not all the news is depressing.  I did take home a rather large harvest: beets, carrots, torpedo onions, tomatoes, Mexican sour gherkins, potatoes, swiss chard, banana peppers, and plenty of basil and parsley.  I made sauteed chard burritos with tomatoes, herbs, and chopped Mexican sour gherkins for dinner last night, which really helped take my mind of all the weeding I’ll need to do this weekend!

post vacation harvest

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Last week in Olympia my mother and I went blackberry picking twice, and ended up picking something like 35 cups of berries.  If we didn’t love the wild blackberry so much, we might have spared some of our picking time for the many other forageables we encountered out in the brush.  As Langdon Cook at Fat of the Land has shown, there are so many interesting wild edible plants out there, especially in the Northwest.  The blackberry’s own rubus family made several additional appearances in our path, such as this salmonberry:

foraged salmon berry (Large)

I’m not a particular fan of this rubus, although salmonberries are indeed very pretty.  Some people love their mild taste, but I think they’re kind of insipid.  I’m more partial to another rubus, however: black caps.  From their looks, I’m guessing they are closely related to the domesticated black raspberry:

foraged black caps (Large)

Black caps taste somewhat like raspberries, but they have a distinct, tannin-y cabernet overtone that sticks in your mouth.  They are excellent for munching when you’re out traipsing through the brush.  They’re fairly delicate, though.  We picked some and put them into their own plastic bag, but by the end of the day they had gotten fairly mashed.

foraged thimble berries (Large)

Lastly in the rubus category, we found some thimble berries.  They have a pleasant floral raspberry taste, but they’re not really fleshy enough to be worth picking – at least, not when there are blackberries and black caps around.  Moving away from rubus, we found plenty of red huckleberry bushes:

foraged red huckleberries (Large)

Red huckleberries are grassy and sweet and acidic, like little orbs of rhubarb juice.  I might make some red huckleberry syrup for cocktails at some point.

foraged hazelnuts in husks (Large)

We also encountered many wild hazelnut trees, which were already bearing unripe hazelnuts encased in prickly husks.  The nuts inside were a lovely tawny color:

foraged hazelnut peeled (Large)

Come fall, these hazelnuts will get darker and be ready to harvest.

The final forageable plant we encountered, which I had no desire to actually collect, was stinging nettles.  Langdon Cook has detailed many culinary uses for nettles, and they’ve even been a topic on The Kitchn.  They’re reportedly very good for your health.  Unless, of course, you accidentally touch one.  Which I did.  Repeatedly.

foraged stinging nettle (Large)

You can identify stinging nettles visually by the toothed leaves and bushy structure.  And you can identify them aurally by the extreme cursing you make when you accidentally touch one.  If you’re going to forage nettles, bring some thick gloves.

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I got back to DC late on Sunday, which meant I didn’t get to make my usual trip to the Dupont Circle farmers market. But I did get my market fix back home in Olympia. The Olympia Farmers Market is one of the defining cultural institutions of my hometown, and probably explains a lot of my obsession with local food. This is no collection of tents that show up for a few hours once a week. Dozens of vendors sell their wares under a soaring wooden roof Thursday through Sunday, 10am to 3pm.

OFM interior (Large)

With the exception of two stands that bring fruit from east of the Cascades, everything in the market is from Thurston County. That means that every bunch of beets, every basket of strawberries, every wedge of cheese, and every cut of meat comes from within about 25 miles of the market itself.

OFM produce1 (Large)

The prices are reasonable and the quality is impeccable. When I was growing up, I never realized how special it was that my town of 40,000 would have this enormous, four-days-a-week super-local produce market. Of course, it made me a little spoiled. By comparison, the produce at the Dupont Circle market is more expensive, less local, and only available one day per week (but, on the plus side, it’s open even in the winter).

OFM local meats (Large)

I only started buying local consciously within the last couple years, but the Olympia Farmers Market no doubt put the idea into my subconscious brain long ago.

Washington apparently still has forageable morels, even this late.

Washington apparently still has forageable morels, even this late.

I bought some delicious shell peas from this guy.

I bought some delicious shell peas from this guy.

Rich, resiny black walnuts.  They take a lot of labor to shell, so this is a very good price.

Rich, resiny black walnuts. They take a lot of labor to shell, so this is a very good price.

Even this late, there are plenty of herb and vegetable starts at the Olympia Farmers Market.

Still plenty of herb and vegetable starts at the Olympia Farmers Market.

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When I’m back home in Olympia, I eat as much seafood as possible.  DC does have a few good seafood restaurants, but the overall seafood scene can’t hold a candle to what’s available in a Pacific Northwest fish market.  So I’ve been loading up on everything that’s in season.

Clams and broth with shallots and tomatoes, over pasta.

Clams and broth with shallots and tomatoes, over pasta.

Dungeness crab!

Dungeness crab!

Alaskan king salmon, with wax beans and quinoa salad.  This fillet came from a fish that weighed 45 pounds!

Alaskan king salmon, with wax beans and quinoa salad. This fillet came from a fish that weighed 45 pounds!

Shrimp salad with tomatoes and avocado.

Shrimp salad with tomatoes and avocado.

Razor clams from Dockside Bistro.

Fried razor clams from Dockside Bistro in Olympia.

"Seafood Martini", a decadent appetizer from Dockside Bistro in Olympia.  Shrimp, scallops, and crab in a hot cream sauce, topped with caviar.

"Seafood Martini", a decadent appetizer from Dockside Bistro: shrimp, scallops, and crab in a hot cream sauce, topped with caviar.

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I’ve never been to Thailand, so I won’t make global pronouncements, but Thai Tom in Seattle remains to this day the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten.  Like, far and away the best.  I will drive an hour from Olympia to Seattle just to wait in line for another hour to get lunch from this place.

Thai Tom sign (Large)

Something tells me I’m not the only one.  Even at 3:30 in the afternoon yesterday there was a line of people outside, clamoring for one of Thai Thom’s nineteen seats.  The best seats are the stools at the bar around the open kitchen, where you feel the flames as Tom (or sometimes one of his disciples) whips up curries and pad thai in front of you.  It’s street food, made on a Bangkok street cart stove that got plunked into a hole-in-the-wall in Seattle’s University district.

thai tom cooking (Large)

The pad thai is spicy and earthy and charred, worlds away from the sickly sweet masses of rice noodles you find everywhere else.  The curries are symphonies of sweet and hot spices, accented by coconut milk rather than being weighed down by it.  My personal favorite, Swimming Rama, is a thick cascade of garlicky, spicy peanut sauce and chicken over gleaming flash-sauteed baby spinach and bean sprouts.  Did I mention the spiciness of everything?  When you order any dish, you must specifiy spiciness on a scale of one to five stars.  A three-star dish would easily be the spiciest thing on any other restaurant’s menu.  I stick with two stars, and that still makes my sinuses drip.

swimming rama (Large)

A high school friend of mine introduced me to Thai Tom when I was 17, and after nine years of searching I have yet to find a Thai restaurant that even comes close.  Oh, and the price?  Seven bucks a dish.  It is possibly the best deal on anything, anywhere.

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