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august

August 5th, 2013 | Comments Off

Just the other day, I slipped two fist-sized tomatoes off the vine in the garden. I went a bit overboard, maybe, with tomatoes this year, planting five plants in a space that’s probably much too small for all of them- plus the broccoli, chard, basil beyond necessity, oregano that needs a violent haircut every other week, parsley, lemon thyme, lemongrass and the curious curry herb I found- and yet, I’m not sorry for the riot of green stems that I tussle with every day, nor the fact that those five plants have an extraordinary amount of fruit awaiting that magical ripening. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

{{farmers market find from 2012}}

We do love our garden tomatoes. Two years ago, even my then 17 year old would nearly leap for joy when I came in from the garden, my hands laden with golf-ball sized yellow heirloom tomatoes that fell open to reveal it’s pink striped interior, a sweet, tender flesh that melted in our mouths. We’d crack fresh black pepper on them, maybe a thin drizzle of blue cheese dressing and eat them shamelessly. And prolifically. 2011 was the Summer of Tomato. By the time the season was over, honestly, I was kind of tired of them, but in a good, good way.

{{herb sweet corn & tomato salad}}

I think the odd years might be best for tomato love in our climate. Last year I maybe got a half dozen off the vine all season long, and they just tasted flat. Something was just off in the air, the soil and the sun in 2012. My garden plot is organic, and ever since we began utilizing it in (maybe?) 2007, I’ve simply tossed all my kitchen waste on the soil, covered it once or twice in the Summer with cut grass, then buried it in fallen leaves each Autumn to rest. Each Spring, I just dig through the decomposing leaf cover and plant. The soil is black as night, fragrant and thick with fat worms. One season we had four tomato plants in that garden that each topped out at about six feet in height, so fat with leaves that the fruit hid deeply inside, only popping out at me when it turned bright red in it’s calling card to me.

{{tomato jam}}

But back to those two tomatoes. The skin had split on them, which happens in my garden. I believe I once heard it’s due to inconsistent watering, and that likely is true. I’m a lazy waterer, much preferring to rely on Mother Nature to help out, and boy, did she ever this Spring. But July came along and the rain was less prevalent, and at time, I ignored the soil, so a few cracked tomatoes is my penance. These two little gems, both no bigger than a racquetball left just enough behind once the cracks were gone for Griffin and I to stuff in our mouths and sigh, deeply. They were sweet as can be, but as my boy said “They’re almost perfect.”

And he was right. It’s August. It’s the month of bounty, as our staggering CSA boxes can attest. I literally groan under the weight of the 2-3 fully stuffed bags I drag out to the car every other week, my eyes shining as I unload them at home. And while the tomatoes are sweet, and suddenly, everywhere, in a few weeks with the right heat and sunlight, they will take on a taste like nothing else in the world.

August. And tomatoes. And everything else that is bursting through the soil and waving ‘Hello!’. I cut thick bouquets of fresh herbs, lifting my hands to my nose, the lemon thyme clinging to my fingers. I dream of herbed sweet corn salads, verdant pesto. There is little I can’t cover with a fluttering of tiny green flakes from the cutting board. I give bouquets to my friends, to share the wealth.

Sometimes I just sit and look at the garden, the floppy fence around it trying to keep out the freeloaders, the tomato cages sagging under the weight and the purple tomato plant that is loaded with what looks to be more than 50 tiny purple orbs that turn a dark reddish-violet when ripe.

The taste. Oh that taste. It’s August; the scent of Milkweed, and high Summer at twilight, humidity trapped in the grasses and big puffy clouds sweeping overhead. It’s sunshine and cool nights and gardens bursting with life, ice cream as the sun falls off. The rain has come often enough to keep the grass from turning to hay, and I’m ready to sweep up all the goodness of a bountiful season. The time after dinner, when dishes are done and bellies full is perfect for slipping in to a chair on the patio, leaning my head back and drawing in the fragrant air, the changing sky, lazily watching blue change to amber to purple and beyond.

 

high summer hiking…. and eating

August 15th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

Not even five minutes into my Sunday morning hike and already my shoes are soaked from the dew. I have to make a split second decision as I feel cool, wet water seeping through my socks; turn back or keep going. There might be blisters at the end, surely some chafing from my hiking shoes, but it’s a glorious August morning and the sun is glaring down on me. I can’t go back. Ignoring my wet feet, I move on.

I’m in Otter Lake Regional Park and this is my glory place, my church of the great outdoors. Plopped in the middle of White Bear Township, it’s a tiny little park, with a very nice nature center and hiking trails that make you feel like you’re miles from the outer world. It’s where I cross country ski in the winter time, and for the other three seasons, I roam it’s trails and discover more and more every day to love about it. On this particularly beautiful morning, in the high season of summer, I take to the trails, dew and all to seek out something I can’t find among the concrete.

My favorite path is cut short by standing water; it’s unusually low in that area, and during the Spring thaw, the trail is often impassable, but it always dries out. But this summer, with it’s abundant rainfall, it’s a no-mans land. I keep on the path that leads me around the back of the newly constructed natural classroom and head in to the swamp. This trail will lead me to the northwest section of the park where the hardest challenge of my hike lies. In there, the path cuts through a sanctuary of birch and towering oak trees, dipping down sharply, then rising just as fast to offer a heart-pounding, blood racing interval that I love. I can’t even consider going on this trail in the wintertime, on my skis. It’s challenging enough on foot, but I can’t stay away. The majestic oak trees line the path, like sentries that silently watch me pass, breathing deep, as the smaller of the two lakes in the park wink it’s shimmer of blue through the tree line. I try to challenge myself to run hard up a few of these  short but steep hills. I’m ignoring my damp shoes.

Coming out on the other end, I’ve broken a sweat and wish I had my water bottle. The sun has rose high enough now to pound on my skin, and the wind swirls around me. It’s not strong enough to keep the flies at bay, and I impatiently swat away at them, mentally reminding myself to bring bug spray the next time I come here. This section of the path, through the heart of the park is high and open. No trees hide the sun out here and as I push on, beads of sweat slip down my temples.

The best part of being out here isn’t the nature. It isn’t hearing the hum of the highway along the western edge of the park, or the sound of the trains in the distance, blasting their whistles as they through the crossing. It isn’t the flash of deer, startled from their morning graze, leaping through the trees with white tails whipping, nor the fox, visible only by it’s bright red bushy tail twisting as it runs. It isn’t the small brown snake that lifts it’s head as I approach, watching me closely. “I’m no threat.” I murmur, slowing down to gaze at it’s tiny eyes. It doesn’t even flinch as I carefully step over it, and turning back as I move on, I see it’s watching me.

It isn’t any of these things, nor the rustle of the grass, or the continual droning hum of the insects. It isn’t the fluttering butterflies that skip along the path ahead of me, all shapes, sizes and colors. It’s isn’t any of it, and it’s all of it. Because out here, with the open skies and clean air, coupled with my footsteps and steady, hard breathing, it’s all of it at once that tames the voices inside, the swirl of life in my head that becomes a cadence of regular disruption. I come out here and it all disappears. My head clears, while the constant motion in it stops and I can breathe, relax, feel my blood pound and just let go. I am in sync with myself on this path, instead of at war with trying to figure out what’s next.

Then the trail dips down to the larger lake, and winds around to the north. It’s really uneven here, and now I am fully aware of my hiking shoe rubbing on my right ankle. The arthritis in my feet is apparent, but it will never stop me; it’s just more noticeable where the path is the least stable. The grass is tall and it tickles my legs. I swat the flies, wipe the sweat and keep going because soon, there will be the boardwalk leading me around the side of the lake, and at the other end is the thickest, densest trees and a hard packed dirt path that will take me back to the place I began. I’m on the last leg and those woods, with the tall maples and cool shadows will feel really, really good after the heat and sunshine. I feel the temperature drop as I enter here, and the slight chill rejuvenates me. Sunlight is dripping through the high tree canopy. And it’s glorious with bird song.

But the mosquitos in here are terrible. I can’t stop, or even slow down. I want to grab a few photographs to chronicle this morning, but I am swarmed with nibblers if I try to catch my breath. My feet feel better, but the rubbing on my ankle is a chronic annoyance. Because it’s cool in here though, the sweat slows down and I don’t have to wipe my face so much. My heart and lungs are on full power now; I’ve been hiking hard for 45 minutes by the time this trail leads me back out to the blacktop path that I started on. The nature center is in sight, and the parking lot, where my car and my water bottle await, is beyond that. My head feels soothed and I take a deep breath, once again. I’m back to the car, stripping off my soaking wet shoes and socks, wiping down my feet with the wipes I keep in my car and toweling off the sweat. My water bottle is half empty already. I stretch out the tension, drop in to a few yoga positions to re-focus and eventually climb in to my car to head home. In less than an hour I hiked nearly 4 miles.

And I’m so hungry now.

At home is waiting the simplest of simple summer salads, perfect for these heady days of heat and sun. The farmers markets are absolutely bursting with a mind-boggling bounty of fresh food and I am crazy in love with sweet corn, fresh tomato, zucchini for the grill, tiny purple eggplants and dark, dark greens. Every meal tastes like sunshine, each bite bursts with flavor. I snip handfuls of herbs from the garden to crush and sprinkle over everything and even after washing my hands I can still smell the thyme, the parsley and basil, the volunteer oregano that sprung up from last years plants.

And this salad…. this salad awaits my gnawing stomach, the hunger driven out of a vigorous hike, deep gulps of clean morning air and the need to still my mind. It’s simple, quick and so delightful; the snap of fresh tomato, fresh zucchini chunks, crunchy corn kernels that still taste like a farm field and lots and lots of tiny thyme leaves. A few scattered pieces of lemony goat cheese makes it complete.

My shoes are drying in the hot sun, outside on the patio and I need a shower. My ankle didn’t blister, thank goodness, and while my body is energized from it’s workout, my mind is at rest. This is a good place to be. Like August, with it’s wellspring of fresh vegetables.

What’s on your summer table these days??

(Notice anything new down below here?? There’s a print button for my recipes now!!)

 

Herbed Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad

4 ears sweet corn, shucked, cooked and stripped of kernels
4 medium tomatoes, or 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, as ripe as you can find
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 c. fresh chopped herbs, such as basil, thyme, parsley and oregano (use rosemary if you like it)
2 T. good quality olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper and sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to stand for 5-10 minutes to combine flavors. Serve topped with goat cheese, if desired.

My Notes: I used half a pint of purple cherry tomato, and one good sized orange heirloom tomato for my version of this dish. I also diced up a fresh heirloom pepper that I had on hand. I think one of the best parts about this dish is how colorful it can be with the variations available now. As the salad stands, it will release plentiful juices which are delicious if you dip fresh toasted bread into them, then sprinkle a bit of sea salt over before eating.

a slip of season

August 10th, 2010 | 8 Comments »

Well, hello August.

I can’t say I’m thrilled to see August because it’s sort of reminding me of all the summer that’s now past and how little I’ve been able to enjoy  a most fleeting time. I can count on one hand the number of farmers market trips I’ve made. Just yesterday I shook out my swimsuit from the drawer where it’s been buried and ignored. The sun goes down quicker, and with a more resigned feeling than just a few weeks ago. People are talking about returning to school. Somehow, August just feels different; it feels like a slow, warm denouement, like the last dance of a spirited, eloquent party full of flushed faces and sighs of ‘The next one will be just as much fun.’

But at the same time, August is abundance. Corn is everywhere. And the heat of July is making my tomato plants nearly burst with crimson globes of homegrown tomato glory. Like this…. in one day.

Yes, that’s one day of harvest. But those tomatoes need barely a thing on them save a dash of good sea salt and a few grinds of pepper to make their way eagerly to my mouth. My Rutgers and Bonny’s Guy plants are nearly 5 feet tall, and still loaded with potential. There are peppers galore hanging from the seven pepper plants and I am eagerly awaiting the ripening of the mysterious Italian Heirloom peppers of which I discovered late in the Spring. Four plants, fully adorned with long and cylindrical deep green peppers hold a bounty and so much more. I eye them, thinking of stuffing, or sauteing or simply slicing on a salad. I love the anticipation held within the tiny patch out my window.

The rain has been copious in Minnesota, and the resulting humidity oppressive, but what the rain has done is unavoidable. My tiny Japanese lilac bushes, which faded so fast after an untimely Mother’s Day frost, sprung back into a lush fragrant bloom in mid-July, bringing a welcome surprise amidst the waves of high summer heat. The Delphinium is on a second bloom too, and the yard has stayed a rich verdant green. I even find humor in the huge weed that’s formed in our neglected fire pit, it’s long stems sneaking up and over the walls, potentially snagging unsuspecting varmints. The toad population in my garden is copious. Mike even found a small frog clinging to our sunroom window one evening. Just about the same time, we discovered a tiny amphibian clinging to a baking pan in the midst of the kitchen at work. It was a moment of surprise, and likely shock for the poor little green creature, which I quickly captured and took outside to release in the grass. His legs were too miniscule anyway, as luck would have it.

This past week has been very simple around the house. The Teen is off an the adventure of his young lifetime, away in the mountains of West Virginia spreading his faith and employing his helping hands. He returns to our fold this weekend, and I’ve missed his smile. Mike and I have enjoyed some much-needed quiet time, and a reprieve from chauffeur duties. My schedule, and the last of the July heat has kept the cooking to a minimum. Good bread, some cheese and those wonderful tomatoes have really been all I crave anyway.

I did turn on the oven for one short burst of creativity when I came across this Chipotle Lime Roasted Peanut recipe on Susan’s site. I’ve been indulging in this delicious smoothie , utilizing the frozen blueberries from my yearly berry picking adventure, and upon seeing her quick and simple method for this spicy snack, I jumped into action. One food item that we always keep on hand for snacking is nuts. Our favorite is almonds, with pistachios and peanuts coming in close behind. I took Susan’s recipe one step further, using all three nuts when I made my version.

With the first nibble, I was hooked. The nuts aren’t spicy right away, but a bit of heat builds up in the back of your mouth as you crunch away, and a slight salty tang of  lime tangoes a little over your tongue. They’re utterly addictive. It’s a good thing I needed to run out to work soon after fixing up a batch of them, or I might have poured myself a cold drink, taken a book out to the patio along with a bowl of these nuts and settled in to satisfied munching. It would be nice of me to save some for Mike, don’t you think?