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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?

grilled guacamole

July 23rd, 2010 | 11 Comments »

No, that isn’t a misprint. I made guacamole on the grill.


The idea came from The Minimalist’s 101 Grilling ideas column in the New York Times Dining section, and since we’re huge fans of Guacamole in this house, it wasn’t long before the desire to create it, and the assembled ingredients were ready for my initial attempt.

I’m no stranger to grilling onions or tomatoes. In previous summers, I’ve made a topping for bruschetta with grilled tomato and sweet onions that I’ve devoured shamelessly, and this summer for some reason, the desire for grilled onions on any number of dishes has been almost an obsession. I’m finding more and more to like about onions, whether they’re roasted, caramelized in a pan or like this, charred and slightly smoky from the grill.

There’s no technique to making this Guacamole at all. The key is mostly in preparing the items for the grill. Tomato and avocado should be ripe, but not too ripe due to the fact that they soften intensely on the grill. My avocados were more firm than I would have chosen for a standard preparation, but they worked beautifully in the intense heat of the grill. Carve them in half and remove the pit, then brush a little oil over them. Halve your tomatoes, and slice the onions into thick rounds so they are easy to handle. Give those a smear of oil too.  And be sure not to forget the limes! They become a sweeter version of their usual tart self from the heat of the flames.

Place all the items face down on the grill. And here’s where your personal preference will come in. Do you like a lightly toasted taste? Or do you prefer a nice grill-marked char? Do be careful about the tomato; if you overdo it, it will collapse into the fire. I prefer to put the tomato on the hottest part of the grill and watch it carefully until I notice the edges beginning to soften just a little, becoming dark where it touches the grill. I flip it over and let it cook for a few more minutes, then remove it to a pan to rest. The skin usually comes off.

For the rest of the items, leave them in place until they are nicely marked and beginning to soften. Turn the avocado over so the peel side is down on the grate and cook them until they become soft and compliant. Flip over the lime halves too so the rind is down, and watch for the pulp to almost collapse. At this point, you’re not going to get juice from the limes, but you will get a deliciously smoky lime pulp for your Guacamole that gives it that familiar and tangy ‘Zing!’ that only a good lime can offer. And those onions can be cooked to any degree you wish.

Once you’ve got all the grilling done, allow everything to cool off. Chop the tomato and onion, scoop out the avocado and squeeze the limes into a bowl. Do be cautious of the amount of lime you put in; remember that the pulp will become more intense from being heated, and you may not need as much as you think. Add in whatever seasonings you prefer.

There was no photo of the finished version of this Guacamole because, well…. Guacamole all mixed up isn’t exactly photogenic. It didn’t look any different than what you would make normally, but the flavor was stunning. Smoky and rich, it had depth that I wouldn’t have imagined Guacamole could have. Everything became sweeter, and deeply flavorful from the heat and flames of the grill. Our love for Guacamole was definitely enhanced by this version. It didn’t last long at all and I can’t wait to make it again.