Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!

Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!
peel, eat, repeat

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Does it always have to be about food?

Spring cleaning, no matter how much I despise house cleaning is really pretty easy around here because of our tiny abode we call home. Admittedly there have been times numbers have been crunched while fantasising about my own bathroom and a bedroom with room for a couch and computer desk so I could reclaim my living room slash dining room to actually, well eat in. Reality crashes in screaming "how many times could you go to Italy or France or Mexico with that money you want to spend on a flipping bathroom?" and so consequently over the years it never happened and now Luke is 16 and a half and probably, hopefully, maybe, heading off somewhere shortly and then I may not be so happy to have my own bathroom. Scratch that last sentiment as growing up with three brother and three sisters has ingrained in me that no matter what I really want my own bathroom. I was reading The Environmental Magazine and on the cover of the May/June 2009 issue (I know it takes me awhile to get around to magazines) is a picture of a tiny house. Tiny houses are the rage. Even smaller than mine. These houses are 400, 500, 600 square feet con todo. Architects are jumping on the bandwagon and creating really cute little Victorians or ranchouses or whatever you want in those sizes. Very interesting article saying what I have known all along, we do not really need that much space to live in and the small ones are not only far superior for the environment than the big American Dream homes, but way easier to clean.

What about this huge dazzling blue bowl of sky springing sweet peas from their shells and making tomatoes yellow flower up while defining the relationship between squash flowers and baby fingers of squash big enough to grill. I may be getting a bit ahead of myself but truth be told it is all working. I think I may have overdone it on the tomatoes, I have planted more than I can count and that is just in my own home garden. We still have all four school gardens going strong too. Yikes. Hopefully we get some huge harvests this summer and can get some kids excited about peddling them to local restaurants and maybe even the farmers markets. In my perfect world it will rain every Wednesday through the summer. Hey a girl can dream can't she.

It looks like the Pleasant Hill farmers market opened with a bang captivating our fine citizens rendered giddy with joy as they sample strawberries. Cherries will be on this week as they in my opinion were a bit off the last few weeks. I tasted some today and that full of juice mouth feel is in the house. Made a pea pesto for a crostini the other day with a dollop of goat on it. Ouch baby. Need a favor done? Make that for someone and they will do anything for you. I have tried it works.

Peas and Pea Shoot Pesto Crostini w/ Citrus and Chevre
1 pound fresh English peas, shelled
½ bunch pea shoots or tops, chopped
½ bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cloves fresh chopped garlic
Juice and peel from 1 lemon, Peel from 1 orange
¼ to a ½ cup good fruity olive oil
¼ cup chevre, Croutons
Salt and pepper Place peas, pea tops, parsley, garlic and citrus juice and peel in bowl of food processor or blender. Pulse to chop fine. Add oil in a steady stream to desired consistency and season with salt and pepper. Place a small amount on a crouton w/ a dollop of chevre. Makes 2 cups.

Ancient Chinese saw apricots as a sign of cowardice, while Europeans believe apricots an aphrodisiac. Fortunately our early spring cold snap benefited local apricots producing bumper crops of smooth, rosy tinged deliciously orange globes, intensely sweet fleshed with a teaser kiss of tartness beneath skin giving apricots their unique character among stone fruits. Like cherries, fresh apricots pair well with fowl. Stuff chicken breasts with chopped apricots, chevre and loads of fresh thyme. Roast to golden love status and serve with pan juices enriched with Marsala and butter.
Half apricots and stuff cavity with gorgonzola and chopped, toasted walnuts. Grill until the cheese thinks it is melting and drizzle with orange Muscat for tortuously luscious bites of early summer. Nothing tastes like fresh apricot pie but a nice crisp sure comes close. Recipe follows and be prepared to swoon at the ease and flavor of this amazing dessert.

Spring produce is definitely on the way out being replaced by amazing summer fruit and vegetable crops. Cherries are peaking; you can really taste the maturity in these ruby gems. When eating a cherry it is like taking a gulp of cherry juice. White nectarines are still a bit firm but taste like a rose geranium smells. Yellow peaches are in half swing with breathtaking combinations of sweet and tart. Some early peaches are loaded with mind blowing nuances although they will benefit from a few more weeks of maturity when that unforgettable O Henry from J and J Farms at the Pleasant Hill market makes her appearance on market tables. What a difference it makes when fruit is picked ripe and in season.

All these fruits sliced up and spooned over cereal in the morning with a little yogurt or cottage cheese brings the morning meal up a notch letting your taste buds sing louder than the morning doves. The blackberries are going to benefit from a little more time but are sure symbolic of impending summer. Summer squashes are all over the market as well as some really nice basil. I got a vegetable from one of the Asian growers the other day that I thought was Thai basil but was corrected by the farmer. It is a green to be sautéed with meat or chicken that tastes a lot like a nice mix of mint and basil. Be your own detective and ask the farmers about this as well as their other unfamiliar but interesting and tasty vegetables that are frequently passed by due to lack of taste experience. Make it a Jimmy thing and get experienced! Nice showing of eggplants and green beans too and the English peas are going strong next to the fava’s. The peppers are not far behind as are the show stoppers, heirloom tomatoes and corn, moving in just in time for end of school and graduation bar-b-ques. Spring and summer produce do the same amazing cross over thing that summer and fall do in September and October. We are pretty food fortunate up her in the north of the most western state.

The Troy Spencer Memorial Garden is going crazy with big crops of luscious summer produce. Mrs. Ouimet’s Leadership classes started all these plants from seed and did an amazing job of stewardship this year for the garden. Weeding is their middle name! The science classes have all made an appearance to impart a bit of their own leadership into the garden as well as learning a few things too. We should have a nice continuous summer harvest well into the start of school in fall for some nice additions to the cafeteria.
The College Park High School Organic Garden is going pretty wacko as well. Mrs. Piecush’ Special Day Classes have been the stewards of this garden starting seeds, weeding, planting, and maintaining all of it! They are amazing and we have learned that she will be teaching summer school on our campus this year so we get an extended summer season with our kids in the garden. Huge bonus for Steph and me! We should have a pretty amazing summer display moving into the fall here too.
Our amazing hills are golden now dropping their green almost over night. I still love trekking up and down them regardless of color. Some cooler hikes can be had in the Oakland hills now too. Use it and lose it for the swimsuits!!

Fresh Fruit Crisp
6 cups fruit
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar or turbinado sugar
½ cup butter, melted
2 T vanilla
1 t cinnamon
½ c oats
1 T salt
Preheat oven 350*. Butter baking dish. Place fruit in dish. Mix flour, sugar butter, vanilla, cinnamon, oats and salt in bowl. Crumble onto fruit. Bake 1 hour until fruit bubbles and top is crunchy and lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or cold the next day for a very decadent but sensuous and utterly fulfilling breakfast. Serves 6.

Shortcakes for any kind of Fruit!
I like a nice, fluffy, barely sweetened biscuit for my shortcake. Warm from the oven with just a touch of butter on it, ladled with cut up fruit that has been able to macerate for an hour or so, possibly with a bit of Framboise or Grand Mainer and a dollop of honey sweetened whipped mascarpone, this is shortcake nirvana.

2 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons melted butter
¾ cup buttermilk or milk
Preheat oven to 425*. Butter a pie tin or glass. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, flour, salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and baking powder. Cut the 4 tablespoons butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender until it resembles dry bread crumbs. Add the milk and mix quickly until dough comes together in a sort of sticky mass. Pat into pie pan, brush with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle teaspoon of sugar on top. Bake for about 15 minutes or until light brown on top. Cut into 8 wedges.