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“A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”

Wendell Berry

The CSA is really heating up these days – this week we got lots of green beans, some funky summer squashes, eggplant, hot and sweet peppers, red potatoes and heirloom cherry tomatoes. YUM!

I used lots of our loot from our CSA share for Friday’s dinner menu. We had homemade baba ghanoush using our eggplants as an appetizer down at the neighborhood pool. For the main course, we had some delicious brats from our pig (this one we’ve affectionately named Wilbur) from Homestead Heritage. They were amazing just grilled, but I think I’ll soak them in beer next time to spice things up. To accompany the brats, we had homemade purple sauerkraut, Local Folks stone ground mustard and sauteed onions. For sides, we had Grant’s favorite German potato salad (using some bacon from Wilbur, of course) and grilled green beans with cilantro pesto. I liked the pesto so much that I used the rest of it on my sandwich for lunch the next day. Make this soon!

Spicy Cilantro Pesto
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s  How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp neutral oil (I used sunflower oil)
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 small jalapeno
Dash of salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Combine the cilantro, garlic, and jalapeno into a food processor or blender. Slowly add the oil and lime juice as you blend the ingredients, scraping the ingredients off the side of the container as necessary.
2. Add salt and pepper to taste and finish pureeing the mixture.

Serving suggestions: serve over any grilled or sauteed vegetable, as a spread on sandwiches or chips, an accompaniment to grilled poultry or fish…what sounds good to you?

Grant, Jasper and I spent the morning cleaning up the garden and spreading some of our cooked compost (that’s what I call it when it’s all finished breaking down and ready to be used). I tried to take a few pictures, but it’s so humid outside that they all turned out pretty hazy. I’ll refrain from any more comments about the weather because I feel like that’s about the only conversation I’ve had with people over the last week.

While the boys spread/threw the compost, I worked on weeding and pruning. When I first started gardening, I thought that you just planted seeds, weeded a bit and watered throughout the season and then harvested all the fruits and veggies as they were ready. I didn’t think I was needed much in between the planting and the harvesting. I really gave little thought to “feeding” the plants (which we do with our compost and with worm casings from our worm bins) and even less thought to pruning the plants to help them be more productive. Then at some point, I watched someone pinching off the suckers from their tomato plants and realized that I still had (have) a ton to learn.

I’ve found over time that pruning my plants seems to produce more tomatoes and for a longer period of time. But I still have a hard time pruning back my tomato plants. They look so leggy and sad after I’ve finished pruning them, and I just feel like I’m tossing away all of that work the plants have put into producing all of those stems and leaves. I found a helpful video that explains the pruning technique and benefits that I thought some of you other gardeners out there might find useful:

A few of my novice pruning tips:

  • Start “pinching off” the suckers (the stems that grow between the “y” of the larger stems of the plant) when the plants get to be about 12-18 inches tall. Continue pruning throughout the rest of the season to keep the plant from wasting energy on stems and leaves instead of fruit production.
  • Pruning is an ongoing task and one that you must keep on top of in order for it to work properly. If you prune too much too late in the season, the plant will go into shock (speaking from experience here) and likely won’t recover.
  • I just use my thumb and forefinger for pinching off the suckers, but I like to use a pair of scissors that I’ve designated for the garden for pruning the larger stems because I’m less likely to cause splits and other damage to the plant.
What else do you better gardeners out there do that I haven’t even figured out yet?!

I’ve just started to read Fair Food, and it’s fascinating so far. I’ll report back with a review soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few resources that I’ve found quite helpful as of late in terms of finding “fair food” (I love that term and the images it evokes):

  • When we travel, we love to eat at places that care about sustainable agriculture and the like, so I always check out the Eat Well Guide before we leave home. The EWG even lets you plan a whole trip with fair food in mind.
  • Because I’m so passionate (crazy?) about this topic, it often comes up with people I’ve just met. I only eat sustainably raised (and preferably local) meat and poultry, so that often initiates conversations at restaurants and in meeting new people. In those conversations, I always recommend the other person check out localharvest.org for information on farms, CSAs, co-ops, etc. in their area. I’ve found that people tend to think that local, seasonal, sustainably raised agriculture isn’t available in their area, but localharvest.org disproves that!
  • I’ve started following the news section of the Fair Food Network’s site because it links to some great articles and information. Because these opinions are not mainstream, I like to read as much as possible on the topic so that I’m armed with the latest facts and data to support the benefits of fair food.
  • For all things local, I follow Going Local, a great local blog that is always highlighting what’s going on in the central Indiana food and gardening scene, as well as a great resource for local markets, CSAs, etc.

I’ll report back with my favorite food blogs and some other sites that I frequent, but share your favorite sites in the comments!

My father-in-law calls me Saree. I love it. I made some homemade baked beans for a cookout a few summers ago because I didn’t like the ingredients in all of those cans of baked beans at the store. Since then, my father-in-law refers to them as “Saree Beans,” which I think is quite charming. I made some Saree Beans for the couple’s shower several weeks ago, and, while I’m not sure you’ll like them as much as my father-in-law does, I do think they’re delicious and much tastier than those store-bought varieties!

Saree Beans

Ingredients
1/2 pound good bacon, diced (and by “good,” I mean from a quality, preferably local and pastured source – it makes a huge difference!)
1 large onion, diced
1 pound navy beans, cooked and drained

For the sauce
1½ cups ketchup
¼  cup light or mild molasses (or brown sugar)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ sweet onion, finely diced
2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1  tablespoon hot sauce
½  teaspoon table salt
½  teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Brown bacon in skillet (I prefer cast iron to get lots of extra brown bits).
  2. After the bacon has browned, remove from heat and ladle a few tablespoons of the lard into a saucepan to make the barbecue sauce. Remove the bacon from the skillet and set aside for later.
  3. Brown the finely diced onions in the lard in the saucepan. Once the onions are translucent, add the remaining sauce ingredients to the saucepan and bring to a slight boil for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes or so, lower the heat to a simmer until the sauce thickens up (usually takes another twenty minutes or so). Tip: double or triple the ingredients for a delicious barbecue sauce for all of those summer BBQs to come.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Once the sauce has thickened, dump the large diced onion into the skillet with the remaining bacon grease and brown bits. Cook the onions until just barely softened.
  6. Combine the beans with the cooked onions and cooked bacon, stirring gently. Then pour the sauce over the whole mixture and stir gently to combine.
  7. Pour the finished bean mixture into a 9×13 glass or ceramic pan and bake for 30 minutes until crispy on top.

Editor’s note: I apologize for my lack of communication! We went to the beach, and, while I had every intention of reporting from paradise on food and gardening, it just didn’t happen. We returned to a jungle of a garden and a crazy heat wave. Thanks for your patience!

Aside from time alone with Grant, the best part of vacation was reading some wonderful books. I’ve been trying to read more fiction, so I read Wendell’s A World Lost, which I highly recommend (shocking, I know). One of the themes throughout Berry’s works is the importance of place. I loved how he beautifully speaks to that in just a few lines…

“…having never needed to ask, I knew exactly where I was; I did not want to be anyplace else.” – Wendell Berry, from A World Lost

Some of our good friends are having a baby this August, so Jenny and I decided to host a couple’s shower for them to celebrate. The baby is coming in August, so Jenny, the party planning queen that she is, went all out with a back to school theme. I don’t know how she thinks of these things, but all of her little touches definitely made the party. I took over the menu since Jenny was busy being creative. We used some “school lunch” inspiration for the appetizers and decided to go grown up for the dinner menu. I thought I would share a few of the recipes over the next few days because we made classic cookout grub, as you can see.

I called Jonathon at Homestead Heritage on Thursday and asked him to set out a few chickens to thaw for me to pickup at the farmer’s market on Saturday, so the three of us headed over to the Carmel Farmer’s Market on one of the prettiest Saturdays we’ve had yet. I love “beer butt” chicken or “beer bottom” chicken as Jenny termed it for our school-themed party. It turns out so juicy and delicious that I can hardly eat chicken any other way these days. Here’s my go-to recipe, although it changes based on what herbs I have plenty of in the garden:

Ingredients
1 whole chicken with neck and giblets removed and set aside for stock
1/4 cup of fresh herb of your choice, de-stemmed (I used oregano this time, but rosemary is my favorite)
6 ounces of beer (we tend to use lagers and pilsners  in the warm months and porters and browns in the cooler months – we use half for the chicken and drink the rest)
1/4 cup of EVOO (you can substitute butter here if you prefer – it’s delicious too)
1/4 cup of poultry rub of your choice – I used Bobby Flay’s version here

Directions
1. Drizzle the olive oil on the chicken and then rub in a bit of the rub spices, being sure to cover the entire chicken in the olive oil and rub mixture.
2. On the top of the breast, peel some of the skin back and put the herbs under the skin. Set aside any remaining herbs to put in the beer. Return the “dressed” chicken to the refrigerator for at least an hour but up to twelve hours.
3. About two hours prior to the time you want to serve the chicken, take it out of the refrigerator and preheat your grill to about 375 degrees. While the grill is preheating, set up the chicken. Pour half of the beer in a glass for you to enjoy while the chicken grills. Dump any remaining herbs into the beer can and slip the chicken’s bum (for lack of a better word) over the beer can. It’s a little awkward, but you’ll get the hang of it!
4. We’ve sacrificed one of our cookie sheets to use on the grill when needed, so we put the beer + chicken onto the cookie sheet and then put it on the grill on medium-low heat (you don’t want the grill to get over 375 degrees).
5. The chicken is done when the interior meat reaches 180 degrees, which typically takes us about an hour and a half. When you use the meat thermometer, be sure to stick the thermometer into the breast until you reach the bone, and then pull back about an inch. Can you tell I’m speaking from experience here? Don’t ask me about my first experience hosting Thanksgiving!
6. Once the interior reaches 180 degrees, pull the chicken off the grill and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. Pull the meat off the bone (or have your handy husband do it if you’re like me) for easier serving. Dish any leftover juice from the pan onto the chicken just prior to serving.

I figured with two larger birds plus all of the other food we served that we would have a few days worth of leftovers, but all of the chicken was gone by the end of the night. I think that’s a sign that you should make some beer butt chicken of your own – and soon!

I used to think asparagus was my favorite vegetable, but lately I think I’ve switched my allegiance to the cucumber. It’s not as exotic as asparagus, but neither am I. I look so forward to those first cucumbers. I like to pick them when they are only three or four inches long because 1) I’m impatient and 2) I think they taste a bit sweeter than if you leave them on the vine a few days longer. I like how you can’t really preserve cucumbers except for pickling them, which, if you ask me, is really another category of vegetable altogether (and delicious at that), so when they’re in season, I eat them all the time. But then once their time has passed, I go all year until I eat them again. Maybe it’s the anticipation that I like so much.

Cucs first arrived in our CSA box last week and this week, there were even more of them! I brought the box in and immediately made a delicious cucumber sandwich. There’s nothing fancy to a cucumber sandwich, but I think that first one probably tastes the best. We’ve made them in many, many different variations, so feel free to experiment. Last week at the farmer’s market, we picked up some roasted red pepper pesto, which I think really took the simple cucumber sandwich to whole new heights. I’m already experimenting with my own versions, so stay tuned…

Cucumber Sandwich

Ingredients
1 small cucumber, sliced thinly
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thinly
Herb cream cheese or pesto (or other spread of your choice)
Bread (I prefer something a little out-of-the-ordinary and toasted)
Basil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Slice and toast two slices of bread.
  2. After the bread is toasted, spread one side with the cream cheese/pesto/whatever you’ve picked.
  3. Assemble the sandwich with the remaining ingredients.
  4. Enjoy! And then repeat…

 

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