Wednesday, May 23, 2007

the Lafayette garden report; or, last year's leeks

Mr. Tart and I were slow to put in our vegetable garden this year. I feel sheepish admitting this, but we didn't get around to cleaning up the detritus from last year's garden until recently. You see, we figured that we'd have some mild winter weekends that would allow us to go in and yank up the old stuff, check on the radishes and spinach planted at the last minute, and keep harvesting the herbs that survive. But no, this was a snowy, snowy winter here in Lafayette, Colorado, and for months the dessicated tomato plant carcasses swayed in the wind, mesclun greens poked feebly through the snow, and the radishes refused to sprout.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we took stock of our sad little garden on a slope. We pulled out the dead plants (and all the new weeks, flourishing after all the snowmelt) and decided that it's silly to plant on a slope; every time it rains a layer of topsoil washes away into the rock beside the garden. Our plants gasp and struggle to grow in the remaining clay, while the weeds have a field day in the rock with its rich earth. So Mr. Tart bought retaining wall bricks and many bags of manure and top soil and turned our slanty plot into a series of upstanding raised beds!

But that's another story--I'll post about that (with pictures) and what we planted a bit later.

What I do want to say is that we found dozens of leeks under all the dead plants. None of them actually grew very big (which is probably why I never dug them up last fall), but they were still alive in April, so I pulled them all up, gave them several baths, and then stared at a huge bowl of smallish leeks: And then put them in a gallon zip-lock bag at the bottom of the fridge.

Several weeks later, investigating a funky fridge smell, I re-discovered them and decided that it was time. I had put too much effort into reclaiming those leeks to let them rot away! So I stripped off the slimy bits, washed them again, sliced the larger ones in half, and threw them all into a baking dish with some half and half, a little butter, and salt and pepper. I roasted them until they were tender and glistening, and Mr. Tart and I ate them all in one sitting (they had shrunk considerably in the oven). And they were good--but not that good.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


As someone who doesn't eat pork, I miss sausage sometimes. In fact, when I was a complete vegetarian during my years in France, the only times I fell off the wagon were one trip to Munich, when I ate potato soup with sausage (and would have licked the bowl if I hadn't been in a restaurant), and one trip months later to Berlin, when I craved a cheese bratwurst, bought one on a streetcorner, and devoured it with relish (figuratively, not literally). Good stuff. Nowadays some really stellar turkey brats are available around here--some flavored with apple and basil, some with mango and habanero, some just simple and suprisingly porky and crying out for a grill--but I've had less success in finding turkey breakfast sausage patties that make me want to shout for joy.

So I made my own, trying to find a medium-greasy, medium-spicy replacement. After looking at a few recipes, here's what I came up with:

1 lb 99% fat free ground turkey
1 lb 85% ground turkey
6 big cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp salt
1/3 c. fresh parsley, minced (could probably substitute dried, but less)
5 fresh sage leaves, minced (could probably substitute dried rubbed sage, but less)

Mash the garlic and spices in a mortar and pestle, then work the paste into the ground turkey with your hands. Shape into patties and fry on each side till brown, or crumble into pieces and fry to use in casseroles, soups, etc. (I used it in a quiche with aged cheddar, sauteed granny smith apples, and sage.) Makes ~16 patties.
The first time I made it I went clove-happy, so I've dialed it down for this version. But other than over-cloving it (and making it too spicy for my baby nephew), I liked it and I'm proud. Everyone at the Mother's Day brunch we hosted seemed to enjoy it--and my MIL, who's a whiz in the kitchen, said that she's never made her own sausage! Dear readers, making sausage is actually a lot easier than you think (especially if you're not grinding your own meat and stuffing the casings).


Saturday, May 12, 2007

sweet tea, sweet seafood, sweet home Carolina

I flew from Denver last week to Wilmington, North Carolina--where I grew up--for Anne's wedding on the beach. Anne and I grew up together--poison ivy, hair metal bands, Halloween parties, books, beaches, boys. Lots of boys. And she just married the one she met in 11th grade!

I hadn't been back to the south for four years and feel like I'm a Coloradoan now. You'd have to drag me kicking and screaming from these mountains, this climate, my friends and family here. But as soon as my plane touched down in Atlanta, I felt like I was coming home. People I didn't even know called me "Precious." (No one calls anyone "Precious" in Colorado!) I ate fried chicken, yams, and corn bread at the food court. (Only Boston Market and restaurants specializing in Southern food--it's an exotic cuisine out here--serve yams in Colorado, and they call them "sweet potatoes" instead.) I ordered "iced tea" and felt a sugar rush as I remembered that the default in the south is sweet tea--you have to ask specifically for unsweetened (and then deal with the suspicious stare from the server--"What's wrong with that girl? Must be a Yankee"). My sense of nostalgia and joy was so strong that even when I happened to look down and see a big fat smushed cockroach, my first thought was "Oh! A cockroach! I haven't seen a cockroach in four years. Awww."

Okay, so I got over that warm, fuzzy feeling for nasty bugs quickly.

Over the course of the weekend, the food just got better and better, with the ubiquitous sweet tea at every meal. Saturday night we had a feast on the porch: pounds and pounds of shrimp that Anne's great-uncle caught locally in the Sound and that Anne's dad boiled up with beer and Old Bay. We--Anne and Mark, Anne's parents, and our friend Amy and her husband--sat on the porch as the sun set and the heat receded, smelling pine and magnolia, listening to the whipporwill, gnawing on corn on the cob (boiled with sugar), eating cole slaw, and peeling and popping the tender shrimp.

The day of the wedding saw sort of an open house for friends and family dropping by to drop off gifts, show off dresses, and share food. We ate cold cuts and banana nut muffins (well, I didn't--I detest bananas--but other people did!) and some really good cold salads, like Three Bean Wacky Mac:

  • 1 package Wacky Mac (or other tri-colored pasta)
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) green beans drained or 1 1/2 cup freshgreen bean, cut into pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) wax beans, drained, or 1 1/2 cup freshbeans cut into pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) kidney beans, drained
  • 1 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup salad oil (Anne uses canola light oil)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare Wacky Mac according to package directions and rinse with cool water. Meanwhile, combine drained beans and chopped onion in large bowl. In small bowl combine cider vinegar and oil; slowly add in sugar to dissolve. Add drained Wacky Mac and vinegar mixture to beans. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; gently toss to combine. Makes 6 servings (probably more).

At the wedding itself, we inadvertently ate sand--the wind was gusting up to 40 mph--and tasted the salt air. But Anne looked beautiful, and even though her grandmother had to wear a parka, it felt right to be outside. Anne couldn't have been married inside four walls and a ceiling. Here's the happy couple, with his daughter Jadzia:

The reception at the Bluewater, a sprawling restaurant just spitting distance from the intracoastal waterway, brought more good seafood: fresh mahi mahi. (And yes, sweet tea. I sat next to the groom's brother, who had steak, a glass of pinot noir, and a glass of sweet tea.) The following day, I also managed to fit in a crab melt made from local crab and accompanied by homemade potato chips (for $7--and you can barely get a turkey sandwich and bag of Lay's for $7 in Colorado) as well as a trip with Anne's mom to Boombalatti's homemade ice cream shop (no web page, just sweet creamy chocolate bliss).

I had more sweet tea and more fresh ocean seafood in three days than I've had in the past four years, I think! Hyper from the caffeine and sugar, sated by the good food and even better conversations with my oldest friends, I boarded the plane back to Colorado, where it's easy to find fancy restaurants with watermelon pico de gallo, grilled Caesar salads, and French cuisine, but impossible to walk on the beach and then eat shrimp caught just offshore, much less with dear friends who let me crimp their hair while singing "Rock Me, Amadeus" at junior high sleepovers.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tea Party 2007

Two weeks ago Sunday was the annual tea party for all the girls in my family. We did have two boys in attendance: Will and the new nephew. We tried to ignore them (we didn't succeed so well with the baby).
The party meant two days of shopping, baking, and cleaning for me--which is probably not the best idea at the end of the semester, but oh well. It was worth it.

While I was baking tarts, Will hovered in the kitchen. Every time something came out of the oven, he got in my face like a little puppy: Can I have some, can I, can I? Even though I was letting him taste one of everything and I let him finish off the bowl of chocolate mousse, he got cranky with me for only letting him have one piece of shortbread. He says there is a lot on the line with the tarts. Despite all his whining, he probably got more tarts than a man needs in a day.
This year's menu: lavender lemonade, hot chocolate (no real tea, but the party isn't about tea--it's about the tarts), lavender shortbread, lemon madeleines, chocolate mousse tarts, blood orange tarts, asparagus tarts, cucumber sandwiches, and goat cheese watercress sandwiches.
Lavender Lemonade
Mix 2 cups sugar with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil for five minutes. Add 1 1/2 Tablespoons lavender. Remove from heat, cover, and steep for 20 minutes. Strain syrup through fine-meshed sieve (may need to line with cheesecloth to remove all lavender). Chill syrup. Add 5 cups cold water and 2 cups fresh lemon juice. Makes about 1/2 gallon.