Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tomato Soup with Corn, Harissa and Oregano

Things I learned last summer:
  • Attempting to can can 1,000 lbs of fruit with two and a half people is a very bad idea, even if one of you is very unemployed
  • You really, really need to peel peaches before you cut them in half
  • Tiny peaches are the devil's work
  • For whole-peeled-style tomato chunks, the trick to density is letting them drain for a couple hours prior to canning.

That last tip is from our community's British fairie godmother, aka my neighbor Lynda. 250lbs of tomatoes later (about half of them in chunks) I can tell you that it works. It also leaves you with a LOT of juice- enough to create a small tomato swamp under your kitchen table and necessitate cleaning tomato residue off the walls. 

Totally adding "tomato swamp" to my glossary of community vegetable disasters.

Even then, we canned a lot of juice- when I went through my pantry last month I still had four quart-jars worth. Since we are officially back into canning season (35lbs of apricots down, an orchard to go) I've been trying to finish it off, a task with which the internet was not at all helpful. Google 'tomato juice recipe' and you will get two things: recipes for making tomato juice and recipes for Bloody Marys. (Bloody Maries? Bloodys Mary?) Anyways, I drank some straight, which I didn't like at all. I also tried re-hydrating cous cous with it, which I'm still convinced might work but turned out weird and sticky.


I'm delighted to say I've found a solution- in a brothy, summer-produce heavy soup that came about after some aimless garden harvesting. While the ingredient list is kind of long, the actual cooking is easy. Also, this was literally made from what I had on hand- my llama neighbors have an entire front yard of oregano, and my spring garden produced those shallots. Point is, feel free to substitute- I'm pretty sure it would be as good with arborio rice, white beans and thyme as it was with farro, chickpeas and oregano. No shallots? Use an onion! The essentials are the harissa-spiked tomato broth, crunchy corn and some sort of chewy bean/grain.

Only one more quart to go.

Tomato juice soup with corn, harissa and oregano

1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups unsalted tomato juice*
4 cups water
1/2 cup finely diced shallot (this was about one big one for me)
~2 cups corn kernels.This was 2 corn cobs in my case, but canned or frozen would work fine
1lb zucchini, sliced in thin coins
1 generous Tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp harissa
1/2 cup farro
1 can chickpeas, drained
salt and pepper

*My tomato juice should probably be classified as tomato drainage- it was pretty thin, and contained nothing but tomatoes and a little lemon juice. With normal tomato juice, I would recommend using 2 cups tomato juice and 6 cups water instead, and being very careful with the salt.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot (my new dutch oven worked great!) over medium heat. Cook the shallots, stirring frequently, until translucent and a little brown around the edges. Add the oregano, zucchini and corn and toss to combine. Saute, stirring occasionally, until everything has softened and is starting to brown. This only took me around five minutes. Mix in the harissa.

Add both tomato juice and water, as well as 1/2 tsp salt and about 20 grinds of black pepper. (As an extension of my earlier note, if your'e using pre-seasoned tomato juice, you might want to skip the salt here). Add the farro and chickpeas, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover slightly (you know, sort of haphazardly cover your pot) and set a timer for 20 minutes.

When the timer goes off, check that the farro is cooked (it should be) and adjust seasoning if necessary. Both times I made it, I added more pepper at this point. Serve anywhere from just warm to hot.






Your Weekly Waterfowl (8!)

Hello! I've been delinquent on the duck front. I've been delinquent on the everything front. Also, when I take closeup photos of my ducks (or when my farmwife does and I pilfer them) it kind of looks like they are living in squalor. 


I SWEAR we bathe them- but I'm pretty sure they're afraid of water. We have desert ducks.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tomato Bruschetta

I spent my last Saturday night putting linseed oil on a garbage enclosure because at Wasatch Commons, we know how to paaaaaaarty. I also had to renew my passport this week, which made me feel super old (I used up a 10-year passport) and reminded me of all the awesome places I haven't been going lately. I think at this point in my life I was expecting to be living in  Uzbekistan working for the UN and counting tree frogs on the weekend. I have friends who do that kind of thing.

Side note, I do know that there aren't really tree frogs in Uzbekistan. Are there tree frogs in Uzbekistan?

Interestingly enough, it's the same sentiment with which I started this blog, now four years ago. In between my life got a lot, lot worse and then better- and though I sometimes forget, my relative happiness and stability are a gift. I never thought being somewhat satisfied with my life would feel so much like an accomplishment, but it does. My cohousing community (explained here if it's a new concept) has grounded me here in a really lovely way and I'm grateful. That's kind of what I want in life- the ability to be happy doing nothing much on a Saturday night.

I mean, I also want 84,000 other things- my life list will attest- but for now I'm focusing on what I've got. I think I can pull it off for at least the next hour.



My community harvested the first tomatoes of the summer last week, and I promptly abandoned my plans to eat anything else. While I'm fully aware of how irritating it is when food people do stuff like rave about garden-fresh tomatoes, in this case I can't deny reality. A tomato off the vine is a completely different species. Even the ducks understand- last week one of them found a downed tomato, and even though it was too big for her to eat she refused to give it up. I looked up from weeding to see her haphazardly run-waddling through the garden rows while both the other ducks chased after her.

Quack attempts to escape with her tomato.

Recognizing that my current garden-paradise is temporary (and 100% because I have awesome neighbors), I'm giving you a recipe that works regardless. I learned it, in fact, on the mealy, refrigerator-trucked tomatoes that you can find anywhere. It's nothing original- the same tomato, balsamic, garlic and basil combination you'll find if you google 'bruschetta', but it's the framework I've been using for years because why mess with success? It's great on toast of course, but I'll also use it as a springboard for dinner. Some ideas:
  • mixed with a can of white beans (or chickpeas-my lunch Monday)
  • on top of warm cous cous, perhaps with more white beans
  • with cold cooked pasta and mozarella 
  • straight with a spoon, as my celiac-roommate did before potluck last Sunday. I suppose you could put in a bowl and eat it straight too, but that just seems too civilized.
So wherever you live, eat some summer flavors this week. And if you've got some garden tomatoes, I won't judge at all if you choose to ignore me completely and just eat them with salt.


Tomato Bruschetta

2lbs tomatoes, any variety
20 leaves basil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Place a colander over a bowl. Cut your tomatoes (using a serrated knife helps) into small pieces- I cut cherry tomatoes in half, but if possible I like the pieces a little smaller. As you work, transfer the tomatoes to the colander so they can drain a little bit. The draining isn't strictly necessary, but I find that if I'm using bigger tomatoes it's quite helpful.

Chop your basil- I usually go with the 'stack leaves and then sliver' method, but it's up to you. Empty the drainage bowl and dump the tomatoes back in. Add olive oil, balsamic, chopped basil, pressed garlic, a good pinch of salt and many grinds of black pepper and mix well. Taste for salt and pepper. At this point, adjust the other seasonings if you want- I've found that with blander tomatoes I want more balsamic and garlic than with my garden ones. Leave the mixture to rest- room temperature is fine- for at least an hour so all the flavors mingle.

Right before serving, toast some bread- rub with the cut side of a garlic clove if you're feeling fancy! Using a slotted spoon, heap tomatoes generously onto the bread. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cheater's Tortilla Española

I ate my first tortilla española in Spain on a foreign language exchange trip on which I really kind of hated. I was genuinely irritated about how minimally academic the whole thing was, a reaction which perfectly encapsulates the nerdy, well-meaning privileged brat I was at 17. I saw Goya's dark room, ate perfect grilled sardines and learned the difference between tea and infusion by myself at a beautiful old cafe- and somehow, I resented feeling like I hadn't earned them. I mean really- would my doing more homework have made the trip any less of a gift from my parents? If I'm honest, it was that trip where I felt the first stirrings of my depression- an acute loneliness, emptiness and insomnia that I tried to soothe away by submerging my brain in the internet and raiding crackers from my host family's pantry in the middle of the night.

That beginning, so very hesitant, was quickly overshadowed by a crazy medical incident involving a pretty bad staph infection, two trips to the hospital and about six sitcom-worthy language mishaps. Waking up with both my eyes swollen shut kind of pushed the barely nascent idea of mental health out of focus. My host mother, whose name I have long forgotten, earned my lifelong gratitude by being about the best medical advocate anyone could ask for. She took one look at me (face swollen, sleep deprived and slightly delirious) and marched me to the doctor. She yelled at my tour leader so he held the bus for me, she yelled at the nursing staff until they let me, a random American without any identification, see a doctor, she yelled at the patients in the waiting room until they let me cut the line.

I took this photo from the top of a Cathedral in 2007. I think I thought I was artsy?

Look, she may not have been yelling- as I said, I was a bit delirious. Regardless, she saw the golf-ball sized cyst on my forehead, realized I needed help and got it for me. Somewhere in there, my last day staying with her, she also gave me a Spanish-language cookbook that I lost somewhere between Pontevedra, Madrid and Boston.

That cookbook haunts me. It is a reminder that I lose things, constantly, and I lose things that people are not supposed to lose. It was important to me, and I somehow just left it behind. Over the years, I've lost so many things of monetary and personal value through a combination of ADHD, laziness and absentmindedness I can never seem to work out. I lost the backpack I hiked the PCT with because I dropped it off to be cleaned and in my depressive fog never came back for it. I grieve for it too. I lost my flute, or more likely had it stolen from my dorm room, but I'll never be sure: knowing myself, I can't rule out the possibility that yes, I am that careless. I lose earrings and gloves and socks and my jackets and my debit card. Every twenty minutes I misplace my phone, my keys or both. Often, I never get these things back.

My mom used to claim she could track my movement through the house by the trail of objects I left behind.

These days, I wear the same shoes every day because having fewer things means having fewer things to misplace. I wear my grandmother's ring on my hand and never take it off. I have some coping skills, but I still dream about finding a treasure trove of objects I've lost. I still feel the not-so-secret shame of misplaced, permanently lost objects, the greater shame of having lied about losing them, the sometimes desperate desire to be the kind of person who accepts who they are and doesn't bury their mistakes so reflexively.

Is my carelessness a symptom or a fault or both?

In a show of horrifying irony, or perhaps predictions coming true, the day I wrote the beginnings of this post I got in to a car accident that, while resulting in no personal injury, has pretty much shattered my barely-held sense of having my shit together. It's a story for another time, but again I am left wondering and doubting myself. Where do I draw the line between the things I cannot control- the whirlwind of anxiety and ADHD that is my brain- from the ones I can? Will I ever be able to trust myself with anything of consequence? How do I rectify my pain, which is real enough to be diagnose, with the priviledged-even-for-the-first-world nature of my problems? Seriouslywhere are my keys?

(Before you suggest anything, farmwife just gave me one of those tile things for my birthday. She's figured out the drill).

I took this photo last week. Apparently I still think I'm artsy.

So all of this rambling was just a prelude to telling you I've cracked a lazy-girl version of a tortilla española. If you've never had one, a tortilla española is sort of like a potato and onion fritatta cooked entirely on the stove and often eaten as a sandwich. I have made them the traditional way before, (including once just last week) before, but it requires frying a couple pounds of potatoes in batches and guys... I hate frying things. Not for weird dietary reasons- it's just a pain. No matter how careful I am, I always end up with a messy stove, a million oily paper towels and a bunch of fried-in oil. The waste! I know I could reuse the oil, but let's be real... I won't. I just let it languish, aspirationally, in a jar under the sink until someone digs it out and dumps it.

Anyways, after my last attempt, I became determined to find a way of doing this without the fried, and lo! A tortilla ere blooming. Turns out that baked potatoes work just fine- and baking a potato is the kind of thing that takes time but zero effort. You can even bake the potatoes days in advance, or use leftovers. I'm sold. It is not at all traditional, but unless someone finds my long-lost book it will have to do.


Cheater's Tortilla Española

1.5 lbs yellow potatoes
2 medium onions, finely diced
2-3 Tbsp good olive oil
6 eggs
Salt and pepper

Bake your potatoes, or break out the leftovers. When they're cool enough to handle, peel them with a vegetable peeler. This is a little messy. Once peeled, slice into 1/4 inch rounds, or half-rounds if you've got giant potatoes.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook the onions until browned. Meanwhile, beat six eggs in a large bowl with quite a bit (at least 1/4 tsp of each) of salt and black pepper. Mix in the potato slices. When the onions are done cooking, mix them in as well. Be a little careful about how fast you do this, or the egg will start to cook.

Put the remaining tablespoon of oil into a small non-stick pan and turn the heat to medium. I used an 8-inch sauté pan, but well seasoned cast iron would work well too. Pour the egg/potato/onion mixture into the pan, and smoosh it flat. In the first couple minutes, run a spatula around the edges a couple times so that the egg from the top runs to the bottom of the pan. Then let it cook, undisturbed, until it's beginning to set. This took me 10 minutes, but I'm at altitude with very fresh eggs- your time may be different.

When it looks like it won't fall apart, run the spatula around the edges and the bottom. Wearing oven mitts, invert a plate- anything larger than the pan will do- on top of the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Put the pan back on the stove and slide the whole thing back in, cooked side up. Push the edges into place if you have to, and then cook for another couple minutes until it is set, or a toothpick into the middle comes out dry. Serve with aioli, hot sauce or anything else languishing in your fridge.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Your Daily Duck (6!)


Ducks: they will crawl through the fencing to eat brown rice.


Duck ducks!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Your Daily Duck (5!)



"Psst: Galinda! I think she's hiding the food behind her back."