I Grew All This

Lemon Cukes and Notes from the Summer

Hello! As you read this, I’m driving south along the Pacific. We started in Seattle on Thursday, and we’ll make it to San Francisco before the week’s out. If you have recommendations for stops in Portland or along the Oregon or California coast, please share.

While back-to-school season always makes me wish I were a student again, the pleasure of a being able to take a vacation after Labor Day can’t be overstated. The summer’s just longer this way.

While I’m on the road, away from the kitchen, a little recap of what the season has brought to this small kitchen:

Growing in the garden:

CarrotsAfter planting our first few radishes in April, both our vegetables and the number of containers holding them multiplied. Gardening is addictive.

Here’s what we ended up growing: two kinds of little tomatoes (sun gold, red pear), two kinds of radishes, lemon cucumbers, green leaf lettuce, kale, habaneros, carrots and a bunch of herbs (tarragon, sage, dill, basil, Thai basil, and mint). We planted string beans but they petered out early. I also threw in some marigold seeds and some nasturtiums.

I still feel like a newbie, but I figured out enough to follow spacing recommendations on the seed packets and those laid out in the Square Foot Gardening method. I found that the home gardening site at Cornell was an incredible resource, too. We barely bought lettuce and cooking greens and skipped spending money on bunches of herbs that later went bad. In general, having smaller amounts of vegetables was a really pleasant way to cook–I lost that fear of all my greens wilting in the fridge. And what a true pleasure to pick lunch from the garden! I ate a lot of salads based on homegrown lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, and herbs, supplemented with a little cheese, a fried egg, or bread. Tomatoes

Tomato jam

Even when we cooked zucchini or eggplant, two favorite veggies we didn’t grow, we’d flavor them with basil from the garden. All that fried rice we downed was finished with our own Thai basil. Even sad-looking vegetables, like the red pear tomatoes that split in the high heat of early August, found a home, with a habanero, in some spicy tomato jam that brightens scrambled eggs. An indulgent egg sandwich found redemption in a leaf of our own lettuce. I tried making pickles. Best of all was a Monday night dinner of homegrown tomatoes and gnocchi, eaten next to the plants that produced the meal.

Egg Sandwich

There were gardening delights beyond the culinary. Watching sprouts come up. Feeling pain at having to thin your hard-won seedlings, but then watching how much better plants grew when they had some space. Failing to grow more than three green beans. Theories of companion planting sound so dull until you witness how differently kale grows with cucumbers (yielding purple, thick, rubbery leaves) and without (becoming beautiful, enormous, tender plants). Our Sun Gold plant wilted and turned brown in late July but found a second life last week, with flowers, a new batch of green tomatoes, and that musky ripe tomato scent.

Not much in my daily adult life causes so much wonder, appreciation, and presence.

Habanero

In late July, I planted a second crop, for the fall: Brussels sprouts and radicchio. It’s never enough.

Gardening turned out to be the gateway for composting. Thanks to the Lower East Side Ecology Center via the NYC Compost Project, I’ve now got a steel garbage can with punched-out holes and a compost turner on the roof. So far, I can report there are no smells so long as I keep my “browns” covering my “greens” (soil helps too), but I’ll try to give you a full update in the spring when I know more. I took a few detours before I found the right solution, but if you’re thinking of city composting, I found this and this (even though ours is outdoors) useful.

Writing on the web:

Po BoyIn case you missed ’em, I wrote a guide to cooking in college for Bon Appetit that contains some pearls, I hope, for cooks at any stage of life.

Over at First We Feast, I posted a couple new guides you may have missed: The Complete Guide to Making Tacos at Home, The Complete Guide to Making Po’Boys at Home, and The Complete Guide to Making Doughnuts at Home.

Cooking:

GalbiYes, you’ve heard about some of our summer favorites, like fried rice, and you glimpsed others, like freshly fried chips for chilaquiles, on Instagram.

We grilled galbi for the first time–Korean short ribs cut horizontally, marinated, and cooked fast.

I got re-obsessed with letting grated zucchini sauté slowly until it’s rich and sweet, like butter. I mix this with pasta, top with an egg, or press onto toast.

I spent three weekends eating nothing but BLTs. They are the perfect food: each of the five elements (bread, mayo, lettuce, bacon, salt) plays an important role. You don’t need anything more or less. Everyone knows this, but sometimes you have to rediscover foods

My mom made a brisket that started on the grill and ended in the oven, and it was one of the better things I’ve ever tasted, both at dinner and at lunch the next day when we reheated slices in its sauce and piled them between mayo-spread English muffins, with tomatoes and American cheese. The recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated, and if you want a brisket that’s relatively low maintenance and very good, I recommend it.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back next week with new recipes for fall.

-Cara

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