Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The raw and the cooked

First things first: I don't even really like baked apples. I like apple crisp and apple pie, apple cake (as you loyal readers will remember, I posted an apple cake recipe a while back) and applesauce. But baked apples always kind of seemed like, well, kind of a lame dessert. So it's only fitting that I've been asked to develop a baked apple recipe for a magazine.

Two days ago, I would have told you that baked apples were NO BIG DEAL. In my head I was already strategizing what I would fill them with, and deciding on an abundant amount of the tantalizing ingredients that normally top a crisp. No raisins, thank you, no scanty filling of butter and brown sugar. These, I imagined, would be the perfect union of apple crisp and baked apples, with loads of that delicious streuselly topping that would blend perfectly with ice cream.....

Well, it isn't exactly working out as I planned. The bit of topping that's poking out at the top of the apple is getting nice and bronzed, but the stuffing that's deep inside the apple refuses to cook. Needless to say, this is neither a delicious or successful outcome. They still taste good, mind you, in that kind of gross uncooked cookie dough kind of way, but not exactly the kind of recipe that I'd want to send out to legions of home cooks. So it's back to the drawing board, I'm afraid, but if anyone wants to stop by later for a baked apple, please do--I have quite a few rejects kicking around.

Monday, May 08, 2006

How does your garden grow?

Last post, I promised to tell you more about the little garden I've built out back. Last summer it was mostly toil--I moved lots of dirt, built two stately raised beds (a project that involved pounding stakes, moving more dirt, and some aggressive drilling) and fought a courageous battle against aphids and rose rust. It was satisfying work, in the way that hard physical labor can be satisfying.

But this summer I'm angling for the satisfaction that comes from watching your plants--planted early enough in the spring to enjoy a full, productive growing season--grow and bear fruit. So what is back there? One bed is devoted to herbs, some of which carried over from last year, despite all of the rain. I have two types of parsley, chives, basil, tarragon, sage and three types of thyme, plus a small pot of mint. In the other bed I've planted spinach, mixed salad green, gorgeous blue lake beans and lots of tomatoes. To encourage the beans, I made some little trellises so they could climb high. It's so pretty. Then I planted some icicle radishes, tucked into little six-packs in some fluffy well-nourished soil.

My Meyer lemon tree, as if to show its enthusiasm for its new neighbors, has put out loads of fragrant blossoms. When each blossom falls off, you can see the baby lemon there, ready to grow. I'll post pictures soon, but in the meantime I think that everyone should get out there in their own yard, whether a postage stamp patio, a city balcony or rolling acres in some small New England town and mess around in the dirt. Plant a little rosemary bush, or put a cherry tomato plant in a pot and nibble off of it all season. Mound up some dirt and throw in some watermelons or some zucchini, or build a little tripod from bamboo stakes and watch your beans reach towards the sky. Growing your own food is not only good for your body, it's good for your soul, too. And that's good enough for me.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rituals of Summer

It's here! The brilliant sunshine, the long days...gosh, if I didn't know better I'd say summer has arrived here in San Francisco. Oh, I know, I know--soon it will be foggy and cold in the evening (that's a Bay Area July for you) but for now I'll just take what I can get.

Summer has its own set of rituals, its own rules. Growing up, one of our summer routines was to go to Tozier's restaurant, in Bethel, Vermont, on the hottest days of the year. It would be too hot to cook, too hot to move, so we'd pile into the car and drive across the mountain to the restaurant my mom went when she was a girl. I love, love, love Tozier's. It is a low-slung, pine-paneled restaurant with long wooden tables and paper placemats that list Vermont attractions in green ink. On those hot days they have some tall old-fashioned fans circulating the air, but it stays cool because the restaurant is under a grove of trees near a little brook. They serve water in little waxed paper cones set into sturdy metal bases, and hot dogs on well-buttered buns, and fried clams. And outside, next to the main restaurant, there's a walk up counter where you can get ice cream cones and hot fudge sundaes. It is the perfect August restaurant. Just perfect.

But a different venue calls for a different routine. While we haven't yet found our favorite seaside seafood shack, and there don't seem to be any pine-paneled brook-side restaurants here in San Francisco, we did make the most of yesterday's sunshine. After a day planting in the backyard (beans, tomatoes, herbs, flowers...but more on that next post) we started up the grill, opened some cold Mexican beer and grilled some pizzas. Grilling the crust gives it the delicious blackened bits that you can't get in your oven (even if you have a pizza stone and the oven is cranked up all the way, filling the house with smoke) and it's great fun to assemble a platter of toppings so everyone can customize their pie. After the pizza, when the sun was still high enough to warm us and the coals had died down to a nice, slow burn, we toasted marshmallows and made S'Mores, and I had the wonderful pleasure of introducing our English neighborhood to the very American treat. Her quote? "Well, I like these very much indeed. They're quite good." Perhaps the start of a new summer routine?