Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday August 19th

We spent 15 minutes discussing the nuances of eggplant production with a young farmer at the Downtown Grower's Market on Saturday. We came away a tad more educated than we had been but the real finding seems to be that there is no easy answer as to when they're ready to be picked. Most of the internet lore is just that, and this guy said he picks them when he knows it's time for them to be picked. And that there is a lot of variation between cultivars. The most illuminating tidbit was this - plant a few kinds and experiment with their size and time in the ground and eventually you'll gain the skill to know what you need to know.

This week's bounty photo was taken on our outside tables, on the patio we call "The Bistro." My car was in the shop so my traditional white background picture couldn't be done. I know all of you thought that those past photos were taken on some fancy photo paper background in my studio with perfect lighting but in reality the white you were seeing was the hood of a 2007 BMW parked in our carport. This week's shot is nice, taken just as the sun was dipping and I think it conveys the wonderful light we get as summer winds down. Even though the high 90's we're seeing this week put pay to the idea of fall.

I discovered that I've been remiss lately in posting a week to week garden photo that shows the changes. Well, here are 4, taken almost exactly a month apart. You can see how things grow and in our case, get a bit out of control. Things rise, they flower and then they fade. It's so much fun to be a part of that cycle.

May 20
June 17

July 16

August 19

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thursday August 15th

Last year we discovered a recipe for Cheddar Tomato Pie and tried it out with our homegrown tomatoes. The original recipe was simple - tomatoes, cheese and a concoction of mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar and a little sugar. We didn't really like the consistency so we added a few eggs and made it more like a quiche and in doing so, achieved culinary perfection. Making heavy use of our late crop - baking and freezing a half-dozen pies as the growing season ran down - we enjoyed them throughout the winter, even taking them with us on our trips to Mexico.

This year we've started earlier with a nod to the tradition of "putting vegetables up for the winter." This week we baked 5 and only ate 1, a testament to our willpower because trust me, nothing smells better than Cheddar Tomato Pie coming out of the oven.

It's simple to make -

1 frozen pie crust
Enough tomatoes (2 or three big ones)
1 cup mayonnaise whisked with 1 tsp of sugar and 1 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar
Enough grated sharp cheddar cheese (when I say enough, you put it in until the pie crust is full)
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano or a mix of both
4 eggs whisked

Start with a layer of cheese, then a layer of tomatoes
Add a bit of the eggs
Add a bit of the mayonnaise mixture
Repeat with the cheese/tomatoes/eggs/mayo until everything is gone. We add the Parmesan in the last layer. Top with a handful of cheddar

Bake at  390°F for about one hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Tent the crust at 20 minutes to prevent excess browning.

We've double-bag frozen them and kept them up to 8 months.

Trust me, it's worth the small amount of work.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday August 12 - Addendum

It occurred to me after posting the regular blog that I'd forgotten to include one of the weekly harvest shots. I really love these pictures - so much color and zest and implicit knowledge that the fruits of our labors will truly be enjoyed.

Plus it's fun to stage food photos on the hood of my car - click to enlarge.

Monday August 12 - The First Harbingers of Autumn

Well the rain has been coming on again and off again so we have been given a break from watering on a daily basis. It's also brought an unusually large population of mosquitoes.

In terms of vegetables, we've had eggplant a couple of times and a lot of tomato dishes including our first Tomato Cheese Pie of the year (one to eat, one in the freezer) and my latest incarnation of Tomato Caprese Salad which can be made with either chopped big tomatoes or halved cherries. The eggplants have been "interesting," very flavorful but with an almost unchewable skin. Either I've picked them too late or there is something about the variety (white egg) that makes them that way. However, if I'm willing to take the time to peel them, they are quite wonderful.

The hummingbirds continue to drain feeders daily and spend their time fighting when not eating. The big news though is the return of the Lark Sparrows. They show up every year in these few weeks and hang around the horse pens picking through the dried manure for oats that made it through the Hay Burners intact. I always throw a bucket of sunflower seeds oats out back on the ground and they hang around partaking along with a few House Finches and the occasional ground squirrel. This year though - for who knows what reason - I am seeing them in the garden  and even in the barn. Very odd.

I'm always happy when they show up because they portend the end of summer and remind me that they will be among the most common birds on my Christmas Count in Mexico, come December. It will take them the next 3-4 months to get there while I wait here and then spend 2 days making the same journey.

Click to Enlarge

Monday, August 5, 2013

Monday August 5th

The rains have continued, not as badly as the Friday Storm but a half an inch here and three-quarters of an inch there, on top of the already saturated ground, makes for even more work. We haven't had to water the garden in more than a week, a blessing I suppose given the state of our drought. But leaks in the house and on the porch, mosquitoes appearing in swarms and horses standing in mud makes one long with some small portion of guilt for the earlier part of the year when all we had was sand.

Some good pickings this week though with plenty of tomatoes both large and small and a few eggplants. As always, the photos are almost as good as the eating -

The big story of the week though concerns Hummingbirds who have now arrived in all their jewel-like splendor to spend their time fattening up for the long trip south. You often wonder how they accomplish laying on the pounds since they seems to spend more time fighting than eating. Some young male will move in, claim the feeders for himself for a couple of days only to see himself overthrown when so many cousins show up that he cannot defend everything. Then we have a couple of days of peaceful coexistence until the next bully-boy shows up on the scene and starts the cycle again.

We have four species that hang around in August. Most common is the Black-chinned which nests around our place. Next is the Broad-tailed, the red-throated western analog of the well known Ruby-throated. The Broad-tailed nests here in New Mexico, but only at higher elevations, and we see them both in the spring and fall on their way to and from. The Rufous Hummingbird is the chief bully, stopping by on his journey south from more northern climes and lastly we have the Calliope, North America's smallest bird and also a northern breeder. We are lucky to see one or two of them annually and their appearance is always a cause for a celebration. Added into those four types is a giant admixture of females, immatures and the emblematic males and you end up with a giant swarming mess that's difficult to sort out as they dive and climb and fight their way to a perch. 

This year, we've had a couple of lucky moments when birds chose to light on a tomato cage mere feet from where we sit and observe. One male Calliope who sat and preened and spread his lovely throat feathers for our viewing enjoyment. And one small immature that showed a dark patch on the side of its head, first thought to be feathers but identified as a wound when its photo was enlarged on the computer.

These few weeks turn out every year to be the true peak of our gardening, between the food coming off the vine, the visit of the Hummingbirds and the slightly cooler nights that allow us to sit out there as the sun goes down, enjoying both.

Click on the photos for a larger view

Immature male Rufous
Immature male Rufous
Female Black-chinned

Male Broad-tailed

Male Rufous

Wounded female Calliope

Male Black-chinned

Male Calliope

Male Calliope

Male Calliope