Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Summer's lease has all too short a date...

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
This is Mantie, our erstwhile guest from a few weeks ago. She showed up on our porch light last night, munching on moths, the clever girl. She's still a peculiarly pinkish tint, and I really do think it's the same mantis. We plan to search the yard for an egg case soon, and keep it in the Mantis Motel on the porch over the winter. With luck, we'll be able to see the babies emerge. I hope they won't eat each other!

I've enjoyed this summer more than any other summer I can remember, but I'm glad it's winding down. The garden produce is so abundant these days, and the eating is fabulous! One of my favorite late-summer suppers is Corn Chowder. We just had it, accompanied by quick-pickled zucchini dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. Try it yourself!

Summer Corn Chowder

8 ears of corn, husked
6 oz salt pork (or bacon)
1T butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 cup milk
4-6 small potatoes
3 TBSP fresh thyme leaves
1 cup half and half
salt and pepper

Slice the corn off the cob and scrape cobs with back of knife. Put cobs in pot with 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the salt pork into ½” dice and put in lg. dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the fat is rendered and salt pork is fully cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove salt pork into small bowl, and set aside. Pour off any fat over 2T, add 1T butter, then add onion. Sauté until onions are golden. Add minced jalapeno and sauté another minute. Put 1 cup of the corn with the milk into a blender or a food processor, and puree. Set aside. Cut potatoes into ¼” chunks. As soon as the cobs are finished boiling, strain the liquid through a sieve. Pour the corn-milk puree and about 2 cups of corn stock (from boiling cobs) into pot with onions and pepper. Add remaining corn and the potatoes, and the thyme, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, until potatoes are tender. Stir in the half and half. Add coarsely ground pepper to taste, and adjust salt. Chowder may be thinned with more stock. Any remaining stock can be frozen and used in vegetable soups.

Note: For a vegan version, omit the salt pork, swap extra virgin olive oil for the butter, and omit the milk and cream. Instead, use only the corn stock. Add a sweet red pepper to the onions for color and flavor. Do not use any thyme, but finish the soup with fresh chopped cilantro to taste and the juice of one or two limes.

Accompany with:

Quick-Pickled Zucchini with Olive Oil and Lemon Juice

about 4 cups of coarsely chopped zucchini (about 1/2" chunks)
2T kosher salt
juice of 1-2 lemons
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Put the chopped zucchini in a colander over a large bowl and mix in the salt. Allow the zucchini to drain for about an hour. Rinse briefly, squeeze gently, then toss with the lemon juice and olive oil. Use the proportions you like for salad dressing, and definitely adjust to your own taste. I like to sprinkle a bit of pepper on these too.

dinner tonight: ratatouille and egg noodles

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It'll Be Mums Next!

Originally uploaded by 3Birds
The grasshoppers have been exploding onto the scene and we've been delighting in their beauty and variety. This fellow landed on my leg while I was watering the cucumber, so I carried him around front to visit the children for a bit before gentling him onto my lavender and taking his picture. He's pretty clearly visible in the photo, but when I stood up and looked down I had to concentrate to really see him. At 2 paces he was virtually invisible. But at close range he was a jewel.

The children wanted to keep him for a few days; we'd released Mantie the Mantis just a few days earlier so our 'Hotel Creepy Crawly' was vacant, but the last time I kept a 'hopper for a few days it declined all meals until we let it go. I released it onto my lettuce as a sort of consolation for having incacerated it, but it promptly jumped into the grass and we never saw it again. I wonder if herbivores are just more finicky than they're fiercer cousins. Mantie ate mostly crickets, and a few grasshoppers (sigh) while we had him, and his only criteria were that they were alive and kicking and not very much bigger than he was.

Grasshoppers are of course one of those signs that the summer is dying. I remember once when I was sitting on my neighbor's porch pointing and shouting "Look Mrs Burns -- a grasshopper.' Mrs Burns replied, almost bitterly "Yes, child, and it'll be mums next, and snow before we're all through!" I had come over to play with Mrs Burns' grandson, who, at 12, was quite grown up in my eyes. In his own eyes too I think, since he usually declined to play with me because I was 'just a little girl.'

Anyway, that year I noticed the mums in the gardens, grocery stores, and farm stands more than I'd ever done before. Mrs Burns grew Golden mums, like little suns, and Michaelmas Daisies the color of October skies with yellow centers. Her garden was the nicest in the neighborhood once September came around. I remember sitting on her porch that fall drinking cold cider and munching on a warm buttermilk doughnut, and thinking that of course it would snow soon, since Mrs Burns had said so. i wish I could say we had a fine snow that year, with lots of sledding and a week off school, but the truth is I don't remember. I just have those two fragments, moments from my childhood a month or so apart with a dour but kind old woman who had tremendous wisdom and authority in my young eyes. I remember how the cider and the doughnut tasted (crisp, cold, and tangy-sweet for the cider, warmly spicy, with nutmeg and cinnamon for the doughnut) and how the flowers looked, and even how the air felt on my skin, soft and caressing with just a hint of the colder days to come.

I suppose it will be mums next, and I think I'll get a pot of Michaelmas Daisies (aka New York asters) this year, in remembrance. I'll soon have to cover the fig tree with straw and burlap, and bring in my apple-scented geraniums and my tender herbs. I'll drink my coffee hot instead of iced, and get back to baking several times a week. We'll have afternoon tea again, and Sunday roasts. Perhaps it will snow and I'll have to drive the kids over to Lake Montebello with their sleds for an afternoon of thrills. I'll probably snark a little when the neighborhood kids 'mess up' the snow in my front yard with in their trampling tromping froclicking heedless way, but I won't say anything and I'll probably invite them in for hot chocolate and cinnamon toast.

Of course, we've a few hot days in store for us before Summer well and truly ends, and plenty of golden days with sunshine and cool breezes. Sweater weather! I've just finished designing Wren's fall sweater, and have knit a few rounds. It's to have a picot hem, so I used a provisional cast-on, which is a little fussy because you have to untwist before you begin (in future, I plan to untwist as I cast-on) but once that's done it's easier to make sure the work doesn't twist on the first few rounds. I aspire to finish her sweater in 2 weeks, Robin's in another 2 weeks, and Finch's in 1 week.

dinner tonight: stewed green beans, rosemary focaccia, feta and tomato salad