Saturday, August 30, 2008


This garden season was certainly a tomato season for me. I have never grown so many tomatoes. I didn't intend to grow so many, it just turned into that when so many of my seedlings sprouted. After nursing them along for weeks, I didn't have the heart to pull the smaller ones, and so all that sprouted were planted.

Not that some of the seedlings didn't die: I tried to get some of them into the ground in early May because they were getting too tall and leggy in the sunroom, but spring was very cold here and my "test cases" didn't survive.

There were also three varieties I wanted to try that I hadn't ordered seeds for: Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Watermelon Beefsteak. I bought plants for each of those.

I tried staking most of them with these new spiral stakes that all the garden centers are carrying now. They didn't work. Maybe they'd work with tall flowers, like dahlias or irises, but they don't work for tomatoes. Especially not mine. I fertilize and I use growth spray, and most of my tomatoes were 7 feet tall. And because they were so tall, and heavy with fruit, they made the spiral stakes fall never again with spiral stakes.

There's also a big difference with the amount of sunlight the plants get and the time of day they get it, so my ripening patterns have been erratic. Not having enough room to plant all the plants I had, I had to settle for some less-than-ideal locations. So I was impressed that the tomatoes the tomatoes in those locations even set fruit, let alone ripened!

I will say that this has been a quantum leap in learning about tomatoes this year. I used a foliar spray product called "Spray n Grow" heavily throughout the season and I think it really made a difference in the number of blossoms, the percentage of blossoms that set fruit, and the overall healthiness of the foliage. I also watered about once a week with "Neptune's Harvest" Fish & Seaweed fertilizer, which also seemed to do wonders with overall growth. My tomatoes have been huge, have set very well and, for the most part, have been delicious. A few weeks ago, when the telephone repairman was out to work on the phone lines, he commented that I really must know what I'm doing because he grows tomatoes and he's seen plenty of other people's tomatoes this season, but none like mine.

tomatoes ripening in windowsill

A few lessons I have learned: 1) I will not be planting ten plants ever again! Too much to maintain and too much to harvest (so far, I have harvested 17 lbs). 2) I will not plant Mortgage Lifter plants again - they came well-recommended by several people and they did produce very heavily, the best of all my plants, BUT the taste was bland, and many of them were mealy. 3) I will plant Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, and Big Beef next year. The Brandywines have terrific flavor. Not a great amount of fruit, but quality flavor. They are a large tomato, but not a beefsteak, so they have a lot of moisture and seeds. The Cherokee Purples were sweeter than most and tasted like an old-fashioned tomato. The Big Beefs were indeed big, very meaty and low moisture, making them perfect for bruschetta or pico de gallo...or salsa.

Cherokee Purple
Cherokee Purple tomato.

The Watermelon Beefsteaks are unusual. They ripen into orange and red fruits with little stripes. Some are large, some are not. I am not sure that the striping constitutes a "watermelon", but that's how they are. I have yet to taste one. They are just now ripening.

Watermelon beefsteak
Watrermelon beefsteak tomatoes.

The inside of a Watermelon beefsteak. Crazy, eh? Crazy delicious.

The short growing season is beginning to wane, however; with temps at night now dipping into the 60s, the plants will stop producing new fruit and stop ripening the fruits that are set. So I will have to think about whether or not I want to bother with green tomatoes. They are good for frying, for green tomato relish, or for green tomato pie. I don't know that I can be bothered with any of those. But hey, don't knock green tomato pie; my grandmother made them when I was a kid and they tasted like the best apple pies you could make. I miss my grandmother. She'd be 102 if she were still alive and she was a great cook. She didn't do anything fancy, ever. Just delicious, home-cooked food. She fried chicken better than anyone. She made chocolate meringue pies better than anyone. And her mashed potatoes and her sweet potatoes with apples and pears were to die for.

Monday, August 25, 2008're breakin' my heart

Those words from a Linda Ronstadt cover of an old Knickerbockers song keep running through my head.

Saturday morning, having read the blog post of a young man we've come to know over the past few months, something began gnawing at me. The post seemed a bit odd. There were things about it that seemed odd...but I went on to other things and kind of forgot about it.

We hosted a party Saturday afternoon, so there was plenty of preparation to do for that, which kept my mind off the blog post. Jeff took the train out from the city to help us get things ready. (What are best friends for? Thanks for all the wonderful help, Jeff!) Friday night, we cut up a large platter of veggies and I made some dip from scratch to go with them. Jess would be grilling burgers and dogs for our 10 or so guests. Friday night, Jeff and I had also worked on the base for our specialty drink for the party, pink lemonade martinis, as well as freezing 6 quarts of homemade vanilla bean ice cream. We already had some Cherry Pie ice cream in the freezer that I had made the week before, so we were set with that, and I had about a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough that I had made the week before that would be used to bake cookies during the party. And Saturday morning, I made a tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella salad in a balsamic vinaigrette with tomatoes and basil that I had grown.

Some of the guests brought dishes as well, such as a cucumber salad, a lentil salad, a fresh fruit salad, and two kinds of cornbread, so we were set for food and then some. We had a really great time and the food was delicious. Jess did his usual fabulous job as the grillmaster. The cookies and ice cream were terrific. And everybody loved the drinks.

In the evening, when everyone had left, Jess, Jeff and I were relaxing and Jess mentioned that another friend of ours had registered a suspicion with him about the aforementioned young man's blog. Jess made a Google search related to the most recent post and found it to be lifted directly from another person's blog who lived in the UK. And so it began.

Over the next 30-40 minutes, we began Googling phrases from posts in the blog. I went back through some of the posts that I had remembered as having particular oddities or those that seemed to be not of the usual writing style of the young man in question. In almost every case, the posts that I had remembered as being odd were indeed showing up under other peoples' blogs with much earlier dates of posting.

Now some of his blog posts may indeed be really his work, but it is clear that a number of others aren't his, and it seems quite suspicious that within hours of Jess' posting about his findings that the blogger in question suddenly deleted his entire blog. At the least, he's been dishonest in posting material as his own that isn't his, and at most, he may not even exist...except in someone's mind. It's troubling to lose a friend this way. Even if he does exist, he has lost our trust, and that is the saddest thing of all to me. We thought that we were developing a nice friendship with a very bright and very mature young man who, sadly, turned out to be deceptive.

Interesting, too, since he had recently blogged about the fact that he was becoming much more discerning in his choice of friends because he was recognizing that there were those friends who would only hold him back. If only he had listened to his own advice. But there's reason to suspect that he didn't write those thoughts himself, instead stealing them from someone else's blog. It's sad.

So now we've been burned twice in as many months by persons pretending to be people they are not. There hasn't been any loss to us as the result of these acquaintances other than a loss of trust in people we meet via the blogosphere, but that's a very important loss. We have met a number of people through this wonderful medium, many of whom we have had the privilege of meeting in person; some we have visited with by phone and e-mail, but not in person yet as distance and schedules haven't permitted. Smaller still is the circle of friends whom we know only by e-mail and blog posts, and it's those relationships that this experience will touch the most, because it's those "unconfirmed" relationships that will now be most subject to suspicion...and it's not a good feeling.

As much as it's been an eye-opening experience, for me it's been a mind-closing one. I am the shyer of the two of us; Jess has always made friends more rapidly and in greater number than I, and many of our friendships made through blogging have been a result of Jess' efforts more than mine. This latest brush with the darker side of Internet interaction is causing me to question the wisdom of making friends through what I once considered the almost-ideal way to meet people. I've always thought that it's a great way to meet people with similar views since you learn about the person's likes, dislikes, triumphs and tragedies through a non-threatening medium that generally encourages the user to just put it all out there...and many of us do...because it's fun to find others who think like we do.

It also permits you to get a much more intimate understanding of the person in question in a shorter time than conventional means, and this is great because we're all pressed for time these days, and it's always good to have friends. Friendships don't come easily, but they seem to develop more rapidly through this interaction. So it sucks when something like this happens and ruins the karma.

It's all just a little more than unsettling.

Fortunately, there are friends who are very understanding, and one of them called us last night, having read Jess' blog post about the situation. He's a friend whom we met through blogging, and he's a rare find. He called to reassure us that he's not real (ha!) and then we proceeded to talk for an hour and a half on just about everything. We share so much in common with him that it's uncanny. Our friendship is illustrative of the good things that come out of blogging. You're awesome, Pete.

You may have noticed I put a playlist on the page here; it's probably not a good thing for those of you who read my blog at work (such as the aforementioned) so I imagine I will dispense of it rather quickly. I just thought it would be fun to throw a few songs out there that describe my mood right now, including the Knickerbockers song I referenced at the beginning of this post.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I scream

Earlier this week, my new toy arrived: a 6 quart White Mountain electric ice cream freezer like the one my mom has had for 25 years.

I grew up on homemade ice cream, as I reflected on in a prior post, and I have missed it when we throw big events at the house. There's nothing like a freezer of homemade ice cream to top off a wonderful meal, or to serve as an accompaniment to a great cake, pie or cobbler. But I haven't felt like making the investment in dollars or space to buy one. Until now.

But I digress.

So, I broke down and bought the dopey thing, and it arrived Tuesday. Last night, I made up the custard and refrigerated it in anticipation of freezing it tonight: sugarless chocolate. Now, before you turn your nose up at sugarless, you need to taste my sugarless ice cream. It doesn't taste sugarless. It tastes terrific.

The freezing process was like meeting up with an old friend or riding a bicycle: you never really forget. I quickly developed the ice/rock salt strata in the bucket, started the motor and things were underway. Just as expected, in about 25 minutes, we had delicious homemade chocolate ice cream!

There's just one problem: we don't have room for this beast anywhere.

Why did I do this? Oh yeah, for the ice cream. Well, it is delicious. I am actually dying to make a favorite of my mom's, made with Butterfinger candy bars (definitely not sugarless), and a favorite of mine, which is Cherry Pie. But those will have to wait for another time. For now, though, we'll enjoy the chocolate.

Kansas in New York!

You know those little oxymoronical, paradoxical phrases, like "Christmas in July"?

Today we had freaking Kansas in New York. And last Friday we had it, too. This is getting to be a scary freaking habit and I would like to lodge a major complaint to someone.

Last Friday, as I was coming home from work, I got on the parkway and it began to rain. It didn't start slowly and build, it began with giant drops that sounded like metal hitting the car and it just opened up in a torrent. Within seconds it was zero visibility and I felt like I had entered a weather wormhole. Lightning was everywhere around the car. In a three-mile stretch, there were fourteen strikes within very close proximity to the parkway...the crack of the thunder came almost instantly following the lightning. It was one of the most terrifying storms I have ever driven in, and being from Kansas, I have seen some really scary weather...really scary. Pea- to marble-sized hail fell for about four minutes. Now I know you Kansans and midwesterners are saying, "BFD. Marble-size hail for four minutes is nothing." Well, it's not nothing for Long Island. We don't have pea- to marble-sized hail. Hail, when we even have it, is usually tiny, like pebbles. We don't have cumulonimbus clouds here, but on Friday, we had a nasty, nasty one that was about 26,000 feet high and it moved across Long Island, over the sound and up through the Connecticut/New York border and even made it to Boston, and from a distance, it was even scarier - you could see the evil electrical giant coursing with all manner of horrible lightning. Hail and nasty tornado weather aren't supposed to be showing up here. Yet since I have lived here, we have had tornadoes on Long Island three times. I say Al Gore is right and the apocalypse is going to happen within our lifetime if we don't reverse global warming.

Fast forward to today when, on the way home, I noticed a very large severe storm in my rear view mirror as I headed east on the highway. Jess has called and said it had been in his area and it was horrible. It was heading south and slightly west at a very high rate of speed. I was glad I was going east, because it was a nasty shade of purple-black, and it was chock-full of lightning. But as I approached the supermarket where I needed to stop before going home, I saw an enormous cloud building to the north, almost boiling, and approaching the south shore at a scary pace. Lightning started cracking all around. I ran into the store, took 3 minutes to find what I needed, checked myself out, and ran to my car. Getting into the car, it was Friday deja vu - the big rain drops, the hard and rapid downpour with almost zero visibility, and lightning strikes like crazy. I had to take surface streets home since I was well away from the parkway, and that wasn't pretty. The downpour was causing flooding all along my route home. It was a nightmare. I was exhausted after the 15-minute drive home.

This crap ain't supposed to happen here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

And so it goes...

I have been harvesting tomatoes for about three weeks now, and I have been a wee bit unhappy with what I've gotten.

For one thing, my Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, which I had tasted elsewhere and remembered as good, and had also had positive feedback on in a gardening forum I hang out in, have turned out to be not so great. They fruit heavily and large, but the texture isn't great and neither is the flavor. I was very religious with the lime this year since I had such a problem with blossom-end rot (BER) the last two years. This year, BER wasn't really a problem to speak of, only lost four tomatoes to it early on and on different plants, so not a big issue.

The Brandywine tomatoes are heavenly in taste and texture and I will definitely be trying them again next year. But even with 9 tomatoes on the vine, only one has ripened (about two weeks ago) and the rest remain green. I am tapping my foot. Those were about the best-tasting I have grown. But it's a common complaint among growers that the production is low.

The Brandy Boy tomatoes, which are a cross of Brandywine and Better Boy, produced fabulous-tasting fruit last year, but this year, nothing has ripened yet. About 10 fruits on the vines, and I am waiting....

The Cherokee Purples are also reputed to be crazy delicious, but at this rate, we may never know. It has about 10 tomatoes on it, but none seem to be ripening, and they grow like molasses.

The Watermelon Beefsteak plant is the most interesting. I got it last, so it was smallest, but it quickly grew to be one of the larger plants. It has about six tomatoes on it, but again, grows like molasses and none appear to be even close to ripening.

The Big Beef tomatoes are fairly good, but don't hold a candle to Brandywine. Large fruits are firm and don't release a huge amount of juice, so they work well for about anything from sandwiches to bruschetta. They are beginning to ripen about one per week. There are seven more on the vine. But based on the cool down in the weather, they probably won't all ripen before the season ends. Hmmm...fried green tomatoes. Or green tomato pie.

And speaking of bruschetta, this past weekend our friend Deirdre came to visit and I made bruschetta with the fresh tomatoes and fresh basil. It was killer delicious. A little too much so. I started by cutting up one 14" baguette. Then I asked Deirdre, "enough, or should I cut up the other loaf?" "Do it," she responded, "the one may not be enough." So I did. And we pigged. There was enough bread for 8 slices each. I couldn't eat my last slice because I was getting too full and needed to leave room for the wonderful shrimp scampi Jess was going to make and the delicious pan-seared scallops and corn on the cob that I was going to make. Oh, and dessert...I had bought a couple of slices of chocolate mousse cake from Cardinali Bakery in Syosset, which is without a doubt the best chocolate mousse cake on the Island or even in the city; and I also made my new favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe from the NY Times. Wonderful. But it was all too much food, and I went to bed bloated and with acid reflux. Oh, well. I went to bed happy!

Saturday, August 02, 2008


About 10 days ago, we had a BIG set of thunderstorms roll through. The power went out twice in the same day. Later that day, I came home to find the microwave and the oven time pads were I reset them. Curiously, the microwave interior light was on and would not go off even when the door was opened and closed. You could enter time on the electronic pad and it would work. But the start key would not work. Neither could you use preprogrammed time-cook modes. I unplugged the thing and plugged it back in. I reset the breaker for that outlet. I opened and closed the door several times. Nothing worked.

Now, I have to be honest here: I have never liked this microwave ever since we bought it when we remodeled this house three years ago. It's a Sharp, and I bought it mainly because the price was really good and the Sharp that Jess' mom used to have was very good. I'm still not sure why I decided to go that route, though; we had a GE microwave at the other house and I loved it. We should have stuck with GE. The Sharp operates noisily, more noisily than the GE had. Its recirculation/exhaust fan blows very lightly on high, and on low, may as well not be on. If you are using the timer, you can't use the microwave, something that I absolutely abhor since I was used to the GE, which was smart enough to handle both tasks as once. And the work light on the Sharp was very dim and practically useless - something that has always maddened me because we didn't install another ceiling hi-hat over that area of the countertop because we knew we would have the work light from the microwave (because we were thinking it would be like the GE).

At any rate, I called Sharp the next day (Friday) to ask about the possibility of repair, knowing that I would not like what I heard. It would be at least $100 to replace the center of the touch pad, possibly $200 if the other component of the touch pad was fried. And the service call would be a minimum $75. So I was looking at at least $175, possibly $275, to fix this piece of junk microwave I didn't like. Nope. Not doing it. I unplugged the Sharp and I went shopping for a new GE.

By the time I bought the new GE, it was almost $600, what with the 5-year extended warranty, installation and takeaway, and a surge protector. I didn't have the $600 just lying around, but we needed the microwave. That was last Saturday.

So, today was installation day. About an hour before the installer showed up, I was playing around with Sharp. I had plugged it back in and was just goofing with it. The touch pad still didn't work, of course, and the light in the compartment just stayed on. I was annoyed with the Sharp for blowing out on something as simple as a thunderstorm that didn't harm any other appliance in the house, only that. I opened the door. I closed the door. I opened it again. I closed it again.

As I closed the door that last time, the light in the cooking compartment went out. And my heart skipped a beat.

I gingerly pressed the express cooking mode for a 1-minute cooktime.

You know how, when you have a computer problem and ask IT to come check it out and the damned thing won't repeat the problem for the tech, you feel like a complete idiot?

The oven started its cooking cycle.


It was working. The problem hadn't been the touch pad, it had been the door jamb. Apparently, the door wasn't making good contact with the unit so that's why the light was staying on and the Start key wouldn't work.


What to do? The thing worked for now, but we would have to have the door fixed at some point. I was happy to be getting back to a GE. I couldn't decide what to the installation tech, cancel the appointment and return the new oven, or let them install it and beat myself up for being such an idiot?

Well, we have a new microwave this evening. I didn't tell the installer that the old one actually worked. I couldn't. We rationalized that the Sharp's door was eventually going to bite the dust, and since we didn't like it that much anyway, investing more money into it would be counterproductive. And waiting around for it to die was sure to mean that it would croak at the most inopportune moment possible. We have company every weekend in August except this one, and I can't be without the microwave. We limped through last weekend without it when we had just one guest, and it was so annoying.

So once it was installed, we tried it out. I knew the Sharp was louder than the GE, I had just forgotten how quiet the GE was. Ahhh...virtually silent operation! And the recirculation/exhaust fan is so powerful! I think it would suck the dust right off the countertop. I can use the timer and the microwave at the same time! Hooray. And the last little bonus is that because it's a GE, the color of the stainless steel and the design of the door's window matches the other kitchen appliances better than the Sharp's had.

And then we realized that when the installers had left with the box, they hadn't taken the instruction book out of it.

Overall, I'm very happy with the oven, though. Of course, I have to be; I spent almost $600 on the thing, I'd damned well better be! Honestly, it is a much better machine. Really! And I'm going to the store tomorrow to pick up the instruction book for it. And I'm not looking back.