Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A little time in the garden

So I wanted you to see what's been going on in my garden. I especially wanted Pua, Averie and Caris to see the flowers they just missed when they were here!

So here we go:

This is a collection of flowers that unfortunately wilted just before Pua and the girls arrived. Hydrangea, pink callas, pink glads and purple glads. And yes, this has been photo-manipulated to appear as a painting...but it's still my photo. Click to get the BIG size.

These glads are white with pale lavender trim. The glad in the back is an electric pink with a bright yellow throat. And the pink callas, of course. These bloomed just after Pua and the girls left, wouldn't you know.

These lovely pink glads are called "Video". I have gotten several compliments on them.

A closeup of the lavender-trimmed white glads.

Okay, time for a fun shot from the kitchen. Pua, Averie and Caris enjoy the cupcakes (there were two types: German chocolate and banana).

Purple clematis.

Close-up of pink calla. I love these.

Yet another variety of pink glad that I love. I wish I could remember the name!

I really love the purple "Macarena" glads with the pinks.

That's all for now.

From one lover to the next

Ah, the loveliness of Stupice is surpassed by Purple Haze, a relatively new cross of three different varieties that is about enough to make me swoon. The only problem is that these babies are pretty small, about the same size as Stupice or a little smaller; bigger than a large marble, smaller than a golf ball. Oddly colored but deliciously rich in tomato taste. I will definitely be growing these again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ending a new beginning

Sunday, we arose at 3:30 a.m. to send our houseguests from last week back to southern California. Since last Tuesday, Pua and her two daughters, Averie and Caris, had been staying with us while Averie interviewed in the city.

While we've known Pua for some time and gotten to know her well through her comments on her blog, other friends' blogs, and eventually our own, we'd never met her in person. We really liked her, though, and felt as though we knew her already.

So we began talking about what Pua and the girls would like (or not like) while here. Jess gave them expert opinions on things to see and do, places to eat and fun stuff in general. For me, it was more about the food they liked because, you know me, I am all about the food.

We had discussed before they came out that Caris loved pickles and bloody marys and Averie loved cupcakes and margaritas; all things I could do well.

So before they came, I was busy in the kitchen; I made some German Chocolate cupcakes and some banana cupcakes, both of which turned out very nicely. The banana cupcakes, which were my first attempt at banana cupcakes, were rich, moist and very banana-y, if a bit over-spiced. The frosting was the best: a butter and powdered sugar base had just a bit of cream cheese base in it, mixed with mashed overripe banana.

On the drive home from the airport, Caris, Averie and I had conversations over food, discussing condiments (Caris and I share a love of all things condiment), pickles, potato and macaroni salad, and more. I knew this was going to be a fun trip.

When we got home that evening, I knew that they would be hungry, having been on planes all day, but they would have to go to bed shortly after we got home, so I prepared a light salad of lettuce and spinach leaves, with mandarin oranges, pineapple, slivered almonds and grilled chicken. I think they were impressed that they had six types of salad dressing to choose from. Gotta have those condiments!

The next morning, we're getting ready and the coffee is being made. Caris opens the cupboard to get out a coffee mug. As she reached for one of our more unusual mugs, she exclaimed, "Look, Mommy, they have the same coffee mugs as you do!" I just loved that. Just one of many things we would learn that we had in common.

A box had been sent to us by them ahead of their plane trip and we waited on them to be here in person to open it. A set of two beautiful tiki martini glasses, a great Hawai'ian bartending book, coasters, napkins and drink parasols greeted us, along with a CD of beautiful music by Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole and some scented soaps. We loved all of it! The drink book was full of interesting libations and Jell-O shots that I will have to try, as well as some racily-named ones: Dirty Sanchez, Red-Headed Slut, MILF, and Rough Sex among others.

They all were big fans of the dogs, and the dogs loved them. It was a doggie love fest. Now that they're gone, it's a doggie sulk session.

Wednesday and Thursday were the interview days, so each morning Jess dropped them at the train and they would make their way into the city. We'd pick them up in the evening. The second night they were here, I made Cheddar Burgers with Red Onion Jam, which went over very well in spite of how long they took to prepare. Thanks to Pua, who proved to be an expert bun-toaster, we ate that night instead of the next day! I later learned a couple of shortcuts to preparing the herbs and the burgers took less time the second time around. Note to Brad: you would love these!

Friday night, we had a little party at the house and invited bloggers from around the area who knew Pua. Jess and I had taken the day off Friday so that we could clean and prepare...and we did. Jess planned to grill burgers and dogs, and I made several dips as appetizers, to be served with chips and the FlipSides crackers that Brad had gotten us hooked on when we were in Kansas. Jess had asked Pua and the girls to pick up a cake at the Black Hound Bakery on 2nd Ave in the East Village. We only needed one cake to feed all the guests, but they said that when they got there, they couldn't decide which to choose...so they chose THREE of them! Holy cow. There would be cake!

I surprised myself with how well the guacamole turned out, and the watermelon, mango and jalapeno salsa was also a hit. Pua took one taste of it and rolled her eyes. "This is so good...and it's not even hot!" That's because the jalapenos were mild. Maybe too mild. I would have preferred just a bit more heat, and next time, I will probably make it with serranos and jalapenos.

Caris was in the kitchen just before the guests arrived. Sampling the guacamole, she said, "This is delicious. Is there taco seasoning in it?" I laughed and explained that the chili powder and cumin that I used probably made that impression since both are ingredients in taco seasoning. A few minutes later, Averie came in and Caris was encouraging her to try the dips. Averie tasted the guacamole first: "Wow, this is really good. Is there taco seasoning in it?" We had a good laugh over that.

As Averie was tasting the watermelon salsa, Caris was explaining to her what it was. "This is watermelon? No way! We never eat watermelon." It was quite good, if I do say so myself. I'll give you the recipe at the end of this post.

Jess grilled the burgers and dogs to perfection and the food was devoured. I mixed up margaritas, bluberry mojitos and blackberry cosmpolitans to go with it. Caris helped me butter the buns for toasting. The party went very well. Probably one of the most fun parties we have thrown since we've been in this house!

Saturday morning, after a breakfast of light chocolate chip pancakes, we piled into the car and headed east on a tour of the Island. As we do with most of our guests, we wanted to show them all the things that Long Island has to offer, and so we drove out to the south fork of the island, up to Sag Harbor, taking the ferry to Shelter Island and then to the north fork, showing them the charm and history that the east end of the Island has to offer. We stopped in Cutchogue at Pindar, our favorite vineyard, for a wine tasting, which everyone enjoyed. Caris and Averie frolicked in a patch of sunflowers on the grounds of the vineyard. It was a fun afternoon. Leaving the vineyard, we drove on to Modern Snack Bar in Aquebogue, another favorite stop, where we had a delicious dinner. For me, their meat loaf beats about any restaurant's. I think everyone ate too much. I know I certainly did.

Arriving home at about 8:00, I set about to make some homemade ice cream to go with the leftover cakes from Black Hound. But wait! In all this time, I hadn't gotten to make Caris a Bloody Mary! And I make the best Bloody Mary! I asked her if she'd be up for one. She was too full. I can't say that I blamed her. But I was a pest and asked if I could make her a small one, and she obliged my pushiness. She was impressed. Hooray!

I made chocolate ice cream. This was only my second time to make chocolate ice cream in my large freezer, but it was incredible. Way, way better than last time. I think it had something to do with who I was making it for...I was really hitting on all cylinders.

These ladies were such helpful guests, too...each night, they were asking what they could do to help us, they kept things very clean...it was just the easiest hosting job. They were so polite and thanked us for each meal, for picking them up and dropping them off at the station, for each trip we made. It was just so...refreshing.

Of the gifts that Pua, Averie and Caris gave us, the two that I especially liked were the glasses and the CD. They were two special gifts of aloha that we will always treasure because they will remind us not only of Pua and the girls but the Hawai'ian spirit that Pua and her family embody.

And so, sending them back, it was the ending of the beginning of a wonderful friendship. We miss you, and we hope you come back soon. And we hope we get to meet Charlie on the next trip!

Watermelon Mango Jalapeno Salsa
2 cups (1/4-inch dice) cubed watermelon, seeds removed
1 cup (1/4-inch dice) cubed peeled ripe mango
6 oz. pineapple tidbits, drained
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped seeded jalapeƱo pepper (about 1 pepper)
1 teaspoon finely minced serrano pepper, seeded, ribs removed
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Mix all ingredients together and chill. Serve with white corn chips.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


I'll blog more about the last week later, but suffice it to say for now that I am a little sad, a little depressed. Our guests have left and returned to California and we're missing them. We had such a good time with them, with so many memorable moments crammed into about five days. We had never met in person before this past Tuesday, but blogs, blog comments and facebook posts gave us so much insight into each other that the connection was there before we ever picked them up at the airport.

This past week was one of fun and food (as usual) and I was particularly happy with the way the cooking went throughout the week. A watermelon, mango, and jalapeno salsa that I made up for Friday night's party came out exceptionally, as did the guacamole and the sour cream dip. And the burgers were delicious, prepared by Pua and Marc and grilled to perfection by Jess.

Saturday night, I made some chocolate ice cream in the ice cream freezer and I must say, it was about the best I have ever made.

But now, they have gone, and as I strip the beds, load the washer and clean up the bathroom, I am a little melancholic that our friends have gone and the week went so quickly.

I hope they will return again soon.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

My new favorite tomato...for now

I have a new favorite tomato...well, at least for the next four weeks. It's a Czech variety called Stupice. It's a salad tomato, so it's not large; about twice the size of a cherry tomato. The flavor is fantastic and the best part is that it is an early-yield tomato...so these are our first of the season. And let me tell you, based on this season, the third coldest July on record, one of the coolest springs overall on record, it has not been a good year for tomatoes in New York. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten to enjoy many of these little jewels...only about 4 have ripened thus far.

Stupice tomato. (Not my photo - I borrowed it from the Net.)

Fortunately for me, most of my tomatoes are growing in EarthBoxes, which are bottom-watering, self-feeding containers. The reason that the EarthBoxes are doing better is that what little heat there has been has managed to heat the soil in the containers to some degree. The tomatoes in the ground haven't done that well because the ground is still pretty cold...it isn't just the part of the plant that's above the ground that matters to tomatoes and tomatillos.

Why do I say it's my favorite "for at least the next four weeks"? That's when I expect the rest of my plants to finally give me some tomatoes, if the heat stays up.

I am growing 14 different plants this year, each a different variety. Three are varieties I have grown before: Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and Big Beef. The Cherokee Purples were about my favorite last year, but because of the way I treated the soil before planting, they weren't as acidic as I'd have liked. So I did things a little differently this year and I hope they are better. They produced moderately, but were late, so I didn't get as many of them as I'd have liked.

The Brandywines don't produce much fruit, it's a hallmark of the plant, but the fruit tastes very good. Most gardeners would tell you it's their favorite for eating, but I mark it way down for production. At least here in the northeast, they don't produce much. Still, because of the flavor, I grew them again this year.

The Big Beefs had a pretty good harvest last year, but the flavor wasn't acidic enough; again, I suspect because of the way I treated the soil before planting last year they weren't as good as they should have been. I have greater hopes for them this year.

But onto this year's new ones that I can't wait for. The person who turned me on to the Stupice variety also highly recommended some others: Paul Robeson, her all-time favorite; Goose Creek, her second-favorite; Striped German, Cindy's West Virginia, Berkeley Tie Dye, Purple Haze (purple cherry tomato; can't wait to try it!), Earl's Faux, Cuostralee and Amazon Chocolate. I also have a Sweet 100 cherry tomato in there somewhere that came up as a volunteer from last year.

This year was supposed to be lots of tomatoes so that I could make lots of salsa. But since the harvest is already about a month behind because of the weather, I am thinking that there won't be any more salsa this year than last, when I only had eight plants...and my peach tree...well, I don't even want to talk about my peach tree, which hasn't had enough heat to grow the peaches this year. They have been the same size for about two-and-a-half months, and some are starting to rot on the tree.

So, for the next four weeks, I am proclaiming Stupice as my favorite tomato. We'll see if anything happens with the others in the next month to prove me wrong.

No time to blog...

...but I do have some stuff to say, however. Guests are coming Tuesday - Sunday so I doubt that I'll be blogging while they're here. We're busy cleaning and tidying and planning at this point.

One thing I will quickly talk about was a problem I discovered last week in my tomatoes. Some nasty tomato worms have found their way into our yard and one of them did some major damage to one of my biggest, nicest plants. All within about 36 hours.

They aren't easy to spot on very leafy tomato plants (like mine) because they are the same color as the tomato plant, and since they usually feed at night and not during the day, even harder to see because you have to use a flashlight.

Here's a pic of a tomato worm.

So while I was on the phone with our friend Bob from Kansas the other night, asking him if he thought I had a tomato worm as I described the damage to him, I was out with flashlight in hand trying to see if I could spot one. And I did...it took a few minutes, but I found him, happily munching on my beautiful plant. When I went to pull the bugger off, he held on so tightly that I literally had to yank him three or four times at different spots to get him loose.

Needless to say, he's dead now, but I have found other damage that lets me know he has company that's still around. Crap.