Tomatoes!

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The Garden Detroit (the nonprofit where I volunteer) had a stellar tomato season. Most of Michigan, I imagine, had a great tomato season, as it was a hot, hot summer.

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Planting seedlings at the Newport garden.

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Young plants at The Garden.

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Mature plants (though not at full height).

We did get some wonky fruit due to the drought and over-watering (some done by us but also mother nature, the few times that it did pour), but overall, our plants were happy and lush.

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We grow only heirloom tomatoes at The Garden and we had thirty (? I can’t remember, but it sounds right) different varieties. Red, orange, yellow, striped. All so lovely.

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Tomatoes are fun to pick, as they are relatively easy to find and when ripe and the girls enjoyed helping me harvest them on a couple of occasions.

Once while they were with me, I spotted a humongous tomato, which I ate (no one else in the family likes raw tomatoes) over the course of several days. Best BLT ever.

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I have tons of tomato sauce and soup in the freezer. Of all my batches, only one tomato soup batch was thrown out, mainly due to my frustration. I probably could have saved it, but it would have taken some effort (too watery and flavor lacking).

I also made several jars of tomato compote, which is my favorite way to eat them. Slow roasted with garlic and swimming in olive oil.

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My own tomato plants (which were gifted to me by The Garden and planted as seedlings) didn’t do as well as those at the Garden, I’m guessing due to lack of sun.

Also, the squirrel population in our yard is ridiculous and most of the time, if I waited until the tomatoes were ripe, they would disappear. I found many a tomato in random parts of the backyard, half eaten (if you’re going to steal them, could you at least eat the whole thing!?).

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Using green tomatoes was a first for me. I have yet to try them fried, which I may do as I still have a handful of green tomatoes on the counter. I did make a green tomato sauce with bacon and onions and garlic, which turned out surprisingly good.

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Tomatillos are also something I have never cooked with before. Their husks look like lace when they are dried out – so beautiful. I asked around and went online and meshed two separate salsa verde / chicken enchilada recipes.

I roasted the tomatillos with onion, garlic and jalapenos and then blended. Baked with chicken, onions and cheese. They were divine. My husband and I both were wowed by the simplicity and goodness of this dish. So glad I have a jar in the freezer! Yum!

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We began taking the plants down last week. I went through and pulled off any salvageable tomato – the above photo is our very last harvest at our Newport location.

I am already excited to start planting for next year!

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The August List – 2016

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August brought more summer heat, but also much-needed rain. It was another busy month, but we got to slow way down for a couple weeks when we took a road trip to upstate New York, where my Dad has a cabin at the tip of the Adirondacks and where many of his/my relatives still live.

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1)  We started a new rewards system for the girls this summer (got idea from a husband’s cousin). Each stick represents a number of plus or minus points, which translates to the same number of minutes, which they can use at the end of the week for app time (kid apps installed on my iphone). The system sort of tapered off during our trip, but we will amp it up again when school starts. It seems to work well.

Note: the fact that we are so strict with our girls regarding screen time is ironic, as my husband and I are tv and phone addicts. But if I recall, Steve Jobs was the same with his kids, so there.

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2)  This is my Instagram suggested viewing. Chickens eating. Lordie.

When I’m on as The Garden Detroit, I try to engage with other users, mainly farmers, who are often animal-lovers and I cannot stop “liking” videos of baby animals (mainly bunnies. or goats.) eating! They pop up with tags like “carrot” or “lettuce” or “eatyourgreens.” So silly.

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3)  Two days before our NY road trip, we went as a family to a Tigers game, our first of the season. It was a picture-perfect day with a beautiful view from our seats.

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4)  My husband and I were able to sneak away one evening for some adult time while we were in New York. We drove to nearby Lowville, to a craft brewery and taproom called BarkEater. Very cozy spot with a great staff (you know you’re in a small town when the server asks what brings you to the area and then “yes of course I know your dad”).

We started out with their tasting flight. I found most of them to be quite good, but ordered a glass of wine, as is my preference (they offer wines from local winery Tug Hill Vineyards), but I should have stuck to the beer. Wine varieties they carried were too sweet.

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5)  It was hot in New York, as it has been in Michigan all summer. On one particularly hot and muggy day, I drove the girls to Mercer’s Dairy for ice cream cones. I hadn’t been there before, but it was a very stressful drive through winding country backroads for 20 minutes until we finally reached the highway an easy 30-minute drive to Boonville.

On the way there, the skies turned heavy and dark, so I quickly ushered the girls inside once we pulled up to the shop. Mercer’s is famous for its wine ice cream, which I totally poo-pooed until I tried it. Surprisingly refreshing and yummy, though I can only speak for the strawberry champagne.

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As soon as we got our scoops, it started pouring rain. But I had to get a photo of a cone with the sign, so I grabbed my daughter’s mint chocolate chip (my scoop was in a cup) and ran outside. I got drenched (and left my daughter a little perplexed “Hey! Mom!”) but I got the shot.

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6) While visiting cousins on Lake Ontario, we (me, cousin Melanie, her daughter, and her new baby girl) took a walk as part of the baby’s naptime routine. It was nice to see all the pretty lake homes and we passed an old barn along the way and one quirky, multi-colored home pictured above (it’s vacant – surprise).

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7)  We also passed this tree, which I was curious about, as I didn’t recognize the fruit/seeds. My cousins told me it was a chestnut tree – who knew!? I’d never seen one before that I can recall. I didn’t realize they had spiky outer shells. Pretty cool.

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8)  While visiting Aunt Betty at Murrock Farms, I asked her about a photo in her living room. It was my grandmother Lucy (and Aunt Betty’s mom). She also showed me two photos of my grandfather Harrison Stackel, who died before I was born. She said they were chauffeur’s license photos (which back then I believe were like driver’s licenses). Such a contrast. As were their personalities, so I hear (I can only vouch for my grandmother, who I dearly loved).

Aunt Betty, by the way, is as amazing as ever at 92. She just finished reading Hillary’s America (no judgement!) and made biscuits that morning, which we ate for snack after a tour of the farm, which she accompanied us on.

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9)  This teepee has been in our seven-year-old’s room, but I set it up outside one day in hopes of giving the girls a new interest in it. When I was a kid, my sister and I looooved small, private spaces and would have been beside ourselves to play in a tee-pee, so I’m disappointed they don’t use it all that much.

I’m thinking it may get more use once both girls can read (and both write complete sentences without help). Not giving up quite yet.

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10)  I took the girls to Detroit’s Avalon Bakery earlier this month. We got sandwiches and sat outside for lunch. The sandwiches were so-so (I am also not a big sandwich person) but the bread there is really delicious and the treats were also very good.

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11)  While on vacation, I missed the Garden’s huge tomato boom. I was lucky to get some before and after my trip, although not in the quantities I would have gotten had I been here. Still, I was able to roast enough for a large jar, have made marinara sauce twice, bruschetta countless times, BLTs and chili. It’s been so awesome to have farm-fresh produce all summer! Sign up with your local CSA program next year, so worth it.

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12) I pass this mural when I come home from working at the Garden. It’s really sweet, I think and I finally stopped to take a closer look and to snap a photo.

So many great photos from our road trip, which I will share soon. The girls start school next week (Michigan is so late! I’ve been seeing back-to-school pics from friends for weeks now) and I am looking forward to that, but not to the end of summer. As the girls get older, summers seem to get more fun because we can do more, whine less and stay out longer. Michigan summer weather certainly helps (I’m often reminded of San Francisco summer weather with photos of friends wearing jackets and scarves, so I am grateful, even with our drought).

Wishes for a lovely September!

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Food From the Garden

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We’ve been getting a CSA vegetable box (which sometimes includes fruit) every Wednesday, as part of my work with The Garden Detroit. In addition to those goodies, whenever I work at the Garden, I usually end up taking something home – zucchini, tomatoes, kale, chard, carrots, parsley.

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We try really hard not to waste food in our house and now that a bulk of the veggies have been nurtured by yours truly, we’ve been trying especially hard.

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These were sooooo good! Ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, chives, parsley, shallots (which I omitted the second time – too strong), dipped in egg and panko breadcrumbs.

So naturally I’ve been on a cooking kick lately. Which, except for the times when the kids are driving me “flipping bananas” (a term I once used with them out of exasperation that they now think it’s some kind of funny trick one does with a banana), has been enjoyable.

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I’ve made three quiches (two with chard as the main ingredient, one with cabbage), roasted corn and beet salad, peach cobbler, garlic scape pesto, gazpacho, stuffed squash blossoms, grilled patty pan squash with chimichurri sauce and a multitude of tossed salads.

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Many of these were first-time dishes for me, so it’s been fun figuring out how to tweak the recipes to my liking.

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Also, oh my gosh if you’ve ever tried to photograph food, you know what a pain it is. Most of the time my photos make the food look unappetizing, lacking color and texture. I’ve been experimenting with the best ways (time of day, lighting, backgrounds) to photograph food, which has been a nice different way to get my creative juices flowing – always a good thing. Happy summer eating, everyone!

Korean Cooking Class

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Over the last few weeks I went to my dry cleaning lady’s (Grace) house to learn how to make some of my favorite Korean dishes. When I got to her condo, I could tell right away they were old school. House slippers for guests, white carpeting, photos of grand kids, minimal decor which included a Bible on the coffee table.

Also on display was a shallow bowl of garlic in water, with little green shoots coming out of it. I didn’t know you could do this (to promote garlic shoots to grow), so I’m going to try it!

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Joining us the first night was Grace’s postal courier, who had no idea what Korean food was all about, so I give her props for trying it out. We donned aprons and got to work making bul go gi and bean cake, called nokdujeon (I believe there are several names for it). Grace has her recipes written in a notebook. Some measurments were in grams, because that’s how the rest of the world rolls.

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For the bul go gi, she took out some meat from the freezer, which made it easier to cut into thin slices. She couldn’t describe what cut of beef to get but Google says sirloin or rib eye. Then we cut up mushrooms, green onion and other veggies and spices and put them all in a bowl. The “secret” ingredients to this dish are pear and kiwi pulp (just made in a blender). I knew about the pear, but hadn’t heard of the kiwi twist before.

I also noticed that for all the recipes, she doubled the garlic! Yowza. She did say she loved garlic and there was a lot of it. She crushes it herself to make a paste and keeps it in a large container in the fridge.

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For the bean cakes, we cut up similar veggies and added them to a paste that she made from putting soy beans (previously soaked) and water in a blender. Mix it up and then plop them in a pan of oil like little pancakes.

The bul go gi can be made on the grill instead of over the stove. I had a hard time understanding exactly how to do this – foil? A grill-safe pan? – but for sure the meat takes on an extra layer of goodness when grilled.

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For our meal, she also made roasted garlic, homemade kimchi and homemade bean sprout namul, both mainstay side dishes at Korean restaurants and of course rice. I asked Grace if she plates all the food when it’s just her and her husband eating and she said yes.

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The next time I went over it was just me and we made chop chae, a traditional noodle dish. To save time, she pre-chopped the veggies before I came over. I am impressed with how neat and pretty everything looks. If it were me, I’d just throw everything in a bowl and not worry about the pieces being so uniform.

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I didn’t realize that the noodles used in this dish were made from sweet potato. This is what they look like before being cooked. Like rice noodles, but more brown.

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You cook the noodles in water for several minutes while the veggies are sauteing. When the noodles have been drained and cooled, you add them together with the sesame oil, spices and…wait for it….a CUP of corn syrup. Waaaaah! No wonder I loved this dish as a kid so much. Grace started pouring something out of a container and asked what it was.

Grace:  See-dup? You know, like sugar.
Me turning white:  Syrup!? As in corn syrup?

Gulp. Of course I just smiled and nodded as I read “high fructose corn syrup” on the label. She said I could use sugar if I wanted, which is what I’m going to have to do if I replicate the recipe. I’m actually wondering if sugar is needed at all. The dish is not a sweet dish, so I’m wondering if the corn syrup just gives it that silkiness, which more sesame oil would do. Will need to experiment.

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We also made Korean-style sushi with egg, imitation crab, carrots, cooked spinach and what was supposed to be ham, but when I looked at the English translation on the package it was some type of fish cake. She said she usually uses Spam but tried something different this time. Spam would actually taste delicious. In Hawaii we ate loads of Spam, especially in the form of Spam musubi (rolled up in seaweed and rice).

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I used to make sushi sometimes with my Auntie Melinda, but it has been years and years. I think my technique was pretty good!

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Here are the completed dishes and we had kimchi again as well. Korean food is less intimidating to make than I thought it would be. And it was so super sweet of Grace to invite me into her home and show me how to make all these dishes, not to mention all the work involved.

She still wants to show me how to make mandu, Korean dumplings kind of like pot stickers, which I loved so much as a kid and I’m hoping they are as good as I remember. Yummers.

It’s Electric! (aka: GAH!)

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The stove.

Oh my gosh. I just found out that the stove in our rental apartment (where we’ll stay when we first move to Grosse Pointe) has an electric stove. I’m kind of freaking out. I don’t know what it is, but I have a huge aversion to the electric stove. I see one and I make a funny noise and start backing away with my hands covering my face.

I need to preface this rant by saying that I am first of all grateful beyond words to friends who are renting us the apartment dirt cheap, not to mention having to fix the place up for us and move a houseful of furniture elsewhere, just so we can move in all of OUR crap.

But back to the stove. Cooking is one of the things that makes me happy. And I am going to need to go to my happy place a lot in this apartment, I just know.

Does anyone out there have any tips on how to cook electric?!

How not to burn popcorn, for example? Really, how not to burn anything. Or how to bring a delicate sauce to a slow simmer?  Or how to remember not to put my hand on a hot burner that wouldn’t still be hot if it were a gas stove!