11 September 2008

Veggie Songs

Peas squeak.

Seriously. When I pick the snow peas from the vine and place them in my hand, they gently rub against each other and produce a squeaking sound. It’s quite charming.

The green beans are quieter, issuing a small percussive snap when I break them free. Although would somebody please remind me next spring that I’m fonder of the idea of yellow wax beans than of the taste? I think there must be something about leaving the beans on the vine long enough to yellow that causes them to get a bit too starchy and tough. The Haricots Verts, however, are delicious: fresh and crunchy.

The sound of dill is softer yet. I picked a paper-lunch-bag full of dill leaves and set them out to dry, the whole time telling the dill how wonderful it smelled and that I was grateful for it; that it would be used well in spanakopita and zucchini latkes, in bread, and maybe even on fish.

And snails make a satisfying (if guilt-ridden) smack as they hit the pavement, having been launched over the fence once discovered hiding among the bean leaves.

This morning was dedicated to harvest. I walked over to the neighbors and picked up two dozen eggs, five of which I gathered directly from the hen house. (The cackling and carrying on of chickens is its own symphony of sorts.) While there, I helped myself (upon my neighbor’s invitation) to zucchini: four little, four medium, and one huge honker (for stuffing). Three small tomatoes made their way home with me, too, destined for tonight’s pizza. Then I wandered into my own garden, from which I harvested ½ pound each of peas and green beans, the bag of dill, and two bouquets worth of flowers (mostly dahlias).

Meanwhile, a loaf of oatmeal bread was baking. And later today I’ll wander over to the cows’ side of the pasture to collect blackberries. I’ve picked and frozen four one-pound bags so far, but would be happier with more. I love blackberries.

But what I love even more is gathering, and eating from my surroundings. I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now (I’m in June), and am absolutely loving it. She’s a wonderful writer, and her attitude is refreshing. I wind up comparing her year-long experiment of eating only local food with Judith Levine’s Not Buying It. Where Levine came from a place of deprivation, Kingsolver embraces the challenge with a mindset of abundance and gratitude. And her daughter’s recipes are enticing – I will definitely be trying them. In fact, the book may wind up living on my cookbook shelf once I’m done.

Not that I’m ready to take the localvore pledge, but that’s mostly because of the dearth of local grains where I live. But I eat mostly local food, and of that, probably 90% organic.

In fact, one of the things that amuses me as I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the differences in crop availability. Kingsolver lives in a region that has seasons – snow, even. She also has more heat than we do here on the coast. My god, she’s talking about teasing tomatoes ripe in mid June! Here it is mid September, and my tomatoes are still little green guys. (My neighbor has a warmer garden plot, shielded from the wind, and his tomatoes are up against a wall that adds reflected heat. Hence he has some ripe already.) I can’t even think about growing hot-weather crops: melons, peppers, eggplant… Of course, I’m allergic to them, so for me it doesn’t matter.

Also, everything seems to be late this year. The first of my sunflowers just opened its sunny face today. And most of my dahlias are tight buds. Hopefully this means it’s not too late for me to put in the winter garden. I planted broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, chard, spinach, and onion starts on Sunday.


My goodness, searching through my posts to provide links to recipes, I realized that I never shared my recipe for spanakopita. I apologize! Here it is:

Wilt one pound of cleaned spinach leaves.

Transfer the spinach to a large bowl and add:

8 ounces crumbled feta
one bunch of scallions, chopped
dill (about 1/2 cup fresh, or two Tablespoons dried)
mint (about1/4 cup fresh, or one Tablespoon dried)
nutmeg (just a light sprinkling)
Pepper (to taste)

You can also add:
toasted pine nuts (about 1/4 cup)
cottage cheese (to give it more bulk, up to 8 ounces)

Melt 4 Tablespoons butter and 4 Tablespoons olive oil together.

Brush the bottom of a square pyrex with the butter/oil.

Now begin the layering/buttering process with the phyllo dough, one sheet at a time, until you have about a dozen buttered sheets in the dish. Place your spinach/feta/herbs mixture on top of the phyllo, then proceed to cover it, one buttered sheet at a time, for another 8 to 12 sheets. Tuck it all in, brush the top with yet more butter, and bake at 350 until golden brown.

Warning: the measurements here are off the top of my head. You may need to tweak them. As always, I'm assuming you know how to cook and am offering the recipe as a guide.

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