Friday, August 23, 2013

Chilled Watermelon “Gazpacho”

Photo by Sergio Salvador

This is technically not a true gazpacho, just a savory and refreshing chilled soup, because it doesn't include bread. It's lovely garnished with crumbled queso fresco or goat cheese. It would also make a great margarita or bloody mary mix. Or you could leave out the tomatoes and celery, add sugar, and make fantastic popsicles similar to the pepino y chile flavor you can sometimes get from the Mexican paleta carts.

2 pounds (about 4 cups) watermelon, cubed
1 pound ripe tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 medium cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 T. fresh lime juice or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fragrant extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced celery or a handful of lovage leaves
1 t. red chile powder or chopped jalapeno
OR leave out celery and chile and use a handful of fresh basil
1/2 t. salt

Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Adjust seasoning as needed. Pour into pretty glasses and garnish as desired. Serves 6.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Garden Update - Early August

~The Good~

Finally, the rains have arrived! This is the best monsoon season we've had in years. Too bad it's not actually enough to pull us out of the drought. But it's exciting. Three weeks ago, we had the heaviest rain I have ever seen - that's my street, with water up over the curb.

As a result, the weather has cooled off and I'm ready to do some fall planting! Dave moved one of our raised beds out from under the mulberry tree where it was too shady for anything to grow, and I'm going to plant kale, fava beans, garlic, and maybe even some cabbages and fennel. We put the bed right on top of some nasty bermudagrass, with a layer of newspaper on the bottom, so we'll see how that does controlling the grass.

The most beautiful thing in my garden this year is the zinnias! This is what I get to look at each morning over breakfast. Although... it was supposed to be two beds of okra, and the zinnias are volunteers from last year's planting.

There are still a few okra in there, though.

We have a modest crop of tomatoes. I think we just need to use more compost and/or fish emulsion. The Punta Banda and Nichols heirlooms are doing pretty well.
These are the first few big ones, a variety called Ace.

The tepary beans I planted in July are climbing up the tomato cages with purple blossoms now.
The corn I planted in July is not growing very fast, but we put more compost around it and planted some more - you can see it coming up between the big ones.
The pomegranates are ripening nicely; we have about a dozen! The first decent crop since it died back to the ground in the -10°F weather we had a couple years ago.
I got some beautiful "rescue" plants from Plants of the Southwest, things that had been in their pots too long or didn't sell well... Vietnamese Cilantro on the left; Nicotiana, California Poppies and Purple Basil on the right.

Sunflowers and French Tarragon are wonderful.

It was a busy weekend harvesting grapes and pears! We got 12 pounds of little wild grapes, the Roberts Red, which is busily expanding its territory on the front fence. It took us three hours to pull them all off the stems. I'm still deciding what to make with them.

We picked all the pears, quite a bit earlier than last year, and put them in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Hopefully with a month or two of cold storage, they will ripen without rotting.
And we were lucky to get this handful of plums - hardly anyone has any fruit at all this year due to an especially bad late freeze that killed everything, even the apple blossoms.


~The Bad~

Squash bugs are moving in on the volunteer squash in the okra bed. Not a single squash seems to be forming on the PeƱasco Cheese squash, though there are lots of male blossoms.
The watermelons are still just blossoming; one tiny baby watermelon is forming, but people are selling ten-pounders at the growers' market now! What am I doing wrong? I put a bunch of steer manure in there, and I thought I was giving them lots of extra water... someday I will figure out how to grow melons.
My awesome yard-long Red Noodle beans are languishing in the shade. I guess they are really sun-lovers, and I haven't found quite the right spot to grow them. They're only about knee-high, when they should be ten feet tall.
All the cucumber plants died; I planted some more seeds but they are still tiny. Also maybe too shaded there with the beans.

Nasturtiums are still tiny. Maybe I'll add some more compost around them and see if they bloom before fall. They do like the cooler weather.


~The Weird~

There are just an insane amount of flies this year, I guess because of the moisture. We decided, to our own incredulity, that hanging a plastic bag full of water above the table actually does seem to help keep them away.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wheat Berry Salad with Tomatoes and Sweet Potato Greens

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to use local grains as well as local produce, and how to eat more whole grains in general. I found some beautiful hard red winter wheat berries at the Co-Op and got excited. The Sangre de Cristo Agricultural Producers’ Cooperative, a group of farmers who have been producing organic wheat in Taos County since 1995, are pioneers in the local wheat movement that is gaining momentum around the country. This wheat berry salad is shockingly delicious, full of umami from just a few perfect local ingredients.

Sweet, juicy, gorgeous tomatoes are finally here, along with all the other wonderful summer produce. It always seems like an interminably long wait, but thus begins my favorite time of year.  And just this past weekend, I learned something new – sweet potato greens are edible! I bought a bunch from Jesse at Amyo Farms, and they are fantastic, without the weird mouthfeel of spinach.

The wheat berries do take a long time to cook, but it works really well to just make them ahead of time. Next time I might try cooking them in the pressure cooker, or overnight in the slow cooker. This recipe really only feeds two, so I'd double it next time.

1 C. hard red winter wheat berries
4 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch sweet potato greens (or other greens)
1/2 t. salt
1 t. honey
1 lb tomatoes, diced

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, turn down the heat, and add the wheat berries. Simmer for about 2 hours, until tender. If none of the grains have popped open, it's nice to chop them up a bit in the food processor.

Heat oil and garlic on medium flame. Strip the leaves from the sweet potato greens and add them to the pan. Cook until just wilted, then add honey, salt and tomatoes, stirring to dissolve and distribute the honey. Toss with wheat berries and adjust the amounts of honey, salt, and olive oil as needed. Serve warm or cold.