Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eggplant parmesan

I'm making eggplant parmesan for dinner tonight, so I thought I'd post the recipe. (Incidentally, I'm also making some basic white bread, and honey whole wheat). Eggplant parmesan is actually quite simple, but there are a lot of steps. I'll start by listing the ingredients:

Eggplant (at least two-medium to large eggplants, or more smaller ones)
Eggs (probably 2 - I often mix one egg with egg whites I have left over from something else)
Bread crumbs - preferably plain
Olive oil
Plain tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes - at least one 28-ounce can, more if you like a lot of sauce
Onion(s) - one or two
Basil - a handful
Parmesan cheese

Start by peeling the eggplant and slicing it about 1/4 inch thick

Place a layer in a collander in the sink, or on a drying rack over a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and cover with a paper towel. Put another layer on top, sprinkle with salt, and cover again. Continue until you have salted all the eggplant, and it's all covered with paper towels. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, you can start making the tomato sauce. Chop up at least one onion into small pieces - if you like a lot of onion in your sauce, use more. Heat some olive oil over medium heat, then add the onion and saute for at least a few minutes, until it starts to turn translucent. Add your tomato sauce and cook until heated through and bubbly. Add the basil (chopping is optional, but I usually do). Turn off the heat.

Beat the egg in a bowl with a small sprinkle of salt, and prepare a plate with bread crumbs. Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg, then dredge in the bread crumbs and set aside. Do this with all the eggplant.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant slices on each side until golden, then remove from the oil. Drain on paper towels if desired. In a lasagne or other baking dish, place a layer of eggplant, and top it with some of the tomato sauce. Grate some parmesan cheese over it. Repeat these layers, until you run out of ingredients.

Cover the baking dish and bake at least until the eggplant is heated through, minimum 20 minutes. Uncover for the last few minutes to brown the top, if desired.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple basil pesto

I haven't posted too many recipes lately, so I thought I'd put up a quick, easy recipe I'm doing a lot this time of year - pesto. Technically, pesto is any herb that is suspended in oil, but most people associate pesto with basil. Basil grows really well in Davis, so well that I always have way too much of it and end up frantically giving it away. The main problem is that there just aren't that many ways to use it. My primary ways to use basil are in pesto, liquor, or just added a bit of it to dishes such as salads, soups, risottos, etc. The only time basil is ever really the star is in pesto or liquor. (BTW, if anyone wants the exact basil liquor recipe, just request it in the comments and I'll do a post on it).

Pesto has really only a few basic ingredients - basil, salt, olive oil, and garilc are the only ingredients I use to make the basic paste. Traditional pesto, from Genoa, also calls for pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

I don't use pine nuts because they're expensive and because I use my in-laws recipe, which doesn't call for pine nuts, probably because my in-laws are not from Genoa. I've heard that you can also use walnuts.

I do use parmesan cheese, but I don't add it until I serve the pesto. I don't know why, that's just the way my husband likes it. I think I also read that it freezes better without the cheese.

OK, so the recipe - I already gave you the ingredients, and I don't measure, as you'll see. Here they are again:

Basil, garlic, olive oil, salt

You need at least a handful of basil, more is better. Put this in a blender, or chop it up very finely with a knife or mezzaluna, or crush it with a mortar and pestle. I recommend the blender, unless you want a less creamy consistency. Add some garlic - for only a handful of basil, add half a clove or less. You can always add more if you want it more pungent later. Then add some olive oil, and turn the blender on. (This would also be the time to add the pine nuts or walnuts, if you're using them.) You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if you need more oil. Keep adding it bit by bit until you get a creamy paste. Sprinkle in just a bit of salt, then taste it. Adjust the salt and garlic if you like - this is a matter of personal taste.

If you're going to freeze it, I recommend adding only the amount of oil necessary to make a paste - when you thaw it, you can add more oil to get the consistency you want. I freeze mine by packing it into ice cube trays and sticking them in the freezer. When they're frozen, I pop them out and put them in a freezer bag. And voila!

A final note on freezing basil - Last year, I blanched my basil (dunked it for about 10 seconds in boiling water), squeezed out the excess water (try using a salad spinner if you have one), and packed it into freezer bags in as flat a layer as possible. Now when I need some for soup or something, I just break off a piece, chop it up, and toss it in. It defrosts really quickly, and is very handy for cooking. But it does have a little bit of extra water content from blanching that fresh basil wouldn't have, so adjust your recipes accordingly.

Changing seasons - fall and winter

Fall is in the air. While it’s still too warm for mittens and heavy sweaters, it’s cool enough for a morning mug of tea, sipped while the sun is still rising and the slanted early light gives the world a surreal look. My morning ride to the train station is becoming colder and darker. The quality of the late afternoon light is changing from bright and blue and sunny to warm golden and amber

Some people may see fall as a harbinger of cold, barren winter, a time for isolation and dreariness. I prefer to think of it as a time for gathering in houses, celebrating the harvest, enjoying the crisp clean air, reveling in the colors, bundling up and taking long walks and stepping on the fallen leaves just to hear the satisfying crunch under my feet. The bright colorful blossoms of spring and the green of summer (or brown of summer in the Sacramento Valley) give way to the rich, subdued hues of autumn – earthy oranges and reds and golden browns.

In my life as a gardener, I suppose could think of the end of summer as a sad time, as my garden is dying and I’m finishing up the last of my canning and freezing. The plants that still remain from my summer garden are making their last efforts and drying up. But, like, most gardeners I suspect, I’m already thinking ahead. I’ve already started planting seeds and seedlings for the fall and the winter, and in my head I’m mapping out the spring and summer gardens for next year.

And like most things in life, the change is gradual as summer eases into fall. Even though the green beans and zucchini are fading fast, the eggplant and peppers, the vegetables of late summer, are holding their own while I dig up the garden around them. I’ve recently planted turnips and carrots and beets, sturdy, reliable root vegetables that will go into soups and stews to warm the quiet fall evenings.

Throughout the fall and winter, we’ll have lettuce and spinach, cabbage and cauliflower, broccoli and squash. We’ll open jars of tomato sauce or thaw out pesto for our hearty pasta dinners. We’ll spread some strawberry or peach jam on some homemade bread for breakfast along with our morning tea. In the evenings, we’ll enjoy mulled wine with apple or pumpkin pie, snuggled on the couch with the cat.

When I’m too busy, life often passes me by without a second thought. I don’t take time to notice my surroundings, much less appreciate them. But in the fall, life at home slows down just like life in the garden, giving me a little more time to think about my blessings, and meditate on the amazing change of seasons that never lets me get bored.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Settling into fall

Fall is definitely arriving. While the weather has warmed up again, it's definitely more of an Indian summer, and it's getting dark earlier and earlier in the evenings. We're still eating outside because the weather is so nice, but we need to turn on the lights even when we eat a bit early.

The garden is looking good, although the bermuda grass is already coming back. I can tell it's going to be a huge problem this year. The fennel, leeks, turnips, and radishes have sprouted, and in no time I'll be back to weeding. We should be eating our own lettuce by next week, with luck.

We're about to have the last of the eggplant, and tomatoes as well. The peppers are still there, but they're clearly at the end of their season as well.

Does anyone know what to do with lima beans? They're about ready, and I have to confess that I don't know if I've ever eaten lima beans, let alone grown them. I am completely clueless. It'll just be another experiment, which I'll write about after the fact.

Even though the zucchini is gone from the garden, the fridge is still full of it, so we'll be eating that for a while. Too bad, Loris.

It's late (for me, I'm old) so I have to get to bed. There's laundry to be put away and straightening up to do, but it will have to wait for another day. Maybe another week.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Mayonnaise is something that is incredibly easy to make and is delicious when it is homemade. It really doesn't even compare to the store-bought variety at all. The biggest drawback is that it doesn't keep very long. Homemade mayonnaise is a great base for other things as well - rouille, aioli, and so on. I sometimes add other flavorings as well - I'll add lemon if we'll be eating it with seafood, for example.

The only real ingredients you need are olive oil and one or more eggs, depending on how much you want to make. One egg makes quite a bit of mayonnaise - about a cup or so - so if you don't know how much you are going to want, start slow and then make more if you need it.

The one piece of equipment you need if you want to make mayonnaise easily is a blender with a lid that you can remove while it is running. It's even better if you can remove only a small part of the lid (such as a cap in the center) to avoid making a big mess. This is not totally necessary - mayonnaise is traditionally made by hand with a whisk, in which case you need to add the oil very, very slowly - I don't have much luck with this method, as I usually don't have the time or the patience.

Break the egg into the blender. Turn the blender to the lowest setting. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, until the mixture emulsifies. This will take a surprising amount of olive oil. I use good, expensive olive oil, because I want a good, quality mayonnaise. Keep in mind that the mayonnaise will take on the flavor of whatever oil you are using. You will hear a difference in the blender as the mixture emulsifies. Continue to add oil and blend if you would like a thicker mayonnaise, otherwise, stop when you're happy with the consistency. Refrigerating it also thickens it up a bit. Add a tiny bit of salt, to taste, but this is optional.

To make aioli, add some garlic with the egg in the beginning. Go easy on the garlic. Probably less than one clove per egg. If you're using more than one egg, try making just one batch first, so you can taste the pungency of the mayo and adjust for the second batch.

Rouille is a type of spicy French mayonnaise, which I use for soupe de poisson. While there are many recipes on the internet, and if you ask people from Southern France, you will undoubtedly get numerous different recipes. I found it easiest to make an aioli base, then stir in some powdered cayenne pepper, and saffron (optional). I serve it on croutons or crostini, dunked in the soupe, with gruyere or other swiss cheese.

Final note: Sometimes the mayo will "break", meaning it either doesn't emulsify, or it starts to emulsify and then separates again. If you are struggling with this, it could be that you are adding oil too quickly. Remove the entire mixture from the blender, but don't throw it away! Start again with another egg, then add your broken mixture as if it were just oil, very slowly. You'll end up with a double batch, but I'm sure you can think of recipes for which to use it!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Garden update

After a week of digging, adding compost, weeding, and planting, here is what the garden actually looks like.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lovely dinner

I didn't take a picture, but we just finished a really delicious dinner of handmade pasta with a sauce of butter, leeks, cream, and scallops, a salad of heirloom tomatoes and peppers, and some cheese. So yummy.

Pasta - homemade
Butter - eh
Leeks - from the garden
Cream - local
Scallops - farmer's market
Tomatoes - farmer's market
Peppers - from the garden
Cheese - we brought it back from Italy

I made the pasta sauce by thinly slicing the leeks and sauteeing them in butter. After about five minutes, I added the chopped scallops and cooked for another 2 or 3 minutes. Added a bit of salt and pepper, mixed it with the pasta, then added some cream.

Beginning of fall garden diagram

This isn't quite accurate - I haven't planted the fava beans yet. But otherwise, it's a plan-in-progress for what's happening in the garden right now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

First fall plantings

Now that we're finally having some cooler days, I can think about planting my fall and winter garden. It's still in the low 90's in the afternoons, but the nights are cool, and the days are bearable. It's a good idea to give the plants a start before it gets too cold for them. Plus, this way we may have some vegetables for Thanksgiving!

On Saturday, I cleared out a lot of the garden, dug in some compost, and planted lettuce and chard seedlings, and fennel seeds.

Today, I dug in some more compost and planted two rows of carrots, two rows of turnips, one row of radishes and one row of beets. I would have planted more beets, but I ran out of seeds. Whoops! It's the same package I started in the spring.

So we'll have the lettuce and radishes for salad by mid-October, and turnips, beets and carrots by late fall, hopefully. It will be my first time growing fennel so I'll have to do an update on how it goes.

Three cheers for the new seasons. If you have garden-attention-deficit-disorder, like me, you'll find that the seasons are just the right length to always keep you interested and excited by what comes next.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An argument for affluence

Affluence - as uncomfortable as I am with that term, I cannot deny that I am affluent. I cannot escape the fact that I am affluent because I am American and therefore I have more than others. When I say that, I mean it in two different ways. Relatively speaking, by definition, Americans are affluent because we have more wealth than the majority of other people in this world. Far more.

Based on a complex global economy, which in itself is based on treaties, embargoes, international policies, greed, protectionism, and exploitation, we are affluent because we depend on the rest of the world to provide us with what we want, essentially at their own expense. If all the poor of the world had even their basic needs met, we could not live at the standards that we now do. So I also mean that we are affluent because of this cause-and-effect mechanism.

Affluence as a term is very similar to wealth. One definition of wealth is “an abundance of items of economic value.” (from wikipedia). Economic value, at least in the western world, is typically determined by the “free market” (although considering the recent government bailouts of major corporations, the term “free market” as applied to western-style capitalism is really a joke). By this definition, wealth equals quantity. In a larger sense, wealth is a greater quantity of material things that have economic value in a global market, and the ability to trade these things fairly. America is a country that values material things, and uses them as a measure of wealth.

Often, when we talk about friends, family members, or even strangers who are in financial difficulties, we find ourselves becoming disgusted with their purchases, deciding unilaterally that what they’ve bought isn’t something they really needed. The responsible way to handle money, we tell ourselves (and sometimes others), especially when money is tight, is to buy only what we need, and not something we merely want. But we’re still talking about quantity, of course, and we’re talking about it in terms of economic measures, of physical things on which we can place a market value.

In a physical sense, as animals, all we need to survive is oxygen, food, water, shelter. Then we have non-physical goals that we would typically describe as “wants”. We want such things as love, acceptance, community, freedom from worry, the tolerance of others, a meaningful way to spend our time, recognition of our good qualities and forgiveness of our mistakes. To do more than just survive on a physical level, to really thrive, I would argue that these things are psychological or social needs. And interestingly, none of these things can be bought, directly, with money. In fact, in many ways, these things are either completely independent of monetary value, or they have an inverse relationship to money. They can’t be quantified.

Compared to typical Americans, the lifestyle my husband and I live might not be considered affluent (although by global standards we are incredibly rich). We share a car, and we either coordinate our schedules, or we take alternate transportation – bus (me), train (me), or bike (both of us). We grow a lot of our own food (well, that’s mostly me, too). I bake my own bread, shop at the local food cooperative and a variety of farmer’s markets, and preserve a lot of food for the winter. I enjoy making things by hand. I meet with like-minded friends for discussion and to read thought-provoking books. My husband and I both love getting out into nature, hiking, meditating, experiencing the beauty of the natural world. None of these things are valued in the “free market”. They have no economic value, and bring our family little or no wealth, despite the fact that they fulfill our psychological needs. By our own standards, we feel very lucky, and very wealthy.

Based on this, I would propose a new definition of the word affluent. “Wealth” derives from the old English word "weal", which means "well-being". Despite current usage, the term was originally an adjective to describe the possession of great qualities. Can you imagine a society in which people who have a sense of wonder, compassion, justice, forgiveness, quiet intelligence, humility, charity – these are the people who are considered wealthy? A society in which those who take only what they need and give everything else they have to those in need, they are the ones who are considered affluent?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last big canning day of the year, I hope

Yesterday was a crazy day again. Loris and I went for a 29-mile bike ride, which was absolutely beautiful despite the fact that it was already starting to get pretty hot. We drove a few miles out of Davis and parked because I wanted to stop by a produce stand on the way back.

I don’t think it was local produce, considering they had everything from iceberg lettuce to broccoli to peppers and eggplant. But no heirloom tomatoes =(

We bought two 20-pound boxes of roma tomatoes to make up for the sorry supply in our garden, and I spent the afternoon making tomato sauce (and trying to make juice). By the end of the afternoon, I think I got my method down pretty well. I sliced the tomatoes at least in half (the bigger ones were cut into thirds or quarters), and cooked them on the stove for about 30-40 minutes. Then I used a ladle to scoop out the solids and strain them in my mesh strainer (NOT a fine-mesh strainer), then passed the solids through my juice/sauce machine. This made for a nice thick sauce, to which I added some salt and chopped basil. I strained the remaining liquid into a couple of pots, and I’m hoping to cook it down today to make some tomato juice. I think I’ll get a quite a few quarts of juice.

Loris used one jar of sauce with a jar of olives we bought at the market to make some fantastic pasta for dinner. We’re so spoiled.

Tonight I’m hoping to make eggplant parmesan for dinner and an extra one or two to freeze.

So the tally for the weekend:

6 jars of peach jam (4 small ones, 2 pints)
3 quarts of canned peaches
19 pints of tomato sauce (13 canned, one for dinner, 5 frozen)
Tomato juice (not finished yet)
3 loaves of French bread
Chocolate gelato (yum yum)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Just had a really long day followed by a fantastic homemade dinner. This is my big, final weekend of food preservation (I hope). I made and canned peach jam and several jars of quartered peaches in syrup. I also baked some bread and made dark chocolate gelato.

For dinner tonight, I made scallops from the farmer's market stuffed with a basil and garlic paste (pictures coming!). Loris made bruschetta with my homemade honey-whole-wheat bread, lardo from Italy, honey from the farmer's market, and grilled shallots from our garden. He also made a salad of potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and basil.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


I went to the garden after work yesterday.

I picked:

- A couple dozen tomatoes
- 3-4 eggplants
- 6-10 peppers
- Several LARGE zucchini/yellow squash
- A few handfuls of green beans
- One large bag of basil
- One large bag of parsley
- 3-4 leeks

I noticed:

- I killed the butternut squash plant when I accidentally pulled it up while weeding last week
- The last melon isn’t going to make it
- The lima beans have tons of flat pods, but no actual beans inside yet
- The green beans are really drying out and not producing much more
- The zucchini is probably almost done for the season
- Only one heirloom tomato plant is even trying anymore

I wondered:

- When I would have time to get my fall seeds in the ground
- What I would do with all that basil
- What I should have done differently with the tomato plants

Tonight I plan to:

- Make vegetable soup to freeze (still need to chop green beans and carrots)
- Make a summer vegetable risotto for dinner (and to freeze)
- Make bread for dinner and breakfast (and extra to freeze)
- Make pesto (to freeze?)
- Chop zucchini to freeze for later soup-making

By mid-September I plan to:

- Finish making and canning tomato sauce
- Finish making all the liquors I have going right now
- Plant my fall vegetable garden
- Get started on some craft projects that I’ve been putting off forever