Fresh fruits and veggies taste better by the lake

We didn’t have plans, for once, on a Sunday. I figured we’d do what we always do – some puttering around the house, some cooking, some home repair and lawn maintenance. But it was perfect outside: breezy and sunny after a week and a half of nearly constant rain.

We knew there was a state park less than an hour away that we have been meaning to visit for a camping trip, and I figured we’d be more likely to get there and actually budget time for a trip if we saw how nice it was on a day like today. So we threw whatever food seemed reasonable at the time into the car, along with swim gear and headed down to the park.

We swam for what must have only been an hour but which felt like so much more; the bottom of the lake was delightfully sandy and no creatures touched my legs, which made me quite happy. We dried off in the sun and turned to snacks, and realized we’d only brought two apples, two purple peppers, and a whole, enormous cantaloupe. Well, also some bratwurst to cook on a mini grill, but those took a little time.

Sometimes I think that the reason kids don’t grow up learning to love fruits and veggies is because they eat them indoors; if you sit down at a picnic shelter and hack a cantaloupe in half, then spend the afternoon digging bits of it out with a spoon and drinking the accumulated juice straight out of the cantaloupe bowl… you just can’t help but love it. The purple peppers had been an impulse purchase at the farmer’s market, and they were a bit more bitter than most bell peppers, but they were a nice contrast to the cantaloupe. Slices of crisp granny smith apples added another texture, a tart flavor.

I’m facing down a real doozy of a week, and we came home to more work and a few chores that still need doing, but today, like that wide cantaloupe half, was very sweet indeed. Though eating the bratwurst was far more filling, the fruits and veggies eaten in the late summer sun were the highlight of my day.

A Day of Plenty: Harvesting Squash and Tomatoes

Husband has been pushing patience at me, because online I read that for butternut squash to be ready to harvest, you have to wait until the stem had died a little; that’s the only time when it’s truly done with nutrients. He said to wait to harvest ours until that ripeness level.

However… they’ve been that creamy orange color that indicates ripeness for more than a week now! I harvested our first two, one that weighed 2 pounds and one that topped out at almost 5, and I set about preparing the first for roasting. As soon as I cut into it, a sweet smell and a bunch of water came out – it was the juiciest butternut squash ever! I was quite sticky-fingered by the time I finished cleaning it out, cutting it up and getting it into the oven, but so happy. And glad that, this time anyway, my haste was alright. I’ll wait longer for the other, because it will take me a while to process the 5 pound squash.

Also, our tomato jungle is so dense that it’s hard to reach the back rows, which are up against the neighbor’s fence. Yesterday, I braved the spiders and the mosquitos to get in and get all the hard-t0-reach tomatoes, yielding me about 25 cherry tomatoes and 15 of the San Marzanos. I’ve found that my friends J, S, and B love cherry tomatoes so I’m not freezing any more of those, but for now, my plan is to keep freezing San Marzanos until I have enough pounds to merit a day of canning. I know I don’t need to try canning, but I think it’ll be fun. I’ll bug a friend or two to help me, and we’ll make sure we have the tools we need, and everyone will go home with jars of tomato sauce (simple sauce, with plenty of lemon juice to keep it acidified against botulism!). I’m rather excited.

Finally, I had given up entirely on our pepper plants, but two lovely things happened: the only pepper plant I knew of now has 3 teeny tiny peppers on it, so I’m hoping for lots of sun and rain to get those swelled up and beautiful, and there are at least another 10 flowers that I can dream about turning into bell peppers. Also, I noticed a very small plant with the same kind of leaves as the pepper, which I hope means we’ve got another, late-bloomer pepper emerging. Last year, Husband moved into the house in September and was pulling peppers into early October, so I am hopeful that we’ll have a long, luxurious harvest. It’s not orderly and perfect, but just dragging in the bowl of tomatoes every day gives me more joy than I ever thought raising a little bit of food could.

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Community Supported Agriculture

Lately, I’ve been ordering online from a very small urban garden about a mile from my house. They can’t have everything a grocery store has, so I often look through their website and think, “How will I find enough produce to spend at least 10 bucks, making it feel okay to have them deliver it to my door?” I don’t want to waste food, so I have to get creative.

In this last shipment, I felt pretty proud. I purchase fresh herbs – thai basil and rosemary – which I’ve used in a lot of my cooking lately, including the mac and cheese from a couple of nights ago. I also got yellow squash which featured in a potato dish I haven’t written about yet, and four jalapeños in a cute green  bag that I need to use for something but don’t really know for what yet. Husband is the spicy food person, and I’ve been told that chopping jalapeños can be hazardous to your health… or at least to your eyes!

Our local bakery has also partnered with them, so I got the rest of my way to 13 dollars of produce by adding in a lemon rosemary bread, which was consistent and delicious in all the ways that my bread never is, and made great toast for breakfasts; it replaced buying store-bought bagels that we usually use for breakfast, which I count as a win. Lastly was a new bag of kale, which got put straight in for more kale chips.

The fun part, of course, is the community of it. The woman who runs the boxes from her mini van up to my front door is now becoming a friend of mine; I give her back the cardboard box from the previous week and take the one she has in her hands. We chat about the day and how the tomatoes are coming in, both in her garden and in mine. If you have ever felt happy to see a full fridge or a pile of groceries, I assure you, the feeling of a box of local produce is even better, and it really isn’t expensive. I feel like I’m healthier for it after only two weeks, and I’m looking forward to the cooking challenge of using what’s in season.

The Unexpected Pleasure of Veggie Side Dishes, brought to you by GoSun

The GoSun oven provides for my cooking of veggies what Pokemon Go provides players for walking: an extra pleasure, a delight above the regular benefit of the action. Walking and eating veggies are their own reward, but that’s sometimes not enough to make us do those things. The GoSun makes me cook more veggies than I ever thought I would this summer, and I thought I’d share my four favorite combinations:

  1. bell peppers and onions: This mix is especially great for breakfast, right alongside scrambled eggs and biscuits. You barely need to season a good onion recipe, and as long as you cut the bell peppers ahead of time and let them air-dry for an hour or two. Also nice on top of burgers!
  2. yellow squash and zucchini – It only takes a little longer to put these in the GoSun than in a roasting pan, so if you spice them up with red pepper flakes and some garlic, this can make for the best possible side-dish and also use up some of that squash piling up during this part of the summer.
  3. cut cherry tomato halves – to roast up cherry tomatoes before putting them in pasta or a casserole, throw them in the GoSun with a little olive oil! I have been doing this in order to make it not feel like we have too many tomatoes coming out of the garden – sure, they’re good on salads, but this packs so much flavor into other dishes.
  4. Green beans with a little bacon grease – I am not a huge green bean person, but putting a bunch of these in the GoSun with a little pan dripping from a batch of bacon makes them full of flavor and, as long as you don’t go overboard, still quite healthy!

Obviously, I need to get more adventurous with my cooking of other things besides vegetables, but these are just so easy to clean up after, so tasty, and such a good mid-summer run.

 

By the way, I get nothing from GoSun for these posts – I just really like this product and think that people will like it if they get it and use it regularly. Just letting you know, this ain’t an ad. 🙂

GoSun Veggies!

As the veggies are coming in in the garden, I’m even more excited to use the GoSun. I asked recently on their community forum about how to dry tomatoes in it; they said it probably wouldn’t work unless I artificially lowered the temperature by putting something over part of the parabolic dish, but I’m hopeful. It’d be so cool if my dried tomatoes in future pasta dishes were actually sun-dried tomatoes. 🙂

This batch was from canned tomatoes (the variety that comes with oregano and garlic already in it) mixed with chopped peppers and zucchini. I would say that in the future, I might want to leave them out for a little while or press them between paper towels, because these particular veggies generate so much liquid that I get a stewed flavor rather than a roasted flavor. Another option I’m considering is putting some nice long-grain rice with a little oil down at the bottom of these high-water-volume veggies so that it can cook along with the veggies and make a nice veggie rice dish.

I have yet to see a successful bell pepper plant in my garden this year, since all the plants I thought were going to unfurl as pepper plants turned out to be tomatoes. We’re going to have the world’s best crop of tomatoes, it looks like, but I’m a little worried that it will be no peppers for us, which is sad. At our grocery stores, a dollar a pepper is a good deal for fresh green peppers, so it’d be quite easy to recoup the money spent on seeds and soil if our pepper plants were to grow up big and strong, but so far, nothing doing. Maybe they are hiding in the jungle; we’ll just have to wait and see. This morning I found more masquerading carrots, so we have a few more of those coming. 🙂