Barbecue season has arrived at last!

I was sitting on my back deck, thinking about how much later spring is this year than last (last year was probably record-book early). My elderberry hasn’t started to leaf out, most bird species haven’t started arriving, and my daffs have only just begun to open.

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Pat eats a Pawpaw

Pawpaw, paw-paw, so many ways to spell it!

I bought a couple from Forbes’ Wild Food at the Leslieville Farmers’ Market on Sunday.

One’s in the fridge — the other I let continue to ripen.

Was told it should be yellow with brown spots, the way a banana should be when it’s ready to eat.

The smell of the fruit was pineapple-kiwi-banana, but the acid smell decreased as the fruit ripened.

 

Maybe I was precipitous, but here’s the state of it when I decided to cut it open:

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Was difficult to cut open — I couldn’t quite understand why, until I had fully pulled it apart: aha! It has great big seeds that don’t slice easily!

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Next step: scoop out the flesh, and separate the seeds from the flesh:

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Took a taste. It’s delightful! For people who like to start the morning with a smoothie, this is the perfect ingredient. More protein than most fruit, lots of fibre and minerals. Tasty, but not too strong for first-thing-of-the-day.

Felt like there was an ingredient in my fridge that would complement the flavour, so I added some coconut milk (no sulfites!):

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Was very delicious. I read up some more about it on wikipedia, and discovered that it’s not a fruit that can be put in a cool place to store: it doesn’t last long that way. But the flesh of it does freeze well!  Something else for the Smoothie Set to consider.

 I saved the seeds. I’ll take the other one out of the fridge to ripen, now. And I’ll save the seeds from it, too. They’re quite large — reminded me of ackee seeds, but they’re not of the same family.

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I don’t know if the climate along the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia will support pawpaws, but there’s only one way to find out… and that’s to give my Dad some seeds! It’s an understory tree, so could potentially grow in his forested area. The one caveat I heard from Lorraine Johnson is that you need three trees to ensure fertilization of the flowers.

Oh. The flowers don’t smell nice — kinda one of those carrion-fly fertilized plants.

We’ll see! Dad, are you in? I’ll give you the seeds at Christmas.

In search of the most beautiful Caprese Salad

A Caprese Salad is a simple thing: tomato, boccancini, basil, olive oil, and some say balsamic vinegar (some say no).

When it’s fresh, ripe, perfect ingredients, it’s the essence of summer sun and warmth.

 

Probably the best tasting one I’ve had in Toronto lately was at Lil Baci, which uses imported cheese, and it’s very creamy, melt-in-your-mouth, pairs with tomato in an awesome way delicious.

 

Because it has so few ingredients, it’s an amazingly graphic, sometimes architectural, salad. I want to capture it as pure art. I’m not there yet.

 

Here’s a salad that Sandy had when we were in Italy in 2005:

Venice_0063

 Here’s one I photographed a couple of months ago:

Caprese Salad

Here’s my photograph from last week:

Caprese redux

 I’m getting closer, but I’m not there yet. Need more precision in my salad building, either get the whole plate or no background, editing details, clarity, clarity, clarity.

Then I saw a really interesting salad at a restaurant Sandy was eating at in Italy last night.

Hmm. Vertical stack. Hmm. different types of tomatoes.

I think I will continue to work on this.

Initial planting done.

Planted on Sunday morning. Went down there about 8 am: not many people about, just me and the birds. Lots of birds in the birdhouses scattered around the place — diving, insect hunting, calling to each other in kind of a drippy tap sound (but not the same as cowbirds). Cornell’s bird ID guide tells me I’ve got tree swallows, which adapt well to boxes, but the sound’s not quite the same (hey, do birds have regional dialects?).

Raked things up, put the pots where they seemed to make sense, then planted, then watered again.

So I’ve got:

  • 4 Sweet millions (red cherry tomato)
  • 4 heart-shaped sweet red peppers
  • 4 Roma (paste) tomatoes
  • 4 early girl round slicing tomatoes
  • 4 San Marzano (paste) tomatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • 2 pots of basil
  • 4 black magic eggplants
  • 4 green Zucchini
  • 4 hot Portugal peppers

Plus seeds that I’ve kept in my ‘fridge for a few years:

  • Birdhouse gourds: I want to make birdhouses and birdfeeders of them. Planted 2 seeds each in 4 spots. I suppose I could get tree branches and stick them in the earth to give a structure they can climb. Was thinking I’d just let them wander all over the soil, but they might be safer from rodents chomping them if up in the air. When I planted soybeans, the local bunnies chowed down on all the fresh new shoots.
  • Mesclun mix: oooh, my own salad greens, guaranteed not to be watered with water downstream of a CAFO. Planted two rows, about 6 feet long each. Sowed the seed pretty thick, because I’m figuring the germination rate will be lower than when the seed was fresh, even though it was in a ziplock bag in the dark fridge 🙂 We’ll see if I get any to harvest.
  • Cleome: red. common name: spider lily. It grows about 4-6 feet tall, so I put it along the edge of the fence on the west side. The neighbour has lupins behind it, so it won’t interfere with them.
  • Lavatera: white. common name: mallow. It’s a pretty flower, a simple, clear, uncomplicated. Planted it in front of the cleome.

 

Here’s a picture of one bed: this contains the paste tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

Planted.

I’m hoping to pick up a few more things for ratatouille (I want to *grow* it!) at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market this Sunday morning: Urban Harvest had some awesome heirloom varieties of vegetables last year.

Mind shift

I bought some lovely fiddlehead ferns and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms yesterday at the St. Lawrence Market. When I got them home, I took some photos of them (along with some lovely oven-roasted slab side-bacon that I got at Witteveen’s).

Ingredients from the St. Lawrence Market

Then I made lunch, and took photos of it.

One skillet lunch

Redo

Today, I used the rest of the fiddleheads and mushrooms with dinner. Decided I wanted to play with the circularity of the ferns, and put pairs of shrimp on skewers. I barbecued everything. The fiddleheads had been precooked, so I was just trying to get them warm. I took the chunk of mushrooms and left it as a chunk and barbecued it — that’s a great way to do it. It gave some crispy texture to the ends, and it had rich, deep mushroomy flavour.

I sprinkled the shrimp with a little bit of paprika before grilling them: a sympathetic color and texture.

While I was taking the picture after everything was barbecued and on the plate, I started thinking about what is important on the plate. What is the editorial stance, and the focus? If this was for an article, the imagery should definitely reflect the editorial viewpoint. So I have one flat view of the whole plate (nothing is taking precedence: this could work if the article was about, say, barbecuing your whole dinner).

Full plate focus

However, I look at it now, and because nothing is dominant, it’s making the whole picture rather bland and boring. The picture is flat and documentary, but doesn’t really have an opinion about what’s on the plate. The lack of a garnish or unifying sauce doesn’t help it, either: just three static blobs on the plate.

This picture is about the shrimp.

Focus on shrimp

 The fiddleheads and mushroom are there in the background, but it’s really about the shrimp on the skewer at the front of the plate.

Hmm.

I think I need to digest this lesson a bit.

Dinner at Tony’s

I was invited to a dinner party at Tony’s, and volunteered to prepare a dish. The theme for the evening was “heavy garlic,” and we talked about what movie to watch… I volunteered to bring my DVD of Ratatouille, and then decided that a garlicky ratatouille would be a good fit for me to bring.

Next, I researched a ratatouille recipe that looks like the one in the movie. The original, as can be seen on some of the DVD extras, is by Thomas Keller. It’s a little involved. I found a simplified version over at Smitten Kitchen‘s blog that looked tasty, so my next step was to hit the St. Lawrence Market to buy ingredients. Yes, I know that this is absolutely the wrong time of year to be making ratatouille, that the vegetables all are being flown in from South America. Most of the time I do cook local. Every once in a while, I go exotic.

I wasn’t quite sure of the quantities to get (hadn’t decided what I was going to bake it in!), so I did end up with one yellow squash and one zucchini unused, and I have a bunch of slices of everything in a ziplock bag in my fridge that are going to become more ratatouille today.

Raw ingredients

Wash, chop the ends, and then run all the veggie tubes through the mandoline. Put each vegetable in a separate bowl, and then make short stacks and arrange them on top of the tomato purée.

Ratatouille (raw) again

Put it in the oven — this was in for about an hour, mostly at 350F.

Baked ratatouille

Delicious dinner with friends. Tony made a Thai peanut chicken and salad (and guacamole, which we had earlier) and Bill and Claire brought a fruit salad and fruit pie.

Dinner @Tony's

 

Cheese and not-cheese

Compare and contrast.

No, I won’t do that, because that’s comparing apples and …hmm. bread? Two vastly different categories, although both are in similar spaces.

Fifth town, if you read back in my blog, is an organic cheese maker based in Prince Edward County. And they’re here, at the Delicious Food Show. I picked up some of their Quark cheese. I had never tasted quark until this summer, when they drizzled some maple syrup over some and offered tastes. Yes, I’ll take that over dessert any day, thanks. It’s delicious.

Fifth Town Cheese

The other was a maker, Daiya, that I had heard about, and I saw their products when the Foodist Mart was briefly open in Leslieville. They create a vegan product that tastes like cheese.

Daiya

They had some slices of pizza out with their mozzarella-like cheese-like product, and I took one and ate it. It did have a cheesy flavour, it melted like mozzarella, and looked like it, too. So for vegans who miss the taste of cheese, there’s a product out for you! They also had some grilled cheese sandwiches with a cheddar-like product, but after wandering all the stalls, I confess, I was sated, and didn’t try it.

Selsi spices at the Delicious Food Show

I had to highlight them. They’re another place I usually go to at the Saint Lawrence Market — I’ve got green peppercorns I bought fresh from them on the stem. Hmm, I should check on those: they’ve been in brandy for about a year now.

Selsi combines spices with the lovely containers I’m used to seeing at Lee Valley Tools, and put them together as spice kits that are visually appealing, and I’m sure would help get a novice using spices. They have two sizes:

Selsi spice kit #1

And a smaller sampler:

Selsi spice kit #2

Support your local purveyors!

I love Kozlik’s.

They’re at the Delicious Food Show. I hope more people try Kozlik’s mustards and horseradish. They are my absolute favorite purveyor of those items.

Kozlik's mustard

I usually buy their products at the Saint Lawrence Market. I’m a huge fan of their horseradish: it’s got heat and flavour. Totally clears out the sinuses. Has taste and works well in a Bloody Caesar as well as being served alongside a hunk of prime rib, or mixed in with some applesauce to go with pork (think I got that trick from the Joy of Cooking).

One of my favorite mustards is the triple crunch: it’s the caviar of mustards. Three different types of seed — makes a beautiful visual. Has an awesome flavour. Your teeth bear down on a seed that’s been softened and expanded with vinegar, and it explodes in your mouth with pure flavour, the way a fish egg does. It’s awesome. Put some on a slice of aged cheddar and eat it. Your toes will curl with pleasure.

One of the big reasons I love Kozlik’s is their customer service. My father can’t eat sulphites, and for years, this has meant the only mustard he could eat was the Keen’s powdered mustard, which my mother would add water to and make a paste.

I called to find out if any of their mustards or horseradishes were sulphite-free, and got a phone call back (I think it was Jeremy who called), and had a superb conversation. I couldn’t get my Dad a pure horseradish (it requires sulphites to keep it) but I could get him a horseradish mustard (wow, was it tasty). I was also given the names of two other mustards I could get him that were sulphite-free.

You treat a customer well, it’s remembered forever.