Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A tisket, A tasket

a full on summer basket....Well, OK, we do NOT have any tomatoes in this week's CSA basket which perhaps disqualifies it for a "typical" full on summer basket according to usual Central Texas standards.

At the same time, nobody I know of around here is having much luck growing tomatoes this year. I can barely field enough to make a garnish for two plates at the moment and I have three large plants in the back. Under ordinary circumstances, three tomato plants would be more than enough to overload two full grown tomato loving adults and would find me bringing the extras to church on Sundays looking for unlocked cars in the parking lot. Not this year.

We are in week 15 of the 18 week CSA season for Tecolote Farms, we are hitting triple digit temperatures, and tomatoes or not, it is most definitely summertime. As I unloaded the harvest today, I found myself wishing I had some way to transform this space into "scratch and sniff" mode for you. Between the basil and the melons, my nose was working overtime. Just tantalizing aromas, spicy and floral and full of promise for delightful meals to come.

On to our roll call for today's harvest along with reporting on my plans to use the various components. Don't tell anybody, but when I go back to read what I'd planned on doing week to week it is chastening. My plans are almost always much more ambitious than I turn out to be when the reality of the end of most days strikes. Onward. Basket 15!
Eggplants. A gorgeous array of Purple Italian heirloom and white American hybrids. We are about eggplanted out around here so I am happy to hear from others that I can peel, cube, sauté and freeze these beauties for a delicious taste of summer weeks and months from now when I am not getting baskets any longer.Not one but two melons. A Cantaloupe and a Crenshaw. The Canary melon from last week is so sweet it is currently knocking our socks off. That will be a tough act to follow, honestly.Butternut squash. Thankfully, butternuts keep for a long while. I have a great recipe for soup with sausage that I'd intended to try with last week's squash, but the scalding evening temperatures have pretty much taken away our appetite for hot rich soups at the moment. I will find a nice cool dark place to store these beauties until we get past the worst of summer's heat.Cucamelons. The beetles are doing a bit of a number on the skins of these melons at the moment but the insides are pristeen. I am finding the abundance of this delicious cucumber precursor nearly compensates for the loss of tomatoes this summer. I've been feasting on gazpacho and cucumber salad nonstop for three weeks now and loving it.Chinese long beans. Reportedly these are best stir-fried or sauteéd rather than steamed or boiled. We had the previous batch in a noodle dish. I haven't quite decided what to do with the current bunch. I have loose plans to make more of the ginger fried rice that has become a new family favorite, and am currently thinking to do something stir fried with the beans and some peppers to go with that. I could follow up another night using them chilled in a salad. I'll be back with more on how that turns out as the week unfolds.Hungarian medium-hot peppers. We are told these are sweet in your mouth then hot going down. I'm not sure exactly what that means but sure will have fun finding out. I am thinking of these in combination with the Chinese long beans in a stir fry at the moment.Red Bell peppers. Next batch of gazpacho will probably feature these. If I have any left over I will slice and freeze the strips for future pizzas seeing as I am the only one who likes bell pepper pieces on my pies. I always try to have some on hand in the freezer to sprinkle on my share of the slices when we make pizza at home.Sweet Yellow Granex onions. Although I am only showing one here we got two in our basket today.

Similar to the legitimate criticism I might have taken over battering and deep frying organic okra - taking something healthy and rendering it somewhat less so - I am currently considering venturing into similar territory to satisfy something of a craving for home made onion rings. My major problem with rings is that if I am not careful I tend to burn my tongue early on by trying to eat one of the first few before they've sufficiently cooled.

I can easily make a meal out of onion rings. I am mind's eyeing the left over batter that my relleños recipe inevitably yields and thinking rings might be a great component to a vegetarian dinner as we try to eat less meat this year. Mmmmm. Chiles stuffed with cheese accompanied by fried onion rings. Wow. I think I just gained a pound typing that...

Last but not least, another batch of lovely basil. A friend of mine at lunch recently was commenting in disbelief about his experience in a local restaurant where he had ordered a favorite summer basil shrimp with mushrooms and jalapeños and was told by his waiter this place was out of basil.Out of basil? In Texas in July? Hard to fathom when the plants are still going great guns. Every market I've set foot in lately has had lots of fresh bunches for sale. Maybe that was a reflection of everybody having tasties for basil this time of year. Basil shrimp, basil salads, pesto, no matter how you like your basil, if you like it at all, you are generally in luck in Central Texas this time of year. When the weather heats up, I personally really enjoy the ways basil provides a cool note to a dish. To me it is similar to mint but deliciously more complex. I can't believe I was nearly 35 before I ever tasted any fresh. I am making up for that late introduction now, I assure you.Friends, it is hot today. Not "oh sure- it is summer" but legitimately, everything alive is wilting too toasty to get outside in it HOT. Even for here for July. Triple digits already and most certainly not the hottest part of the day yet. One of ways I cope with such heat is by eating less (for me- everything is relative) and by taking naps during the hot afternoons so I can stay up later and get up earlier and take advantage of the cooler parts of the day.So off I stumble to nap my way past the triple digits for today and hope for a thunderstorm or something to break the heat for a bit. Dinner tonight will be the ginger fried rice, which cooks over medium heat all in one skillet without having to toast up the entire kitchen. It could be the beans and peppers will have to wait for another meal - perhaps with a bit of added protein to make a full on entreé. If I pull that off in any way I'd want to duplicate - I'll share it here, so please check back.

Meanwhile, take care to pace yourselves through these hottest summer days, and raise a (cool) toast later to summer's bounty with me.

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