Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pepper Sickness?

Mr. Stripey wasn't the only thing that suffered in the garden. I had some nice peppers finally develop out there as well. I didn't show you much of them. It took forever for them to grow, and I mean FOREVER. Maybe next year I will plant the bell pepper plants over by where I have that crazy jalapeno planted.

(POP QUIZ: how many different things can you put jalapenos in? Homemade salsa, tuna salad, tacos, chickpea salad, potato salad, tortilla soup, chicken enchilada casserole . . . and now I am drawing a blank. A little help here? comment section below.)

The peppers refused and refused to grow- i complained about it at length here, such as in this post entitled "My Little Peppers and How They Grow." The photos in that post were so cute and tiny as the bell peppers began their journey toward adulthood:

They quickly grew to a large size but hovered in their green state for weeks upon weeks

Now, one plant was an orange bell pepper plant, and therefore should have turned orange, and the other plant was a red bell pepper plant. So, I knew when they were ripe they would turn colors, then I could pick and eat them. Meanwhile, I was preoccupied with Mr. Stripey, the death of zucchini, the confounded beans which never really produced, and the sugar snap peas which sort of but never really gave me anything. (I did get about seven pea pods and we ate them in a yummy salad! I WISH i had gotten tons of those peas!)

But, finally, one day, color appeared:

This color appeared after a couple of days of rain, which suggests that perhaps the peppers needed a bit more water in order to really ripen and move the process along.

Unfortunately, after this, I didn't get a photo for a couple of days because I was out of town. When I came back in town, however, they were BRIGHT orange and red and ready to pick. They had slight abnormalities on their skins but no big deal, right?

So, I picked them and prepared to use them in dishes. First, I picked the red pepper. It wasn't totally red but as soon as I touched it, it fell off of the plant. It had a bit of brownish/green at the bottom. I left it on the counter, thinking it would finish ripening. It didn't. It turned mushy. That was a disappointment. Disappointment No. 1, as it turned out.

Disappointment No. 2, as it turned out, was this:

The "abnormalities" on the skin of the orange pepper, after it was left on my counter for a day or two, got worse and worse and worse, until it ended up looking like this! Now, what the hell is this all about? Should I have washed it with antibacterial soap as soon as I brought it in? Is this caused by bacteria or by insects or what? THey are just, spots that sort of sunk into the pepper itself. I really, really don't get it. I never used any pesticides or chemicals in the garden. I'm trying to eat fresh and get free food here, darnit!

I carved off the unusable portions, just like I did with the tomatoes, and got some usable parts diced up.

And . .. i ended up adding it to a chickpea salad, and it was fresh and tasty. The above shots are what the inside of the pepper looked like. I am just at a loss as to what is the deal with the produce from the garden. Something similar happened to the last zucchini we brought in, before the zucchini plants died. It had a little break in the skin, and we left it in the fruit basket, and two days later - the entire zucchini had sunken in on itself like it had a worm or something. Yuck.

I bring produce home from the supermarket all the time and leave it out on the counter . . . should I be putting my veggies in the fridge or something? Not the tomatoes, surely . . . but they are having problems too! Help! thanks.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eating Mr. Stripey!

The trials and tribulations of Mr. Stripey finally come to an end.

Last time we checked on this darn plant, one of the tomatoes had blossom end-rot, allegedly, and the combined weight of the three tomatoes was bowing the plant to the ground, so i had to use stop-gap measures and lay the stems across an extra cage.

Blossom end-rot:
In the end, that tomato looked like this:

Gross, huh? But think about how beautiful it would have looked if it didn't have that weird rotten spot??

the other two looked like this:

They ripened quickly. We kind of ignored the garden for only a week or two (tell you the truth, I needed a break. After the zucchini plants died, i lost heart. The beans haven't been producing like I hoped, the sugar snap peas never really came in, and well . . . sometimes you just need a break.)

Anyway, when we went back out to check, there were three ripe as hell Mr. Stripey tomatoes hanging there, ready to eat!

If there is anything I learned this year from gardening, it's to plant ten or twenty tomato plants next year. I just need more. Much more!

So what do you think this bounty looked like inside?

hooo-boy, it was such a treat!!

Look at those striations! Here's a closeup

Look at all that meat and the fact that there is practically no seed to get in your way!

This was the most delicious tomato salad. I did not adulterate it with green onions or blue cheese like the last one I exhibited here. Just kosher sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, the merest sprinkle of 15 year old balsamic, and a drizzle of truffle oil. The truffle oil really took it to that next level. And you know what made this so good? I finally got to eat a BIG FAT JUICY TOMATO from my own garden.

Now, DARN YOU MR. STRIPEY, i wish you produced more than three tomatoes!! Because I swear to you, these tomatoes were the most delicious I have tasted in my life. I'm not joking you, and eating a fat tomato every day for lunch in the summer is a tradition of mine. I am a tomato connosseiur. I love them.

These were really, really, reallly good.

I won't be replanting Mr. Stripey, though. So if anyone wants it, it'll be outside in my trash.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tomatoes are carb free . . . . ???

man, i bought around $15 worth of heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market this past weekend

whooooo-weeeeee! Look at those Cherokee Purples!!! I got three of those big suckers

And then five of the yellow tomatoes, I dont know what they were, Lemon Boys or whatever. The yellow tomatoes were markedly sweeter than the Cherokee Purples, but just take a look at how meaty the Cherokees are - barely any gel and seed!

Here's a great closeup

Here you can see the beautiful color striations, green, purple and red (well sort of, it's still the same crappy lighting in my kitchen, although I put it on a white platter this time)

So much meat!

I made the most delicious tomato salad with these tomatoes. I was trying (and failing) to recreate the most delicious tomato salad I have ever had in my life. It was at my best friend's wedding, last year at Citronelle in Washington, D.C. I don't think any of us were quite expecting a salad of heirloom tomatoes to explode in our mouths and then shimmy around like velvet to be washed down with a nice white wine like a song the way that chef's tomato salad was, but man, what did he use? I've always wondered? It was a wedding, he could have served us the same old tomatoes with slices of buffalo mozzarella and basil and we would have stuffed it in our mouths. As for me, I wanted to do these tomatoes the same justice.

So I found this recipe from Gourmet Magazine, circa July 2000.
  • 3 tablespoons extra–virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons malt vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (preferably flaky sea salt or fleur de sel) 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 lb ripe tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced diagonally
  • Whisk together oil, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Arrange one third of tomatoes in 1 layer on a large plate, then drizzle with some dressing and sprinkle with some scallion. Make 2 more layers of tomatoes, drizzling each with dressing and sprinkling with scallion.
Cooks’ note: Tomatoes can be sliced and dressed, without scallion, 6 hours ahead and chilled, covered with plastic wrap. Sprinkle scallion over tomatoes just before serving."

Here's our version:

I added a little bit of roquefort cheese, leftover from the huge cheese block I bought at Costco weeks ago for the arugula roquefort steak dish.


I'd love to know how others make their heirloom tomato salads. Many recipes suggest balsamic vinegar and I do not like balsamic vinegar for salads, although I have some from Little Italy in NYC that is 20 y/o and pretty good. It is just too sweet, I think. I used tarragon vinegar instead of malt vinegar in this salad and it turned out good.

But, surprisingly, the real stunner in this meal was THE SHRIMP.

You should really get yourself some shrimp and keep it in the freezer. It's so easy to prepare as an easy dish - with pasta, with greens, , etc. etc. I love it! It's the summer version of frozen meatballs! :)

Anyway, this month's issue of Cooking Light had this great recipe for "Jerk-Spiced Shrimp" and we made it and I AM IN LOVE!!!
Ok, here is the photo from Cooking Light:

The Recipe:

1 tbls sugar ( I used light brown sugar and I recommend it)
1 tbls paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground thyme
1/8 tsp ground allspice
2 tblsp olive oil
1.5 lbs peeled and deveined large shrimp
Cooking Spray

- Combine spices. Toss shrimp and oil in large bowl and toss to coat. Sprinkle spices over shrimp and toss. Thread shrimp evenly onto skewers. Place skewers onto grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 6 minutes or until done, turning once.


I will definitely be making these at at least one party per year from now on. These are so freaking delicious that we were looking at one another with puppy dog eyes, sadly, asking if there were any left. Thankfully, there was a LOT of the tomato salad.

All in all, I love summer. You can make a lot of no-carb meals. Nice and healthy! This shrimp recipe is called "jerk-spiced shrimp" by Cooking Light but it is not really spicy enough for a true jerk name. Still, it is so tasty that I thought about cooking up another batch tonight. Wowza! I had five leftover shrimp for lunch today and they were just as good.

I highly recommend these recipes!


Much like the beginning of the summer, Alexandria, Virginia saw days and days and days of rain this past week and weekend. At times it was so torrential i wondered if it was hailing. (My parents in North Carolina did have hail, grape-sized.)

I was kind of glad that the garden was getting watered without me, but when I went out to inspect the weeds that had surely sprung up, i was horrified at what I found.

Here is a photo of a healthy zucchini plant, on or about July 7, 2009, so almost two months ago. (Note, that it has grown much much bigger, but this gives you an idea of what it looks like.)

Now, a week ago, the leaves of this plant were so large that they reached the newspaper on the right side and were equidistantly stretched out all around. With beautiful squash blossoms beaming at me every morning and zucchini growing. Did you know that zucchini blossoms open in orange glory early in the morning and look like tiger lilies, sort of? They don't stay all twirled up all the time - in the morning they are open and glorious. I notice this from my shower window in the morning and I have been meaning to post about it for you.

Well, that is unlikely to happen due to this tragedy:
The leaves have been shredded and beaten into the ground.

Here is the horrifying closeup.

It would be impossible for photosynthesis to occur with these shredded leaves, not only because the leaf area does not exist anymore (mostly) but because the xylem and phloem in the stems has been destroyed. Xylem (zylem) and phloem are the tubes in the stem that carry the and water throughout the plants. I remember this from 7th grade biology, believe it or not. Our teacher made us sing a song about it, a really simple song, and she told us at the time "you feel stupid now, but you will remember this the rest of your life" and she was right. So: xylem carry the water up, phloem carry the food down. (i.e., xylem carry water from the roots up to the leaves, where photosynthesis occurs, and then the food is made there in the cells, and the phloem carry the food down to the roots, etc.)

So, in this plant, the xylem and phloem is pretty much brutally bashed out of commission:

Those are the main stems of Plant 1 and Plant 2. they were beaten open by what I can only imagine was hail and now there are ants taking up residence like it's an open house. I see no evidence of either xylem or phloem.

Then there are such exhibits as this:

Stems such as this have just given up.

After coming to terms with the devastation, I reminisced over times gone by.

Photos like these remind me to Carpe Diem. Look at all the sturdy xylem and phloem.

If you think I am not shedding a tear, I am. Mister Siren and I had words over a lack of sensitivity to the destruction. It was like losing a child. I'm serious, people! I was looking forward to a bountiful harvest of zucchini all summer, and i get - - - - - destruction. I feel like a pioneer in a year of famine or something.

There were other casualties:

My husband tried to repair the damage with scotch tape out of sympathy for me and his own dinner salads.

If the plant does not repair itself, all of these tomatoes will be at stake

Please mourn with me. This is way too sorrowful to mourn by myself.

RIP, zucchini.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tomato Sickness

The slow-producer Mr. Stripey, has something wrong with its tomatoes . . . .

This plant really could not be any more annoying!! It finally flowered and produced three tomatoes, after I fertilized it with special fertilizer which apparently gave it the nutrients it needed. Well, actually, we'll never know if it was the fertilizer or if it was going to finally flower and fruit at that time anyway. (The Schultz fertilizer, by the way, was not very good for my bell peppers. They have not flowered or produced any additional peppers at all, and I am really disappointed. I was hoping for a dearth of bell peppers all summer, especially since those suckers are expensive at the store.)

So anyway, when the tomatoes on Mr. Stripey started getting bigger, they started of course pulling the branches down to the ground, because the plant was so huge.
That branch is lying on the ground now, with the tomatoes up a little ways.

A nice green color.

I had to put another cage up, next to the original cages (there were two, remember, b/c of the number of stems coming out of the ground!) and balance the branches on the new cage. I was worried about the xylem and phloem getting bent beyond repair and not being able to carry nutrients to the fruit.
THey were much happier, off of the ground.

But, something is still wrong with these tomatoes. Or, at least one of them.

I noticed it quite some time ago. It's the middle-sized tomato. It has a kind of papery, brown thing on the end of it. It looks weird and rotten?

And here is the top of the tomato, near the stem:

Also showing a bit of the brownness.

Now, the other tomatoes are not showing this problem:

I realize that in the picture of the bottom of the affected tomato, there is some mold evident.

I think the green mold comes from it laying close to the ground and a few rainstorms lately. However, it was not evident a few weeks ago when I first noticed it. It was just the brown papery stuff:

So, can anyone tell me, what causes this? What is it? Is it going to spread? How do i get rid of it? And i'm guessing it is going to make my tomato inedible, huh? I am so disappointed! THIS IS SUCH A No-Good Plant.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Watch my zucchini grow

Remember this big ol baby??

Some new ones are furiously growing in the garden:

That's the main plant, the one that is huge and takes up the expanse of, oh, I don't know, a couch

Here's the other plant, that thus far has produced NOTHING but all of a sudden has produced this beautiful looking zucchini.

Actually, by the looks of it we could pick these buddies now and eat them. But, the last monster zucchini was so bountiful and provided us with so many meals!! So they are growing while I am out of town. I told Mister Siren to pick them if they got too out of control. He's on tomato watch anyway since we caught an EVIL CARDINAL out there pecking away at the tomatoes every day.

For instance, with the zucchini, we grilled it with other vegetables
(by the way, this was only half the monster zucchini, just to let you know)
You may not be able to see it, but I use Emeril Lagasse's trick of inserting toothpicks in the onion slices before putting them on the grill, in order to keep them together better. He suggests putting the toothpicks into your onion before you slice it, and then slicing away, to make it easier. I have found this to be really useful.

Once I grilled up that zucchini and onions, I mixed it with leftover grilled corn
Remember that delicious post? Of course the corn I shaved off the cobb was unadulterated with crazy loco sauce or queso fresca.

So I shaved off the corn, mixed it up with the other veggies and leftover steak from the grill the night before.

At which point I began to make some tostadas. easy! You just cut tortillas into triangles, spray them with Pam, shove them into the oven at 400 degrees for about 4 minutes or something like that. Then put your veggies on your tostadas, sprinkle cheese on top, and pop them back in until the cheese melts.

This is a delicious and easy meal, and really fun to eat. What's more, it's really cheap and great to use leftovers in. But the best thing of all, is that it uses all the summer veggie flavors.

Another thing I love to do with fresh raw veggies (including the rest of my monster zucchini) is just chop them up, sprinkle them with salt and drizzle them with olive oil, and make them part of a fresh snack plate for dinner. We did this with some leftover steak, cherry tomatoes, olives, and cheese and crackers for dinner the next night and it was great.

So I can't wait until my two new little zucchini
give me a reason to come up with several more ways to stretch the bounty!