Friday, July 27, 2012

Basil Sunflower Seed Pesto

It's safe to say my CSA is in full swing.  It currently requires a large basket, two reusable bags, and four hands on pickup day.  When I get home from the farm, I wash, prep, and organize the week's allotment of vegetables and fruit.  I fill my sink with water and swish around greens, onions, and leeks.  Potatoes get scrubbed with a scrub brush.  Radishes are sliced.  Green beans are trimmed.  It's become my Saturday morning routine.  It feels good getting my hands a little dirty and engaging with all this beautiful food.  I feel fortunate to have access to local, just picked, seasonal food.  Because I appreciate what's involved in harvesting it, nothing gets discarded and nothing is wasted.  The tops of beets are saved and will later be wilted down with garlic.  Onion and leek tops are placed in freezer bags for homemade vegetable stock, and small carrot trimmings make a great snack for Yager.  I have a plan, a system.  If I didn't, I would easily become overwhelmed at the mountain of vegetables starring at me from the counter.  Some items demand my attention more than others.  

Basil is one such item.  Basil will start to misbehave on you if you're not careful.  Its leaves become tainted with dark spots if it's ignored for too long.  I acted fast and made a basic pesto, much like I do every summer.  Making pesto is one of my favorite summer pastimes.  It fills the kitchen with a garlicky garden aroma.  I grew up on pesto made from basil in my mother's garden.  We'd make big batches during July and August and freeze the extras in small containers.  It's nice to have a taste of summer on hand a few months down the road when the leaves start falling.  

I may have mentioned this before, but I often use nuts or seeds beyond pine nuts for pesto making purposes.  I've found sunflower seeds to be a great alternative for pine nuts and they're a fraction of the price.  Aside from my seed choice, it's a traditional recipe of olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, and garlic.  I used the pesto throughout the week on pasta, in sandwiches, and eggs.  I hope you're getting your hands on some basil and enjoying the bounty of the season.  

~Basil Sunflower Seed Pesto Recipe~

2 1/2 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried
1 large clove of garlic
3 tbsp raw sunflower seeds
pinch of salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a food processor, pulse garlic, salt, and sunflower seeds until combined.  Add in basil leaves and stream in olive oil.  Add in the cheese until incorporated.   Made enough to fill a 7.5oz jar to the brim.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Grilled Halloumi and Lemon, with a Shandy

I've made a mental list of all the things I hope to accomplish this summer.  Although accomplish isn't exactly the right word as it implies tenacity and diligence.  Perhaps I'll now refer to it as my list of things I hope to experience this summer.  I certainly don't want to call it my 'to do' list or it will get lost in my desk until November.  In no particular order, you should know I'd like to read a classic, gaze at the stars, and sit on the beach with my toes in the water.  I'd like to keep this on replay until someone makes me stop or bashes me on the head.  I'd like to eat a raspberry yogurt popsicle sweetened with honey, and tackle homemade mayonnaise for the first time.  I intend to cover heirloom tomatoes with this mayonnaise, along with some salt, and there will be lots of good bread involved.  And I'll try not to be squeamish about the raw egg aspect.  I'd like to continue sleeping on top of the covers, walking around barefoot, and watching Yager swim in the pond by our house.  I hope to pack a picnic lunch for two, with wine, and drive to a spontaneous undisclosed location.  Also on my list? Grilling halloumi cheese and drinking a shandy.  I accomplished both this past weekend.  Check and check.  Two down and its still July.
Have you tried halloumi cheese?  Halloumi cheese is the grilling cheese, a summer cheese.  It's made from sheep's milk and because it can withstand super high temperatures, it doesn't melt.  It's a very, very salty cheese and with its rubbery texture it almost squeaks when you bite down on it.  All it requires is a quick brushing of olive oil before hitting the grill.  After a few minutes on each side, it will get dark crusty grill marks.  We made an appetizer similar to one I had in a Mediterranean restaurant, warm halloumi on a bed of spinach drizzled with olive oil and scattered with mint and basil.  I like to squeeze some grilled lemon right over top, giving the salty cheese a tangy bite.  You should know, I pan fried the remaining halloumi later in the week in my cast iron skillet and it worked beautifully.  So if you don't have a grill, not to worry.  It's also worth noting, I wilted the spinach down the second time around and I think I liked it even better this way.  Perhaps disregard that raw spinach in the above photo and try some wilted spinach.  

Now onto the drink portion of the program.  If you've been paying attention, you might notice I'm getting some use out of my little-mason-jar-with-a handle-turned-drinking-vessel.  It's no longer reserved for pickling tomatoes and floral arrangements.  So let's make a shandy, shall we?  The formula goes a little something like this.  


Plus lemon soda.  

Equals shandy.  

In case you need more specifics, it's worth mentioning any citrus soda, ginger ale, or ginger beer can be substituted for the lemonade.  As far as the beer goes, pilsner is traditional but I'll leave that up to you.  You'll want half beer, half lemon soda, and some ice.  Personally I like a little more beer and a little less lemon soda or it gets too sweet for me.  Play around and adjust it to your liking.  A lemon wedge on the glass is nice.  So is a frosted glass if you've thought ahead.  Drink it outside, preferably with your shoes off, on the grass, or in the sand.

~Grilled Halloumi and Lemon Recipe~

1/2 pound Halloumi
olive oil for brushing and drizzling
1 lemon, halved
handful of spinach
mint and basil for garnishing

Brush halloumi and olive oil and place on the grill.  Brush lemon with olive oil also, placing hte lemon cut side down on the grill first.  Cook both the halloumi and lemon for a few minutes on each side.  The halloumi should be darkened with grill marks.

Cut halloumi into fours and serve with wilted or raw spinach and herbs if you like.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and a squeeze of grilled lemon.  Serves 2 as an appetizer.  

~Summertime Shandy Recipe~

Fill half your glass with some ice and beer of your choice.  Top off with lemon soda and stir.  Garnish with a lemon slice or wedge. 

To make a pitcher, follow the same formula: half beer, half lemon soda.  I like to add in lots of lemon slices when making a pitcher for a crowd.   

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Berries with Rose Water and Mint

Earlier this week I went raspberry picking, at noon, under a blazing sun.  Thick, heavy, heat surrounded my every move.  I trekked out to the field, wiping sweat from my brow, acknowledging how raspberry season turns me into a fool.  I went right for the bushes in the first row, in the way back.  It's where the oldest and largest bushes live, those with the plumpest, juiciest raspberries.  Sometimes the best raspberries aren't in plain sight.  They're the ones hiding beyond the leaves, so ripe you barely have to touch them and they fall right into your fingertips.  They're a deeper shade of red, maroon almost.  And if they can't be eaten at that very moment, they should at least be eaten that very same day.  

I returned home and gulped a glass of water, turned on the air conditioning, and made a summer berry bowl.  I used a combination of just picked raspberries and blueberries, scattered with fresh mint for that something cool I was craving. My secret ingredient, rose water, adds a beautiful floral scent and taste.  Rose water is made from the essential oil of roses and is a popular dessert ingredient in many cultures.  A little goes a long way, just enough to permeate your senses.  It's the ingredient that will have people wondering why this particular bowl of berries tastes so good.  It's the rose water yes, but it's also because summer berries taste so incredible.  It's a wonderful combination of sweet, cool, and floral.  The bowl sat on my counter with a large silver spoon, proof that summer really is here.  Berries, heat, and all.         

~Summer Berries with Rose Water and Mint Recipe~

1 pint blueberries
1 cup raspberries
scant 1/4 tsp rose water
5 mint leaves
1 tbsp raw sunflower seeds

Add blueberries and raspberries to a medium bowl.  Chiffonade mint leaves and add to the berries.  Sprinkle the rosewater over top.  My berries were so delicate I didn't bother tossing them.  But if you'd like, toss them gently with your hands a bit.  Top with sunflower seeds.  Serves 4.

Friday, July 13, 2012


We've arrived at the end of my trip, back in London at Heathrow airport.  At this point I considered lighting my backpack on fire, but instead dragged it to the check in line with dramatic flair worthy of an Oscar.  Our ten days were over.  Our flight was overbooked and the perfectly manicured, lipsticked British Airways lady couldn't convince me to take a later flight home for a two hundred euro voucher.  No thank you.  I glanced to my left at this man, snapped a photo and thought--I'm with you.  Let's go home.

We had a mediocre lunch at a restaurant in the airport, swearing off prepackaged white bread sandwiches and airplane food for good.  But that's not what I'm here to tell you about.  What happened next is.  I was tempted by a man handing out Pimm's cup samples in plastic shot glasses at the duty free shop.  Maybe ten days of lugging around that backpack drove me to drink.  I can't be sure.  

He told me I would be sorry if I didn't try it and I didn't want to be sorry in London.  It tasted like summer; light, fruity, refreshing, and not strong at all as far as these things go.  Pimm's I've learned is a gin based drink with quinine and herbs.  James Pimm, owner of an oyster bar in London, first produced it in the 1800's and apparently the recipe is top secret.  So while this Pimm's business has been around for a while, it also seems to be the new thing.  There were big pitchers on display with slices of orange, lemon, strawberries, cucumbers, and mint.  I was told the cucumber slices are essential.  When I commented that the pitchers of fruit reminded me of sangria, he told me it's better than sangria, because "it's British."  He was very serious about this.  We bought two bottles to take home with us, each adorned with a British flag, elevating my status to 'the ultimate American tourist.'  I might as well have been wearing white tube socks with tevas and a fanny pack.

While on the subject of drinking, I should let you know, I'm not much of a drinker.  I'll have the occasional glass of wine, but mostly I'm a beer drinker, local breweries, that sort of thing.  Donny will tell you I'm good for about three quarters of a beer during pizza nights before dozing off on the couch.  So I'm certainly no expert in the drink department, especially when it comes to things beyond beer.  But even I can't screw up a pimm's cup so I hope you'll trust me.  It's typically mixed with ginger ale or lemonade, although lemonade in the UK is more of a lemon-flavored soft drink than the lemonade we're used to.  I used maine root lemon lime soda, and although I was trying to track down their ginger brew, I was more than happy with the results.  I realize I tout this blog as a healthy one, but I'm throwing caution to the wind today.  I drank this at 11 am but technically it's already 4pm in London.  I'm pouring another.  Won't you join me?  Sip in the sunshine.  You won't be sorry. 

~Pimm's Cup Recipe~

2 ounces Pimm's No. 1
6 ounces lemon lime soda, ginger ale, ginger beer, or lemonade
ice cubes
slices of cucumber
slice of lemon
slice of orange
a few raspberries or a sliced strawberry
3 sprigs of mint

Combine the Pimm's and soda in a glass with ice cubes.  Add cucumber, lemon, and orange slices, and a few raspberries. (Strawberries are more traditional, but I happened to have raspberries on hand).  Add in mint sprigs.  Give it a stir, mashing the fruit with a spoon a bit and serve immediately.  Serves 1.  Alternatively, you could make a large pitcher of this.  Last piece of advice: you should most definitely eat the raspberries out of the bottom of the glass when you've finished.

A Wee Bit of Scotland

I stood in a downpour holding an inverted, broken umbrella.  My wet hair slicked heavily against my face.  I clumsily stepped in puddles leaving the train station, managing to soak my shoes and feet while trying to catch a cab.  Despite all this, I immediately fell in love with Edinburgh.  It would be hard not to fall in love with this city; dark gothic architecture set against a vibrant clash of green.  There's a mysterious allure about Edinburgh.

One of my biggest regrets years ago during my semester in Ireland was passing up a chance to go to Scotland for a weekend with a group of friends.  I wanted to go.  I really wanted to go, but my funds were running low.  These things happen.  Scotland has been at the top of my list ever since.  We didn't intend to go to Scotland from London.  In fact, we had a plane ticket booked for Paris, but as I learned, finding a reasonable hotel a week before you leave for the city of light is an impossible feat, unless of course you happen to be an heiress or princess.  I am neither.  So I booked a train from London to Edinburgh and watched a whirl of green unfold from the windows on the train.  It was mesmerizing.  Scotland is more my speed.

Edinburgh is a walking city.  We walked through the Princes St. Gardens, up and down hills and cobblestone streets.  We walked along Hollyrood Park and up Arthur's Seat, taking the steepest but quickest route to the top.  And then we ate a well-earned jacket potato, or should I say tattie, covered in salt, a mountain of chive butter, and guacamole.   

The queen was in Edinburgh for her garden party and a barrage of kilts, dresses, gloves, hats, and fascinators paraded the streets.  We heard rumor eight hundred guests were invited.  I wouldn't doubt it.  We made our way to Stirling, to see the castle of course, and took a ferry to the Isle of Arran later that week.  We walked some more, along the beach and collected seashells.  It rained on and off for days.  

You get used to the rain.  It grows on you.  There was plenty to keep us company while we waited for showers to pass, cups of tea, potato leek soup, and cushioned seats in cozy pubs.  

I saw much more of Scotland than I would have, had I gone all those years back.  Just further proof life unfolds the way it should.  I hope to make it back to Scotland someday and get up to the Highlands.  I'd like that.  It's my kind of place, rain and all.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Where I've Been

We'll start at the beginning, in London, under a dark gray sky at dusk.  I snapped a few photos on our walk to the hotel the night we arrived, views that almost made me forget I had a fifty-pound backpack strapped to my back.  Almost.  As I made my way across the bridge to our hotel I told myself I need to invest in grown up luggage, proper luggage, with wheels.  We dropped our bags and found dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant close to midnight.  With a belly full of roasted potatoes and sautéed garlicky spinach, I slept like a log on a fifth floor hotel room, on a very firm mattress, with the noisy streets of London beneath me.  It felt good to be back.

It had been nine years since I was in London.  A high school friend was studying abroad in Spain and I was studying in Ireland.  We decided to meet up for a weekend in November.  Since we planned our trip over email, or maybe it was instant messenger, there was some miscommunication over the times our flights would arrive.  Needless to say, I spent Thanksgiving eating packaged triangle sandwiches at Heathrow airport.  We bunked up in a hostel with a well stocked bar.  It had this sort of over-the-top club scene they took very seriously, though not as seriously as replacing the empty toilet paper rolls in the communal bathrooms.  Dance music pumped through the walls all hours of the night and the only water that fell from the shower was ice numbingly cold, which doesn't exactly work well after a cold rainy day.  When we talk about this trip now, my friend and I, we can't help but burst into hysterical fits of laughter, the kind that makes your eyes tear up.  We've told these stories so many times I think they've become more embellished over the years.   

This trip was an entirely different animal.  I went to London with my mother whom I can only describe as having an unimaginable amount of frenetic energy, waking up at five am regardless of the time change.  She hits the ground running and can easily outlast me on my best day.  I was prepared for an overzealous and hectic pace.  London also has this energy about it.  I knew they would get along.  So we stepped out the next morning, street map, tube map, and guide book in hand.  Our hit list was long and my excitement squelched any feelings of jet lag.  Our first stop was a stroll through Borough Market along jars filled with flowers, ripe produce, and baked goods.  We easily spent an hour taking in the smell of baked bread and melting cheese, walking from table to table admiring mini tarts, jams, and mustards.   

Later that afternoon, I was on my own personal frenetic mission to find Ottolenghi in Notting Hill.  I've long been admiring the gorgeous full-page photos in his newest cookbook.  I haven't yet cooked from it yet and I should.  The shop had such a gorgeous display of vibrant salads; it was difficult to choose between them.  We sat on a stoop in front of a colorful street corner dipping sourdough bread into roasted garlic butterbean hummus.  My takeaway container was packed to the brim with four different salads, including roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini, za'atar, pine nuts, and parsley.  Lunch at tibits is also a favorite of ours, a restaurant we first became acquainted with in a Bern train station on a previous trip to Switzerland.  We ate there twice this time around, finishing off meals of falafel, curry, crispy potatoes, and couscous salad with sticky toffee pudding.  Their version of this classic British dessert made with maple syrup and dates, was made a little healthier than the original, one I wouldn't mind trying to replicate in the near future.

We took a walk to Trafalgar Square and visited the National Gallery the next day.  It's really one of London's best finds.  With free admission, or a small donation, and no line, we got up close and personal with Van Gogh's sunflowers, Rembrandt's self portrait, and Monet's Japanese Footbridge.  A night of bright lights in Piccadilly Circus followed afterwards.  

We experienced our share of double-deckers and black cabs.  We pushed through crowds to see the changing of the guards and took a few goofy pictures in red telephone booths.  At the end of the two days, hundreds of 'mind the gaps,' two blisters, and a dozen of empty tea cups later, I'd say we gave London our best.  It was good to us.