Allium Green: 07.09



Have I mentioned how hot it's been lately? I know this sounds ridiculous to people not living in the northernmost states, but 86 degrees and humid is just about 6 degrees after where I start to melt. I just don't do heat very well. So I'm coping as I can. And this afternoon, that meant blueberries. Lots of blueberries.

I love how they look in this photo. The dusty bloom on their skin, bluer than seems possible, amazingly, beautifully, resolutely blue. I had a handful on the way home. I had a handful while we made dinner. I had a handful after dinner. And I'm eating a few now. Seven pounds of blueberries won't last long. Ralph eats them faster than I can. We don't even bother with pancakes. No smoothies. No blueberry muffins or cornbread with blueberries. We just eat them plain. And with a breeze coming in the window, a whole day with no rain, and CBC jazz on the radio, I suppose I'll cope with the heat after all.


Late Blight Close to Home

The first late blight outbreak was confirmed at work today. A whole field of tomato plants, decimated in four days. As I read the email informing the rest of the community, I immediately wanted to go home and check on my plants. When I did get home it was to find that ironically, they look healthier than they've ever looked in years past. And so, how much more terrible it will feel if this disease finally hits here.

And from the sound of it, its almost inevitable that it will strike even in my relatively isolated garden. A fungus-like disease caused by Phytophthora infestans, late blight is the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine. (Recent NY Times article here). The unending wet weather this summer - really, it feels like it has rained every day - has created near ideal conditions for late blight. Tomatoes are a high value crop for vegetable growers in Vermont, and it is pretty awful to think about the losses that will come from this. Add to that potential losses from potatoes as well and the impacts are sobering.

I know it's probably selfish to be so concerned about my garden and the potatoes and tomatoes in it when people are suffering real economic losses from the effects of this disease, but it will break my heart if we lose all our plants. The only preventative measure to take is to spray fungicides, which Ralph and I refuse to do. I suppose I think that if we can't have healthy plants without fungicides, then we probably just don't need those plants this year. But the heartbreak will be there all the same. And think: no jars of tomatoes on the basement shelf, no potatoes in our newly built root cellar to last through the winter. What the hell kind of winter is that? Almost worse than a summer with no tomatoes.

And this is what I was considering when I stopped at the market on the way home today and there were local tomatoes there looking round and red and lovely. Usually, I won't buy tomatoes, even local ones, preferring to wait until they're ready in our garden. But I paused and considered a summer with no tomatoes at all and bought two big ones to slice on sandwiches.

Both Ralph and I have always been ridiculously proud of the potatoes we grow and grateful for whatever tomatoes we eke out of our short summers. And the joy we get from the potato harvest in the fall, especially, is hard to explain to people who've never pulled on the weedy looking potato plant to unearth what feel like little miracles. Really. Miracles. And sadly, it looks like it might just be miraculous if they make it through the season.


The Pleasures of Afternoon Coffee

So I went through a bout this spring of not drinking coffee. I've never been a heavy coffee drinker, one cup in the morning, every morning. That's not terrible, right? Well, not drinking it certainly was terrible. Horrible headaches everyday for a week that hit right in the middle of my usual afternoon slump. On an ordinary day, the two o'clock hour is hard for me. I lose focus, start drifting, and generally have a minor crisis of motivation. Lack of caffeine added what felt like a ten ton hammer knocking on my brain to that ordinary hiccup in my day.

But here I am, back to my wicked caffeinated ways, drinking a cup every morning. And my drive into work is once again enjoyably contemplative as my brain slowly comes to life. But what I want to talk about now is the afternoon cup. The cup that I'll occasionally reach for when those afternoon lulls hit. And how much better it always tastes when it's summertime and hot in my second floor office and the coffee is iced. Like on a Friday afternoon when things are quiet and warm and the fan pushes the air around sluggishly, not cooling off much. Like today, for instance.

I'm not shy about sharing. I'll freely pull colleagues into the lure of the afternoon jolt. And this afternoon's caffeine produced brilliant results in the form of the following brainstorm: coffee ice cubes. Yup, you got it. Is the genius of this idea apparent to you yet? I bet it is if you've had your afternoon caffeine. No waiting for the coffee to cool before pouring it over ice and no watery coffee those times when you can't wait. Brilliant. I'm giddy with anticipation. Or maybe that's just caffeine.


Much-needed Lemonade

It's hot. It's humid. Everything feels damp. We were out today in the full-on afternoon hazy heat and I was not digging it. It was nice to be out of the office, no doubt, but really??? Is this the best we've got this summer? Ugh. On the way home, it rained intensely, briefly, and did nothing to alleviate the muggy heat. And now it's just heavy gray skies that will fade to night with no relief.

So what I want to talk about now is lemonade. The kind that you find in a shop along Main Street, towards the end of the strip. The kind that is made while you wait. In a tiny little candy/ice cream shop in St. Albans. On the way back from a steamy afternoon's walk around a farm field. The kind of shop that serves huge banana splits with lots of whipped cream and the kind that sells Lemonheads, my childhood candy of choice, and penny candy in jars. The kind of lemonade that is packed full with ice and that is tart, crisp, and fresh, as pretty much nothing else has felt today, myself included.

We ordered four of them and slurped them through straws on the way back to Burlington, with the air conditioning on. That feels like summer.


Monday Night Dinner

I came home early after hitting the mid-afternoon blahs. The office was so quiet today - no distractions, no bustle, no stimulation, and as the heat built over the course of the afternoon, I found myself increasingly drifting laterally, getting sidetracked from the work at hand to delve into something not so relevant to what I should have been doing... this for instance.

I came home with groceries and Ralph, uncharacteristically, came immediately away from his work in the office and we put away the cold stuff and then went right out to the hammock. (Though this gives us rather more agency than we felt at the time. Maybe it's better to say we drifted out to the hammock). He is reading Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which I'm actually also reading in between novels. But today I read The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. It is witty, engaging, hard to put down. And so we spent the late afternoon, swinging gently back and forth, in the shade of two maple trees, head to toe in the hammock.

When we finally came in for dinner, I pulled out the left-over chicken breast from last night's grilled whole chicken- Ralph (dear, clever, forward-thinking Ralph) had shredded it last night before putting it away. I mixed the chicken with a diced spring onion from the garden, basil, mayo, Dijon mustard, horseradish, and capers. It was delicious. We ate it on bread with lettuce from Arethusa Farm- a red buttercrunch lettuce, one of my favorites that I never remember to plant in our own garden. Very nice cap to a lazy Monday evening.

I really wanted a photo to post because the meal was lovely to look at with that bright red lettuce, but alas, it was good, what can I say? I didn't get to it in time. So instead, here are some photos I took of our garden aliums- looking vibrant and vigorous from all our rain.


Pate Foray

Vegetarians, avert your eyes. Mom, this is not for you. You carnivores, however, take note. This was a remarkable evening. I ventured into pate territory. I've never made pate before, or eaten it for that matter. My husband and I generally tend towards less venerable cultures for our dinner plates. Mexican, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, even Italian feels more humble than French. But I have been thinking about Molly Wizenberg's column in Bon Appetit for a while now, recipe here. She makes a rustic country pate that looks so lovely and delicious that I finally decided to cross over. The process was not encouraging. Do you know how much meat goes into pate? I realize this is probably a silly question, but the point being that I didn't realize. Onions sauteed in more butter than seems wise, two and a half pounds of ground pork, lots of bacon. I adapted, as I generally do. Prunes (or dried plums as they seem to be called now) in the middle, rather than ham (isn't three pounds of pork enough?) and some ground turkey because for some reason I didn't want to buy that third package of ground pork and the turkey was local. Plus whiskey rather than Cognac, because who keeps Cognac in the cupboard?

So the whole mess gets mixed with some beaten egg and seasonings and then is mushed into a loaf pan. Two and a half hours later and viola. Pate. Only not quite. Because then you're supposed to weight it with a brick overnight to make it easier to slice, Molly says. A brick? "Honey, do we have a brick?" Hubbie appears in the kitchen with a 14# granite paving stone, roughly the shape of my loaf pan. We settle it onto the pate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator and fast forward to this evening. Hubbie and I are famished. We walk in the house at almost the same time and both make a beeline for the kitchen.

I am apprehensive. The thing looks a little gross, to be honest. There's that giggly stuff all around the ends- is this aspic? Hmmm. Hubbie warms the bottom of the pan and we ceremoniously plop the whole mess out onto a serving platter that seems about the right size. And its beautiful. Really. Even to a recovering vegetarian. The slices of bacon wrapped around it are really quite pretty. I'm not kidding here. We eat it slowly, with Dijon mustard, crackers, and small slices of Batampte pickles (because cornichons, as are traditional, are frankly sometimes hard to find in rural Vermont), and drink a goodly amount of red wine along with it. Very, very good. Rich, a wee bit crumbly, with the zing of the mustard and crunch of the pickles. I feel ridiculously sophisticated. The prunes are delicious in the middle- their sweetness is such a nice contrast to the rich, dense pate. It could have used a little more salt- but we sprinkled coarse salt over the slices and did just fine. All in all, not a bad introduction to pate.