Allium Green: 08.09


Love letter to Ohio sweet corn (sort of)

Ralph went out Saturday afternoon to pick blueberries and came home with two quarts of raspberries and four dozen ears of corn plus the seven pints of blueberries he went out for. Berries are lovely, and I'm the first to say so, but corn is something else altogether. I love corn. I am a Midwestern girl at heart, and I'll freely admit that Vermont just can't grow sweet corn like Ohio can. We used to go down into the Cuyahoga River valley and buy corn from Szalay's in Peninsula. They'd harvest it onto a big hay wagon and park it next to their farm stand and we'd fill grocery bags of it from the wagon. And go ahead, make all the toxic-river jokes you want to about the Cuyahoga River (which- come on, be fair- has come a long way in the 40 years since it caught fire and simultaneously caught the nation's attention), but that damn corn was the sweetest I've ever had. Some combination of soils, rainfall, alchemy, whatever, made it magical. And it ruined me for anything else.

Except that over the years (thirteen, thirteen!, since I last had Szalay's corn), well, you forget. Memories fade a bit, your point of reference shifts. And then your hubby brings home four dozen ears of corn in a year when all things have been slow to produce. And well, allegiances shift, I'm sorry. It was pretty damn good corn. I know you buckeyes will forgive me when I say, it may have rivaled Szalay's.

So ravings aside, hubby shucked a big pile of it on the kitchen floor and we processed it all for freezing. This is a sticky process involving big pots of boiling water, slicing it off the cob while juice splatters the counter, the floor, my shirt, my glasses. It's almost as messy as the pickled beets we made a couple of weeks ago. But it means that we'll have sweet corn in January to add color to corn chowder with bacon, to big pots of chili, to pasta. We may do another batch if we get our act together.

In fairness to Ohio and that much-maligned river valley, it still probably wasn't as good as Szalay's corn. But this summer, it will do just fine.


Alium wealth

Well, we thought that we were rich in onions with the harvest of our Walla Wallas. And indeed we are. The caramelized onions we made and ate on top of everything for a week. That was wealth. And the onions I sauteed last night with chard and fresh tomatoes and tossed with pasta. That was luxury. But I think we are reaching slightly ridiculous heights with the number of onions I pulled out of the garden today.

Remember those photos? The ones with the labels from my onion bed? Well, I pulled out the rest of the shallots- the ones that were sacrificed for the love of beans and are consequently puny. And I pulled the New York Earlies which were not early and not impressive in any other way either. And I pulled the four rows of Cortlands. They weren't as big as the Walla Wallas, but they'll be a lot harder, and a lot longer lasting in our root cellar. (The root cellar that I hope we'll have finished by the time the onions are dry and cured.)

When you open the door from our kitchen into the garage, the smell of aliums is overwhelmingly, overpoweringly intense. My hands were funky with the smell of onion. But we won't buy an onion for the next 9 months. Rich, rich, rich indeed.

(photo credit to my hubby, Ralph)


Traveling trials

The dog days of summer are upon us but it was noticeably chilly in the overly air conditioned Newark airport Monday. Ralph and I spent the weekend in Virginia visiting family and friends, and had what we thought would be a two and a half hour layover in Newark on our way back. It was early evening and we were hungry and shivering and definitely worn out from packing too many people and too much wine into a very short weekend. We went in search of dinner. Airports can be a hard place for someone who can't eat gluten; I know this. But a recent memory of a decent, if pricey, meal at Gallagher's at that airport several months ago made me less concerned about bringing food with me than I usually might be.

So as we walked up and down the packed halls of the airport, searching out the food options in the C concourse, I felt my mood get darker with the seemingly never-ending pizza, salty Chinese food, pretzels, and sandwiches. Even the tacos at Maui Taco were made with flour tortillas. The chicken and rice I ended up eating at a fake French bistro was distinctly not good. And no doubt full of modified food starch, or just plain flour. It was a bad food decision for a celiac, but I was on the verge of a food-breakdown, nearly in tears, and I bought it anyway.

I realize that this is probably a fruitless rant but, really, why does it have to be so damn difficult to eat safely in an airport if you have an allergy? As I was waiting in line at Maui Taco (and sorry to keep maligning them here, but the experience was really pretty disappointing and the name stuck in my head) to ask about corn vs. flour tacos, the man in front of me asked the cashier whether their beans were vegetarian. The man answered dismissively, "yeah, yeah, yeah." The customer, noticeably skeptical, asked, "Are you sure?" The cashier again brushed off the question, inspiring something less than confidence in the answer. Do I live in a bubble here or is it fair to say that people who are in the business of selling food should know what they're serving? And airport or not, I refuse to accept that food can't be whole and fresh or at the least that there can't be options that are whole and fresh. For God's sake, can't we do better than this?

While that last meal at Gallagher's was nice enough, it was close to $150, for two people, in an airport. We were on our way back from a trip to Jamaica and reluctant to end the vacation. But we weren't feeling so extravagant on Monday night. We did sit in their bar and have a drink- and my wine came in a glass with someone else's lipstick on it. The bartender was extremely apologetic and immediately brought me a new, clean glass. But, hey, Newark? Get your act together. It shouldn't have to be so bad.

That layover ended up being more than five hours. We were cold and tired and ready to go home and when our plane finally landed in Burlington at 2 in the morning, I was very grateful to be home.

(photo credit to Ralph)


August bounty

Well, yes, I started the weekend a little cranky. I freely admit it. I don't remember why but I do recall that I was cranky all the way through Friday night and into Saturday morning. So I went out to the garden in an attempt to keep my pique to myself (as it wasn't spreading peace and joy throughout the land). And would you know...there I discovered onions? Walla Walla sweet onions, huge and round? It happened while I forgot to pay attention, and all of a sudden, they're ready for picking.

So I found an attitude adjustment in the midst of the onions. A whole garden cart full of onions, which represents only about a quarter of the eventual harvest. Just about nothing could have made me happier. Except that there were beets ready too. While they could have stayed there a bit longer to fatten even further, they were sort of victim to the beans.

The beans that are taking over the world out there, close cousin to Jack's variety. They've overtopped the original trellis, a wimpy four-feet tall. And they've since overtopped the second trellis I rigged up over the original one, another foot and a half higher. I underestimated their vigor. I mean, really, look at them above... what has the right to be so youthfully vital and vigorous in August? These things are still growing! I could build a third trellis on top of the other two and it would overwhelm that one in a couple of days. Amazing. So anyway, they were crowding the beets and I've been wanting to make pickled beets, so I yanked out all the blood-red roots and laid them in the grass for washing with the hose.

And so, it turned into a harvest weekend, rather unexpectedly. The summer that's been slow to yield finally produced. We even plucked the first full-sized ripe tomato, a sincere accomplishment in a year full of Late Blight and decimated tomato patches all over Vermont. Two eggplant and some more of the seemingly endless chard and kale plus some bonus potatoes growing out of the compost pile rounded out the take.

Perhaps it is obvious and everyone would feel this way, but reaping the bounty from all our hours in the garden gives me a measure of joy that's hard to compare to anything else and that doesn't diminish from year to year. Every time, it is a miracle when the damn bean plants once again over top whatever trellis I've built. Tying the onions into bunches to hang to cure in the garage, braiding the garlic to dry along with the onions, pickling beets in the late afternoon, and hubby coming in the back door with two fists full of potatoes gleaned from volunteer plants in the compost pile, these things all bring me immense pleasure. So, yes, I was cranky, but now, my hands are stained red from the beets (and from a minor mishap with the knife and slippery beets) and my pique has faded. I so love this garden.

(top photo credit to hubby, ralph)


Summer Eating

The thing that I love best about summer is how exercise makes all food taste just about transcendent. My husband and I spent yesterday canoeing the Lamoille River. It was a long, lazy paddle down a relatively swiftly moving river and the day was perfect. Sun all day long and bugs kept at bay with a steady breeze. It was a lazy paddle, but the four hours in the sun were enough to make us both ravenous when we finally hauled the canoe up the riverbank through a ridiculously luxuriant carpet of poison ivy.

Dinner at friends' house and it was perfect summer eating. Burgers on the grill, steamed beets from the garden dressed with balsamic and salt, salad that most of us didn't get to because we were so full after all the rest of it. Gin and tonics. Finished off with a long soak in the hot tub beneath a three-quarter moon. Summer indeed.