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Wednesday, June 27, 2012


We're still waiting for our heirloom tomato plants to mature and ripen. Coupled with our weird backyard micro-climate that slows growth, we planted our tomatoes late. Tucked behind nine foot high old wooden fences, we water our potted tomatoes, baby them, and wait. We wait and enjoy the fruits of the farmers' market.  While most of the tomatoes at the market  are hydroponic or greenhouse grown, gorgeous vine ripened field grown heirloom varieties have started to hit the farm stands. Lately, I've been jacked up on  the big bad ugly tomatoes.  The seconds. The culls. The tomatoes most people don't want because they're downright ugly.  This time of year, people crave the pretty ones. Slicing tomatoes. Sandwich tomatoes. Salad tomatoes.  Not me. I crave the ones that are too slutty to slice or  pamper.

Oh sure, I still buy the cute little Yellow Pear, Black Krim, and Black Cherokee Plum tomatoes.  However, the snarled, gnarly, blemished, cracked, scarred, and overripe ugly tomatoes always pull me into their gorgeous mangled ugliness like juicy magnets.

Our kitchen windowsill has been lined with uglies for a few weeks, standing like dutiful soldiers reflecting the sun and teetering on the verge of spontaneous combustion. I needed to use them. Sliced? No way. Cooked? Nope.

Raw Tomato Sauce.

I pulled the largest Brandywine tomato from the windowsill and plopped it into a large bowl, causing it  to splat into a tomato heap. The tomato practically peeled itself. The skin simply slid off, exposing deep red tomato flesh. After snipping away the blemishes and hard green stuff, I minced the flesh and squeezed it  between my fingers until I had a bowl of pulp. Crazy. After seasoning the raw sauce with salt, pepper, and minced garlic, I drizzled it with very good extra virgin olive oil before letting it macerate at room temperature to blend the flavors.

Any pasta would have worked beautifully.  With such few simple ingredients, I wanted a delicate pasta.  A simple pasta.  Homemade pasta.

After sifting 1 1/2 cups flour into a large mixing bowl, I added 2 large organic egg yolks, 1 large organic whole egg, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons ice water, and salt. Working from the outer edges, I slowly pulled the flour into the eggs, gently working together until they formed a smooth pliable dough.  After kneading the dough for 10 minutes ( adding water or flour for the right consistency), I gathered the dough into a ball, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and let it rest for an hour.

Working with a fourth of the dough at a time, I passed the dough through the lowest setting on the pasta roller several times, folding  and flouring it before each pass until it was smooth.When I felt the dough was ready to roll,  I hand-cranked it through the rollers, increasing the setting with each pass until I had long  thin pliable pasta sheets. After cutting the sheets into linguini ribbons, I tumbled them onto a floured towel to dry.

That was it. Tomato juice and flour dust. Magical.

I boiled the fresh pasta in heavily salted water for 3 minutes, scooped it out, tossed it with the raw tomato sauce, and twirled it into large pasta bowls, finishing with fresh basil, olive oil, and cracked black pepper.

While the warm pasta absorbed a bit of the tomato juices, the sauce was wonderfully loose.

Slurpy. Fresh. Clean. Raw.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Yellow wax beans. Really? Until recently,  I'd only seen or eaten them mixed into those ubiquitous three bean salads that pop up at church or family potlucks. Canned cut yellow wax beans, canned cut green beans, and canned kidney beans tossed in a sugary sweet and sour dressing. I have nothing against three bean salads.  Trust me, I've eaten my share of them. I can still feel and hear the  uniformly cut bean batons squeak between my teeth.

I discovered fresh yellow wax beans at the farmers' market last weekend. I wasn't looking for them. Hardly. Hell, I didn't even know what  fresh yellow wax beans looked like. Were they  beans or  batons?  While rifling through stacked clusters of baby beets from Cleary Hill Farm,  I spotted a small basket of pale yellow beans. They were beautiful, delicate, and lovely.  "What are these?", I asked. "Yellow wax beans.", she said. Well, well, well. So, that's what they're supposed to look like. Go figure. I bagged a few handfuls.

Hungover Sunday Supper.

Ok, so Michael and I may have had a few too many mimosas  and greyhounds during our post church Sunday brunch. Why not?  They were fabulous, giddily twirling us both into  languid Sunday afternoon naps.

Eventually,  I threw together a very simple Sunday supper.

I tossed leftover jasmine rice with leftover diced caper-flecked pan seared chicken piccata.  After splashing the mixture with extra virgin olive oil, I spooned it into chilled radicchio cups, and set them aside.  I cranked a cast iron skillet over a high flame, drizzled it olive oil, and briefly sauteed the yellow wax beans with parsley, salt, and pepper until they were crisp tender, about 5 minutes.  I pulled the beans from the heat and added yellow pear tomatoes before tossing them in a light dijon vinaigrette (2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon minced shallot, 1/2 tablespoone dijon mustard, 1/3 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper).

I nestled the filled radicchio cups onto bibb lettuce leaves before tumbling the wax beans to the side with caperberries, split kalamata olives, slivered red bell pepper, and pear tomatoes.  Parsley, Red Aleu sea salt, and generous amounts of coarsely ground Tellicherry black peppercorns finished them off.

The velvety thin-skinned yellow beans had a softer bite than traditional green beans, gently snapping through the bright vinaigrette.  While the olives and caperberries provided a mildly tart bitterness, the floral heat from the cracked peppercorns added aromatic biting crunch.

Yellow wax beans.
Light. Clean. Refreshing.
Who knew?

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I've been hoarding cucumbers. I'm not sure why, really. There are plenty of them at every farm stand at the farmers' market. They're not going anywhere. They're everywhere.  I usually grow them on a tall trellis on the corner of our garage, but never got around to it this year. The notion of not having them growing in our back yard may have been the spark that ignited the flame to hoard. I shop at the market three times a week, bringing home a basket of cucumbers with every visit. Do the math. They piled up.  It's not even pickling season.  You'd think I'd planned  to load my car with cucumbers, park on the side of a country road, and sell them from the trunk of my PT Cruiser.

A couple of weeks ago, Michael asked me why I hadn't purchased any cucumbers while we were browsing  the farmers' market. He had no idea that my bag was filled with them. They were safely tucked away beneath  fennel bulbs, radishes, and green onions. Crazy. Caught.

Eventually, we started eating them. Bright. Crunchy. Fresh. The juicy ones were fantastic thinly sliced and tossed into salads.

I sliced the largest cucumbers and tossed them with sliced candy onions before marinating  them with sugar, salt, and vinegar. Old school. Country style.  Before she started her manic pickling marathons, my grandmother always had a bowl of macerated cucumbers lingering in her refrigerator throughout the summer months. I adored their limpy crispness. They were crunchy, soft. tart, and sweet. We ate them with every meal. Check.

I diced the medium sized Kirby cucumbers and mixed them with pureed heirloom Black Brandywine tomatoes, minced onions, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice for refreshing bowls of chilled cucumber soup (not gazpacho).  Check.

After all of my cucumber merry making, I still had a handful of leftover pesky baby cucumbers.  The cute ones.  The adorable little ones. Without seeds or juicy flesh, they were almost tasteless and dry. I did what any sane person would do,  I grilled them and pickled them. Yep. Check......and double check.

Maybe I was bored.  Who cared?
I quartered eight tiny cucumbers, two small purple candy onions, and tossed them with olive oil before tumbling them onto a screaming hot grill pan for 3 to 4 minutes. When they were slightly marked by the grill, I pulled them from the heat to cool.

After whisking together 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar,  1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, and sprigs of fresh dill,  I filled three small mason jars with the grilled cucumbers and onions before covering them with the pickling juice. I sealed the jars and slid them into the refrigerator to chill. Check Mate.

Because they were so small and dense, the pickles remained incredibly crisp. With hints of smokiness,  dill, mustard seeds, and vinegar, they tasted like jacked-up quick pickled gherkins.

Give me a hot dog.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Beach Party

Years ago, Michael and I spent our summers on the Eastern Shores of Virginia. While Chincoteague  was our barrier island home, nearby Assateague Island National Seashore was our oceanfront  playground. The windswept dunes on Assateague gave way to vast sandy beaches that extended for miles and miles. It was beautiful.  We spent our days swimming, sunning, hiking, flying kites, and chasing ghost crabs. Surrounded by vacationing families parked on blankets tucked under frilly  umbrellas, we always felt secluded and alone.

Dusk on Assateague emptied the beaches, chasing families to their cars for dinner dates, miniature golf, or pony rides. Occasionally, we joined the frantic shuffle. There were days that we  lingered to watch the burning sun dip behind the dunes, casting shadows across the beach. Wading ankle deep through the quiet wash of a lowering tide, we held hands in public for the first time during one of those sunsets. Shielded by watery shadows, we held onto each other and to that innocent stolen moment.

It didn't matter how long we stayed on the beach. Every day ended with a short drive across the causeway to get back  to our house in Chincoteague.  After passing crabbers, clam rakers, and wild ponies, we'd stop by roadside farmstands and fish markets to buy fresh tomatoes, corn on the cob, lettuces, shrimp, clams, oysters, and Maryland blue crabs. Bountiful hauls. Once nestled into our bay-front cabin, we filled it with the joyous angst of Annie Lennox while we cooked, danced, drank, and ate with wild abandon. Paradise.

Fast forward.

Without an ocean or beach within a few hundred miles of us, Michael and I have happily managed to turn a small patch of grass at a raucous nearby public pool into our own little urban beach.  Last Saturday, we spent most of the afternoon slapping  through the icy waters of our urban oasis. When enough was enough, we piled our junk into the car and headed to the Lexington Seafood Market. It felt wonderfully familiar.

I'd called a few days earlier to ask about the availabilty of live soft shell Maryland blue crabs. They had plenty of them.  So, here's the deal. I've never embraced the notion of cleaning soft shell crabs. Ever. Period.  Cleaning  is a kind word that simply means cutting off their faces and eyes while they're still alive. Really? Nope. I'd heard that the Lexington Seafood Market cleaned soft shell crabs (upon request) at no additional emotional cost. Sold.

When we arrived at the market, the cooler was filled with rosy pink salmon, gorgeous tuna, clams, mussels, and oysters. I wanted it all.

We left with a basket of soft shell crabs, cleaned.

It felt like a beach day.

Maryland blue crabs.

Cue the music.

I marinated the crabs in buttermilk, Old Bay, and Tabasco for an hour before dredging them through 1/2 cup cornmeal mixed with 1/2 cup self rising flour.  After cranking the deep fryer to 350 degrees, I carefully dropped the crabs one by one into the hot oil. After 3 to 4 minutes, they were beautifully browned and crisp. I pulled them from the oil, drained them on paper towels, seasoned them with Old Bay, and slid them into a warm oven.

After lining a large platter with newspaper, I threw together the rest of the beach feast.

I lieu of fresh out-of-season corn, I quartered two florets of market cauliflower and blanched them for 8 minutes until they were fork tender. While the fryer was still hot, I dredged half the cauliflower the cornmeal/flour mix and fried it until it crisp and golden brown. Yep. I tossed the remaining blanched cauliflower with chive pesto and spooned it onto the platter before tumbling quartered grape tomatoes, halved yellow pear tomatoes, and roasted baby beets to the side.

I covered the newspaper-lined platter with the fried soft shell crabs, fried cauliflower florets, and sliced lemons. Small ramekins of caper dill aioli and shaved horeseradish cocktail sauce served as dippers. We ate the fry fest directly from the platter. No forks. Beach food.

The fried crabs were wonderfully messy,  squirting their sweet juices  down our chins. Intoxicating. While the cauliflower two-way added earthy crunch and herbaceous freshness, the ripe tomatoes washed over everything like edible Wet-Naps. Just before our beach party ended,  I lifted the final crab from the platter, ripped it in half, and sucked out the meat.  It was the sweetest bite of crab I had ever tasted. Ever.

 Chincoteague.  Assateague. The sand. Our house. Annie Lennox.

We were back at the beach, flying kites high into the sky
hoping to catch the clouds.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sugar Sugar

My white-haired great Aunt Rhea used to cook mouthwatering meatloaf in a huge blue enamel canning pot on top of her old electric stove. Whenever we visited her, it was her staple mid-day dinner. Between conversations and endless glasses of lemonade, she'd slip into the kitchen to baste the meat with the drippings before covering the top with a thin layer of sweet bottled  ketchup. I've never forgotten her meatloaves or  the gigantic fresh English garden peas she sauteed in butter to accompany them. The peas were the size of my little thumb. Big, bright, buttery, and beautiful. When I ate them them as a kid,  they popped in my mouth and tasted like sweet green candy. Pea Pop Rocks.

Lately, I've been on the prowl for fresh peas at the farmers' market. I adore fresh English peas, but they're hard to find. Thankfully, other peas fill the void.

I stopped by the market early one morning to pick up some fruit to nibble on during my very short drive to work. Parked on the edge of the market lot, the blue Paw Paw Plantation truck sat quietly alongside the other vendors. Without apologies, the farmstand table was unadorned.  No tablecloths, prices, or signs. No frills.

The table was lined with a few baskets of early peas.  With curly flat pods hiding tiny peas under thin bumpy flesh, I thought they were snow peas. "They're sugar snap peas.", Roland MacIntosh  said.  "Really? They look like  snow peas?", I  countered.  "They're Sugar Ann sugar snap peas. Picked early.", he whispered.

They were gorgeous.

Whacked snap peas.
Oh sure, I could have sauteed them in butter with salt, pepper, and  a splash of fresh lemon juice. Pure. Clean. Simple. Fresh.

I didn't.


After blanching, draining, and patting them dry, I blistered the snap peas in a smoking hot cast iron skillet for 45 seconds before pulling the skillet from the heat and tossing the peas with fiery Sriracha butter (3 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, 1 heaping tablespoon Sriracha sauce, and a scant 1 teaspoon honey).
The molten skillet erupted, spiiting and spattering flecks of red butter all over the kitchen.  It made me smile.  Food fireworks. Fabulous.

When the show died down, I showered the sugar snap peas with black sesame seeds before tumbling them alongside sour orange grilled chicken breasts and quartered Marion County vine-ripened tomatoes

The peas were intense. Crisp, clean, hot, and sweet, they snapped through the lip burning sticky butter, squirting tiny fresh peas everywhere.  While the sesame seeds added crunchy nuttiness, the gushingly ripe tomatoes doused the flaming heat, exploding like juicy wet tomato-infused water bombs.


Aunt Rhea was a little crazy, too.