Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tomatoes & evolution of the garden

Apparently, I have one precocious tomato plant! And no, I am not complaining (LOL!). These are my first tomatoes of the season. 
To me, it is still a wonder how plants go from a tiny seed, to beautiful, robust beings that produce flowers and delicious fruits. Gardening has taught me to have faith (that a plant will grow) and patience. Gardening is truly a beautiful thing. I am grateful everyday to be able to nurture these other beings! I come from a long line of cooks (my mom and dad, and other family members), and gardeners (my grandparents, mom, dad, sister, brother, uncle). I now fully and completely understand the pleasure they all derive from this wonderful activity. And so here are photos of my ever evolving garden (I planted all these plants, either from seeds or babies), and I am celebrating my garden's first full season! You can find earlier photos of the garden here, here, and here.
  My friend Wanda says these (gomphrena) flowers are quite Dr. Seussian (and I agree).

And finally, the rock garden Khalil and I have been working on...(a work in progress).

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mom's Limber de Coco (coconut icy)

I grew up with a sign like this one hanging from the front window of our first floor apartment in Hartford, CT. Summer was the time when my mother, a cook of Puerto Rican traditional foods by trade and talent, would go into a limber-making frenzy. In the winter, she would turn her talents towards making pasteles, coquito, and arroz con dulce, in preparation for the Christmas season (another story, for another time). Neighborhood children, mostly Puerto Rican and African-American, would knock on the window all day long asking for "red" (cherry) icy, "blue" (blueberry) icy, and sometimes they wanted "leemón" (lime). The adults, mostly Puerto Ricans, mostly limber aficionados, would ask for the more traditional flavors: coco (coconut), parcha (passionfruit), tamarindo (tamarind), and piña (pineapple). My mom liked to experiment with her limbers, and so sometimes she would also make mango, piñacolada, and the most impressive of all, at least for me, maní! Aside from coco, which is of course, king among the limbers, for me, maní is a close second (oddly enough, I don't like peanut butter a whole lot). 

If I was home, and heard the taps on the window--which sometimes turned into  a violent stacatto of knocks from sweaty and desperate children--holding in their hands pennies, dimes, nickles, or whatever they could find, I would dispatch the limbers. My mother,  though, knowing that the others in the household were not always inclined to be on "limber duty," tried to stay at home during peak hours (as she called them), and hot days. During New England heat waves my mother basically sat by the window all day. My mother, being a gregarious, sociable woman, actually liked the window since this way she could report on all neighborhood events, life-stories, tragedies, etc. And although I am not one to sit by the window, I am a good listener and specially when it comes to the stories that make everyday life interesting! And selling limber was certainly one way to be in the know (something my mother is very talented at). 

We just suffered through an oppressive heatwave here in New England, and suddenly I had a strong desire to taste the cooling sweetness of a coconut limber.  So I decided that I would make limbers using my mother's recipe. I even did it her way, starting out from fresh coconuts, and making fresh coconut milk. (Of course, you can also easily substitute the hard labor for a can of coconut milk and get perfectly good results!)

I recruited my husband to crack the coconuts (they are rather hard, though my mother cracks them like a pro--certainly a good place to work out aggression, LOL). 
Once opened, we drank the coconut water. And began the task of removing the pulp.
We removed all the pulp, placed it in a blender to which you must add 3 to 4 cups of boiling water (depending on the size of the coconut). Blend together until pulp is grated, adding water if its too thick. 
Once blended, strain the pulp--making sure to push the pulp down with a spoon, as there will still be a lot of water in the pulp. The strained water is your fresh coconut milk. 
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of vanilla extract to the coconut milk (you can substitute the fresh coconut milk for can coconut milk), add 1 to 2 cans cream of coconut (again, depending on how many limbers you want to make), and add 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder. If you enjoy the slightly gritty taste of the coconut pulp, you can go ahead and add some of the pulp you used to make the milk into the mixture, you can also substitute it with store bought coconut flakes, or skip adding pulp or flakes all together. In my house, I make a batch of pulpless limbers for my son, who is extremely picky about "things" in his food and another batch of pulpy limbers for my husband and me.
Here is Khalil eating a (pulpless) coconut limber in the shape of a popsicle (and our dog Amiga, hanging out in the background hoping Khalil's limber melts and drips so that she can get a taste). 
Here are some of the "grown-up" (pulpy) limbers made as my mother would make hers:  in vasitos de coco (small cups). 


Friday, June 22, 2012

My Kale Harvest

I am finally getting veggies from my garden beds. I already harvested the cilantro: it is fruity and robust. The kale is also ready. And so I made a simple spaghetti and added tomatoes and some garden fresh kale to it. 

I am also growing carrots, beets, and parsley. Those are all cool weather crops, so they will be ready very soon. The tomatoes are starting to get taller, and one of my plants even has some fruits on it. I hope to have lots of tomatoes soon!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Malgosia's green hummus

This is an easy peasy hummus recipe that Malgosia made for us the other night. It tastes great and makes enough for a large party OR can last refrigerated for several days. I like to eat hummus with chips, and also makes a delicious spread in sandwiches or in pita bread with roasted veggies. Hummus is so versatile that you can substitute the cilantro in this recipe for black olives or sun dried tomatoes or simply add more garlic and lime. Whatever you decide, this is certainly a favorite dip!

1 can chick peas
1 tspn lime
1 tblspn sesame tahini sauce
1/3 c. cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 tblspn grape oil
1/3 c. water
salt to taste 

What to do?
Place all the ingredients in a food processor or a blender and blend together. When the hummus is smooth and you move it to a bowl, drizzle hot sauce on it to taste and enjoy!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Maya's Baked Tofu

Prepared by her mother and my good friend Malgosia! I was in VT this week and as usual our hostess made wonderful treats for us. For breakfast I usually ate a toasted English muffin topped with Malgosia's own 'wild grape and maple jelly' (which she can easily sell at better foods retailers because it is absolutely amazing!). For lunch, she harvested fresh lettuce, cilantro, parsley and dill from her garden and prepared wonderful salads with dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds. For dinner, Malgosia made simple and tasty fare which I will feature here soon. However the highlight of this week (beside that amazing jelly!), was Maya's baked tofu recipe which Malgosia made for us on our last night in town.

1 package extra firm tofu
1 C. Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce or Fish Sauce (your choice)
1 tblspn balsamic vinegar
1 tblspn sesame oil
2 tblspn Moroccan spice blend (which you can buy already mixed) 
1 small red or white onion (your choice)
1/2 tspn brown sugar
1/2 tspn garlic flakes
1 tspn lime juice

What to do?
Cut the tofu into thin squares and place in a baking dish. Add braggs (or your sauce of choice), add balsamic vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and sprinkle Moroccan spice onto the tofu. Cut your onion into thin circles and place them on the marinated tofu, sprinkle brown sugar and garlic flakes onto the onions (the brown sugar will help caramelize them). Place in oven at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until tofu is golden brown. **The important thing to remember when making tofu is that it is pretty bland and so it likes to soak up quite a bit of liquid and spice--so you can adjust this recipe to your taste. 
Thanks Malgosia for making this delicious dish! And Maya thanks for the AWESOME recipe!