Summer

tomstable.jpgMy tomato plants are at peak production.  I have so many ripe fruit. We are eating tomatoes at every meal and enjoying fabulous sandwiches. Last night we enjoyed Bruschetta, and the diced-tomato-with-olive oil-herbs-garlic-and-salt topped toasts are a great way to consume several ounces of tomato per person.

Speaking of ounces, we grew a Yellow Brandywine that tipped the scale at just over 2 pounds! (Regard the photographic evidence!)

But not all tomatoes are the big beauties, ready to be sliced, admired and devoured on a platter with a little sea salt and sprinkling of chopped basil. No, we have prolific plants that produce small fruit—just larger than a golf ball. These tomatoes are, dare I say, almost annoying in their abundance. What do you do with them?

I make an incredibly easy tomato sauce that is great as a pizza or pasta sauce. I am too busy to fuss too much with the tomatoes. I neither peel nor seed the little buggers. I just cut out the little cores and throw them into a pot with garlic and olive oil and basil, simmer it until thickened, and then puree in a blender.

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cherries.jpgFor the last couple of weeks, I have been unusually happy. It's not the weather or exercise or Prozac. It's cherries. Here's the deal with cherries: their season is ridiculously short, their price is ridiculously high, but the flavor is ridiculously delicious. Who can deny the pure pleasure of eating a sweet-tart, fresh, juicy cherry? It is prime cherry pickin' time. So here's what you need to know about selecting, storing, and cooking with cherries.

When is cherry season?
Most cherries are in season from late May through late July. The season is short: typically 4-5 weeks, peaking at about week 3.

Why are cherries so expensive?

For good reasons: Cherries are highly dependent upon good weather; they're also highly susceptible to insect damage and disease and often require protection from netting or cheesecloth, which is time consuming for farm workers. Finally, they must be picked carefully and are highly perishable since they do not ripen once harvested. This all adds up to a labor intensive and expensive fruit to produce, which is why the price is high. Don't wait for a big sale on cherries; it might not come. If you love them – and you know you do – then just splurge.

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bbqribs.jpgTo some, May means the Kentucky Derby. To others, the start of the summer growing season. To many backyard chefs, May is the start of barbecue.

Barbecue used to be a very regional thing. One area might mean pork while another means beef. Some barbecue chefs prefer to smoke, some to grill, and some to braise.

There are passionate arguments about dry (a spice rub) vs. wet (cooking with the sauce), and even the ingredients in a sauce, whether the meat is cooked in it or not.

I like to barbecue, and I don’t like to get drawn in to one technique over another. No matter the method, barbecue is just good food. 

I’ve made a tasty POM pomegranate juice barbecue sauce for pork baby back ribs. The sweet spice of the sauce is a nice balance to the salty, tender rib meat.

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xmasballThere is a scene in the Nutcracker ballet where the evil Mouse king dances with his mouse-followers beneath the giant Christmas tree at midnight. When I look at our tomatoes every morning, I envision something like this having gone on the night before. There are tomatoes strewn everywhere, little bites taken out of just-ripening cherry tomatoes, and big bites taken out of bigger tomatoes. Mr. Mouse or Mr. Rat is, apparently, also joined by his close personal friends, Mr. and Mrs. Hornworm (and all their prodigy), and a flock (or several flocks) of sparrows, all of whom enjoy illicit tomato-tastings under the light of the moon. It’s not hard to imagine how fun this is—we planted our tomatoes way too close together, so the two big rows form sort of a hedge. It’s really more like a forrest, and even I can appreciate the magical wonder of that leafy canopy when I am crawling around on my hands and knees in there looking for signs of invaders. It’s like a cool fort, stocked with candy.

Today Roy bought an inflatable owl. A big one. And stuck it right on top of one of the tomato stakes.

Last night, we strung monofilament line between the bamboo stakes, and hung shiny CDs and yellow streamers from it. I also hung a few red Christmas ball ornaments around, which are supposed to lure birds into pecking at them instead of tomatoes (and thereby discourage further pecking).

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From the LA Times

summerpeachesPeaches and nectarines are kissing cousins. In fact, maybe closer. Plant a bunch of peach pits and a few of them will actually sprout nectarine trees, and vice versa. It used to be said that the difference was that peaches had fuzz while nectarines didn’t. But in supermarkets today, that’s hard to determine since many of the peaches have been mechanically de-fuzzed.

Generally, the flavor of nectarines is lighter and a little more acidic, almost lemony, while peaches are richer and muskier. Ripe nectarines can make you gasp with pleasure, but a great, perfectly ripe peach will make you fall to your knees. Still, you can use them interchangeably. What’s good for the peach is good for the nectarine.

How to choose: Check the background color. Ripe fruit will be golden, not green. Mature fruit that hung on the tree long enough to develop full sugar will have a distinctive orange cast. Always with peaches and nectarines, trust your nose: fruit that is ripe and delicious will smell that way.

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