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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plumcrostadaPlums are such a special fruit with so many uses. For me their flavor is most unique: they are sweet near the skin but tart by the pit. The color too is deeper toward the skin and paler near the pit. All stone fruits are spectacular, in my opinion, but I adore plums for this uniqueness. I love eating plums when they're so ripe that their juices squirt right out when you bite into them and run down your arm. That's when I find myself eating them over the kitchen sink. Often when I buy plums in bulk, instead of waiting for them to fully ripen, I usually end up making jam or baking them into pastries, pies, and tarts.

Late summer always rewards us with beautiful Italian prune plums, recognizable for their egg shape, dark and bluish exterior, and green to yellow interior. They are typically available from August until September and can be found widely in the States, but more so in Europe. Often they are dried to make prunes, but more famously are made into the eastern European liquor slivovitz. Plums have always been a favorite in my family. Many Hungarian recipes make use of them: one dish in particular is gomboc, which are plums encased in potato dumplings, and rolled in a cinnamon-breadcrumb mixture. I like them, but I love plums much more in pastries like this crostata.

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nancydrew.jpgI couldn’t possibly have known that the books I managed to read this summer, in some convoluted way, would all share a common thread: success.

In "The Hidden Staircase" by Carolyn Keene, Nancy Drew, using her wits and intuition, solves the mystery of the old stone mansion successfully.

Splat, from Rob Scotton’s "Splat the Cat", has an anxious but ultimately very successful first day of school.

corduroy.jpgDon Freeman’s "Corduroy", a department store bear missing a button who yearns to find a home, does.

Stephanie Plum, not surprisingly, figures out in the nick of time who decapitated the celebrity chef in Janet Evanovitch’s "Finger Lickin' Fifteen".

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cornsoupIt's not Summer until you've eaten a peach over the sink, nibbled on cherries, and enjoyed a stack of fresh blueberry pancakes. One of the most highly anticipated Summer treats aside from all the luscious fruit, is fresh corn. When I see Brentwood corn, I buy it. It's sweet, tender and pairs wonderfully with all types of shellfish, blueberries, lime and avocado.

Corn is high in starch and carbohydrates but it's also a good source of Vitamins B1, B5, and C, folate, dietary fiber, phosphorus, manganese and protein. I use white and yellow corn interchangeably. White seems a bit sweeter and yellow a has a rounder flavor, if that makes sense. Corn should be cooked as soon as possible, after it has been picked. It's particularly good in fritters, pancakes, succotash and salads. If you eat it on the cob, try squeezing lemon or lime juice over it and dipping it in something spicy like smoked paprika or chile powder. Another way to enjoy it is with crumbled Mexican Cotija cheese. Slather the hot cobs with mayonnaise and dip it in the cheese. Messy, but good.

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rhubarbcrisp.jpgI never remember the difference between a crisp, a crumble, and a cobbler (not to mention brown bettys, slumps, or grunts).

Crisps, crumbles, and cobblers are all low-maintenance desserts made with seasonal fruits or berries that have the flavor of pie without the work of actually making one.

A crisp is made by mixing fruit of your choice with sugar and spices then topping it with a crisp mix made of butter and sugar and a binding agent such as flour or oatmeal.

A crumble is similar to a crisp. It's made by mixing fruit with sugar and spices and topping it with a streusel, a mixture of butter, sugar, flour, and nuts.

Cobblers take longer to make than crisps and crumbles because they have a dough-like crust. Some cobblers are made with enclosed crusts while others, like my Fresh Apricot and Cherry Cobbler with Buttermilk Biscuit Crust, are made with a biscuit topping.

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