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www.foodnsight.wordpress.com Adventures and Observations in Food and LIfe

Eggplant Parmesan, Part 3b

So how much sauce can you make from this many tomatoes?

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Let’s find out! And take a look at some pictures.

Part 3: Tomato sauce

So the recipe, as you may know, actually appears in the previous post. I enjoyed writing it, and it pretty much covers the important things. I think part of the art is making it your own – figuring out what you like and also improvising – and for me and tomato sauce, I often just take whatever I have on hand and go from there. The recipe is the process.

Among the many things I like about cooking, one is that that no matter what you do, it usually turns out alright in the end. And if something doesn’t work out, that’s okay too. Only have dried oregano instead fresh, or no oregano at all? It’s still going to be good. Or decide to let it simmer for an extra hour, on purpose or by accident? Still going to taste good. Or want to try a mix of yellow and red tomatoes? It’s going to look and taste good.

This time around, I had a mix of round slicing tomatoes, red plum ones, and a few small tomatoes too. Here are the steps and how everything came together:

Step 1

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The first step is cutting the stems out of the large tomatoes. This makes it easier to peel and save the skins later on (after step 2). Because the stems on the plum tomatoes and smaller tomatoes are so small, they’re fine to stay in.

Step 2

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The next step is boiling a pot of water and putting the tomatoes in. The purpose here is to crack and loosen the skins and to partially cook and soften the tomatoes.

Some recipes say to leave the tomatoes in for just a minute or two, to only work the skins (in which case more of the tomato-cooking/simmering will happen later), but I’ve been leaving them in longer, sometimes 15-30 minutes, meaning I’ll do some of the initial cooking during this initial step. This also makes it easier to break the tomatoes into smaller pieces later.

I take the tomatoes out of the boiling water when they’re half or more soft, but can still hold their shape. If the tomatoes are at different stages of ripeness and if some are large and some are small, they’ll be ready to be taken out at different times.

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How about those cracked skins?

This is how the tomatoes looked after their hot water bath. When I measured the volume of this bowl later using water, I found that the bowl holds 160 oz. That’s ten pounds! That’s also the equivalent, in terms of 28-oz cans of crushed tomatoes, of more than 5 1/2 such cans.

Step 3

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The next step is prepping the onions and garlic for the sauce. This means dicing and sautéing them in olive oil until they’re soft.

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The onions

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The garlic

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The sauté

I used two large onions and three cloves of garlic this time. For the oil, I started with 1/2 cup, which might sound like a lot, but there was also a lot of tomatoes, and the olive oil helps to make for a richer sauce. If I were making a smaller batch of sauce, I might start with one onion and one garlic clove.

Step 4

After the onions and garlic are ready, transfer them to a large pot and add the tomatoes (after first having removed the tomatoes’ skins). Some recipes also say to remove the tomatoes’ seeds, but the seeds don’t bother me so I’ve never done that.

With the tomatoes now in the pot, at this point you can also break the them into smaller pieces using a wooden spoon, potato masher, or other kitchen implement that is up to the task. The tomato sauce can then be left to simmer while finishing the rest of the recipe.

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Above is how the tomatoes looked (L) after removing the skins (R). I also poured out (and saved for another day) the extra tomato liquid so that the future sauce would be thicker. In this case, the extra liquid amounted to a full 32 oz.

Step 5

To make the sauce thicker, I also dice the tomato skins into a paste and then add this paste to the pot. I love this step.

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I usually dice the skins by hand, but this time I used the food processor to save a little time. I measured the volume of the resulting paste above, and it was 13 oz.

Step 6

The second to last step is adding salt and pepper. I usually do 2 parts salt to 1 part pepper, but the ratio and exact amounts are up to you. Add a little, see how it tastes, add then add some more if you think it needs more.

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I made a note while I was cooking that I added 1 tbsp salt and 1/2 tbsp pepper, but I think it actually might have been 1.5 tbsp salt and 3/4 tbsp pepper. Either way, it tasted good in the end. I also have a tendency to use less salt than others, so that’s another reason to try things out and see what you like.

Step 7

The last step is adding oregano and basil (or any herbs that you like). This time I used fresh oregano from my CSA share and fresh basil from my garden.

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The oregano, diced

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The basil, chopped

I usually add the oregano during the middle of the sauce simmering/cooking time. The basil, though, I add just a few minutes before the sauce is done. I think this helps the basil retain its presence in how the tomato sauce tastes.

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Looks good, tastes good

A close-up on the looks good

And a close-up view of the looks good

In the end, the approximately 60 tomatoes that I started with helped produce 144 oz of sauce.

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The tomato sauce

Time-wise, I let the sauce simmer on low heat for about two hours. Cooking the sauce for one hour or even less time also would have worked, but I wanted to make it a little thicker, plus it gave me more time to write 3a. In the end, here was the ingredient list that made it all happen:

  • 60 tomatoes (various sizes)
  • 2 onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp pepper
  • Leaves from 15 sprigs of oregano
  • 1 handful of basil leaves

Next up is a look at putting everything together – eggplant, tomato sauce, and cheese: the Eggplant Parmesan.

Eggplant Parmesan, Part 3a

I took a lot of pictures, as usual along the way, but first I’ll do words, with a post called 3a. It started with a line – I got inspired and free – and the rest came as I cooked, plus the plans for 3b.

Part 3: Tomato sauce

There are a lot of ways to make tomato sauce,
But if it’s summer or fall and I have the time,
I like to start off with them fresh,
In place of the canned crushed kind.

From the garden, farm market, and CSA,
I’ll get all that I need and be on my way.

Step one is the stems,
With a knife, cut away.
In a pot of hot water,
Place the tomatoes to stay.

For fifteen or thirty,
Have them sit in the boil,
It’s not the minutes that matter,
But the soft flesh from the toil.

When cooled, peel away,
The cracked skins from the rest,
And reserve for yet later,
To pass the use test.

Meanwhile, start the onions,
And garlic together.
Dice and set in a pan,
And sauté till they’re soft, much better.

And now the tomatoes,
Just before set aside,
Have them join the mirepoix,
For the sauce-making ride.

If they’re soft and cooked well,
The next step is easy,
With a spoon that is wooden,
Split them in pieces.

That cooks for a while,
Let it simmer, not quick.
With tomatoes so fresh,
That’s how to make the sauce thick.

And lest we forget,
About trick number two,
Dice the saved-skins really fine,
And add this paste to the stew.

For salt and for pepper,
What you like, you should do,
Also sounds like advice,
Not just cooking, life too.

Still, to note what I add,
When including this pair,
I trust two parts the former,
One the latter, all square.

The last step’s the herbs,
Oregano and basil,
Dice one and chop two,
And we’re done! Let’s make the plates full.

Are you hungry like me?
I could go for a dish.
We’ll save some for the eggplant,
That’ll be our tomorrow wish.

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Eggplant Parmesan, Part 2

If you saw the Eggplant Parmesan, Part 1 post the other day, then you know my method for making fresh bread crumbs. You’ll also know from Part 1’s first picture that I had two eggplants set and ready to go for Part 2.  While this would be a perfectly good number to work with for this step – the prepping and cooking of the eggplant – I was thinking during the day yesterday, If two is good, why not three? So I stopped at a farm stand on the way home and got another one.

Before getting started last night, I also took an eggplant family portrait.

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You can tell they love each other.

And so then with the group shot taken, it was time to begin. Here are the basic steps and some notes.

Part 2: Fried eggplant

Step 1:

  • Peel and cut the eggplant into slices
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I’ve found that making them about 1/4″ thick works well

Step 2:

  • Sprinkle a little salt on the eggplant slices, and let them sit for an hour or so to draw out some moisture

I’ve seen a lot of recipes include this step (the sitting time varies), with the added suggestion of using a colander as an aid. I ended up doing it this time (I let the eggplant slices sit while I went to my class last night), but usually I just do the salt-sprinkle and move forward when I’m ready for the next step.

As

It was a double-colander day

Step 3

  • Set up the assembly line for the breading – flour, eggs, bread crumbs.

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  • Then do the dipping – take each eggplant slice, and making sure to coat both sides, go from one bowl to the next.

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At this point, you could get all the eggplant slices coated and ready, or, if you’re like me and decide to go big and use three eggplants, you could start the frying and finish the rest of the assembly line at the same time.

In terms of the flour / egg / bread crumb quantities, the following amounts worked well for the three medium-large eggplants:

  • 1 cup flour (plus 1/2 tsp salt mixed in)
  • 5 eggs (mixed)
  • 4.5 cups bread crumbs (this was the total amount I used; in the bowl in the picture above, there are about 2 cups – I refilled it over time)

Step 4:  (Final step!)

  • Cook the breaded eggplant slices.

I’ve seen some recipes that suggest baking instead of frying, but so far I’ve only tried frying. Here are the steps:

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  • Heat 3/8 cup olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. (On my gas stove, I turned the knob to 3 out of 6.)
  • Add a single layer of eggplant slices to the pan
  • Cook about 4-5 minutes per side, flipping once. (When the breading has gotten a little darker and has started to crisp up, and when the inside is partially cooked (you’ll know it’s partially cooked when you poke it with a fork or spatula and it still has some resistance but isn’t quite as firm as when you started), then it’s time to flip. After the flip, you’ll know it’s done when you poke it again and it’s no longer firm.)
  • When the slices are done, put them on a plate with a paper towel. As the plate gets full, add another paper towel, and then continue on with the layers on up.

The key to the frying step is getting the amount of oil and the temperature-setting right. I try to keep the olive oil base-layer consistent throughout, which means adding a little more oil as I go (I tend to add a little with each new batch or so of eggplant slices).

And that’s it and your done!

Congratulate yourself by eating a few of the fried eggplant slices, whether or not you’ve already had some along the way. So good. Just remember to save a few for making the Eggplant Parmesan later on. 

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Next up: making the tomato sauce.

Getting Started with Eggplant Parmesan

I’ve made Eggplant Parmesan about three times this summer, and I’m going to make it again this week.

A few of the things you'll need

Current view of my table

Come and make it with me! It’ll be fun. It’ll taste good too.

This time, I’m going to take it slow, one or two steps at a time (a day), so I can take pictures, write some notes, and fit in all the other great life things I also want to do at the same time, like reading, eating, hanging out, taking a community school guitar class (Tuesdays starting tomorrow!), riding, running, and sleeping and relaxing.

Here’s my plan: bread crumbs today on Monday (done!), eggplant slices tomorrow, tomato sauce Wednesday, and then awesome Eggplant Parmesan for dinner Thursday.

Let’s see how I (and you) do!

Part 1: Bread crumbs

For me, making bread crumbs starts with a trip to the Whole Earth Center to get a quality loaf of bread. Today I went for whole wheat.

Love that ingredient list, five items

Love that ingredient list, five items

The next step is to toast the bread. I recommend the oven for this step.

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I did about 15 minutes at 250 degrees, which produces (using my oven) toast that on the outside is crisp and that on the inside ranges from similarly crisp to a tiny bit soft. The pieces towards the outside of the oven-rack nearer the flames are the ones that get crisper. These are also the ones that have a tendency to darken and/or burn, particularly possibly the first few times you try it before figuring out your preferred crispness, timing, and color.

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The next and final step is to get out the big knife and chop! chop! chop! chop! chop! chop! chop! until you have lots of bread crumbs.

Actually, that’s what I used to do. And then I realized I could use the Cuisinart.

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Before

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After

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After after

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Back in the bag after

If I were saving them for another time, I’d put the bread crumbs in the freezer. As they’re destined for an eggplant date tomorrow, though, it’s in the fridge they go.

And that’s it for the bread crumbs and part 1. Pretty easy, right? Up for tomorrow is the eggplant – sliced, breaded, and lightly fried.

A Saturday Photo Shoot

Morning glories are made for climbing, and the ones I started back in June haven’t disappointed.

They started off small, but given a little room to grow and something to hold onto, they pulled themselves up (would you expect anything different?) and are still doing what they always do, sharing their beauty.

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Remembering when they were little, in one of the planters

I also planted some in the garden, but these ones were destined for the back of the house. They had a summer romance with the fire escape, and now in fall, they’re still showing their color.

It was Saturday, I was giving two friends a little moving help, and I took some pictures. “Oh! A photo shoot!” my friend said enthusiastically, in her way. I think she was right.

Flowers, seed pods, and former flowers turning into seed pods – it’s all there, something for everyone and something also to help a few friends remember a long day before the start of a long ride.

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Is that seed pod smiling?

Maybe it’s mirroring the morning glory nearby.

Determining the cost of breakfast

It took me three months, but I’ve done it! I’ve determined the cost of breakfast.

I don’t remember when exactly it became my breakfast – two pieces of toast, one with jam and the other with peanut butter and honey – but I know it was at least three and a half years ago.

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This is how breakfast looked in May 2014. It would have looked pretty similar in May 2011.

I can date it to at least then because I remember remarking to a few friends around that time how I’d stopped eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – but not my regular breakfast. I’d needed a (temporary) sandwich siesta, on account of a Latin American trip during which a relationship ended and during which, at the expense of more local food exploration and adventure, I’d acquiescingly eaten more PB&J than I’d wanted. I needed a PB&J break, but that didn’t mean I had to forgo my regular PB toast & jam toast breakfast. A sample friend exchange at the time went:

Him/her: But they’re practically the same thing.
Me: Nah, they’re not the same. They might get mixed around once they’re inside, but they start off separate.

Back then, honey also wasn’t involved everyday yet, but over time it has become a standard PB toast companion (jam meanwhile has continued to go solo). (Side note: if you want to increase the PB toast breakfast-decadence, try adding squares of butter to the toast first, then peanut butter, and then the honey on top of that.) (Second side note: if you want to experience the grounded sensation of anticipation, peace, hope, joy, and more, all at the same time while having a great PB&J sandwich, do a siesta as noted above and then eat a PB&J sandwich for the first time a few months later when you’re ready.)

But back to 2014, breakfast, and determining the average daily cost of it. Here’s how everything looked three months ago on Day 1:

      • Whole Wheat Bread, 18 slices (Whole Earth Center) – $3.50
      • Bonne Maman Peach Preserves, 13 oz (Whole Foods) – $3.99
      • 365 Peanut Butter, 16 oz (Whole Foods) – $1.69
      • Fruitwood Orchards Blueberry Honey, 16 oz (Whole Earth Center) – $5.89
      • Glass of water, 8 oz (the tap) – Priceless
        (free to me)

On the first day then, May 20, 2014, the cost of breakfast was $15.07. That’s a lot, but the plan of course wasn’t to determine the cost of breakfast in a single day. There was still food left to eat and average out. I was going to keep going, two pieces of toast at a time (breakfast everyday), until I’d used everything up. Whenever one ingredient would get finished, I’d buy another one, like for like. Only when I’d finished the last of the original ingredients (if you guessed it was the honey, you’re right!) would I be done. 

And now, the rest of the story.

This includes not only pictures and words (always helpful), but also numbers and words (spreadsheet!) and pictures and numbers (art!). You might say the last two are complementary, supplementary, and…. alimentary.

May 20

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All assembled, Day 1

May 29

038

First replacement today! New bread.

June 21 – Here, getting ready for a new jam (and getting in front any questions about the ‘science’ involved (I am a religious rubber spatula user))

Pre-spatula

Pre-spatula

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Post-spatula

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Next!

July 4

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Homemade friend breakfast!

Okay, so there were a few days when I didn’t eat my regular breakfast. Sometimes, you know, you’re out visiting friends, on vacation, or doing a bike ride or something else. All such variations are noted and accounted for on the spreadsheet, however. On July 4, for the record too, I did eat my regular breakfast later on that day to keep pace.

July 28

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The changing of the peanut butter. Here also – the spatula again, and a tomato photo bomb.

August 20

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Honey almost gone… happy face, sad face

When I took this picture of the honey and peanut butter, at first I was like, Finally, I’m almost done! And then I was like, Wait, but then I’ll be done! It reminded me of a time in middle school when I was reading a book that I liked so much that I didn’t want it to end. I tried to remember what book it was – I was recalling kids, a secret garden, and an element of mystery and magic, and possibly it being a Battle of the Books book (EB reference) – but in this case my insufficient memory trumped my internet skills. Any thoughts? It wasn’t The Secret Garden, as I learned later after taking that one out of the library and reading it for the first time, but as a bonus, at least now I know another kids book that I like.

August 27

I said goodbye to the last of the original 16 oz of honey on this day, and with my limiting reagent now gone, it was time for step two: mathematics. The interesting thing is, math can be creative too. This is not to say I made up the numbers, but rather that I enjoyed creating the requisite spreadsheet. What’s not to like about figuring out formulas and making accurate and interesting notes??? I’ve got columns for weekday, date, bread, jam, peanut butter, day, effective day, the cost of breakfast, food notes, and extra notes.

Check it all out here. (Xls available too.)

September

Before I could finish the spreadsheet and determine the cost of breakfast, I realized there was one more thing to do: determine and subtract out the value of the food amounts remaining at the end. The honey was done, so I was set there. And bread is bread, so I could easily determine the remaining bread value. But to make the final adjustments for the remaining jam and peanut butter, I needed to know or at least factor in the tare weights of the jars.

Not owning a scale myself, I made a special trip to the Whole Earth Center, where they have several scales to weigh the bulk items. I took my jam and peanut butter measurements – ‘jar + the amount left’ for each one – and then since I hadn’t weighed them ahead of time at the beginning, I brought with me unopened jars of the same jam and peanut butter and weighed those jars too. Then you subtract the partially-used jar number from the full jar number, and the tare is gone and you’re on your way.

If this sounds like a lot of words and you think seeing it more graphically would help, with the actual numbers, I agree. In part with this in mind, and in part because, well, I like to draw and I hadn’t done much drawing in a while, I made some art math. If it helps to get a sense of the progression of style, I’ll note too that the pictures appear below in the order in which they were created.

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And all together now

Between the spreadsheet and the art math, I feel like there’s a lot to work with here. Math teachers, number lovers, and food and life blog readers of the world, there you are – enjoy and feel free to use as you see fit, responsibly and with attribution.

As for the ultimate numbers for breakfast, here are the main ones:

  • The number of days it took to determine the cost of breakfast: 100
  • The number of effective days it took (aka the number of days it took to eat 1 lb of honey): 83
  • The total amount spent on bread, peanut butter, jam, and honey (after the final adjustments): $70.98
  • The average amounts consumed daily for breakfast:
    • 2 slices of bread
    • 0.86 oz of jam
    • 0.84 oz of peanut butter
    • 0.19 oz of honey

And of course, the final number – now trimmed a bit from where it started on day one:

  • The cost of breakfast, determined: $0.86

In Remembrance

It was six weeks ago on July 13 that my aunt passed away, and last weekend that I went to her memorial service.

At the reception afterwards in the memorial hall, there was a small array of cheese spreads, crackers, and fruits and vegetables. There was also apple cake, with the cake prepared by the caterer using my aunt’s recipe.

I wasn’t sure if I’d had my aunt’s apple cake before (I thought I had), but in any case it tasted good that day. On the table next to the cake was also the recipe, printed simply on
5″ x 8″ slips of orange paper, there for all to take. The slips also noted the recipe’s origins: it had come from a customer of the family’s old apple orchard, collected by my grandmother and modified by my aunt.

apple cake ingredients

apple cake instructions

For the cake

apple cake topping instructions

For the topping

apple cake topping instructions

I didn’t take any pictures that day, but I took some a few days later when I decided to try making the recipe myself. The only variations I made were to use Ginger Gold apples (the folks at the farmers’ market said I could get Jonathans starting in a maybe 3-4 weeks) and to skip the topping. The cake turned out good, but it was also easy to tell that it wasn’t quite the same as the original, which had more of a definite, ‘Okay, even though I’ve already had three or four pieces, I think I’ll have just one more,’ quality to it.

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My aunt was many things, a baker, scholar, wife, friend, sister, aunt, gardener, leader, quilter, and crafts-person. But’s that’s saying too much, and too little.

The memorial service, following my aunt’s request, consisted of a musical selection of folk and traditional songs that she liked and that meant something to her, played live by friends, with a minimum of talking about her in between the songs. She had requested that the collective comments last no more than five minutes altogether. There were eight songs, eleven performers, and a welcome, and you could feel the performer-friends wanting to say more, even as they kept true to the program.

There was a lot that made my aunt’s life full, and we all wish it would have continued to be full for a little longer, beyond when the progression of cancer, back again, finally said it was time.

I’ve gone back and forth on what to say about myself and how I feel, including whether to say anything at all since it’s not really about me. What I’ll just say is that I have a feeling that I imagine others may have felt at similar times in their lives: a wish or regret not necessarily to have said more, but to have asked more, and to have learned more about her and the perspective, knowledge, and life and family history she knew and could share.

The morning after the memorial, I walked through my aunt and uncle’s garden and took pictures of the flowers. It was mostly my aunt who would do the flowers, and mostly my uncle who would do the vegetables.

Here’s how the flowers looked that day, a day after my aunt would have been 79. There was and still is a lot of color.

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Twine to unwind

Sometimes being a mostly vegetarian comes with extra benefits, such as when it was time this year to help the tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden grow up and climb.

Having been a vegetable parent in the past, I knew they’d do better with a little support and structure. The question was, where to turn for this guidance? The answer? My kitchen cupboard! (And my parents.)

twine wating to be prepuar

Cooking twine, waiting to be repurposed

It’s not all the time that I follow recipes when cooking, but at some point a few years ago, I had the thought, I should cook a whole (little, local) chicken in the oven and tie it up with twine like it says in The Joy of Cooking and other recipes. To make that happen though, I needed to get some twine.

So I went to the local Ace Housewares store.

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One of the great things about the Ace is that it’s only about a mile from my place. I also love seeing and periodically using the 20% off coupon they consistently print in the local weekly paper, sometimes double-downed with a $25 Ace gift card I’ll get for redeeming $20 of my credit card cash-back bonus. I’m not a big consumer, or much of one at all really, but I like new things like the next person, and particularly so when they’re food-useful and they involve bonus thrift.

When I got to the store, I saw I had two options for the twine – the little ball and the big spindle.

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Picture taken July 2014, looking just as I had remembered

Now, I was only making one chicken, and my mental math told me the little ball would be plenty, but then there was the unit pricing…can’t ignore that!  200 ft vs. 1,200 ft.  So I could get six times the twine, for only three times the price! Decision made. I walked out of the store feeling good about myself and with 400 yards of twine.

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200 feet…nice try

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1,200 feet, and comes with handy pictures…that’s more like it

I’m not sure how much twine it took to tie up that 3-pound chicken, but I can say that when you only do it once, there’s still a little bit left from the original 1,200 feet when you pick it up for the second time two years later. Which is to say, I still had a fair amount to work with when I brought the twine with me to the garden a month ago to work with the plants.

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The cucumbers, just after stringing, looking ready to climb

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Also involved: a bamboo pole, a plastic stake, a metal stake, and an unfolded  tomato cage. (Thank you Mom for the complementary, non-twine supplies.)

I treated the two rows of tomatoes to a similar setup, combining the twine with a few stakes and cages to web it up right.

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Sauce tomatoes, now happy with the new support

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A view from the other side too; I added more twine later as the plants continued to grow.

Though the cucumbers have now begun to wilt away with the summer, I was able to get a decent crop. I also picked some tomatoes for the first time last week. As for the twine, it’s now back on the shelf, looking the same as before or maybe just a little trimmer. It did after all get a little workout.

Asterisk club #1

In eighth grade one time, someone at my lunch table told the story of how a kid he knew swallowed some watermelon seeds and then a watermelon started growing inside his stomach.

Perhaps it speaks to my sense of imagination, but I believed it for least 15-30 seconds. I mean, a watermelon! Growing inside your stomach! It’s like the perfect space!

But then it didn’t seem quite right, so I dismissed the reality of it. I still love the story though and will sometimes try it out on kids (and occasionally adults) to see what they think.


Back to A good start in the garden

 

A good start in the garden

I got the call from the Recreation Department in mid-April. I was officially off the wait-list! I’d be rejoining the community garden this year.

It was a good feeling to get the good news – I’d moved in the past year and so couldn’t have a front yard garden as before. I was ready to go! The only problem (but not really, in the big picture) was the Recreation Department’s follow-up detail that the garden wasn’t ready for planting yet. They said it might be ready in a few weeks – maybe by Mother’s Day – after the annual roto-tilling and plot-marking was done. In the end, they bested their Mother’s Day mark by about a week, so come the first week in May, everything was set. We were underway.

The garden area, ready for planting: a 4 x 6 grid of plots, so space for 24. My plot: center bottom here.

The community garden in early May, ready for planting. Overall: a 4 x 6 grid of plots, so space for 24. My plot: center bottom here.

And then so what to plant? To the farmers’ market! The market!…For some plugs to transplant. And to the box! The box! …For the collection of seeds I’d accumulated over time by purchase (most of them), by gift (a few), or by end-of-season collecting (a handful).

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Curious to know what was inside? So was I!

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The view upon opening

The box certainly contained an assortment of seeds. Here are a few stats and a look at the contents:

  • Total number of seed packets/bags/containers: 109
  • Greatest amount of any one kind:  Sunflowers – 11
  • Second place:  Tomatoes – 8
  • Oldest packet:  Peppermint – 1999
  • Second oldest:  Chinese Cabbage – 2001 (two packets) (also a Hot Pepper packet and a Sweet Pepper packet – 2001)
  • Newest packet: Zucchini – 2014 (from the NOFA-NJ conference – free)
  • Second newest: Sunflowers and Carrots – 2013 (from Johnny’s – purchased)
  • Packets that pack a story: Three flower packets from The Page Seed Company (Marigolds, Snapdragons, Pansies) that have the Hartford Courant imprimatur on the back

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I got these seeds for free over ten years ago, so now they're not so much Hartford Courant as Hartford Old seeds. Maybe one day there'll also be a Princeton Packet promotion -- and then I could get a pack of Packet seed packets.

I got these seeds for free over ten years ago while working in Connecticut, so now they’re not so much Hartford Courant as Hartford Old seeds. I have a feeling that the Courant germination rate may be similar to an Old germination rate now. I’m going to plant some and see what happens.

Maybe one day there’ll also be a Princeton Packet seed promotion, and then I could say I got a pack of Packet seed packets.

The box also contained some interesting odds and ends, like a ziploc bag full of marigold seeds, a bent spoon container with sunflower seeds, a small folded paper with some chives seeds, and a medicine bottle with Grandpa Ott Morning Glory seeds.

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IMG_3921 Grandpa Ott in a bottle. I don’t actually have a Grandpa Ott, but my aunt’s handwriting had me thinking for a minute that maybe I did.

I always liked morning glories – as a kid I can remember them climbing the strings on the side of the house all the way up to the attic fan, and I can also remember being inside the attic looking out, seeing the morning glories almost trying to come in – so it was an easy decision to plant some of these. Plus, there’s the awesome medicine bottle storage! I definitely wouldn’t have to worry about little kids eating the seeds and then having morning glories sprout in the their stomachs. (To be honest, morning glories probably wouldn’t sprout in their stomachs, but I heard it might be a different story with watermelon seeds, which kids could consume with a greater frequency).*

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First I planted some morning glories the garden. This is how they look in mid-June, a few weeks after sprouting.

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I also planted some in a planter by my house. My next step here will be to talk with my neighbor about some strategic planter placement to see how Grandpa Ott feels about climbing a fire escape.

Of the other interesting odds and ends above, I also tried planting the marigold and sunflower seeds in the garden, but apparently they didn’t share the same vigor as the morning glory seeds and decided not to come up.

No matter though, at least for the sunflowers. I dipped into my multitude of other seed packets and found success there.

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A little baby sunflower in mid-June. Now imagine about 30 of these in close proximity, and then imagine all of them all grown up and with lots of beautiful flowers. And then remember to check back here in a few months to see if your imagination matches how this portion (about a quarter) of the garden plot turns out.

As for the rest of the plot, I have about 4/5 of it planted now after a month and a half. I transplanted about 10 tomatoes (mostly of the sauce and paste variety), 4 hot peppers (of the some degree of hot variety), and 6 basil plants (of the traditional Genovese, goes well with tomatoes and other things variety). Thank you by the way local community farmers’ markets and New Jersey farmers for the seedlings. In terms of what came up from the seeds I planted, I also have radishes, cilantro, cucumbers, and zucchini growing in the garden.

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One of the tomatoes, shortly after its mid-May transplant

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The same tomato, now in mid-June

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Radishes, harvested this week

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Same bunch

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Nothing says instant garden gratification like a bunch of radishes

cilantro

Then again, cIlantro’s also a quick pleaser

 

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And another look at the garden, mid-June. The sunflowers will likely feature more prominently in future looks, hugging the bottom corner and all along the right side.

Overall, so far so good, and more to come.