Tag Archives: gardening

Transforming our neglected property

Contemplating Mrs. Brown made me want to share about our landscape’s ongoing makeover! Most of our efforts the past four years have required a hefty amount of observation, research, planning, muscle and dedication, but little money. It’s been a patience and grit game. Now that I can look in the rear view mirror I know that this was about trusting in the process, even when I was unsure how everything would unfold. By going slow, the land had a chance to let us know what needed to happen and we could jump on opportunities as they arose.

Doing our work by hand and without chemicals felt frustratingly slow at times, but that grew easier to accept each year, too. We have completely avoided pesticides, despite how tempting Round-Up may be for the weeds among our brick patio bricks that WILL NEVER DIE. We’ve even torched them without success. But, I’m not giving in. No bees or salmon will be killed in the name of obtaining a “perfect” lawn or garden. We prefer to accept the dandelions among us.

I often felt overwhelmed by the enormity of the job our first year. This lot is exceptionally large for Seattle standards (a fifth of an acre), and the weeds had raging parties for a decade. (For some “Before” pictures, please visit this post.) We hadn’t received our landlord’s blessing to change anything yet, so we cleaned up bits and pieces, pruned overgrown trees and bushes, and learned the perennial vegetation as it poked through the ground. In the meantime, probably due to our hard work, we convinced our landlord to let us build vegetable beds and take complete control of caring for the backyard. We evicted the hack-and-whack landscaping team, giving plants a chance to thrive.

The second year Harry built some raised beds for edibles. (Not those kinds of edibles, silly.) I started dividing the overwhelmed, introverted irises and lilies so they’d have space to bloom. (I know how they feel.) Splitting plants is one of my favorite ways to fill in beds and experiment with new planting locations. Free and easy! I also jumped on all opportunities for free or cheap plants to transplant. We received daisies, wild geraniums, and strawberries from friends. A few neighbors passed along divisions, and I frequented bare root and other affordable sales.

Our latest, and most ambitious short-term project, was hauling an enormous amount of mulch onto the property. Mulch makes gardens happy not only because they’re more attractive, but also because the soil retains moisture better, the wood breaks down to feed the soil, and weeds are suppressed. In late March we signed up with Chip Drop, an organization that alerts arborists that they may drop as many wood chips at your site as they’d like on any day they choose. It’s free! We signed up imagining we’d have a week or two to prepare for about five to ten cubic yards. Two days later they dumped EIGHTTEEN cubic yards (!!!!) on our driveway. I guess they liked my tip.

Clearly, it was time to act or else we’d never park our car in the garage again. (As it was, it took four weeks of serious work to clear that pile!) First I prepped our most wide open, heavily weeded and/or overgrown areas for the cardboard weed barrier. Both non-glossy cardboard and newspaper decompose and are safe in the garden. They beat the heck out of plastic weed barriers because they’re free and sustainable, plus you can actually plant in them later or move them around with ease. Plus, worm food!

Prepping for the cardboard involved weed-whacking big patches of weeds to the ground and hand-pulling those in smaller areas. We could’ve hand-pulled them all and spent five months doing this, but why? The cardboard we used is thick enough to smother most weeds. As long as it’s properly layered, it works. (There are places I short changed by not overlapping cardboard enough or using too little newspaper, so I’m already going over those again as weeds poke through. Learn from me. Even though it feels like it’s taking forever, I highly recommend you layer well or you’ll probably end up doing it again sooner than later anyways.)

I saved all of our Sunday New York Times papers for six months and used every single, non-glossy page. Surely Bill Cunningham’s fashion pages will yield showstopping flowers! Harry made frequent stops at a nearby bike shop to collect empty bike boxes. We removed all the staples using pliers, pulled any bits of tape off, and tore the boxes apart. I used an exacto knife to cut them to smaller pieces and feel totally badass. Cheap gardening thrills! Another perk!

IMG_5964_2

Some bike boxes were whiney.

IMG_5933

Parts of this process are really fricking ugly. Just keep working. It’ll look good eventually.

Once an area was ready, we piled mulch on top. We made sure to give trees plenty of space around their trunks and bushes adequate respect, too.

Voila!

IMG_9192

IMG_9210

IMG_9205

We are reaping our biggest rewards this year. We delighted in a steady stream of blooming irises from March through May. The lilies are starting to strut their stuff. Weeds are minimal and the mulch looks great. The beds are bursting with color or filled with green. Even the alley looks good.

The edibles are pretty happy, too, minus some unwanted berry leaf-munching bugs. Snap peas are taller than Miles, raspberries and blueberries are starting to ripen, and I ate my first boysenberries yesterday. YUM. One round of artichokes were consumed and more will be this week, making it our best artichoke year. Tulip’s gravesite is growing beans, squash, corn and a few flowers. It’s not doing as well as I’d hoped, so I’m guessing I rushed the process too much. The other hugelkultuur bed has tomatoes and a few other things. It’s doing ok. Next season should be better for both of them. I really hope we get to experience it.

I feel so fortunate to be gardening among Mrs. Brown’s flowers right now. I know how it felt to leave my first garden in Colorado, and I know how much I’ll grieve leaving this one, but now I’m savoring the transformation. One of my current favorite activities is to sit under the grapevines in the backyard and watch the boys play soccer with Harry or run through a sprinkler. Saturated with beauty, if not water.

IMG_6363IMG_9196IMG_9198IMG_9203IMG_9201

IMG_9209

 

Advertisements

Rehabilitation

“Kathleen! Do you have a moment?” my neighbor asked after spotting Miles and I pull up by bike one afternoon last week.

“I’ve been wanting to tell you this for weeks. Has anyone told you about Mrs. Brown, who lived here until she died?”

She went on to explain that Mrs. Brown, a widow and a mom, tended the garden day and night, rain or shine. Mrs. Brown baked my neighbor a homegrown rhubarb cake after she gave birth and doted on her sons as they grew up. Mrs. Brown grew food and flowers, nurturing this land and her neighbors. I bet I would’ve loved Mrs. Brown.

“And you know what? You brought back Mrs. Brown to me. You have brought her back to life by restoring the beauty here. I’m reminded of her every time I walk by now and I am so thankful.”

I was so touched. I got teary eyed, and probably would’ve gone into an all-out shriveled up cry if Miles weren’t refusing to get off the bike, angry at me for not taking him That Very Moment to buy spy glasses at Archie McPhees.

I knew this place was treasured once upon a time because there were signs everywhere. The old plum and pear trees. The rhododendrons and azaleas, the hydrangea greeting visitors at the front door. I made a new discoveries almost every time I gardened during our first year. Bulbs would peek out and if I spotted them before the weed-whacking “landscaping” team arrived, I would try to prevent their demise. Sometimes I was too late to save a plant because it was too diseased or crowded. Other times I spotted them just in time.

One fortunate day a few years ago, while clearing a patch of weeds, I found five dying peony roots in a dry, barren spot that no longer received sunlight. (Three others were completely shriveled up.) I transplanted them with my fingers crossed. One flowered this spring. The others line our front window, growing stronger each season, and will likely bloom next year.

The neighbor who told me about Mrs. Brown used to run a rehab facility. Who better to understand and value the beauty of life restored? There is great joy in watching lives receive long-awaited nourishment after years of starvation. We rehabilitated this garden! When I think about it like that, I feel incredibly honored to have played a role.

IMG_9193

IMG_6276IMG_6319

 

April 21

First of all, I feel bound to inform those of you who didn’t realize it that I posted about losing our beloved cow Tulip on April Fool’s Day. She never existed, but I did capture those pictures of cows during my exchange student year in The Netherlands. I also spotted that calf on a bike ride in Friesland and was absolutely smitten. But no cows traveled home with me. No animals were harmed in the making of that post.

The “burial site” is really just some logs, compost and greens in my first attempt at a specific type of garden bed, called a hugelkultuur bed. Hilariously enough, a neighbor’s visiting mom recently asked them with great concern if we buried a dog in our yard. It does look suspicious. That’s why I thought of that post in the first place. I’m hoping it’ll look a lot better once all the food and flowers are covering it. Plus, with time it’ll shrink. Otherwise, we’ll just be “Those neighbors. You know, the ones with the grave.”

Did I fool you? I hope you at least get a chuckle out of it.

In the past few weeks I have been buried under piles of mulch, speech-language pathology textbooks, a strange medical event, making the most of the boys’ spring break week at home, and celebrating my little guy’s fifth birthday. I’m clearing away one pile at a time, but will not be posting here often until late May, after I’m done taking my SLP national exam.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of our yard and garden. The layers, textures and colors are breathtaking right now. I feel so thankful to live here and to have nurtured this property along to better health. There are plants, bushes and flowers blooming now that weren’t four years ago because the soil was so poor and/or they hadn’t been pruned. This is the first year I feel like we’re really seeing it all come together in health. It’s a daily treat to look outside to the canopy of pillowy blossoms, the soft flowers carpeting our grass, the eye-achingly bright azaleas, the dogwood’s pink flowers, like fall in the spring, and the promise of food to come with our peas, chives, lettuce and berries growing up as fast, strong and colorful as my boys. I am so grateful.

IMG_6151

IMG_6147

IMG_6144

IMG_6141

IMG_6153

IMG_6140

IMG_6137

IMG_6133

IMG_6135

IMG_6138IMG_6139

IMG_6134

Spring’s call

IMG_5944

After a few weeks of increasingly anxious waiting, good news keeps bursting from the ground. Harry secured a contract for a few months that might become full-time work. The boys were accepted into a school that is a significantly better fit with our educational philosophies. While there is grief in leaving friends behind, we are eagerly anticipating joining this community. I am so thankful to have relief from the unknowns, as well as the opportunity to look forward to new experiences. In the meantime, I am relishing the present. It’s spring, friends!

Spring beckoned me to the garden, sore back be damned. Peas, lettuce, arugula and kale are in the ground and the tiniest of lettuce leaves are now visible upon careful inspection. A few peas peeked out today, too. Flower seeds were sprinkled all around, too. For me and the bees. A couple hugelkultuur beds are in process, ensuring my reputation as one of the craziest gardeners in the neighborhood. (The fact that I’m not THE strangest says more about Seattle than it does me. I have neighbors down the street who grow a ton of food, own goats, and trap and eat bothersome squirrels on their property.)

IMG_5922

I transplanted a bunch of perennial herbs and flowers out of this bed to make room for my first half-ass hugelkultuur. It’s our sunniest spot that’s ok with the landlord to change around, so I try growing heat-loving veggies here. I threw a ton more logs down, some leaves, weeds and grass, a layer of compost and a layer of topsoil. Fingers crossed! (Really should’ve done this last fall…)

IMG_5954

Here she is, simmering and sitting pretty for the next month until I plant.

Anyways, it’s not the first time I’ve covered a yard with cardboard and newspaper while neighbors craned their necks. After submitting a to-scale plan and receiving approval, I xeriscaped our front yard in a Colorado HOA suburban community that was filled with perfectly green, weed-free, Round-up abundant, sterile turf yards. Mulch and newspaper was a surefire way to get all busybodies talking. I ended up doing most of that work at night with a headlamp on, mostly to avoid gawkers and cranky old men with nothing better to do than complain.

In comparison, this time feels easy, if not downright delightful. I got landlord approval years ago! Many people pass by on walks and ask about the project with genuine interest. I’ve met five new neighbors since the mulch was dumped. Gardening is a fabulous way to build community in a neighborhood that appreciates it. Most people in Seattle do, thankfully. If they don’t, they’re certainly not surprised to see it. Gardens and weeds are tolerated, along with the chickens and goats of urban farming nutheads. (Oh, how I dream of joining them.)

IMG_7460

Enough mulch was dropped on our driveway to bury a bus. The boys immediately took to rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Give them a pile of mulch and they’re like sheepdogs around sheep. They need to move it. Three days in and I’ve barely made a dent in this pile. Oy.

Spring brought rain and wind, which was surprisingly absent most of winter. One of the nastier days we hunkered down to watch Mary Poppins as a family. It was the first movie in ages that hasn’t landed our boys crying in our laps. They giggled like crazy, eyes wide in wonder, “She’s flying with an umbrella!” “They’re dancing on the roofs!” The sweetest sound in our house in ages was the boys singing “Chim chiminey” repeatedly after the movie’s end. (And, by George, Mary doesn’t even sing “Let’s go fly a kite!” It is Mr. Banks, of course! Somehow, it’s still her voice in my head when I’m biking. Even now that I know better.)

Spring brought a morning of traipsing through the farmer’s market with Miles, who eagerly accompanies me anywhere offering quesadillas. On our way out, with our treasured orchard apples, my favorite loaf of bread and a few veggies in hand, I spied the word “nettles” written on Foraged and Found’s sign. My heart skipped a beat. I’ve wanted to try them for years but always let intimidation stop me. This time, I walked away from that booth with an extra skip in my step, a bag of stinging nettles, and a bag of watercress. I immediately knew what dinner would be.

I didn’t handle the nettles at all until they were blanched. I dumped them straight from bag to boiling water, treating them like hazardous waste until I was certain they wouldn’t sting me. Our first encounter left me confident enough to forage for them now. The taste is absolutely worth a possible sting.

IMG_5958

Toast a delicious piece of bread, sourdough rye if you’re lucky, and top it with a thick layer of chevre. (I had a black truffle chevre, and oh man, that was extra nice.) Spread on some nettle pesto and voila! My first real bite of spring came courtesy of those nettles and I’ve enjoyed spoonfuls of it almost everyday since.

(I substituted almonds for pine nuts because they were already in my house. I also added a bit more olive oil and lemon juice. Pesto is easy to make to taste. Have a bite, see what you think, and add more of what you want. We first enjoyed the pesto on pasta along with a watercress salad. In a somewhat miraculous evening, both boys ate both dishes! Plus, Miles exclaimed, “I love watercress!” which might be the nicest utterance I’ve heard exit a 4 year old’s mouth when faced with an all-green dinner.)

P.S. Are you on Instagram? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE instagram (beankathleen). It sharpens my focus on the everyday moments of my life that are filled with beauty. After years of using it, I think my eye is better trained to appreciate simple delights. I am so thankful for that practice. Plus, it gives me glimpses into the precious tidbits of other people’s lives. Or the not so pretty moments to which we all relate. I like seeing those, too. Occasionally I also post wacky pictures there. Like this one: my cry for help after the bags of nettles and watercress attacked me.

IMG_9362

White chocolate raspberry brownie bars

We’ve hit the point of summer in which I must suppress my alter ego, Nighttime Ninja Harvester. On our block alone there are two huge raspberry patches covered with berries, most of which are rotting on the canes. My berry-loving, food-waste-hating heart races every time I pass them. In another decade or two I could easily find myself knocking on doors saying, “Hi, may I harvest these for you?”

We don’t have a problem eating the berries at our house, partly because my canes are young and don’t yet have huge amounts of fruit. Still, I could set Miles loose on enormous urban patches and they’d be cleared in no time. We were lucky enough to have about a cup of berries enter the house every couple of days for the past few weeks because I cared for our neighbors’ garden. There was just enough to prevent Nighttime Ninja Harvester from getting into trouble. IMG_4760Did you know that if you’re a fruit tree owner in Seattle you can request to have your fruit harvested and donated to food banks? (Many other cities have similar organizations.) The first year we moved into this place, the Italian prune plum tree was overflowing. I was overwhelmed enough by the one-year-old and four-year-old. I signed our tree up and a friendly man came to harvest the plums, leaving us a box and taking the rest to food banks. We’ve since been able to handle our harvests, but I continue to donate a hefty amount to food banks.

Knowing that we are lucky to have an abundance, I work hard to use what we have or share it before it goes bad. Nonetheless, I experience food waste guilt quite regularly. While I’m not a depression-era baby, I was raised by WWII babies who subsequently enrolled their children in the Clean Plate Club. I also blame Tamar Adler. Reading An Everlasting Meal provided countless ideas for how to use food more efficiently and economically, but it also plagues me a bit. Now I sometimes feel guilty throwing away kale stems and radish leaves. I’ve contemplated taking all our discarded produce parts around to the neighborhood chickens and goats. Looney, I know. I really am just a decade away from being that person. (Buuuut, come on! I could dump kale stems at the chicken coops and come home with handfuls of berries in a period of ten minutes!)

Since emptying our veggie CSA box completely covers my kitchen counter every week, it is an act of kindness towards myself to immediately cut off the carrot tops and say, “Not this year.” Otherwise I’d nod to them in the fridge all week, debating about what I would do with them until they rot and I, of course, feel bad. That’s the pattern. So, this year I’m declaring it Good Enough to cook the normal parts. Maybe next year I’ll make kale stem pesto and carrot top purees. Or own chickens.

IMG_8619Now, back to raspberries. I rarely bake with summer fruit because it tastes so amazing raw. Raspberries are one exception because I find their flavor is often enhanced with baking. I first made these bars for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. While flipping through Dorie Greenspan’s Baking (my desert island baked goods book), this recipe caught my eye. I really wanted to make cake for the party, but we decided in favor of finger food because of logistical challenges, so these helped scratch the pretty cake itch. Plus, my mom loves raspberries, oranges and chocolate, so I was hopeful she’d like these. (By the way, Dorie has a new book coming out and recently posted another alluring raspberry recipe from it as a sneak peak.)

While Dorie refers to these as brownies, I haven’t quite accepted them as such. They might belong in a class of their own. They are extremely moist, significantly more than a typical brownie. Also, the meringue dresses them up so much they’re like mini-meringue pies. Minus the pie crust. I still don’t know what to call them, so I’m sticking with Dorie but adding bar. Suggestions, anyone? IMG_8620White chocolate raspberry brownie bars
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. Makes 32 bars.

Brownie base

  • 2/3 cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) finely ground almonds / almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped premium-quality white chocolate (This came out to be a little shy of 1 cup of Ghirardelli white chocolate chips, which were what I could find.)
  • 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1+ cup (4 to 6 ounces) fresh raspberries

Meringue

  • 3 large eggs whites, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325℉, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9×13 inch pan and line the pan with parchment or wax paper so that the sides of the paper extend beyond the sides of the pan a bit. Butter the paper and dust the bottom and sides of it with flour, tapping out any excess. Place the pan on a baking sheet.

Make the brownie base by whisking together the flour, ground almonds and salt. Place the butter, topped with the chocolate pieces, in a double boiler (or set a heatproof bowl over a pan) to gently melt them together over barely simmering water. Stir frequently until they’re just melted. Watch this step carefully because they will separate if they get too hot and the white chocolate needs special treatment to not burn. Once they’ve melted, immediately remove the pan from the heat.

In the base of a large mixing bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the eggs, beating on medium-high speed about 3-minutes, until pale and foamy. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the butter-chocolate mixture. Continue on low, adding the dry ingredients until they are just integrated. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and place the raspberries evenly over the batter.

Make the meringue by beating the egg whites with salt on medium speed until they are foamy and just turning opaque. Increase the speed to medium-high to add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Whip the whites until they form firm, but still glossy peaks. (I test for firm peaks by stopping the mixer and pulling away the whisk attachment up away from the whites. If they remain standing and don’t flop over, they are firm enough.) Gently spread the meringue over the brownie batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the meringue is browned and crackly. (In my home oven, this took 40-minutes. In a much newer and more reliable oven in Colorado, they took 30-minutes. But altitude was at play there, too, so who knows. Just watch them for some good light browning and crackles in the meringue.) The brownies will pull away from the side of the pan. Allow them to cool in the pan on a rack.

By carefully lifting the sides of parchment paper, lift out the bars and place them on cutting board. (Alternately, you can turn them out onto a rack and then invert them onto a cutting board, but I found this extremely difficult to do without squishing the meringue, so I changed course the second time I made these.) Dust them with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into bars.

Voila! Enjoy!

Birth

IMG_8054

In a bit over a week my youngest son turns four. He understands enough about time to realize April is his birthday month, but not enough to comprehend that waiting NINE MORE DAYS means it’s also not his birthday tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. He knows it’s coming, but he can’t track it day to day. So, every morning we’re hearing these excited statements laced with doubt. “It’s my birthday!…?” “Today’s my party!?”  It’s all he’s thinking about, besides Legos and food.

The sentences flying out of his mouth these days could land him on Ellen’s couch or Bill Cosby’s lap. (Also, the principal’s office, but for different reasons.) Today he told one of Charlie’s classmates how old he was: “I’m three and three quarters. When I’m four I’ll be four and three nickels!” He is at that sweet spot of language development in which spoken vocabulary is incredibly diverse, but most multiple meanings remain confusing and misused. I hope I get to hear that one again since Charlie didn’t catch him and correct it. (What is it with first graders correcting EVERYTHING? And they’re so often wrong! Then I wonder, if I correct Charlie for incorrectly correcting Miles, does that make me as equally annoying to Charlie as Charlie is to Miles? Sheesh.)

Yesterday, Miles tried to playfully spit at me. Not real spitting, more like a directed air-zerbert. He explained, “I’m spitting sunscreen on you! My sa-li-va mixes with chocolate in my mouth and becomes sunscreen!” Spit, spit, spit. It was sunny, so the protection was quite appreciated.

IMG_8030

I began labor at 2am and continued slow and steady enough through the bluebird morning to walk the historic Queen Anne streets surrounding our previous rental. Under giant magnolia trees and alongside tulips, I chatted with Harry and my friend/doula between contractions. One of my elderly neighbors watched me leaning against a wall during one and offered to take me to the hospital. Very kind, but I didn’t mind laboring in public. We even strolled to the Macrina bakery, where I stood outside the store window having a contraction, while Kari and Harry got coffee and pastries. We sat for a bit, waved goodbye to my favorite workers with promises to bring a baby by next visit, and moved on to enjoy the beautiful day as much as possible until the real work commenced.

My memories of his birthdays are bound together with my favorite images from Seattle spring. Our ornamental cherry tree proudly wearing it’s light pink tutu, the skirt of little ballerina dreams. Our pear tree blossoms dripping with rain, sparkling in the bits of light that peek through the clouds. Our delicate plum tree flowers, whose sight always prompts me to yearn for a huge harvest.

Petals carpeting the sidewalks and streets, trees dressed to the nines in fancy blossoms and moss accessories, baby leaves emerging, pea vines popping out of the ground, little boys pleading for their birthday to arrive. Springtime and birth, woven together.

IMG_8039IMG_8050

A savory summer tradition

Some of our summer traditions outshine others. Splashing in Puget Sound or one of Seattle’s many free wading pools. Pretty fabulous. Eating farm-fresh fruit and vegetables. Divine. Several months between jobs. Not so wonderful.

With summer winding down, it appears like our time sans income might also come to an end. Hopefully by school’s beginning. Paperwork isn’t signed yet, which is the only thing at this point that will let me truly rest easy, but all signs look positive. If the title of my next post is UNCLE! you’ll know otherwise.

IMG_7523

While Seattle is traditionally slow to warm up, notorious June gloom and all, July, August and September are my definition of perfect. Blue skies, 60s in the morning, 70s in the afternoon, flowers, water, mountains, light late into the evening. Knowing that orcas are swimming just a mere ferry ride away. You know? Summer!

Our fabulous vegetable farmers invited CSA members to the farm for a potluck last weekend. I was so happy we could go. I wanted to see their fields, meet other CSA members and celebrate that community. I was also excited for the boys to meet our farmers and their little guy, as well as see where our vegetables grow. We soaked in the evening light on their beautiful land, conversed with many interesting people, ate a lot of delicious food, and heard about their farming practices while walking the fields. The boys picked blackberries from the bushes lining the farm’s boundary for at least an hour. That was their favorite part, along with the tractor time.

IMG_7558

IMG_7539 IMG_7555

I brought a cheesy herb bread and a salad. It was the second time I’ve made this bread for a party. While it’s good by itself, it sings when soaking up dressing or soups, partnered with tapenade or other spreads, or best yet, topped with roasted tomatoes. If the bread is older than a day, it needs the extra moisture. If it’s fresh, the moisture and flavor contrasts are still a very nice bonus. Besides, I never need extra motivation to make roasted tomatoes.

I remember not knowing what to do with my surplus tomatoes my first year of gardening in Colorado. (They actually grow well there, as opposed to Seattle.) I only ate them raw, in salads and on sandwiches. The next year I was introduced to my first roasted tomato recipe. It was a revelation. Until I am bed bound and wearing diapers again, these will remain a tradition in my household.

I have played around with various versions, but I like Heidi Swanson’s recipe best. It is so simple and delicious. Cherry tomatoes impart a sweetness that other tomatoes lack. I will not turn down any version of roasted tomatoes, but these knock my socks off. Plus, after several seasons of difficulty growing tomatoes in Seattle, I only planted cherry tomatoes this year. This year’s first batch were made from my gold nugget, lemon drop and black cherry plants. Candy in a jar. For me.

IMG_7508

Savory Cheese and Chive Bread

Minimally adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

Makes one loaf

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2-1 teaspoon salt (depending on saltiness of additions and chosen cheese)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (Dorie recommends white. I used black because it’s what I had.)

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 generous cup coarsely grated Gruyere, Comte, Emmenthal or cheddar (about 4 oz)

2 ounces of your choice of cheese(s) from above, cut into very small cubes (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup)

1/2 cup minced fresh chives or other herbs (I used 1/4 cup chives, a scant 1/4 cup basil and a little mint). You can also substitute scallions, bacon bits, ham, etc… for some of these additions.

IMG_7516

Preheat the oven to 350℉ with a rack in center. Butter a loaf pan. (Dorie recommends a 8 x 4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inch loaf pan, but I just have a 9 inch pan, so I checked mine at 30-minutes and it was ready.)

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl.

Put the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until foamy and blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and olive oil.

Pour the wet ingredients over the flour mixture, gently mixing until they’re just combined. Stir in the cheeses, herbs and any other additions. Scrape the dough (yes, it’s supposed to be thick) into the prepared loaf pan and gently spread it evenly into the pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes (or up to ten minutes longer if you have an 8-inch pan) until the bread is golden and a knife tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for a few minutes, then run a knife around the edges and invert the loaf. Turn it back right side up to finish cooling on the rack.

IMG_7565

Oven Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

From Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day

Makes about one cup (Not enough.)

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/4 cup / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon natural cane sugar or maple syrup (I prefer the syrup.)

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

IMG_7570

Preheat the oven to 350℉ with the rack in the top third.

Halve the cherry tomatoes and place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (It’s fine if you don’t line it, but it’ll make easier work of getting them off, as well as cleaning the pan.) Whisk together the olive oil, sweetener and salt. Pour this mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated.

Arrange the coated tomatoes cut side up and roast 45-60 minutes, until they shrink a bit and start to caramelize around the edges.

To store these beauties, let them cool and then transfer them, along with leftover olive oil on the sheet, into a glass jar. They’ll keep about 1 week if you hit your head and forget about them in the fridge. Otherwise, they’ll probably last a day or two.

I highly recommend doubling this recipe. There are never enough. (Toast, goat cheese, roasted tomatoes. Zucchini ribbons, basil pesto, roasted tomatoes. Pasta, parmesan, basil, roasted tomatoes. Spoon, roasted tomatoes.) I use both oven racks and just rotate them at about the 20-minute mark.

IMG_7582