Summer has been flying by faster than I can keep up. Please excuse me new readers for the slacking, but trust me, you'll hear much from me in the winter.
Of course, much of my time in the summer is spent in the kitchen, trying to tame the growing amount of bounty I get from my Rare Earth Farm CSA each week, as well as the goodies I pick up at the Easttown Farmers Market.
Fortunately this summer I have been able to attend the "Savor the Taste of Summer" food preservation series at the Urban Ecology Center. I had my third course last Thursday night, focusing on tomato canning. Above is a picture of the crushed tomatoes (left) and salsa (right) that our class made. I was on the salsa team, along with my friend Kim (it's nice to have a canning buddy). Tomatoes are definitely a little more time-intensive than jam, and you have to be more careful about adding the right amount of acid, but I think the skills I learned will come in handy when the tomato harvest gets here. Hopefully it will be soon, as the cold weather and tomato fungus have thrown some wrenches into the process.
The best thing I learned in class had nothing to do with tomatoes at all. It was the fact that there is a peach orchard just three blocks from my work, in the middle of Milwaukee's central city. I had heard of Walnut Way before and the work they are doing in the community, but had no idea the extent of it. My instructor and farmer-classmate were discussing the delicious peaches they'd gotten from there. I had to check it out the next day, so on my lunch break I walked over. Not only did I find a peach orchard, but several lots of beautiful lush gardens and a gorgeous renovated Victorian home in an area many assume is only blight and decay. The folks at Walnut Way were absolutely gracious and kind, as well as enthusiastic to tell me all about their wares. I bought a dozen peaches and a vial of honey, from the bees they raise on one of their lots. (I've been told one should eat local honey to help with allergies; I couldn't think of honey more local than this). The enthusiasm of this organization was contagious and I practically skipped back to the office to spread the good news. My co-workers were astonished and a couple rushed over later to get their own peaches.
While it was hard to resist eating my entire bag of peaches that afternoon, I did make a peach cobbler (above) over the weekend. I have to say, the magic of Walnut Way was in every bite of their fruit, and I will definitely be returning. It truly brings a smile to face when I learn about groups like Walnut Way and Growing Power bringing new life to Milwaukee's economically-depressed areas through sustainable agriculture and getting the neighborhoods in touch with the environment.
Another big event last week was cooking birthday dinner for my friend Maribeth, and hosting a dinner party on a Wednesday night. Mar requested spaghetti, as she likes my sauce. Since tomatoes aren't up yet, I threw several cans of diced, stewed, pasted, etc. tomatoes from Trader Joe's along with garlic and spices into my electric skillet and let it stew for a couple hours. Looking forward to next year when I can use my own canned goods. I also used up several of my carrots, beets and one of the greenhouse tomatoes I had, in a salad.
The highlight of the dinner though, was Becky's Grizzly Man inspired cake, complete with bear cubs. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out the clip below.
Finally, in preparation for the Milwaukee Eat Local Challenge (which I'll only be here about a week of, since I'll be making trips to San Francisco and Chicago during the first two weeks of September), Becky and I went to the Eat Local Challenge Fair on Sunday and I continued to experiment with local foods in the kitchen.
Roasted Cauliflower, from the Commander's Palace cookbook
Zucchini and tomato pasta
Zucchini muffin and fresh cantaloupe (nothing like fruit from the farmer's market!)
Finally, broccoli gazpacho, which I winged the recipe for. About 2 cups of broccoli steamed, medium onion chopped, green pepper chopped, cup of cilantro chopped -- throw it in a blender with about a cup of yogurt and a cup of milk and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Voila!