Tomato Chips? Yes please!

Like many of you, my garden is languishing under this heat.  Weeks of +100 degree temperatures has left me with plenty of vegetation that is setting no fruit.   Luckily, this year we signed up to participate in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  For those of you unfamiliar with CSA, you essentially purchase “a share” of a farmers crop – assuming the same risks that the farmers face (i.e. drought, hail, etc).  In return each week of the summer you receive a bag full of fresh, local produce picked at it’s peak.   It’s kind of like opening a Christmas present each week, as you never know what will be in the bag!

Amongst other things, last weeks bag contained a couple of pounds of beautiful Roma Tomatoes, and I always say, “When life gives you Romas – make Tomato Chips!”    I’ve had the chips a time or two before and have always wanted to make them.   I was thrilled with how they came out.   Thin, crispy, and full of extremely intense tomato flavor!   Here’s how I made them:

Start with about 2 pounds of Roma Tomatoes. I had a couple that were just a bit soft, and I found they did not slice cleanly.   Firm tomatoes are best.

Mix about 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1/2 tablespoon of pepper together in a bowl.

I used a mandolin to get nice, thin slices, they were probably about 1/8″thin.

As I sliced them, I threw into the olive oil S&P mixture.  Gently turn the tomatoes in the mixture with your hands to ensure they are all coated.

Next, fill up your dehydrator trays.  I have a Nesco American Harvest 1000 watt dehydrator that I got from Amazon a couple of years ago.  It’s an awesome unit, and has made many pounds of beef jerky and fruit roll-ups for us!  It came with “clean a screens”, which I set on top of the trays making it easier to clean-up things like tomatoes.

I set my dehydrator at the highest setting, 160 degrees, then just let it go.

While they were cooking I cleaned up.   The juice at the bottom of the bowl made for a tasty little drink.

Test them as they near doneness (but don’t eat them all just yet!).  They should be light, dry and crispy.  Just shy of three hours later, they were ready!

See how much thinner they are now…

Here’s the finished product – everyone gobbled them up, they lasted just 17 minutes in my house.

Bon Appétit!

Advertisements

Jambones

This morning after waking up in my own bed, my husband Kevin, made me a cup of coffee.  My bleary-eyed, not quite awake self, in one quick action took a generous sip of the java, rolling it around on my tongue and taking in a little air.  I was trying to capture the nuances of the flavor.   This works really well with wine, but not so well with hot coffee.

Let me explain.  Late last night we returned from a rare week away without the kids, experiencing for the first time, the amazing, beautiful wine country, God’s country. Sonoma.  Loving wine, Kevin has always wanted to go, so we took advantage of my sister’s prolonged Easter visit and generosity, leaving the kids with their Aunt for a fun week at home.

Trying to figure out how this story fits into my gardening rambles, I decided it fit right along with the tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.   I’ll include some traveling rambles (and eating and drinking!) from time to time too.  Driving through the town of Sonoma, I was amazed that a great many of the homes had small vineyards growing right in their front yards!    I imagined how absolutely incredible it would be to have the right climate to include some vines in my garden in Nebraska.   The fruits of my labor would result in a whole new kind of bounty!

This time of year, the vines were mostly bare, just the bones really, beginning to wake up with evidence of new growth.  Each type of varietal grows on a different kind of vine.  I gave them all names based on their shape; soldiers, brothers in arms, fingernails.  There were some that looked like something you would see growing outside of a haunted house, dark, thick and twisty; the jamm-y zinfandel grape grows here.  Jambones.

We visited many vineyards.  At first we hit the big productions with sprawling mansions and vines that went on forever, clearly each trying to outdo the other in grandeur.   You couldn’t help but let out a little gasp, picking your jaw up off your chest as you walked into their foyer.

One afternoon we decided to give our caramelizing palates a break, and ventured further north to visit Armstrong Redwoods State Park.   The majestic trees, some towering over 300 feet tall, solidified our thoughts about what a beautiful country we live in.

Speaking of beauty, we have never seen anything like this little guy before.  He measured about 6 inches long.  He was munching on a leaf, nom, nom, nom.   I posted him on Facebook (which happens to be the quickest way to get any question answered!), and seems like everyone knew exactly what he was!

The last couple of days we spent exploring the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek.  Finding gems in much smaller productions with equally breathtaking views.   We “Face-timed” the kids from Stryker showing them the view, they later told us it was so beautiful it looked like we had photo-shopped the whole thing.   Our favorite of them all, hands down was Medlock Ames.  Medlock Ames is a newer winery who aggressively practice environmental sustainability, utilizing completely organic methods for production.   They have wonderful examples of some of the produce found on their ranch growing in raised beds just outside of their tasting room.  They were recently featured in Food and Wine, so they are enjoying some well deserved attention.  Still, they promise that even as they grow, that they will only sell their wines to restaurants that share their philosophies.   It was probably their amazing Kate & B’s Block Cab I was hoping to taste as I sipped my coffee this morning.

Which brings me back to the reality of the day.   We returned to Nebraska with some pretty hefty storm warnings.  This is only the second time in history that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has issued a high risk for tornadoes more than 24 hours in advance.   At almost noon, it seems more like dusk and the sky is looking quite green.  Time to make sure the phones are charged, and flashlights are in place in the basement.   The wine is down there too.

Back to work!

Why is it that Saturday runs into Sunday runs into Monday so quickly?!    This last weekend I decided to lend a deaf ear to all the chores that stack up during the week- how could I not?    They were only whispering while the garden was screaming for attention!

My husband Kevin must have said three times, followed by my daughter on a separate occasion, that this was the earliest by at least a month- maybe more, that he has seen the trees budding out.    He hopes it isn’t a harbinger of a rough-weathered Nebraska springtime.    Usually at this point of the year we can still count on some dodgy weather and at least one more good snowstorm, predictable enough to not get our hopes up too soon.   I am prepared to go on record (without even feeling the need to knock on wood),  that there will be no additional accumulation to the half-hearted attempts that Jack Frost  unfurled this past year.  So glad that groundhog is unreliable!

As a result, I have been half tempted to plant straight into the ground (yes, it’s that warm already!) My sensible side nagged me just enough, that instead I turned to my old friend Jiffy, utilizing the bigger tomato pellets to give my plants some room to stretch their legs.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, squash.   I have some pretty high expectations and a whole lot of trust in these pellets!   I’m currently trying to germinate these babies on top of my refrigerator (it’s warmer up there), and need to figure out a new place to rig up my grow lights in the next week or so.

On Sunday, I put on my work gloves and cleared out my no-longer butterfly garden.   Each year my vegetable garden loses a little more precious sunlight as the surrounding neighborhood trees get a bit bigger, stealing all the warm rays.  Out of desperation, last year I moved into one of the flower beds that enjoys full sun on the side yard.  Who would notice some strategically placed strawberries running along the front border and the beautiful tall asparagus ferns along the back?  Clearing off the leaves, I found the rhubarb plant already poking up it’s head. It’s getting a bit out of hand now though, as I am plotting how to sneak in a tomato plant and maybe some okra.   I think I will need to move out some Sedum to make room.   I hope the butterflies won’t mind.

Sun or not-so-much, Kevin has promised to expand my vegetable patch in the backyard in the next couple of weeks.  My raised bed currently occupies a 20’x10′ patch, he will add another 6 feet on each side of it, making it a formidable space.   We had our big burr oak trimmed back substantially last fall hoping to open a bigger window.  Time will tell.

Yesterday, I took a quick lunch-break from work and visited the local garden center.   With my expanded space, I think I am going to try some potatoes for the first time ever. Kennebec maybe?  Does anyone have any experience with potatoes?  The warmth and potential in the  giant greenhouse made it hard to return to work!

You can see in the picture above that the spring bulbs I’ve been tracking for the last couple of weeks continue to get bigger.  While I’ve been focusing on these, I almost missed the full-on blooms on the bwrite side of the tree.  Isn’t that the wonder of the garden?  Happy first day of Spring!

Earth-y

This morning, stepping out of church my youngest son announced it smelled, “earthy”.    He was right, the bit of drizzle that we enjoyed overnight, had worked it’s way into the dirt, and left spring wafting up.  Oh, if I could bottle that smell, “Eau de Printemps”, I would call it!  It would smell like dirt, and grass, and rain.

The garden is calling me.   Fall had rushed into winter too quickly, and I left for tomorrow what should have been done that day.  There is much work to be done to get ready for a new season, beds to clean up, earth to till, blisters not yet known.

In the summer, the deck off the kitchen is flanked on all sides with window boxes filled with fresh herbs.   We are spoiled to be able to just step outside and with a quick, “snip”, bring that freshness into whatever meal is on the menu.   We overwinter some of the boxes by letting them go dormant in the garage.   I was surprised to find the chives and the sage waking up yesterday.  We brought them outside for the day to help them to get used to the light, and the sun, and the fresh air again.

Other deadlines loom for me, leaving me mostly inside today.  I’ll get my seeds started, but then will need to turn my thoughts to other more pressing things.   Balance it a tricky thing, tearing you between what you want, and what you want.  There is always next weekend.

A little spring fever

Today is March 4th.  It is not a special day by my calendar, but it is a day further away from winter- and a day closer to spring.  The weather is not one of those glorious top 10’s, rather it is a little overcast outside and I can hear the wind steadily working it’s way through the still bare trees.  Today, if there were moisture in the air, it would rain instead of snow.  Prime-time for catching the contagious Spring Fever.

I’ve been traveling the last week, arriving home last night a day late due to a cancelled flight, with a pretty heavy headache.  I love traveling and am fortunate to get to do it often enough, but at the end of the week home is the best place there is- headache or not!  I’m giving myself a bit of break today to try to unravel the tightly-wound wires in my head and to listen to the wind.

While I was gone last week the mail-order seeds I sent for arrived.  I spread them out on the table this afternoon and began to envision the bounty these little packets have in store for my family and I.   My husband is an amazing cook and I try do my part by complementing it with fresh produce, warm from the garden.

In addition to the usual suspects, this year I am going to add Sara’s Galapagos tomatoes, tiny amazing treats we discovered at the Farmer’s Market last year.  I’m also going to give a try to growing some cucumbers just the right size to pickle and put up for the winter.  I tried this some years ago, and they provided a feast to a gang of happy, hungry cucumber beetles!

Padron peppers are also on my docket.  If you haven’t tried Padrons yet, I highly recommend them!  My husband and I first found these in a Tapas bar in New York City.  Harvest them when they are just a couple of inches long, sauté them quickly over high heat, and sprinkle them with some salt.  Delicious!  About every tenth Padron has a surprising burst of heat and my kids make a game out of finding it.

The space in my small 10 x 20 garden is somewhat limited, and the beautiful and ever growing trees in the backyard mean finding enough sunlight can be a challenge.  Last fall my husband had an arborist lop off a large branch that greatly impeded the sun from finding my garden.   We are anxious to see if it helps.   Last year I also decided to get creative with other spaces in the yard, beginning by tucking some strawberries into my butterfly garden.   Having mustered up that courage, I put some Asparagus ferns near the back corner and then rounded it out with a Rhubarb plant at the edge.  I can’t wait to see what presents itself this year.

Stepping outside this morning I noticed the crocus’ and daffodils starting to push up through the dirt under the oak tree.  It won’t be long now.