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!

Morel Madness and the tick

We wait for it every year.   A great excuse to get outside after a long winter, breathe some fresh air, spend some time together, experience the thrill of the hunt and the gastronomical rewards.  Morel Mushroom hunting.

Last year our first score was on April 14th, which was relatively early in mushroom time.   The unseasonable weather pattern that I am sure  has thrown Mother Nature into a spin (I know I would be spinning if I was her!), has prodded the fungus up even earlier.   The markers were there, a couple of days of rain, followed by just the right temperature of warm days, dandelions blooming.  Anticipatory chatter began on the Morel-forum communities last week, crescendoing this weekend with reports from hunters from our area of little greys, usually the first to make an appearance.

My husband was convinced that our search on Sunday morning would yield plenty of  the year-long anticipated amazing morsel; enough to serve with the t-bone steaks he planned to grill for dinner.

The ONLY bad thing I can think of when it comes to Morel mushroom hunting, is that the season also corresponds to prime tick season.   I deplore ticks.   They give me the heebie jeebies and I have recurring bad dreams about them.    As such, I have developed my own (not) foolproof methods of deterrence.   You would laugh if you saw me, or anyone like me in the woods, thankfully, we don’t run across many people there.  My husband refuses to abide by my over-the-top techniques, but my son is still young enough to listen to his mamma.   My daughter doesn’t like mushrooms, and doesn’t like ticks so she refuses to come out mushroom hunting with us anymore.   I missed her out there with us this weekend, but truth be told, I didn’t miss the search for ticks through her long hair after the hunt.  Much to my husband’s aghast, when I asked her, she was kind enough to let her brother wear her hiking boots because he had outgrown his.   He and I were quite the sight!

Following is my tick averting technique:

Step 1:  Tuck your pant legs into your tall socks

Step 2: Tie a bandana over your head.   Top with a ballcap (which is necessary to keep branches out of your eyes)

Step 3: Take masking tape, and seal the open edges; the tops of your socks, your wrists, where your shirt meets your pants at your waist, and even at your neck.

Step 4:   When you get home, change in the garage, throw all the clothes into a hot washer (this is important- last year we put them in a laundry basket in the bathroom closet, only to find a tick crawling up the wall in the closet two days later!), and jump into the shower.

I added another trick I read about to my repertoire last weekend by cutting dryer sheets into strips and tucking them into the tops of my socks.   This really didn’t do much though.

The verdict?   Well, during the hunt we stopped plenty of times and picked ticks off our clothing.  We do a “tick-check” before we get into the car, I am sure we look like monkeys checking each other for bugs.   Even still, my son found another two climbing on him on the ride home.  I found one climbing on me, and when I set my hair free and ran my fingers through it, I found another (thankfully before he attached!).       Later at home, I surgically removed a tick from my husband’s right leg, the naysayer and non-adapter to my crazy methods.

If anyone has any tick aversion techniques, I would love to hear them!   I have thought about a spacesuit, but that probably isn’t too practical.

It’s all worth it though.  I can almost hear the butter splattering in the pan, smell the complex mushroom fragrance as they saute, and taste the amazing deep, down-to-earthy goodness.   Alas, I’m sad to report that we did not find any morel’s this time to savor with our t-bones.   BUT, I am hoping that summer will slow down, and that perhaps the extremely short-lived morel season may stick around a bit longer.  This would  give us lots more opportunities  to finally find the motherlode and make some more eight-legged friends.

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.