Monday, May 25, 2009

One of my favorite places...

On East Maxwell Street in Lexington, there is a piece of heaven.

The fabulous greenhouses of Michler's Florist have been blessing this area for 107 years and counting. Read all about their rich heritage here. This post is about the experience that a simple visit to Michler's can provide.

When we make a trip to Michler's, I usually chant the "I look frightful, hope I don't see anyone I know" mantra. And with bits of dirt and sweat streaking through my sunscreen, I tuck my messy ponytail under my garden hat and face the music. Inevitably, I run into people I haven't seen in forever.

But an enchanting spell has been cast over the entrance, and all who pass through are transformed. We become bonded together as Keepers of the Earth. Total strangers (and those people I haven't seen in forever) share gardening hints, tell stories about their favorite plants, talk about the pesto still in their freezer from last summer's basil harvest... Time slows to a crawl. Everybody loves everybody.

I stroll through the never-ending maze of greenhouses, suddenly quite sure that I am capable of nurturing such a healthy, lush garden. This heavy dose of inspired confidence shocks me back to reality, but not before I've fantasized about giving up everything material, joining a commune, and just growing stuff.

We wanted at least one of everything, but stayed strong and focused on tomato plants and herbs. For now. I'll need another dose soon.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kale (my way)

I love me some kale.

Not the soft, tender kale with bacon fat so customary on soul food and comfort food menus. (Not that I haven't bellied up to that counter more than once.) I want my kale to have a little fight left in it. A little less fat. Tons of flavor. And I ain't afraid of that other F word either. (Fiber -- what were you thinking?)

If you've been known to reach past the velvety, baby spinach leaves for that wrinkly, full-bodied curly spinach, then keep reading. This toothsome recipe is for you.

Clean and dry one bunch kale, and discard the thick center stems. In a hot pan, drizzle about 2 TBL olive oil. Let it get hot, and then add as much kale as will fit. Turn it over with tongs, and as it shrinks in your pan (amazingly, I might add) add the rest of the kale.

After about 5 minutes on medium heat, clear a spot in the middle to add 1 - 2 cloves chopped garlic. (I usually add a bit more olive oil with it.)

Once the garlic is golden brown, sautee everything together, adding salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. (It's dangerous to salt kale too early -- the sheer volume at the start practically guarantees over-salting.) When the bottom of the pan developes a good color, you know it's time to de-glaze.

I used about 2 TBL balsamic vinegar, and a dash of hot sauce isn't a bad idea at this point.

The finished product...

If you don't enjoy quite so much of that delighful texture, top it with a lid after the de-glazing, and let it steam in very low heat for 5 - 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Garden Updates:

Still cleaning up and discovering what has come back. I found this dill...

the sage flowers

Here is the herb garden, ready for new plantings.
The weeds and thistles filled my wheelbarrow (but not my assistant's...hmmm). Here is a newly-tilled patch, ready for tomatoes and...we'll see. I'd better get busy -- as usual, I'm a little late.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Garlic Jar

This little jar is one of my most favorite things.

When I moved from New York to Seattle years ago, I took what I could carry with me on Amtrak, and I also stuffed a few large boxes to follow me via UPS. As you can imagine -- pots, pans, and other matters culinary were not the bulk of "what made the cut." As I finally got settled, it was like starting from scratch when it came to my little apartment kitchen. What fun that was. Really.

There was a fantastic business in my Capitol Hill neighborhood called Chicken Soup. Donated items were sold and the proceeds went to support AIDS patients in the area. Someone had donated a set of glass canisters -- in graduated sizes -- and I just had to have them all. One for pasta, one for rice, one for flour, one for sugar... The price was right. It was for a good cause. And they were so darned sweet! But I'm getting too far from my topic.

This jar was the smallest of the bunch. It's plain old glass; nothing fancy. The little dome lid fits perfectly inside the lip. It doesn't have a rubber seal to retain the garlic ... perfume. There are only 2 ingredients that ever go in it -- real chopped garlic and olive oil.

I'm not talking about that pre-diced stuff you find at the store (laced with who knows what). Frankly, that doesn't taste remotely like the real thing. It may even suffer from CAS (Canned Asparagus Syndrome -- the canned stuff becomes different enough to actually be considered a separate food). And it's packed in a watery, briny liquid. Water and oil don't mix. Think about that when you're adding that wet stuff to hot oil in a saute pan. One more negative: it's too finely minced. There's no wiggle room to play around with the strength factor. (A larger dice will tolerate more time at center stage in your saute pan, allowing a milder, sweeter flavor to develop.) About once a week I chop a lot of garlic, put it in my squeaky clean jar, and top it off with extra-virgin olive oil. I keep it in my fridge, and every time I get to cookin' -- out she comes. Need a bit of fresh garlic? Need a drop or two of garlic oil? No problem.

I fight the urge to keep it on the counter. I love to look at it, sitting pretty next to my favorite pepper mill and my olive oil carafe with the shiny stainless steel pour spout. But I'm heartless; I stick it in the cold, dark fridge. Refrigeration does solidify the oil a bit, but a minute or two at room temp and she's back in business. Plus, it's hardly worth playing around with the whole botulism thing. Once the garlic is covered with oil, it becomes anaerobic (no air is moving around it), and that means refrigeration is key. Keep it fresh, keep it cold, and keep yourself alive. If I'm not going to be using it as quickly, I sometimes skip the oil and store it dry. Works great -- I just don't have any oil to drizzle about.

I love my little garlic jar. It has a wide mouth -- I can easily fit a soapy dishcloth into it. It's glass -- I can put it in my dishwasher. There isn't a speck of plastic or rubber to retain any smell -- not that I mind, but the whole squeaky clean thing is important to me (did someone say OCD?). About once a week I start fresh. All the oil and garlic get thrown into a dish that can take it, the jar gets back to squeaky clean, and then the wonderful chopping and filling process begins again.

Rachel Ray can have her garbage bowl. I wouldn't trade my precious garlic jar for anything.