Green Tomato Chutney – The End of the Growing Season {or maybe not}

greentomatouses

The first snow of the season brought with it change to the garden. We cut down the tomato plants and harvested all of the tomatoes that the squirrels and the hornworms have left behind; harvested the genovese and purple basils to make one last batch of pesto; and built a hoop-house on the garden bed that gets the most sun during the fall and winter, to continue cultivating salad greens, peas, carrots and beets. 

hoophouseforcoldweathervegetables

This was a great garden year. Since April, when we began harvesting the first baby arugula and lettuce leaves, followed by a hefty harvest of shelling peas, and a few handfuls of chives and tarragon. The first few harvests of the early season excited me to continue sowing seeds and eventually planting warm weather crops, like tomatoes, beans, and squashes. The flowers shone with multicolored petals dazzling the bees and butterflies, creating a beautiful nature dance through the backyard. We cultivated and harvested potatoes for the first time; had a successful carrot crop that is still going; rejoiced in abundance of greens through the entire season; and grew the biggest tomato plants we have ever seen. 

This was an abundant year. Enough for us, the bunnies, the squirrels, the hornworms, and enough to preserve for the winter months. We froze peas, golden beans {a yellow version of green beans}; canned tomato sauce, pesto, salsa verde, pickled beets and carrots, and green tomato chutney, utilizing produce grown in our backyard. Walking to the garden and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or greens for dinner is a new found pleasure that we wanted to extend through the winter when we have few local fresh ingredients here in Colorado, so Scott built a hoop house over the bed that currently hosts an array of greens, like mizuna, arugula, red leave lettuce, chard, and peas; and where I sowed more carrots, beets, radishes seeds, and some more greens to replace the current plants once their crop turns too bitter. 

mixedgreenshomegrown

On Monday, I put my boots on, a winter jacket, hat and gloves, and walked to the hoop house dusted the snow off of it and harvested salad greens for dinner. I loved it. Even with freezing cold fingers, or perhaps because of the odds of being out in the snow harvesting greens for salad, I found the experience energizing, the idea that life continues even through the devastating effects of a hard freeze on a snowy day. The power we have to protect or destroy nature, and how responsive nature can be to a caring hand.

butterflies

Before the snow, on Sunday, we thanked the garden for its hard work. We walked around the playful butterflies as they hopped from blossom to blossom, and the chickadees eating the seeds of the sunflowers I’d cut and placed on the dining room table, a trick I learned from a dear British friend who used to live next door to our former house years ago, before I ever knew what it was to care for a garden. 

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Cooking in the Woods

Why do we go camping?
To spend restless nights on uncomfortable air-mattresses and wake up with sore hips and shoulders; to use bushes as toilets at three in the morning because the toilet is too far to walk at that hour; to wash dishes, hands, faces and teeth with unforgivably cold water. Maybe we go camping to have an uninterrupted visit with nature, with the cruising moose and the curious bear. To build a fire, to cook dinner, and hold warm cups with gloves and hats on, and to stare at the endless sparkles of the night skies.

I was introduced to camping by Scott, who is as enthusiastic for the outdoors as a Labrador puppy is for a tennis ball. Camping and I had a rough start in Utah where walls of wind carried sand into everything in its path: our tent, our cloths, the plate of food I was eating and the cup of coffee I was drinking. I banned camping from our lives for a couple of years after that, but after fifteen years married I have learned to compromise, so I go camping once in a while with two conditions: the campsite must be near civilization, and there must be a bathroom with walls, a door, and a roof. I used to have third condition: no camping in Colorado where there are bears, moose, and mountain lions, but after a few times camping on the Pacific Coast I decided to let my guard down. Silly me.

A few weeks ago we ventured to Winter Park, CO, for a weekend with nature.
I was looking forward to cooking on the fire, strolling around with Mr. Miles and lazily reading by the Fraser river. We found a site neatly secluded behind tall pine trees and bushes near the river,  we promptly sat up the tent, unloaded the food and wine, and Scott went to get wood from the camp host while I made a quick lunch of pork-black bean nachos with salsa verde and peach-corn salsa. He came back, wood in hand, staring at me,
“Don’t freak out,” he said 
“Why? what happened?” I asked, wondering if something had happened to our families, the world, a bomb? who knew?
“The host told me that there’s a small bear roaming around, to be careful,” he replied.

There are always bears roaming around Winter Park and the Frasier valley, when we lived there we saw them often, in the woods, trash containers, or by the river, and I knew they must have been watching us, waiting for us to make a mistake and leave food out so they can have a clean alibi when they break in. So, I keep going with my day, always with one eye on the bushes for good measure.

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Rustic Peach Crostata, with Shiro Plums and Chamomile Honey

We await with patience the arrival of the peach. Each year, for the past seven years, we count the weeks to the date Steve Ela, from Ela Family farms, gives us the season’s opening gala of the most celebrate fruit in Colorado. Sweet and tangy flesh with juices flowing down our chins, hands, and sometimes forearms, the peach is a glorious reminder of the abundant season; each bite is nature’s reward for our endured patience and loyalty. 

coloradopeaches

I didn’t grew up eating peaches, in fact I don’t remember it much in my childhood, and have a slight memory of it in my early-tweenties when I was in a search for new foods back in Colombia where mangoes, pineapples, and guanabana are the everyday fruit staples. Peaches don’t do well in tropical climates, making them hard to find or too expensive compared to a pile of locally grown passion fruit. 

Peach has become my mango. I don’t purchase tropical fruits because, well, I’m not in the tropics. So I dream of peaches during the cooler months when I drown my desires with spoonfuls of the homemade peach-ginger or peach-vanilla jams, atop warm oatmeal, with toasted almonds and a drizzle of honey, as I stare out the window to the fallen leaves or the piling snow. It’s a constant reminder of the bounty of summer.

shiroplums

As peaches arrive so do the trail of baked goods and jams to use up and preserve the harvest. Even thought we eat many of the peaches fresh {leaning over the sink with a towel nearby} the CSA (community supported agriculture) share provides us more than enough for our weekly consumption. Last year we received entire flats of peaches, back to back, turning our house into a mini jam factory churning dozens of jars that lasted us until a few weeks ago. 

I never thought of the idea of making jam and canning enjoyable, and I find myself void of words on how much I’m enjoying this preserving business. It might be silly but it feels as if I’m honoring the season and nature’s hard work by preserving what comes out of the earth in our area. It never occurred to me before, living in Colombia, that preserving was a thing, we have two seasons there – rainy and not rainy – and unless there are severe floods or landslides, or government manipulation of the goods {that’s a totally different subject not to bore you with at this moment}, we have the same foods available year round, so why would I ever worry about preserving back then. Now it’s different. I live in a place with seasons, and I’m learning the true meaning of seasonality. 

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Herb and Tomato Focaccia


I shared this recipe with the Boulder County Farmers Market and it appeared on The Boulder Daily Camera  together with other in season produce in Colorado, and a word from a Colorado farmer about tomatoes. 


Since we return from Cinque Terre I’ve been on a focaccia-making kick. With rosemary, or mixture of herbs like oregano, french tarragon, thyme and parsley; with roasted garlic, and the latest one topped with tomatoes and an assortment of herbs from the garden. Focaccia is my favorite bread to make at home. It’s easy to get lured by this bread. It’s delicious, simple to make, and I’d dare say, foolproof.  

herbfocaccia

I used to make focaccia when I worked at a small restaurant as a pastry chef more than a decade ago. Making this bread was easier than making any other bread because I didn’t have to tiptoe around it in fear of rough handling it and ending with a deflated, hard bread. This is a flat bread, so it was already a winner, regardless of how busy I was, or how much I neglected it, it always worked. Because it is a flat bread, part of the process is to use ones fingers to stretch the dough on the sheet pan, poking and pushing to create its distinctive dimples and to force it to fill the pan all the way to the edges. 

I hadn’t made it at home in a few years and the experience of having it in its homeland, tasting it and enjoying its light crumb, crunchy edges, and slightly chewy texture, made me crave it again. In Cinque Terre, we found many Focaccerias, but we also found the flat bread in small produce stores where they sold it by weight. They had several broken pieces of different sizes for the customers to choose, then they weighted it, and handed it in parchment paper to keep the oil from getting all over our hands. 

herbfocacciawithtomato

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Heirloom Tomato Salad + Garden Lessons: Diversity

Summer reaches its peak when the markets begin to fill with tomatoes. Our garden tomatoes are still green, as each cultivar fills in with new blossoms and sets fruit. At the market were we go there’s a farm stand that each week displays an array of tomato cultivars with a rainbow of yellow, orange, purple, pink, green, red, tie-dye, and multiple shades of colors, shapes of cherry, grape, elongated, round, boat and even deformed, flavors high in acid and sweetness, and nuances I never knew existed. All different, all beautiful, all tomatoes. 

tomatobasilsalad

This year we planted five different tomato cultivars: cosmonaut, speckled roma, black cherry, cherokee purple, and pink Berkeley tie-dye, to create a microsystem of diversity and insure a harvest for different uses. The speckled roma to make sauce, the cherry tomatoes to sprinkle in salads or make a quick pasta pomodoro, the cherokee purple and cosmonaut to slice in big slabs and eat simply adorned with a sprinkle of salt. Next to them we planted a couple of miniature red and yellow pepper plants, a few purple, globe, genovese, and lemon basil plants to impart flavor {or so I read}, and marigolds to ward off pests. Purslane made its home sharing space underneath the tomatoes helping break the hardpan, clay Colorado soil, while growing deep roots and releasing nutrients from the sublayer. 

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Roasted Carrots with Pesto and Hazelnuts

For the first time we have a good carrot crop growing in the garden, thanks to the netting keeping the rabbits out, plus good seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We have harvested a few carrots each week and there are still many roots underground and many fronts blowing in the wind, plus I just sowed more for fall harvest.  I love going out to the garden and uprooting vegetables from the earth, snipping greens and herbs, and plucking squashes, tomatoes and beans. It is a primordial connection to life, to the earth, and to our true nature. 

With the summer heat the carrots get spicier and not as sweet as I’d like them, so I roast them at 400°F for 20-25 minutes in a foil pouch to make them sweet and tender. I’m not always excited to turn the oven on when is 95 degrees out, but when I do, I take the opportunity to do a large batch of roasted vegetables, like beets, carrots, cauliflower, and somehow potatoes always make it in the mix. Thankfully, it has been cool and rainy here in Colorado for the past week and today a little sun is coming through the window, the grass waking up plush and green, and the bees getting busy in the garden with the many flowers sprouting from the rain. 

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Cinque Terre, The Home of Focaccia

Sitting on the balcony of our tiny apartment in Cinque Terre admiring the open sea, the birds flying free over it, the waves crashing against the ancient rocks, the sun slowly and patiently setting on the far horizon, holding my husband’s hand on one side and a glass of wine on the other, has been one of the most inspiring and calming experiences of my life. I felt alive. 

We arrived at Cinque Terre after a stressful ride from Genova to La Spezia where we parked the car, loaded our suitcase with bottles of wine, and took the train to Rio Maggiore. This, we had read, was the easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre villages, and the best way to ensure a parking spot. On the train, we wondered if we could open one of those bottles to drown our nerves after our first encounter with the Italian way of driving on a narrow highway composed of bridges and tunnels. 

A quick train ride to Rio Maggiore through, yet another, tunnel with round openings where we could see the bright turquoise sea and the resplendent sun for seconds at the time, increased our giddy excitement. Rio Maggiore is the first village from the south {or last from the north, you choose your orientation}, it has a marina, and around from it a rock beach against a tall cliff that echoes the waves pushing the rocks, back and forward; a supernatural experience, especially at night, with closed eyes, and the cool breeze brushing against our bodies like the whispers of spirits. 

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Summer Squash Salad + Garden Lessons: Fences

One of the advantages of having a backyard is the possibility of growing food, cultivating flowers, both for our enjoyment and for the bees, and creating a nurturing environment for all . Since we moved in to this house we have slowly reshaped the backyard to create a garden where us and the critters can live in harmony. Something the bunnies don’t want to align with their eating habits. In past years they ate the carrot, beet and peas sprouts, chomped on the beans, herbs, and flowers, dug the bulbs: daffodils, tulips, and garlic, and reigned the garden beds at night and whenever we were not around.

This year, after the first few offenders began digging bulbs and eating sprouts, I asked Scott to build some sort of barrier to give the plants a chance to grow and give us a decent harvest. For the ground level beds, where the flowers and a few herbs reside, he built a PVC pipe structure and wrapped bird netting around it, for the two raised beds where I planted and sowed all the vegetables, he used flexible pipes and created a dome on which we laid the netting securing it on the edges with bricks and clamps. It worked. Or so I thought. 

 

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Slow Food Nations Denver

Slow Food Nations, a gathering of people from around the world centered on food, made Denver the epicenter of conversations that revolved around food freedom, sovereignty, taste, cooking, farming and everything in between. On Saturday morning a panel led by Slow Food’s founder and president Carlo Petrini addressed, with contagious passion, a flock of hungry for fair food followers on the streets of downtown Denver. 

“We must have global consciousness around food,” said Petrini, “a vision that is local, that allows us to know, respect and support our local producers, our local food, and our local community… at the same time we ought to have a global vision of food and value other communities the same way.” 

This is the second time Slow Food has chosen Denver to bring voices around real and fair food for all. In 2015, the conversation revolved around Slow Meat, questioning the meat production processes and systems established in the U.S. and the record meat consumption of our growing society. 

Slow Food changed the way I see food. For more than a decade I have followed this grassroots organization and its philosophy that good food is a right not a luxury. It was Alice Waters who first introduced me to Slow Food when I became enchanted by her vision and passion for supporting local farmers, for eating a summer peach with the pleasure and excitement of a once a year occasion, and for her relentless dedication for change in our food system, beginning with educating children through direct immersion in school gardens.

This weekend I met Alice Waters, I sat in two of her talks and relished in her ideology of “seducing people through taste,” as she said. Waters, as many of the important public food figures who visited us this weekend, believes that if we put our efforts together we, all of us, can help change our toxic food system. “I can’t think about food without thinking about the land,” she said, and her sentiment carried out through the conversations and the different events held over the weekend. Denver chefs and visiting chefs from around the country and the world put together dinners to honor the land, the sea, and the cultures, including flavors of Mexico, sustainable seafood, heritage grains, plus many workshops in techniques like sourdough bread, cheesemaking, butchering, and more. 

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Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Visiting an Acetaia

On our second day in Modena, Italy, we drove south toward Bologna, specifically to the town of Vignola, in search of traditional balsamic vinegar. The morning started with a light sprinkle and we were hopeful the sun was coming out just for us because we had travel all that way for a lovely vacation. The GPS took us through narrow roads to a small town in the middle of the fields as the rain picked up clouding the view ahead. “You have reached your destination,” the GPS lady said, after we turned in to a residential neighborhood. The gated house looked too small to be a factory, of anything, let alone vinegar, but the name on the wall “La Cà dal Nôn” confirmed we had indeed reached out destination.

We rang the doorbell and a few seconds later the gates opened and from behind came out a woman, “Hello, my name is Mariangela,” she said, “welcome to our acetaia.”

We walked to the back of the house where two vine-trees wrapped around a pergola, I pulled out my umbrella and hunched over myself to conserve warmth as the morning turned colder. Mariangela pointed to the vines, “These are our two old ladies, we had three but one died suddenly,” she said as she padded on one of the vines, “these are Lambrusco vines, from my great grandfather’s time.” They still produce some fruit, she told us, but any stressors can kill them. “The rest of our grapes come from the vineyard not far from here,” she said.

The light sprinkle of rain and the cold air were no match to my faux leather jacket and I kept shivering, enough that she suggested we went inside to the tasting room. I laid my umbrella on the floor and walked toward the plastic chairs set up classroom style around a table full of balsamic products in front of a chalkboard with a drawing of the balsamic making process. “Let’s start with the name of our acetaia, the word nôn means grandpa in dialect,” she said, “and means house, so this is ‘the house of the grandfather’ since it was my great-grandfather who established the acetaia.” 

Culture and Balsamic Vinegar, a bit of history
Traditional balsamic vinegar is a product ingrained in the culture of Modena and the Emilia Romagna region, where the locals have produced it for hundreds of years, and kings and emperors loved and praised its unique flavor; luckily for us, Mariangela shared her contagious passion and exquisite knowledge of the history. The story goes that ancient Romans used to make a honey-like grape syrup called Saba all through the empire using the grapes of each region; in Emilia Romagna they used Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes, mainly. To make Saba, they cooked the pressed juice of overripe grapes in large copper cauldrons to evaporate water and concentrate the sugars yielding a dark brown syrup; Mariangela told us that scholars believe that balsamic vinegar came from the fermented saba that underwent a vinegarization and aging process.

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