The Last Grill of Summer

The fall equinox is Monday - the official beginning of autumn. It's been a cloudy cold September, but this weekend we finally got some beautiful sunny weather - perfect for grilling!

Before cooking anything, I popped open my last Anchor Summer Beer. I don't usually like beer unless it's sunny and warm, so although this is one of my favorite summer beers, it had been languishing in the fridge for more than a month. Anchor Brewery is in San Francisco - almost local!

I enjoyed my beer as I prepared the appetizer - grilled figs with goat cheese. No, the figs aren't local, but they are California grown. We got some Adriatic Figs in at the Co-op and I just couldn't deny myself the wonderful ooey gooey-ness of them! Adriatics are about 100 times better than the most common green fig - the Kadota. The inside is a deep reddish pink, and tastes better than the best raspberry jam you've ever had. They're one of my favorite fruits in all the world, and since they won't come around for another whole year, I let myself get some even though they're not local.

I'd never grilled figs before, but I'd heard they were good with goat cheese so I cut them open and stuffed them with some local chevre from Cypress Grove in Arcata.

The recipe I found said to wrap them in grape leaves, but I didn't have anything around that would be a good substitute, so I used the old grilling standby - aluminum foil.

This sweet corn was a gift from some farmer friends up in Willow Creek.

Ed, my favorite green bean farmer from Blue Lake, suggested that I try his beans on the grill. He told me to marinate them lightly in olive oil and balsamic, so that's what I did. I'm not usually a big green bean fan, but these beans are simply amazing. They've got more juice and flavor than any beans I've ever had, period.

I marinated two Humboldt Grassfed steaks in balsamic, olive oil (almost the end of my bottle!) and garlic and chives from the garden

And we grilled it all! I lost a lot of beans through the grill, but salvaged enough to make a sizable side dish.

Needless to say, the figs weren't the most beautiful thing I've ever cooked. It took some convincing for Johnny to try them, but he was happy he did - They were good! I have to say though, I think my favorite way to enjoy something as delectable as a ripe Adriatic Fig is just by itself without any cooking or additions. There's just something about their pure unadulterated figgy-ness!

The rest of the meal was really good. I'm not usually a huge fan of balsamic, but it was just perfect as a marinade on the beef and beans - it gave them both a wonderfully deep sophisticated flavor without overpowering. The corn was outstanding - tender and super sweet. It was definitely the best sweet corn we've had all year, which was no surprise, since the farmers, Amy and Jacque, are some of the most exacting and dedicated to taste farmers I know. Oh how I'll miss all these wonderful vegetables this winter!
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September Garden Pictures

The dahlias are blooming! I'm not sure exactly what this variety is - it's one of the many perennials that were were planted by the lady who started these gardens in the 1950s. The plant itself gets to about 6 feet tall, and the biggest blooms are about 8-10 inches across. They're just beautiful! The blooms haven't been as heavy this season as in past years, but it's still the centerpiece of the late summer/early fall garden.

Here's the back garden. You can see how big the dahlia gets. It's always a challenge to stake it up so the blossoms don't fall over - they're really heavy. The two flowers in the foreground are some beautiful mums that I got from the Co-op a few years ago - they were half dead, so I got them for free! They've done really well, and they put on a great show for us every fall.

I think this is some kind of anemone. They grow all around the house, probably planted here at one time, but they've spread themselves around and are somewhat wild now.

The apples are almost ready!

We'll be picking them in just a few weeks!

This beautiful hydrangea has been completely massacred by the deer this year. It was overgrown with blackberries when we moved in. Last year we cleaned out around it, and the bush grew really well - healthier than I'd ever seen it. I guess it looked good to the deer too - good enough to eat that is. These are the only two blossoms they left, and they even ate most of them. Bummer.

This climbing rose in the back garden has a bumper crop of rose hips. I'd like to dry some for tea, but I'm not sure if I'll find time this autumn to do it. It's rare to have dry enough weather here to dry things in the sun, and unfortunately I don't have a dehydrator. They're just gorgeous on the rose bush though....

This is a weird phenomenon on the same rose bush that I haven't been able to figure out. These "puffballs" grow around some of the rose hips. It's definitely plant material, but if you split it open, there are little worms that live in the center. Even my Dad, a plant expert, had never seen anything quite like it.

The Catnip has done really well this year! I planted a few cuttings this spring, and they've grown into this gigantic bush. Our cat, Leo just loves the stuff, and we've caught more than one neighborhood cat sneaking into the garden to partake....

I cut this spring mix back a few weeks ago, and it's grown back nicely. This will make a great salad for tonight's dinner!

This is the Lumina Pumpkin that I planted from the seeds of an old pumpkin that sat on the porch for over a year....

It's been blooming for a while, and finally developed this little pumpkin. There are lots more blossoms that look like they may develop into pumpkins....

I'm not sure that there's still time in the season for them to ripen, but who knows?

This is my only successful pepper. The garden center was having a "save a pepper" sale a month or so ago, so I bought three little sickly plants for $.50 each. This is a Bulgarian Carrot Pepper, that's done pretty well. They should turn orange in the next month. The other two plants have a pepper or two on them, but they don't look nearly as good as this one. Growing peppers and tomatoes here on the coast is never a very successful endeavor. It just doesn't get hot enough.

These Sugar Snap Peas are doing really well! I planted them from seed a month or so ago. There aren't any blossoms yet, but the plants are growing inches every day. I think it should stay mild enough in the next month or so that the peas will be able to form. It all goes well, we'll have Sugar Snaps for Halloween!
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Butter and Cod

This was a quick mostly local Friday night dinner that turned out surprisingly well. The trick? Lots of the homemade butter I made last weekend.

Here's the butter ball that I made. The butter that supposedly comes from the local creamery is not actually made here from local cream. They buy butter from Fresno and package it under the Humboldt Creamery label. Pretty sad when you realize that Humboldt County was once known for producing the best butter in the state! I decided that since I'm doing this local challenge, I had to make some real local butter!

I used Humboldt Creamery heavy cream -actually produced locally from local cows. I won't go into the whole process now, I'll leave that for another post, but basically I cultured the cream and then whipped it into butter in the food processor. I didn't salt it or anything, but boy is it good! I'm a sucker for butter, and this is some of the best butter I've ever had! It's nice and yellow, which means its got lots of vitamins and comes from cows eating good healthy grass.

This is the crust I made for the fish. Coarse cornmeal (another long forgotten item in the cupboard,) dried parsley from the garden, salt, and pepper.

This is a little less than a pound of locally caught Black Cod. A beautiful piece of fish!

I cut the fish into pieces, dried it with a paper towel, coated it with melted butter, dredged it in the cornmeal crust, and put it in this baking dish with the leftover melted butter drizzled on top. I baked it for about 20 minutes in a pretty hot (420 degrees) oven. Halfway through the cooking I decided to add some of the garlic from the garden, so I chopped some up and sprinkled it on top.

These are green beans from Ed in Blue Lake. They're seriously some of the most flavorful beans I've ever had! I'm not usually a big green bean person, but I can't seem to get enough of these. They're from the same farm that the beans at the La Trattoria feast in August came from. I steamed them while the fish cooked.

Here's the finished meal. The fish was just delicious - buttery, flaky, with a wonderfully crunchy crust. The beans were cooked perfectly, and it was all complemented well by some of the wonderful local salad mix from Bayside. I've been using just olive oil and vinegar to dress my salads, and really enjoying it - it lets you really taste the flavor of the greens.
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Mediterranean from the Pantry

It's September! A year ago I was on a serious Local Challenge, where except for salt and pepper I only ate food that was grown in Humboldt County. If haven't already, you can check out the blog I kept during that time. It was a wonderful month!

This year the Co-op is sponsoring a community wide Eat Local Challenge, and the time and energy required to put that on, plus a few extra family and social obligations have made me just too busy to undertake such a strenuous challenge this year. I'd been thinking a lot about how much food we waste, and how much uneaten food sits in my cabinets. It's really pretty shameful when you consider how many hungry people there are in the world.... so I decided to make my challenge to eat completely local, except for the food that's already in my pantry. The idea is to use up all the odds and ends that clutter up my cupboard. Not only am I cutting down on waste, but I'm also saving money, which is always a good thing! I think it's going to take a lot more than a month to use everything up, however. I think this is a challenge that I'll take into the following months.

The first big meal that I made last weekend was this Middle Eastern themed feast. It took me all afternoon to prepare, but I realized while I was doing it what was a stress relieving task cooking is for me. I couldn't think of a better way to spend my Sunday afternoon!

Hummus and Baba Ghanouj were my first tasks. I didn't get too many pictures, but here's the eggplant going into the oven. It's Beatrice eggplant from Willow Creek which is an Italian Rosa Bianca type. We've grilled a lot of it, and it's about the sweetest creamiest eggplant I've ever had! I brushed it with olive oil and roasted it at a pretty high temperature.

Here it is coming out of the oven. I scooped the pulp out of the skin and pureed it in the food processor with sesame seeds (I didn't have any tahini, so I pureed the seeds until they were pretty creamy,) garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I also made hummus in the food processor using two long expired cans of garbanzo beans that I'd been meaning to use for the longest time. They looked and smelled OK, so I pureed them with more sesame seeds, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I'd never realized how similar hummus and baba ghanouj are - they're pretty much the same thing except one is garbanzo beans and one is eggplant. Both were delicious!

This is the Bulgar for the tabbouleh. This was another thing that had been had been sitting in the cupboard for a long time. It's really easy to cook - you just add boiling water and let it sit for about 15 minutes. I added lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper....

... and all of these things. The Cucumber and Italian Sweet Pepper are from Hoopa, the Tomato is from Willow Creek, the Italian parsley is from Orleans, and the Garlic is from our garden. I also added a few mint leaves from our garden. I don't like a lot of mint, but just a touch is essential to make it real tabbouleh.

Here's the finished product. Delicious! This is something I should make a lot more often!

To top it all off, I decided to make some pita. I used a recipe from The New Moosewood Cookbook, and it was surprisingly easy and worked really well. Here's the dough before it rose for an hour. After that, you basically just roll it out into little circles and bake it for about 10 minutes. I was amazed at how authentic it turned out - just like real pita!

Here's the finished spread. I know it's cheesy to eat out of Tupperware, but we didn't want to add any extra dishes to our already large stack. Johnny grilled the local lamb and onion (Walla-Walla from Blue Lake) kebabs while I was finishing the bread. We only ate less than a quarter of all this, and had wonderful lunches all week!
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