Garden 34th Street: A Buncha Peppers

I just decided to harvest a few of my chili hots--apparently the more you pick 'em, the more peppers you get. I'll report on heat levels next week...

Maxixe, Take Two

Maxixe, Zucchini, Corn, & Basil Salad

• 2 maxixe, sliced (or 1 Kirby cucumber, sliced)
• 1 small zucchini, julienned
• 1/2 cup fresh raw corn kernels (preferably from early-season corn)
• handful basil leaves, julienned
• juice from 1/2 lemon
• 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
• salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve.


Maxixe Time

The happiest thing in the garden upstate seems to be the Brazilian maxixe (also known as the burr-gherkin), the cucumber-like alien pod vegetable that's been this summer's fun little mystery. The plants are loving the cool, wet summer, and the vines have taken over large sections of the plot. And as maxixe grows with built-in weaponry (the entire thing--leaves, stems, and fruit--is incredibly prickly), it seems practically impossible for a thieving groundhog with the munchies to steal the little ripened orbs. So, as long as the plants haven't floated away during this week's monsoon-like rains, we should have many, many more maxixe this weekend.

Last night, I finally shared a bunch with Tony, who brought the mysterious seeds from Brazil. The enlightenment began. The most important thing to note is, instead of peeling them (as we North Hemispherians had been), just scrape the spines off with a knife. It's sooo much easier and, even better, preserves the wonderfully tasty skin.

Eating them raw is obviously the easiest way to partake of these little babies. We've been slicing them and popping them into salads, and I also marinated thin slices in white vinegar and green onion, which created an amazingly flavorful sort of maxixe pickle.

There are also lots of recipes for cooked maxixe. Tony lightly sautéed thick slices in minced garlic, resulting in a crunchy, flavorful side dish. Cooks also use Maxixe in farofa (one of my favorite Brazilian staples), and a traditional stew from Brazil's northeast, Maxixada, which I'd like to try making. (I found a recipe in English here, and here's one in Portugese.)

UPDATE: For the curious, Maxixe basically tastes like Kirby cucumbers, a little sweet and sometimes bitter.


Garden 34th Street: While I Was Away...

Well hey, apparently I can grow hot peppers in my window! While I was upstate weeping over the garden at Stony Kill, the chili hots in the city were soaking up a little bit o' sun. And yesterday morning, when I opened my shades, surprise! I'm curious as to how hot they've actually become, but I'm going to leave them to ripen a for a few more days before the first taste test of summer.


Garden: Extended Weekend Part 2 -- On The Bright Side...

As depressing as much of the gardening has been this summer, there are some happy tidbits to share. Some of the things are actually doing pretty well, and as long as we can plant some things to make up for the giant tomato tragedy, we still have a shot at making good at Stony Kill this summer.

The alien pods...er...I mean maxixe is going gangbusters. I'll write more in a separate post, but if the plants continue to do as well as they are right now, we'll have loads! Good thing the maxixe turned out to be yummy, or we'd be in trouble.

Nancy harvested the first of her red cabbage on Friday. While she's absolutely gaga for the colorful stuff, I've long been more passive, and I don't miss it if I don't have it. But now, I have to admit she's right about the stuff we grow in the garden. Amazingly complex and peppery, it's totally worth raising. Looks like it's a good year for cabbage, so the three remaining plants out there should be just as good--as long as the deer that continue to tromp through our plot don't eat it!

The hot peppers are also happy. The few Brazilian varieties out there are growing like gangbusters, but I think they need a few hot days before they'll flower. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they'll get some good sun this week... The chili hots have tons of little peppers, and the plants continue to grow and flower. I had a little chat with the sun and asked it to come out and help these little babies ripen. I hope it listened.

We harvested our first cayenne pepper, and I'll report back when I try it later this week. There aren't many more coming, but it looks like some more buds are beginning to appear, so hopefully we'll get more in August.

The collard greens continue to do whatever collard greens do. Our neighbor, Susie, says we can't harvest them until the fall (sad!), but I'm going to do a little research. In the meantime, they look happy, so I'm happy.

And finally, in the unexpected results department, it turns out we have acorn squash! I thought I'd planted yellow squash (that's what the seed packet said, anyway), but apparently there was some sort of mix-up. Who knew?!

Garden: Extended Weekend Part 1 -- F*@*&%$#@K!

Nancy's right: it's an ass year for the garden.

Our tomatoes are all gone now. Actually setting eyes on the plots at Stony Kill is a sad, sad thing. There are very few tomato plants left not sick with late blight, and unless they're miraculously a variety with some natural resistance (which apparently doesn't exist, from what research I've done), it's only a matter of time. Most of the gardeners haven't given up, so the garden area is a sea of suffering plants with black leaves and unripe fruit covered in large black spots.

Nancy picked whatever fruit was on the vines as they pulled the plants up, but although they have a nice tomato plant smell, they're unusable. We couldn't even make fried green tomatoes...

And now, to add insult to injury, we're losing the squash. Friday, two of the beautiful zucchini plants looked seriously compromised, the leaves were turning brown and droopy. The next day, a neighboring plot-owner said, "Oh, it looks like you have bugs." Sure enough, the roots were undulating and being eaten by some sort of nasty little chomping something.


And the rain continues...downpour upon downpour. Please, Mother Nature, could we have some sort of proper August, so the rest of our plants do well? Pretty please with sugar on top?


More Tragic Garden Tales

I had to share this sad, sad gardening story from Cathy in Ephrata, Pennsyltucky. Seems to be continuing this summer's "Garden Frustration" theme.

She writes:

I’ve been watching one single red hot pepper growing slowly for the past month, dreaming of the day when I would harvest it, add some of my homegrown garlic, and have a lovely pasta dish.

Until yesterday …

Sabra [14] was at the house all day. I came home and she said “that hot pepper from the garden was REALLY hot.” She had picked it and eaten it raw.

So now I wait for another baby pepper to ripen …



Garden: RIP Little Baby Tomato Plants

Just got word from Nancy...most of our tomatoes had indeed been infected with late blight. They had to dig up and bag many of the little guys, and basically, what's left doesn't stand a chance. The Stony Kill plots are completely full of sick plants, and many of the other gardeners just don't understand they need to remove anything that's been infected...so the disease is just going to continue to spread.

I'm especially heartbroken, as I'd raised most of those plants from seeds in my window on 34th Street... It's been a tragic summer for my little baby seedlings: A bag full of peppers and other things were abandoned on a train by a forgetful friend trying to be helpful (and FYI, the MTA immediately discards food and plants, so I had no chance of recovering them at Grand Central's famous Lost & Found); critters devoured the baby jiló; and now the blight has killed the tomatoes.

I guess I wasn't meant to be a farmer. It hurts too much...

In memory, let's celebrate the too-brief life of our little tomatoes with a few photos. Rest in peace, little ones (cue melancholy music)...


A Bounty of Inspiration

A great list of 100 easy summer recipes from The Guardian/Observer. I always love lists like these, as they're chock-full of creative inspiration.


VendrediFriday: Zucchini with Veal Meatballs

Mandy and Sté stopped by last night for the summer's first official VendrediFriday (yes, I know it's mid-July, but time flies, OK?). Before a record-breaking hand of UNO (note to self: don't buy knock-off card games at the dollar store, it's just asking for trouble), we concocted a mainly farm-to-table meal of summer bounty from the farmer's market, the garden upstate, my mom's garden, and my window.

We started with the perfectly-ripe melon Mandy scored at her local farmer's market, which she sliced and wrapped in bresaola (cured beef). Quick, easy, and delicious.

Next up was grilled zucchini (from my mom's garden in Pennsyltucky) with veal meatballs. Initially, we were going to stuff the zucchini, but decided to do some quick stove top cooking instead of turning on the oven on a relatively hot, humid summer's evening.

We were truly making it up as we went along, so into about a pound of ground veal we threw a minced shallot, two large handfuls of chopped fresh basil, a few minced sundried tomatoes, and a little cayenne, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. We sautéed the meatballs in a cast iron skillet, cooked the zucchini in the grill pan, and served it all topped with a little pimentón.

We rounded out the meal with some raw zucchini and a salad, both from the garden upstate (another note: don't mix mint with bitter greens...wow...is all I'm sayin'), and Zinfandel from Mandy and Sté's recent trip to California. Basically, it was all out of this world...and we were very happy.


Garden: Tomato Alert...Late Blight in the Northeast

Just received a call from Nancy alerting me to today's Times story on the serious outbreak of late blight in the Northeast. It's the disease responsible for the Irish Potato Famine, and is seriously affecting tomato crops this year. It is apparently extremely virulent and widespread because of the cold, damp June weather.

There are important steps one should take, because it spreads easily and spores can travel up to 20 km. Here are a few links:


If you have any other suggestions/solutions, let me know!


More Ninth Avenue Food Wars?

At first, it looked like the new 2 Bros. Pizza (40th and Ninth) was opened merely to challenge 99¢ Fresh Pizza (41st and Ninth) for the favors of the Port Authority $1 pizza crowd (see my related post here). But as I passed by yesterday I noticed a new sign. Is 2 Bros. now taking on Piece of Chicken (45th, just east of Ninth)? As much as eating fried chicken from a cheap pizza joint scares me, I may have to risk it for a $1 Chicken Battle. More to come...

Garden: Dinner Time

A few more photos from this weekend's garden fest, but this time, it's dinner...

We grilled the pattypan with a little dill, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was incredibly flavorful--perhaps the tastiest squash to ever come from the garden. And it went well with the chicken marinated in lime zest and juice, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and lots of mint from the yard.

Salad from the garden. Italian mixed greens (it's a mystery as to what they are, but the frisée is the best!) with lots of nasturtiums. Yum...

OK, so we cheated a bit for this dessert...only the mint is homegrown. But it was really yummy. Ice cream and early summer fruit accented by faux Nutella: a scoop each of ginger and vanilla ice cream, peach slices, blueberries, mint, and faux Nutella. Really, really good.


Garden: A Sigh of Relief

After a three week battle with farmer's depression, I finally make it back to the garden at Stony Kill this past weekend. How do you spell relief? S-U-R-V-I-V-A-L.

Three weeks ago, the garden was sad, sad, sad. Days upon days of cold, rain, and clouds left the little plants shivering and turning purple in the mud. The various squash plants were OK, but everything else, not so much. I took some of Susanna's advice and tried to cover the roots, feed them, and keep them warm, but Farmer's depression set in nonetheless. All I could think about was that all of that work...gone...

But upon stepping out of the car Saturday, the clouds of sadness were swept away. The sun finally reappeared in the northeast about two weeks ago, and most of the plants had survived, and grown to boot. There were even things to harvest!

Baby alien pods...I mean maxixe. Looks like this Brazilian cucumber-like object ended up being very happy up north. I think we'll have a bountiful harvest of them...as long as the critters don't decide they like them.

The chili hots are very happy in the plot. They're bearing fruit much earlier than last year, so if they keep going all season, we'll be able to make vats and vats of our famous hot pepper jelly!

The nasturtiums are extraordinarily happy this year. We threw a bunch in our Saturday evening salad, and they were off the hook. They're soooo much better than any I've ever had before: not just spicy, but amazingly packed with flower flavor. Almost like eating a peppery rose.

The Squash Forest. Check out the pattypan squash on the left. I think it's the UFO that brought the alien pods...

Mystery squash. There's a possibility it's something from Brazil, or perhaps an acorn squash seed jumped into the wrong package? Oh well, we'll eat it regardless...

A happy zucchini, of the Genovese variety. Lighter than the zukes we normally see. Incredibly creamy...Ahhhhh.... I want to eat all of them raw. Yum.


Garden 34th Street: Happy Peppers

As I spent the day sitting in the window writing and recovering from yesterday's whirlwind adventures with the distant German cousins, I noticed that the chili hots seem to be really, really happy. Grow, little guys, grow!


Off the List

A quick post, as I'm just off to give some distant cousins from Bremen my NYC in a day tour. But...I have to remove an establishment from my list of places to go. For a couple of years I've been hitting Epicerie Café Charbon on the Lower East Side for its great happy hour deal. I made arrangements to meet some people there yesterday, but we were informed that they no longer offered happy hour, because "it wasn't bringing in many people, and not much cheaper than our normal prices."

What? You're getting rid of happy hour? In the middle of a recession? Are you nuts?

We stayed, but the drinks were way more expensive than the old happy hour prices... I was NOT a happy camper.

Off the list!!!


Peachy Keen

Fresh, local fruits and veggies are finally bountiful in the city again (despite the wet, dreary summer so far), and it makes me wonderfully happy. So, as I pondered what to bring to Tony's 4th of July Hell's Kitchen fireworks-watching fete, I came up with something fresh, easy, and summery.

Peach Salsa

•4 peaches
•1 medium-sized cucumber
•3 scallions
•1 large bunch basil (approx. 1 cup loosely-packed leaves)
•juice of 2 limes
•hot sauce to taste

Mince the peaches (I'm lazy, so I didn't bother to peel them) and peel, seed, and chop the cucumber. Slice the scallions into 1mm rings and mince the basil. Combine all in a bowl, add lime juice, and then hot sauce to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, or with a main dish like chicken or fish.


It's Official, Summer's Really Here

I bought baby squash at the Greenmarket on 57th and Ninth today. Hooray!

Good Deals: Szechuan Gourmet (56th Street)

OK, why haven't I gone to Szechuan Gourmet? I remember reading the Times review of the 39th Street location (ridiculously close to where I live), but I magically forgot about its existence. Then last month, Midtown Lunch mentioned the opening of a new location further north, on 56th between Broadway and Eighth. Then this morning, as I was pondering a place for Jiminy Cricket and I to eat lunch, I suddenly remembered...so we checked it out.

We sat down upstairs in the window (the decor is fairly sleek and modern) and noted that it smelled wonderful (like spices, not the blend of food and scary cleaning fluid that sadly seems to be the aroma of many Chinese restaurants). We decided to go for a couple of the Times recommendations and ordered the Spicy Sesame Noodles and the lunch special size ($7.95) of the Double Cooked Sliced Pork Belly with chili leeks, which has become my go-to ratings dish for a Sichuan restaurant.

The lunch specials come with soup, so we began with Hot & Sour Soup, which was peppery instead of vinegary, and fairly fresh tasting, which rarely seems to be the case with H&S soup.

Then came the Spicy Sesame Noodles, which were bathed in a wonderfully flavorful sauce (not the usual sesame butter glop at all!) laced with a large amount of red chili--what a wonderful kick!

Finally, our huge portion of Double Sautéed Pork arrived (it was so gigantic, we worried that he had thought we'd ordered the regular size, which was $5 more). It was definitely its own version of the dish, very unlike any others I'd had. Flavorful yet subtle (it was less fiery than the sesame noodles), it was full of bright red chili paste, leeks, thin slices of pork belly, and some mild capsicums. I missed the presence of Sichuan Peppercorns and the crunchy slices of ginger and other things in the Grand Sichuan version, but Sichuan Gourmet's was still lovely, and as Jimmy noted, perfect for the beginner's palate.

We both agreed that Szechuan Gourmet was definitely a place to revisit, and there's no shortage of menu items that look like they're worth exploring. I also want to check out the 39th Street and Flushing locations...I think some comparison dining is called for!