Mowing the Garden

Dear Friends,

I mowed the garden Monday morning. Mowing is the latest weapon in my epic 6-year battle with weeds. I’ve tried and failed with a lot of methods, but mowing just may work.  I read about the technique recently in the Beacon Journal. The rows of vegetables are planted a mower width apart and instead of weeding the walkways, you just mow them. The vegetable rows are protected by permeable ground cloth.

My garden looks manicured and green. Already the broccoli is heading, the squash are blooming and tiny kale leaves are peeking from the soil. The haricots vert are six inches high, and the Asian eggplants are  beginning to flower. I even spotted my first ripe tomato yesterday, but didn’t pick it. I want to look at it longer, even if it is just a tiny Sun Gold.

Each morning the dog and I make our rounds, harvesting a handful of sugar snap peas from the vines I planted in the flower garden and snapping a few slender stalks of asparagus from the bed in the side yard. Today I found one ripe blueberry and ate it on the spot, sun-warm and sweet. The blackberries are blooming like crazy and the elderberry bushes are sporting dozens of flat-topped, lacy flowers. This may be a very good year.

Sadly, I can’t turn the fruit into sorbet or smother the vegetables in hollandaise. I’m dieting, remember? I’ve lost 15 pounds and one pant size and was feeling pretty good until Tony called me his “chubby cookie” yesterday. I’d kill him if I wasn’t so weak.

On the bright side, those snap peas and asparagus arrived just in time to save me from all those carborific winter root vegetables. I think I’d strangle myself with knotweed If I didn’t have asparagus and fresh herbs to allay the hunger. Basically I’m eating lean protein and vegetables with little or no fat. This is how I’m supposed to eat all the time, but gradually I regressed with a slice of pizza here and a spoonful of peanut butter there. The clerks at the frozen yogurt shop began greeting me by name. When I realized I was gulping Tylenol daily for my aching legs, I retired my frequent-customer card.

My favorite dinner right now is steamed asparagus with lemon and poached eggs. I simmer the spears in a medium skillet, pile them on a a salad plate and squeeze a lot of lemon juice over them. In the same skillet I bring the warm asparagus water almost to a simmer, swirl the water in a circle with a spoon, and slide in two shelled eggs. Three minutes produces perfection: firm whites and soft yolks that I transfer to the asparagus with a slotted spoon. After a dusting of coarse salt and  fresh-ground pepper, I stab the eggs with a fork. The liquid yolks flow into the lemon juice, producing a hollandaise-like sauce.

I suppose this could be a side dish instead of an entrée if you’re a lean runner or just don’t give a damn. But with an arugula salad on the side, I think it makes a fine spring dinner.

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ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON AND POACHED EGGS

Per person:

  • 1 handful of asparagus
  • 1/2 of a lemon
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh-ground black pepper

Wash the asparagus. Cut off the woody ends and shave the cut end with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Place the asparagus and about 1 1/2 inches of water in a medium skillet. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until asparagus is barely tender. Remove from water with tongs and place on a salad plate.

Stick a fork in the cut side of the lemon and squeeze the juice over the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt.

Heat the asparagus water until it barely begins to simmer. While the water heats, break two eggs into a custard cup. With a spoon, swirl the water in the skillet to produce an eddy, and slide the eggs into the center. (The swirling will keep the whites in a tight ring around the yolks unless you stirred too frantically, in which case bits of white will spin off like comets.)

Cover the pan and maintain a slow simmer for 3 minutes. Remove each poached egg with a slotted spoon and place on top of the asparagus. Season with pepper and more salt. Makes 1 serving.

TIDBITS

Breakfast lately has been a half-cup of Fage plain Greek yogurt topped with rhubarb sauce. I’ve been craving rhubarb yogurt since a reader mentioned a commercial brand last spring. The beauty of my homemade version is that it’s sugar-free and absolutely clobbers you with rhubarb flavor. Here’s a refresher on making rhubarb sauce. It freezes well.

RHUBARB SAUCE

  • 4 cups rhubarb in 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 lbs.)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or 3 to 4 tbsp. Splenda Granular) or to taste
  • 2 tbsp. water

Combine rhubarb, sugar or Splenda and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Simmer covered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Stir well and continue cooking uncovered until liquid reduces and rhubarb forms a smooth sauce. If necessary, add more sugar to taste. Serve warm or cold.

Note: Splenda Granular is not the formula that comes in single-serve packets, nor Splenda for Baking.  Splenda Granular is formulated to be substituted 1-for-1 with regular sugar. It is sold in resealable plastic bags. Read the packages carefully.

THE MAILBAG

From Dan H.:

My question to you (and maybe Tony) is: What kind of indoor grilling apparatus (stovetop or tabletop) would you recommend for yakitori and/or bulgogi? I do not have access to large cooking quarters but would like to be able to prepare these delights at home. Any suggestions?

Dear Dan: You need an electric tabletop grill. Tony had several when I met him, but none worked very well. They didn’t get hot enough to cook meat efficiently. So buy a good one rather than a cheap one, and make sure it’s a grill, not a griddle. Many griddles – with solid surfaces rather  than wire grill  surfaces – go by the name “grill,” so it can be confusing. The industry calls one an an open grill and the other a contact grill. You want an open grill. Both types are reviewed at http://bbq.about.com/od/indoorgrills/tp/aatp100405a.htm.

From Michele Smith:

Came across this link to an arugula potato salad and since you have a bumper crop, thought I would share: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/lemon-arugula-potato-salad-10000001988527/.

Dear Michele: The salad looks awesome. It would be great to take to a potluck – colorful and slightly different from the norm.

From Jan Cramer, Uniontown:

You brought back such memories of family holiday dinners in the 60s with my aunty Lu. Her “special” salad for all good holiday occasions was lime Jell-O in a gorgeous cut glass ring-shaped dish into which she arranged drained pear halves just touching all the way around with a huge maraschino cherry in the center of the pear. Even though my tastes have progressed over the years, this is still a great flavor combination. It was really a pretty to look at salad, also. Everyone in the family looked forward to it.

Dear Jan: I’ve seen that lime-pear Jell-O salad in the distant past. And I will admit that I have fond

memories of a lime Jell-O, chopped walnut and cottage cheese salad a neighbor made when I was a kid. Out of curiosity, I searched for the recipe and found it on Cooks.com. Just as I recalled, it contains lime gelatin, chopped walnuts and cottage cheese, plus pineapple. Cooks are instructed to “Add one-half cup Miracle Whip “if desired.” Tony would love it.

 

From Sura Sevastopoulos:

Speaking of artichoke festivals, last year my husband and I were visiting friends on the island of Tinos, Greece, and were lucky to be there during one village’s annual artichoke festival. All the families in the village cooked up their specialties, which included fritters, casseroles, croquettes, soups, sautés, creamed dishes, cookies, chocolates, you name it….and all was given free to visitors from all around. Even the candle holders and flower pots were made from huge artichokes, stuck in walls and on tables all over the village. We were in heaven!

Dear Sura: Wowee, did you get lucky! Sounds incredible.

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