July 31, 2019

Dear friends,
What a difference four years make. In 2015 I was whining about wedging all of my garden produce in the refrigerator. This year, I have exactly one tomato that has been ripening for a month now and is still too green to pick.

Yes, I sent soil away for testing and added the recommended amendments. No, it didn’t help. The garden that once gave me so much pleasure now produces mostly grass and weeds.

This week I leave it all behind to travel to upstate New York and Maine, where I will eat someone else’s blueberries and tomatoes and console myself with lobsters and clams. To remind myself of the good old days. I’ve left behind this column from 2015:

We open the refrigerator gingerly at this time of year. It is so stuffed with produce that an errant breeze could dislodge a cantaloupe or trigger an avalanche of eggplants or send a quart of blackberries tumbling over the bacon.

My untamed but prolific garden produces on its own schedule and I must adjust. When the rains last weekend unleashed a deluge of yellow squash, green beans and bell peppers, I knew something in the fridge had to go. In order to make room for the new stuff, I had to sacrifice half of a watermelon. I thought about that watermelon all day Sunday. By the time Tony and I returned from the Medina County Fair, I had a rough recipe in my head.

“Let’s go out to dinner,” Tony suggested as we pulled into the drive. “No,” I snapped. “We have to eat a watermelon!”

He shrugged and wandered into the living room while I went to work, cutting the melon into 1 1/2-inch cubes. I added sliced green onions and crushed coriander seeds. I had bought some dark, robustly flavored buckwheat honey at the fair. I spooned some out and stirred in a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. In another bowl I made a dressing of fresh lime juice, olive oil and crushed red chili pepper flakes with just enough sugar to tame the acid.

I loaded the watermelon salad, chunks of feta cheese, pita bread and chicken burgers on a platter and carted everything into the living room where Tony was watching the Olympics. Just before dishing up the watermelon, I tossed the cubes with the chili-lime dressing and drizzled it with the salted honey.

“This is good,” Tony said, spearing another bite. “Really, really good.”

I noticed he was watching synchronized swimming. Two perky young women with sequined bathing suits and nose plugs were jerking their heads and slapping the water in unison. Tony thought they were really, really good, too. I hope I can trust his taste.

Flowers yes; vegetables, no.

Chili-lime dressing:
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt

6 cups chilled watermelon in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup sliced green onion
2 tbsp. minced mild or medium-hot fresh green chili pepper such as Anaheim
1/4 tsp. crushed coriander seeds
2 tbsp. buckwheat honey or other full-flavored honey
1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt

Combine the dressing ingredients, mix well and refrigerate. Just before serving combine the watermelon, onions, minced fresh chilies and coriander seeds in a medium bowl. In a custard cup or small container, stir together honey and sea salt. Pour chili-lime dressing over salad and gently but thoroughly toss. Drizzle salted honey over salad; do not toss. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

What I cooked last week:
Pan-fried cod with stir-fried vegetables in ginger-garlic sauce over steamed rice; hard-over egg and basil leaves on whole wheat toast, cucumber spears and blueberries; a detox smoothie; shrimp cocktail, tomato and cucumber salad with fresh dill; pan-grilled salmon with a sweet soy sauce glaze, tomato and cucumber salad, a glass of Champagne.

What I ate in/from restaurants:
Egg drop soup and chicken in black bean sauce (very good) at Chin’s Place in Akron; a Taco Bell taco; popcorn at Regal Cinema; Chipotle barbacoa salad; Superfoods Salad at Aladdin’s in Montrose.

From M.P.
Years ago we were at Lake Chautauqua for the week and I was frying potatoes and hot peppers for our fishermen husbands. I did not wear gloves and soon felt the effects of the pepper oil. It felt as if my hands were in the skillet!

I will forgo all the details but will tell you the pharmacist filled the script for the doctor-recommended salve but told us olive oil would work better and faster. We located the nearest grocery store and quickly grabbed a bottle. We had brought with us a large bowl of water that my hands had been in on our trip to the hospital. We tossed out the water and poured the oil over my burned hands. Oh, the relief.

God bless this man behind the counter in the town of Warren, Pa.

Dear M.P.:
Astounding! I did not know this about olive oil. You have helped many people today.

From Carol P.:
I wanted to tell you how I make jojo potatoes. It’s not original but I think it saves time. Wash russet potatoes and pierce with a fork. Place in microwave and cook until tender. Cut into fourth lengthwise. When cool, brush with mayo or ranch dressing. Roll in panko or regular bread crumbs. Fry in 1/4 inch of oil until brown on all sides. Remember, the potato is already cooked.

I think your garlic butter brushed on while the potatoes are hot would be yummy. Then sprinkle with Parmesan after frying.

Dear Carol:
Dino Reed at Wise Guys told me he roasts the baking potatoes before he cuts them lengthwise into quarters and fries them, so his method is similar to yours. He prepares them in advance to that point, then coats them with garlic butter and Parmesan and warms them in the oven.

From Rachel A.:
My first job was in the farm market at Graf Growers in Akron, and I am still a corn snob about it. The corn I get there always tastes best to me. Apparently, nostalgia tastes like sweet corn.

Try this corn salad, too. I made it for my husband and mother-in-law last week and both of them raved about the flavors. The contrast between the warm roasted corn and the cool, creamy sauce is awesome; the tang from the quick-pickled onions adds a lovely little bite. It’s absolutely delicious: https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/07/corn-salad-with-chile-and-lime/.

Dear Rachel:
I like Graf corn, too. I intend to try your corn salad recipe, which author Deb Perelman says is modeled on the popular Mexican-style street corn. Thanks for the link.

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