Monday, June 2, 2014

The GREAT outdoors

This post (after an unexpected hiatus of regularly updating AMFAS: work again) will be sort of a scattergun update since a lot has been going on in our kitchen and backyard.

Going down to the St. Lawrence Market as my son Karel and I do every week, we’re sort of in touch with the change of seasons on farms in our area, even if we don’t set foot out of Toronto. Bob Taylor, our go-to person for all things potato was telling us a few weeks ago that he hadn’t been able to get into his fields to plant yet because the ground was still too wet. His asparagus beds, though, were showing signs of life. The very next week he had the first of the new season. We quickly snapped up two bunches and it was the star of our dinner that night. Here in Ontario, it’s now the height of the season, so we’re taking advantage of it in a big way.

Enjoying any vegetable at its peak is a unique experience. We all think of sweet corn at the top of this list, but it extends to most other vegetables. Sadly, only a few improve with storage or being left in the ground (Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and kale spring to mind). Several years ago, we grew broccoli in our (sadly, very small) vegetable garden (most of our backyard is given over to my wife’s wonderful flower beds), and it was astonishing how good this vegetable tastes when it’s just been picked, still warm from the afternoon sun. Twenty-four hours later, it’s still quite
nice, but just not the same. Ditto for tomatoes. I like nothing better than to pick a tomato, wash and slice it, and then enjoy it immediately with a touch of salt and pepper. It’s a summer gift which sadly can’t be recreated in the dead of winter with the crummy tomatoes you find in supermarkets. Even in Italy where vine ripened tomatoes are always available, you can’t find anything that approaches the flavor of a tomato right out of your garden.

(Tip: Never put a tomato in your fridge. They’ll won’t come back out the same. The texture will change for the worse and the flavor won’t be as good.)

Warm weather also means cooking and eating outdoors. With this year’s very slow spring we didn’t even think of eating outdoors until several days into May. Fortunately, Mother’s Day was glorious so we could enjoy that special day (with new mother Rena) out on our patio. The hops we grow on wires above the fence that surrounds it were well over two weeks behind. (If anyone is interested, our hop blossoms – outstanding quality I’ve been told, and additionally, they’re organic – are free for the taking in September when they’re ripe since we don’t brew our own beer…yet.) Since we like to always be widening our horizons, I’ve been thinking about what we might try this summer.

Vicki bought me an early Father’s Day present of a slotted pan with handles on which to cook delicate things like vegetables and fish. We tried it out last night and cooked shrimp and something new: fresh sardines. I bought two of these beauties at Domenick’s, our favorite fish monger at the market.

I prepped them with a brushing of the wonderful organic Greek olive oil we get at the Dufferin Grove Market, a tiny bit of salt and pepper and put them on the hot grill pan. They cooked quickly and turned easily. The shrimp were marinated in a bit of Asian hot sauce, garlic, olive oil, teriyaki sauce and black pepper. At the table, both were both were given a squeeze of fresh lemon. I’ve grilled shrimp this way before, but the sardines were a revelation. We both sopped up a bit of the shrimp marinade on our plates which added to the enjoyment. We’re definitely going to be doing this again! It should come as no surprise that the accompanying vegetable was asparagus from our friend Bob.

Too often these days time is pressing, we’re tired from work and it’s just easier to heat up some prepared food or another, or to head out to a restaurant (if you have the cash). Of course there’s always the siren song of fast food places (especially if you have young ones).

To make our fantastic meal last night took almost no time at all. I prepped the sardines and asparagus, started the charcoal and got the rice pilaf cooking in the time it took Vicki to peel 16 shrimp. While the fire heated and the pilaf cooked, we enjoyed a glass of wine on our garden swing. Cooking the shrimp and fish was quick and Vicki sauteed the asparagus during that time. All told, it took about a 45 minutes out of our lives (minus the time spent waiting for the charcoal to be ready). If we went to the local McDonalds, we would have spent as much time driving and waiting in line – for what? Junk food at its worst.

Instead we enjoyed a marvelous meal for which we would have paid at least $50 in a restaurant. And we had our wonderful backyard to enjoy at the same time.

Life is good.

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