Monday, August 22, 2011

Autumn Pear and Arugula Salad

It's going to cool off some day. Autumn IS coming! How do I know? Well, for one thing, school is back in, and that means tomorrow I'm back to my job teaching biology at San Antonio College.

But the other indicator that I think is more important is that I just got to eat my favorite seasonal Autumn salad! A salad that is, well, mostly of my invention, though based off other recipes and flavor combinations that are nothing new. Then again, what recipes aren't? This salad was inspired a few years ago by some local ingredients I often got in my CSA in fall: pears and arugula. I just started getting them again recently, so that means fall MUST be coming, even if it is still 100 degrees outside!

Since this is a salad, everything is "to taste". Just throw everything together roughly in the order listed, and enjoy.

  • arugula - a good big bunch
  • pears - one or two depending on how big they are
  • walnuts
  • blue cheese
  • honey
  • white wine vinegar

  • Put a bunch of arugula on a plate.
  • Cut pear(s) into bite sized slices and lay on top of arugula.
  • Sprinkle on walnuts.
  • Crumble on blue cheese.
  • Drizzle on some honey and vinegar.
  • Crunch it up.
I've seen some other versions of this salad that got fancier by poaching the pears first or using candied walnuts, but I really don't think that's necessary. In my version you just pile everything up, which is much easier. I've seen versions that used apples instead of pears, which I guess is ok if you can't find any pears, but I much prefer pears. For one thing, they're grown locally, and apples aren't, but I also think the flavor and texture of nice ripe pears works much better in this. My position on using other nuts besides walnuts is about the same. Pecans or almonds might work ok, but I think walnuts really excel here.

I've also seen some other versions that use milder greens either mixed with or instead of the arugula, such as spinach and lettuce, and milder cheeses instead of the blue cheese, which I guess might be ok if you're a wuss. I've mixed milder greens in when I didn't have enough arugula, but I love the nutty, peppery bite of arugula straight no chaser. And I wouldn't do without creamy, salty, savory blue cheese on this. I think one of the neat things about this salad is that most of the flavor comes from the main ingredients and not the dressing, which is the opposite of the iceburg lettuce salads I grew up with that were defined by the dressing. This salad is moistened with just a bit of honey to add a little more sweetness, and some vinegar to add a bit of of bright tang. I think apple cider vinegar would be fine on this if you can't find white wine vinegar, but I haven't tried it.

This is a hearty enough salad, with protein from the nuts and cheese, to work on it's own as a light lunch, or even a light dinner while the temperature is still in the 90's and you've been out in the heat all day and really don't feel like fixing yourself a hot meal. I invented this salad when I was in grad school and had to teach a late lab on Friday nights after the buses had quit running, and had to walk a couple of miles home since I didn't have a parking pass. It was nice and refreshing after getting all sweaty and tired doing that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Dog Moon

This month's full moon post comes a little late because I was on vacation on the coast. If you want to go to a nice beach on the Texas coast, I highly recommend Padre Island National Seashore. It's run by the National Park System, so you know it's good. Clean beaches almost totally free of trash, clean water, lots of birds and fish. Definitely the beach for nature lovers rather than rowdy college students on summer break.

Don't forget your sunscreen, though. I'm paying for that mistake right now.

This is not what I expected when I came home from vacation. I watered everything really well before we left, but when we got home the birdbath was dry again, which may explain why SOMETHING chewed a hole right through my tray of fall seedlings! At least, that's the only thing I can think of that could have done this. Maybe some thirsty squirrel was trying to get to the water in the tray underneath. Tore up a lot of the seedlings too, especially the chard and broccoli raabe. The cauliflower and collards are still mostly ok. I guess I'll have to do some replanting.
The California Wonder bell peppers continue to surprise me with how well they're doing on once-a-week water rations. They're even working on growing some fruit. I wonder if it's because they're on the edge of the garden near enough to a tree to get some afternoon shade.
Some of the tomatillos have died, but most are still hanging in there. I guess I'll just have to see if any make it through to fall.
Sadly, most of the fall tomatoes haven't made it. I have one Bloody Butcher left and maybe three or four Cherokee Purples. Oh well, I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up.
I planted my fall eggplant too, and they're looking a bit yellow. Fingers crossed.

The basil is doing ok, but flowering a lot from the stress.
I think the next thing I'm going to sacrifice are the cowpeas. I think it's really unlikely I'll get any sort of decent harvest from them, so might as well quit wasting water on them.

The fall peppers are mostly doing ok, but they're still really small in their pots. I wonder if I should try planting them at all, or try overwintering them in containers and planting them in the spring. Peppers always grow so slowly from seed for me. I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong or if that's how they usually are.

This full moon was called the Dog Moon, after the Dog Days of Summer, which are named after Sirius the Dog Star, brightest star in the sky (it's actually a binary star system). This is supposed to be the hottest time of year, but with how hot it's been, I can't see how it can get any hotter. We've already broken plenty of records and will probably break some more before it finally cools down.

It will cool down some day, won't it?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Very Hot Lammas

There were three men come from the West
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three made a solemn vow:
"John Barleycorn must die."

They plowed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
Threw clods upon his head,
'Til these three men were satisfied
John Barleycorn was dead.

- "John Barleycorn" English folksong

Now the people increased and became numerous. They lived by hunting, and the more people there were, the less game they found. They were hunting it out, and as the animals decreased, starvation came upon the people.

First Mother pitied them.

The little children came to First Mother and said: "We are hungry. Feed us."

But she had nothing to give them, and she wept. She told them: "Be patient. I will make some food. Then you little bellies will be full." But she kept weeping.

Her husband asked: "How can I make you smile? How can I make you happy?"

"There is only one thing that can stop my tears."

"What is it?" asked her husband.

"It is this: you must kill me," she said.

"I could never do that," he said.

She said, "You must, or I will go on weeping and grieving forever."

Then the husband traveled far, to the end of the earth, to the north he went, to ask the Great Instructor, his uncle Kloskurbeh, what he should do.

"You must do what she wants. You must kill her," said Kloskurbeh.

Then the young man went back to his home, and it was his turn to weep.

But First Mother said: "Tomorrow at high noon you must do it. After you have killed me, let two of our sons take hold of my hair and drag my body over that empty patch of earth. Let them drag me back and forth, back and forth, over every part of the patch, until all my flesh has been torn from my body.

- "Corn Mother" Penobscot legend

I know it might look like a harvested grain field, but this is really a picture of the dead, scorched earth of my backyard. If you think this looks bad, you should see what "exceptional drought" has done to the nearby cornfields. Half-grown stalks, withered and dead and crumbling to dust.

You can see why I'm thinking mostly of the Death aspects of harvest time right now. Of course, in all those legends of dying harvest gods (and goddesses!) from around the world, there is the promise of resurrection and new life coming from their sacrifice.

What happens when that harvest never comes? What happens if John Barleycorn is slain prematurely, not by the sickle, but by drought and scorching heat? What happens if First Mother is killed, but nothing grows from her flesh?

What if this is how things are now that we have sent the Earth's climate into chaos? What if my civilization goes the way of the Anasazi, driven from land that was already marginal for agriculture anyway by lack of rain?

This is what air-conditioned Cabin Fever does to my mind.

Yeah, I ended up making Lammas bread anyway. Well, I needed something to do! The AC is working overtime already with it being over 100 degrees every day now, what will a little baking hurt? Maybe some day I should build a solar oven to bake outside. Feels like an oven outside anyway.

I used this recipe for Honey Whole Wheat Bread. It's a wonderful recipe for a nice, sweet whole wheat bread with molasses and honey. It made the house smell wonderful. It also makes four loaves, so I can eat one right away, and have three frozen for later. That'll make this one baking session more worth it. I made two rectangular loaves in baking pans and cut double Fehu runes into them, and made two round loaves on the baking stone and cut Inguz runes into them (both runes for abundance, and they look good on bread). That night for dinner my celebratory feast was some of this bread with Brie cheese, and some of the pears I got from my CSA. It was delicious, and having a cold dinner seemed to make up for the baking.

Just to keep my spirits up, and keep hope alive that the drought and heat will someday end, I planted a tray of fall crops today. I had lousy luck trying to plant fall crops in August last year, but I'm giving it another try. I planted cauliflower, broccoli raabe, chard, and collard greens. It's sitting on the kitchen table for now. I'm not sure if it will stay there. Depends on if it gets enough light from the kitchen window, and whether the cats decide to mess with it. I'm kind of afraid to put them outside in the heat, or in the stuffy, hot garage, but I don't have a lot of room in the house for them (and no growlights). Since this is all so iffy, I only planted seeds I have plenty more of. Good luck little seeds.