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Have Basil, Make Pesto (pesto and dip recipes)

I might as well confess it: my garden is giving me bupkiss this year.  The plants are spindly, the cukes are shrivelled, the tomatoes are few and far between, and I got about 15 green beans total, enough for one batch of potato salad.  The eggplants seem to be doing nicely, and eventually I might get some zucchini, but even that’s looking kinda sad…

On the other hand, my herbs are doing beautifully.  I have a nice healthy rosemary plant on the patio, and my basil is kicking butt.  Serious butt.  So I finally made pesto.  Checked out a bunch of recipes and in the end, as usual, sort of made up my own.

Now, just to give the disclaimer: I was not trying to make a lowfat or particularly healthy pesto here.  I figure, hell, pesto’s one of those things you use maybe a teaspoon or two at a time, so why not make it count, in all its flavory and textury niceness? Why skimp on the olive oil? Or parmesan?

So, here it is:

Easy Basil Pesto

Add the following to a food processor, pulsing after each addition:

  • 3-4 cloves garlic.  If you really really love garlic, maybe make it 5.  If you get too crazy and make it more like 6 or 7, because you think you love garlic so much that it’ll be awesome, be aware that your result will be better titled “Garlic Basil Pesto.” Don’t ask how I know this. (It’s still awesome, though.) Pulse till basically ground/almost pureed.
  • 2 cups basil leaves. (To measure, pack the leaves down pretty well in the cup.  It takes a lot of basil leaves to make two cups packed.) Pulse again till kinda pureed. (From here on out there’s very little grinding; don’t figure on chopping the basil more later…)
  • While pulsing, dribble in half a cup of olive oil.
  • 1/2 tsp salt; 1/4-1/2 tsp ground black pepper; 2 tbs. lemon juice. Pulse to mix in
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese; 1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts.   Pulse till you like the texture. (If you like more chunky pesto, only go a few times; if you like it smooth, obviously grind till it’s smooth. Seriously, maybe a couple of seconds might be enough.)

That’s it. Easy as pie. (A hell of a lot easier, actually. Pie is a pain in the tail, IMO.) This recipe makes a little over a cup of pesto, which goes a long way; I froze it in half cup containers to thaw as needed.

The secondary recipe:

Pesto Yogurt Dip

This is exactly what it sounds like: mix maybe 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt with a couple of tablespoons pesto (to taste). Delicious for dipping veggies or crackers or whatever.  And  lot healthier than most other dip recipes you’re gonna fine.

It’s not a bushel of tomatoes to can and make sauce from, but as the fruits of the garden go, it’s something…

Landscaping Rant, part the First

Okay, fine, I get it. It was their house, they could landscape it any way they wanted. We bought the house. No reason, seeing this lovely carpet of evil cypress mulch around everything, that we should have just assumed there was, oh, say, dirt under it.

Apparently the house’s previous owners employed Landscaping With Gravel in their past life, and then just covered up the gravel beds with mulch at selling time.  And under the gravel is this horrible landscaping cloth, the stuff designed to prevent weeds from coming through.  In some places the gravel is thicker than others, but it’s plenty thick everywhere.  This is pissing me off.  On the one hand, yes, there are very few weeds.  On the other, trying to plant anything is HELL. 

The right thing to do would probably be to hire a landscaper (or take a week off work and do it ourselves) to completely rip all the old stuff out, give us nice planting beds and start from scratch.  But we being we, it’s not gonna happen.  We bought the plants, we knew where we wanted them to go, we tried to dig the holes to plant them, and we discovered what lay beneath the lovely but anti-earth mulch (see saveourcypress.org/ ) was anti-plant-life mess, so naturally we just hacked through what we didn’t like and planted our plants there anyway, with a bunch of manure and soil and hopefully healthy otherness.  This is probably not a landscaper’s best suggestion, and we may live to regret it. 

The yarrow, being yarrow, is thriving like crazy.  Something keeps chewing on my echinacea, so it’s not growing at the rate I’d like to see.  And I ordered some basil, carpet thyme, marsh mallow, and St. John’s Wort from Richters ( richtersherbs.com –they are awesome!), and the basil and SJW seem to be doing okay so far.  The mallow and thyme aren’t planted yet.

We also discovered that as part of last year’s landscaping efforts, some lovely peonies and dwarf lilacs had been planted around the property, which has been a nice discovery.  But the gravel thing is driving me nuts.  I’ll probably just perennial the hell out of the front yard, punching out most of the landscaping cloth as I go, and give the whole area to things that laugh at barriers.

In back, where the veggies are growing–the peppers  and zukes look good, but one of the tomatoes looks sort of stunted, the canteloupes are dying, and the rest is sort of mediocre.  As much amendment as we tilled into this soil, it’s still probably too dense and silty to support really fast-growing life, and we don’t want to put nasty chemicals in there to grow our veggies, because then we’d be eating the chemicals…

Sigh…the bucolic dream of happy lovely gardening sweetness is so not happening, except for the lettuce…

More later. New ugly discoveries about the backyard are making my husband curse, so I should probably get out there.
–J

Days when it’s worth it

Okay, some days I think I’m being an idiot and wondering what the hell I’m up to with this whole footprint pseudo-green-suburban-mama thing, feeling very self-consciously chi-chi and precious like I’m trying to be something I’m not.

And then today, when I had 2 or 3 minutes to make lunch before running in for a noon staff meeting (which doesn’t actually start until 12:30, I now discover, which is why I have time to blog), I am able with incredible ease and efficiency to do the following:
1. get a piece of whole wheat naan, the stuff from Trader Joe’s we subsist on instead of regular bread, since it takes much longer to mold and is palatable to our kids,
2. place on half of it a few slices of lunchmeat (okay, it was roast beef, which is the most EVIL un-green meat one can consume, requiring immense resources to produce, but that’s a rant for another day and we haven’t eliminated beef entirely from our diets yet because my husband is of the Beef It’s What’s For Dinner mindset despite the fact that we’ve had beef for dinner maybe a total of, oh, a dozen times in the past 7 years of marriage, not counting when he stops at Scatchell’s and buys Italian Beef sandwiches on the way home from his folks…)
3. on the other half, spread some of the yogurt cheese I made a couple of weeks ago, still perfectly good and fresh. (I don’t do mayo; too fatty and the jarred stuff is too processed.  Yogurt or yogurt cheese gives the creaminess and tang without the fat content.)
4. grab the kitchen shears and head out to the patio, where I snip off 4 small lettuce leaves and a sprig of fresh tarragon, all of which I give a quick rinse and dry-pat to
5. put the lettuce on the meat side, quickly use the shears to chop-trim the tarragon over the yogurt cheese.
6. put the halves together and start munching

And realized it was quicker to cut and rinse the herb and lettuce than it would have been to open the tarragon jar and/or get a thing of lettuce out of the fridge.  And this is just May, less than 2 weeks after everything’s planted–it’ll grow and grow, and there’ll be more all spring and summer.  And if I can keep the tarragon from flowering, it’ll just keep bushing out and I can dry the herb for the winter, since I use it all the time…

This was an AMAZING sandwich.  Truly yummy.  Could only have been better if I’d cut the tarragon into the yogurt cheese several days ago and let it sit and steep (which I might to tonight with some of it; need to eat that yogurt cheese before it goes off!).  And if I had veggies, I’d’ve skipped the meat all together and just done tomato and zuke slices, maybe the yogurt cheese on one side and hummus on the other or something.  But it was GOOD.

Good fresh food, quick and easy, cheap (aside from initial startup costs, which admittedly this first year in a new home are considerable), gourmet-ish even, that I made/grew myself, and from which I didn’t generate any more stupid plastic containers. 

A good day.
–J

Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise

The peas are germinating.

They are incredibly cute. I didn’t know peas could be so cute.

The basil I planted in a pot a week ago is not germinating. I’m wondering what I did wrong.

peas,

J

p.s. the subject line is the title of a particularly delightful children’s book my kids both loved. It encourages small children to play with their food and hurl their peas out the kitchen window.  It was a gift from their grandparents, with whom, believe it or not, we are still speaking.

The Herb Garden goes in!

This afternoon I got a buttload of work done on the garden, mostly the herbs.  I’m feeling very tired and very satisfied. (I can’t believe how heavy and yet how small 40 lbs of dirt is!) Here’s what’s in the ground:

Backyard raised bed:
2 hidcote lavender plants, 1 orange mint, 1 lemon balm.
All three of these plants are very hardy and very invasive.  In the past when I’ve planted these near my other herbs, they’ve squeezed them out of the garden entirely.  (Note: I’ve never done the orange mint before, but I’ve tried other mint and it spreads with great fervor and aggression.) The lavender gets big and rooty enough that the balm can’t take it over, and the balm will spread anywhere you let it.  Mint has this sneaky way of sending out underground lateral roots and springing up half a yard away, which is sort of embarrassing when that half a yard turns out to be your neighbor’s and he has a beautifully manicured lawn and all. So I’m hoping the raised-ness of the raised bed and the swampiness of what’s not raised over there will result in it staying put.

Over in the side, by the walkway to the kitchen patio, I’ve planted most of my culinary herbs there so it’ll be easy to grab them mid-meal-prep. The inventory there:
2 chamomile (I think roman, but it could be german, I took a chance since the Latin name wasn’t on the plant. I probably won’t know till next spring when they either come up or don’t.)
1 English thyme
1 orange spice thyme
1 French tarragon
1 Greek oregano

I’ve also started basil in some pots, since they hate the cool weather. 

WHAT I DO WITH THESE HERBS:
I learned a few summers ago how to make herbal tinctures and potions, and they’ve saved me a lot of money. Once Nancy gives me the echninacea plants she promised me, I’ll save even more–I can make a quart of echninacea tincture for maybe ten bucks and six weeks, whereas buying 4 oz. costs about $30+  Ditto the other tinctures.

Lemon Balm–tea, tincture, and liqueur.  Lemon Balm is a good natural relaxant and decongestant.  The liqueur is both refreshing and relaxing, and its general “aura” sort of depends on when you got the leaves from the plant–it’s lighter and sweeter when you use young leaves, and gets a heaviness when you use leaves that’ve been on the plant for a long time.  The trick is to get the leaves before the plant flowers, because as soon as that happens they lose all their flavor.