Tag Archives: Civic Center farmers market

Dispatch from the Pepper Patch

Two tiny (and extremely hot) Bolivian Rainbow peppers, grown by Mr. A. Hook.

It was harvest weekend at the Hook household. A few months ago, Aaron bought two pepper plants at the Civic Center market. The first was a Habanero plant, the second, a Bolivian Rainbow Pepper plant; both occupy prime real estate on Hook’s plant table, which sits beside the living room window.

Careful tending and consistent watering yielded these two tiny Bolivian Rainbow peppers. Just larger than my pinkie nail, the peppers are almost unbelievably spicy. H. sliced the top off of one and had me place the cut edge against my tongue. I went running for water and instead took a glug of the Dr. Pepper sitting on the counter.

Hook sliced his two peppers and mixed them in with scrambled eggs. Served thusly, their heat was masked and they became, if not just edible, then pleasantly fiery. The Habaneros are still growing, but I’ll post an update as soon as that harvest takes place.

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Okra, Greek-style

My sister loves the cuisine of the Greek Isles. (She loves all things Greek, actually, but I’ll focus here on her love of the food.) After spending two summers interning at a nursing home on Ikaria, Ali came home brimming with stories of the people she’d befriended, the hoardes of stray dogs roaming the street, of the best damn Tzatziki she’d ever eaten.

Aware of my budding interest in cooking, Ali brought back recipes from the island. Some were adaptations of restaurant dishes she’d tried and loved. Others were given to her by her host-mom-of-sorts. Yet others she found in Greek cookbooks, here and in Greece. One such recipe was for Okra and Tomatoes.

One beautiful okra pod.

I’d never had okra before last week. Seeing so much of it at the farmers market, I caved and bought a small bag — $.70 worth, so maybe 2/3 of a pound. Not having a solid plan for the veggie, I grew worried that it would rot in the crisper alongside so many other wilted (and well-intended) turnips, carrots, and radishes. Then, as I sat wedged between Hook and another passenger in the farthest-back seat bank of the 5, it hit me: Ali had a recipe for Greek okra!

The next day I called sis to get the scoop. She was on campus (i.e., not anywhere near the cookbook that contained said recipe), but she did recall that the recipe called for “two teacups of olive oil.”

“I think they mean espresso cups,” she said. “You could probably just use however much oil you want.”

The recipe was fairly simple: soak okra (cleaned and with stems removed) in a bowl of cold water and vinegar; sautee onions and garlic in olive oil; add [drained] okra, tomato sauce, tomatoes, and spices; simmer for 1.5 hours.

These pods are ready to roll.

I made a few modifications to the recipe that Ali shared. For instance, I used grape instead of Roma tomatoes, grape being what I had on hand, and I simmered my mixture for about 45 minutes rather than the hour and a half. (Note: I used far less okra and far fewer tomatoes than called for, so 45 minutes was ample cooking time.)

The finished product was a bright, fragrant dish, delicious served hot or at room temperature:

Okra and tomatoes, mid-simmer.

I can say with 70% certainty that I’ll buy okra again. It has a beautiful shape; in fact, I almost bought a pair of okra-pod-shaped earrings on Etsy, but wouldn’t have been able to wear them without feeling like a hack since I’d never tried the veggie! I’m also fascinated by several unusual textural features of the pods, namely their “sliminess” and their seeds, which pop like caviar when bitten. I didn’t notice much of the okra’s characteristic “goo,” but this might owe to my method of preparation. Cooked, as the okra was, in tomato sauce, the goo might simply have combined with the dish’s other liquids to become unnoticeable.

I’ve been told that the best way to minimize the presence of goo is to 1) fry the okra, Southern-style; or 2) cook it with acidic ingredients. (Perhaps the vinegar’s and the tomatoes’ acidity cut down on slime release.) I’ll test both of these hypotheses before okra goes out of season and get back to you all with my findings; after all, trying new recipes and eating naturally-occurring slime are two of my favorite pursuits.

Steamy leftovers.

To Roast A Chicken

Fall in the Midwest is one of my favorite things. “Things” is a slippery, nonspecific word, but in this case, it fits my purpose perfectly. Compared to other “things” (time periods, places, people, objects, ideas) that I like, Midwest Fall ranks in the top ten, followed closely by Northeast Fall. (Note: had I been born a Northeasterner, I might have a reversed opinion — might.) Nothing pleases me more than a walk at sunset in late September, the shadows slanting long, the still air reddening my ears and the tips of my fingers. The early evenings celebrated with tea, ginger cookies, and a well-worn sweatshirt with the sleeves pulled down, the hood pulled up.

The perfect fall hoodie: I ordered one tonight(!)

Of course, Fall Foods early helped define the season for me and helped it reach its rank of Favorite. Once the heat of the summer dissipated for good, my mom began her fall cooking routine. We traded grilled chicken for pork roast, fresh corn for squash of all varieties, tossed salads for chard with sweet potatoes and onions. For special occasions, there was pumpkin pie or rice pudding, baked for an hour or so (at a low temperature) to thicken it. I loved stealing up to my room, watching as the unclothed windows grew dim and listening to the jostle of dishes as my parents cooked dinner. Where summer seemed a season of restricted cooking — no baking, so as not to heat up the house — fall reintroduced a slate of dishes temporarily forbidden because of their preparation, which caused the AC to overwork itself.

In the Bay Area, the seasons blend together to form one cloudy, muddling, indeterminate span. Fall used to be — is, technically — my favorite season, but autumn doesn’t feel like autumn here. True, students started classes a few weeks ago, football season has begun, and the farmers market doesn’t offer quite so many berries, but I’m not feeling properly autumnal. This upsets me.

Last Sunday, the breeze and the low-rolling clouds, the slight chill in the air made fall seem like a real possibility, even in No Season Land. I turned on the heat when I woke up; I swaddled myself in my favorite megasized hoodie. When Hook and I made our trip to the farmers market, I admired the young chickens, freshly killed, stacked and stiff in a rolling cooler. I’d planned to purchase one of those chickens and roast it for dinner, but I don’t own a cleaver and would have had no way to remove the heads/feet. Discouraged (but not ready to give up), I purchased an organic chicken from the grocery store.

Ready for roasting.

Neither Hook nor I had ever roasted a whole chicken. We had, however, prepared a whole turkey last Thanksgiving. Despite our failure to remove all of the giblets (oooops), the turkey was a crowd favorite: we’d followed Alton Brown’s recipe for a rub and filled the cavity with coarsely-chopped aromatic vegetables. After a nervous few hours — we had no meat thermometer and so had to estimate the cooking time, based on the bird’s weight — we removed the turkey from the oven and carved it. The skin, flecked by herbs, had crisped beautifully; the meat was juicy and not a hair overdone. Buoyed by this success, we set about preparing the chicken.

Close-up feat. chopped aromatic veggies + fresh rosemary.

The gizzards were not something I wanted to deal with — not especially — but they’re an undeniable part of the project I’d taken on. I’d mentally steeled myself against having to reach into the cavity and remove a cold handful of organs, but the act still unnerved me. I know that organ meats are trendy! But I’m content to buck so many trends, this one included.

I wish I’d paid more attention when my mom prepared chickens for roasting. Knowing myself, I’d have been in my room reading; if I had been in the kitchen — leaning against the counter, occupying more than my fair share of workspace — I [regrettably] wouldn’t have been paying much mind to the prep my mom was doing. I can say with certainty, though, that mom never prepared a rub for the bird, and this is where our preparation techniques diverge.

For the turkey we prepared, Hook and I made a rub of olive oil and spices; we applied it both to the outside surface of the skin and beneath the skin, keeping the meat moist and allowing the whole turkey to absorb the flavors of the herbs and spices we’d chosen. I followed the same process with the chicken, pouring a measure of olive oil and adding salt, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and parsley. I slathered the chicken’s exterior, making sure that every crevice and fold was oiled.

Just another close-up of the stuffed bird (and Hook's sink).

I then gently pried the skin from the meat (taking care not to tear the skin) and rubbed it with the olive-oil mixture. Afterward, I spread a small amount of minced white onion under the skin so that the meat would take on the onion’s flavor. For stuffing, I used coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion, along with two sprigs of fresh rosemary. Had I thought of it, I’d have thrown a few cloves of garlic in, too, but the cavity was smaller than I thought it would be and it was already full with the aforementioned vegetables. Next time, I’ll be using garlic (and lemon) for sure.

Here’s an embarrassing admission: I don’t own a meat thermometer. I did have one, but at some point during my move from MA to MN (or from MN to CA) it got lost; I keep convincing myself that it’s in Hook’s cutlery drawer, but it never is. Hook and I calculated a cooking time for the chicken based on its weight. I prayed that the meat wouldn’t be overcooked, dry chicken being one of the most boring things a person can eat, and also that it wouldn’t be undercooked. Not that there was much chance of undercooking, but as long as I was fretting, I thought I’d fret about the full range of Possible Things To Go Wrong.

While the bird roasted, Hook and I spent a lazy evening around the house. I internetted and read; Hook put laundry in and also checked the state of online affairs. The house grew warm; the smell of the chicken cooking caused my stomach to gurgle, so I ate a handful of licorices to stave off starvation. I was tempted to open the oven and take a peek, but I resisted this temptation.

After two hours came the moment of truth:

The chicken, fully roasted. Poultry had never looked so good.

It was beautiful. I let the chicken sit for a few moments before moving it to a cutting board for carving. Long ago — we’re talking a decade at least — my dad explained how to properly carve a chicken, but I did not draw on this long-past lesson. Instead, I removed the breasts, serving one each to Hook and myself.

The finished meal: chicken breast served with rosemary-garlic fried potatoes. Not pictured: chardonnay.

Hook had prepared his famous garlic-rosemary fried potatoes, the perfect accompaniment to the poultry. I know this sounds like tooting of my own horn (and my opinion may have been influenced by my considerable hunger), but this chicken was the best I’ve ever had. It was perfectly tender, not overcooked in the least, and the meat had taken on the subtle flavors of the vegetables (the onion especially). Hook’s potatoes were crisp and heavy on the garlic — just the way I like. We sat in silence in the darkening living room, the rush of traffic on Stanyan swelling and subsiding and swelling. For a few moments after finishing our meal, neither Hook nor I said anything. Then, Hook got up with a start.

“The wishbone,” he said. “Let’s break it.”

I’d forgotten that part of the chicken dinner. When I was young, my parents would save the wishbone: washing it clean of any meat and setting it to dry on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. Once deemed dry enough, the wishbone was given to me and my sister to crack. Eight times out of ten, Ali won.

Hook and I wouldn’t wait for the wishbone to dry; we didn’t even wash it. Standing at the sink, we positioned ourselves. On the count of three, we broke.

Foreground: wishbone. Background: butchered carcass.

The satisfaction of that tiny snap brought to focus the fact that some pleasures — a warm kitchen, cold wine with fried potatoes, the sharing of a small, superstitious ritual — remain undiminished with time. Indeed, that time and shared experience only improve them.

Sunday Best

Yesterday brought two bonuses. Bonus one: breakfast at the Pork Store.

Trending now: biscuits.

Miraculously, the Pork Store had no line when we rolled in around quarter after ten. (Unheard of, right? Turns out we just beat the rush.) I got Eggs in a Tasty nest — two over-medium eggs atop a cheddar-topped mound of sautéed tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, bacon, and garlic, all on top of hash browns — and biscuits. Oh, biscuits. If I believed in past lives, I’d surmise that maybe I’d been from the Deep South, my love of biscuits is so true.

The Nest is not for the faint of gullet: the hash browns possess a crispness that can be achieved only through the ultraliberal use of oil, and the veggies sheen with grease. I’m pretty sure my platter — an accurate descriptor of the size of the plate — contained eight ounces of cheese. But the biscuits: I ate them with butter and jam, lingering over each delicate bite.

When the time comes, I’d like biscuits on my tombstone.

Bonus two: fresh dates at the Civic Center market!

Want a raisin? How about a date? (Wokka, wokka.)

Have you ever seen a fresh date? I hadn’t until yesterday, but they’re gorgeous. A fellow shopper urged me to try & buy, so I did. He (fellow shopper) suggested storing the dates in the fridge — “They’ll stay fresh longer, and they’re very good chilled,” he said. I bought about a pound and a half; they make an excellent snack. About the size of lychees (or very very small Roma tomatoes), the dates are crisp-fleshed with a slight tartness. I hope I can find them at next week’s market — fingers crossed.