Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amy's garden of tropical fruits

The great thing about gardening in Houston is growing tropical fruit.  I was amazed, when I moved here for part of the year ten years ago, how easy it is to grow lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, papayas and even bananas in the yard!

My friend Amy is a really good gardener, and she has a lot of fruit growing in her garden right now.  Citrus is in season. She has Meyer lemons, a really delicious variety of lemons:

Also there are grapefruit, the Ruby kind with red sections inside:


I ate one of these and it was delicious.

Papayas sprout everywhere in Amy's garden, probably because she composted a papaya last year and some of its seeds have sprouted.  The papaya tree is well over six feet tall and has a thick trunk maybe four inches in diameter. It's loaded with papayas:


Amazingly, Amy even grows bananas!  Banana plants are common in Houston, but it's less common to see the actual fruits on the plant.


Banana plants have a really interesting flower, on a long stalk that hangs down.


Amy has a knack for garden design, and not just with food plants. I loved her use of an old potty as a planter.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is Vegan Food Good?

The question that nobody dares to ask.  IMHO, the answer is a qualified yes.  I am cautiously optimistic.

Last month was VeganMoFo for food bloggers.  I made a lot of vegan recipes and blogged about some of them.  Some of them were horrible. I won't name any names, but one prominent vegan food expert has a quiche recipe that I wouldn't feed to the raccoons and possums that eat out of my compost pile.

Gourmet magazine was never big on vegan food, but in its last issue there was a vegan cheesecake recipe. Maybe, if Gourmet had lived, there would have been more vegan recipes, another reason to be sad about Gourmet's demise.  Especially because this vegan chocolate cheesecake was actually very good.  Gourmet's recipes were always well-tested, it seems. I never made anything from that magazine that was actually bad and inedible. The same cannot be said of other recipe sources.  Once I made a recipe from Recipes for a Small Planet, back in the 70s, that smelled just like dog food.  I didn't taste it because the smell made it impossible to taste it. I can't remember if any dogs ate it.

Of course, Gourmet had some inadvertently vegan recipes, mostly recipes for, well, vegetables, the word from which the word vegan derives (I think.  Who came up with that ugly word, "vegan," anyway?)  But to be a really impressive vegan recipe, a recipe has to try to emulate something you can only make with meat or dairy products or eggs.

Cheesecake would be an example.  Back in the seventies, there were tofu cheesecakes.  (That awful word "vegan" had not yet been invented.)  These tofu cheesecakes were famous for causing flatulence, due to the confluence of soy protein and sugar.  Some people called this early vegan dessert "rocket fuel" for this reason.  I am happy to report that the Gourmet vegan chocolate cheesecake is not noticeably rocket fuel.  You make it with tofu cream cheese (I used the Tofutti brand) and silken tofu, along with some homemade fudge sauce.  The tofu cream cheese was very good on its own and would be good on bread or crackers.  Silken tofu is just really soft tofu that hasn't been pressed. You blend it with cocoa powder in the blender.

The only hard part of this recipe was making the fudge sauce. You have to make caramel first with sugar, a process that I always dread. It seems that I always get at least one utensil (this time it was a fork) encased in a carapace of concrete-like hardened sugar, and nothing gets that hard sugar off.  The weird thing was, first you made a caramel sauce, then you poured water on it to dilute it!  The water hardens, and then theoretically gradually softens the caramel, until you have a sort of syrup, to which you add the chocolate pieces.  Then you melt them together. I was thinking it might be easier to skip the caramel step and just use honey instead. Maybe I'll try that next time.

I didn't make the graham cracker crust from scratch because it was actually cheaper to buy one already made in a little tin pan than to buy a whole box of graham crackers.  But next time I will probably make the crust myself, because the store-bought crust was sort of stale.  Also, I halved the recipe, just so I wouldn't eat the whole thing.

  Chocolate is a breakfast food for me.  It was nice to have a piece for breakfast. I took the rest of it to work. I didn't tell anybody it was vegan, and they ate it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Scarlet soup

The last issue of Gourmet came a few weeks ago. So sad.  However, there is nothing to do but cook from it.  I wanted to try some of the recipes before Thanksgiving, because we are having a Thanksgiving potluck and I want to decide what to make.

First I made the scarlet carrot soup.  Gourmet calls it a Thanksgiving starter.  And it has beets and carrots in it, two very affordable vegetables.

I thought it was really good, even though I didn't make it exactly right. I substituted curry powder for the coriander seeds, and I didn't put the deep-fried carrot strips on top:  just a bit of ricotta cheese instead.  Also, I halved the recipe.

For whatever reason, I couldn't find the recipe on the epicurious site, where all the other Gourmet recipes are archived. I guess the person who uploaded the recipes lost her job too.

So here's my version of it.

Scarlet Carrot Soup

1 tsp curry powder
2T oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch of hot pepper flakes
4 cups sliced carrots
2 cups chopped beets
4 cups water
1 T red wine vinegar

Cook shallots in oil with thyme, bay leaf and pepper. When shallots are soft, add curry and cook one minute.  Add carrots, beets, 1 tsp salt, pepper, and water.  Simmer 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig.  Puree soup in the blender and return soup to pot.  Add vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with sour cream or yogurt or ricotta cheese.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Adobe Abode, Part II

I uploaded some photos to my flickr site of the adobe alliance workshop near Presidio, TX.  These are black and white photos that I shot on film, in a medium format camera and a view camera.  You can see them here.


Sunday, November 1, 2009


We have a mature pecan tree in our yard in Houston.  There are pecans all over the grass and in the garden bed under the tree.  We picked up a bunch of them today so we could mow the grass. It was almost impossible to find them all; some of them had worked their way down into the grass.

I am drying them out on the porch now, and looking forward to cracking and eating them soon.  The shucks just fell off of most of the nuts; this makes shelling easier than with black walnuts, for example, which I have a lot of in Tennessee. Black walnuts are encased in big brown hulls that don't come off easily.  Most people dump the nuts in their driveways and run over them with cars to get the hulls off!  (The up side is that the brown hulls make a great dye for both cotton and wool.)