food : gluten-free peach-blueberry crisp

Gluten-free peach-blueberry crisp.

Yesterday we went up to visit friends outside of Frederick, to take a walk through the woods and enjoy their kitchen garden. Usually I bring a pie, but in the new world of gluten-free dairy-free living I wanted to try something simpler. Peaches from our CSA, blueberries from the freezer, and a pretty nice crumb considering it was made with vegetable shortening were just right. I’m pretty sure the sprout had more sugar in one sitting than he’s probably had in his entire life up until now (“Nummy! More peaches!”) so I’d call that a success. Recipe from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook.


Tossed with blueberries and sugar.

Covered in crumb and ready to go.

food : gluten-free peach-blueberry crisp

food : zucchini!

In a moment of enthusiasm or weakness, I accepted hand-me-down enormo-zucchinis from a neighbor’s friend’s garden. Thankfully, it coincided with a zucchini-free week in the CSA and I was able to make it all go away with a little bit of concerted effort. First, I made stuffed zucchini from one of the squashes, using ground pork and ratatouille from the freezer, plus some rice. The result was edible but suffered typical mistakes: didn’t precook the rice and left the walls of the zucchini boat too thick so it was all a bit undercooked. But we still ate it for two days.

Another batch of zucchini muffins.

Next up: some of our favorite Moosewood muffins. With the ability to stock them in the freezer I can make as many batches as I like without feeling compelled to just eat them all at once. Each batch takes two cups of shredded zucchini, so I just shredded the entire second squash and dove in. Three dozen muffins later, I’d passed them along to friends, had a freezer full, and had used half the squash. It was a start.

Zucchini brownies.

A few years ago I tried to make zucchini brownies from the recipe in Simply In Season and failed miserably. Failed to actually follow the recipe, that is, which resulted in a hot mess. This time around I used properly shredded zucchini and yogurt, which turns out to be key to making the brownies rise rather than remaining a dish of flat goopy gunk. The chocolate chips on top made the whole thing much more brownie-like; without them the dish is more like chocolate zucchini cake (still good). Out of deference to the sprout’s ongoing dairy intolerance, I did use sheep milk’s yogurt and figure this will be a good way to test the assertion that it’s easier to digest.

Gluten-free zucchini fritters.

Finally, I used the last four cups (!) of shredded zucchini to make fritters, which are tasty but soft and not really ery fritter-ish at all. Zucchini and minced garlic or onion, 1/3 cup of flour (or gluten-free pancake mix as the case might be), and two eggs makes it a super easy addition to dinner. Which I’m sure we’ll revisit the next time we have cups and cups of zucchini to eat.

food : zucchini!

food : exciting blueberry pie

The finished product straight from the oven.

A couple of weeks ago, upon our return from vacation in the Great White North, I made a blueberry pie. The pie was exciting for a few reasons: it had a gluten-free crust (I’d say the best one so far, but the most recent always seems like the best); it was made with blueberries both from the ancestral homestead and from our CSA; and it used lemon verbena from our garden (the first use I’ve found for it, since “muddle it into a fruity drink containing hard alcohol” is great advice but only works when you are actually consuming fruity drinks containing hard alcohol). I combined the filling from this recipe with the gluten-free crust from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook that I’ve previously used for apple pies, and it was not a bad pie at all. (I don’t even feel the need to qualify that with “for a dairy-free gluten-free one.”)

The assembly of the pie was pretty standard, now that I’m used to working with the sticky tart-like dough that results when you are using starches held together by egg to make a crust. The filling smelled very lemony, as I just tossed the berries with the juice and zest, not seeing any instructions otherwise in the recipe. I remembered the shortening inside the pie (which I often don’t) but did forget the rice milk wash for the top. That turned out to be a lucky mistake, as I preferred the flakier drier crust and it didn’t have the overly-ricey taste that some of the other versions have had. When I took the pie out of the oven curiosity got the better of me and I spooned up a taste of the filling that had overflowed onto the cookie sheet. I then became very nervous as the filling tasted like nothing more than a blueberry Lemon Drop, a “martini” that I hadn’t had in years because of the cloying sweetness. In the end—where the end is the next day after the pie had cooled completely overnight—the lemon was not overbearing and the pie was quite good. I will definitely chop the verbena more finely next time, but I’d make it again. Blueberry is a good combination with the gluten-free crust, too, as the color and flavor permeate the lower crust and the tart berries stand out against the bland backdrop.

The filled shell. Mmm, blueberries.

After blueberry, the next seasonal pie is usually sour cherry. Well, sour cherry is usually first (here in DC) and blueberry usually follows (after we return from our summer trip in early August). This year we missed sour cherry season entirely and the blueberries were a few weeks early so we had barely cleared Canada Day when we had blueberry pie. Which means that next up is most likely peach, as those are already rolling in to our CSA. After a banner year of plums two summers ago I suspect that the one little bag I have in the fridge might be all I have to work with, so a peach-plum (dairy-free gluten-free) crisp might be in the making. What could possibly go wrong?

food : exciting blueberry pie

deep in the land of the CSA

This is the time of year when my to-do list starts to be mostly recipes centered around using up the vegetables and fruits that are flowing in our house. (Most of the other items on the list are some subset or variation of “clean house.”) When I have the time and energy, I find myself trying to knock out three or four items at once to stay on top of things: something baked, some kind of salad, and something for dinner are pretty typical. Earlier this week I tackled about half of the zucchini, turning it into muffins and fritters. I also used the cabbage to start homemade sauerkraut for the first time; I just couldn’t face more cabbage soup, as we are still working our way through last year’s freezer stash. The sauerkraut is still fermenting on the counter and won’t be ready for a few more days at the earliest, so I have no sense of whether it’s a success or not. Or rather, whether it’s edible: it’s a success either way since there is no longer a cabbage in my fridge! Yesterday I made two salads and yellow beans (with savory from our garden) for dinner. That was only a qualified success, since I had to buy tomatoes for one of the salads (it’s hard to find recipes using up cucumber that don’t also require tomatoes).

This is the crux of the challenge: using the vegetables you get without either too much supplementation or endless days of eating sliced cucumbers for lunch. There are some things I don’t mind getting, like the leek I use in the beet salad recipe. My partner is not a huge fan of the beet and we eat them only one of two ways, in the salad that requires a leek or roasted, the latter way not being really appropriate for the longest heat wave in local history. It pains me to buy tomatoes, though, since I know we’ll be getting more soon and I know the local heirloom ones that will start to appear at the market are vastly superior in all ways to what’s currently available, even at the local organic store. However, it also pains me to continually throw away food and we are coming off the second winter of doing so with the majority of our winter CSA. We just haven’t been able to stay on top of it since the sprout joined our family. Also, the types of vegetables we get in the winter are delicious when prepared well but not the sort that are easy or good raw; a large part of their appeal is the satisfaction of turning something bitter and kind of unappealing into a tasty meal. Which requires the creativity, energy, and time to turn something bitter and kind of unappealing into a tasty meal.

Now that the more amenable vegetables of summer are here, I’m determined to use them. This weekend’s list includes a blueberry pie (with gluten-free crust and lemon verbena from the garden), refrigerator pickles, another batch of beet salad, another batch of zucchini muffins, and possibly some rhubarb muffins if I haven’t left the rhubarb too long already. Probably also roasted potatoes one night, although there’s less time pressure to use the potatoes. Then on Tuesday it will be time to start the process over again.

Oh, and let’s not forget the effort to use up last year’s stores from the freezer, too!

deep in the land of the CSA

garden : where oh where will the little shrubs go?

Red hot poker in front of the pyramid trellis.

Lamb’s ear from a neighbor, planted just ahead of a rare rain.

An unforeseen benefit of having a toddler who likes to be outdoors has been an increase in evening gardening. In the past I’ve been pretty much fed up with working in the yard by this time of year; once it gets hot I like to hang out inside and look at my flowers through the window. Hanging out inside is not a recipe for relaxation with the sprout, though, so we head outside after nap time. Lately we’ve been staying in the yard rather than going to the park, because the porch now stores such enticements as chalk, balls, bubbles, and the extremely popular trowel, all of which makes it difficult to get very far away from the front door. And, as soon as we get outside I am exhorted to “Dig, dig, dig!” Having already moved and planted nearly everything that needs to be moved and planted this spring I am left with weeding. So, all of the front beds are edged and mulched (and look quite nice, if I do say so myself) and we have progressed to weeding the backyard beds. Usually the weeding of the backyard is an annual Herculean task that I delegate to my partner and a very kind friend and which they typically tackle on one very long Saturday round about September or October. Since we don’t have much of anything planted in the backyard (due to the fence that needs to be replaced and my determination to minimize the plants that will need to be relocated when that happens) “weeding” really means digging out the annual encroachment of liriope, ivy, and violets from the sides of the yard that have been successfully cleared in previous years and now languish under a variably thick layer of leaves.

Our new side garden.

The enormous sage, before it got a fungus and then the axe.

This year, however, the presence of my miniature task-master has led me to seek out opportunities for digging and pruning lest the desire to “Dig, dig, dig!” lead to the uprooting of all the herbs, bulbs, and perennials I’ve worked so hard to establish over the past few years. As a result, the peony “bed” (aka strip along the back fence where I plunked them for lack of a better spot at the time) has been weeded and mulched (this last for the first time ever). The area around one of the roses has also been weeded and mulched, the encroaching dwarf almond has been cut back, and the ornamental quince around the corner of the house has been pruned (that was very exciting for the sprout, I fielded requests for “more cut!” for days after that one). After all this I find myself in the odd position of having a fairly well-maintained garden early in the season, leaving me with very little choice except to proceed with digging out the liriope in the back side yard to clear space to plant my new shrubs, a task I would have sworn would be left for partner and friend to undertake sometime in September or October.

Some of my hesitation around this project is due to the fact that I still don’t know exactly which shrubs are going to go where. I have four shrubs that need homes (spicebush, ninebark, beautyberry, and inkberry), and juggling the sun/shade needs is proving a bit tricky. Mostly, though, the tricky part is that I want to be able to see all the shrubs from inside the house because they have been carefully selected to attract wildlife. Oh, and the small complicating detail that two of the spots for the new shrubs are occupied by old shrubs that I want to get rid of and my partner wants to keep. There is that. However, we both agree that regardless of the precise shrub placement, the liriope and other weeds need to be dug out of the side yard so that it can be turned into a mulched area with a path (or just a few stepping stones) which will not have to be mown or weeded very much at all in future years. That alone will require hours of work before we’re even close to needing to resolve our shrub location dispute. My proposal is: get rid of the dwarf almond on the back corner of the house and replace it with the beautyberry (or better yet the ninebark, given how big that one gets); get rid of the forsythia (to which I am incredibly allergic) on the other back corner of the house and replace it with a rain barrel (already purchased and waiting in the garage); get rid of the white lilac (already offered to a friend) and replace it with the spicebush; get rid of the sassafrass sprouts (already slated to be donated to the town park) and replace them with the inkberry; and fit the fourth shrub in somewhere once I see how the rest of this is coming along.

Really, if I’m honest, the dispute is not so much about where all these shrubs will go but more about how exactly we arrived at the current backlog of shrubs waiting to be planted somewhere in the yard. On that point, I got nuthin.

garden : where oh where will the little shrubs go?