Day 167–Pasta with Checca Sauce

July's Tomato Haul

Well, I have been out-of-pocket for almost a week! It has been a crazy/busy/stressful week, but I’m getting back on track again! So why not start over with tomatoes!

Tomatoes are one of my all time favorite foods and they are so amazingly good for us! When Ellie was a toddler, she would walk into the garden, pull raw tomatoes off the vines and eat them like apples. Sadly, not much chance of that anymore. Still, we tried a new recipe for pasta with a raw tomato basil sauce that seemed perfect for a warm, summer night. Tom and I thought it was great. Here is Ellie’s opinion. She felt strongly enough to type it herself:

it has way too much basil!

to me the dish had way too much of it. I am not normally picky about herbs because I dry them all the time, but it over powered the meal and it was gross! So for parents my suggestion is, don’t go overboard with the herbs.

So, with that in mind, here is my version of Pasta with Checca [pronouced KEE-kah] sauce. The original recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis’s book Everyday Italian:

Pasta with Checca Sauce

  • 4 ripe garden tomatoes, cut into fourths (the original calls for 12 oz. cherry tomatoes, which I did not have)
  • 2 small spring onions (white parts only)
  • 3 cloves organic garlic
  • 10 or so basil leaves
  • 1 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5-6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. pasta (I used thin spaghetti)
  1. Put a pot of water on the stove and heat to boiling (for pasta).
  2. Add onion, garlic, basil, parmesan and oil to a food processor and coarsely chop (do not puree).
  3. Add tomatoes to the processor and coarsely chop. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add mozzarella and stir.
  5. Pour sauce into a large bowl.
  6. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and reserve 1 c. pasta water.
  7. Add drained, hot pasta to the bowl with the sauce. stir to coat the pasta. Add pasta water if necessary to make a thicker sauce.
  8. Serve!

Day 93–Gambling With a Garden

Four coloured 6 sided dice arranged in an aest...

Gardening is gambling with dirt.–Mark Twain

I am, typically, not a gambling person. I don’t buy lottery tickets, never been to Vegas, and don’t play bingo. Probably, much of this is because I do not have that “winner’s luck” required to succeed at games of chance. My mother has it. My brother has it in spades. Clearly, it skipped me. But still, I do get “the fever.”

You see, my gambling fever strikes me each year in February (no, not March Madness; my gambling there is with my pride, not with money). In February, we have the onslaught of the commercial seed catalogs. By the late winter months, I have forgotten about the bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the 95% humidity of a North Carolina summer. I have put last year’s gardening behind me and am staring at leafless trees and a brown landscape. Then, I open my mailbox in early February, and see color photos of beautiful, lush gardens, perfect flowers and tomato plants so full of juicy tomatoes that they need heavy-duty staking. It’s seed porn and it has me hooked. I am ready to take the risk. I mean, this could be the year, right? Right?

Betting on the success of our Cinderella garden, we spent the weekend organizing our gardening space to increase the odds of our success. We used the garden planning questions from the Dig In! conference to seriously think about what we have, what we can give and what we need from our little garden. Our garden is not large–just four raised beds–3 are 6′ x 3′ and one is 3′ x 3′. Not so much that we will get overwhelmed, but enough to keep us in the game. Here are some decisions we made using our planning questions.

  1. We know we hate to tote water around the yard. Knowing that watering is a chore in the heat of summer, we moved the raised beds from the scattered patches of sun in the yard to one central area, close to our rain barrels. This was helped greatly by the loss of a huge oak tree last fall. We may be eaten alive by mosquitoes come summer, but at least the sacrifice will be quicker.
  2. We are planting to save money and shopping time. In looking at what fresh items were the most expensive at the store and market, we planted the herbs that we most commonly buy–several kinds of basil, oregano, mint (in pots), lemon balm, rosemary, dill, flat leaf parsley and chives. These are typically pretty expensive and sometimes hard to find. In addition, many of these herbs overwinter here or at least re-seed themselves, so hopefully our investment will be seen over several years.
  3. We know what we want and we want fresh salads. Instead of buying a huge assortment of vegetables that we don’t consume in great quantity, we bought what we like to eat the most–cucumber, several tomato varieties, green peppers and eggplant. I’m betting (!) that we will get out and water in the heat if we know that the goal isn’t just random vegetables, but better salads.
  4. Our garden will be organic. I have never used pesticides other than insecticidal soap and I don’t plan to now. With that in mind, we understand we will need to be extra vigilant for bugs, bunnies and other critters that find our garden as appealing as we do.
  5. We want our garden to look nice. All our beds are now in a side yard that is easily visible to our neighbors. They are terrific neighbors and don’t complain, but we’d like the garden to be attractive for them when they look out their windows. We also want it to be a contemplative space for us. So, we’ll be adding a mulch path, some butterfly friendly flowers and other decorative elements as we go through the spring months.

Maybe our gambling luck is turning in our favor. Hours after filling our beds with compost and planting our initial garden, we had a very scary storm that included hail. “Good grief,” I thought, “you have got to be kidding me.” (Tom can attest that my words were, indeed, stronger than “good grief!”) Lo and behold, the next morning we checked on the garden and not a plant was touched by the hail.

If I were a betting girl, I’d say that was a sign…

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Two of our raised beds in their early stages!

Day 76–A Locavore’s Lunch–Crema on Fayetteville Street

When it comes to food, you really can’t tell a book (or a restaurant) by its cover. I’ve been to some trendy “local” restaurants where it was clear that they spent more time picking the font for the logo than testing the menu. Conversely, I’ve been to some wonderful places that, from the outside, didn’t have a lot of spark, but actually had satisfying, fresh food. Crema in downtown Raleigh, is like that. Good food, but it’s easy to miss. Glad I remembered it yesterday when I was running low on energy and didn’t have any leftovers to bring for lunch.

Crema is on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, just a 1/2 block south of the Capitol. It’s main claim to fame is homemade ice cream, which in the summer is actually hard to find downtown. I’m not ready for all that, although the temperature was 85 degrees yesterday afternoon. I was looking for a fresh and light lunch, so I entered the easily passable storefront and I was in for a wonderful surprise. Crema purchases much of their ingredients locally and they make almost everything from scratch.

In the end, I took my marinated tomato and brie sandwich with cucumber salad to the grounds of the Capitol for a picnic lunch. At $4.99, it was a genuine bargain for a downtown lunch. The sandwich was so good, I need to remember to make it at home, where olive oil dribbling down my chin is a little more accepted. The sandwich was just sliced tomatoes marinated in a vinaigrette, with slices of brie cheese and field greens on a warm baguette. Easy and more interesting than the standard sandwich–so why don’t I ever do this?

Crema is open 6 days a week, so if you are looking for the elusive downtown Saturday lunch spot, give them a try!

Day 24–“Wildly Affordable Organic”

English: A hand reaching for organic tomatoes ...

I recently came across a great resource for staying on a budget while eating organic and thought I would share it. Although our goal isn’t specifically to eat “organic,” it is a part of our overall goal to eat sustainably and to reduce our household toxin load, and organic foods are a big part of that.

The resource is a book, website and blog titled “Wildly Affordable Organic” (www.cookforgood.com). Author Linda Watson (of Raleigh!) claims to have the secrets to living on $5 a day or less while eating organic (and vegetarian). In flipping through a borrowed copy of the book, there are some good tips for frugal living and some good tips for eating organic. The vegetarian and vegan recipes online look good enough that I might go ahead and purchase the book.

While the frugal tips are good, eating “organic” and eating “sustainably” are not necessarily the same thing. Buying organic produce does lessen the world’s pesticide load, but buying organic tomatoes from Mexico when you live in Maine does little to alleviate the carbon footprint of your food–especially if you can get minimally treated tomatoes or organic tomatoes locally at a slightly higher price. And are organic tomatoes from another country sustainable if the “farm” is a large agribusiness and laborers are not paid a fair wage? And are “organic” canned beans packaged in a can with a liner that uses BPA really worth the price if you’re getting a packaging toxin along with your healthy beans? You can only imagine the dilemmas swirling around my mind…

At some point, though, you have to stop and actually eat. Philosophical foodway issues aside, this seems like a good reference book for beginners on how to purchase organic foods without breaking your budget and how to make low cost, vegetarian dishes. Check out the website and see for yourself. Any day I can learn a few new tricks is a good day!