I admit, the whole incident was probably my fault. I’d let the herbs overgrow a bit too much because I just didn’t feel like dealing with them. Even though I usually keep a tidy garden, and an eye on those wayward mint roots and the sneaky grass weeds, the abundance of herbs has been overwhelming. As it turns out, it’s a good idea to keep things trimmed on a regular basis, because you never know what will decide to take residence among the overgrowth. When you have a garden, some creatures are to be expected, and even welcomed, and others, well, not so much.
My favorite margarita to make at home comes frozen, with five ingredients: fresh lime juice, a simple syrup of sugar and water, tequila, and triple sec. At Chuy’s restaurant, where we often ate when we lived in Austin, we were introduced to the fancier sangria margarita, frozen, with a swirl of sangria mixed in. For our less-fancy home version, we simply stir in a shooter made with fruity red wine and peach schnapps.
A few months ago, we bought three healthy, thriving tomato starts from a vendor at a farmer’s market. We planted, fertilized, and watered them, but alas, juicy, sweet, home-grown tomatoes from our garden were not to be this summer. We really haven’t had much success at all with growing tomatoes, aside from a few scant cherry tomatoes last summer. I’m mystified as to why, though it’s probably no mystery to more experienced gardeners than me. For tomatoes, I guess I’ll have to depend on local farmer’s markets until that lucky season when we successfully harvest our own.
During the month of July, our house was filled with Southern home-grown fruit. From our own garden, we had ripe cantaloupe and plump figs, and from the South Florida farm of a neighbor’s relatives, we had platanos burros (bananas), Russell avocados, and the national fruit of Cuba, mamey. From the surplus of fruit I made fig jam, figs filled with gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto, fig tarts with honey, cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto, guacamole, avocado remoulade, an adapted version of plátanos maduros (fried sweet plantains) using the bananas fried in coconut oil, banana cookies, banana muffins, and a smoothie. I also experimented a little with the mamey, puréeing and flavoring it with the same ingredients as this sweet potato dish. We ate some of all that fruit plain and simple too, most often for breakfast. It was a good month.
Often on our walks, Hiro and I pass by a large fig tree in a neighbor’s backyard that overhangs the high brick wall facing the sidewalk on which we travel. I first noticed the tree when the weather began to turn warmer and the branches became full with the familiar round-lobed leaves. The fig tree’s leaves and fruit look just like our smaller potted fig trees at home; even though this tree is much taller and fuller, the figs are very much the same size. This year our two fig trees have produced some of the plumpest figs I’ve seen from them in the nearly six years we’ve taken care of them, and those figs are the inspiration for this sweet jam.
If for some unforeseen reason I were to become a vegan (a person who doesn’t eat any animal products, including honey), then David Lebovitz’s chocolate sorbet would be my saving grace. I’d also add my friend Jervaun’s cucumber salad to that list, because it’s that good, and I’m not even that crazy about cucumbers. The salad is a perfect choice during the heat wave of summer, eaten on its own, or maybe paired with something grilled, like chicken or fish.
I’m a couple of weeks early for national ice cream month, which officially starts in July, but who needs an official reason to eat ice cream? Continuing on my cardamom binge, I offer you this pistachio cardamom ice cream. I’ve finally gotten around to trying the ice cream base recipe from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer, and the slightly adapted version I made provides the base for the added flavors of roasted pistachios and ground cardamom. There’s a whole science behind Jeni’s method to making ice cream, and it’s an informative read in the article “Here’s the Scoop” by Molly O’Neill, which first appeared in Saveur magazine.
Peaches are in season here in Texas, and I’m on a bit of a cardamom binge, so this slightly exotic-tasting smoothie is the result of those two circumstances. Anytime I add cardamom to something, it tastes a little exotic to me, but that’s probably because I grew up in a home where cinnamon was about as flashy as it got when it came to spices. With a medjool date added to sweeten, this smoothie becomes even more extravagant; a tablespoon of roasted cashew butter brings it all back down to earth. If you love peaches so much that you’d move to the country to eat a lot of peaches, then this is the smoothie for you.
The mustard greens are now well into their seed-bearing season, with tall, spindly branches, thinner green leaves, and tiny yellow four-petaled flowers that grow in groups on the ends of the branches. Each branch is filled with short needle-like pods that are filled with mustard seeds. “Red Giant,” the variety we planted, is from the brassica juncea species of mustard plant, and the seeds, which turn brown once they are dried, can be used to make brown mustard or as a seasoning in other dishes. With those tiny little seeds I can also start the whole cycle once again and harvest greens when the weather turns cold.
When we lived in California, we used to regularly visit Second Street in Long Beach, located in the neighborhood of Belmont Shore. I’d forgotten how often we’d gone there, and how many great food memories I had from the small storefront or side street restaurants we loved to go to. One of our favorites was Cafe Gazelle, an Italian restaurant that despite its tiny dining space was big on atmosphere and authentic food and consistently packed out; another was a sweets shop called Grandma’s Sugarplums that was overflowing with an amazing variety of homemade desserts. After finding a parking spot, we would often start walking at one end of Second Street and just wander until we decided where to eat; sometimes we made it past the window of Sweet Jill’s Bakery while they were making fresh cinnamon rolls, and sometimes not.