Of Strawberries and Tea

While Jeremy was away at school, I tended to make the same few dishes over and over again: ones I knew I liked both fresh and as leftovers, and that made enough to last me several days. This largely translated to soups and stews, and a few casseroles and pasta dishes. I did the same thing with baked goods, making enough to send some to Jeremy, and keep me in carbs for a week or so. All in all, it worked out pretty well, but by the time he came home for the summer, I was ready to expand my culinary range with some new dishes. I’ve had a lot of fun cooking and baking this summer (when cooler weather allows) and since the blog has been sadly neglected while I was doing all of this, I thought I would summarize some of it here, in no particular order:

1. Farmer’s markets are my friend. Just before Jeremy came home, I started making it a Saturday habit to walk over to the public library to check out and return books, perhaps stroll through downtown Salem, and wind up at the Saturday Market to have lunch and check out the stalls, which have a variety of live plants, produce, and various crafty items. There is also more of a regular farmer’s market on Wednesdays at lunchtime, which we’ve gone to numerous times over the course of the summer. As spring progressed into summer, I have had a good time watching the flow of produce change, from strawberries and cherries in May and June, to green beans, peaches, root vegetables, and the inevitable Oregon influx of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries in July and August.

2. Of the fresh produce we’ve been buying all summer, our happiest introduction was to Hood strawberries. I have never liked strawberries, though I can sometimes be coerced into eating a few with a bowl of powdered sugar for dipping. That was the case, at least, until I learned about Hood strawberries, which are perhaps the sweetest, juiciest strawberries grown in Oregon. Compared to these little gems, the strawberries at the grocery store might as well be sour, crunchy rocks. We ate quite a few plain, but pints and pints of them made up for strawberry shortcake, macerated with a bit of sugar and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and spooned over a wonderful recipe I found for cream cheese pound cake.

Next to the Hood strawberries, our favorite new fruit is Rainier cherries. These yellow and light red cherries have tender, pale flesh that is sweeter than the dark red Bings, which I also like. We never cooked with these, just ate them by the pint as long as they were available.

3. One of my smarter brainstorms this spring, while wandering through Saturday market, was the sudden realization that the bare spot in my backyard that gets so much sun would be a perfect spot to put an herb garden. I came home with armfuls of 4” pots and planted a wide variety of herbs in May: rosemary, chives, spearmint, oregano, English thyme, tricolor sage, French lavender, and Roman chamomile. I tried to get basil going several times, and finally had better luck just a few weeks ago, as my new basil plant has started putting out tiny new purple leaves. I’ve used snippets of fresh herbs these past few weeks to great effect, and have been carefully harvesting and drying the blossoms of my chamomile plant as they appear, to have a few cups of homegrown chamomile tea later this fall.

4. Speaking of tea, this summer has been an ongoing exploration of the world of loose-leaf tea for us. We started with a free canister of citron green tea from Adagio (a thank-you gift for posting a link to their website on our blog back in March) and liked it so well that we have placed large orders about once a month ever since Jeremy came home. We really can’t say enough about Adagio: they have a well-designed, educational website; a good range of very high quality teas, tisanes, infusers and other tea paraphernalia; and superb customer service, including reasonable shipping, careful packaging, and lots of customer incentives (such as freebies and a discount system). They’ve made loose tea evangelists of us, so to speak. I plan to go into more detail about the “ritual” of brewing tea and some of our favorite varieties in a separate series of posts, if I ever remember to take pictures while we are making it.

This was originally supposed to be a short post, but it turns out I did quite a lot of cooking-related stuff this summer. From now on, I’ll try to keep up a little better, and maybe even post some recipes. In the meantime, I’ll split my rambling up over two posts. More tomorrow.

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