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Independence Day

I have declared my independence. I declare myself independent of those nasty, store bought tomatoes. My battle may be great, but I will win this war.  If for no other reason than the fact that my tomato plant army has taken over the garden! Considering that this is only the beginning of July, I'm pretty happy with their size and development.  It looks like I'll be able to harvest my first tomatoes soon, and they should keep going until mid September! Having been growing in containers for the last few years, this just amazed me.  All of my early gardening frustrations this year (like killing off all of my seedlings!  Whoops...) are now gone, replaced by the lush growth of organically grown tomato plants.  I cannot wait for that first harvest! This summer, what have you declared your independence from?  

What Happens When a Couple of Foodies Marry?

You end up with and edible bouquet and boutineer! The bouquet is made from kale, amaranth, cayenne peppers, cilantro flowers, chive blossoms, ramps, purple onions, flowering broccoli, and rosemary.  It made for a tasty salad later on!Meg's Bouquet The boutineer was made from a radish, a kale leaf, 2 leaves of amaranth, and a flowering pea tip.  Jason got a little hungry, and thought it'd be a good snack.

Almost all of the items came from Detroit's Eastern Market, radishes came from Royal Oak Farmer's Market, and the cilantro and chive blooms came from our own garden.  Considering how much of a roll fresh, local food plays in our lives (and how much I'm really allergic to pollen!), it only made sense to incorporate it into the wedding somehow.

Small Scale Farming

Some of the tomatoes in pots from last year's garden.

As somebody who enjoys good food and cooking, I know that my finished product is only as good as the ingredients that I put into it.  This is especially true when it comes to fresh produce, as so much of the conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are now grown for shipping hardiness, rather than actual flavor.  A sad waste, in my book!  True, we can now get almost any sort of produce, grown anywhere, at any time of the year, but is it actually worth buying?  In the case of tomatoes, I have to say no. I remember growing up with tomatoes, real tomatoes, that came fresh from the garden.  They were a focal point on our BLTs. They were sliced and lightly pickled with vinegar and onions.  They were tossed with fresh mozzarella and basil.  They were broiled with herbs and Parmesan on top.  Best of all, they horrified my early fall lunch mates in school when I would pull one out and eat it like an apple, juice dripping everywhere.  They were bright red, acidic, and had names like Big Boy, Early Girl and Rutgers.  These tomatoes were picked very ripe and traveled no further than to a neighbors house.  Is it any wonder that I find today's hard pink supermarket tomatoes to be somewhat lacking? I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Two summers ago, for the first time, I decided to try planting some cherry tomatoes.  We put a few pots out back, had 3 or 4 plants, plus 2 of jalapenos.  Last year I decided to expand, so had 10 or so cherry tomato plants, as well as a patio tomato and several pepper plants, not to mention branching out to herbs.  There were some success, some failures, and some really wet weather.  A total success it was not, but there were enough successes that I fully planned to do the same again this year. You know how sometimes, when you get a crazy idea, it just builds.  Then you can't shake the idea, and it becomes just a big encompassing desire to go nuts with your idea?  Yeah, that was me and my garden this year.  Why start with pre-bought plants?  I can start from seed!  I purchased a mixed packet of tomato seeds from Heirloom Solutions, got my seedling pots ready, and planted them, along with some onion and green onion seeds.  I quickly decided that my tiny patio out back was really not enough space, and had already proven to be not quite enough sun, so I figured that I could sneak a few plants out front.  We had a garden up against the house that was already in place when we moved in, that was stunning.  Years of neglect by us has met that it's been taken over by bug-ridden hollyhocks, and a Rose of Sharon that has spawned hundreds of mini-bushes from root shoots.   Last weekend, I took a hoe to that garden, and out everything came.  Over the next couple of weeks, multiple bags of peat soil will be added, mixed in to what is already there, in an attempt to get the soil a little more healthy.  A tiller will be rented to help chop up the roots left from that blasted Rose of Sharon, and a bag or two of manure will be mixed in.  I have blood meal on hand for later fertilizing, and am planning on placing a soaker hose in for the summer.  The plan is to keep these tomatoes healthy and organic, and hope like crazy that the birds don't love them as much as I do. Is everything going perfectly to plan?  Of course not!  My seeds, since it never occurred to me that they would need a grow light and not just a room with sunlight, got a bad start, and are currently very leggy, and are just now starting to sprout their tomato plant leaves.  For the first three weeks, they looked like tall stalks with 2 oval leaves....in other words, nothing like a tomato, and totally indistinguishable from every other seedling in the world.  I panicked a bit, consulted some friends, did some looking on the web, and decided to hit them with the Ott Light I use for crafting.  A few days of that, and little bitty baby sprout leaves started to appear!  My hopes are high again, and soon I will replant a bunch of them into slightly larger containers, to continue growing until they can go into the ground in another month or so.  The plan is to have a good dozen plants out front, some cherry tomatoes out back, along with another plant or two from this seedling bunch in containers, and to plant some at a couple of places in our neighborhood where we know the people won't mind us stealing a couple of their tomatoes if they got a type we did not.

This year's seedlings, just starting to show their real tomato leaves.

Is all of this more work than swinging by the store, and grabbing a tomato from the bin?  Of course.  Especially with having to start from total scratch this year, it's a ton of work, hassle, and a bit of an investment.  Is it worth it?  Considering the fact that I will get tomatoes that will have amazing flavor, that I know have never been sprayed or chemically enhanced, whose seeds did not start out as part of some lab project?  Absolutely.

Burnt Oranges for a Traditional Irish Meal

Editor's Note: Megan is Rogue Estate's newest cake slinger. Despite us dirtying nearly every pot, pan and dish in her kitchen this week she didn't kick us out, so you can expect to see more articles from her in the near future.   This dish was part of The Rogue Estate's Authentic Irish cuisine dinner, featured in Real Detroit Weekly and The Hungry Dudes on 03/14/12. When thinking of Irish food, like any other American, I automatically think of boiled meat, corned beef, and potatoes.  The Irish are not known for their desserts, so when looking them up, I had to keep my mind open, and avoid the Bailey's Cheesecake that you find on "Irish Pubs" all across America.  Turns out the Irish have gotten very creative in using what they could get to make unique desserts. For our Traditional Irish Meal, I decided to tackle this recipe for Burnt Oranges.  Wait...how did tropical oranges become a staple for not-so-tropical Ireland?  Turns out that while Ireland was at war with England, they made friends with Spain.  The Spanish sailed some of its foodstuffs up to Ireland, and the rest was history.  Of course, by the time the oranges were sailed north, and the common folk got their hands on them and ate all of the really ripe ones, they were left with some oranges that had seen better days.  Cooking them like this was an interesting and tasty way to not waste those older oranges.
Burnt Oranges for a Traditional Irish Meal
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Print
Recipe Type: Dessert
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 1 hour 25 mins
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 8 Seville Oranges
  • 2/3 cup Very Sweet White Wine
  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 12 tbsp. Sugar, split in half
  • 1 1/3 cups Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
  • 3 tbsp. Warmed Irish Whiskey
  • Lyles Golden Syrup for Drizzling
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 Fahrenheit.
  2. Carefully zest all of the oranges into a bowl. Top with sweet white wine, and let sit.
  3. Peel all oranges, being sure to remove as much of the white pith as possible. Break oranges into segments, and remove all seeds. Seville oranges have a LOT of seeds, so try to preserve as much of the juice you lose while seeding them. Lay the orange segments into the bottom of a wide round pan, no more than 2-3 segments deep, and sprinkle with 6 tbsp. of sugar. You will want to use a pan that is broiler and stove-top safe - a saute pan works great. Place in oven for 12 minutes.
  4. Pour orange juice and 6 tbsp. of sugar into a wide saucepan on stove. Simmer down until it becomes a syrup, then stir in the wine & zest mixture. Continue simmering until it thickens back up again.
  5. After 12 minutes, check the orange segments in the oven. If they are not golden brown on top, kick on the broiler, and keep a close eye for a couple of minutes. You want the oranges and sugar to take on a nice caramel colour, but not char. Once they reach that colour, pull from the oven and set on a burner.
  6. Pour the whiskey over the top of the orange segments, let sit about 30 seconds, then flame. Let the flames burn about 30 seconds, then douse with orange juice mixture. Simmer together for 2 minutes, then serve!
  7. This can be served hot, or chilled and topped with whipped cream
Notes
Seville oranges are extremely bitter, so if you are looking for a dessert that is a bit sweeter, you will want to add more sugar (probably double!) or use a table orange. We also tried one other batch with blood oranges that came out much closer to an American's preferred level of sweetness, and the colour came out very pretty to boot. We also thought these would be excellent served on top of vanilla ice cream.
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2.2.1
  What I did leave out of this recipe was that the Seville oranges are a pain in the butt to peel, far more so than any other orange I have ever dealt with.  Between the segments that wouldn't come apart gracefully, to the fact that Seville oranges have more seed than flesh in each segment, I figure next time I'll stick to making this with another type of orange.  The results will be sweeter and less traditional, but I'll swear less. Have any tips on how to handle Seville oranges or a favorite citrus recipe? Let me know in the comments! -Megan