Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Fourth

We were feeling lackadaisical about the Fourth this year. Matt is never highly motivated by fireworks; just as he endures Christmas rituals as an indulgence to me, so he resignedly lets me bribe him with fried chicken to attend the occasional municipal fireworks display. But whether it's simply an off year for me, or whether the heat just crushed all enthusiasm out of me, I found the notion of battling traffic, trekking picnic accoutrements all over creation, jostling for a spot, and being hemmed in by hot, seething, boisterous crowds deeply unappealing this year. So we decided to stay home.

I vaguely remember having a surprisingly lovely Fourth last year: a brief burst of unseasonable cooler temperatures allowed me to lounge about in a hammock reading while Matt plied me with alcoholic beverages, and then we attended the relatively fuss-free but not insubstantial display in Taylor.

This year was not like that. As a last-minute tribute to the holiday, I decided to grill some hamburger meat that needed using up. We didn't assemble on the shade patio for grilling until 8ish, and even then, it was asphyxiatingly hot and heavy there on the coolest part of the yard. The intermittent breezes felt like the air from an oven door--instead of cooling, they just redistributed the heat rising out of the ground.

No sooner had I placed the top bun on my burger than we gave up on any pretense of celebrating the Fourth and fled with our picnic dinner to the air conditioning.

Halfway through dinner, though, we heard some loud bangs--Elgin hosted its own fireworks display for the first time since our residence, and they did it, conveniently, from the parking lot of Southside BBQ, which is less than a mile from our house. There is a tree-filled park between ourselves and Southside, so we only saw the top half of the modest but enjoyable display, but we felt that was a fair trade-off. I hope other, more motivated citizens attended the event in person so that Southside will feel encouraged to repeat it... so that we can watch it again next year from our back yard.

Perhaps we'll buy dinner from them by way of thanks. Did you know that they sell barbecued mutton? I find that intriguing and quaint. I wonder, is it a relic of some distant, mutton-eating phase of Texas history? Did the Southside owners immigrate here from some more sheep-centric locale? Or is it just that mutton is cheap, so that if you can render it palatable, the profit margin would be high?

CSA: What Do I Do With All These... Beets and Tomatoes?
The beetloaf (adapted from this) turned out quite well, I thought. Very moist, and to me the BEET presence was undetectable. Matt felt that it was on the edge--he claims that he could taste the beets. I slathered mine with steak sauce, so that may have helped.

Had better luck with the TOMATOES. I've been taking the cherry toms to work for lunch, but I just can't keep up with the inexhaustible flow of tomatoes from the CSA. So I made salsas to go with our 4th of July dinner (and to go in this morning's migas). Matt liked the pumpkin seed-pasilla salsa best; I lean more toward the fresh chipotle-lime salsa.

Pumpkin Seed-Pasilla Salsa (adapted from here)
Medium heat
10 'Black Plum' tomatoes or 5 regular plum tomatoes, halved
2-3 jalapeños, halved and seeded
a little olive oil
10 dried pasillos and anchos
2-3 tsp ancho powder or other powdered chile
1 Tbs kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 c water
2 Tbs roasted, hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 Tbs white vinegar
1/2 c scallions
1/4 c cilantro, chopped

Heat the broiler on high. Drizzle a little olive oil in a baking pan. Place tomatoes and jalapeños in pan, cut side down. Char tomatoes and jalapeños until skins are slightly burned, ~7 minutes (check after 5).

Remove tomatoes and jalapeños from the oven and place them in a stainless steel pot. Add ancho powder, dried chiles, salt, sugar, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.

Add vinegar to tomato mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add toasted pumpkin seeds. Place mixture in a blender, and blend until smooth (it make take a while to get the pumpkin seeds sufficiently fine.)

Briefly whiz in scallions and cilantro. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Smoky and complex.

Fresh Chipotle-Lime Salsa (adapted from here)
Medium heat
1/3 cup fresh lime juice or more, to taste
4 cloves garlic
3 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 Tbs adobo sauce from the chipotle can
2 cups peeled, chopped, and seeded tomatoes (boil whole tomatoes for ~1 minute first to loosen skins)
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze lime juice into a blender and add garlic cloves. Blend until smooth.

Add chipotles, adobo, tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whiz briefly in the blender.

Refrigerate for an hour or more before serving to allow flavors to marry.

Limey and refreshing!

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