Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Mid-Summer Garden: Turtles, Peas and Lettuces

The third snapping turtle of the season, this adorable, 2 inch circumference baby, strolled into my garden, making me thankful that I usually wear garden clogs. This is a weird year for snappers. Apparently, the females stroll out of their rivers and ponds around the Summer Solstice to lay eggs in a drier locale, and this year we've seen one medium-sized one strutting around looking for love on our lawn, one gigantic specimen get hit by a car in front of our house (it only got spun around in its prehistoric carapace and crawled away unharmed into our neighbor's hay fields) and now this feisty little mamma. We resettled her into our nearby pond.

It is the time of year when local gardeners must inspect their vegetable patches daily to not only look for reptiles, but keep up with the bounty. We're enjoying lots of beautiful herbs and greens, and a couple of handfuls of snow peas each day. I planted Oregon Giant Snow Peas (available from Johnny's Selected Seeds) for the first time and they are a big hit. They have huge, bumpy pods which, once rinsed and cleared of strings, are entirely edible, pod and all.

We love them sliced into salads and eaten out of hand, but best of all we like them as scoopers. Their crunchiness and curvy shape makes them terrific scoops for dips. There were a couple of art gallery shows opening up in our Schuylerville business neighborhood last Saturday night and of all the snacks I brought for the evening's extended hours, the snow peas were gobbled up the fastest. I served them next to a White Bean Dip and another lovely Herbed Cream Cheese round, and the peas did not last an hour. They were certainly the favorite dunker at our spread, leaving the bowls of nearby tortilla chips and corn chips in the dust. I plan to get a Fall crop of these beauties in the ground this week so we can harvest them again in cooler September weather.

Our patch of mixed lettuces is at its peak now and before things get too hot and they start bolting, Dan and I are scoffing down as many salads as we can. We swish around the tender lettuces in at least two changes of cold water, spin them in the salad spinner and then roll them up in a clean kitchen towel and cover that with a plastic bag to crisp up in the refrigerator. They are so tender and tasty right now that all our salads need is a splash of olive oil, a little vinegar and a grinding of salt and pepper, but occasionally we mix up a batch of homemade vinaigrette or other salad dressing for a change of taste.

Dan picked up a bottle of Asian Sesame Dressing at the supermarket, only to find that the darn thing contained wheat in the soy sauce ingredient. Luckily this research finding was achieved in only his second mouthful of salad, so he avoided getting glutened. I tinkered with a homemade salad dressing the next day and we've enjoyed it, so we thought we would pass it along:

Asian Sesame-Ginger Dressing

2 Tbsp. gluten-free soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili garlic sauce (or hot sauce)
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 cup peanut oil
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds (black ones look great)

Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, onion powder, paprika, and chili garlic sauce. Blend in honey until dissolved. Whisk in peanut and sesame oils. Add sesame seeds and shake in container to blend well.

Makes about 1 cup dressing. This is lovely over a salad of greens, sliced scallions and snow peas and mandarin orange sections.

Back to the gardens....

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