This tomato t-shirt is perfect for the food geek or nerd in your life. If you make it to a taping of Iron Chef America, and it happens to be Battle Tomato, you will potentially save Alton Brown milliseconds of trying to remember the scientific name for the tomato. Plus, it's a Threadless t-shirt, vendor/creator of a hefty percentage of my t-shirt collection.
Biology at the beginning of the third millennium, the 21st century, the year 2006, is much like Physics was in the 1950s. We've recently uncovered the tools and built up the requisite knowledge to make huge strides in our ability to understand what happens with life, as well as our ability to control it. With that knowledge comes fear, legislation, potential, likely a severe catastrophe or two, some eventual wisdom (hopefully), and ... purple tomatoes? You may recall reading in the news that blueberries are a super-food, containing secret chemicals that help prevent cancer. These chemicals are called Anthocyanins, and aren't so much a secret as they are hard to remember. Still, anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and antioxidants are useful in preventing oxidation, which prevents molecular degradation, which prevents mutations in DNA, which prevents cancer. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are an extremely popular foodstuff, second most popular worldwide (next to potatoes, a cousin to the tomato), and so wouldn't it make sense to piggy-back on that popularity to bring even more cancer-fighting abilities to one of the most popular fruits in the world? There are two schools of thought on that: yes, and no. Okay, there are many, many schools of thought. Some people think that anything science can do to help fight cancer is great. Other people think that tampering with the genetic code is likely to cause us trouble in the future due to the law of unintended consequences. Other people think tampering with the genetic code is playing God, and therefore wrong. Alton Brown thinks that modifying foods to have healthy properties of existing foods is the wrong way of going about things. (Scroll to the bit about the Omega Pigs.) The gist, if I may extrapolate from his one rant, is that blueberries are already blue because they contain the appropriate anthocyanins, so why not just eat blueberries? Of course, if he feels differently about tomatoes vs pigs (and I have no idea if he does or not), it may be because it's a lot easier to grow tomatoes than blueberries (hence one of the reasons they're so popular). Generally, with genetically engineered crops, the idea is to give beneficial traits to crops that are easy to grow in areas that don't easily have access to whatever the genetic engineering is allowing. For example, adding vitamins to wheat or rice, so if the farmers in some area of the world can only grow wheat or rice, they receive far more nutrients than they otherwise would have. Alternately, if you don't have access to organic, human-safe pesticide, build it into the crop. Saves from having to spray (especially if you don't have easy access to an aerosolization technology), but with the exact same benefits. Do the researchers at the Oregon State University have the emerging world agriculture in mind, or commercial possibilities, or is it just to see if they can do it at all? Probably some of each, really. Interestingly, the seeds are apparently available for commercial growth as well as home growers. I'm very curious to know what a blue tomato tastes like, and if it's sweet and delicious, that's at least as important as whether it is heavy in antioxidants. After all, I can always eat blueberries, but an even tastier tomato is always worth finding.
As spring approached, I felt it was necessary to turn my deck into a garden. Why? Well, partially because fresh fruit and herbs are super-tasty, and partially because my yard is far too filled with evil, herbivorous critters that want nothing better than to eat all my tasty fruits. My Rosemary. The tastiest evergreen shrub I'm acquainted with. Deer hate rosemary, which is just another symptom of their evil. Beware the deer! Rosemary is a secret agent in making yeast breads rise more easily, and is fun to throw on the grill to smoke meat. Lavender. Very fragrant, and a key component to Herbes de Provence. However, I have yet to actually use the lavender in any of my cooking. Smells very nice. Do not attempt to smoke this on the grill like the rosemary. Burnt lavender is nasty. I mean that. Gahhhhh. I mean, Genovese Basil. Life would be a little bit dimmer if there were no such thing as genovese basil. A key component in the most common form of pesto, genovese basil is excellent in salads as well. Actually, there are very few herbs of the right consistency that are bad in salads. Not rosemary. Rosemary is bad in salads. Sticks in the teeth, like spiky gum missiles of doom. No, wait: like Spicy Gum Missiles of DOOOOM. Cilantro. This is my fianc~A(c)e Melanie's cilantro. It's not that I dislike cilantro, though it's not my favorite herb. It's just that she had this plant for years, and it tends to re-seed itself every year. It's an annual plant, not a perennial, but it's keen to keep it going. Cinnamon Basil. Not as tasty as genovese basil, but tasty nevertheless. Especially good in Vietnamese-style foods. Probably not as good in a pesto, and doesn't keep the deer away. Come to think of it, squirrels like to roll around in the dirt of the cinnamon basil. That's just weird. What is it with squirrels, anyways? Ahhh, Rhubarb. We can't use this rhubarb yet. I've heard that the first year of rhubarb should not be eaten, so we'll wait until next year. But then...the pie will be mine! Oregano. Again, great in salads. I'd like to use my DIY gum kit to make oregano gum, but apparently one has to juice the oregano quite well for that, and I don't think my citrus reamer is up to the task. Spearmint. We mainly use this for tea and lamb. Not lamb tea. That would be gross. Why would you even think that? Lamb tea. You're kinda weird, you know. Thyme. This grows like crazy, so we use it in everything. It's very sweet, and tasty as can be. The problem is that the leaves are kind of hard to pull of the stem. You have to grip it at the top of the stem and pull down to pull the leaves off. The trick is that the top of the thyme stem is weak, and waits in treachery to break off before you can pull the leaves off. It may be in line with the deer. Parsley. Useful in any number of dishes, especially the Italian dishes. Sage. The wisest of herbs. Not really true, of course. Sage is actually just clever at marketing, in order to get the plum job as Advisor to the King. Very few kings hire herbs for advice, and modern bureaucracies have made flora-based wisdom transfer redundant. Still, well worth eating. Inverted Tomato Planter. Okay, technically not a plant. My whole parallel structure has been broken with this item, but it's the end of the list, and I kind of messed it up with the Genovese basil in any case. Right. So this planter contains four tomato plants, three kinds of chiles, and another sage plant. What? Well, we had signed a contract already, so I figured I might as well keep it around. Maybe it would say something wise from time to time. But be warned: don't sign the contract without a good exit clause. They can't really speak, so their advice is very, very cryptic.
I made a vegetable soup yesterday, and it's tasty, so I'll share. No, not as a recipe, at least not yet. A vegetable soup is a pretty simple thing, as long as you follow some basic principles. There are two major parts to the soup: the liquids and the solids. Liquids should be about 75% vegetable broth or stock. You can use chicken broth/stock if you want, but the vegetable broth is tasty enough on its own. If you have lots of chicken broth around, it won't hurt the soup by any means, though it will make any vegetarians you might want to share with unhappy. There should be some tomato juices (see below), and the rest water. You do stock all the way instead of water, but it's not really necessary. However, please please please use low-sodium broth/stock. Otherwise you are doomed. Doomed! Well, at the very least you'll have little control over the saltiness of the soup, and that's pretty close to doom in my book. The second part of the vegetable soup are the solid vegetables. By and large, you are free to pick whatever you want for your soup. I recommend anything that you like, really, and nothing you don't. The only thing you should be sure to include, in my opinion, are tomatoes. Canned, whole tomatoes, unless it's tomato season and you have a good supplier, or maybe if the Flavr-Savr Tomatoes are available in your area, you could use those. I haven't seen them, and we can talk Genetically Modified food at another time, but I'm curious how they taste. I use about 2 cans of tomatoes, and their juice, and I chop the tomatoes to bite-sized chunks. Some people take the seeds out, because they're supposed to be bitter, but it's not something that hurt my soup. For the rest of the vegetables, I recommend broiling them in the oven if you have time, enough to get some browning going on. Chop the vegetables up into bite-sided chunks, throw some olive oil and salt over them, and broil them until they look tastier. Then you have to divvy up your vegetables into easily cooked and hardy vegetables. Corn and squashes are easily cooked, meaning that if they're roasted, they're probably pretty close to being as done as they should be, and will disintegrate if you cook them much longer. The rest, like broccoli, onion, carrots, and so on are hardy, so they can be cooked longer. Okay, really you want to divide the veggies up before you roast them, because it would be a pain to do after. To assemble the soup, you start by sweating a mirepoix, or combination of onions, celery, and carrots, in your soup pot for 10 minutes. It's a sweat, so do this over low heat, and salt it at the beginning so it'll draw out some juices. Once that's done (the onions will start going translucent), thow in your liquids, to about the halfway point of your soup pot. Bring to a simmer, then throw in your hearty vegetables, bring to a simmer again, and let that go about its simmering for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then put in your easily cooked vegetables, do a little more simmering to heat, and you're done. If you'd like, go ahead and use an immersion blender to chop things up a bit, but make sure there are plenty of good chunks still. Throughout the process from adding stock on, occasionally taste the mixture and add salt and pepper as desired. The salt level and quality of your ingredients will make or break your soup, so make sure your stock/broth is good, your vegetables are fresh and tasty, and that you put enough salt in to bring out the flavors (but don't make it taste salty, otherwise you could have just used the salty broth and/or stock).
Here's a nice how-to on making a inverted indoor hanging pot for tomatoes and other vine vegetables. Looks cool, though not what I need for my stuff. I would like to get a nice inverted tomato pot (or five) for the outdoors, 'cause fresh tomatoes are so worth the effort. Well, the effort I put in last year. I don't see world-class tomato growing as part of my future skillset.