Posts tagged “gardening

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

Posted on June 24, 2015

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

I grow a lot of eggplant this time of year.

It’s overwhelming really.

Because eggplant isn’t for everyone.

Or at least it isn’t for everyone in my household. [Ed. note: Unless I trick them into eating it.]

I happen to love it.

But I’ve been looking for new things to do with it. One reason: I have a lot. The other: Our household has had to eliminate dairy and eggs from our diet at least for the near term. So one of my many summer projects involves figuring out how to do this. It’s a little more complicated than I had imagined, but we’re muddling through it.

For now, that means no cheese with my evening glass of wine. [Ed note: I also happen to love cheese.]

Some might feel defeatist about this, but I am not one of those folks. And fortunately, eggplant has stepped in to fill this so-called cocktail hour snack void. One of my favorite French food writers, Clotilde Dusoulier, has a wonderful recipe for Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar in her The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian KitchenIt’s a great, savory spread for crackers or flatbread, and Dusoulier says you can even use it in sandwiches or scooped over a bowl of rice.

I am thinking about cheese a little bit less these days, thanks in part to this tangy treat.

Eggplant and Black Olive Caviar

from Clotilde Dusoulier’s The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from my Parisian Kitchen


2 lbs small eggplants

2 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers (I used a couple more than this)

12 brine-cured black olives, pitted

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

fine sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

hot sauce


1. Roast the eggplants a few hours in advance or the day before. Use a knife to pierce three or four slits in each eggplant and slip the garlic slivers into the slits. I had trouble doing this, so I roasted the eggplant without the garlic slivers and it still turned out fine.

2. Place the whole eggplants on a lightly oiled baking sheet and insert in a cold oven. Turn oven to 400 degrees and roast the eggplants, flipping them halfway through, until completely soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Set aside to cool completely. If roasting the day before, put the eggplants in an airtight container and refrigerate.

3. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and scoop out the flesh and garlic cloves with a spoon to get as much flesh as possible. It’s okay if a little of the skin comes with it. Put the eggplant and garlic in a food processor or blender.

4. Add the olives, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, a pinch of salt, a good grind of black pepper and a dash (or two) of hot sauce. Process until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Your end result should look something like this (crackers and rose not included):

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers


Click here for other eggplant recipes from NYT Cooking.

The Constant Gardener

Posted on May 21, 2014



Garden update: I don’t want to jinx anything, but my tomato plants were getting pretty heavy with fruit. So, as much as I love vine ripe tomatoes, I harvested some and have them ripening in the kitchen window.  Pictured above: Half my haul. And also? A cayenne pepper. There’s plenty more where this came from.

Again…not to jinx anything.



Another dispatch from the “not to jinx anything” department: The season’s first squash blossom. In my previous house, I tried to grow summer  squash, but never made it very far because of this strange wilt disease that hollows out the stems of the plant and leaves a fungus on the leaves. Once that happens, you can kiss the whole plant goodbye. I saw the first signs of this menace yesterday and treated it with Neem Oil. So I’m hoping that does the trick. Knock wood. If you have any tips on how to foolproof ways to keep wilt disease at bay, please let me know in comments.

cantaloupeThere’s a similar wilt disease that attacks cantaloupes. But I’ve been working hard to prevent it, too. I have three cantaloupe plants growing along the garden fence and two more that I’ve tried to start from seed. I’m hoping that I’ll have nice, honey-sweet melons within the next couple of months.



Although that same stinking wilt disease attacks cucumbers, I’ve had far more success growing these in the past. As much as I love fresh tomatoes, I have to say that nothing beats a freshly picked cucumber in the summer months. I’ve got three varieties growing in my garden now: a seedless, snack-sized variety; a larger variety known as a Marketmore; and a long green improved cucumber from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. In the background, you can see organic pellets for fighting off red ants. This is the second time I’ve been under siege in the past month. Those little you-know-whats need to find another vegetable garden to invade.



And finally: eggplant. I am the only one in the house who will eat these willingly. That’s fine with me.


A Spring Update

Posted on April 2, 2014

I just finished teaching a six-week class about the French for LSU’s Continuing Education. As a lifelong introvert, I knew it would be challenging (and exhausting) for me to stand in front of a group of people for a couple of hours each week, even though I’d be telling them stories about a topic that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. But as I’ve said before, I really wanted to get better and less fearful about speaking to groups this year, no matter how bumpy and ugly that road to “better and less fearful” was. And I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better and kinder group of people a. to teach and b. to learn from as I figured out how to get my sea legs in a classroom setting. Two weeks into the class, I seriously considered bidding teaching adieu after this class was done. Now, I know I’ll give it another shot in the fall. I am pretty excited about that and will be submitting a new class description to the curriculum committee in the coming weeks.

What does all of that have to do with a picture of green beans and a trellis? Well, I had to plant the seed in my head that teaching was something I could do, in whatever imperfect way. Now that I have done that, and haven’t managed to kill anything (or, heaven forbid, anyone) the next step is to encourage this little plant to go forth and prosper in whatever way it knows how. Right now, my teaching and writing seem to cross-pollinate each other nicely, so I don’t want to mess with what seems to be a good thing.

Knock wood.

After my last class on Monday morning, I finished revising a major project, before turning my attention to the vegetable garden I started a month and a half ago. That’s where you can find the above haricots verts, as well as some potatoes and kale, eggplant, wild garlic, asparagus, Vidalia onions, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries, among other things. We’ve had to fence off the space so Murray the rapidly growing office dog doesn’t dig it all up. And as I got to thinking about it, I started hatching some evil plans to add some fruit bushes and other things along the inside of the fence to maximize my gardening haul. My friend Karen told me recently that gardening is such a hopeful activity. I had never really looked at it that way due to my long history of killing plants. But now that I’ve had a couple of years of successes with a vegetable plot of some sort (not to mention some successes in other areas of my life), I suppose I’m willing to see how, yes, it is hopeful, and I am hopeful too. I have good reason to be.

So I’ll be sharing news and views from my garden in the coming weeks, as well as pictures of what I do with this stuff once it’s picked.

But tomorrow? I’ll put a decadent twist on a popular French snack cake.

Questions? Comments? Story suggestions? Don’t hesitate to let me know what’s on your mind in comments, or by shooting me a message on my contact page.





Work Bench

Posted on October 30, 2012


Everyone needs a quiet place to work, whether it’s a comfortable room full of books and just the right music, or this handy work bench that’s tucked away in a shady spot. The bench has a shelf below the tabletop that’s perfect for storing clay pots, assorted bags of dirt and random gardening doo-dads.  The tabletop itself is just the right height for jotting notes in a gardening journal, starting seeds, and scheming next steps for one’s little backyard plot.

Today’s lesson from my neatly arranged square foot oasis: Knowing when to hold ’em, and knowing when to fold ’em. For all the good intentions, for all the elbow grease, for all the pretty pictures you take of this or that plant that seemed to flourish, things go wrong. Sometimes you can fix it with a nip here or a squirt of an organic spray there.  Sometimes you recognize that if you don’t yank that plant right down to its roots and soon, you could be in a lot of trouble. That’s where we are today: root yanking, knowing when we’re licked, quietly accepting that starting fresh is a must, scheming next steps.

Shrimp Caesar Salad

Posted on October 24, 2012

Yesterday, I showed you the Romaine lettuce that was growing in my garden.

Today, I’m going to show you what I did with that lettuce.

I made a Caesar salad with homemade dressing and grilled shrimp. Caesar salads were created by the Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini who, during a July 4, 1924 rush, wanted to create something great with the dwindling supplies at his San Diego, Calif. eatery. Using whole Romaine leaves, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pepper and croutons, Cardini tossed the ingredients together tableside to create what has become a staple on many restaurant menus today. Ever since Cardini famously made do with his ingredients-starved kitchen, cooks have put their own twist on his simple masterpiece, adding chicken, seafood and sometimes even steak to the mix.

Because I live in Louisiana, I decided to use grilled shrimp.

So here’s what I did:

1. With my youngster’s help, I picked a bunch of Romaine leaves from my garden. Pretty, no?IMAG07802. Then, I peeled and deveined about a pound of 20-25 count shrimp.IMAG07773. Once that messy work was done, I cracked open this lemon pepper marinade (which officially makes this the “Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee” part of this post).


4. Then I poured the marinade on the shrimp and put it in the refrigerator for about a half-hour or so.IMAG07795. At that point, I informed my husband that the shrimp were officially his problem and that he should grill them so I could concentrate on how not to kill us with the semi-raw egg part of this exercise. He followed my directions while I ripped the Romaine into bite size pieces and then boiled an egg for precisely one minute. After that minute, I set aside the egg and got to work building the base of the dressing.

6. The New York Times Cookbook says you should use a wooden salad bowl for this next step, but I did not follow directions. I went rogue and used a ceramic bowl. And into that bowl, I sprinkled salt (to taste), crushed one garlic clove, and then blended it all together with 1 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1 tablespoon of Meyer lemon juice and Tabasco sauce (to taste).


7. After that, I added 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the above mixture, stirring it rapidly until it was well-incorporated. Then I added the Romaine leaves to the mixture, as well as 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. I cracked the semi-cooked egg on top of that, tossed the ingredients together, and got this:


8. I topped the above with grilled shrimp and here’s how it looked:

IMAG0783The salad was crisp and fresh, the dressing was bright and tangy, the shrimp were subtly sweet with a hint of mesquite smoke. Cardini’s recipe may have been driven by a crush of hungry diners, but the result remains one of the delicious little accidents of culinary history.

Morning in the Garden of Good and Evil

Posted on October 2, 2012

I have morning routines that set me up for working through the rest of the day. Generally, I devote an hour to yoga or a walk each day, but I also throw in a bit of gardening for good measure. I started a backyard vegetable garden when I first moved to Louisiana two years ago and it has been the site of just as many glories (tender baby carrots, sweet leeks and sugar peas in Spring) as defeats (the wilt disease that gobbled up my cucumbers and squash this Summer). But I keep at it because a. there’s something wildly therapeutic about weeding (out with the bad so the good can flourish) and b. it’s a way to bring something good and positive into the world.

After my walk this morning, I checked in with my backyard plot, which has begun to sprout fall produce. Here are a couple of highlights:

tomatilloTomatillo: I saw these seeds over the summer and thought I’d try them, largely because they’re supposed to yield purple fruit when they’re ripe. Roasted, they should serve as the base for a good salsa that could include the onions (you can see them poking up in the background in this picture) and cilantro growing in other parts of this box. The authors of Latin Chic also have a great tomatillo salad dressing recipe that was a hit at a baby shower I once catered for a friend in Atlanta. So I have big plans for this crop and hope it continues to flourish.

wintersquashWinter squash: I wish I knew what type of squash this was. I bought a general winter squash seed packet that included butternut squash, acorn squash, and spaghetti squash seeds. But the seeds were all mixed up, so I’m not sure what I planted here or on the other side of my plot. It’ll be a surprise. I like surprises. I’ll either have something that will make a great soup (butternut), something that will be a healthy pasta substitute (spaghetti), or something that will be great roasted on its own (acorn).

okraOkra: This plant is almost tall and sturdy enough for my child to climb. It is also yielding a constant supply of pods that I’ve tossed into gumbos, fried in cornmeal, or packed in my kid’s lunch. The kid will eat raw okra, which is amazing to me, especially because it took me a while to acquire a taste for them. One thing I might try this fall: Pickling okra. Pickled okra make good stirrers in a Bloody Mary, after all.

blackeyedpeaBlack-eyed peas: I’ve tried and failed with a lot of different things in this box over the past two years. But I decided over the summer that as a self-respecting Southern gardener, I needed to plant black-eyed peas. I had no idea this plant would grow the way it did, exploding with yellow and white blooms that yield pods of sweet, fresh peas. In my house they don’t last long, but I’ll be stockpiling some for a black-eyed pea hummus.


Posted on June 5, 2012


Yesterday I battled cookies, both cyber and edible. I’ll write about my tangle with meringue later. Today, I’m writing about this little guy, pictured above. I turned my back on my vegetable garden for a day (because I was battling cyber cookies in a seemingly never-ending effort to upload my approved thesis to the university database) only to find that this little bugger had laid waste to one of my parsley plants. Rather than make the beast pay for its transgression, I ran inside, grabbed a plastic container and scissors and made a little home biology experiment for my youngster. After all, we grew and released an army of painted lady butterflies a few summers ago when we lived in Atlanta. Why not see what this little monster becomes too?


Once I captured our little friend (and a few bunches of withered parsley), I closed him up, punched little holes in the container’s lid and watched as he climbed up the side like this. That is where he has been since last night, when I Googled “caterpillars in South Louisiana” and discovered that he will not turn into an evil swamp creature that will devour us all, but a beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly.




Posted on April 19, 2012


I have to hand it to Instagram. Their camera function is pretty good, so good that I can see I need to weed this spot where my bean plants are beginning to sprout. Peas are sprouting too. So are two different varieties of cucumbers. Tomatoes are bursting on the vine. Bell peppers are beginning to emerge. Things are starting to get interesting in my backyard plot.

Knock wood.

Five years ago, I had the power to destroy any seed I planted. These are different times. When you take the time to tend to something, to really love it and nurture it, it grows and flourishes.

I’m not necessarily talking about beans, either…