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The Survivor

4 Oct

Do you remember way back in the balmy month of May, with much excitement, I announced the planting of my little fire escape container garden?

Happier Times

There were tomatoes and radishes and herbs and peppers and even strawberries, all tucked neatly into little containers, basking happily in the dappled Brooklyn sun.

Well, I hate to say it, but it’s been a dramatic summer and there were few survivors.

First there was summer’s refusal to get started. The plants wanted heat, but there wasn’t any. Then there was the tornado which uprooted a few and harmed many. Then there was the rain that kept beating my seedlings into pulp. And finally, there were the squirrels; those dumb, stupid baby squirrels who feel that my planters are the perfect place to hide all their bounty that I am positive they will never remember.

Tomatoes? Gone. The radishes and herbs? KOed by the weather. The strawberries managed to give me two really cute berries, and that was all. They were then hit by the double header of tornado and squirrels. As you can see, it wasn’t only this guy who had a rough summer of farming in Brooklyn!

Strawberries

But you’ll notice I haven’t said a thing about the peppers. Well, that’s because they survived! I feared for them. They were the hardest hit by the tornado. All six plants were torqued out by the wind into a very neat spiral and had many broken leaves and stems. So I gently gathered them up and tied them together and hoped that would be enough. It was. They kept growing, but wouldn’t flower.

Then we started making cheese. One of the recipes noted that leftover whey makes great plant food. So after our first cheesemaking foray I let the whey cool and then fed the peppers. I could almost hear them cheering! The next morning they looked so perky and happy, and then just a day or two later the first blossom bloomed. And then another day or two later, we had our first pepper, a Portugese hot.

Portugese Hot Pepper

This weekend, with prospects for at least another half-dozen peppers, the Boy and I decided it was time to harvest our first Brooklyn-grown produce. But it needed a proper end.

I recently bought Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, the follow up, decades in the making, to her first book, and possibly my favorite cook book of all time. It has many of the same recipes as the book from the ’70s, updated and adapted for the modern home cook, plus hundreds of new ones. In one meal Ms. Roden made me think of this book as essential. She is genius.*

Portugese Hot Pepper

Over a year ago the Boy had printed out a recipe for Shakshuka from the Times and brought it home to me. When he does this, I know he really wants to try whatever it is, and that it’s probably something I might not be so fond of. Something about that recipe rubbed me the wrong way. It was so fussy and long and complicated. I kept hiding it and hoping he’d forget about it. But no.

I had said I wanted to make something with tomatoes. Shakshuka he said! I whimpered something about not being in the mood. I wanted a place to properly use my one pepper. Shakshuka he said! I mumbled something about it being too complicated. I wanted to coddle the beautiful free range eggs I’d picked up earlier in the week. Shakshuka he said! I murmured something about the pepper getting lost in all those flavors.

And then, finally, we were at the greenmarket, my patience was wearing very, very thin and there, at one of the stands were the world’s largest bell peppers and I agreed. Shakshouka I sighed.

Shakshouka

Something was niggling at the back of my head. Hadn’t I seen a recipe in The New Book for shakshouka that looked really simple and clean and easy? Yes, I had. And so, this is where our brave little pepper ended his life, in a warm, molten, silky, sweet and spicy tangle of tomatoes and eggs. A fitting end? Incredibly so.

I paired the shakshouka with a Tunisian salad, supposed to be served cold, of mashed potatoes, shatta and capers that I served warm, and pomegranate and curry lamb sausages.

The tiniest whisper of spice from the sausage melded perfectly with the rest of the meal. Both dishes, though intensely flavorful and at least a little spicy, were devoid of any high seasoning. The light cinnamon aroma was the element that transformed the disparate elements and elevated them into a meal. It was delightful.

Shakshouka, Mashed Potatoes with Capers & Pomegranate/Curry Lamb Sausages

And so we sat and munched and oohed and aahed and discussed next years garden. First, I’ll start the seedlings inside. Second, I’m going to make sure my plants and dirt come from organic sources. Third, I will buy containers that are too high for squirrels to clamber into. Fourth, chicken wire will go over everything. Fifth, pray to god there are no more tornadoes!

*As an aside, did everyone read the profile the New Yorker did on Ms. Roden in the food issue? They’ve only got an abstract, a sidebar and some recipes online now, so it’s worth trying to track it down. It made me, even more, want to fly to London and hang out with her. I cannot wait for her volume on Spain to be published!

Head below the jump for the recipes for Claudia Roden’s Shakshouka and Slatit Batata Marfusa.

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