Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sunflower Season

August can be one of those unsung months of the year. Although the heat of summer is still very much present, the excitement associated with the start of the summer season has passed. Just the same, August brings uniquenesses of its own that mark the transition from summer to the beginnings of fall.

As August begins, the decrease in hours of daylight is becoming palpable. By the end of the month, the shortened hours of daylight are clearly evident. Although the daytime temperatures can still reach 90+ here in the Intermountain West, the mornings and evenings become cooler, a welcome transition after the peak heat that we experience in July. Another significant August transition is the subtle transition in the colors on the mountainsides. At the start of the month, the leaves are still the deep green of summer. As the month passes, some of the greens begin to lighten. By the end of the month, some very faint orange hues are present, heralding that the onset of fall is not far away.

One of my favorite sights during August is the preponderance of sunflowers that can be seen along the roadsides and in the wild; hence the title, Sunflower Season, for this posting. These flowers also are a marker of late summer and the transition to early fall. Because of the vacant lot behind our home, we have something of a backyard border of sunflowers. The goldfinches have been enjoying the seeds this season. On several occasions, we have disturbed a flock of them while passing by on an evening walk. A few weeks ago, some of the neighborhood girls set up sunflower stand. How could we resist?
The picture at the top of this posting is one of a sunflower table runner that I made last year and use during the months of August and September. It was a fun project that involved learning a "quilt as you go" technique as well as some handwork. Here is an up close image of one half of it that shows how the strips were attached as part of the "quilt as you go" process and then the appliqué shapes were added and hand embroidered.
As the seasons change, I am reminded of God's faithfulness in establishing the seasons and His promise that they will continue. As each of us experiences different seasons of life and challenges that may accompany them, we can rest assured in God's constancy and faithfulness. As Paul assures us about God's faithfulness,

If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13  

This period of changing seasons also supports reflection on God's promise to Noah after the flood and the assurance that:

While the earth remains, 
Seedtime and harvest, 
And cold and heat, 
And summer and winter, 
And day and night
Shall not cease. 
Genesis 8:22

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Summer Salads


One of my favorite aspects of summer cooking is trying new salad recipes. Living in the Intermountain West, we experience 90+ degree days on a regular basis from late June to mid-August. As such, I enjoy recipes that don't generate large quantities in heat in their preparation and result in dishes that can be served cool or at room temperature. I also enjoy recipes that allow me to include fresh vegetables and herbs from our garden. 

This summer, I have enjoyed making a roasted corn and edamame salad on several occasions. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with edamame, it is the term used to identify immature soybeans in the pod. The pods are often steamed and served with coarse ground salt. We have had them on several occasions as an appetizer at Asian restaurants, and they are quite delicious. You can buy edamame, either in the pods or shelled, in the frozen section of most grocery stores. The shelled edamame somewhat resemble lima beans. The picture to the right is of some prepared edamame pods.

From a historical perspective, the term edamame is Japanese in origin and first appeared in a document dating to 1275 in which a Japanese monk thanks a parishoner for a gift of edamame that was left at the temple. The term edamame also appeared in Japanese poetry dating to the 1600s. The term didn't appear in English until 1951, and first appeared in an English dictionary in 2003.

From a nutritional perspective, edamame are rich in carbohydrates, protein, dietary fiber, folates, manganese and vitamin K. The US Department of Agriculture describes edamame as a soybean that can be "eaten fresh" and is "best known as a snack." The USDA also describes edamame as a crop option that can help diversify farming options in western Kentucky in light of declining tobacco prices. While enjoying the health benefits of edamame, you can also help support the US agriculture industry and help decrease tobacco-related deaths.

Roasted Corn and Edamame Salad
12 ounce bag of frozen, shelled edamame
1 can of niblet corn (You can substitute 2 ears of corn and cut the kernels off.)
2 or 3 small onions (You can see from the picture that I used small yellow onions from my garden. You could also use a small bunch of green onions or a larger yellow onion that would give you roughly the same amount of onion.)
1 teaspoon of minced garlic (You can see from the picture that we like to buy the large jars of minced garlic because we end up using so much of it. One teaspoon is roughly the same amount as one clove.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2-3 chopped tomatoes (Because 2 of the 3 tomatoes I picked were rather small, I used a total of 3. Use enough tomatoes to yield approximately 1 cup of chopped tomatoes.)
Fresh basil leaves (I typically pick a small handful of basil leaves and then just chop them up finely. You also could used dried basil and season to taste.)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Set the oven to broil.

Combine the edamame, corn, onions, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. I typically just use the bowl I am planning to serve the salad in and then will return the ingredients to the bowl after roasting them.

Transfer the mixture to a large metal baking pan and roast for about 15 minutes. My reference recipe says to roast until the edamame start to turn brown. I haven't yet had mine turn brown, but I find that 15 minutes is about enough time to let the flavors start to meld together, allow the onion to cook a bit, and avoid having the corn dry out too much. After 15 minutes, remove from the oven and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Mixture on the baking sheet ready to go into the oven
When the mixture is cool, return it to the bowl. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and basil leaves. The picture below gives an idea as to how coarsely I prefer to chop them.
Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the vegetable mixture and toss together. Add any additional seasonings if you wish. This salad can be served either chilled or at room temperature.