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2008 « Foodie and the Everyman

Archive for 2008

A Little Wisdom And Grace

Admittedly it’s long overdue, considering that I visited this particular restaurant about 5 weeks ago, but as I’ve mentioned several times before, I’ve been super busy lately.

It was probably about 6 months ago I noticed that Grace restaurant had opened down the street from our house.  I was intrigued to go for a visit when I read about it on Sweetspot, but the Everyman wasn’t too keen at the time because their menu seemed devoid of things he would enjoy.  So, as I often do, I bided my time and waited for the menu to change enough to something he would fancy.

Flash forward 6 months later, and this is where he decided to take me for my “congratulations on the first week of your new job” dinner.  Grace is a beautiful, warm, homey space, covered with pictures of the owner’s grandmother (who it happens to be named after).  It was also quite a popular place on a Friday night, with quick and friendly service.  Based on the ambiance of the room alone I would be likely to return.  It gave off an overwhelming feeling of comfort.  If I’d been any more comfortable, I’d have to be wearing bunny slippers and my bathrobe I think.

But, on to the reason we’re all here; the food. First off, even though the menu offerings are outstanding, I have to knock the actual menu.  It has no discernible order, and actually makes trying to order a meal quite difficult.  I mean, if the waitress actually has to explain to you where certain items are meant as appetizers and others as mains, then your menu is obviously not well laid out.  Seriously.  It shouldn’t take 5 minutes to explain the mechanics of a menu (especially when none of that time is being used to discuss the actual food).  Anyhow, I’ll stop ranting now.  The menu design is bad.  Enough said.

The food more than makes up for it though.  I chose to order the pork charcuterie of the day, which turned out to be a porcini dusted pork belly on a parsnip puree.  It was absolutely outstanding.  I wished at the time that I knew more about cooking pork belly so that I could replicate that kind of texture and unctuousness at home.  The Everyman had ordered a French onion soup with Gruyere crostini, but being that he doesn’t eat a great deal of French onion soup (or seem to be much of a fan of it) he was a bit flummoxed by the overly hard crostini floating on his soup.  The flavors were definitely there, but -10 points for ease of use.

For mains the Everyman had a striploin with mushrooms, sunchoke and celeriac gratin, and some sauteed greens.  The Everyman was happy; if red meat or bacon are involved, he’s pretty easy to please.  I particularly enjoyed the bite of sunchoke and celeriac gratin that I stole off his plate while he wasn’t looking.  It reminded me of something similar we’d had at Eigensinn over the winter.  My main was a roasted pheasant with a chestnut and parsnip tart and some roasted brussels sprouts.  I’ll start out by saying that I’m not a fan of the parsnip at all, and yet, that night I enjoyed two dishes with parsnips components in them.  The tart was by far my favorite part of the plate, although the brussel sprouts were a close second.  As I’ve gotten older I find that I enjoy brussels sprouts more and more.  I even invented an amazing roasted brussels sprout and squash soup recently which I’ll post a recipe for at the end.  The pheasant was quite nice too, but there were sections of it that I wouldn’t eat because they were much too rare for my taste and frankly tasted weird.  But overall, the meal was entirely pleasant.

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Favorite New Foods Of 2008

Since I think it’s about to get nutty around here, what with the holidays and all, I thought I’d pre-preemptively post a year end wrap up before I go away to the cold, cold world that is Winnipeg.

So, without further adieu, let’s jump right into my favorite new foods of the year;

1- Beef Shortribs – As the Everyman succinctly reminded me the other day, until I tried them at Cowbell I never did much like the shortrib.  It’s true, but what a convert I am.  Now I must have them at least every 2 to 3 weeks or else I feel like I’ll go batty.  I even convinced the Everyman to prepare his version of something I saw on Brad Long’s Veritas menu; a grilled cheese and shortrib sandwich.  Heaven is a shortrib bounty.  It tastes almost exactly not like a hamburger, in grilled form.  Delicious.

2- Carpaccio – I always have loved raw fish, but this year was really when I finally turned on to raw meat.  I still can’t stomach tartare; it must be the egg that’s the problem.  And again, this transformation is primarily due to Cowbell and Brad Lamb.  I first had an amazing beef carpaccio at The PT Club which started my intrigue with the dish, and then fell completely in love once I tried a few variations at Cowbell over the summer.  I think we can safely say that my mantra for 2008 has become Eat. More. Meat.

3- Pork Belly – I’ll be honest.  I used to hate pork belly.  Really, really strongly hate it.  Then one night I had it at Globe Bistro with a couple of sea scallops and thought, hmmm, this is pretty darn good!  Then there was a low period where I hated it again after I had it at Treadwell (which I’d like to reiterate from my post on it is completely overrated).  But I persevered, and now I actually like it.  It’s rich for sure, but in small doses you just can’t beat it.  I even had some fun this year cooking with it at home; though I will say if you’re inclined to try that, good luck, it’s really hard to find in Toronto even at high quality butcher shops.

4- The Hamburger – OK, before anyone gets bent out of shape, let me clarify this.  I know hamburgers are not new and I have always enjoyed a good one (or cheeseburger for that matter).  What I am trying to say is this is the year that I became fully obsessed with all things relating to them.  I believe this can mostly be attributed to a little website I’ve mentioned before called A Hamburger Today.  My discovery of this internet treasure is directly proportional to how frequently I now consume and dream about the humble hamburger.  Mmmm, I could sure go for one of those right now.

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Oh, What I Wouldn’t Give For Real BBQ!

So, let me preface this by saying that I know it’s been way too long since I wrote my last post.  I’m still trying to acclimate myself to the ridiculous commute to my new job.  It’s about a 3 hour round trip every day, and it basically means I leave waaaaaaay too early and get home when it’s late.  And that it’s dark when I’m doing both too.

So, that being said, I have several reviews that have been pending since I took my hiatus between jobs.  I will say that I now feel that my trip to Chicago this summer has ruined BBQ for me forever.  Perhaps if we hadn’t gone to Fat Willy’s while we were there, I wouldn’t think that BBQ in Toronto is so sub par.  Who can say…

Phil’s Original BBQ was a place that the Everyman and I had always wanted to visit.  And then, we saw them do a Restaurant Makeover and my desire to eat there plummeted.  Even though the Restaurant Makeover chef seemed very pleased with the overall quality of the food, I still kind of felt that there was no good reason for a place that makes delicious food to do a show like that.  So for a long time we put our plans on the back burner and kind of forgot about Phil’s.

While I was off between jobs, the Everyman and I had a hankering for some good old fashioned barbecue.  We both realized that the closest we would probably be able to get to the nirvana that was Fat Willy’s was at Phil’s Original BBQ.  Off we went.

To be fair, we visited on a Friday afternoon for lunch, and the place was almost entirely empty.  During our visit there were only 2 other tables occupied, and just before we left a squad car arrived to pick up a take out order.  I must commend the service at Phil’s.  The waiter (who I assumed was a friend or relative of Phil’s wife) was so exceptionally friendly and fun that I still managed to have a wonderful time even though the food wasn’t first rate.

On Restaurant Makeover the one thing they could not stop talking about (aside from the BBQ) were some traditional Venezualan corn pancakes that Phil’s wife made.  I decided that these were worth a taste, and indeed they were.  At first they just seemed like a corn omelette filled with cheese, but the more I sampled, the more I fell in love with their fluffy sweetness.  When I was finished my plate I was sad that there wasn’t more.  I think Cachapas may be my favorite new ethnic delicacy.

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More To Come Soon!

Hello again internet foodies!

I realize it’s been almost a month since I last wrote, and I promise, I am getting to it soon.  Now that I’m getting into the swing of my new job I should be able to refocus my energies on updating the website more frequently.

Also, I will admit, I have been somewhat captivated over the last 2 weeks by a blog I came across by accident the other day.  It’s called A Hamburger Today and it is hosted/moderated by the folks at Serious Eats.  It’s a seriously good time.  You should definitely check it out some time, though their Canadian content is somewhat lacking, reading about a great burger is always worthwhile.

Anyhow, check back soon as I’m working on write-ups for 2 reviews as well as my impressions of this year’s Food and Wine Show.

Until next time…

A Change Would Do You Good

Hello, gentle foodie readers of the internest.

(Actually, most days I think that the only people who read this site are the Everyman and a few choice friends who know about it, but I am pretty much resigned to this being nothing more than an electronic diary of sorts)

I know it’s been far too long since I last wrote, but alot has gone on in the last 6 weeks or so.

Firstly, and most importantly, I took a big step recently and quit my day job of the last 7 years.  I am on my way to greener pastures and start my new journey in a few more days.  Preparing for this has obviously been occupying a great deal of my time lately.

Also, the Everyman and I just haven’t gone anywhere of note recently (other than the Cheese Boutique, which is not a restaurant and therefore not suitable for reviewing purposes, but you should go there anyway, post-haste).

And lastly, I don’t have anything exciting to write on the gardening front because I’ve officially cleaned up the garden for the year, and am depressed that there is no more gardening to do.  I migrated a few of my herbs and hot pepper plants indoors for the winter just so I’d have something to occupy my time until January or February when I start my seedlings in the basement.

So, all in all there is alot going on, and yet nothing at all.  It’s an interesting and tumultuous time here at Foodie and the Everyman.

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The Last Days Of Summer

Listening to the weather report this morning, I heard some of my least favorite words; patchy frost.  Summer is slipping through my fingers like so much slippery sand, and every day we get closer to my plants being unable to bring their growth to fruition.

This weekend marked the end of several things.  First we visited the community garden to see if there was anything worth harvesting.  I fully anticipated that there wouldn’t be any corn, but I expected tons of beets.  When we arrived we found that the beets had never made it out of their seeds.  The cornstalks were an epic fail, having grown only 3 feet tall.  While they did put out actual cobs of corn, none of them matured into anything edible.  The good news is that my 8 slices of seed potato (which worked out to 2 whole potatoes) blossomed into close to 10 pounds of new potatoes.  Also, the CG surprised me with a hearty harvest of carrots.  There were full heads of lettuce too just waiting to be harvested, but they were covered in slugs (or snails) and I wasn’t about to fight for them.

When we arrived back home I started harvesting beets and carrots from the roof pots.  With such a glut of carrots, I realized I should find a way to preserve them before they all went bad.  My fat Parmex carrots were canned plain, to enjoy in a dish some winter evening in the future.  The Little Fingers seemed the perfect size to use for an Alton Brown recipe I found online for something called ‘firecrackers’, a spicy carrot pickle.  The CG carrots are still sitting in a bowl on my table, waiting for me to be inspired.  My lovely Chioggia beets were supposed to be canned plain so I could enjoy their stripy beauty once the snow starts falling, but the universe had other plans.  It turns out that when you can stripy beets, the heat makes the stripes come out and all you’re left with is a weird white beet that sort of looks like a turnip.  Also, a huge bunch of beets can be reduced to next to nothing once you take off all the stems and peel and roots.  My bunch of 12 Chioggias yielded 1 250ml jar.  I had been expecting to have a huge harvest of beets from the CG to turn into pickled beets, so when that didn’t work out I still had the pickle fever and had to buy some instead.  After all of that I thought, good, I’m done preserving things for the year.  And then, stupid Mark Bittman seduced me.  I was looking for something to entertain myself online and happened across his NY Times blog.  And what did he have a video for, but a recipe for tomato jam.  I have been meaning to make tomato jam for several years now, but keep getting distracted.  So at 7pm last night I decided to go pick a few tomatoes in the rain, including one of the Greek Freaks just so I could make jam.

Now I really am done.

For the rest of the winter we have:

Jams in strawberry, strawberry pepper balsamic, strawberry vanilla, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and tomato (close to 30 jars total)

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Melancholy And The Infinite Sadness…

Sorry, Billy Corgan, I ripped you off; deal with it.

I’m in a very sad place today.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize that someone you look up to and respect is just as flawed and fucked up as you are?  Sometimes the things that comfort you in their normalcy end up slipping out from underneath and all that’s left is emptiness.  I know that probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to anyone but me.  Suffice it to say that a dear friend is going through a very rough time right now and the fact that their world is shaken up makes mine seem all the more tenuous as well.

They say that sometimes the weight of another’s troubles can be dispersed just by talking about them; I find that they actually doesn’t dissipate, they just gets transferred to the shoulders of the person you told them to.  When someone that you perceive to be a rock falters, it makes you wonder exactly how solid your own foundation might be.

I am so incredibly alone in Toronto.  I’ve lived here on and off for most of my life, but about 9 years ago the only close family I have up and moved to BC.  For a while I didn’t mind being on my own, but the older I’ve gotten, the lonlier it feels.  Around the time I was ready to leave and move to BC myself, fate dropped the Everyman in my lap.  It does have a way of fucking around with the best laid plans, doesn’t it?  There was a time when I thought maybe if I went he’d come with me; I now know how utterly idiotic that idea is.  You can’t solve your own problem by creating the same problem for someone else.  And there was a time when I used to think that the Everyman could be all the family I needed.  But the Everyman is a complicated person (and in the words of a stupid Friends episode; ‘one unlikely to take a wife’).  Most of the time he’s silent, and while he’s always here, he never seems present.  I love him so much but that doesn’t make up for the fact that I desperately miss my family.  Some days I think I would give anything just to see them all in the same room together.  Most days I realize how entirely unlikely it is that it would ever happen again.

Several days ago I awoke with a few words from The Farmer In The Dell inexplicably stuck in my head; the cheese stands alone.  Lately, I think I am the cheese, standing alone, waiting for someone who’ll never show up and care for me.

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Hail To The Greek (Freak, That Is…)

Yesterday was the big day.

I plucked the Greek Freak from the branches that it’s called home for the last two months.  It didn’t look like it was quite ready yet, as it still had a bit of orange around the top, but there were other areas that were starting to develop black spots, so it was then or never.  Overall, the whole roof is starting to wind down and I’m pretty sure that any unripe produce up there is going to be wasted before it has a chance to fully ripen, but here’s hoping I’m wrong.

For this momentous occasion, we changed our meal plan to accommodate the tomato.  The Everyman happens to love toasted tomato sandwiches from his childhood, so I whipped out the bread maker and set a quick loaf of white bread to bake.

An hour later the bread was steaming, the bacon was cooked, and the tomato was itching to be sliced.  I weighed it on my kitchen scale and was not surprised; it came in at 1 pound 4.5 ounces.  With a little slather of my homemade butter and some salt and pepper, the sandwich was ready to be eaten.

Oh, was it ever!  It was the perfect combination to showcase the absolutely amazing flavor of this delicious beast.  If I wasn’t a believer before, I certainly am now.  It was such a good sandwich that we each indulged in two.  The only thing that made it better was knowing that the other Greek Freak plant has 6 more tomatoes on it that are already turning red too, so more sandwiches are in store before the month is over.

[Delicious food sigh]

Enjoy the pictures of the scene before the carnage!

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This Is The End, My Only Friend, The End…

This time of year always depresses me slightly.

This morning I awoke to what I thought was the middle of the night, all quiet and inky-black.  Only, when I looked at the clock, it turned out that it was 5 am.  The days are already getting a little shorter, the mornings a little cooler.  Before you know it I’ll have to wear a jacket to leave the house, and retire my open toe shoes for another year.

I spent the first of (probably) many hours this weekend getting the garden ready for fall.  That meant cleaning up the dying plants, disposing of the spent dirt, and picking the fruit and vegetables that were ready before the frost.  The Greek Freak is starting to turn red, but every day we get closer to the inevitable frost that could easily take my plants before they are ready.  I had to pick Pruden’s before she reached her prime because her skin had split down the middle.  She certainly wasn’t prolific either, as she put all of her energy into that one tomato.  And my Montreal Melon fell off it’s stem when I picked it up to give it a sniff; so I guess I just lost my chance at an 18 pound melon…

I think that this time of year also distresses me because the garden is starting to die.  Soon, all the plants will be dead and gone, and I’ll have no idea what to do with all my spare time.  Rest, I guess.  Or dream of next year’s plants with my seed catalogue in hand.  Come January I’ll start planting my seeds indoors, but until then, I imagine it’s going to be really quiet in gardenworld.

Alas, sometimes I wish I was still at home, in a climate that allowed me to garden year-round.

Until next time…

The Big, Red Aftermath

Well, gentle readers of the internest, it has been almost 5 days since I threw down the gauntlet and decided to undertake the great tomato project.  And now, as I sit here at 7:30 pm on Thursday, I can say that it is finally over, and I emerged victorious.   No, really!

It started out simply enough, but, as with most of my best laid plans, it spiraled out of control into a massive undertaking quite quickly.  Originally I had just planned to can some homemade bruschetta; just enough to last through the winter, and it was going to be with my homegrown heirloom tomatoes.  Unfortunately, that was before I understood how there are specific chemical balances required in canning, and that you can’t just process whatever random recipe you feel like putting in a jar using a home canning setup.  At this point I thought to myself that if I was going to go to all that trouble, I might as well just do several things together anyway.

And this is how I ended up with close to 140 pounds of tomatoes littered on my kitchen and living room floor.  You see, I’d ordered two bushels from my friendly, neighborhood organic delivery guy, but he ended up bringing me forty pounds, thinking that I really couldn’t need that much.  And at the time, those tomatoes were hopelessly under-ripe and not ready for my canning.  So, that is how the Everyman and I ended up at Fiesta Farms on Monday, purchasing two huge bushels of tomatoes.

When I got home Monday night I set to work sorting and cleaning and coring and peeling tomatoes.  That night I canned half of the twenty four cup bruschetta recipe, and ten litre jars of whole crushed tomatoes.  I was probably on my feet from 6 pm until almost midnight and the floor was still entirely covered in tomatoes.  Oh calamity, what have I gotten myself into?

Tuesday morning saw me finish processing the rest of the jars of whole crushed tomatoes and head off to work with tomatoes on the brain.  When I returned home that evening I set to preparing the other half of the bruschetta recipe, and several trays of oven roasted tomatoes.  By the time I went to sleep that night the bruschetta was put to bed and the oven roasted were well on their way to being done too.

On Wednesday morning I awoke to find our house reeking like a pizzeria.  The oven roasted tomatoes had been cooking overnight, and were just about done.  If you are ever so inclined to make these, make sure that you plan accordingly, as it can take as little as 10 hours and as many as 14.  And I suggest that you do make these, because they are absolutely marvelous, like biting into a pizza without the dough.
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Holy Harvest, Batman!

You know, being that this is the first year I’ve really thrown myself into any sort of gardening, I can’t say whether this is what it is always like, or whether I just got lucky this year, but we’ve been experiencing some pretty sweet bounty lately.

About a week before we left for Chicago the tomatoes started coming in with increasing regularity.  We’re now at the point where I am able to harvest approximately a pint every day.  Since I am only growing heirloom varieties they don’t get very big, but we tend to prefer the juicier, sweeter cherry tomatoes anyway.  From currant to cherry and all sizes in between, our favorite way to enjoy them has been just plain in a bowl, popping them into our mouths like some weird, veggie popcorn.  When we inevitably start tiring of tomatoes then I doctor them into a salad with fresh herbs and balsamic, but that’s pretty much where I draw the line at changing the flavor of these amazing beauties.

All season long I’ve been trying my hand at putting up various fruits and vegetables (jams and pickles) from the farmer’s market too, but today marks the beginning of my most ambitious project to date.  I’ve ordered 2 bushels of roma tomatoes from my local organic delivery service which I plan to transform into canned bruschetta, italian-style tomato sauce, whole crushed and oven-roasted tomatoes.  Reading through all the recipes I expect that the next 48 hours will be exhausting, but will be so worth it 6 months from now when all that is available are those gross, pinkish winter tomatoes at the supermarket.  Then I shall laugh in the faces of the fools who didn’t want to spend the time preserving as I did, while they eat their crappy, grocery store tomatoes shipped in from Mexico.  Oh yeah, did I mention I’ll be enjoying delicious, fresh bruschetta in February 2009?

I spent most of yesterday afternoon barbecuing the baker’s dozen of corn cobs I purchased at the market on Thursday.  These sweet little niblets of sunshine were shorn from their cobs and individually quick frozen for use later this year.  A few of them also made their way into a roasted corn and sweet pepper salsa I made too.  The Everyman seemed to really enjoy that with our dinner last night, because you could never quite tell which bites had the chopped up jalapenos in it until it was too late.  Perhaps you’d like to try it some time too:

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The Billy(Goat) Kid

It’s been a tough week in the personal lives of the Everyman and I.

Suffice it to say that I won’t be going into it here, but we both realized that we were disillusioned about a major aspect of our lives.  And we’ve decided that adjustments and corrections must be made.

In trying to end the week on a more positive note, I’d offered to take the Everyman to his favorite restaurant for dinner, Cowbell.  The first time I offered he was too down to accept, but the second time he decided he was game.  So, to Parkdale we would go…

I must agree, Cowbell is probably one of my favorite Toronto restaurants too.  Mark Cutrara just gets it.  He’s local and seasonal without being gimmicky.  And, he’s clearly respectful of all the animals that he serves, since he’s made a business model of wasting as little of them as possible.  It doesn’t hurt that I could call on a Friday night (not being a notable VIP either) and still get a seating in the busy restaurant either.

We started with a cold duck consomme with corn and watercress, and beef carpaccio with a roasted tomato puree.  We had intended to enjoy half of each dish and then switch, but the Everyman liked the consomme so much that he didn’t want to give it up.  I had a few spoons, and it was amazing, with just a clean, pure essence of duck and corn.  The carpaccio was spectacular too, but every time I have ordered it there it has been.  The Everyman’s verdict; “It’s just so GOOD” followed by a claim this afternoon that he could’ve had that consomme for breakfast this morning.

For the main course the Everyman had a Cowbell burger, which was essentially the same as the last time he had it, except that this time it featured back bacon instead of pork belly.  The Everyman is not usually a fan of back bacon, but the burger was to die for, especially with the sharp, aged cheddar.  I probably stole half of the fries on his plate and could not quite put a finger to the source of their deliciousness.  While I was enjoying my meal, a plate of three cuts of pork, braised belly, jowl and cotechino sausage with fennel kimchee, chef Mark happened to walk through the dining room to survey all that had come to worship him that night.  The Everyman’s eyes were following him around the room, so I playfully suggested that he might have a man-crush on Cutrara.  To which the Everyman responded that he did, because as he put it, “Mark happens to be very good at something that is very near and dear to many men’s hearts… meat”.  High praise for the chef indeed.  I thoroughly enjoyed my entree, especially the pork belly, which melted from the heat of my tongue.  The cotechino was a surprise hit too, with it’s mixture or pork rinds and ground pork meat and spices.

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The Secret Lives Of Garden Things…

I must admit, I’ve been very bad at chronicling my garden progress this month.

Here we are, almost two thirds through August already and I haven’t even written one post about what is going on up there.

Well, I apologize.  I have several excuses, but both are pretty lame.  Firstly, I’ve been sick since we returned to Chicago, and secondly the hard drive on my laptop died, so I lost all of my stuff and was sort of dejected about it for a while.

Now I realize that it’s time to move on.  In the spirit of that, let’s recap…

Starting in my favorite part of the garden - the tomatoes are quite robust now.  The one thing I will say for heirloom varieties is that although they are extremely delicious, the fruit do not seem to get as big as your average grocery or farmer’s market variety.  This has been puzzling me a bit because I have been giving my plants a steady diet of organic fertilizers since I started in April.  Every other day or so I am able to harvest about a pint’s worth of tomatoes, from cherry and currant-sized to what passes for full grown and pear-shaped.  As of this morning I noticed that one of my Black Zebra plants has officially died, so tonight I will attempt to dig it out to give the others room to grow.  Two other plants (Pruden’s the purple tomato and the strange Greek hybrid from my S-I-L) have yet to achieve their full potential, though both are full of large, beefsteaky tomatoes that are still maddeningly green.  Maybe some day soon I’ll wake up and find a nice red one to eat.  Our favorite overall plant has been the Red Currant, closely followed by the Green Zebra and Garden Peach.  The White Queen was a bit of a disappointment because it had a sort of mealy texture that I didn’t much enjoy.  I really liked the Black Zebra but wished it had been more prolific.  The Black Cherry was amazing, and the Blondkopfchen tasted like eggs.  I’ve decided that next year I’ll need twice as many plants, but will most likely only grow half of the varieties I tried this year.

On the pepper front, we’ve had about three full size Purple Beauty peppers so far, and the Chocolate Beauty peppers are maturing, but not yet brown.  The Chinese 5 Color plant has now moved on from purple to red and yellow – it really is quite pretty and I’ll have to post a picture some time soon.

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