Friday, September 16, 2011

Picking Peaches

Summer just isn't summer unless there's peach pie. But for the first time in my life, I actually got to pick the peaches that went into my annual summer fling. For some of you reading this, that may not seem like such a big deal because, well, picking fruit at various farms and orchards has been something you've done growing up, or that you've recently done with your kids. I've noticed that it seems to be the thing to do with your kids ever since I moved to Virginia. That, and picking strawberries, which I fully intend to do sometime.

Well, I've picked my fair share of apples from an old apple tree that grew in our big backyard of the house I grew up in. Mostly it was apples that had fallen to the ground already because the tree was so tall, but my family and I still ate them so it's as close to the real thing as you can get.

So my first time picking peaches was also Claire's first time as well, although she probably won't remember it much since she's still a little person. But she did get to ride in a red wagon at the orchard for the first time, letting out squeals of delight along the way. (See picture below.) My excitement was a little different. It was when I got to pick my first peach from the tree, when I realized how cool it was cool that peaches could grow on trees. It's just not a sight I see every day. A slow smile crept onto my face. Satisfaction.

So after Chris and I had picked a few pounds worth, we headed home while I contemplated what I would make with our bounty. I furiously researched peach recipes on my iPhone, finding some good ones at Whole Foods and on the AllRecipes app, and put out a call to my friends on Facebook for their ideas. I knew I wanted to make a peach pie and came across a fairly straightforward one at By the time we got home, I decided to make a peach salsa and the peach pie. Both turned out well, much to my delight, though I'm not sure which I enjoyed more - picking the peaches or eating them.

Claire taking her first wagon ride at the orchard.
Peach Salsa
(Courtesy of Chiles Peach Orchard)

3 large ripe peaches (for about 3 cups diced)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large ripe tomato (for about 1 cup diced)
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno pepper (for about 1 tablespoon minced)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (or less, depending on how much you like cilantro!)

Peel and pit the peaches, and cut them into roughly 1/4 inch dice. lace pieces into bowl, and squeeze the lime juice over the peaches and sprinkle on the sugar and salt. Stir to coat well.
Core the tomato, leave peel on, and cut into 1/4 inch dice. Add it to the bowl.

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Rinse and seed the jalapeno (might want to wear gloves), mince it finely and add to bowl. Rinse and dry cilantro, and mince finely. Add it to the bowl. Stir well. Taste for sweetness, add more sugar if necessary.

Classic Peach Pie (shown above) 
(Courtesy of The City Cook)'

6 to 8 large fresh peaches, peeled and sliced into thick, 3/4-inch slices, enough to produce 6 cups
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar (use a little more or less depending on how sweet your peaches)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits
Pastry dough for two-crust pie (I used Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts for simplicity's sake.)


Pre-heat the oven to 400° F. Prepare the pastry dough and roll into two 10-inch circles; reserve one circle and keep it refrigerated.

Line a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate with the other circle of pastry dough, leaving about 1-inch of dough along the rim.

In a large mixing bowl combine the sugar, cinnamon and flour, using a fork to blend together. Add the peeled and sliced peaches and lemon juice and stir gently to completely coat the peaches. Try not to do this step too far in advance of assembling the pie because you'll get too much juice.

Spoon the peaches into the prepared pie plate. If there are juices already in the bowl, leave them behind and don't add to the pie. Scatter with the pieces of cold butter.

Cover the pie with the second rolled-out crust. Carefully seal the edges by crimping it by hand or with a fork. Cut 4 steam vents in the top crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the crust is golden brown. If the edges start getting too dark before the pie is finished cooking, gently wrap strips of aluminum foil around the edges to protect them during the last minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and let cool completely -- at least an hour -- before cutting. Serve warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A week of 10 year anniversaries...

It's been a week of remembering events that happened 10 years ago, and my personal story is no different. While we were engulfed in the 9/11 tragedy, I was preparing to move to a different state, further away from home than I had ever lived. People that week repeatedly asked me why I would move to the Washington, DC, area from Pittsburgh, given the awful attacks. Yet I didn't feel unsafe. Unfortunately, there is no area in the world that is truly safe. I was excited to start a new phase of my life, yet, like everyone else in this country at the time, I was in a cloud of uncertainty about what would happen next.

Now, 10 years later on this very day, I've gone from driving my car packed with my belongings, my dad following behind driving the moving van, wondering where I would find work and how I would make new friends, to a day where I woke up next to my husband of 6 years in our home in Clarendon, with our 1-year-old daughter peacefully sleeping in the next room. It's such a wonderful contrast, it brings tears to my eyes as I type. God is good.

It's good to reflect on where we've been and how far we've come. We can see hope in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty. We can see love bloom where we didn't know it would grow. We can see that some dreams do come true. We can know for certain that there is redemption.

In honor of 10 years of living in Northern Virginia, I submit to you one of my new favorite recipes for a cuisine I didn't try until I moved here -- Indian food. It's not spicy, just savory and delicious. (I know many people who say they don't want to eat Indian food because it's too spicy. Not so here.)

So here's to trying new things, to future hopes and dreams, and to the next 10 years!

Chicken Tikka Masala
(Courtesy of Redbook)


From the pantry -
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. each garam masala, garlic puree, and minced fresh ginger
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained well
1 (15 oz) jar tikka masala cooking sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Fresh ingredients -
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Accompaniments -
cooked basmati rice with green peas - (follow cooking directions on the rice package, adding frozen peas while the rice boils)
Cucumber Raita  - optional - (see below for recipe)


1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken and cook 4 minutes, turning pieces as they brown (chicken will still be raw in middle); remove to a plate.

2. Add onion, garam masala, garlic, and ginger to skillet; saute 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes and saute 2 minutes longer.

3. Add tikka masala sauce and bring mixture to a boil; cover skillet and simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken to sauce and stir in coconut milk. Continue to simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through. Stir in cilantro. Serve over cooked basmati rice with green peas and Cucumber Raita.

Makes 6 servings.
Each serving: 278 cal, 15 g fat, 25 g protein, 10 g carb

Cucumber Raita: Coarsely grate 1/2 of a long seedless cucumber and squeeze out most of its water. Combine in a bowl with 1 cup thick Greek yogurt and 1/2 tsp. each salt, ground cumin, and dried mint. Makes 1 cup.