More Ways to Hide, Err, Eat Eggplant

As I’ve said before, I love eggplant. That’s why I planted six plants in my garden. What the fuck was I thinking?

I love eggplant, but my family? Not so much. Is this a female thing? My latest bloglove, The Girls Guide to Guns and Butter has the selfsame issue. She posted a wonderful looking recipe for easy moussaka recently, which I haven’t yet tried. I’m still busy trying to hide my eggplant, and subsequently force my family to eat it.

Because even though two of the plants didn’t make it, the remaining four are an endless waterfall of purple fruit. I go to my garden once a week lately (to my surprise, I’ve found that the thick leaf mulch on my garden, combined with the well established plants means I don’t need to water. At all. I haven’t watered in months. I barely have to weed because of my initial kick ass soil preparation and again, the mulch.) All I do is pop over to harvest. Every week a heaving bag full of eggplant and red marconi peppers. Neither of which anyone but me likes to eat.

Fortunately, although cohesive pieces of eggplant are entirely disagreeable to those who don’t like it, I’m finding it is easy to hide. It has little flavor of it’s own, and melts right into other foods if you cook it long enough. Last night I made a tomato (and red pepper) sauce with some roast chicken thrown in, and a heap of leftover grilled eggplant, which completely disappeared into the sauce. Even I couldn’t tell it was there. I served the sauce over gnocchi (which sounds fancy, but is actually the world’s easiest homemade pasta and it uses up leftover potatoes!)

Several weeks ago I blended up some fresh eggplant and added it into a batch of meatballs. I used the food processor to finely chop it and thoroughly squeezed the resulting mince over a fine mesh strainer to drain off the copious amount of juice (! Who knew those dry spongey seeming things had so much water?)

it turned brown almost immediately, but for adding it to meatballs, who cares?

Then I added it to my usual meatball recipe. I used 2 full cups of it to a mere pound and a half of meat (meaning the “meat”balls were 1/3 eggplant), along with the usual egg and breadcrumbs.

No one noticed.

For myself, I made Paula Wolffert’s fabulous pate. The recipe calls it a ‘dip,’ but I remember from the book that she scooped it into a (flexible) container and chilled it, after which you can un-mold it and slice it, just like real pate. What a treat!

Eggplant’s also good for quicky mama lunches like this one.

Don’t forget that eggplant lasagna! That was a winner I I will surely make again. Also on my list (most definitely for myself) is caponata.

What are your favorite things to do with eggplant? Do you serve it front and center, or do you have to hide it too?

The Good, the Bad, the Chocolate

Since I’m using you all as a lifesaving device during this tight spot, I carry you with me throughout my day. It’s true. Sad, perhaps. Modern, for certain. The little virtual angels on my shoulder, encouraging me to take heart, go forth and do good things. Or lock myself in the bathroom and ball my eyes out, depending on the situation.

I kept my camera at hand yesterday, and thought I’d share with you some high points and low.

We had breakfast with a friend (thank you!) and then rode over to the community garden to water. It’s officially summer here. Hot. Time to water every other day. And the harvests are rolling in. More chard. Even with the trickiest muffin recipe ever, I still didn’t manage to use up all the stalks from the last bunch. Into the compost. Enter the new beauties.

The carrots are sizing up, just in the nick of time. I do so adore garden carrots– for taste, and even just for looking at. Gorgeous.

My garlic on the other hand is meeting the same sad fate my onions met last month. I don’t understand this. I planted both last fall, they grew fantastically all winter, thick as leeks some of them. I was counting my chickens, certain I would be getting huge bulbs. Then the onions started to die off. Sweet! I thought at first, the bulbs must be about ready. But no, nothing down there. I kept waiting, thinking maybe this was a normal part of the process. My local garden guru doesn’t do onions, so had no advice for me.

Soon they just flat out were rotting. I pulled what was left, peeled off the rotten layers and got some decent green onions at least. When the formerly verdant green garlic started to lose it’s luster, I didn’t wait so long. I gave them a little time, with a kernal of hope. Then I started pulling them. Same deal, dying and starting to rot from the outside in, but no bulbs.

Boo hoo! I am crushed! This time, I’m eatin’ those suckers before the rot really sets in.

Last week we were gone, so I didn’t get a chance to harvest salad greens, and of course this week it was just out of control.

Am I the only one who can’t get the salad greens thing figured out? It’s always feast or famine. Especially the lettuces. This mix has precious little lettuce in it, and hey, I like me some spice, but pure chicory and arugula makes for a burly salad. Especially when you’ve let the leaves get so big.

Here’s my tactic for large quantities of greens. Wash, drain, dump into a pillow case. Drain more into the tub, then go out in the yard and wing that MF like a helicopter. Then just store in the fridge as is. This lets some of that extra moisture wick out into the fridge’s dry air. When the pillow case starts to feel dry, in a day or two, put the lot into a garbage bag. Don’t forget that part, it won’t last long in the cloth before it starts to dry out too much.

I had to clean out my fridge to accommodate the new batch of garden lovelies. Time to get cookin! I made stir fried rice with carrots, garlic greens and chard stems for dinner. (That’s some beet and cabbage sauerkraut on the left there from last month’s big cabbage harvest. Gotta love that color, right?)

Of course, my day wasn’t all playing with vegetables. In fact, the 1YO who fell perfectly asleep in the bike trailer on the way home from the garden, didn’t transfer. He woke up when I tried to put him in his crib, and once he’s gotten more that 2 minutes of sleep he thinks he’s done napping.

It was a rough afternoon.

There were some sweetnesses–

Some mama guilt (yes, that’s an iPad, and yes, I’m embarrassed)–

And plenty of messes, on every available surface–

Including (no picture here, you lucky devils) the 3YO peeing in a box of unpacked clothes, and subsequent cussing by yours truly. I tried to at least keep the F word out of it.

Fortunately, I made up a batch of mama treats last week. It’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve. This easier-than-pie recipe stretches that expensive fair trade chocolate nicely. And doesn’t require a hot oven.

Gotta keep these in the fridge in this climate. I prefer a camo container, such as this Nancy’s yogurt tub. Keep your secret secret.

Bouquet of Choice, and a Recipe for Chard Muffins

Forget the flowers. To get me weak in the knees, give me a luscious bunch of orange and fuschia chard.

Swiss chard (silverbeet for some of you) is good eating, don’t get me wrong. But damn is it fine to look at! Those Rubenesque stems in every color imaginable. Those enormous succulent dark green wrinkled velvet leaves. Oh my!

I like Orange Fantasia and Pink Lipstick. I mean, in varieties of chard. The only problem with chard is that the prettiest varieties are the ones with mammoth stems, and the 36-24-36 proportions that look so heady on the plant never seem quite right in the kitchen. So little leaf, so much stem. So few ideas how to use those stems…

And that chard, true to it’s lascivious proportions, keeps on putting out! Every trip to the garden lately finds me returning with a 10 pound bouquet.

Enter my latest, and possibly best to date, recipe brainchild. Unlike that last recipe for empanadas, this is easy! Quick! Nutritious! And extremely tasty! Dare I say, these muffins do a better housewife make….

Now, understand that I do not mean savory, cheesy chard muffins, which would be delicious in their own right. I mean sweet chard muffins. Like carrot cake or zucchini bread. I’m not the first person to think of vegetables going sweet, but I’ve never heard of a sweet greens recipes before. Have any of you?

I first got the fire under my kettle for Swiss chard muffins a few weeks ago. I don’t remember how or why, but suddenly I found myself thinking, ‘chard stems—rhubarb… chard greens—sorrel pudding (Icelandic)… zucchini bread… chard muffins!’ and I knew I had to try it.

I did almost chicken-out at the last minute and go the savory direction. But fortunately for all of us, and generations to come, I powered through the second-guessing and gave it a go. What’ve I got to lose anyway?

There is an ever so slightly mineral, beety flavor to these which could potentially put picky people off, but it’s very, very slight. I can almost guarantee that if you like zucchini bread you’ll like these. I personally found that the barely detectable mineral flavor gave the sweetness complexity.

If you wash your chard, be sure to dry it thoroughly before adding it, or it will make the batter too wet. You can use both stems and leaves, or just the stems. I’ve tried both and couldn’t really taste the difference. But if you have little people who might be offended by green specks, leave them out. Plus, isn’t it nice to have a way to use up all that extra stem?

Slice the stems very thinly, almost shredding them. If the ribs are very wide, cut in half lengthwise first.

This recipe makes one dozen. When I make muffins lately I like to bake off half in my little six cup tin in the toaster oven. Then I line another muffin tin with paper liners, fill and freeze the rest. Cook’s Illustrated turned me on to this. Muffin batter freezes great, and you can bake them off straight from the freezer! Who knew? Muffins, especially the whole grain variety, are so much better freshly baked. Now you don’t have to eat them any other way! The frozen muffins only take an extra 10 minutes or so to bake.

Unlike those pesky empanadas, this is a great recipe for cooks of any skill level!

CJ’s Best Brain Child

  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup white all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon each salt, baking powder, baking soda, powdered ginger and cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg and allspice*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 cups firmly-packed shredded chard stems and leaves, or just stems
  • 1/2-1 cup walnuts, optional of course
  • apx 2 Tablespoons water

*If you don’t have all those particular spices, use whatever you have. Or use pumpkin pie spice, which is really a great mix. As long as your spices are reasonably fresh (I mean, less than 2 years old) it’ll be good.

Preheat oven to 425 F. Starting out at a high heat helps make the lovely domed tops that whole grain muffins often lack.

Mix all dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Crack in the eggs, pour in the fats, chard and nuts, and gently fold/stir the lot together. An advantage of whole wheat pastry flour is you really don’t have to worry about overworking the batter.

When everything is mostly incorporated, drizzle on the water and keep folding until you have a very thick but workable batter. You might not need both tablespoons of water.

Scoop into well buttered or paper lined tins. Fill each cup completely, the old advice of 2/3 full might work for white flour muffins, but it doesn’t work for wheat.

Put into your preheated oven and leave for ten minutes or so until the edges have set, then lower the temperature to 375 F. Leave another 5-15 minutes. Muffins are done when you can press your finger lightly into the top and feel the spring back of a squishy muffin, instead of the give of puffed raw batter. If you aren’t certain, stick a butter knife into the center muffin. It should come out clean, wet crumbs maybe, but no batter clinging.

Allow muffins to rest in pan for ten minutes, then carefully remove to a rack to cool.

Or bounce hot muffins back and forth between your fingers, jumping up and down yipping like a coyote. If you want to make your kidlets laugh.

Of Green Tomatoes and Turkey Enchiladas

A couple of weeks ago, I sorted what was left of my slowly ripening tomatoes. The ones that were still very green, I decided to make into a green tomato jam. I had been enjoying slices of green tomato, fried simply (unbreaded) with my eggs in the morning, and then stacked all together on whole wheat toast. Yum. I imagined a savory jam which captured that fried green tomato flavor, and I could use it in the same toasty egg combination. I quartered them, roasted them at 350 for an hour (since I had the oven on anyway) then promptly forgot about them. Still in the oven, yes, days later when I remembered. They looked fine, it’s been cool here.

I chucked them into a pot, covered with water and boiled them for some long time, till they were falling apart soft, then rubbed them through a fine mesh strainer to puree them. Then I stopped for a moment and noticed they didn’t smell… that good. I mean, they smelled fine, but extremely vegetal. Not like anything I could imagine calling ‘jam,’ even of the savory variety. I shoved the pot to the back of the fridge to think more about later.

Or preferably to try to forget until rotten so I could dump it.

Yesterday I finally pulled the pot out, sure they had reached “dumpable” by now. I took the lid off and tentatively sniffed. Damn. Still fine. Still that sort of weird smell, but not remotely rotten. Guess I really have to figure out how to use these, I sighed to myself.

I kept ‘green tomato puree ideas’ in the background of my mind overnight, hoping for a brainstorm.

Eureka!

Green enchiladas!

That slightly weird smell was in fact quite a lot like a tomatillo smell. Hmmm, green enchiladas have chicken, but I didn’t have any chicken. If I got a whole chicken at the farmers market, it would have to thaw, then cook and wouldn’t be ready for enchiladas for days. Hmmmm…

Turkey!

I still had several packs of Thanksgiving turkey left in the freezer. It seemed like I’d even heard of turkey enchiladas with green sauce. It was brilliant!

Or rather, the idea was brilliant. I still had some trepidation as I committed lots of time and good ingredients to that slightly weird smelling sauce. I assembled it in the afternoon, so the suspense was at a fever pitch by 5 o’clock when I set it on the table, with a nice Mexican slaw alongside.

Yum! After all that neglect and weirdness, it came out sooooo good. It was like spinning straw into gold, without any fear of losing a first-born child to a tricky dwarf.

Most likely y’all are done using up green tomatoes in any way possible, but in case you have any still kicking around– fresh, jarred or frozen (I chucked some into a ziplock in the freezer back in my early December panic)– I can’t recommend this highly enough. Of course I don’t have any kind of real recipe to offer up, but here’s the basics.

Fry an onion. Add some garlic. Shake on not too much cumin, and whatever other mexican spices are your faves. I had a jar of chipotle sauce, so added a tablespoon of that and let it fry for a minute. Then I stirred in about 1/2 cup of dark beer. I love cooking with beer, not only does it give a great flavor, but then– oh darn, what am I gonna do with the rest of this beer?

I dumped in the green tomato puree (oh, something like 3 cups) and the juice of one blood orange. Hey, it needed to get used up. Think creatively, right? Then I added my defrosted turkey scraps and let the whole thing simmer for an hour or more. Salt to taste.

(If you had any green chiles they would be ever so appropriate here. I was actually concerned about the quality of green enchiladas without green chiles, but they turned out dandy.)

Grate plenty of cheese, I used a mix of cheddar and mozzarella.

Fry your corn tortillas. This is a must for really good enchiladas, whatever the color. I used about 12, I think.

Then I strained the sauce off of the turkey mixture (reserve sauce of course) and kind of mashed the turkey around to shred it, it was super tender by now. I mixed the turkey with a cup of cottage cheese– again, cuz I had it– and because I was adding the cottage cheese I thought I’d better throw in an egg. Then a big heap of cilantro from my garden. Check the salt.

I used a 7×11 inch pyrex. A smear of sauce in the bottom, then 3 tortillas, evenly spaced and overlapped. Lump a third of the turkey filling over the tortillas and spread it evenly, not to the edge of the pan, but just to the edge of the tortillas. Thin sprinkle of cheese, 3 more tortillas, and repeat for two more layers. Finish off with tortillas, the rest of the sauce, a bit of cilantro and cheese. If you have what seems like too much sauce, and it pools down into the space between the tortilla stack and the edges of the pan, don’t worry– it thickens right up into a nice extra tangy side spooge.

We’re big fans of coleslaw round these parts. Particularly, the 3YO who can shovel away a good pint of it all to herself if she hasn’t had it in awhile. And who am I to stop her? Whenever we eat Tex-Mex, I add a bit of cilantro to my regular slaw, and lime juice instead of vinegar if I have it. It adds just the right lift to the otherwise heavy Americanized Mexican food. Plus, well did you see the size of the cabbage in the last post? We’ve been at it for weeks already.

(Sorry I don’t have any photos, our camera is in a bad mood lately. But honestly, it wasn’t pretty food. Delicious, yes. Pretty, not so much.)

Here’s to green tomatoes and using up the harvest!

Anything But the Kitchen Sink

Okay, I’m done talking about cleaning. For now. Honest! I have lots of other interesting things to tell you. And I realize I’ve been text heavy lately, so let’s see some pictures, right?

Let’s start with my garden, which is a heap of righteous green glory. I can’t believe I am eating out of my garden in January, it’s divine. I have cabbages bigger than your head, a bit of broccoli left, snap peas barely surviving the frosts, salad greens if I could want to eat them, garlic and onions putting on heft (though not bulbing yet of course) and don’t forget collards, as always, pumping out the food in dark green form. If I had planned better, I could have had carrots, spinach, beets and chard right now too. It’s crazy. Winter is actually the favored growing season here, because the buggies are scarce. And it’s not like up north where a winter garden is just harvesting what grew in summer and fall. No, cold season crops really grow here in winter. In fact, my Lousiana planting guide says I can start planting my spring crop of all the above mentioned vegetables anytime, though I just can’t make myself do it quite yet. We have some very warm days, but still plenty of frigid days. I might plant a row or two when I head to the garden later today, but mostly I think I’ll wait another week. Then it’ll begin a whole new round of green yumminess.

Speaking of green, I feel compelled to tell you about my tomatoes. Before we left for our 3 week Christmas trip I called my Southern gardening guru to ask what I should do about my two huge healthy looking tomato plants, loaded with green fruit. It was really my first success with tomatoes down here, and I was heartbroken to be leaving them. I asked whether I could harvest the green tomatoes and leave them somewhere cool where they wouldn’t freeze in hopes that they would be ripening just as I got back. He said not so much, they’d ripen in a week or two and I’d come back to a rotting pile of gross. He said he’d just leave ’em in the ground and pray. Having no particular anybody to pray to, and vaguely remembering the one time I tried growing tomatoes in Cordova (under plastic, but they still didn’t ripen before the freeze), I decided to buck his advice. How just like me.

But guess what? It worked! I think he was imagining tomatoes on the verge, you know, when they start turning white-ish? But mine were solid green rocks. Also he was probably imagining them in a warm room, but I left them in my neighbors shed (with the instruction to eat any that ripened). The first batch was just ripening when we got back, and they are still slowly ripening. Granted, these are not flavorful vine-ripened fabulousness. They actually taste about like supermarket tomatoes (for the same reason). But hell, it was that or nothing. I did by the way, fry my share of green tomatoes and experimented with them in general cooking. Green tomato salad? Pretty darn tasty with a good garlicky vinegrette. Green tomatoes in gumbo? They blend right in, almost okra-ey, but without the slime. I have a batch of green tomato jam in progress, but honestly it doesn’t smell that promising.

What does smell good are the muffins I made this morning! Cinnamon Crumble, we’ll call them, though what they really are is leftover granola muffins. I’ve mentioned before that I keep a jar in the freezer where I deposit half finished bowls of soggy granola. With a 3YO around, there’s quite a few of those. I worked hard to make the granola, and it ain’t free either, what with all the organic nuts, oils and high quality sugar. When the jar gets full I make bread, pancakes or muffins. I’ve been working on the recipe and this morning’s was perfect. They’re not overly sweet, but the sugary crumble gives it an extra decadent punch without turning it into cake for breakfast. Unless you’re 3, and manage to peck all the crumble off half the pan of muffins before yer mama catches you. Grrrr…

Cinnamon Crumble Muffins (wink)

makes one dozen very tall muffins

  • 1 pint jar (2 cups) leftover granola and milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup oil (don’t be afraid of olive oil for baking btw, it works just fine)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup white all-purpose (plus 1/2 cup or more if necessary)
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder (I know this seems like a lot, but it wasn’t too much)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4-1/2 cup raisins (optional)

for the crumble topping

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oats

Butter your muffin tin generously. I never used to use butter to grease pans, but have since realized that it does a much better job than oil and makes a delicious crust to boot.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Beat all the wet ingredients together, whisk the dry ingredients together, then fold the dry into the wet. Add the extra 1/2 cup or more of white flour until you have a thick batter. You should be able to scoop it with a spoon like soft ice cream. Fill the muffin cups to the brim, and then even a teeny bit more. This recipe fit (barely) into my tin, which I think has 1/2 cup sized cups.

Dump all the crumble ingredient together in the empty batter bowl and mash/stir until thoroughly incorporated. Sprinkle onto muffins. It will seem like way too much, but keep trying to pack it on there. As the muffins bake and expand, the tops will suck up the crumble and it will be perfect! Pat the tops so that the crumble stays put. If you really can’t fit all the crumble on, save it in your freezer for your next batch o’ muffs.

Pop into the oven. After 10 or 15 minutes, turn the heat down to 350. Starting at a high heat like this helps make your muffins nicely domed. Bake another- oh hell I don’t know, I never time ’em- 10 minutes? They’re done when the tops feel springy, stick a butter knife in if you’re not sure, there should be sticky crumbs but no batter clinging.

Cool on a wire rack, where the 3YO can’t reach if you want to have any crumble left for anyone else.

While you’re munching, how about a few book reviews? I’ve kept up with my Mornings are for Books concept, partly by allowing myself to buy books. I interlibrary loan some, but don’t hesitate much to buy ones I think I’ll want to keep.

I bought and read Harriet Fasenfest‘s The Householder’s Guide to the Universe in November. Great choice. It is a lovely synthesis of practical things such as gardening advice and recipes, with her very personal and honest account of becoming a householder. Just the sort of writing I most adore to read in the AM hours. The link takes you to some of her articles for Culinate, which is also otherwise a great local/groovy food site.

After that I gorged on Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Dorina Allen which I got for Christmas, much to my amazement. It’s not like I asked for it. I hadn’t even heard of this book, which is so very, very right up my alley. It is pure old timey food porn. So full of gorgeous photos that the book itself weighs almost five pounds. The link up there is actually to Amaz*n, so you can get the “peek inside.”

 

 

Now I’m on Living with Goats by Margaret Hathaway (link is to her blog). When we were up north at my in-laws, I met a woman who kept Nigerian Dwarf goats and it really amped my goaty fantasies. It was at their otherwise fairly awkward neighborhood Christmas party, I was politely chit-chatting with people I didn’t know, and a woman across the table said, “Oh, didn’t you come out to see my goats once?”

My ears perked, did she say goats? “Umm, no, you must be confusing me with my sister-in-law. I would definitely remember that, I love goats!”

All of a sudden, a whirlwind swept up around us, separating us from the babbling crowd. All the “oh and what do you do? mmm, hmm, how interesting” disappeared and her eyes locked mine, “You love goats?” she said already coming around the table toward me. Goat people are hilarious.

“Oh yeah!” I said, “Goats are great, smart and friendly, more like dogs than other farm animals. I really want to have a couple of milking Nigerian Dwarves when we go back to Alaska. But don’t tell my husband that!”

“I have Nigerians!” she said, elated. And that was it, the deal was made. We spent the next half an hour in impenetrable goat-talk, and made a date for a goat visit a few days later.

She had a small flock of something like 8 Nigerians. She wasn’t milking at the time, but she does the once-daily milking that I had read about on Fiasco Farm. I am very intrigued by that idea, especially since it doesn’t require taking babies away from mamas, something I’m not sure I have the hutzpah for, but also because once a day is a lot less time commitment, and do we really need all that much milk anyway? She also gave me courage about the goats as “browsers” idea which I kind of relied on in my goat fantasies. Hay would be very expensive as the sole feed in Cordova, no one around grows it, I’d have to ship it all in from the more pastoral parts of Alaska. But weeds and brush we have! In spades. (I have since read in a paper on goats as land clearers that said a goat’s natural diet is 82% “browse” and only 18% grass…)

Talking to her got me started on a heavy duty scheming streak. I have done a bunch of research since, and I’m pretty fired up. I decided it was time to buy myself a book.

Living with Goats is definitely a beginner book. Really I’d have to say it’s more of a schemer book. If you were really getting goats, you’d need something a lot more thorough. But since I am just scheming, it’s perfect. I do wish I had just interlibrary loaned it though, I don’t suspect I’ll need it for reference much.

Whew! I had more things I wanted to tell you, about non-sewing projects, and homemade antlers for Bambi-obsessed 3YOs, but it’ll all have to wait. I’ve got to get out to my garden before it’s too late!

Happy Saturday!

 

 

A Day in the Garden

Last weekend, after the Meltdown of the one before, was a very consciously constructed vacation for your truly. During the Meltdown, I finally asked for specific, regular, predetermined time every week. My Man’s always available on the weekends, but I somehow don’t take as much time for myself as I need unless those three qualifications are met. So, we decided that Saturday’s would be My Day, more or less.

And it was. All day. I checked in regularly, to nurse the Babe, but then went right back to MeMeMe activities. I neglected the filthy house, let My Man feed the Toddler granola for every meal, with ice cream in between, and turned a blind eye to the persistent use of electronic devices (iBrainmush).

I did some annoying errands, but mostly I revelled. I spent the morning at my favorite neighborhood coffee shop, hit a garage sale, finally went back to another belly dance class, ate a quiet lunch at a fancy pizza place, picked up some cover crop seeds from a farmer friend and then went to the garden to putter.

I spent an hour or more in the sweltering heat and dripping humidity, and I have to proudly say, not that I didn’t mind the heat (ha!) but that I was still able to enjoy the gardening. Which is a lot. It’s broken into the low 90s lately, which might not sound so bad, but it’s humid enough that when I go outside, my glasses fog up! Yeeech.

So, a garden report is in order!

I have for years and years coveted a zucchini (can’t grow them in Cordova, I tried every year and failed) called zuchetta rampicante. Much lauded by my garden guru, Elliot Coleman, and supposedly extremely productive if you can trellis it. My garden bed is up against a fence, so– perfect– I thought. I planted one rampicante, a row of beans and two tomato plants, all up against the fence.

You who Know are already seeing the problem. I’ve never gotten to grow beans either, or come to think of it, any vining plant. I just had no idea how aggressive they could be! Holy Shicksa! The beans quickly took over the tomato plants, using them as a trellis, which I’m fairly certain the tomatoes did not so much appreciate.

But that fucking rampicante. They ought to warn you in the catalog. Productive, yes, I imagine it will be, when it finishes taking over the entire world and takes the time to set the millions of tiny fruit along the length of its 6 miles of stalk. I mean, seriously. Every time I go to the garden (every 2 or 3 days) I pinch off every growing tip I can see, but that Mother Fucker will not be tamed. It’s infiltrating the beans, tomatoes, most of the 14 foot bed it’s planted at the end of, along with the compost pile next to my bed, and into the neighbors alley. I’m sure there was a Ray Bradbury story about this.

Here’s the real clincher though. I’ve plucked a few of her fruits, very small, flower still attached even. Threw ’em on the grill, because what’s better than grilled squash, right? Not this squash. Maybe it’s the grilling , but I fear it’s the squash. Just not a very good flavor.

Other than the Napoleanic squash, two completely squelched tomato plants bearing one or two tomatoes a piece, a little hedge of beans, and a few chard plants, the garden is kind of over. It’s sad. I didn’t know we would be staying for the summer until it was kind of too late. Since I’m leaving for three weeks in July, there wasn’t time to grow anything out. I’m just lucky that I planted beans, tomatoes and squash back in April! I didn’t think I would be here to harvest them, I just wanted to see them growing.

that's the rampicante, in the middle. more green tomatoes I had to pick because the green beans had pulled the plant down onto the ground, and I was afraid they would rot. Those yellow pear toms are from my farmer friend.

It has been fun, for sure, having lots of fresh green beans and (the other, more docile) squash. At home, in one of my self irrigated planters, I have three pepper plants, and that’s a blast. Peppers! Growing right there in my yard! I’m surprised by how many peppers are on each plant. They haven’t turned yet, only a few are even full size. The Toddler keeps picking them, which devastates me! She’ll bring me a half sized, green pepper, so proud. “Yook mama! I got dinner!”

She picked one of my very few brandywine tomatoes too, something I’ve never gotten to grow before, always read about with envy, and was so excited to watch finally turning color. She picked it half pink, half green. My heart just about broke.

The upside is that homegrown tomatoes are actually pretty good eating green. No less flavor than a store bought red one, for sure. I made a delicious salsa out of that half green tomato and one of the baby green peppers. Some red onion, fresh crushed garlic, salt, a few grains of cumin. Delish with tacos of refried black beans cooked in Trixie, then frozen in pint jars, and corn tortillas, brushed with oil, then given a brief trial by fire on the new grill.

Summer cookin.

Made it to the garden again last night, to water. On Saturday I put in a cover crop of some kind of pea. I’m hoping it’ll grow quick and give me some nice green manure before July. Then I’ll turn it under and cover the whole bed with plastic to keep the weeds back while I’m gone.

Four days and it’s already 3 inches tall. Amazing.

I came home with this bouquet in my bike basket. Very fun to ride through the park in the relative cool of evening with fresh greens for all to see. I felt so proud. I haven’t gotten to ride to the garden as much as I’d hoped. It’s a 40 minute round trip ride when I’m hauling my precious cargo in the bike trailer, which of course I usually would be. Last night, solo, was very liberating.

green transportation

Score: Collards–1000

my beloved (greens)

As I was walking into Whole Foods yesterday I noticed a big poster I’d missed before. Some kind of acronym, ASDI or something, which is a score count for nutrient density in foods. I’d seen the little tags around the store– on quinoa and so forth– but not payed much attention. For some reason it finally caught my eye.

Topping the list at a score of 1000 was a tie between my Northern and Southern ‘spirit vegetables’– kale and collards. That didn’t necessarily mean much, until I looked down the list to other foods I consider healthy. Cabbage– 450; blueberries– 180! I’m not sure how this list is constructed. With blueberries at 180, where is iceburg lettuce? Not even in the running, I guess.

Of course, self-made renegade that I am, I think nutritional research is bunk unless it supports what I already instinctively believe. So it’s not like blueberries are in the doghouse. Still and yet, it is nice to see my new favorite (and old favorite) vegetables rating 1000 on any scale.

My garden by the way is gangbusters. Particularly the collards, kale and chard (which was up there too, with an 800-something). And the baby salads. I got a nice Italian mix from Pinetree Seeds (a great catalog, with really good prices) with all the standard mustards, chicories, and arugula, but also some basil thrown in. Delightful! Being a much slower grower, there wasn’t much basil in my salad bowl, just enough for an occasional sweet zing.

I am just immeasurably happy to be eating fresh grown greens. And having such a glut that I’m sharing them with a neighbor. After I gave her the first batch, and instructed her how to cook them (saute an onion till golden in plenty of butter, throw in way more coarsely chopped greens than you think you need, along with a tiny drizzle of water, cover and cook till vivid green and tender. Add chopped tomatoes instead of the water if you’re feeling Southern) She was so effusive I couldn’t help but keep supplying her. It’s fun to convert someone to homegrown greens.

I hate to brag (okay, I love to brag) but my bed looks so crazy much more fruitful than any of the other beds at the community garden. Mostly because no one else is growing collards. I think it’s one of those cultural expectations that limits people. Collards are for winter. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing many collards there in the winter either. Collards are for poor people? Collards are too old fashioned? Hmmm, I wonder… But also it’s because people here plant their beds like a field. As in field spacing. Apparently “square foot” gardening has not caught on here. The other beds tend to have far spaced plants, but also lots of bare patches between crops. Just adds up to a lot of wasted dirt in my mind. Maybe later in the season some good reason will pop up that my Northern education couldn’t have forseen. But I suspect it’s just another of those ‘that’s how people do it’ things. Well, maybe me and my pack-it-in mentality will shake ’em up! I want to get a substantial contribution to our food supply out of this garden!

collards for the freezer

Harvests! + Stop Buying Salad Dressing NOW

I am positively quivering with excitement. My garden is growing fantastically! Finally, I have a garden! And this Southern climate is giving me her goodness– a few of my earlier planted things are ready for harvest!

I bought some collard and chard starts last fall, thinking I’d have my garden bed much sooner. They sat in a planter on our porch all winter (meaning December-February) not doing much, and I figured them for stunted. But when my garden bed was finally ready to plant, and I didn’t have anything to put in yet, I thought what the hell? I’ll throw ’em in. Can’t hurt. And those puppies took off like a house afire! I mean, seriously. I put the starts in little more than a month ago, and the collards are now mammoth, almost archaicly huge green monsters, fully a foot and a half across. I cut two of them straight down, as they were just barely beginning to bolt, and took the big leaves off of the other two. And got this mess of greens.

my new favorite vegetable

Back in Cordova, my most beloved garden plant was kale. For her tenacity, vibrancy, and forceful desire to grow. I can see that collards will be taking that place in my heart for these southern years.

Of course, growing greens doesn’t mean much if you don’t like to eat ’em. I love to eat ’em. Homegrown collards, I should have known, are so much more tender and sweet than even the stuff I was getting at the farmer’s market. Downright Delish. Follow that kale-ey link above for my fave homegrown greens recipe. So simple. So good.

Here at home I made my first cutting of salad greens. I had planted them all around my tomato, pepper and bean plants, in my self irrigated planters. Let the gorgeous, flavorful salads begin!

In case any readers out there are still buying salad dressing, or are less than in love with their regular recipe, here’s how I do mine, and people often ask for the recipe. It’s knock-out. But it’s incredibly simple. Simple technique, short ingredient list. The secret is white balsamic vinegar. Look around in your local shop for it. It’s worth tracking down. My aunt first introduced me to the stuff, in a gourmet care package years ago. I have gone to great lengths since to keep my small town kitchen supplied with the stuff. Note that it’s sometimes also called “golden balsamic.” Same, same. It’s just white wine, done up in casks like regular balsamic (which is from red wine). It’s got the same sweet, woody flavor, but not so overpowering.

This recipe is also pretty damn fine with fresh squeezed lemon. In fact, I often prefer lemon when the weather is hot, and the balsamic when the weather is cooler…

The other secrets here are top quality ingredients. Do not expect to substitute canola, or even super cheap olive oil and still have your skirt blown up. It’s only fair to mention that this dressing is not cheaper than store bought, just heaps better.

Lastly, a decent dressing can be done quicky-style, just pouring the vinegar and oil straight onto your salad, but leaving out the garlic will also leave out the real fantastic-ness.

Well, that pretty much gives it away. That’s the recipe. White (or golden) balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and freshly smashed garlic. Zat’s it.

I proceed as so, for a 2-3 person salad:

Finely slice a small clove of garlic (or half a medium one), then turn your knife on its side and drag the blade over, at somewhat of an angle, pressing down at the same time, until your garlic is a fine almost paste. You can use a garlic press too, but it’s as much work (‘cuz you have to wash the thing) and lots less fun.

Scrape up that lovely paste and deposit into the bottom of your salad bowl. Add salt (say 1/8-1/4 teaspoon) and black pepper (1/8 t).

Now splash in your balsamic, lemon juice or a combination. This time I used a little grapefruit that was heading toward ferment, along with my balsamic (apx 2 Tablespoons total). Let the whole thing alchemify while you go pick your greens.

Then pour in your decent quality olive oil. Doesn’t need to be top shelf, though if it is, your dressing will be top shelf too. Apx 3 Tablespoon of that should looks like so:

Now whip it up with a fork, it may or may not emulsify a bit. Dump your greens in. I’m not much for the classic romaine, tomato and cucumber salad. Head lettuce simply does not have much flavor. If I’m going to eat salad I want it to have taste! Apart from the divine dressing! And for whatever reason, I love chunky salads, and I love leafy salads, but I don’t like both together. So my greens salad is just that. Baby lettuce, arugula, chicories, kale, sorrel and fresh mint and chives if I have them. Roughly chop, and toss with dressing.

And there you have it. Insalada Divina. Dig in.

A Garden! (Sort Of)

(This will be first of many posts, in the process of checking one of the biggies off of my To-Do List– ‘get a space at a community garden’)

I’m SOOOOOO excited! I finally have a garden! Sort of. Well, what I have is permission, and help to accomplish a concept. The concept being a new bed at an established community garden. This might not sound like much to you, but to me it looks like the light approaching fast from the end of the tunnel. The idea is to start work this weekend!

The bed will be about 4 feet wide by 16 feet long. 64 square feet. Not bad. A good start anyway. And considering I will get two growing seasons a year out of it, it’s like having 128 sq ft in Cordova. I see lots more space at the garden where I could squeeze in other little beds, but I’m not sure it’s fair, seeing as how there’s apparently a long waiting list, which I was (don’t tell anyone) floated straight to the top of.

compost? I think not!
the garden coordinator had pulled his pepper plants up and thrown them on the compost heap, leaving these small but incredibly delicious smelling red peppers attached! my first taste of NOLA gardening

This would be the perfect time to explain my first New Orleans friend and subsequent savior, Bacon Fryer (this is a personal nickname, which he has not exactly consented to). Bacon is the coordinator of the community gardens, citywide. Early this spring, as soon as we found out we were moving to New Orleans, I googled community gardens and found the Parkway Partners site. It took me awhile to get a phone number for the main coordinator, but when I finally called him he was so incredibly friendly and helpful. We emailed back and forth several times over the next few months, I asked lots of questions about New Orleans, and finally I asked him (I had to ask someone) if he knew anyone with a half empty chest freezer who’d trade storage space for Copper River Salmon– I would be arriving in NOLA with two huge, 50 pound coolers of frozen wild meat and fish and would need a freezer immediately.

He took the bait, said he himself had a mostly empty freezer and would love some salmon. We exchanged phone numbers, and he gave me directions and described his place as a “camp,” his was the one with the goat in the yard.

Now, camp means something different here, not involving tents. But still his place was fantastic. A fairly rustic, open airy house right on the river, on 15 ft stilts above the sloped mud bank. Swampy trees all around. Very movie Louisiana bayou style, but not at all what one expects to find in New Orleans! There’s a small row of such “camps” where folks have been living for over a hundred years. The city has lately been trying to kick them out.

Fabulous.

And yes, there was a goat.

Bacon has been super friendly, and introduced us all around proudly to his little enclave of alternative foodies. I was even once (and I hope to be again!) identified as “The Bear Meat Lady” Bacon had apparently been talking me up, even before my arrival. The Copper River Salmon, yeah, that’s good. The wild moose meat, cool. But it’s the bear meat that really wows ’em (if you’re wondering how and why the hell I have bear meat, read this post from my last life blog. It’s about Tamale Pie, yes, but also bears, give it a go)

To get back to the story at hand, there are two community gardens relatively nearby. Both were full, but both had a caveat. One had an available bed that had high lead levels. Very common here. I could build a bed on top and it should be fine, apparently the uptake is not much, it’s more a matter of the dirt you get on yourself when gardening. Still didn’t sound hugely appealing, especially with kiddos. I’d prefer to continue thinking of dirt as good clean stuff that I can let the Toddler smear everywhere with abandon. Also, this garden just had a slightly derelict feeling to it. The beds were almost all overgrown, with very few cared for food crops, and there were two big, barking dogs next door. Bacon had me collect a soil sample and he sent it out to find out just how high the lead was.

The other garden was considerably closer and very inviting, with nicely tended beds growing actual food. The caveat here was dual. There was one gardener who didn’t take care of or even hardly use her bed. The guy who ran this garden was trying to get her to give up her bed. We were sort of waiting to see the outcome. Otherwise, he thought there would probably be room to build a new bed.

I hate waiting to resolve unknowns. As soon as the baby came out and I had half a body back for doing stuff, I was raring to go. But it has been a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. When Bacon called me today to say he was heading over to the latter garden, and did I want to meet him there to scope it out, I was elated. So far all the talk of a new bed had been purely theoretical, and always with the word “probably” involved. I was anxious to see if the idea would hold water, as it were.

The kiddos and I were on a walk when he called, so we just kept walking. It took about 40 minutes to get to the garden (from our house). The garden’s coordinator was there already, spreading some pine needle mulch, Bacon arrived a few minutes later. We stood around and contemplated the garden, laid out kind of poorly if you ask me, just a lot of wasted space. None of the wasted space was big enough for a regular bed (their beds are like 12 by 12 or something, big squares), but along the fence, behind on of the big beds was a strip 4 feet wide, and 16 feet long. Voila! A garden bed if ya ask me!

The coordinator looked pleased, shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, it’s yours!” I felt to be grinning ear to ear, though probably looked more subdued. Bacon and I measured and figured how much lumber we’d need. He’s got several ideas for scrounging it, though I said I’d be happy to buy boards if necessary. He’s also got a line on some big pile of 30 year old manure which ought to make fab-dab-ulous dirt mixed with some delta sand. Oooooo boy (rubbing of hands) I can hardly wait!

Now I get to find out just how hard it is to battle the weeds and bugs in this jungle swamp!