Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Shortly after I asked, I realized what a stupid question it was.
It was my first week in New York, and I was lured out of my efficiency hotel into a strip mall by a yarn shop. It was situated right next to a deli. I had never been into a real deli before, but at the supermarket, we used to buy fancy rolls and sliced cold-cuts. Then we would take them home and make poor-boys in the oven.
The guys in the deli made a big joke of it, and it was like they were handing out wings, and not the blue cheese and hot sauce variety either.
Once in my own apartment and in charge of my own food choices, I tried many recipes found in my first cookbook, “Recipes for a Small Planet”. My first experiment with soy grits tasted a bit like barfed-up dog food. I made a weekly batch of the granola, and then branched out to various muffin recipes. Upstate New York was dotted with farm stands on the honor system, so in the fall I picked up a bushel of apples and a huge bag of table squash. I joined the local food co-op which offered an additional discount in exchange for extra work hours. My main job was to pick up free-range eggs and fresh milk from local farmers and bring them to the co-op.
One of my favorite jobs was to restock the macrobiotic section. I had never heard of any of these strange foods before, but was intrigued by the large wooden vats of miso and the tofu blocks floating in large plastic buckets. We were the only place in town that carried tofu retail, and we did a pretty high volume on the Saturday mornings I worked there. The macrobiotic way became my new lifestyle, and was really my first formal introduction to eating local foods on purpose. In macrobiotics, it is always better to eat local, both in place (especially latitudinally) and in time. (Of course, it was also OK to eat any kind of food from Japan.) I really warmed up to the idea of eating locally and seasonally, with whole foods. The co-op made it easy for me. All the foods and produce selections were labeled with place of origin, and if they were grown organically or transitionally. I enjoyed making the new signs when we started carrying a new product or vegetable.
When I got to California, macrobiotics didn’t survive the move. Somehow it didn’t seem right to shun certain tropical foods that were growing like weeds in my backyard. What worked in the cold Northeast wasn’t working as well in our Mediterranean climate. I started eating tomatoes, peppers and the citrus fruits that my neighbors gave me. But I never did give up my love of seasonal eating or my favorite comfort food, miso soup.
Monday, December 21, 2009
What is it about pumpkins? At all the corners of my garden, my baby pumpkins accumulate right by the fencing. It is almost like they run run run as fast as they can, and then when they hit a fence roadblock, they say, "Well, this is a good a place as any," and they flower like crazy and all the pumpkins are piled in a heap by the chicken wire.
The tatume plant employs a a different strategy. It likes to run along the edge of the fence, leaving the fruit at carefully spaced intervals along the way. The plants situate themselves so that the fruit sticks out through the chicken wire fence out into the pathway.
Whatever feng shui strategy the mighty orange ones decide to follow out in the garden, I am in charge after the harvest. I try to keep up with a FIFO system, and have put the babies up on cardboard box pedestals so they won't rot as easily. I dust, rearrange and dote over these orange Hummels, and like chickens, I bring the fresh ones in every night to keep them from predators and let them rest in their "nesting boxes". Every few days, an older pumpkin goes to the chopping block.
Today is the shortest day, but I made up for it by eating plenty of stored sunshine. When I am busy or tired, it just seems like too much work to "boot up" a squash. This week I tried something new. I cut up a buttercup and threw it in the pressure cooker. It cooked for only 12 minutes, and when I was still warm, I put on some local butter and honey. I think this is about the best squash I have ever eaten in my life.
The other squashes are looking a bit nervous, and they have good reason to be worried.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
I thought long and hard about this one. What prize-winning cookie could I make with red amaranth, honey and chard? One year I DID make some interesting dog biscuits for the gift exchange, and last year made another really popular batch with favorite locally-sourced ingredients such as chicken fat, winter squash and dried kale. They turned out to be less of a hit when my husband popped one in his mouth before fully comprehending what they were all about, but the dog really loved them.
I couldn't do this to my friends again, after all, I want them to remain friends. I decided to make something simple and non-local, something I really like, but with an added decadence.
The cookie would have to contain lots of pecans, for sure, and probably macadamia nuts and cherries. I stopped at a couple of stores looking for cherries, but could find none.
Yesterday at the public market, a man was selling hoshigaki persimmons, so I bought a package to use in January. Today I decided to incorporate them into my oatmeal cookies. Here's the recipe:
Hashigaki Oatmeal Cookies
Use the recipe on the lid of the Quaker Oats box with the following changes:
use only 3/4 cup raisins
Add 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Add 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Add 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Add 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Add 1 cup chopped hoshigaki dried persimmons
Bake according to package directions
Next week I hope to get to the public market again and purchase more of these wonderful persimmon treats before the season is over.
What I found most unusual is a complete absence of signage. These farmers and their farms have no names, no business cards, no addresses, no organic certificates on display.
Yes, yes, all the strawberries were from Oxnard, they said.
Then again, I stopped at a booth with all sorts of overpriced candied nuts, and artificially-colored dried fruit. When I asked about origin, the lady with the blank stare told me they were from Lancaster. I mentioned that they couldn't all have been grown in Lancaster, and asked which foods were grown there. She said most of them were. When I asked which foods specifically, she admitted that only the cashews had been grown in Lancaster.
I still haven't decided if I am going to join the Locavore Lites in 2010. I will have to agree to visit a farmer's market at least once a month. I sure wish there was a way to be a Locavore Lite while enjoying my own local vegetables instead of patronizing fake markets.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The dehydrator is bursting with peppers this week, filling my living room with the scent of sweet peppers and sending me into coughing fits from the drying habanero's.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Today I picked the last of the sweet peppers and trimmed the branches down to stubs. Tomorrow I will tuck the plants under the eaves and try to leave them alone during the winter. I snacked on the last ripe tomato and a few jalapeno peppers. The peppers weren't hot, typical for this time of year.
This weekend I will harvest the rest of the poblano peppers and slowly turn them into ancho's in the dehydrator.
I had planned to remove the summer vines from several planters and start some winter baby greens, but apparently the tomatoes got the demolition twitter and got back to work. Will I have Sungold tomatoes at the final locavore potluck in January? They may be tasteless, but it will still be delicious.
I am still harvesting a bit of zucchini and baby butternut squash! They are tiny but very appreciated. The beans have been growing and flowering and I was able to harvest several servings. I harvested over a cup of small broccoli flowerettes, and a couple of small fennel bulbs. I left the leeks alone. Before Thanksgiving, I harvested gobs of leeks, only to leave them at home when packing our car for the trip, so I have plenty. I did snag a few scallions. I also brought home plenty of kale and chard, two greens that were greatly missed during our time away. I also harvested plenty of celery for the bean pot.
We made a large salad with freckles romaine lettuce and baby purple mustard. This practice will probably continue almost daily until late spring.
And the new events at the garden? The cabbage is bursting out of its cage, so I set them free. My transplanted lettuce has been eaten down to stubs inside its cage. Slugs? Not sure, but I am sure something is happy and well-fed. The garlic is up, and the newer broccoli plants are ready to start flowering.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I did have a dressing, made with local olive oil, sea salt, lime juice from La Casa, Italian and lemon basil from my patio, and R's dried marjoram. I topped the salad with sweet pomegranate seeds that P gave to me.
Monday, November 23, 2009
I cooked the chayote in the microwave, and threw the cooked insides in the blender with a little water. I was unprepared for how GOOD the squash tastes plain. Creamy, green, buttery. I want to make a cold cucumber soup out of it, or any kind of soup, or a dip, or maybe try to pickle it.
I have grown this plant before. R donated a plant every spring for the garden plot we had for the food bank. I took care of it all summer, waited patiently for it to flower and fruit, took bags and bags of the squash to the food bank and tore the whole plant down after a hard frost, but I had never eaten it. The final year, the weight of the plant broke the metal trellis, and we tried planting another one in the back 40, but unfortunately it died.
This spring I will have to rig up some sort of sturdy trellis and grow it in an area that is protected by frost.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
My scheme was to discover and promote plants that re-seed themselves like crazy, ensuring a steady supply year after year with little effort. The list started with celery, and then branched out with Italian parsley, leeks, amaranth, chard, kale, and my new favorite, fennel.
My fennel experiment last fall turned out so well that I tried to sneak another crop in this spring. Both batches of seeds took forever to germinate, and the plants struggled in the beginning, but I decided that the taste was worth it. The spring plants didn't do too well. They took forever to get going and then went to seed with the heat. I kept them around anyway, enjoying the tasty seeds and watching the birds devour them. One morning, the cat was going bonkers, so I looked out the window and saw about 20 flitty birds perched on a single fennel plant, eating all the seeds in a few moments.
Eventually the tomatoes overtook the fennel plot and I couldn't get through the thicket anyway, so I just left it. This fall, while cleaning, I discovered about a million fennel seedlings. After transplanting tons of the seedlings, I discovered that plenty of fennel bulbs were growing out of the roots of the plants I had harvested earlier. And, like the bunching onions and chard before, seed-saving and even transplanting is a waste of time if the plant just won't die and just won't quit. I get to eat fennel every day, tons of these little bulblets, much more sweet and tender than the best of last year's harvests.
A neighbor commented that my gardens had character, but I think that one of them is just overgrown. If I squint hard enough, there is a large area that looks like a lawn. Look closely and visitors will see that it is just a field of Italian parsley and fennel seedlings, mowed down by munching rodents.
I have decided that the many of our favorite foods through the years are just noxious weeds that also happen to be tasty. Ronco-set-it-and-forget-it growing, self-sowing, self-mowing. An elegant kind of laziness. This gives me more time this winter to curl up with a hot mug of herb tea and browse through all the seed catalogs.
Monday, November 16, 2009
There is no better way to celebrate a hibernation than to make a big pot of soup. This morning I cooked up a pot of turkey, rice and vegetable broth. To the mix I added my last carrot, a good bit of celery, a leek, more string beans, fennel, broccoli, peppers, chard, kale, Cinderella pumpkin, baby butternut squash, dried and frozen zucchini, dried peas and some dried herbs.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I had such good luck with this variety in the cold spring that it is here for another round. Hopefully the crop will keep going until the peas are ready. That may be a long time, since the first planting of peas is being trimmed mightily by some hungry animal.
Monday, November 9, 2009
The first thing I noticed is how much stuff there was. Aisles and aisles of different stuff that people call food, and hardly anything out of stock or out of season. Everything was in straight rows and behind some type of square or plastic packaging. There was a notable lack of bluegrass music. It was very shiny and bright and cold, especially in the cheese aisle. I felt like I was in a bowling alley instead of a place to get food.
I checked out the bean and rice aisle and was amazed at the variety and size selection. It seemed endless! And the prices! They sure shot up this year on the formerly cheap staples. I had no clue this price climb was even happening.
I stopped by the produce aisle to check out a couple of prices. Wow, three dollars for a dinky butternut squash, and it wasn't even organic. My squash looks much cuter, and I am not counting the dollar signs going by as I eat a forkful of it.
This is the first time this year that any of my food was swiped. It seemed otherworldly. My checker was super friendly and quite a jokester, as he screwed up my tab and tried to fix it several times. We finally got it straight and they even offered to load up my car. Now that has never happened at the farmer's market.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Now, what to do with them. I tried cereal awhile back. I roasted the seeds and then ground them up with a mortar and pestle. I didn't get all the seeds, and the cereal was gritty.
Today I decided to give it another try. This time I made sure that all the seeds were crushed, although it sure did take a long time to process. The seeds don't work in the blender and are too small for my grain grinder or my pepper mill, so I am stuck with this hand method for awhile.
While enjoying my pounding meditation, my thoughts drifted to amaranth pancakes with apples. So, I tried mixing up a batter and cooking it in a buttered frying pan. It turned out with the look and texture of a blood clot, but it tasted much better than that. I could eat this again.
After breakfast, I headed to the garden, and stayed there over 5 hours, planting garlic, doing hard labor at the compost bins and helping a friend move a few yards of topsoil. I kept thinking about how unhungry I was, after eating the local breakfast.
I have to figure out more ways to prepare this nice food. This afternoon, the backyard birds were pecking away at the amaranth fronds laid out in piles to dry. They love picking through the leftovers I use as mulch in the kohlrabi bed. There will be plenty for everybody, and much entertainment for the cats.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Now that I have shared the recipe for the compost and the soil, here's the recipe for the soup. I cooked the squash and made the broth the day before, prepared the tureen on the morning of the potluck and then did all the other stuff shortly before eating. I fully cooked the tureen two days later and it will take us another month to eat it all. That was one big pumpkin!
1 butternut squash
1 small eating-type pumpkin (I used Baby Pam)
1 Cinderella pumpkin
1 orange or red sweet pepper
2 red serrano peppers
1/2 cup raw walnuts
several green onions
several ribs celery
1 clove garlic
1 t coriander
Cut the squash and small pumpkin into pieces, remove the seeds for another use, and simmer in a large pan with 1/2 inch of water, covered, for 20 minutes. Let it cool gradually while you are doing everything else.
Soak the walnuts for several hours, and throw the soaking water into the compost pile.
Chop the bottom part of the leek, the white part of the onion, the bottom part of the celery, peppers and garlic, reserving the veggie tops, leaves and skins for broth. Saute the chopped veggies in olive oil until tender and let cool until they are easily handled.
Finely chop the veggie tops and leaves and put in a pan and cover with water, simmer for 5 minutes, cover and let cool for 15 minutes.
Strain the broth and add to a blender with the walnuts. Puree on high until smooth. Pour into a large pot.
Add the sauteed veggies to the blender and puree with additional water until they are smooth. Put the veggies through a food mill and add them to the large pot.
Scoop out the squash and small pumpkin pulp and put through the food mill and add it to the large pot. Add more water or broth until you get the desired consistency.
Toast the coriander seeds until they are fragrant and then grind with a mortar and pestle, and add to the pot. Season with salt to taste. Heat on simmer, stirring, until warm enough to serve.
Cut an opening in the top of the Cinderella pumpkin like for a Jack-o-lantern, scoop out the seeds and strings, put the lid back on and place on a large baking pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. This is enough to get rid of the raw taste but not enough to cause the pumpkin to cave in. The flesh of this pumpkin is not scooped out and used for the soup.
While the tureen is still warm, add the hot soup.
The tureen will store very well in the fridge with the lid on for a couple of days, and can then be fully cooked and used for even more soup. You can also toast all the pumpkin and squash seeds the next day as long as they are washed and dried well.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
When I got the first of this year's apples, I made a ton of applesauce. We are tired of it now, and I am tired of cooking it.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Who could forget the year that Taco Bell opened up a store in town? A classmate told me about it, and how she loved tacos. She described them to me, but I didn’t get the picture. In Buckminsterfullerite-fashion, I asked,
“How high are they?”
“They aren’t high, they’re just tacos,” she replied.
“Well, are they flat?”
“They aren’t flat. They’re folded over, but they aren’t high.”
We had to travel quite awhile to get to the Taco Bell, but it was worth it. Finally White Castles had some competition. I fancied myself too cool to “drive through Steak” and quit going to that other burger place when my best friend renamed it McDonny’s. We went there all the time, and lingered for hours because one of the employees looked like Donny Osmond.
I got a job in an institutional kitchen, and started rescuing all sorts of foods that were to be thrown away. Soon we had as many bags of old French toast and containers of pancake batter as we had dabs of bacon fat to re-fry them in.
I wanted to be a hippie, just like my hippie English teacher. He lived downtown in gentrified co-housing with other hippie vegetarians. Unable to move into a hippie commune at that age, I become a vegetarian instead. The early meatless years were filled wheat germ brownies made from Jim’s recipe and home-made stone-ground whole wheat bread. I learned to cook my own soups and fend for myself at breakfast.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The next day, the burrowing animals made a dash towards the remaining tubers and created a very large hole necessary to cart off the goods. So I harvested the other plant, and got another really large brain.
I really like the smoky flavor and texture of these chokes, and have let it be known that my temperamental potatoes are in danger of being replaced by a new BFF (best food forever). I think they got the message. After tearing out some old tomato plants, I found some really great potato plants, and they are trying their best to grab my attention.
I am now in the process of preparing soil for an additional choke bed. Thanks to Donna for introducing this new food to the locavores and for giving me the cuttings. Many folks at the community garden are also getting cuttings this year. They appreciate the perennial and drought-tolerant qualities, and it is just so cool to have pretty flowers all summer and then get all this great brain food at the end of the season.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Every year, I promise myself two things. One is to label my seedlings and plantings properly, so that I know what I am working with in case a new plant is successful. The second thing is to label all the stuff that goes into my freezer, you know, all that important information like date and contents.
The other day I almost made a big cooking mistake by defrosting 3/4 cup of melded lime juice cubes and almost putting it into the brown rice. Now it isn't as bad as if I was fumbling for the toothpaste and ended up brushing my teeth with something like progesterone cream or Bon Ami. But I realize that my freezer, and my dehydrated food stash has gotten out of control, and I don't want to wait until January to start enjoying some of my stash.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
It looks pretty nice curing on the patio, and next to it, the baby pie pumpkins look like sungold tomatoes.
This summer I have successfully replaced corn with pumpkins and squash as my ubiquitous food ingredient. I enjoy pumpkin and walnut shakes for breakfast, pumpkin butter, squash chips, squash pickles, pumpkin with applesauce and blueberries for an evening snack, squash "spaghetti", pumpkin seeds, pumpkin seed milk, cheese-stuffed squash blossoms.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Today I made another batch with other vegetables. I haven't enjoyed very much of it yet, since it needs to be Arctic-cold and that won't be until tomorrow.
Here's my recipe:
4 cups tomato
1 rib celery
1 red serrano pepper
1 slice cooked chopped beet
1 green onion
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup chard (I used the red kind)
pinch summer savory
2 sprigs Italian basil
1 sprig lemon basil
Cut the tomatoes into chunks. Finely chop the other ingredients. Simmer for 15 minutes and put through a food mill. Chill.
Friday, September 4, 2009
I also direct-seeded lettuce seedlings today. This is the earliest I have attempted lettuce. I just got tired of cleaning and winnowing some seed, so I just decided to toss it into some shady nooks and see what happens. Every year I push the seasons just a little but, but this is the first time I have planted the coolest crops when it is near 100 degrees outside.
I also tried to clean out more of the overgrown chard, and I scattered the seedlings all about. I don't even bother to plant that much chard anymore, unless I need a specific color. This fall, I am looking forward to a variety of gold and red volunteers.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Summer mornings were spent picking, washing, weighing and delivering tomatoes and squash for sale to all the neighbors. I lined up the tomatoes by size to dry on the patio before packaging them in paper lunch bags. I weighed the tomatoes on an old baby scale, decorated with blocks and a stork. It was not legal for trade, but nobody turned me in to the authorities. As I recall, I did not collect or turn in any sales tax either.
Summer evenings were spent on the porch shelling lima beans or cutting worms out of fruit. Mom made peach and strawberry jam and several batches of grape jelly, and they were lined up in a large red cabinet in the basement, all topped with slabs of creamy white wax. Every year Dad put up a huge ice-cream tub full of sweetened apple sauce that nobody else would eat because of all the “worm juice”. It disappeared into the freezer and I am not sure what happened to it after that.
We lived near a woods that we explored and caught craw-dads. During a thunderstorm, a big old tree was struck by lightening and fell over the creek, simultaneously shortening our travel time to the other side considerably, and revealing a secret and extensive honey stash. Well, you’d think that Dad and discovered El Dorado, and soon we had a pot of honey on the kitchen table.
I was endlessly entertained by Dad’s stories on the farm, especially when he grossed everyone else out at the dinner table with his hog-butchering stories. It really helped if we were eating pork steaks or bacon. And this was often, as most food that wasn’t boiled was cooked in bacon fat. I am not sure how many containers of bacon fat we had in the back of the fridge, but the selection was extensive.
Except for summertime, our other food came from the suburban supermarket. The butter came in a plastic tub, the fish was square, the round steak was flat and the corn, sprouting what looked like a serious case of periodontal disease, was stripped and lobotomized on both ends and placed under plastic wrap. Nobody ever called it sweet corn. I learned that it was supposed to be sweet only after I moved to New York.
Monday, August 17, 2009
When I first got to the garden, I found the container for the food bank turned over, and several watermelons strewn about in various pieces. It wasn't until I found a row of ripe beefsteak tomatoes ceremoniously gored on a row of rebar fencing that I realized it wasn't just the work of rats.
This is disappointing because after all our challenges with weather, fires, bugs, rodents and disease, for some gardeners, it all came down to some bored neighbors standing between them and some really great local food.
Luckily, most of my pumpkins have already been harvested.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
It hasn't started yet, but I am ready, market basket in hand. Let's see: straw hat, sunblock, birkenstocks, big organic or bamboo fiber skirt with a flower pot applique, small bills, canning jars waiting for me at home.
Read about it HERE
Michael Pollan seems to have a clear picture of what his ancestors ate and what we need to get back to. But what is my food culture? It's a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, with a huge dollop of the food-fads-du-jour.
Mom’s from a tidewater family, so on our frequent vacations to the seashore, while most headed right for the sands, mom and grandma headed for the local fish market. During our stay at the efficiency hotel, we ate “home-made” crab cakes, ocean fish, shrimp and whole fried soft-shell crab. We rarely fished ourselves, and always from a borrowed hook. As a hot young babe in a bikini, I was often offered food, beer and strangely, fishing gear while combing the beach merely looking for seashells. Grandma always knew how to handle whatever I caught, but she did reserve comment about any of the guys.
And then there was the unlimited saltwater taffy, and the huge bag of peanuts that only lasted as long as they did because they had to be shelled first. Grandpa taught me how to shell peanuts. He opened the first one, and then I was on my own. This was traumatic. It took me a long time to figure it out.
On the drive back home we bought a Smithfield ham. I have never tasted a real Smithfield ham. They were always to be used as gifts.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
When I opened my kitchen cabinet this week, I was disappointed (and a little grossed out) to see that a few of the potatoes had these weird sack-like pro"tuber"ances, and worms were crawling all over the shelf.
Oh well. Those visions of local potato chips might never be translated into reality, at least this season. I just hope the Jerusalem artichokes do as well as I need them to do. Right now they are towering over everything in the garden.
I am also very grateful that I have another kitchen cabinet. The other potatoes are still fine.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I could go on no longer without the cinnamon, now that apple season is here. So, to celebrate, I whipped up a batch of fake dried apples out of an overgrown yellow crookneck squash. I just peeled the squash and took out the seed area (mine was old enough to just start being a seed cavity), sliced it up and dipped the slices into a mixture of honey, water and cinnamon and put them in the dehydrator.
Can't wait to try them in a mock apple pie recipe. Of course, the crust has to be made with amaranth, so I guess I should call it a mock apple mock pie creation. I harvested two varieties of amaranth today, and also a bushel of flour corn. The corn won't be fully dry for a week, and who knows how much I will yield. At least it was a better crop than last year. Some of the nicest ears were totally eaten by animals, so I have mostly the smaller ears.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
1 gallon water
3/4 cup dried crushed lemon balm leaves
1/4 cup dried crushed mint leaves
large sprig mint
large sprig orange mint
three small rose hips
Boil the water in a large pan and toss in the dried leaves. Boil for one minute and toss in the chopped fresh mints and turn off the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes and add in the chopped rose hips. Cool before straining. Strain into and store in a recycled container. (The last step is optional, but I thought it was lots of fun.)
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I couldn't believe my eyes when E pulled the cucumber out of the garden and offered it to me! For me??? You'd think she was handing over the Hope diamond or something. I had a pickle chip on an exception night out a couple of months ago, and one slice of fresh cucumber on a salad when I was out of town over a month ago. Finally a local cucumber showed up at our June Locavore potluck. After last summer's bounty, I never thought I would ever crave another cucumber, but it finally happened.
I will be able to pay E back soon, hopefully. I planted three varieties of cucumbers and have a total of 16 plants, but with the cold weather, maturation has been slow. I have 19 tomato plants.
There are three more Sungolds on the kitchen counter, ripening out of the way of the backyard animals. I can't wait to be bored tomorrow.
Monday, June 8, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
They almost didn't make it to the table. Late spring frost, bugs, gardenside munching all took their toll.
I learned something new this week. Last fall, as soon as I signed up for the local challenge, I started processing and freezing more summer produce. I also started planning my plantings better to ensure a more steady harvest. As it turned out, one very late bean crop did well, and two subsequent pea plantings also turned out to be both productive and uncharacteristically disease-free. I planted many fava plants in the winter, and started a delicate bush bean variety underneath a makeshift cold-frame in early spring. Proper mulching ensured the early return of six pole bean plants. The result? I still have three frozen ziplock bags of beans in storage. I have more fava beans than I care to shell and peel. There are beans served at practically every meal.
I still have one plug of tomato salsa and half a bag of summer squash, but only because I am making an effort to cook them into gobs of soup before all the new crops come in. I figure I'll have my first crowd of tomatoes by mid-June and the first summer squash by next week.
And the beans will keep coming. I have dry beans, heat-loving beans, cool-loving beans, bush beans, climbing beans, tropical beans, and desert beans. And, I learned that planning for food is easier than putting it by.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Last year was a killer year for the squash. I planted several of my own, and there were plenty of seeds in the compost, so I got volunteer squash plants everywhere else. At the peak, I was harvesting over 10 pounds of squash a day. Finally I tore some plants out to make room for other selections, vowing never to do THAT again.
This year, it started out in a similar way. I planted a squash medley in a 6-pack, planning to give any extra seedlings away. After transplanting four of them, I grabbed the 6-pack only to notice that I had planted Baby Pam pumpkin plants instead. I wasn't even planning to plant the pumpkins. I had grown them out for a plant sale to benefit the local food bank. I returned the next day to plant the summer squash. At first I was going to plant only one plant. But, what if my favorite variety didn't come up? I planted three instead, and then planted the other three at home as a shade experiment.
But wait, there's more! I started other winter squash for the plant sale, but it was cancelled. My pumpkins would ripen way too early for fall, I weaseled, and wouldn't keep well and I NEED my local food! A few of each kind went into the garden, and of course, I got high germination and transplanted the extras too.
I started more summer squash for a friend: Black eel zucchini and straighneck yellow. My friend said she didn't want any more zucchini, so I prepared a place for a plant. That turned into a few more plantings and of course, an extra yellow squash just because they are different. So far I have:
4 Baby Pam pumpkin
6 summer squash medley
3 Black eel zucchini
1 straightneck squash
Now all I have left to do is to start the pumpkins I REALLY wanted.
This year will be different. I am armed with a dehydrator, and I have heard that squash chips are really really good.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
No, not THOSE potato chips, mine! Every year I try a few potato plants, mostly because they seem to come up on their own. I had never had much success with them, due to my soil conditions, hot weather, and my lack of knowledge. This year I planted some potatoes in a bed filled mostly with trucked-in soil and protected with hardware cloth on the bottom. They had been growing pretty well, so I hilled the soil up a couple of times. A few days ago, one of the plants wasn’t doing too well, so I decided to dig out anything that might be there before it rotted away. I was surprised to find 5 large, very high quality potatoes and one smaller one.
I had had instructions to bring home a leek or two, to cook a favorite chicken dish for my husband. When I arrived home and proudly displayed the potatoes, he said,
“Oh, potato leek soup!”
Now, that wasn’t what I had in mind at all. While doing other gardening chores, all I could think of was samosa filling. I didn’t have all the spices, or the pastry covering, but with a few substitutions, the re-engineered samosas could hopefully feed my Indian food craving. While I have eaten potatoes at my exception meals and out of town, the last time I cooked and ate a real potato was on Thanksgiving. Someone brought some
After much discussion about potato allocation, I realized I was too tired to make either dish, so I just whipped up a quick stir-fry and saved MY potatoes for later.
Last night we had potato leek soup. I still have four more opportunities, plus a bit for a pot of vegetable soup. Will one of the dishes be home-made potato chips? If so, they will have to be fried in home-churned butter or in what’s left of my gallon of local olive oil.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I make my gomasio with a real mortar and pestle after toasting the seeds on an electric stove. Of course, if I were a true macrobiotic locavore I would toast the seeds on a shovel stuck into my hearth. Oh, well, too much of a fire hazard lately, and my shovel is still sitting in the back of the turnip truck, covered with chicken manure.
A gardener friend grew sesame, but decided it wasn't worth it due to the long season and low yield for the amount of space it took. It sure did like our hot hot summers. I might try it next year, but this year I am gardening as if it really matters and I have less space for experimentation.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Not everyone can do as much food-growing as I can. (M, one of my garden neighbors, insists that I live at the garden, and has suggested that I have a campsite somewhere underneath the fava beans and chard.) Gardeners with unrelenting and inflexible work schedules cannot do as much. But anyone living in an apartment or even in their car can get at least one small plot or share it with others, all for about the yearly price of a pair of Nike sneakers, can’t they?
When I managed the community garden, one of my highest priorities was to increase the number of gardens so that we could spread fixed costs around and keep the rental fee affordable. I succeeded in filling the place so that we could get our landlord to fund an expansion. A year has passed since the expansion was completed and as of a few days ago we are full again. Now, all the sudden, not everyone can do this. This makes me a bit uncomfortable. I want everyone who lives on a budget to be able to eat locally and sustainably.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I have been working like crazy to get summer seedlings started. I have been double-digging my summer beds. I am looking forward to enjoying some new garden selections in the coming month. My snap peas are mostly finished, but my fava bean plants are flowering and should be producing fresh beans by the end of the month. The bush string beans and the teparies aren't far behind. The cucumber, squash and okra seeds have sprouted. Three tomato plants are in their final lanes and roaring along. The corn is in! This afternoon I planted a tiny international basil garden with Italian, Japanese, Thai and Persian varieties.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Cook the oats in the usual way with a bit less water than usual.
Remove the leaf off one green-, yellow- or white-stemmed chard leaf. Puree in a blender with just enough water to get it going. Strain in a fine mesh strainer and add the chard juice in the oatmeal a little bit at a time until the desired color is reached. Cook a bit more until the raw veggie taste disappears.
Remove from heat and add a touch of honey and cream or half 'n' half.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Swiss chard is sort of like zucchini, only flatter. One plant will provide more than enough for a typical family, and more than enough to exhaust all your friends. But like zucchini, no good gardener plants just one chard plant. First there are a couple of plants, just in case one dies, then a neighbor plants a couple of other colors and soon there is chard envy and pretty soon there is every color of chard growing in every available corner and chard stuffed in a gaggle of bread bags in the vegetable crisper. And that doesn’t even account for what happens in the next year, when the plants start to send up a seed stalk that needs to be chopped back daily. Pretty soon the greenship is overrun with chardlet tribbles. You know you are really in trouble when the chard starts finding its way into smoothies and breakfast cereal.
I have a really great garden, and some of my friends do as well. Sometimes we grow just a little bit more than we can eat. I’ll admit that I am just a little bit like octomom when I get to gardening. If I get great germination, well, I need to plant each and every seedling, regardless of how I might take care of them or whether my tiny plot is already full. After all, they’re my seedlings, and I am not going to kill them, even if in the end it kills me. I never had chard when I was a kid and now I want to create that perfect chard garden that I longed for in my youth.
Sometimes my friends and I go on long vacations during the peak seasons, so we harvest for each other. Faced with my own surplus, and that of my neighbors’, I started taking all the extra chard to the local food pantry. After a couple of years of almost-weekly delivery, the director started calling me the Chard Lady.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Sunday, February 15, 2009
All the papers said that the first lady wore a dress the color of lemon grass, but I know she was really aiming for leek. Leeks are the perfect choice for this time of the year. The color is rich and buttery, with a hint of the spring that maybe will come soon. The flavor is warm and creamy, even before any potatoes are added. They taste expensive but are a cinch to grow, so much easier than onions or garlic. I am cooking them every day.
It has been cold and rainy, so I like to have a big mug of vegetable broth in the mornings, after my coffee.
Local leek broth
Celery ribs and tops
Parsley stems and tops
Wash the vegetable leaves individually to remove all sand and dirt. Slice the vegetables into thin strips and cover with water. Add thyme, salt and a dried red pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain and decant into serving mugs.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
I also found out at the potluck that my definition of food was way off. I had planned to pick soy or rice milk as one of my foods, but Oh No! they aren’t individual foods. I had to consider all the ingredients. In my mind, soy milk is a food, and so is tofu and soy sauce and curry. On the other hand, Lunchables are not food, or any other plural selection like Skittles, Honey Nut Cheerios, Uncrustables and Cheetos, except bagels and, of course, lentils.
I had already cooked the lentils with a bit of ham. Is ham a food?
“You know what, I am going to eat the ham,” I told myself.
Anyway, after a couple of days of ham and lentils and lentils and ham, and lentils and Spam without the Spam, I was off to the store for more lentils and ham. When I got to the ham aisle, I became overwhelmed. There was black forest ham and honey-glazed ham and smoked ham and a
I turned to the next aisle and there was the kiosk where the young woman in a chef hat and apron hands out free food from an electric wok. FREE FOOD! And I start doing the free food bee dance and when I get closer I notice, WOW! they have a large pot of coffee with full-sized cups. Last time I was here, they were still making the coffee, and I had to sample three kinds of pie and some roasted vegetables and listen to the speech about the rosemary gravy and drive the cart around a couple of times before the coffee was ready to drink. But this time, I’m thinking the coffee is ready, so I won’t have to eat all that non-local pie and the jumbo fried shrimp first. Before I can think, I am staring down at the cup of coffee in my hands, and I think of David Byrne, saying,
“You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile,” and I truly don’t know how that cup of coffee got there. I couldn’t throw it out (its about those starving children in
It took me ten days to lose the coffee headaches. I went out of town twice during January, and each time I managed to get to a bit of coffee.
This month I was going to continue with brown rice as an exception. But, the morning was cold and I decided that it would be better to wrap my hands around a warm mug of coffee instead of a warm bowl of rice. And this whole month, I am going to inhale.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Today I had planned to go to a local food potluck in Los Angeles County. In the morning, I went through my seeds, picking out the most rare and unusual varieties. Not everyone gets the tepary beans, you know. In the afternoon I went out to the community garden to gather all my best salad greens. The cool rainy weather has been kind.
Tucked underneath the shell peas I found a few volunteer corn salad plants. Last year I had tried to save some seed, but the seeds were so stinky they had to be removed from the house. I threw the rest of the seeds here and there, and that is where all the corn salad plants are this year.
My neighbor offered me some really great arugula in exchange for bean and pea nibbling rights. I cut one buttercrunch lettuce head out of its protective cage, and a few sprigs of cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, and thyme. I harvested another leek just in case.
“Take all you want,” crowed J, another neighbor, after discovering the cut-and-come-again nature of his row of broccoli plants. I picked several mini-spears for the salad.
There was one more plant to be harvested. In the midst of the sweet pea patch, I recently noticed a volunteer celery plant. Since the peas were getting much taller, the celery underneath was sweet and crisp and naturally blanched.
At home I sautéed the leeks in a local olive oil, added slivers of red corno di toro pepper fresh from the backyard and finished it off with a squeeze of lemon from a neighbor’s tree. I carefully sliced the celery into chevrons and assembled the salad.
I drove to the potluck, but upon arrival, I found out that they insisted on a large “donation” to attend, so I turned around and went home and ate the salad locally. Someday I hope to give some seeds to some of the localvores I had planned to meet tonight. In the meantime, I will make sure my neighbors, who contributed to my potluck salad, have all the seeds they need, even the teparies.