Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Salad competition - Locavore potluck redo

Kris posted his salad, but now we need a salad-off. Since I don't have a camera, I'll have to describe what I got to eat this week. I started with spinach from R, freshly plucked from his garden, crispy-tender and very curly. I added my own freckles romaine baby lettuce, and plenty of lettuce that B gave to me. (She was in Ojai this Sunday and went a little hog-wild at the farmer's market.) The varieties look like cos romaine, red oak, lolla rossa and buttercrunch. She also gave me some tender new asparagus, so I steamed it along with the haricot vert string beans and baby broccoli from my garden. I chopped a huge orange sweet tequila sunrise pepper and a small but deadly orange habanero and added it to the mix. The radishes came from M's garden. They were large and pink, with pink markings on the inside. I also slivered my own celery stalks, scallions and baby fennel.
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


Rachel gave me some of these interesting squashes last year, but by the time I got to them, they were infested with bugs, and I had to throw them out. This year, I got another set, and they were doing well on the counter. Yesterday I noticed that all of them were sprouting. I planted one squash and cooked another. I still have one left for the Thanksgiving holidays.
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

Lazy Housewife Ronco Gardening

I have added another permanent plant to my garden, one that requires virtually no care or replanting, only an undisturbed place in the garden. First it was bunching onions. Then, to my surprise, I found out that overgrown leeks come up with baby plants all around, so when the leek is harvested (for soup!?) the tiny plants can be replanted. I have a couple of pole bean varieties that come up year after year. I just cut them down for the season and throw some mulch on top.
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

Our last Official Potluck for the year

Now we are into full-scale winter hibernation. There are no more official locavore potlucks for the rest of the year, AND the farmers' market is closing. I stopped by the community garden and almost no one else was there. The majority of gardeners aren't really into winter crops, so they don't come as often.
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

Bean Wars

My late beans are finally in! They seem to take so long this time of year, but well worth the wait. The first of the new crop of haricot verts was in this Monday, and now we are fighting over who gets to eat them all. I have only a few plants, but I am getting about one serving per day.
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

Shopping Trip

I can count the number of times I visited a typical grocery store this year on one hand, and still have some fingers left. But this week, I did venture into one to purchase an exception for this month. Turkeys are already on sale and I wanted to get a bird and roast it while it is cool enough to run the oven.
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

Amaranth challenge

I sure have harvested lots of the stuff this fall. Several plants ready for harvesting blew over during the Santa Ana winds, chucking lots of their seeds, which sprouted crazily, so I have a second crop. I really want amaranth to work out as a food crop. Who could argue with a plant that grows like a weed, yet grows so beautifully, with almost no water and no care?
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.