Posts Tagged ‘Garden’

Nyom, nyom, nyom

November 15, 2010

Note: I’m not sure why I didn’t publish when I wrote it, but here it is: only three months after composition.

I’ve been on a baking streak lately. First it was the Bean’s birthday cake:

Then I made chocolate-peanut butter chip cookies, using–alas–the Doubletree Hotel recipe instead of my old Betty Crocker standby that has all the family-approved adjustments written in. They were good, but not great. Which is why we still have a dozen left after two whole weeks–a situation unheard of in our household.

Next I tried a new Smitten Kitchen recipe: Peach Shortbread. Oh, it looked so beautiful in Deb’s photos. And it was tasty, but not what I think of when I think shortbread. A little too close to pie crust in texture. I’d like to try messing around with this recipe to see if I can come up with something more like shortbread, but embedded with some sweet little peach slices as in this recipe.

Tuesday was a dear friend’s birthday, so I made her a single-layer chocolate cake, cutting down the recipe I used for the Bean’s birthday.

Wednesday was the weekly garden Weed-and-Feed potluck, so I made Plum Kuchen. I had a few pints of wild plums from the farmer’s market and a Deborah Madison recipe accompanied by yet another gorgeous photograph. Mine was delicious, even if it wasn’t as pretty as the inspiring picture. I love to cook for garden night, because I can try new recipes without fearing I’ll have to eat a ton of the result. Aside from the Green Tomato Cake (which was HUGE), I have yet to bring home any leftovers.

Yesterday I received a few gallons of pears and apples from my grandparents’ trees. Today I searched for pear recipes online. I found another Smitten recipe: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake. So I made it for tonight’s dessert, to share with my parents and in-laws. Ooh, yummy.

Up next? Another Deborah Madison recipe: Cornmeal Crepes with Plum Compote (for breakfast, because I still have at least a pint of plums). Then maybe Emeril’s Blue Cheese-stuffed Figs with Lavendar Honey. Or perhaps Fig and Orange Flower Water Custard Tart, also from Deborah Madison. But then what will I make with all of my remaining apples and pears?

Am I in a rut? Is it irrational that I want to bake at least three desserts between now and our trip to New York (only five more days!)? What does it mean that my baking is suddenly using more fruit than chocolate? Will I ever learn to take gorgeous food pictures for my blog?


End of the season

October 13, 2009

The weather predicted for Saturday, October 10: hard freeze in the early morning hours.

The weather received: 3+ inches of snow.

Hello, winter.

Because I hate to see good food go to waste (especially if I’ve grown it), I made a special trip to our garden at sundown Friday night. I picked a plastic grocery bag full of these:

I spent all day polishing these peas...

Can you guess what they are?

I filled a second bag with green and red tomatoes, and a third with various herbs to dry or use. I drove home after dark, wishing I had made it to the garden earlier, because I KNEW there was more that I had missed.

Saturday was the last day of the farmers’ market. Sigh. I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up, since it was still snowing lightly at 10. But I couldn’t just ignore the last week, not when I had made up a whole list of what I wanted to buy. So I showed up with my $40 in hand (double what I usually spend), and gave my custom to the growers who had braved the cold.

I made three trips to the car.

It’s an affliction.

I bought:

  • parsnips
  • carrots
  • turnips
  • onions
  • hubbard squash
  • acorn squash
  • pumpkins
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • apples
  • green onions
  • red kale
  • beets

And I was given a sourdough baguette from a vendor anxious to get in out of the cold.

With my car full of produce, I headed home. Unfortunately, my kitchen was already full of Friday night’s haul, Thursday’s coop order, Wednesday’s visit to my parents’ garden, and leftovers from last week’s market.

I pulled on my gloriously stained apron and set to work. As of now (2 AM on Sunday), I accomplished:

  • one green tomato pie
  • ~2 pounds of okra, trimmed and cleaned for gumbo
  • 5 cups of zucchini, grated for bread (half in the freezer, half for now)
  • ~1/2 pound of blanched spinach in the freezer
  • 4 cups of rhubarb, chopped and frozen
  • 1 1/2 cups of rhubarb, chopped for use this week
  • a pot of soup composed of the last of my red potatoes, an aging leek, bacon trimmings from Wohlner’s, and a bit of cream
  • 2 heads of lettuce cleaned and ready for use
  • 2 trays of herbs drying

Oh, and remember that mystery photo? Those are unripe currant tomatoes. I plucked a quart of them off the vine. They are now residing in the freezer with everything else.

Did I mention that I made nutty sweet potato waffles for breakfast, sorted my baby’s clothes, closed all of the storm windows and did two loads of dishes? And I took my older daughter outside for a snowball fight. This is the most energetic day I’ve had in…uh…my life?

The Trials and Tribulations of My Yard

July 11, 2008

Omaha has had an unusually stormy spring/summer this year. We’ve had one confirmed tornado in the city, plus several other severe thunderstorms that have knocked out power and torn down trees, etc. It has been a rather trying couple of months.

A few weeks ago, we had a huge storm with 100+ mph winds, quarter-size hail, flash floods…the works. I happened to be on the interstate at the time (yay), but my leased car and I took refuge under an overpass until the hail stopped and visibility returned. When I exited the interstate, I found every single street blocked by downed trees or floodwater. I eventually had to re-enter the interstate and try another exit. Every stoplight I came to was dark, which led to an even greater hazard because many people don’t know how to deal with a dark stoplight*. Everywhere I drove there were shattered windows, downed trees, drifts of hail, chunks of building insulation and floodwaters. Eventually I made it to my daughter’s daycare, finding her and the rest of her class in the bathroom/storm shelter, eating popsicles.

At the house, we had no power and no phone service. A tree was down and blocking the road right next door, but our trees were all amazingly upright. Hundreds of people were out in the streets, trying to figure out what to do and where to start to clean up. More than 150,000 homes had no power. Leaves and flowers were torn to bits, plastered all over the street, sidewalk and homes. It was…unbelievable.

The storm lasted ten minutes.

I THINK everyone has power again, now, but I’m not sure. I know of folks who were without power for more than four days.

Anyway. How does this connect to my yard? Well, my daylilies were just starting to bloom. They’re flattened now. My mulberry tree was fruiting, but most of the berries have blown off, ripe or not. My tomato plants and onions have been broken. My enormous, gorgeous zucchini plants had their leaves shredded. My hostas were also been shredded. It was all rather disheartening.

But at least we weren’t alone on that front. All told, we were very lucky.

The real trial (for me and my yard) came at the hands of our property manager.

I must back up and explain the situation. I live in a duplex. We have an enormous, terraced back yard and a smaller front yard. Last summer, when we moved in, the plant life was entirely out of control. The front yard, which is almost entirely shaded, was weedy and full of volunteer trees. The back yard was also overgrown, with little distinction between weeds and landscaping. BUT you could tell that there had been some pretty intensive landscaping done at some point. To be frank, the whole house was in pretty sore need of maintenance, as well, and the property manager did almost nothing we asked of him.

So fast forward to this summer. I have tried to do some gardening in our yard. I hacked down the volunteer trees and planted lilies of the valley around the big shade tree that dominates our front yard. I trimmed the three shrub/trees that dominate the back yard. I planted tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, peas, beets, spinach, carrots, etc. I weeded the path that winds down through the terraces. I weeded the patio. I composted. I mulched. I dead-headed the dandelions so they wouldn’t take over the entire neighborhood. I picked up the garbage left in our yard again and again.

I did quite a lot, and so did my darling husband. But, when it rains as much as it has here lately, the amount we did was not enough. So things were looking pretty shaggy and overgrown. Most of my food plants had been strangled by weeds, and those that hadn’t were struggling to overcome storm damage.

In the midst of this battle came the owner of our building. And the new property manager. On a tour. The day before we left on vacation. (And apparently just a few days before the smokey neighbors moved out.) Oy.

Last Friday, July 4, I glanced out my window to see three unknown men wielding weed-eaters, lawn-mowers and hedge-clippers. Knowing that this would be my only chance to forestall certain destruction, I ran outside. I walked the men through the yard and garden, pointing out the plants that I wanted to keep. Then we left, because I couldn’t stand to watch.

When they finished, roughly three hours later, my yard was in shambles. They mowed down my lilies of the valley and left the new volunteer trees. They clear-cut the lovely ground cover that disguised the front-yard dirt. They trampled my onions and carrots–two of the few things that had been well-mulched. They cut down two of the three enormous shrub/trees in our half of the yard, and both of the shrub/trees in the other half. They nearly destroyed the sage and chives.

On the up side, we can start over with more mulch and less weeding. I can get some snow-on-the-mountain transplants from my mom, to repopulate the front yard. My tomatoes and herbs have a LOT more sun. I have more room for herbs and anything else I decide to plant. I can hang clothes on the line. The smokey neighbors are GONE.

On the down side, I don’t think my carrots and onions are ever coming back. The landscaping, which had been so deliberately done–if difficult to maintain–and symmetrical, is gone. More sunshine means more grass, so we may actually have to start mowing. And no new neighbors yet, so no one to keep up with the other side of the yard.

I can’t decide if I should feel disheartened or empowered.

The Summer Book Club

July 6, 2008

I joined a summer reading club at the invitation of my dear friend Misch, who is a librarian by profession. The club is made up almost entirely of librarians and other folk who make a living from words or books, a category that occasionally includes me. This is the second summer I’ve participated, and it’s a lot of fun–even if it is entirely online. This is a club for people who looked forward to writing book reports in school. And HERE is my first entry:

Review #1: Early Pleasures: Tales from a Biologist’s Garden by Roger B. Swain

Published 1978 (mine is from 1981)    ~    ISBN # 0-684-166657-7    ~    188 pages    ~    Challenge book #1

I really liked this book. It has 21 short chapters, each devoted to a specific garden or wildlife phenomenon. Like parsnips.

The main worry I always have about nonfiction books is that they will be dry, boring, too-clinical, etc. This one struck the perfect balance between informative and entertaining, with lots of slightly folksy anecdotes and observations. Some chapters, like “White Life”, lean a little heavier on the biology aspect…which led me to read them slightly less attentively than the chapters with more personality. All, however, were enjoyable.

I liked the self-reliant tilt of “Time, Energy and Maple Syrup”, which also showed up in “The Attraction of Wild Bees” and “The Cultured Cabbage”. Making maple syrup is just the type of thing I would do, so I felt a kinship to Mr. Swain. He reminded me a bit of Barbara Kingsolver at times, as they both have writings that intertwine science with humanity.

In “Salting the Earth” and “The Squirrel and the Fruitcake”, Swain portrayed some challenges to agriculture and horticulture that are due (at least in part) to the choices of mankind. The possible solutions he suggests are both amusing and realistic.

The chapters of the book follow the cycle of nature, beginning in late winter/early spring and wrapping up just after the Christmas mistletoe. My favorite chapter of all was the final: “Ex Familia”. In this chapter, Swain looks with honesty at all the ecological challenges we face and presents his own optimistic point of view. I won’t spoil it, but…it made me feel better.

Mary Didn’t Have a Little Lamb, but I Did

May 23, 2008

…and it was tasty.

Lambsied Ivy

This was a supper from last week.

Local lamb “spare-ribs” from Dakota Harvest, via the Nebraska Food Coop. Roasted-sugared asparagus from the farmers’ market. The salad consisted of pea shoots and sunflower shoots with fresh chevre (all three from Shadowbrook Farms), dried apricots and homemade vinaigrette.

The only drawback was the presence of fennel seeds in my herb mix (rubbed on the lamb). Apparently, I hate fennel seeds. And their flavor is pervasive.

And, just because it’s so darn cute, here is a photo of my Bean, enjoying the botanical gardens last weekend.

Sophie-bean at Lauritzen Gardens