On herblings.

27 07 2008

If you already love to cook, I’m sure preaching to the choir when I say that herbs area great starting place for any mini-garden. If you’re a fledging cook wanting to improve, let me reiterate. Herbs are the starting place.

For starters, while you can do a whole heck of a lot with salt, pepper, butter, and olive oil, eventually it’s time for some more flavor. Herbs from your yard give your food a sense of place; your food is flavored by what is thrives around you. Around here, I am growing sage, thyme, chives, garlic chives, basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, cilantro, , and spearmint. I snip rosemary from plants in the park. There’s nothing like being able to snip whatever you need for dinner.

Not to mention, growing them in your yard or in pots saves you $2 a pop every time you want to cook with herbs. Dry them during the summer and you don’t have to buy dried herbs to flavor meaty fall and winter dishes.

If you already have an herb garden or are looking for inspiration, I highly recommend The HerbFarm Cookbook. This has become my go-to source for ideas how to use herbs in cooking. It’s a little on the pricey side, but every recipe I have tried has been stellar, which is rare for a lot of cookbooks.

Updated to add a picture of this tasty loaf of foccacia from dinner tonight.


Project Strawberry: A new hope.

25 07 2008

Go.  Conquer. Take no prisoners. Avenge your forebearers.


Veggies coming along.

24 07 2008

One of the great things about being a beginner is seeing things happen for the first time. I read things in gardening books and think “for real?” Onions, in particular, just blow my mind.

I planted these little guys on a whim:

They took so long to sprout and were so weak, that I really didn’t think they were going to make it through the cold spring.

This is from today:

They started bulbing up a couple of weeks ago. I am very excited to see how much they will bulb up over the next few weeks. The fact they grow foliage, then turn around and send the energy down into the bulb all without being told what to do just blows my novice gardener’s mind. I’ve been using the little ones that never did grow much of a top as scallions.

I also planted carrots on whim to see how well they would do. Having no real sense of how much carrot is underneath all that top growth, I pulled two up today. They need a few more weeks, but these will be perfect on a salad. Next year, there will be more carrots!

The Dirt Sack: A lesson in what not to do.

24 07 2008

I think I wrote in one of my first posts that gardening can more than pay for itself as long as you keep it simple. If you need inspiration to keep it simple and avoid marketing gimmicks, read on.

Meet The Dirt Sack. No, that’s not its real name. Let us just say that this heavily marketed item has not lived up to my expectations for what I paid for it. The craftsmanship of this particular item lacked……any sort of craft. When we got it, one of the wires that was supposed to hold it up didn’t have hooks while the another wire had an extra hook. We have it held together with twine. We had to cut the plastic top off. Not to mention, by the time we were done, we were sorely wondering whether we had dropped every neighbor’s property values by $50k. It has three tomato plants growing out the side. I added lobelia to the top in an attempt to make it less hideous.

Now, WHY did I fall for this gimmick? Because (and here’s the dangerous part), it seemed like a good idea at the time. Rumor has it that there is some sort of tomato blight or rot or some other such evil in the soil in the community gardens. I thought to myself, “hey, I’ll add some vertical space in my garden and avoid the evil tomato killer.” At the same time, I thought I would do an “experiment”, Evil Tomato Killing Blight vs. The Dirt Sack. Well, I put my tomatoes in the ground in early June when it was really lovely, only to have it drop down into the 40s the next week. I was able to cover the three tomato plants that were in the ground, but not the ones in the dirt sack. So, the ones on the ground got a head start. This is what they look like now.

As you can see, thus far, no evidence of anything evil other than perhaps their growing resemblance to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. They’re also outproducing the tomatoes in The Dirt Sack like crazy. But, I’m told that the evil is coming. So, I would still be OK with The Dirt Sack if not for this:

The leaves are turning yellow one by one. These are the leaves on the tomatoes in the ground.

If I was an experienced gardener, I might know what this particular type of yellowing means, but I’m not experienced. I’m a novice. I rely on luck.

Want to bang your head against a wall? Try googling “yellow tomato leaves.” From what I can tell, yellow leaves can mean too much water, not enough water, too much fertilizer, not enough fertilizer, the wrong kind of fertilizer, or that your plants just don’t like you. So, I don’t know what is wrong with the tomatoes. It is happening to all three of them. It can’t be the evil blight from the soil because I put bagged soil into The Dirt Sack to protect them from the blight! Ack! So, now the temptation is to spend even MORE money trying to save the tomatoes. Liquid fertilizers. Organic sprays. You name it, I’ve thought about buying it. And then simple goes out the window.

Here is the lesson: If I had stuck to not buying gimmicky equipment and the tomatoes went to hell, I could have just pulled them out without being out much money. No, now I’m out a fair amount of money and I have a piece of junk that I will have to dispose of somehow at the end of the season and, by all appearances, I may not get a single tomato out of it.

Next time you’re on someone’s webpage and you see the next great thing, remember that you can do an awful lot of gardening with a few boards, nails, a shovel, a trowel, twine, bamboo, and cheap wire vegetable cages. Remember The Dirt Sack.

What a treat.

23 07 2008

I had a perfect storm of family and friends in town over the last week. As a result, I spent minimal time in the garden. When I went by today, this beauty was waiting for me. There’s not much more to say.


23 07 2008

Rule About Eating #1:

I don’t think there is any faster way to create a poor eater than to force food upon someone else “because it is good for you.”

Rule About Eating #2: Never make a bad recipe twice. I have made my share of poor food as a result of bad recipes. Once you know either the recipe doesn’t work or that you simply don’t like it, don’t make the tragic error of ever trying it again.

So given these two rules, how does one actually end up eating something like chard? I’m sure that there are people who are born liking greens, but I am not one of them. But, greens are available locally nearly year round, and I wanted to find ways to prepare them such that I would actually LIKE eating them.

After much trial and error, I have found one and only one chard preparation I really enjoy. You can find the original recipe in Rick Bayless’ cookbook, Mexican Everyday. The original recipe is essentially tacos made out of tender greens. When I make it next, I’ll take photos. Inspired by that recipe and my love for breakfast, I have come up with this scramble. The best part of this recipe is that it is FAST.

This makes breakfast for one person.

Start with three or four large chard leaves, more if the leaves are smaller. I know, it looks like A LOT, but just wait and see what happens.

Cut the middle stems entirely out of the leaves. Some people like to cook with the stems. As of yet, I am not one of those people. Then cut the leaves into half inch slices. Give them a good wash under the faucet, and leave any remaining water on the leaves.

I like my breakfast with a kick, so I add spice from the start.

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. This pan is a bit big for cooking for one, but the dark bottom of my non-stick pans makes it hard to show what is going on. (Admittedly, the bottom of this pan is, uh….well loved.) Nonstick pans work as well as cast-iron. Toss in a clove or two of minced or pressed garlic and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes. Turn the heat to medium / medium -high and cook for about two minutes, until the garlic starts turning golden.

Then, toss in the chard leaves, about a 1/8th cup of water, and a generous pinch of salt. I know, it still looks like an awful lot of chard for any sane person.

Cover, and cook until wilted. This will only take 2-3 minutes. Take the cover off. Now, this is the part of the process that I think make chard worth eating. Keep the heat on medium high and press the liquid out of the chard until the chard is nearly dry. It will end up looking about like this:

When the chard is nearly dry, remove it from the pan. Turn the heat down to medium. In a non-stick pan, there is no need to add any extra butter or oil. In this pan, I add about a tablespoon of butter. Then I make scrambled eggs with three eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper. When the eggs are just about finished, I throw the chard back in. I sprinkle with some chopped chives from the garden and add a bit of whatever hot sauce I have in the cupboard.

But really, what is breakfast without toast with homemade strawberry preserves?


Project Strawberry

16 07 2008

My new raised bed is under siege from Enemy #1. I used to think ivy was rather pretty on brick buildings. Now that I have been working to eradicate it, I think whoever plants it needs some time on some sort of chain gang pulling it out. Thus far, I have filled five garbage cans and one full-sized yard waste bin with this stuff. I am maybe half way done.

I have started planting these little troopers. They’re wild strawberries, native to the Pacific Northwest. My goals are several. First and foremost, I am always looking for more places to grow food. If these little guys get around to producing before I move out, they’ll have been worth all the effort. Second, they will provide much needed groundcover for the blighted areas of the yard. Third, once established, they will require little work once I am gone. I figure I owe this to my landlord. Fourth, I wanted to add some native plants into the mix to try and restore one little bit of habitat. Fifth, they’re supposed to grow well in sun or shade, whether it is very wet or dry. I have a little of each in the yard, so hopefully they will put down roots and take over.

I mixed in a lot of organic fertilizer before I planted, and this time I added quite a bit of extra lime to my mix. The soil is so leached of any minerals that extra lime is a must. I still have to mulch the planted area with compost, but I am pleased with the progress. I just need the yard waste bins to be emptied and I’ll get ‘er done!

Hold on. I can hear it now.

Someone out there is asking “why put all this work into someone else’s property?” I have heard this over and over again throughout my apartment-dwelling days.

No offense to anyone, but to me that is the equivalent of asking “why not wait to be happy until you’re rich?” I know that that is not what people think they mean, but that is the end result.

I’m not advocating remodeling your apartment, but I don’t see any good reason why to avoid improving the place just because you don’t have ownership of it. In this case, pulling up weeds and planting a modest number of plants may set me back a few hours, a bottle of Advil, and a couple hundred bucks by the time the project is over.

Some day, I plan on being a homeowner. I hope that day is sooner rather than later. But, there are many people who, by choice or by circumstances, will not have that privilege. Are we supposed to just sit in shabby apartments looking at yards of invasive weeds and do nothing while hoping the future will bring better?

Nah. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I really have wanted to wait to create a nice living environment?

Create a joyful space now; create a joyful space later. It is not as if the world is so overrun with joyful spaces that the creation of one more would go unnoticed.