Archive for May 2012

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May 17, 2012

Although I’ve been at this gardening thing for seven years now, I still haven’t acquired the ability to start seeds indoors in the spring. Or perhaps it’s more a question of will than ability — who wants to mess with potting mixes, lights and timers, temperature gauges, hardening off, and the like? Some of my friends do, which is all the more reason not to bother. Yesterday, after a lovely lakeside lunch with just such a friend, he presented me with nine healthy young crucifers, plus a bag of just-picked asparagus.

I had planned to spend the afternoon writing, but those adolescent plants, each confined to a single shot of soil, clearly needed to go into the ground. It took more effort than I expected to clear a space east of the rhubarb, north of the strawberries, south of the peas. By the time I was done I was too dirty and tired to write, so I figured I might as well give the rest of the daylight to the garden. Taking a break from intense physical effort, I turned to the fiddly task of weeding the crops I had planted in the early spring — strawberries, radishes, snow peas, kale, parsnips. Then it was time for asparagus. 

A perennial, asparagus requires a large initial investment of time and effort but then rewards you with years of production. I’ve been around the block with asparagus once before, but just before the long-awaited first harvest, the plot met a tragic early demise, due to a miscommunication with the friendly neighbor who plows up my garden every year. It took me a few seasons to get over the loss, but this year I was ready to start again. The good news: now that I’ve been working this plot for a few years, it was much easier to dig the trench for the crowns. Not easy, mind you, but easier.

I love how, on television cooking shows, a dish goes into the oven just before the commercial break, and then just a few minutes later the host is enjoying a fully cooked and beautifully plated version. I felt the same kind of magical cheat when I walked inside from planning my asparagus — which will not be ready to harvest until three years from now — and enjoyed garden-fresh asparagus for dinner. Grassy-sweet and tender, these fat spears required no cooking, just a little boost of protein. I decided to make a reverse pesto: instead of fistfuls of herb with a little bit of nuts, into the blender went a pile of almonds with a small amount of wild arugula, chives, green garlic and tarragon. To get things moving I added some olive oil and lemon.

It was delicious, but about halfway though the afternoon caught up with me… I was, literally, too tired to keep chewing. I finished the almond stuff with a spoon, then I tucked the asparagus into the fridge and myself into bed.

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all in the timing

May 16, 2012

If I could choose the growing season’s opening crop, rhubarb would not be it. Not that there’s anything wrong with rhubarb — I’m quite fond of it — but to my mind the whole point of having a garden is to enjoy variations on the best recipe ever, which involves gilding perfect produce with a bit of olive oil and salt, heat optional, maybe a squeeze of lemon if you’re feeling fancy. This recipe works on just about everything that comes out of the ground, except for those stringy stems of oxalic acid that are the first thing to appear on my plot every spring. They require cooking. They require sweetening. Worst of all, they usually require a recipe, one with actual measurements and timings and temperatures. This is not the way I prefer to cook. While I love to tuck into a rhubarb pie, I’d rather let someone else be in charge of the baking…

But a few months ago I came across this recipe, and I’ve been looking forward to rhubarb season ever since. After gathering some rhubarb and cilantro yesterday, I thought about toying with the spice mixture but then decided, just this once, I would try the recipe exactly as written. Well, almost exactly — I love Mark Bittman’s tendency toward simplification, but I find it really does make a difference if you sizzle your spices before adding them. It was not too much extra effort to pop the mustard seeds in a little oil before proceeding with the recipe.Image

The rhubarb dal went so well that I thought I’d try another recipe (two in one day!). I’ve been reading a great cookbook called Bean by Bean, and I imagine I’ll be making many concoctions inspired by the recipes therein once we hit bean season. For now, though, I’m really glad to have come across a recipe for injera, the Ethiopian flatbread. Injera serves as a base for stew-like foods, as well as a simple utensil. As it turns out, it couldn’t be easier to make: 1 ½ cups water, 1 cup teff flour, 1 teaspoon yeast, left to ferment for 12-48 hours and then griddled. For breakfast this morning I had injera spread with leftover dal, garnished with last year’s onions, pickled with beets, maple syrup, cardamom and ginger. Yum.Image

Rhubarb appears like a gift in early spring, after a winter of neglect, but then requires some serious attention to get it from the plot to the plate. It’s just as well, really, since I have plenty of time to mess around in the kitchen at the moment. The ground is still too wet to work, the weather still a bit too cool to plant most summer vegetables. Once those crops go in, they will require a sustained effort to bring them to harvest, but once picked, they’ll need only the simplest of preparations. Thank goodness.

Perhaps rhubarb’s appearance is better timed than I realized…