Archive for May 2013

now and later

May 8, 2013

When I begin laying out my garden each year, I’m mentally grouping the vegetables into four families: nightshades, cucurbits, legumes, and….other random stuff. Plants belonging to one family tend to have similar nutritional needs; they also share susceptibility to some of the same diseases and pests. Keeping kin together and rotating them to a different section of the garden each year is a way to keep everyone healthier without resorting to chemicals. So I try to end up with more-or-less-equal square footage for each of these categories.

But before that, back in seed-ordering season, I’m thinking about different groupings: now and later. The now vegetables are the reason I started gardening: the luscious tomatoes that can barely contain their own juices, the delicate greens that are best when cut moments before being dressed simply and served. I once thought I’d never get enough of these things–and in deep winter, when the catalogs arrive (seed merchants know what they’re doing) I still think that. But after a couple of years I found myself getting just as excited about preserving projects. And once you go there, it’s a short step to excess. (If you’re firing up the canner anyway, why bother with a few measly half-pints? Send the jumbo pack of beet seeds, please!)

But there is another category of later, one that has become more appealing as my garden has gotten bigger:  the “later” vegetables that keep with little help from me, like potatoes, winter squash, shell beans. Last year I felt very smart for planting lots of these (in the nightshade, cucurbit, and legume sections, respectively).

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All winter long, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labor. So, you’d think I’d be nearing the end but…you’d be wrong. While I’m not yet to the point where I’m tired of eating butternuts, it is getting to be time for the “food storage room” to be a “guest room” again. A few days ago, I roasted as many  as would fit in my oven.IMG_1618

These became:

– A curry-ish stew, made with a mysterious and magical spice blend (bought in Oman), plus onions, ginger, brown rice, dandelion greens, cilantro

– A couple of bags of squash puree for the freezer (which will probably be turned into something like the above)

– Squash gnocchi, again for the freezer

– Roasted squash seeds with cayenne, cumin and a touch of honey

All of these things are good, but they do not compare with the transformation achieved last night. I went to visit a friend in the next village and brought her a nice-looking specimen, plus a few storage failures to feed her goats.

She, in turn, sent me home with some just-snapped asparagus spears from her own garden.

Talk about transformation! I ate about half of them on the drive home. When I got home, I tossed some leftover rice with lemon, chives and feta, then topped with sosofresh sautéed asparagus and a fried egg.IMG_1654

Category: now.

 

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extravagance

May 6, 2013

A half-cup of beans, sown in the soil, will likely return 30 or 40 plants, each heavy with pods of new legumes…or the same quantity can be cooked and consumed in one siting.

So why is it that beans for dinner gets filed under “frugal” while flowers for breakfast seems ridiculously decadent?Image

dandelion days

May 5, 2013

On arrival last week, I surprised not to see bright dandelions dotting the lawn—like everything else, they’re behind schedule this spring. Since I’m late to the garden party, too, I’m OK with their tardiness; I know that once the blooms do show up, the greens turn from pleasantly bitter to tough and aggressive.

I’ve been eating the greens on and off for the last week, and even though there are plenty of immature plants available for harvest, I’ve noticed the young leaves are tougher than usual—hungover and disoriented from their extra-long winter nap, they’ve come up fighting. It takes an extra measure of determination (in the form of prolonged chewing) to assimilate them.

Friday saw the first splashes of yellow, which was not entirely bad news, as I’ve been wanting to try this. For dinner, I thought I’d prepare dandelions two ways, beginning with my standby method with the greens (slowly brown onions, add sherry vinegar, boil down while stirring with a spoon dipped in honey, add greens). After I threw the greens in the pot, I clapped on the lid, turned off the heat, and began the fritters.  I didn’t have milk, so I substituted yogurt thinned with water. I also used a blend of quinoa flour and corn flour (more of the former). And I added some snipped chives—a brighter echo of the caramelized alliums in the greens.Image

Dip. Twirl. Sizzle. Hmmm…. the bottoms darkened but the tops remained quite liquid. Of course I hadn’t brought the recipe into the kitchen with me, and of course I didn’t think to go upstairs and review it. Had I done so, I would have seen that the instructions say to flip the flowers. I might also have noticed that the illustrations showed stems trimmed to nothing between the time of the dipping and the finished product (although the recipe made no mention of this tedious task). Luckily, I had the oven on for something else, so I moved the fritters in for a few minutes—problem solved. They were delicious, nicely complemented by some of last year’s pickled beets, but too fussy to repeat anytime soon.Image

The next morning, I added a chopped handful of dandelion greens and some sesame seeds to the leftover fritter batter. I probably would have had better luck if I had tried several smaller fritters instead of one large one (which fell apart). Not exactly what I had pictured when starting out, but once doctored with some sriracha, sesame seeds and cilantro, it was a great start to the day.Image

Once, I saw dandelions only as unwanted competition for the plants I chose to tend and did my utmost to eradicate them. But after a couple of years of wrestling with the green-and-gold bullies, I found some respect on the flip side of my annoyance. These “weeds” are masterful in their employment of two opposite, yet equally successful, survival strategies. With their hairy taproots, they dig deep; at the same time, their achenes—aided by aerodynamic pappus—have perfected the art of letting go.

My admiration hasn’t stopped me from trying to rout them from my garden, but I’m no longer so hard on myself when I see that familiar cluster of jagged leaves emerge….again. I know that their will—and skill—for survival is far beyond my feeble attempts at suppression.

And besides, they’re delicious.