Archive for the ‘experiments’ category

if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em.

May 11, 2010

Spring weeds greens with…sliced pickled garlic and oregano/chive foccacia


brown rice pilaf with dried figs, almonds, sweet spices

their own roots


polenta, poached eggs, last summer’s pesto, parm

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first (and second) crop

April 13, 2010

On Friday afternoon, I cleared the small garden behind the house. Over the past few years, I’ve cut a lot of dandelion leaves for eating, and I’ve dug up a lot of their taproots to make room for my vegetables, but I had never tried eating the root, despite the enthusiastic exhortations of Euell Gibbons. This day, however, I determined to combine weed control with dinner preparation and sup on dandelion two ways. (I hedged my bets by also setting some focaccia to rise before beginning my work—I figured not only would the sweet carmelized onion topping balance the inevitable bitterness, but the refined flour could cushion my system for the plant’s powerful cleansing properties.)  

Uncle Euell’s recipe for the roots goes like this: “Slice them thinly crosswise, boil in two waters, with a pinch of soda added to the first water, then season with salt, pepper and butter.” My roots were much smaller than his, which he described as having several forks as big as your little finger, so I left them whole. After the first boil, I took a taste and was very pleasantly surprised. There may have been a very slight bitterness, but you had to know to look for it. And their taste—slightly nutty, slightly artichoke-y. Oh edible taproots, where have you been all my life?  As good as they might taste, their appearance leaves something to be desired:  I cooked a handful of walnuts in butter, and just as it was beginning to brown, threw in the chopped blanched roots and tipped a splash of wine from my glass. I cooked only long enough to heat and glaze the root pieces, then stirred in some chives. Still not beautiful, but so, so good. (The lovely red stuff is a survivor from last year’s mesclun patch.)

Leftover rootstuff with some fresh leaves for lunch the next day:   Saturday I moved on to the big garden. It gets lots more sun, so not surprisingly these dandelions were better developed. By now I trusted Uncle Euell unreservedly, so when I saw that most of them had tiny undeveloped blossoms in the center of their crowns, I looked forward to enjoying another one of the dandelion delicacies described in Stalking the Wild Asparagus. These three-food plants were even more trouble to clean and prepare, but eventually I had this: Supposedly the crowns take only one boil, but a quick taste told me this was wrong, wrong, wrong. I put them back on for another boil, then contemplated what to do. I had planned on serving them simply, but the thought of facing an unmitigated bowlful of bitterness and earth was not so appealing.  So I set some water to boil for pasta in one pot; in another, I warmed some olive oil with chopped garlic and red pepper.  The second swim did much to dilute the bitterness. I threw the crowns in the zingy oil for a minute or so, followed by the cooked pasta, then some romano cheese and fresh oregano. Success! It really was quite delicious. There is something satisfying about reaping what one did not sow, about the idea of gathering several meals for nothing. Of course, when you consider I spent several hours on the harvest, another couple of hours cleaning, and another hour or so on preparation, those meals were hardly free, even if one somehow figures in the value of clearing weeds to make way for vegetables. On the other hand, those hours were completely absorbing, full of more variety and fascination than many evenings I’ve spent in the theater at considerable price. I can’t even begin to assign a value to such education and entertainment as I experience in the garden, even before the intentional crops begin to appear. So… I win!

so long, sucker

March 3, 2010

When my kaffir lime “tree” arrived, it was little more than a stick with a couple of leaves spurting out of the top. So it’s been exciting to see it branch out in just a couple weeks’ time.

Yesterday I finally got around to reading “How to Grow Dwarf Citrus,” a helpful leaflet that came with the tree.

… Know where the graft is on your tree. It can usually be seen as a diagonal scar between four and eight inches from the soil. Remove all shoot growth below the graft. These suckers take the vitality from the top of the tree (the fruiting wood). Especially on young trees, they are very vigorous….

Of course, it should have been obvious that the fast-growing new branch didn’t really belong. Kaffir lime leaves have a distinctive double-oval shape, whereas these were simple singles. It seemed a shame to hack off something so green and so alive, but gardening requires a certain amount of toughness, and that which does not serve the greater goal must be jettisoned if your efforts are to bear fruit.

It wasn’t a total loss, though. Turns out that while citrus rootstock leaves don’t have the same heady aroma as true Kaffir lime leaves, they are vaguely citrusy and pleasantly green-tasting. Slivered, they make a very nice addition to hot water and honey.

winter garden

February 23, 2010

Much as I love to garden, indoor plants have never been my thing. I made a half-hearted effort with some funny-looking succulents in my office once, but they would not have survived without some intervention from my colleagues.

But sometimes one thing leads to another… I ordered seeds for the Roseboom plot in January, and soon after that began looking at sources for fruit trees (I’m considering a blueberry hedge). Somehow I found myself staring at a site selling dwarf citrus, suitable for growing indoors. Sometimes it’s just a little too easy to point and click.

So, I had to go to Home Depot to buy a pot. And some dirt. And it became apparent that these things are true:

Clay pots are cheap.

Dirt comes in large bags.

Seed packets contain way more than I need for Roseboom.

I miss having green things in my life.

confronting the cupboard

February 22, 2010

Every winter I’ve gotten a little bit better at provisioning. I don’t find it particularly difficult to cook for one (I’ve had a lot of practice) but I do find it challenging to do it for only 2 or 3 days and have nothing left over… nothing that won’t keep until my next escape to the country, that is. Starting with my first garden I began freezing several varieties of pesto. Two summers ago, I added stewed and dried tomatoes to my repertoire. This year I stocked the larder with winter squash, many kinds of beans, even jars of pickles.

By the time I arrived at the house on Thursday evening, I already knew it was going to be a night for cranberry beans, cooked with lots of olive oil and other fragrant things. I like this preparation best with bread for sopping, but it was too late to start bread so I settled on a bed of polenta instead.

One benefit of this kind of slow-simmering meal (besides its deliciousness) is that it really warms up the house. One drawback is that, after the long drive, my belly often requires immediate attention. Usually I have some cheese or nuts around, but things were looking pretty grim… until, at the back of the refrigerator, I found a carefully wrapped half-button of goat cheese. (This was obviously the work of an overzealous helpful houseguest—I would have probably deemed the piece too small for saving and enjoyed it as my reward for cleaning the kitchen.) It was hard as a rock, but it smelled the way it should and wasn’t growing anything extra, so I shaved it thin and took a taste. Creamy taste, crackly texture—very nice with a glass of wine while the beans bubbled.

When shell beans are fresh from the garden, I will cook them in olive oil only, but because these were a little dehydrated, I first covered them with water and simmered them with a few whole cloves of garlic and some thyme branches. I never got around to cutting and drying herbs this year, but as I always say, if you can’t find thyme for the important things, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Once the beans were tender, I doused them in oil and finished over very low heat until all the water was gone, then ladled them over polenta and added a few more thyme leaves.

The next day, leftover polenta with pesto from the freezer.

And breakfast potatoes make a fine meal any time of day.

My first winter in the house, I would always arrive with groceries from the city—a few pieces of fruit, a hunk of cheese, a beautiful boule. Now I have the confidence to skip that step. When it comes to putting food by, I’m still learning, as evidenced by the occasional storage failure…

But self-sufficiency is not so much about having done something right as it is about being willing to enter into the adventure.

cold house? bake cookies.

December 31, 2009

Following recipes is not really my thing, therefore baking is not really my thing. But I’ve learned that biscotti can take a fair amount of experimentation/abuse. Once I accidentally doubled the butter (measurements aren’t my thing) and they were fine. Actually, better than fine—as one might expect on any occasion that includes double the butter.

I still have a pile of kumquats from my recent travels, so I thought I might try making some sweet-savory biscotti with candied kumquat and coriander.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe… more or less. I substituted extra virgin olive oil for the butter and cornmeal for some of the flour. I interpreted “pinch salt” quite liberally. I added a bunch of sliced almonds and chopped candied kumquats with (lots of) coriander. I skipped the whole business about buttering and flouring the pan—lining with foil is much simpler and also allows you to easily lift out the logs for slicing.

Cook’s treat: leftover coriander-kumquat syrup is very nice with gin.

improvised capers

September 3, 2009

I was in need of something sharp-flavored to perk up yet another plate of squash…. and craving olives. But not craving them enough to make the trek into Cooperstown. Hmm.

It is well-known among the kind of people that know such things that pickled nasturtium buds can serve as a substitute for capers. My plants were mostly past the bud state, alas. However, some of them had proceeded past the flowers into fruit.

I know I sometimes go overboard with my anthropomorphic descriptions of plants, but these little seed sacs…. well, I’ll just post a picture of a pair and leave it at that.000_0893

I’ve never read or heard anything about eating nasturtium fruits, so I tried one raw. Kind of sharp and watercressy–seemed worth sacrificing a bit of vinegar on an experiment. I brought some to a boil, added a little honey and a lot of salt, then threw in the little green fruits, which are about the size of a pea. After steeping for a bit, they tasted pretty good. Not as distinctly caper-y as the buds (I did have a few of those), but they made an interesting enough contrast with the smooth, bland squash.000_0895