August 31, 2008

Counting my chickens; or, Which Chick to Pick?

When strung up in a hospital bed with a fractured leg, I imagine one of the activities that helps to pull one through the drudgery and pain of healing are daydreams of a future, healthy body, running through a sunny field.

Today, though I'm not in pain or in a hospital or even hurt, I'm facing a spell devoid of gardens or greenery or even spiders. So I've been engaging my imagination in Chicken Fantasy Land, and I invite you to help me in this distraction.

So, come March, which chick should I pick?

This is a handy tool I found on 

So far, this is my favorite.

Thought I'd share this, too

Someone I know did this video at the DNC in Denver. 

Food for thought

This video by Monica Almeida on the Pima and their connection (and lack thereof) to the land is a larger lesson put in sharp relief. 

August 30, 2008

Two beauties before bed

I'm a little overwhelmed at the thought of leaving again for another week of political madness, so I thought I'd just share two of the beautiful things from my yard today.

I planted these poppies from seeds my mother sent. She has them growing on her property in South Dakota, if the goats haven't eaten them yet.

And this tomato. . . I hope the colors come though online. There's a quality loss in the transition to this blog that I can't fix, but I call this my Rastafarian tomato.
Wish me luck in Minneapolis. I called my boss and asked her to send me to photograph the hurricane instead of the Republicans. She said, "Actually. . ."

So it looks like I may be off to NOLA soon after.

Here we go again.

August 29, 2008

Back in Beantown - recipe time.

In honor of Beantown, and my successful standby-on-a-full-flight journey home, I thought I'd post a quick recipe.

Yes, I did go straight to the garden as soon as I got home, but I'm too zonked right now to consider writing anything that requires serious thought or explanation. So on to the beans.

For this recipe, you need:

1. Beans (duh) -- like pole beans, snap peas, any sort of longish, skinnyish beans. I used these (blue coco snap beans from my garden). You'll need a bundle that would fit comfortably in both hands, but you can always use more if you want.

2. Eggs (3-4), hardboiled

3. Red-skinned or some other smallish potato (about 4-5 medium or 8-10 small), cut into chunks.

4. Can of anchovy fillets in olive oil, 5. a can of tuna, and 6. beans of some sort (such as cannellini or garbanzo). I used a can, but you can always boil your own.
7. Shallots or mild onion - or just an onion - sliced thinly. I used the runt onions from my garden that I failed to plant correctly (so they didn't actually grow very much). Lesson learned.8. Olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, fresh lemon juice (1/2 lemon is sufficient, but more is nice)

9. Pitted olives of some sort, chopped up. My favorite are the olive-cured black ones, but Kalamata olives work great, too.

The very best way I've found to prepare hard-boiled eggs is to place them in an empty pot and add cold water until it covers the eggs by about an inch. Once it boils, cover and remove from heat for about 15 minutes. Then place them in cold water until they're cool enough to peel. This way you avoid dropping eggs into boiling water, burning yourself, and accidentally making egg drop soup. If you already know this marvelous kitchen tip, please excuse my ignorance, and send me another tip I should know, but don't.

Boil the potatoes that you've chopped up until they are cooked through, but still firm. Once cooked, drain and place in cold water to stop the cooking. Don't over-cook them or they will become mush. Part of the appeal of this salad is the firmness of the potato flesh contrasted with the creamy saltiness of the sauce.

Quarter the hard-boiled eggs, and add them to the drained and cool potatoes.And for the beans: you boil them, but only a little. Remove the strings/ends if necessary (the older, tougher beans may need this) and prepare a pot of boiling water. If you have purple beans, prepare to be really impressed. Invite a kid to the stove, invoke your best Abracadabra! and blow their little mind.

Watch:Then this:. . . and 30 seconds later, this:I could do this all day. Purple, green. Purple, green. purplegreenpurplegreenpurplegreeeee....
Don't get too mesmerized, or you'll overcook the poor dears. Drain when tender, and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. When cool, drain and add to the rest of the stuff. Add the beans, olives and onions, too. Don't bother mixing yet, or you'll unnecessarily traumatize the potatoes.

(PATOP - People Against Traumatization Of Potatoes)

Then you make the tuna sauce (don't get scared off by this one):

Put the drained tuna and anchovies into a food processor/blender. Add a little olive oil (couple tablespoons) and some vinegar (1/3 cup or so), lemon juice and some pepper. You can toss in some garden herbs if you have them available (basil, parsley and a touch of cilantro work well). And blend the heck out of it until it's smooth and creamy.
Taste it. You may need to add more vinegar, lemon juice or perhaps salt, but this will be fairly salty.

Pour it all over everything else:

Stir up, and enjoy the heck out of it! (And tell me what you think.)

We have a nominee, and I'm coming home. . .

. . . for a day.

In 15 hours, I'll be feet firmly planted in my lawn, face to face with whatever has transpired with the green, red, purple and yellow beings there in the past five days.

A lot can happen in five days. In fact, the most transformational events I can think of happen in less than that. Birth, death, marriage. I'm guessing that all of the above happened in the garden in my absence.

Tonight, I just stood witness to a forty five minute speech. And I wonder, as do pundits and citizens country wide.

Were those words seeds of change?

August 28, 2008

Notes from afar - er, Medford

(This update courtesy of Erik, my husband:)

"Just your garden variety update"

After having a garden, I guess you'd think differently about that aphorism huh? hardly means plain or commonplace around here.
anyway, before i forget I just had a nice conversation with Antonia [our neighbor] and the transcript is roughly this:

A: where'a 's my honey?
E: Denver
A: Oha thatsa nice. She'a take'a da pictures?
E: Yes
A: mama mia, (a bunch of other words ending in "i") ... peachy
E: (Nodding)
A: She does a nice'a job with the place (referring to yard)
E: Indeed
A: When you talk'a to'a her, you tell my sweetheart I say'a hello.

So antonia says hello, and a lot of other stuff as well that was lost in translation.

So, to the update. In the process of watering our friends, I discovered a few new things which I thought you'd be interested in:

Picture 1: The Pumpkin that is "Not a Pumpkin" has begun to turn orange.

Picture 2: Perhaps most excitingly, you have one sole blueberry on your bushes now. Can't wait to split it with you.

Picture 3: The purple bean bush is producing at a very nice rate and the ripening tomatoes are actually pacing themselves well. This is a picture of some of what has been harvested in your absence.

Good luck with the last day of DNC madness. Looking forward to having you home tomorrow.
Talk to me when you can....
Much love.

Hi, there, neighbor

Ok, so I have to get a little "eight-year-old girl giddy" for just a moment. Please indulge me, or if you don't want to, skip this entry.

Google analytics is a great thing. It tells me who, if anyone, is actually reading this blog. Some days when I look at it, I get depressed because the new visit from the day before came from me. And some days, like today, the reader report is so darn exciting.

Hello, reader from New Delhi, India!

Hello, person from Christchurch, New Zealand!And I really must mention whoever is reading this blog from Weber City, Virginia. You rock.
Anyway, thank you so much. I'm here in the midst of political kabuki theater for two weeks, and it's great to know that people are tuned in to gardening -- and to my dear garden.

I return home on Friday evening, and I promise to have a full report on what the heck transpired in my absence. Beware, though; it may be a tear-jerker (depending on the hunger level of the skunks).

August 26, 2008

Land use planning

A+ . I can think of no better use for all this space.

I wonder how my seedlings are doing at home. Right now is a particularily vulnerable time for them. Some varmint (what a cool word, varmint) lines up the the salad bar that is my garden every time the seedlings start to poke their heads through the dirt. On a given evening, I bid goodnight to the orderly rows of yawning green shoots, and morning light reveals gaping holes and ugly tear made by, you guessed it -- a varmint.

I think it's our resident skunk who is afraid of nothing, especially not car horns or my anti-skunk songs.

So when I left for, er, wherever I am, the radishes looked like this:

And my lettuce looked like this:

Now, I'm thinking it looks more like this:

August 25, 2008

A mile too high and 1,975 miles too west

Toto, I don't think we're in Massachusetts anymore.

I'm surrounded by Democrats of every stripe and 15,000 (that's a factual statistic) members of the media. Gallons of stale coffee, metric tons of processed food, pancake makeup and red, white and blue.

Ah, American politics.

On this morning's weak attempt at a run across the great office parks and parking lots of this area, I searched high and low.

There are no gardens here. This is home for now.

Pesto presto

(Mom, this one's for you...but if you have tons of basil and like pesto, it's for you, too.)

What happens if you are stranded at home with this:

and this:

and maybe this?

Well, I was (except for the stranded part). And I made this:

I think it's the best pesto recipe ever, and it's so easy. There's a secret to the recipe, though -- anchovies. Believe it or no, and you'd never guess it by the taste of the finished pesto, but the anchovies lend a rich saltiness that works so well with the Parmesan.

I harvested the tops off my basil plants. As long as you cut just above a leaf node, the plant recovers just fine. In fact, I think mine have benefited from frequent cutting. They just keep producing and have not yet tried to go to seed. This is what the plants looked like after I chopped off the tops. Oh, and use a very sharp knife so you don't crush the stems.

And this is how much basil I used in this batch:

If you can't grow your own (this year, that is. No excuse for next!!), buy a bunch fresh. It should be cheap this time of year, especially at farmers markets, and very especially at the end of the day, when they're trying to unload it all.

Next, ask someone really nicely to peel you a boatload of garlic. I think I used about a cup of peeled cloves. I like to use this much garlic because it makes up a large portion of the body of the pesto. One of the reasons I do this is to cut some of the fatty richness (and guilt) of traditional pesto without compromising flavor. But using this much garlic fresh would remove the enamel from your teeth and burn the hairs from your friends' noses.

So the trick is to mellow it a tad by frying it in olive oil (which you need anyway for the pesto).

And here's where the secret weapon comes in: lots of anchovies packed in olive oil. Dump about 4 cans into a frying pan, (I say 4 because that's how much I used in this batch, but you can scale down) and add some extra olive oil (about 1/4 or 1/3 cup).

Then chop up the garlic just a little (not tiny pieces or they'll burn) and add it to the oil and anchovies.

Sautee over medium heat until the garlic is just golden.

I let it get a little more brown before I removed it from the heat.

The trick here is to just take the edge and zing off the fresh garlic, but not to caramelize it so it gets sweet.

Wash and pick the leaves of the basil, stick them in a blender and pour the hot oil/garlic/anchovy mix over it. This will wilt the leaves and make the whole mess fit better in your blender.

Blend it up a little. Then add a bunch of pine nuts (walnuts work too, but the flavor they lend is harsher. Still good, though).
And then about that much Parmesan cheese. The stuff in the green can works just fine, so don't waste your money. Good basil and garlic is more important.

Now you blend for real. You may need to add a tad more olive oil and perhaps a (as in, one) tablespoon of water to get things moving. Beware to not make your pesto a liquid, though. It should be very thick. And I don't recommend stirring the green guck with a wooden spoon while it's blending. The spoons tend to not recover well from brushes with whirling steel blades.

Blend it until it's super smooth, put in jars and freeze. The pesto is absolutely not shelf stable, so you have to either eat it, freeze it, or refrigerate it and use it soon. The reason you see so much (crappy) pesto in jars in the supermarket is because they've done something to the contents to make it stable, such as acidifying it. Check it out next time you're at the store. You'll probably see citric acid listed in the ingredients. This ruins the pesto and makes it taste sour and tangy in a bad way.

But nevermind all that bad news. The good news is that you have just made swoon-worthy pesto that would make the Godfather cry.

It's so easy being green.

August 23, 2008

Help, help! I'm being oppressed! Er, eaten by a spider!

Just happened in the rose bush. True story!!

Not a tomato!

All I was trying to do was walk to my front door with three armloads-full of electronics, but there are some things that stop you dead in your tracks. A bright-yellow two-inch spider sucking the life out of a mummified insect is one of them.

This is not a tomato. Or a radish or a turnip or even a recipe for something yummy, but it is so ridiculously cool that I had to share, vegetable or no. Here's another picture:

And one more:
Phenomenal, no?

August 21, 2008

Sneak preview

It's late, and like millions of hobby-riddled adults across the country, I'm bemoaning my full-time job, which has again robbed me of the time and energy to do what I want to do right now -- to write down my thoughts.

A compromise: I shall write (briefly) about that which I will write about soon. 

So, dear singular reader, these are the future posts that you can eagerly anticipate in the coming days (in no particular order):

1. An illustrated description of the Worlds Best and Easiest Artisanal Bread Recipe. I am not exaggerating. It's friggin' amazing.

2. Sixty Seven jars (true story) later, and I've finally figured out the definitive secret to perfect peach jam. Happy thing, too - it's much easier, tastier and healthier than other methods. 

3. Who killed my tomatoes?

4. The awe-inspiring yet scary home "garden" two blocks from my house. This intrepid reporter (me) will go deep undercover to find out who the heck lives there and grows 20-foot tomatoes over every square inch of available space. 

5. Also, what to do with pole beans. In fact, this recipe will blow your mind and make you speak French.

6. Edible weeds. Who knew?

That's my list as of 11:59 pm on Thursday. By morning, it may be longer. But then I'll be at work. Gr.

If you have preference over which post to read first, drop me a line.

I'd fall asleep now, but I have this song in my head. Apt message.

August 20, 2008

Life is great

It's morning. I'm freshly showered with coffee in hand, the sun is booming through the windows, and the temperature has that autumnal quality of crisp coolness. When I grabbed the paper off the porch just now, I stole a glance at the raised beds and everything looked so...happy. This is projection perhaps, but damn, I feel so lucky. 

Gardening saps you of all irony. So does falling in love. Coincidence? 

Have an amazing day.

August 17, 2008

Jonah and the worm

The last post was a bit of a downer; sorry about that. This one should be better.

I'll start out with a happy picture.

They look like good friends, don't they?

About the whole dying of squash and feelings of failure and frustration thing - I've come to some thoughts about it.

(these are the dying cucumbers:)
It's out of my control, and I shouldn't get angry about it.

In fact, I didn't even plant those squash. They literally kept popping out of the ground (from the compost, I think) and I pulled all except for two in the name of science. Until they declared themselves as butternut squash, I called them "mystery plants." That's what they were - a mysterious gift that came out of the dirt.

And then they died, but they weren't mine to begin with, so I should get over myself. That sums up a lesson that pops up in many religious traditions (for instance, the Hindu god Shiva both destroys and creates), but I came across an old testament story that deals with an actual squash.

(Spoiler alert: I'm an agnostic and not pushing any particular religion or religion in general here)

At the end of the story of Jonah, he's sitting on a blazing hot hill waiting to see if God will smite a sinful city that Jonah had warned to repent. While he's waiting, God causes a squash plant to grow over him to provide shade and comfort. Then the next day, a worm kills the squash. Jonahs' pissed and yells at God, who basically replies, 'Hey, it wasn't yours anyway, so chill.'

My takeaway is that it's just not about me. I can appreciate the heck out of gardening and helping things grow, but I'm a part of the process just like the rain or the plants. My ego has gotten in my way, and it's blocking the view.

And look: the squash is sending up flowers even as it goes down in flames. Now that's life force!
End sermon.

Back to garden.

Another happy picture:Marigolds are just about the coolest plants ever. You can't kill them, they bloom all summer and they repel all sorts of bugs.

The brussel sprouts are looking like the nipples of a very pregnant dog:
The bell peppers (the ones that did not fall victim to the recent snail onslaught) are starting to blush. It's adorable:
Here's the snail that killed my other beautiful pepper. But I'm not mad (see above).

The cilantro has gone to seed, but I'm letting it go because it is so darn pretty:
We have 20,000 green tomatoes just waiting for me to go out of town to turn red.
And the behemoth Brandywine is just about to become lunch.

I've given up on the onions I had planted several months back. The tops had fallen over long ago, but I just packed them with compost and figured I'd give it time. Well, today, the tops were officially dead and gone, so I dug up what there was and plan to use them in a bean salad soon. They appear to have multiplied underground, but I must have planted them too close together and they just stopped growing.

Lesson learned: plant onions farther apart.
And on the jam front: last night I made 35 (that's thirty five) jars of peach jam. They were selling lavender flowers at the farmers market, so I got frisky and made a small batch with those, and a small batch with both candied and fresh ginger. I also swapped out the cane sugar, to a large extent, with clover honey. Tastes good; bad idea.

The stuff will not gel. Arg!! I have 35 jars of yummy slop. Gr! But at least it looks pretty.So lesson learned: don't use honey in jam. Or at least, don't expect it to gel if you do.

That's all for now, friends.