Benign Garden Neglect

It’s been a rough growing season.  We’ve had weeks of lows in the 30s alternating with weeks of highs in the 90s.  When it wasn’t very cold or very hot, it was pouring rain.  We got seeds in the ground on Mother’s Day, but then didn’t really get back to do any work – or assess the damage – until the beginning of June, when we did a bit of half-hearted weeding after the half.

We started seeds in February under a grow light: two kinds of tomatoes, peppers, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. All but four of those plants died under the grow light or once the weather calmed down enough to transplant them into larger pots outside. The same thing happened last year, except that we had a 100% fatality rate. What a waste of time and energy. Fortunately Shane’s friend Julian gave us some hand-me-downs, which you can see flourishing in the north-east corner of the plot:

Tomato Forest

Honestly, the garden’s in better shape than I expected. The peas are starting to climb the trellis, and I picked the first zucchini (with 2-3 more growing on the vine) on Monday. The tomatillos already smell like salsa, and I think it’s actually impossible to kill off the broccoli and sprouts – transplants from the farmers’ market.

Peas and Carrots

One wise decision that we made going into this year was to ditch the west bed, where we tried to grow onions and potatoes last year. It looked promising early in the season, but by May, it’s totally overshadowed by tall trees. Rather than try to fight it, we just left it alone and have used it for storing our extra hay bale and whatever waste we can’t be bothered to deal with.

This benign neglect actually worked in our favor, as when I visited the garden this week, I discovered a bunch of wild onions growing in that bed! Maybe they’re not ‘wild’, but I certainly didn’t put them there.

Hella wild onions

The photo may not look like much, but this pile represents an entire grocery sack full of wee onions, many smaller in diameter than a pencil. We clearly weren’t going to eat them all, so I turned to our the trusty Well Preserved for recommendations and wound up using their recipe for preserving wild leeks and ramps.

Pickled Ramps

Pickled Ramps

As with the sour cherry jam, this project was a lot of work for a relatively small yield: just three pints of pickles after at least an hour of trimming and scrubbing the tiniest onions ever. I bet they’ll be delicious, though, and I can’t wait to pop open a jar with a snack dinner in the future.

Recipe:
<a href="Preserving Spring – Wild Leeks from Well Preserved

Cookout prep

Things I made or will make tonight: an ordered list.

  1. Vegan baked beans – another 2 hours to go, though I may not make it that long
  2. Pickled red onions
  3. Vegan chili
  4. Diced onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes
  5. Cole slaw
  6. Horseradish aioli which, if it turns out, will knock another item off my 25 Recipes

All of these things and more will be available as hot dog toppings at tomorrow’s birthday cookout. And for those concerned about my health (and by extension, their health) – don’t worry. I washed my hands about 100x.

Like Fancy Ladies

Would you look at this fancy lady?

Birthday Sipes!

Jackie’s birthday fell on the first full day of ACRL, so after my early morning presentation and a day of conferencing, we were determined to find some sort of mischief befitting two fancy ladies celebrating a special occasion. That is how we found ourselves at Varga Bar, which not only caters to fancy ladies, but also features pictures of fancy ladies on the walls! Perfect. While the cocktail menu was somewhat uninspiring, we were overwhelmed with delicious choices for dinner, and ended up selecting four things, all of which were excellent.

First: the house pickles: cucumbers, carrots, squash, beets, onions, and artichokes, all lightly pickled and perfectly crunchy. Sorry, Mr. Pickle.

Mr P and Curcubit Cousins

Second: duck confit chicken wings – sweet, spicy, and savory in a pomegranate molasses glaze, and served with a blue cheese dipping sauce that could only spuriously be called a sauce. It would be more accurate to call it a wee cup of blue cheese. I don’t normally like chicken wings, but we ate these right up and asked for more blue cheese, which I shamelessly ate with my fork.

Third: the Varga salad: arugula, fava beans, fresh peas, grilled artichoke, shaved parmesan, and a light lemony vinaigrette – a crisp and fresh counterpoint to the delicious excess of the wings.

And finally: the best damned Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had. Now, I’m a fan of Brussels. You know that. I will eat them in just about any form, with just about anything, and without the slightest bit of provocation. But these sprouts? They were something else. Crispy and light, tossed with olive oil and parmesan, and bearing a more than suspicious resemblance to movie theater popcorn. That’s right: buttery, salty, delicious movie theater popcorn – except Brussels sprouts! I wish we’d ordered more, as they were the best part of the entire meal.

We thought about dessert, but really, who needs dessert when you’ve just had the most perfect Brussels sprouts of your life? Or, for that matter, when you have a librarian dance party to attend?

Mr P Takes the Decks

0819 Garden-Fresh Snack Dinner

Snack Dinner
Shane’s favorite grapes, which I included in our wedding vows because it was important to me to remember. Golden beets from our garden and the market plus a couple of huge sweet garlic cloves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, then wrapped in tinfoil and roasted at 375 for about an hour. Green beans from the market, but Szechuan pickled by me.

Snack Dinner
Sopressata. Sharon Hollow goat cheese with garlic and Tellicherry pepper, a $5 impulse buy. The last of a loaf of Italian bread, and a handful of tiny cherry tomatoes that sprung up by surprise in our garden.

Snack Dinner
Green beans from our garden, quickly blanched. Cucumber and radish freezer pickles, also from our garden.

Snack Dinner
All in all, a glorious spread.

0725 A Day of Improv Meals

Breakfast: sausages, an asiago bagel sliced into four pieces of toast, fried eggs for Shane and slices of tomato for me.  Weekend Edition Sunday and the puzzle.  Coffee.  A late morning attempt at geocaching turned into half an hour of wandering in the woods.  Who knew that we could wander in the woods without leaving our neighborhood?

Lunch: I had intended to riff on this recipe for dinner last night, but we ate at weird hours, and so pushed this back to today.  While I prepped and grilled mushrooms, zucchini, and a purple pepper on our grill pan, Shane picked basil and whipped up a quick batch of pesto.  We spread ricotta on toast, then topped it with pesto or fresh basil, piles of vegetables, and a drizzle of balsamic crema.  Soo good, especially followed by a moped ride downtown, walking around in the sunshine, and froyo from Lab.

Dinner: We picked up more chickens from Back 40 yesterday, but neither of us felt like chicken.  We did, however, feel like end-of-the-fridge snacks: corn on the cob, edamame, asiago from last week’s snack dinner, an assortment of pickles, and homemade beet chips using wee beets from our garden and a recipe from the Spanish cookbook.  They started out as small colorful coins:

Beet Chips Before

And after a short swim in very hot oil, they ended up like this:

Beet Chips After

Not really big enough to dip in the salt-and-peppered ricotta, but totally delicious anyway.  A fine way to end a fine weekend – and also another recipe knocked off of the Spanish cookbook challenge.

0724 96 Degree Canning

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on canning today – other than the giant box of 2nds peaches I picked up at the market this morning.  The peaches were a little underripe, and I wanted to leave them on the counter in a bag to ripen, but the fruit flies would not allow that to happen.  I don’t know where the little buggers come from, but they’re super annoying, and I wasn’t about to let them get the best of our gorgeous produce.

First up, zucchini pickles.  Our garden isn’t exactly overflowing with summer squash, but we had enough in the crisper that I was starting to get concerned.  We both love the zucchini pickle spears that come with sandwiches at Jolly Pumpkin, so I figured it was worth giving them a try.  I used the Zany Zucchini Pickles recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which called for a soak and a rinse, another soak in hot brine, a simmer, and then a quick pack and process in the open water bath. The recipe claimed it would yield 6 half pints – instead I got 4 pints and a whole lot of leftover brine. Pickleback, anyone?

Pickleback, anyone?

Since it was already about 1,000,000 degrees in the house and since the water bath was already boiling, I figured I might as well press on with the peaches. I think it was around this time that I popped open a beer, pinned my bangs back, and gave in to the sweat running down the back of my neck.

To can peaches, you must first peel them.  If you’re canning not-quite-ripe peaches, as I was, you’ll find this quite a chore, even with the boiling water then very cold water trick described in this recipe.  I forgot the lemon juice, so I’m hoping the peaches don’t brown too much – when you’re working with fruit canned in a hot syrup, acidity should only be an aesthetic issue.  I followed the ‘raw pack’ method, meaning that my peaches are in hot syrup but were not themselves hot when canned.  By the time the last batch was in the canner, I was disgustingly sweaty, the fruit flies were out in full force, and I’d made two trips to the compost bin with peach pits and skins.  I earned that beer, dammit.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying the jars of rosy-pink peaches that have already been transferred to the basement shelves.

Recipes:
Zany Zucchini Pickles from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Peaches (roughly the same recipe, though I used the one from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

0629 Platter Salad

So I’ve had Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors cookbook for about two years – around the time that we got really invested in buying and eating local – but in that time have only made ONE recipe from it.  I’ve been trying to be better about buying cookbooks, but this seemed like one I’d really use, you know?  Unlike Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes and The Farm to Table Cookbook, both of which were lovely but didn’t reflect our eating habits or the foods actually available to us locally in Virginia.

I suppose I can only spuriously say that I used the Local Flavors recipe for tonight’s dinner – a platter salad – for a variety of reasons.  First, I only followed about half of the instructions.  I didn’t boil or blanch in the right order, and owing to a moped emergency in the middle of prep, I also didn’t make Madison’s dressing.  Also a recipe? For a very deconstructed salad? Helpful, but kind of overkill.  In fact, the recipe was primarily useful for the gorgeous photo that I used to convince Shane that this was enough for dinner.  Our own salad didn’t look much like Madison’s, but it was pretty spectacular if I do say so myself.

Platter Salad

Moving clockwise, we have brand new red potatoes from the market, boiled in salted water for about 20 minutes or until soft.  Green beans from the market, safely kept away from Head Bean Eater Mina and blanched for about 7 minutes.  Carrots, long lingering in our crisper, peeled and boiled for about 10 minutes.  A sweet market onion, sliced into rounds and lightly pickled in red wine vinegar.  Line-caught Bonito tuna, tossed with a bit of the red wine vinegar.   And French breakfast radishes from our garden, all atop romaine lettuce from the market.

And we ate all of it, well, except some of the lettuce.

Recipe:
June Platter Salad of Green Beans, Potatoes, and Tuna from Local Flavors

NB: Zingerman’s is having a crazy summer sale on a handful of excellent items.  We’re REALLY irritated that we missed out on discounted fancy tuna, as we’ve just exhausted our stash.  If you’re local, you can save yourself some extra dough by ordering over the phone and picking up your goodies in person at the warehouse south of town.

Also hat tip to Sarah, who also cooked from Local Flavors tonight!

0515 David Byrne Day (Observed)

In lieu of a local wedding reception, and also in celebration of the birthday of our favorite Talking Head, we threw a party tonight and called it David Byrne Day (Observed).  We’d been anxiously watching the weather given the omg constant rain, so were delighted to have a beautiful day and clear night for grilling and campfire sitting.

But before I get to that, let me tell you about what we did earlier in the day!

First, we got up and drove to WCCC so that I could run the Washtenaw County Start! Heart 5K .  Last night’s sausages and polenta proved to be excellent fuel, and I logged my best 5K yet, although I don’t think the distance was actually 5K.  To celebrate, we grabbed breakfast at Beezy’s, where Shane overheard a fortuitous conversation: a sever had spotted a moped at a yard sale!  So off to the yard sale we went, returning home with a non-running $100 Suzuki FA50.  Shane spent a good part of the afternoon poking around at the ‘ped, while I camped out in the kitchen and prepped for the party.

I never know how much food to make for parties, especially potluck-y cookout-y type parties.  You always end up with too much of this and not enough of that, with way too many buns and not enough condiments, etc.  The thing you decide not to make is always what someone else also forgets.  We decided to just do a variety of things, knowing that a cake and other delicious treats would be coming with our guests.  Worst case scenario? We order a pizza.

No pizza was necessary tonight, though!  We had tiny pork burgers – made from our pork, ground by me – on homemade dinner rolls topped with delicious pickled red onions.  The roll recipe was supposed to make 24 and instead made 40, so we have a bunch of delicious yeast rolls for the freezer.

Rolls + rolls

I also made cole slaw with the remaining cabbage from last weekend, and a lovely and simple asparagus crostini that disappeared within the first half hour of the party.

Asparagus crostini

In addition, friends brought salads, lots of grillables, homemade bread and prosciutto, dulce de leche ice cream, and a totally beautiful wedding cake (pictures forthcoming).  We ate well, and then we sat around the fire and talked until late.  It was a fantastic evening.

(One of these days I really will talk about our wedding.  I promise.  We’re still working on the photos, and I want to be able to show you guys instead of just telling.)

Recipes:
Pork Sliders With Pickled Red Onions from Moogie & Pap
Pillow-Soft Dinner Rolls from Taste of Home

Eating and growing locally: week 17

Eating:

Sunday night we made amazing UHmazing bison burgers on rosemary rolls with my homemade freezer pickles and also something else that I can’t remember – corn, maybe?  The burgers were SO good and made enough that I repeated the meal for lunch twice during the week.  Nom nom nom.  Did I mention that I’ve started seriously considering beef again?  It’s been 12 years, but I figure that if I can do bison, I should at least try beef.  How’s that for news?

At the moment I’m too tired from my workout to really remember much else about our cooking this week, but SB did make some amazing breakfast sandwiches this morning with farmers’ market eggs and rosemary rolls, and one night I made an excellent green bean salad-type dish from Jamie’s Dinners.  This week I think we’re making meatloaf.

I had intended to share the recipe for the pickles, but as the cookbook from whence it originates is currently packed – along with basically all the other books in our apartment – I can’t this week.  Remind me, though.

Growing:

Not much this week, but then I also forgot to water a bit.  Our basil (and also Basil, of course) is still going strong, oh miracle of miracles.  I’m disappointed with the yield from the tomatoes, but maybe they’ll do nice things in Mark or Mike’s gardens later in the summer.  I did pick a delicious-looking chili today, though.