Wednesday, March 29, 2006

dandelion syrup

We're not the typical Tennesseeans with a need for immaculately perfect lawns, so when "weeds" come up in our lawn, we embrace them (as long as they don't wander into the garden beds). Although most are invasive and not indigenous to our area, we find uses for many of them. This time, after the success of violet syrup, we decided to try out the dandelion variety. Turns out this recipe tastes amazingly like orange blossom honey, perfect for tea.

1. Stuff one pint jar with fresh dandelion blossoms

2. Pour boiling water over blossoms, filling the jar. Let steep overnight.

3. Strain out blossoms, pour into pan, add 1 1/2 cups of sugar, bring to boil.

4. Simmer to thickness you want, pour back into jar and seal.

It's a great match for lemon balm and mint tea.

Monday, March 27, 2006

violet blossom syrup, DEE-lish!

We have a bank alongside the driveway that has turned purple with violet blossoms the last couple of weeks, so I decided to try out a recipe from my favorite foraging author; Euell Gibbons. This simple recipe for making syrup was taken from "Stalking the Healthful Herbs". Eaten raw in salad is pleasant enough, but WOW what flavor as syrup! I think it tastes a lot like huckleberry syrup, perfect for some waffles in the mornin'.

1. Stuff a jar with blossoms and fill with boiling water. Let steep overnight.

2. Strain and discard blossoms after squeezing them out.

3. For every cup, add juice from 1/2 a lemon and 3/4 cup sugar.

4. Bring to a boil, boil it down a bit for thicker syrup, then put in sterilized jars and seal.

Friday, March 24, 2006

impatience is a virtue

This Maiskij garlic just got yanked out for early devouring. Planted back in November, it's about 4 1/2 months old. My sister gave me these from for my birthday, they were originally found in an Ashkabad bazaar in Turkmenistan. They're a hardneck garlic with easy to peal cloves (not when you pick this early!) that range from 6 to 8 cloves on a head. It's best to plant them in October.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lemon Balm Rises Again

Lemon balm (Melissa Officinalis) happens to be my favorite ingredient in homemade tea. Medicinally, it happens to treat insomnia, it's used for epilepsy, nerve disorders, fainting, hysteria, migraines, hypochondria and vertigo. It calms the stomach and reduces gas, increases blood circulation, and induces perspiration when served hot as tea. It uplifts the spirit, calms emotional upsets, decreases blood pressure and eases menstrual tension and pains. It is antiviral and antibacterial, and has been used to treat herpes simplex (topically), as well as toothaches.

In spite of all that, lemon balm is quite tasty. In the summer I make iced sweet tea out of it, the lemony flavor makes it very refreshing. In the winters, I make hot tea from the dried leaves, the dried leaves from mint, and lavender blossoms. Served with a touch of honey, it will send me directly into tranquility---if not to bed!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thinking outside the Kohlrabi box

Kohlrabi is the under-appreciated hot brunette of the brassica world. Such a taste revelation we've had this year with this winter treasure! It's a milder and sweeter version of broccoli in its leaves and tops (you'll never find this portion in the supermarket), and the swollen stem is crispy and juicy like a perfect apple (much less sweet, but awesome sliced for dipping in hummus or salmon dip). One cup has 19% of your daily fiber and 139% of your vitamin C. More importantly for me, it is very easy to grow, very productive, and stores very well. You should make sure to eat them no more than 2" in diameter for sweetness and to avoid a woody, fibrous texture. Since we cannot wait very long on anything looking delicious, that's the perfect size for us as well. One day, when the Mrs. and I were laying on the grass daydreaming next to some kohlrabi plants, she took an inquisitive look at one that had seeded out, then stooped down and took a monstrous bite off the broccoli-like top! She then took another, then another! Not one to be left out, I took a bite as well. MMM...much better than raw broccoli--sweeter, and a slightly nuttier flavor. For those of you less barbaric, try cutting off a few leaves, rolling them up, then slicing them in strips to toss into an omelet, mushroom ragout, or stir-fry at the end, just enough to'll love it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Stir-fry promises

Here's a picture of some of our seed a-sproutin' for spring. The chinese red noodle long beans are crazy tall in the tin can and to the right of it. The egg carton has our own saved seeds of cherokee purple, black cherry, black from tula, and druhzba tomatoes, as well as other purchased seeds of brandywine, red pear, yellow pear, black plum, purple russian, thai pink, and my sister's golden jubilee tomatoes. The tallest in the back of the picture is a royalty purple podded bean, jing orange okra in front of that, and straightneck, crooked neck and lemon squash in front of that. The orange juice carton has sprouted moon and stars watermelon on the left and charentais melon in the mid-section. Our plan is to grow some of each seed in intervals, we'll be planting more in a couple of weeks.

In case we start a-wondering why we go through with all this work, a picture of a little of last year's harvest...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hippy Purple Potato

This long-haired, hippy potato is the peruvian purple potato originally harvested by the Inca, but now served in trendy high-end restaurants. Of course, the uniqueness of color makes it a conversation piece, however, this potato is quite delicious to me. My favorite recipe is simply slicing them up and frying them in a little butter and olive oil, grind black pepper and sea salt onto them, and mince up lots of fresh rosemary to toss into the fry with the purple gems...guaranteed you will not have enough to please you!

p.s. I somehow managed to save a couple organic ones for planting. By the looks of the size of those sprouts, its a little past time for planting!

Osaka Purple Mustard

This beautiful mustard green was planted, along with arugula late last spring in our "hot bed", a garden spot about 3 feet square between the garage and house. During the summertime, temperatures probably soared well over 120 degrees there. It then flourished through the winter as well, quite a forgiving plant.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My favorite secret ingredient

Most of my friends are impossible to feed. Every last one of them hate tomatoes, onions, or mushrooms--or all three. We might just use all three every single meal. For me, each meal typically involves tossing in any or all of said ingredients into the cast iron skillet, then trying to figure out what else will go in and what the end will be like. Maybe an omelet, or ragout, or maybe stuffed dumpling squash. Maybe seared tuna on a bed of mushrooms over salad greens. Little slices of dove breast in a mess of our "holy trinity".

Well, last week I invited the fellas over for a shin-dig. I had acquired a leg of wild venison, and a party was in order. Cigars and pipes were brought out, cold brews passed around, homemade wild salmon spread displayed, freshly baked rosemary sourdough rolls taken out, and old tales told as we slowly roasted the beast all day, slicing off slivers and dipping them in the precious gravy, hour after hour. What a day.

The gravy was made of massive amounts of portabello mushrooms (they reduce down to an amazing liquid) and piles of lovely shallots. That's right, the picture above is a mound of shallots. They also reduce down to a magical sauce, and combined with the portabellos and venison roasting become miraculous. The guys who "gag" at an onion, loved it. The guys who absolutely hate mushrooms, soaked it all up. Chefs the world over long have used the shallot as the magical secret ingredient in their dishes, now you can too.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The tomato experiment

The experiment started in the fall of 2005 when I read somewhere that tomatoes were perennials if you go down south far enough. Well, that year had been my first garden all my own, and I had discovered the pleasures of fat slices of Brandywine tomatoes in homemade BLT sandwiches. Unfortunately, I rented a small place in the shade, and the plants took all summer and into late fall before they ripened. One day in October, we got hit with a bit of frost, and it wiped out all the tomato plants. Picking through the damage, I noticed a few suckers that were unblemished, so I stuck them in water and put them on the window sill. That old house had no central heat, and at times the indoors reached into the 40's, so I lost all of the suckers except one. In march of last year, we bought our place here in on the mountain and the first thing I did was dig a hole and plant my one brandywine. It liked the new place. Growing seven feet tall (because I stopped it) and seven or eight feet across, it became a monstrosity. In the picture above, you'll see the same brandywine, freshly planted yesterday--the last survivor due to white-fly plague.

In the picture above, you will see my next tomato experiment. Last fall, we saved several batches of tomato seed, which involves a process of soaking the seeds for a few days in water to ferment the slick coating off the seeds before drying. Well, procrastinators we are, and a week later we found several sprouting in the cup of water. Just for kicks, I planted them. When it finally called for frost, I hauled them inside and never watered them, so as to slow the growth. They're now four feet tall and ready for summer, although some of them are struggling to recover from aphid and white fly damage.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Can it be true?

What? Is that lemongrass coming back to life in zone 7? It's only hardy to zone 9, so we took a few stalks last fall and placed them in water, so we'll have more this year. The other day(you know, the "Whew, I'm tired" day) I chopped the rest of the dry brown grass down and discovered life springing up once again. Yum, can't wait for more thai cookin'.

Waddya do with the compost pile when the compost is done?

Our dear friend Princess mockingly uttered those words after we ranted to her about re-using and reducing waste. Taking my morning stroll with the compost bucket from the kitchen, I noticed it's about time to build on an addition to my lovely compost bin and retire the present one. Not one of my best examples of craftsmanship, I've gradually hidden it from the house via the woodpile and brush I've stood up vertically for the benefit of the birds. They love the thicket I've created, and use it daily for hopping in and out of the compost bin, picking through the scraps.

This compost bin has been a source of pride for us. Not just because of how beautiful it looks (umm, yeah, right), or the benefits to the garden (nothing, absolutely nothing yet), but by the vast reduction in waste we've experienced this last year. You see, we fill our trash can once every 3 months (working on reducing even more). There are two major reasons for this: first, we compost all compost-able materials to be fed back into our gardens; second, we simply buy mostly produce and products contained in recyclable materials. Nothing is in microwavable throw-away plastic containers. We thought that the biggest reason for choosing to do this is to help the environment. It turns out the foods we eat are SO MUCH TASTIER than the instant meal in a throw-away box, we couldn't possibly return to that tasteless, soggy way of life ever again!

Our broccoli raab in its "last hurrah" stage. The blossoms are amazingly good layered over pizza, mmm...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Whew! I'm tired

Shakespeare had to have had a garden. The Tempest wasn't about a man and his slave, it was about a garden and it's slave. Why else would he have written, "I'll rack thee with old cramps, and fill all thy bones with aches"?

It was such a nice day, too. Seventy-something degrees, blue skies, gentle winds, birds singing, sun gently warming your face, and a cold beer in hand. Could have went for a drive. Could have went for a stroll. Instead, I went to planting, digging, raking, transplanting, grunting, groaning, and moaning. I'm wooped. Somebody get me another pale ale, will you?

windflower--anemone blanda

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

grape hyacinth--muscari armeniacum

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Our purple children

Seems like only yesterday they were just figments of our imagination, then before you know it, they get all grown up. Is it wrong of me to want to take a knife to them right now and lop off their gorgeous little heads? How can one possibly wait three or four more weeks when one's mouth is watering already? I swear they are begging me to toss them in the cast-iron skillet with some butter and sea salt, stirring them around while they turn green and glossy, then melting some fabulous cheese on top. Why, we'd eat them still in the skillet, never to make it to the table!

The Purple of Sicily Cauliflower is an Italian heirloom variety with sweet 2-3 pound heads which cook to a brilliant green color. The plants are more insect resistant and easier to grow than the whites, and I think make fine landscaping.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Is it summer already?

An extra warm winter has some advantages, I guess. I fear for a brutally hot and dry summer after this, but you gotta like 70 degrees and blue skies! The middle picture of Early Purple Vienna Kohlrabi shows how they look if you don't keep clipping off leaves for stir-fry.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Time's up for the Fossil

One of the great ones in my life passed away monday morning.

The "Fossil" was born in Ireland and brought with him the strong work ethic of an immigrant determined to make a better life in America. He brought old-school family values, where parents take responsibility for their children. He brought a sense of family to the community as well. He also brought the legendary wit of an Irishman. I could tell him a one-line joke one day, and three weeks later I would catch him telling a hilarious story 5 minutes long ending in my punch line. Despite several tragedies in his life, he continually lifted smiles and laughter out of anyone he spoke to. He especially loved to flirt with the older ladies, the ones that might not have had anyone flirt with them in 40 or 50 years. They just ate it all up. He could make anyone's day.

Battling cancer and its "treatments" for several years, we could all see it happening. We could see him gradually leaving us. He could, too. Finally it was time, and he bowed out a champion. Thank you for one more lesson in what's really important in life.

So long my friend, so long.
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