Monday, August 31, 2009


Because food in this country is so cheap, backyard gardening can seem like a pointless exercise. What's the value in growing garbanzo beans when you can buy a pound of them for less than a dollar?

But squash, now. Squash is expensive. It keeps well. It's delicious and easy to cook with. The problem is that you need a LOT of space, and it's more susceptible to garden pests than just about any other plant-- powdery mildew, vine borers, blossom rot. I took the plunge this year and planted 12 starts of 3 different squash-- pumpkin, butternut, and spaghetti. Follow my progress here. While the pumpkins gave me the yield I wanted (7 total fruit, despite problems with mildew), the squash I attempted was less so. The butternuts developed just one fruit, very late in the season and then I caught the vine on a cultivator and accidentally pulled it up anyway. The 3 spaghetti squash vines developed only two female flowers among them, and only one got successfully pollinated. It grew into a beautiful fruit, and tonight I made a fake spaghetti with it.

Spaghetti squash with garden vegetables

1 large spaghetti squash
Fresh vegetables, whatever is available in the garden, about 1 cup per serving
Several garlic cloves

Prepare the squash by cutting it in two and removing the seeds. Place it cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350F/175C for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserts easily. Set aside to cool slightly. I also roasted garlic cloves underneath the squash halves.

Saute vegetables in olive oil (I used green beans, onion, cucumber and basil, but I also could have used eggplant, carrot, broccoli, or chard all of which are growing out back), scrape the squash meat out of the shell and toss with the vegetables. Add almond slivers or pine nuts for crunch, and tomato slices for color (don't cook the tomato). Serve with crumbled feta cheese.

(Everything except the olive oil, nuts, and feta from the garden. Yay!)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Turning the kitchen over to the masses

I'm not much of a baker, you may have noticed. I'm much too enamored of switching ingredients mid-recipe, and baking has all that chemistry stuff going on what with the measuring and the baking soda and whatnot. However, I'm working toward probably 5 quarts of pumpkin pulp from my bumper crop of small sugar pumpkins, so I had to turn it over to the peanut gallery (my daughter and husband).

Ms. peanut, aka Nga Jee, is actually quite a good baker, and is the family's Official Maker of the Bouche de Noel. For some reason, the two of them felt that pumpkin bread could not be baked without playing Michael Jackson's Beat It very loud. I believe there was dancing as well. I stayed out of the kitchen. Being terminally adorable when together, they also carved their initials into the loaf before baking (and yes, they used a loaf pan instead of the 8x8 cake pan the recipe called for, but it's delicious anyway.)

Found this recipe somewhere on line; apologies for not saving and linking the URL.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin pulp
1/4 cup mild molasses
1/4 cup milk

Stir together flour, gingerroot or ground ginger, finely shredded orange peel, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until combined. Add egg and beat well. Beat in pumpkin and molasses on medium speed until smooth. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to the pumpkin mixture, beating until smooth. Pour into a greased and lightly floured 8x8x2-inch baking pan.

Bake at 350F/176C for 35 to 40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eating what's available

I was a vegetarian until, as I like to joke, I got pregnant and discovered that there are not enough vegetables in the world to keep a pregnant woman fed. My poor long suffering husband would wait until I wasn’t home for dinner and then make himself steak. Personally, I haven’t had steak in 30 years or more, but have relented and will eat chicken, ground beef, and pork. I mostly gave up on fish, which I love, because the entire marine food chain is so contaminated. I seldom cook with meat more than twice a week, if that, although we’re small eaters so we usually have leftovers when we make a meat dish. I recently was able to work out my schedule so that I can go to the local butcher (who has very inconvenient hours), and this has vastly improved my opinion of meat. Most of my meat dishes are stews and casseroles— I used to feed a family of four on dishes made with under a pound of meat among us.

I’ve gone back and forth on dietary habits. When the kids were little, they’d pretty much eat whatever you put in front of them, a survival strategy when you have a Greek-Swedish-Chinese-Turkish-Hungarian family. The Chinese have fascinating vegetables, and I’ve learned from my Mo-in-law where and what to buy to make her traditional meals. So for a while we ate a lot of things with weird veggies and turkey legs. Then DD got fussy, and would only eat things with chopped beef in them, so we did that for a while, until she decided that the only thing she could digest was pasta. Back to vegetarian!

What I find from having my own growing source is not so much that I eat more vegetables, as that I eat more interesting vegetables and more varied ones. If I’m growing it, I’ll eat it. Plus, they aren’t at risk of going bad—if I’m not going to cook it right away, it just doesn’t get picked. I really want to get to the point where I have a winter larder full of preserved eggplant, squash, homemade tomato paste and root vegetables, because I do tend to get away from vegetable-based meals in the winter.

Late summer vegetables yielded this delicious rice dish.

Curried Pumpkin vegetarian biryani

1 1/2 cups basmati rice, cooked in carrot broth (made by boiling the greens)
1 small Sugar Pumpkin, cubed
3 small turnips, cubed
1 cup pine nuts
sliced carrots (I used what I had ready to harvest, just 4 small carrots)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup green beans, French cut
handful of broccoli shoots, and swiss chard
1 cup raisins

Spices: curry powder, cardamom, coriander, turmeric (for color)

Prepare the rice according to package instructions. Five minutes before it’s done, add the raisins (just put them on top and re-cover the pot, no need to mix them in.)

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan, add curry and cardamom to the oil and heat until it just starts to steam; add the pumpkin, carrots, and turnips and sauté for a couple of minutes, add the onions and sauté until they’ve released and then steamed off their moisture. Add the pine nuts; sauté for a minute or two. Add the greens and sauté until they are bright green. If the rice is not done, turn the heat under the veggies down (or off if it's going to be more than about 5 minutes).

Add the rice and raisins, mix together, add the turmeric for a nice golden color (just a little will do the trick). Salt and pepper to taste.

For meat lovers, sauté some lamb or tender beef in the curried oil and set aside until serving.

This recipe yielded 4-5 servings for moderate eaters.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Bloom Day, for Maggie and Barrie

We laid two dear friends to rest today. For Maggie and for Barrie, a bouquet of white flowers blooming in the garden on August 15. White phlox, convolvulus, liatris against budding sedum.

Bloom Day link

Monday, August 3, 2009

A garden party

We had our annual Lammas fest this weekend, with a buffet of garden delights, including refrigerator pickles (a big hit), green beans sauteed with almond slivers, basil hummos, a green salad, fettucini with basil pesto and the following delightful cole slaw.

Borage is an old-fashioned plant, used as a companion for its ability to discourage pests and to add micronutrients to the soil, especially potassium. Easy to grow, its flowers can be used as a garnish and to flavor and decorate drinks. Borage makes a clear, delicate honey as well.

Cole Slaw with borage flowers

Medium cabbage, shredded
3 cups borage flowers
1/2 green pepper, sliced very thin
1/2 medium onion, sliced very thin

2 Tablespoons yogurt
2 Tablespoons real mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons sugar (to taste)
salt to taste
fresh or dried parsley

Whip the ingredients for the dressing with a wire whisk, add to the vegetables, using just half the borage flowers. Chill overnight. Just before serving, add the rest of the borage flowers. A different color scheme for a familiar dish.