Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Myth of Convenience

Having been a child in the 50s, my entire life has been defined and informed by the increasingly pervasive culture of the ad-- so much that I know about how the world works (or how America, or my little corner of it works) comes from ads that it's hard to remember to question question question.

When I was a very young child, Congress passed a Truth in Advertising act, so that I grew up with the understanding that deliberately deceptive or false advertising was against the law. And indeed, in the beginning it was. I can actually remember how ads changed after this act was passed, in particular as regarded health claims for unhealthy products, like cigarettes (yes, youngsters, they used to advertise the health benefits of cigarettes).

Unlearning something that you were indoctrinated with as a young child is very difficult. My kids just gape at me when I forget how the act has been eviscerated over the years, and say something naive like, "they're not allowed to say that if it isn't true."

And one of the things that we have been sold is Convenience. Packaged meals are more convenient. Powdered drinks are more convenient. Carry-out is more convenient. Homemade is timeconsuming, messy, and different.

And yet, when you time it out, in fact, carry out or packaged or restaurant meals do not save you any time at all. Prep time is often comparable to prep time for simple meals. Restaurant and carry out meals take an arguably longer time since you have to factor in the drive and the wait.

So next time you reach for the powdered lemonade, or decide that you're too tired to cook, stop. Is it really more convenient?

5-minute lemonade
1 large lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
plain or sparkling water

Dissolve the sugar in the hot water. Cut lemon in half, and ream it ( I like a hand-held reamer but any sort will do), this should yield about 1/4 cup of juice. Combine the juice and sugar water. This will now be the syrup. Add to sparkling or plain water to taste. Ice.

Depending on how sweet you like it, this is enough for two large drinks.

Throw in a stick of mint, just for pretty.

Monday, June 21, 2010


For Midsummer Day, I started hunting around for plants and rituals associated with the solstice, and found a lot of information about chamomile, an herb which I’ve been looking into lately anyway (since it appears I will have a LOT).

From “Chamomile is one of the ‘Nine Sacred Herbs’ of the Lacnunga, an ancient Anglo-Saxon manuscript. The strong association Chamomile has with the Sun is an underlying indication of its modern usage. Through incense or ritual drink it is used to assist a priest’s call to the Sun God (those working with any of the solar deities). Some traditions have used Chamomile at Midsummer to give honor to the Father of Nature.

My herbalist friend "Om" says,
We use chamomile tea in the chalice and horn cup at our Summer Solstice rituals, especially at the height of the day when it is families with lots of kids. It also brews into a delightful wine. I have also added it to the vinaigrette to go on a feast salad, and put it in fire fruit salad (a mix of citrus fruits that are red, yellow and orange, along with cinnamon and cumin as the main spices). The leaves work well in incense this time of year, and as part of the bundle of herbs used for sweeping and/or asperging.
I harvested the flowers from one of my volunteers and hope to be able to harvest enough to have tea all the way through the winter this year. (Right now I have about 1 cup of dried flowers, with several months of bloom left to go, and 14 plants.)


Just to warn you, this is post is full of shameless self-promotion. (Oh, wait, ALL blogs are shameless self-promotion. Right. Carry on!)

However, it is also an invitation to a party!

Come join me on Saturday, July 3, for music and a celebration of Independence Day and the re-dedication of the Victory Garden at Peterson and Campbell on Chicago's north side. The project is called Peterson Garden, and it is a testament to what enthusiastic people can when they set their minds to something (create vegetable gardens for 140 families out of an abandoned plot), and to the power of social media, because everyone involved pretty much got connected on line through Twitter, Facebook, and Chicago's wonderful garden blog community.

Come join me, LaManda Joy, Alderman Pat O'Connor and a few hundred (we hope) of our closest friends.

We will not be serving this, but there will be plenty of typical Fourth of July potluck (in fact, bring something yourself!)

Parsnips with chard and bacon
Adapted from Good Housekeeping's "Little Rock" stuffing. I made it as a side dish, without the bread stuffing, but it was so delicious it's on this year's Thanksgiving menu as a stuffing.

1/2 pound bacon, cut into small pieces
1 pound parsnips, peeled and diced (about 4 large parsnips)
3 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
large basket full of swiss chard (remove stems and cut into 2" pieces)
chicken broth (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
seasoning (I used dill today, because it was ready in the garden)

Saute the bacon until crisp. Add the diced parsnips, celery and onion and cook about 15 minutes until they are soft and have started to carmelize. Add swiss chard; cook 2 minutes or until the chard is bright green and has wilted.

Add 1/4 cup of broth and bring to a simmer, then dredge with about 1-2 tablespoons of flour and stir until it thickens. Add more broth until it's a consistency you like.

Serve as a side dish with chicken or steak.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Three Sisters

Corn is such an iconic plant. For Americans I think there is nothing you can grow that moves us as deeply. Corn is ours. It figures into our national mythology and rules our midwest. Corn grown and eaten right (i.e. not in monoculture and not processed into everything you consume) is a marvelous food-- high in protein and nutrients, easy to preserve, beloved by everyone.

Last year as part of my Growing Challenge, I did corn for the first time, in a rather modified Three Sisters plot. It was not entirely successful, but I found the growing of it so satisfying that I put in a much larger plot this year, and set up the Three Sisters properly.

So, who are the Three Sisters?

They are corn, beans, and squash, a happy combination of plants that compliment each other. Squash and corn are heavy feeders, and the beans mitigate this. The squash grows densely along the ground, shading out the weeds; the beans grow up the corn stalks. You can harvest them as they ripen, or leave them in the plot to harvest all together in the fall. A great description of the Three Sisters is on GardenWeb; I can't really improve on this instruction or history.

I've also set up a Three Sisters garden at Peterson Garden as one of the demonstration plots. The corn is still small there; I'll plant the beans in a couple of weeks or when the corn reaches 10" high and has several sets of leaves, and add a native pepper and sweet potatoes.

You can see my journals about the experiment, and this year's larger attempt on MyFolia.

The Three Sisters come with their own wonderful meal as well.

2 cups fresh corn niblets
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other small hot chili pepper, diced
1 cup squash (any type), chopped
2 cups beans (green beans off the vine, lima beans, or shelled beans, soaked overnight)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin seed
1 tsp salt

Heat oil (vegetable or peanut) in a large sauté pan and add the corn, peppers, and onion, then sauté until the vegetables start to brown and caramelize slightly. This should only take about 5 to 7 minutes. Add oil if necessary, and the sweet potato, squash, cumin, salt, black pepper and garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the broth and lima beans. Simmer until all the vegetables are tender.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sconeday: the art of gardening

I approach my garden as much for art, as for plants or food.

I started life as an artist, actually making a living at it all through my 20s and even into my children’s toddlerhood. It’s hard to paint with little kids around, however; you cannot pick up a baby when your hands are covered in cadmium yellow. It is poison. You can switch to pastels, but then the baby is always Technicolor and anyway, who knows what’s in those as well? So you switch to charcoal, but now the baby looks like you let him crawl around on the cellar floor, which in fact you do, and oh my god what is he putting in his mouth.

So I switched to gardening. This became my canvas, and it is a living one that changes and grows, literally, year after year. I’ve just spent the morning looking at old photo CDs and seeing how the garden has changed over the years— it is a work that is never done, the god’s canvas. The Painter’s Palette dies and is replaced by Baby's Breath, which dies and is replaced by Pineapple Sage. A “water” garden made from pebbles and rocks gives way to an actual pond; a vegetable garden becomes a mulch patio becomes a vegetable garden; the lilies move from the shade to the sun and take off. The coleus really doesn’t like the sun, but pansies and marigolds make a beautiful statement in the same place.

How can you make your garden into art?
Put other people's art in it: A little bronze frog, a clay Medusa, ceramic luminaries.
Put in your own art: A painted gate, a hand-built trellis made of sticks, plant markers.
Make the layout a canvas: Lead the eye through the garden by laying paths, and interrupting the movement of the eye, or letting the wanderer pause with architectural elements like a special plant, or a bench, a luminary or a sculpture.
Paint with flowers: frame a lupine with a green shrub, or create a themed garden (Shakespearian plants, or a color theme)

The words are interchangeable— I am an artist. I am a gardener.

How have you made your garden into art?

Goat cheese scones
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
>1/4 cup white sugar if you like sweet scones
1/8 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 T goat cheese ( a crumbly one works best)
3/4 cup sour cream (thin with milk) plain or vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup honey

½ cup sugared, plumped raisins

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or rubbing between your fingers until it has the consistency of corn meal. Cut in the goat cheese. Mix liquids together in a measuring cup. Pour all at once into the dry ingredients, and stir gently until well blended. (Overworking the dough results in terrible scones!)

To prepare raisins, plump raisins. Place in a microwaveable container, just cover with water and heat them in the microwave on medium for about 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry, then coat with about 1 teaspoon of cinnamon suger. Mix these into the scone batter.

Glaze with yogurt mixed with cinnamon

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop batter by generous spoonfuls. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops are golden brown, not deep brown.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What's happening at Peterson Gardens?

I'm working with a wonderful group of people, headed up by LaManda Joy of The Yarden on a great new community project-- the Peterson Garden Project. Little plan (not so little) is to get this community garden going in Chicago's 40th ward (northwest side). Big plan is to inspire Chicagoans to revive the Victory Gardens movement and grow their own food.

Les, one of the gardeners and a member of the core planning group, was there last night, supervising the site:
"Coming in this evening was quite spectacular. People were already working in the garden and as time went on, people were bringing in plants, shovels, and their excited faces; ready to plant in their wonderful garden space! Definitely was a great feeling just watching these people. I didn't even work on my plot because I didn't want to take up any shovels or wheel barrels, they seem so happy to work and I didn't want to stop them!!! So fun and I'm so happy to be part of this. I just kept thinking as the next group kept coming, about the movie "Field of Dreams," ..."if you build it, they will come." And they did and this wasn't even half of the garden who came out. I'm sure this weekend will bring a drove of people, already caring for their plants or starting to fill their beds with soil or helping each other out, which I seen neighbors doing already!!!

And btw Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup!!!
We probably won't have anyone growing asparagus (yet! who knows?) but you could make this soup right now if you had a garden, substituting peas for the aspargus (or spinach! or in the fall, tomatoes or parsnips!)

Puree of Asparagus (or any vegetable) soup
  • 2 bunches fresh, in season asparagus
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 to 6 cups broth (chicken or vegetable; I used a radish-based one that I had on hand)
  • 1 pint half-and-half (leave this out, obs, for vegan)
  • 3 small potatoes (especially for vegan, this will help thicken it)
  • seasoning: 1-2 teaspoons ground white pepper, 1 teaspoon ground (fresh if you have it) coriander, sea salt to taste
Cut asparagus tips about 1 1/2 inches from top, and stalks into 1/2-inch piece; set aside. Cut potato into small chunks and boil until soft. Discard water, then return the potato, asparagus and diced onion to the same pot and saute in the butter until asparagus is soft. Remove about 10 tips and set aside. Add broth and cook until asparagus is very soft, aboug 15 to 20 minutes, then add cream and simmer about 5 minutes. Add

Purée soup in batches in a blender, or with a hand-held immersible blender in the pot until smooth, transferring to a bowl (use caution when blending hot liquids). Add more broth or a little milk or cream to thin soup to desired consistency. Garnish with reserved asparagus tips and fresh parsley.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Spitfires in June

The spitfire nasturtiums are doing their nasturtium thing, namely, growing wherever you put them. A volunteer snuck in at the Narnia gate, so there's a butter yellow one from last year's mix, and the spitfire (which, by the way, bloomed).

The original transplants were planted out quite early and cloched; these are now big enough to start training up the cyclone fence (left). They get almost no sun, but don't seem to care. The largest has leaves the size of saucers. I have to keep cutting back the lilies to give them air and light, but they're going to take off, unless the evil furfaces find them.

I also direct seeded some around a plant stand in one of the vegetable beds, and will train those up the legs. I planted them May 14, and they were sprouting by the 20th.

And speaking of completely random recipes that have nothing to do with nasturtiums, here's some cornbread.

Update: gardengirl came through in the comments with this local Illinois source of cornmeal.

I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks to Renee's Garden for the seeds.


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I made my own using the recipe at Not Dabbling in Normal)
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl (for instance a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup) whisk together the honey, egg, milk and vegetable oil. Beat into dry ingredients until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. Learn from my mistakes. (Oh well, still tastes good.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Two summer slaws

No words of wisdom today! Just two delicious things to do with cabbage. The CSA sent GIANT cabbages this week. Had to do something!

Peach slaw
about 3 cups finely shredded or grated cabbage (1 small head or portion of large head)
2-3 peaches
3T homemade mayonnaise (from the wonderful Little Blue Hen blog. Really, follow her!)
Salt to taste

Shred or grate the cabbage, then mix with the mayonnaise. Peel the peaches (a potato peeler works great, if you're very gentle) then with your hands squeeze the bare fruit directly onto the slaw, shredding the meat as you go, so that chunks of mushed peach end up in the mix. If you are squeamish (you shouldn't be cooking) um that is to say, you can use a lemon press for this; just be careful you don't get pieces of pit in the slaw.

Taste, add salt and white pepper.

Greek lemon slaw
about 3 cups finely shredded or grated cabbage
juice from one half lemon
fresh zest from whole lemon
1/2+ cups olive oil (I like my lemon slaw very oily, so I err on the side of oops!)
salt and green pepper

Mix it all together. I grew up on this stuff and it is still probably my favorite salad.