Thursday, June 30, 2011

If I had to depend on my garden for food, I'd be in trouble right now

Seasons like this one, which cost me crops, make me think about what it must have meant to be dependent on your garden for food. I lost two early crops that normally provide our vegetables for part of May and all of June.

This year my peas, snow peas and chard were a dead loss. The first two plantings of these early crops just washed away in the nearly 20 inches of rain between April 15 and June 15 (half our normal annual precipitation in just 8 weeks); the penultimate of the peas and snowpeas fell prey to the bumper crop of slugs that were a consequence of the weather. I have maybe a single meal’s worth of peas ripening, and I get a meal’s worth of broccoli every four days.

I’m going to have a harvest-free week or two at this point, as the broccoli gears down (if it does) but the beans aren’t quite ready. I still have lettuce, but although it hasn’t bolted, it’s bitter. I’ll have chard, after all, but not until late summer and autumn.

Probably if I depended on the garden for food I’d have fought harder for the lost crops. Rather than weeding the lamb’s quarters and purslane, we would have been eating it. Rather than chasing the rabbits away, we’d have been trapping them.

Appreciate your food supply. Appreciate your farmer, who does have to fight the weather for her crop, which feeds you.

Honey-rosemary roast chicken
Brush a whole chicken with honey (you can thin it slightly with boiling water to make it brush more easily); I then sprinkled it with rosemary salt, but you can also grind some dried rosemary with sea salt and make your own.

Roast according to your favorite cookbook recipe (I use the Woman's Home Companion Cook Book from 1952).

While the chicken is roasting, use the sweetmeats, neck, and skin flaps from the neck, with a cut up onion, some green peppercorns, sea salt and 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary in 3 cups of water to create a broth-- boil down to 2 cups. Use 1 cup of this plus enough additional water to cook rice; use the remaining broth to make pan gravy with the drippings.

Pan gravy
Pour the drippings into a sauce pan, add about 1 teaspoon of flour per 1/4 cup of drippings (should create a thin paste). Simmer for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and allow to quiet down (i.e. no more simmer). Turn the heat back on and add boiling liquid-- this can be almost anything- wine, stock, broth, fruit juice, milk or just plain water depending on the flavor you want. It will immediately thicken; thin it to the desired consistency with cool water. You can strain this if you want, although I seldom strain my gravy-- I like the little bits and pieces!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I could get used to this

It's a good thing my husband is well employed doing work he loves, because while I have interesting jobs (yes that's "jobs" plural), you couldn't exactly support a family on my take home pay. I complain about it a lot (I'm sure I'm very boring--sorry).

But last Friday I got to go to the movies at noon, and right now I'm sitting outside in my garden under my new table umbrella gearing up for my day's on line work. It's about to rain, so it's a little bit chilly; I'm wrapped up in a blanket knit for me by a friend and I'm listening to the thunder and watching Rabbit Kong try to breach the defenses.

Beats the heck out fame and riches.

Strawberry cream cheese bread
Adapted from

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup honey
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 egg + 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream, thinned with a little milk or cream
1 1/2 cups strawberries, and macerated in 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and 3-4T of sugar

Preheat oven to 350/175. Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cream butter, honey and cream cheese until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla. Blend flour mixture with butter mixture just until blended. Add buttermilk and only stir until just combined; do not over mix. Carefully fold in strawberries. Dough mixture will be thick. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Okay, didn't have any honey (how does this happen?) so I used 1/2 cup sugar, and increased to two whole eggs. Decided it would be more interesting to thin the sour cream with 1/4 cup of homemade strawberry syrup. You could also use orange juice, or just substitute buttermilk, but I can never find anything except an abomination called "fat free buttermilk" at the market-- what is that? It's buttermilk folks, fat is the entire point.

Anyway, the adaptation of the adaptation was also delicious.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June Bloom Day

I'll start with the tickweed and daisies, and move on to parsnips and chamomile, but mostly this month is about the 100 petunias on my porch. I usually have more exotic items on the porch--palms and licorice plants, gynura, cordyline. Last year I left the pots empty "to fill up with possbilities"

But this year I needed something simple and bright and prosaic. Something that would just widen the pupils and put a smile on everyone's face.

Ah. Petunias.

Tickweed and daisies

Parsnips and chamomile

Petunia Sun Spun "Silver

Petunia "Daddy Strawberry"

Petunia "Cappucino" and Verbena Lanai "Peach"

Petunia "Yellow Madness"

Sour Cream Rhubarb Bread
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground clove
2/3 cup diced rhubarb
1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

2 Tablespoons raspberry sugar
1 tsp butter
1/4 tsp clove

Preheat oven to 325F/160C

Whisk dry ingredients together. Add the rhubarb and cranberries. Beat the liquid ingredients together until thoroughly combined then add to dry ingredients and mix all bread ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter in a small bowl, combine with the other topping ingredients and whisk until well combined. Grease a bread pan. Pour the batter into the pan. Drizzle the topping over the batter.

Bake for 55-65 minutes or until a knitting needle inserted into the center comes out clean. This is a very moist bread. Allow to cool completely before tipping out of pan so it doesn't fall apart.

For a sweeter bread, macerate the rhubarb in a 1/4 cup of sugar for 1/2 hour before adding to batter. If you do this, add the rhubarb last.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Growing project updates

Im participating in three growing projects this year:
Lovely plant. Very sturdy; they've doubled in size since I planted them less than a month ago. Bramkis also went to my homeschooling project, a rainbow tomato patch for a friend (a red, a black, a gold, and a green), and the plant sale at Peterson Garden. This and the Ferris have some flowers started, which I've bagged.

Again, going strong, nice big sturdy plants. I had only 30% germination on these, so all three that survived went into my garden. Unfortunately, managed to break the central stem on this bagging the first set of flowers. This will weaken the plant, but I guess it just becomes another part of the experiment. There are two additional plants as well.

I have a possibly-bk plant, plus one that I picked up from The Yarden. Per Kelly, I'll save seeds from the Yarden plant for her.

German Pink (One Heirloom)
Planted out the Pink about a week ago, just before the insane heat. It's doubled in size, but unfortunately was not a strong enough, large enough start to really be proof against slugs. Working on some slug barriers for it until it can get bigger. If these folks do this challenge again, I hope they either just distribute seeds, or get it together to have much better or much earlier starts.

Swiss chard
These got a bit drowned by the 6 inches of rain we had in May and none of them came up, along with the other seeds I had in this bed. Think I'm going to need to build a raised bed for this spot next year.

Walnut ginger blondies with chocolate chips
2/3 cup ww pastry flour
2/3 cup finely ground walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg
3/4 honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°.
Mix dry ingredients, including ground walnuts and ginger pieces. In a mixing bowl with hand-held electric mixer on high, beat egg until foamy. Add honey and vanilla; beat well. Stir in flour mixture, then add the chips. Grease an 8x16" pan, spread batter with a spatula. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Cut into 2-inch bars; cool in pan. Makes 32 walnut bars.

Monday, June 6, 2011


One of the things that the online gardening community did for me, or really for my long-suffering plants, was to save my potted plants. Every year I would watch with resignation and rue as my houseplants slowly died each winter, and the idea of plants in containers outdoors just stumped me.

But with the internet looking over my shoulder I felt both encouraged, and slightly embarrassed at accepting my incompetence in this area. It’s kind of like not minding that you’re a bad housewife until guests are coming over.

Of course, the only thing that houseplants and other potted plants need is care and attention, so once I started paying attention the attrition rate plummeted. I’ve got most of the “houseplants” staged around the pond for the summer, and this year I’ve put 90 petunias in pots on the porch.

I usually have a more exotic mix for my porch; somehow simple flowers in containers seems a waste of resources. But I decided to go for metaphor again with the porch pots. Last year I left them empty so they would “fill with possibilities” and they really did, in the form of clients, the Peterson Garden Project, and lots of new students. However, because I really have enough possibilities for now, I decided I needed to go entirely the opposite direction and do something simple and obvious.

So I planted a crayola box of petunias. Simple, obvious, instantly recognizable with color and bloom that will hit you over the head. There are about 80 on the porch, and the remaining ones tucked into various other pots staged around the garden, including a white one in the dragon’s mouth.

I generally avoid such obvious flowers; I like a subtler ratio of bloom to foliage. But the petunias on the the porch make a joyous statement that sometimes life is good without that much effort and that sometimes the obvious is the thing to do.

Chocolate cream cheese cookies
5 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped (or 2/3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips)
2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup cream cheese
2/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
optional: 1/4 teaspoon mint, orange, or raspberry extract

optional: 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F/177C . Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat the butter, cream cheese and honey until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate and beat until well incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour in stages, mixing until incorporated. Fold in the the nuts.

Drop in teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet 2" apart (these will spread quite a bit). The cookies are done when they are just barely set in the center. They should still be soft. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 30 large or 40 small cookies.