Saturday, July 30, 2011


One of the best lessons of a garden is how cooperative it is. Because there were me and all the stinging bugs patiently leaving each other alone. Yellow jackets, honey bees (haven’t seen those in years), fuzzy bumble bees and the big black shiny ones. Wasps, including those tiny iridescent ones that might actually be bees.

White fish with peach curry
1 pound mild white fish

4 medium peaches, peeled (retain the peels)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 small onion, diced
1-2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
(or you can just use 2 T curry powder. Cheater.)

Put the peach peels in a pot with a cup of water and boil down to 1/4 cup, creating a peach syrup. Strain and set aside.

Put all curry ingredients in a blender and run about 3 minutes, until completely blended. Saute fish until about halfway done, then add half the curry and simmer until fish is done. Just before serving, add the remaining curry to heat it up.

Serve over biryani rice cooked in the peach syrup thinned with the proper amount of water.

Mystery squash

I grew squash this year.

I wasn't going to, because it's an "off-year" for my squash. I have problems with Squash Vine Borer, and once you've got it, you can't plant again for two years or you WILL have it again.

Well, I've got it again, but I swear it wasn't my fault. The squash just appeared. In my compost pile. I have no idea what kind of squash this was--most of the time when you try to save squash seeds, you end up with these weird hybrids, because it cross pollinates so easily.

This one turned out to be not just a squash hybrid, but as far as I can determine, a summer-winter hybrid, which I though was not supposed to happen, because they aren't the same family. But it had the color and skin of a yellow summer squash, the leaves of a winter squash, the flavor of a mild butternut, and the shape of a Muscade pumpkin.

The first and last of which I did not grow last year.

I managed one large fruit, about 3 pounds, before the SVB killed the plant.

Summer soup
3 cups summer squash, roasted, skinned and cubed
1 pound apricots, peeled
1 large onion
4 T butter

3 cups water
leaves of 2-3 leeks, 2 large sprigs each mint and parsley
1/2 T green peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspooon baking soda

Make this in a gallon pot, so it doesn't overflow. To roast the squash-- quarter, scoop out the seeds, and place meat-side down on a rimmed baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray, or lightly oiled. Carmelize the onions in 2T of butter. Set aside. In the same pot, melt the remaining butter then add the apricots (if anyone knows how to peel apricots, let me know, because I don't think I'm doing it right). Stirring constantly, render the moisture out of the apricots, then turn down the heat and add the squash. Simmer until it releases moisture. Add the hot stock and simmer until one cup of liquid has boiled away (about 10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally. Using an immersible blender, blend it to a smooth texture. Add the baking soda, which will mitigate the acid. Stand RIGHT THERE and keep stirring, because it will foam up.

When it has settled back down, add the onions back in and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve with fresh baking-soda biscuits.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garden party

We do a Lammas Festival party every year to celebrate the garden and the first harvest. (Held a little early this year due to other scheduling problems. )

As we were setting up and cleaning up the week before, I started digging around to see what paper plates and plastic glasses and utensils we still had left over from the last one.


When you switch over to a more sustainable way of living, it's not just about how you do things and what you buy. You have to rearrange the synapses. It took a slow grinding of the gears for me to absorb the inconsistency of seasonal-local-sustainable served on throw-away plates. So we headed to the thrift store and picked up a giant load of cheap glassware. We got bamboo plates, which we will use til they're unusable, and then compost. We pulled out all of our forks, and just kept washing them all day when we ran out

There are days when I think how silly it is for this one little two-person household to try to save the planet. And then I look at the trash we ended up with yesterday. Namely, none. We gave a party attended by more than 50 people, and did not generate any trash. The food went into the compost. The bottles went into the recycling. The tableware went into the sink. Fifty people from 30 households observed this, including a large percentage of young people, whom we are trying to save the planet for.

Seasonal. Local. Organic. Whole. And trash-free.


Chamomile-Raspberry-Ginger tea
5 tablespoons chamomile or 6 teabags
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
2 large pieces of candied ginger, diced
4 cups boiling water
2 cups cool water

Steep the chamomile, raspberries and ginger in the boiling water, about 2 hours (until water is cool). Add cool water. pour into ice-cube filled glasses. Garnish with fresh chamomile flowers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Growing project updates

I'm participating in three growing projects this year: Bramki is a huge plant-- already more than 5 feet tall. I like a tomato plant to have 7 to 10 fruits per plant; fewer than that just isn't worth it in my small garden; this one looks like it will make it. On the three plants, there are 4, 5, and 7 fruits, plus at least 2 flower sets ready to go. Because this looks to be such a large plant, I will probably start pruning this to a constant size once I get the fruit that I need ripening.

Ferris Wheel is a moderate height, looks like a slow grower and fruit production is way behind other varieties I've grown, with just 5 fruits among the 3 plants. However, this was also my experience with the Black Krim. After saving seed for 10 years, my Black Krims now give me 10 or more per plant of good sized fruit. So depending on the flavor it might be worth creating my own backyard cultivar.

Blondkopfchen is the most insanely prolific cherry I've ever seen. Too much! Yikes. Kelly, are you sure you want these seeds?

German Pink continues to lag because it was planted so late and small, but it does have two flower sets and should be fruiting within a few days. I think it would be very interesting to find a variety of tomato developed by a Chicago farmer or gardener and do that as an Heirloom project. There must be one.

The One Seed Chicago chard all washed away in the floods; the rest of the chard is doing fine. Does that count?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just me, the lightning bugs and Son of Rabbit Kong

He’s not even intimidated anymore particularly. He stays just a little ahead of me on the paths and disappears into the underbrush. I think there must be a wormhole somewhere—he slips into an alternate universe.

But it’s nice being out here with him in the gloaming. The city is very quiet this year; I feel like it’s quieter than usual. It isn’t the heat-here by the lake it isn’t all that hot. There just isn’t any noise this year. If you close your eyes you can breathe in the scent of the dirt and feel a million miles from the city.

The new beans, barely a week old, are sturdy 4-inch high sprouts with 2 sets of leaves. Beans are my favorite sprouts—so sturdy and insistent. The beets are visible to the naked eye, and there are a couple tiny broccoli sprouts, but I’ll wait to log them. Still no sign of the succession carrots, but they take a little longer to germinate; as much as ten days.

Pulled a half-pound turnip with a beautiful waxy sheen and froze the greens for stock. Snagged a few ounces of beans, most of them too small but I’m afraid to leave them for my furry little nemesis. Other than herbs there’s nothing else ready yet. The earliest tomatoes are just starting to pink, the cukes and zukes got their first flowers just this week; the eggplants are still in the blossom-drop stage. Hopefully they’ll settle in and decide to fruit.

I’m sure as soon as I left the little sneak thief snuck back out to snack. His passage through the rustling leaves is the only sound out there.

Late broccoli soup
The last broccoli florets
Large basketful of broccoli leaves (small leaves and large leaves)
Tender stems from the broccoli plants
2 small garlic heads
1 medium onion, diced
2 early carrots
6-8 new potatoes sliced in half or quarters, or 1 large mature potato, peeled and diced.

3 cups stock
1 cup milk or half-half

With the large broccoli leaves, the garlic and onion peel and the carrot greens, make 3 cups of stock. Keep hot. Cook the potatoes about halfway in a separate pot, drain and set aside

Dice the onion, broccoli greens and stems and carrots. While the onions are sauteeing, scald 1 cup of milk or half-half. Saute the onions in butter or olive oil until tender, press and add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, then add the broccoli and carrots. Saute until the broccoli is bright dark green, then lightly dredge with about 2-3 T of flour. Lightly brown, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Turn off heat. When it has stopped sizzling add about a quarter cup of the scalded, still hot milk; it will form a thick paste. Turn the heat back on low, and continue adding the rest of the milk, stirring it smooth each time. Add the stock about a cup at a time until the soup is the desired consistency (your call- thin or thick).

For vegan, obviously, leave out the milk.

Serve with baguettes and lots of butter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

You never count your beans when you're sitting at the table

Last year I lost the entire bean crop to rabbits. This year I'm snagging about half of it. I keep thinking I've sealed off all its little bolt holes, but it just finds another. On the other hand, the furfaces and creepy-crawlies seem to be leaving everything else alone.

The thing about gardening, and life really, is that you have to learn when to just let it go. It's The Gambler, right? Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to pull out the shotgun and fill the little bastards' backsides full of buckshot.

Oops, sorry. I meant "trap it and turn it loose in the forest."

In the spring, here in Chicago, we had to just let it go as we got floods and floods of rain, nearly half the year's total precipitation in just about 9 weeks from March through mid June. Everyone I know planted their carrots two or three times, or gave up on lettuce this year, or didn't plant cucumbers until July. The tomatoes, of course, we fight to keep like little demons, because while they love to GROW in Chicago, they're not so crazy about starting out, so every tomato that makes it past sprout is as precious as a child, and frankly, I treat them better than I treat my children.

I have a beautiful garden. No ugly gardens for me! (ducks.) So I really really don't want to put up chicken wire fencing to keep the rabbits out. It's ugly (whining). It scratches. I can't get into the beds. Of course, if I wasn't so insistent on curvy sexy shapes for my beds it would be easy to put up perfectly decent looking fencing. Anyway, the fencing is up and as the foliage gets more lush you can barely see it.

Problem is, the rabbit apparently barely sees it either, because he keeps getting in there.

Here's what I made today (with ingredients from the farmers market, rather than the garden, since I don't have enough beans to make a salad with them.)

Peach-cherry chutney
based on the recipe in Jeff Smiths' Our Immigrant Ancestors

1 cup sweet cherries, halved and pitted
3-4 cups peaches, peeled and diced (about 5 peaches)
juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 cup any dried berry (dried raisins, blueberries, currants, etc.)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar or rice vinegar
1 teaspoon each:
cumin, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, brown mustard
1/2 teaspoon each:
kosher salt, dried thyme, black peppercorns

Drain the fruit, conserving the liquid.

Combine the honey, vinegar and spices, plus the peach peels and cherry pits in a medium saucepan. Add a little water to thin it slightly. Mix thoroughly and boil gently, until syrup is thick and sticks to the bottom of the spoon, about 15 minutes or so, depending on how much liquid you have to boil away. Strain and return to the saucepan.

Place the drained fruit, plus the dried fruit and optional nuts in a bowl and add the lemon juice. Mix thoroughly. Fold the fruit into the syrup and simmer very briefly (less than a minute). Decant into sterilized jars and refrigerate or preserve using your favorite canning technique. Should refrigerate for a day before serving.

Monday, July 11, 2011

This was way easier when I was 30

We're rehabbing my husband's home office. For some reason, this room didn't even get painted when we moved in nearly 30 years ago. It's pretty much the room that you close the door on when guests are over.

Since the kids moved out, our rehab mantra has been "do it right." This means proper wall prep, replacing warped moldings, and No More Paint On Wood, i.e. strip the woodwork.

This is the job that I got, while DH worked on the walls.

Think 12 hours over 3 days holding a heavy heat gun at about shoulder height or higher. Pain.

After finishing the main part of this task on Monday night, I was done in, but hungry. Almost almost ordered pizza, but I had these gorgeous 1/2 pound portabellos in the larder, so I made the following casserole, and I am very glad I did, because it was just what the doctor ordered. Flavorful and stick-to-your-ribs. Since I made this up as I went along, and I was way too tired to right it down at the time, I hope I can reconstruct now!

Mushroom casserole
2 large portabello mushrooms, diced
2-3 T butter (for vegan, substitute oil)
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 medium onion, diced
garlic, too taste, pressed
about 1/4 cup celeriac, diced very fine
3 T flour

2-3 cups Half & half, milk, or stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 cup noodles (I used penne, but egg noodles, elbow macaroni or your favorite shape are all fine)
2 medium potatoes, diced
something green- spinach, beans, peas, chard

Boil water for the noodles and potatoes (put the potatoes in first, as they take a little longer than the noodles). Once these are cooked, drain and set aside (or time it so everything is done at once). If you're using peas or beans for your greens, add them about 5 minutes before the noodles are done. Leafy greens can just be added to the casserole and don't need to be precooked.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and add the mushrooms. Stir until all the butter is absorbed by the mushrooms, then add the lemon juice. This will release liquid from the mushrooms and give your casserole a wonderful mushroom flavor. If you are using milk, it will not curdle the milk, don't worry. Add the celeriac and onions; you may need to add a little more butter to saute them. Once the celeriac is soft, dredge with flour and saute for 2 minutes. While you are sauteeing, scald the liquid; you'll want it very very hot.

Add a little of the scalded liquid to the vegetables; it will immediately form a thick paste. Continuing adding liquid and stirring until you have a creamy sauce. Prepare a glass or ceramic casserole dish (spray or oil), and add all ingredients together, mixing thoroughly. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and a little cheese (vegans--what would you use instead of cheese to make a nice melty crust?).

Bake at 350F/175C for about 25 minutes or until the top is melted and lightly brown.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A day at the Farmers Market

I spent Thursday working the University of Illinois Extension Plant Clinic booth at the Eli's-Wright College Farmers Market.

From what I hear about the main Plant Clinic at the Ag School it's quite busy, with lots of people calling with questions, but I've only done the off-site clinics, at Garfield Park Conservatory and this one at this small near-suburban weekday farmers market.

We had several questions, including "I haven't planted my garden yet. Will the weather stay warm into October so that I have time for tomatoes?" She seriously seemed to want us to research this. We were also a captive audience for the several salespeople who took advantage of the fact that we were stuck in a booth and too polite to tell them to get lost.

I think these remote clinics could be more interesting--lots of people walked by, but didn't approach because first it's hard to tell what's going on, and second, there's nothing to look at. I bought some unusual vegetables from one of the vendors to use as paperweights, which brought a few people over, but I think there would be more traffic if we had a mini-insect petting zoo, and maybe a plant-a-seed demo for children (or adults for that matter). I'm doing another one in August and I'm extremely tempted to plant some tiny pots of parsley to give away.

My paperweights turned into a wonderful grilled salad.

Grilled summer vegetables with red currant vinaigrette
Golden beets
Summer squash
Raw peas, chilled

1 pint red currants
2 T sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2+ cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Slice the vegetables very thin (1/4 inch), dredge with olive oil and salt, and grill until al dente (about 10-15 minutes). Serve the peas raw and cold as a contrast. For the vinaigrette, simmer the currants with the sugar until the fruit loses its shape; strain through a food mill to remove stems and seeds. Whip with the vinegar and oil.

Drizzle over the hot vegetables. We ate this as dinner, but it's a lovely side dish as well.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Growing project updates

Im participating in three growing projects this year:Beautiful plant. Each of the 3 Bramki have at least 3 flower sets, and there are two tiny fruits starting on one. Wish I could find a picture of one. Best I've come up with is a description of "oblate red fruit with good tomato flavor."

The Ferris Wheels have tons of flowers, although the earliest sets all seem to have dropped. Another very sturdy plant, although in general all the tomatoes are really muscular this year. No fruits yet. The Blondkopfchen, from non-SeedBank seeds, appears to be a wildly prolific cherry. Mine is blooming like crazy, but there's also one at the Peterson Garden that we think has about 300 flowers on it.

One Seed Chicago chard washed away in the April Sintflut.

German Pink for One Heirloom Chicago is setting flowers, although still small (latest transplant of all the tomatoes).

I like growing tomatoes, but I wish these community growing projects had a little more community this year.