Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ready for Harvest

Though I'm still rather behind on getting things planted, there are a few items in the garden that are ready for harvest!  In the winter I planted some rainbow chard and then proceeded to ignore it as the Brassicas bolted around it.  After all this spring rain it is looking pretty good so it's time to do a little picking.  Fun chard fact- it's a member of the beet family that is grown for the greens a.k.a. beet tops.  That's why some varieties are called Silverbeet rather than chard.  You'll want to keep that relationship in mind if you're practicing crop rotation.

First harvest: Bright Lights Chard
In addition to the chard, a "volunteer" lettuce has appeared in the garden, too!  Last year I planted a mix of lettuce seeds and they didn't do too well (*ahem* I kind of didn't water them).  This one little trouper of a green lettuce (Australian Yellowleaf?) tried hard to grow but never really got going.  When it died I didn't really worry about it.  But now, it's returned!  I'm sure it's the same plant as the leaves are the same, it's in the same spot, and it never bolted (went to seed).  I called it a "volunteer" but it would be more accurate to call it "a really determined little lettuce that resists my off-handed attempts to kill it."

Leafy greens such as chard and lettuce can be picked over an extended period if you treat them right.  Just pick the largest, outermost leaves and leave the smaller internal leaves to grow.  You'll find that your plant just replaces what you pick and keeps on growing.  It's pretty excellent.

Should you find yourself with a nice harvest of chard, kale, or collards, I highly recommend cooking up some Potstickers with Garlicky Greens!  This recipe from DigginFood has been a standby of mine ever since I first tried it.  I've also managed to convert at least three friends to its deliciousness.  The garlic and hot pepper add just the right flavor to the greens, the potstickers provide some savory crunch, and the broth just brings it all together.  Yum!

Dinner with fresh-picked garden chard!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Weekend Activity: The Wild Kitchen

There is a group here in the Bay Area called forageSF.  They organize underground markets, foraging classes and meals.  It was through this group that I took a wild food walk a few months ago.  Ever since I heard about this organization I have been eagerly anticipating The Wild Kitchen.  It is a meal that is served at a surprise location somewhere in San Francisco- the details are sent out the day of the event (perhaps to avoid health inspectors?).  But it's not just any meal in a surprise location, it's an 8-course meal comprised predominantly of wild or foraged foods.  Is that not fabulous? 

Just Wednesday I got an email alerting me to the spring Wild Kitchen event happening June 3rd, 4th and 5th.  This is the description of courses from the email:

And the menu is:
Wild Bay Butter Crostini

Wild onion soup
Pan Fried Morels

Wild Nettle Gallete
Heirloom tomato Confit

Quick Fried Wild Caught Surf Trout
Wild Watercress Aioli

Sierra Morel and Liberty Duck Risotto
Spring Asparagus

Wild Caught California Uni
Quail Egg, Ponzu and Sea Beans

Salad of Miners Lettuce
Spring Greens
with a
Champagne Vinaigrette

Fresh Strawberries
Wild Fennel Pollen
Hand Whipped Cream

I might just have to start freaking out now.  This food sounds so delicious and it's certainly not the sort of thing you just bump into at a restaurant, even while living in the Bay Area (a.k.a. the US epicenter of all foods wacky/local/vegan/foraged etc).  For Pete's sake, nettle is practically mainstream around here.  But all those morels, the trout, uni and fennel pollen?  That's just decadence.  Plus, the foragers will be present at the dinner to put all this food into context.  I really don't think I can wait a whole week; it's far too exciting!

Jumping for joy over The Wild Kitchen

So that's what I'll be up to next weekend.  If you're in the Bay and keen for some really local food I encourage you to come out and support our local foragers.  Also, I apologize for tormenting those who live nowhere near here.  Hopefully I will come back with lots of pictures and recipe ideas that I can pass on to you in lieu of sharing this wonderful meal in person.  Or you never know- maybe you have a local foraging group, too!  Why not get onto Google and take a look?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

And now for something completely different...

I haven't told you yet what I do in my day job- I am a geologist.  In honor of the eruption of Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland I thought I'd show you a couple of fun volcano pictures.

Colima volcano, Mexico, eruption March 2005
There is a pyroclastic flow running down the left side of the volcano in addition to the obvious ash cloud.  My friend Karen was in the middle of presenting the details of some older volcanic deposits when Emilio started shouting, "!El volcan!  El volcan!" and we all turned around to see it erupting!  Pretty darn spectacular.

Lava flow from Pu'u O'o cone on Kilauea volcano, Big Island, Hawai'i, eruption November 2003
This new lava flow was covering one from the 1980's.  That shiny circle to the right of the flow is a penny for scale.  Did you know that if you put a penny in a lava flow it'll burn pretty colors?  After witnessing that I have to agree with Jack Handy: "If you ever drop your keys into a river of molten lava, forget 'em, cause man, they're gone."  A Deep Thought indeed.

And to bring this post back to gardening, volcanic soils are some of the most fertile in the world.  There's a reason the flanks of Vesuvius are covered in farms; it's just too bad she's gonna blow again one of these days.  But in the meantime, she might as well help provide food and wine, right?

This concludes our geologic interlude.  Here's hoping Grimsvotn doesn't mess things up too badly for air travel... and hoping a certain geologist I know doesn't get stranded in Greenland!

Friday, May 20, 2011

2011 MKG Veggie Varieties

Picking out which varieties to grow is definitely a highlight of gardening.  You can pick and choose veggies that look nice, have great descriptions, or even just for the name.  I've done all three and as with any choice, some work and some could be better.  This is what I am planning to plant in the 2011 MKG (* denotes a favorite):

Tomatoes: Sungold cherry*, Black Krim, Ginger's Golden Delicious (a local heirloom)*, Isis Candy cherry, San Marzano, and another three or so that I'll pick out at the nursery

Peppers: Giant Aconcagua*, Alma Paprika*, Corno di Toro, Golden California Wonder, Pretty Purple Pepper, Yellow Hungarian Wax, Padron

Tomatillo: Purple de Milpa

Eggplant: Casper*, Rosa Bianca, Diamond

Corn: Blue Jade

Sweet Potatoes: Bush assortment from Sand Hill Preservation Center

Beans: An assortment of the seeds I have left over from last year

Summer Squash: Sunburst, Zephyr*, Spineless Beauty, Cocozelle

Winter Squash: Buttercup, Waltham Butternut, Thelma Sanders, Galeux D'Eysines pumpkin*

Cucumbers: Painted Serpent*, Lemon, Diva

Melons: Ambrosia cantaloupe* and a watermelon

I never like to make too detailed a plan because there are always surprises at the nursery.  I'm excited to see what varieties are available there now!  Drop a note in the comments to share what varieties you're growing this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sacrificial Green Garlic Toasts

As I battled the Bermuda grass last week, I discovered that it had done an impressive job of infiltrating my garlic bed.  Bastard grass.  I really hate this stuff.  I followed the rhizomes under the ground and it became inevitable that some of my poor garlic would be disturbed.  But instead of being devastated by this, I took it as an opportunity to try out green garlic from my very own garden.

Have you ever heard of green garlic?  I hadn't until earlier this month when it was all over the menu at a fancy local restaurant.  Green garlic is just like spring onion- garlic that is harvested before it bulbs up.  It looks a lot like leek and has a milder garlic flavor than fully developed cloves.  There is a good chance that you might be able to find some in farmers' markets right about now.

Once I had my sacrificial green garlic I needed to find a recipe for it.  There weren't that many kicking around.  I found one enticing recipe on Epicurious for green garlic-artichoke soup that tempted me.  I also found a recipe for green garlic souffle in the Eating Local cookbook.  But then Deb over at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe for leeks on toast with blue cheese.  This looked like the perfect recipe for me to adapt using my fresh green garlic.

Last night I put that adaptation plan into action.  I liked the idea of pairing the garlic with feta, one of Deb's suggestions as a pairing with leeks.  I thought the saltiness of the feta would compliment the mild garlic nicely.  Blue cheese might be good, but I didn't want it overpowering the garlic.  I wanted to taste the garlic.  The feta & garlic match worked beautifully - the toasts had the most delicate garlic flavor I could possibly want along with the slight salty tang of feta.  They were actually reminiscent of my favorite Trader Joe's frozen appetizer: caramelized onion and feta pastry bites.  But believe it or not, these toasts were even better because they're made with garlic.  Garlic beats onion any day in my kitchen.

After devouring the first few toasts I became convinced that this is one of those great, simple recipes that just makes you happy.  You take a bite, chew, taste, and smile.  Mmmm.  This deliciousness is so good, in fact, I might just have to thank the Bermuda grass for requiring the sacrifice of the lovely green garlic.  However next season I will choose to harvest the green garlic to make these toasts, rather than harvest as a sacrifice to the Great Bermuda Grass Eradication Effort.

Sacrificial Green Garlic Toasts
Makes ~4 toasts
Modified from Smitten Kitchen
This recipe could easily be up-scaled or served as an appetizer

4 stalks green garlic (~1 heaping cup, chopped)
1-2 Tablespoons butter
coarse salt
ground pepper
Ciabatta or other nice bread for toasts
lemon juice
~1/4 cup crumbled feta

Remove papery covering and trim roots from green garlic if needed.  Trim garlic stalk at the start of green leaves; compost or trash the leaves.  Slice garlic stalks in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into half-moons, white and light green parts only.  Place sliced green garlic in a bowl with cold water to rinse the dirt from the garlic. 

Next, heat butter in a pan over medium heat until melted and sizzling.  Add in drained but wet green garlic.  Add a couple dashes salt and a dash pepper.  Stir the garlic into the butter, cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.  If the garlic starts to brown too quickly, turn down the heat and add a splash more water.  The green garlic should take ~15-20 minutes to caramelize. 

Slice ciabatta or baguette.  Once the garlic has gotten a nice translucence and is caramelizing in spots, place ciabatta slices on a baking sheet and set under the broiler on high for ~2 minutes until nicely toasted.

Spoon the green garlic onto the toasts, sprinkle each toast with a dash lemon juice, then top with crumbled feta.  If you want, put the toasts back under the broiler for 30 seconds to gently brown the feta.


Friday, May 13, 2011

And The Wait Goes On...

When I wrote about the beginning of the wait for my asparagus, I meant waiting for the harvest.  I did not mean waiting for the darned crowns to arrive!  Aargh.  It is now three months since I ordered asparagus and I have despaired.  We are two months past asparagus-planting season here; I'm writing them off and will plant them in 2012.  Sigh.
T-bone here isn't impressed:

"No asparagus?

On the plus side, that leaves a whole bunch of garden space that I can fit other things into- like tomatoes!  Instead of competing with the garlic, the tomatoes can have their own space in the future-asparagus bed.  I'm gonna call this one a blessing in disguise.  I get space to grow my tomatoes and space for my garlic to mature, in exchange for one more year of waiting for aspar-grass.  I can be happy with that. 

Now, if only I can convince T-bone that this is a Good Thing.  He's kinda hard to please.

p.s. Next week I'll be posting a green garlic recipe and the 2011 MKG veggie varieties!  Maybe T-bone will like those but I doubt it- he's partial to kale.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Madness of Rhizomes

Oh, Bermuda grass!
You torment me SO
I dig and dig and dig

and dig and dig

Yet you still continue on
Under the ground
ad infinitum

Perhaps to China
But more likely
to Bermuda.

I wish you would have just stayed there to begin with.


And now, to mangle some William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

a green weed

filled with grass

beside the grey

You know how it's called a pride of lions or a murder of crows or a pod of dolphins?  I have come to the conclusion that we gardeners should start calling Bermuda grass, with its unbelievable tenacity, "a madness of rhizomes."  Those rhizomes will surely drive me to the brink of insanity.  Behold above, the results of 8 hours hard labor: a weed barrow.  And still the Bermuda grass persists.  I'm telling you, it's definitely a madness of rhizomes. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Planning the 2011 MKG

With the danger of frost behind us here, it is high time I got to planning the 2011 Mighty Kitchen Garden!  In fact, I could have started planning things out months ago but I was a little busy landscaping the rest of the yard (several posts for another day).  I have three 4' x 12' raised bed that I rotate my main crops in so I already have the main garden plan in mind.  I just need to work out some of the details.  This is (theoretically) what those three beds are going to contain this summer:

Bed 1 - Cucurbits
Last year, this bed held beans and roots in summer and brassicas in winter.  For the 2011 summer season it will play host to the cucurbits, also known as zucchini, squash, cucumber and melon.  The winter squash and cukes will go up a trellis at the north end of the bed, the zucchini and summer squash will fill the center of the bed, and a cantaloupe and watermelon will be grown in a mound at the south end of the bed. 

Sunburst summer squash blossom
I have yet to grow a watermelon that produces fruit... maybe 2011 is my year.  Zucchini and cukes tend to grow like gangbusters and I'd love to fry up some stuffed squash blossoms.  Also, this year I am determined to grow and successfully store some winter squash.  Somehow I'm not curing them right...

Bed 2 - Grass, Morning Glory, Legumes
Last year this bed hosted the tomatoes in summer (and through most of the winter).  For 2011 it is going to be a truly random assortment of corn (grass), beans (legumes) and sweet potatoes (morning glory).  This planting scheme is a little crazy; we'll see how well they all play together.  I ordered bush-type sweet potatoes so I am hoping they don't take over the world. 

Last year I planted an entire bed of beans including a bunch for drying.  I came to the conclusion that you need a really big field to be able to grow a meaningful amount of dry beans and I can buy amazing ones from Rancho Gordo so this year I'll just stick to fresh eating beans.  This will be my first attempt at growing both corn and sweet potatoes- I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Bed 3 - Solanaceae
Last year this bed was home to the cucurbits in summer, and it is currently occupied by alliums.  For 2011, this will be the bed of quintessential summer vegetables- tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  I might throw a tomatillo or two in there as well if I can find the space. 

Black Cherry, Sungold, and Green Grape cherry tomatoes;
Amish Paste, Purple Russian and Ginger's Golden Delicious tomatoes;
Lemon and Cool Breeze cucumbers.

Alas, I wasn't really planning ahead last winter when I planted my garlic and onions because I planted them right where I knew the tomatoes were going.  Ugh.  Oh well, my tomato planting will just have to wait until after the garlic harvest.  Either that or I'll have to move them to the south end of the bed and grow the peppers and eggplants in their shade.  In most climates this would be a bad idea, but it just might work here in the land of perpetual summer sunshine.

So there you have it, the outline of the 2011 MKG!  I'll post my variety selections soon.  In the meantime, let me know what you're planning to grow this season!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Simply Delicious

Ah, it seems as though summer has finally arrived.  After a week of drizzles, the sun burst out this weekend and looks like it intends to stick around for the next four months.  The season has barely started and I'm already behind on my garden chores.  No worries though, the point of gardening is that it's relaxing and I therefore refuse to stress out about it.

In addition to planting, eating is always a good way to welcome a new season.  There are so many delicious foods to herald the coming of summer, particularly anything involving tomatoes.  But we aren't quite ready for that yet.  Instead we have been enjoying a dessert that is not season-specific, yet perfect for right now: Vanilla Ice Cream with Honey.

It might not look like much... but I promise it's awesome!

There is just no way to describe how something so simple can be so delicious.  A few weeks ago I had friends coming to dinner and I was feeling a little too lazy to bake something for dessert.  Instead, I picked up some vanilla ice cream and served it drizzled with honey.  A few of my guests were skeptical, but after that first bite all were converted and each of us had a second helping.  No one could quite put their finger on why this dessert was so good, it just was simply delicious.

As with any simple meal, good ingredients are the key.  We recently scored a jar of Organic Blue Borage Honey from New Zealand that fits this dish perfectly.  It's light and floral and is a perfect complement to the creamy vanilla.  Of course, you could dress this dish up with fresh fruit or herbs or fleur de sel, but really, why mess with such a good thing?  I encourage you to fill a bowl with some tasty vanilla ice cream, drizzle it with honey, and welcome whatever season you're in.

Full disclosure: We had this for dessert last night... and the night before.  And we rarely eat dessert.
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