Friday, October 21, 2011

Botanic Garden Tour: Glasgow, Scotland

As I mentioned last week, two months from now I will be calling Glasgow, Scotland "home."  I am really excited about it for tons of reasons, and one of them is the spectacular Botanic Garden right in the middle of the city.  As soon as I walked into the big Victorian green house, I knew this would be a spot I'll visit frequently.  This will be especially true in the winter when it's cold and rainy- they have central heating installed in the greenhouse so they can grow tropical plants (like tree ferns!).

The Glasgow Botanic Garden covers a large area of the city along the River Kelvin.  There are rose gardens, a vegetable garden, an herb garden, gardens through time (looking at introduced species), greenhouses, lawns, pathways... it's just lovely.  Also, it's free and open to the public.  During garden hours, the large iron gates stand open for anyone to wander in as they please.  I really love a good public garden.

The highlight of my trip to the garden?  The carnivorous plant exhibit! My mother has always had a thing for carnivorous plants, especially pitcher plants.  We have been on many expeditions to various bogs around New England in the search for pitcher plants, and she can take you right to the spot at the edge of the lake where the Sundews dwell.  Maybe one day I'll tell you about the Great Bog Hunt of 2005... it involves a bulldog, birch-bark shields, an impenetrable forest of spruce, and a temper tantrum.  But not today.

The Glasgow Botanic Garden had the most beautiful carnivorous plant exhibit I have ever seen.  That is saying something because I have seen exhibits of them in gardens all over the world from Australia to South Africa - none were as well-done as this.  There were specimens of pitcher plants I had never seen before, all artfully arranged around a greenhouse.  There were also sundews (little carnivorous plants who never get much love) as well as Venus fly traps.  I could have spent hours just looking at these plants.  They are truly stunning.  I hope the exhibit is still on when Mom comes to visit me in Glasgow!

"Let Glasgow Flourish"

Beautiful ironwork on bridge over the River Kelvin

Glaswegians enjoy a rare sunny day on the lawns of the garden

Assorted pitcher plants

A mass of Venus fly traps

Bulbous pitcher plants and moss

Blooming pitcher plants

Varied and variegated pitcher plants

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Planting

Here is the situation: we are just over 5 weeks away from Thanksgiving and I want to grow some food for it.  The time to have thought of this was May, really, but I didn't so I am going to go with things that will grow quickly and I will utilize nursery transplants.  Around here, it's also possible to have summer veggies still hanging on into November, but I'm not going to count on them.  It all depends on when the first frost comes and I'm not going to plan a menu around something so fickle.  This is what I plan to grow.

Chard transplants, too close together

I still have chard transplants from last fall that are growing very well.  I might add a few more transplants to ensure a large harvest, but I probably don't need it.  Chard is amazing because you can just pick the outside leaves and the center continues to grow.  I've been employing the cut-and-come-again method for a year and the chard shows no sign of slowing down.  The harvest will become Italian Chard Stuffing.  This recipe is amazing.  We made it last year and I ate the leftovers for days - it's a perfect dish filled with sausage, chard, and bread, basically a complete meal.  Well, complete when you add in some cranberry sauce...

Another leafy green that will grow well in the next few weeks is lettuce.  The time is a little short to plant from seed, unless I want micro-greens.  Therefore I'll pick up some transplants from the nursery.  As long as we don't get a hot spell and I can keep the slugs at bay, the lettuce should do well enough to create a nice large pear, walnut and blue cheese salad.  I think the mustard dressing and the blue cheese will add a nice counterpoint to the other sweet and savory flavors of Thanksgiving.  Also, I'll be able to pick the pears up in season at the farmer's market.

If you plant radishes from seed, they will be ready in 4-5 weeks.  That leaves me just enough time to put a bunch of radish seeds into the garden and hope they grow quickly enough.  I will use the fresh baby radishes in a little appetizer of thinly sliced radish on baguette with butter and sea salt.  With so many people coming for dinner (12 and counting), it will be key to have some yummy nibbles kicking around to avoid a hunger-inspired mutiny.

This one is a complete and utter experiment.  There isn't enough time to grow full-sized carrots, but there might be time to grow some little wee mini carrots.  I have several packets with seeds that need to be used up (they are 2 or 3 years old so their viability is waning).  I will plant them and then see what happens.  Even if they are small, I can serve them as crudites or (what I am loosely planning to do) roast them with some other root vegetables.  If it works, I think the teeny carrots will be an adorable addition to the usual roasted Thanksgiving suspects.

I'll keep you all posted on the progress and if you are growing anything for your Thanksgiving feast, drop a note in the comments!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Confession...

I have a confession to make: I am leaving the Mighty Kitchen Garden.  In about two months, my husband, the mongrels, and I are picking up and moving to Glasgow, Scotland.  From sunny California.  In mid-winter.  It will be dark, and also, cold and wet.  What?

We're still having a hard time wrapping our heads around it, but it is very apparent when I wander around the MKG.  Normally, this is the time I'd be ordering garlic bulbs and worrying that I was letting the cucurbits hang on too long.  I should be cleaning out the beds and starting the brassicas in the vain hope that I could get something harvestable before January (haven't managed to yet).  But by January, we will be gone, and someone else will be tending the MKG.  Weird.

Instead, I find myself wondering if there is anything I could plant now that would be ready for the Thanksgiving table.  We're a little mad (as in cuckoo) and have invited our whole extended families to come feast with us one last time on US soil (at least for now).  That may or may not add up to 16 adults to feed.  Ahem.  Like I said, we're mad.

The problem will be figuring out what I can grow in this time frame that they would all be interested in eating.  For example, bok choy is a quick plant, particularly if you start with seedlings.  But will my family eat it?  Unclear.  Chard always grows like a weed and in fact last years plants seem to be doing just fine.  The hit of last Thanksgiving was an Italian stuffing with pork sausage and tons of chard.  It was fabulous and it will definitely be on the table again.  Radishes grow well and quickly, so I can plant a crop of them in time for the holidays (like now!), but what to do with them?  Maybe I can make a little buttered sea-salted radish on toast appetizer to pass around.  And herbs are always a hit.

This year, instead of planning the future winter garden of the MKG, I'll plan the Thanksgiving MKG.  I'll figure out what plants I can grow in this short 6-week time frame and then plan the menu accordingly.  I won't be thinking too far into the future with this season's garden.  Considering the circumstances, it's time to focus on the present.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leftover Breakfast of Champions

I do not intend to make this blog a play-by-play of my eating habits.  However, I made the most amazing breakfast of leftovers ever last weekend and I just had to share.  This is what it looked like:

And this is how I made it:

I looked into the fridge and took stock of a motley group of leftovers- tomato salad, corn tortillas, chopped zucchini and summer squash, 2 tablespoons of taco beef.  This clearly had the makings of something good.  I had been planning to just make some scrambled eggs with the leftover zukes.  But when I noticed the corn tortillas I knew I would be making a breakfast taco. 

Upon considering the tomato salad (chopped heirloom tomatoes marinated in olive oil and garlic that was resembling soup in consistency), I decided that I should put them in a pot and cook them down like a tomato jam.  Then I noticed a random Hungarian wax pepper in the fridge that needed to be eaten.  "A ha!," I thought, "a tomato jam salsa!" and into the pot went the chopped hot pepper.  I put this on the back burner over medium to thicken up while I tended to the rest of the components.

The zucchini I tossed with some olive oil and sauteed until they got nice and tender.  I then added in two eggs and just scrambled them with the spatula right in the pan.  I was fancy enough already without getting another bowl dirty.

The microwave took care of heating up my corn tortillas, as well as the scraps of leftover taco meat.  I admit that when I put those small spoonfuls of taco beef into a jar I thought to myself, "Wow, you're never going to eat this, it's ridiculous."  But I put it in the fridge anyway and I am so glad I did.  It was just the spark this meal needed.

Now to the assembly!  I placed the two corn tortillas on a plate, added scrambled eggs with zucchini, topped those with shredded mozzarella, topped that with ground beef, and last but not least, I topped the whole thing with the nicely thickened tomato jam salsa.  It was one of the best breakfasts I have had at home in a good long while.  Hooray for leftovers!

Friday, October 7, 2011

September 2011 MKG Harvest

Sungold and San Marzano tomatoes
Pretty Purple, Tequila, and Hungarian Yellow Wax Peppers, Sunburst patty pan squash
Strawberries, Casper and Diamond eggplants

An odd year in the garden- a very odd year.  September has been the month for tomatoes and they are continuing on into October.  After months of gazing longingly at the green orbs covering the plants, they obliged and turned red, yellow, orange and purple!  The tally for individual varieties will follow, but the grand total of the September tomato harvest is... over 30 pounds of tomatoes!  Um, what?  I have to look back at my records but I don't know if I've ever harvested that many tomatoes before.  What a very odd year.

September 2011 MKG Harvest

1 Tequila pepper
10 Pretty Purple peppers
2 Hungarian yellow wax peppers
~1 pint strawberries
1 Diamond eggplant
5 Casper eggplants
3 Sunburst patty pan squash (2 overgrown)
2 Zephyr squash (overgrown)
1 Cocozelle zucchini (overgrown)
3 Black Spineless zucchini (overgrown)
~7 pints Sungold cherry tomatoes
2 Isis cherry tomatoes
5 Pineapple tomatoes
6 San Marzano  Roma tomatoes
9 Mortgage Lifter tomatoes
13 Black Krim tomatoes
22 Carbon tomatoes
1 Apple

Those items became:

Savory Strawberry Crostini
Sungold Caprese Salad
(a lot of) Gazpacho
Nigella Lawson's Egyptian Tomato Salad
Smitten Kitchen's Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza
Lots of scrambled eggs with mixed veggies
Stovetop Tomato Jam
... and eventually... a LARGE supply of zucchini bread

I hope your garden is still pumping out the produce, too!  If not, now is the time to clean up those beds and get some winter vegetables into the ground.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Before Summer Fades...

MKG Summer Veggie Tart

It's getting late in the season and until last month, I was woefully behind on my tomato harvests.  This was just not the summer for tomatoes around here- it's been the fall for tomatoes.  Therefore, I've gathered enough to make you my summer (fall) vegetable celebration pie from seasons past... before summer fades entirely.

Last summer I was faced with an abundance of lovely different cherry tomatoes (black cherry, sungold, and red currant) and plenty of zukes, and I knew I wanted to turn these into some sort of veggie pie.  I hunted around the interwebs, checking out all my favorite recipe spots, but just couldn't find what I was looking for.  I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I read through about 5 different veggie pie recipes until I had a feel for the proportions and techniques involved, and the timing and oven temperature.  Then I just winged it.

I am happy to report that it turned out very tasty.  So tasty, in fact, that two friends asked for the recipe after I brought it to a baby shower.  Full disclosure: This represented the first time in my life that I had been asked for a recipe for something I invented.  Yippee!!!!

A note about the recipe- I love cheese.  I mean, I really love cheese.  You could easily cut the amount of cheese in half and it would still be good.  Also, you could substitute Gruyere or a mix of cheeses in place of the cheddar.  You do what you want, but I will always be a New English gal who loves her Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar.

So without further ado (and now that I've harvested enough tomatoes to actually make it) here it is!

Assembling the tart...
The MKG Summer Veggie Tart
Makes one 9" pie, serves 4-8

1 Trader Joe's frozen pie crust (or similar)
2 small or 1 medium zucchini
1 small onion or shallot
1 clove garlic
1 hot or sweet pepper (optional)
~1.5 - 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes (or a couple regular size tomatoes)
olive oil

1. Defrost pie crust.

2. Preheat oven to 450°F.

3. Chop zucchini, onion and garlic (and pepper, if using).  Toss with olive oil and a dash salt in a saute pan and cook until tender and a little caramelized (cook covered ~5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, then remove cover and let liquid evaporate and zucchini caramelize, ~5 minutes).  You can add thyme or another fresh herb with the zukes now, if you'd like. 

4. Lightly beat three eggs, add salt and pepper.  Add shredded cheese and mix into the eggs.

5. Slice cherry tomatoes in half or slice regular tomatoes into rounds.

6. Assemble tart.  Place pie crust into a pie pan.  Put cooked zucchini mixture into base of crust and spread evenly.  Pour cheesy egg mixture over the zukes.  Place cherry tomatoes on top of the egg mix, cut side up (alternatively, layer tomato slices around the top of the egg mix).

7. Bake at 450°F for about 25-35 minutes.  Check to make sure a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool a few minutes to allow the cheese and egg to set, then slice and serve.

Enjoy!  Quick, before summer disappears!
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