Thursday, April 30, 2009

Arugula & Potatoes

Guess what that is?? C'mon, guess! Ok. It's a potato! A Fingerling Potato to be more specific. I read this about growing potatoes in pots and before I knew it there were seed potatoes sitting in our house. Chitting, no less. Lots of folks went down the used tire path for potatoes in the last few years, but honestly no one reported great results with that and the husband was not psyched to have a bunch of old tires in the front yard. So now we have 15-gallon pots - not overly sexy either, but with how fast these guys came up I think they will be spilling over the edge in no time.

And then of course arugula, some experimental container arugula. Fingerling potatoes and arugula are so good together. Think roasted red pepper and skillet browned fingerling potatos, and then the arugula goes in at the last minute so it gets ever so slightly wilty and yum. Salt, pepper, ume vinegar, rosemary.

Ok, grow potatoes, we are waiting on you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Morning in the Dirt

New plant bought for us by the Mum at the Arboretum this weekend. Identified there as Toadflax, I grew this in California as South African Snap Dragon. All in the Linaria family, er genus, I guess. I am normally not wild about pink flowers, but, you know: look at these!

Berries on the left, veggies on the right. Mulch coming soon...

So librarians work crazy hours. Weekends, evenings, complicated rotational schedules that leave husbands forever wondering if you will be home for dinner. It's pretty much just part of the job though, and most of the time I love it - I like random days off in the middle of the week and sneaky mornings at home. Like this one. This morning I watched the chickens playing in their new enormous chicken run. They are So Busy. Running, scratching, dust bathing, eating, running some more - flippin' awesome. I also baked up one of these, with a few modifications. I added about a cup and a half of sour cherries to the rhubarb, and swapped out some cinnamon for some nutmeg because I personally think that rhubarb and nutmeg are buddies. Kissing buddies even. I also baked it in a slightly larger pan because I like less cake to my fruit. Even so, I would up the rhubarb next time, especially if you don't add any cherries. But still: yum. I also planted 25 bareroot strawberry plants in the front blueberry bed. It's late for bareroot planting here, especially since it just got so warm, but I was really attached to planting an old fashioned strain that was good for jams and freezing and whatever. Around here the nurseries just seem to have the strains that give you the most enormous berry possible. So. In a few years there will be strawberry rhubarb pie in the front yard! Anyway. Lots of fun.

Lettuce Quilt. We are trying to be better mulchers this summer...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

She's Off

Well, we packed mum up with three tomato plants, a squash plant, and two dozen eggs and back north she goes. I wish she lived here, we really get to see each other so little in the scheme of things. Thanks for the visit mum.

We put her to work in the garden, doing a lot of watering in this crazy hot weather. From cool days to 88 degrees, the warm up has been a little fast for a lot of the early spring things that don't adore heat. Also, hard to keep that top inch moist for all the seeds, although my flower bed is popping up flax and borage and a few things that I don't recognize. Maybe lupine? That would be exciting.

I have a bit of a short week, as we are headed up to Maine for the memorial service. I am looking forward to celebrating Jeddy's life with Ben's family.

In farm news, we are set to increase the chicken run by about six times. We have had them in a circle made from an 82 foot fence, and frankly, they are bored. There has been some sisterly feather removal and we have done every trick in the book to address this with only minimal improvement. The bottom line seems to be that they don't have enough real estate. So. More fencing, and now they will have about two-thirds of our very generous back yard. Our hope is that because they will have so much more space, they won't eat the yard down to dirt like they do in a smaller area. Every once in a while lately we just let all the chickens out - it's less crazy than it sounds, they really stick together and they stick close to home - and they immediately leave each other alone and just root around in the areas of the yard that are dense and full of dead leave and yummy bugs. I am excited.

Lastly, our indoor garden is insane. It's huge and thirsty and really wants to go outside. We are hardening them off and will plant them just as soon as we can when we return from Maine. Can you believe that all of that green up there came from about a tablespoon of seeds? Crazy crazy magic.

Hope all is well out there.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Eeps, I have fallen off the blogging wagon backwards and am covered with dust. Things have been just nuts around here - a lot of work, a lot of play, and a *lot* of digging in the dirt. I rushed out of the house this morning (on the way to work, yes, on a Saturday) and meant to take pictures of some of the various exciting things outside (new rhubarb leaf, neat rows of beets or carrots or lettuce or bok choy, flats and flats and flats of home started peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, basil, tomatillos, squash, younameit, columbine blossoms, flax sprouts, stop-me-now-before-I-go-on-and-on-oh-wait-I-did-already) but I got out there and promptly got too excited about it all so I watered a few things and then I really had to get my ass in gear and go to work. So. We are left with what was on the camera, which are white lilacs and tulips and snowdrops. All from the yard. Note the serious color harmony action going on with our sugar bowl.

In other exciting news, guess who is headed south in our direction right as I type this? My mum! I am so excited. We are going to cook and hike and giggle and she is going to pet a chicken and eat some eggs.

Hope spring is as crazy beautiful where you guys are.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Flowers for Jeddy

Happy Friday out there. The flowers above were given to us by a friend who heard that B's Grandmother died this week. Great friends we have.

Jeddy's death was not a surprise exactly, but we are all so very sad nonetheless. She was charming and witty and coy and flirtatious and generous and droll and ornery and she was completely adored by her wonderful family. When I met Jeddy I suddenly understood where so much of the spark in B's family came from - where they learned to laugh so much and love so hard and celebrate with such conviction. When I first met Jeddy she told me I looked like I was 12 and I told her she was a peach and she giggled like she was 12. Then she raced me down the hall on her scooter and won.

Much, much love to you Jeddy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Carrots & Bun

First, a confession. We have been going here. I know, I am late. And I can't even really say why now. We watched Firefly long ago and I fell in love with fiddles in space but it wasn't like I ran out and rented Buffy immediately after. Anyway, it is so flipping awesome. I am a complete pansy when it comes to things popping out from behind doors and as such I do a lot of squeaking and cringing, but I just can't stop.

Ok, so this weekend was awesome. We played tunes and walked our beautiful neighborhood and I made amazing granola because if I eat another bowl of oatmeal I might freak out and B made one of the most spectacular dinners in the history of dinners, a sort of fresher version of saag along with chicken this way and saffron rice. Jeez O Pete it was so good. We spent most of Easter working in the garden. Well, B was tinkering with our rain barrels for a while. During a downpour Friday night we finally figured out why they were overflowing. Enter the incredible sound of cutting metal while the husband makes larger overflows. It's like Satan in both of your ears, on Easter morning no less. Sorry neighbors. Anyway, although we decided that we did need a larger overflow, the main issue was our screen setup for keeping roof debris and leaves out of the barrel. It was kind of fun to slog around in the rain and finally figure this out, I always feel very tough in my rain boots and rain pants and such. And our foundation will be very happy.

Mokum Carrot Seeds

Anyway. This weekend we started the rhubarb patch! And planted some dahlias and some euphorbia and some rosemary. The raised bed looks a little scattershot right now, but I have done more succulent and herb gardening than anything else and I know that the things we have planted there will want their space and then once they all smoosh together it will look awesome. We also planted another round of carrots! I am so pleased with our first round of germination. Does everyone know about starting carrots under a board or a piece of fabric or whatnot? Thus less freaking out about whether your carrots have gone dry, but be sure to take it off when you start to see sprouts. The carrot seeds we got are so beautiful, kind of shiny and silver. Are they all like that?

Mokum Carrot Starts

Ok, lastly. We made bún last night. I just suddenly wanted it in the worst way, despite it really being too early for such a dish (it pained me to buy basil and cilantro when I have four inch starts of both of them growing in my living room). Oh man. Rather than make fried pork spring rolls, which is what I usually order bún with, we just made a hacked together version of this and it was perfect. So fresh and crazy good. We goofed and bought cellophane noodles instead of rice noodles and it was just fine. I really liked making this at home because usually I wish there were more veggies and fewer noodles when I get it at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Bún with Thit Heo Bam

Bún with Thit Heo Bam
Serves 4

1/2 pound thin rice noodles

2 cups thinly sliced napa/savoy cabbage
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, shredded or julienned
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup fish sauce
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 serranos, seeded and finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground pork, prepared this way.

1. Prepare noodles according to cooking instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water, portion into four bowls.

2. Chop veggies and portion into the four bowls, along with the peanuts and pork. Artfully mind you.

3. Put garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until minced. Add fish sauce, water, lime juice, rice vinegar, brown sugar, and chilies. Pureee (keep your hand over the opening, it will want to escape). Note: this makes *a lot* of sauce - we went for it because we are going to eat this all summer long, but you could easily halve it.

4. Pour about a third of a cup of sauce over each bowl and serve. I like more sauce than some people, but you can always add more. Yum.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cookies and the Thaw

Well, we appear to have weathered the worst of the cold snap, and all of our various starts and blossoms and such look fine. We kind of have the coverup drill down at this point, so it's a lot less dramatic, if still a pain in the ass.

So baking. I have not been doing as much lately, given the warm spring weather. The mind turns to ice cream, I suppose. Well, it really turns to ice cream and fruit pie, but we are a tad early for that just yet. But with the cold snap came a Cook's Illustrated with yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe. And at first I was not one bit excited about reading another recipe for a kind of cookie that I can make while asleep, but then! I noticed! Browned. Butter. I am a complete sucker for browned butter goodies. The browned butter chocolate pecan financiers from a certain bakery in Portland are the second and probably sometimes the first thing that pops into my mind to get excited about when we book a ticket there. The browned butter (beurre noisette if you want to be fancy pants) flavor is so distinct. So. Out came the baking sheets.

They *taste* fantastic. Deep, dark toffee-caramel-nuttiness. But I was really not happy with how much they spread. Also, I just don't like an enormous cookie, which is their recommendation for how to get a cookie with crispy edges and a chewy center. So after the first batch I added a bit more flour and chilled the dough for about 20 minutes. Better, but still not my preferred architecture/texture. So the rest of the dough is still in the fridge and I will see if a proper chilling and a smaller cookie does the trick. But even so: yum. I would make these over a more traditional chocolate chip recipe any day. Plus you don't have to let the butter come up to room temperature so they qualify as an emergency cookie possibility. You just never know when you might need to make cookies on a dime. Below is the recipe as printed.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
From Cook's Illustrated

1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg room temperature
1 large egg yolk room temperature
1 1/4 cup chocolate chips (type is up to you)
3/4 cups nuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour and baking soda together in a small bowl.

Heat 10 of the 14 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch skilled over medium high heat until melted. Then continue to cook, swirling gently until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma. The recipe says that this will take about 4-5 minutes, but it was much longer for me. If you have never browned butter, this link has some helpful pictures. The smell is unmistakable but if you’ve never tried this and thus never smelled the brown butter fragrance, it can be easy to stop too early. When browned, remove from heat and scrape into a large heatproof bowl. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and swirl until melted.

Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and egg yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no lumps, about 30 seconds. Let mixture rest for 3 minutes, then whisk for another 30 seconds. Repeat this resting and whisking an additional two times. Your batter should be thick, smooth, and shiny.

Stir in flour mixture until just combined, then add chocolate chips and nuts.

Divide dough into 16 portions (about 3 tablespoons per portion), arrange two inches apart on a baking sheet for 8 at a time.

Bake cookies one tray at a time until they are golden brown and still puffy with edges that have begun to set, 10-14 minutes. Rotated baking sheet halfway through baking time. Transfer entire sheet to baking rack to cool.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Snow Preparations

Squash starts in the sun.

Jeez Oh Pete. I'm not sure exactly how hot it was yesterday but I think it was somewhere in the seventies. B and I both earned sunburns while hiking and working outside. And now we're due for 27 degree weather and some snow. Just in time to earn it's name, this Dogwood Winter is arriving just as the two in our backyard are unfurling their blossoms.

So yesterday B and I rehooped the bed containing our lovely little cabbages and broccoli and lettuces and carrots (carrots!) and beets as well as the bed with our stash of leeks. The garlic and peas are on their own, and the the bok choy is just getting a frost blanket. Honestly I am not very worried about our stuffs but rather worried about the larger blooming and fruiting around here. Two years ago when this happened so late it was a very sad day for apples and berries. Mountain weather.

The tallest garlic is now about 16 inches high!

So I keep talking about this raised bed that B built for me. We really puzzled over what to make it out of because it needed to be fairly tall (it's sitting on top of the jumble of rocks and gravel that gets laid before cement) and cheap. We were both pretty down on buying new wood, but the scrap world was not offering up a lot of options. We talked bricks, but it seemed too pricey and like too much work. So I got this idea that we could chop up old doors, since we actually already had two of those in the garage (functioning as work tables though, so B wasn't in love with that idea). But we headed to the salvage barn anyway, where we remembered that solid wood doors are not cheap either. But old shutters were! The end. I like it so much, and I think it's about 900 times nicer looking than new lumber would have been. We moved the thyme and sage into the far end (easy access in the sharp winter wind was on our mind) where it will soon be joined by rosemary, parsley, cilantro, and dill. The remainder of the bed will likely be used for some pepper and basil overflow and then a bunch of beautiful flowers! Poppies! Lupine! Flax! Borage! Columbine! Love in a Blue Mist!

In other front yard news, we are on the threshold of mulching the entire damn thing. The lawnmower that came with our house was given a death sentence by the lawnmower fixer guy and rather than lay out cash for a machine we are going to extend all three beds, build a fourth, and then sheet mulch what's left. Ben has been dying to do this since we moved in. I am a little less into sheet mulching, but asking the husband to de-sod the remainder of the front yard would not be nice. We'll have to de-sod all the edges anyway, which will keep us busy for a while. Stay tuned, I know everyone is hyperventilating with the excitement.

Ok, this is getting long, but this soup is really, really good. Roasting the tomatoes makes it much tastier than it sounds (I used diced, which seemed to work fine, and I found it strange that they never had you chop the tomatoes down from halves). Easy peasy, with greens and a grilled cheese, yum.

Really the last thing: waffles with peanut butter. You know who you are. We are really converted. Just a little bit of syrup and a smear of peanut butter. I'm just saying.