Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scenes from a Dusky Winter Garden

The bees are still quietly buzzing...

the scallions are finally finished...

rain, snow, ice, rain, and more ice, all melting, melting, melting...

and some Holiday Cheer from the coop...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why I Garden (Essay Contest)

Mary Ann from Gardens of the Wild Wild West has put forth this essay contest  to encourage garden bloggers to tell each other (in 500 words or less) what motivates them to grow (kill, and grow again.) I, Jennifer, of the Puritan North, submit my entry:

I garden for many reasons, some fairly common and some a bit less considered. Although I grew up gardening and have given it at least some effort each spring of my adult life, I've only had true success over the past 3 years. Beforehand, I led a complicated life of a traveling 'art show artist,' selling my photography at juried festivals nationwide. This allowed me long van rides across the United States, deep in daydreams of growing my own vegetables in between stops at what I called the 'iceberg lettuce stores.' The lack of variety available across the country stunned me; was no one demanding fresh vegetables and um, flavor? My only consolation was to imagine that people who wanted more were simply growing it at home, and that if I wanted what they had, I needed to figure out how to garden in my van. Herbs, peppers, and some greens worked well in pots, as long as I could air them out in between trips at campgrounds. But during heat waves none of us were happy, and I had a bad habit of sleeping in parking lots where no one was allowed outside (house rules.) Something had to give.

I suppose it merits mentioning that throughout this adventure I also had a husband, entangled in his own traveling career. Our relationship has always been a real success, but our home life was becoming a bit unkempt. We acknowledged our failures and looked for a creative solution, which I insisted had to include growing some vegetables. Our first thought was to sell our house and move into the van full time with the peppers, herbs, and very wilted greens. Sometimes we can be so thick. In fact, this realization of stupidity in itself is the crux of why I garden; plants are the best lesson in 'keep it simple.'

I often look to plants when I'm trying to figure out a better way. As we renovate our house and try to make energy efficient decisions, plants have been a great lesson in solar energy. I think about them when I build things that need both stability and beauty. I appreciate what I'm able to learn when I realize that I alone am responsible for taking plants into an extended season; there are actions I can take that they will respond to, and those actions have parallels in my own life and work. These ideas may seem so small, but as an artist I can get really lost in the specifics of things without ever considering the bigger picture. Gardening makes me value simplicity above all else. No more gilding the lily. No more sleeping in parking lots, either. Now we grow a great deal of our own food, have a winter greenhouse, have planted a small orchard, and have a weekly food swap with friends. Now we grow plants just to watch them grow.

The contest is still open! Mary Ann is receiving entries until the Winter Solstice, 8:37 a.m. mountain time, December 21.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blotanical Seed Swap

I came across Michelle's blog, From Seed to Table  on Blotanical, and was immediately drawn to her writing and excellent photography. Living in California, she has a much longer growing season than I do, so following along is like virtual gardening for me. Michelle recently offered up some seeds that she had saved, and after I told her what I was interested in she sent me some Golden Corn Salad and Crimson Flowering Favas. This is the best! ...but now it's time to return the favor, and the only seeds I've saved are winter squashes. Does a zone 9 garden even grow winter squash? Do they have winter, or rather any need for a lasting storage vegetable? So, I've decided to give her some Luffa seeds for fun, along with pelleted carrot and lettuce seeds. Pelleted seeds have changed my gardening life, and if she doesn't already know about them, maybe they'll change hers, too!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Food Swap Monday

Today's Food Swap? Another success... Black Bean Soup, Pumpkin Cream Soup, Boule Bread (baked in a crockpot) and Savory Turnovers with squash & leeks, sherried mushrooms, and pecan chard pesto & goat cheese. Tune in next week for more delicious treats!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pay it Forward

My nephew Jack came over yesterday to do some baking as part of a school/community project. King Arthur Flour has been to his school, handing out supplies and demonstrating techniques in exchange for a loaf of baked bread to donate to the Salvation Army. The program is called 'Pay it Forward' and every child is given 2 kinds of flour, yeast, a recipe book, a dough scraper, and bags to package 2 loaves of bread  - one to keep for their family, and one to bring to school on Monday. Clearly, whoever came to demonstrate was a real pro, because Jack could do every trick he was shown - pretty cute...

flipping over flour onto the dough scraper...

kneading with his little ham hands. You can't tell from these photos, but he's kind of a badass, especially on the football field. The dough knew who was boss...

in fact, it was kind of a learning experience for me, as I don't bake loaf bread very regularly (flatbreads, yes.) We recently found a bread machine in storage, and have been making bricks ever since. But, this was inspiring, and I think I might just give it a try. It smelled and tasted great!

and just one more photo that I snuck of the girls sleeping with their heat lamp last night. Not much different from the red light all of the rotisserie chickens are lined up under at the supermarket. Luckily, they've never been to the supermarket!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Another Food Swap Monday

Here are the goodies! Again, a pleasure to eat but difficult to photograph for some reason... This time  we had another round of fresh bread and flavorful granola, as well as a  roasted root vegetable hash and a Thai winter squash soup. Everything tastes better than you can imagine! Next week we'll continue with bread and soup, a vegetable tart (exciting!) and the Wild Card category. Since we are usually able to come up with 3 out of 4 ideas, we've had fun allowing the undecided cook to surprise us, and I hope it sticks. I bet you're ready to start your own Food Swap Monday. ??

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Head Start Raised Beds

     Today we constructed three new raised beds using #2 or 'Garden Stock' cedar. I like to take care of these chores in the Fall so that the soil mix has plenty of time to cure over the winter. Because it's such a slow time of year for them, the lumber company happily cut all of our wood to size for us. This was much appreciated, as the 2 x 12's were better pickings than the 2 x 8's, but a total pain to secure in our truck. So, we were that much closer to done when we got back. First, JP made a simple template for a corner joint from the scraps:

     He made sure that they were a loose fit, and traced them onto the corresponding wood:

Made the cut on the bandsaw (we can't keep a jigsaw alive for some reason. Or an avocado plant.)

Made good use of at least 3 rarely used objects in the garage; one of our house rules.

     Nailed the corners together with Paslode pleasure:

     And just like that, we have more space.....We did start removing the sod and turning the soil; tomorrow we'll get up early to fill the beds with leaves, rotted hay, compost, peat moss, and whatever else we can find. I can't wait to decide what to plant where!

     and meanwhile, the girls kept themselves busy.  I didn't get a picture, but one of them flew onto JP's    plate while he was eating a sandwich - good stuff...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Ever Food Swap

Yesterday morning before work, some friends and I came together for our first ever 'Food Swap.' Above is the booty, but there are a few disclaimers to be noted. Firstly, I'm a stickler for decent photographs, and this is one was not working out, so I decided to come back to it when I returned later in the afternoon. Really, this was JP's idea, but he forgot to mention that he would be eating most everything I was trying to photograph all day long. And I do mean everything...
Also, the bread, granola, and salad dressing were made by others, but the fruit chutney on the right is just a falsified stand in for the apple butter and hummus I gave out. Next week, I swear I'll get it right, as this little still life does not do any justice to how great everything tasted.
Now, for the specifics: We are currently a group of 4 (teetering on both 3 and 5) who have agreed to make larger batches of snacks and sides to share weekly. Our true intent is to trade main dishes, soups, stews, vegetables and bread throughout the winter, in order to save each other time and effort, and also because we're excited to try each other's food. With the Holidays coming, we've decided to keep it a bit simpler for now, but who knows when we'll jump in deeper. Or fall apart completely. But, the good news is that we've all agreed to continue on next week, and I am totally excited!
Tomorrow JP and I have a garden date (this is big news) so we'll be building some more raised beds, creating an interior hoop system inside the greenhouse, and with tremendous luck, building my dream composter/pergola/arbor. This last one has been difficult to talk him into, as he doesn't think that compost systems need stairs, but I have a secret diagram of his brain which I consult when I really need to sway his reactions. Photos to follow!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soup Makin' & Seed Savin'

I've been working my way through a large CSA box of Winter Squash over the past few weeks, mostly making soups and grain dishes out of the 5 or 6 heirloom varieties that we have on hand. This past year, we didn't have space to grow squash ourselves, and so we arranged for a Fall Vegetable only CSA with our local organic farm. Next year, though, space has already been set aside, so I've been sure to rinse off all the seeds and label them for planting. Here's the recipe I use for pretty much every root vegetable soup I make, like the Acorn Squash & Apple Cider Soup above (with a homemade popover , leftover from JP's mom's birthday brunch this morning!)

Squash & Root Vegetable Soup
1 squash scrubbed, pierced with a fork, & baked at 375 for one hour, set aside to cool

Diced Root Vegetables to saute in olive oil over med. high heat for 5 -10 minutes:
3 carrots
1 med. onion
1 celeriac
1 turnip
3 parsnips
3 cloves garlic
1 sweet potato

I then add about 1 T nutmeg, 1 1/2 T thyme, and 1 t cayenne with 2 t salt and mix well. Next I add 1 - 2 diced apples, the squash (scraped out of it's skin) 1 Qt. vegetable stock, and about 1 1/2 C of apple cider. After letting the mixture come to a slight boil, I turn off the heat and puree in a food processor in batches, returning the smooth mixture to the pot. Lastly, I adjust the texture by adding a bit more cider, water, and sometimes a small amount of cream or half and half if I have any around. Then of course, I pour them into small glass pint jars, and they're off to the freezer for a perfect lunch with a hoophouse salad.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Great Apple Mint Harvest: Part Two (with eggplant)

As you may have read earlier, I recently harvested a lot of Apple Mint, and made a Rosemary Mint & Honey lip balm ( and indeed from a later batch I discovered that the correct ratio is really 3 parts oil to 1 part wax, with small amounts of extra softeners added.) Here is my perfected recipe, which will yield 100 tubes of balm:
  • 8 oz filtered beeswax, grated
  • 24 oz grapeseed, sweet almond, olive oil (or any other pure, food grade oil)
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/2 t pure Vitamin E oil
  • 1 oz cocoa butter
  • 8 drops Rosemary essential oil
  • 8 drops Peppermint extract
melt all in a slow cooker, adding the scents at the end, and pour into tubes!

Due to our warm spell, the pruned Apple Mint has a good amount of new growth - enough so that I can make my favorite eggplant recipe! This combination is very reminiscent of an appetizer that we served at a restaurant I used to work at in Richmond, Vermont, which is sadly no longer open. However, the actual recipe comes from what I thought was the Dean and Deluca cookbook, but I can't find it in there anywhere! It used to be in there. The warm salad on top of toasted crusty bread with hummus is totally addictive. You can trick any naysayer into eating eggplant this way, and you should because naysayers actually stop the world from spinning a little,  and are therefore dangerous to the rest of us.

Warm Eggplant Mint Salad

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes (I use fire roasted by Muir Glen)
  • handful chopped or torn mint
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 375 or start a medium hot grill. To slice the eggplant, trim the top and the bottom so that the eggplant rests flat on your cutting board, and then trim off and discard two opposing sides before making your 1/4 inch slices. Now you only have a thin piece of skin around the edge of your slices. Toss the sliced eggplant with some oil and salt until they are coated, and then either grill or roast on a cookie sheet until the eggplant is cooked, but not so soft that it can't hold it's 'slice' shape (about 10 minutes.) Chop up and place in a bowl. Meanwhile, strain the tomatoes in a colander, and squeeze a bit of the excess juice out. Saute the sliced onion in oil over medium heat, adding the tomatoes after about 4 or 5 minutes. Stir for 2 minutes, and add the eggplant. After the mixture is combined, add a few dashes of balsamic until everything smells really good to you. Return mixture to the eggplant bowl and toss with the torn mint.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beautiful Beet Greens

Things are going really well in the Hoophouse; the weather is mild, the chickens are banned, and I'm remembering to water the younger plants. Over the weekend, I hope to really solidify a plan of attack for cold weather. All of my greens, etc... should do just fine as long as I'm sure to give them double coverage throughout the most frigid temperatures. In the meantime, we are definitely taking advantage of the Smorgasbord. Truth be told, I went to an authentic Amish Smorgasbord last Spring in Pennsylvania, and the greens in our Hoophouse have nothing in common with what was going there, and their customers seemed relatively happy about that fact. Plus, it was phenomenally expensive. Anyhow - here's dinner:

Barley Cakes & Beet Greens with Cider Sauce
Barley Cakes:
1 C cooked barley
3 T butter
1/2 small red onion, diced
4-5 Shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 beaten egg
apple cider (I was lucky enough to have access to ginger/echinacea/apple cider !)
dollop mayonnaise
1 T thyme
bread crumbs of your choice

Preheat oven to 350. Saute the onion and mushroom in 1 T of the butter over medium heat, until cooked through. Add to the barley. Beat the egg with the cider and add to the mixture along with the thyme and mayonnaise. Add enough bread crumbs to form cakes, and make sure to dredge more crumbs around the outside, to coat. Pan fry the cakes over medium heat in the remaining butter, and after flipping place pan in oven (or transfer to a cookie sheet if your pan doesn't have a heat proof handle.)

other half red onion diced
1 T whole wheat flour
1 T butter
1/2 C to 1 C apple cider
1 apple, diced
dash cream

While the cakes cook through in the oven, start the sauce by sauteing the onion in the butter, and then making a simple roux by adding the flour, stirring to prevent burning. Add 1/2 cup of cider, and diced apples. Add more cider to thin, and more roux to thicken. Finish with a dash of cream and salt.  Quickly saute the greens in a few tablespoons of cider, removing from the pan before they wilt. Place the greens on a plate, making a bed for the cakes, and finish the whole dish with the cider sauce.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cheesy Chard Tarts (for Cheaters...)

Recently JP and I found my parents' old bread machine in our storage unit and brought it home. I love the smell of fresh bread, but as I make batches and batches of flatbreads all summer for the Farmers Market, I've been having trouble drumming up the enthusiasm to knead, rise, knead, and rise. Bread machine? Why yes, thank you.
So this morning before work I set it all up to make a whole wheat and molasses bread, delayed perfectly so as to be ready when I got home. The smell alone made it worthwhile. However, I knew that I had added the ingredients erroneously, because in my rush I  began making a regular sized loaf and somewhere in the middle of the process started following the recipe for a large loaf. Oops. Throughout my day I was trying to figure out a rescue mission, like croutons or soup in a bread bowl (albeit a square bowl.). I remembered a recipe that I had seen in a vegetarian cookbook from the library a few months back, where the author made tart shells in a muffin pan using sliced bread flattened with a rolling pin. Why not? And so, I give you what turned out to be a delicious dinner - imagine how good yours will be with correctly made bread!

Cheesy Chard Tarts for Cheaters
6 slices whole wheat bread, with crusts cut off & rolled out flat
2 - 3 T butter
4 T goat cheese
half handful shredded parmesan cheese
half handful shredded gruyere cheese (or whatever is in your fridge)
1 large bunch Swiss chard
dash soy sauce
balsamic vinaigrette (or 1 T maple syrup & 1 T balsamic vinegar)

Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease a popover pan or large muffin pan with butter. Gently push a slice of flattened bread into each cup, while keeping it centered - if using a muffin pan, you might be able to cut your slices in half first. Place in the oven for 8 -10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Chop the chard stems roughly and add to the pan, cooking and stirring for about 7 minutes. Shred the chard leaves and quickly saute them with the cooked stems, adding a dash of soy sauce towards the end. Remove from heat and toss with either 2 T dressing or the maple syrup and vinegar. Fill the bottom 1/4 of each 'tart shell' with goat cheese and return to oven for a few minutes. Fill the remainder of the shell with chard mixture and top with shredded cheese. Return to oven long enough to melt the cheese. Serve warm. These would be awesome with lentil soup!
Beware - we also found a Snackmaster sandwich maker and a Coney Island hot dog steamer, so who knows what recipes (for greens) lurk...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Greens for Breakfast

   I just returned home last night from a hectic weekend in Boston, working as a second shooter for my friend Katie at a gorgeous Wellesley wedding. At the horticulture center, no less! However, photographing plant life was not exactly on the shot list, although I did get a boutonniere or two (very beautiful, Calla lilies...)
   Needless to say, my body hurts, both from driving and carrying camera equipment for many hours. I came home to messages about granola shortages (oh my!) and a chicken who was trying to roost in the pen instead of the coop. Katie fed me Halloween candy, which is not exactly brain food. Okay, maybe it wasn't a force feeding, and her husband also made a ridiculously good dinner, and she even leaves water by my bedside. However, I feel almost hungover from my experience, and I'm in need of a long walk and greens for breakfast!
Luckily, most stores around here sell frozen Myer's Bagels (local, Montreal style wood-fired bagels) if you can't make it to their shop in Burlington. So good! I toasted a sesame bagel I found in the freezer, and had it alongside scrambled eggs with mushrooms and goat cheese, as well as greens from the hoophouse tossed with homemade Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette that I always keep on hand.

Emulsified Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 T mustard of your choice (I like grainy or Dijon)
2 T maple syrup (luckily JP's dad keeps us supplied - yum!)
dash salt
1/4 C Balsamic Vinegar
pulse in blender, then add in a slow steady stream while blending:
3/4 C olive oil
adding the oil slowly guarantees the emulsification process (not oily and separated, but the thick and creamy dressing that I require.) Feel free to add a clove of minced garlic or a shallot at the beginning for extra flavor.
Now I'm off for that walk!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sod Farmers

I have tried Lasagna Gardening in the past, and maybe my beds/layers were never deep enough, but I always had renegade grass coming up and competing with my vegetables. Pulling out those clumps and blades has been a hateful task! Right now I'm in the process of establishing new beds for next year, and am dutifully eradicating the existing grass. I think this grass is so hardy and deep rooted because it has to be to survive in our dense clay.

The chickens always come running whenever I pull out a shovel, hoe, or any other dirt turner. The buffet is open, Ladies. In fact, it makes my job all the harder when they are underfoot; they're not quite bright enough to understand 'blunt force trauma' - they even chase my pruning saw around! Usually, I put them back in their pen if they're at risk of getting hurt, but their pen has just been a mud floor since August and they find it quite boring. Yesterday, JP suggested that I lay down the sod I was digging in the chicken yard. They love it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Great Apple Mint Harvest

This year I planted Apple mint, which quickly became my favorite variety thus far. Peppermint and Spearmint are too pointed about their flavors, almost caustic, and Orange mint doesn’t seem to do it for me either. Chocolate mint just reminds me of going to the dentist when I was younger, as for some reason that was the universal toothpaste flavor at the time (am I dating myself?) Anyhow, I wanted a lighter, sweeter flavor that could be used in a variety of ways instead of only in specific recipes, and Apple mint is my new bestest friend.
   Except that, just like all of the others, she has this ‘me, me, me!” habit of spreading uncontrollably no matter what I do! I intentionally planted 2 seedlings in a 1 1/2 x 4 foot bed with dividers down to the ground, thinking that this would keep them contained. What was I on? I dug up an entire plant and gave it to a friend. Then I dug up another and potted it for the greenhouse. Wait, that’s 2 right?  - why are there about 74 left? I am seeing roots in other beds, over, under, through cracks in wood. Never again! From now on, mint will only be potted in my garden, and that goes for verbena, too. In fact, I’m issuing an ultimatum for eternity: All Herbs Will Be Potted!
     I know that I can’t leave these mint root remnants behind to haunt me in the spring, but they are tough to deal with. I even resorted to a pruning saw when I realized that I should just get JP to use his reciprocating saw, as he never says ‘no’ to a chore that involves that tool (except that he’s not yet willing to help me saw my old van in half so that I can make a mobile greenhouse; more on that another day.) But, then I found something buried so snugly in all of that perennial mess – a toad. A hibernating, sleeping, sluggishly hungover, little toad. I roused him a few times, but he’s practically comatose, it doesn’t seem fair to ask him to find somewhere else to live out the winter. So, I’ll deal with the mint in the spring, after I propagate a bunch to sell at the farmers market. Look at that – I just made some Toad Flavored Lemonade!
So, what to do with this end of the season mint? Well, for starters, I’d like to make lip balm with some harvested beeswax. I have not gotten much honey to date, but somehow I’ve managed to sequester a lot of wax through the crush and strain method (video tutorial from Beekeeper Linda’s blog – my favorite beekeeping site!) I filled a quart jar with clean, dry apple mint leaves and grapeseed oil a couple of days ago, as well as another jar with rosemary. This will be my first time making lip balm, so I’ve decided to use a fairly basic recipe. I have a decent idea about what to expect, as I made a swarm lure from Beekeeper Linda’s site this summer (wax, olive oil, and lemongrass oil,) which I mostly used to polish my floor. So, lip balm for me will be: wax, apple mint oil, rosemary oil, and honey. The ratio is usually more oil than wax, so if need be, I’ll add either extra jojoba and/or sweet almond oil, as I have some of each of those around. 1:1 wax to oil should make a harder balm, but I’m using tubes, so maybe that’s okay? We are about to find out…… 

I used about 25 ounces of filtered beeswax, which I melted in an old crockpot that I got for $5. They are easy to find, and the main point here is that you really don't want to use any of your regular kitchen utensils for this project. The first thing I realized is that 25 ounces is about 4 times too much  - next time, I'll use 8 ounces which will yield about 50 tubes (I bought mine online.) Also, grating the wax first would make it melt much faster. I added a total of 37 ounces of oil, but a different ration would have yielded a smoother gliding balm, like 2:1 oil to wax; mine came out a bit too hard. I added 4 tablespoons of honey, which seemed fine. Half of this mixture is currently in my refrigerator (as I didn't have 400 lip balm tubes on hand - guess what everyone is getting for the Holidays this year?) so when I re-melt the mixture, I'll add more oil, some vitamin E, and also a few drops of essential oil as my flavors were somewhat faint. Here it is:

At the end, I separated a small amount of the mixture and melted about 1/2 inch of lipstick into it, pouring it into a few tubes I had set aside. You can see one of those in the glass towards the back. I found it to mostly be a waste of lipstick, but I admit that it wasn't a well thought out process! And I was kind of wasting that lipstick, anyhow...
I still have more mint to tackle, so check back soon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Garden Specs

This is a diagram I made to help plan my 2010 garden. Although it pretty well captures Summer 2009, I also had a Spring garden, so some of these beds have been in transition at different times. Also, I have other beds closer to the house, including a deck-full of planters that I grow most of my lettuces in. You'll notice that 2 of the Hoophouse beds were 'compost' beds in the middle of the summer; after finishing up beautiful Spring lettuces, I struggled with planting heat loving plants that I knew I would have to remove early to get my Winter garden going, or putting in fast growing plants like radishes that wouldn't tolerate the heat. Timing is everything! (Next year, I will not be caught in that situation, as I  plan to rotate to perfection...) The romaines and other greens are on the North Side of the greenhouse with seedling tables over them to provide some shade. Frequently watering and making sure that the sides were up for air movement was a constant chore. Each long side of the Hoophouse has 1/4 inch hardware cloth stapled to the inside, so that air comes in but animals don't. Or, so I think...
The 4 x 8 beds in the greenhouse were originally part of the outdoor garden. You can still see how there were 3 rows of 4 x 8 beds with aisles in between. After putting up the tunnel, we just connected the aisles to the other beds, making a big grid. We generally avoid stepping on the soil inside the beds, so whenever we want to weed or harvest, we lay a board down across the grid. The biggest lesson I learned  about the grid (other than needing a better rotation schedule) was that some plants are too hard to work around when they're full sized. This design will work better with vegetables that have a tighter habit - scallions, lettuces, carrots, beets - luckily, these plants will thrive with the afternoon shade we get.

The strawberry row has been prepped and covered with a row cloth, but the strawberry crowns were put in too late and never sprouted. So, next year.

Here's how things look today. The 'new for 2010' beds used to be up against the house, but I've decided to relocate them for 2 reasons. First off, they'll get better light, and second, I'll be able to walk all the way around them to tend bigger plants, like squash and eggplant.

I got some old windows from a neighbor down the road. He had them out in his yard with a plywood sign that read 'free' - last year someone just took the sign.  JP helped my set them up over the beds that are on the way to the chicken coop, since we knew we'd have to keep the aisle clear  of snow.
So far, so good in the greenhouse. With both the cold frames and the greenhouse, I keep reminding myself that any failures will be remedied with a really early Spring planting. Even if I have trouble in December, there are still things to plant in February. So, I will keep you posted - plans for the new and improved 2010 garden are taking up about 75% of my brain. Or rather, 75% of the 10% of my brain that I use, which makes me incredibly annoying to talk to lately, as I'm only firing at about 2.5 %. Or one and a half cylinders.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homemade Hot Sauce Two Ways

This year I grew one habanero plant so that I could try my hand at making some hot sauce for JP. I harvested the plant yesterday morning from the Hoophouse, after waking up to an official hard frost. Personally, I'm scared of spicy foods, but I do love to cook most anything from the garden. After searching the depths of the internet, I settled on this modified recipe as it called for our own carrots and onions along with the peppers. We tried it out last night atop braised greens on black bean quesadillas, which hit the spot after a long day of yard work. I can tell we'll use this recipe many times over the winter.
Please wear gloves, then wash your hands, scrub your fingernails, wash your clothes, clean the counter, cutting board, and knife ASAP; these peppers are dangerous! In fact, I recommend making this sauce with someone you hardly know, so that you will be self conscious enough not to pick your nose. Just in case.

Habanero Hot Sauce (adapted from recipes at & forum)

1 ½ cups chopped carrots
1 onion, chopped
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp salt
2 - 3 T honey
1 cup chopped habanero chiles, about 12 chiles

Boil all the ingredients, except for the habaneros, in a saucepan for 12 minutes or until the carrots are soft. If you cook too long, you'll dull the color of the carrots - guess who learned that the hard way?  (Adjust the heat by adding fewer habaneros not by increasing the carrots, as this can alter the flavor.)

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Strain for a smoother sauce.

Pour into sterilized jars and top with sterilized lids & bands. You could refrigerate or process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes - I chose to leave things as they were, as I believe that the lime juice, vinegar and habaneros will keep bacteria at bay on their own.

This sauce is a straight hot sauce, which is great for JP and the deathwish of his tastebuds. Often times, when I make sauces and soups, I consider them a base for a variety of future recipes. In this case, I also tried making a more complex sauce for the quesadilla, thickened with nuts and flavored with cumin and allspice. Although the basic idea is for a Mexican style mole of sorts, the flavors also recall Tunisian carrots, especially with the addition of cilantro at the end.

Tunisian Carrot Mole
1 cup carrot juice
2 tbsp habanero hot sauce
1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 pitted date, soaked in hot water
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp allspice
dash sea salt
apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro

While toasting the seeds and nuts, and soaking the date in hot water, warm the carrot juice in a small pan over medium heat. Skim off any foam and pour into a blender or food processor. Add the all other ingredients, leaving out the vinegar and cilantro. After the sauce as been pureed, pour it into a bowl and whisk in the vinegar. If you plan to freeze or refrigerate any extra, leave out the cilantro and add before serving.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Those Pesky Little Setbacks

   Recently, with friends visiting, we spent the afternoon away from The Compound driving around near the Canadian border. In fact, we were looking for the site of the first Missile Base East of the Mississippi, but it turns out that it's just the Alburg town garage now. After dreams of us crawling around inside the former home of a nuclear warhead faded away, we settled for walking their dog at St. Annes' Shrine and then visiting the Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve. Making our way back through the Islands, we somehow killed an hour at Hero's Welcome, a general store where everything you pick up is truly a conversation piece (I keep vowing to 'buy nothing' yet left with a long-chained magnifying glass necklace, for studying bugs in the greenhouse. And maybe setting my shirt on fire on a sunny day.)
    The point here is that we were gone for a long time. Not really the devoted behavior of someone who woke up sweating over the first hard frost and all it's garden related repercussions, but what could go wrong, right? As we pulled in the driveway, we noticed just one stray chicken. Panic set in while we tried to locate the rest. We've had a dog attack in the past, and of course the worst was going through our minds (along with the usual blame swapping for leaving the coop door ajar.) Luckily all of the girls were fine - they were munching on my beautiful winter greens in the Hoophouse! They thoughtfully left some for us; however,  a bit less appetizing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Basic Greens

Here it is - my premier weekly recipe, and the most frequent recipe I use for greens. You may use this warm vinaigrette on any green vegetable, whether it is steamed, sauteed, wilted or raw. Generally speaking, the more tender the green, the less cooking it needs...

Brown Butter Vinaigrette (or 'Candy Greens' at my house)
for 2 servings:
(I have been making this so long that I genuinely don't know where the credit goes for this recipe. If you do, please let me know!)

1 T brown butter (melt butter over medium heat, and continue to cook until it forms brown solids)
1 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t balsamic vinegar

add the melted butter to the vinegar and soy in a different container, or you will have an embarrassing explosion in your face, which at the very least will be a drag to clean up. Pour over raw greens, wilted kale, steamed broccoli, or my favorite - oven roasted asparagus. If you don't eat dairy, consider replacing the butter with a nutty oil, like walnut or hazelnut.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Terrifying Reality of Frost

It's here. That cold, spiteful weather that threatens all we've worked for, and forces every small creature to seek refuge inside our houses. I feel pure anguish - an assured sense of doom regarding the perfection I've got going in the greenhouse. This all feels ridiculous to someone as annoyingly optimistic as me. If everything hadn't gone according to plan thus far, I might not feel so protective and territorial about these plants. Crude and primitive, like how Kid Rock and Tommy Lee feel whenever they're both in the same room with Pamela Anderson. But I've got something better - Swiss chard that's still producing.

I planted the majority of my overwintering greens around August 20th, staggering some seeds both before and after. When the plants really got going, I seeded mache (one of the most cold hardy greens) in between my rows. Here it is just sprouting.

I plan to harvest 3 skinny beds worth of Yukina Savoy and Red Komatsuna later this week, so that I can get more mache in there as well. Check back for some recipes featuring these Asian greens. I have to calmly remember that last year, after planting too late, my lettuce seeds all sprouted and grew strong in weather that was much colder than this. I can't help but feel that they had an edge for knowing the cold since their very beginnings - this year's plants have been spoiled with warmth. Even if it's not what they're bred to prefer, it's still all they know.
   Checking the greenhouse thermometer, last night the low in there was 33 degrees. Not so bad, right? But we've only just begun. Maybe I should consider experimenting with a 'Valium Vinaigrette' for my salads this winter, just to regain some peace? Or I could grow some 'Meditation Mix' with St. John's Wort. More temperatures and blood pressure readings later...

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Come on in! So glad that you found me and are willing to read all that I have to say (or at least the first 2 sentences worth...) Artful Greens is a place to share my gardening experiments, particularly those involving growing four seasons of greens and thinking outside the box - yet inside the wallet. I have big dreams about growing enough vegetables to feed my husband and I all year long, plus some friends and neighbors. And I must say, so far so good. Progress is everywhere, improvements to be made are not afraid to make themselves known, and failures have been, er, punctual.

We live on 2/3 of an acre in northern Vermont, on the shore of Lake Champlain. About 1/4 of an acre is available to us for growing food. No complaints here though, everything is beautiful even when you're not in the mood. Our soil is straight clay, which acts hard and compacted most of the time. When it rains too much, we get that kind of smooth slippery mud that potters use to form their vessels. When that mud dries, envision cracked desert earth that behaves like concrete. Needless to say, in terms of gardening, this is like a cruel joke. Clay soil can be improved upon over several years by adding organic matter and soil amendments -just mixing in sand is not an actual solution. After having a one season family garden for about 12 years, we started adding raised beds each year for the last 3 years. We filled them with peat moss, compost, vermiculite, rotted hay, topsoil, our own clay - whatever we could to make a looser mix. This was not cheap, most of the compost was from dairy farms and full of weed seeds, and I am so glad that the majority of this work is behind us.

However.... these beds are awesome! So far, everything we've planted seems to thrive and can be put in fairly early. Soil warms faster in the beds, and unlike clay, a rainy Spring does not prevent you from working in them (you cannot work wet clay without ruinous results when it dries.) Our past efforts for a Spring garden were pretty laughable, but recently I've been able to plant in April. I can grow carrots - I can't even believe it! Today is October 9th, and I still have beautiful eggplant, summer squash, and peppers outside. We threaded soaker hoses through a grid of beds so that we could just turn a knob and walk away. Although it wasn't a terrible idea, this one long hose (three 50 foot sections) drowns the first bed by the time you notice the last bed getting any water. You could plant accordingly so that your water loving plants are at the beginning of the run, but in hindsight it would be better to have control over individual sections. I did mark each bed where the hose connections are made, so fixing things later won't be so heinous.

Last September we put up this 10 x 32 foot Hoophouse to extend our growing season, with the hopes of keeping dormant greens to harvest throughout the winter. Did I mention those 'er , failures'? First of all, the Hoophouse was set over 3 existing 4 x 8 foot beds, positioned the long way with 2 feet of space in between each. - hence the required 32 foot length. The long side of the greenhouse faces South. Most growers position their greenhouses so that the sun rises on one long side and sets on the other, giving their beds an equal shower of light. No can do at our place thanks to trees, our pre-existing bed placement, and our devil may care attitudes. Also, our prime goal is wintertime greens not summertime tomatoes, so solar heat gain is a big plus.

Back to that failure... Our first go round of winter Hoophouse gardening was doomed by late planting.  Notice the empty beds! The soil temperature was much cooler then, having just put the plastic on before planting. Today, that polyfilm has been in place for over a year, so the soil must be much warmer. In fact, last March, much of what I had put in that previous September finally sprouted (below left) and we had a beautiful bounty of lettuce all at once. That was a big lesson in the brilliance of succession planting! Today in the greenhouse (below right) we  have beets, chard, carrots, spinach, mache, asian greens, several varieties of lettuce, escarole, kale, herbs, cat grass, an eggplant, a jalapeno, and a habanero all in beds, laundry baskets, pvc hangers, and various other containers. Obviously, the heat loving plants won't last long, but stop by to find out what happens with those greens as we try to maintain them into the depths of winter. Also, please feel free to share any techniques you might know of, or ask any questions that come up for you.

Other things you'll find on this blog include lots of recipes and garden related art/building projects. I am constantly cooking - experimental fare, big batches of food for the freezer, greens a million different ways, works-of-art-sandwiches, and anything miniature. Mostly vegetarian; I like that it's cheaper, and I have to keep up with all of those vegetables we grow. Additionally, we have lived in a unfinished, un-sided house for 2 years, but can't seem to stop working outside on our garden structures. Our chicken coop has really nice siding...

One last comment on both greens and art. Greens are an amazing food source and a great addition to our daily diet - especially if not off a truck from thousands of miles away. In her book Green for Life, Victoria Boutenko makes mention of how science often uses chimpanzees to understand the effects of a western diet on our closest relative - yet has failed to observe their natural diet and how that may be a real lesson in eating to us humans. Chimpanzees eat a diet of 25 - 50% raw greens (with the rest being fruit, and a bit of nuts, seeds, and bark.) Food for thought, yes definitely. Major life change? Probably not realistically (in fact I once tried for a few weeks and came away with months worth of irritation inside my mouth and throat.  However, the raw part was most likely the culprit of my allergic reaction!) Regardless, I think that eating greens everyday is a great goal for any human. And they are easy enough to grow with a few simple environmental controls - which is where the 'art' part comes in. My meaning here is to navigate around costly go-to techniques that you're likely to come across, and find your solutions by giving it some thought.  Somehow, everyone should be able to grow themselves some greens for less money than buying them at the store. And free themselves from the chemical - laden and/or vitamin-deficient ones available (if you live in a place where that's your only choice at certain times of the year, like I do) even if your only solution is to sprout seeds. Sprout away, then.

So, thanks for stopping by! All are welcome and I promise to keep things PG-13. I have some terrible habits of swearing like a truck driver, and mentioning politics and religion when it's most inappropriate, but I will make a concerted effort to stick to the art and the greens. Maybe. If I can. We'll see...
Oh I spoke too soon! In the short time it's taken me to write and edit this, I already have 2 followers - a Polygamist and someone called 'Popester.' I'll never make it in the polite world of stick-to-the-subject closed-mouth blogging - wish me luck...
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