My Garden, Summer 2012

Thanks to my sister Helen for taking all of the pictures for this post! Check out her blog here!

For my very first vegetable garden, Andy and I gathered a bunch of sticks from around the yard and used them to make a crudely-hewn 12 inch high “fence.” In my head, the stick-fence was going to be completely adorable, with a Boxcar Children-esque whimsiness, In reality, it was a minor irritation for our two dogs as they tore mad-dash through the garden in their quest for squirrel meat.  Needless to say, it didn’t last long.  We, by which I mean Andy, built this real fence a few years ago, and it has protected my little plants stoically ever since.

This season has been my most productive ever, so I wanted to document some of the things I actually managed to harvest and eat! The act of pulling edible food out of the garden still feels novel and thrilling to me- I’m not a great gardener and it’s taken me a while to figure out the process.

First up: cucumbers! I have one cucumber plant that has gone absolutely crazy.  I attribute the success completely to a few fortunately-timed rain storms.  I’ve used the cucumbers for panzanella, a cucumber salad with smashed garlic and ginger, and pickles, which we’ll get to try on Memorial Day. For the pickles, I opted to go the easy route with refrigerator pickles, and used the brine from this recipe and tips from this post.

This is my rhubarb plant, and I love it so much.  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but the leaves are the size of three human heads- they are so fun. And also toxic. Don’t eat them! It is continuously putting out new stalks, and you just peel off the outer ones as you’re ready to use them.  I made a lovely old fashioned rhubarb cake with my first harvest, and tomorrow I’m going to make a crisp with some more, probably using an adaptation of this recipe. Also, I was alarmed at first that the stalks weren’t turning pink.  Some very lazy googling (in which you read only the text provided on the search page without actually opening any links) taught me that this is just a plant from the green-stalked variety of rhubarb. Not quite as pretty, but just as tart and delicious.

This is a very very young butternut squash. I harvested my first full-grown one last week and used it to make the most amazing recipe from Plenty, the current darling of my cookbook shelf.  It’s a dish of roasted butternut squash wedges with sweet spices, lime, and green chile.  You can get the recipe here. If you’ve got a butternut squash and don’t know what to do with it, I think this recipe is one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten this spring.

Ok- about tomatoes- do you guys actually let your tomatoes turn red on the vine? Am I losing a lot of flavor by picking them green and letting them ripen on a window sill? All my prior attempts at sun-ripening have ended with the tomato being stolen by squirrels or pecked apart by birds :/ But aren’t these pretty? I’ve done really badly with tomatoes in the past (leaf-footed stinkbugs, hornworms, drought+heat+lazy watering) so it feels great to actually harvest some. Helen used the red ones to make a delicious tomato and mango salsa.

Here are a few things on my harvesting horizon:

Chard.  I planted this in March and it’s only just starting to look like a full-grown plant.

Eggplant! I have a Japanese variety and a small heirloom variety.  I’ll most likely use the Japanese variety to make my favorite miso-glazed eggplants, and the traditional variety to top some grilled pizzas (this is my favorite dough recipe). 

San Marzano tomatoes.

Purple Cherokee tomatoes.

The newcomers- corn, pumpkin, and rattlesnake beans.  Together these three crops are known as the three sisters because they benefit from being planted together.  The corn serves as a post for the beans to climb, the beans stabilize the corn and add nitrogen to the soil for the pumpkins, and the pumpkins’ big spiny leaves act as a living mulch and protect the corn and beans from ground-level invaders.  Pretty fun stuff!


Eat Your Yard

Helen and I went to the Natural Gardener this weekend! I love, love that place.  I was hoping to pick up some artichoke plants, but they had already sold out.  Instead I picked up a packet of kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) seeds and a couple of hatch chile plants.  We’ll be back in a week or two to buy tomatoes/basil/etc. Anyway, to make room for the pumpkins I had to unearth my row of carrots that had been in the ground since October (!).  Helen and I also realized that many of my radishes, which had just been planted a few weeks ago, were ready to come up too (their pretty little tops had poked through the soil).  And hey! we could also eat the broccoli leaves like Joanna, and the stalk too! And we could top it off with a salad with my homegrown lettuces! This was all very exciting.

Here’s what we harvested:

(Joanna- I’m gonna give you your green towel back at some point!)

A list of harvested items: easter egg radishes, carrots, broccoli stalk and leaves, lettuces, parsley, green onions, green garlic.

And here’s what we made for dinner with our plunder:

Honey Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Puree and Parmigiano Reggiano

For this dish, I made the carrot top puree Kevin made on Top Chef last season (minus the tarragon + green garlic). For the carrots, I cut them into equal-sized pieces and put them into a cast iron skillet where I had melted/combined a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a bit of fresh thyme.  This went into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, until the carrots were caramelized.  Served with the carrot top puree and a thick shaving of parmigiano, this was Andy’s and my favorite.

Butter-Glazed Braised Radishes

If you (like me) planted 4000 radishes in your yard, you must, must try this recipe.  Radishes are great cooked! More mellow, tender, and mildly peppery.  This was Helen’s favorite. This recipe comes from the cookbook All About Braising.

  • 2 bunches small radishes (about 1 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock, homemade
  • large pinch of sugar
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Trim the radishes of their roots and trim the green tops, leaving about 1/4 inch (we added some of the peppery tops to our salad greens).
  2. Place the radishes in a medium skillet that will hold them in a single layer. Add the butter, stock, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, reduce the heat, and braise at a low simmer until the radishes are easily pierced with a metal skewer, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid, shake the pan to roll the radishes around, and continue simmering until the liquid reduces to a glaze and coats the radishes, another 5 minutes or so.  Serve warm.

Lemony Braised Broccoli Leaves and Stalk

This was based off a kale recipe I found on Food52 by talented cook ‘Loves Food Loves to Eat’.  We thought this was delicious! If you don’t have access to broccoli leaves, try this recipe with kale.

  • 1 thinly sliced shallot
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 cup chicken broth
  • Juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1 bunch of broccoli leaves, chopped
  • 1 broccoli stalk, peeled (to remove the tough outer layers), sliced into 1/4 inch discs

Sauté shallot and sliced broccoli stalk in olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the shallots are golden and the stalk slices are becoming tender, add a pinch of salt, a pinch of red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and broth. Slowly add chopped leaves. Allow the leaves to wilt and soften, and continue cooking until most of the cooking liquid has evaporated. Serve hot.

 Salad with Cara Cara Oranges and Pistachios

I was just going to serve lettuce dressed simply in my go-to lemon/dijon mustard vinaigrette, but then Helen recommended adding the cara cara orange in my fruit bowl and the pistachios in my pantry.  It was delicious! I added a bit of the orange juice to the vinaigrette, and it was a perfectly lovely salad.

This was such a fun dinner! I love that living-off-the-land feeling, like the one you get when you read the first Boxcar Children book (i.e. they use the stream in the woods as a method of refrigeration and cook the eggs they find in a bird’s nest).  I want that.

Garden Update!

Andy and I have just unburdened ourselves of the world’s worst camera.  It was a Canon S3IS and it really sucked.  First, it insisted on 4 AA batteries, which would die almost the instant they entered the camera.  And it considered itself too good to recognize rechargeable batteries.  Such a snob.  Worse still, was that every single time you’d take a picture, it would say Memory Card Error, and you’d have to turn it off and back on if you wanted to take another one.

Anyway, don’t buy one of those! Instead, we opted for a Panasonic Lumix and took it out to the backyard garden to inaugurate it:

Snuggles thinks lettuce is delicious.

The radish and spinach sprouts are coming up!

Broccoli.  It will be roasted one day.

A few of the eight thousand onions I planted.  I really like onions 🙂