All Hail, Amazing Kale! Jennifer Audette On Summer’s Hippest Superfood & Sumptuous Peach, Corn & Kale Salad . . .

August 3rd, 2013 § 6

Peach, Corn and Kale Salad - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comPeach, Corn & Kale Salad, Recipe Below

Kale, glorious kale. A member of the extensive Brassica oleracea species (cultivars: cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, savoy), kale is in the acephala group, which means “headless”. Kale and its nearly identical partner, collards, are likely quite similar to the earliest forms of cultivated cabbage, which were also non-head forming and known to be in cultivation for thousands of years.  The word “kale” is apparently Scottish in origin stemming from the Roman coles and caulis, their words for cabbage. Bet you can guess where the words “cauliflower” and “cole crops” come from now, too. In medieval times this group of vegetables was known as coleworts or colewyrts.

Like my favorite Vermont-made t-shirt says, we should all “Eat More Kale”, but kale can be a hard sell, even to people who love their veggies. Does the idea of kale cause you to cringe as you picture bitter greens lumped in a foreboding pile on your plate like a gustatory penance for all the junk food you ate this week? Well you’re in luck, because I’m here, a Kale Krusader, to convert you.

Redbor and Rainbow Lacinato Kale Harvest - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comHarvesting Tender Leaves of Redbor & Rainbow Lacinato Kale

Kale can be planted each spring as soon as the soil is workable, which we all know is the time when gardeners chomp-at-the-bit to stick hope into the cold earth and wait for it to grow. So, don’t you dare plant tomatoes, peppers and green beans in early May as a desperate attempt to get a jump on the season only to have failed germination and frost-killed seedlings! You should be planting seeds or six-packs of kale instead! Winterbor is my favorite variety because I like how the ruffle-y leaves trap dressings and seasonings. But there are other varieties: Lacinato (dinosaur kale), Red Russian, Rainbow Russian, Red Winterbor and many others.

Rainbow Lacinato Kale - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Rainbow Lacinato Kale with Lovely Hints of Lavender, Blue and Turquoise, is Even Pretty in Edible Floral Arrangements

I have grown kale easily from seed in the past, but now prefer to purchase six-packs of healthy starts.  The tiny, tentative leaves emerging from seeds were harder for me to protect from the darn slugs. The more mature six-pack starts seem to stand up better to moderate slug and snail abuse.  Kale prefers well-drained, organically rich soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0 and full sun.  The most common pest you’ll find on your kale is the cabbage worm, the larval stage of those pretty little white cabbage butterflies. Dark green frass (fancy word for poop), collecting on the stems of your kale plants will give the little buggers away.  So, do a daily walk-through looking for frass. If you find any, search for the well-camouflaged cabbage worm. It will be almost the exact color of the kale stem. Pick it off and dispose of by your preferred method. (I throw them onto the driveway, hoping that birds might eat them. I’m not sure if this system actually works as planned since I’ve never done a follow-up study of my disposal method.) Kale is very easy to grow and produces from early spring right through late fall. They say frosts make the leaves sweeter, but honestly, I’ve never noticed a big difference.  This year, the neighborhood woodchuck took a liking to my kale and in early July ate most of my crop (18 plants).  But once the woodchuck problem was solved (a story for another day), the kale recovered even stronger than before and on it grows.  Go kale, go!

Young Redbor Kale Leaf - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Beautiful, Curly Redbor Kale is Great for Holding Dressing and Seasoning, or Fancying Up a Serving Bowl

So with the growing part out of the way I can hear you wondering, “yeah, but what’s so great about eating the stuff?” I’m glad you asked! When you grow your own kale you can pick it right before you’re going to eat it so it’s fresh and tender. You don’t get stuck with excessive bits of the hard, fibrous ribs like you get in a bag of kale from the grocery store. You can harvest the younger leaves for salads. Save the more hearty leaves to braise atop golden-brown onions and garlic for 20 minutes (adding small amounts of water to keep from burning). Then toss with a good squirt of fresh lemon juice, olive oil, parmesan cheese and serve over your favorite pasta. You can tear kale leaves into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle over the top of a pizza before popping it into the oven. The edges of the kale will get crisp and nutty while the part in contact with the pizza stays tender.  And if you missed the craze of “Kale Chips”, just do an internet search and you’ll find plenty of recipes for the simple-to-make, healthy, addictive, salty snack.  You can make a dressing with tahini, tamari, red wine vinegar, garlic and water then toss with torn kale leaves. Top with tomato, cucumber and avocado.

Ingredients for Peach, Corn and Kale Salad - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Fresh Ingredients from the Garden and Walker Farm Make Great Companions for Homegrown Kale

But hands down, this is my new favorite thing to make with kale. This salad appeared in my life just three weeks ago and I’ve made it four times since then. Because kale is so hearty, it holds up as leftovers even under an acidic dressing that would wilt lesser greens. So this recipe is great to make in a big batch to have for quick, healthy lunches and dinner side dishes for several days.  If there’s still time where you live to buy local corn and perfectly ripe peaches, you should make this salad post haste. I think there will be a few kale converts among the ranks.

Peach, Corn and Kale Salad with Wine - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com

Kale, Peach and Corn Salad

(adapted from a recipe at NPR.com)

Ingredients for 6 servings

Dressing

½ cup olive oil (the better the quality, the better your dressing)

¼ cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (or more to taste)

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 cup of red onion very thinly sliced into half moons

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt & pepper. Add the thinly sliced onion, stir and allow to sit for 15 minutes or so. This mellows the flavors and softens the onion.

Salad

1 bunch of kale, (maybe about 10 – 12 small to medium stalks) washed, dried and torn into smaller pieces

½ a bunch of cilantro, stems removed and leaves torn, or to taste

4 ears of corn, uncooked, cut off the cob

4 peaches, peeled, cut into wedges

4 oz. of feta or to taste (I use Vermont’s Maplebrook Cheese and it’s delicious!)

Rainbow Lacinato and Redbor Kale - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com

Method

Combine the kale and cilantro in a large bowl. Pour dressing over greens. Toss well, making sure to get the dressing over every piece of kale. Then add the corn kernels, the peach slices and the feta.  If you can let the salad rest, (refrigerated or not) for about an hour, the kale will absorb more dressing and soften slightly.  Keep leftovers refrigerated.  Enjoy!

Peach, Corn and Kale Salad Mixing - michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Toss the Ingredients Together Well and Let Stand in the Refrigerator for One Hour or More, Before Serving

The best thing about eating so much kale is that it’s one of those supposed “superfoods”, which means I can drink more wine and eat more dessert with less guilt, right?  Hurray!

I know there are other kale-lovers out there in TGE-land. Got any great recipes to share?

Peach, Corn and Kale Salad and Wine - michaela m harlow - thegardenerseden.comA Sumptuous Summer Salad & Crisp White Wine Make a Perfect Light Dinner for Two on a Sultry, August Evening

Today’s guest blogger, multi-talented writer Jennifer Audette is author of the always entertaining and often humorous Cozy Toes BlogspotWhen not experimenting with canning, baking, cooking, horticulture, entomology or other scientific pursuits, Jennifer can be found writing, hiking, making music, working at Walker Farm and delivering smiles to her very fortunate friends.

Travel back to Jennifer’s previous post on Dilly Beans by clicking here.  

Thank you Jen! xo 

Article ⓒ Jennifer Audette, Photography ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you! 

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Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, Plus a Springtime-Fresh Garden Recipe: Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs

April 23rd, 2013 § 6

Madi_Vegetable LiteracyVegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

As organic vegetable gardeners, we know how important it is to become familiar with the various plant families and to develop an understanding of how they relate to one another in the garden. Botanical knowledge is key to avoiding many pests, diseases and cultural problems. Having recently reviewed the topics of crop rotation, companion planting and intercropping in the organic vegetable garden —Kitchen Garden Planning, Part One, followed by Kitchen Garden Planning, Part Two— now seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss how this same botanical knowledge can guide creative use of homegrown produce in your kitchen.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been devouring Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, sent to me for review by publisher, Ten Speed Press. One of the most highly-regarded vegetarian cooks of our time, Deborah Madison is author of eleven cookbooks. In her most recent title, Madison explores the relationship between botany and cooking, and how that knowledge can serve us as we prepare produce in our kitchens. A new gardener herself, the author takes a down-to-earth approach; with stories and observations that will be both familiar and inspirational to those who, like Madison, are just beginning to grow their own food. More experienced green thumbs will be delighted by new botanical discoveries and unexpected, creative ways to use the fruits of their labor.

Late_Spring_Potager_michaela_thegardenerseden  Nothing will improve your culinary skills faster than growing fresh produce in your own backyard, and learning how to use those edible flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs, creatively in your kitchen

New gardeners will quickly observe that some natural companions in their potagers —tomatoes and basil or garlic and potatoes, for example— are also delightful partners in recipes. In fact, the joy of experimenting with garden fresh ingredients in the kitchen is often what leads a gardener’s hands to soil in the first place. By learning the ways in which edible plants relate to one another, a gardener can become a more versatile and confident cook. Out of onions, spinach or some other key ingredient and need a quick substitute? Looking for a way to jazz up a simple plate of carrots, but haven’t a clue what might work with them? With a bit of coaching from Madison, gardeners may find the creative answers to these culinary challenges, right in the backyard vegetable patch!

Filled with delicious, vegetarian recipes and gorgeous, full-color photographs, Vegetable Literacy is as beautiful to behold as it is delightful to read. Chapters in this cookbook are divided by plant families (Apiacea, Lamiacea, Asteraceae, Brassicaceae, etc.). In addition to 300-plus recipes, the author has included a chef’s notes about her favorite varieties of each edible plant, as well as interesting and useful botanical details for gardeners. I’ve flagged a number of dishes to try with my early crops, but the one featured below, “Peas with Baked Ricotta and Breadcrumbs”, simply couldn’t wait. Although it’s a bit early here in Vermont for garden-fresh peas, I did try this recipe with some of last fall’s bounty (stored in my freezer), and was thrilled with the result. I can’t wait to enjoy this comforting dish again; only next time, with the incomparable flavor of hand-shucked peas, plucked straight from my garden . . .

Peas with Baked Ricotta Peas with Baked Ricotta & Breadcrumbs from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy. Photo © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton

Peas with Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs

A light supper for 2

Olive oil

1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped
full-fat ricotta

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

4 teaspoons butter

2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

5 small sage leaves, minced (about 11/2 teaspoons)

11/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.

Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

With Pasta: Cook 1 cup or so pasta shells in boiling, salted water. Drain and toss them with the peas, cooked as above, and then with the ricotta. The peas nestle in the pasta, like little green pearls.

 >
Reprinted with permission from Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. Copyright © 2013 by Deborah Madison. Photographs © 2013 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

All Other Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Dilly Dallying in the Pickled Beans: An Intro to Canning with Jennifer Audette

July 28th, 2012 § 7

Delicious Dilly Beans

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning      Guest Author - Jennifer Audette

Here in New England, a moment exists each growing season when the stars align and your local farmstand, farmer’s market or (if you’re really amazing), own garden suddenly has all the necessary ingredients for the first batch of Dilly Beans. I have the fortune of working in the ‘stand at Walker Farm in Dummerston, VT and this past Thursday it happened. On Wednesday, the fantastic field crew picked seven bushels of beans and then four more the following day.  That means beans coming out our ears for a few days. The first, shy harvest of red chilies appeared in a small bowl, bouquets of dill heads made my mouth water in anticipation of eating pickled things and the garlic has been harvested and waiting patiently for several weeks now.  It’s time to pickle those beans!

As a kid, I spent a lot of time helping my Mom can things like peaches, pears and applesauce. I was a master of slipping skins from blanched peaches; sliding the glistening, sunrise-colored orbs into a mild vinegar bath to keep them from discoloring.  In the autumn, I looked forward to the smell of warm, cooked apples wafting up to meet me as I managed the Foley Food Mill from my perch on the stool. My mom’s palate tends toward the sweet; she’s been known to sprinkle sugar on salad greens deemed too bitter. She doesn’t do hot peppers or vinegar in large quantity and she’s only recently discovered the joys of garlic. Dilly Beans were not part of my childhood canning experience.  But I crave the savory world more than I crave the sweet world and so several years ago, after my Mom had set me up with all the paraphernalia for canning, I found the recipe for Dilly Beans in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and entered my very own world of canning…

Slender, Verdant Beauties, Await Morning Harvest

Home Grown Herbs & Spices: Hard Neck Garlic, Chili Peppers & Dill

Freshly Harvested, Washed & Trimmed Haricots Verts from the Potager

This is where I’m supposed to give you a nice tutorial about making Dilly Beans; a specific recipe, step-by-step instructions and such. Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person. I’m not very good at specifics and I almost never following directions exactly and I certainly don’t do anything the same way twice. But, if you were here with me, I would be happy to show you how I do it. Side by side, you would help me find eight wide-mouth pint jars in the storage space under the stairs, wiping away cobwebs and hoping no mice scurried out.  You would fill the dishpan with hot, soapy water and then wash the jars, the brand new lids and the old screw caps. Together we would wait a long, long time for the half-full kettle of water to come to a boil, discovering while we waited that I didn’t have enough white vinegar for the recipe. I would send you to the store for that.  Thanks, it’s so nice to have a helper!

I’d want to show you how I organize my workspace so that the jars are being sterilized in the large pot of water on the left front burner, the lids are simmering for 10 minutes (not boiling!) in their own separate pan on a back burner and the pickling liquid is simmering on the other front burner.  We’d remove one jar at a time from the hot water and pack them with the beans I’d prepared the night before (washed and trimmed), garlic cloves, chili peppers and dill. We’d fill the jars to a ¼” from the top with the hot pickling solution, remove any bubbles, wipe the top, slap on a lid and load each one into the canner basket.  Likely, there are much better ways to go about packing jars with garlic, chilies, dill and beans. I’m not very good at it and it takes me way longer than it seems like it should. (Maybe if you were here you would have come up with a more efficient way to stuff all those beans into jars!)  But eventually, all 4 pounds of beans and spices would be nestled into jars and lowered into the canning pot. Once we reached a rolling boil, we’d set the timer for 10 minutes. Tick, tick, tick….ding! After a short rest, we’d use the super-cool jar tongs to remove them from the hot water. Then we’d high-five and tell the cat to clean up the mess while we sat out on the porch toasting our efforts with a cool beverage. I’d give you your very own copy of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and you’d eagerly look through it for your next canning project (balsamic caramelized onions, sweet and spicy pepper relish, bread and butter pickles, tomato sauce, tomatillo salsa, hot peppers for sandwiches, barbecue sauce), knowing how easy it is to preserve the summer’s bounty, once you learn the ropes.

Dilly Beans

Dilly Bean ingredient list*

Ingredients to be Evenly Distributed in Each Jar:

4 pounds green beans, washed and trimmed

8 cloves of garlic

8 small red chilies

8 dill heads

Pickling Solution:

5 cups white vinegar

5 cups water

½ cup pickling salt

*For all the important canning safety basics and full recipe with directions, please take the time to locate a good book from the canning canon and do your homework.  The previously mentioned Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is a very approachable, easy-to-use introduction, full of inspiring recipes. It’s a reasonable $9 or so and you might even find it at your local hardware store along with all the necessary canning supplies. Have fun!

 Today’s guest blogger, the multi-talented writer Jennifer Audette, is author of the always entertaining and often humorous Cozy Toes Blogspot. When not experimenting with canning, baking, cooking, horticulture, entomology or other scientific pursuits, Jennifer can also be found hiking, making music, writing and delivering smiles to her very fortunate friends.

Thank you Jen! xo

Some Great Resources for Learning to Safely Preserve the Harvest…

Putting Food By

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving with 400 Delicious and Creative Recipes

How to Store Your Garden Produce

Tips for Growing and Harvesting Tasty Green Beans

Haricots verts —or French-style filet beans— are slender, deep green and very flavorful. All beans should be picked frequently in mid-summer —daily when hot— to insure they don’t go to seed. For best flavor and texture, harvest beans when they are no thicker than the diameter of a pencil. As with most crops, I think it’s best to pick beans very early in the morning, before the heat of the day. Marigold and Summer Savory —believed to improve the growth of bush beans and deter beetles— are fantastic companion plants for haricots verts. Enrich soil with well rotted compost and provide plants with regular foliar feeding (applying liquid fertilizer to leaves in a spray or shower) of Neptune’s Harvest or fish emulsion to insure strong, healthy plants and a beautiful, tasty crop. Always wash beans thoroughly when harvesting, especially after applying fish emulsion or any fertilizer. Green beans provide their best yield during the first three weeks of harvest. With this in mind, I like to succession plant this crop for a steady supply of tender young beans straight through the killing frost.

Dilly Beans: Easy Entrance to the World of Canning ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette. Photographs ⓒ 2012 Jennifer Audette and Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden, as noted. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not use photographs without permission. Thank you! 

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Bavarian Purple, Spanish Roja & More: Selecting & Planting Gourmet Garlic …

October 24th, 2011 § 2

Gorgeous, Gourmet Garlic! Bulbs, Clockwise from Top of Ceramic Bowl: German White, Russian Red, Bavarian Purple & Spanish Roja. On Table: Two Heads of Doc’s German & One Each of German Red & Music. In Basket: A Combination of All Garlic Varieties, Plus Continental.

Creatures of the night, beware: I grow garlic! Garlic and onion braids hang from the wooden beams of my kitchen, and they inhabit colorful ceramic keepers on my shelves. I have garlic galore planted in my garden, squirreled away for winter use upon shelves in paper bags and hanging from floor joists in my cellar. Vampires dare not kiss me, for I cook with this delightfully stinky herb most every night.

Every autumn, I plant many varieties of cold hardy, hardneck garlic in my potager (hardneck garlic is the best choice for climates with long, cold winters). It’s a good idea to purchase garlic grown close to your own home (this insures the hardiest selections for your climate and local growing conditions), and traditionally, each October, I visit the annual Garlic & Arts Festival in nearby North Orange, Massachusetts, to select a few more gourmet bulbs for my garden. One of my all-time favorite garlic varieties, which I finally found at the festival a few years ago, is Spanish Roja (a rocambole hardneck garlic). This beautifully colored, hot and spicy selection possesses a true garlic flavor and easy-to-peel cloves, making it one of the most popular —and sometimes hard to find— bulbs at market. This zesty variety and others —including German Red, Bavarian Purple and Russian Red—-  tend  to be my favorite types for roasting and cooking. But I also love the milder varieties of garlic —including smokey, medium heat Continental— for salad dressing, salsa, cold pasta and other recipes calling for raw cloves, and for use in subtler dishes.

Garlic Bulbs are Harvested in Late Summer, When the Tops Yellow, Wither and Flop (Also True for Onions). Once Lifted from the Earth with a Garden Fork, Excess Soil is Shaken from the Bulbs as They ‘Cure’ for Two Weeks in a Warm, Dry Place.

Many hard neck garlic varieties (including rocambole, porcelain and striped) store beautifully in cool, dark, dry conditions. Porcelain garlic bulbs, such as German White and Music, are exceptionally good selections for long-term (up to 9 months under optimal conditions) storage. Russian Red, another good-sized porcelain hardneck variety, is also a top-notch keeper. I hang garlic braids in my kitchen and always have a few bulbs on hand in ceramic keepers, but most of my garlic is stored on shelves in a cool (approximately 55 degrees) part of my dark, dry cellar. After harvest and curing (for more detail, see previous post by clicking here) I like to store my garlic bulbs in braids (click here for my popular onion/garlic braiding tutorial with step-by-step photos) and in loosely folded, brown paper bags (this provides ample air circulation). I mark the name of the variety on the outside for quick reference. Some bulbs return to the garden every autumn, and the rest remain in stock on my shelves for winter and springtime use.

Preparing to Plant Garlic: Breaking a Basket of Large, Firm, Hard Neck Bulbs into Cloves

Mid-autumn is the best time to plant hardneck garlic in my climate. Each year I rotate my crop; preparing a new garlic bed with fresh compost in late September. Selecting large, firm bulbs from my crop, I carefully separate the cloves and prepare tags for each variety. On a cool, dry October day, I plant each clove approximately 2″ deep and 4-6″ apart (space wider for big, porcelain bulbs like Music). Mulching is very important in cold climates like Vermont. I use throughly rotted compost and clean straw or ground oak leaves for a nice thick mulch. Read more about garlic planting, and find a link back to removing and using garlic scapes, in my previous post “A Thousand Mothers Set Into Earth” by clicking here.

Of Course the Best Part of Growing Garlic is Eating It! Click Here for a Delicious Garlic and Potato Soup Recipe

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Cool Inspiration for Hot Summer Days: Beautiful Cookbooks & Delicious Dinners from the Garden …

July 28th, 2011 Comments Off

Hot day, Cool Dinner: Pasta with Arugula, Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Garlic

Although I don’t consider myself anything more than an average home cook, experimenting in the kitchen certainly is one of my favorite pastimes. And in mid-summer —when my potager is filled with the best produce of the season— it’s a delight to stroll down the garden path and fill a basket with fresh ingredients for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I especially love going out and trying a new dish at a favorite restaurant — and later, trying to replicate it at home. I’m a bit of a culinary voyeur, and I follow many food blogs (see right side bar) and delight in beautiful cookbooks, filled with simple, seasonal recipes.

Sometimes, when I have time for a leisurely lunch at home on my terrace, I will kick off my shoes and spend an hour browsing cookbooks in search of dinnertime inspiration. Currently, the books at the top of my stack include David Tannis’ Heart of the Artichoke  and A Platter of Figs, Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian, Patricia Wells’ At Home in Provence, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and Phaidon’s beautiful Recipes from an Italian Summer. The recipe below –a favorites on hot, humid days– was adapted from one I found in the New York Times; a repost from two years ago. Hard to believe so many summer days have passed since I last shared it here. What are  your favorite recipes from the garden?  Do you have any cookbooks or resources you’d like to share with other readers? I’m always looking for new kitchen inspiration, and eager to put my garden-fresh produce to good use!

Mid Day Inspiration: Browsing Cookbooks Beneath the Shade Trees

Lunchtime Garden Harvest (Matt’s Wild, Sungold and Black Cherry tomatoes from the garden)

Pasta With Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula

(Adapted from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original recipe for The New York Times)

1 pint cherry tomatoes (halved, or if larger, quartered) Matt’s Wild, Sungold, Etc.

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, minced (more to taste)

Salt to taste (try coarse sea salt or fleur de sel)

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup arugula leaves, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fusille or farfalle pasta

1/4 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese, (more to taste)

Combine the cherry tomatoes, garlic, salt, balsamic vinegar, arugula, basil, and olive oil in a large bowl. Set aside at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Taste the mixture and adjust seasonings accordingly.

While the mixture rests and flavors blend, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a salt and cook the pasta al dente, (still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta, and toss with the tomatoes. While the pasta is still hot, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and serve.

Serves 4 as a light dinner or first course.

Drying Garlic on the Terrace

Summer Squash and Blossoms in the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Summertime Brunch from the Potager: New Potato, Snow Pea & Mint Frittata With Delightfully Lemony Mayonnaise …

July 2nd, 2011 § 2

Summertime Brunch from the Potager: New Potato, Snow Pea & Mint Frittata with Lemony Mayonnaise

July is a month of abundance in my kitchen garden. After months of hard work come the blissful rewards: a walk down the potager path at this time of year is like a trip to a private farmers market. New potatoes, peas, fresh herbs of every kind, strawberries, raspberries, early blueberries, edible flowers, garlic scapes, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, tender young onions, and the list goes on. With so much fresh produce to choose from, you might imagine that my meals are endlessly varied. But with a busy work schedule and a long list of garden chores, I sometimes get stuck in a lazy cooking rut. Pasta, pasta, pasta … Ho hum. Thank goodness for great cookbooks and beautiful food blogs! Some people have stacks of paperback novels or a loaded Kindle beside their bed. Me? I have cookbooks and bookmarked food sites. Funny, I always seem to wake up hungry.

I’ve been working extra long hours, so this weekend I’ve planned slower starts. And after spending a bit of time exploring Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian —a beautiful book with green and white cloth-bound cover, maroon-colored satin ribbon, and gorgeous photography— I knew exactly how I wanted to spend at least one of my weekend mornings. My potato patch has been blossoming for a couple of weeks now —signaling the start of baby potato season— and fresh snow peas are practically pulling down their vines. Hmm. All the ingredients for a new potato, snow pea and mint frittata …

New Potato, Snow Pea and Mint Frittata

The Hint of Lemon in this Homemade Mayonnaise Makes a Delightful Compliment to the Sweet Flavor of Snow Peas

Summertime Magic with Freshly Brewed Ice Coffee from the French Press

Surprised that I still have snow peas? This is part of my second crop, and the young vines are just starting to produce baskets of sweet, tender pea pods. If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you may remember last summer’s post on succession planting (click here to read my “Love Me Two Times Baby” post). For a continuous supply of fresh produce, sowing seed and planting new vegetable starts is an ongoing, spring through autumn process in my kitchen garden. Certain crops —like spinach, beets, broccoli rabe and peas— prefer cooler soil temperatures for best germination, and other crops —such as green beans, cucumbers and summer squash— require warm soil to get a good start. Timing is everything in the vegetable garden, and because I am so busy, I need to jot seed-sowing and harvesting reminders in my calendar; lest I forget to plant and run out of fresh produce!

The second round of snow peas —sown in May— are just now maturing in the potager

Gently unearthing new, Adirondack Red potatoes from the garden

New potatoes are another one of my favorite, early summer vegetables. Many early-season potato varieties begin to bloom approximately 60 days after planting. Flowering is a good indication that new potatoes —those flavorful baby spuds that command such a premium at the market— have begun to form. Harvest these young jewels carefully –always by hand– fishing about the outside of earthen hills and pulling just a few potatoes from each plant. Of course, if you have an large potato patch (I think I over-did it this year, myself), you can harvest entire plants while the potatoes are small, if you wish. When sneaking just a few spuds early, be sure to carefully re-mound the soil or straw mulch around the potato plant, and save the main crop for harvest later on in the season. I like to stagger my potato plantings so that tender, flavorful, new potatoes are an option later in the season as well.

This patch of potatoes was planted in late April & for the past few weeks, several varieties have been blooming and producing flavorful new spuds!

Flowering is a good indication that new Romanze potatoes are ready for harvest from this plant

Baby Romanze, Desiree & Adirondack Red Potatoes —gently unearthed from the edge of each hill— are both beautiful and tasty

Freshly Harvested, Tender Snow Peas in July

Fresh snow peas, mint and new potatoes (Adirondack Red, Romanze and Desiree) from the kitchen garden to the table…

Summertime Frittata with New Potatoes, Snow Peas, Mint And Lemony Mayonnaise

Adapted from Rose Elliot’s New Complete Vegetarian

Ingredients (Four Small Servings, Easily Doubled):

3/4 lb (350 g) new potatoes (Adirondack Reds remain colorful, even after cooking)

1    tablespoon of butter

1    small onion, sliced

2    oz (62 g) snow peas (or fresh/frozen baby peas)

1    tablespoon fresh, chopped mint

salt & freshly ground pepper

4    farm-fresh, organic eggs

1    oz (25 g) fresh grated Reggiano Parmesan Cheese

lemon mayonnaise (see below) for serving

Directions:

Slice the potatoes thinly and boil in a small pot of water for approximately 8 minutes. Do not overcook! Drain and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to broil setting.

Melt butter on medium-low heat in an 8″ oven-proof frying pan (or frittata pan). Cook onion slices in the butter 8-10 minutes (do not brown). Add snow peas and turn off the heat (toss and allow the peas to cook in the radiant heat of the pan).

In a medium sized bowl, mix potatoes, mint; adding salt and pepper to taste. Add this mixture to the pan and toss ingredients well. Pat everything into an even layer.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs together with a bit of salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the frying pan, evenly distributing the liquid over the vegetables. Shake the pan a bit to be sure the egg mixture reaches sides and bottom. Sprinkle the top with an even layer of cheese.

Turn the burner back on and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until egg at sides of pan appears to have set (shake lightly). When eggs seem to be setting, place the pan under the broiler for approximately 5-8 minutes, cooking until just golden brown. Watch carefully!

Remove the frittata from the oven and allow the pan to cool for several minutes. Loosen edges and bottom of the frittata from the pan with a silicone or rubber spatula. Place a full size dinner plate over the pan and, while holding both together tightly,  in one smooth move, invert. Place a serving plate over the dinner plate and repeat the process (this will allow you to serve the frittata, browned-side up).

Cool slightly and serve with Rose Elliot’s lemony mayonnaise*

*To make lemony mayonnaise: Measure 1/4 cup of regular mayonnaise (homemade is best but store bought works too) into a bowl. Add 1 tsp of grated lemon rind and 2-6 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (use more or less lemon to suit your personal taste). Whisk together and add a bit of salt and pepper. Chill.

Placed Beneath a Protective Mesh Dome, the Frittata Cools while Ice Coffee is Sipped Beneath the Shade of the Mountain Silverbell Tree (Halesia tetraptera)

Savoring the Flavor of Summertime

I love no grocery-store-trip, summertime meals from my garden!

Gunmetal Glaze Tableware is by California Artist Aletha Soulé

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Strawberries & Homemade Granola: Fresh Fraises des Bois for Breakfast …

June 9th, 2011 § 1

Fresh Picked Alpine Strawberries or Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) & Homemade Granola

One of the best things about June —besides peonies— is fresh picked strawberries from the garden. I have a small but productive patch of fraises des bois (Fragaria vesca) —better known as alpine strawberries— in my potager (click here for more information about this wonderful berry). And right now, the alpine strawberry plants are producing so many plump, juicy fruits, I hardly miss the few that I know Mr. Catbird is snatching. For the past few days, I’ve been strolling down to the kitchen garden at dawn to fill a basket with these sweet, ruby red beauties for my breakfast. I love them tossed on top of homemade granola in the morning, and later —if it’s hot— they are wonderful mashed up in a strawberry mojito (click here for recipe) or a strawberry flirt (click here for that little number). Alpine strawberries are easy to grow in patio pots or window boxes; making them the perfect fruit for container gardeners.

The still, early morning hours are ideal for pulling a few weeds and watching butterflies. This week I spotted a viceroy (which looks like a miniature monarch), several painted ladies and more tiger swallowtail butterflies. All of the pollinators seem drawn to the chives and sage in particular, but also to the recently planted cosmos, calendula and ageratum. Which reminds me, I need to get back over to Walker Farm. I have a little extra space around the fence line, and I aim to fill it with more fresh flowers for cutting!

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) and My New Red Chair

Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are the Sweetest of June Treasures

Top Two Photos: Viceroy Butterfly.  Above: Chives for Butterflies, Bees & Me

In winter, I like to add raisins and other dried fruits to my granola. But in summer, I think fresh berries are the way to go. So at this time of year, I prefer a honey-nut granola recipe to complement the tart taste of fresh fruit. The blend below is based on a simple recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, which I discovered while reading Adam Roberts’ very funny food blog, The Amateur Gourmet. This is a fun recipe to make with kids, because the granola turns out best when you mix it with your hands!

Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Cultivated Alpine Strawberries (Fragaria vesca) are Larger Than Truly Wild Fruit but Smaller Than Standard, Cultivated Varieties

Honey-Nut Granola with Fresh Alpine Strawberries

Ingredients: (makes about 3 1/2 cups, multiply and add twists, as you like)

2          cups rolled oats

1          tsp cinnamon

1          tsp salt

3 1/2   tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4      cup honey, plus extra for drizzling

1/4      cup brown sugar

1         tsp vanilla extract

1         cup (+/-) of lightly chopped nuts (cashews, macadamia, etc)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Select a large baking sheet (or cookie sheet) and line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, mix together the vegetable oil, brown sugar, honey, vanilla with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

Mix oats, nuts, cinnamon and salt together in a large bowl.

Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and combine. The best method for even coverage is to use your hands.

Spread the mixture out over the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake 10 minutes, remove pan and drizzle with a little more honey. Turn the granola with a spatula. Return to oven for another 5 – 10 minutes. Watch carefully, as it’s easy to burn. Remove from oven and turn the granola again. If the mixture looks less than golden brown, return to oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the granola from oven and allow it to cool completely.

Serve with fresh berries and milk or yogurt, and a drizzle of golden honey on top. Store extra granola in an airtight canister (it keeps well for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long).

Ever-Bearing Alpine Strawberries/Fraises des Bois (Fragaria vesca) Produce Delicious Fruit All Summer Long

Succession Sowing of Seed and Planting of Vegetable Starts Continues All Summer Long to Insure a Steady Supply of Greens, Root Vegetables and Fall Crops

Looking Past the Garlic Greens, Peppers, Bean Pole and Into the Heart of the Potager

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Long Weekend in the Garden & Breakfast on the Misty Terrace …

May 28th, 2011 Comments Off

Fallen Silverbells and Breakfast on the Terrace

A Pot Filled with Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ Brightens the Morning

And a Bottomless Cup of Coffee & Bright Red Chair Help to Wake the Sleepy Gardener

There’s much work to do in my garden this weekend. I’ve annuals and vegetable starts to plant out in the potager and weeding to catch up on. Somewhere around here there’s a big old basket… Maybe it was tossed to the tree line by Thursday night’s thunderstorm?  And the wheelbarrow… Where on earth is my wheelbarrow? I’ll be needing it to spread a fresh layer of compost mulch…

Oh, never mind. It’s a long weekend and there’s plenty of time to play catch up. For now, I’ll watch hummingbirds in the Carolina Silverbell; darting and dancing in the blossoms while I enjoy breakfast on the terrace. Perhaps just one more cup of coffee…

But there must be plenty of moments to just relax

***

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation for the editorial mention of any products or services mentioned in this post. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Inspiration: Cottage-Style Charm… Flowers, Fruit & Vegetables Combine With Whimsical Touches to Create a Colorful, Welcoming Potager…

May 13th, 2011 § 4

A Riot of Annuals (Mixed Zinna) Creates a Bold Splash of Color in the Center of Carol Hillman’s Country Potager

One of my favorite, near-by New England farms is a one-hundred-and-twenty-five year old orchard, belonging to the owners of New Salem Preserves, Carol Hillman and Robert Colnes. Together, this couple has created a beautiful homestead, tucked into the hills overlooking the Quabbin Reservoir in Western Massachusetts. Visiting their orchard after a hike in autumn —with the sugar maples surrounding their two-hundred-and-sixty year old farm all ablaze— is one of my most treasured seasonal traditions. After taking a stroll through the magnificent old, McIntosh apple trees, I always pick up a gallon or two of fresh cider, homemade donuts and as many of Carol’s preserves as I can manage to juggle in my arms. Even after all these years, and dozens of visits —every late September or early October for more than a decade— I marvel at the simple perfection of their landscape and the beauty and whimsical, personal details in Carol’s potager.

Proving that outstanding design needn’t involve outlandish expenditure, let these images inspire you toward the creation of a garden that blends in with your surrounding landscape; capturing the spirit of place. With a vegetable garden design seminar coming up on the weekend, today my mind happens to be on old farms, gorgeous orchards and pretty, welcoming potagers. If you are attending my vegetable garden design talk at Walker Farm on Saturday (see bottom of post for details) this is a bit of a sneak peek at the visual part of the presentation. But not to worry, if you can’t make it, you can catch up right here next week. I’ll be writing much more on the subject of enchanting edible landscaping all summer long…

Where Deer Aren’t A Problem, A Low, Hodgepodge Fence Works Well to Keep Out Wandering Dogs, Geese or Chickens. A Fence Like This One Sets the Country-Casual Tone, Yet Helps to Keep Things Looking Ordered…

With A No-Nonsense, New England-Style Layout , the Beauty of this Garden is all in the Artful Details. Frog Faucet by Flora & Fauna

Both Practical and Whimsical, the Birdhouse Attracts Organic, Winged Pest Control and Offers a Bit of Charm

Annuals are Perfect Potager Companion Plants: Attractive to Pollinators like Bees, Butterflies and Other Beneficials, They Also Provide Armfuls of Flowers for Colorful Arrangements All Season Long (the whitish film on the Zinnia leaves is a homemade, organic fungicide: click here to find a recipe for this homemade remedy)

This Pretty, Productive Vegetable Garden is Welcoming Throughout the Seasons. I Snapped All of These Photos Last September

And to the Side of the Fence, a Well Planned Raspberry Patch Remains Orderly with Two, Neatly Pruned Rows and Wire Guards to Hold Canes

And Here’s Proof That Even Compost Bins Can Be Attractive When Kept Tidy and Crafted with Natural Materials That Weather Beautifully Over Time…

And With a Sweet Bird Faucet, Trips to Fill the Old Watering Can Seem Like Less of a Chore and More of a Pleasure…

Simple. Pretty.

Isn’t it Lovely? Working in This Garden Would Hardly Seem Like Work at All!

A Weathered-to-Perfection Red Stain Feels as Comfortable on this Outbuilding as Old Blue Jeans on the Weekend (Note the Bat House on the Upper Right Corner Near the Eve)

I Couldn’t Resist Including a Photo of Their Old Chevy Truck. Oh What a Beauty!

Together with organic farmer and owner of Vermont’s legendary Walker Farm, Jack Manix, I’ll be talking about the Art and Science of Vegetable Gardening, this Saturday morning, May 14th at 10am (click here for details).  And on Sunday, May 15th, Scott Farm orchardist, Zeke Goodband, will be discussing “The Beauty of Shade Trees”, from 10-11 am, at Walker Farm (read more about Scott Farm and its heirloom apples in this past post: click here). Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. Please see the Walker Farm website for details and to reserve your seat.

Many thanks to Carol Hillman of New Salem Orchards for her kind hospitality over many years. Visit their website here.

***

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of any businesses or products in this post.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Designing an Enchanting Edible Garden And a Workshop for Vegetable Lovers…

May 10th, 2011 § 4

My Backyard Potager – An Edible Oasis in Mid-July

Like a butterfly flitting about the garden before deciding where to settle, I found myself drifting in and out of greenhouses and garden centers last weekend, ogling possible additions to my backyard potager. I couldn’t help but notice that the aisles of my favorite farm stand and local nurseries are filling up with annuals, perennial herbs, vegetable starts, berry bushes and fruit trees. Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. Time to plant the vegetable garden!

There are so many things I love about growing my own produce, but my favorite summertime pleasure has to be settling into a comfy garden chair at the end of the day —glass of chilled white wine in hand and dinner fixings in a basket at my feet— as I watch the golden rays of late afternoon sun illuminate the beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables in my potager. Of course the best part of edible gardening is doing just that —eating it! And by mid-June, I needn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to create a gourmet meal. Everything I need for a great breakfast, lunch or dinner is growing in my own backyard. On sunny days, I often enjoy alfresco meals in the garden itself, overlooking the beautiful vine-covered fence and swaying sunflowers…

Heavenly Blue Morning Glories are Attractive to People and Pollinators Alike!

An Alfresco Lunch – Last Summer in my Sun-Drenched Garden

Calendula Blossoms Not Only Add Beauty to a Garden, But Also Attract Beneficial Insects and Deter Undesirable Pests…

Heirloom Tomatoes Begin to Produce in July and Continue through October

Working in a Beautifully Designed Vegetable Garden is a Treat for All Senses

I Plant Sunflowers Partly for Decorative Reasons, But Also Because They Provide Food for Birds, Bees and Other Beneficial Garden Guests

Pathways Edged with Herbs are Beautiful and Fragrant Additions to the Potager. Why Not Make the Walk to the Vegetable Garden as Lovely as the Destination?

I’ll be presenting a free seminar on the art and science of vegetable gardening this Saturday, May 14th at Walker Farm, together with owner and organic farmer Jack Manix. We’ll both be discussing a wide range of edible gardening topics. The seminar will begin at 10am with Jack covering the basics of organic vegetable gardening. Jack will review the practical side of growing your own produce; with topics ranging from soil chemistry and compost, to pest management, specialty crops and succession planting. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have a look around the farm. Then after a brief tour of the fields, I will pick up where Jack leaves off; discussing ways in which you can make your vegetable garden a beautiful, welcoming multi-use space for your family, friends and other garden guests; like birds and beneficial insects. We’ll talk about edible, living walls and other fences, raised beds and borders, vertical structures and vines, bird, bat and toad houses, companion flowers and herbs, plus all the little details that will make your time in the garden less work and more pleasure.

To find out more about Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping or purchase a copy, click here

I hope you’ll join us this Saturday, May 14th at beautiful Walker Farm (click here for details and to save your seat) but until then —or if you live too far away to make it— I have a few beautiful and inspirational books on edible gardening to recommend. Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping (pictured above) is a great book, just chock full of gorgeous garden design photos and practical, inspirational ideas. I mentioned it in this post (here) earlier this year and I still highly recommend it. And landscape designer Jennifer Bartley —who will be speaking on Contemporary Kitchen Garden Design in Wilmington, Vermont on June 24th at the Sixteenth Annual North Hill Symposium —- author of one of my favorite potager design books Designing the New Kitchen Garden, has just released another beautiful and informative title, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook, from Timber Press.

Jennifer Bartley’s The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook

I’ll be writing much more about creating enchanting edible gardens in the coming weeks. And, if beautiful and productive vegetable gardens appeal to your senses, you may want to revisit my potager page at the left (click here) and past-posts; including The Art of French Vegetable Gardening (click here) and Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager.

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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A Toast to Mothers Everywhere: Celebrate Mom’s Special Day with a Spiced Rhubarb Bellini …

May 8th, 2011 Comments Off

Rhubarb Bellini with Warm Spices

I remember the first time I tasted raw rhubarb. As many of you will likely remember from previous posts, my family raised strawberries, and in mid to late spring, strawberries and rhubarb go hand-in-hand. I never paid the perennial patch of rhubarb much attention, but one day —while out in the garden with my mom— I happen to notice that rhubarb is a very pretty plant. Ever the precocious aesthete, I was captivated by the glowing red stalks and the way they contrasted with the ruffly, deep green leaves. Of course, rhubarb isn’t something you generally eat raw —unless you are a curious kid— and my mother dutifully warned her children that the leaves shouldn’t be eaten (they are toxic when ingested in large quantities) and that raw rhubarb stalks are “yucky”. But, kids will be kids, and I needed to know exactly how yucky her version of “yucky” really was. So, the moment my mother had her back turned, I bit off a big chunk of a tempting, red, raw stalk she’d harvested and quickly started chewing it. Wowza. Suddenly, I felt as if my entire face were contracting toward the back of my head. My cheeks sunk in and my lips puckered, pursed and curled back into my teeth. Ptht! Ptht! Ptht! Out went the rhubarb. Oh my gosh, I could not get that sour, evil, red substance out of my mouth fast enough. How could something so pretty taste so bad?

Being a mother is —without a doubt— the hardest job on earth. But I imagine it also must be pretty entertaining at times; especially if you have kooky kids. To her credit, as she watched this scene unfold  —spitting, writhing and coughing child— my mother didn’t scold or lecture me. But, neither did she make an effort to contain her amusement. And why should she? I had a habit of getting myself into things, in spite of her warnings. At times, I can remember her laughing so hard that she was shaking and had tears running down her face. But I did plenty to cause my mother real worry too. Poor mom. Good or bad, I needed to experience life on my own terms —still do, in fact.

New to My Garden this Year: Rhubarb!

Needless to say, I went off rhubarb for awhile. Actually —let’s be honest— I went off rhubarb for decades. In fact, that experience stayed with me and my taste buds until maybe two years ago. It’s true. I avoided rhubarb like the plague. Oh, I know what you must be thinking: silly girl, rhubarb is delicious! And of course, you are correct. But sometimes, well, you just have to see for yourself.

Getting reacquainted with rhubarb required a nudge from my most-motivational-of-muses: curiosity. One of my favorite local restaurants serves some fantastic, seasonal dishes; always accompanied by interesting side sauces, butters and compotes. And by the way, have you noticed that homemade condiments can completely elevate your dinner from ho-hum to spectacular? It’s true. In the same way that a great dressing makes a salad, a good condiment can completely change a meal. Well, in this case, the dinner was fabulous on its own, but the condiment du jour was a ruby red, rhubarb compote. Yes, there it sat —glowing— taunting and tempting me on the plate. Should I, or shouldn’t I? Well, in classic style, I waited until no one was looking and dove into the deep end of the plate. And, it was delicious. Warm, smooth, slightly tart and distinctly spicy; this was nothing like the rhubarb of my Looney-Tunes, “Long-Haired Hare”, alum-faced, nightmares. Mmmm. Hello rhubarb. Welcome back to my world.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Isn’t the golden-copper-red color just gorgeous?

Suddenly I find myself with a patch of rhubarb in my own garden —sometimes I still can’t believe I actually planted it there— and I’m looking for any way to experiment with my new-found friend in the kitchen. Why not start with that enticing rhubarb compote, right? Of course. Something like apple-sauce in color and consistency —but far more sophisticated atop pancakes, ice cream or even grilled meats— this twist on the basic rhubarb compote has a touch of sweetness from brown sugar and the complexity of warm spices. It could, of course, be multiplied and adapted in myriad ways. But, I got the idea in my head that it might make a mighty fine cocktail. And since it’s Mother’s Day weekend, why not surprise mom with a bit of champagne at breakfast? Just add chilled compote to the bottom of a sparkling flute to create a rhubarb bellini…

So rich looking against the smooth, clear glass…

Spiced Rhubarb Compote & Rhubarb Bellini

Spiced Rhubarb Compote Ingredients (creates enough compote for a a few cocktails or a dinner condiment)

4 1/2          Cups chopped rhubarb

4 1/2          Tablespoons water

1/2             Cup brown sugar (+ or – to taste, I like less sugar)

1                 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2           Teaspoons cinnamon (Optional. Eliminate for un-spiced compote)

3/4              Teaspoon ground coriander (eliminate for un-spiced compote)

Directions:

Mix ingredients together in an oven-proof dish and bake at 325° F until rhubarb is tender (15 minutes or so). Cool and mash or place in a blender to puree. Chill and reserve, refrigerated.

Rhubarb Bellini Ingredients (makes one cocktail)

2                Tablespoons spiced rhubarb compote (or enough to fill approx. 1/4 of the flute)

1-2             Dashes of Cointreau (optional)

Brut Champagne, Prosecco or Cava to fill the glass

Method:

Add two tablespoons of chilled rhubarb compote to the bottom of a champagne flute and a dash or two of Cointreau.

Tilt and slowly fill the glass with chilled, brut champagne or prosecco and serve (nice with an orange slice garnish)

 

Here’s to all of the moms out there! Happy Mother’s Day! Cheers!

xo Michaela

Spiced Rhubarb Bellini

Happy Mother’s Day!

You may also enjoy Ina Garten’s Chive Rissoto Cakes. Click on the photo above for past post and recipe!

***

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Brunch from the Kitchen Garden: Shirred Eggs with Shiitake & Arugula …

April 30th, 2011 § 6

Shirred Eggs with Homegrown Shiitake Mushrooms & Garden-Fresh Arugula

I’ve always been a breakfast person. French toast, waffles, eggs, potatoes, pancakes; I enjoy them all. Sometimes, in fact, I would like them all at once. Because of my love affair with breakfast foods, I have developed some pretty liberal ideas about when they should be served. Brunch is a great idea of course, but I also happen to think huevos rancheros make a fine dinner. And those restaurants with the round-the-clock breakfast menus? Those are some of my favorite places.

During the growing season, my work day usually starts before sunrise. I love the early hours, but they seem to go by too fast. Often, I’m juggling a couple of different jobs, scrambling to get things done here in the office or out in my garden, and running off to appointments with landscape design clients. I don’t have time to sit down for a leisurely morning meal. So when I have a free weekend or morning off,  I treasure the opportunity to create an old fashioned breakfast or relaxing brunch. And at this time of year, I especially enjoy cooking with fresh, early-spring produce —mushrooms, arugula and fiddleheads— from the garden and surrounding forest.

Shiitake Mushrooms Emerging in the Woodland Garden at Ferncliff

The woodland mushroom garden began as a small experiment here, but has since blossomed into a full-blown production. There are so many mushrooms popping up right now, that it’s probably time to start selling them. Shiitake mushrooms are surprisingly easy to grow, and early-spring or autumn is the best time to begin a mushroom garden of your own. Wonderful when harvested fresh in spring and fall, shiitake can also be air-dried and stored for later use (soaked in water or wine they are easily reconstituted for use in myriad recipes; including soups, sauces, pasta and rice dishes). If you are interested in how shiitake are grown, travel back to last year’s post —by clicking here— for a step-by-step tutorial on the process. Of course, I have plenty of space for full-sized mushroom logs here. But if you enjoy cooking and eating mushrooms, growing them is within the realm of possibility for any gardener; even one with very little, or no outdoor space. Small, pre-inoculated mushroom logs can even be purchased online (in season) from retailers like Gardener’s Supply Company and Terrain. There’s nothing like the taste of fresh mushrooms, and with the cost gourmet food items like shiitake, it’s really worth your while to start growing your own!

After Great Success with the First Dozen Shiitake Logs – The Mushroom Garden Grew Again Last Fall

This Morning’s Crop

Another Favorite, Seasonal Crop: Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads (learn more about fiddleheads, and find a recipe for a fiddlehead omelette, by clicking here)

With a basket full of fresh shiitake and fiddleheads from the forest –and of course baby arugula from the kitchen garden— I had plenty of delicious produce for my late-morning breakfast today. I decided to save the fiddleheads for tomorrow’s omelette, and made shirred eggs with shiitake, arugula, cheddar cheese and cream. Shirred eggs —baked in ramekins or muffin tins— make a delicious meal; perfect for entertaining a crowd at brunch. And with Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I thought I’d share this recipe and give you a chance to practice before you making it for company (once you taste this delicious combination of flavors, you will definitely want to share). Earthy shiitake have a wonderful, rich flavor that works well with the fresh zing of baby arugula. But if you don’t have access to your own or locally grown shiitake (yet) you can substitute a different mushroom or vegetable of choice . Have access to freshly foraged fiddleheads? Perhaps you’d like to try the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette, which I featured last spring in this post ( click here ).

Shirred Eggs with Shiitake Mushrooms, Arugula, Cheese & Cream

An original recipe from my own kitchen

Ingredients (Makes 12, average muffin-tin sized baked eggs):

12          Fresh, medium-sized, organic eggs

3            Cups baby arugula leaves, freshly washed

3/4        Cup shiitake mushrooms washed & chopped into bite size pieces

3/4        Cup heavy cream (optional)

3/4        Cup cheddar cheese, grated

Softened butter for tins or ramekins

Fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°  Fahrenheit

Generously butter 12 ramekins or 12 regular size muffin tins. At bottom of each container, add one tablespoon chopped shiitake mushrooms, approximately one tablespoon baby arugula leaves (torn into bits if necessary) and 1/2 tablespoon of cheddar cheese. Pat ingredients to settle them in, and (optional) add one tablespoon of heavy cream. Carefully crack each egg over the top of the other ingredients. Place ramekins or muffin tins into the hot oven.

 

Bake at 325 F for 10 minutes or until the eggs are just starting to set. Remove from oven and sprinkle each egg with 1/2 tablespoon of cheese. Return to the heat for approximately 2 – 3 more minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, arrange a nest of arugula greens on each plate.

Remove tins/ramekins from the oven and gently scoop each shirred egg from its container with a rubber spatula or large spoon (it helps to loosen each container around the edge with the tip of a rubber spatula or butter knife).  Settle each egg atop a bed of greens and garnish with a few arugula leaves, freshly ground black pepper & salt to taste. Serve warm.

These shirred eggs are wonderful with a fresh-squeezed minneola mimosa (click here or on the photo below for recipe)

Minneola Mimosa

You may also enjoy the Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette (click here or on photo below for the recipe and more about fiddleheads)

Ferncliff Fiddlehead Omelette

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Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

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Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

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Article and noted photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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A Twilight Walk Along the Wintry River And Hearty, Potato-Cheddar Soup…

January 30th, 2011 Comments Off

Winter is Soup Season: A Bowl of Potato-Cheddar Really Warms the Spirits

“The Dead of Winter”. I spent a good part of yesterday ruminating on this phrase. Is winter really dead? I suppose it might seem that way if you spend all of your time indoors. But if you are curious, and bundle yourself up properly, it’s easy to find signs of life –even in January. A walk along the river yesterday afternoon revealed green-tinted leaf-buds, browsing rabbits and flocks of noisy ducks. Reflective waterways are always gorgeous places to enjoy the beauty of sunset. And even in the chill of winter’s twilight, I choose to linger along the shoreline, basking in the pink-tinted afterglow…

Mallard Ducks Swim Along the Pink River at Sunset

Birch Against a Winter Sky

Mallards Gathered Along the Snowy Shoreline at Sunset

Of course it helps to cozy up beside the wood stove after a romp through the snow, and nothing beats a hearty bowl of potato-cheddar soup for warming the bones and spirits. I love soups and make a big pot at least once a week during the winter months. I think the key to great soups is always in the base stock, and this old family recipe is my hands-down favorite. Use good, flavorful potatoes and the best homemade stock (chicken or long-simmered vegetable). I always add a cup of rich beer (an amber style brew or dark, sweet beer) and fresh herbs to my potato cheddar, and a very fine quality local cheese. With a pot of soup waiting back home on the stove, I never seem to mind the cold weather…

Winter Walks are Nicer with Thoughts of Warm Potato-Cheddar Soup

Favorite Potato- Cheddar Soup

Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings):

5          Cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth

1          Cup high-quality amber ale or porter beer

3          Tablespoons butter

1          Cup chopped onion

3          Cloves garlic, chopped

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped sage

1          Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme

2          Bay leaves

3          Lbs potatoes, peeled & diced (I like flavorful golds for this soup)

Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least a teaspoon or more)

2          Cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese (I use Grafton VT cheddar)

Sour cream for serving

Freshly chopped chives for garnish (or sub other herb)

Directions:

Pour homemade broth and beer into a large stock pot and simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan on medium-low and add butter. When melted raise the heat to medium and add the onions and sautee for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and reduce the heat. Cook for several minutes to release flavors and then remove from heat. Add the onions and herbs to the stock pot, grind in freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste, and toss the bay leaves on top. Cover the broth and continue simmering on low heat.

While the broth is simmering, wash, peel and dice the potatoes. Slowly add the potatoes to the broth, raise the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Do not boil the soup. Remove from the heat. Fit a food processor with the metal blade and process the soup in small batches (or puree in very small batches in a blender). Be very careful when handling hot soup, and never fill the processor or blender beyond the max liquid line or you will be scalded! You can process the entire pot of soup for a very smooth texture, or leave half unprocessed for a chunkier soup.

Add all of the soup back to the pot and simmer. Now is the time to check texture and consistency. If the soup seems to thick, add a bit more broth or beer. When the soup is at the desired thickness, add the cheddar cheese and stir over medium low heat to blend and melt.

Once the cheese is melted, Remove from heat. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a garnish of freshly chopped chives.

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Mallards on the River at Twilight

The Shoreline’s Pink Afterglow

Time to Head Home…

And Cozy-Up Beside the Fire

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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