What’s Up Doc? Waskilly Seeds and a Recipe for Velvety Baked Carrots…

January 23rd, 2010 § 7 comments § permalink

Baked Velvet Carrots

Beautiful Bolero …

Flat leaf Italian parsley from the windowsill herb garden…

Sliced Bolero Carrots…

We all know that old Elmer Fudd thinks Bugs Bunny is a terribly, waskilly wabbit. But frankly I think Elmer has it wrong. I think it’s Bugs Bunny’s carrot that’s a bit waskilly – at least as a seed. Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny carrot seeds are notoriously difficult to sow. Tiny, fine and lighter than a feather, it’s easy to lose track of those little devils. They stick to the packet; slip through your fingers; blow down your shirt; and before you know it they are spilling all over the ground. Waskilly Kawits. Unfortunately, if you want beautifully shaped, full size carrots, then seed spacing is pretty darn important. But you know, I’m also fairly sure that I’m not the only gardener to lose track of how many carrot seeds have fallen into the soil, and how close they ended up being planted together. To solve the spacing problem, some gardeners broadcast seed with sand or coffee grounds. Other gardeners have showed me how they create elaborately folded paper contraptions. And a few frugal New England gardeners I know have ended up breaking down and buying pre-seeded carrot tape. Me? Oh I am stubborn. I usually struggle through the planting and then, weeks later, I test my patience by thinning seedlings with a pair of scissors on a buggy day. But there is another, fully-organic, OMRI approved solution: pelleted seeds. This year I am going to give them a go…

Pelleted carrot seeds with radishes, (photo courtesy of The Old School House Plantery)

Never heard of pelleted, (or pelletized), seeds? Well, they are just regular old seeds, coated with an organic substance, (usually an inert material like starch), that makes them easier to see and handle. The coating is sort of like the dusty, crusty stuff on the outside of a chocolate truffle, (sorry chocoholics, I didn’t mean to do that to you). If you are planning on planting a vegetable garden with kids, or if you have less-than-steady hands, or less-than perfect eyesight, (or, err,  less-than saintly patience, like me), pelletized seeds can come in very handy. I just ordered up pelleted Bolero, Mokum and Sugarsnax carrot seed from Johnny’s Seeds yesterday. I also chose a few packs of pelleted lettuce seed, since I find them a bit waskilly as well. Johnny’s Seeds is a wonderful employee-owned company in the great state of Maine, and they carry a wide variety of organic, heirloom and gourmet vegetables. I order many of my unusual vegetable seeds from Johnny’s Seeds and the other great online companies, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests, listed in the sidebar at right under “seeds”. I have found that each company usually has some special variety I want, (such as the pelleted seeds from Johnny’s), so I always end up spreading my orders around the country a bit. And this year, I notice seeds are selling out faster than usual, so it’s always helpful to have a few reliable sources.

Carrots are a cook’s kitchen staple. The foundation of many stocks, carrots also add color, sweetness and vitamins to everything from salads, appetizers and soups to savory baked dishes, casseroles and breads. And can you imagine life without carrot cake and cream cheese frosting? For such a rewarding crop, carrots are remarkably easy to grow in the garden. These bright colored veggies aren’t fussy, but they do like very deep, loose, compost-rich soil. So if you have rocky loam, you might have better luck with carrots if you raise your beds with mounds or planters. Many gardeners use radishes as companions for carrots to mark the row, and to help break the crusty soil. Of course it also helps to keep the soil evenly moist during germination, (but be sure not to overwater carrots during the growing season). During the hot summer, carrots will benefit from a layer of mulch; keeping their roots cool and their tops warm enhances flavor. I also like to shade carrot roots by planting them between rows of leafy lettuce, spinach and/or chard. If you sow a fast maturing variety in the early part of the season, (when soil temps reach a consistent 60° F), and then plant a second crop when the soil is warm enough to plant tomatoes, (70-75°), you can harvest carrots all year long, (and for those of us with frozen tundra, carrots will also store well in root cellars, layered in damp sand).

Hungry yet? There’s nothing like a serving of bright orange, velvety carrots to remind me of summer’s sweetness, and I truly love this rich, savory old recipe. Brilliantly colored baked carrots are the perfect side dish for a potato-vegetable gratin or a roasted or baked pretty-much-anything. Mmmmm. Sweet Bolero, my lovely carrot, you don’t seem quite so rascally now….

Greene on Greens

Velvety Baked Carrots

(an oldie but a goodie, from Bert Greene’s Greene on Greens cookbook)

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a side dish):

3 1/2 c       homemade vegetable stock or chicken broth

1 pound     peeled carrots cut in half lengthwise

3 Tbs         unsalted butter

3 Tbs         all-purpose flour

1/2 c          heavy cream

1/8 tsp       ground allspice

1/8 tsp       fresh grated nutmeg

dash          Sriracha hot chili sauce, (or other pepper sauce)

to taste      salt

to taste      fresh ground pepper

1/4 c          fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbs         fresh chopped parsley

1 Tbs         grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Wash and peel carrots, and slice them in half lengthwise, (more if they are particularly large). In a medium saucepan, bring 3 1/2 cups of vegetable, (or chicken), broth to a boil.  Slowly add the carrots and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the carrots, uncovered, until they are soft. Test with a fork after 25 minutes. Drain the carrots over a bowl, reserving the broth. Place the carrots in a separate bowl and mash, (lightly with a potato masher), until smooth but still attractively textured. Set aside.

Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 2 Tbs. of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, continuously stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking stock and whisk together while brining the mix to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the nutmeg, allspice, pepper sauce. Whisk in 1/2 cup of cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the mixture from the heat and combine with the mashed carrots. Pour into a buttered, shallow baking dish and set aside.

In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and stir into the butter, cooking and turning until golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the chopped parsley. Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over the carrots and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the topping is bubbling.

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All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Please do not use photographs or text excerpts without permission, (see contact at left). Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams.

Thank you !

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Gourmet Gardening: Seed Potatoes – Plus an Easy Recipe for Oven Roasted Fingerlings with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan Cheese…

January 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan in an oven-table baking dish by Emile Henry…

Look a little tempting? I confess I just finished off my second bowl of fingerlings about an hour ago. Mmmm. Delicious. As you may remember, last week I touched on the subject of gourmet potatoes in my post on potato leek soup. My country-neighbors, the Millers, operate a small greenhouse called The Old Schoolhouse Plantery where they grow and sell rare conservatory plants, annuals, herbs and gourmet vegetable starts. John also sells his organic produce at the local farmer’s market. Throughout the winter, his booth is a popular place to find gourmet root vegetables  – particularly potatoes. This past spring, upon John’s recommendation, I grew a few gourmet potatoes from seed purchased at Ronnigers Potato Farm, and they were the tastiest spuds I have ever eaten. I tell you, there is nothing like the reward of a delicious crop to motivate a gardener to keep on planting. After cooking a few dishes with gourmet fingerling potatoes, I am convinced that an entire corner of my potager should be dedicated to these tubers. I tried oven roasting some fingerlings with an olive oil/parmesan coating today, (pictured in the baking dish above), and they were lip-smacking good!

This year, I am planning to add many more gourmet potatoes to my potager; including ‘rose fin apple’ fingerlings and other colorful varieties, such ‘all blue’ and ‘purple viking’. Although winter has only just arrived, I am already thinking about this year’s seed order. Seed potatoes are planted in the garden when the soil temperature reaches approximately 45 ° F, (7° C). Usually, the soil reaches this temperature by mid-spring here; about three weeks before the last frost-date. If you live in a warmer climate, potatoes may go in by late winter, (check zone maps and potato seed catalogs for specific location planting times). When plotting out your vegetable garden, remember to rotate your crops each year. To avoid disease and confuse pests, it’s best never to plant potatoes in last-year’s tomato bed. Marigold, bush beans, corn and cabbage are a few good potato companions. But again, in order to avoid insect pests and diseases, locate crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins in the opposite corner of your garden as they are not good companions for potatoes. Many gardeners start potatoes in shallow trenches and then ‘hill’ them as they grow. I will go over this method and the straw-mulching hill method as we get closer to planting time.

Right now I am obsessively thinking about all the delicious gourmet potato varieties I want to grow and how much room I can devote to this versatile crop. Seed potatoes are planted approximately one foot apart, so they take up some space in the garden. Last season, I had great success with the ‘Desiree’. This is a beautiful pink-skinned potato with yellow flesh; one that stores well and holds its texture when cooked. Easy to grow, this popular European-gourmet potato is resistant to many diseases, including blights. Of course the fingerling varieties have definitely become favorites. When it comes to flavor and cooking texture, (especially when pureed in soups), it’s hard to beat the ‘Rose Finn Apple’ fingerling potato, (pictured in this post). ‘LaRatte’ is another great gourmet potato, with firm texture and a unique, nutty flavor. Both of these varieties are on my shopping list.

If you haven’t tried growing gourmet fingerlings, you may want to give them some space in your kitchen garden this year. Perhaps you’ve never tasted these delicious potatoes? Well then… I encourage you to pick some up at your local winter farmer’s market – I think you will quickly come to understand what all the fuss is about…

‘Rose Finn Apple’ Fingerling Potatoes from Ronniger’s – before and after a scrub down with a bristle brush…

Ronnigers Potato Farm Online

Oven Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Parmesan and Fresh Herbs

Ingredients:

(serves 4, double recipe to increase quantities as you like)

2 lb           Fingerling potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise

1/4 c         Olive oil

1/4 c         All purpose flour

1/4 c         Reggiano parmesan cheese, grated

1 tsp         Sea salt, fresh ground or regular table salt

1 tsp         Black pepper, fresh ground

sprigs       Fresh rosemary and thyme, a few sprigs to taste

(try this with a clove of garlic and other herbs if you like)

Directions:

Preheat oven, (rack toward the top), to 475 degrees fahrenheit.

In a small glass bowl, (or in a large plastic bag), measure in olive oil, flour and parmesan. Add salt and pepper. Stir or shake to mix well.

In a large bowl, toss cut fingerlings with 1 tbs olive oil to lightly coat. Add dry mix to the large bowl, (or add potatoes to the large plastic bag), and toss with hands, (or shake bag). Be sure the potatoes are thoroughly and evenly coated.

Coat an oven-to-table baking dish with the remaining olive oil and arrange the potatoes cut -side up. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and thyme.

Roast for approximately 15 minutes, Turn the potatoes and roast for approximately 15 more minutes more. Turn one last time and roast until crisp and golden brown, (approximately 10-15 more minutes).

Cool dish for a few minutes, garnish with a few more sprigs of herbs and serve hot with a tablespoon of sour cream if you like.


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Photographs and Article copyright 2010, 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 for any purpose without prior written consent. Please do not republish images or text excerpts without permission. Inspired by something you see here ? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you ! Michaela

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Potato Leek Soup: The Antidote to Brrr ! Plus Tips on Storing Leeks in the Root Cellar…

January 10th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

potato-leek-soup ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.comPotato Leek Soup

Brrr is certainly the word. It’s really cold here in the northeast. I keep hearing rumors of rising temperatures, but so far they are just that – rumors. I take comfort in the fact that there’s a good snow-cover insulating the garden, and inside, my wood stove is cranking out some serious BTUs. But just to be sure I keep the chill at bay, I have made a big pot of potato leek soup to keep me warm. Mmmm. Isn’t it wonderful how a simmering pot of soup fills the entire house with fragrance ? Oh how I love that. Potato leek soup is particularly aromatic and earthy – just the thing on a grey day. Plus this year, everything in this soup comes from the garden, and there is a kind of comfort coming from that as well.

2009 was a great year for growing leeks. It may not have been a great year for most other things – but it was definitely a leek year. Rain. Rain. Rain. Well, it’s a good thing that leeks love moisture. They grow best in a cooling trench filled with rich, but well-drained soil, (it’s almost impossible to over-water and overfeed them). They are truly one of my favorite crops, and because they store well in wooden boxes of damp sand , (in a cellar is best with temp. range 32-42 F), they can be enjoyed all winter, (it’s best to keep leeks away from other vegetables in the root cellar, as they produce a strong, overpowering odor).

When I bring leeks up from the cellar, (or when digging them to eat straight from the garden), I take care to wash them thoroughly in a sink filled with cool water. It’s important to get rid of all the sand, so I soak them first and rinse between the layers, (with the dark green ends pointing down). For this particular recipe, the dark parts are chopped off.  After cutting, I rinse them one more time. No one likes sand in their soup !

Potato leek soup can be made with many different kinds of potatoes, from everyday white to gourmet gold. I used some of the smallish white potatoes I have on hand in the root cellar, (an unmarked variety from Agway), but I am going to be planting some more interesting varieties from Ronnigers in the coming season. My country-neighbors, the Millers, have been educating me about gourmet potatoes, (they are British, and they know their roots!). The more flavorful the potato, the better the soup ! And speaking of flavor – fresh herbs make all the difference in home cooking, and having them close-by insures that they will be used daily. I grow parsley in the hoop-house year-round, and I keep thyme going on the kitchen windowsill. A few herbs also make for a pretty garnish in the bowl.

The recipe below is one from a stained and curled-up card in my box. I’ve also noticed a few variations online recently. One from David Lebovitz looks particularly delightful, as does an older post from Elise Bauer on her blog, Simply Recipes. Lebovitz’s soup is sophisticated and smooth, and Bauer’s is hearty and chunky, (both of these sites are great resources for home cooks). My own recipe lies somewhere between the two.

So it may be cold outside, but I have the antidote here on the stove. Soup is definitely ON !


Potato Leek Soup

Ingredients (serves 6 – 8 ):

3-4       Leeks – dark green ends cut off, (washed thoroughly to remove sand),

cut lengthwise and chopped, ( light white to light green parts), very coarsely.

3 tbs    Butter

2 c       Water

2 c       Vegetable or chicken stock (homemade is best)

2 lbs    Potatoes, washed, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch or smaller pieces

2           Bay leaves

2 tsp     Fresh thyme, washed and chopped fine (plus extra for garnish )

2 tbs     Fresh parsley, washed and chopped fine

1 tsp     Salt

1/2 tsp  Fresh ground white pepper

1/8 tsp  Sriracha,(“rooster”), hot chili sauce, (or sub tabasco )

1tsp       Per bowl, creme fraiche , (or thick sour cream), for serving

Directions:

In a good size stock pot, melt 3 tbs of butter. Add leeks, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for approximately 10 minutes. Watch the leeks carefully, and do not let them brown !

Add water, vegetable or chicken stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are soft all the way through, (check with a fork).

Remove bay leaves and carefully puree 3/4 of the soup in a blender, (not a food processor). You will need to do this in two batches or you risk burning yourself with an over-filled blender. Return the pureed soup to the pot. If you prefer a completely smooth soup, then puree the entire batch. I like some potato chunks. Add herbs and Sriracha sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Continue simmering for at least 10 – 15 minutes.

Serve warm in bowls garnished with a dollop of creme fraiche and sprigs of fresh thyme.

Fresh thyme from the windowsill garden


Leeks and potatoes, washed and cut…

The Secret Ingredient…

potato-leek-soup-2 ⓒ michaela medina - thegardenerseden.compgThe antidote to Brrr: Mmmm!

Rosemary No-Knead Bread from the Windowsill Herb Garden …

January 2nd, 2010 § 13 comments § permalink

Light snow is falling outside and the temperature here in Vermont is hovering around 30 degrees fahrenheit. A winter storm is expected tonight and it is predicted to continue throughout tomorrow. Meteorologists are promising us six to twelve inches of fluffy, new snow here in the Green Mountains. It sounds like I will be doing some shoveling and snow-shoeing with Oli on Monday. This season is filled with many pleasures, but some parts of winter are easier to deal with than others. I am already starting to miss the convenience of  ‘shopping’ for tomatoes and cucumbers in the backyard potager. True, there are stores of potatoes, onions, squash and other produce in the root cellar – but it will be awhile before I can sample the full flavors of spring and summer in my kitchen.

Of course a little bit of summer does manage to migrate into my house for the winter. Edible plants such as mint, oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary line the countertop on either side of my kitchen window. Although these herbs prefer to live in the garden, I usually bring a few, (OK, as many as I can cram beside the sink), indoors to enjoy during the long months of winter. Rosemary is one of my favorites seasonings, and while it can be a fussy winter guest, I like to keep a small plant inside until late spring. I have had good luck growing rosemary indoors when I position the pot in a cool, (but not drafty), bright spot. Never let this plant dry-out. It is important to check the potting soil regularly. But take care not to kill with kindness – this Mediterranean plant dislikes overwatering. Rosemary’s soil should be kept on the slightly dry-side of moist, with a free-draining potting mix.

Although I love houseplants, and I always enjoy the scent of herbs when I brush against them beside the sink, the primary motivation for my indoor herb garden is, of course, cooking and baking. Yesterday afternoon, I mixed the dough for no-knead bread – my second experience with this recipe. And this morning, I baked two loaves in my new Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Round French Oven. This pretty blue pot was a holiday gift – one I have been coveting for years. Beware: this is not an instant gratification recipe. In fact, the entire process takes about 21 hours. But the steps are quite simple, and I must say the results are very rewarding. The bread that came out of my oven today was every bit as good as any I can find within 20 miles of my home. It’s definitely worth the wait. In addition, the fresh herbs, (in this case rosemary), make for a very special dinner loaf and an especially fragrant home during baking.

Over the coming winter months, I will be writing more about edible indoor-gardening and cooking with fresh herbs. After experimenting with this recipe a few times, I thought it might be a good place to start. I’m eager to read about your results…

Rosmarinus officinalis, (rosemary), on my kitchen countertop

Rosemary No-Knead Bread

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe for the New York Times and the original Jim Lahey recipe via Martha Stewart Living)

Ingredients:

(Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf of bread)

3           cups bread flour, (I use King Arthur), plus extra for dusting

1/4        teaspoon instant yeast *

1 1/2     teaspoon salt, (I use ground sea salt)

1 1/2     cups water, (room temp)

1 1/2     tablespoons fresh, coarsely chopped rosemary, (or other herbs)

Olive oil for coating bowl

Cornmeal, (optional, I used flour for this recipe), for dusting

* If you can not find instant yeast, you may substitute 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast: Warm the 1 1/2 cups of water and add 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast. Let stand 10 minutes, or until foamy. Follow the remaining directions as listed below.

Directions:

First Afternoon: Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large working bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups of water, (room temperature), and blend to a shaggy looking mix. I added the fresh rosemary at this point, but if you forget, you can also add it, (or other herbs), on day two durning the folding process. Use olive oil to lightly coat a second large working bowl. Transfer the dough to the second bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm room, (70 degrees fahrenheit is ideal), for 18 hours. Bubbles at the surface of the dough signal that it is ready to rework.

Next morning: Dust the work surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Lightly flour the top of the dough. Gently fold over a couple of times. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. Once again, dust the work surface and your hands with a bit of flour and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Sprinkle a plain, smooth cotton towel with flour, (or cornmeal), and place the dough on center. Cover with a second cotton towel. Allow the dough to rise until double in size, (about 2 hours).

After an hour and a half of final rising: begin preheating the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit. While preheating, place a  2 3/4 – 8 quart heavy, lidded pot, (such as pyrex or enameled cast-iron), in the center of the oven. I use an enameled, cast-iron Le Creuset round, Dutch-style oven with lid, (I prefer this to glass for even baking of bread). Heat pot for 1/2 hour. Very carefully remove the hot container from oven with heavy mitts. Slide dough into the pot and shake to evenly distribute. Cover the pot and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Oven temperatures will vary, so watch very carefully the first time you make this bread.

Remove bread from the oven, roll out of the pot and cool on a wire rack. The loaf will stay freshest in a bread-box or bread-bag, loosely wrapped in plastic and/or a paper bag. Wrapping a loaf of bread tightly in plastic will make the surface soft instead of crusty. It’s best to eat fresh bread the day it is baked. Enjoy !

Start with good bread flour, fresh instant yeast and ground sea-salt for good results…

Next, add fresh, coarsely chopped rosemary to the dough…

Mixing the shaggy, sticky dough on day one…

Bubbles on the wet, sticky surface the next morning…

The shaped dough, resting in an olive oil coated bowl …

The no-knead dough, settled into a heated, Le Creuset French oven…

And the finished loaf, rolled out to cool on a wire rack

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A Beautiful and Symbolic Cocktail to Celebrate the Winter Solstice and Enjoy Throughout the Holiday Season…

December 20th, 2009 § 10 comments § permalink

The Persephone – or Lava Lamp by Maria Hunt…

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My, oh my – where has the year gone? Here we are on the eve of the Winter Solstice, with 2010 right around the corner. I don’t know about you, but for me this year has been a complete whirl-wind. Looking back at the months gone by, I am truly grateful to have so many wonderful, familiar people in my life and so many beautiful new faces and memories. It’s been a tough year for many, with lost jobs and personal struggles, but there have been many joyful moments and happy occasions as well. This year has been a particularly special one for my family, as my delightfully sweet nephew Morgan arrived this past August. There is much to celebrate! I am also thankful to have all of you in my life. Your wonderful comments and lovely emails have brightened my life and propelled me forward. I thank you from the deepest part of my heart. And in this season of celebratory giving, I have a special little gift in mind to share with all of you…

I have to tell you that I have been barely able to contain myself for the past few weeks, eagerly anticipating the moment when I would share this special Winter Solstice cocktail. Yes I know, I am as silly as a little kid – it’s true. But this really is the perfect drink to celebrate the season. Why, why, why – You ask? Well, it’s because this champagne cocktail contains three seeds from the pomegranate, the mythical fruit of Greek legend, explaining the seasons. But before I get into the story, let me tell you the most exciting thing about this drink: when pomegranate seeds are dropped into a glass of champagne and pomegranate liqueur, they become suspended by bubbles rising in the sparkling wine. They float up and down; lifting, dipping and swaying, as if dancing to music. How festive is that? I love watching the ruby red seeds float around like lively party-goers in my champagne flute, and I know you are going to get a kick out of it too. Of course you know this drink deserves center stage at your next holiday party.

I had a champagne-pomegranate seed cocktail a long time ago, and when I saw it, I dubbed it The Persephone. I still can’t believe that I forgot all about it until I recently discovered a new spin on the recipe in Maria Hunt’s fantastic cocktail book, The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion. Maria adds pomegranate liqueur instead of juice to the basic recipe and she calls this drink The Lava Lamp – (it’s fanatastic, as are all of her recipes, and it does bear a striking resemblance to that retro-fab design). But for the holidays, I prefer to go back to my old moniker, The Persephone, (I sure hope Maria won’t mind), and here’s why…

(*if you are as impatient as I am, you can scroll down to the recipe below and come back for the story later…)

According to Greek myth, Winter is explained by the grieving of Demeter, goddess of earth, fertility and the seasons. Many, many years ago, Demeter lived an idyllic life with her beautiful daughter Persephone, child of her union with the highest god, Zeus. Their days were spent tending to earth’s fertility, and their long, lovely evenings were passed enjoying the harvest and song. Then, one day Persephone went out into the fields to pick flowers with a group of nymphs. Suddenly, the earth cracked open, hissing and shaking them to the ground. Hades, god of the underworld, had been observing Persephone from the shadows, and in a moment of jealous desire, he reached out and dragged her beneath the soil into his kingdom of death – claiming her as his bride. Unaware that her child was abducted, (swept beneath the earth by Hades), Demeter desperately wandered the forests and fields for months. While searching for her beloved daughter, the goddess of fertility unintentionally allowed the earth go to waste. Finally Helios, the sun god, found the courage to tell Demeter that he saw her daughter taken – snatched by the dark king of the underworld.

With the crops going to ruin, and an earth trapped in endless winter, Zeus finally stepped in and demanded that Hades return Persephone to her mother. Hades agreed to return her, but with the stipulation that she must fast, along with the suffering earth, during her time in the underworld. Persephone dutifully abided by the rules, in spite of the great temptations placed before her by devious Hades. However, just before she is to be released, Persephone is tricked into eating a handful of pomegranate seeds by the crafty Hades. After starving for months in the underworld, the beautiful, plump fruit proved irresistible. Persephone let three pomegranate seeds pass her lips.

When our ill-fated heroine finally returned to her mother, there was a small catch. On the longest, darkest night of every year, The Winter Solstice, Persephone returns to her Hades in the underworld, where she remains for three months, (one for each seed), until she is allowed to return to her mother on the Vernal Equinox – Spring. Every year when Persephone departs, Demeter goes into mourning. The leaves begin to fall from the trees in late autumn as her melancholy mood returns. Then, when her daughter inevitably departs, the earth turns cold and dormant until Persephone returns again…

Juicy, Ruby-Red Pomegranate Seeds…

The Pomegranate, (Punica granatum), also known as the Chinese apple or the “many-grained apple”, is believed to have evolved in the Middle East, near modern Iran. Some believe that this, not the common apple, is the fabled fruit of The Garden of Eden. The pomegranate has been cultivated by mankind since the very beginning of recorded history. In the United States, pomegranates were introduced to California by Spanish settlers in the late 1700’s. Today the pomegranate tree is grown throughout the world in dry, warm climates similar to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions where it was originally found. In the U.S. it is commonly raised in California, Arizona and other southwestern states.

If you have never tried this fruit, you don’t know what you are missing! Pomegranates are delicious, and they are used in many dishes and drinks in cultures throughout the world. The juice of the pomegranate is high in vitamins and anti-oxidant properties, and it can be enjoyed fresh or cooked to create delicious sauces. Seeds of the pomegranate, encased in waxy chambers of pith, can be eaten straight from the fruit, tossed in salads, or used in a wide variety of recipes…

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The Persephone

From Maria Hunt’s Lava Lamp recipe found in : The Bubbly Bar: Champagne and Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion

Ingredients to make one Persephone/Lava Lamp cocktail

1 ounce of pomegranate liqueur or 3 tablespoons of pomegranate juice

3 pomegranate seeds (fewer for optimists or more if you are pessimistic)

5 ounces of brut champagne or dry, sparking wine*

A tall champagne flute

Follow instructions below…

Three Symbolic Pomegranate Seeds, Placed in a Tall Champagne Flute…

To make this delicious and festive cocktail, begin by selecting a dark red pomegranate, (Punica granatum) from the market, (deep red, leathery skin is an indicator of ripeness). Tear open the leathery skin and remove the juicy red seeds from the pith. Opening the pomegranate may require a bit of effort. This is a fun-messy job, so get near a sink and towels – it helps to begin with a sharp knife. Once you get through the tough skin, simply rip the shell open.

Drop three seeds into the bottom of a tall champagne flute. Add 1 ounce of pomegranate liqueur or 3 tablespoons of pure pomegranate juice. Fill the glass with 5 ounces of dry, sparkling wine or brut champagne.

Enjoy watching as the pomegranate seeds rise and fall delightfully in the bubbles !

* Let youngsters, and those unable to drink alcoholic beverages, in on the fun by using non-alcoholic, sparkling white grape juice or any other bubbly substitute…

Happy Holidays Everyone – Cheers  !

When sparkling wine is added to the flute, the pomegranate seeds are lifted by the bubbles, rising and falling in the glass – Magic !

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardner’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 express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A Golden Cake for the Holidays – Fragrant with Spice and Bartlett Pears…

December 13th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Bartlett Pear Cake

Spiced Yogurt Cake with Bartlett Pears

Bartlett Pears on a Turquoise Plate

Bartlett Pears on a Turquoise Plate

I love getting up early on a winter morning and baking in a sunlit kitchen. To me, the scent of fresh baked goods, coffee and fragrant, warm spices makes a house feel comforting and homey. So this morning, when my cat nudged me awake before the sunrise, I started a fire in the wood stove and began throwing open the cupboards and canisters.

Fruit from the fall harvest is still plentiful at my local orchards and markets, and as you may have noticed, I have been enjoying it ! Although I have been writing a great deal about heirloom apples lately, in truth I have a great weakness for all fall fruit – and I am particularly fond of pears. Simply gazing upon their blushing, golden beauty as they bask in the early morning light on my table, I find them absolutely irresistible. Sometimes I will buy a few pears, intending to poach or bake with them, and then I will eat them all before the weekend. The flesh of this sweetly perfumed fruit has such a beautiful, delicate texture, usually I can not control myself. But this time I bought a dozen Bartlett pears at the market, enough for baking as well as for impulse-pleasure.

Last week I mentioned my fondness for Marion Cunningham’s delightful Breakfast Book. Marion’s collection of recipes includes many delicious coffee and breakfast cakes. Also last week, while visiting one of my favorite cooking blogs, Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate and Zucchini, I found a slightly different twist on a much loved, basic coffee cake from Marion’s book. Gateau au Yaourt is a simple and easily modified French cake recipe. Clotilde posted a variation on this yogurt cake with apples and maple sugar, (in honor of her nephew’s first birthday – we are both new aunts, and I was excited to read that she takes this as seriously as I do!). I tried this cake and I absolutely loved it. So, this morning I decided to combine Clotilde and Marion’s recipes together, adding fresh Bartlett pears atop the cake, and the result is quite delightful, (I am enjoying a slice with coffee as I write to share this with you). I think the subtle, exquisite flavor of Bartlett pears works perfectly with this recipe – it’s a simple, easy-to-make treat for this wintery, holiday season.

I am so enamored of Clotilde’s cookbooks that I have ordered several copies to give as holiday gifts this year. Her blog is fantastic, and I was hoping to attend her book signing in New York in order to meet her, but we were hit with a severe snow storm and I was unable to drive to the city. Sigh. Next time! Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris is her latest collection of wonderful recipes. Her instructions are always easy to follow and her style of writing is both clear and entertaining. I could go on and on, but I am sorry, I need to finish eating my slice of cake !


Spiced Yogurt Cake with Bartlett Pears

(with the French influence of Clotilde Dusoulier and American Marion Cunningham)

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2         eggs

1         cup whole milk yogurt (or use sour cream, as Marion does)

1         cup sugar

1/3      cup butter, melted (or use vegetable oil, as Clotilde does)

1         teaspoon vanilla extract

1         tablespoon light rum (I used Puerto Rican golden rum)

2         cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2      teaspoon baking soda

3         ripe Bartlett pears, cored and sliced in thin wedges

dash  fresh ground nutmeg

dash  fresh ground cinnamon

butter for greasing pan

Warm oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and set aside. Core and thinly slice three ripe Bartlett pears to wedges. Set aside. Grease a 10″ round, ceramic pan or cake dish with butter.  Mix yogurt, eggs, vanilla, rum, sugar and melted butter in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet and blend until just mixed. Pour mix into the greased pan. Arrange sliced pears in a circle atop the cake and sprinkle with fresh ground nutmeg and cinnamon.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and test with a stick for doneness. Let the cake sit for 15 minutes before removing from the pan or serving.


Mixing the Yogurt Cake

When mixing the ingredients, remember that a few lumps are OK – best not to overwork the batter…

Slicing the Bartlett Pears

I sliced Bartlett pears into thin wedges and arranged them in a spiral atop the cake. A dusting of fresh ground nutmeg and cinnamon topped things off before I set it into the hot oven…

Bartlett Pears on a Turquoise Plate 2

Bartlett pears look so beautiful on my table, it is almost like having Cezanne to breakfast.

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Two favorite cook books from Clotilde …

cover_edibleadventures

Click here for: Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris

cover_cookbook_us

Chocolate and Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen

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Article and photographs, (with exception of the two book links above), copyright 2009, 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 express written permission. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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As a matter of personal integrity, all product and book reviews on this site are purely editorial. No payment of any kind is received for mention here. However, The Gardener’s Eden is an Amazon.com affiliate, and any purchases you make at Amazon by accessing the store through links on this site will help support The Gardener’s Eden by netting this site a small percentage of the sale. Thank you !

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Baby it’s Cold Outside! Warm Up a Bit – Sweet Butternut Squash Soup, with a Kiss of Apple Confit and Creme Fraiche…

December 5th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Confit and and a dollop of Crème Fraîche…

So what am I doing outside these days? Oh all sorts of last minute, before-the-snow-flies chores and holiday decorating. Up until today, it has been unseasonably warm in New England, and I have been delighting in the temperatures while gathering greenery and stringing lights. But this morning, the air is a bit nippy, and I still need to wrap and protect some ornamental trees, (more on that later), in my garden.

After only an hour outside today, my fingers were already getting cold. I know I will get cranky this afternoon if I don’t make something warm to fill me up later. The wintry clouds are moving in now, promising at least a few inches of snow. I can hardly contain my excitement ! Just imagine how beautiful everything will look in the morning. I sure hope the forecast is accurate, don’t you? Things are looking a bit drab outside these days. A blanket of white will really bring out the red twigs and colorful berries in my garden, and I think the conifers look particularly magical all cloaked in fluffy snow.

Speaking of color, I am a push-over for bright orange soup on a grey day. This recipe for fragrant, creamy-textured butternut squash soup delivers exactly the warm temperature and hue I am craving. I love Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurantcookbook for many reasons, but this soup recipe is really at the top of the list. I messed with the ingredients just a bit, since I do not have Calvados on hand. But I have found that Zeke’s heirloom apple cider, (from local Scott Farm), is a delightful flavor substitute when combined with a bit of French brandy.

So if you are working outside this weekend, or just feeling a bit blah, give this sunny soup a try. The bright orange-gold color in my charcoal colored bowl feels just like a ray of sunlight streaming through dark clouds…

butternut squash close up

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Confit and a Kiss of Creme Fraiche

Adapted from Annie Somerville’s, Fields of Greens New Vegetarian Recipes

3 cups of Light Vegetable Stock (homemade is best)

1 Tbs light olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced thin

3 Tbs Calvados , ( I substituted French Brandy and 1 Tbs apple cider, listed below )

4 lbs Butternut Squash, (1 good sized squash or 6 cups), peeled and cut into cubes

1 Tbs. unsalted butter

2 average sized, flavorful, sweet-tart apples, ( 2 1/2 cups peeled, cored and sliced)

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs apple cider (or apple juice)

1/2 cup Creme Fraiche

Salt

Freshly ground white pepper

Warm the vegetable stock in a pot over low heat. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in a medium sized soup pot. Add the sliced onion, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bit of pepper. With the burner on medium, saute the onions, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes, or until slightly caramelized. Add a bit of stock and scrape the onions from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 Tbs. of brandy and 1 Tbs apple cider, and cook over medium high heat until the pan is nearly dry.

Add the squash and 1 tsp of salt to the pan. Pour about 2 cups of vegetable stock, perhaps slightly more, into the pot until the squash is just covered.  Cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, or until the squash is soft. Pour the soup into a blender or food processor, add a bit more stock to liquify, and puree to a thick but soupy consistency.  Add more stock as needed.  Pour the soup back into the pot and simmer for a half an hour over low heat.

To make the apple confit: Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a saute pan, (with a lid). When the butter is melted, add apples and saute, medium-high, stirring to coat the apples in butter. Add 1 Tbs. Calvados or Brandy and cook down for about 2 minutes, or until the pan is nearly dry. Add the apple cider and cover, cooking the apples over medium heat for 15 minutes, or until soft. Uncover and cook another 5-10 minutes, reducing the liquid. Mash the apples lightly.

Divide the confit in half. Stir one half into the soup and set the rest aside to spoon atop each serving bowl. Add a dollop of creme fraiche and float a bit of apple confit atop each warmed bowl of soup before serving. Swirl for a pretty effect.

butternut squashThe color of butternut squash is the most beautiful golden orange…

fieldsofgreensFields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes From The Celebrated Greens Restaurant

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Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Holiday Brunch from the Kitchen Garden and Local Orchard…

November 28th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Heirloom Lady Apple and Yukon Gold Potato Fry…

Anticipation is in the air. Twinkling lights. Aromatic, evergreen boughs. Crackling fires. Stories. There are so many simple things to love about the coming holiday season and winter months. For me, late morning breakfasts always top the December weekend-pleasures list. After a busy year, doesn’t it feel luxurious to enjoy a leisurely morning at the sun drenched table, sipping coffee and lingering over scattered newspapers? Or better yet, how about a half day spent sprawled out upon the king size bed with a tray of warm pastries and a pot of steaming tea?  Oh, the delights of the quiet season ahead. And while it is certainly a feast made for lovers, brunch is also a fun meal to share with family and friends during the holiday season.

This is the time of year when I begin to pull out my favorite, dog-eared cookbooks, returning to the eagerly anticipated smells of homemade brunch. Although there are many fine culinary titles collecting dust on my shelves, there is one that never needs brushing off – Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book Marion’s delightful little collection of recipes has long been my secret, brunch-weapon. French toast, eggs, waffles, potatoes, muffins, cakes; Marion has included everything your heart could possibly desire. She even has a brunch-defining recipe called the ‘Sunday loaf’. Exactly what I was thinking Marion – exactly.

Late last night before turning in, I boiled some homegrown Yukon gold potatoes to enjoy in my own, modified version of Marion’s ‘Apple Potato Fry’ this morning. I have altered the recipe a bit to include sweet onion from my kitchen garden and heirloom lady apples, (see photo notes below), from local Scott Farm Orchard. When I got up today, I simply fried the potatoes, added fresh diced apples, a bit of onion, and cooked it for a few minutes while I stoked the fire. When done, I topped the whole thing off with fried eggs and farm-fresh sour cream. It was pretty much heaven –  and since this is the season of giving, I felt I should let you in on it….

Lady Apple (Pomme d' Api, or Roman)Beautiful heirloom Lady Apples, (Pomme d’ Api) – tiny and tart-sweet, these citron-green apples with a rosy blush are delightful to cook with, eat fresh, or enjoy in holiday decorations such as wreaths…

Pan Fried Yukon Gold Potatoes with Heirloom Lady Apples

Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s Potato Apple Fry, in The Breakfast Book

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6    Heirloom Lady Apples, (or 3 regular sized tart apples such as Pippin or Granny Smith)

5    Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4    Tablespoons fresh butter

3    Tablespoons vegetable oil

12  Small or 6 medium sized left-over, or freshly boiled and dried Yukon Gold potatoes, (or new red potatoes)

1     Small sweet onion, (such as Vidalia)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

6     Tablespoons fresh, whole-milk sour cream, (or whole Greek Yogurt)

Wash, core and dice the heirloom Lady apples, (about 1/8-1/4″ thick). I leave the skin on for color and flavor. Place apples into a small bowl, tossing with lemon juice. Set aside.

Peel and chop the sweet onion, medium dice.

In a small skillet, heat 1 table spoon of vegetable oil over low heat. Raise the burner temp. to medium, add the onion and cook until translucent, (about 5-7 minutes). Remove onion to a plate and set aside.

In a large skillet, (one with a lid), heat the butter and remaining oil over low heat. Meanwhile, cut up the left-over potatoes into 1/8-1/4″ dice, (or use freshly boiled potatoes, patted dry). I always leave the peels on my boiled potatoes for vitamins and texture, (I simply wash and scrub them clean before cooking). As you turn the burner up to medium, slowly add the potatoes, spreading them evenly in the skillet. Add salt and pepper. Cook potatoes on one side until crispy and brown, (5 minutes), turn and brown again, (another 5 or so).

Drain the lemon juice from the apples and pat them dry. When potatoes are a crisp, even, golden brown, add the apples and toss well. Cover with a lid and cook over high heat for two two to three minutes. Uncover, stir and add sweet onion.  Cook uncovered for a few more minutes.

Remove to a serving platter and serve hot with fresh sour cream.

Lady apples diced upLady Apples diced up…

Yukon gold potatoes in panYukon gold potatoes, pan frying to a crispy, warm brown…

Heirloom Lady Apple and Yukon Gold Potato FryLady apples added to the browned Yukon gold potatoes…

Potato Apple Fry with Egg Over-EasyHeirloom lady apple and Yukon gold potato fry with an egg, cooked over-easy, and a dollop of fresh sour cream…

Article and photographs copyright 2009, 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 for any purpose without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Thank you.

Grey and Chilly? Got the Autumn Blues? Spice Up Your Afternoon with Hot Mulled Apple Cider, Or Spike It Up Come Evening If You Choose …

November 12th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

A cup of hot, mulled apple cider, garnished with a stick of cinnamon and a slice of orange, studded with fragrant clove…

It’s the middle of November now, and there’s a sharp nip in the air by late afternoon. The sky is often streaked with slate colored clouds, and the sun, when it makes an appearance, slips away early on the western horizon. Naked trees shiver in the wind as I huddle inside my downy jacket, tending to late autumn chores in the garden. I can feel Winter’s icy breath as she whispers, “prepare“…

Well, hold back solemn Winter – I am still scrambling to get things done. The firewood is only half stacked and the Secret Garden still needs mulching. I have orchards to plan and stumps to pull and ditches to clear in the driveway. Hold back stark friend, there are still Autumn moments to savor. There are wild berry branches to gather and pine cones to pick up. The late auburn beauty of November still paints the forest, and bonfires warm our chilly toes as we gaze upon inky skies filled with stars…

Pause now. Revel in the pleasures of this season before we rush to the next.

Yesterday, I stole a quiet moment with Autumn on the back terrace. As I sipped my spicy, mulled cider and savored the warm patch of sunlight, I knew I must share the recipe with all of you here. Simmer a cup or a pot of apple cider on the stove and breathe in the fragrance. Steep rich mulling spices in your drink and enjoy the aroma of the season. Come night-fall, the rum-spiked version of this classic recipe makes for a memorable evening beside a crackling wood stove…

Slow down for a spell and drink up the last drops of Autumn while you can…

mulling spices ingredients and cider in sun horizontalMulling Spices and Heirloom Apple Cider from Scott Farm, Vermont…

Hot Mulled Cider

And Mulling Spice Recipe for Mulled Wine or Hot Spiked Cider

(makes sachets for 4 big, spicy mugs, or 1 large bag for a 1/2 gallon of cider. Divide evenly for single servings, or multiply evenly for larger gatherings)

8 whole cardamon pods, split open

8 whole cloves, (plus extra for orange-garnish)

8 whole cinnamon sticks, (plus more for garnishing each cup)

4 teaspoons freshly ground allspice

4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

4 teaspoons fresh grated orange peel

1 orange, cut into slices for garnish

4 muslin or cheesecloth bags for 4 large mugs or 1 large bag for 1 quart pot of cider

1/2 gallon of fresh heirloom apple cider, (I bought mine from local Scott Farm)

Crack open cardamon pods and and muddle lightly with the back of a wooden spoon or pestle. Place all spices in a large muslin or cheesecloth bag, or evenly divide all spices into four bags.* Tie the bag tightly and toss into a large pot with 1/2 gallon of fresh cider. For single servings, use a small sauce pot. Turn on the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Simmer on low – DO NOT BOIL. In the meantime, create one orange slice garnish per serving, (or to float in serving bowl), by imbedding several cloves in each slice. Place extra cinnamon sticks, (one per serving), in each cup. Remove mulled cider from heat and extract the spice sack. Pour cider into cups or bowl and garnish with orange/clove slices. Serve hot.

*This recipe is a heady mix. For a more subtle blend, increase cider ratio or reduce spice quantities to taste. I like a lot of spice in my life…

Hot Spiked Cider

After simmering the 1/2 gallon of cider and spices for 15 minutes, add 1 1/2 cups of golden Puerto Rican rum to the pot. Simmer for 5 more minutes and continue to prepare as above.

Mulled Red Wine

This is also an excellent spice recipe for mulled red wine. Choose an inexpensive, dry red wine, (such as a Cabernet Sauvignon). Ratio should be approximately the same: 1/2 gallon of wine per bag of mulling spices.

Cheers!

Mulle Cider cinnamon stick, cardamon, cloves

Mulled Cider grated orange peel

Mulled Cider spice sack filled and tied

Photography and Text ⓒ 2009, Michaela Medina/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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Rustic, Heirloom Apple Squares: A Recipe and Sweet Autumn Memory…

November 10th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

Heirloom Apple Squares Aletha Soule plate (one)

Heirloom Apples for Apple Squares

Served warm with a cup of steaming tea, apple squares can bring back a rush of sweet memories for me. When I was a little girl, my third grade teacher always made homemade goodies for special events and bake sales. Margaret was a lovely woman; plump and grandmotherly and generous. She was my favorite teacher, and I brought her bouquets of sunflowers from my mother’s garden just to see her smile. As a child, I had a very difficult time learning to read. I made agonizingly slow progress, but Margaret stuck by me through my stammering and stuttering, proving my greatest champion and cheerleader. During recess I would often stay behind, sitting beside her while she ate her lunch, reading out loud from whatever book I chose. This was definitely not in her job description, but I am quite sure she didn’t have that document memorized. Usually, at the end of my private tutoring, I received a homemade treat from her lunch bag. Sometimes it was a cookie or a brownie, but one day in late autumn, it was an apple square. I had never tasted one before – it was moist and sweet and delicious. The heirloom apples came from a big, old tree in Margaret’s back yard. Of course, when she saw how much I liked the apple squares, they began to appear in her lunch box more frequently.

Many years passed, and although I never forgot Margaret, (I did surprise her on occasion with a bouquet of sunflowers), the ritual of afternoon apple squares somehow got away from me. Then, late this summer, my friend Rhonda sent a box of homemade ‘apple brownies’ to me. When I peeked inside, I immediately recognized my favorite third-grade treat. What Rhonda calls ‘apple brownies’, I call ‘apple squares’. Well, you can call them whatever you like – they are absolutely delicious. Because this recipe is so simple, the flavor of the apples takes center stage. With Margaret’s old tree in mind, I tried a combination of tart and sweet reinettes, (heirloom apples from Scott Farm), for my version of this treat. If heirloom apples are not available, any tart apple, (such as Granny Smith), will work for this recipe. Instead of peeling them, I left the skin on for color and texture, as Margaret did years ago. They are so quick and easy to make, how could I have forgotten about them? Thank you Rhonda, for bringing back such sweet autumn memories…

Rustic Heirloom Apple Squares

(adapted from Rhonda Canning’s apple brownies)

4       cups of tart heirloom apples, diced, (peels on for a more rustic effect)

1 +     cups sugar (add more to taste, I prefer mine less sweet)

4        average size eggs

1        cup melted butter

2       cups all purpose flour

2       tsp baking powder

1/2     tsp salt*

1         tsp freshly ground cinnamon

1         tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9 x 13″ baking dish. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a small bowl and set aside. (* if you are using salted butter, you may reduce or eliminate salt. I use unsalted, sweet farm butter). Combine melted butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Add apples to this large bowl and stir together with the buttery mix. Add dry ingredients, slowly stirring as you go. The mixture will get quite thick. When the ingredients are throughly blended, pour into the greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. To test, the top should appear golden brown and a wooden stick should pull out clean from the center.

Allow the pan to cool, then cover and let sit for a couple of hours. The apple squares will become super moist, and they taste best when allowed to rest for 2-3 hours before eating….

Heirloom Apples diced up for squares

Heirloom Apple Squares Mix

Heirloom Apple Squares in pan

Scott Farm Apple on Tree

(In loving memory of my favorite teacher, Margaret E. Booker)

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

Gunmetal glaze plate featured in top photo by Aletha Soule.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Original Sin? Getting My Fill of Old World Temptations and Pleasures in the Apple Orchard at Scott Farm…

November 9th, 2009 § 10 comments § permalink

Heirloom apples from Scott Farm, Vermont

Apples. They certainly are beautiful and tempting. But sinful? Hardly. Although, to tell the truth, I’ve always had a secret, flirtatious ‘thing’ for orchards. Maybe it all started with those stories about wickedness and pleasure in the Garden of Eden. You know, forbidden fruit and all that? Who knows how my mind works. All I can tell you is that somewhere along the line apple groves became mighty seductive to me. And I suspect I am not alone. Old orchards are just plain romantic, and heirloom apples are as alluring as a fruit can get.

I grew up around orchards, and some of my earliest memories are of apple-blossom petal-blizzards and the sweet, earthy smell of mashed fruit wafting from the cider house up the hill. As a child, I remember being held up to a tree and plucking shiny, red fruit from the branches while the old orchard-keeper’s brown, leathery hands held me safe and secure. Later on, I lured my suitors to the orchard on ‘picnics’, where we would spread out a blanket and gaze at the moonrise or watch the Fourth of July fireworks in the valley below. And although none of those romances worked out, my love affair with the orchard is still going strong…

Apple orchards are invariably beautiful. Positioned at high altitudes to take advantage of air flow on chilly nights at either end of the growing season, most orchards have spectacular views. New England is well known for its beautiful fruit farms, however Scott Farm in Dummerston, Vermont, is quite simply the prettiest apple orchard I have ever seen. You may know it too, even if you live far away, because Scott farm was used as the main set location for the 1999 film, The Cider House Rules, based on John Irving’s novel of the same name. Lucky for me, this glorious place is just a short drive from my house…

Scott Farm belongs to the Landmark Trust USA, an organization dedicated to the preservation of historic places. It is a 626 acre property inclusive of the 571 acre historic orchard and buildings pictured here. Some of the buildings on the large property, including the Dutton Farmhouse overlooking Scott Farm, and Naulakha, (Rudyard Kipling’s former home), and Scott Farm Sugarhouse are available for holiday rental, or in the case of the larger spaces, for gatherings such as conferences and weddings.

Scott Farm itself is a working, for-profit business. In cultivation since 1791, the farm is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Zeke Goodband manages the orchard, and how fortunate for Scott Farm, for there is no finer orchard keeper, and no one more knowledgeable about heirloom apples. When Zeke first arrived at Scott Farm, McIntosh apples made up nearly 100% of the orchard. Today, the farm harvests many kinds of fruit, and more than 70 varieties of unusual apples; most of them heirlooms grafted from Zeke’s own, personal collection of cuttings gathered from throughout New England. The apples at Scott Farm are all certified, ecologically raised and hand picked beginning in August and continuing through early November. In addition to growing and selling apples, other fruit and orchard products, the farm also offers fruit trees and lilacs for sale in spring and it conducts annual pruning and grafting workshops.

I thought I was passionate about plants, but what I am discovering now is a another deeper, and far more intense level of hortimania – the world of the heirloom apple collector. With so many beautiful trees and bushel upon bushel of fragrant, mouthwatering fruit – it’s hard not to consider planting a small orchard of my own. Perched on a 1800′ hilltop, my property has a protected, easterly facing slope. I am at once excited and frightened by the possibilities racing through my mind. Yes orchards are beautiful, but raising apples is not for the faint of heart; there are deer, there are insect pests, and there are diseases. And as if that’s not enough, every few years apple crops are wiped out by late frosts – delicate blossoms nipped in the bud.

Still, in spite of the obstacles, there is the siren song. The temptation. Orleans Reinette; Blue Pearmain; Belle de Boskoop; Ananas Reinette; Black Gilliflower; Wolf River… the list goes on and on. Have a look at the possibilities. Do you grow heirloom apples, or are you thinking of planting a few fruit trees of your own? I am certainly considering a small orchard, and I couldn’t keep it under wraps. So I will take you along with me on the apple tour this week. They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple. But I don’t think she needed to do much persuading if she was holding one of these heirloom beauties in her hands…

Hudson’s Golden Gem is an American apple from the early 1900’s, grown from a chance seedling. This variety has crisp, sweet flesh with a slight, ripe-pear flavor. The color is extraordinary…

Blue Pearmain is a New England apple from 1700’s. It is excellent for baking or for eating fresh. Henry David Thoreau wrote about this, one of his favorite apples, in his journals…

Ananas Reinette is an apple first grown in France in the 1500’s. Small and yellow-skinned, it has a hint of pineapple and zesty citrus to its tender flesh. This beautiful apple is suitable for baking or just for eating as a snack…

Black Gilliflower apples are another old New England variety. This apple has an intense aroma, it is a traditional and favorite cooking apple…

Calville Blanc d’Hiver is a French apple with a long history dating back to the 15th century. It has a sweet, bright flavor, reminiscent of champagne. This is one of the best French cooking apples as it maintains an excellent texture in baked goods…

Wolf River is originally from Wisconsin, but it quickly became a popular baking apple in New England, where it was once widely grown. This apple dates back to the mid 1800’s, and is excellent in pies and other baked goods…

Orleans Reinette is a gorgeous apple. This beauty has been grown in France for hundreds of years. An excellent cooking apple, the flavor of this apple is citrus-like, with a rich nuttiness…

This popular heirloom apple dates back to 1803 in Nottinghamshire, England. Bramley’s seedling is an excellent choice for baking, and it is frequently used in pies and crisps…

Belle de Boskoop is the tart flavored fruit used in authentic apple strudel. It comes from the Netherlands…

Zabergau Reinette comes from the Zaber River region of Germany. This apple is used in baking, cooking and sauces, as well as for eating…

Historic, culinary and varietal information is courtesy of Zeke Goodband at Scott Farm Orchard, Vermont

Stay tuned for more apple-mania this week. In the meantime, here are some tasty links:

Some Delicious Heirloom – Apple Recipe Links…

Appelschnitte, (apple pastry w/ iced sheeps milk) at Chocolate and Zucchini (Uses Boskoop and Reinette apples)

Tarte Tatin with Salted Butter Caramel, also at Chocolate and Zucchini

Chocolate and Zucchini is a lovely food blog written by Parisian Clotilde Dusoulier. In addition to being a great recipe source, it is also well written and a good read.

Photographs & excerpts from this photo have been reprinted, with permission, by Grist.org. Click here for the story.

Article and photographs copyright 2009, 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 express permission. Inspired by something you see here? It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams… 

A Thousand Mothers Set into the Earth: It’s Garlic Planting Season…

October 17th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

‘German Red ‘ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

The ancient Greeks and Romans often called garlic the ‘stinking rose’, and in eastern Europe it is sometimes referred to as the ‘Russian penicillin’. Allium sativium has been praised for it’s worth by many as ‘better than a thousand mothers‘; blamed for bad breath, gas and indigestion, and hailed as a cure for a wide variety of ailments from warts and blood clots to bacterial infections and even cancer. Steeped dramatic folklore, garlic frequently makes an appearance in campy old vampire films as repellent for various creatures of the night, including Count Dracula himself. I sort of like that bit – maybe I will hang a braid on my door for Halloween. But beyond its fantastic ability to ward off the un-dead, for most of us, garlic is simply a delicious culinary staple we can not do without…

Music garlic in bin at festivalAllium sativum, ‘Music’ spills from a harvest basket in Simple Gifts Farm booth        The North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival

Two weeks ago I drove to western Massachusetts and spent Sunday, October 4th tasting and buying garlic, talking with local farmers, and rubbing elbows with the talented artisans at The North Quabbin Garlic & Arts Festival – or as the locals prefer to call it, ‘The festival that stinks’. The Garlic and Arts festival began in 1999 at the Seeds of Solidarity Farm, and is now an annual event held at Forsters Farm field every October in Orange, Massachusetts. This entertaining agricultural, food and craft fair has grown in size and scope over the past decade to become one of the most popular harvest festivals in western New England. Although I originally planned to spend both Saturday and Sunday at the event, October 3rd was something of a wash-out, so my time was somewhat limited. Next year I hope to spend two full days at the festival in order to enjoy it more fully. This year I focused mainly on the agricultural booths selling gourmet garlic, but I did connect with several New England artisans I plan to feature here in the coming months.

Autumn is garlic planting season, and I decided to plant some gourmet cultivars in my potager this fall. While at the North Quabbin festival, I spoke with two garlic growers and sampled the tasty cloves offered to visitors in their stands. My first stop was the, (North Amherst, Massachusetts based), Simple Gifts Farm booth, where the garlic was displayed in overflowing harvest baskets alongside beautiful, organically grown produce. I sidled up to the ‘Music’ garlic plate and read the informational tag:  “Music – Strong producer. Robust, minty flavor”. Mmmmm. The fragrance was pungent and indeed, the taste was slightly minty as I let the clove linger on my palate. This was described as a hardy, soft-neck garlic, (the hardneck varieties have stiff, prominent stems). I put a few bulbs in a bag and moved around the stand looking for the farmer. When I spotted him, he was busy with another customer, so I continued to sample. A jolly, conversational fellow asked if I had seen any ‘German Red’, “It’s the best” he said, “but I don’t see it here“. When the curious shopper noticed my notes, I explained my mission and he suggested I try the ‘Doc’s German’. What a find! The taste of this stiff-neck cultivar is delightfully mild and nutty, and the cloves displayed were large and golden colored. Into the bag with that tasty variety! My final purchase at the stand was recommended by the farmer, Jeremy. I asked if he had a smoky flavored garlic he could suggest for cooking. The variety I sampled, ‘Continental’, is known for retaining its true flavor in high heat. Indeed, the flavor was subtly smoky with a nice sharp finish. He did not have ‘German Red’, but suggested I check at the booth next door.

As it turned out, the next stand was occupied by Wild Shepherd Farm, based in my home state of Vermont. Athens, VT farmers Emily Amanna and David Hassan grow many gourmet varieties of garlic, but specialize in the hardy stiff-neck cultivars which they grow in their sustainable fields. I tasted many of the samples on display in their booth, including the delicious, elusive ‘German Red’ and the hardy ‘Spanish Roja’ varieties I chose to take home to my garden. ‘Spanish Roja’ is an excellent roasting garlic. Raw, the flavor is quite sharp and spicy, but once subjected to heat it mellows and deepens. I am looking forward to experimenting with it in my kitchen. ‘Spanish Roja’ also has a reputation for hardiness and good production – qualities I seek out in this cold climate and short growing season. The wildly popular, and elusive ‘German Red’ cultivar develops a rich, warm flavor when sauteed in olive oil or butter. Raw, the taste is spicy, almost on fire with classic garlic flavor. This variety has become very hard to find, and was sold out in most booths at the festival…

'Spanish Roja' Garlic‘Spanish Roja’ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

Continental Garlic‘Continental’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst, Massachusetts

German Red Garlic‘German Red’ garlic bulb from Wild Shepherd Farm, Athens, Vermont

Doc's German Garlic‘Doc’s German’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst, Massachusetts

Music Garlic‘Music’ garlic bulb from Simple Gifts Farm, North Amherst Massachusetts

Mid autumn is the best time to plant garlic in New England. I planted my bulbs this weekend. In warmer North American regions, garlic may be planted through early winter. Wherever you garden, it is essential to give garlic bulbs a month or two to establish before the ground freezes. Plant garlic in deep, well-drained, fertile soil, rich in organic material. Garlic produces best in full sun but many varieties will tolerate light shade. If you live in a very cold climate, ask a local grower which varieties are performing best in your region. For this reason, I believe it is wise to purchase your garlic bulbs locally whenever possible. Supporting local farmers not only feels good, it supports your overall community and makes sense for you as a gardener. Produce grown locally has been tested by your neighbors and proven successful, so it’s a good investment.

Each Year, I Reserve Some Garlic Bulbs from the Harvest to Replant in Autumn. I Also Add New, Tasty Varieties Found at the Garlic Festival.

Garlic bulbs should be  gently separated into cloves and planted approximately 2″ deep (that is, pointy end up, for you beginners), 6″ or so apart, and watered thoroughly. Good garlic growing companions include lettuce, herbs and beets. When planning your potager, if you practice companion planting methods, it is best to avoid positioning garlic near beans or peas. Crop rotation is always good agricultural practice, so avoid following onion crops with garlic in your vegetable plots.

Break Firm, Good Sized Garlic Bulbs into Cloves and Plant As Described Above with Pointy End Up!

Once planted, if you live in a climate with cold winters, it is very important to mulch your garlic bulbs with straw or ground leaves to protect them from cold. This mulch will be pulled back in early spring, (usually mid-April here), and replaced with a generous layer of compost. Garlic should not be over-watered, and weeding by hand is necessary to avoid damaging the shallow bulbs. Garlic scapes (the curly tips) are traditionally removed in summer to direct energy toward bulb production. Garlic scapes are a gourmet’s delight (read more about using scapes here). Garlic Harvest tends to coincide with the maturity of onion crops here, but in case there is any doubt, look for falling tops and yellowing of the lower leaves. Pull garlic bulbs up with a garden fork and cure them for about two weeks in the sun, (or in a dry protected space like a covered porch). The method is very similar to curing onions, (see my recent post on onions here). Once dry-cured, garlic will store very well in a cool, dark, dry place for up to six months, (depending upon the variety, hard-neck garlic tends to store better than soft-neck varieties).

Wild Shepherd Farmstand at the Garlic FestivalWild Shepherd Farm tasting booth at the Garlic and Arts Festival

Wild Shepherd Farm CardSupport your community farmers – Buy your garlic locally when possible !

Has all of this talk about garlic left you craving the rich, nutty flavor of this delicious herb? Well then, check out this fantastic recipe for Richard Olney’s Garlic Soup, originally from The French Menu Cookbook. I just recently found it on one of my favorite food-blogs, 101 Cookbooks, and it is delicious. What perfect timing! Many thanks to the talented Heidi Swanson for her fantastic food blog and her always perfect, vegetarian recipes.

Here’s to The Thousand Mothers ! Happy planting…

Article and photographs ⓒ 2009 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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A Vintage Rose Cocktail to Celebrate The Last Day of Summer…

September 20th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Vintage Rose Cocktail from The Bubbly Girl – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

We may be kissing Summer a sweet goodbye on Tuesday, but you didn’t think I would let her slip away for the year without a little celebration, now did you?  Of course not. She is far too loved to be easily forgotten. As I was strolling around my garden the other evening, dreaming up a suitable send-off for our beloved season, a sweet answer came to me on the breeze: Rosa ‘De Rescht’. Sometimes inspiration strikes like a bolt from the blue. I sprang to action…

If you have been following my journal entries for awhile, you may recall that back in early July I mentioned a new late-night hobby, (devouring food blogs), in my post, “Stop! Put down that hoe, and let’s eat”. Well, as the weeks passed my newfound interest in cooking, and the vibrant online community of foodies, led me to a few intriguing wine blogs. While some of these websites turned out to be bit dry and formal, I recently made a more effervescent discovery. A few weeks ago, I chanced upon Bubbly Girl, a wonderful website and blog written by Maria Hunt. Maria’s lovely book, The Bubbly Bar, is a collection of cocktail recipes made with champagne and sparkling wine. Many of her beautiful and festive drinks use fresh ingredients, including berries, herbs, fruit, and my personal favorite, flowers! While visiting Maria’s blog, I discovered several cocktails calling for rose petals and/or rose water. In fact, her Moonwalk Cocktail, and her signature Love in the Afternoon, (featured on the cover of the book), both contain rose water, among other ingredients. Everything on her website looked delightful, but when I stumbled upon Maria’s recipe for a Vintage Rose Cocktail, I knew I just had to try it. Unfortunately, with autumn’s first frost right around the corner, time was running out. By the time I found this recipe, the last day of summer was less than a week away. In order to share this with you, I had to move quick. So after taste-testing this delicious, rose-bubble potion, (you can not imagine the sacrifices I make for this blog), I wrote Maria a quick email explaining how I thought my readers might appreciate her rose-infused champagne cocktail, and asking permission to reprint her recipe. Maria graciously responded with a warm and generous note, kindly offering to share. What a lovely, talented lady. Thank you Maria!

No doubt, many of you have an ample supply of roses. But it is getting late in the season, and some of you may need to borrow a few petals from a friend, or pay a visit to your local florist in order to make this drink, (carefully read the recipe below for other key ingredients). Fortunately, the antique Damask roses in my garden have decided to provide me with the key ingredient, (petals), by producing a last wave of late-season, heavenly-scented bloom, (remember that bolt from the blue inspiration I mentioned above?). In fact just yesterday, I brought several deep fuchsia rose blossoms up to the table beside my bed in order to revel in their fragrance for a few more nights. I will miss them. After reading Maria’s recipe, it seemed more than appropriate to harvest some fresh petals from this, my Portland Damask, Rosa ‘De Rescht’, in order to create a special cocktail marking the Last Day of Summer, Monday, September 21st, 2009.

I hope you will enjoy the Vintage Rose Cocktail, and beautiful memories of summer, for many years to come…

So Long Sweet Summer. We’ll see you again next year. Cheers!

rose-infused simple syrupHomemade Rose-Lavender infused Simple Syrup – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Vintage Rose Cocktail

From the Bubbly Girl, Maria Hunt

Ingredients (makes one cocktail):


3/4 ounce rose syrup *

4 – 5 ounces chilled sparkling wine or champagne **

lemon twist, (Meyer if possible)

organic rose petals (we used fresh petals from Rosa ‘De Rescht’)

Directions:

Add the rose syrup to a chilled champagne flute. Top with sparkling wine or champagne. Twist the lemon peel over the glass to release the oils and then drop it into the flute. Garnish with fresh, organic rose petals…

Cheers !

.

Some additional notes from The Gardner’s Eden:

*You can buy rose syrup at many specialty stores, however we made our own:

.

To make rose syrup: mix 1/2 cup of rose flower water, (dilute with water if necessary), with several sprigs of French lavender, and the fresh petals of one organically grown rose, (we used damask Rosa ‘De Rescht’, see cultivar notes below). bring to a quick boil in a small sauce pan, slowly adding 1 cup of sugar. simmer for 5-8 minutes to thicken, (you may add a couple of drops of organic red food coloring if you so desire). remove from heat. Strain through a filter to remove herbs. Allow syrup to cool, or chill in your fridge. Seal in a small bottle and store refrigerated for approximately 2 weeks. (This recipe may be doubled)

.

** I also made this drink as a “mock-tail” for a friend. Use a good quality, non-alcoholic sparkling wine to replace the champagne, (available in many specialty stores and online).

.

Rosa 'De Rescht' Portland Damask Perpetual:Repeat flush of bloom 3.5'highx 3' wide, pure, intense sweet Damask scent, hardy zone 4 (protected)-8Petals of Rosa ‘De Rescht’, an Antique Portland Damask Rose ⓒ Michaela at TGE

And now, a few notes regarding the source of our chosen ingredient, the petals of Rosa ‘De Rescht’  …

Star of the summer to autumn transition in my entry garden, the scent of Rosa ‘De Rescht’ has stopped many a guest in their tracks. She is classified as a Portland Damask rose, and her tidy growth habit is quite similar to a Gallica. Although her complete history was lost and remains unknown, this antique rose was reintroduced to the west in the mid-1940’s when she was ‘discovered’ by an English woman traveling in Persia, (now modern Iran). The family lines of this mysterious rose have been traced back more than one hundred years, although her exact lineage is unclear. I have always been intrigued by a lady with a bit of a past, haven’t you? Damask roses are known to have some of the finest fragrance in the entire rose genus. The oil and water of the Damask are key ingredients in many fine perfumes and cosmetics. Of course there are many fragrant Damask roses, but to my nose, this one is truly exceptional. As an added bonus, Portland Damasks, (also known as perpetuals), are reliable repeat bloomers. In my garden, Rosa ‘De Rescht’  is in the habit of producing several waves of flower, (especially when I remember to deadhead), pausing just long enough between blooming cycles to make her absence felt. She likes to finish the season with a grand finale, brushing us with a kiss of sweet fragrance on the final days of summer, just before the frost. Rosa ‘De Rescht’ has gorgeous, deep fuchsia buds and a classic, old-fashioned pompon flower. Clearly she has become one of my favorites. Yes, it does help that this rosebush is easy going and reasonably sized, (3.5′ high by 3′ wide), making her a fine addition to the perennial border. And unlike many antique roses, Rosa ‘De Rescht’ still remembers her good breeding and remains very well mannered; she doesn’t sucker, or threaten to encroach upon the rest of the garden. She has dignity. Grace. The foliage and wood of this cultivar has proven relatively disease free, and quite hardy in my garden. Although Rosa ‘De Rescht’  is listed as USDA zones 5-8, in my experience she is much sturdier. I live at the edge of zone 4, (and Ferncliff is an exposed, rugged site), where she has performed very well for the past 5 years without any winter protection at all. I think she is quite happy here, and I am more than delighted to be rewarded with her deliciously fragrant petals…

Rosa 'De Rescht'Rosa ‘De Rescht’, a Portland Damask Rose at Ferncliff ⓒ Michaela at TGE

***

~ Vintage Rose Cocktail Recipe, courtesy of The Bubbly Girl, Maria Hunt ~

Maria’s book, (pictured below), would make a lovely gift…

bubbly_bar_cover-largeYou can buy Maria’s book, The Bubbly Bar, by clicking here.

Thank you Maria … Cheers !

***

Article and Photographs copyright 2009 – Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (exclusive of noted material and book photo), is the property of  Michaela and The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reproduced, copied or otherwise used without written permission.  All Rights are Reserved. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world, and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Tears of Joy: In praise of the Onion…. and my favorite French Onion Soup!

September 1st, 2009 § 7 comments § permalink

Spanish Sweet and Stockton Red onions at Harvest

If the end of summer is bittersweet, then I will credit the humble onion for some of the sugar. On a chilly autumn day, I am a complete pushover for a bowl of French Onion soup topped with a thick layer of gooey, delicious Gruyere cheese, (see my favorite recipe below). I love cooking with onions, and I plant many varieties. Onions are tireless kitchen workhorses, adding sweet flavor to homemade pizzas, stews, tarts, dips, salsas and virtually every savory dish I love.

Onions are easy to grow, but they are a slow crop requiring months from seed germination to maturity. So in cool climates with short summers like mine, the seeds need an early start indoors. I usually buy my onion starts from local, organic Walker Farm. But if you live in a warmer climate, you can sow onion seed directly into the ground. Although onions do prefer a slightly sandy loam rich in organic matter, they are otherwise easy to please. In fact, over-fertilizing bulbs will result in lots of green but little onion, so be modest in applying fish emulsion, (once a month is more than enough in well prepared garden soil). Keep onions well weeded, and be very carefully when using tools, you don’t want to damage bulbs growing close to the surface. In late summer, you can tell when mature onions are ready to harvest by watching for the ‘flop’. When most of the tops have bent over, your onions are ready to pull. Of course, like most root vegetables, onions may also be harvested before maturity. Sometimes early-harvest onions are called ‘scallions’, but this is technically incorrect. Scallions, (or bunching onions), have a milder flavor, and are distinguished by their mature bulb-size. A true scallion produces a bulb no larger than the base of its leaves. Shallots, also a member of the onion family, have a mild flavor and are very useful in creating delicate sauces.

when the tops flop It’s time to harvest when the tops flop

When most of the tops have fallen over, carefully pull the onions from the soil and give them a good shake to remove some of the soil. When storing onions, it is important to carefully dry-cure them in a well-ventilated, low-humidity space. If the weather looks clear for a week, I will harvest mature varieties and spread them out on newspaper in a corner of the hot, sunny terrace. There I allow them to ‘cure’ for a week, rotating, shaking, and brushing them clean throughout the drying process. Walla Walla and some of the other poor-candidates for long-term storage will be braided and hung in my kitchen, while the shallots, as well as the firm red and yellow onions will be placed in nets and suspended from the ceiling in my cool, dry cellar.

onion harvest straight from the potager to the newspaper on terraceOnions are dug fresh from the garden, then spread out on the terrace to dry

herb shallots,(allium cepa aggregatum group)Shallots, (Allium cepa aggregatum group)

I use onions throughout the winter, so I grow a wide variety of easy-to-store types, as well as some for immediate use. I cook with shallots on an almost daily basis, (especially in egg dishes), and this year I have quite a large harvest of this favorite culinary herb. I am also a big fan of sweet onions. Walla Wallas have been popular for over a century; their mild, sweet flavor adding complexity to everything from soups to casseroles to steamed and grilled dishes. Spanish yellow onions and sweet Alyssas are also delicious. But the Cipollini Italian button onion (aka Cippolino) is my current favorite of the Allium cepa cultivars. Cipollinis are slightly sweet and wonderfully mild yet pungent. I love them roasted and grilled and used in panini. Cipollinis are beautiful onions, and I like looking at their flat tops displayed in braided bunches, hanging from my kitchen beams.

walla wallaClassic, sweet Walla Walla onions are one of my all-time favorites

cipollino button onionsThe deliciously sweet, mild Cipollini button onion – a gourmet favorite

spanish sweet onionsSpanish sweet yellow and white onions are both flavorful and mild

And now, for the best part of this post…

My  Favorite  French  Onion  Soup


Ingredients: (six small or four large servings)

6 good size yellow onions, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ chunks

3 tbsp butter

1 1/2 cups dry white wine or sherry

6 cups homemade or high quality store-bought chicken broth (or high quality vegetarian substitute )

2 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

1 baguette cut into 1/2 inch slices

A half dozen sprigs of fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Fresh ground black pepper to taste

salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the onions in a covered large roasting pan or good sized Dutch oven. Coat onions generously with butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast 2 hours or more, turning occasionally, and scraping the bottom of the pan until onions are golden brown, tender and soft. Test with a fork.

Remove from oven. Move pot to burner and bring heat to medium high. Cook onions, stirring constantly with a flat edged wooden spoon, scraping the pot as you go. After onions are nicely brown and crisp on top, (15-20 minutes), raise the heat slightly more and add wine, (or sherry), 1/2 cup at a time. Continue adding wine as the liquid evaporates, scraping the pot to deglaze as you stir. Reduce heat and add chicken stock, herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture back to a boil for one minute, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or more.

Meanwhile, spread the French bread slices on a cookie sheet and brown in the oven, (set to 400 degrees), for a few minutes. Watch carefully. Rotate the bread to brown both sides.

When ready to serve the soup, ladle portions into oven-safe ceramic bowls. Float the bread on top and sprinkle with the Gruyere cheese. Place beneath an oven broiler until the cheese is melted, but watch carefully. Add more grated cheese if necessary. Cool the soup for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve hot


* NOTE: You may also save the broth for several days in a refrigerator to use for hot soup later. I actually find this enhances the flavor, and I often double the broth recipe to enjoy the soup all week.

~

Recipe adapted from many wonderful sources including Grandma and Cooks Illustrated Magazine


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basket of yellow, walla walla, spanish and small yellow onions


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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Liquid Pleasures of the Late Summer Garden: Part Two, How I Came to Know the Cuban Mint Julep…

August 28th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

Mel’s Cuban Mint Julep/ AKA The Mojito

I simply can not believe this is the last weekend of August. Where has the summer gone? Here in New England the weather pattern has shifted right on cue and the nights are already getting cooler. Geese are gathering on the water. Labor Day weekend and the Harvest Moon are both only a week away. Sigh. Soon it will be autumn.

But wait! Not yet, not yet! Oh Summer, please don’t go so fast. Can’t we find a way to slow it down and squeeze just a little bit more pleasure from this sweetest of seasons? Summer is a time for friends. Go on now, call them out and gather them up. Fluff up your hammock and reposition the lawn chairs. Drag the old cooler and blankets back to the beach. Fire up the grill, mix some drinks and turn up the music. Think of the things and the people that you will miss come winter, and enjoy them while you still can.

Take a favorite summertime cocktail for example. Over the past few years, I have come to associate August with barbeques on patios, visiting seasonal neighbors and the cool, refreshing taste of Cuban Mint Juleps. In fact, hot summer nights and Cuban Mint Juleps have practically become synonymous with grilling and good company around here. And you know, there is a special summer story to my favorite cocktail. Impossible though it may be for me to imagine summer without this delightfully minty drink, I haven’t always known about the Cuban Mint Julep. I owe this great pleasure, among many others, to my good friend Mel.

I met Mel late one summer a few years back, through a mutual acquaintance. This friend-in-common, a great guy named Travis, noted that Mel and I have many shared interests. He mentioned that we might just make good friends. At the time, Mel and her husband Pete had just purchased a house a few towns north of mine, and she was looking for some help with the gardens. So, I went over to check things out. I was taken with the old place immediately, and although it needed work, I thought it was really charming. But as Travis suspected, the thing I liked best was Mel herself. She was straightforward and open, relaxed but steady. She wanted someone to help renovate the old garden, saving as many of the existing plants as possible while creating a new design. I took the job and soon a friendship blossomed between the overgrown shrubs and tangled vines. We spent a lot of time working together the first couple of years. There were plants to move, decisions to make, contractors to hire, rocks to haul and shrubs to prune. And there was weeding to do. There was lots of weeding. You really get to know someone when you work side by side with them for a time. Fortunately, as it turns out, our friend Travis was right. Our personalities were a very good mix.

Late one sultry summer afternoon, after we had been working all day pulling weeds in the hot sun, Mel asked me if I would like something to drink. Then she grabbed a bunch of mint from the garden and disappeared into the kitchen. When she emerged from the vestibule a few minutes later, all rosy cheeks and curls in a 50’s style apron, my friend was holding two frosty glasses filled with ice and a greenish- gold fluid. “What could this be?”, I wondered out loud. “It’s a Cuban Mint Julep”, she replied, handing me a glass. I had never heard of such a thing. But I do love a surprise, and so I sat down beside her and I had myself a drink. Well, Hoo-Wee. That was some cocktail. I must have been muttering in disbelief, because she told me again that it was a Cuban Mint Julep, but I still couldn’t believe my ears. I thought all juleps were made with sticky-sweet syrup and gin, and I am not a fan of gin. In fact I am more of a champagne or summer-sangria kind-of-gal. But this drink was different. It’s actually a lot like a mojito, only more interesting because it’s made with golden rum instead of the traditional white, (far richer and sweeter), and much more fresh peppermint. And Mel makes the old-style Cuban Mint Julep sans the mojito’s sparkling water. I like the taste much better. Sparkling water tends to dilute the delightful flavors of this classic summer cocktail.

And so, as we sipped our drinks in the garden that afternoon, the conversation slowly turned from weeds and flowers to art and chocolate; and from scuba diving to flying; and from quirky rattle-snake shooting relatives to long-lost and better-off-without-’em loves. We laughed and watched the daylight fade to violet over those Cuban Mint Juleps as the twilight settled in. I will never forget that summer night. It was the night we really became friends. I have met some interesting characters and some really good people through my work as a gardener. But this friendship stands out. It is real. Do you know someone you can spend hours with because they are just plain easy to be around?  My friend Mel is like that. She is more than fun, she is good company. She asks great questions and she really listens to your answers. Mel is smart and talented and clever. She is also a great cook – and she makes a fabulous summer cocktail. I am lucky to know her. Some friendships are just meant to be, like hot summer nights and cold drinks.

Here’s to holding on to Summer….

C H E E R S !

mojito muddling mint

Mel’s Cuban Mint Julep


(Makes one cocktail)

2 good size limes, juiced, (plus saved wedges and a slice for garnish)*

2 tsp sugar

1/4 cup of fresh peppermint leaves, more sprigs for garnish

2 oz Excellent quality Puerto Rican Gold Rum

Ice, (cracked to dice size, but not crushed)

*optional: add sparkling water for a traditional mojito

Put the sugar, lime juice and mint leaves at the bottom of a heavy based 6 oz Old-fashioned glass, or 8-10 oz highball if you are adding sparkling water or want more ice.

Muddle with a wooden muddler or handle end of a wooden spoon. It is important to muddle the ingredients thoroughly, in a circular motion, to release the mint oils into the lime juice.

Add 2 oz of rum, toss in a couple of squeezed wedges and stir.

Fill glass with cracked ice and stir again thoroughly.

If using larger glass and adding sparkling water, add water and stir.

Garnish with mint and lime and serve…

* A note on limes: Look for a fresh lime with pale green skin. Limes with dark skin tend to be less juicy. You want at least 1 1/2 -2 oz of fresh, sweet lime juice. Roll the limes between your palm and the counter before slicing in half. And to get the maximum juice, use a hand-juicer.

peppermint close up

Peppermint, (Mentha piperita)

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Liquid Pleasures from the Late Summer Garden. Part One: Keeping Cool with Lemon-Mint Sun Tea…

August 20th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea in the Garden

The dog-days of summer have arrived, and it sure is hot outside today. Gardening is hard work, and it’s easy to over-do it on a sweltering day. Digging, weeding, dividing, lifting, mulching: all physically demanding tasks. In the summer, I always protect my head and skin with a straw hat, light colored clothing to reflect the sun, and regularly applied sunscreen. When temperatures rise and the mid-day sun is strong, even these precautions aren’t enough, and it’s best to take a break in the shade. On hot days, I try to schedule my physical work for early morning and late afternoon hours. And in mid-August, I can usually be found in my office breezeway, designing gardens and researching plants for fall projects. Retreating to the lake is tempting, but I have much work to do this week. So, after hearing the forecast, (humid, with temperatures in the 90’s), I decided to make up a batch sun tea to chill in the ‘fridge for later. I know that this icy-treat will help keep me focused on my client’s designs, paper work and planning later this afternoon.

Early this morning, I gathered fresh peppermint, (Mentha piperita), and lemon balm, (Melissa officinalis), from the herb garden and mixed up a pitcher of my favorite summer-time refreshment, Lemon-Mint Sun Tea. Making sun tea with fresh herbs is one of those simple-pleasures I learned in childhood and have enjoyed every summer since. I have tried many recipes for sun tea, but this one with refreshing mint and lemon has become my favorite. Peppermint and lemon balm are easy to grow perennial herbs, (in fact peppermint can become aggressive in gardens, so be careful where you site it), and they are endlessly useful in the kitchen.

If you have never made sun-tea, you have no idea what you are missing. Give it a try!  All you need is a sunny day, a clear glass container, (gallon-size is best), fresh water and some tea bags, (black, green or herbal all work fine). Variations on the theme are limited only by your imagination. Sun tea can be flavored with a wide variety of herbs, from lemon verbena and mint to thyme and lavender. Fresh fruit, such as oranges, limes and lemons can all be added to sun tea to enhance the flavor. I often use lemons, since I usually have them on hand and I love their flavor in tea.

To make Lemon- Mint Sun Tea, (recipe below), I crush fresh mint and lemon balm leaves and toss them into a clear pitcher with three or four sliced lemons. I like to use black tea with this recipe and I tie 5 bags from the handle of the container to dangle in the mix. Some people prefer to simply toss the bags in and fish them out later. Either method works fine. Sun tea can be made without sweetener, but I like to add a simple syrup made with honey. Pouring the boiling syrup over the crushed herbs and lemons helps to release their oils into the tea, and the fragrance is wonderful! I muddle the ingredients a bit with a wooden spoon, fill the pitcher with fresh water and set it outside on my stone terrace for a few hours in the full sun. Once the water has turned a deep honey-gold, I remove the tea bags and place the pitcher in my refrigerator for a couple of hours to chill. By mid afternoon, my tea will be ready to pour into a tall glass filled with ice, garnished with a wedge of lemon and a few sprigs of fresh mint.

Enjoy the warm weather and remember to take it a bit easy when gardening on hot days. Try and make the time to enjoy the liquid pleasures of a bountiful herb garden. Relax in the shade with a cool glass of Lemon-Mint Sun Tea.

lemon mint tea one

lemon mint tea two

lemon mint tea three

lemon mint tea four

Lemon-Mint Sun Tea

Syrup:

1/2 c honey

1/2 c water

Tea:

3/4 c peppermint leaves, lightly crushed

1/2 c lemon balm leaves (melissa officinalis), lightly crushed

3 – 4  lemons, sliced

5 bags of black tea, (herbal or green are fine if you prefer)

1 gallon size clear glass pitcher and fresh water to fill

Lightly crush mint and lemon balm leaves and thinly slice three or four lemons. Toss these ingredients into an empty 1 gallon, clear glass pitcher. In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 c honey and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat while stirring. Remove saucepan from heat and slowly pour the hot syrup into the pitcher, coating the herbs and lemon. Tie 5 tea bags to dangle into the pitcher, or toss the bags straight in. Slowly fill the pitcher with cold water and stir. Set the pitcher outside in the full sun for 2-4 hours, (I cover mine at the top to keep out insects). Bring the pitcher back inside and remove tea bags and chill in the fridge, (with serving glasses for a frosty experience), until cold. Fill chilled glasses with ice and pour in the sun tea. Garnish with a sprig of mint and/or lemon and serve.

***

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 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. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Stop! Put Down That Hoe, and Let’s Eat! Great Food Blogs to Stir Your Imagination and Wet Your Appetite…

July 1st, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

11June harvest: red chard, arugula, oak leaf and red rumple lettuce..

As I walked back from my kitchen garden on this wet afternoon, colanders and baskets filled to the rim with chard for rissoto and mixed greens for salad, I felt a deep gratitude for all that I have in this life. I can not pretend that this focused awareness is with me all of the time, and I will not paint you some rosy picture of perfection. Still, on this day, after reading news of more uprooted families and lost homes, I am keenly aware of my good fortune in the midst of tough times all around.

It is no secret that with the arrival of this economic recession, vegetable gardening has seen a remarkable surge in popularity. People everywhere are looking to save money, simplify and learn new skills. Growing a few basic crops, perhaps some tomatoes and lettuce in raised beds, has become a popular place to start. From the neighbors down the street to First Lady Michelle Obama, it seems that just about everyone has planted a backyard potager this year. And now that June has arrived, hopefully all of that hard work, planting, weeding, and battle with mother-nature, has produced something edible in those little vegetable plots. It comes as no surprise to most green-thumbs that with this fresh, new crop of gardeners comes a renewed interest in home cooking. The direct link from hand to mouth is a natural one for gardeners, and for many of us, consuming organic produce can be as simple as washing and tossing a salad of new greens or steaming a bowl of broccoli on the stove. Somehow though, I have a hunch that all the bright colors, fresh fragrances and delightful tastes in the garden are stirring more creative culinary urges.

Like most vegetable gardeners, I am interested in learning the secrets of kitchen-alchemy that will turn my organic produce into gourmet gold. But in all honesty, Giada De Laurentiis I am not. With a busy schedule and competing demands of work, home and garden, lately I find myself searching the internet for simple summer recipes and inspiration.

Food sites have become incredibly popular on the web; so much so in fact, that New York Times writer Mark Bittman recently ran a post in his column, Bitten, requesting recommendations from readers on favorite culinary blogs. In my own experience, late night web-log-surfing has resulted in some delicious discoveries for both mind and palate. My new-found love affair with food blogs began with the Edible Boston website and Facebook page. It was there that I discovered a link to one of my favorite new food blogs, Poor Girl Gourmet. Poor Girl Gourmet is written by Amy McCoy, a talented photographer, culinary-whiz and soon-to-be-published author of a new cookbook from Andrews McMeel. The recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet are imaginative, but easy to follow. And best of all, in these challenging economic times, Amy McCoy is indeed frugal-minded. Yet for me, there is more. Beyond the great recipes, what truly separates Amy’s blog from the virtual sea of online cooking journals is quite simply her engaging, entertaining style of writing. Poor Girl Gourmet is witty, conversational and fun. As a gardener, I caught myself laughing-out-loud while reading methods of squash-bug control in her recent post “Memories of Zucchini Blossoms Past“. Recipes on the site are always served up with a perfect side dish of short stories and personal anecdotes. From the beginning, the combination was enough to stir my appetite and imagination, and to keep me coming back for more. I am eager to try all of the new recipes on Poor Girl Gourmet as the gardening season marches on. In meantime, I can now personally recommend her delicious French Breakfast Radish Bruschetta, and also the delightful Toast with Sour Cream and Jam, (with fresh thyme from your garden, of course).

While visiting Poor Girl Gourmet, I happily discovered some other internet gems; among them, the incomparable Orangette.  Although the author, Molly Wizenberg, is currently taking a break from her blog-writing, the site and accompanying archive are worth visiting for the evocative photography and addictive journal entries alone. The posts on Orangette are exquisitely written; as poetically rendered as any novel I have ever read. But there is so much more to this gorgeous blog, and I haven’t even touched on the recipes yet ! For a quick look at what Orangette has to offer, click on over to her recipe index. Vegetable gardeners, (like most of you, dear readers), will love the quality, variety and ease of the author’s selected recipes. Her site will help you make use of your tender greens, sun ripened tomatoes and just about anything else you harvest from your potager. Molly has also published a book, “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table“, and you can bet it is already on my wish-list. Equally compelling, the writing style of Tea and Cookies is at once mysterious and personal. With a cup of Earl Grey and a warm blanket, cozying up with Tea’s journal feels like an intimate tete-a-tete. I can imagine sharing evening hours in my garden room with the author, swapping stories and homemade delicacies. This blog is simply delicious.

There are so many new sites I have yet to explore on rainy weekend afternoons. But another spot I must mention here, Sassy Radish, is also becoming a personal favorite. This snappy web log is written by the lovely and talented Olga Massov, a Russian immigrant with a flair for “all things pickled, herring, pelmeni, cabbage and sour cream”. Like the other blogs recommended here, what makes this one a stand-out is the combination of great, easy-to-follow recipes and distinct, personal style. Olga’s entries are charmingly conversational. Within a few posts I felt like a new friend; a virtual guest in her tiny on-line kitchen, listening to her sweet stories while watching her prepare exotic, European-inspired dishes. The memory of her latest post,”Pasta with Stinging Nettles and Ramps Pesto”, stopped me in my tracks yesterday afternoon as I was about to string trim a weedy patch at the edge of my meadow. “Why waste those nettles”, I thought, newly educated, “when they can clearly become a great meal”?

On each of the sites mentioned above, (as well as on the fabulous 101 Cookbooks, and Cheap, Healthy, Good, or the myriad others popping up on my blogroll under the cooking section), you will find lists of more like- minded cooking blogs. Search these fantastic sites for ways to creatively use the fruits of your kitchen-garden labor. Along the way you may encounter the names of a few new vegetables, herbs or fruits you might like to try-out in next year’s potager.

For now, I will leave you with an early summer favorite from my own recipe box. Although it will take a bit more sun, (please!), before I can harvest my beloved sungold cherry tomatoes and basil from the garden, I certainly have a bumper crop of arugula on hand!  Hopefully the weather here in the Northeast will improve, as I am eager to taste the sweet and spicy flavors in this quick no-cook recipe I copied with minor adaptations from Martha Rose Shulman‘s original on the New York Times website last year. Bon Appetite !

arugula-and-sungold-cherry-tomato-pasta

dinner from the vegetable garden…

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Pasta With Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Arugula


1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, (halved, or if larger, quartered)

1 plump 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.


*** Article and Photographs copyright  2009  Michaela H.  ***

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