The Song of Summertime Salad …

June 28th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

The Song of Summertime Salad

On long summer days —in order to beat the heat and burning rays of the noontime sun— I typically start my day quite early. There are many things to love about the daybreak hours, from birdsong and dew drops to shimmering morning light. If I’m working nearby, I try to come home at mid-day for lunch on the terrace. I love dining al fresco beneath the dappled shade of my two silverbell trees (Halesia tetraptera), and when I’m expecting to be very busy —particularly when the mercury rises— I like to make a garden-fresh salad and chill it in the fridge ’til I get home. Sometimes I make this feta and green bean salad (click here for recipe), but often I just mix up a simple bowl of arugula and leaf lettuce and toss it with fresh feta and homemade dressing. I call it the Song of Summertime Salad, because according to rumor, I hum when I’m out gathering the greens …

The Path to My Potager is Lined with Perennials and Herbs (Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ and ‘Patriot’, Valerian officinalis, Aruncus dioicus ‘Goat’s Beard’)

Vegetables, like this potato, also produce pretty flowers

Rounding the Corner to the Kitchen Garden Entry

A Basket of Zinnia Dresses up an Old Collapsing Chair

Fragrant Dianthus Attracts Butterflies & Gardeners Alike (Tiger Swallowtail)

Although I plant few red flowers, scarlet is truly my favorite color

Sweet, Sweet, Summertime Scent

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ with Dew Drops

Freshly Harvested Arugula and Leaf Lettuce…

A basket of herbs and potager posies {The pretty, “Everlasting Sunshine” plate is from Anthropologie; a gift from my good friend Mel}

With Freshly Harvested Greens, I Prefer My Dressing Homemade and Light

Coming Home for Lunch on the Terrace is One of my Favorite Summertime’s Pleasures

The Song of Summertime Salad

Salad Ingredients:

2     Cups Freshly Harvested Arugula Leaves

2     Cups Fresh Red or Blush Edged Leaf Lettuce

1     Cup Any Other Green (Spinach, Beet, Chard, Dandelion)

3/4  Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese

1     Cup Fresh Edible Flowers (I like Pansies & Nasturtium)

Fresh Herb Dressing Ingredients:

1/2   Cup Olive Oil

1/4   Cup Champagne or White Wine Vinegar

2      Tbs Fresh Squeezed Lime, Lemon or Orange Juice

2      Tbs. Fresh Chopped Basil

2      Tbs. Fresh Chopped Summer Savory

2      Tbs. Fresh Chopped Pineapple Mint (or any other mint)

2      Tbs. Fresh Chopped Lemon Thyme

1/2   Tsp Kosher Salt

1/4   Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Directions for Dresssing: Whisk oil, vinegar, citrus juice together in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk more. Stir in the chopped herbs and pour into a lidded jar. Refrigerate.

Directions for assembling salad. Triple wash all greens and dry out the leaves in a salad spinner. Crumble the feta over the leaves while gently tossing. Shake the jar of dressing and slowly add while tossing to just coat the leaves. Save the extra dressing and use within a week. Transfer the salad into a large serving bowl and toss pansies and nasturtium on top.

Serve Chilled and Enjoy! xo M

So Pretty and Refreshing

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

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August Abundance: Notes from the Kitchen Garden…

August 12th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

My Summertime Kitchen

Mid August is always a busy month in the kitchen garden. Abundant cucumbers, summer squash, beans, tomatoes, peppers, herbs and onions must be harvested and put up —frozen, dried, pickled and/or canned— at the peak of freshness. Late summer chores in the potager include watering —especially during this extended dry spell we are experiencing in New England— weeding, monitoring and managing pests, succession sowing for short-season fall crops, and of course, daily harvests. Some of my stand-out crops this year include cippolini and sweet onions, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, romanesco broccoli, arugula, cucumbers, and finally —after last season’s meager crop and fears about late blight— gorgeous, fruitful tomatoes. Read more about the highlighted crops by clicking on each to return to a previous blog-post.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to make notes for next year; jotting down harvest dates, this season’s plant successes and failures, troublesome pests and current plant family locations to assist you with next year’s crop rotation. Carrots look stunted or forked? Maybe it’s a good time to raise your beds, giving them more root-room. Lush growth in your garden but little or no produce? It could be time to test your soil pH and fertility. Plants petering out? Sow some quick turn-around crops like lettuce, arugula, beets, peas and beans for a fall harvest. If you live in a cold climate, now may be a good time to begin constructing hoop-houses to protect your crops from frost and extend the growing season (see post on hoop house construction here). If you are making your own compost, be sure to turn it regularly, keeping content balanced with layers of fresh ‘green’ kitchen scraps and pulled garden plants, dry (such as straw and paper) and brown (mature compost).

And busy as we gardeners tend to be in August, I like to slow myself down by pulling out the camera and taking a close look at the beautiful colors, textures and shapes in my late summer potager. Here are some highlights from my morning garden walk and daily harvest…

Romanesco Broccoli in the Potager

Sungold Cherry Tomatoes Ripening in the Garden

The Beautiful Edibles – Nasturtium and Pansies in the Potager

Ripening Butternut Squash Along the Kitchen Garden Fence

Cippolini Onions at Harvest

Yellow Summer Squash and Haricots Verts

Red Hot Chili Peppers in August

Morning Glories Along the Potager Fence

Orange Blossom and Early Girl Tomatoes in August

Basically Beautiful – Orange Blossom and Basil Salad

Garlic Harvest – Hard Neck Music, Continental & Doc’s German Garlic Drying on the Terrace

Haricots Verts, Calendula, Tomatoes, Arugula, Nasturtiums and Alpine Strawberries Bask in the Late Summer Sun

Blanching and Freezing Haricots Verts from the Kitchen Garden

Shiitake Mushrooms Harvested from the Mushroom Garden in my Forest (See Tutorial Post Here)

Ruby Red Chard in the Potager

Summertime Herb Harvest – Rosemary, Thyme, Sage and Mint

An Armful of Fresh-Cut Flowers Makes for a Different Kind of Treat in the Jar

Late Summer Abundance in the Potager

Late Summer Chaos in My Kitchen (read about building this homemade kitchen island here)

Gourmet Potatoes, Chard, Cucumbers, and Nasturtiums in the Potager

***

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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Bringing Nature’s Beauty Indoors: Flowers Just for Cutting…

August 11th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

a bouquet of annual dahlias and calendula Walker Farm

~ A bouquet of dahlia and calendula brightens my windowsill ~

One of the great pleasures of successful flower gardening is, of course, the access to seasonal, fresh cut flowers for the dinner table, desk and elsewhere in the home. I also really enjoy bringing an exotic bouquet to my host or hostess when I am invited to a dinner party, or to a friend as a surprise. Earlier this summer, in my posts about designing a potager and companion planting in the vegetable garden, I mentioned the horticultural benefits of growing flowers in a kitchen garden. But as an artist, I have many reasons, way beyond the practical, for a cutting garden. Flowers are a great inspiration; the extraordinary colors and amazing geometric forms can shift a mood, spark a creative impulse, or simply add a touch of beauty to the day. Know someone with a bland office cubicle, or sterile waiting room? Imagine what a few colorful zinnias would do to change the atmosphere. It’s amazing really. That old 1960’s slogan “Flower Power” couldn’t be more accurate.

zinnia and dahlia, c. Tim Geiss 2009

Zinnia and Dahlia ~ copyright 2009 ~ Tim Geiss

Growing annuals for cutting can be as simple as sowing seed or planting six packs in the vegetable garden in spring. I grow my cutting garden in well drained soil enriched with compost, and I fertilize with Neptune’s Harvest or whatever fish emulsion I have on hand. My own cutting garden varies in size each year depending upon my available time, space and budget. This year, I purchased common annuals in six packs from Walker Farm and a few of the specialty annuals they are known for. I chose dahlia, zinnia, cleome, cosmos, verbena bonariensis, specialty calendula, (French marigold), and moluccella laevis, (Bells of Ireland), among others. I also grow some perennials in and around my vegetable garden, including early bloomers like bulbs and peonies and late-season favorites such as coreopsis tripteris, physostegia virginiana, liatris ‘Kobold’, veronica ‘Goodness grows’, rudbeckia, echinacea and solidago, (golden rod), to name but a few. Native goldenrod is a great addition to flower arrangements. Sadly, although solidago is a prized perennial in much of Europe, this native flower is shunned by many North American gardeners who mistakenly believe it to be a cause of hay fever, (ambrosia artmisiifolia, or common ragweed, is usually the culprit). I always buy my annuals locally in spring. But you can also find bulbs and plants through online retailers, including my two of my favorite sources for summer bulbs, Swan Island Dahlias and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Combining perennials and annuals in casual arrangements is one of my favorite ways to bring the garden indoors, (see photo below). I like to play with contrasting colors like orangey-yellow and purple, or bright blue and reddish-orange to enliven my kitchen table. When creating bouquets for the bedroom or bath, I often soften the mood a bit, and combine flowers in more complimentary hues; using tones of blue and green, or shades of lavender and rose. Whatever I create with flowers from my garden, the arrangements have a way of making the whole house look brighter.

In order to get the most life from cut flower arrangements, I try to harvest the blooms in early morning, before the heat of the day, or in the cool of the evening after the sun has set. I choose flowers with swollen buds or petals just opening. With sharp scissors, I cut the stems long and at a slight angle. Immediately, I place them in a bucket of lukewarm water kept in the shade while I make my other selections. Certain flowers, such as poppies, will need to have their stalks seared with a match in order to seal the stem. And most early bulbs, such as daffodils, prefer cool vase water. Cut flowers will stay fresh longer when you add a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, about a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of bleach to each quart of vase-water. Changing the vase-water every couple of days will extend the life of your bouquet and keep the flowers looking fresh longer. Bacteria is responsible for that nasty flower-water slime and smell when you forget to change the water for a week. I try to avoid that olfactory experience at all costs!

Bouquet of cosmos candy stripe, calendula pacific beauty mix, echinacea purpurea, physostegia, goldenrod, liatris and veronica goodness grows

Annual Cosmos ‘Candy Stripe’, Calendula ‘Pacific Beauty Mix’, Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ here with perennial Veronica ‘Goodness Grows, Liatris ‘Kobold’, Echinacea purpurea and Solidago Canadensis Gunmetal Glazed Pitcher by artist Aletha Soule

double rudbeckia "Goldilocks" (small), cutting garden

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Goldilocks’ produces 18″-24″ stems with 4″ double orange blossoms… perfect for late summer bouquets

To add a little something extra to my bouquets, I often add ornamental grasses, (such as miscanthus), foliage plants, (including ferns and perennial plant leaves), vines, (such as bittersweet), and branches from trees and shrubs. Shrubs with darker foliage, including physocarpus ‘Diablo’ or ‘Summer Wine’, and weigela ‘Java Red’, among the many choices, add a nice contrast to floral arrangements in complimentary hues. When adding woody plants like these, as well as flowering hydrangea and lilac to an arrangement, it ‘s important to “smash” the woody stems with a mallet in order for the cut branch to absorb water, (see center photo below).  In addition to beautiful color and texture, woody plants add structure to a vase, and can help support both delicate flowers and heavy blooms, especially those with a tendency to flop.

cleome, zebra grass and weigela java red foliage

White cleome, zebra grass and weigela florida ‘Java Red’ foliage in a vase by  Aletha Soule

pounding woody stems

Flowers harvested from shrubs with woody stems must be ‘smashed’ as shown, to help them absorb water

Ninebark,(Physocarpus) 'Diablo', False Indigo, (Baptisia foliage) Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana),Queen Anne's Lace'(Anthriscus sylvestris Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

~ A beautiful raku vase by Vermont artist Richard Foye ~

And from the garden: Ninebark, (Physocarpus), ‘Diablo’, False indigo foliage, (Baptisia), Foxglove, (Digitalis davisiana), Queen Anne’s Lace, (Anthriscus sylvestris), and Bells of Ireland, (Moluccella laevis)

Hydrangea paniculata 'limelight'

~ Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in a small vase by artist Aletha Soule ~

When it comes to choosing vases, I am a big believer in experimentation. Although I have a nice collection of vases from Vermont artisan Richard Foye and California’s Aletha Soule, I do not limit myself to traditional vessels for holding fresh flowers. I am just as likely to stick a bouquet into a rusty tin can when the orange-brown contrast strikes my fancy. Old mason jars, drinking glasses, perfume and liquor bottles, beach buckets, cookie tins, soda bottles and milk cartons have all served as vases in my household. In fact, pretty much anything that holds water is fair game. Floating flowers in a shallow bowl with candles makes for a memorable center piece at a dinner party, and the low display draws attention to the structure of larger flowers such as dahlia and sunflower. I also like the look of one spectacular blossom filling the top of a thick glass, as photographed by artist Tim Geiss below.

floating dahlia copyright 2009 tim geiss

As the seasons change, I like to bring autumn leaves and bare branches into the house for my larger urns. And early autumn vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, make dramatic additions to flower arrangements as well. When November and December come ’round, I will bring in winterberry, (Ilex verticillata), and dried grasses from the garden by the armful. Do you have any favorite additions to your floral arrangements? I will be featuring more articles like this one in the future, but for now, please feel free to share your ideas and add comments for others here on the forum. In a world filled with chaos, stress, uncertainty and pressure, we could all use a little beauty to brighten our day. Sometimes, even a milk carton of roadside daisies will do!

zinnia on a table copyright 2009 Tim Geiss

~ Freshly cut Zinnia, copyright 2009, Tim Geiss ~

***

~ Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his beautiful flower photographs as noted ~

~ Article and other photos copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden ~

***


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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