Thursday, June 30, 2011

Amethyst Purple Stringless Bush Filet Bean

Slow to grow, but worth every single day. These Amethyst Purple Stringless Filet Beans are not only gorgeous but perfectly delicious and crunchy in texture. Purple on the outside, green on the inside. Instant "wow factor" in a salad. (Note: If you want them to stay purple, eat them raw. Steaming them will turn them green.)

The dwarf bushes have a small footprint, which makes them an excellent choice for container-gardening if you have limited space. It was a bit of a challenge to get them going though. Probably the odd weather this year. 

At first, I direct-sowed several seeds (dried beans) in the soil and none took. So I fell back on the old tried-and-true system of germinating beans indoors between wet paper towels. Voila. Lift off.

Once germinated, into the ground they went, where they remained well-watered until greenery that had a slight purplish tinge to it, formed.

Then... they just sat there forever, barely growing. I had wondered if they would ever produce. Finally, beautiful little amethyst flowers appeared.

Very thin dark and dried-up looking stringless beans followed, protruding from the flower buds and gradually plumping out to what you see here.

There's a feral quality to this bean. It seems wild and untamed. I just love that about it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shallot Harvest

The shallot harvest has begun in earnest.

I'm clearing a bed to plant a quick crop of beets for a late fall harvest. We love beets in this household and there simply aren't enough in the garden. So I pulled the shallots and amended the soil, adding sheep manure and compost. 

Can you ever have too many shallots? I don't think so.

I'll be braiding these (like garlic braids) and hanging them for storage.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Basic Broccoli Soup

This broccoli should have been harvested days ago when the florets were tighter, but I've been busy, so now it's going to be soup.  Nothing wrong with that.

I cut the broccoli low on the stem. Sometimes new growth will develop on the sides.


1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 large head of broccoli including stalk
2 cups chicken stock
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Dollop of sour creme or yoghurt (optional)

For the soup, I'm tossing in some young Spanish onions, picked well before maturity, but why buy an onion when they're already in your garden. I'm also using young garlic from the garden. I encourage everyone to start a garlic patch. You won't be disappointed and they are super easy to grow.

Peel the stalks of the broccoli to remove any woodiness of texture. Chop up onion, garlic and the broccoli and pan fry it in about 2 Tbsp of olive oil (less if you can manage it).

Start with the onion, add the garlic then the broccoli -- stalks, florets and all.

Add in the chicken stock (vegetable stock if you are a vegetarian) cover and cook for about 15 - 20 minutes on a medium heat.  I happen to make my own chicken stock, but you can use store bought.

Uncover and ladle the fixings (not the stock) into a food processor and puree it. Do this in batches. Be careful, it's hot! Return the puree to the pot, stir and season.

It's quite yummy for a basic broccoli soup that is low in cholesterol and fairly quick to make. You can add yoghurt or cream for a milkier texture, but why add calories when the puree step already does that for you. Besides you want to taste the fruits of your garden, don't you? A flourish of chopped chives or parsley can also replace that dollop of sour creme on top. Enjoy.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Zucchini Blossoms

I planted Zucchini this season, but not for the vegetables, rather for the flowers. I give away the vegetable, but love fried Zucchini blossoms, especially when they are stuffed with a light ricotta. They are so delicate and flavorful it's like a little piece of Tuscan heaven.

Fried Zucchini flowers are perfect simply dipped in a light batter and pan fried, but this excellent recipe from Viviane of also uses fresh herbs from your garden. It doesn't get any better than this.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Potatoes

Dug up some Russian Blue new potatoes this morning for breakfast. The dark purplish skins made them difficult to find in the soil, but aren't they gorgeous?!  Can't wait to tuck into these. 

Russian Blue new potatoes

The potato interiors were equally exciting to behold. I am doubling up my order of these next season.

As I was composting the the leaves of the plant I noticed a bonus... potato berries hanging from the vines.

Each berry has a pile of little seeds inside. The berries are slightly oblong, unlike the very round Yukon Gold potato berries. I'm going to open them and dry the tiny seeds inside. These are keepers.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Swoe Garden Tool, A Review

This is the newest garden tool in my collection and although it may be one of the more expensive hand tools at $46, it is not the workhorse I had hoped it would be. The Swoe is like the little sister to the Dutch hoe. Very flashy and promising in appearance but not really as useful as it promises to be. I would classify it as a fine tuning tool. It slices through weeds easily in soil that has already been cultivated. You need to apply some elbow grease for uncultivated ground. The Swoe glides just under the surface of the soil and leaves your topsoil fairly undisturbed which would please "no till" enthusiasts. It is particularly good for navigating around plantings. The angled edge can be tipped on the side to easily work around the base of a plant (where weeds like to hide).

I was planning on getting a Dutch hoe when the salesman at the specialty garden tool shop talked me into the Swoe instead. I admit I was swayed by the sexy angles and lightness of the tool, but I regret this decision. The Swoe is for dabbling. Great for those days when you want to putter a bit and fluff up the beds, without getting your hands dirty, but not for tackling a seriously weedy bed.

I have been on the hunt for a Dutch hoe since seeing Sam Youd, Head Gardener of Tatton Park, deftly tackle a row of weeds with his. I am a bit of a groupie of Sam Youd's. I've watched his free gardening video podcasts since they began on iTunes. There is something immensely relaxing about witnessing Youd march through Tatton Park in his tweeds, confidently offering up gardening tips. The gentle music playing us from scene to scene adds to the ambience. So, naturally, like any good groupie, I wanted a Dutch hoe exactly like Sam Youd's. Here's the RSS feed to his video podcasts.

Unfortunately Dutch hoes are very hard to come by in this country. Smith & Hawkens currently offers one through Target's online ordering at $69, but it is not available in stores. Their Dutch hoe is supposed to be forged in England (a country that knows a thing or two about garden tools), but Smith & Hawken's hand tools, pictured below, turned out to be made in China.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Navet Turnips

The root vegetables are coming in and roasted turnips will be on the menu tonight.  It's so fabulous to have turnips on the first day of summer.

Navet is a heritage variety from the late 1800s that is reported to be mild in flavor. Fresh out of the soil, I find them to have a sharp little bite. Not horseradish hot, but horseradishy enough to notice. The larger they grow, the milder they seem to become. Navets are crisp and juicy and work in a salad, stew or simply roasted.

These delightful specimens were grown from seed and started indoors in peat pots. The leaves are slightly prickly and fairly chewed up by insects, but the bulbs are perfect. They'll roast up nicely with the white heirloom carrots that I've been harvesting over the last week.

In both summer and winter I enjoy roasting a selection of root vegetables in the oven. I toss the vegetables in olive oil, sprinkle with a bit of salt and fresh herbs (thyme, parsley) and bake on a flat baking pan at 350 until fork tender. Turning occasionally to brown on all sides.

I find carrots, onions, turnips, potatoes and garlic are often a nice mix. It's low impact cooking and if you cut up a good amount you can quickly warm them in a pan throughout the week without heating up the oven more than once. Frugal living.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Elder Flower Tea

The elderberry tree is in full bloom and the timing is perfect for a little tea to combat the pollen allergies.

Elder flowers are long known to be a valued medicinal herb and have particular benefits for the respiratory system. According to herbalists, elder flower (and berry) is used for combatting colds, boosting immune systems, reducing fevers and especially reliving mucous and inflammation. You can drink it as a tea (fresh or dried flowers) or make a poultice or ointment for wounds. You can also easily prepare a tincture for winter storage. This year I am drying some flowers for storage. Dried elder flower can be found in many health food stores. Rheumatics benefit from inflammation reduction according to what I have read.

Once the delicate white flowers drop away, tiny green berries are left behind. These will mature into dark rich blackish purple ones. Come August, I make elderberry syrup and jelly from the berries and preserve it for the winter months. The syrup is excellent in food preparation and also during flu and cold season. The jelly is just yummy. You can also make a tasty cordial out of it. Who knew medicine could taste that good? That's the way nature intended it.

According to herbalists, asthmatics have benefitted greatly from elder flower tea during hay fever season, but there's a whole host of other uses for this amazing shrub/tree.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Elephant in the Room

Placing vegetables amongst the flowers in your garden beds is a good way to fill up empty ground space. It also can add a punch of color. The best part is that you reap the added benefits of the food it offers. Herbs and beets are a particularly good choice for this. Beets offer a splash of red and you can harvest the leaves throughout the summer for the odd stir fry or salad. Pick small baby leaves for salads, they are more tender. When it's time to put the garden to bed for the winter there are delicious beets for an autumn borscht or beet pickle.

Beets in my flower garden

Not all vegetables fit in with the flower beds, however. Tomatoes in particular are not a great choice because the leaves get all brown and rangy just as the fruit is ready to pick. So, be selective about what you plant. Mesclun or leafy lettuces are also a great choice if you harvest them frequently and keep them low. Arugala and romaine grow too tall. I plucked out this elephant garlic last week that was in the middle of the flower bed and had begun to take over a whole area. It was perfect in early spring and gave some structure to the empty beds, but as the flowers filled it it needed to come out. The garlic had not yet developed cloves. This was a single clove.

Elephant Garlic
It was fabulous in a pasta dish. Very mild in flavor. Don't let the size of elephant garlic fool you. It is closer to the leek in flavor. My pasta recipe still required some garlic to be added in.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Shallots and Scapes

Young shallots drying in the sun.

These were planted in very early spring and would have grown to double this size by August but they were blocking sunlight to a tomato plant and were harvested early. They need to cure in a dry place for about a week before storage.

This season I made the pledge that I would not let a single vegetable go to waste, so the early storage situation is stressing me a bit. Timing! It's exhausting trying to get early canning and preservation done when you're so busy prepping a show. Plus I have to travel again this week. But Mother Nature doesn't wait for showbiz. No sir!

There's a whole mess of garlic scapes that will have to become pesto or tapenade tonight. Whew! And I still haven't processed the green onions that came in like gangbusters this week. Those are still in the sink waiting to be cleaned, chopped and frozen. Waste not, want not. Honor your pledges.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Plenty of strawberries in the berry patch... unfortunately we're not the ones enjoying them. Word spread fast through the squirrel community that peanuts were being handed out in this yard. Unfortunately the little varmints discovered the dessert buffet as well.

I'm now picking berries before they are fully vine-ripened as a defensive measure. Thankfully the banditos are not into spinach and I have a sink full for supper. 

The lesson every gardener has surely learned - invite Sciuridae mammalia into your garden and they will uproot your seedlings, eat your harvest and play on your guilt with their sad little doe-eyes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Cabbage

The beautiful veins in the leaves of this red cabbage growing in my garden are so similar to the branches inside our lungs that it reminds me how interconnected all life is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Caesar Salad

The romaine in the garden is crisp, full and abundant and for me that means one thing... Caesar salad. Paired up with a juicy grass-fed BBQ'd T-Bone (from my cousin's farm) it's the perfect summer dinner.

I make my dressing from scratch and I like it spicy! The first mouthful always tends to elicit a whooyah from the crowd, but once the steaks are into the mix it's a perfect combo. These are the general fixings for the dressing (plus olive oil and parmesan cheese, of course.)

Ingredients for dressing:
1/4 tsp Dry Mustard
2-3 Anchovies mashed
2-3 cloves of Garlic
3 real good solid shakes of Tabasco
1/2 tsp (or a bit less) of Worcester sauce
Juice of half a lemon
Olive oil (just a little more than the juice you get from the fresh lemon)
1/3 cup grated imported Italian Parmesan

Mash your anchovies to a pulp. (You can substitute with paste if you prefer.) Then crush the garlic and add it in. 

Really pulverize the garlic in a mortar and pestle. The flavor explodes out when crushed. It's much more powerful than just using the standard garlic press. Add the mustard, Tabasco, Worcester and lemon and drizzle in enough olive oil to match the lemon juice and stir like crazy to make an emulsion. The dressing should be thick. Adjust oil if needed.

Pour over a bowl of hand-torn romaine (not sliced, never sliced with a knife). Mix until all the lettuce is dressed before adding in the grated parmesan. Serve immediately. Piquant! It'll rock your socks off.


For the more sensitive palate, reduce ingredients to:

1 anchovie
1 garlic clove
1 shot of Tabasco
dash of Worcester
pinch of dried mustard (or you could use a squirt of dijon)
drizzle of olive oil
1/4 lemon
pulverize altogether in mortar and pestle
the mixture will be a thick brownish yellow

pour over torn Romaine
add sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan
mix and serve cold
croutons optional

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Potato Flowers

Isn't  it wonderful that flowers are the precursor to fruit?  It says so much about the spirit of nature.  We are meant to live in a world of beauty and have all of our senses nourished by it.

Russian Blue potato flower
I love it when the potatoes flower. The blossoms are so delicate and yet utterly cheerful. Each potato variety has its own subtle character and color. The flowers on Russian Blues are lavender. The Red Pontiacs are bright pink.

Red Pontiac potato flower
They are just a signal to the glory that lies beneath the soil, and serve as a reminder to get out the shovel and "hill 'em up."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hail, Yes

This torpedoed down from above this evening along with thousands more. There are 3 dents in my car's hoof.  Yet all plants survived. Small mercies.

How Green is My Garden

The unpredictable weather this season has most gardeners dancing the quickstep, and I find myself doing a jig right along. There are flowers on all of my potatoes already. Last season they didn't appear until July.

Russian Blue Potatoes and Lettuces
Harvesting the perishables has begun with a passion. An unexpected heat spell has the spinach and arugula bolting already. Nothing bolted last season, until July. But I adore spinach, so who's complaining.
Organic Spinach
I've always had trouble growing spinach until this year when I ignored the directions on the seed packets and just scattered the seeds on top of the soil.  Now I have spinach galore.  Spinach seeds need a good dose of light to germinate, so it's a curiosity that seed packets always instruct you to cover them.
Organic lettuces
It's fabulous to dig into the fresh and abundant salad greens teaming with nutrients again. The lettuces are so flavorful they don't need anything more than a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar as dressing.

If anyone has a recipe that uses sage flowers please hook me up, as my sage bushes are both flowering up a storm. Cheers!