Saturday, December 30, 2017

Join the Chinese Kitchen Garden Community!

Click to join The Chinese Kitchen Garden Facebook Group where we talk growing, preparing, eating, cooking, using and enjoying Asian vegetables. I hope you learn a few things, ask questions (like about that crazy looking vegetable you saw at your international supermarket), and also share your knowledge with our community. This is also where you can post your pics of that dish you love from your favorite neighborhood Asian restaurant. The pic above is mala-spiced hot pot. Isn't it beautiful? 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Chinese Kitchen Garden Book Review

The Chinese Kitchen Garden, just released by Timber Press, is now available everywhere.  Andrew Weidman, freelance writer and Grit blogger, read and provided this very thorough book review. Hope it helps you decide whether this book would be a good addition to your library!


Gardeners are an adventurous lot – to a point.  We love trying new vegetables, exotics we’ve never heard of before, based solely on descriptions in glossy-paged seed catalogs.  And those catalogs are coming, if they haven’t already arrived, filling mailboxes and covering kitchen tables even as they brighten dreary cold winter days.  So we fill out the order forms or log on to the websites, and select a new adventure, in the form of little paper packets of seeds.  Seasons turn, seeds get planted, and crops grow.  Now what?
Kiang-Spray (rhymes with ‘key-young’) answers that question, at least for Chinese vegetables, in The Chinese Kitchen Garden.  Laid out in four seasons, The Chinese Kitchen garden takes us on a tour of 38 vegetables, some you may never have heard of, others you may not have known are Chinese, many with unexpected and delicious uses.  Each season opens with relevant garden tasks; among them soil building in spring, pest and weed control in summer, harvest and storage in fall, season extension and reflection in winter; before going on to present the stars of the season.  Each vegetable receives a three-part treatment: general information including its name in Cantonese, Mandarin, and Scientific notation, growing instructions, and cooking instructions, rounded out with family favorite recipes.
Kiang-Spray’s instructions demystify otherwise unfamiliar vegetables, taking the uncertainty out of growing, harvesting and, most important, using these new kitchen exotics.  She quickly takes the fear of the unknown out of the equation.
So many gardening books tell you how to grow something in intimate detail, but not what to do with it once you’ve grown it.  Not so Kiang-Spray.  She guides you through the steps of each Chinese vegetable’s culture before leading you to the kitchen, where she stands by your elbow, walking you through each recipe, telling you what to expect, promising a personal taste of China.  As an added treat, she shares a family secret recipe, her favorite steamed dumplings.
Gorgeous photographs of Kiang-Spray’s gardens, harvests, and family complement her prose beautifully.  Long beans, sliced lotus root, and trellised luffa alternate with shots of her daughters, sister, parents, and herself in and around the garden.
The Chinese Kitchen Garden is not just about gardening or Chinese vegetables.  Rather, this is a book about food and family, how food brings family together, how food can define a culture, a heritage, a sense of self, even a bridge to one’s heritage.  Kiang-Spray weaves together memories of her childhood, stories of her parents’ lives, and reports of her own daughters’ shenanigans, welcoming us into her world, at once Chinese and American.
Throughout the book, she compares her own, more ‘American’ gardening style to her father’s traditional Chinese methods, drawing parallels and lessons from each. Be sure to read the preface, as this is the story of her father, her mother, herself, and her family.  This serves as your introduction to the family, and your invitation to the table.  Kiang-Spray’s conversational voice continues throughout the book, offering verbal snapshots of her home and her family.  The Chinese Kitchen Garden is that rarest of non-fiction books: a reference built for pleasure reading.
By Andrew Weidman

Friday, December 30, 2016

Interesting vegetables to grow this season

Mother Earth Living is one of my favorite clean living magazines.  In the winter edition on newsstands now, you’ll see my article that features a “like this, try that” approach to experimenting with new vegetables.  There is growing and cooking information about Asian vegetables, but also other interesting vegetables that would be fun for gardeners to try this season such as the Romanesco cauliflower (tasty AND mathematically perfect!).  Hope you can pick up this great magazine right now for spring gardening/cooking/living inspiration! 

Friday, December 9, 2016

My interview on the Timber Press blog

If you're a gardening friend who appreciates quality reading, you likely have some Timber Press books on your bookshelf or night table.  Did you know Timber Press maintains a great blog with lots of inspiring gardening ideas and tips from experts, staff and authors as well?  Check it out!  Here's my interview on the blog. Read it to learn about the genesis of The Chinese Kitchen Garden and hear more about what's inside as well.  You'll also find a link at the bottom to some of the many photos taken by photographer Sarah Culver.  You'll love them and you'll love all the gorgeous photos in the book as well!  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Heirloom Shantung jade squash

I won't wax poetically about heirloom seeds - mostly because some people can do it so much more passionately and expertly than I can, but in short, heirloom seeds - and the gardeners that preserve them - are quite amazing.  

This is a gigantic Chinese jade squash, sitting on top of a trellis in my father's garden. It has a while to go before it lightens in color and develops lovely green speckles/streaks. He's grown this squash for the past few years and loves the tender, mild taste. Later, he'll grate the pale yellow flesh and make fried squash patties or may finely chop the squash and combine it with minced shrimp and ground pork to make his famous dumplings.

Prior to these past few years though, my father had not tasted this squash since probably the early 1960's. Shortly after that time, my father made his way from rural China to bustling Hong Kong, then finally to the suburbs of the United States where he cultivated several different gardens in the backyards of several different homes.  He tried for the first time, and then subsequently grew many vegetables that a typical American gardener would grow such as tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash.

While my father was gardening in the United States, gardeners in Shandong, China, remained guardians of this very local heirloom squash, growing them season after season, saving seeds season after season so that one day, decades later, my father would meet an old friend with a handful of seeds to share. These seeds were saved from my father's favorite squash grown back home during his childhood decades ago.  While my father may now be accustomed to tasting Chinese jade squash every fall since he's been saving seeds for a few years now, I am amazed every time I see this gorgeous thing up on the trellis from a very far off place and time. 

(cross-posted at The Chinese Kitchen Garden blog - please visit this blog to learn more about growing and cooking Asian vegetables!)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mexican Bean Beetle Infestation

So the thing that happens when you neglect your much-loved garden for weeks, is when the weather cools, it stops thunderstorming, and you have a block of time to really do some work in there, you find a total, complete infestation of insect pests - in this case, the Mexican bean beetle. Most of the leaves on my sugar snaps have taken on that characteristic lacy look, created by the larvae and beetles chomping away - mostly on the undersides of the leaves. We're near the end of the bean season anyway, so after picking the last pocketful of sugar snaps, I figured the best way to take care of this problem would be to tear it all out. Almost every leaf was home to either pupating beetles, feeding larvae, clusters of eggs, or adult beetles moving around! I made a special effort to watch for the faster moving beetles that easily drop to the ground because they can burrow into the soil and overwinter.  I do NOT want this kind of problem again next year. It all - in every stage - had to go!

Clusters of 30-40 eggs, laid by adult beetles as frequently as every 2 days. Will hatch in 1-3 weeks.
Can be squished, but not by me!

Fuzzy-wuzzy was a pupa

Feeding larva with it's black-tipped spines does the most damage to leaves

Adult bean beetle. To be thrown in a bucket of soapy water till drowned. 
Now, on to remove all bean plant debris where the beetles or eggs could be hiding so my garden has the best chance of being pest-free next summer.

Then later, to research early bean plants to try next year. Most of the damage done to crops happens mid-late summer, and I can try to get most of my harvests before that time.

And mental note from here on out: be in the garden more to prevent a few beetles from taking complete control! Not only could my sugar snaps have continued to produce for a few weeks, but oh, the heebie-jeebies when cleaning up.  I don't want to go through that again.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Homemade fruit leather

When my daughter goes to her ballet classes, I generally go for a long run/walk if it’s nice out, or I’ll read in my car if it’s not. However, before I developed these healthy habits, I used to while away the time at the shopping strip just through the trees from the side of the studio.  This is when I discovered the treasure trove of stuff at Bed Bath and Beyond.  Piled high from floor to ceiling is glorious household stuff – and it’s all stuff YOU REALLY NEED.  There was a point when I bought a new appliance every week – waffle iron, ice cream maker, portable heater, juicer…

Of all the appliances stored in my closet, the food dehydrator has come upon the most use.  As a gardener and frequent farmer’s market purveyor of ripe summer fruits, July/August/September means a lot of delicious drying food is working its way through those dehydrator trays.  A favorite?  Homemade fruit leather. 

You can get complicated with this, and many recipes do. You can add lemon juice to prevent the fruit leather from darkening, there are instructions for straining your mixture, you can add sugar (no!). But the recipe below is all you need to know if you’ve never made fruit leather and want to try:

Fruit Leather Recipe

1) Puree a few soft fruits like the peaches we used here.

2) Pour into the fruit leather tray – right up to the top of the fruit leather tray is fine.

3) Dry until totally leathery. You’ll know when that is (about 6-8 hours?  Food dehydrators are very forgiving and you can’t mess it up!). It won't be wet and you'll be able to lift and peel it off of the tray in one piece. 

4) Peel off the tray.  One side will be stickier than the other.  Stick that side to wax or parchment paper.  That’s it!

This flexible fruit leather tray sits on top of the slatted dehydrator below.
To make life even easier, place fruit leather tray on the rigid dehydrator tray before filling.

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