Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Master Gardeners do - happy and fuzzy thoughts

Intrigued by what Master Gardeners do? As a Washington DC Master Gardener (intern), I'm sent e-mails throughout the year about talks, seminars, demonstrations, and most importantly, volunteer projects, both long-term and short-term. Here's one example of a Master Gardener project. As you can see below, the plaza of UDC is about to undergo a major face lift.

You can see below where construction has already begun.

See these guys in white? Not Master Gardeners. Actually, I don't know who the hell they are. Don't they look bizarre in their hooded jumpsuits? They're probably good enough guys. But I did overhear them receiving instructions on how to demo and what new landscaping needs to go in.

See these guys in the dirty jeans? Master Gardeners. Our task for the day: to dig up all the thousands of bulbs hidden in the cement planters before everything is bulldozed away. Day 2 of the job entailed replanting the bulbs in other locations around the campus.

See the bright and shiny faces below? We're happy that we got to save the bulbs from the giant dumpster. We will be directly responsible for the spring beauty that is to come. Having put in a good number of hours with other volunteers this summer, I see the enormous impact that we make. From this project alone, it is heartbreaking to think about how a gazillion dollar project budgets the cost of demo, hauling trash, and new landscaping, but doesn't include some measure to be sustainable and replant. I'm glad to be part of a team that can put in a few hours here and there to save what can and should be saved (contented sigh).

Just about the only thing that has not made me feel thankful, helpful, and basically all fuzzy inside came via mail in the form of this photo of my car and an attached speeding ticket. It's actually really annoying now that I have a chance to reflect on it. I was leaving the Washington Youth Garden where I spent several Saturdays volunteering this summer. The posted speed was 40, I was going 51. As you can see, this is the beginning of a highway. Who drives 40 on the highway? OK...happy and fuzzy thoughts...happy and fuzzy thoughts...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

GTTC - sweet potato spread and sweet potato pecan crisp

I blog on this cold and windy post-Thanksgiving afternoon with peace and quiet throughout the house. The tryptophan (or carbs or sugar or whatever) effect seems to have taken over this family. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving (free of family drama and excess poundage)!

Yesterday morning, I made a sweet potato spread inspired by an article in the Washington Post. The spread is about 1 part butter to about 1.5 parts steamed, mashed sweet potato, and spiced up with with some cinnamon and nutmeg. It was a nice simple breakfast on the cornbread from last night's take-out chili from Hard Times.

My husband went for a quick visit with his childhood friend who now lives in North Carolina. He came home with a bag of pecans he picked off the ground from his friend's 2 large pecan trees...

...perfect for topping the sweet potato casserole! Each year, everyone remarks how much they don't like sweet potatoes, but how much they love this casserole. This Thanksgiving, the fresh pecan topping ramped it up another notch.


Congrats to Ricki, who was not only the sole person to link up last week (ha ha!), but also earned a letter 'G' towards the GTTC winter edition prize of 1/2 my spring seed order. For complete rules, read here and then play along! What are the rest of you harvesting, cooking, or eating right now?

Monday, November 22, 2010

10 things I love... (and Happy Thanksgiving!)

Waaaaayy back, soooo way back that I cannot find the original post or comment, Malar wanted me to post about 10 things I love. It's a tad difficult to work with such a broad theme. Hard to focus on 10 things. I mean...the world, my experiences - there's a lot to draw from right? If I really go into introspection mode, I will never produce 10 answers. So rather than overthink it, here are 10 random, mostly superficial things I love. Oh, and I enjoy this task more than a more seasonally appropriate 10 things I'm thankful for - that would really cause some analysis paralysis.

10 things I love...

1) My Blackberry. I'm either getting old, losing my memory, or losing my mind, but my Blackberry allows me to keep to do lists, communicate things with people so that I don't forget later, set alarms, look up directions, and record names of books, movies, music or ideas that I don't want to forget. All without a million scraps of paper floating in my purse. I also do a modified Weight Watchers on my own and I track my points on my Blackberry.

2) For a while, I loved Bertha's language from The Fred Movie (I also love made for tv teeny-bopper movies). You add "ong" to every consonant and just say all the vowels. So for example, "Green" would be said, "gong-rong-E-E-nong". I got very proficient in this. My brother in law Todd is "tong-O-dong-dong". Get it? If you think I'm lame, just try it. It's addicting.

3) I love going to 5:30 am exercise classes. This is because by 7am, I've worked out, taken a shower, had a Nalgene bottle of water, and am in line at Starbucks feeling good and resisting all the sweet treats in the case.

4) I love Japanese food. I think I like it more than Chinese food. I told my mom I could eat Japanese food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a year and not get sick of it. I also love Groupons.com. I especially love a Groupon for Japanese food. For our belated anniversary, my husband and I did a little weekend staycation and went to a great place for lunch. I ordered soba noodles - one of my favorite noodles. The noodles arrived with what you see below as a condiment. Now I like to think that I'm not a culinary ignoramus, but I had to unabashedly ask the waitress what to do with it. What you see is scallions on the left, minced radish, wasabi, and in the middle, a raw quail egg. Underneath the little plate is the sauce (I think it was tempura sauce). You dump the goodies in, mix it up, and then pick up the soba noodles to dip in the sauce as you eat each bite. Delicious and super fun!!!

5) I love my family. We're cool. I think we're great parents. Nuff said.

6) I love my DVR. Since I don't typically have daily TV time, I let it all record on the DVR and have late night marathons. The series that I DVR are: Grey's Anatomy, LOST (well, before it ended), So You Think You Can Dance, Hell's Kitchen, and Glee. I usually watch about 3 Grey's Anatomy episodes at once so I can have a big emotional cryfest all at one time. It's very cathartic.

7) I love blogging games like this one.

8) I love taking a day off work in the middle of the week. I love strolling out in public - wondering if the other good people of the world are also taking a day off, or if they have the luxury of not working, or what the story is. I love the lack of crowds, and of course, a shortened work week. I think ideally, I would love to work 4 10-hour days rather than 5 8-hour days.

9) I love Fridays at 3pm. No explanation needed.

10) I love Thanksgiving. I loved it as a kid - going to my aunt's house, knowing exactly what to expect, eating all the special T-day foods. We usually had the Western T-day foods as well as lobster and a few Chinese dishes. I always enjoyed seeing my cousins and b.s.ing about movies. As an adult, I think it's fun to host a big feast and help to create these memories and the comfortable predictability for others. This year (and now you'll REALLY think I'm crazy), I decided to make a "Thanksgiving Portfolio". This is basically a portfolio (in sheet-protected pages) of the menu, master shopping list, recipes I need to refer to, details that I need to remember (i.e. order a 14-16 pound turkey), and a schedule of cooking events (i.e. Tuesday: start brine, Wednesday night: make cold dishes, Thursday noon: do this, 2pm: start that, etc.). This way, I don't need to recreate the wheel each year. Plus, once I'm dead and gone, if my kids want to recreate the Thanksgiving of their childhood, they need only to pull the Thanksgiving Portfolio off the shelf.


Well, there you have it. More than you'd ever want to know about the 10 things I love. At this point, I'm probably supposed to name some others to play along, but I would like to tag anyone on my blogroll, or anyone else reading this to go next! And between now and reading about your favorite things (please let me know you've posted), have a great Thanksgiving!!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

GTTC - tofu with chili sauce and butternut squash soup recipe

This is autumn in my little piece of Maryland. Towards the left you see the bright orange of the fothergilla - a most specular shrub - little white bottlebrushes in the early spring, perfect green leaves throughout summer, fiery fall colors in November. The yellow on the right is another favorite - sinocalycalycanthus - maroon flowers in the spring, large fluttery leaves throughout summer, bright yellow right now.

For this week's GTTC, I made some pan fried marinated tofu (Asian style: sesame oil, soy sauce, dash sugar, rice vinegar, ginger, minced shallots), and dressed it up with a hot chili pepper snipped just after picking from the garden. To be honest, it was just OK. THEN, I decided to add a generous spoonful of the chili sauce I made a couple weeks ago - AMAZING. The vinegar really tames the spice of the red pepper. It was zingy and only a bit hot. Just perfect. Here's a secret about tofu: it's basically a sponge. In order for it to pick up the marinade, you'll need to get the water out of it first. Slice and put between towels. Put a cutting board on top and weigh it down with some heavy pans for about 1/2 hour. You'll find pressing the tofu will allow any marinade or sauce to soak into the tofu.

I guess you either like tofu or you don't. My husband eats basically anything (nothing impresses Chinese in-laws more than a white guy who requests intestines and stomach linings in Chinese restaurants) except coconut, eggplant, and tofu. When I showed him the simple dish below, he said, "You can't dress up a turd" - which I thought was highly offensive. Anyway, Like I said, you either like tofu or you don't. What do YOU think of tofu? AND - did you make anything interesting this past week?

I'm about to go into a short period of cooking dormancy as I get ready to make a Thanksgiving feast for a lot of people. I hope I'll get to post something next week. For now, here's my favorite recipe for butternut squash soup. Like ginger and leeks? You'll LOVE this soup. It's also super easy. I usually make this with chicken stock but for Thursday, will use vegetable stock instead so my vegetarian sister can add a little something to her Tofurky Feast.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (serves about 6-8)
2 medium butternut squash (split, seeded, and roasted face down in 1" water at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until tender)
2 leeks, chopped (white part only)
4 teaspoons ginger (peeled and minced)
3 tablespoons butter
1 large container of chicken stock (about 6 cups or so)
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
optional: shredded Parmesan and/or dash of cream
Saute butter, leeks, and ginger until soft in a large pot over medium heat. Gut the squash and add to leeks and ginger. Add stock. Simmer down for about 30 minutes. Puree with stick blender (or another method). Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Optional: add shredded Parm and dash of cream.
BTW - are you using fresh nutmeg? I really think nothing compares. I used to have a choice nutmeg grinder that my sister gifted to me. That broke so I just keep my nutmeg in a bag in the freezer. When I need nutmeg, I just grate some directly into my cooking.
Ever feel like you're being watched? As I was typing this post, I look out the window and see this guy staring at me through the window!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

GBBD - November 2010

Hello garden lovers - recently, I've only been able to post once a week or so, but I could never miss Garden Blogger's Bloom Day hosted by May Dreams Garden. If you are a vegetable gardener or enjoy cooking, be sure to check out my Garden to Table Challenge - where extreme gardening cooks are still harvesting (or at least BUYING seasonal vegetables) and showing off their expertise in the kitchen. I've just introduced a new contest, so please join in!

For GBBD, I think it's safe to say I have the most blooms out of everyone. And I can say that without sounding too obnoxious because these photos were taken from Brookside Gardens. :)

I came to see the Chrysanthemum display. When I walked into the greenhouse, I was NOT impressed.

But then I realized the REAL show was in the adjoining greenhouse. These gigantic blooms are as large as an adult's head!

Now back to the zone 6 reality... My coneflowers still have quite a bit of energy.

Euphorbia - I make all my family members check out the gradual-but-daily marooning of this plant. They've just about had it with me. But really, have you seen foliage so beautiful?

My chrysanthemum has grown so tall (I neglected to prune like I should have), it's flopped and creeping about 3 feet across the ground.

Ever-reliable and always perfect rose.

The gorgeous red of the new blueberry shrub (white knockout rose behind it).

What's blooming in YOUR part of the world?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

GTTC - blue potatoes and introducing...new challenge!

This week I made 2 versions of potatoes, tapas style. I worked on these one at a time, and after devouring the second version, the family asked what the third version would be. Well the potatoes don't just come out of the magic oven in different variations all day long! Below, you see the beautiful (right?!) blue potatoes from the farmer's market. I roasted the blue potatoes with the complimentary gold potatoes.

Below, roasted blue and gold potatoes with rosemary-shallot butter. Right now, I'm down to picking herbs and I'm so glad I planted a little herb garden late this summer.

Below, blue and gold potatoes with roasted garlic aioli. I love the festive touch that chopped parsley (gorgeous in the garden right now!) gives to any dish.What are you still harvesting/buying fresh/eating fresh this week?


I think I've reconciled my feelings on giveaways and contests. I think that as long as participants have a fairly random way of winning, I can have a clear conscience. So, in the spirit of "blogger bonding" as Autumnbelle describes it, I've thought of another contest for anyone who wants to play along with me over the fall/winter/early spring. It's pretty convoluted, but as I imagine it in my head, potentially fun.

THE PRIZE: ½ of the seeds from my spring seed order! (I think this is a pretty nifty prize)
HOW TO WIN: Collect the letters G-T-T-C. If by the time my spring seed order comes, no one has collected G-T-T-C, then the person who has come closest will win. If there is a tie, I will choose randomly.
HOW TO COLLECT LETTERS: I have made a list of (my zone) cold season (fall/winter/early spring) fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I have put them in a random ranked order. Each week, I will award 1 letter to the person who features the vegetable/fruit/herb highest on the ranked list. By feature, I just mean to have some sort of mention in the post. For example, in my post above, I mentioned parsley, even though it's not a main ingredient, so that counts. If I don't mention parsley specifically in the written part of my post, but cite it the recipe, it doesn't count.

Here's an example. Say I've made a randomly ranked list of summer veggies: 1. Tomatoes 2. Green bell peppers 3. Basil 4. Cucumbers. Ria posted about the cukes she turned into pickles and Ricki posted about her green peppers in the gumbo she made. Since the green bell peppers are higher on the randomly ranked list, she gets the letter G, and then green bell peppers is taken off the list. The next week, everyone has the opportunity to earn another letter. If Ria wins again, she gets a T. Once she collects GTTC, she wins half my seed order.I hope this makes sense!! And if it doesn't, just play along and you'll see how it unfolds.

***Though I've encouraged people to use what they've grown from their own gardens, this is not feasible for many of us, so please use what is seasonally fresh. For the purposes of this contest - I'm only counting what is seasonal in my part of the world. Bloggers in other parts of the world can perhaps buy in supermarkets if they want to participate in the contest - or just keep posting just to join in - despite the contest. Non-bloggers or bloggers who don't blog about food can also participate by leaving their post equivalents in the comments section. For example, my sister, who does not blog, can participate by leaving a comment about the salsa she made, listing the recipe or telling us more. But hopefully she would say more than, "I made salsa today - it was yummy" b/c that's a little half-hearted.OK, hope this keeps things exciting while we hibernate with a mug of hot cocoa and seed catalogs!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

GTTC - pumpkin seeds, a different chili paste, and giveaway winners revealed

Well, we've reached the point that I thought might be the end. For me, the Garden to Table Challenge has been a source of inspiration, motivation, and fun. I've loved seeing what you all have been coming up with and have cooked many dinners based on ideas or recipes I've seen in the past couple of months! For many garden bloggers, we've reached the end of our backyard gardening season, but my farmer's market runs for the next few weeks, and then there are the leeks, chard, squashes, dried beans, canned goodies, indoor sprouts and herbs to figure out what to do with. As a result, I'm going to keep running the meme - join me if you can! In the spring, we'll launch a new official season, and I may consider a contest again - I have a few months to figure out something fun.

This week, I was motivated to roast some pumpkin seeds and put together this mix that Julie, one of my all-time favorite bloggers made. I was wracking my brain to think of creative things to add without fully COPYING her, and ended up with...total creative mindfail. We ate these with no additions but really enjoyed them. The darker brown were the sweet cinnamony ones Julie described and the lighter ones just had a sprinkling of salt and ground dried garlic.

Then, I noticed on November 1st that the freakishly prolific cayenne pepper plant out back was weighted down by a gazillion peppers so I turned them into a new chili paste I found in the ridiculously GORGEOUS book by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid - Beyond the Great Wall. This recipe calls for chilies (not dried like I usually make my chili paste), salt, a pinch of sugar, rice vinegar, and a bit of water. I mashed the peppers with a rolling pin, but I think a proper mortar and pestle will be going on my holiday wish list. I haven't tried the chili paste yet (in any significant amount anyway), but I have my mind set on some grilled shrimp and broken rice our closest Vietnamese place has. I know it will be lip-smacking (and lip-swelling) good.

And without further ado, today the 3 winners of the giveaway will be announced. I'm not a mathematically-inclined person, but I think I figured out a way to do this without literally making 100 slips of papers and drawing from a hat. The system involved tallying all the posts participant have contributed, then using random.org to pick three winners. The winners are...Meemsnyc, Char's Gardening, and Teresa. Winners will receive a brand new book about food/gardening. I know at least one person will receive a book I've been eyeballing all year - Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods by Ryder and Topalian. I've only cracked the spine in the book store, but covet my very own copy. It's an absolutely beautiful book that I think GTTC participants will like. If I can't get other copies for a reasonable price, you'll get another great book of my choosing - I promise. :)

And on a related note - I just wonder what people think about contests in general. Part of me feels they just add an extra aspect of fun, but then again, there's always an element of disappointment the majority don't win - and when all were great participators! Looking at all the names on my tally sheet, I was honestly regretful that I couldn't send everyone something. I'd love your thoughts on this. Especially for something someone is trying to promote - do contests make it more fun? Or...does it taint the whole activity and cheapen things? Yeah, the GTTC has prompted this, but feel free to get philosophical on me too... :)

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