Sunday, April 29, 2012

GTTC: lemon-mint ice cream (and the 10K!)

For this week's Garden to Table Challenge, I decided to make use of the mint that is growing prolifically but obediently within its bounds in the sunken pot in the garden.  This lemon mint ice cream is made with a lemon and muddled mint syrup, which is poured into the ice cream freezer along with the lemon zest infused custard base.  It was a really different flavor with a refreshing and light creamy taste.  I love making ice cream, though mine is usually a soft serve.  You're technically supposed to let the ice cream harden for several hours after running it through the ice cream maker/freezer - which I never do.  Really now.  Who can wait?!

Want to join us in the weekly Garden to Table Challenge?  See here for the details.  Random periodic prizes will be awarded.  This week, a starter pack of Asian vegetable seeds goes to Lindalou from Our Mush Push.  She's always doing something interesting, fun, or creative.  Check her out!  Lindalou - e-mail me with your address when you get a chance...


If you followed my run recaps, you know I started the year off strong making a sustained, consistent effort.  Then, almost all at once, I fell fully off the wagon.  I talked my friend into doing a race with me in December but I backed out at the last minute.  I would have backed out of this too, but I really couldn't do this to my friend, especially after talking her into doing it (and the other one!) in the first place!  The 10K race was today and I accomplished my goal of 1) finishing the race, 2) finishing on the road as opposed to the sidewalk where they make you move if you're going too slow, 3) not getting picked up by the straggler van, and 4) not being one of the 10 slowest people.  In other words, I was just trying not to humiliate myself.  I was not only not one of the 10 slowest, but when I finished, there was still a sea of people behind me!  I've been refreshing the results page of the race site and the times are still not posted.  But as one of the many inspiring t-shirt messages I ran behind said, "Finishing is Winning"!

Edited to add:  not that there's anything wrong with being one of the last 10...

Monday, April 23, 2012

GTTC: asparagus and soba noodles in XO sauce

Welcome to Week 3 of the Garden to Table Challenge!!

This week's GTTC entry was super freaking yummy. First I made a big batch of a classic Hong Kong style XO sauce - (dried scallops, dried shrimp, country ham, last fall's ground red chili peppers, garlic, ginger, shallots, oil - all cooked down slowly till golden and fragrant, then seasoned with a dash of sugar). It's an expensive and delicious condiment that adds a slightly spicy umami flavor to any food. For lunch, I simply sauteed the asparagus, and then added the cooked soba noodles with a generous spoonful of XO sauce. I made this using my purple asparagus - which is foolproof for cooking with - when they turn green, they're done!

This week, Liz from Suburban Tomato has won the second of four sets of Chinese vegetable seeds. Liz, please email me with your mailing address. I've got 2 more "starter packs" left to send out in the next 2 weeks. See here for more details about the GTTC. See you for the next GTTC every Monday!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

helicopters everywhere!

Helicopters are flying overhead all over the place! When I received the message below from Sandy, our DC Cooperative Extension Agent, I became acutely aware of the abundance of maple seeds all around my neighborhood. Her Tip of the Month was very informative so I thought I'd pass it along... Thanks Sandy!

A SEEDY START TO SPRING. Throughout the city I have noticed a strange look and color to many maple tree canopies. Upon closer inspection the cause is clearly due to most maples having a very seedy appearance! Due to the incredible warm, dry weather this spring, maple flowers were fully pollinated, which in turn means every single MAPLE SAMARA or winged seed, whirligigs or maple helicopters, is currently under development. This extreme seed load and their subsequent development and ripening, is expected to result in sparse, dinky foliage development on maple trees this spring. Normal leaf development is slowed and reduced by the quadrillion maple seeds ripening, using most of the stored resources of the tree. The seeds mature, turn brown and then fall off to cover every square inch of the earth, easily filling and plugging all rain gutters. However, the anxiety is most intense after the seeds fall because there is no apparent reason for the "thinning canopy" and lack of leaves. Many will be concerned about the overall health of their trees, while others erroneously associate heavy seed production with the last hurrah of stressed, dying trees.

Maple trees are capable of producing many seeds each year, but the limiting factor tends to be the weather, specifically those quick freezes and frosts after seed set. Without some type of freeze or frost to kill or injure these developing seeds, the die is cast for scores of samaras to rain down from the trees. This year just happened to be one that favored maple seed development. Remember that heavy seed production is not necessarily a good indicator of tree health nor should it be used as an indicator of impending tree death. It just means that well-timed freezes are needed to reduce the seed numbers, or hope for a really strong wind to blow them all to the neighbor's yard!

Monday, April 16, 2012

GTTC: baby portabella and Swiss chard in red wine sauce over polenta

Welcome to the second GTTC post of the year! Which spring harvesters can join me this early in the season?

Though there are new spring things going on - spinach, cauliflower, green strawberries rhubarb, asparagus, nothing amounts to a decent harvest quite yet. This week, I decided to do something with last year's chard, which has been just growing and growing all through the winter and early spring. There's just one plant, but the leaves are beautiful and gigantic. They remind me of something pre-historic. This delicious dinner was based on a recipe that Holly posted way back. I did make it her way last year after she posted - as a sauce over steak - and that was QUITE fantastic. For this simple dinner, I scaled down a bit and served the sauce over polenta. Check out Holly's original post here...

Last week, I launched the first GTTC giveaway of the season. For four consecutive weeks, I will be sending a "starter pack" of Chinese vegetable seeds to a random participant. The winner from last week's post is Johanna. Be sure to visit her blog Tend-Her Garden. Please send me an email with your address and I'll put your seeds in the mail.

Want to join the weekly GTTC? Read the very simple guidelines here. Post below anytime before next Monday. See you soon!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

GBBD - April 2012

Everything has burst into bloom in the past couple of weeks. It's a blissful spring - today I decided to forgo any garden chores for a nap in the backyard instead (knowing it will not be mosquito-free out there for long). As I drifted off to sleep, I heard my 7 year old take her dad to see the strawberry plants in bloom. Here are other blooming in my garden. Take a look at all the GBBD posts at May Dreams Gardens when you're done. What's blooming in your part of the world?

Fothergilla beaver creek - a perfect little shrub. Fragrant bottlebrush blooms in spring, green all summer, all sorts of fiery autumn color in the fall.

Above - my favorite tall flowering shrub Sinycalycalycanthus. Gorgeous dark blooms, billowy leaves that turn yellow and orange in the fall. Below - Euphorbia Rudolph

Above: checkered lily

Monday, April 9, 2012

GTTC: chicken noodle soup (with fall/spring? carrots)

Welcome to the first Garden to Table Challenge post of 2012!

It started with a plan to clear out the raised beds to make way for spring vegetables, but what I found were some gorgeous carrots I never got to in the fall. I ended up pulling a good bunch of frost-sweetened atomic reds and chantenay red cores for a basic chicken noodle soup - perfect for a funky spring in Maryland when the weather is 78 degrees one day and 38 degrees the next and everyone's suffering from what's hopefully the last cold/flu of the season.

What are you harvesting and cooking in your part of the world? Post about it here - each and every Monday of this growing season! Click HERE for all the details about the weekly Garden to Table Challenge.

Today, I'm also announcing the first GIVEAWAY of the season - each week for the next four weeks, I will send a random participant a "starter pack" of Chinese vegetable seeds - mustard greens, luffa gourd, wax gourd (aka winter melon), Ceylon spinach, snow peas, bitter squash, tong ho (chrysanthemum greens). Link to the current post anytime after Monday. The link for each week ends when the next GTTC post goes up - the following Monday. For those new to the GTTC, just post your GTTC entry on your blog mentioning Greenish Thumb with a link back here, link your blog below and that's it! Enjoy seeing what other gardeners are doing with their harvests.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Urban Farm Handbook Challenge - (not) paneer

I'm such a wannabe farmer it's disgusting. In between my full time job and driving kids to ballet, piano, art classes, etc. in my SUV, I imagine the different combinations of jams I will can this summer, consider the eternal question - how can I make my garden bigger, and ponder the feasibility of raising chickens in my backyard. This is why when I stumbled upon the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge (book and blog) the other day, I scrambled to figure out what I would put together for the March Home Dairy Challenge.

I figured I would try to make paneer, since I've heard it's ridiculously easy. The cubes above are attractive enough, but this first experiment with cheese-making was not terribly successful. Here's what DID go well:

Above - the whole milk is at a rolling boil. The lemon juice was added and the milk began to curdle. Below - it was all strained through a cheesecloth over a colander in a bowl. I did drink some of the whey, and it was not unpleasant. I actually drank a lot because every time I made someone try it, he/she said, "You drink it first". So I got more than my fair share of tastes. After the whey has been stained through, I folded the cheesecloth over, put a small plate on top, and weighed it down with my heavy cast iron risotto pot. The whole operation sat for about 2 hours, and then the cheese went into the fridge for an hour.

Here's what needs to be improved for next time:
  • The cheese was not firm enough. When I added it to my tikka masala sauce, it basically fell apart. I think my paneer recipe was basically the lemon cheese recipe I saw on a link on the Sustainable Eats blog. Next time, I will try a different paneer recipe and use today's recipe to make a softer herbed cheese. I can tell that would be incredible - tart and creamy.
  • I need to figure out how to make this lactose-free. One of the consequences of aging is that dairy is now my nemesis, and though I dare my body way too frequently by having dairy, my favorite magazine Experience Life keeps telling me that eating things my body does not tolerate increases inflammation, which leads to some sort of bad thing that has to do with insulin, which ultimately leads to weight gain.
  • I need to make my own sauce because the jarred tikka masala sucked. OK, I do see the irony here - making my own cheese like an urban farmer just to buy a jarred sauce like an urban schmuck. Not too farmer like. However, I do have a good excuse this time. My sister has just gone into labor with her second child and I'm in a rush to post this, pack, and get down to North Carolina!!!
Here are the other Urban Farm Handbook challenges that I'm looking forward to: April/Gardening, May/Foraging, June/Botanicals, July/Seed Saving and Winter Gardening, August/Preserving, September/Bartering, October/Protein, November/Grains, December/Handcrafted Holidays.

And in the meanwhile, I'll be eager to read posts from other participants on the Sustainable Eats blog, and will also be hosting my own weekly Garden to Table Challenge which begins April 9th. I'll be announcing the first giveaway then. Check it out!

My article in Kiki Magazine

Kiki Magazine is a super cool girls magazine. Here's why I like it:
  • There are no silly quizzes about what kind of girlfriend you are or what kind of kissing style you have.
  • The magazine is not filled with advertisements for tampons or Clearasil (not that there's anything wrong with those - but you're not paying for a bunch of ads!).
  • It's edgy yet modest. There are articles about runway and world fashion, but at the same time, a swimsuit article will feature the suits by themselves and live models wearing cute coverups.
  • The models are ethnically diverse, and they are real girls - not mini pre-anorexic fashion models.
  • There are always articles that involve other cultures and countries.
  • The pages ooze with creativity and encourage girls to be creative.
  • It's filled with how-tos and DIY projects. There are TONS of ideas for things to make and do.
  • And finally, I like it because my article on how to build a 4x4 garden out of stone is printed on page 46. :)
If you have a young daughter or granddaughter you should know this is really a high quality magazine. It'd make a great gift for any girl you know with "style and substance".
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