Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gardening and Immediacy

My little one and my father transplanting a Chinese herb
I had a great neighbor who has since moved away.  On day one, he invited us over for empanadas.  He and his wife were perfect neighbors for first time homeowners to have.  Old enough to know the neighborhood stories, young enough to hang out from time to time and share a bottle of wine.  As we settled in and began to make some changes around the house, the well-intentioned nay-saying began, "The city is not going to take those boards away unless you take all the nails out".   "Every piece of tinsel has to be removed or they won't recycle the tree".  "You shouldn't go up on the slope because there is poison ivy there".  "You can't grow vegetables here because the soil is all clay".  It got to the point where I tried to do household tasks at odd hours hoping I wouldn't get caught.

Good thing we're stubborn.  My husband didn't remove the nails nor the tinsel, and I both climbed the slope and grew vegetables in the clay.

This posting is a little late, but I attended the International Master Gardener's Conference back in October of 2011.  The sessions have been largely forgotten, but I did attend a session by speakers Janet Macunovich and Steven Nikkila.  I'm not a handout keeper, and in classes, I prefer to listen rather than take notes, so I probably don't retain as much info as your average attendee, but there are many parts of Janet and Steve's lecture that were so interesting and important and pieces keep coming back to me in my life.

One point they made was about IMMEDIACY.  As a gardener, if someone asks you for help, avoid jargon.  SHOW them how to do what they need to do.  You want to make it doable for the novice gardener - and for them to feel the excitement of it.  She shared an example of an inexperienced gardener friend who was suddenly motivated to move a tree.  And during the worst part of the year to do it!  Despite the chance that the tree might suffer or not even make it, she helped him move it anyway.  There's an excitement that gets into us - you're a gardener - you know this feeling too.  

This makes me think of my neighbor.  It's true there was poison ivy on the slope.  I got a case so bad I went to the hospital (and I'm a tough cookie).  But when I got better, I got back on the slope to do more work up there.  It's true it's VERY difficult to grow vegetables in clay.  But I tried, and then I learned.

This also makes me think of an interaction I recently had at work.  Some of our students held a plant sale - everything was $1!  I bought things like chives, ferns, parsley.  Great deal.  Later, one of my friends (a particularly exuberant friend) bought some seedlings too and was so incredibly delighted about it!  In her box, that she was showing me, she had a lettuce seedling and a beet seedling and was telling me she was going to have fresh salads for her family all summer.  I didn't have the heart to tell her that the lettuce seedling wouldn't provide enough leaves for one salad, that the plant would probably bolt in a couple of weeks, and that the one beet seedling she bought would produce exactly one beet.  A beet she paid a dollar for.  I felt a little badly about not sharing the information, but I thought of my neighbor, and I thought of Janet and Steve.  I figure if she gets her hands dirty and does a little experimenting, she may catch the gardening bug - it's not difficult to.  She may complain that the lettuce didn't produce enough to garnish a sandwich.  She may ask questions.  And that is when I'll show her how to sow her own row of beets, and how to start her own salad bed.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

GTTC: strawberry spinach salad with herb cheese fritter

I knew this second try at cheese-making would be more successful than the first one.  This time, I added fresh herbs from the garden as well as some salt.  I also actually squeezed the cheese in the cloth rather than just let it sit with a heavy pot on top.  When I first tasted this cheese, I exclaimed aloud, "Oh my god.  Oh. My. God" (and then felt extremely compelled to call my sister and my husband).  It was that good.  The dinner salad was fantastic with strawberries from the garden, spinach from the garden, walnuts, a balsamic vinaigrette and the panko and herb encrusted cheese fritter.  A meal I was quite proud of through and through!

We're solidly in the middle of strawberry season, and this year, I'm not making jam with the large bowlfuls, but freezing them in small bags.  I know I'll be thankful later when we want smoothies, pancakes, or simply some frozen fruit to snack on.  

Are your seedlings in the ground yet (cause mine aren't...)?  What's in your edible garden right now?  Join the Garden to Table Challenge by posting about what you're harvesting and cooking, then link below.  It's fun! More details here...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth (please!)

So, I'm supposed to do my talk about growing and cooking Chinese vegetables tomorrow at the Maryland Master Gardener's Annual Training Day.  I checked out the brochure and the speakers are published authors, PhDs, lifetime experts in the field, and then...lil' ole me.

I THINK I've put together an informative presentation - I've got a clever title, a powerpoint presentation with some interesting info, a simple cooking demo, handouts, some food to sample, and I'm going to give away the veggies I'm bringing in to show - luffa gourds, long beans, etc.  I'm also a ridiculously organized person and have no fear of public speaking.  So it could possibly go well.

But here are some things that can go wrong:

  • First and foremost, I could have technical difficulties.  I'm not technologically-inclined, so this is always a big fear of mine.  
  • I could be asked a question I can't answer, which would be mortifying. 
  • Worse yet, I could have a heckler in the crowd.  
  • My cooking demo could go wrong in a number of horrible ways.  
  • People could scoff (or worse, be grossed out) at my samples.
BUT, I've come up with a little insurance policy.  I'm also going to give out some seeds.  What gardener doesn't love seeds right?  In the basket above are some business cards I've printed from Moo.  Moo cards are pretty awesome.  My photos are on the front, and my contact info is on the back.  Stapled to each card are 3 small packets of Chinese vegetable seeds.  Because what I'm thinking is...you can't look a gift horse in the mouth, right?  Right?  I hope?!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

GTTC: strawberry ice cream and citrus-mint gin and tonic

I've been experimenting with different ice cream recipes.  The deal with the custard based treats is that they're richer, creamier, smoother, but they also require a large pot, small bowls, large bowls, whisks, spoons, as well as chilling time in an ice bath before the actual freezing.  I'm just not sure the cream is worth the custard.  Today's ice cream is a Philadelphia style - no cook - ice cream.  It is so simple I can explain it in a few sentences.

Chop a cup of strawberries and set aside.  In a blender, add 4 cups of strawberries, 3/4 cup of sugar, juice of 1/2 lemon, a sprinkle of salt, a dash of vanilla and puree.  Stir in 2 cups heavy cream.  Pour into ice cream freezer and when half frozen, add the cup of chopped strawberries.  

In a taste test, perhaps the custard style would win, but on a busy Sunday night when there is laundry to finish, the work/school week to prepare for and DISHES TO DO, I really loving the Philadelphia style.

So where's the ice cream?  Unfortunately, the family ate it before I had a chance to take a photo in decent light.  So for your viewing pleasure, I made and snapped a photo of my drink of the week.  I'm reading a book for my book group that is sheer drivel and I'm absolutely embarrassed to be seen reading it. I may have lost 10 IQ points in the process.  The only redeeming factor is that it's inspired me to make drinks "with a paper thin slice of lemon floating in it" just like the main character always drinks (while summering in Nantucket).  Now if this lemon-mint gin and tonic doesn't make you thirsty, you got your AC cranked up too high.  

Who else looks out in the garden and sees drink possibilities?  Join the Garden to Table Challenge every week by linking below.  Details here. See ya!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GBBD - May 2012

Every May, I appreciate the name of Carol's blog - May Dreams Gardens.  Stop by there to see other blooms, if the ones below don't satisfy you!  

Above - some sort of little firework allium.  Below: lingonberry blooms.

Above: sinocalycalycanthus.

Above: Major Wheeler honeysuckle.  Below: Pass the Wine rebloomer

Above: pale blue Siberian iris, purple French lavender, light green euphorbia in bloom.  Below: baptisia

Above: green halo peony.  Below: don't have the name, but isn't is pretty?!

Above: reliable pinks.  Below: clematis rooguchi.  I love it.  A beautiful clematis for the deep shade.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

GTTC: a retro strawberry dessert

Above: a Mother's Day treat from my 7 year old.  She must really be maturing since she left the brownie reserved in a bag for 24 hours so I could have this present Sunday morning.  Yes she had access to the tub of sprinkles while I slept, and yes she hovered and drooled as I ate, which prompted me to share most of the brownie with her, but still...

The strawberries are awesome right now!  There are so many to pick and this week, we had one of my favorite desserts in the world.  Who knows if I've properly labelled it "retro", but at my age, basically everything I think is awesome I find out is "retro".  My husband and I were listening to a Smashing Pumpkins song on TV and commenting on how great it was when he mentioned we were listening to the Retro Music channel. What?! I digress.  Here's the blissfully simple dessert that makes me feel 10 years old in 2 seconds flat:
  • Slice of Sara Lee all-butter pound cake 
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Giant dollop of Cool-Whip  
Anyone else harvesting strawberries?  What are you doing with them right now?  Post about it and link to the Garden to Table Challenge this and every week.  Details here...

PS - come back on the 15th for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!  My perennial garden is quite stunning right now if I can say so myself!

Monday, May 7, 2012

GTTC: lemony spiced spinach and chick peas

Above: the first strawberries of the season, along with rhubarb and raspberries growing slowly but surely- yes, there will be pie!

But as for now, I will boast about this quite delicious lunch I made this week - onions, garlic, chick peas, spinach, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika - served with pita and plain Greek yogurt.  Hearty and healthy, and made great use of the spinach that's so prolific in the garden right now.

What are you harvesting and using in your kitchen this week?  Join the weekly Garden to Table Challenge.  See details here...  This week, my neighbor blogger of Charm City Balcony Garden has won a starter pack of Asian vegetable seeds.  Send me an e-mail with your address and I'll send your seeds out!  Hope all you gardeners are having a fantastic spring so far!

On a different note, the spring pinks in my perennial garden are so darn pretty I could just die.  I'm doing my annual persistent "look at that flower - just look at it - isn't it gorgeous".  My family is quickly getting sick of it I'm sure, but so far, they're humoring me.  Anyway, check 'em out on Garden Blogger's Bloom Day on the 15th...
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