Coming Inside

kofta and squashThis morning there was ice on the pond. Not a good sign.

I went out and, indeed, the rest of the Brussels sprouts are frozen. We’ll eat them anyway, but I wish I’d saved them from the freeze by harvesting them last night. Not sure how I missed the memo!

Especially since this week I’ve been getting back to my “inside” routine. It’s the equivalent of putting away the summer clothes and taking out the sweaters. We’ve “eaten down” all the peppers and other must-eat-fresh produce and the refrigerator suddenly looks empty. Not to mention the countertop!

I moved the harvest cookbooks to the back of the shelf and took out my copy of Jerusalem

But first, there was one more project I wanted to get from the garden: kimchi. Yes, making kimchi is a winter activity, but one of my garden goals was to grow enough carrots, daikon, garlic and michili cabbage to make at least one batch of homegrown kimchi.

I haven’t quite gotten the hang of the michili cabbage. In fact, I was reading (in some greenhouse book) that michili is unusual in that it bolts in cold, not hot weather. It is a  warm/hot weather green. That is very good to know for next year, but this year, it means planting them spring and fall was not the way to go.

photo-25I did go to the lastkimchi october outdoor Farmers’ Market last Friday and one of the farmers had little boxes of small cabbages. So I bought those for my project instead. I had the daikon and carrot and garlic, mixed my paste and put it in the fermenter. Success!

But back to Yotam Ottolenghi… I had pulled out some ground beef and lamb, so of course there had to be kofta. I love the little torpedo-shaped meatballs bursting with flavor, drizzled with tahini sauce and sprinkled with pine nuts. But the real find was his recipe for roasted butternut squash and red onion wedges, doused with the same tahini sauce. Here is a link to the recipe. Use the za’atar liberally! And really, this would be a good side dish for Thanksgiving and is very easy.

But I couldn’t stop there. When I took out the cookbook, there was one bright pink flag in it. It was on the page for chocolate krantz cakes. The first time I saw the recipe I knew immediately that this was babka. Chocolate babka!! I’d been wanting to make this (although I’m not much of a baker) since I saw it on Seinfeld back in the ’90s. If you’ve never seen the episode, here is a not very good copy. I put the pink flag on the page because, well, it takes two days to make! It is more of a bread, a yeasted cake, that has to rise overnight, and rise another 1-2 hours before it goes in the oven. So it’s definitely an “inside time” recipe.

But I had another incentivbabka doughe, because the local Sam’s Club has again started carrying Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips in a giant bag for about $8.00. What joy. My sister-in-law is a member and she picks them up for me when they’re in stock. With a giant bag of those chips, I can say that it is going to be a good winter.

I had time to be around yesterday, so Wednesday night I made the dough and yesterday had the rest of the fun.

babka risingI followed the directions closely, but at the proposed rolled out size, the first “loaf” didn’t fit in the pan. I made the second one more squat, and I think it turned out better. One blogger said she rolls the dough out thin and trims it and managed to get three loaves out of the recipe (with high ratio of chocolate to dough), which sounds even better.

But no matter, the babka is delicious. I highly recommend. And on this last day of October, first freeze, it feels good to be inside with some leftover meatballs and a slice of babka…

finished babka


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beans pulling down the trellis.

beans pulling down the trellis.

When I wrote the blog post about how I discriminate against some of the things growing in my garden and choose not to eat weeds like purslane and dandelions (not that there’s anything wrong with that), a friend e-mailed me a great story. She said that when she was living in Colorado on a small researcher stipend, she was sad that she couldn’t afford to join a CSA or shop at the health food store for produce. She ate simply and well, and actually at the end of the season she won a gleaning opportunity. A local farm/CSA used a lottery to invite 50 families who couldn’t otherwise afford the CSA to come to the farm and glean 50 pounds of produce. That included things still in the field and also “the uglies” that they couldn’t sell at the Farmer’s Market or put in the CSA shares. She said she felt rich eating that food.

Also, think about it. That is 2,500 pounds of food that went to families. A log of uglies.

fistfull of radishes and beetsI don’t eat every edible thing that grows in my garden, but I eat a lot of it. And I have noticed that each night when we sit down to eat and say grace, I pause anew over the words. Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. It’s the word “bounty” that gets me– “thy bounty.” I feel rich. I feel blessed. When I’m cooking and when I’m eating, I’m aware of the bounty and the wonderful gift of food.

This year, when she’s making a good salary, my friend bought a membership in a CSA for the season. She and I did a “canning” exchange a few weeks ago. I sent her some salsa and red pepper sauce, and she sent me sour cherry jam and apricot jam. And because today is Sunday, I dug into that sour cherry jam for my English muffin. And I enjoyed the bounty.

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The Game Changer

Steve at greenhouse frameIs this the happiest man you’ve ever seen? This photo really shows what Steve is about. If I had worked for two days and was facing down two pallets of materials for a gigantic greenhouse, I would not look like this. But Steve leaves to work on it in the morning and comes home at night full of happiness and a sort of idyllic view of the future. “Aren’t we lucky?” he asks. And yes, I say, we really are.

Lucky that we have this land, the means, and the health to do this kind of large project.  Of course, Steve is already thinking how he could make better greenhouses than this one (which is a giant kit “made to be easily shipped”) and how everyone needs a giant greenhouse. Or not even giant. I try to keep him rational and make him realize not everyone has the land or resources we have– and most people do not actually want to work at growing things in the winter in Minnesota!

My garden shed has not yet materialized (ahem, my 50th birthday present…) but now instead of a prefab job from Home Depot there are talks of the prototype for the new greenhouse construction, half shed, half greenhouse, maximum strength, with room for chickens of course.

steve driving corner postThe greenhouse people said this one would go up in three days with two people working on it. That has not turned out to be true. Still, I am glad Steve and Jeff are taking their time with the gravel floor, securing the posts, reinforcing the base with wood. Here is the corner post going in, a big moment.

And really, look at those white pines behind him. Who wouldn’t want to be out there building a greenhouse on a sublime October day? Think of the great sound the wind will make through the grove (the work of my brother-in-law Kevin) while you’re in the greenhouse.

When Steve comes in at night, what strikes me is his vision of how beautiful the greenhouse will be and how everyone is going to want to hang out there in the winter. Because we all know, really, that farming is about community. He talks poetically about the sun and the refuge that will be the greenhouse in the middle of winter. (This is the man who wanted a bed on wheels so it could be rolled over to the window at night in spring to better hear the frogs.) Today he said I should get a bike with snow tires so I can more easily go back and forth. Big dreams.

He also thinks he’ll be driving trucks and implements in there in the winter, blasting the propane heaters, and fixing the machinery in the bright sun of a January day. I’m not sure I like the idea of a giant plastic machine shed, but whatever… Jeff has dreams of fig trees and a lemon tree inside.

greenhouse assembly work

steve in greenhouse frameIn the last two days the framework has gone up and now we can really get a sense of how big it is. 72′ x 26′ is no joke. Here is Steve showing me the little area I can use for a few tomato plants. The joker.

At dinner we get out the Eliot Coleman book Four-Season Harvestwhich has the most beautiful photo of a 10 x 20 greenhouse, complete with paver area with a little table and place for starting plants and a few rows of raised beds for crops. Steve has told me my little greenhouse plot will be more like 15 or 20 x 26. I’m gonna start with the 10 x 20 idea and work my way up…and maybe purchase the new Coleman book Winter Season Harvest. 

greenhouse long viewThe real purpose of the greenhouse, though, is to grow prairie plugs. There have been two prairie restoration companies in St. Cloud over the years, but they have closed up shop or moved closer to the Twin Cities. There is an opening here, and a market. So the greenhouse is likely to be full of grasses and native flowers in time to come. That’s a business I can also get behind. Next summer we’ll be rebranding Steve’s Landscape Services (currently at to emphasize the prairie part of the business.

Which is all to say, we’re really excited about the greenhouse. Even the bees, whose homes are just a little ways off, and who have also had a great year, as you can see by the number of boxes in their two hives.

bee hives 10-14


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Mature Prairie: Fall

long view largeThese are my colors. From 1978-82 when I was in high school, I made many of my own clothes, and these were the colors I gravitated to. They were called “earth tones.” My mother called them “brown.” Looking at the prairie these days reminds me of the one and only “suit” I ever made, a lined jacket, pants, and a corduroy vest that had all these colors in it. I loved that vest.

The mature prairie behind the house continues to look different than it has other years. The individual plants stand out, although I couldn’t tell you without their bright flowering heads what they are. Well, these are the seeds of grey headed coneflowers. It’s seed harvest time. This time of year they flake right off their stalks and release a great, citrus-y scent that stays in the skin.

hand seedsAnd this fluffy one was the last to bloom, goldenrod.

goldenrod seedAs for these with the sherbet-red stalks, they are exploding aster puffballs!

prairie red plantsAnd this is our wave of blue stem…

grassesThe colors of the ground are in harmony with the colors of the trees, and the light of the low sun is just burnishing everything. It’s precious metal time. Jewels of the earth time. A final shout before everything is blanketed in snow.

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leek seeds

I think leeks might still be the most amazing plant in the garden. The seeds are so tiny, and I start them before anything else. And yet, the full-grown leek is one of the last things I harvest. When I put the plants in the garden, they look like individual blades of grass. I always think they are never going to make it. A little water and they lie flat on the bed. It’s usually pretty cold still there in April, and they just hold on.

They require more work than other plants, too. You have to keep hilling them up, keep bringing in heavy soil or compost to pile around the shaft. Only the covered part will stay white and develop into the part of the leek that is desirable. They’re often thin even six months later when it’s time to harvest them.

This was a good year for leeks.

leeksA good year for leeks means the shafts were wider, they had more layers, than in other years. They were tall and strong. Most if not all of them made it to maturity. I waited until after several light frosts, and then, mostly because we haven’t gotten any rain and I didn’t want to water anymore, I dug them up. And then I tried to find something really special to cook them in.

I did make a batch of potato leek soup. It was fine. I’m not the biggest soup lover in the world. And I think there were too many potatoes to leeks in the ratio. I also made three pints of one of my favorite things, a red pepper leek olive with vinegar and oil tapenade you can put on bread that is amazing (I have now given you all the ingredients so no need for a recipe). I canned those and will be loving them so much in the spring. This past spring I had two half-pints and I ended up stuffing them in chicken breasts when the red pepper sauce was finished. Really delicious.

leek and salmon pie 2Salmon and leeks seem like an obvious combination, so I went looking for a leek and salmon pie recipe. I found several on, but they all had the same problem. Puff pastry. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been intimidated by puff pastry. I pulled out the box that had been sitting in my freezer for two years and, well, it cracked into tiny pieces in my hand. Should I buy another box and try again? With some encouragement from my Facebook friends, I went and bought a box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry.

I chose the simplest leek and salmon pie recipe, one that didn’t involve pie weights and pre-cooking the crust and didn’t involve cream, goat cheese, herb cheese, AND cream cheese (really??). In fact, it didn’t call for any cheese or cream at all. The reviewers, though, said it was dry– except that it comes with a red pepper sour cream sauce that solves that problem.

leek and salmon pieI decided to add some half and half and dot the mixture with goat cheese before baking, to kind of help it out. And I must say, it was a fantastic and suitable use of leeks. Served with some freshly-picked greens with a dill/lemon vinaigrette, it was too good for Thursday night. And, fear of puff pastry conquered.

Here is the recipe, which I will certainly make again.

Leek, Salmon and Goat Cheese Pie

  • 4 large leeks (I used 7 medium leeks)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs half-and-half or cream
  • 1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless salmon fillet
  • 1/4- 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill leaves
  •  coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 oz of goat cheese
  • sriracha or other hot sauce (optional)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • a 17 1/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets (thawed according to package instructions)

Cut white and pale-green parts of leeks crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. In a bowl of cold water wash leeks well and lift from water into a colander to drain. Pat leeks dry. In a large skillet cook leeks and garlic in butter and oil over moderate heat, stirring, about 5 minutes.  Cut salmon into roughly 3/4-inch pieces and in a bowl toss with leeks, dill, salt, and pepper until combined well.

In a small bowl whisk together egg and water to make an egg wash. On a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin roll 1 puff pastry sheet into a 10-inch square and the other into a 12-inch square. Transfer 10-inch pastry square to a floured large baking sheet and mound salmon filling in center. Dab goat cheese on top and if you like a kick, dab on some hot sauce as well (I used a little sriracha).

Brush edges of pastry evenly with some egg wash. Carefully drape remaining pastry square over salmon and gently press edges together to seal. With a sharp knife trim edges of pastry to form a 10-inch round. Crimp edges and cut 4 steam vents on top of crust. Brush crust evenly with some remaining egg wash. Chill pie, loosely covered, at least 1 hour and up to 3 (I only had 1/2 hour for chilling).

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Bake pie in middle of oven until pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serve pie warm or at room temperature with a sour cream based sauce. You can make a sauce with lemon juice and dill, with hot sauce, with cilantro, with red peppers pureed in a blender. But I do recommend a sauce.

Adapted from here:

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Pretty Enough to Eat

photo-14 copyToday I was preparing my garlic beds for planting. I brought in two straw bales and the country store where I bought them had bags of apples– 20 lbs for $20! Score! These are locally grown and “minimally sprayed.” That sounds good to me. I’m not sure I want completely unsprayed apples.

photo-15I was thinking as I was picking lettuce that I grow enough food not to have to eat the really ugly stuff. Last week I cut into a few large potatoes I harvested weeks ago and they had brown triangles in the middle. Some of them I cut around the “bad centers,” but others I just threw away. I have good potatoes. I was making potato leek soup and didn’t want blemishes or anything off.

A friend recently asked for a recipe for purslane. She got it in her CSA box. I had to call BS on that one. Purslane from your CSA?? I’m sure it has tons of vitamin C or something, but I don’t eat purslane; I pull it as a weed. She ended up making a stew and said that the only thing she didn’t like about the stew was the purslane! It was too chewy and weird tasting. I say if you’re going to offer purslane, put it out as an “extra.” But really, don’t bother washing and prepping purslane for 100 families…

I have tried nettles, making a weird oily soup that I’m sure was very good for me. That was a one-time deal. I also often eat things that are growing up between my garden beds. I love edible flowers, especially nasturtium.

susanwithrabbitIn my homesteading excitement, I even made rabbit stew, twice, from rabbit my husband shot and brought home. Then I told him to just dispose of the rabbit because it really wasn’t worth making the stew for that little bit of meat. Basically, I loved the stew but didn’t think it was worth buying the ingredients and spending the time to accommodate a free rabbit.

When I was preparing the garlic beds, though, I turned over a little square of straw that was lying between the beds and uncovered a thick tangle of really beautiful sprouts. From the seeds attached, I’d say they were from a delicata squash or zucchini that grew in the adjacent garden bed and was discarded.

photo-16So can I eat them? Why not? I washed them and cut off the seeds and roots, pulled off some of the tops, and put them on my salad, with lovely lettuces from the cold frame and from a weird patch growing next to the cold frame (I often spill seed packets…). The lettuce that had brown or yellow patches, I threw away. I had a few more tomatoes and some fall radishes, too. The sprouts were good, flavorful, added some depth to the salad. So far, no “digestive” consequences…

My produce is not going to win any beauty contests. Especially my tomatoes! But there is an awful lot of it, so I can be a little picky. And I’ll wait until after the apocalypse to eat purslane, dandelion greens and nettles.


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Something New

prairie carpet 10-14There is a feeling of something new around here. I can’t quite explain it, but I’m just feeling like something new is happening. It’s a strange feeling for fall! It has a lot to do with the arrival of the new greenhouse.

It has not been assembled yet, but when it is up it will be 26′ x 72′, with raised beds for me and a very large area for potting prairie plugs. It’s really for the prairie business. With the rise in demand for natives, prairie and pollinator plots, Steve anticipates business. As it is, he is the only person in Central Minnesota right now doing prairie work. There are businesses in all other parts of the state, but Steve is the only one planting prairies around St. Cloud (though there is a business close to the Metro who does jobs here).

I don’t really know what it will mean for me yet. Next year I’ll just begin growing things in there. I’m pretty busy right now, pretty near my limit in terms of gardening and homesteading. Any more will require more time, and I’m not sure where that will come from. Right now it’s all just possibility.

But also this afternoon, out pulling things out of the garden beds, I was struck again by how different things are in the garden than they were when I first started this blog. I’m getting ready to plant the garlic for next year, and that always reminds me of my original impetus for the garden. Reading about eating locally, I started paying attention to where my produce came from. I stopped eating bananas and have successfully avoided crops from Australia and Argentina. But what really bugged me was the garlic from China. My garlic came from China! There is no life without garlic, of course, but I was surprised to find out how well garlic grows in Minnesota. There’s even a festival! And so, getting ready to plant two beds of Minnesota-raised seed garlic, I have about 40 heads of garlic (after using 60 already in the preserving and cooking since harvest in July) in a burlap sack in the basement that will get me through Thanksgiving. Two years ago I grew half that.  I’ve made a dent, a very large dent, in my local food consumption. I’m not sure I believed that would happen when I started, and I certainly didn’t expect it would become so much a way of life for me.

new 17 acres of prairieAfter the work in the garden, I went for a walk with my camera to the new 17 acres of prairie. For about a week, a local construction company has been putting in a road for a new development that will have about a dozen houses. That will bring the development right up to the dead end where our driveway begins.

The long term plan for the city is to put a road right through these 17 acres to serve as a “feeder road” to get people in and out of the neighborhood. They would take the land through eminent domain. We’re thinking given the cost that it won’t happen for a long time. The new houses, though, bring it a little closer.

hyssop closeI wanted to take a photo of the purple flowers I saw there a week ago. Do you know what it is? I didn’t either, so we asked Jeff. It is hyssop. Hyssop! There’s a fair amount of hyssop flowering out in the new prairie, planted this past spring.

Hyssop smells like anise or licorice, but a bit more perfumy. Like maybe there’s some myrrh or frankincense in there. I say that because it’s a Biblical flower. It is used in the Old Testament in cleansing/purifying sacrifices. A branch of hyssop is dipped in the blood of the sacrificial lamb in Exodus and the hyssop branch used to apply it to the lintels to mark the homes of the Jews in Egypt so the angel of death will pass over their houses.

hyssop plantsPsalm 51:7 reads: “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

In the New Testament, when Jesus is on the cross, he says he is thirsty. They dip a branch of hyssop into sour wine and offer it to him. And “when he had received the sour wine,” he “gave up the spirit” and says, “It is finished” (John 19:28-30). It’s a connection between the passover sacrificial lamb and Christ as sacrificial lamb.

And hyssop is growing out on the new prairie. Some day I may harvest this seed as part of our prairie seed mix. Wikipedia says it is used by beekeepers to produce an aromatic honey. It is also used in liquors, a primary ingredient in Chartreuse. As a healing herb, it is used as a cough suppressant and expectorant and in mouthwashes. In cooking, dried or fresh leaves are used (moderately) for their strong mint flavor.

If the sudden appearance of hyssop in one’s life doesn’t suggest there are more, new things ahead, I don’t know what does.

And now I’m off to make a new dish. My counter was completely bare when I went out to the garden today, but I’ve hauled in all sorts of things. I’m still eating “fresh,” and working on the stash in the fridge. Tonight we’ll be having a stir fry with pork marinaded in a tamarind chutney marinade. For vegetables we’ll have carrots, parsnips, daikon radish(!), onion, and greens: Michilli cabbage, turnip greens and beet greens. I’ve got a fresh burlap sack of Royal Basmati rice from the Somali grocery store, too. And maybe a handful of hyssop leaves.stir fry produce 10-14

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