Getting All Foodie

IMG_8592It is the year of beans. The wall o’ beans has been putting out copious amounts of purple, yellow, and striated beans, and there have been green bush beans, too. Even with the deer or rabbits nibbling the tops, I am gonna have a ton of beans.

IMG_8579Right now they’re skinny and tender and gorgeous, so I’m just starting with the canning. I’m not a HUGE fan of dilly beans, so I went looking for a few different recipes. I now am part of two Facebook groups that are very foodie, making all sorts of concoctions, and it’s pushing me a bit.

I made three jars (I love the 1 1/2 pint tall jars) of straight up dilly beans: garlic, dill head,  piece of red pepper in a brine of vinegar/water/pickling salt.

I made another three jars of a spicy version: allspice, mustard seeds, peppercorn, dill head, garlic, red pepper. I was kind of intrigued by the allspice.

IMG_8583This morning I made a third kind, definitely of the foodie variety. I got it from Emeril’s site, so I figure it is safe and not too out there. I also replaced the white wine vinegar with apple cider, and I don’t know why. Otherwise I followed his recipe: a sprig of rosemary, a 3″ piece of lemon peel, a clove of garlic, and a brine of vinegar (2 cups white, 1/2 cup apple cider in my case… he calls for 2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar), 2 1/2 cups water, 2 Tbs sugar and 2 Tbs canning salt. Rosemary-lemon seems like a winning combination to me!

nasturtium hot sauce in jar


And, in an even more foodie move, here is my jar of nasturtium hot sauce. This was posted to one of the pages and comes from here. I love nasturtiums as a flower and especially since they are edible. Usually I just put them on the side of the plate and eat them after the meal!

I had so many flowers on my plant this year (it’s supposed to share a container with a thai pepper plant but it has sort of taken over), that this seemed a possibility.



nasturtium hot sauceI kept the nasturtiums in the vinegar with the pepper and garlic and gave it a little shake every morning for a week. I did add a few more flowers mid-week, and so I let it go longer. Then I made another batch the following week. Enough to get this jar. I only had yellow flowers so the liquid looks, well, a little “specimeny.” (I do have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.)  That did make me laugh. And I have no idea what to do with it, but maybe if I get a fancy jar and work on my labeling skills it will look even better!

And hey. Aren’t I all gourmet.


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Mature Prairie, part 2

IMG_8576Six years ago today, Steve and I got married and I moved onto this prairie. At that time, the main prairie behind our house was about five years old. Other pieces of land were being killed, and a few plots were either taking hold or being taken over by reed canary grass.

IMG_8564This year, after a lot more prairie burns, more spraying, planting, cutting thistle, and new prairie plots encroaching on the commons, the biggest pleasure has been the mature prairie below our bedroom window.

In an earlier post, I talked about the way that prairie was coming in after the spring burn, with spaces between the flowers and grasses. The war on the weeds seems finally won, and there’s a gentle beauty to this prairie.

The beauty has come in waves, purple, yellow, and white, as the flowers take turns blooming. Right now, there’s a wave of tick trefoil through the prairie, and the bergamot and coneflowers are just coming in.


It’s hard in a photograph to capture the scope of the prairie.

In the first years, I would walk around with my camera, chronicling and learning the names of all the new flowers. Looking for new, bright blooms.

IMG_8572There is still new prairie, bursting with its recent seeding, along the edge of the lawn. I know the flowers better now, but each year I have to be reminded of their names.

IMG_8575Every flower is a revelation, and I’m constantly stopped in my tracks by the beauty of where I live. It’s a life I couldn’t imagine ten years ago. And I swear, I can’t look out our dining room window without seeing monarch butterflies dancing in the breeze. It’s like those online Jacquie Lawson cards my aunt sends me each year for my birthday.

But what I really love is the mature prairie, not the gaudy, stuffed plots of flowers of the first years. And yes, there is a metaphor in that.


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Berry Hoarders

berriesWhen that zombie apocalypse I’ve been predicting comes to pass, do you know who will be ready? Middle-class moms who have decided they want their families to eat healthier, that’s who. If you want to know how to prepare, go hang out in your local berry fields.

I’ve noticed this every time I’ve been berry picking. Yesterday I went out to a blueberry place I tried twice last year without success (they were “picked out” both times I got there). I was anxious and driving fast. “Must. Get. More. Berries.” I needn’t have worried; the bushes were gorgeous and loaded down with berries. They just dropped into your hands. (The moms thought they were a little small, compared to other places they’ve been.)

And, per usual, a few rows over were a couple moms with kids in the 8-12 range. They were picking flats, I mean flats, of blueberries. They were picking enough blueberries for an army.

And as they picked, they talked. “What are you going to do with your blueberries?” one asked.

“I’ll make a couple of pies, but most of them I’ll freeze.”

Then they talked about other fruit they’ve gotten this season. “The strawberries weren’t as good this year. All the rain and cold weather.”

“I used to be one of the regulars at Lodermeiers.” [The Lodermeiers had a famous berry operation that closed down about 10 years ago. The size, quantity, and sweetness of their berries is legendary.]

“Oh, me too. Why did they close that place down?”

“None of the next generation wanted to keep it up, I guess. You have good years and bad years, and it’s a lot of work.”

“I didn’t get many strawberries this year. I got 50 pounds of peaches, though, from this man in Eden Valley. He gets things by the truckload and you can just reserve what you want to buy from him.”


“Yes, a friend of mine knew about it and got me on his list.”

“The cherries have been good this year, did you notice?”

“I got two lugs at the local market. How much were the peaches?”

“Thirty dollars for 25 pounds, straight from Georgia.”

“That’s really good.”

“We got a couple buckets of cherries, too. I set up the kids with the pitter and we just went through and processed the whole lot of them in a couple hours. Pitted, bagged, and in the freezer.”

For the apocalypse, I do hope they have generators, because the freezer going down will be the only thing to stop them.

At another berry farm two weeks ago, I saw some enterprising women splitting up the task. One went for blueberries with the kids while the other hit the raspberries.

Yesterday I found my first mammoth zucchini, and so I started the zucchini bread making (throwing in a few handfuls of blueberries). And that means today I had to start up the basement freezer. Last year there was a mishap and it got unplugged in early December. Usually we eat out of it until spring, when I turn it off. It feels good to tuck in the first few bags of pesto, the zucchini bread, and the berries.

I’ll be using my two bags of blueberries and strawberries in smoothies and oatmeal. Those lucky kids whose moms took this seriously, though, they’ll be eating muffins every day for a year.

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big green squashI’m not sure what’s going on with my winter squash. They look weird.

I planted four kinds of winter squash this year: butternut, delicata (the queen of squash), tahitian (supposed to be a long-necked butternut) and a couple seeds called “Cool Old Squash” (in Anishinaabe: Gete-okosomin) from the White Earth Reservation Seed Collection. I picked up a few of the seeds at a seed swap in February. Here is a link to a radio program with Winona LaDuke speaking about how the seed was found, what the squash looks like, and a recipe: baked squash canoes filled with wild rice and maple syrup!

I think I also planted a hill of pumpkin seeds, though they were a few years old. All the seeds except the White Earth seed (um, and maybe the pumpkins?) were purchased from seed companies, so I had high expectations of their quality (i.e., no cross-breeding). I planted them in a few hills in my ample new raised beds. The germination rate was uneven, but I did end up with several good looking plants that are vining away. I even started a couple inside (delicata and butternut) and moved them out into the beds.

They started flowering early and then some fruits appeared. Not butternut. Not long-necked. Definitely not delicata. Two kinds: this big green squash that doesn’t look like it’s going to suddenly turn into a butternut squash (above), and this other funny yellow one. I fear the big green squash might be from my own pumpkin seeds and have crossed with butternut.

cool old squash 7-20-14The yellow one looks like a banana squash, and that is good. The Gete-okosomin is a banana squash, yellow and orange with green at the end. And they are supposed to get big (8-30 lbs/ 2 1/2 feet?), which it seems like these are going to do.

There are other flowers on other plants. So I could still get some butternut squash or Tahitian or even delicata. But if worst comes to worst, I believe I will eat well on cool old squash all winter…

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My Beautiful Failures

syrupy jamsI should be kicked off the internets. Really. Yesterday I grossly misrepresented myself with a status update and photo of some gorgeous jars purporting to be blueberry-rhubarb jam and raspberry jam. People “liked” them so much. Someone even offered to pay money for one of them.

But this morning I sat there shifting the jars back and forth and realizing that, while the blueberry-rhubarb jam was sort of passable, the raspberry jam is definitely syrup. Not set.

I was much better at making jam when I didn’t know how to do it. Back then I was forced to follow a recipe. And I consulted it many, many times during the making of the jam.

This time, I used a recipe on my own blog!! So, you see, it gets worse. I not only misrepresented, I have also grossly misled people. And I was feeling really good about myself, too, because the photo on the original post of the blueberry-rhubarb jam is my one photo that got picked up on Pinterest. And it is all over Pinterest. It rules the blueberry-rhubarb jam category on Pinterest. And that batch really was good.

img_6245But going back this morning to the Ball canning recipe, I see that one should not do as I instructed and after boiling the fruit and sugar for one full minute take off the heat and add the pectin then put in jars. One should add the pectin and then bring to a full boil while stirring constantly for one minute. Doesn’t that make more sense? And the people at Ball (who made the jars so must know what they’re talking about) also cook the fruit and lemon juice down first, then add the sugar all at once, incorporate, and add the pectin when it gets to a full boil, stir for one minute, then put in the canning jars. Everything about that makes sense.

berriesIn the final analysis, these jars are full of berries I picked myself at the peak of ripeness and on the same day mixed with sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 Tbs of butter, then put in jars and boiled until they sealed. The contents will be delicious on pancakes and on ice cream and oatmeal and on yogurt. It can even be drizzled onto Popovers and on English muffins. Last night I spread some of the remnant blueberry-rhubarb stuff on a graham cracker with cream cheese on it. The stuff that dripped off, I just licked up with my finger. Problem solved.

blueberry syrup drink


Oh, and this afternoon, I was simmering some wonderful blueberry-thyme syrup and while it was going, I decided to just do a quick walk around the garden. Nothing big. Didn’t even take a bucket.

Got distracted and harvested most of the onions (55, so total of roughly 75 this season).

When I came back, it was more like jam than syrup. I dutifully strained it and put it in a fancy bottle that used to have vinegar in it. When I mixed it in my seltzer for a taste, it sank straight to the bottom. Enough stirring, though, and it cooperated. And with a sprig of thyme in it, it looks so fancy.

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Salmon and Peas in Cream Sauce


One of the best things about summer, when there’s so much produce, is sitting around with an ingredient in mind and figuring out what I want to do with it and then how to make it happen. It might be that when you’re only likely to get 2-3 cups of peas for the summer, it feels all the more special to figure out how to prepare them.

IMG_8528I had a second almost-cup of shell peas on Saturday, and also wanted to make something special for my husband’s birthday. I took out some salmon to thaw and also just couldn’t get past the idea of pasta and cream sauce. And dill. Lemon-dill maybe. I have a forest of dill. But definitely cream sauce, peas, and salmon.

Putting these three ingredients into the recipe generator wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be. But The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook I bought in the spring had the beginnings: “Sweet Peas and Shells Alfredo.” What I love about Deb Perelman’s recipes is that she makes great stuff but also knows how to keep it simple. There’s no flour in her Alfredo, no stirring until the butter is brown, etc. In fact, she does the whole thing in one pot.

IMG_8532More searching turned up a simple marinade for the salmon, which I could then grill. It’s from Betty Crocker, so that made me kind of nervous, since I’m becoming that kind of snob, but it looked good and had no packaged ingredients. It turned out to be a great marinade that kept the fish moist. In fact, I even came up with a “technique”! I never come up with techniques, but I really wanted to cook the salmon without flipping it over. When I close the grill cover everything in the grill immediately catches on fire and the temp shoots up to 800 degrees and, well, that is usually why I just flip things over. Instead, I tented (love that verb) some foil over the fish on the grill. I had to weigh down the foil with little rocks, but it worked great! (Then I sent out my husband to get the salmon and saw him flipping over one of the filets. “Nobody told you to flip them! Just bring them inside!” I felt like Jackie Chiles watching Kramer use a balm. Seinfeld™.)

IMG_8531Let me just say, dinner was lovely. (I only wish there had been more peas!) For dessert, we had some angel food cake with the first ever raspberries harvested from my garden. I added some thawed strawberries (that I picked a week ago) with sugar and it was good the way it can only be when the berries come from your own backyard.

Grilled Salmon with Creamy Pasta and Peas

Salmon marinade:
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon garlic-pepper blend
1 lb salmon fillets, cut into pieces

Marinade the salmon in the fridge for 20 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
Grill it over medium heat (with grill cover closed or tented foil) for 10 minutes.

Creamy Pasta with Peas
1/2 pound pasta of your choice: rotini, orecchiette, shells, linguine, etc.
1 cup shelled peas
1 cup half and half
3 Tbs butter
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (more for topping the dish)
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
2 Tbs fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

Cook the pasta in a boiling pot of water per package instructions. Add the peas in the last 30 seconds and drain them together. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Clean out pot (or use a different one if you want to do it all simultaneously. But a pot, not a skillet, is best for making the sauce.)

Pour the half/half in the pot and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the butter and stir until it has melted. Generously season with pepper; add pinch of salt and lemon zest as well. Add the Parmesan and at this point I also added the shallots. Mix until smooth, then add the Gruyere and mix until smooth. Toss in the drained pasta, peas, lemon juice and dill and cook about 2 minutes. Add the pasta water if needed to loosen up the sauce. Serve in pasta bowls topped with salmon filet, parsley and more Parmesan!

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July Garden Tour

peas on vinesI keep hearing how everything is late this year, but you couldn’t tell by me. Everything this summer has crept up on me. I wasn’t ready for my birthday in June. July 4 went by like a blur. And in the garden, I keep feeling like everything is early, even though it is the Feast of St. Benedict, mid-July, and so there is no denying it is summer.

In the early morning hours, a storm did all my watering for today, while I lay awake incanting “no hail, no hail, no hail.” Not only was there no hail, the tomato cages didn’t even blow over.

green arrow peas in podI do believe this is the best year I’ve ever had in the garden. I can state that unequivocally because, well, there are peas! There are never peas! I’ve struggled heartily to plant them at the right time, in the right place, starting them inside and out, in what little shade I have or in sun. They have either not grown at all or they have plumped too quickly and been hard and dry. But this year I’ve had a good run on snow peas and now have big, beautiful, plump shell peas hanging on their vines. The green arrow peas look just like the pictures in the catalogs, snug in their pods in long rows, emerald necklaces, green pearls. Last night, I harvested a whole cup and made pea pesto. I’m not sure if this helped, as I think it’s really about the fact that we had a cool June, but I planted them in the “shade” of the asparagus plants, which seems to have worked.

bean vines 7-11-14I’ve also been a little haphazard in my green bean planting. But this year I’ve got vine and bush varieties, and the bush plants are already putting out tender, long beans, while the vines are full of blossoms. (The red blossoms are scarlet runner beans for delicious, giant shell beans.)

I’m watching the zucchini and yellow summer squash, sometimes checking them in the morning and picking them in the evening as they grow to just big enough.

blue potato vines 7-11-14The potato bags are really not thriving, except for the blue variety, which has gorgeous purplish vines and had great blue flowers. (Good thing I also have a giant bed of potatoes.) The other night I rooted my hand around in one of the yukon plants in a raised bed and plucked out three golf-ball sized potatoes to put in that night’s medley. With shallots, basil and thyme, the sautéed vegetables just come together by themselves. I can afford now to be a purist, nothing from the produce section but lemons, limes and ginger for the rest of the season!

IMG_8504I’m letting the cilantro go to seed, which will be coriander that I can grind. I’m also letting some lettuce go to seed for fall planting.

I usually don’t plant anything in July, but I’m tempted to replace the beet bed as soon as I finish harvesting it. For one thing, I got one kohlrabi (another is ripening) and would like some more for slaw! And I neglected to grow chard and would like to have some for the fall. And I might try as an experiment to plant the fall beets a little earlier.

zucchini 7-11-14Meanwhile, another plant I’ve had trouble growing, eggplant, has blossoms, and the tomatillos are like Chinese lanterns on beautiful plants.

No doubt fall will be along soon enough and catch me by surprise as well. Steve mentioned that the air has felt particularly like August the past few days, dry and a little hazy. And yesterday afternoon a red tint to the air…

tomatillos 7-11-14

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