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How Does Your Garden Snow?

3 Feb

It’s time to garden!

Well, kind of. At least it’s time to start dreaming about gardening if you live anywhere in the Northeast, Midwest or Mid Atlantic.  It’s time to pore through seed catalogs and to plot world domination over aphids and flea beetles.  It’s time to buy pots and soil, to take inventory of seeds, to cook from cans, to force bulbs and to aimlessly stalk birds. It’s also time to get your hands dirty.

Or at least that’s the theory behind winter sowing, a seed-starting movement¹ that Christina recently sent me a link to.  I was immediately hooked.  Winter sowing adheres pretty closely to a theory on seed-starting that Isaac and I have been scheming about since last summer.

Our idea is to start seedlings indoors on the windowsill (preferably in one of these gorgeous seed-starting trays).  We’re not willing to/don’t have the right space for setting up grow lights/heating pads, plus, we started a few things this way last year and they turned out brilliantly.  In the second step of our plan, once the seedlings have grown to a hefty state they will be moved to the back porch to toughen up in a makeshift, unheated ”greenhouse” cobbled together from a set of metro shelves, clear plastic sheeting, duct tape and Velcro.

But winter sowing makes even this level of sophistication unnecessary, and it also requires fewer shopping trips (which is both a plus and a minus in my book).  In winter sowing, you use recycled take out dishes, soda bottles, produce cartons or even Ziploc bags made rigid with scavenged cardboard (I really do think this guy is some kind of evil genius) as seed-starting containers.

Got a case of winter? Me too. Head below the jump to learn more about winter sowing and to leave a comment with your favorite way to beat the winter blues.

A Leite Dinner

20 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my colleague‘s recent conversion to what he calls “mostly veganism.”

Now, before we go quibbling about his choice of terminology I should tell you that this gentleman is an older, highly conservative Republican, red meat-eating, god-fearing capitalist and that he came to this state not out of any sense of environmental obligation but rather through sports physiology.

But, no matter the route, the destination is the same: A diet that is better for him and for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetables too and how much I miss them and can’t wait to start pulling them out of our garden again.  This is the season that tries my soul.  I want to eat lots of unhealthy things like beef and pork and cheese and Christina’s Mama’s lemon sour cream pie, while I know I should be eating vegetables and grains and fish.  I want to be planting plants and digging around in the dirt but rather I’m stomping through slush and standing by the sink and staring at the fluffy, puffed-up birds while clutching a cup of tea, absorbing every last hint of warmth from it.

It’s a hard season to eat, and despite the insistence by the journalist and author Tom Standage at the AMNH’s recent lecture on curry economics that at some point getting your food from half-way around the world costs less in terms of carbon than raising it locally in a greenhouse, I still find eating at this time of year difficult.

It was all these complex thoughts that were rattling around inside my head as I was thumbing through David Leite‘s excellent cookbook The New Portuguese Table.  It was a Christmas gift from Isaac’s  mom and had sat sadly neglected on the ottoman since its unwrapping.  But on Saturday morning I was finally able to give it a good look.  And boy is it a beauty. So many wonderful recipes for interesting meats and creative ways to cook fish, but I was looking for simple, vegetable-centric ones.

You need to know about two recipes; a bread and a sauce below the jump.

Auspicious, Delicious

7 Jan

Well, hello there! Happy 2010 to you!

I hope your New Year started well, in fact, I honestly hope your New Year started with as delicious, and auspicious, a meal as ours did.

I decided that this Christmas was going to be the Christmas of beans.  It was a bold choice, I know, but much like any other person who has been touched by zeal, I felt the need to spread the gospel even if it meant giving gifts of dubious motivation.  So since my stepsister was getting a new crockpot from us, it was full of beans.  And since both of Isaac’s parents hail from the South, they got beans too.  Plus, both my stepsister and Isaac’s mom are trained anthropologists.  I figured that despite initial skepticism, they would come to see the beauty, cultural significance and, most importantly, the deliciousness of my gift.

I’m still waiting.

But, really, this is all just a long-winded way of saying that I kept a bag of beans for myself.  I mean, a girl needs to gift herself at Christmas too, right?  I had ordered a bag of Yellow-Eye beans to give to my stepsister, but when they arrived, they were so beautiful and so full of promise I just had to keep them.

And so we found ourselves on New Year’s Day watching the snow and the birds and boiling a ham hock and soaking beans.

Head below the fold for my versions of Hoppin’ John, Collard Greens and Red Rice, with a twist, of course.

Mt. Greylock

1 Dec

We got to the top, and there was nothing to see.

And yet in a completely white world, there was plenty.  After spending about 10 minutes in blinding whiteness I concluded that I’m really quite happy I never settled on “Arctic Exlorer” as a career path.

We thought we were supposed to be following the red blazes, which took us tromping off willynilly into the forest.  Multiple times they would just *poof* disappear.  But the baby blue blazes, they looked solid and dependable, so we decided to follow them.

And they took us to the top.  Up through the ancient, breathing, dripping rain forest and out into the wide white world, 2,200 feet above where we started.

What to eat after a seven mile hike? Pork of course!

Shaker Your Plate

7 Aug

It’s been a long time since I’ve mentioned the Shakers, but they’ve been on my mind lately.

Especially on Saturday as I pulled out tomato plants, which had all (but four) succumbed to the blight.  I pulled up Cream Sausage, and Persimmon, and the beautiful fluted Ceylon, Big White Pink Stripe, Black Prince, Palla de Fuoco and perfect little Ropreco.  I lined them up on the lawn, pulled off all the green tomatoes that were worth saving and packed the vines into garbage bags, and then bagged them again.

It was really sad. But it was Large Red that really hurt.

Large Red is the one tomato I decided to plant not based on its name, or because of a promise to keep me in sun-dried tomatoes through the winter, or because it would taste good in sauce.  I chose Large Red because it was a favorite of the Shakers and they grew it exclusively just a few miles from our house.  I reasoned that if it was bred for this area, it would be a survivor.  I was wrong, this summer was just too much for Large Red.

I first came across Large Red in the Shaker Gardener’s Manual.  Before the Shakers, there were no little packets of seeds available for the home gardener to buy at the local shop.  Seeds were sold in bulk for the large-scale farmer, or seeds were saved from the previous year’s garden.  But the Shakers saw an opportunity and sold their famous seeds in little packets in little boxes all over the country. And to help people succeed in their kitchen gardens, they offered a little manual.

The manual is chock full of tips, tricks and hints, many of which are still applicable today.  The Shakers were organic gardeners before the term was coined.  They believed the best way to grow a healthy plant was to make it strong by planting it in good soil, protecting it from weeds and watering it with moderation. The manual also offers a list of the vegetables and fruit grown just a few miles from where my garden is.  The only tomato they grew was Large Red.

It’s not all doom and gloom around these parts, I swear! Because who can be sad when there’s pie around? Head below the jump for the recipe for Shaker Blackberry Pie.