Tag Archives: gardening

Gardening For Pretty

17 Jun

My mom came over to the house on Saturday (the rest of the family, too).

We ate ribs and cake and salad, drank wine and talked and talked and talked. We celebrated my step-sister’s birthday, my nephew’s birthday, my birthday and an early Father’s Day. It was fun.

And as I was showing everyone around the garden, I realized that this year I’m gardening for pretty.

Wanna see? Head below the jump.

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.

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.

Macro-Micro

12 Sep

New York City is never more beautiful than when it’s seen from afar after dark.

Seeing its pulsing, sparkling lights, flowing and dancing at a languid, dreamlike pace from a plane coming in for a landing at JFK can bring tears to my eyes.  And the city is never more alluring than when seen from the Triboro Bridge or the BQE, as it plays a glittering game of hide-and-seek between the monolithic, brutalist shells that pass for housing along the highways of the outer boroughs.

Since I don’t love driving in the city after dark, Isaac has been pulling the return leg of our upstate forays, allowing me to sit and gaze out on the view of the city I love the most.  When the sun has set and the lights are on, all the hard edges and drab grayness fade away and New York becomes the city of dreams and possibility.

Each tiny apartment, lit up like a Russian egg, glowing golden with the light over the kitchen sink or silvery cool from the television, is a little bastion of hope and exertion, a refuge from the hurly burly that is daily life in New York.

Because, it is this daily life that makes New York so hard to crack.  Even once you’re inside the city, walking through its hallowed halls, standing upon its celestial corners, it’s still the dream city.  It isn’t until you live here, really live here, that the trials begin.  The scrimping of money, the oppressive noise and heat, the long, dark, cold winters, year upon year of toiling, hoping it’s enough and waiting for that big break or genius stroke of luck.  That’s when New York becomes the fabled she-lion that gobbles you up and spits you back onto the streets, naked, shivering and lost.

It’s a giant, heroic struggle, pushing against a Herculean tide of people, time and ambition, locked in constant battle with hope.  Life in New York is big and diffuse.

My yard is never more beautiful than when seen just before the sun sets.

In the country, I’m finding that my cares exist on a far more granular level.  I forget about work and ambition and our noisy neighbors, about the herds of NYU students that have invaded my favorite ramen joint, about the crazy lady who sits on the corner near my office and sings, about where the markets are going and why.

Up there, the little things are what I care about.  The tenths of inches my kale has grown in a week, the tenacity of the spiders to not be vacated from their cozy corners, the miracle of a day lily blooming before the deer decided to make it a delicious afternoon snack.  This is what occupies me when I’m 200 miles north of New York.

It’s like splitting my time between the two halves of my favorite New York treat, the black-and-white cookie.

Which brings us to food.  Shopping for dinner upstate is so much more fun than down here.  It’s the same farmers with the same produce as I see at the greenmarket in Union Square, but up there, they seem much happier, too.  There’s time to answer questions and chat about the weather, to swap recipes and discuss pest control.  The farmers seem less guarded, less tired.  Perhaps it’s because they’re not being stalked by magazine writers, chefs and foodies.

This past weekend we made our first foray to the Kinderhook farmer’s market. It was wonderful, despite the threat of rain.  I was seduced by gorgeous yellow beets and a sour cherry tart.  Isaac fell for potatoes and corn.  Rounded out with delicious chicken from Olde Hudson Gourmet, and we had ourselves an epic meal of locally grown and produced goodness.

We cooked the beets and potatoes together and then mashed them and stirred in some delicious garlic, local butter and the beet greens.  I roasted the chicken and made a sweet-sour Anaheim chile relish that was as good with the chicken as it was stirred into the mash. And we ate it all with a salad of the world’s pepperiest, most delicious arugula ever.

And while I love cooking simple food made from simple ingredients and padding about in the grass, I miss spending weekends in the asphalt jungle a little bit.  So I’m looking forward to next weekend when we’re going to stick around in the city.

Now, if only I could decide which side of the half-moon cookie New York is.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Beeten & Mashed.

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Labor Of Love

28 Aug

Summer is almost over, and for me, it’s going out with a sniffle.

I managed to catch some crummy summer cold, probably not helped out by the insane pace I kept up while up at the house last weekend. I arrived and immediately plunged into planting a variety of leafy greens from Silver Heights Farm in the one reclaimed garden bed.

I planted butterhead lettuce, merlot lettuce, arugula, olive arugula, lacinato kale, tuscan kale (I’m not sure what the difference is either) and rainbow lacinato kale. I’ve been watching the weather obsessively online and it looks like it’s been really dry up there all week. I hope they survive.

And then after running some errands and hitting some farm stands I was home and the sun was starting to set and I was alone. It was daunting. I couldn’t figure out what to do next. So I walked over to the radio and flipped it on. And, what do you know. Out came the opening strains of my very favorite piece of classical music ever; Dvorak‘s ‘New World Symphony.’ As soon as I heard that watery, calming opening line of the largo movement, baaa dum dum, baaah dee dum… I knew everything was going to be alright.

The corn (from Samascott’s) was spectactular. Seriously, it’s a good thing Obama wasn’t trying to pick me to be his veep, because if video of what I did to that corn ever got out… I also made a quick fresh tomato sauce out of three humongous Brandywine’s I picked up from a stand off the Milan exit of the Taconic (I also got a beautiful braid of the most delicious garlic for $7) and Luisa’s version of Heston Blumenthal‘s broccoli.

It was a good meal, but aside from the corn, not earth shattering. But, the leftovers have kept me fed all week, which is a good thing. And I enjoyed cooking it on my electric stove. I never thought I’d fall for an electric stove, after the early, formative and not-so-positive experiences with the one in the house I grew up in. But this one? It’s delightful! It does what I ask it to. Has real highs and lows, and since it’s one of those flat-top ones, cleans up a dream. I never knew electric stoves could be so wonderful.

Sunday morning I went for a run, scared my neighbor’s horse, had a wonderful breakfast in town and then went to the nursery. I can predict that nurseries are going to be my new kitchen stores. I only went in to look; to judge how much Japanese maple trees cost (turns out, a lot), but, I walked out with a bag of compost and a score of plants. Sigh. I am not to be trusted.

So rather than spending my day poking about in used book stores and snooping around yard sales, I nearly broke myself planting plants. A lavender for Isaac and some foliage for me (I’ve developed a very unhealthy obsession with hostas). After a warm shower and a clean sweep of the house, Oliver and I found ourselves barreling down the Taconic once again. It was too short.

But we made it home in time for Mad Men, which, seriously, is all that matters on a Sunday night. And so, tomorrow Isaac is back! We’ll spend three days in the country, puttering and planting and going to the County Fair. I can’t wait.

I hope you all enjoy your last weekend of summer, hopefully sniffle free.