Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Step into My Garden

I'm beginning to understand the power of gardens as places for meditation and appreciation of beauty. I'm not saying that MY garden is particularly beautiful, but I do find peace and beauty in it every morning as I move about inspecting my vegetables and again every evening when I take a basket out to harvest our dinner.

Here's a look at what is happening there these days.

The shelling and snap peas were on their last legs, so I pulled the plants up and harvested the last of the pea pods.  There is something I find very soothing about shelling peas – popping open the pods and then running my finger along the back ridge to spill the peas into a bowl. I can get lost in this kind of work.

I'm planning to sow buckwheat in the place where the peas grew. It should work out perfectly to harvest the buckwheat groats in October. And then I can use them in this recipe for chunky chocolate buckwheat granola.

I picked the first of the cherry tomatoes today.

The big ones should begin to ripen in about two weeks.  You can see that I've mulched my garden in cardboard and straw and it does seem to have fewer weeds than in past years.

The zucchini and yellow squash blossoms are producing like crazy. Every night I harvest more than we can possible eat and have resorted to foisting them off on everyone who crosses my path.

Even the pumpkins have started sprouting beautiful blossoms. We'll have to see if any turn into actual pumpkins.

My sweet potato vines are off to a slow start, but my red and yukon potatoes have bloomed and I've even harvested a handful of new potatoes -- replacing the straw carefully so that the rest of the potatoes can keep on growing.

Asparagus season is over and so the plants have turned into gigantic ferns, which shade a number of small trees that we are growing in pots and bags, awaiting transplanting in the fall. Some of these little trees are ones that I've actually grown from seed -- acorns and buckeyes. We've taken to picking up nuts that we find when we travel, and then I plant them. Sure enough, sometimes little trees sprout!

I harvested a half dozen garlic bulbs last week and then decided to leave the rest in the ground for another week or so, thinking they might get a bit bigger.

The onions are almost ready for harvest.

And every day or so I pick a handful of green beans and a few okra pods.

Raspberry bushes look great, but are only producing a random berry or two, which I usually just snack on while in the garden. Maybe the birds are beating me to them?

And I harvested my first ever eggplant this morning. Its beauty astounds me.

Perhaps the sweetest thing to come out of my garden is 4-1/2 gallons of honey! The week before last, we harvested 50 bottles worth of honey from two of Maggie's three hives.

The bees are happy – and I am too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tip-to-Root Eating

You've undoubtedly heard of nose-to-tail eating which involves using every possible part of an animal and thus minimizing waste. It seems all the rage at farm-to-table restaurants where you can order such delicacies as whole pig head, smoked tongue, pork paté, pickled pig's feet, smoked jowl, chitlins, even fried ears.

I'm trying to apply the same concept to my garden, but I call it tip-to-root eating. It seems to me that it takes a fair amount of the earth's resources to grow vegetables and I should make use of all parts, rather than chopping off the tops (or bottoms) and then throwing the rest away (or composting it). It just seems the right thing to do: the thing that demonstrates good stewardship for my garden's output.

I credit Tamar Adler with changing the way I cook. Her book An Everlasting Meal is a beautiful meditation on cooking and eating.  She's a believer in using the parts of vegetables that we may routinely throw away.

I'll never again look at bolted cilantro or dill flowers as evidence that they are past their prime and ready for my compost pile. Instead, I'll place them on top of salads, garnish a soup with them, or tuck them into a flower arrangement. Carrot tops, radish leaves, squash seeds, pea tendrils, green tomatoes, cilantro seeds and sweet potato leaves are all finding their way into my cooking.

I'm not the only one on this bandwagon. Here's an article from the New York Times that touts the virtues of using all parts of a vegetable. I love the title: That's Not Trash, That's Dinner.  The end of the article lists a number of uses for your vegetable trimmings.

Here's an example of my tip-to-root approach. This week I harvested the majority of my beet crop.

I brought the haul into my kitchen and washed the dirt off, cut off the beets, and prepared them for roasting.

I then turned my attention to the greens, which I washed in batches and spun dry. It breaks my heart to see topless beets at the farmers' market. I'll find ways to use them all week. They are my favorite greens.

Next, I tackled the stems. I'm planning to stir fry some of them, but the rest I chopped into 1/2-inch pieces and pickled in a red wine/vinegar brine. They will add a bit of crunch and tang to sandwiches or salads.

And the beets got canned. (See recipe below.)

I did end up taking a bucket of beet skins out to the compost, but even those will find a use by improving my garden soil next year.

So next time you go to the farmers' market or out to your garden, I hope you will think twice before tossing parts and pieces of your beautiful fruits, herbs and vegetables.


Red Wine Pickled Beets
Makes 4 pints

3 lbs. beets
Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim away beet greens. Nestle beets in a baking pan and coat with a splash of olive oil and a few generous pinches of salt. Cover with aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour, or until beets are tender. Once the beets are cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with the fingers or a kitchen towel. 

Slice the beets into thick wedges. Weigh the slices, setting aside 2.5 lbs. to pickle.

Pickling Ingredients
2 cups red wine vinegar
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup water
1/4 honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorn
8 thyme springs
4 rosemary springs
2.5 lbs. beets: roasted, peeled and sliced.

1. In a pot, bring the vinegar, wine, water, honey, sugar, and salt to a boil. Keep hot.

2. Scald 4 pints jars in a large pot of simmering water filled with a rack – you will use this pot to process the jars. Lift the jars from the hot water and place the jars on the counter. Add 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns, 2 thyme sprigs, and 1 rosemary sprig to each jar, and then pack in the beets. Meanwhile, soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.

3. Transfer the brine to a heat-proof pitcher and pour over beets, leaving a 1/2 inch head space from the rim of the jar. Check the jars for air pockets, add more brine if necessary to fill in gaps. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the lids until snug but not tight.

4. Place the jars in the pot with the rack and add enough water to cover the jars by about 1 inch. Bring the water to a boil and process the jars for 10 minutes (start the timer when the water reaches a boil). Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely. Tighten the lids and store in your pantry or give away a gifts. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Snakes Eyes

While out walking this morning, I cut through a seldom used path and came eyeball to eyeball with a snoozing garter snake. He was all curled up in a blackberry bramble.

I was pretty sure he was asleep as he didn't move when I took his photo. When I got back home, I looked it up and sure enough, snakes sleep with their eyes open. Seems they have no eyelids, so they can never close their eyes or blink. Instead of eyelids, they have something called spectacles (or brilles), a thin, clear membrane that covers their corneas. Evidently, they can also close their retinas when they are sleeping.

I'm not a big fan of snakes, but to my knowledge we don't have any poisonous snakes slinking around Farm Dover and in fact, we hardly ever see these harmless garter snakes. Like all snakes, they are carnivores and will eat almost any creature they are capable of overpowering: slugs, earthworms. leeches, lizards, amphibians, ants, crickets, toads, minnows and rodents. Much to my dismay, they also sometimes eat bird eggs.

In turn, they are eaten by large fish, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, milk snakes, crows, hawks, great blue herons, raccoons, foxes, squirrels and shrews.

I left him there in the blackberry bramble, sunning and snoozing. I figure there is room for all creatures here at Farm Dover.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Happy Trails

It's been hot at Farm Dover this week. Hot. Hot. Hot. We get out early in the morning to weed the garden or the walnut field, mow the grass, water the little trees. By late morning, we are ready to head into the house or into the shade of the woods.

And as of this week, we have a new trail that winds its way through the woods at the back of our farm. Ed cut part of it on the mower and then bushwhacked the rest. I came along behind him with the weed whipper. And now we have a beautiful trail that winds its way from our back yard, through the woods, over the creek, and up to the upper field. Come along and hike it with me.

Head out across the back yard.

And hang a left just past the pawpaw trees. The field on your left is full of black-eyed susans and pink coneflowers.  The bee hives are just on the other side of it. You might see a dozen or so gold finch take flight above the grasses and wild flowers.

Slip into the woods and feel the coolness of them. Check out the wildflowers and the moss that grows on the fallen tree trunks. Look carefully and you might see an indigo bunting or common yellowthroat.

Hop across the creek and head up the hill that runs along the back fence line. Listen for the woodpecker's pecking or the red-winged blackbird's trill.

Keep going. Walk underneath the canopy of oaks. Cardinals and jays flit overhead.

And then take a right and step over the log between two osage orange trees. Stay clear of the poison ivy on each side of the path. As you walk along, don't be surprised if you scare up a flock of wild turkey.

Keep going, almost to the clearing. You can see where deer have been lying in the tall grass.

 And then take a left. Stay watchful for coyote pups or raccoons.

And follow the trail to where it comes out at the upper field. You'll pass plenty of blackberries, not yet ripe for picking.

Turn right and follow the trail over the pond's dam and back to the house. Listen for the bobwhite calling from the native grass field on your left.

Let me know if you would rather take an actual hike of our new trail. Be happy to have you hike with me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Double the Pleasure; Double the Fun

Last Friday night my twin nieces came for a sleepover at Farm Dover. Their two older sisters were off in Lexington competing in a horse event. We were delighted to have them visit.

While I finished up a project, Katie and Molly set to work in the kitchen. They prepared a beautiful poached salmon salad with beets, potato, egg and mustard vinaigrette.

Dessert was a pavlova sprinkled with elderflowers blossoms.

I wish I had them working away in my kitchen everyday. They are so talented and so fun to be around.

After dinner we watched one of our kids' favorite movies: Life is Beautiful, in Italian no less (with English subtitles).

Saturday morning we were up and out early, headed to pick blueberries at Earthwave Farm and then to a quick swing through the LaGrange Farmers' Market.

Perhaps my readers of a certain age will remember the Doublemint Chewing Gum ads of the 1970s and '80s that featured twins and the slogan: Double your pleasure; double your fun. That's what Ed and I felt like all weekend with Molly and Katie around. It was doubly nice having them here. Hope they come back soon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Blueberry Picking Kind of Morning

Strawberry season is officially over. So this morning at 8:15 Ed, Dudley (our friend and houseguest), and I headed down a very foggy Dover Road to Earthwave Farm to do some blueberry picking. The U-pick farm is located on Moody Pike only about 10 miles from Farm Dover.  There were lots of big, ripe berries that were easy to pick. Working down the rows, our buckets quickly filled up.

Once home, I rinsed and packed some of our haul into quart mason jars and froze the rest. This should get us through the week – but I'm planning to go back again soon. Picking days are Tuesdays and Saturdays. Let me know if you want to come along.... 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Elderflowers: What's Not to Love?

In every field of Farm Dover, elder bushes are in full bloom boasting their snowy white sprays atop green leaves.

Even with my eyes closed, I can tell when I'm getting near an elder bush. The flowers smell like summer – all floral and creamy.

Like strawberries, their season is short. I've been cutting the blossoms every day this week and finding ways to showcase them. Earlier in the week, I cut sixty of the blossoms and added them to a stone crock, along with sliced lemons and a simple syrup.

Every morning, I'd give my elderflower cordial concoction a quick stir and today, I deemed it ready, straining the mixture into clean glass jars.

What I can't use in the next month or so, I can take down to the basement freezer and then anytime I need a taste of summer, I can just defrost a jar and add a swig to sparkling water or champagne.

Tonight, in honor of the Belmont Stakes, we made a rosé spritzer, loosely based on this recipe from Bon Appétit. (Thank you, Claire.) The elderberry cordial added a nice zip to the spritzer.

I was so pleased with my bottled cordial that I decided to try to make a elderflower liquor, which is as easy as adding vodka to a jar full of elderflowers, capped with twists of lemon and lime peel. It will be a few days before it is ready, but I'm hoping it will the perfect base for a vodka tonic.

And for dessert tonight, I sprinkled some elderflowers atop a strawberry pavlova. Meringue, cream and strawberries with tiny white flowers. What's not to love?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Say "sure"

Our friend, James, posted a photo of himself on Instagram this week sailing high above a deep blue ocean on an ever expanding and almost equally deep blue sky. His caption was:

Bucket List: Parasailing ✔️

It got me to thinking about bucket lists. I don't recall hearing that term before watching the 2007 movie by the same name, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. But since then, I hear it a lot. People talking about what they want to do before they die. I don't have an actual bucket list, and to my knowledge, Ed doesn't either. Hmmm...maybe I should ask him....

But when it comes to travel, we seem to have an understanding that we go along with whatever the other one of us suggests. And, so far, it has worked out remarkably well.

Take this last adventure of ours. As we were driving home from our 2012 trip out to Glacier National Park, we made our way through Montana's Big Hole Country. This part of the world – basically in the middle of nowhere – is known for its spectacular fly fishing and right then and there, Ed decided that he wanted us to return someday and fish the waters of the Beaverhead and Big Hole rivers.

That was the impetus for our trip. Ed found us a rental cabin along the Big Hole River and engaged a guide to get us started with our fly fishing efforts. We built the rest of the itinerary around getting to and from Dillion, Montana.

This undoubtedly wasn't the first place on my non-existent Bucket List, but can you tell by this photo that I was having a big time?

The day we fished the Beaverhead River, we had great success and great fun catching (and then releasing) brown and rainbow trout. I've gone fly fishing maybe a dozen times in the past and never had much luck. But this was relatively easy:  roll cast from the drifting boat, mend the line, watch the indicator bobber, set the hook and strip the line back in, keeping tension on the line so the fish didn't get away. It helped that we had Dan, our guide, to row the boat, figure out which flies to use, tie them on for us, and hold the net while we worked our fish toward the boat. Our end-of-the-day count was upward toward 30 good size fish. Not bad!

On our second day there, we fished the Big Hole River, just outside our cabin's front door. It was much more challenging with faster running water and no guide to guide us. Nevertheless, Ed successfully caught us our lunch. Doesn't get any fresher than 10 minutes from river to oven.

Next time someone suggests that you go somewhere that is not on your bucket list, don't say "no"; say "sure." It may turn out to be one of the best times ever. Trust me on this.