Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Peas with a little cello

I harvested my first peas of the season yesterday. I find harvesting peas to be so intriguing. I get into a groove, picking peas like crazy, and then, when I stop for a minute because it seems like I've picked all the peas in an area, I find more.

If you stare into the pea vines long enough, you'll find more right in front of your nose. I know it sounds strange, but when you think about it, most of the things we harvest (think zucchini and strawberries) are a different color than the plant that surrounds it, so they're easy to spot. But peas, and beans for that matter, and their surrounding leaves and vines are the same color, so they are easily camouflaged amongst the legume foliage.

I toted my little red ipod around with me all day yesterday as I gardened and harvested those delicious peas and just couldn't get enough of my new tunes. I usually garden to the sounds of the birds and the city, but I recently discovered a musical gem that has made my gardening doubly entertaining. While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Radio Lab, I heard Jad, one of the co-hosts of the show, interviewing Zoe Keating. Zoe is a cellist that fuses together different melodies, created with her cello, to compose songs that sound as if they were being played by an orchestra. After replaying that podcast episode several times so I could hear the sample songs she played, I finally bought her new album. It's not even on iTunes yet, but you can download the mp3 version of the album directly from her web site. I don't know how many times I've listened to track two, Escape Artist. Cheesy, I know, but I find it breath-taking.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Got chicken wire?

Well, my summer vacation is in full swing and I am in project mode – big time. Jake came home on Thursday evening to find me in the middle of painting the bathroom. It was time to make it a little more farmhouse chic like the rest of the house. And nothing quite says farm like a little chicken wire, at least on my little urban "farm". So, I put some extra chicken wire to use this weekend by making a funky and practical girly bathroom accessory, an earring holder.

I just painted an inexpensive, wood picture frame from Ikea. Once the paint was dry, I cut out some chicken wire with my fantastic tin snips and used a heavy-duty stapler to attach the wire to the back of the frame. If you don't count the time it takes for the paint to dry, this craft takes about ten minutes to complete. It almost takes more time deciding which pair of earrings to wear.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Ladies: Three and half months old



Penny (a.k.a. Henny Penny)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Now that's a perennial!

When I was 17, I got a purple pansy tattooed on my leg. My dad went with me when I had it done and it was something I was happy with for years. But, this winter, I started getting the itch to revive my tired, 13 year old tattoo with something new.

So, I made an appointment with an amazing artist, Andrea, at Slave to the Needle in Ballard, waited four months to finally get an appointment with her, and endured a little over two and a half hours of pain to have this beautiful new tattoo. Sure, having a pansy on my leg as a gardener was fitting, but this one just feels a bit more like me – more grown up, more botanical knowledge under my belt, more creative and artistic. The beautiful bee design I chose is not my artwork. My dad found it on some farmers' market poster. It's all healed now and after all, this week is National Pollinator Week, so what better time to make its blog debut.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Bee's Knees

Did you know it's National Pollinator Week? It's the perfect time to get some beautiful, pollinator-friendly blooms into your garden if you haven't already. Plants, like squash (summer squash and winter squash), require pollination to produce fruit. So far, to attract bees to my garden, I've planted nasturtium, six different varieties of heirloom sunflowers, three different types of lavender, zinnia, and tons of dahlia tubers, not to mention all of the showy blooms I planted down the wild flower path. According to Sunset, you can enter your zip code at pollinator.org/guides.htm to get a list of pollinator-attracting plants for your area.

Need some inspiration? Check out the Pollinator Pathway, a mile-long pollinator-attracting garden planted in the parking strips (the band of grass between the sidewalk and the street) along Columbia Street in Seattle.

Want to have your own hive, but not sure where to start? Check out Ballard Bee Company and consider hosting a hive. The Ballard Bee Company will place a hive in your yard, maintain the hive, and will even give you a jar of honey for your efforts, not to mention all of the bees you'll have in your yard to pollinate your plants.

You can also support our local pollinators on a larger scale by getting involved in The Great Sunflower Project, a scientific effort to understand urban bee populations. Be a citizen scientist by joining the project, planting beautiful sunflowers, and observing bees in your own garden!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Farmers' Markets Galore!

You know it's summer when there's a farmers' market open somewhere in Seattle almost every day of the week. I love this time when I don't have to wait until the weekend to see what the local farmers are harvesting. With so many options, I can get a jump on buying more strawberries to make into jam. And you know how much I hate to wait.

Here are just a few of your weekly farmers' market options:

Columbia City Farmers' Market, 3pm - 7pm
Wallingford Farmers' Market, 3pm - 7pm

Lake City Farmers' Market, 3pm - 7pm

Phinney Farmers' Market, 3pm- 7pm
Madrona Farmers' Market, 3pm - 7pm

University District Farmers' Market (Year round), 9am - 2pm
Magnolia Farmers' Market, 10am - 2pm

Ballard Farmers' Market (Year round), 10am - 2pm
West Seattle Farmers' Market (Year round), 10am - 2pm
Broadway (Capital Hill) Farmers' Market, 11am - 3pm
Meadowbrook Farmers' Market (new and off the beaten path), 11am - 3pm

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wild Flowers in Mt.Hood, Oregon

We rambled through fields of these beautiful yellow and purple wild flowers today on our way to our friends' post-wedding picnic brunch. I felt like Julie Andrews should have been skipping beside me singing, "The hills are alive with the sound of music!" It was gorgeous and is exactly what I hope my "wild flower" stepping stone path will evoke.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My First Batch of Jam

Ok, so I'm noticing another little pattern (didn't I just reveal a neurotic part of my personality last week?). Here's the thing: I get really excited and inspired about an idea and I want to do it all...right now. Then, when I'm in the midst of taking it all on at once and have way too much on my plate, I have a little stress breakdown and have to assess the situation. To my friends and family, this is old news. In fact, they're the ones that usually get to listen to me vent and talk through how I'm going to make it all work without going crazy. Luckily, because of my energy and enthusiasm, I always follow through. I may get a little stressed out in the process, but you'd better believe I'll finish what I started.

So, when I finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and decided to go seasonaltarian, my first instinct was to dive into it full steam ahead – start going to the farmers' market, grow my own food, make my own bread, can my own tomato sauce, and so on. But, for some reason, I really took things one step at a time. I decided to start off by really learning to grow food year 'round. Then, I bought the no-knead bread cookbook and started to master making my own bread. Last summer, when my garden was bursting with seasonal bounty, I thought about learning to can, but felt unprepared (literally lacking all the necessary canning supplies) and preoccupied with all my summer harvesting and winter garden plans. So, I ate my fresh summer vegetables and froze the rest.

Until now. I decided that this would be my year for canning. And after my "mother in law" hooked me up with all things canning for Christmas this year (a bath canner, canning rack, jar lifter, jar funnel, mason jars and lids), there was no turning back. So, on Sunday night, I completed my first "canning" project: strawberry jam. I have to say though that this doesn't really count because I made freezer jam and I have yet to process a canning project using the hot water method...but it's only a matter of time.

I decided to call this freezer jam because it is super low in sugar and since sugar is a preservative, I wanted to make sure it would keep. That being said, I got this recipe and canning advice from a Master Gardener colleague, Greg, and he didn't say anything about freezing it, so I'm sure it would be fine. Being the germophobe and hypochondriac that I am, I like to be on the safe side.

Like I said, I was thrilled to hear about Greg's strawberry jam because it has hardly any sugar. Most of the recipes I find call for almost equal parts fruit to sugar, if not more sugar. I just didn't want that, and I hit the jackpot because this jam is amazing. I still have a lot to learn. It took me twice as long as he said it would, but it was worth every minute.

Greg's Strawberry Jam

I used organic whole cane sugar, which is what I think gave the jam it's rich, Merlot-like color and flavor. I also discovered that chardonnay tastes even better with a few strawberries floating in your glass and helps the work of prepping strawberries go by in a flash!

1/2 flat deliciously ripe, organic farmers' market strawberries (about 9 generous cups)
1 cup sugar

Wash, hull, and cut the strawberries in half. Put them into a large mixing bowl with the sugar and let them sit overnight.

Strain the fruit from their juices and put the juice into a heavy stockpot on the stove. Adding the berries later will help them keep their form. Bring the liquid to a soft boil, stirring frequently. The goal is to slowly boil the sugar/strawberry juice mixture, without burning, until it starts coating the spoon (this is called "sheeting," I'm told) and reaches 220 degrees, which you monitor with a thermometer. This takes about 30 minutes.

Then*, add the fruit to the pot, bring back to a boil for about 5 more minutes and you're done.

Yields 5 (and 1/2) half-pint mason jars.

*This is where things went awry for me. When I added the strawberries to the mix, it obviously changed the temperature and I guess because of the juices that were present in the berries, the gelled nature of the mixture I had just created changed. So, I continued to boil the mixture for another 30 minutes – the amount of time it took me to get the mixture back up to 220 degrees again and start sheeting.

If it wasn't clear before I started, I am new to this whole canning business and should probably talk to Greg about what he thinks about my 30 additional minute conundrum. That second 30 minutes of boiling probably wasn't even necessary, but it just didn't seem right. The beauty of the whole thing is that the result was delicious! And I am hooked and ready to can again. I can't imagine that this recipe, the way I've presented it at least, will be helpful to you, considering the fact that I can't actually tell you how long you should boil it. But I can tell you that the experimentation was worth it. I can foresee many canning posts in the months to come!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blog love: A local gem

A few weeks ago, I met Kate. We sat next to each other at a birthday dinner at the Palace Kitchen in Belltown. Besides the beautifully mosaiced rooster sculpture in the entrance way, the restaurant has amazing food and coconut cream pie that is to die for. I'm not sure whether it was the meal or my inherent ability to initiate garden-related conversations, but it wasn't long before we were talking about cooking and growing food. And then, as if that wasn't enough, I discovered her blog. I've only been reading Good Egg for a few weeks now, but I know I'll be another one of her future followers. Her writing is beautiful and the pictures are lovely. I haven't tried a recipe yet, but my peas finally have blossoms and she posted a delicious-looking risotto recipe, so it won't be long before I do. And now she's starting a garden, so I can only imagine what she'll do with her own bounty. I don't want to gush, but I just had to share my local blog love. Gardening and turning your harvest into a gourmet dinner is an amazing learning experience and the more resources we can find to help us along the way, the better. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Drum roll, please...

When I first bought my house, I noticed a pattern arise. Every time I gave someone a tour, I would say things like this, "And this is the kitchen, but I'm going to take this out, I'm going to paint this, I'm going to put in a new _________, this isn't going to stay like this," and on I'd go describing my vision to my guest. It was as if I wanted them to see the place as I could see it in my mind, to see all the potential it held. In my ideal world, nobody would have seen it until I had made my vision into a reality. But then, as I settled into home ownership, I realized that the house will never be finished – there will always be projects and things that can be revamped, improved, or redone.

So, when we started working on the chicken coop, I recognized this perfectionistic, visionary attitude as it began to creep in again. I really didn't want to post any pictures until our masterpiece was complete. But after months of hard work and many requests, I'm giving in. Now for my classic spiel...it's not completely done yet. We still need to put trim on all the doors, which will be in the contrasting light green color, put a door on the storage cabinet, redo the run door, which will also be light green, and adorn the hen house doors with super cute rusty house numbers. But I have to concede that it is looking pretty amazing and it's about time for it to shine in a post.

Words cannot express how proud I am of my amazing boyfriend. I realize that my coop could have been way more bare bones than it is and the girls probably would have been perfectly happy, but he spent hours engineering and crafting the coop to be just the way I hoped it would be. We have learned that we're horrible estimators of time – turns out we have no context for knowing things like how long it will actually take to install a drainage system and prepare a roof for planting. We have put months (literally months – almost three and a half months to be exact, from planning to almost-completion) of blood (yes, blood has actually been shed – two words: hardware cloth), sweat, and thankfully, no tears. So here it is, our coop in all its glory, almost finished! I'll share more photos of the finished coop and a detailed post about our green roof soon!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Jam it, pickle it, cure it

I first discovered this book in September while we were killing time in a little book store in Orcas Island. It was featured in a section all about canning and preserving food. But what's different about this book is that it's not really about canning. Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it by Karen Solomon does have some classic canning recipes, like strawberry jam, but it primarily features tons of recipes for typical processed foods. It also gives you storage information for each food. Since I've been avoiding buying processed foods, I was thrilled to find this book. I can't wait to try the recipes for DIY mustard and ketchup, graham crackers, and butter. Does anyone wonder what I'll be doing during my summer vacation this year?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chard Pie

I love to cook one-pot meals. I love dishes that put to use a big surplus of vegetables, like the spinach that is billowing out of my garden right now! During the fall and winter, I cook big pots of soup pretty much every weekend. But once spring comes around, I'm usually ready for a change. I think that's why I just can't get enough of Maria's savory vegetable pie.

The beauty of this recipe is how versatile it is – you can pretty much make it with whatever veggies you have on hand. I've made it with lacinato kale, chard, spinach, and roasted asparagus – each one in a separate pie, although I'm sure a combination would work out just fine. I bet broccoli pie would be delicious! The one recommendation I have is to use a lot of greens, especially greens like spinach that cook down significantly. It's the best when you fill up the pie pan almost completely with the greens so that the egg mixture simply holds it together. That way, when you slice into the pie, the delicious vegetables are the stars rather than the egg, like a quiche.

Chard Pie
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

I make this pie completely dairy-free, but I'm sure that some cheese would be a delicious addition.

The Crust:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the following ingredients with a fork until thoroughly blended:

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup milk or water (I use almond milk)

The dough will be difficult to roll, so press it evenly into a 9 inch deep dish pie pan or 11-inch tart pan. Bake until the crust is set and lightly golden, about 15 minutes, pricking once or twice if it bubbles. Meanwhile, prepare the filling.

The Greens:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 - 3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 lb. + chard leaves or other greens, stems removed*, washed and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano or basil, minced
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste

In a large skillet, cook the shallots in the olive oil over medium-low heat until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the oregano, salt and peppers. Increase the heat to medium and add the greens and garlic to the pan. Cook until tender, about 8 - 10 minutes (less for spinach).

* If you're using chard or kale, don't throw out the stems! Chop them up and saute them with the shallots. They take a little longer to cook than the greens, but are very nutritious and delicious!

The Filling:

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup almond milk
a little salt and pepper

Combine the ingredients above in a bowl and then add the greens. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pie crust and spread evenly. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until the filling is golden and firm, about 25 - 35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before serving.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Now that's what I'm talking about!

You may remember me saying (here) that I probably wouldn't be growing broccoli again after my first stab at it last year. I grew broccoli from seed last year, which I started inside, and for all the time I put into nurturing them, they just didn't seem to give me enough bang for my buck. But then, this April, my neighbor offered me a pack of nine broccoli starts (Packman variety) because she bought too many. Since I would never turn down a free plant, I graciously accepted them and put them into a few open squares in my raised beds. Well, besides two plants, which I lost to cabbage maggots, the plants have really thrived, surprising me with several large heads! I harvested a few for the first time this season and they were delicious! I prepared them by cutting them up into small florets, tossing them with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasting them on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. I served them on a bed of Jake's fresh pasta with a little olive oil that I warmed and flavored in a saute pan with some fresh, slivered sage leaves. Needless to say, after tonight's meal, I may need to reconsider my decision. This vegetable is just too good to abandon.