Monday, July 25, 2011

Havest Mistake

Two weeks ago, I made a significant harvest mistake. I haven't wanted to admit it on the blog, but hey, I am a new gardener. As Steve said, "You won't do this next year!" I just can't understand why I did it. It's because I'm still kind of removed from my food.

I harvested most of my onions and then sat on the stoop and cut off the greens. I rinsed them and clipped the shaggy bottoms, so they looked like beautiful, well-rounded yellow onions. I proudly dropped them in three small paper bags. But about 2/3 of the way through, it occurred to me that I was doing the absolute wrong thing. When you get onions from the grocery store, they are covered in brown, papery skins, like the ones I was washing and rubbing off, and they have dried, curled tops that probably used to be greens. Mine basically now had open wounds on the top.

I immediately started obsessing about the recent advice I read or heard that you should never store cut onions in your fridge, because they absorb bacteria. I could feel my onions rotting in their bags already. I felt sick.

I mostly felt miserable because I planted these dang things months ago! I was so excited to have so many, and only lamented that I hadn't had enough garden space for more! How could I get through the winter with only 70 onions? But now I'd have only 20-25. Good thing I don't have to depend on what I grow for what I eat.

I put them in the fridge and told myself that the thing about cut onions was a crock. (I don't believe it, actually, as I've eaten cut onions for years, though I do often cut off the outer exposed layer because it seems to dry out.) I started putting onions in everything.

Then Deborah Madison's Local Flavors also helped me out! This surprised me, as the book, which I love the look of, has been so far not so helpful with recipes, since it seems to depend on access to a well-stocked Farmer's Market in California. But on page 74, it offered "Sweet and Sour Onions with Dried Pluots and Rosemary." I ddin't have dried pluots, of course, but apricots could be substituted, and I have lots of rosemary. The other ingredients are olive oil, butter, red wine vinegar (I used half white and half balsamic) and honey. So I set to work on a pan full of lovely yellow onions. I served it over the very last bed of kale to be had with rice and some rotisserie chicken on the side. (It just didn't seem right to serve my husband a whole plate of onions without a little meat.)

It is delicious, and we will be having it again soon!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Killing

I wrote this post on June 21 and for some reason never posted it. Just found it in "drafts" so here it is, late-- but I stand by it!

My creative writing students know that I have a few rules about storytelling: no sexual violence against women (trust me, you can't do it well and so just don't do it); no Scooby Do endings and no Wizard of Oz endings. I don't want anyone waking up at the end and discovering it was all a dream, and the monster had better not be Farmer McGregor in a mask. In other words, I expect you to stick by the rules of your genre, no matter what it is, and don't cheat the reader.

So you can imagine how I feel about the season finale of The Killing. Not since Twin Peaks have I so resented watching a show week after week. Yes, it's stylish. Yes, the acting is compelling. But I want some relief-- and that means releasing the main character from her obsession and telling me who the killer is. It's only fair. I've been watching television for over 40 years, and I've come to expect resolution from my series. Especially a series that purports to be a whodunnit. What's the point of having a "suspect tracker" on the Web site, a clue finder, etc?

The thing is, I'm not sure even of what I saw-- is it a Scooby Do ending? Holder's role has been to frame and bring down Darren Richmond? Then why did he participate so heavily in the false track the show was on for six or seven episodes, incriminating the teacher Bennet Ahmed? Why did he seem to be so half-cocked in his anger and reactions to everyone, including Mr. Larsen? Oh, that Farmer McGregor.

Vacation and the Garden

I was on vacation for a week in Washington State, and while I was gone, it seems like all havoc broke loose in the garden. The first two days of my trip, it rained heavily here, and the last four days we had terrible heat. You have to ask yourself about global climate change when Moorhead, Minnesota, is the hottest place on the planet, with a heat index of 130 degrees between the temperature and humidity.

When we came back on Tuesday night I went out to the garden and felt filled with despair. It didn't help that it was 100 degrees, but how had this jungle grown up in my absence? There were a few rotten baby zucchinis on the vine and a few potato plants seem to have died, I think because the soil isn't draining and we've just had too much rain. Our local "truck farmer" Russ Willinbring in Cold Spring, where I pick my strawberries, said things just aren't growing in the waterlogged fields, and what is growing is late and stunted.

Now I have to admit that I asked my husband not to spray any weeds in the entire area surrounding my garden. So I should not have been surprised that the prairie has grown back around my raspberry bushes and apple trees. But I had kept on top of the weeding in my garden beds, and in my absence large amounts of grass have invaded.

The next day, things looked considerably more manageable. I easily pulled out many weeds and harvested the rest of the onions, which are drying on the porch. Blight has indeed begun on the tomato plants, but there are also lots of blossoms and green tomatoes, so now it's just a race for them to ripen before the blight kills the plant. There will be tomatoes. In fact, the cherry tomatoes, which were incredibly dissapointing last year and resulted in NO canned salsa, are flourishing and blight free, so there will also be salsa!

Here's another photo. I have a lot of these, but they all kind of look like this. Insane amounts of giant weeds as far as the eye can see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Prairie Bouquet

Here's a photo of today's prairie bouquet. It's very tempting to cut flowers from the prairie, but each year I realize how fragile they are when you pick them. They can sway out there in the pairie pummelled by wind for weeks, but once you put them in a vase, they seem to immediately start diministhing. I check the water temperature, but that's not it. They just want to be in the soil, in the wind, part of the whole.

And since this is the same season my orchid very happily blooms inside, I probably will just enjoy the flowers from the window or visiting them for the rest of the summer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

One Night of Cauliflower

Remember when I bought four cauliflower plants back in May, thinking they were cabbage? Well, I can't remember a single time I have cooked cauliflower before tonight. I pulled out two of the four plants to make room for the cabbage seedlings I went back and bought, but tonight I harvested the compact but reasonably-sized cauliflower heads on the other two plants.

I turned to Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for some advice, and found just what I was looking for-- an Indian dish that would also use the fresh cilantro that is ready (and when it's ready, you just have to go ahead and eat it) and the arugula greens. (This is why I bought this cookbook to begin with, because I am challenged when thinking up vegetarian dishes.)

Her recipe title is, like almost all of them in the book, purely descriptive: Cauliflower, Spinach, and Potato Stir-Fry with Coconut Milk.


I had picked up a jar of something called Coriander Chutney made by SWAD the last time I was at the Asian market, a wonderful mix of cilantro, serrano pepper, ginger, garlic (and other ingredients you don't want to know about). I also had some green curry paste in the freezer.

Of course, when finished this dish that was not just delicious but also the most nuclear color green imaginable. I'm choosing to believe it was the combination of cilantro and turmeric and not the FD&C Blue #1 and Yellow #5 in the chutney. I do indeed love India and Indian food!

And that's it. Cauliflower season, c'est finis!

Here it is, with my adaptations:

Cilantro, Cauliflower and Greens, Indian Style

1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 lb of red potatoes, sliced 1/3 inch thick
1 bunch scallions (or spring onions) with some greens
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or 1/3 cup SWAD coriander chutney)
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 serrano chilis, minced (or 1 Tbs green chili paste)
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large bunch greens, such as spinach
1 15-oz can coconut milk

Boil the cauliflower and potatoes in water until tender, then drain.
Puree half the onions and most of the cilantro, turmeric, chiles and 1 Tbs oil-- if you have coriander chutney and chili paste, skip this step.

Heat a wok, add 2 tsp oil and, when hot, add the onions and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the greens and stir-fry until wilted and tender. Set aside.

Add another 2 tsp oil and fry the chili paste and chutney until fragrant. Add the cauliflower and potatoes, season with 1/2 tsp salt, and cook until heated through.

Pour in the coconut milk and add the spinach. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and scallions and serve over brown basmati or jasmine rice. Serve to happy, freshly-showered with no 7 p.m. bid to run off to landscaping husband.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


It's easy to be a locavore come July in Minnesota. Between the garden, the St. Joseph Farmer's Market and our new Minnesota Street Market Co-op that carries Forest mushrooms grown right up the road and local, organic milk, I'm even making local pizzas! Friday night's was made with homemade mozzarella that was so buttery yellow and had such a real mozzarella texture, it was a revelation. It was topped with Forest criminis sauteed with garden spinach and farmer's market onions. The dough was made with the whey from the cheese and local flour from Freeport, Minnesota. I did use garlic that was no doubt imported from China, but hey, it's small! (wait until next year...) And, since I'm confessing, Trader Joe's pizza sauce.

I also made a batch of what's called in Ricki "the Cheese Queen" Carroll's Home Cheese Making book, lactic cheese. It's a pretty bad name for a really excellent soft cheese that you can make in 24 hours if you have rennet, thermophilic starter and salt. I've been making it all year, and nothing is better on a Triscuit than this cheese with some herbs de Provence mixed in. Except, perhaps, the "rosey dill radish dip" I made this weekend.

The last of the garden radishes and first of the garden dill were amazing in this dip, which calls for cream cheese, but I would imagine that cream cheese is too sweet and thus not as good as with lactic cheese. Again, it uses an exotic garlic clove and lemon, but there's no need to go crazy with this locavore stuff. After all, we Minnesotans are a practical people. And the food system has not yet collapsed.

Here's the recipe, which comes from the Common Ground Garden CSA web site.

Rosey-dilled Radish Dip

8 oz. lactic or cream cheese, at room temperature (so you can mix it)
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs fresh chopped dill 
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped radishes

Combine all the ingredients well. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to incorporate the flavors before serving. Serve with crackers, chips or vegetable strips.

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th of July Prairie

Last year, with an early spring and lots of warm weather, for some reason the prairie flowers were pretty unimpressive. This year, however, everything seems anxious to make up for the long, cold winter and spring, or maybe all the rain has helped.

In June the whole story was yarrow. It came up in big patches throughout the prairie. I think of the prairie as having waves of color-- first white, then yellow, and finally purple.

On July 1, thre were already clear signs that yellow was coming in, with bright spots of coreopsis and, here and there, some early black-eyed-Susans.

But here it is just July 4, and already there are three beautiful purple coneflowers, those ladies with their droopy skirts. Walking out there, I found bergemot coming in, among all the dried stalks of last year's grey coneflowers. And bright purple thistle.

purple coneflowers
The prairie is mostly green grasses still, but the promise is there of great glory, a profusion of flowers in the weeks to come.

For more photos from July 4 on our prairie, click here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


In Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, when the family contemplates what they will miss most during their year of eating locally and seasonally, her older daughter laments the loss of fresh fruit. With good planning, after a year one could have plenty of dried fruit and jam, but raisins and fruit leather is not really the same as a bowl of cherries.

I'm living in greater awareness of where my food comes from, but could not resist a carton of peaches from Trader Joe's last weekend. I also bought bananas yesterday, something we don't usually eat in the summer, because they were at the new food co-op in town (so many, so yellow, we'd better buy them and eat them!)

Then, yesterday, I also went strawberry picking at the Willenbring's Produce Acres in Cold Spring. Last year, when I went on my birthday on June 25, the berries were already past their prime. This year the berries were smaller and dark red, due to the cool, wet spring, not enough sun to plump them up. Still, they are very sweet, and quickly filled the kitchen with the smell of strawberries. They made beautiful, dark red strawberry-rhubarb jam. And the whole time I was making the jam, I was thinking of the popovers of winter, when the jam will be most welcome.

And now, suddenly, with peaches, bananas, strawberries and blueberries in the house, it is time for fruit salad! This holiday weekend, we will enjoy the real bounty of summer in its freshest, juiciest form!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam
makes 8 8-oz jars
3 cups chopped rhubarb
4+ cups hulled, crushed strawberries (I leave some smaller ones whole)
5 Tbsp lemon juice
2-3 Tbs regular powdered fruit pectin (or one package-- I've upped the fruit but it would still work)
4-5 cups sugar

1. In a deep pot, combine the berries, lemon juice and pectin, stirring until the pectin is dissolved. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and return to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. (Skim off foam if present, but I haven't had much foam with this fruit.)
2. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim and center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
3. Place jars in boiling water canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Let them sit in canner 5 minutes, then remove to counter to cool completely. Make sure the seals are firm before storing.

If, while making the jam, you have filled jars in the canner simmering, when you empty them you will have plenty of hot water for processing. It also keeps things moving along, while sterilizing the jars. I made two batches from start to finish in 2 1/2 hours.