Friday, June 25, 2010

fussy lunch

This was my I-have-work-to-do-but-I'm-trying-to-avoid-it-so-let's-make-something-fussy lunch today:
Salad with Forellenschluss lettuce from the garden, kiwi, bleu cheese, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and a quiche with a homemade crust, local eggs, baby kale from the garden, onion, sweet potato, smoked cheddar and bleu cheese. YUM. Kiwi, bleu cheese and balsamic vinegar sounds weird, but they pair really well together

Now I am further avoiding work by posting about it. Later I can avoid work by doing all the dishes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

foraging fail and win

First the fail: Rhubarb season is coming to a close, and here in Duluth it grows everywhere: vacant lots, alleyways, in overgrown hedges, everywhere. I figured that the neglected rhubarb with long, skinny, green stalks would be more tart than maintained rhubarb, but I thought I could simply add more sugar to compensate, so on my way home from the farmer's market the other day I picked a bunch of a scraggly, abandoned rhubarb. But then when I got it home and cleaned it up and tried a bit, I had to throw it all in the compost. It wasn't just tart, but was inedibly bitter and bad tasting, and no amount of sugar or anything else would have salvaged it. I post this only because when I went online to research the subject, to see if everyone but me already knew that you can't eat neglected rhubarb, or to see if there was some inedible rhubarb look-a-like (not really), I found surprisingly little on the subject. So this post is a public service announcement for urban foragers everywhere: unmaintained rhubarb with thin green stalks is not worth harvesting. I tried several stalks from several sites, and even covered in sugar they were spit-out-in-your-hand bad--and I like tart, sour food. From what I understand, rhubarb needs to be dug up and moved every few years or else it will start putting out thinner and thinner stalks, and I guess that also effects the flavor.

Now the foraging win: Yesterday I went out to an undisclosed location in the pouring rain to dig up some wild leeks (a.k.a. ramps). This is the environment I was in. Can you see the leek?
At this time of year, the leaves are completely died back. I was hoping they'd still be flopped over and obvious, but no such luck. So you have to look for this flower stalk:
But not all leeks produce a flower stalk, and I've heard that the leeks that do flower don't taste as good (and any way, you'd want to leave the flower stalk to develop into seeds so that more leeks can grow). So you look for the flower stalk, then poke around in the leaves and duff to find the little leek nubs poking up through the dirt.
If you can't tell from the picture, the leek nubs stick out from the soil maybe a half inch at best, usually less, and sometimes not at all. Compare that to a month earlier in the season, when they are rather a bit more obvious.

But now at the end of June, the bulbs are so much bigger, some of them close to an inch and a half across. The flavor is noticeably stronger than that of May leeks, but I still don't think they're as overpowering and pungent as some other local naturalists seem to think. The flavor now is more garlicky than oniony, but is sharper, cleaner and sweeter than cultivated garlic.

I pulled up enough leeks for a couple meals, and I've been roasting them with olive oil and salt and serving them over pasta. Roasted whole they are crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, like roasted garlic, but what I like best is cutting them in half and separating some of the layers. They crisp up into leek chips and the sugars caramelize and they are swooningly delicious. Slicing them also makes the leeks go a bit further. Wild leeks are at least semi-common, and I know of several small colonies and a few larger ones here in town. But it can take up to 18 months for the seed to germinate and seven years before the plant is harvestable, so it's better to be frugal.

Friday, June 18, 2010

beautiful salad

This was part of my dinner tonight:

Forellenschluss lettuce, baby beet greens, baby kale, baby chard, and the last of the spinach, with dried apricots, raw walnuts, raw garlic sliced paper thin, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. If I had some good crumbly cheese on hand, I would have tossed that it, too.

I've never grown my own greens before this year, so it is a revelation what a difference there is between store-bought greens and garden-fresh greens. Which makes sense, of course: on cut flowers, the first thing to wilt are the leaves. Last year I learned how much more sweet and tender farmer's market cabbage is compared to to co-op cabbage, but I was not similarly impressed with the more delicate greens like lettuce--because even at the market, it's been plucked for several hours, and then spent several more hours in my fridge at home. But when the first spinach was ready in the garden, I was astounded by how delicious it was, and now I wish I'd planted more; it's too hot to start a second planting, and now I'll have to wait for fall.

I grew up on iceberg lettuce salads with thick, sugary dressing, and even though I've expanded my culinary horizons since then, I was not expecting garden-fresh greens to be so much more flavorful than store-bought greens. I can't imagine dressing this salad with anything more than oil and vinegar, and even that seems a bit extravagant. I was reading a garden book last winter that recommended planting at least six different kinds of lettuce and I thought, "Six kinds? Of lettuce?" but, oh, I am converted now. I was planning to expand my garden anyway, and next year I will plant more spinach, more lettuce, more everything.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

shoots and leaves

The Three Sister garden was a total fail. Out of a packet of 75 corn seeds, I have exactly two (count 'em, two) corn sprouts. I did plant them a touch early, and some of them could have rotted in the ground, but I still suspect squirrels or starlings ransacking the plot, since the next day my mounds were rather flattened and there was a large amount of bean seeds tossed aside. So the beans themselves have a less-than-ideal germination rate, and, surprisingly, the kidney beans from the pantry were more successful than the Kentucky Wonder Pole beans. (The navy beans also sprouted, but rather sporadically.) I have no idea if kidney beans are a bush or pole bean, but I guess I'll find out. And now I'm going to have to go buy stakes or something for my Kentucky Wonder Poles.

Just about everything else is doing smashingly well. The basil was a little slow to germinate, but it's filling in now, and the other herbs are also coming in very slowly and maybe kind of thinly, but that's my fault for not weeding as well as I should have. The beets are currently gorgeous (see photo above) and getting big enough that I can thin the rows and eat the baby greens. The lettuce (see photo below) is equally gorgeous, and I picked this variety specifically because it is so pretty (the name, Forellenschluss, means "speckled like a trout"). The spinach is already bolting, so I guess they really weren't kidding when they named it Gigante d' Inverno (Giant of Winter). The weather has not been seriously hot (we had a few days in the 70s) but perhaps that is still too hot for the spinach, and I will have to wait until fall for a second planting.

Kale and chard are coming in, although the chard seems a little slow and spotty, which is disappointing because it's my favorite green. I've been pulling up a handful of radishes every day recently--thumb sized at best, but crisp and juicy--and the carrots are coming in nicely behind them. Pea vines are flinging tendrils out around each other and the sticks I put out for them to climb up. The transplants are all doing what they're doing. Transplants are kind of boring this time of year.

And look: I have wild strawberries. There are many plants throughout the yard (I wanted to try to mow around them all, but it's hard to keep track of them; I need to weed out the turf and dandelions and plantain and etc.) but, coincidentally, the biggest patches of strawberries are on either side of my garden gate. And, not so coincidentally, the biggest, most robust strawberries are on the inside of the gate, where they've benefited from a dose of Hobbes' compost.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

hillside represent

I was too shy to actually go to the planting yesterday (crowds of friendly people? oh, how terrifying.) but my neighbors did something awesome and deserve recognition:

Orchard Vision Blossoms on Duluth's Hillside