Impatient Garlic; Heavenly Jam

Posted on June 26, 2012. Filed under: garden, local, patience | Tags: , , , , , , |

Gardening can be risky business.

I nicked my arms pawing through my raspberry bramble yesterday; I suffered no serious damage, but I’ll certainly wear long sleeves from now on when I pick berries. Two days prior to the bramble burst, I, a la cartoon, stepped on the spiked side of a rake. The result was just as you’d expect–a long wooden handle unexpectedly flying toward me at light speed (note: the expected comedic outcome is not at all hilarious when it happens to you). I was able to block the handle before it broke my face, but my left forearm still evidences the incident.

Worse than the brambles and the bruises, though, was what I did to my garlic: I harvested too early.

Last year, I waited 20 days between cutting the scapes and harvesting the garlic heads. The end result was that I had a number of small, but fully formed, heads of garlic. So I figured I’d proceed in the same way this year. As I thrust my hand deep into the garden soil, the heads felt firm and full. So I pulled all of them, except for one. Most of garlic was huge, bigger than ping-pong balls. There was cheering and photo-taking. And then there was sadness.

I looked at the garlic heads. All of them were covered in just a thin layer of paper skin, and some seemed malformed. Garlic shouldn’t be flat on one side, right? Two from the harvers were still…bulbs. Like a small onion, except layered with inedible pre-paper instead of savory flavor. Why did this happen?

Lack of patience. Gardening, just like cooking, requires patience for the best result, and I blew it. Five of the heads look salvageable, but I won’t have certainty for another two weeks. All I can do now is be extremely…patient…with the curing process.

Happily, I had a pick-me-up designed to comfort me after my gardening woes: Strawberry Jam!

I’ve started playing with canning and preserving, and, after a questionable chicken soup experiment (nobody died, but nobody volunteered to eat more than one bite of the soup, either), I decided to make jam. Strawberries were in season, and I bought a lot of them from several farms. The jam making process is straightforward: crush berries, boil with pectin and butter, add sugar, and then jar. I’ll leave the specifics to the experts.

Best way to serve the jam? Take a thick slice of crusty bread. Toast it. Slather with a little bit more butter than you think is good for you. Top with thicker layer of jam. Smile.

Looking for something to listen to while you eat your toast and jam? I have two stories on this week’s edition of Essential Public Radio’s Allegheny Front:
An Interview With Legendary Environmental & Social Justice Activist Vandana Shiva
Seed Savers & Seed Libraries Aim to Restore Biodiversity and Preserve Unique Flavors

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Garlic Scape Pesto

Posted on May 31, 2012. Filed under: easy, garden, healthy, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Garlic scape pesto with garden-fresh snow peas.

One of my favorite things about my gardening hobby is that it has offered me a world of new challenges (and I love a good challenge). It’s not always a joyous introduction, as was the case of my hostile introduction to the spinach leaf miner. They are, ironically, eating my beet greens while the spinach sits, undisturbed, only three feet away. Happily, most of the learning opportunities are positive. Recent example: answering the question, “What Does One Do With Garlic Scapes?”

Last year, I grew garlic for the first time. It was a modestly successful attempt, certainly encouraging enough to try again this year. I planted the bulbs from the largest head last autumn, and (not so) patiently watched as the plants grew up this spring. I’d learned last year that you need to cut off the scape (the immature flower) when it begins to curl, so that the garlic plant could put all its energy into bulb development. I also learned that the scape was edible–it has a mild, chive-garlic flavor. What I didn’t learn last year was what to do with the edible scapes, so I just chopped them and added to whatever I was cooking. They certainly enhanced the flavor of a dish, but I wasn’t highlighting the flavor.

Last week, my friend, writer Sherrie Flick, suggested making a pesto. I’d already made ramp pesto (miss you, dear ramps) this season, and that was a success. So, why not try scape pesto?

Blend:
5 Garlic Scapes
Slightly less than 1/4 Cup Roasted Almonds
(Soak almonds in water for 10 minutes before blending, add 2 Tsp of the water)
1/8 Cup Grapeseed Oil
1/8 Cup Parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt

The pesto is terrifically versatile. I used some on grilled chicken. But the real highlight was tossing the pesto with some garden-picked snow peas and a teaspoon of bacon fat. The dish tasted like springtime bathed in rich butter; yet it was fairly low in calories and cost less than a dollar to make. Win!

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Spring Garden: Spinach, Snow Pea, and Scape Stir Fry

Posted on May 26, 2012. Filed under: easy, garden, healthy, recipe, Uncategorized, vegetable, vegetarian | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I feel like for the last few months I’ve been beginning nearly every post with an apology for not writing very often: “So busy with school,” “other writing projects,” “traveling,” etc. I probably need to reorganize this space in a better way, too. Point is, so sorry for not writing here for over a month, I’ve been very busy finishing school (I’m a master of studying food now), with writing projects (stories on food & the environment for The Allegheny Front, a weekly column in Pittsburgh City Paper), and traveling (mostly around Pittsburgh; it’s been beautiful here). I’ve also been spending a lot of time in my garden, and now I have some delicious treats to eat.

Ramps might be the first edible sign of spring, but spinach is one of the first garden crops to really pop from the ground. I’ve been eating from my spinach patch for three weeks now, and that’s forced me to be awfully creative; one can only eat so many spinach salads or lightly wilted spinach. Luckily for me, my garlic started to scape (see my post on harvesting garlic for more information on garlic scapes), and the snow pea plants are producing (a bucket-load) of pods. That sounded like a promising start to a new recipe, so I rode my bike down to a wonderful little market called the Lotus Food Company; they sell house-made tofu, and it’s ridiculously inexpensive. I also purchased a bottle of black vinegar enhanced with “fruit and vegetable juice.” That’s about all that was written in English on the label! It’s a wonderfully complex vinegar with apricot and spice flavors. All in all, I had the makings of a terrific stir-fry.

Add 1 Tsp. Vegetable Oil to a medium-hot pan.
Pan fry Half-Pound of Firm Tofu, cut into 2-inch squares until brown.
Set aside.

While the tofu is cooking, mix:
1/4 Cup Chicken or Veggie Stock
1 Chopped Garlic Scape
2 Tsp. Soy Sauce
2 Tsp. Mirin
2 Tsp. Black Vinegar
1 Tsp. Minced Ginger
1 Tsp. Corn Starch
1/2 Tsp. Toasted Sesame Oil
Set aside.

Wash and pat dry:
4 Cups Spinach
(Spinach should be loosely packed. Also, I didn’t measure this precisely.)

Wash, and halve:
Two Cups Snow Peas

Chop:
Two Garlic Scapes

Saute the spinach, snow peas, and scapes for 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat.
Return tofu to pan.
Add sauce mixture.
Cook for 1.5 minutes, remove from heat, and allow dish to rest for 1 minute before serving.
Top with Toasted Sesame Seeds

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Nectarine Salsa

Posted on August 20, 2011. Filed under: garden, healthy, hodgepodge, recipe, salsa, summer, vegetable | Tags: , , , , , , , |

About a month ago, tomatoes the size of my head starting amassing on the large vines growing in my garden. My feeble plan of using bamboo sticks to keep the vines vertical was looking more and more futile every day. A makeshift system of shoelaces, bricks, and more bamboo provide temporary respite from that problem, but I could tell this was going to be trouble. Then another problem arose–what was I going to do with all the tomatoes?!?! I never thought I wouldn’t know what to do with a tomato. This isn’t my first summer growing them. Every summer I lived in Los Angeles I raised a few plants, and I never had any trouble eating the harvest. A quick sauce, add them to a salad, perhaps a soup. Easy.

But this year has been different. I heard terrible things about the tomato blight that has afflicted Pittsburgh the last few years, so I decided to plant five plants as an insurance policy. One dude, five plants. No blight, many tomatoes. This year, it was time to be creative. Nectarine salsa is the first of a few dishes I created with what what around my kitchen and garden.

Combine:
2 Cups Diced Tomato*
1 Cup Diced Nectarine
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1/4 Cup Diced Shallot
Pinch Salt
Squeeze Lime Juice
Poblano Pepper, to taste
Cilantro, chopped
Mint and Basil, chopped (just a few pinches of each if you have them around)

Let everything sit for 1-3 hours at room temperature before serving.

...more tomatoes to come...


*
Remove seeds from tomato before dicing. If you have time, let diced tomatoes drain in a colander for a few minutes–your salsa will be less watery. (Drained tomato water can be saved and used in a soup, or as part of a refreshing drink.) Also, try to use a variety of tomatoes if you can.

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