Reason to Smile #1:
The days are getting longer.
The return of warmer weather is around the corner, and here in Zone 9, it is time to plant beans. I posted earlier about the varieties I'm putting in, but several people asked me about the feasibility of growing beans in pots, so I thought I would use just a minute to explain how I'm making it work.
I have two large pots (16" in diameter) filled with organic potting soil and set against a wooden fence. On the fence, I've hung two pieces of concrete reinforcement mesh (basically a heavy duty wire grid) upon which they'll climb. For a decorative, three dimensional effect, I've also used branches that my friend had leftover from pruning to create "teepees" for the beans to grow up and around. I'm giving them as much room to grow as possible.
Also, since the potting soil is fresh and has never grown beans before, I needed to inoculate the soil. You see, all members of the legume family (peas, beans, favas, sweet peas, etc.) are "nitrogen fixers." Working synergistically with a bacteria, the plants collect nitrogen from the atmosphere and deposit it into little nubs in their root systems. This relationship between the bacteria and the legume gives the bacteria a place to live and the legume natural fertilizer. It is also beneficial to the rest of the garden, for whatever you plant in the place or pot where legumes last lived will be fertilized by the remaining nitrogen. Growing legumes illustrates one of the many benefits of crop rotation: moving legumes through different parts of the garden keeps the soil much richer. However, if the soil has never hosted legumes, it also likely doesn't host the necessary bacteria—that's why inoculation is necessary
It's easy to do. Purchase inoculant online or at a well-stocked nursery, drop the legume seeds you will be planting in a small container, add a tablespoon (or more, more doesn't hurt) of the inoculant, add a little water, and swirl to coat.
As you place the seeds in the prepared holes, whether in a pot or in the ground where nothing in the bean family has grown before, drizzle the remaining inoculant over the seeds. Water in the seeds and watch them grow.
Reason to Smile #2:
This meatloaf recipe is insanely good.
The best kind of comfort food hits all the familiar notes but in a new way. That's exactly what this meatloaf does. Enriched with prunes, allspice, and a bit of smoky bacon, the complex, warm flavors give you new reasons to appreciate the old standby. I adapted this recipe very slightly from the recipe found in the February 2008 Gourmet in order reduce unnecessary fat (a bit) and to change the beef to pork ratio.
You will need:
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup whole milk
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 ounces bacon (about 2 slices), chopped
1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1 1/4 lb lean ground beef chuck
1/2 lb ground pork (not lean)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
To make the meatloaf:
Soak bread crumbs in milk in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread-crumb mixture.
Finely chop bacon and prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, eggs, and parsley and mix together with your hands.
Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Please excuse the fact that every picture I know how to take of an entire meatloaf looks, unfortunately, like a turd.
Reason to Smile #3:
It's my 100th post. Yay me!
Reason to Smile #4:
The secret weapon.
A student of mine, to whom I will refer as T., has proven multiple times that this next piece of information, this valuable secret, this life-changing procedure, will guarantee a smile and most likely even a guffaw from someone near you.
Here is what T. taught me to do.
He said, "Ms. W., first you take your index finger on the hand that you don't write with, and lay it inside up on your desk, like this."
"Then, use a black pen and draw this. Play with the shape until you find one you like."
"Finally, when you just have to get someone to laugh, you place the finger over your mouth and make a face."
It's a pretty darn effective trick, I tell you.