Sunday, March 30, 2008

So Loved

In the past few weeks, I have been loved up and down and sideways, and not just by ECG.

My church family and friends threw me a wedding shower that included all sorts of females, ages 17 to 107. Each guest wrote me a wedding advice card. One of the more interesting cards came from a 70-odd year old couple who wrote, "When you fight—and you will fight—fight nude."

My closest local budettes created a nearly-spontaneous bachelorette party that ended up with a few of us swaying back and forth, singing along with a strange young man in a Gustav Klimt tshirt who played Journey songs on the grand piano in the early hours of the morning. Don't stop believing, hang on to this fe-e-e-ling.

At work, a few dear people put together a little after-the-school-day shower for me with margaritas and plenty of estrogen. It was a sweet, special time that I didn't know to expect. Earlier in the same day, the wrestling coach, a man famous for his winning record and non-existent smile, came up and hugged me.

And finally (I hesitate to say finally because the love keeps coming at me), Saturday night a few friends came over, and after a meal of take-out and champagne, tried out multiple versions of potential wedding-day make-up palettes. I am not a make-up person and needed all the help I could get. I think—I hope—we found a winner.

Now, I am in the midst of the multitudes of preparations for the actual event. Dress, a spectacular purple number, check. Guests and their housing and transportation, check. Music mix for dinner and dancing, including song requests from the guests so everybody gets at least one of their favorites, check. Wedding rings, simple and eternal, check. Parents who have done so much work to make this a beautiful, meaningful, intimate event in their town, check. The best husband-to-be in the world: I have him, in spades. I am one lucky, lucky woman. By this time next Sunday, I'll be married and will probably already be dancing. I'll be dancing my way with my husband to the airport next Tuesday and across the ocean to Italy. We'll take a drunken waltz up the boot of Italy, a sweet slow number back across the ocean, and we have all of our lives to learn to dance to the rhythms we encounter along the way.

So, for a bit, as I prepare for and begin the rest of my life, I'll leave my home, garden, and pets, flowers, and blog in the hands of dear friends.

I'll see you in a few weeks.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Sorry for the lack of words, but I have a few things on my mind right now—Easter, grading, growing seedlings, the clear view of the mountains, and oh yeah, MY WEDDING THAT IS HAPPENING IN TWO WEEKS.

Lame as it may be, my post is brief today. All I have to say is this:

Slow down. Drink a hot cup of coffee in the warm sun. Enjoy Easter and all of its gifts. And springtime? It's here. Live it up.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Winter Garden Recap and Looking Forward to Just About Everything (Growing Challenge)

In 22 days, I'll be married.

I'm looking forward to my marriage like nothing I've anticipated before. I get to spend my life with my best partner, my best friend, the person who "gets" me like no one has ever gotten me. My moods don't deter his love. I could giddily blather on and on about ECG, but I didn't set out to write about him. In fact, I set out to reflect on my winter garden, explaining what has grown well for me and what hasn't, how I ate what I grew, and what I will grow again and what I will try differently next time. However, it's hard for me to concentrate on much right now when the rest of my life is just around the corner.

I'll give it a shot anyway.

Some crops I'm still waiting on, like the garlics and Chantenay carrots. Other crops were good ol' basic veggies, like the lettuces and turnips I grew. They were wonderful, but they didn't shake my expectations in any way toward the better or the worse. What I list below are the crops that led me to strong opinions, mostly positive, but I had a few duds.


The Definite Winners:
I planned to plant an heirloom broccoli by seed, but I got started too late, so I purchased seedlings from a local garden center. I planted them in October, and by December, I had riches of sweet broccoli heads. After the first major harvest, I had side sprouts for months. In fact, sweet broccoli graced my table until just a couple weeks ago. One of my favorite ways to prepare it was to drizzle it with olive oil, toss in garlic and hot peppers, and roast it on high heat for a couple minutes until it was bright green with heat-browned bits. After I would take it out of the oven, I'd splash it with soy sauce.

Peas, Sugar Snap
Giant vines covered with sweet, plump pods, edible greens, a delicious, efficient and nitrogen-fixing crop: what more could I ask for out of a vegetable? Lately, I've been blanching my bumper crop, then chilling the pods to eat later, as an afternoon snack, sprinkled with salt.

Fava beans, Windsor
If I depended only on the double-peeled beans, I'd be unhappy with fava beans, for it takes so much to get so little; however, since I discovered the following trick, I can't get enough of the buggers. After picking the slightly immature pods (like those in the picture below), I smear them with olive oil and coarse salt—and sometimes garlic—and then I toss them on the grill. Once the grill leaves black stripes on one side, I flip them over, allow them to get slightly toasted on this side, then remove them. I don't let them get completely blackened, but instead just a little caramelized so that the beans are cooked inside and the pods are sweet. Fava beans prepared this way are really, really good.

Chard, Broadstem Green
Prettier, hardier, and in my opinion, tastier than spinach, chard is a miracle crop. I've sautéed it alone and mixed with other veggies, steamed it, used in soups, and just this weekend, made Lucy's spectacular Chard and Feta Filo Pie. Broadstem Green has grown very well for me, but I look forward to also experimenting with other strains.

Rutabaga, Laurentian
The rutabagas are finally coming into their own, about 1½ " wide and 3" long. They are sweeter and milder than the turnips I grew, and I love to peel them, cut them into chunks, and roast them with garlic and whatever herb I have handy. Yum.

Kale, Tuscan Black (aka Tuscan Palm Tree, Lancinato, Dinosaur, and its many other names)
This kale is sweeter than other kales, it is a beautiful garden plant, adding texture and a lovely blue-gray to the garden, and it is productive. I don't know why I didn't grow more of it, because I kept the few plants I had well-harvested. When I had enough for a dish of just kale, I sautéed it with garlic, tossed in raisins and pine nuts, then splashed the whole thing with red wine vinegar; otherwise, I used ribbons of it in whatever vegetable medley I put together for the evening's dinner.

Beets, Detroit Dark Red
This fall was the first time I've grown beets, so I don't have much to compare this variety with, but it seemed like Detroit Dark Red was so slow to get going. Although I planted the little guys by seed in October, only now do I finally have beets of usable size. They may have gotten too little sun as the peas and other vegetables grew around them. No matter, they are wonderful now. For the most part, I've been peeling them and cutting them into wedges. Then, I've tossed them with olive oil and coarse salt, roasting them on high heat until their edges are brown with caramelized sugars. Oh my.


The Unremarkable Losers:
Spinach, Monoppa
When it finally got off its feet, it bolted. The leaves tasted fine, but it just wasn't very productive and I had much better luck with lettuces for salads and chard for potherbs.

Parsnip, Harris Model
This must be the slowest growing crop ever. My parsnips are still just pencil-thick, but perhaps if I try again, I'll plant them much earlier so that they can be very well-established before winter.


Looking ahead:
The first of the summer crops, the beans, are in the ground. Blue Coco, Indian Woman Yellow, and Pencil Pod Wax are all up and out of the ground. The Asparagus Bean is just poking up out of the ground.

Blue Coco has the prettiest seedlings so far.

Before I know it, this little seedling will sprout up and into its twig and wire reinforcements. It will curl into another seedling. It's reaching stems will clutch onto that other, and the other will twine around it. The two plants will wind and stretch, leaning on each other, helping each other grow upward toward heights neither could make it to alone.

As I said, I can concentrate on little else.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


The cats are snoozing in the sun on the west balcony, the tomatoes are in their new, bigger homes, enjoying real sunshine, and my office is cheerful with the scent of sweet peas from a friend's garden. Spring is here. I know, technically, spring doesn't start for a couple of weeks, but no matter—for all intents and purposes, it is here.

If you are not able to relish in springtime yet, perhaps this salad dressing will help. It makes the best of the seasonal pleasure of Meyer lemons and tastes of the zingy freshness of brighter days.

Meyer Lemon Salad Dressing

You will need:
1 Meyer lemon
1 large garlic clove, peeled
½ teaspoon of coarse sea salt
a very generous glug of good olive oil

Mortar and pestle
Small strainer
½ pint jar with lid

To make the dressing:
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic clove and the salt together to make a rough paste. (Do not try to make it smooth or you will overpower your lettuce.) Stir the juice from the lemon directly into the mortar.

Pour the lemon-salt-garlic mixture through the strainer into the small jar, and discard the solids that remain in the strainer. After taking a moment to look to see how much of the lemon juice mixture you have, pour in roughly the same amount of olive oil. Screw on the lid, and finally, shake the ingredients together to emulsify into lovely, golden-green garlicky goodness.

Dress your naked greens and eat them with someone who won't mind your breath.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

100 (Growing Challenge)

I have a promise to make. I promise that, by the end of this post, I will make you smile. I'll try several different tactics, and if none of them work, I have a secret weapon.

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

To make the meatloaf:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

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.