Friday, December 01, 2006

Garden: Closed for the Season


I'm looking forward to perfecting my bread-making skills and eating the produce that I preserved from my first attempt at organic gardening. Come January, you'll find me sitting by the fireplace checking out all those seed catalogues for my 2007 garden-- which barring the influx of the seventeen-year cicadas--should be even bigger and better than this year. However I'll never forget my first garden which just like your first love or your first kiss is something very special. gg

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Still Giving

Winter storm warnings are today's top news. Anywhere from 6 to 14 inches of that flaky white stuff is predicted to blanket the Chicago area starting tonight. Since we're north of the city--I'm guessing we're in for at least a foot. By tomorrow I may not even be able to see my garden. Therefore, I raided my organic garden for what could be the final time for 2006. The wind chill was 11 degrees as I harvested leeks, carrots, broccoli, Swiss chard, chives, mint and oregano--still marveling at another day away from the grocery store. Tonight I'll be making chicken and dumplings using the carrots, leeks, chives, mint and oregano. Although I am less then 10-minutes from Whole Foods, Dominick's, Sunset, Trader Joe's, Dons and Jewel grocery stores I do feel my garden has given me a new insight into how our forefathers lived or didn't live--depending on the fickleness of M. Nature.

Happy Winter,
gg

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Move over, Britney Spears


A new covergirl is about to replace you. Swiss Chard appeared as the cover picture on two magazines I received in yesterday's mail, Real Simple Food and Chicago Botanic Garden's Garden Talk. I'm not sure if this is a trend--I haven't had a chance to check out People or Oprah--but it is an interesting choice. Swiss Chard looks and stays beautiful in the garden throughout the season. It's pretty enough to be planted with your flowers, if you don't have a vegetable garden.

Nutrionally, Swiss chard is a superstar. A one-cup serving provides the daily equivalent value of a whopping 306.3% vitamin K, 109.0% vitamin A, and 52.5% of vitamin C. It also offers large amounts of magnesium, potassium, iron, vitamin E, calcium and more—all this and only 35 calories.

It can be used in soups, pastas, omelets, and frittatas, or steamed and eaten as a vegetable similar to spinach.

Friday, September 01, 2006

New adventures await...


I look forward to fall. I love the changing of the seasons, it is like turning the pages of a book, new stories and adventures at each junction. I will continue watching over my garden, hopefully until late October, but I also will be venturing into new areas--some relating to my day job, others into my favorite cold weather pastimes--cooking, eating and entertaining. In the meantime, check out http://paulbrewerart.blogspot.com and http://www.paulbrewerart.com for some exciting original art. GG

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rows to hoe before the snow

As meteorological summer comes to an end, I must say it’s been a great ride. I will continue picking and even pickling my cucumbers and harvest whatever M. Nature provides. I will post updates to my blog—and in late September I will go into my kitchen to enjoy the fruits of my labor and reflect upon the first of what I hope to be many, many more green summers. It is hard to find the words to express the many miracles of nature that I experienced in my own little “Walden” this summer. As much as things change, things say the same. So I'd like to borrow the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau and what I do believe he would have put on his blog over 100 years ago if only he had one:

“Thoughts on Beans.”

“Meanwhile my beans, the length of whose rows, added together, was seven miles already planted, were impatient to be hoed, for the earliest had grown considerably before the latest were in the ground; indeed they were not easily to be put off. What was the meaning of this so steady and self-respecting, this small Herculean labor, I knew not. I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them? Only Heaven knows. This was my curious labor all summer — to make this portion of the earth's surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day's work. It is a fine broad leaf to look on. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains, which water this dry soil, and what fertility is in the soil itself, which for the most part is lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, and break up their ancient herb garden? Soon, however, the remaining beans will be too tough for them, and go forward to meet new foes.”

Please allow me to close with a line adapted from T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Man—“this is the way the summer ends, this is the way the summer ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

See you in September. Gg.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sorry Kermit, you're wrong


It's easy being green. This June, I started my first organic vegetable garden on a whim and a prayer. I love fresh produce and have often been disappointed by my purchases at our local Whole Foods market and some other very good stores nearby. Even though, my hometown is not exactly the ideal sun-filled space one thinks about for growing much outside of ferns, impatiens and hostas, I found a spot in my yard that received marginal sun—enough, I hoped, to grow some veggies.

I threw in some seeds and small organic plants hoping something might grow. Grow they did and I have been overwhelmed by the results. My green August is winding down. It’s been better than I could have ever imagined and changed the way I will be doing things in the future. It’s not so hard being green. I’m not in such a big rush to jump back into my SUV and run to the grocery store. I’ve learned a lot this month and will continue my green ways even as my garden takes its winter break.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Not a pretty picture

Don't let your broccoli go to flower unless you don't want to eat it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Eight People for Dinner

I'm have invited 8 guests to come to my house for dinner tomorrow night. I am determined to feed them from my garden. The tomatoes and basil are looking good--same for the eggplant-- and the zucchini is usable. The cucumbers are growing out-of- control--that's a good thing. The leeks, peppers and carrots are ready to play supporting roles. There's also Swiss chard, corn, okra, broccoli, endive, a variety of lettuces and herbs on stand-by.

I have instituted an 85% rule. 85% from my garden and 15% from other sources. I need appetizers, a main course and dessert. Once again, wine is not part of the equation--we will use as much or as little as the occasion demands--with designated drivers on-call. I will be checking-out the yard tomorrow morning and plan my menu from there. I will share it before the end of the month but not tomorrow as I will be planning, picking, cooking and entertaining

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What dogs must love…

I’m feeling a little guilty.

When I threw together my somewhat haphazard, last minute, plan to feed my family for the entire month of August from my marginally sunny organic garden—I wasn’t thinking about our best buddy, Scout.

It’s not her fault, but I’ve spent $41.89 for her food this month. I've spent less than $30.00 to feed the rest of the family, including guests but excluding wine (the vineyard is still a few years off). I’m not worried about the money—but I’m wondering if I could do better by Scout for next year—something to think about on those cold January 2007 days.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sex in the Garden

When “sex” occurs in the garden it is politely referred to as pollination. In other words, there are boy flowers and girl flowers. My four zucchini plants, which have taken over nearly half of my garden, are loaded with lazy boy flowers. For the space they command they are providing very few zucchinis. Since the flowers can't move, I suppose, it’s not entirely their fault. But what I don’t understand is why the two nearby cucumber plants are causing a mini population explosion.

Pollinators include wind, bees, butterflies, insects and birds. In order for plants to pollinate pollen must move from the male parts to the female parts. Pollen grains land or are placed on the stigma and a tiny tube grows from it and down the style into the ovary. The fertilized ovule becomes the seed and the ovary becomes the fruit or vegetable—whatever God intended in the first place.

Hey zucchini boys, it is time to pollinate. Take a lesson from the cucumbers.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mint condition…


Come mid-August many herbs begin to flaunt their colors—mostly purples and blues. If you have extras, it’s nice to let some go to flower for fragrant herb bouquets. Or you can mix your herb cuttings with cut flowers from the garden. Herb bouquets make great kitchen companions--enjoy the blooms then snip off the leaves for cooking. In the bathroom small containers of mint, lavender and lamb’s ear look great and add a fresh smell to the air.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hoe, hoe, hoe…making the switch

Today’s Wall Street Journal says, “Going organic can be a tough row to hoe.” They quote a third-generation California farmer who said after switching to organic his weeding bill rose tenfold. Maybe the answer is small manageable plots in the backyards and vacant lots of the world. It works for me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Monday, August 21, 2006

A new wrinkle…

In conjunction with my “keeping green” I am using cloth towels and napkins. Question: Is it better to use 100% cotton napkins and let them wrinkle, or iron them, (for every meal, NO WAY!) Or is it all right to use no-iron polyester? Help!
Where is Martha when I need her?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Okra…a quick fix

Once again, I am happy to report that okra continues to have a special place in my organic garden as well as my heart. Tonight, I threw together a bunch of vegetables from the garden including—zucchini, onions, tomatoes, fennel, leeks, carrots, and fresh herbs for a soup. I was getting hungry and the soup was still looking watery. I knew I could add pasta or rice but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Then, I thought—I know it’s not gumbo—but how about adding okra. The okra was the perfect solution. It thickened the soup and tasted great.

My southern visitor, okra, has been a good garden guest and will be invited back to next summer’s garden. Although, it is not the same 6-foot tall, dark and green okra that grows in tropical and sub-tropical zones, my okra, a shorter northern cousin, works just fine in my zone 5 location. It is an upright plant, so it doesn’t hog a lot of garden space; it matures relatively fast—about 52 days--and doesn’t seem to have a bug problem. Just remember, if you grow okra, harvest it when it is no more than 1 to 1 ½ inchs long—and harvest the plants every couple of days. It keeps in the refrigerator 3 or 4 days and can be frozen. Okra--it's a good thing. gg.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Promised recipes…

First the bread…
A bread maker, I’m not—but somehow I’ve managed to survive and put on 2 lbs. the first half of August with this really easy bread recipe:

Easy White Bread
(I use a food processor but this same recipe can also be made by hand)

1 package active dry yeast
2 t. sugar
1/3 c. warm water, 110-120 degrees
3 c. flour
3 T. butter
1 t. salt
2/3 c. ice water

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm (110 to 120 degrees) water, about 5 minutes, until foamy.
In food processor, add 3 cups flour, the 3T. butter and 1 t. salt, process 20 seconds-- (same thing but longer if by hand)
Add yeast mixture and with motor running pour ice water through tube in steady stream.
Process until ball forms—then continue to process an additional 60 seconds.
Remove from food processor and knead for 2-3 minutes by hand.
Put in oiled bowl and cover, lightly with towel or plastic wrap.
Let rise until doubled—60 minutes or so.

Punch down and shape into loaf and put into greased bread pan-- cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise again—about 60 minutes.

Bake in center of preheated 375 degree preheated about 30 minutes or until browned and starting to pull away from sides of pan. Remove from pan and let cool on rack.

Wait…

Wait one or two days before using the bread for bread salad. In the meantime, this bread tastes great toasted and makes a really good base for a tomato sandwich with homegrown or farmer's market tomatoes and a little mayonnaise.

Now the Bread Salad

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons chiffonade fresh mint
Salt and pepper—to taste
4 cups day-old bread
6 ounces shredded or cubed mozzarella
3 c. cubed cucumber, salted and drained
4 c. fresh tomatoes, cubed
1/2 cup black oil-cured olives, sliced

1. Place vinegar, shallots, and garlic in a medium bowl and set bowl aside for 20 minutes. Stir in olive oil, lemon juice, and mint. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the bread and mozzarella. Pour two-thirds of the dressing over, and toss again. Set the bowl aside for 30 minutes. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and remaining dressing, and toss thoroughly. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The best bread salad ever…

I am about to reveal my inner most secrets. Take my homemade bread--add fresh mint, cucumbers and tomatoes--all organic and just picked or bought fresh from the farmer's market-- add a few more mystery ingredients and enjoy. I will share my recipes for my bread and my bread salad tomorrow.

Promise, gg

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Multi-Cultural Guest in the Garden

The hard to distinguish weedy growth in the picture below is actually lemon grass also known as lemongrass or Takrai—native to the Far East and an important ingredient in their cuisine. Who knew it could grow in the Chicago area?

Lemon Grass is primarily grown in India, Indonesia, and South East Asia—thus yesterday's hint, sari. As it has become more popular, it is now grown in tropical and subtropical climates in other parts of the world, as well. In warmer climates lemon grass is a perennial that can grow to over six feet tall and produce clusters of green flowers tinged with red. In cooler climates it will not over winter, nor will it grow as tall or produce flowers. However, it is easy to grow and tastes fine in my Zone 5 location. I especially enjoy lemon grass in hot and sour soup or paired with coconut milk in a variety of Thai recipes. If you do buy or grow it, remember it is much like a green onion—use the lower white part and only the very tender part of the green. gg.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Another Garden Mystery…




Hint: Sari

Identify the weed-like grassy growth located between the Swiss chard and the large acorn squash leaves.

Answer, tomorrow.

Nobody said this was going to be easy. gg

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

15 Days and counting…

I’m halfway through my green August. I still marvel at the fact that I can sustain my family on what I am growing in two little 10 x 12 foot plots in an area of marginal sun just outside my back door.

Pluses…

I’ve saved more than $500—easily over $35 a day—by not needing to buy gas or groceries.

I have become a more creative cook. Out of necessity, I must create a meal out of what is in the garden.

I’ve learned to bake bread—more or less.

I have gained sensitivity—not only to what previous generations had to do in order to survive—but also to today’s small farmers and their dependence on the fickleness of M. Nature.

I’m enjoying biking—and have noticed that biking up the hills is no longer a big deal.

Minuses

Only one…and actually it is a plus…about 2lbs. Instead of losing 5lbs.—my goal for the mid-point of August—I’ve gained 2lbs.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Answer: Okra

Fresh okra is not always easy to find in the north—so my solution was to grow it. Okra is sometimes referred to as gumbo--gumbo is the Swahili word for okra. It is a tall-growing—usually three or four feet in the north, to six or more feet in the south--warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus.

Okra pairs especially well with tomatoes. For a northerner it is often an acquired taste—kind of like scotch. For a southerner it's pretty much a birthright.

It is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients--nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol. The other half is insoluble fiber that keeps the intestinal tract healthy. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half-cup of cooked okra.

So if you’ve never had okra—try it—you might even like it.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

What is this?


Hint: It’s from my organic garden. It’s used in gumbo.
Answer, tomorrow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A Daily Miracle…



I planted seeds for the fall harvest today and am looking forward to at least another month or more of good, cheap and healthy organic eats. It’s going to be hard going back to store-bought produce.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Things I’ve learned along the way…

If you think you don’t like Swiss chard it’s because you don’t grow your own. Swiss chard eaten within an hour or two after harvest tastes nothing like the chard you buy in the grocery store—same for:
Corn
Green beans
And broccoli
But especially Swiss chard.

A corn stalk only grows one ear of corn…but a broccoli plant can grow more than one head.

Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower have heads, corn has ears, potatoes have eyes, lots of vegetables including onions have skin but I can’t think of any plant with a mouth or a nose.

The skin of a cucumber contains a large portion of its nutritional value so it should not be peeled—I’m not sure about the waxed cucumbers often found in stores. You may want to check the nutritional value of wax.

The skin of an acorn squash, picked early in the season, can be eaten right along with the squash. I’m not sure of the nutritional value of squash skin.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No beef...


Day 10...STILL GREEN.












Hay--just wanted to say thanks.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Don’t fence me in

There is no fence around my organic garden. That’s all right. I don’t have a problem sharing. But sharing doesn’t seem to be a concept for the wildlife that resides nearby. They know what they like and when it’s at peak flavor. I have numerous green tomatoes on my five tomato plants, but once they start to ripen, it becomes a race to see who gets there first. Invariably, if I wait for a tomato to turn red it seems there is always a big bite out of the other side—leaving me half a tomato. Hey, 50/50 split--maybe they do know how to share. After all, if I ever got there first I'd take the whole tomato. Let's hear it for the critters--I think they've been getting a bad rap.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Am I having fun, yet...

Continuing my theme from yesterday.
It isn’t easy being Green.
It takes a lot of work…
a lot of planning…
wash the cloth napkins and towels…
weed the garden…
check what’s growing…
bake bread…
do some creative menu planning with what’s available…
to be continued--tomorrow.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Kermit was right

It's not easy being green--but it's worth it. Last night's brocolli was the best--even a former President would have liked it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Getting a rise



After another bread-making fiasco, I finally figured out I was killing my yeast by dissolving it in too hot water. My third try brought about these average results and a decent tasting loaf of bread. I hope to do better next time, but at least I was able to have toast for breakfast today.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Knead more dough

The good news: The garden is coming along better than I ever could have imagined—now there’s broccoli, green beans, tomatoes…even acorn squash along with all the other veggies that had been sustaining us earlier in the week.
The not so good news: I’m missing bread big time. It’s a beautiful day—what I’d really like to do—golf…a bike ride along the lakefront…hang at the pool…lunch at an outdoor café…Lollapalooza…view the Tall Ships at Navy Pier. What I really need to do—learn how to make bread—quick--survival is at stake.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Cheese Stands Alone

Dinner last night was cucumber soup and the other half of my unleavened dough from Tuesday’s “disaster averted.” This made the base for a grilled pizza with herbs from the garden. Breakfast this morning was blueberry pancakes with homemade rhubarb jelly from one of my two rhubarb plants.

Surprisingly I haven’t missed meat and I haven’t missed the car. My trusty bike has gotten more of a workout the last four days than it has in the last four years. However, in order to survive this back to earth August, I have decreed a new rule: Cheese is allowed—but only if purchased from a farmer’s market. Other farmer’s market purchases may be allowed, with discretion, for health sake.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thyme on my hands…

Yesterday, I had my first ripe cherry tomato from my garden, red and juicy, unlike any from the grocery store or even the farmers’ market. I hungrily devoured it within seconds after picking. I patiently watch as the larger heirloom tomatoes become a little pinker everyday. I wonder if I should let the pinkest ones ripen more on the vine or if I should pick them now to ripen inside before a hungry raccoon discovers them.

We had a steady rain last night that should be good for the garden. Now I’m waiting for the rain to stop so I can check out today’s menu.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How hard can this be?

ANSWER to the question in the post below:
It's not a loaf of bread.

After carefully sifting, measuring, stirring then kneading the ingredients for a loaf of basic white bread, I put the rubbery mass into an oiled bowl, covered it, and waited for the magic to unfold--one hour, two hours, three hours…nothing. All that work and it was flatter than when I started. As I was ready to throw in the dough along with the towel, I thought—flat bread—add a little olive oil, fresh herbs and cook at 425-degrees for ten minutes—disaster averted. How hard can this be?

Disaster Averted


What’s wrong with this picture?
Stay tuned...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Destination Day...a new beginning


Today is the first day of the rest of August. The sun is shinning…the bread is rising on the screen porch…the tea is brewing in big glass jars by the garden…the bicycle tires are filled with air…and I am pumped.

I take my 15-second stroll to the produce aisle of my yard to check out what’s for lunch. Since the temperature is pushing 100 degrees—mixed greens and a glass of ice tea seems in order. An abundance of zucchini will most likely play a starring role for dinner. I’m thinking about sautéing it in olive oil and adding it to whole-wheat pasta with fresh rosemary and garlic--a salad or fresh spinach for a side is a no-brainer. If I have the time blueberry scones would make a tasty dessert.

Monday, July 31, 2006

YUM



Monday, July 31, 2006
14 Hours and counting

The final preparations are underway. I just surveyed the tiny patch of land that’s supposed to sustain our family for the month of August and made a mad dash to my Google toolbar. Fennel, zucchini, green tomatoes, Swiss chard recipes…help!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Big things coming

Going green

My First Vegetable Garden

After years of wanting to grow my own organic backyard vegetable garden, this is the year I decided to go for it. We have not used pesticides or sprays in our yard for 15 years. So once I was ready, I had two 8 x 12 plots dug up in a sunny area of our yard for two raised beds. I added 6 cubic yards of organic compost to the soil and begun planting.

I used a combination of organic seeds and plants from catalogues and nurseries. The crops are coming along slowly. In part, I believe, because I didn't get things up and running until the second week in June. As of July 1, I have enough lettuce to feed family and friends a daily salad and then some. It’s great to just walk out my back door for a green onion whenever a recipes calls for one. And it’s easy to cut down on salt when I have cilantro, basil, oregano, mint, dill, chives, nasturtiums, tarragon, lemon grass, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme at my beck and call. I’m waiting on the peas, beans, okra, tomatoes, and various varieties of peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, blueberries and broccoli. Everyday, I check the progress of my very special creations—marveling as I see buds turning miraculously into little fruits and vegetables.

I’m picturing late July, August and September for when I can starting going to the yard instead of the grocery store to actually prepare a meal. I'm dreaming of vegetable gumbo, gazpacho, zucchini pizza and more. In celebration of my expectations, I have decided on going green for August. I want to see if I can live off my land for one month. I will not buy any food for one month.* In addition, I will not use my car for one month. I will walk or bike. Starting August 1, I will begin this inconvenient exercise.

In addition to doing my small part for the environment, I am selfishly hoping to lose weight and save money. I will be tracking my weight daily on Google 15. I have set a goal weight and Google will graph my daily progress. I will track my daily average food and gas budget throughout August and compare it to my typical monthly spending to figure savings for the month. I will also pass on any creative and hopefully healthy menu ideas I discover or create along the way. Anyone who wants to join in this semi-green adventure is welcome.

*In anticipation of this month long event I have made sure I have certain supplies for my cupboard. I will miss meat but since I do not have livestock, I will be going without. I am easy walking and biking distance to Lake Michigan and several smaller lakes and ponds so if I find I am missing “flesh” too much, I can try my hand at fishing. I don’t hunt so rabbit and squirrel are out of the equation (not that they've ever been in it). I love bread and normally run--actually drive-- to a bakery or grocery store whenever I need a loaf. Now I will be kneading my own loaves. I will be stocking dry milk, flour, yeast, oil, shortening, dried beans, pasta, eggs, salt and pepper. I'm wondering how I'll survive a month without cheese. Any recipes for cheese made from dried milk?