Monday, May 28, 2012

The Garden Push Before the Baby Push

I'm over 38 weeks pregnant now. We decided to make the garden a priority on the pre-baby project list. We've always enjoyed having flowers and vegetables growing in our yard, and we knew that if we didn't do it before the baby was born, we would very much feel their lack in mid-July when we had two babies and no time to garden.

Friday I worked on my perennial herb garden. I added thyme to replace the thyme that didn't make it through the winter. I also planted a second oregano plant and garlic chives. I took cuttings of my overgrown sage plant. I am trying to root them both in water and dirt. If I get a few viable plants out of this 5th-grade science experiment, I will pull the existing sage plant this fall and replace it with a new one.


Saturday my in-laws came down and played with Alessia, while Adam and I went to the garden center and bought plants, dirt, mulch, and compost. Our own compost operation still isn't sorted well enough to provide for our needs, but we were very pleased to find lobster compost and organic mulch from the coast of Maine. When we got back to the house, we ate lunch, put Alessia down for a nap, and with four sets of adult hands we did some serious planting.

Along the back fence, in the shadiest part of our yard, my mother-in-law planted ginger and a few other perennials that she brought from her garden. In two of the three raised beds in back (also fairly shady), Adam and his mom put ginger and various flowers. Adam planted ornamental grass and some flowers in a few containers for the patio.


I pulled out what was left of the spinach plants and the arugula from the front raised beds and planted tomatoes and eggplant. We also added several containers to our vegetable growing this year. I planted three more tomato plants and a hot pepper plant. I planted rosemary, tri-color sage, lemon balm, and stevia in pots. I bought a small parlsey and basil plant at the garden center, just in case my seed starting doesn't go so well. Those both went in the large raised bed with the tomatoes. To top it off, my father-in-law did some heavy-duty weeding and mulching just about everywhere. These are not jobs I would ask of anyone. He just jumped in and did them.


Sunday I potted up my Italian basil, Thai basil, parsley, and cilantro seedlings. I have a fear of finding my self in the hospital and having all the seedlings die neglected in the basement. So I am going with a tough love program. Some of the seedling went straight into the raised beds. Some went into 4" pots in the cold frame. A few are still living the good life under the grow lights in the basement. I also direct seeded some, just to see if it was worth all the effort of starting seedlings.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring Harvest and Summer Planting

We are quickly approaching the end of spring vegetables. With temperatures regularly in the 70s during the day, my arugula and tatsoi were starting to bolt (arugula has pretty little yellow blossoms), and the spinach and lettuce were looking sad and wilty. We finished the tatsoi over the weekend in a stir fry. Today I cut most of the arugula, all of the spinach, and the row of lettuce that was first seeded and sitting exposed to the sun. There is another row of lettuce behind the peas that I sowed later. We'll see if the shade from the peas keeps it fresh a little longer.

Tonight for dinner we are having pasta with arugula pesto and a caprese salad over greens. I might eat the spinach for lunch tomorrow with eggs from the farmers' market.


The timing of all this is working out quite well. This weekend we are getting eggplant and tomato plants. The tomatos will go in where the spinach and tatsoi were. The eggplants will go in where the lettuce and arugula were. The peas finally blossomed a few days ago. They will need a few weeks to set and mature fruit. I'll buy bean seeds this weekend, and hopefully after the peas are done I will find a moment to pull out the vines and stick some bean seeds in the ground.

At the same time, I am 38 weeks pregnant, which means I could find myself in the hospital having baby number two any day now. So we'll see how it goes.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tatsoi from the Garden

The tatsoi in my garden started to bolt, so I cut most of it. I had never thought to grow Asian greens until last summer when I got a great deal of tatsoi and bok choi in my CSA share. I learned to think beyond stir fry, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of greens. The tatsoi was easy enough to grow, but the yield is quite low, so I'm not sure if it will be worth planting again. I've read that it does better in the fall. So I'll try it then, and see what happens.


I sauteed a little garlic in olive oil, added the tatsoi and some cannelini beans, and put just enough water in to steam the greens. We garnished it with feta and oil-cured black olives, and ate it all with a loaf of crusty homemade bread.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Exploring Food with my 18-month-old

My daughter Alessia is now 18-months old. Due to a senstive gag reflex and serious reflux problems when she was around 6 months old, she is a bit behind when it comes to solid foods. At 12 months, she would take the occasional mouthful of pureed food from a jar. At 14 months she would eat as much as half a small jar, and she enjoyed putting finger foods in her mouth, but she always chewed them a bit and then spit them out. In a single sitting she could go through an entire cup of peas this way. Right around 16 months she started swallowing some of those peas. I still remember that moment.


She's still very particular about what she will put in her mouth, and we are not generally allowed to put anything in there for her, but she is making progress, and it is great fun to watch. At her 16-month doctor's appointment, I told her doctor that at every meal we would give her something we knew she would eat and offer her bits of whatever else we were eating. He was so glad to hear that she was finally swallowing real solid food, that he didn't ask preciseley what she was eating, and I didn't tell him that at that point she ate cheerios, plain crackers, and peas.

One of things that I'm finding fascinating in all this is that it is impossible to predict what she will actually eat. For a long time if I offered any food that felt wet, she would pick it up and then declare "all done" and put it on the table. She wouldn't even taste it. So when I first offered her bits of kiwi, I thought for sure she would want nothing to do with it. She loved it. For months I have been offering her tastes of my yogurt with pureed fruit in it. In general she won't even try it, and when she does she makes a face. Two days ago I was eating plain yogurt. She asked for a taste and couldn't get enough. She'll eat rotini with butter and parmesan cheese, but don't put the same cheese on her rice. That has to be straight up. She asks for broccoli, but tastes it and spits it out. Bananas are good if I hold the banana and she takes bites. If I give her the banana and it gets mushy in her hands, she doesn't want it any more. She is very discerning about parmesan cheese (imported vs. domestic), but edamame were instantly accepted as peas. There are moments when I find all this very frustrating, I won't lie about that. For the most part I find it fascinating though. She's at an age where the world is one big science experiment. It's all about exploring, and I've decided that the key to not getting too frustrated is to take her lead on that.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Weekday Vegetarian 4 - protein ideas

Most Americans get more protein than they need, and the occasional low-protein dinner really never hurt anybody. That being said, if you look at vegetarian recipes and think "where's the protein?" or you have particularly high protein needs (pregnant? raising teenage boys? work a physically demanding job?), then you might want to have a few tricks up your sleeve for adding protein to a vegetarian dinner.

Beans - Oh, how we love beans in my house. They can be added to vegetarian soups, stews, and pasta sauces. They make wonderful side dishes on their own or combined with vegetables. You can mash almost any bean and turn it into a spread, which is particularly nice in summer. (See recipe below.)

Cheese - Now and then my mom used to put a bowl of ricotta cheese on the table. We would each add a big spoonful to our plate of pasta with tomato sauce. A little grated cheddar or monterey jack is delicious on vegetarian chilli. When I make vegetarian soups, we often have bread and cheese on the side. In the summer, bread, cheese, and salad or cooked vegetables can be a complete meal.

Eggs - While my husband is not a fan of breakfast for dinner, he never says no to frittata. (See recipe below.) Eggs can also be beaten and mixed into very hot, freshly cooked rice.

Tofu - I mostly use tofu in stir fries. There are lots of great recipes out there for sneaking it into chilli and tacos though.

You might notice the one thing missing from this list is fake meat. We very rarely eat fake meat. I ate more of it when I first became a vegetarian, but the more I read the labels, the more it fell into the category of "processed foods" for me. Once I started eating meat a couple of times a week, I more or less lost all interest in fake meat as I was getting my full of meaty goodness from the real thing. That being said, protein crumbles can be very good in chilli, and the occasional fake chicken nugget with tater tots can take you right back to grade school. (I sometimes wonder if the cafeteria chicken nuggets weren't mostly fake meat anyway.)


White Bean Spread: Saute a little garlic in olive oil. Add two cups of cooked white beans (or a can of beans, drained), salt, a little water, and sage. Mash the beans. This is good either warm or cold. I generally mound it on a plate or shallow bowl and garnish it with chopped tomatoes or olives. A little olive oil drizzled on top is particularly good if you serve it warm.

A Basic Frittata: Saute a little garlic in olive oil, add a cooked green vegetable (asparagus, broccoli, spinach, or kale), and eggs beaten with a little salt and pepper. I generally make about a half cup of cooked vegetable per person and two eggs. If you are using leafy greens, make sure to squeeze the extra water out of them. Let the eggs cook without mixing them until browned on bottom. If the top is still too moist for your taste, you can flip it in the pan or stick it under the broiler, assuming your pan is broiler safe. A little grated parmesan or pecorino is nice on top. Crumbled feta is good too. We generally eat this with a loaf of bread and salad.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Homemade Ice Cream!

When I was a teenager my dad bought an electric ice cream maker. When my mom was at work, we'd mix up a recipe, pour it in, and hit the on switch. The motor in that thing was loud. So we'd put some tunes on, blast the volume higher than the ice cream maker, and dance around the kitchen. On top of all that, the ice cream was amazing. I've dreamt of homemade ice cream ever since. This fall with fruit from the summer's farmers' markets in my freezer I considered getting the ice cream maker attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. In the end I decided they were too bulky, and since I was trying to declutter my house I really didn't need another one-use electric appliance. Well, I must have talked a lot about ice cream makers while contemplating that decision, because my mother-in-law recently gifted me with a hand crank ice cream maker that had been gathering dust in her basement.

It's a Donvier Chillfast. I found manuals online for both this model and the current model. Unlike a traditional hand crank ice cream maker that requires rock salt and constant churning, the Donvier contains it's own liquid equivalent of rock salt (the directions assure me it is non-toxic) and the crank is turned a few times every 2-3 minutes for all of 20 minutes. I admit to having been a bit sceptical at first, despite the glowing reviews online. I was excited though to have an ice cream maker in my possession, and so yesterday I cooked up a pint-size batch of French Vanilla, left it in the fridge overnight as directed in the instructions, and then whipped up some ice cream while washing the lunch dishes today. Here it is, a pint of ice cream ready for the freezer.

It's wonderful. It's so creamy with that slight hint of egg that good French Vanilla has, and the flavors are so intense, which is what I remember most about homemade ice cream. Since summer fruit is a ways off, I'm going to try chocolate next, and the directions include a recipe for honey vanilla that sounds fantastic.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Weekday Vegetarian 3 - with a recipe for stir fry

About once a week I make stir fry. Stir fry is really more of a method than a recipe, and I try to vary the exact ingredients to keep things interesting. Here's one, very basic version, followed by suggestions for variations.

Vegetable Stir Fry (serves four to six)


Corn or peanut or canola oil

2 Onions, cut into bite size chunks

4 Ribs of Celery, sliced on the diagonal

4 Carrots, sliced on the diagonal

2 Heads of Broccoli, cut into spears

1-2 packages of tofu (extra firm or pre-fried), cut into bite-size chunks

Sauce Ingredients

1/2 cup water

4 Tbl soy sauce

2 Tbl corn starch


A wok is nice if you have one, but a big deep frying pan works as well. The key to stir fry is high heat and constant stirring during the first few minutes of cooking. Heat the oil on medium-high. Add the onion and stir constantly. You don't want the onions to brown or wilt completely. Once the onions start to turn translucent, add the carrots, celery, and broccoli. Keep stirring. The broccoli should become shiny and dark green from contact with the hot oil. Once this has happened, add about a quarter cup of water and cover. Turn the heat down a little and let the vegetables cook for a few minutes. Mix all of the sauce ingredients together. When the vegetables are nearly cooked add the tofu and cover. When the tofu is warmed through, turn the heat back up to high, mix the sauce really well to incorporate the cornstarch, and pour the sauce into the pan. Stir everything until the sauce thickens and everything is evely coated. Stir fry is best eaten right away with plenty of plain white rice to soak up all that sauce. I often chop all the vegetables and mix the sauce ingredients during the day when my daughter is napping. That way I just have to cook everything right before dinner.

If you haven't liked tofu in the past, try fried tofu. Some places sell it pre-fried in the same types of packages that the fresh tofu comes in. You can also fry it yourself. Take a block of tofu and slice it in to 1/2 inch thick slices. Place it on paper towels, cover with more paper towels, and set a cutting board on top. Let it sit for a few minutes to drain. This will help lower the amount of splattering when it's frying. Heat a fairly generous amount of oil in a pan on medium. Add the tofu slices. Let them sit, undisturbed, until brown. Turn them over and brown the second side. Drain on paper towels.


There are endless variations on this theme. I generally add a clove of chopped garlic and/or a tablespoon of minced ginger with the onions. You can add sesame oil, sriracha (hot sauce), oyster sauce, or fermented black beans to the sauce ingredients. Some fresh scallions or roasted peanuts thrown on right before serving is nice. You can also use almost any vegetable. Sticking with my philosophy of "two vegetables of two different colors," I like to pair a green vegetable (green beans, broccoli, cabbage, or bok choi) with carrots.