Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Twin-Cation!

I think it's safe to say that City Girl will be on a twin-cation for the next week or two. My wife is being induced on Friday with our twin boys! I've already been slacking as far as the blog posts go because we've been busy busy busy trying to get all our ducks in a row for their arrival! So I wanted to offically say: I'll be back soon, I promise! Likely with a post about our new cloth diaper experiment!

For now, here's some lovely pictures of the fact that, yes, we are indeed FINALLY getting some red tomatoes and good looking cucumbers from our garden! And yes, that's also a head of cauliflower too! Yum!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Cucumber Fennel and Orange Salad

We're still experimenting with ways to use our fennel here in the City Girl household and since I'm going to have an abundance of cucumbers from my garden I decided to give this idea of mine a try. It's a very fresh, light tasting salad. The dressing is very light and mild, so if you like something with a stronger dressing you may want to change it up a bit to your liking. I'm not a huge dressing fan, so this was perfect for me.

Cucumber Fennel and Orange Salad

















Salad:
1 large or two small cucumbers
1 fennel
1 orange

Dressing:
1/4 c orange juice
1 T honey
1 T grapeseed oil
zest from 1 orange

To prepare the salad, peel the cucumber(s) and cut into matchstick sized pieces. Cut the fennel bulb and stalks, horizontally, into thin pieces as well. Zest the orange and set aside zest for the dressing. Peel and cut the orange into bit sized pieces. Toss cucumber, fennel, and oranges together. Mix the dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Add a few of the frennel fronds as a garnish.

This salad is best if left to marinate for 24 hours before eating. This allows the cucumber to soak up some of the orange dressing. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ramp Cheddar and Brebis Cheeses

We were delighted to receive another veggie share from Harmony Valley Farm today, along with our once-a-month cheese share. Here's what was in our veggie box, along with some luscious looking raspberries (Photo courtesy of Harmony Valley Farm):

I have to confess. Now that we are getting some more 'normal' veggies (that is, things this City Girl is used to) I'm having a harder time using up the box. I think I enjoy the challenge of using up new veggies. The usual carrots, cucumber, zucchini and greens are leaving me less than excited to use them up. That's too bad. So today's cheese selection managed to provide me with that challenge.

I had already planned to make homemade pizza or calzones with some of our cooking greens from either our garden or a previous box, I don't even remember which. But we were out of cheese. So you can imagine my surprise to find out that it was also a cheese share day. Perfect! We got Castle Rock Organic Dairy's Mild Cheddar, Otter Creek Organic Dairy's & Harmony Valley Farm's Ramp Cheddar, and Butler Farm's Brebis. Hmmm.....not exactly pizza cheese. I was hoping for a nice Monterey Jack or Mozzarella in the mix somewhere. So I whipped open my How To Cook Everything Vegetarian book and found the perfect solution, which I of course in the spirit of all things Mark Bittman, modified to make it my own. Plus one extra gem I was able to tailor to my ingredients and whip up.

Ramp Cheddar Calzone

(Yes, I forgot to take a picture until all we had left was this little piece...) 2 c Brebis cheese, broken into small clumps (I used the whole container)
2 c Ramp Cheddar, grated
1-2 c finely chopped, cooked greens (Mine looked like it was probably a mixture of kale and chard. But spinach, kale, chard, or the like would all work just fine.)

1 recipe of your favorite pizza dough (large enough to make 2-3 large calzones). If you choose to make just 2 calzones, you will have enough leftover filling to make the Savory Ramp Cheddar Bread Pudding recipe below, like I did.

Roll out pizza dough into 2 or 3 rounds, depending on the number of calzones you'd like to make. Pile as about 1/3 of the filling onto one half of the dough. Fold the other half over and fold up the edges to seal. Bake all calzones on cookie sheets at 350 for about 30-40 minutes.

Have some leftover filling like I did? (I only had enough dough for 2 calzones, because I used some to also make my four-year-old a pepperoni pizza.) No problem!!

Try this:

Savory Ramp Cheddar Bread Pudding
3 c milk
4 T butter
8 slices of day old bread
3 eggs
Cheddar Cheese, shredded, enough to add to the filling (if needed) to make total filling amount equal 2 cups

Heat milk & butter in a saucepan or microwave until warmed and butter is melted. Break bread into bite sized pieces in an 8x8 baking dish. Cover with milk and let soak for a few minutes. Beat the 3 eggs and stir, along with cheese & greens filling, into the bread and milk mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Cloth Diapers Have Arrived!

Yesterday, Do Good Diapers left a fun little package on our door step: our first sets of cloth diapers! Since we're having twins (any day now!) we have even more reason to try the cloth adventure. The cost, even using a diaper service, will be nearly half as much as buying disposables. For a singleton, you'd probably break out about even with the use of a diaper service. So here's what we got:

two HUGE bags of prefold diapers, many many Pro Wrap cloth diaper covers (pictured in the small bin), and four snappis (also pictured in the small bin), and diaper pail. We ordered the Starter Package so we are also covered for our first 12 weeks of the diaper service. We simply have to throw the dirty diapes into the pail (soiled & all) and leave it on our doorstep weekly. They'll pick up the dirties and drop of a set of clean ones. Couldn't be easier!

The only thing this City Girl was worried about was: How exactly do I do this thing? How do I put them on anyway? I have seen many chances in our area to attend a cloth diapering workshop, but none have fit our schedules. So I gave Do Good Diapers a call and they suggested I check out YouTube for some examples of how to put on a cloth diaper. Then they even offered to come out to our house and do a personal tutorial for us. Wow!! Well, after checking out YouTube, I must say I think the tutorial is not necessary. There are some amazing videos out there that show how it really is a piece of cake!

Here's just one:


And just to show that it really did teach this City Girl How to do this, here's Elmo, looking happy as a clam in his cloth diaper!

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Best Chicken Rub Ever

Really. Seriously. This is the best thing I have ever put on chicken in my life. EVER. First of all, it was part of my first time butterflying a chicken. What's that? Yeah, that's what I thought at first too! But then one of my favorite bloggers detailed how she did it on Pinch My Salt. So, in case you're clueless like I was, it's simply cutting a whole chicken down the middle so you can spread it out flat. An EXCELLENT way to prepare a whole chicken for the grill! Wanna learn how? Watch the video from The Virtual Weber Bullet.



I also liked the idea on Pinch My Salt about using some fresh herbs & garlic to marinate the chicken. I didn't have time to marinate and I didn't want the added oil, but I did have tons of fresh herbs in my garden. So here's what I did:

The Best Chicken Rub Ever
1 T fresh rosemary
4 fresh (not dried) garlic cloves
1 T fresh parsley
1 T fresh thyme

Put all ingredients in a small food chopper and blend until chopped well. Cover the underside of chicken with about half of the rub. Turn the chicken over, and slide your fingers under the skin to distribute the other half of the rub between the skin and the meat. Throw it on the grill over medium-low heat, grill for 20-25 minutes, flipping sides in the middle, and voila!

Enjoy!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade

[Updated 8-3-2009: I finally got my camera & cable in the house at the same time! So thought I might as well add the photos I had taken!]

With our previous CSA fruit share, we were blessed with several Meyer lemons. They were raved about in our newsletter like they were some kind of amazing offering so I figured I better try a few things with 'em! They are officially gone now, and I used them successfully in Meyer Lemon Bars, Meyer Lemon Cheesecake (based on the Lemon Cheesecake recipe in How to Cook Everything and also very similar to this one with lemons added), and my favorite: Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade.


I of course could only find a recipe for Meyer Lemon Marmalade and one for Raspberry Lemon Marmalade (not specifically for Meyers) so I did my own thing to combine the two and amazingly - IT WORKED!

Raspberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade
4 Meyer lemons
2 c crushed raspberries
2 c water
6 c sugar

(Steps 1-7, parts of step 8 and accompanying photos are borrowed from Simply Recipes.)

Preparing the fruit

1 Scrub the lemons clean. Discard any that are moldy or damaged.

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2 Prepare the lemons. Cut 1/4 inch off from the ends of the lemons. Working one at a time, stand a lemon on end. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise. Cut each lemon half into several segments, lengthwise.

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As you cut the lemons into segments, if you can, pull off any exposed membranes. Just get the ones that are easy to get to, ignore the rest. When you've cut down to the final segment, cut away the pithy core. Remove all seeds from the segments. Reserve the seeds and any removed membrane or pith. You will need them to make pectin.

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Cut each lemon segment crosswise into even pieces to make little triangles of lemon peel and pulp.

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3 Put all of the seeds, membranes and pith you removed from the lemons into a bag fashioned out of two layers of cheesecloth or a muslin jelly bag.

First stage of cooking

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4 Place the lemon segments and water into a large, wide pot.

5 Place the pectin bag in the pot with the fruit pulp and secure to the pot handle.

6 Bring mixture to a medium boil on medium high heat. Let boil, uncovered, for about 25-35 minutes, until the peels are soft and cooked through. Test one of the lemon peel pieces by eating it. It should be soft. If it is still chewy, keep cooking until soft.

Remove from heat.

7 Remove the pectin bag, place the pectin bag in a bowl and let cool until it is comfortable to touch.

Add the raspberries, sugar and pectin

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8 Add the raspberries and sugar to the mixture and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, once your pectin bag has cooled to the point you can handle it, if you want, squeeze it like play-doh to extract any extra pectin. This is not necessary but will help ensure a good set. You should be able to get a tablespoon or two more from the bag. It has the consistency of sour cream. Return this pectin to the pan with the lemon mixture.

Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 220-222°F.

9. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is Being Green Inconvenient?

Well, maybe. Probably if you are used to conveniences in our modern systems. But some things, such as composting, are easy. Some, such as joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and cooking more from scratch with SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical) food do indeed seem inconvenient. At first. I'm about a couple months into my first ever CSA experience. And though I considered myself average in terms of cooking experience before I joined, I really did have a lot to learn. I mean, I could make the typical American meals on most people's weekly menus no problem. Often without a recipe. But I had no idea what to do with half of the veggies we were getting in our CSA. There was a steep learning curve at first. I'll readily admit to that.

But now, I think I'm hitting my stride. So this leads me to think that I just needed to gain a bit more 'kitchen literacy' to borrow a term from some others in the blogosphere. Mark Bittman's blog post True Convenience, and Grist.org's post Not much convenience in 'convenience foods'
hit on exactly what I was coming to realize on my own. They both point out that so called 'convenience foods' actually don't hit the table any faster than cooking from scratch. Yet our culture's focus on convenience only encourages kitchen illiteracy. Before joining a CSA, sure I could cook on my own, but if I wanted to make Mac 'n Cheese (one of my four-year-old's favorites) or Lasagna or Tuna Noodle Casserole, would I make it from scratch? Heck no! It came from a box or frozen, with directions, and the fewer ingredients I needed to add, the better.

What have I learned since then? That it really doesn't take any longer to cook from scratch than to cook from a box. That with experience the time I spend planning is decreasing. And that when I cook from scratch I have much more satisfaction in the meal I prepared. I'm often surprised and delighted with the turnout, as is my family. How often have you ever felt that way about Hamburger Helper? Or Kraft Mac 'n Cheese? Or the lasagna you got from the freezer?

And I've also gathered a few time-saving tips of my own:
  1. Do as much prep-work as you can the night before. Chop vegetables, thaw meat, do whatever you can manage the night before after the kids are in bed. That way you can throw it all together the next day come dinner time. 20 minutes prep time without kids under foot can seem like it saves you an hour the next day. Really.
  2. Crockpot/Slow Cooker.
  3. Rice Cooker.
  4. For both of the above, buy an appliance timer to plug them into. Then you can actually have things finish just as you arrive home from work.
  5. Bread Machine (you can have pizza dough rising while you chill in the evening. Take it out and shape it which only takes 5 minutes and stick it in the fridge until the next day's dinner).
  6. Cook in big batches. Especially when cooking meat. Already need to brown 1 lb of ground beef? Go ahead and brown 2. Or even 3. You can use the extra another night in another dish without having to do the work. Cook big roasts in the crockpot. They take almost no work that way, and you can use the meat in more than one dish.
  7. Read Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Read it. Really. Don't just look up the one thing you need. It's one of the best book's I've ever seen for gaining some kitchen literacy.
Another thing I'm especially thankful for when it comes to my CSA experience, is that my son is learning not only about where food comes from, but how it's actually made. He's only four, so is by no means an adept assistant. But even if the dish I'm making is something he turns his nose up at the dinner table, he was typically there by my side on his little step stool watching me every step of the way. How sad if I hadn't joined a CSA or ever gotten into a make-it-yourself kick, that he might have grown up thinking meals only come from a box? Making meals from scratch might have seemed to him in adulthood like washing laundry with a tub and washboard seems to us. And then I think about how it's possible to have a whole generation of children grow up with this kind of kitchen illiteracy. It's sad.

I know the CSA experience may not be for everyone. And leaving all out-of-a-box cooking by the wayside might not be either. (Even for me!) But I hope that in our ever-increasingly-convenient world, we can still manage to teach our kids where things really come from. How to be self-sufficient in ways that don't rely too heavily on convenience. How sometimes convenience is just a trick of the eye, a marketing ploy, and in reality it can sometimes be just as easy to do it yourself.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is Being Green Affordable?

I'm not sure I would have known the answer to this question even a few months ago. I didn't give much thought to greening my life. Well, actually I did think about it, a lot, but didn't take much action. Practically none actually. Sure I put some recycling out every week and rode the bus to work, but those were the easy things. When I started to really think about greening my life and how I never seemed to take action on things, my biggest fears seemed to be with the affordability of it all. And particularly with food. Local, organic food. Sustainable food.

I was a big coupon clipper. I mean BIG. Like I had a big binder filled with baseball card sleeves of thoroughly organized coupons. I would go to the local big chain grocery store with a computer printout of exactly what was on sale, which coupon(s) to use for each product, what price it was before and after the coupon, and my big hefty binder. I looked so serious and official that people would come up to me to ask for help. I guess all the paperwork and the binder made me look managerial or something.

So since eating more local and more organic is what comes to mind when I think of greening my food life a bit, and we all know buying food at the co-op costs more, I of course was pretty convinced it wasn't for me. After all, we all know you can't clip enough coupons for organic, local food to save 60% on your shopping trip like I was used to at the big chain stores. So I did some research.

I had heard all this stuff about CSAs for years. What's a CSA? It's Community Supported Agriculture. Meaning you buy a "share" in a local, usually organic but not necessarily, farm and in exchange receive weekly or sometimes every other weekly boxes of produce from the farm. I had actually always wanted to try one just because it sounds a little fun. But I thought it also seemed expensive. After all one share is hundreds of dollars. For VEGETABLES.

But then I did the math. For us, signing up with a local CSA with Harmony Valley Farm for a half veggie share (every other week), extended season veggies, a full fruit share, and once a month cheese is only costing us about $37 per week. For more than enough veggies, fruit & most of the cheese we need for our household. That's actually a good deal! And it's organic! And local!! Now, we will NOT get shares in February through April. I do live in Minnesota remember! But we are also not paying for them in those months either.

Then I did some more research and found out there are local meat CSAs too. I just joined Sunshine Harvest Farm. It runs $100/month and you get 20 lbs of organic meat/eggs each month. That's about $5/pound which may be a lot compared to the local chain stores, but not so much compared to the organic meats found at the local co-op. It's also plenty of meat for our family each month. So now we're up to about $255/month on groceries. Throw in a few extras like grains & milk from the co-op which I probably spend about $100/month on.

Bottom line? That's actually AT LEAST as cheap as I was getting our groceries for with all my coupon clipping frenzy. AND I no longer have to spend hours (really) clipping & organizing coupons, nor do I have to make that arduous 1.5 hour long grocery shopping trip to meticulously buy exactly what is on sale with the exact right coupons to get the deals. I simply pick up a box of veggies, fruit, or cheese every week from a neighbor's garage, and a box of meat every month. And make a couple 15 minute stops at the co-op.

I'm floored by my experiences so far. I had no idea I could do this and actually NOT spend more money than I used to on groceries. Cheap, unhealthy, processed, full-of-pesticide-and-fake-ingredients groceries. And I'm really enjoying the process of learning about new vegetables and introducing them to my family. Dinner is an adventure every night and so much fun to be trying new things.

What about other green initiatives and their affordability? Well, composting doesn't cost a thing. Gardening can, but can also be done on the cheap or at least cheaper than it would cost to buy the fruits of your labor in the store. Recycling, at least where we live, also doesn't cost a thing. It's a service provided by the city and they'll come by every week whether we like it or not. Soon we will begin cloth diapering with a local diaper service, also cheaper than disposables even though we are splurging to pay the service to launder them. (I'll go into the details after our twins are born - I PROMISE!) Bicycling? Also cheaper than both the bus and the car.

I'll admit. There are those who's grocery allowance may be even lower than what I've detailed here. But I'd challenge folks to at least check it out. And do the math. If it doesn't work for you, then do what you can to buy local and organic every now and then. What about a local farmer's market? There are often amazing deals on organic, locally grown produce there. You can spend anywhere from $1 on up. And it's fun. My four-year-old LOVES a trip to the farmer's market. Especially if we can arrange to ride the light rail (a.k.a. "train" to him) to get there.

Are there ways that you've found to make greening your life affordable? Insights or tips you'd like to share? If so, I'd love to hear 'em!

Using up the box with Pasty!

I found another amazing way to use up the box: traditional Michigan UP (that's Upper Peninsula) Pasty! What's a pasty? Basically pie-like crust folded in half & sealed over a filling usually made of cubed beef stew meat, and thinly sliced potatoes, carrots & onions. And I think it's the perfect dish for many of my CSA veggies! This time I stuck with a more traditional route, but I have visions of using cooking greens, summer squash and other veggie delights! Never made a pasty before and want to give it a try? I didn't exactly use a recipe but here's what I did.

Pasty
Refrigerated pie crust, 1-2 packages or enough home-made pie crust to make 3-4 crusts.
1 lb ground beef
4-5 small carrots, thinly sliced
3 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
1 small sweet potato, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Worcestershire sauce
seasoning salt (I swear by Krazy Jane's Mixed Up Salt)
a bit of vegetable broth

Mix the raw beef, veggies, Worcestershire sauce, seasoning salt, and a few spoonfuls of vegetable broth. Pile it on half of the rolled out crust. Fold the crust over and fold over edges to seal tightly. Cut three slits in the top of the crust. You'll probably find you have enough filling for 3-4 pasties. Bake at 350 for about an hour. About 10 minutes before it's done use a pastry brush to generously brush the crust with broth, making sure to let some get into the pasty. This allows it to brown lightly, and adds some moisture to the filling.

You can really substitute anything you want for filling in these. If you try anything creative with your seasonal veggies I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fennel Beet and Orange Salad

OK, confession time: I have NEVER eaten fennel or beets. They are completely new veggies to me. Seriously. New. So I had to come up with some way to try these things. And boy am I glad that Harmony Valley Farm's recipes came to the rescue! I made this salad to take to a potluck and was sorry that I forgot to take the little bit leftover back home with me it was so good! Oh, and I don't care for mustard so I omitted that part and it was still delicious!

Fennel Beet and Orange Salad
from Harmony Valley Farm
2-3 medium beets
1 head of fennel
2 oranges
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1.Preheat oven to 400 º. Remove beet tops and set aside. Trim stems to 1”, scrub beets, rub with oil, and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Cool.
2.Thinly slice fennel bulb crosswise and sauté slowly with a small amount of oil over low heat until it is nicely browned. Remove from heat.
3.Zest one orange. Whisk balsamic with orange zest, Dijon, 2 Tbsp oil, and salt and pepper.
4.Cut peels and white pith from oranges. Cut crosswise into thin slices.
5.Chop fennel stalks and reserve fronds.
6.Peel cooled beets and cut into 1” chunks.
7.Toss browned fennel bulb with orange slices, beets, fennel stalks, and dressing.
8.Sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds to taste.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cheese Fondue with my Veggie & Cheese Shares

When I saw the recipe for cheese fondue in the Harmony Valley Farm newsletter for my latest cheese share and thought of the fact that I had one green apple on it's last legs, cauliflower, zucchini, tofu, and homemade whole-wheat bread all plentifully available in my kitchen already, I knew this was a meal I would be sure to make. The only problem is I have a wife pregnant with twins and the fondue called for a beer. We are taking every precaution to make sure this pregnancy goes well, so that was definitely out of the question. So I did what any determined City Girl would do. I made up my own. Armed with Organic Cedar Grove Monterey Jack, Otter Creek Summer Cheddar, and Pasture Land Coop's Sogne cheeses I got to work.

Cheese and Onion Fondue
1 T butter
2 White Cipollini onions, bulbs only, chopped (save the green parts for another dish)
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 T flour
1 c milk or half and half
1 c Sogne cheese, finely grated
1 c Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 c Cheddar Cheese, grated

Set the fondue pot to 'simmer' and add butter and onions. Cook onions for 2 minutes then add Worcestershire sauce and flour stirring well. Add the milk or half and half and heat until milk begins to thicken. You may need to increase the heat on the fondue pot slightly. Reduce heat back to 'simmer', and add cheeses one handful at a time. When melted, add the next handful.

I used an electric fondue pot with a 'simmer' setting to cook my fondue. If you don't have an electric pot, I'd recommend simmering the ingredients in a pot on your stove over medium-low heat instead.

The cauliflower, zucchini, and apple are all excellent in the fondue raw. For the bread, I cut it into large cubes and toasted in the oven for 10 minutes in a shallow baking pan. For the tofu, I buy mine at an Asian grocery already pressed. If you don't, you may need to press the tofu. I honestly have never done it. The Asian market is so much easier! You can chop it into large cubes, and dip in egg or milk, then breadcrumbs, and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

And here's the finished spread. Minus the apple. Because that was actually a last-minute addition.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Making Vegetable Broth from Scraps

When I read that you could make vegetable broth from scraps this City Girl was psyched! There's nothing more green than making something out of stuff that would be otherwise just sitting in the compost heap. So for the past month I've been accumulating veggie scraps in the freezer. When one large plastic container didn't seem to be quite enough, I also filled a large sized freezer bag with scraps. Well washed of course. Things like onion ends, pea-vines nearing their end, the buds from garlic scapes, chard stems, carrot tops & peels, cauliflower leaves and stems, and kohlrabi greens. At least that's what I could identify as I threw them into the crock pot.
I did feel I didn't have enough onion parts so a plucked a few small Spanish onions from the garden, along with some parsley just because I had a ton, and threw those in. The rest couldn't be simpler. Fill with water, turn the crock pot on low and let it all steep for 12-24 hours. I threw it in last night and strained it tonight, about 24 hours later, through a cheese cloth. It was the most beautiful looking veggie broth I've ever seen!

I got about 18 cups of broth. Plenty to last me quite a while! And there is just nothing more satisfying than making something from scraps I would have just thrown into the compost. Now let's make some soup!

Growing Cauliflower

Now, I've tried plenty of the usual veggies in my garden before. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs... But this year is my first year trying cauliflower. And I am forever indebted to Harmony Valley Farm because on our visit there a few weeks ago, I heard them mention the fact that you must TIE your cauliflower leaves to cover the new baby head of cauliflower in order to keep if white. If you don't it will turn brown! I had no idea! So I finally tied my cauliflower the other day. Well, rubber-banded it that is. I found an excellent illustration here.

What about you? Are there any last minute surprising garden tips you got wind of just in time? Or any that you didn't but wish you had?

Oh, and here's our first harvest from one of the square foot gardens, a beautiful little cucumber:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Grapefruit Granita

In a few more days we'll get another fruit share, so we're still trying to make it through the last one. My favorite from the last box was the grapefruit. However since it's a little time intensive to eat compared to most fruits I decided to use most of it to make granita. It was excellent. Basically not much more than frozen, slushy grapefruit juice but it felt like a nice healthy summer treat.

Grapefruit Granita
juice from 4-5 grapefruit (about 2 cups)
zest from 1 orange
juice from 1 orange
1/3 c Splenda or sugar (or more to taste)
1/4 c water

Mix all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour into a 13x9 pan and freeze for about 2 hours, using a fork to break up the crystals every 30-45 minutes. If you are going to store before serving, but it into an air tight container once frozen. If you like it sweet you will definitely want more sugar. I like mine tart so thought this was perfect.

Monday, July 13, 2009

CSA Week 9

Last week we got another installment of our veggie & cheese shares from Harmony Valley Farm: Fresh garlic, White cipollini onions, Red beets, Fennel, Carrots, Thai basil, Cucumbers , Snow Peas, Baby bok choi, Salad Mix, Cauliflower, Otter Creek Summer Cheddar, Pasture Land Coop's Sogne, Cedar Grove Monterey Jack.
Plans for the loot? Well, I've honestly never tried beets or fennel. So thinking of trying those roasted since it seems to have been a big hit for some of the other veggies that were new to the City Girl household so far. I'm sure I'll make use of the cucumbers and carrots with the salad mix, and as snacks by themselves. And all that cheese? I'm thinking of a lovely cheese fondue which would also lend itself well to the cauliflower and a leftover zucchini from our last box. As for the rest, we'll have to see!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cooking Beans in the Pressure Cooker

Okay. This is one of those City Girl experiments that didn't go so well. Not that it's the first (not by a long shot). But I had a bunch of black beans to cook, and didn't want to do the whole soak for 12 hours, cook for 2, or whatever long and drawn out processes my cookbook outlined for choices. And it did mention briefly that you could cook them much quicker in a pressure cooker. But it did not give details.

So true to City Girl form, I did my research. Read at least a dozen descriptions online for how to cook beans in the pressure cooker. THEN I discovered that my pressure cooker manual actually DID have instructions for cooking dried beans. (I couldn't find them before because it was under a category called 'Dried Vegetables'.) Now, keep in mind that my pressure cooker is old. I mean OLD. Like, after the elderly next door neighbor lady died 10 years ago, I bought it at her estate sale for 25 cents. Like so old it has directions for how to cook with it on a coal or wood stove. For real. Check it out: So, when the instructions said to soak the beans for 12 hours AND cook them for 35 minutes I thought it seemed a little odd. After all, everything I read online said to cook them for 15 minutes. Some said not to soak at all. Some said to soak. I thought, "This thing is really old. Maybe it's different. I better just do what it says." So I put the beans in to soak before I went to work in the morning and when I got home I turned on the heat. I couldn't quite cook it for 35 minutes because I had to run and pick up my four-year-old from preschool before they closed...but I figured 25-30 minutes was probably fine given that everything else online said 15.

Yeah right. When we got home, I opened up the pressure cooker and what did I get for all my efforts? Mush. Black Bean Mush. Maybe people in the 1950's or whenever my pressure cooker is from ate their beans like mush? Whaddya think? I have no idea, but it's not how I eat them! Ah well. At least I was only making black bean dip. I can make mushy work for that. And now I know for next time. FIFTEEN minutes. And maybe I won't even soak 'em.

Anybody use a pressure cooker to cook beans? Anybody do it with an ancient one like mine? How do you do it?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Radish Parmesan Pizza

Wow. I can't believe it's almost time to pick up a new installment of our veggie share from Harmony Valley Farm (this Thursday!) and we've used up our entire share! Well, except for a tiny bit of spinach that went bad. That really is a tragedy because I've discovered how easy it is to throw spinach into nearly anything! Ah well. More for the compost I guess!

One of my most exciting discoveries since joining a CSA has been that I LIKE RADISHES! Well, cooked radishes that is! I still don't care for them much raw, though I have a suspicion I might like them just fine if they were grated into a salad. I have tried them roasted on the grill, sauteed with butter, onions, and a bit of salt and now for my most recent experiment: Radish Pizza! Sound a little weird? It's not! It was really shockingly good.

Here's what I did.

Radish Parmesan Pizza
Prepare Pizza Dough (see my previous post)

Topping:
a bit of grapeseed oil
2 garlic scapes, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
4-5 small radishes, thinly sliced, for a SMALL pizza (cut up more for a large one!)
1/4 c Thoten or parmesan cheese

Throw the oil & garlic scapes into the skillet. Saute the scapes until they are just beginning to soften. Then add onions, rosemary and radishes. Saute until radishes are just beginning to brown slightly. Spread the mixture on the pizza dough. Top with cheese. You may use more if you like, but I liked using a scant amount of cheese for this one. Cook at 450 degrees 10-15 minutes or until crust is beginning to brown.

I took this pizza to a Fourth of July lunch with some relatives, along with a pesto spinach pizza, basic cheese pizza, and Mango Avocado Lime Salad and I'm happy to say they were all devoured!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bike Commuting (with Bill!!!)

So my friend Bill is starting a fabulous new business: Bike with Bill. What is it? Your fastest and easiest ticket to smooth sailing bike commuting. Bill was the perfect personal guide for my first ever bike commute.

He researched and rode my route to work ahead of time. Foreseeing a few obstacles on the first half of the trip AND knowing that I have not ridden my bike in oh, just four years or so, he suggested we drive half-way and bike the second half for our first outing. While I was slightly disappointed that I'd be using up gas in order to start out as a bike commuter, I have to admit his advice was right on. I do live far enough from Minneapolis that my total bike route is 11.5 miles, one-way. So for the first commute we biked the last 5.8 miles of the route. While others may be able to ride that in no time, for this city girl it took about 45 minutes. That's a good long ride for someone who hasn't ridden in a while, even if I did used to be a pretty experienced biker before my four-year-old was born!

Before we took off on that first ride though, Bill put in quite a bit of time on my behalf. He first researched the best route. One of the tools he uses for this is Cyclopath. Kinda like a Google Maps for the Twin Cities bike world. He then actually rode the entire route. He discovered there was some road construction about 1/2 way in, which we avoided by starting our mid-way commute right after that spot. Prior to my first commute he sent an excellent list of tips and recommendations so I could best prepare for my ride.

The day of the commute I was so nervous I had hardly slept. It had been so long since I'd been an avid biker that I wondered if I could really pull this off! We drove the first half the actual bike route so I could see where I would be biking once I worked up doing the whole trip by bike. I followed his car in my own, and he managed to expertly point out things along the way akin to some kind of Vanna White of the biking world. He pointed out off-road bike trails that I'd be traveling on and where turns and obstacles were.

Then we parked our car near the U of M intercampus transitway, a quick thoroughfare between the St Paul and Minneapolis campuses that allows U of M shuttle buses and bicycles only. What a great route! From there we had a minimal distance to go via city streets, and then got to ride to downtown Minneapolis via the Stone Arch Bridge, another excellent off-road part of my commute.

Then it was just a few blocks through downtown to my office building and voila!

All along, Bill demonstrated perfect biker etiquette and offered the most comprehensive lessons on bicycle rules of the road I've ever had. He thoroughly went through the various hand-signals and modeled them while riding ahead of me. I felt a million times more assured that I knew what I was doing after his lessons then I ever had in my life, even compared to back when I was a pretty avid biker. He gave me all of the confidence and know-how I could get.

His best tip? "I always smile at other drivers, cyclists, or walkers." Because according to Bill, bicycling should be enjoyable at all times! Too many bikers and drivers act as if we are at odds with each other. We can both be much happier with smiles, good communication, caution, attentiveness and respect. And communication is KEY when bike commuting. Go the extra mile to communicate pleasantly where your going and what your doing to others that share the road. His emphasis on positivity and friendliness was almost a bit Mr-Rogers-esque. It was refreshing and very welcomed amidst all of the squabbling I hear in local media on the tensions between drivers and cyclists.

I'm anxious to bike the whole commute, but I think I'll spend this week doing the drive half/bike half idea. Then we'll see if I feel up to perhaps a full bike ride to work, with a bus home in the afternoon. Live in the Twin Cities and wanna see if Bill can help you start bike commuting too? Send him an e-mail at billclimb2@comcast.net.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mango Avocado Salad

Due to our fabulous Harmony Valley Farm fruit share we seem to have an abundance of several things: mangoes, avocados, plums, peaches, and nectarines. WOW!! So I've been stewing on what to do with all of these things because we seem to be getting a bit more fruit than we can handle in two-weeks time before the next fruit share box comes our way.

While I'm still deciding what to try with my plums (plum wine or canned whole plums?) I stumbled upon the PERFECT use for my mangoes and avocados. Mango Avocado Lime Salad. At first I thought, "What??? Mangoes and Avocados together???" But tasked with providing lunch for a few relatives over fourth of July (a group of 5 adults and 3 kids) and trying to make the most of my CSA shares, I decided to give it a whirl.

I of course modified what I saw a bit to fit what I had on hand. I also couldn't resist adding some lime zest which the original recipe did not call for. It gave the yogurt such a yummy lime zing! Here's the City Girl version.

Mango Avocado Lime Salad

1 large mango
1 large avocado, firm and not too ripe
1 lime
8 oz vanilla yogurt

Cut mango & avocado into bite-sized pieces and mix together in a bowl. Firm avocado will hold up best, but go ahead even if you have one that's very ripe and soft. Zest the lime and add zest to the yogurt in a small dish. This will be the dressing for the salad. Squeeze juice from the lime into the mango/avocado mixture. Let the salad and yogurt sit overnight for the BEST fresh lime flavor you can imagine! When serving guests should drizzle the yogurt over their salad.

I tried this once by preparing it about 30 minutes before it was served. The results were not nearly as good as the time I let it sit overnight. So do some early prep work and you'll have a FABULOUS summer salad!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CSA Weeks 5 & 6

I've been on a gardening kick so I figure it's time to get back on track with a post on the CSA adventure. There's lots to report on! For starters we started getting our scrumptious fruit shares!! We got the first one two weeks ago and are still eating through the last of our plums and peaches from that box. I have to say it's been about the most delicious fruit this city girl has had in a long time! And there's another fruit share coming tomorrow. It'll include Sugraone Grapes, Gold Pineapple, Tommy Atkins Mangoes, Red Raven Plums, Arctic Sweet Nectarines, Gold Dust Peaches, and Star Ruby Grapefruit. How lucky am I? I'm contemplating whether I should try my hand at plum wine or just can a bunch of the huge amount of plums we have. I'll keep ya updated!

Then there's the veggie box we got last week. I have to admit I feel I'm not making as good of progress through this one as I'd like. It came with lots of greens (for both salads and cooking) and I had just bought a huge bunch of lettuce from the Minneapolis farmer's market the week before. Yikes! I think we need to get our rears in gear around here and start eating some salads!

Last night I made a dent in our veggie supply with a brand new city girl original creation. And boy was it good! Everything in it except for the cornmeal and liquids came from our CSA or the Minneapolis farmer's market. Yum! Here's the scoop.

Layered Parmesan Polenta Bake
serves 4-6
1 c milk
2 c water
1 t salt
2 c cornmeal
1 t fresh sage, chopped
1 t fresh rosemary, chopped
1 T oil (I used a garlic flavored oil)
2 c fresh spinach (not packed), chopped
3 spring onions, chopped - bulb and stalk portions kept separate
2 garlic scapes, chopped
1 t fresh basil, chopped
1 zucchini, sliced thin
3/4 - 1 c Thoten or Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 400. Combine milk, water and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sage, rosemary and cornmeal, whisking while you add it to prevent lumps. Simmer on low, whisking frequently, until thick. Pour thickened mixture into a 2 qt casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 c of cheese, or more if desired.

Heat oil in a skillet and cook scapes and bulb portion of spring onions until softened. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Spread evenly on top of polenta. Top with another 1/4 c cheese (or more).

Add basil, tops of the spring onions and zucchini to skillet and cook until tender. Layer in the casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is beginning to brown.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Plastic Bottle Greenhouse for Seedlings

A friend of mine surprised me with four little tomato seedlings the other day. I already have three tomato plants in my square foot garden and trust me that is a lot for this city girl! But I thought I'd give these little guys a shot. Problem is we kept them on the back of our kitchen sink for about a week, and I figured the occasional spray of water they were getting due to my haphazard dish-washing techniques was probably good for them. But I guess it was too much for one little guy.

So down to three seedlings I finally ventured out to the garden to put them in and try out this water bottle mini-greenhouse idea I had read about. Problem is I got around to picking strawberries first (yup, 2 more quarts!) and accidentally stepped on two of my seedlings!!! Note to self: Do NOT put the fragile teeny plants on the ground where you are walking! Whoops!

So I finally put them all in and assembled my little water bottle greenhouses around them. Around the biggest seeding I used a larger 2-liter bottle. But around the tiny ones I just put the regular 20 oz water bottles. The technique couldn't be simpler - you just cut off the bottom of the bottles and press the open bottom of the bottle into the ground until it's firmly in there. I had to plunk these guys in between the strawberry bed & the square foot gardens. Here's what they looked like:

Anyone ever tried anything like this? I'm hoping it'll help these little guys get a bit caught up since it's already almost July and they're just getting started! Once they get going more, I have some tomato trays that will go around them to hopefully help them continue quick growth. Keep your fingers crossed!

Oh, and just to inspire you, check out this water bottle greenhouse and the DIY instructions to build one of your own!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A tasty pea vine treat!

This is one that's great for the kiddos! Most kiddos that is. Since mine thinks that anything minty is 'spicy' he didn't take too well to it. But the grownups in our household love it! They are Minty Pea Pops from The Toddler Cafe blog. I was thrilled when I saw these because I have a huge bunch of pea vine to use up that I got at the Minneapolis farmer's market. So instead of peas, I threw in about 1 cup of chopped, steamed pea vine. Then I used fat free cream cheese to make it a bit healthier. I also had to add a little dash of milk to get my blender to mix everything up. I think the mixture was too thick for it. Here's the result! Oh, and if you're in a pinch like I was without any popsicle sticks, just cut up a few drinking straws!


Mmmm... Pea Pops! Who knew?!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Using up the Strawberries!

*Note: Hopefully you'll be seeing better pictures on here soon! Our camera is five years old and apparently on the fritz. As soon as I get a new one I'll be able to snap some better pics!

In my quest to use up the strawberries from our garden, I've made two new strawberry recipes today: Buckwheat Strawberry Banana Bread and Strawberry Dumplings. I think I'll be making both again! And the strawberries are officially used up! The ones in the house that is. Since I haven't picked any in two days now, there are likely another 1-2 quarts ready for picking. Out of sight out of mind?

The Strawberry Dumplings recipe was based on the one in Gourmet.com. Being a city girl who really likes shortcuts I opted to make some changes, including making my dumplings with Bisquick since I'm familiar with that and it's so so easy! I also had a few peaches on hand that were starting to go bad so I threw those in too. It turned out great and was a lot like a warm strawberry shortcake without having to go through the trouble of making shortcake. So here's the City Girl version:

Strawberry Peach Dumplings
1 quart strawberries, large ones halved
2-3 peaches, peeled and chopped
juice from half an orange
1/2 c sugar or splenda
couple dashes of cinnamon

1 1/3 c Heart Healthy Bisquick
1/4 c plus 2 T skim milk
1 T sugar or splenda
couple dashes of cinnamon

Mix first 5 ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a low boil over medium heat. While that's heating up, prepare the dumplings by mixing the last four ingredients. Once the fruit is liquidy and bubbling add dumpling dough by spoonfuls to the top of the fruit. Cook for 10 minutes uncovered, then 10 minutes covered until dumplings seem dry on the top. Let mixture cool for a few minutes before serving.

The Buckwheat Strawberry Banana Bread was adapted from the banana bread recipe in How to Cook Everything. Here's the City Girl scoop:

Buckwheat Strawberry Banana Bread

8 T butter (1 stick) softened
1/2 c buckwheat flour
1 t salt
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 c sugar
2 eggs
2 overripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c mashed strawberries (about 1 pint fresh whole strawberries)
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c shredded coconut

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan with butter. Mix dry ingredients. Cream the butter, and beat in the eggs and bananas. Stir in the strawberries. Then add dry ingredients and stir just until wet. Add vanilla and coconut. Pour batter into loaf pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes until browned and toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.

Enjoy!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Jam Adventure

So after picking 4+ pints of strawberries from my garden per day for 3 days in a row (and yes there are still more coming!) I decided I better try my hand at strawberry jam. I have NEVER canned before and for some reason began this experiment with fears of a jar of jam exploding in my face. I have no idea where that fear has come from but it was enough to make me read several different tutorials on making jam and consult several different recipes for the strawberry variety alone, which of course are essentially all the same. Once I realized I was on jam instruction overload I decided to just get going.

How'd it turn out? Okay. Tastes like jam, but a little on the runny side . I didn't have a candy thermometer and didn't even know I'd need one when I went out to buy canning supplies. So I tried to make due without. I must not have gotten the jam to the right temperature to set properly. But it still tastes good on bread! And will also make a nice strawberry sauce for ice cream, smoothies, or other desserts!

And only one mishap of the whole adventure....one of my plastic spoons kinda fell into the gas burner and melted there for a while before I noticed it....whoops! Guess that one's done for!

It also prompted me to pick up a book on canning so I can learn & experiment a bit more. So, despite the slightly disappointing results this city girl is up for more canning! I think I can...I think I can...I think I can...! And as one fellow blogger pointed out recently, hearing those little popping sounds as the lids seal is so thrilling and satisfying!

Wanna get started with canning and don't know how? I found the most complete advice from the USDA online in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. Happy Canning!

Growing Vertically

So I started this square foot garden thing this year and I am NOT a green thumb. I have relatively little experience gardening and loads less in building things. So when trying to envision what I could put in my garden to help my tomatoes and cucumbers grow vertically in my square foot garden I get easily overwhelmed! And since they are growing by leaps and bounds each day lately, this city girl realized she better get her rear in gear! I spent a lot of time searching online for vertical growing methods and found lots and lots of ways to build trellises and such but like I said, I'm not a builder! So I was THRILLED to find these ideas for staking my tomatoes and cucumbers to help them grow vertically in their little square foot of space. Think it'll work? I'm a tad bit worried about whether these will hold up under the weight of the fruit. What simple methods have you tried for vertical gardening? Got anything super easy? I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Using up the box!

Thursday is time for another box of veggies already! So I have some work to do in order to use up the stuff from our last box! Today I made huge progress by adapting the Autumn Minestrone from my Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook to what I had left in the fridge. It was delish!! Apologies for not including pictures...I took some and they somehow disappeared into the ether when I transferred them from camera to pc. So here's the City Girl version:

Root Vegetable Minestrone
2 T vegetable oil
1 c chopped spring onions and/or scallions in any combination
3 garlic scapes, minced
2 kohlrabi, diced
3 small potatoes, diced
2 small sweet potatoes, diced
1-2 t fresh oregano
4-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
6 c water
1 bunch yukina savoy, chopped (about 3 cups loosely packed)
1 c chopped pea shoots
1 can white beans

Saute onions & garlic scapes in oil for 5 minutes. Add kohlrabi, potatoes, sweet potatoes , oregano, basil, salt, pepper and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes and kohlrabi are almost done. Add the yukina savoy, pea shoots, and beans and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.

Mmmm....dare I say this might be the best soup I've ever made?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

City Girl vs Slugs

I haven't had the time to devote to the slugs-eating-my-basil problem that I'd like. After my previous post I managed to go out and mix some coffee grounds into the top layer of soil around my basil, and also some of my lettuce that seemed to be getting eaten too. I had wanted to try the method of spritzing coffee directly onto the plant...but who has leftover coffee after it's brewed? Not this city girl! So I was completely surprised when I went out to the garden yesterday to do some work and saw the HUGE size of my basil plant now! City Girl vs Slugs: 1 - 0!!! It seems to have worked so well that I think I'll go put some more coffee grounds out there today just to make sure they stay away. And yes that is some huge Romaine behind that basil! Yum!
Anybo

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ethical Man on BBC News

Have you heard of the Ethical Man series by BBC News? It's actually a bit old by now, but it's great fun! And certainly gives this city girl some food for thought in terms of greening my life. In the series, one of their reporters, Justin Rolatt, "embarks on a year of ethical living." An endeavor that is basically an effort to green his life, and of course his wife and children are forced to go along for the ride. As part of their new ethical lives, the family gives up their car, gives up flying by plane for vacations, becomes vegan for a month, and makes an effort to create energy savings at home in well-known ways such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and insulation, and less-known ways such as installing a wind turbine as an alternative energy source for their home. Check out the 30 minute video summary of their year of ethical living. You can also check out shorter more in-depth segments on each of Ethical Man's adventures.

More recently Ethical Man has come to America. You can follow his American Adventures at his blog.

Lastly, I'll share with you an entertaining bit of info I've learned from Ethical Man: Kangaroo farts may just be the key to changing the world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More glorious rhubarb....and strawberries!

The abundance of strawberries in our garden is starting to grow! The other day my four-year-old and I picked almost four cups worth of bright red beautiful strawberries. My netting is actually working to keep out the squirrels! Or is it the fake owl? Hmmm....

Curiously, for some reason we have many strawberries that are turning out with two little pointed ends instead of one. As my four-year-old describes it, "It has feet!" Good thing they still taste the same as the others!
So to use up a bunch of the strawberries and rhubarb from our garden I made a pie. My first strawberry rhubarb pie ever and my first time making a lattice crust on top. Turned out pretty good!

And to use up another bunch of rhubarb, tonight I made Rhubarb Pork Chop Bake. If you're looking for something new to do with your rhubarb this is a must try recipe!!! It was so good that this is going to have to be a tradition from now on in the City Girl household come rhubarb season. It's basically pork chops cooked with a sweet rhubarb stuffing. I'd say you could add a couple more pieces of bread than they call for. Mine seemed kinda scant...but it was still delish! And I got to serve it along side some salad made with greens from our garden and our Harmony Valley Farm CSA share topped with fresh CSA strawberries. Yum!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are emissions from you lawn mower worse than your car?

If you use a gas powered lawn mower they probably are! At least according to PeoplePoweredMachines.com. They say:
A typical 3.5 horsepower gas mower, for instance, can emit the same amount of
VOCs -- key precursors to smog -- in an hour as a new car driven 340 miles, say
industry experts.
I dunno about you but this was a real shocker to me! Add the fact that I'm always secretly jealous of our neighbors old-fashioned push reel mower (so nice and quiet), and this city girl got some serious motivation to make a change. It just so happened that some friends of ours had a push mower they were no longer using, and we had some garden supplies they could use. So we made a trade and voila! We are now the proud owners of a beautiful and QUIET push mower! Yeah!

I can tell ya that this is one activity that's gonna work my arms for sure! I've been feeling a little under the weather so only got to mow the back yard with it last weekend but my arms are already a tad sore! I'm happy to know I'll be getting in some good old-fashioned exercise for real when I mow the lawn from now on! And one of the best perks to using a reel mower - my four-year-old was able to play outside and even talk to me while I mowed the lawn. Can it get any better than that? This city girl doesn't think so!

One caution about reel mowers - several folks have warned me that you do have to stay on top of your mowing when you make the decision to go unpowered. If you let the grass get too long it gets next to impossible to cut with the reel mower. They are also not recommended for large lawns due to the amount of work they take to push. If you've got a larger sized lawn but still want to reduce your mowing emissions you might find a cordless electric mower to be a better fit.

Interested in getting a reel mower of your own? Checkout this comparison chart. If you wanna go cheaper you might have good luck checking in your local classifieds or on craigslist. I saw many reel mowers going for $20-40 on craigslist in my area.

Monday, June 15, 2009

HELP! What's Eating My Basil?

This year I was psyched to have planted a nice large, healthy basil plant directly IN the garden (as opposed to an herb planter as I've done other years.) Given that the plant started out so big and healthy, and it would have all that great garden soil to grow in I was expecting huge volumes of basil this year. YUM! I love the stuff!

But the past week or so I've noticed an alarming fact. My basil seems to have about half the leaves it had originally. HALF. Really. Many of them are just completely eaten away. I can tell it's an insect of some sort because it started with little holes in the leaves. So, after googling this problem (Yes, I literally searched for "what's eating my basil") I have come to the conclusion that it is probably slugs. I have seen enough of 'em in our yard to know we have a ton. Note to slugs: The war is officially on! That's MY basil!!!

So I found the best collection of tips on ridding your plans of slugs at GardensAlive.com. Check out this list if you think you're having some issues with these buggers too. And let me know how these work if you try 'em! For starters, this city girl is gonna head out there with some beer traps to confirm who my pests are, and also take the coffee approach. Now here are those tips courtesy of GardensAlive.com:

1) Beer. Yes, it really does work. It’s also the best non-personal way to confirm that overnight damage is due to the slimy beasts. Just don’t use the often-cited “stale beer”, which slugs like about as much as you and I do. Place commercial traps or old margarine tubs on top of the soil close to the damaged plants, wait until dusk and then fill them with the cheapest—but freshest—beer you can find. The next morning, they should be filled with dead drunken slugs. Dump this defeated debris nearby (where it will attract their cannibalistic pals) and repeat every evening.

2) Coffee. New research has found caffeine to be very effective at dispatching slugs. Save your dregs and spray them full strength directly on the beasts in the evening. Surround plants under attack with a mulch of used coffee grounds to deter slugs and feed the plants.

3) Iron phosphate. Turns out that iron is very bad for a slug’s digestion. Like deadly bad. So a new generation of products with brand names like “Sluggo” and “Escar-Go!” wrap iron in a slug-attracting bait. You simply scatter the pellets around plants in peril to wipe out the pests without poisons. (And a little extra iron is good for your garden soil.)

4) Copper. Slugs get shocked when they touch this shiny metal. You can buy ready-made copper plant guards or just adorn your raised bed frames with copper flashing. Hot-glue rings of pennies around the tops of your containers. Drop captured slugs into a jar of pennies and watch ‘em spark!

5) Diatomaceous earth. Available at garden centers, ‘DE’ is the mined fossilized remains of dinosaur-era, sea-going creatures called diatoms. It looks like white flour, but is incredibly sharp on a microscopic level, dehydrating slugs on contact. Surround plants under attack with protective rings of DE (be sure to wear a dust mask); freshen them up if they get wet.

6) Boards. Lay some old planks between your garden beds. The vampiric slugs will crawl underneath to hide from the sun. Come morning, lift the boards and scrape the slugs into a bucket with a flat piece of metal. Then do with them what you will. Hey—got any pennies?

7) Human hair. Surround your plants with a protective barrier of hair. The slugs will get all tangled up in it and strangle (hey—it was them or the hostas!); and the hair will eventually add plant-feeding nitrogen to the soil.

8) Citrus. Leave lemon, orange and grapefruit rinds out overnight near slug prone plants, and then collect and trash them—covered with slugs—first thing the next morning. Old lettuce leaves work well too.

9) Vinegar. A spray bottle filled with plain white vinegar is a great cure for slugs that aren’t on plants. An extremely effective mollusk dissolver, vinegar is also an herbicide—so don’t spritz the salvia.

10) Toads. Avoid all pesticides, provide water low to the ground and a damp shady pot for them to hide during the heat of the day, and these wonderful nocturnal predators will eat lots of slugs for you.

11) Rove beetles. These big black bugs don’t bother plants, but do eat LOTS of slugs and their eggs. So don’t hurt them!

12) Lightning bugs. The larval form of these summertime entertainers, the fascinating “glowworm,” eats slugs and their eggs. To encourage adults to breed nearby, turn off outdoor lights at night, allow a small area of your garden to stay moist and a little weedy, and don’t use pesticides.

13) Ducks! Just turn a few loose in the garden—these feathered friends (and natural fertilizer providers) are among nature’s FINEST slug-eaters! And all together now: “We can always use the eggs”. Thank you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Roasted Radish, Kohlrabi, and Potato

Box #3 is here!!! And there are again a few new things for this city girl to try. And I'm lookin' forward to it! This time we got: Red Leaf Lettuce, Kohlrabi, Spinach, French Breakfast Radishes (They're actually CUTE!), Purple Scallions, Garlic Scapes (See the little curly things in the picture?), Yukina Savoy, Asparagus, Rhubarb, Saute Mix, and Basil.
Wow. For the first time I found a way to enjoy radishes! Roasted! It completely removes that bite that I don't care for. And I LOVED the kohlrabi roasted too! We cooked on the grill tonight and I threw together a foil packet with radishes, kohlrabi, a coupla potatoes, purple scallions, and rosemary. Yum! And to top it off, when our son got chastised for not waiting for everyone to sit down before he started eating, he said, "I just can't help it these are so good!" AMAZING!!! And I have to admit they even looked beautiful with all of the colors.

Before:
After:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

'HOME' on You Tube

Wow. Our planet. Our Home. This is an amazing movie. And the entire thing is available on You Tube AND in several languages. It's amazing not only for the message, but also the stunning and beautiful, though sometimes hard to see, look at our planet. If you haven't seen this, you should really take the time too. And I'd even say show it to your kids. Even the young ones. Watching it myself, I constantly kept wishing my four-year-old were beside me to learn even just a little bit more about the planet we call home.

If you have been thinking about 'greening your life' this movie will certainly give you a big nudge in the right direction! It has made me feel glad just for the small baby steps I'm taking now. Give it a look and if you don't mind, I'd love to hear your reactions.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yard Sharing Anyone?

I recently came across Hyperlocavore.com a site with the goal of promoting Yard Sharing. This seems like a pretty cool idea. It's totally new to me, but I gather that you essentially share yard space with your neighbors for the purpose of gardening. If you have some yard but no time to garden, share it with someone who likes to garden but has no yard. Pretty neat, right?! I checked the entire Minneapolis/St Paul area and found only one relatively new group starting up in Minneapolis. So it seems to be a new thing in these parts.

Here's a link to a YouTube video interview with Liz McLellan who started this site and is a big proponent of yard sharing.

I wonder: Have any of you heard of this? Do you have any experience doing this sort of thing with a neighbor? Would you be interested in it? And how do you see it working for someone like me - a novice gardener willing to do gardening in my own yard so I don't need someone else's yard space, and don't need anyone else to come garden in mine? I wonder for those of us in my kinda shoes, if this could be a nice opportunity to share the fruits of our garden when they become too much. And to trade ideas or even seeds with people right in my neck o' the woods. I'd love to hear what you think. Please add your comments to my blog.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pea Shoot Bubble and Squeak

It's official! Tonight I made my favorite recipe by far from these CSA goodies! It came from the biggest recipe collection I have ever seen for pea shoots (or pea vines) at www.peashoots.com where you will even find a recipe for a Peatini! Despite the crazy beverage recipes, this city girl decided to use up her pea shoots by making Pea Shoot Bubble and Squeak. I would happily make this every time we get pea shoots in the future, and will probably be making more traditional versions of Bubble and Squeak (without the pea shoots) as well.

Before making the recipe, I thought I had heard of Bubble and Squeak but was curious what the regular non-pea shoot version was like. Turns out Wikipedia has a great entry on it!
"Bubble and squeak (sometimes just called bubble) is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. It is traditionally served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles. Traditionally, the meat was added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays the vegetarian version is more common. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potato until the mixture is well-cooked and brown on the sides."
And there are similar dishes from many other places, such as Colcannon (Ireland) and Pyttipanna (Sweden) to name just a couple. See the Wikipedia entry for more info!

As of now, the only things I have left from my most recent box are my asparagus, radishes, and three green onions. Everything else from my box is used up! I'm planning on grilling later this week and will make grilled asparagus and roasted radishes along with our burgers and that should do it! In case you wanna try the roasted radishes thing here's a few recipes to give you some ideas...
R is for Roasted Radishes
Roasted Radishes with Soy Glaze and Scallions
Roasted Radishes with Radish Greens
I haven't decided which version I'm gonna make, and since I'd really rather roast 'em on the grill in a foil packet anyway, I'll probably read all three and try my own version. I'll let ya know how it goes! I have high hopes that this might be one way this city girl will actually like those buggers!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Composting and Gardening Update....

So, we've been composting for about a week now. Goin' good so far. My four-year-old especially likes it. He excitedly did the honors of dumping the first jar of compost from the kitchen into the bin.

The only thing that's been bugging this city girl is the compost containers we've been using in the kitchen are NOT that convenient. I had a coupla glass containers laying around but they fill up fast and the mouths were not very big...which led to difficulties dumping them into the compost bin. So....fast forward to tonight when we run into PetSmart for a few cat and bird things and lo and behold my eyes caught sight of - DOG FOOD STORAGE CONTAINERS! They were cheap ($15), air-tight and just the right size to set next to our garbage can for compost. Yeah!!! I'm already filled with joy ever time I add new scraps to the container...so much easier! Phew!

Another city girl triumph tonight - I picked rhubarb from the garden for the very first time!! And we had a TON! I already baked my first batch of rhubarb muffins...and I have to say they are FABULOUS! I made Cinnamon-Topped Rhubarb Muffins from AllRecipes.com. Why is it that nearly every rhubarb recipe calls for buttermilk? That's one of those things I definitely do NOT keep on hand. So one tip perhaps everyone but a city girl already knows is how to make your own buttermilk substiution. Couldn't be easier:

Buttermilk Substitution

1 3/4 c milk
2 T white vinegar
Let the milk sit out until it's room temperature. Add the vinegar and stir. Let it rest a few minutes until thickens a bit. Voila! Couldn't be easier! Now I can make rhubarb recipes any ol' time I want to!

Before I get outta here I'll share a TipNut.com's 26 Rhubarb Recipes hit list. These are some pretty enticing rhubarb recipes...there's such a variety here that it's hard to believe there's not at least something to fit everyone's taste. Enjoy!