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.


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!

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.


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!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hon Tsai Tai, Sunchokes and Veggie Storage Tips

Okay, so my Chinese friend was interested in helping me a little more with my hon tsai tai. He suggested another way to prepare it using bacon. His advice was to chop bacon into small pieces and cook bacon with a little bit of stir fry oil. Then, remove the bacon, and cook chopped hon tsai tai in the remaining oil. Add back the bacon and mix it all up, and voila! One more way to serve this beautiful veggie! He said in China they have a kind of smoked meat that we don't have here, and that bacon is probably our closest equivalent.

I tried his advice, along with some Sunchoke and Potato American Fries. I could kinda feel my arteries clogging as I ate all that bacon (maybe I'd use less next time?), but it was pretty good for a once-in-a-while kinda meal. I should also say that I did add a handful of spinach and some of my leftover green garlic puree to the stir fry too.

A coupla tips for the sunchokes - boil a few along with some potatoes ahead of time, then keep 'em in the fridge. It seems you can add sunchokes almost anywhere you'd use a potato. I've been adding a bit of my chopped pre-cooked sunchokes and potatoes to some eggs in the morning for breakfast. Yum! Another great use for sunchokes is this A-M-A-Z-I-N-G sunchoke dip. It's something akin to hummus and you can use up the whole batch of sunchokes in one batch if you want. I made mine without the chiles since I wanted it to be friendly for my four-year-old.

And lastly, one thing this city girl struggles with when I get a new box of veggies is how to best store 'em. Occasionally our Harmony Valley Farm newsletter will have some advice such as 'wrap in a damp paper towel and store in the crisper'...but not always. So imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a site with great info on how to store nearly any veggie. And of course I'm gonna share it with you! Enjoy!

Vegetable Storage Guidelines (courtesy of Angelic Organics)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Square Foot Gardening 101

So I have done my fair share of dabbling in the gardening realm, but honestly have never been that serious of a gardener. Sometime in mid-July I get pretty tired of the whole thing, start forgetting to water and weed, and just let the whole thing go by the wayside. I've been lucky and usually get a pretty good crop of tomatoes and lettuce regardless of my haphazard care taking patterns.

But this year I'm gonna get serious. For real. As part of my efforts to be more green I wanted to find an easy way to grow even more in my own back yard. You've heard of the whole locavore craze? Well this City Girl aims to take it 'bout as local as it can get! Her own backyard!

In order to keep things simple and easy, I decided to give square foot gardening a try. It sounds easy. Less weeds, no need to remove topsoil, till the ground, etc. And supposedly you can grow more in less space! Sounds perfect? I thought so too! And now you get to join me in my square foot gardening experiment!

What is it? In a nutshell - you build a raised garden out of 2x6's and mark off square-foot-sized plots, using weed-guard or cardboard beneath them to prevent weeds or grass. You follow spacing guidelines for your plant to plant one or more per square foot (i.e. if spacing says every 12" then you put one in the square foot sized plot). How do the plants grow in just 6" of dirt? You use a special mix: 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite that supposedly retains so much moisture that they do just fine. And anything that climbs you grow vertically instead of horizontally.

I was originally going to replace my old garden plot with a square foot garden or two, but due to my lackadaisical gardening style, it is now entirely overrun by strawberries which were already flowering by the time I got around to building my square foot gardens. I just could not live with the idea of getting rid of all those strawberries (even if the squirrels do eat them every single year BEFORE they are even ripe), so I kept the strawberry bed AND added two square foot gardens.

Here's the strawberry bed, with some new netting I added to see if I could keep out those squirrels this year.I have a feeling they will still find a way to eat those berries up! I'm halfway considering the advice I read on a message board from someone who literally puts dozens of plastic forks tine side up all over in her strawberries to keep out the squirrels. What do you think? Have any great tips on keeping those pesty guys outta there? See the rhubarb buried in there too? That's another one I just had to let be.

Here's the two square foot gardens BEFORE planting.
And here they are after planting. I have chives, onions, rosemary, Italian parsley, various lettuces (4 romaine, and 6 others), tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, broccoli and cauliflower.

Let's hope that City Girl can actually pull this one off! Next on my list? Figure out how to build a frame for my tomatoes and cucumbers to climb vertically. Stay tuned for updates as the adventure continues!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What a Way to Use Those Parsnips!

Parsnips are one of those things in the box that this City Girl actually LOVES. So no difficulty using these up. But once again I decided to get creative with those lovable roots. I was inspired by a combination of Pizza Luce's Baked Potato Pizza, Harmony Valley Farm's Whipped Parsnips recipe, and the most recent Harmony Valley Farm blog entry detailing the creation of some spring veggie pizzas, especially the part about using green garlic to create a 'sauce' for the pizza. I came up with Loaded Parsnip Pizza.

Here's what I did.

1) Prepare pizza crust from scratch (or you can take the easy way out and buy one). This pizza crust recipe from 1,000 Low Fat Recipes is City Girl's favorite. AND to top it off it's pretty healthy! It makes enough for two large pizzas so be prepared to make a second or else freeze the rest for a later date.

Pizza Dough
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 c warm water
1 t sugar
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 c unbleached, all purpose white flour
1 t salt
1 t olive oil

Combine the yeast, water, and sugar in a bowl. Once the yeast begins to foam, mix in the oil, salt, and 1 c of the flour. Gradually add the rest of the flour until a ball of dough forms. Stir in the flour until it is too stiff to use a spoon, then knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and springy.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, or on a piece of waxed paper, cover with a damp towel, and allow to rise for as long as desired, but at least 30 minutes (45 for softer crust).

Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 balls (or 4 for small pizzas). Let rest 5 to 10 minutes, then roll or stretch each ball into a pizza pie shape. Dough can be frozen tightly wrapped, for about 2 months. Defrost it in the refrigerator (this can take 12 hours or more), then bring it to room temperature, allow to rise 30 minutes or longer before using.

2) Make Whipped Parsnips recipe on HVF website.

3) Cook 10-12 strips of bacon (more or less to your desire) and dice. Finely chop 6-8 chives.

4) Green Garlic Paste: Dice 3 green garlics, stems and bulbs, and puree in food processor with up to 1/4 c olive oil. The goal is to get this to a pesto-like consistency so add olive oil a bit at a time until it seems right.

5) Assembly time!! Assemble in this order:
green garlic paste (I used about half of what was made, and ended up wishing I used it all so don't skimp!)
whipped parsnips spread evenly over the top
grated cheese (I'd recommend cheddar or a marble-jack rather than mozzarella), and sprinkle top with bacon and chives. I went light on the bacon and wished I'd used more so don't skimp on that either!

Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is lightly brown. Ta da!! There ya have it - Loaded Parsnip Pizza! AMAZINGLY GOOD!!! Enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hon Tsai Tai, Pea Vine, and other Veggie Delights

Wow. I am so enjoying the bounty of our latest box of goodies from Harmony Valley Farm. So far, we have made from our box:

Pea Vine, Hon Tsai Tai Stir Fry
Orange Pea Vine Salad
Roasted Rhubarb and Apples
Rhubarb Bundt Cake

And I have to say that the stir fry was hands-down the BEST stir fry I have ever made! I am so far psyched with the green garlic, hon tsai tai and pea vines. My four-year-old still says 'eeeew....I don't like that....' at most dishes featuring these new veggies but the veggies shall not be defeated! I read somewhere that a child needs to be introduced to a new food some umpteen number of times before they will decide to like it. So if he has to eat peanut butter and jelly all summer (the old stand-by once he's tried a few bites of the prepared dinner) until he finally gives in that's fine by me! I have faith that he will come around because these dinners have been some of the best this city girl has cooked up in a LONG time!

And yes, you read right, that was ROASTED rhubarb on my list!! This was definitely a recipe for those who like the more natural tart taste of rhubarb. I think next time I will add more sugar or throw some splenda into the mix. The original recipe came from The Wednesday Chef but of course City Girl had to make a few modifications based on what was on hand:

Roasted Rhubarb

7 ounces rhubarb
1 large apple, peeled and sliced
1 lemon
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/4 c brown sugar (or more to taste)
whipping cream (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Remove the rhubarb strings by using a knife to cut under the top of the string just a bit and then peel it off, down the length of the rhubarb, with your fingers. Cut the rhubarb into 2-to-2 1/2-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl with the apples.
2. Grate the zest of half the lemon into a small bowl and then squeeze the juice of the whole lemon into the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and sugar and stir to combine. Pour over rhubarb and apples and toss to coat.
3. Pour the rhubarb and apple mixture into a baking dish and arrange the pieces so that they lie flat. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with fresh whipped cream.

*Some feel that de-stringing the rhubarb is not necessary. I have read that it's better to do so and so gave it a try this time around. It was actually kind of fun to do and the little strings of rhubarb curled up when peeled off and made a pretty little pile on my cutting board.

And last but definitely NOT least, here are the other amazing delectables we cooked up over the past few days.

Pea Vine, Hon Tsai Tai Stir Fry

2 cups of loosely packed pea vines - woody stalks removed, softer stalks and leaves chopped into bite sized pieces
1/2 c chopped hon tsai tai - chopped, purple thick stalks separated from the rest
1 green garlic - stalk only, thinly sliced, reserve the garlic head for another use
2 green onions - sliced
1-2 T stir fry oil
Soy Sauce

Cook the chopped purple pieces of hon tsai tai in stir fry oil over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until they begin to soften, stirring often. This part of the hon tsai tai is much 'woodier' than the rest and will require longer cooking time. Once they are beginning to soften, add the green garlic and green onions and cook for 1 minute. Then add the pea vines. The woody stalks of pea vines can be quite tough too, which is why I removed the bottoms of mine. The top half and the leafy parts seemed tender enough. When the pea vines are beginning to soften, add soy sauce to taste. The green garlic and hon tsai tai in this dish lend an AMAZING flavor to the stir fried greens!

You can add any meat you like to this, by stir-frying the meat first until almost done. We stir-fried some chicken separately so that our four year old could have some plain old meat with his rice.

Orange Pea Vine Salad
(City Girl's new fave summer salad!)

3 c spring salad mix, loosely packed
3 c spinach, loosely packed
1 c pea vines, loosely packed
1 sunchoke, cut into thin matchstick pieces
1 orange, peeled and diced

1/4 c orange juice
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 T sesame oil
Few dashes of soy sauce
1 T sugar

Mix the salad ingredients first in a large bowl. In a separate dish mix the dressing. Pour desired amount of dressing over the salad and toss. The dressing will make enough for a few salads, so you can store the rest in the fridge for later use. This salad is a refreshing spring treat, and the splash of orange flavor with sesame oil gives it a bit of Asian flare! Enjoy!!