Chard rescue

We were hit with a sudden cold snap, which meant even this most reluctant gardener had to face up to the fact that her salad days were numbered.

A few snips of the scissors and two garbage bags later, the chard was in hand. Giant bouquets of it, requiring washing, stemming, chopping and blanching.

Remarkable how those leathery, luxuriant greens simmered down to just seven servings. Seriously. It took all morning to prepare seven chard balls for the freezer.

That Pioneer Woman's got nothing on me. Except her own show on the Food Network.

The killing freeze came and went and what little chard remains gardenside is thriving, it's hearty fronds stretching toward the sun. The next gleaning will be with a flame thrower.

(For a less snarky take on how to freeze chard, visit this nice lady for her take.)

A sweet New Year

Of course, this is only a fraction of what our tree produces. But aren't they stunning? I love their wabi-sabiness, the scratches and dents and insults perpetrated by squirrels and worms alike. And the color.

Nature does it up right.

We enjoyed a lovely apple cake last night, recipe courtesy of Mama Elaine. I back off on the sugar a bit, 1.25 cups instead of two and split the flour between all-purpose and whole wheat. And use more apples, for obvious reasons.

L'shanah tovah, a happy and healthy and sweet New Year to all our friends and loved ones!

What to do with all the kale?

Gardens, we're discovering, aren't linear, preditable things. One year the tomatoes are so prolific, you can't manage the marinara production. Another, broccoli abounds to the point you're giving it to the neighbors in bouquets. This year, it's greens. The kale. The chard. The arugula. All bitter and tangy and astringent, the greens are a forest of dark, swaying fronds so dense, the cats can hide and we're nary the wiser.

With some gift funds still available in my Amazon account and in my recumbent state, it's been easy to click "add to my cart" when something promises ideas for these things other than steam, plug your nose and chug.

Which is how this ended up on my doorstep. (There's recipes to be had if you click on the link...)

Spend a few minutes on Sara's site Sprouted Kitchen and you'll immediately notice the care and attention she gives the food and her readers. Glowing with her husband's evocative photography, Sprouted Kitchen serves up plate after plate of wholesome, mostly vegetarian dishes, heaping inspiration and simple goodness into every post.

Her book is exactly the same. A collaboration between she and her husband, Hugh, The Sprouted Kitchen is a dance between Sara's food and Hugh's images: Shot in extreme close-up, the Coconut Lime Tart coyly displays only a corner of the dessert, pistachio and coconut crumbs in delicious dishabille in the foreground. Or the Asian Tofu Tacos with Hoisin Slaw? You'll just want to crawl in between the folds of those whole-wheat torillas and bed down.

I'm up and about some at this point in my convalescence, and while curried tempeh leftovers were on tap for dinner, I snuck out the garden so as to try the Tuscan Kale Chopped Salad. Glistening with parmesan vinaigrette and punctuated with apples (our tree giveth and giveth) and dried cherries (in the pantry), the kale salad seemed just the thing (and so good for the eyes!). I whipped it, up eschewing the croutons in my tender state as well as the chickpeas, and substituted a tiny bit of raw garlic in the dressing for the shallots.

Hearty and packed with flavor, Mr. Nake-id must have eaten three platefuls.

We topped the meal off with Sara's Mango Mint Lassi using lemon as a stand-in for fresh orange juice, adoring its sweet, comforting coolness.

Yes, I'm smitten. Tonight we'll try the Honey Mustard Broccoli Salad, broccoli from the garden, and the Creamy Millet with Roasted Portobellos (topped with kale!)

So happily smitten.

Farm report 2011

Yesterday Mr. Nake-id and I put the garden to bed for the winter. For the past few weeks, Mr. Nake-id has been diligently pulling spent tomatoe plants and harvesting fruit before the coming snows. We had a bumper crop of green tomatoes, huge misshappen chartruese heirlooms and bright-green, bullet-shaped Romas: Their likely future, the compost bin. Steadily, though they've been ripening, enough so we enjoyed a hearty spaghetti dinner Saturday night and Purple Cherokees dressed in balsamic vinaigrette, Sunday.

The greens have been clear winners, especially the kale, which continues to unfurl curly leaves in the aftermath of two snowstorms. Our second planting of arugula and spinach remains pert and cheerful, too, in spite of the fact that it's only delivered one or two salads to the table.

There were some mistakes: The tomatillo I planted, thinking it was a zebra-striped tomato. It threw off dozens of charming paper lanterns with tiny, walnut-sized tomatillos contained therein; this made for a bitter, acidic salsa.

The crook-necked yellow squash turned out to be this thick-skinned, warty thing, more ornamental than edible. We foisted these aggressively on friends and family.

And, we planted, too many tomatoes, easy to do in Colorado, where our growing season is so short and the chance of slurping down vine-ripened fruit is slim. So we hedge our bets with quantity, thinking it will boost yield and instead create too much shade. Fresh tomatoes will do that to a person; they make you greedy.

Exasperated with the tomato crop at some point during the summer, I decided the fault was our dirt. Friends and professional gardeners have lauded this lasagna method for amending soil. Unfortunately adding layers of mulch and compost and manure to our garden would necessitate the removal of existing earth from our rock-rimmed bed; the very thought exhausted me. Then we heard this piece on NPR.

Being loathe to rake anyway in the hope the leaves will blow away over the winter (they never do), this technique of breaking down leaves to augment a lawn, struck us as a great way to nurture the farm. While Nake-id IT took on the easy job--breaking up the ground with a pick ax--I raked up piles of leaves, then shredded them with the push mower, or more accurately, moved them around a bit with the push mower, a tool not particularly well-suited for shredding. Mr. Nake-id then worked a couple of big leaf piles into the farm. And we bid the farm goodnight until spring.

The nest pictured in this post was invented and woven by Stephanie, a pratitioner of the lasagna gardening method and a happy Colorado gardener who grew baskets of ripe tomatoes. She weaves these lovelies from the leavings of sewing projects on a knitting loom. I love how mine looks in the crab apple tree; it's a hopeful beckoning image that reminds me of the hope and commitment to the future I felt in caring for our future garden, a reminder that spring and fall are the gaudy transitions between intropsection and expectation, and that life goes on.

How did your garden grow?

Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Bread Recipe

With the cucurbits coming in fast and furiously, I'm forced to bake--even in this heat. Since there is no turning the oven on after noon, I was at it early making our contribution to tonight's neighborhood dessert party: vegan chocolate zucchini bread. Bet they can't wait for us to show up.

I adapted the recipe from Hell Yeah It's Vegan, who adapted it from another source.

3 tbsp chia seeds whisked into ½ c + 1 tbsp warm water*
½ c oil (I used organic canola mixed with Wildtree butter-flavored grapeseed oil)
½ c applesauce
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups grated zucchini, packed (~3 medium-sized zucchini)
1½ c all-purpose flour
1½ c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
5 tbsp Dutch cocoa powder

1 cup vegan chocolate chips

½ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two loaf pans.

Mix wet ingredients in one bowl, dry in another. Then combine, stirring until combined. Spoon into loaf pans.

Bake for 45-55 minutes. Revel in the scent eminating from the kitchen; is there anything better than the smell of baking chocolate and cinnamon?

*A note about chia seeds. Yes, these are the same chia seeds of chia pet fame. Packed with protein and Omega 3s, these little powerhouses are the new flax seeds. When mixed with water and other liquids, they create this viscous gel that acts as both a leavening and binding agent. (The natural food bloggers can't seem to get enough of this stuff as a pudding, but you gotta grok that slimy texture.) They're readily available at health food stores; in the Denver area, Sunflower Farmer's Market carries them in the bulk section.

Kale chips ahoy!

Not everyone is bananas about raw kale (though the roly-poly bugs in the garden seem to be liking it just fine). Here at Chez Nake-id, we love the stuff. So when organic kale started selling for $3 a bunch, I got out the seed pack and started planting.

Kale is the gift that keeps on giving. While the arugala and spinach went all loose and dishabille in the heat, the kale has kept it togther, producing steadily for months. The kale pictured above is lacinato or dinosaur kale, so named, I imagined, because the store-bought leaves have the consistency of brontosaurus ears. Grow it yourself and you'll be dining on shoots as tender blades of grass; many days I simply run to the garden and pick my lunch.

Two weeks ago in Crestone, our hosts set out bowls of baked kale chips for their guests to snack on. Know what? You can't eat just one.

There are tons of recipes on the internets. You can tart these babies up with everything from lime and chili powder to paprika, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast and fancy vinegars.

Here are the basics:

1 bunch (or two) of kale, lacinato or curly

1 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp good quality sea salt

2 pinches cayenne pepper, optional

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wash and dry your kale. Cut out the fibrous ribs (I didn't do this because *ahem* my kale is so tender) and roughly chop the kale.

Toss the leaves with olive oil, salt and cayenne and spread out in a single layer on baking sheets. (I used two very large sheets.)

Check for crispness after 20 minutes. Depending on how tightly you packed your kale on the baking sheets, you may need to bake a bit longer. You want them very crisp.

Serve them at your next do. They make for a great conversation starter.

Vegan What's for Dinner Contest: We have a winner!

We know what's for dinner this evening. And the next...and the next.

But thanks to Susan (Reflections of a Bad Catholic), winner of our Vegan What's-for-Dinner Contest, we also have Sweet and Crunchy Quinoa Salad and Three-Bean Salad with Olives to look forward to.

Thanks to all who played. Susan will receive two Vera Neumann dishtowels.

Now, what to do about Super Zuke? Zucchini boats? Zucchini air-craft carriers?

 

Grumpy Cheap Vegan: Weeds!

A couple of years ago, Sundari from Heirloom Gardens sold me some purslane along with other greens. It's an au currant vegetable, full of omega 3's and vitamin C. And, like she said, it's also probably growing in the cracks of your sidewalk.

I chopped it up and put it in a salad, and as we ate, I had that queasy feeling you get when eating something with questionable provenance--like chicken beak or eel roe. Or anything Andrew Zimmer ingests. So with a bumper crop of purslane invading inhabiting our garden, I thought, what if we could obviate its identity? Out came the food processor.

Take your favorite pesto recipe--for basil, sage or parsely--and substitute the leaves from these ubiquitious plants. I used two large weeds, a healthy handful of walnuts, one garlic clove, one lemon, sea salt and enough extra virgin olive oil to get the mixture to "pesto."

We spread it on homemade flatbreads and topped it with grilled vegetables. Lovely. Organic. And free!

N.B. After separating hundreds of purslane leaves from their stems, I've realized that no matter how satisfying it is to eat the enemy, there are more efficient weed mitigation strategies.

Ah-rugula

There's a bus to catch, so this will be brief:

My entire theory of gardening boils down to parsimony: Plant the stuff that's too expensive to buy organic in the market. Like arugula.

Last month the garden happily killed off a zucchini, three basil plants and stunted the tomatoes, putting us aboiut $25 in the hole, but the leafy greens and broccoli are thriving.

If you are similarly blessed, try this easy non-recipe with your arugula of lemon, olive oil and your very best salt. So good you'll be tempted to spring for the greens in the super market.

Too many sprouts

Here's the thing: One day you have no sprouts, the next day you have so many that you're going, "Here, kitty, kitty...nom, nom!"

Having gone all vegan, I've read that living foods--sprouts--are particularly beneficial. (Though once they hit the hydrochloric acid swirling around in your tummy, no doubt, all bets are off as far as health benefits.) So I ran off to my favorite source for all things herbaceous (Mountain Rose Herbs) and loaded up on sprouting seeds and a hemp sprouting bag, developed by a guy who calls himself, Sproutman. I'll just leave it there. Sproutman.

It's all very easy. You water them. Drain them. Keep them in the dark for a time. Give 'em a dose of sunlight, pumping them up with chlorophyll and before you know it you have...food.

The germinating seeds pictured above in the little bag are radish sprouts, the ones in the jar are red clover. What in the world are we going to do with them?