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“Ramp” ing It Up

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It’s that spring ritual for me. If it isn’t asparagus, it’s ramps. If it isn’t ramps, it’s morel mushrooms. And, when they are done, it becomes garlic scapes. Etc. Etc.

I post every year about those fleeting specialties that grace our table in all their glory.

Ramps, last year, for example. That post also mentions the fresh morels from Jenny’s Market. Yesterday when I saw the signs on route 32 for the market, they highlighted the seasonal goodies like the mushrooms.

I have also written many posts on asparagus, and on garlic scapes, but today I want to show another simple preparation with the ramps that were still available at the Silver Spring farmer’s market.

Ramp pesto.

I found a recipe in Laurie Lundy’s amazing book on Appalachia. The book is called Victuals, pronounced viddles, according to the introduction. I also grew up hearing it pronounced at vittles. No matter, it is a very complete collection of recipes and their history in the Appalachian communities.

I ended up using her guidelines for ratios, but using what I had in the pantry.

4-5 ounces of ramp leaves. Three large bulbs. I blanched the leaves. Wrung them out after their ice water bath. Put them and the bulbs in the food processor with about 1/2 cup of pistachios. Added 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Poured in the olive oil while watching it emulsify. A little salt and pepper to taste. I used this pesto on pasta, and on flatbreads. Added it to an omelet with sautéed potatoes. Put a little on a freshly baked potato. I made it twice already in the past two weeks.

Ramp season is fleeting. They are wild, and not agreeable to cultivating.

An interesting fact I recently heard on the newest Parts Unknown. The West Virginia episode that premiered last week. The farmers in West Virginia are paid $2 a pound for ramps that are taken to New York City where they fetch up to $32 a pound. Talk about a markup!

We pay about $4 a bunch to the West Virginia farmers who frequent the Silver Spring market. Those bunches weigh about 5-6 ounces so they are getting around $12 a pound by selling direct to customers here. A big difference in price.

If you get the opportunity to buy from the local communities, they do far better than selling through distributors.

Now, I just need to head up to Jenny’s and get some locally sourced morels.

 

The 2018 Spargel Season

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The first asparagus in my garden this year were recorded 26 days later than a year ago. This cold wet spring is doing a number on the growth and readiness of our favorite spring “heralders”. I picked a half dozen spears on the morning of the 26th, and saw about a dozen that I should be able to harvest tomorrow morning. Contrast 2018 to 2016, where we also had a late spring.  The numbers were closer to what we are seeing now.

But, I still had 27 spears by the 26th then. I had a whopping 54 in 2017 by this date. I keep records of my garden, just like most farmers do for their crops. Bud break, first harvest, length of harvest, total numbers, total weight, etc.

I still only have a few annuals in the ground. My perennials, like the rhubarb and the herbs, are slowly awakening.

Spargel season is fleeting. White asparagus is a special treat in the spring, and we had our first ones at Lupa last week. Lupa is a new restaurant in downtown Columbia. Owned by the same people, Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf, that gave us restaurants in Baltimore, and replacing Petit Louis Bistro on the lakefront.

We shall see if Italian fare does better in that location than the former French bistro. We were impressed with the freshly made pastas, including the fettucine with spargel and mushrooms that I had for my dinner. They also featured a white asparagus salad that I had been tempted to try, but I ended up enjoying perfectly executed calamari as a first course. For pizza lovers, there is also a white asparagus pizza on the spring menu.

I like Lupa, with its reasonably priced courses. My husband’s gnocchi were delicious, as we brought home a small amount of leftover pastas which graced our dinner table on Wednesday. We will try and visit the gelateria when the warm weather finally arrives. Having that little area off the dining room become a place to enjoy homemade gelato and sorbet in the summer is another nice addition to the dining options on the lake.

Where else have you seen asparagus featured? Do you like to cook with asparagus? Are you waiting for them to arrive in our local farmer’s markets, and at Jenny’s Market? Jenny’s is supposed to open later this week, and I can’t wait. My go-to right up the road food stand. Where I run to when I need one extra ingredient missing, as I am cooking. I always seem to run out of scallions, or onions, or citrus, and I love that they aren’t 7 miles away. For six months of the year, Jenny’s helps us stay sane with her great selection. She has promised that there will be asparagus when she opens, for those who love cooking seasonally.

Some of my favorites with spargel?

A simple mixed grill. Whatever looks freshest, brushed with oil, seasoned lightly, and served with something easy like kebabs, fish, or steak.

Maybe a frittata. Chopped asparagus, added to the egg mix, with herbs and greens.

Pasta primavera. My favorite pairing is peas and asparagus, with flavors enhanced with sautéed spring onions.

I have to admit, I have been really looking forward to retiring all those root vegetables from my diet, and getting into spring cooking.

 

Eight

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Eight years retired. This weekend. Time does fly when you are having fun.

What have I learned? Have I made mistakes? Do I regret it?

I have learned much about myself. Made just a few errors, nothing big, though. Don’t regret it a minute.

Retiring can be immensely rewarding, or a real let down. I know many people who went back to work, because they were bored and retirement wasn’t what they thought it would be. So, here’s my top five things that make it work for me, and for us – when I include my husband’s retirement a few months after mine.

One — have a passion for something other than work. Without that passion, things get boring very quickly. My passion. Gardening and cooking. My husband’s? Amateur radio.

We have so many things going on with these hobbies. Groups. Social activities. Trips. Immersion into the processes. Maintenance. You get the picture. It’s a time sump. Keeps us busy enough, and provides structure to our days.

Two — social networking. Find new friends. The work ones will disappear. Trust me on this one. You lose the connection quite quickly. We have many new networks. Blogging friends. Garden people. Radio people. Wine lovers. Locavores. Volunteers.

Three — projects. We try and keep up with the house, the grounds, the decluttering. We do it in small batches. We tackle something every year. It may be maintenance. It may be renovation. It keeps us focused, and maintains those project management skills from our work years.

Four — travel. We don’t travel far these days. We did that for so many years. Touched five continents. Cruised 160 days. Now, we like our simple weekends and day trips. Exploring our local world. Getting very deep into it. Weekends in Virginia. Overnights in PA and DE. Festivals. Concerts.

Five — challenges. Mine is cooking. The cookbook club. Learning to bake. Learning to cook ethnic foods, like India, or next month, Thai. Exiting my comfort zone.

We don’t feel old. We still love the challenges. The new experiences. The new friends. Retirement has been awesome, to say the least.

My advice, though. Before you decide to retire, find your passion. Without it, you may not be satisfied, or you may not find enough to do to fill your hours.

Us, we go crazy. Not enough hours some weeks. But, it is great. Doing what we want, day in and day out.

Can’t wait for the azaleas to bloom. Picnic at the reservoir.

Winter in the Spring

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It’s only fitting that on the second day of spring we get smacked with eight inches of snow. Heavy wet snow. Tree branch breaking snow. After all, I did just post a few weeks back about our unseasonable warm weather, and look where we are now.

Our CSA is also still stuck in winter mode. If I see carrots on the newsletter Friday night, I may finally reach my limit and give them to people on street corners. Ten weeks running. Every color. Some of them downright weird.

Mutant ninja carrots, even.

Then there are the vegetables on steroids.

The 2 and 1/2 pound red beet. It was split, roasted and diced for salads. Many, many salads.

Followed by the next delivery with this “little” treasure.

There were two sweet potatoes that week. Total of more than 5 pounds. Far too large to roast. I gave one away, the little one, to a friend and the other, the behemoth, will become an ingredient in another adventure in lasagna. Maybe this weekend.

I cannot wait to see real baby greens on the list for my weekly pickup. I am so tired of winter, and want to get my garden going. Bring on the arugula, the pea shoots, the spring mix. Bring on the local farmer’s markets where I can get something light and refreshing. And put away those humongous root vegetables.

 

Dashing In

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Who knew March would be one of my busiest months. Between garden orientation and the Art of Stewardship up at the Howard County Conservancy, my calendar is filling up.

I will be bartending at the preview reception on the 18th. The day after we conduct our new gardener orientation for our community gardeners.

I have been tied to the email accounts and the google drive assigning plots to new gardeners. Being the co-manager of the gardens is a fun job, but this is our busy time. Add to it, trying to start my seedlings for my own garden.

In between all the computer time, and the meetings and the phone calls, I have gotten to visit Food Plenty for lunch. Dinner there soon with friends as it is one very nice restaurant in Clarksville Commons. They are now open for lunch and dinner, and the service as well as the food, are very good.

Speaking of Clarksville Commons, I see their announcement that this year’s farmers market will be on Saturday morning. Yes! I prefer hitting the markets in the morning, and I missed having one at Glenwood. Ellicott City is a great market but it’s a hike over the river and through the woods to get there from here. Maple Lawn is just as inconvenient. At least for me when I just want to head over and get a few items.

I hope Earth First comes back, and that Dimitri’s is there with their amazingly good olives. We were lucky to have Earth First’s vegetables at our recent dinner at Clarksville Catering.

One last quick topic before I head up to start dinner. I want to highlight a simple party dish that would work well for almost any event. A “Party Magnet” from the Deep Run Roots cookbook I used often for inspiration with my fresh foods.

Whipped up in about 15 minutes including roasting the pecans. Pecans with butter and salt. Roast about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Make the cheese ball. Just leave leftover mixed cheeses at room temperature and then form the ball from them. I used some of my CSA cheeses that were left hanging around in the fridge. Added about 3 ounces of cream cheese to smooth it all out. Rolled it in parsley and paprika.

Perfect with a glass of red wine.

Hang in there, spring is less than two weeks away.

 

Just Another Tidbit Tuesday

Amazing. Two days. Two posts. I haven’t done this in ages.

Because. BREAD!

That’s right. I haven’t slacked off on making the famous NoKnead Bread and I have been modifying it left and right. Rosemary bread. Olive bread. Parmesan garlic bread. And, the latest here. Cinnamon raisin bread.

Have to use all this flour and grain I am getting in my winter CSA share.

This week, though, we just got spelt flour, which I will need to research to see how it does in a NoKnead recipe.

As for that cinnamon bread. This recipe is so easy and so forgiving. I messed up and was pouring the 360 grams of cool water into the flour and boom, the scale went from 430 to 830 before I could stop it. No problem. Eyeball it and add a couple of spoons of flour. It still worked perfectly. I use the ratio of 400 grams of flour to 360 grams of water. 1/4 teaspoon of active yeast. Teaspoon of salt.

All into the bowl on the scale. Before adding the water, I add the seasonings. Yesterday it was 20 grams of raisins and a few shakes of cinnamon and a teaspoon of sugar. Made the bread without that overly sweet taste that commercial raisin bread has.

This recipe calls for the bread to sit for a minimum of 12 hours before pouring out and shaping. Second rise of 2 hours. Baked in a 475 degree oven in the covered pot that spent 30 minutes heating before dumping the bread into it. 30 minutes baking with cover on. 15 minutes uncovered. Take out and let cool one hour on a rack. Enjoy.

What else interesting around here? Uniquely shaped sweet potatoes in the CSA box.

This one will be interesting to peel and cook.

The rest of this week’s veggies.

I am officially tired of potatoes and carrots. The Hakurei turnips on the other hand. They are destined to become a side dish for tomorrow’s Valentine’s dinner.

We never go out on Valentine’s Day. I make a nice filet mignon. I am steaming shrimp. Small bottle of bubbly for the appetizer and with dessert. Glass of good red wine with the steak. I got a tiny box of chocolates at Roots today. Dinner and the Olympics.

Some other ideas of good things for Valentines Day. Head to Clarksville Commons for ice cream from Scoop and Paddle. Indulge at the newly opened Victoria and Albert Hair Salon there. Kupcakes and Co. for a special dessert.

Tomorrow morning. I will be opening a new jar of Neat Nick Preserves to go with fresh cinnamon raisin toast.

Moroccan Meatless Monday

I have to admit that dinner tonight wasn’t intentionally meatless because we just planned to have the leftover soup from a cooking spree.  It also isn’t 100% meatless because it had chicken stock in it. So, it was almost meatless, and it could have been if I had used vegetable stock in the soup when making it.

The latest Cooks Illustrated arrived with a almost vegetarian version of harira, a traditional dried legume and pasta soup with a boatload of spices. Many versions of this soup contain lamb, which would probably elevate it to a whole new level.

These are just the dried spices. It also includes fresh ginger and garlic.

Why is all this so significant to me? Because, the soup was made by my husband who decided he wanted to start making soups this winter and picked a very unique one to begin with.

The soup begins with the onions, celery, garlic, ginger, some cilantro and parsley, the spices, the lentils and the chickpeas simmering away in a 50/50 mix of water and chicken stock. Not all that hard except for all the chopping and grating involved. Later, the container of strained tomatoes and the orzo get added with a slow simmer allowing the flavors to develop. Almost at the end, you add the greens. We didn’t have chard so we substituted collards.

The finished product gets fresh parsley and cilantro on top before serving, and a squeeze of lemon.

I admit. This would really rock with roasted lamb cubes in it. But, all by itself it is a hearty filling soup and I’m glad my husband decided he wanted to try it.