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Staying Sane

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It’s been over a hundred days since we’ve been anywhere. Except for curbside pickups and a few quick trips to grocery stores and markets. Oh, and the hardware store.

Thankfully we have enough space around here and enough to do to keep busy. Plus, my garden. It gives me peace and quiet while dealing with the squash beetles and the weeds. And harvesting asparagus.

I did get my first four yellow cherry tomatoes yesterday. No squash yet, and the cucumbers don’t look great. Lots of asparagus though.

The peppers? Hanging in there but the weather isn’t cooperating either.

I have been cooking quite a bit. Making the most of my Vegetable share. Particularly all the greens. I have been cooking from Toni Tipton-Martin’s book Jubilee, this month’s cookbook club selection.

Collards with cornmeal dumplings. This was a serious undertaking. Many steps. But the result was delicious. Those dumplings were awesome.

Island banana bread. Transports me back to Jamaica. Full of spices, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, with dates and pecans. This cookbook is full of absolutely flavorful trips down Memory Lane for me.

I found lots of new favorites along the journey. Like this broccoli and cauliflower salad with curried dressing. You assemble and dress this salad and let it marinate in the fridge for hours. These are the spices from the deep Caribbean, like we encountered in Trinidad.

I found that cooking from this book allowed me to reminisce about travels from decades past, while staying “safer at home”.

I downloaded the iBook version of the book. No trips to stores for much of what I made here. Thankfully Harris Teeter has curbside pickup and could provide us with many of the needed items. They also waived the pickup fee for senior citizens so kudos to them for their accommodation to us while we are taking care of ourselves.

The Book? It is written by Toni Tipton-Martin and is titled Jubilee, Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking. Paired with my other iBook from the exploration of the South, Deep Run Roots. Together they explore the rich history of Southern cooking through two separate perspectives but with very similar results in many recipes.

Vivian Howard learned how to prepare numerous items by watching Mrs. Mary and Ms. Lillie who cooked in Southern homes for decades. If you get a chance to record and watch Somewhere South or A Chef’s Life on PBS, both of her series delve into recipe origins and the complexities of Southern cooking are revealed.

Are you a collard eater or a turnip greens eater? What are the differences between Creole and Cajun? How did rice and okra and sweet potatoes get into the Southern diet? For me with my interest in cooking, baking and gardening I find that cookbooks with history in them give me a deeper understanding of life in the past.

To summarize from a very long story today, I have been staying sane by “traveling” and learning in the comfort and safety of my kitchen. I have also been supporting local small businesses for ingredients to do so. Not ready for restaurants yet, but farmer’s markets and farm stores have returned to our lives.

Thanks to Jenny’s market drive thru when I need something quick. To Breezy Willow and Mary’s Land Farm stores when I need meat or fish. To the Wheelhouse Market. To TLV and the other farmers at the markets here in HoCo.

I am staying sane by gardening, cooking and baking. What are you doing to stay sane?

Springing Forward

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Not my favorite time of year. Adjusting to the time change.

I am working on so many projects and just can’t get motivated to get up when I should, as my brain keeps telling me it’s too early.

Are you like me? Wishing they would just pick a time, one or the other, and stop the switching back and forth. You know, standard time is only four months long, and the daylight saving time is now eight months of the year. Why is the standard only 33% of the year?

For us, we like to have dinner as the sun sets. We tend to be busy outdoors and come in for dinner when we have to stop working in the garden, or maintaining the property, or in my husband’s case, working on his antennas and towers.

Enough complaining. I have to admit that today has been beautiful. Temps in the mid 70s. No rain. It all missed us. I headed into Clarksville earlier to do a few errands and I could see that the businesses are taking advantage of the weather. The windows are open at Food Plenty. I bet there are a few people already out on the patios. Maybe I should fire up the grill. After I move it back where it belongs. The wind storm a couple weeks ago actually pushed it around a bit.

This may be just a short taste of the coming spring, but it is most welcome after a wet miserable winter.

I am thinking about that summer trip to Charlottesville and the view from Barboursville.

The octagonal ruins designed by Jefferson. Made me think of the tomato seedlings growing in my kitchen. All heirlooms from Monticello. Prudens purple, purple calabash and red fig. Hoping that this summer will be kind to my veggie garden, and not drown it like last summer.

What signs of spring make you happiest? Flowers. Gardens. Outdoor activities. Grilling. Dining al fresco. That’s my short list.

And The Winner Is …

… black cherry tomatoes.

Not only did they win me two ribbons at the county fair, they also are the highest producer in my rain soaked garden. I have harvested close to 25 pounds of these flavorful heirloom tomatoes from two plants. Plants purchased last spring from TLV Tree Farm at the Clarksville Farmers’ Market.

This is the second year they have taken second place in the heirloom tomato category. It’s the closest I have gotten to that elusive blue ribbon, and the $35 special premium attached to winning it.  I just can’t get my other heirlooms to ripen early enough to enter them in the fair. Next year will be even harder as the fair is a day earlier for entries, and I barely had adequate numbers of my other vegetables.

I did put in seven entries and came away with seven ribbons. Two firsts, three seconds, and two fourth place ribbons. My first place winners were my okra, and I had the largest tomato. Not very large, a green heirloom variety called Aunt Ruby’s Green German. It was a pound and a half. It’s crazy. I only got a half dozen of them from that plant, so it will not be bought again next year.

As for other notables from my garden, this is the year that the Italian cucurbita moschata, aka tromboncino took over my garden. It’s crawling everywhere and giving me 1-3 pound squash every time I go there.

This is the latest one. 2 Pounds, 14 ounces. There are seeds only in the bulb, so they are sweeter than other summer squash if you get them before they become too large. In past years, friends have found hiding ones that have weighed as much as 10 pounds. Those with darker green skins are treated like winter squash, peeled and used in soups or in muffins and breads.

I have been making and freezing trays of fritters. By themselves or paired with corn, or with sweet red peppers, we make a batch, have a few with dinner and then freeze them stacked on parchment. All winter long I can pull out a sheet or two and have fritters as a side dish with dinner.

Here is one of my earlier harvests of the squash.

And these are the other major producer this year. My okra. Drowning in okra. I had a market pack with ten plants in it. They looked quite pathetic when I planted them and I expected many of them to die. Nope, they didn’t. Out of ten tiny plants, seven survived and are now six feet tall and producing like mad. I have made many fries, have sautéed them, made a hash, and am running out of ideas. I do donate quite a bit of these to the food bank every Tuesday as we get dozen of them weekly.

Last but not least, the heirlooms.

Not a great year. Many cracked from the excessive rain. I did get quite a few of Rutgers tomatoes. Those are the red ones with the cracked tops. The green ones were those green German variety. The two on the bottom right were from my Amish CSA and not from the garden.

But these were still my favorite. At the height of summer, they were large and sweet.

I roasted these. Spread out on a tray. Rolled in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano. Low temperature for a few hours. Like candy.

The garden is winding down. Just okra, cherry tomatoes and lettuces. A big basil plant and sage. Almost time to do my winter pesto and maybe spread some Tuscan kale plants in the corner to see how they do.

This summer was awful for the gardeners. Far too much rain, excessive heat when it wasn’t raining, and bugs galore. Still, I love the challenge and I enjoy my harvests.

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.

 

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.

 

A Record Year

On the garden yield. The 2017 tomato crop has blown away all my previous yields.

This was probably my heaviest harvest in August. Over 20 pounds. So far this year my grand total has exceeded 171 pounds, and the cherry tomatoes are still producing.

My previous personal best was 139 pounds the first year I moved to a community garden plot. I thought that was an immense amount and now I am dealing with another 30 some pounds. The freezer is full. I have been gifting a half dozen friends regularly. The food bank and the Wine in the Garden auction basket winner have benefitted from my harvest.

I keep extensive records. By variety. Number of tomatoes. Number of ounces. Every time I pick. I sort. I weigh. I process.

Doing this allows me to decide what to plant again. What to give up. This year? The last of the pineapple tomatoes. They disappointed me for the last time. I love how they look, and how they taste, but they are fickle and fragile.

My replacement for them. Striped German. In the top picture, they are the very large yellow tomatoes with the green stripes. Those were picked a bit early, just before a predicted rain. If I left them on too long, they would split.

In this picture, you can see what happens when the rains come and split the tomatoes. My other favorite from this year, the small cherries with the darkest color, are prone to splitting too. These, the black cherry heirlooms, and those Striped Germans were bought from Love Dove Farms. I bought a market pack of four Striped Germans, and two plants of the black cherries. They will most certainly be grown again next year. They were superior in taste and both produced well.

San Marzano and large cherry tomatoes also did well.

I had two San Marzano plants that produced more than 20 pounds of tomatoes. The red cherry and tomato berry plants also went crazy in late July.

My freezer has dozens of containers of oven roasted cherry tomatoes. All winter long, I will be enjoying them over pasta or mixed with couscous or rice. I freeze them in single dinner size. Enough for the two of us to share.

The plants this year were spectacular.

Ringed by rebar and string to keep them upright. Many reached over six feet high eventually. I put in 32 plants this year in two long double rows in the garden. I lost two of them early in the season. Thirty plants. Averaging almost six pounds per plant. Since eight of the plants were cherry varieties, that’s a healthy return on “investment”.

One other surprise. The purple bumblebee hybrid, which isn’t purple at all.

Do they look purple? Not to me. They do have a great taste. Next year, they will return with the black cherry, striped German, and the San Marzanos. I will probably also repeat the Brandywine and the Rutgers.

It may be the end of the season, but the planning never stops. And, let’s see if I can get to 175 pounds before the first frost.

Rain or Shine

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No matter the weather. Harvest goes on. That includes those of us who volunteer weekly to harvest vegetables at our community garden. Perishables destined for the Howard County Food Bank.

We line up the wheelbarrows and get to work. 26-28 weeks total of harvests beginning in May and ending in late November. I am so thankful that we have a dedicated core of volunteers. It makes no difference if we get wet, or if we have to start really early to beat the heat.

I have learned much in this endeavor. What works. What doesn’t. What is best to grow. What won’t be used. It isn’t easy to cook healthy meals with limited resources but we try to grow items that lend themselves to simple preparations. No need for ovens, big pans, spices, etc. We know some of the recipients are living with a hot plate and maybe a microwave.

Greens are always welcome. Simple to prepare. Tomatoes are a treat for all of us. Nothing like juicy, ripe, sweet heirlooms, bursting with flavor. This week was one of our best for tomatoes, as we had three other gardeners away on vacation, and their tomato plants were overloaded with ripe fruit.

For the past month or so, we have had harvests of over 100 pounds weekly. We have these overproducing eggplants, which is a first for us. We have peppers that are full of blossoms and then are weighed down by the load of peppers, particularly our jalapenos. We also were very lucky with leeks, garlic, and of course, the tromboncino.

We have taken to calling them Italian squash, in order to get them accepted. They are the absolute best “zucchini-like” vegetable we grow. They get huge, but those long thin necks don’t contain seeds, which can be bitter. They slice and cook easily, and they also (for those of us with the utensils to do it) make wonderful fritters, breads, cakes, muffins, and more, when shredded. We have been getting dozens of these weekly, and they really do taste so much better than zucchini that have been left on the vine too long.

I get out a frying pan. Put in onion, pepper, tromboncini, cherry tomatoes. All in a splash of oil. Add salt. Pepper. Oregano. Cook until your house smells like spaghetti sauce. Serve over rice. Pasta. A “nuked” potato. It’s so good.

Now, where was I? I got off the subject, which is the garden. We are in the midst of planting for fall. The collards, kale, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, and chard, all going in this month. We have 2000 square feet at the moment. 1000 square feet of the original food bank plot, plus 500 square feet being used where current gardeners had to take a year off for health reasons, plus 500 square feet where gardeners moved away during the season.

It means we may hit 2000 pounds this year. Which would be a record for us. Our highest total two years ago was 1700+ pounds.

Oh, and I forgot. Two of us put in a couple of butternut squash seedlings a while back. They went nuts and are advancing beyond the plots into the bench area. They are in an area of my plot that I didn’t use. There must be 20 of them ripening now.

They are another squash that goes a long way and is really easy to cook, once you manage to peel it. Can’t wait to have them ready to harvest.

Here’s to our volunteers, and here’s hoping the weather cooperates and gives us a good fall season, since summer has certainly been a good one for us.

 

 

 

It’s Tomato Time!

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Yes, it is.

The floodgates have opened. They are coming in by the dozen now. Including a new one in my medley.

Purple Bumble Bee. A hybrid. A large cherry tomato. The first ones were ripe this afternoon. They are incredibly sweet. Larger than others.

I have only gotten a couple large tomatoes so far. Many, many green ones on the vines. Waiting for that tsunami to begin.

In other items out there, the okra are ripening.

Purple okra. Should do well when paired with purple tomatoes, shouldn’t it?

Zucchini still producing strong.

There were two today. I came home and put it all together. Zucchini. Okra. Tomatoes. The lonely two asparagus spears I found. An onion.

Sautéed to serve with heritage pork chops, from Evermore Farm. You don’t get much fresher than two hours out of the garden.

The Tidbit Tuesday Post

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Yes, I promised to post on Tuesdays. About something. Anything. Maybe food. Maybe events. Maybe activities. Maybe the weather. Who knows.

Let’s start with tomatoes. We have tomatoes.

Lovely little cherry tomatoes. Ripening on the windowsill. I still pick them just about when they are ready, to avoid bug damage.

The crazy little ones on the left are called tomatoberry garden. They look like strawberries, with a pointy end.

I did get one Scarlet Red tomato the other day. Other than that, lots of green tomatoes on the main plants. I put in 30 plants this year. I know that is obsessive, but I still try to achieve that blue ribbon for heirlooms at the county fair.

Changing the subject.

Why doesn’t grocery store celery look like this?

Why do they cut away the leaves, which add so much flavor to soup? I will quickly blanch, then rinse and freeze these beauties in order to make chicken stock this winter.

The final tidbit? Cauliflower cake.

An Ottolenghi creation. From his book, Plenty More. One of the highlights of a month long cooking spree using any of his books. The recipe is here.

It’s a show stopping recipe that will impress anyone when you serve it.

Short and Sweet Saturdays

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A new addition to my writings. To entice me to sit down more often and write. When we get too busy to take the time to pursue our hobbies that bring us pleasure, we sometimes need to stop and smell the flowers again.

I will try and post at least twice a week. Those Tidbit Tuesdays, and these. Discipline. It’s what I need to come down to the computer and write.

I have a long in process post about the trivia behind amateur radio Field Day. I will get it done and posted soon, I hope.

In the meantime, some tidbits from the past few days.

WELCOME BACK HOWCHOW!!!!

Not excited, am I? For 18 months, we mourned the absence of our favorite food writer, who helped me grow this site by linking to it and letting me guest post on the most comprehensive local food scene blog in Central Maryland (and beyond). His toddler had him way too busy to write (and curtailed his frequent visits to the local restaurant scene). It’s good to see him back and writing about what is new and exciting in Howard County.

In other news, I have just finished my first four month subscription to a meat share CSA, with Evermore Farms, and loved it so much I am renewing for the next four months. I like getting this monthly surprise bundle. Keeps me creative in the kitchen. Like today.

My small share. 7-9 pounds of meat a month. I also get a chicken share. Today’s bird was 5.25 pounds. I also chose to get two dozen eggs a month. The right size for the two of us. I supplement the share with a few items from the freezers at the farm. I do have the option of getting a “delivered” share, to be picked up at the Columbia Wegmans every month, or to have home delivery, which requires leaving a cooler outside. I like going to the farm, picking out a couple of extra items (including Rheb’s truffles and Salazon chocolate). Today I did get two skirt steaks to grill.

This month was heavy on the grilling stuff. Beef patties. Sirloin steak. Lamb sausage. It’s a good mix of beef, pork and lamb.

There are some ham “chips” which are just screaming for me to use in a traditional Maryland style crab soup. When I make it, there will be pictures.

And, the last tidbit today. What is it with the wind out there. It knocked over my potted bay leaf plant twice so I had to rescue it in order to keep it safe from breaking.

I had to wedge it in between the patio and deck.

It has all kinds of new growth on it, and it is getting unwieldy. I need to transplant it again to a bigger heavier pot. That does make it difficult to bring inside for the winter but it’s worth it to have fresh bay leaves for soups and stews.

Time to stop writing here and get back to answering emails on the community gardens page. Now that’s a whole other topic I could write volumes about.