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Monday, October 31, 2011

My friend Deb and her wonderful Cabbage Soup

With a generous dollop of sour cream and freshly ground pepper!
Deborah Madison is the bomb, or rather, the bombess (?). Seriously, if you don't have Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, please buy it. We swear that just as we navigate towards deep reds at the liquor store, you'll no doubt find your fingers reaching for this cookbook whenever you're in the mood for a comforting bowl of soup or you need to use a bunch of a veggies up in one cooking adventure. Just take a look at the series of posts we put up last harvest season. Deborah Madison came up more than once then, and we're sure she'll come up more than once this year.

Tonight, we quickly whipped up a double batch of her Green Cabbage Soup with potatoes and sour cream. As always, we didn't quite have the right ingredients in the fridge, so we made our adaptations with what we found at home, plus garlic, of course. Here's our doubled version of  Deborah's (yes, at this point, I feel like we're on a first-name basis!) creation:

1 small green cabbage, preferably Savoy
4 Tbs. of butter
1 bunch of mustard greens, boiled before added to the mix (our addition)
3 large leeks
6 potatoes, with skins
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 head of garlic, minced (our addition)
sour cream or yogurt
tops of celeriac (though Deb uses parsley or dill)

1. Thinly slice the cabbage and mustard greens. Boil a pot of water, add the cabbage and greens, cook for a minute, and then drain.
2. Melt the butter in a soup pot (Debbie had 2-3 Tbs. for a single batch, but we wanted to cut out fat). Add the leek and potato, cook for a minute or two, and then add the cabbage and greens and salt. Pour 10 cups of water over the top.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Taste for salt and pepper.
3. Ladle the soup into bowls, then add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, a sprinkling of your herb of choice, and a final grinding of ground pepper.

Get a nice beverage, and have a toast to Ms. Madison for her wonderful soups, and a toast to yourself for a job well done! Enjoy.

Per 1 Cup Servings: 103 calories; Total Fat, 3.5 g; Saturated Fat, 1.7 g; Cholesterol, 9 mg; Sodium, 258 mg; Carbohydrate, 17.6 g; Dietary Fiber, 2.5 g; Sugars, 1.6 g; Protein, 2.6 g

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eating Seasonally: Practice Makes Perfect

Recently a friend asked, "How do you use all of your CSA box and garden?"  This wasn't the first time a friend or family member has wondered that. After seven years of membership, we have worked out a system. We 100% build our weekly menu around the box, and one big way that we use an armful of vegetables is in a weekly soup or salad for lunch. Today, we made a lentil-and-curry based soup. Typically, we start with a base, such as this, and then we look through the refrigerator to find vegetables that will meld well.

Tonight, we each devoured steaming bowls of this new creation, topped with sour cream. So delicious that we decided to make the recipe permanent, right here, on our blog. Of course, living with a CSA box and a huge garden doesn't always lend itself to replicating recipes ingredient-by-ingredient, so this will always remain a skeleton, unless the stars and veggies align next fall, and we find ourselves with the same exact ingredients and happen to remember this specific mix on that day.

Here's what we used:
3 carrots
4 cups of escarole
2 cups of dry lentils
6 cups of water and vegetable broth mix
3 potatoes
1 small head of cauliflower
1 head of garlic
2 leeks
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. curry paste
1 lemongrass sprig
3 tomatoes
sour cream (optional)

1. We heated the butter in a soup pan and added the leek, garlic, and lentils. We allowed this to cook for a couple of minutes.
2. Then, we added the broth, tomatoes, carrots, and lemongrass. We brought it to a boil.
3. Then, we added the rest of the ingredients, except for the escarole, and let it cook until the lentils were tender.
4. We added the escarole at the end, let it wilt, and then served it up for dinner. It was wonderful topped with a bit of sour cream.

It made 13 cups. We each had one cup for dinner, and we stored the rest in Ball jars (1-cup in each). We'll have an easy, go-to lunch for the rest of the week.

Dinners will consist of plant-based ingredients, both from our box and from our garden. Whatever isn't used by the end of the week will go in the freezer. Eating seasonally definitely takes planning, but once you get the hang of it, it is easy ....and dare I say, fun!?

Fall Harvest: Beans and Greens

Beautiful Swiss Chard
We've been busy, busy the past few weeks and weekends, as I'm sure most of you all have been. Luckily, the weather has been such that we personally haven't been too worried about the veggies left in our garden or the amount of work yet to be done before the first snowfall. This weekend, other than Saturday-morning test proctoring and Sunday paper-correcting, we had no plans! While it seems we have overzealous ideas about the amount of work that realistically can be done in a day, we still managed to get a significant start on cleaning up a few garden beds and harvesting/preserving a bit of food.

First, we harvested three of our four pole bean beds. Our Trail of Tears Black Bean bed was full of skinny, gray/brown pods. Each contained about 8 small beans inside. We managed to get a whole quart of those. Our Mother Stallard bean beds produced about a quart also. Dry beans are a must for growing in our semi-vegetarian  household. We've already decided that  next year, we will triple the amount of beans. Not only are homegrown beans 100% ethical, they are also economical. Compare the price of a burger to that of a homemade bean burger made with beans from your backyard. Crazy savings!
Mother Stallard and Trail of Tears Beans

Plus, beans are just so gosh darn beautiful. The process of planting,  harvesting, picking, and then storing them entertains and tickles all of our senses. Luckily, we have beautiful Christmas Lima beans yet to harvest.

Next, we cut Swiss Chard. We'd been waiting to make a big harvest until a frost hit. In cold weather, some vegetables respond by producing more sugar because sugar doesn't freeze;  hence, the veggies are a bit sweeter. It's worth noting though, that a freeze will kill Swiss Chard, so the whole sugar thing doesn't work beyond a certain point.

This  morning, I froze 2 bags of our Swiss Chard and 2 bags of Harmony Valley Farm's spinach. If you haven't ever frozen greens before, it's super easy and well worth your time. Simply rinse the greens, chop them to desired size, and put them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Then, put them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process, dry them (in salad spinner or by squeezing and draining), and then bag them up. I find we actually eat more greens in the winter because taking them out of the freezer and heating them up or adding them to a soup or casserole is so quick! 

I also stuck a bunch of dry curly kale into bags. No need to blanch! Kale crumbles are the perfect easy addition to winter dishes.
Nutrition for the winter

And now, we're off to the garden. Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Green Bugs!!...Help!

Because of the bug invasion, most of our Oaxacan green dent corn looks like this.
  All summer long, we were plagued by a tiny flourescent green bug. Many of our squash plants were eaten, our corn kernels devoured, and today, we discovered our sunflower seeds were gone too. Does anyone have any idea what could be the culprit? I've tried taking pictures of the insect to post, but none have turned out.

Here, however, is what it has done to all of our corn and our sunflowers.
All of kernels are empty. Tiny holes cover them all; the little bugs made their way in and ate the seeds.

Last year, the same thing happened.
 We've heard corn is super easy to grow, but we've had little luck. Each year, the green bugs are back. We're hoping to identify them soon, so that we can figure out how to get rid of these pests. Until then, the chickens are enjoying and benefiting from our failed attempts. If you've had a similar experience or know of a remedy, please do tell!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stealing from Squirrels: Harvesting Black Walnuts

Today's harvest
We moved into a house on a one-acre plot of land and were lucky enough to inherit five full-grown black walnut trees. Our first  year here, we didn't realize our fortune and probably just complained about the slipperiness over which we had to mow in the fall. I remember almost falling with the lawn mower more than once! The next summer, our longtime friend Jack pointed out that we had ourselves some monstrous black walnut trees. Our inner hunter-gather selves sparked with curiosity. We had to wait for the following fall, as black walnut trees produce a ton of fruit every other year. So, wait we did. The following year, we picked a few buckets and let them sit on the porch. Carried away with other gardening endeavors, work, and being social, we ended up providing squirrels with some easy dining that winter, but didn't try any ourselves.

Today, we finally, finally made the Gatherer part of our psyche deliriously giddy! We spent the day collecting, hulling, and washing black walnuts. I started off with a pair of gardening gloves - not a good idea.
Tomorrow, my students will be wondering if I have touched a horcrux like the late Dumbledore. I guess the dye doesn't come off of your skin for quite some time, so instead of toting a "green thumb", I'll be showing off my brown one. Luckily, I discovered the black walnut juices were seeping through early enough in the process that it is not as bad as it could be. I replaced them with yellow, plastic cleaning gloves after about 5 of the walnuts.

We learned a few tidbits during our research today:
1. You don't have to wait until black walnuts are black to harvest them. In fact, pick them when they're green. They're much less likely to be filled with little white maggoty-looking worms.
2. You don't have to stuff them into a bag and then back over them with your car. In fact, several walnut experts report that doing that equals danger. Walnut pieces could bust off, break windows, hit animals, and so on. No good. Through trial and error, we found the best way to hull them is to stomp on them with the heel of your shoe, and then peel the green husk off. The stomping sped up the process quite a bit.
The pretty peach inside quickly turns black once the air hits.

3. You have to rinse them off - but they won't come completely clean. Get what you can off without completely stressing yourself out.

4. The walnuts have to cure for about 2 weeks before you can take the nut shells off.
5. The black walnut juice/dye is toxic to dogs and VERY toxic to horses. Keep your canine friends on a short leash or in the house when doing the dirty work.
Franklin expressing his non-gratitude re. the short leash

So, for now, we're waiting...we might harvest some more in the meantime. I never realized how many "walnut" foods I loved until I began this whole walnut fiasco this morning. I'm anxiously awaiting making homemade walnut burgers. Andy can't wait to make chocolate chip walnut cookies. And tonight I read about black walnut ice cream.

Brown fingers and all, I think I am foreseeing myself back out in the yard tomorrow, picking some more. Poor squirrels. I almost feel guilty. I guess I'll leave them all of the cracked ones. That should be good enough, right?