The Doctor is in!

This morning I went out to look at my garden, as is my custom most mornings after the bus has come and gone and I have a chance to finish my coffee.  Everything looked in order from afar, but as I honed in for a closer inspection, trying to sneak up on those pesky tomato suckers, I noticed my plants looked in somewhat ill health.  Not exactly sick, but queasy.  Now, I knew I took a risk by planting them in the dirt before Mothers Day, but the forecast looked good for an early planting, and I had been fastidious about hardening them off.  We did get a cold snap last week, but not a frost in our area, and they had looked fine the morning after.  The leaves were sort of yellowish, curling at the edges, with some brown spots on them.   What could it be?  Blight?  Bugs? Too much water? Not enough?  As I fondled each plant in turn, murmuring over them and worrying like the mother of a sick child (I have, after all, nurtured these babies since January!), It occurred to me that I might need some help.

I knew just where to get it, too.  I hurriedly plucked the worst looking of the leaves off pepper and tomato, hopped in my truck and beat feet (My dad’s expression) to the local greenhouse to talk with my good friend who runs the garden center.  She has been a resource for me over years, and one I have come to value and respect.  I knew together we could figure out what ailed my lovelies.  After a trot around the greenhouse with my fistfull of wilted leaves looking for my friend, who turned out not to be working that day, I decided to take a chance and ask someone else.  I found another woman and after a quick inspection she informed me that my plants weren’t that sick at all, but had a case of chill stemming from wet feet.  We had a chat, and she suggested in the nicest of ways that perhaps I had mulched too deeply, or perhaps too close to the stems.  The previous cold, combined with a wet wind and lots of rain has weakened the plants because the roots couldn’t breath.  She prescribed a treatment of kelp and seaweed mulch lightly applied to the area around the roots, and the mulch pulled back 6 inches.  It turns out everyone at that greenhouse knows stuff!  I rushed home to apply her advice.  Below is the result.  I’ll let you know in a week if my darling peppers and lovely tomatoes have recovered their former vigor.  ImageImage

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Ah Ah Ahhh Asparagus! Bless you.

Springtime for some is a horrible season of allergies.  Stuffy, runny noses, red eyes and sneezing abound as the deciduous and fruit trees blossom and spread their pollen throughout the warming springtime air.  For some, it is a time for Claritin, Allerest, Zyrtec.  What does this have to do with asparagus, you ask?  Not much, except that they coincide, and they were both on my mind after our short trip out to Martha’s Vineyard last weekend.

I have never had seasonal allergies, but my son does.   He gets great purple bags under his eyes and has a terrible grouchy attitude.  So terrible, in fact, that when he was 11 I brought him to the doctor, explaining that he was just a miserable person and what could I do about it?  She took one look at his purple shaded eyes and diagnosed him with seasonal allergies, prescribing a daily dose of Claritin.  It worked marvelously.  His attitude improved, the purple diminished and we went our merry way, but it caused me to wonder about allergies; why some people get them, and what I could do about it for my son.  Over the years I have found some homeopathic remedies that work with varying success.  

Quercetin is a natural substance found in the skin of onions and apples.  Sadly, apples and onions are not seasonal to springtime, but fortunately quercetin is available over the counter as a supplement.   

Stinging nettle, found in many allergy medications, is a useful herb in curbing the annoying symptoms, and can be taken in a tea form.  Stinging nettle is available now, and grows best in weedy lots and near manure piles.  Do not forget your gloves and long sleeves, as well as shoes and socks.  The effects of touching the plant itself are uncomfortable in the extreme.  Chop it, steep it, season it with honey, and enjoy!  If gathering it is too much for you, most health food stores will carry it, but it is best fresh.  

Honey is another supposed remedy for allergies.  It is recommended to take a teaspoon once a day, but the honey must be unblended and from your area in order for it to have a benefit.  Some swear by this, but so far the evidence is inconclusive.  It can’t hurt, anyway.

Acupuncture may help alleviate allergy symptoms, especially if you start treatment about a month before peak season.  Apparently opening certain meridians can help to suppress an overactive immune system.  

Last weekend, as I was indulging in the abundant asparagus that grows in the garden there, that we have patiently waited for years to mature and produce, my son was miserable.  He wanted only to lay inside and play on his Kindle.  He was tired, and grumpy, by turns sarcastic, caustic and irritable.  We couldn’t even get him to enjoy going fishing.  And only later, as I consider writing a post about the lovely asparagus, does the reason occur to me.  Duh! What is it about mothers who are always the last to figure it out?  I really should have known.

So.  To the asparagus!  

Any aficionado of that strange plant will tell you with fervent belief that fresh cannot compare to store bought asparagus, and we are right.  The ONLY time to eat it is when those tender shoots get to be just the right height to cut, and there are just enough to take without killing off the plant.  Harvesting asparagus is an exercise in patience.  A strong asparagus plant will send out shoots when the weather warms, but you must not cut those first delectable morsels!  They taunt you as they harden into stalks, but in order for the plant to thrive it must have foliage to photosynthesize. Those first stalks are necessary to the plant’s health, and only after they begin to mature and more shoots emerge may one gently cut and enjoy some of the delicate stalks.   The flavor is sublime.  Below are some of the ways we indulged our culinary fantasies and savored this most precious springtime treat.

Roasted Balsamic Asparagus with pancetta and caramelized onion

Oven temp 400.

2 lbs of fresh cut asparagus, peeled if the outer skin is tough.

4 tbs olive oil, divided

3 tbs good balsamic vinegar

2 large onions 

1/4 lb. pancetta. Ham, prosciutto, or bacon would work as well.

Chop onions in half and slice thinly   Chop pancetta into small squares.  In a skillet heat 2 tbs. oil on med heat.  Stir in onions and cook, allowing to brown.  When onions are almost done, about 15 minutes, add pancetta and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes.  Meanwhile, place asparagus in a single layer in a roasting pan lined with tinfoil and coat with the remaining 2 tbs oil.  Sprinkle with the balsamic and roast in 400 F oven for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus.  Remove, top with hot onion and pancetta mixture and serve.  

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Asparagus Yorkshire Pudding

Oven temp 400 F

3 eggs

1 1/2 cup organic flour

1 1/2 cup organic or raw milk

Salt to taste.

1/3 cup roast drippings, bacon fat or lard.

1 lb asparagus

Peel Asparagus if necessary.  Place a roasting pan in hot oven for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together first 4 ingredients into a batter.  When the pan is hot, add the drippings or bacon fat and coat the pan.  Place the asparagus in a single layer and cover with the batter.  Return to the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 10 – 15 minutes or until pudding is puffy, lightly brown and beginning to crisp.  Refrain from opening the oven until you remove the pudding.  If you must check the progress, use the light and window.   Allow to cool for a few minutes and cut into squares.  Serve immediately.

  

 

Ah, Springtime. For a minute.

When I moved to Connecticut almost 12 years ago, I came from Crested Butte, Colorado, a western slope former mining town turned fancy with a ski area.  It was at 8800 feet in elevation.  I had a garden, but in it I grew mostly grass.  And I didn’t even mind so much, because it was green.  I did manage some carrots, peas

and some herbs most years, but that was the sum total that my high altitude green thumb could manage.  I tried for 10 years to get a serviceable tomato, but nary a cherry could I produce in that elevated locale.

Then I moved to Connecticut, and the sheer amount of vegetation astonished me.  In fact, by mid summer I was entirely overwhelmed.  I had to cut the grass ALL the time.  And weeding?  Forget it!   I couldn’t stop things from growing, and that first year my cherry tomato vines grew to be over 11 feet long.  I chuckle to remember how delighted I was with my first garden and the 12 or so varieties of vegetable I planted.  Now I have over 12 varieties of tomatoes alone.

Springtime in Connecticut is both a magical and alarming time for me.  The new life clawing up out of the ground and unfolding everywhere happens so fast and forceful that it is almost frightening.  Each year in the early spring I wait expectantly for the growth to start.  It begins with the greening of the grass, and gently blooms into a haze of green on the tips of the trees.  Then I feel as if I’m rushing to catch and appreciate every last brilliant daffodil before the outrageous yellow of the forsythia emerges, but it all too soon blends in with the pinks and whites of the dogwoods and magnolia which give way to the purples and violets of the heavenly scented lilacs.  Before I know it spring turns to summer and the business of hacking back the vegetation that grows uncontrollably everywhere, blocking my view of the oncoming cars at the end of the drive, threatening to overwhelm my perennials.  And then the nasty posion ivy, the multiflora, the nettles.

There is usually a period of ease between these times, a period of calm wherein there is just enough vegetation to feel the world is a gentle place but not enough to feel as if things are out of control.   For me, that time is now.  Onions are beginning to poke out of the moist rich soil, and the first blossoms begin to open on the tomatoes.  The last frost was last night, and tomorrow I relocate my delicate seedlings into their permanent homes.  The lawn looks green, healthy and not too long.  I have to remember to take a deep breath and savor every moment before the deluge of verdancy I know will be coming.   Everything  is a mixed blessing in this delicate  balance we call life.

Kitchen Essentials and Venison Sausage

Eating locally and seasonally in Connecticut is a hard task unless you plan ahead.  Making things and storing them for future times is essential to a happy cook and a well-stocked kitchen.  In order to put up produce and meat, sauces and fruits, I have some essentials in my kitchen that I could not live without.  Below you will find a list of must-haves for preparing for leaner times. 

Freezer

I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetables, and fruit is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far better than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years.  It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months.  I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter months.  If you don’t have one, don’t want to incur the cost of a new one, there are several online sites where you might shop for a used one for much less.  So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.    

                Canning pot or Pressure cooker.

A canning pot is a lovely thing to have, and very useful for storing jellies, sauces, broth, fish, and some veggies.  Not all veggies are suitable for canning fresh, so we can mainly prepared foods, like chili and tomato sauces, sweet butters and jellies and cooked vegetables like sauerkraut.  We use ours most often during the fall months when we make and can sweets and sauces to give as gifts during the holidays.  We also jar hot sauces and pickles of all sorts, chilies, beans, corn and tomatoes.  If you lack a proper canning pot, take some time to look for one at your local thrift or consignment store, where they can often be picked up for a few dollars.  Without one, you can still make many canning recipes in a regular sturdy pot.

                Juicer

I love my juicer.  It was given to me by a dear friend who lived off the grid.  He had a generator for electricity, but every time he tried to juice he would blow a fuse.  When he parted with the juicer, he made me promise to make him juice anytime he came to visit, and even though he still lives at about 10,000 feet, deep in the mountains of Colorado, with no phone,  I’m still waiting to make good on my promise.  The juicer is a Champion, and very old and outdated.  It is essentially a big motor connected to a shaft that drives a shredder and some plastic implements to strain the juice, but it will juice anything.  I could put a potato in and get potato juice.  I use it for fresh fruit and veggie juice during the summer months, (carrot beet apple is my favorite) and in the fall I juice leftover kale and spinach, freeze the juice and add it to soups and stews during the winter to add flavor and green nutrients. 

                Dehydrator

Anyone can use their oven for a dehydrator, but it’s just so quick and easy to use one made for the purpose that this is on my list as well.  With the dehydrator there is no need to turn the produce, as it gets evenly dry in a much shorter time than using the oven.   We use ours to dry fruit for snacks, beef jerky, dried fish to be used in soups, and most especially mushrooms.  Dried and then frozen, mushrooms can be stored for years in the freezer, but they never make it that long.  Wild mushrooms are a treasure and  we hoard them in season and use them sparingly for the rest of the year.  I’m learning more and more about the wild world of fungi and I’m excited for a season of mushrooming this summer and fall. 

                Grinder/sausage maker

When you hunt or gather the majority of your own protein, having a grinder is a blessing.  Meatloaf, hamburgers, hash, and meatballs all require the meat to be finely ground.  The added benefit is, with a small attachment, ground meat can be stuffed into casing to make delicious sausage!  I love venison sausage, and many of our friends and family have come to love it as well.  It’s one of the things we give as gifts during the holidays and it is always well received.  My husband makes a garlic cheddar sausage that is mouth-wateringly good.  The recipe follows.

                Cheddar Garlic Venison Sausage

4 Lbs. Venison, ground fine

1 ¼ Lb. Pork fat, ground fine

8-10 cloves garlic, chopped fine

½   Lb. Cheddar cheese

2+ Tbsp. Crushed red pepper, depending on your spice tolerance

½ cup white wine

2 Tsp. Sugar

1+ Tbsp. coarse ground Black pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

5 feet medium sausage casing (you can get this from a butcher).

 Mix the fat and meat together and then mix in the remaining ingredients.  Mix by hand until everything is uniform.  Stuff the casings with the mixture into 4 to 5 inch lengths.  Allow to settle in the fridge for a day or two, to allow the flavors to blend.   Cook in water or stock, on a grill or pan fry over medium low heat.  These can be used like any sausage, served alone or with pasta, in a salad, or on sandwiches.  They freeze remarkably well.   Try substituting any game meat.  We made them with caribou once and they were just as delicious.