Hope and Gardening: spring planning

February and March may seem like the absolute doldrums for gardeners in the North East, but for me this is really where the fun begins.  Starting in mid January my daily run to the post is enhanced by the plethora of seed catalogs and gardener supply fliers that inundate the more mundane sampling of bills and offers of credit.  These magazines, filled with flawless, sparkling, brightly colored fruits and flowers not only bring the remembrance of springtime just when it seems like winter will never end, but spark the planning and scheming process that every gardener goes through each year.  Moreover, for me they offer not just ideas and choices of what to grow, but actual hope for the delights of spring, and desire for a bountiful garden, in much the same way that ads for fancy skin cream lure us in with the unattainable promise of youth and beauty.  I know it sounds foolish, but there it is.

This winter, when John Scheepers and Gurney’s and Burpee came to tempt me with their seductive photos, I threw them immediately into the recycle bin, and here’s why.  Last fall on my birthday I received a wonderful present from a girlfriend of mine.  It was a gardeners journal, a subscription to Heirloom Gardener, and a seed catalog from Baker Creek.  She knows me well.  I devoured the magazine.  I learned more about GMOs and gardening history in the US, and I vowed that never again would I plant a seed whose origin was questionable.  I saved the seed catalog for February.

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The decision to plant a non GMO garden was a big one for me.  While I profess that organic is best, I’m not above sprinkling my soil with a little Seven when I can’t get rid of those pesky ants around my eggplant.  Even thought I detest chain department stores and all they do to wreck local economy,  I’ve been known to buy a tomato plant at Home Depot on impulse. While I tout the values of a nutrient rich, homegrown local and balanced diet, I’m the first one to order pizza when I’m too tired to cook.  So Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m a hypocrite.  But now it’s time to step up to the plate.  Genetically modified food is bad. Bad for us nutritionally, bad for local economy and a just plain bad for the environment.  Get more information on this at www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more

When I plan my garden in the spring I start with a list of what I’d like to grow.  Then I make a map of my garden and, referring to last years map, add each thing where I feel it would grow best.  When I actually do the work my plan often changes, if, for instance, I bought more tomatoes than will fit in the allotted space.  Sometimes I cluster, other years I might mix it up, say putting the carrots in with the beets or planting every other tomato and pepper.  My garden is quite small, so I often cram.  Every year I plant some things from seed, like beets, and beans, and carrots, and some things from plants that I purchase, like tomatoes and squash and melon.  The only things I start from seed indoors myself are pepper plants and this mostly because I have more of a selection than I can find at the greenhouse.  Deciding to choose heirloom and non GMO plants means that I have to either find a source for heirloom plants, or grow them myself.  While there is a local CSA that I believe sells plants in the spring, I didn’t want to limit my choices, and since I have had some luck with peppers, I decided to go ahead and start my entire garden from seed.  That means all the tomatoes, melons, squash, eggplant, cucumber, spices, cabbage and peppers.  Yikes!

Last month I finally made my choices from the Bakers Creek Heirloom Seed Company catalog.  I highly recommend this company to anyone who is a vegetable fanatic.  Their selection is unbelievable and their knowledge extensive. Their website has tons of valuable information and it’s just fun to browse.   Check it out at www.rareseeds.com   After days and weeks of poring over the descriptions and photographs of exotic and divine vegetables (am I the only one who finds vegetables alluring?) I ordered 38 types of seeds.  10 types of tomato alone, with names like Green Zebra and Black Prince. Where I’ll put them is still a mystery.  I made a schedule by counting back in weeks from the average last frost date (May 20th).  I borrowed some growing lamps and purchased seed pots and starter mix.  I rearranged my bathroom and tub area to fit the seed trays.  I planted the onions and the eggplant.

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While I tell myself that it’s the best thing to do, I remain nervous about starting all the seeds myself.  I’m not a very technical person but I’m smart enough to know that if I was, I’d have a better chance of growing healthy plants.  There is a science to it that I have yet to figure out.  My policy of flying by the seat of my pants and hoping things work out for the best might not serve me so well in this instance.  If I were so inclined, I would spend some time figuring out optimal light cycles, temperatures, nitrogen mixes and hardening practices for different types of plants.  Then again, it’s just nature, after all, and there really is no stopping it.  The worst case scenario is that I have to source the plants after all.  It’s not like I’ll never eat another homegrown tomato if my seeds fail to thrive.  And there is hope!  Even though there is still 2 feet of snow on the ground, my 300 onions are already an inch tall.

I’d love to hear from anyone with any advice or expertise on starting plants indoors.  My set-up is not very complicated, but advice on light times, bulbs, best starter mix, or just about anything would be much appreciated.  Happy growing!

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Strawberry Fields Forever

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June is here and delights are beginning to come in from the garden.  Among the radish and peas, the lettuces and green onion are the strawberries, the most wonderful of all fruits and the one that really makes it feel like summer .  Of all the berries, the strawberries are the earliest and, in my opinion, the tastiest.  At least I say that until early July, when the blueberries are ripening, and then early august when we taste the delectable raspberries and blackberries.  But for now we indulge in the sweet, tangy, indescribably yummy strawberry.

I have a small berry patch that I often think takes up too much real estate in my tiny kitchen garden.  Most of the year it looks stringy and sad, almost as if the plants are dead or dying, but not so.   Come May, out come the shoots and flowers that, ever so agonizingly slowly, turn into hard green fruits and then ripen into luscious berries.  I have everbearing plants, which means they produce fruit all summer, although not as prolifically as they do in June.  Come August, they are growing wild and trying to climb down the sides of the raised beds and into the paths.  They are so hearty and vigorous they can root into the deep pine chips I use as mulch on the pathways.  Each year I cut back the runners and plant some back into the bed in the bare spaces, replace some older plants, and reluctantly throw out the rest.  They are so hearty, in fact, that one year I ripped them all up and, not able to throw them out, kept them in a bag in my garage.  Then, regretting my decision, I replanted half of them back into another bed, where they took, and bore berries the same year.

As hearty as they are, strawberries are a funny plant.  They only produce for a few years, and will shoot out runners that can overtake the garden rapidly.  They use an enormous amount of nutrients and therefore should be moved every 3 years or so to a different spot in the garden. They are best heavily mulched, which both keeps the berries out of the mud,and protects the crowns from cold.  They like water, but not too much, and must be in well draining soil.  Weather will affect the crop and determine ripening times; with warmth and abundant sunshine they ripen quickly, rain and clouds cause some delay.  Some varieties do well in containers, and are a good choice for those with not much space, but they must be watered regularly.

Besides eating them fresh on granola or yogurt, one of our favorite things to do with berries is to make ice cream.  Following is a simple and delicious recipe that can’t be beat.  Image

1 pint fresh berries

1 1/2 cups cream, divided

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

Wash and crush the berries with a potato masher until pulpy.

Heat 1 cup cream in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form on the sides of the pan.

Mix together egg yolks 1/2 cup cream, and sugar in a medium bowl

Add the hot cream to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, and then return the mixture to the pan.  Over medium low heat, whisk the mixture until it becomes thickened, 5-10 minutes.  DO NOT BOIL.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.

When custard is cool, add to an ice cream churn and follow the manufacturer’s directions.  YUM!

Grilled Fresh trout with onions

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As anyone who lives in the North East knows, a few days ago the weather was unbearably hot and humid.  Very unusual for May and, to tell you the truth, it was making me a bit crabby.  With the hot breath of the sun bearing down on us for so long the boys and I decided to see if our favorite neighbor had opened their pool, but no luck.  It was still sealed up tight, with a thick layer of leaves to top it off.  Discouraged, we headed back home, grumbling and moaning, until we remembered our favorite weekday watering hole.  That is not to say our favorite drinking location, but our best dipping pool and trout sanctuary.  We turned the truck around and headed the few miles down the road to Kent Falls.

Kent Falls is a State Park in northern Kent that in the summer is a very popular picnic spot.  In fact it is the most visited State Park in Connecticut, due in part to the fact that it is so very accessible.   It is right off the state road and has lots of parking, a stream and a wide open field for picnicking.  It’s greatest attraction, however, is an incredibly beautiful series of waterfalls that drop steeply into delectably clear pools perfect for bathing.  The water is cold, sparkling and divine.  There are stairs beside the falls that lead up to the top, with a wire fence that declares in multiple places along the route in very clear language “NO SWIMMING”.  Swimming is permitted, although not legally sanctioned, in the two pools nearest the bottom, and on the average summer weekend day the pool is filled to overflowing with frolicking children and their parents splashing around in the cold water.

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This is usually not a problem for us, as we almost never go on the weekends.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day the park charges a fee to enter on Saturday and Sunday, so we typically stick to afternoons during the week.   On some occasions, though, we have arrived at the park to find the pool occupied with swimmers, and while my children aren’t averse to swimming, they are first and foremost fishermen.  Kent Falls is not a swimming hole but a designated trout park dedicated to fishermen like my boys, so say the park rules.  This become a problem for us when we have come to fish and others want to swim.  We are usually in the minority.  For many years I have counseled the boys about the necessity to work together with others and to compromise, but how do you explain to a child that they can’t do what they want because others are breaking the rules.  How do you explain that if LOTS of people are breaking the rules, than they have the priority?  It doesn’t seem right.  But then again, if you had driven 2 hours to see the falls, and your children were frolicking in the water with a dozen others, and two boys came with rods and told everyone to clear out because they wanted to fish and the law was on their side, how would you feel?  It is a delicate situation and one we try to avoid.

Regardless of that ethical dilemma, when we arrived at the Falls that day, no one was in the pool, and I got to swim in the wonderfully cold water and lower my  temperature and irritability level at the same time while the boys caught minnows in the stream to use as bait.  While I knit in the shade, they proceeded to catch several beautiful trout in a matter of minutes.  We kept three, all about 13″, thanking them for their lives and cleaning them in the bushes.  Below you will find how I prepared them.

Fresh Trout with Onions. 

3 or more fresh whole trout

salt and pepper

olive oil

1 large onion

1 tbs capers

1/4 cup white wine

1 large lemon

After cleaning the trout, salt the inside flesh to taste.  Wrap each trout in tinfoil and set the grill to medium low.  Place each trout on the grill and cook for about 6 minutes a side.

Meanwhile slice onion in half and into thin strips.  Saute the onions in olive oil until sort and beginning to brown.  Squeeze the lemon onto the onions, add the white wine and the capers and saute until the liquid has evaporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the trout from the grill and open the tinfoil packets.  With a fork gently lift off the skin of the trout and remove the flesh from the bones.  The flesh should be flaky. Place on a platter and top with the onions.  Serve and enjoy!

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Boozing in the Garden

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As much as I like my cocktail hour, I’m not talking about me here!  I’m talking about slugs, and how they love beer.  I went through two bottles last night alone filling up my little plastic dishes in order to attract those nasty little slimers that sneak around and gobble up anything they can climb on.  They had gotten into my cabbage, my strawberries, my beets and peas, my radishes.  All those telltale blemishes on my delicate veggies!  If you don’t put a stop to them, they multiply, but you never notice cause they are hard to see and mostly come out at night or in the rain. They don’t like direct sunlight.  But suddenly they are everywhere and most of the vegetables have either holes in their leaves or pieces gnawed out of the fruits.  Fortunately, there is a simple way to knock them out, literally.  Just place some shallow dishes of beer around the garden and the slugs flock to them, suck up that frothy concoction and pass out, drowning themselves.  You don’t even need good beer; save the microbrew for yourself and pick up a six pack of PBR for the slugs.  They aren’t choosy when it comes to drinking.

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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

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.

Pig in a…Bucket?

ImageWhen I was just a girl, maybe ten years old, one spring evening my dad came home with three tiny pink piglets .  We had known they were coming; we had spent the previous weekend renovating our old play house for them to live in.  The playhouse, two stories with a rooftop deck and swing set, had to be essentially chopped in half with a chainsaw to house the little squirmers.   As per the “Law of Ed”,  wherein if one nail is good than two are better, ten being best, the thing had been built like a fortress.  We put the modified house on sledges so we could drag it around with the tractor if they made too much of a mess of it.   It turned out to be quite a nice setup for the piglets.  They had an old pile of blankets in a corner and a nice window, with a ramp up to the door for their tiny legs.  We named them sweet things like Daisy and Maisy and Sunshine.  We loved them.  They were so smart and cute and….pink!

My mother had protested the acquisition of three pigs, saying one pig would be plenty for a family of four.  My father claimed at the time, and I still believe this even if it isn’t true, that pigs need to be in groups of three.  He explained that one pig alone thinks it doesn’t exist  and will not thrive.  Two pigs together look at each other and, seeing one pig, think they are alone and will not thrive.  With three, a pig can look at the other two and say to himself  “that’s me, and I’m in good company”, and they happily go about the business of getting enormous.

And that is exactly what they do.  The tiny pink wigglers who we carried around in our arms and fed with bottles of warm milk grew and grew.  Their tiny pink mouths got teeth.  And they learned how to use them.  In just a few short months the baby pigs went from about 20 pounds to about 400.  No lie.  And in less time than that they became mean.  Mean, mean, mean.

At 10, there was a short time when I was able to hold my own with the pigs, but after a time they could out run and out bite me, not to mention out number me.  Of course I was the one in charge of feeding them.  I can hear my father’s chuckle as he mutters something about “character building” .  Well, those pigs got the best of me.  They were kept in a large area fenced in with a low strand of electric wire.  Pigs are very smart, but the one thing pigs can’t do is jump, so a wire about 18″ off the ground is enough to keep them in place.   They ate just about anything; I think we fed them eggshells, along with any other kitchen scraps we threw away.  It was all mixed in with a bucket of ground corn.  Truly it was slop, and my job was to hop over the wire, run to the trough, dump in the slop,  turn tail and make it back over the wire before they could try to knock me down and bite me.  And if luck was with me, I’d clear the wire without getting a zap! At least that’s how I remember it.  I hated the pigs!

Then one crisp fall afternoon I came home from school and heard a curious sound.  It was a beeping sound coming from the back yard.  Beep, Beep, Beep.  It went on and on and on.  Beep Beep Beep.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was driving me crazy.  I wandered around the barn and the yard and the pond until I finally came to what was making that awful beeping sound.  It was behind the pig house, a backhoe, driving in reverse.  And the backhoe had a chain hanging from it’s scoop that was going down to a steaming 50 gallon bucket.  As I watched, the scoop lifted, and out of the bucket came…. Daisy?  Sunshine?  I couldn’t tell.  It was horrible.  The sight of that huge porcine body suspended over the bucket was absolutely shocking to me, and I will forever associate the sound of a backhoe in reverse with death.

As much as I hated those evil pigs, and had prayed for their immediate demise, I was truly astonished and saddened to see on of them actually dead.  I vowed never to consume even a mouthful of their flesh, even out of spite.

Until, of course, my father introduced me to thick cut home cured maple bacon.  Then I got my revenge.

Tonight we are having Roast Pork Loin with Potatoes.  The pork has been rubbed with a mixture of 1/2 cup agave, 3 tbs honey Dijon, 1 tbs thyme and 1 tbs black pepper.  Rub the pork with half the mixture and roast for 1 hour at 300 F.  Add 3 large cut potatoes dressed with salt, pepper and olive oil to the pan, flip the roast and rub with the rest of the mixture.  Roast about another 45 minutes, or until the internal temp is about 150 F.  Enjoy with a green salad, or steamed kale or spinach.

Cattails. Yum!

I wonder how many people have said or thought that in the last 50 or 100 years.  Not many, I’d bet, but perhaps I’m wrong.  I’d like to be pleasantly surprised and find that it’s more than I think.  I know there is a semi-secretive but emerging group of wild food specialists out there, but I thought they stayed mostly to mushrooms. 

Speaking of pleasantly surprised, I was after my recent cattail adventure. 

Our pond is overrun with cattails, and up to a few days ago I looked on them with disapproval mingled with despair.  Our pond wants to be a swamp again, and the cattails are the first determined step it is taking to revert to its natural state.  In the past we have used a backhoe to dig them out when they got to be too abundant, and on occasion my husband will don full waders and attack them with hoe and shovel, but it seems to be a futile attempt: they continue to populate at an alarming rate.  Well, yesterday I got my revenge.  I went out to the pond, sharp knife in hand, and cut all the new shoots just emerging from the shallows.  I peeled off the outer green stalk, took them home and ATE THEM!  HAHAHAHA!Image

The surprising thing was that they were actually good.  Really.  Good. 

Cattails can be great fun, especially for kids.  Bashing each other with the cigar-like heads and creating a haze of cattail spores is a treasured summer pastime for those with ponds nearby.  The heads can also be used as impromptu torches.  They smoke wildly and make a terrific mess, but it’s still fun.  Then recently I was killing time reading a book called Foraging New England by Tom Seymour and learned that cattails are edible.  I thought I’d give it a try. 

Eating something entirely new can be a daunting experience.  For a few minutes after I ate them, I thought I might get a stomach ache.  Not because I felt funny, but because they were so entirely different.  If someone had served them to me on china and called them something fancy, I might have relished them right off the bat, but plucking them out of the mud and scraping off the tough outer layer, then slicing them on a salad, made me a bit skeptical of their authenticity as food.  I tried to remember the first time I had had endives, or leeks, as they have a similar flavor, but I couldn’t come up with anything.  Then I remembered trying fiddlehead ferns for the first time.  Earthy, delicate and entirely delicious, fiddleheads are one of those strange spring delights that my children anticipate, harvest, cook and serve to us each year.  Finally, after not getting sick, and realizing they tasted pretty good,  I decided that they might have a place in my repertoire of “wild things I eat.”

First I tried them raw.  As I had been thinking about endive, I started there, and made a salad with celery, Bibb lettuce, endive, and sliced cattails.  For protein I added some chopped grilled salmon and some bacon, and topped it with a crumble of chevre and pine nits.  It was entirely delicious.Image

Then I decided to try them cooked.  Everything (in my opinion)  goes with eggs, so I decided on an onion and cattail scramble, served with salt, pepper, and a dash of hot sauce.  (My favorite is homemade, but Cholula is a good store-bought second).  That was a success. The cattails held up well, and didn’t get mushy as I feared.  Next time I’ll try sautéed fennel and cattails with garlic cream sauce as a side.  I even served them to a young friend of my son in a salad and he gobbled them up, not even noticing they were there. Image

 

If you have any nutrition information for cattails, or any tried and true recipes, I would love to hear about them! 

What’s for dinner in April?

It’s all well and good to say you eat locally in August, when the bounty of the harvest is just falling out of the garden, but when the cool winds blow through the months of spring, and nary a sprout is available at your local farmers market, if it is even open, what do you eat then?  Daffodils?  Grass?  Here I’ll give you some examples of what truly is available that fits the bill for Local, Seasonal, Sustainable, and you can feel good about what you put on the table.

Spring is the season for cod fishing, and if you live on the Atlantic shore, or anywhere in the North East, fish caught off the Connecticut Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts are considered local, especially if you catch it yourself!  “What?!” You ask?  Relax.  It’s easier than you think.  Many charter boats go out regularly for cod, and provide you with the bait, tackle and knowledge to fish on your own.  A Google search will help you find one nearest you and the times and dates they fish.  The best part is you might come home with many pounds of cod for the freezer or dehydrator, and with luck you’ll have enough for many suppers to come.  Cod freezes remarkable well, and as it is a firm fish, holds its texture and flavor even through vigorous cooking techniques such as stews and casseroles. Try fresh sauteed cod with saffron risotto, or perhaps baked cod with cream, leeks (you might find leeks overwintered) and new spring green onions.  If you look for cod in the supermarket, ask if it is caught locally, and with rod and reel (line caught).

It’s also turkey season in Connecticut, and many a hunter is anxiously awaiting opening day.  This year my husband has to miss the beginning of the season, and my son, an avid pre-hunter, has asked me to take him out.  Having never turkey hunted before, this is somewhat of a daunting request.  We’ll see how it actually goes.  It would be a miracle if I actually got a spring turkey.  Other good protein sources would be chicken, venison, grass fed local beef and rabbit.  The chickens are starting to lay again with the warmer and longer days, so eggs are always a good choice.  A nice quiche is a perfect light spring meal, especially with sauteed garlic scapes.  Scrambled eggs with local goat cheese, roasted garlic and baby spinach would be delicious.

As for dry goods and staples, this morning I had polenta made from cornmeal purchased from Young Farm in East Granby Ct.  It is called Canada yellow flint cornmeal, and it is stone ground the traditional way.  The corn it comes from is New England open pollinated heirloom variety flint, an “antique” corn that has much higher nutritional value than corn harvested with conventional methods as per agri-business in the Midwest.  Young farm is an exceptional company that produces delicious and nutritious, not to mention sustainable and morally acceptable corn and wheat products, as well as vegetables.  Lean more about Young Farm here.  http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=2752#profile.  The polenta, with a spot of honey and some of last year’s frozen blueberries, was a fabulous start to the day. We eat it with salt, pepper and butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan when we want something savory instead of sweet.

“Vegetables?”, you ask. Not many, to be sure, but some.  I have started a variety of lettuce in my bathtub, so I can add some micro-greens to whatever organic lettuce I buy at the market.  I have had basil growing in pots since January and that always adds a bright spring flavor to any dish.   Kale seems to be always available, as it lasts throughout the winter.  Cabbage and sweet potatoes, carrots and onions are also over-winterers in the root cellar.  Garlic scapes are coming out of the ground now and it’s almost time for the luscious asparagus shoots, the star of spring.  I have frozen peas and spinach and tomatoes from last year’s harvest and even some acorn and butternut squash.  A lovely squash, kale or spinach soup with some flat bread makes a lovely spring meal. IMAG0262.jpg

As for fruit, we have our trusty freezer with its dwindling supplies of frozen blueberries, peaches and strawberries.  Not fresh, but still great for smoothies and the occasional pie.  I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetable, and fruits is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far more 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 and spring months.  If you don’t have one, or can’t afford a new one, there are several on-line 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.

Last night we had grilled marinated venison with sauteed onions.  It was simple, and simply delicious.   I used a shoulder roast and just sliced it into half inch steaks, mixed it with salt, pepper, olive oil and good balsamic vinegar, left it in the fridge of a few hours and grilled it over high heat.  Quick and easy.IMAG0260.jpg

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Contrary to popular myth, venison, if well treated and well prepared, is neither gamy nor tough.  While it has an unmistakable rich flavor altogether different than beef, it is a succulent and delicious addition to our menu.  Miss-treated it can be an awful chore to eat, and I am reluctant to eat venison unless I personally know the hunter and the manner in which it was killed and dressed. More about venison in particular and hunting in general later.  Happy spring!

The speed of life: how we relate to our food.

Time sure flies, doesn’t it?  How did I get this old?  I look in the mirror and am amazed that inside I still feel  twenty six, but outside I look every bit of my forty (uh…) ish years.  And it keeps getting faster and faster.  I’ve satisfactorily explained this phenomenon to myself in terms of a mathematical theory involving ratios. It works like this. The amount of time we have been alive is directly proportional to the speed of time.   So in my head I understand it, but in my heart it’s still a mystery.  Why does time fly?  Why can’t I slow it down?

It seems to get worse the older I get.  This should be obvious as per my theory, but I believe it is also related to our new love/hate relationship with technology.  I mean, one hundred years ago, and for ages before that, when you needed to speak to someone who lived far away, you wrote them a letter.  And then you waited hopefully until they responded by mail to hear their reply.  Often the mail was at the whim of weather or war, and depending on how far away they were, you might wait weeks or months to hear from them.  Fifty years ago you picked up the party line and politely asked the operator to connect you through to whomever you were trying to reach, and hoped that Mrs. Miller from down the street  was not only not using the phone, but that she wouldn’t listen in on  your conversation.  And then you waited till they came to the phone.  Now what?  If someone doesn’t respond to your text within a few minutes, it’s not only bad form, but it’s highly irritating.  You might even feel like you are being ignored. How dare they!  Humph!

Technology has cracked our world open and united us in ways we haven’t begun to understand.  We have more immediate access to anything on the planet than ever before in the history of mankind.  Information, ideas and products are all at our fingertips in seconds, or in our homes within a matter of days.  This brings with it a host of reactions; socially, biologically, functionally, economically and emotionally.  Good for us, on many levels, but bad for us, I think, in more ways than one.

The way in which it concerns me, and what I attempt to address, is the way in which we are related to our food.  What and how we eat has changed more in the last one hundred years than it has changed in the last 5 million years.  And that is affecting who we are, what we do and how we feel.  It would be absurd to assume that biological evolution can keep up with the speed of technological evolution.  Eighty five million years of walking upright and we are essentially the same size and shape.  We eat, we poop, and our organs function in much the same way.  Yet in only 30 years our sociological environment has changed so fast that our bodies can’t keep up.   We are already learning that listening to noise with ear buds can alter the development of the growing ear drum, and that typing on a computer keyboard for hours a day can destroy the finely made insides of the carpel tunnels in our wrists.  We know that spending too much time looking at small print materials will negatively affect the shape of our eyeballs and that breathing particulates from certain manmade toxins will cause lumps to grow in our lungs.  The way we relate to our environment, as a culture, is harming us.  And yet we continue to assume that all food is good food, and the more the better.

The government isn’t helping us, either.  The Food and Drug Administration has taken on the role of dietary counselor for the nation, and they seem to be the last ones to get on board with healthy trends.  While they are currently advocating more whole grains and lower fat, which is good on some levels, they refuse to address the issues of where our food comes from, what is hidden in it, and how it was produced.

I am not a doctor, a nutritionist or even a dietitian, and lay claim to no professional insight into the working of human metabolism, agribusiness, food economics or any other thing.   My techniques, theories and insights are based on common sense and basic civic morality, as well as my experience cooking with whole, natural and healthful foods.  This blog is an introduction to moral, healthful eating and a place to start on the journey to become responsible for the things we put in our mouths.

There are plenty of very detailed books that explain how sugars, proteins and carbohydrates work in the body, describe which nutrients are best for us and why.  There are insightful books that explain in detail the multitude of reasons we should eat mostly food from our own area.   There are many books and documentaries that show how and why the American meat industry is bad for America, bad for Americans and downright disgusting and immoral.   All of these should be explored and internalized when choosing a method for your style of eating.   I hope here to lend support to a method that is based on the principles of eating locally, eating seasonally, and therefore living sustainably.  Look for more about these issues, and recipes that support them,  in the weeks that follow.