Sunday, September 02, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Ten

Hard to believe this is the last week of One Local Summer. Not only has local eating sustained us this summer, posting about our meals has also sustained this blog. With a new baby in the house, I must admit my garden is so overgrown and neglected, it's far from blog-worthy. Without our local meals, this blog would have gone the way of our garden.

More than material for blogging, we've enjoyed getting to know our local foodshed. Though the challenge may end here, we've got the know-how we need to keep eating locally, at least on some level. And the incentive, too, because meals made from mostly local ingredients are by far the tastiest.

So, for our final meal I made a simple frittata. All summer long I was hoping to get my hands on some local eggs. My sister, who lives in a more farm-friendly part of the state, came through for us. And I must say, having never tasted a farm-fresh egg before... wow.

With squash from our CSA, basil grown in our own back yard and locally made mozzarella we were able to cobble together a simple, yet delicious meal.

Get a taste of what others are cooking up locally. . .

Sunday, August 19, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Eight

We've been impatiently waiting for our tomatoes to ripen. Since we don't have a lot of space to dedicate to vegetable gardening, we have to be very selective about what we grow. This year we decided to specialize; we planted only tomatoes. And this week we were finally able to enjoy our first harvest. The beauty of a fresh-from-the-vine tomato is that it requires so little fuss. Perfect for us as our newborn requires much fuss.

Our CSA provided the basil, garlic and onions. The pasta was locally made. And the tomatoes are all ours. It simply doesn't get any better than fresh sauce.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Seven

This is actually our meal from week six. The explanation for my delayed post and lack of week-seven meal will follow. First let me start with the food. We were pleased to see that we were able to "localize" one of our favorite pork recipes. The chops (courtesy of Simply Grazin' Farm again) are rubbed with (non-local) fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Grilled. Then served with a vinaigrette made from pureed green onions, honey, sage, lemon juice and olive oil. Aside from the lemon juice and olive oil, all the other ingredients were Jersey fresh. Patty pan squash and red potatoes from our CSA rounded out the meal.

This was a meal that turned out to be the calm before the storm. Just a few hours after enjoying it, I proceeded to go into labor (one week early!). Our baby daughter was born the next evening. Our new life hasn't much room for blogging let alone full-on local meals. However, we're still enjoying as much fresh-from the farm produce as we can, when we can find the time to stop and eat!

Get a taste of what others are cooking up locally. . .

Gone Fishing

Metaphorically speaking.
With our first tomato harvest in, I'm happily plotting a week's worth of meals from tomato sandwiches to fresh-from-the-vine sauce spiked with basil to whatever else we dream up.
Hard to believe we went from saving seeds from last year's harvest to planting seeds in the greenhouse to transplanting seedlings to the garden to this.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Five

The Mister gets all the credit for this week's contribution: our variation on eggplant parmesan. With local tomatoes, eggplant and onions readily available, it all came together fairly easily. The grocery store stocks locally made fresh mozzarella and rolls. The CSA is continuing to keep us in salad greens. And we're more than happy to take full advantage of all the Jersey corn that's out there right now.

Get a taste of what others are cooking up locally. . .

Sunday, July 22, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Four

A trip to our old neighborhood in Brooklyn enabled us to stock up on pasta from one of our favorite Italian specialty shops, Caputo's. Much of what they sell they make themselves, and for us it's always worth the trip back. As far as the crow flies, it's a mere 12 miles away. Of course those can be 12 very traffic-clogged miles. Fortunately this time around it was a breeze.

We also decided it was time to break out the pasture-fed steak we had been storing in our freezer. Simply Grazin' Farm, our local meat source, specializes in pasture-fed beef and though we've had some experience with it, we're still very green when it comes the preparation of this particular kind of beef. As opposed to the corn-fed, industrialized beef found in most grocery stores, pasture-fed beef is much leaner and not as marbled. That fat and marbling benefits the steak as it cooks, tenderizing it and giving it moisture. So when cooking a pasture-fed steak, you got to work fast and hot. The meat basically gets seared over high heat so that the flavor is preserved and the texture isn't compromised by over-cooking. I'm happy to report that the Mister did an expert job at the grill. This steak was truly one of the best I've ever tasted. . .
The pasta was tossed with local zucchini, spring onions and garlic scapes from our CSA and some home-grown herbs. The salad came courtesy of our CSA.

Green Thumb Sunday

It's great when our plants can look pretty or produce something tasty and edible. It's a further bonus if they can help us in our quest for more privacy. It's in fact a rare thing when one plant is able to deliver on all three, so we're particularly pleased with our sunflowers this year. They're gorgeous. They'll produce a wealth of tasty seeds. And instead of my neighbor's house, we get to look out on this...

Visit more gardens. . .

Progress Report: Tomatoes

They're definitely getting bigger. The question is when will they start getting riper and redder? They're on their way for sure, but it's hard not to be impatient. We're considering stripping some of the leaves to allow more light to filter in. Has anyone out there had any success with that technique?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Three

This week's contribution was enjoyed on Friday. Local zucchini has been abundant lately, so once again we took full advantage. We sautéed it up with some of our own home-grown basil.

As for the centerpiece of the meal, we opted for chicken on the grill again. This time around, the bird came from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We grilled it, then seasoned it with our own rosemary along with some baby onions from our CSA. The mushroom/amaranth combo we cooked up for our first meal definitely bore repeating, especially since our CSA has been keeping us in amaranth. The mushrooms again came from Pennsylvania. A salad of CSA lettuce rounded it all out. . .

One of the challenges of eating locally for me has been to achieve variety when most of the ingredients I'm working with are the same. So far this hasn't been a problem as we're always happy to repeat a successful meal, but at the same time I'd love to be able to experiment more. Our particular "foodshed" is somewhat limited. Ironic for the Garden State, no doubt. As the season wears on, I'm sure I'll get my hands on a greater variety of produce. I'm hoping for enough to be able to make a meat-free meal. At the moment, I just don't have enough stuff to work with to feel I can produce a wholly substantial vegetarian meal.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Dahlias for Dummies

Last October I dutifully dug up our dahlia tubers with the intention of wintering them over in our basement. I wasn't sure this would work. For one thing, I had started these particular dahlias from seed. My knowledge of botany is scant at best, so I was having a hard time imagining how a plant I generated from a seed ultimately develops a tuber. But when the time came, I dug them up and was happy to see that in the end, I had tubers.

So what remained to be seen was that if I wintered them over would I, in the end, have dahlias again.

There was much I could have done to see to the success of my dahlias– powders and treatments I could have used to prevent rot and mildew, etc. But once they went in the basement, I promptly forgot about them.

Fortunately, come the spring, I remembered them again. The tubers looked a little dessicated, but for the most part, none the worse for wear. A few were sprouting even. So I planted them and hoped for the best.

And I'm happy to report that my blooms are taller, fuller and more plentiful than they were last year. I'll definitely be digging up those tubers again. And I might even work a little harder at ensuring their comfort through their long winter in the basement.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

One Local Summer: Week Two

This week we decided to dedicate our 4th of July dinner to the One Local Summer challenge. A rather cool and grey day, the holiday lacked its usual dog-days-of-summer appeal. Our menu was likewise not in the typical Independence Day vein, though it was quite tasty just the same.

We had steamed greens, mostly courtesy of our CSA. . .
A mix of dandelion, kale and beet greens.

Our grocery store now features local produce which is helping us supplement our CSA share. There we scored some beets whose greens were steamed while the rest was simmered with non-local couscous. . .

The veggies accompanied pork chops from our local meat source. We seasoned the chops with herbs from our own garden, plus baby onions from the CSA.

I'm lacking local sources for dairy and grains, though I do think I'll be able to get some eggs soon which will enable me to broaden our options a bit. Cheese would also be helpful. For next week's meal, I'm hoping to get my hands on some local seafood. We'll see.

Friday, July 06, 2007

It's a Jungle Out There. . .

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were transplanting our tomato seedlings, taking care to strip the lower leaves and bury the stems so that we'd have strong, stable plants.

And now, just a little more than a month later, it's a jungle out there. . .

We took some time this weekend to remove the lower leaves, pluck out any suckers and secure each plant to its stake. It's great to see just how similar as well as dissimilar each variety is. Some you can't tell apart at all. Whereas others, like the Ferris Wheel, are quite different. More gnarled and vine-like in its growth, this pink heirloom seems to have retained much of its wildness.

Anyway, the most exciting part of it all is that we've already got some of these. . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

One Local Summer: Week One

This is the second year that Liz over at Pocket Farm has hosted the One Local Summer challenge. Participants endeavor to create one meal per week comprised of as many local ingredients as they can get their hands on. I watched from the sidelines last year and am looking forward to joining in this year.

Fortunately, we already had a source for local meat. . .

Simply Grazin' Farm raises organic, grass-fed cattle in addition to pigs and chickens.

Our primary veggie source this summer will be our CSA, Upper Meadows Farm. For our first OLS contribution, our farm share provided the salad in addition to many of the herbs used in the preparation. I also supplemented with herbs grown in our own backyard.

Nearby Pennsylvania is known for its mushrooms which our local grocery store carries. So we sautéed some with a handful of amaranth leaves from the farm. This was our first experience with amaranth leaves, and we were quite pleased with this particular preparation.

We rounded out the meal with gnocchi. The gnocchi was made by an Italian specialty shop from the Bronx. I can't really vouch for where they source their ingredients (still beats imported, I guess). I tossed the pasta with brown butter and home-grown sage.

So, all together it made for one tasty, low-mileage meal...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

Going Native

Often seen "beautifying" highways, yarrow is known for attracting more than just eighteen-wheelers. A native species in my region, butterflies seem to like it, too.

Visit more gardens. . .

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

Widow's Walk

I picked up this geranium at our town's garden club plant sale. It's known as Mourning Widow or Phaeum, a rather grim moniker indeed. Though when compared to its cheery, window-box cousins, this one does seem a bit more serious.

Visit more gardens. . .

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Roses Make Good Neighbors

When we first moved into our house over 2 years ago we had grand plans for the yard. Mainly we wanted to create an oasis. After years of apartment living, we were ready for our own slice of the great outdoors. Our particular property presented two challenges. One was square footage. The other, privacy. We were lacking for both. After some scheming we came up with a garden plan that allowed for flower beds and veggie gardens, a patio and trellises heavy with roses to shield us from the neighbors. There'd be no grass left to mow. Now as of today, though we haven't achieved everything just yet (there's still grass to mow), we have managed a lot of what was in that initial scheme: there are flowers and vegetables, we've got a patio and yes, we even have roses.

The roses were among our first purchases. Of all the options for creating a "living wall," roses seemed the most appealing. Perhaps this was also testament to how little we knew about gardening and flowers in general. Roses are like the pizza of the botanical world. Ubiquitous in every sense.

Now having gotten my hands dirty with this whole gardening thing, I still can't say that I regret our decision to go with roses. Sure I've since become
acquainted with flowers and vines that are more exotic, less typical. But the roses are working. They keep coming back, stronger and more hearty than before. That's enough for me. And what I really like about our roses is that as they afford us our much needed privacy, they're likewise giving our neighbors something to enjoy as well. That beats a wall or fence any day.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

You Say Tomato. . .

OK. The lettuce is out. We've got tons in the fridge which we've been feasting on all week. So now the tomatoes are in. . .

24 plants total counting those we put in containers. And I've got seedlings to spare still. I suspect we planted them a little too close together, but I haven't the discipline yet to plant less. Instead I want to give every seedling its fighting chance for fear I won't have anything to show for it in the end. With experience I suppose I'll develop the ability to put the plants' needs ahead of my own!

Anyway, we tried a technique recommended to us by the Mister's uncle. We stripped each seedling of its lower leaves, then submerged most of the stem in the soil, and rather than pointed downwards, we curved the stem sidewards. The result is a rather short tomato plant.

However, by burying the majority of the stripped stem, you're encouraging roots to sprout from the nodes of the removed leaves. By orienting the stem sidewards the plant is also given a more stable root foundation which should help it later when it's (fingers crossed) laden with plump, juicy, beautiful tomatoes. We shall see. One important thing to remember is which direction you orient your stem. If you find yourself staking the tomatoes later in the season you don't want to wind up puncturing your plant. We oriented them all in the same direction and even staked them now to be doubly sure.

Here's what we planted...

Roma Plum Tomatoes from seeds I saved last year.
Cuor di Bue from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. An Italian red that's great for sauces.
Ferris Wheel from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A pink heirloom with a "fantastic, sweet flavor."
Green Zebra from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. "Sweet with a sharp bite."

As an aside, we used organic soil, then tossed in a few bags of manure/hummus for good measure. The red stuff you're seeing is cayenne. This has proven to be an effective pest deterrent.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

Worth the Wait

I direct-sowed these lupine plants two years ago, and these are my very first blooms. Last year I had quite an impressive display of foliage, but nothing more. I had been wondering if I was going to need to relocate them. However, they came back with such force this spring, that I felt pretty sure that this would be the year.

Visit more gardens. . .

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Backyard Salad

I present to you our first home-grown salad of the season. We can't vouch for the dash of olive oil or squeeze of lemon. But we can take full credit for the greens: mesclun and turnip tops. We're hoping to harvest a few more bowlfuls including some spinach, radicchio and beet greens before we have to make room for the tomatoes. Unfortunately space is our biggest restraint; we're only able to dedicate a mere 2' x 14' bed to this endeavor. Even still, I'll take a few weeks worth of home-grown salad over grass any day.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

It seems a little strange to highlight something I never intended to grow. However, these cropped up all over this week, and I am a bit fascinated by them. Perhaps it's the whole Alice in Wonderland thing. Or that mushrooms are one of the few foods one can still forage for (no worries, you won't find these particular specimens on our dinner table).

Anyway, I suspect we're experiencing a bumper crop of mushrooms because I'm still getting the hang of our soaker hoses. They almost make watering too easy. After turning them on one early morning, it was well into the afternoon before I remembered I had never turned them off. Of course at that point I was in my office, tucked away in a high-rise, a healthy train ride from the spigot in question. If only there was a wily caterpillar I could have called on. Fortunately a neighbor was able to come to the rescue.

Visit more gardens. . .

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Shopping Spree

Recently over at A Study in Contrasts, BLACKSWAMP_GIRL posed an interesting question about shopping carts and what they revealed about the shopper. Back from my own expedition, I gave her question some thought. Here's my "cart". . .

This was after a day at Well-Sweep Herb Farm in Port Murray, NJ with my sister. In addition to herbs, they grow a wide variety of perennials and some annuals, too. As I'm still getting the hang of this gardening thing, I appreciated their highly organized, well-signed gardens where visitors can wander prior to making selections. That was an education in and of itself.

The herbs I purchased probably say very little about me, save that I'm not yet ready to invest in culinary escapades. Though they had an impressive selection of herb varieties, I decided that I'd rather have the basics on hand as those are the herbs I see myself getting the most use out of: basil, rosemary, sage and thyme. There was a no-bolt cilantro that was tempting me, but I resisted as my space is limited. I do see myself someday tracking down more obscure herb varieties with very specific recipes in mind. For now, having herbs that flourish through the season and are always on on the ready are enough for me. As I said, I'm still very new at this!

I am pretty excited about the perennials I purchased: lungwort, pasque flower and sedum. I came wanting to pick up some sedum after having spied some in my neighbors' gardens. I was particularly impressed by its longevity, carrying on into autumn even. The lungwort and pasque flower were totally new to me. I love the lungwort's funky, spotted leaves and shade-friendly flowers. The pasque flower has equally wild foliage, in this case sort of silvery and fern-like, and a great, jagged, cup-shape blossom. If I was a little conservative in my herb selections, I at least feel I made up for it with my perennials.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Seeds Worth Saving

Looks like my plum tomatoes will be back for an encore performance. . .

I'm quite happy to report that thus far the seed-saving experiment is a success. The seeds I collected willy-nilly and the seeds I lovingly soaked and fermented seem to be neck and neck. This is sort of interesting to me because as I understood it, tomato seeds need to ferment in order to ultimately germinate. And it seems as if we've got no problems there, regardless how the seeds were initially handled. In the end, I'm sure it's worth the extra effort to ferment the seeds, if nothing more than as added precaution. Besides, gardeners have always considered extra effort a fair price for the sublime sweetness of a home-grown tomato.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

A Star is Born

This star of Bethlehem plant was given to me 2 years ago by the Mister's aunt. She's an avid gardener and has been kind enough to share her plants with us over the course of our relatively short gardening career. I could never get this one to bloom. Return it did last year, but blossom it did not. This year it was moved to make way for a new oak leaf hydrangea. Well, it seems that made all the difference.

Visit more gardens. . .

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Brussel Sprouts à la Cayenne

Our little veggie patch is in full gear right now. We jammed it full of spinach, turnips, beets, radicchio, mesclun mix and brussel sprouts. The sprouts were started in the greenhouse so they have a leg up on the rest. Still, the others are humming along quite nicely, and I expect we'll be harvesting greens in no time.

This weekend I armed myself with cayenne pepper and gave the veggie patch a good seasoning. Deer aren't the issue in my neck of the "woods." Instead, we battle stray cats. From what I hear, they're not ones for spice. Let's hope it's so. Does anyone else have any suggestions for keeping strays at bay?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday

After wintering in the balmy climes of the community greenhouse, our geranium is refreshed and ready for summer.

Visit more gardens. . .

Not a Hosta

I mentioned in an earlier post that I purchased some hosta seeds on Ebay. This is what they yielded. . .

In all fairness, I'm not entirely sure the seeds themselves produced this particular specimen. It's likely that the seeds yielded squat, and what you're looking at here is a greenhouse-variety weed. The Mister, who was the motivation behind the hosta experiment, is not quite ready to give up on this plant (we have 5 total). In fact, he's threatening to transplant them to our garden. Not so much because he believes this is a hosta. More so because we've dedicated time, patience and precious greenhouse space to it. I maintain that it's a weed, we should move on and take what we can from the experiment: that growing hosta from seed is a losing proposition and that as seed sources go, Ebay may not be the place. Anyway, anyone want to weigh in on the debate? Is this a plant worth keeping?