Monday, May 30, 2011

CSA Week 3 and Memorial Day cooking projects

This week's CSA bounty was extra-large as we missed last Saturday's pick-up. We got an enormous head of broccoli, two kinds of beets, two heads of kohlrabi, two heads of napa cabbage, three turnips, and a hefty bag of baby potatoes.

The cute, colorful potatoes quickly were turned into a breakfast hash with eggs, avocado, tomato, and tons of mustard greens from the garden. But look how lovely they are just cut in half before being cooked!

Potato hash with toppings. Yum.

I couldn't resist picking up a big bunch of cucumbers from Rob at Whitted Bowers Farm at the Carrboro market on Saturday. First cukes of the season!

I also decided to take the leap and purchase a single eggplant starter for the garden. Last year, all the cucumber and summer squash plants had very short lives due to invasive vine borer bugs that killed the whole crop. The bugs are difficult to manage and crawl inside the vine near the root of the plant, making it impossible for the rest of the plant to get any nutrients. Jerks! I avoided planting any vining plants so far this summer, and since eggplant is also a vine-growing veggie, it's very likely that the beetles will come back and attach this plant as well. But I really love eggplant, and I figure with just one plant, it'll be a grand experiment, and if it fails, no major harm done. I'm keeping my expectations low.

This variety of eggplant is called Ichiban and it grows longer, thinner purple fruits than the traditional, gourd-shaped eggplants. Hopefully the lighter weight will keep more of the vine off the ground and perhaps make it slightly less vulnerable to vine-borer pests.

This morning I woke up and began a frenzy of cooking projects. First I chopped up one of the heads of cabbage, one kohlrabi, a bunch of carrots from market a few weeks ago, and some cilantro from the garden, and threw it together to make a slaw. I'll add this to salad greens this week with some spicy peanut dressing thrown on it.

The carrots still had their green tops, which I usually just toss in the compost. However, this week I found some inspiration from this video and threw the tops into the food processor along with some garlic, salt, a few hunks of parmesan, a handful of basil and parsley from the garden, and some chopped walnuts. Tada! Carrot top pesto! Surprisingly tasty, especially since it's a part of the vegetable that doesn't usually get used at all.

Next, I baked a loaf of my usual wheat almost no-knead bread with dough I started yesterday afternoon.

While the bread was baking, I roasted the beets from the CSA in the oven with some olive oil and salt. They'll get chopped up and added to salads this week as well.

In backyard news, a whole family of birds has recently moved into the red birdhouse. The babies chirp and chirp and the parents fly back and forth with sticks and grubs and goodies all day long. I wish I could see the babies! Anyone know what kind of bird this is? It's very, very tiny.

As it's been consistently hot over the last few days, the garden lettuce is starting to protest by growing very, very tall, a clear sign that it won't grow for much longer.

I spotted a rogue tomato plant today peeking out from under the mustard greens! Last summer the tomatoes were on the side of the garden where the greens are growing this year, so I imagine some seeds from a fallen tomato took root and started growing. I don't know how long it'll last, but it was quite a surprise to see it poking out of the ground today!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Garden Update

It's been in the nineties this week, and accordingly, the summer tomatoes and bell peppers are growing strong while the spring lettuces and greens are on their way out. Remember the tiny tomato plants that went in the ground on May 1st? They're getting HUGE!

And there's more and more tiny tomato buds showing up every day. They're so cute!

The mysterious Chinese broccoli is actually starting to look like something edible now. For a while it was just a strange lanky stalk, but now its true broccoli nature is showing through. It still needs a few weeks to fully mature. And check out the huge lacinato kale in the background! I love this plant - it's easy to clean since the leaves are large and mostly flat, the stem is simple to remove, and it keeps some heft during cooking, unlike spinach and other greens that lose most of their weight under the heat.

Here's another view of the kale, as well as the purple lettuce and one of the newer Pink Girl tomato plants that went in the ground two or so weeks ago. Almost time to put tomato cages on them, too!

The arugula is seriously bolting, and despite my efforts to cut back the flowers over the last week or so, the heat is making it impossible to keep up. The buttercrunch lettuce is still growing strong though some of the outside leaves are getting a bit crispy. Eating salad every day isn't enough to keep these plants in check! The bell peppers are getting bigger, as you can see towards the right of the photo, with tiny blossoms in the center of the plant that turn into new leaves.

The basil is getting really big. I transplanted a bit to a glass jar inside a few days ago to see if it will root. The cabbages have gotten massive, too, but they've been getting attacked by some sort of bug. The ones all the way on the left side of this photo are mostly eaten through, and will probably be removed from the garden soon as I don't think they can recover. But the ones on the right side are still growing, though I'm not sure how long they'll outlast the bugs. They were an experiment anyway from seedlings our neighbor Elizabeth had leftover, so if they don't make it, I won't be heartbroken.

The fig tree was looking rough a few weeks ago, and also seemed to be fighting off some sort of buggy or fungal predator. I brought a hole-ridden leaf to the market to show Rob of Whitted Bowers Farm, who diagnosed the tree with thrips, a difficult to control bug. He recommended that I power-wash the undersides of the leaves with water, and prune any branches that were done for. I did both, and the tree seems to have recovered pretty well. It's continuing to grow and the new leaves seem hearty and strong.

Best of all, you can start to see some fig buds on the branches. I cannot WAIT for the figs to ripen, though I've still got to figure out a way to protect them from hungry animals.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

CSA Weeks 1 and 2

Our CSA from Hickory Mountain Farm started last weekend. We pick up each Saturday at Johnny's in Carrboro, and we get to choose our items! Last Saturday we got spring onions, two kinds of beets, sorrel (a very lemony green that I got to eat for the first time), kohlrabi (also a first for me - it's the purple alien creature in the photo and tastes like the stalk of broccoli), bok choy, and very spicy and delicious mustard greens. So much food! There was also goat cheese from Celebrity Dairy.

We made lots of goodies, including the roasted beet, mozzarella, arugula, and caramelized onion pizza below. I love Barbara Kingsolver's pizza dough recipe. The beets were from the CSA, and the arugula from the garden.

Yesterday's CSA pickup included two sets of beets again, which I roasted while baking bread this morning and plan to put in salads this week. Also a lovely bunch of carrots, eggs, sugar snap peas, and broccoli rabe. Also goat cheese! I plan to try a carrot top pesto with the carrot greens, walnuts/pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Hopefully it'll be tasty, and a good way to use the greens.

Sara is out of town all week and I'm headed to NYC and my 5th college reunion (Go Wes!) in a few days, so I'm trying to quickly eat as much as I can! I prepped a bunch of lettuce from the garden for salads, roasted the beets, ate half the sugar snap peas raw, and cooked the broccoli rabe tonight for Kate and I using an easy Deborah Madison recipe. Just blanched the whole plant, then chopped it up and sauteed it with garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt, then squeezed some lemon on it. And Kate had the brilliant idea of throwing some soy sauce on at the end. Great stuff! And went perfectly alongside our salad of garden greens, carrots, sunflower seeds, goat cheese, and dried cranberries.

In other exciting news, the first tiny tomatoes are here! They're tiny now, and it's so exciting to watch them grow and know in a few short weeks they'll be huge and tasty and it'll be really really summer.

After realizing that Celebrity tomatoes are determinates, meaning the tomatoes ripen all around the same time, we purchased some Pink Girl plants for the garden as well. They are indeterminates, which means tomatoes will grow at different times over the course of the season. Having a lot of tomatoes at once in a few weeks will be an exciting adventure - get ready for salsa, gazpacho, and if we're really ambitious, maybe even some canning.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Harvesting for Breakfast

Welcome to the completed spring & summer garden!

Today we planted the red bell peppers (see them in the front row) and eight tomato plants, a mix of Sungold, little orange delicious cherry tomatoes, and Celebrity, a larger red tomato with break-resistant skin.

They'll be growing strong over the next few weeks, with a first harvest probably in early July.

Speaking of first harvests, today we ate our first garden greens for breakfast! The mustard greens are enormous, and this morning we finally cut off some of the outside leaves and sauteed them up with some eggs.

I'd started some bread dough last night and baked it up this morning as well, so we had mustard greens from the garden, eggs from the chickens next door, and bread baked in our own oven.