Sunday, July 25, 2010

From today's garden - and a recipe

Early red-skinned potato - Norland

I'd never grown potatoes before this season, but I'm hooked on 'em now. I bought 5 pounds of Norland seed potatoes from Johnny's for $18.75, which is much more than I usually spend on anything associated with the garden. It was well worth it.

I dug a series of holes, each about 18 inches across and a foot deep, filled them halfway with compost, then buried a couple of the seed potatoes in each hole. My spacing was a little more crowded than suggested in the planting instructions, but 5 pounds of seed potatoes is a lot, and I only had so much space this year.

So, I've been hauling up a few little potato marbles along with the baseball-sized ones. I've already picked a larger spot for next year's planting, to allow for more spacing and more of the bigger fellows.

I've never eaten potatoes that have been dug just before being cooked. They're so smooth and flavorful, it's hard to believe that they haven't had tons of heavy cream and butter added. I've been cooking them whole, or cut into large pieces/thick slices, in a covered pan with just some olive oil and a few tablespoons of water, adding a touch of salt right at the end.

Here's a dish based on that method, with a few simple additions:

Fish and potatoes

Heat a heavy covered skillet over moderate heat with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the unpeeled potatoes whole, or cut into large chunks/thick slices, along with a few tablespoons of water and several cloves of roughly chopped garlic. Cover, turn down the heat, and check the pan every 5 minutes or so - give it a shake and move the potatoes around so they lightly brown on all sides.

When the potatoes are tender, add as many roughly-chopped pitted olives (black, green, brine or oil cured) as you like, along with a similar amount of chopped fresh cherry or grape-style tomatoes. You may want to seed and peel larger tomatoes if you use them.

Finally, add a large fillet of fresh cod, haddock, or similarly mild fish, laying it on top of the potatoes. Cover and continue cooking for about 10 more minutes, or until the fish is done.

Spoon some of the oil/pan juices over the fish, sprinkle with a little chopped fresh parsley, and bring the pan to the table for presentation and serving. This dish goes well with some crusty bread, a light salad, your favorite white wine, and a beret.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More chicken guts

What Marie Antionette saw...
photo by FitFool

I previously wrote about my most amazing chicken-killing adventure here, and a few days ago I received an email from a fellow eviscerator who also documented the event.

FitFool thoughtfully separated her photodocumentary into two parts. The bucket o' heads above, which will soon be rolled out by KFC as a follow-up to their infamous fried greasecake*, was taken from her more gory Part II.

- - -

* The term fried greasecake dates back to the days of my after-school job as a clerk/deliveryboy at Oliver's Pharmacy, a small sole-proprietor retail drug shop sadly pushed aside by the big chains. One of the morning's highlights was when the beat cop came in for a break, and I'd run across the street to Rosebud's for coffee and danish. The 'danish' was just standard supermarket fare, fluffy dough embedded with imitation lemon curd and glazed with sugary icing. But the Rosebud's grillman put his own twist on the item by first slicing it horizontally, matching the icing surface to the former bottom, brushing the cut surfaces with melted butter, slapping it all on the flattop under a small weight, and giving each side a nice, crusty finish.

It was a 'grilled danish' on Rosebud's menu, but to us it was always a fried greasecake.

Oh, yeah.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back to the real world

This was the view each morning.

It was a great week to be away. We got a break from the hot, hot, hot weather, mostly because we had a place to jump in to cool off. Our little hidden gem of a spot consists of a small cabin perched at the edge of a salt marsh, just a short stroll from a private beach.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hot, hot, hot, hot

Too hot to blog...

It's been consistently in the mid to upper 90's all week, with not even the hint of a speck of a cloud, let alone a drop of rain. The Little Woman and I have been sitting in front of several fans, and seeking out air conditioning in places we would never visit (shopping malls), with neither time or energy for much of anything else.

I took this photo from the top of a gentle slope leading to the back corner of the yard, where it's shady and damp. I don't do anything special to our grass, other than mow it - and I do that mainly to generate the clippings I like to use in the garden as mulch. Next year, I might try to make and use compost tea, as they now do on the various lawns at Harvard.

But for now, this is what the grass is like in most spots of the yard, save for that cool, shady, and well-watered corner.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

In Today's Garden

Leaf lettuce (Redfire)

I'd hesitated to grow lettuce before, because I figured rabbits or some other critters would hassle the plants and the whole thing just wouldn't be worth it. But I decided to give it a shot this year, in part because I haven't seen any rabbits around for quite a while.

I'm very glad I did.

This is one of the last two mature heads in the garden at the moment, though I've got some seedlings that'll be grown and ready to pick in a few weeks. I've also got some smaller seedlings that are about two weeks behind those, along with some arugula.

Crockett says to plant lettuce seedlings in the nursery bed about every ten days, to have a ready supply that can fill the gaps as the mature heads get picked, so I'm trying that approach. We do love our salads, the Little Woman and me. I also plan to build a hoop house over the salad bed later in the season, to see if I can extend the growing season for these crops further out into Autumn.

The Little Woman likes lots of different ingredients and bottled dressing in her salad, but I prefer a bowl based on nothing but leaves, dressed with a touch of really good olive oil and some of the kind of apple cider that's got sediment in the bottom. I like the brand that's got a picture of the lady wearing a funny hat on the label. This prejudice dates back to the only cooking course I took many years ago, where the instructor made clear, "I don't want to see any crunchies in these salads, just lots of leafy greens!"

I was also introduced to Molly Katzen's original Moosewood Cookbook at about the same time, and was taken by her simple dogma: use a wooden bowl, rub it with a clove of garlic, add freshly washed greens, then toss lightly with the serial addition of oil, vinegar, fresh herbs, and salt. I don't use the salt, because it makes the greens wilt quickly, though I sometimes like to lightly salt them once in my plate.

I've also taken to mixing up a separate salad composed entirely of crunchies, like diced radish, zucchini, blanched green beans, chopped nuts, onion, etc. This mixture is also dressed with oil and vinegar, but I also add a touch of equal parts salt and sugar, finely minced ginger, and other ingredients to make the whole thing a little more complicated.

That's how the Little Woman and I each get what we want, which is also the not-so-secret to 29 years of the endless series of compromises know as marriage. Her gift to me for our 25th was a beautiful wooden bowl for our salads, and a pair of hand-carved tiger maple wooden spoons for tossing.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In Today's Garden

Butterfly - Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

I had my morning coffee while sitting among this year's crop of volunteer sunflowers. I think they're from the black oil seeds that we put out for the birds. The plants are tall, with lots of small flowers that bloom in sequence over the course of a couple weeks. The yellow finches are already attacking them, starting at the top and pulling off the petals as they drill into the developing seeds.

This Painted Lady came along just as I was leaving, and she hung around for quite a while while I got close and took several pictures.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Today's Garden

Pumpkins (Dill's Atlantic Giant)
Yellow Summer Squash (Slick Pik)

Here's the view of a new planting area that I activated this year. I call it Cucurbit Corner because it's the site of four giant pumpkin plants and eight summer squash plants. Yeah, it's hard to tell them apart in this photo - the pumpkins are in the background/left, and four of the squash are in the foreground/right.

I started these from seeds that I got from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine. That's pretty much the only place where I buy seeds, and I like their stuff.

This is the third year I've grown giant pumpkins. My record so far is one that weighed 116 pounds, which is a far, far cry from the serious contenders that are fast approaching the one ton mark.

But then again, the people who grow them at this level strike me as being just a wee bit nuts. But I guess we need obsessives, because that's how records are broken, eh?

These giant pumpkins are useless for eating - they're all fibrous string and water inside. But they do make for an interesting conversation piece.

My personal goal is to hit 350 pounds with one, but I don't spend too much time or attention making that happen. I try to keep the plants fed every few weeks with a nice dose of my brother-in-law's awesome liquid fish plant food. And this new planting area has a lot of natural moisture, since pumpkins like to be well-watered (but not too much, else they grow too fast and split).

I also started just spraying against those freaking squash vine borers. I've seen the wasp recently, laying its eggs at the base of these plants. I use a botanical spray, not one based on petrochemicals. We'll see if that makes any difference. In the first year, when I grew the 116-pounder, that plant had a couple of infested vines but still managed to hang in. I grew last year's plants from saved seeds, and didn't get a pumpkin bigger than a beach ball.

They're actually pretty tasty when their harvested just as they start developing.

I'm hoping to the train the vines to grow out onto the grass, which is one of the reasons that I chose this area for them. They get very long and can overrun everything they encounter, which sucks when they encounter my tomato plants.

The yellow summer squash have started putting out fruit, and I'll try to keep picking them off while still small. I might even snag a few babies tomorrow, since there will be plenty more to follow.

There are also four plants of another variety of pumpkin, this one more suitable for eating, growing in the spot where I stood to take this picture. It's called Baby Pam, and the flesh is smooth and sweet and perfect for pies.