Monday, March 28, 2011

Yesterday's Rainbow

Was yesterday evening's rainbow

a promise of blue skies and sunshine today?

So it seems.

We have had so much rain, and not just the normal rainfall of the Pacific Northwest, but the kind whereby the water rolls off the roof and doesn't bother to hit the gutters. We were offered a respite today, and consequently my dear husband and I just dragged ourselves back inside; we finally got all the roses cut back, but still have not fertilized. Perhaps tomorrow. So much to do, so little time... but we always remember to enjoy the process.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fresh From The Garden and Seared Macadamia Nut Ahi

At the end of January we planted the first seeds and seedlings in our hoop house.

One week ago Friday we harvested our first greens from there: a few leaves of kale, spinach, lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi, bok choy... just enough to make a small salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing and a sprinkling of feta cheese.

Add to that a pan-seared macadamia nut encrusted fresh Ahi steak, and call it a simple but wonderful dinner.

Pan Seared Macadamia Nut Ahi from Diana's kitchen

Coat both sides of the tuna steak with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. We like the pepper, so add a little extra if you like. Then lightly coat both sides of the Ahi with crushed macadamia nuts.

If you can sear the fish outside, do so. Otherwise, heat a skillet to the highest temperature and with just a slight coating of olive oil. Sear on one side for 1-2 minutes, turn, and sear the other side for about a minute. The inside of the Ahi should still be nice and pink. Sashimi grade Ahi should really be served rare.

Remove and serve.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Kale (Brassica oleracea)

Kale. Who loves you baby?

We all do! Worldwide, cruciferous vegetables have beautiful color, texture, and some even display their ruffled edges, and kale is a star among them. It is one of the easiest things to grow, nutritionally one of the best; high yielding, fast growing, and just like the energizer bunny she just keeps on giving. What’s not to love?

Brassica, a genus of plants (family Cruciferae aka Brassicaceae) includes a prolific family of Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Rutabaga, Turnips… It is said to have originated in Asia Minor, eaten by ancient Greeks and Romans, brought to Europe by the Celtics, and to the United States in the 17th century.

Kale prefers cooler temperature, and in our Pacific Northwest garden it has been a most reliable vegetable producing abundantly year round, winter, spring, summer or fall (I think I just broke out in song). And you know what else? After a frost, nature gives it a final brush of sweetness. With regular watering and full sun, it thrives in slightly enriched organic garden soil with good drainage. Organic heirloom seed varieties can produce beautiful deep green to blue curled leaves to the bright purple stems of Russian Red Kale.
Nutrition: according to the American Heart Association, kale is rich in beneficial antioxidants, vitamins K, A, C, B6, along with many other cancer-preventing compounds, and is a good source of fiber and calcium.
Propagation: sow seeds outdoors in early spring, or as we did, start them indoors in a sterile starting mix; once germinated, they were transferred to our garden hoop house.
Harvest: snap off the outer leaves and allow the smallest, terminal growth to continue to produce. Rinse, dry and you’re ready to cook.
Versatility: combine younger leaves in your salad; sauté, steam, braise and serve as a side dish or entree; include in your omelets, casseroles, potatoes, pasta, soup and stews; and it freezes beautifully all by itself for addition to your meals at a later time.
As an added bonus here is a simple favorite recipe.

Sautéed Kale (or Kohlrabi leaves, Spinach…)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
3 spring onions, chopped
1 to 1 1/2 lbs Kale or Kohlrabi leaves, tougher ribs removed, and leaves chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, diced
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
2 Tablespoons Red wine vinegar or Balsamic

Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven, add chopped onions, touch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté for several minutes over medium heat. Add chopped Kale and cook on medium high heat for several minutes, tossing with two utensils until all is coated and bright green.

Reduce the heat to medium and push the leaves aside; add another tablespoon of olive oil to the empty side and add the diced garlic, a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute. (Be careful not to burn the garlic.)

Add the vegetable broth and heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until desired tenderness. Add your choice of vinegar, stir and taste for any additional salt or pepper. No need to fret if you have cooked too much for it heats nicely the next day, or simply freeze it to enjoy at a later date.

Note: We do not remove most of the rib with kale since we like the crunch, but do so with kohlrabi since it is coarser. Sautéing spinach takes a minute, and in that case sauté the garlic with the onions. For any bacon lovers out there, you might consider sautéing a slice of bacon (chopped) in the beginning process.
Grilled wild Alaskan salmon, baked sweet potato fries and a little kale. Oh, so good and so good for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Days Gone By

There are times as these when many things take priority:

Family: What a joy it was to have our son visit this past week. Since he lives and works in Nashville, we have not had an opportunity to see him for several years. While he was here, we enjoyed hearing some of the new songs on which he is working, took him to a favorite place for a morning breakfast, had lunch at a beautiful local winery, and of course I did what moms do when their son in visiting, prepare special evening meals. Thank you for taking the time to be with us, George. I miss you.

If you'd like to hear two of his recordings, go here. He is still working on the other songs for his album.

On Saturday we attended our granddaughter's soccer game. It rained, the wind blew, and the air was cool, but finally we saw the sky. No, our kids didn't win the match, but they still played with dignity despite the exceptional local team.

Vegetables: Seeds were soaked overnight and placed in soil blocks yesterday: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant... for it is that time of year.

More and more seedlings have reared their little heads from beneath the mix and are requiring their own pots.

Things are growing leaps and bounds in the hoop house, and I do believe I'll harvest some of the larger leaves of kale and spinach. This is exciting since we used the last of the sauteed kale (frozen containers in the freezer) while George was here.

We added two more raised beds that are specially reserved for tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

Taxes: Now we have the ever so dreaded tax period. As I've said in the past and will continue to espouse, nothing should take so much time and be so cumbersome. I guess it is about keeping the accounting industry and their lobbyists employed. Apology to daughter Kim who is a CPA.

Oh yes, and Sunday we had driving rains and a wind storm with gusts of 60 mph; hopefully our metal gazebo can be repaired, and cleanup around the property will take some time. Goodness, I still haven't trimmed all our roses yet.

The good news is that we are all doing well. Sadly, our hearts go out to Japan and her people. We are praying for their well being and send our many blessings.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Starting Your Own Vegetable Seeds

I wrote an article similar to the following, and it was published by Anna of Flowergardengirl in her new online magazine Toil the Soil.

Starting Your Own Vegetable Seeds

Many gardeners are well seasoned when it comes to starting their own vegetable seeds, but there are those of you who have thought about doing it but are convinced it is too difficult and not worth the effort and/or too expensive to begin the process. I'm here to dispel both of those. It is simple to do, can be done inexpensively and with much of what you have on hand; and I believe there is nothing quite so satisfying as placing a tiny seed into soil and from that springs a beautiful vegetable that can feed your family. Truly phenomenal!

Growing your own vegetables saves you money and most important for us is knowing that what we eat is healthy and safe for our family. We begin with organic heirloom seeds that have been saved from the previous years garden; we know what is in our soil and that our food has not been sprayed with any chemicals.

Everyone has their own method of starting seeds and some have purchased very expensive equipment, but the following is what I use when starting our vegetables, all cost effective materials:

- An old plastic prescription bottle made into a seed block maker (free);
- Sterile soil-free seed starting mix (prices will vary, but an 8 qt bag should cost between $3 and $4.00 dollars);
- Plastic shoe box with cover purchased at one of the dollar stores ($1.00);
- (Reuse clean) plastic cells from plants you may have purchased from a nursery in prior years or enlist those egg cartons, yogurt cups, cottage cheese containers... ;
- Clear plastic wrap or zipper bags (plastic cover) for the cell flats to keep the soil at a constant moisture level, that greenhouse effect;
- Old heating pad you have stored away, although not necessary;
- Seeds can be purchased from many companies that have organic heirloom seeds (prices generally range from a sale price of $1.50 to $3.00), but there are many gardeners/bloggers who are willing to share their seeds to get you started. I have done so with many.
- Plastic markers (to identify your plants) cut out from a plastic notebook ($1.00)
- Light: if you don't have a nice warm sunny window, use a fluorescent lamp/shop light and with a bulb that offers daylight conditions.

If someone has given you seeds, expenditures thus far total less than $6.00. So who said starting seeds was too expensive?

In order to give our seeds a jump start, I always presoak them overnight in water in order to soften the seed and allow it to absorb the moisture it needs for the root to begin its journey. I then place them immediately into the damp seed blocks at the specified depth; label, cover and place them on the heating pad in an out of the way place or somewhere they can be kept warm. Did you know that the smaller seeds germinate in 2-3 days? How exciting is that? Just be sure you check on them often after the first full day, and upon germination place them immediately under the light. Note: Keep in mind that you want your seeds and seedlings in moist (never wet) soil; and when they need water, I prefer doing so from the bottom and allow it to be absorbed upward.

The beginning of February I began the process for our first cold-tolerant plants: mesclun, butterhead lettuce, wild kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, early cabbage... and then moved them out into our hoop house. Now I'm in the midst of starting onions, basil, cilantro, a few tomatoes, peppers... and they too will eventually join the other vegetables.

Should you have any questions along the way, there are many university sources of information on the internet which can help guide you through each step, and many local resources are available in your communities, i.e. extensions services and master gardeners. If there are any doubts, simply ask. Here is an instructional video provided by Territorial Seed of Oregon. And if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Happy vegetable gardening!