Friday, June 26, 2015

Today in The Garden- Six Blossoms

Early in the morning, there was a huge yellow blossom on the Jack-Be-Little pumpkin plant--by afternoon it had closed in on itself and revealed another blossom underneath it. Throughout the day we looked closely and found a few other flowering surprises.

There is something indescribably exciting about spotting those first blossoms. While the whole garden is hard at work, growing and greening in all the rain, these 6 are the star of the show for today...

Jack-Be-Little

Sugar Snap Pea

Yarrow

Jalapeno

Sandita or "Mexican Sour Gherkins"

Comfrey


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lamb's Quarters Poppers



It's time for you to discover lamb's quarters! 

A common 'weed' that is also known as goosefoot, fat hen, and smooth pigweed, lamb's quarters is a plant you may have overlooked. Tasty and abundant, and common nearly everywhere human beings live, it is the perfect forager's find. The leaves taste incredibly similar to spinach, and the raw stems taste like asparagus.



I discovered Lamb's Quarters last summer. Once I recognized the distinct shape and growing pattern of the leaves, I realized I'd been pulling and tossing them into the compost for years. Once I actually tasted a leaf, I knew I'd just hit a jackpot.


More than A Weed; This Plant has A Story

Lamb's Quarters has a rich and interesting history. It has followed the spread of civilization for thousands of years, and has been traced as far back as the Neolithic (stone age) peoples. Through the ages it has been revered as an important and delicious wild food, growing in abundance wherever the land has been disturbed. It has a tendency to grow and spread prolifically, and for that reason some settlements were actually named after it! Though most obviously eaten raw or lightly cooked, the seeds were also used by different groups of peoples. Some American Indians still grind the seeds into a flour to make a dark, nutritious bread.

Though gardeners pull this 'weed' from their garden and usually curse if its gone to seed, I argue that it has an important role to play. Tenth Acre Farm includes it in the top 5 weeds you actually want in your garden because it accumulates so many nutrients in its taproots and also loosens the soil. In Carrots Love Tomatoes, garden expert Louise Riotte claims that allowing a little lamb's quarters to grow alongside certain crops actually aids their growth, vitality, and sometimes taste. In her list of lamb's quarters companions; potatoes, corn, cucumber, melons, and marigolds. You don't necessarily want lamb's quarters to grow uninhibited, since it spreads so readily, but allowing small patches to grow here and there may help your garden out a bit while providing you with occasional harvests of fresh greens through the summer.

Lamb's Quarters VS Spinach

It's a smack-down! Before spinach hit the scene in the sixteenth century, lamb's quarters was one of the most valuable greens of European settlers, since it grew natively and with virtually no effort. However, some settlers brought spinach from southwest Asia and this novel, cultivated green rapidly became more popular. The historically noted contest between lamb's quarters and spinach is interesting to me, since I've always found that they taste so similar (and in fact, are from the same plant family).


This spring in my garden, lamb's quarters WINS. Despite carefully sowing and tending my spinach, it barely grew. I did nothing for the lamb's quarters and it created a bounty. It keeps providing greens for us even as the days grow hotter, long past the time when spinach would bolt. I'm not saying I'm giving up on spinach, far from it; I plan to make spinach one of my biggest cool-weather crops this fall and winter. But as the lamb's quarters in our garden continues to grow and we continue to enjoy it, I'm declaring it a champion.

Spinach and lamb's quarters are very similar nutritionally. Lamb's quarters is richer in vitamin C and vitamin A than spinach, though spinach contains more potassium and iron. Both are very rich in calcium. In the kitchen, these plants are interchangeable--you can substitute lamb's quarters for spinach in most dishes, or use a little of both.


Harvest in your Backyard or Find a Wild Patch

You can enjoy lamb's quarters all summer long without having to plant it or tend to it; it can be found virtually everywhere, and thrives from June through September in most zones.

If harvesting from your garden, it's easiest to cut the stem at the base of the plant. This will prevent too much disturbance of the soil--the roots will decompose underground and help create humus--and will keep your harvest nice and clean, since the huge roots tend to spray dirt if pulled. The stem can get quite thick, so you may need to use bypass loppers or pruners if your scissors aren't quite up to the task.

*A word of caution--lamb's quarters, due do its thick, deep taproot, absorbs nutrients from the soil, especially nitrogen. Along with nutrients, the plant can absorb pesticides and other impurities. For this reason, please do NOT forage lamb's quarters from industrial fields (they are a major weed in soybean fields). I would avoid foraging them anywhere you question the purity of the soil, as well. In your own organic backyard, there should not be an issue.

Most gardeners will tell you eliminate lamb's quarters before it goes to seed, or it will take over the garden (after all, one plant has the potential to produce up to 75,000 seeds--some dormant and some non-dormant). The dormant seeds can burrow into the soil and stay for up to 20 years or more!  Despite the warning, I left one plant alone last fall and let it go to seed, and sure enough, come spring I had a bountiful harvest.


Lamb's quarters that has gone to seed:
 quite beautiful in its own right, resembling amaranth.


This spring we had quite a harvest of lamb's quarters.
I have a feeling this weed is here to stay,
and that is fine by me!





If you can't eat your harvest right away: Chop up the leaves and small stems, removing the largest stem pieces (the large pieces taste like asparagus to me and are great for a crunchy snack but in my experience don't cook well). You can store the chopped lamb's quarters in the fridge for a few days. Use them up in salads, eggs or frittatas, cooked into rice or quinoa, in a hummus melt, or in the recipe below for poppers!

The kids go nuts if you call them pizza poppers and serve with ketchup or pizza sauce
 (this simple pizza sauce is our favorite).
I have to fight to get a share once the poppers hit the table.


I've been making versions of this recipe for years, usually with spinach. Lamb's quarters is the perfect substitute, especially if you find yourself lacking spinach. Try using a couple cup-fulls of both if you want.




Lamb's Quarters Poppers            Print Here
(or spinach, or kale, or any green you can get your hands on!)

1 t. olive or coconut oil
1/2 c. minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 t. dried garlic if you are feeling lazy)
4-6 c. chopped lamb's quarters leaves and small stems
3 c. cooked rice (medium or short grain is best, I like this kind right here)
1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
salt and pepper
2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Saute onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add lamb's quarters (or spinach, or a combination of both) and cook until wilted. Lamb's quarters cooks a little differently than other greens--it tends to stick together and dry out. If needed, add up to 1/4 c. water, a tablespoon at a time, to prevent too much drying out. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

3. Mix the rice, cheeses, spices and eggs in a large mixing bowl. I have made this with long-grain rice a few times, and once it bakes, the poppers hold together fine--however making the balls is tricky because long-grain rice doesn't have a lot of starch to help it stick. I recommend using medium or short grain rice because it naturally sticks together much better. This brand(affiliate) has everything I want--short grain, brown, and organic. I can find it at most of my local grocery stores.

 4. Add cooked onions/greens mix to the bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Form into golf-ball sized balls (I use this cookie scoop) and place on an oiled baking sheet. You can really crowd them together so they all fit on one sheet.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until browned to your liking. The bottoms of the poppers will be crispy and golden brown. Use a thin metal spatula to remove the poppers (if you don't have one, you may want to use parchment paper instead).

6. Enjoy! Be careful--they are highly addictive.






DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!




Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quick Pint of Pickled Onions


I have always loved red onions.
Now I love them even MORE!

First of all, there is the color. That purple-red, deep, gorgeous hue. Second, they are milder than white onions, especially on salads. Third--have you ever roasted red onions? If not, do it, now. Roasted red onion is one of the most delicious veggies you'll ever eat, especially if roasted with a little olive oil, asparagus and mushrooms.

Here is another way for you to adore red onions, and I have to say, I've fallen in love; Ferment them. Fermenting onions is simpler than the famed sauerkruat--almost fool-proof, really--and the flavor is unbelievable. When raw, red onions have a sweet flavor, but a definite bite. When fermented, the bite is tamed and you are left with a mildly sweet, subtly sour crunch that can be used as a condiment on many different foods, or eaten plain if you love onions as much as I do.

I have made many pints of pickled red onions lately, and have decided I may have to move up to making quarts at a time, because they just don't last long enough for me. However, I want to share my pint recipe with you because it's a smaller commitment. Making a small batch is less intimidating, especially if you've never fermented anything before. I have read from other sources that red onions can be salted and pounded just like sauerkraut, but I think making a brine and pouring it over simplifies the process.

If you already love red onions, you are in for a special treat. If you shy away from onions because of their bite and lasting effects, try fermenting them. They become more mellow and in my experience, don't stick around on your breath like raw onions do.

Give this simple ferment recipe a try--you may just fall in love!



Pint of Pickled (red) Onions       Print Here

1 wide (regular)-mouth pint canning jar

6-8 oz red onion, peeled (about 1/2 of a large onion)
1 cup filtered water (or tap water left out overnight to let chlorine evaporate)
1.5 t. finely ground sea salt (like this kind)


1. Start with clean hands, clean counter space, and clean equipment.

2. Slice the onion thinly. The easiest way to do this, in my opinion, is to use a mandoline, but a good knife and steady hand will work just as well. Put the onions directly into the pint jar.

3. In a separate cup or jar, stir the salt and water together. If the salt doesn't dissolve right away, let it sit for awhile and stir again until the salt has completely disappeared.

4. Pour the salt water over the onion. It should be almost the exact amount of water needed, though you may have a little bit left. 

5. Press the onions down slightly with a weight to keep them under the brine. There should be an inch of headspace between the top of the brine and the top of the jar--if not, remove some of the brine with a spoon.

6. Place a lid on the jar (use a regular canning jar lid, or a lid with airlock) and put in a place that doesn't get direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. If not using an airlock, make sure to burp the jar by loosening the lid a bit every day or every couple of days, to allow gases to escape. Allow to ferment for a week, looking at the jar daily to make sure the brine hasn't overflowed (if it has, remove excess brine with a spoon until you have an inch of headspace, and wipe rim of jar/lid with a clean towel before replacing lid).

7. In most cases, a week is enough time to give you delicious pickled onions, but you can ferment them as long as you want. The three-week mark is usually my favorite. The longer they ferment, the more sour they will become. When the flavor is to your liking, place the pint jar in the fridge (remove airlock first if you used one) and marvel at how quickly the delicious onions disappear when you start digging in!

Don't forget to check out fermentools.com (I'm not an affiliate, I just love them). You don't need special equipment for fermenting, but I think having tools takes away some of the intimidation factor.



DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. I'm eligible to receive a small commission whenever a product is purchased through these links. Click Here for my full disclosure!



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Forager's Find- Mulberry



For a long time, I hesitated to include mulberries as a Forager's Find because, well--they are everywhere! Is it really foraging if you only have to walk a block or two to find them?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Mulberry Alley- A Simple Gift from my Husband

I've had mulberries on my mind a lot lately.

I've been working on an informative blogpost--one that I never knew I wanted to write, until I realized that a lot of people don't know what mulberries are. I've been eating mulberries by the dozens every day since they began ripening last week. They are always something I've always taken

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Death of A Chipmunk



It's just a chipmunk. Its death should be inconsequential. I wanted it to die, after all. I wanted lots of the chipmunks who have set up residence in our yard to die. As long as I didn't have to do it--or see it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Today In the Garden: Migration to Backyard

You would think that the backyard would be the most logical place to start when you want to plant a garden, right?

In our case, no. This is our 4th garden season, and we have just now officially moved into the back.

Since it's only the beginning of June, not a lot has filled out yet in our gardens. We have nearly everything planted, however, and some things are already taking off. Come along on my little tour Today in The Garden!



Here is the original, 4-year-old garden space, along the south side of the house. Our property ends with that sidewalk.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

No Recipe Pizza Sauce





This is the sauce that prompted the exclamation "This is the best pizza I've ever had in my life!"