Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Roasted Roots

Earlier this fall I took the grandbabies out to my friend Ulrike's place for pumpkins and a hug, and she gave me some of her husband's turnips that he raises to feed the deer that show up in their back forty. (They are both wonderful craftspeople, she with her pressed flower creations and he makes the most beautiful collector quality bows for hunters.)
Wow! You should see her herb garden! A huge garden with sturdy picket fences surrounding it, the herbs she loves mixed with the flowers she presses, and all in raised beds to keep it German neat and tidy.
But I'm always wandering off... back to the turnips. What to do with turnips? I'm used to roasting potatoes but I got a couple of new vegetable-based cookbooks this summer and Pat has been supplying recipes with the CSA veggies... so somewhere along the line I got the idea to roast a mixture of other root veggies along with the potatoes, a roasted root veggie melange so to speak. The mixture of sweet and pungent roots, roasted together, is delicious!
Here's the general recipe:

Wash and dry veggies (and trim if needed): I used turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots. Parsnips would be nice too. Dice the veggie roots into cubes.
Place veggies in oiled pan (half sunflower and half olive is nice), sprinkle with good salt and fresh ground black pepper, and your choice of herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory) and toss to coat lightly.
Roast at 400 degrees, tossing every 15 minutes or so, until golden browned. (At least an hour, depending on the size of your dices.) Do twice what you need and the next day you can quickly reheat the leftovers in a non-stick pan. The leftovers could easily go into a soup or stew as well.
Easy and good for you!

I went back and read this recipe again for some reason, and Yikes! I forgot the garlic! Add about 5 fresh crushed and chopped cloves of garlic to the veggies and toss them in the oiled pan. How could I have forgotten one of my very favorite veggies? Sorry.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Grand Blanc Farmer's Market

Closed for the season yesterday, hope to see you all back again next year!

Farmer's markets are pretty, aren't they? And small markets like this one are great because the people are so darn friendly. I took these pictures back in August, but every Sunday was just as lovely.
I bought farm-raised chickens from Hampshire Farms this summer - they taste more chicken-y than the insipid boneless skinless blobs of flesh from the grocery store. I know they were raised humanely and fed well with organic feed grown right there on the farm. Nice to think about. And the leftovers made outstanding stock.

This little block long street in Grand Blanc goes directly from the City Hall to the Physician's Park. It's a nice place for outdoor events. The city planners want to put up stores there to generate revenue, but this useage as an event venue is great in the meantime. We need walkable places where the cars aren't zooming past!

The free acoustic music and the presence of the Heritage Museum folks were homey touches (and I bought a nice handmade rug) and on the last day the vendors on the end with the grill looked like they were having a good time. I should have taken a picture of my friends staffing the Master Gardener information and outreach table, another friendly touch. We spent some nice times kibitzing. Next year I'll have to bring my camera and get some more pics.

I especially appreciated the Sunday market in Grand Blanc because the vendors were all selling their own products and their own local produce. They didn't drive to Detroit's Eastern Market to pick it up early in the morning and resell it to me in the afternoon.

My friend Pat was selling her certified organically grown veggies, so lucky for us, we were able to pick up our CSA half share at the local market here in Grand Blanc every week instead of the farther drive to the Flint Market or the even farther drive to her farm.

I didn't have to spend time in the produce department at the grocery store at all this summer. Between what we grew in our small yard (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and herbs, sour cherries, rhubarb and strawberries) and the 1/2 share of the CSA we had nearly everything I wanted.

We pick our own blueberries and raspberries at our favorite local berry farms, and get our apples and cider at Porter's Orchard in Goodrich. But on visiting the market on Sunday I had the chance to pick up the necessary odds and ends that Pat didn't grow - pumpkins, plums, sweet cherries, real apple cider vinegar (the organic kind with mother) from Al-Mar Orchard, and local organic eggplant and onions from Lawrence Farms.

Next week is the last official week of our 20 week CSA agreement, but Pat has bonus food still to harvest because the weather has been so darn good, and we'll get to go to the Flint Farmer's Market to pick it up there.
I think I posted this before, but here's Pat again... a happy memory for the winter.

Friday, October 26, 2007

sell one loaf and buy hyacinths

How did that ancient Persian saying go ... to paraphrase, if you are fortunate enough to have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy hyacinths to feed your soul. Something to think about.
Persia, isn't that Iran?
I was just thinking yesterday while I was yanking out the tall purple verbena (bonariensis) about what I had written about my various plant collecting manias.
I had simply forgotten the grasses. I've grown over thirty ornamental grasses, most before they became popular. By the time Art Cameron was giving his grass talks I was winding down.
Not that I could ever afford to do it (collecting) right, but I used to hit every plant sale, plant exchange, wild plant rescue, plant clearance, and seed exchange I ran across.
I was the quintessential coupon clutching mom who finagled the food budget to cover the annuals and the bulbs.
Adding a bag or two of scilla or crocus to the shopping cart every week while doing the food shopping adds up when you figure the spring bulbs start showing up in the bins in late August. This week I finally broke down (they were half off) (I'd just been exposed last week to another mad bulb planter's powerpoint at our Master Gardener meeting) (it's tradition, TRADITION! - she said in her Fiddler on the Roof voice) and added two bags of pink hyacinths to my grocery cart. Life goes on.

Oh, back to the grasses ... a little pointer to folks who are just beginning and may recognise yourself in what I've described: if your budget is tight and you need to buy small good plants just to get the start of a collection, try Bluestone Perennials Nursery mail order catalogue.
And promise me you'll recycle the packing peanuts.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sunflower Soup Casserole

Remember the sunflower soup I wrote about? Well, I was out in the herb garden trying to get a handle on the maintenance while the weather is still good, and upon yanking the Jerusalem artichokes that grew under the fence I was surprised by how big they are this year. So 2007 was a banner year for Jerusalem artichokes, who knew?

I got a bucket full in no time at all and brought them indoors, trimmed and washed them, and popped the smaller ones unpeeled into the pot of chicken stock I had simmering on the stove.
(Do you make chicken broth? Store broth is Nothing like homemade. Mine is herbed and so rich it gels when cooled. And now we are getting our chickens from the farmer's market and I am not going back to factory farmed chicken, there is that much difference in chickens too.)

Kayla ate a few with her pasta that night. Without tasting them Herb thought they were new potatoes and that she'd choke, but they were soft and easy for her to swallow whole (that child does not chew!) but the texture when boiled is really too soft for adult enjoyment. We are not fans of soft boiled vegetables.
So what to do?
Then I remembered the Sunflower Soup recipe and tried it.
It turned out pretty good with the distinctive flavor of Jerusalem artichoke, but it was smooth and bland and frankly, beige, like eating chicken gravy.
Well I say, when you have gravy, make noodles!

My recipe
I added leftover cooked 'whole wheat' linguine to the Sunflower Soup, added some leftover chicken and some frozen peas, and it was delicious.
When I began to think about it, it is healthy as well. There is no fat (as in the fat in gravy) because I cooked the onion in the broth, and the thickening was all done by the blenderizing of the J. artichokes.

J. artichokes, by the way, have some amazing health benefits having to do with their chemical makeup not reacting with the insulin our bodies produce. I remember reading about native Americans, who as a group have a high risk for diabetes, when put on a diet of indigenous foods, suddenly experiencing weight loss and blood sugar corrections. (You can Google it.) The Jerusalem artichoke is a North American native plant.

If you are interested and want to try to grow a few Jerusalem artichokes, find a friend who has a patch - they seem to be one of those enthusiastic plants that produce enough progeny to be readily shared... or do what I did when I didn't know anyone who grew them. Go to the veggie department of your grocery store and pick up a package when they show up, and plant them in a sunny spot with room to grow (up - they are about 8 feet tall). You will have enough to share in no time at all.

And if you don't like the J. artichokes, healthy food or not, their native sunflower blossoms will be good for your soul.

And speaking of good for your soul, here is another shot of one of Pat's Brandywine tomatoes, probably the last fresh tomato of the year for us... ain't she a beauty?

facing the autumn with grace

The ginkgos are yellow, the serviceberries are orange, the maples are a little dry and crispy leaves are flying everywhere. The unusually nice weather has given me time to do a good job of gathering and 'putting by' my garden's harvest. Not that there isn't a lot more to be done, in putting the yard to bed. You'd think I had forty acres (and a mule) by the way I talk, but it is only a small suburban lot.

I'd love to have some 'real land' (she said in her lumberjack voice) to work with, but I have borrowed views to enjoy, and I know my familiar soil, and it is all already so ever much to do, and the older I get the more I understand that someday it will all have to come to an end. Toward this, ahem, end, I'm severely limiting my plant collecting impulse and consciously not replacing things that I lose. The lost years of the fragrant dianthus collection, the colorful irises, the tropicals and the spring bulbs, the daylilies, the old garden roses, the varieties of daisies and veronicas and achilleas and campanulas and agastaches (I used to get the little catalogue from J.L.Hudson, Seedman, if that tells you anything) and especially the seed starting mania will have to be beautiful memories to entertain my mind when I can't garden any more.
And the herbs. Don't let me forget the herbs.

And the critters. There is such joy in the strangeness of other species of animals. I've seen animals in books and on film, and in 3-d reality in zoos, but there is something above wonderful about seeing mother nature's other children out in the open, living and surviving on their own. (Yes, Marion, Nature does too exist.)

On that note, I was out in the garden yesterday picking more peppers (almost finished for the year) for cooking and freezing and dehydrating when a literal crashing through the brush behind the shed brought me up from my task and there manifested three young deer, standing right there in a clearing among the scrubby shrubs with their bright eyes and huge ears and lovely velvety noses at attention.
I understand it's bow hunting season, and they move in response to the hunters' disturbing of their domain but I've never actually seen a deer in my yard before.
I have seen tracks and found some damage (blueberry), but the rabbits are the real culprits around here with their shrub girdling winter hunger. What a treat though, to see these three deer up close and personal.
They stood as mesmerized as I was for a few moments and took off leaping right back into the field. In one fortunate moment of grace I had collected a memory for the winter, undeserved, appreciated.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

how could anyone object

... to the yearning for peace?
The Quakers sent me this link. The most charming and hopeful thing I have seen in a long time.
(And Bush needed to tap the AFSC phones without a warrant?)

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Little People's Green Acres

I'm posting this one for Kayla, and Pa, too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

We couldn't have asked for a better day

Our October landscape clean-up day at the grounds of the county Extension was lovely - that kind of crisp Autumn day in Michigan with sunny primary colors of blue and green, with beginnings of red and yellow that we all can imagine from calendar photos ...
But the companionship of nice people working together gave me a real boost ... better than a flu shot for the upcoming winter!

Carol and her daughter Mindy brought a cauldron of homemade chicken soup to warm on the grill and Vickie's Junior Master Gardeners added their cleaned and chopped freshly dug vegetables from their garden to the pot, and by noon or so we had a Harvest Soup feast. Delicious!

I brought home the cooking tip of adding Jerusalem artichokes to soups and stews, and to reciprocate, here is my recipe for the boursin-style herbed cheese spread that we ate on rosemary foccacia bread:

Herbed Boursin Cheese Spread

2 packages Philadelphia cream cheese
1 pound unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, crushed and minced
and a variety of fresh herbs, stems removed and leaves chopped:
baby chives, oregano, thyme, basil, 1 large sage leaf, 1 stem of rosemary
freshly ground black pepper

Beat the butter and cheese together until creamy, and stir in the herbs. Refrigerate overnight to meld flavors, and allow to come to room temperature before serving.

(By the way, for those of you with "inquiring minds", this is NOT a recipe I have ever served at home... it is what I call a "refreshment table" recipe, due to the cholesterol content. I figure adults can make choices even in buffet lines. You can make this cheese spread with low fat ingredients, but it just won't be the same.)

Finally, a note of public thanks to all the great volunteers who worked in the Backyard Herb Garden - you are all wonderful to contribute your time to this project and please know it is much appreciated. Thank you!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Eat Your Thistles

The herb study for last night's meeting of the Genesee County Herb Society was "thistles", so for the refreshment table I brought a tasty "Hot Thistle Dip" to go with snack crackers, carrot sticks and little toasts.
Actually the recipe has been around for a long time: I just changed the name. You probably would recognise it if I said "Hot Artichoke Dip". The platter was cleaned, and the recipe requested, so here it is...
It's quick and EASY, and you can keep the ingredients handy, but I wouldn't serve it to the family all the time if I was worried about cholesterol. I just wanted to try it because it was a catchy little hook to teach about the lowly weed that symbolizes nobility, the thistle.


1 container shredded-style Parmesan cheese

1 small jar Hellman's mayonaise

1 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

about 1 Tablespoon finely chopped red sweet pepper

(optional: 1 teaspoon dillweed)

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, pile into a pie plate. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese melts and warms through. Serve warm.

If you follow the link above, you'll see that Wikipedia has a quite well done page concerning thistles, which are members of the aster/daisy/sunflower family, Asteraceae (which we used to call Compositae), with links to the many interesting thistly genera within the family.
The delicious Globe Artichoke that we ate last night is Cynara scolymus, and if, as a herbalist you've ever grown a cardoon, blessed, or Scottish thistle, you'd see the family resemblance.

The Cardoon has a breath-taking blossom:

I've grown seed-sown Centaurias and Centranthuses in my borders for their pretty cerulean blue and butter yellow flowers.

Centauria montana

Centranthus somethinorotherus

One year in the last century I grew from seed Our Lady's Milk Thistle which had the most attractive deep green glossy leaves with white streaking which was said to resemble Mary's maternal milk. (I will try to find a photo to post.)
But my most memorable intentionally grown thistle was the noble Scottish Thistle, Onopordum acanthium.

It began as a beautiful and large, felty grayish white rosette which made quite a lovely and unusual statement. In it's second year it became a ten-foot tall object of wonder, however, and gave me to understand that I had to get a handle, so to speak, on my love of unusual plants. Don't laugh, you've been there, gardeners. Maybe not as far down the rabbit hole as I was, but you've been there if you're a gardener.
So here it is.
Don't laugh.
Honestly, it just kept growing! After a while I just wanted to see what it would do!

Thank goodness the noble and TALL Scottish Thistle is a biennial.

On reflection my year of the Scottish Thistle was a good memory, and I liked to read this bit about the plant on Wikipedia:

"The thistle, in particular Onopordum acanthium (the cotton thistle or Scotch thistle), is the national flower of Scotland, and is featured in many Scottish symbols and logos. Legend has it that a Viking attacker stepped on one at night and cried out, so alerting the defenders of a Scottish castle. Nowadays many football clubs in Scotland use Thistle in their name, to give themselves both a patriotic and fierce perception by others."

and: "In the Language of Flowers, the thistle (like the burr) is an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character as well as of birth: for the wounding or provocation of a thistle yields punishment. The thistle was subsumed as a device of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle and is a national symbol of Scotland."

A characteristic of these lowly but noble weeds is their seeds' longevity. It is said a viable thistle seed can live submerged in the soil for decades before it decides with Nature's indecipherable wisdom, that it is time to begin again. Something to think about.

Monday, October 01, 2007

As The Worm Turns

A note to new visitors from the county Master Gardener link: you can find my other videos, including a diary of the Backyard Herb Garden at the Extension, and a look at the Detroit Urban Farm Tour, and more, by clicking the "tag" word called video... (to the right of the screen in the alphabetical list of subjects.)
And, if you'd like to see more YouTube home-made videos on this topic, double click on the video and the magic of the internet will sweep you away to the page where this video is located on YouTube, where similarly tagged videos can be found.