Friday, November 16, 2007

Autumn Cleaning

I don't know where the idea of "Spring Cleaning" came from, but in my house and garden, I do most of my cleaning during Autumn. Clearing the chard's old leaves, composting pepper plants past their prime, and yanking out stray tomatoes are some of the many tasks for putting the garden "to bed." It makes everything look tidier, and will cut down the slime factor when that first frost hits (WARNING: forecast for November 18 in Seattle). Plus, it reminds you of the space available for spring planting.

This year I am experimenting with a crimson clover cover crop. The seeds are available in bulk from City People's Garden Store. A deal at $3.99/lb I decided to give it a try. I broadcasted the seed by hand, and had tons of little seedlings sprouting after 10 days. The seed was mainly scattered in the designated veggie plot (10x6) and another small bed (5x3). The rest of the garden is mulched with leaves from the cherry tree. I know some people like to use straw on their veggie gardens. Straw can be used in homemade compost teas since it contains beneficial amoebas. Although I like the idea of compost tea more so than synthetic fertilizer, I also want to keep my garden low maintenance as possible. I don't fertilize at all in my garden, but I don't want to deplete the soil of its beneficials. The cover crop seemed like a good means of naturally adding nitrogen to the soil.

I'm also keeping busy with the weeds. Yes, I do have a couple of those, too. Let's not dwell on those too long. I've planted my winter annuals: 'Redbor' Kale, Viola 'Penny Lane White,' Pansy 'Fama True Blue,' and Viola 'Peach Shades'. A few herbs were rescued from their containers and planted in the garden: my French tarragon and Chinese chives.

With the shorter days and longer nights, I am transitioning into an "Armchair Gardener". I'll be reflecting on the best performers from last season, dreaming of new varieties for next year, and scouring catalogues for seeds. Time for hot cocoa!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Brussels Sprouts 'Falstaff' Revisited

I just heard from my friend Jim in California who introduced me to the 'Falstaff' Brussels sprout last winter. His are stunted and buggy as well which is reassuring. There's something comforting in hearing of your fellow gardeners having the same problems. It's especially nice when they live in a place like California which seems to brag about its wonderful sunshine 24/7. He's hoping for some sustained fall weather to bring them around.

I still want a refund on my Pacific Northwest summer! So far it's been a pleasant autumn. I think someone has heard my plea.

'Falstaff' back-flipping and buggy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Brussels Sprouts: A Lesson in Patience

I experienced a serious dose of plant envy when visiting friends in California last December. Seeing the rows of bright purple 'Falstaff' Brussels sprouts, I knew I had to have them in my garden.

I started them in late winterm, and they germinated pretty quickly. In a few weeks, I had a handful of promising starts. I planted them amongst the Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' for an instant rainbow effect in my veggie patch. They stood proud like little soldiers in the soil.

Brussels sprouts behind the Swiss chard

Brussels sprouts are named for the country in which they originated and are related to mustard. For those who have never seen Brussels sprouts growing in the field or an entire stalk in the market, the starts look like a loose cabbage on a stem. As the main stalk grows and new leaves form on top, the stems of the older leaves (petioles) are angled out at a 45-degree angle. In between the petiole and main stalk is where the sprout forms starting out as small as a pea.

Now I am getting impatient with my crop. The sprouts are the size of almonds, but I should already have full-sized sprouts ready for cooking. I've been growing these plants for what seems like forever. The time for maturity for Brussels sprouts is around 100 days, so I guess my crop is doing okay given the lack of summer sun. It's easy to blame the weather when things aren't going your way, right? I feel no shame in bringing up how the Pacific Northwest was gypped out of summer this year.

Plus, mine have are struggling with slugs, snails, and grey aphids, yet seem to be plugging along. However, some of them are not standing so proudly anymore. Instead they're doing back flips. Maybe I should have staked them? Yesterday I found bright green caterpillars feasting on the leaves. Arg! I plucked them off and tossed them over the fence--this is my method of pest management.

I am really tempted to put them out of their misery and till them under. I'll then spread more cover crop seed to enrich the soil for next year. In the meantime, I'll buy them at Pike Place Market where they're advertised as "Little Green Blobs of Death." Brussels sprouts are a great side dish. The trick is to buy fresh and not to overcook them. Eldon prepares delicious Brussels sprouts using a recipe from the Bouchon cookbook (Bouchon is Thomas Keller's bistro next to The French Laundry near Napa, CA) featuring creme fraiche, mustard, and bacon.

Will I try them growing Brussels sprouts again next year? I like a challenge and I'm a sucker for purple plants so I most likely will. I may plant them against a wall for more warmth especially if we have (hopefully not!) a similar summer next year.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Forbidden Fig

"Have you ever had a fresh fig?" my professor asked while driving through the orchards in Davis, CA.

"The only figs I've had are in Fig Newtons," I replied.

"Fresh figs are totally different. There's nothing like them."

That autumn, I courageously bought a pint of Mission figs at the Co-Op and swooned at their honey-yet-jammy-like flavor. He was right.

Since moving into my house three summers ago, I have been looking forward to enjoying just one ripe fig from my tree. The first year, the tree didn't bear much fruit. Last year, we had a better crop, but the birds beat me to it. I had lots of green figs towards the end of the season which never fully ripened. I managed to snag a few semi-ripe figs. They were pithy and turned my mouth inside out. My craving for ripe figs overcame me. I bought a pint of overpriced organic Mission and Brown Turkey figs at Whole Foods. Twice. I ate them like they were going out of style.

This summer I was determined to eat one ripe fig darn it! I made sure to give the tree a few deep waterings during the summer to ensure less pithy fruit. At the end of August, I dabbed the ends of the figs with a little olive oil. I heard that this helps with ripening. Soon green was replaced by purple and the birds immediately honed in on them. I would come home to half eaten figs dangling on the trees as though they were checking whether they were ready or not. The least they could do was finish them. So I decided to do the same and tasted a couple that felt ripe enough. The flavor was more figgy, sweet, and less pithy, but not quite ready.

While I'm drinking coffeein my cozy living room on this cool grey Saturday morning, THEY descend on my fig tree: hundreds of starlings twittering about like crazy. I call for Mudsy, my German Wirehair Pointer/Boarder Collie mix, hoping his appearance in the window will scare them away. No such luck. These birds are feasting on all of the figs even if they have just the slightest tinge of purple. They're having a party, and I'm not invited.

Then it's silent. I see them flying away. "Good," I think, "maybe they've spared a few." Five minutes later, the twittering resumes, and 5 minutes later it's silent again.

"They couldn't have done that much damage, right?" I'm saying to myself as I go check on the crop. Yeah right. I shake my head at the sight of my tree adorned with dangling half-eaten figs. Wasteful birds! Couldn't they share amongst themselves if they can't finish one by themselves?!

Wait. They have spared one closest to the house that I can reach from the front porch. It's purple skin peaking from behind a leaf. I pull it from the tree and take a bite. The fig is sweet, gooey, and tastes like honey. I finally have my one fully-ripe fig of the season from my very own tree.

Will I take measures against the starlings next year? Should I tie mesh bags around the fruit to deter the "wildlife"? Hang flashing tape or CD's from the tree to scare them away? Or will doing this make way for the clever crow? The jury is still out on this one.

The Not-So-Ripe Fig. No evidence is left of the ripe one.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Green Tomato

I was able to pluck a handful of fully ripe tomatoes earlier this summer. But most of my crop looks like like this: big, beautiful, and green. Today is the fall equinox; there is no hope of them turning red.

What to do with a bumper crop of green tomatoes? A friend recommended I fry them up and write a book about it. Very funny. Instead, I searched the internet for green tomato pie recipes. I expected recipes to be savory pies, but the ones I found are all sweet. The base recipe I used was Emeril Lagasse's Old Fashioned Sweet Green Tomato Pie with Sweet Pie Crust (no, I didn't say BAM!). It calls for cinnamon and white pepper for the spices, and I added fresh grated ginger. Since this was my first double-crusted pie, I diligently followed the instructions for the pastry. But the crust wasn't forming as it should, so I used Betty Crocker Cookbook's Buttermilk Pie Crust for the rest of the method.

I had to wait an hour for it to cool and give the real test--my husband, Eldon who hates pie, hates cooked fruit, and graduated top of his Baking and Pastry class from the Culinary Institute of America.

"Do you want to try a little pie?"
"Pie?! I hate pie, but I'll try one bite."
"Not bad for cooked fruit and pie."
He had a couple more bites which doesn't happen ever. Then he launched into discussing the quality of the crust, asking if the water I used was cold enough. Eldon concluded it was good for my first pie.

I took half the pie to some friends to see how they liked it. They too thought it would be savory, but were pleasantly surprised by tart and sweet taste.

I should have tasted a green tomato before making my pie, but an unripe-orange-not-yet-red tomato is such a disappointment. A completely green one must be worse, right? My curiosity got the better of me. I went out to the garden and took a bite out a 'Pantano Romanesco.' The consistency is similar to apple,* but with typical tomato seeds, and they are tart like a 'Pippin' apple. Of course they're the perfect candidate for a pie with lots of sugar, butter, spices and a little lemon juice.

I still have several pounds of green tomatoes gracing my garden. Time to try some more recipes. Middle Eastern countries use green tomatoes for saute and pickling. I may even try frying a few one of these autumnal evenings.

*Tomatoes were labeled as an aphrodisiac and called "love apples" or "pomme d'amour" by the French as part of a marketing campaign. This helped the tomato gain popularity throughout Europe. Some types are heart shaped which is more apparent when they're cut in half.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Basil and Tomato

Seattle is finally getting a little bit of summer back after a gloomy August. We're into our second week of September and it's in the 70s; not a cloud in the sky.

I grew 'Dark Opal' the last two summers at work, and although the deep purple leaves are striking, it tends to be leggy. I gave 'Red Rubin' a try this summer (seed found online at Cook's Garden). Given the name, the deep purple is more red than 'Dark Opal'. Its flavor is not as pungent as other purple basils and won't overpower your dishes. If the plants start to flower, you can pinch them back and the plant retains the typical basil flavor. Some basils are too harsh on your palate if allowed to flower even if they are pinched off.

The basil was fertilized to encourage growth in the spring and haven't been fertilized since. They're planted in quick-draining soil and are watered at the first signs of wilting. My garden is slug-and-snail city yet so far they have not touched them. To harvest, I pinch back to where I see new leaves emerging, but not too low. I want the plant to keep pushing new leaves for me!

Warmer weather the last couple of weeks have helped ripen my 'Pantano Romanesco' tomatoes. We had a good rain last week and the tomatoes had just a slight split where they hung on the vine. I only water my tomatoes if they are wilting for more than a day. This summer we have had regular rain, and only a few weeks here and there when we had temperatures over 80 for several days in a row. A little stress increases their flavor. Too much stress makes them mealy, and too much water makes the fruit more watery and causes them to split.

Tuna pasta is a regular dish in our home since it's so easy to make. I usually have canned tuna and pasta in the pantry, and once the pasta is ready, dinner (or lunch) is served. In the winter, I use parsley, garlic, shallots, and sliced black olives mixed into the pasta with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. But when I have fresh vine-ripened tomatoes from my garden and purple basil at hand, I can make a great summertime lunch. Here's the recipe:

3 large tomatoes diced (preferably heirloom, or 1.5 cups of grape tomatoes halved)
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
chopped basil (about 5 sprigs' worth of leaves)
2 cans of tuna drained
1 lb pasta cooked

While your pasta is cooking, mix everything except the tuna in a large bowl. While the tomatoes are marinating and the pasta is cooking, flake the tuna into a separate bowl; then mix in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil with the tuna. If you have tuna packed in olive oil, you can skip this part. You may want to save the oil drained from the tuna for mixing with the pasta at the end. Drain the pasta and add it to the marinated tomatoes, add the tuna and mix thoroughly. Garnish with basil flowers if you wish. Mangia! Mangia!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa', is related to absinthe, Artemisia absinthium, and both are considered wormwoods. The straight species originated in SE Russia and is unpleasantly pungent compared to the culinary cultivar. It's possible Arabs introduced it to Europe in the late 1600s, using it for its medicinal properties. Tarragon has numbing effects thus used to treat snakebites and its roots are gnarled which may be why Europeans considered it to be an herb of the dragons.

Tarragon is a subtle plant. Its leaves are similar to lavender in shape, but a truer green. A pinch of its leaves reveals a scent similar to fennel bulb. Like most herbs, it likes quick draining soil and full sun. Seed-grown tarragon is not for cooking, but the not-so-tasty straight species. French tarragon is propagated by stem or root cuttings.

A bird's eye view of Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa'.

Now for the recipes! Eldon and I loved the simple salad dressing at the Crepe Bistro when we were attending UC Davis. We claimed it was practically drinkable! He was able to figure out a close version. I don't have exact measurements. I leave it up to you to create the balance of ingredients that you like best. Be frugal with the vinegar and Dijon mustard as a little goes a long way.

French-style dressing:

Champagne vinegar--a good red wine vinegar is a fine substitute
1 clove garlic chopped
Dijon mustard (the easiest to find is Maille)
Fresh ground pepper
Chopped tarragon (~1/2 tsp--add more to taste)
Quality extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a small bowl. Taste and adjust ingredients if needed. Slowly add olive oil in a continuous stream while whisking, creating an emulsion. The amount you add will depend on the amount of ingredients you started with. Taste and add more oil if needed, or if there is too much oil, add more mustard and/or vinegar. Drizzle dressing over butter lettuce or your favorite salad mix.

A favorite summer meal is poached ling cod using white wine, salt and a few sprigs of tarragon. While the fish is poaching, I prepare a soft boiled egg and combine that with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and chopped tarragon. Once the fish is ready, I remove it from the poaching liquid and place on a large plate. The egg mixture is poured over the fish and chilled for an hour. I will either serve it with water crackers or ficelle (skinnier than baguette). It's a light-tasting dish that is perfect on a warm summer day or evening.

Potato salad can be hum-drum and overly mayonnaisey. Try this the next time you have to make it for the company picnic. Prepare small red potatoes as you would for any potato salad. Instead of mayonnaise from the jar, make your own combining 2 egg yolks, a few tablespoons champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar), 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and 1-2 teaspoon lemon juice. Add olive oil to your liking in a steady stream while whisking to create an emulsion. Once you have your homemade mayonnaise, add it to the bowl of cooled, quartered potatoes, add a small shallot (peeled and minced), a few tablespoons of fresh tarragon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Give an old salad recipe or your pickling cucumbers some French flair by adding a little tarragon. Bon apetit!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is known for its edible leaves whereas its relative the globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is famous for its edible flowers. I thought it would be perfect to make a dish using the unusual cardoon leaves, and even better timing since my parents would be in town to share the culinary adventure with Eldon and me.

I did a little research how best to prepare the cardoon. Looking at the 4-foot long leaves my plants possess, plus the abundance of hairs and spines--I wasn't about to just cut off some leaves and saute them like Swiss chard. And I didn't have a pan big enough for one leaf.

I came across many recipes for "bagna cauda"--literally "hot bath"--a sort of Italian fondue typically made with olive oil, butter, garlic and sometimes cream. The recipes called for "stalks." Did they mean leaf of flower stalks?

Then I saw a picture of their cardoon. It looked like a feathery bunch of celery. By the size of these leaves, my guess is they were harvested at the end of spring.
Have you seen my cardoon?

Since mid-summer, my cardoon has been towering over my garden with purple artichoke-like flowers. The stalks are at least 8 feet tall; adding great structure to the garden. These plants were started from seed two years ago and have flowered both years. They completely died back in the winter, survived a weeks' worth of snow, and sprouted again this spring. My garden is warmer in general, except for the middle of winter when we have 8 hours of daylight. This may be why the cardoon, a Mediterranean native, comes back every year. I don't fertilize them and the soil is quick draining.

This time, I'm too late in my harvest. I plan on next year to start another round of cardoon later in the season and make "bagna cauda" for the first fall rain. I'd love to try any recipes you send my way.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

First Tomato

My first tomato of the season is an 'Odoriko' which we discovered at Berkeley Bowl several summers ago. Eldon managed to find seed through Kitazawa Seed Co. so I gave them a try. They were aphid magnets as starts, but since they went into the ground I've had no problems. I'm growing a group in 2-gallon pots. Both doing well.

A couple of weeks ago, this single tomato was a true tomato-red color, but not quite ripe enough. A little squeeze with my hand told me that it wasn't ready--it had the firmness of an unripe nectarine. Eldon and I checked on it every evening. This summer, we haven't had our typical August heat so the tomatoes have been slow coming into their prime. It should be in the 80s in Seattle this time of year, and we've had rain and mid-60s for most of the month.

Last Saturday afternoon, I peaked at the tomato, and noticed it was starting to pull from the vine. I picked it, raced into the kitchen, and sliced it; setting aside a piece for Eldon. Such anticipation leading up to tasting my first tomato of 2007 from the garden. I was not disappointed--it tasted wonderful! Not only was there a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness, but it had a creamy texture. Inadequate watering can leave tomatoes mealy, and over watering can make them tasteless and cause them to split open.

I wouldn't say I am a "dry farmer," but I do only water when I see it is necessary. A little stress is fine for tomatoes. However, there are some varieties that will succumb to brown rot if they are not watered often enough (such as the sauce variety 'San Marzano'). When the leaves start to wilt, they need to be watered.

The other varieties I am currently growing are a Roman heirloom 'Pantano Romanesco,' 'Arkansas Traveler' (considered a "Hillbilly favorite" by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds), and a small salad tomato 'Patio Orange.' I'll let you know how they're growing. Please send some sun our way in the meantime!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I peruse cooking magazines whenever I am in a rut with my repertoire of dishes. Last summer, I found a recipe for green plantain tamales in Saveur's May/June 2002 issue. I hadn't made tamales before, but Saveur's recipes have been foolproof for me. I decided to give it a try and put my shopping list together. One of the ingredients is culantro. Having no idea what this herb is, I asked a Puerto Rican friend about it (not telling him the dish I was making is Cuban).

"Oh! Culantro! I have not seen it here. I tried to bring some back from Puerto Rico, but it didn't make it," said Vern.

I Googled it and found pictures of a plant with small dandelion-like leaves. I then made the rounds of my favorite Asian grocery stores in Seattle's International District and found it at Viet-Wah. The leaves are packed with a cilantro-like flavor plus a hint of resin.

Shopping for seeds last winter, I found a source for culantro seed through Johnny's Selected Seeds. Even though it only costs 99 cents per bag in the store, I decided to grow my own culantro. And, I could surprise Vern with his very own plant.

Culantro (Eryngium foetidum) is in the carrot family (Apiaceae) and related to Sea-Holly (Eryngium maritimum). It produces a rosette of leaves and the flowers emerge from the base. I started the seeds in early spring, and I had plants ready to use by mid-June. They are growing in regular potting soil in a shady spot where the slugs can't get to them. I lost three whole plants to slugs! I remove the flower stalks to keep the plant going through the season. Vern was surprised when I presented him with his own culantro plant, and he gives me an update on how it's growing whenever I see him.

Last weekend, I made the tamales again--a 4-hour process, but they are so good. The first time I made them, the mixture was similar to pancake batter that I was sure they wouldn't turn out. I added masa harina to half the batch; making them easier to work with. I think they are better and more sweeter without it. This time I used my home grown culantro. Pictures of the tamale making and the final dish with prawns in a coconut sauce (another Cuban recipe from this Saveur) follows. You can also use culantro when cilantro is called for. Just remember that a couple leaves go a long way.

The flavors blending on the stove for the plantain tamale batter.

Batter is placed at one end of the banana leaf, rolled up, and tied at both ends.

Banana leaf-wrapped tamale will be wrapped in foil and steamed for 1 hour.

I did a second batch a couple days later. The batter thickened up and didn't need to be wrapped in foil. Here they are in the steamer--I used my large stainless steel colander.

Tamales underneath coconut prawns. Delicious!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cutting Celery

This herb could be mistaken for flat-leafed parsley--the two are related and part of the carrot family (Apiaceae). The flavor gives itself away. Cutting celery has a more pungent flavor than grocery-store celery, and can be substituted for regular celery in most recipes. A few sprigs can replace one large celery stalk. The stalks are skinny, so you won't be able to use it for "ants-on-a-log." But honestly, eating celery from the grocery store is like eating crunchy, stringy water.

Growing your own pot of cutting celery is less wasteful than buying an entire bunch of grocery-store celery (and your fridge will now be free of rotten celery). I never fertilize mine. I grow them in potting soil and are watered only when they need it. Usually they are wilting a bit before I get to them, but they spring right back. My garden bakes in the sun, so I keep this pot in the shade to prevent my celery from bolting.

You can use the entire sprig, or use the stalk and leaves seperately. The stalks are more concentrated with flavor. I add cutting celery to my watermelon gazpacho (see previous entry); curry chicken salad; and seafood medley with fresh pineapple, zucchini, and tomatoes; or tuna sanwiches. Add it to pretty much anything that calls for a refreshing bite. Once the seasons change, I will use it in my mirepoix--the French combination of carrots, onion, and celery--for soups and other fall dishes. Hopefully my cutting celery will last until fall. In the meantime, I'll be making more curried chicken salad. Enjoy this easy-to-make recipe!

Curried Chicken Salad

1 pound cooked chicken (you can sub tofu for vegetarians)
3-4 sprigs cutting celery
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup currants (or 1/4 cup raisins chopped)
1/2 cup cashews or peanuts
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/2 cup sauce (recipe below)

Once cooked and cooled, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Serve immediately or chill for later.


4 tablespoons madras curry powder
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil

Toast the madras curry in a dry pan over medium heat. The curry will become more fragrant. Remove from heat and transfer to a blender with the remaining ingredients. Blend until thoroughly mixed.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights'

Adding a crop of Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' makes a dramatic statement in a veggie garden of any size. Stalks of vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges are neon exclamation points amongst peppers and tomatoes. Mine are growing next to my 'Falstaff' purple Brussels sprouts (stay tuned for their harvest). The chard can also be planted in between perennials for color that will remain through the summer.

These do well with a deep watering every other week. If they are neglected a little and start to wilt, watering will spring them back to life. My soil isn't extremely rich as I haven't composted in 2 years but it is light. The only issue is slugs. They don't completely decimate the plants, but they do make unsightly holes and trails in the leaves. I just remove the chewed up areas and use the petioles (stalks) for cooking. The petioles stand up to sautéing and have more flavor than the leaves.

My usual recipe for 'Bright Lights' Swiss Chard calls for 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 cloves (or more!) of minced garlic, Kosher salt, chili flakes, and 5 stems of chard roughly cut. Heat up the skillet on high and add oil once it's hot, coating the pan. Reduce heat to medium and sauté the garlic until it just starts to brown. Add the chard, a couple pinches of salt, and a splash of water. Sauté until the chard is semi-tender or the leaves start to wilt. Remove from heat and serve. Other additions to this dish maybe a small squeeze of lemon juice or a reduction of balsamic vinegar with toasted almond pieces and goat cheese.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I never tire of the novelty of eating flowers. Nasturtiums are such a treat. Their radish-like flavor gives your summer salads and chilled soups a hint of peppery heat.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) will scramble along the ground or climb a trellis. The tiger-faced flowers come in ruby red, orange, yellow, and white.
I grew the scrambler Alaska Mix for the green and white variegated leaves as requested by my husband Eldon (he hopes to use the leaves for Thanksgiving--stay tuned!). The Canary Creeper (Tropaeolum peregrinum) offers frilly yellow flowers and deeply lobed leaves.

Last weekend, I made watermelon gazpacho--each serving topped with a bright yellow nasturtium. Here is the recipe as adapted from Elizabeth Germain in Natural Health magazine. It is best made the morning or one full day before serving.

One individual-sized watermelon (3 lbs)
3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice (about 2 small limes)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cucumber, seeds removed and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and diced
1/3 small red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 jalapeño, seeds removed and minced
Combined or alone, 1/4 cup chopped herbs of your choice: basil, mint, Italian parsley, cilantro, cutting celery.

Combine watermelon, lime juice, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt if necessary and blend thoroughly. Transfer to a larger bowl. Add cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, garlic, jalapeño, and mix together. Chill until ready to serve. Stir in herbs before serving. Garnish each serving with a nasturtium flower*.

*It's best to eat flowers that have not been treated with synthetic pesticides.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sugar Snap Peas

The sugar snap pea cultivar 'Cascadia' is recommended for the Pacific Northwest climate. The seeds can be sown as soon as the soil can be worked. I started my 'Cascadia' peas late this year. My vines were just starting to climb the trellis when they showed up in my farmer's market in Columbia City. I thought I wouldn't have a harvest this year.

Puttering in my garden a couple of weeks ago, I saw little white pea flowers and several pods. I was thrilled to taste my first snap pea, but they weren't as sweet as the those at the market.

What went wrong? What could I have done better? Fertilizer? More water? Sowing the seeds earlier?

Actually, I just needed patience. My taste test was a few weeks early. Now the pods are twice the size and twice as sweet.

Friday, May 25, 2007

First Season's Veggie

Underneath the greens and half burried in the soil, something round and red caught my eye. The first radish of the season! Picturing its perfect shape, I snapped off the tip as I quickly pulled it out. No big does it taste? Hot and peppery with bright magenta red skin over white flesh.

Tasting the first radish of the season pales in comparison to your first tomato or nectarine. Still, it is satisfying to scratch the soil, scatter the seeds and watch them sprout. Even more so when you've beaten the slugs (my method is to hope they'll just go away!) and can enjoy your harvest.