Monthly Archives: March 2012

Potatoes: Third time’s a charm?

I’m just going to put this out there. I suck at growing potatoes. It doesn’t feel good to admit this. Most gardeners and books will tell you it’s so easy. Just fill up a garbage can a little at a time with your potato starts and before you know it,  you’ll have a can-full of potatoes! Uh, yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve spread the tarp out on the lawn, dumped the garbage can onto the blue plastic with anticipation, and had my hopes dashed upon finding a pound of baby potatoes, at best. That’s it?!

To my credit, I never gave up. No, I tried again. I’ll try potato towers this time. Yeah, I thought, that’ll do the trick! I didn’t really have the straw it suggested or the containers, but I’d make do with what I had. Oh, and they grew. The plants got huge as I filled up the containers, a little at a time. This time, I thought, I’ve done it. When the plants died off, a sign that it’s time to harvest, I unhooked the towers expecting potatoes to come raining down. But, what came raining down, was dirt, some dead plant material, and just under two pounds of potatoes. Again, I whined, that’s it?!

So, I’m back at it. The third time’s the charm, right? It better be or I’m going to leave this potato business to my favorite farmers’ market potato guys at Olsen’s. I’m going with burlap this time. Similar method, different container. Following these guidelines, I planted five burlap sacks with Yukon Golds and Purple Majestic potato starts. I know there are a lot of variables that could have affected my potato harvest. It could have been water that did it, overwatering/soggy soil (rot) or dried out soil (a common problem in container gardening, especially in warm, sunny spots). It also could have been the depth of the soil or the way I was covering the emerging plants with soil. Maybe it could have been overcrowding. Just looking at the plant placement in my potato tower picture above makes me cringe – what kind of spacing is that? They’re practically falling out of the tower! Whatever the reason, I’m back on the saddle with my fingers crossed, hoping that this summer, I’ll be reaping the harvest I’ve always hoped for.

What do you do to harvest potatoes at home?

Less talk, more forage: Nettles

Yesterday I saw the world through new eyes. I got the same feeling that I got after my first botany class when I learned to see flowers in a whole new light. It was like putting on glasses and finally being able to see things I wasn’t able to see before. I had the kind of day where I wore a permagrin. No one had to ask me if I was having a good time. The enthusiasm I felt yesterday was the kind that made me send texts to loved ones with multiple exclamation points and phrases like, “SO awesome.” I learned to eat the weeds and “undesirable” plants around me. And for a girl set on eating as much from the land as she can, foraging just opened up a world of possibilities.

In a small group led by Becky Selengut, chef and author of the cookbook, Good Fish, and ecologist, Jeanette “Jet” Smith, we set off to Vashon to have a foraging, and later cooking, adventure. My love affair for Vashon, much like my love for Lopez, is a story for another post.

We made our way from one green space to another, finding treasures along the way, which included miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles, dock (the antidote to nettles), douglas fir, salmonberry blossoms, sheep sorrel (lemony goodness), peppercress, and chickweed.

We stopped by a local self-serve farm stand to supplement our foraged bounty and took a ride on a tree swing that made you feel as though you were flying above a forest canopy. The sun broke through the clouds and I was relaxed and happy. But I digress. As was comically declared yesterday as we lost ourselves in those little moments, “less talk, more forage!”

Of course, the idea of foraging is not new to me. I see foraged edibles at the farmers’ market and hear of people foraging all the time. But it was the first time for me. Taking on another level of culinary education like this would have felt overwhelming before, as I worked to turn my brown thumb green. Learning to garden and successfully make things grow felt like enough information for one time. But I think I may have been misguided. Because what I discovered this weekend was the opportunity to take advantage of edible resources that are growing all around without working a hoe or planting a seed. What I didn’t realize before today was that the weeds I had been feeding to the chickens or tossing into the compost could have been tossed into my salad bowl – permaculture at its finest! I may not have been ready for this information before, but I am certainly ready for it today. And you can be sure that I’ll be making up for lost time. You can expect to see future posts on this topic as I continue my foraging education and you’ll probably be seeing weeds on your dinner plate at my house too.

Foraging 101: Stinging Nettles

Why forage for nettles?
Nettles are delicious. We enjoyed them yesterday evening in a ravioli filling, in a sauce for fish, fried as a garnish, and steeped as a tea. They are also nutritious since they are high in calcium, magnesium, and iron. The tea is also said to provide a little seasonal allergy relief. Plus, nettles are abundant in the northwest – we might as well take advantage of them!

How do you harvest nettles?
With a good pair of rubber dish gloves harvesting (and cooking with) nettles is easy! I came home with a bag full of nettles and nary a sting. Just pinch off the top two or three rows of leaves with your fingers or some scissors, looking for the young and more tender plants (as opposed to the ones with thicker stocks). Once they have their flowers, you can consider your nettle-picking window to be over until next season because like most flowering plants, they just won’t be as good to eat.

Where should you forage?
Nettles like moisture and tend to grow in undisturbed places. If you spot a blackberry bramble, you have probably found yourself some nettles too.

Making Nettle Tea
I’ve wanted to make my own nettle tea for ages, but was always intimidated by the harvesting process and thought there was more to it than the simple process I learned yesterday. But there’s not. Simply put a few bunches of nettles into a pot, stocks and all, cover with water, and bring to a boil for at least 5 minutes to remove the sting and release the flavor. Pour the tea through a strainer and enjoy. I thought the tea was delicious just like that, very similar to green tea, but I imagine it would be delicious with the addition of ginger, lemon or honey. Strain the nettles from the tea and reserve them for later use in something delicious like a sauce or homemade ravioli filling.

More helpful nettle resources:

Stinging Nettle article, U of Maryland Medical Center

Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Doug Benoliel

Classes like the one I took by Becky Selengut


Pullet in Question

And so it begins – the annual nerves about having a rooster in my midst. Each year I get chicks, as I get a little less green, I think it will get better. I think, I’ve been through this before. I worried that one of the girls was a rooster last year and then everything turned out fine!

But then, sure enough, those nagging thoughts come back. Thoughts like, man, that Fern sure looks a lot bigger than Dixie. Peering into the bathtub brooder and talking to Jeremy over my shoulder, “Doesn’t Fern’s comb look big to you?” Gosh, she’s got way more of her feathers than Dixie. Sometimes I think maybe Fern is just a few days older than Dixie. Yeah, that’s it! This inner dialogue is very familiar.

This time though, something has changed. The nonchalant attitude I used to have about “dealing with it if I end up with a rooster” has become a little more serious as I’ve grappled with my future reality as an urban farmer. Thinking I may have a rooster in the bathtub means I may be one step closer to having to walk my talk. It’s really too soon to tell, but my fingers are crossed that she’s a Fern and not a Fernando. Having to grow up and be a farmer could happen sooner than I expect.

Coconut Curry Quiche with Mustard Roasted Cauliflower

The blackboard in my kitchen is kind of embarrassing. I think I’ve told you about it before. Sure it’s fine when no one is around. Those shorthand notes keep me on track. They mean something to me. But bring an outsider into my kitchen and they’ll take one look at it and say, “Hmm, vacuum repair, chicken towels, wedding gift. Ok.” It’s awkward and often revealing. It’s real life.

For months, I’ve had this recipe idea scribbled on my blackboard among the other random things I want to remember. It’s an egg pie with a combination of all of my favorite things: coconut, Indian spices, and roasted cauliflower. Since eggs are abundant at my house now that the chickens are finally laying again, it was time to make an egg pie. I know seeing “5 eggs” in the ingredient list is an investment, but it’s a worthwhile one. I’m thinking that reminder might not get erased.

Coconut Curry Quiche with Mustard Roasted Cauliflower (or Romanesco Broccoli)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Make this recipe for Mustard Roasted Cauliflower, set aside and cool slightly.

Make Kate’s recipe for the Perfect Pie Crust (see the sidebar menu on her blog for “Crust Recipes”) or make your favorite crust recipe. You’ll only need one crust for the bottom of this pie. Omit the sugar and add 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed and moderately ground with a mortar and pestle. Add the cumin to the dry ingredients in the beginning. Roll out your crust and prepare a 9 inch pie plate for the filling.

For the filling, you’ll need:
3 eggs and 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 1/4 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix the filling ingredients until combined.

Place the roasted cauliflower into the unbaked pie shell. Pour the filling evenly onto the cauliflower.

Bake the pie in the bottom third of the oven, preheated to 425 degrees. Bake at that temperature for 15 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 15 minutes, until the filling is puffed and just set in the center. I have taken this out too soon before and have had to put it back in since the center wasn’t set. Not cool. Make sure you see no liquid egg in the center. Let the pie cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before slicing and quickly devouring.