I scream

Meyer lemon - cardamom ice cream

Z was snowed in today and, despite the chill, finally made the LA Times Test Kitchen‘s Meyer lemon – cardamom scream. It only took two lemons after all because they were super juicy. And it’s damn delicious. 

Down to earth – life could give you Meyer lemons

(Originally published February 4, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life.)

It isn’t my intention to brag but right this minute there are no less than five ripe lemons on my Meyer lemon tree, four of them hanging from a single bowed branch tip. It’s a bumper crop this year — we have already used two — and I wish I could share the wealth. Instead I’ll just tell you that if I can grow this fruit indoors, so can you. And I’ll follow that statement with a couple of reasons why I think you should.

A perfectly ripe Meyer lemon waiting to be turned into ice cream...Number one, you don’t have to love lemons to think that this one is delicious. Whatever it is in lemons that makes my face implode in an agony of tartness is almost missing from this species. Meyers, thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange, are much sweeter and less acidic than an everyday lemon. And although they can be used for normal things like lemonade, squares, and garnish, a quick internet search will result in a stack of gourmet recipes from savory root vegetable roasts to custardy desserts.

Some sources credit Martha Stewart for popularizing cooking with Meyer lemons but I suspect Alice Waters of Chez Panisse had something to do with it too. Or maybe I only think that because my chef has made the Meyer lemon relish from her cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, on several scrumptious occasions. Part of what makes Meyer lemons extra special and particularly necessary for a recipe like Waters’s relish is that their yolk-orange rind is edible, nearly pithless, and delicious. But the rind is also why they are expensive and hard to come by: it’s too thin to protect the fruit during shipping.

So number two, if you want a Meyer lemon for a recipe (and are reluctant to pay dearly for the pleasure) you’ll have to grow it yourself. Many of our local nurseries sell good-sized plants, or you could start small with a cutting from Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Connecticut (They do mail-order but I recommend taking the hour-long trip.) They’ll start flowering and fruiting young. Continue reading “Down to earth – life could give you Meyer lemons”

Down to earth – Start a windowsill farm with microgreens

(Originally published January 22, 2014 in East Bay/South Coast Life. The article ran with a pretty picture of a productive windowsill microgreenery that people thought was mine. I wish. My windowsill farmlet is pictured below.)

Either winter makes me hungry for fresh vegetables or the seed catalogs do. Either way, every year around this time I decide this is the year I will grow vegetables in the garden. For real — not just what comes up in the compost pile. I’m forgetting that I did plant kale, cabbage, lettuce, and basil last year and the woodchuck ate it all down to nubs. Which is the same thing he/she did the year before that. And the year before that. And so on. Or else it was the bunnies.

Every year I think I (meaning my carpenter) should build a raised bed tall enough to keep critters out of the veg. And every year so far I have not decided before spring planting where to put it. Nor have I bothered to buy the lumber or stockpile enough soil to fill it.

I’m guessing that once I decide where it goes (in full sun somewhere near the kitchen door) it will need to stand a good 18” high. The other option I have is to surround my vegetables with fencing. Eight feet high is about right to keep deer out (it’s probably only a matter of time before they wander every Bristol street as freely as gulls do), but bunnies and woodchucks are tricksters. To deter them, a much shorter fence will do as long as it’s made of an unchewable metal mesh and is set deep in the ground. And if I really want to give those guys a challenge, the bottom of the fence should probably even curve outwards a little. I am a lazy McGregor, though, and that’s much more digging than I’m usually inclined to do. Are fresh homegrown vegetables worth it?

Probably. Everyone says so.

To find out, I’m going to start by growing microgreens. (I’ve said this before…) All of my favorite seed companies, like Renee’s Garden, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden, Botanical Interests, and Johnny’s, just to name a few, have done the hard work of combining seeds that sprout at the same time into blends with flavor profiles ranging from mild to spicy. Botanical Interest’s 17 green “Sassy Salad,” which includes arugula, nine lettuces, two mustards, Swiss chard, endive, spinach and bok choy, falls somewhere in the middle. Sounds delicious.

My microgreenery shares its windowsill with cuttings and a sorry begonia.

If I supply enough water to keep the seeds and starter soil moist but not boggy, and put them in a windowsill-full of daylight, I should have at least one meal’s worth of tiny bite-sized but intensely flavorful and nutrient-rich salad garnish within two weeks. Maybe two or three meals’ worth depending on the size of the container (ironically, a store-bought salad mix box would be perfect with a few holes punched in the bottom for drainage) and my dinner party. Set inside a cachepot, a mesclun mix might even look as handsome as a houseplant as soon as it gets going and before I eat it up. The seedlings only need to be grown as far as their first set or two of true leaves before becoming supper so the trick is to have several packs growing at once but staggered in an endless succession. (My last packet of old seeds went into that box. Making a mental note right now to order another batch.)

This will be a good test for me. I figure if I become a successful windowsill microgreen farmer, it will be a slippery slope to wanting some of the same vegetables to grow to maturity outside. Maybe it’s time I finally find a place for that raised bed.

What’s growing on your windowsills? 

Down to earth – It’s dream time

Originally published on January 23, 2013 in East Bay/South Coast Life

Insulted stipa
Insulted stipa

I know it’s too soon to be wishing for spring but when our first snowfall parked on my garden like a Mack truck and flattened everything standing, I suddenly lost patience with winter. Most of the seedheads that might have poked prettily out of the snow topped with hungry birds, crashed to the ground. Others are leaning like drunks. Now that the icy snow has melted off the golden tresses of the Miscanthus and Stipa grasses that I grow mainly for their winter looks, they remind me of a bad hair day after a really rough night. I guess I understand now why some people cut everything back in the fall. Why not if it isn’t going to be interesting over the winter after all?

I don’t really mean that. I’m just a little bitter. My garden, disheveled though it is, is still a bird magnet with plenty for them to eat. And if I squint, it’s winter-interesting enough. Certainly as much as a garden with naturalistic pretenses should be. It might look like it’s molting, but the light still stretches all the way across it to cast abstract-painting shadows. Frost still glitters like the holidays on stems, twigs and sideways seedheads. And it still pulls me outside when the weather isn’t awful [to smell the witch hazel if nothing else], which is a good thing because I need reminding that I have some serious dreaming to do before spring.

This is truly the only chance all year that we gardeners get to think long and hard about what we want to do differently in the garden without the danger of rashly trying to tackle those projects. And to do the kind of hard-core imagining that’s necessary, we need a great quantity of quality time to sit staring out of windows at a mind’s eye ideal vision of the garden, with books and magazines on our laps and a notebook by our sides. And we need to let loose. This is the time to dream big, as if money, labor and time weren’t obstacles. Reality comes later.

Every year I dream again about growing my own vegetables. This year feels a little different, though, because my chef is giving me cooking lessons and I have finally and fully embraced the awesomeness of kale. (The trick is to squeeze a tasty oily dressing into the raw leaves like wringing out a dishrag — no cooking involved. If it’s “massaging,” it’s the Swedish kind.) So I’m picturing a raised bed, slightly out of reach of the groundhog (who has previously killed my enthusiasm by eating my brassicas to nubs), planted with all my favorite veggies: leafy greens, Swiss chard, carrots and beets. I can picture a hoop frame over it covered in chicken wire to thwart the critters, and then what the British call “fleece” (we call it remay, which sounds less cozy) to keep mid-winter harvests from freezing.

One of my dream gardens on the cover of the August issue

I have gleaned other ideas (besides a more romantic vocabulary) from the pages of Gardens Illustrated. It’s a monthly British publication and by far the prettiest magazine in my lap stack. According to their wide-angle shots, wildly loose and thickly planted gardens like mine, which are not so rare in Europe, seem to benefit from a little crispness for contrast. And since I’m unlikely to faithfully maintain clipped topiary (a dream for another winter), I see my garden beds tidily edged against the lawn in flat stone wide enough (a good 18 to 24 inches would do) so that the plants can flop without getting under the wheels of the lawn mower. As luck would have it I’ve been allowed to lay claim to otherwise unwanted patio slates, which can potentially keep my garden from bleeding onto whatever’s left of the lawn — if I don’t use them up creating a gracious entry landing instead.

For the time being, while my garden is at its unloveliest, I’ll allow myself the luxury of imagining both and the raised vegetable bed, too. As long as the weather is too muddy, frigid, or foul for work, we gardeners should use the time wisely to ponder over our wish list instead and enjoy the thought that at least one of our garden dreams might rise to reality come spring.

This little piggy went to market

me buying cheez, yoThe farmers market is one of the best ways to get fresh veg and support local farmers, stimulate the local economy and basically save the world with a radish and a zucchini. So where in SamHell am I supposta get tasty greens in the winter? I could go to the box chain supper-market and get some nice GMO’s shipped thousands of miles, yeah – or not, so it’s off to the winter farmers market.  local vegOn a balmy winter Saturday, I think it topped out at 30° in the sun, really nice – no seriously, it was a beautiful day – K and I headed out to Providence (Pawtucket actually, but let’s not split hairs) for some nice indoor farm fresh. The place was packed, how cool was that? – all kinds of vendors, fish, cheese, veg, live music, and yes, pigs…in the form of tasty sausage. And so many people shopping:  Old hippies with gray hair, young punk rockers in red doc martens, hipsters in tight jeans, art students in paint splatters, yuppies with babies in fancy strollers – all saving the world, or more importantly helping to ensure that I can get fresh food locally. So back at home, with week’s worth of veg, a martini in my paw and creme brule cooling on the counter, and snow predicted to start any second now, it’s been a very good day.  -Quick note, crème brûlée impresses the hell out of company and is wicked easy to make.

ring it up, sonyuppies and hippies and hipsters - oh my!

Z’s crème brulée

4 egg yokes

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

(all organic ingredients if possible, obviously.)

Wisk yokes and sugar until smooth (pale).  Add vanilla and wisk in cream.  Strain into 4 4oz ramekins.  Bake at 300°for 45 minutues in a water bath (ramekins in a glass dish filled half full of boiling water) or until jello-like in center.  Cool to room temp. then refridgerate for at least an hour.  Before serving, dust a thin coat of sugar on top and get out the blow torch.  Bon appetit!  Z-