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Dear Asparagus


I don’t know why I can’t quit you.I keep trying to grow you, trying to make a home for you that you can keep coming back to, year after year. And I keep coming back, broken-hearted.
I try to tell myself that you aren’t worth it, my kids don’t like you, you’re difficult, you make my pee smell funny. But inside, I know it’s just a lie- I want you, I miss you. I find myself worried when you aren’t home, I find myself looking in the ditch, knowing that if I found you, I would bring you home and clean you up, cook you, and eat you. Maybe pickle you, if there was enough…

I just love you, and I can’t face paying 3.99 a pound for you at the grocery, and you aren’t even at the farmers market. At least not when I’ve been there. Are you avoiding me? It doesn’t matter- I forgive you. I’ll keep trying to make this relationship work. I’ll dig a trench near reliable water, but also in complete sun, I know how much you love the sunshine, I’ll plant out your little roots, and watch for your little shoots to poke out from the soft compost.  I just love you too much to give up on you.

Signed:

Carrying a Torch

 

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Toad in the grass


Eggs and bacon, on top of spinach and greens. Squeeze of lemon, pop the yolks, mmmmmm

My college roommate introduced me to a dish called Toad in the Hole- a fried egg in a hole torn in a slice of bread. I don’t know how I grew to adulthood without knowing about this concept- combining eggs and toast in a happy little unit.

It has taken me another 20 years to find out about cooking an egg on a bed of sauteed greens- the same homeliness of the egg, with the virtuous feeling of eating a pile of spinach. I have been calling it Toad in the Grass, which I realize is a horrible name, but I have seen it elsewhere as “baked eggs” which seems like an even more horrible name.

This batch is made with spinach and beet greens from my garden (the beets were supposed to be micro greens, but I kind of forgot, and now they’re macro).

Saute the greens in olive oil and the water left on the leaves from washing them.

This is about two cups of mixed spinach and beet.

When the greens have reduced by about half, crack an egg or two on top. Cover and let cook until the eggs are mostly done. Then turn on the broiler and cook the gooey stuff on top. I added parmesan cheese this time, but I don’t always.

T

The eggs look kind of like eyes, maybe call it green monster? Another horrible name.

I also had 2 slices of pre-cooked bacon (you should cook bacon in the oven- it works really well) that I threw on top. Sooooo yummy.

Roasting Tomatoes


Tomatoes with tags. Sigh.

There are no more homegrown tomatoes in my freezer. A moment of silence please. Thank you.

I have been making this weird gruel to pack in my lunches- brown rice and lentils cooked in homemade chicken stock, with cherry tomatoes added after cooking. So yummy, and pretty good for me, but no one at home will try it. Maybe if I stop calling it “this weird gruel?” Who knows.

Last week when I saw that I had used up the last of my tomatoes, I bought some canned stewed tomatoes and added it to the weird gruel. Ack. Bleah. Disappointing. I still ate it, but I didn’t love it.

This just isn’t a good time of year for tomatoes, as I probably don’t need to tell you. I probably could  and should be eating some kind of winter vegetable instead, like squash or rutabaga or something. Sigh. Next summer, I’ll make sure I don’t run out of tomatoes in February…

I found some “hothouse tomatoes” from Mexico for 88 cents a pound, and figured I would roast them. Roasting vegetables concentrates the flavor by evaporating the water and caramelizing the sugar. These were monsters- a little under a pound each, and pale. I sliced them into wedges, put them on a sheet pan and drizzled them with olive oil and basalmic vinegar, then a sprinkle of pepper and salt.

Photo credit: The Girl

I roasted them at 225 for about 2 hours. Then I forgot to take a picture.

This is another one of those non-recipe recipes- it is more about technique than ingredients. You can roast pretty much anything this way- peppers, squash, probably even rutabagas.

CSI- Meyer Lemon


Now, that's what I call a dead parrot.

A corollary to the idea that I should be knitting (and skiing) at the top ten percent of my ability, is that if I am not killing plants, I am not challenging myself as a gardener. Well, I killed my Meyer lemon tree, so I guess that counts.
It isn’t terribly mysterious why, though. Not enough water.
Interesting fact, more houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

Not in my house, you say, well maybe. Usually, overzealous plant owners water too much, which waterlogs the roots. Roots need oxygen, and when they can’t get it, the plant dies.
Not in this case, however. The Boy’s room has windows facing south and west, and he is generous enough to let me keep my plants in there- in the winter he lives in the jungle room, essentially. I usually go in there every few weeks with a jug of water and splash everything. Most of the plants are in fairly large ceramic pots, but the Meyer lemon is…was in an 8 inch diameter clay pot. The splash of water every couple of weeks was not enough to keep the soil moist.
When I discovered the wilty leaves, I overcompensated by thoroughly soaking it in the kitchen sink. It died anyway.
Cue the sad music.
I’ll get another Meyer lemon- try to keep it going. I can’t decide whether I should buy a larger size than what I started with (I paid roughly $10 for a tiny plant in a 2.5 inch pot) so I can just pretend I didn’t lose a year’s growth…what do you think?

I’m not killing the slugs, I’m inviting them for a beer, then they die.


Homegrown, organic beautiful, and eaten by me, not by neighborhood gastropods.

We have been having such a wet June (global weirding, or is this normal?) that the slugs are having a field day. My strawberries are getting ripe, and the slugs have been eating half of them. Now, I’m a generous soul, if the slugs would eat some berries, I wouldn’t mind so much, but they seem to eat half of each one.
My MIL has taught me the solution- cheap, grocery-store-type beer in a saucer at ground level. She saves her margarine tubs for this, but I’m too snobby for margarine, so I use salsa containers. You have to bury them so the rim is just at ground level- the slugs are attracted to the carbon dioxide coming off the beer, then they drown in it.

The Boy checks the trap the next day- "EEW! there's beer on my hand!" Our take, a couple of slugs and a spider. Collateral damage- sorry spidey.

I will also set out board traps- pieces of scrap wood on the ground- the slugs hide under them during the day, so I can scrape them off into the compost pile. My friend Schnied’s mom feeds slugs to her goldfish, but I think these slugs are too big for my fish.

There’s been a radio ad recently that just curls my hair- a major pesticide company telling me I need to kill the bugs that are eating my precious garden crops. It just makes me mad- they want me to dust poison on the food I want to eat. Grrrrr. With beer, they die, but it is their choice. And not all of them die…maybe I’m still conflicted.

I’ll add new beer to my traps before we leave for the weekend. Last year, we barely had slug damage, I think, because the garter snakes stepped up to the plate. I realize that for some people, snakes are worse than slugs, but garter snakes are slug eating machines. And you hardly see them- we’ve got great ground cover, which is good snake habitat.

Citrus in containers


 When the girl was just a twinkle in her dad’s eye, I bought 3 citrus trees from a catalog- tangerine, lemon and lime, all for around 10 bucks. When they arrived, they were tiny- the largest was the lemon, and it was about the size of a pencil, the others were stems with roots. I put them in 8 inch pots, and put them on our west facing porch for the summer. When it got cold in the fall I brought them in, put them in a south window, took care of them through the winter, waited for them to bloom.
And waited…
The girl was a kindergartner when the tangerine tree bloomed, and produced tiny sour fruits… it blooms every other year, or so, and the lemon more regularly. The lime only has bloomed once.
The best winter for them was a year when I took them to school with me- my classroom at the time had a wall of north facing windows, and the heat was turned off at night. Perfect conditions. Indirect sun and cool nights are what everyone recommends for citrus in pots, and that room was perfect for it.

One of my favorite memories of the tangerine is from that year I brought it to school- I had a student who was hungry all the time- all teenage boys are, to a degree, but this guy- hungry all the time. The tangerines were hanging from the branches, still green, still wickedly sour. I was on hall duty, the bell rang and I came inside. The air was fragrant- I could tell someone had picked and eaten a tangerine- “Who?” all the boys tried to look innocent, especially Miguel, whose lips were in a permanent pucker.

Unfortunately, I only had that classroom for a year, and now the trees have to suffer through winter at my house.We have a low-slung ranch house, and there are no north windows, the west ones are shaded. The citrus live in the boy’s room, which therefore has a jungle aura to it. He doesn’t mind, at this point…

I underplanted the lemon with a jade plant- neither seems to suffer, although I can’t say either is benefitting. I have wondered if I should try to separate them, but I think I’d wind up killing both. It’s in a 14 inch pot, near a west window that is shaded. I move it outside in May, and watch the low temperature predictions.
The tangerine is the giant of the bunch, and it bloomed tremendously this winter. Because it bloomed inside, there weren’t any pollinators around, so I had to play bee. I took a paint brush out of the boy’s watercolor set and went around transferring pollen from one blossom to another. There are tiny green marbles on the plant now- although not as many fruits as there were flowers…not an exact science.
The lime is still the tiniest of the three, I may move it to a different pot, with new soil, this spring to see if that will jump start it.

So, at 11 years old,, are these plants thriving? Not really. If I lived in a place where citrus could grow in the ground, and these were ten year old trees, I think I would have more fruit than I could give away. In containers, they are much more like pet houseplants than anything that contributes to my food pantry. The Logee’ s book I reviewed the other day has some helpful tips, that I mostly already learned the hard way, in keeping them alive for 11 years.

 Someday, when I get my conservatory (dreams can come true) maybe they’ll produce more, but right now, I’m kind of disappointed.

 But, hope springs eternal, I’ve ordered a Meyer lemon, also cheap and tiny, and I’ll nurse it to adulthood as well, fighting for window space in my kids’ rooms. It arrived the other day, and I’ll now count down the years until I can make lemon curd. We’ll have a party, with vanilla ice cream, too.

Book Review: Growing Tasty Tropical Plants


I decided I needed a vanilla plant….never mind why… and did a little research on how hard it would be to take care of. I found a very discouraging website that told me vanilla orchids are vines that won’t bloom until they grow 20 feet tall, and that a person needs a large greenhouse to even think about having one.  I was sad. Cue the Charlie Brown music.

Then I went to the Denver Botanic gardens, and found hope. As we were getting ready to leave, at the greenhouse in the children’s section, I saw an employee wrapping a vine around  a structure that appeared to be made of chicken wire and sheet moss. I asked him what it was, and when he said, “Vanilla,” I did actually squee. I told my wonderful mother in law that this meant her son didn’t have to build me a two story greenhouse. (he could, and I wouldn’t mind…but he doesn’t have to).  Vanilla can grow wrapped around a trellis, with bright indirect light, and with the right conditions will bloom in a couple of years.

I discovered the book “Growing Tasty Edible Plants” at the library, and it covers vanilla, as well as citrus, which I have had for a few years, as well as coffee, pomegranate, tea, passion fruit, which I am always tempted by when I see the plants in catalogues, as well as stuff I’ve never heard of before. Peanut butter fruit, anyone?http://www.amazon.com/Growing-Tasty-Tropical-Plants-grapefruit/dp/1603425772/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302136284&sr=1-1

The authors are Laurelynn Martin and Bryon Martin, and they are co-owners of Logee’s Tropical Plants. Logee’s has a tropical fruit catalogue and nursery, and they’ve apparently appeared on Martha Stewart. I wouldn’t know, I’m much too cool to watch Martha…  The book is informative- it is obvious that these people know their stuff about plants. The writing isn’t stellar, but it is obvious that these guys have lived with the plants they are writing about, they have grown them inside regular houses and greenhouses, and they have eaten the fruit. I get tired of researching plants and finding people who are writing articles about plants they haven’t grown.  The Martins seem to know what they are talking about. 

I went ahead and ordered a vanilla orchid from eBay, and I’ll use the info in this book to help me keep it alive. We should be able to make homemade ice cream in about 2015. You’re all invited.

I (accidently) grew a sweet potato!


Way back last summer, there was a sweet potato sprouting in the bin, so I chucked it into an empty flowerpot, with some soil, of course, and put it out on the patio. Sweet potatoes have pretty, heart shaped leaves, and I enjoyed the greenery all summer, honestly not expecting it to have enough soil or water, or warmth, to produce tubers. I didn’t even check at the end of the summer.
Today it’s warm and sunny, so I went out to do some fall clean-up which I should have done when it was actually fall, and emptied out the pot with the sweet potato plant. Imagine my surprise to see an actual sweet potato. there were a couple of small mushy ones, but one was the size of one you’d see at a grocery store. I’m going to eat it on Christmas.

The leaves froze sometime in October, but the tuber stayed alive in a 10 inch flowerpot.