Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Good Wednesday

We had a perfect weather day in the St. Louis area yesterday--the first time in awhile that the weather story was how gorgeous the day was.

Our nephew, P, came to help with yard work. Now that we've decided that the yellowwood tree is rather special, we wanted to clean up the trees around it to give it some room. The evergreen that was planted too close to that ash is now gone, made into a separate pile of chips to provide an acidic mulch for the azaleas. One of the ashes was trimmed up and the next will be soon. We're going to put a bed around the two ashes and yellowwood -- probably just pansies for the fall and spring, but eventually a variety of shade perennials. We're concerned about the long term health of these two ashes and several more on our property because of the imminent threat of the emerald ash borer, but for now we're going to assume that they will be in the landscape for some time to come. R was thrilled with how much work he got done with a helper.

I discovered our first local strawberries of the season last night at the Maplewood Farmers Market. They were from Our Garden -- I assume she'll have them at the Tower Grove Market on Saturday, too. Biver Farms also had strawberries and will likely have them at one or more of their Saturday market locations, Tower Grove, Clayton, and Goshen Market in Edwardsville. I've been collecting strawberry recipes, but it looks like these won't last long enough to go in a recipe! The first strawberries are such a treat all on their own.

Lucy at the Claverach booth was selling small white Japanese turnips with the advice to try them in salads because they're so tender in the spring. I did and they add a nice mild bite, much less harsh than the flavor I normally associate with turnips. The turnips were also good at breakfast this morning, sauteed with some potato and fresh rosemary and topped with finely grated Parmesan.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day flowers and trees

I hope everyone in the area did okay with the storms last night. Some of our new plants are looking pretty shredded from the hail we got, but I think they will all recover.

We wouldn't ordinarily go to the Missouri Botanical Garden on a holiday, but since it was an iffy weather day, we figured everyone else would stay home so we went. We had a burning question: What is this tree? It's in our new yard and, for the first time since we've moved in, we noticed it was blooming.

We took a sample of the leaves and flowers to the Plant Doctor desk at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. The lady at the desk identified it for us immediately: yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea. She did say that they are fairly rare, so it wasn't so surprising that we weren't able to identify it ourselves. We also learned when we looked it up at home that it only blooms in alternate years, so we didn't need to feel badly about missing the flowers last year -- we thought we'd been awfully oblivious to what was going on in our yard to have missed these long droopy flowers.

Of course, once we were at the Garden, we spent the next few hours wandering around, never mind that we were just there on Friday.

The peonies were pretty battered by last night's storm, but we found some that were still looking perky.

The most unusual find of the day came courtesy of a couple who had sat long enough in the English Woodland Garden to spot the foxes and pointed them out to us. We'd seen the sign that said "don't feed the foxes," so we knew they were in there, but had never seen them. We saw three running around today once we knew where to look.

OLS: Asparagus Scramble

Breakfast seemed like the appropriate choice for my very first One Local Summer challenge meal. The One Local Summer challenge is to blog about one meal a week made from local ingredients. The posts will be compiled by region at the Farm to Philly blog on Tuesdays, starting in just over a week. I'll link to the first Midwest Region report when it's up on the blog.

This is a one-egg breakfast with toast spread with soft goat cheese. Here's a diet tip I picked up from somewhere. I want cheese with my egg and I want something spread on my toast. By spreading cheese on my toast, I kill two desires with one serving of fat.

Asparagus Scramble with toast
Sunflower oil
5 spears of asparagus, sliced into rounds (Our Garden Farm, Maplewood Farmers Market)
1 tablespoon sliced chives (Silent Oak Farm, Clayton Farmers Market)
3 sprigs of thyme, stems removed (pot on my deck)
1 egg, lightly beaten (Farrar Out Farm, Kirkwood Farmers Market)
1 slice of 97% Local Bread
2 teaspoons of Ste. Genevieve cheese (Baetje Farms, Clayton Farmers Market)

1. Saute the asparagus in the sunflower oil over medium high heat until caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread and spread with the cheese.

3. Turn the heat to low and add chives and thyme, cooking until fragrant.

4. When the pan is cooled somewhat, push the vegetable mix to one side and pour the egg into the other side. Gently push the edges of the egg in as it cooks, letting the uncooked egg flow to the pan's surface. When most of the egg is set, spoon the vegetables into the portion that is still runny and flip to cook the last of the egg around the vegetables.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Three Market Day

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

1. Clayton Farmers Market. This was opening day -- a good enough excuse in itself to make the trip in spite of the inconvenient lack of Highway 40 to get there. Clayton Road was a breeze early on Saturday morning so that didn't pose a big problem. But, I had another reason to go -- I wanted to sample the cheeses of Baetje Farms since Chris Freeland of Countrypolitan Cooking has written about them twice in recent weeks: Baetje Farms' "Coeur de la Creme" Tart with Kimker Hill Farm flour crust and Fresh Radish Sandwiches with Sunflower Sprouts and Goat Cheese. Baetje Farms sells at the Soulard Farmers Market, but I rarely make it that far into the city. Their presence at the Clayton Farmers Market was a definite enticement.

The parking lot west of Straub's was hopping with activity. Besides cheese, I bought salad and cooking greens, radishes, a big bunch of chives, peanut butter from Mound City, and a tub of shea butter for my skin. It looked like L'Ecole Culinaire was setting up to serve something but they weren't yet when I left. So, I decided to head over to the Tower Grove Market where I knew I could get a crepe for breakfast.

2. Tower Grove Farmers Market. This really has the nicest energy of any farmers market I've been to with a dozen people doing yoga in the grass and a band playing on the pavilion. Pretty much everyone will catch your eye and smile on the path to and from the market stalls. I filled out my needs for greens, got some flour from Kimker Hill Farm, and had a crepe with asparagus, spinach, sour cream and maybe some other things. One booth was promising "Strawberries Soon."

3. Kirkwood Farmers Market. Last stop was my home market for chicken and eggs. Farrar Out Farm did have radishes and some greens this week. CJ's has a few more items to go with the local asparagus, now, and Summit Produce had local spinach. Next week, I may try Kirkwood first.

With the Claverach sunflower shoots I bought at the Maplewood Farmers Market on Wednesday (where I had a nice chat with Alanna Kellogg, of A Veggie Venture, recognizing her from her blog and newspaper picture), I was able to re-create Chris Freeland's radish sandwich. The only differences in my version were that I used my own bread and I sliced my long radishes the long-ways. A wonderful post-market snack, locally-grown and locally-inspired! Now, I have the energy to go wash and spin all of those greens.

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at Eat. Drink. Better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Planting Day

It feels late, but it's been a cold wet spring here and today was the first that all the conditions were right to plant things.

This morning, the pots. Sage. Winter thyme -- I was disappointed in the lack of thymeness flavor in my lemon thyme last year so I asked the guy at Biver Farm what I should plant and he said winter thyme (it smells great!). Apple mint and pepper mint in the galvanized tubs. I'll be treating the sage and thyme as if they were annuals so I planted them in soil-less potting mix. I'm hoping the mints will come back next year in those tubs so I used Fafard 52 Mix. I have it on good authority that the Missouri Botanical Garden uses that for perennials in containers. We get it at Hummert's in Earth City.

This afternoon, the kitchen garden. This is the only bed that existed when we bought the house and it doesn't have the best soil yet. Last year, we planted it in July with Madagascar vinca and mums just to get something in it and have an excuse to work the soil a bit. It was beautiful in October! This year, we're going with annuals again, but edible ones: one zucchini (Spineless Beauty), four eggplants (Fairy Tale, with lavendar and white stripes), and three basil.

What you can't see in the picture is that I also sowed New Zealand spinach seeds. That's not really spinach but is supposed to taste remarkably similar and to grow better in our hot summers.

Also invisible, because I haven't planted them yet, are the seedlings of bell and jalapeno peppers. I'm going to let them get a little bigger and more hardened before planting them, probably around June 1.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Future garden

This is probably the first of several posts I'll make this growing season. I have ideas about what produce that I want in my garden based on the relative ease and cost of buying it from other local growers.

Asparagus, for instance, is easily found right now and sold at a reasonable cost. So, asparagus is not high on my list of things to go in the garden. This is a good thing because asparagus is a perennial and I'm nowhere near to being ready to commit to a spot for asparagus for the next 20 years.

Greens, both salad and cooking, are surprisingly expensive at the farmers markets and not as readily available as I expected. It's been taking trips to two or three different farmers markets to get all the greens we're eating -- salads every day and cooking greens a couple of times a week. Plus, I understand that many of them are easy to grow. I might even be able to get an early start on the season by growing greens in a cold frame.

The jury is still out on rhubarb. It's been scarce and expensive so far, but I'm not sure how much we'll eat it. Since rhubarb is generally made into desserts, we may eat it just two or three times in the spring -- just enough to honor the fact that my grandmother was somewhat famous for her rhubarb crunch. For that, I'm willing to buy a bunch or two from a local farmer rather than grow my own.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Community-building at farmers markets

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.
The Gratitude post on the Locavore Nation - Central blog prompted me to write about an experience I had at Kirkwood Farmers Market this week. I ran out of asparagus so I went on Thursday to see if one of the two places open mostly to sell plants happened to have local asparagus. It was raining, so I ran to CJ's in the front of the market where there was Wood River, Illinois asparagus standing upright in a tub of water.

The woman behind the counter asked me how I was going to cook the asparagus and I said that I was going to try it on a salad because I'd heard you could eat it raw (from Alanna Kellogg's A Veggie Venture). She said "Sure you can!" and handed me a spear. She took one herself and we stood there chatting in the rain and eating asparagus Bugs Bunny style. That's just not an experience you can get at the supermarket!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

97% Local Bread

I'm not sure I could have made this bread in my old bread machine, but my new one (Zojirushi's Home Bakery Supreme Breadmaker) handles an all whole wheat bread just fine (although, it doesn't always make a perfectly formed dome). Since there's no local source of white bread flour that I know of, the ability to make whole wheat bread increases the percentage by volume of local ingredients in my bread.

I've yet to find a local source for butter but I'm happy with the Organic Valley Pastured Butter from Wisconsin that I bought at Whole Foods.

97% Local Bread
1 3/4 c skim milk (Oberweis)
4 c whole wheat flour (Kimker Hill Farm)
1 c Denise's 10 grain flour (Kimker Hill Farm)
2 Tbl butter
3 Tbl sorghum (Sandhill Farm)
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp active dry yeast
Warm the milk in the microwave to about room temperature or a little warmer. Meanwhile, stir the flours and butter (cut into pieces) in a medium bowl. Stir the sorghum and salt into the milk and pour the liquid ingredients in the bread pan. Dump the dry ingredients on top of the liquid ingredients. Make a shallow well in the center of the dry ingredients and spoon in the dry yeast. Set the bread machine on whole wheat. Check the bread after it's been kneading for 5 to 10 minutes to see if it needs more flour (add by tablespoons) or more water (add by teaspoons or less).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tower Grove Market Pasta Primavera

Farmers Market logo courtesy of A Veggie Venture.

Today was opening day of the Tower Grove Farmers' Market. And, my first time visit to that market. I went for the flour from Kimker Hill Farm and any greens I could find. I came away with all that and more, including eucalyptus scented soap. There was asparagus, fresh pasta, spinach, and goat cheese feta.

In honor of the first market day, I made a pasta primavera for lunch. While the fettucini was cooking (fresh pasta cooks fast!), I sauteed the sliced stems of asparagus. At the last moment, I added the asparagus tops and a few leaves of sliced spinach to the asparagus stems. No sauce -- just the feta plus salt and pepper and the olive oil on the vegetables. A spring treat!

Post submitted to the Farmers Market Fare carnival at Eat. Drink. Better.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chicken and dumplings

This is really Loving Whole Chickens, part two. The other new problem that a whole chicken user encounters, besides cutting them up, is what to do with all the parts that one doesn't eat -- parts we never see when buying chicken pieces at the grocery store.

The traditional solution is to make chicken stock. For me, that's the easy part. We went through a chicken and dumplings (the biscuit kind) phase several years ago and I learned to make stock then. At that time, I used the fancy recipe in Jane Brody's cookbook, a method that, as I recall, includes studding an onion with cloves. But, more in the green spirit, I now make scrap stock.

It takes two chickens to get enough chicken parts for stock. The back, neck, wings, and any bones (cooked or uncooked) that I manage to remember to rescue go into a bag in the freezer. Usually, I make about half an effort to remove the skin before freezing, but I don't go crazy about it. During the week and a half or two weeks that it takes us to go through two chickens, I save vegetable scraps, also in the freezer in a container -- this week it was onion skins, carrot ends, asparagus ends, tops of peppers (bell and jalapeno), zucchini ends, and probably a few things I've forgotten. About the only thing I don't put in the scrap box are cruciferous vegetable bits (cabbage and broccoli) because they can overpower everything else.

To make the stock, I put the chicken parts directly from the freezer into a large pot and cover with 8 to 10 cups of water depending on how much chicken there is. I bring that to a boil, skimming the scum that rises just before it boils. Then I lower the heat and let it simmer, uncovered, occasionally pushing the bones down with a potato masher to break things up a bit. After two or three hours, I add the vegetables, again directly from the freezer, bring it back to simmer and let it go another 30 minutes to an hour. When it's cool enough to handle, I remove most of the stuff with tongs to a bowl. Then I ladle the stock out, pouring it through a strainer into a fat separator. I pour the stock from the fat separator into a large container that goes into the refrigerator. Later, I sometimes put some of the cooled stock into ice cube trays to freeze the small portions that Asian recipes often require. The stock cubes can be stored in the freezer in plastic bags or other containers once they are frozen.

That's all well and good. But now, what to do with all this stock? I'm not much of a soup eater, and especially not when there's no snow on the ground. I had hoped that risotto would be the answer, but after cooking enough risotto to get good at it, we decided that it's too rich and too white-grained to be a normal part of our repertoire -- strictly a special occasion and company dish.

Ever since the Greentree Festival last fall when he had a couple of bowls at one of the Folk Life booths, R has been wanting to try chicken and dumplings with noodle-style dumplings. So, that was our first attempt at using stock. I used this recipe from Emeril, with a few changes. Instead of four thighs, I used two drumsticks and two thighs ('cuz, ya know, that's how chickens come) and I skinned them before I started. I skipped all the vegetables that went in the first step and later get discarded since I was using good homemade chicken stock that was made with vegetables. Next time, I'll make the dumplings a little earlier -- he only allows ten minutes while the vegetables are cooking to both make the dumplings and remove the meat from the bones. It took me longer and my carrots were overcooked as a result. Otherwise, this was quite tasty and even satisfied me, the non-soup eater, for supper.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

One Local Summer

The "One Local Summer" challenge is to blog about one meal each week made from entirely local ingredients. I've found last summer's entries inspiring as I've been exploring how to eat more locally.

The 2008 One Local Summer challenge will be hosted by Nicole at the Farm to Philly blog. I signed up by leaving a comment on that post. It starts June 1, about the same time that I will be getting my first box of produce from the Yellow Wood Farms CSA. This should be quite an adventure!