asparagus crowns

I just love this time of year in Michigan. It screams “asparagus!” to me. This year we decided to dedicate some of our newly-expanded garden space to a few asparagus beds. Although we won’t get to taste the asparagus for a couple more years, it’s a delicious and healthy investment. And tests your patience, arrrghh… The first year you plant the asparagus crowns, the shoots will come up, but you don’t pick them. “They” say it’s important for the health of the plant to let them go to their ferny seed, but the following season? Pick away! Yessss. So when Wren is almost four, we can enjoy our own home-grown asparagus. Seems like a world away… But seeing as how I feel like I just saw her for the first time as a wet infant who smelled of fresh-baked sugar cookies, it will likely come quickly.

After digging some trenches and mounding dirt in the centers of them, the little birdie and I spread out the roots of the crowns. They look a bit like octopus so that made it even more fun. Octopus in our garden!

Looking for some more asparagus fun? The 8th Annual Empire Asparagus Festival begins this coming Friday, May 20. It kicks off with a BBQ complete with asparagus beer from our favorite local brewery. Yes, that’s right. Asparagus beer! Will I see you there?

What’s your favorite way to enjoy fresh asparagus, lovelies? Will you send me a recipe? Please and thank you!

Seedy retail therapy

What’s a gal to do when it’s nearing the end of April and there are eight (8!) heavy, wet, clinging to everything inches of new snow in these parts? Lots of chocolate and a hot, steamy beverage come to mind. Or maybe a glass of something a bit stronger, but given my present condition, my best Mama judgment says nope.

Maybe just curl up under a heavy blanket and thumb through the seed catalogs and pine for warmer days…? Because spring will come and summer will come. Please? Last year this time, we already had sprouted plenty of tomato plants inside and I had already transplanted them into larger pots. Yes, it was unseasonably warm and sunny, but still. It kinda hurts to look back on that time given our present wintery mix. Sigh.

With hopefulness overshadowing the winter blues mixed with a heavy dose of retail therapy, I just placed my orders!

I decided this year that I will get some tomato, basil and broccoli starts from a local farmer instead of starting them from seed given the calendar and the weather. And use up what’s left of our seeds from last year. Sugar snap peas, anyone? Maybe we’ll plant those this weekend and it will be our new Easter tradition. Nothing quite like having a little dirt under the fingernails while chomping a chocolate bunny’s head off, I always say.

So what does a little seedy retail therapy look like?

  • strawberry plants
  • asparagus crowns
  • bells of ireland
  • dill
  • parsley
  • radish
  • mixed lettuce
  • spinach
  • kale
  • carrots
  • delicata squash
  • french fingerling potato plants
  • honey ace melon
  • jade beans
  • fennel
  • cucumbers
  • beets
  • tigger melon
  • zucchini
  • mache
  • peas
What plans do you have for your garden this year, lovelies? At least a pot or two of some cherry tomatoes, right? I would love to hear/see your plans! Here’s to a happy growing season. Someday soon?!

click on

Happy weekend, lovelies. Do you have any fun plans? We’ve got a couple fun things planned, including going for a hike in the woods to hear the spring peepers and check out the first of the spring wildflowers. “They” say we’re going to experience a mix of rain and snow this weekend, but I’m hopeful that it’s mostly rain at this point. We need it to wash all the yuck away…

If you ARE stuck inside a bit, check out these inspiring links:

  • I had pretty much written off using crepe paper for decorating. Until now. Gasp!
  • Great ideas for making time in your life for crafting.
  • Rainy day blues? Dress for (colorful!) rainy day success.
  • Starting seeds this spring? Check out this handy calendar for when to start your hopeful cornucopia of veggies.
  • I love to click in on the Sweet Juniper blog and was thrilled to see the new hand-drawn header image. What do you think?
Here’s to a restful weekend. Whew.

cups of grass!

Don’t you just love egg cups? I sure do. And I also enjoy soft-boiled eggs. AND I love the idea of eating the eggs in beautiful little cups. But I hardly ever eat an egg in one of our egg cups! So what’s a gal to do…?

Turn them into little planters, of course!

Lovelies, this is SO simple and rewarding. Bonus! Easy to do with your wee ones too. Have some potting soil, a bit of grass seed and a few cute little containers? You’re set. Want cups of grass for Easter? Let’s get growing!

First fill up your containers almost to the top with the potting soil because this airy stuff settles a lot once watered and you’ll want the grass growing near the top, no?

Sprinkle the grass seed in very liberally then dump in a bit more soil. Water the little guys and place them in a sunny spot. Then watch them grow! In less than a week, we had grass. I think it’s even time for a hair cut, don’t you think?

What fun spring/Easter projects are you up to these days? Send me some links! I’m looking for more fun Easter things to do with the little birdie…

for the love of compost

Trudging through deep snow to dump some egg shells, vegetable scraps and coffee grounds into the compost bin seems like an awfully silly activity when the needle hovers under freezing. But it pains me to throw vegetable scraps in the garbage even when I know it’s too cold for them to break down in the bin. So I ignore my brain and listen to my heart, which is fueled on hope. Depositing the rotting remains is a hopeful task, unlike sweeping the floor or cleaning the dishes. Hopeless drudgery. As soon as I finish, they need to be done again. And then again. And again. Sigh. I am trying to work on my attitude toward cleaning, but I’m not making much progress, can you tell? But! Taking care of the compost? A bit of work now for a luscious garden later. So worth it, don’t you think?

A pile of stinky garbage to some and the ingredients for something fantastic to another. There is beauty in these remains, no?

garden of white

Even though I just recently harvested the last hardy remains of last year’s garden–a lovely handful of beets and carrots, one small daikon radish–I’m trying to beat the winter doldrums by thinking ahead to our 2011 garden. Is it too early? My heart screams, “no!” I just ordered several different seed catalogs (do you have a favorite?) and am anxiously awaiting their arrival in our mail box. Nothing like curling up at the end of the day with a seed catalog to warm you up a tiny bit.

Staring out into the endless garden of white could be depressing because winter really just began less than a month ago, but we’re trying to enjoy the quiet, the dark, the time to dream and plan for greener days. Our blanket of snow makes me think of a clean, bright canvas, waiting for a brush dipped in cadmium green pale, raw umber, veridian. How ’bout you? How do you beat the winter doldrums? Fruity drinks with umbrellas, movies and blankets, a bottomless pot of soup, roasted root veggies, a snowshoe hike with a good friend?

Here’s to finding a sense of balance in the here & now while not pining too much for what’s to come…

Tomato jam

Thanks, Internet, and thanks, Food in Jars. My life has so very much been enriched because of this tomato jam. Who knew?! I was perusing the Internet for ideas of what else to do with all this $%^&*@#$#$%^&**!!  (lovely) deluge of brandywine tomatoes and stumbled upon this recipe for tomato jam. It is SO GOOD. I mean, really really good. Spicy, sweet, but not too sweet, just plain delicious. We had it with some cream cheese on crackers. It is a fantastic use of five pounds of fresh tomatoes. Did I mention that this stuff is really good? Have you ever had such a thing? It reminds me of a pepper jelly, but richer, fresher and a bit more complex. Can you say “stocking stuffer” ?!

love me some tomatillos

Growing tomatillos in our garden this year was a really great idea because I love their tanginess and their beautiful little lantern husks, but I had no idea how big the plants would get (yikes!) and how wide their arms would stretch. So wide that they created a roomy bear-hug around the pepper plants and completely shaded them from the sun. Oh well, those didn’t make it.  There are still lots of tomatillos out there on the vine and I’m hoping they hang on another week or two. Or three? 60s and sun should allow that to happen, right? Crossing fingers…

I just added two pints of roasted tomatillo salsa to our nest’s larder. Looking forward to saving a jar for a sure cure to the mid-winter doldrums when our souls are hungering for a fresh bite of summer.

What do you like to do with tomatillos, dear readers?

Peeling tomatoes? Piece of cake.

I used to read through tomato-based recipes and skip right over them if they involved peeling a fresh tomato first. I groaned, “who has time for that nonsense, anyway?!” Turns out, everyone. It’s so embarrassingly easy. And I’m not one to be easily embarrassed.

Quick and dirty: harvest and rinse, core the tomatoes, throw into a big pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds then gingerly ladle them into an ice water bath. There’s really not even much work to do after that because the skins have loosened and fallen off a bit on their own. Simply peel off the rest and voila, a lovely peeled whole tomato. Wow!

I wish all fears were so easy to conquer. Next on the list? Folding a fitted sheet. Hmmpphh.

Tomatoes. A good problem to have.

Happy Thursday, dear readers. How’s your week been going? I’m not exactly sure where our week went, but I know a good chunk of it has been spent in the kitchen. This makes me smile because it’s been in the 50’s/60’s and it’s a relief to be near the stove again. Without sweating. Without the butter sitting in a pool of its former self on the counter. I’ve been inspired by our garden’s tomato bounty, well maybe ‘inspired’ isn’t the correct word for it. Kicked in the a** by tomatoes. Overwhelmed. Bombarded… tomato salad, BLTs, sliced tomatoes with scrambled eggs, tomatoes for friends, tomatoes for neighbors, a huge batch of fresh salsa, did I mention tomato slices with every meal? When I harvested eight or ten very ripe brandywines while the wind blustered around me, my mind turned to roasted tomato soup. Perfect.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Ingredients

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 small yellow onions, sliced

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A sprinkle of red pepper flakes

1 quart chicken stock

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

3/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Directions

Step One. Harvest!

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves, a few basil leaves, and onions onto a baking tray. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, red pepper flakes and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Add remaining basil leaves to the pot. Puree the soup until smooth (batches in a blender worked for me). Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from a Tyler Florence recipe.

A big batch of soup has been enjoyed and some frozen for later, but I still have five tomatoes on my counter and at least six or seven ready to be plucked from the garden. Inspire me, dear readers! What should I do with them? HELP?! What’s your favorite way to enjoy them? Should I get canning, or what?

Cheers to you and enjoy this lovely late summer scarf weather.

Best!

P.S. the tomatillos in the first photo? I made our favorite chicken posole recipe from Cooking Light. Hearty, spicy, healthy, delicious. Did I mention that I’m really into soup right now?