Taste the rainbow

Homegrown Rainbow – just add water

After harvesting veggies from our gardening earlier this week, I peeked in my bag and thought, wow, it’s like a picture perfect rainbow – bet it tastes just as good. 

This thought then led me to think, it’s like you can “Taste the rainbow”… mmmm. 

Sure, maybe I borrowed the tagline from a famous candy, but similar to the original Skittles® pack, the only color missing from my bag was blue, which is pretty impressive considering we’re talking Mother Nature’s coloring au naturel versus something made in a chem lab by the folks at Wrigley.

I think one of the most rewarding things about growing your own food is the immense variety you quickly discover exists out there compared with the minimal choices we actually have in the grocery store. I suppose if you walk down the processed food aisles at your average big box grocer, the appearance of variety and choice is impressive (never mind there are just a few huge companies that make all that “food” and most list high fructose corn syrup among the top three ingredients – that’s a discussion for another day). But when you really examine the options for fresh fruits and veggies, what we get in the store is pretty pathetic.

If you want to talk variety, just open a seed catalog from the great growers at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (I’ve mentioned them before when discussing heirloom beet seeds). Their catalog boasts over 1,300 varieties of  heirloom veggies, fruits and flowers. That’s right, THIRTEEN HUNDRED.

In my own garden this year I’m proud to boast green eggplant, as well as several orange and yellow tomato varieties. One cherry tomato (Helsing Junction Blues) starts out green and blue and ripens to red and an almost blackish purple. In the past, I grew Gretel eggplant, which are a dazzling white. And have you ever seen Purple Dragon Carrots? It almost sounds like a fairytale.

This time of year especially, as the harvest peeks, it’s an unbelievable treat each time I enter the garden and know I am part of something bigger. An effort to remember and actualize the diversity of flavor, hardiness and beauty in our food system. A way of life that recognizes the importance of saving seed and making it available to all, not just those who reach the patent office first. And something that reminds us you don’t have to be perfectly round and red to be called a tomato.

September 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

Rosewater and Cardamom Yogurt Lassi

Until about a year or so ago, I had never heard of lassi, let alone tried it. When I finally noticed it on the menu at our favorite Indian restaurant (which, by the way, is Great India in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota), I decided to give it a go. I started with sweet lassi, as the salty option, while more traditional, didn’t sound as appealing. I loved it and the next visit I opted for the salty version. While I didn’t enjoy that one as much, I knew I was hooked on this wonderful yogurty goodness.

So, when I was skimming an article on ways to use yogurt this last week, I was instantly drawn to the recipe for “Rosewater and Cardamom Yogurt Lassi” and bookmarked it for making soon. I had no idea what rosewater was (though it seemed simple enough), but I guessed correctly that I could find it at our local Indian grocery store, Namaste PlazaI had all the other ingredients including plain yogurt, sugar and cardamom, so once I picked up the rosewater, I was set to go.

MY NOTES: Yum.

Really, that’s all I need to say, but I’ll add a few notes about my process. For the yogurt, I opted for a mix of Greek and regular. No reason, other than I already had both for another recipe, so thought I’d give it a try. As the recipe suggests, lassi is also about the texture, so if you mix this up and aren’t quite ready to serve your beverage, I would suggest waiting to blend in the ice until just before you pour it.

August 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm 1 comment

A trio made in heaven: zucchini, eggplant and tomato

When I did an online search for “zucchini, eggplant and tomato” the results went on for at least thirty pages before I stopped clicking through looking for something that wasn’t a recipe. From ratatouille to gratin and ravioli to grilled kabobs, the possibilities of combining these three lovelies are endless. This time of year is an especially good time to try some of these recipes with all three of the leading ingredients in abundance in home gardens and farmers markets.

This morning I knew I needed to find a recipe to use the two Japanese eggplants I had harvested from our garden last week, so I did a quick search for eggplant on Pinterest. One of the most tantalizing options that appeared was called “Teglia Di Melanzane, Zucchine E Mozzarella Di Bufala” which roughly translated to “Pan of Eggplant, Zucchini and Mozzarella.” Yum.

After reading the translated ingredient list, I knew I had all I needed except fresh mozz. Luckily, I had heard from a friend they were having a 2-for-1 sale on fresh mozzarella logs at one of the grocery stores, so I stopped by and got four. 🙂

Tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.

Here is the rest of the ingredient list:

  • 2 eggplants (360 gr)
  • 2 zucchini (300 g)
  • 360 g red tomatoes
  • 12 slices of mozzarella 1 inch thick
  • 1 clove garlic
  • olive oil
  • basil, chopped
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Here is my edited version of the translated instructions:

Wash the eggplant and cut into slices one centimeter thick. In a bowl, cover the slices with coarse salt and put a weight on top. Let stand for about an hour.
Wash the tomatoes and score the skins. Boil a pot of water and add the tomatoes. After about 20 seconds, remove and peel the tomatoes. Remove all the seeds and chop.
In a skillet, saute the garlic in a tablespoon of oil. Pour in the diced tomatoes, reduce heat, add salt, cover and cook for about ten minutes. Turn off the burner and add the basil.
Rinse the eggplant slices.
Wash the zucchini and cut them in slices.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (this is 350º F).
Brush the zucchini and eggplant with oil and saute in a hot cast iron skillet.
Pour a little oil on the bottom of a baking dish.
Place the tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange alternating slices of eggplant, zucchini and mozzarella on top of the sauce.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven, pour a little olive oil, pepper, garnish with fresh basil and serve.

MY NOTES: This recipe was very easy. It takes a bit of time to wait for the eggplant to “sweat” but otherwise, it is pretty “low tech” and fast. For the garlic, the original translation said to remove the garlic. Maybe that didn’t come across from the Italian correctly, but I can’t imagine any reason to remove garlic, so that stayed in. It also said to add “one leaf” of basil, which seemed silly, so I added about three tablespoons.

The taste on this dish was excellent. Smooth, salty, rich from the oil, but also very much something I would describe as friendly for many palates. Like ratatouille, but in a casserole dish. Overall, a perfect choice for a late summer dish for the whole family.

August 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm 4 comments

Chicken with Bok Choy

Last night for dinner I made one of our household favorites, Chicken with Bok Choy. I originally found the recipe online several summers ago when we first received bok choy (also known as pac choi or “Chinese cabbage”) in our CSA share. I had never heard of the stuff, let alone cooked with it, so I turned to cooks.com, a fantastic recipe resource I discovered during my senior year of college when I was no longer on a student meal plan and had to fend for myself in the cooking realm. The database is made up of culinary creations – some excellent, others never to be repeated – from people all over the world, and one can simply enter in a few ingredients you’d like to use and all sorts of ideas pop up. Have some carrots, kohlrabi and cream, as I did? You might find this great recipe for “Kohlrabi and Carrots.” My husband will hate the Lynn Rossetto Kasper reference, but consider it an online solution to “Stump the Cook.”

So, this Chicken with Bok Choy recipe was one I came across and it seemed very simple. Few ingredients and a great use for a green completely foreign to me. I followed the original recipe the first time and have made some adaptations since then, namely rearranging the recipe to make it more readable. Here is my version:

Chicken with Bok Choy

  • 8 oz boneless chicken
  • 1 lb bok choy (pac choi)
  • 1 slice ginger root (or substitute: ground ginger)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • oil
  • Marinade: 3/4 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari, 3/4 Tbsp cornstarch
  • Sauce: 1½ Tbsp soy sauce or tamari, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp cornstarch, ¼ c water

Slice chicken and put in a bowl.  Add Marinade and mix; set aside.

Chop bok choy into slightly larger than “bite-size” pieces, separating the stems and leaves.  Heat wok (or large pan), then add 3 Tbsp oil. Add bok choy stems and ½ cup water and stir fry, approximately 7 minutes.  Add leaves and cook until limp.

In a separate wok (or pan), heat 3 Tbsp oil.  Stir fry ginger root and garlic until fragrant.  Add chicken and stir fry until cooked. Add Sauce, turn heat to high and stir quickly to mix.

Remove and mix with bok choy.

MY NOTES: As I mentioned, this recipe is adapted from the original. One of the main things I did was the step about separating the bok choy stems and leaves. I found when I added them both at the same time, either the stems would not get cooked enough or the leaves would become mush. Separating them might take a little more time, but this recipe is so quick anyway, it is worth it. I also removed the salt from the recipe, as it seemed very unnecessary, especially when you have soy sauce or tamari. Personally, I only use tamari, as the sodium is much lower and it is 100% soy, where as “soy sauce” often contains wheat, so isn’t edible for gluten free folks out there. Additionally, while the original calls for thighs or legs, I usually use chicken breast, and I often add more garlic and ginger. In a pinch, if I forget to get fresh ginger, ground does work, though I usually don’t add it until I add the chicken. When selecting the oil you will cook with, be sure to choose an oil suitable for cooking on medium to high heat (higher smoke point), like refined canola.

This summer when I was home visiting my family, we made this recipe, but were a little short on bok choy, so we increased the veggie volume with a few peas and celery. This last time, I threw in a little cabbage left from another recipe. You can definitely experiment with adding additional veggies, though I would stay away from things that have really strong or contrasting flavor (like sweet bell peppers). The bok choy flavor is rather delicate, and you might lose some of what really makes this recipe enjoyable. Of course, this is all up to personal tastes.

I’ve shared this recipe with friends and family probably more than any other on my favorites list, and I hope you enjoy it too!

August 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm 1 comment

Blue tomatoes!

That’s right, blue. And beautiful as ever.

Helsing Junction Blues

We’re growing a cherry tomato in our garden this year called Helsing Junction Blues. It’s a newer tomato variety, bred by Tom Wagner, a professional tomato breeder who owns New World Seeds & Tubers. The name is in honor of Helsing Junction Farm, a certified organic farm in Washington. I purchased the seedling from Norsejenta’s Seedlings in Duluth, Minnesota.

The leaves of the plant have a slightly bluish tint and tend to curl up on the edges a bit. So far we’ve harvested about a dozen and a half of these two-tone tomatoes. They start off part purple and part green, ripening to red and indigo blue. Roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, they aren’t sweet to speak of, but have a well-rounded full flavor. The plant is incredibly prolific and the tomatoes grow in bunches, as can be seen in the picture.

I will continue to highlight a number of things we are growing in our garden throughout the remainder of the summer. It’s been great growing so far!

July 30, 2012 at 12:08 am 1 comment

The beauty

I was recently asked to give a brief talk about the community garden where I volunteer, which I’ve written about in the past. The talk was for an event focused on community development work and my task was to highlight the achievements and importance of places like the garden in building sustainable community. My talk started with the reasons I first came to the garden – partly a matter of faith, caring for creation and the children and families in the community, and partly a matter of professional interest, advocating for access to healthy, local and affordable food for all.

And while these two reasons are definitely valid and important enough on their own as motivation to volunteer at the garden, I realized that the thing which keeps me coming back to the garden is simply…

The beauty.
(The following is the remainder of my speech.)

This beauty may not always be apparent, we have our tough days – but the beauty is always there.

The beauty in our garden is not found in everyone showing up on time and diligently working for hours. It’s not found in straightly planted rows of carrots or evenly spaced tomato seedlings, with no weeds growing between them.

The beauty in our garden is found in places you might not see if you stopped by on your own, but I promise you that it exists in a way that can, and will, grow over the years.

The beauty in our garden is found in a child discovering how to read a seed packet or learning to use a shovel for the first time.

It’s found when a child you weren’t sure was paying attention correctly identifies most of the vegetables planted in the garden.

This beauty is found in beets, and a young girl, down on her knees discovering how to thin them and saying how sad it was to have to remove some of the plants so others could grow, then realizing that she could eat the greens and eagerly taking them home.

The beauty is found when you overhear supposedly “uninterested” kids later instructing their peers on how to properly plant a tomato with phrases like “no, she said to do it THIS way.”

The beauty occurs you hear Indian women telling Latino women how to use eggplant and Latino women informing me what you can do with a tomatillo.

The beauty is when you harvest the abundant basil and turn it in to pesto and then serve it on pasta, and some of the kids actually like it (even if they won’t admit it until weeks later).

The beauty is found when a child returns to the garden after picking lettuce the previous day and she tells you that her mom bought salad dressing especially for the occasion so they could enjoy the meal together, as a family.

The beauty is found in a six year old boy who looks up at you, after tasting his first bite ever of yellow summer squash, which HE helped you grill and serve to the other kids, and say “Mmmm…Squash is the bomb! Can I have another?”

The Cottageville Park Neighborhood Garden provides a unique space for our youth and families in the Blake Road Corridor to come together. In a neighborhood that has its challenges, there are just as many, if not more, opportunities. The garden is a place where adults and children from all cultures and walks of life can put their hands in the dirt, and grow not only food, but community.

June 29, 2012 at 11:34 pm 3 comments

First fruits

Perennial plants provide a type of spring joy that will likely never be achieved by annuals, at least not in northern climes. Sure, annuals offer some of the tastiest harvest, but perennials often get the first (asparagus, anyone?) and last (apple pie, yes please) say of the growing season. While annuals often require certain temperatures and warmer soils to be planted, perennials begin their new growth as soon as Mother Nature hits the “Go” button. Their emergence may depend on the particular spring and your location, but by April or May, around the country we are all generally treated to some sort of perennial beauty.

I love early spring flowers – while in college in Tacoma, Washington, my favorite were the daffodils that bloomed in February – but the real treat to me are the early fruits. This last weekend, we were gifted with our first: vibrant red strawberries. We have patiently watched for these berries, having planted the initial starter plants in 2010. The first summer was just to establish the patch, and last year, the few berries that were produced were stolen by ants, so this year has been awaited with much anticipation.

Unlike anything you could ever get shipped from California, a fresh, tender Minnesota Grown strawberry delivers a burst of tanginess and sweetness that will leave you craving more. They almost melt in your mouth like a fine chocolate.

If you don’t have space in your own garden to grow berries, or you can’t grow enough to meet your needs for pies, jams or just plain eating, there are many ways to get your hands on these delicious treats. Check out your grocery and ask them if they carry local produce; if they don’t, as them to consider it. Find your nearest farmers market and get to know the vendors. Or, you can do what I find most satisfying, and that is Pick Your Own or PYO. One of my favorite places to pick strawberries is Sam Kedem Nursery & Garden in Hasting, Minnesota. Sam and Rachel have been growing wonderful produce for over 15 years, and for the past several years have been certified Organic. In addition to strawberries, they also have PYO raspberries, blueberries, cherries and currants, not to mention many vegetables. If you’re looking for some quality produce and friendly farmers, head on down!

Not near Hastings, but want to PYO elsewhere in Minnesota, check out this handy guide, organized by county.  Other states also have listings. Happy picking!

May 31, 2012 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

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