DELICIOUS POTAGER

Gardening, Cooking, Eating and Enjoying

Diggin Taters

This year’s tater crop was epic!

IMG_9160

I’ve only grown potatoes the last few years. But seriously, they are probably the easiest vegetables to grow. Luckily, I haven’t had many problems from pests like potato beetles (I probably just jinxed myself…). You mostly just plant your seed potatoes and let the plants run their course until they begin to turn yellow and wither. Once they flower, after a few weeks, you know the plants have started to form potatoes. You can dig them after they flower if you want the young, baby potatoes. They do need hoeing a couple times, though as the plants grown. But that’s about it. I don’t have a lot of room, but I planted six seed potatoes, and probably got 15 pounds of potatoes. Just think if I had more space.

The first couple times I planted them, I didn’t even buy seed potatoes, I just planted the old leftover potatoes. Of course, it’s recommended you get seed potatoes from a reputable source to ensure they are free of disease and fungus. But the old timers just saved potatoes and planted the new crop off the last one.

These are red jackets. I like thin-skinned potatoes better, but it’s a matter of personal preference. In the past I’ve grown kennebecs, which are also really tasty.

After I dug the potatoes, actually… after the Hubs dug them (He’s the best tatter digger I know. Except for his dad.) I planted kale in the empty spot. Last year, my fall kale was amazing. (Probably just jinxed myself there, too). I harvested the last of it the weekend after New Year’s Day.

Kale is better in the fall, and after it’s been frosted on. Cole crops are actually better after a frost, because as the weather gets colder, they convert the water in the plant to sugar to protect them plant from damage. Sugar has a lower freezing point than water. This whole process makes the plant sweeter and more mild. Kale is my favorite vegetable, so I hope this year’s crop is just a good as last year’s.

I also planted more fall veggies, lettuce, beets, and radishes. It might seem a little early for those, but now’s the time. I enjoy spring and fall gardening more than summer vegetables because their are fewer pests and threats to the plants, the weather is better for working in the garden, and because it’s a challenge. There’s less daylight and the weather is cooler, making it harder to grow summer vegetables, so you have to grow things that do well in those conditions. Greens, lettuces, and radishes are ideal.

The hardest part is waiting for them to be ready.

The Beauty of a Vegetable Tian

I’ve never made a vegetable tian before last weekend. But aren’t they beautiful?

vegetable Tian (7)

I pieces of an eggplant and a zucchini left over from other recipes I made last weekend, so I sliced them thin with some tomatoes and put it all together in a dish to bake.

I’ve seen recipes and beautiful pictures of these dishes before, but I didn’t really know what a “tian” was.

The name tian comes from the colorful shallow dishes that the vegetables are baked in in Provence. Which is exactly the dish I had made this in, I just didn’t know it was called a tian.

I added a little garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and a few splashes of red wine vinegar.

vegetable tian (2)

Oh, and feta cheese.

vegetable tian (3)

I’ve always said peasant food is the best. No matter the region, no matter the ingredients.

vegetable tian (5)

This is a beautiful way to feature summer vegetables. It looks as pretty as it is delicious.

 

All Hail the Cold Brew!

Whoever came up with cold brewing coffee was a genius.

No really.

It’s hot. It was 91 here today, but with the humidity, it felt like 100. At least that’s what the Weather Channel told me. I didn’t spend much time outside. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying an afternoon pick-me-up.

Iced-Coffee (4)

Cold brew coffee is an entirely different chemical reaction than your hot morning joe. Now, I’m gonna go all coffee-snob on you here… but coffee is such a complex thing! Grind it fine or grind it coarse, and you get two different flavors. Same thing when put in hot water or “cold” (i.e. room temperature). Force steam through it for 20 seconds and it taste totally different than if you force steam through it for 30 seconds. Completely different.

Coffee really is complex in that there are so many compounds that are extracted when hot water is poured over the ground coffee, that aren’t extracted when room temperature water is used. As a result, cold brew coffee really is smoother. It’s less acidic and even has less caffeine that your hot morning coffee.

To make iced coffee, I suppose you can just brew coffee hot, then let it cool and serve it over ice. Some people prefer that, but I certainly don’t. I think it makes it taste very sharp and bitter. To me, it has an almost metallic taste.

I like to buy a cold brew coffee when I’m out and about, but there’s no need to spend a fortune on it when it is so easy to make.

I used to use the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for iced coffee, but I’ve adapted it and, frankly I’m lazy, so I take short cuts. But really, there’s not much to cold brew coffee. It’s not like there’s a fancy and elaborate recipe out there.

I have two of these two-quart mason jars that belonged to my Granny Ramsey. That lady was a canner from way back. I wish I could’ve canned with her, but she died when I was young, before I got into canning. Anyway, people used to can in two-quart jars, but today, it’s not recommended for safety. It’s just too hard to get a jar that size up to a high enough temperature for safe preserving. So, I use my two big two-quart jars for making big batches of iced coffee and kimchi.

Iced-Coffee (7)

For two quarts of cold brew, I use 4 ounces of ground coffee. I buy the expensive coffee for making hot coffee,  but for cold brew coffee, I just buy whatever is on sale. I cannot tell a difference between the high-end stuff and the cheap stuff like I can with hot coffee.

Just put your coffee in the jar and fill it up with water. It’s that simple. Well, pretty much.

Leave it sit for at least 12 hours at room temperature, but 24 hours is really the sweet spot. The longer, the stronger. Then, I just put a coffee filter over a strainer and strain out the coffee grounds. This will take a while, and I generally have to change out the filter two or three times.

Iced-Coffee (5)

Iced-Coffee (6)

I used to be less particular about how well I strained it and just dumped it through a finer strainer. But it seemed like it would get more bitter the longer it sat with some grinds in it. And this will last me a couple weeks. Or sometimes just a weekend. I actually also make a great mocha breakfast smoothie with this coffee and chocolate protein powder.

I usually like to order cold brew coffee with just a little half and half. Nothing really sweet and sugary, but sometimes a little vanilla is nice, too.

Iced Coffee (3)

Sunday Brunch is Coming to Charleston!

After a long and winding journey through the statehouse and city hall, Sunday brunch is finally coming to Charleston this weekend!

Generally, no alcohol may be sold in West Virginia before 1 pm on Sundays, a law that has been on the books for a least a handful of decades. However, this year, the legislature changed the law allowing Sunday alcohol sales by restaurants and other establishments to begin at 10 am. For two years, the restaurant and hospitality community had been making the case how much of a boon Sunday brunch would mean to their industry, especially in border counties and tourist destinations. As a compromise, the bill passed allowed each county to hold a local election to determine if on-premises alcohol consumption would be allowed as early as 10 am on Sundays. However, many municipalities, anxious to begin allowing establishments to serve alcohol at brunch on Sunday mornings, elected to not wait until the November election for the ballot measure, but to exercise their ability through municipal home rule to make local laws allowing for Sunday brunch. One by one, beginning this summer, cities across the state began sanctioning Sunday brunch.

The Charleston City Council proposal made its way through the municipal lawmaking process over the past couple weeks, and beginning August 6th, Charleston restaurants can serve alcohol to brunch patrons beginning at 10 am.

12819034_453447864861171_167512856_n

The Charleston restaurant scene couldn’t be happier to welcome Sunday brunch patrons. Every place you’d imagine would offer brunch is coming up with delectable breakfast specials and their own twist on accompanying beverages. And even some places you’d never guess would participate–like the Cold Spot. I kinda want to go there to check out their brunch out of curiosity.

The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau has a page on their Facebook page called “Let’s Do Brunch” with a round-up of all the local establishments participating, and their specials. Now the hardest part is deciding where to go this Sunday.

I mentioned the Cold Spot. Their brunch special is wings, waffles and omlettes. Of course. Their wings are pretty solid.

Also in the category of gritty locals bars, Sam’s Uptown is bringing their A-game for Sunday brunch with a number of specials including bread pudding with braised pork belly, shrimp and grits and chicken and waffles, along with the usual breakfast choices like eggs, bacon and sausage. Each entree is $15, which also includes a choice of one Bloody Mary, mimosa or craft beer. If you follow them on Facebook and saw their Saturday brunch pics from last weekend, you know the food is legit.

If pizza is your thing, Lola’s is jumping in the brunch game with breakfast pizzas and drink specials.

Local favorite, Black Sheep Burrito, will feature organic blue corn johnny cakes with orange blossom whipped butter and choice of bacon or sausage. Black Sheep Burrito will also have $2 mimosas, bellinis and poinsettas.

Perhaps the most ardent supporter of Sunday brunch at the statehouse and the owner of Bluegrass Kitchen, Keeley Steele, plans to embrace Sunday brunch and add to the already-successful Saturday brunch at the establishment. Bluegrass will offer live music by the Carpenter Ants, a make-your-own mimosa station, and happy hour prices all day long.

Some surprising restaurants are getting in the brunch game like Little India and Su Tei. I don’t think of these places as having breakfast-y foods, but that’s not stopping them. Both will open at noon and offer specials. Su Tei will feature Singapore noodles and special sushi rolls.

Suffice it to say there are an abundance of Sunday brunch options. The economic impact to the communities that the proponents of the “brunch” bill touted are already being examined. West Virginia State University just completed an economic impact study that put the projected impact far above what anyone expected when the bill was being debated at the statehouse. I have no doubt local businesses will see a marked bump from what boils down to an extra three hours of alcohol sales one day out of the week, simply because the restaurant community in Charleston has so much support. Restaurants are already talking about having more servers scheduled on Sunday, even after brunch ends, simply to accommodate the additional butts in seats on Sunday as a result of brunch. Some are even talking about hiring more servers. This is great news. People are really excited about Sunday brunch. I expect the interest in Sunday brunch to continue through the fall, and hopefully into the holiday season. And let’s face it, our state has seen its share of recent economic set-backs, particularly south of the gasfields in the north-central part of the state. If there’s something out there that can bring a few more tourism and hospitality dollars into our local economy, let’s do it!

There was a great write-up in the Gazette by Elaina Sauber, detailing some of the local specials, what other municipalities are doing to bring Sunday brunch to their towns, and some interesting history of brunch.

 

Date Night at Books and Brews

I love it when you think you’re going to be busy on a random Saturday, then plans fall through and you have the whole day free. Those days are a rare blessing.

That was the case last Saturday, and I wanted to make the most of it. I got a lot of little things done that I needed to do around the house and by late afternoon, I was all done and ready to go out on the town and do something fun.

Saturday afternoon was the Elk City Summer Daze event on the West Side, sponsored by Bully Trap Barber Shop, Kin Ship Goods, Super Weenie, and Mea Cuppa Coffee, among other businesses. I love Charleston’s small business scene, and it’s so nice that there is a whole community of folks who feel the same way. What better way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon than with live music, free hot dogs and beer, and games for the kids, in an alley blocked off on the West Side? It was a great event. We didn’t stay long, but the crowd was picking up as we were leaving, as the band was setting up. We were continuing our small business homage down in Hurricane at Books and Brews for dinner.

I don’t remember how I heard about this place, but it’s a specialty coffee shop in the a.m. and a cafe with craft beer and pizzas in the p.m. That, and it is basically a big library. It’s genius.

IMG_8955

I mean… How could I not check this place out? I am such a coffee snob, and they have pour over. Pour over! And they have mostly local craft beer. These are two things I live for. Probably, more the fancy coffee.

It’s right on Main Street in Hurricane. It was so charming!

IMG_8946

The walls are filled with bookshelves. And all kinds of different books. It would actually be a great place to spend a lazy Saturday morning drinking fancy coffee, browsing books.

IMG_8945

IMG_8940

Look at all those pour over implements! I really wanted to try it, but it was like 7 pm. I’d be up all night. I’ll just have to go back.

We got there just in time, it totally filled up not long after we put in our food order. There was live music at 8 p.m.

We got our craft beers and I looked for a book to flip through while we waited for our food.

IMG_8942

I had Southern Tier Tangier Session IPA and the Hubs had his all-time favorite local beer, Big Timber IPA. They had quite a selection, however no draft beer. It was no big deal. The prices were really reasonable, too.

IMG_8944

The menu is mostly pizza, with some sandwiches, salads and other snacks thrown in. One lady who came in after us ordered a grilled chicken salad that looked amazing. We decided to go with pizzas since that is what they are mostly known for from the kitchen.

All the pizzas are named for books, and the Hubs got Atlas Shrugged, which was buffalo chicken, parmesan and ranch.

IMG_8948

I had Frankenstein, which was bacon, smoked pork, BBQ sauce, sour kraut and gouda cheese. It was amazing. The crust on these pizzas was nice and crispy. We gobbled up both are pizzas almost as soon as they arrived.

IMG_8950

I really want to go back to try some of the sandwiches or maybe that salad that looked so good. We don’t leave Charleston just to go eat dinner very often, unless the place we’re heading is exceptional, and we may just have to hit this place up again. I REALLY want to try the coffee.

As we were leaving, the Hubs ordered a “Blender”, which is a frozen coffee drink with a candy bar-flavor shot. He got Reese Cup, and it was actually really good. Pretty sweet, but it hit the spot for dessert.

IMG_8952

IMG_8953

IMG_8954

This place is adorable, and they have a solid business plan–sell super-fancy caffeine in the morning and local craft beers at night. How is this place not making a fortune?!? I would drop some serious coin there if I lived closer. As a matter of fact, I recommend you all go check it out. They pretty much have something for everyone.

*The fine print. I was NOT compensated for this post or for sharing my opinion. I didn’t even tell them I was going to write about the place. I hadn’t even decided to write about it until I took my first bite. But, it all worked out.

The Flavors of Riviera Maya

Last week, the Hubs and I were on vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico. I can’t even describe how beautiful it is there.

Miles of white sand. Turquoise waters. Not just at the resort, but everywhere you looked. It was too much. I’m spoiled for beaches from now on.

The Hubs and I have different travel styles. I like to go places and see things and “get some culture.” He likes to lay on the beach and nap. All. Day. Long. We have to make compromises. Admittedly, when I plan the trip, I’m exhausted when it’s over. His style is definitely more relaxing. At the end of one of his kinda trips, I’m five pounds heavier.

I’ve wanted to visit Riviera Maya for a while. I love Mexico, having been to Cozumel a couple times years ago. But that’s like saying you love the U.S. if you’ve only ever been to Daytona Beach. I love the food, the music, the art, the people in Mexico, and I just had to get more of it. Plus, I think the ancient Mayan  civilization is fascinating. Riviera Maya is right in the middle of the historic land.

We opted for an all-inclusive resort about 10 miles south of Cancun in Puerto Morelos. It’s a quiet little beach town, and there’s really nothing around this resort–kinda a drawback if you want to leave the resort and get some local culture. Here’s the thing I hate about staying at an all-inclusive resort: It’s harder to get an “authentic” experience with the local culture. You can be very insulated from anything outside of the fence around the resort if you’d like. It makes me sad that there were French, Italian, Mediterranean, and Japanese restaurants at our resort. I’m in Mexico, damnit. I want to eat real Mexican food. (There actually was a very good authentic Mexican restaurant at the resort, too.)

But all-inclusives do have their pluses. Particularly if you have a language barrier. You wouldn’t want to stay downtown in a locals area to get the local culture if you couldn’t even communicate with the locals. Having had two years of Spanish in college, I felt pretty good about my ability to communicate with everyone in Riviera Maya in their native tongue, but about 15 minutes after we went through customs at airport, I realized I was WAY overconfident in my Spanish. (I was surprised how  much came back to me after a couple days hearing it so much though, and it helps, too, if you’re totally sober when trying to understand… One thing that was not helped by being at an all-inclusive.)

At any rate, sure, at an all-inclusive resort, if you only want to eat french fries and Buffalo wings and drink Bud Light, you can. But it’s not hard to get some local culture, nonetheless. You just have to look for it a little harder. We found enough to satisfy me on this trip.

I mentioned the restaurants, and food at this resort was actually better than I expected. The cool thing at this resort was that every day, a big grill was wheeled out by the pool, and the staff had a poolside BBQ. There was steak and chicken thighs, tortilla chips and fresh guacamole and pico de gallo. There was fresh fruit and fresh salads with fresh veggies.

IMG_8712

We quickly discovered the chicken was way better than the steak. And that green sauce. Oh, lawdy, that green sauce. Salsa verde, actually. It. Was. Amazing. And it was everywhere. Breakfast and lunch. I put it on everything. The chicken was marinated in beer, lime juice and cilantro. The Hubs and I have vowed to try to recreate the chicken and salsa verde. Don’t worry, I’ll blog the recipe.  I’m just waiting for tomatillos to come in season.

Even though there were a number of restaurants, like I mentioned, French, Japanese, Mediterranean, Italian, in addition to authentic Mexican, we did try those other restaurants. And they were pretty good. The only one we didn’t really care for was the steakhouse-style restaurant. We actually ate at the French restaurant on Bastille Day.

IMG_8732

Creme Brulee on Bastille Day

Of course, the Mexican restaurant was hard to beat. Eating at the other places just felt weird. If you go to Mexico expecting to get the kind of food you get served in a typical Mexican restaurant in the States, I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Much of the food served at typical Mexican restaurants here has been Americanized for our palates, in the same way that Chinese food in the United States has. A lot of the dishes are unique to the States, although it resembles classic Mexican cooking.

I had fried Oaxaca cheese for an appetizer. Oaxaca cheese is from the state of Oaxaca on the southwestern coast of Mexico. It’s a soft, mild cheese, very similar to mozzarella, but a little more firm. It lends itself well to breading and frying in much the same way that fried feta does.

Of course, it was served with the ubiquitous salsa verde, which was an awesome bright, acidic counterpoint to heavy fried cheese. Many cuisines have a “green sauce” with a base of herbs or greens, but only Mexican salsa verde feature tomatilos. They look just like small green tomatoes, and they are related, but it’s a totally different fruit. They have a more acidic and tart flavor than tomatoes, even than green tomatoes. The flavor is almost citrus-y.

For the main course, I had conchinita pibil, a slow-roasted pork dish. It is native to the Yucatan dating back to Mayan times. The two main components of the pork dish are that it is marinated in citrus juice, and seasoned with the seed of annatto fruit, which grow on trees throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Annatto seeds taste like a cross between black pepper and dried mildly hot peppers like poblanos. (Or at least that’s what the sauce tasted like–peppery and spicy.)

The pork was served with some flour tortillas, and of course, salsa verde. It was simple and amazing. Salsa verde is so good with anything heavy and rich. Plus, because of the climate of Mexico, the growing season is virtually year-round, so there is always fresh produce. The cuisine is all about the freshest ingredients, and it’s delicious.

Of course, I had to sample the drinks that Mexico is known for. We had our fill of Modelo, Corona and Pacifico beers served with a fresh lime wedge. The margaritas weren’t bad, but I also tried a michelada. From what I read before going to Mexico, it’s always good to ask how they’re made, since there are so many variations. But it is basically beer with lime juice and chili powder. Only problem was, I couldn’t remember the verb for “make” in Spanish. “Que… uhhh… es en michelada?” That didn’t quite get it. So, I threw caution to the wind, and just ordered one. It wasn’t bad, but tasted like heartburn waiting to happen. It had a salt and chili powder rim, and in addition to lime juice, I definitely tasted worcestershire sauce.

a hand-shaved mango margarita, served poolside

The whole reason I wanted to visit Riviera Maya was to visit the Mayan ruins. Tulum was about an hour south and on the coast. I read in my research that Chitzen Itza was more spectacular, but it was inland and about a two and half hour ride. July is definitely not the time to visit Riviera Maya because it was so unbearably hot. So, I opted for Tulum because it was closer and I thought it might actually be cooler. It was still pretty hot. It is the jungle, afterall.

But it was stunning.

We spent about 45 minutes exploring the actual ruins. There is little recognizable left of the ruins, but you can tell it was a grand city. Some original paintings on the inside of the structures that are visible through the windows still exist. The height of Tulum was around 1200 A.D. The translation of “Tu Lum” in Mayan means the wall. It was a city within three walls, with the fourth side open to the steep cliff down to the sea. El Castillo is the centerpiece of the city, with it’s center directly over the opening to one of the underground rivers that crisscross the Yucatan. Tulum wasn’t so much a fortress as it was a commercial port. Good from Europe and South America entered the Mayan civilization by carefully navigating the natural narrow opening in the world’s second longest barrier reef into the underground river and up into Tulum.

We had swimsuits on, and after exploring the ruins (in the morning, no less) in the oppressive heat and humidity, we couldn’t resist going down to the beach–which is part of the national park, for a dip.

The beach was stunning, but was actually very tiny. It was crowded and we didn’t have a lot of time to relax, so we didn’t stay long.

At any rate, I hope to try a batch of salsa verde soon, and try those grilled chicken thighs marinated in lime, beer and cilantro. Don’t worry, I’ll share the recipes on here. I think I’ll skip the micheladas, though.

Flaggin’ Canes

Last week, I noticed the wine berries in my backyard were getting close to ripe.  In case, you’re wondering, wine berries are essentially wild raspberries. But they aren’t actually raspberries, just very close. And they are native to this part of the country. And they’re invasive. A few years back, I noticed them in my back yard. They weren’t there when we first bought the house. It’s like they just showed up one day. Doesn’t bother me a bit, actually.

Last year, I didn’t get a single one because the birds beat me to them. This year, I was determined not to let that happen.

IMG_8703

While these are invasive, I plan to keep close check on them in my backyard. And, last winter, in my Master Gardener class, we learned about how to prune and take care of berry brambles. They definitely need pruned. You can’t just let me grown… Unless you want them to take over your backyard. Brambles like blackberries and raspberries bear fruit on the second-year canes only. These are called floricanes, and the first-year canes are called primocanes. So, in pruning, it’s important to know this and not cut the wrong ones. Wine berries are no different. The difference is easy to see this time of year. The primocanes are bright green, and the floricanes are dark brown. But come winter, when it’s time to prune, they all look the same–dark brown.

So, I came up with a plan. I flagged the floricanes so I know that I can prune those this winter.

IMG_8704

I have plans to move these brambles. But supposedly the sewer company is going to be putting in some new lines and needs to come onto our property to make a connector. It was supposed to happen this spring, but it never did. Now, it’s set for fall. So, I am trying to wait until I know where they will be tearing up the yard before I move these.

For a great article on growing your own berries, John Porter, the Kanawha County WVU Extension Agent (and incidentally, instructor of the Master Gardener Class) described how easy they are to grow in last Sunday’s paper.

So far, I’ve only gotten about a cup and a half.  There aren’t many berries, probably because I pruned all the wrong canes last winter. I cut them back pretty good.

IMG_8701

They’ve been great in smoothies. I hope I have more next summer. In a new, contained, patch. We’ll see.

Delicious Potager after the rain

To say we have had a lot of rain the past week would be an understatement.

It seems like it isn’t going to end. And these aren’t just little sprinkle showers either. They are thunderstorms and flash flood warnings. Summer rains are the best thing to happen to a backyard garden, but this is pushing it a bit.

I went out to check on my garden this week after one of the rain storms. The summer vegetables look great. I cannot believe I am still picking lettuce in July. I keep thinking that I need to get it all because surely it won’t last much longer before it begins to bolt, but I’ve been saying that a month now. The steady rain storm every couple days has certainly prolonged its harvest. That’s okay with me, though. It’s nice to have lettuce and all the veggies like cucumbers and peppers to make a salad with coming in at the same time. Usually the lettuce is gone by the time any of those are ready to pick.

Lettuces

IMG_8666

Seriously, look how gorgeous! Makes me wanna go get a bottle of salad dressing!

IMG_8665

Last week, I planted more zucchini in the lettuce bed, thinking that the lettuce would phase out by the time the zucchini plants really start to take off. The only thing is, though, it seems like there’s no end to this lettuce in sight. The baby zucchini plants look great. No doubt all this rain is really helping them speed along, too.

IMG_8663

The cucumbers are coming right along, too. I’ve already picked a few of those, and there are tons more tiny ones, so I’ll be eating cucumbers steadily for the new few weeks, I’m sure.

IMG_8657

I had wanted to put a raised bed along my chainlink fence for a long time, and I finally got around to it a couple years ago. It’s the perfect place to grow peas and beans, but this year, I thought I’d try cukes, so they can trellis up the fence. It’s saving A LOT of space.

IMG_8656

Just a week or so ago, I planted swiss chard along the front of the cukes, since they are climbing up the fence and not taking up much space at all. The seedlings are just coming up. I need to get up my “deer fence” around this bed soon because last year, the deer decimated my swiss chard. They have already munched the cucumber plants a little, anyway. I got a roll of plastic fence from my brother that he didn’t need, and I’m going to try to fashion some sort of barrier with stakes in the corners. It probably won’t stop them, but I’m hoping it at least makes it a bit less easy for them.

I planted tomatoes and potatoes in my garden plot this year. Last year, I planted brussels sprouts and kale, so I knew I couldn’t plant anything from the cole crop family, in order to help w/ pests (those pesky cabbage worms and harlequin bugs that I fought tirelessly last year). Crop rotation is a great way to keep your backyard plants from succumbing to pests without using a lot of pesticide. Although both tomatoes and potatoes are from the same family also, I planted them together. It is recommended not to, or to at least to have a barrier plant in between. I tried that with herbs this year, but it’s not a big plot, and they are still pretty close together.

IMG_8662

IMG_8660

I’ve got four different varieties of tomatoes: stripey, cherokee purple, roma and beefsteak. This is the first year I’ve mulched with straw–a trick I learned in my Master Gardener course. I have to say that it has helped immensely. A few years back, I mulched with shredded paper, but it was really ugly, and broke down much quicker than the straw. I still need to pull a few weeds, but this step sure does make my garden way more low maintenance with a lot less weeding and hoeing.

The potatoes are almost ready since they’ve bloomed. I’ve always heard that you wait until the flowers die to dig them. Potatoes are one of the easiest plants I’ve ever grown. They are so low maintenance, and pretty quick to produce. Once I dig these, I’ll probably put in another crop, that I’ll dig in the fall.

IMG_8661

I have another “hill” of zucchini plants in one of my raised beds, which is absolutely exploding.

IMG_8659

I counted ten little zucchinis last night. Which means they will all be in at the same time. It seems like that always happens with zucchini–you end up with enough to feed an army for a few weeks, then it is all gone. But it’s one of my favorite summer vegetables, so I’m not complaining… yet.

In the interest of crop rotation, I also planted pepper plants in the pots that I usually put tomatoes in. But the last few years, I hadn’t had much luck with tomatoes on the patio. The plants would grow and grow, but I only got a handful of tomatoes. Another tip I picked up in the Master Gardener course was that I probably needed to change the dirt in them. That dirt had been going on ten years old without having been changed out. I’m sure it was totally depleted of nutrients. I had added dirt to the tops over the years, and sometimes even fertilizer, but a change was in order. The three pepper plants are all sweet, since my father-in-law has the hot pepper production locked down. I think he put out around 44 plants.

IMG_8654

Of course, I enjoy the non-food plants in my backyard, too. I noticed I have some wayward ferns that have sprouted right beside my rain barrel and will need transplanted. They have probably benefited from all the rain as well.

IMG_8655

At any rate, it looks like it’s only a matter of a few days before I’m up to my neck in summer vegetables from my backyard. I can hardly wait.

Good people and good food

They say there are two types of people: those that wake up thinking about what they’ll eat that day, and everyone else.

I think there’s no doubt I fall into the former.

I mark celebrations of life with food–birthdays, holidays, get-togethers with friends. I experience culture through food. It reminds me of where I came from, and is tied deeply to memories. It is the perspective through which I see the world. It’s not just sustenance for me. I suspect many of you feel the same way.

It’s been a particularly difficult past few weeks.

June started out under a dark cloud with an all-too-real possibility of a state government shut down. I don’t talk a lot about my professional life on this blog on purpose, but the Hubs and I are both state employees. Having an interruption in our paychecks and insurance coverage was stressful enough to deal with. But in my professional life, many of the reperucussions of a shut-down reverberated through the agency I work for. I was worried for the retirees who get by on very little. And other state employees who were just getting by. Would people miss mortgage payments? Skip getting a necessary prescription filled? Not to mention the headache that would come after the shut down on the legal front. More than one day during those couple weeks I holed up in my office and played out the doomsday scenarios in my head. It was awful. But alas, the state avoided a shut down with a couple weeks to spare.

On the heels of the resolution of a possible shut down, a third of the Hubs’s coworkers got lay-off notices a couple weeks ago.  I am heartbroken. We are friends with many of his coworkers and their families. I bought Girl Scout Cookies from their daughters, we went to their weddings, I share recipes with their wives, and we watch football games at each others’ houses. I worry what will happen to their kids. I of all people know what it’s like to be laid off from a job you enjoy. However, this particular job is part of who they are. God knows none of them are doing it to get rich. I don’t know of a group who give more than these guys and get so little in return. Sometimes these things work out for the best. But it’s a lot of stress and worry about where you’ll be in a year–or in two months. There’s a lot of unknown.

And they say when it rains it pours. Literally in this case. In case you’ve missed the (all too brief) news coverage, West Virginia experienced a “thousand year” flood last weekend.

Some people lost their lives. Twenty-five-ish at the last count. Some are still missing, and may never be recovered. Thousands lost their homes. Total loss. Their homes were washed off foundations down the creek, pulled apart in the rushing and rising waters, contents strewn up the holler. Thousands more were lucky enough to have their homes left in tact, but with several inches of mud left behind. The clean-up will take months.

The community I grew up in sustained probably the worst damage in Clay County, which was one of the hardest hit areas. I’m not sure which had it the worst–White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County or Clendenin in northern Kanawha County. Not that it’s a contest. The Elk River from Procious to Clendenin pretty much left nothing but destruction behind. And all the little creeks and tributaries that flow into it were just as bad, if not worse. At any rate, luckily my mom lives on a hill, and her house escaped damage, but many of her neighbors weren’t so lucky. My in-laws live right on the creek, and miraculously, the water didn’t breach the creek banks along their property.

I made some trout for dinner last week that I had in the freezer. As I was cooking, I was thinking about all this bad news. The trout was actually caught by one of the guys getting laid off. He doesn’t like to eat them, but loves to fish, so he gave us all he caught back in the spring. He didn’t just give us the fish whole and uncleaned, which would have been easy, and what I probably would have done. He cleaned them, scaled them and fileted them for us. Because that’s the kind of person he is. A lot of those guys are those kind of people.

The trout was delicious; sauted in some butter and white wine, by the way.

trout in butter (3)

trout in butter (2)

I realized that it wasn’t just the trout that we enjoyed for dinner, but what it represented. Good people doing good things for their friends and neighbors.

Last week, in all the devastation from the flood, food, water and supplies poured into the damaged areas in waves. It was overwhelming to those who were organizing the donations at times–the sheer volume of help that came in. After the initial supplies started pouring in, the next wave were folks who were showing up with shovels and boots and gloves offering their backs to help in the clean-up. It’s not an easy or pleasant task by any stretch. Last week, local restaurants set up at the flood supply distribution centers feeding hot meals to folks who have lost everything and have been living off non-perishable packaged food for the past week. Everybody knows that many locally-owned restaurants are just getting by on a shoestring. It’s not like they have a lot of profit margin to work with in donating their time (many closed for the day or greatly scaled back their operations) and their stock to come and cook free hot meals for people who need them. I know that Dem 2 Brothers pulled their smoker up to Clendenin and fed ribs and chicken to those who showed up to get cleaning supplies. And Sam’s Uptown was at Clendenin and in Clay grilling for folks. These are just two of the many examples of local restaurants that stepped up. I saw on social media that some places even donated “to go” boxes so the folks who came to get a hot meal could take one to a neighbor that hadn’t been able to get out. For a few minutes, I’m sure those recipients were able to just sit down and rest and enjoy some really delicious good food (trust me, Dem 2 Brothers is no joke when it comes to BBQ).

It’s things like this that help all of us live with the bad news. Knowing that this state is full of good people and good food. Whether it’s free BBQ or sausages that someone is making for flood victims, or trout (or asparagus or locally pastured raised beef–shout out to the Castos and Jared) from a coworker who knows that your wife will cook anything from a stream or the woods. The recovery process will be a long one for the flood victims, and I only hope that the guys I know that work with the Hubs find great places to land and it all works out in the end.

Fun with Fermentation

kimchi (1)

kimchi (2)

kimchi (6)

kimchi (7)

My twitter bio says “I might have to reevaluate our relationship if you don’t like kimchi.”

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I do feel pretty strongly about it.

Once I figured out how easy it is to make at home, there’s no stoppin my kimchi fanaticism now.  As a matter of fact, every time I make a batch, I double it for a jar for my father-in-law. I’ve converted him now, too. It’s traditionally a condiment, of course. But it’s wonderful with rich and gooey dishes because the spicy and acidic crunch is a needed contrast. Think quesadillas or grilled cheese. Of course, you can eat it right out the jar like I do sometimes for a snack.

You  don’t need special ingredients to make it besides what you can probably find at your regular grocery store. I made it that way for a while. You really only need napa cabbage, ginger,cayenne pepper, a little sugar, salt and fish sauce. But if you have access to a well-stocked Asian grocery store, you can up your kimchi game substantially. Traditionally, it might have fermented shrimp or chopped daikon radishes. To this batch, I added gochujang paste for extra heat, and it definitely delivered. All you have to do is pack the mixture into a jar, or whatever vessel you might have) and sit it in a dark-ish, cool place for a couple days. Once it starts fermenting, you’ll see some bubbles forming. You can open the lid to let the gas out, which will make a little gasp when you open the lid. Once you see a lot of bubbles, put it in the fridge. It will slow the fermentation down, but not totally stop it. Now, it will be good for around a month.

It’s nice because, although it’s delicious, it’s also really good for you, too. All those fermented vegetables are alive with pre-biotics. Those are what feed your good gut bacteria.

At any rate, it’s way to easy (and kinda fun) to make at home to buy it. And it’s so delicious, you’ll be sneaking it into all kinds of dishes. Or eating it out of the jar like me.

 

 

 

« Older posts

© 2016 DELICIOUS POTAGER

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑