We have had such a wonderful spring for the garden greens, a full 3 months worth of mild temperatures and salads for at least 3 families. The summer heat cranked up this past 2 weeks, and the arugula bolted. Last week I pinched a few of the flowering buds, but as the temperatures increased so did the flowers on arugula. We finally cut the longer stemmed arugula and gathered enough stems for two vases. The fragrance was pleasantly earthy in the cottage for a couple days. The arugula gets bitter after bolting, so we say goodbye to our spring crop, and hope for a mild autumn to plant more. The lettuces loved the shade of the arugula, but will soon cease to produce due to the hot summer heat. That, too, will be an autumn crop if the weather permits.
This week the tropical storm brought Missouri cooler air. The windows are open for a welcoming breeze inside the cottage. The mustard & ketchup roses and yellow lilies grace our table and kitchen window. The herbs flourish to my delight, flavor enhancements and more nutrients to my dishes and drinks. What tops a glass of iced mint tea on a summer evening on the patio? The pleasures of gardening are many. And there is the more cynical view of gardening I had to laugh at. The other day I found this on a t-shirt online ad, “I garden so I don’t choke people. Save a life, send mulch.” With today’s societal woos, no wonder more people are picking up the hobby, rather I should say “the therapy of gardening”. The climates, weather and society, change from day to day, as author Madeliene L’Engle has been quoted, “If there is to be any peace or reason, we have create it in our own hearts and homes.” Have your heart and mind at peace and it will protect you and those around you.
I counted a least two dozen winged trinkets and framed pictures on the shelves, mantel, and walls of both of our homes. Mini birdhouses, feeders, nests, a sparkly snow bird and a reindeer (they fly!), angels, blue willow dishes, and an artist’s portrait of a peasant young woman cradling a wounded sea gull decorate my home. These creatures bring life and represent my love of sacredness and nature … the green life of plants, trees, bushes, vines, and flowers as well as their winged friends. Eagles, owls, ducks, swans, gulls, wrens, finches, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies are what I am attracted to during my walks besides the flowers and trees along the way. And those angelic beings are protecting my loved ones and I.
I use my abundant, pungent arugula in my salads as well as egg, pasta, and rice dishes these days. A little goes a long way, so most of my culinary creations as of late include my fresh grown arugula. One important aspect to the culinary arts is that improvisation goes a long way. It is easier to substitute ingredients with cooking versus baking. I find arugula can be used in place of spinach in most dishes and salads. There is a taste difference with these 2 greens, but cooking properties similar. Arugula like spinach is a great source of vitamin A and C as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Arugula grows much like spinach, spring and autumn sowing here in Missouri.
I love creamed spinach! The best I ever had is crafted by the executive chef Gerard Germain. I learned much from the culinary experts while working at Dierbergs School of Cooking. Chef Gerard dazzles his students’ appetites with Italian and French cuisines. A first generation French immigrant applies his old world culinary magic in the kitchen of a fine Italian establishment in St. Louis called Tony’s. The next best thing is spinach in a white sauce over pasta. So here is my attempt to a lighter version of Pasta alla Fiorentina … Pasta Arugula (or the Italians say rucola), but my recipe is American-style. I lessen the butter and use a little olive oil as a base for the slurry as well as use whole milk instead of cream or half & half. Of course, arugula goes in the recipe instead of spinach. Noted for the recipe this evening, I cooked too much whole-grain pasta for the amount of white sauce I made, and did not add enough arugula. Fresh arugula shrinks considerably while sauteed. Tonight I served the Pasta Arugula with locally-made chicken Italian sausage and crusty bread. I sipped a glass of lavender sparkling water, and Dean downed a domestic beer this rainy summer evening.
As a personal chef by nature I wonder if I should name my summer time culinary creations a nosh, dish, bowl, or plate. I improvise when I cook in my kitchen. With the ingredients in hand from the garden or farmer’s market, they make way for creativity. A casual menu on a whim. This summer my herbs climb with the summer humidity. My chicken risotto served in individual bowls one weekend was laced with a leafy green herb Dean brought home from the greenhouse. It had a spicy bite to it unknown to be parsley as I had thought it might be by its look. When returning to the greenhouse mid-week for watering, I discovered on the garden sign it was watercress added to Sunday’s risotto bowl. I had never grown or cooked with this newly discovered herb before, and it paired deliciously with the farm fresh eggs for egg salad on dollar rolls last night. I hear it is the new kale in the farm-to-table culinary world. Just 1 cup of chopped water cress is power-packed with potassium and vitamins A & C. There are only 4 calories in 1 cup of chopped watercress. Calorie breakdown: 8% fat, 42% carbs, 50% protein. Oh, the flavors burst, so it goes a long way!
Fresh sprigs of dill were snipped into the red potato-celery salad. This week a spare bottle of local summer ale went into the crockpot with the turkey breast sprinkled with lemon pepper from the Olde Town Spice Shoppe, slow-cooked for 10 hours. Succulent! Accompanied with farm fresh, roasted yellow beets, red potatoes, and carrots in a bowl! The leftover turkey breast had filled a casserole dish of enchiladas another night. When I cook, I cook for 2 or 3 meals, using one dish to accent another. Rarely does food go to waste in my home. That stock left from the turkey breast is put into the freezer and will make another risotto another rainy night. Tonight it is small plates of Three-Cheese Italian Herb-Veggie Foccocia and Italian Breaded Chicken Tenderloins. What nosh, dish, bowl, or plate are you making tonight with your garden fresh ingredients?
Dean and I delivered a trailer load mixture of compost and top soil to our greenhouse site at Boone Hollow Farm a few days ago. I inquired from a local farmer who I know from my childhood as this farmer uses sustainable practices at his top soil farm less than a mile from our home. Last weekend herb seeds were sown, and in less than a week we have garden cress seedlings sprouted. This warm, humid air has made the ideal conditions for my herbal bed. From what I read garden cress is very prolific. I seeded many culinary herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme, basil, chives, marjoram, dill. Garden cress is one herb I have not used in my dishes before, though I inherited a packet of seeds somewhere in my farmy networking. I do not discard gifts no matter how small or big, so I will come up with some uses for garden cress. I understand it makes flavorful tangy sprouts for salads and sandwiches. In England it is added to egg & mayo tea sandwiches. Sounds like a country tea party with my green garden tea plates & tea cups in a couple of weeks at the greenhouse.
I have found photos of such darling herb gardens these past few weeks. We have a retailer’s greeting card holder we bought for $5 from the local library moving sale. I want to repurpose it to a herb garden, particularly for my daughter who lives in an apartment with a balcony. Vertical gardens are trendy now, and very practical for urban dwellers. I will work with this idea later this summer into autumn. We went semi-traditional, a 12 x 6-foot bed raised 6-inches from the floor of our greenhouse on the screenhouse side. There is some protection from the sunrays with the black cover now. I need this for skin protection. I have battled basal cell cancer 2 years ago. The semi-indoor herbal bed will be protected somewhat from weeds as we have a landscape fabric under the gravel floor. We cleared most of the gravel before shoveling the compost-top soil mixture in the bed. We will see what happens in regards to pests and bugs. We found a 3-foot snake skin in our greenhouse last week. Critters can still get inside. Let’s hope Chuck, the groundhog who lives under the barn down the hill stays out! As well as his skunk, mole, and rat friends!
How do you grow your herbs? Containers? Raised beds? Vertical beds? Are your herbs for culinary or ornamental purposes?
We had crisp mornings and evenings during our Minnesota vacation, as usual for the end of July into August. It is like Missouri’s September into October season. Apparently, Missouri has experienced the change in the air while we traveled back from the north country last weekend. The signs of autumn are in the air. Others feel it too. Talk of the “f” word, “frost” was on the 550 AM Farmer Dave’s radio show this week, talking like it may come earlier this year. At the spice shoppe visitors are buying apple butter, mulling spices, teas, chili powder, and soup mixes like autumn is here. I am enjoying a cup of hot tea every morning, my newest sensation is Stash brand chai white tea. I think remnants of the north followed us home.
Our vacation antique finds include a couple boxes full of Mason jars to make non-electric lanterns. $5 for the whole load of them. Love those bargains at the annual Crazy Days Sale in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Dean will repurpose the jars and design into lanterns to use alternative energy, solar and/or battery-operated lights. We will market at the Lake Saint Louis and Chandler Hill Vineyard’s Farmers’ Markets starting in September along with some beautiful perennials baskets. I cannot wait to use these lanterns on our patio and at the greenhouse. I also found a set of four tea cups with tea snack platters in my favorite farm color, leaf green. Included in the price of the Mason jars! These will go to the greenhouse for my tea time while working at Boone Hollow Farm. Just the simple things in life to make my day artsy and colorful.
Our plants are loving the milder temperature, greening up nicely before going dormant in a few short weeks. We just put all the greenhouse plants in the screenhouse a month ago. And I have another crop of herbs to sow before harvest. Our gourd plants need some warmth and sunshine to produce their fruit. I hope they get big enough before frost blankets the Missouri earth. Local weathermen talk like St. Louis may not hit 100 degrees this summer. It would be the first time in many years. Plenty of rain now, with more coming everyday this week. If you remember my blog posts from last year at this time, it was so blazin’ hot and Missouri was in a severe drought. What a difference a year makes! But is summer over?
“Dinner is double d-licious”, my husband said yesterday evening. To me just another creation made with leftovers and stables from our mostly empty frig and kitchen cupboards using little time. Dean and I are headed out-of-state in just a couple of days, so we have not stocked up with groceries. Saving time and pennies for the trip north. I made a breakfast dinner. On the menu: fresh organic blueberry pancakes and eggs scrambled with fresh organic basil, diced tavern ham, & shredded Monterey cheese. Tight schedules and tighter budgets dictate the menu some days. What throw-together meals have you created?
The basil is quite pungent now as the weather in the St. Louis area has been well over 90 degrees everyday this past week. Basil grows prolifically in Missouri, our long summers are ideal. I have grown sweet basil, but desire to try growing some other varieties.
Here are some varieties of basil:
Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilcum) is the most popular variety which is used in Italian style dishes and salads. It grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Lemon Basil (Ocimum citriodorum) has a mild lemon flavor, and is commonly used with fish. I love it with lemon thyme in my lemon bread recipe. Double d-licous lemon flavor! This variety grows to a height of 1 foot.
Purple Basil (Ocimum basilcum purpurea) is similar to sweet basil, but has purple leaves. It is a tender variety and grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Red Rubin Basil (Ocimum basilcum) is like sweet basil but has very dark colored leaves, a much deeper color than purple basil. It grows to a height of 2-1/2 foot.
Cinnamon Basil (Ocimum basilcum) comes from Mexico, and has a cinnamon flavor. I want to try this for sure! I like cinnamon flavors in my tea, coffee, chocolate, hot cereal, fruits, veggies, and meats. It grows to a height of 1-1/2 foot.
Thai Basil (Ocimum sp.) is very spicy, typically used in Indian cooking. I started experimenting with Thai foods this past couple of years. I will have to try this variety in my recipes. It grows to a height of 3 foot.
Please share the variety of basil you use in your recipes or have grown.
I had so much fun putting together a few words and photos for the WordPress “Day In My Life” photo challenge yesterday. That post focused on my weekday life. Please read that post: https://deannagreensandgardenart.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/a-day-in-my-life/
My weekend is somewhat different. I am not focused on employee wellness, but plant wellness! I want to share another small collection of words and larger collection photos to describe my other life. To simply say “green” describes my weekend day. “Green plants” to be exact. I love plants. I grew up with them, and cannot live without them. A few other essentials are identifying bugs; a walk to the greenhouse over the creek after visiting at the barn with the farm neighbors; herbs to make my dishes taste delicious; and lemonade, to make life sweet!
A slow, quiet snow continues to fall this Lenten Friday morning. A hush only experienced just at sunrise and with snow cover. The songbirds will become active within the hour, feeding on sunflower nuts and seeds we have provided for them. Another inch of snow overnight, and a forecast saying the cloud cover will dissipate sometime this morning. It has been another week of snow, sleet, and ice, not quite the volume of last week, but winter all the same.
Lenten Fridays become a culinary holiday or tradition in my neck of the woods. Two or more dozen churches in the St. Louis area offer a Lenten fish fry. Even a Jewish community in St. Louis offers a “meatless” menu on the 6 weeks of Lenten Fridays, an opportunity for folks to gather during these last days of the winter season. These “fish fries” can include baked fish or steamed shrimp, a healthier alternative. Each year Dean & I peruse the newspaper and internet to find well-priced fish fries close to work or on the way home. The fundraiser efforts of our community churches can be expensive on our tight budget, so we gather 3 or 4 times during the season. Sometimes we get off on a Friday early enough, and make it to our home parish All Saints. We make sure we partake at the St. Peter Church in St. Charles on one of those Fridays. The wonderful portions of homemade slaw and desserts beat all the rest. St. Paul, Missouri has 2 places for a Friday evening destination, the local bar Dog Prairie as well as the local Catholic church serve up fried fish and shrimp. Albacore tuna on crackers works as well as a meatless pasta dish like my Pasta Primavera I wrote about in my previous blog. We will meet with my brother and sister-in-law next Friday, and the Friday after with Dean’s cousins. We people are like the birds who gather at the feeders and trays on these winter mornings. Chirp and chatter about the savory dishes we are partaking in, local happenings, upcoming trips, and the long winter.
According to my culinary book Food Lover’s Companion, primavera alla [pree-muh-VEHR-uhl] is the Italian phrase which means “spring style”. The Italian dish pasta primavera is an example of this culinary style. Fresh vegetables, are diced or julienne cut either raw, blanched, or lightly sauteed and added to al denta pasta tossed with olive oil and parmigiano-reggiano [pahr-muh-ZHAH-noh reh-zhee-AH-noh], Italy’s premier parmesan cheese. Well, this evening was my turn to cook dinner, as Chef Mick was off with his family with other dinner plans. I thought to make a fresh arugula pizza, but did not have any flour in the house. My low-gluten diet. One way or another I was using the organic baby arugula mix I bought at the store yesterday. Store-bought is not quite as tasteful as the home grown variety, but arugula’s destinctive flavor is what I craved, if you can tell by my previous blog. Spring fever has offically hit! I found a box of multi-grain penne, so I prepared them al dente. My kitchen’s vegetables on hand were lightly sauteed in 2 teaspoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. So here are the ingredients found in Anna Marie’s Pasta Primavera made tonight:
2 Deanna Greens And Garden Art dried jalapeno peppers, hydrated and chopped finely
1/2 cup yellow squash chunks
1/2 cup zucchini squash chunks
3 large button mushrooms, chopped in chunks
1/4 cup fresh baby arugula leaves
1-1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup petite cut tomatoes
1/3 cup + shredded Italian cheese blend
10 oz penne pasta, cooked al dente, drained, coated with 1 teaspoon olive oil
Here are the recipe instructions:
1. Heat both oils in a medium skillet.
2. Add the finely chopped jalepeno peppers to the heated oil; saute for 30 seconds.
3. Add both squash and mushroom chunks to the skillet; saute 3 minutes.
4. Toss in arugula; stir to coat with oil.
5. Toss in basil, garlic powder, and salt; stir.
6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/3 cup cheese.
7. Toss saute vegetables with al dente pasta.
8. Pour into bowls; garnish with additional shredded cheese, if desired.
Sure savored every bite of this dish. Buonanotte!