Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Getting lost in the weeds

Whoops, I wrote this back on January 16, and forgot to post it. Just an update - I spent a while the other day racing the weather to try to get a good amount of weeding done before it started raining. But now it's going to rain forever again.

After a LOT of rain and stormy weather here, I've finally had a chance to get out to the garden. Which, by the way, is still quite wet, so I can't really do much. And I'm dreading going back that first day that it's dry enough to work, because what I will have to do is weed. And weed some more. And then even more. Because weeds are everywhere. Except, amazingly, around the brassicas. For some reason.

The worst part is that they grow very well right around the above-ground watering system we put in, which is really difficult to weed around because 1) the pipes get in the way of weeding, especially when the weeds are rooted underneath them and 2) I can't really use my weeding tools for fear of destroying a part of my system. So my main strategy up until now has been to ignore them.

I planted some kale and broccoli right before the big storms hit and they haven't really done much. Neither, unfortunately, have the spinach and chard. What's going on with my dark leafy greens this year? Last year we were so sick of chard! We ate it sauteed, I added it to soup, I made stuffed or rolled chard with any kind of stuffing, and I added it to everything I could think of, like risottos. But now I miss it. Maybe I should have planted more. I need my dark leafy greens!

I picked a bunch of turnips, and I have a lot more coming up. I'm tempted to plant even more because they are so easy. And relatively fast. I'm also going to plant radishes pretty soon, and I'll be happy to have them in my salad, even if the boy groans about it.

The garlic's coming up! And I saw at least one of the shallots, since it's my first year I'll be happy with even that.

I had hoped to do well with carrots this year, but my first planting is just coming up so slowly, and the second planting is overgrown with weeds. Weeds, argh! So maybe that will be a vegetable that I conquer next year, instead. I do seem to have trouble with plants that I grow from seed. On the bright side, we should have cabbages soon, they're forming heads about the size of a, um ... small melon? I can't think of anything that's actually the right size to describe them.

My biggest worry right now is figuring out what I still have time to plant before I need to start getting ready for the summer veggies. I'd love to plant more carrots, turnips, and cauliflower, and maybe some peas, but I don't know how long they'll really take. I should keep better track of these things.

I wish I had another plot for experimenting and growing plants that either 1) take up a lot of space or 2) take a lot of time to grow. I would plant melons, potatoes, peas, onions, and maybe more winter squash. I mean, wouldn't that be worth another $50 per year? Plus all of my free time?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Artisan bread and bruschetta recipe

One thing I've neglected writing about lately (partly because I've neglected doing it lately) is making bread. For a traditional bruschetta recipe from Piemonte, I created a partly whole-wheat chestnut bread. To make it, I dissolved active dry yeast in warm water, then added equal parts bread flour and whole wheat flour and a bit of salt (equal to yeast, or a bit less). I tended to add a lot of yeast, b/c both the chestnuts and the whole wheat flour make this bread a difficult rise. Then I chopped up a bunch of canned chestnuts and tossed them in, mixed it up, let it rise for a while, shaped it into long loaves, let it rise again, and based until brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.

To make the bruschetta, we sliced the bread and slathered on a layer of cream cheese and then a lighter layer of creamy gorgonzola, then topped it with chopped walnuts. Bake/toast until the cheese melts. Heavenly!

Tonight, I am making a pre-ferment for a recipe from Maggie Gleazer's Artisan Baking. The recipe is for Royal Crown's Tortano, a beautiful large round bread with a hole in the middle (like a donut). I have had a lot of luck with this bread in the past, in terms of delicious flavor, great texture in the crumb, and a wonderful crispy, crunchy crust, which is notably difficult to achieve in my old electric oven. It involved making a pre-ferment the night before, and then requires about 7 hours in mixing, rising, and baking time the next day. It's well worth making on a weekend day when I'm at home anyway, though, and with the crazy storm we're having right now, there's no reason not to spend a lovely day at home baking some delicious bread.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A new sun rises

It's January, 2008, and I'm not sure I'm ready. It's cold outside, and the rainy season is finally kicking in with full force. It's great for my watering schedule, but terrible for the weeds. It's also nice to sit inside and listen to the rain with a nice bowl of soup - winter cooking and baking bread are favorites this time of year.

The garden is doing well. Today I harvested a bag of lettuce, a huge head of broccoli, a rather sad little head of cauliflower, and some turnips. The second batch of turnips I planted is coming along, and the beets finally seem to be doing something as well. It looks like it will be a while before we really have spinach, carrots or leeks, but the red cabbage heads are getting a bit bigger. I'm looking forward to cooking and eating those. I also planted some last-minute broccoli and kale before a few big storms start sweeping through tomorrow.

Cooking has been a bit spotty lately. Some nights I cook up some wonderful dishes and we experiment, other nights we have salad, cheese, and bread. Our local Co-op is undergoing a renovation, which is wonderful in terms of the new varieties of cheese and various other products that are available. I suppose like everything in life, though, it will take some getting used to.

Since we have so many rainy days to come, I have to think of things to do to keep myself from being frustrated by not being in the garden. One thing I've been planning is to make a quilt out of my old college T-shirts. I also have to clean out some closets and make some tough decisions on what to do with some things that I've been putting off for a while. There's my old KitchenAid mixer sitting in a box, in desperate need of repair. And it's taking up a lot of space, too!

In short, I'm trying to look at this time as a way of working on the inside things. The inside of my closets, the inside of my house, and perhaps the inside of myself. I'd like to spend some time writing, some time sitting by the fire with some art or craft, some time standing over a warm stove stirring something that takes a while to cook, and some time nurturing a slow-rising loaf of bread. And in general, as perhaps my most important resolution of the new year, now that the sun has reached its lowest point and the days will gradually start growing longer, I'd like to spend less time in front of the computer as a virtual me and start spending more time as the real me. I guess we'll see how it goes.

And yes, the title comes from LOTR.