Category Archives: Garden Tuesday

Garden Time: It’s Spring!

DISCLAIMER : Okay, so it has been a REALLY long time since I last posted.  I had some things drown me for a bit at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so the blog had to give.  I know the masses of you out there were jonesin’ for me to get back on it!  So, I figured spring was a good time to get a fresh start in the works.  I had aimed for the first day of spring, but that sort of came and went without much fanfare.  Then, I offered to write a blog for the BU Gastronomy page to force some accountability on my part.  Well, after a few false starts, I finally got it done.   Hopefully, I will get back in the swing of things this year.
Enjoy!

Just when it seemed winter wasn’t going to give up without a fight, the thermometer finally bounced above the freezing mark.  After a few false starts, it looks like it is going to finally stay there too.  The days are getting longer and the sun is reaching higCrocusher in the sky.  As if I needed another sign that spring has arrived, my yard is finally littered with white, purple and yellow crocuses. That means it is time to start thinking about the garden.  Actually, I started thinking about starting my garden since ordering my seeds back in January, but as Mid-March rolls around, it’s time to put those seeds to use.

I used to wait until the May rush and buy all my seedlings from the garden store. However, I’ve been seduced by the January seed catalogs into starting my own plants from seeds.  They offer no only an irresistible tug of springtime hope in the middle of winter but also so many more varieties of plants.  Just try to find 71 varieties of tomatoes or 22 varieties of pumpkins or multiple varieties of most crops in your local garden store or home improvement mega box.  You can’t, it isn’t cost effective to carry more than a few ‘favorite’ varieties.

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So, I start my garden in soil blocks from seeds, in my basement using full spectrum lightbulbs.   To take advantage of the short growing season here in New England, now is the time to get started.  Don’t let my set up intimidate you, it has evolved over several years of trial and error.  All you need is a sunny window, a few small pots, some soilless seed starting mix and a few choice seeds.  All of which can be had at your neighborhood hardware and garden store.  Some grocery stores even care basic supplies.

Starting plants from seed can seem kind of intimidating.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always go well.  Sometimes you forget to water them and they dry out.  Sometimes they don’t get a good start and end up spindly and weak.  Yet, sometimes they work wonderfully and produce beautiful robust plants.  This is part of the fun of planting a garden.  It is also why so many gardeners exhibit calmness and patience; two traits I am personally trying to cultivate from my garden. For many years, I would start a few of the more interesting crops from seed with plans to purchase some plants from the garden store.  This way, if things didn’t work out with my seeds, I had a backup plan.  Besides, if you start early enough, you will know what is going well and what is not before the garden stores start stocking vegetable plants.904229_10200868736497540_324741037_o (1)

As I know many of you don’t have a lot of space, I also want to dispel the myth that you need a big backyard to get started.  A sunny balcony, stoop, windowsill or countertop is enough for growing a few container plants to bring a few fresh vegetables or herbs into your kitchen.  It is also a great opportunity to learn without a big investment.  For example, loose leave salad greens are easy to grow from seed, easy to care for and will make it to a dinner plate in just a few weeks.  Fresh potted herbs are also the gift that keeps on giving.  If you keep a few shallow pots of salad greens in rotation, you can keep yourself in weekly greens throughout the year.

There is such an amazing world of flavor hidden in a seed catalog, I suggest trying something new something you won’t find in the grocery store or even in your farmer’s market. Without starting from seeds, I would have never tasted the meaty and creamy Good Mother Stallard dried beans or the sweet and tangy Lemon Cucumber or the sweetly tart Black Krim Tomato.  Sure, it may not feel like spring outside yet, but you can start getting into a springtime mood by getting your hands into some dirt.  My seeds have just started breaking ground.

Garden Tuesday : Spicy Squash Apple Soup

Woke to a frost in the air and the thermometer dipping below that 32°F mark. Winter sqash season is here which also means soup season is here!

I get a bit excited when I see the farmers markets and produce sections start to fill with butternut squashes, acorn squashes, delicata squashes, sugar pumpkins, Cinderella pumpkins, blue Hubbard’s and more. And by a bit excited, I mean cheerleading championship competition excited or twitter hashtag #toocute over cat video excited, or Ryan Gosling spotted in mirrored sunglasses and tight white t-shirt excited. All things I hear get some people giggly, squeal-y, bouncy excited over is how I get when I see a farm stand chock full of winter squashes and pumpkins.

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Yeah, I did just admit that, but winter squashes really know how to build up drama throughout the season in anticipation of the final fruiting crescendo in the fall.

One starts out deep in the winter planning their crops for the season. Browsing seed catalogs and mapping out planting and seeding plans. Eager to start getting fresh vegetables, first-of-the-season, fast maturing and early, prolific producers are enticing. Then, there is the winter squash section filled with varieties that take a hundred days or more to mature. Their seeds and seedlings don’t want to go into the cool ground of April, May or even early June. The only thing that entices the purchase of seeds with such a far away pay off is perhaps the fact that deep within those winter months, one may still be enjoying last season’s stored away winter squash. In February and March, enjoying the full body warming of a hearty, deep orange winter squash soup during a session of seed catalog browsing is sure fire way to convince you to make that long term investment in winter squash seed.

At this point, I should confess that although this is ‘Garden Tuesday’, I actually do no have any such jewels of winter squash in my garden. There are two barriers. First, I would have to buy these magical seeds in the deep of winter. Second, the thing that keeps me from such a purchase – the squash vine borer. My love/obsession with wither squash has lead me to set aside large sections of raised beds for them. As the season goes on, I get long thick vines with big beautiful leave. Then, I start dreaming of fall bounty complete with its seas of beautiful, orange squash soup.

The plans march on sending out their first male flowers. These scout flowers are designed to entice pollinators to the plant before it puts energy into producing female fruiting flowers. Suddenly, a few female flowers start making their appearance and I am giddy with anticipation of what may come in another 3-months. But alas, I wake up one morning and witness the tell tale signs of squash vine borers – sawdust-like feces at the vine bases. Its like thinking you just saw Ryan Gosling only to get a closer look and realize your beer goggles zeroed in on some scrawny, strung out hipster in flashy sunglasses. Massive disappointment.

So, for all my talk about eagerly anticipating the fall harvest after so many seasons of preparing, growing and nurturing, what I really mean, is I sort of, kind of go through the summer browsing the farmers markets taking in all the other cool vegetable only to get all giddy and excited in September when the first winter squash suddenly appears.  To hit that Ryan Gosling analogy again, its like. .  .well. .  .its as if. . . hmmmm. . . well,  I don’t know how its like siting Ryan Gosling unless you are submerged in seeing lots of great things similar to Ryan Gosling, like some other Hollywood hotties and then you happen upon an actual Ryan Gosling.

Yeah, I lost myself on that one.  Moving on.

From that first winter squash siting, it quickly becomes a winter squash purchasing and another winter squash purchasing and another and and another and it goes on until all the winter squash are gone.  Honestly, I should probably seek help for my impulse squash buying problem.
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But, until then, there is soup, squash soup.  My all time favorite way use up my supply of winter squash is to make a big pot of Spicy Squash Apple Soup.  Given the number of squash I end up with, it is a good thing my Spicy Squash Apple Soup is really easy to make.  It takes some time, but most of that time is with the all the ingredients getting soft in the Dutch Oven.

Frankly, the soup’s so awesome and easy to make, I don’t need to cure my impulsive squash buying problem.

Spicy Squash Apple Soup

1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, roughly chopped
4-5 Slices of Bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces (optional)
1 Winter Squash or Sweet Pumpkin, large dice
6-7 Apples, large dice
3 Jalapeños, roughly chopped
32 oz Chicken Stock
1-1/2 Cup Apple Cider
2 T Smoked Paprika
1 t Cumin
2 T Unsalted Butter
1 T Dried Thyme
1 T Dried Oregano
2 T Basil Pesto
Salt and Pepper
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1. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven and sweat onions until translucent.
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2. Add the squash, apples and jalapeños to the pot. Pour in the stock and apple cider. Simmer covered for 90 minutes or until the squash is tender.
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3. Process in batches in a food processor until smooth and return to the Dutch Oven.
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4. Stir in spices, herbs, butter and pesto. Salt and pepper to taste.
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5. Simmer an additional 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning to preference.