Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Edible Landscaping II

This Katuk is the last plant I got from Echo Farms. It is delish, with a slight peanut taste. A cup has 10% of your protein requirements for the day. You're supposed to keep it chopped at 4-6 feet.

I've not had any bug problems with it. I do water it once a week if it hasn't rained, but I suspect it would be okay on its own.

Bell peppers, good eatin', nice home for frogs. [I'm pretty sure this is a Cuban tree frog, which is considered an invasive species.] Some gardener I am, look at all that grass!

Edible Landscaping

This spectacular plant is Cranberry Hibiscus [I've also seen it called Red Hibiscus] and/or False Roselle [Latin: Hibiscus acetosella]. An annual/short lived perennial a freeze will knock them back. At least in my yard, it is 100% maintenance free :)

They range in size even in my yard--some getting to 13 feet, some only getting to 4. It reseeds itself, coming up all over the yard. As it comes up you can cut it back to make it bush out.

The leaves are yummy in salads and stir fries. Kind of like a cross between clover and rhubarb--tart.

You can read more about it here, and on the Echo Farms site.

Desperately Seeking Spinach II-Malabar Spinach

Malabar Spinach was another spinach I've tried. Grows like crazy in the summer, not so happy in the winter. I've put in two varieties. The first, red-stemmed malabar spinach, I got at Evergreen Seeds. It's another lovely plant. The second I got from Echo Farms. It's attractive too.

As with the Okinawa Spinach I think the new leaves, raw, are preferable. Neither of them are a true spinach substitute, IMO. I'll try Tat Soi soon, but at this point in my garden Swiss Chard and/or arugula come the closest as a spinach substitute.

Desperately Seeking Spinach-Okinawa Spinach

I love spinach. I loooooovve spinach. But spinach is impossible to grow in Southwest Florida. And I do mean impossible. Even Worden Farms in Punta Gorda hasn't been able to [although they do have Kina Savoy and Tat Soi which look fairly close even though they're basically members of the cabbage family. I will be giving them a try soon.]

After a little research I came across Echo Farms in North Fort Myers [A totally cool non-denominational Christian group dedicated to using science and technology to solve hunger in the world. They basically believe that there is the perfect plant for every instance, you just have to figure out what it is]. I've tried 4 of their plants as summer-tolerant spinach/green substitutes. It's also where I got my tropical sweet potato starts. These first two pictures are okinawa spinach. [Echo Farm Plant list here --- Seed bank here]

Okinawa spinach, if nothing else, makes a lovely ground cover. Unlike Malabar spinach it thrives in the summer and winter. And it is profligate. Two plants took over pretty much a 4'x6' patch of space. I like it better raw in salads. As a saute I find all but the youngest leaves get a bit too mucilagenous [like okra] for me. Although it will work in heavier sauces. But, it grows like a weed, totally pest resistant and other than maybe a bi-weekly watering in the spring [where I am at spring is very hot and very dry] it thrives on it's own.

It even gets pretty, teeny dandelion-like flowers in the winter ranging from red to yellow.

[Magic wonders why I am taking pictures of flowers and not him.]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Urban Locavore In SW Florida

[Have kittehs and like the birdies too? Put your birdbath in a tree!]

I should make it crystal clear that I'm not a true locavore. I can really only manage the veggies and certain fruits certain times of the year. I live downtown and there's no possibility of cows or chickens and I've yet to find a local source. Would I go that far if I lived in the country? Possibly....I know I'd love to have a big old pond and stock it with tilapia. I did find a local source for rice [hey, it's Florida, we should be able to grow rice here, right?] and I'm trying to find a local retailer that carries it.

Other than that, I try to keep it to this continent [you can be reasonably certain soy products are from the US.] although even that's not always possible [frozen seafood almost invariably comes from Southeast Asia]. But, as Barbara Kingsolver points out even small changes like locally sourced vegetables can make a big difference.

One big difference from you northern locavores/gardeners, you can grow food year round here. Eggplants, peppers, green onions, swiss chard, grape and cherry tomatoes, and arugula can all be grown year round. Well let me rephrase that. I can grow certain things year round here. I know people who manage big-ass tomatoes in the summer here but I've never felt like putting the work into it. Like the squash.

Which brings me to a point I want to make--a lot of people think you have to be a great gardener to grow your own vegetables or to have the yard that I do [jungle-like but pretty.] I'm not. I only have Florida-friendly plants that thrive without any care. My peppers have spots on the leaves and the peppers are kind of small. I should probably read up on it or test the soil or something. But you know what? 6 pepper plants in containers gives me enough peppers when I want them, and that's good enough for me. If it can't produce with my level of care out it goes. And I try to grow only enough that can be consumed by two people at a time--no canning, no freezing--but that works perfectly with our small yard and house. Although I do often have extras for family and friends.

To the year-round staples I make seasonal adjustment. Winter sees mustard greens [they'll actually do well about 9 months of the year as will most leaf lettuces], rapini, kohlrabi, broccolli, cauliflower and others. After visiting Hong Kong in Feb 2008 I realized we should be growing asian vegetables here in the summer. My biggest success--and it was a HUGE success--were yardlong beans. Man, we ate a lot of beans this summer. Yum. We had a lot to give away too. I also experimented with subtropical sweet potatoes--boniato [I got cuttings from Echo Farms]--which grew great but really you need more room than I have to keep you in potatoes all summer. [I failed to take photos of the summer plants but I will this next year.] Which brings me to another point about limited space gardening. Your best ROI are plants that produce for long periods of time. With a head of lettuce once it's done is done, while leaf lettuce you can harvest from much longer.

More on urban gardening soon...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Yard: Where Squash Go To Die.

Okay. I've tried summer squash in containers [below is an oriental variety more like zuccini, really]. I get a few wonderful squash, then end-blossom fruit rot. I tried neem oil, more fertilizer, lime, tears, nothing worked [I suppose there are some fungicides I could use but I read the ingredients and They Are Not Coming In My Yard. I have kitty-cats and bees and stuff to consider.

I'm now trying a few varieties out in the boulevard, but I don't expect much.

They're blossoming but I think it's just to taunt me.

I'm not the only one to have problems though. My friend Elena has only successfully grown them IN her compost pile. I talked to the gardener out at Crowley Museum & Nature Center and he has problems too. However, Worden Farms in Punta Gorda manages it, because they have lovely pattypan squash and zuccinni at the farmers market. I am green with envy. They're local though, so I can feel good about buying them every now and again.

[two days later]. Yes indeed, end blossom fruit rot. So done with squash.

Didn't You Ask For Fish Chard?

This isn't the first time I've tried gardening since moving to Sarasota in 2001. In fact, it's really kind of the 4th. The first time we built 6'x6' raised beds. In hindsight, I didn't improve the soil enough for the types of things I was trying, didn't water enough, a whole mass of factors. I eventually gave up and the tallest grass you ever saw took over. It was luxurious. But eventually my next door neighbor complained about snakes and it was time to go. [We do have snakes in this neighborhood--the eastern glass lizard [quiet a surprise when it drops its tail], teensy ring-necked snakes [extra fun to bring in the house], black racers [too big for cat snacks but loads of fun to chase]--but the grass wasn't the sole reason :) ]

I did however manage to produce enough swiss chard to serve it as a side dish for Thanksgiving dinner to my family. I took a bite--this didn't taste quite right. I looked around the table. Similarly perturbed expressions. "It tastes...like...fish?" said my brother-in-law, Robert. Indeed it did. I had been using fish oil----mostly unsuccessfully--to keep the bugs off. I think that was the end of gardening round one.

Oils as a whole are tough to use in Florida. Sun cooks the leaves. I've since learned to use Garlic Barrier [the recommend every 10 days, in Southwest Florida in the summer you need to use it weekly] and Conserve Electrolyte when the army worms come out [which pretty much only bother the chard and the mustard and mostly in the summer.] And YES! You can grow Swiss Chard in the summer. While I've successfully grown them in containers, they like they're morning-sun-only raised bed better. The chard in the picture above is 18 months old.

Why the green netting? To keep the kitty-cats from using the raised beds as litter boxes.

Happy chard in the afternoon shade! [That's one of my 10 rain barrels on the far left. Yes, I can get a tad excessive but I've never used city water for garden 4.0.]

If you've never cooked chard use it like spinach. Saute a little olive oil, a little garlic, maybe some red pepper flakes, and then the chard until limp. Put it in eggs, soups. Here's a few favorite recipes.

Chard [subsituted for escarole] and beans

Chard Chicken Parmesan Soup Recipe
[Based on a Suzanne Sommers recipe I can no longer find.]
  • In a big pot saute you up some onions.
  • Put in a mid-size chicken in [3.5-4lbs]
  • Add water to cover the chicken [basically you're making chicken stock]
  • Add a handful of parmesan cheese rinds. As I get down to the rinds, I keep it in the freezer until I make this soup. The rind will get jelly-like and flavor the soup wonderfully.
  • Cook until the meat falls off the bones.
  • Let cool a bit, then strain out the chicken bones and skin and gunk. Leave the rinds in. Return the meat to the pot.
  • Add the juice from two lemons.
  • Bring up to a simmer, and add a bunch of swiss chard. Remember, it will really diminish as it wilts. I figure at least 4 chopped loosely packed cups per person. I often add more at the end.
  • Beat 4 egg together. Pour the eggs in as you stir the soup. Voila!
Like the radish greens recipe, this freezes great.

I would guess this makes about 10 servings of soup. You could add rice, serve with a nice crusty bread, etc. A little salt and pepper to taste.

[Haley is done with this swiss chard discussion, although she maintains some interest in the chicken soup.]

How Much Of What?

Almost everything I make is subject to interpretation and generally messing around with. Paprika Shrimp? That paprika sauce is great with eggplant and tofu too. But here is what I generally mean by ingredient quantities and cooking.

I generally figure 1/2 an onion per person per portion. So a meal for two? At least one medium to large onion. I personally don't believe you can have TOO much onion. Since I'm using green onions and the sizes range figure one loosely packed cup for the same.

Cooking Onions
Unless I say caramelized [which is harder to do when using veggie broth, but you can add honey at the end of the saute] you can cook the onions to your preference. Less cooking=more texture. I generally cook 'em down pretty well.

Veggie Broth
An excellent substitute for oil for most sauteing. How much? Coat the bottom of your pan, add more if it seems you need to. Srsly, trust the force Luke, you can do this.

Again, unless I specify, to your preference and/or what the instance calls for. For instance, pesto going on bread as a dip requires a little more oil, pesto going on pasta, less. I find most pesto recipes call for a scary amount of oil and I don't generally use that much.

Go light on raw garlic when adding to recipes. I once added 6 cloves of raw garlic to Ayo Blanco soup. Man, that was garlicky! Cooked garlic really mellows out though and you can safely add 2-4 very large cloves to almost any of my recipes.

In large part--in cooking like in art and like in gardening--I let me intuition guide me. Not very intuitive? Here's a really interesting book with concrete exercises about hearing your intuition better. Everyone has it--just not everyone listens to it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Is That A Radish In Your Pocket? Part III

So Ginormous.

Okay one more recipe. A common use for Daikon Radish is in stir fries and you can find recipes all over the net. But another common way I use it is:

Paprika Shrimp Recipe
takes about 20 mins.
  • Put a bunch of olive oil in a pan. How much? It depends upon how many people you plan on feeding. I just made approximately 8 servings of this and used a 1/3 cup of oil. In other recipes I recommend substituting veggie broth for olive oil, but not for this one. I've tried it, and it dilutes the paprika taste.
  • Take several spoonfulls of good, Spanish paprika. [Srsly, you can get a tin of really great paprika for under $5.00 here . For this recipe I like the smoked sweet because I'm adding bitter in the form of mustard leaves later] Again, how much? For 1/3 cup of oil maybe 4 heaping teaspoons? The resulting mix should be a nice, consistent, dark red. It shouldn't look like olive oil with something in it. It should look like a red sauce.
  • Paprika, like cumin, is a sauce that really needs to be heated to release it's flavor. I usually heat for 5 mins, then I add onions. Add about 4 tablespoons of honey. Cook the onions at a high simmer to low boil for 5-10 mins.
  • Add you some mustard greens and stir! When it gets too hot in the summer for the mustard to survive I've used swiss chard but I like mustard greens better. How many? It hugely depends on the type of mustard leaves. I grow about 9 months out of the year Florida broadleaf mustard [also known as Indian Mustard and leaf mustard]. It's way more tender and mellow than the curly, tough mustard you generally get in the grocery store, and, like swiss chard or spinach, wilting greatly decreases it's volume. Figure on four chopped, loosely packed cups per person. For the tough type? Halve it and see what you get. [I highly recommend growing you some mustard. It's dead easy.]
  • Salt [a little] and pepper
  • At this point I usually wilt the greens for about 2 minutes and decide if the sauce needs water. It usually does and I add a cup, maybe two. I often add more paprika at this point too.
  • Add some frozen shrimp. I usually figure two handfuls of shrimp per person. [Yes, I do have measuring instruments in this house but it's just not me.]
  • By the time the shrimp are heated through and have released their little shrimp juices you are ready!
Serve with rice and a nice crusty bread for sopping up the sauce.

Is That A Radish In Your Pocket? Part II

[Haley watches fearfully as the radish descends.]

Okay. So how do you use a Daikon Radish? [Now, stop, besides that.]

I basically use them like I would an onion or potato. And this time of year I'm using them a lot. It's like squash in the Northeast in summer. And the greens are fantastic but have to be cooked for awhile.

Radish Fries
  • Marinate in olive oil, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. A little bit of salt. [Cumin and honey would also work, experiment!]
  • Roast 'em in an 425 degree oven for 30 mins, turning every 10 mins. [Okay, I'm not sure about the times, I just test every 10 mins until they are crispy on the outside and cooked through.]

Southern Style Radish Greens Recipe
[a nice article on the history of southern greens here]
  • Saute some onions [or green onions, in my case].
  • If you want to cut down on oil, saute in a little vegetable stock.
  • Cook the onions until they are done.
  • Take the smoked turkey you bought at the grocery store [necks, whatever, it don't matter] and throw them in next. Move the onions around so the skin touches the pan. [Many classic recipes have this step first.] Turn up the heat high so that the the turkey gets good and hot. This releases the remaining fat and really flavors the greens. Cook about 10 mins, and then flip the turkey parts and cook another 10 mins. [Again, my timing is an estimate, just watch so it doesn't burn.]
  • Take the big ass daikon radish you pulled out of the weed patch next to the road, cube it, and throw it in.
  • Add enough water to cover everything.
  • Add two pinches of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
  • Add about 6 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
  • Chop up the radish greens from your big ass road radish and throw them in.
  • Cover and boil.

I usually boil for like 5 mins, then turn down for a high simmer. I cook until the turkey meat comes off the bone. There are tons of variations on this recipe. You can add garlic. If I've got tomatoes or other veggies going bad I'll often throw them in [but maybe not mushrooms]. Srsly, you can feed 10 people for about $6.00 worth of smoked turkey parts.

Is That A Radish In Your Pocket?

Welcome to winter in Southwest Florida. So I’m growing radishes and onions and a few other things out on the boulevard [I grew boniato in the summer here, but that's another post.] And yes, my neighbors do think I'm crazy, but in the nicest way :)

The beets and squash are unconvinced by this environment, but the daikon radishes...

Are incredibly happy. I've been growing them in containers for months [they don't like the heat/humidity of the deep summer, but do well the rest of the time] but they've never looked like this. While I have done some soil improvement, it's still mostly very well draining, sandy, soil.

Ready for a little radishment? [I mean really, who could resist? The other photos were actually scarier than this one.]

Sage Advice

Sage is another plant you can grow year round in Southwest Florida. Srsly, you can! They just want watered frequently in the summer. While such an lovely, aromatic plant for a long time I just couldn't figure out what to do with it. Most recipes are as a flavoring for meat dishes and for a variety of reasons there's just not that much meat in our household anymore.

Another favorite paring is with butternut squash, but again, if you are eating locally in Florida butternut squash just isn't available that often. So, what was the solution? After some research I came across Sage Pesto. If you do a Google search you'll come across several variations, but here is my own.

Sage Pesto Recipe
2-3 cups of sage leaves
olive oil to your preference
2-3 garlic cloves to your preference
salt [lightly] & pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts or so [you can also use almonds or walnuts for different variations]

I know I'm not specific on measurements, but I mix and taste and adjust.

Let me tell you--this is one spectacular pesto. Good on bread and pasta [if you are going to add some cheese to the pasta, I'd use grated Asiago]. It's often paired with butternut squash because it's sweet. So, if you substitute sweet vegetable for squash, realistically you can pair it with any caramelized vegetable.
I'll confess for company I do sometimes pair it with butternut squash ravioli. But at least the pasta is made locally!

Another favorite sage recipe: Sage, onion and pine nut pizza. I order a plain cheese pizza with no sauce from our local delivery guys, top it with sage, green onions and pine nuts, put it under the broiler until the toppings are browned, voila!

Fried sage leaves are also spectacular but I cringe a bit at fried.

Magic wonders why more people don't heed the wisdom of cats. Spend a lot of time outdoors running around, balanced by long naps in the sun, and snuggles. [Sage advice, remember?]

Why Gay Pizza Boy?

[gay pizza boy considers squashing the squash] You got me. I inherited him already named from my lovely, talented, designer friends Patti and Tony Halstead. [whew! Just came across this in my drafts...old!]

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Green onion recipes

[gay pizza boy thinks fondly of green onions]

To keep my locavore cred I substitute green onions for regular onions in almost everything I cook.

There are also lots of recipes using green onions themselves specifically, but not too many featuring just the vegetable. So here are two:

Braised green Onions Recipe [from BonAppegeek via All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking]
Stuff a dish with as many green onions as you can, with a little butter and water (stock will muddy the delicate flavors), some chopped tarragon or parsley, salt, Bake, tightly covered, at 350 for 40 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat to 450 and roast until most of the liquid evaporates, shaking the pan now and then. Season with salt, black pepper, and lemon juice. This is a lot like wilting spinach, or chard, and will greatly reduce the volume.

Green Onion Pesto Recipe
Saute say, two bunches of green onions until cooked . Throw 'em in blender with one or two cloves of garlic to taste, enough olive oil for right pesto consistency and add about a quarter cup of pine nuts [again, to your taste]. Add salt and pepper. After cooking a raw food meal for a friend once [no dairy] I realized you don't really need the parmesan cheese for pesto.

In the beginning....were green onions III

To get started with the green onions, I simply brought some home from the grocery store, snipped off the root section and planted them. Some have turned out to be bunching[creating a number of green onions from one stem], some not. [If you look at the center of the first picture you'll see two tiny sprouts where planted roots are sending greens up again.]

Green onions thrive year round in Southwest Florida. This past summer they blossomed [my first year trying them]. They have a really interesting, feathery flower that bees LOVE. Interestingly enough only the one stalk blooms and dies, the rest stay green. I let a few go to seed and have grown green onions from seed now too.

In the beginning....were green onions II

If you save the very tip and the roots you can replant them. In the first photo, in a bowl of water for a day, the onion is already starting to grow out from the center again. You can also cut just the greens, but I like the white stem also. They'll get as large as oh, a little larger than a quarter in diameter if you let them grow long enough.

Oh, and here's a poem for good measure...

The Red Wheelbarrow

William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

In the beginning....were green onions I

Everything I cook starts with onions. After being inspired by Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)
to become a locavore I wondered what I would do about onions. You can't grow them in the summer in Southwest Florida, and there's no root cellars to keep 'em in. [Besides, a root cellar in the summer in Florida? I shudder to think what might actually grow in there.] So I decided to try green onions.

You can grow bunches of them in a small space [almost everything I grow is in containers].

It turns out green onions are not only easy, they're everlasting...