Monday, January 23, 2012

Dark Days 8: Spinach Goat Cheese Flatbread and a Giveaway!

Now that the snow has finally arrived, I am in no rush to get back into the garden. Before it snowed, I felt like I should be doing some sort of yardwork, even though the ground has been frozen solid for weeks. Now, I am blissfully relieved of my obligations to do yardwork or compost-turning until spring comes.

Instead, I have turned my gardening attentions indoors - I am forcing some paperwhites and a red amaryllis to bloom indoors, and I'm trying to nurture the houseplants with a little more care than usual. Also, I've been doing my garden planning for the spring (click here to enter a giveaway for a seed catalog).

In the meantime, I can't live on the beauty of flowers and houseplants alone, so I spent a good amount of the weekend cooking. I am really fortunate to have Spring Ledge Farm's greenhouses so close to my house. They are open Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings through the winter, and their spinach is fresh, crisp and oh-so-very-green. For dinner last night, I made two small flatbread pizzas with garlic-infused olive oil as the base, and spinach, red onion and goat cheese on the top. That's a bit of grated Parmesan that you see in the photo - I'm trying to use up a last little bit of this cheese that has been "aging" in the fridge for months.

That's some creamy chevre.

Garlic-infused olive oil sounds really fancy, right? It's not hard at all and takes about 1 minute to assemble. 

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil -
Take a clove of garlic, smash it flat with the flat side of a knife, chop it finely and put it in a small cup or dish with some olive oil. When you're ready to assemble the pizza five minutes later, dump the olive oil with garlic chunks onto the dough and spread it around the whole pizza all the way to the edge. Also great with crusty bread or breadsticks.

Sources cited:
Pizza dough - Bread flour from Champlain Organics, honey from Cutting Farm, sugar, olive oil, salt, yeast from the grocery store
Red onion - Kearsarge Gore Farm
Goat Cheese - Vermont Cheese Company
Spinach - Spring Ledge Farm
Garlic - from Vanessa's garden
Parmesan cheese - originally from Wisconsin, it's been in the fridge so long, it might now be considered a local product.
Olive oil - Italy (definitely not local... but oh so tasty)

Garden Planning Giveaway - D.S. Landreth Seed Catalog

Imagine America in 1784, one year after the end of the Revolutionary War.

The official treaty ending the war with England was ratified on January 14, 1784. There was no Constitution and no President. (Those didn't come about until 1787 and 1789, respectively.)

Most of New Hampshire was the very fine edge of civilization surrounded by wilderness. Our town was chartered in 1748, but not incorporated as a town until 1784 - the population at the time was just over 300 souls. (The 1783 census for New Hampshire wasn't even 65,000 people!) To give you an idea of what I mean by wilderness, the last time someone in New Hampshire was killed by a black bear was in 1784.

However, a few hundred miles south, the city of Philadelphia was the second largest city in America and much more civilized. Although the American capital was moved away from Philly in 1783 after a soldiers' revolt, Philadelphia had been the meeting place of both the First and Second Continental Congresses. In 1784, Charles Wilson Peale opened his natural history museum, the first daily newspaper in America started production, and Ben Franklin invented bifocals and wrote to his daughter that he disapproved of the eagle as an American symbol, preferring instead the noble turkey.

In this very same year, 1784, the D.S. Landreth Seed Company was founded in Philadelphia, PA. This company is still in existence today, and I feel like I'm holding a little piece of history when I look through the pages of their 2012 seed catalog. This seed company is older than the United States and introduced some iconic garden plant to our country, such as the white-fleshed potato and the tomato and the zinnia.

Summer garden dreaming on a winter's day
I read about the financial straits that this company is currently in and felt compelled to contribute in a small way to the preservation of an heirloom company. Lisa Boone with the LA Times pointed out that Landreth specializes in heirloom varieties, which helps to preserve genetic diversity of food crops and flowers. There was a big push in the fall of 2011 to buy catalogs to raise enough capital for the company to renegotiate its debt. I don't usually purchase seed catalogs, but I must say that I am not disappointed with my purchase.

The catalog includes a lot of advertising art and old articles from the seed company's past, which is quite interesting.

There is also a nice synopsis of the origins of each type of plant, and succinct but useful descriptions of the different varieties available for purchase. I am pleased with the diversity of the offerings for vegetables, herbs and flowers - and I love that there are full-color photos in the centerfold. The tomato pages simply make my mouth water.

Also - my favorite part - there are pages devoted to a children's garden, a patio garden and crops important to African-American history and culture.

The photos bring summer to your living room.
I purchased two copies of the seed catalog, one for me and one for you! I am very pleased to be offering my first blog giveaway. I will mail this catalog anywhere in the US or Canada, if you are the lucky winner.

To enter, leave a comment and tell me what your ancestors were up to in 1784 or a little something about your favorite vegetable. The giveaway will be open until January 31st, 2012.

Disclaimer - I did not receive any compensation for writing this review or holding this giveaway. I purchased two copies of the Landreth seed catalog because I wanted to help give this historic company a chance to reinvigorate itself in the 21st century.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dark Days 7: Lessons Learned from Winter Squash

This week, I bring you two tales of good intentions and not-so-good outcomes.

Kitty happy meal?

I bought a pile of butternut squash and pie pumpkins from Musterfield Farm in September and put it in dry storage in our garage. I put it on a wooden tray up on a high shelf stacked on top of a bucket, which meant it was difficult to see and difficult to pull down.

Last week, I went through the hassle of pulling the tray off the shelf. Guess what I found - one completely putrefied and moldy squash and one icky pumpkin. Straight to the compost for those. I also found a squash with one small soft spot, so the chickens got a special squash treat.

The rest of the winter squash are still fine, but they do not last forever, so I guess we will be eating squash more often in the next few months.

Moral of the story - Check on your root-cellared vegetables frequently.

This week, the Dark Days Challenge organizers have posed a special challenge - the one-pot meal. I had roasted a butternut squash and a small pie pumpkin earlier, and had the puree hanging out in the fridge. Butternut squash soup with garlic and ginger was calling my name.

I didn't quite manage to answer that call. I used onion, garlic, carrot and dried celery as the base of the soup, and got the proportion of dried celery to fresh veggies wrong. Even though I used all local ingredients (except for the ginger), this week's challenge was a failure. The bottom line is that I have a golden-colored soup that tastes like celery instead of squash.

This is a disappointment, my first Dark Days failure. I have still been eating the soup for lunch at work, with chunks of bread thrown in to mop up my sadness.

Moral of the story - 1 teaspoon dried herbs equals 1 tablespoon fresh. Forgetting this rule equals a waste of time.

P.S. The photo above shows Magalloway scoping out the day-old chicks in their transport box. He decided that they were much too loud to eat, so we have the happy outcome of keeping chickens and a pet cat who is interested but afraid of them.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dark Days 6: Tzaitziki Eggs

Gardens help us cultivate the idea of "Waste not, Want not" -

We can save seeds from one year to the next.
We can use mulch to save water and hours of weeding effort.
We can convert leaves, spent vines and other yard waste into compost.
We can give the unwanted caterpillars, slugs and kitchen scraps to the chickens.
We can collect used egg cartons and put new eggs in them to store, sell or share.

One of these things is not like the others.
I'm trying to bring that frugal ethic indoors this winter - specifically, to address the issue of food waste.

Like pinatas, New Year's resolutions are only made to be broken. So, this is more of an exercise than a resolution - just a thing to start doing and keep doing. In the summer, I typically end up cramming vegetables in every available cubic inch, so in winter, I certainly appreciate a clean and organized fridge.

I'm a pretty horrible housekeeper, so I can't give you much guidance on how to clean and organize your fridge, or create a weekly menu plan and matching shopping list. One thing that I do know --- if you do not eat your leftovers, the storage containers will start multiplying... rapidly...

To use up a bunch of odds and ends, I cobbled together a nice little dinner. I call this very successful experiment in leftovers... Tzaitziki Eggs!

Tzaitziki Eggs
Butter for the pan
A handful of minced onion
A few eggs
A sprinkle or two of feta cheese (I love feta with eggs - it's great.)
Tzaitziki sauce
-- Melt the butter, cook up the onion and add the eggs and cheese. Scramble this all together.
-- Scrape out onto a plate and top with tzaitziki sauce.
-- Finish with a few grinds of pepper. Taste this before you add salt, as feta can be quite salty.

Amazingly, I had minced onion, 4 eggs separated and chilling in little Pyrex dishes, leftover feta, and leftover tzaitziki. This required no cracking of eggs, no knife or cutting board - just a cast iron pan and a few grinds of pepper.

This is one of those dishes that you shouldn't knock until you try it - I am definitely going to make this again. This is definitely the lowliest of the low in terms of cuisine, but I believe you could transform this idea into a tasty Greek-style frittata for a classy Sunday brunch.

In case you do not have Tzaitziki Sauce lounging on the second shelf of your refrigerator, you can make this really fast. I call this recipe the Winter Version because true tzaitziki contains cucumbers - but  it's going to be six months before I see a local cucumber.

Tzaitziki Sauce (Winter Version)
1 cup of Greek yogurt (or regular yogurt drained in cheesecloth)
1 large clove of finely minced garlic
1 heaping tablespoon dried parsley
1 heaping tablespoon dried dill
-- Combine all ingredients; adjust seasonings to taste. Let sit for a few hours or a few days in the fridge to develop flavor.

Sources cited:
Butter and Greek yogurt - Cabot Creamery, VT
Onion and garlic - Spring Ledge Farm, New London, NH
Eggs, parsley and dill - my gardens and henhouse
Feta cheese - the grocery store (so probably the cheese is from Wisconsin)

In terms of local-sourcing this time around, I did pretty well - every thing was local except the feta. I have not found a reasonably-priced locally-produced feta cheese in the food stores that I frequent. Sounds like I need to research this more to track down some feta.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dark Days #5: Hard Cider

Oh, what a difference a year makes!

This time last year, you would have found me perusing my Fedco seed catalog with a big mug of tea, as shown below.
Ahh, the zen of garden planning.

2012 has brought some changes - this is my seed-purchase planning spread this year.
No zen this year, more like ordered chaos.

You may notice that my collection of garden books and catalogs has rapidly expanded. And I've swapped the tea for hard cider.

No, garden planning is not so stressful that I'm driven to drink! Today is Thursday and that means it's Growler Day at Farnum Hill Ciders in Lebanon, where locals can stock up on the offerings of the day at a discount.

While hard cider was the original American adult beverage of choice, it is not well-known today. What I've been enjoying this winter's evening is nothing like Woodchuck or Hornsby's; Farnum Hill tastes much more like a dry white wine. I'll let owner Steve Wood tell you about it himself - here's a clip from the PBS production "The Botany of Desire" where Steve was interviewed. (The feature-length documentary is based on Michael Pollan's book of the same name, written before he started on his lengthy, multi-book quest to find the answer to life's most persistent question, "What's for dinner?")

Garden planning brings out the eternal optimist in all of us, but each year, the motivation changes a little. Discovery of new or different varieties, hard lessons learned from the year prior, and surprising successes all play a role in the general feeling of "anything is possible" for the upcoming year's garden.

For 2012, I've got three primary motivators for my garden planning:

1) I'm feeling ambitious to really work on season-extension this year, so I can be working in the garden from March through December. 2012 will be the year of the cold frame.

2) Julie introduced me to some new tasty vegetables that she grew in her education garden at the Sylvia Center at Katchkie Farm in 2011, and that I really want to grow this year. Julie's enthusiasm for growing and eating vegetables is positively contagious. Specifically, I want to try out salad turnips and braising greens (choy, mustard greens, broccoli raab, etc.) and garnish kale.

3) My aunt and mother-in-law gave me gifts of garden books for my birthday, full of tips, recommendations and layouts. I've relied on the good words of Mel Bartholomew and Eliot Coleman for garden planning help in the past, but I'm really enjoying The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch and The Kitchen Gardeners' Handbook by Jennifer Bartley this year. I will review these books in more detail this winter.

I'll also share my planting list and seed order with you all shortly. Readers, are there any new varieties you're planning to try out this year?

As this is a Dark Days challenge post, I should mention that I did eat more for dinner than just hard cider. The hard cider is an excellent local beverage pairing with my meal this week, but unfortunately, I fell a little short on the local choices for the food part of the meal.

Adam cooked black duck and Canada goose breasts with shallot and sweet cherry, and I prepared a side of homemade pasta, rosemary-infused olive oil and Parmesan cheese. The duck and goose were local (well, they are migratory, but were shot flying over Great Bay in New Hampshire), and the pasta and rosemary-infused olive oil were homemade, but the shallots, cherries and cheese were all from far away lands. Not a great week for Dark Days eating... but a very good week for Dark Days drinking.