Greenhouse in July

I had to laugh when I was at the Walker Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis and saw this sign. I am used to prairies and how long they take, but on this hot day in late June I was still surprised by what looked like a field of weeds. I thought: This place could use a couple thousand prairie plugs.

In the greenhouse, I’ve seen the life of the prairie plants from seed on up through their first bloom. This photo is of a little Black-Eyed Susan, blooming at about 3 inches high. After that it will go dormant until next year. Most of the plugs in the flat didn’t bloom but just went dormant.

Lupine entering dormancy

That was true of the lupine as well, that put out leaves that then dropped until they were no more than bare stems. Same with my new favorite, the wild white indigo.

I thought they were dying from the heat. It’s too hot for the plugs in the greenhouse, so Steve built a large “staging area” where we’ve moved them. One large sprinkler can cover the whole area, so no more hand watering. The bottom of the fence is fine gauge and buried in a trench– to keep the varmits out. They’ll stay there and eventually all go dormant and get covered with snow. Next year they’ll be, well, bigger!

There is, of course, always the possibility that Steve will suddenly make the decision to plant them all in our newly cleared front yard. He’s been talking about that on and off all year. As a fan of Piet Oudolf, the landscaper who did the New York City High Line, he’s been longing for a large area he could transform with “plant communities.” And now we certainly have the “paint” and the canvas. I mean, look at this planning drawing by Piet Oudolf. That is so Steve.


The cut poplars have been burned and cleared and that area is ready for prairie.

Posted in garden, Greenhouse, prairie | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


We’re big on fire here. The prairie needs it, so there is a lot of burning in spring and sometimes fall. Last week, those poplar trees that Steve cut down in late spring needed to be burned. Two piles down and three to go (before Saturday when there’s a big party at the farm).

And… I got this for my birthday. Something I’ve wanted for four years, basically since I knew they existed. A flame-throwing weed killer. You hook it up to a grill propane tank, haul it around in a custom cart or, like me, in a small wheelbarrow that will stand on its own.

I was getting desperate for something to do major weed killing so I could keep Steve from “drizzling” Round-up on the weeds. I have 14 beds with areas all around them, plus the potato bed, plus the area just inside and outside the garden fence. A friend told me you can use a gallon of vinegar with a cup of salt and a little Dawn dish detergent to kill weeds. I poured two gallons on some of the worst areas– burdock and thistle areas. That could get expensive, however.

Then my flame-thrower arrived. It’s a great tool.

Although better on small weeds (3-6″), it has done a great job on my weeds. You don’t incinerate them; you just put the heat source over them until the leaves wilt. It’s very satisfying to see dandelion leaves wilt. At first they look like this, and in a day or two they’re GONE.

I’ve been out twice now, and for the first time this summer, things are really dead, not just pulled down to meaningful sizes. I’ll be out again… And next year I’ll get a dedicated tank for it and get on those weeds early!

In the outdoor garden, everything is going great. Right on schedule. Looks like, unlike last year, we’ll have a banner crop of zucchini (so undeservedly maligned!) and a good bean and cucumber crop (helped by keeping the rabbits out). Snow peas are coming in, too. And the celery survived and I can start taking off outer stalks now.

Inside the greenhouse there are 3 cantaloupe(!) and the first of the eggplant have set. I’m still getting cucumbers and really wish I hadn’t planted “cocktail” size cukes. I did put in a few seeds for Longfellow cucumbers where the pea vines were and they’re already coming up. The watermelon has lots of flowers but no fruit yet…

There is a problem with the tomatoes, however. A serious, heart-breaking problem. Blossom-end rot. It is caused by inconsistent watering (not the problem here, although I wonder if the watering is too shallow) OR a calcium deficiency. That’s more likely. I thought since it was fresh potting soil in the new beds that there wouldn’t be any deficiencies. I did also push calcium sticks in there, though maybe not on every plant and maybe not enough. I bought some tomato fertilizer and have sprinkled it around each plant– peppers and eggplant, too.

The problem happens when the fruit sets, so it’s likely to be widespread already. But there are still loads of flowers on the 21 plants (yes, 21). And many of the plants seem fine. We’ll see as the fruit develops. There will obviously be enough tomatoes to eat, but I’m throwing away a lot of small green tomatoes I can already tell are affected. It’s disappointing since I’ve really taken good care of these plants– from seed! Since March!

Posted in garden, Greenhouse | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Birthday Meal

I’ve been so preoccupied by the greenhouse goodies that I have not paid much attention to the outdoor garden. All I see out there is weeds, mostly, though suddenly things are getting started out there.

Yesterday was my birthday, so I went out to look for produce to put in the omelet. We have kind of given up on eating brunch out because it’s so disappointing! Here we have the best coffee, good breakfast sausage, fresh eggs (though not our own yet), and lots of things to put in those eggs.

Because it was my birthday, I picked the first baby zucchini and yellow squash, which were finger-sized and I’d usually let them get bigger. There were also broccoli florets– the broccoli heads bolted open early, but the side shoots are proving to be good and plentiful.

The kale has of course been producing all the time I’ve been eating greenhouse salad. Time to get that in the mix. And a few of the shallot stems are falling, so I harvested those. With garlic scapes, the veggie pile was quite large, and that omelet turned into a frittata, with feta cheese to round it out. So good.


I learned years ago not to go out for my birthday dinner but to splurge on something good for here. That has sometimes meant steaks, but this year since I’d made a trip to Holy Land grocery, I was craving a big Greek salad. We decided to also do kabobs, so I skewered up some Vidalia onion, cherry tomatoes, baby peppers, and boneless chicken thigh pieces that I dipped in a spice mix.*

It was so windy that the grill wouldn’t stay lit, so in the end I stripped the kabobs into a cast iron pan and charred them there. The key really was that spice mix and the sweet onion. The key really was all of it together.

The salad featured greenhouse cucumbers and garden lettuce. To that I added olives, greenhouse carrots, red onion, Kalamata olives, and a healthy amount of feta. We tossed it with a vinaigrette heavy on Palestinian olive oil (plus champagne vinegar, lemon juice, and a touch of dijon mustard). That salad was so fresh and sweet– amazing.

And of course I made tzatziki sauce with cucumber, garden dill and mint, sour cream, yogurt, and lemon juice. Holy cow. That sauce drizzled over the chicken and veggies and stuffed in a pita. It didn’t cost nearly as much as scallops or steak, and it was better than anything you can get in a restaurant around here.

*Spice Mix for Indian/Middle Eastern chicken or shrimp kabobs: cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger powder, garlic salt, (and either Madras curry powder, garam masala, or masala mix optional).

Last year I served up a carrot cake that I didn’t eat because it tasted like sawdust. This year, oh man, all day my mouth was full of the flavors of the garden and spices.

So if you were wondering if it was a good birthday? Yes. It tasted delicious.

Posted in food, garden, Greenhouse, recipe | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Wild White Indigo


Thinking about blog post topics a few days ago (before this strange flurry of activity!) I thought: chickens, recipe/garden, beauty.

I’ve been walking around in beauty with a poem line in my head for it seems like three weeks: “When the natural world draws near…”

I’m starting to love June more than any other month. Maybe I should be worried about climate change, because clearly our beautiful Junes without late frosts or days of wind, warm and wet, reflect a significant warming trend.

But I can’t worry too much, because I’m too busy looking at everything.
Because a large turkey just came around the corner of the house in full view of my spot on the porch.
Because the mama duck and her seven ducklings are cutting a path in the grass that would make Emily Dickinson’s heart leap.
Because at night on my way to shut the chicken coup I can see a light green tree frog jumping out of my path. And it’s the only thing I can see.
Because of the exquisite flowers of growth on each branch of the white pine.
Because for the first time I saw a swallowtail butterfly– and knew exactly what it was.
Then saw another trapped in the greenhouse. Unphotographable.
Because of the pheasant standing right square in the middle of the commons.
Because of the turtle’s slow movement to the upper pond.
Because of the early light show of fireflies. (So many!)
Because of the sand hill cranes, with their child, walking through the prairie.
Because the natural world is drawing near and drawing near…

My husband has been speaking in poetry. Seriously. He uses this language about trees and plant communities and even machines and there’s wonder in his voice.

The prairie is coming into early bloom. Spiderwort and Alexander sunflowers and lupine– most of the lupine has already put out its fuzzy pods.

There’s exactly one spray of purple cone flowers, and everything else seems poised to burst open.

And there is wild white indigo. There is wild white indigo. There is wild. white. indigo.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it in our prairie, or anywhere, yet I’ve been watering two trays, 144 cells (though about half have germinated), of wild white indigo for months. And then I saw it, out there, something new, and in a place where the prairie is most in danger of being overgrown by grass and thistle…

It has purple stalks that sweep out, and the flowers take their time opening up each stalk, and then in the end they stick their seed pods like a tongue right out of the mouth of the flower.

Because of the greenhouse and Jeff I’m much more attuned to seed pods.

I don’t want to complicate things, this joy I’m feeling lately, this wild awake-ness to the natural world. But I did recognize it a month ago and not name it, then I did name it when I heard a former soldier in Iraq talking about PTSG. That’s PTS-Grow, kind of a different manifestation of post-trauma neuro-response. I’ve been hesitant to talk about it, because on the radio program it sounded like the professionals are just trying to say “not everyone gets suicidal after trauma” and describe what that is about. And “they” sound like cliche machines: living in the present, aware of the gift of life, appreciate what’s important.

I can’t hope to express how different it sounded to my ears, what this guy was expressing. I wasn’t really listening to the radio and when he started talking I perked right up. He was being very concrete about very small appreciations. Openness and awakeness to the world around you in all its particularity and all its splendor. Simplicity in the experience. It’s a state of being I’ve never had before, and I know it is because of the cancer– and more specifically the remission. But anything I could say about it, except to sing its simplicity and splendor, would reduce it.

I got word that my CA-125 cancer marker is still very low on June 9. So I’m not saying it was a kind of post-test euphoria. I had plenty of “scanxiety.” And I’ve been crabby, and stressed, and overwhelmed. That is not what this is. I just wish you could have seen that swallowtail butterfly, and tasted that salmon, and seen that tree frog jump.

Posted in cancer, prairie, the Farm | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Food Gap

Usually this time in June is a bare spot in our garden eating. I pulled the bolted lettuce from the greenhouse today (though I still have some in the regular garden). I’ve thinned the beets in the garden so there are baby greens… but otherwise we’d be thrown back to eating kale! Waiting for the zucchini, green beans, cauliflower, and July plants to mature. That’s Minnesota.

But thanks to the greenhouse, we can eat like people in the South eat (you know, like Iowa and Missouri). We are done with lettuce season, but we have beets, carrots and cucumbers, as well as giant basil plants and cilantro. Two cups of harvested peas (those vines also went today). All ready to go.

Out in the regular garden, we also have garlic scapes (yes, we are spared the scape-and-kale routine!)

So although I’m not a super big fan of pesto, I decided to do it for the pea pasta we’ll have tonight.

I wanted something other than the usual basil pesto. Since we have a large wild mint patch, I figured I’d go with basil and mint. And scapes. And I threw in half a seeded jalapeno, too. Local canola oil, walnuts, and salt. Make the measurements to feature the flavors you like. I went 1/2 cup scapes, 2 cups basil, 1 cup mint, 1/3 cup walnuts, 1/2 seeded jalapeno, 1/3 cup Parmesan, salt to taste, oil to consistency desired.

With the remainder of the mint I made a cucumber salad (in June!!) with yogurt sauce– a touch of cumin is the key.

Because we had company, I didn’t rudely take photos of the dinner I made on Friday. But it was a marvel and I was really impressed with my garden!

The salad was garden beet greens/lettuce with carrots and cucumber and cilantro-based vinaigrette. On the plate was roasted baby beets with feta and then salmon that was baked in the oven in foil packets with lime and cilantro, and topped with that dreamy cilantro sauce from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (buy this even if only for the sauce recipes). The salmon was served over rice mixed with a little sour cream and a bit of cilantro sauce, and the salmon was topped with cilantro sauce. (I freakin’ love that sauce.)

It was one of those super healthy and delicious dinners where you feel you have arrived. All will be well from now until December.

Posted in food, garden, recipe | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chicken Update

I know you’ve been waiting to hear about my new flock of chickens. It’s been awhile since I’ve caught you up.

I’m pleased to report they are every bit as entertaining as the last group. “Blackie,” the sole survivor of the last flock, remains entertaining (even if she runs over to the barn every morning to lay her egg in another coop!) and has even displayed some Lassie-esque skills. One evening when the door to the yard had blown shut, she stood outside the kitchen door until we came out. I exclaimed: “Why aren’t you in bed!” She ran along and showed me exactly why, and hustled into the coop when I opened the door.

I’m afraid she might have lost her preferred spot on the roost. Because one early evening when I went to shut the coop door, I wasn’t sure if she’d come in yet. I peered in and asked, and she ducked her head down under the bar and looked at me, as if to say, “WTF?”

The new flock loves to roost. They roost everywhere. On the rim of the compost area. On the rim of the cold frame raised bed– the only bed outside of the fenced garden. And when I came around and saw them in a row up on the garden tractor, I burst out laughing.

They also, like their predecessors, love to garden with me. They can’t get inside the garden fence, but they will often walk around just outside of it, pecking at bugs and weeds along the fence. And when I’m working on the potatoes, weeding or, this morning, hilling, they all come over and “help” me. They do stick mostly to the weeds, and mucking about for bugs in the compost pile. It’s all very interesting. We all are quite satisfied with ourselves when we’re done.

No eggs yet– I’m thinking July. They do not know about the barn, so I’m hoping they’ll lay in the two roosting boxes I’ve tucked snugly in their coop. I’ve heard Americaunas sometimes lay outside the coop. I got them for their blue eggs– and I expect blue eggs in those roosting boxes! It will probably be a game of hide and seek just as it was with the last group.

Posted in garden, the Farm | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Tribe



I just returned from my college reunion. It was wonderful to be back in Grinnell, Iowa, with my tribe. I knew some of those in attendance back in college, but I’ve developed many more relationships with people in our “cluster,” classes of 1986, 87, and 88, thanks to Facebook and more intentional efforts by groups, particularly groups of women, to build community and get together. I reached out to this community last March when I received my cancer diagnosis, and they responded with an incredible show of love and support.

So at the reunion I was in a somewhat strange spot as “cancer survivor.” I never want to be too optimistic. I want to be just optimistic enough. But really, optimism was beyond the point, because it was glorious just to be there, healthy today, to hug and hug and have time to talk about all those things you can’t fit on Facebook posts. To hear voices and accents, see smiles, hear laughs, and contribute my own.

Many people shared anxieties before the reunion. But what was clear as soon as we arrived is that we are aging together. Three years ago, at the last cluster reunion (’84-’86), we were a little excessive. And when we got home some women posted photos of their “cankles,” swollen ankles, a new things for us at 50. This time around there was a lot more talk of “pacing ourselves” and after two nights of dancing I heard three different women say their hips hurt. My tribe.

Susan Sink, photo by JB Letchinger

As a cancer survivor, you join a tribe you didn’t really want to be part of. Membership is important for support, especially in times like this week as I wait for my 6-month check-up and blood test. In a recent column, Susan Gubar wrote about “scanxiety,” the fear at the edges each time a cancer survivor goes in for a test. Although I didn’t find Gubar’s book about ovarian cancer helpful, I really appreciate her column in the New York Times, “Living with Cancer,” which has gone on longer than she expected as she is in her ninth year as a survivor. Psychologically, you’re going to “go places,” and it’s nice to dip in to that column or tribe, check in with a member, and then move back to living day by day.

When you join that tribe, the fear is that you have jumped the track and your old tribe is going to go on without you into the distance of “ordinary aging.” So I have to say, I reveled in the experience of this past weekend. The first night a group of us, after one Cosmo each, went to our rooms to “settle in” at 9 p.m. On Friday night I decided to “leave it all on the dance floor” when “She Man and the Masters of the Universe,” a reconstructed band from our college days, played a wonderful, funk-filled set. I had more to leave on that dance floor than I could have imagined. Haven’t danced that much outside my own kitchen in years.

Left to right, Kent Staley, Byron Ricks, Tim Black, and Will Kaylor

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the weekend–none of us were. We arrived carrying more lawn chairs and fans and pillows than in years past. And less whiskey. Someone overheard a person from the Class of 2012 say, upon passing our lounge party Saturday night: “There’s good music in there. But then we’d have to watch old people dance.” Truth is, I laughed a bit at our middle aged dancing, but from love and recognition.

Now I’ve returned to watering and weeding and chickens. Tonight, we ate spaghetti carbonara with PEAS and asparagus from the garden. Life is very, very good.

View of train tracks and South Campus at Grinnell by Jim Rasmussen



Posted in cancer | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Pre-Season Growth in the Greenhouse

beets and the watermelon vine

The greenhouse is officially a game changer. At this point I’m just wondering how I can wrestle more space (always I need more!) for beds so I can expand my spring– and fall– production next year.

I wasn’t sure what it would mean exactly, this “season extender.” I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. People immediately have visions of orchids and tomatoes in January, but I explained this is a gigantic and unheated greenhouse. As such, I considered it untrustworthy. I feared losing work with a sudden freeze.

And a few of my tomato plants did get frostbitten leaves one night in April. But with a heater that kept the place above 35 (supposedly), and with the temperature always being at least 10 degrees above the temp outside, we quickly got to sustainable temps for the seedlings and the beds.

Things have gone so well that all three families have been eating regular salads– spinach, mixed lettuce, and spinach– from the greenhouse for a month. The spinach is getting more and more “spiky,” and I’ll pull it at the start of June, but it’s been a good run. Same with the arugula– we’re in our second batch right now. All of these greens have enjoyed an extra week since it’s been raining and cold outside. They looked almost done with the heat of the week before but bounced back for a little extra life.

pea vines

But that’s not the exciting part. The exciting part is pea pods in May!! And beets and carrots that are leafy and starting to root. Usually I have had a sort of dead zone in June, since the greens are worn out, the asparagus getting woody, and there hasn’t been enough sustained good weather to bring along the next crops. Pea vines can take a while to grow in windy and intemperate conditions. Beets are such a good, solid, dependable crop, but they take time. So even as I look at the baby sprouts coming up in the beds, the first pea vines clinging to the bottom rung of the fence, I have blossoms, lots of blossoms, and even pods! on the vines in the greenhouse. The greenhouse will mean bonafide bounty in June around here. And since the weather has confirmed my general policy of not planting out much before June 1, this is a great leap forward.

By the time it gets hot hot, I expect to start seeing cucumbers on their vines, and will pull the beets and carrots and let the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers take over (along with one watermelon and one cantaloupe vine). So far the tomatoes are very happy, and I can only expect they’ll be even happier when the heat comes. I have room outside, but also continuous weeds (the rain has taken me back a notch!) and a long way to run the hoses. So I’m eyeing that greenhouse space and even thinking about going vertical with some of these early plants (greens and lettuces do well in suspended roofing gutters) because that’s the kind of greedy gardener I am.

The prairie plants (why we have this greenhouse) are doing well, too!

Posted in garden, Greenhouse | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Newest Immigrants

Saynab and Mariama with pinwheels and Sadiya at the end-of-school celebration (teacher Dianne)


This was the final week of the school year in the local ESL program where I’ve been tutoring. We started in March as outreach to Somali women who have moved to our town. The six women who have participated are all different– different ages, different personalities, and different levels of English speaking. We have gotten to know each of them a bit and hopefully helped them not just feel more comfortable speaking English but also feel more comfortable living in our town.

This week I also went to the local elementary school and did a Poet-in-the-school visit for all four sixth grade classes. Each class had Somali children in it, the girls all in hijab. Here in Minnesota, the arrival of Somali immigrants is the second wave of diversity in our area. There was a wave of Mexicans and Latin Americans, who came to work in the local meat processing plants.

But the Somali immigrant situation is different. For one thing, no one feared the Mexican immigrants. They may have had disdain for them– for people who don’t speak English or were suspected of being here illegally– but there was not the stigma of America’s fear of Islam and suspicion about terrorism hanging over them.

The Somali population has it hard. Most of these families are coming from refugee camps. Many adults have not had formal schooling or held a pencil before. They are coming from a failed state. Also, they stand out wherever they go. Really, the women are so striking in their bright clothing and flowing hijab that they can’t help but turn heads. One day I saw a group of Somali women waiting at a bus stop near the library and that image has stayed with me. There is an otherness to these East Africans that would be noticeable anywhere but seems even more stark in the homogenous neighborhoods of Central Minnesota.

Teaching English to the women who come for the class is a way to bridge what feels like a big gap between the two cultures, to get to know these women. Because like any other immigrant group– from Asia or Latin America or Africa or the Middle East– that first generation, the parents, need to learn English and find ways to connect.

I saw this need most directly when I was in the sixth grade classes. We wrote a poem together and then they wrote their own on the subject of “A Trip to X.” The Somali girls wrote about “A Trip to Paris,” and “A Trip to Los Angeles.” Places they had never been but supposed were filled with glamour and movie stars. The Westest of the West.

One girl, however, started her page with: “A Trip to Somalia.” She was immediately stuck. I worked with her a bit. She had been born in Somalia but didn’t remember it, but heard about it from her parents. I asked what she thought she would see, hear, eat– use your senses. Was she in a city? A village? Near the coast? She looked blankly at me. Are there flowers? A market?

When she got up to share her poem, it was no longer about Somalia. She didn’t name the place. But she said it was frightening there, dangerous, and you couldn’t go outside. She said it was an ugly place and outside was death.

Her poem shocked me. It represented the worst of the worst of what Americans think about Somalia. Blackhawk Down. But a friend of mine had just been there on a trip to help repatriate some refugees, and she posted photos of markets and clean streets and elaborate banquet meals. So how did this sixth grader get that picture of her homeland in her head? It came to her in English, I believe.

And it was hard for me to imagine these children taking their poems home to some of the mothers in our class. Two of the mothers would not be able to understand their children’s work at all. Others would be able to read the poems, but probably wouldn’t know what to make of the pop culture references– of Spongebob Squarepants and Steph Curry. In a discussion of rhyme and the oral nature of ancient poetry, one of the boys brought up rap music, and the other two Somali boys turned and smiled at him, though they seemed a little embarrassed or unsure of how rap music would be received in this context. I compared early rappers who stood in circles competing to see who could come up with the best rhymes with early Haiku masters who would sit in circles and compose 100-poem cycles.

The sixth graders were already Americans. They were fluent in English and pop culture. Their classmates appreciated their quirks and contributions.

Somali dishes and American cookies!

On the last day of class, the Somali women brought in a lot of food for a little farewell celebration. They compared the “sabaayad (flabread) with stew (curry)” to tacos, and we recognized the delicate, sweet pancakes as crepes. The sambusa meat patties are clearly relatives of Indian samosas. We talked to Sahara and Fardosa and Saydab and Sadiya about grocery stores and food. Sahara particularly stresses her search for “quality”! We asked if she’d made it to the Farmer’s Market, which is right behind her apartment building on Friday afternoons. Sahara was pleased, because she bought “organic honey” there. Always she wants “quality, best quality” for her family. No doubt her children ask for “PBJs” and the cereal with LaBron on the box.

In other words, it is as it always is. We meet over language learning. We share food. The children lead the way.

Fardosa and Sahara ready to eat!

Posted in poetry, St. Joseph, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Localish and Seasonalish

The eating is so good right now it really brings me joy. The transition from winter to spring eating is so dramatic here. I’ve never been a big salad eater (and soup is not for dinner), but growing my own lettuce, greens, and spinach has changed my tune. Right now, before things start to bolt in the heat, is prime time for salads in our house. And also for building up those salads with additional veggies and herbs that are coming into season.

I remember when I entered a stage of dedicated local and seasonal eating a friend said, “But I couldn’t live without olives, lemons, and avocados.” I reassured her I wasn’t suggesting she follow me or that there was a moral imperative here. Also, she made a good point. There are a lot of things we can’t get locally or that I want to eat all year round. Once I got in the habit of thinking locally and seasonally first, I relaxed my standards to gain more variety. (That cheese making with local milk? Not so much anymore.)

I’m a big fan of the New York Times cooking site. It’s replaced for me as my go-to recipe site. This spring, they ran a feature on rhubarb that I read with interest. I really wanted to add rhubarb to savory dishes and wasn’t sure how to do that. It seems like it should be doable because rhubarb isn’t sweet. But the key was to embrace it as a fruit and still use it in savory dishes.

This recipe for a chicken tagine with rhubarb caught my eye. Martha Rose Schulman never leads me astray. I didn’t get as far as the tagine, but I did make the poached rhubarb.  I didn’t even have a vanilla bean, but I added a splash of vanilla after cooking. The secret to this rhubarb is to drain off the syrup (you can save that for sweet dishes). The rhubarb becomes sweet pieces like cranberries or raisins and can be used in that way. I used half the rhubarb in a layer with spinach and salmon. The other half I used on a “big salad.”

Julia Moskin has a guide up called “How to Make Salad.”  In it she encourages people to think of a green salad as a “real vegetable” with a meal, just greens and dressing. I have to say the best salad I have ever eaten in my life was in a Palo Alto restaurant circa 1992 that consisted only of butter lettuce and vinaigrette. It was perfection. But it’s true I forget you can just throw greens in a bowl and dress them for the vegetable.

Her other instruction is on the “big salad.” This is the area I’ve been exploring lately, based in part on a salad nicoise and in part on the Greek salad, but using seasonal things as the base (we’ll get to nicoise when I have green beans and baby potatoes and Greek when I have tomatoes and cucumbers).

Right now I have a mix of lettuces and greens, asparagus, radishes, garlic, and rhubarb. I also have chives and lots of dill I’m trying to thin and get under control. I have started buying cherry tomatoes, which are flavorful and easy to use.

Local sunflower oil is available at the farmer’s market. I’m also trying to eat more grains, since I get a pound of them every three months from my Rancho Gordo bean club membership. I have a half pound of amaranth and quinoa to get through for breakfasts (with almonds and dried cherries) and salads. That goes in the salad, too. And for protein, shrimp is easy, or leftover chicken thighs, local eggs, or beans from that club.

Feta or blue cheese, nuts, or other non-local non-seasonal things make good additions. But I still have a flush of pride over what I’ve grown, both the bounty and the variety, and more and more each night I’m not trying to come up with a way to eat the produce but just building meals.



Posted in food, garden, recipe | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment